Dariad and Valeria found Halia in the kitchen with Matthias. The dragon was eating an apple while Matthias was cooking something that smelled good but was probably just as inedible for Speakers as the fruit.
Dariad sighed in disappointment as he realised that Halia’s eyes had returned to normal. “Did Alaryia leave?” he asked.
Halia nodded. “I needed a break. She’ll be back tomorrow evening if you need to talk to her, your majesty.”
“We do,” he said. “We were wondering if she might have any insight into why the heart laws might be breaking down–”
“What?!” The half eaten apple fell from Halia’s hand with a thud. “That- No, I don’t think she will.” She chewed on her lip. “But you should tell her anyway, because if something has gone wrong with the heart laws it’s very bad.”
“What do you mean by breaking down?” Matthias asked as he placed a bowl of stir fried meat and vegetables in front of Halia.
“Just that,” Valeria said then explained what she and Dariad had realised. Halia looked more and more worried as she spoke.
“This is really bad, Matthias-idan,” Halia said. “The heart laws are part of the framework of the world. If they somehow decay completely it’ll become harder to stop Talonyka fraying at the edges. That’s why – for all its flaws – the Core has always upheld them. I can’t understand why it would stop.” She paused. “I don’t understand how it could stop. And the heart laws are so integral to speakers that I don’t see how they could forget them. They’re born knowing them.”
“I know,” he agreed. “I think I’d better have Lucas have a look at some of my prisoners from Elapyron. Maybe he can figure out what’s happening.” He gave her a gentle poke. “And eat that, now I’ve gone to the trouble of cooking it. Not eating won’t help solve the problem.”
“I really hope he can.” Halia picked up her fork and poked at the meat in the stirfry before taking a bite. “This is good! I never thought rabbit could taste so good.”
Karen slept fitfully that night. She’d slept for most of the day after hitting her maturity and now she was just too jumpy and elated to fall asleep properly. The creak of the door opening and a slight smell of burned fabric roused her from her doze. She sat up and summoned a small light to see who was there – or at least she meant to summon a small light. Instead, she filled the room with blazing light. The overkill should have mortified her but she found herself giggling.
“Oh!” Her mother jumped at the sudden light. “Careful, Kaz! You’re stronger now, remember?”
“I know, mum. Sorry.” She giggled some more. “Sorry, I know this is serious.” She took a few breaths to calm herself and managed to lower the light back to the level she’d intended to summon. Only then did she realise that her mother was tucking Lydia into the extra bed in her room. “What happened?”
“Lyd’s just had her maturity as well,” her mother said. “Her bed is still smoldering. So I thought in here would be the best place to sleep it off.”
“Ah, that makes sense,” she agreed. “I can’t sleep.”
“I’m not surprised,” her mother said. “You slept all day, which would usually be impossible here for you and you’re hyper from hitting maturity.” She finished tucking Lydia in and took Karen’s hand. “Why don’t we get you some warm milk from the kitchen and I’ll tell you what I remembered while you were unconscious.”
“What you remembered? That sounds ominous.” Karen pulled on her robe and followed her from the room.
“Do we know how long we have until the red attack force reaches here?” her father was asking when they reached the kitchen.
“Well since they can’t teleport in, you have a few days,” Halia replied. “They’ll have to fly and take a circuitous route to avoid crossing the territory of some of their enemies. I’d get the young ones into the shelters while you’re waiting – if you can do that without revealing to the attackers that you’re expecting them.” She cocked her head at him. “You also need to decide who you’re sending.”
“What’s this?” Karen asked. Both her her father and Halia started slightly as she spoke.
“Oh, you’re awake!” her father said. “How are you feeling?”
“Um… high?” she said.
“She can’t sleep now,” Sonia said. “So we were getting her some warm milk. I was going to update her on my news but we should probably tell her all the rest as well.
“Not a bad idea,” Matthias said as he pulled a bottle of milk from a plastic cold box which was sitting on the table and put some more fuel into the stove. “Sit down, Kaz. This could take a while.”