Minho squeezed through the gates just as they slammed shut for the night, moving so quickly that he was barely able to stop before colliding with Newt.
"Whoa, hey!" Newt exclaimed, dodging out of the way. If Minho had run into him, Newt was pretty sure he'd end up in even worse shape than Minho was. After the adrenaline from the near-crippling experience wore off, he threw his arms around Minho. "I knew you'd find your way back, mate."
Minho, mostly back to his old self, still bristled at such a public touchy-feely display, but allowed his friend another half second of contact before breaking out of his grasp. He cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck, having briefly forgotten about the monumental news he had to share. "Uh, thanks Newt… Good to see you too."
"Emily's back at the Homestead. I'm sure you'll be wanting to… get back to her," he said with a wink.
Minho did want to go to her, desperately, but first he needed them to know what he knew. "Newt, I want you to listen to me. I'm calling a council meeting."
"What? Now?" Newt whined.
"This is important! I figured something out about the Maze. Go find the others and meet me in the chambers." Minho took off, not waiting to see if Newt complied. Of course he would – he couldn't hide the spark of interest that flared behind his curious eyes at the little taste of information Minho had teased him with.
Minho had gone to the map room, grabbing a few of their drawings to use in the impromptu meeting. The first attendant to arrive, he spread out his papers across the floor, rearranging their order and turning them at different angles. He took a seat and fidgeted for a few minutes. His foot tapped on the floor, hands slapped inconsistent rhythms on his thighs, letting out several exasperated sighs as he waited for the others to get there.
Finally, he closed his eyes and saw an angel with emerald eyes and hair like sunlight staring back at him. He focused on her delicate, symmetrical features, taking calming breaths until everything else – anxiety, excitement, fear – melted away. When he blinked his eyes open again, the room was full. The rest of the council members had come in and taken their seats, and were simply staring at Minho like a zoo animal, waiting for him to do or say something exotic and unexpected.
Minho inhaled deeply. "I know how to get out of the Maze," he said, quiet but steady. He expected some sort of reaction – joy, incredulity, curiosity, skepticism – but was instead met with a series of blank stares.
Newt, being the mediator of the bunch, was the first to break the silence. "You… found the way out…?" It was both a question and a statement of disbelief.
"No, I figured out how to find the way out," Minho explained patiently. It was a lot to take in, and Minho wasn't sure he'd believe himself if he hadn't seen it with his own two eyes. "Let me explain," he began, getting up out of his chair and walking to the drawings scattered on the floor. "We've been looking at the Maze like this," he said, hovering over the papers and looking straight down at them. "When we should have been looking at it like this," he continued, picking one up so that it was at eye level and he was staring down the hair-thin edge.
There was a moment of silence where Minho expected the logic to click into place. Then Gally shot out of his chair, knocking it backward behind him. "I told you – he's lost it!" he screamed, throwing his hands up into the air. "You all thought he'd get better, but look at him. He's shuckin' nuts!"
Minho had just told them the most important news they'd ever hear and they were calling him insane. If anything, the griever poison had given Minho an even shorter temper, and he lunged at Gally, pinning him face down on the floor with his arms behind his back. The others were about to leap to his aid when Minho put up a hand. "I'm not going to hurt him. But what I'm telling you is very important. If you don't like what I have to say, when I'm finished," he leaned harder into Gally's back and hissed in his ear, "and only when I'm finished," then sat back again, "then you can throw me in the pit."
There was some whispered discussion among the council members – except Gally, whose opinion was uttered at slightly louder than a whisper – before they came to a conclusion. "Alright. Say your peace, Minho," Alby decided.
Minho released his hold on Gally, who stumbled to his feet and stormed out of the council chambers, unwilling to hear Minho's testimony. "After you left, I started to feel more like myself, but something was still bothering me. I went for a run, getting my mind in the zone so I could think, you know?" there was a collective eye roll, "and then a griever came up behind me." This got their attention.
"Shuck, you were attacked by another griever?" Newt asked, one voice within a chorus of similar questions from the others.
Minho held up his hand to silence them. "It caught me by surprise. I was injured. It should have been no contest." He waited a beat, building the suspense and adding weight to the impact of his story. "But it acted like I wasn't even there. Went right over my head." If he could get them to believe this first unbelievable part of his tale, perhaps they'd be more open to the whole invisible portal thing.
"But… how? Why?" Alby asked.
"The griever poison," Clint hypothesized, hand on his chin and brow furrowed, his clinical mind thinking through the possible explanations.
Minho snapped his fingers and pointed to the Med Jack. "That's exactly what I thought! As far as I know, no one's ever gotten stung by a griever, then been crazy enough to go out lookin' for another one! I mean, it's possible, right?" He could see them starting to get excited, but he hadn't even gotten to the good part yet. "Listen, that's not the point."
"Really? Seems like a pretty big shuckin' deal to me," Frypan said.
"No, no, no," Minho countered, "what matters is what happened after the griever walked right past me."
"You followed it, didn't you?" Newt guessed, almost sounding proud. Minho nodded eagerly.
"Well… where did it go?" Winston asked, impatient.
Minho could see that the crowd was split – half of them were on the edge of their seats, the other half thought he was mad as a hatter and were annoyed that their time was being wasted. He needed to make his point, quickly. "Into the Maze."
Winston pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers. "You were already in the Maze, slinthead," he growled.
"You don't understand. It was crawling along, then about halfway down one of the corridors, it just stopped, disappeared. Guys, it went through the wall." The ones who had previously been on Minho's side looked like they were about to hop over onto the crazy train. Minho tried another tactic. "Where do you think they go during the day, then, hmm?" he challenged. No one had an answer. "We run down every shuckin' inch of that Maze, everyday, and never run into a single griever."
"Not until recently…" Winston muttered. True, there had been a daytime attack, but that was a recent development.
"Let's just say that it's true, everything you just said," Clint began. "Even if this portal leads outside the Glade, outside the Maze… we are not all invisible to them, Minho. Only a handful of Gladers have ever been stung. Why would we leave the relative safety of the Glade to enter unfamiliar territory that is known to house a powerful enemy?" Always the logical, strategic thinker.
"You mean other than so we don't starve to death?" Minho snorted. Who cared about the risks? They would all die in the Glade soon enough. He tried to calm himself and reply rationally, though the words still had to escape through clenched teeth. "We wouldn't go through their door, obviously."
"You think there are others?" Alby asked, both intrigued and skeptical.
"I know there are. You can see them, sort of; they look normal, solid, but also different? Like something looks… off, but you can't really put your finger on why. It's hard to explain," he sighed, frustrated at his inability to put the phenomenon into words. "Look, I don't know where they lead, but it's somewhere that's not here. And I don't know about you, but I'm getting pretty tired of this place."
Finished with his arguments – and definitely lying about allowing them to potentially throw him in the pit for the night – Minho strode toward the door. It didn't really matter if they believed him – he knew the truth of his words, and he would be out in the Maze first thing in the morning looking for their way out – but they were running out of time, and his search would be much faster if everyone else was on board with it.
Minho raced across the Glade, through the (still broken) front door, up the stairs, and into the room he hadn't slept in for weeks. Emily was curled up on his side of the bed, clutching her pillow and sobbing into his. He was taken aback by her display, until he realized that, when he still had not appeared when the gates closed at sundown, she must have assumed that Minho had chosen to remain in the Maze, give up on his life and his love. Shuck, he'd hurt her again.
"Em?" he questioned, rapping lightly on the door. She couldn't hear him over the sounds of her own grief. He walked softly to the side of the bed and knelt down in front of her. "Emily," he whispered, almost reverently, in awe at the depths of loyalty and passion this woman was capable of. Though she was shaking, Minho's hands were steady as they reached out and combed through her golden waves.
Emily should have been furious – she'd waited, for hours, for Minho to return to her. The scene felt oddly familiar. Then, just like now, Minho had broken her heart and spent the night in the Maze, though unwillingly that time; and then, just like now, he'd returned to her, to kneel at her side. It seemed a lifetime ago, and yet here they were again, traveling the same well-worn trails to the same familiar places, just like in the Maze.
Minho waited for Emily to dispense her rightful retribution, but just as Minho had learned to view the Maze differently, allowing him to discover the hidden paths that lead to their liberation, so Emily had found a new way to experience this unlikely, unusual, unpredictable life – with unconditional gratitude. "I knew you'd come back to me," she said, smiling through her tears.
Minho placed one finger under her chin and tilted her face toward him, kissing away the wet trails on her cheeks, working his way toward her mouth. The night's physical activities were complicated by Emily's comically large stomach – the rest of her was still quite petite and from behind you might not even know that she was pregnant, but when she turned to the side, her midsection seemed to stick straight out twice as long as she was wide – but they each found ways to satisfy the other's needs and desires.
Minho should have wanted to get some sleep – the next day would be challenging and exhausting, if not maddeningly frustrating – but his mind would not allow it. Emily – who, unlike the others, had immediately listened and believed in his theory, though it might have been because she was so desperate for it to be true – eventually drifted off to sleep in his arms. Even then his eyes would not close; he barely blinked for fear of spending a single second seeing anything but her angelic face, asleep and at peace.
At first light, he kissed her awake – a routine that neither of them would ever tire of – and set out to accomplish the impossible. Once the gates opened and Minho showed them one of these portals firsthand, excitement started to spread throughout the Glade. There were new areas of the Maze; there might be a way out.
Nearly every Glader who didn't have a job that was absolutely essential volunteered to help with the search; being a runner, being fast, wouldn't help in this endeavor. Minho chose the most observant boys to search the Maze – each opening manifested a little differently, and they were hard to spot even if they knew what they were looking for – and paired them up with a Glader that had been stung by a griever, in case they happened through one of the doors like the one Minho had discovered. This was their most limiting factor. Of course Minho wanted to be as safe as possible, but there were so few of these pairs and time was running out.
There were many more secret doors than anyone had anticipated, and even after several weeks of exploration – knowing what to look for – every day would bring about somewhere new, tucked around a corner or suspended several feet in the air. Most ended up revealing just short tunnels that led to other dead ends; some revealed stairs that led to nowhere, or doors that were sealed shut. Despite the failures, every new discovery carried with it a renewed sense of purpose. It was like the first time they'd mapped out the Maze – both tedious and exhilarating, and above all brought back a sense of hope to the jaded Gladers.
Memorizing the Maze had taken months, and that was only after a long period of disorganization and determining a good documentation system. Although Emily was just a week shy of her due date, now – after so many months of turmoil, confusion, desperation – Minho's promise that their child would never know the horrors of this prison actually seemed within reach.
Minho spent all his time in the Maze, searching the quarter that he thought he'd known so well, but still uncovering its secrets after all these years. He, a seasoned runner also capable of spotting the hidden alcoves, was covering much more ground than the others; every time they found somewhere new, they would race back and write down where they found it and what was on the other side of it. Minho didn't know why they bothered; once they found the true way out, there would be no reason to have a record of all the places they were leaving behind.
He was almost as deep into the Maze as you could go when something tugged in his gut. The place was familiar, for more than one reason – he'd run through it a thousand times, and then discovered it again with new eyes when he witnessed the griever's portal. As he stood there staring at what, by all appearances, was just a stone wall, it occurred to him that perhaps it wasn't a coincidence that the grievers congregated at that exact spot.
Minho squinted his eyes, trying to unfocus them enough to see beyond what his brain was telling him was a solid wall. He looked all around the large invisible opening, testing the stones above, below, across from it. Just when he thought he might go cross-eyed, a patch of light dancing along the ground directly opposite the known portal caught his attention. Even upon close inspection, it looked normal – the ivy that clung to the walls often swayed in the breeze and casted whimsical shadows on the walls and at his feet.
He couldn't figure out what was odd about it, until he realized that the reason it looked out of place was because it looked too real, like a really detailed painting that had been seamlessly woven into the landscape, but oversaturated with more hues and textures than would normally exist. He stepped back to glance at a larger section of the wall. If he looked at it from his peripheral vision, he could see a distinctive outline where the Maze wall met the portal – a large circle that must have been ten feet tall and just as wide.
He reached one hand through first and felt distinctly warmed by the rays of the sun on the other side. That was different – there had been no sunlight in any of the other hidden corridors. This could be it. He held his breath, closed his eyes, and stuck his face through, as if diving under water. When he blinked his eyes open, he nearly fell to his knees. This. This was the world his brain had been fighting to remember. This was the home his family deserved.
Minho had found their Elysium, and when he crossed the threshold – even only partially – he had initiated the endgame. Minho sprinted back to the Glade, unaware that his discovery had triggered one final test, one last trial that would decide their fate. Minho focused on remembering every detail about the location of the portal in his mind, on trying to quell the excitement long enough to think rationally, on pumping more power through his legs with every stride. He was so intent on what was in front of him, he didn't see the legions of grievers that were following closely behind.