“Much as I’d like to believe Safe Zone is the right choice, it just seems a little too on the nose,” you sigh. “Abandoned House still looks too dangerous though, so let’s go with Gates. Maybe we’ll get lucky and that means the front gates.”
You don’t really believe this as you say it, but you still say it anyway, because damnit if you aren’t going to at least try and go down optimistically.
Jim has finally stopped all his jumping up and down, so the three of you head off down the dirt path once more. As you walk, it strikes you that there are less other visitors then earlier. You’re by no means on your own, but the path is far less packed than it was when you walked to the circus. With some effort, you push that worrying thought out of your head. These people are in the same…whatever…as Victoria’s family, and the Willowbrooks have been in town for years without causing a mass disappearance. There must be some sort of code they operate by. You hope.
As the road winds through the once again foggy landscape, you notice a shape in the distance. It’s small, but you can still make it out faintly as rectangular. The closer you draw, the more detail comes into view, and you soon realize you’re looking at a door in the middle of a small clearing in the path. It’s large and wooden, stained a red so dark that it borders on black. The knob is bronze-colored and large enough that it may take both of your hands to turn it. The final detail is one you only see clearly when you get close enough to touch the door.
Scrawled in the wood at eye level is a single word: “Gates”
“So, magic portal?” You turn to look at Jim and Victoria both of whom nod immediately.
“I mean, it’s gotta be,” Jim agrees. “Door in the middle of a path is creepy, but lame. Magic door in the middle of a path, now that’s some spooky shit right there.”
“Such overt showmanship does ring of the Garrote family,” Victoria adds.
“Last year your dad made us a magic-costume brawl in front of hundreds of onlookers,” you remind her.
“That was different. Our events are executed with far more class than these ham-handed theatrics.”
You resist the urge to roll your eyes, but only because she did just bail you out of the last emergency. “Anyway, I assume we’re going in?”
“Since there are no signs to guide us elsewhere, I see little choice for us in the matter,” Victoria says.
You quickly look around, only to realize that she’s right. Not only are there no signs, but once again the path has vanished in the fog. While whatever is on the other side of the door is surely scary, you can’t shake the feeling that staying into the fog would be far, far, worse.
“Guess we take what’s behind door number one,” you mumble, grasping the massive doorknob and twisting it to the side. Surprisingly, it moves with ease, and the door slides open effortlessly. Through the opening, you can see a large room with crisp white tile and the flickering light of a fire. The three of you step through, and what you see is amazing.
You’ve entered a grand hall carved of marble. Statues adorn the area at regular intervals. Some are of tall warriors, others of impossible beasties, and many are of twisted monstrosities. All along the walls are identical white doors, ones that match the one you just stepped out of, and in the center of the room is a large podium. As Jim clears the threshold, the door slams shut, and suddenly you’re not even sure which one you all came out of. It’s at that point you notice not a single one of the doors have any knob.
With nowhere else to go, you all walk up to the podium. On it rests a single piece of parchment, along with three doorknobs that seems to be made of crystal. Victoria plucks the paper up before you or Jim have a chance to grab it, and starts reading out loud.
“Welcome to Labyrinth Gates. The rules are as follows: Each scavenger gets a knob, which will open any door you need it to. Only one scavenger may cross through each door. Whoever find their way home will be permitted to keep any treasures they found along the journey. Those who do not find their way home forfeit everything, including their lives.” She lowers the paper and looks at you. “Pretty much standard ‘escape or die’ boilerplate. So predictable.”
“For reals, couldn’t they at least have stuck a minotaur in here or something?” Jim says.
From somewhere unseen in the hall, you all hear the distant sound of some massive creature roaring.
“Alright, perhaps they did add a touch more flair than I expected,” Victoria admits. She walks over to the podium and snatched up the doorknobs, handing one to Jim, then to you.
“Which way should we go?” you ask.
“Since all the doors are identical, at this point I hardly think it matters. The only thing we do know is that we have to go in our own directions,” Victoria says.
“First rule of horror movies: don’t fuck,” Jim says. “But the second rule is that you never split the group.”
“No, the first rule is one that comes before any actual rules are even laid out,” Victoria counters. “And that is simply to always follow the rules. We’ve been given terms for survival, a challenge we must meet in order to proceed. As one who has set many of these herself, trust me when I say you do not want to see what happens to those who ignore the rules.”
Another roar echoes through the room, this one distinctly louder than the first. None of these doors seem big enough to let a monster through, but it’s probably best not to chance it by standing around arguing.
“Victoria’s the expert, we do what she says,” you declare. “Everybody pick a door and hope for the best.”
Heeding your own advice you dart over to a random door and slide the doorknob into the empty space where it’s meant to fit. No sooner has it clicked into place than the door swings open and the knob comes back off in your hand. All you can see is inky black darkness, not a single preview of what lays ahead managed to penetrate the veil. You glance across at Jim to see that his door is exactly the same. No sneak peeks it seems.
Holding your breath, though you don’t know why, you plunge through. For a moment, the world is cold and empty, then you are suddenly overwhelmed with heat. The world around you explodes in red and blacks as the charred, fiery landscape comes into view. Moving across the scorched and burning earth are hideous monsters. While you first instinct is to duck and hide form them, it comes too late, as you see one that looks like a spider mixed with a scorpion mixed with a gorilla lumbering toward you.
There’s a couple of seconds before it reaches you, so you need to decide how to react, and you need to do it now.