When morning came, she awoke to find the stranger from her dream was still there. He was looking through the cabinets and drawers in the kitchen. It took a while for Aleix to notice she had woken up. When he realized, he stopped dead in his tracks. "I was just looking around to see if there might be something that could help us. I wasn't going to steal anything." "I didn't think you were. Not that you'd find anything valuable to steal. The house is mostly empty." The old woman had stopped giving her things beyond food when she was expected to care for the garden. Everything in the house after that point served a purpose. Cooking utensils, gardening tools, and things to clean with--that was what made up the contents of the house. "I've noticed. There's not even a blanket." He closed shut the drawer he had been sifting through. "Last night was freezing. How do you sleep like that?" "I usually don't sleep much at night. That's more to do with the beast being loud all night though. I've gotten used to the cold." The cold air, the cold earth, the old woman's cold touch. Everything had always been cold. "If I begged enough, when I was little, she'd let me sleep with a towel for a blanket. But she's bewitched them since then to burn if I try that now." "That monster really enjoys torturing people, doesn't she? Isn't everything else enough for her?" He sat back down at the table. "Have you been sleeping in the day then?" "Only a little. I'm allowed to sleep an hour when the sun is out. When an hour has passed, no matter how tired I am, or how deep in sleep, I immediately wake up. It's another spell she's put on me." Her tone was very matter-of-fact. She had become so used to all the rules that it no longer held any emotional pain in her. She had buried those feelings long ago. "What? Why would anyone...I'm sorry I kept you up so late last night." He put his hand over hers. The initial touch shocked her a bit. She'd forgotten how warm his hand was. She wasn't sure what the appropriate way to react to his gesture was. Guessing, she mimicked his motion and put her other hand over his. "It's alright. Last night was the most I've slept in years. No, I think the most I've ever slept. I should be thanking you for that." He didn't react in a negative way to her touch. He kept his hand there much longer than he had the previous time he touched her hand. "I have to wonder how you've been surviving all this time off of so little food and sleep. That's got to be some magic in and of itself. Most people would have died by now. I know I would have." "Really? But how can that be? I'm so weak." "Of course you're weak right now. If you take away basic needs, even the strongest person alive will become weak. I think you're actually really strong. Not just your body, but your mind too. I'd have gone mad." He pulled his hand away and reached in his pockets. "Sometimes, I wonder if I am mad myself..." She muttered under her breath. "Here. You're hungry, aren't you?" Aleix handed her a piece of cheese and bread. "It isn't much. It's all I had on me. The rest of my food was in my bag outside." She took it reluctantly. "Are you sure?" "Don't worry about it. When we get out of here, we can eat again." He finished off his own food quickly. Lucrecia was leery of eating the food for another reason. She's always only eaten what the old woman had given her. Something could happen if she ate other food. When the garden still produced fruit, eating any would make her throat burn. She took a deep breath and put the food in her mouth. To her surprise, nothing happened. Her stomach growled at her for more. She hadn't eaten in several days now. Aleix laughed. "You're really hungry, huh? Don't worry. I have plenty of food outside. Unless Haizea ate it all." "Haizea?" "Ah, she's my horse. She's probably still waiting outside the mountain. At least, I hope so. I hope nothing's happened to her up there." "I don't think the old woman would hurt the horse. I've only ever seen her bring back human remains. The beast is a hound too. She seems to not mind those creatures as much, or at least, they don't entertain her." "Let's hope for the best." His tone became serious. "Getting back to where we left off yesterday, I have some more questions for you. I know you can't get over the wall, but have you ever tried going under it?" "Yes, it's pure stone as far down as I could dig." She hadn't tried digging around the entire wall, but most of it she had attempted it with to the same results. It was unlikely any part of it was different than the rest. "Under the floor?" "The floor is stone too, remember?" She tapped her foot on the ground. "There's no going under that either. I've tried digging under and it's the same as the wall. I've never reached the bottom." "All of it is like that?" "Every inch." "And there's no weak points in the walls either, I presume. Wait..." He got up from the table and rushed over to the door. "I have an idea!" "An idea?" Lucrecia followed behind him. "When you try to climb the wall, the vines wrap around you. But, is it reacting to you climbing over or touching the top of the wall?" "I...I don't think I understand where you're going with this." "What if you never touch the wall? Maybe it's your touching it that sets it off, and not that you're going over the wall. She may have put a spell on the top of the wall that keeps you from getting any further once you touch a certain point. If that's what she's done...then..." He smirked. Aleix walked out into the garden. "If you never touch the wall, it won't set off the spell and we can get over." "I see. That makes sense, but how am I supposed to get over the wall without touching it?" She had attempted to jump over the wall before from the roof of the house. The distance was too far for her to make it, and she only ended up with bruises. There was nothing to stack up to get over the wall. The chairs and table in the house were made of solid rock like most of everything else around her and were too heavy for her to lift or push. What other way is there over? "You couldn't, alone. And I'd wager she's arrogant enough to think no one who she threw down here would ever get this close to you. But with two people, it should be possible." He turned around and pointed to his back. "You can hold on to me, and I'll carry you over. We just have to make sure you don't touch the wall at any point when I'm climbing." "Do you really think that will work? It sounds so easy." "Let's try it." He lowered himself onto his knees. "Get on my back." "Alright...but what do we do if we make it to the other side?" She put her arms around his neck and wrapped her legs around him. "I haven't thought that far ahead yet. Let's concentrate on this task first." He stood up. "Do you have a good grip on me?" "Uh huh. I think I'm ready." She kept her limbs close in and she held her breath. The climb seemed to move in slow motion. Her heartbeat pounded in her head as he touched the top of the wall, and went over it without any problems. She looked back at the vines that lined the walls. Not a single one moved. She waited in between the seconds for something to go wrong. Nothing. Before she could comprehend it, she heard the sound of Aleix's feet hitting the ground on the other side. He turned so that they both faced the garden wall. "Look, we did it! We're over the wall!" "It really worked...it was that easy all along...how could it be that easy?" She couldn't believe it. Her heart was filled with happiness and anger. Tears welled up in her eyes. "It wasn't easy before. Alone, it was impossible." He smiled at her. "Don't cry. You see, we humans can't do a lot by ourselves. We're strongest when we're together. Now, we need to figure out what to do next. I'm betting most of the rules of the maze rely on her presuming her victim is alone too. We can use that against her." Lucrecia felt some comfort in his words. She didn't know if he was telling the truth anymore than the old woman, but even if it was a lie, she appreciated his intentions. She wiped away her tears. "But how?" "I don't know yet. We need to do some exploring first. Oh, here. Let me put you down." He kneeled down. As she let go, her mind was filled with fear and excitement. Her heart beat faster now than it had when she went over the wall. Her feet were touching outside the garden wall. Somewhere new. The place beyond the wall let in less of the dim sunlight, casting the furthest parts she could see out into shadow. The ground was even colder here, and slightly damp. Her bare feet left deep imprints in the dirt. She hated the texture of the muddy earth squishing between her toes. It dawned on her that Aleix was wearing shoes. She was envious of that luxury. With every step, she squirmed a little at the disgusting feeling underneath. He noticed her discomfort. "Oh, you don't have any shoes. Do you want to borrow mine? They'd be a little big on you, but you can tie them tight and they won't slip off." "I'd would love to wear them, but it might slow me down to wear shoes too big for me, don't you think?" "Hmm, probably so. Well, unfortunately, that means you're going to have to continue on like that for the time being. Sorry." She took another step and flinched again. "It's fine. I'll be fine." He laughed. "You don't sound fine." "It's nothing I can't handle." Lucrecia held her head high and kept a straight face as she took another disgusting step. "If you say so." He said in a teasing tone. Aleix walked right beside her. "Make sure you stay close. It's hard to see in here. We absolutely can't get separated." A blaring noise rumbled across the maze. They both froze in place in total silence. When the noise faded, they each looked around for any signs of anything coming. It was too dark for to get a clear view. Lucrecia moved closer to Aleix, their arms touching. The ground shook. That familiar shriek she'd dreaded every night echoed behind them. Aleix took hold of her hand. "Don't look back. Run." The disgust from the ground left her mind. She cursed her feet for slipping so much in the muddy ground. Despite what Aleix had told her, she couldn't help herself from looking back. She'd spent over two decades living inside the labyrinth beside that monster without once having ever seen it. The foolishness of it was apparent to her, but she wouldn't be satisfied with leaving until she saw the beast's face. She had to know the face of the thing that had brought her so much fear and ended so many lives. She couldn't stand the thought of dying by its hands without knowing its true nature. The same shade as the old woman's, two huge, blood colored eyes grew closer behind her from the shadows.
Five | TOC