Floor 13: Prophecy Fulfilled
As I predicted, Leander died during the night.
It was quite sudden and nothing that I could have predicted. As our feet touched Floor Thirteen, we spotted a new kind of monster, one that acted differently to all that we had seen before. I immediately knew that it was something we should stay well away from. It looked like a floating metal orb, around the same size as myself. The waves of destructive energy radiating from it, a deep blood-red aura, were heavy in the air, a magical signature larger than anything I had encountered before and fully devoted to slaughter. Even Leander felt uneasy looking at it. Although I couldn't warn him, try as I may, something about its appearance made him loathe to go near it.
"It's not moving," he said, "It's not attacking me on sight, like all the others. It must be very confident, to let me make the first move. Either that, or it's laying a trap for me."
All the way through the floor, he avoided them, even when they were floating on top of valuable treasure, but then there was one parked right in front of the exit. Leander tried to use a rod on it, but even when he used the most powerful attack magic he possessed, its carapace was barely scratched. Then it fired some kind of beam at him, and after two shots, he was dead on the floor, two large holes through his body where several vital organs had been.
I expected myself to be next, so I started flapping my wings to beat a retreat, but the minute after Leander's death, everything went dark, and I found myself transported to the beginning of a floor, as though I had stepped onto a transporter circle.
Leander was back; pale and shaken, but alive.
"I saw my tombstone," he told me, "It was a fancy-looking one, and lots of people from the village were crowded around it. I think it's a good thing I picked up all that money. I know I sound like a raving lunatic, but look," he held out his backpack, "The money's gone."
Floor 14: Rise From Your Grave
I was curious about Leander's experience of death and resurrection, and it turns out he is more than willing to share it with me in great detail.
"I felt everything, you know," he told me, "The pain of dying. Although that only lasted for a second. Then everything just sort of switched off like a candle being snuffed out. Then I could see my tombstone, but that felt more like a dream, and when I had to wake up, I was alive again, in my own body. The whole thing felt like suddenly dropping off to sleep after spending too long without sleep, and having really vivid nightmares, then feeling absolutely terrible when you wake up."
"I was half expecting you to eat my corpse," he admitted, looking over to me in one of the few times he truly notices that I am a fellow living being, "I never see you eat anything, come to think of it. I don't see you do anything apart from be standing there whenever I turn around. Did you even run away when the beast killed me? I wonder if it killed you next. You don't look like someone who's just come back from the dead."
"I wonder why you never do anything," he continued, "I don't suppose it matters. You must be fending for yourself, because you've never needed me to get you food or protect you from the beasts. I was just curious."
After a few seconds of silent eating, he said, "I suppose I should really be more curious about the fact that I can come back from the dead. It changes everything. It isn't something I can really go around experimenting with, though."
I'm so glad he realises this. I wish he would apply the same principle to everything else we encounter. I have to admit the phenomenon is fascinating to me as well. One of the few things a dragon cannot do, even an ancient dragon, is return from the dead. However, I wasn't even killed - I simply appeared next to Leander. Am I actually being forced to go wherever Leander goes?
I would also quite like to know where exactly we are.
Floor 15: Paperwork Break
Mapping this place once you lose track of where you got to is a nightmare. As possible consequences of death go, this isn't one of the most worrying, so I shouldn't complain too much, but I would still like to not be trapped in this maze for the rest of my life.
Based on the observation that the magical aura becomes denser as I move onwards, and that the change is fairly regular, I'm using my magical senses to predict where I am now in relation to where I was. There doesn't seem to be much of a change, so I don't think I have moved more than a floor or so in any direction. Leander had the same idea as myself but he is relying on the more physical clues, such as how dangerous the monsters are, and how strong the weapons and armour are that he finds. The traumatic experience of his death does not seem to have dampened what little morale he had. If anything, the knowledge that he can recover from death has given him hope.
He is still convinced that the money is what allows him to return from the grave, and was very cheerful when he found some more. His latest theory is that the gold is Fey gold, enabling him to make a contract with the land. This makes a certain amount of sense, except for the fact that we haven't met anything remotely resembling a Fey creature. For someone obsessed with the idea that he is lost in the Hedge, he seems surprisingly willing to eat the food he randomly finds on the floor.
Leander has dubbed this the fifteenth floor. Nothing has changed about the world, and we technically 'left' the fourteenth floor, so now we are on the fifteenth floor.
Floor 16: Growing Up
Today I noticed that I was as tall as Leander when I stood upright, which I don't usually bother doing, as I move more efficiently on four legs. My wingspan is easily enough to overshadow him, even though he is wearing heavier and bulkier armour these days, and I am wondering how long it will be before I can fly. I can already hover continuously without tiring myself out. I have become aware that I am now a fully grown dragon, and that if I were in my natural environment, I would be able to defend myself against any predator and hunt any prey.
In this labyrinth, nothing attacks me and I cannot attack anything pre-emptively, even to save Leander's life. The most I can do is hover a little above the walls and see some of what is coming. I am not letting myself become complacent over this; I plan to find a cave somewhere and live a normal dragon's life once I leave here, so I must train myself for the many dangers that a dragon faces. I am also aware that I have an important purpose within this labyrinth, one that is so crucial that it almost literally holds the world together. I do not know what will happen to me once I come face to face with my purpose.
Leander has also noticed how much I have grown, and it makes him nervous. He still doesn't trust me not to suddenly turn against him, or instinctively regard him as food or a rival for a mate, as soon as I fully mature. His ignorance regarding dragons is laughable, that he thinks I am an unintelligent animal, to react purely on instinct, or that my behaviour so far in taking absolutely no action to affect my fate has been normal for dragons. I am even growing faster than usual for a dragon, because of the high concentration of magical energy in such a small, enclosed environment. He is also naive to believe I couldn't have killed him easily by now if I had wanted to.
Floor 17: Intrusive Presence
I am starting to have the visions of the other dragon again. It is immensely powerful compared to myself, even now that I am a fully grown dragon. I wonder if it is because it lives a lot further into the Labyrinth, where the concentration of magic is even denser. Maybe I will become that strong before I leave here.
It's aura, easier for me to scan now that I am magically more potent and that it is letting me deeper inside its mind for some reason, tells me that it is a blue dragon, one of the exceptionally solitary and magically skilled types of dragon that lives in the ice wastes. Their magic is often subtle, to do with the weaving of time and fate, and they have longer lifespans than other dragons due to life extension magic. I imagine that a blue dragon is in its element here, where time and fate are so much more artificial and therefore more malleable if you find out the rules behind their construction.
I even wondered if the other dragon is part of the experiment, like myself, and linked to the construction of the Labyrinth, but I don't get that aura from the dragon. It feels malevolent and destructive. Blue dragons aren't inherently malicious - the fights we have with them are always over territory and food, not ideological values - but this particular individual radiates evil. If it is part of the Labyrinth, it represents the fickle and cruel side of it, the side that puts orbs of death in front of transporters and denies you food for days on end.
Again, the dragon urges me to betray Leander. I resist, but only just. Now that I am a greater threat, the dragon's urges become stronger as it uses the full force of its will against me. However, in doing so, it cannot as easily shield its own mind against me. I think that is the only reason I win any battles against it at all.
Floor 18: True Hell
Today Leander had his first encounter with a Shift Ring, and this is where the true nightmare of the Labyrinth began.
I had already been aware that the ability to resurrect, no matter how many times it can be kept up, would not guarantee our safety. Leander had become stuck with no way to reach an exit at least three times so far, and it was only after rigorous examination of every square inch of the walls until we found the secret passage, or, in one case, Leander starved to death in the middle of the search, that we escaped the floor we were on. Each time, Leander remarked that it wouldn't be long until we were stuck wandering the same floor forever. While I have my doubts that such a thing could logically happen, this state of existence, this complete lack of control over where we end up, is, in my opinion, much worse.
A Shift Ring, as it has been dubbed, is a cursed ring. I had warned Leander over and over again never to equip a strange ring unless he had a Bless Scroll to undo any potential curses on it, but we hadn't found any more Bless Scrolls for five floors solid, and Leander's natural sense of suicidal curiosity was beginning to itch at the back of his neck. He put the ring on his middle finger and then he teleported to a different area of the floor. Whenever he teleports, I teleport along with him - damning evidence that I am forbidden to leave his side by the laws of this world. He began walking again, then ten steps later, teleported again, somewhere else on the floor.
This only stops when Leander teleports less than ten steps away from a floor. I suppose it could also be stopped by being close to a monster that can kill him, but I really hope he doesn't try it. We have to run into a Bless Scroll soon.
We have to.