Ace in the Hole

Lorden made up his mind on the spot. Elenia wasn't about to stop him. She was still out cold — teleporting and stopping two bodies falling at terminal velocity could do that to you. He wasn't going to be stupid about it, but Lorden couldn't let Dagger die while he still held this secret over him — even if it turned out to be a pretended secret.

"How can I help you?" Lorden asked harshly. He let a few miniature lightning bolts dance between his fingertips to let Dagger know that one false move would be the end of him.

Dagger's face was coated in a sweaty sheen, his breaths coming in rattling wheezes. He closed his eyes as though in an attempt to block out the pain.

"The blade is enchanted to be unhealable," he choked out, "but the one who made the wound can seal it. A handy safety catch in case I accidentally cut myself."

"Tell me what to do."

"There's a . . . command phrase," said Dagger through gritted teeth. "Just say . . . Dagger has spared you — that'll reseal the wound."

"I'm not the one who stabbed you," said Lorden.

"I am."

Lorden whirled around. Percy was standing in the doorway of the Holt building, apparently just having come down the lift.

"Sweet girl," gasped Dagger, "I need your help. . . ."

Percy gave him a look of pure contempt. "I know you do, but why would I want to help you? You kidnapped me, you tried to kill my friends!"

Dagger didn't answer; he knew his life was in Lorden's hands.

"Percy, do what he says," Lorden said quietly.

"What? Lorden, he —"

"Please. I need to know something. Something only Dagger can tell me. Trust me, I won't let him get away."

Indecision was written all over Percy's pale face. Lorden looked at her imploringly. Looking as though she were acting against her better judgment, she shook her head, then said, "Dagger has spared you."

Lorden's eyes swiveled to Dagger. The effects of  Percy's words were instantaneous. Dagger gasped as though he had plunged unexpectedly into cold water and Lorden watched the fatal wound stitch itself together before his eyes. Dagger still looked as though he were in great pain, but the clouded look of a dying man had left his eyes and he attempted to sit up.

In an instant, Lorden was kneeling down beside him, the enchanted knife at his neck.

"No tricks this time, Dagger," hissed Lorden, "or I swear I'll give you a cut that I most certainly won't be resealing. Now you had better cough up the truth and it had better be worth all of this."

Dagger grinned. "Oh, I assure you, it's worth hearing — though I can't guarantee that you'll like it."

*   *   *

A half mile below, Devil watched the scene with lazy violet eyes. He had to admit, it was very well done. For a human, Dagger showed considerable intelligence. He also had an asset Devil didn't: the ability to lie.

It was an ability he was exercising most adeptly right now, and Lorden — the fool — was lapping it up like a kitten faced with a bowl of milk. By the time Devil saw what Dagger intended to do, it was too late. He tried to put in a call to Lorden, but his PI had been broken during the fight on the rooftop. Devil needed to warn him, though. And he only had seconds to do it.

Thinking quickly (as he always did), he turned to the computer he always had dedicated to Whitney's activities. She was at the Holt building, having just finished clearing the security droids from the lobby. He spoke, knowing his gel mic would carry his words to his creation.

"Whitney, Dagger has Lorden outmatched, but Lorden doesn't know it yet. I need you to warn him that I will be coming to the surface. You must do everything withing your power to kill Dagger — there is very little hope that any of you can stop me."

He hoped that Whitney would fully understand his cryptic instructions, but he had run out of time to issue any more. On the telescreen, Dagger had closed his eyes with pretended pain — the ace in the hole. Behind those closed lids, behind the lies displayed on his traitorous face, Dagger was formulating a silent spell to contact Devil telepathically. Moments later, while Lorden looked up to see Percy approaching, he whispered the final incantation. Sure enough, Dagger's sharp, probing thoughts invaded Devil's a moment later.

Come to the Holt building, Devil. I need you to kill Lorden and his young friends. I need you to come as fast as you can.

And Devil, unable to break the oath he had sworn years ago, rose to do his master's bidding.

The End

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