The old woman rested against the stone wall of the cell. The concrete floor lent its cold to her body, and she shivered for the millionth time. Darkness filled every crevice, and the air sat still and stale. She’d lost track of time – outside it could be night or day, summer or spring. Her weary bones ached but hunger over-rode the pain. And thirst. Her dry tongue failed to soothe cracked lips.
Footsteps echoed and she hitched a breath. They were back. Back to see if she would talk, now they had broken her. A heavy door, off in the distance, groaned open and footsteps grew louder. Cruel lights blinked on in the cell and her eyes shut tight, craving darkness once more.
The click of the lock to her cell door was next, and she opened her eyes, blinking away the blur. It had been many years since she’d last seen him. His face hadn’t changed one notch. Although he now wore his black hair short and slicked back, its widow's peak still prominent. His nose, long and slightly hooked, was just like the hawk. But his eyes were different. Those golden irises almost seemed to glow.
He stepped into the cell, gaze assessing. Her dress was torn and dirty and her grey hair hung in tangled strands over her shoulders. Weak as she was, she held her chin up.
“You know what I want.” His voice was calm and lulling, yet echoed in the cold, hard space. “Will you do it?”
She kept her chin high and didn’t move her gaze from his. She wouldn’t speak. She wouldn’t betray the lass.
He clenched his jaw. “It’s quite a little thing that I ask. Just open the portal, as close as you can get to her, long enough for us to enter. Then you’ll have food, wine, a hot bath. I am a man of my word. Even you cannot deny that.”
Oh, he meant what he said. He’d promised all those years ago that one day he would kill his own master, the man who had taught him the secrets of sorcery – and her oldest friend. He’d kept his word, yes.
She clamped her dry lips shut, her eyes still fixed on his. She could keep her word too, the lass would remain safe.
He grimaced, turned and looked over his shoulder. “This was your last chance, Nessa. You have until I reach that door to change your mind. Then you shall remain here, forgotten, until you die.” He took a step, followed by another.
She looked at her hands, their wrinkly paper-fine skin revealed her age and her dehydration. A hunger cramp clawed at her insides and she gasped, doubling over. His footsteps paused. Ness could almost smell the promise of food and water in that pause, but she couldn't give in to it. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath. His footsteps echoed down the corridor until they stopped and the heavy door opened.
“Fool.” The word spiraled its way to her, bouncing off stone walls. The door shut with a solid thud, the lights blinked off, and she was alone.