Minnie’s labyrinth echoed with the growls of terrible beasts. The rough stonework was splashed with stains that suggested tremendous violence lurked around every corner. Though it was winter, the chill that hung in the air felt anything but natural. Crossing over the threshold and stepping into the labyrinth proper, only one thought came to mind.
“Looks friendlier than my bedroom.”
I wouldn’t find Minnie herself in the labyrinth of course. She wasn’t a dream walker the way I was. Somewhere in there though, I’d find the spot that corresponded to her actual bedroom and we’d be able to have a chat.
Assuming she was home.
And in her room.
It wasn’t the greatest plan admittedly, but I needed to talk to her pretty badly and it was the only place I knew I’d eventually find her.
There’s a trick to navigating mazes. Several tricks actually. As a reflection of Minnie’s persona, her Dreamlit labyrinth made some of those strategies impossible. Following one of the walls consistently to find your way through a maze only worked when the maze didn’t morph around you for example. Trails of breadcrumbs were similarly useless. I held a ball of string that I’d imagined into existence but it wasn’t going to help in that regards either.
I paused before letting myself lose sight of the labyrinth’s entrance. With my physical body, I could see my bedroom in the physical world. To an outside observer I was simply staring off aimlessly into space. If I needed to, I knew I could instantly reintegrate and “wake up”. Like, if Mom came back and wanted to talk to me.
If I ventured into the labyrinth, if my fickle and untrustworthy meta-awareness wasn’t enough to lead me through it, I wasn’t sure what I’d be able to do. Worst case I could imagine my body being stuck “daydreaming” like I was in some kind of mental breakdown state, while my Dreamlit self spent an eternity trapped in the maze.
If I didn’t speak to Minnie though, she could spoil everything. She could blow my whole “secret identity” before it even got going. That made it worth the risk, so into the labyrinth I went.
Psychics have described deep mind readings as entering a labyrinth of the other person’s psyche. It’s weird and dangerous and enlightening. Wandering into the labyrinth in Minnie’s room was all those things, except I wasn’t in her mind.
The Dreamlit labyrinth was, in it’s own way, as solid and deadly as one in the real world would have been. Possibly more so. Where a real world labyrinth could have been stocked with perils they would have been constrained by reality’s limits. Real fire jets need fuel to burn. Real scythe blades will rust over time. In the Dreamlit world however dangers persisted as long as the underlying reality cast a dangerous reflection.
My meta-awareness went into overdrive as I ventured into the labyrinth to deal with those dangers. Around the first corner I noticed splatters of dark brown that radiated out from a central line in the hall. That drew my attention to the slit in the ceiling farther down the corridor where the pendulum blade lay in wait.
It was exhilarating to feel the great gleaming blade whoosh past me as I passed down the hallway hugging the wall. Almost exhilarating enough to make me miss the pressure plates for the acid sprayers that were hidden around the next corner. Meta-awareness brought the sour smell of the acid up as an alarm though and I managed to step carefully past that trap too.
I moved forward and the sound of claws scratching on the rock above gave me warning to duck into a small alcove. I waited there as a sightless lizard the size of a pony dragged itself along the ceiling and around a corner.
As I dodged traps and hide from the lesser beasts that patrolled the corridors of the labyrinth, I came to understand what its presence meant. The labyrinth wasn’t in Minnie’s bedroom because the room was dangerous. It was there because she was dangerous and her bedroom was her sanctum. It was a reflection of her.
The Shadow Court had captured her years ago from what my meta-awareness could tell. As it guided me past more pits and pendulums, blow darts and flame traps, it filled in the details of what her story was and had been.
For Minnie, the time before her capture was fuzzy. The shift in the real world’s history had blurred her memories. What remained was that she’d been captured young and had spent years in captivity. She was my age now, physically, but it was hard to tell how old she really was since time flowed oddly in faerie worlds.
She’d been one of the children that they hadn’t been able to organize a rescue for in time. One day she was there, the next she was gone. It was only well after the fact that the police had worked out that she’d been taken by the Shadow Court and at that point she’d been gone too long for a rescue operation to be mounted.
She’d been held in the Shadow Court’s realm but, fortunately, they hadn’t interacted with her much. On the first day she’d arrived, they’d fitted her with the golden circlet I’d taken off her. From there she’d been left wandering in a labyrinth not unlike the one I was traversing.
The Shadow Court had wanted a fierce, powerful beast to act as a guard. One with human-level cunning but the kind of savagery needed to survive in their realm. In a way that was a mercy for Minnie. The Shadow Court couldn’t afford to “play with” the children that they needed in some way. The Court’s games were much too destructive on their “toys” to risk that.
Instead of having to endure the Shadow Court, Minnie had to endure the kind of loneliness usually reserved for prisoners condemned to solitary confinement. Only her confinement hadn’t been completely solitary. The circlet had called forth monsters from her psyche. She’d been hounded by the monsters of her Id so she’d learned to build her mind into a reflection of the labyrinth she was trapped in.
By hiding in her inner labyrinth, she was able to escape the Id monsters, but she also cut herself off from the outside world. When her mind withdrew into her inner labyrinth, her monsters were left in control of her slowly changing body. Eventually she would have disappeared into her inner labyrinth completely, leaving behind a beastial body and a beastial mind to guide it.
She was close to that when I found her, which was why the Shadow Court had moved her into the prison cell. Easier to feed her there. Easier to watch the progress of the change.
She was close but the transformation wasn’t complete. She wasn’t lost to the world, but she had changed in ways that left her mental scars visible for even the least observant. The Minnie who had been, the child I had never known, had been bright and gleeful. The new Minnie, the one I had “known” for a few months, was deeply introspective, but with a vicious temper when provoked.
She’d been suspended several times already and was at risk of either expulsion or repeating her freshman year due to the classes she missed. In a way none of that was her fault. She hadn’t broken a classmate’s nose who was making cracks about her height. She hadn’t sent a freshman boy to the emergency room for stitches when he tried to grab her butt. She’d been in the Shadow Court’s realm but thanks to the black fires that place had never existed. As far as our world was concerned, the Shadow Court’s realm had never been real, so history had to adjust.
I wondered why her history hadn’t switched to simply being imprisoned in one of the “new” subterranean Shadow Court realms. It was a closer fit and would have meant fewer alterations. Except that no one escaped the Shadow Court’s realms and I’d freed her and the others. So, apparently, these changes were the path of least resistance between those two fixed points in reality.
I explored my “new” memories of Minnie as I navigated closer to the center of the labyrinth.
My history had changed more significantly than I’d noticed at first. I hadn’t had many friends before. My friends from middle school had scattered to different high schools and I’d lost touch with most of them. There were a couple of girls that I hung out with a few times, but apart from having some classes together our lives didn’t parallel each others that much. I tended to bury myself in books a lot too, so I wasn’t all that aware when people were doing things.
That was the way it had been. In the new history, I had Minnie as a friend. And Nell. And Patches. And even Jessica?
I did a double take as that memory surfaced. Jessica had clearly not been my biggest fan. How had we wound up as friends in this new history? My thoughts were interrupted by the vista that lay around the next corner.
I’d reached the center of the maze and Minnie was waiting for me.
“What the hell am I?” she asked.
The room at the center of the maze was a direct reflection of Minnie’s bedroom in the physical world. Apart from being painted light pink rather than light yellow, it looked pretty similar to mine; more books and fewer stuffed animals, but otherwise the same general assortment of stuff.
Minnie sat curled up on her bed, her knees held tight to her chest. In the Dreamlit world I saw her as the minotaur-girl I’d first encountered. Probably seven feet tall or more and heavily muscled. In the real world though she was tiny. Four feet eight or so? “Mini Minnie”. That had been the name the girl in gym class had taunted her with.
In both worlds she had the same lost look in her eyes, and in both worlds she was looking directly at me.
“Minnie?” I asked. Her eyes met mine and I saw recognition there.
“Jin? What…”, she trailed off. I didn’t know how she was able to see me, or recognize me. I was still wearing Jenny’s blue goblin form, but apparently that wasn’t much of a disguise from someone who’d seen me in both forms before.
“Yeah, you called right?” I asked.
In response she lunged out of her bed and tried to grab me by the collar. Her Dreamlit minotaur form was insubstantial though and passed right through me. She wasn’t a dream walker so she didn’t have more than the wisp of a presence in the Dreamlit world.
In the physical world, she hit the floor of her room and then leaped back up to swing a fist at me. Her punch failed to connect as well though which left her sprawled back on her bed.
“A ghost. She’s a ghost. Now I’m, haunted too.”, she half cried, half giggled.
“Minnie, I’m sorry, I’m not a ghost. This was just the only way I could see you tonight.” I explained.
“What the hell are you then?”, she turned eyes filled with tears and rage to me.
“I’m…” I stopped. What could I say? That I was as human as she was? Given her minotaur side, that didn’t strike me as being particularly comforting for her.
“I’m your friend.” I said, only understanding as I said it how much I wanted that to be true. With the new memories came a deeper understanding of who she was. I’d been lucky to meet her in the Shadow Court’s prison, but I’d been luckier that the new world hadn’t scattered us to the wind.
Underneath the pain and the rage and the scars, Minnie was an amazing girl. We’d bonded in school not because I’d seen how much she’d needed a friend but because she’d seen how much I needed one. I’d been feeling lost and empty in the new school, missing something important, and Minnie had been the one to start talking to me.
Mistrust and insecurity was the legacy of her time with the Shadow Court and it had translated into the present as problems that she could find no cause for. Despite that, she’d been the one to reach out to me for no more reason than that she saw that she was needed.
“My friend? My friend’s not a little blue monster. She’s not a ghost. She’s just a normal girl. She’s just Jin.”
Her world rolled over me and I heard them echoing in my Mom’s voice. It hadn’t occurred to me to be worried about Minnie feeling the same way.
Quietly, I merged the Dreamlit world and the physical world. As I did I let Jenny’s form melt away to Jin’s. I wasn’t going to lose Minnie either and I knew what was said next needed to be real in every sense of the word.
“I’ve never been ‘just Jin’.”, I told her, “But a lot of this…”, I spun and changed to Jenny again and then Molly, “…is new.”
“You’re a faerie, aren’t you?”, she said, her expression shifting from anger to confusion to wariness.
“No. Not a faerie, although I did get tricked into being a Faerie Queen.”
“Yeah, I thought I could outsmart one, and she stuck me with her title so she wouldn’t get in trouble for breaking out of jail.”
“So, wait, I remember that! That wasn’t just a weird dream?”
“So, I’m not going crazy? I really am a minotaur?”
“You’re really you.”
“And I’m a monster. I can see it. When I look in the mirror. Sometimes I can see what I really look like.”
“You’re not a monster.”
“How do you know? Do you know the kind of things I want to do? Do you know what the voices I hear sound like? I’m either crazy or those memories are real and I shouldn’t be here.”
She wasn’t giving me much context for what she was saying, so I turned to my meta-awareness to sort it out.
“The voices that you hear? Those are the whispers of the Shadow Court. The rage you feel? The way you want to lash out and destroy things? With what you’ve been through you’d be crazy not to feel that way.” I told her.
“No.”, I cut her off, “There’s no ‘but’. You’re not a monster. You have power and a lot to work through, but you’re a fantastic person. And you’re my friend.”
“I don’t want it. The power I mean. I remember the place that burned. I remember what they did to me. I don’t want anything to do with them.”
“I’m the last person in the world who will tell you that you have to use your powers, but there is something you should know about them. They’re yours. The Shadow Court didn’t give you your strength or toughness or any of that. They stole you because they saw what you were going to grow up to be. What you could do.” I explained.
“I don’t care.”
“That’s ok. You can be as normal as you want to be. You’re not going to change under the light of the full moon or anything like that.”
“So what about the mirrors? Someone’s going to see what I really look like.”
“It’s not that easy. You can see yourself because you can see through your own glamours.”
As much as she frightened by what she was and what she could do, Minnie was still eager to understand it, to know who and what she was. I flashed back to talking with Pen. Was this what it had been like for him when he was answering my questions? If so I appreciated the difficulty he’d been under a little more.
Minnie was listening to me, which meant on some level she trusted what I was saying. I didn’t want to overwhelm her and I didn’t want to mislead her. Finding the balance between those was harder than it sounded, even with meta-awareness to help guide the way.
“Your spells basically. One of the things you can do is manipulate ‘glamour’. It’s the stuff that faeries make their magics from. You do it on an unconscious level but its something you could learn greater control over.”
“Is that why I look human now?” she asked.
“Yes, but don’t think that you’re a minotaur hiding under an illusion or anything. The truth is you’re both, each form is ‘really’ you. You just use glamour to change from one to the other.”
“So that’s how you change what you look like too?”
“Not exactly. My powers are weirder than that. I’m kind of still figuring them out.”
“How do you know all this?” Minniie asked.
“That was the first ‘gift’ I got. Remember what I told Jessica? She’s got fire, you’ve got physical power? I’ve got the cheat sheet for how things work. Only I’m missing like half the pages.”
“So you could be wrong about me then?”
“Maybe. I can make mistakes like anyone else.” I admitted. I didn’t want to, but I felt like had to stick with the truth to keep my meta-awareness on track.
“Right.” she said. She’d curled back up on herself. If I was wrong about her, if she really was a monster, all the wishful thinking in the world wasn’t going to do anything to prevent a horrible tragedy from occurring.
I couldn’t see the future. I couldn’t tell her that everything would definitely be ok and even if I could, I don’t think she could have believed me. Not after what she’d been through.
The only way I could see to convince her was to take the long, hard road of being there with her as her wounds healed and she adjusted to the new life she had. It wasn’t quick, or certain, but that was life.
“You wanted to ask me something.” she said, looking at me with fatigue and wariness.
“What do you mean?” I asked, perplexed by the non-sequitur.
“You wanted something from me right? That’s why you did this, came to see me this way.”
“Oh yeah. Well not something. I just wanted to ask you to keep my secret.” It sounded so stupid when I said it that way.
“Or else what?”
“Or else? Or else my Mom…”, I couldn’t say it outloud, I couldn’t make even the possibility of losing her that real, “Or else I’ll get really hurt. Seriously. It would be really bad.”
“I guess we’re even then. We’ve both got secrets that can’t get out right? We’ve both got family to protect.”
“Right.” I agreed.
That’s when the Shadow Courtier walked into Minnie’s bedroom.