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Adam splashed around the damp, echoey tunnels with Joby hobbling in tow like a sobbing tugboat. Occasionally they shouted, but the feeling of yelling into a void was too comfortable to be bearable.
"This is hopeless", said Adam, eventually "We could walk these tunnels for eternity and not see anyone. Let's sit down for a moment and try to think of something".
He sat down on his rucksack. Joby got his water-gourd out of his bag and handed it to Adam nervously. At that moment he didn't know whether he was more frightened of the situation or Adam's anger. Adam took a generous gulp of the water and passed the gourd back to him.
"There's nothing I can say to put things right is there?" said Joby.
"Nothing whatsoever", Adam exclaimed "That was the most singularly pointless prima-donna act I've ever seen you do. Did you seriously think I could have just walked away and left you there?"
"I-I was trying to help. I knew my feet were going to be nothing but a hindrance to everyone".
"Correction, it's you that's the hindrance, not your feet", said Adam "At the risk of sounding like I've got a one-track mind, I'm going to suggest that if we ever get out of here, I'm going to try and fuck some sense into you, Joby".
"I thought you wanted to keep it as a one-off?"
"You've got under my skin. I think you were always there really".
"You want both me and Kiel?"
"I know. Terrible aren't I?" Adam extracted a coloured pencil from his bag "Right, let's start marking these tunnels as we go down them, then we won't waste time exploring ones we've already seen. Shades of Theseus and Ariadne. I just hope we don't come across a Minotaur though. I couldn't cope with that as well as you!"
"There has to be more to this than a sewage system", said Adam, as they paused for another water-break "Why this elaborate set of tunnels otherwise? Gabriel uses all this for something else I'm sure of it".
"I thought the others might at least have come looking for us", said Joby.
"They probably are, but it's like looking for a needle in a haystack. Shouting doesn't seem to do any good, as these walls seem to trap our voices. How are your feet now?"
"Very wet", said Joby, lifting a sodden foot "I don't wanna worry you Ad, but I think the water level's rising. The tide must be coming in".
"Tide? What tide? It doesn't make sense".
Adam could feel the cold water swilling around his ankles though. Even more worrying was that the water seemed to be rising very fast indeed. They paddled into the next unexplored tunnel, and were nearly asphyxiated by a strong, unpleasant aroma, reminiscent of swamp water.
"This is where Gabriel comes at night", Joby exclaimed "Down here! There was always a sort of faint, peculiar smell about him when he came back up in the mornings. He must've cleaned himself up before seeing us again, but I always caught this whiff of something. Nearly drove me mad trying to figure out what it was. It meant he must have come down here".
The howling sound, which had dogged them consistently ever since they were in the desert, now split the air, bouncing off the damp walls like hand-grenade. It was so loud that they were temporarily deafened immediately afterwards.
"Oh shit, Ad", said Joby "What is that thing, and where's it coming from?"
"Whatever it is it's in the tunnel with us somewhere", said Adam, aware that the water-level had risen to their knees.
"You gave all the weapons to Hillyard and Isaac, didn't you?"
"Well I wasn't planning on some spotty little brat getting us split up!"
"What do we do then?"
"We keep moving. Remember the golden rule, it's harder to hit a moving target".
They waded endlessly down tunnels until the water was lapping at their thighs. The howling was still loud and was getting more and more persistent, as though it was outraged at their presence in the vicinity.
"There has to be a way out", said Adam "There just has to be".
"Adam!" Joby squealed, clutching at Adam's arm "Can't you see that row of lights in the distance?"
"Two of them. Moving about", said Adam "People carrying torches perhaps?"
"I don't like it", said Joby, as another howl assaulted their eardrums "They're standing directly where the noise is coming from".
"They seem to be signalling to us though. The lights keep bobbing up and down".
Adam coiled Joby's arms around his shoulders, and pulled the limping boy through the cold water. They both fell a couple of times, until in the end Adam decided it would be easier if they swam, as the water-level was now up their chests.
The tunnel widened out into a water-filled chamber. Standing on a rock at the far end were the two lights. Or rather it was a monstrous black hound, built like a small bullock. A hideous beast with eyes the sizes of glowing saucers.
"Clever bastard", Adam whispered.
"Did Gabriel create that thing?" Joby exclaimed.
"The archetypal phantom black hound", said Adam "You were right Joby. This is where Gabriel comes at night, and this creature has been put here to guard his secret, whatever that hell that might be".
The beast had spotted them, and was now preparing to launch itself into the water. Joby screamed and clung onto Adam's vest.
"We've got to out-swim the bastard somehow", said Adam "Come on".
"Get down!" a voice cried out from behind them "Get under the water!"
Kieran was struggling to stop the water getting into his mouth. He held one arm aloft, clutching a flare pistol that he had practically had to wrest bodily from Hillyard.
"Get under the focking water", he screamed "Do as I say!"
Adam and Joby dived below the cold depths. They heard the muffled explosion of the pistol as it hurled a blast at the demonic entity. The creature went up in a luminous blaze instantly, crumbling into itself like a screwed-up paperbag. The flare pistol may have been a small weapon, but the reflex on it was strong and it hurled Kieran backwards, until he too joined the others under the water. Adam grabbed him and dragged him to the surface.
"I'll never complain about you two arguing again", said Kieran, spewing out water "As long as you both kept on at each other I was able to follow your voices. I didn't want to call out, as this place plays tricks on your ears, and I thought we could end up chasing each other round in circles".
"Where are the others?" said Adam.
"I don't know about Isaac and his merry men, but Hillyard and Ransey aren't far behind us. I had to give 'em the slip in order to find you, as they were all for staying in one place and hoping you'd find us. But with the water-level rising I couldn't risk that".
"We'd better start swimming", said Joby, as he squeezed Kieran's arm affectionately "When we get out of here I'm gonna give you the biggest hug there is".
"When we get out of here, Joby", said Adam "I'm going to give you the biggest hiding there is. Then I'll take you both to bed!"
"There's a metal ladder fixed to the wall over there", said Hillyard, meeting them around the next corner.
The water in the tunnels was now up to the throats of most of them, apart from Kieran who was having trouble keeping above the water at all. Without any hesitation they clambered up the ladder, through another manhole, and found themselves in a tunnel directly above the one they had just left.
"This is crazy", said Adam, collapsing onto the damp floor "Like a puzzle, but at least this part's dry".
They all exchanged water gourds, and then Ransey's eyes lit up behind his spectacles as he noticed a scrap of daylight in a gap in the roof overhead.
"We're directly under the ground outside", he said "We're out of the volcano".
"We could easily smash a hole through that", said Hillyard "So what happened to you then, Ad? Nearly gave me a heart-attack when I looked round and couldn't see you".
"A certain person decided he wanted to be a martyr. Thought he was a hindrance, and wanted us to leave him behind", said Adam "By the time I had persuaded him not to be such a silly-arse you lot were out of sight".
"Joby, what a pillock you are at times", said Kieran, angrily "You have the stupidest focking ideas".
"I'll agree with that", said Hillyard.
"No one asked you", Joby muttered, feeling as though he could die with shame "I was trying to do what I thought was right".
"Never a good sign where Joby's concerned", said Adam "Being not overly-blessed with a great quantity of brain-cells".
"Look, I'm fed up with being everybody's clown", said Joby.
"It doesn't matter anyway", said Adam, as though Joby hadn't spoken "Super Patsy came to the rescue. Right Hillyard, let's see what you're made of. Start punching your way through the roof".
"I'll have a go too", said Joby.
"Don't talk nonsense, Joby", said Adam "You couldn't hit your way out of a paperbag".
Gabriel tugged on the chain that bound him to the wall, and nearly wept with frustration. It would soon be dark and if he didn't get below to the tunnels it would be the end. He already knew what would happen. His skin would start to melt first, and that was a horrifyingly long and painful process. He would eventually disintegrate.
The pounding on the metal door had stopped. Now that the intruders had fled the suite the zombies had retreated to re-direct their energies elsewhere, like iron filings scurrying to chase a magnet. The zombies were all very well, he thought, but at the end of the day they were still merely brainless creatures. More desperate measures were needed.
Gabriel settled back on the straw and channelled his thoughts into more productive areas. When the elemental finally appeared out of the floor, after a mammoth amount of concentration on Gabriel's part, the order was simple.
"Raise a storm", said Gabriel "Engulf the surrounding area if necessary. Open the heavens and the earth. Swallow them whole!"
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