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There was a great rumbling immediately surrounding both Varen and Corym, and the hedge walls around them began to move as well. The ground beneath them shook, the sound of the hedges—which seemed to be rooted in stone planters rather than being directly planted into the ground—was near-deafening.

There was a guttural snarl that resounded as well, as the maze walls revealed new paths and closed of old ones, and in the turmoil of the many shiftings, a wall had just passed in between Corym and Varen, separating them. After a chilling roar, the walls seemed to pause into their place and fall silent once again, leaving Corym alone.

~~~

There was rustling to the right and then to the left of where Liam and Gweyr were bared and ready for battle. In the chaos of the moving walls and the sound that it produced, one may have seen the gangly limb of something that was hued a slightly discolored lichen. There was a primal growl before a lanky creature, a wall-crawler with six emaciated legs and a disturbingly humanoid head, lunged at Gweyr from behind her. The creature was about eight feet long and four feet high in its permanent crouching position.

At one moment, Gweyr had spotted the wall-crawler from a distance and she was prepared to take her shot, once she studied its patterns; searching for a sign of predictability. She would attempt to seize it true and bring it down in her claim. At Liam's words though, a slight pink hue formed on her soft visage; such playful memories she had as if Liam was her own son. Unfortunately, her womb would never know the feeling of bearing a child. She was a warrior, a soldier who chose to save the children instead of creating them; each elf had their own purpose. This side of Liam, reminded her so much of Rhett. The Duke was always a charming person. She was proud that the good side of him carried on in the soul of his son.

"Of course, I was just prompting you to prepare for the worst." She grinned.

The look she offered him was if Gweyr was still young again; she often shared a similar affection with her younger brothers Ewing and Akosh. The beauty in her elven features were still as vivid as the waterfalls of Essellé; with a scent that was sweeter than the blossoms of Thryesti. Elvira always mentioned that her scent was pleasant even covered in Orcish blood.

Then something strange and unpredictable occurred. The crawler vanished and she lost focus. The growl was heard first and this allowed her time to react, so she was not caught completely off guard. Foolishly, the primal creature lacked discipline and possibly showed its cards too soon. Albeit, the beast was still swift enough to catch her backside -- The claw lunged her ivory cloak of memory true; tearing it from the neck of her aureate plate armor and pushing her a few feet forwards. She dropped her bow with instinct and pulled the ivory ore blade from her side sheathe.

Her eyes widened when she seen the crawlers true height. The tall lanky beast would leave with her cloak in its grasp and Gweyr brought her glowing blade down into the fleshly leg that viciously assaulted her; yelling with grit. She looked up into the invisible eyes above; the council; as fresh crimson sprayed on her pale features. A smile was seen on her face as if she had missed the taste. But she did not dwell there, it was only a moment. She reared back to defend her self, not wishing to catch another sneak attack.

She glanced at Liam, checking to see if he was well and he was. She was glad he was here because they would have to take this abomination down, together. No words needed to be said now. She expected Liam to act accordingly.

There was suddenly another set of rumblings and movement, this one seeming a lot closer than the ones before. Xyla paused, taking stock of the situation. It really seemed like wherever they went, trouble would follow, and that getting through this maze would depend more on how to get past anything that the maze tossed at them rather than trying to avoid as many dangers as possible. The scrape of stone upon stone was a bit more obvious amongst the noises, and the young elf tried to figure out what I’m Obelus was that? But hardly anything came to mind. It made her worry.

She tightened her grip on her staff as she walked along the tile, but after stepping on yet another tile, she suddenly recoiled as she felt a change in energy. Her heart raced as she tried to read what was going on beneath their feet.

“...run! And don’t stop!” She suddenly cried back to Amara before taking off and bolting ahead, her brown cape fluttering behind her.

Amara would hear the sound of cracking just behind her, and if she looked she would see that tiles were beginning to fall away at random into some abyss apparently below them. She could even feel the steadiness of the ones beneath her feet faltering a little.

Amara's eyes are turned upwards towards the vague light of the sun coming through the tops of the hedges high above them. Allowing Xyla to lead them with her light is well enough, but the wanderer wishes she could tell just which way they are turning without having to rely on memory or markings, either of which could end up being unreliable at best. She doesn't even realize anything is wrong until her companion is yelling and moving forward with alacrity. Glancing down just the once shows gives her a quick and easy reason as to Xyla's sudden exodus.

A soft elven curse escapes her lips, something she learned during her time wandering through the treetop villages along the coast of the Black Sea. It certainly isn't a collection of words that any of these sparklingly beautiful Haramon nobles would ever be caught saying, but it feels appropriate to the moment. It's especially appropriate really as she has a sinking feeling she may have caused this with her vigorous beating of the tiles with her pommel earlier when attempting to mark their progress. Whatever the cause though she will quickly and readily obey the other woman's command to run.

Her sword is still drawn, as the grinding noises seem to be growing closer, but for now all that she cares about is staying ahead of the disappearing floor. A few times she even has to leap over a gap or change direction as this path or that no longer becomes viable. There is a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach that she and Xyla may be separated if they aren't careful but there's no way either of them can risk slowing their pace at this point. They will simply have to hope that they manage to make solid land fall together. There's that word again. Hope.

Corym turned on heel at the sound of the grating stone mechanisms of the labrynth. The blur of green that was the wall had locked off the way back, and with it, his teammate.

"VAREN! Wh-" He drove his axe into the hedges, clawing with his other hand to try and force through the undergrowth. The savage snarling and howling from beyond, along with the density of the ancient growth halting his progress. He waited with breath held till the rumbling and bestial sounds subsided. "Varen?.... Dammit, you were supposed to be keeping watch."

Corym strained to listen for any other sounds beyond the wall, something, anything to give him a reason to renew his attempt to break through. Nothing. He pried his weapon from its place, exhaled, then turned to place his hand on the right wall once more.

"If he survived that, then it's proof enough he should quit while he can. If not... well, then it just means I'll have one less person to compete with." Corym thought grimly. He was not about to let pity for a stranger's fate and fear of the unknown paralyze him. Picking the cobble path at the fork with the statue, he pressed on with haste. With no one to wait on or be lookout, plans were out the window, and urgency to get out and survive took priority.

Liam hadn't seen the wall crawler sneak up on Gweyr, and he was upset with himself for it. However, he pushed the feeling out of his mind for the moment, as it seemed that the Ranger was able to avoid getting harmed. The beast did manage to snatch her cloak, however. He saw her take out her blade and stab the offending leg, blood spattering on her face. He then saw her smile, but it was only momentary.

The young noble saw Gweyr look at him, and they exchanged a wordless glance. He nodded at her before making a large, vertical slashing motion with his claymore, the glow seeming to leave a trail in the dim light of the maze. A large blade of air rocketed towards the crawler. It made contact, the sharp current cutting the creature. Instead of continuing along the path, the swath of air spiraled up around the monster, continuing to buffet it, leaving it temporarily stunned.

This was all the opportunity that Liam needed. He rushed at the crawler, and, once he was close enough, delivered two powerful slashes with his claymore to the creature's back, delivering the killing blow with the second. Liam was breathing slightly heavily as he lowered his lightly glowing, bloodstained blade, releasing the magic as he did so. The vortex of wind around his sword vanished. He then smiled weakly at Gweyr. "That wasn't so bad," he said to her.

Momentarily, the walls around Liam and Gweyr began to slow, and eventually they paused, stopping in a new configuration. The wall-crawler lay dead before them, its grotesque visage a bit more plain now that it lay still in death. It was a hideous creature, seemingly mutated with so much of the plant life around it, however upon closer inspection, its flesh seemed partly rotted.

There were three paths before them now, and none of them could be totally denied, as there was still the possibility that the new path did not follow the old one. Even the path they had entered from seemed to have shifted and changed so that it was no longer an option as well. Harsh furrows along the ground perhaps told where the towering walls of the maze had once been, but it was still too little of an indicator to really determine where anything was.

They would also hear the echoes of rumbling in the distance, but if it was the residuals of their own or that of another, it would be difficult to tell.

~~~

With Corym's heightened sensitivity and adrenaline that came with the fight-or-flight response that the sudden loss of his partner would surely invoke in him, he thought he could hear sounds. Sometimes it would sound like the walls rustled lightly about him. Or was it just the wind? Maybe he thought he heard footsteps--or were they just his own, now being echoed by the cobblestone path that he now trod upon?

Rumbling, again. Far off from him, or just an echoing of memory?

Along the path that he had chosen, the floramancer headed towards the statue, and the closer he was able to get, the clearer that statue's focus would be to him. It was a slightly-crumbling, somewhat moss-covered statue of a frog, standing at a T intersection, of which Corym could see the two paths jutting outward from each side of the statue. Although there seemed to be little water nearby, the growth looked healthy. There was a slab upon the frog's base, bearing this message upon it, somewhat eroded away:

...ction is...passagew...

Xyla ran as fast as her legs could get her, regardless of the effect it might have in the tiles beneath her feet. Knowing the rumors behind this maze, it wasn’t unreasonable to infer that there would be something incredibly unpleasant probably waiting for them at the bottom if they managed to fall through, and she certainly didn’t want to stick around and find out. The young elf made the mistake in glancing back to see Amara’s progress—only for her to trip and stumble as she expected to step on a tile that wasn’t there, only for her foot to partially glance off another, and immediately she flung her arms outward, keeping her forward momentum so that she wouldn’t fall backwards. She couldn’t describe the wave of relief she felt when she managed to right herself. But it wasn’t over yet.

The path diverged at a crossroads, tiles in all directions. Without really thinking why, Xyla picked the left path, shouting “This way! Go left!” to Amara as she did so.

As she continued to run, she could see the floor at last change from tile to wood, and she sprinted to the finish until she felt the floor beneath her change. Winded from the sudden rush, she slowed to a stop, turning around to see Amaranthine. “Here!” She waved, heart on edge to see if the other elf would make it through. “Grab the wall if you can’t make it! I’ll fetch you!”

Her cloak of memory had been destroyed and torn asunder, so she could no longer rely on this magic to get them back out. They were truly blind now in this maze. The walls began to shift once more and how they entered was now closed off from the mystical walls that blocked the original path. When she reached for her cloak it flickered and dissolved into elven minerals. The deteriorated fabric drained like ash through her slim finger tips. She wiped the ivory dust from her leggings, and sheathed her blade. Meanwhile, Liam had successfully slayed the crawler; crimson sprayed the both of them. She ran her thin fingers through her white hair, to move it from her face and wipe the blood from her ivory skin. Lastly, Gweyr grabbed her bow from the ground and studied the paths before them.

"You fought tremendously, but do not boast, Liam. I have seen great warriors like yourself decapitated right in front of me. I could not live with myself if that happened to you. Stay on guard." She said, almost motherly.

Her deep voice was soothing, though, a comfort of old leadership that was needed now. She placed her bow over her shoulders and placed her fingers together like a pyramid, listening and observing the three options they now had. Rumbling was heard again from the far distance and she took notice to that as well.

"We have to make a choice," She said, studying the three paths before them.

One thing she considered was the harsh furrows, deep trenches, that lay in the sand once the walls were shifted. The clearest path was the one that did not have any stain in the sand. That was the way she went.

She hoped the path with no trench led to dead center.

"Come Liam, crawlers are known to adapt. And once they are defeated it will be harder to defeat another the same way. We need to move center, before more come."

Amara isn't the fastest runner in all of Obelus, but it will take much more than this short sprint to tire her out. She keeps pace behind her smaller, quicker partner as best she can, occasionally leaping from tile to tile as the path before her vanishes. At one point a bit of the floor actually falls away just as her foot makes contact. Her knee comes crashing down upon the tile next to and then that one begins to wobble and shake as well. Swearing again, the tall elf woman pushes off before it has the opportunity to dump her down the deep dark hole below.

As she nears the wooden floor upon which Xyla has taken refuge it will become clear to both of them that she is not, in fact, going to make it. With one finally push, one final leap, her arms outstretch. Strong, calloused fingers grip the edge of the wooden platform and her right side slams into the side of the pit. Well, she had known when she entered that even in the best case scenario she wasn't going to make it out of this competition with at least a few bruises to show for it.

Amara dangles there for a moment, looking down and catching her breath, before finally glancing up to see if her partner will help her as she claimed or take advantage of her precarious situation instead.

The sense of urgency hadn't quite left Corym as he slid to a halt at the statue's base. Were he not in a paranoia driven-rush, he would have found the maze intriguing. Given the circumstances however, he was acutely aware it was little more than an awful death trap with a pretty veneer.

He was about to turn and ignore it, continuing his course until he took note of the writing. It did not seem to be a random memorial marker or vanity bust. The worn lettering had ominous implications. Due to the shifting of the previous area, he did not want to take chances that this was a warning of a poor possible choice, or an opportunity to cut through unnecessary diversions.

Scooping up a bit of moss and dirt, he hastily scrubbed it against the inscription on the stone relief, hoping that any remaining grooves would catch the soil and green moss pigment. If it should offer more insight, he'd choose which way to go, else he intended to proceed along his intended path.

((For Corym))

Upon the smearing of dirt and moss upon the inscription's cracks, more of the message was revealed. There was even a second line that had not been immediately visible, covered in dust.

...eflection is the passageway

Let your gaze never wander from your mirage


In addition, there seemed to be a jagged image of an arrow--perhaps chipped in by a dagger--beneath the image, pointing to the right.

Liam nodded, trying to look a little contrite. He hadn't meant to sound boastful, if he had. He was merely glad that the two of them had made it through the encounter with the Crawler pretty much unscathed. He couldn't help but smile a bit with some melancholy at the tone Gweyr had used when speaking to him just now. He remembered her using that tone with him over two decades previously to console him after his mother, Reymona, had died of an illness. She had been an invaluable shoulder to cry on for him. He wiped the blood off the glowing blade of his claymore and sheathed the massive Ivory blade. "Forgive me," he said. "I was just glad we got through that essentially unharmed." The young noble then watched as the Ranger was making a choice between the three paths that lay before them.

When Gweyr told him to come with her, he nodded and followed her. After a few moments, however, he actually pushed past his mentor and took the lead. A moment or two after doing so, he held his hand out in front of him, palm up, and softly muttered a short incantation. A ball of light that was slightly larger than a large grapefruit appeared out of thin air a couple of inches above his palm. It was nice and bright, illuminating a good deal of the shadowy path around them. Liam held it aloft, only furthering the illumination. Despite its brilliance, the light had a soft white glow to it, and had something that almost seemed to be a warm, familiar aura to it. A trace of the same small smile appeared on Liam's lips.

Diola lle, atara, he thought.

Thank you, Mother

Xyla watched with her heart in her throat as Amara leapt, and the younger elf took a stutter of a step forward instinctively to help before hesitating, thinking that she would only get in the way. But after the rogue hung there for a moment, she scampered over to help. They were competitors. She knew that. Yet, it just wouldn’t be like her to simply leave Amara behind just to gain an advantage. It simply wouldn’t sit right with her.

She crouched down about half a foot from the wood’s edge and offered a hand to Amara. “Come on,” she insisted, and if the rogue didn’t give her hand within a few moments, then Xy would eventually grab Amara’s wrist herself and do her best to pull her up to her feet. The raven-haired elf’s chest heaved, a product from the activity but more so from the sheer adrenaline at the near brush of a trap that they had stumbled upon. Even now she rocked lightly on her feet, uncertain if the wood too would fall away.

“The more we disturb this place, it’ll probably only get worse,” she breathed the observation, glancing back at the long array of path that had fallen through, stone tiles now scattered amongst sharp spikes. She couldn’t help but shudder at the thought that they had been that close to being among the debris. “We have to keep moving. Are you okay?”

((Liam and Gweyr))

Liam’s light pushed away many of the shadows of the maze’s corridor, and one could almost imagine and hope that any other critters would recoil as well from it, since little sunlight really reached the maze’s floor. Even though the sun was rising and making the morning sky a bright and beautiful azure, only a small and somber sliver of it could be seen if one looked up, the maze’s foreboding atmosphere swallowing up the precious little warmth came from above.

Continuing further upon the path, the next two hundred paces remained uneventful and quiet, and it remained quiet even as something on the floor in the distance caught the light to reflect dully. Something small, and perhaps metallic. They would only know if they came any closer.

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