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Curled in shadow and huddled against pain, Long Baiyu waited. Where once he had waited in fear; without hope or strength; now he had hope, at least. Hope that his meagre efforts had been rewarded; hope that deliverance was on its way; hope that the reign of terror and power held by his nemesis would soon be over.

Sometimes, however, a little hope can be almost as painful as none at all.

The door to his cell flew open, crashing against grey stone. Silhouetted there was the man Baiyu least wished to see: his captor; his enemy; his oldest friend, Feng Zhudai. Raising a heavy head, Baiyu blinked in the feeble candlelight. His gaoler knew better than to bring anything brighter.

“What do you want?” Baiyu’s voice was hoarse from lack of use; his throat dry; lips cracked with cold.

For several moments Zhudai simply stood in the doorway, his face hidden in shadow. Candlelight gleamed off rich gold embroidery on his silken robes. The sound of his harsh breathing echoed in the cold stone chamber. Finally, he took a hasty step into the room and lifted the candle. His skin was taut with anger, cheeks hollow, dark eyes fiery with glittering intelligence and barely-hidden rage.

“What have you done?” Anger snapped through his voice, lashing at his prisoner. Baiyu flinched, blinked again but said nothing. Zhudai made a noise of frustration and stepped closer. Hope surged in Baiyu. He gathered his strength. Did he have enough to defeat his enemy and escape? Only let him come a few paces nearer. Even if he died trying, it would be better than this endless imprisonment. Death would ensure the end of his captor’s plans. Zhudai needed him alive.

That flicker of hope must have shown in his eyes. His keeper stopped and glared at him before backing away again.

“Oh no, old friend.” He said more calmly. “You won’t trick me that easily. I have just come to tell you that your little scheme will not work.”

“What scheme is that?” Baiyu tried hard to sound indifferent but disappointment tightened his throat.

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