A cold breeze blew by, and gray fog blanketed the ground. Tall Stone walls laid out before them endlessly into the distance. Zero looked down upon the intricate Maze on top of the cliff. The Maze was long and far as the eye could see; even he wondered how they would make their way in without getting lost.
“How are you going to do this?” Agnis asked. She walked up next to him and placed her hands on her hips.
“I don’t know,” Kiyro replied. He wasn’t sure how they would even find the boss in the intricate Maze before them. He wondered how long it would take to look through for the correct route.
“Is the maze moving?” Agnis squinted and scanned the large Maze that seemed to cover the horizon. “I think it is. Look. It’s changing.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Zeraph spoke. He was not pleased with the outcome they were getting themselves into. “No one told us the maze changes. This is going to take a while.”
“Hopefully not.” Zero replied. Already this was becoming a difficult problem in itself. They would be stuck in the Maze for eternity if he did not find a solution.
“Do you have a plan?”
“No. Not yet. Bob. Do you know the way through the Maze?”
Bob came forward, rubbing his hands in worry. “No. I only know that the maze changes daily, and a new route is opened. I only heard about the Maze of Geruem and never entered it before.”
“This isn’t good.” Zeraph folded his arms in discontent. “We can’t just walk in there without knowing what’s happening inside.”
“I know, but what choice do we have?” Zero was not thrilled about the answer to the outcome either. He hoped the Maze would be easy in and out, but nothing was easy. “On the bright side, the highest chance that we gotta get through the maze is Bob directing it himself.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Everyone was shocked to hear what Kiyro had said. To put blind faith into an NPC was unheard of.
“No. Think about it. Who has the highest luck? It’s none of us.”
“Zero got the point,” Jack was leaning on his battle hammer. He warmed up to Zero’s idea. “The game does have a set rule, especially when luck is needed at this moment. Passing through the Maze without getting lost is a bit difficult. We don’t have a single map or hints telling us how to make it through. Think about it; Leprechauns have it hands down on being the luckiest magical creature in the game. So far that we know of.”
“You got the point, but this is ridiculous. Going in without a plan.”
“This is the plan,” Kiyro answered. The possibility of putting his trust in an NPC with the highest luck was not a gamble. So far, he had seen Bob in action. Bob had shown them the shortest way to defeat evil Magician Mano; their village gave him a four-leaf clover with a high luck status; still, Bob had not died or got hurt. One could consider it a miracle that Bob was still alive. It wouldn’t make sense that such magical creatures didn’t have an unusually high level of luck with them; in reality, Leprechauns are considered one of the luckiest creatures.
“Actually, I might have one.” Zero raised his hands to catch their attention. “The Maze in the Minotaur reminds me of the Greek mythology of Theseus. Isn’t the game of Growth made with many mythological creatures from different cultures?”
“Wait, it wasn’t just the Norse Mythology that the game was heavily focused on?” Jack asked.
“No.” Agnis replied, “He’s right. The monsters, creatures, and gods are not just one group. Right now, the predominant gods are from Norse Mythology. Think of the Fire Continent, a melting pot of different religions squished into one territory. After the Second Stage went into effect, I had heard and seen new gods and disciples appearing around the edge of the Electric Continent. If we think on that line, it will make sense where this Minotaur in a maze came from.”
“You remember the golden ball of yarn that the princess Ariadne gave Theseus to help him get out of the maze.”
“Yea, but this is a maze that changes every day. How would a ball of yarn help us out in this situation?”
Zero went ahead first without answering. Then, walking down the pathway that leads straight to the Maze’s entrance, Zero walked up towards one of the stone walls. He stopped while his friends surrounded him, wondering what he would do. Searching through his bag, Zero pulled out the Golden Chalk the elder Leprechaun gave him. Carefully, Zero drew a ball of yarn threaded into a large needle the size of his forearm.
Even though his drawing was not considered complex, he could draw what he needed. In a shimmer of light, the ball of yarn threaded into the large needle slowly changed into a three-dimensional object and fell to the ground.
“A ball of yarn and a needle?” Agnis asked, confused, what Zero would do. “How is this going to help us?”
Zero did not reply and picked up the magical yarn and needle.
Golden Yarn threaded
Created from Golden chalk. The golden yarn is endowed with endless yarn until it is cut by the drawer. One end of the yarn is already threaded into the needle. An indestructible yarn. It can only be used once. Once cut, the yarn will disappear. Only the drawer may handle the golden needle.
The Golden chalk (rare)
Magical chalk can bring to life a drawing on the ground giving it magical properties. Its powers are unknown. How it was made is a mystery in itself. The magical chalk can only be used three times before it breaks. Use it wisely, for there is no other chance to bring it back to life.
“Bob came here.” Zero motioned Bob in front of him. He was amazed at the status of the ball of yarn and needle. He quickly got to work with his plan. He picked up the golden needle off the ground and stabbed it into the ground. Bob came forward wondering what Zero wanted.
“Hold your hands up for a second.” Zero searched for the other end of the yarn and pulled it out.
“Like this?” Bob raised his arms. Zero bent over and tied the end of the yarn around Bob.
“I see!” Agnis chuckled. “You’re going to use Bob as a lifeline.”
“Then what about the needle you just stuck into the ground?” Alan walked over towards the golden needle that was embedded into the ground. He reached over and tugged hard on the golden needle. “What?” Grunting, he tried to pull out the needle from the ground. “How? It’s completely stuck.”
“Really?” Jack went over to Alan. “Move aside. You should let a dwarf handle something like this. Even though we are small, we are known for our bountiful strength.” Jack rubbed his hands with a thudding of his hammer falling onto the ground. He grabbed the end of the needle. Then, with a heavy breath, he pulled hard with all his strength.” Why I never-” Each word was heavy with strain. Zero could see nerves bulging out of Jack’s neck.
“Give it up. At least for now, no one can pull the needle out. Isn’t that good enough?” Zero asked. He couldn’t help but grin. He felt more confident than before with his plan in motion.
“Okay.” Jack huffed and puffed from trying to pull out the needle, “It’s all good. We can move on. This might actually work.”
“We’re counting on you, Bob,” Zero patted Bob on the back. This was a slim chance, but having a lucky creature like Bob could help them get through the Maze with less chance of getting harmed. “We need to keep Bob safe. Without him, we might be stranded inside the Maze without finding a way towards our goal.”
“I guess it’s worth a try. Logic in-game seems to be thrown out the window anyways,” Zeraph shrugged.
“Lead the way. We trust your judgment.”
“Yes!” Bob said with enthusiasm. His eyes sparkled with deep appreciation towards Zero.
Intimacy with Bob has increased by 100.
Bob entered first with bold steps; Zero followed closely behind him, watching for potential dangers. Zeraph and Agnis were on Bob’s right side, while Alan and Jack were on Bob’s left. They carefully walked, watching out for potential harm.
A loud rumbling sound could be heard as they noticed the entrance being closed. The golden string that was laid out changed direction leading to a different exit.
“Are we locked in?” asked Alan. He squirmed uncomfortably at the thought of being locked in the large Maze.
“No, the walls just shifted directions.” Zero replied. He walked towards the wall and placed his hands, wondering if it was an illusion or reality. “Our only option now is to move forward.”
“Then what about our exit?” Alan asked. “All I see is the golden thread going in the opposite-” He became quiet and understood where the golden thread was leading.
“He’s our lifeline. The golden thread will not be destroyed, so don’t worry.” Kiyro grinned. He patted Alan’s shoulder, reassuring him everything was going to be okay.
“You heard him. Let’s go.” Zeraph said with a loud voice to snap the people’s attention. Bob was already walking ahead of them.
Zero gave the stone wall one last look and turned around towards Bob. Even though he knew the gold yarn had shifted direction towards a different approach, he still felt like the exit was right in front of him. He walked behind Bob as they twisted and constantly turned for hours. Everything looked the same; nothing changed as they went deeper. Time passed as they continued on their journey.
“This is going to drive me crazy just looking at the wall,” Jack grumbled.
“At least we haven’t had a dead end yet,” Agnis replied. She, too, was getting impatient walking through the endless Maze. “What else could be living here to be so boring? I thought there would be some kind of monster hunting we could be doing in here, so we don’t get bored out of our mind.”
“Aaaaah!” A male’s voice called out, sobbing loudly.
“You had to ask.” Zeraph stared at her for speaking out too soon. Agnis shrugged it off as if it was nothing.
Zero and his group bolted towards the sound and noticed a small handful of soldiers fending off a couple of two-legged goat-like monsters. The monsters had a humanoid torso and an ox face on their hind legs. They were the size of a fully grown human male. With his telepathy skill, he was able to get a name. Red Minotaur, but no other information had appeared before his screen.
“We need to save them!” Zero ran forward first.
“Are you out of your mind!” Zeraph called out and ran behind him.
“No. We need them.” Zero’s hands were already on the sword’s hilt, ready to pull out and strike like a viper.
“Is this the Minotaur we are supposed to slay?” Jack asked as he was in the middle of the battle, hammer against ax. “This is the boss, right?”
“I don’t think so.” Zero slashed at the back of the Red Minotaur. It screamed a bellowing yell from the pain and turned angrily towards Zero. Then, swinging its ax, it charged toward him.
The air shifted sharply as an arrow whizzed past him and embedded itself squarely in the bulking chest of the Red Minotaur. Zero glanced over his shoulder and saw Agnis knocking another arrow into her bow. The Minotaur roared and swung towards Zero’s head.
Ducking under the ax, he rushed in and sliced horizontally across the Minotaur’s stomach. Then, taking quick steps out of harm’s way, he maneuvered to the Minotaur’s back. Lightning-fast strikes were continuously dealt without stopping, and finally, the Minotaur stumbled and fell dead on the ground.
The second Minotaur was upon the cowering soldiers on the floor, their eyes full of dread. Zeraph ran forward and hopped on the Minotaur’s back, slashing furiously like a madman. In seconds the Minotaur fell onto the floor dead.
“That wasn’t too hard,” Jack replied without breaking a sweat.
“What are you guys doing out here?” Zero walked forward up towards the three soldiers on the ground, ashamed.
“We were sent here to slay the Minotaur that inhabits these walls, but days went on, and our numbers slowly dwindled to only three. Hundreds of the soldiers disappeared while wandering through the Maze. Every turn we make, the more we can not find where we once were.” The haggard-looking soldier replied with sadness and grief. “We don’t know how to get out of here nor where the Minotaur who rules this Maze resides. Please, can we come with you?”
“Sure. The more, the merrier.” Zero replied. “We were heading towards the Minotaur anyways. If you ever want to escape, this golden yarn should lead you to the exit.”
“We can not thank you enough.” Their eyes sparkled with hope. “We will follow you till we slay the Minotaur. You have truly given us hope once again.” They gladly spoke with enthusiasm. Zero could already see the once gone vitality come back with full force. “My name is Tom. This is Eron and Evan. They are twins.”
“Nice to meet you. How long have you guys been stuck here?” Agnis asked. Curious about their answer.
“We think it has been over a year,” Tom replied.
“A year!” Agnis gasped and was shocked at the answer that Tom had given him. “How did you even survive?”
“There is edible food and water in this Maze. You could say they are pockets of Oasis that seem to grow fruits and waterholes in the area.”
“Who sent you guys for this mission?” Jack asked; he leaned on his battle hammer.
“The King of the City of Diadem. Every month, he sends new soldiers to the Maze to get rid of the Minotaur and take the Golden Eye, but not a single soldier has returned for the past five years.” Tom said with sadness. “We all knew that coming here was more of an exile and a death sentence. All the soldiers that come to this Maze are convicts or people that the King does not want near him.
“I see.” Zero put away his sword. He was now even more suspicious of the King. But now it all made sense. The King sent him here not for the deal with the Drezo Regalia but possibly more on the side of getting rid of him so they could take back the Draconis Library. This infuriated Zero; his drive to complete this quest was even higher than before.
“At first, the King’s favorite soldiers with great backgrounds and standing were sent. Then when no news came of conquering the Maze, he became desperate and sent out people who are just as desperate as he who would want a second chance in getting back their honor.”
“That would make sense,” Zero grumbled underneath his breath. He was not too thrilled about being tricked so easily. He would show that wretched King that he had accomplished an impossible feat. “We will slay the Minotaur and gain back our honor. I am certain we will accomplish this task.”
“You sound so confident,” Tom stated with awe. “How are you so confident you would find the Minotaur that guards this Maze?”
Zero grinned. “We have a secret weapon. Bob here will lead us the way. He knows the way around. We must guard him till we find the Minotaur and stay alive. You guys can do that, right?”
“Yes!” The soldiers said in joyful unison.
“That’s great. Show us the way, Bob!”
“Yes, Sir!” Bob saluted and went forward.
Agnis came up next to Zero and whispered to him. “Are you sure that was a good idea to tell them about Bob? Bob’s still a wild card.”
“I know, but you saw hope brought back into those soldiers’ eyes. What we need now is more people to protect Bob. We don’t know what else is in this Maze, and our chance of survival increases by three more.”
“Well, it’s your call.”
Zero quietly thought of what he said. He knew that the NPC had only one chance in life in this game. He could not haphazardly waste them away in this game, but at the same time, Zero only had one chance to get through this Maze and succeed.
Bob continued to lead them deeper into the Maze through their constant twists and turns. The number of Minotaurs increased in random fights, and even at times, they were lucky enough to meet up with more lost soldiers that wandered aimlessly. Their small group increased in size from ten, twenty, and up to forty.
Each new group of lost soldiers they had met added new additions of different classes that helped grow them into an efficient team. Mages and priests were found, giving Zero’s group an edge in combat. Truly, Zero felt he had invested correctly in allowing Bob to take the lead. They were finding more and more straggling NPC soldiers that normally one would not be able to meet.
Zero was commanding a small platoon that followed diligently behind them. The archers were in the middle of the group with the healers and magicians, while the soldiers with high offensive ability defended them.
“Move back! Don’t let the Red Minotaur kill you. If you are about to die, come back and get yourself healed.” Zero yelled out towards the soldiers, attacking a large group of Red Minotaurs in front of them. They were cornered on both sides and could not break through without destroying the Red Minotaurs. No more were they fighting, just a couple, but now in groups of tens and even more.
The injured soldiers hobbled backward while another soldier replaced their spot. The priest began chanting their healing spells, helping recuperate the wounded soldiers.
Agnis shot with the archers creating a free-falling rain of arrows. The Red Minotaurs turned into live pincushions and stumbled and fell dead. Zeraph was busily fighting with the soldiers in the front, while Jack was fighting and holding off the back with another group of soldiers. It was becoming a fierce battle of dominance, with the battle going back and forth as the Red Minotaurs tried to break through.
Alan was given the task of making sure to keep Bob alive. Even though Alan did not have powerful skills like Jack, Agnis, Zeraph, and Zero, he did have one skill that kept Bob alive. Merchant’s Will is a contract between two people where one can temporarily keep the contractor alive by throwing money or other materials as a distraction, allowing them to escape. For Red Minotaurs, it was the color red. Anything with red was the perfect distraction that allowed a moment’s distraction. Having a large stash of painted red dolls that he was going to sell was used at a moment’s notice to save both their lives at times when the Minotaurs broke through.
Zero saw that off in the distance, another large group of Red Minotaurs was rushing towards the back where Jack and his small group of soldiers were fighting. At this rate, the back would be overrun in seconds, leading to a complete wipe-out of his group. Splitting up his small band in half was already pushing the limits; now, the arrival of more enemies would make it difficult to keep the balance of his group in check.
“Keep them back!” Zero yelled. The time was now to shape-shift into his Origin form. He had kept in his human form for one reason only, to use it when the need desperately arises. Throughout the beginning, his group could fend off the Red Minotaurs without trouble. They all have started to feel the battle tactics that Zero had come up with and even allowed him to take command.
With his bones breaking, he could feel himself shifting into his Origin form. Next, his slender black neck and tail, sharp teeth, and claws could shred through rocks and metal, and finally, his large body was slightly bigger than an elephant.
Zero’s intimidation skill went into effect with a bellowing roar, stunning all Red Minotaurs in fear, while his teammates cheered and roared with him. Their morale was boosted at the sudden appearance of Zero’s dragon form; the soldiers they saved were in awe of him, even though they were shaken to the bones by Zero’s roar.
“About time,” Jack yelled out. “Here, I thought you would be dozing off to sleep or something. You couldn’t shift sooner?”
“I was just waiting for the right time.” Zero ran forward towards the stunned Red Minotaur. He blew a jet of fire that crackled and burned upon impact. The Red Minotaurs screamed in pain and rushed forwards toward him. With a swipe of his tail, Zero sent the Red Minotaur flying towards another, crashing into each other in a loud thud.
“That’s more like it,” Jack spoke in glee. He hammered down another Minotaur with a couple of the other soldiers. They wiped out the Minotaur in seconds.
Zero continued to blow torrents of fire, creating a wall behind the Red Minotaur that his group was fighting. This gave Zero’s group time to wipe out the remaining Red Minotaurs before getting swarmed by more. Instead, Zero went forward and fought the oncoming Red Minotaur. Like a cat that found its new toy, he jumped around and slashed them, pushing them backward. Each fire and strike of his claws slowly started to dwindle in numbers.
“Keep them back a little longer Zero. We almost finished them off.” Jack had swung his battle hammer diagonal towards the Red Minotaur’s head. Then, with a sickening thud, the Red Minotaurs crumpled to the ground dead.
“Already ahead of youuuuu.” With a large blow of spewing fire, Zero blew directly into a Red Minotaur’s face, and with a swing of his bladed claw, he ripped through skin and bones.
Zero’s battle was with a burning fire surrounding him like a tornado. The cackling firepower that took longer to burn out than a normal fire made the Red Minotaurs step back in unease. They did not want to step into the powerful swirl of fire, but at the same time, they had the urge to attack Zero. So the Red Minotaurs did not stop and instead pushed forward towards Zero.
When one fell from the blazing inferno, another took its place and ran towards Zero in a hurry to wipe out the cause of the fire. A Red Minotaur escaped the fire that blocked their path and growled with thundering breath. Its eyes glazed over like a madman and the Red Minotaur stomped his foot angrily. The Red Minotaur attacked horizontally towards Zero’s neck with a bellowing cry.
Zero’s claws stopped the old brownish ax with dried blood. He was not as nimble as when he was in his human form, but what he lacked in speed, he had power. It didn’t take long for Zero to push back the Red Minotaur towards the burning fire. The clapping of the hooves of the Red Minotaur dug deeply into the ground, trying hard to push forward.
Zero pushed with all his might; their tug of war battle slowly slipped in favor of him. He wondered how strong his strength would become as he got older and older. His claws finally crushed the ax into thousands of pieces as it crumpled onto the ground. The Red Minotaur huffed in surprise and lost its balance forward, giving Zero a chance to attack. He did not hold back and instead dove headfirst towards the Red Minotaur. Biting and ripping apart skin and bones, the Red Minotaur fell dead on the ground.
Jack ran to his side with his battle hammer in hand, and the small group of soldiers they had picked up followed closely behind him. The soldiers leveled up quickly and efficiently; from a level of 100, they had all leveled up to 122.
By Zero’s guess, he expected the Red Minotaur to be around level 150 or even higher. Jack, Agnis, and Zeraph each commanded their own troops.
Jack and Zeraph split up the large group of melee attackers, each having ten in their group, while Agnis led the eight magicians and seven healers. Zero was the one that moved from one group to another, directing them and even updating his teammates on what was going on at each other’s end.
“We just finished taking care of our side. We need to rest up and regroup. The Red Minotaurs had already injured half of my team. At this rate, we will lose them.” Jack replied while swinging his battle hammer downwards onto the Red Minotaur’s feet.
“Tighten your attack and watch each other’s backs. I’ll be drawing three-fourth of them to me, while the rest, you guys need to pick them off quickly,” Zero jumped towards a Red Minotaur with outstretched claws. His claws went past the raised ax that feebly attempted to stop Zero’s attack but failed.
“Got it!” Jack swung his battle hammer like a bat, and the impact caused the charging Red Minotaur ax to shatter. Sometimes Zero wondered if Jack practiced baseball by the way he swung his battle hammer. However, almost half his attacks seemed to have that baseball stance when batting.
Jack’s group swiftly took out the Red Minotaurs one by one, while Zero aggravated a good third of the Red Minotaurs. He had to run around and use fire to keep them at bay. He had to be very careful not to be overrun by the Red Minotaurs, or he would lose his health quickly and die.
Zeraph’s group finally finished picking off the rest of the Red Minotaurs and joined in on Jack’s battle. The Red minotaurs were slowly whittling down and finally defeated. With a loud cheer, the remaining soldiers yelled with happiness. Even though they were at the beginning area of the Maze, they have successfully defended and grew stronger together.
Zero was happy to see that the soldiers that joined his group were leveling up with them; even though their levels were lower than Zero’s group, they were a great asset in this endless Labyrinth. Without their help, they would have gotten overrun in several battles. As a result, not only did the soldiers become stronger, the battles between the Red Minotaur slowly became easier to deal with. With a pleased smile, Zero wondered if he would gain any rewards for bringing back the soldiers that were stuck in this endless Maze. He couldn’t wait to see the stupid King’s face when he brought the treasure and the lost soldiers.
With a grin, Zero finished off the last Red Minotaur with his jaws. Then, zero’s group continued forward into the endless Labyrinth.
August 1, 2054. Saturday. 5:00pm
The days passed, and Zero and his group were still stuck in the giant Maze. They have fought thousands of Red Minotaurs through the endless Maze. They fought, rested, and pushed forward. Zero wondered when the endless Maze would ever let up; the grueling walk through the Maze was becoming monotonous. He felt like they had been stuck in the Maze for years.
The real problem that constantly cropped up was the shortage of food. Feeding the soldiers to keep their stamina was cutting a large chunk of Kyros’ food stash. Unfortunately, he did not have enough to feed everyone, but luckily for him, they stumbled upon a couple of Oasis through the Maze. There were fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, and even fish.
Zero and his small group sat around a small oasis. Small trees gave great shade, a large body of water, and even bountiful wildlife that came and went throughout the day. The smell of grilled fish drifted through the air as loud, boisterous laughs could be heard.
“Gah. Miss, you make the most delicious food ever.” Tom replied with a satisfied face. He was chewing on grilled fish.
“She’s a genius. I’ll tell you. I have never had such a delicacy before coming from a fish.” Eron raised the grilled fish towards Agnis in honor of her making such delicious food.
Agnis had cooked food for everybody. That included about 150 soldiers plus Zero’s group. What
amazed Zero was her ability to cook for everyone without much help. Her skill with cooking was already on par with a professional.
Zero had to agree that the food that Agnis made was an exquisite delicacy that he rarely ate. It wasn’t until he was partying with Agnis that he could eat such delicious food. However, the best part of her cooked food was the added bonus that came with it. The fish he had taken a bite out of gave him twice the normal stamina, while the coconut drink he had next gave him temporary strength points.
He was glad that Agnis was with them, especially at times like these when long adventures had a high chance of food running short. So while Zero searched and identified for food, he gave them to Agnis to cook. She had made some interesting dishes that he had never seen before.
Spicy-tailed lizard, cactus bomb juice, and sweet coconut grilled fish. At first, he was skeptical about trying the tailed lizard, but once he tried it, no words could describe its tangy flavor.
“So delicious,” Jack replied. His face was stuffed full of grilled fish and spicy-tailed lizard. Zero wondered how Jack would swallow such a large mouthful in one gulp for a moment.
“Wow. Where did you learn to cook like this?” Alan asked. Zero thought he saw a tear of happiness drop from his eyes for a moment. “You’ll make a wonderful wife. Your husband would never starve.”
Agnis blushed red, cleaning up her knives, pots, and pans. She then stored it away in her Zenith pouch. “I had some spare time.” Her voice was low, almost like a whisper.
“Not bad.” Zeraph was eating slowly and in small bites. Even when Zeraph was eating, Kiyro could see that he had kept himself from spilling or making a mess. Now that he had thought about it, he had never seen Zeraph have a single stain on his clothes or face. A complete neat freak to the end. “Do you know how to make spring rolls?”
“Yes. I actually do. Bring me the recipe, and I can make it next time.”
“I’ll do just that.” Zeraph finished his meal. “Zero, how long do you think we are till our destination? This quest is taking a bit too long for comfort.”
“Well.” Zero thought it over. From the progress they were making, he assumed they were possibly a good three-fourths of the way through, but because the Labyrinth moved, he wasn’t even sure. “Honestly, I don’t know.” He felt lost and defeated. The dreary walls of the Labyrinth started to get to him. These past few days, he was even dreaming about labyrinths.
“How many small Oasis have we come across?”
“Five this past week.”
“Did you notice that not each one is similar?”
“I actually did as well.”
“Really?” Jack rubbed his dwarven belly. Then, he leaned back and began to pick his teeth with a toothpick. “I thought we were going around in circles throughout this whole time.”
“No, the trees’ placement and number and the water’s shape are vastly different. Even the animals that came to the drinking fountain changed. It’s not as apparent if you’re not paying close
attention.” Zero replied. “The first Oasis we came across was a small watering hole the size of a
football field with twelve palm trees. The animals that came by were dessert rabbits. The second Oasis has double the amount of trees and water. However, the animals were still the same. The third Oasis had twenty palm trees, three times the watering hole, and the animals tended to be fish and gazelles, desert foxes, and even rabbits. The fourth one had the same amount of trees and water, but there were predominantly camels. The final Oasis is this one, though the strange thing about it is that even though there are a lot of trees and even the watering hole is seven times larger, there are alligators but barely any grass-eating mammals. None of the other oases had carnivorous creatures as of yet.”
“You actually remember all that.” Jack was speechless. “Wow. I thought I had a good memory, but yours outclass mine.”
“Well, it’s just memorization. Nothing big.”
“You’re kidding me, right? Do you know how much people want that ability in school? It’s like a free pass to not study so hard for a test, and you could even ace everything without trying. The amount of playtime one could have,” said Jack enviously. “I would love to have such skills.”
“I don’t know. There are some downsides to being able to remember things indefinitely.”
“You won’t be able to ever forget. If you ever stumble on a murder case, the memory would
always be fresh and detailed in one’s mind.”
Jack went quiet. “I see. That is a problem.”
“There are always pros and cons to everything.” Zero knew this better than anyone. To gain a gift, one also gains the curse that follows right behind it. He could still remember freshly the day the two college students were murdered. How they looked, what pose they were in, the clothes they wore, and even the minuscule details. It still shivers every time he remembers the man in the mask, Angel.
He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. He did not want to remember such a scene again. The only thing he could do was push back the thoughts deep into his mind. Even though he could not forget, all he could do was ignore it as best as he could.
“So are you saying we are getting close, or are you just throwing out a theory?” said Jack.
“We are getting close. When I was scouting around for a bit, I found some human bones sticking out of the ground near the large boulder over there.”
“What?” Jack, who was leaning back comfortably, bolted upright. “Human bones? Here?”
Zero nodded. “There wasn’t just one, though.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“That could have been those crocodiles.” Alan sipped his drink. “You did say that they are crocodiles in the water.”
“Yes, but still. Think about it. The bones should be deep in the waters, not out in the open. These bones were not just one. I think there were more than ten. I also did find something else,” Zero rummaged through his Zenith pouch and pulled out an emblem. A small round emblem the size of Zero’s fist was shown. On it was the royal design of a lion ingrained in it. He passed it around for everyone to see.
“A coin?” Agnis was the first one to hold it. “It looks like it’s made of copper.”
Next was Jack. “You said this was from the pile of human bones. Did you find anything else?”
“Yes, but the armor and helmets are completely crushed and broken. There is no use in bringing them with me. It would have been a waste of bag space. I did think that this coin-looking thing might be of some use.”
“Hmm….” Alan took the coin from Jack. He took out a round magnifier glass and examined it.
“Does it have any value?”
“No. It’s made out of bronze. You won’t get anything if you sell this. I suggest you throw it away. It seems that it has odd dents on it. I don’t know if the coin was bitten down by a wild animal or something. I swear, though. I think I have seen this coin somewhere before.”
Zeraph inputted his opinion. “This is the royal guards’ token personally given by the king.”
“Royal guards token?” Everyone was surprised by Zeraph’s response.
“How do you know this?”
“I have seen some back at the castle. They’re like dog tags.”
“Zero, did you see anything else that seemed out of place when you checked?” asked Alan.
“Well,” Zero thought it over for a moment. “I found it kind of strange that tons of bones were present near the boulder. It was as if it was an old feeding ground. Also, there were some female clothes mixed in with it.”
“You don’t think it was the Minotaur, do you?” Alan shivered. “Think about it. It could be a man eating a monster.”
The soldiers that were listening to Zero’s conversation froze stiffly. Fear and worry filled their bodies. A couple of them had begun to whisper about the possibilities of the dead soldiers.
“Actually,” Eron cut in on their conversation. “There has been a strange rumor that the Minotaur is a man-eating monster.”
Everyone’s attention focused on Eron.
“Where did you hear that?”
“It’s a well-known legend that has been around for hundreds of years. Supposedly, the story goes that the past king had made a deal with the devil. He would give up his firstborn son’s soul for the innumerable wealth and power. The Kingdom of Terra has been going through a money crisis. The war with the Kingdom of Elements lasted for fifty years until the King finally summoned the devil. The moment the King had sealed the deal, the state of war had changed drastically. The King of Terra pushed the King of Element’s forces back to their country.” Eron breathed in deeply; his demeanor changed into sadness. “The King of Terra had drastically changed since he made the pact with the devil. His crimes were more heinous than any humans. He would indiscriminately kill men, women, and children alike. He took it even further and killed pure mythical creatures for pleasure. His crimes pile so high that the soil of Kingdom of Terra was drenched red with blood.”
“It was that bad?” Agnis asked. She was sipping on her drink, immersed in Eron’s story.
“Yes. When the devil came to take the firstborn son’s soul, the King gave him without remorse. The devil took the child of the firstborn and warped his soul and body into a monster: a minotaur. He became a monster that kills and eats the flesh of man. Ten years later, when the firstborn son was fully grown, he came to terrorize his father’s kingdom. His heart was black like a void, his anger so furious that it shook the heavens. Even his hunger was so unquenchable that he slaughtered and consumed thousands of humans for months. The cries of the dead were so fierce and heavy that even the gods intervened.”
“So, what did they do next?”
“Well, there are a couple of versions. The first was that the god Freya came down to slay the prince. Others stated that he was so powerful that a magical labyrinth was created to contain him in one place indefinitely. There is more evidence of it being the second case than Freya coming down to intervene.”
“Is the minotaur that powerful?” Agnis was not liking where the story was going.
“Well, if you go with the second version, then yes.”
“This could be a problem,” Agnis mumbled under her breath.
“All legends come from some sort of fact.” Zero replied. “All we know is that the Minotaur that lives in this Labyrinth is powerful. How powerful we won’t know until we face off with him.”
“I wish we never have to do that, but alas, we have no choice.”
“Wait. I have something I am interested in, though.”
“That is?” Eron waited for Zero’s question.
“How did the Golden Eye end up with the Minotaur in the first place?”
“Well, there was a rumor that a powerful talisman belonging to the King of Terra is here. The devil had supposedly stolen the powerful talisman from the King and hid it where even the King couldn’t reach it. From then on, the King was enraged by the demon’s deceptive nature that he promised himself that he would kill the demon one day and take back his royal right.”
“Well, my belly is finally stuffed. Why don’t we go ahead and finish up this quest? I’m getting tired of the long Labyrinth.” Jack replied. He got up and picked up his weapon. “The sooner we complete this quest, the sooner we get the rewards.”
“True, but isn’t it fun to go out adventuring with everyone?” Agnis asked happily. “I want to enjoy every minute of this qu-“
Bong! A loud gong-like sound could be heard off in the distance. Birds that rested flew out in a frenzy. The animals drinking by the water hole bolted away in fright. The metal walls of the Labyrinth had begun to move. The labyrinth contraption could be heard as a metal ground against each other.
Bong! Bong! Bong! The sound was getting louder and louder. Everyone bolted up and quickly packed their belongings. They did not know what this odd gong-like sound was nor what could be coming their way.
“What the hell is that?” Zeraph had his hands on his sword. Eve walked up next to him. She raised her hand to cover from the sunlight and squinted off to see off in the distance.
“I’m not liking this at all.”
“Do you think it’s the Minotaur?” Alan whispered.
“If it is, this would be a great chance to beat it and for us to get out of this wretched place,” Jack replied. He tapped his fingers nervously on his weapon. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m ready for action.”
“Are you sure about that?” Zero asked. He could see Jack nervously shaking.
“Yea. What do you think I am, a coward?”
Bong! The sound got even closer, but nothing came out from the three exits of the Labyrinth maze.
“We should go check it out,” said Zero. Even though he did not like to find trouble, this could be the boss monster they were looking for.
“You serious? You want to fight whatever it is in the narrow space of the Labyrinth?” Alan was not too thrilled with Zero’s decision. “We’ll be picked off easily. We should fight in this open space instead.”
“I don’t think the Minotaur would gallantly waltz in here.”
“How are you so sure? You found the bones.”
“They were old. I didn’t see any more than that. If the so-called Minotaur was once a man, he would not fight outside where he is easily exposed.”
“Then what are you saying we should go do?”
“We go hunting and draw him out.”
“Gah. I shouldn’t have asked.”
“If you remember, the Labyrinth shouldn’t even shift till midnight, but don’t you hear the gears shifting earlier? So it would make sense if they try to keep the Minotaur inside the Labyrinth by shifting the walls near him more frequently, or he would get out.”
“Well, that is a different way to think of it, but it could be bad for us too.”
“True, but right now, this is the only clue we got. Let’s finish this so we can get out of here.”
“You’re right. I’m starting to forget why we have come here in the first place. This place makes you feel like we’ve been living here for years.” Alan sighed. He placed his hands on his hips. “So which way should we go?”
“The one towards the North.” Zero pointed towards one of the three exits. “The sound seems to be coming from that direction.”
“Well, then you heard the man. Let’s go!”
Zero’s small force moved forward towards their exit. The soldiers mumbled, wondering what could cause such a sound. Finally, they entered through and continued walking towards the
Bong! Krank! Kash!
The entrance was suddenly closed behind them, and the walls shifted again. Everyone stopped and came together so they would not split apart. The walls moved to the right, opening up a new path.
“I hope you’re ready for Zero.” Zeraph was next to him. He was on full alert.
“I am.” Zero quietly stated. He waited for the walls to completely stop before he walked forward towards their new destination.