Princess Elle breathed heavily as she carried half the weight of her guardian and friend up the final flight of stairs.
At some point, the labyrinth had become dark and narrow. The Labyrinth of Daedalus has a knack for doing this; switching from one configuration to another without anyone noticing. Of course, this may be the work of a very elaborate confounding technique because a switch from light to darkness should be very noticeable to normal eyes and minds. The walls were now made of rough, cold stone like they were in the dungeon of an old castle. Even that was preferable to Princess Elle and her Golden Wings Knights now compared to the never ending and constantly changing horrors of the labyrinth.
Their footsteps echoed through the stairway as they tread heavily on the stone floor. All of them were tired, injured, hungry and afraid. Penthesila, head of the Golden Wings Knights was badly hurt and was being supported by Princess Elle. The other two girls walked a few feet in front and behind them, their swords drawn and ready to meet any enemies that may come from either direction.
“I’m sorry for being a burden to you” Penthesila said in a weak tone. “You should just leave me. I’m slowing you down”.
“And get to where?” Princess Elle said in a sharp tone that voiced out her feelings clearly ‘I will not have that self-sacrificing nonsense’. “We won’t be doing any better leaving you behind. And even if we could do better, I will never leave you”
At those words, Princess Elle sobbed. Tears rushed down her cheeks before she knew it, clearing away some of the blood and grime that had accumulated on her usually smooth, fair skin. The blood of her guardians and friends who had sacrificed their lives to allow her to get this far. And for what? She was going to die here. In this dark, endless maze, killed by either the Shadow Wraiths that were hunting them or by one of the monsters or traps that lay in the labyrinth.
Anna, Laila, Diana, Camelia. These were the names of the women who had sacrificed their lives for her. No… not for her; for Avalon. For the whole world. They had sacrificed themselves so that she could continue the journey. Their journey. Their mission.
Her emotions flooded out as she realised the hollowness of her words. ‘I will never leave you behind’. She has already left four of her friends behind to be slaughtered by the Shadow Wraiths.
It’s not that she wasn’t used to making sacrifices, to seeing people she loved and cared for, who have fought by her side and risked their lives for her get killed. She wasn’t a spoiled little princess who lived in her daddy’s palace and couldn’t do anything by herself. This is the price of fighting against the Demons.
Still, every time she loses someone, every time a friend, a comrade sacrifices themselves for ‘the bigger cause’, she feels that somehow she is also responsible for their deaths. She is their princess, their leader. She should be protecting them. She was the one who started the White Wings in Rhodopia to oppose her own country. After that it was also she who had led the Golden Wings to oppose the Demons and the Satanists who served them that had taken over her nation and made her father the king into their puppet.
Her chest tightened as she thought of her father, her mother and her siblings who are still in Lyonesse. Leaving her family behind at the mercy of the Demons; this was her sacrifice. Hers and her family’s, the royal family of Lyonesse’s sacrifice. Everyone had to make sacrifices to fight against the Demons. Still that did not make it any easier for her.
She reached the top of the stairs and placed Penthesila down gently. Her breathing had become more ragged.
“Please Princess… you won’t make it if you have to carry me” Penthesila said.
“No… I said I won’t leave you” Princess Elle said. She wiped her tears as she changed the bandages on Penthesila’s arm.
Princess Elle’s heart dropped when she saw the wound. It had gotten worse. Much worse. The wound that Penthesila had taken to protect her. Her fault; because she was too weak to protect herself.
The wound wasn’t deep, but a wound from the blade of a Shadow Assassin contains a poison that slowly takes over the body and soul of an Avalonian, turning them into a fiend of Tartarus. Into a slave of the Demons. The black veins of the poison had already spread to Penthesila’s whole right arm and even as Princess Elle watched, it began to encroach on her chest.
“Don’t waste your energy on me” Penthesila said as Princess Elle prepared to heal her.
It was at this time that the labyrinth chose to change configurations. One moment they were at the top of a staircase in a narrow passageway with stone walls around them and a low ceiling above them. And then the next moment the wall of rock had changed into a wall of vines. The ceiling was gone and the air was fresh like they were out in the open as opposed to the stuffed air in the enclosed corridor. Every few meters there was a lamp post on either side of the path. They were at a crossroad between four paths. The first one went straight on as far as they can see. The second one branched off into three more paths after two lamp posts. The third sloped down for a bit and then turned right. The forth went for some ways before ending in a wall but was too far for them to see whether it branched off or not.
“Nerium Conius” Penthesila said. “The Endless Dream. The vines, don’t touch them. They are poisonous” she strained to give them this warning.
“Something’s coming” one of the Golden Wings, Margaret said in a hasty tone.
“Please hold them off for a while. I’m going to heal Penthesila” Princess Elle said. The second Golden Wings, Marry came to Margaret’s side by the second path. “We’ve got you’re back princess. Do what you have to do” Marry tried to sound reassuring; she was the ‘calm, older sister’ figure in their group as opposed to Penthesila who was the ‘Violent, overprotective sister’ figure, Margaret who was the ‘happy-go-lucky, boisterous, younger sister’ and Princess Elle who was the ‘timid, soft and kind baby sister’.
Penthesila tried to argue but to no avail.
Princess Elle placed her hands on Penthesila’s wounded arm and activated her special ability Curare. A soft white light emanated from her hands and the black veins of the demonic poison in Penthesila’s arm receded.
“That’s enough princess, you will hurt yourself” Penthesila said, but Princess Elle continued to use her ability although she began to strain with it.
Curare is a special ability that is equivalent to a mid-level healing Aura Technique. However, other than healing simple to moderately severe wounds, it also heals fatigue, replenishes some amount of Aura, neutralises poisons and repels magic.
As it is an ability and not an Aura Technique, it requires only the most minimal expenditure of Aura and almost no learning or practice to use. Using this ability which is inborn to Princess Elle, she could feel the injuries and pain that Penthesila was feeling. She could also feel the magic infused poison that was spreading through her body.
Princess Elle focused on the poison. With Curare in use, she saw the poison as a purple coloured mist inside Penthesila’s veins. Circling around the mist was a greenish-yellow flame. She had seen that flame many times when treating people who had been attacked by Satanists and Demons. It was the appearance of magic.
Penthesila’s Aura was slowing down the poison’s spread and subduing its effect but it was failing as she weakened.
Princess Elle focused on neutralising the magic in the poison first. In its basic form, Curare affects all the domains of healing that it covers. Wound and fatigue healing, Aura replenishing, poison and magic neutralising. It affects each domain in small amounts. During the Demon invasion of Lyonesse, she learned that if she focused on only a single aspect of her ability she could improve its effect, making it useful for healing very strong poisons and magical injuries as in this case.
Still, it took a lot out of her to just push back the main body of magic in Penthesila’s arm that was threatening to invade into her neck and body. Slowly she pushed it down from the shoulder, to the elbow, until it was only focused around the wound on her forearm. She tried to expulse it out through the wound but hit a hard wall. So she placed some of her Aura which was altered by Curare around the area to contain the magic.
Even with this first step she was already sweating profusely due to exertion.
Next she spread her power throughout Penthesila’s body, looking for the biggest concentrations of magic. She then neutralised those big spots of magic with Curare. It took her three attempts to completely neutralise all the spots. There was still a lot of magic spread out throughout her body like little flames here and there but she couldn’t catch them all. It was like fighting a fire. She had put out the main bodies of fire but there were still smaller fires around which she couldn’t pinpoint and reach.
In reality only about ten seconds had passed but to Princess Elle it felt like she had been running for days.
She chanced a brief look at Marry and Margaret. They were battling what looked like a giant praying mantis made of steel that had a flaming metal tail with a spiked ball at the tip.
They seemed to be doing alright because there was already one metal praying mantis on the ground and as Princess Elle looked, Marry froze the legs of the one still standing and Margaret decapitated it. Two more metal praying mantis’ came down from the wall but were quickly dealt with by her friends.
She turned back quickly to Penthesila and repeated what she had done. The leader of the Golden Wings Knights who was beginning to look better tried to protest but Elle wouldn’t have that.
It took her another two minutes – which to her felt like months – of intense concentration before she was done with weakening the magic inside Penthesila. It then took her twice the time and the effort to neutralise the poison.
This wasn’t the first time that Princess Elle had used Curare on Penthesila after she was wounded two, or was it three days ago? She couldn’t remember. Time was non-existent in the labyrinth and none of their clocks worked. It seemed like so long ago. Although it seemed like she had contained the magic and neutralised the poison, after some time, they would reappear as strong as ever and spread even further. All her Curare could do was slow its progress.
After completing her task, Princess Elle almost collapsed from exhaustion.
“Are you feeling better now? Sorry but we didn’t manage to leave any of the fun for you” Margaret said jokingly to Penthesila. She and Marry had done away with all the metal praying mantises that the labyrinth sent them. There was more than a dozen of the things in various states of destruction on the pile that they had built.
“Are you alright?” Marry asked when Penthesila didn’t say anything and a weird look formed on her face.
Princess Elle also saw the colour draining so fast from Penthesila’s face that she thought her healing had failed.
“What’s wrong Penthesila?”
Penthesila cut her off with a hurried and silent “Shh”. The hand she raised to indicate for them to be quiet was visibly trembling.
Princess Elle, Margaret and Marry knew then that something was terribly wrong.
“Shadow Assassin” Penthesila mouthed as she led them slowly to the third path. The Shadow Assassin had appeared from the first path about fifty meters away and had – out of some massive luck – chosen to go the other way.
They were almost out of sight from the first path when a second Shadow Assassin appeared. There must be other paths that opened up along the first path because the second Shadow Assassin had appeared closer to them and this one chose to turn their way.
And it saw them.
Princess Elle and the Golden Wings felt as if every fibre in their bodies had suddenly been frozen. It wasn’t just the fear borne out of their horrible experience with the Shadow Assassins or the knowledge of what they could do. They were also affected by the Shadow Assassins magic. A mental type magic called ‘Terror’ which causes its victims to experience intense fear to the point that they are unable to move as in the case of Princess Elle and the Golden Wings Knights. They were some of the strongest people in Avalon on a level almost comparable to Heroes. Weaker people may lose consciousness or suffocate to death.
Penthesila was the first one to escape the magic. She pulled her friends which had the effect of nullifying the Shadow Assassins magic and allowing them to escape the petrifying clutches of Terror .
They turned the corner and ran as fast as their tired legs could carry them.
Princess Elle could feel the two Shadow Assassins behind them like a cold wave of darkness. If it caught them, they would be consumed by it.
So although her legs were killing her and she was so tired from everything that she had been through and from using her ability to treat Penthesila, she pushed herself to run. They all forced themselves to move, to run, to try escape from the Shadow Assassins.
Penthesila was the only one who managed to keep her fear from overcoming her and use Aura Techniques even as they ran with all their might.
It was because of Penthesila’s Aura Techniques slowing down the Shadow Assassins that they managed to keep themselves from getting caught and killed immediately.
“There! The labyrinth is changing” Margaret exclaimed.
About a hundred meters in front of them, the vines were changing into what looked like black marble.
Princess Elle could see the vines changing just a few meters in front but the world was spinning and she could hardly feel her legs. The cold wave behind her was getting closer.
“We’ve got you princess” Penthesila’s voice said right next to her ears as two pairs of arms caught her on each side.
“Now Marry” Penthesila shouted.
Princess Elle saw Marry turn around and raised her arms just as one of the Shadow Assassins flew at them.
The last few meters of vines suddenly grew horizontally to form a wall between them and the Shadow Assassins.
A horrible screech like a thousand tortured souls shouting filled the labyrinth. The Shadow Assassin caught in the Nerium Conius turned into black smoke that dispersed as its essence was eaten away by the deadly poison that affects even undead wraiths.
The black marble then washed over them and they were plunged into darkness.
Where the Shadow Assassin had been, there was now a wall of rock. A natural wall of rough, solid rock.
Penthesila, Margaret and Marry formed light balls with Aura. Princess Elle was too tired to even muster the strength to do that. The moment she saw and felt that the Shadow Assassins were no longer hunting them, she let herself fall to the ground.
“I’ve troubled you again princess” Penthesila said in a sad tone. She knelt beside Princess Elle and took out her water bottle. It was the only one they had left and was almost empty. They had more than ample supply of water and food when they entered the labyrinth but they lost almost all of their supplies early on. Some they lost while fighting against the monsters of the labyrinth, but that was just a small portion of it. They were used to fighting monsters and knew how to ensure that their food and water supplies were not compromised during a battle. They were aware that this is just as crucial to their survival and to the success of their mission as getting out of a fight alive. However, the monsters that the labyrinth produced were unlike any monster that they had ever faced, rendering them unable to manage this. The majority of their supplies though, they lost to traps. There were doors they passed that made their water bottles disappear and mists that stole their food. The Magatama Ring that Penthesila wore only made it harder for monsters to detect them and gave them a bit of protection from physical and Aura attacks. It didn’t help if they walked straight into a monster and the little bit of protection didn’t mean much when their enemies were so strong. As for traps, it presumably reduced their contact with them, and lowered the effects of the ones that the ring couldn’t avoid. A Magatama Ring does not, and cannot protect its owner from all the challenges of the labyrinth. It only ameliorates them.
Princess Elle tried to push the water away but Penthesila was insistent. “You will not be fulfilling your duty if you die here and we would not be doing our duty if we allowed you to die princess”.
Although they have met with one adversity after another since they entered the Labyrinth of Daedalus, it was their good fortune that the one water bottle that they managed to keep was a bottle of Bethel. The special water from the Crystal Island can restore vitality and lift the spirit. It cannot restore Aura or heal wounds but by lifting a person’s spirits and healing their health, it helps the process of Aura restoration and the healing of wounds. A mouthful of Bethel can also fill a person’s stomach and provide energy enough to last about half a day. The Bethel is what has kept Princess Elle and the others going.
Princess Elle felt rejuvenated almost immediately. Her tiredness was mostly from wear and from concentrating on using Curare so the Bethel was her best cure. It couldn’t help Penthesila with her injury by poison and magic though.
Penthesila drank a mouthful and gave the bottle to Margaret. “Drink up. This is the last of it. The last of all our supplies. We must find a way out today” she said grimly.
Margaret gave the last mouthful to Marry who finished it with some hesitation. They all knew that Penthesila was right. This in no way means that they were not serious before. Even when they didn’t really need to worry about food because they had the special water, they still fought with all their ability; but their minds were at least at peace about dying from starvation. Now they had this to worry about as well other than surviving the labyrinth and the Shadow Assassins.
They were in what appeared to be a massive cavern. The black marble path they were on was about five meters wide. There was no railing or wall on the sides. Marry sent her light ball down the edge. It was a long way down but she did reach the bottom except that when her Aura ball hit whatever was at the bottom of the cavern, it went out without a trace.
“I think we should try to keep ourselves up here” Marry commented as she made another Aura ball.
Princess Elle, now feeling much better after the Bethel made her own Aura ball. She sent it upwards. The ceiling of the cavern was almost as high up as the bottom was far down. It was hard to ascertain distances in the pitch black but she thought that it should be at least a hundred meters in each direction.
The path went about thirty meters in one direction before it met the wall of the cavern. The girls went to examine.
They didn’t expect to find anything and that is what they found – nothing. There was no door, no portal, not even a scratch on the wall to indicate that it was anything but a solid, black wall of rock.
The path just suddenly started from there.
“Weird” Margaret commented which was the correct description of the path that started from an empty wall of rock and appeared to have no purpose.
Penthesila sent her Aura ball to the right, parallel with the wall. It hit another wall about a hundred meters away. Seeing what she was doing, Princess Elle sent her Aura ball in the opposite direction. It also hit another wall about a hundred meters away.
This way, they mapped out the shape of the cavern that they were in. They came to the conclusion that it was roughly cuboidal in shape and that they were at one end of the cavern. The black marble path went through the length of the cavern and presumably into another one. The girls sent their Aura balls in front of them along the path. After about three hundred meters the ceiling came down in an arc.
They heard running water beyond the arc. Not just below them, but all around them. And they all knew that it was not normal water.
Princess Elle felt her energy leave her the moment she stepped through the arc. It was not just her physical energy, but everything: her vitality, her Aura; even her mental strength was being sapped away.
Margaret voiced out the question that all of them were thinking of at that moment.
“What’s happening?” she shook her head vigorously.
Princess Elle also mirrored her action to try shake away the heaviness in her mind. A feeling that the other girls appeared to be feeling as well along with the sudden massive drop in energy.
Margaret heaved a heavy sigh. “It’s hard just to stay on my knees here. I think it’s a really terrible idea to go this way”
“Where is it not a terrible idea to go in this place?” Marry commented. “It’s a dead end back there and this path only goes forward. And we know staying put is not an option”
By not being an option, Marry meant the fact that if they just stayed in the place where they were when the labyrinth last changed, when in changed again, they could end up returning to the previous place. In the current situation it could mean going straight back to the Shadow Assassins which to them – even now – is worse than facing whatever else the labyrinth had to throw at them.
Not long after they entered the labyrinth, they found themselves in a chamber full of mountain trolls and orcs. After clearing the chamber, they had been too tired to move so they rested in the meadow where the labyrinth had sent them next. It was a lucky thing that they drank some Bethel before resting because five minutes later when the labyrinth decided to change, they returned to the same chamber again. The heaps of mountain trolls that they had defeated in the previous ‘round’ were gone and the labyrinth sent them a fresh new wave of the monsters.
Since then they concluded that it was never a good idea to stay in one place in the labyrinth.
“We keep moving” Penthesila said.
The sound of water grew louder the further they went as did the sapping of their energy.
After half an hour of walking the path diverged – into five. Each path was the same. Black marble that went on for as far as their Aura light balls could let them see.
“So who would like to choose which way to go next? Would you like to do us the honours princess?” Penthesila tried and failed miserably at sounding jovial.
Princess Elle knew that Penthesila was just trying to make some noise and raise their spirits up. The silence and darkness was weakening them as much as whatever it was that is sucking away at their strength.
“The middle one I guess” Princess Elle tried to sound confident although she knew that it was just a blind guess, and that the others also knew this. They had no idea where they were going and they have no means whatsoever to determine whether they were going the right way or not or whether they were heading into a trap or into a den of monsters. They were just keeping on moving to escape the Shadow Assassins and hope they somehow stumble upon the exit – their chances of which is roughly 3 in 10000 Penthesila had said – or wait for the Heroes of Atlantis Academy to find them and lead them out of the labyrinth.
They were putting their trust on the second choice, even if the Academies have been somewhat reluctant to help them so far. Something to do with their denial of the possibility of facing another Demon invasion. Princess Elle thought this was very silly. Denying the truth will not make a truth any less true. But Penthesila had seemed very confident that the headmaster of Atlantis Academy was different. She certainly hope that her friend was right because otherwise they will die here. How long has it been already since they entered the labyrinth? Princess Elle didn’t know. It feels like they have been trudging through it for weeks.
She had no idea whether she was leading her friends, her guardians, her subjects to salvation or to their doom. All Princess Elle could do was make a choice and pray to God that it was the right one.
Not the middle one
“What?” Princess Elle said surprised.
She looked at Penthesila, Margaret and Marry in the dim light of their Aura balls.
None of them heard her. They were all concentrating on scanning their environment for signs of danger. Each looking as wary as the other but none appeared to have said anything to her nor do they look like they heard the voice that had spoken to her just now.
The voice came again. This time Princess Elle also felt the urgency in the voice. Actually it wasn’t even a voice and she wasn’t really ‘hearing’ it. She thought that she was hearing it because of a lack of any other experience to explain what it was. Actually the ‘voice’ was coming from her head – no – that wasn’t quite right. She was ‘experiencing’ the thoughts and feelings of the person who was ‘transmitting’ his thoughts and feelings to her.
“Are you alright princess?” Penthesila asked because Princess Elle had suddenly stopped.
Princess Elle waited but the ‘voice’ didn’t come again. However what he had conveyed to her was strong enough that she could still ‘feel’ it as if the thoughts and the feelings were her own. She knew two things: that the person who had ‘shared’ his thought and his feeling with her was a man, and that taking the middle path was very, very dangerous. There had been a very strong urgency in his warning against them from taking the middle path.
“I don’t think that taking the middle path is such a good idea after all” Princess Elle said.