The Queen tucked her hands behind her back, and pointed a pristine glass slipper in the butler's direction.
"Good you could help so early, Matt."
"I understand," he said quietly. "Every link in the chain."
"Exactly." If Matt had been about to say anything more, she cut him off sharply. And without so much as a second glance.
The three of them stood in the entrance hall, gazing down at a robot that currently leaked enough sparks to start a fire, Percy reckoned. But the engineer Matt deftly held one hand against the wheels (now only turning when he willed it) and his other one the curved front of the butler, as if it were an infant, not a machine with wires for neurons and programming for behaviour. Matt was her age, Percy thought, but in the tilt of his head and the knowledge behind his working eyes, he looked so much older.
As if she read Percy's thoughts with such acuity, the Queen piped up: "Matt's parents were killed by maggots."
But she gave no opinion. That was odd, to say the least.
He inclined his head, and Percy mimicked the act - general respect between them as the same class. That wasn't surprising.
"Where is His M-Majesty?" asked Percy. Her voice caught and she swallowed away the fear. Lorden and Whitney were waiting downstairs for her. Every minute she passed in the Queen's company meant another minute the plan was faltering. By now, they'd probably have worked out what had happened. Or close enough.
It had been her fault, again. If she hadn't stopped to read the tablets--
"He leads the search for my daughter," she punctuated.
Guilt circulated through Percy, and she shut her eyes. When she opened them again - a minute had passed, surely, but time had slowed the second Ophelia had pointed that blaster at the side of her forehead - Matt had his almond-shaped eyes directed on her. Those eyes would enthral any girl who wanted to be enthralled... Percy, however, was not impressed by him. He wasn't her type, to say the least, and she sniffed.
Speaking of the blaster, it still hung at the Queen's side, as if it were an everyday accessory--not an omen of death in the palace.
Oh tech. It was all so real.
Percy turned away from the Queen and Matt to hide her nervous swallow. She didn't want her companions risking their magic simply because she'd not returned. And her grandfather, too, he was waiting on her.
After all, Ophelia might have some clue about who was letting maggots into her castle, but Percy was willing to bet her position that the Queen couldn't pick the 'criminals'' faces from a crowd.
But that might change any minute.
The princess panted. Without anyone to help, it had taken her a hefty load of pushing and pulling to get Dagger to this abandoned room in the castle gatehouse. She glanced at the door. She'd wedged it open with a hunk of brick, and now the entranceway bled light through. Poisonous light like fog that might wake him from his necessary slumber.
She had no regrets. What else had Dagger done but cause harm and pain to her friends? If anything, he deserved more than to be tied to one of the castle boilers.
Elenia finished the knot she’d been twisting, and tossed the blaster into a corner of the room. It was inactive; nobody needed it. But, still, she had the right to take it and the arm to smack if need be. For the time-being, though, Dagger was dealable when tied like that.
Grimald's body rumbled and rotated in his unconsciousness. For a moment, Elenia thought he might jump to his feet quicker than she'd blink. It almost made her throw up to think what Dagger had done.
The body stirred again.
Elenia halted in her movements. His eyes could open any moment.
What to do?
She punched him in the face, and ran.
Her knuckles clicked, bent back upon themselves, and pain shot through her hand. She very nearly screamed. But she knew. She knew that would alert the guards around the castle’s perimeter—especially as they’d recognise the screech of the princess anywhere. The problem with guards who’d known her since childhood. The ache split through her wrist like a smack to the face, but she gritted her teeth and moved. Time was short and Dagger would be conscious.
This palace was the back of her hand, her childhood playground. With any luck, she'd get to her mother's chambers before even the lowliest of servants noticed that their precious princess scurried like a mouse after cheese through the corridors.
The west wing was open as usual, deep passages winding through the outer rim of the castle that smelled of must and cleaning fluid together. As Elenia ran, muffling her footsteps as much as she was able by trying to balance or sprint on her toes, snippets of voices reached her. But that was expected, considering that the morning was carefully lighting the undersides of the castle. So, she ignored the sounds and pressed on deeper through the west wing.
Nearer and nearer to her entrance to the servants’ quarters—best for finding Percy or Lorden or whomever had followed the plan so far. Elenia slowed her footsteps, eased her breath that caught up whilst she’d been running. She nearly convinced herself that everything was normal—that she was normal—if only she didn’t need the wariness to help the Maggots explain their plan to Tyrannus. Explain the need for equality.
Then she turned a corner into one of their atriums.