Labyrinth (or a Somewhat Reasonable Facsimile Thereof)
by Blue Soaring
The sky was dark and murky, dirty grey clouds roiling in the cool wind. An ominous rumble echoed in the distance, promising worse things than a light shower. A murder of crows erupted from the trees in Woodsbridge Park with a chorus of low, throaty cries, the noise of dozens of flapping wings melding into the next rolling rumble. A gust of wind raked through the leaves and the branches rattled like dry, ancient bones.
He looked up at the heavy, dismal sky. The wind blew his hair back from his face, stinging his eyes. The Tower Clock whined and rolled, the loud bells signalling the hour. Seven o'clock in the evening. As if the tolling bells had summoned it, the clouds opened up with a reverberating crack and sheets of rain thundered to the ground, instantly soaking everything and everyone unfortunate enough to be exposed.
"Shit," he muttered. He broke into a run, cursing himself and the weather every step of the way home. It was useless. The rain had already drenched him to the bone. Water dripped into his eyes, further obscuring his vision.
His house loomed into view, rising like a huge sentinel out of the gloom. He lurched up the steps, breathing heavily. Reaching up, he pushed back his sodden hair. The door opened in front of him, sending a streak of yellowish light spearing out into the shadows. He blinked rapidly, straining to clear his vision, and the figure in the doorway slowly gained definition.
"Duo Maxwell, you're late again."
"Why, Sally Po," Duo said in a mocking tone of voice, placing his hands on his hips to mimic her stance. "I do believe you're right."
"All I ask is that you be on time, Duo, when you watch Relena, " Sally said in a long-suffering voice as the young man pushed past her and into the main foyer. "Don't drip on my carpet."
"It's my carpet," Duo said, promptly dripping where he damn well pleased.
Sally massaged the bridge of her nose. "Your father and I go out very rarely-"
"Every single Friday at seven, Sally. You're becoming predictable," Duo said, turning away from her and marching up the stairs.
"If you have plans, you should tell me," she said, losing patience. "With your friends, a date, anything. I'd like it if you met a girl. You should be dating at your age, it's not-"
"Healthy, blah, blah, blah. I know, I know, Dr. Po. You're a broken record." Duo came to an abrupt halt at the top of the stairs as his father emerged from the doorway.
"Duo, you're home," he began.
"You're a master of observation, aren't you?" Duo snapped, stalking past him, jerking a towel out of the linen closet and shutting the door to his bedroom with a very solid thud.
His father turned to Sally, both eyebrows shooting up.
"I'm the wicked stepmother, Lawrence," she said, fussing with her coat. "No matter what I do."
He sighed. "I'll go talk to him."
Sally watched her husband trudge up the stairs after Duo. "It won't help," she murmured, her shoulders sagging in defeat.
In his room, Duo stared at his dishevelled reflection in the mirror. His long hair, braided neatly together that morning, was now tangled and sodden. Loose hair had matted to his face, still dripping. Mud was splashed over his jeans, dark smears on the wet material. His shirt clung damply to his body, making him shiver. Grabbing the towel he'd gotten from the linen closet in the hallway, he squeezed most of the water out of his hair.
Lawrence knocked on his son's door quietly. "Duo?" he asked through the wood.
"What do you want?" Duo retorted irritably, hauling off his tee.
"Relena's in the den," his father continued, still standing outside the closed door. "We're leaving now. The number's by the phone." He paused. The silence grew. "We won't be too late."
"Fine, have fun," Duo said flatly. He heard his father sigh, then walk away. Seconds later, he heard the front door close.
Letting out an explosive breath of relief, Duo quickly finished stripping off his wet clothing. He grabbed his towel and hitched it around his waist. A nice, hot shower was just what he needed.
Thirty minutes later, he was tying off the end of his braid, a few locks of hair refusing to be caught back. He stepped back, eyeing himself critically in the mirror. Black jeans were melded to his thighs, falling down in a straight line and hiding most of his boots. A dark belt with silver accents was looped around his waist, more for style than for function. His shirt was a deep, rich black. Sleeveless, with a turtleneck collar, it hugged his body tightly. A trail of pale skin was left bare around his waist, contrasting perfectly with the darkness of his clothing. He slipped a coiled armlet over his wrist, pushing it into place on his arm. One last thing and he'd be ready to go.
Duo sauntered into the bedroom his father shared with Sally. His stepmother's cosmetics were carefully arranged on her vanity. He picked through them, looking at the odd assortment, lifted up a small eyeliner pencil and stared at it for a moment before setting it firmly back down onto the mirrored top. Seconds later, he stuffed it into his pocket. He was bent over the table, smoothing clear balm on his lips when Relena appeared in the open doorway.
"You're going out again," she said, staring at his reflection.
"You're supposed to watch me."
"Yeah, watch you do what? You're twelve, you can damn well take care of yourself."
"Mom wouldn't mind if you went out. If you told her."
Duo snorted, finally turning around and facing his sister. "Right. The ultimate right-wing conservative wouldn't mind her seventeen year old stepson going trolling in a gay bar. Uh huh."
"You can't get into a bar," Relena stated.
"That's what you think. You'd be surprised. And she's not my mother," he said, turning his back on her.
"Yes, she is."
"Look," Duo snapped, whipping back around. His braid narrowly missed sweeping the meticulously placed cosmetics from the vanity. "Sally's not my mother, she's yours."
"You shouldn't go out," Relena said again, a whine in her voice.
"Why the hell not?"
"You just shouldn't."
"I will tell, Duo. I'll tell her everything."
Duo narrowed his eyes. "I wouldn't if I were you."
"You can't do anything," she said, crossing her arms and glaring at him.
"Oh, no? You think I can't?"
She shook her head.
Duo hunkered down on the balls of his feet. He crooked a finger at her, motioning her closer. She stared at him suspiciously. Duo raised one of his eyebrows, silently beckoning her. Relena hesitated a moment longer, then walked over to stand in front of him, arms still petulantly crossed.
"Did you know, Relena," he said, "that all fairy tales are based on a little truth."
"They are not."
Duo nodded. "They are. People don't make all of it up, some of it is true. Like in Snow White."
"There's no such thing as dwarves," she said with childish confidence.
"Of course there isn't," Duo agreed. "That would be ridiculous. Think of something else."
"Prince Charming?" she ventured, hopeful.
"I don't know about that. I'll tell you what I do know, though."
She waited expectantly.
Duo waited a moment longer, his voice hushed when he spoke. "There was an evil queen."
"There was not."
"Nope, that part is true. But in the story, they make it sound much nicer. You remember the Huntsman?"
Relena gave him a small nod.
"He's real. And he really did try to cut out a girl's heart when the queen ordered him. The poison apple was real, too."
She was staring at him, disbelief in her eyes.
"Honestly. But she gave it to a young man, not a girl. And he didn't fall into a deep, frozen sleep. He died. Not right away, either. It took him hours."
Relena gaped at him.
"Do you know why all your friends always say to not tell on people?"
Duo widened his eyes in mock-surprise. "They didn't tell you?"
She shook her head again.
"That was mean of them," Duo mumbled in a low voice, making sure she could still hear him. "There's a city, with a huge castle, in the middle of a labyrinth," he said, raising his voice again.
"What's a labyrinth?"
"Hmmm...." Duo said, tapping his finger against his lips. "It's a maze, only life-size, with walls so tall you can't see over them. In the castle, there's a man, a king. All his servants listen in on people's conversations, waiting to hear their wishes. Sometimes he grants them. But that's not all they listen for."
Relena's eyes were trained on Duo's face, hanging on his every word.
"They listen for lies. They wait for people to break their promises. And," he paused dramatically, "they listen for tattletales."
"They do not," she said a little breathlessly.
Duo nodded solemnly.
"No way," Duo said quickly and stood up. "I don't want to be taken to his castle."
"They take you there?" she gasped.
"That's why it's in the middle of a labyrinth," Duo said. "So once you're there, even if you get out of the castle and past the city, you're stuck in an endless maze."
"I know," he said, nodding emphatically. "So, if I were you, I wouldn't do anything that would get me stuck in his castle forever."
She bit her lip, debating over the truth of his story. "I... I don't believe you."
Duo shrugged. "Hey, it's not me who's going to be whisked out of my bed at night by demons."
"You're a liar, Duo! I'm going to tell Mom what you've been doing." Her hands were clenched into fists by her sides.
"No, you're not," he said, walking past her to the doorway.
"I am, Duo! I'm going to tell her all about the bars and the guys!"
"She's not my damn mother, Relena! God, you are such a brat."
"I am not a brat, Duo. You are! I'm going to call Mom right now and tell her what you're doing!"
"Oh, for Christ's...!" He turned slowly to face her, livid. "Look, you little shit. Shut the hell up and leave me alone. You and Sally are just the same. Nosy and bitchy."
"Duo! You take that back! You can't say that about Mom!"
"Oh, yeah?" Duo crossed his arms, leaning negligently against the doorjamb. "I think I just did. She IS a bitch. Oops, I did it again." He covered his mouth with his hand mockingly, widening his eyes.
"Duo!" Relena screeched. "You are so stupid!"
He raised one eyebrow, tilting his head to the side a little. "You know what? I wish the king in the labyrinth would take you away. Lock you up in the dungeon and forget about you." He flicked off the light, flooding the room with darkness and slammed the door behind him as he left.
Halfway down the hall, Duo stopped, listening. It was suddenly quiet. Relena should have yanked open the door and started screaming at him again by now. He snorted to himself, dismissing her. At the bottom of the stairs, he stopped again. She probably would call Sally. It would be just his luck. He sighed and headed back up the steps to the bedroom. He'd apologize, tuck her back in the den and go on his merry way after he made sure Sally's nose stayed out of his business.
Duo opened the door, reaching for the light switch. "If you-" he said, flicking the switch and cutting himself short when the room stayed dark. He flipped it again with the same result. "Relena?" he said, peering into the darkness.
Stepping fully into the room, he turned in a full circle, searching every corner with his eyes. "Where the hell are you?"
A flash of lightning illuminated the bedroom, casting huge skeletal shadows on the wall from the swinging tree branches. One limb hit the balcony doors, making Duo jump. "Relena?" he tried again.
Rain pelted against the glass. The tree hit the doors again, harder this time. Thunder crashed and another flash of lightning snaked across the sky. Behind him, the bedroom door slammed shut. Duo sucked in a sharp breath, barely catching himself from letting out a sharp yelp. He felt like he was going to crawl out of his skin. Relena had probably just bolted out and smacked the door shut behind her.
He turned away from the terrace doors. Something brushed past his legs and he jumped back, swearing under his breath. The tree beat against the windows faster, knocking frantically at the door. Lightning flashed again. Something else skittered across the floor beside him, disappearing under the bed. Another flash. He heard hissing laughter coming from the vanity. He whipped around, heading towards the hallway.
Another crack and the room lit up again. Something huge, a vague, shadowy outline, blocked his way. Duo choked on a gasp and quickly backed up. More laughter. The balcony doors rattled with the force of the wind. His back hit the doors seconds before they burst open, sending him sprawling to the floor. Rain flooded in as more lightning streaked across the sky. He rolled over onto his back, holding up a hand to shield his eyes from the bright light and stinging rain. The long, trailing curtains blew out like ghostly arms, fluttering across his body. The room grew freezing. His lungs ached from breathing in the impossibly cold air. A dark shadow filled the doorway, falling over him.
"Holy shit," Duo said in a shaking voice, lowering his hand and slowly getting to his feet.
A man stood before him, dressed like a noble from days long past. He wore formfitting trousers, soft leather boots that covered half his leg and the fronts of his knees. A deep blue coat sat over a white shirt, with white ruffles spilling from the cuffs and collar of the coat. A dark cloak fell from his shoulders, swaying gently in the now calm breeze. His hair gleamed a rich ginger, tinged a more golden brown than red. He smiled, a smirking, unsettling upturn of his lips.
"Who the hell are you?" Duo demanded.
The man made a small disapproving sound. "Duo, you know very well who I am."
"If I knew who you were, I wouldn't have asked. Wait a minute, forget that shit. What the hell are you doing here?"
The man strode away from the balcony doors. "You also know the answer to that question."
"That's impossible," Duo said, backing away from the man instinctively.
"Is it? You have the power to determine what is possible and what is not?"
"This is insane."
"Perhaps. But it is happening, nonetheless." He stepped closer to Duo, sparkling blue eyes fixed on the young man's face. "You made a wish." A gloved hand reached out, touching Duo's cheek lightly. "I granted it."
Duo stood still, frozen with shock and fearful disbelief. "If it's all the same to you, I want my... sister back," he said, his voice barely above a whisper.
"What's said is said." The man stepped back, letting his hand drop
"But I didn't mean it!" Duo half-shouted, shaking his head.
"Oh, you didn't?" The corners of his lips quirked up.
"Where is she?" Duo asked.
"You know where she is."
"Bring her back." He said, trying to sound much more confident than he felt.
"Forget about her. Go out to your bars, dance with your men."
"I can't, not now," Duo said, crossing his arms over his stomach. "I-"
"I've brought you a gift," the king murmured, cutting him off. He held up his empty hand, palm up. The air above it wavered. When it cleared, a glass ball sat in his palm, gleaming in the dim light.
"What is it?" Duo asked hesitantly, curious and afraid.
"It is a crystal, nothing more." He moved his hand so that the ball sat atop his steepled fingers. "But when you turn it this way...." He started moving his hand back and forth slowly in front of Duo. "And look into it...." The crystal travelled down the backs of his fingers, then back up when his hand changed direction. "It will show you your dreams."
Duo watched the glass ball with fascination. It stayed on the man's hand, defying gravity as the king passed his other hand beside the ball, and it changed direction again, travelling over his second hand. His hands crossed and uncrossed, the crystal sliding easily from hand to hand and then back again.
"It is not a gift for an ordinary boy. An ordinary boy who cares for a screaming brat," the man finished, stilling his hands. The glass ball sat atop his templed fingers once more. He gazed at Duo. "Do you want it?" The crystal was held out for him to take. "Then forget about the child."
Duo's eyes flickered nervously from the man's face to the crystal. He wet his lips. "It's not that I don't appreciate-"
"Duo," he said, cutting the young man off once again.
Duo wrenched his gaze away from the crystal and looked at him.
"Do not defy me."
The crystal vanished, replaced by a hissing snake. It reared up, fangs glinting, and darted out in a quick flash, mouth wide and aimed for Duo's neck. He let out a startled cry and braced himself, arms flying up to protect his face and throat, but there was no strike, no tearing of fang into flesh. Seconds later, the only sound was the king's quiet chuckle. Duo slowly lowered his arms.
"You are no match for me, Duo."
Duo swallowed harshly. His throat was dry and his palms were sweating. "I have to have my sister back," he said, defiant.
The king of the labyrinth gazed at him silently, his face an unmoving mask. Finally, he stepped to the side, gesturing at the open doors. "She is there, in my castle."
Duo glanced at him nervously, then walked closer to the balcony and looked out. The darkness of the night was fading, the storm long passed. A breeze blew over him, ruffling his hair.
Far below him stretched a wide valley, stone walls weaving in impossible patterns across the basin floor, covering the entire space. Duo slowly let his eyes rove over the expanse. A great stone castle reared up from the twisted and foreboding mass, a towering, sinister presence.
"Do you still want to look for her?" came the king's voice from behind him.
Duo remained quiet, eyes resolutely forward.
"I'd turn back, if I were you," the king advised.
"Well, you're not me, Your Majesty," Duo replied, bitterness in his voice, still refusing to look back. "I'm not giving up before I've started."
"What a pity...." he breathed in response.
"It doesn't look that far."
"It's further than you think," the king retorted, standing so close behind Duo that their bodies were almost touching. He had leaned over Duo's shoulder, following the young man's gaze.
Duo jumped, sucking in a sharp breath. His eyes darted to the side quickly, glancing at the king's face.
And the king smiled.
"Who are you?" Duo asked, relieved when his voice sounded steady.
"I am the ruler of this land," he responded, stepping away from Duo towards a scraggly tree. "I am Treize."
Duo blinked, turning around quickly. His father's room had vanished; he was standing on a withered brown hilltop, overlooking the valley. More hills stretched out behind him and to the sides, covered with struggling weeds and skeletal trees. There was nothing of his home left.
"Shit," he said under his breath.
"Time is short. I will give you thirteen hours in which to solve the labyrinth." Treize's voice had grown distant. "Such a pity," he murmured again, and when Duo looked, the king had also vanished.
Duo stood on the hill, alone, and feeling it. He snorted to himself, muttering, "It doesn't look that hard," before sighing and trudging down the hill.
The sky turned painfully bright, the blaze of the rising sun slipping down the mountains and covering the valley. Shadows deepened behind the boulders and walls, and the black outlines of the bony trees crept down the hill slowly, reaching for him as he descended. At the bottom of the hill, Duo stopped and glanced around. He saw the silhouette of someone sitting beside a fountain pool, the person's face tipped up to the sky. Raising his hand to block the glare of the new sun, he tried to get a better look.
"Yeah... uh, hi," Duo called, standing a little bit away from the pool.
The person - a man, Duo realized as he walked closer, didn't acknowledge that he had heard.
"Excuse me," Duo tried again.
The man moved his head slowly, staring at Duo for several seconds before saying in a flat voice, "It's you." He got to his feet, walking past Duo as if he wasn't there.
"Uh huh," Duo muttered. "Hey, listen, I've got to get through this Labyrinth, can you help?"
As he spoke, something flittered past his face. He turned, watching in rapt amazement as a tiny winged person fluttered happily around his head. It settled gently on his shoulder, multicoloured wings lightly brushing his cheek. Duo couldn't help but smile. The little fairy was female, clad only in a light shift. Her hair flowed in a glossy black line down her back, gleaming in the early sun. She walked up his shoulder, leaning companionably against his neck as she whispered excitedly in his ear. All he caught was, "...hero... lemon...."
The man who had been sitting by the pool chose that moment to turn around. Whatever he was about to say died on his lips when he caught sight of the tiny fairy on Duo's shoulder. A look of anger crossed his face as he stormed towards them. His hand whipped out impossibly fast, slapped the fairy off of Duo and she fell to the ground, stumbling to her feet dazedly.
"Hey!" Duo yelped as the man lifted his foot and stomped it back down again, right on top of the fairy with an odd 'splut' sound.
The man moved his foot, and Duo got a good look at a squished fairy. It was flat as a pancake. Duo blinked. It looked exactly like when a cartoon character had gotten flattened by a falling anvil. Her face was kind of squashed to the side, arms flung out on either side of her body and the poor thing's butt was... just... smeared. Duo winced.
"What did ya do that for!?" Duo demanded, glaring at the other.
"Pond fairies," the man grunted in a disgusted tone. He turned away again.
Duo glanced back down at the squished fairy. Flat as she was, she was shakily getting to her feet. Tossing her head from side to side, she stuck her thumb in her mouth and gave a great puff of air. And her body started filling out again. Duo just stared this time. Once she was back to normal, she picked a few bits of dirt out of her hair, flinging them away and raising a tiny fist to shake it threateningly at the man's back. Then she straightened her shift, smoothing the front and fluttered her wings a little. Tossing one last deadly glare at the man who had squashed her, she rose unsteadily into the air with as much dignity as she could muster and flittered haphazardly away.
Duo slowly closed his gaping mouth. Giving his own head a tiny shake, he took off after the other man.
"Hey! What the hell was that?" he called, slowing down when the man turned around and faced him, giving Duo the first good look at who he was talking to.
His skin was a dark, golden brown. Dark, unruly brown hair caught the sunlight and shimmered lighter in places. It fell in messy chunks around his eyes, almost concealing the deep cobalt blue colour from sight. His eyes were almond shaped, the high slant of his cheekbones helping to bring out the contours of them. He was clad in simple jeans and tee shirt.
"That," the man said in monotone, "was a Pond fairy."
"Pond? As in pool?"
"No, Pond as in Ponderosa. Damn thing is obsessed with lemons. Sticking me in a collar...." he trailed off, glowering.
"Uh huh," Duo said again, totally and utterly confused. "What's your name?" he asked.
"Right," Duo said slowly, scratching the back of his neck.
"Who are you?"
Heero nodded. "That's what I thought." He turned away again, walking along beside the wall.
Duo jogged a little to catch up. "Do you know where the door to the labyrinth is?"
"Well... where is it?"
Heero kept walking without answering.
"I said where is it?" Duo demanded in an exasperated voice.
"Where is what?" Heero sounded bored.
"The door!" Duo shouted, stopping and crossing his arms.
Duo growled in frustration. "It's hopeless asking you anything," he declared, throwing his arms up in the air.
"Not if you ask the right questions," Heero said, unperturbed, and still walking away.
"How the hell do I get into the labyrinth?" Duo said, stomping after the man.
Suddenly, Heero stopped short and let out a little grunt. "That's more like it." He turned around and pointed at a section of the wall. "There."
The wall shuddered, tiny pebbles falling to the ground. Vines tore, branches creaked and groaned and slowly the wall shifted to reveal a large opening. Two great twin doors swung wide, stirring up clouds of dust that swirled around Duo's legs and feet. Duo stared. Again.
"Are you really going in there?" Heero asked after a moment.
Duo decided to keep staring at the doors. "I've got to...." he murmured.
Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he walked toward and then through the doors. Looking to his left, he saw slimy stone walls covered with odd, sickly yellow collared moss. Scraggly trees, fallen branches and mouldy roots crisscrossed the rough, uneven stone path. Duo wrinkled his nose as a overpowering, rotting smell assaulted him. He glanced to the right, and it was exactly the same thing in that direction.
"Now, would you go left or right?" Heero asked suddenly, his voice coming from directly behind him.
Duo jumped, sucking his breath in through his teeth. He whipped around, glaring at the other man. Heero let out a short, barking laugh as he walked further into the corridor.
"They both look the same," Duo said, glancing again from side to side.
"You're not going to get very far." Heero crossed his arms over his chest, giving him a condescending look.
"Which way would you go?" Duo asked, ignoring the scorn in Heero's voice.
"If that's all the help you're going to be," Duo complained, "you can just leave."
Heero grunted, uncrossing his arms and circling around Duo. "You know your problem? You take everything for granted." He gestured at their surroundings. "Take this labyrinth. Even if you get to the centre, you'll never get out again," he finished, bringing his face close to Duo's and giving him a twisted, nasty smirk.
"That's your opinion," Duo said, stepping away from Heero with a stubborn expression on his face.
"It's a lot better than yours," he growled, turning his back to Duo and walking past him, back to the dusty entrance.
"Thanks for nothing, Hero," Duo said derisively as he walked by.
"It's Heero," the man snarled, stressing the word and turning halfway around to glare darkly at him. "And don't say I didn't warn you." Then he stalked away, and the doors slammed shut behind him.
Duo winced at the loud crash the doors made, staring blankly at them for several moments. "Huh," he mumbled to himself. "Temperamental."