The labyrinth is in flames. My dress is catching on every branch and corner, tearing at the hem as I run deeper in, my head ducked below the smoke. My eyes and lungs are burning like they’ve caught fire themselves.
My sister would have called this brave. She loves the idea of defying danger in favor of a goal. To want something bad enough that not even death could hinder the progress. I do not scoff at such things anymore, not after all we’ve been through.
The heat is rolling over me in waves. There are no flames along the walls beside me, but I know they are closer with every step. Today, I don’t think it matters how badly I want and want, death does not seem to consider what I’m thinking as I run towards its open arms.
My mother would have called this foolish. She loves the idea of careful consideration and precaution, and would never wish to see us in unnecessary peril. My sister and I were the reason our mother’s hair went gray so quickly.
I’m choking, smoke coating every inch of my throat despite my head ducked low and the cloth wrapped over my mouth. I can understand why I’m the only one who ran in to the maze. This feels like foolishness. This feels like death.
But I do not turn.
I did not run in without thought. I’d weighed this decision within seconds, but I would not have changed my mind if I’d been given years to think it over. My sister would have run in beside me if she knew the way as well as I. Even my mother did not try to stop me as I ran by her.
There’s a fork of ways before me, and I hesitate for just a minute. I used to know this tangle of paths like the pages of my favorite book. The walls were once wings that folded overhead to keep me safe. Now they are strange and skeletal in a haze of smoke and flickering of flames.
I cannot think about how the fire is destroying the labyrinth, I cannot consider the pain I will feel if I live to see it destroyed from this.
I’d come here as a small girl; frightened, separated from family, and running from terrible, terrible people. The stone pillars and walls had been pure soft white, like they’d been covered with daisy petals. The leaves on the hedges and trees had been fresh, bright green, their trunks and branches of twisted wood in rich reds and grays and browns. The vines that covered everything had bloomed in every color, their petals littering the ground and blowing in the breeze.
Sparks are falling amidst flakes of ash. I can feel stabs of heat where they fall on my skin and burn. I’m getting close, I’m nearly there, if only I had air to breathe. I try to scream, to call out, but all I manage is a coarse whisper of a sound. The smoke takes hold of it as soon as it leaves my mouth and smothers it.
I stumble into the center courtyard. I can barely see the large tiered fountain directly before me. The trees that rise up around it loom as dark shadows in the orange-tinted smoke. Again, I scream. I know, above all sounds, this is the one I can make loudest.
The fountain is steaming, its water gray with ash and soot. It is terribly hot here, and it presses on me until I’m not sure I can expand my chest to breathe without breaking a rib. Tears are blurring my vision, but I see movement in the shadows to my right.
I am surrounded by fire and death, but at the sight of the emerging shadows I feel extraordinary relief. They are all there, their skin half-scaled as if the shift could never quite manage to hide everything they were. The two little ones run to me, a boy with scales tinted green and a girl with scales tinted pale blue. Their faces are smudged from the falling ash. I take their hands and look at the third figure.
His scales are tinted black, and today they blend in instead of starkly contrast our surroundings. His eyes are flickering with the memory of who he used to be, of what lies trapped now inside the body he wears. He never could figure out the maze of paths that surrounded his home from down here, so used to navigating by air that the ground swallows him up.
My dragons. The ones who fought off the terrible people so long ago, back when they had beautiful wings and sharp teeth and wicked claws.
“I’ll get us out of here.” I tell him, and they all follow me closely as I plunge back into the labyrinth. I do not have wings or claws or teeth, I do not have powerful strength or sharp cunning eyes. I can barely see enough to keep us on the right path. My throat is all but closed off.
Still, I will not leave them behind. Not when they need me. I did not feel brave running in, but I could not quite feel foolish either. This burning labyrinth is my home, my home, my home, and it is killing me to see it die this way. It is an unbearable sight, one that I would have born watching from the outside. But these dragons. These dragons.
They are my heart.
And I would not leave them in the fire to burn.