They stood, breathless. The view from the top of Relatrius Ridge was awesome, with the Valley of Ocarius stretching out like an endless green carpet before them. They knew that it was now only one more day before they reached Isola, the site of the Labyrinth.
Olida and Acromea had been walking for 3 days continuously, stopping only briefly for rest and sleep. They felt an incredible connection with their country. They couldn’t believe that with every step they took, a small part of it somewhere was slowly dying.
One of the twin suns was sinking in the sky, dropping like a ripened peach from its branch. Should it fall below the horizon, all hope was lost; their race would die.
Their mission was a courageous but perhaps foolish one. Many in their village begged them to stay. However, the pair knew that their people had no choice; the Crown of Ongar had been stolen.
Olida’s long blonde hair blew in the breeze and caught around the small, mouse-like features of her face. She carried wisdom beyond her precious 12 years.
Acromea was tall, slim, and 3 years older than his sister, but lacked the same plucky spirit that she possessed. It wasn’t that he lacked confidence; he was exceptionally independent and capable. It was just that he didn’t share Olida’s passion for adventure, for new experiences. He preferred to “go with the flow”.
When the Crown of Ongar had been seized five moon rises ago, a dark cloud drifted up from the South towards the North, towards Quassia, the tranquil land of King Ongar. Quassia was a peaceful realm, ruled with love and sincerity by a family who had kept the scared crown in their possession for many hundreds of years.
The Crown of Ongar was magical. It influenced the ruling and guidance of its lands, depending on what was felt in the heart of it’s owner. Fortunately for the Quassians, King Ongar was a kind, gentle, loving man. He did not possess a single ounce of hatred or malice and he only wanted peace and harmony for his people.
However, King Ongar was acutely aware that should his crown get into the wrong hands, Quassia would die. All the goodness would ebb away and the Second Sun would drop from the sky. If they didn’t get the crown back before the sun disappeared from the sky altogether, Quassia would never restore and regrow. It would be too late.
Olida strode out along a narrow path that ran alongside a bubbling brook. She was tired and her legs ached but she kept moving, kept thinking about the task in hand.
King Jarrow was ruler of the South. He was in many respects the complete opposite of King Ongar; mean, spiteful and nasty. His people lived in fear and did not want to get on the wrong side of him.
Jarrow made sure that strangers to his land had a difficult and dangerous journey. He lived within a huge prison-like castle that he made invisible with magic spells. Anyone wanting to overthrow his rule had to make a treacherous journey through a Labyrinth guarded by The Calix before they reached the castle.
Rumours had circulated Quassia for many hundreds of years about The Calix. Some thought it was a three-headed man-beast that chased down it’s prey through the darkened tunnels before eating them alive. Others believed that it was a trick, that Jarrow had nothing but dank air hidden away within the passageways and that it was all just a scare tactic to keep people away.
Olida and Acromea’s quest demanded that they had to risk whatever was hidden within Jarrow’s Labyrinth if they stood any chance of retrieving the crown.
They continued on making excellent progress. Acromea spoke very little keeping his thoughts to himself. Olida knew not to pester him as she realised he was very frightened but didn’t want to show it.
The consequences of Jarrow wearing Ongar’s crown was clear to see; Quassia was dying and the Second Sun was sinking.
Nobody knew how the Crown had been taken. When King Ongar took rest at night, he had a small group of specially trained Quassians on The Watch, a privileged duty of guarding the Crown until the King rose again.
Many thought Jarrow had sent his Layreas, flying creatures who could assume invisibility. Many also believed that they would be seen by those with “sixth sight”. Many Quassians were psychic and would act as advisors to King Ongar when danger was approaching their land.
When the dark cloud started to drift up from Isola, many of Ongar’s advisors spoke of an ominous presence travelling towards Quassia. Ongar increased The Watch from that moment on, but it wasn’t enough. Jarrow knew what he was doing and stole the crown clean away.
A new day dawned and after a fitful sleep, Acromea woke his sister and they got ready to continue. From their hillside resting place, they could see the outline of the Labyrinth. It were as though the ground had large scars etched across it, mounds forming in snake-like channels running all over the place.
When Olida saw it, she wondered whether she could sketch the outlines and use them as a make-shift map. However, the paths were not distinct and she decided to keep their tricky task as simple as possible and not complicate it.
They took a handful of berries from a nearby bush and made their way down the hillside, careful as always to cover their tracks and keep a good look-out for any protectors that Jarrow may have positioned in and around the land.
Many Quassians believed Isola to be a dark wilderness, with swirling clouds and thick mud-filled plains. It wasn’t the case. Olida knew that they had reached Isola because of the Labyrinth and it looked green and lush. What Olida was forgetting was that Jarrow was wearing Ongar’s crown.
For the first three sunsets, Jarrow’s land would be influenced by Ongar’s rule; the darkness that normally prevails is replaced with a temporary lightness. The ground takes on a healthy hue, and some would be mistaken for thinking that they were in Quassia.
Jarrow was ill at ease with this goodness pervading his land. However, he also knew it would trick potential enemies from the North into thinking that they hadn’t yet reached Isola. Their guard would be down and they could easily be “removed”.
Olida was a psychic. Apart from the Labyrinth, she knew that they were now in Isola and she was acutely aware of her surroundings.
An hour or so passed and they reached the entrance to the Labyrinth, a small opening between two huge stones surrounded by thorn-covered bushes.
Acromea’s face was pale. Beads of sweat raced down his back and his breaths came in short gasps. Olida, however, was very much in control.
She took from her rucksack a small oil lamp. Acromea did the same. They looked at one another.
“Right. Do you remember the plan? Keep the lamps held high and take small, steady steps. Lift our feet, don’t shuffle, and hold our daggers by our sides.”
“Let’s not speak unless absolutely necessary. And if The Calix appears, we fight like our Father taught us. Okay?”
A further nod and they entered the darkness ahead.
The oil lamps bounced warm, tangerine light around the narrow tunnel. They were now like glowworms working their way through the night in search of grubs. Except for these children, their prey was a little larger.
They moved as silently as possible. Dirt lay beneath their feet and scuffed up into a dusty haze as they moved deeper and further into the tunnel. The air was damp and musty; it caught in the back of Acromea’s throat forcing him to swallow hard to stifle a cough.
They came to the first fork in the tunnel. With little hesitation, Olida took the right branch, her psychic insight guiding her. They continued like this, snaking their way along numerous routes. They came across small bones, pieces of grass and plantation strewn across the floor. It could have been something completely innocent; Acromea thought otherwise, convinced his heart was thumping loud enough to reveal their presence.
All at once Olida stopped forcing Acromea to walk straight into her. They both remained silent, listening to their surroundings.
Olida sensed something. She could feel eyes boring into her. Then, on her right cheek, a breath. The smell of rotten vegetables. She felt sick. Acromea let out a faint but distinguishable cry behind her. She didn’t know what to do.
She moved the lamp about her, from side to side, in front and then behind. There was nothing there except golden light bouncing around. Perhaps she had imagined it.
She motioned to Acromea to continue forward. After a further ten or twelve steps, they both heard a low, menacing growl, a sound that would forever stay in their minds and wake them from slumber.
They stopped dead. There was something here. And it was now between them and the crown….