I had wandered down the labyrinth for two hours but it felt longer, much longer. I cradled my arms and tried to provide warmth but nothing was working. I didn’t think anything was working right for me. There was nothing in those doors that would help me in my search. Nothing at all but memories that I yearned to get back to. . .if we ever get home. Sue. . .grandma. . .please be out there somewhere. I hated to be alone. I hated it. I hated it.
I stumbled upon another room, but it wasn’t from the mansion, instead it was the makeup room back at the circus. There was Molly sitting on a stool, applying makeup to her face. A feathered cap sat upon her colorful hair and she wore a puffy yellow and pink dress with the addition of fake, wired wings on her back. When she saw me in the mirror’s reflection, she dropped the lipstick and nearly tumbled off the stool.
She hugged me so tightly we nearly fell over, but she let go and took my hands, smiling that smile I had missed so. She looked so much better than the last I saw her. There was life back in her eyes, and the makeup made her face glow. But it was her smile that gave me the most comfort.
“You’re alright,” I hiccupped through tears.
“Yes, but you aren’t.” Molly released me and I got a good look into her mismatched eyes that were suddenly filled with concern.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re hurt,” Molly said. “You’ve been hurt for a long time and are struggling to get through it.”
“. . .I suppose you could say that,” I admitted slowly. “It’s hard. Sometimes I don’t know how to be strong and be able to overcome my fears.”
“That can be tough,” Molly said, tapping her chin. “Come, sit, sit.” Molly lead me to the stool and sat me down in front of the mirror. I stared into my reflection and watched quietly as Molly started to brush my hair.
“What are you afraid of?”
“Losing Sue,” I answered quietly, facing downward.
“Do you believe she’s gone?”
“. . .No,” I answered.
“Because. . .we made a promise that we would find grandma and go home together.”
“Good, you’re right. She’s still here.”
I swerved my head to face Molly. “Do you know where!?”
I can’t say,” Molly answered, tilting my head so I was facing the mirror again. “I’m simply a figment from your soul, and everything else here is an illusion. The only thing real is the place where your sister is at, she’s who you’re looking for.”
“But I miss Molly too, and everyone else at the circus. . .” I mumbled. “I left everyone without saying goodbye.”
“It’s not like you can’t see them again,” Molly said. “You wanted to leave and so you left. What’s done is done but when this is over, you’ll have the chance to go back.”
“Are you sure?” I asked worriedly.
Molly’s lips twisted to a grimace. “You need to stop thinking negatively.”
“And you must stop saying sorry, honestly,” Molly sighed.
I smiled. “You’re just like Molly.”
“Of course, I’m what you remembered her as—someone who cares for your wellbeing and wants you to be happy, which means you need to think about the positives. Now, repeat after me: I will come back and see everyone again.”
“I will come back and see everyone again,” I repeated slowly.
“Good, very good,” Molly said. “Please stay positive and remember that you will get through this. Do not let fear overwhelm you, it’ll only hurt you more. You are strong, Sophie. Don’t doubt that. You are strong and will find your sister and grandmother.”
I nodded. “You’re right. . .I’m sorry.”
“Hey, what did I tell you about saying sorry?
“So—don’t say it,” I said timidly.
“Right!” Molly placed down the brush. “Now, take another look at the mirror.”
My hair framed my head in fun little ringlets, and Molly had added a flowery circlet that fitted me nicely.
“What do you think?” Molly asked with eagerness.
“It’s cute,” I said. “Thank you. . .thank you so much.” I hugged Molly, and even though it wasn’t exactly her, her familiar sweet smell was present and the warmth of her hug was much needed.
“Thank you.” I repeated, shutting my eyes as I tightened the embrace.
“Please stay strong,” she whispered in my ear, but her voice faded away. When I opened my eyes, Molly had turned into tiny sparks of blue and pink light, like a whirl of fireflies before they vanished one by one. But even though she was gone, I still felt a sense comfort, as if she was still with me, giving me the confidence that I wasn’t alone.
When I re-entered the labyrinth, the area around me appeared to be brighter, and the trees above made way for the sun’s light to break through. I heard birds chirping in the distance, and I would see one fly by, just so I would know I wasn’t alone. It was nice to hear the birds again, I had forgotten the last time I heard them sing . . .
There was another door and the one I entered was a bright, white room with white curtains. A white bed was tucked beneath the window, and above was a small chandelier made from seashells. I heard ocean waves crashing in the near distance, and when I crawled onto the bed and brushed away the curtains, the clear blue of the ocean filled my vision, and memories of the beach became as vibrant as the sky. This was grandpa’s beach house and I was in one of the guest rooms.
I had always preferred sleeping in this one than my own because I got a better view of the ocean. Sue and I had only come here a couple of times before, I had always wanted to come back but it was difficult with grandpa’s health.
I opened the window and the warm, salty breeze of the ocean swept inside. My hair flew up and I smiled widely as I raised my arms, wanting to embrace the wind but that wasn’t possible. Seagulls laughed in the distance and the ocean rolled onto the sand, collecting seashells from the shore.
When Sue and I were younger, we used to collect seashells and tried to find the prettiest ones. I remembered picking out a bright pink one but I accidentally dropped it back in the water and couldn’t find it anymore. I was so upset, but Sue found a bunch of other pink seashells for me. I hid them in my drawers so the maids wouldn’t find them. I feared that they would’ve been thrown away. I wondered if Sue had kept any of the seashells that she had found. It was a long time ago, so perhaps not. . .
I then remembered grandma’s seashell necklace, and that Cordelia had it. I wondered if Sue ever got it back. . .and what about the other items? We still had a couple more to go.
I shut the window and sighed, I wished to spend more time there, but I had to get moving. Before I left, I spotted a hand-held mirror laying on top of the white drawer. Picking it up and observing my reflection, I thought back to Molly’s words. . . to stay positive and strong, but it wasn’t as simple as it should be. I was still worried about not being able to find Sue and losing her. I was still worried about not being able to go home. I was still worried about other things but I had to keep moving even though it was hard. I had to keep moving.
The mirror was small enough to fit in my dress pocket, but the handle was poking out. Nevertheless, I kept it because, if I wasn’t going to return home soon, I wanted something to remind me of good memories to keep me happy.
“One hour left,” the voices rung in my ears and I froze up, how could there be one hour left? I couldn’t have been wandering aimlessly for that long. I re-entered the labyrinth to find more and more doors surrounding me. I didn’t remember there being so many doors before, but there were dozens lined alongside the walls and the chiming of the clock returned to beat into my head. One part of my mind wondered how many minutes I had left, while the other told the worrying part to be quiet and concentrate. I had to concentrate.
I stopped walking and closed my eyes. I breathed in and out slowly and while doing so, tried not to fiddle with my hands or the bracelet. I held on to the mirror to remind myself to stand tall. After a few minutes, I finally opened my eyes and was faced with a door different from all the others. This one had a carving of a tree with flowery branches. Birds either flew about or were sitting on its branches, and in the center of it all was the sun that had a spiraling design.
Once I touched the doorknob, the clock had ceased chiming, and for a moment, my heart stopped as well. Was this it? Was Sue here? A warm, fuzzy feeling coursed through me and I smiled like it was Christmas day.
“Congratulations, you found the real door,” the voices whispered to me. “Your trail’s complete.”
The voices faded away and I didn’t waste another second as I swung open the door. Before I could call Sue’s name, I paused when realizing where I was. I found myself in a chapel lit by many, many candles. When I stepped away from the doorway, the door disappeared just like that, and a heavy weight was lifted from my shoulders at the acknowledgement that I succeeded. There were no more illusions. No more memories from long ago. No more horrible visions. This was real. This was real.
My attention went up to the painted domed ceiling, and then to the columns that encircled the room. Wooden pews led up to a marble altar where three decorative vases sat on top. Beautiful violet roses were resting inside the vases, and the buds reached out to all directions. I was afraid of being too loud so I walked in a slow pace. It was exceptionally quiet, but for once the quiet was welcoming. It was nice. There was nothing stressful about it, nothing troubling. I had felt peace that I hadn’t felt in a long time.
When I was merely a foot from the altar, I found that one rose had a white ribbon tied to the stem. The ribbon made the rose stand out amongst the rest, making me wonder why the other roses weren’t decorated as nicely, or if this rose was important. As I took another step forward, I heard a door opening, followed by a voice asking, “Who are you?”
I gasped and turned to see a tall young man wearing black and green robes. Wired glasses were perched on his pointed nose.
“I—I’m Sophie,” I stuttered. “I’m sorry if I’m intruding, I’m—”
“Wait.” The man pushed up his glasses and leaned forward. His eyes widened with surprise. “You said your name’s Sophie, correct? Are you by any chance Lady Suzette’s sister?”
My heart fluttered at those words. “Yes! Yes, I am, where is she?”
The man raised a finger, ready to say something but seemed to change his mind, “Wait here please.”
Just like that he disappeared from the room. I sat down on one of the pews, wondering who I had just spoken to. I didn’t even catch his name. After a few moments, another person approached me. He looked to be around the same age as Sue with deep hazel eyes that had both surprise and gratification mixed in them.
“Sophie, was it?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, “and you are?”
“My name’s Prince Demetrius, but Dem is suitable enough. I’m acquainted with your sister.”
“Where is she?” I asked eagerly.
Dem looked nervous all of a sudden, as if he was hesitant to tell me, but I needed to know. Then my eagerness turned to dread when I remembered what happened in the meadow. Sue with the stab wound. . .telling me she was dying. No, please, no. It couldn’t be true.
“Is she alright?” I dared to ask. “Please. . .please tell me she’s alright.”
“She’s. . .getting better,” Dem answered. “There’s a lot to talk about, but what you should now is that your sister is going to be okay. She will be.”
Tears welled up in my eyes and I cupped my hands together with gratitude. “Thank you. Thank you.”
Dem told me it was best not to see Sue right away in fear it would upset me, so instead I was taken to a guest room. A sweet lady named Sybil got me cleaned up and into a new dress. As she helped me, she told me about Sue and how kind she was. It was nice hearing about Sue’s time here, it appeared that she had made a couple of good friends.
When Sybil was done, she guided me to the dining hall where there was a hot bowl of soup and other delicious foods waiting for me. It had been a while since I was able to eat freely without the worry of being separated from Sue stopping me.
“How are you settling in?”
Dem entered the dining hall and sat at the table across from me.
“Very well, thank you,” I said.
“Where have you been, might I ask?” Dem asked.
“I was in a couple of other worlds,” I said. “One was at the circus. . .I made some friends but I had to leave to find Sue. I came across another world that led me right to here. It was. . .strange but I’m just so happy I’m finally in the same world as my sister. I really want to see her, though. Has she ever talked about me?”
“Almost all the time,” Dem answered with the smile. “A few days ago, I showed her the astronomy tower where you could see the stars. Suzette told me how much you would love it. Maybe when she wakes up we can all go up there together.”
“Yes!” I said. “Sue and I used to watch the stars a lot back at home! One time we saw a shower of shooting stars, it was beautiful. But then we were caught by our housekeeper since we were staying up too late.” I let out a small laugh at the memory.
“My siblings and I used to stay up late to watch the stars, too,” Dem said.
“Did you ever get caught?”
“Of course,” Dem laughed as well. “We were always caught by our older brother, Adrian, but one time we were able to convince him to watch the stars with us. He later admitted that he had a nice time, but didn’t want us to stay up late again. Guess what we did afterwards?”
“You stayed up late afterwards?”
I laughed again and we continued to talk about fond memories of our families which helped ease things. But the nice conversation was cut short when a young man marched into the chamber. He was dressed similarly to Dem, but the most distinctive feature was the hazy gray-blue ring perched on his finger.
“What is it, Adrian?” Dem asked with agitation in his voice.
“Lord Caius is growing impatient, he wants us to do the trial tomorrow.”
“What!?” Dem shot up from his chair. “But Suzette hasn’t recovered yet, and if she does by tomorrow she’ll still be unwell to attend. The reason why there’s a second trial is so Suzette could testify!"
“I know, I know,” Adrian huffed.
“Um, excuse me,” I spoke up timidly, “if Sue’s not able to attend, could I perhaps help?”
Adrian arched an eyebrow. “You’re not a witness.”
“But I’m Sue’s sister,” I replied. “I know her well enough to know what she may say. . .just. . .tell me what happened and I’ll help in any way I can.”
“I’m not sure—”
“Adrian,” Dem cut in, “if you’re allowing your murderous wife to speak freely, surely you must allow Suzette’s sister to speak too. I want this over as much as you, and if you allow Sophie to help testify, then we can finally put this to rest.”
Adrian stared down at me and while I should’ve felt intimidated, I wasn’t. I saw sadness in his eyes and I pitied him. I wasn’t sure exactly how I could help but I wanted to do something, something that might help my sister.
“Alright,” Adrian finally said. “I’m not too fond of this plan, but I’ll inform Lord Caius that we’ll continue the proceedings tomorrow.”
“Thank you,” I said.
Adrian didn’t say anything and soon left the hall, leaving Dem and I in silence for some time.
“He seemed upset,” I noted.
“Yes, it’s been a rough week for all of us,” I said. “We just want it to be over now. I thank you for wanting to volunteer in court, you really didn’t have to.”
“No, I want to help,” I said. “Please tell me everything I should know.”
Dem and Raphael, whom I met at the chapel, escorted me to the throne room where we both sat on ornate chairs. The chairs faced the throne where Prince Adrian sat. I was overwhelmed by all the eyes cast to me from both the right and left. The most intimidating belonged to Lord Caius. He carried along a long, black cane with a pure silver owl sculpted at the hilt.
The cane clicked against the marble floor like a heartbeat and nervousness rattled through me. He sat down at the chair right across from Dem and I gave him a quick nod of acknowledgment before turning away.
The next person to walk in was Lady Faye, whose ashen hair draped over her shoulders and eyes were drawn to me with a curious gleam. When I caught her gaze, I felt angry. I didn’t want to feel anger but I did. She hurt my sister, she caused me to have such a horrifying vision and now it was forced to be replayed back in my head. Suzette’s pale face. The bloody gash. Her words. Tears burned my eyes and clouded my vision. My heart ached and I feared it was going to collapse. I gasped for air and was ready to spill forth my emotions, but Dem’s voice stopped me.
“Do you want to go?” he asked quietly.
“No, it’s fine, I’ll be fine. . .” I answered. I folded my hands but tried not to fiddle with Molly’s bracelet or my fingers, but it was overwhelming.
Fortunately, I started to feel brave when Prince Adrian stood up from his throne and announced to us: “We shall resume the case against Lady Faye. As a reminder, Lady Faye Purnella Caius has been accused of stealing the family ring, attacking my brother and attempted murder on Lady Suzette Montgomery.
“However, she decrees that she was under the influence of the ring’s powers which forced her to act against her will. Originally, we were going to have Lady Suzette attend the second trial, but since she’s still absent, her sister, Lady Sophie Montgomery will be speaking upon her behalf. Lady Sophie, you may be the first to speak if you wish.”
“Uh. . .” I faltered, I wasn’t sure how to begin.
“I should start first,” Raphael spoke up, “if I may.”
“You shall,” Prince Adrian said.
“Thank you,” Raphael cleared his throat and said, “My Lady, during the time between the trials, I’ve thoroughly researched the ring and came to the conclusion that the wearer controls the ring, it does not, under any circumstance, control the user. You claim that the ring influenced you, but that can’t be the case. Here’s the evidence.” Raphael waved several parchments of paper but Lord Caius snatched them from his hands and skimmed through.
“You do have a lot of evidence,” Lord Caius said, “however, I don’t believe it’s enough. I know my daughter very well and she would never hurt anyone. The ring cursed her.”
“The evidence is right on the paper, you should spend time reading it rather than skim through as if it’s nothing,” Raphael remarked.
“I’ve read enough,” Lord Caius said and handed the papers back. “Daughter, how did you feel when you wore the ring?”
“I felt numb, utterly numb. It was if I was trapped and I couldn’t break free until it was too late.” Lady Faye sniffed and Lord Caius took out a handkerchief to wipe her eyes with.
“How do you think Sue felt?” I found myself asking.
“Pardon?” Lady Faye looked at me with glassy eyes.
“How do you think she felt when you hurt her?” I repeated slowly. “I can’t say if the ring influenced you or not, but in the end. . .my sister almost died.” My voice broke at the last word but I kept going. “I. . .I had a vision where I saw her injured. She looked so scared. I couldn’t imagine the pain and I’m sure you can’t. But whatever you’re feeling right now. . . it’s nothing to what Sue must’ve felt.”
I cradled my arms, ready to cry again but I was able to muster the strength to keep composed. Dem rested a hand on my shoulder. He leaned to my ear and whispered.
“If you need to go, you can.”
“No, no it’s fine.” I whispered back, shaking my head.
The court then fell silent for a long, uncomfortable moment until I heard murmuring all around. When all eyes had been on me, they were now focused on Lady Faye whose bottom lip quivered, and eyes stared unblinking.
“You’re right, my pain is nothing compared to what your sister went through,” Lady Faye began, “I imagined it was. . . unbearable. In the past few nights I’ve been having nightmares of what had happened, so much so that I ended up not sleeping at all. I am not sure if my dreams will ever come back again unless I receive forgiveness from her.”
“I’m not sure if Sue could forgive you,” I said. “But if what you’re saying is true. . .that you admit that what you did was wrong and you’re sorry. . .perhaps.”
“Yes, everything is true,” Lad Faye said. “When speaking in court, you have to tell the truth.”
I caught a glimpse of Dem rolling his eyes. It was easy to tell he wanted to speak but held back. His hands were pressed together on his lap and his shoulders were stiff against the chair.
“Well,” Lord Caius spoke up, “there you have it. My prince, what says you?”
Prince Adrian had his chin resting on his palm, listening attentively. His other arm rested on the armrest, and occasionally he knocked the edge of it. “Lord Caius, allow me to first say that it’s disrespectful for you to refuse to read the clear evidence that Sir Raphael handed to you. I had helped him in his research and it’s evident that the ring does nothing but reflect the mood of the user as it does right now.”
Prince Adrian raised his hand to show the ring shining like the most beautiful ruby. “Would you like to know how I feel?” he asked gravely. “I feel angry, extremely angry, but I’m able to control my emotions better than you ever will.”
“My Lord?” The sternness in Lord Caius’s stature weakened and his old hands shook upon his lap. “Please, you must understand—”
“Lord Caius,” Prince Adrian spoke up, “I advise you to not say another word. As for you, Lady Faye. . .”
“Yes, my love?” Lady Faye chirped
Prince Adrian paused, his mouth working on the words to say. He stood up from the throne, his stance much more regal than that of Lord Caius. However, his eyes showed a lack of sleep and he appeared to be having trouble stringing the right words together.
When another second passed, a groan tore our attention to the double doors. A man dressed in armor marched in and saluted us.
“Forgive me, my lord, but—”
The words that followed suddenly sounded like a distant echo as I was focused on the small figure behind the man. When he stepped aside, I stood up from the chair and eased a step forward. Dem stood too and he began to speak, but I was the first to cry out,