Tais stood alone, shrouded in darkness.
Darkness did not have to be an instrument of fear only, it could also be a friend. It could deceive and deter, protect and obfuscate. It was the greatest weapon of a man seeking to avoid notice. A man making his escape.
With continued calm breathing, Tais focused his mind on becoming invisible. Not literally, but in reaching a state of utter stillness, both mentally and physically. Invisibilty could be worn like a cloak. If his mind was truly prepared, he could walk through these twisting corridors as if he were just another shadow.
Something broke his concentration.
A noise? No.
A feeling? No, still not quite.
A sense. Yes, that was it, just a sense of . . . something else.
Tais steadied his breathing again and listened carefully. Not with his ears, but with his mind.
There it was again.
Was there someone else in the room with him? It was not impossible. He would be a fool to think that he was the only one capable of using the darknes to his advantage.
Just infront of his face, he felt the air stir slightly, as an icy chill sliced through it. If he was able to see his breath he was sure it would be a frozen cloud.
Was that laughter?
It had to be his imagination playing tricks, but he was sure that he had heard the faintest echo of a child's laughter.
This is a trick. Some sort of trap to slow down any potential escapees. I need to focus, and I need to get moving again. They are trying to trap me here by making me too scared to go on. If I don't leave, then they win.
Squeezing his eyes tightly shut, Tais used all his will to focus his thoughts.
Another deathly cold chill brushed against his cheek, and there was no mistaking the laughter that came with it this time. The playful laughter of a child, a girl. But . . . wrong. There was a hint of gleeful menace to the sound.
Tais felt his heartbeat begin to speed up, but forced his breathing to remain steady.
He could taste damp and cold with every breath that he took.
Again there was the sound of laughter, so close that whoever was making the sound had to be standing only a hair's breadth away. Icy fingers traced lines down both sides of his face, and under his chin.
Tais drew in a sharp breath and stepped backwards.
The little girl's voice laughed again.
"Why are you so jumpy? Silly."
Unable to regain the control he had so recently held, Tais began to panick again.
"You should probably sit down, you don't look very well at all." The voice was sickly sweet, a sound like rotten fruit disguised in a basket off fresh strawberries.
"Who are you?" asked Tais, his own voice shaky.
"I'm not telling." That laughter again. "I'm not supposed to talk to strangers."
Tais became aware that the temperature had dropped more permanently now. His fingers were actually starting to feel numb. He rubbed his hands together, and then tucked them under his armpits.
"You really shoud sit down you know. Don't worry, I'll stay with you until someone comes."
A gentle pressure began on his shoulders. Tiny, frozen fingers urging him to take a seat.
Maybe I should, just for little while. Just until I get my circulation going again. Can't concentrate properly while I feel this cold anyway.
Slowly he began to lower himself to the floor, only half-aware that he was doing it.
"There you go." said the little girl. "You might as well rest. No-one ever leaves here, so you are just tiring yourself out for no good reason."
As he reached the floor, Tais felt his eyes slowly start to close.
The sound pierced his skull and forced itself into his mind.
Tais, get up! Don't listen to her!
Another sound was becoming clearer now. Hadn't he heard footsteps before? And what was that he heard now? Knocking? Banging?
The fog gradually lifted itself from his thoughts, and Tais turned his head towards the banging sound. It sounded like someone kicking and pounding on a door.
Reality suddenly snapped back into place.
"Hey who's there!" he shouted. Tais pushed himself back up to stand. "Fine, if you won't tell me, then I will just come and find out."