Mexii's consciousness was gathering, like fireflies around a lantern. She could feel the cold of the room she was in, feel the unyielding hardness of the stone slab she was laying on, could sense a person in there, standing stock still, silently watching her.
She opened her eyes, and saw a forbidding stone ceiling smattered with cobwebs, shrouded in shadows. She tried to sit up, but her head felt too groggy.
"So. You're awake."
A sharp, cold male voice cracked like a whip through the room, making Mexii's spine tingle.
"It seems that all my children now pay allegiance to me, as it was foretold."
Mexii tried to shadow-change, but it didn't work. There was no light in the room to cast a sharp enough shadow.
"No, no, no, your shadow-puppetry won't work in here. I took the liberty of placing you in a room away from direct sunlight. We needn't worry about you getting away again."
"Who are you?" said Mexii indignantly, struggling at her bonds. "Unbind me!"
"Manners, manners," said the cold voice silkily. "I expect better respect from my children ... I'd like to think that I hadn't let you all get out of hand."
"So you're - you're -"
"I'm known as Firethroat," he said bluntly, starting to pace. Mexii saw a shape loom in her peripheral vision and tried to turn her head, but it still felt too heavy for her muscles to lift. "Smoketongue. The Demon of Demons. The Omen of Death," he added (Mexii could almost sense a wide, wicked grin). "But you can call me Herothi."
"Why have you bound me?" said Mexii.
"Just to make sure you don't go walkies again, eh?" said Herothi, with a bite of coolness. "I wouldn't like to think that you sided with my enemies, would I?"
"I was returning to you," said Mexii, in a hurt voice. "My only place is here, with you, amongst the darkness. I never belonged with them."
"You think you came back of your own free will!" said Herothi, in mock understanding. "Of course you did, for no-one, not even my precious children, can resist my seductive mind games. I hooked you in that battle over the plain, all I had to do was pull in the line. It was lucky you ran into the poisonous cacti around my tower ... and lucky that one of my patrols found you and brought you to me before the poison could take effect ..."
He gave another low cackle. Mexii heard the clop of boots on the dusty floor around her. It was as if a shroud - a shroud in her mind that twisted her judgement and tugged at her thoughts - was being lifted away.
"So - you planted these thoughts in my head?"
"Why, yes, I suppose you could come to that conclusion."
"Then I shouldn't be here! I should be with those centaurs, trying to banish you to the hovel where you belong!"
"Calm down, no need to fret." Mexii shivered as she felt a hand - a solid hand, ice cold and irascible - placed on her forehead. Her eyes span, looking for the hand's owner.
Then she felt irresistible waves of consciousness brush against her mind, probing into her thoughts, opening doors into areas of her mind Mexii never knew existed - searching, investigating, churning through her.
And her conscious thoughts were fading, as messages of hate and darkness began to echo in her thoughts ... come to me, my child ... rejoin your brothers and sisters ... unite with me ... sweep across this land and purge the light and happiness ...
And Mexii heard her own consciousness answer back.
Get out of my head, beast, you have no business here.
Mexii's whole mind magnified the voice, blasting it into the dark, spiralling hurricane that was throwing her memories around her head like discarded toys ... and suddenly, a door opened, and a bright light spilled out of it, slamming into the hurricane and reducing it to dust ...
Mexii opened her eyes again, and was at last able to sit up.
Her essence was brightening.
It was no longer so dense, so dark, so tangible ... it was as if she had been in a pitch black room, and someone had lit a fire ... it was now the shade of grey of a winter's dawn.
And then she saw his face.
His human-form was tall, with short, almost non-existent, snow-white hair. His face was chalk pale, with evilly protruding cheekbones. His eyes - the eyes Mexii had been face to face to only a week before - were still flaming, burning with hatred. And his face was contorted with anger.
"So ... you have decided to fight ... well, it is your choice ... I shall have to consume you now, so our essences are reunited, as once I was with all my children ... I had hoped this would not be necessary ... none of the other Shadows have deserted me ..."
"I have found a purpose," said Mexii vindictively. "Or I had, until you twisted my mind with your evil magic. You cannot control me, Father. I don't know how I ever managed to escape from you, but now I have a purpose, my darkness has begun to disappear. The more you try and imprison me, the stronger my purpose will grow, until I am fully human and I will be out of your clutches forever!"
Herothi's face contorted.
"You dare defy me?" he said quietly. Menacingly.
"I would rather my essence dissolve into dust than assist you."
"Very well ..." Herothi sighed. "You continue to fight, despit the futility."
And then his human-form vaporised into the cloud of blackness, though without the campfire, the smoky eyes and empty jaws remained smouldering holes in the whirling cloud.
But as Herothi prepared to absorb Mexii's essence, the wind inside Mexii's cell threw open the door, which had been ajar ... bright light from the corridor spilled in.
And Mexii shadow-changed.
She ran from the cell as a glowing grey silhouette, the shadows flickering off the walls. Herothi billowed after her, jaws wide in a manic leer, sucking the air, trying to pull in Mexii's essence.
But Mexii was too fast. Her silhouette slipped along the corridor, flitting from torch to torch like a confused moth. No guard could stop her - they gouged the walls with their swords, and bashed with their shields, but Mexii dodged the shadows of the weapons, glowing brighter all the time.
She was not heading down, but up, for this, surely, was Tafta Tower, and Herothi's power, surely, would be at the very top ...