Maurice and Claire looked at each other, then somewhat reluctantly sat down next to me.
“I can’t believe you,” said Mandy. “This is our only hope of getting out of here.”
“Then go with him,” I said. “If you make it out, live a happy life and enjoy the fact you were right and I’ll spend the rest of my life rotting away in here. With them. That should be revenge enough for you.”
“I’m really going to hit him,” said Claire.
Mandy turned to Claire. “And you agree with him?”
Claire’s head dropped like her neck had lost all strength. “Ugh. He has a knack for this sort of thing. It’s hard to explain.”
Mandy looked about ready to explode. She turned to Raviva, then back to us, then back to him.
“Argghh,” she yelled at the roof of the cave, and then sat down next to Claire.
“So, you’re none of you willing to join us?” asked Raviva.
“Sorry,” Mandy mumbled. “Looks like we’re going with Plan B. The B stands for bastard.”
“Just go with them,” I said. “If you believe it’s the best option.”
“Shut up,” said Mandy.
I really didn’t get why she wanted to stay with us. The others, sure, they were practically attached to me by an umbilical cord, but what prevented her from leaving, I had no idea.
“What about you?” I said to Jenny. She was still standing, although she had been behind me the whole time, so it looked like she wanted to stay with us, but you never know.
Jenny sat down with a bump. “I’m not going on my own.”
Raviva looked at us with an odd expression on his face. He seemed confused. Then he started laughing. Apparently he found it all very amusing.
“Will you be leaving today?” I asked him.
“No, no. Without you, there’s no point.”
That was an odd thing to say. Had he intended to use us as a decoy or some kind of diversion? Maybe even a human shield? The thought had crossed my mind. The more people he could take, the better the chance for him and his favoured fellows to get away in the chaos. He knew much better than us what was in that cave and the best way out.
He carried on laughing, which was unsettling, and then turned around. “Okay everyone, let’s call it a day. This one won’t be going anywhere, it seems.”
The other people all got up started walking towards us. And as they did, they started getting bigger.
Obviously, when an object comes closer it appears larger, but that’s not what I mean. They were actually changing size and shape. Raviva also transformed. His skin hardened and his face lost the beard and hair.
They stood before us, gigantic and made of rock.
“Ah, heh, you’re trolls,” I said, somewhat unnecessarily. “I didn’t know you could do that, with the morphing and the shape-shifting. Very impressive.” I was blabbering. I turned to the others. “That was cool, right? You saw how they, you know, with the… shit.”
The others were just staring open-mouthed as the wall of trolls (possibly the troll of walls) converged on us.
“We are people of many talents,” said Raviva in a voice like gravel in a blender. “But you, you are a smart boy. I like you. I like you a lot.” He said it in a way that made me wish he liked me a little bit less.
“He was right?” Mandy sounded absolutely desolate. “I can’t believe it. He was right.” She buried her face in her hands.
“It’s okay. I understand.” Claire gently patted Mandy on the back. “We’ve all been through it. It’s impossible to explain, just accept it.”
I felt it was a bit of an inappropriate time to hold the inaugural meeting of their newly formed support group, but Mandy was obviously having trouble coming to terms with the whole situation.
She lifted up her head. “Was the story about the underground stream true? At all?”
“Well, yes and no,” said Raviva. “It would have led you into another cave, but there are no mines. You would have found yourselves in our labyrinth. A wonderful place full of traps and secrets.” His eyes lit up as he spoke about the labyrinth, and I mean they glowed red like lava. “Had you managed to navigate it, you could have won your freedom and, of course, our admiration.”
“And how many people have survived this labyrinth?” I asked
“To date? Mmm.... none. But I have a good feeling about you. You… I like your chances. It would have been more fun to have you discover the deception for yourselves, but now I suppose we’ll have to just throw you in there. Don’t worry, I won’t hold it against you for ruining our plans. I’m more disappointed in myself for not being more convincing.”
The trolls around him started to make sounds of dissent. It sounded like a landslide.
“No, no, it’s true,” insisted Raviva. “I was outplayed, fair and square.”
“Don’t you think it’s a bit unsportsmanlike?” I said. “Sending us into a deathtrap and watching us die?”
“You misunderstand. We will be in there too, risking our lives just as you are. It’s a battle of wits. A contest between two determined opponents, to the very end.”
“Yeah, that you always win. Where’s the challenge? It’s obvious the game’s rigged, so if you put us in there, I think our best option will be to find somewhere to sit down and slowly starve to death. I don’t really feel like providing entertainment for cheats.”
There was some grumbling. Sounded like an avalanche.
Raviva did not look pleased by the accusation of cheating. “An outrageous slander. We never knowingly give either side an advantage. We fight to the end!”
“UNTIL THE LAST BREATH IS SPENT!” shouted the trolls. They certainly had the edge when it came to team spirit.
Meanwhile, on Team Colin, Claire was rubbing Mandy’s back. “No, you’re not wrong. He is an idiot. A complete dick.” I wondered if there was a way to switch sides.
Raviva placed his boulder-like fists on his waist. “If you have a suggestion to level the playing field, I am open to hearing you out. We believe in fair play.” He jutted his chin out. It was a big chin so it was quite a jut.
“At least give us a real chance,” I said. “You guys pick a champion, we pick a champion. Let us choose the weapons. If we win the battle, we go free. If you win, we do what you say, give you a proper show in your labyrinth.”
“Hmm. And you will face the labyrinth to the last man?”
It sounded like previous contestants had bailed once they realised they couldn’t win.
“Yes. All the way. Trust me, we won’t go down without a fight.”
“Alright, I accept your terms. Kaceyton!”
The crowd of trolls parted and a smaller troll came forward. I say smaller, but that was only relative to the other trolls. We were still dwarves by comparison.
“I do not wish you to think we are trying to stack the odds in our favour. Kaceyton is not the strongest or fastest among us, but a troll is a troll is a troll. And Kaceyton is a troll.”
“TROLL!” shouted the trolls. Put them in rugby shirts and you could have entered them into the Six Nations, no problem.
“If you win, you win your freedom.” Raviva grinned, showing off teeth like Stone Henge.
Kaceyton raised both arms overhead, and then pulled them down into a bodybuilder pose, roaring at us to give it that extra touch of ‘Ima kill you soon’.
“Okay,” I said, “but you have to fight with the selected weapon. You can’t just throw it away and use your fists because it’s easier. You have to fight with what we decide.”
Kaceyton nodded. “Whatever the weapon, I will be victorious.” Another roar followed.
“Choose whichever weapon you like,” said Raviva. “We enjoy playing with toys of all kinds. But first, tell us who is to be your champion? Or will you be putting yourself forward?”
Like fuck I would. I turned to the others. They all shuffled away from me. I looked past them to where Dudley sat with his back against the wall and Flossie asleep on his chest. He was awake though, eyes wide with fear and rapidly shaking his head from side to side.
I raised my hand and pointed. “Her. She’s our champion.”
Flossie woke with a start. All eyes were on her as she said the immortal words the Hero always says when destiny pronounces them as The Chosen One:
“Why the fook you all looking at me?”