Dagger was waiting as promised, in exactly the place they'd discussed on the PI. It was a good start, but it could only go down from here.
They were on neutral ground, atop a cloudcutter near the borders of the Highfly district, a zone neither the Compliance Teams nor the maggots had much influence over. The district was largely rich and crime free, full of bright lights and retired entrepeneurs sitting pretty on thousands of years' worth of pensions. Smart levs beetled along the streets, appearing as bemused ants from this height.
Lorden dropped down from the side of the building, having finally managed to reach the top via the fire escape. How Dagger had got there he didn't know - all that mattered was that they were both here.
"So - you showed your cowardly arse then?" said Lorden.
"I certainly did," said Dagger smoothly.
"Good, we've got a lot of things to talk about."
"I assume you've stepped into Ceridwen's shoes?"
"I have. Not that there was anyone else to take her place."
"Yes there was, before you came along. There was me!"
"I'm sure the maggots would've been chuffed with a double-dealing, cowardly little snib like you who only cares about personal gain."
"That's wat today's like, Lorden, wake up and smell the bacon! Look after your own hide and everything else slots into place. If there's no you, there's no anything."
"You've been a bit stupid then, haven't you? Going away and making a deal with a Compliance Team. They want maggots - you're less safe with them than you were before."
"My contract is clear cut. The Compliance Team know not to go back on their word, not now they know I have powerful friends."
"You're useless to them now. All they wanted you for was for intel about the maggots, and since everyone knows what a dogbreath you are no-one'll tell you anything. You're an outcast."
"Outcast from a group of smelly sneakthieves literally reduced to crawling beneath others, scurrying around. We're all outcasts. Outcasts of society. Well, I was," he added, with a grin, "until I made bigger friends."
"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
"That's my mentality. Who wants to be on the losing side?"
"We haven't lost yet. Haven't you noticed the Compliance Teams haven't rounded us up yet? I'm one of their most wanted, and I'm standing in the middle of town. What have they done?"
"You're too cocky for your own good. You're powerful, sure ... but you got no brains, pal. You got to have savvy if you're going to survive."
"If savvy involves betraying people I'd rather not."
"What's a betrayal here and there? Don't you understand? That was what we were all like before we joined the maggots! Condemned to wander the streets, rejects of the common folk, forced to steal to survive, forced to dodge endless patrols ... I bet you didn't feel loyal to anyone when you were looking for your dindins in rubbish bins."
"They took you in! They made you one of them! They gave you a home, just like they did for me!"
"They gave me a stinkhole. and pointless reconaissance missions against the Compliance Teams! Who wants to live their whole lives fighting when they can just sit back and pull the strings?"
"So I was right, then, you are a coward!"
"Not a coward, I just know how to get things done to the best of my advantage."
"You're a bit daft then, considering you're working for the very organisation that wants your blood."
And at that moment, Dagger realised something was up. He had been so involved in the argument with Lorden to realise that most of his accoutrements were missing, including -
Dagger plunged his hands into his pockets. PI, cards, credit bills, everything was gone. He turned on his heel to see Her Royal Highness standing sweetly in front of him, her hands full of his personal equipment..
Before Dagger had the chance to strike Lorden was onto him. In a flash he had thrown Dagger across the roof with a lazy flick of his finger.
"Come on then, cheat," said Lorden, spitting with rage. "Let's see how hard you are!"
Dagger rebuffed with a small Detonation aimed at Lorden's feet - he jumped aside and the Detonation hit the aircon unit behind him. Gas and coolant began pooling over the roof -
Lorden could feel Elenia's conscience enter the battle as she began to stab at Dagger's defences. Infuriated, Dagger shot a Spike towards her but Lorden deflected it - the diamond-hard shard of light instead veered aside and slit right through the rusty metal of a small communications mast, which began to fall towards Elenia, but Lorden grabbed her hand and pulled her aside -
"Oi!" she yelled, "I can look after myself!"
But Dagger was shooting more Spikes. One sliced open Lorden's arm and blood spurted over the floor, floating gruesomely on the coolant. They sprayed at him, the diamond blades gleaming greedily in the darkness.
Lorden knew nothing about healing - that was Elenia's forté. She attended to it as Lorden launched his next attack with his other hand - a lasso of fire he had been working on with Oakstaff, and which he was quite impressed with. It took a lot less energy to maintain than a fireball - he whipped it in a circle and caught Dagger round the face - the acrid smell of Dagger's greasy hair burning stung Lorden's nostrils as the lasso caught the coolant and set it alight -
- but then the lasso crackled and solidified into a solid staff of hard steel. Dagger swung it hard at Lorden's head and Lorden blocked with an arm, nearly breaking his bone. Elenia dived forward and caught Dagger round the ankles. He toppled and lost his grip on the staff, and Elenia redoubled her mind attacks -
Lorden dodged a flaming pool of coolant and had drawn back his hand to finish Dagger off when a chunter of gunfire clinked across the rooftop. Choppers were on the scene, their spotlights cutting through the mist like silver knives. Sparks were flying and bullets were plunking all around their feet.
Lorden threw up a Diversion to halt the bullets but it took all his concentration, and Dagger was able to get back on his feet -
"Come on, let's go!" he yelled at Elenia. "We've got what we need!"
"Wait!" Elenia hollered back, dodging more salvoes. She cast a Restrain on Dagger's ankles.
"Good thinking, I nearly forgot!"
And the pair dived out of the choppers' lines of sight and into oblivion.
* * *
"So, what do we have here?"
"Good evening, officer, I was wondering if -?"
"Shut your piehole, I don't give a toss what comes out of a maggot's mouth."
The chopper had landed and CTOs were now swarming over the roof. The Restrain had broken - it hadn't been that strong and Dagger had overridden it. But it had been too late. He was surrounded. He was trying to talk his way out of the sticky situation - without much success.
"I don't think you understand. I need to talk to Grim-"
The rest of his sentence was cut out as he was gagged. He tried to cast a Detonation with his hands but then they were tied, too -
"You think you maggots would know better than to start a fight right on top of a cloudcutter? We saw you in seconds - why don't you fight it out in your underground cesspits, then no-one need get caught."
Dagger couldn't speak, but he was furious. That was probably exactly what Lorden had planned, and now he had the PI he could give Devil and Whitney false instructions ...
Dagger was in trouble. Big trouble.