Amber panted as she jogged up the spiralling staircase, her feet aching as they continuously met with the rough cold stone stairs. When she finally reached the top, she sat down and rubbed them soothingly as they throbbed painfully, her chest heaving up and down as she caught her breath. She then began massaging her aching legs as they screamed in pain from being overused. She breathed harshly, running a hand through her hand through sweaty hair and forehead. She sighed and rubbed her eyes sleepily. Amber was officially tired of stairs. They only had one staircase back at the village in their small home. Amber hardly used it though, she preferred climbing up the side of the wall outside the house then climbing through the window. Her mother wasn’t too impressed and father explained that it was because she had to get used to climbing when being an assassin. Apparently, Amber would be a good sniper if she can handle a gun. Though, Amber preferred close combat than anything else
‘I never thought I’d be this unfit,’ she rasped and yawned tiredly ‘Damn, this is much harder than I thought.’ She yawned deeper and rubbed her eyes sleepily. ‘I need a caffeine patch to get through this stupid tower,’ she said as she remembered her father’s training and his top tip on how to stay awake during a mission. She slowly got up and examined her surroundings. The room was colder than the wetland room below her and stone grey walls, with small candles hung on them, stood tall on either side of her, castling tall shadows onto her. Around her were four passages. Amber looked from one to the other and bit her lip. ‘This is why I need Xeann for this,’ she muttered as she spun around to get a good look at the passageways. She sighed in frustration and shook her head. ‘Why does there have to be a labyrinth like this when I had to leave Xeann behind with a giant prehistoric snake that could potentially kill her?’ she asked with a frustrated sigh ‘This just isn’t my day…’
‘Rrrggh…’ Amber paled as she heard a low growl echo through the room and paled further when she recognized what kind of growl it was and what it had come from. She swallowed and looked around cautiously and sighed. She felt a chilly breeze pass her and shuddered, rubbing her bare arms for warmth. The thin clothes that she had borrowed from Sarah weren’t exactly useful to wear in cold places like this place. Amber’s legs shook like jelly as she suddenly felt very nervous in a damp and dimly lit environment like this. Especially if it was crawling with creatures that she wasn’t particularly looking forward to meeting.
‘It’s alright, Amber,’ she chanted to herself softly, lacing her hands together and closing her eyes, as if she was praying ‘You can get through this. You can get through this on your own. It’s for your parents and for Jasper. You just need to find your courage, brave this labyrinth and go to the next obstacle course, then you can reach the Queen. You don’t need mother to help you get through this, no, you have to be a big girl now. Yes, you can do this, just ignore the scary sounding noises that are coming out of the passageways…’
‘Rarrgh…’ Amber gasped as she heard another growl, except it was louder than the last one and it seemed closer. She rubbed her arms a bit more vigorously and whimpered, calmly closing her eyes to compose herself and find some inner strength. She began to breathe in and out calmly, blocking out everything that was around her. She blocked out the ominous growls that echoed through the labyrinth. She blocked out the faint smell of rotting meat that might be lying in the passageways. She blocked out the chilly wind that passed her every so now and then, giving her goosebumps. She soon calmed down and opened her eyes, looking ahead blankly before talking to herself again.
‘Right, I just need to pick one and run, right?’ She glanced at all of them quickly and sighed tiredly, shaking her head. ‘Around the assassin’s home and life,’ she chanted while pointing her finger to a different passageway after every different word ‘goes the assassin’s ex-wife with a butcher’s knife and a chest full of strife.’ She ran down the pathway that she had stopped at after her chant and stopped suddenly when she looked around the corner and saw a minotaur at the end of the corridor. It was tearing at a large chunk of meat, chewing it thoughtfully then grunting in approval before eating more meat. Amber held her breath and stepped back carefully. She froze immediately when she stepped on a small slate of stone that had come off the wall. The minotaur snapped its head up at the sound immediately and snorted steam out of its nose loudly. Amber turned sharply and ran back down the way she had come from as fast as she could. The minotaur roared loudly and Amber went down the next passageway that she saw to try and get the minotaur off her scent.
‘GRAAA!’ Amber gasped silently as she turned the corner and the minotaur crashed into the labyrinth wall, shaking it slightly. She continued to run but was head-butted into the wall at the next turn. She froze when the minotaur’s forehead was firmly against her back, its horns trapping her against the wall. She didn’t move as its hands grabbed her wrists and it carefully pulled it horns out from the wall. She was turned carefully and Amber felt slightly sick when she saw the golden circle embedded on its forehead. That circle meant that he was a bull minotaur, an alpha male. When there was an alpha male, there was surely a herd of minotaurs in this labyrinth somewhere. If there’s a herd of minotaurs in this labyrinth, there was a chance that there were annoying but deadly children minotaurs too. Children minotaurs didn’t hunt until they were adults. Minotaurs ate anything with flesh and organs. An alpha male was the best hunter in the pack. The alpha male has her trapped. She was going to be turned into a nice juicy dinner for several hungry minotaurs. Amber had never ever beaten a minotaur in a fight before. Amber swallowed worriedly. This was going to end messily.
The bull minotaur sniffed her, making her scrunch her nose when she smelt the rotten meat off his breath. He began to nudge her head gently, but when he nudged her too hard, Amber’s reaction was to nudge back irritably. The bull minotaur raised his head and stared at her with his dark green eyes. Amber didn’t dare move a muscle until he ran a cold wet tongue up her cheek. She flinched and rubbed her cheek in revulsion with a light repulsed shudder. The bull minotaur swung her onto his shoulder and began walking off. Amber didn’t struggle in case she got him angry, and she knew how nasty it was to be near an angry minotaur. If it was an angry bull minotaur then that would be even more dangerous. Amber tried to look over her shoulder to try and remember the way he was going so she had a planned escape route when she ran away. Amber glanced down at the bull minotaur’s head.
‘Can you talk?’ The bull minotaur snorted and mooed, flicking his head right then left sharply. ‘Not even a few merged or unclear words?’ Another quick snort and sharp flick of the head. ‘Oh, OK thanks for letting me know.’ Minotaurs could learn how to talk but the wild ones had limited vocabulary. There were those who didn’t know how to talk but those were the feral and rough ones. Those types were extremely rare though and only found in the harshest of places. Even though they were feral, they were classed in the Dark category as opposed to the Abnormal category. The Queen must have some really good contacts to have a herd of minotaurs who couldn’t speak at all and were very feral in her tower. But the bull minotaur can understand human speech so she had to be very careful on what to say. Amber tensed as she saw a young minotaur scurry out of the next corridor and paused to look up at her hungrily.
‘Grrpmh,’ went the bull minotaur grumpily and leered over the young minotaur. The young child minotaur squealed by the intimidation and scampered back down the corridor from whence it came. The bull minotaur followed it and Amber’s eyes widened when she saw that ahead was a room with about a dozen or more minotaurs and straw beds around for them to lay. In one corner, a group of young minotaurs tussled and play fought amongst themselves, letting out playful and painful squeals. A cluster of female minotaurs, Amber couldn’t tell if they were old or young, stood elsewhere, watching a couple of large male minotaurs fight uncontrollably in the middle of the room. One female minotaur cleaned her child as it retreated from its fight with the other children minotaurs. The bull minotaur snorted loudly with a quiet roar, alerting everyone in the room of his presence. Everything went silent as every minotaur stopped what they were doing and lined up for the bull minotaur to pass through to the large straw bed at the other side of the room. Amber wanted to disappear and run when she saw the many pairs of hungry eyes land on her. The bull minotaur grunted angrily and Amber felt the gazes leave her.
The bull minotaur roughly set her down into a seating position on his straw bed and grunted to the rest of the minotaurs, letting them go back to their own business. Amber shifted uncomfortably as the bull minotaur settled down next to her and nudged her with his head gently. Amber didn’t really understand what the nudging was about but it really annoyed her eventually so she head-butted him on the centre of his mark with a growl. He pushed back harshly, sending her falling backwards and onto her back. Amber began to worry as he crawled on top of her and nudged her head with his again. He snorted softly and ran his tongue up her face. Amber pulled a disgusted face and bared with it. She saw out of the corner of her eye a male minotaur doing the same with a female minotaur who was head-butting him back eagerly. Her pupils dilated as realisation struck her like a comet. The bull minotaur thought that she was consenting to be his mate. Oh dear. Amber shakily opened her mouth.
‘I-I really think you’ve mistaken me…’ she stuttered ‘This isn’t what I have agreed to, really…’ An angry growl erupted from the bull minotaur’s throat and Amber then remembered that this was a feral bull minotaur that she was dealing with. It wouldn’t be a major surprise to find out that this kind of minotaur could kill his mate if she wasn’t consenting. The bull minotaur nuzzled her and Amber lay flat on her back to stay away from him. It was a bad move when she realised his immediate reaction of completely going over her and licking her cheek. Amber shuddered in repulse as it began to nose her clothes that covered her body.
Amber’s body shook and she looked around desperately for an escape route. She looked up at the exit and bit her lip. She couldn’t out run the bull minotaur, she had tried and failed that before. She yawned deeply as she realised exactly how comfortable and warm the straw bed was beneath her. The bull minotaur snorted down her neck and she perked up when she stared into his green eyes. She couldn’t surpass a second yawn and the bull minotaur softly nuzzled her contently with a pleased snort. Amber’s eyelids grew heavy as she was turned on her side and the bull minotaur wrapped his arms around her tightly. Amber felt warm and sleepier than before as she curled up and closed her eyes. The bull minotaur snorted contently and began breathing deeply to indicate he was going to sleep too. Amber sighed softly as a content smile slowly appeared on her face as she began falling into the world of slumber. She gently dozed off after a few minutes. It had been a while since she had been in such a comfortable state before going to sleep. At her village, she had the discomfort of the Zennalpha plague when she slept. She couldn’t remember much of Vigour Village and the beds weren’t very comfortable in Magia Town. This straw bed seemed so comfortable and Amber could feel the bull minotaur’s blood pulse through his body and rushed past hers to make her feel warm enough to feel drowsy enough to forget her worries and go to sleep.
But when Amber dove deeper into the land of dreams, she had a flash of fear, suffering and horror, making her snap her eyes open. She suddenly remembered that dreams didn’t exist in this world anymore because of the Nightmare Blanket. She couldn’t possibly sleep, even if she wanted to. She jerked with a silent gasp in the bull minotaur’s grip which tightened at her sudden movement. Amber hugged the bull minotaur’s arms and stared at the exit, remembering her mission, remembering her target and remembering that she shouldn’t be lying down and taking a nice nap. She had to get to the Queen and defeat her, find her father, get rid of the Nightmare Blanket, find Jasper and her mother then go back to life as normal in the village. She had to get out of this predicament.
‘Grr…’ Amber paled when the bull minotaur growled in his sleep and shook her head. She had to conquer this fear. She just needed to slip out of his grip, tiptoe quietly out of the room and run for her life until she found the exit of this damned labyrinth. Amber took a deep breath and turned to the bull minotaur slowly. Amber didn’t have a pretty experience with a minotaur when she was around about ten years old. The worst part was that she was a child minotaur and she was tame. Plus, she was a girl. She was named May which Amber thought was a pathetic name. Amber was playing with her in the village until she proposed a play fight. The result ended with her sporting several bruises on her back and a gash in her side. May was unscathed. Of course, Amber became wary of minotaurs as she grew up. But when the Nightmare Blanket came, May had to leave with her parents to find somewhere that was safe and could provide enough resources for them to survive on. It would be quite an easy task, considering that minotaurs could last weeks without water and their immune system was practically invincible. They could feed on anything that had flesh if they had to.
Amber carefully wrapped her arms around the bull minotaur loosely and gave him a quick hug to make it look like she was accepting her fate. The bull minotaur snorted and loosened his grip somewhat, nuzzling the side of her head. He unconsciously licked her cheek and Amber pulled a face as she smelt the rotting meat off his breath. Other than another minotaur, who would want a boyfriend to have horrible breath? Certainly not Amber, she preferred the more civil kind. She gently reached out and pulled out straw so that it would replace her in the bull minotaur’s arms. She eased his arms around the straw carefully, wriggled out of his grip gradually stood up slowly and briskly walked out, mindful to not disturb any of the slumbering minotaurs in the room.
She had only turned two corners when she heard an enraged roar echo throughout the whole labyrinth. She didn’t think as she sprinted down the labyrinth, turning sharply around corners and not thinking twice if she had the choice of two paths. She skidded around another corner hurriedly, stubbing her toe into the ground accidentally and ran down the next pathway. She screeched to a halt when she realised that there was only a dead end in front of her. Once she turned, her heart did a panicked la-dup when she saw a rather large and bulky minotaur blocking her way.
Leaning against the dead end, she kept her breathing normal as she watched it carefully. It wasn’t the bull minotaur, thankfully, other than it certainly did look like it could fight for becoming the bull minotaur. Well, it looked big enough to fight the bull minotaur in this labyrinth. With a slow and nervous gulp, Amber got an idea and carefully stepped away from the wall. She suddenly snorted challengingly. The minotaur snorted warily and tilted its head to the side in confusion. Amber stomped her foot on the ground, bucking her head up and down to challenge the minotaur for a fight. The minotaur seemed thoroughly enraged by the idea of being challenged by a human lookalike and roared, charging towards her at breakneck pace. Amber narrowed her eyes in concentration as she timed her plan right. She may not be a fighter with great strength, but she certainly had some tactical talents that she used often to get out of a messy fight when necessary. This did not make her a coward though, Amber always thought that to herself. When the minotaur got close enough, she placed her hands on its forehead and promptly leapfrogged over it as it charged right past her then tried to stop itself. She landed at the same time the minotaur slammed into the wall behind her with a resounding and sickening crack. Turning, she smirked softly when she saw the minotaur’s horns were deeply embedded into the wall and it was having a hard time getting them out.
‘Sorry, but I really can’t fight minotaurs,’ she shrugged while jogging off ‘Hope you find a way to free yourself after I leave this labyrinth.’ She ran faster when the minotaur roared loudly and screeched to a halt when she found that she was in another room of the labyrinth. She looked around and breathed a sigh of relief when she found two large metal double doors. She ran up and stopped when a child minotaur lumbered out of a corridor and stopped right in front of her. It let out a premature squeal and charged towards her.
Amber took a deep breath as she charged at him too, adrenaline pumping through her veins as she briefly remembered the fight with May. She’d better not get humiliated by this little minotaur. She let out a battle cry to try and intimidate him but it didn’t work when it squealed loudly to intimidate her. She quickly grabbed the child minotaur by his growing horns, spun him around twice and swung him back down the corridor. There was a high pitched yelp as he crashed into one of the walls of the labyrinth and Amber sighed in relief as he admitted defeat rather quickly and scampered off.
‘Now why couldn’t I have done that with May?’ she asked herself after a moment’s pause. She rushed up to the doors and tried pulling on the metal handles. They wouldn’t budge and they didn’t move either when she pushed on them.
‘Grrrrr…’ Amber froze on instinct when she heard a low drawn out growl behind her. Something snorted down her neck, making her swallow nervously and she paled when she steadily looked up and saw the bull minotaur’s crest. Turning around slowly, she looked up into the bull minotaur’s dark eyes, her legs wobbling like jelly. He snarled angrily at her, making her yelp in surprise as he head-butted her on the forehead harshly. Amber recoiled, stunned, and whined, holding her head as it throbbed in pain and she saw stars. She half-glared at the minotaur, as if telling him that he’d better hope she hadn’t gotten any brain damage because of him. Was that a stern warning or was that the punishment for running away? Probably a warning, punishment would have had her gored into the doors and eaten for dinner. Amber leaned against the doors for support, holding her head and sighed.
‘I need to get out of here to face the Queen,’ she said with her head hung ‘I have to find my father and get back home so I can look for my mother and my younger brother. Please, let me go. I know I don’t expect much from pleading but if you could perhaps at least show some sympathy…’ The bull minotaur snorted unimpressed with slight confusion and Amber sighed, shaking her head. ‘No, of course you wouldn’t understand,’ she muttered sullenly with a pout ‘You don’t understand what sympathy is at all because you’re feral. You’re also from a different family to me, raised differently. Family doesn’t matter to you as long as you’re the leader.’
The bull minotaur snorted grumpily in agreement and gently nudged her with his forehead insistently. Amber leaned back as he continued nudging her, resisting the urge to nudge him back so he wouldn’t get the wrong idea. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and tried to think of an idea to get the bull minotaur away from her or at least lose interest in making her his mate. She pulled her white tank top over her belly with a soft blush when the bull minotaur began to nudge her there and froze in thought. She carefully stuck her hand down her top and pulled out a sliver of meat from the Croft’s Raven, wrapped in bandages. She had brought it along just in case she got hungry but if she could get the bull minotaur to accept then she might be able to have him help her get out of the labyrinth. She offered it to the bull minotaur who sniffed it curiously. He snorted happily and snapped the meat up from her hand. He nuzzled her affectionately and his horns sunk into two grooves above Amber’s head as he licked her cheek sloppily. Amber heard a clunk behind her and fell over backwards as the doors behind her swung open. She blinked and looked behind her shoulder to see a staircase ascending to the next floor.
‘Grrmph,’ the bull minotaur grunted moodily as Amber got up and he head-butted her lower back gently. Amber stumbled forward in surprise and turned to him, rubbing the spot where he had head-butted her. She blushed lightly as she took the hint and shook her head quickly.
‘No, I’m most certainly not doing that with a minotaur, I’m way too young to even think about that,’ she murmured to herself. There was an amused snort and Amber glanced at the bull minotaur warily, stepping away from him. ‘Are you a pervert?’
‘Grr,’ the bull minotaur bucked his head and Amber blushed more furiously and gave him a stern glare.
‘I suddenly feel so sorry for your previous mates and all the other female minotaurs in your herd,’ she sighed.
‘Grrmph,’ the bull minotaur bucked his head again with another amused snort as the doors began to close between them. Amber smiled weakly and sighed.
‘Well…thanks,’ she said as the doors swung close completely. She sighed as they locked themselves automatically and began running up the staircase.