Continuing Tales

Return to the Labyrinth

A Labyrinth Story
by ArtemisFallen

Part 18 of 24

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Leverage: A Christmas Tale

The isolation of the tunnels seemed a thing of the past with Ludo lumbering happily beside Sarah. Though quiet by nature, Ludo made several jovial grunts and groans, indicating his absolute elation to be reunited with his friend.

Sarah shared in his enthusiasm. She had feared she would never again see the gentle beast. His companionship was a welcome addition to her adventure.

After several minutes of winding through tunnels, Sarah led them to what appeared to be a dead end.

"Sarah lost?" Ludo inquired skeptically.

"Not at all," Sarah assured him. "Things aren't always what they seem in this place." She reached out and felt the earthen wall in front of her. She pushed hard against the wall, but it didn't budge.

Ludo tilted his head inquisitively as he watched her, scratching absentmindedly behind his ear.

"Where is it?" Sarah muttered irritably to herself as her fingers slid across the dirt, coming to rest on a stiff and dried vine.

She smiled. "Ah, here we are." Sarah yanked forcefully on the vine and the earthen wall in front of them began to rumble and shake, stubbornly giving way and falling inward. A cloud of dust enveloped them, eliciting a violent coughing fit from them both.

"Ugh, you okay, Ludo?" Sarah asked, detesting the sound and feel of the dirt as it settled on her teeth. She coughed again, waving the dirt away from her face with her hand.

"Uh-huh," Ludo mumbled. He looked up, his mouth turning into a wide smile as he pointed. "Sarah, look!"

Sarah followed his gaze. Bright, hazy sunlight filtered down through the hole as the dust parted and began to settle. Through the haze, Sarah could make out an old ladder which promised an escape. She looked over at Ludo.

"Are you ready to get out of here?" Sarah asked, grinning broadly.

Ludo chuffed happily, bouncing from one foot to the other at the prospect of freedom.

"Okay," Sarah chuckled. "Just follow me."

She approached the ladder cautiously, pulling on it and testing its sturdiness. Despite its rickety appearance, it seemed solid under her touch. Sarah warily set a foot on the rung, gradually raising herself higher and higher. Ludo mimicked her movements, placing a giant hand and foot on the rungs, following Sarah slowly. The ladder shuddered and shook under their combined weight, but held together. Sarah breathed out a sigh of relief.

"That's it, big guy," she encouraged. "Just take it slow. Nice and easy."

"Ludo want down!" Ludo moaned as the ladder creaked unhappily under them.

"No, keep climbing. It's okay, Ludo," Sarah soothed, gripping the rungs tightly. "We're almost there. Trust me. I won't let anything happen to you."

"Pro-Promise?" Ludo whimpered, looking up at Sarah with large, pleading eyes.

"Promise," Sarah vowed solemnly.

Ludo nodded and continued, his progress painstakingly slow due to his tribulations. Sarah, on the other hand, increased her pace as the light grew closer above her. She was very nearly able to taste the fresh air which wafted from beyond the top of the hole.

Almost there, Sarah chanted to herself. Just a few more rungs…

Sarah was surprised when droplets of water began to patter down on her forehead.

Is it raining? She wondered as she neared the opening. But it's too bright to be…

Her thought was cut short when a gush of water sprayed her as she popped her head up through the opening. Surprised, Sarah clawed frantically to keep her grip on the ladder, lest she topple back down the way she came. She held on tightly, sputtering through the water and pushing herself above it.

She gasped in a breath of air, shaking the water from her head and eyes, unwilling to release her death grip on the ladder to remove the soaked strands of hair plastered to her face. Through her wet and matted hair, Sarah tried to assess her surroundings. She was amazed to discover that she had emerged through an opening at the top of a tall water fountain. She scanned the landscape and was even more shocked when she recognized the clearing.

This was where we had lunch! Her mind sang happily. We're so close!
"Ludo, we're in a fountain," Sarah called down, finally brushing the hair that clung wetly to her face behind her ear. "There's lots of water. Be careful!"

"Okay," came Ludo's hesitant reply. Sarah turned her attention back to the fountain and the ground below, wondering how she was going to get down without getting wet. Finding the probability of staying dry an impossible endeavor, Sarah decided to discard her backpack so that she could spare it from getting waterlogged. She searched for a safe area, spotting a tangled mass of dense shrubbery. She shifted her backpack off her arm, aiming carefully and gently lobbing the bag into the awaiting bush. It bounced against the shrubs, sliding forward slightly before coming to a halt.

"Now if only I could get down that easily," Sarah mused quietly, craning her neck as she searched for a safe way down the fountain. She pulled herself out of the hole, her jeans and shoes instantly drenched by the cascading water. Carefully, she edged herself closer to the steep precipice of the fountain. Despite her slow and meticulous movements, Sarah felt her feet slide on the slippery surface. Desperately, she clawed for something to grab onto, but her hands caught nothing except water as she began to fall.

"Oh!" She cried out in shock, sliding off the top of the fountain and plummeting down into the awaiting pool.

Sarah hit the water hard, causing her to lose what little breath she had kept during her unscheduled descent. Sarah thrashed violently, swallowing a great deal of water as she submerged underneath the surface of the cool liquid. She struggled against the weight of the water, forcing herself up to the bright sun that rippled and wavered above her. The relief of the afternoon air rushed over her in a cool breeze as it kissed her face when she broke the water's surface.

Sarah floundered ungracefully at first, sputtering uncontrollably as she worked to remove the liquid from her lungs and replace it with the air she so desperately needed. As she began to calm down, Sarah was grateful, but not overly surprised that the fountain was deep enough for her to swim in. As she moved her legs, she peered down into the watery depths. It appeared to have no bottom at all.

"Sarah?!" Ludo called down, breaking into Sarah's thoughts. He sounded incredibly worried.

Sarah coughed, clearing her raw and burning throat. "I'm alright, Ludo." She swam to the side of the fountain's pool and peered up. She could just barely make out his orange fur glinting in the afternoon sun. "It's okay, Ludo. Come down!"

Ludo edged closer to the side of the fountain to where Sarah could see him more clearly. He gauged the distance between them and shook his head obstinately. "Uh-uh, nope."

"No?" Sarah asked, a chuckle following her question. "What's wrong? Can't you swim?"

Ludo shook his head violently again, causing Sarah to laugh harder at his reluctance. She pushed away from the side of the pool, lazing back in the water. Although her initial introduction to the water hadn't been very enjoyable, she was now enjoying her swim. She felt refreshed and revitalized, floating weightlessly along the surface.

"Come on, Ludo," Sarah called up to the trembling beast. "I told you I wouldn't let anything happen to you. You can trust me. Just jump!"

"Hmm, 'kay," Ludo murmured, sounding rather unconvinced. He edged closer still to the side of the fountain, trying to catch a glimpse of her far below. His eyes went wild with fear and surprise as his foot slipped the way Sarah's had and he came crashing down in a ball of frenzied thrashing.

"Yeeee-arrrrgh!" He screeched. Sarah's own eyes went wide as she hurriedly dove under the surface of the water, kicking her feet fervently to avoid the cannon ball of a monster that came careening down above her.

Ludo hit the water, the riptide of his landing causing Sarah to be tossed and tumbled viciously under the surface of the water. She emerged seconds later, watching Ludo flail violently. He howled in discontent and misery.

"Ludo!" Sarah called, having to shout in order to be heard over his wails. "You have to calm down. Watch me!" She ordered sternly. "Just look at me and do as I do."

Sarah put her arms out and floated gently, pushing them down every so often so that she bobbed on the surface. She slowly moved her legs to keep herself in an upright position.

"Breathe deeply and calmly," she instructed in a more gentle tone. "Place your arms out and push them down against the water slowly to keep yourself afloat."

Ludo's thrashing subsided, but his eyes remained wide and fearful as he watched Sarah. He endeavored to match her movements, gradually calming down enough to achieve a semi-floating, semi-floundering state above the surface of the water.

"You got it!" Sarah cheered. "Just like taking a bath!"

"Ludo hate baths!" He bemoaned sorely, still mastering his newly found swimming techniques.

Sarah laughed, falling backwards into the water and floating once more, enjoying the weightless comfort.

Ludo imitated her movements, quickly sinking beneath the surface. He erupted from the water seconds later, thrashing helplessly until he remembered to use the technique Sarah had just taught him. Ludo watched her keenly as Sarah swam around him, fluidly rolling from her back and to her stomach, pulling herself through the water with ease.

"Sarah good," Ludo observed. Sarah sighed in contentment, lazily turning onto her back once more so that her face could bask in the warmth and light of the afternoon sun.

"I've had practice," Sarah remarked. Reluctantly, she rolled herself upright. As much as she longed to enjoy herself in the refreshing water, she still had a great many things to do. There were those waiting for her and counting on her return.

"One day, when this is all over, I'm going to teach you how to swim," Sarah promised Ludo. "Would you like that?"

Ludo nodded vigorously, causing water to ripple over her in choppy waves. Sarah giggled at the child-like enthusiasm Ludo possessed.

"We're going to get out now," Sarah said. "Watch me." She began paddling slowly, showing Ludo in long, drawn out movements how to pull himself through the water. He mimicked her, somehow dragging himself through the water beside her without drowning them both. Sarah grabbed the edge of the pool, easing herself out with considerable effort due to the added weight of her clothes. One of the things she always hated after leaving the water was how heavy she felt on her feet. She sighed unhappily, wishing she could slide back into the pool and enjoy a carefree afternoon paddling in its depths.

"Here," Sarah offered, reaching out for Ludo who seemed to have more difficulty than she did leaving the water. Ludo gratefully accepted her hand and Sarah struggled to pull the heavy, wet beast from the fountain. His size in addition to the weight of the water in his fur was almost too much for Sarah. She feared he would pull them both back into the water.

Eventually, between the kicking, scrambling and grunting, Ludo was successfully able to crawl out of the pool. He gazed down ruefully at his dripping wet fur. He gave Sarah an overly mournful expression. He looked like a big, adorable, yet slightly pathetic, wet dog.

"Sorry, big guy," she chuckled while ringing the water from her hair and clothes. "I'm afraid there isn't a big enough hair dryer in the world for you. It'll take some time, but you'll dry in the sun."

Ludo groaned and before Sarah could run for cover, he began shaking himself dry just as a dog would, showering droplets of water everywhere.

"Hey!" She complained, shielding her face from the spray of water.

Ludo panted in delight at her outburst, shaking himself once more for good measure.

Sarah glared playfully at him as his orange fur began to perk up and stand on end. It appeared he dried quickly. Sarah wiped the remaining drops of water from her face as she sloshed over to the shrubs which held her backpack. She picked up the bag and slung it over her shoulder, wishing she had a pair of dry shoes and clothes packed away. She hated walking in wet attire. She looked up to the sky and saw the afternoon sun was beginning to wane.

"Let's go find the others," Sarah remarked hastily. "Before it gets dark."

"Ludo follow Sarah," he agreed, patting down his fur futilely. Sarah watched in amusement as Ludo's hair began to fluff up, making him appear like a giant orange cotton candy.

"Hmm!" He groaned unhappily, looking to Sarah for help. "Something wrong!" Ludo murmured, motioning to his plumping fur.

Sarah covered her mouth, stifling a laugh. "Nothing's wrong, you just need brushed is all. And maybe some good conditioner. We'll figure something out when we get to the fairy thicket."

"Hm, Ludo fluffy!" He lamented, pushing down on his fur again. "Fluffy bad!"

"Some people pay for fluffy," Sarah snickered flippantly. "Come on, Ludo, we need to get moving." Sarah grabbed his hand and began walking. However, Ludo remained rooted in place, nearly pulling Sarah off her feet.

"Ludo!" Sarah scoffed, surprised. "What's wrong?"

Ludo lifted his free hand and pointed, his eyes fixated on something in the distance. "There," he mumbled.

Sarah followed her friend's line of sight and felt her jaw drop open in utter astonishment as a beautiful creature casually approached them.

"Titania?" Sarah gawked, shocked beyond measure.

Titania smiled warmly. "Hello, Sarah." She turned her lovely gaze to Ludo. "Greetings to you as well."

Ludo shuffled behind Sarah, as if she would protect him from the petite, yet somehow fierce fairy creature. Sarah squeezed his hand gently in reassurance.

"What're you doing here?" Sarah asked, baffled by the Fairy Queen's sudden appearance. "I thought you couldn't leave the fairy thicket?"

"Your friends came and told me all that had happened." Titania replied cooly. "I was worried when they said you had taken the path alone. Your well-being is far more important than my own. I came to find you and make sure you arrived safely back to my thicket. I couldn't allow you to travel alone." Her big eyes appraised Ludo. "Though it appears you are not entirely alone."

"I found him in the tunnels," Sarah explained, turning to pat Ludo reassuringly on his fluffy chest. "I've known Ludo for a long time."

Titania's smile appeared strained. It was starting to make Sarah feel uncomfortable. "It seems you have friends in every corner. You are rather fortunate."

Sarah faltered slightly, unsure if the remark was a compliment or a criticism.

"I suppose I am," she replied softly.

Titania's gaze shifted from Ludo to Sarah. "Am I to assume you succeeded in discovering the heart of the Labyrinth?"

Sarah nodded. "Yes, I did."

Titania's eyes sparkled wildly, lighting up with a brilliant desire. "And did you retrieve the Goblin King's pendant?"

Sarah nodded again, this time slowly. "Yes."

Titania reached out her hand. "Give it to me."

Sarah stared at Titania, an uneasy feeling of dread creeping over her. "Why?"

Titania's smile stretched further. "Because with it, I can stop Euryale and set things right."

Sarah hesitated. Something felt wrong with the exchange. Titania didn't seem like herself and it bothered Sarah that Ludo seemed so frightened by her.

"Please, Sarah," Titania entreated, beckoning with her outstretched hand. "Give me the pendant. We haven't much time left."

Sarah swallowed, allowing the backpack to slide from her shoulder. She slowly unzipped it, reaching in and grabbing the chest. She held it close to her, zipping the bag closed and once again repositioning it on her shoulder.

Titania's large eyes set raptly on the chest Sarah held firmly between her hands. A deadly desire burned deep within them.

"Is that it?" Titania asked hastily.

"Yes," Sarah answered, trying her hardest to keep her breathing calm and even.

"Give it to me," Titania demanded, thrusting out her hand again.

"Sarah," Ludo murmured, resting a questioning palm on her shoulder.

"It's alright, Ludo," Sarah comforted. "It's just Titania. She's a friend."

Titania's grin pulled even more, her lips taut and thin against her teeth. "That's right, Ludo. I'm a friend."

Sarah stepped forward, wordlessly offering Titania the chest.

Titania viciously snatched the chest from Sarah's fingers. She held it up high above her head as if it were a trophy, a cruel, evil cackle escaping her hideously stretched lips.

"Fool!" She hissed victoriously. Sarah watched in horror as Titania's skin began to stretch, ribboning into fine strands before ripping at her mouth. She pushed back against Ludo, watching in awe and disgust as Titania's flesh tore away from her body in sickening layers. The Fairy Queen's jaw elongated, tusks shredding through what was once delicate, creamy white skin. Her large, bright eyes narrowed, becoming tinged with yellow before turning to slits and deepening into dark golden depths. A horrible ripping sound began to fill the air as Titania grew taller, her skin peeling off her in heavy chunks. Her wings withered and fell from her body like a dismembered butterly. Sarah shuddered, the gruesome sight and sound of tearing flesh causing her stomach to heave with an appalled queasiness.

Ludo wrapped his arms protectively around Sarah as they watched a new creature emerge from the ruined remains of tattered flesh and sinew. It reminded Sarah of a snake shedding its skin.

"Euryale," Sarah spat between clenched teeth.

Euryale laughed wickedly, her claws grasping the small chest Sarah had given her.

"You fool!" Euryale cackled again. "You just handed me the very thing that will grant my victory." Her liquid gold eyes fell to Sarah. "And the only thing protecting you from my gaze." She smirked, a wicked smile pulling at her reptilian lips as her eyes began to glow. "You will be my favorite trophy."

Although she fought to look away, Sarah was compelled to meet the Gorgon Queen's penetrating gaze, powerless against the allure of it. Sarah knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was the gaze Euryale used to turn her enemies to stone.

Sarah glared back at Euryale with an expression mired with defiance and strength. She wouldn't allow the horrible Queen to see any fear in her eyes. Euryale's smile faltered, her lips curling instead into a sneer of disbelief as the glow faded from her eyes.

"What sorcery is this?" Euryale hissed. "How are you not stone?"

"What's wrong, Euryale?" Sarah taunted aggressively. "Do you not hold the power to stop me after all?"

"No," Euryale moaned as realization griped her scaley face. She thrust open the chest and stared dumbly down at the empty velvet lining.

"Looking for this?" Sarah asked as she reached into her shirt and pulled out the pendant. She flaunted it for Euryale to see before dropping it against her chest.

Sarah shrugged casually, a cocky smirk on her face. "Looks nice on me, don't you think?"

Euryale's eyes immediately filled with blood red fury as they'd done before. "Give that to me now!" She screamed. Sarah had never seen anyone or anything more enraged than the Gorgon Queen was in that moment. Sarah secretly delighted in the fury and discomfort she'd caused Euryale.

Sarah didn't budge, unaffected by the threatening stance of the Gorgon Queen.

"No," she said calmly, her tone smooth and commanding. "I am the Keeper of this Labyrinth. What power you have is nothing compared to the power I now possess. If you fight me, if you oppose me, you will fail." Sarah took a step forward and saw Euryale recoil at her approach.

"I know the Goblin King stirs," Sarah continued in a cold, unafflicted tone. "I can feel his life force becoming stronger as we speak."

Euryale growled at Sarah, coiling into herself and threatening to strike. Sarah remained steadfast, refusing to back down.

"What you fail to realize is that you've already lost," Sarah declared, lowering her voice so that it took on a menacing timbre. "But you still have a choice. Leave my Labyrinth. You've had your revenge on Jareth. You've made him suffer and caused him pain as he caused you. I am giving you one last chance. Leave now and I can assure you there will be no retaliation. You can still live in peace."

Euryale glared hatefully at Sarah, her body rigid and her hands curled into tight fists at her side. Sarah could see dark blood dripping from her clenched fists. Euryale had dug her claws into her skin so deeply that she bled.

Sarah ignored the blood. "But deny me and I will kill you with myself."

Sarah's resolute demeanor shattered as derisive laughter erupted from Euryale. Sarah faltered as an unsettling feeling of dread drifted heavily over her.

"You really think it that easy to rid yourself of me?" Euryale snarled. "You stumble upon power you have no idea how to control and you think it makes you indestructible. You're nothing more than a simple child playing a game you have no idea how to win! There are more magicks here than you can ever fathom let alone wield and control." Euryale began advancing towards Sarah, making her retreat instead. Sarah fidgeted uncomfortably as she knew she no longer had the upperhand.

"Ask yourself this," Euryale slithered. "Why didn't the Goblin King try to kill me himself?"

Sarah was staggered by the rebuttal, but fought to remain steady, refusing to reveal her shock to Euryale.

"I don't know," Sarah replied scornfully. "Why don't you enlighten me?"

Euryale snickered. "As all Fae creatures know, to kill me is to kill themselves. Nothing can protect them from the curse of the Gorgon line."

"Curse?" Sarah muttered, realizing she had lost her authoritative tone. "You expect me to believe that? You'd say anything to save your scaley hide!"

Euryale grinned sinisterly. "If you were true Fae, you would know. Killing me would turn you to stone. That is the curse of my death and no amount of magic can protect you from this malediction. Are you really willing to pay such a heavy price?"

Sarah was rocked by the revelation, but quickly reminded herself of Euryale's ability to spin fallacy. "I would gladly pay any price to see the Labyrinth rid of your pestilence!" Sarah retorted spitefully.

Euryale shook with anger, displeased with Sarah's reaction.

"Then so be it, mortal child!" Euryale hissed. "I will not rest until the Labyrinth lays in smoldering ruins and your precious Goblin King's flesh is nothing but festering food for the worms!"

Sarah wavered slightly, her confident demeanor shaken by the vivid threat. She swallowed hard. "You'll have to kill me first."

A sickly sweet smile wove its way over Euryale's lips. "It would be my distinct pleasure." She lunged for Sarah.

Before Sarah could react, Ludo let loose a shrill, gut-wrenching howl that forced Sarah cover her ears. Euryale halted, throwing her own hands to the sides of her face, screeching and writhing in pain.

"Ahh! Silence!" Euryale screamed. "Silence, you wretched beast!"

Ludo ignored her commands and continued to howl, his face tilted up towards the sky. Sarah watched him in bewilderment as the ground beneath her began to quake.

"What treachery is this?" Euryale shrieked as large, pointed rocks burst forth from the ground all around her.

"No!" Euryale shrieked as she realized much too late what was happening. The rocks shot up around her quickly, coming together at the top to form a crude prison. Euryale reached for Sarah between the gaps of the rocks, clawing ferociously at the air.

"Don't let them escape!" Euryale screamed. "Kill the beast, bring me the girl!"

Sarah felt the hair on the back of her neck prick in fear as she heard the predatory howls of the Chimera who had been hiding behind a nearby wall. She didn't need to see them to know they were already too close.

"Run, Ludo!" Sarah yelled, grabbing the howling beast's hand and taking off through the Labyrinth. This time, Ludo didn't hesitate. He went with Sarah, faster than she ever thought the large beast could run.

"You cannot escape!" Euryale screamed after them. Sarah could barely hear the shrill threats of the Gorgon Queen over the ravenous pants and snarls of the Chimera as they broke into the clearing behind them. She risked a glance over her shoulder and saw at least six of the savage creatures chasing them. The sheer number of beasts alone was incentive enough to make her run faster than she'd ever run in her life.

Sarah's rapid breaths rang hollowly in her ears and her heart thundered in her chest as she navigated the twists and turns of the Labyrinth. It was no longer a maze to her. The power she wielded over the Labyrinth had been fully awakened and amplified due to Jareth's pendant. She knew where every corridor led and every secret the Labyrinth held.

"Come on, Ludo. We'll lose them in the bog of eternal stench!" Sarah panted.

"No!" Ludo wailed, struggling to keep up with Sarah through the dense vines which cluttered the passageway they turned into. "Smell! Smell bad!"

"I know," Sarah gasped, short of breath as she tugged on the great beast. "But we don't have a choice."

"Oh," Ludo moaned despondently, but continued to run with Sarah, knocking vines from his face.

Sarah burst from the passageway into a clearing filled with statues facing off against one another. Each statue held a large, deadly weapon. Sarah glanced at the ground and saw decorative, tiled squares, each depicting a different symbol on them. It reminded her of a giant chess set. She scrutinized the stone markers.

"Step where I do, Ludo," Sarah commanded, hearing the throaty growls of the Chimera close behind them. "Don't touch any of the other stone tiles!"

"'Kay," Ludo panted agreeably.

Sarah began to hop from stone to stone, careful to follow her own advice and not touch the others. Ludo followed close behind her, teetering unsteadily as he tried to balance himself.

"Where is it? Where is it?" Sarah hissed to herself, quickly surveying the tiles. Ludo began to whine and tug insistently on Sarah's hand. She looked up and saw a Chimera emerging from the vine filled passage. Without hesitation, it bounded straight for them.

The Chimera struck a tile marker and Sarah could hear the grind of a stone statue as it flickered to life. The statue shot quickly across the tiles, positioning its spear directly in front of it and swiftly impaling the oblivious Chimera as it leapt through the air at Sarah and Ludo.

The Chimera let out a yelp of pain and surprise before slumping against the spear and twitching as the life left its body. Sarah let out a shaky breath, grabbing Ludo's arm for support.

"That was close-" She breathed.

"Sarah! Sarah!" Ludo began to chant rapidly as the other statues started coming to life, advancing with swift and deadly intent towards them.

"Oh, shit!" Sarah gasped, casting her eyes down to the tiles once more, desperately searching for the right one. "It's over here. This way!" She yelled, pulling Ludo along with her.

They fled across the tiles, no longer concerned with stepping on the right ones. Sarah came to a screeching halt on top of a large stone marker. She looked to the rampaging, bloodthirsty statues and then to Ludo who cringed in terror.

"Hang on, Ludo," Sarah shouted, raising her foot and stomping it three times against the decorative tile. The stone marker collapsed under them, sending Sarah and Ludo crashing down into an earthen tunnel. They rolled through the rough passage, the roots and rocks pulling at Sarah's clothes and hair. Ludo's howl of discontent echoed the entire way down.

Suddenly, the tunnel disappeared and Sarah felt herself soar through the air. She landed solidly on her side, rolling dangerously close to the ravine edge that plunged down into the bog of eternal stench. The wind rushed out of her painfully on impact. She wheezed, clutching her ribs as she whimpered against the pain that flooded through her lungs and chest.

Her first breath was not the pleasant relief she had so desperately wanted. A foul stench that she had no earthly way of describing assaulted her senses. It reminded her of fetid, rotting fish mixed with sour, curdled milk, body odor and waste. Her eyes welled up and she found herself in a coughing fit as she crawled away from the edge.

Ludo cascaded out of the hole, hitting the ground hard right beside her.

"Ooooow!" Ludo moaned, sitting up and rubbing his backside vigorously.

"Ludo," Sarah coughed weakly, reaching for him.

Ludo stood, reaching for Sarah when the ground beneath him made an ominous cracking sound. He looked at Sarah questioningly.

"Huh?" He muttered fearfully.

"Ludo, move!" Sarah screamed as the ground crumbled away and sloshed into the bog.

"Argh!" Ludo cried, falling forward on his stomach. He reached desperately for Sarah.

"No!" Sarah shouted, jumping up and grabbing Ludo's hand. She dug her heels into the crumbling ground, pulling Ludo back with all her might.

The ground continued to collapse under his weight and he lost traction, his feet flailing over the fragmented edge high above the bog.

"Sarah save Ludo!" He whined pitifully, frantically grasping and scrambling against the deteriorating earth.

Sarah continued to pull Ludo, groaning with exertion as she did. Ludo finally placed a foot firmly on the edge of the ravine and with one final yank, he came soaring away from the bog, landing heavily on top of Sarah.

"Ludo, get off me!" Sarah gasped in pain and surprise, her plea muffled by the heavy beast. "I can't breathe!"

Ludo quickly rolled off Sarah and she took in a deep breath only to be once again overwhelmed by a waft of noxious air. Sarah coughed, her lungs and chest burning. She yanked up the neck of her shirt over her nose and mouth to filter the smell of the bog. She fleetingly wondered if she'd been better off suffocating under Ludo. She rolled her backpack from her side and repositioned it quickly. She was rather grateful she'd gotten rid of the chest now or else it would have been imbedded in her back.

"Smell bad!" Ludo whined unhappily. "Smell worse!"

Before Sarah could agree with him, another desperate howl of displeasure stole her attention. A Chimera came careening out of the tunnel, thrashing and flailing wildly. It landed on the edge of the ravine next to them.

The Chimera stood quickly, shaking itself and setting its eyes on Sarah and Ludo.

Sarah smirked at the creature, giving it a complacent wave. "Have a nice trip!"

Unphased by her taunt, the Chimera took a step towards Sarah and the precarious ground completely collapsed. The stunned Chimera stumbled, shooting Sarah a look of total bewilderment as it and the large chunk of earth toppled into the awaiting bog.

The bog bubbled and churned as the Chimera splashed into it with a sickly sucking sound. The Chimera raged in fear as it struggled against the thick muck. Sarah watched in disgust, noticing that the bog acted like quicksand. The more the Chimera struggled, the faster the bog appeared to swallow the creature down.

The Chimera's pitiful whimpers soon became gurgled splashes as the bog overtook the creature completely. Sarah stepped back as she heard more howls emanate from the tunnel. Another Chimera soared through the air, but this time there was no solid ground for it to to land on. It flew past Sarah and Ludo, landing wetly in the bog. It thrashed violently, crying out with pitiful whimpers that threatened to break Sarah's heart despite the murderous nature of the creatures. In a matter of seconds, the whines and cries disappeared only to be replaced by the incessant bubbling and churning of the bog. Sarah looked to the tunnel. The other Chimera were either too smart to follow their brethren to their doom or had been dispatched by the killer statues before making it to the tunnel which led to the bog of eternal stench. Either way, Sarah reasoned that she and Ludo were safe for the time being.

She sighed in relief, collapsing into Ludo and embracing the large, friendly beast tightly. "See? I told you I wouldn't let anything happen to you." She pulled away and cringed, quickly covering her mouth and nose again. Her stomach twisted and turned threateningly. She swore she could almost taste the foul air.

"Sarah save Ludo!" Ludo purred happily.

Sarah nodded, feeling slightly lightheaded due to the horrendous smell and the short shallow breaths she was taking. "Come on, let's find the bridge."

Ludo nodded in compliance, taking Sarah's hand as they hurried along the edge of the ravine towards the bridge. She was pleasantly surprised to see that the bridge had been rebuilt upon the rocks Ludo had called for years ago. She gingerly placed a foot on the bridge and smiled at its sturdiness.

"Let's get out of here!" Sarah said quickly, nearly bounding over the bridge in two steps. Ludo scampered after her, moving as fast as his big legs could carry him. She knew he wanted out of the bog as desperately as she did. However, Sarah could no longer synonymize the bog with a negative connotation for it had saved both their lives. And for that, she was grateful despite the wretched and foul odor.

Well, mostly grateful.

Return to the Labyrinth

A Labyrinth Story
by ArtemisFallen

Part 18 of 24

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