‹ Prequel: Hurricane Heart
Sequel: Storms in Utopia

Martyr's Run



Level four was almost as bad as level five. After the lights having gone out, I was jumping at every movement, every shadow, everything that wasn’t a plain white wall. I was even jumping at myself, as ridiculous as it sounded—the sight of my shoelace flapping about was enough to make me think there was some rope shooting out from the wall and wrapping around my ankle to trap me. It was awful.

Every few moments, there was another bang or crash, or the sound of footsteps. The lights were flickering more and more often now; I hadn’t even seen anything like this happen until I made it to level four, but it seemed that the entire floor was a trap. This was not like the lower levels where, once you moved to the next pathway, the obstacle stopped. This was a constant bombardment of fear and chaos and deadly traps and total confusion. I had lost all sense of direction long ago, and every time I thought I had found it, something would happen to confuse me. All I could do was keep running alongside Simeon and hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

Without warning, a set of large spikes shot out of the ground, flipping up from one of the metal gratings. I didn’t see them until I tripped over them, crashing face first to the ground, one of them shooting straight through my trouser leg and into my flesh.

I screamed in agony as I fell into the spike, which must have been several inches long. Simeon stopped up ahead, turning and running back towards me. Helping me to my feet, he could see I was wounded. Hot, wet blood ran down my leg, and a dark patch was beginning to form on my trousers just below my knee. The first few droplets made it onto my white shoe, and I staggered backwards, watching my own lifeblood dribble out the bottom of my trousers and down the side of my foot, leaning against the wall for support.

‘Shit, Jake,’ Simeon said, his eyebrows creased in a frown. In all the time we’d been together in here, the only useful object we’d picked up was a knife. The Run usually contained medical equipment—basic, but often essential, but I hadn’t seen any so far.

‘Go,’ I batted Simeon away as he tried to roll up my trouser leg. ‘I’ll follow in a moment.’

‘No you won’t.’ He sounded dangerous. ‘If I go, we won’t find each other again.’

‘Sim, I’ll slow you down!’ I cried. ‘One of us has got to get out of this thing.’ Once again, I was reminded, with a stab of pain, that one of us was already forsaken. Whatever happened, one of us was going to be facing the Operation. The only power we had now was to make sure that it wasn’t both of us; that one of us made it to the exit in time.

‘Come on.’ Simeon was adamant. He grabbed me by the arm and heaved me back to my feet. Pressing the material of my trouser against my leg, I only succeeded in soaking more blood into the sodden material.

Together we ran on, slower this time. I was limping, the pain searing through the deep hole in my leg every time I took a step.

We rounded a corner and, just up ahead, I could see a metal clamp jutting out of the wall. A metal clamp which contained some kind of useful item.

Simeon hurried on ahead. When he was closer to it, he looked round at me with excitement.

‘It’s a first aid kit!’

My initial thought was of excitement and relief, but as he charged towards it, I realised that this was no coincidence. The game controllers had seen me get injured. They knew what I needed. And they had provided it, tantalisingly close.

This was a reward we were going to pay the price for.

Sim—‘ I began, but it was already too late.

His hands had just about clasped around the small box in the metal clamp when a dark coloured gas sprayed out of a vent in the wall, straight into his face.

He screamed like no scream I had ever heard before, staggering backwards into the wall on the far side of the path. He collapsed against it, sinking down to the ground, gagging on his insides, retching violently, but with nothing coming up. At the same time, he clutched his hands to his face, rolling from side to side.

‘Simeon!’ I cried, limping towards him as hastily as I could go, ignoring the pain in my left shin. There had only been a short squirt of gas, but it had practically engulfed him, and now lingered in the air, drifting about despite the lack of breeze.

As I practically fell down on the floor next to him, he writhed about, emitting strangled, tortured cries. Only as I leant over him and examined his face and his hand did I realise what was happening. I did not know what the gas was, but it clung to his skin like napalm and was burning through it like acid. Already his clothes were ragged and full of holes as the gas tore its way through, and it was eating away at his skin in the same way as fire would eat away at paper. He rolled from side to side, clutching his red, burnt hands to his face, screaming in the pain.

‘It’s alright, Sim,’ I said, suddenly terrified. Grabbing him by his side, I rolled him towards me, getting him out of the disgusting cloud of gas, which was beginning to make me retch, and was tugging at my skin, hot and burning, but not quite melting its way through as it had done to Simeon. The worst of it was now beginning to drift into air vents in the ceiling, but some still lingered in the air, and some still clung to the walls and to Simeon’s body, so I had to drag him out of it.

I moved him a few feet away before lurching back for the first aid box, which was still in the clamp. Practically collapsing down beside Simeon, pulling the box open, I saw two things that I had never been so happy to see. The first was bandages, but they could wait for a moment. The second was a bottle. Without hesitation, I unscrewed the lid and emptied it onto Simeon, who was still crying out.

The moment the water splashed onto his face, he let out a long, gasping sound, and seemed to stop rolling. The water was finished up too soon, but it seemed that it had gotten rid of the gas, and hopefully some of the pain too. Simeon was gazing blankly up into my eyes, cautiously removing his hands from his face.

His hands had come out the worst, probably as they had been right in front of the vent when they had been stretched out to take the box out of the clamp. There were also red, raw patches on his face and neck, and a few that had burned right through his clothes, despite the fact that they were supposed to be made of a durable material, and had begun to melt away flesh on his arms, legs and chest.

Simeon began gagging again, retching up his insides, leaning over and spluttering onto the floor. I felt like I needed to cough too, having been caught up in the remnants of the toxic gas, but I knew that once I started, I would not be able to stop.

Realising that we were on a time limit, I let Simeon cough the poison out of his system—it was the only way to get rid of it—and I turned to my own injury, rolling up my trouser leg and swiftly and expertly applying the bandages, using the remaining ones to wipe away the blood. I wasn’t too fussy about it; there was a great red smear right down my leg, and I didn’t even bother to wipe at the stuff on my shoe or on my clothes, but it was better than it had been before.

Nevertheless, I had lost a lot of blood, and it was beginning to worry me. If I fell unconscious, I was as good as condemned. I wouldn’t have enough time to go to sleep and then wake up and find the exit. Even though the world was spinning slowly around me; a combination of toxic gas fumes and blood loss, I was determined not to let the darkness pull me under.

‘Fuck,’ Simeon was moaning, rubbing at his cheek, and then at a patch on his forearm where the acidic gas had melted right through his shirt and several layers of his skin like there was nothing in its way at all. ‘It hurts.’

‘I know,’ I said, trying to be sympathetic. I choked on my words, gagging violently as I had needed to do ever since I entered the gas. I coughed straight out for a good thirty seconds, before the tickle in the back of my throat finally subsided a little, and I was able to speak again, even if it was a little raspy. ‘But we need to go.’

‘Yeah,’ he said, holding onto the wall and trying to get to his feet. I could see him shaking, and he was blowing on patches on his arms and his hands, rubbing at the places where he couldn’t reach. ‘You haven’t got any more water have you?’

I shook my head apologetically. ‘No. That’s all they gave me.’

He offered out his arm towards me. ‘Need a hand?’ I took it gratefully, hoisting myself to my feet where I staggered uncertainly, coughing loudly again and holding a hand to my head.

‘Come on,’ I said, unsure whether it was me or him who needed more support, ‘we need to get going.’ Simeon was still clearly in pain, frantically trying to put the hot patches of his semi-melted skin onto any cool surface. In desperation, he held the back of his hand against the cold wall, gasping in relief as it met the cool surface. As he took a step, he cried out in pain as the tender patches of skin rubbed against the material of his trousers.

‘Shit!’ he cried out, doubling over and rubbing at the patch of raw, red skin near his right knee that was visible through a hole in his trousers.

I shook my head despairingly. ‘This isn’t good.’ I didn’t want to admit it; I didn’t want to acknowledge for one second that Martyr’s Run and the bastards who controlled it might have beaten us, but it was undeniable. Simeon and I were collectively reduced to a crawling pace as we pressed on diligently through the endless pathways. The traps seemed to relent for a while, but that probably just meant that we were going the wrong way. Everything looked the same. I couldn’t tell whether we were simply wandering in circles, or whether we were actually making some kind of progress. The Maze was endless. How were we ever going to find a way out?

Just when I was truly beginning to despair, and Simeon was forced to sink down against the cool surface of the wall for a moment and take a brief rest, I rounded a corner and saw a staircase leading upwards.

Level five. The top level. I had already been up there once today, but I had been forced back down again after barely five minutes. The way out had to be up there. It just had to. The traps were growing more intense with every level we went up, and level five was, by far, the worst that I had seen.

‘Come on, Sim,’ I murmured, drowsy and confused and disorientated. I was only too ready to give myself over to sleep and rest; an escape from the horrors of the Run, but if I did that, I was worse than dead. I wouldn’t give the government the satisfaction of watching me give up.

‘What?’ He half opened his eyes, which were almost disturbingly vacant.

‘The stairs are just up ahead. We’re going up to level five. The top level.’

I knew as I said it that we were about to ascend into a realm of nightmares.
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Comments are very greatly appreciated!

I've realised, whilst re-reading Martyr's Run, that the build up of tension is much more effective if you read a lot of chapters in one go. So that means I'm going to try and update as frequently as possible. I realise I've been neglecting the Dreamers a bit lately, but I'm going to try and get back into writing about them. :D