“By what?” asked the old magess. Her wooly hair was making a dark cloud around her, so that her skin stood out, pallid against it. Night’s shadows were deepening the lines of her face.
“Just some voice on the air. I suppose this place is rife with them. Being a meeting of wizards, and everything.”
“A you a complete fool?” The magess shook here head. Seeming to soften a moment, Quinnya said, in a lower, less harsh voice. “Be careful. Voices on the air are not to be trusted. Not anywhere, and especially not here.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” she replied, perhaps a little more sarcastically than she’d meant. Caewen tried to return some warmth to her voices as she said, “H’m. Sorry. Yes… thank you.” She turned to the maze. “So, do I just walk in then? There’s nothing more to it?”
“Nothing more than that, and nothing less. Walk into the shadows, find your way through the twists of the maze, discover your own and personal way out. You may find things along the way. You may not. It is always different.”
Feeling a prickling tenseness, a small wave-lap sense of resignation, Caewen nodded, and said for her own benefit, “There’s no point in waiting about then.” She took a few tentative steps towards the maze, passing under the massive lintel rock. She could have reached out and touched the damp pads of moss, the way was so narrow. Stringy roots hung from the crevices in the walls too, and scrabbly old gnarled thorns stood over the wall-tops on either side, darkening her already dim view ahead. She looked back, saw Quinnya watching her, tried a smile that was met with only a long cold expressionless glare.
She walked into the maze.
The ways were cramped and twisting. The walls on either side were roughly hewn from old living stone, and the half-patterns of ancient adzes and chisels showed up in the last light of the evening. A red glow from the sun was touching the tops of the walls now and painting sparks against the leaves of the scrubby trees that grew haphazard from the wall tops and overhangs above.
To begin, it seemed to Caewen that there was little enough to distinguish one narrow corridor from another. The air was cold and damply uncomfortable. Occasionally she found a small, carven flight of stairs. Once, she crossed a bridge that spanned an expanse of still, reed-choked pond. She searched around the rim of the pond and found that it had been cut into the stone. Was it decorative once, long ago? Or a reservoir for drinking water? Whatever its original purpose, it was a home only for a few sad sounding frogs now. The winter chill reduced their calls to a few scattered eruptions. She recognised them as striped marsh frogs, a sort that call all year round. After deciding there was nothing special about the pond, she moved on, leaving it behind. After the bridge she found a series short tunnels, burrowing in and out of the hill. Caewen followed the ways, picking left or right by whim. Nothing stood out to recommend one dark path over another. But, always, the narrow ways did curl uphill, drawing her by obscure approaches towards the tor’s peak.
The strangest thing in all this–and it took her some time to realise it–was that there seemed to be no dead ends. Every pathway appeared to go on forever, and, quite frequently, a way she as walking split itself into two or three new branches. Soon, it was hard to imagine how so many curling maze-ways could be crammed into the same space of the hillside.
Caewen moved on through cramped tunnels and narrow clefts in the stone, in relative silence. There were no sounds to accompany her, but the under-hush of wind in the branches, rattling and rustling, and her own footsteps against the gravel and clay surface. She tried scuffing her feet a few times, making arrows on the ground, but finding that she never came back across any of the markings, she gave up on that too eventually. It all just seemed to go on and on.
Suddenly, she had a thought that put a slight chilling effect into her blood: the maze did feel like a length of lifespan. You went forward. You went this way. You went that. You made the best choices you could, given what you knew, and what you had to hand, but in the end, it was mostly about following the path ahead of you, hoping for the best, and eventually, finding yourself at a way out of it all.
She had got so used to the feeling of sameness that when she did walk through a cleft and into a wider, more open space filled with carven walls, Caewen stopped short, and was taken aback for a moment. The walls were incised deeply with circles and rings. She ran her eyes over the nearest protuberance of stone. They looked something like the cup and ring marks that sometimes were cut into old outcrops of rocks in wild places. Very old symbols of a forgotten people, for a forgotten purpose. But these were more intricate, more heady somehow. The spirraling shapes cut into the stone almost seemed to move of their own accord, circling around themselves, and Caewen felt a little bit ill in her stomach as she looked. A disturbing sense of movement played up in her mind, while at the same time she found that she wanted to touch the spirals. Feeling a repulsion, she found herself reaching out, nonetheless, stretching her fingers towards a group of seven cup marks, run around with rings upon rings upon rings upon…
The voice broke her from the draw of the carvings. She shook herself free, gasping, and feeling a terrible pain in her neck and shoulders, as if she’d twisted herself down to pick up something, and pulled muscles doing it. Stumbling, Caewen increased the distance between herself and the rock wall, before looking around to see who had spoken.
It was a woman–or something like a woman–only, short, squish-faced, black eyes, shining, a large-nose, with hair like rotten brown broom growing on a heathy moor. She was hunched, and her left arm hung strangely at her side. It was covered with a mat of thick and wiry hair, right down to the fingers and knuckles. When the creature moved, she revealed a hairy tail dragging behind her too.