The dark power of the building spell held the three women stunned and helpless.
As though we’re stuck in glue! thought Sheila. But even though she couldn’t move, she could still use her brain. Her mind raced wildly, trying to come up with some way to fight back. As soon as the spell was finished, it would be the end of the three of them, she knew it, but she couldn’t think of a thing. Already the air seemed so thick… It was so difficult just to breathe…
No! I’m not going to give up! There’s got to be something I can do!
“Uh . . . wait!” she called to the sorcerer. “You mustn’t do this!”
Cruel humor flickered in Mardock’s eyes. With a commanding wave of his hands, he held the growing force of magic in check. “Why not, little fool?”
“Because-because. . .” Because why? Sheila hadn’t the vaguest idea of what she was going to say next. But she had better keep talking, because Mardock’s patience wasn’t going to last forever, “Because I-I have some magic, too.”
“Do you?” mocked the sorcerer with a sneer.
No, I-what I mean is that I’m a-a sort of an apprentice. Of science.”
Mardock frowned at the unfamiliar word, puzzled. “Science?” he echoed warily.
“Yes.” Sheila hurried on, “I-I work with Dr. Reit on things like the Molecular Acceleration Transport Device.”
Mardock blinked, confused by what must have sounded to him like alien sorcery, indeed. “Small magics,” he said after a moment, but he was plainly bluffing. “My spell cannot be held in check much longer. What are you trying to say, girl?”
“Well, I . . . I’ve seen Dr. Reit’s science. But your sorcery is the most amazing I’ve ever seen!” True enough, thought Sheila. After all, I’ve never seen any sorcery! “I-I might like to learn it, too.”
The cold black eyes stared at her as if trying to pierce right through her mind. Sheila desperately tried to keep her thoughts a blank. She had read a story somewhere about a man who kept someone from reading his mind by reciting the multiplication tables.
Let’s see now . . . one times one equals one, two times two is four, three times three is . . . is . . . I can’t hold him off much longer! Three times three is- “Clever child!” said Mardock, and the terrible pressure vanished from her mind. “Oh, I could break you easily enough. But why bother? Besides, you just might make a cunning apprentice. Come here, girl.”
“Uh, not-not yet. First let my friends go.”
“So that’s the game, is it? Fool! The first thing a sorcerer learns is that he has no friends! Forget those two. Come to me and you shall live-but only if you watch them die!”
Sheila swallowed, her throat dry, aware of Illyria and Myno staring proudly ahead. They weren’t going to beg. She must make her own decision. If she went over to Mardock’s side, she would be safe. But . . . to see Illyria and Myno die...
“No,” Sheila said, amazed at the steadiness of her voice. “Sorry, Mardock. I can’t do it. I’m not going to let them die.”
“Then die with them, fool!”
And he began the black chant anew. As Mardock’s evil magic flashed and crackled about him, Sheila’s thoughts circled and circled, and kept returning to: What do you fight darkness with? Light, of course, but-
Light! Sheila gasped as the idea struck her.
Yes! I’ve got it!
It was a slim chance, but it was the only chance they had. She began rummaging frantically through her backpack, her fingers feeling hopelessly clumsy and slow. Mardock was concentrating too hard to notice her movements.
Where is the thing? Where is it?
Out of the corner of her eye, Sheila saw Illyria fighting off the heaviness of the building magic, then with a groan of effort, draw her sword and lunge at the sorcerer. But before she could reach Mardock, she was thrown violently back against a wall, the weapon flying from her hand.
“Now,” hissed the sorcerer, “you all die!”
At that very moment Sheila’s hand closed about a familiar object. With a triumphant cry she pulled it out of her pack and flicked a switch-“Aagh!!” Mardock cried out in shock as the flashlight’s beam blazed right into his eyes! The blue lightning of his spell dissolved into nothingness as he staggered back clawing at his face, terrified of this new, alien magic.
“Come on!” whispered Sheila. “Let’s get out of here!”
She started backing warily away, holding the sorcerer transfixed by the beam of light. A little farther, now, and she could just turn and run.
But suddenly the flashlight’s light flickered.
Oh, no! thought Sheila. Not now! Please, not now!
The light flickered on again. And then it went out. Sheila shook the flashlight. “Come on!” she cried. But nothing happened.
“I knew I should have put in new batteries!” the girl wailed.
The three women raced for their lives. Expecting at every moment to be struck down by some terrible sorcery, Sheila risked a quick glance back over her shoulder. Mardock, hand over his dazzled eyes, was in no condition to cast a spell. Yet. They just might make it-
But the light and noise had attracted guards. Their bronze-studded armor clashed loudly as they hurried after the three warriors, swords flashing in the moonlight. But a cloud suddenly covered the moon, and all at once it was too dark to tell friend from foe.
Sheila stifled a hysterical giggle as she heard one guard yelp and shout at another guard who had just accidentally jabbed him right in the backside. It really wasn’t funny, not when she realized the next wild swing of a sword might get her.
“Don’t kill them, you fools!’ came Mardock’s angry shout. “Just stop them! Surround them!”
Sheila bit her lip in terror. How were they going to get out of here? All around her were dimly moving shapes-where were Illyria and Myno?
“Sheila!” It was Illyria’s tense whisper. “This wayl”
The woman caught her hand, pulling her toward safety-Too late. In the confusion Myno made it to safety; but just at the wrong moment the moon came out from behind the cloud, pinning Sheila and Illyria in a silvery spot-light.
“There they are!” someone shouted.
Before they could move, the two warriors were surrounded by guards, a circle of deadly spearheads pointed straight at them.
“Put down your swords,” said a grim voice.
Illyria sighed. “One of the important lessons in becoming a warrior,” she told Sheila, as calmly as though they were alone, “is knowing when to surrender.”
They were dragged through the streets of Campora, up a steep, winding hill. The houses on either side grew more elegant with every step, set back from the street, surrounded by high walls. Through ornate ironwork gates Sheila caught glimpses of tantalizing marble pavilions, magnificent gardens, and palaces. She wasn’t surprised that the most splendid palace of all stood on the very crest of the hill. It was a huge building. Buildings, really, thought Sheila, staring-a collection of them all joined together, each one built in a different style. Some had steep, peaked roofs covered in many-colored tiles, some had golden domes, and there were even a couple that seemed to consist mostly of columns. All the buildings were of gleaming white marble covered with bizarre, elegant carvings showered in gold.
But this was no time for sightseeing. She and Illyria were pushed roughly forward through the front gates and down a long pathway lined with grim-faced statues and paved with slippery marble. At the end of the path a guard rapped three times on a huge bronze door. It swung silently open on well-oiled hinges; they entered a large room, bright with candlelight reflected off gold, silver, and gems that encrusted the interior. On a dais, at the far end of the room, a man lounged idly on a crimson and gold brocade sofa. He was wearing the ugliest, most wildly colored silk robes Sheila had ever seen. The guards led the warrior women toward him. When they were a foot from the dais, the guards forced Sheila and Illyria to their knees and stood with swords drawn all around.
This must be Dynasian, Sheila realized with a shiver. The emperor sat upright slowly, studying his prisoners lazily through a small crystal lens on a golden chain. Despite the danger, Sheila felt disappointed.
This was the terrible Dynasian? She had expected a tall, dark, majestically evil figure. Dynasian was rather short, and fat, and balding clutching his gaudy robes about him with a clumsy hand. His eyes were small and piggy, nearly lost in the folds of his pudgy face. But when those eyes met her gaze, Sheila knew fear as if for the first time. They were gray as ice, cold and hard, an d absolutely without pity. Suddenly Dynasian wasn’t the least bit funny.
“Mardock?” The emperor’s voice was high-pitched and nasal. “Why do you disturb me? Why have you brought these two dirty females to me?”
Mardock moved smoothly to his master’s side, murmuring. Sheila caught the words unicorns, and thieves, and thought, Uh-oh.
Dynasian’s face darkened.
“So! You would try to steal my unicorns, would you?”
“They aren’t your unicorns.” Illyria’s voice was calm. “They belong to no one.”
“Impudent wench,” Dynasian spat.
“You don’t understand. Haven’t you noticed the signs of dawning disaster on the land? The scanty rains? The diseases?”
“It’s truth, Dynasian. The unicorns aren’t merely pretty beasts. They’re living symbols of Light. Let them wander free as they will, and Campora will prosper. Keep them prisoner, and this city and all your kingdom will die.”
The emperor frowned. “Do you dare to lecture me, woman? The beasts are mine, and I shall do with them as I will!”
“Sacrifice them, you mean? Dynasian, if you sacrifice the unicorns to the Dark Gods, you won’t be gaining something as simple as a military alliance!”
“What do you mean?”
“Sacrifice symbols of Light to the Dark Gods, and you open a path for them into Campora!” Illyria’s voice broke. “Oh, don’t you see? Dynasian, think! Kumuru’s Dark Gods are demons! You’ll be laying Campora open to evil beyond mortal comprehension!”
“Enough!” The single word was sharp as the crack of a whip. The emperor looked Illyria and Sheila up and down through his crystal. “Skinny things.” His voice was as calm as though Illyria had never spoken. “Hardly worth the thought.” He gave a casual wave of his hand. “Take them away, Mardock. Throw them into prison.”
The sorcerer murmured something in his master’s ear, and the fat man smiled coldly. “Why, yes. I agree. They will make fine participants in the games. Take them away!”
How nice of them to give us a moonlight tour of Campora, thought Sheila dryly, staring up at a grim, dark, ugly building that looked like some crouching monster in the night.
“Dynasian’s prison,” said Illyria shortly, and was slapped by one of the guards.
“Gently,” purred Mardock. “Don’t hurt them. Yet.” Illyria and Sheila were forced down a dark, dank stairway, bare stone walls oozing moisture on either side. The sorcerer followed, picking his way delicately, holding his elegant black robes tightly around him to keep them from being soiled on the filthy steps. He watched, a smug smile on his saturnine face, as his prisoners were thrown into a smelly cell.
“Foolish little would-be sorceress,” he sneered at Sheila, “and you, warrior-woman, do you see now how stupid it was to challenge my might?”
“Your might?” taunted Illyria. “You are nothing more than Dynasian’s pet dog, sorcerer.”
For a moment his eyes blazed with insulted rage. Don’t get him mad Sheila pleaded silently with Illyria. I don’t want to end up as a cockroach!
But then the anger faded from Mardock’s eyes.
“Did you think to enrage me enough to receive a swift death? Oh, no. You must wait your turn to die. Don’t worry,” he added mockingly. “You won’t be here for long. The games start tomorrow. And you haven’t a chance of winning. I shall see to that.”
With that, he turned and swept out of the dungeon, followed by the guards. As Mardock’s footsteps faded away, Illyria and Sheila were left alone in the heavy silence. Sheila looked about and shivered. There was nothing in the cell but a pile of moldy, foul-smelling straw. The door was of heavy iron, locked and bolted. The one window was little more than a crack in the thick wall. And the stray beam of moonlight that found its way into the cell only made it seem even more dark and damp.
They were trapped.
Back To Chapter Listings!
Chapter 1: Swept Away
Chapter 2: Arrival
Chapter 3: Captured!
Chapter 5: The Quest
Chapter 6: Sheila Enlists
Chapter 7: Warrior-In-Training
Chapter 8: Rivalries
Chapter 9: The Rescue
Chapter 10: Illyria's Story
Chapter 11: Campora at Last
Chapter 13: The Ghost
Chapter 14: Outnumbered
Chapter 15: The Battle
Chapter 16: Sailing Away