-Lorelei, Lexie, Lewis
-last night, long ago, last-minute
-Labyrinth, ledge, lawn
-leather, leash, lion, larch, ladybug, lightning
"The Labors of Lorelei"
(This story is a continuation of "Stained-Glass Wings")
Lorelei lay where she landed amid shards of broken glass. Slowly, she eased herself up to her feet. Luckily, her wings in stained-glass form were not wholly attached to her body, being representational of her own biological wings—but it would be a while before her own wings grew back to replace the glass ones, so she was bound to be on foot for the foreseeable future.
A small gasp reminded her of the reason for being here and losing her wings in the first place. Lorelei whirled around just in time to see a lithe young woman make a mad dash for the looming walls behind them, disappearing into the mist.
"Oh no you don't!" The archangel muttered, running after the mysterious lady.
She reached all of two steps past the limit of the first wall, when the fog lifted and she learned the location whereupon she had inadvertently stumbled: a gigantic Labyrinth.
She knew, from past experience, that this maze hadn't been there before. It must have been conjured by the lady with the crystal pen.
"Leapin' lizards!" Lorelei groaned.
She did her best to follow the lure of the pen's power. She could feel the latent magic of it, pulling her like a lodestone down one path and then the next.
Lightning crackled somewhere nearby, and Lorelei followed the lead of the pen right into a trap in the middle of the maze.
A lion prowled on the lawn, next to a looming larch, and the lightning she had heard appeared caught in its branches. Every step Lorelei tried to take toward the path she knew she needed to follow to get the pen, the lion would lunge at her.
"Of all the legendary artifacts from other dimensions, it had to be this one!" Lorelei complained, sitting down on the grass to muse over how to get past this challenge. Every moment she spent here was a chance for that pen to get further away, and the fate of more than just this dimension would be at stake!
The young archangel regarded the mass of electricity arcing from the sky.
"I don't want to get the lion struck," she mused, "but I do need to get close enough to the tree to liberate the lightning—I need to get control of the lion somehow!"
She trailed her fingers through the grass as she pondered.
At the sudden movement, a tiny ball of light sprang up and wavered erratically in the air. Lorelei looked toward the tiny glowing pinprick, snatching it out of the air with her hand. It stopped glowing at once, and Lorelei could get a good look at it: a delicate ladybug crawled around her palm. When Lorelei opened her hand, it lit up as it flew away once more, leaving a luminous trail as it lighted through the shadows. Lorelei lurched to her feet and followed the bug down a lane. Part of her concentration remained aware that she was leaving the mysterious lady far behind, but with one last corner, Lorelei knew she had come to the right place:
A bold leather leash hung among the leaves of the labyrinth hedge. Tugging it down, Lorelei affirmed that it was indeed large enough to fit the lion. She could only hope that she would be swift enough to restrain it in a direct confrontation, because she didn't have time for anything less.
"Okay, Conrad," she muttered under her breath as she marched back to the lawn. "You are so going to owe me for this!"
Like it happened before, when Lorelei approached the lion, it roared and lunged for her. This time, instead of retreating, Lorelei leaned forward, slipping the open collar under the luxurious mane and latching it shut. When she darted out of the way, the lion roared and pawed at its neck, well and thoroughly subdued.
"There's a metaphor here somewhere, I know it," muttered Lorelei.
To free the lightning, she used the same matter-manipulation spell that allowed her to pass through things to render the branches of the larch incorporeal. The air around her crackled, and Lorelei leaped out of the vicinity as the lightning bolts dropped all the way to the ground before the cloud dissipated, and the storm ceased. Finally, she could leave the area.
Lorelei once again focused on the location of the pen.
What luck! She gazed intently at a corner of the ledge leading to the rest of the maze.
"All right!" She called. "Party's over; come on out, whoever you are!"
She heard a gasp and a furious rustle.
"Don't even try it!" She growled, folding her arms. "Come here, now!"
A foot tentatively emerged from the bush, followed by a leg, then the rest of the body, till a shamefaced young lady stood before Lorelei. She clutched the pen in her left hand, and when she looked up at Lorelei she began trembling.
“I saw you fall,” she stammered, “Wh-what are you?”
Lorelei crossed her arms and raised a dubious eyebrow. “Name’s Lorelei,” she said. “Who are you?”
The woman brushed her dark locks out of her face. “I’m Lexie; I swear, whatever it is you think I did, it wasn’t me!”
Lorelei choked. “On the contrary, it was most certainly you! Now if you don’t mind, I’d like that pen back.”
Lexie looked down, lifting the pen between them. “What, this?”
Lorelei took a step forward. “Yes, that—“
The lady leaned back, holding the pen just out of her reach. “No! It’s mine!”
“It’s not yours, and I am legally sanctioned to take it from you!”
Lexie lurched out of Lorelei’s grasp and dashed down the lane a little ways. “Stay back!” she shrieked. “I’m the only one allowed to touch it! I swear, it was enchanted expressly for me!”
Lorelei stopped in her tracks. “Whoa, wait, what?” She tilted her head. “You aren’t—you didn’t…” She huffed and thrust out her bottom lip in a pout. “What do you mean, enchanted for you?”
Lexie hung her head and pressed her lips. “I, er, my boyfriend Lewis—he’s been interested in all the mystic arts of long ago, and he recently started researching literomancy.”
Lorelei felt the weight of responsibility weigh on her. “A literomancer with a special crystal magic pen?”
Lexie shrugged. “Well, he needed something to write with, and so one of his friends said they knew a lithomancer who made excellent pens—“
“Lithomancer!” Sweet Lucifer on a lance! “All right, let’s get one thing straight before you say another word,” Lorelei shifted to a more aggressive stance. “Your boyfriend, a low-level literomancer, bought a pen from a lithomancer, but he never asked any questions about it? Do you have any idea what he's done? That pen you're holding gives the writer ultimate power beyond the limits of time and space.”
Lexie shook her head, a tremor shaking her body. “No—No!” she whimpered.
“Yes, yes!” Lorelei retorted. “There’s a prophecy involved—and the very essence of reality is at stake!”
Lexie’s face faded to a lifeless pallor, and she stared at the implement in her hands. “This? It’s just a pen!”
“Oh really?” Lorelei laced her words with as much sarcasm as she could muster, drawing out the syllables languidly. “Then were did all this,” she gestured to the labyrinth surrounding them, “come from?”
Lexie shrugged. “I don’t know! I was here when I woke up—“
The archangel snorted. “Woke up from what?”
Lexie chewed on her lip again. “Lewis and I—we broke up. He was going crazy—he’d been raving like a madman for a while, I was being lenient with him because I really thought he loved me. But last night—or the last night I can remember—we had a fight, and I blacked out while he was still talking, and when I woke up, I was here among the ruins with the big maze behind me, and he’d left the pen behind with a letter saying how much he loved me but it was too much…“
Lorelei shook her head as she realized that Lexie had plopped onto a nearby rock, and was now poised to drag the pen across its surface. “No, wait, Lexie—don’t!”
Too late; the infernal nib scratched deep into the stone surface, and a wave of darkness snuffed out the light…
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