I hadn’t seen the sun in days. The sky was so dark that I appeared to be stuck in an eternal nighttime. The clouds covered everything except for a gigantic rip in the sky that slashed across the gray horizon. Azure and I had flown from that tear and were now in the midst of a vast forest with monstrous trees. We made camp inside the hollow of one of these trees; it was big enough for Azure to fit comfortably inside.
Azure was curled up on her side with her tail surrounding the fire. She had created it to keep us warm from the cold and rain. The rain sounded like the beats of a drum, and thunder clapped in the distance. I stared at the rain, exhausted, then the fire in front of me. The flames performed a little dance and released orange and red sparks in the air. Azure was ready to fall asleep for the night, but I stayed awake and motionless even though my eyes were begging to close.
We’ve been searching for Sophie for what seemed to be four or five days in this vast forest. We were taking a break now, but I wasn’t too keen on the idea.
“Miss. Suzette,” Azure spoke up, her soft voice was soothing against the beating rain. “I understand that you’re restless, but you need your strength for tomorrow, and I do too. Let us rest for tonight.”
“Right. . .” I said, though my mind was consumed with thoughts of my sister, sleep was beneficial. I wanted to wake up early tomorrow so we could continue the search right away. Though I had no idea where Sophie could be, I hadn’t given up hope. I knew she was out there, somewhere. . .
I lay down on a blanket right next to Azure who used her tail to embrace me. I continued to stare at the fire before Azure blew it out. Then there was the darkness, and the quick, silver flashes of rain falling and hitting the ground. Then, the crackle of thunder returned and brought with it a flash of lightning. It was so bright. Brighter than usual. I turned my back on the outside and faced Azure’s shinning silver scales.
I closed my eyes for a bit, but then opened them when it became quiet. The rain stopped. The thunder and lightning stopped. Everything fell silent except for Azure’s gentle breathing. It reminded me of a low whistle, something I wouldn’t expect out of a dragon. Azure had been so kind to me and to Sophie through all of this. Had I ever thanked her properly? I didn’t think I had.
“Azure. . .” I picked my head up to see Azure staring back at me curiously. Her round, silver eyes sparkled in the darkness.
“Yes, Miss. Suzette?”
“I don’t believe I’ve thanked you for helping me on this search, my apologies.” I said.
“You don’t have to apologize, I’m grateful to be helping you. Anything for you and your sister.”
“Do you have any siblings, Azure?” I asked. I was quite curious to hear her answer. I didn’t know much about Azure even though we had been together for a while now.
Azure drew out a quiet yawn and rested her head back on the ground. “Yes, but I’m not as close to them as you are to your sister,” Azure responded. “When dragons grow up, we usually go our separate ways and start families on our own. Dragons mature when they’re two years old, so I only spent a short amount of time with my brothers and sister before we departed. Sometimes I see them flying around the forest, and they were there fighting that awful creature awhile back.” Azure suddenly became quiet. The sparkle in her eyes dimmed. “Unfortunately, one of my brothers fell in the fight.”
“Oh no,” I gasped, I swore my heart skipped a beat. “I’m terribly sorry, Azure,” I patted her tail, I felt terrible that it was all I could do. And I didn’t know what else I could say. . .
“That event happened so quickly,” Azure said, her tone lowering. The sparkles in her eyes vanished. “All I had in mind was getting you all out of there. It was almost a blur, but what I could clearly remember was the forest being destroyed by the fire, and that creature’s screams, it was so. . . ghastly.”
“Yes, it truly was.” I didn’t mean to bring back something so horrible. The Vacuus’s terrible screams. The fire destroying everything. The animals suffocating. The dragons falling. But those screams. . .those screams from the Vacuus were not something that could be forgotten.
A cold breeze swept by and I shivered. Azure wrapped her tail a bit tighter to add more warmth. My muscles eased up. I traced a hand along her scales that were smooth like glass. This continuous action in addition to her lazy embrace did wonders to calm me. The screams were replaced by the rain that continued to fall. The drops fell much slower now. “I’m so sorry again for your loss,” I whispered.
“Thank you. . . I hope the forest is back to normal when I return.”
“Aleck is working on that out right now. Oh, I wish we can talk to him right now,” I sighed.
“Eventually everything will get sorted out,” Azure said. “Now, let’s get to sleep. We’ll continue tomorrow.”
Crepuscular rays streamed through the tall trees and faded away before touching the ground. It was satisfying to see the sun again to say the least. Its beams warmed up the area, but there was still a chill that passed by. It felt as if winter had crept in this world, rather than back at home where it was spring. I thought about home every day since Sophie’s disappearance.
I just wished that all of us, Sophie, me, and our grandmother, could return there safe and sound I need to think of the positive outcomes. . . Sophie and grandma, and Ms. Plumlee and the detective all back. Safe and sound. No worries. Nothing to be afraid of.
I felt that this wouldn’t happen anytime soon. There was still so much to do. Finding Sophie. Finding grandma. Figuring out why grandma disappeared and what had happened in her past. What will happen after we find grandma? What then? So many questions, I didn’t want to focus on it all right now. . .
I washed my face in a pond, and the sun’s early morning light provided a silver shimmer on the water’s surface. A light mist drifted over the pond and traveled to the trees, covering parts of the gigantic trunks.
Azure was sitting nearby, stretching out her wings which expanded outward in great length. She flapped her wings before they folded back to either side of her curved, ridged back. Her scales glistened in the morning light, she practically glowed. Azure turned to me and said: “I want to take a break from flying for a while, my wings have been aching lately.”
“That’s alright, Azure. We can walk,” I said and looked onward. “There has to be something more than just these trees. . .let’s go.”
We walked deeper into the forest and the trees appeared to grow taller and taller, until the great canopy above us swallowed the last of the light. Great. As soon as the sun had returned to bring much needed light to my darkened life, it disappeared again.
The already bleak morning had shifted into a black and sightless night. After several minutes of aimless wandering, two sparks of light appeared from the darkness and we sprinted towards them after exchanging shocked glances.
As we grew closer, the sparks became lit torches. Azure and I ambled up to a massive stone gate, taller than both of us, with a series of indistinguishable words inscribed into it. It reminded me of Latin, but there were strange symbols strung above and below the lettering. The words traveled from one end of the gate to another.
On either side of the gate were two scorpion statues. They were latched onto the walls and had their pinchers raised, as if ready to strike. When I took another step forward, one of the scorpions’ eyes glowed yellow, and a female’s voice whispered in my ears:
“A girl and a dragon, how peculiar.”
The eyes of the second scorpion glowed, and a male’s voice added:
“Yes, very peculiar.”
“It’s not every day we get those visiting our labyrinth, especially a dragon.”
“Who are you?” I asked, I clutched my bag strap for precaution.
“I’m Nihil,” the female voice whispered.
“And I’m Non,” the male voice whispered.
“We’re the guardians of the labyrinth,” they said in unison. Their eyes flickered at each word, but their mouths didn’t move.
“What brings you two here? You don’t look like you belong in this world,” Nihil asked.
“I’m looking for my sister,” I answered. “We got separated awhile back so I’m traveling through the worlds with Azure to find her.”
“A sister you say?” Nihil inquired.
“What does she look like?” Non asked.
“She’s a few inches shorter than me. . . brown hair like mine, but it’s neck length. She was also wearing a nightgown the last I saw her.”
“Hmmm. . .we haven’t seen her,” Nihil said.
“We’re sorry about that,” Non said.
“But we have something that could help you.”
“Yes, we do.”
“The labyrinth,” they said in unison.
“The labyrinth?” I questioned, glancing up at gate’s massive size.
“Yes, the labyrinth,” Nihil said.
“The labyrinth can help you find your sister,” Non added.
“What do you mean?”
“The labyrinth is filled with many doors,” Nihil said.
“Doors that lead to wants that have been lost,” Non said.
“But the doors show fears and nightmares so you best be careful.”
“Yes, all the doors except one look the same, but what’s behind is different.”
“Fear or desire, what could they be?” they asked in unison.
“Only one door will lead to your deepest desire,” Nihil said.
“While the other doors only lead to illusions,” Non said.
“But where could that real door be?”
“It could be at the start.”
“It could be at the end.”
“Either way, you’ll be under a time limit.”
“We can’t let you go in freely, that’s not fair to us.”
“So, if you can’t find the right door within five hours. . .”
“You’ll be banished and the gates will be closed off.”
“How big is the labyrinth?” I asked.
“It’s nearly the equivalent of a world in size,” Nihil answered.
“Oh, and don’t even think of flying on your dragon. That’s cheating, and you will be banished immediately,” Non pointed out.
“However,” Nihil added, “your dragon may come if you wish, it’s always nice to have a companion.”
“You look like someone who needs one,” Non commented.
“What if I decide not to enter the labyrinth and go on my way?” I asked, retracting my step.
“What are your other options, child?” Nihil asked.
“Don’t you want to find your sister?” Non asked.
“What you desire is within one of these doors within the labyrinth.”
“You’re already here, why don’t you look?”
“Unless finding your sister isn’t that important. . .”
“It is important, don’t be ridiculous!” I exclaimed, stomping a foot.
The strange voices chuckled in unison.
“Then you should go inside the labyrinth then,” Nihil advised.
“Yes, you should go,” Non agreed.
“There you’ll find your sister.”
I frowned slightly and stared at the gate for a few seconds too long. “Five hours you say?”
“Yes, five hours,” the two said in unison.
“Miss. Suzette,” Azure cut in, lowering her head to my eye level. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”
“I can’t say that it is,” I admitted, “but we can’t do anything else right now. You’re too tired to fly, so all we have is this labyrinth to go into. This could lead us to Sophie. But if it doesn’t, then we’ll have to find something else. . .”
‘You’ve been growing, Miss. Suzette,’ Azure commented, exchanging a small smile, though hesitation was written in her eyes. “If anything happens, I’ll be by your side.”
“What are your names?” Nihil asked.
“I’m Suzette,” I said and gestured to Azure. “And this is Azure.”
“Curious names,” Nihil noted.
“Yes, very curious,” Non agreed.
“And your sister’s name?” Nihil asked.
“. . .Sophie.”
“Another curious name.”
“Yes, quite curious.”
“What worlds are you from?” Nihil now asked.
“The original world? Is it?”
“I believe it’s called. . .”
“Earth,” they said in unison.
“That’s right,” I mumbled.
“Such a curious name,” Nihil commented.
“Yes, quite curious,” Non agreed.
“This is a curious world too.”
“Yes, it’s a world that holds little, but holds everything.”
“Everything of what’s inside your soul,” they said in unison.
“Step into the labyrinth and at first you’ll see nothing,” Nihil said.
“But when you go further, you’ll see much more through the doors you seek,” Non said.
“The doors unlock your fears.”
“The doors unlock your desires.”
“Both of those are stored in your soul and are exposed in this labyrinth.”
“The labyrinth that knows everything about you once you step through.”
“Everything?” I echoed.
“Yes, everything,” they said in unison, their eyes brightening.
“It’ll be presented in front of your eyes,” Nihil said.
“Once you open the doors that is,” Non said.
“Yes, once you open the doors.”
“Your greatest desire is to see your sister, yes?”
“Find the real door, and you’ll find her.”
“Remember, you have a time limit.”
“Do you remember how much time?” Nihil asked.
“Five hours,” I said.
“You best be going if you want to beat the clock,” Non advised.
“Are you up to the task though? You look hesitant.”
“Suzette, was it? Are you up to the task?”
I stood there in silence for a moment. My legs quivered beneath me and it felt like my feet were going to sink into the ground. Even so, I inhaled slowly and looked straight up to the tall stone gate. I then faced Azure, who gave me a worried, but understanding look as we both weighed the decision against all the other nonexistent options.
‘There’s not much I can do now, is there. . .’ I thought to myself. I could tell Azure noted the same as she read my thoughts.
“Remember what I said, Suzette,” Azure assured me, “I’ll be here for you.”
“Right. . .” I said and took another step forward. “We’ll go.”
“Good,” Nihil said.
“Very good,” Non said.
“Yes, very brave.”
“Enjoy the labyrinth.”
“Yes, please enjoy.”
The voices faded away and the glow disappeared from their eyes. The low whistle of a soft wind replaced the voices and brushed through the flames. The flames crackled with sparks of light shooting out but then disappeared before landing back in the fire’s embrace.
The gate creaked opened, it sounded almost like a horn—but distorted. Once I stepped into the labyrinth, a grandfather clock appeared between two paths, chiming loudly as a constant reminder that we were on a time limit. My eyes darted from right to left, deciding which path to go on before choosing right. The labyrinth was lit up by torches which led the way to many other paths that were surrounded by rose covered hedges. We rushed down a random path while the chimes of the grandfather clock echoed in my head.
“How big did they say this maze was?” I asked, turning a corner and coming across yet another path.
“Nearly the size of a world, Miss Suzette,” Azure answered. “I’m sure we have enough time though, let’s look for a door.”
“There’s one.” I pointed to a door to my left and rushed towards it. The door was painted in white and had a gold knob. I took the knob and twisted it before swinging it open. A shower of light flooded out and brightened the area. I peeked inside and was welcomed by the familiar scent of Darjeeling tea. When the light died down and my eyes adjusted, my heart nearly jumped out of my throat.