I stopped briefly to catch my breath, although, my mouth was salivating profusely. I was in desperate need of water and there seemed to be none around.
My body was drenched with sweat from running. My lungs burned like a blazing inferno with each chilled breath I took. The muscles in my legs felt heavy; the burning sensation had ebbed away, leaving me with the feeling of them being made from lead.
My body was threatening to slow down with each protest. It didn’t help that I was compelled to keep looking over my shoulder for any sign of danger. My paranoid mind whirled like a destructive tornado, demolishing everything that stood in its wake. The fear that consumed me, gripped my heart like an iron fist.
I wondered if I could afford the luxury of rest, giving anything to be able to sit for a while. Even to rest my eyes would be a blessing. Not that I was foolish enough to try. There was no faltering my heavy steps, no slowing down as I ran at a frantic pace.
Taking risks wasn’t an option, not even for the promise of sleep if I were to be caught.
Who was to say that I would be fairly treated? This Lycan owed me no such consideration. I was nothing more than a prize for him, to use my body for his pleasure. The thought of that almost sent my erratic heart crashing straight through my ribcage.
I quickly shook that disturbing image from my mind. Being captured and abused wasn’t going to be an option. I would sleep in my own bed, once I escaped this godforsaken island.
My eyes scanned the ground for something that I could use as a makeshift weapon, finding nothing substantial enough to pierce the skin. I doubted very much whether a blunt stick had much effect on a Lycan. Throwing stones at one would only anger him and worsen the situation. They had the unfair advantage of claws and teeth, whereas, I had nothing but skin and bone.
Another scream echoed through the night, causing me to swallow hard and clamp down my jaw. The last thing that I needed was to cry out and give away the whereabouts of my location. Of course, they could scent me, but with all the twists and turns and the ever-changing landscape, I thought maybe, just maybe, that would hinder the hunt somewhat.
Throughout the night I had been hearing so many women scream, that I’d forgotten to keep count of numbers. After learning that there was much more to this labyrinth than a maze made up of walls and hedges, the possibility that they had encountered a frightening trial crossed my mind and that could be the reason for the screams. I wasn’t sure how many women remained uncaptured if any at all, or how many of them had perished in one of the deadly traps, instead.
I wondered what had become of Serena, and whether or not she was safe. A little over an hour ago, the only thing I feared was being caught by a Lycan. It seemed that the labyrinth itself was sinister and perilous. Powerful magic resides inside these walls, although, the source of it remains unknown.
Did I believe in their Moon Goddess? I wasn’t sure...maybe, perhaps.
My Catholic faith was waning. My God had forsaken me, left me here to fight for my life. As fragile as a flower that was facing an early winter frost. My summers were few, still a child, with all of my dreams left in tatters around my feet.
Where the moonlight failed to stretch its ghostly fingers, shadows lay crouched like monsters waiting to pounce. Right at the last minute, I saw a darkened pit in the ground ahead, almost tumbling down a trap hole that had been loosely covered with twigs and leaves. Using my quick reflexes, I soared over it, clearing it with ease and landing on my feet with all the agility of a cat.
Something glittered a few yards away, capturing my eye. I slowed my pace to a walk, treading with care. Just as I approached, I saw it was a tripwire that was barely visible in the moonlight. This labyrinth was designed not to play fair. It wanted you to fail. Just when you thought you had the upper hand, you were soon faced with another sly trick or challenge.
“Is that you, Goddess?” I looked heavenward, calling into the night sky. “Do you mean to do me harm or slow me down?” I asked, listening to see if I got a response.
All that filled the air around me was a stone-cold silence. “You don’t play fair!” I accused.
“You don’t play fair...” I repeated, my voice growing smaller as I realised that my temper had betrayed me. I glared, looking all around in search of any sign of her existence. I half expected to see a godlike creature, grinning from within the shadows, highly amused by my distress and enjoying the entertainment.
I wondered what would be worse, to become a Lycan bride or to be killed in one of the trials.
If the Moon Goddess was real, then what did she want with us? Why was she doing this? Were her intentions good or evil?
I must’ve ventured deep within the labyrinth by now. I’d been running for a little over an hour.
Surely, I had made substantial progress?
The scenery altered, trees sprung from the ground, forming a vast canopy above me.
The moon appeared like a mosaic through the foliage. The air grew humid and the scent of vegetation filled my nostrils. Perspiration formed across my forehead, dripping down my brow. The air filled with the sound of insects chirping, invisible amongst the jungle foliage.
I was so deep in thought worrying about everything, I hadn't realised that I was heading towards a dead end. I tried to correct myself before any further changes took place, only to come face to face with a snarling tiger.
It’s huge, yellow eyes fixated on me. Then its back arched slightly as its mouth and nose contorted into another guttural snarl.
It stalked closer towards me with predatory grace, mirroring my actions to side-step away from it and cutting me off from making my escape. I knew that once I started to run, that it would chase me down and lunge for the kill.
Just when I thought my situation seemed hopeless and that my short life had run its course, a huge shadow figure emerged from behind the tiger, drawing my eyes towards it instead.
A low menacing growl caused the tiger to turn in the direction of the sound, allowing me the perfect opportunity to make my escape.
I darted through another passageway, just in time to see the tiger and a Lycanthrope warrior lock head-to-head in a deadly battle.
My heart pounded at the thought of being caught, or worse...killed.
One was here, only a few feet away from me, and seemed more than capable of taking on a bloodthirsty tiger. The Lycan restrained it around the neck as if it was just a harmless kitten.
I raced down the jungle pathway, avoiding the gnarled tree roots that protruded from the ground. The way ahead wasn't easy to run through at speed. It was filled with twists and turns and at the end of the passage, much to my frustration was yet another obstruction. There were four doors in front of me to choose from. Well aware that time was limited, I stepped forward to read the inscription on the plaque above.
Displayed on each door was a symbol. They resembled the four elements: earth, water, wind, and fire.
I muttered the words. "What is all around you but you cannot see it, it has no voice but you can always hear it, it's valued in summer, yet despised in winter, what is it?"
I recited the words out loud again, squeezing my eyes shut while I thought.
My eyes snapped open as I scanned them across each symbol. "It can’t be anything to do with fire, nor is it water. That just leaves air and earth," I voiced my thoughts aloud. I then came to the conclusion that it must mean wind.
Praying that I was right, I walked over to the door that had the symbol for air and turned the handle with caution. Anything could've been lying in wait behind that door, just waiting to snatch me.
The darkened passage beyond the door had a ceiling. It was sheltered from the cool night air. The way ahead was lit by torches that burned brightly against the grey stone walls. I quickly closed the door behind me, hearing the distinct sound of a mechanical lock, clicking back into place. The door vanished before my eyes and in its place became a solid stone wall.
With no time to lose, I ran along the passage, knowing only too well that once the Lycan defeated the tiger, that I was his next priority to hunt down.
The sound of my footsteps changed as I came to the end of the corridor. Turning from an echo of running on path tiles, to a dull thud from running back on a dirt track. The earthy ground muffled the sound of my steps.
I found myself back in the open air once again, with nothing but moonlight illuminating the way forward, covering everything it touched in a haunting glow. It looked as if I was standing in extravagant grounds. The walls of the maze were made up of neatly trimmed hedges that came to waist height, and moonflower vines snaked around the stone sculptures.
One was of a lady wearing a toga and crown. She stood proudly amongst the centre of the grounds, appearing eerie in the moonlight. This could've easily been mistaken for a garden befitting of a Queen, perhaps a tribute to the Goddess herself.
Shadows were cast everywhere like silent witnesses, watching and waiting as if something were to happen that they didn't want to miss. If I wasn’t careful, paying close attention to where I was going, they would hide the openings, playing a cruel game as they observed me stumbling around, blindfolded by the failing light.
An animalistic howl, both terrifying as it was thrilling, filled the silence around me. I had no time to stand around idle. I knew that this was my final chance to escape, ignoring this strange alien feeling that manifested inside me that was willing me to stay put.
My legs pelted forwards, running past ancient stone monuments as I went. Ahead of me was a vast open space. My conflicted heart leapt with hope, urging me onward.
Keep going, just a little further, I willed myself while battling an inner struggle that confused me to no end. The thought of enjoying the thrill of the chase sickened me.
Yet, I couldn't shake off the desire that I harboured deep within me, stirring in the pit of my stomach. Ever since I had first locked eyes with the dark-haired Lycan, I yearned for him.
I raced towards the edge of the pathway, only to find that the labyrinth was far from over. The path ended abruptly, revealing a narrow staircase that would lead me down into the darkened depths. From this high position, I could see for miles below. The labyrinth spread as far as my eyes could see, deadlier and far more sinister from way up here. It appeared near impossible to solve.
My heart plunged with despair, anticipating that the trials were to become much more difficult, and I worried that I would make the wrong choices. I gave out an anguished sob at the sight below. How would I ever reach the centre by sunrise? What would become of me if I didn’t?
Another roar from behind me snapped me out of my tormented thoughts. I snatched an intake of breath and began making my descent, one determined step at a time, deep into the dangerous and deadliest parts of the labyrinth.