I give myself a few moments to breathe, thoughts swirling around and around in my head, an endless loop of ‘what-ifs’.
But I can’t stay here forever pondering what could have happened. That shadow possessed girl clearly saw where I went, it’s possible she won’t be too far behind me. I need to move.
Pushing myself up with a hiss, I carefully steady myself with the nearby wall. My muscles are protesting, and I’m covered in fresh scabs, but it’s nothing that will severely hinder my movement. The main problem is that I can’t see anything. Stumbling my way through a dark tunnel is already bad enough, but this is supposed to be a ‘labyrinth’ according to the tutorial quest.
At my stray thought of the quest, there’s a “ding!” and the window reappears, washing the area around me in an eerie blue light. It’s not a lot of illumination but it’s certainly enough to not run into any walls or trip over anything.
“At least you’re good for something,” I mutter, reaching out to shift the text window a little lower so I have a better view of the floor.
“You don’t happen to have a map function, do you?” The screen statics for a second but nothing changes. Honestly, I don’t know why I tried, maybe by some miracle the system would become more helpful. Always good to dream.
With each step, the roughhewn rock under my feet slowly morphs into a sanded smooth stone. The walls also slowly change, becoming smoother and decorated with murals of monsters and warriors. A fiery flicker of red light starts coming into view at the far end of the tunnel. Picking up my pace, I keep my eyes locked ahead on the flicking red. Slowly out of the darkness an archway flanked by two identical statues emerges. The statues are the same stone as the surrounding cave, carved into the likeness of a minotaur holding a double-sided axe and an unspooled ball of yarn.
“If this starting quest is anything like the myth, I’m in serious trouble,” I mutter, glancing around nervously and listening closely for the sound of hooves. The minotaur of old needed sacrifices to appease its rage, it also ate those sacrifices. Here’s hoping that if there is a minotaur here it’s vegetarian.
Hesitantly I take a few steps forward, moving into the darkened chamber beyond. Once I’m past the archway and fully into the new room, there’s a sputtering snap sound and suddenly torches ignite along the walls. Their light is an unnatural golden yellow and sends long-reaching shadows to dance along the curved walls.
[Player has entered the labyrinth!] The window dings, [access to starting zone now prohibited.]
I glance back behind me, and sure enough there’s a weird sparkly golden wall filling the archway.
“Well, no going back now,” and I turn my attention back to the new area I’ve walked into. It’s a large circular room, about 50 feet across, with a low arched ceiling, and scrap piles of broken and rusted equipment littering the floor. Ten doors are set into the walls, all equal-distant from each other, plain and wooden. A few are damaged, and one is completely off its hinges and lying shattered on the floor. The starting point of the maze.
“Seems a bit mean to make the intro mission something that’s almost entirely luck.” While a maze might not sound that hard, without any idea of the layout, it is near impossible to solve. There was always the trick about following the left wall, which would guarantee that I find the exit eventually, but it would most likely take ages and would require that I never slip up once. The best option would be if there was some kind of clue or hint leading to the correct pathway.
Slowly I start to search the room, keeping an eye on the golden wall to make sure no one else walks through it. While the doors appear the same from afar, they do have one key difference. All of them contain a different animal etched into them, even the broken-down door has the remnants of some sort of engraving, unfortunately, it is now beyond recognition. Based on the minotaur motif, it’s possible the broken door contained a bull or a minotaur, and considering it is destroyed, the minotaur in question might just be down that tunnel.
“This is probably the way out,” I mutter staring down the dark tunnel, I’m not sure if it’s a trick of my brain, but I swear I hear the shuffle of hooves, “the minotaur lives in the heart of the maze after all.”
Despite my sound reasoning I still glance at the other doors, I only had one ability and though it would be very useful as I ran away from a bloodthirsty bull-man, it was still on cooldown. It might also be better to explore the other areas and gather more experience before taking on what was probably the boss. Plus, if this world really worked like a video game, then it was always in your best interest to take the path less traveled, complete side-quests, and find the rare loot hidden in strange places.
Let’s see, the other animal engravings are: hawk, snake, lizard, wolf, cat, bear, boar, butterfly, and spider. Butterfly was the most obvious outlier in that lineup, which either meant it was the easiest or extremely bad. Best to avoid it just in case, even if it had signs of being opened the most. Snakes and spiders are a hard no, because venom. Cat seemed like a fairly good option, but I’ve always had a soft spot for cats, I’m not sure I could bring myself to kill one even if my life was in danger. Hawk was also a hard out. They were birds, which meant they could fly. Though I had a spear, it would be super ineffective. Wolves are pack creatures, so I wouldn’t just be fighting one wolf at a time, so I’m going to pass on that one as well. Boars are notorious for being vicious jerks, so I would rather not, the same with bear. Not to mention the bear door had a knife stuck into the wood while the boar door had the word “NO” carved into it. Which only left the lizard.
The lizard door looked relatively untouched, unlike some of the others. No threatening words, or well-worn hinges, just your typical everyday door.
“Well, I guess there’s only one way to find out,” and I reach out and turn the door handle. As soon as the door swings open it’s obvious to see that the theme has shifted. Beautiful tiled floor, with white gray brick walls, and hooded lanterns suspended on chains from the ceiling, giving the interior a dark but warm atmosphere. Portraits of men and women in lavish vaguely Victorian styled clothes and hand-painted vases full of dead flowers line the sides of the new long corridor. At the far end of the hall, I just make out a towering door of dark oak, reinforced with metal, and flanked by two larger-than-life suits of armor.
“I feel like I just entered a castle,” I note out loud, my voice echoes and carries down the hall. Oh, that was going to be a problem, while it wouldn’t be too hard to keep my voice down it only took one slip up and the whole dungeon would know where I am.
[Player has chosen the Castle of the Lizard!]
“So, it is a castle,” I mutter, carefully paying attention to the lack of echo. If the sound was soft enough, it didn’t carry throughout the hall, the trick would be making sure to stay under that volume.
[To complete this level, the player must collect five Artifacts and return them to the Treasury Guards on the lowest floor.]
“You know, you should really give people that information before they pick a door.”
The text box does not respond, only morphs its message to say, [Artifacts: 0/5]
“Hmm,” I hum, looking back through the door I just entered, there’s no weird shimmery wall like the archway. I carefully take a step back into the door room.
[Player has exited Castle of the Lizard. Quest progress will be halted until re-entry. Player may hold up to 3 quests at this time. Please select a door.]
Well, that was extremely helpful. In the worst-case scenario, I could backtrack and choose a hopefully easier door. Always good to have an escape plan.
I walk back into the Castle of the Lizard. The window gives another notification of my entering and a reminder that the quest has been resumed, as I continue down the hall. I’m not sure if traps are a possibility in this game, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, so I make sure to firmly tap my spear on the tiles before I step and try not to touch any of the decorations. Falling into a spike trap or getting shot with a poison dart isn’t exactly how I dream of dying.
It’s a short walk to the large doors, the suits of armor flanking it are at least 10 feet tall, all steel plate like a traditional knight, except their helmets have twisted ram’s horns. Each set of armor is holding a flagpole, but whatever flag was once attached is beyond recognition, leaving only burnt, tattered pieces of cloth beyond.
Carefully, I use my spear to prod at the wood and iron. When nothing happens, I get a bit bolder and give the door a good shove with the blunt end of my weapon. The door squeaks on its hinges, moving slightly inward, though not enough to reveal anything behind it. I wait for the sound of a monster’s howl just on the other side or the clicking gears of a trap about to cut me in two, but there’s only silence. Now satisfied that the door isn’t going to kill me, I push it open.
The hallway beyond is almost identical to the one I left, the key difference being the branching pathways at the far end. I’ve truly entered the maze part of this quest now.
I’ve already figured out how I want to handle the labyrinth. Much like with the original myth, it’s very important that you know which way you came. So, when I reach the end of the hallway, I use my spear to cut a little triangle into the stones on the left side, pointing the tip of the triangle back towards the way I came. This way if I do get lost, I just need to find another triangle marker and I’ll be able to retrace my steps back to the starting point.
It takes me a few minutes to carve the triangle into the stone using a spear. It’s awkward and unwieldy to use a spear for such delicate work. Makes me really wish I had taken a dagger at the start-
I tighten my grip on the spear, forcing down the sudden memories that come springing up with the thoughts of daggers. I have a puzzle to solve, grief and regret are for after I’m not in a life-or-death situation.
Satisfied with the mark, I take off down the left passage. It looks nearly exactly the same as the hallway I just left, I haven’t been paying too much attention to the figures in the paintings, but they all share the same European style even if they aren’t the same face or species. The vases of dead flowers continue atop their decaying cabinets and dusty pillars. Obviously, no one has been “living” here in a long time, if there ever were residences of this strange maze.
Meticulously, I keep marking my path. Choosing left or right randomly with no real reason, trying in this first path to cover as much area as possible. I’m not sure how much time has passed; the stat window doesn’t come with a clock to my disappointment and there’s no sun or moon to tell. Though unsure of exactly how long I’ve been trapped in the labyrinth, my best guess would be 4-5 hours. My legs are sore from all the walking and I’ve yet to find anything of real note. I passed by a few doors in my journey, but the first two or so I tried were locked, so I figure it would be best to stop jiggling the knobs loudly and leave them be. I could always go back and explore them further once I had a better idea of this place.
“Just a few more branches of the tunnel then I’ll head back,” I promise myself, finishing my mark and taking a right into a new hallway.
I freeze where I stand, there is something alive in this tunnel. Something I've never seen before, a monster.