Dayne led Lincon through a haphazard tour of what remained of The Court as they moved from fissure to fissure. At each stop Lincon was met with distrustful stares from the Alfath guarding the breaches, and at each stop they watched with growing amazement as he stretched a hand towards the opening and healed the rended stone.
“I saved the biggest for last.” Dayne led the way down a hall. “It might be too big to close, but at least now we’ll have more people to guard this one.”
Lincon recognized the path leading to Peter Jorrall’s office and the holding cell where the Alfath nearly killed his father. At the time of the cave-in, he’d been focused on protecting Caelynn and Rett, and hadn’t realized the extent of the damage.
What had been hallways, offices, and utility rooms of dubious purpose was now a gaping cavern. Blood stains and blast marks attested to the recent battle, and the floor was littered with piles of debris and rubble. Broken ledges were all that remained of rooms that had been the upper level, and six meters above that, a rift opened to the surface and the sky above. A tree on the edge of the chasm toppled over across the gap to form a leafy, turquoise canopy. Half a dozen men and women guarded the opening, but all eyes locked on Lincon as he and Dayne approached.
“Dayne?” A woman with an energy pistol holstered on her hip stepped in front of them. She kept her gaze on Lincon and arched a brow.
“I’m not here for any trouble.” Lincon held up his hands. “I just want to help.”
“Help,” the woman repeated with a derisive snort and gestured to the ruptured ceiling. “You think Thyla did that? We don’t need any more lochfa help!”
Other guards stepped closer, their hands on their weapons, but a voice called down from the broken ledge of what had been the armory. “We can trust this one.” Lincon looked up and recognized a half-breed woman he and Ken encountered when they first entered The Court.
“Shh, Lila, let them handle it.” A large man, Samon, joined her and put a protective arm around her waist, drawing her to his side.
She patted his hand. “No, they need to hear this.” She turned back to address the others. “Most of us would be dead or hauled off by Thyla’s people if the guardians hadn’t shown up.” She gestured to Lincon. “He saved me when her thralls caught me.” She glanced up to her companion. “You were there.”
“It’s true,” Samon reluctantly admitted.
The woman blocking their way turned a critical gaze back on Lincon.
“Amarrah favors him, Elodie,” Dayne added with a touch of warning in his voice. “And he, her.”
Elodie quirked a brow. “He’s Chosen?”
“In all the ways that matter right now.”
Elodie sighed, bowed her head, and stepped aside.
Lincon dipped his head in thanks and climbed over the rubble and debris to survey the damage from the center of the cavern. Dayne was right: the tear in the ceiling was massive. Just the first step of moving the tree out of the breach would push the limits of his talents, and properly sealing the rift would take a tremendous amount of energy. But even if he couldn’t fully close it now, he could at least do something to make it easier on the guards.
He began to draw energy for his magic and could feel the attention of everyone in the room — as well as the energy of a number of people atop the rift. Without saying a word, he beckoned Dayne to join him. He kept his voice a low whisper. “Do you have guards outside?”
“No.” Dayne resisted the urge to look up to the opening. “Most are still recovering from the attacks. The few guards we have are all inside.”
“Someone’s up there. I can’t tell who or how many.”
“Understood. I’ll take care of it. You focus on sealing this up. Play along.” Before Lincon could ask what Dayne meant, the bodyguard let out a loud laugh and clapped Lincon roughly on the shoulder. “Of course we’re judging you, Lochfa! Better get used to it if you’re going to be at Amarrah’s side.” Dayne’s comments drew snickers from the gathered Alfath.
Lincon glanced around at everyone watching, took a deep breath, and reached a hand out towards a nearby pile of rubble. A faint, green glow formed around the pile and a few o f the smaller stones rose a few centimeters into the air. One or two larger rocks shivered in place but otherwise didn’t budge. The glow dissipated with a soft pop and the hovering stones clattered back to the floor.
“Well… that was impressive,” one of the guards deadpanned.
Lincon turned in place, flashing an embarrassed grin to the chuckling spectators. He was careful to not let his eyes linger on the recess where Dayne quietly spoke with Elodie.
“I can do this!” Lincon announced brightly to keep attention on himself. “I just… give me a moment.” He launched into a long, rambling tale of the first time he tried to cast a spell, and from the corner of his eye he saw Elodie make her way up to the armory and nudge Samon to follow her.
Lincon kept up his stream of words: explaining that it can take some time to cast a spell; promising that the results would be quite spectacular; and warning everyone to stay back lest they get caught in the spell.
His babble was broken by shouts from the surface closely followed by the screams of energy pistols. The tree limbs overhead rained down bits of bark and dried leaves as they shook with movement from within the canopy. Lincon lifted a hand, palm up and fingers spread, towards the opening and cast a shield to catch anything falling from the tree.
Dayne dispatched the rest of the guards to backup Elodie and Samon before rejoining Lincon in the center of the room.
“Should we go out to help them?” Lincon asked, keeping his focus on the shield above them.
“No!” Dayne’s veracity made Lincon blink. “Our primary duty is to protect Amarrah. We can’t do that from out there.”
Lincon glanced at the bodyguard and the flush rising on his cheeks, but a pistol blast and accompanying shout drew his attention back to the tree overhead. The branches rattled and a pistol dropped into the shield, followed by a scratched and scuffed young man.
“He’s the last of ‘em,” Elodie called down. “The rest got away.”
“Oh, thank goodness,” Lincon muttered as he curled his fingers and the shield closed around the young man. He flicked a finger and the energy pistol popped out of the shimmering bubble and clattered onto the broken ledge. Lowering his arm, Lincon brought the shield and the captured man down to the ground. “So what now?”
“I know what we can do with him.” Samon grumbled as he and the other guards returned.
“No killing.” Lincon and Dayne declared in unison.
“I’m sure we can find or make an empty store room to hold him for now.” Dayne nodded to two of the guards. “Find somewhere in the thrall quarters.” He turned to greet the prisoner. “Bailey.”
“Traitor.” The young man sneered in reply.
Dayne quirked a brow. “Thyla’s dragging that line out again?”
“Hart died fighting for our people. You’re spitting on his memory by teaming up with his killers!” He gestured furiously at Lincon.
Dayne narrowed his eyes and stepped to the edge of the shield. “Mention my brother again and no amount of lochfa magic will protect you.”
“There you are!” Caelynn trotted into the room. “You’ve been gone four hours and I was starting to worry.” She came to a stop when she noticed the shield encased young man and her bodyguard fairly trembling with rage. “Aaaand something’s going on.”
Dayne shot a last, murderous glare at the prisoner before stalking back to Caelynn’s side. “Forgive us, Amarrah. Lord Sparks detected Thyla’s people spying on us from the breach.” He gestured to the opening overhead. “The others got away, but we were able to catch this one. We’re preparing a holding cell now.” He cut his eyes over to the guards. “Find something to bind him.”
Caelynn looked to Lincon and noticed his outstretched arm tremble as he maintained the shield. “Are you all right, Lord Sparks?”
He smirked at the title. “I’d be better if you had stayed put, but that was never gonna happen, was it?” He breathed a sigh of relief as the guards returned with the restraints and he was able to release the shield and lower his arm.
Caelynn frowned up at the opening and fallen tree. “If others got away than Thyla knows we’re vulnerable here.” She looked over to Lincon. “Can you close it?”
Rubbing feeling back into his arm, Lincon shook his head. “I’m almost tapped out now. Maybe in the morning after I’ve had a chance to recharge.”
“What if I helped?” She tilted her head with her offer.
Lincon glanced around the room at the others watching them. Dayne’s words about judging him were a show for Thyla’s infiltrators, but they were still true: the Alfath were going to watch and analyze his every move. Caelynn was just starting to learn about her powers, but it was vital he display unwavering faith in her abilities. He looked back to Caelynn and dipped his head. “If you wish.”
“I can cover you both,” Dayne assured. He stalked over to take control of the restrained prisoner and gestured for the guards to stand back.
Lincon could once again feel the Alfath scrutiny as he bowed his head and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He brought his hands together before his chest, loosely entwining his fingers with his thumbs and index fingers steepled. He allowed his thumbs to rest on his sternum as he took a third, deep breath and began to sing.
Facing him, Caelynn recognized her father’s prayerful stance and song — the same song he taught her when Lincon lay unconscious after burning himself out. She placed her hands on either side of his, her fingers barely touching him, and joined in the song.
The watching Alfath grew still, their eyes widening as a glow formed around the couple in the middle of the chamber. The air sparkled as Caelynn’s song grew stronger, and the glow spread to fill the chamber. Lifting his head, Lincon opened his eyes and stepped back from Caelynn to stretch his arms wide. He called the swirling energy to him and lifted his hands and his gaze to the rift in the ceiling.
He twisted one hand in the air, and the tree spanning the chasm righted itself, it’s dangling roots stretching across the opening to find purchase in the far edge. Lincon stretched the other hand out towards the mounds of rock and soil, lifting the rubble up to fill in around the tree roots and patch the breach. With a final slow spread of his hands, he smoothed the rough patch and sealed it all together. He stepped back to Caelynn and gently wrapped his arms around her as they finished the song together.
She slumped against him in exhaustion, and he held her close as she regained her strength. It took them a few moments to remember there were others in the chamber, and lifted their eyes to look around at their silent audience. All were staring at them in awe except for the prisoner, whose head was lowered. Caelynn nodded to Lincon, assuring him she was all right, and together they approached the young man.
Caelynn stood before him but remained quiet. He glanced up to her but quickly averted his eyes. Tears streaked his cheeks. “They told us you were a fraud,” he stammered. “One of Jorrall’s half-breed puppets.” He bowed his head once more. “I don’t even know why I listened to them. Forgive me.”