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The sound of dripping registered on a semi-conscious level. Behnam Baktash raised his head and agony brought him shrieking into reality. Crevasses of pain tore through his skull, his eyes burning, everything black. He thrashed out causing pins and needles to electrocute his limbs and bring another surge of pain.

He needed to think, to calm down. He took a long, slow breath and tried to open his eyes, but couldn’t. They were stuck together and felt like they were tearing when he tried. He winced. He wanted to put a hand to his face, to find out what had happened, but his arms were numb. He tugged at them and pain spiked in his joints.

Now he felt his arms. A metallic clinking let him know they were shackled above his head. He rested his head to the side, against his arm. He wasn’t going anywhere. What next?

There was a stone wall at his back and stone below where he sat. That’s all he could feel. He called out and his voice returned an echo. Stone walls all round and no furniture or fixings to absorb sound. A cell, or most likely a dungeon, because it was damp and cold too.

An icy tendril of air slithered over his skin, chilling him and making his muscles tighten and his joints ache. He’d been left alone, propped against the wall. But for how long? He needed to know how bad his injuries were. Then he could work out what to do from there. Forcing himself to take slow, controlled breaths, Behnam tried each of his limbs in turn, a small movement, one at a time. He was in bad shape. Nothing broken, but his left leg hurt a lot and was immobile.

He slumped. The room, the atmosphere, it all stank of hopelessness. He’d been left here to rot, just as others had been before him. He could tell, because he could smell them. He should never have come to the old city. It had been reckless, a suicide mission. What did he really expect to find there?


Behnam thrashed out again, his joints spasming with pain. But he kept pulling. That voice. Deep, rasping – and if you heard it, you were moments away from dying in excruciating agony. He had to escape, somehow, anyhow. Saw his arms off. Rip them from their sockets. Saliva welled in his mouth, vomit rose in his throat. He was sucking in too much oxygen, hyperventilating. If he didn’t slow his breathing he’d pass out.

He held his breath. An awful dread chewed at his stomach and rivulets of cold sweat ran from his hairline. Now he remembered how he’d been captured. So why was he still alive?

“I’ve been waiting for you to wake up,” the voice rasped. “I was beginning to think you wouldn’t.” Each word was forced out, like a corpse was trying to talk.

“What do…?” Behnam gritted his teeth.

“What do I want from you?” asked the voice. “I want information.”

Behnam’s mouth dried up, and he found himself unable to answer.


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