Naria vanished just a moment before the door banged open and Emms walked in, frowning. When he saw only Andrew there, he looked around in confusion.
“Was one of the dragons in here?” he demanded.
Andrew blinked at him with mock bleariness, glad he was tired enough to pull off the deception. “I don’t know. You just woke me up. If you’re going to keep me chained to this thing you could at least let me sleep properly.”
Emms stared at him suspiciously and turned to look at Laxmi who had come up behind him. “I’m sure I sensed one of the dragons here.”
“Well they’re all accounted for, so I don’t see how,” she responded. Andrew managed not to blink in surprise only with effort. No way had Naria managed to get back to her quarters in time for Laxmi to check them and get here.
“That’s odd,” Emms looked back at Andrew with a frown. As soon as he did, Laxmi winked at Andrew. So she did know and wasn’t telling.
“You’re wired up by the opening later.” Laxmi reached up and massaged Emms’ shoulders. “You’re imagining things. Get some more sleep. You’ll need it.”
“Perhaps,” he agreed, though he didn’t look convinced.
“Go back to bed, Jayden,” Laxmi said. “You need you energy for tomorrow. I’ll keep an eye on things.”
He stared at her for a long moment and Andrew thought he was going to argue, but then he nodded. “You’re right.” He rubbed at his eyes and left the room.
“What’s the opening?” Andrew asked. Laxmi scowled.
“A bloody disaster in the offing is what it is. I hope they stop him because he’s not going to listen.”
“You didn’t exactly seem to be trying to hard to get him to,” Andrew said sharply.
Laxmi’s scowl deepened. “I tried it’s no use. He’s absolutely sure it will work but it won’t. I’ve been researching while he’s been preparing and it’s impossible to do what he wants the way he’s trying to do it.” She closed her eyes. “I don’t want anyone else to suffer the way I did.”
Andrew bit his lip as he stared at her. She might be dissembling but if she wasn’t it looked like Ystelyan and his father were right about her. He frowned at her. “You said that it was impossible the way he wanted to do it. Does that mean it’s possible some other way?”
Laxmi perked up then. “I think so yes. The issue is a physical wiring one as well as an energy one. So you’d need to rewire the brain. That’s why it’s easier to uplift – what do they call them – embers. Of course he even botches that. No patience.” She cocked her head at him. “Of course that leaves aside the question of if it’s right to do it without permission.”
“I really have no idea what you are talking about,” Andrew said. “Uplift?”
“It’s not the best word,” she admitted. “But roughly grant powers like yours to people without them. Possible if risky with the latent people your kind call Embers but incredibly risky with the unpowered.”
“It kills them?”
“If they’re lucky, or it might break their mind – which also counts as lucky. Schizophrenia is treatable. It’s when it breaks your body without killing you that the problems really start.” She closed her eyes and he saw tears leaking from between her lashes. “It hurts so much. More than you can imagine.”
“That happened to you?” Andrew asked.
She nodded. “It was a long time ago and I have a new body n-now.” Her voice cracked and she looked down. “I wish I could have saved her.”
“Who?” he asked even though he had a fair idea.
“The original Laxmi,” she replied sadly. “She was boating with her parents and fell into the lake near the first breach. Some of the others dragged her down and I stopped them while they were fighting over her, but she’d drowned already. It seemed like a waste to leave her body.”
“That’s creepy,” Andrew said. “Why did you need her body?”
“Because I didn’t have one of my own,” she flared then looked down again. “Not a proper one anyway. You’ve seen what our bodies are like after he…” She turned and thumped the wall. “Most of the others just want to take them. Only a few of us retain enough self-reflection and conscience to do otherwise. He says he can cure us as well, but I doubt that. I don’t think we can be fixed. We’re too broken. I have this body that can work with my powers now, but I’m still not right. And even though she’s dead she’s still a voice in my head. And I have all her memories – which is great for convincing her family but ugh.” The tears leaking between her lashes became a torrent and her shoulders began to shake. “Simon says she’s still in here with me. I hope he’s wrong â€“ she doesn’t deserve this.”
“Huh,” Andrew said. “I – um – I don’t think that there’s much I can say to that.”
“Don’t say anything,” she said. “Just make sure you stop him, please! I can’t!” She ran sobbing from the room leaving Andrew to stare after her. Kimi put her head in his lap. Andrew looked down in surprise; he’d thought her asleep.
I’ve been listening and thinking. I think she’s wrong about the original being dead.
You think she’s lying? Andrew said doubtfully.
No, not lying. I’m no unicorn of course but I’m fairly sure she thought the original was gone and equally I suspect she was beyond saving. But the original Laxmi’s essence mustn’t quite have fled when she possessed her, so Simon’s right â€“ they are both in there. I’m not sure what’s going on but somehow that’s what’s happening. But more hopeful stuff – let’s talk about the escape. Kimi made a chuffing noise, the first happy sound he’d heard from her since they were captured. I think at the right moment we need to break my chain as well. Then I can defend you.
You think you can fight him? Andrew asked dubiously.
I think I can try, Kimi said. We’re stronger than we were before maturity. Even chained like this I can feel it.
Yes, Andrew agreed. I can too. I’ll call one of the other dragons to assist me. Cautiously he felt through the web for Naria and projected a question about who to choose, within moments the image of a greenish-brown dragon – Kiataran – appeared in his head.
He’s about the best, she said. He won’t try to kill you out of hand to break the system. He’s still not pleasant but he’s not as horrible as most of my fellow captives.
Thanks, Nari. Now let’s get some rest. I think we’re going to need it.