Several long moments of silnce followed Dariad’s declaration.
Valeria frowned at him thoughtfully. “That makes more sense than I like to admit. There’s definitely something odd about her.” She placed a hand on his shoulder. “But she certainly didn’t feel like a dragon.”
“No,” he agreed. “But I’m sure I’m right. She must be able to disguise her aura somehow.”
“It’s possible,” Matthias conceded. “Halia can suppress her aura totally. That’s why her mother could use her as a spy. It’s only a step from there to being able to make it feel like something else.”
“Try not to worry, Dariad,” Valeria said. “She’s shown no inclination to hurt you or your people, so you shouldn’t panic. Panic will only make things worse.” She paused and sighed. “But this does leave you with a bit of a problem, doesn’t it?”
“Yes.” He looked up from the table. “I could go home and activate the throne, then evict her and her servants from the city. But…” He trailed off.
“You’re worried she’d turn around and attack the city if you did?” Weide asked.
Valeria frowned as Dariad shook his head. That was what she’d been thinking as well, though her mother didn’t seem worried about that either.
“I don’t think she would. Maybe one of the others, but it’s not that…” he trailed off again.
Valeria looked at him with a sudden comprehension that she knew came from her mother more than her.
“The Mabain upwelling,” she said. “You are stuck between a rock and a hard place, aren’t you?”
“I’ll lose the city without her to drain off the Mabain,” he said. “Right now, I need her. What a mess.”
“Hold on,” Karen interrupted. “This makes no sense. I mean, she saved me, Lyd and little Arava. She even got hurt saving Lyd â€“ though I guess that proves nothing, since the bird wouldn’t have known she was a dragon if she was masking somehow. But it makes no sense. Why would she help us?”
“I hope she isn’t a dragon,” Alban said. “I like her.”
“Dad, Halia can’t lie to you, right?” Lydia said. “She probably knows where her mother is. Why not ask her?”
“I could, but as she pointed out when she possessed Halia earlier, she can hear whatever Halia does,” Matthias paused and groaned. “Which is more circumstantial evidence for your goblin ambassador being her; I mentioned the war council in front of Halia several times. And we need to talk about what she said as well. She pointed out the major hole in our plan and suggested a solution. But I don’t think you’re going to like it.” He told them what she had said and about her offer of a renegade guide.
“I-” Valeria broke off as her mother signalled that she’s like to speak first.
You should take her offer, she who was Elaranor sounded in their minds. She has no reason to play you false, and she’s quite right that you won’t get in and out without help.
“Unless she wants Salia as well,” Karen said. “If she has been lying to Dariad, then-”
Then in the circumstances can you blame her. It’s better than another siege and she didn’t have to save your life.
“But she’s a dragon!” Stress made Karen’s voice shrill. “We have no reason to believe her.”
“Karen, sweetie,” Sonia said. “You sound like Val talking about humans before she came to her senses.”
Valeria winced at the reminder, then frowned at Karen, puzzled by the girl’s uncharacteristic outburst.
“That’s different!” Karen clutched the table so hard her knuckles turned white. “Valeria knew me, so she should have known better. I’ve fought dozens of dragons and they were all evil.” Patches ofÂ light began swirling under her skin like a swarm of lilac fireflies. She opened her mouth to continue her tirade, clearly oblivious to them.
Sonia laid a hand on her forearm and nodded at Karen’s hands. “Look.”
Karen stopped what she was about to say and did just that. “Oh! Now?”
“It certainly looks like it.” Sonia rose to her feet and began massaging her daughter’s shoulders. “No wonder you’re volatile. You need to relax and let it happen.” She cast an appealing look at Alban, who rose and headed around the table.
“Easy for you to say, Mum! I feel like I’m about to shatter!” she snapped.
“I suppose that’s not wrong.” Sonia stepped aside to let Alban take over the massaging and knelt down by Karen’s chair. “But you have to do this, sweetie, or you’ll hurt yourself. You don’t have to hold on until you’re alone. No one here is going to tell the Lavernes.”
“I know, but it’s still hard.” Karen closed her eyes. Her breath was coming in ragged gasps but she calmed it with obvious effort and her death grip on the table slowly relaxed as well. She took one more breath and then the patchesd of light beneath her skin merged in to ribbons which cascaded out from under her skin. Soon there was nothing but a swirling vortex of light where Karen had been sitting.
Valeria stared at it. “Is that Karen?” she asked.
“Is this this maturity you’ve been talking about?” Lydia asked.
“It is,” her father said. “She should be back soon. She can’t hold it for long yet. She needs training for that.” Even as he spoke the vortex collapsed in on itself in a blinding flash. When Valeria’s vision cleared, Karen was back, slumped forward in her seat and unconscious.
“She’ll be okay,” Sonia said, then looked at Alban. “Help me get her back to her room, your highness. She’ll come around soon, but you’ll both be rather hyper once the grogginess wears off.”
“I can imagine.” He shook his head as if to clear it and gave a soft laugh. “I already feel high and she’s still unconscious. I only got the backdraft and even that was incredible.” He hefted Karen into his arms with no trouble and headed for the door.
Sonia turned to her heart friend. “Be a sweetheart and pass everything on to me while I’m with Karen, Neph.”
“Oh, and my vote is definitely for taking the first dragon up on her offer. Just don’t let anyone outside the room find out.” With that, she followed Alban and Karen from the room.