“How long do you think it’ll be?” Mela asked. She was sitting on the bridge Lyrrekka had built from her essence with her back against the slick surface of the wards around the Heart. She could feel it in her head and it didn’t seem too concerned about the delay, though it was definitely impatient to be free and that was making her twitchy.
“Probably not long,” Lyrrekka said. “It depends how much that Laxmi person manages to delay them. The warding itself shouldn’t take too long.” She laid a hand against the glowing silver wards. “You’ll be out soon, but why are you so impatient? You could have waited until you finished healing.”
Mela blinked at that. She hadn’t realised that the others could feel it as well.
I couldn’t, it said quietly. Not once you found me and it figured out I still existed. It began to trace my residual energy to find me. It probably wouldn’t have been able to pass Alaryia’s wards and hurt me, but it diverted energy best used for shoring up the heartlands to the search and the world started to crumble again. I can’t let that happen.
“Ah,” Lyrrekka said. “I’m sorry then. We didn’t mean-”
I know you didn’t, it replied. It’s not your fault. It’s not even its fault – someone broke it and set it after me. There was a prolonged pause. And I think they may have nudged you towards me as well in order to alert it.
“That makes more sense than I like to admit,” Sonia said then looked around as Ystelyan stiffened. “What’s wrong? Is he having more luck with those wards than you expected?”
Ystelyan shook his head. “No, he’s figured out that he’ll never get through the wards in time. He’s attacking the entrance to the stairs instead. He might make it through that… and Naria just spoke to me. One of Mitakrian’s alrari was among the dragons Emms sent after your husband. He managed to warn her and Andrew that Mitakrian is up to something before he shut him down.” He took a breath. “I just wish I knew what. The Heart being free would inconvenience him but not so badly he’d try this alone â€“ and none of his court are with him. What the hell is he up to?”
“I think he might be after Sonia, not the Heart,” Lyrrekka said suddenly. “He certainly knows about her from the siege of Caerdu.”
Ystelyan turned and favoured Sonia with a thoughtful look. “Yes, she would worry him now she’s nearly well, wouldn’t she?”
“Hmm?” Sonia frowned for a moment before her eyes widened. “Oh! That never occurred to me, even after Lyrrekka said she was planning to challenge Shalriya eventually. But I’m not a dragon, can I really challenge him?”
“The rules don’t differentiate between dragons, exiles or the still human, Sonia-ida, so if you can gather a court you can,” Ystelyan said. “Which will be the difficult part â€“ but they don’t have to be draconic either.” He looked towards the stairs. “I think I should go and wait in case he breaks through. Rilletta will be able to guide Mela once the time comes.” He headed across Lyrrekka’s bridge to the stairs.
Please don’t do this! The voice that resounded inside Lydia’s head as they entered the central chamber of the spire sounded frantic. What happens to this world if you do this? It was the Core, of course. The glowing sphere floated at the centre of the dark room and the screens it had woven around itself in an attempt to ward them off prickled against her skin.
“This world will be fine,” Alaryia replied. “Certainly it will be no worse off. The consequences of your inattention are worse than those from warding you.”
There was a quality to the silence that followed that made Lydia feel that the Core had recoiled in shock from her accusation. The usual lies! It said finally.
“No lies,” Alaryia said. “Check the state of the world and the heart laws if you don’t believe me.”
What? Why? I’d know if there was a probâ€“ There was a prolonged pause then it said plaintively, I don’t understand. Howâ€“
It got no further because Alaryia picked that moment to strike, slicing through its screens with surgical precision. Glowing silver threads formed a perfect net around it.
“So our first priority is to block its access to Taloa and stop it hurting anyone else or riling up the speakers,” she said. “How much tighter than that do we want to go?”
“As tight as we can without damaging the heartlands,” Matthias said.
“Even this tight will restrict it enough to affect them, Matthias-idan, but it’s not paying attention anyway and it was it pulling against the Heart’s limited reach into the world that caused the rip under Caerdu.” She wove more strands of light around it.
“Hmmm… you probably know better than me,” he said. “So I leave it to your judgement.”