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Tung huddled in the darkest corner of the executioner's dungeon, trying to ignore the bone-chilling coldness which was draining his life away. Violent shivering was his body's last-ditch attempt to generate enough warmth to stay alive but the icy stone floor sucked heat away faster than he could produce it. Standing might be warmer but after the beatings, the cold, and no food, he couldn't find the energy to get up.

He had to get out of this place. Escape or death, he didn't care which anymore. Anything was better than the wretched existence he'd suffered for the last ten days.

Dark, dank and putrid were the words an unscrupulous property merchant might have used to glamorise this miserable dungeon, there were no words nauseating enough to describe the true horror of this dreadful place. To be fair though, it wasn't all bad, at least the green slime, which oozed like pus from small cracks in the walls, added some colour to the drab greyness. But the green slime tasted vile, he'd tried it twice in vain attempts to get some sustenance into his stomach but each time, within a matter of seconds, a rancid stream of vomit had erupted from his guts, adding to the stench of the cell.

His fingertips bled and throbbed with the pain from futile attempts to pry open a tiny crack in the heavy wooden door. He knew it was hopeless but what else could he try? Maybe dying was a better option, maybe it was the only option because he was due to be tortured to death the very next day. Roll on death, it couldn't come a moment too soon because being wet through, bruised, starving and parched with thirst had sapped his will to live. Yes, roll on death.

Fighting the fatigue, he forced himself onto his side and prayed to the gods for sleep, but how could anyone sleep in this frightful place? He tossed and turned like an agitated foetus. Hands over ears, he tried to shut out the sounds of torturers' hammers smashing bones, the metallic clunk of ratchets on the racks and the anguished screams which echoed forlornly down stone corridors. Rank stenches crept under the door to assault his nostrils, the acrid stink of flesh seared by white-hot branding irons overwhelming the other odours of human sweat, urine and excrement. Wails of despair reverberated inside his head. Did these evil tormentors never rest?

By some miracle, his brain dragged his tortured body into an uneasy slumber. Praise be for the gift of sleep, at least he still had this last sanctuary. His nightmares replayed his pathetic life as his subconscious tried to figure out how he'd ended up in this pitiful mess. The work of the devil, no doubt - with a little help from his fiends.

The dreams relived his sixteen years of poverty and the daily struggles to find enough food to survive. His mother had battled relentlessly to try and stop his father from drinking and gambling away whatever meagre wage he had earned but she'd been drained dry by the futility of her efforts to turn beer money into food money. Most of the time, the family went hungry and, to add real injury to insult, a beating was the reward for anyone daft enough to complain.

Tung doted on his mother, so it broke his little heart when, just before he turned twelve, the will to fight for her kids deserted her, and she deserted them. She'd either died or run away. He never discovered which.

Without anyone shielding him from his father's drunken wrath, the beatings increased in regularity and harshness. His childhood descended into a nightmarish hell of torment and deprivation. To make matters worse still, he'd heaped a couple of cartloads of guilt onto his tiny shoulders because he couldn't protect his little sister from the torrent of paternal abuses. His father only brought pain into their lives. No support, no money and no food. Tung had become the man of the house and stealing was his only option to put meals on the table. As he drifted in and out of sleep, his memory reconstructed his first theft, an event destined to determine how the rest of his life would play out.

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