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Mildew perforated the air. It seemed to clog every sense, to feed the flames dancing in the sconces fastened to the wall. The light blurred, dampened, fighting a losing battle against the humidity. The torches produced a sliver of illumination, a pool that extended a foot or so, before darkness swallowed it whole. Mold grew in the recesses of the wall, crawling up the ancient stones like a disease, infecting everywhere. Waste, urine, and death blended together in a choking odor. As he moved down the passageway, the smell forced its way down his throat, coalescing in a tight ball and cutting of his air. Sweat rolled down his face and evaporated, adding to the air. He wondered, for the hundredth time, if it was intentionally made it so hot; a means of torture.
They called out to him from their cells. Broken. Mangled. Sub-human creatures mutated in the darkness. They clung to the rusted bars of their cage for support. Help, they cried. Help us. Mercy. He pushed the sound out of his mind; listening would drive him mad. Inside the cell, straw mixed with dirt, excrement, and animal bones. Rodents, eaten raw.
He trudged on. His boots scraped across the harsh stone. Scrip scrap. Scrip scrap. A steady sound, like his heartbeat. He focused on the noise, building a void that would shut out the rest of the world. His cudgel swung useless at his belt, and a ring of keys clicked with each step. His eyes scanned the walls habitually; a semblance of alertness.
He had made the trip many times, and yet each time it wounded him anew. The sight cut its way into his mind, slashed out and left a throbbing, unforgettable scar. How? he thought. How can Man do this? Is there no one to protest? How can they do this? And then, out of the darkness, Why?
Hypocritical thoughts, he knew. He hated what he saw, but was as much to blame as any other. He stood by and watched in pity, but never raised protest. They screamed in agony, and he turned a deaf ear. He told himself he needed the job. He had a family to support. He was just following orders. Or am I just a coward? Am I just evil?
The further he went down the passageway, the worse the conditions got. Distance between the sconces stretched, finally putter out into blackness. He reached out and pulled the last torch from the wall, but it produced so little light that he might as well have been walking blindly. It didn’t matter. – he knew where he was going.
He could still hear their cries. No longer words – these men had succumbed to madness long ago. Some wept. Their sobs echoed down the hall, slamming against the walls. They begged for death. Revulsion swirled around his stomach. They recoiled from his light. He brought fear – fear of pain, of torture, and they ran from him. Others reached out and snatched at him from their cells, guttural sounds bashing about in their throats. They bared their teeth, snapping. He lifted the cudgel from his belt and held it aloft. Small protection, he knew. If given the option, they would stop at nothing to kill him.
A chill had replaced the heat. Icy knives seemed to stab at him from all corners, sending shivers crawling down his spine. The torch seeped glimpses of light into the cells. He ran his eyes quickly through the bars, searching for death. Twice he stopped outside a cage, staring intently at a limp body coiled against the wall. A wheezing gasp. He moved on.
Finally, the cell appeared. The last one, shrouded in darkness. He placed the torch into the holder on the wall, and turned back. Through the metal door, he could see the man. He sat, cross-legged, against the back wall. His eyes were closed. They opened as the guard approached. His hair had grown ragged and unkempt, but through it the unforgettable features shown. His eyes glowed bright and fearless against the torchlight. Expressionless, but his jaw set in determination. He stood slowly, never taking his eyes off the guard. Even after weeks of starvation, his body moved with a hidden strength. The guard pulled the keys from his belt, and the door yanked open with a screech.
“It’s time again. The racks.” The man nodded solemnly. He stepped aside, and the prisoner moved through. The trek began again.
Guy Fawkes. The man who had attempted to blow up Parliament. The terrorist. The traitor. And the strongest human being the guard had ever met. He had been taken three weeks before, captured leaving the tunnels underneath the building. They had subjected him to the worst torture a man could imagine. But still he held on, clinging to his humanity. He would not abandon the truth that he dedicated his life to. They asked for the names of his co-conspirators. He remained silent.
The man moved down the passageway without hesitation. He limped slightly with each step, but seemed to pay it no attention. His hands curled into fists. His shoulders pulled back. He stood, defiant, moving towards pain.
It became too much, standing there next to the man. Feeling the strength ripple off of him. The guard felt meek in comparison. Pressure built inside him. Unable to contain it, the guard spoke.
“Why?” The man looked at him, eyes grating at his soul, but said nothing. “Why do you do it? Why do you resist? They’d give you an easy death, I know. If you’d just tell ‘em who you done it with. Why do you keep on like this?”
Fawkes stayed silent a moment longer. Then he swallowed, throat foreign to words, and said, “Because it is right. Because there are things in this world more important than a single man. There are ideas worth preserving, worth fighting for. There is goodness, and kindness, and humanity. There is love. I refuse to accept evil and pain as things that must be, as facts of life. But rather, as things that can, and will someday be destroyed.”
Fawkes paused for a moment, looking around. “I refuse to let them turn me into this. To take away my mind, my soul. I will not give up my humanity. I will not let them break me. I will die, knowing that my integrity is intact. That is the only thing worth having. I will not lose it.”
They had reached the door of the torture chamber. Screams bubbled over, passed the threshold. The guard shuddered. Fawkes did not hesitate, pulling it open and stepping inside.