It was an old story carved on an epitaph that I always found fascinating.
[The Year of Fire, king Methiotis brought a foreign woman to his palace. She possessed such exceptional pulchritude that one glance at her countenance and the young king’s heart was swept away. He forsook his old idols and worshipped her as the one and only goddess, building a shrine for her at the heart of a magnificent labyrinth. He named it ‘Solar Labyrinth’ and the complex structure took ten full years to finish. After that, the king ordered to decapitate all the architectures and workers. The labyrinth’s secrets were sealed and king Methiotis would be the only man alive to be able to enter its heart.]
“Wasn’t Methiotis’ possessiveness and jealousy far more magnificent than his labyrinth?”
My twin brother remarked with a hint of sarcasm upon hearing this story. I couldn’t think of any arguments to object.
Truly king Methiotis was a possessive and jealous man who wished for no other than himself to gaze upon his goddess’ beauty. Still, was there any man who wasn’t possessive and jealous when it concerned their women?
Most believed the Solar Labyrinth, despite being the greatest wonder of that age, was but a jeweled cage to keep the king’s precious canary from flying away. I wasn’t an exception.
Still, from the bottom of my heart, I held onto a belief that the beauty had been willing to leave her freedom outside the labyrinth, for her love was greater and stronger than all the marble walls that housed her.
Perhaps, it was because I myself yearned for a person who loved me so much that he wanted to separate me from the rest of the world.
It was such an insane wish that I buried it at the deepest corner of my heart.
[The Year of Silver, king Methiotis’ Kingdom of The Sun was under attack from the savages of the far North. The king bade farewell to his goddess and rode to war.]
The epitaph ended here but history knew better. By the Year of Sand, king Methiotis perished on the battlefield, along with his once wealthiest kingdom in the world.
Kings rose and fell and kingdoms after kingdoms were built and demolished upon the foundation of the ancient Kingdom of The Sun. Still the labyrinth stood where it had been two thousand years ago, having survived all the ravaging gales of ages and threats of plunders.
Countless had tried to penetrate the heart of the labyrinth, either enchanted by the rumors of king Methiotis’ treasures or simply driven by the thirst of knowledge. None had ever come out, for those who dared to tarnish his goddess’ shrine had to be punished.
Punished? By whom?
Up untill now, the king’s ghost was still haunting the palace, many were convinced.
However, such macabre reputation did not stop curious people from trying to solve this marble mystery.
For example, us.
When my twin brother, born-adventurer, told me his plan to discover the Solar Labyrinth, I thought it was a fascinatingly insane idea, as expected from his usual spontaneity. But, being the sensible one of the pair, I tried to talk him out of such blatant madness. In the end, it was me who got won over by his unwavering enthusiasm.
Some came to us in hope of fortune while others were purely interested in research. Eventually we gathered enough people to form a team. Daredevils we called ourselves, for we were fully aware of the risks involved. Some, or maybe all of us would never make it out alive.
Starting from the first day of our journey, a bizarre dream frequently visited me. In the dream, I found myself lost in some sort of maze. No matter where I ran, white marble walls were the only thing I saw. Though the splendid sun filled the place with light and warmth, I was always haunted with a nonsensical dread, as if there was a pair of eyes constantly watching my every step.
Despair found the way into my soul and I began to wept. Until a soft voice spoke to me:
“Follow me” it said, in the ancient tongue of the Kingdom of the Sun I had, fortunately, mastered in my long years at college. Without any doubts, my dream self followed its guide.
Whose voice is it, I wondered. Was it belonged to the same person as the eyes? Or… was it even human?
It was until our team stood at the entrance, marveling at the two-thousand-year-old wonder that I realized the place in my dream as the Solar Labyrinth. Every cobble, every turn, every deadly trap was the same. My brother was astonished by my uncanny ability to find the exact way in this huge, elaborately constructed maze. So were our teammates. Part of me wanted to tell them about my enigmatic dream but I restrained myself, knowing how ridiculous it sounded to people who didn’t have such experience.
Scattering bones piled up as we went deeper into the core, together with my sense of dread. The feeling of being watched from behind never ceased from the back of my mind.
My twin brother only shrugged at the mention of fear. To him, the brave one, I was always the scared five-year-old who would hid behind his back at the mere presence of a tiny spider.
That night, at we rested inside the labyrinth, waiting for tomorrow to enter its heart, a different dream came to me. A frightening one.
In front of me were our predecessors who had survived the elaborate traps set around every turn. As they made their way into the legendary shrine, they disappeared.
No, ‘disappear’ was too vague a verb. To be precise, it had to be ‘devoured’.
There was something else inside the walls, something alive. Neither could we see or detect it by any means, yet it was right there, patiently waiting for us.
I woke up with a non-audible scream.
I tried to warn my teammates, utilizing all my wits to convince them against advancing any further. No matter how I showered them with good sense, it simply washed off their shoulders. They had smelled treasures, even those who had joined us in search of knowledge and there would be no turning back before they got what they came all the way for.
All of them, my brother included.
It came to us with barely any notice, the moment the calamity unfolded. Firearms were of no use against an unknown, unseen opponent and we watched our comrades being devoured, one after another, with utter helplessness. Before long, my brother and I was the only one left.
I could easily read the horror written all over his handsome features. He who was the fearless one now began to taste fear.
A voice from nowhere spoke to us, its tone sweet and musical.
[Enirva, itsueran ya.]
My brother stood there, dumbfounded by the foreign language he could not decipher. But I could, and it startled me even more.
It said: “My king, is that really you?”
[Mae ni ya.]
“Show yourself!”. I shouted back, trying to sound calm. Inside, I knew every fiber of my being was shaking. Not with fear but with joy.
It seemed to me at that moment, my mind and soul were completely switched with someone else’s. Yet my consciousness remained intact. I was and was not myself at the same time.
We heard the sound strangely akin to bone being grounded echoing through marble walls. My brother grabbed my sweated hand and ran. I refused with a stubbornness too foreign to him and said I wanted to see ‘it’.
He would not leave me by myself and thus, my dearest brother was stuck with me to witness the uncanny phenomenon occurring in front of our eyes.
From the closest wall to us ‘she’ emerged. The head, the neck, the shoulders, the arms, the torso… Slowly, bit by bit, she pulled herself out from the wall.
She looked pale as the marble wall and her fountain of hair had already turned starkly white. Nevertheless, such features did not marr her implacable beauty; they even gave her an exotic touch.
We stood there, all our senses temporarily forgotten, mesmerized by her sheer presence.
She was king Methiotis’ only goddess and this labyrinth was her shrine.
She did not seem to see me as she came to my brother, reaching out her ivory hand and caressed his cheek.
[Enirva, shira haerassi.]
“My king, I’ve been waiting so long.”
[Douaraya ni shira mesuras.]
“Will you take me out from this place?”
My brother flinched from her touch, cold sweats forming on his forehead. He looked at me, silently pleading for help while I was completely speechless, perplexed by the meaning of her words.
Had she been there the entire time? How had she survived time? What had she become?
A tiny part of me wanted to tell her the truth but somehow, the notion of seeing her in pain agonized me a thousand fold.
I didn’t know her, had never seen her, had no connection with her. Why did I feel like I had know her two thousand years past.
… Loved her even.
Which was why I felt a sharp sting of jealousy as she pressed her lips against my brother’s.
The scenery around us changed rapidly and I found myself witnessing the glorious past of the Solar Labyrinth, not its gloomy present.
There they were, the king and his goddess, enveloped by their affection for each other.
This place was theirs. The whole world was theirs.
Was my brother seeing the same thing?
I had shouted him to stop but it was too late. With his pocket knife and last ounce of strength, he stabbed her in the chest.
No blood oozed out.
She looked at the hole in her bosoms, eyes wide and face distorted.
My brother harshly grabbed me by the arm and ran.
We were running to the entrance. No, strictly speaking, it was my brother who did the running and I was only dragged along. The scene I was witnessing froze my blood and paralyzed my limbs.
King Methiotis, fearing he would not be able to come back, decided to kill his beloved first.
But he who had gone through myriad cycles of rebirth never knew that she, up until now, was still waiting for his return.
Oblivious to her own demise, she tried desperately to stay in this world.
Even if she had had to become one with the labyrinth.
Yes, she was the labyrinth.
Tears flowing like never before, an excruciating agony was penetrating my heart.
So foreign yet so familiar. So surreal yet so real.
The walls around us began to crumble, slowly closing the way out. I heard her voice between the cracks of the walls.
[Enirva, nefanda shira.]
She was begging her king not to leave. She was begging me not to leave.
It should have been me, not my brother. If she had spared me, why couldn’t she realize?
[Shira nuren, laefinne, eainsarca.]
“I’ll stay, my love, forever.”
I repeated over and over, hoping she would hear me.
Right at the entrance, I tore myself off my brother’s grip and fell into her embrace.
Rubble sealed off the entrance, separating me from the present and the past.
My brother might take after Methiotis’ look but it was me who inherited his heart and soul.