The early dawn light was bright enough to see (and be seen) as they ran crouched across the rocky bare earth towards the wall of the prison. It was a large structure of rough-hewn stones. Each invader carried five spears, crouched down, running.
Skylar zipped down out of the sky as Ruby ran and hovered near her face.
"Skylar, I don't know what will happen. Stay safe and keep out of sight. Just be ready if I need you."
The Fixie nodded and buzzed out of sight towards the prison wall.
"The riders are coming," called one of the robed invaders at the back of the group. "We're out of time."
"Do not retreat," Farook ordered. "This is our only chance. Lyria, be ready."
Ruby didn't know what they could do. They were exposed here, the wall of the prison still yards away. There was one tree casting a shadow on the wall. It wasn't enough to hide them all.
The woman who had retrieved Ruby ran out in front, straight to the tree. When she reached the shadow, she placed her hands on the stone wall. Pale blue light circled out from her hands and the wall rumbled. The mortar in the wall crumbled around her. Rocks fell out all around.
"Everyone, pry out the rocks," Farook ordered. "Pile them behind the tree. Keep them in the shadow."
The invaders each yanked rocks out of the wall. Ruby helped. They lined the rocks up beside the tree. The hole was obvious to anyone on the ground, but for someone flying overhead, the opening was hidden.
"They're here," someone hissed.
"Inside," ordered Farook.
The gap in the wall was big enough for one person to crawl through at a time. Invaders climbed through and others handed the spears in. Ruby followed them in.
A strip of pale sky lit the space. They had not reached the interior of the prison at all. This was a gap between an outer wall and an inner wall, about twenty feet wide. As Ruby studied her surroundings, A sentry walked into view on top of the inner wall. He took three steps around the corner and froze, staring down at the bodies crouched in the shadows below him. He spun around to cry the alarm when three pulses of pale light from below hit him. The Sentry grew rigid and toppled over into the gap between the walls. The invaders dodged out of his way. He hit the ground with a loud clang of armor.
Everyone held still. The only sound was the flap of approaching dragon wings. The forms of dragons soon littered the sky.
"Did they see?" someone whispered.
The dragons all had bodies hanging in their talons. They'd taken more prisoners. None of them circled back to investigate the missing sentry.
"What now?"asked an invader.
"According to Elric's map," Farook said, "There's a stairway around the corner. We'll be exposed for a few feet, then we can hide in the guard house. There's a shift change now, and we'll be able to hide in there for ten minutes, long enough for the dragon riders to leave their prisoners and go."
Ruby followed the others up the stairs. Farook crouched at the top, peering over the edge into the interior prison yard. He held up his hand for the others to wait. They waited. Then he pointed. "Two of you get ready. Okay, go now." The first two raced up the stairs and out of sight.
They continued this way, Farook ordering the invaders up the stairs in groups of two and three. When it was Ruby's turn, she rushed up the stairs. She didn't have time to see everything, but she felt the presence of dragons and riders just a few dozen feet away.
Two riders were struggling with a prisoner. "Hold him down," one shouted. "He's a beast," said the other. "I'd kill him if he wasn't needed for the Usurper."
Ruby stole a quick glance to the right as she ran. The two riders faced away from her, standing on a wide stone platform with stairways leading down into shadow. A woman stood with them, short with big hair and a medallion at her neck. She turned towards Ruby and scowled, but she raised no alarm. Between the dragon riders, a young man with a shaved head knelt with his hands on the floor, panting, most likely in pain. He turned towards Ruby.
Ruby turned away and raced to the guard house, a small stone structure on the inner wall. Inside it, the invaders crowded shoulder to shoulder together. They stood waiting, an anxious hush over them all. On the floor, a soldier in gold armor lay unconscious.
One man stood beside the window and stole glances outside. "Two of the priests are down inside, but the others have all flown up to the eyries."
"We should be able to handle two of them," Farook said.
Someone turned to him. "You can't be serious."
"The Ord are not all-powerful. They're as human as you and me."
"This morning, we are all killers."
"Looks like there's a commotion down in the prison," said the lookout. "All the sentries are looking away."
"Then let's go," Farook said. "Follow me."
They ran in a line down stone stairs into yet another gap, this one paved with flagstones. A stone building dominated the center, and two guards flanked a door leading inside. Both of them cried "Intruders!" the instant they saw the oncoming invaders. They were both silenced by bolts of pale light. Two of the robed figures dragged their bodies aside as Farook pushed the heavy wooden door open.
"You five, watch this door," Farook ordered. "The rest of you with me."
They raced down dim passages, blasting surprised guards as they ran. Ruby followed, the spears clutched under one arm like a bundle of firewood. As they raced down a stone passage, a hand reached out of a shadowy corridor, caught Ruby by the hair and yanked her back.
Ruby caught only a glimpse of the man—a tall Ord with a leering face. Ruby's mind went blank with terror. Without thinking, she stomped down on the foot of her assailant. It was bare, and the tall figure bellowed with pain. Ruby followed it up, kicking sideways at the man's knee. Something tore there, and the man shrieked. She dropped the spears, spun around and shoved a thumb at the man's face as he bent over, catching him in the eye.
That was enough to send the man howling to the floor, his hands slapping protectively over his face, a metallic ring in his palm glinting in the shadow. There were loose stones in the hallway (the results of the mayor of Holcomb's attempted prison break days ago). The Ord priest fell sideways across the stones.
Ruby stared down at her victim. How had she done that? She staggered from sudden weakness.
The others had gone on without her. She was alone with this writhing Ord priest, lost in the prison labyrinth. Ruby panicked and moved to run after the others. The Ord caught her cloak, and she fell backwards.
His whimper became a growl. "Who do you think you are, you little bitch?" he said, climbing to his knees. He raised his palm with the metallic ring and aimed it at Ruby.
Again, Ruby acted on instinct alone. She caught the man's wrist. As the ring glowed blue, Ruby focused on it. The blue of the ring pulled away, moving into Ruby's hand as if she were siphoning light away from it. The man stared at the light as it withdrew from him and into the girl.
"Leech," he hissed.
When the light faded, he stared up at her, one eye shut in pain. Ruby stood, horrified at what she'd done. The man's face turned from wonder to rage once again. He took her arm and wrenched her down. Whatever instinct for fighting had overtaken her, it left her now, and the man threw her hard into the stone wall. The impact knocked the air out of her lungs. She slid down the wall, groaning.
The man was still on his knees, but as big as he was, he towered over her. He raised a hand to strike her across the face.
From out of the darkness, two hands hefting a large stone swung down towards the man's head. The rock hit his skull hard, and he fell forward.
A figure stepped out of the shadows, tall, but with a white T-shirt that glowed in the darkness. The familiar face of Bryce Gerrard glowered down at the fallen Ord priest.
"I've been meaning to do that forever, you son of a bitch," he said.