Labyrinth of Dreams
The Eyrie panicked.
Her wings fluffed up so that she looked twice her size, her eyes flew wide, and her claws raked furiously at the air, struggling to find something tangible to hold on to. Her tail lashed frantically and her aquiline beak opened, letting out a screeching call. The call wavered in the still air, rebounding off the walls and flying up to the myriad silver stars. The chilling shriek came back down to earth as a dim echo of song, a crystal jumble of notes fluctuating at random.
The blue Eyrie raised her wings, but found that she could not fly. Desperate to find a way out of there, she turned a corner and almost ran into a dead end. She could feel the walls of shimmering silver and gold ripple and shift around her, undulating like ripples in an otherwise-glassy pond. She turned another corner; another dead end. Another corner, another end. Ends everywhere—no openings, nowhere to turn, nowhere to run....
And then, just at the point of giving up hope and sinking into despair, the Eyrie found one.
She turned a corner and entered. Her figure became distorted and she began to change. Only a moment ago she had been a pale blue Eyrie, the color of the morning sky; now she was a deep red, now sunshine yellow, now forest green, now back to red. Sometimes she went through other colors: a droopy gray, orange, bright gold with a blue finned tail, scarlet eyes and a steel-gray aura surrounding her...
Still the Eyrie kept running.
The transformations stopped. Now, the shimmering walls continued to flash and ripple around her. The sky wasn’t the blue of the day, nor the black of the night, the pink of the morning or the fire of the sunset. Instead, it was splotched with wavy colors that merged into each other like a negative photo of a rainbow. The Eyrie let out another screeching cry, which rebounded back to her with the same clutter of diamond notes that had before. But this time they didn’t cease to play. They continued to ring in the Eyrie’s ears, a cloudy song in the midst of the blind chaos of confusion and terror. The Eyrie called out again, struggling to get the song out of her head, but it clung to her like a parasitic insect, and she took off running again.
Now the silver walls were replaced by mirrors—mirrors from which the song would never stop echoing. The Eyrie threw herself against one, but instead of shattering into a million pieces, the Eyrie sank through it as though it were thick mud, and as she stumbled through to the other side, her form grew distorted again. Now her legs had two joints, now they had five, her hands had three fingers, then four, then two, she had three eyes, she had four wings; she changed until she was barely recognizable as an Eyrie. Only the scarcely-distinguishable change from something bird-like to something feline between her neck and shoulders defined her.
And still her shape continued to shift uncontrollably. Nothing around her made sense, she was made of stars and of the sky, the sun and the moon, the sunrise and sunset, the earth and the air, the water and everything....
The Eyrie’s contorted shape twisted back into its original shape as she pulled herself through another mirror, and she paused to catch her breath, flanks heaving and her fur glistening with a glistening sheen of perspiration. But no sooner had she paused for a few seconds than the walls were replaced by thick mounds of silvery webs. The song ceased to echo, and at last the maze was silent; but it was not yet finished. The muffled silence was pressing, insistent, torturous, seeming to close in on the Eyrie’s ears. She let out another desperate cry and clawed at one of the web walls, but as her paw sank through it, something pinched her hand, and a violent fiery sensation spread up her arm as though it had been branded. The Eyrie threw back her head and wailed to the stars, more out of despair than out of pain. Again the song tumbled back down in a jumble of crystal notes.
“Where am I?” she screamed. “Where am I? Let me go!”
“Stop it,” whispered a husky voice near her. “Stop shouting. It hurts.”
The Eyrie spun around, expecting to see another phantasm of nightmares. Instead, what she saw was a Kougra. The Kougra was female, and though her fur and stripes held tinges of the red it had once been, something had leeched the color from it, and her pelt was now ghostly white, and matted, as though she had just climbed out of water. Her eyes were hollow and gaunt, a pale gray-gold color that seemed unearthly. Her tail and ears were drooping, and her bones stuck out. She looked as though she had been stuck there for months.
“Who are you?” the Eyrie demanded. She lowered her voice, but was too scared to whisper. “What’s happening to me?”
The white-red Kougra dropped her head. “This is the Labyrinth of Dreams,” she whispered. “Don’t talk so loud, please... it’s hurting my ears as much as it’s hurting yours. Don’t panic.”
“How can we get out of here?” the Eyrie asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Then what’s the point!” The Eyrie flared up again. “If we can’t get out of here, we might as well just scream as much as we want!”
“Stop that!” The Kougra made a grab for the Eyrie’s shifting paws, her eyes wild. “Do you want to endanger us both? What’s your name?”
The Eyrie glared at the Kougra. “Why are you asking questions at random? My name is—”
The Eyrie stopped suddenly and stared blankly into space. “My name is—” She stopped again, and then threw back her head. “I can’t remember!” she whispered, eyes staring frantically to the sky. “I can’t remember my name!”
The Kougra sighed. “That’s to be expected, I suppose,” she murmured. “What a shame, though. If you could remember your name, we could get out of here. I have tried everything to think of mine, but it hasn’t worked. I don’t know if there’s another way out.”
“This is the Labyrinth of Dreams,” the Eyrie murmured quietly, staring at the crystal ground. “If it’s a dream, we should have to wake up sometime....”
The Kougra shook her head. “No. I’ve been trapped in here for years. I can’t wake up.”
The Eyrie sat down. She had finally calmed, and her mind was now hard at work. “Tried pinching yourself?”
“Yes. I’ve tried every conceivable thing. Pinching myself is actually probably the only thing that’s kept me sane.” The white-red Kougra sighed deeply and lay down on her side, gaunt face looking as though it had been frozen into an expression of permanent sadness and despair. “I find that staying in the same place is the only way to remain the same. If you go anywhere else, you start to change.”
“How wide is the Labyrinth of Dreams?” the Eyrie asked curiously, and only realized after the words were out of her mouth that it was a stupid question. The Kougra knew as well, and glared at the Eyrie briefly before laying her head down. “Time to sleep....” she murmured quietly as a wave of sudden cold air swept over them. Weariness chilled the Eyrie to the bone.
“No, Kougra! No! Wake up!” the Eyrie shouted, reaching out and shaking her companion roughly.
“Stay awake!” she ordered.
“I am awake.”
“Open your eyes then!” the Eyrie snapped. “If we go to sleep, we’ll be lost. So—stay—awake!”
The Kougra nodded and opened her eyes, sitting up. “I’m awake.”
“Good. Now—” The Eyrie paused and twisted her head, feathers ruffling uneasily. “What is that?”
A high wailing sound was emanating from the walls around them. As the Kougra and the Eyrie watched in half-horrified and half-fascinated confusion, the walls began to shift. Crystal notes blew all around them, deafening in both volume and pitch. One of the walls opened wide, revealing an impossibly dark, gaping abyss. A sudden vacuum of wind swept the two creatures toward the yawning gap, and they dug their paws in, forcing themselves back. It was a strong wind, and it was growing stronger—the Eyrie’s paws flew out from under her—she made a wild grab for the Kougra and pulled her into the gap with her—and—
The Eyrie screamed.
The scream echoed torturously around her, filling her ears and her eyes, forming words that the Eyrie herself had never formed originally, as though the sound had a mind of its own. “Let me go!” the Eyrie shrieked. She tried to cover her ears, but her paws wouldn’t move. “Let me go, let me go, let me GO!”
Something had her by the shoulders and was making her pitch back and forth wildly like a tiny boat on a stormy sea.
“Let me go! Let me—”
The Eyrie’s eyes wouldn’t open. She thrashed back and forth, and the cold turned to warmth. She was warm, then cold, then warm, then cold, and something was twisted around her like a strangling rope.
The Eyrie’s eyes jerked open, and she became aware of a dull ache in her sides and forehead as her temperature continued to switch between hot and cold erratically. Gradually her writhing quieted, and then ceased, leaving the blue Eyrie breathing hard, feathers ruffled and soaked in sweat.
She found herself staring into the sympathetic eyes of a pale blue Gelert. “Shush, honey, the fever will break soon,” the Gelert whispered in a soothing voice, her right paw stroking the Eyrie’s head sympathetically. She was pressing a cool sponge to it.
The Eyrie closed her eyes briefly. I’m in the Neopian hospital with a fever. I was never lost in a Labyrinth, I never met a trapped Kougra, and... and my name is... my name is Leriss.
“Leriss,” the Gelert murmured, as though echoing her thoughts. “The fever is breaking. It won’t be long now. Your friend’s recovering nicely as well.”
Leriss looked slowly to her right. “My friend? Who is....” Her voice trailed off as she found herself staring into sunken gold-gray eyes.
“Shellisk,” Leriss mumbled.
“That’s right.” The Gelert beamed. “We found you two side-by-side in an alley. Cold as stone. We thought you were dead for sure, but you’re alive.”
“You remember your name now?” Leriss asked quietly, directing the question at the ghostly white, once-red Kougra in front of her.
Shellisk nodded. “Yes. I’m so glad to be out of there. I don’t care if I’m sick.”
“Then it wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t a hallucination. It was real.”
“In a way,” Leriss murmured, drawing the blankets over her as she felt her noticeably temperature cool, “I’m glad it happened.”
The once-red Kougra gave a hollow smile. “Some things weren’t mean to be just dreams,” she whispered.