The icy water over my head shocked me into consciousness. I gasped. Beneath my skin, the jagged ends of my broken ribs ground against each other. I bit my lip. It was all I could do to stop myself from screaming. Bile rose to the back of my throat.
I lifted my head. Someone was standing before me. Their features hidden in silhouette. Despite that and the swelling in my left eye, I’d have known her anywhere.
‘Wakey wakey, Rhys,’ she smiled.
I snarled, lunging forward. Chains ratcheted momentarily before becoming taut. The cuffs bit into my wrists.
‘What? No smile for me?’
She dragged a finger across my bloodied cheek and down my neck, following the path of the water droplets still dripping from my hair. She paused over the largest patch of purple and yellow bruises on my chest and pushed.
The bones moved. Starbursts filled my vision.
I couldn’t help it. I screamed.
Her expression softened and she took my face in her hands, pulling me down to meet her lips. They tasted as they always had, of strawberry lip-balm and a hint of peppermint.
‘I love you, Rhys,’ she told me, breaking the kiss. Her fingers stroked my hair. ‘I’ve always loved you.’
She cut me off.
‘I know you were too wrapped up in your need for vengeance to see it. They told me they could help to open your eyes,’ she said. ‘Everything I’ve done has been for you. The sacrifices, the war, everything.’
‘They told me it was the only way. They promised I could have you if I did this.’ She smiled. ‘Looks like they do keep their word after all.’
I shook my head, finally seeing her for what she really was: a frightened young woman infatuated with a dream.
‘They’re lying to you. It’s what they do.’
‘But, you’re here…’
‘Only because they brought me!’ Tears stung my eyes. ‘Listen to me, I’m begging you. They are lying. Nothing can change free will. It was the first thing, I ever taught you. Don’t you remember?’
‘Yes, I remember…’ she stopped, head tilted as though listening to a whisper. Her nostrils flared, mouth curled into a snarl. ‘No, stop it!’
Her power flared.
The shockwave threw me back against the stone wall. My head struck it hard.
I lost consciousness.
There was no water this time. Only a sharp pain in the centre of my right palm.
I shook the haze from my head.
She was staring at my hand, at the source of the pain. Her brow furrowed in concentration. Three black pins held between her lips.
No, not pins. Nails.
Light reflected from the hammer’s polished head.
‘This is the final step,’ she told me. ‘The way to break your free will, they said.’
‘You know what these are?’
‘Not just any coffin nails. They’re from her teeny tiny coffin.’
The hammer struck the nail.
N is for Nailing
Nailing is the black magic practice of driving a nail through a footprint, or shadow, of an enemy to cause them harm. Used coffin nails, especially those taken from the coffin of one with an emotional tie to the victim, give the best results. Some believe that nails driven through the body of a magician/witch can destroy their ability to use magic and render them helpless.