Eternal Labyrinth.
Copyright 2015, 2018 by Raymond Johnson. Second edition.
Cover photo provided by Hlib Shabashnyi. (www.iStockphoto.com).

Dedicated to everyone at the Kindle forums for all the mutual encouragement even whilst not discussing book related matters.

"Your victory is right around the corner. Never give up." - Nicki Minaj.

Six disparate people, all highly skilled in their class, are sent upon a quest to search the legendary Fountain of Wishes hidden deep within a labyrinth. However it is said than no one has ever returned from the confines of the maze and the wishes that the golden fountain grants can only bring misfortune. The leader of the group, Sherwyn Wilbur, laughs in the face of fear and is determined to find out the truth of the fountain's existence.

Will Sherwyn the warrior, Alger the spear master, Gwen the magician, Morice the priest, Gareth the healer and ZoŽ the contortionist survive such a risky venture?

 

 

Chapter 1 - Warriors' Might

I was growing increasingly exhausted and soaked in sticky sweat as we traversed our way uphill toward the caves in the far distance. Taking a deep breath and not allowing the others to witness how I was feeling I turned to face them as they straggled along behind.

"Keep up!" I boomed while letting out a chuckle, "We want to get there before nightfall!"

The sun had only just risen and we were almost at our destination but teasing my people was good for their morale, or mine at least. They all stared back knowing full well I was as exhausted as they were, apart from Morice who was looking totally bewildered as usual.

There were six of us in all. I was selected due to my many years experience serving in the King's Regiment with hundreds of kills to my name. I could handle a sword but brute strength was my most important asset. There was also Morice, a very odd looking fellow, that was a priest of the Magdalene Church. He was sent to make sure we didn't do anything considered blasphemous. There was also Alger who was tall, agile and thin. He carried a long spear with a razor sharp blade and wasn't afraid to use it. There was Gareth, the healer, who was wise in many ways but lacked battle experience. He carried a sack around his hip containing all kinds of medicinal remedies and bandages. There was also Gwen, who was very witchy in appearance, with pale skin and wearing a long dark cloak. She and Gareth often squabbled due to their many disagreements about herbs for the sick. They once knew each other well long before our quest began. Finally there was ZoŽ from far afield who practically never understood a word of English. To my knowledge the only reason she was selected was due to her short stature and thin body. She could scamper around the labyrinth as quiet as a mouse.

"I need to rest my aching limbs," Morice said caressing the back of his thighs, "My legs are about to give way."

I let out an exaggerated laugh.

"It's only a couple more miles," I said looking down at him from my position further up the hill, "We'll rest when we get there and not a moment before."

 

Chapter 2 - The Cave Entrance

Continuing to chuckle as we eventually arrived at the entrance of the caves I stopped momentarily to rest whilst watching the two stragglers trying to catch up with us. Both Morice and ZoŽ were still hobbling further back with ZoŽ in front clearly doing her best to beat Morice as though it were a race.

"Come on Zo Zo!" Gwen called out at her waving her hand.

I took a moment to look for a suitable sized rock before sitting down upon it. Alger and Gareth were peering inside the cave inspecting the labyrinth entrance closely.

"I personally cannot stand that ZoŽ to be honest with you," Gwen said turning to face me, "Nothing personal but she's simply not suited for this, or any other task, for that matter."

"None of us are really suited for this," Gareth's voice echoed around the entrance of the cave, "For we've no real idea what we're up against. This could be a task more suited for a wizard than a warrior."

Gwen ignored his comment but continued to look at me as if awaiting the answer to her unasked question.

"I didn't pick her," I responded while shaking my head, "She was personally selected by the king... as a favour to someone I suspect, or possibly to keep us on our toes."

"Well if you expect me to mother her then you're out of luck," Gwen told me.

As I opened my mouth to respond Gareth butted in as he approached and sat upon the rock beside me.

"She's older than you by a fair few years at least," he said to Gwen, "How can you be expected to mother her?"

Gwen quickly jerked her head away from Gareth not wishing to make eye contact.

"You know perfectly what I meant!" She snapped causing her visible cleavage to heave with annoyance.

We all remained silent for a few moments as we waited for ZoŽ and Morice to approach. We were in no real hurry so it didn't really bother me that they were taking their time. I'd still likely tease them about it later however.

"ZoŽ, I knew you'd do it!" Gwen said happily jumping to her feet and rushing over to ZoŽ reminding me of a mother whose child had just won a race.

Both Gareth and I looked at one another thinking the exact same thing.

 

Chapter 3 - A Warning

When Morice eventually caught up we all sat resting ourselves while deciding on our next course of action, all apart from ZoŽ who appeared to fidget occasionally standing then pacing around. Something deep within my mind sensed she may be in danger and I wanted her to remain outside the cave. I'd have to make up an excuse later and tell her to guard the entrance, in fact Morice could remain alongside.

"There's a ladder propped up inside," Alger said while leaning into the cave entrance, "There's a bit of a drop mind but it's no more than five feet or so."

"That ladder's likely rotten after so many years so take care when using it," I responded.

"What's that writing?" Morice said and he made his way over to Alger beside the entrance.

"Just the usual ramblings of a curse to keep people out," Alger mumbled with his head still poked within the cave.

Morice turned to look at me before looking at the writing again, then glanced back with a bewildered look upon his face.

"It has your name on it," he told me.

I heaved myself up from the rock I was sitting upon and walked over to join him. There was a faded warning written in charcoal on the stone wall beside the cave entrance that read: "I beg of thee, please turn back, Sherwyn Wilbur III."

I was stunned having no idea that one of my relatives had ventured into the labyrinth before. As far as I knew I was the first Sherwyn Wilbur in my family. I guessed it may have been a coincidence.

"It's likely an ancestor of yours, turned guardian angel," Gwen said leaning forward beside me.

I couldn't tell if she was being flippant or not but from the look on Morice's face I could see he wanted us to take heed and listen to the warning.

 

Chapter 4 - Inside The Cave

It wasn't more than a few moments later that Alger pointed his hand inside the cave with a sense of urgency.

"There's a moving light down there!" He yelled as he grabbed his spear causing his large biceps to flex before climbing down the ladder into the cave.

"Wait!" I ordered, "We haven't decided our plan of action yet."

Alger was keen and hurried his way further into the cave trying to find out who was already down there. I quickly followed, making my way down the rickety ladder, into the dimly lit cave. The others presumed I wanted them to do the same and they all began making their way inside.

"Alger!" I yelled further into the cave causing my voice to echo, "We need to stick together!"

"I can see a lit torch ahead!" He called back, "Someone is down here and they appear to be running!"

It was no surprise that they were running for they had no idea who we were, but I couldn't see why Alger was overreacting to their presence, it wasn't as though the labyrinth belonged to us.

"We'll soon catch up don't worry yourself," I said as I continued to make my way further into the cave and approach Alger, "They may even prove to be of help."

As I looked along the walls of the cave I could see a strange blue mould that glowed, filling the cave with a dim blue light, not enough to fully see however and I already regretted not bringing a light of our own.

"Right," I said with confidence turning to face the others as they headed up the cave towards us, "We're going to need some torches and something flammable, so I suggest we leave for now and fetch some wood from the nearby forest."

I raised my axe visually implying we'd likely need to chop some branches.

"I'd like to add that the short lady and the priest should remain outside," Alger said clearly not having taken the time to learn their names.

Morice took a step forward offended by his words.

"Now look here..." he said.

There was the sound of movement ahead of us. Footsteps in the dark.

 

Chapter 5 - Getting Lost

I stared ahead trying to make out if anyone was approaching ahead of us but I soon realised the movement of have been a trick of the light caused by the glowing moss. As for the sound however I still couldn't be sure. Maybe it was dripping water.

"It appears this cave may be unstable," Gareth said calmly, "Just one wrong move could cause a collapse."

"You may be right," I responded calmly, "I suggest we proceed with caution."

Very slowly we continued ahead making our way deeper into the cave. The glow emitting from the moss on the walls gave the entire labyrinth an eerie feeling with only our present location lit, while the cave ahead was still pure darkness. The cave entrance behind us was still lit with daylight so as long as we completed our quest before nightfall then we should still be able to find our way out, so I hoped.

"Wait, what's happening?" Gwen said with a slight tone of panic, "Where's everyone gone?"

"We're here," I responded as I turned my head trying to look for her.

Suddenly she came into view as she hurried back into the section of cave with the rest of us.

"Oh, I see how this labyrinth this works," I said in a tone of realisation, "The glowing moss only reveals part of the cave while the rest hides the alternative routes. We're going to need all our concentration on this, and some good sturdy torches."

I turned to Morice who was lagging behind.

"This is our plan," I said in an authoritative tone, "You and ZoŽ go back outside and gather some twigs to make torches, we'll need four of them. Gareth can use some of his bandages to make a..."

"Where is ZoŽ?" Gwen interrupted.

"Where's Alger too for that matter?" Gareth added.

I let out a very audible sigh.

"Oh for the love of God, everyone return to the entrance this instant!" I yelled which caused the cave to resonate.

We all looked up as a gentle sprinkling of cave dust fell from the roof followed by one or two larger clumps of stone. While remaining motionless we waited until it stopped. From the corner of my eye I could see a leg squeezing its way between a narrow crack within the rock, followed by a blackened face and a bright pair of white eyes. It was ZoŽ. I would have to tell her off later but I now knew all too well that yelling within the confines of the cave was something that should never be done. I wondered for a moment if Alger had been with her but there was no way he could have squeezed through such a narrow gap.

The rain of cave dust suddenly increased causing everyone to crouch and cover their eyes. There was the distinct sound of a nearby cave-in followed by the sound of a thud and a breathless cry. We couldn't react until the dust settled.

"It came from down here," Gwen's voice echoed as she hobbled in a half crouch into one of the side tunnels.

Brushing dust from my hair I stood up trying to focus upon what was being said, I was sure a large stone had hit me in the head causing a temporary concussion.

"No, I'm here!" Alger said appearing from behind us while brushing debris from his clothing.

"Is ZoŽ with you?" I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders.

"She was just here," Gwen added.

 

Chapter 6 - The Search

We searched the area of the cave between our location and the entrance but couldn't find any sign of ZoŽ. We were about to give up upon the search when Gwen picked up a boot from the cave floor. It still had a foot in it along with the bloody remains bone protruding out of the top.

"Is that..." I said at the same moment as Gwen nodded her response.

"The rest of her's likely under the debris," Gwen said looking down, "She's surely dead."

I let out a deep breath. Part of me wanted to give up upon our quest but the Fountain of Wishes was far an important find to give up upon. I hesitated for a moment wondering what to do.

"Can you raise the rocks?" I quickly asked Gwen, "Is that something within your ability?"

Gwen stared at me.

"Well I can't bring her back from the dead if that's what you're asking," she responded bluntly while holding the bloodied boot out in front of me.

I slowly blinked my eyes and took another deep breath.

"Then we mustn't let her death be in vain and should proceed as planned," I said forcing myself to remain calm.

I wanted Morice to say a few words of comfort but he didn't appear to be in sight. I only hoped he wasn't crushed by the cave-in too.

As I took a step closer to Gwen the floor swiftly collapsed under my feet and I fell. I heard yelling as myself and a few others of our group slid down a slope of darkness which seemed to last on and on until I suddenly stopped at the bottom. The moment I tried to stand up I was knocked straight back down as someone tumbled on top of me.

 

Chapter 7 - Twists And Turns

As I tried to get back to my feet I realised the person on top of me wasn't moving. Within the dim light caused by the glowing moss I realised who it was.

"Alger?" I said as I wobbled his body from side to side.

There was the sound of screaming as more of my people slid down the slope. I hoped to dear God that they weren't intentionally following me as I wasn't sure there was anyway of climbing back out.

"Urgh!" Gwen cried out as she hit the ground with an audible thump, "I think I've broken my nose, I can taste blood."

"Hold on," I heard Gareth respond.

I could also make out Morice within the darkness with both of his arms held out trying to navigate his way around the cave.

"We have more pressing needs," I told Gareth, "Alger here isn't moving."

Garath immediately approached and bent down before feeling his hands over Alger's still body.

"Damn it!" He cursed, "His neck's broken. I'm afraid he's dead."

I closed my eyes repressing my rage.

"Right, well, we still need to press on," I said while thinking aloud, "I suggest we follow where is passage leads and see how..."

As I glanced my head around I could see the passage went on in both directions and split up into multiple side caves. Gareth shook his head and stood up before joining Gwen and attending to her bloodied nose.

"We can't leave this poor man's body here," Morice said as he approached, "We need to return him and whatever remains we can find of ZoŽ and give them a proper Christian burial. It's the right thing to do. Our task here has failed, we should leave."

"And how do you propose we get out of here, hah?" I said.

Morice glanced up the slope in which we had just fallen realising it would prove an impossible climb.

"We'll press on," I said.

 

Chapter 7 - Circles

We walked on and on with just the blue glow emitting from the moss lighting our way. It was imperative that we stick together but with so many side turnings it was going to prove an impossible task. After a number of hours treading our heavy feet against the hard stone ground I noticed something that gave me an idea.

"Everyone stop, we'll rest up for a few moments," I said taking the opportunity to pick up the small item from the ground.

"What is that?" Gwen asked still clasping her hand against her nose.

"It appears to be charcoal," I said whilst drawing a line across the glowing surface of the cave wall, "Useful for guiding our way and keeping track of where we've been."

Gwen had a strange look upon her face as she looked over my shoulder.

"Where's that religious guy?" She asked.

I turned around and could see no sign of him.

"Morice?" I called out whilst trying not to shout too loud as to prevent another cave collapse.

"There's a body!" Gareth called out before rushing ahead.

There was a moment of confusion as Morice had been walking behind me so it couldn't have been his body ahead of us. We all hurried over to Gareth who was already examining the body.

"It's Alger," he gasped, "How can this be? We left his body miles back."

It was clear we had been going in circles. Gwen let out an annoying grunt and cursed loudly while resting her hand on her hip and turning away. I had failed them. Everyone remained silent with just the sound of dripping water nearby breaking the tension.

 

Chapter 8 - Muddy Soil

I let out a sigh then calmly headed towards the source of the dripping water which came from one of the adjoining caves making sure not to wander too far. The ground under my feet felt muddy and I was sure I was standing upon soil rather than rock. Gareth walked in my direction also noticing the moist ground.

"We really should search for that Morice chap," Gwen said whilst still standing next to Alger's body.

There was then a scream followed by the sound of a rumble. Talking a step forward I lost my footing, slipping against the muddy ground and getting my face coated. There was yelling from Gareth as he ran back directly into danger as he attempted to rescue Gwen from the cave collapse only for them to both be crushed beneath.

While wafting my hand from side to side I tried to catch my breath within the dust of the debris. I couldn't breathe and had no choice but to run against the slippery ground making my way further into the side cave having no idea where it led. I blamed myself, and my own incompetence, for everything that had happened.

 

Chapter 9 - The Wish

Wandering on and on aimlessly in the near dark, whilst occasionally marking my way using the charcoal, I knew within my heart that our quest had failed and it wouldn't be long before my own demise. If only I had listened to my own sense of doubts before taking a stupid risk embarking upon such a risky mission. Endangering myself was bad enough but to put the lives of others at peril was beyond the pale. I hated myself as of that moment and death was to be a relief from such feelings.

I could see light ahead at the far end of the cave, most likely a way out, but any feelings of joy were dulled by a sense of remorse for the others. Rather than hurrying with excitement I calmly continued to traverse the cave heading for the light.

To my surprise it wasn't daylight at all but a large hall decorated with beautiful golden statues that reflected the light from the flaming torches above. In the middle of the hall was a golden fountain that spurted its clear sparkling water some ten feet into the air before cascading into the pool below.

The quest was a success after all, it was just a matter to determine if the legend of the fountain granting wishes was true. I slowly made my way closer and looked into the pool at my ghastly reflection. There was also something else within the pool, a shadowy white figure, that flew out of the water into the air. I quickly raised my battle axe and withdrew my sword.

The creature whispered in an incomprehensible ghostly voice as it flew around me. I could see my weapons would have no effect upon its mist-like body but I remained defiant and stood my ground.

"Stand back demon!" I boomed.

The ghost swooped high to the top of the cave then down to the base of the fountain before swiftly floating forward through my body. I couldn't tell if it was real or illusion.

"There is no need to fear, for I will do you no harm. I am the fountain spirit, guardian of desires," the shadowy ghost then said in a divine voice.

From its body shape I guessed it was the ghost of a naked female yet it appeared to have no breasts, while at the same time it was clearly not male. It may have been a hybrid of the two or possibly neither. Its face however resembled a beast.

"We... um, that is I came here upon a quest to seek out the Fountain of Wishes," I told the spirit while it hovered above the ground ahead of me.

It smiled.

"I've been monitoring your progress, you've been magnificent," it responded, "Look into the pool, you may make your wish, whatever your desire will be granted."

I had yet to think of a wish and it was important to make it an unselfish one due to the amount of lives that had been lost. I began to take a moment to think.

"Five lives were lost seeking this fountain," I said to the ghostly figure, "I need to take their wishes into consideration before making my own."

"One of your clan is still alive, lost within the labyrinth," the creature said.

"You mean Morice?" I said with a tone of happiness that not everyone had died.

The creature shook its head then closed its eyes as though checking within its mind's eye.

"The one you call ZoŽ," it responded, "Alas she too is soon to pass due to blood loss. She cries out for help yet no one can hear."

I sighed and shook my head repressing my inner rage with myself then looked into the pool.

"I wish we never embarked on this God forsaken venture to begin with," I said gazing within the sparkling fresh water.

 

Chapter 10 - The Wish Granted

Within a flash I was outside the labyrinth at its very entrance in fact. I quickly looked around to see if any of my people had been brought back from the dead but alas I was alone. It was early morning and it occurred to me that it may have in fact been the very same day just before the quest had begun. I only had a short matter of time to warn myself and the others.

Taking the charcoal from my pocket I attempted to write a warning on the cave entrance only to discover the meaning of the previous that was still there. It read: "I beg of thee, please turn back, Sherwyn Wilbur III."

There was no time to write a detailed message as I could already hear myself and the others traversing up the hill. I quickly altered the message to read: "I beg of thee, please turn back, Sherwyn Wilbur IIII."

Two of me weren't able to live side by side within this world so the moment my other self hurried up the hill I vanished into nothing hoping the eternal torment would soon end.

THE END.

 

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