Crossover Fan Fiction ❯ Stares ❯ Labyrinth ( Chapter 8 )
Home is where the heart is, or some such nonsense. Returning to Asura Kingdom and Buena Village after a long journey via carriage through the Red Dragon mountains was a serious hardship. It was cold up there, and while there were some odd features in the land, like the line of bare rock sweeping around what was clearly the blast zone, I enjoyed the smooth road. The locals driving wagons hauling lumber and firewood and tiny tree seedlings harvested from the forest for replanting, all agreed that my own sister, Tanya the Architect, had built the roads, the homes, the walls, the irrigation canals, the bridges, and even created soil for the fields so we could plant in spring and not have to import food this summer and winter. She was being talked about like she was the new Lord, replacing our blowhard great uncle. He had been executed, apparently.
Our family home was completely new, and belonged to a completely different architectural style. It was no longer a post and beam with mud walls that smelled of shit, whitewashed to keep out the weather. No, this was a stone structure with arches and a curving stone roof, almost seamless. It looked extremely modern to my true Japanese eyes, something from one of those magazines from California or Spain. Despite the look, it did well to hold the heat and there was a fireplace inside. It also had a huge bath with a fire heating system, which mother took advantage of on our arrival. She had years of tension to recover from.
Tanya had indicated this was likely going to be the way that the Asura Kingdom would refuse to pay what they owed her, by signed contract, for all the gold they’ve promised. The corruption of the kingdom was deep.
The current housekeeper had been looking after the place and repelling home invaders and refugees and treasure hunters looking to loot. It wasn’t all milk and honey after the disaster. There were bandits pretending to be refugees, too. And they had caused trouble. The locals hadn’t been amused, and the bandit’s heads now decorated poles with warning signs. The housekeeper accepted her dismissal and bonus gently and went to work in the region capital for another family there. Prices being what they are, merchants were doing well. The whole area was heavily relying on trade. Mother took over the household again, looking after it and its small garden, laundry, and splitting the purchased firewood. The region owed the family a LOT, over a thousand Asura gold according to Tanya, and their lives. She literally built every single house using magic personally.
We got monthly payments and recorded who paid on what date in account books that were kept locked in the safe. That was my job. Oddly, my slitted eyes seemed to help this process along. Any who were behind on payments I simply visited, appearing from nowhere by dropping my Stealth ability and it would startle promises and coin from them. They always paid. This is not the kind of life I wanted, but that gold was going into the family coffers and Tanya said Rudy would be needing gold for Ranoa Magic academy.
Not being a mage myself, I did what I could with my modest abilities. Other than stealth, I was just a growing boy. Mother’s health had improved to the point that her prior injuries were healed and I’d picked up a fair amount of her sword ability. Despite being the daughter of a master and teacher of a training hall, she admitted to having no talent in it, not like Paul. He was very talented even if he couldn’t explain anything or teach to save his life. He just did it. But Paul wasn’t here, having gone to Begaritt Continent with Tanya, big game hunting as she said. I can hardly imagine.
My own talents and training weren’t taking me very far, unfortunately. I was the normal child, even if I’m also an isekai. I was looking after mother, and she was looking after me. I’m still just a boy, here, after all. Keep it together, Hachiman. Or Tobias. Whatever. My stealth ability had levelled up enough during our journey to making be close to invisible. That was something. But it was about as far as I could take it without some useful breakthroughs. Maybe that would come when I was bigger.
I wasn’t strong enough to fire a powerful bow that would put an arrow through armor. My little assassin’s crossbow was meant for use with poisoned bolts, but I will eventually run out of the poisons I’d made in the Shirone Kingdom palace. I don’t know much about local poisons and all the wild plants that would have them were destroyed along with the forest during the teleportation disaster, and the farmers weren’t importing poisonous plants along with the trees. Of course. Really, I was probably best off realizing my limitation and keep down the fort.
Tanya had taken the time to write down the process for crop rotation, testing soil fertility using basic chemistry and observation, plant diseases indicating problems with soil or parasites, and the maintenance of runes and the positioning of same in the sewers. There were a lot of notes on the handmade book. Her small and very precise hand neatly laid out concepts and discoveries she’d made. I try not to feel jealous. We’re in a fantasy world where magic exists and I can barely do anything cool.
“Hurry along, Father. Just another two miles to the Labyrinth entrance,” I urged him. I loaded a fresh magazine in my carbine, returning the half empty one to my pouch. I will be reloading it and the others before we descend towards mother. I can feel her, down there. It is interesting. As an orphan in my last life I had no memories of my mother and no bond. The life before that, as a Salaryman, I had a mother, but my emotional controls were a mess so my bond was unclear. In this life, I felt a strong bond to Mother, enough to combine with my magic sufficiently to sense her. She was deep in this labyrinth, unable to move, unable to escape, but there.
A giant lizard was waiting over the next rise. I flew up and put an artillery round in its skull, exploding just enough not to make a ridiculous mess. Many of the beasts we encountered in Begaritt were both enormous and ridiculously strong. There was a lot of mana here, to the point of being evidence of what is probably a wizard war. Or one between gods, knowing the history of this planet. The tough monsters are similar to what Rudy told me of the demon continent. Vicious, overpowered, ambush predators with a taste for human flesh. I fully expect to encounter Bugbears and Owlbears eventually. And those were created as a joke by TSR. Naturally there was a guardian monster over the entrance of the labyrinth.
“Hang back. Find some serious rock to get behind, Father. I’m going to make something explode. Feel free to scream,” I offered, pointing to a deep gully that should offer some cover. The monster rising to its full Kaiju height would probably be terrifying to a whole team of swordsmen, to an army, even a pack of master archers. I am none of these things. I am flying artillery. It tried its breath weapon at me and I used my shield, charging my mana from its attack. Weak. I lifted my rifle and verified there was a round chambered. I began one of my calculations for an implosion. I don’t use them often, but they work well on kaiju. A lot less splatter.
“Bang!” the rifle cracked, mechanism cycling. The round impacted before I could get my sights back down onto the target and watched as the chest of the monster collapsed in on itself, its lungs compressing and shredding along with its heart and liver. It glared in our direction even as the light went out. It slumped down, all hundred and fifty feet of it, to the ground, dead. I scanned the area, finding nothing to worry about.
“Okay Father. You can come out now. It is safe.”
“What was that all about?” asked Paul, brushing off dirt and dust.
“Kaiju. It had a breath attack, and was meant to kill swordsmen,” I explained, gesturing. It took him a moment to work out the scale of the monster, which looked a great deal like Gojira from the old movies. Or the slightly newer movies, only not the one from America. I vaguely remember that from my first life, thirty years ago.
“So, this is the entrance?” Paul asked, approaching the low archway of dressed stone. “It doesn’t look like much.”
“Well, I suppose it wouldn’t. This is a side entrance. The main one is way over there, but this is closer to mom, and we’re not here to conquer the entire labyrinth and defeat all its monsters and traps. We’re here to get mom back. So we’re going in this way. I’ll lead,” I offered. I finished reloading all my magazines with fresh cartridges and landed softly. My control over flight is good, up to my old wartime standard. I cast a light spell to point ahead of me and then activated the Swarm spell on my next bullet. It would multiply the round a dozen times, twice, when it exited the muzzle, similar to a shotgun blast. It was very effective at clearing trenches at close range, emptying rooms of enemies, firing through slits in bunkers.
We entered the labyrinth, its initial passage descending gently, the making a series of sharp turns. The floor was sometimes sandy, sometimes rocky, and kept going down. I could feel Mother better as we got closer. She was… asleep? In stasis. It resembled a medical coma. I encountered our first monsters along a ledge sleeping in a line, startling awake from the unexpected light. They cawed alarm and I blasted them into chunks of purple flesh and blood. None survived. We continued down, rounding more corners and sometimes having to backtrack as passageways split off for different parts of the labyrinth. They are meant to be mazes, after all. This continued our pattern for hours, but eventually, tired and hungry, we found a chamber where two guardian beasts prowled. They were spiky and dripped with what is probably poison. Nearby was a huge mana crystal and within it was mother, clearly glowing with magic. She was alive, in a state of suspended animation.
“Zenith!” cried Paul, lunging out to attack the beasts and rescue my mother. I snapshot the nearer one, noting the Swarm did little to it. I applied Pierce to the second round and holed it lengthwise, gaining a terrible cry of pain from the monster. The second beast shivered in rage, its spikes orienting on Paul, dripping with ichor. I can see it is going to fire a ranged attack, because why wouldn’t it? I activated my shield and surged past Paul to block what would certainly have poisoned him to death, because failing on the verge of success was Paul’s way of doing things. You could say it was the pattern of his life. I put a round into the second monster, ending it. Then I turned on Paul.
“Idiot! You nearly died just now,” I accused. He ignored me, going to the crystal, seeing if there was some way to free Zenith. It was a mana crystal. She’s inside.
“Zenith! Zenith, my love! Awaken! Come back to me!” Paul cried out. Maybe the atmosphere is messing with his head. I extracted a ration bar made of dried fruit and ate it, passing one to him. He tore at it without thought or taking in its flavor. It wasn’t bad, actually. Raisins and apples and some kind of tropical fruit for the peppery flavor. I sipped from my canteen, pondering. I cycled my vision through several spells, looking at mother through the condensed mana.
“She’s alive, somehow,” I said. “I’m not sure how, but she is. I think I have an idea. I cast a shield spell close to her skin, within the crystal.
“Hit the crystal with a rock. Shatter it without using magic,” I ordered.
“Won’t that hurt her?” Paul asked, worried and anxious.
“I don’t want it to go off, just break away from mother. Physical force should be okay,” I said. He found an ugly looking stone and pulled on some heavy gloves, then wound up and slammed it into the crystal. It broke away in large shards, sheering down away from my shield.
“Again!” I said. He stepped over the shards and did it again. “CRACK!” Enough came away this time to release mother, who sort of slumped down. He dropped the rock to catch Mother. After a moment she started to breathe. Her eyes fluttered open.
“Ah, I am breathing,” she said weakly. “Thank Millis!”
“Mom? How are you feeling? Would you like some water?” I asked. I passed my canteen to Paul who lifted it to her lips. She sputtered, then drank quietly.
“This is water. Yes. Blessed be, Millis.”
“Umm.. Dad, Is mom okay?” I asked him. He looked pretty confused as well.
“I have never seen her like this. How about we escape from here and get back to the surface,” he suggested. He tucked away his sword in the sheath and slung Zenith’s arm over his shoulder so he could support her.
“This is standing yes. I am standing now. Praise be to Millis.”
“C’mon dear. The kids miss you. Lets get you to the surface. Just a bit of walking. Its all uphill from here,” Paul said, treating her like she’d had too much to drink. We left, me leading the way with the Swarm spell ready and dual light spells front and rear. I followed our own tracks up for the most part, then the bloody footprints I’d left from chunking monsters on the way down. That was more helpful, though it also suggests I will want a bath to get this gross purple monster chunks off my clothing. After slightly less time than our descent, we returned to the final passage and emerged into the mana rich air of Begaritt.
Our journey back to the Asura kingdom would involve many hardships, protecting mother from her own lack of awareness. Obviously, being trapped in the mana crystal was a bad thing for her brain and I can only hope she’ll recover in time. Paul was nervous and jumped at shadows, ready to defend mother, but my own detection spells gave lots of warning about dangers. It was a week of slow travel before we escaped the main continent and returned to our skiff. Rigging it for sailing was a short wait and then we were leaving the madness behind and on the way back to Asura and its relatively friendly backstabbing and political betrayals. I can only hope that Rudy was having fun in Magical College. Maybe he’s gotten married or something equally ridiculous.