Devil blinked and stretched his wings, savouring the touch of the gale on his bare back. Sunrise was just broaching the horizon over the towers of Dartoc-6 and he was a silhouette against the furore below.
Dagger's words called him. Not spoken, no, but the words he pushed in his mind to his once-servant. The words... As if they were an itch Devil could not sate, they prickled him with an urge.
Kill the children.
Devil pushed off from the Accommodation block he'd been gripping with his toe-talons, and his wings pulled him into the air-current until he was circling the outer rim of Dartoc-6 and heading towards the castle. He inhaled. Yes, the non-maggot and Lorden were hiding there. And Whitney. As much as it pained to turn his servant back into computer and rubble, he had been bound by blood and tooth to do it. And do it he would.
Until Dagger faced his untimely ending, Devil was tied to him and his whim.
A rough wind battered Devil's coat. He yanked it further across his chest and sent a spiral of flame into the air. It warmed his palms for a moment, but quickly dissipated. Drowned, by the bloody slum rain.
If only a maggot powerful enough could chase the rain onto the castle and the rest of Dartoc-6. Away from their homes.
Two months had passed since Adrian had gone missing-slash-captured. The maggots had lost faith, to say the least. Even young Ceridwen. Their hero had failed.
Devil swore and spat onto the ground. He was already drenched with droplets, but—his cigarette wouldn't light. Strolling through the slumways, he ducked in and out of alcoves. He had to find somewhere to light his fag. One last cigarette. He said it every time, but none knew what the CTOs planned. Executions weekly broadcast over the entire Dartoc systemary.
Eventually finding an alcove suitable, he slumped against the rain-and-grime sleeked walls. Clusters of moss rubbed onto the back of his already-battered and scorched trenchcoat, but Devil shrugged it off and rooted through his pockets. Damn. No pocket light. After all that.
He let out a sigh so deep it almost turned to condensation in the air. Better risk the CTOs...
Devil conjured a lick of flame from his fingertips onto the smokes. He'd barely taken a single puff—when an elbow knocked it out of his fingers.
Devil swore. "Can't I for once have a cigarette in peace?"
The CTO responded with a punch to the face.
"Calling units 5 and 6. Identified maggot in sector 6," he crooned into his hand-set.
"Now, really." Devil rolled his eyes. "Couldn't you have come up with some nickname a little more unique?"
The CTO punched him again, a right fist that made stars bloom across his vision. Well, that was hardly fair.
Devil growled, and sprung at the CTO—but he parried and flipped Devil onto his face. The smell, eau de cobbles and grime like the rear of a lev engine, was almost worse than his stinging back.
Even so, down was not out for Devil. One hand pinned to his back, the other was loose under him, pinned only under his own weight. That, at least, was an advantage.
He leapt up, and shoved the hevvy away. Brute force, if nothing else.
He threw up a hand, as if dismissing a fly, when he was in fact trying to throw this officer off his feet, if only for a moment to give Devil time to sprint. He cursed under his breath. His thoughts darted all over his mind, and they were interrupting his every attempt at fighting back; when he passed his right hand through the air, a panel-screen on the side of the apartment block spat electric sparks and smoke.
At least that made the CTO splutter and cover his mouth.
As Devil made to creep against the wall and out, he dropped to the ground, and tilted his blaster sideways…straight into Devil’s waiting jugular.
They'd been trained since last time...
Devil's right hook was parried and his left only just clipped the ear of the dodging CTO. All that, and to receive a punch to the gut that sent tears down his face.
Breathe. He had to figure out a way...
In the distance—through the mud and grit of the city slums—the pounding sounded of multiple CTOs running to join their officer. Devil gritted his teeth. With an air-controlling wave of a hand, he managed to knock a loose helmet from its owner, but the CTO parried with annoying skill. How one parried a burst of invisible force, Devil didn’t know, but the Monarchy had acquired the worst kind of intel from somewhere.
"Well, send my regards to Adrian," he added. That was a dare they'd challenged themselves, that if any of them risked capture, they'd confront the CTOs with their biggest mistake.
What Devil didn't anticipate was the shock that split the CTO and his pallies’ expressions.
Then it was replaced by further hate—but the uncomfortable twisting in the pit of Devil's stomach remained.
The knee to the gut and helmet to the face took him by more surprise than he was willing to admit.
He awoke in a cell that smelled of pee and dried blood. The stench of copper covered over his wrist, too; in the fight, a knife had slashed deep. Too deep. It bubbled from his chest then – his defence mechanism and greatest secret. What could be his death-sentence him if the CTOs discovered it.
In dragon-form now, he closed his eyes from the waves of memory. Dragon-form did that, enhanced what had been, not what would be. Yes, the present gleamed beyond his gaze, stretching out like a vista of flames and silhouettes under his nostrils. The world stunk, too, stunk of meat and asphalt and the dust the levs had long since turned over.
But the past was still there, a play performed by its leaders, and scattered by the bit-parts of the children, whom magic had claimed. They were irrelevant. In the scheme of things. After all, he and Dagger had far more work to do.
Devil nosed the air.
He knew his task.