by Jake Christie

a story.

I was straightening my “There's No Place like the Labyrinth” cross-stitch when I heard someone slide, screaming, down the chute. The clang of metal armor finished its long echo down the stone corridors just as I got my frame squared with the moulding along the wall.

Next, predictably, the sounds of the knight righting himself and taking a few shuffling steps came out out of the blackness. I reached to turn up the closest oil lamp, then made a careful circuit around the living room, tweaking each lamp until the room radiated like a phosphorescent oasis. The clanking metal knight went this way and that, his noises retreating and advancing, starting and pausing until they settled into a steady battery of steps in something like my direction.

“In here, hon,” I called. I settled onto the couch, arms crossed, and peered beyond the halo of light that my lamps cast into the hallway.

The figure that stepped into the light wasn't the largest knight I'd ever seen, nor the smallest; he didn't have the nicest armor, nor the shabbiest; but he did wear the same expression of fear masked with thin bravado that I'd become quite used to. His shield had been bent and cracked when the Master launched him down the chute, but his sword seemed to be in perfect working order. He pointed it at me to demonstrate.

“Monster,” he said. “Before I slay you, I offer you the chance to do one goodly thing in your reprehensible existence and tell me how to escape this cursed dungeon.”

“Labyrinth,” I corrected him.

“Excuse me?” he said.

“This isn't a dungeon, it's a labyrinth.” I said. I pointed at my cross-stitch to demonstrate.

He chanced a quick look away, then back. “Did you make that?” he said.

“Do you like it?” I asked. “I have quite a bit of free time down here.”

“It's very good,” he said. His bravado was retreating like a mouse in the light, being replaced by the comfort that comes with casual conversation. I always fancied myself a good conversationalist, but I had very little opportunity to practice my craft. My other hobby of goring people seemed to take precedence.

“That is so nice of you to say,” I said. I picked at the end of my horn with a fingernail embarrassedly. “You're the first knight who's ever said something so nice to me before...” I trailed off.

“Before what?” asked the knight. He twisted his sword like he was turning a screw as he stole glances around my living room. I wished again that the Master had some kind of schedule, or warning system, that would allow me to clean up before I had company, albeit very temporary.

I cleared my throat. “Well, mostly they try to cut my head off, and then I gore them,” I said, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible. I realized that I was still picking at my horn and quickly tucked my hand in my lap.

“I see,” said the knight. “And nobody's ever been able to do it?”

I made a show of tugging at my horns and ears, as if I was going to lift my head right off of my neck. He didn't laugh.

“Of course, if you promise not to kill me – or, I mean, try to kill me – then you can take your chances in the labyrinth.”

The knight's sword began to falter. His arm or his resolve, or maybe both, was losing its strength. “Has anybody ever made it out?” he asked.

“I'm not sure,” I said. “But nobody's ever come back,” I added cheerfully.

The knight thought for a moment. He looked around the living room once more, then slowly placed his sword on my coffee table. Maybe my sense of interior decoration had filled him with a desire to live every day to the fullest, to eschew certain death in the hopes of one day tasting the aesthetic and physical pleasures of life. Or maybe it was my expansive floor to ceiling shelving made of knight bones.

“Can I offer you anything before you go?” I said. “A scone? They're getting to be almost as good as my cross-stitch.”

He shook his head glumly. “No,” he said, “I'd really better get going.” He looked at the halo of light fading into darkness from which he had come, and into which he would now return. “Haven't you ever tried to leave?”

“All this?” I said, sweeping my arms in front of me. “I'm just getting it the way I like it. Besides,” I added, reaching towards the table, “you can't beat the free swords!”

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