Prologue

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They came at dawn.

In my half-stupor from restless sleep, a thin light flickered through the tiny window and streamed directly onto my face. Wincing slightly from the sores on my back and shielding my eyes, I listened as several men advanced in my direction. The bleak halls echoed with familiar sounds. The clank of a key in a metal lock. An iron grill door down the corridor flung open, crashing against a wall. Urgent, angry chatter rushed through the antechamber to my cell.

Oh God, no! Not now! It's too soon!

Keeping my eyes on the door I curled tighter into a ball on the dirty bed, hoping, praying I was mistaken. The t-shirt I wore stuck to my back. The scabbed-over sores now reopened as the cotton pulled free. I felt the sting of the split bamboo cane all over again and couldn't stifle my whimper.

But the march of determined men grew ever closer. Outside the cell, five guards dressed in military khaki entered the antechamber. Heavily armed with pistols and automatic rifles, four stood back as another stared at me in my foetal position through the grills of my prison. My gaze stayed fixed on the door. Always on the door.

"It's time, Kara. Get up."

In response, my body quaked involuntarily. My stomach rolled. Tears long unshed trickled from my eyes. I wiped them away with shaking fingers.

All for nothing. Everything I've done, everything I have seen, it was all for nothing.

Resigned, I sat up and moved to stand knowing my fate was sealed. Dizziness flooded me unexpectedly causing a low ringing in my ears as the room took an unexpected twist. Two months without proper food was taking its toll on my body.

I stood in front of my cell door glancing at the other guards. Their faces either stony cold or smirking.

"Are you ready?" Mohammad asked gently and closed his fingers around the door handle. His familiar tone reminded me of our civil conversations. He had a duty to fulfil, this wasn't personal. I knew that.

As I stared at him and nodded, I wondered at his ability to push aside our meagre alliance. Friendship was too strong a word for what we'd had these past months. But he was still here at my door. Ready and willing to take me to my execution. For the love of Allah, and the brotherhood of SPIR, he would do this. No, this was purely business. I had never been anything but business to him.

"Kara put your hands on your head and turn around."

I complied, swallowing heavily. The empty feeling was back again. I swayed a little and ignored any other pain.

The door opened and my limbs were pulled down. My wrists steadily bound together. A cloth was placed over my eyes forcing me into darkness.

Rough, calloused hands gripped my upper arms either side and drew me forward to a walk. I breathed in heavily as unwanted adrenaline started pumping around my body and with it the light-headedness returned. Carefully stepping forward I was led along bit by bit. The guards didn't walk too fast and I kept to their pace.

We abruptly turned a corner and brightness shone through the cloth around my face. I flinched slightly. We were outside. The smell was different, open and cool. The ground under my booted feet crunched of sand and stone. A little warmer and grittier than the usual cool marble of my chamber.

Ahead of me, the guards talked. Words I couldn't understand. Just babble.

Their footsteps halted abruptly as did I. I was jerked around and my arms were forced up as new ties settled on my wrists. My tortured body dropped as I hung from a top rail. I cried out at the agonising pain but the men moved away.

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