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The Hole


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Nightrival races along the rooftops. Behind him, the towering Midtown skyscrapers shine with a thousand points of light. Cars honk and screech as they zoom down Lexington Avenue. To his right, the Mora-Glenn Bridge soars above the South River, suspended by its magnificent arches. Stray newspapers and empty bottles litter the streets.

Although he's far enough away from the porn theatres, greasy spoons and run-down hotels that are associated with the Fens, Nightrival can still detect hints of stale beer and garbage wafting in the air.

Tonight, Nightrival is here following a tip: a cache of automatic weapons are rumoured to be stashed in Greenbank, and the name Hieronymus King is attached to that rumour. Stopping within a block of his destination, he notices the address belongs to a warehouse. South of Kendall Avenue, the building squats inconspicuously near the South River shore. A white yacht and a long cargo ship glide noiselessly along the river. The Boardwalk, with its brilliant neon glow splashed across the water, hums dimly from its throbbing crowds.

This warehouse is small compared to ones found in Greenbank. A low, dilapidated building with colourful graffiti smeared all along its exterior, its windows are boarded shut and its rusted doors are secured with a heavy padlock. On the roof sits an elevated skylight. Nightrival removes a swing line, tosses the hook at a lamppost and swings across the street, silently landing onto the roof. He opens the skylight and leaps down to the dusty floor. His heart sinks. The warehouse is empty, save a few broken palettes and crushed beer cans.

"Dang it."

Suddenly, Nightrival hears the familiar crackle of speakers warming up.

"You accepted my invitation," announces a cold voice. "I'm pleased."

"Ya coulda put yer name onnit. I had no idea who was hostin' this little get-together."

"I'm the Warden," replies the voice, now hard as tempered steel.

"If yer a warden, then why don't ya let me catch th' crooks so's ya can put 'em away all proper like?" he says with mock diplomacy.

"Criminals? What about the corrupt cops who look the other way whenever someone waves a little money at them? The judges handing out wrist-slaps to their corporate friends? And the . . . superheroes," Warden nearly chokes on the word, "those spandex-clad fascists enforcing the fat cats' twisted, greedy agenda? They are the ones who deserve to rot in prisons. My prisons."

"Ain't my department, tough guy."

"So I've noticed. Apparently, ninjas and drug-dealers are not enought to put you away. Someone paid me a very large sum of money to use more unconventional methods of dealing with offenders of your ilk. But I'm not going to kill you. Not directly, anyway. Death is far too good for criminal scum like you. Instead, I'm sentencing you to life imprisonment with no possibility for parole."

The floor under Nightrival's feet groan and shift, then he feels himself falling fast. The chilling voice distracted him from the real danger. He loosens himself up to break his fall. Luckily, the drop is short and he rolls when his hands touch the floor. Nightrival springs to his feet just as two panels on the ceiling snap shut.

"I've been watching you, Nightrival. I know your strengths, and your faults. I designed your cell to accomodate a man of your talents. It's a shame, really. You could have been a valuable ally."

"When I find ya, I'm gonna break every one o' yer valuables."

Warden chortles in reply. "Enjoy your stay."

The speakers click off. Bright, incandescent lights flare to life, forcing Nightrival to shield his eyes. Tumblers in the trapdoor above him slam into place, sealing him within Warden's underground prison.

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From out of nowhere, there's a rather embarrassed cough, and a familiar female voice seems to hang in the air.

"Now don't be mad at me, but I kinda decided to tag along tonight."

Suddenly the slight figure of Grimalkin appears crouched on the floor, in her usual black and midnight blue leather outfit; she's rubbing her ankle with a gloved hand, and behind her domino mask what's visible of her face is tinged bright pink. She has a hard time maintaining eye contact with her friend and mentor as she continues with a slight shrug.

"I saw you on patrol, and I wanted a chance to just, y'know, see you in action without you having to worry about me getting hurt."

She looks up at the sealed trapdoor overhead.

"Not one of my best ideas, it turns out."

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Nightrival lowers his hand when his eyes become accustomed to the blaring lights. He sighs when hears the voice he has grown acquainted with over the weeks. He lays his hand across his brow and smooths out the top of his mask, pulling it taunt across his face. The faint impression of a frown forms in the fabric.

"I ain't mad," he explains before Grim appears, "I'm jus' . . . burdened."

When she materializes he stands close to her and crosses his arms.

"I wasn't on patrol. I 'eard King was hidin' weapons 'ere so I checked it out. Clearly, it's a trap. King's lookin' ta get rid o' a nuisance, and now he gets ta kill two birds with one freaky deathtrap."

Nightrival examines their surroundings. "Stick wit' me. We'll get outta 'ere, whereever 'ere is."

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Nightrival examines their surroundings. "Stick wit' me. We'll get outta 'ere, whereever 'ere is."

Grim nods glumly and gets to her feet, favoring her left ankle a little bit as she surveys the chamber; she shakes and clucks her tongue.

"Oh man, this is gonna be tough. God, I wish I had a way to contact Nanowire; I bet he could bust us out of here in two seconds."

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Drawing his attention away from their situation, Nightrival's attention wrenches back to Grim. He doesn't like hearing a name he doesn't know, and a name that suggests superhuman is one that piques his interest. With Grim's connections in the Fens and the Southside, she would be one of the first heroes to hear of any new player entering the scene. Knowledge is power in this game, and Nightrival can't afford harbouring a deficiency. Not with King creeping into his neighourhood, or crooks like Maelstrom running loose.

"Nanowire? Who's that? Is 'e yer new boyfriend or somethin'?" he chuckles.

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"This was unexpected," the speakers blare with The Warden's voice again. "Apparently your friend is invisible to the exterior senors. The same cannot be said of the interior, so such tactics will not avail you anything. But as interesting as all this is, It's time for you to meet your end."

A sudden *click* sounded, and the walls suddenly began to close in, driven by the hum of hydraulics on the other side. "When these were installed, I was assured that they would be enough to crush a car into a cube the size of a beer keg. Enjoy!"

Trying to ignore The Warden's cackling laugh, both adventurers saw that the only obvious way out of the room was a locked steel door on one end. There was enough room in between the rapidly-closing walls and the floor to jam something in there, but Nightrival wasn't sure how long that would slow them down.

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"Nanowire? Who's that? Is 'e yer new boyfriend or somethin'?" he chuckles.

Grim laughs. "Yeah, kinda; more of a boyfriend-slash-ongoing project. He's been walking on the dark side for a while, and I'm trying to pull him back into the light."

She takes a tentative step closer to the wall and leans as far forward as she can to peer at its surface.

"I think, given time, he could be one of the greats; maybe not like Centurion great, but he could pull his weight on the League."

She smiles to herself. "I know he could."

"This was unexpected," the speakers blare with The Warden's voice again. "Apparently your friend is invisible to the exterior senors. The same cannot be said of the interior, so such tactics will not avail you anything. But as interesting as all this is, It's time for you to meet your end."

A sudden *click* sounded, and the walls suddenly began to close in, driven by the hum of hydraulics on the other side. "When these were installed, I was assured that they would be enough to crush a car into a cube the size of a beer keg. Enjoy!"

And then the walls started moving in.

"Oh crap!" :o

Apparently ingoring the pian in her ankle, Grim scampers towards the door, but skids to a stop about ten feet short.

"Wait, it's gotta be a trap, too, right?"

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"Dark side, huh? What's wit' girls always goin' for the bad - "

The unexpected hum of machinery interrupts Nightrival; the walls pressing together induce his eyes to widen with white terror. He tries to remain calm, and he does so partially, but for all of his experience he never encountered a room that wanted to crush him into paste. The steel door at the end of the room catches his eye, but they need time more than anything. He takes note of the slim space between the floor and the wall and a memory inexplicably bubbles to the surface.

A movie . . . there's a Chinese kid innit, and that room wit' th' cockroaches . . . yeah, Indiana Jones and the Temple o' Doom.

Nightrival draws out a single throwing knife and holds it by the handle. He kneels down and wedges it into the floor with a grunt, using his entire upper body strength to push the blade in place.

"Wait, it's gotta be a trap, too, right?"

"I dunno," replies Nightrival, "but we gotta try."

He sprints towards the door and leaps off his toes, spins in the air and lands a flying back kick right into the metal surface.

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Nightrival's kick landed squarely on the steel door, shaking the hatch in it's frame. However, it's surface remained unblemished, it's latch still held strong.

"You're going to have to do better than that," the Warden's mocking voice came over the loudspeaker.

The walls ground closer, slowed because of Nightrival's quick thinking, but still moved inexorably together. He made some quick mental calculations, and came to the conclusion that they would be in serious trouble in less than 30 seconds.

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Nightrival settles on his feet and checks the door. The kick was solid, but it remains standing. He grinds his teeth and chokes back the lump rising in his throat. Panic just feeds more panic, and though Grim is one of the bravest people he knows, he needs to remain stoic in the face of imminent danger. Not just for her sake, but for his.

He remembers Okinawa. His elderly sensei, a broad-shouldered fighter with hands thick as oak, stands beside him in a dense bamboo forest. A wooden sawhorse holding five thick slabs of ice is set before him. The other students from the GÃ…ÂjÅ«-ryÅ« dojo encircle him, rocking on their feet in eager anticipation. They mutter to each other in Japanese.

Back inside the deathtrap, Nightrival's hand gently graces the door's surface. He assumes the horse stance, parting his legs and slightly bending his knees. Taking deep, controlled breaths, he draws his right arm against his hip and clenches his hand into a tight fist, the palm facing up.

"I'll show ya better," he whispers.

He inhales once, quickly followed by a swift choku-zuki into the steel door, accompanied by a loud "kiii-ya!"

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This time around, the door couldn't handle Nightrival's concentrated effort being exerted on a single area and was blasted open, leaving it hanging by little more than a hinge to show the results of his handiwork.

Beyond the door was a hallway, perhaps 30 feet long. But something was wrong with the passage. The door at the end - the only door in the room - appeared to be much smaller than it should have been. There was some sort of weird geometry at work that made Nightrival and Grimalkin's eyes hurt and their heads swim.

"All you need to do is get to the end," the loudspeakers said, assuring the pair by it's mocking tone that there was far more to be had out of this room than it appeared.

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Everything about the hallway they'd just stumbled into seemed off. The walls, floor and ceiling all appeared to bleed into one another. The door at the end shifted in location and orientation, at once 30 feet away and one hundred. Even the straightened edges of the walls bent and writhed under some unseen force, squirming as though alive before their very eyes. A oscillating screech, almost inaudible to Nightrival but unbearable to Grimalkin, assaulted their senses, hammering away at the insides of their skulls until it seemed sure they would burst.

After what seemed like minutes, but was in fact mere seconds, both Grimalkin and Nightrival hammered back the screeching pulse so they could bare to think. It was still there, and it still hurt, but it no longer pained the two of them beyond human endurance to stand inside the hallway . Although the piecing keening of the place drove Grimalkin to distraction due to her enhanced hearing, Nightrival was able to see past it to several irregularities in an otherwise uniformly maddening architecture - likely pressure plates. Ones they wouldn't have been able to see had they been partly incapacitate by the sounds of whatever device The Warden had unleashed upon them.

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Grim claps her hands over her ears so hard that she sees stars, and still the shrieking pierces her eardrums like white-hot knitting needles, but it no longer feels like her head is about to explode. She yells over the sound as though it were deafeningly loud.

"This is bad, man! I can't - ahhhhhh, we gotta figure out a way to stop that! Damn it, that hurts!"

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At first, Nightrival covers his ears when his is engulfed with the sonic scream. He listens for a few seconds and realizes that the sound is actually rather bearable. Then he looks to his partner and sees her face contorted in agony.

"Hold on, kid!" he yells above the deafening sound.

Nightrival unties his belt and spreads it out. He steps over to Grim and wraps the belt around her head, covering her ears. Wrapping it tight, he ties it off with a simple knot.

"That might work, I dunno. Jus' keep your hands over yer ears an' follow me."

He studies the hallway beyond the room and for a moment his stomach churns with acidic displeasure. His eyes follow the walls, floor, ceiling and door as they merge and seperate in a kaleidoscopic pattern. Keeping his eyes focused on the center of the hallway, he soon understands how each refraction relates to one another in their own haphazard fashion. Nightrival grabs Grim's sleeve and leads her down the hallway. Each step is carefully timed in conjunction with the shifting space: scurry a few feet, wait for the left wall to melt into the ceiling, then make another dash.

Their movement is slow-going, but eventually they make it across the hall. Nightrival grips the doorknob and turns it.

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The door opened inward easily, and at the same time, the mind-rending screech kicked off, revealing the hallway behind them to be nothing more than a plain passageway with nothing amiss. A few areas, the ones Nightrival had seen before, stood out in his vision. Tripwires and pressure plates, hooked up to what he had to imagine were not welcoming prizes. It seemed the noise was the cause of all of the distortions. Even blocking most of it out had only done so much to help.

Turning towards the room they were entering, both of the heroes saw that far from being able to rest, they had gone from the frying pan into the fire - literally. A narrow stretch of flooring, perhaps two feet wide, was the only thing over a dead drop down into a what appeared to be a blast furnace. Flames licked up towards them from far below, creating a flickering, eeire redish glow - the only light in the room. Oppressive heat rushed washed over them, making both break out in sweat almost instantly.

At the end of the walkway was a ladder, leading up into a hatch in the ceiling, some 30 feet up. However, both the walkway and the ladder were retracting - the former into the wall underneath the doorway both stood in, and the latter into the ceiling itself. Neither moved very quickly, but before long, even a running jump would put it out of reach. Worse, the door behind them had slammed shut. There was no doorknob on this side, and kicking it down again might take more time than the two had.

"Better hurry," the Warden's voice echoed about the vast, mostly empty enviroment.

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"Lemme get this off ya." Nightrival unwraps his belt from Grim's head and hastily ties it around his waist. "That wasn't a big help after all, and ya look like Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid."

Behind him, he spots the pressure plates and tripwires coming into view as the hallway returns to normal. He's curious about the traps connected to the triggers, while at the same time he's relieved they avoided them altogether. For now, anyway.

He hears the door slam behind him and he looks to the ladder at the end of the walkway. He lifts a single eyebrow. The flames below look to be huge, yet the sounds they're producing are much more subdued, like a small campfire. Sweat glues his costume to his skin. The walkway slides under his feet and the ladder is growing smaller as it disappears into the ceiling. Some kinda illusion? No time ta overthink this; we gotta run!

Nightrival tugs at Grim's sleeve to communicate his simple plan. He races to the end of the walkway that has seperated itself from the opposite wall. He sees the chasm just under his feet; the gleaming fire bathes him in blood red light. Removing a swing line hidden inside his costume, he tosses the weighted hook at the ceiling hatch and it snags onto the latch. He fastens the other end to his belt.

"Jus' follow me," he whispers to Grim.

He crouches, then springs into the air, his fingers outstretched to catch the receding ladder.

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Something about this set-up was all wrong, but Grim really didn't have the time to sort it all out; she needed to survive and make sure Rival survived, too.

"Jus' follow me," he whispers to Grim.

He crouches, then springs into the air, his fingers outstretched to catch the receding ladder.

Oh god, I hate it when he does it with the flipping; he's so much better at the flipping.

Following her mentor's, she leaps, hoping to grab the ladder, or at the very least end up dangling from one of Nightrival's boots.

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Both heroes easily made it to the ladder, Nightrival leading the way and Grimalkin coming in close behind. It only got easier as the two climbed, as the very nature of the "deathtrap" assisted them with the way up. As it receded up into the ceiling, Nightrival reached up to turn the locking handle on the hatch. As he did, though, the wheel turned of it's own accord.

"Wrong door," the disembodied voice boomed in a disturbingly final tone.

The hatch blew open and flames belched out of the portal. The heat wave alone was a physical presence, hammering the two heroes back as surely as a blast of wind. It was immediately followed up by the fire itself, washing over the both before they could move.

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Nightrival automatically releases his fingers from the latch just as the flames lash out at the two heroes. His mind freezes to keep him from delaying his reflexes. He springs off the ladder, tucks into roll and flattens himself to properly dive for lower ground. A sliver of panicked thought suddenly jabs deep into his brain.

Oh man, Grim!

His hands open and close mechanically, searching for a rung to hold onto before the swing line becomes too taut. He turns his neck to look for Grim underneath him, but the heat and shock blurs the edge of his vision. He can't see if Grim is injured from the blast, but he can pick out her form nearby.

"Grim! Hold on!"

His hands struggle to reach the ladder . . .

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. . . and one of them snags it. Nightrival slams against the ladder and his arm almost pulls apart from his shoulder. He feels a stabbing pain fire through his arm and up into his neck. He grunts as he heaves himself up, gripping the ladder with his other hand and slipping his feet onto the rungs.

"Grim, are ya - "

He glances down and sees Grim falling into the fiery pit below.

"Grim!"

Without hesitation, he launches himself from the ladder and dives straight down. The swing line uncoils behind him. Waves of heat wash over him, and he squints against the bright light. Falling faster and faster, he thrusts his arms in front of him. Grim gets closer. Nightrival narrows his eyes. Within seconds the gap between them closes and he stretches every muscle and tendon to ensare the descending hero.

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Nightrival's last ditch effort pays off; Lynn is hanging over nothing but air and fire when he hauls her into his chest with one arm while still holding onto his line. The slight girl was safe. For now.

But Nightrival and his slowly-recovering burden were still caught between a rock and a hard place. The fire above licked down, driven seemingly by the desire to consume that which escaped it before. Only the laws of flammable materials kept it from surging down his swingline after him. The heat, however, was intense. He knew he wouldn't be able to keep hanging there for much longer.

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Nightrival gives himself a moment to take stock of his dire situation. Under his feet is a scorching pit waiting to consume him. The only means of escape, the ceiling latch, is rigged with trap that nearly killed Grim. He hangs in the air clutching the swing line, with Grim held in one arm. The soles of his feet roast from the pulsating heat. Flames lash out at their legs with orange-red tendrils. Sweat stings his eyes. His hand firmly grips the line, though the strength in his fingers are slowly ebbing away. The line is slipping through his hand.

Who is this guy? He's toyin' wit' us rather than killin' us outright. Man, I gonna get stuck wit' all th' sickos, aren't I?

His complaint transforms into an idea. Warden has always given them a chance to escape and this trap is no different. He must 'ave a different exit. But where? He recalls that the sound of the fire doesn't match its size, like a campfire instead of a bonfire. The clue doesn't seem to connect the puzzle pieces together in Nightrival's mind. Perhaps Grim knows something he doesn't? Her senses are much sharper and perhaps she can spot something he missed. He has to try; his hand slides another inch down the line. Time is running short.

Nightrival shakes her. "Rise an' shine, kid. I need yer eyes an' ears." He lifts her up so she's eye level to him. "Ya notice anythin' a little strange about this barbeque? That fire should be roarin' but it ain't."

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Nightrival shakes her. "Rise an' shine, kid. I need yer eyes an' ears." He lifts her up so she's eye level to him. "Ya notice anythin' a little strange about this barbeque? That fire should be roarin' but it ain't."

The fog clears, and the world of heat and fire returns; Grim shakes her head blearily as she comes to in her mentor's arms.

"Ah crap, I was hoping this was a nightmare."

Following Nightrival's instructions, she quickly looks up, down and all around, eyes and ears straining as she tries to get her head around the sense of wrongness she felt earlier.

He's playing with us; there's always a way out, if we can find it.

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The flames continued to roar, the blast furnace intensity of the heat slammed down on the pair like a champion sumo wrestler pushing an opponent out of the ring. Even the sweat that coated the two had dried up now; a nasty suntan would be their reward from this deathtrap, if they could escape.

Grimalkin's hearing had taken a beating while they'd been here, and she wasn't completely sure that she'd be able to pick up on anything more than what she already knew. It was too much - the heat, the pain from her burns, the strain on her arms. She could barely concentrate on keeping a hold of her protector, much less listen for something she wasn't even sure was there...

And then she knew. It wasn't something that was there, it was something that wasn't. The flames above her roared like some hungry beast. The flames below crackled like a small bonfire even though it should have been deafening. Something was wrong with this picture.

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