The slow drip of water echoed loudly off the cold, stone walls. Torin, curled in on himself to stay warm, began to register the sound. He lifted his head to look at the barred square of light, it was fainter than normal, cloudy. He could smell the rain.
He tried to speak, excitement overcoming him but all that came out was an odd croak. His throat was too parched. Slowly, painfully, disentangling arms from legs, he crawled to just below the window. His fingers scrabbled up the wall, reaching for the rain, but he was not tall enough and couldn’t reach the iron bars.
Excitement fading fast, Torin slumped against the cold wall. The dripping sound of the water, sharp and clear, lulled him into near sleep. Once again he could dream of home, curled up under a blanket in his bed. The joking conversations he would have with his brothers by the fire about absolutely nothing. He imagined them setting him up on another horrible blind date and fighting with them about it later.
A rustling by his feet woke him from his alternate reality. He angrily kicked at the rat and watched it scamper out of his cell and through the bars into the next cell. His eyes searched the darkness, for the rat, for anything. There was nothing more than grimy floors, the dark hallway and other empty cells. Something felt wrong but nothing caught his attention, so he looked back to the window. It was then he noticed the rain trickling down a crack in the stone, pooling together halfway down the wall and dripping off a minuscule ledge.
His sunken, hungry eyes stared at the small puddle forming on the floor. He fell to his knees, then to all fours, listening to the darkness just before lapping up the water like a dog. The cool liquid soothed his throat but didn’t satisfy. Puddle gone, he rose to the tiny ledge, sucking up all the water that had pooled there.
The slam of the door at the top of the stairs stopped him. He pressed himself back into the wall, searching the darkness frantically. Heavy footsteps were followed by uncoordinated, stumbling ones.
Firelight soon flickered at the bottom of the stairs - a guard stood there holding a torch while another forced a man down the steps. Compared to when they were first brought to prison, he barely recognized the figure. It no longer looked like the man he knew. His hair had grown out - it was dirty and matted. A beard covered his normally clean shaven face. Torin imagined he looked no better than his friend.
Torin flinched when they shoved Aldrian into the wall next to his cell door, holding him there while they unlocked it. One guard held the door open, gesturing grandly for Aldrian to walk into the disgusting cage.
Torin scoffed at the act, as if it was decent of them to let Aldrian walk in on his own two feet. Exhausted and bruised, Aldrian took three steps and collapsed to the floor. The key turning in the lock was the only sound, echoing just as loudly as the water drops in their silent hell.
Aldrian lay there, shivering, staring with blank eyes. Torin waited until the guards left before going to the bars between their cells. He slid down to his knees, shaking the bars and testing his weight against them like he did every day. He willed them to break, but they never budged.
Seeing Aldrian lying there, completely broken, Torin’s spirit sank. He fidgeted between sitting and standing, unsure how to aid his friend. There really was nothing he could do.
The dripping water caught his attention once again and he remembered the small cup he had hidden days ago. Until now there had been no need for it. Putting it under the steady drip of water, the drops were suddenly higher pitched and they caught Aldrian’s attention.
“It’s raining,” Torin said, trying to catch his friend’s eye.
“I know.” Aldrian’s voice was quieter than the rat and Torin had to press himself against the bars to hear. He tried to discern how hurt Aldrian was through the faint light, while searching his mind to remember when he had last seen him.
“When did they take you?” Torin asked.
“Sometime last night.”
“What’d they do this time?”
Aldrian used to be a ranked officer of the King’s guard, until he got caught sharing secrets with the rebellion. Treason was enough to condemn a man; the only reason they kept him alive was to find out exactly what he knew. Torin was involved just as much, but the both of them had convinced the interrogators that Torin was nothing more than a hired guide, a mindless fool. He was only interrogated twice and since then was forgotten and left to rot in his cell.
Aldrian was usually returned completely wrecked, covered in blood and bruises. The King wanted information from him, about the tunnels, the rebellion’s plans, anything. Two months passed and still every week they would take him to be questioned, and every week he gave nothing away.
In an attempt to distract Aldrian, he held the small cup out, through the bars. “Come on. Come on. I have water. Look. See?”
Aldrian had never looked as defeated as he did then. Torin’s insides twisted at the look on his face. He wanted to ask what had happened but didn’t know if he could handle it.
“Aldrian Hayden,” Torin urged again.
Aldrian got up and crawled over, grasping the cup with a shaking hand and quickly downed the liquid. He handed it back, unaffected by Torin’s excitement over rain. Torin put the cup back under the slow drip of water to let it be filled again.
“What happened?” Aldrian leaned his head against the bars between their cells. “What did they do to you?”
Aldrian took a deep, shaking breath. “They know.”
“Know what?” Torin’s mind raced, throwing out guesses to what information Aldrian might have given them. Knowing Aldrian, it wouldn’t have been anything vitally important, only something minor. Something to get them to leave him alone. Something that wouldn’t destroy the whole operation. Like the location of that one collapsed tunnel or the fact that they avoided plans that required attacking the city.
“The girl with red and black hair,” he said, breathing heavily. “She’s a mind reader. She took control of my thoughts and saw everything.” He sounded exhausted.
Torin stared at him through the bars, unable to form words or a sound. Everything? How could they know everything? Truly? It was impossible. Not from Aldrian, he would never have let them know everything.
“I’m sorry,” Aldrian added. “You should’ve never trusted me with your secrets.”
Torin tried to stay calm, not wanting to upset Aldrian further. He struggled for a moment to find something to say.
“We didn’t tell you a lot for a reason, there was always the possibility that something like this would happen. I mean the biggest thing you knew about was-” A look of horror crossed Torin’s face.
“Yes,” Aldrian said as if the words themselves caused him great pain. “I couldn’t control my thoughts anymore, it’s like she was walking around inside my head. Anything I didn’t want her to see she saw.”
Torin’s eyes grew wild with fear and anger. “Your sister? Andilynn?”
Aldrian’s knuckles tightened around the bars, turning stark white in their dark cells. “They’re going to kill her.”
“She’ll never fight for them, they know that now,” Aldrian said angrily.
“No, but they really can’t, if she’s as powerful as you say-“ Torin began to argue.
“Nothing against a group of trained and armed men,” Aldrian said. “Not during the day.”
“Maybe nothing, Torin. Nobody knows we’re here. Nobody that cares.” He looked over to his own window and said solemnly, “We’re going to die here.”
He stared in disbelief at the man before him. There was nothing that resembled the Aldrian Hayden he knew. This man had given up completely and it was terrifying.
“How long do we have then?” Torin finally asked.
“A week maybe, depends.”
Torin turned so that his back was against the bars, pulling his knees to his chest. “On what?”
“How long it takes them to get to my home and back. They need to make sure she’s gone before they-” he seemed to lose his breath and never finished the sentence.
“She’ll fight. She’ll win,” Torin said, trying to sound certain.
Aldrian stayed silent.
As a warrior for the separatist rebellion there was always a chance of getting caught, Torin knew that. Everyone had loved ones to lose, but it was a risk they agreed to take long ago. He needed to accept that this week would be his last. He would never see his brothers again, or his parents. He would never go home. He would never feel free. People would die because of his failure.
“I’m sorry,” Aldrian said after some time, similar thoughts probably running through his mind. Torin ignored the apology, it was unnecessary. It wasn’t Aldrian’s fault and there was nothing he could have done to change what happened.
“Maybe the others know where we are by now,” Torin offered. It was a pathetic last hope; he knew it just as much as Aldrian did.
“Maybe.” Torin let the hope linger a little longer when Aldrian didn’t reject it right away. He imagined being woken up in the middle of the night to an open cell door and his friends feigning annoyance at his slowness, asking where he’s been for the past few months.
“I’m so sorry,” Aldrian’s whisper pulled Torin from his daydream. Torin had never felt more helpless. He was going to watch his friend lose everything and be able to do absolutely nothing about it. He racked his brain for some edge they had, something he had overlooked. But all their secrets were known, now they had nothing. No way to contact anyone, no way out, no hope that they would survive.
Torin ached to move, to fight, to do anything but sit there, trapped in a cell.
“They don’t expect us to go easily, do they?” Torin looked over his shoulder to see the hint of a smile on Aldrian’s face.
“It would be against our natures,” Aldrian agreed.
“We wouldn’t want them to get the wrong impression.” Torin heard Aldrian chuckle darkly.
A week passed and nothing happened. They plotted their plan of attack, laughing with wild eyes at the probability that without weapons or much strength it would go horribly wrong. What meager food they received was split and Torin kept the tiny cup under the small tap when it rained.
“They can’t burn us if it keeps raining,” Aldrian said one night, catering to the small part of Torin that hoped somehow they would get out of this.
“Maybe it’ll rain forever, just for us.”
Torin woke up hours later to the rat crawling over his feet. He shook it off; it squealed and ran, darting in between two sets of legs just outside the cells. While watching the menacingly silent guards with a growing sense of dread, Torin grabbed the cup and chucked it through the bars at Aldrian. He woke with a start, cursing Torin and his cup.
“About time. You’ve had us waiting for days,” Aldrian said, walking to the bars and leaning casually against them. He always played things nonchalantly; Torin never understood that part about him.
“The square is ready, just for you," a guard said.
"Can’t wait," Aldrian replied.
One look from Aldrian told Torin the plan was still on. The prospect of a fight seemed to truly wake him up. He wanted it; he wanted to hit them back for once, to draw their blood. He was tired of feeling weak.
The guard unlocked the cell door, watching Aldrian carefully. Aldrian stepped back, just out of the guards reach.
“First, tell me. Have they killed them?”
Aldrian turned severe. “My family.”
The guard lunged at him rather than answer the question, but his armor was heavy and his sword weighed him down. Aldrian easily dodged him. They glared at each other.
“He has a right to know,” Torin said fiercely through the bars. The guard considered both of them, weighing the action in his mind. There always had to be a benefit for him to take action.
“I’ll go easily, if you tell me,” Aldrian said, giving the guard what he needed. Torin stared at him. Did that mean their plan was off? Or was he just trying to get information from the guard?
One glance back at the other guard, a nod, and the guard began to speak.
“Reports just came in this morning. Your homestead is burned. They found three female bodies and two males. It is confirmed they were your parents and siblings. That’s all I know.” He said it so calmly, as if the words meant nothing. And yes, to the guard they meant nothing, but to Aldrian the words were devastating.
Aldrian didn’t seem to be there after he said that. He didn’t move when the guard approached and didn’t fight as the guard tightened the shackles around his wrists.
“They’re lying! There’s no way they could kill her,” Torin shouted, his voice echoing in the small space. Aldrian didn’t seem to hear.
They led him to the stairs.
“Fight them, Aldri! They’re lying,” Torin tried again.
Torin waited for one of them to turn around and get him but neither did.
“What about me?” Torin rattled the door to his cell, quickly drawing the guards’ attention. If he could just get out there with them, he knew he could convince Aldrian to fight.
“What about you?” One of them growled.
“You’re taking me too,” he said. The guard stared evenly back at him. “Aren’t you?”
“Only this one,” he replied, shaking Aldrian’s body. His head hung, eyes downcast.
“No! No, no,” Torin yelled, rattling the door. He looked desperately to Aldrian, his leader, but could not find his eyes.
“No!” Torin pulled on the door again. “Hey!” he screamed.
“Your friend’s crazy,” one of the guards muttered, giving Aldrian a shove forward. “Let’s go.”
Aldrian dropped to the ground, the guards lost their grip on him and he ran a few steps towards Torin.
“Torin, be quiet. It’ll be okay,” Aldrian said. “You will be okay.”
They grabbed him before he could say anything else, kicked him in the stomach and forced him to the ground. Torin shouted, violently shaking the door. Aldrian fought back. But in his weakened state, with two against one, he didn’t stand a chance. They dragged him, unconscious, up the stairs.
The rain poured outside, dripping down into Torin’s cell. He no longer had the tiny cup to catch the water; it sat just out of reach on Aldrian’s side. Lightning flashed, illuminating the dark, dank and cold space. As if it would help, Torin wrapped his arms tighter around himself to try and still his shivering.