She hadn’t reckoned with walls.
The pattern, of course, had little issue bending through solid matter, but Amber was not so fortunate. What should’ve been a straight path to the source of the deformity had instead become an extended sojourn inside a dark and dismal labyrinth.
Amber was heartily sick of it. It didn’t help that she’d developed a headache trying to keep both the pattern and the real world in the front of her mind. Nor that the deformed pattern, with its tautness and occasionally shuddering, played havoc with her mage sight.
Why is this blasted school on top of a stone maze anyway?
Amber tripped over something the dark, something that rattled underfoot. Her hand shot out and steadied her against something damp that gave away slightly under her palm. Ugh.
Amber shone her meager light towards the wall. It was curved and bumpy here, and the color of stale cheese and white mold. It ended in a rounded ledge above her head. Above it was an expanse of darkness. The labyrinth had spilled her into a cavernous space. Amber couldn’t begin to guess how high the ceiling rose above her head.
She nudged the light to her other side. A multitude of curved columns, natural rather than man-made, stretched down the path, yellow as wolf’s fangs, disappearing into darkness. The feeling of being in a maw blanketed Amber; she couldn’t shake off the sensation that she’d been swallowed up. Something tugged at the very edge of her hearing, something almost too low for her to hear. Amber stood still and held her breath, waiting…
A furious fluttering in the pattern made her jump. Whatever was caught in it was sapping its strength in a desperate struggle for freedom.
“Hold on!” Amber called. “I’m coming.” Thrusting the mysterious formations around her out of her mind, she sloshed through puddles and darted around splintered fragments. A curved wall loomed ahead of her; luckily, it had a circular hole at waist height. Amber clambered through it and half-fell, half-slithered down the other side. A wet smear covered the back of her skirt and things crunched under her feet. Her small light shook wildly, sending shadows sliding all around her.
Amber ran, half-blind, through the space, then turned sharply to her left. She felt, rather than saw, rock narrowing around her. The texture of the air changed, becoming more heavy and gritty, as if the stone was breathing on her. Eyes on the footing ahead of her, she saw the step a moment before she tripped over it. Her palms struck stone, sending twinges of pain up her forearms.
She winced, then pushed herself to her feet. The stairs stretched steeply up, each step just a bit too tall for comfort.
Obviously, nothing of this place had been designed with Amber’s preferences in mind. Her hem, she was sure, was soaked in muck.
Panting, Amber reached the top of the stairway. The pattern pulled her to the right into another large room. Now she could see with her mage sight the creature that needed help, a silvery body all tangled up in the strands.
Amber warily crept into the chamber. It was shadowed rather than pitch-black, with large dark objects set all over the floor. Her foot hit one with a hollow clang. A scent of soap and lavender wafted to her nose.
This is… the laundry?
As Amber blinked, the air took on a brownish quality. Tilting her head up, Amber could make out lines of light outlining the upper walls; she realized they were shutters.
She had certainly not expected anything this homey.
Amber crept between the laundry tubs towards the silver body still twitching in the pattern. A huge contraption, comprised of cranks and wheels and rollers, loomed ahead. It looked like a torture device, but, after examining it for a moment, Amber decided it was an industrial-sized mangle.
She ducked around it and felt along the wall. Her questing hand found a wooden door, grasped a metal door knob. She twisted it and the door swung outwards, revealing a closet full of the smell of moth repellent, anti-mildew spells, and linens in disarray.
The silvery body was now revealed to be more of a large cocoon, split down the side, tangled in domestic spells whose provenance she recognized.
Stunning Spells again, she thought, disgusted. Once again creating havoc.
“You poor thing,” she crooned to the hapless creature. In the dim, she made out crumpled silver-dusted wings and delicate legs. Whatever it was, she was sure the creature was harmless. She couldn’t explain how she knew, just that the feeling was bone-deep.
Please help. The whisper caressed her cheek.
“Of course.” Amber set to work at the offending spells. “I’ll have you out in a—”
A movement on her periphery. Amber spun around to face it.
A wave of darkness lunged across the floor and leapt at her.
Author’s Note: Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! This peppermint mocha-fueled episode was written in Peet’s Coffee & Tea, where I sought refuge from the cold and dark while my daughter was at her barn. It was definitely a more cheery setting than the one Amber found herself in!
Thank you so much for reading this serial! I hope you’re enjoying it. Please feel free to tell others about it, if you think they’ll enjoy it. You can share this FB post, if you’re on that platform. 🙂