Lorden nearly guided a hand down to make Dagger more comfortable. For all the blackguard was worth, he wanted to at least be able to hear the truth from that pierced mouth. His mother…alive? The woman he’d spent so many hours wondering about. Did she have his eyes? Or maybe she had hair that was the complete opposite of his mop. Had she been kind? Sharp? A magic-user?
That was the dream.
“Ceridwen…” Dagger stumbled over the syllables.
“Ceridwen was my mother?” Frowning, Lorden shot Percy a glance—the maid was wearing the same expression of incredulity. “She can’t be more than ten years older than me.”
Great. Even at death’s door, Dagger had enough gall to throw insults. Yet, the colour was seeping back into his cheeks, too.
Lorden leaned closer. “Ceridwen and my mother?”
“Yes… They were good friends—”
Before Dagger could spew another syllable, Lorden was knocked sideways. The wind spluttered from his chest, and he gasped before he hit the floor. A somebody with an endoskeleton of metal had smashed him down. He faintly heard Percy call his name.
As soon as the pain had winded him, it retreated. Ben’s weeks of lessons were taking charge, and Lorden inhaled as he cast magic around his mind. Not only to block the coming attack, but also to power his determination to ignore the stinging from his left ribcage, just as Elenia had done in those first duels. He leapt to his feet, and stared at his assailant.
“Whitney?” cried Percy. She struggled against the arm the computer-human wrapped around her. Whitney’s other hand reached for her blaster.
“What has she done?”
Lorden searched for some fragment of truth in Whitney’s cold, computerised eyes. He found none. Not even a flicker of compassion.
“Percina Oakstaff, you are being kidnapped,” she replied. As ever, her tone held nothing, like a canvas only waiting in agony to be painted.
“This is ridicul—” Lorden started, but Whitney had already bounded off down the street, Percy in her arms. The maid’s screams called to be a trail for Lorden.
He cast one glance at Dagger—
The man was no longer a bleeding pile of useless on the floor. In fact, he was no longer on the floor at all. Dagger had vanished. In all Whitney’s interruption, Lorden had forgotten about the one person he couldn’t wait to rid of all power.
“Damn it! Can’t I just have one person stay still for a minute?”
Why had he even agreed to heal the coward? For that truth. Yes, that Ceridwen had known his mother and father. About which, she’d said nought. But he had no time to be mad about that. Not when he’d lost Percy again.
She screamed, a tinny note that was cut off mid-way. Too, the note did not sound as distant as it had been a moment ago. Lorden sprinted down the lev-way, his arms and legs still scratched and bruised from the fall. His ribs still pounded from where Whitney had shoved him down. When he got his hands on her—
“Psst.” The whisper sent not-uncomfortable ripples down his spine. He turned to its source, an alleyway off the lev-way barely big enough for two, let alone three people. Yet, that was where Percy and Whitney stood, expecting him to join them.
“It’s a blind,” the former told him, so quietly that she was almost mouthing the words.
“What?” Lorden whispered, ducking in. This close to Percy, his tongue felt as if it were stuck to the roof of his mouth.
“It’s a blind. Whitney reckons Dagger set us up and planned to spring a trap on us. She got there in the nick of time.”
“Yeah… That figures…” He sucked in the air, as Percy and Whitney blinked at him. Not kidnapper-captive style. “Dagger. He’s gone.”
“Oh, why did I heal him?” she cried. Underneath a voice full of anxiety, though, he recognised anger—an anger at him for pressing her.
“I’m sorry, Percy.”
“Don’t.” She shook her head. “We don’t have time for that.”
“Yes,” said Whitney, “I must escort you to a safe place until Dagger is convinced you are all eliminated.”
“As if I am letting you escort us!” cried Lorden. This was ridiculous. “There are innumerable magic users underground awaiting my advice. I have to return. I have to lead them.”
“Do you think you can?” asked Percy, with a hint of challenge in her voice. Lorden didn’t blame her. After how he’d acted in the last half an hour.
“Safety,” repeated Whitney.
Percy edged towards Lorden, and his stomach flipped as she rested a hand just above his elbow. “Whitney’s right. If Dagger’s set a trap for us, we need to vamoose out of here as soon as. The Underground’s not safe at the moment. I bet every CTO is headed that way as we speak, and we can hardly stay out her.” She gestured around. The Holt building a few blocks down was eerily silent, but Lorden knew that silence wouldn’t keep them secure for long. “I think I know somewhere they won’t look for a maggot, though.”
“Fine,” Lorden said. He trusted her judgement, though he hated to admit that much.
However, someone was missing. That Lorden knew, not from sight or counting the heads, but from the absence in his mind.
“The hell?” he cried, spinning in a circle. “Where is Elenia? Whitney, what did you do to her?”
“I did nothing,” the computer-human replied, blinking once as she spoke. “My friend left after Dagger.”