202. The Back Stabbers

There was no feeling in my body. Fingers and toes remained resolutely unreachable. For all I knew, all my limbs had been amputated. And not just my limbs. I’d managed to split my eyelids apart by a tiny margin, but they refused to budge any more than that. I couldn’t even get my eyeballs to look left or right. Whatever poison Marv had used on me, it was very effective. I may not have liked the effects, but I could totally appreciate how useful it would be to have. I’d have to ask her for the recipe.

Administering it might not be so easy. You’d have to be careful with the dose. Enough to incapacitate your victim, but not so much they couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t feel my chest going up and down, but I assumed it had to be. Perhaps Marv’s training hadn’t been in fighting or killing with weapons. Perhaps her expertise was something more subtle.

It would explain why she was so terrible at dealing with people face to face. If she was an expert with poisons it would be similar to a drone pilot. Happy to shoot the face off a child from 3000 miles away while sipping on a frappucino, not so chill when looking down the barrel of a gun pointed at someone standing in front of you.

Someone in a jet fighter or a bomber might be dropping death from above, but they still risked their own lives. From ground fire, from enemy pilots and, of course, from shoddy engineering; because you can’t lowball a government contract without cutting a few corners.

Drone pilots, on the other hand, are scum. Not that their targets didn’t deserve to be taken out, but raping a rapist doesn’t make you a hero. It makes you a rapist.

Using poison was pretty cowardly—drop something in a drink and make sure you’re as far away as possible when the shit goes down. I’d thought Marv was totally useless and couldn’t understand how she hoped to get away with killing Sonny, but now I was thinking maybe she just never had the chance to put her skills to work, at least not in a way that wouldn’t look suspicious. Or make someone else look suspicious.

Deceitful, underhanded and with absolutely no honour. Like I said, I’d have to ask her for pointers.

What? Just because I think it’s deplorable doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. You have to be a realist about these things. Looking down on an assassin for being a sneaky piece of shit isn’t going to change anything; and it’s also kind of redundant. That’s their job description.

It was hard to tell where they were taking me. The ground passing under me all looked the same. We were in the tunnels, but then there wasn’t really any other option down here. I guessed they were trying to get to the surface, but I was pretty sure they didn’t know the way. They certainly hadn’t when we were back with the trolls. Still, from watching the way the ground moved and turned (at least that’s how it looked to me as I hovered just a little above it) they seemed very confident in their route. We took many lefts and rights and never paused or hesitated.

“He’s heavy,” Nyx muttered through short gasps.

“No, he’s not,” answered Marv. “You’re just small and weak. Come on, don’t wimp out now. We’re almost there.” She wasn’t mocking him, she actually sounded quite supportive. When had these two turned into a duo?

They clearly had a plan and a destination in mind, but where? And what was the point of taking me? I had no better idea how to find the way out than them. In fact, I would assume Nyx was the expert when it came to the underground. He might not have been in these parts before, but he’d lived in these tunnels all his life. He should have been able to sense which way was up.

The ground tilted, or more likely I did. We stopped and everything rocked from side to side. It was strange relying solely on my vision to work out what was happening. The rest of me was just an inert lump.

“Careful, make sure he stays flat.”

I was set straight again, and off we went. At least if they dropped me, I wouldn’t feel a thing.

The bigger question was how these two had managed to bury the hatchet and team up, especially after Marv had threatened to skewer young Nyx through the neck. They did have interests in common—mainly wanting to get away from the trolls—but they were both such noobs, I couldn’t see the partnership lasting beyond the first hiccup. And there’s always going to be hiccups.

Another question that occurred to me—I had plenty of time to think while I was being transported across county lines—was how were they managing to carry me? Nyx was quite small and Marv was no longshoreman. I couldn’t actually feel their hands and couldn’t lift my head to look. 

Nyx was at my feet. He had small hands and a slight build. If he was holding me by the boots he was doing an impressive job. I imagined him with an ankle under each arm, my heels stuck in his armpits.

“What if they notice he’s missing?” said Nyx. “They might come looking for us.”

“All the more reason not to dawdle. Come on, pick up the pace.”

Marv was leading. I couldn’t tell what part of me she was carrying, or how she was doing it while holding a torch. The backs of her shoes didn’t appear in my (limited) field of vision which meant she was at least a stride ahead of me.

The flicker of long shadows passed under me. I couldn’t tell if they were flames or legs or something else.  

“Not so fast…” Nyx’s voice trembled with effort. “I don’t think I can…”

“Let me,” said a third voice. “Ah can take over for a bit. Yo’ take this.”

We stopped and the light shifted from one side to the other as the torch was handed from one person to another. 

Flossie. Was she being forced to come along, or was she the ringleader? Hard as it was for me to imagine her coming up with this abduction plan, she didn’t sound panicked or out of sorts. I’m no voice expert, but she sounded in full control of herself. How come she’d never been this calm and level-headed when she was working for me?

“Just remember to keep him flat,” said Marv. “If you let him get at an angle, the toxin will leak out. If he loses his stiffness, he’ll be a lot harder to carry. And he might regain control of his body.”

So, keeping me level was key to keeping me unable to move. Where exactly had she inserted the toxin that it would fall out if I was tilted? And how had she got it in there? All good questions I fervently hoped never to hear the answers to.

People acting out of desperation because they feel they’ve been backed into a corner is completely understandable. Especially if the person in question happens to be a rat. Kind of expected, in that case. But wouldn’t you expect at least a little gratitude for leading these fuckwits away from immediate danger? And shouldn’t my past achievements count for something?

Okay, I did lead tend to lead people away from one highly dangerous situation straight into the middle of another one, but that should have just made it more obvious how difficult it was.

Flossie, of all people, should have had the sense to wait to see if things were going to turn out in our favour. What was I even thinking? Expecting sense from Flossie was like expecting eggs from a rooster.

I had a pretty good idea why she would have done it, though. Sitting around while the others were out there on their own, possibly in trouble—probably right up to their necks in it—was driving her doolally. The quicker she got out there and started looking for them the better as far as she was concerned, even if she had no idea where to start looking or what to do once she found them hanging by their feet over the open mouth of some giant carnivorous plant. 

Of course, she didn’t need me to do any of that, but apparently I’d been chosen as her special guest for this performance. The reunion tour. Hopefully, it wasn’t going to be a one night only gig. 

“We’re nearly there,” said Flossie. “Kaceyton said it’s the opening with the red stones around it. 

Another traitor. They were all at it. If you can’t get people to do what you want by asking, feel free to not ask and do it anyway.

“Wait, he’s slipping. Stop, stop.”

I fell. My nose banged into the ground and I actually felt a twinge of pain, which probably meant it had to be quite a serious injury for me to feel it through the drug. My eyes were watering, making it even harder to see, although I was face down in the dirt, so admittedly there wasn’t much of a view.

“Let go of your end!” Marv sounded a bit panicked. “Keep both ends level.”

I think my legs were lowered, I didn’t feel it but I heard something hit the ground behind me. 

“I think it’s okay.” Marv blew out some air, like it had been a close call. “He’s level. Let’s take a quick rest.”

The important thing was they got their regulation breaks as stipulated by their union. Union of the fucking snakes.

With my mouth pressed against the floor, I wasn’t able to breathe. I choked and my body convulsed. I really felt something then, and all of it bad. 

“Quick, hold him down.”

I didn’t even know who said that, I was too busy flopping around like a fish. And then something warm trickled down the back of my leg, probably my self-respect, and I could move.

Some people might have tried to figure out what to do next. Maybe stretched to get the feeling back. Not me. I rolled sideways, forced myself to my feet even though my whole body felt like one big dead leg, and slammed my back against the tunnel wall. Only it wasn’t a tunnel. There was no roof, at least not immediately above me. 

We were in a long straight passage with high walls. We were in the labyrinth.

Flossie, Nyx and Marc stood in a semi-circle around me, each waiting for someone else to make the first move. Marv had her dagger out and was pointing it at me. “Don’t make me use this. The poison has to be carefully applied. If I stick you, you’ll die.”

“Then don’t fucking stick me. What’s wrong with you idiots? Why did you bring me here?”

“It was her idea.” Marv flicked the dagger towards Flossie and a drop of a dark liquid flew from the tip, making everyone jump back. She may have been a highly trained assassin, but I still suspected the biggest danger she posed was to herself.

“Why wouldn’t yo’ just listen?” whined Flossie. “We have to find the others. Now. Not wait around here.”

Even after all this time, the capacity for people to surprise me with their stupidity was flabbergasting. 

“Did you really think I’d just go along with whatever you wanted once you got me here? Why are we even in this fucking place? It’s a death trap. Literally, that’s what they built if for. To trap you into death. I’m telling you, if we ever get out of here and track down Dudley, the first thing I’m going to do is get him a new girlfriend, one who isn’t fucking mental.”

Flossie’s lips trembled. “Don’t yo’ say that. Don’t.”

Of course, the waterworks. What else would you expect?

“Ah tried to ask yo’ nicely. I even promised to do whatever you told me to with mah dragons. Maurice said that would work, but you still wouldn’t go look for the others.”

“Wait, what do you mean Maurice said? He told you to use the dragon thing to bribe me?”

She nodded, wiping her nose and wringing her hands and generally acting like a nervous wreck. “He gave us all ways to convince you to help us if you refused.”

Amazing. Of course, Batman was well known for having files on all his superfriends, ways to take them down in case they ever went rogue. Not really surprising Maurice would think along the same lines.

The idea of them sitting around coming up with ways to trick me into being a team player was at once infuriating and impressive. Fuckers. I couldn’t help but be curious what ruses the others would have used in Flossie’s position.

“Yo’ don’t understand what it’s been like for me on mah own,” wailed Flossie through the tears. “Ah been having abandonment terruuurrrrs.” 

I couldn't be bothered to decipher what she was bawling about. One thing was abundantly clear, whatever her plan was, we were so not going to make it out of here alive.

“But why bring me here? What good will getting us all killed do? We can’t save anyone if we’re drowned in lava.”

Flossie wiped her eyes with the back of her wrists. “Kaceyton told me how to get through the maze. I know it’s risky, but we got your healing ability, and we got yo’. We can get past anything as long as you’re with us.”

Was this blind faith born of stupidity, or another of Maurice’s Colin-duping strategies? At least we weren’t too far into the maze and could go back.

“Ho! There you are.” 

I looked up to where the voice was coming from. Raviva was standing on the ledge from where he’d shown me the labyrinth earlier. That was where I should have been, not down here with these plebs.

“Glad to see you decided to join the contest. The more the better, I say. Who needs judges when we’ve got do or die, am I right? Don’t worry about the head start, you’ll need it. The labyrinth is no place for squishies like you, you deserve a small advantage. And watch out for the bikes.”

I would have protested and insisted on retiring early but I was too confused by what he’d said. There were bikes in the labyrinth?

A loud scraping sound drew my attention back to more immediate problems. A wall began moving towards us from the direction we’d come from. A wall with long sharp spears sticking out of it.

“Oh,” I said, “spikes, not bikes.” Glad I got that cleared up. Wouldn’t want to die horribly with that niggling at the back of my mind.

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