Chapter Twenty Three
The other prisoners edged away from the fire dwarf who’d fired the shot while he stood there trembling, all signs of defiance gone. As she stalked towards him, he made a whimpering sound and collapsed to his knees.
Estara stared down at him for a moment, then reached down and grabbed a handful of his orange hair, yanking his head up so he had to meet her eyes.
“Why?” she asked in a cold, controlled tone. “Why attack that girl when you’d already lost?”
A flash of anger crossed the dwarf’s face and for a moment Kyle thought that he might do something stupid, but then his face crumpled.
“King Plamen said that the Core said that we should kill all the heart friends we could find. It backed him up and said we should die to fulfil its order–” He broke off with a scream and his eyes rolled back in his head. Kyle initially thought Estara had done something to him but then he saw that she’d paled and pulled her hand back. The dwarf kept screaming however. “No! No! I tried! Please!”
“Al?” she asked. “What is this?”
“It’s the Core,” Alaryia said. “He must know something it doesn’t want us to know.”
“Oh, well then. I guess he gets to live until we find out what.” She looked down at the dwarf and her lip curled.
The dwarf’s screams suddenly stopped and he stared up at her amazement. He must have realised that she was the one who’d blocked the Core from hurting him.
“I guess it’s your lucky day. It seems you know something we need to.” Estara looked back at her sister. “Take him back to Caerdu with you. The mind warrior is probably the best person to find out what he knows.” She gave the dwarf another glare. “And if there’s anything remotely redeemable about him.” She looked at the other prisoners. “Gendalian, grab a couple of the others and take the prisoners to the palace. I’ll sort out what to do with them later.” She turned to the still chained villagers and gestured to the two goblin healers. “Unchain them and attend to their injuries, but be careful. Some of them are scared enough to attack you.” She gave a half smile as a surprised murmur swept through the nymphs at that.
“This one needs prolonged care,” Fazina said from where she was still kneeling by Pensura and Tondra’s mother. “Do you think the healers at Waldhafen would help?”
“I’m sure they would,” Estara said. “But Plamen’s army has disintegrated less than I expected and is still heading for Waldhafen.”
“Probably on the Core’s orders,” Alaryia said.
“Indeed, but a potential warzone is hardly the best place for a recovery.”
“I agree,” Alaryia said. “I’ll take her to Caerdu with her daughters. What are you going to do?”
“Take Kitadan’s egg to the hatchery.” She gave a strained grin. “He’ll be so irritated when he reaches maturity again and remembers what happened.” Her expression sobered. “Then I’m going to see if I can persuade Plamen’s throne to let me use it, at least temporarily. That way I can block the Core more effectively and support your plan.”
When they gated back into Caerdu, Kyle had to jump to one side to avoid being pushed out of the way by Sarah Tyler in her haste to get to Ian. She grabbed her son by the arms.
“Are you okay? You were in danger but I couldn’t get through the barriers to get to you!” She turned a smile on Pensura who was lurking nervously near the gate along with her sister. “You must be Pensura.”
“I am.” Pensura ducked her head. “This is my sister Tondra.”
“Pleased to meet you both.” Sarah gave them another smile and then gave Ian a little shake. “What happened?”
“I’m fine, mum!” He squirmed out of her grip. “Really I am.” He hesitated slightly. “We were nearly buried when that one-” he jerked his head at the dwarf who was being dragged along by Darya “-attacked the remains of the building but one of the dragons saved us.” His face fell. “He – um – well he didn’t die.” He scowled over at Kyle. “What exactly happened there? It looked like Estara turned him into an egg.”
“That’s kind of complicated,” Kyle said. “Dragons call it transition. It’s-”
“It’s how dragons keep coming back when you think you’ve killed them,” Lyrrekka said. “Though it has its drawbacks, like having to grow up again and not remembering who you are until you hit your maturity.”
Sarah stared at her for a moment. “I think we need to have a long talk about this when we’re less pressed for time.” She turned to where Alaryia had laid Pensura’s mother on a couch and was attending her along with two of Dariad’s healers. “Do you need any help?”
Alaryia shook her head. “She should be fine with these two. I’m just making sure she’s stable. But we could do with your brother’s services.” She nodded to Lucas.
“Hmm?” He cocked his head at her.
“There’s something in the prisoner’s head that the Core felt it needed to kill him to prevent us discovering it. We thought it wisest to find out what before we decided what to do about him. Especially since it might affect the mission.”
“Hmm…” Lucas eyed the dwarf coldly. “Yes, I can do that. You’re going to regret attacking my nephew.”