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Sequel: Storms in Utopia

Martyr's Run

Level Five


Sprinting quickly up the staircase, I found myself facing another blank, faceless path. So far, I had encountered few traps, although, unfortunately, that also probably meant that I was pretty far away from the exit. Normally the traps became more severe the closer a contestant got to the way out, simply to reduce their chances of success.

Was Simeon in here? I had to assume that he was, although that made my task even harder. Now, I not only had to get out but I had to find him as well.

But this was Martyr’s Run. And only one of us would make it out.

Mostly, the Dreamers tried to fight each other when they came face to face, desperation infecting them and making them insane. But there were always the ones that, to me, were the bravest of all; the ones who teamed up against the odds, making their way to the exit together. After all, it meant that they were twice as likely to succeed. There were twice as many eyes to look out for obstacles and hands to fight their way out of the traps.

But those Runs never ended well. There could only be one winner. And there were no exceptions. Whatever courage and comradeship the Dreamers showed, one of them would still be condemned.

And that was if either of them found the way out. Sometimes, both of them were condemned anyway; the Run did not give up its secrets lightly.

I had no idea of the time; the only indication I would have was that, when I had half an hour left, I would be notified by a computer’s voice being played over some kind of comms system. Then I would be notified when I had ten minutes left, and then again when I had five minutes. Once I got down to one minute remaining, the computer would begin a countdown from sixty seconds to zero.

I just had to hope that I would make it out before I heard that.

Rounding a corner, I found another staircase and ran up. I could tell immediately that I was on the top floor—the ceiling stretched high above me; a great, glass, dome-like roof, with lots of separate panels in it, each one a bright light. But there were no more floors above the one that I was currently on, and that at least gave me some idea of my surroundings. Ever since leaving the glass doors, I had been completely disorientated.

How many floors was that? I seemed to remember going up four flights of stairs, so that made five floors in total. But then, there had been a time when I’d gone down, and there were always the weird ‘half levels,’ which were just shorter flights of stairs leading to extra, partially hidden floors, normally serving no other purpose than to confuse the contestant. I had come across one of these earlier so, in reality, it was hard to tell quite how many floors I’d gone up.

The top floor was different to all the others. Aside from the fact that the ceiling was about three times higher than it was on all the other floors, it also seemed more open.

But openness normally just meant a whole new kind of trap.

I walked past a couple of walls, which were more like great, white blocks in the middle of this large room, and came face to face with a bridge. The bridge was narrow and had no railings alongside it, and on either side, the floor dropped away for two storeys, so that I was looking down into level three of the Run.

In other words, if I fell, it was a long way down.

Bridges were almost always traps but, because of this obviousness, there usually weren’t many ways round them, and it almost certainly meant that the way out was, ultimately, on the far side of the bridge.

So I was going to have to cross.

I remembered once being told that the Run, as well as testing you to your physical limits, liked to play with your mind just as much. Whatever injuries a person sustained inside the Maze could be easily healed—the thing wasn’t built to kill us—but no one ever came out without some considerable mental scars.

The soldiers guarding the compound had seen me on top of the wall earlier, hesitant to jump down even when faced with great danger.

Therefore, they must have decided, at the last moment, to add in a bridge.

I had seen bridges in Martyr’s Run before, but only rarely, and normally they triggered other traps. This one, though, was simply a bridge. It was narrow, it had no railings, the grating in the floor was partially see-through, and it was a long way down.

The bridge was my first real test.

Taking one step onto it, nothing happened. Even after coming to the revelation that it was here to scare me, I still half expected the grating to give way beneath my foot, or for a bomb to go off behind me.

But nothing happened. So, taking a deep breath and holding my head up artificially high, I took another step, and another. I was a scientist. I would not give in to silly, irrational fears. I didn’t like bridges—it was more specific than just a fear of heights; more like a fear of falling, but I wasn’t going to give in to them. Giving in meant that they could control me.

And then I heard a gargantuan crash.

Whipping round, I almost lost my balance and cried out loud in shock, but there was nothing there.

They were playing with my mind. That was all they were doing. Fucking psychology.

As I turned to walk again, there was another crash behind me, making the whole floor shudder and sending shivers up my spine. Something was causing that noise: something big and heavy and imposing that I really didn't want to come into contact with. Turning again, there was still nothing there. Breaking into a faster run, I was forced to look down at the grating beneath my feet and the nothingness below it, so I didn’t fall off the side.

And then there was another crash.

There was nothing for it.

I charged across the bridge, blood pounding in fear, my mind spinning so quickly I could barely think. I was two steps from the far side when my shoe caught on the edge of one of the panels and I collapsed forward, gripping onto the side of the bridge so that I didn’t roll off, and I had to pull myself the full way.

Getting back onto safe ground and using the wall to help me to my feet, I was initially relieved that I had made it. Pausing for a moment to get my breath back, I was suddenly overcome with an urgent need to cough. It didn’t seem like anything unusual at first, but once I started, I just couldn’t stop. That alone would still not be overly worrying, but after a moment, I began to feel dizzy and light-headed. The world started spinning slowly around me, and I staggered to the side, back towards the bridge, almost falling off the ledge and into the floor below.

This was wrong.


I could hear it now; filters opening up in the thick walls, pouring gas into the giant chamber. I didn’t know what kind, and I didn’t want to stay around to find out.

It was obvious before I had even really considered it that they were forcing me back across the bridge; pushing me backwards by using toxic gas. Evidently, my irrational fear was good entertainment.

Back into the random crashing sounds.

‘Fuck you!’ I snapped, staring up at the glass ceiling above me. I doubted there was sky beyond that roof at all; the whole thing was just one giant, white light.

The spinning grew faster now, and I forced myself back onto the bridge, losing my balance. In the end I was forced to crawl for fear of falling off the sides. Spluttering and coughing, my limbs shaking almost uncontrollably, I practically dragged myself across the bridge.

Which suddenly lurched to the side.

Was that my dizzy mind, or were they actually tilting the bridge? I couldn’t tell. I held on tightly as the room continued to spin and blur, and then I was violently lurched to the other side. And yet, my legs didn’t seem to really move. I was holding on for dear life, but I was in no apparent danger of falling off.

This was proof of the true dangers of Martyr’s Run. Once inside, it got inside your head.

The lights flickered above me...or was that just me closing my eyes? Then they went again, flashing—bright, dark, bright again. They wouldn’t stay still. The room was spinning. I was coughing and spluttering and losing my balance and still positioned precariously in the middle of a narrow bridge, able to fall off at any moment, and I had less and less of an idea what was real and what was in my head.

I closed my eyes, and when I opened them again, the room seemed darker. Not dark completely, but darker. When I shut them again, all the lights suddenly went out, plunging me into a blackness so intense I could not tell whether my eyes were open or closed. After a moment, they all burst back on again, so bright that I was forced to squint, and in desperation, I threw myself across the remaining distance of the bridge, colliding with the far wall as the lights all popped out again. The crashing sound started up again, and I had to hope that the sound was as harmless as I had initially assumed. As the worst of my coughing and spinning passed, the lights shot back on, and seemed to remain stationary for a while.

Regaining enough strength, I bolted for the stairs leading back down. I was only a few metres away, though, when a grating slid into place on top of them. The lights flickered off and then back on again like a lightning storm in reverse, and when they came back on, another grating had opened close to me. Leaping at it, I just about threw myself down the stairs, which suddenly gave way beneath me, becoming one great, smooth slide, so that I hurtled down head-first, confused and out of control, and was finally deposited, hurt and shaking and coughing and swearing, at the bottom; back on the relative safety of the fourth level.

I was not going back up to that top floor if my life depended on it.
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