Check back every week for a new instalment of the online exclusive by Richard Cozicar The Ice Racer
“Follow my lead.” Marcus whispers to us as he takes a quick step behind Annaliese and myself.
He calls back to the guards. “Over here.” He waves, purposly calling attention to us. “I found these two sneaking around this alley.” He shoves us from behind moving us forward to meet the military guards.
The guards watch warily as we approach. Their raised guns slowly lower. My heart beats rapidly at the thought of being returned to the cage. Annaliese’s gaze swivells between Marcus, the guards and me as step by step we close the gap.
“Stop.” Marcus instructs us as we come almost face to face with the two guards. Stepping around from behind us, Marcus stops to the side of the men drawing their attention.
I had no idea what he has planned but seeing the opportunity I rush the guard on the right, my one hand clasping the other man’s gun hand, my shoulder ramming into the guy’s chest knocking him back into the wall of the building.
We struggle. The guy is strong but I can feel my adrenaline spike from fear and the thought of recapture. Raising my right hand I drive a fist into the man’s gut knocking the wind out of him.
He doubles over into my raising knee. A sickening crunch follows as the guard’s hand releases the gun and he topples to the street. Swiftly retrieving the gun I whirl around in time to see the butt of Marcus’s rifle connect with the other guards face.
The two of us stand staring down at the fallen men. Marcus relieves the other guard of his weapon and passes it along with his own to Annaliese.
“Help me peel their uniforms off.” He said to me in between gasps of air as he bends over to pull the robe off the guard he clubbed. With the military robes removed the two of us drag the guards back into the shadow of the building they emerged from.
Marcus rumages under his robe and produces a knife. Slashing and cutting at my discarded brown robe he cut strips and passes them to me.
“Tie their hands and feet and gag them.” He rapidly calls out as he continues cutting strips from the cloth. Our work is hastened from the fear of being discovered by other guards patrolling the streets.
With the stolen guns in hand and donning the military robes as disguises we leave the area at a brisk walk, sticking to the deeper shadows of the buildings, Marcus walking a few steps in front of us to scout for any other unwanted company.
“A few more blocks.” Marcus states as he points ahead of us; his breathe is still laboured from the brush with the Prophets men and the tension we are all feeling. We move as quickly as we dare while maintaining all the caution we can afford.
At an intersection in the road, he raises his hand signalling us to stop. Annaliese and I wait and watch while Marcus peers around the corner, what he is watching we have no idea but he remains silent and unmoving. Something around the corner is obviously troubling him.
After several minutes he returns to us, his face a readable map of what lies in the path of our escape. Marcus shakes his head and in a hushed voice almost imperceptible to my ears he relays what he saw.
“The door to the oil mines lies just ahead.” He starts, “The problem is there is a sizable group of the Prophets men clustered around the entrance.” I find that I am holding my breath as I wait for him to tell us what he is thinking.
“The only way through is to draw their attention away from it.” He hesitates.
“There’s not another way into the mines?” I ask. Surprising the first two guards was more luck then we deserved but to my thinking trying the same trick against a larger group would require more luck then the three of us had. I search Marcus’ face and I know he is thinking the same thing.
He shakes his head. “The wall separating the mine from the city is solid steel embedded into the rock cliffs, the door is the only way across.”
“What can we possibly do to distract them? There has to be a solution that doesn’t involve us splitting up.” I plead, not willing to give up. “We could try and shoot our way past them but that would no doubt draw every guard in the city down to this area.” I think out loud.
“No. Shooting has to be our last resort. Give me a minute I’ll think of something.” “There has to be a way.” He adds.
The three of us have shrunk into the shadows as we try to figure a way past the men blocking our only chance of escape. Suddenly Marcus stands up as an idea sprouts into his mind.
“On my signal you two run for the door.” He tells us.
“What are you going to do?” Annaliese ask, her voice laden with worry.
“I’m going to create a diversion, draw as many guards away from the door as I can.” He replies leaving us before we can protest. He creeps back to the edge of the building where the streets meet, pauses a second then disappears from our sight.
Grabbing Annaliese’s hand the two of us rush to the corner, stopping to peer across the street Marcus just entered. Clinging tight to the buildings wall we watch as he scuttles down the side of the buildings getting ever closer to the gate. Two-thirds of the way down the next block he runs across the street to a break in the buildings on the other side and into the opening.
I feel Annaliese’s breath on my neck as the two of us remain hidden behind the corner wondering what Marcus has planned. He suddenly reappears hollering toward the guarded gate.
“Here.” He cries and waves his arms frantically until he has the guard’s attention. “Over here. Hurry, over here. I just saw them run down the alley and around the corner.” He jumps and points down the alley then when most of the guards have left their post to head in his direction Marcus takes off running back down the alley and out of our sight.
Annaliese’s gasps as she witnesses Marcus’s ploy. I keep my eyes on the door. All but one of the guards has gone chasing after Marcus. Standing up quickly I turn to Annaliese whispering instructions.
“Stick tight against the building. We will only have one chance so we need to creep as close to that guard as we can while his attention is focused on the alley Marcus disappeared down.” I slide around the corner pulling Annaliese with me and then move as fast as I can in the cover of the building. The distance from our hiding spot to the door is not far.
The whole time we are on the move, my eyes are fixed on the guards face expecting him to notice us. His gaze continues toward the spot his comrades disappeared to in search of Marcus. Still holding Annaliese’s hand we close the gap. Twenty feet away and the guard’s attention is still turned away from us. Fifteen feet. Thirteen feet.
About ten feet out the guard swivels his head and looks right at us. Confused at the sight of us running straight at him causes a delayed reaction. I let go of Annaliese’s hand and without pause I charge right at the surprised guard.
Using the advantage of my momentum and his confusion I lower my head and charge forward ploughing shoulder first into his chest. My rifle flies out of my hands as the force of the collision carries us both backward until we hit the wall at an angle. I hear his breath rush out of his mouth as he is pinned between the weight of my body and the solid wall behind him.
I trip and fall away from the guard. He regains his footing first and grabs for his weapon when he suddenly stops, staggers and then falls in my direction.
Annaliese is standing behind the spot vacated by the fallen guard with her hands still in the air, facing me, her stolen rifle clutched in her hands like a club. I nod my thanks to her as I scramble to my feet, quickly I dust off my robe and retrieve my gun.
I hurry to the door and try the handle. Locked. The door will not budge. I rush back to the fallen guard and search for a key. Digging through the pockets in his robe I fail to find a key of any kind. I roll the man over onto his back. As I do a chain slips out from beneath the collar of his shirt. I grasp at the chain and pull. A key slides out and I quickly yank my fist back snapping the chain.
I raise my hand in triumph and show my find to Annaliese then I hurry back to the door to try the lock. The key turns smoothly, we listen to the lock click open. Twisting the handle I swing the door inward slowly, I prepare myself for another guard on the other side. Stopping to have a look around I see a vast cavern bathed in bright lights.
Noticing no other guards I pass Annaliese my rifle and rush over to the prone guard. Motioning for Annaliese to go ahead of me I drag the man through the doorway. When we are through I close the door and lock it before quickly glancing around again to reassure myself that my actions went unobserved.
I remove the guard’s robe, tearing it into strips to tie the man up as we did with the other guards and then roll him tight against the bottom of the door. Reclaiming my gun I raise it and drove it into the guards head a couple of times. Panting from the excursion I straighten up and glance at Annaliese then around the huge cavern containing the oil mine.
I stand still and look over the interior of the large cave. Not too many feet away to the left of the door stands a solid wall of craggy lava rock. The wall runs all the way to the underside of the cavern’s ceiling. Opposite the door, about twenty feet away is a metal rail. On the other side of the rail the stone shelf we stand on drops off.
My eyes follow the rail as it runs to our right, several hundred feet away from the door is a building extended over the edge of the shelf with large braces angled from the buildings underside back toward the rock cliff.
With my focus on the building I walk away from the door toward the metal railing. The hole on the other side of the rail is massive; I can barely make out the far side even with the bright lights that light the cavern.
Annaliese follows close behind me as I near the rail. Convincing myself that we have gained entry to this side of the wall without being noticed, I turn my head as we reach the rail and together we look down.
As one we both let out a gasp as we grip the metal rail and stare at the site below us.
Check back every week for a new instalment of the online exclusive by Richard Cozicar The Ice Racer
Marcus wheels around and looks at us with an expression of concern covering his face.
“He’s right. It won’t be safe here for the two of you much longer.” Turning his attention back to the young man who came to warn us.
“Go back up the tunnel and warn us if you hear or see the guards coming.” Marcus instructs, the man quickly leaves our small gathering and bends to scoop up his discarded military robe on his way out.
“What are you thinking?” Annaliese asks him.
“Grab some supplies.” He replies. “We’ll have to stick to the tunnels for as long as we can…from there…I don’t know, but we’ll figure it out as we go.”
I stand back and watch as Annaliese rummages through sacks stacked against a wall assembles a collection food and water and places them into a smaller sack. When she is finished she returns to our side.
“Do these tunnels run under the whole city?” I ask.
Marcus shakes his head before replying. “No. They’ll keep us out of sight for a while but we will eventually come to a dead end, there we’ll have to ascend to the streets.”
I relieve Annaliese of the sack of supplies she has packed. Marcus passes me a flashlight as he takes one last look around the room then proceeds to check the hall leading from the hidden room before signalling us to move.
We follow Marcus for a short distance down the tunnel before he ducks into an intersecting tunnel that leads us in a different direction away from the original entrance. The lava tunnels change from a comfortable open space to where we have to squeeze and crawl through further sections.
The three of us hurry through the labyrinth of sharp lava rock tunnels in silence. How Marcus knows where each tunnel leads and what direction to follow is beyond me. He leads us past tunnel after tunnel walking in some, crawling through others.
The stale air is laced with the smell of sulphur from the volcanic rock. The confined spaces grow humid and tight but still Marcus leads on at as fast a pace as we can manage.
Coming to a halt in a closet sized cavern Marcus paces for a second in the little space before talking.
“We are going to have to surface not far from here. These tunnels end under a street a few blocks away from the entrance to the oil mines.” He says while staring into Annaliese’s eyes. His face is contorted with apprehension.
“Is that were you are leading us?” Annaliese asks with an evident note of surprise.
“There’s no where else to go.” He diverts his eyes. “You know that your dad will have the city torn apart for looking for you two. The people in this city are too scared of him and the rest of the prophets and most would never consider helping or hiding you for fear of retribution. Even for a short time.” He adds.
On our journey Marcus had summarized a brief history about the small resistance that had been growing in the city against the iron-fisted rule of the prophets. A large portion of the people of Adam’s Mountain resented being over lorded and this resentment had been festering for years but the majority of town folk were too afraid to act fearing being sentenced to the oil mines.
The city people would guardedly grumble to their closest friends and then look at their neighbours while suspiciously wondering if they were spies for the Prophets. The distrust that rippled through the community helped the Prophets maintain rule.
“Can’t we leave the same way I was brought here?” I implore.
“No. The path ends not far from the city. A giant crevice makes it a dead end. Several people have died trying to cross it.”
“Then how about along the lava river, surely we could follow it away from here.”
“It closes up farther past the city, besides, the heat from the river would kill you before you travelled very deep into it.” Marcus releases a quick breath. “Your only hope is to climb through and cross the oil mine and try for the air chute, it will take you to the surface.”
I gape at Marcus, confused by what he is saying.
“The surface.” I repeat as I try to comprehend his words. “Annaliese doesn’t have a thermal suit like mine. I don’t know this place at all, but I have to believe there is another choice. She would not survive out there, not even for a short period.” I argue. In my mind I am frantically searching for a plausible solution. “Hell, I don’t even know if I could survive on the surface without a sled full of luck.”
Annaliese gently touches my arm.
“They will kill you if they catch you.” She states matter-of-factly. “We don’t have much of a choice.”
“What will happen if they catch you?” I search her face for answers as I ask.
She turns to look at Marcus; the two exchange a knowing look.
“I’ll be alright.” She mumbles, but her face pales in the glow of the flashlight.
“How about you Marcus? If your friend talks they will know that you two helped me.” There is obviously something they aren’t telling me. I push further, “I am not going another step until you guys level with me.”
“Dissidents get sent to the oil mine as punishment.” He quietly confirms. “I can avoid them, Annaliese should be okay…her father is the High Prophet.” He says without sounding convincing.
“So the only real option we have is if the three of us leave the city? That is the only option I will accept. If the three of us can’t escape then you two should turn me in and tell Annaliese’s father that you recaptured me. I won’t let you take the fall for me you don’t even know me. This is insane!”
“Let’s get away from the city and try to cross the oil mine then we can worry about what to do after.” Marcus declares. “We need to get out of these tunnels. If they start searching down here we’ll be trapped and we won’t have any choices.”
We continue, Marcus in the lead as we snake through the tunnels. Suddenly the beam from Marcus’ flashlight highlights a solid wall of made of rough, sharp rock that appears to have footholds chiselled in it.
“Turn the lights off.” Marcus whispers as he set a foot on the rock ready to climb. In the blackness Annaliese and I wait. The only sound comes from Marcus’s feet in their search for the footholds as he works his way to the surface, only to be punctuated by intervals of the sound our nervous breathing makes.
The scraping of metal signals his arrival at the top of the climb. Then a light flashes back down lighting the wall and the floor.
“Its clear. Hurry, climb up.” He urges as he shines his light for us to see our way up the jagged wall of rock. I motion for Annaliese to go ahead of me, then with caution I follow her to the street above.
Marcus helps her climb out and then lowers a hand to assist me. Out on the street we wait while Marcus gently replaces the cover hiding the tunnel’s entrance then we all creep to the side of the alley we have emerged into.
In the shadow of a building we wait while Marcus adjusts his military disguise. When he is finished he whispers for us to follow and leads the way to the end of the alley. Abruptly stopping he points.
“We’ve got about another six blocks until we come to the entrance of the oil mine.” He describes. “If we are lucky enough to cover the distance undetected we will have to find away around the mine’s guards and down into the pit before we can cross it.”
He has already explained to me how the mine was the most guarded part of the city, not so much to keep city dwellers away, no one in the city was overly eager to see never mind venture into the pit he has depicted, but to insure the dissidents sentenced to a life of labour in the mines have no chance of escape. He did add that the Prophets were extremely protective of the mine. Without it the city would surely perish.
Giving us the signal to move from the mouth of the alley we stealthily creep along in the buildings shadows, our target the start of a new alley that will lead us on a direct route to the mouth of the oil mine.
Ten strides away from the alley we had just departed a stern voice calls to us.
“Identify yourself.” Two guards appear at the far end of the block stepping out of shadows and raising their guns. The three of us stop dead in our tracks.
A new Canadian Author with too many ideas in his head. Surprising even himself with where his stories go.