There was a putrid smell in the air. The smell of pain, of death, and decaying rats. And then, ever so close, I could smell the salty, bittersweet smell of blood. My blood, probably. Just then I felt an excruciating pain near my rear; it seemed someone had cut off my pathetic little tail. Where was I? It was very dark, and my senses strained to pick up something of consequence. I dangled from the ceiling by my shackled wrists for I don't know how long. Something warm and wet trickled down my forehead, but it was only sweat, and I realized my loose shirt was drenched in it. How long was this going to last? Would they leave me hanging in this dungeon for the rest of eternity? It wouldn't surprise me if they did. Just leave me here, and forget. Forget everything.

Just then, a heavy wooden door groaned on its hinges, and two pairs of boots made their way down the winding stairs. I could hear that one pair made a clean 'step, step' of a well-made pair. It could only be Troy, son of the Warlord. I nearly bit my tongue in two with contained rage. Doubtless, the other pair of boots belonged to the dungeon keeper, for noone in the whole palace would ever allow their boots to fall to such a level of decay. 'Flump, flump, flump' went the dungeon keeper's boots as they drew ever nearer in the dark. A flight of stairs had never seemed so long.

Torches lit up automatically as the two men made their appearance, scattering the endless dungeon with flickering, insubstantial light, and giving our faces an unearthly luminance. I had never seen two men so different in appearance stand side by side.

Troy, tall, darkly handsome, only slightly younger than me, probably just turned seven-
teen. His perfectly manicured brown locks, fine clothes and well-crafted arm-guards and boots clashed with the keeper's musty brown rags and long dirty hair. But whatever their appearance, their purpose was clear. They had come for me.

Troy strode purposefully over to me, the keeper shuffling at his heels. He stood and sneered up at me.

"Had a pleasant night then?" His voice was clear and equipped with renewed hatred and bitterness; he must have slept very well.

"Lovely," I replied in monotone as I glared at him through my sweat laden hair.

"Then let's dispense with the pleasantries, and get right to business, shall we?" Two enormous, burly men emerged from the shadows and undid the chains to my wrists so I fell to the floor in a heap. The keeper and his assistants guffawed slightly, but Troy made not a sound. Our eyes met and we glared at each other, and I realized with a stab of fear how similar they were to mine. My wrists burned from the chains, and as the feeling started to come back to my hands, I had a fleeting thought of escape. But that idea soon proved futile as I was suddenly bound in ropes as thick as python coils. One of the brawns took a fistful of my tousled hair and shoved me to my knees, so I could look up pleadingly to Troy. Troy loomed over me like a great shadow, an evil grin playing on the corners of his mouth. He seemed to be enjoying the fact that I was at his mercy, that he held my fate in his leather-plated fist.

"Warren, I know who your mother is.' Ans then, as though reading my thoughts he said quickly "No, your foster mother; everyone knows that your birth mother was a sphinx, so don't fret." I said nothing. Troy continued.

"There's no use hiding anything from me. I always find out sooner than later. Your foster mother, Ramona, is the last of the wolf clan, and do you know, Warren, what treasure the wolves have guarded for the past thousand years?" Mother had never spoken of anything like this. He was probably making it up, the great lout.

'You don't know? I'll tell you, then. So sit your fanny down and listen."

Technically, I was already on my knees so sitting down was impossible, but one of the men shoved my knees further into the stone floor for good measure.

"At the dawn of time, when Thresparia was created, the two great gifts were bestowed upon the living things considered most worthy to govern: the star of His face, and the star of His knowledge." I had heard the creation story a thousand times in my old lesson house when I was a boy. What this had to do with anything, I hadn't a clue, but I listened, with my hair still clenched in the man's fist.

"But many creatures believed they deserved the gifts more than the chosen ones, and stole them for themselves, creating great confusion, because now, noone knew who the original chosen races had been. Well, the great Father cursed the false races to the shadows, and created humans, whose authority none would ever question. But, for a reason that remains a mystery today, we were never given the star of His knowledge." At this, a snarl curled on his face, and his figure stiffened with even more vanity.

"Which is completely absurd since we, humans, deserved it more than any other race of pseudo- humanoids. So, my ancestors stole the star for themselves, but were unsuccessful due to the uncanny wit of the meddlesome wolves. The wolves stole the star back, and for that, were rewarded with great power, and were charged with guarding the star for the rest of eternity." he paused to wipe his forehead with the back of his hand. This I had never heard of, and I looked at him, completely puzzled. If it was true, it explained a lot. The dungeon was so still, we could hear his breathing as he glared at me with an unwavering gaze.

"Your 'mother' as you call her, is the last of that heathen race, so she must have the star, and you, as her only living descendant, must know it's location. But, just so we understand each other. . ." I followed his gaze behind me, and saw that the larger of the two men standing behind me was now brandishing a thorn-tipped whip in his oversized hands. A wave of fear gushed up from inside me, and I realized, in a slight panic, that Troy believed that I knew the star's location, and would do anything to get at it.

"I don't know what the freaking horse testicles you're talking about!" I bellowed, but a little of my constrained fear slipped out causing Troy's sneer to intensify. To my surprise and dislike, he knelt down beside me and whispered into my large cat-like ear:

"We can do this for as long as you like; my men are prepared to whip you until every furry little hair on your back is drenched. They will keep going until there is no more flesh left, and if I say so, they will keep whipping until you are no more than puddle of worthless goo."

Thus, the torture began.