The Labyrinth

23 Apr

 

This black labyrinth reaches into the endless chasms of the Earth to a destination known only by fate for each who pass through it. These walls have never seen stars nor felt the warmth of sunlight. They reach deeper and deeper into the darkness, housing a fate that each of its travelers seeks.

Alan had been seeking out his fate for over a 163,752 steps. Exactly how many more steps he had taken he couldn’t tell. Alan had lost all sense of time thousands of steps ago and only had the echoes of his footsteps to tell him how long he had been in the darkness.

The darkness was a black fog that reached deep into the bowels of the earth holding secrets that Alan forcibly tried not to think about. As he journeyed deeper into the labyrinth, the flames of his torch fought back the black for a few meters, though Alan knew it barely singed the darkness.

Alan stopped his march through the labyrinth for a moment, and held his torch up to the walls. He placed the edge of a long knife on the stone walls, sliding the blade down and across until he carved a thin star into the labyrinth wall. When he finished his mark, he flipped the knife in his hand and sheathed it at his hip, looking at the other marks on the walls.

There was a long streak of dark brown, probably the blood of another one of the labyrinth’s victims. There were claw marks, possibly from one of the strange animals that hunted within the labyrinth’s walls. There were chunks of stone missing from the walls, either weathered away by ages come and gone or broken away by a life now long lost to the labyrinth.

Each mark had a story to tell, a fate to find within the labyrinth’s endless dirt road. Alan wondered for a moment what his mark would tell to those who passed by after the labyrinth had gifted him his fate. Would it inspire them to move forward? Or would it be lost amongst the sea of stories these walls would tell?

Alan shook the thoughts from his head and pushed his legs forward, continuing his march even though his muscles ached with fatigue. It was best not to ponder on the future too long within the labyrinth. A man could go inside filling his head with such thoughts in this endless darkness. For Alan, there was only the now, and his Fate ahead.

He held his torch up high in a fruitless attempt to cast more light down the nebulous chasm. Each step he took echoed back at him throughout the long halls, chiming a lonely tune. A calm sadness washed over him as he listened to the echoes of his footsteps, imagining that perhaps they were an invisible man walking beside him.

For tens of thousands of steps, Alan had trekked through the darkness, seeking out his fate with the tenacity of a desperate man. He moved onward, alone in the dark, because he needed what lay at the end of the labyrinth. He needed to find his fate.

But the darkness had taken its toll.

Alan found himself thinking of his family outside more often now. The  only other life Alan had come across in the labyrinth were small rodents skittering across the ground, and the horrific sounds he heard during the few hours he rested. The rodents made a decent meal when he grew hungry–having run out of food supplies a few thousand steps ago–but the endless cacophony of sounds he heard made him afraid to put out his torch and sleep, keeping him awake for what seemed like eons.

Alan’s legs grew weak from his march, and he knew he’d have to rest soon. He stopped and sat down, resting his back against the wall, holding his torch up next to him. He was too afraid to put out the fires just yet.

He looked around, trying to predict what might come should he fall asleep, but the light from the flames couldn’t pierce the darkness for more than a few meters. After a few fruitless moments, Alan put the torch down on the stone floor in front of him and watched as the flames slowly dwindled. The darkness crept in as the light receded and as the black came closer, Alan found his hand reaching closer and closer to his knife. By time the flames had disappeared and the black fog had engulfed him, Alan’s hand firmly gripped the hilt of his weapon and he listened, and waited, for the sounds to begin.

Alan jumped when he heard a soft cackling like that of a bugs wings. The sound came closer and closer until it sounded as if it were right next to his head and he jumped when he thought he felt something crawling up his shoulder. He patted himself down, but felt nothing crushed under his palm. He brought his legs up to his chest, hugging them tightly.

A long howl reached through the darkness and into Alan’s ears. The howl was followed by a symphony of howls, and as one howl began to fade, another would rise in its place. It was almost like a song to Alan, but one that ripped into his very soul. He buried his face into his knees

His heart raced, but his eyelids grew heavy. The howls persisted through the darkness and though he tried to fight it, soon enough he drifted off into a deep sleep.

He dreamt of sunlight shining against dark red hair.

#

A low growl resonated in Alan’s dreams, jerking him awake. His eyes popped open and he looked from side-to-side, but the darkness revealed nothing to his weary eyes. He patted the ground in front of him, and his hand eventually landed on the hard wood of the torch. He gripped the torch in his hands and lit it. Flames burst from its head and light filled the small space around him, cutting through the darkness and burning his eyes with the sudden brightness.

He brought his hands over his eyes and held the torch out in front of him, trying to cast the light deeper into the darkness, but the darkness just pushed the light back.

Alan relied on his hearing instead, listening intently for the noise that jolted him awake. The world was silent save for the torch’s cackling flame and Alan’s own beating heart ringing in his ears.

Alan stood up from the wall, unsheathing his knife just in case. He moved forward slowly, cautiously, deathly afraid that his next step might be his last. His footsteps echoed throughout the halls as they always did, but this time their tune didn’t feel lonely. Alan could feel the presence of another life nearby, and while he found himself excited by the prospect, Alan knew that the labyrinth was not known for the gifts its travelers received during their journey.

Alan winded around a corner and three steps in he heard the growl once more. This time it sounded like it had come from in front him, and Alan stopped in his tracks. He held his knife in front of him and stared into the darkness as if trying to will the creature out from hiding. The growl receded and all was silent once more save for the cackling of the flame.

Alan stood frozen as the echoes of inhuman steps tracked around him. He followed the sound as worked through the darkness until it was behind him. Having had enough, Alan pushed his torch forward in his hand and this time, the torch’s light pierced the darkness just enough. There it stood. The creature of the labyrinth.

It stood on four long legs, each with a large claw digging into the earth below. Thick muscles bulged from underneath its oily, black skin and a long maw protruded from its cheeks, with lips slightly curled up to reveal sharp yellow fangs. Alan found himself staring into the creature’s face, but it had no eyes to stare back. There was only a thick slab of skin where its eyes and brows should have been

Alan found himself trembling. “What are you?”

As the last words slipped off his tongue the creature jumped, smashing into Alan’s body. The torch flew out of Alan’s hands and rolled across the ground, dousing the flames. He barely managed to throw his knife-arm up in an attempt to slash at the creature’s jaw, but only his forearm slammed into the creature’s neck.

Alan could feel the creature digging its claws into his shoulder and screamed in pain, desperately trying to hold back the monster as its maw snapped in his face. The darkness did not reveal the monster to him, but he could feel its neck straining against his forearm and smell the scent of decaying flesh on its breath. Each loud crack of its closing jaw ripped through the air and Alan could only imagine how close each snap of its mouth came to tearing of his skin.

The creature dug its claw deeper into his shoulder and Alan screamed louder. He could feel his fate slipping away from him, his journey falling into nothingness . . . just another mark on the wall. He could feel his death drawing closer in the darkness.

But from the rim of his sight a light pierced the blackness and he could once more see a half of the creature’s eyeless face. The creature snapped harder than before, and Alan pulled his head back, throwing his cheek into the floor while pushing his arm into the creature’s neck. The creature’s fangs cut across his cheek and he could feel the blood sink from the stinging wound.

The creature’s head shot to the side as Alan looked back up and suddenly a streak orange slammed into the creature’s skull. The creature let out a screech that sounded as much like pain as it did fury, and was thrown off of Alan. Fire engulfed the creature and it made a painful howl that could break through the silence of death

Alan watched the flames rise with a twisted joy until he felt a hand grip his shirt and pull him up. He scrambled up to his feet to follow the hand and looked up to see exactly what’s hand was grabbing him.

The light of a torch showed just enough. It was a man.

“Run. More will come,” the Stranger said before spinning around and breaking off into a dash.

Without hesitation Alan followed the Stranger into the darkness, adrenaline challenging his legs to run faster than they had ever run before.

Their running steps broke through the usual silence of the labyrinth and Alan tried to count each one, but he couldn’t keep up. The sounds of both his and the Stranger’s steps disrupted his count, and Alan felt lost without his only grip on reality.

He tried to focus on the light of the Stranger’s torch and followed as best he could. Soon, more steps joined Alan and the Stranger’s, but these were the inhuman steps of the labyrinth’s creatures. They had heard their brother’s dying howls and came to seek their vengeance on the men who stole his life.

“We have to hurry!” the Stranger yelled into the darkness. “I can feel the labyrinth’s pull, but they will reach us faster than our Fate if we don’t push harder.”

Alan only nodded in return, knowing that the man couldn’t see him. Alan wondered what the man meant by the “labyrinth’s pull” until he too felt the strings pulling on his heart, as if they were guiding him down a path. He felt hope in those strings, and he prayed that he wasn’t being led under false pretense.

The creatures’ growls cut through the darkness behind them and the Stranger ran even faster. Alan had to push harder too, but he found himself lagging behind. Would his Fate be stolen from him so easily?

“It’s not long now! I can see a door!”

Alan wondered how the Stranger could see through the black fog, but it wasn’t the time to question things. He simply followed, and hoped.

The growls were louder now.

The stranger’s light stopped.

“What are you–“ Alan cut himself short when he saw what the Stranger had stopped for. There really was a door.

It towered above them high along the labyrinth’s walls and the torchlight revealed a sea of inscriptions carved into the door. There was a single, long handle just at a man’s height and the Stranger was grabbing for it, trying to pull the door open.

“Come here and help me!” he said, and Alan obeyed.

Gripping the door handle with both hands, he pulled back with all his strength alongside the Stranger. The growls were close now and Alan looked behind him as he pulled. He could’ve sworn he saw shapes moving closer in the darkness and they compelled him to pull even harder.

The door broke free, creating a narrow open just big enough for a man.

“Get in!” the Stranger said, and they both squeezed through the door. When Alan made it through, the Stranger shut the door behind them.

It wasn’t long after when he heard the demonic barks of the creatures and their claws scratching at the door. The Stranger and he were safe . . . for now.

“We did it!” Alan said. It hurt his throat to speak. He hadn’t realized just how long it had been since he last spoke, but it felt good to no longer be alone.

The Stranger didn’t answer. Alan looked at him and saw that the Stranger was looking off into the darkness as if he had found something within it.

“What is it?” Alan asked.

“Look at her,” the Stranger said.

Alan turned to face the darkness and slowly the black fog receded revealing a dimly lit room with stone tiles. In the center there stood a woman, shackled to a stone pillar in the ground.

When Alan looked upon her, his heart beat so fast he thought it would burst from his chest. She was clad in a white dress that reached down to her ankles and her figure was frail. Her face was gaunt, but she wasn’t old at all. She must have been starving. Alan looked into her face and saw strands of deep red hair had fallen over her eyes. There was something familiar and powerful about seeing her. Like an ethereal hand was reaching out from her, pulling him in.

Alan then knew. She was his Fate. Finally, he had reached the end of his journey.

“Finally, it’s over,” the Stranger said. “I’ve found her.”

Alan’s hopes shattered and his heart seemed to slow to a dead stop. Was this Stranger feeling the same as he? Did he believe the girl to be his fate as well?

“No . . . “ Alan said, his voice frail and weak like the girl.

The Stranger looked at Alan with a confused face, but it quickly dawned on him what must have been. “You felt it too?” he said. “The strings pulling you down the labyrinth?”

Alan nodded.

The Stranger sighed as a look of sorrow filled his face. “Then go. Hurry! Break her bonds and get out of this place.”

He was giving her up. “But what about you?” Alan said quickly.

“I’ll be fine. Just go.”

“But–“

“GO!”

Alan obeyed, running to the center of the room where the woman stood. She was thinner than he thought she was and her hair was dirty and dying. Her skin was drying and her wrists were covered in dried blood and bruises from where the shackles tore at her skin.

Alan grabbed the shackles to inspect them, trying to find if there was a way to pull them off, but he found nothing. No keyhole, or weakness in the metal. It was as if the shackles had been molded around the woman’s wrist. “What do I do?” Alan asked himself.

“Hurry!” The Stranger said from afar. “They’re breaking through the door!”

Alan heard the creatures throwing themselves against the stone door. A loud banging resonated within the room and he thought he could hear something crackling nearby the door.

He had to seize his Fate now.

Alan grabbed the shackles and started smashing them against the pillar. He threw them against the stone harder and harder, but he couldn’t even put a dent in the shackles’ chains. He tried again and again, but nothing came of it.

He pulled out his knife and in a desperate move tried to cut through the chains, sawing at the metal until the edge of his knife’s blade went dull.

He couldn’t break the woman’s bonds.

“I can’t do it,” Alan said to himself.

He had failed.

“Alan . . .” the woman moaned.

Alan’s eyes shot open. Was she calling for him? Did this woman know him?

“I’m here,” the Stranger said beside him. He pushed Alan out of the way and grabbed the woman’s hands.

The woman stirred a bit at his touch and Alan realized it had not been him, but the Stranger she had been calling for. Had they shared a name this whole time?

“I’m sorry,” the Stranger said as he gripped her hand tightly.

“What are you going to do?” Alan asked.

“Break her wrists.”

Alan heard a loud snap as the Stranger jerked the woman’s wrist against the shackle and she screamed into the darkness above.

Alan froze, jaw dropped in astonishment.

There was another loud snap followed by another one of the woman’s screams before the stranger started pushing the woman’s hands through the shackles, forcing her fingers to slide through the shackles’ tight openings. She grunted and moaned in pain. Alan just watched as the Stranger freed her from her bonds and she fell to the floor.

The Stranger crouched next to her and lifted her into his arms, turning to face Alan. The Stranger presented the woman to him, urging him to take her into his arms.

“Go now! This is your chance. Take your Fate and Go!” the Stranger said.

It was his chance. The Stranger had freed her for him and he could just take her and run away, leaving the Stranger behind. The woman would believe he had saved her and he could return to his family, to sunlight. He could leave this place and once again start counting days instead of steps. But, was it his to take?

“No,” Alan said, to both himself and the Stranger.

The Stranger looked confused. “What do you mean no?”

“She’s your Fate. Not mine. I’ll just have to find a new one.” Alan tightened his grip on the hilt of his knife smiling.

The light around them was fading away and the banging was getting louder, stronger. Soon the creatures would break through the door.

“Idiot, you need to take her away from this place,” the Stranger said.

“No! You do!” Alan thrust his knife ahead of him, aiming its tip at the Stranger. “You freed her from her bonds, now finish the job!”

The Stranger stood for a moment, but nodded, smiling ever so slightly. “I’ll come back for you,” he said.

“No. You won’t,” Alan said. “Now go.”

The Stranger held the girl in his arms and ran into the growing darkness away from the door, leaving Alan to stand there in the last bits of light the room held.

He would have to face the labyrinth and its creatures again. Perhaps he would have to face another hundred-thousand steps. It didn’t matter.

The stone door came crashing down in a thunderous roar and Alan could once more hear the growls of the creatures of the labyrinth. Light faded away, leaving only the darkness behind.

The creatures of the labyrinth surrounded him.

Bio: My name is William Hugel and I’ve lived in the Sarasota County area for my entire life. I began writing in early High School after being inspired by James Clavell’s Epic novel, “Shogun” and I would later be drawn into the fantasy genre by authors such as R.A. Salvatore, Brandon Sanderson, and Steven Erikson. I’ve always enjoyed telling stories and building worlds and writing has been my vent for this love.

 

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