#2 – In the Depth (1878 words)
The gods would no sooner make you lame
Just so they have what is yours and lay claim.
– Mama Idiegwu
“Wow. Who knew the labyrinth would be so big!?” the bird exclaimed, perched on her shoulder with its head stretching to take it all in. Even she herself stood transfixed at the sight that befell her.
No sooner after the gates had closed did things suddenly change. One moment, she could see the sun and the sky over her, the next moment everything went suddenly dark. She could only see less than a few centimetres in front of her, but there was nothing to see but the sands of the ground.
Beneath her feet the ground suddenly stirred, and without provocation she felt herself shift completely. She stood erect, and yet had the feeling of being transported somewhere. She did not know how long it was, if it had been minutes or hours, but then the moving stopped. And the light returned. And that was when everything changed.
The sky was no longer blue, but instead was tinted green. There was the sun still up, but it seemed like it had grown bigger. The only way to think that was because there was a fissure in the middle of the sun, not very visible but clear enough to be seen when looked at from an angle. The clouds seem to slide through the sky, almost like they were slithering bodies.
But all that held their gazes but for moments, for in front of them the pathway beckoned her to move forward. She answered the call, undeterred by whatever changes had transpired because of her stepping into the labyrinth. She had to find the core, and there was no better place for it to be than in this labyrinth… whatever the core was.
“Do you see how the walls seem to stretch as you walk forward? It’s like the labyrinth is paving the way for you!” the bird exclaimed, excitement filling it as it gently flapped its wings. The excitement made her shake her head, but a smile played on her lips. She too had noticed the way the walls stretched, and just like the bird she felt some excitement brewing in her belly. But she cautioned herself to not get carried away. There was no way the walls would just keep stretching until she reached her final destination.
There had to be an obstacle lying in wait.
It was not long before she happened upon the obstacle.
The walls stretched themselves out and formed a rectangle around an open area. There was no other way to go but back, and for some reason she knew that if she tried to go back it would be impossible. She made up her mind to not try, and walked calmly into the open area. A huge swirling column of sand rose up to block the passageway she had walked through, and when the bird tried to touch the column it was flung away with a strong force.
“There’s no way we’re getting through that!” it mused as it regained its composure on the ground. And then it squawked out in terror. Immediately her hand went behind her, as she pulled out her dagger and went into a defensive crouch.
A twister of sand erupted from the centre and blasted itself on the walls. When the sand scattered and fell, they clumped together, writhing as if possessed. Bit by bit the writhing sand began to grow and rise until it was 5 heads taller than her. In the centre of the sand storm, a humanoid form began to take shape, slowly hardening to reveal features; an oblong head, lean arms that led to clawed hands, strong legs that led to flat feet, a thick torso. The features hardened, and their colours went from the white of the sand to the dull brown of mud.
Immediately she saw this, one word flashed through her mind.
She couldn’t tell how she knew this, but she knew.
The sheer size of the ghoul took her by surprise, and what shocked her even more was the speed the ghoul used to rush up to her and hit her with a backhand swipe. The ghoul’s hand was big enough to deal a blow with such force that it knocked the wind out of her and propelled her backwards.
She fell to the ground, rolling as she went, before she was able to stab her dagger hard into the ground and slow her motion. When she got to a stop, she crouched on one knee and spat out dust from her mouth, an excited grin gracing her face.
“Ayaya. You’re ready to fight!” the bird called out.
The ghoul didn’t hesitate. Immediately it charged at her, trying to gain the upper hand as she was still trying to stand. With reflex being acute, she rolled out of the way of the ghoul’s stomp, quickly getting to her feet to try and run around the ghoul. The ghoul, somehow, understood what she wanted to do, and stretched out its other leg in a back kick. With her momentum, she went on her knees and slid under the kick, pushing out her dagger as she did so.
The dagger sliced through the skin of the ghoul, eliciting a shriek from it.
She took up a defensive crouch as the ghoul turned around and regarded it on all fours. In a flash, it came bounding towards her, and just as she was about to charge back at it, the bird grabbed a hold of her arm and suddenly lifted her up. She felt the same surge as the last time; blackness, and then suddenly her mind was that of the birds. She felt her arms, no—her wings flapping as she carried herself upward.
The ghoul pounced on empty space, and was disoriented for a spell before it looked up. At that moment, she let go of her body, and the same surge reversed itself; blackness, and then she was back in her own body, falling to meet the ghoul. Straightening her body, she fell faster towards the ghoul until she was almost close, then quickly pulled out her dagger and aimed for its left eye.
She hit the eye dead-on.
The ghoul screamed, thrashing to get her off it, but she held on tight. Then it stretched its arm over its head and grabbed her, pulling her, and the dagger, away. It was about to bite down on her when she pierced its hand with the dagger. It shrieked and let go, ending with her dropping less than gracefully to the ground.
With its other good hand, it tried several times to swipe and grab her, but she knew better and dodged each attack. Running to its left side, she was to get behind it and deepen the original shin wound she had given it earlier. When it tried to spin around and hit her, the bird flew to its damaged eye socket and began pecking at it.
The ghoul, completely vulnerable, tried to swat away the bird, but the bird was too fast. A stray claw managed to clip the wing of the bird, and it squawked in pain before it flew straight into the ghoul’s bad eye and embedded its peak. The ghoul screamed, and grabbed at the bird. With its grazed wing, the bird was able to pull out the eye, increasing the pain of the ghoul.
It went about grabbing at its face on its knees as black goo spilled forth from the empty eye socket, and she used the chance to get on its back. She climbed the heels before using her dagger to stab its back, creating a handhold she could use to climb up on the ghoul’s neck. Pulling out the dagger, she went for the ghoul’s right eye just as it realized what was going on. She stuck the dagger deep into the eye and twisted her dagger, moving it laterally as well.
The ghoul couldn’t decide if it wanted to grab her or remove the dagger, and she helped with the decision by forcefully pulling out the dagger, and along with it the remaining eye of the ghoul.
The ghoul stood, trying to shake her off its body, and she used the new height to her advantage. She impaled the dagger deep into the back of the ghoul’s head and jumped off, using the dagger to slide down the ghoul’s body as the dagger sliced through skin.
On the ground, she rolled away as black goo kept spilling from the ghoul’s wounds, and it wailed and thrashed until it ran out of any strength.
With a loud thud, it fell to the ground, lifeless.
Just as it had been made, it began to dissipate, slowly turning into sand that returned to the desert grounds.
The sand rose, and then gently disappeared, leaving nothing but the black goo that slowly turned silver in colour and started creeping towards her. She was too exhausted to notice this and only realized at the last second when the goo crept up to her and wrapped around her foot. She was about to stand up and run when suddenly it flowed all over her and covered her.
“What is that!?” the bird cried out, but by then she was covered by it and heard nothing.
May the powers that flow through you, give you the strength to prevail. A voice said to her while she was encased. She felt calm, and cool. She didn’t feel any danger, and she felt herself resting.
Tell me… do you know your name?
She didn’t know her name. The voice mentioned a name, but in her mind she shook her head. That wasn’t her name. It didn’t sound right.
Very well. May it come to you when the time is right…
On the outside, the goo had encased her in a cocoon, and the cocoon began to crack. The bird squawked in excitement as all the pieces broke off and she was free again. She felt a sudden warmth in her arm, and looked at it.
The spiralling tattoo had become darker, and below it was a thin wavy line. The line seemed to move until it seemed to find its spot, staying still and darkening just like the spiralling tattoo.
“Ouch. My wing. It seems to still be alright. Meanwhile, you look good as new!”
She looked at the bird, and touched its wing. A dull glow lingered on the spot until the bird cried out.
“My wing! I don’t feel the pain!” it said as it flapped them and touched down on her shoulder. “Your tattoo… you have a new one. What would that mean?”
She shrugged uncertainty. Maybe they would find out eventually.
At that moment, the wall in front of them began to rumble, and a small passageway opened in its centre. Behind them, there was no way to go.
“Looks like the only way to go is forward,” said the bird. She nodded her agreement and smirked at it, walking towards the doorway.
Unbeknownst to them, the fissure in the sun deepened, as they walked through the passageway.
**to be continued
A/N: Until next Friday, ladies and gents. A bientot.