Chapter 7 – Maze of Memories

Shin's hand clenched tightly, his long nails leaving bleeding crescent moons on his palm. He shivered violently, and as he fell he felt warm, strong arms catch him, reminding him so much of his dead father that he relaxed, only to tense up again as a fresh wave of pain coursed through him.
Damn it all to hell. He cursed inwardly, curling up in the fetal position in an attempt to lessen the pain, although he knew it was all for naught. A small whimper was heard on the still air, and his 'teammates' watched as he convulsed and twitched before settling as Hikariana stood over him protectively. Sei, who was still half-holding his upper body up, nearly dropped his head as a stream of images and memories that were not his own tore through his mind.

Mother, lying in a broken, battered, bleeding heap while a man buttoned his trousers, before he contemptuously tore her open, leaving a gaping wound that nearly tore her in half. Still alive, she gazed at him, and mouthed three words before she died.

Father, a wound in his chest, blood spurting.

A shining silver light turning black, the smell of decay permeating the air.

Death, shrieking in triumph.

Pain. Torture. Insanity. Pain. Torture. Hurt. Pain. Pain. PAIN. Numbness.

Snap. Broken. Threads. Tear. …no… please… no… Rend. Kill. Maim. Blood. Death. Demons. Coming.

Blood. Death. Blood. Kill. Hurt. …no…Kill. Death. Blood. Kill. Kill. Kill. KILL. DEATH. BLOOD. DEATH. KILL. HURT. MAIM. REND. TEAR… no… please… stop me… someone… HELP ME!

Silence.

Wrenching his hands away from Shin, Sei stood up shakily, his tanned face pale and ashen with shock. As Shin's eyes blinked open, hazy with pain, Sei stared at him, not moving as Shin pulled himself torturously to his feet, aided by Hikariana and Rokvad. Pyrokan and Rokvad, united, ((for once)) helped Shin, keeping him on his feet when he threatened to collapse again at any moment. Waving them off with a small smile to show he meant no offense, the now remarkably open Shin, compared to how he was, sat cross-legged on the grass, Hikariana beside him. Taking this opportunity to examine their surroundings, his shock, and fear, were evident. They were in a clearing exactly the same as the one he and Shina used to play in, down to the waterfall and the flowers. (( See Sei's prologue ))

Shaking his head, he relaxed himself; a low hum rising and falling to a soundless music, coming from his slightly parted lips. A silver mist seemed to rise from Hikariana, and a golden-red one from Shin. They intertwined, and Shin snapped his eyes open, all signs of pain and exhaustion gone. Hikariana lolled, panting, before gathering her energy to follow the moving group.
"So… Any ideas as to how we get to the center?" Pyrokan asked, deliberately facing away from Rokvad as he said this, which was quite a feat, considering Rokvad was right next to Sei, who was smack in the middle of the group.

"I suppose we should just try each path, and when it ends, if it ends, turn back and either follow one of the side branches or go back to the start. Most mazes have the center to the north… Anyone here know which way north is?" said Rokvad, turning to Pyrokan first. Pyrokan shook his head, looking mildly embarrassed, but Sei and Shin both pointed confidently in the same direction, towards a seemingly impenetrable hedge.

Sei sniffed the air, and both he and Shin moved at the same time towards a section of the hedge, reaching their hands in and through the foliage to grasp something. Opening his eyes, Shin gave a small, slow nod and stepped away from Sei, watching as he pulled with all his strength. Slowly, a section of the hedge swung outwards, revealing a hidden path. Sei looked to each member of their group, and stepped through, followed closely by Pyrokan, Rokvad and finally Shin.

A red, stinking mist slowly rose from the ground, manipulating the ivy covered door into swinging closed, but not before the malignant entity had slipped through, after it's prey. A single tendril remained latched onto the earth beyond the door, as the mist moved on, into other spaces. The foul odor of sulfur and dried blood filled the air, as with every passing minute the mist took more and more of the clearings life-force in order to make itself stronger.

Plants withered, turning brown before crumbling to the earth, which was a sickly grey. The water turned stagnant, and foul scents arose from the trees, which rotted from the inside. Any animals, although luckily there were few around, having been scared off or retreated into hiding by Rokvad and Pyrokan, were decaying, even though their hearts still beat feebly, covered by crumbling bones and rotten flesh. Dark laughter echoed in the open space as a single thread disappeared, and the mist swirled hungrily, freed from its bonds at last.

After journeying through many traps and false ends, Shin's group, still followed by the mist, met up with Maria and Histrana's group. Sei's expression of welcome towards both groups soon turned to one of shock, horror and disbelief. Shin remained outwardly undisturbed, as always, but inside he too was recoiling from the scene before them. Pyrokan, forgetting clan hatred for a brief minute in his shock, moved to stand beside and slightly behind both Sei and Rokvad. Rokvad, looking back, did not even allow himself a smile at Pyrokan's actions, so disturbed was he at the happenings in front. All four looked to each other, and three of them, pushing down their shock, ran to help, before a single word, sharp and cracking, rang out behind them.

"STOP." Came a voice, different in a hard to describe way. It was scratchy, but smooth, tenor, but light, deep, but shrill. It was as if whomever had spoken had trouble choosing one voice, and instead opted for all of them, male or female, young or old, human or not.
They felt themselves jerk to a halt, and their bodies moved, even though they had not told them too. They turned back, fighting against themselves, to see a vaguely human shape made of swirling, blood-coloured mist.

Jerkily, like marionettes on a string, they moved towards the figure, their limbs moving awkwardly and their ungainly movements unknowingly hid Shin and Hikariana from the figures searching eyes. Taking out a small silver dagger, Shin moved stealthily forward, golden eyes turning red-gold as the dagger began to shine. Suddenly stopping, he surveyed the area with dilated pupils, and broke into a small, well-guarded smile.

The two groups were clawing at themselves and at each other, faces twisted with rage and animalistic intent as they fought to the death. Some monsters also fought, but these were trying to bring the students to their senses. Attached to each person was a thick, red line, running from the mist straight to the students. A thinner, weaker line was attached to Sei, Pyrokan and Rokvad, and the whole clearing was littered with the corpses of humanoid and animal, each with an abnormally large thread.
These threads were such a dark red that they were almost black, and even the plants and trees, grasses and water of the central part of the maze had a myriad of thread running from object to the mist, and as Shin watched, the mist grew thicker, and the vague figure inside clearer, more human. ((Sound familiar?))

------------------------------------Refreshment Room----------------------------------

Minerve stirred, opening her eyes to stare blankly at the faint red thread coming from her heart, following it's glowing form through the walls and out in the general direction of her newest mazes. She attempted to struggle to her feet, her silver-grey hair caked with her own dried blood, and her whole body similarly soaked. The wound at the back of her head still bled sluggishly, and her normally bright red eyes were dull, blank and tired, her face drawn in pain. Waving a stiff hand, a mirror appeared in front of her, and she inspected her newest appearance. A golden mist slowly dissipated from her body, and she smiled crookedly at the younger, prettier version of her younger self. ((If anyone can tell me where that came from, I'll give them a virtual cookie. With choc-chips. And cream. And milk. And… yummy stuff!)) The golden mist took with it her wound, but the blood still remained. Watching the blinking yellow mist, wavering on her finger, she sighed, leaning down to touch the broken cat's body with her finger, and watched in satisfaction as she grew older, sacrificing several years of her life to bring the innocent kitten back to life.

Smiling gently, her slightly older face turned towards the setting sun, the strange light lending her face a demonic look, her lips pulled back into a faint snarl as her blazing vermillion eyes cam to rest on the offending red thread.
I think it's time I went for a little… 'walk' She thought to herself, absently stroking the snowball of fur by her side. It's time… Time for the Huntress to ride out, and the Hunt to begin!
Raising her elated face to the darkening sky, a crash of distant thunder answered her crystal laugh, carefree and innocent. In the mazes, eyes blinked open, and mouth opened in silent acknowledgement of the Huntress and her Pack. Grazers and birds flew and ran, hiding deep in the earth or high in the sky as a single note pierced the air, ethereal and haunting, the horn signaling something primeval, some ancient instinct in predator and prey, wolf and dog, lion and kitten.
Come, my children. The sun sets, and the Moon rises. We Hunt in Her name, and I, Huntress, Her Daughter, call on you. HUNT THOSE WHO DARE TO HURT MY PACK. A low growl rumbled in her throat, as she turned towards where she knew Ruby to be. May Her light protect you… Shin.