I sat as still as I could, huddled into the corner with my knees pulled up and pressed into my chin. My arms were wrapped around them, but even with the constriction, I couldn't quite mask the shivering that coursed through my entire body, and made one of my feet beat a rapid tattoo against the cold marble floor. My teeth chattered noiselessly from the harsh wind that filled the hall. Winter was on this wind, frost born in the heavens being whipped against my skin, piercing through my thin and torn clothes. The first flakes of snow were beginning to form a crust in my hair and on my eyelashes, but I was still too afraid to move even so slightly as to brush them away, because it might be seen by...them...

This was still all a game to them, those faceless torturers that had spent hours making me scream in agony, all the while smiling in their mouthless faces, laughing with their nonexistent tongues. They mustn't find me, they mustn't. I'd sooner die than go back with them, down, down into the depths of the earth, down to where their playground of pain was an empire beyond hell. And if I did go back down with them, the time between then and when I did go to hell would make hell look like a playground by comparison. Even the Devil must have mercy. These faceless shadows had nothing but sadistic souls, revelling in the agony they inspired in others.

Across the great hall, something fell to the ground and shattered, and despite the fact that I had thought I was still before, I froze. I strained my eyes to see into the snow swept gloom. Was something moving over there? For a second, something was framed against the meagre light that came through the open doors, but it was gone too swiftly to be sure whether it was one of them or just a gust of wind and snow. I gritted my teeth and screwed my eyes shut, overwhelmed by the fear. My mind began to play the hated show, the memories of the tortures long endured, always to the point of madness, and then the edge of the abyss disappearing, giving way to care that was sadistic in that it merely made sure I was healthy for the next bout of agony.

I was flung headlong into one of these memories, and I could not escape.

Could not escape the shackles around my wrists. Could not escape the knife set against my chest, the panic and fear and hatred rising like the bile from my stomach, visceral and overwhelming.

Could not escape my hand being thrust forcibly into the roaring flames of the fire. Could not escape the sound of my screams, nor the smell of my flesh burning and eating away down to the bones in my hand. Could not escape the white-hot iron coming so close to my eyeball that it filled my vision, and I could not escape the contemptuous laugh I heard as the iron burnt agonising slashes into my cheeks and forehead which were then filled with fine metal shavings.

Could not escape this fate.

And now I sit in this corner, afraid to move, because they are too close. I can hear them now, their light little feet dancing over the marble floors of this marvellously decorated Hell. I don't know who I am. I don't know where I am, or why I am here. But I'm fairly sure none of that matters. I can't let myself be recaptured. But I can't run. My body is too broken to move, it took all I had to pull myself into this corner, my hands clasped around my salvation. All they would have had to do would be to follow the bloody trail I must have left, but the hot irons could be my salvation now as it cauterised a lot of what otherwise would still be gushing wounds.

They're closer now. They're angry, because I killed one of them. That means the torture to come will be that much worse. That much more inventive.

Gods above and below. They're so close...

So close...

The shadow loomed out of the wind-blasted snow, followed closely by two of its colleagues. They looked with a cold indifference at the broken figure in the corner, huddled in a vain attempt to either block the cold, or to prevent detection. The shadow radiated anger, as did the two that flanked it on either side. Suddenly, the huddled figure raised its bloodstained face, and grinned through shattered teeth. Its lips split, and fresh blood ran down its chin in surreal freshets of crimson. Slowly it raised a hand to reveal the knife that it had stolen from the table beside it, the knife with which it had killed the unwitting fourth. The shadow stiffened immediately, and its black eyes flashed in a blaze of unnameable emotions. The broken figure grinned slyly, and then in a flash of motion slashed the razor blade across its throat. The gout of blood that erupted forth drenched the shadow, but it barely noticed. The look of triumph on the corpse's face was sickening. The shadow restrained the urge to kick the body and turned to its companions. In a low voice that sounded like it issued from a throat filled with clotting blood, it spoke.

"Well. At least the Master's hounds will have a good feed." Its voice filled with a smug tone. "Bring up the next one. Hopefully, it will fare better than this last one."

The corpse's eyes filled with snow that melted into bloody tears that trickled down the defiled and triumphantly peaceful face. The Malurus would never be able to again use this one in his perverted experiments on mankind.

But his dungeons were full of test subjects…