Benjamin sweated under his cloak. The atmosphere in the tunnels crackled with more than simply the tension that every man and woman there knew was brewing in the streets of Dartoc-6 above them. Rumours had surfaced of the King’s insistence to find his daughter proceeded by troops of CTOs in their seek-and-maim training. Occasionally, they heard them stomp across the pavement above.
A shiver passed through the maggots. Some were getting restless – pacing or twitching their hands. On the other hand, Ben simply slumped. He adjusted his cloak and looked at his watch. Lorden had been gone too long.
In the tunnel beside him, magic-users juggled balls of flame in their hands or healed small injuries or used their minds to pickpocket each other in jest. Many were powerful—this he could tell by their displays, and also because he’d taught some of the older ones back in the day—but none had Lorden’s flair or Elenia’s mental prowess. Not before had he seen such command of magic in his pupils (and only in Adrian had he witnessed such acts)—and that made him worry for the two children out there.
They were too young to have to fight this fight.
Benjamin strolled across to one of the contact panels on the wall. He pressed the lock to talk and leant in closely. The less the gathered knew of the danger they were in, the better.
“Dagger? Devil?” Neither of the superior members responded to his calls on the panel. “Where the ‘ell are they?” He grumbled to himself and limped through the crowds, stopping ever so often to answer a query or share an acknowledgement with their magic-users he’d once spent so long with.
One woman with short curls and a dead look in her eyes threw out a hand against his chest as he passed. “How is that boy qualified to lead us if he’s not even here? How long do we have to wait, Oakstaff? I’d rather be firing the head off a CTO right now than standing around doing nothing.”
Ben said nothing, but nodded and doubled back. She was right. They needed a leader, if only as a placeholder whilst Lorden was away.
They were getting restless.
"'Scuse me," he called to the crowd. "'Scuse me. If you would listen... Oh, for Pete's sake."
No one would listen to an old codger like him. It was the reason he'd gone into retirement. Well...one of the reasons.
One, a man who identified with the name 'Bow', nodded roughly to Ben. He shot a plume of green light into the air until it slammed against the ceiling like a reverse jet. A lesser maggot, indeed, and blessed with healing, but Bow had silenced the crowd.
The eyes were on him. And Oakstaff, Ben grudgingly acknowledged.
"Please, people," Bow called. His voice lighter than it ought to be, as if he was younger than his looks. "Ceridwen's death is a blow to us all, but it only furthers why we ought to revolt against the Monarchy. There are no friends of ours in high castles."
These people had no idea about Dagger's double-crossing involvement, did they? Ben shifted from foot to foot.
"Professor Oakstaff, as you may know, has been aiding Ceridwen over the last few weeks, and whilst our elected Lorden is not around, we've got to listen to him."
There ought to been dissent, but Ben heard none.
"Lorden's assigned himself of t'mission to m'granddaughter from her kidnapped position by the CTOs," added Ben. He didn't want them to think the boy had abandoned them...though, it was beginning to look that way.
They couldn't wait around for ever.
"Lorden instructed me to look after your needs whilst he's working on the inside. If we have—" Ben swallowed again; he'd much preferred working from the comfort of his home, but that had since been surrounded by CTOs— "have to start t'rebellion, we do it now, upon castles and streets."
"Amen," added Bow and a number of the maggots in the around followed suit.
In any other war, they would have shouldered weapons and braced themselves, man to man as if they walked as an army. Here, they needed no weapons. The men and women who had hidden under the tunnels and made their homes in the slums for so long cracked their knuckles and squared their shoulders. They shook the hands of comrades, offering scarce words of luck and fortune and all the answers to questions no one dared to voice.
And Ben watched, apprehension brewing in his gut.