Labyrinth (or a Somewhat Reasonable Facsimile Thereof)
by Blue Soaring
Duo turned away from the door, concentrating again on the labyrinth. Shrugging to himself, he started walking, choosing the left path over the other for apparently no reason. He walked for several long minutes, then stopped and looked back. The double doors were out of sight, but the walls stretched straight behind him, no curves or corners visible. Duo turned back around, peering ahead. The path continued unbroken, running in a perfectly straight line as far as he could see.
"What do they mean, 'labyrinth'?" he muttered, scowling darkly at the path ahead of him. "It just goes on and on...."
Frustrated with his lack of progress, he started to jog down the passageway. Quickly, he sped up, breaking into a run. He dodged branches, ducking around the larger trees, leaping over a fallen branch, narrowly missing the rotting bark as he ploughed forward. Duo glanced back, then sped up again, watching the smooth, unbroken line of wall rush past him.
Duo let out a fierce shout of aggravation, stopping and kicking viciously at a large root. He pounded a fist into the wall, staring disgustedly at the sludge that attached itself to his hand and angrily wiped it off on his pant leg. Duo collapsed on the ground, drawing his legs up and trying to slow his ragged breathing, resting his forehead on his knees.
"Allo," came a squeaky voice.
Startled by the tiny, high-pitched sound, Duo looked up. He moved his head from side to side, searching for the owner of the voice and saw nothing but a small, furry blue thing that looked something like a worm. It sat on a rough ledge beside him, blinking up at him with huge eyes.
"Did... did you say, 'hello'?" Duo asked, doubtful.
"No, I said 'allo', but that's close enough."
"Uh huh," Duo said, wrinkling his brow. The worm-thing had the strangest light yellow tufts of hair sticking out from its head. They were long, almost as long as the worm itself, but didn't look like some kind of antennae or feelers. They looked like hair. The ends were wickedly forked, and were bobbing up and down in the air as the little thing moved its head back and forth while it talked. The way they stuck out over its eyes made Duo think of industrial size eyebrows.
"Do you know the way through this labyrinth?" Duo asked after a moment.
"Do I look like I do?" it said in a distinctly bitter tone.
The worm somehow managed to give him a disdainful look.
"There aren't any openings anywhere," Duo said, more thinking out loud than really talking to the worm.
"Of course there are," it sniffed. "You're simply not looking right."
Duo glanced dubiously down at the worm.
It nodded its head, sending the eyebrow stalks waving madly in the air. "It's full of openings. You're just not seeing them."
"Well, where are they?"
"There's one right across from you."
Duo shot a quick glance at the wall. "No, there isn't."
The worm gave him a flat stare. "Of course there is."
Rising from the ground, Duo walked closer to the wall. The stones in front of him were moss-covered, water seeping from the cracks in the mortar. There was no break in the straight corridor.
"Try walking through it."
"It's solid wall," Duo insisted. "There's no way through."
The worm shook its head disapprovingly. Duo was momentarily mesmerized by the hypnotic swaying of the blond tufts of hair.
"Things are not always what they seem in this place," it said. "You can't take anything for granted."
He reached out expecting the icky lukewarm feel of slime under his hand when he touched the wall. But his hand didn't come into contact with anything solid. It didn't pass through the wall, either. When his hand came close to it, it was like the wall was inching back away from him. Duo took an experimental step forward and met no resistance. Yet, there was the wall, right in front of his nose but somehow just out of reach.
"Hey!" Duo exclaimed as he turned around, realizing that he was now standing in the middle of a different corridor. He started walking to the left again, happy with the new development.
"Thanks, that was incredibly helpful," Duo said, back-stepping to smile at the worm. He started walking away again.
"Don't go that way."
"What?" Duo asked, coming back again.
"I said, don't go that way," the worm repeated, staring at Duo like he was an idiot. "Never go that way."
"Oh." Duo looked at the path. "Thanks," he said, heading down the opposite direction.
The fuzzy worm let out a relieved breath. "If he'd have kept going that way, he'd have gone straight to the castle," the worm said absently to itself once Duo had disappeared down the hallway.
Duo finally emerged from the damp stone passageway, breathing a deep sigh of relief when he scented fresh air. The walls around him now were lighter stone, almost softer looking, stretching high into the air. The edges were smooth, with leafy green vines trailing along the floor and walls and the flagstones under his feet were even and unbroken. Large hands carved of stone were placed on the end of each wall, pointing in varying directions.
He looked up, seeing the great castle rising in the distance, obscured by a light haze. The hand above his head pointed towards it. Glancing back at the castle, he looked at the hand again before setting off in the direction it pointed.
In a room, far away from Duo, Relena sat uncomfortably stiff on a cushion in Treize's castle. The room itself was large, carved out of stone and strewn with pillows, blankets and soldiers, the walls soaring high above her with peaked windows opening out over the city below. A large, regal throne was set on a dais, the gracefully curving arms and back draped in rich fabric. She sat below it, in a lowered circular area set in the very middle of the room with men surrounding her, talking loudly with each other, laughing uproariously.
Treize sat on his throne rapping a stiff leather riding crop impatiently against his boot. He glanced at the clock on the wall and tapped a finger against his lips. One of the soldiers leaned close to Relena, handing her a mug filled with frothy liquid. She started to shake her head in refusal as another soldier stumbled into the first, knocking the mug from his hand and spilling it over her lap. She let out a high pitched yelp, scooting backwards. The resulting explosion of laughter at her and the soldiers' expense attracted Treize's attention.
He rose gracefully, the men loitering in the room scrabbling out of his way as he moved easily across the floor towards Relena. She stared up at him apprehensively when he towered above her. Sinking down to balance on the balls of his feet, he reached out and gently grasped her chin in his gloved fingers.
"You remind me of the boy," he said quietly.
"Pardon?" Relena asked, trying to inch away from him.
"The boy with the power."
"What power?" Relena said, furrowing her brow.
"The power," Treize repeated, rising to his feet and stepping way.
"Are you drunk?" Relena demanded, resting her hands on her hips.
"You remind me of that boy," Treize said again, cryptically, staring out a tall window.
Relena threw her hands up in the air and made an annoyed sound, stomping out of the room and tripping over the prone body of a soldier. She sprawled on the floor, her cheeks turning red as the room erupted into laughter and, scrambling to her feet, fled the room with tears glistening in her eyes. A couple of bored looking men followed her.
"She's very easily upset, isn't she?" Treize said, laughing. The soldiers' merriment faded and a few men nodded sympathetically. He narrowed his eyes, his mouth thinning into a fine line. "Well?" he said expectantly.
The men started to nervously laugh again as the king glared at them, and Treize threw back his head and laughed with them.
Meanwhile, Duo wandered through the maze, straining for a glimpse of his destination as he followed the twisting paths. He came to yet another fork and paused, debating which way to go. On impulse, he reached into his pocket, his hand coming into contact with the lip gloss and dark eyeliner he had taken from Sally's cosmetic tray. Taking out the liner, he gave it an appraising glance, finally stooping down to drew a rough arrow on one of the flagstones, pointing to the left fork. Satisfied, he headed in that direction.
Once he had disappeared around the corner, the flagstone shifted and buckled up from the ground. A tiny sprite crawled out, muttering angrily as it flipped the stone over. It jumped up and down, emphatically waving its little fist in Duo's general direction, its chattering growing louder and more heated. Then it slipped back into the hole, letting the stone clatter down.
In the next passage, unaware of the pissed off little sprite, Duo looked at the paths he had to choose from. Drawing another arrow on the stones under his feet, he stepped into another section, sighing when it turned out to be a dead end.
Behind him, another sprite emerged from under the marked flagstone, lifting it up and rotating it so that the arrow pointed in the opposite direction. It hushed at a second sprite that popped up out of the hole behind it and the newcomer disappeared once again, the first sprite following after gently settling the stone back into place above its head.
Treize was once again seated on his throne, Relena seated stiffly at his feet. He leaned down, close to her ear and whispered, "In nine hours and twenty-three minutes, you'll be one of mine."
Relena made a breathy snorting sound, but turned worried eyes toward the ancient clock perched on the wall.
Duo turned away from the dead end. He looked down at his mark, noticing that it was pointing in the opposite direction, not the way he had just come. He hunkered down on the balls of his feet, staring at the mark and then glancing quickly around him.
"Something changed my marks," he muttered. "That's not fair!" he shouted, slamming the eyeliner down to the ground.
"That's right, it's not fair," a deep male voice said from behind him, in the dead end.
"But that's only half of it!" another added.
Duo turned around, facing the speakers. Two doors had appeared in the walls, each with something humanoid standing in front of it. Each had spindly legs stuck out from both the top and the bottom of odd, gold coloured panels covering the centre of their bodies, and four gnarled hands curled over the each corner of the panels, holding it in place. The right one, with a huge nose and mushroom like-hair, was peering out from under the bottom of its panel. The left had strange, miniature goggles stuck over its eyes and a hugely wrinkled forehead. One hand of his hands, though, the bottom right, was made out of something that looked like metal.
"This was a dead end a minute ago," Duo said, walking towards them to get a better look.
"No, that's the dead end behind you!" Mushroom said.
Duo looked behind him, startled to see that the passage he had just come through had been closed off, leaving him trapped in the small space with the two odd panel people. He heard snickering and he turned around to glare at them. Two extra heads had appeared at the top of each of their panels. Duo's eyes widened, noticing that Goggles' extra head had a dark black nose and oddly pointed hair, and Mushroom Hair's had a freaky black moustache before they vanished behind the panels again.
"It keeps changing," Duo said, exasperated. "What am I supposed to do?"
"Well," Goggles said, "the only way out of here is to choose one of these doors."
"One leads to the castle at the centre of the labyrinth," Mushroom said, "and the other leads to..."
"Bum bum bum bummm," Moustache sang dramatically, popping out from under the panel to wiggle the fingers on all four of his - their - hands.
"Certain death," Mushroom finished in a low voice.
Black Nose and Moustache popped out from behind the panels, saying "Ooooooh," before vanishing again.
Duo's gaze shifted from one door to the other. "Which is which?
"We don't know!" Mushroom jumped in.
"But they do." Goggles said, sticking his neck out to look up at Black Nose.
"Then I'll ask them," Duo said simply.
"Uh...no, you can't ask us, you can only ask one of us. Those are the rules," Moustache said with a nod.
"And I should warn you," Black Nose chimed in, "one of us always lies, and one of us always tells the truth. He always lies," he added, pointing at Moustache.
"I do not, I tell the truth!"
"Oooh, what a lie!"
The third and fourth heads popped out to join the first two, all four snickering at the exchange.
Duo firmed his lips, stepping up to Black Nose. "Answer yes or no," he said shortly. "Would he tell me that this door leads to the centre of the labyrinth?" He glanced over at Moustache.
Black Nose ducked behind his panel, whispering furiously with Goggles. "Yes," he said, reappearing.
"Then," Duo said confidently, "the other door leads to the castle and this door leads to certain death."
"How do you know?" Black Nose demanded. "He could be telling the truth."
"But then you wouldn't be," Duo said. "So if you told me that he said yes, I know the answer is no."
Black Nose jerked his head back. "But I could be telling the truth!"
"But then he would be lying," Duo responded, grinning. "So if you told me that he said yes, I know the answer would still be no."
"Uhh...wait a minute. Is that right?" Black Nose said, looking over at Moustache.
"I don't know!" he exclaimed. "I've never understood it!"
The other two heads popped back out, laughing loudly. Goggles flexed his metal fingers, chuckling.
"No, it's right," Duo said, turning towards Moustache. "Hey, outta the way."
Moustache shuffled to the side, watching as Duo pushed open the ornate door. "This is a piece of cake."
No sooner had the words left Duo's lips than the floor fell out from beneath him. "Shit!" he cried out, falling through a narrow tunnel. "Help! Help would be nice!" Bluish, hand-like things lined the tunnel, grasping and groping at him as he fell. "Damn it, that hurts! Quit it! Help!"
The hands tightened their grip, finally ending his fall. A few grasped him under the arms, another supported his back and still more were digging into his thighs.
"What do you mean, 'help'? We are helping!" The hands formed a face using the many fingers, moving them to create a mouth as it spoke.
"We're Helping Hands," another said, forming near the back of Duo's head.
"You're hurting," Duo said, squirming away from a particularly rough Hand.
"Oh?" another face said, appearing down by his leg. "Would you like us to let go?"
On cue, the Hands pulled back, letting Duo freefall. "No!" he yelped, trying to grab onto one of them as he tumbled down.
The Hands reappeared, jerking him to a halt. "Well then," one said from behind him, "Which way?"
"Which way?" Duo echoed.
"Up or down?" This one formed right beside his face.
"Oh." Duo looked up and then down, nibbling on his lip.
"Come on, come on," yet another face said.
"We haven't got all day," the face behind him urged.
"Well, it's a big decision for him," an older sounding voice put in.
"Which way do you want to go?" This one sounded very proper.
"Yes, which way?" a high pitched voice asked.
"Well, since I'm pointed that way," Duo murmured, looking into the blackness below him, "I guess I'll go down."
"He chose down!" one laughed.
"He chose down?" another asked, incredulous.
"Heee!" the high pitched one squealed.
"Was that wrong?" Duo shouted as the hands let him go and he started falling again. He grabbed for them, but they were always just out of his reach.
"Too late now," the final face said to him as he rushed passed. Their cruel laughter echoed in his ears as he fell.
Duo hit a grate, making it fly open with a cloud of choking dust as he was dumped into another room. There was no light anywhere, except from the tunnel he had just fallen down. He hit the ground in a heap, the breath knocked from his body. Then the grate slammed shut, blocking most of that light as well. He lay still on the cold, stone floor.
"He's in the oubliette," Treize said to the men gathered around him. He was looking into the small crystal he had offered Duo at their first meeting. Relena sat off to the side, nervously chewing on a lock of her hair.
The soldiers started to laugh uproariously at Duo's plight.
"Shut up," Treize snapped at them. Instantly, the room fell quiet. "He should not have gotten as far as the oubliette, he should have given up by now."
"He'll never give up," a blue-eyed solider said softly.
"Won't he?" Treize asked. "Yuy is about to lead him back to the beginning, he'll soon give up when he realizes he has to start all over again!" He started to laugh loudly while the soldiers around him shook their heads sadly and made sympathetic noises.
The king stopped abruptly, narrowing his eyes and frowning deeply. "Well?" he said, intensifying his scowl. "Laugh."
The room erupted into laughter again. Treize glanced at the men around him, smiling. Then he too resumed laughing, tossing the crystal ball high into the air over his head.
Duo's eyes fluttered open. Groaning and slowly levering himself up on his hands and knees, he looked around. He sat down on the floor, wincing slightly. Nothing beyond the tiny circle of light surrounding him. A small sound reached his ears. Quiet footsteps.
"Who's there?" Duo asked, staring blindly into the dark.
"Me," a vaguely familiar, deep voice said from the blackness.
There was the sound of a match being struck, then a tiny spark flared. Heero's face was illuminated by the dancing flame as he lit an ancient candle that was set in a holder not far from Duo.
"Oh, it's you!" Duo said, feeling relieved when the darkness was pushed back.
Heero grunted, walking towards Duo. "I knew you were going to get into trouble as soon as I met you."
Duo took advantage of the light to glance around. The rough stone walls were slimy in places, shimmering in the candlelight. The walls seemed solid and unbroken.
"There is no door, only the hole," Heero said, watching the longhaired man take in his surroundings.
Duo climbed to his feet, looking up when Heero mentioned the grate. "How'd you get in here - whatever the hell here is?"
Heero merely smirked. "This is an oubliette. The labyrinth is full of them," he said, ignoring the first question.
"Really," Duo said, annoyed. "I didn't know that."
"You don't even know what an oubliette is." Heero looked smug.
"Do you?" Duo asked irritably.
The dark-haired man walked past Duo, making him turn around to keep him in sight. "It's a place to put people to forget about them."
"I need to get out of here," Duo said, eyes following Heero as he circled him like a hungry predator.
Heero ceased his circling, walking away from Duo as he spoke. "I know a way out of the entire labyrinth."
"I am not giving up now," Duo said, narrowing his eyes. "I've come too far."
Heero remained silent, facing away from him.
"No," Duo said softly, "I'm doing fine..." He sat down again on the cold floor, resting his head in his hands.
"It gets worse from here," Heero said, coming back towards Duo and sinking down beside him, balancing on the balls of his feet.
"Why do you care if it gets worse or not?"
The other shrugged. "Maybe I don't."
Duo stared at him appraisingly. "And maybe you do. If you help me, I'll..."
"You'll what?" Heero asked flatly.
"I'll owe you," Duo said. "A favour, a thing, whatever you want."
Heero's expression didn't change. "In exchange for leading you out of the labyrinth."
Duo shook his head. "In exchange for helping me find the castle."
"No," Heero said, straightening up and turning away.
"Wait!" Duo exclaimed, surging to his feet. He made a grab for Heero, catching his hand and tugging him back. "If you can't take me to the castle, take me as far as you can. Please."
Heero looked down, eyes fixed to where Duo's hand grasped his. "I promise nothing, but I will take you as far as I can. In exchange for whatever else I want and that," he said, pointing down at a small glint of silver peeking out from Duo's back pocket.
Duo reached back with his other hand and pulled out the tiny pocket knife. He didn't answer right away, doubt showing in his eyes. He nervously licked his lips. He needed to find Relena. "Okay," he said finally. "For whatever you want." He offered the knife to the other man.
Heero gave a curt nod, taking his eyes away from their clasped hands to look at Duo's face as he took the folded blade. The man's hand slipped from his as he turned away, heading to where a pile of rubble lay against the wall. He kicked away a few rocks, reaching down to pull on the edges of a tarp that lay covered under the dirt. Heero picked up a wide plank of wood and set it against the wall. There was a doorknob on the left side. He turned it casually, as if he expected it to open.
Duo's mouth fell open when the door swung away from the wall, revealing an opening. Buckets, boxes, a few knives, sheaths, several guns, a laptop, a black case and an oddly curved sword fell out, making a huge clattering noise.
"Damn." Heero bent over to pick up a small handgun, polishing the dirt off of it and tucking it into the waistband of his pants. "Storage closet," he said to Duo, stuffing the rest back into the closet.
Duo raised his eyebrow.
Heero closed the door and unhitched the doorknob, placing it on the right side. This time when it opened, a flood of light came into the oubliette. "This is it," he said, ducking into the brightly lit underground passage.
Unable to help himself, Duo smiled and followed Heero out into the new passageway. The walls were smoother here, with giant faces carved into them. Each one was different, resembling the Moais, the stone heads of Easter Island. Heero marched ahead purposefully, ignoring them.
"Don't go on," one of the heads droned, rolling its great stone eyes around to focus on Duo.
Duo jumped back, hissing a sharp breath out from between clenched teeth. Heero remained unruffled. The longhaired man hurried to catch up, turning from side to side as each head they passed spoke.
"Go back while you still can," another said, its gravelly voice carrying a warning tone.
"This is not the way!"
"Take heed, and go no further," yet another carving said in a deep, echoing voice.
"Soon, it will be too late." This one's voice was rough.
Duo had steadily been inching closer to Heero, practically huddling beside him. Heero grunted.
"Don't pay any attention to them. They're False Alarms. You get a lot of them in the labyrinth...especially when you're on the right track."
"Oh no, you're not!"
"Shut up," Heero stopped and growled at the carving.
The carving somehow managed to look contrite. "Sorry, just doing my job," it said petulantly.
"You don't have to do it to us," the short-haired man snapped, stomping passed the carving.
"Beware! For the path-"
"Forget it," Heero snarled.
"Oh, please! I haven't said it for such a long time," the head pleaded.
Duo stopped, curiously watching the stone mouth move. His companion halted as well.
"Alright," Heero said grudgingly. "Don't expect a big reaction." He crossed his arms over his chest, scowling.
"No, no, no, of course not!" the head said quickly. It coughed a few times, clearing its voice. Tiny bits of dust floated in the air. "Ahem. For the path you will take will lead to certain destruction!" it said in a grand voice.
A small glass ball rolled along the ground, slipping between Duo's legs and down the path. Heero looked down, watching the crystal. "Damn," he muttered again.
"Thank you very much," the stone head said casually.
"Uh oh," Duo murmured, following Heero's line of sight.
The crystal rolled on with the two men following cautiously in its wake. A stooped figure emerged from the darkness, its bird-like face wrinkled and worn. The crystal left the ground, flowing into the air and landing in the tin cup the creature carried with a soft plink.
"Ah," the creature piped, shambling forward. "What have we here?"
"Nothing," Heero said, stepping in front of Duo and forcing him back into the shadows.
"Nothing?" the creature echoed. "Nothing?" It started to straighten, doubling its height until it stood taller than either man. The old and pinched face faded away. "Nothing?" it said again, its voice deepening and growing rich. "Nothing!" In the creature's place stood Treize, tall and imposing. There was a dark scowl on his face as he stepped menacingly towards Heero.
"Your Majesty," Heero said, bowing his head slightly.
Treize's mouth turned up at the corners. "Hello, Heeyore."
"Hero," Duo said, manoeuvring out from behind his companion.
"Heero," Heero snapped, glaring at Duo.
"Heero," Treize said, calling their attention back to him. "Can it be that you're helping this boy?" He took a few steps forward, staring down at the short-haired man.
"Helping in what sense?" Heero asked, refusing to back up.
"In the sense that you're leading him towards the castle."
"No," Heero said. "I'm taking him back to the beginning."
"What!?" Duo shouted.
Treize cocked an eyebrow at both of them.
"I told him that I was going to help him solve the labyrinth, but I'm taking him back to the beginning."
Treize took another step forward, finally forcing Heero to give ground and step back. "And what would you gain?"
"Whatever I wanted from him," Heero said simply.
"Ah. Hero-" Treize began.
"Heero," the dark-haired man automatically corrected.
"Yes," Treize said absently. "If I thought for one second that you were betraying me, I'd be forced to suspend you head first in the Bog of Eternal Stench." As he spoke, his voice gradually raised until he was fairly shouting. He leaned down closer and closer to Heero until his face was mere centimetres from his own.
Heero's eyes grew impossibly wide. "No," he breathed, clenching his fists at his sides until the knuckles turned white.
"Oh, yes, Heero," Treize said, curling his lips into a cruel smile. "And you, Duo," he continued, pinning the longhaired man with a malicious look as he walked towards him. "How are you enjoying my labyrinth?" Treize was now standing directly in front of him, backing him inexorably into the wall. He placed one hand flat on the wall, leaning forward into Duo.
Duo looked down, avoiding his piercing gaze. "It's...it's a piece of cake," he said, meeting Treize's gaze defiantly.
Heero groaned low in his chest.
"Really," Treize said softly. "Then how about adding mistakes?" He raised one hand, pointing a finger at the far wall. A clock materialized on it, ticking quietly. The minute hand sped up until it was spinning rapidly, slowing only after the third complete circuit and three hours had been taken from Duo's time limit.
"That's not fair!" Duo exclaimed, glaring at the man above him.
"You say that so often," Treize said, leaning closer to Duo and whispering in his ear. "I wonder what your basis for comparison is." He broke away, taking several steps back towards the gloom that he had first emerged from. "So, my labyrinth is a piece of cake, is it?" He held his hands out in front of his chest, crossing them as the wrists and passing one hand behind the other. Another crystal appeared between the fingertips of his hands. "Let's see how you deal with this little slice."
With that, he threw the crystal into the darkness. And faded away as the small reflection the crystal cast spun into the shadows and grew.
"Shit," Heero said, staring at the dark tunnel.
"What?" Duo asked, trying to make out what the crystal had transformed into.