​Chapter Four


The Maker had his better days
The Maker had his worst 
When clockwork was the Maker's fancy
The maze he made was cursed

The Mauve Combe lay beyond a barrier known as the Clockwork Maze. It is not redundant to term maze what lies within a labyrinth. Many passages in the Labyrinth were relatively harmless, and easily navigable to an experienced forager. The passages that twisted and tightened into impassibility were termed mazes, and they were not entered on a whim even by the highly skilled.


Madder stood before the portal arch, a convoluted tallo structure with an apex screaming higher than the walls. Within the arch was a curtain of foam; a flat, shimmering screen of white and grey flakes in perpetual motion. This screen was called an Instance.


He had been here once, and watched his father pass the arch. It was Father Rouge's lessons that would see them through the maze and to the sanctuary offered by Mauve. He wasn't ready. The first time he went through the Instance he was not supposed to be alone. It was supposed to be a lesson.


Virid walked past him and vanished into the foam.


The Sky Labyrinth gazed placidly down as he deliberated. Lady in Chains! He swore, and charged the arch. There was a prickling sensation, and the hair of his arms stood on end, then he was through.


There was a pit with a circular rim, Madder nearly ran over it. He caught himself before he plunged headlong into the darkness, pinwheeling his arms and falling backward onto his tail. The arch rose behind him, scintillant and full with minute motions. Ahead was a curving passage, and Virid was already a third of the way across the rim of the pit approaching it.


Stupid girl, Madder thought, making a quick survey for Sigils. There were none, as he knew there wouldn't be. His father had told him that whatever marks you made inside an Instance would not be there for the next traveler, or for your own returning sojourn.


He made to follow Virid, then stopped. The rim was formed of alternating dark and light stones. He knew about this.


"Don't step on the dark ones!" He called out.


She had no idea what he was talking about, but the urgency of his tone brought her up short. Each plank was slightly wider than a mans pace, so it was natural that she had already walked on both kinds. By chance, she was on a light plank now. There was a quiet ticking in the background, audible only when they were both silent.


The dark stone planks suddenly dropped, catching on identical hinges, an Virid startled at the noise. Madder jumped from plank to plank until he reached her. She was very still.


"This is not a safe place," he said.


In the curving passage beyond the pit they found the remains of strange creatures. Their skeletons were a mixture of man and monster, all good tallo, as Virid's knife was. Human bones were brittle and pale, these were not. A few pieces of this hoard would be precious, for tallo could be made as strong as stone, but it was more flexible. It held the magic of the beast it had belonged too. That was why the arch of an Instance was made of tallo. Beast magic gave it life.


This mound of not-man skeletons was a wealth beyond all the Combes he could imagine, and he knew better than to touch it. The scars on his arm itched where the Cephala vine had held him.


"Dont look at them," he told Virid, and she nodded. Whatever these creatures had been frightened her, as did the thought of whatever had done this to them. She imagined the bones rising, lifting on eldritch strings, and being made to move.


Moving on, the road split into a trident. At each entrance there was a pylon graven with a line of unfamiliar sigils. No forager had left these signs. Atop the pylon was a colored disk that turned so slowly he did not notice it until they had stood at the branch for several minutes.


"These are Clocks," he said. "When you go down a path they go back to their beginning, like a timeflower closing."
Virid watched the disks and the line of sigils running down the pylon. She believed they were a part of the same motion, though she couldn't say how.


"If they reach the end of their cycle before you find the way out," Madder said, "then the Instance resets, and no one sees you again." He walked back and forth between the paths before deciding. "Left," he said.


"Why?" Virid responded immediately. He paused, he hadn't gotten used to her talking yet.


"Because I feel it."


Virid didn't have a response to that, or a better idea. Down the path was dim and patchwork stone, not the uniform colors of the Combes. Their feet kicked up layers of dust, eons of it. A wall opened, and a walking jumble of not quite human bones stepped out of it. It was held together by sinew twine, and stood as tall as both of them together. The skeleton seemed to be about half tallo, only its most beastly segments had the telltale sheen.
All three of them froze.


"Uuuurg.." The skeleton grizzled.


"Please," Madder said, "we wish to pass." The skull, equipped with an overlong jaw, snapped to attention. The blackness in its sockets was as solid and massy as any mortal organ.


"What is the greatest danger in the Labyrinth?" It asked.


"Ignorance," Madder responded automatically.


"And the most terrible beast?"


"The Fenryth," Madder was sure of this, it was the sort of question his father had asked him often.


"Wrong!" The skeleton boomed. "Who built the Labyrinth?"


"The Maker," Madder said, shaken.


"Wrong!" It lurched forward, looming over them. Its elongated jaw bristling with jutting teeth. "Why was the Labyrinth made?"


Virid grabbed Madder's wrist. "We don't know!" She screamed.


The creature paused, a faint ticking audible from within the cavern of its chest.
"Correct," it said, straightening. "You are going the right way."

 
It stepped over them, and strode down the passage they had come from until it was out of sight.

They stood a while in the space of its absence, then went on.


Madder led them down a side passage as a hunch, and after two more turns decided it was a mistake. He was still smarting from the encounter with the interrogative skeleton. How could he have been wrong? They came to a dead end, and he wasn't ready to admit defeat. Passages that spiraled in on themselves weren't uncommon, and they sometimes concealed something of use. His hands searched the section of the wall where bricks gradiated from brown to dark green. There were no signs he could discern, and that made him look harder, rather than discouraging him. 


Virid walked to a section of wall at random, pressing a brick, and it scraped back into an inset. 


"What are you doing?" Madder turned.


Virid continue to put pressure on a random sequence of bricks, and a few of them responded. The ground began to shake.


"No!" Madder grabbed her, and pulled her away from the dead end. "I told you not to touch anything!" He said, though he hadn't. She wasn't a forager, so it was implied.


Turning the final corner of the spiral they found the corridor they had come from was gone. Now there was a chamber as wide as anything Madder had ever seen. It could have housed a dozen oasis, instead it was home to gears and cogs as large as the alcove he had lived in. They were all connected, vertical or horizontal, moving each other; teeth biting into teeth.


Between the gears and below them, there was a misty light. If you passed unscathed between those gnashing then you would fall, and fall forever, into the radiant viscera of the Labyrinth.


Virid pointed to the far end of the chamber. It was almost too far, and too obscured by the stately motion of the gears and the upward spearing shafts of light, to see. There an exit, small and plain.


Madder slapped at her hand, mostly out of spite. Virid hissed at him.


"We'll go across," he said, feeling foolish. She kept finding what he couldn't, and it bothered him. His eyes plotted a path across the gently shifting landscape. It was the sort of task a boy raised in the Labyrinth was made for.


Timing and care and a little luck; they would go across.


They hopped over the teeth of the nearest cog, landing on its stone face. It turned slowly, and they waited for it to bring them around to a vertical counterpart.


"Grab the same tooth I do," he told Virid, "and let go when I say." She didn't respond, but she followed him.
Madder took hold of a rising tooth and braced his feet on the one below it. He counted his breaths. "Now!"


They swung onto another flat wheel, this one smaller, and so much faster. There was a chain of these flowing down and around the far side of the vast machine. They balanced easily, and went from one to the next with only a few pauses to maintain their bearings.


The exit was soon visible, and they rested with their backs against the support pole of a horizontal gear. It wasn't so disorienting at the center, and they didn't have to look down into that light.


"Almost there," Madder said.


Their gear, and the whole machine, shuddered. Gradually, but with clear intent, the entire structure began to turn sideways as if suspended on a single massive staff.


"Run!" Madder yelled, jumping to his feet. He was on the next cog before Virid had taken the first step. The next, the next, the next, soon their speed was all that kept them upright, and it wasn't enough.


So close. The passage was just ahead, and he would not fall into that soft and hungry light. He would not, and then Virid screamed.


She had slipped, fallen, and caught hold of the support strut at the center of the wheel she was on. Glancing back caused Madder to falter, that was why good forager's never looked back. Without thinking about what he was doing he cut right, toward a set of upturning teeth. They were moving in the wrong direction, so he ran overtop of them. He wasn't looking down, behind, or to the side, because all those directions held failure on the shifting machine. Madder looked only at Virid, hanging what would soon be upside down along the pole.


He hopped onto the diagonal plate, and slid down to the strut, stopping, himself with a foot and wrapping himself around it. This was a temporary solution, given the spin.


"Virid! Give me your hand!"


Her eyes shot open, brimming tears. "I can't," she said. "I'll fall."


"Don't worry," Madder said, "we're both gonna fall. Give me your hand anyway."


For some reason, this worked. Her hand shot up and he seized it. There were some awkward negotiations that concluded with both of them holding onto the strut in a manner that would be right side up when the flip finished, one below the other.


It did finish, and the wheel was above them, and the light below. There was no where to jump to or climb, just the other dark stone lances pointing into the brilliant fog. Madder thought perhaps he should not have looked back, a good forager never does. He had the tact not to say so aloud.


Virid sobbed.


They were stuck.

William Myrlhigh fantasy books, young adult fantasy books

 Updates:  Chapter 17 of Mystic Seasons Series Mythopoeia Book -8 posted, chapter eight of Lady in the Labyrinth posted high fantasy booksyoung adult fantasy books