11 - Game (Moxas)
The deafening cheers and applause were making Bolt Lancer's ears ring. He was coming to find that this was the worst part of this ordeal; the white rat was used to being bound up and strapped to a slab, stripped of his trident and at the mercy of some ne'er-do-well, but not with a large audience cheering and jeering at him. The dazzling stage lights made it hard to see the audience as anything more than sinister, shadowy shapes. The garish warm colours of the stage didn't help either; they seriously clashed with the dark purple and neon green of his body suit. It was as though he had been plucked out of time and sent back 50 years into a retro game show set, and he felt incredibly out of place.
At the very least, the applause was helping him clear the cobwebs from his mind and get his bearings. The hero's head was tingling, and his eyes were heavy. He had barely managed to keep his wits about him in that last challenge; he came so dangerously close to surrendering.
The last sixty seconds had been spent staring at an oversized pocket-watch with a swirling face. The even ticking and the swirling pulse of the spiral came so lose to seducing him into trance. Those last two or three seconds were torture. As the watch swung upwards into the dark rafters, his head instinctively craned to follow before he caught himself and tore his gaze away. A sense of longing persisted after. He wanted to keep looking, so badly...
He managed to re-compose himself and shake it off, remembering the peril he was in.
``Give it up for Bolt Lancer everybody! He's on quite the winning streak, isn't he? He's resisted every single challenge until now, and he still has everything to play for!''
The Master of Ceremonies, a paunchy macaw, approached Bolt Lancer, his glittering blazer dazzling the rat's already be-dazzled eyes. The bird of paradise never stopped grinning his practiced, synthetic grin. It taunted Bolt Lancer, and he refused to return the smile.
``How're you feeling so far?'' The M-O-C asked, jabbing the lollipop-shaped microphone towards his face. ``Think you'll be able to reach the end and win tonight's grand prize?''
``Count on it,'' Bolt Lancer responded. He kept his composure, his expression still grim and stoic. He refused to give in or let himself be debased.
``And which prize do you want to go for? Do you want the new car? The all-expenses-paid trip to the Alps?''
``The freedom of my comrades,'' the rat said, careful not to let his anger show.
``Ooooh, very brave words, hero! You're right on track to beating our previous high-scorer, Justicar! You know Justicar, right? In fact, I think they're out here in the audience!''
A pale spotlight shone and searched through the applauding audience. Sure enough, it alighted on the still-armoured form of the erstwhile-missing bull. He was smiling as widely as everyone else, with curling spiralling colours in his eyes to match. He waved towards the stage, and at everyone around him. The normally taciturn hero was gurning like an idiot; it was uncanny and unnerving to see him like this.
If he was here, that meant the other heroes who disappeared were too, somewhere in the audience.
``You're not going to get away with this,'' Bolt Lancer said.
``Uh-oh~!'' The laugh was perfectly pitched for the M-O-C's studio audience. ``He said the line, folks!''
The audience hooted and hollered with delight. Bolt heard the sound of dinging chimes overhead. Above him, on an old glass-covered screen, he could see a table of blue rectangles, each one with a different statement written in white text. The phrases on them included things like ``I can take whatever you can give me,'' ``I'll never give in to you,'' ``Someone's going to find me'', ``Let my friends go,'' and... ``You won't get away with this.''
As he watched, that sentence got a bright red line straight through it. His heart sank. That couldn't be good.
``And you know what that means, folks!'' The M-O-C continued with a laugh. ``It's time for the Lightning Round!''
The rapturous applause, coupled with the blasting of brass and synth music, made the rat's blood freeze for a moment. Shit, he thought. That's not good. He wished he'd noticed that placard earlier, but it was too far out of sight for him to see anyway.
``Now then now then now then,'' the M-O-C said. ``You're in for a rough ride now, contestant! Until now, you've had to face one mental challenge at a time, based on the spins of the wheel... now, though, you're going to be facing several back to back, in lightning-fast succession! But if you manage to resist for 30 seconds, you'll get double the points and get even that closer to winning the grand prize... which prize did you want again?''
``Damn you,'' Bolt Lancer muttered under his breath. He took deep breaths in and out through the nose, attempting to clear his mind. He knew this was going to be crucial. His mind was weak, as was his body, and he didn?t know how much longer he would be able to sustain his resistance. If he stalled long enough for the other heroes to arrive, maybe...
``Giving us the silent treatment?'' the M-O-C cajoled. ``Still not sure what you want? That's okay, you'll have time to think about it later... All right then, are we ready? It's time to...''
``SINK! OR! WIN!'' The audience's voices crashed over him like a wave.
With a buzz, that wheel across from the rat began to spin once again. Its multicoloured stripes blurred together and coaxed him in, faintly hypnotic in and of themselves. But he was at least somewhat used to that display, at least. The wheel came to an abrupt, clanking stop, settling on a bouquet of flowers.
``Stop and Smell the Flowers! A fabulous start!''
A bouquet of plastic flowers was pressed close to his face, and oily vapour issued from tiny nozzles in each one. Almost immediately, Bolt Lancer's nostrils were hit with a deliciously sweet perfume. For a moment, his whole mind switched off, entirely consumed by the olfactory experience. If he hadn't steeled himself for it, it might have knocked him out straight away. In fact, he recognized the scent... he smelled it just before he blacked out and ended up here in the first place. He took very short breaths in through pursed lips, and exhaled sharply through his nose. That kept the scent at bay, if only a little.
``That's challenge number one, so let's see what gets layered on next!''
The sprays of scent were doing something to his perception, too. The colours of the wheel were warmer, and they seemed to radiate and wobble out from the edges. He could feel his lips starting to curl upwards, but he bit on his lip to keep himself from getting too absorbed.
The wheel stopped abruptly once again, this time settled on a coiled rope, or a -
``Snake `n Shake!''
Where the motorised snake-coils came from, the hero did not know. But they were smooth, and cool, and very soothing as they wrapped him up like a parcel. Something about them made his body tingle just being touched by them, like they were covered in a poison that was sinking right through his suit. The rippling squeezes made him feel like he was tucked into bed, strangely enough. Warm and safe. The squirts and scents of the perfume, coupled with the massaging hands, made him feel like he was in a five star hotel bed after a long day's walk. It was decadent. It tugged at his eyelids and his mind.
He had to clench his jaw tight to resist the urge to yawn. He was feeling so sleepy. He had to keep his eyes open. He had to keep his mind focused. Do not sleep, he reminded himself. Do not sleep. Do not-``
``And our last one... it's The Old Classic!''
The pocketwatch descended from the ceiling again, its monochrome face already whirling, and Bolt Lancer's heart soared like he'd just seen an old long lost friend. He quivered, the coils squeezed tighter, and he took deeper breaths of the scent. His eyes and head followed the spiral and swing of the massive pendant. It swung and ticked, each tock rumbling through his skull and making his body quiver with dazed pleasure. He had to resist, he had to stay awake at all costs... if he didn't, he would.... Would...
Feel so nice...
As he sagged forward in his bonds to stare, and let his mouth curl into a big smile, he heard the audience cheer once again. It was nice to hear them cheer for him. He loved to hear them cheer. He wanted to join in with them, too. But he was too focused on the big pretty watch and the pretty swirly shapes it poured into his eyes.
``Bad luck, contestant,'' he heard the M-O-C whisper to him. Even though the beak was right at his ear, it sounded like his voice was miles away. ``Don't worry, there's plenty of space in our live studio audience. And we've got another contestant coming up right after you...''
Bolt Lancer gurgled happily, his eyes whirling with those black and white spirals. He might have lost, but it felt like he really had won the grand prize. He had won his freedom. The freedom from being burdened with thoughts and concerns and cares. He could simply join the audience, watch the show, and turn his brain off for good.