Valeria knew it wasn’t going well the moment Tarian returned with Halindan in his arms. He gave the council a perfunctory nod before racing over to Rilletta. He exchanged a few words with her, then vanished with one of her attendants who hadn’t joined the attack.
“I don’t like the look of that,” Weide said. Rilletta rubbed the bridge of her nose then rose to her feet and strode over to them.
“Emms has managed to activate his device,” she said. “They’re still on the attack, but…” she trailed off meaningfully.
“That’s not good,” Saeaera agreed.
“It’s active already?” Alaryia’s eyebrows shot up. “That shouldn’t be possible.”
“A lot of things that shouldn’t be possible seem to be happening just recently,” Weide noted.
“I’ve noticed, but in this case we’re talking about specific technical limitations. The only way he could have done it so easily is if it was partly tuned already. I don’t see how-”
“Daniel!” Valeria exclaimed.
“Hmm?” Alaryia looked confused for a moment, then nodded. “Yes, that’s possible, isn’t it?”
“What is?” Dariad asked.
“I think that Emms may have used his torture of Daniel to mask his tuning this thing to him so it was ready for his maturity.” She glanced at Alaryia questioningly. “It wouldn’t take anywhere near as long to retune it to a sibling, would it?”
“No, not at all.”Alaryia looked troubled. “Perhaps I should have considered that, but it means that he’s had at least the core of his device for longer than we realised.”
“I think he’s been ahead of us every step of the-” Valeria broke off as the attack group began returning through the gate. From the slumped shoulders and worried expressions, it was clear things had continued to go badly even before it became obvious Andrew wasn’t with them. Then Matthias appeared, carrying Elzaria. He was followed by Lyrrekka, who was helping a weeping Sonia. Matthias walked straight over to Alaryia and Halia.
“I know you said that Elzaria was an enemy but…” He hesitated. “But I find that I can’t kill her in cold blood. You know her master, right?”
“If you mean Tak, I do,” Alaryia said. “Do you want me to take her to him?”
Matthias hesitated again then nodded. “It’s not like I can keep her asleep indefinitely, especially since I seem to need physical contact to override Jayden’s device.”
“No,” she agreed. “That would be a bit awkward wouldn’t it?” She reached out and took Elzaria from him. “Are you sure she’ll stay asleep for the next few minutes?”
“Yes. Removing the collar will wake her, but other than that she’ll be asleep for at least half an hour.”
“That’s long enough,” she said. “I’ll be back as soon I’m sure she’s okay.” She opened a gate and disappeared.
Matthias gave a heavy sigh and turned to Rilletta. “He captured Naria, I’m afraid. We tried to get her out as well.” He closed his eyes. “I’m sorry.”
Rilletta regarded him for a long moment then sighed. “It’s not your fault. It was her own choice to go and she knew the risks.”
“Emms used a translation device to escape,” Lyrrekka said. “They took Naria with them, but we don’t know where.”
“He what?” Rilletta’s eyes went wide. “Who in their right mind uses-” She shook her head. “But he isn’t in his right mind, is he. I’ll send an imp to Yst. He’ll be aware of happened and may be able to help locate Naria. Though, unless she can figure out where she is, it’s likely he won’t be able to give more than generalities. Taloa has changed a lot since his day.”
“I’d imagine,” Matthias said softly.
“I’ll help,” Kyle said. “I know it better and I like Naria-keda.”
“We should tell Sal. She might have sensed something like this.” Sonia looked up and wiped at her eyes. “She watches the barrier for incursions almost constantly, after all. It felt different from a gate when it went off but she should have felt something.” She bit her lip. “But Matt, why has he gone to Earth at all? I think we’re badly out of place.”
He scowled at her. “Yes, I suspect you’re right. It does seem to be Earth he’s interested in.”
“You’re going home, then?” Valeria asked.
“I think we’ll have to,” he said. “We’ll wait for Alaryia and to hear back from Ystelyan at least, but this is definitely about Earth more than here.”