Chapter Twenty Three
“Mummy!” Salia flew from the portal and into her mother’s arms. “I missed you!”
“Moppet!” Valeria bent down and pulled her daughter into a hug. “I’ve missed you too. How’s Gaia?”
“It’s strange,” Salia said. “Did you know we can eat plants there? I tried some.” She wrinkled her nose. “They taste horrible.”
“So I’ve heard.” Valeria chuckled. “Did you try chocolate yet? I bet you like that.”
“Mm-hmm.” Salia nodded enthusiastically. “Kari does as well.”
“I’m not surprised.” Valeria straightened up and put an arm around her daughter’s shoulder. “So what’s the plan?”
“We need to go to Caerdu and collect Dariad and Alaryia.” Ystelyan turned to Matthias. â€œNeither of them is willing to leave until they’ve spoken to you. The Core attacked the City. Alaryia managed to stop it.”
“What!” The colour drained from Matthias’s face. He opened and shut his mouth a couple of times then took a deep breath and closed his eyes. For a moment he seemed to be listening to something then he nodded. “Ah, I see.” He opened his eyes and looked at Valeria. “They need Indirian’s help?”
“Yes,” Valeria said. “It tried it here as well. Mother stopped it.”
“What about Waldhafen?” Birke asked sharply. “Can El protect it from here?”
“For now,” Valeria replied. “Though it is tiring for both of us given the distances involved. We can only manage it because her sanctuary is there.” She paused and looked down. “And because Estara is helping. Mother is more worried about the army King Plamen has heading for the border. He’s never much cared for Waldhafen’s independence from him. Mother is certain some of the border fires were not accidents. If he’s using the Core’s revelations as an excuse, he could destroy the whole forest.”
“I really doubt that Estara would allow that,” Ystelyan said. “And his throne wouldn’t tolerate it either.”
“No, they don’t like tyrants, do they,” Valeria said. “And Plamen has always skirted that line too closely for my taste.”
It’s already stung him a time or two, Elaranor said. He’s taken to only using it during dragon attacks. He knows it won’t hurt him then. It can’t reach him if he avoids it.
“Well, that suggests a solution, doesn’t it?” Matthias cocked his head at Valeria. “The thrones can talk to each other, right?”
“Yes, but I don’t see-” Valeria broke off and stared at him. “You want to fake a dragon attack on his people to force him to use his throne?”
“If his throne knew it was feint that might work.” Ystelyan narrowed his eyes. “And the notion would appeal to Estara, especially since it would mean she didn’t have to attack them for real. Let’s mention it to Alaryia and Dariad when we get to Caerdu.”
“You should check on your neighbours as well, Val,” Sarah said. “You don’t have anyone like Plamen to deal with but who knows what the Core is pushing them to do.”
“I already have.” Valeria pinched the bridge of her nose. “Several of them are gathering troops. I’ve locked down the borders. It should hold until we get back.”
“What’s the final total?” Dariad asked Hried as they waited for Valeria and the others.
“Seventeen dead and another hundred and nine needing treatment for mental damage and essence burn,â€ Hried said sadly. “Mostly at the edges of the city where the first dragon’s protective shield took longest to reach. We were lucky so many people had come to hear what she had to say or we’d have lost a lot more.” His face crumpled and he punched the wall furiously. “How can it do this? I know it’s broken but it’s supposed to protect us!”
“If I hadn’t believed what Alaryia said on the strength of the mirror, this would have proved it,” Brita said. “But I got the feeling it caught her by surprise as well.” She cast a questioning glance at Alaryia.
“It did,â€ she agreed. â€œIt shouldn’t be able to do that; any strikes it makes are supposed to be surgical. Then again it’s not supposed to be able to fail to enforce the Heart laws either.” She stared out of the cave entrance into the darkness and tutted to herself, brows knitted in a worried frown. “I’m missing something.”
“I know it’s important but we can worry about it after we’re done.” Dariad paused as heard the sound of approaching wings. He reached out to check who was approaching and was relieved to touch Valeria’s mind. “They’re here.”
“Yes.” Alaryia was still frowning. “Maybe Elaranor or Indirian will have some insight on this situation.”
Â A/N: I’ve made another dreamwidth post about the probable IndieGoGo Campaign for Haventon outlining my estimates of the costs involved in that project. Please check it out if interested.