∴ A Perilous Pilgrimage∴
The chalk path is soft beneath your bare feet, and bright beneath the moon. A warm breeze lifts your robes, as if to gently urge you on, yet there is no hurry. You know this place, every curve and meander of the way before you. And you know there is no stopping. No turning back. No rushing on. Only the steady, mindful progress of time, and the faith to see it through.
This is the place that you go to when you trace your teacher’s labyrinth. She gave this path to you when she left, carved not into an amulet or a smooth river pebble, but into the bright brass pommel of her sword. As your fingers work the lines they know by heart, tracing the deep grooves over warm brass, your mind sojourns a familiar moonlit moor of your own creation. You are calm when you come here. You know you are safe. All you have to do is have faith.
A distant sound piques your attention. For a moment you think it is an interruption to your meditation, and you clasp the sword closer to you, but then you furrow your brow. No. The sound did not belong to the moss-deep churchyard where you sit cross-legged, but the moonlit labyrinth in your mind. It resonates again, and this time you focus in on it. An unearthly screech – not an eagle or a raven, but something different. And it is closer. Much closer.
Your finger falters on the lines of the labyrinth. But there is no pausing. No turning back. You must have faith. With a deep breath you round the corner of the maze, and nearly scream as something launches itself into the air before you, blotting out the moon for a moment with a gleaming mass of feathers.
Then it is gone. Were you imagining it, you wonder? You shake your head at the absurdity of the question. You are imagining all of this. It is nothing but a meditation. The question you should be asking is why: why have you populated your pilgrimage place with monsters?
Heart in your mouth, you press on, knowing from your oft-repeated round of the pommel’s map that you are close to the end of your journey. Then another noise in the darkness: this time a scratching, like great talons scraping through grit. A panting, like a mighty beast of the hunt. And this time it’s behind you.
Your finger stops dead at the labyrinth’s heart as you turn slowly on your heel. Your watering eyes widen as they meet two mighty amber ones, framing a great, tearing beak. The griffin opens its maw to let out a shriek, and you are screaming with it. Your eyes fly open.
You are sitting cross-legged on the cushioning moss, with your back against a weathered tombstone. The linen of your robes is drenched with cold sweat. Your right hand, white and shaking, is clenched around the green leather hilt of your sword. The pommel gleams up at you, and behind the graven labyrinth you see the hardened lines of your face.
You are ready.