”Must you do that?” Carlos asked from in front of him, twice nearly being sliced by the tip of the blade which had been not so delicately grazing his shoulders.
“You’ve obviously never brandished a sword before Mr. Santiago.” Maximus chided, sounding pleased with himself at maintaining the upper hand.
“You’d be surprised.” Carlos replied.
“A sword is an extension of one’s arm.” Maximus explained. “A true man, make that a warrior, knows how to hold it, wield it and more importantly, kill with it.” He stopped the motion and held it pointed forward again in Carlos’ direction, directly behind Carlos’ shoulder blades. “Using it to dispatch an unarmed man lying on the ground too weak to fight back is not a manly thing to do.”
“I guess coming from a man …” Carlos remarked with disdain the term ‘man’, “Who plans to unleash upon this world this island’s inhabitants with total disregard for the repercussions, letting man, woman and yes, child fend for themselves, then I find myself in good company.”
Maximus offered no response, only a low hiss. He causally mimicked the gesture of using the sword to separate Carlos’ head from his shoulders without Carlos seeing it.
As the three men reached the next cave junction, there were two more caves leading off in opposing directions, one downward and further into more caves, the other skyward with equally dire prospects.
Hayden yelled from the front. “It took us only fifteen minutes to get down to where we were and so far, you’re at fifty and I don’t see an exit.”
“I know where I’m going Doctor Lattimer.” Maximus replied, venom lacing his voice, the sword moving a tad faster in the air. “If you recall, the exterior of the cave was littered with entrances and exits.”
“So we’re going with ’Keep going and eventually’ we should reach the outside.” Hayden mocked. “You might want to keep your career aspirations as a tour guide under wraps.”
“I find taking advice from the ones at the business end of my sword rather amusing. If one is trying to advertise which one of us is the fool, look in the mirror?” Maximus retorted, jabbing the blade forward to poke Carlos’ lower spine, not enough to penetrate, simply to reveal who was in charge.
Carlos jerked forward, his fists clenching and unclenching.
Hayden dodged under an edge of rock too low to walk under without crouching. “Ever go to the zoo?” He asked aloud, directly to Maximus.
Maximus found himself confused. “What does that have to do with anything?”
Hayden continued, ignoring Maximus’ question. “Personally I love the zoo. My favourite is to go down to the gorilla pen and check out the apes. I always find them entertaining to watch. They’d lumber around, beat on their chests and throw feces at one another. That and grunting back and forth as all apes do.”
“And this is important how?” Maximus asked.
“Well, some even know sign language.” Hayden mentioned. “And as a purveyor of ancient languages, I found this uniquely fascinating.”
“And why is that relevant?” Maximus shot back.
Hayden shrugged. “One time, one of these apes actually gestured to me I was a fool.”
Maximus chuckled. “I guess even the primates must have known you like I do. You’re telling me this why?”
“Well my friend said to me at the time, ‘Hey, Are you going to do something? That ape just called you a fool.’” Hayden ducked again under some more rocks. “You know what I said?”
Carlos asked, knowing Maximus would not. “What?”
“I said to my friend.” Replying to Carlos. “Who Gives a Fuck? It’s just a big dumb ape.”
Carlos choked a laugh into his sleeve.
Maximus snarled from the back. “Your value is losing traction very fast Doctor Lattimer.”
“Like you have any intention of letting us live Maximus.” Hayden fired back sarcastically. “If my last words will be anything, it will be mocking you and your incestuous little clan.”
Maximus held firm on his temper, planning how many words Doctor Lattimer would get out as he sunk his struggling prospective corpse beneath the bubbling yellow waters of the underwater lake, his mouth filling with burning fluid as his lungs were crushed with the last vestiges of his final breaths.
Carlos kept walking, slowly moving, keeping to himself, but extremely pleased Hayden was doing his best to force Maximus to lose his cool and succeeding.
Angry people make foolish decisions and often before considering the results.
Maximus directed them to turn right.
After walking another ten minutes in an uphill manner, ducking under more low ceilings and sharp rocks, this cave not meant for human travels, Carlos saw the exit before him.
Even in the darkness, the flickering glow from the beach where Hayden lit the tribe’s ceremonial torch was shining like a lighthouse beacon in the fog off a Newfoundland stormy shore.
As the men proceeded, Carlos could see the opening they had chosen exited far higher than the one they originally entered, with a cliff ledge almost twenty-five feet from the rocky floor below.
Maximus prodded Carlos and Hayden forward with the sword, thrusting them on, not seeing their higher location.
Carlos intentionally tripped, his knee hitting a chunk of rock, keeping Maximus focused on his hostages, not the view.
Maximus stopped and used his boot to shove Carlos forward.
Carlos wobbled and resumed his forward pace smiling.
“Shame on you Doctor Lattimer.” Maximus stated. “You and Doctor Swift.”
“And why’s that?” Hayden replied, knowing as long as they were talking, Maximus was not hurting anyone.
“Bringing him into this.” Gesturing to Carlos. “Some old British collector who couldn’t figure out the journal when he had it. Then you come along and give him his chance for adventure and here he is, barely able to continue.” Maximus spoke loudly, directing the question to Hayden, but with equal opportunity for Carlos to answer. “What did he expect to receive, a chance for a few extra years from the Fountain of Youth?”
Hayden grinned as he faced forward. “I don’t know. I got the distinct impression Carlos would be an asset. If for no other reason than age brings experience. I sort of thought he had a lot.”
Carlos chuckled as well, amused Maximus had no idea who he really was, suspecting he would be far more amazed and treating him very differently had he had such insight.
Time was of the essence, with Danica stuck down in the deeper regions of the island with the remaining three Thornes trying to capture one of the sleeping Horror, Carlos sensed, as the cave entrance widened with proximity, the time for action was now.
With a gentle kick, out of Maximus’ eye line, Carlos sent a rock into the back of Hayden’s calf, clearly indicating he was about to do something.
Hayden slowed his pace, preparing himself.
Carlos spun around and with one smooth move, walked directly towards Maximus and his long sword.
Maximus grinned maliciously for several seconds, extending the blade forward. “Keep moving hero.”
Then to both Hayden and Maximus’ utter shock, Carlos thrust forward, reaching the blade and continuing.
Carlos walked into the blade, it positioned at stomach level and used his full body weight to take the sword deep into his abdomen.
Maximus’ eyes widened in total incredulity and astonishment as Carlos advanced upon him like some sort of clay golem seeking vengeance, the blade sinking into his stomach with each step, until the full blade was embedded in Carlos’ body up to the hilt.
Maximus mouth was open with dumbstruck revulsion, mostly in total disbelief any human being would intentionally sacrifice themselves in such a manner.
Carlos caught Maximus’ eyes and he lashed out with a powerful haymaker, using his right arm and spinning his upper body to level Maximus across the lower jaw with a thunderous blow, closing Maximus’ exposed mouth with a teeth cracking crunch.
Maximus was totally unprepared in how to react as his head, chin and face snapped back, his body remaining stationary.
Carlos dropped, transforming his body into dead weight and taking the sword with him to the ground, and out of Maximus’ grip, which had loosened completely with the surprising action Carlos had taken.
Not needing a second cue, Hayden leapt up, turned and pivoted on his foot, using his legs to shove his full body upwards and back in midair. He connected with a devastating elbow directly into Maximus’ already struck cheek.
Maximus coughed and arced back, staggering several steps trying to regain his position, still not falling as his massive form was used to punishment.
Hayden landed on his two feet, his elbow and forearm feeling like it was on fire, having hit his funny bone and thinking. ’Totally wrong name for a bone.’
Maximus shook his head back and forth, clearing his vision of the stars and started forward, fists formed and ready to hit, looking like two bowling balls on tree branches, ready to crush some pins.
Hayden dropped and rolled around Maximus, thus having himself deeper in the cave and keeping Maximus’ back to the gaping opening and high ledge behind him.
Shaking the pins and needles out of his arm, Hayden sprang into a runner’s crouch and bolted forward, using his shoulders like a battering ram as he walloped into Maximus’ abdomen.
Maximus let out a burst of air as his body bent forward with the blow.
Hayden pulled back and away with the utmost haste, to keep out of Maximus’ massive arms, ensuring he was not ensnared into a bear hug which would most assuredly crush his spine.
Maximus shuddered and took another half step back, his face red with exhaled air and spittle on his chin. He shook his head again, inhaling deeply, pumping his chest up and out like a primate, twice even slamming his forearm over his upper body, to trigger more fury and push his adrenaline to start flowing.
Hayden knew letting Maximus tap his reserves was not the optimal thing to let happen, thus he was back in motion, this time, pivoting his body up and using the full force of his legs to raise both feet up, hitting Maximus mid chest with a full frontal drop kick.
Maximus tightened up, taking a half step back, his eyes filling with sweat as it trickled down his brow and into his eyes, his helmet still tightly fastened. Combined with the intense heat and anger, Maximus was losing his control, wiping the tears and sweat with his shirt sleeve.
Carlos was still on the ground in a fetal position, probably never having done what he did before, depending on his healing abilities to cure the stabbing.
Hayden could see Maximus was still a good few metres from the cliff’s edge. He had to keep Maximus off his guard, especially to ensure Maximus was unable to draw his sidearm or reach for the pack of weapons he had relieved the trio of in the lower chamber, which he still had strapped tightly to his back. He knew if Maximus could draw even one and fire, in these close quarters, they would be dead.
Amazingly, most likely based on Maximus’ solidly built form and lumbering strength, he was still standing.
Hayden knew if Maximus was able to get focused, his chance for survival would be equally grim.
Hayden resumed his attack, knowing he could not stop with a man like Maximus.
Maximus stepped forward, his eyes open wide and gritting his teeth, now filled with blood.
Hayden and Maximus moved around one another like two lions in the jungle until Maximus had the cave exit behind him again.
Hayden bolted forward and launched a second powerful drop kick, hitting Maximus higher this time, his feet connecting with his full weight into his lower jaw.
Maximus had tightened his chest muscles, leveraging his legs like a foundation and he barely budged.
Hayden bounced off and dropped to the cave corridor’s rock covered ground, feeling like he had hit a dump truck. He spun as he landed, getting himself back up for another attack. With the twenty five foot ledge behind Maximus, he only needed to shove him a few more feet, which right now felt like a mile. He launched another devastating drop kick maneuver.
Except this time, Maximus was prepared. Sensing Hayden was going for a third, he caught Hayden’s two feet moments before impact. Using his massive upper body strength, and Hayden’s forward momentum, Maximus spun left, his chest heaving, Hayden’s legs in tow. Like a catapult, he slammed Hayden’s full body, back first, with bone crunching force into the side of the cave wall.
Like Maximus, Hayden let a burst of air.
Hayden dropped to the ground, gasping and wheezing, having the wind knocked out of him. He was effectively down.
Maximus stalked forward to the now kneeling Carlos.
Maximus raised both hands over his head, grabbed both fists and came down like a sledgehammer, cracking across Carlos’ side.
Carlos let out a tightened moan.
Maximus had the advantage of superior strength.
Even combined with Carlos’ healing abilities and energy reserves, the blow felt like he was being hit by man that could probably bench-press cars.
Maximus lifted Carlos’ limp form from the ground, amazed that Carlos was still alive. He shoved his fist into Carlos’ side forcing him to wince as he had no means to dodge.
With the compressed quarters in the caverns, Hayden and Carlos’ mobility was limited immensely, making Maximus’ connections that much more devastating.
With Hayden down, Maximus held the fallen form of Carlos up with one arm. In one swift pull, Maximus drew the sword from Carlos’ body. He let Carlos crumple back to the cave floor. “What a waste….” His words were cut short as his eyes caught the edges of the sword.
The blood was coagulating, far too quickly by normal means.
Maximus peered down and could see the wound where he drew the sword out.
The torn skin was knitting slowly together.
Maximus looked up into Carlos’ pain filled face. “It seems Mr. Santiago, there’s far more to you than I was originally told.” He glared in Hayden’s direction, still collapsed on the cave floor. “I should not be surprised.”
Carlos groaned, still too weak to move.
Maximus slipped the cutlass into the gap between his khakis and his leather belt. He bent down and lifted Carlos over his head with both hands with no more difficulty than hefting a sack of dry sand. “We’ve far more to talk about Mr. Santiago, but not here. On my operating table for sure. But for now, I need you out of my way.” With a running fireman’s carry, Maximus charged down the cave to the precipice of the ledge and with a double handed toss, threw Carlos twenty five feet to the beach floor below.
Carlos spun in the air and was able to twist to land on the ground using his legs and knees first, preventing bone breakage, but still crashing hard, effectively disabling him for the time being.
But worse, leaving Hayden alone at the mercy of Maximus, out of reach, with no way for Carlos to help him.
Carlos was trying to rise after having been tossed over, but as he looked up, he knew Hayden was on his own.
’God help him.’ Carlos prayed as he rolled onto his stomach to heal.
Maximus had already returned to Hayden’s fallen form and struck with a gut crunching punch.
Any remaining wind spewed forth from Hayden’s lungs.
“Not so mouthy now are you Doctor Lattimer?” Maximus mocked, kicking Hayden while he was down.
Hayden pushed back, away from the ledge and hopefully, the brutal beating. He slid his body along the dirty ground, with Maximus smiling and following behind.
“Oh I don’t know.” Hayden commented. “You kick like a girl.”
Maximus drew out the Cutlass.
Hayden pushed further until he found himself back under the rock ceiling that was too low to walk under fully erect. Hayden rolled over onto his stomach to try and crawl away, but Maximus kicked Hayden hard, forcing him face up, arms splayed.
Maximus crouched and placed his massive foot in the middle of Hayden’s chest and held him down.
Hayden was powerless.
Maximus arched his body back, both hands gripping the hilt of the sword. He raised his fists for the maximum momentum to bring it down with deadly velocity.
Hayden closed his eyes, preparing for the death blow, knowing life’s release would be coming. All he could think was, ‘And I still haven’t kissed Danica yet.’
That and he was still worried about her in the caves alone with those animals…
And the spiders.
‘What a useless archeologist I turned out to be.’ He thought. “I didn’t save anybody.’ He waited for the blade to strike through his chest.
After another few seconds, Hayden heard Maximus struggling. He opened his eyes to see Maximus, still towering over him, but no longer staring down at him.
Maximus was staring upward and seemed to be fighting something out of sight, his feet and body trying to drag him down with no success.
Hayden rolled out from under Maximus’ twisting legs. He rose, gasping, but he could suddenly see what had occurred.
Maximus’ double fisted grip on the sword had penetrated one of the white gelatin pools, one of the ones Danica had warned them about when they first entered the cave.
Like the one Hayden nearly dipped his hand into. They seemed to be everywhere.
It was some form of web ball, placed out of sight behind the upper side of the rock on the ceiling.
Maximus was entangled in it, drying strands and globs of silk oozing down his forearms.
Liquefied balls of webbing for catching prey as they struggle getting thicker and tighter with each pull.
The Elder had warned them the Sentinels would likely set traps.
With Maximus’ attempted angle, using both hands to increase the force of his downward thrust with the sword, they were deeply caught when he penetrated the trap. That and the handle of the sword was also stuck between his palms, glued between his intertwined fingers and useless to cut him free.
In those powerful pulls, Hayden saw something else at the corner of his eye.
A thin thread originally hidden by the cave dust and dirt, running from the web pool along the interior wall, shaking violently with Maximus’ twisting and turning.
‘Poetic.’ Hayden thought. He padded Maximus on the back and said. “See you sport.” He turned to leave.
Maximus screamed to him. “This isn’t over!”
Hayden stopped, turned his head around and smiled wickedly. “Actually it is. Do you not see what it’s attached to?”
Maximus looked up in confusion and his helmet light caught the shaking thread vanishing into the darkness below.
“You ring a dinner bell, someone’s coming to eat.” Hayden smiled. “Personally, I wasn’t invited, so you can be dine upon solo.”
“You can’t leave me like this!” Maximus declared with authority.
Hayden turned to him. “Oh yes I can. When you left Danica... Doctor Swift with your darling wife… oh sorry… sister,” He shivered unconsciously “And your disgusting boys, to fend for herself, be assured, I can leave you like this and I will.”
The web started to shake, this time without Maximus’ help.
The landlord was coming.
And very fast.
Maximus started to panic. “You better…”
Hayden turned and with one swift motion, using his pocketknife, sliced the strap on the duffle bag holding their weapons, pulling it free from Maximus.
Maximus eyes went wide with comprehension.
Hayden turned and walked to the cliff’s edge, deftly tossing it over the side to Carlos below and giving Carlos a salute.
Maximus was pulling and tearing, the web getting stronger and stronger.
Before Hayden leapt over the side to the beach below, he turned to Maximus. “One more thing, Maximus.”
Maximus turned to Hayden, his eyes softening, expecting him to change his mind.
“Maybe this is Destiny.” Hayden winked.
Maximus swore something unintelligible with clenched eyes in Hayden’s direction followed by, “You better hope I die.”
“Actually, I hope you live. A very long time.” Hayden smiled maliciously.
Maximus screamed. “No. No. NOOOOOOOO!”
But as the last ‘No’ escaped his lips, Hayden was gone.
Maximus heard it, a furry patter of large legs moving along the cave toward him.
He started to scream.
And scream and scream.