Our route beyond that underground city led eventually to our most challenging dungeon yet.
Two large doors gave way to what soon was revealed to be a gigantic stone labyrinth whose walls, made of thick stone, rise from the stone floor and meet with the stone ceiling. A line of light high up on the walls illuminates the place.
Strange writing lines the walls, which Cɪrthsta immediately takes interest to. “It’s a story!” she cheers as she follows it along. It seems she can read the text.
“There are supposed to be a number of monsters we need to deal with, in this maze,” Way informs us as we follow close behind the Peregrine. But of course….
“Is that why she wanted to visit that library?” wonders Esscie, referring to the Peregrine.
“She always has multiple reasons for doing a thing,” answers Way. She then explains, “I’m sure, for example, you noticed that each of us, in this group, has so far had a role to play, or will have a role to play, in getting us all to Eyaye’s core.
“Dass and Kess don’t at all think of girls and women the same way most others do, making them perfect for the Third Test; the Apothecarian is an Earthling, a race once known for their innate intuition with hand-made things, which made him ideal for the Second Test.
“And then there’s this Test, which is Cɪrthsta’s role to play,” she concludes. “She’s the only one here who can read the text, and she’s the only one here who can deal with the monsters we’ll meet.”
Cɪrthsta, though, keeps on reading the text, mumbling the translation as she goes. There are times that she quickly switches paths when meeting a divergence in the maze. I suspect that paths leading to dead ends have text that reads as jibberish, while only the correct path holds text that actually give a comprehensible story.
“What about you, then, Way?” I address the Jackal. “You must have a role to play in helping us reach the core, beyond your need to get to Yaw.”
She grins and nods. “Of course. I’ll only know what that role is, though, once I’m thrust into it.
“That said, guesses can still be made since the dungeons here are each made to target a specific skill or trait the Old Ones felt were manditory for their perception of a truly benevolent leader to possess.”
“But, no one person should be placed as a leader of the people,” I say aloud, feeling something click inside me. “The position of leader is a role that everyone is to assume in society; in other words, there is no one ruler because everyone is the arbiter of their own lives – Anarchy, in the truest sense.
“That’s why Cɪrthsta’s having a group of us tackle these Tests,” I suddenly smile, like one does when a once-inconceivable idea suddenly falls snugly into place among the grand scheme of things. “She could probably complete the Tests by herself, and, from the sounds of it, she attempted exactly that at least once before, but probably realized that, ultimately, it’d be far better to solve the Tests with teamwork.”
I see now what Way meant about Cɪrthsta; she acts like an eccentric teenager, but in actual fact everything she does is for a reason and, more often than not, planned beforehand.
The First Test can only be passed by one with the ability to problem-solve wisely, instead of thinking unclearly or reacting rashly to a situation. The Second Test can only be passed by one with the ability to take as much time as necessary to solve a problem, instead of hastily proposing the first idea that comes to mind. The Third Test can only be passed by one with the ability to not let distractions hinder their undertaking a thing, instead of being diverted by other things which result in one not being able to complete a task as promptly and precisely as they otherwise would have. This labyrinth, the Fourth Test, can only be passed by one with perfect sense of direction and, I theorize, can think of ways to deal with threats without resorting to “killing” them; brute-forcing one’s way through probably won’t work here.
The remaining dungeons would thereby need to test skills held by myself, Esscie, and Way. My main ability lies in mind over matter, while Esscie’s strength is in thinking “outside the box” (even better than I can); as for Way, I suspect, since she presides over ferrying souls from their dead bodies back to their “source,” there should be a dungeon that tests one’s ability to sacrifice someone’s life so that everyone else, living things in general, or even the continued existence of a whole world, or even universe, can be kept.
In my mullings, before long I realize we’re already at our first monster lair. An oval-shaped room with two openings (we’re standing in one of them) greets us; for now, the room looks empty.
“Best you guys stay put till I call ya,” says Cɪrthsta, calm as always. “Unless, of course, you wanna fight your own monster in there!” With that, she smiles and then steps forth into the room.
She walks to the room’s center, and then stands there with her eyes closed for about a minute or two. She then calls to us, that it’s safe to cross.
“Interesting…,” I murmur to myself. No physical entity appeared, so that must mean the “monsters” only appear in one’s own mind. I wonder, then, if this dungeon is to test one’s ability to navigate calmly amid one’s own fears.
Again, we follow behind the Peregrine as she reads the text on the wall.
Eventually, the next monster room appears before us. Cɪrthsta enters as before, to the room’s center. To test my theory, I also walk to the room’s center. She closes her eyes, and so do I.
After several seconds of apparent nothingness, I open my eyes again only to find myself alone in the room. Interesting….
This isn’t real. I know Cɪrthsta is standing right beside me, even though I cannot see her right now. I close my eyes and concentrate on seeing her to my right, and the others hovering by the entrance archway, when I open my eyes again, using the technique I’ve used many times before when using the Iron Jacket and other meditative techniques.
I open my eyes to see nothing happened. “I see…,” I rub my chin thoughtfully. This is the manifestation of a fear stuck deep inside me, of having no effect over the progression of events on this World. I close my eyes again. “Even if all I do is for naught, I am still making my mark in this life,” I say with conviction out to the empty fake-room.
“Well done!” I hear suddenly, and I open my eyes to see Cɪrthsta’s massive bust inches from my eyes. I realize that I’ve hunched over a bit, my knees bent slightly and my hands resting on them. I stand straight, wondering if it was my moment of concentration that was conveyed to assuming such a position in reality.
“Thanks,” I nod to her. It was as I suspected, that the monsters are in fact one’s own fears made manifest. That’s why each person who enters such rooms are “fighting their own monsters,” as Cɪrthsta hinted.
I discussed as much with Esscie, who asked me out of curiosity, during the next leg of halls we’re to traverse. I decided not to partake in subsequent monster rooms, and I see the others are probably too fearful of trying it out themselves.
After what seemed like days, we came upon some open rooms that held no “monsters” inside them. Cɪrthsta decides we should camp here for the night, and she estimates we are around 2/3 to 3/4 the way through the maze.
The next day, we pushed through the final monster room and then made our way out of the maze at last. I made a point to thank Cɪrthsta for successfully leading us through that maze unhindered, and the others do the same shortly after me. She chuckles and says it wasn’t really worth that much praise over.
“Oh! You should be next, Way,” she turns to the Jackal without missing a beat. “I trust you’ll know what to do when we get there,” she winks at her, who then frowns.
So, the life-and-death dungeon is the next one to progress through. We find the next portal, and it was with a deep breath that Way was first to pass through it.