As they approached the door to the Core’s tower, Karen’s stomach clenched and she felt cold. She looked around but couldn’t pinpoint any source except the tower ahead – which made no sense. The Core was on their side, wasn’t it? She tapped the others’ minds and projected the feeling and question to them.
Well, it’s supposed to be, Jason said. But I’m getting the same thing. He glanced at the other three and they nodded as well. Cao? What about you?
No. His heart friend frowned. I don’t sense anything. I can feel that you are but I can’t actually sense it myself. The other heart friends said the same.
This is very strange, Kyle said. And I’m sure it has something to do with Darya. He looked at the door of the tower. I think we’d better go and find out what.
There’s no avoiding it anyway, Karen said. We can’t defy the Core. I just wish we’d sent an imp home before rushing here.
Darya transformed his legs back into a tail and dived to the bottom of the underground lake which Ystelyan had called the pool. What Rilletta and the dragon had told him made a bitter kind of sense and Aquia had confirmed it was true. If anyone would know it was Rilletta, since she’d been there. She’d omitted much of the story; she’d said as much. But she’d also said it was only for fear of revealing something the Core didn’t know.
But what she’d said about the Core hating humans and how it would kill them if they weren’t all that stood between the dragons and its charges, he would have believed even without the unicorn’s testimony. He’d sensed it for himself when he’d helped Julie.
And they said that they wanted to help him and Kyle. That he was less sure about. He wished he had time to think about it, but he had a growing sense Kyle was in danger and he couldn’t think of any other way to save him except to accept Ystelyan’s help. He swam around a few seconds longer as he considered, but the sense of urgency was growing. He’d already started back to the surface when he sensed a dragon enter the cave. He broke the surface and found Ystelyan standing there, frowning.
“The Core has summoned the warriors and their heart friends,” he said without preamble. “I suspect it’s going after Kyle since it can’t touch you while you’re under my protection.
Darya swam to the edge of the pool, reformed his legs and pulled himself up on to the rocks. “I haven’t decided yet.” He hugged his knees. “I don’t know know what to do.”
“I know,” Ystelyan said. “I don’t blame you.” He cocked his head as if considering the problem. “How about we do it this way? I’ll help you get Kyle out alive and fool the Core into thinking that you’re both dead if I can. It’s going to be very risky and require split second timing. If it works, the two of you can decide in your own time. If you decide not to join me, I’ll get you both to Taloa.” He caught Darya’s blank look and smiled. “It’s our name for Gaia.”
“Ah.” Darya stared into the water. “I guess I don’t have much choice. I don’t want to die.”
“Right then, the first thing I need you to do is stop blocking him and let him see what you’ve learned.”