Ruby spun around. The room wasn't as dark as she had thought. There was a single candle flickering beside a cot. Upon the cot lay a portly man, his face pale, sweat beaded on his forehead. His legs were both splinted, his feet bare and looking purplish in the shadows. His right hand was similarly wrapped and splinted.
Ruby stared at the man. He gazed up at her.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"I am Henry Gladwell, mayor of Holcomb City, and I'm very happy to make your acquaintance, here in my hour of most desperate need."
"Holcomb," Ruby repeated. "I've heard of you. The dragon riders kidnapped you."
"Then this is the prison. This is where they keep all the people they abducted. I can free them..."
The mayor gave a weary shake of his head. "I'm afraid not. When those infernal dragon people discovered what I was, they brought me here—somewhere I couldn't draw power from anyone else. I've sensed no one with spark since I've gotten here... no one except for him." The mayor's face screwed up with distaste. "And now you."
"Who's him?" Ruby asked.
"The leader of the Ord."
The mayor chuckled. "No, not at all. I've never seen this so-called king. No, I refer to Jarrock. He's one of those brown-robed devils, very tall and very ugly. He's down here now.
Ruby cringed away from the door. "Where?"
"Don't be alarmed. I suspect he's sleeping. I can sense spark from some distance, and he's just at the edge of my perception. Those Ord buffoons sleep during the day I suspect." He sat up a bit, struggling to do so. "Now, as I said, I would be most grateful for a favor from you."
"You have spark. A good deal of it, I might add. If I might borrow a bit of it, it would help tremendously towards healing my wounds."
"You can... take someone's magic?
"It's an unsavory practice, I agree. But in a pinch, it is a useful skill. It's a very rare ability. Those who can do it are called Leeches."
"Why don't you use Jarrock's spark?"
The mayor grunted with the effort of sitting. "He'd have to be standing right next to me for it to work. And even if he was, I couldn't do it. He's like me, a leech. I can't take his spark, and he cannot take mine."
"So you want my spark instead?" Ruby asked, shying back a step.
"If it wouldn't be too much trouble. You will renew your power with sleep, and I might heal enough to be of some use to those who need me."
Ruby didn't know what to do. She didn't know what her spark did for her. Since visiting the Kinsha in the Vayna village, she knew she had something called spark, but what would she feel like if she lost it.
She stared at the pained face of the mayor. Whatever had happened to him, it must have been horrible. He looked ready to faint.
Ruby nodded. "Okay," she said and moved closer to the mayor's side.
The mayor raised his hand towards her, palm forward, and closed his eyes. He held that way for close to a minute.
"Is it working?" Ruby asked. She sensed no difference.
The mayor remained quiet, focusing, for another minute. Then he dropped his hand. "Just my luck," he muttered.
"Another leech. I'm afraid you cannot help me."
"A leech. What, I'm a leech?"
"It's the only explanation, dear. You've got a vast store of spark within you, but it is unavailable to me."
"I'm a leech," she repeated. "Is that a bad thing?"
"If you steal another person's power, they won't thank you for it."
"But I don't even know how to do that."
"Have you never felt yourself grow more powerful while others grew weaker?"
Ruby didn't think so. Then again, there was the night in the Vayna village when they'd drummed and danced. Ruby had been under a kind of spell then. She'd felt a surge of energy, and as she danced, she rose off the ground, dancing mid-air. Had she stolen power from the others to do that?
"Maybe I can send someone else down to help you."
The mayor lay back, exhausted. He turned away and heaved a weary sigh.
"I was wondering if I could ask your advice."
He didn't move.
"Young lady, if you haven't noticed, I am dying. I have barely the strength to speak. Please leave me to my doom."
Ruby studied him, then slunk away back to the door. Skylar was there, hovering, her ear pressed to the wood.
"Is there anyone out there?"
Skylar shook her head.
"Okay, let's go."
She pulled the door open, peeked out, then slipped into the hallway. She crept to the corner and looked out at the amphitheater prison. There were more soldiers now. There was no way to get to Montrose.
"We might as well go back," she whispered to Skylar. "Someone will come looking for me sooner or later."
Skylar shrugged, nodded, and led her back the way they had come. The passages were quiet on their way back.
Minutes passed. "Is this the way we came," Ruby whispered. "I don't recognize this place."
Skylar put a finger to her lips and turned back. She led Ruby past an open doorway to a candlelit room. Ruby sidled by, her eye out for anyone watching from within. She caught sight of something that made her stop. "Wait," she whispered.
Skylar returned to her side. Ruby peaked in the door.
It appeared to be someone's underground study. It was a smallish room with books piled on shelves on one side. A desk and a table were both littered with parchments covered in tight little runish scribbles.
Propped on the desk was a painting. It depicted a man with broad red-brown dreadlocks sitting at a table, his hand to his cheek, round spectacles propped on his nose. The painting bore furious impressionist sweeps of color, making the man unrecognizable. The wallpaper behind him featured bunches of bananas.
Ruby stared at the picture. Skylar tapped her foot in the air and held up her hands in a what's the big deal gesture.
"I don't know," Ruby said. "I thought that picture looked familiar. Something about the guy there."
Skylar tugged on Ruby's hair. Ruby heard footsteps.
Ruby nodded. "Okay, let's go."