In a few minutes, we had a plan of action. Chase and Kris would stay in the water service room. There, they could stay out of the way and keep an eye on the cash. And worst case scenario, they could escape through the plumbing if necessary. Scilla and Murphy, meanwhile, would be accompanying me as we made our way to the strange, cloaked anomaly below us. I rearmed myself while Scilla gathered up some necessities from the service room's tool crate. Then I turned back to Kris.
"I'll be back in no time," I said. "I'm a survivor, remember? We both are. It's what we do."
I was surprised to see the look in her eyes. I had expected to see anger, hate even. Maybe some of that was still there, but more than anything, she wore an expression of deep concern . . . and something else I couldn't quite define. Or something I was scared to define.
Her lips fumbled with each other for a moment as though she were trying to get out something she badly wanted to say, but couldn't quite.
"Be careful," she said finally in a strained voice, and suddenly I couldn't say anything myself. I nodded, then started down the corridor, unable to hold her gaze any longer.
As my footsteps echoed around the dank passageways, I told myself that I couldn't think about Kris. If either of us were going to make it out of here alive, I couldn't afford to be distracted. It was just like being in the Arena again. Only this time Wayne was the opponent. One of us had to win; I just had to make sure it was me. Because I was a survivor.
We sneaked through the cell bloc. I knew the guards would be unlikely to be patrolling there very heavily as there was no easy way to the exit from there. We did meet a guard, but he saw us for only a moment before Scilla killed him with a crossbow bolt to the forehead. I stood self-consciously by as Scilla retrieved her bolt. I felt the eyes of the prisoners flicker over me and my comrades in the dark. Hands grasped through rusted bars. Voices rasped incoherently.
Suddenly I bent down and yanked the key ring from the guard's belt. I turned to the nearest cell door and jiggled a key through the lock.
"Gavin, what are you doing?" Scilla hissed.
"Why not?" I said. "Why not free them? A little extra chaos can only help us now. If the guards are all focused on trying to round up escaped prisoners, they won't be worrying as much about catching us."
Or Kris, I thought. And though I didn't say it, on a deeper level, I had to free them. Having been an Arena fighter myself, it was impossible not to feel sympathy for those still trapped here. I couldn't deny that I wouldn't mind striking another blow against the Arena director and Wayne as well.
I freed a few more men, then handed the keys to one of them. "You know what to do," I said. "The guards are a little busy right now, but it's going to take all of you to overpower them. You have an advantage. They've been training you all to fight the whole time you've been here. Now it's time to use what you've learned against them."
The three of us continued down the corridor as the revolution stirred behind us, one door after another clanging open. The Arena's trained killers emerged from their cells with improvised weapons in their hands and hungry looks on their faces.
We descended a grated staircase into the gloom of the lower cells. There were more rats than people down here. This is where the dying went to die. The only sounds were the skittering of claws and the desperate moaning of withering men. The stench of stagnant water and decay filled my nostrils. As we marched toward the guttering argon bulb at the end of the passage, I tried to push it all out of my mind and determine how I was going to shake off Scilla and Murphy. Once I led them to Lucatz and the Kamarov File, I was as good as dead. Scilla was almost impossible to surprise and Murphy was probably tough enough to survive even a sneak attack. But there was a good chance I would need them once I found Wayne. He wasn't likely to be defenseless.
We reached the argon lamp which illuminated a tarnished elevator door. I knew we were at the deepest part of the Arena already and the lift wouldn't take us any lower. But though we hadn't been able to locate the entrance to Wayne's hideout, Wex and I both agreed that there had to be a ventilation system supplying it with air. And Wex thought this system would most likely be linked to the elevator shafts, where the rest of the facility's ventilation was channeled through.
I pulled a crowbar from my bag and handed it to Murphy. "These doors need to open," I told him. He glowered at me, then took the crowbar and wedged it between the doors. In a matter of seconds the doors were twisted and wrenched apart. Murphy handed back the crowbar and I nodded, impressed. Then I poked my head through the aperture and clicked on my wrist lamp.
There was our target: a round ventilation grate set into the bottom of the elevator shaft. I crawled into the shaft and squatted down next to the grate while Scilla handed me a screwdriver. By the time Scilla and Murphy had lowered themselves into the shaft, I had dragged the grate aside, revealing a yawning, black hole.
Scilla handed me the roll of nanofiber cable, which I once again clipped to my harness belt. I lowered my legs into the hole, then the rest of my body until only my hands grasped the edges of it.
"You ready?" grunted Murphy.
"I guess so," I replied before descending into the abyss.