They walked in formation, scanning every rock, stone and dust that was embedded into the path. Dazzling bright the path was, as if lit by ultra violet lamps illuminating the group like tetra fish in an aquarium. The air was dry, but chilled.
‘What will you do when we get back?’ Asked Kurumi to Aruna.
‘I’m not sure we’ll ever get back,’ replied Aruna, ‘we don’t even know where we’re going right now. What makes you so sure we will return home?’
‘Ash wouldn’t let us fail, Bradley is very strong, and Jumo is so smart he’ll always think of something. We’re in good company I think. No, I believe.’
‘You have such faith in everything and everyone, but yourself!’
Thundering clatters and shimmering blades of air broke in to the valley.
‘Oh, what now!’ screamed Aruna, ‘can’t we just have time to relax and talk.’
‘The gushes of wind are becoming ever more frequent in occurrence and faster in duration,’ said Jumo
‘I fear that you may be right and it is my position to distinguish between anxiety and truth,’ added the tree spirit.
‘What do you know of this valley?’ asked Jumo.
‘Nothing, for I have never traversed here before. Do forgive me. From here onwards I have no knowledge to pass on. We are all blind to the path ahead. Therefore, all that you have felt and learned on this journey thus far, hold it close to your mind and act accordingly.’
A hush settled, but not due to ill feelings or despair. No, some other form of energy took place that neither could grasp nor disregard. An energy that was so powerful that it had quelled their speech. The darkness on the path was being sucked out with light beyond the point where all visibility was impaired. Their thoughts became decayed as the seconds passed by. There was a transition from pitch black to blinding white, which distorted and played havoc to their senses. Only a split-second window of view was visible if they dared to keep their eyes open for long enough. After the first few transitions Aruna was the first to breakdown. The situation was akin to a form of psychological torture that no living creature ought to be subjected to. In the madness, they managed to huddle together and hold hands except for one.
‘Where did Aruna go?’ shouted Kurumi.
‘What do you mean?’ asked Bradley through the blinding whiteness.
‘I can’t feel her hand.’
Panic boiled deep within their bones. One by one they unknowingly disappeared into a labyrinth deep beneath the ground. Ash was the first to banish the use of sight and decided to keep his eyes closed whilst slowly stepping forward with his arms reached out and palms up facing forward. Jumo shouted out as he walked, but each time his voice got sucked into a void. It neither traveled nor echoed. It was as if all life behind his voice dissolved into a heavy vacuum. Each of them was alone and lost.
‘If nothing can be heard or seen then the only senses we can rely on are, smell, touch and taste,’ said Jumo stumbling in the dark, ‘since there is no smell or taste to be had, I will walk purely on touch.’ He licked his finger and pointed it up. He slowly turned around on the spot until he could feel a slight tingle in the air.
‘Yes! The way out must be this way.’ He slowly moved forward tiptoeing his way through the labyrinth.
Elsewhere in the labyrinth Aruna shouted for help. She continued to do this without moving an inch for what seemed like an eternity to her. As she did so, she could hear a scratching sound against the walls. She held her breath momentarily and stepped back with quick footsteps in the opposite direction and further into the darkness.
‘Wait, what if there are other things in here?’ she said to herself, ‘I’ve got to stop making noises.’
An hour at least had passed, but still the five of them were lost. Despair began to take hold of even Ash. Two hours passed until Kurumi bumped into a hard sculpture-like figure. She felt around not exactly sure what she was either looking or hoping for.
‘It feels like a snake,’ she said whispering to herself. She was scared, but she was beyond fearing anything, for at that present moment death would have been more inviting than being lost forever. She continued to feel her way around in anxiety bringing her fingers across the eyes of the snake-sculpture. She felt a slight disconnect.
‘A button,’ she yelped. She pushed hesitantly. With the push came a click, and then a twisting sound and before she knew it she could see the walls were stuffed with trapped fireflies and worms of peculiar shapes and sizes illuminating all around her. The light slowly traveled throughout the labyrinth to reveal that the sculpture was indeed a snake, but one with three heads and eyes carved out of jade. Its body was finely shaped out of solid gold with diamond scales. It was a magnificent sculpture of the highest craftsmanship that she simply got transfixed in its beauty momentarily. The ceiling of the room was low and with the growing light came a powerful rotten odour. It was as if the place was awakening and was now breathing somehow. It took a while, but thanks to Kurumi one by one they were each able to find one another. The changing eco-system of the labyrinth of which they were trapped allowed for their voices to travel and be heard once again. They checked to make sure that neither of them was hurt and nobody was missing.
‘Wait, do you feel that?’ said Bradley
‘Feel what?’ asked Aruna
‘That… it’s like a tremor.’
‘I feel it too,’ said Ash.
‘Something’s coming!’ said Kurumi. There was an accumulating heat and a change in the air’s density the more the seconds passed by. With that came the growing realisation that the labyrinth was actually alive, or to be more precise, waking up. The walls heaved and contracted.
‘I saw something there!’ shouted Aruna. The group darted an intense glare into the direction she was pointing at. A rapturous laughter broke out from where their eyes were set upon. A figure stepped out with the head of a bull, the body of a man and its eyes filled with a deadly evil glare.
‘It’s a bloody minotaur,’ said Bradley.
‘Welcome to my domain.’ It spoke to them inside their minds through telepathy, ‘how nice of you to drop in and say hello. It’s been far too long since I last had anything to play with. Just ask the tri-snake.’ The minotaur stepped closer. The group stepped back except for Bradley who stepped forward as a demonstration of courage.
‘Young child, you are far too hasty,’ said the minotaur, ‘as a reward you will die first.’ The creature lunged at Bradley. Ash managed to pull Bradley back just in time to escape the blow from its steel sword that came out from within the skin of its arm. They all ran, but run as they might, a beast of such power will always understandably be that much faster. Before they knew it the minotaur was galloping behind them and to make the situation worse they had ran into a cul-de-sac. The minotaur slowed at noticing their entrapment. It began its awful laugh once again.
‘Everybody behind me and Bradley,’ screamed Ash.
‘Another brave one I see. Tasty!’
The minotaur threw its sword at Bradley. Ash palmed Bradley out of the way. The sequence of actions slowed down for Ash as the sword flew past him and grazed his arm. Within a split second the minotaur had a second sword right before Ash’s throat. Ash froze.
‘Too fast,’ said Ash as the blade pinched his skin.
‘You’re fast young one, but not fast enough.’ It was over, or so Ash had thought. Roots of a tree broke through the ceiling tearing off the minotaur’s right arm and imprisoning it to the wall. The tree spirit had saved them. There was a big sigh of relief all round, but before they could let their guard down the ground below them disappeared. Each of them fell into what seemed like a train made out of scales.
‘Where are we now?’ asked Jumo.
‘We’re inside a snake,’ said Kurumi. ‘The underground maze that we’re inside is actually a snake.’
‘It makes sense considering the walls were moving,’ added Ash.
‘Being inside a snake does not make sense. That’s means we’re its dinner,’ said Bradley, ‘bloody hell, we’re dead meat!’
‘I don’t believe so,’ said Ash, ‘I think Kurumi saved the snake by waking it up. The minotaur had done something to it, but was itself trapped inside.’ Before conversation could continue writing appeared carved out from the skin of the snake. It read ‘destination’. Before anyone had a chance to think, Ash shouted out ‘take us to my sister, London.’ The writing changed, ‘Not possible, unknown destination.’
‘Well then take us away from here and beyond the path we were in. As far as possible from here and as close has possible to our enemy,’ shouted Jumo. ‘Don’t worry Ash we can still track her with my compass.’ The writing changed once again, ‘Destination confirmed, please be seated.’ The moment each of them sat down, they became stuck to their seats aboard a journey through darkness. It was a bit like the journey they went through to enter Vaalbara, but instead it was in complete darkness and there was a strong smell of earth and roots. A cool breeze accompanied the warm temperature. As the large snake navigated pathways carved through Vaalbara’s core they each thought about how they could be stronger and more resilient for whatever challenges lay ahead.
B. L. Crisp | Copyrighted to © Barry Crisp