The dying man’s tortured screams reverberated off the walls of the shadowy dungeon, as the rack wound ever tighter. In extremis, his pain was his only reality. All around him, the indistinct forms of his torturers moved to work their will upon his suffering body, but he no longer recognised them, could no longer distinguish one from the other.

From above a voice, cold, clear, somehow familiar, floated to him from the gloom. He knew the words were addressed to him, but he couldn’t understand them, and had no more will to speak a word in reply. He tried to close his eyes, in the hope of spending his last moments in the comforting solitude of darkness, but they were forced open immediately by hard, cruel hands.

Again the icy voice came to him. Questions, always questions. He remembered…there was something he wasn’t supposed to say. A secret. Mustn’t talk. Weakly, he shook his head. There was a command, and pain spread through his body like fire. Vaguely he was aware of someone screaming, but no longer knew if the screams were his own or another’s.

His breath was coming in slow, agonised gasps now, he could feel himself edging away, slipping downward towards forever oblivion. He no longer fought it. What value had life now, in this place?

With his last ounce of strength, he turned to his persecutors, and spoke, an almost dreamy smile on his chapped and broken lips. He never knew what he said, only that the words seemed important. Then eternity closed in, and all that he was, had been, and might have become, was lost forever.

Above him, his torturer watched the light die out of the once clear brown eyes and cursed. Then he knelt and severed a sliver of skin at the dead man’s shoulder, which bore the crudely tattooed number seven.

“Take this to Lord Resax. Tell him it’s over, he didn’t talk. Then come back here and see to the burning of the body!” He fired at an underling, who went scurrying off to do his bidding, obedient to the command in the steely grey eyes.

From out of the shadows, another servant appeared.

“What did ’e say, in the end?” He asked.

”Nothing,” replied the torture master “Something cryptic. It seems to be their motto.”

“What’s that?”

The seventh child was never found.”


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