Chapter 16 - Into the Labyrinth

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***Dedicated to the horror master. This is my attempt at a little horror in the story. Trying to make this labyrinth ominous. Hopefully it works*** :)

Hydro wouldn't have known it was noon if Guardian Eska hadn't told them. Dark clouds eclipsed both Freyr and Lugh—faces holding back tears. For the moment. Ten-foot sandstone slabs were located on top of a barren hill with sparse grass. Tree branches from a forest to the west swayed in a light, cool breeze that carried the scent of oak and mud and worms. It rained here recently. Hydro looked past Guardian Eska and the four conseleigh who stood behind him, to the slabs of sandstone, hoping to see a fire coming from inside. But there wasn't any glow.

Hydro was first in line. He looked toward the man next to him: Cain. His breathing was staggered, and his eyes searched past Guardian Eska as well, even Hydro could see that. Cain was adorned in a steel helm shaped like an owl. A green linen gambeson padded and protected him behind chainmail that hung from his shoulder pads. His leather gloves were sewn with iron knuckles. Is this place really that deadly? Compared to Cain, Hydro was under protected in his rhinoskin armor and a silver helm with a nose guard. Vambraces guarded his forearms, but Hydro wore only leather padding for his knuckles, no iron.

"Contestants, before you is the Zas Labyrinth. I will now begin the process of forming teams. When I finish, speak your full name, starting with Prince Paen and continuing to the right, ending with Cadmar."

Hydro could not read Eska's lips but a hologram of a jeweled box hovered in front of the guardian. With his gloved hand Eska, directed it to stop before Hydro.

"Hydro Paen." Something tugged at the back of his throat. Hydro opened his mouth and yawned to assist the spell in the process. A green line encoded with his name floated toward the box and went inside.

Besides telepathy and the occasional strengthening spell, Hydro rarely used the tier of telekinetic power. Out of the three types, it drained the most energy, for it relied on the spellcaster's energy to use it, not another outside source. One could easily tell when someone was using that type of power because the eyes glowed. That was normal. Eska's hand glowing behind his glove, though, was unusual. What type of power is that?

After receiving all the names, the jeweled box returned to Eska. As it started shaking, a low-pitched hum reverberated in Hydro's ear. The box shook in rhythm to the humming, which reached its crescendo as the box disappeared in a violent spasm. The noise stopped. Eska's eyes stopped glowing. Before him, in green lettering, Hydro looked at his partner's name: Cadmar Briggs. His brows furrowed and his tongue clicked. "Assemble into your teams and follow me," Guardian Eska said.

Hydro didn't bother waiting for his partner to walk up the slight incline. As he stood outside one of the labyrinth's entrances, he noticed that Cain had been paired with the commoner and that Zain was paired with Gabrielle.

When the Garian finally took his place next to Hydro, his arms were crossed and his chest puffed. Staggered metal padding slid down his arms, connecting with vambraces on his forearms. His chest was only covered in leather, though, and his head had no helm.

"You may enter the labyrinth now. Good luck to you all," Guardian Eska said.

Hydro walked forward, his arms no longer crossed. Instead his right hand constantly stayed on his hilt. If this labyrinth was as dangerous as Cain made it seem, he would need to stay ready. As Hydro walked, he made no effort to talk to the Garian, and besides looking back occasionally to see if he followed, he kept his gaze forward and focused.

For the first couple paths, everything was normal—dirt floor and an open sky. There were no flames though—sconces, but no flames. What are you afraid of, Cain? It was only after turning left at a split did Hydro see rats scurrying to and fro—some out from forgotten clothing, others from cleaned ribcages of humans. Maggots laid claim to the skulls, but fetor overpowered them all, holding the air hostage. Hydro pulled up his rhinoskin padding and tried tucking his nose into it the best he could. What is that? The stench hadn't been present when they entered, but it increased with every turn.

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