The Assignment

Captain Von Delgo is a man who is lost. He is known as a turncoat, a hero and a mass-murderer. He has no beginning, and as far as he can see he has no end. Which makes him just about the most dangerous man alive. After the completion of his last job Captain is on his way out to receive his payment and rest up. His plans are delayed when a religious sect known as the Ravens pull him in with an offer. Captain faces a dilemma, he has never once failed in his assignments. But accepting this one and succeeding would change the way of the world, change everything that everyone has ever known, plunge it into chaos. But he has also never once turned down a job, and with his life quickly descending into a chaos of its own despair, he can see no reason why not to accept. After all, how hard can it be to kill an immortal?

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21. Chapter 21

The tunnels leaked, water dripped from the rocks above, occasionally splashing droplets onto the Captain’s face as he passed beneath them. He wondered as the cart continued to move along the tracks if he was the only one worried about where the water was coming from. It had to be dripping from somewhere, and the obvious idea was that there were travelling underneath the strait between Gamdagleeare Luff and the Donaganh Islands. The Captain couldn’t help feeling nervous about this. Tunnels had a habit of collapsing over time with the weight of the water above it. He wondered just how soon it would be before the roof cracked and the sea flooded them all.

Apart from worrying about when they would all drown, there wasn’t much to occupy the Captain’s mind. The ride was smooth, as smooth as it could be on tracks that had rusted long ago and jolted at every turn. A sharp rock jabbed into the small of his back at every bump and Captain winced, wondering how the hell it had got down there.

The cart was bigger than the Captain had thought it was; it seemed to fit all of them. He couldn’t work out how it was moving though, it seemed to be going at a fixed rate faster than what a man could push, or pull, and yet he could hear not machinery.

The company of six that were with him remained mostly silent as they travelled. Sometimes behind the Captain there would be a grunt and a shifting of bodies, or a mumble at how uncomfortable the cart was, and a loud shush.

The Captain had a few questions that he wanted answered, but he bit his tongue. The cart was slowly beginning to descend on a downward slope and he could feel his body slipping, only the ropes held him in place. The fact that the cart was gaining speed and jolting madly threw all thoughts of asking questions out of his mind.

There was a massive jolt as the cart hit a rock and bounced, throwing the cart briefly into the air. Members of the six screamed as the cart fell into free fall. The Captain clung to the ropes binding him, heart beating fast. He was about to meet his death with a bunch of Shadows, and yet, he couldn’t wrap his mind about it, he was scared about dying in the caves.

The Cart hit the tracks again with an ear-splitting squeal, serenaded by members of the group. It settled for a moment on relatively flat ground and they all breathed out a sigh of relief.

‘The map didn’t mentioned a hill underground, Jhelum!’ one of the men accused loudly. The Captain’s ears caught the name but it was gone into the dark before it had a chance to register.

‘Silence!’ hissed another man. ‘That map is old, things change. The cart’s settled, we’re good. We continue.’

‘But-‘

‘We have a deadline, Tstv, we do not break this appointment,’ Jhelum whispered urgently, his voice sparked with fear. ‘Or else do you want to be the deadline?’ he threatened coldly. ‘We move on.’

The Captain breathed out slowly as the bounty hunters behind him shuffled. There was a creak of metal, he guessed a lever, and the cart began to pick up speed until it was travelling at its normal rate.

‘See, nothing to worry about, just a little dip in the ground,’ Jhelum. ‘There is a reason the map never mentioned any hills, because there aren’t any.’

‘That’s why we’re now picking up speed again isn’t it?’ asked the Captain, gripping his ropes again. If time can create one little dip that almost dislodged them all, then time could make an even larger dip to correct its previous mistake of letting them live.

‘What?’ Jhelum made to continue but the cart began lurching side to side as it rocked with speed.

‘Put the breaks on!’ screamed the Captain as the cart hit 65-70 degree angle and the crew began slipping and sliding down to his side of the cart. Sparks flew as one of the crew pounced on the breaks. The cart jolted, almost flying off the tracks as it pulled to a sudden stop. It rested, its wheels creaking as the breaks did their best to hold them still. Heavy breathing filled the cavern that they had driven into. One of the men released a soft, exhausted chuckle.

‘That wasn’t so bad,’ he said, shifting his body slightly.

‘No!’ screamed Jhelum as the other bounty hunter began twisting his body so that he wasn’t facing the ground. The cart jerked with the movement of weight and for a brief moment, the breaks slipped. They slid a couple of feet before the breaks found friction and it jerked to another halt. They all slid as they stopped.

After a minute or so of shocked silence, Tstv spoke up. ‘Pr’haps it would do to bring out the rope and grapple and pull ourselves back to even ground?’ he spoke slowly as if scared that speaking fast and loud would send the cart rolling down the hill.

In the dark someone moved. ‘Good idea, Tstv,’ Jhelum said. ‘Get out the grapple hook then and pull us to even ground. We can’t be that far away from it.’

Soft rustling filled the air as someone lightly eased out a grapple. Tstv threw it. It clinked onto the rails above, seemed steady and then plummeted back down. They pulled it back in gently and threw it again. This time it didn’t hit the ground but instead fell straight back and hit the cart, pushing it forwards even more. Through his blind fold the Captain could see sparks flying from the brakes as they pushed against the metal wheels of the cart, pleading with them to stop.

The cart still went down; hitting a rusty bump and jerking to the side. There was a scream as the sound of someone hit the side of the cart and then falling out. The scream faded as it disappeared further down the cavern until it ceased moments later.

‘Two of you hold the brake down, Tstv, throw the grapple again and make sure you hit something it will connect to!’ yelled Jhelum, anger resonating through the fear that gripped his body. The Captain took faint delight in the man’s pain. Jhelum was the one that had agreed to this job. Tstv threw the hook again, this time it hit rock and stayed. He tugged hard, lifting off the cart as the hook dug into whatever gap it had found.

‘Good, now attach it to the cart and pull us up,’ ordered Jhelum, his voice a high whine. Tstv grunted as he attached the end of the rope to the cart and slowly began hoisting them all up. They moved, slowly.

‘Why aren’t we going faster?’ demanded Jhelum as he helped pull on the rope.

‘The breaks are still on,’ commented the Captain. ‘If you release them… well, it depends on how good your rope is.’

‘Release the breaks,’ Jhelum ordered, breathing deeply. Hesitantly his crew released the breaks and the cart slid an inch. Pulling quickly at the rope, they regained their position. The cart grated against the rock, but they began to move upwards. Over the sound of the men grunting as they lifted the massive weight, the Captain heard something that filled him with a mixture of fear and delight. The bounty hunters weren’t going to win after all. It sounded faintly like rope being sawed.

There was a snap, and if the Captain could have seen the bounty hunters, he knew they all would be exchanging shocked looks with each other. With the breaks released, the cart dropped. It flew down the tracks, gaining more and more speed. The crew too shocked to move or make a sound just sat stunned as they fell. Fierce wind whipped the Captain’s face, the force pushing off his mask until he could see the ground in the distance becoming not quite so distant. The breaks were pushed but they merely squealed and sparked as the wheels moved too fast for them to catch a grip.

As they dropped, the Captain felt a weird feeling. His was dropping feet first, but he could feel his upper body drifting forwards. He gasped, choking on his fear as it swept out of him through his open mouth too stunned to scream. The cart was tipping head over wheels. In a split moment, the entire group found their voice and they screamed as the cart lifted off the tracks and tumbled around and around, flying faster and faster towards the cold, rock ground.

They hit the ground moments later. Bodies flew from the cart, but the Captain lost sight of them as the cart tumbled over, rolling sideways. He lurched against the ropes, straining against them with the force. They rubbed against his clothes, burning through the material. Dust kicked up by the landing filled his mouth, nose and eyes and he choked. The cart hit the cavern wall and it flipped once more, shattering as it landed wheels first onto the ground.

As the dust settled in the air, the Captain, through the wreckage of his cage of wood and iron, became aware of the stillness around him. No one was making any noise. He breathed slowly, trying to breathe in as much air and as little dust as possible. His head ached and his body wasn’t far off from feeling broken. Kicking at the wood that surrounded him, the Captain freed himself and fell to the floor. The release of the ropes and wood made his body feel like it was floating. He coughed, finally no longer able to take it. He released all the pent up dust and air that surged through his lungs. As if the noise was a switch, one by one moans from around the cavern filled the air.

Jhelum appeared from one of the dark corners of the cavern, limping and clutching his side that was wet with blood. ‘Sound off!’ he ordered, his voice weak with pain. One by one voices from different areas sounded off. There were only three of them left, besides Jhelum.

From his spot the Captain watched as the remaining four bounty hunters gathered together in the centre of room. He had no idea where they were, and he knew one of them had a map, but he had no way of knowing who that was unless one of them pulled it out. For all he knew it was one of the dead men, and he would most surely be noticed ruffling through their positions. He sighed quietly, so softly he hardly felt it himself. What it came down to were two options. Walk off, leave them, and risk dying alone and lost in the maze of tunnels. Or, option two, join with the group and let them lead him to safety and then take them down. There were all sorts of possibilities springing from those two options, but the one that seemed to have the highest chance of survival was letting them show him the way out. With another soft sigh, he sounded off.

‘You’re still alive, I see.’ Jhelum hardly spared the Captain a glance as he hobbled over to one of the dead men and began rummaging through his clothes. He stood up a moment later holding a map in his hands; it seemed to gleam from something that covered half of it. Jhelum wiped the mess from it and handed it to someone else.

‘You read that, see if you can work out where we are. The rest of you see if you can find any of those lanterns we had on the cart.’

The cart was a complete wreck, but the Captain let them search anyway. A total of one lantern was found, and it still held oil, the rest were useless.

 ‘Shine the light down and see how far this tunnel goes. We’ve still got a long way to go if this map is anything to go by,’ one of them spoke, it was possibly Tstv. One of them lit a lamp and followed the light to a distance of a dozen metres ahead of them. He shouted back, ‘It seems to go forever! Do we follow it?’

The group turned to Tstv who nodded. ‘It seems to be the right tunnel.’

For the first time since they landed in the cavern, Jhelum turned directly to face the Captain.

‘You seem to have made up your mind to come with us,’ he said. ‘But you must be a fool if you think we’d let you walk free among us.’ His threat was low, and plain. The bounty hunters split, forming a small circle around the Captain. Various weapons appeared in their hands, and the Captain noticed with a sudden rising anger that Jhelum was carrying his guns. He gritted his teeth, fury burning deep within him. How dare the man take his weapons and use them against him.

‘Hands behind your back. If you don’t do it willingly, Captain, then we’ll force you.’

The Captain smiled, raising his hands and then placing them behind his back.

‘Make sure you put on his blind fold,’ Jhelum ordered as he spun on his heels, picked up the lantern and began heading into the black tunnel.

The darkness wasn’t getting any bright, if anything it was getting darker. The small glow from the single lamp shed almost no light that the Captain could see through his blind fold. He was increasingly aware that it was also becoming harder to breath, like someone had placed a plastic bag over his head and he was slowly using up all the oxygen caught inside. He wasn’t the only one feeling the effects either, around him was filled with the sound of ragged breathing.

Behind the blind fold, the Captain was completely lost. He couldn’t tell how many turns they had taken, or how many times they had taken the wrong route and had to retrace their steps. Every step he took was burning a hole through his lungs, and every time they reached a hill, his legs screamed in pain.

Eventually none of them could go any further and one by one they slipped to the floor, panting heavily, clutching their chests.

‘We get fifteen minutes rest,’ Jhelum said, panting through his own dry mouth as he seated himself against the cold stonewall. ‘Then we have to move on.’

‘Hey!’ said one of them. ‘We’ve been walking without rest for who knows how long, half an hour rest!’ Murmurs of agreement followed with that.

‘Shadow’s do not take kindly to people being late!  Groans and complaints are not welcome. We shall have a fifteen-minute rest and then we push on. But the No One will walk.’

Someone started to complain again and Jhelum yelled him to be silent. And there was silence for what seemed to last forever before footsteps sounded and the Captain felt a presence standing over him.

‘You will get to your feet and start walking,’ said Jhelum removing the blindfold.

‘Can’t you turn the lamp back on so I can see where to walk?’ the Captain asked, rubbing his eyes and blinking at the dim light.

‘The lamp is on the brightest it can be turned up. We never turned it off,’ Jhelum’s voice came from the dark.

The Captain frowned. Such a faint light was a bad thing. Especially in a cave. You had to ask yourself, what gases were preventing the light from shining its fullest? And was it likely to affect them?

‘How long’s it been like that?’ he asked.

‘What does it matter?’ spat Jhelum. ‘Get a move on. That goes for the rest of you!’

The other bounty hunters rose sulkily to their feet as the Captain jumped lightly from the cart.

'I can't see where I'm going,' he murmured, waving his arms in front as he gingerly take a step forwards. Rough hands grabbed him and spun him sideways.

'Follow the tracks between your feet,' one of the bounty hunters said as they pushed him forwards. ‘And if you get any funny ideas about running, you’re tied to me. If you run, you’ll have to drag me with you.’

Any noise the group made echoed in the tunnel, until they were all stepping as lightly as possible to protect their ears from the onslaught. But despite the walk and the noise, the Captain was able to block it all out as he tried to think. He was lost, he had no idea where they were heading, but whoever held the map knew. Ages ago, he couldn’t remember when, someone had mentioned that there was to be another drop off. They were taking him to Mar-Goth, or someone else. But where exactly was the drop off supposed to take place? At the City of Shade? Underground a few metres ahead? Or out of the caves in the light?

The Captain’s thoughts were starting to become harder to hold onto, they kept slipping away and everything was losing focus. His breath caught in his throat and he coughed, gasping as he tried to breath. Something had happened to the oxygen and it was quickly being used up. Something tugged the rope but the Captain struggled on, determined to keep moving before he collapsed. Whatever it was that had pulled, the rope tugged again and before he knew it, the Captain was fall backwards. He landed on something soft and rolled off.

Peering into the dark, he could just make out shapes that were slightly darker than the darkness around it. It took him a moment to realise that it wasn’t because the shape was darker, but because the cave was slowly filling with light.

A voice filled the tunnel, quiet, barely audible. The Captain frowned; if it was trying to talk to him it needed to speak up.

‘I…’ he gasped out. ‘I can’t hear you.’

The shape turned around, taking on a faint outline of something possibly human. It was so tall it was stooping, with a long head and arms. Another form almost identical slid into position beside it. It took a moment for the Captain to realise why he hadn’t see the other one, and why he hadn’t been able to hear the Shadow’s words. It wasn’t talking to him.

The Shadow spoke again, the voice aimed to its partner. ‘It is still alive,’ it said in wonderment. ‘The No One has survived the lack of air. Stronger than the others, no?’

‘Stronger yes, but let the air leave completely, let it die!’ the other swore.

The shock hit the Captain like a tidal wave as the air suddenly all drained from the tunnel. Once something becomes so natural to do suddenly becomes impossible, the difference is noticed straight away. Huge fits of chocking overtook the Captain as he tried gulping at air that simply wasn’t there. Crumbling to his knees the Captain clawed at his throat, as if tearing it open would create another hole with which air might be able to find its way. His vision was quickly receding, becoming dimmer by the second. Red lights flashed and wavered across his eyes. They stopped as the Captain collapsed backwards.

'Is it dead?' asked one of the Shadows.

The other made a foot out of dark and kicked the Captain’s limp body.

'Disgusting. At least down here nothing will smell its stink as it rots with the rest of these creatures,' it replied.

'Let us get back and bring the news to The High Lord. He will be pleased.'

As one, the Shadows blended to the black of the cave and quietly disappeared from sight.

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