It took what felt like an age to wrap my head around what my brother was telling me. When realisation finally hit me, it struck with the force of a ten-tonne-truck against a brick wall.
Scilla hissed at me, "Be quiet! You'll bring the whole place down on top of us."
I wasn't listening. "What the hell do you mean it's not Vengeance? What is it then?"
I could almost hear the shrug in Lucatz's voice, "How the heck would I know - you're the one who's been so chummy with this hellhole."
I didn't bother with a reply. Before my brain caught up with me, I was out of the harness and sprinting back towards the surface, Scilla shouting obscenities after me. Suddenly I no longer cared about the delayed EMP, or about the plan, or about anything else. All I knew was that Kris was locked in the Arena against an opponent we had not planned for, and I had to get her out before it was too late.
With no clear sense of direction, I ran blindly along the tunnels, following any path I could find that led upward. I pounded past cells and their occupants without seeing them, listening to the ever-increasing volume of the crowd overhead. Eventually I skidded to a halt at the end of a corridor that led into one of the combatants' waiting areas. Curse my luck - there was still a solitary guard on duty there. Evidently Chase and Murphy weren't doing as good a job with the distractions as I'd hoped.
Then, across the corridor, I spotted a pair of yellow eyes winking at me out of the gloom. I muttered a silent prayer to whatever benevolent deity had led Lucatz here, and quickly began flicking hand signals at him. "Distraction", "away", "time".
"Fast", "soon", "luck" Lucatz signed back, giving me a wink. Then, suddenly, he loosed a piercing yowl that made the door guard near jump out of his skin. The guard came over to find the source of the noise, and quick as a flash Lucatz shot out in front of him and tore off down a side passage. The guard shouted something indiscernable into his walkie talkie and took off in hot pursuit, and I ran for the door. It was unlocked, and the room beyond was empty of occupants. I crossed it in a panic and scrabbled at the lock on the door that led to the Arena beyond. The crowd's screams were near deafening, and I could make out no sounds from the combatants, but a sick instinct told me that the fight was already well underway. I scrabbled in my pocket for the keys, only to realise with a sickening jolt that I didn't have them. Kris was trapped, and I was powerless to help her.
"Damn it!" I roared, slamming my fist onto the door with full force. Where was that bloody EMP? If there was ever a time when I needed an open door, it was now.
I slumped against the door, breathing hard and face hot with rage as the roaring from outside grew ever louder. Whoever - or whatever - Kris' opponent was, it was either too preoccupied to make a noise, or it had finished its job already. I pushed the latter thought out of my mind. No, it wasn't over yet. I could still find a way in. There had to be another way-
Then all the lights went out. With an automated ping, the Arena door swung wide, and I was hit full in the face by a wave of heat and roaring voices. The EMP! At last!
"Kris! Kris!" I ran into the Arena, crying her name, scanning the gloom, trying to make out her figure in the dark. The Arena was big, but there were no corners for shadows to gather in. Surely she couldn't be far...
Suddenly, I was weightless. For several moments, the ground under my feet just seemed to disappear, and all I could see were the flashes of the whirring cameras and the dim outlines of people writhing and shouting in their seats. Then the world collapsed into a million points of pain as I connected with the Arena wall and slumped to the ground. I gasped, filling my lungs with dust and sand and the smell of blood.
"Gavin! Gavin run!"
If it hadn't been for Kris' intervention, the taloned fist that slammed into the wall would have caved my chest in. Her hands were slick with sweat, and in the dark I couldn't see anything except the whites of her eyes as she hauled me away as fast as her legs could carry her. Behind us, a low snarl began to rise out of the gloom.
"Where's the door?" Kris gasped, "Where's the bloody door?"
I had no idea. I couldn't see a thing, and my collision with the wall had sent every thought in my head spinning in a hundred different directions. Kris yelped and dragged us both to the ground as something huge shot over our heads and plunged into the sand right where we would have been. Then I was on my feet again, and we were jinking madly through the blackness, searching desperately for the open doors. Behind us, the sound of thunderous breathing grew louder by the second. I screwed my eyes shut and willed my battered body onward as a rectangular blob hovered before my eyes. Please, I thought, please let it be a door, please, please please-
The amplified voice cut through the hot swell of terror like a blade of ice. The shadow at our heels paused, and in that moment Kris and I hurled ourselves into the door. I skidded across the floor, grazing the left side of my face and tearing my disguise into ribbons. I heard a metallic BANG! and it was as if a damper had been shoved over my head. The shouting outside was still there, but it was quieter now, dimmer, as if coming from the end of a very long tunnel. I sat up and rubbed my head.
"I'm here," came her weak reply.
I sagged to the floor, chest heaving, head swimming. I was dimly aware of a brightening behind my closed eyelids. The lights were coming back up. The EMP was passing. We were only alive by a few precious seconds.
"What was that?" I whispered to Kris.
There was no reply. I struggled to my knees, reaching out blindly towards her forlorn shape on the ground, "Kris?"
"Ryder! Ryder!" More voices, strange voices, calling for me distantly. Chase and Murphy, I thought dimly, still trying to drag my aching limbs to my friend's side. A pair of restraining arms locked around my midriff, and I was hoisted bodily over a pair of sharp, bony shoulders. Chase muttered something to Murphy, but all I could do was gasp as his shoulders dug into my aching chest as he started moving. They were shouting something into a radio, and a panicked crackly voice was replying. What were they saying? I tried to listen, but my world seemed to be growing dimmer by the moment. I raised my head, my voice gradually fading to nothing as pain and exhaustion overtook me.
"Kris ... Kris ..."