“Left or right?” The male voice echoed around the maze and I froze midstep, one paw half lifted in the air. Hummmannns? The word blurred in my mind because I was a wolf.
“Try left,” a different male voice replied. My ears swiveled, trying to find the source. Thhe ennntrry.
“Why left?” A female voice questioned. I started toward the entry to The Maze, my paws silent on the dirt-covered ground.
“I don’t know; just go left.”
“Fine.” As I rounded a corner, I heard them walking closer. Thrreree. I sat around the corner with my tail purposefully in the walkway. The three humans came around the corner and stopped.
“What is that?” The first male voice whispered. I turned around and walked into the alley. The three kids, two teenage boys and an older teenage girl, froze. One of the boys slowly lifted a knife from his belt full of them while the girl and the other boy dropped into defensive stances.
Curling in on myself, I shifted into my human form. All three gaped at me before the girl looked away.
“Well? Do any of you have a coat?” The taller boy blushed and shrugged his backpack off, unzipping it and pulling out a long shirt. He tossed it at me and I tugged it on. “Thanks,” I said. The girl’s gaze came back. “My name is Ash. I am here to guide you through The Maze.” The boy who had given me the shirt stared at me openly while the other two teens breathed out sighs of relief. I tilted my head. “Come with me before the Hunter Mice awaken.”
“What are Hunter Mice?” The shorter boy questioned.
“I can explain when we get back to my…camp. In the meantime, what are your names?” I started walking away and the three kids followed slowly.
“I’m Austin,” the shorter boy said.
“I’m Emma,” the girl added. I could feel two eyes piercing my back before I heard a small ow! I smiled to myself a little.
“Nice to meet you three,” I said simply. For the next few hours, I took them through The Maze, toward my home in the center. When I finally rounded the corner, I let them take it in. “This is my camp.” It was in a clearing in the center of The Maze and a giant mansion stood there.
“How on Earth..?” Emma breathed.
“It was here when I was..put…here.”
“ ‘Put’?” Milo echoed. I shrugged like it was nothing.
“Yeah. Anyway, come on. We should get inside soon. Midday is when the Hunter Mice are first active.” I led the way up to the mansion and opened the door, gesturing for them to go in. I followed them and shut the door, bolting it locked. They looked around with wide eyes. I smirked.
“Are you hungry?” I asked politely, striding toward the kitchen. They hurried after me.
“And tired,” Austin replied.
“After lunch I can show you your rooms.”
“We have our own rooms??” Emma exclaimed.
“There are four rooms, three bathrooms, two living rooms, a kitchen, and a basement.” I got out my Hunter Mice Pot Pie out of the fridge and took out three bowls. “Serve yourselves, I have to go get changed.” I winked at them and left the kitchen.
After changing into something more comfortable, I went back to the kitchen to find the three conferring in hushed voices. They stopped when I entered the room. Their bowls all sat by the sink.
“Dang, you were hungry.” I smiled slightly at their sheepish looks. Except for Milo who continued to stare at me. I shuffled my feet. “I can show you to your rooms, if you like.” Emma nodded a little and glanced at Milo and Austin. They followed her to my side and I led them to their rooms. Emma and Austin were asleep in minutes, I could hear their slow breathing, and I was about to go to the main living room when I heard a door open. Pretending not to hear, I went to my destination and sat on the couch. Leisurely putting my feet on the coffee table, I said, “Come here and sit next to me. You’ve been burning to talk to me so how about you do just that?” He sucked in a surprised breath but slowly walked to take a seat beside me.
“You’re a werewolf,” he said flatly. It wasn’t a question but I nodded anyway, gazing curiously at him. “Did you know Sin?” My entire body froze.
“What did you just say?” I whispered.
“Did you know Sin? He was a-” I launched at him, pinning him under me as I glared at him.
“How do you know that name?” I growled. His wide eyes looked up at me, fear behind them. He opened his mouth but closed it. My grip on his wrists tightened. He whimpered. “Answer me!” I yelled. Vaguely, I heard the two sleeping kids awaken and start getting up.
“I-I met him!” Milo burst out. My grip relaxed a little.
“How? When? Where?” I pressed.
“In my town. Before The Trials. He-he came to my work and sparred with me. Then he got shot by this giant man. I got him to the hospital and they managed to save him-”
“Hospital?” I repeated, confused.
“The place where they heal people.” I backed away and sat up, running a hand through my hair as Emma and Austin came running into the room. Milo slowly sat up.
“What happened?” Austin demanded.
“We heard a shout,” Emma added.
“Nothing, everything’s fine,” I said with a wave of my hand. “I…we were just…”
“Wrestling,” Milo put in quickly and I glanced at him gratefully. Austin and Emma looked at each other, bewildered, but then Emma shrugged.
“Alright.” She and Austin left and I was alone with Milo once more.
“Where is Sin now?” I asked softly.
“He is…with a pack. Of wild wolves.”
“That’s…good. He’s safe?”
“Yes.” I leaned back on the couch.
“So…I never got to ask Sin this…but…if we were going to die tomorrow, what would you want to do before then?” Milo blushed a little and glanced at me, his eyes searching mine.
“There is…something,” He said softly, hesitantly.
“Which is?” He moved closer to me, leaning in. My eyes widened a little as his lips touched mine. But I gave into the kiss quickly, pushing eagerly back. And when he finally pulled away, we were both breathless.
“Wow,” I breathed and he tilted his head a little, a small smile tugging at his lips.
“ ‘Wow’ what?”
“That was a good kiss.” He laughed.
“Yes, it was,” he agreed.
I awoke to sunshine. Where am I? I thought groggily, sitting up. For a moment I was disoriented; then the memories flooded into my head. Ash and I had talked for a while after the kiss before I got tired and he showed me my room. After that, we split ways when he left my room to go to his own. I sighed and slid off the bed, walking out of “my” room and down the hall to the kitchen. Emma was conversing eagerly with Ash while Austin looked on, drinking what I assumed to be coffee from the smell permeating throughout the room. Austin smirked when he saw me enter the room and Emma glanced at me with a huge smile. Ash just threw a curious glance my way.
“Ash told us about your kiss,” Emma said and I blushed hotly.
“Did he now?” Austin nearly laughed, I could tell by the way he quietly choked on his coffee. I sat down on the barstool next to Austin and Emma kept gazing at me with a big grin on her face. “What??”
“Nothing, nothing,” Emma smirked but finally looked away. “Just didn’t know you were part of the LGBTQ+,” she muttered under her breath.
“So,” Ash cleared his throat and all three of us looked at him. “Enough small talk. I have to get you three out of The Maze. There is a solid chance we will encounter Hunter Mice, which are long, big mice that look like giant rats. They are predators and hunt in packs.” He let that sink in.
“What’s the plan?” I asked, leaning forward.
“We make a run for it.” He took a deep breath. “I’ve taken only three kids through The Maze, all at different times, and none have survived. The Hunter Mice killed them because they weren’t fast enough. Now, I believe, if we run together, we can make it. Well, you three can make it. I cannot accompany you out of The Maze. Are you with me?”
Emma put her hand out and said, “I’m with you.” Austin put his on top of hers and said the same. Rolling my eyes at their expectant looks, I agreed as well, placing my hand on Austin’s.
“Good. Now, get some food and water and rest; meaning prepare for the dash of your life. We leave at dawn tomorrow.” After Ash strode out, I used a few minutes to talk to Emma and Austin before I followed suit.
“Ash,” I called, entering the living room where we first kissed. No response. I went to his bedroom and found him sitting on the bed, staring out the window. “Hi.” He jumped, his eyes moving to me.
“Jesus, Milo,” he muttered. “You scared the crap out of me.” I offered a small smile.
“I didn’t know I could scare a werewolf.”
“Yeah, well, only when they’re thinking hard apparently.” Sitting beside him, I found my gaze drawn to the window. There was the clearing which the mansion was in and surrounding that was the brambles-intertwined corn stalks of The Maze.
“What were you thinking so hard about?” I inquired, feeling the warm sunshine on my face. It was calming.
“You. Sin. The Maze. How tomorrow’s going to go. The fact that I’m going to have to say good-bye to you.” I glanced at him.
“We both knew it would happen.” My voice was gentle. “Which was probably why we spent my last day here, with you.” I nudged his shoulder playfully with mine. ”Last night’s kiss was great.” A soft smile lit his face and his gaze found mine.
“Yeah, it was. But…how many times am I going to say good-bye? To the kids who were sent here by the Fivkil Order? I mean, what’s the point anyway? They all die eventually. Whether it be in the first Trial or the last or one in-between…Ugh!” He stood abruptly, raking a hand through his hair. “I-I just wish I knew a way to stop this. All of this. The Trials. The deaths.”
I rose and went to his side, massaging his tense shoulders. “I do, too,” I murmured. “But there’s nothing we can do. At least now. I have faith that one day, The Fivkil Order will be stopped and The Trials will be no more. Hey,” I said thoughtfully. “Maybe we’ll see each other when that happens. You could come find me in Town Q and we’d have a wonderful life. Together, maybe.”
He leaned against me and my arms wrapped around his chest. “That sounds awesome,” he murmured. “What’s Town Q like?”
“Well, there’s a forest surrounding it. And I know a spot where the canopy splits and at night, you can see the stars. It’s beautiful. All the dark blue sky with the bright white stars. Makes me believe Fivkil Australia can be saved. After all the world’s been through, the stars still shine. And that gives me hope.” Ash’s hand slipped behind him to find mine; he intertwined our fingers.
“You’re very inspiring,” he said teasingly.
“Am I?” I replied, squeezing his hand slightly.
“Mmhmm. I don’t think you know it, Milo, but you can stir the coldest soul without a second thought.”
“I wish I could stir the Fevkil’s souls.”
“You could if you met them.” I smiled.
“You think so?”
“I know so.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Mm.” There was a long, amiable pause where we just stood there, him leaning on me, in a passionate silence. “What do you think will happen tomorrow, Ash?” I finally asked.
“I don’t know.”
“What if…what if I die tomorrow?” His hand squeezed mine instantly.
“I won’t let that happen.”
“But what if I did? What if I died and there was nothing you could do?”
“There’s always something I can do. I can’t let you die. I would never forgive myself.”
“I want you to promise me something.” He tensed.
“What is it?”
“If I die tomorrow, if you can save Austin and Emma, promise me you’ll save them and not try to save me.” He struggled in my arms but I tightened my grip until he stopped. “Promise me.”
“I can’t,” he whispered. “I can’t let you die.”
“You might not have a choice.”
“Why are you so convinced you’re going to die?” I shrugged.
“I don’t know. A hunch, I guess. I..I just want Emma and Austin to be safe if I’m not. Promise me. Please.” I felt a tear drop onto my arm.