The Fortune Teller

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Chapter Seventeen

“Wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG!” The voice in Derek's head said. “You broke the course. And now the pattern must be accelerated. This is not good at all.”

Derek was standing on top of a pile of goo, similar in consistency to jell-o. It was a palish red. Surrounding him on every side was pure black.

“You were supposed to be the answer, the last clue but NOW!” the voice continued. It spoke with frantic speed, stumbling over words. “You must be brought to the master's great wisdom faster. Not good at all not good at all. But he insists, and when the master insists, you do. It is a pity you know nothing of the great vision, and it is truly a pity that Tom Cowl has corrupted your mind. Now all you can see is irrelevances! But the master will break those thoughts, all knowing and omnipotent as he is! And this GIRL! Very unexpected, the master did not predict a being such as herself! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid Murphy! Wrong! All of it wrong! But it can still be salvaged Derek Wheeler! You can salvage it! The city with wet feet! In the great city with wet feet lies the key! Save millions! Billions! Trillions! Of future generations! Go Derek Wheeler! Fly Derek Wheeler! You are humanities last chance! Last chance! Last chance! La-”

Derek's eyes popped open. He was hanging up in that tree again. No, no he wasn't. He was hanging from a stalactite. He was staring down at a large number of stalagmites. Something sticky was tied around his mouth. And the rest of him for that matter. For a few seconds he wondered where he was.

He was still somewhere in the Well Well, obviously. They had found the water, then Zoey had found those creepy bodies, and then the humming came. There had been a swarm of flies, and then... nothing. The only thing he remembered after that was standing on some strange gelatin while someone was ranting. Or was that a dream?

He pulled his head up to see what the sticky stuff was. It covered every inch of his body, a silvery black cocoon. It stopped all movement but the basic flexing of his muscles, and three fingers on his right hand. Even to move his head he had to bend his entire body. It was like a giant spider had wrapped him in it's web. It must have been insulated, as sweat was pouring down his face.

A wave of primal fear ran up Derek's spine. He was trapped. Something had trapped him. He had seen a spider. He'd seen one wrap a bug in it's web. And the sticky black gunk that covered him reminded him too much of web.

He started struggling. He had to get out! He had to get out before the spider came and sucked out his blood! He twisted and turned, thrashing about, in a feral attempt to get free. But his endless thrashing only tired him out. The bonds were too strong. But he kept swinging and tearing. And in all his useless swinging, he bumped into something.

It was a corpse. Muffled screams issued from Derek's bound mouth as he stared at a skeletal, dried up husk of a body. It crawled with enormous fleas, eating the dead's flesh. And even more horrifying was the black webbing that it was strung up with. Black webbing like Derek's. As Derek glanced around, panicky, he realized he was in the middle of a graveyard.

What must have been hundreds of bodies hung from the cavern roof. Each was a decaying mash up of flesh, and each was wrapped up in the black webbing. More muffled screams came from Derek as he continued to thrash, every instinct in his body screaming at him to break free, to run, to get away from this horrible dead place. Each time his struggles came to nothing, he simply struggled harder, smashing into the bodies around him and hardly noticing. Had to get away! Had to get away! Until finally, out of pure exhaustion and hopelessness, he gave up.

Tears mixed with the sweat on his face. He was going to die. Not because he'd made a big mistake or faced overwhelming odds. He'd simply been unlucky. Just like his father had been unlucky. One of the vats of magma was right over his father's head had been destabilized. It was only for a moment, probably because the crane pilot had been drinking coffee and spilled or some idiocy such as that. The super-hot liquid had crashed down on his father and burned through his skin, killing him instantly. He'd just been unlucky.

If it hadn't been for that freak spill Derek never would have had to get a job at The Great Foundry. He never would have stopped that out of control crane. He never would have gotten any money. He never would have left The Sphere. He would be alive and well, instead of waiting to die, strung up to the ceiling of a cavern on a mission to save a man he hardly knew. Because Joshua wouldn't risk his own skin.

His thoughts of Joshua strangely brought up what he had said before they entered the Well Well; I'd put your chances of survival at fifty percent. Why had that come to him? Suddenly, it dawned on him. Joshua had spoken to people who survived the Well Well. He must have known what they would face. And he thought they could survive it.

A sudden new strength surged through Derek. Joshua thought they could do it. He would prove that selfish jerk right. His mind suddenly became focused. He would need to get free from the webbing, and brute force hadn't worked.

He looked around for inspiration from the environment. And among the bodies, he saw it. The glint of a knife. On one of the bodies quite close to him. If he could get it, he might be able to cut himself free. He had the three fingers on his right hand to do it.

Still terrified, but with fresh hope, he started swinging. It was not the random, fearful swinging of before, but a calculated and purposeful swing towards the body that had the weapon tucked into it's belt.

He smacked into the body once, but wasn't at the right angle. He turned slightly, trying to line up his three free fingers correctly. The second time he was closer. The third time he thought he had it, but only cut his finger trying to grab the knife by the blade. Four tries and two more cuts later, he finally grasped it by the hilt. It slid out of it's owner's belt fairly easily, cutting through webbing as it did so.

Now came the tricky part. With only three fingers available to hold the knife, it would be hard to cut anything without loosing his grip. Fighting down fresh panic and terror, Derek very carefully cut the rest of his right hand free, leaving a bloody cut on his thumb as he did so. Next, he cut the rest of his arm free. It took awhile. Every time he felt the knife would slip out of his grasp, he would stop and keep it firmly grasped in his hand before continuing. But, after an eternity, his right arm was free.

He cut away at the rest of his body, starting with his other arm and ending with his mouth. The only thing he didn't but was the tangle of web around his feet and ankles. Which led him to his next problem. He was a good three-hundred feet above the cavern floor at least. If he cut the final webbing, he would crash to his death.

Closing his eyes briefly to psych himself up, Derek carefully put the knife between his teeth and started swinging again. He was once again swinging towards a body, the same one as before, but this time he reached out with his arms, trying for a hold on the corpse.

He grasped the man's skull, but it suddenly snapped off in his hands. He let it go and foolishly opened his mouth to let out a scream of terror. The knife fell, his only chance of freedom, spiraling to the ground! His left hand shot out and caught it by the blade. Resisting the urge to let go, he slowly brought it's hilt up to his other hand. His left now had a bloody cut running across it's palm.

Swearing silently, he clenched his jaw around the knife and once again tried of a hold on the corpse. He finally found one, and after checking numerous times to see if it was stable, clawed his way up it to the more thickly laid webbing that was undoubtedly stable. His back bent at a severe angle as a result, hurting slightly.

Once he was sure he was secure, he carefully took the knife from his teeth with his left hand. Taking a deep breath and clutching the corpse as tightly as he could, Derek cut his feet free with one mighty swing.

Immediately gravity tore down on him with all it's crushing force. Derek's muscles stained as they pulled him up and kept him alive. His left hand, still clutching the knife, zoomed up to help his right, keeping him stable. He was dangling from a dead body, in a maze of corpses hanging from a roof, with certain death awaiting him if he fell.

It was that moment when a thought came to Derek so strange that he had to say it out loud. “Now what?” The thought was ludicrous. A snort worked it's way up his throat. He was inexplicably struck by the giggles. Before he knew it he was laughing for all of the dead men to hear. “I've made so much progress!” he shouted sarcasticly between bursts of laughter.

Once he calmed down he took another look around. The passage to real freedom seemed quite straightforward. He had to get to the wall and climb down. The only way to get to the wall would be across the maze of bodies.

He swung the corpse around, looking for the cavern wall. When he saw it, off to his left, a wall of sharp, deadly looking rocks. His way down.

The next closest corpse was only a few feet away. Derek breathed in, tensed his muscles, and jumped. After hanging worryingly in the air for a moment, he was scrabbling against gravity to get back to the secure top of the body. It wasn't as hard as he thought it would be.

He started jumping. He tried to remain completely and totally focused. Ignore the fact that what he was jumping on were corpses. “Just jump,” he whispered to himself over and over again. Ignore the overpowering, suffocating stench of death. Ignore the ribs that you were dangling from. It isn't important. It doesn't exist.

He got more and more daring with his jumps, treating it as a game. After all, how else could he treat it? If he were to treat it as a matter of life and death, it would rapidly become a matter of just death. And he did not look down.

Only once did he almost fall. What he'd thought would be a good stable handhold turned out to be an arm waiting for it's chance to break. He grabbed a rib and caught himself, but had to watch the knife fall to the distant ground. Swearing, he pulled himself back up and continued the jumping game.

He fell into such a easy pattern with his jumping that he was actually surprised when he reached the wall. He stopped for a few moments, contemplating where to jump. No matter where he looked it seemed too sharp. Eventually he simply thought; no matter where I jump it will hurt, might as well get it over with, and leaped.

Pain shot through him when he hit the rock. A especially pointy rock had jammed into his stomach. He glanced down at the wound and muttered to himself, “Bleeding.”

Other then that he'd gotten a pretty good hold, and started carefully climbing down. It was a slow process, as he tried to find the hidden footholds that would lead him on a winding stairway down. It might have taken him an hour, or it might have taken him ten, but he finally reached the bottom. He was so gleeful to see solid ground he actually jumped the last twelve feet, landing heavily on all fours.

He stood up, let out a scream of joyous victory, and then collapsed. His stomach wound had been bleeding the entire time, and he'd lost far too much blood. He ripped off part of his shirt and bandaged himself like Chan had shown him. He didn't know if it would stop the bleeding or not, but it was worth trying.

Every time he tried to move, pain went shooting up his spine. He had kept it in for the climb down, but now he left it flow freely through every inch of his body. He got a strange idea in head that the pain would speed the healing process.

He slowly took stock of the situation. He was badly wounded, buried in some cavern. Whatever wrapped him up in the web neglected to take his gun, but there was no telling if it would work. He really shouldn't move, as that would make the wound worse, but would have to if he wanted to get out. He had no idea where Zoey or the canisters of Well Well water were, but he would have to find them before escaping.

And that is when he heard the piano music.

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