Lorden hurtled through the crowd, his head spinning. He felt sick and disoriented. He was still having trouble processing Ceridwen's last words. He didn't feel ready for this. He didn't know if he could do it. But he had to.
They were gathered in one of the large tunnels outside of the underground city; Lorden had learned them well from Ceridwen. The CTOs would have overrun the city, and retreat was the only option. Ceridwen had told Lorden to get everyone out. He had at least done that much for her.
Lorden whipped around and blew out a sigh of relief. There stood Oakstaff, the one man he needed to see right now. Oakstaff could help him. He could advise him.
"Ben," said Lorden, pushing his way through the tightly-packed bodies to get to him. "Thank heavens you're here."
"What the devil is going on?" asked Oakstaff immediately. "I hear people talking -- they say Ceridwen's dead. Is it true? It can't be, can it?"
"She is dead," said Lorden hollowly. "And Dagger killed her."
"What?" gasped Oakstaff, dumbfounded. "No, no. Dagger? It can't be -- I can't --" Oakstaff shook his head. "Oh, that scum! That sneaking, traitorous --"
"Keep it down!" hissed Lorden. "It's not for everyone to know just yet. Listen, Ben. . ." He hesitated, then took a deep breath. "Ceridwen left me in charge. I --"
"Ceridwen's dead, and Dagger's turned coat on us! I was there when she died! She left me in charge."
"Oh, dear Lord," whispered Oakstaff. "Lorden, are you sure --?"
"Of course I'm sure!" replied Lorden hotly, gaining confidence with Oakstaff's doubt. "I can do this, I'm just going to need some help." His brain was working so furiously that he supposed steam ought to be coming out of his ears. "I've got a plan. . ."
The voice bobbed out of the crowd, trying to get their attention. Lorden turned to see a girl about his age with orange hair and a formal, gray uniform. Behind her, being led along by the girl, was Elenia.
"Percina!" exclaimed Oakstaff. "And Elenia! Where have you been?"
"Long story," said Elenia. She glanced at Lorden. He nodded to her, unable to muster anything as friendly as a smile.
"This is Percina, my granddaughter," said Oakstaff, introducing the other girl.
"I prefer Percy," she said.
"I'm Lorden," said Lorden distractedly. "Listen, is there somewhere we can go to talk?"
"Not really, but we can cast an Eavesdropper's Bane," said Oakstaff. He worked the spell and the voices of the surrounding crowd dropped to a muffled hum, as though they had all suddenly been transported underwater.
"Thanks," said Lorden. "Now, I've got to talk to Dagger."
"With Dagger?" Oakstaff's eyebrows shot up, forming a mountain range of wrinkles on his forehead.
"Ceridwen told me I should," said Lorden defiantly. "Have you got his PI number?"
"Well, I -- yes," admitted Oakstaff. He handed Lorden his PI and Lorden quickly transferred the number to his own.
"Okay, I'll call him in a bit," said Lorden with a calmness he didn't quite understand. "In the meantime, we've got to get everyone here to a safe place. That probably means outside of Dartoc-6. Ben, can I leave you in charge of that?"
"All these people?" stammered Oakstaff looking around him as though wishing they would all magically disappear.
"Yes, all of them. They're all magicians like us, and that means they're all hunted fugitives like us."
"Lorden, I didn't sign up for this --"
"Neither did I!" snapped Lorden. "Look, will you do it or not? I don't have time to try and persuade you."
Oakstaff bit his lip. "Fine," he said finally.
"Thank you," said Lorden. He tried to steady his reeling thoughts. He looked at Elenia. "Can I trust you to help us?"
Elenia stared back with grim resolve. "I'm more maggot than monarchy at this point. I'm with you to the end."
Lorden eyed Percy's uniform and made a guess. "And you work at the palace, correct?"
"Okay," said Lorden slowly. "This is what we're going to do. . . ."