By Bonnie Bruenderman
WHY DO YOU VENTURE INTO MY LABYRINTH, MORTAL? MY PRIZES ARE NUMEROUS, MY DANGERS MORE SO. WHAT DO YOU SEEK?
Taking a deep breath, you state your reasons for coming.
"Spirit: I am seeking the prize at the middle of the labyrinth.
"I had heard you protected something of great power and utility here. I seek this prize to defend my home and my family. Abandoned by the gods and beset on all sides by Nyxborn nightmares, minotaurs, and flesh-hungry animals, we are desperate. We have sent our strongest and our smartest to the ends of the earth seeking a solution—anything.
"Each of us carries our gold and has said our river-passing prayer: 'We are already dead. I have nothing left to lose and everything to gain.' That is why I have come."
YOU MAY PROCEED, BUT KNOW THIS: I CAN GUARANTEE NEITHER YOUR SAFETY NOR YOUR SUCCESS. YOUR FATE IS YOUR OWN.
Proceed into the labyrinth.
I have been here before and know your secrets, Spirit. Take me to the center!
The Lion's Den
As you enter the labyrinth, you hear thunder... no... growling? Yes, you hear the growling of something very large intermixed with the occasional CRACK.
Rounding a corner, you trip over the remains of a great ox. Fresh. There is no noticeable smell. Catching yourself, you look up and see a huge lion. Gargantuan, really. The thing is a wonder of nature.
He is contentedly gnawing on what looks to be the last few pieces of a minotaur and hasn't noticed you. Yet.
Attempt to sneak past him. There is a vine-covered path to the left.
Push forward. Battle him!
Distract him with an offering. How about that ox from up the path?
You toss the lion a leg from the ox you tripped over. The lion pounces, ignoring you. You gingerly step over the beast's lashing tail and continue on your way.
As you climb the slope you come upon a wooded area. In the middle is a legend, a myth. He can't possibly be here, he isn't even real! He's merely a story to keep children from wandering too far into the woods... but there he is.
Polukranos, World Eater.
Some doubters have said all hydras are myths, little more than large serpents, but they have never seen the likes of him. Polukranos's massive heads are pointed skyward, snapping at a murder of harpies taunting him. To the left, you see the only path onward.
Sneak past the hydra while his attention is up on the sky.
Taunt the hydra. One of those heads would make a great trophy. Just one, then you'll run.
Heart pounding and drenched in panic-sweat, you finally slow after sprinting past the beast. If you make it out of here alive, no one will believe that you saw Polukranos and survived.
Taking a deep breath, you step into a beautiful grove. The trees glow with Nyx, their trunks otherworldly.
A flash of gold—what was that? It's gone. You're not sure which way it went, although the branches down that path toward the forest are swaying.
Coming into another empty grove, you could proceed to the right, although the walls are crumbling a bit, or forward. Just as you begin to move on, there is a great crashing and snorting. A boar, silent as a cat, has crept up behind you and now rushes you, her sword-sized tusks dripping with gore. Only a mother protecting her young would be so aggressive without provocation.
Dive to the right and evade!
Turn and fight! Those tusks would be worth a fortune, and you can tame and sell the piglets if you find them!
Run! And Run, and run, until she is too tired to follow. You can wear her down with no problem, and killing her would be a shame.
Despite a stitch in your side and a burning in your lungs, you finally leave the boar in a panting heap.
The path narrows; the walls become roughhewn and steep. Water lines and bits of moss indicate this crevice floods frequently, draining through some vile-looking tunnels. The smell is awful—not mold or rot, but old meat and leavings. Large leavings. It becomes suddenly apparent who is responsible for these when you turn a corner and are faced with a small clan of minotaurs. Boar behind, shear walls to the side, and hungry minotaurs ahead, you don't have many choices.
Grab your bow and hope your aim is true.
All you have left is the hope a god could save you. You reach toward the clouded skies and cry a desperate prayer to Keranos, God of Storms.
The sky splits and waters pour forth, drenching you. The crevice immediately begins to flood. Perhaps your prayer should have been more specific? Thinking quickly, you spot a ledge above you. You climb up in time to see the flood wash away the minotaurs and filth down the tunnels. As quickly as it began, the storm is over. Thanking Keranos and promising to burn a prayer later, you continue on. There is a fork in the path ahead. Which way to go?
Leaving the crevice, the sun dries your clothes as you come into a large clearing, ringed by large trees and thick with lush grass. Harpies sun themselves and preen their greasy feathers here. The wind changes and they smell you. Languor transforms to bloodlust as they head straight for you.
Bravely draw your bow, uttering a righteous prayer to Nylea.
Hide! Those talons look vicious!
Cruel, thorny vines shoot up from the grassy earth, impaling the foul fowl. You were able to let fly a few arrows, but you were also saved by Nylea's intervention. Uttering a prayer of thanks, you pour out some of your precious water onto saplings as an offering. As you do, two trees bend away, revealing a secret passage.
Hot, Dry Cave
The passage through the trees leads to a cave. The air is hot and dry. Exiting the other side, you realize you are in the crater of a small but active volcano. Ahead, majestically posed on a rock outcropping, is a bull. Lambent with Nyx, he blocks the only way forward.
Try to reason with the bull? It might be an animal, or it might be an emissary of the gods.
Wrestle it into submission—even after you left home, stories about your wrestling prowess have followed you.
The bull stares at you, blinking mutely. Maybe you can just walk around it?
After an epic battle and more than a few burns from the nearby lava, you succeed in subduing the bull. When you let him go, the bull steps aside and allows you to pass.
It's midday, but the sun dims. Thick, putrid clouds obscure the rays, leaving you in twilight. The morass of half-rotten weeds slips and slides beneath your feet. Refuse shifts in your wake—a travel pack, a cart and bridle, old pots and pans, a lute. This place is familiar to you; you dreamt of it often as a child: Odunos.
Well, not really. It's how you imagined it when your big brother told you stories before bedtime to make you cry. Somehow, this place isn't quite right. It's surreal. It feels almost as if it is adapting to your expectations, weaving itself into a clearer conception as you lend it details. It's almost perfect, all it needs is....
The screaming horse comes careening around the corner, intent upon violence. You have to get past it to continue. You...
Reach out your hand to calm the horse, speaking softly.
Grab that bridle you saw and slip it right on—it's the only way to keep the horse's jaws from your flesh.
Surprisingly, the steed quiets and allows you to pet it. Apparently your confidence and calm changed the reality here.
Hot, Dry Cave
Rushing back to the bridle, you get it untangled and step aside just in time to slip it over the mare's head. A brief struggle, some stamping, and you're safe from her terrible bite. You have no purpose for this beast, however, so you tie the bridle to a nearby trunk and move on.
Hot, Dry Cave
Ahead is a Setessan warrior. She is fiercely beautiful and more than a little intimidating. With hands on her spear, she wastes no time immediately challenging you.
"You. I have heard the walls shake with your victories. The spirit has told me what you seek. To proceed, you will need protection. The guardian is fierce and cannot be bested by a mere mortal without the aid of the gods. Something like this belt, given to me by Iroas.
"As I am the most fierce of the Setessan warriors, the most skilled to come out of Leina Tower in generations, Iroas, God of Victory, honored me with a gift. With this, I am not guaranteed victory, but it is difficult to lose if you cannot die."
A belt of immortality? Surely it is at least as powerful as whatever is in the middle of the labyrinth? You simply must have it! You...
Engage her in battle! She might be a Setessan hero, but you will peel it from her corpse. Wait, what? She just said she can't die. Why would anyone try this?
Keep talking. Maybe you can flatter her into giving it to you?
Keep moving, ignoring her.
You battle her with the goal of cutting the belt off before landing the killing blow. Cut, bruised, and victorious, you strap on the belt and continue. Surely this is enough to save your people—with this you could battle the hordes and live! But, only you would live. Everyone you love would still be in danger. You can't fight entire armies on your own. You'll have to continue. [+Belt of Immortality]
She doesn't seem inclined to part with it, and now she's on to you. Better move on before things get complicated.
You keep moving, ignoring her. Now that the gods are silent, the belt is probably useless anyway.
The ground transitions to sand and you walk out onto a beach. The path stretches on and on, out to a narrow strip of land between two bodies of water. After walking to what feels like the end of the world, you see a field with cattle, chewing contently. These cattle are a little different from any you have seen. First of all, they're massive. Next, their coloring is iridescent, like pearls or a sunset. Getting closer, you realize it's not their coloring that is iridescent, but their very essence. They are infused with Nyx. These must belong to one of the gods.
Looking at the vast distance you'd have to travel to continue on, or go back, or indeed go anywhere at all, it becomes more appealing to ride one of these creatures. The cows look pretty placid and easy to ride, but they might take a while to get anywhere. A bull among them looks like a spirited beast, though. You take some rope out of your pack and...
Lasso the bull, then bring him down. Those horns are worth a fortune, and once he's gone it will be easy to steal a cow to ride, or come back and steal ALL the cows.
Lasso a placid cow. You're no fool. Slowly but surely wins the race.
Lasso the bull and ride him out of here! Never been asteed you couldn't ride!
Harness by Force | Art by Yefim Kligerman
The ride is bumpy and a bit more exuberant than expected, but you manage to hang on. You guide your reluctant mount toward the:
Ahead is a wondrous walled garden. Against a sun-facing wall are plants that should only grow in the hot clime of Akros. In the deep shade on the other side are mushrooms and fungi that usually only grow in the deepest shade of Asphodel.
Coming into the garden you see a glint of gold—was it the beast? You begin to follow, then realize it is still there, glinting. An apple is swaying in the sunlight. A golden apple. Immediately entranced, you reach up to pluck it from the tree.
"I wouldn't, were I you."
You turn around quickly, startled. Where did that come from?
"Yoo-hoo. Up here!" Looking up, you see a young human girl. "Hiding in trees is easy. People never look UP."
Hopping down, she continues: "I tend the apples for Karametra. I don't get many visitors. I wish I could give you an apple but they are for those who please her. Although, lately, I don't think anything pleases her..."
This slip of a thing is supposed to protect these apples? It would be so easy to just—
"...and that was weeks ago! She has not visited in what seems like ages. So what are you doing here?"
Caught off guard by her sudden silence, you realize you have been thinking about how to best rob her. You might feel a little bit guilty, but those apples look so tempting. She's small and seems so innocent you don't want to hurt her, but you really want those apples. You...
Trick her by saying you saw Karametra in the grove a ways back and suggest she could see her from the top of the tree. While she's at the top, you'll steal an apple and run.
Wax poetic about all the things you have done that should have pleased Karametra, had she been paying attention. The girl might give you the apple if you convince her you deserve it.
Kill her. Those apples are yours, the gods have abandoned you, and her chatter annoys you anyway.
Success! It's a delicious snack, but doesn't seem to impart any special boon. Perhaps Karametra knows you are not worthy? Oh well. Refreshed, you continue.
Expecting no resistance, you are taken entirely off guard when the slip of a girl reveals a knife and engages you. She subdues you efficiently and escorts you out of the garden. Clearly, she's been trained by Setessan warriors, Karametra's chosen people, and isn't to be trifled with. Nursing your pride, you continue on.
You approach a narrow tunnel leading steeply downward. Fear creeps up your arms and tickles the back of your neck. Terror whispers dark nothings into your ears. You want nothing more than to go back. If for no other reason than this, you know you are almost there. You have almost reached the center. Forcing yourself to take each step, you proceed down the tunnel.
As you go deeper, the daylight fades and is replaced by a haunting green glow from nearby pools. Snuffling and scratching reveals the presence of something up ahead in the darkness. Drawing closer, you realize the way is guarded by a vicious Cerberus, its three heads full of sharp fangs, its eyes focused on you.
Draw your bow and shoot the dog where it stands.
Set your weapons aside and fight it barehanded, as nature intended.
Sneak around it.
Your first shot ricochets off a scaled brow, but doesn't slow the beast. Rushing you, its heads tear at your throat while you attempt to draw again. You should be dead, but you're not. Beginning to panic, you remember the Belt of Immortality and your confidence surges. Dropping your bow, you fight barehanded, subduing the heads with chokeholds. Exhausted and bleeding, you let the unconscious beast drop and move on to what you hope must be the final room.
Dropping your bow, you fight barehanded, subduing the heads with chokeholds. Exhausted and bleeding, you let the unconscious beast drop and move on to what you hope must be the final room.
Stumbling forward, ready to collapse and contemplating surrender if there are any more challenges, you lift your head to see the path is rising. Daylight streams in, playful motes dancing on the air.
Golden Hind | Art by Cyril Van Der Haegen
Outside is a forest glade. Flowers spring at your feet and the air is clear and fresh. In the middle of the glade, horns shining of gold and coat marked with the pattern of the labyrinth, is your prize. Nylea appearing herself could not have made you happier. With this, you'll be able to gain the resources to save your town. Exhausted, you fall to your knees and thank the gods.
As you contemplate the journey back with growing concern for your physical state and empty supply sack, the world around you melts. You find yourself once again in front of the labyrinth spirit.
LONG HAS MY PRIZE WANDERED UNCLAIMED WITHIN THESE WALLS. I DO NOT BEGRUDGE YOU YOUR VICTORY. GO KNOWING WHAT YOU SEEK IS HERE, SAFE, SHOULD YOU NEED IT. SPEAK TO ME HER NAME AND I WILL TAKE YOU TO HER.
As you sprint down the path, angry vines whip and snap at you. The farther you press on, the denser they become. You attempt to turn back the way you came, but thick thorns sink into your skin, pinning you in place. You watch the world fade to black as vines, dotted with lovely little white flowers—are those asphodel?—cut you off from life-giving air.
You have died of asphyxiation.
Your gold-lust gets the better of you. Distracted by the potential profits, you have been mauled to death.
You have died of avarice.
Confidant to a fault, you've bitten off more than you can chew. In all likelihood, someone is now chewing you.
You have died of hubris.
Art by Mike Sass
You have fallen to the most common fate of those who wander these walls.
You have died of being eaten.
As you move on, the walls become increasingly dilapidated. Just as you are about to turn back a single, small stone breaks loose. You hear ominous creaking, then the whole wall goes down around and behind you. You survive the collapse, but are pinned beneath the rubble with no one to help drag you out.
You have died of dehydration.
Desperately depending on the "If I can't see them, they can't see me" tactic that served you so well as a child playing "Hydra and Harpy," you duck behind a log and hold your breath. Apparently, the monsters in this maze are a bit more tenacious.
You have died of cowardice.