Extinguished

Ceridwen lifted her hand to her gut. It was moist with blood. She examined the wound bemusedly - it was not deep but had sliced open her blood-rich intestines. She would be able to stop the blood but if she didn't get help soon ...

But no-one ever came down this way. No-one would know she was hurt. Maybe she was condemned to a quiet death, all alone, just as she had been all those years ago -

She summoned the last of her strength and pulled the wound closed - a clumsy clot formed at her skin but the pain remained ... she needed a healer ...

*        *        *

"Ben! Ben!"

Lorden was running through the tunnels. His thoughts were whirling in his head, he had never been so out of touch with his own body and mind.

He was shouting for Oakstaff, for healing was what was needed, and he knew nothing of it -

He was unable to find help of any sort, despite the mass of people. He yelled that Ceridwen was hurt, that she needed urgent medical attention, that she'd been betrayed ...

Eventually, a group of about twenty useless dawdlers began to follow him, squabbling frantically. It was serious, they knew - yet they possessed none of the skills to help. Lorden lost his patience and abandoned the search for Oakstaff ... he would just have to do his best on his own ...

"Can someone lead me to where Hero died?" Lorden yelled. "That's where Ceridwen is - that's where the Compliance Teams attacked -"

"This way, sir, this way!" piped up a small boy. "We know - this way -"

Lorden could hear masses of people moving to the spot, through the rickety, less stable tunnels that hadn't been used for years, towards the spot he had said, other groups moving along other tunnels, just like his -

- and there she was, lying in a small pool of blood, dimly lit by a fluttering plasma bulb. She seemed unaffected by the press of people, only by Lorden's presence. When she saw him, she tried to sit up, and her wound burst open and blood flowed copiously onto the sandy floor ...

"Stay there," said Lorden in a would-be-calm voice, pushing her back down onto the floor. "Hold on, we'll patch you up - healers! Any healers?"

A few nervous women came through from the crowd but Ceridwen was trying to speak -

"Lorden ... there's no chance ... I tried to heal myself and ended up doing more damage ..."

"No, you didn't - we have healers - you're going to be OK -"

"You don't understand, Dagger's blade is c-c-cursed ... the number of CTOs he stabbed with it who ... who didn't get up again ..."

"No -"

"Lorden, listen to me - our position's been - compromised ... you need to get all the maggots out from under the city ... the Compliance Teams will have you like rats in a drainpipe ..."

"But -"

"Tell Dagger - tell him - the plan will go ahead as usual -"

"What plan?"

"It doesn't matter - he'll know what you mean, but -"

"Ceri, stay with us ..."

Lorden frowned at the healers, who were hovering uncertainly at Ceridwen's side. They bent to attempt to revive her, but Ceridwen was past the point of no return ...

"Lorden, you're the best one to lead now ... you hate orders, and you have power, more power than you know. I was - was speaking with Oakstaff the other day ..."

"Wait, we're -"

"You truly are - your father's - son ..."

Ceridwen's eyes began to droop ... Lorden was the last thing she ever saw.

Lorden watched the steely grey irises disappear forever behind the folds of her eyelids. He knew they were too late ... the fire with which Lorden had so often clashed in the past seemed to have gone out, and the world was a muh colder place for it.

The End

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