“Marian is crazy, but I don’t think she’s quite crazy enough to attack you tonight,” Carl said when he joined them. “Not once she realises that you’re all here anyway. For one thing, she knows that the five of you together-” His gesture took in Matthias, Sonia, Sarah, Lucas and Lyrrekka. “-are formidable enough to cause problems for even the whole family when you act as one. Once you factor the kids here – who likely match you – it’s not a fight that looks winnable through a frontal assault. Even if she could catch you by surprise.” He glanced from Lyrrekka to Kyle and Sonia. “But really, what is this? Land of the dead that live?”
There were a few chuckles at that but no responses.
“That’s true,” Matthias said after a moment. “Marian has never had a bad grasp of tactics nor shown any tendency to rush into battles which she knows she can’t win. So, if you were still on her side, what would you do in this situation, Carl?”
“Me?” Carl asked. “I’m not as tactically-minded, but I think I’d probably go for watching you and waiting until you were separated. Marian may try and engineer such a thing, but that’s a bit beyond me. I’ve no idea what else she might do. You should probably try and find Anthony Merriweather, though. She’ll be looking for him.”
“Oh don’t worry about Anthony,” Sarah said. “I’ve warned him.” She tapped her fingers on the table. “We’ve set up the wards for stronger alarms. Lets get back to what we were discussing before we were interrupted.”
“A very good idea,” Matthias agreed. “Since it seems that the Lavernes are somehow unaware of what has been happening.”
“And whatever it is you thought it would distract us,” Carl mused. “What has been happening?”
“Well we encountered this phenomenon in Devon earlier,” Matthias showed him the image of the green spiral on his phone. “When I called Sonia she told me it was raining fish in Preston and then Lyr-” he nodded to Lyrrekka “-found a lot of similar incidents in the last day on Google.”
“Shit!” Carl leapt to his feet and turned to Lyrrekka. “Can you show me what you found? If this is what I think you’re suggesting, then Marian must have known about it.” He swore a few times.
“Yes, do,” Sarah said. “I’m going to see if I can force my way through to Waldhafen and talk to Ema.
“Ema says that she’s sure Hannah made it through, but she was in a great deal of distress just before she jumped.” Sonia said when she returned through a gate from Waldhafen about half an hour later. “She’s trying to get a fix on her but she’s a long way away.” She rubbed at the bridge of her nose tiredly. “And Matt, you really need to fence the Core back in soon. Gating was incredibly hard on me. No wonder Hannah couldn’t manage to jump to Ema and had to leap sideways.” She looked around. “Where’s Carl?”
“As soon as I have time.” Matthias folded his arms and scowled upwards. “Has it gone crazy â€“ uh â€“ crazier? It knows killing me would knock out He who was Indirian and that would cause a cascading failure in the entire guardian system.”
“I left Carl swearing at your computer. Ian was showing him what we’d found,” Lyrrekka said. “As to the Core, this reeks of desperation.”
“Or sabotage,” Tarian added. “It’s been compromised before, after all.”
“Surely Alaryia took precautions to stop that happening again? Matthias said.
“Oh, I’m sure she did,” Tarian said. “But the thing is linked to the minds of all Speakers. Even with defences, it’ll never be one hundred percent secure, will it?”
“Hmmm.” Matthias seemed to consider the idea. “I guess. And the most obvious time when part of its security was down was when the old guardian system was destroyed. Do you think it was then?”
“I don’t know but it certainly is possible,” Tarian replied. “But this isn’t really Shalriya’s style. She doesn’t want to undermine the world slowly.”
“What does she want?” Matthias asked. Tarian and Lyrrekka visibly hesitated.
“Mostly she wants the pain to stop â€“ not just for her but for everyone â€“ but she’s decided life is pain and incurable,” Lyrrekka said quietly. “She’s rather broken, really. They say she was really sweet before she crashed into descent like that. Of course it’s been so long people might be misremembering.”
“Oh,” he said. “Oh dear. So her going after the Core so much isn’t just irrational? She knows what would happen?”
Lyrrekka shook her head. “She knows exactly what she’s doing and that’s what she wants.”
“It’d almost be enough to make me feel sorry for her,” Sarah said. “If I hadn’t seen what a sadist she could be. For someone who wants to stop pain she inflicts enough.”
Lyrrekka scowled. “She’s trying to educate people, so they’ll agree with her. A disturbing number break in that exact way.” She shuddered violently and bit her lip. Tarian reached out, squeezed her hand and murmured something in draconic. She gave him a weak smile in response.
“Lyr?” Matthias said softly. “What did she do to you?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Lyrrekka said. “I escaped with my sanity intact, just, and got Mia out as well.” She hugged her goblin daughter with one arm. “It’s over now.”
“Not with that expression on your face it isn’t,” Sarah said gently. “She hurt you badly?”
There was a long pause and then Lyrrekka nodded.
“I don’t want to talk about it. She said I was stubborn and she hated that I helped everyone else. About the only person she didn’t hurt was her heart friend when he turned up. She looked like she wanted to a couple of times when he started with the litany of good and happy things he’d seen but she always restrained herself.” She shook her head. “I think he was trying to snap her out of it even after all this time. Shalriya’s been in descent since before she was a dragon. Gerian said the exile broke her.” She sighed heavily. “And I believe that it was her who broke him. That’s why he hates her so much. His one good point is how willing he is to take in the few refugees who do make it across the border.”
“Well, not his only good point,” Tarian said. “Just one of the few and definitely the most noticeable. We should probably sleep soon, you know. Tiredness would make us vulnerable too.”