The sound of dripping water registered distantly, on a semi-conscious level. Behnam Baktash raised his head and agony thrust him shrieking into reality. Crevasses of pain tore through his skull, his eyes burned, and everything was black. He thrashed out, unleashing pins and needles in his limbs and bringing another wave of pain.
       He needed to think, to calm down. He took a long, slow breath, 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 discover what had happened, but his arms were numb. He tugged at them and pain spiked in his joints.
       A metallic clinking informed him that his arms were shackled over his head. He rested his head to the side, against an arm. He wasn’t going anywhere. What now?
       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 around and no furniture or fixings to absorb sound. A cell, or most likely a dungeon, because it was cold and damp, 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 his options were. 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 that he could tell, but his left leg was unresponsive.
       He slumped. The room, the atmosphere, it all stank of hopelessness. He’d been left to rot, just as others had been before him. He knew this because he could smell them, or at least what was left of them.
       He should never have come to the old city. It had been reckless, a suicide mission. What had he really expected to find there?
       Behnam thrashed out, 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 lining as rivulets of cold sweat ran down his face. Now he remembered how he’d been captured. But 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, like a corpse trying to extract speech from desiccated vocal chords.
       “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.
       “I want to know everything the brotherhood knows about the event that’s coming.”
       Behnam choked. “An event?”
       “Come now, Behnam, you must know what’s coming.”
       Behnam tried to think, but became distracted. Something pulled at his thoughts, his consciousness drifted out of focus.


Memories and visions rushed through his head, appearing and then vanishing like the pages of a book flicked through at speed.
       “Stop!” he cried out.
       The sensation stopped. He dropped his head to his chest and gasped for breath. He was weak, but not yet weak enough to give up the contents of his mind.
       “You really don’t know anything,” the voice said, sounding surprised. “I’ll be back later. You’ll know what I’m talking about then. And perhaps your opinion will be of more use to me.”
       “Why are you keeping me here?” Behnam asked. He took a deep breath and tried to slow his heart. “You know my kidnapping will bring unwanted attention to you. If my brothers find out I’m still alive, they’ll come for me. You should have killed me already.”
       “They will come,” replied the voice. “But I fear someone far more dangerous is on the horizon.”


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