The entrance to the maze would be almost invisible if Pat didn't know where it was. With her team's help, she pulls away the vines to reveal the opening, then steps back. The stone walls stretch far above her head, blocking out the bright sun and leaving the path in shadow.
Somewhere in that mass of stone is the Bone of Osiris, one of the rarest and most coveted items in the world. And it's about to be theirs.
Pat stares down the passageway for a moment, then turns. "Everybody ready?"
"Yep," Fletcher replies, wagging his tail.
"Always," Nicole adds.
"Right," Pat says, steeling herself. "Let's get that Bone." And with that, she steps forwards, into the darkness.
The first thing she notices is the smell. The maze smells strange, like dust and rot, but she ignores it, pressing onwards. She comes from a long line of explorers and adventurers, leading all the way back to the great explorer Indiana Bones, and she isn't about to let them down. Her mother's motto echoes in the back of her mind. Keep your nose on the prize, and don't let anything stop you.
She keeps her eyes and nose peeled as she moves cautiously into the maze, Fletcher and Nicole on her heels. If it's anything like previous missions they've been on, this place is likely to be riddled with traps and dangers, and she isn't about to be caught off guard.
Her caution seems well founded when she steps on a particular patch of ground only for it to crumble away under her paw. She scrambles backwards, then edges forwards and peers down the hole. All she can see is darkness.
Nicole locates a small piece of stone and drops it down the hole. The three of them listen intently, but don't hear it land. "Guess we'll have to be careful where we put our feet!" Fletcher says, sounding excited by the idea.
Pat doesn't share his excitement, but compared to some of the previous trials they've dealt with, this is nothing. She straightens, raising her head, and orders, "Follow me."
She steps forwards cautiously, one step at a time, testing each stone before she steps on it. Fletcher and Nicole follow behind, single file, making sure to step only where she does. Eventually the floor changes from stone to dirt and she realises they've passed the first obstacle. She doesn't relax, though. This is only the start, and she knows the rest of the obstacles won't be nearly as easy. She takes a breath and lets it out, and keeps moving, keeping alert for any sign of danger.
Shortly afterwards they come across the first fork in the maze and have to decide between continuing on straight or turning right. "Right paw rule?" Nicole suggests, and they turn right and continue deeper into the maze.
They continue like that for some time, keeping to the right-paw rule and taking obstacles as they come. They're surprisingly easy; another disappearing path, a pit filled with spikes, nothing they can't handle. In fact it's all going well, almost strangely well, right until they come up against a dead end.
"Rats," Fletcher says. "Guess we'll have to backtrack."
"Maybe not," Nicole speaks up, and Pat looks over to see her studying the wall before them with a frown. "Don't you see it?"
Nicole steps forwards and noses at a discoloured patch of stone that Pat had taken for dirt or mould. It begins to come into focus, and realisation hits. "There's a mechanism."
Nicole nods, her attention still on the wall. "I think it's some kind of puzzle." She studies it for long minutes, pacing back and forth occasionally, before pressing against several different stones in succession. She steps back triumphant as the wall begins to move, pivoting with a huge creaking and scraping of stone and revealing a narrow passageway.
"Good job," Pat tells Nicole. "At least we know we're on the right track." Quickly, in case it might shift back, she slips past the wall and into the passageway. Her instincts are good, as the three of them have barely made it to the next turn before another huge scraping noise announces that the wall has slipped back into place.
"No going back now," Fletcher jokes. "Wonder what they'll throw at us next."
"Let's find out," Pat replies, and continues without waiting for a response.
Based on the amount of time they've been walking, and the position of the sun, she estimates they must be getting close to the centre. Still, she doesn't allow herself to become overconfident. While nearing the centre means they're getting closer to the Bone, it also means navigating the most difficult, dangerous traps. This is the most important part of the mission, and they can't afford even a single mistake.
So when she rounds a corner to find they've reached the centre of the maze, she's immediately suspicious. She stops at the edge of this final passageway, staring down it at the stone plinth in the centre of the square clearing. On the top, barely visible, is the Bone.
"It can't be that simple," Nicole says, echoing her thoughts.
"Wait here," Pat orders, and begins edging forwards cautiously. She makes it half a dozen steps before her paw lands on a particular patch of ground with a click. She instinctively drops flat, just in time to avoid being skewered by an arrow whizzing over her head. She glances up at the walls, but they're in shadow and she can't see where the arrow came from. I knew there had to be a catch.
"Great, arrow gauntlet," Fletcher says, as Pat picks herself back up. " I hate those."
"You can get past it, right?" Nicole asks, and he snorts, looking offended.
Pat steps back, and she and Nicole watch as Fletcher steps back, readying himself, before running full tilt towards the centre of the maze. His big paws set off a hail of arrows as he thunders along, but he avoids them all, jumping and bobbing and weaving and making it all look effortless.
He reaches the end of the gauntlet and skids straight out into the clearing, panting and wagging his tail. "See?" he calls. "Easy."
Pat tests the passageway again cautiously – sometimes these old traps have backups – but when nothing happens she and Nicole hurry across to meet him.
The three of them stand there for a long moment, staring at the Bone. Sitting there on top of the plinth, it seems almost to glow, and Pat feels a shiver down her spine as she looks up at it.
Nicole is the first to move, circling the plinth and studying it intently. "It doesn't look like there are any pressure traps or anything, but I can't be certain."
"I guess we'll find out," Pat says. "Fletcher?"
It takes all three of them to reach the top of the plinth – Pat standing on Fletcher's back, and Nicole on hers. It isn't the most dignified of positions, but it works. Nicole grabs the Bone and jumps down in triumph.
It doesn't look like much up close, but Pat knows looks can be deceptive. Regardless of its appearance, the Bone is easily the rarest and most valuable item they've ever retrieved.
They don't have time to celebrate, however, as the ground starts shaking and a great scraping noise rends the air. Pat's gaze snaps to the passage back to the maze in time to see it blocked off by a wall of stone. The three of them watch silently, barely able to breathe, as the walls move past each other, passages opening and closing around them. When the walls finally stop moving, there are four passages at each edge of the square, none of which is the one they entered through.
"Left paw rule?" Nicole suggests, breaking the silence, and Pat sighs.
"Come on," she says, heading towards the nearest passageway. "Let's get out of here."