Daniel followed Lucas, Sarah and his parents down the corridor towards a plain wooden door. The others had remained in the dining room, but no one had actually said to stay put and he was curious.
Through the door was a windowless room, with two men sitting on the parquet floor. The older man was weeping softly with his hands over his face and didn’t even look up at their entry. The younger – who looked to be in his late twenties – was pale, but in general seemed more composed as he nodded to Sarah. His expression, however, was grim.
“Doctor Tyler, my apologies for the unannounced intrusion,” he said in a polite tone. “I know it’s incredibly rude, but it’s also very urgent.”
“Carl Laverne! What the hell are you doing here?” Sarah said in a deadly furious tone.
“Coming to warn you,” he said softly. “Marian’s planning to attack you.” He caught sight of Sonia lurking behind Matthias and his eyebrows shot up but he didn’t comment. “She killed Leticia Clitheroe.”
“What!” Matthias exclaimed. “Why?”
He looked at the floor. “Apparently the Core of the other world had been talking to her. It’d been silent for a few months, but when whatever it was happened yesterday, it broke through to her and told her… well, I imagine that you can guess what it told her.” He’d gave a bitter chuckle. “But no, I’m beginning to think she snapped harder than I thought when our parents were killed.”
“What about Hannah and Kayleigh?” Sarah said.
“Tara and Collette are trying to get Hannah out. Kayleigh Clitheroe decided to side with Marian â€“ well, with Adrian actually, but it’s the same thing.”
“I thought you said that you’d got it blocked from contacting Earth,” Daniel interrupted. “How did it manage to talk to her?”
“I’m not sure,” Matthias admitted. “But from what he said when Emms activated his device yesterday, it must have damaged the blocks. I’ll see about repairing it.” He cursed quietly. “I should have checked them, but it never even occurred to me that it might have that effect. It’s a bit late now, but I’ll check and repair them later.” He glanced over at Lucas. “Check them both out. I want to be sure this isn’t some kind of trick.” He gave Carl a lopsided smile. “You’ll have to excuse this but I’m not going to trust you without verification.”
Carl gave another bitter chuckle. “Of course you aren’t. You’re not stupid.” He turned to the other man who’d arrived with him and helped him to his feet. “Come on. Let’s get this over with.”
“I’m going to reinforce the wards and alert Dad,” Sarah said. “So much for them being distracted by what’s happening.”
“Oh, come on a wedding isn’t tha- You’re not talking about the wedding are you?” Carl’s eyes narrowed sharply. “What else is going on?”
Matthias and Sarah gave each other startled looks.
“You don’t know what’s been happening? How can you not know…” Sarah trailed off. “Something is very wrong about this situation.”
“Indeed,” Matthias agreed. “We’ll tell you about it after Lucas has vetted you both, presuming you pass, of course.”
Carl frowned and clearly wanted to ask some more, but then he nodded and followed Lucas from the room.
“What do you think?” Sarah asked once they’d gone.
“I think he was telling the truth,” Sonia said. “His aura certainly suggested it.”
“I know, but they are good at faking it,” Matthias said. “In the meantime, someone needs to go and check on Ema. That’s the best way we have to monitor how Hannah is doing. I’m going to try and contact Tara.”
“And I’m going to see to our defences, though we have enough firepower in one place here that they don’t stand a chance. Hopefully Marian knows that. Speaking of which, we’d better go and tell the others what’s happening.”
Lyrrekka’s hand shot out and caught the back of Kyle’s shirt when he surged to his feet upon hearing that Carl Laverne was one of the people who had teleported in. “You are not going to kill someone who’s come to warn us of an attack,” she said firmly. “Anyway, it sounds like we’ll have plenty of Lavernes for you to take your frustrations out on soon enough.”
“He’s lying!” Kyle said. “It’s some sort of trick!”
“You said that about Sean as well,” Karen noted mildly. “You might be right this time â€“ it is an awfully big change of heart for Carl Laverne to have had â€“ but let’s let Lucas check.”
“I-” Kyle cringed visibly at the mention of Sean, but sank back into his seat. “You’re right. Is anyone working on rescuing Hannah?”
“We’re trying to work something out, but the wedding was at their holiday home in the Isles of Scilly. The wards on that place are astounding,” Matthias said.
“Sean always said he thought there was something hidden there for Marian to put such defences on it,” Karen said. “But he wasn’t sure what.”
“I’ve managed to get in touch with Tara, but they’re too busy running for her to talk much,” Matthias said. “They’re heading for somewhere where they might be able to step sideways into the other world. The Core is blocking Hannah from gating straight to Ema.”
“Sideways from Scilly?” Lyrrekka exclaimed. “With several non-resonants? That’s… bloody hell!”
“Lyr?” Matthias asked.
“If they go sideways from there, they’ll be right on the edge of reaches. It’s really unstable,” Tarian said. “It should firm up a little around the Earth Warrior. Enough for them to get to more stable ground, but if she’s supporting multiple people it’s going to be hard on her.”
“How strong is she anyway?” Lyrrekka asked.
“Hannah?” Kyle said. “Well judging by how strong she was two years ago, I’d be very surprised if she wasn’t an alra. Quite possibly a smidgen stronger than I am?” He glanced questioningly at Sarah who see-sawed her hand at him.
“I wouldn’t like to call it,” she said. “You, Hannah and Jason are all within a hair of each other strength wise.”
“On the upside, Tara thinks they are all focussed on finding her and Hannah first, so we have some time to prepare even if Marian is stupid enough to attack us while we’re all together.” Matthias looked around as Lucas came in and looked around wearily. “Well?”
“Alex Clitheroe is an emotional wreck. He doesn’t know what to think at the moment but once his recovery starts I’m fairly sure he’ll jump our way.”
“His reasons for changing sides are roughly ninety percent pragmatic and ten percent the fact he liked Sean, but yeah he’s honest.” He sank into a chair and massaged his temples. “The Core’s also told Marian about the dragons and exiles. Marian says that proves they don’t need us to protect the other world since we’re the source of the problem in the first place. Carl is taking a considerably more nuanced view.”
“That there wouldn’t be a problem if they hadn’t persecuted us in the first place. He’ll come and join us once he’s got his head back on straight from me turning it inside out.” He looked over at Sarah. “How are the wards?”