Sienna took the lead, Nadia just behind, looking around at everything her torch lit up. It was rather plain and bare, but this hallway was better tended than the storeroom they’d broken into. Despite the hallway’s general sparseness, occasionally there was something very out of place shoved against the wall. Statues mostly, great white and black things shining like glass, faces smooth and blank eyes contemplating the passing pair until they moved beyond their fixed gazes.
Sienna’s step was sure, avoiding the few trips and snares, but Nadia, enraptured by the intermittent statues, occasionally tripped even without anything to get beneath her feet. Sienna needed to steady her several times. Nadia had always been rather clumsy. But that didn’t stop her from being dangerous when she had to be. If she couldn’t pull her weight, Sienna wouldn’t have invited her along.
‘Shh,’ Sienna hissed suddenly, pausing as they found themselves at the entrance of an emergency stairwell.
‘I didn’t make a sound,’ Nadia pouted. She’d been quite proud of herself, getting so far without stumbling. She’d been trip-free since the second last statue they’d passed.
Sienna motioned for silence, pressing her ear against the door hiding the stairs, listening with great concentration. ‘There’s someone coming,’ she mouthed to Nadia, who immediately dimmed the torchlight. She’d been with Sienna too long to doubt her ears. Nadia carefully chose a position right beside the door, and Sienna disappeared into blackness to wait.
Together they listened. Soon, Nadia could hear it too. Echoing footsteps. Light and slow. Belonging to someone either very cautious, or very timid. Probably young as well, light and fit enough for every step not to be a loud sign of the tired weight of years on their shoulders.
The footsteps reached the landing, and paused. They heard the soft sound of a hand settling on the doorknob. As carefully as Sienna had eased the storeroom door open a few minutes ago, the owner of the footsteps pushed, poking its head out, hiding Nadia with the open door. ‘Hello?’ it half-whispered, half-called, the rest of its body uncertainly following its head out into the open, accompanied by bright white torchlight. ‘Is anyone here? Ms Hackney? Anyone?’
The door bumped shut behind it. Torch hefted, Nadia sprung, surprising the dark figure with a near-silent, jarring crash to the head before wrapping one long, restraining arm around its body and clamping the cold hand of her other over its mouth, cutting off its yell. She pulled it close against her, drawing its head back and whispering in its ear. ‘Don’t move, and keep your mouth shut.’
The figure was too startled to even think of putting up a fight, one reflexive moment of struggling coming to an abrupt end. Smiling grimly, Sienna retrieved both lost torches, shutting off their weaker one and adjusting the bulb of their prisoner’s, holding it close to its face.
‘God above,’ she whispered, staring. Their captive stared back, fear in his eyes. Mismatched eyes. It was a boy, maybe their own age. One eye was bright, clear blue. The other gleamed obsidian. But that wasn’t what made Sienna stare.
Encircling his neck was the largest, most gruesome scar she’d ever seen on a person. There were a few nasty, healed-over slashes on his face and arms, but none so horrible as that. It was as though he’d been beheaded, and the entire thing reattached so soon after the grisly event he hadn’t had the chance to die. The scar tissue of the join glistened pure white in the torchlight.