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Chapter 5: In Which Rat Is Taught Linguistics

I was literarily thrown into someone's cellar. They led me into a rickety, musty-smelling house on the east side of the city. I recognised the neighbourhood even in the cold darkness. It was called Chicken Dale and we street people avoided it unless we were desperate enough to get mixed up with the people who lived there and the things they dealt in.

They steered me through an unlit square room. I noticed a small shadowy figure crouching in one corner before I was led away to the kitchen. A trapdoor in the dusty stone floor opened onto a patch of deeper darkness. They took off my shackles and just like that, I was thrown into the pit.

I landed on a pile of rubbish that softened the fall but didn't really make the landing soft. Old bruises from the alley were now joined by new ones. Before I could catch my breath, the trap door slammed shut, showering me with dust and spiders. I lay in absolute darkness.

I was always perfectly comfortable in darkness. Better darkness than light. Nevertheless, absolute darkness is a bit of a nuisance. I couldn't even tell if my eyes were open or closed. I lay there motionless for a while, certain that this time I had broken some important bone, like my neck.

The place smelled terrible, the worst smell I smelled in my life. I'm a street kid; I've been to some really malodorous places in my time and I'll have you know I didn't shower every year. But I'm telling you, this stench was something special, probably the masterful work of centuries. It was damp and cold in the cellar, and if the air in the house above was musty, here it was limited and lazy and more content with sitting still than flowing about. Then there was some smell that was like a rotting carcass but not quite. And it was mingled with urine and sweat and shit and vomit.

All human waste combined together creates a unique and awful effect in one's nasal passages. Worse than that was that I didn't know how long they were going to hold me there. It was clear to me that someone had been held here before me, maybe more than one person, and that they had been in here for a while. Maybe they hadn't ever been let out. Maybe they were still there.

"Hello?" I whispered.

Something moved. I tensed all over. Would a person locked in a cellar for years be hungry and mad enough to eat human flesh? I shuddered and hoped that that magician knew what he was talking about when he said I was a Wielder. The movement stopped, and everything was still again. I desperately wished I had just a little bit of light, just a shade or two of grey. Something, anything to help me find out the size of the cellar and its contents without forcing me to get up and grope about in the darkness.

Even though I was no stranger to cellars and slept in them when I could manage to sneak into one on particularly cold winter nights, I was too anxious to move.

Suddenly the real reason why I was opposed to inspecting the cellar sank in. I had been running for weeks. I was so tired, too tired even for grief. My eyelids closed, and exhaustion bit into my battered bones. I didn't have a thought left.

I fell asleep where I lay.

*

The trapdoor opened; I blinked, blinded by the sudden change between inky darkness to dazzling sunlight. Things were thrown in, two objects – I knew it was two because they both hit me – and the trapdoor was slammed shut. I managed in the brief shower of light to examine my surroundings, and then in the darkness I scrambled to my hands and knees and collected the two objects.

Now I had what felt like a heavy flask of water and half a loaf of stale bread, and I knew that the cellar was a small square room and that I was alone in it, except for a few rats that had scurried into the shadowed corners when the door had opened.

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