Adric felt for his bow tie on the bedside table only for his fingers to grasp dry, empty air.
"I'm not at home," he said groggily.
He tried to sit up, and gasped in pain. This reminded him about the incident with The Gang Who Must Not Be named, the gun, and the shower of broken glass that had mostly ended up implanted in various of his limbs.
"But," he said thoughtfully to the room, "this isn't the hospital either. That would be a bit lighter, and I could hear people coughing and making other ill noises from other rooms. And a nurse would have heard me talking by now, due to my lack of volume control, and they would have come through and told me to keep it down for goodness sake."
"A nurse!" he remembered suddenly. "That nurse last night wasn't a real nurse! She was an un-nurse!”
Adric was flabbergasted that he hadn’t realized this right away. It was so obvious!
“She's orchestrated my removal from the hospital...” he pieced it together in his mind. “And she made sure Tim was out of the way before she did it! That means she must know something about his history and thought it wasn't worth the hassle of involving him. He always saves the day."
Adric allowed himself a minute or two for a brief montage of Tim running around battling things and selflessly saving people from mortal peril. For some reason the soundtrack was the Saturdays, whom he did not much care for. But on the plus side, Tim was wearing some rather delightfully figure hugging jeans.
However, now was not the time for introspection or even flights of fancy. It was time for action.
With difficulty, Adric sat up and swung his legs - perfectly honed from years of badminton - over the edge of the bed. His bare feet met cold linoleum with a grimace.
He stood up, wobbling slightly, and moved forward through the dark. His plan was to keep going until he found a wall - simple but effective, you'll probably agree, assuming that you’ve been paying attention. It worked for Nicky and Bracken, after all. They found the door almost instantly.
The only trouble in this particular case was that Adric still had a piece of glass from the accident in his left ear which the hospital had missed, and it was affecting his balance in the negative. He was favouring his left side, essentially walking not in a straight line, but a sharply curved one. The end result was that he went round and round in circles.
This would have looked hilarious to any guards observing him through the highly expensive night vision cameras installed in all the rooms, but fortunately for Adric's dignity they were all engaged elsewhere. Unfortunately for his health, all the circling made him so dizzy and confused that he eventually fell over, and lay in a hospital-gowned heap on the floor.
"Timothy," he whispered uselessly, before his eyes closed and he fell into darkness once more.
* * *
Timothy, the man himself, had not really left when the so called nurse had told him to. Years of questing had instilled in him a perpetual sense of suspicion – although he liked to call it curiosity - and mistrust of all authority figures. This sometimes got him into scrapes but on this occasion was well justified.
After apparently leaving, Tim hid behind the bins to see what the 'nurse' - 'if she's a nurse then I'm a hedgehog sailor,' thought Tim grimly - would do next.
Sure enough, she gave Adric a jag, failing to warn him beforehand or give him a sweetie afterward as a real nursing professional would have done. Another clue was the way she plunged the syringe – full of a highly suspect green liquid - into his side like a person more used to stabbing people up might do, rather than in the manner of one who is looking for a vein in an arm or other limb.
She was then joined by someone in two balaclavas (for extra mystery) who helped her lift Adric's ungainly frame into a waiting vehicle.
Tim was formulating a rescue plan when he felt warm breath on his ear, and turned to see three figures in black, all wearing the designated two balaclavas too.
"Who are you," he inquired, engaging them all in combat at once. Tim had learned some sweet martial arts moves on a quest involving a lot of Ming, he knew swordplay from a time travelling one where he'd met king Arthur, and he knew how to rumble from watching Westside Story 38 times.
"Who do you work for?" he continued, lightly maiming one of them in the arm.
The heavies failed to answer, even in quip format. They just kept coming at him, wordless and powerful.
"Alright," Tim said, "you lot are the strong but silent type. I can appreciate that. Not really my cup of tea, but whatever."
Without any of them realizing what was happening, he tied two of them together using their own shoelaces, which was his signature move.
"Your move, El Nombre," he said to the third and biggest guy.
El Nombre paused.
"How did you know my name?" he asked, which was arguably rather foolish given that it could have been a bluff, in which case he would have given away his identity for no reason.
"We've met before," Tim explained, "don't you remember? We teamed up with a dwarf to defeat an evil wizard who had taken over your village and forced your mother to marry him."
"Tim?!" El Nombre squawked incredulously, "oh my god, I totally did not recognise you! It's been what, five, six years? How have you been?"
"Oh you know, doing away," Tim replied. "What about you, you're on the side of evil now? What's going on there? You were a freedom fighter when I saw you last!"
"It was inevitable really," El Nombre explained, removing the top balaclava with a practiced flourish. "given the events that ensued after you left."
"But Micky Chinnigan was dead! The village was saved!"
"Wizard Chinnigan wasn't dead," El Nombre shook his head emphatically. "You may remember I made a joke about the fact that we never saw the body, so he would probably return, like in one of your soap operas."
"But he was in a burning building that exploded to the ground! It melted all our beards clean off! Nobody could survive that!"
"Well maybe he did an illusion and we only thought he was in there. Whatever happened, he certainly wasn’t dead.
He returned one day when I was at Market and burned my home to the ground, my wife and mother trapped inside. I still hear their dying screams as I returned on Joel, my aging donkey. If only he had gone faster, perhaps I might have saved them... But no, it is not the fault of Joel. He did all he could, helping carry the bucket of water to put out the flames like a trooper."
"Then what happened? Did you swear you would have your vengeance?"
"I did. But Chinnigan was long gone. His diabolical laughter echoed around the village for the rest of the night and much of the following day, but I could not follow the trail. It was fragmented into giggles and cackles that flew every which way on the autumn wind."
"So you became a mercenary?"
"What better way to discover your evil doer than by networking with other evil doers yourself."
"Quite. I was not about to let him get away with his crime."
"So what happened then?"
"I knocked about doing petty work for a little while," El Nombre rumbled, "then I travelled north to Peru. I saw on Chilean Gumtree website that there was some mercenary work going on there. That is how I came to be with my current employers."
"The clan of the cape."
"I couldn’t possibly comment on the identity of my employer, señor."
"No," Tim agreed, "of course not."
They scuffed their feet against the ground awkwardly for a while, like young children in the school playground whose mums have told them they have to play together.
"So have you been instructed to fight to the death, or incapacitate, or what?"
“‘Despatch’ was the word used, if I remember correctly. ‘By any means necessary.’"
"I thought as much. What would you say to taking me alive? I'm rather interested in this clan of the cape, and if I'm not very much mistaken then they have taken my partner prisoner."
El Nombre clearly hadn’t clicked that the partner in question was the very person he himself was helping to kidnap.
"I haven't the faintest idea," Tim said, "but I would like to find out. You can kill me afterwards, if you like?"
"Its nothing personal," El Nombre asserted, "it's a contractual obligation merely."
"of course as a mercenary," Tim began,
"I can be as cut throat as I wish," El Nombre continued, "yes, I am aware of that. But I have my sense of honour to consider."
"You consider it honourable to kill an old friend for money?"
"I consider it honourable to finish the job I am paid to do."
"Surely the clan of the cape didn't say anything so specific as 'kill Timothy Mahogany-Barnes if you get the chance'? I would imagine their instructions to be a lot more vague. 'Despatch anyone who gets in our way by any means necessary,' or something like that.”
El Nombre looked uncomfortable.
“Well I mean technically I wasnt really in your way, was I? In fact I was rather out of your way. I was hiding behind a bin, for crying out loud."
"Spying on our highly secret activities," El Nombre pointed out.
"The natural response of the seasoned adventurer," Tim reasoned, "you must empathise with that?"
El Nombre studied him carefully.
"Oh what the hell," he said, "come on then, let me 'take you alive'. I can't promise you'll stay that way once we get there, though."
"No no, of course not," Tim grinned in elation, "cheers for this mate."
"Not at all," El Nombre replied, tying his hands behind his back with a loose knot.
"Taking this guy alive," he told one of his colleagues, manhandling Tim roughly into the back of a black car with tinted windows. "He took the others out. I think that certain members of the facility might like to extract that feeling of smugness to teach him a lesson."
El Nombre's companion grunted disinterested assent. He was thinking about the sausages he was going to have for his tea. He'd been looking forward to those sausages all day. Mmm, sausages.
Tim gave El a nod of thanks, and put his head down so as not to draw any more attention to himself than was necessary. Adric was in the car in front, and he couldn't afford not to be awake to see where they were going.
"Oh no you don't," El said gruffly, tying a blindfold around his eyes.
But it was made of chiffon, and Tim could see through.
“Thanks again mate,” he whispered, barely audible above the car’s 80 gigawatt engine.
“No problem,” El replied, without moving his lips or opening his mouth. “Now shut up.”
And so, as part of a convoy, Adric and Tim moved towards the mysterious facility where almost everyone else mentioned in the story was being held.