It didn’t take me long to regret the Dreamer’s absence; there was a definite air of spookiness to the Bizarre Bazaar. The canvas-covered tents whispered with the wind, and the activity of the rides and booths continued to strike me as disquieting. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the Bizarre Bazaar would be better called the Spooky Circus.
Most of the tents were little more than wooden framework covered with canvas. Perhaps these were incomplete attractions, or perhaps they were meant to hold circus acts that never came. Whichever was the case, I checked every one just to be sure, but found nothing of note.
Eventually, however, I reached a tent that was an actual building. The outside of the circular building had merely been painted with the same red and yellow stripes as the tents, but was clearly something different.
Deciding to investigate, I walked up to the door. There were several signs set around the door, most with the usual ‘step right up’ and ‘not for the faint of heart’ messages you’d expect. The large placard on the door itself, however, read, “Face your Worst Enemy.”
I frowned, my ears picking up sound from the other side. I put my ear against the door and listened. Sure enough, I could hear the sound of sobbing coming from within the building.
The door handle was stubborn, but I’d had plenty of experience with stubborn locks while fixing up the first floor of the Saybaro. It took a little work, but eventually the lock clicked open and I opened the door.
The building was one central room, a little bigger than the courtyard of the Saybaro. Everything was blanketed in darkness save for a figure in a chair in the very center of the room. I couldn’t make out many details, but it looked like the figure was wearing the same silly armor that Sera and the rest of the female guards apparently had to wear.
The head suddenly jerked to the side. “Hello? Who’s there?”
My pulse quickened. That was Sera’s voice! Hurrying to her side, I said, “Princess Sera! It’s Jimmy Sakamota. We came here to rescue you.”
“Thank the Creator.” She said, “Quick, untie me so I can help you track down the bastard who kidnapped me!”
I nodded and glanced at her bindings; the kidnapper had bound her hands with nothing more than rope.
“This might take a few minutes.” I said apologetically as I prepared to saw at the rope with Glint. I pressed Glint against the rope only for it to pass through both the rope and Sera’s wrist as though they weren’t there.
“Hologram.” I murmured, horror filling me as I realized I’d walked into a trap. I immediately ran back toward the door, only to collide with a wall I couldn’t see. As I reeled back, I heard the crackle of a loudspeaker system being activated.
“Jimmy Olsen Sakamota, royal guard, knight of the realm, and self-styled samurai.” Said the same voice that taunted us at the entrance. “Surely you didn’t think it would be that simple.”
“Not really.” I admitted, fairly certain he could hear me. “Would’ve been nice, though.”
“Oh, no doubt. Rescue the princess, slip out of the park before the big bad dragon finds you, then retire to your precious Saybaro with a Princess bride.”
“Princess? Yes. Bride? No.” I came to the end of one wall only to feel the corner of another. “I’m not out to marry the princess.”
“Of course you are! She is sexy and strong, and her heart is kind. She deserves better than to be given away as a prize! That’s why I rescued her!”
“Rescued? You kidnapped her!” I retorted. “Stole her from her boyfriend, her parents … her little sister who slipped into her bed whenever she had a bad nightmare.”
Silence answered me. Sighing, I said, “Look, I get it; you like her, and love can make people do strange things, but how are you any different from her father by kidnapping her?”
“I am not Iniagus.” The voice sounded angry now. “I gave her a choice.”
“You mean you demanded she choose you.” I said. “Hardly a true choice.”
“What do you know of it?” The kidnapper said. “You’ve spent thirteen years alone at a bridge! What do you know of love?”
I immediately thought of Terra. I didn’t want to; I’d been trying to keep her out of my thoughts, but it was like she had a foothold in my mind. “I know that sanity and love aren’t necessarily bed partners. I know that it’s easier to accept a lie than to deal with the truth. I even know that sometimes, despite all your hopes and plans, some people just can’t be together.”
Having made a complete circle, I sighed and walked back to the spotlight. “I know that being in love can make your judgement questionable. The thing is, love can’t be one-sided. Think about what you’ve done; were you really thinking of Sera, or just of yourself?”
The whirring of an electric motor made me quickly step back. A small pedestal rose in the center of the room, topped by a crystal ball. The light from the spotlight seemed to be absorbed into the crystal until it let out a pulse of light that spread through the area.
Catching movement out of the corner of my eye, I spun about with Glint at the ready to find myself staring at … myself. Several myselves, actually; the walls I’d touched were in fact mirrors.
“Enough talk.” The kidnapper’s voice said. “Whatever your true motivation, you won’t be able to continue until you’ve found your way out of this little maze.”
“I’m not here for games!” I said.
“Ah, but all of life is a game, a show, and adventure. Of course, you know that, don’t you, Sakamota?”
“The thing about games is that sometimes you can cheat.” I swung Glint at the nearest mirror, only for the blade to bounce off an invisible field.
The kidnapper’s laughter filled the room as the orb let off another pulse of light. “Don’t let the décor fool you. This is a state of the art facility. No, you’ll have to think your way out of this maze, Samurai. Of course, if you promise to leave …”
“Your choice. Wander to your heart’s content, Sir Samurai.”
I tried climbing one of the mirrors, but the same field repelled me; the moment I grabbed the upper edge, the mirror vibrated so hard that I couldn’t maintain my grip. Sighing, I released the mirror and looked at my surroundings through the pulsing light.
Seeing what looked like opening, I stepped forward only to smash straight into an invisible wall. Holding my nose, which was sore but thankfully not broken, I swore loudly. Using Glint’s sheath, I poked around the area like a blind man, trying to find the exit. Finally I found it … straight through one of the mirrors.
“So I can’t trust my eyes at all. Perfect.” I pulled out the One doll and gave it a quick shake, hoping that it might come to life. It simply stared back at me with brown button eyes, giving me no sign that the Dreamer’s consciousness was within the doll.
Shaking my head, I put the doll back in my pocket and kept moving. Poking around with Glint and my sheath, I eventually poked my way through the maze enough to see the door through which I entered.
Forgetting myself, I stepped toward the entrance and straight into another wall, this time so hard that I fell on my backside.
Laughter rang through the intercom, making me blush as I rose to my feet.
“Yeah, yeah.” I said, making a mental note to beat the Nocturnes out of the kidnapper once I figured out where he was hiding, “Very funny.”
“Oh, come on. Admit it, if you saw someone else do it, you’d laugh.”
“Tell you what,” I said, “Let’s trade places and see if you’re right.”
The voice laughed again. “Another time, perhaps. Continue on!”
Grumbling, I tried to work my way to the door. Unfortunately, every path I found seemed to lead away from it. Worse yet, several passages I’d walked through earlier seemed to be solid now. The maze was shifting, so much so that I eventually ended up right back in the center again.
“Ready to give up yet?” The kidnapper asked, amusement still clear in his tone.
“No thank you.” I said pointedly.
I glanced around where I stood. This was carnival attraction, so there must be some trick to it … but what was it? I couldn’t trust my eyes, and the shifting of the walls made trying to feel my way out next to impossible. I could hear the sliding of mirrors, so obviously some were real, but how could I tell them apart from the fakes without physically touching them?
As the light pulsed again, my eye caught one of my reflections. The area around me lit up with each pulse of the light, but in that one mirror, it looked as though I was stuck in the shadows.
I stretched my hand out, still expecting to feel the vibrating energy field only for my hand to pass through the reflective surface. The next time I came to a branching path, I again found that the mirror with the shadowed reflection was false.
It didn’t take me long to find my way back to the entrance. Unfortunately, as I reached for the handle, the entire wall spun around so that the door was on the other side of the room again.
“Not so fast, my friend. A strong mind is a truly valuable asset, but a strong body is even more so in this world. There is a second part to this attraction, my friend, one I think you’ll find most illuminating.”
All around the room, the mirrors slid back into the ground or simply vanished. To my horror, every shadow reflection of me remained, promptly turning to face me. Each figure pulled out a shadowy Glint, and held it at ready.
Grabbing my own weapon, I said, “Here we go.”
I ran at the nearest shadow, Glint slicing through the air. The figure dodged my attack and attempted to counter-attack, but its movements were slow and jerky. Easily avoiding the attack, I drove Glint through the shadow Jimmy’s armpit and into its chest. Without a sound, his form dissolved into a dark cloud that dissipated moments later.
Without wasting a breath, I dove at the next one, and the next one, and the next one. They may have looked like me, but they definitely weren’t as good with a sword. They did get better, however; the last dueled me for five minutes before I finally caught it with a feint and dispatched it with a slash to the chest.
As the last shadow faded into nothingness, I called out, “Is that it?”
“Not quite. Look behind you.”
I turned. The clouds of darkness reappeared and coalesced into a single figure. He still looked like me, but as he drew Glint and made a few passes with it, it was obvious that he wasn’t going to be a pushover.
He came at me, Glint swinging through the air in a deadly arc. I sidestepped and countered, but he quickly came about and blocked me. He batted my sword aside and stabbed toward me. I barely managed to avoid being skewered on his sword, though he did manage to tear my keikogi.
I flipped over my adversary, and stabbed backwards. My doppelganger dove forward, avoiding my attack. I brought my blade around in a spiral, only to be blocked again. As he took another swing at me, I realized I needed a new strategy.
The progression of shadows must’ve been learning from me, meaning that they’d likely learned enough about my sword-fighting ability to keep me at bay. I needed to try something different, something that would go against the precision and grace of bushido.
I promptly dropped Glint. This seemed to surprise my shadow self; he cocked his head to the side, a quizzical expression on his face. That was long enough for me to punch him in the face. He staggered back a few steps, sword still to the side as he tried to process this new method of attack. Before he could recover, I used the toe of my sandal to kick Glint back into my hand and stabbed him in the chest. He stared down at the blade in his chest for a moment before meeting my gaze and giving me a brief nod before dissolving into nothingness. The shadowy Glint hit the floor, remaining corporeal a moment longer before finally vanishing into thin air.
I’d scarcely caught my breath before the sound of clapping filled the air. “I must admit, I am impressed. Most of the people who tested this attraction failed, yet you faced yourself in battle and were victorious.”
There was a pause. “It’s a shame your skill is wasted in the service of an insane king. Are you truly willing to throw your life away on this fool’s errand? Would you kill me in the king’s name?”
I thought about it for a long moment before finally shaking my head. “No. I will fight to save the princess, but I won’t kill unless I have to. Will you kill to keep her here?”
When he didn’t answer, I said, “Let her go and we will leave. I’ll call my team and have us out of here in the hour. I’ll tell Iniagus that you escaped before we got here.”
“You really mean it, don’t you?” He said, disbelief clear in his voice. “You’d just let me go.”
“As long as you didn’t harm the Princess, there’s no reason for us to cross blades.” I said, sliding Glint into its sheath. “End this. It needn’t come to bloodshed.”
“I’m afraid it’s not that simple. Perhaps if you find me, then you’ll understand. For now, you’ve earned the right to continue your investigation. Walk with care, samurai.”
When nothing more was forthcoming, I let out a sigh and headed for the now-open door.