Dagger followed doggedly as Lorden and Ceridwen made their way through the slums, ducking lines strung with wet clothes; dodging around children running gleefully through the dusty streets. There were people on PIs, hologames and playing sports, an occasional droid rolling past on sturdy wheels to cope with the muddy ground - apart from the setting, life seemed to go on as normal. It was certainly cleaner than the RedLamp District in the city.
Finally, they reached a house. It was one of the nice ones, and seemed to be made out of stone from the hillside. Ceridwen led the way inside, Lorden following a little apprehensively, and Dagger slipping in like a silent shadow.
It was a pleasant enough place. The walls were bare but there was a soft carpet, plenty of plasma bulbs and a desk next to a loaded bookshelf.
"Mr Oakstaff," said Ceridwen, in the closest thing to a respectable voice Lorden had ever heard her use. The chair at the desk turned slowly to reveal a middle-height man with plenty of grey hair and beetle-black eyes.
"Yes, who is it, who -?" he chuntered distractedly, before clocking Ceridwen. "Ah, not you again," he grumbled at once. "I've had it with trying to talk to you, go away."
"Mr Oakstaff, please," said Ceridwen urgently. "It's very important that -"
"Important! What do you know about important, chasing around miscreants on the streets for -" Then Oakstaff spotted Lorden. "And you've actually brought one? Are you mental? What if he escapes and reveals our position?"
"He's not escaping. At the moment we're in a legit place, he could run home to mummy any time he wanted. Couldn't you?"
"My 'mummy' is dead," said Lorden coldly. "And if you think I ever want to live in that city again ..."
"He was reluctant at first, but he knew who held the keys to his freedom."
"I still think it's risky ..." stammered Oakstaff, clenching his knotted hands, but -
"You think everything's risky, and you're the one who stays cooped up in this house all the time, too scared to go out and fight the Authorities like everyone else -"
"Don't you dare pull that one on me, missus! Nearly everyone here wants nought to do with D6, we're perfectly happy where we are! You get paid plenty enough, I don't see why you're complaining -"
"Oh, forget it, you silly little man, you don't know what you're talking about," snapped Ceridwen. "The only reason we get paid is because we find food for the entire slum! If it wasn't for us you would all starve. And if you don't help us then I'll just have to go and find someone less experienced who might do it wrong."
"I suppose you want me to test him, do you?" said Oakstaff, looking a little nettled.
"No, I want you to have a nice little chat about the weather," said Ceridwen sarcastically.
Oakstaff paused, then turned to Lorden. "All right, boy, come here."
Lorden approached the wizened old man, looking nervously at Ceridwen, who was watching with admonition.
"Right, boy, she reckons you're magical," Oakstaff began, rather grumpily.
"I am," said Lorden, with a touch of defiance.
"I wasn't saying you weren't. Shut up and pay attention."
Lorden sighed. Why was everyone so short-tempered around here?"
"I want you to bottle up all your energy and direct it at this," said Oakstaff, pulling a plasma bulb from his pocket. "If you've got the power, you should be able to induce an electric current in this bulb, even for a little bit."
Lorden looked at the bulb. He had never practised lighting things in his brief pratice sessions - he didn't know if he would be able to. He stared exclusively at the plasmetal core, willing the electricity to burst into life between the tiny electrodes and excite the waiting ions into life.
Oakstaff was becoming impatient. "Try again, boy, don't stare so much, you're making me uncomfortable."
Lorden tried again ... he knew his magic was waiting to be unleashed, he could feel it building in his head, he yelled at it, sent it forth into the world -
- and the plasma bulb lit so suddenly and so brightly that Oakstaff dropped it. Then, it exploded.
The only sound was bits of glass tinkling on the floor. Oakstaff stood and stared at Lorden, who was a little surprised himself. Only Ceridwen seemed satisfied.
"You see? He's the most powerful magician we could've dreamed to have found!"
Oakstaff looked a little dishevelled.
"He has no control - no control whatsoever - but it's a start." He looked down at Lorden. "I tell you, boy, you've got more power than ever I had. And don't practise any more, not until - well -"
"Are you going to teach him?" said Ceridwen.
"No, I cannot teach him anything," said Oakstaff mulishly. "I thought Dagger was an accomplished magician -"
"I'm not teaching anyone my secrets," hissed Dagger vehemently.
"You're the only decent magician for miles around," said Ceridwen, with a trace of desperation in her voice. "If you don't help train the boy -" ("I have a name, you know") "- then he might end up doing exactly what he did the night I rescued him ... he's already killed two CTOs by accident, for Pete's sake!"
Oakstaff frowned at her.
"I don't see I have any choice!" he said. "All right, all right, whatever you want, I can't see me doing anything else over the next few weeks anyway. Fine! I'll teach him."
"Excellent," said Ceridwen, with an air of finality. "We'll start next Freeday. Come on," she said to Lorden, who had not appreciated following Ceridwen like a loyal puppy and had already left.
Ceridwen slammed the door behind her.
"See? Ceridwen's always right!"