Chapter Twenty Two
“Are you sure about this?” Dariad asked. “I’m not sure they won’t riot when you address them.”
“Have a little faith in me, Dariad,” Alaryia sat in front of a mirror, arranging her her hair into a far more elaborate style than usual with the help of one of her goblins. “I’ll talk them around.” She gave a wry smile. “It’s not like they can harm me and I’m not going to let them harm you or themselves.”
“Somehow that doesn’t reassure me,” he said. “I think I trust you, but I still don’t want you conquering my city.”
“I don’t want to conquer it either.” She cocked her head at him. “But if I can’t win them over, what am I supposed to do? One way or another we can’t let the situation carry on. There will be a revolt eventually if we do.” He opened his mouth to say he could use the throne on them but she cut him off. “That would only stop them temporarily and it’s hard on them.”
“Are you saying you stopping them wouldn’t be?” he asked.
“Not as hard as the throne, no,” she said. “It’s a bit of a blunt tool I’m afraid. It was designed for defence and occasional crowd control, not knocking out persistent rebellions. I’m sorry.”
“That’s true,” he conceded. “And not your fault.”
“In a sense it is. No one predicted the level of social sophistication both speakers and our kind would reach.”
“What?” He stared at her. “You mean you-”
“Well, not personally – I was only a child. But I knew about it. My mother provided the mabain cores for it. It’s interesting how it’s mutated.”
“I-” He shook his head. “I hope they listen to you.”
“I’m sure they will. They know enough to want to know the rest.” She rose to her feet. “Shall we go?”
The audience chamber was more crowded than Dariad had ever seen it in all his years as King. Not even the warrior’s trial had drawn such an audience. The crowd was completely silent as Alaryia walked calmly through them to join him on the dais.
“Thank you, people of Caerdu, for allowing me to address you,” she said. She looked at the mirror behind his throne. “Not even one of my kind can lie to one of these things, did you know that? As I understand it, you can’t even mentally reserve the truth – which of course would be the main problem with letting a unicorn vouch for me.” She glanced at Dariad who nodded in confirmation.
Beside him, Dariad heard Hried gasp as he realised what she intended to do. Alaryia cocked her head at him and smiled before continuing.
“And let’s be honest; the fact I’m a dragon isn’t the main reason you distrust me. If anything, I’m the main reason you distrust dragons.”
“Well, you didn’t help but I think the main reason is that yellow one,” Indrik said.
Alaryia smiled at the unicorn. “Well there is that. But what happened at the Core’s creation is what’s really at issue here, in more ways than one. Some of you are no doubt thinking ‘she’s the one who broke it’.” She produced a small dagger from he sleeve and sliced her palm before offering the blade hilt first to Hreid. He took it and she placed her palm against the polished glass and let it absorb the silver blood which dripped from the wound. “With all that has happened, I have no reason to keep this secret now. I did not break the Core and everything I did after it was broken was to prevent it doing serious damage to Talonyka and Taloa.”
Her blood seeped into the mirror and shadowy images coalesced. The scene which formed in the mirror was confusing. A group of Speakers, one of whom Dariad recognised as Rilletta, and Alaryia were meditating in a cave where there was a pool of Mabain.
Most of the speakers were around the edge of the cave but Dariad still wondered how they were uneffected by the mabain until he remembered Alaryia holding his hand and his head clearing. She was keeping them sane somehow?
Alaryia was seated on a small island at the centre of the pool. Spirals of mabain were rising from the pool and twisting themselves into a sphere above her head. It must be the nascent Core. It was quite beautiful.
It seemed an indeterminable time before the sphere was fully formed and the pool was empty. One by one the speakers closed their eyes and he realised they were merging with it mentally – helping form its processes. He had the feeling it was almost complete when the the wards around the cave shattered inwards and dark claws seem to reach for the core and begin tearing at it. There were screams and people started collapsing. Then the mirror went dark and he knew she must have lost conscious too. A moment later it cleared to reveal her awakening to find the others still unconscious and the Core cracked and unravelling. She leapt to her feet and lifted her hands towards it. It stopped unravelling and the mabain which had already escaped flowed back into it. The cracks however remained. In the mirror she was scowling and as the speakers gradually woke up and came to her assistance but the cracks didn’t close at all.
Eventually Rilletta asked her something and Alaryia shook her head. Rilletta scowled as well as Alaryia lowered her arms and said something to her helpers. From the horrified expressions they shared her opinions of it.
“Alaryia,” he said. “What did you tell them?”
“My analysis of the damage,” she replied. “Someone, I still don’t know who, had inserted a command to destroy the humans as a danger to all speakers and a second to destroy the heart. My initial response was to insert the reason both of those would go against its mission but they’d anticipated that and it wouldn’t accept it. I could deal with the second by wiping all awareness that the heart still existed-”
“Which is what you did,” Dariad said.
“Yes.” She nodded. “But there was no way to make it unaware of humans. I had to find another way to deal with that.”
“Forgive me,” one of the dwarfs said. “But did that really matter? You were the one who made us dependent on humans, which I presume was to stop the Core acting against them. I mean I know it would have been awful if they’d all died. I’m not anti-human at all – not even now the Core has told us where your kind came from. But you left us so vulnerable. Was it really worth it?”