Firestorm: Descent

Chapter Twenty-five: Into the Labyrinth

As they reached the top of the slope leading to the labyrinth, David looked back. Fulgar was limping rapidly along the road two hundred yards behind them. He waved furiously at them, shouting something.

‘Quick, in here.’ He led the band of friends along the same quarter-mile stone corridor that Fulgar had led them through when they left the court. The light diminished behind them to a dirty grey circle as they ran into the heart of the mountain. When they reached the gate, David saw the silhouette of Fulgar lumbering up the passageway, swaying and growing steadily in that circle of light. Again he shouted something, but his words were lost in the wet echoes of the passageway.

They were trapped. Fulgar had lied about a lot since they were last at this barrier, but he had told them the truth about the gate being unopenable from the outside.

‘Toby, can you get this open?’ David said.

‘Sure,’ Toby said. He took a mighty kick at the gate. The stone around the hinges cracked a little. He kicked it again.

‘Not like that,’ David said. ‘If you break it, Fulgar’s just going to keep coming at us! We need to be able to lock it behind us, you idiot!’

‘Oh, you should have said,’ Toby replied with a grin.

He felt around in his pockets. David looked back towards the light in the distance. Already, it had grown dimmer as the hulking figure of Fulgar grew larger.

‘Got that hair-clip? Toby asked Sarah.

‘No, Pelf took it.’


‘Never mind.’

‘Well, you’re out of luck. Nothing to pick it with.’

He took another kick at the gate and this time a large lump of masonry fell to the ground.

‘Wait,’ Sarah said. I have got something. ‘Turn around.’

She stared defiantly at Toby, who looked puzzled for a moment then obeyed. Limivo and David did the same, and were left only with the disquieting view of Fulgar lumbering up the passageway no more than a hundred yards away. Sarah thrust something into Toby’s hand.

‘A bra?’ he said.

‘Use the wire.’ She looked him straight in the eye, defying him to make any smart comments.

Quickly Toby pulled out the length of bent wire. He looked at it with considerable surprise, then, with a hurry-up prod from Limivo, set to work on the lock.

The wire was not ideal and it kept springing out of the lock and bending too much, but Toby persisted. The figure of Fulgar was picking up speed. In less than thirty seconds he would be on them. Again and again Toby eased the wire into the lock’s tumbler and prodded at the pins. He was getting somewhere, but he was not used to working under pressure. He was about to give up and turn his energy to fighting properly when he hit the final pin.

The lock clicked and the gate swung open. They piled through and slammed it behind them.

And not a moment too soon.

‘Stop!’ Fulgar bellowed at them. He was now out of breath and limping badly, but he would have been within striking distance if it were not for the gate.

‘Wait,’ Fulgar said. ‘You’re making a big mistake.’

‘The only mistake we made was trusting you,’ David said. ‘Come on, let’s go.’

He began to jog along the corridor with the others behind him as Fulgar pounded on the gate behind them.

‘Don’t go back through the Court!’ he yelled. ‘I was trying to protect you!’ He shook the gate furiously, but it held firm.

The four of them ran the quarter mile to the door that led into the labyrinth itself. It would not be long before Fulgar smashed through the gate, and they wanted to be as far away from him as possible when he did. But David still brought the group to a halt beside the door.

There was a crash behind them as Fulgar kicked the gate off its hinges.

‘What are we waiting for? Limivo said. ‘He’s right behind us.’

‘Come on,’ Sarah said. ‘We can still get to the stairs up to the court before him.’

‘It wouldn’t do us any good,’ David said.

‘Why?’ Sarah said.

‘Because he’ll just follow us straight up there. We’ve got to go through the labyrinth.’

‘You’re not serious! Seven thousand rooms, all approached by seven corridors? Seven ways in and out of seven thousand rooms. That gives us about a nil in infinity chance of ever making it out of there!’

‘And it gives Fulgar about the same. We’ve only got to be slightly more lucky than him and we’re free.’

‘No, David,’ Sarah said. ‘We’ve got to be a hell of a lot more lucky than we’ve ever been before. Do you really think we can get out of it once we’re in? And what about the Cordis Cana Fulgar told us about? The place from which only one person has ever escaped? We could as easily end up in there as find an exit.’

‘I don’t like to rush you,’ Limivo said, ‘but you’ve got about twenty seconds to decide, or the decision’s made for us.’

David looked round. Fulgar was close and he was not slowing down.

‘I can do this,’ he said.

‘OK,’ Sarah said. ‘We don’t have time to debate this. David, if you think you can get us through the labyrinth, I’m with you. It’s our only choice.’ David felt the warmth of her breath on his face, but could barely see her. ‘You got us this far.’

‘Dave,’ Toby said. ‘If you’re going to do it, do it. Your fat friend’s right there.’

David felt along the door until he found the handle. He turned it and led them through into the first of the seven thousand rooms of the labyrinth.

*  *  *

Limivo struck a match and lit a candle he pulled from his pocket. With the flame burning steadily in the still, cold air, he handed it to David, along with the severed hand.

‘Stick the candle in the hand. Then you’ll have to guide us because none of us’ll be able to see a thing. And don’t let it go out: I’m out of matches.’

David wedged the candle into the cold soft flesh, trying to put from his mind what he was holding. To him, nothing changed, but he could see by the surprised expressions on the faces of his companions that as far as they were concerned, the candle had been extinguished.

Footsteps echoed up the stone passageway towards the door behind them.

‘So which way?’ Toby said.

‘Just a minute. The doors are numbered.’

‘Numbered? How does that help?’

‘Well, one of them says ‘one’, so I guess that is a good place to start.’

‘What do the others say?’ Sarah said.

‘They’re one, four, sixteen, one hundred and ninety two, seven hundred and six, seven hundred and seven and …’

‘What? What is it?’

‘Eight one two eight.’

‘But there’s only supposed to be seven thousand rooms.’

‘Only?’ Toby said. ‘Only? Isn’t that enough?’

‘Like I said, let’s just start with one.’

He opened the door and guided his now-blind friends through. Just before he closed it he looked back at the door almost opposite them. The number was carved in gold, not just etched into the wood as the others were. There was something significant about that figure, but he could not remember quite what. Was the door significant too? A trap… or a quick route to the exit?

Had he made a mistake already?

He had just closed the door behind them when they heard Fulgar burst through into the first room. As quickly as he could, David led his friends along the curved passage to the next room.

‘There’s a door marked ‘two’. That must be it.’

‘Well, this isn’t much of a puzzle, is it?’ Toby said.

Again, as they closed the door behind them, they heard Fulgar enter the room. Again, they made their way through the thick blackness of the intervening corridor as best they could.

The third room again had seven doors: the one they had entered by, plus six others etched with various numbers. Without inviting scorn from Toby, David chose number three.

Fulgar was falling behind a little now, stumbling through the darkness, but he was still dangerously close. He was still protesting that he was trying to help them, that they should wait for him, trust him, but David had made his choice. The lives of his friends depended on his getting them as far away from Fulgar as possible.

The fourth room presented David with his first problem. There was no number four door. The closest was five. David thought for a moment.

‘What is it? Why have we stopped?’ Sarah said. Only David could see how frightened she was, cut off in the pitch-black labyrinth with Fulgar closing in behind them.

‘There’s no number four…’

‘You got us lost already?’ Toby said.

‘No,’ David said. ‘I think I’m beginning to see what’s going on here. Trust me, let’s keep going.’

He led them through door five and along another corridor.

The next room did not have a six or seven on any of its doors. David was, however, very relieved to see ‘eight’. He led them through, just in time to hear Fulgar stumbling along the corridor towards the room they had just left. In the next room, Limivo caught hold of David’s arm.

‘We’ve to get rid of your friend. He’s following us by sound. He manages to get to the room behind us in time to hear our footsteps in the next corridor, so he knows which door to choose. We’ll have to stop after the next room.’

‘Stop?’ whispered Sarah. ‘But he’ll run right into us.’

‘We’ve got a one in six chance of that,’ David said. ‘If he doesn’t know which door we’ve gone through, he’ll just have to pick one at random. He won’t go back the way he came, so that leaves him six options. One will lead to us; the other five will lead him away. We’ve only got to do it once and we’re free of him.’

At that moment, they heard the unmistakable sound of Fulgar behind the door they had entered through. Without a second to spare, they disappeared through door number eight and away down the passage. All the way David muttered under his breath, as if in prayer: ‘thirteen, thirteen, thirteen’.

Relief hit him as he saw, opposite them in the next chamber, door ‘13’. He was glad Toby could not see that relief, for until that moment even he was beginning to wonder if he had managed to get the party lost.

‘This way, then stop. Stay absolutely silent,’ he hissed, leading them through the door and closing it quietly behind them.

All four crowded into the inky blackness and stood against the wall of the passageway. The temptation to blow out the candle was almost too much to resist, but David had to keep reminding himself that he was the only one who could see its light.

They heard Fulgar stop, listening intently for the tell-tale sound of them running along the next corridor. A door opened, then closed again. Sarah stepped forward, but David caught her and pushed her back against the wall. Sounds again from the chamber: Fulgar was still in there.

The door to their passageway opened, slowly, silently. In the candle’s flickering glow David could see Fulgar peering into the solid blackness. He listened. He stepped into the corridor, carefully, one foot then the other. He was less than an arm’s length from Toby, who stood, as they all did, holding his breath, flat against the wall. Fulgar leaned forward, listening, but his one good ear heard nothing. The frail light of the candle cast deep ugly shadows across his shattered features as David silently prayed that he would come no further.

Fulgar let out a mighty howl, and punched the wall right next to Toby’s head. He then stormed back through the door, slamming it behind him.

All four stood rigid with fear until they heard another door open and close, and Fulgar’s footsteps fade down a corridor parallel to theirs.

A collective sigh hissed around the stone walls.

Satisfied that for now at least they were not being followed, they made for the next room. Still not entirely confident of his method, David was glad to see door ‘21’ just to the left of the one they came in through. By the time they had passed through door ‘34’, and stood in another identical room facing door ‘55’ he knew he had cracked the code of the labyrinth.

‘So where are we?’ Toby said as they paused to regroup.

‘Door fifty-five,’ replied David dryly.

‘Fifty-five!’ Sarah said. ‘We haven’t come that far. We are lost, aren’t we?’

‘I don’t think so,’ Limivo said. ‘You know where we are, don’t you, Dave? You’ve led us through each door without a moment’s hesitation. You cracked it?’

‘Yes. It’s a Fibonacci sequence.’

‘Do what?’ Toby said.

‘Each door’s the sum of the two previous doors. So after doors two and three, we had to take number five, because two and three are five. Then door eight – three and five are eight – and so on. We’re now at fifty-five, and the last one was thirty-four. So if I’m right, our next door will be eighty-nine.’

‘Well, let’s find out shall we?’ Toby suggested. ‘Old mangle-mouth’s still out there somewhere.’

David knew before they entered the next chamber that one of the doors would be ‘89’. For confirmation, Toby took the dead hand and candle and examined the doors for himself.

‘And you knew, out of all these doors, which one we should take just by doing maths?’

‘Of course. There had to be a method.’

‘But how? I mean, why that sequence?’ Sarah asked.

‘It was the stairs we came down after the trial. You remember how there was a shallow one every now and then, starting quite frequently, then coming less and less often? I was counting them; I recognised the pattern. Fibonacci numbers have all sorts of special properties. It makes sense that the centre of the labyrinth would be protected like this.’

‘And how do you know you’re right?’ Toby said. ‘Why should we trust you?’

‘Because if we follow him, he’ll get us out of here.’ Limivo said. ‘Come on, let’s move.’

They left the chamber through door ‘89’ and made their way blindly down another smooth stone passageway.

Each connecting corridor was a little shorter, and minutely narrower than the previous one. David wished he had the time and presence of mind to count the steps, sure that there must be some mathematical relationship between the lengths of these passages. One thing seemed sure: despite the twists and turns of the warren of interconnecting tunnels, they were making spiralling progress towards the centre of the mountain.

They moved on for some time in silence. With no sound but their own movement, and no external references, it was impossible to guess how long they had been underground. In each connecting room, David glanced round to ensure his party was complete.

At door ‘987’, Sarah hissed a warning to bring them to a stop.

‘Do you hear that?’

They listened. A dull shuffling sound disturbed the inky silence. Closer and closer the scraping of boots on rock came, moving towards them on the other side of the door.

‘Let’s get out of here,’ Toby whispered.

‘No time,’ said Limivo. ‘Get back to the wall. Dave, give me the candle!’

There was no time for discussion. David handed over the hand, candle attached, and his world was plunged into darkness. The door opened. Tentative footsteps sounded in the room. Limivo sniffed deliberately.

‘Who’s there?’ Fulgar said. ‘David?’

‘No, it’s Limivo.’

‘You with the others?’ Fulgar asked.

‘No. They ran off. Just needed me to get them back through Exdis, then abandoned me in here.’

‘Damn them! We’ll never got out of this place.’

‘Sure we will. I heard the boy showing off to his friends. He knows how the labyrinth works.’

David’s heart missed a beat. Was Limivo going to double-cross them, after all they had been through?

Feet moved across the stone floor.

‘Feel the door. There’s numbers on all of them. To get out, you just have to chose the lowest number each time, simple as that.’

‘So why are you still in here?’

‘Because I’m trying to get to Minos. He can send Cerberites down the other side of the mountain to cut them off.’

‘I’ll come with you,’ Fulgar said.

‘No. You go back to the entrance. They might get lost and have to retrace their path back to the start. I’ll try to go on and warn Minos.’

David could feel Fulgar pondering this proposition, torn between his desire to be the one to tip off Minos, and his belief that his prisoners might indeed end up back at the beginning of the labyrinth.

‘You cross me, kid, and I’ll tear you apart. I have to find them, you hear? And if I don’t, I’ll find you, you mark my words!’

‘Hey, I want to see them caught as much as you do. If we split up, there’s a much better chance we’ll get them.’

Fulgar let out a low growl.

‘OK. Which door, then?’

There was the sound of a door opening. David guessed from the direction it was the one they had just come in through. A moment later, he felt the cold severed hand being passed back to him. He took it, and light flooded back into his eyes.

‘Well, that should take care of him,’ Limivo whispered.

‘You don’t think we’ll run in to him again?’ Sarah asked.

‘The longer we go on, the less likely it is,’ David said. ‘He’ll be following numbers going down, we’re following numbers going up. All the rooms interconnect, but we’ll move further and further apart all the time.’ He knew that wasn’t true, but he didn’t feel inclined to get into another discussion about probability, and risk scaring himself as well as them.

‘Come on, it can’t be far now,’ he said. He just wished he believed it.

By now the corridors had become so narrow that they had to walk in single file all the time. The ceiling too was getting lower, though only David could see that. Fortunately, the passageways were also getting shorter, so the feeling of being imprisoned in the rock, strangled in the tightening helix of the labyrinth, did not last long.

Another dozen doors later, Limivo, the tallest of the group, had to stoop slightly in the low and increasingly narrow tunnel. It was not long before Toby was cursing under his breath as he repeatedly scraped his head on the ceiling.

David’s initial concern about how high the numbers had been in the first room had proved to be of no importance. Although there were only supposed to be seven thousand rooms in the labyrinth, already the numbers on the door were way beyond that.

By the time the candle had burned to a stump all four of the fugitives had to squeeze through the tunnels, stooped against the cold rock. Just as David was beginning to wonder if he was leading them into a nightmare world as bad as the escape tunnels under Orbis, they reached a room with a difference. There were only two doors apart from the one they had come in through, and neither of them had the expected number from the sequence. David checked his maths. He looked around in the dim flickering light. One door was entirely blank; the other, half its height, had seven ‘7s’ carved in a circle.  Cautiously he opened it.

The yellow candlelight was swallowed up in the corridor that confronted him as he crouched to look through the tiny doorway. The tunnel opened up like a funnel – short and narrow at their end, but rapidly expanding along as much of its length as David could see. This had to be the one.

‘This is the exit to the bottom of the stairs,’ he said.

‘Are you sure?’ Sarah said.

‘I’d bet my life that at the end is an iron door with no handle on the other side. Beyond that is the route up to the court.’

‘So let’s go.’

‘Yeah, I’m out of here.’ Toby had already pushed David aside and taken several crouching steps into the final corridor when David stopped him.

‘No, we can’t, not yet. Eutrycia told us not to be in too much of a hurry to go back into the palace. There’s someone here we have to meet.’

‘Haven’t you had enough of this yet?’ Sarah said. ‘Come on David, we’ve got Toby back, let’s just go.’

‘No. You go if you think you can get back to Orbis. Find Namir and Seyyal and wait for me by the Aabas Gate. But I’m not leaving. Eutrycia told me not to give into temptation.’

‘Why? Why is this so important?’

David placed the severed hand on the floor just as the remaining stump of candle spluttered out. They were in darkness again.

‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘I just need to know what happened here. Is this the future for us, or only one possible future? Michael invented time travel, and I have to know if that has something to do with Firestorm. Maybe whoever’s here can answer that. You go on ahead. I’ll be fine. If I’m not at the gates in twelve hours…’

‘We’ll come and find you,’ Limivo said, though David knew Toby and Sarah were unlikely to allow that.

‘You’re mad,’ Toby added helpfully. ‘You’ve got twelve hours. After that, I’m taking Sarah home. I think you’ve got her into enough trouble already.’

Toby pushed on along the narrow passage. Sarah took David’s hand for a moment, then followed.

‘Be careful,’ Limivo said.

‘I always am,’ David said. ‘Maybe it’s time not to be for a change. Eutrycia told me I’d sent her from my future. If I did it’s because I knew how important it is that I go there. It may be the only way any of us, in our world and yours, are going to survive.’

‘Don’t you think maybe she was just there to help you escape?’

‘No. I think she meant me to go into the Cordis Cana, which if I’m right, is on the other side of that door.’

‘Then do what you have to do. We’ll meet you on the other side.’

With that, Limivo plunged into the blackness of the final passageway and was gone.

David stood for several minutes until the sound of his companions had been swallowed up in the darkness. He closed the door and was alone.

He felt his way along the wall to the other door and took a deep breath.

He knocked and waited. No one came. He knocked again, but still no reply came.

Cautiously, he turned to huge handle and peered into the thin light beyond.

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