I don't know how I managed to make it out of there. The whole thing passed in a haze of pain and endlessly twisting pipes. I crawled on behind Kris, knees scraping against the hard, unforgiving curve of the pipe. It was all I could do just to keep going, pulling myself along, meter by meter, through the darkness.
It was not a task for the claustrophobic. The pipe had narrowed; it was now just large enough to grant me passage, but it squeezed in on my shoulders and forced my head down. The space was too small for me to make my way on hands and knees; instead, I wriggled along on my elbows which were quickly rubbed raw by the slippery, uneven metal. There was no light and it seemed precious little air, though that may have more been due to my extreme fatigue and growing sense of panic. The worst part, however, was when we were forced to climb.
We had been traveling along for a good deal longer than I was able to keep track of, when the pipe made a sharp twist upward, straight up for at least ten meters. Kris went first, bracing her feet and shoulders against opposite sides of the pipe and slowly working her way up. I waited at the bottom until she lowered the rope down. Then I clenched it tightly with both hands and started the long ascent.
It was an excruciating climb. Every nerve in my body seemed to scream out in pain as I battled for each meter of height. And all the time, I worried that should I fall or stop, I might never be able to make it.
Many grueling minutes later, I dragged myself to the top and collapsed, my whole body trembling and nearly utterly spent. Possibly, I blacked out for a second, but it was difficult to tell, because there was nothing to see to begin with. The next thing I was aware of, however, was Kris gripping my arm tightly and urging me on with quiet but resolute words.
"We can't stop, Gavin," she was saying. "We have to keep going. We're almost there."
I shook my head feebly. It was over. I couldn't do it. I simply had nothing left to give. A spasm shook me and I collapsed face-down once again, my cheek resting against the cold, wet pipe.
Kris was shaking me. Her voice was quavering as she spoke. I wondered if she was crying.
"Gavin, we're almost there, I promise. Please, just try for a little more."
I didn't move.
"Dammit, Gavin!" said Kris suddenly. "I didn't go through all of this to have you up and die on me. You didn't go through all of this just to give up and slowly rot in this blasted pipe. You are going to get out of here if I have to drag you out myself. Don't make me have to do that."
Kris grabbed my hand and started to pull. I groaned. I raised myself to my elbows and began inching my way forward once more. I was probably going to die, but Kris was going to make sure that I at least died trying.
Each meter I struggled forward was a test of my willpower and endurance. Each time I moved, a burning wave of pain washed over me and I fought hard to hold on to consciousness.
"Kris," I panted as I crawled along.
"I need you to promise me something."
"If I die, I need you to cut off my hand with the cutting torch and take it with you."
"You need me to what?" Kris sounded alarmed and repulsed.
"Just do it," I ordered tersely.
"You're not going to die," Kris reassured me.
"Kris, I'm surprised I haven't already. I —"
"You're not going to die," said Kris flatly.
"How do you know?" I asked, slightly annoyed and in so much pain that I felt it was only a matter of minutes before I proved her wrong.
"Because we're there," said Kris and the note of relief in her voice traveled to me and instantly spread hope through my whole being. "Close your eyes," she added.
I did so and soon heard the hiss of the cutting torch followed by the harsh smell of burning metal. As soon as the sound stopped, I felt Kris touch me on the shoulder and I opened my eyes.
It was still pitch black, but I immediately sensed that there was something different about the air. It was cooler, less stale, and I could feel the presence of a larger space ahead of me. I became aware of a disgusting odor, the stench of decaying waste mixed with chemicals. We had reached the municipal sewers, a place I had never once before desired to be, but which now felt like paradise. It was going to be alright. We were safe.
Ahead of me, I heard Kris scramble out of the close confines of the pipe, and I dragged myself out after her. I sank waste deep into a pool of gently moving, putrid-smelling water. Kris took my hand and together we waded across to the water's edge and heaved ourselves up onto the concrete ledge that ran alongside the wall. I sagged exhaustedly against the wall and couldn't help smiling despite the incredible pain I was in.
"We made it," exclaimed Kris as she dropped down beside me. There was triumph bordering on elation in her in her voice. "We made it, Gavin, we did it!"
Then Kris did something that managed to surprise me in spite of the fog of pain and utter weariness that I was in. She threw her arms around my shoulders and kissed me on the cheek.
"I'm going to see the sun again," Kris laughed. "Maybe I'll go back to Scarabine again. Who knows? I'm free. We're free."
Kris kissed me again and then got to her feet. "You stay here," she said to me. "I'm going to find the way up onto the street and then we'll get out of here. I shouldn't be more than a moment."
Her footsteps moved away along the ledge to my right. It was hard to tell over the noise of trickling water, but she seemed to be humming to herself. I closed my eyes and tried to put a name to the emotions I was experiencing. Relief? Accomplishment? No, it was more the feeling that for once, things were going to be alright.
Of course things weren't going to be alright. But for those few moments as I sat in the dark and stinking Underurb sewers, I felt as though they might be. And that was something.