Chapter Nine: The Endless Maze
The darkness jiggled impatiently.
I couldn’t see anything. I tried to move. It felt completely wrong. I was upside down. I was sideways. None of my arms or legs were where I’d left them. My left foot was on top of my head. My right thumb was riding a roller coaster ten meters to my left.
I pulled hard, trying to get my body back under control. But that just made everything go even crazier. I struggled wildly, but it didn’t feel like I was even exerting my muscles. The movement just happened. When that didn’t help, I gave up and went limp, but it didn’t bring anything back to normal. I was still constantly spinning around, bouncing up and down, turning inside out.
What was this??
I had to get at least some idea of how this worked. So I tried moving just one finger just a tiny bit, and paying attention to what changed. That made my ankle spin around. I tried moving the finger in the other direction, and it tried to squeeze my neck into my ear. I moved it back the first way, and it spun my ankle again.
One by one, I tried some more of my muscles. At least each one of them did the same thing every time, even if it wasn’t what it was supposed to. So I kept searching, waiting to find ones that would make me spin less fast.
I found them, eventually. My big toe pulled my neck back out of my ear. My left eyebrow counteracted the spinning from my finger. It was a delicate balance, trying to slow down to an exact stop. I kept overshooting, and every time I overshot, I instinctively used the muscle that was normally the opposite, and that set something else out of whack again. But, slowly and unsteadily, I managed to get most of myself back under control.
Right when I felt like I knew what I was doing, everything exploded again. The smell of rotten fruit bounced and spiraled into my ear. Wailing sirens flipped over in my stomach. A kaleidoscope of unnameable colors rushed through the edges of my vision.
Like before, I tried to focus on one sensation at a time. But as soon as I spotted a fleck of a particular color I could recognize, it split again, into another whole miniature kaleidoscope of its own. When I thought I recognized the sound of the siren, the sound changed into a thousand-part harmony of howling and steam. I tried to understand the new sensations, and they split again and again, taking everything that seemed understandable and turning it into a chaos of confusion.
And just when I couldn’t take it anymore, when the sensations were about to overwhelm and break me, the Seeking God threw me into the world.
I tumbled onto a padded floor, my arms and legs suddenly coming back to me. I flopped and rolled until I was flat on my back, then stared up dizzily into… At first I thought it was another incoherent mess of color. But then I focused in on part of it, and it actually stayed looking how it looked.
Above me, below me, and in every direction around me, there were thousands of brightly colored shapes. Shimmering crystals dancing through the air. Pools of goo bubbling from the walls. Curving, multicolored walkways that waggled and twisted to absurd angles, making no distinction between floor, walls, and ceiling. Some of them rippled and undulated, looking like a real challenge to stand or walk on. In other places, hanging spheres swung wildly across the space, shimmering and flashing as they caught the light. And everything felt so close to me. I felt like I could just jump up and land on any of the walkways I wanted.
I jumped up and spun through the air, landing somewhere that had been upside down when I started. I laughed and jumped again, grabbing and swinging from a giant wheel. It was like one giant playground. As soon as I saw anything, I wanted to reach out and touch it, roll across the rippling floors, swing between the high arches, hang upside down and spin and slide on every surface.
And every time I looked behind a section of wall, there was another room as chaotic as the first. Or was it the same room? Space itself was tied in knots. I could step around a pillar and find myself on the other side of the room, or look through a window and see the back of my own head. I climbed up on a swinging platform, only to see that the platform had a bottomless pit on top of it. The pit was endlessly deep, even though I could look right under the platform and see a regular floor there. But funnily enough, the pit didn’t really feel like it stretched off into infinity. It was still bottomless, but somehow, it looked like the whole depth of the pit was right here, right in front of me. Just an infinite hole right at the tips of my fingers.
So this was the Seeking God’s world. The Endless Maze.
There were three different meanings of “the Endless Maze”. This layer of the Otherworld was the original Endless Maze. But the Seeking God’s symbol was also called the Endless Maze – that little symbol of paths wrapping in on each other, a knot with no end or beginning. And, metaphorically, “the Endless Maze” meant, like, your journey through life, with all its twists and turns. As in “how in the Endless did I end up like this?”
How did I end up like this? This place was awesome, and I still couldn’t wait to see what was behind every corner, but… something was missing. And every time I saw a glimpse of myself in the distorted space, it just rubbed it in a little more.
I was alone.
Up to this point, I had never been completely alone. But now, I was in a new layer, and there was no one here.
She wasn’t here.
I felt my blood pounding right behind my eyes. I’d had her right in front of me! Why didn’t I do anything? I had just given her a half-assed kiss goodbye and stepped into that portal like I knew what I was doing. But I didn’t! Now I felt like there was a hole ripped right out of my heart, like I’d missed my chance at her and now it was gone forever.
Also, I could picture her right in front of me, so why was I drawing a blank when trying to think of her name?
I was sure I’d used her name loads of times before. I’d go “Hey Yali!!” – Right. Her name was Yali. But it didn’t feel right. Like, that wasn’t the word I was trying to think of. The word I was trying to think of was a lot more like, more like…
A chill shot through me. So these were the Blood God’s thoughts. Or, not the whole Blood God, but the part of the god that was woven into me, the part that was reduced to mortal comprehension. Even the phrase “the Farseer” hadn’t felt quite right, but it felt a lot better, as if it was, like, pretty close to the same meaning. As if there was some purer, godly word for the Farseer that I couldn’t think of. And that purer word, whatever it was… it was full of contempt.
“This is not me,” I said loudly. “It doesn’t matter what thoughts you try to put in my head. I know what you’re doing, and I’m not going to put up with it.”
Nothing answered me. Not sure what I was expecting.
Well, if the Blood God wanted me to feel torn up about it, I wasn’t going to. “Okay, so maybe Yali isn’t here now, but I’ll have plenty more chances. I mean, me and Yali, we’re gonna be together forever! Someday I’ll be eighty, and she’ll be eighty-one, and if there’s anything we forget to do now, we can just do it then!” I felt kind of like I was lying to myself, stepping on my own toes just to spite the god. But it did make me feel better.
Either way, though, I did want to go find Yali. I had no idea where she was, but at least I could try looking around. I started hunting through the chaos for a way to actually get somewhere, instead of just looping back on myself. The Blood God seemed happy enough with that.
It was a real mind screw. I tried going to the furthest corners of the room I was in, but they all just looped back on each other. If space didn’t work normally, any little spot in the middle of the room could have been the exit. So I searched everywhere. I pulled open a trapdoor, but it dumped me back in the same room, just with the colors inverted. Then I noticed that, on the underside of the trapdoor, there was another trapdoor. That trapdoor went… somewhere completely different.
Now we were getting somewhere. I jumped through. My vision was suddenly filled with blackness – a huge empty space like the bottomless pits from the earlier. A jumble of blocky shapes and ladders hovered in front of me, stretching into the blackness, each one floating in space with nothing holding it up. It was like a giant obstacle course, and if I missed a jump, I’d fall into a pit. It didn’t actually feel scary, though. Like before, it felt more like someone had just painted a bottomless pit onto a floor that was right under the shapes. So I eagerly started jumping and swinging across.
The first bit was easy. But then, as I jumped from a floating block to a spinning platform, the world suddenly zoomed off sideways. The direction of gravity had changed while I was in midair! I flailed as I fell into infinite space. But I had scarcely fallen by a meter when I found myself landing on my hands and knees back at the beginning of the obstacle course.
It turned out I could try the course as many times as I wanted. Each time I fell into a pit, I just landed back at the beginning. It took me a few more tries to get the next jump right, picking the right angle and timing to compensate for the gravity change. I ended up jumping off the edge of one big block, then landing on the side of the same block, which was now acting like a floor. Now everything was sideways. What had been a ladder earlier was now a set of monkey bars.
I paused to catch my breath and look at what was up ahead.
Everything was leading up to a golden exit door, hovering in the distance. Maybe that would get me closer to Yali! But before that, there was everything you could think of – slides, nets, spinning wheels, ropes that dangled in impossible directions, platforms that wobbled back and forth, stretches of empty space with only tiny handles to hang onto.
Each challenge seemed nearly impossible before I did it. There was a set of monkey bars that were so far apart I couldn’t reach between them even with my full arm span, but it turned out I could swing and grab the next one with my legs. Then there was a rope swing that looked awesome but actually sent me smacking right into the side of a big post, until I found just the right angle to swing off at. Then there was a set of huge overlapping wheels where I had to jump through without hitting any of the spokes. The first time I tried it, one of the spokes smacked into my stomach and knocked the wind out of me, then I fell onto another one that flung me off into space. By the time I made it to the final challenge, my arms and legs were sore and I had bruises all over me. It was the most fun I’d had in ages.
For the final challenge, I had to run along a narrow spiral through space to get to the golden exit door. Along the spiral, I had to literally jump through flaming hoops while dodging giant hammers and tricky floor tiles that were trying to flip my feet out from under me. If you’d shown me this the day before, I would’ve been like, “how the fuck do you expect me to do that?!”. But now that I’d made it past the rest of the obstacles, this last bit felt like it just might be possible.
Of course, I still screwed it up on the first try. I tried to be smart by paying attention to the floor tiles, because they were the ones that would trip me up when I wasn’t paying attention. But while I was doing that, I somehow managed to miss one of the giant hammers, and it promptly smacked me off into space. And the next moment I was tumbling onto the ground all the way back at the start. I was pretty pissed off. I really wanted to get to that exit. I jumped up right away and started the long process of getting to the final challenge again.
For about the thousandth time, I tripped over a flaming hoop and fell into space.
Once I was done swearing and putting out the fire on my pants, I sat down for a bit of a rest. I had been at this for ages. How long had it been? I pulled out my phone, which miraculously hadn’t gotten busted any of the times I fell on my ass.
The time didn’t look right. The phone said it was only fifteen minutes since when I’d started out. I felt like it had been way longer than that. Was time distorted somehow?
Then I looked closer. It wasn’t just fifteen minutes. It was two days plus fifteen minutes. I had been so caught up in the obstacle course that I’d never noticed how much time was going by. Especially since I could get away without eating or sleeping.
I had to finish this.
I was getting really close. Everything before the last bit was nearly routine now. My body was like a coiled spring, practically flying through space.
I leapt through a hoop, landing my feet in just the right place to not get tripped up. I ducked under a bar swinging at my head, then jumped over the bar swinging for my ankles right after it. I sprinted along a series of tiles that started falling away the instant I stepped on them.
I was almost there! The exit platform was surrounded by a gap of empty space I’d have to jump over, I’d just have to get to the closest point and make a leap for it. I sprinted for that point, keeping an eye out for –
A heavy bag smacked into my side, nearly knocking me off. Shit! I’d gotten here faster than usual, and it had thrown the timing off! I quickly got my balance, but there was another moving obstacle in my way, and I didn’t have time to wait for it before the floor would fall out from under me!
Running on instinct, I veered off to the side, running for the one spot that still gave me an angle on the exit. It wasn’t the best angle, but before anything could mess me up, I got to the edge and made my last giant leap for it. As my body sailed through the air, a hidden tripwire caught on my ankle, almost ruining everything. With a terrific effort, I wrenched my foot away from the wire, just fast enough for me to keep going and smack down onto the platform. And then – I was there. I was at the final door.
“YES!” I pumped my fist in the air. “I made it! No stupid tripwire can stop me!” With a flourish, I flung open the tantalizing exit door and stepped through to receive my reward.
It was another obstacle course, this one with water everywhere, full of spiral slides and upside-down whirlpools and crisscrossing columns of steam. On another day, I might have thought that was awesome. But all of a sudden, I wasn’t feeling it anymore. I slammed my fist into the doorpost. “Look, I did your fucking obstacle course, what more do you want?!” I yelled at the world. “You can’t just make me dance all day and expect me to put up with it! Give me Yali, you asshole!” Seriously, the Seeking God was fun, but it was basically my annoying younger sibling that never knew when to shut up. There were times when you had to get serious, but it always just stubbornly kept pulling tricks.
Wait a minute. I didn’t have a younger sibling.
I was getting better at recognizing the Blood God’s thoughts, I realized. So that was what it thought of the Seeking God? It wasn’t wrong, haha. Especially if you counted Morrow – Morrow was the Seeking God’s Raveller, and “never knowing when to get serious” described him perfectly.
What did the Blood God think of the other gods? I cleared my mind and tried to put myself in the same mental state I’d been in when I thought that stuff about the Seeking God.
I thought of the Stern God, and felt pain, hatred, resentment, and a firm heart saying this is not my real enemy. That was… interesting. I tried to think about it more, to figure out what it meant, but the feeling had passed. I had to give up for now.
I thought of the Broken God, and felt conflicting feelings, distance, and regret. A longing to be closer, but the certainty that I had stuff going on that would keep us apart.
I thought of the Waiting God, and felt KILL! MURDER! DO IT NOW, TEAR HER TO PIECES BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE –
“Look, I’m not going to killmurder anyone,” I said out loud. It hadn’t even literally been the words “kill” and “murder”, but it sure felt like that. I tried to probe the Blood God’s thoughts about a couple more things, but now that I had set it off, it didn’t want to think about anything but how mad it was. I tried to block it out and focus on the stuff that was in front of me.
Not that I was planning to do what the Seeking God wanted me to, either. Sure, normally, it would’ve been fun to dive into the whirlpools. But if I just dived in and had fun, I would be giving in. I refused to just roll over and let the god have its way.
So I stuck out my hands and manifested a boat. Or I thought I did. When I looked, there wasn’t anything there. I tried again, but still nothing. I tried for a bridge, and that didn’t work either. Could I manifest anything at all? I manifested a rock. That worked, but it wasn’t any use. I threw it into the water irritably.
I spent ages trying different things, piling up a heap of different manifested junk around me. It probably would’ve been quicker to just do everything the way I was supposed to, but I couldn’t stand the idea. But somehow, I could only manifest things that weren’t any use. Unless – if I could manifest rocks, I could eventually fill up the water by dumping a load of rocks into it. For a moment, I was excited that I had beaten the rules. But the next time I tried to manifest a rock, even that didn’t work!
Was the Seeking God reading my mind to stop me from cheating?!
That gave me an idea. I made a Blood Blade and extended it into a long pole, long enough to cross the water. I smirked. The Seeking God could stop my regular manifesting all it wanted, but it wasn’t allowed to stop the powers the Blood God gave me. So I made some more long Blood Blades and fused them into a bridge so I could walk across.
Cheating was a lot of work, but it sure was satisfying. I molded my blades into bridges, ladders, and staircases, painstakingly crossing from platform to platform. Eventually, I found this room’s exit door at the top of one of the walls. I was supposed to get there by opening floodgates to raise the water level a little at a time. Instead, I just made another ladder that went straight there.
I climbed through a hatch in the ceiling and found myself in another room, full of glowing ropes of light zigzagging through the air, with a whole mess of open doorways leading into dark tunnels on every wall.
“Heeyyyyyy!” yelled a voice. “Hey Rinn! Have you seen Raylie?!”
“Morrow!!” I yelled back. It was so good to see an actual person again, even if it wasn’t the one I wanted. I ran towards him and tackle-hugged him, sending us both tumbling. When we crashed into a few of the dangling ropes, it set the whole network swinging and flashing while the walls began to rotate.
Morrow twitchily untangled a rope that had wrapped around his arm. “Have you seen Raylie??” he repeated.
Morrow blinked. “Alchemist! Have you seen Alchemist??”
“Can’t you, uh, ‘smell’ them?” I said.
“She’s right… here!!” Morrow waved an arm around himself vaguely, not giving me any clue of where “here” was. “I can feel where she is! I know where I am! But where’s the way from here to there, huh? Huh??”
“No idea. I guess we could try going towards them –”
“She’s not that way or that way –” Morrow stabbed his finger in a couple of directions “– she’s that way!” He waved his arm vaguely.
“Whatever, you don’t understand. Come on!” Morrow rolled to his feet, waving for me to follow him. I jumped up and ran after him. He was probably just going to take me Seeking without a spark, but my other choice was to keep looking for Yali, and I didn’t have a spark for that either.
Morrow led me through one of the doors, probably picking it out at random. We weaved in and out between some floating curtains, quickly losing all sense of where we’d come from. Pushing past the dozenth curtain, we found ourselves in front of a huge wooden gate.
The gate didn’t have any handles on it. “How’re we going to open this?” said Morrow.
“The gate cannot be opened,” said a voice from nowhere.
Where had the voice come from? Thinking back, I wasn’t sure I had literally heard it with my ears at all. It was more just an idea that popped into my head.
“Did you hear that too??” said Morrow.
“Yeah, it must be in charge of the puzzle. I guess we’ve gotta do something that’s not opening it,” I said. I grinned and summoned a Blood Blade. “Bet it doesn’t count as opening it if you smash it to pieces –”
“The gate cannot be smashed to pieces,” said the voice. A shiny, translucent coating appeared over the whole gate. I tried smashing it anyway, but my blade just bounced off the coating.
“Now that’s just no fair!” I yelled. “You can’t change the rules after we’ve already started solving the puzzle!”
“No, no!” said Morrow excitedly. “It’s denying everything we say out loud –”
“Wait, that’s right! So I just won’t say it out loud –” I glared at the gate, then silently manifested a big ladder to climb over it with.
A dense row of spikes appeared at the top. “The gate cannot be climbed over.”
“You absolute cheater!”
Out of nowhere, Morrow yelled, “I’m going to stay on this side of the gate!”
“The gate cannot be stayed on this side of,” said the voice. An invisible force sucked us through the gate to the other side.
I spun around, trying to get my bearings. “That was the solution??” I demanded. “What the fuck, how was I supposed to know that was the solution?”
“Haha! Better luck next time!” Morrow ran on ahead. I hurried to keep up with him.
The next few things we ran into were more riddles like that one. There was a hallway that stretched out ahead of us as we tried to run along it, until Morrow tried running backwards. Then there was a room where the exit was in the ceiling, and my ladders kept falling over, but Morrow tried just walking up the wall and it worked. Then there was a weird-shaped key and a door with no keyhole, and the door opened when Morrow stuck the key in his mouth and swallowed it. It kept going and going like that. I was getting a little frustrated. I tried to help solve the riddles, but every time, Morrow just hyperactively tried random stuff until something worked. Why didn’t my hyperactively trying random stuff count for anything??
Right now, we were in a rectangular room where everything was a black-and-white checkerboard pattern. Or, not quite a checkerboard. It was all black and white tiles, but the tiles on the walls were more of a spiral pattern. I’d been staring at it, trying to find a meaning to the pattern, but I couldn’t see one. Morrow was just goofing off, and he was probably going to solve it before me, no matter how hard I was trying.
When I complained about it, Morrow said, “You can’t just try harder! You have to try stupider!”
“I am trying stupider!”
What was the point of me being here if I didn’t even get to solve anything? I should have just gone my own way to look for Yali! Irritated, I broke away from Morrow and stomped back out the door I’d come in through. But somehow, I ended up right in front of Morrow again, watching his stupid face chewing on a massive hunk of meat.
“Argh!!” I yelled. Morrow snickered. I slammed my fist into one of the tiles on the walls. The tile slid back into the wall. Next to me, a hidden door opened. “What the fuck? I’m not even trying, and I randomly hit a secret button?!”
“Told ya so!”
“Whatever!” I grabbed Morrow’s wrist and dragged him through the new door with me.
The next room was just an empty room, at first. The door at the other side was locked, of course. When I looked back, the door behind us also slammed closed and merged with the wall. Typical. In the middle of the room, two waist-high pedestals rose from the floor.
“Okay, fine,” I said. I stepped up to one of the pedestals, and it lit up and hummed. Then Morrow stepped up to the other pedestal, and the real game began.
The whole room lit up with carnival lights. The walls were covered with a projection of a farmyard scene. On the top of my pedestal, four icons appeared: a cow, a sword, a grand piano, and a spaceship. It looked like Morrow had the same icons on his. “I think we’re supposed to match the icon to the scene!” I said. Since we were in a virtual farmyard, we both touched the cow icon. A spinning hologram of a cow popped up from each pedestal, with a cheering sound. Moments later, the walls changed to a ocean scene and four new icons popped up.
“Haha, this is just like a game show!” I said. “Better watch out, I’ll beat you!”
We answered the next dozen questions really fast. A lot of them were easy prompts like the first one – it showed us the ocean and you were supposed to pick a fish, a basketball court and you were supposed to pick a basketball, and stuff like that. Some of them were trickier – one time the scene was a graveyard and the answer was a sausage, because it was the only one of the icons that was technically dead.
Before long, Morrow got one wrong. A buzzer sounded, the pedestals went dark, and the room was empty again. I pumped my fist in the air. “Haha! I won! Take that!”
“I’m bored of this game, what’s next??” said Morrow, already slouching in a lawn chair and eating a bag of crackers.
But the room didn’t show us what was next. The exit door was still locked. After about fifteen seconds, the pedestals hummed and glowed again.
“Wait a minute…” I said.
It turned out that it wasn’t a competition at all. We had to both get the answer right, or it would set us back and make us do the last few scenes over again. Or, as we found out pretty soon, we could both get the same wrong answer, and it would still count. We just had to pick the same answer. I tried to take advantage of that rule by telling my answer to Morrow every time, but he said that was boring and stopped listening to me. Well, I couldn’t argue with that.
Finally, something popped up that was different than the others. The scene around us was a trash heap, full of absolutely disgusting piles of shit and toxic waste. Even if you liked playing in junk heaps, you wouldn’t like this one. But the answers on the pedestal weren’t, like, random objects, like usual. One of them was a picture of me. One was a picture of Morrow. One was a picture of me and Morrow. And the last one was a couch.
Well, at least a couch could be trash. Feeling a little uncomfortable, I pressed the couch. As usual, a hologram of a couch popped up above my pedestal. But then I heard the buzzer go off. I looked towards Morrow, and saw that his choice had been… Morrow.
“What the fuck!” I yelled. “Why would you pick that?”
Whatever, it wasn’t my problem if he had a messed up sense of humor. I waited for the game to come back. Before long, we got back to the same question. This time, the picture of Morrow was dark – you couldn’t even select it. Well, now Morrow would have to pick the reasonable – no, wait, he was probably going to pick the picture of me, just to mess with me. I kind of wanted to pick that one myself, to show I was onto him. But it just didn’t seem right to call myself trash. I reluctantly picked the couch again.
The buzzer sounded. This time, Morrow had picked the picture of both of us.
I gave him a look. What was up with him? The first time, I had thought he was just joking, but this wasn’t even the answer that would have been funny. “How much do you want to call yourself trash? You’d rather call me trash than just not call yourself trash?!”
“But I AM trash,” said Morrow, grinning a distorted, comically wide grin.
“No, you’re not.”
“Oh? Oh?” said Morrow tauntingly. “You think you know something about me, huh?”
“Oh shut up. I WOULD know something about you if you’d ever TELL me anything about yourself –” The game came back on.
The last few scenes were getting pretty repetitive. Pretty soon, we were at the trash heap again. This time, there were only two possible answers. The second one was the couch, as usual. The first one was the city’s sacred emblem and the three main temples, their towers gleaming in the sunlight, along with all their holy regalia, and below them, a great feast laid out, with the poor and downtrodden receiving blessings and eating happily from the table, and at the very bottom, a tiny picture of Morrow.
I instantly saw what was going to happen. Before Morrow could move, I smashed my fist into the center of the pedestal, forfeiting the game immediately. “Will you stop that!” I yelled at the god. “It’s not cool to poke at someone’s insecurities just for your fucking puzzle! I’ve had enough of this!” I charged at the exit door and stabbed a Blood Blade into it. It cut through the door like it was a piece of cheese. I slashed it a few more times, completely taking it to pieces.
I was about to step through the door when I noticed that it had nothing beyond it. Literally nothing. It was just a doorway going into empty space. Behind me, I heard Morrow snickering.
“What the fuck,” I said. I whirled on Morrow. “What do you know that I don’t?!”
“Haha! You haven’t figured it out!”
“Figured what out?”
Morrow huffed irritably. Ugh, he was just like my mom, not answering questions if he thought you should know already. Before I could complain again, he yelled out, “Come on, let’s finish this puzzle! I bet we can get it in another go!”
“Fine! But if you call yourself trash again, I’m gonna smack you!” I stopped myself. I could already see where this was going. Morrow was going to call himself trash again on purpose, just to see if I would actually smack him. “Never mind, I’m not going to smack you, I’m just going to be totally fed up with your nonsense! Just a little bit, not that much! So don’t even think about doing it to make me mad on purpose, it won’t work!”
“Fine!” said Morrow. We glared at each other. I wasn’t even that mad at him. But he had already been a handful in the first layer, and now we were basically in Morrow Theme Park.
A sense of unease came over me as the game started up again. What was the Seeking God going to throw at us next? But it turned out I needn’t have worried. When we got to the trash heap, there was only ONE option – the couch. We both pressed it, and the room played an exaggerated victory ditty, with flashing lights and everything. Then the broken exit door fell off its hinges. Looking past it, there was an actual next room now.
“So…” I said, “That’s it, then? We won, I guess?”
Morrow ran for the next room.
“I just thought there’d be more of a satisfying conclusion –” Morrow wasn’t listening to me. I hurried after him –
– and found myself in a tiny gray room.
I looked around. Everything was gray. The walls were gray. The floor was the same color of gray. The ceiling was, you guessed it, the same gray again. The door we had come in through was… completely gone, turned into just another section of gray wall. In the gray lighting, even me and Morrow looked a bit grayer than usual.
Other than us, the only thing in the whole room was a clock inset into one of the walls.
The clock was running at a normal pace. It had a simple, blocky hour hand, and the same for minutes and seconds. The only unusual thing was a mark on the clock face, a curve starting at the tip of the hour hand.
“That curve! That’s where the hours moves! It’ll trace out that curve in a buncha hours –”
“Yeah, eight hours,” I said tiredly. Since Morrow always seemed to solve the puzzles before me, I had resigned myself to just pointing out whatever I could so I didn’t feel totally useless.
“Betcha that means we’ve got eight hours to solve the puzzle!”
“Yeah, but… what puzzle?” I looked around the room again. It was probably wide enough that we could both lie down on the floor at once, but only barely.
“Okay, maybe the clock is the puzzle!” Morrow tried to take it down from the wall, but it didn’t work. The clock was inset into the wall, and it was covered by a glass panel that was completely smooth with the surface of the wall. Morrow tried to dig his fingernails under it, but they just slid straight from the wall to the glass without catching anywhere. Then he swung his arm as if he was hitting it with a hammer, except he wasn’t holding anything. He stared at his hand indignantly, then made the same gesture again.
“Are you trying to…” I tried to manifest a hammer myself, and nothing happened. “Huh, guess we can’t manifest in this one.” I manifested a Blood Blade, and that worked, of course. But when I stabbed it at the clock, it just slid off to the side.
“We must’ve missed something!!” said Morrow, agitated.
It was hard to imagine that we could have missed anything. The room was literally just a rectangle with neutral gray walls on all sides. To humor him, I checked the ceiling, and I even checked under my feet, but there was nothing special.
Morrow searched furiously, beating and scratching at the walls to see if there was any weakness. He was clearly looking for something that wasn’t there. Mentally, I took a step back. There was definitely something we were missing, but it wasn’t a literal, physical thing in this room. It was something about the whole situation. The Seeking God seemed random, but everything it had done so far had at least had an interesting challenge behind it. Why would it stick us in a blank room like this?
Then, realization dawned on me. “Oh, I get it now,” I said. “The puzzle is us. The puzzle is how we’re gonna handle being stuck in a room with each other for eight hours.”
Morrow looked back towards me, eyes wild. “That’s NOT a PUZZLE!!” he exploded. “There MUST be something else! This is SUPPOSED to be a PUZZLE! Give me a puzzle! Give me something to solve!!” he yelled, slamming his fist into the wall repeatedly.
I could tell denial when I saw it. I leaned back, crossed my arms, and watched him flail. “You know,” I said sharply, “for something that’s not a puzzle, you’re sure having a hard time solving it.”
“I’m NOT trapped in a room,” Morrow moaned, curled up in the corner, tears streaming down his face. “I’m in a floating castle. With streamers everywhere. Everyone’s happy…”
“Dude…” I wasn’t sure what to say. Whatever was going on with him, he sure didn’t look like he was having a good time. It was way past the point where it would be fun to make fun of him. I wanted to say something sympathetic. But I just had no idea how to start. “I’m not good at dealing with mental health issues –” I began. Shit, that hadn’t come out right. “I mean –”
“I’m NOT a PSYCHO!!” Morrow snarled at me from the floor.
“What the fuck, dude! I didn’t say ‘psycho’, I said ‘mental health’! You know, like something you can get help with! I’m just, like, not good at helping –”
“Well I don’t NEED any HELP!! I’m fine, FINE, FINE!!” He turned and smashed his face into the wall, then reared back to do it again.
“What the fuck!! You can’t smash your head on the wall, you’ll give yourself brain damage!” But he wasn’t stopping. Shit, I had to do something – and fast! I rushed forward and grabbed his hair, yanking him back away from the wall. It didn’t feel like the right thing to do, but I didn’t have time to think – he was going to get seriously hurt!
Morrow twisted wildly in all directions, trying to get away from me. But even though he was bigger and more frenzied than me, he was pathetically weak. Grappling with him, it felt like he had more bones than flesh. Pretty soon, I had him pinned in a position where at least he couldn’t hurt his head anymore.
“Make it stop, help me, make it stop,” he sobbed. “Help me!!”
“You sure you want help?” I said irritably. “Because, literally ten seconds ago, you said –” I stopped myself. Calming Game, Rinn. It wasn’t his fault if he was doing stupid shit. What I really wanted to do was to tell him something reassuring. But I wasn’t very good at reassuring people about emotional stuff, even under normal circumstances. Ugh, what would Layo do? “Uh, do you want to talk about anything?” I said.
Predictably, that didn’t do any good.
I could have just kept holding onto him for the next eight hours. That would probably have counted as a solution to the puzzle. But I didn’t like watching people suffer, unless they were assholes. And Morrow might be pretty messed up, but he wasn’t an asshole. So I racked my brains for something that could help. What would Layo do? What would Yali do? They’d probably both say something heartfelt and reassuring. But even if I could come up with something, Morrow probably wouldn’t get reassured. Whenever anyone said something serious, he basically ripped it apart. Except for Alchemist…
“What would Alchemist say?” I said aloud.
“Raylie can’t see me like this!! He’d be so worried and scared! I’m such a piece of shit! I don’t deserve for anyone to like me!!” Morrow struggled wildly against my grip. “Let me go!!” he screamed.
“Dude! I’m not going to let you go if you’re going to hurt yourself!” I said. “Look, just don’t think about Alchemist, okay? Forget I said anything.”
“Yeah that’s helpful, I’m going to forget it right now!!”
“Uh, right, that was pretty stupid of me,” I said. “What if we did something distracting? Like playing a game?”
“Uh…” I hadn’t thought that far ahead. Normally I would have been able to manifest any game I could think of, but of course that didn’t work now. Still holding onto Morrow with one hand, I stuck my other hand in my pocket to see if I was carrying anything we could use to play a game with. But the only thing I pulled out was my phone, of course. “Hey, do you have games on your phone that you could play?”
I carefully allowed Morrow to take out his phone. He swiped through it aggressively. “I’ve already played all these!!”
“Well, uh, what if we swap phones? I don’t have too many games, but –”
Morrow snatched my phone out of my hands and immediately started flipping through it. He impatiently opened the first game he saw. His hands jerked back and forth across the screen, winning each level almost as soon as it popped up. “These early levels are boring!” he complained, then switched to the next game.
While he was doing that, I idly flipped through his phone, too. He had a lot of games. I didn’t recognize most of them, but a bunch of them were ones that I’d mostly seen girls play rather than boys. Interesting…
Meanwhile, Morrow tore through game after game. The only time his fingers weren’t darting across the screen was when he was glaring at slow loading screens and crying. He was technically unlocking a lot of free stuff for me in the games, but it didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel like this was going anywhere good. But I didn’t want to interrupt him and make it worse…
Finally, Morrow looked up.
“There’s nothing good on here!! These are all BORING games for BORING people!” He waved my phone in the air wildly. “They make you waste so much time before you get to the fun parts –”
“Okay, I’ll have my phone back, then,” I said sharply, reaching out to take it.
Morrow didn’t seem to hear me. “– and you have to do all of these copy-pasted levels just to get ONE new THING! There’s supposed to be something THERE!! Who would even –”
I made a grab for the phone. At the same instant, Morrow made a wild gesture with his hand. It all happened faster than I could react. Our arms collided. My phone flew into the air, smacked against the ceiling, then fell and hit the ground with a loud crack before it tumbled and lay still.
“Are you kidding me!! That was my REAL phone!” I exploded. I ran and snatched it up from where it had landed on the floor. The screen was cracked. It wouldn’t turn on.
Enraged, I turned and smacked Morrow across the face, hard.
Morrow covered his head and cowered away from me. I stood over him, not even caring how he felt anymore. I felt so humiliated. I wanted to hit him again. “You asked me to help you, and this is what you give me for trying?!” I exploded.
Morrow kept his head down and whimpered, “I’m a piece of shit, I’m such a piece of shit…”
“Yeah, that sounds about right!! You fucking – fucking – I don’t know –” I faltered. The way I was feeling – it was sickeningly close to how I’d felt when I had yelled at Yali in the first layer. And no matter how much I was itching to rip into Morrow some more, I definitely didn’t want to go down that path again. Controlling Game, I said to myself. “Look, Morrow,” I said, bringing my voice a lot closer to neutral, “just shut up, all right? I’m upset, you’re upset, but it’s just a phone. Both of us are way more important than it is. And if you say you’re less important than the phone, I’ll have to smack you again.”
Morrow grinned up at me. “I’m less important than the phone,” he said.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. Just shut up.”
What in the Endless was I going to do with him? The thought of trying to be nice again just made me rage harder. I suppressed the urge to kick him. Instead, I folded my arms again and leaned against the opposite wall.
This sucked. I felt like I was betraying myself again, like I was just letting Morrow break my stuff and get away with it. I needed some way to make my rage mean something. “Okay, listen,” I barked, “Here’s how we’re going to do this. I’ll stay over here. You stay over there. We’re just going to sit here and not do anything until the god lets us out. Got it?”
Morrow breathed hard, but didn’t try to move or speak.
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
I kept standing there and glaring at him. I was too frustrated to really do anything else. Instead, I just tried to get myself to focus long enough to figure out what to do next. There was no way he was actually going to stay still for hours, no matter how much I tried to make him. I was so sick of how his shit was dragging me away from looking for Yali. Why did I have to deal with this mess? Stupid room. Stupid phone. Stupid Morrow. I just needed to get out of this mess so I could do it. Why was I wasting my time with this mess when I could be out there doing it?
Ugh, what would I even do when I got out of here? I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts. When I tried to piece it together, this thing I’d just been thinking of “doing” was… attacking the Farseer. Stern take it, not that again! Would the Blood God shut up too?! There was nothing I could do to find the Farseer right now even if I wanted to! I gritted my teeth and tried to stop thinking about it.
After a few minutes, I was startled to notice that Morrow still hadn’t moved. He was still a total mess, but maybe I’d scared him enough to make him stay still for a while. As the minutes dragged on, I started feeling like these eight hours might be at least a little tolerable. I allowed myself to relax a bit.
That’s when Alchemist walked in through the wall.
I was too startled to react, and Morrow was still cowering. Alchemist was the first to speak. “Morrow!!” they cried out. “I was so afraid when you stopped answering, when I –”
“Raylie!!!” Morrow sprang to his feet, bolted straight towards Alchemist, and hugged them without slowing down, slamming both of them into the wall. Before Alchemist could catch their balance again, Morrow was already yelling in their face. “It’s happening again!! Help me, help me, you have to help me!!” Morrow grabbed onto Alchemist’s shoulders, shaking violently. Alchemist’s face flooded with confusion and distress.
How dare he! screamed a part of me. After all this! How dare he hurt poor, sweet Alchemist! I ripped his arm away from Alchemist’s shoulder and heaved him back across the room. He stumbled and bumped into the far wall, covering his head again. I stood between them, all charged up, ready to take him down if he tried anything again.
Alchemist peeked around from behind me. “Do the loopy thing,” they said nervously.
“I CAN’T do the loopy thing because I CAN’T MANIFEST!” Morrow screamed helplessly. “I’m TRAPPED and I’m STARVING and I CAN’T MANIFEST!” It didn’t look like he was going to try anything, so I stepped back a little.
“What’s the loopy thing?” I asked.
Alchemist looked to Morrow, but Morrow was still pretty out of it. So Alchemist tried to answer. “It’s a, thing, he does, to, not feel so bad? With his powers. Whenever he feels too, bad, it, makes him loop back to feeling better instead. That’s why he calls it the loopy thing. But, maybe, it’s not working? Not right now?”
“Wait, like, he can change his own feelings directly by magic?” I said.
“Would he – I mean, hey, Morrow, would you be able to do the loopy thing on me?”
“I CAN’T MANI –”
“I mean, when we get out of here. I kinda have some, uh, feelings, that I don’t want to.”
“Oh!! Doing it on another person! That would be so weird! And interesting! I’d have to figure out their feelings at the same time I was doing it! But what if – actually it could be really easy! Because I don’t have to feel it myself at the same time! But it would also – AAAAHHH I’M STUCK HERE AND I CAN’T MANIFEST AND I’M GOING TO – MAKE IT STOP, MAKE IT STOP, HELP ME!!”
“I could, maybe, make a potion? That would help?” Alchemist cupped their hands in the air, but nothing happened. They did it again, but still nothing.
“None of us can manifest anything in this room,” I explained. “I think the Seeking God is trying to make us figure out… that –” I jerked a thumb towards Morrow “– without using magic.”
“Oh…” said Alchemist uneasily. They reflexively took a step towards Morrow, but then stopped themself and looked to me for permission.
“Yeah, go ahead,” I said. It didn’t look like Morrow was going to do anything that would hurt Alchemist. He was still cowering with his head in his hands.
Alchemist hesitantly put their arms around Morrow’s shoulders. They guided Morrow down to the floor until they were both in a sitting position, with Alchemist cradling Morrow’s head to their chest while Morrow sobbed. Alchemist gently hummed an aimless tune, slowly stroking Morrow’s head all the while.
Before long, Morrow was… not exactly calm, but a lot less frantic. He kept breathing hard, but he eventually kind of sank into Alchemist’s chest instead of being all tensed up. Watching Alchemist’s fingers weave themselves through Morrow’s hair… gods, they were so cute together. I couldn’t stop my eyes from following the – no, I didn’t even WANT to think they were cute! Morrow was awful! Morrow, you don’t get a free pass just because you and Alchemist make a cute couple and are soft and adorable and – oh, Stern take it.
As time passed, though, I really wasn’t as mad anymore. It was easy enough to get distracted watching them. Morrow eventually managed to pull himself upright again, and they both sat with their backs against the wall, leaning on each other’s shoulders, their faces turned towards each other. Just about close enough that they could kiss. I was kind of hoping they would, just so I could watch, haha.
And then they actually did. Morrow moved his lips in close, and then Alchemist leaned into it, and –
“Haha, get a room, you two,” I teased.
Morrow looked up at me with a little smirk. “This is the only room we’ve got!!” he complained.
“I’m only joking, I don’t really mind it. Go ahead and do whatever you want. Haha, I wouldn’t mind even if you wanted to have sex in here –” What the fuck was I saying? Well, I couldn’t go back on it now. Time for the Rinn Akatura show, I guess. “It would be like the mile high club, except instead of being in an airplane you’re in a –” Wait, I shouldn’t remind Morrow of where we are “– I mean, hang on, if we don’t have to eat, and we can heal all our injuries, does that mean we can’t catch STDs? And, like, I don’t know if pregnancy is a thing you two have to worry about, but –”
“It does,” said Morrow. Weirdly, he started talking like he was totally bored. “Some nitwits come here to fuck ’cause you can’t get sick and you can’t get preggo ’less you want to. Doesn’t matter ’cause smart people don’t do it ’cause the portals cost a fortune and they’re just as unsafe as –”
“Wait a minute, people can come here? I thought we were the only ones here!”
“Not here here! Here!” Maybe he was talking about the Otherworld in general. It was easy to forget about it, but the gods’ worlds were only part of the whole Otherworld, just like the regular world was a lot bigger than just the city. There were even other cities that had their own gods, but they were a long way away and most of their gods weren’t as powerful as ours. So if you were talking to anyone who lived around here, if you said “the gods”, they’d pretty much assume you meant our five gods. All the gods of distant cities were just a side note. But now that Morrow mentioned it, I did remember seeing some photos of impossible landscapes from the Otherworld, from, like, research expeditions, and rich people’s vacations, and stuff like that. Outside of the gods’ worlds, the Otherworld was supposed to be mostly chaos, random energy that didn’t form a real shape unless you manifested one on it. But actual portals were an incredibly advanced sorcery, so a normal person would never get to visit the Otherworld unless the gods brought them there.
“Anyway,” I said, “point is, having sex here is totally no-consequences, so you could totally –”
“Maybe,… not here?” Alchemist interrupted, staring into space as if they hadn’t noticed I was talking. “Maybe, somewhere else in the Otherworld?”
I grinned and gave them a thumbs-up. “You go get it!”
Alchemist kept staring into space for a moment. Then they cringed and sort of curled up on themself. “Oh… I said that out loud…”
“No, it’s okay! It’s cool!” Shit, I hadn’t meant to make them feel bad!! I started kind of panicking a little.
“Oh…” They were still cringing. They put their hands over their mouth and started wobbling back and forth.
And that’s when Justicar walked in through the wall.
“There you are,” she said to Alchemist. Her eyes quickly scanned the room around us. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”
“Haha, don’t worry,” I said, “you didn’t make things any more awkward.”
Time passed. Alchemist and Morrow kept cuddling together, Morrow just barely staying stable. Justicar and I were stuck standing in opposite corners of the room, with hardly enough room to avoid bumping into each other.
“Ugh, your sword is sticking out!” I complained.
“I’m keeping it as close to myself as I can! The belt isn’t designed for –”
“It’s manifested, right? Can’t you just unmanifest it?”
“To unmanifest an object requires you to mentally dismiss it as unimportant. That is not an attitude I will take towards the Stern God’s implements.”
“Seriously? I can’t believe I’m going to be stuck with you for the next, let’s see, how many hours do we have left –” I looked at the clock.
The clock popped out of the wall with a comical boinging sound like a spring from a cartoon. It landed face down on the floor. We all stared at it.
“Okay, so what does that m–”
Without warning, the whole room swayed. The floor tipped and rose, dumping us all onto the wall. I plowed into Justicar, scraping my knees on her armor.
“Ow, your armor is hard!”
“Look out behind –” Justicar began.
I twisted around, just in time for Morrow and Alchemist to land solidly on my stomach, knocking the wind out of me. Now we were all in a big pile, and Alchemist was on top.
Under me, Justicar strained to speak. “Alchemist, you have to move. I can free myself, but not without injuring the Blood Child.”
I struggled to pull myself out, but it was no use. I saw Alchemist looking around with the blank expression of somebody who hasn’t even figured out what’s happening. “Stern take it, Alchemist, get offa me!” I yelled. But it only made them tense up, squeezing me with their legs and actually putting me in more pain.
The walls fell open, revealing a black space above and around us. Moments later, huge tentacles rose up and plucked Alchemist into the air. Not missing an opportunity, I rolled off to the side and sprang to my feet, whipping out a couple of Blood Blades to fight whatever sort of tentacle monster the Seeking God was throwing at us now. But when I looked, Alchemist was happily dangling by their waist and giggling. I looked where the tentacles were coming from, and they actually came from Morrow. They were just made out of some sort of rubber.
“Wait, we can manifest again now?” I said. “Then that’s enough of this bullshit!” Channelling my strength, I manifested away all my bruises.
“If we are all out of danger,” said Justicar soberly, “then I believe the Alchemist owes us an apology for not moving when we needed him –”
I stomped in between Justicar and the others. “Alchemist doesn’t have to apologize for shit! They were just as surprised as anyone!”
“He was in a position where he could have –”
“And what gives YOU the right to decide who needs to apologize?! YOU?!!” My blood was boiling. I didn’t even know why I was so mad. Wait, did that mean this was the Blood God? Ugh, it was definitely the Blood God. As soon as I realized that, my feelings cleared up a bit. “Look,” I said to Justicar, “I’ve just been through a lot of shit. Please, just this one time, just don’t make things harder for us, okay?”
Justicar looked a little taken aback. “I was not trying to –”
I turned to Morrow, who was busy trying to swallow a huge mouthful of food.
“So, uh,” I said awkwardly, “if we can manifest now, can you try doing the loopy thing on me?”
“What is that?” said Justicar sharply.
Shit, I hadn’t thought about what Justicar would think of this. I quickly explained what we were planning to do, but I left out the part about exactly what thoughts I was trying to suppress.
Justicar looked tense. “This is not wise,” she said. “You should not let another person inside the boundaries of your mind. And you should not rely on someone else to manage thoughts you should learn to control on your own.”
I could have explained that I already had it pretty much under control, and I was just looking for an extra boost. But I didn’t have to justify myself. “Whatever, I probably do about ten unwise things every day before breakfast. You gonna stop me?”
Justicar’s face tightened, and for a moment, I was a little worried that she was going to stop me. But then she backed down. “Very well. It is not my duty to protect you from the consequences of your own decisions. But you –” she turned to Morrow “– if the Blood Child allows you into her mind, I cannot stop you. But if you go the slightest fraction beyond what she chooses to allow, I will not show mercy.”
“Whaddaya think I’m gonna do, steal her passwords while I’m in there?”
“You have heard my warning,” said Justicar coldly.
It looked like Morrow was about to provoke Justicar some more. And I didn’t want her to change her mind about putting up with this. “Let’s get on with it,” I said.
Morrow focused back on me with excitement. “Loopy thing! Looking at your mind!! Might gotta touch your head –” He reached out a hand.
“What, just with your hand?” I joked. “Don’t you use your tongue for this stuff?”
“I can use my tongue if you want!”
“Haha, I’m cool.” I pressed his hand to my forehead. “Let’s do this.”
Morrow’s powers didn’t feel quite how I expected.
I’d been assuming that when he went in my mind, it’d feel as hyperactive as he was. But the first thing I felt was a chilly feeling, part of my excitement draining away. My mind pulled back, taking a wider perspective.
Is this… I thought. Morrow, can you hear my thoughts when you’re doing this?
A feeling of being correct popped into my mind.
Was that you?
I can also do words! It didn’t sound like Morrow’s voice – it actually sounded more like my own thoughts. But it was obviously Morrow. His presence flickered across my mind, lighting up a series of different feelings – a flash of rage at injustice, a burst of satisfied laughter, a surge of my love for Yali. Your feelings!! What a delicious jungle!!
“You can’t eat them,” I said out loud. “Oops.” In my head, I felt Morrow snickering. Screw you! Okay, fine, that was my own mistake. Anyway, the important thing is – so, I can’t tell Justicar this, but –
That caught Morrow’s interest immediately. In my thoughts, I quickly explained what I needed help with.
Gotcha covered! I can feel the god in here, it’s like a whole little bundle inside you! Lemme gather these up – More feelings flashed through me, hatred and pride and wounded rage. Got ’em! Now next time if you feel any of this – what should I make you feel instead? Think of the feeling you want –
That was an easy choice. Right away, I thought of my deep, blissful love for Yali.
There was a pause. Morrow? You there?
…Really bad idea, Morrow sent back.
How is that a bad idea??
Really bad idea, Morrow repeated. I could feel him thinking of Alchemist somehow. Pick something calmer. Something easy.
I tried to pick plain calmness, but Morrow said that wasn’t a feeling. Eventually we settled on a feeling of cool, confident pride. Morrow messed around with my feelings some more, like he was tying them in knots.
Before I knew it, I felt like he was done. There ya go! All loopied up! he sent. It was actually kind of anticlimactic.
Alright, awesome, I thought. Concentrating, I pulled my mind back from the weird headspace Morrow had taken me to. I shook my head and adjusted to being in the real world again. It was hard to tell whether the loopy thing was doing anything right now, but I was feeling pretty okay for the moment, at least.
And then I finally looked around at where we were now. Where the gray box had dumped us when it fell apart.
“This room feels different than the others,” said Justicar. “I believe we have reached the very center of the Maze.”
“What does that even mean?” I said. Something did feel special about it, though. We were on the edge of a wide platform in the middle of a vast, dark space, with walkways stretching out in every direction – not just horizontally, but diagonally up and down at every angle as well. The platform and walkways were all made out of a sort of glass mesh, translucent and full of tiny gaps. And in the middle of the platform we were on, there was a fountain. Not anything like the peaceful fountain in the First Ring of the city, this one shot up a good twenty meters into the air and splashed down chaotically into a shallow pool around it, which was constantly overflowing and pouring water right through the little gaps in the platform, where it fell through space and splashed through the walkways under us.
Despite the wild water, the fountain seemed a little… ordinary compared to the rest of the world. The water wasn’t even multicolored or shimmering. And the pool floor looked like plain old concrete, with nothing interesting but a couple silvery fish darting around in it.
“Look at those fish! Betcha they’re a mystery!” said Morrow. As usual, showing him something new seemed to have perked him right up.
“Yeah, but what’s the mystery? They’re just fish.”
“Maybe that’s the mystery!”
I ignored him. But then something caught my eye. In the very center of the jet of water, there was a multicolored shimmering. “Hey, maybe there’s a mystery in this fountain after all,” I said. “Let’s check it out.”
“I’ll check the other side!” said Morrow.
I squinted. I didn’t see anything different over there. “What’s on the other s–”
“Won’t know until you look!” Morrow hurried off.
“Well I’m going to check that cool thing in the middle.” I jumped into the fountain and splashed noisily across to the center. Hovering in the spurting water, there was a shimmering sphere of all different colors. I tried to grab it with my hand, and my hand passed right through it. But then it sort of started following my hand around.
“What is this thing??” I said. I splashed my way back to the others, the sphere hovering along with me.
Morrow ran up to me. Somehow, he had gone all the way around the fountain while I was splashing. “Ooh! You got the map!”
“How the fuck is this a map??” I said, still shaking water out of my shoes.
“How is it not obvious??” Morrow snatched the sphere from my hands.
“Hey!” I yelled. But somehow, it was still there in my hands, too. Morrow just had a copy of it. He cheerfully handed more copies out to the others.
“I… see,” said Justicar, holding hers up and scrutinizing it. “I can see the sigils inside.”
I looked into my own. It was barely bigger than my hand, but as soon as I looked into it, I saw thousands of glowing lines swimming past inside the orb, forming countless diagrams that overlapped and slid past each other as my eyes tried to tell them apart. “How the fuck do you see anything in this??” I said.
“Use your intention,” said Justicar. “Try to look for a specific room. This one, for example.”
“Fine.” I focused my mind to manifest on the orb, concentrating on the room we were standing in. In moments, every other diagram slid aside and I saw a small icon of the fountain, with the walkways zigzagging out in all directions around it. But the most interesting thing was the four symbols written right next to the fountain.
The Endless Maze symbol, where Morrow was standing.
The Cloven Earth, the symbol of the Broken God, next to Morrow, where Alchemist was standing.
The Dauntless Gate, the symbol of the Stern God, just a little distance away, where Justicar stood.
And the Burning Heart, the symbol of the Blood God, right where I was.
“Woah, so it’s labeled all of us? Then that means –” Excitement burned inside me. I focused my entire force of will on the little sphere, forcing it to show me the final symbol – the Watchful Eye. Countless rooms and landscapes flashed past as the map moved to show it to me. And there it was. Amid a twisting mass of tunnels, in a little room laid out like a courthouse, sitting before a giant set of scales, there it was.
I pointed triumphantly. “That’s where Yali is! That’s where we’re going next!”