Kris and I now began preparations for escape in earnest, and over the next several days, the many stages and provisions for our daring plan were running feverishly on a constant loop through my head. I could often be found whispering the inventory of things we would need under my breath, and every time I returned to my cell, I always checked the hollow space in the back wall where I stowed the equipment to make sure it was all still there.
"Knife, rope, sodium sulfide. Knife, rope, sodium sulfide."
Recent events had complicated things somewhat, but we had adapted by introducing sodium sulfide into our plan. Sodium sulfide, the miracle drug, was the true genius in the plan, as well as the most difficult thing to acquire. Kris and I had pooled all our resources as well as the outcomes to several fights, to get a dull prison guard to trade us less than a milliliter of the stuff. But it would be enough, hopefully. We didn't have time to try to get more.
The sodium sulfide drug had been a major breakthrough in medical science several years ago. Its main use was to buy a dying patient some extra time while doctors tried more drastic or invasive procedures to save them. However, when use of the drug had become widespread, it quickly made its way out onto the street where it was used in very low doses as a hallucinogenic. It was lucky for us that some of the guards at the arena used the drug, because it was to be our ace in the hole.
Time was running out, and while at times I thought preparations for our plan was mostly in place, doubts were ever creeping out of the dark recesses of my mind to gnaw at the delicate sliver of hope that I tried to keep my focus on. This plan was going to work, I told myself. It had to work.
Finally, almost a week after Jeremy Wayne's visit, I decided it was time to finalize the plan. It was time to talk to Vengeance.
"Vengeance," I said after putting aside a poor meal of sludgy porridge one evening. "I need to tell you something."
Vengeance raised his head. His crimson hair hung down in front of his eyes, but I could tell he was looking at me. "You're going to try to escape, aren't you?" he asked.
I gaped at him. "How —?" I spluttered.
"Do you think I am so dumb that I have not noticed all of your actions these last days?" he snarled. "I am no beast. I know what you've been doing. Checking your stash in the corner, thinking and fretting for hours on end. And sometimes you mutter in your sleep; about the surface, about sunlight, about the Phoenix, the one you call Kris. I know what you've been planning with her."
I looked anxiously at the door to make sure no one was listening, but there was nobody in sight. "I have to," I told him. "If I stay here, I'll die. Jeremy Wayne will kill me."
"I know," Vengeance said in a low, bass rumble, "and I do not hold it against you." He did not move and I tried to peer past the curtain of red hair that shrouded his face to glimpse any emotion that might be hidden there, but as usual, he was impassive as the walls around us.
"But if I'm going to do this, I'm going to need your help," I began slowly. Then I hesitated. This was the most volatile and uncertain part of the entire scheme. Even if everything else worked perfectly, it would all be for naught if Vengeance didn't decide to help us. "I need to ask you a favor," I said.
"What is it?" growled Vengeance.
I took a deep breath. "You do know why Jeremy Wayne came here, don't you?"
"He wants you dead," said Vengeance.
I nodded. "And you know how he's going to do that?" I asked him.
There was a drawn-out pause, in which nothing could be heard but the slow dripping of water from the ceiling and the moaning of other men in nearby cells. Finally, Vengeance shook his mane back from his face and grated out a reply. "He's going to make me kill you."
"Yes," I said, "he's going to make us fight, and it would be ludicrous to think that I would stand any chance of defeating you."
Vengeance grunted. "So what do you want me to do?"
I crawled to the corner of the cell, to the small niche where I was keeping my supplies, and returned with a tiny vial of liquid.
"This is a large dose of sodium sulfide," I explained. "I need you to apply it to your claws before we fight. And when we're finally up there in the arena, I need you to stab me. I need you to stab me good. I need it to look lethal, maybe in the gut somewhere, but I need you not to kill me.
"Then the sodium sulfide will react with my blood to produce a toxin called hydrogen sulfide." I saw a glazed look of confusion cross Vengeance's eyes and decided to cut to the important bit. "Basically, that will put me into a state of suspended animation. Hopefully, the guards will think I'm dead and they'll drag me off to the morgue where I'll wake up a few hours later."
"So you want me to help you escape while I remain behind?" rasped Vengeance bluntly.
I ground to a halt, taken aback. I had anticipated this, but the way Vengeance had just laid it out made what I was doing suddenly seem very cruel. Still, it simply wasn't possible for Vengeance to come with us. We needed his help, and we could not accommodate him in our escape plans. I stared into the black pits of his eyes, even though the emptiness of them disturbed me.
"I'll come back for you, Vengeance," I said without dropping my gaze. "You've got to trust me. I'll come back and get you out of here."
And then I witnessed something that I never even could have imagined before, something that shocked me, horrified me, and moved me simultaneously. Vengeance cried. Two glass-like tears trickled from his inkblot eyes and slowly journeyed down his face. It was so human and so unexpected that I felt a sudden surge of pity and camaraderie for him.
Vengeance nodded. "You've been a good friend, Gavin Ryder. I will do this for you. Because I know you will come back."