Percy swallowed, her throat only becoming drier when she had one terrible thought: she recognised that voice, that sweet, sharp voice, ever commanding.
But how in tech's word had the Queen acquired a blaster?
"I would've thought better of you, Percina," said Queen Ophelia. "Sneaking in our dungeons. Bringing in fugitives—Oh, yes, I saw you. I may be Queen, but I am not blind to what has been happening under my society."
"Please—" Percy squeaked.
"Where is my daughter?"
Now, Percy had her own flock of questions, and it took her full might to lock them away.
"I don't know."
"You lie," Ophelia said in a breathy way that made those words almost hissed.
"Honestly." Percy stumbled under the grip. Queen Ophelia was several inches taller than her, and her weight with the blaster on Percy's shoulder pushed her towards the floor. "We were battling Dagger when he took flight and Elenia chased after him. We have no idea where she ducked to."
"Dagger? Dagger is dead."
"Dagger is not dead."
Silence. Percy risked a look back at the Queen. Her lips were puckered, her face unreadable. She took all the fury from the stars above and compressed it into the single turn of her jaw. She was hate—and, yet, she was sympathy.
They were not enemies, the Queen and her, and they knew it.
Percy’s questions had answers, at least; the owner and activator of said tablets: the Queen. The reason they lay in a meticulous pile: the Queen. The reason a coffin here held one of the most notorious maggots of the last century? Well, Percy didn’t dare make assumptions.
But the man the Queen loved lying with their love letters. That was a tad fishy if nothing else.
How, then, had she not spotted the embossment of the entrance-tunnel?
But Percy dared not point that out. Otherwise…
She wouldn’t ruin this plan twice.
Out of the corner of her eye, she glimpsed the brick wall and a selection of bricks towards its centre that near cried out to be removed by twisting the top brick sideways and freeing the second until a cascade of spaces opened out there. When one looked the correct way… And, here, with her neck tilted under the weight of the blaster, Percy found herself too late in the right position.
“Your Majesty… I want to find Elenia—”
“As much as I do? Do not pretend that I’ve not heard that before.”
Percy twitched. Apart from agreeing, her choices ran from limited to firing-line-with-a-blaster-against-the-dungeon-wall.
And, even as their plans stood so far, Percy didn’t like the chances they would have after he execution.
“No, ma’am,” she said. “I heard Elenia might be hiding here, so I wanted to check.”
Shockingly, her silence suggested that Ophelia bought the lie.
She grunted and escorted Percy unceremoniously up the dungeon stairs, and marched her through the corridors, in as straight a line as the servants quarters allowed. This meant seizing the first available staircase. And not so quickly. In all the times she'd been in the drink with her employers, she'd never seen Ophelia look so...determined. Far from the mincing Queen she'd acted as, she'd transformed into some sort of fighter better found on the streets and the battlefield of maggots. For all the times Percy had made mistakes in amongst the perfection of the androids, Queen Ophelia had never shown such emotions as these. Not anger, not displeasure at the help. But a generous nastiness that did not become the Queen.
The two of them turned for a short walk through the paved atrium of the castle, but no longer did the tapestries and paintings of the royals’ part of the castle conjure a wonder in Percy that was limited to imagining crystals woven into those images. Sure, she respected them enough to appreciate the finer elements of their décor, but yet, Ophelia’s disregard for her daughter’s safety for the capture of someone who worked for maggots and, in their opinion, wanted the Monarchy down on its knees.
Okay, not disregard, exactly… But that she focused on the servant before her princess. Percy’s forehead bloomed with the pain of thinking it over. Wrestling one hand out of where it pressed against the Queen’s side, she swept it across her head. A sticky sheen of sweat hung there, to Percy’s chagrin – she hadn’t even know she’d been working a sweat. Not out of fear… Perhaps.
Then they turned into the second atrium, made for receiving guests, back in the heyday of Dartoc-6’s Monarchy.
A gentleman with short brown hair and grease streaked across the bridge of his nose knelt by the butler robot, it on its side and wheels spinning. Ah, the trials of the non-magic users continued whilst the rest of the world were struggling and burning beneath. This robot Percy recognised – the same one Elenia had destroyed and thus revealed her maggot tendencies. Now, the butler ticked uncomfortably to himself.
Maybe even the consciousness-less machine felt it: the turning of the world, the changing of the time as the uprising grew. An uprising the royals and the servants within this castle-hide knew nothing of…
And all was converging on the castle and its Tyraanus.