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Ryan’s Story – The Runaway

 “Jake Matthews please report to the principal’s office.” Jake looked up from his workbook as the message came over the PA. Suddenly everyone in the class was looking at him.

“Dude,” Spud whispered sitting next to him, “whatever you did you are so busted for it.”

“There’s no way they could’ve found out about that,” Jake whispered out of the side of his mouth.

“Well, you heard the disembodied voice,” the teacher said at the front of the class with little enthusiasm, “better take your things in case you’re not back before the end of the lesson.” Jake quickly packed away his workbook and pen, picked up his school bag and walked the dead-man’s walk across the classroom, every pair of eyes in the room following him as he walked through the door.

As he jogged across the quad separating the classroom blocks with the main building, keeping to the trees in a vain attempt to stay dry despite the rain, Jake mentally ticked off a list of things that he had done recently. He shrugged of the raindrops as he entered the main building and arrived at the principal’s office. Ms Cunningham, the principal’s secretary showed him into the office. Sitting there, waiting for him was the principal and a policeman.

“Relax; you’re not in any trouble.” Was that a hint of sarcasm Jake was detecting? “Officer Ballard here just wants to ask you a few questions.” Jake nervously sat down in the other chair.

“Good afternoon son,” Ballard said by way of greeting, “I understand from Mr and Mrs Johnson that you’re friends with one of their foster children, Ryan. Is that correct?”

Jake nodded, “uh huh.”

“When did you last see him?”

“Erm, I think it was on the boat after school yesterday.”

“Are you sure,” Jake nodded, “how was he.”

“Well, he was a little distant, like he was preoccupied with something. We usually meet up at lunch but I couldn’t find him.”

Officer Ballard jotted some notes on his notepad. “And what about before yesterday?”

“What’s with all the questions about Ryan, he’s not in any trouble is he.” Jake was more than a little concerned now. He had only known Ryan for two months and only been friends with him for half that time. There was still a lot he didn’t know about the younger boy but he did know one thing. Ryan had a strong moral compass and he knew right from wrong. Jake found it hard to believe that Ryan had done anything worthy of police attention. A look passed between Ballard and the principal.

“Ryan’s gone missing.”

—-

Early last night…

As Trey and his friends continued their game, Ryan watched from the bedroom window. In one respect at least, Mark had kept his word, Trey had no memory what Ryan’s older brother had done to him. Turning away from the window, he went back to his bed and pulled a large bag from underneath it. Scared that his brother might one day find him, he had always kept an “emergency bag” packed in case he ever needed to leave in a hurry. The events of the last 24 hours had shown Ryan that Mark knew where he was living. It was only a matter of time before Mark showed up in one form or another to finish the job he started four years ago. It was because of this that he had made his decision to leave.

He knew that leaving would be dangerous, he had no childish illusions that it would turn out to be a Grand Adventure like it always was in the storybooks and movies. However, if he stayed, he would be putting the people he had come to care about at risk. Mark had already proven once with Trey that he was perfectly willing to get at Ryan using those around him.

Ryan opened up the bag and checked the contents. As always, the clothes were packed tightly in the bottom of the bag. Tough, hard wearing and weather proof, with luck they should be warm enough. On top of the clothes sat an envelope inside of which was nearly two hundred pounds in cash that he had saved over the years. As well as the money, there were several leaflets; timetables for the local train and bus services which he had gathered shortly after arriving in Cliffport. Everything was set, as it had been for the past two months. He popped off the PC’s side cover and took out the antistatic bag. He had a feeling that he might need the book within so he carefully packed it in the bag. With everything packed and ready, he stowed the bag back under the bed, hidden behind a roll of spare blankets.

He sat down on his bed, wondering whether he should write a note to his foster parents. When he suddenly disappears during the night, Ryan knew that they would worry. Lying back on the bed, mentally composing a hypothetical note, he felt a lump under the bedcovers. It was the flick knife that Mark had used when threatening to cut Trey’s wrist. Attached to the knife was a note. It read, “See you soon” and it was signed “Mark.” Obviously, a parting gift left behind by Mark before he released the possession on Trey’s body. Ryan picked up the knife and the note. “Not if I have anything to say about it,” he said looking at the knife thoughtfully.

That night Ryan slept lightly, pretending to be ill so he could go to bed early wearing his street clothes before Trey turned in. At around two in the morning, he was woken by his watch’s vibrating alarm and he quietly slipped out of bed. Carefully picking up the bag, Ryan tiptoed across the bedroom carrying his trainers, making sure not to wake Trey as he opened the bedroom door. Only when he got downstairs did he stop to pull on his trainers. Before he did so, he took out the flick knife he had hidden in the left shoe. After he put his shoes on, he tucked the knife into his sock, hiding it under the bottom of his trousers. Ryan had never carried a knife before, he was all too intimately aware of the type of injury that they could inflict. However, tonight was different. He knew from the other children that he had met in the children’s home or in foster care that the streets were not a safe place for kids. Somehow, he knew the he was probably going to need some protection.

The night sky outside was clear and cloudless, the moon shining brightly amongst the twinkling stars. Closing the front door quietly, Ryan stepped out into the cold night air. There was no traffic on the walls and the only sound that could be heard was the surf washing against the base of the cliffs. Ryan hopped over the front gate, avoiding the horrendous squeal of its rusty hinges, stood on the pavement looking back at the darkened house. After a few moments of contemplation, Ryan set off towards the main road.

—-

Next morning…

The alarm clock buzzed incessantly, rousing Trey from a dreamless sleep. “Ryan, shut off the damn alarm clock!” When there was no answer, the boy lifted his head and looked across the bedroom. The bedcovers of Ryan’s bed were thrown aside but there was no sign of the bed’s former occupant. Glancing around the room, Trey could see that Ryan’s shoes were gone as was his coat. Assuming that Ryan was up and had already gotten ready for school, a reasonable assumption given that the older boy was often up before him, he grumpily got out of bed and began to get ready. As he pulled on a sweatshirt, he noticed a folded piece of paper on his desk with his name on it written in Ryan’s handwriting. Curious, he picked up the piece of paper and unfolded it. As he read the note, his eyes widened in shock and bolted out of the room.

Trey thundered down the stairs and skidded into the kitchen, narrowly avoiding Susan. “Trey, what have I told you about running in the house?” She said, almost dropping the cup of tea she was carrying.

“Ryan’s gone!” Trey blurted out.

“What do you mean gone?” She asked slightly confused, “has he left for school already?”

“No, he’s run away and he says he’s not coming back!” He cried, shoving the note into Susan’s hand.

—-

During morning lessons…

“What do you mean he’s gone missing?” Jake said, only just resisting the urge to jump to his feet.

The Principal cleared his throat, “The indications are that he has run away. Of course we’re very concerned for his safety.”

Jake slumped back into the chair. “I knew he’d been a little depressed lately, and he was acting funny yesterday but I didn’t think he’d do something like this.” Ballard jotted something down in his notepad as Jake spoke.

“Do you know if he was depressed about something in particular?” Before Jake could respond, Ballard’s radio squawked.

“Control to two-six-zero, come in.”

“Two-six-zero to control, go ahead.”

“Bill, we’ve just had a report forwarded to us from Liskeard saying that a youth matching the description of the Henderson boy was seen hitchhiking on the A38 earlier this morning.”

“Do we have any indication where he might be going?”

“No, the sighting was a couple of hours old by the time it was reported and he was already gone by the time a patrol car arrived but according to the report, he was by the westbound lane.”

—-

At that moment…

“Thanks mister,” Ryan said closing the car door and waving as it drove off down the road. He pulled up his hood and started walking into Truro, his hometown and the smallest city in the UK. This was where he had been born and lived up until that night four years ago. As he walked through the town, memories rose unbidden to the surface. He had bought his first skateboard from that sports shop. The restaurant over there had been where he had had his ninth birthday party. His friends had used to play in that playground. Now it was a block of luxury apartments.

After walking almost all the way across the town through the rain, he reached his destination, Truro’s cemetery. With some apprehension, he walked through the gate and began to make his way through the cemetery. It took nearly an hour of searching but he eventually found what he was looking for. Sitting down in front of the grave, he traced his fingers across the engraving on the tombstone. “In loving memory of Paul and Tracy Henderson, died 14th March 2004, along with their son Mark aged 16.” As his fingers crossed his brother’s name, Ryan felt the anger rise in him. Taking out the flick knife, he spent several minutes obliterating his brother’s name. The body buried in the grave was not his brother like everyone believed. Even if it was, after what Mark had done, he did not deserve to be buried with the parents he had murdered.

“Hi mum, dad, it’s been a long time. I should’ve come sooner, I know, but they wouldn’t let me out of hospital to come to the funeral and afterwards they moved me out of the area. I could’ve asked to visit, but I could never bring myself too. Guess I couldn’t face it you know? As long as I didn’t have to see a grave, I guess I could pretend, at least to myself that what happened that night didn’t really happen. But it did happen; I have to accept that because nothing is going to change it.” Ryan shivered and pulled his coat tighter around him in an attempt to ward off the rain. “I came here to say goodbye, I’ve got to go away and I don’t think I’ll ever have a chance to come here again. Mark’s found me and it’s only a matter of time before he comes for me. If it was just me it’d be bad enough but the people I’m staying with are good people. They’re the closest I’ve had to a family since, well, you know. Mark’s already used one of them to get to me. He didn’t hurt him but I can’t take the chance that he won’t next time. I’m going to head to London. It’s big enough that he won’t be able to find me there. It’s not going to be easy, but I have to do it.” He stood up, wiped his nose on the back of his sleeve and wiped away a few tears that had mixed with the raindrops on his face. “I’d ask you to watch over me, but if what I’ve learned over the last month is true, then you’re probably not in a position to help.” He picked up his backpack and fastened the waist strap. “I swear I will find out what Mark did and I’ll find a way to reverse it, that’s a promise.” Ryan turned to leave but he stopped himself. He turned back to the grave and knelt down. “And you,” he whispered addressing the body of his brother’s anonymous accomplice, “when I find a way to lift the pledge, I’m gonna make sure that you’re left burning in hell where you belong.”

—-

After leaving the cemetery, Ryan was walking through town with his head down on his way towards the bus station when a hooded teenage boy riding a BMX careened out of an alleyway, almost colliding with him. “Watch where you’re going dickhead,” the boy spat as he righted his bike.

“You watch it, you almost ran me over,” Ryan retorted stepping back. Anger briefly flashed across the other boy’s face, but it was quickly displaced by a quizzical expression, eyes narrowed.

“Ryan? Ryan Henderson?”

Ryan leaned forward, “Do I know … wait a minute, Doug?”

Doug jumped of his bike staring at Ryan incredulously, “Jesus, Ryan, I can’t believe it’s you!” Douglas Roberts had been Ryan’s best friend at primary school; the two boys had grown up together living on the same street. Ryan was the oldest of the pair by four months.

Ten minutes later they were sitting in a fast food restaurant. The man behind the counter had sneered disapprovingly at the two boys as they entered but had said nothing. “So where’ve you been? It’s been like four years.”

Ryan crammed a handful of fries into his mouth. “After the fire, social services thought it would be best if they moved me out of the area. Been bouncing around the foster care system ever since.” He pointed at Doug’s half-eaten box of chicken strips. “You gonna finish them?”

“Err, no, help yourself,” Doug said shrugging and pushing the box over to Ryan’s side of the table. “That sucks…” he paused as he leaned forward across the table and pushed the collar of Ryan’s jacket aside, ignoring the boy’s protest. Seeing the scar on Ryan’s neck, Doug whistled. “Whoa, that is an awesome looking scar. Did you get that from the guy that killed your family? Looks like he tried to take you head clean off!”

Ryan grimaced at his friend’s lack of tact. “Yes, the person that killed my parents gave me this scar. Now, can we change the subject?”

“Um sorry,” Doug said realising that he had broached a taboo subject, “So where’re you living now then?”

“A small town just down the coast from Plymouth called Cliffport.”

Doug snorted, “Cliffport, that boring little shit hole? Hang on; if you’re supposed to be in Cliffport what’re you doing here?”

“Erm…” Ryan began, as he struggled to come up with a believable excuse. Doug’s eyes strayed towards the oversized backpack on the seat next to Ryan. He suddenly understood the situation and started laughing.

“No way, you’ve pulled a runner haven’t you!” Ryan tried to quieten Doug down whose loud voice had started to draw unwanted attention. “So what’re you planning to do now?”

“Haven’t decided yet,” Ryan lied, “just had to hit the road for a while. I got some stuff I need to sort out in my head and I need some space to do it.”

“You need a place to crash or something ‘cos mine’s free?” Doug offered.

“What about your parents?”

“Nah, they’re not a problem. My old man split couple of years back, and mum works nights. She’d never notice. She don’t notice anything anymore.”

Ryan thought about the offer, it was tempting. “Sorry, but I’m not planning on being in town that long. You caught me on the way to the bus station.”

They eventually left the fast food restaurant; Ryan was getting uncomfortable at the looks they were getting from the few staff and customers. The two boys walked through the town catching and reminiscing about all the scrapes they used to get into. Talking to Doug, he was almost able to forget his problems.

As they were walking down a street, Doug suddenly shoved Ryan into an alleyway, a hand clamped over his mouth. Surprised by the sudden movement, yelled a muffled protest from behind Doug’s hand. “Shhh!” Doug hissed, indicated with a nod of his head towards the street. A police car leisurely cruised past the alleyway. When it disappeared from view, Doug removed his hand and breathed a sigh of relief.

“What the hell was all that about?” Ryan asked angrily.

“You finally fried that oversized brain of yours or something?” Doug responded, “The police have probably got your description already.”

“Nuh-uh.”

“Dude, you’re the like the poster child for a ‘vulnerable youth’ what with your history and everything. Cliffport plod probably sent your picture out as soon as they realised you’d gone.” Doug’s words caused Ryan to pause; he had assumed that he would have at least 24 hours grace before the police officially considered him missing.

“You think so?” Ryan asked, then a thought struck him, “and the fact that you should be in school had nothing to do with us ducking into an alley?”

Doug grinned. “School’s for muppets or brainiacs like you.”

Ryan’s face became serious and he placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Look Doug, I gotta go. I don’t wanna miss the last bus.”

“Take care of yourself buddy, ok,” Doug said pulling Ryan into an awkward adolescent hug, “see you around someday.”

“You too Doug, and stay out of trouble,” he said playfully pointing an accusatory finger, “I know you.”

—-

By the time Ryan had arrived at the bus station, the last National Express coach to London and the South East had already left. The next coach was not due to leave until the morning and it appeared that Ryan was stuck in Truro overnight.

Wandering through the town, he looked for somewhere to stay the night. Obviously commercial accommodation was out of the question. What kind of hotel or bed and breakfast would rent a room to an unaccompanied fourteen-year-old who paid in cash? His meandering route through Truro’s streets eventually brought him to a small industrial estate on the outskirts of town. In one corner of the estate, lying forgotten and fronted by a weed-ridden car park was a vacant warehouse. The company that used to own the industrial unit had gone bankrupt years before Ryan had moved away leaving behind an empty warehouse.

Ryan climbed through a hole in the chain-link fence surrounding the warehouse and quickly jogged across the cracked concrete heading for the loading dock. The fire door next to the dock was ajar, its lock still broken even after all these years. Slowly he walked inside, waiting a moment as his eyes adjusted to the gloom. The fire door led into a warren of corridors and partitioned offices that had once housed the company’s non-warehouse staff. Apart from the extra graffiti, the interior was just as he remembered it had been that one summer he and Doug had explored the derelict warehouse.

He ventured further into the offices, eventually reaching the former manager’s office. The room was dry and its roof was intact. It wasn’t much but it would have to do. Unrolling his sleeping bag under the abandoned desk, Ryan prepared to settle down for the night.

That night, his dreams were disturbed by images of fire and blood. A sinister hooded figure dominated the nightmare, its inhuman size and proportions causing the ground to tremble with every one of its steps. Ryan woke drenched in sweat still feeling the heat of the flames. “It’s just a dream,” he told himself, “get a grip.” He lay there, tossing and turning, unable to get back to sleep.

Not long after his watch beeped midnight, Ryan began to hear voices coming from nearby. The voices were punctuated by a scream, a high-pitched and desperate cry for help. She sounded young, probably not much older than Ryan. Her cry was cut short by the sound of flesh striking flesh. “Shut it bitch,” an angry male voice yelled. A door somewhere in the complex of offices slammed open and harsh laughter could be heard. From the noise they were making, Ryan could tell that there were at least three people with the girl.

With a cold feeling growing in his stomach, he realised that he was probably about to hear the girl being raped. He had to do something but charging in there like some sort of hero would be virtual suicide, it would be three against one and he was no Jackie Chan. There was a voice in the back of his mind. The same voice he had ignored four years ago, telling him to be quiet, stay hidden, to play it safe. As he stood up, he realised that just as before, he was going to ignore it.

“Told you this place was perfect,” one of the voices said, “no one knows about this place but me.” Ryan froze at the sound of Doug’s voice. He could not believe it, there was no way that his old friend would be involved in something like this. Maybe he did not know him as well as he had thought. After all, people can change a lot in four years.

The voices were getting nearer, heading towards the back office. Ryan reached down to take the knife out from under his sock when he stopped himself. “No,” he thought to himself, “using this is the sort of thing that Mark would do.” He instead put the knife into one of his pockets and looked around the room. Picking up a length of metal pipe, he took up position against the wall beside the door.

The door crashed open, kicked with such force that it almost broke the doorstop embedded in the floor. Any harder and it would have smashed into Ryan. Hidden behind the open door, Ryan watched as the girl was pushed into the room. Three thugs burst into the office behind her, two of them carrying flashlights. Two of them were teenagers in their late teens but the third, the one without a flashlight, was around Ryan’s age. All of them had the faces hidden behind hoods and bandanas but Ryan didn’t need to see his face to recognise his old friend. As one of the older boys held the girl down, Doug hurriedly unfastened his pants, egged on by his two friends. “Come on D,” the other older boy said, “if you want in, you gotta make her scream.” He was holding a mobile phone recording the scene using the phone’s camera as he addressed Doug who was now straddling the girl and struggling to undress her.

With everyone’s attention focused on the girl, Ryan decided that now was the best time to act. Stepping out from his hiding place, the pipe held above his head, he approached the group. With his back to Ryan, the impromptu cameraman didn’t see Ryan approach him, the pipe held above his head. He brought the pipe crashing down on the thug’s back. With a grunt, he dropped the cameraphone and stumbled forward, crashing into Doug. Before they had a chance to react to his sudden appearance, Ryan had slid across the top of the desk kicking the other older boy in the chest. Channelling his favourite freerunning comic book superhero, he used his momentum to carry him off the desk, rolling into a crouch spinning the pipe like a martial arts staff. “Ryan, what the fuck!” Doug yelled as he scrambled off the girl pulling his pants up.

His two friends quickly recovered from Ryan’s surprise attack. “Get him!” one of them yelled, Ryan couldn’t tell which, and the two older boys charged at him. He swung the pipe like a baseball bat, striking the arm of one of the boys when he tried to block it. The sound of bone cracking reverberated through the room and the attacker fell to the floor, cradling his now broken forearm and screaming in pain. The other boy charged into Ryan, knocking the pipe out of his hand and pushing him on to the floor. Sitting across Ryan’s waist and pinning the smaller boy to the floor, he punched Ryan several times in the face. Ryan grunted as the older boy hit him, the punches dazing him with their sledgehammer-like impacts. He started to panic; he was already starting to feel woozy from the first few blows, any more and he would be in serious danger of being knocked unconscious.

“Kill him Chris!” someone yelled. To his horror, he realised it was Doug.

“Little bastard broke my fucking arm,” the wounded teenager muttered.

Ryan saw the teenager sitting across his waist reach into his pocket and pull out a slotted screwdriver. As the teenager attempted to stab him, Ryan wrestled with him, desperately trying to disarm the screwdriver-wielding thug. For several tense seconds, the blade of the screwdriver hovered over his chest. Slowly, Ryan forced the screwdriver back, wrenching it out of the boy’s grip. Still holding the shaft, Ryan slammed the screwdriver handle first into the boy’s eye. The boy squealed in pain, tumbling off Ryan clutching his eye. Ryan wasted no time, springing to his feet and delivering a vicious kick to the boy’s side. He was relieved when the two injured boys scrambled to their feet and fled the room leaving Doug behind. His plan had not exactly been thorough, he didn’t know what he would have done if they hadn’t ran.

There was a scream from across the room. Doug had drawn a knife and was holding it to her throat, using her as a human shield.

“Jesus Christ Doug,” he yelled in frustration, “give it up already.”

“Shut the fuck up, get away from me!” Doug yelled backing in to a wall, still holding the girl.

Ryan placed the screwdriver on the desk and stepped away, his hands held out in what he hoped was a placating gesture. “Come on Doug, just let her go.” In the light from the discarded flashlights, Ryan could see Doug’s eyes, wide with panic, dart from side to side looking for an escape route. He deliberately took several steps away from the door, hoping that his former friend would take the opportunity to flee but he didn’t. “You don’t want to do this…”

“Shut up; don’t tell me what to do!”

“This isn’t you, you’re not like this,” Ryan pleaded although he knew at the back of his mind that he wasn’t getting through.

“And how would you know!”

“You’re right, people change. But you’re better than this; the Doug I knew would never be involved in something like this.”

“Fuck you Ryan! You disappeared for four years, don’t you dare think you got the right to judge me!”

“My parents were murdered, it’s not like I had a choice!” Ryan snapped. The two boys stared at each other across the room, each waiting for the other to make the next move. “Fine, if that’s what you want,” he said reaching down and picking up the mobile phone dropped by one of the thugs and forgotten, “we’ll just let the police sort this out.”

“You wouldn’t,” Doug said, his voice not as confident or arrogant as before.

“Abduction, attempted rape, possession of a weapon with intent to wound, you want me to add any more? Even at 13, they’ll bang you up for crap like that for sure.” Ryan pressed a few buttons on the phone and turned it around so Doug could see the screen. “Especially when they’ve got video evidence. Face it, you’re finished.”

The fight seemed to drain out of Doug as he watched the video footage. It was blurry but unmistakably him. “But,” he said pathetically, “we’re friends.”

“We were. I might not have many friends after moving around so much, but ones that yell ‘Kill him Chris’ are ones I can do without.” As Ryan’s words sank in, his grip on the girl faltered and the knife moved away from her neck. Taking advantage of Doug’s inattention, she grabbed his hand and bit down on it hard. He yelped and dropped the knife. Ryan surged forwards, slamming his fist into Doug’s face. Doug reeled backwards with the force of the punch, blood pouring from his nose. He stumbled against the wall next to a closet. “Open the door,” he yelled at the girl. She opened the door and Ryan shoved a stunned Doug into the closet slamming to the door shut and jamming it closed with a chair.

Ryan slid down the wall in to a sitting position as Doug banged on the door cursing at Ryan. He rubbed his aching jaw. His face was already starting to swell up. By tomorrow morning, he would probably have an impressive set of bruises.

He got up and crouched in front of the girl. She was bleeding slightly from the neck where Doug’s knife had nicked the skin. Apart from that and a few cuts and bruises, she appeared physically unharmed. Slowly, he put her coat around the shivering girl’s shoulders. He moved carefully, not wanting to frighten her; she’d already been through enough tonight. “It’s alright,” he said trying to reassure her, “they’ve gone and no one’s going to be able to hurt you. My name’s Ryan, what’s yours?”

“Megan,” she said in a very small voice.

“Okay Megan, I’m going to phone the cops so that they can arrest this bastard,” he said banging the closet door with his fist, “and an ambulance so they can make sure you’re alright.” She nodded weakly in response, still in shock. Ryan dialled 999 on the mobile and was quickly connected to the emergency operator. He gave the operator their location and told her what had happened before hanging up. Turning his back on the girl, he retrieved his things from where he had hidden them, quickly repacking the sleeping bag.

“Will you stay with me until they arrive?”

Ryan turned around and looking at her, found that he couldn’t say no even if it meant having to answer awkward questions. Making sure that the closet door was securely jammed; he picked up his backpack and led the girl outside to the car park. It didn’t take long for the sound of police sirens to be heard. They screeched to halt in front of the hole in the fence, an ambulance following close behind. A policewoman approached the two teenagers; she guided Megan towards the waiting ambulance while her colleague came over to Ryan. Two other officers went in to the warehouse He looked up at the policeman. When he asked Ryan to come over to the police car so that he could take a statement, Ryan knew that he was in trouble.

The policeman took one look at the nervous boy in the passenger seat next to him, glanced at the bag Ryan was holding in his lap and asked the question Ryan had been dreading. “Is your name Ryan Henderson?” Ryan nodded. “You do know that there’s quite a few people worried about you back in Cliffport?” Ryan looked at the floor, unwilling to look at the policeman or answer him. A shout from outside attracted his attention and he watched as two officers dragged a handcuffed Doug out of the warehouse and into a waiting police car. “So, do you want to tell me what happened tonight?”

After handing over the mobile phone to the officer and describing what he had seen, Ryan had been taken to the police station. He sat opposite the officer as he phoned Ryan’s foster parents. Half asleep, Ryan only paid the vaguest attention to the conversation whilst stifling his yawns. When the officer put phone down, he looked at the bleary-eyed boy.

“Was he … was he angry?” Ryan asked tentatively.

“Of course, but he was also worried.” Ryan could not hold it in any longer. He let out a long, exhausted yawn followed by a muffled apology. “Someone will take you home in the morning. Until then,” the officer continued, “you can wait in the first aid room and get some rest.”

Within minutes of him lying down on the hard bed, he was fast asleep.

—-

Later next morning…

A sullen Ryan got out of the police car. Shouldering his backpack, he followed the police officer towards the house. Anthony answered the door and he looked at Ryan. “Get inside,” Anthony said tersely. Ryan did as he was told, not meeting his eyes. “Wait for me in the kitchen.”

Ryan sat down at the kitchen table, his heart racing and a hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach. He couldn’t hear what was being said between Anthony and the police officer. After a few minutes, the police officer left and Anthony came into the kitchen.

“Sorry,” Ryan said, “for making you worry.” Anthony remained silent. “Guess I screwed everything up. You’ll be phoning social services tomorrow to get them to take me back.”

“That depends,” Anthony said after a moment’s further silence.

“On what?” Ryan asked looking at him for the first time.

“On what the hell you were thinking,” he said looking at the fresh bruises on Ryan’s face. “You were lucky you didn’t get yourself seriously hurt, or worse.”

Ryan looked down at the table, gazing at his own reflection in the shiny surface. His eyes drifted to the scar on his neck. “How much did they tell you about what happened to my parents?”

Anthony glanced at the top of the boy’s head. Ryan had never spoken a word about his family before. “Just the basics, that there was a home invasion, a fire and that you were the only one that survived. They never caught the people responsible.”

“That’s mostly true,” Ryan said quietly, barely above a whisper.

“What do you mean?” Anthony asked, sitting down opposite Ryan. He had the feeling that this was going to be one of those conversations.

Still looking down at the table, his finger traced along the line of scar tissue. “He didn’t die in the fire.”

“Who didn’t?”

“Mark.”

Anthony thought for a moment, thinking back to what the social worker had told them before they had agreed to take Ryan on as a foster child. “Wasn’t Mark your brother?”

Ryan shot out of the chair, glaring across the table at his foster father. “He’s not my fucking brother, not after what he did,” Ryan yelled. Anthony jumped back slightly, shocked at the sudden outburst. “He killed mum, he killed dad, he cut my throat and he … he…” his voice faltered and he stormed out of the room, thundering up the stairs and slamming his bedroom door. Anthony sat there stunned, he’d known that talking about his past had always been a touchy subject for Ryan, but there had never been anything in the information given to them by social services that his brother had been responsible for the deaths of his parents.

After a moment, he got up from the table and slowly walked up the stairs. Carefully he opened the door to the boys’ bedroom. Ryan was sitting on the floor with his back to the wall hugging his knees and hiding his face. Anthony sat down next to Ryan. “Do you want to talk?” Ryan shook his head.

“I can’t,” said a muffled voice.

“You have too,” Anthony said softly, “it’s obviously eating you up inside.”

“No,” he said.

“Look, I promise whatever you say stays between us. If it’s affecting you this much, then you HAVE to tell someone.”

“You won’t believe me; no one did about what he did to mum and dad.”

Anthony laid a hand on Ryan’s shoulder and simply said, “Trust me.” Ryan looked up at him, his eyes red and puffy. Anthony realised that Ryan had been crying.

“I couldn’t stop him; I wasn’t strong enough or brave enough. I could’ve fought back but I ran to my room. He chased and caught me. As he tied me up, I can remember wishing that Mark would come and save me.” Tears were beginning to spill down Ryan’s face. “I didn’t know that my brother was the one… the one who was… he raped me.” Ryan once again buried his head against his knees.

“It’s wasn’t your fault,” Anthony began pulling Ryan into a hug, “you were only ten years old, there was nothing you could have done.” Ryan broke down, sobbing uncontrollably against Anthony’s chest. “Everything’s going to be alright.”

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Hero’s Journey Chapter Six – Trapped

Mid-morning, Madraday the 10th of Tanot, 674 AG (After Godswar)
Somewhere east of Sandown

As Kiba looked up nervously from his upside-down position, the wolf cub padded forward and stopped growling. The cub cocked its head and sniffed at Kiba. Apparently liking what it smelled, it yipped happily and began to lick Kiba’s face. “Eww cut it out!” Kiba said chuckling as the tongue tickled his face.

“Patsu!” The girl cried in exasperation. “You’re supposed to be an attack dog, not a lick ’em in the face dog!” Sighing, she relaxed her grip on the spear and held out a hand to Kiba. “Come on,” she said as she helped him up, “nobody as clumsy as you could possibly be dangerous.”

“Thanks … I think.” He grunted as we wiped the wolf drool off his face.

“Don’t think,” the girl said fixing Kiba with a disapproving glare, “that this means that I’ve forgiven you for spying on me … pervert.” She accentuated her point by shoving Kiba softly in the chest. As she did so, Kiba hissed in pain and stepped back clutching his chest. Wincing, Kiba reached under his shirt and felt the reopened cuts across his abdomen. When he pulled his hand back out, its palm was covered in blood. The girl stared at the blood smeared on his palm. “Where’d all that blood come from?”

“It’s er, nothing,” Kiba said as he unsuccessfully attempted to wipe off the blood using the bottom of his shirt, “I just got … attacked by … um … an animal last night is all.”

“Don’t be stupid, you’re bleeding!” The girl exclaimed pulling Kiba by an arm towards the boulder she had been lounging on earlier and sitting him down. “Take off your shirt and let me have a look.”

“What? No!” He yelled standing up. With surprising force, she grabbed his shoulder and pushed him back down onto the boulder.

“Stop fussing,” the girl said as she tried to take Kiba’s shirt off, “it’s not as if I’m trying to get you naked.” Kiba turned scarlet and spluttered a protest but words failed him and all that come out was a string of gibberish. As he clamped down on the shirt, the girl sighed and decided to try a different tactic. “Let’s try this again, my name’s Lylah and I know a little about healing,” she explained, “if you don’t get that wound seen to properly it’ll probably get infected.”

Reluctantly Kiba slowly pulled the shirt off over his head to reveal the four cuts, blood now seeping through the cloth strips. Lylah quickly appraised the wound as she picked up a small leather pouch that had been hidden behind the boulder. “That looks deep; you say an animal did it?” Lylah asked as she moistened a flannel cloth that she pulled from the pouch in the pool around the base of the boulder.

“Uh huh.”

Lylah removed the cloth strips from the wound and gently wiped the cuts with the damp cloth, cleaning out the dirt and remains of the yellow ointment that Kiba had applied earlier. Kiba resisted the urge to breathe in sharply as the cool water stung inside the cuts and he stiffened against the pain. When Lylah noticed Kiba’s obvious discomfort, she suppressed a smirk at his attempts to hide it. “Those cloth strips were next to useless,” Lylah commented as she placed her hand less than an inch away from his skin just above the cuts, “this should close those cuts quickly.” Closing her eyes in concentration, Lylah’s hand began to glow emanating a soft white light. Particles of light danced around her hand and streamed into the wound causing the skin of Kiba’s chest to also glow. Within seconds, the light particles had almost been completely absorbed into his skin and the cuts already looked shallower. Looking at the wound thoughtfully, the cuts already beginning to rapidly heal, she looked up at Kiba. “I might need some petra flower extract to treat any infection that might have already set in. I think there’s a patch growing just at the top of the cliff.” Kiba was barely listening, still looking at the now healed wound with an impressed expression. She turned towards the narrow path behind Kiba that lead up and out of the sinkhole. As she started to leave, Patsu jumped into Kiba’s lap and yapped in Lylah’s direction. Turning back, she scratched Patsu behind one ear and the small wolf cub made quiet contented noises. “Hey Kiba, could you watch Patsu for me? He hates being left alone, even for a moment.”

“Yeah sure,” Kiba said as he picked up Patsu and scratched him under the chin while Lylah picked up her spear and headed towards the path. Suddenly, Kiba turned to face Lylah’s back with a confused expression on his face. “Hang on, how do you know my name? I never told you it!”

“Oops.” Lylah stopped, her back and posture betraying no emotion except perhaps for the tensing of her shoulders. For a few long seconds neither of them moved or said anything, the silence only broken by the sound of water and wind. Kiba was the first to make a move, dropping Patsu and reaching to draw his short sword. When his hand grasped at thin air, he looked around cursing and spotted the sword lying at the base of the gravel slope on the far side of the sinkhole where he had fallen earlier. In desperation, he grabbed for the hunting knife still strapped to his thigh. Even though he knew that wielding a weapon with such a short reach against someone armed with a spear would put him at a serious disadvantage, it was his only defence. Before he had a chance to draw it and defend himself Lylah span around, picked up a small rock, and smashed it on the side of his head. Sent reeling by the blow, Kiba stumbled backwards over the boulder and fell sprawling on to the ground, white sparks dancing across his vision. He struggled to pick himself up and failed, a black fog closed in as he felt himself loosing consciousness. Collapsing back to the ground, the last thing he saw before falling into unconsciousness was Lylah standing next to him, spear in hand.

With the blunt end of the spear’s shaft, Lylah prodded Kiba’s unconscious form that was laying face down, his lower half submerged in the cold water. “Cute, but so naive.” Lylah said with a cruel smile as her skin began to change texture. Her soft flesh began to toughen and take on a distinct yellowish hue while her hair became dirty and ragged, matted with grime. Her skin, now the texture of tough leather, split and formed scales covering her entire body except for her face that remained clear. Finally, the pupils of her eyes changed from an oval shape to a crossed slit.

Patsu jumped down from boulder and landed next to Kiba. Whining softly, Patsu started nudging the side of Kiba’s face with his nose in a futile attempt to wake him. As Lylah reached down, the wolf club turned to her and assumed a crouched posture, his teeth bared in a snarling growl. Patsu lunged forward at Lylah’s hand threateningly as she tried to grab Kiba by the hair. Pulling her hand back quickly enough to avoid Patsu’s snapping jaws, Lylah swiped at the cub and struck it hard with the shaft of the spear. Patsu was sent tumbling nearly a dozen yards across the sinkhole’s rocky floor before coming to a stop. Whimpering in pain, he cowered as Lylah turned towards him with her spear raised. “Stupid mutt,” Lylah snapped angrily, “what’s gotten into you? Do you want to end up on some hunter’s wall?” Lylah turned back to Kiba, continuing to address Patsu over her shoulder. “If you every try that again, I’ll skin you myself.” Reaching down, she grabbed Kiba by his hair and began to drag him toward a cave entrance that had been hidden behind a dense group of bushes. A few minutes after she had disappeared into the darkness with her catch, Patsu began sniffing at Kiba’s discarded shirt.

—-

Several miles away Jiro bent down to examine a scrap of torn fabric snagged on a branch next to a riverbank. On its own, the black piece of cloth would mean little, but along with the faint but distinctive boot print in the soil beside the bush, it told him that Kiba had passed through here. It was lucky that Jiro had found the scrap at all. Kiba’s trail had met the river a short distance upstream and when it hadn’t continued on the opposite bank, Jiro had concluded that Kiba must have waded along the shallow river in an attempt to mask his trail. Luckily, Jiro had decided to head downstream to try to pick up the trail again and out of the corner of his eye, he had spotted the scrap of fabric.

Jiro estimated that he was still a good few hours behind the boy. Despite the relatively simple trick with the river, Kiba seemed more intent on putting as much distance behind him than on covering his tracks. Thankfully, this meant that it was easy to track him. Why Kiba was doing this was a question that Jiro was still unable to answer and the more he thought about, the more worried he became. At first, he thought the Kiba had foolishly gone after the soldiers that were tracking the survivors of Sandown. That would be a futile quest for revenge at best and didn’t explain why Kiba had felt it necessary to knock him out. As Jiro had tracked him it became clear that, whatever his reasons, Kiba was heading south and not following the survivors north.

He was about to follow the dirt path that Kiba had taken when he heard voices from upstream carried in on the wind. The voices had distinct Eldalan accents and from the brief snippets of conversation he was able to discern, they appeared to be trackers of some sort. Jiro reasoned that if someone were following them, any scrap of information that they had would be vital. Carefully, and silently, he waded back across the river and crept towards the source of the voices.

—-

Soti sat down heavily on a fallen log, his muscles aching from the overnight travel while one of his soldiers filled his canteen from the river. Above them, a trio of sparrows sang at the gathering clouds. At Lars’s insistence, they had continued tracking their quarry through the night and even though it had been a dark night, somehow the Ranger had been able to follow the tracks in the darkness. After reaching the river the trail had gone cold and they had faced a choice whether to go upstream or down in order to pick it up again. Soti had decided to defer making that decision until after the men had rested. Travelling through the night had taken a lot out of them, especially after yesterday’s exertions and although he hid it well, privately Soti knew he needed to rest himself. Only Lars seemed immune from exhaustion.

“What’s eating you?” Lars asked as he leaned against a tree next to Soti. “You’ve been more pensive than a priest since that mage left.”

Chewing on a hardtack biscuit, Soti waited until his men were out of earshot before answering quietly. “This isn’t why I joined the army. What kind of war are we fighting? You’d never describe Arcadia and Eldala as allies or even friends but relations were always cordial. Suddenly, a people we wouldn’t have thought twice about trading with before are a deadly threat to the Empire. Where did that come from? I just don’t get why we’re even here.”

Lars sat down next to Soti, politely refusing a bite of the dry biscuit. “The Emperor said to attack, so we attack. It’s not our place to question orders that may be based on information we don’t have.”

“How can a people barely able to fight back be a threat us? With these new portal stones, we were able to overwhelm their defences in a single day but where is the honour in the indiscriminate massacre of every man, woman and child?”

Lars turned to Soti, a strange expression on his face. “The mistake you’ve made is to keep thinking of this as just a war.” For a moment, neither man spoke; both were lost in their own thoughts.

“Lars, what exactly is going on? Why are we even out here looking for this kid?” Soti asked.

“What makes you think I know more than you?” Lars answered evasively.

“For one thing,” Soti began, “the Rangers always know more about what’s going on with the Empire than anyone else.”

Lars looked surreptitiously at the three soldiers resting by the riverbank. None of them showed any signs of being aware of their superior’s conversation. Satisfied, he turned back to Soti and began speaking in a low whisper. “Arcadia, Galtea, the Broken Kingdoms; this whole region used to be part of an ancient empire known as the Geldren Domain. It was massive, one of the most powerful nations before the Godswar. Even Eldala began life as a colonial province of it. Not much of it remains today except a few ruins and the common language that we all share. Before the Godswar, the Domain was dedicated to the worship of the Titans who, before the Usurper Gods started the Godswar, were the highest divine authority in existence. Ultimately, the Titans were defeated and were cast out of the heavens and their mortal supporters punished. The Gods devastated the Domain in retribution, almost wiping out this entire continent. Eldala was spared only because we had rebelled against the Domain and sided with the Gods, but even then we lost much.”

Frustrated, Soti interrupted the Ranger. “I went to school just like you Lars, what’s this got to do with what’s happening now?”

“Everything. Do you know what a titan spawn is?”

“It’s the half-demon offspring of a Titan and a human isn’t it? But they’ve not been seen in generations.”

“Not exactly. While they haven’t been seen in Eldala for some time, over here they are much more common.” Lars held up a hand to forestall Soti’s question. “Remember, that the home provinces of the Geldren Domain never abandoned the Titan’s. Even after the God’s victory, conversion was a slow process. Many continued to worship the Titan’s in secret, which led to the formation of the Titan Cults that plague the region to this day. Not long after, the Titan’s, who never completely abandoned the mortal world, rewarded the cults for their loyalty. They gave them a ritual that allowed them to tap into a fraction of the power of Titan and use it to impregnate a human woman. A few weeks later she would give birth to a child that would outwardly appear to be human but it’s soul would be that of a Titan. This child would grow up to be a powerful member of the cult, more often than not assuming its leadership.”

“So, you’re saying that this kid was, is, one of these titan spawns?” Soti asked. Lars however was not listening.

“Damn it, it all makes sense now! THAT’S why we attacked here in the first place. The invasion, the rumours, even that kid. It all fits, Gods how could we have missed this!”

Soti was confused; his friend seemed to be jumping from subject to subject. “Lars you’re not making much sense.” Lars grabbed Soti’s shoulders, the light of epiphany burning behind his eyes.

“Ask yourself this, why did we commit resources to taking out such a small village? It’s isolated, has no resources worth speaking of and has no strategic potential whatsoever. Even the Arcadians didn’t see the need to garrison it. What tactical advantage could we possible gain by committing troops here that could’ve been used to strengthen the attack on a larger target elsewhere? None, that’s what, and what made this village different from a hundred others just like it that are supposed to be dealt with by the second wave? Only one thing. The Toshiko kid, that’s what. The entire reason why we attacked that village is him!”

“That doesn’t…”

“No, listen. Before the Rangers were sent to infiltrate Arcadia, we started hearing rumours, both from some of the officers in charge of the invasion and from within the Imperial Court itself. Allegedly, the Emperor had been consulting priests and diviners for months prior to signing the order to launch the invasion. As cliché as it may sound, somehow His Highness had got his hands on some prophecy that spurred him into action. From the few fragments we are able to acquire, it claimed that a titan spawn born fifteen years ago here in Arcadia would be a future threat to the Empire.”

Soti’s eyebrow raised in scepticism as he responded. “Uh huh, a prophecy foretelling of some future threat. You’re right, that does sound cliché.”

“And it’s complete bullshit. In over 800 years of recorded history, there hasn’t been a single instance of a prophecy coming true. The myth of the prophecy handed down by the Gods is just that, a myth. That doesn’t stop some taking advantage of people’s gullibility however. Ever heard of the Order of Taran Kur?” Soti shook his head. “I’m not surprised, the Rangers have been investigating them for several years and we’ve got little more than a name and a list of some the individuals involved. Mostly high-ranking mages. We believe that they’ve been manipulating the Imperial Court for sometime and may be behind the fabrication of the prophecy. All in an attempt to get their hands on…”

“…the titan spawn.” Soti said, interrupting Lars and finishing his sentence. “But to start a war over it, that just seems insane. Whatever the reason is, I think it’s important if that’s the case, that we need to prevent this titan spawn from falling into their hands. Especially considering that bitch of a mage lied in an attempt to throw us of his scent. With green hair and orange eyes, it shouldn’t be too hard to find this kid.”

“Aye,” Lars agreed, “but first we should let the men rest. We’ll stop here for an hour and then head upstream.”

—-

Opening his eyes, Jiro broke the mental link with the sparrow above the Eldalan men. As he slowly crawled away from the group, he inwardly cursed. The conversation he had eavesdropped upon confirmed what Jiro had learned from the solider that he had interrogated the day before. Jiro had hoped that the soldier’s testimony, which had been based on rumour, would prove to be false despite the use of the Confessor’s Chain. However, given what he had just heard, he now had to admit the truth, if only to himself. The Eldalans, believing a prophecy, were here to eliminate a threat but since they had not known the exact identity of the threat, they had taken the coldly logical decision to ensure its destruction by wiping out every last Arcadian. “If I had just done my duty fifteen years ago like I was supposed to,” he started to think to himself before he clamped down on the thought. Whatever the present situation, he had made the right decision all those years ago. At least that’s what he hoped.

A few minutes later, he was back at the site where he had discovered part of Kiba’s shirt. With a group of Eldalan soldiers’ right behind him, he had to move fast and find Kiba. With his concern growing by the minute, he set off down the trail in pursuit of the boy.

—-

Kiba came to slowly groaning; cracking open one eye at a time, his head pounded and there was a ringing in his ears. Blood covered the side of his face where Lylah had struck him and the hair near the wound was matted with it. It was dark and he was still groggy from the blow so it took him a moment to realise the full nature of his predicament. Chained to the wall by wrist manacles above and behind his head, Kiba was in a sitting position with his ankles shackled and bolted to the floor. Locked around his neck was an iron collar fastened to the wall by a short length of chain, further restricting his range of movement. The chains chinked loudly against the stone as Kiba tugged at them but it was no use, they seemed fixed fast to the stone and no amount effort would dislodge them. Not that Kiba had any strength in him, since waking up he had felt weak and slightly nauseous. As his eyes became accustomed to the darkness, he began to make out the stone walls of a cave. He appeared to be in a small chamber at the end of tunnel, a grate made of crudely constructed metal bars blocking the exit. What little illumination there was came from a dimly flickering torch, its light reflecting from around the corner on the damp cave walls. In the darkness at the back of the chamber, Kiba could now see the rough outline of a figure slumped against the far wall, partially hidden behind a natural column. “Hey mister, where…” he called out, but as he did so, something about the way the figure was sitting caused him to stop. Straining against the chains and the neck collar, Kiba shuffled sideways in an attempt to get a better view of the figure. When Kiba saw the bloated and decayed flesh of the corpse, he jumped back uttering a cry of shock. Although seeing a dead body similarly chained up was chilling enough, the expression on its face was force. Fixed on to its face was a terrifying visage, either a frozen expression of fear and pain or the result of decomposition on the muscles of the face. Considering his present situation, Kiba would put money on it being the former.

The sound of the metal grate being raised and slammed back down pulled Kiba’s attention away from the decayed corpse and back to the entrance of the chamber. Standing just inside the bars and leaning casually against the wall was Lylah. She smiled as Kiba glared at her, not the friendly smile she had shown earlier by the pool, an arrogant smug smile with a faint hint of hunger. “Well, look who’s finally awake.”

“What the fuck is going on?” Kiba yelled at her angrily as he tugged at the chains yet again. Lylah chuckled as she walked slowly across the chamber towards him, amused it seemed at his futile anger. As she did so, a burnt out torch fixed to the column in the centre of the chamber suddenly reignited.

Kneeling down next to Kiba, Lylah traced a finger through the blood on his face, causing him to suppress a wince as the finger crossed the still oozing wound. “Chained to a wall, no hope of escape or rescue and yet you’re still defiant. But then you’ve always been rather strong willed haven’t you?”

“Unchain me you crazy bitch and I’ll show you just how ‘defiant’ I can be.”

“Actually,” Lylah said as she straddled his legs, “I like you just where you are.” Placing her finger in her mouth, she licked off Kiba’s blood. As she did so, a shiver ran down her spine and every nerve ending tingled. For a brief moment as she savoured the taste, the colour of her eyes changed from blue to yellow and the pupils quickly changed from circular to cross-shaped. A ripple of scales flashed across her body as she swallowed the blood.

Kiba gulped nervously as he saw the momentary change in Lylah, the first pangs of fear beginning to gnaw at his thoughts. “What the hell are you?”

“I could ask you the same question,” she said lightly brushing his hair with her hand, “there’s three voices inside your head where there should only be one. One of those voices is so full of anger and malice that I can almost taste its rage. It’s practically screaming.” Lylah was now leaning quite close and Kiba was beginning to feel increasingly uncomfortable at the close proximity. “Then there’s your’s, so confused and alone. In the last few days you’ve seen your entire world thrown upside down and you’re still trying to make sense of it all.”

“Wait,” Kiba said interrupted, “how do you know all this?” Then the answer suddenly hit him. “That’s how you knew my name without being told isn’t it? You’re reading my mind!”

Lylah smiled as she leaned even close, whispering into his ear. “It’s just a little trick, not even that hard really. I use it to peek inside a person’s head and see what their weakness is, what’s most likely to draw them in and make it easy to catch them off guard. Adolescent males are the easiest, show ’em a pretty girl and they’ll all but bare their throats.”

Gritting his teeth and cursing his own stupidity, Kiba realised how easily he had let his guard down been sucked into Lylah’s deception. He recoiled, as much as he could, as Lylah abruptly licked at the blood oozing from his head wound. “What the hell are you doing!?” As her hand drifted down across his naked torso to his waist where it slipped into his pants, Kiba started to panic. “Hey wait,” he cried out as Lylah’s hand began to work its way down to his groin, “stop!”

Lylah ignored his struggles and continued regardless of his protests. “Gods, your spirit’s aura is so strong,” she said as she began to caress a suddenly very uncomfortable Kiba. “The old guy barely saw the week out, I bet you’d last for months.” Her free hand hovered just an inch above his chest and Kiba could something from deep within being sucked out of him and into the hand. Along with Lylah’s activities inside his pants, the sensation was not entirely unpleasant. However, this made him struggle and protest even more, unwilling to submit to it. “Stop struggling, this was the first thing you thought of when you laid eyes on me.”

“I SAID STOP!” Kiba yelled as he twisted violently, throwing Lylah off him. As she landed roughly, she reverted to her scaled form and slapped hard him across the face, her claws leaving three furrows across his check. Snarling in anger, she planted one hand on his chest, pinning him firmly to the floor while the other grabbed his hair and painfully pulled his head back.

“I don’t think you get it,” she said quietly, “either way, you’re dying down here. The only choice you get is whether you go screaming in pain or groaning in pleasure.” In answer, Kiba spat in her face. “Pain it is then.”

The claws on the hand pinning him to the floor began to grow, gaining an extra three inches. The tips of each claw pierced the skin as it grew, drawing blood. Kiba gasped at the sudden sharp pain as the claws embedded themselves in his flesh. Lylah’s smile however told him that much worse was to come. Seconds after the claws ceased growing, Kiba again felt the same sensation of something being sucked out of him. This time however, it was not a pleasant feeling as the pain grew by magnitudes. Despite himself, Kiba screamed as the white-hot pain flooded his body. As he writhed in agony, Lylah laughed softly as his spirit flowed out of his body and into hers. “Had enough yet?”

Kiba did not hear her however; all thoughts other than the pain had been overwhelmed. The pain was the worse than he had ever felt, worse even than when the Eldalan soldiers had stabbed him the day before. Yet in the midst of this, at the back of his mind, a voice cut through the pain. “Let me out you idiot before she kills both of us!” Kiba immediately recognised Dace’s harsh tone. A pressure, the feeling of him trying to break through, accompanied his voice. Kiba would rather die then let Dace loose on the world. Between the pain inflicted by Lylah, the draining of his spirit, and Dace railing at him to give in, Kiba could feel himself slipping away bit by bit and Dace getting ever nearer to freedom. Just as he reached the point where he could not struggle any longer, a new voice cut was heard in his mind.

“Don’t give in to him Kiba, you’re stronger than he is and he knows it!”

Dace seemed to yell back at the newcomer, but the damage had already been done. The newcomer’s voice had bolstered Kiba’s resolve, and despite the pain, chuckled to himself. Focusing on the flickering torch behind Lylah, Kiba forced a smile. “You gonna have to try harder than that,” he said to Dace.

“Brave, but stupid.” Lylah, of course, could not hear the voice in Kiba’s head as she fed on his spirit so she assumed that he had been speaking to her. “If that’s how you want it.” Kiba screamed as she increased the rate at which she fed multiplying the amount of pain she inflicted. This time, the boy was unable to take it and mercifully passed into unconsciousness.

Lylah withdrew her claws and looked down at Kiba as she stood up. His skin was pale, covered in sweat and the claw marks on his chest had become small tears, the flesh ripped as he had struggled with the pain. She had taken more than she had intended, loosing her herself in anger when he had resisted. Still, she thought to herself, Kiba had more than enough spirit to give.

Suddenly curious, she left the chamber and made her way through the poorly lit tunnels to another chamber some distance away. In one corner, there was a small bed buried beneath a pile of blankets and rags and against another wall was a table. On this table was the pack that had been ripped from Kiba’s back when he had fallen into the sinkhole. Lylah had retrieved it after she locked him up in her “pantry”; she used the belongings and valuables of her victims for barter and trade. Emptying the contents of the pack onto the table, she discarded the clothes and other supplies and picked out a small leather pouch. Carefully opening it, she took out the small pile of coins and an envelope. There must be at least 60 or 70 coins in the pile, quite a haul for a boy to be carrying around. Even though the coins would prove to be useful, her attention was fixed on the envelope.

The paper was old and yellowed; the back was sealed with a drop of wax indicating that it had probably never been opened. When she had been inside his mind earlier, she had seen an image of this envelope and received the strong impression that somehow it was important. Carefully she broke the seal, took out the letter within and started reading.

Ten minutes later, Lylah found herself standing over the still unconscious Kiba. “So that’s what you are,” she said to herself quietly as she watched his shallow breathing. “The letter explained a lot, too bad you’ll never get to read it.”

—-

The first few drops of rain were starting to fall when Jiro slid to a stop. Ahead of him on the dirt path sat a small grey wolf cub. On the ground in front of Patsu’s paws lay Kiba’s bloodstained shirt. Jiro’s heart skipped a beat when he saw it, even from where he was standing; Jiro could see that some of the blood was still wet. Taking a step forward, he bent down to pick it up but before he could do so, Patsu snatched it up and jumped back out of his reach. Perplexed, Jiro took another step forward and attempted to retrieve the shirt but again, Patsu jumped out of his reach. After a third try, the cub ran a dozen feet down the path and turned, as if waiting for Jiro.

Jiro stood back and sighed, you did not need to be a Royal Guard to understand what was going on. “Ok, I get the message. You want me to follow you is that it?” In response, Patsu yapped and hopped back a couple of steps. “All right then, lead the way.” The cub turned and ran down the path, Jiro chasing close behind. After a few hundred yards, Patsu darted off the path and into the trees. For a brief moment, Jiro wondered whether he was doing the right thing, leaving behind the trail he had been tracking and following the cub. However, he reminded himself that there was only one way the cub could have got hold of the shirt, Kiba must be in serious trouble.

The cub eventually stopped on top of a small hillock, treeless and with limestone rocks protruding from its grassy surface. As Jiro reached the top, he was able to see down the far side and see that it was broken up by boulders and crevasses. Probably the result of countless centuries of erosion and subsidence. Nestled in the shadows at the base of one of the deeper crevasses was the small mouth of a cave. It was to this opening that the cub bounded to and waited patiently for Jiro to catch up. Jiro clambered down into the crevasse and stood before the cave entrance. Rivulets of rainwater dribbled down the rough walls and into the cave, disappearing into the dank darkness. With one his short swords in hand, he pulled a large crystal the size of a chicken egg from a waistcoat pocket. The crystal was a sunstone, a type of crystal known for its ability to soak up light and then release it when the sunstone was in darkness and squeezed. Gently holding the sunstone, the quartz-like crystal emitted a soft white light that illuminated the descending passage. Not knowing precisely what he would find, Jiro carefully entered the cave and made his way down the slippery slope.

Twisting back itself a number of times as it descended, after several hundred yards the tunnel opened up on to a large cavern. Easily large enough to fire an arrow across without striking the far wall, the cavern’s floor was smooth rock whose shape reminded Jiro of gently undulating sand dunes. The effect was only pierced by stalagmites, stalactites, columns and a large pit in the far corner. One-half of the cavern’s floor was occupied by a small lake fed a cascade of clear water flowing out shaft on the cavern’s roof. In the light provided by the sunstone, Jiro could discern a series of worn markings in the cavern floor, the sign of a frequently trodden path. Following the path, Jiro could see that it ran from the lake to a series of hewn stairs near the pit. Moving towards the stairs, as he passed the pit the faint smell of decay assaulted Jiro’s senses. Apprehensively, he crept up the edge of the pit and peered down. Its base was hidden in darkness, beyond the sunstone’s light but the walls of the pit were riddled with ledges. The ledges were covered with bones and, in some cases, partially decomposed body parts. Jiro was no stranger to scenes of carnage, he had seen friends and comrades killed in battle before, but there was something about the charnel pit that bothered even him.

Patsu dropped the shirt and bit at the cuff of Jiro’s pants, tugging him towards the stairs. Leaving the pit behind, Jiro followed the cub up the slippery stairs and into a tunnel that sloped upwards. After five minutes of negotiating a maze-like warren of tunnels and chambers, the pup stopped and dropped into a defensive posture, growling lightly. Up ahead, the flicking glow from a torch could be seen approaching from around the bend. Quickly scooping up the wolf club, Jiro ducked into a side passage and crouched behind a stalagmite. Placing the sunstone on the floor, it ceased emitting its light and the passage was engulfed by darkness again. Jiro did not have to wait long as a yellow scaled, female humanoid, walked past heading in the direction of the cavern. One hand she carried a torch and the other was dragging a body. To Jiro’s immense relief, the body was that of an adult in an early state of decomposition. As soon as she had passed around another corner and the flickering torchlight could no longer be seen, Jiro picked up the sunstone and continued down the corridor, Patsu trailing just behind.

When Jiro came to a fork in the tunnel, he bent down and examined the floor. There was blood on the floor, from the angle and direction of the smears Jiro could tell that someone had been dragged down the right tunnel. Patsu ran down the tunnel and through the barred grate at the end into the chamber beyond. The chamber was lit by a single torch and, by its light, Jiro could see Kiba slumped against and chained to the wall.

He quickly broke the lock securing the grate and rushed over to the boy. Kiba was unconscious but thankfully still alive. Using a dagger, Jiro snapped several rusted links freeing Kiba from the wall and floor before gently laying him down. For the time being he could do nothing about the neck collar or the shackles around Kiba’s wrists and ankles, they would have to wait until later. Jiro took a canteen of water and poured some of its contents onto Kiba’s face. Spluttering, the boy regained consciousness but it took several moments for his eyes to focus. “Are you okay to walk? We need to get out of here as soon as possible.” Jiro asked quickly, concerned that the creature could return at any time.

Kiba, for his part, seemed to have trouble concentrating and for a brief second seemed unable to recognise Jiro. Weakly, he tried to push Jiro away before responding, his speech slurred. “Piss off; I’m not falling for it again.”

Jiro grabbed the boy’s chin and forced him to look the older man in the eye. “Kiba, I need you to focus.” It was no use; Kiba did not seem to hear him.

“You’re in my mind again, showing me what I want to see.” As he spoke, his eyes began to flutter as he started to loose consciousness again. In response, Jiro reached into another pocket and pulled out a small vial of clear liquid. Popping the waxed cork stopper with his thumb, he forcibly opened Kiba’s mouth, poured the liquid into the boy’s mouth, and then held the mouth closed. He had to act quickly, the moment the liquid was exposed to the air and came into contact with the heat of the body; it evaporated becoming an odourless, invisible gas that acted as a powerful stimulant. It took effect as soon as Kiba breathed it in, increasing his heart rate, breathing and the flow of blood to his brain. Almost instantly, his eyes snapped open showing much more alertness than before. “Jiro? What the hell are you doing here?”

“You with me?” Jiro asked as he helped Kiba up. The boy nodded, still unsteady on his feet and needing Jiro’s help to stand. “Good, because we need to get out of here fast. Afterwards, you can fill me in on what you’re doing down here and then you can explain why you thought it necessary to bean me on the back of the head.”

Kiba smiled weakly at Jiro’s attempt at humour. “Oh … that.”

“Yes ‘That.’” Jiro said as he lifted up the grate and helped Kiba underneath it.

“How did you find me?”

“He showed me,” nodding towards Patsu who followed the pair close behind.

“Patsu!”

“So the little fella has a name them, looks like you made a friend.”

As Jiro helped Kiba down the tunnel, he knew that if they did not move faster they would be caught. But as he looked over at the boy’s pained and slightly woozy expression, he realised that it was probably a miracle that he was on his feet at all.

Suddenly Kiba stopped, his hand flying to his neck as if searching for something. “Shit,” Kiba cried, “where is it?” Kiba had just realised that his pendant was missing. Panicking, he frantically tried to go back to the chamber to search for it but was stopped when Jiro grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back.

“Where’s what?” Jiro asked confused.

Kiba opened his mouth as if to say something but instead looked down at his feet. “Nothing,” he mumbled.

—-

Lylah dumped the body of the hunter over the side of the pit and watched as it tumbled into the darkness and vanished. She was about to turn and head back to the stairs when she noticed something lying on the floor on the far side of the pit. Picking it up, Lylah quickly realised that it was the shirt belonging to Kiba that he had taken off while in the sinkhole earlier. There was no reason why it should be down here. Inspecting the shirt, she noticed a damp patch surrounding a cluster of small holes. They were bite marks and the dampness had been caused by saliva. “Patsu,” she cursed as she saw a series of boot and paw prints heading towards the stairs.

—-

Leaning on Jiro for support, Kiba followed Patsu as he lead them up the left hand fork to what he hoped was the surface. They passed a number of side tunnels and chambers, one of which was lit by torches. As they hurried past it, Kiba stole a glance inside. He saw the contents of his pack emptied on the table inside along with his other equipment. Pulling away from Jiro, he stumbled inside and began to frantically search through the pile.

Jiro followed him into the chamber and tried to pull him away from the table. “We haven’t got time for this!”

“I’m not leaving without it!” Kiba snapped back, a determined look on his face.

“Without what?” Jiro asked exasperatedly.

“My pendant!” Jiro immediately knew what Kiba was talking about; after all, he had been the one that gave Ren the pendant to give to the boy. He could understand how much that pendant might mean to him, as it was the only link between him and his mother. “Found it,” a relieved Kiba said as he plucked the steel chain from the pile of clothes. Putting it on, he held the crystal as he closed his eyes as if in silent prayer.

Sweeping the rest of the items into the pack since they might as well take everything with them, Jiro noticed the silver disk hanging on the chain next to the pendant. “Where did you get that?” He asked pointing at the disk.

“This?” Kiba said quietly holding the disk, “I found it in a box under dad’s bed. I … think it belonged to him.” Kiba swayed as he said this, almost falling to the floor. The stimulant was starting to wear off.

Picking up the pack and Kiba’s weapons, he put an arm around the boy and guided him out of the chamber. “Time to go.”

Following Patsu, they soon felt fresh air on their faces and could see sunlight filtering into the cave from an opening ahead.

—-

Lylah slammed the bars of the grate in anger, screaming a curse. Somehow, the boy had got loose, probably with help. Running down the passageway, she slid into her sleeping chamber. As she expected, the boy’s things were gone from the table. Picking up a crossbow from a wall rack, she checked the tension of the bowstring before picking up a quiver containing a number of bolts. Each of the bolts had a leather cap covering the head of the bolt. When Lylah locked the bowstring in place and loaded one of the bolts, she removed its leather cap. When she did so, the metal of the head glistened as it was covered by a sticky substance.

Careful to prick herself with the bolt head, she set off down the passageway towards the sinkhole entrance.

—-

As Jiro and Kiba left the cave, the rain had now become heavy, falling from the oppressively low grey clouds and striking the ground in great moving sheets. “Good,” Jiro said as they stepped into the torrential downpour, “the rain should mask our trail somewhat, making it harder for those following us to track us.”

“Silver lining huh?” Kiba asked weakly.

“You got it kiddo, come on, stay with me.”

Kiba managed a laugh, “I thought I told you I’m not a kid any more.”

Jiro cried out in pain, stiffened and fell forward taking Kiba with him. Looking over at Jiro, Kiba saw a crossbow bolt sticking out of his back. For a brief, panicky second, Kiba feared the worst but he saw the Jiro was still breathing and his eyes were open. Meanwhile Patsu had turned to face the cave and was growling, aggressively. Kiba turned and looked in the direction that Patsu was growling.

Lylah stood there calmly loading another bolt. “Interesting thing about petra flowers, crushing the stamens produces a powerful paralysing toxin.” Kiba drew one of Jiro’s short swords and attempted to get to his feet, falling back down. “The toxin is short lived but extremely fast acting. It starts breaking down in the blood almost immediately and within a few minutes, it has almost completely dissipated. What was on the bolt is just enough to cause instantaneous and near total paralysis of the voluntary muscles.” Lylah began to walk slowly forward, aiming the crossbow at Jiro. “A second bolt will unfortunately cause paralysis in the autonomic muscles such as the heart and lungs. Death follows within minutes and I’ve been told it’s quite painful.” Taking aim, she pulled the trigger and fired the bolt at Jiro’s prone back. Kiba lunged forward, interposing himself between the bolt and Jiro. Raising the short sword, Kiba just managed to bring it up in time, sending the bolt ricocheting harmlessly to the sinkhole’s wall. The sword was knocked out of his hand by the force of the impact. “Impressive, but that won’t stop be from killing that man and dragging you back to you cell.

Pulling out her third and final bolt, she locked the bowstring and loaded the bolt. Lylah decided to shoot Kiba, slit Jiro’s throat and drag the paralysed boy back to the cell. When she lifted the crossbow and aimed at Kiba, she was surprised to see that he had managed to get to his feet. He still looked unsteady, and his head was down looking at the floor, his hair hiding his face. Regardless, she fired the bolt.

In a display of blurred movement, Kiba’s hand whipped up and grabbed the bolt out of the air. In an effortless display of strength, he snapped the bolt snapped in his hand, dropping the two broken halves to the ground.

“How the…” Lylah whispered.

“In the last 24 hours,” Kiba began without looking up, “I’ve been shot at, stabbed, chased, beaten and nearly raped by some shape changing freak.” Kiba looked up at her, brushing his hair out of his face. “I’m through playing the victim.”

Ryan’s Story – The Incident

WARNING: This story includes incest, the rape of a small child and murder. If you are easily offended, do yourself a favour and don’ read any further.

Ryan (just prior to his 10th birthday) and his older brother Mark who is already planning his family's murder

Ryan awoke with a start, dragged prematurely from his dreams for some unknown reason. His room was dark, the moonlight filtering in through the small window and casting a square of illumination on his prized SpongeBob poster. When he looked over at the radio by his bed, he saw that it had only just gone midnight. Sleepily, he lay back in his bed and tried to get back to sleep. Just as he was about to drop off, he heard a sound from downstairs. It sounded like something falling to the floor followed by a muffled cry that was cut short. Sitting upright now, he listened carefully and could just about hear voices from the living room below. He couldn’t make out what they were saying but he could tell that the tone was harsh. Slowly he got out of bed, making sure not to make the floorboards creak beneath him as he walked. Ryan picked up the plastic hockey stick that he had received for this tenth birthday last month and quietly opened his bedroom door. A voice in the back of his head was warning him of danger, warning him to go and hide but he was too young to understand what it was saying.

Across the landing, the door to his parents’ bedroom was open. Light from the streetlights outside cast an orange glow into the room and he saw that the bedcovers had been wildly thrown aside. There were small sticky spots on the carpet creating a trail towards the stairs down. Ryan, only ten, was only dimly aware that they were blood stains as he crept down the hallway to the stairs, passing the closed door to his older brother’s room. He paused for a second before remembering that Mark was spending the night at a friend’s house. As he reached the top of the stairs, harsh laughter barked from the living room followed by a muffled scream. “Mum?” the boy asked quietly, grasping the hockey stick like a weapon.

A figure stepped out of the living room and stood at the bottom of the stairs looking up Ryan. The figure was 5’9” and dressed from head-to-toe in black. Black pants, black hooded sweatshirt, and a black balaclava mask hiding his face. He was holding a vicious looking combat knife, its 12-inch blade slick with blood. The figure’s front was covered with something that glistened in the light from the living room. As their eyes met, Ryan realised that the substance on the figure’s front was blood. A wet patch appeared on Ryan’s pyjama bottoms as he lost control of his bladder. The figure took a step up the stairs, Ryan’s bravery broke and he dropped the hockey stick, fleeing towards his bedroom. Behind him, he could hear the figure thundering up the stairs.

The boy ran into his bedroom, intent on escaping through the window by climbing out onto the roof of the garage and jumping down to the ground. However, the small boy could only run so fast and before he had even got more than a foot into the room, he was tackled from behind. Ryan was shoved against the wall and then to the floor, kicking and screaming. In the commotion, a picture was knocked off the wall, the glass breaking as it hit the floor. “Mumdadhelpgetoffmehelp.” A gloved hand clamped itself across his mouth, silencing his cries for help. Ryan punched at the figure’s face and kicked him in the groin. The figure grunted, releasing Ryan who tried to scramble to his feet but didn’t get far. Growling angrily, the figure grabbed Ryan by the throat, squeezing and cutting off the air to his lungs. Ryan brought his small hands up the figure’s wrists, trying to loosen the grip, but it was no use, he wasn’t strong enough. In desperation, he beat ineffectually at the figure, only ceasing when his vision started to cloud and his arms fell limply to his sides. Mercifully, the figure released his grip on the boy’s throat, dropping Ryan to the floor. Barely able to maintain consciousness, he was unable to resist as he was picked up and thrown roughly onto his bed. Ryan heard the sound of something ripping and felt his hands been pulled behind him and taped together at the wrists. Another piece of tape was wrapped across his mouth, gagging him.

Lying there, terrified breaths rasping through his nose, he could feel the menacing presence of the figure standing above him. For a few brief seconds, Ryan wondered what the figure was waiting for and then he got his answer. Rough hands dragged his pants down to his ankles and forced his legs apart. His strength returning, Ryan tried to crawl away across the bed only to be dragged back by his ankle. He heard a zip being undone as the figure pulled his own pants and boxers down. Ryan’s green eyes widened in horror, and his breaths became fast and ragged as the he saw the figure’s already erect penis. The figure wasted no time and flipped the boy onto his stomach. Strong hands gripped him, holding him down. Ryan closed his eyes, tears streaming down his face and soaking into the mattress as he wished with every fibre of his soul that his older brother would come home and save him. The bed dipped as the figure knelt astride the boy and then, without any warning, the figure’s penis slammed into his anus and Ryan screamed. The tape across his mouth muffled any cries but he didn’t care, he screamed until he became hoarse. The figure suddenly pulled out until only the tip was inside and then he slammed back in again, just as roughly as before. Ryan screamed again, his cries ragged as the figure began to thrust in and out of the boy. Unable to move under the figure’s grip as he lay beneath him, Ryan could only lie there and pray that it would be over soon. The figure did not pay attention to the boy’s screams as the thrusted harder and harder as he came to a climax. His semen spilled into Ryan, further lubricating his bleeding anus. Taking advantage of this, the man thrusted into him harder than ever, enjoying the sounds of the boy’s screams. Finally, the figure exited the broken ten-year old and pulled his pants up. Ryan lay there quietly crying into the mattress, the tape across his mouth muffling his sobs.

The figure grabbed Ryan by the collar of his t-shirt and pulled him to his feet. Ryan was he was half-dragged down the stairs and into the living room. Through tear-blurred eyes, he saw another person, his face concealed by a scarf standing over his naked mother, pulling up a pair of ratty long shorts. “Dude,” the person said as he saw Ryan dragged into the room, “what took you so long?” The person sounded young, probably no more than 16 or 17. “Oh, had a bit of fun with the runt eh.” The youth said when he saw the blood dribbling down the back of Ryan’s legs. Ryan was allowed to fall onto the floor and he curled up, whimpering softly. Looking over towards his mother, he saw her lifeless eyes staring vacantly into space. A pool of blood was slowly forming around her head, forming from the blood leaking from a cut across her neck. Next to her lay his father, dead from cut across his neck that had almost decapitated him.

The youth walked over to Ryan and kneeling down on one knew, yanking the boy up by his hair. Looking over to his companion who walked up behind him, he picked up a knife. “You were right, he is cute.” He dragged the flat of the blade softly across the boy’s throat. Ryan had retreated into a dark place in his mind unable to cope, virtually insensate to what was happening around him. “You remember the deal right? I get to bang him and gut him before you do that ritual thing.”

“Actually,” said his partner, the familiar sound of his voice causing Ryan to open his eyes. “There was something I forget tell you.” He grabbed the youth’s head and pulled it back baring his throat. In one swift motion his combat knife slashed across the youth’s throat spraying Ryan in the face with his blood. The youth fell to the floor twitching as he died. “The ritual requires the slaying of one’s best friend as well as his family.”

Ryan had trouble accepting what he was hearing as the figure bent down next to the cowering boy and looked into his confused eyes. He shook the hood off his head and pulled the balaclava up revealing the face of his 17-year-old brother.

“Mark!” Ryan cried from behind the tape as he tried to wriggle backwards. His brother looked down at him, a thing smile of contempt on his face. Ryan’s mind raced as the full horror of his brother’s betrayal crashed down on him. He became light headed; the room spinning as Mark grabbed his hair and pulled him into a standing position. Positioning himself behind Ryan, Mark whispered into his ear.

“You were always a whiney little bitch.” Out of the corner of his eye, Ryan saw the light glint off the blade as the bloodied knife was brought to his throat. Screaming, Ryan closed his eyes as he felt the sharp blade of the knife pierce into the flesh of his neck, slicing across it and tearing the skin. Mark dropped his younger brother onto the floor, laughing coldly as the boy’s blood began to soak into the carpet. As the blackness closed and he passed out, Ryan felt himself dragged roughly across the floor. Then he felt nothing.

Ryan’s eyes opened sometime later and he found himself lying on the floor of his parents’ bedroom. The cut across his neck had not been deep enough to kill him outright but had had lost a lot of blood and was still bleeding. He was woozy from the blood-loss as he tried to sit up and failed. Listening intently, he couldn’t hear his brother anywhere near, only the faint sound of crackling. From where he was lying, he could see the bodies of his parents. He could also the body of the youth that Mark had killed. For some reason he had been redressed in some of Mark’s clothes, his hands bound with tape and gagged. The crackling sound was growing louder and the floor was getting warmer. There was also a strange smell, barely masked by what Ryan suddenly recognised as the smell of burning. It took a few seconds but he eventually recognised the strange odour as the smell of petrol. As he became more alert, he realised with a start that the floor was soaked in it and so was he.

With renewed strength, Ryan struggled to his feet and staggered over to the bedroom door. Using his elbows, he clumsily opened the door only to be assailed by the heat and smoke wafting up the stairs. Coughing, he made for the stairs. The stairs were already engulfed by fire and the flames were rapidly clawing their way up towards the first floor. Ryan was overcome by the heat and smoke, falling back against the wall. Lying on the floor, he gasped for air and started to feel darkness close in as he drifted into unconsciousness. However, the boy fought against it, forcing the blackness back out his vision. He vowed to himself that he wouldn’t give in; that he would survive to tell someone what had happened.

Crawling along the floor, he made it into his bedroom, closing the door behind him. With his hands bound behind his back, he knew he wasn’t going to get far. A piece of glass from the broken picture frame cracked under his knee, slightly cutting it. Realising that this might be his chance, he grasped the piece of glass and carefully began to cut at the tape. It took several minutes for him to cut the tape and by the time he was done his wrists were slicked with blood from small cuts caused by the glass shard. Ripping off the tape gag, he rushed over to the window. By now, smoke was filling his room and the paint on the door was starting to bubble from the intense heat on the other side. Ryan could see the orange glow of fire under the door jam, and little licks of flame were starting to leak around the sides. To his horror, he found the window was locked, a security bolt preventing him from opening it. It was getting difficult to breath, the heat in the room was soaring and the smoke caused coughing fits strong enough to make white light dance in front of his eyes with each cough. In panic, he looked around his room for something heavy, and in desperation, he picked up the Playstation and started beating on the window. It took several attempts but eventually the glass shattered

The cool night air flooded into the room as he climbed out on the garage roof, cutting his palms and knees in the process. At this point, the fire in the house flashed-over, exploding outwards and consuming the main structure in a fireball. Ryan was flung from the roof of the garage by the blast and into the garden where he lay dazed for several seconds. As he started crawling towards the road, he could hear sirens. The blue flashing lights illuminating the neighbourhood. As he passed out, Ryan felt gently hands pick him up and begin to carry him away from the house.