Chapter One:

Into the Abyss

We run across the sand dunes, the three of us panting and terrified and with nowhere left to go. The open sands stretch onwards, but we are already in the confines of the prison land; it's only a matter of time before the soldiers catch up with us.

I do not stop when the gunfire rips through Gerald's chest, spraying blood out onto the sand before us. He has barely time to gasp before another bullet splinters his brain, casting him down into the sand with a hard, unceremonious thud.

"Keep running!" I cry out to Anjali, reaching out to grab her hand and pulling her onwards through the blistering desert. The mouth of the pit is to our left side, and as we pass by it I can't resist a glance down, down into that black abyss...

Shhk!

The scream rips through me before I realise I'm the one making it, and I tumble to the ground, sand filling my face and hair. I fight to blink the coarseness away as Anjali grabs me beneath the shoulders, calling out my name, the pain in my leg blinding. I open my eyes enough to see that a bullet has burrowed its way clean through the area just below my knee, flashes of blood everywhere, and Anjali sobbing, sobbing, sobbing.

"Go," I bluster, feet scrabbling in the dirt as she tries to pull me to a safety that doesn't exist here, "go!"

But she doesn't go, my good-hearted friend. She can't leave me, not even here, when there is no chance for either of us should she stay. I beg her to run even as the soldiers come upon us, even as they pull us apart and to our feet.

Their English is broken. I barely hear a word of what they say, crushed by the pain in my leg. They talk for a long while as the two of us cry, reaching for one another. They laugh at us, then they poke at us. Then the leering starts.

"Nice girl, this one," one of the men says, and I feel his hand squeeze my waist. and they're speaking their own language again now, which Anjita and I barely understand a word of save the little we learned for our trip. I buckle against his grip, but it only causes my leg to give in and I'm back on the ground again, unable to get up on my own.

"No," another says, "Not that one. Too pale," he says in English, to be sure I understand him. "But this one..." His fingers brush over Anjali's hair. "She is a beauty."

"Please," I beg in the home tongue of the men, "if you let us go, we'll be no problem to you, we'll just go."

The man pulls the camera from around Anjali's neck, fiddles with it until the images she's taken of the secret base flash up on the screen.

"Not much," he says nonchalantly, passing the camera around to the others. "Not enough for interest from your Western medias. No proof of a secret prison out here in the desert."

One of the men turns the camera on Anjali and tells her to smile as another pulls his arm around her shoulder. She struggles with them as I struggle to stand.

They talk some more, ignoring both of our protests. I see Gerald's large body lying flat in the distance and shiver in spite of the heat, panic rising over and over in my chest. When Anjali tries to talk to me, one of the men slap her face. I scream and protest until I get the same treatment, only with a closed fist.

They seem to come to some sort of agreement and, even as I'm reeling from the blow to my face, Anjali and I are being pulled in opposing directions.

"No!" I scream, "no, you can't!"

Their leader goes with Anjali, waving a dismissive hand in my direction.

"No one wants you. You came here to see the Pit, yes? You shall have your wish granted."

I'm too concerned about Anjali to even process his words. I scream for her from across the desert as the men pull her away, and as the two taxed with dealing with me drag me further and further from her.

"Anjali! Anjali!"

She and the group of monsters disappear over the horizon. I stare again at Gerald's body as I'm dragged past it, wounded leg limp beneath me, blood still oozing.

Then I see, again, the mouth of the prison, growing larger and larger as we near it, and suddenly the words of the soldier sink in.

You shall have your wish granted.

"No," I say, quietly at first but then so loud I'm screaming it. "No, no, no!"

My grasp of the men's language is very limited, but it's clear by their mumbled replies that I'll find no favour with them. As one man holds my arms, the otherreachess down to the lip of the Pit and begins to fashion a knot from a ragged rope. He secures it around my waist as I fight, so tight I can feel it burning into my skin.

I scream, beginning to feel faint underneath the beating desert sun, eyes blurred by the flush of water within them.

"You can't!" I scream in my own language, "no, you can't do this, we did nothing, we saw nothing!"

"You see enough," one of the men says, dragging me to the edge of the well-like structure. The other moves in front of me, looks me in the eyes and mutters some words that I can't understand. His hand finds my collar and slips underneath the metallic chain around my neck, which holds a semi-precious gemstone- some kind of quartz, If i remember. There's a sharp jab of pain as he tugs the chain, breaking a link and stealing it from my flustered neck. Too aghast to speak, I frown for a second as he examines the necklace, before waving his hand around the stagnant air dismissively.

Suddenly I find myself being tipped backwards over the edge. I scream anew again, terror pumping through my veins and merging with the adrenaline, fighting to get them off whilst trying my best to keep my dragging feet from leaving the dusty ground.

Without warning the floor leaves me and I am falling; only for a millisecond, stopped dead in the air. I cling to the threadbare rope tied around my waist, when only moments ago I would have done almost anything to rid myself of it. I look ahead to find my face only inches from the rough stone wall; I'm barely a meter or so below the rim of the pit. I reach up for it with one hand, tears blurring my vision, but it's no use. My hand soon returns to grasp to the rope as the line begins to be lowered, to descend into the blackness of the pit.

I risk a glance downwards. As I look, I see nothing but the solid black, never-ending and eternal. I watch with wet eyes as the light of the sun begins to turn from me, casting shadows over my face and along the crumbling walls. I scream at the two men, scream at the sun, scream at the whole wide world still up there.

Man's Damnation, the man who tipped us off called the secret prison. The Eternal Fire, Home of Demons... as the last few seconds of my freedom are stolen from me, I do nothing but concentrate on that dimming sun, savouring its sweet light.

My feet land against the hard ground quicker than I had expected. Even through my light sandals, I can feel its sharp pang through me, sparking a pain up through the backs of my ankles and causing me to cry out at the shock to my wounded leg. I try my hardest to climb the rope out of sheer desperation, but just as I get a firm footing it is released and I shoot back to the ground, causing my bad leg to give out, and again I'm on the ground. I gradually become aware of a hushed mumbling.

Slowly, I turn myself from the wall of the chamber and look out to see a sea of men of all ages; dead men, I think. There is no light here, no life. All are wearing grey rags, mostly unshaven with yellowish eyes and hollowed cheeks. I stare at them, dumbstruck, and they stare back. Behind them I can see the less inquisitive moving in the ant-like structure of the prison, drooped shoulders swinging as they wander around aimlessly like forgotten ghosts. A fight seems to have broken out in one corner, but no-one pays it any attention; all are focused on me.

The attention makes my guts twist. Some of the men look at me with mild interest, some with confusion, others still with a sickening gaze I can only describe as hunger.

It is then I realize; they already have me sized up. Weak, wounded girl, almost bled out, terrified and confused. I know that I have to show myself to be stronger than that if I'm going to survive down here for even a second. I must stand my ground, make the first move. Show them that I am not afraid, regardless of how I feel inside.

I force myself to my feet, swallowing back the scream which tries to burst from within me at the pain. I harden my stance and raise my head, clutching my fingers to stop them shaking.

As I am forming the right words to say in my head, I notice movement in the back of the crowd. It distracts me from my thoughts, and in a moment the figure is at the front of the group. I frown at the face for a moment, hidden by layers of a burlap-type fabric. He does not halt at the front, however; he continues towards me.

I take a half-step back on my good leg, but in hardly a moment he is upon me and has me lifted by the waist, kicking and screaming, and throws me briskly over his shoulder. I curse at him in both our native tongues, beating my fists against his broad back; none of the other prisoners so much as move, and as I grow more desperate I feel my eyes start to bleed again with salty tears.

"Put me down, Let me go!" I roar, cursing at him with every new breath, aiming my firsts at the man's covered head as he jostles me up a crumbling flight of stairs. At the top of them I make out a ring of cells circling the open orifice, and the man carries me roughly down the curving corridor, passing several bewildered-looking men as he goes.

"Help!" I scream at each of them, and although they most likely don't understand my foreign cry, that gives no credit to the fact that they do nothing. At the end of one strip of cells, the man carrying me paws in his pockets and draws out a brass key, greening like copper and dented from years of use. He heads to the barred door of the second cell from the right, digs the key into the lock and struggles with it for a moment as it gets stuck. I try to use this opportunity to escape, striking at him with all three of my working limbs, but he merely shuffles me along the blades of his shoulder to get a better grip. Panicked, I give another shrill scream as the door clicks open and the man bolsters me inside.

In a second I find myself flung down on a low cot of a bed, and the man heads back to the doors of his cell and moves to lock them, the key proving difficult again. I hit out at him and he shoves me back, struggling with the lock.

Even through the rags I can see that he's muscle, not hugely taller than me, but undoubtedly far, far stronger. I stand no chance. I don't have the chance to grab for something to use as a weapon before the lock clicks. I struggle to my feet as the man turns to face me.

"Don't touch me," I snarl in my own tongue, and then a firm "no," in his own, making sure that he understands. I back father up, my knees touching the wood of the prison cot. My speech turns into mindless babble and my heart thuds blindingly as he steps closer, his large form shadowing mine. I raise my hands in defence, not knowing what else to do, babbling something between a plea and an insult in an increasingly high tone. His hands clamp either side of my shoulders and he pushes down on them so that I'm forced into a sitting position on the bed.

I resist, clawing at him and pushing myself upwards, but his grip is too firm and he simply shoves me down again. I wrap my forearms over his, trying to keep him away, still shouting at him desperately.

"This would be far simpler," he says with a sudden earthly growl in a clear, familiar accent, "if you would just calm down."

I stop struggling instantly.

"You're English?"

He shakes his head. My grip on his forearms stays tight as I watch him, breath heavy and eyes wide whilst he lowers himself to his knees in front of me. Hands still on my shoulders, he bends to one knee before the cot and slowly lifts his hands from my skin.

"But you, you speak English."

A nod as he reaches for the fabric covering the top of his head. Slowly, as if he is dealing with a frightened animal, he removes the cloth and uncovers a crop of dark hair, sticking out all unruly at the sides and the crown. The hand moves to the bandanna and he tugs it down to reveal his face.

I had been expecting the face of a predator, harsh and rough, but he is young, soft-featured, only his hardened jawline betraying the conformity. Stubble grazes his cheekbones, his dark eyes alert rather than dangerous. We stare at each other for what feels like an eternity, before he seems to decide that I am at last calm. He stands and turns his back on me, shrugging off his threadbare overcoat. I sit completely still as he moves around the small room, shuffling things around for no apparent reason, running his hand through his hair twice before turning back to me. We stare at each other again.

"Don't hurt me," I say, part demand and part plea.

"I won't hurt you," he says, his tone indifferent.

"Then what do you want?"

"Oh, isn't that nice," he says a little whimsically. He turns his back on me again and grabs hold of two of the cell bars. "I pull you out of that rabble of rapists and that's the thanks I get."

"You sound Engish," I say, almost sounding accusing.

"I had a good teacher." He tilts his head, noticing my leg for the first time.

"You're wounded."

I'd almost forgotten about the pain for a moment.

"I was shot."

"You're still bleeding, and badly." The man moves to a small water trough at the back of the cell and begins drenching strips of fabric with the liquid. As he brings them over to me, I flinch away.

"I'll do it," I say, as his hand reaches out to touch my wound.

"Have you ever dressed a wound like this before?"

"...No."

"No. Unsurprising." He presses the damp fabric hard against my leg, gesturing for me to take over.

"Keep pressure on that while I go to fetch the doctor."

"You have a doctor here?"

"We have all manner of things down here." He moves for the door, locking it once he's passed through. "I'll only be a moment."

"Wait," I say, grimacing at the pain. "Who are you?"

He stops, not looking my way.

"Bane," he says, and begins to walk away. "My name is Bane."