Negotiations

Ceridwen stared so intensely at the king that it seemed she was sure to bore a hole through his forehead soon, even through the telescreen. The king averted his eyes as though afraid he might suffer damage to his retinas.

"We want pure and utter freedom for all magic-users," said Ceridwen in a voice as unyielding as concrete. "No loopholes, no countermeasures, we want to be a normal part of society."

"Impossible," said the king, fidgeting nervously. "To change my position so dramatically -- the people wouldn't stand for it, there would be revolt."

"There's already a revolt," said Ceridwen crossly. "And you'll find that we're not as helpless as you might expect. If you want to go to all-out war, then we're willing to go there. But know that if you ever want to see your daughter again, you're going to have to accede to our demands."

"I don't know how you dare," stammered king Tyraanus. "Resorting to kidnapping! And if people hear that I change the laws simply to save my kidnapped daughter. . . this is barbaric is what it is!"

Ceridwen let out a laugh, cold and mirthless. "Like you haven't done worse things to us! You've had your men kill us, imprison us for doing nothing at all! We haven't even harmed your daughter, we merely demand justice."

"Fine," said the king. His voice sounded strange and weak through the speakers. "I'll try to get legislation passed, but I can't promise success."

"You're the bloody king," sneered Ceridwen. "And you won't get your daughter back until it's final."

Then she clicked off the communicator and the king's face disappeared. She turned to Dagger, who had been present the entire time outside the camera's view.

"What do you think?"

"I think he lied," said Dagger. "I think he's planning an attack."

"I think so too," Ceridwen agreed. "But I won't harm his dear daughter. She's useful to us now."

*   *   *

Far above, on the surface of Dartoc-6, in the tallest castle tower, king Tyraanus sat slumped in his study chair. He turned to Grimwald who had witnessed the entire conversation.

"You know I can't," said the king with a sigh.

"No, and I wouldn't recommend it," replied Grimwald. "There's no way of knowing if they'll release the princess even if you do yield to their demands. And it would only give the maggots more power. There's no telling how far they would go."

"My thoughts exactly," Tyraanus said. He fiddled with the gold-framed picture of Elenia that stood on his desk. "You know, there was a tracker on Hero before they killed him. We know where the maggots are. A surprise attack could end this entire thing quite swiftly, as well as ensure Elenia's safety."

Grimwald nodded.

"And I have a contact among the maggots," he said. "Given enough incentive, he might provide an easy way in, not to mention some extra firepower."

But despite his apparently calm exterior, Grimwald was in turmoil. He could not banish the image of Ceridwen from his mind. He had not seen her face in so long. She was the reason he had become a CTO. He had always thought she had been captured. He could not believe she led them. Still, like the king, he could not change course now. He had spent too long hating the maggots to be able to change his mind, whether Ceridwen was with them or not.

"Then get your teams ready, Grimwald," ordered the king. "It's time to take them down."

The End

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