"What'choo crying about, princess?"
"Leave me alone."
"You don't like the dark. You scairt?"
Mai wrapped her arms around herself and tucked her head down on her knees. She had enough problems without this female Eddie Munster badgering her.
"What is it with you? You been moping and crying since you got here. You could at least try to help me escape."
Mai glanced hopelessly around the dark cell. It was a dank place, taller than it was wide with stone walls and no door. There was barely enough room for its four occupants, a basket for food, a jug of water and a bucket in the corner for their toilet. It stank all the time. The only way out was a square opening in the ceiling, covered over by an iron grating. A birthday candle's worth of light flickered in from a torch somewhere above.
"There's no escape," Mai moaned, turning to the pale girl with half her teeth missing. "Don't you see that? We're in a dungeon."
"But if we all stood on each other's shoulders, we could move that grate, and then I could—"
"They locked it. You can't do anything."
"Well the next time they lower the rope down for our bucket, I could hang on to the bucket and go up and... I don't know. Kill 'em all or something."
"They'd kill you."
"Maybe, but I'd take a few out first."
"You're not even a hundred pounds."
"That don't mean I ain't got killing in me."
Mai sighed and turned away.
"You gonna sit here and wait for 'em to kill you? That's pathetic."
"Look, why don't you bug one of the other ladies in here?"
The girl, who had introduced herself as Ganymede after they dropped Mai in this hole ("But you can call me Ganny"), glanced at the other occupants in the cell. One was a squat old woman who stared out from her corner, twitching and drooling. The other watched them as they spoke, her big hollow eyes darting between Mai and Ganny.
Ganny pointed at the two women. "She don't talk, and she don't talk proper English. And both of 'em are useless."
"So far, but if you'd just... huh... do you hear that?"
"It's just the guards."
The stone against Mai's temple vibrated. She shied away from the wall. "What is it?"
The air grew dusty. Soon, the stone under her legs rattled like a passing freight train. Mai jumped up and stepped back from the wall. The mortar between the stones crumbled to fine pebbles and dust. Mai backed until she tripped over the legs of the old woman. The crone stared at the vibrating wall with undisguised horror.
"It's the boss," Ganny cheered. "He's come to rescue me."
Mai didn't know who the boss was, but if the stones in the wall came crashing down, this rescue would kill them all.
The rumbling stopped, leaving only the sound of raining bits of pulverized mortar. All the cell's occupants stared with shocked stillness.
Stone grated against stone. A small chunk halfway up the wall drew back, and soon, dim light shone through. Another stone retreated with a grating scrape, increasing the size of the hole. Soon, there was an opening large enough to crawl through.
At once, Ganny leapt towards the hole. She stopped short when a head poked through. "Who the hell are you?" she asked.
It was a man, middle aged with hard round cheeks and stoney eyes. He looked like something out of a Victorian picture book, a handlebar moustache and bowler hat. "Hmm," he said. "Seems this is only more of the same."
"Are you here to rescue us?" Ganny asked. "Did Cornelius send you?"
"Rescue? I suppose you could call this that, though I don't know a Cornelius."
"How did you do that?" Mai said, pointing at the hole.
He blinked at her. "With magic, young lady."
"Surely that is not a surprise," he said. "Someone with as much spark as you should have brought down your own walls without so much trouble."
"She's useless," Ganny said. "But I get you. If my old Pa were here, he would have brought this whole dungeon down with a snap of his finger."
"Extraordinary," the man said, not the least bit impressed. "Tell me, young lady, how many cells are there between you and the end of this dungeon?"
"How should I know?" Ganny asked. "You're the one what's broke into here."
"And I'm trying to break out. I am a prisoner, just as you are."
"What did you find, Mayor?" asked a voice from behind the man.
He withdrew his head from the hole. "Another cell, I'm afraid."
"Any spark in there?" asked the other voice.
"Don't be so crass. They are human beings, four women, two of them little more than children."
"But do they have anything you can use?"
The Mayor sighed. His head appeared back in the hole. "Ladies, I have now pulled apart six prison walls in a single line. I have also incapacitated three guards. As you can imagine, that has left me a little drained."
"Why are you telling us this?" Mai asked.
"Because I will need your help if I am to continue." He frowned. "Are you familiar with the term 'Incantata Leech'?"
Ganny raised her hand. "Oh, I know. It's one what's got the power to take the magic of another."
"Not the magic," the mayor corrected. "The magic capacity, and it's not permanent. It's like drawing the power from one battery into another. Sleep will replenish your—"
"Quit explaining, Mayor," complained the voice from behind him. "Just drain them and let's keep going."
The mayor frowned. "Yes, well, I will need to leech your powers to give me the strength to free us from this dungeon."
He crawled through the hole, followed by a greasy looking man with a scar down his left cheek. Others muttered in the cell behind them.
Mai pressed herself against the far wall. "You're not touching me," she said, hugging her arms around herself.
"He doesn't need to," said the scarred man with a scoff.
"I apologize for this," the mayor said. He held up a hand and closed his eyes. As he drew in a breath, a warm glow filled the cell.
Mai gasped as a bright blue haze engulfed her. It rose from within her chest, swirled about the air before her, then withdrew towards the mayor's outstretched hand. A green haze flowed from Ganny. From the two other women in the cell, the mayor drew similar lights, both of them much paler than that which came from the girls.
When it was over, Mai doubled forward, breathing in sharp shallow gasps. She felt her head, her shoulders, her stomach. All was intact. She felt no weaker, and yet, something was lost—something she couldn't identify.
"That was rude," Ganny said.
"What did you do?" Mai cried.
"Precisely what I said," the mayor said, his face now glowing with vitality. "I'm sorry for the impropriety, but it is necessary if I am to forge a path out of this dungeon. Now if you would be so kind as to step aside..."
Mai shuffled sideways. The mayor stepped forward, laid his hand on the wall and closed his eyes. Within seconds, the wall vibrated beneath his fingers.
"Get ready to start moving rocks," said the scarred man. "If you want to get out of here, you gotta pull your weight."
The mayor pulverized the mortar in the wall, and Gannny, Mai and the scarred man helped move rocks out of the way. Within the next cell, they found four old men. The mayor leeched them of their spark and moved on. He repeated this process through four more walls. Most of the prisoners remained in their cells, too shocked or too scared to follow. Mai and Ganny, however, stayed with him, helping move rocks in each cell, eager for a way out of the dank prison.
At the fifth cell, The mayor paused, laying his hand on the stone to steady himself. "I don't know if I can do this again," he said, breathing heavy.
"We're almost there, Mayor," the scarred man. "We can't be slow about this. Before long, someone's gonna find the guards you spelled. Then the whole army will be down here."
The mayor gave one last sigh. "Of course, you're right." He pressed his fingers against the wall and concentrated. The stone vibrated, the mortar crumbled.
The scarred man moved close to Mai, nearly forcing her against the wall.
"Back off," she said, her voice betraying her fear.
"Once we're out of here, you'll need someone to take care of you."
"I can take care of myself, thanks."
He moved closer. "Oh don't be like that. I can make it worth your while if you'd only—"
As the stones settled and the mayor staggered back, cracks of torchlight glowed through the wall.
"This is it," cried the scarred man. "This is the way out."
He stepped away from Mai and gripped the biggest of the stones. He drew it only an inch back when it jerked from his fingers. The stones of the wall all withdrew as one, leaving a huge ragged hole. The torchlight beyond was blinding. Mai threw up her hands to shade her eyes.
When the dust cleared, two men stood in a stone corridor beyond the hole. One of them was tall, gaunt faced with piercing eyes. He wore the same robe that the dragon rider who had abducted Mai wore, but with an ornate hat rather than a hood. The other man was much shorter and squatter.
For a moment, the two parties stared at each other. The two robed men were far outnumbered, but their posture made it clear they were not intimidated.
The shorter of the two men spoke in sharply accented English. "Your vandalism has not gone unnoticed. For this breach, you will be punished."
"This is not vandalism," the mayor countered wearily. "We have a right to our freedom. You have imprisoned us unlawfully."
The short man showed no emotion. "In Cavaheim, his highness Basha is the law."
"Is that him?" asked the scarred man, pointing at the taller of the two. "Is that the Usurper? Because if it is—"
"This is Jarrok," the short man said, bowing towards his companion, "Head of the Ord, high priest of the Circle of the Rat, servant of Basha."
Jarrok turned to the short man and spoke a few words in his own tongue. The other bowed and replied.
"Well whoever he is," the scarred man said. "Tell him that this was all the mayor's fault." He pointed at the mayor. "He did this. He broke the walls. he drained me of my spark. He—"
The high priest Jarrok raised a hand. An unseen force wrenched the man off his feet into the corridor. He hit the far wall with a bone crunching smash and fell slumped and broken on the floor.
Mai stared in horror at the disfigured mess that was once a man. She threw a hand over her mouth.
"You will remain silent until bidden to speak," the short man said.
Jarrok stepped through the hole, stopping in front of the mayor. He stared down at the man.
Jarrok spoke. The little man translated. "You are a leech."
"Only when pressed into desperate circumstances," the mayor answered.
"We expected we might get one or two of your kind in our prison. We've been waiting for this. Fortunately, we know how to handle you."
Jarrok made no motion. He glared down at the mayor. A sickening cracking sound in the mayor's legs drew out a howl of pain. The stout man collapsed sideways into a wall and slumped there. Mai gaped. The man's knees both bent at unhealthy angles. Another crack from his right wrist followed, and the mayor's agonized cries rose several decibels. Those who witnessed this torture pressed back against the walls. A few crawled back through the hole into the next cell.
Jarrok spoke again. The little man repeated his words in English. "Sleep now," he said. "You must replenish your store of power if you are to serve his highness."
Consciousness escaped Mai as quick as if someone had flipped a lightswitch in her head.