203. Path of Most Resistance

Anyone who ever enjoyed playing D&D or an RPG loves the idea of exploring an underground labyrinth with a party. Monsters, traps, loot… it’s all very entertaining. Because it’s pretend.

The real life version, not so much. 

Dungeons in games are designed in the players’ favour. The DM wants you to win. Dungeons in real life are not. The DM wants you to die. And you never get any loot. I should have had a magic ring for every finger and one for my cock the number of times I’d escaped death. Pro-tip: always roll need on a magic cock ring. 

The wall of spikes headed our way slid towards us without ripping up the floor or carving grooves into the walls on either side. Its homicidal journey was accompanied by a scraping, but it seemed to be coming from below it. Perhaps it was rolling forward on casters. In any case, it had been well constructed to do its job.

Not that I had time to admire the beautiful craftsmanship as I ran in the opposite direction. I was in the lead with the others behind me, even though I’d been closer to the death-wall than both Flossie and Marv. But now I was the furthest from the wall. While everyone else stood around gawping, I was already on the move. No hesitation, no round-table discussion and a vote. Leaders made quick decisions and acted on them. This was why I was a born leader, I always led the retreat from the front.

We had a fairly big head start, but the passage we were in was very long without side-passages to duck into. The torches on the wall were few and far between, offering minimal lighting. I created a glowing ball and sent it flying ahead of me. There seemed to be an intersecting passageway in the distance. I’d have to hope I could get there before the wall got to me, and hope it didn’t know how to turn corners.

The others were gaining, which only spurred me on to go faster. Not because I’m competitive, but because if the wall caught up, having a buffer might make it less painful being impaled, like getting stabbed by a knife embedded in a cork.

Of course, Flossie was bound to be last, but there wasn’t anything I could do about that. Nyx did have the shortest legs, but he looked the type who could get his scurry on. That might be racist, but I could hear the unmistakable scrabble of his feet right behind me, so I guess some stereotypes are just true.

Part of me was pleased Flossie would be at the back running with sharp points pricking her in the rear. She deserved it after dropping me in this mess. Which didn’t mean I wanted her to get killed or hurt, but it’s hard not to enjoy the self-righteous buzz when someone is punished for their crimes. And she’d really pissed me off, which was a major felony in my book.

Not that I had much say in the matter at the moment. If this was to be her swansong, she’d brought it on herself and I was in no position to help, which was just as well. If I’d had the option, I was in no mood to lessen my chances in order to increase hers.

I didn’t think she’d been turned into a kebab yet as there would have been some kind of squealing, similar to a kitten being punched in the face, and so far there was just panting, scraping and rapid footsteps.

My ball of light had stopped and was floating upwards. I had to mentally grab it to stop it drifting away to the top of the cavern. There was a wall ahead of us and passageways leading left and right. There was something odd about the wall my light had hit and was now illuminating. It had numerous slits in it. Took me a few seconds to realise they were for the spikes to slot into.

Fortunately, I made it to the turning without being stabbed in the back. Not by the spikes, anyway. I was starting to tire and was breathing hard as I took a sharp left. The passage continued into darkness. I turned around. The right passage did the same. Which was the right way? It didn’t matter, I was just glad to be out of the line of fire.

I assumed they could have made the spikes travel as fast as they wanted, and the fact they didn’t speed up was because this was just a warm up and a taster for what was to come. 

Nyx came scurrying around the corner next. I don’t keep saying that because he was a rat, he just scurried a lot. Marv was next, barely able to stand and gasping loudly. Her training could have used a little less time in the lab mixing potions and a little more on the monkey bars. 

I poked my head around the corner to see how close Flossie was to being shished, and was surprised to see her on the spikes. 

I don’t mean impaled, hanging limp with bloodied points sticking out of her, I mean she hadn’t bothered running from the deadly blades, she’d turned around and jumped aboard. Somehow, she’d inserted herself between the gaps and was sitting astride on of the spears, riding the wall like one of her dragons.

Two things occurred to me. One, if she’d figured out a way to not have to run like a madman, why not mention it to the rest of us? And secondly, how was she planning on getting off before being slammed into the wall fast-approaching.

She did look a little wide-eyed and terrified, but that was pretty normal for her. Her arms were wound tightly around the shafts of the spears she was entangled around, and she didn’t look like she was going to let go anytime soon.

“You have to jump off before you hit the end wall,” I told her, in case she hadn’t figured it out. 

She shook her head. “Ah can’t.”

“Why not?” Her ride was about to reach its final destination, and so was she.

“Ah’m scared. Ah’ll fall.”

The spikes were moving at a reasonably fast pace, but hardly supersonic speed. If she jumped off, even if she stumbled she’d have time to get up and dive around the corner. Probably.

“Just jump, for God’s sake. Now!”

She shook head again. More afraid of scraping her knee than being turned into a colander. She began whimpering. The two walls were about to meet. Flossie would be flattened, pierced, squeezed and pulped. Flossie juice, never from concentrate.

One arm reached out as she tried to move across the face of the spikes but she ended up hanging on even tighter to what she already had, even though it was going to get her killed. As she reached where I was, I took her outstretched hand, pulled it towards me, grabbed the top of her hair, and yanked her off the spikes. 

She was still doing her best to hold onto death’s invitation, but the hair-pulling was too much for her to stay focused on being a fucking idiot. She screamed and let go, falling to the floor next to me as the spikes slammed into the wall with a resounding crash. Dust flew up as the block of stone behind the spikes filled up the passage, cutting us off.

“Yo’ didn’t have to pull mah hair?” Flossie sat on the ground rubbing the top of her head.

I brushed off the hairs tangled around my fingers. “You would have preferred if I’d let you turn into orange squash, would you?” She was right, I didn’t have to pull her hair, I just wanted to. I still saved her, which no doubt I would later regret.

“It’s not orange,” mumbled Flossie to herself.

There was the sound of a trumpet, high pitched and melodic, coming from somewhere behind us. It was answered by a similar peal from the other side of the cavern. 

“What was that?” I asked no one in particular.

“It means the other teams have entered the maze,” said Flossie. She got to her feet and faced the stone wall now cutting off that direction. “Yo’ should have gone the other way. Kaceyton said right at the end of the long passage.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Did I fuck up? Perhaps you could have shouted out directions when you were on your merry-go-ride. ‘Hang a right!’  You know, like that.”

Flossie screwed up her face. “Ah didn’t have time.”

“Too busy being a fuckwit? No worries, it can happen to the worst of us.”

“We need to go that way.” She pointed at the wall which was smooth and at least three or four metres high.

“We can’t go that way. We’d need a ladder or a rope with one of those claws on the end. Did you bring one? Of course, then we’d need two weeks to learn how to climb a rope.” Sarcasm aside, that part was true. Rope-climbing is bloody hard. 

“But Ah don’t know what’s down this way. We’ll be lost.”

I sat down with my back to the wall. The place was full of traps, probably far worse than this one, and the next step into the unknown could be my last. 

“What are yo’ doing?” said Flossie. “We have to move before they find us.” Marv and Nyx were standing either side of her.

I arrived in this world and was immediately lumbered with the worst team in the history of teams, and that includes Aston Villa. And yet somehow I’d managed to find myself in possession of an even worse collection of losers. My magic might not have improved much but my shit-magnet ability was growing exponentially. 

“I’m going to stay here and wait until they find me. Despite what you might think, Flossie, quicker isn’t always better.”

“Yo’ can’t stay here.” Flossie was getting quite worked up, hopping from foot to foot like she needed to go to the bathroom. Where did you relieve yourself in one of these places?

“I can stay where I like. I’ve had just enough of—” Something felt cold under me, like I was sitting in a wet patch. I’d forgotten about Marv’s contribution to all this. I gave her a hard look with as much disgust as I could muster, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask her what exactly she’d done to me.

“Yo’ don’t understand.” Flossie was flapping her hands now. “They all know how to get through the maze. It’s not about finding your way, the idea is to stop the other team by forcing them into one of the traps. Yo’ have to kill the others to win.”

Great. Would have been nice if someone had mentioned this. I mean, I was just the judge. No need for anyone to tell me the rules.

“I’ll just explain I’m not playing. They won’t bother trying to kill me if I surrender. If at first you don’t succeed, give up. That’s my motto.”

Flossie was jumping up and down by this point. “No, no, no. Kacey said once the contest starts, there’s no takebacks. They take it very seriously and won’t listen. Do or die, she said.”

That’s what Raviva had said, too. I didn’t think Flossie was trying to trick me, I believed her when she said the trolls weren’t going to listen. They’d probably assume it was a trick to gain an advantage. Gamesmanship. But it wasn’t like we had a better option.

“If Kaceyton was kind enough to tell you all this,” I said, “why didn’t she come, too, and show you the way?” I might have actually gone along with the plan if they’d brought a troll guide. Even a female one. That’s not sexist, I’m saying I would want a female to join us. Oh, it’s the word ‘even’ you object to? Well, that’s because you don’t understand how postmodern feminism works. No one does.

“She’s mah friend but she’s still a troll. She can’t help us directly. But if we followed the right wall it would lead us to a statue of a giant troll. And from there, we follow the left wall to the exit. Maybe we can still find the statue.”

So, if we randomly stumbled onto this statue without getting killed by the labyrinth or by the trolls or by the other creatures in here, we’d be home free. Seemed like a plan. A very bad one.

The ground began shaking. Ah yes, silly me, I’d forgotten the earthquakes and lava eruptions. My bad.

It was a short tremor that didn’t knock any walls over, but I got up anyway. If a large rock was about to fall from the cavern roof, I wanted to at least have the option of positioning myself directly under it. A quick death is its own reward.

“If I can’t trust you, Flossie and I can’t rely on you, what’s the point?” To be honest, I never really trusted or relied on Flossie. Whether that was due to her intentionally fucking with me or just down to her standard incompetence didn’t really make much of a difference. I was just annoyed. “I’ve had all I can take of stupid people thinking their ideas are better than mine. I don’t mind you doing what you think you need to do, but forcing me to join you in your stupidity isn’t on. I don’t want anything to do with you or whatever cockamamie plan you think up. It’s depressing enough having to deal with arseholes out there, I don’t need one standing right behind me ready to stab me in the back—or anywhere else.” I gave Marv a dirty look. 

“Ah’m sorry,” wailed Flossie. “Ah know you’re upset. Ah won’t do anything like that again, Ah promise.”

“I’m not upset, I’m disappointed. In myself, mostly. I encouraged you to think for yourself and this is what it got me, so lesson learned. And despite what you might have heard, misery does not love company, so fuck off.”

Flossie’s face fell. Her lips trembled a bit. Then she slowly turned around and started walking away. Marv and Nyx looked from her to me and back again.

“I could—” began Marv.

“No,” said Flossie, turning just enough to look at Marv but not me. “Ah know he won’t change his mind, not when he’s right.” She carried on and they walked after her. 

I was surprised she had such a hold over the other two, they seemed to accept her as the one in charge. I didn’t know how she’d managed that but I recognised what she was going through. She was finding herself, working out how to make decisions and do what she thought was best. It’s a dangerous time to be around someone as they’re likely to make a lot of mistakes as they fumble their way through the process. If they survive, they become much stronger. If they don’t, they get deaded, and if you’re in the vicinity, you get deaded, too.

Well, good luck to her and good riddance, although since we were in a long, straight passage, I ended up following them, hoping there was a turning soon so I could take a different direction. Which I did, although the direction ended up being straight down. 

Another tremor hit, a big one, and the ground beneath me split open. I fell through, sliding down the sheared earth into darkness. I seemed to be falling for a very long time, the air getting hotter, making it harder to breathe. I skidded and bounced and then my feet hit something and I pitched forward. My hands instinctively shot out and grabbed something hard and smooth

When the shaking stopped, I made a light and looked around. It was sweltering hot and steam, maybe smoke, made it hard to see very far. I was in a cave, quite a big one as far as I could tell,  and the object I’d grabbed onto was a greenish ball that came up to my waist. No, it was more egg-shaped, probably because it was an egg. All around me there were more eggs. I didn’t want to be here when they hatched. And I definitely didn’t want to bump into the mother.

There was a rumbling moan followed by a hiss. And then a massive silhouette rose in the mist and let out a piercing shriek that filled the chamber.

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