The Almighty Z stormed through the huge, stone doors leading to the dungeons, letting them close with a heart-shattering clang behind her. Jake trailed behind her, looking around as she walked through the chilly, damp air with purpose.
The dungeon was dim, lit only by flickering torches on the short expanses of wall between the cells, blocked off by dark, metal bars, and entirely empty.
"Um, Almighty Z?" Jake asked, slightly cautiously.
She looked over her shoulder. "Hmm?"
"Where are all the prisoners?"
Z laughed. "What, did you think I had a bunch of enemies all locked up down here to suffer for eternity or something?"
Jacob laughed nervously, which answered the question, and Z laughed again. "Nah," she said. "Just a few."
Jake nodded, rubbing his neck, and Z turned the corner into a nook with a tightly wound spiral staircase descending down. She began to go down, and Jake followed. They went down many levels that all appeared to be identical before the rickety, metal staircase ended right in front of a tall, narrow set of heavy-looking doors guarded by two drones, who bowed.
"Here we are," Z said, eyeing the drones suspiciously for a second before signaling for them to open the door for her, which they did. She stepped carefully into a hall with high ceilings, but just enough space for Jake and her to stand next to each other, and held out her arm to stop him from passing her. She flipped open a small, nearly invisible panel in the side of the wall and punched some numbers into a keypad, which then bleeped. She then started walking down the cold hall, her footsteps echoing off the greyish-brown stone.
"What did that do?" Jake asked, his own echoey footsteps intermingling with hers.
"Prevented us from triggering a pressure plate in the floor that would release some sleeping gas," Z said, matter-of-fact. Then, in explanation, "It's the high security ward."
Jake nodded. He probably thought about asking where they were going and who they were going to see, but from the waves of fury that were rolling off of the Queen like heat radiating from a campfire implied that he would find out soon. At the end of the hall was another set of doors, then a series of more halls with many obstacles like metal bars and walls to move. Soon, they got to a chamber full of deep, thrashing water that slapped the stone at the bottom of a cliff.
Jake stared down at it. "Honestly, I don't know why you need a head security person. It seems like you have everything covered," he said. "Small inferno, oceanic chasm..."
"Yeah, you don't even want to know what else is down there," the Queen told him, shuddering.
He noticed this. "You don't like this either, do you?"
"I am not an aquatic creature," she replied simply. "Fortunately, I normally don't have to get wet when visiting because the way across is to have one of the invisible drones carry you."
"Are we gonna do that this time or not?" Jake asked. "Considering that one, or many of them might be corrupt and under orders to drop us or something."
The Queen looked at him in annoyance. "Thanks for saying that in the presence of the collective mind, now they know why we're coming."
"Sorry," Jake said, then jokingly, "Please don't lock me up down here, I don't want to be on your bad side."
The Almighty Z gave him a look so vicious he took a few steps back. "Who said you weren't?" She asked, voice so cold icicles could have formed on the sound waves.
He shut up.
She stood at the edge of the sharp, shadowy cliff, pondering her next move. Her first thought was to get ZOK to help them, but as soon as it crossed her mind reality hit her and she staggered backwards as a physical pang of pain stabbed through her gut.
ZOK couldn't help her.
ZOK was gone.
All because that mysterious traitor drone had ordered him to kill her. Had ordered him to self-destruct. Fiery fury engulfed her as she remembered his last moments. Her desperate attempts, his last goodbye, the wash of fire.
As she thought these things she fell onto the cold, wet rock and sat in silent horror. Jake approached her cautiously. "You okay?" He asked.
She was so lost in thought of ZOK's sacrifice, she didn't even blink. Wait, sacrifice, that was it. ZOK had fulfilled his mission to protect her at all costs, by sacrificing himself. And as much as Z hated the idea, sometimes sacrifice was needed.
Self-destruct. Sacrifice. She understood.
"Jake," she said, standing up abruptly.
"Almighty Z?" He looked worried.
"I know what we need to do," she said, her voice dead calm.
"First, we cross this chasm."
"I'm feeling risky." She snapped her fingers twice, and a ZORG drone decloaked in the air and glided over to them before gently landing. Jake looked at it with distrust. "Unless you want to swim, I suggest you follow my lead," Z said, jumping into the arms of the drone. Jake sighed and clung onto the back of the robot by the neck.
The drone took off and flew smoothly through the moist darkness to the other side of the room, where there was a nearly identical cliff and set of doors to the ones they had just left. As they traveled for a small eternity, clinging onto the cool robots for dear life, the water splashed hungrily below them, terrifying. Fortunately, they were safely deposited. "Thank you," Z said, her heart racing with adrenaline as Jake tried to catch his breath, face flushed. The drone bowed and flew off back into the air before disappearing.
"Let's never do that again," Jake said, running his hands through his short, brownish-blonde hair.
"How else do you expect us to get back?" Z asked.
He groaned, “Really?”
“Yep, but first, the traitor,” the Queen said.
“Yeah, who is it and who are we supposedly killing?”
“You have to ask? Creep, obviously. For both things.”
“Oh, yes, the guy you imprisoned for liking you,” Jake said knowingly. “I see.”
“There’s more to it than that,” Z protested.
“Really,” Jake said, friendly sarcasm evident in his voice.
“He’s a spy!” The Queen said. Jake shook his head. “Now, come on. She opened the doors and entered the cave-like room behind them. Half of it was sealed off by heavy metal bars, creating a prison cell. Two drones stood on either end, guarding the prisoner, who was sitting right across from them, leaning against the wall with his legs outstretched and crossed at the ankles and his hands up behind his head.
“Hey, Z,” Creep said, a lazy smirk on his face. “I’ve been expecting you.”
Behind them, the doors slammed shut. One of the drones was immobile, lights off, just like the ones in the Tealians’ custody. The other drones’ eyes turned red and it’s laser shooter extended it Jake and Z’s direction.
Z gave Jake a dirty look. “I told you you shouldn’t have said anything.”
“Sorry,” he replied, keeping his eyes on the drone.
Creep stood up in his cell. “You know, my Queen, all these years and you’ve never asked my name. My real name.”
Z raised a brow. “I don’t care, honestly.”
“Well, you should. I think you’ll find it interesting.” He licked his lips like a hungry dog.
Z decided to humor him. She figured her situation couldn’t get all that much worse. “So tell me then,” she said, stepping towards the bars separating them and leaning forward. “What’s your name?”
Creep stood up, and straightened himself to his full, unimpressive height. He flicked his greasy, light brown hair out of his eyes and walked towards Z until his rancid face was mere inches from her own. She did not flinch.
“Josh the Great,” he said before laughing in a way he appeared to think was threatening. I didn’t seem threatening. Perhaps it should have, because the next thing the Almighty Z knew, her entire body was enveloped in tormenting tongues of pain and then someone was carrying her and everything hurt so, so badly until white stars brought darkness to her eyes and she went limp.