Lyrekka started swearing in draconic as soon as they entered the chamber. Salia followed hesitantly and then recoiled with a sob at the sight that met her. Behind her she heard Coromel give a little moan of horror.
The room was filled with pedestals, like those that a statue might stand upon. Most of them were empty, but a few had immobile figures on top of them. Except they weren’t statue -, they were Speakers, held in place by beams of light which shining down from crystals embedded in the ceiling. They looked unconscious. Salia certainly hoped they were unconscious.
“They can’t be,” Lyrrekka responded to that unspoken thought. “At least not if they are who I think they are.” She was pale and her lips were tight.
“Who do you think they are?” Salia asked curiously, mostly to distract herself from the thought of being held conscious and immobile in such a place.
Lyrrekka looked at her and shook her head. “Sorry, dear. I didn’t mean to say that out loud.” She looked back the figures. “They are… I think…”
“They’re the dragon knights’ heart friends, aren’t they?” Coromel asked suddenly.
Lyrrekka looked at the sylph in surprise. “I’m very much afraid that you’re right. But howâ€””
“My bearer mother has always thought the dragon knights had to be heart friends. She’s a history scholar and said no other humans could get here.”
“Hmm. That’s not quite true, but they wouldn’t be much use once they were here without elaborate help. It wouldn’t be worth Gerian’s time to put the effort into keeping non-eskalri functional.” Lyrrekka scowled at the sight again. “Those kids didn’t know, though. I’d swear to it. Except… I wonder…”
She looked around the room and seemed to be countingÂ the speakers. “I thought as much.” She strode over to an empty plinth that stood between two occupied ones. Unlike the other untenanted ones, the crystal above it was shattered. A single dimly glowing feather lay upon the pedestal. It looked like it might have been shed from a Hercian Bird a couple of years ago. Lyrrekka picked it up and looked at it with a smile. “So this is what set you off. That was well done, Julie. I hope he never finds the two of you.” She scowled at the pillars some more. “This is… I mean…” She pinched the bridge of her nose. “What’s the point of this?”
“I-is he going to do this to me?” Salia asked.
Lyrrekka gave her a startled look. “I wouldn’t think so, dear. He wouldn’t be having you trained if he was. Besides, he decided they lost in spite of outnumbering the warriors because they didn’t have their heart friends. He’s trying something different. But this… I don’t understand the point, unless he thought they might tempt the kids away from him if he left them free.”
“There’s another one, mummy,” Karilya said in a subdued tone. “Down the other end on its own. I followed the footprints to it. It looks like it’s been here forever.”
Lyrrekka frowned at her daughter. “Another?” she asked sharply. “There shouldn’t be, I can account for them all here.”
“Another!” Karilya nodded vigourously. “It was so old it was rusty.”
“Rusty?!” Lyrrekka went even paler. “Oh no! He couldn’t have.” She grabbed her daughter’s hand. “Show me.”
“Yes, mummy.” Karilya led them though the maze of pedestals to an alcove at the end.
There, just as she’d said, stood a stymphalian bird – at least Salia thought that’s what it was. But they were usually very shiny, with polished bronze beaks and bright steel feathers. But this creature had a mishapen lump of pitted green metal where the beak would be and its feathers were a dull red colour, crumbling at the edges and full of holes.
Lyrrekka made a distressed noise. Salia looked up at her and saw she was crying.
“Oh, Gerian! I knew you were in descent, but to do this…” she trailed off. “Not even Shalriya-miria sank this low and she’s insane.”
“What is it?” Salia asked, but Lyrekka just shook her head and began ushering them towards the exit.
“You can’t mention this to anyone,” she said firmly. “Any of you. I don’t know what he’d do to us if he knew that we’d seen it, but it wouldn’t be good.”
“Us?” Salia asked. “You too?”
Lyrrekka nodded. “Yes, I wasn’t supposed to see this either.” She scowled at the feather she was still holding and replaced it on the plinth it had come from. “But someone wanted us to. They went to a lot of trouble to get in here to show this place to us.” Her eyes swept the room and seem to settle on something in one corner, but when Salia followed her gaze she saw nothing. “I need to think about this.”
Yes, it’s another poll. Please take a moment to answer. There will be more, but this should be the last money based one for a while.