As soon as she was sure they were alone in the cell. And the jailor had wandered far enough away down the hall, Illyria sprang to her feet. As Sheila watched in bewilderment, the woman began going over every inch of their prison.
“No one could get through that crack of a window,” she muttered. “No one in human form, that is.” Illyria stopped, giving Sheila a speculative glance. “I don’t suppose you know how to shape-shift?”
Sheila shook her head. “Sorry.”
Illyria sighed. “I thought that might be too advanced a spell for a mere apprentice. Oh, I don’t mean that as an insult! You just need a few more years of training, that’s all, with the master sorcerer, Dr. Reit.”
“Dr. Reit,” murmured Sheila. All at once it hit her. They were trapped in this awful place. And tomorrow they were going to die! Sheila wrapped her arms tightly about herself, trying to hide her trembling, and bit her lip as hard as she could to keep from bursting into tears. She was never going to see Dr. Reit again, or her family and friends, or-
“Don’t look so sad, Sheila! We’re not lost yet.” Illyria went back to searching the cell. “That was a brave thing you did back there, standing up to Mardock like that.” She hesitated. “You weren’t really thinking of joining him, were you?”
“I thought not. After all, evil sorcerers have a tendency to sacrifice young apprentices who show too much ambition.”
Sheila gulped. “I-I didn’t know that.”
“Mm-hmm. Don’t want those apprentices getting too uppity, you see, making dangerous pacts with demons, threatening their master-but you wouldn’t know about things like that, since Dr. Reit’s magic is good, not evil.”
“Well, it’s science, not sorcery, “ began Sheila, then hastily added, seeing Illyria raise an eyebrow, “but it’s good.”
The woman nodded and calmly continued her search. “Stone walls . . . good mortar between the blocks stone floor . . . good mortar there, too. Too bad.”
“I don’t understand.”
Illyria gave her a quick, rueful grin. “If the mortar were old and crumbling, we could lift one up and dig our way out.”
“Dig? With what? They disarmed us.”
Illyria grinned again. “Not quite,” she said, and drew a thin little dagger from her boot. Letting the knife slide back into the hidden sheath, she shrugged. “It’s better than nothing. But, curse it all, the door’s solid, too, and well bolted. The hinges are on the outside, where we can’t get at them.”
She sank to the floor beside Sheila, tapping an impatient finger on the stone. “What about you, girl? Do you think you could work some manner of spell to get us out of here?”
“My-uh-magic backpack is out there with the guard,” Sheila reminded her sadly.
“Ah.” Illyria let out her breath in a long sigh. “At least Myno got away. And the others are free, too. They’ll be able to help the unicorns. Even if we-Sheila, if it comes down to this, that we must enter the games, we still have a chance to help Campora, even if we die. Don’t flinch, girl. I know it’s a cruel choice for you to have to make, but hear me out.
“If we do enter the games, Dynasian is going to have to give us some sort of weapons. When he does, I mean to leap up to Dynasian’s box and put an end to him. Do you think you can do the same to Mardock?”
“I-I don’t know,” said Sheila frankly. “I’ll try.”
“Brave girl! Then, even if we die, we die cleanly under the swords of the guards, knowing we’ve rid the land of two tyrants. Agreed?”
Sheila shuddered and nodded.
Silence fell. Sheila thought about the games and shuddered again. What if Illyria was wrong? What if she and Sheila couldn’t reach Dynasian? They would have to take part in the games. There wouldn’t be a choice. Would those games be anything like the ones she had read about in school, the ones the ancient Romans held? Was she going to have to fight trained warriors? Or beasts? Or…
Mardock had promised she and Illyria wouldn’t survive. Did that mean they were going to have to face something worse?
Something that Mardock might summon from the Darkness just for this purpose?
“We aren’t going to get out of this, are we?” she asked Illyria faintly.
“What’s this, girl? Fear? Hey now, I’ve been in worse places than this!”
“How?” asked Sheila faintly.
“Ha, once I was in a situation where I didn’t have a chance. Listen to this: I was climbing a mountain, looking for some lost sheep. Halfway up, it got really steep. I slipped and I slid, and I nearly fell all the long way down to my death. I was so high up that mountain that the clouds were below me. But the sheep were somewhere up above me, so up I went, watching each handhold carefully. All at once I heard this horrible roar above me and glanced up to see a Lyros-Do you know what that is? No? It’s a sort of mountain wolf, as big as a pony, with fangs as long as my arm. And it’s always, always hungry.
“Well, this ravening lyros was standing right there on the ledge where I was just about to climb, just waiting for its dinner to come into its gaping jaws. And there I was, hanging on by one arm, wondering if I hadn’t better forget the whole thing and go back down. But then I heard a hideous roar from just below. I glanced down and there, on the ledge below me, was a huge, ugly, mean-as-a-winter-storm cave bear, taller than a man and hungrier than anything but a lyros.”
Illyria paused reflectively. “Picture that. There I was, hanging from one arm from the side of a mountain. I couldn’t go up, because the lyros was waiting. I couldn’t go down, because the bear was in the way. Now, have you ever heard of a worse predicament?”
“No!” Sheila waited eagerly for Ilyria to continue. But the woman merely set about sorting through the moldy straw.
“Smelly stuff. But some of it isn’t too filthy. At least it should be better than sleeping on bare stone.”
“The story! Finish the story How did you get out of that mess?”
“Oh, I didn’t,” the woman said blandly. “The bear ate me.”
Sheila stared at her for a moment, then burst helplessly into laughter.
“That’s better,” Illyria said with a gentle smile. “Never give up, girl. Remember that. Now, come, let’s try to get some sleep.”
Sleep! thought Sheila in amazement. How could I possibly ever fall asleep?
But she obediently closed her eyes. She could at least rest, or try to rest.
Even if she couldn’t sleep.
Sheila frowned. Here she was, having such a lovely dream, all about riding Morning Star through a flowery meadow. Why was this ghostly voice trying to intrude?
“Sheila . ..”
Go away, she told it, leave me alone. “Sheila . . where are you . . .
The voice wasn’t going to go away. In fact, it was getting stronger and stronger-Sheila came awake with a start, to find Illyria staring at her. “You hear it, too,” said the woman. “You mean, the voice is real? I wasn’t just dreaming?
“And-and it wasn’t you calling me?” Illyria shook her head. “Then who ...?” began Sheila uneasily.
“Sheila…” came the faint voice again. “Can you hear me?”
The girl tensed. “Wait a minute,” she said slowly. “I know that voice . . . Dr. Reit! It sounds like Dr. Reit!”
“The sorcerer!” gasped Illyria.
“Can you hear me?” the voice repeated, more loudly this time.
“Yes!” Sheila cried joyfully. “I do! Dr. Reit, I hear you, but I can’t see you.”
There was a faint whirring sound, a crackling of electricity. Dr. Reit’s voice muttered something that sounded like “. . . turning up the voltage . . . wait . . . ahal”
Illyria cried out in shock and shrank back against a wall, gasping, “Sorcery! High sorcery!”
A figure, shimmering and ghostly, was forming in the cell . . . a man’s tall figure, dressed in a white laboratory apron and crowned by a mop of wild white hair. Sheila gave a soft laugh of relief.
“Don’t be afraid,” she whispered to Illyria. “It’s Dr. Reit!”
“Sheila?” The scientist ran a hand through his hair, staring about him in bewilderment. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, yes, but-“
“Where is this place?”
“Shh! The guards will hear you!”
“Guards?” Dr. Reit looked about once more. “Why, Sheila, what have you been doing? This seems to be some sort of prison cell!”
“That’s because it is a prison cell!” Sheila whispered. “Oh-don’t go!”
“I’m trying not to go,” he said apologetically. “But the power surge I’ve been able to create just isn’t stable.” He sighed. “Look at this. It’s wavering all over again. I can’t seem to get enough of a charge stabilized to let me materialize fully, and . . Oh, dear. Here I go again. Wait a minute now. . . . Let me try . .”
For an instant he disappeared completely. Sheila waited, chewing on her lower lip, hardly daring to breathe. He couldn’t just vanish, not now, not when she’d started to hope!
There was a flicker of light, a faint crackling of electricity. And suddenly the ghostly figure of Dr. Reit was there in the cell with them once more. “I’m afraid the charge isn’t going to last much longer, no matter what I do. I’ll have to work on it some more. Quickly, now: Is there anything I can do?”
“Yes!” Sheila whispered frantically. “Get us out of here!”
“Oh, my dear girl, I wish I could! But the power surge is already starting to fade. . . . I don’t know how much longer I can hold it before…”
His ghostly figure was starting to flicker and dissolve.
“Dr. Reit!” cried Sheila. “Please, don’t leave us here!”
In her misery she had forgotten all about whispering. “Hey, what’s all the fuss?” came the jailor’s rough voice.
And a sudden idea struck Sheila. “Help!” she screamed. “This-this cell is haunted!”
“Now, what sorta garbage are you trying to-“
“Come here! Look for yourself!”
The man peered into the cell, and his dirty face paled. He gasped in honor at the sight of Dr. Reit’s slowly dissolving, shimmery, eerie figure. “Gods! You-you’re right! I’m not hangin’ around here!”
“Hey! You can’t just run away!”
“No, no. I’m gonna go get help.”
“No! Wait!” If he ran off now, she and Illyria might never have another chance. “You can’t leave us here!”
“That’s right,” cut in Illyria. “Mardock will be furious if something happens to us. Do you want to be the one to tell him his precious prisoners were slain by a ghost?”
He hesitated, shaking. “Don’t want a sorcerer mad at me,” the man muttered, “not Mardock. The way he looks at you with those cold eyes, like he’s figurin’ which demons would like to eat you . . . Gods! He’s worse than any ghost!”
Just then the last shimmer of Dr. Reit’s figure winked out, trailing a haunting cry of: “I’ll be back, Sheila, I promise!”
“You heard him!” Sheila cried to the jailor. Wait a minute! Dr. Reit had been speaking English, of course, and the jailer couldn’t have understood him. The girl translated hastily, “He said he’s coming back for me! Hurry! Get us out of here before it’s too late!”
“Yeah.” The jailer fumbled with his keys, dropping them, mixing them up. “Right. Here we go. No tricks now!”
“Of course not,” said Sheila innocently. She stepped meekly out of the cell, then froze, eyes wide, staring down the corridor. “Oh, no! Look! The-the ghost!”
The man whirled with a cry of terror. And Illyria calmly hit him on the back of the head with her clenched fists. As he fell limply to the floor, the woman and Sheila exchanged a fierce grin. Together they dragged the unconscious jailer into the cell and locked the door. “Come on!” Illyria whispered. “Let’s get out of here before someone notices he’s missing.”
Sheila scooped up her backpack and hastily shouldered it, then followed Illyria warily up the narrow stairway. The moon had set, and. it was so dark in the dungeon that they had to carefully feel their way up every stair.
What if someone’s at the top? What if Mardock’s just waiting for us and-No! I’m not going to start scaring myself!
Just the same, she was glad when they reached a level floor once more. There was some light here, from flickering torches, and Sheila starred forward, only to be dragged aside by Illyria.
Illyria held a finger to her lips and pointed. There, in a small antechamber, amid a pile of other weapons, lay their swords.
“But there are two guards in there!” whispered Sheila.
They were seated at a small table, engrossed in a hot game of cards, but there was something about their hard-eyed faces that made the girl suspect they would leap to their feet, spears ready, at the first move she or Illyria made.
“I don’t suppose you just want to forget about the swords?” asked Sheila hopefully.
“No! We’ll need them.”
Hurriedly, Illyria whispered a plan in Sheila’s ear, And after a moment Sheila grinned.
Wait till I tell Cookie about this, thought Sheila.
She moved forward so that the guards could see her. Neither one so much as glanced in her direction.
“I said: Ahem!”
Both guards jumped. The cards went flying as the men snatched for their weapons, staring up in surprise.
“Help me,” Sheila wailed piteously. “Oh, please, help me….”
“What are you doing here?” asked one man roughly.
“Please . . .” she repeated faintly, swaying gracefully. ‘Help me-“
“Hey, that’s one of Mardock’s prisoners!” cried the other guard. “How did she-Get her!”
Quickly Sheila gave a melodramatic groan, raised her hand to her head, and crumpled slowly to the floor. Peeking from under her lashes, she saw the guards hesitate uncertain. She heard one of them mutter, “Well, we can’t just leave her lying there!” He came out to kneel at her side . . . and Illyria sprang into action. With one catlike pounce, she struck down the other guard with two quick blows to stomach and head. As the first guard got to his feet, whirling, Illyria was on him, too, knocking him out before he could even yell. As he crumpled, Sheila hurriedly helped Illyria cushion his fall so that his armor didn’t clash loudly against the stone floor.
“That was great!” Sheila whispered. “Nobody could have heard a thing.”
The two warriors snatched up their swords and buckled on the swordbelts.
“That’s better,” said Illyria. “Now, let’s get out of this place before someone thinks to sound an alarm!”
The corridor they were following fed out into the main hallway, a vast torch lit stone room off of which other prison corridors branched. At the far end of the room was the heavy, barred door that led out of the prison.
Sheila sighed. As the saying goes: So near and yet so far!
Between them and freedom was a whole troop of guards. They were all fully armed. But half of them were lounging about lazily, and the other half were nearly asleep.
“Lax discipline,” murmured Illyria in mock horror.
“Sure, but we’re still not going to be able to slip past them,” whispered Sheila. “And we can’t get to the door unless we do.
Unless . .
Off to one side was a window, a plain, unbarred window. She pointed at it, and Illyria nodded.
“Yes,” she whispered. “That opens onto the outside world. But what about the soldiers?”
Sheila began rummaging around in her backpack. “Ah, here it is! I almost forgot I had this.”
“Well, no. Actually, it’s Cookie’s little traveling alarm clock, the one she was using till she got her watch fixed.” She realized that Illyria was staring at her blankly, but there wasn’t time to explain. “I hate to lose it, but-here goes!”
Sheila tiptoed into another corridor, praying one of the guards wouldn’t happen to look over his shoulder and see her, set the little alarm clock carefully, and snuck back to Illyria’s side.
“It should go off in about ten seconds . . .” she whispered, nine . . eight . . . seven
Just then the alarm went off, the shrill ringing echoing off the stone walls. The guards erupted into chaos, scrambling to their feet, grabbing for weapons, yelling in confusion. Sheila froze, shaken at how she had mistimed the alarm, realizing how close she had come to getting caught. Illyria grabbed her arm and nearly dragged her toward the window. Sheila shook off her fear and quickly scrambled through it.
For a moment she hung by her arms, afraid to let go. How far was it to the ground? The moon had set, and the dawn wasn’t here yet, and the night was dark!
“Sheila!” hissed Illyria frantically. Sheila gulped and jumped blindly.
To her relief, it wasn’t a long drop. She hit the ground, rolled, and got her feet under her.
“Come on!” she whispered up at Illyria. The woman leaped lightly down beside her.
“We still have to get over the outer wall,” Illyria whispered. “But if we can’t see any guards, they can’t see us, either. Let’s go.”
Sheila found the wall first the hard way by running right into it in the darkness.
“It’s too high!” she whispered in panic. “I can’t find the top!”
“I’ll help you. Ready . . . jump!”
With Illyria giving her a boost, Sheila jumped with all her might. Her hands closed over the top of the wall, and she pulled herself up on top of it, panting. She heard Illyria struggle up beside her.
It was only moments until the two warriors were letting themselves down on the far side of the prison wall, free again:
“We-we did it!” gasped Sheila.
“And it’s about time, too!” said a voice suddenly.
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 12: Trapped!
Chapter 14: Outnumbered
Chapter 15: The Battle
Chapter 16: Sailing Away