I leaned forward out of exhaustion. My hands fell to my knees. Heavy breaths anxiously pushed their way in and out in an effort to refill the depleted oxygen.
“How long have I been in this black hole? The mud and the stench is sickening.” The answer came to me easily. I was the one who didn’t quit. Revenge pushed me on. I was the one who kept searching for a way out. She would pay. I was the one who couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Now here I was, leading three strangers into an opportunity to leave the pitiful pit of losers.
Three more runners fell in behind me. Not enough light to see them clearly. Nothing to see anyway. Dark black dirt and grime made sameness out of everything. “Don’t make us get stuck in here again. Keep your lazy butt moving.”
No need to answer that. Energy surged and I sprinted off. The three foot wide maze of paths zigzagged through and over the deep pit. No guard rails. No markers. Just floating ribbons of color in a dark, deep pit of blandness.
No hesitations. No slowing. I knew the way. Only I knew the way. No sun. no moon. no stars. no day. no night. Nothing to mark the way. nothing. only the same glowing moss on the same slimy walls. Only I knew the way.
Unwanted memories appeared from whenever yesterday was. Memories of darkened features from three strangers listening to me talking to myself, of guards appearing from no where with food, of me smiling because I found a way to follow the guards back out.
I felt hot breath behind me. “Don’t even think about leading us in the wrong direction.
You’d be stuck in here with us and that would be less then pleasant for all concerned. Catch my drift?”
Sweat streaked gunk threatened to blur my vision. Lungs burned. Muscles ached. We had to beat the guards to the hidden crevice in the wall. I felt like complaining, but no one cared. No one would listen. No one ever did. I was all alone and I knew it. The judge was right.
I nailed every turn. Climbed every hill. I didn’t look into the dark pit just a breath away.
They struggled to keep up. They didn’t complain.
I ran over a roof that no one was allowed on. A shortcut. I listened to the guards playing some game that I didn’t know. No one ever came here except the changing of the guards. At least their noise covered our running.
I didn’t care if the three could keep up or not, but they did. They followed without question. They followed the bouncing moss that I glued to my back.
An alarm sounded. Loud and shrill and piercing. I freed some air for speech. “Not from us. Guards are getting ready to change. Need to move faster.”
The path turned sharply up. Feet started slipping on the wet mud. Hands dug and clawed for every inch. No one spoke. No one grunted or grimaced. They just followed.
Suddenly I heard guards coming from up ahead. Without a word, I flatted my blackened mass against the dank walls of the crevice that I’d found.
Three masses behind me heard what I had heard. Wordlessly, they followed and rammed hard into me.
It took all the strength I had left to keep from the pleasurable task of spitting up bile into their faces. Instead, I sucked air in through clenched teeth and hissed. “Shut up and don’t move you pieces of …”
No one moved.
Boots thudded close by. Pleasant thoughts came sailing in. “Why don’t I just shove these idiots into those guards. Naw, they’re not worth the energy. I might as well wait.”
Sometimes twenty seconds takes years to pass by. I was astatic when the sounds thudded away and disappeared. I pushed my way out and finished the last of the climb.
We sprinted past the cave dwellings that the guards used. They were empty as the guards were swapping out. Then, we sprinted to the mouth of the cave where we were once again forced to stop in a dark corner.
I whispered to no one in particular. “Is someone telling campfire stories out there? I stopped doing that when I was a kid. This is weird. We’ll have to wait.”
The baritone voice boomed through the cave.
“The golden sun is laying low to push his way through thick laid leaves.
He has a job that he must do to find a gap right through the trees.
And brackish clouds do fight the sun and coax the winds to fly them close.
The canopy does shake in mirth and fills the gaps with shocks of greens
that dance and sing like floating rainbows gliding down to pine needle streams. ”
“The birds do sing to see such sport and taunt and tease the poor old sun.
And giant parrots of red and gold do spread their wings to help the fun.
But still the clouds do hover near and threaten all to make them fear.
The foxes and bears and cougars and deer wander the floor with quite good cheer.
And fish and foul do swim and sing because they know their friends are near.”
“Surrounding the forests where tech is banned are crystal towers amazing and grand.
Some spires are tall and others are short. They look like a forest created by man.
The Northern Jewel, or so it’s called, stands tall and proud and draws a crowd.
The crystal walls are filled with water that drink up energy from the sun.
And once the water has had its fill, it shares its bounty with the tech it runs.”
“The cities have tech and beauty and sport and creates a world where all can thrive.
Social Media is king, or so its told, connects the people and keeps them alive.
The Visual Entertainment Consortium amazes the eyes and excites the minds.
Now don’t forget The Gaming Academies where sport runs wild and plays for days.
With sports and games and visual candy the city creates a world of play.”
“Yet with the world that cities create, a group of people its tech do hate.
They claimed the forest to live their lives with cunning and strength to make their fate.
Still hate is hate and it came here where some do cheat and steal and kill.
So knights were born to keep the peace and squires were there to train as knights.
One such squire named Wayland Jackson was forced from the cities to guard the trees.”
“Alone and tired he wages a war against the tide of foul events.
He digs the trenches and builds the walls and notches the arrows and plans what’s next.”
“Speaking of, what do we have here? Hiding in the shadows are we? No time for games now lad!” Sir Reginald, a large man with a large red mustache and full battle armor, stood before us.
The three rogues bolted out of the cave and into the forest.
Sir Reginald watched the rogues run and laughed deeply. “Well done squire! It didn’t take you nearly as long as we planned to flush Lady Isobel’s assassin out of the catacombs. The wiry witch grabbed one of our horses. She only just left. After her man, we’ll take care of the other three rogues.”
My stunned expression was met with a large clap on the back. “Well done squire, but no time to celebrate now. There’s your charger. Your knife and pouch and water are next to her. After that assassin! Move it man!”
Sir Reginald along with a group of knights and squires took to their horses and made after the other three bandits. Sir Reginald was singing.
“When courage is shown we yell and cheer
and beat our chests for a job well done.
Yet that’s the end where courage is seen,
it’s not the place where it begins.”
I watched him go. “Those bandits don’t have a chance with Sir What’s his name. Well, I might as well have have some fun with this. Let’s go see who I’m after.”
“Hi ho Silver, away!” I kicked my horse into a gallop and off I shot to chase some assassin galloping down some trail in a place I’d never even heard of. What could possibly go wrong?