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"I have an idea." Madder said. "But I need you to make it work."
Virid was still regarding the body of the skree, of their caretaker. She hadn't imagined Madder capable of something like this, for all that he was a hunter. This body had been a speaking creature, like a man, and unlike one. To kill it was to murder. Their time with the skree may have been ticking to a close, but it was Madder who had ended it.
"What can I do?" She asked.
"There is a broken mir. I want you to look inside of it." He led her to the silver body, the source of his spear. It had three legs and three arms, and its body was divided into three parts. Its face was an uneven collection of milky reflective eyes.
"A Wall Walker." Virid said. "What happened to it?"
"I don't know."
"Why haven't the others collected it for repair?"
"I don't know."
The mirs were common in the warrens of the skree, within the walls of the mazes. They had never seen them in the combe. They had seen them break before, but the other mir would usually take them away for repair. Madder had watched the movements of the mir in and out of the maze he was allowed to practice in.
"Can you make it move?"
The body was opened cleanly, its backplate separated from its midsection, revealing shattered gears with loose teeth, and a steely frame missing a stabilizing rod. Virid looked inside, curious despite herself. What Madder had done was horrible, but it faded from her mind when she focused on the problem he had given her. The mazes ran on clockwork, and the mir did as well. The skree had given her small machines to learn about and practice with. This one was not so different.
"I think it fell." She said, "and cracked open." There were springs wound wrongly around its iron heart, the heat had gone from it. She tugged at them, unable to pry them loose.
"There," she said, pointing to the offending binding, "Use your spear."
Madder picked at the springs with the point of his weapon until they came loose from its heart. Immediately, the iron began to pump pale liquid through translucent tubing. They both drew back, watching the creature slowly return to life.
It took no notice of them, and appeared to go through a series of tests of its own equipment. One by one it flexed its limbs and claws, finding two failures. Its eyes cleared, and pale liquid seeped from the wound of its open plate.
"Why did you fall?" Virid whispered.
The mir could not answer, for it lacked a mouth to speak. With its claws, it could have seized either of them and smashed them to bits, however, it showed no such inclination. It began to drag itself toward the nearest wall.
"It can carry us up." Madder said.
"Onto to wall?" No one in their combe had ever mounted one of the labyrinth’s walls. There were stories told of such attempts, and they usually ended badly.
"It's the only way."
"But we'll still be in the maze." Virid said. "We have to find the gate."
"We don't need the gate anymore." Madder said. "I know where our families went, and it wasn't where we were going."
The mir had reached the wall, and its claws sank into the stone as easily as if it were a stiff mushroom cap.
"Come on." He pulled her after him, not wanting to let her choose. Virid had not killed Chix, what if she decided she was safer staying another year? She was younger than him.
As the mir dragged its segmented frame upward, they clung to its two dead limbs. Their weight caused it to pause a moment, as if considering. However, it was more than capable of bringing them up with it. It seemed ages passed as they rose, the creature barely moving at the speed of a sleeping form. Madder worried Virid wouldn't be able to hold on so long, but she gave no sign of her discomfort. She stared at him the whole ascent, jade eyes blazing in a manner he had forgotten. It was like the beginning of their journey again, when she had hated him and refused to speak. His heart ached. What had he been meant to do? The skree would have killed them soon enough, as surely as their clocks reminded the hours to pass into days into years, they would have killed them both.
His own arms began to tremble when they finally reached the top of the wall. Chix was a dull gem gleaming so far beneath them.
The sight that greeted them was unlike any they had known. In the labyrinth, horizons were limited by the curve of a passage, and the sky was a hazy network of colors and patterns etched in black. Here, the maze was revealed as a whole being, rather than as a chopped fragment of sky. In truth, there was no sky, or if there was, they were in it. The labyrinth spread forever in every direction, curving at a gentle incline upward until it was upside down, the sky labyrinth and their own were one. No divide between them, a seamless winding whole. Madder and Virid stood, forgetting the mir as it limped away. To say there was no end to the labyrinth, no origin, was a token of faith among the combes. To see it was something else entirely.
"There is no heart." Madder said. "So where do the angels go?"
The fire had died in Virid's eyes. The weight of their world was pressing upon her, stealing at her life and breath. They would not meet their families again. It was easier to admit when faced with this magnitude.
"We have to get moving." Madder said at last. The wall was wide enough for them to stand abreast, he walked a few paces and looked back.
She looked at him. "It was a test. All of it was a test. They weren't going to kill us until we killed ourselves, until you killed us."
"We were children to them as long as we behaved like children, as long as we were innocent, and followed their rules. They didn't care how old we were."
Madder's mouth dried. "How do you know?"
"I don't know." Virid said, looking down from where they'd come. "I believe."
Madder's tension eased, she wasn't certain. He was. Chix had as much as said it to him, though he hadn't realized what he meant then. "You're a man now." He had become one the moment he did violence to the skree.
"We can go anywhere." He said. "We are free."
"We have no home." Virid scanned for landmarks among the mazes, there was nothing she recognized. They could have been anywhere, and it didn't matter, because there was nowhere for them to go back to.
Madder drew in on himself, and for many minutes they both simply stared out over the wanderings of a twisted world. Seeing it like this made it both more and less. He had never imagined how large the labyrinth truly was, how it had no end and no beginning. The old would say such things, and to take it as a matter of fact was entirely different than seeing it firsthand. A world without end, and yet it was not limitless.
"We have to find food first." Madder said. "Then we can look for a community."
"We can't get back down on our own." Virid said. "It's too far, and there's no way to climb."
"We'll find a place." Madder spoke with a confidence he did not feel. He wanted her to trust him, to rely on him, not to endure his company merely because there was no one else.
He set off once more, and this time she followed. The skree lived mostly under the maze where there was no sky, they wouldn't see them on the walls. They had hours before Chix would be discovered and their absence noted. They would be far from the skree, or those skree. Other nests doubtless occupied warrens beneath all the great mazes. Whether they communicated or not was a mystery.
In the hours that came, Virid and Madder both grew accustomed to tracing the path of the walls with their eyes. Several dead ends taught them what to look for in the bends to keep moving forward. The passages he had called home were simple and few. He and his family could have walked them in their sleep. The paths here were not the soft, smooth rock of the combe. Here it was hard edges and sheer faces, right angle turns and exact corners without signs of wear or cracking. There were no fungal hives or vine trellises, and no grumpsh. There was not even water.
"We can take turns sleeping." Madder said.
"And be thirstier when we wake." Virid said.
"We still have to rest."
"You can." Virid said. "I will stay awake."
Madder squatted, watching her stillness. He wondered if she would leave him when he slept.
"We are lost now." She said. "They won't find us, and I couldn't go back to them if I tried."
Madder nodded. He had nothing but his clothing and his spear, a little rope he had woven from the fibers of vines. Flat on the rock, he looked up into the sky labyrinth and tried to dream of what lived there. Likely it was much the same. His eyes settled on a dark splotch in the center of many curving paths.
"I want to go there." He said, pointing.
"Are our families there?" Virid said.
"If an angel took our people, they are nowhere. They are eaten by the Lady."
"Where is she then?"
"Maybe there, in that darkness. Darkness may be where angels live."
"We won't make it that far."
"We will." Madder said, determination wrestling with fear. Closing his eyes, sleep took him quickly, and in that waiting darkness there were no angels, but the crying of a skree in pain.
It was the crying that woke him. Virid's face was in her hands, and she shuddered.
Madder went to comfort her, but she would not let him touch her.
"He was my friend." She said. "They were my friends."
Madder didn't know what to say. The skree had not been friends to him, though they treated them both kindly. They had been captives. Fed, taught, protected; captives nonetheless.
"You killed." She said.
"I had to do it." Madder knew he lied. "We had to escape."
Those jade eyes burned again out of her pale face, framed by the moss of her hair. Then came the shrieking.
Leatherwings, with long beaks and bony crests, were curving toward them across the maze.
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