The sun was just beginning to set below the surrounding mountains when Upashna and The Philosopher reached the stone labyrinth. Above the entrance was a sign written in an ancient language. Upashna said the language was once used by the First Wizards. Her father had taught her to read and write the forgotten script when she was a young child. It said:
§ ALL MORTALS WHO ENTER HERE MUST BE PREPARED FOR DEATH, FOR THAT WILL BE YOUR FATE SHOULD YOU FIND NO EXIT FOR THE WAY OUT.
“My magic will not help us once we are inside the stone walls of the labyrinth,” said Upashna. “You are mortal. You do not have to do this. I must go. My father and mother need my help. You are the messenger they chose to contact me. Your part in this journey can end here, tonight. You can return to your books and the peacefulness of your enclave. You do not have to enter the labyrinth. Many mortals have died wondering around these catacombs. Their bones have become one with the soil here.”
“Then you are a wizard too?” He had wondered but did not ask as he was a guest in her home.
“Yes. I am. My parents thought it would be too dangerous for me to travel to the Other Realm with them as my powers and skills were not fully developed at that time they transitioned but I am ready now. I must warn you. The journey ahead will not be an easy one. You have the most to loose.”
“You mean other than my life?”
“Yes. Once we are inside the Labyrinth and if we find the correct route, we will have to pass through three gates each guarded by a gatekeeper. I will be permitted to pass without question because I am a wizard, but you are mortal. You must pay the fee to pass through each gate.”
“But I did not bring any money. I started out two days ago for just a walk in the woods in the attempt to find the hidden path. I did not expect that I would need any money.” The Philosopher blurted out in a confused voice.
Upashna laughed and in that moment The Philosopher knew he would give up all he owned to share time with this beautiful creature standing before him. Even his life if necessary.
“O’ my Philosopher. The moment my father sent you his book, he placed in motion a change which will affect the rest of your life. Whether you enter the labyrinth with me tomorrow morning or not, your life has already been altered. It will never be the same again. You will not need any money but at the entrance to each gate you will be asked to surrender something of value to the gatekeeper. I cannot tell you what that might be as I do not know.”
“Why did your father pick me as his messenger? Was it because I rescued him from those bullies in front of the library some time ago?”
“I cannot say. My father only told me your name and that you helped him avoid injury after he was attacked. When you showed up at my cabin and told me how you had received my father’s book and your name, I knew he sent you to find me else you never would have seen the hidden path and our home. I must reiterate. You do not have to venture any further upon this unexpected journey. You can return to the village tomorrow without judgement or shame. You have done what my father asked of you,” Upashna replied.
“A great scholar once said to me, ‘We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.’ This might be that life… The night will be cold and there is no moon. I will gather wood for a fire,” said The Philosopher.
While The Philosopher searched about for fire wood, Upashna went down to the small stream they had crossed earlier to fetch some water for hot tea. While filling her jug, her father’s face appeared to her reflected in the water.
“Upashna, my loving daughter, you received my messenger?
“Yes father. We will enter the labyrinth in the morning and will arrive in the Other Realm as soon as we can.”
“Then The Philosopher will be joining you?”
“Yes father, but I fear for his life. He is mortal.”
“My dear daughter. I can see you care for him but do not worry he is much more than he appears. Hurry, your mother and I need you both. Remember to keep true north,” said the Wizard and his image disappeared.
Upashna returned to where she and The Philosopher had made camp. The fire was burning hot and The Philosopher had placed their bedrolls near each side of the fire for warmth. She removed the bread and herbs from her pack and placed the water in a pot to boil. That evening under a moonless sky they shared the bread and herb tea but very little in the way of conversation. The Philosopher was deep in thought. That night he dreamed of his father and dragons but most of his night was spent in restless thought.
…to be continued.