Author's note: I wrote this story 13 years ago when I first read The Death Gate Cycle and only recently rediscovered it. I decided to read the books again so I could make the story better and, as a result, I have re-written almost the entire thing. I hope you enjoy it.
The exit of the Labyrinth was within her sight, the exit of this horrible and deadly prison where so many centuries ago the Sartan locked up her entire race, the Patryns, to "rehabilitate" them. All she needed to do was cross a huge barren plain that offered no shelter whatsoever. Great. She was crouching under the shadows the trees offered her, scanning the apparently safe and empty area in front of her. But she knew better than to expect anything inside the Labyrinth to be safe. That kind of naive thinking had cost many their lives. The runes that covered her body weren't glowing. There were no immediate threats close by. If only she could reach the gate before anything became aware of her presence...
She decided to make a run for it. She was extremely fast and there wasn't a single place to hide anyway. She sprang like a wolfen from her hiding place and sprinted towards freedom.
The Patryn was almost halfway across the meadow when her tattooed skin began to glow blue and red. Danger. She kept running. Something scrambled out of the forest at the edge of the plain and ran after her, hunting her. The earth shook under the weight of the creature and she dared not to look back and lose speed. She knew what was hunting her, the smell had given it away. Pure instinct and fear made her legs ran faster even when her brain wanted her to turn around and fight. Her tattoos were glowing brighter, making her skin itch and burn. The creature was gaining terrain so fast she could feel its hot breath on her back.
The sound of the creature's race stopped for a second and a shadow loomed over her.
"Shit!" She braced herself for the impact.
A huge body hit her on the back. They got tangled with the impact and rolled for a short distance, her runes protecting her from the chaos of claws and fangs that were trying to rip her apart. When she finally managed to free herself, she rolled on the ground and was on her feet again in no time, her body tense, her daggers already in her hands, staring at the thing that had tackled her. The way to the gate was blocked by a small red dragon, no more than a dragonling, but it meant the mother must be close and she was doomed.
The irony of the situation ripped a humorless laugh from her throat.
The Patryn felt a warm liquid sliding down her forehead, dripping over her right eye and partially blocking her sight. It was probably a head slash caused by a sharp claw. The smell of her own blood filled her nostrils and her enemy's too. The dragon clicked its fangs, its tongue slicing the air, as if it already was tasting the glowing meal in front of it.
She ignored the pain. She had learned to cast it aside years ago so she could focus on survival. Although, she had to admit, this time survival didn't look very promising. "Let's look on the bright side," she thought, "I'll probably die here but not before I take this little bastard down with me."
"Oh, you think so?" the dragon's voice resounded inside her brain. "I'm looking forward to tearing that tasty flesh off your bones."
"You can try!" she growled with an adrenaline-filled smirk on her face.
The dragon opened its mouth in reply to sputter flames at the woman but she had already constructed a defensive rune structure that shielded her from the fire that would have charred her skin. She tried to roll out of the way and surprise the creature by attacking one of its flanks but before she could get close, a searing pain in her right arm made her scream and drop the rune-inscribed dagger she was carrying in that arm. The magical runes on her skin should have protected her from the dragon's attack but it was powerful and its strong jaws had managed to pass through her defenses and almost break her bones. Almost, but not quite. She spoke some runes through gritted teeth and sent a bolt of electrical energy across her skin. The dragon wailed and freed her arm. A kick to the throat and a quick slash from the dagger left the dragonling half-blind and enraged. It lost all sense of purpose and let its rage guide its movements. The creature wasn't interested in playing with its prey anymore; it wanted to kill it quickly. And that's exactly what the Patryn was hoping for. She knew that letting your hatred getting the better of you made you clumsy and prone to make fatal mistakes.
Even so, the dragon was a mighty creature and the battle turned into a confusing blur of fire, fangs, claws, sharp tail, magic and dagger. It left the woman wounded, burned. All she felt was pain and blood on her skin, her magic and strength forsaking her as the seconds passed. But the will to survive, to live, was stronger than the alluring pull of death... and so she channeled this will to her left hand and into the bloody dagger she was still holding and waited for an opportunity. And her patience was rewarded when the dragon stood on its hind legs and lifted an arm to strike the killing blow, leaving the still tender skin on its chest, for it was young, unprotected. With a wrathful scream, she sank the dagger with all the strength she had left. The creature wailed and, trying to rid itself of the agonizing pain, sent the Patryn tumbling sideways to the ground, nearly knocking her out.
The last thing she heard was a painful lament, a dragon's lament. She was lying on the grass and the dragon was dead, with her dagger piercing its heart. Darkness threatened to embrace her completely.
For a second, she considered giving up and not fight back this time. It would be so much easier to just die and end the pain and the never-ending fear... A sigh escaped her lips.
Her life's spark refused to douse. She half-opened her eyes and saw the last gate just a few feet away from her. She could have sworn the Labyrinth was mocking her... No, the Sartan, they were surely laughing at her, somewhere, because they have won again their cruel game. Hatred fueled that inner spark that was fading away; she was not going to let them win, not this time.
With a groan, she tried to move, only to be paralyzed by an unbearable pain. Something was broken. She lay there, panting, unable to think until the pain somewhat diminished. She needed to heal herself, at least enough to be able to crawl. Moving her good arm slowly but surely, she managed to touch her useless hand with the back of her left hand to complete the circle of her being and start the healing process, the sigla on her skin glowing with a faint blue light. The world around her faded away...
An ear-splitting growl shook her awake a few minutes later. The mother dragon.
Her guts clenched with a terrible fear and she began to crawl towards the exit, too weak to do anything else, too stubborn to let herself die. Although the growl didn't sound close yet, she knew she didn't have much time left so her sight and energy were now completely focused on reaching the promised safety behind the last gate.
Suddenly, the gate opened. There was someone, a man, silhouetted against a soft light coming from the other side of the gate, a light so beautiful that the Patryn gasped and felt like crying. Somewhere deep inside of her, a fierce resolution to reach the light behind the man fueled her dying body.
It was this very same light that revealed the crawling woman to the man who had opened the gate. It was Xar, the Lord of the Nexus, the first Patryn who had escaped from the Labyrinth, the oldest, most powerful of his race. He had been preparing himself mentally to reenter the dreadful place. Even after all these years, the fear always came back with the same fierceness as the first time he went back into the Labyrinth to help his people.
He saw her, a tangled mess of skin and blood, stubbornly trying to reach freedom. Before he could react, the dragon's deep roar shook their very bones, making the runes in his skin flare and burn. He frowned and hurried up to where the wounded Patryn was, his mouth already molding runes into a magical defense in case the dragon got to them before he could rescue the woman. His eyes took the whole scene in with a quick look when he reached her, the dead dragon, the traces of the battle. He allowed himself a second of admiration for the Patryn's courage and skill and then proceeded to help her to her feet. The Lord noticed that the woman's tattoos were barely glowing, as opposed to his own, which were now burning wildly red and blue, every instinct in his body urging him to escape. She didn't have much longer. And neither did he if he didn't hurry up. The woman held on to him but refused to let him carry her. She had to walk through that gate. She needed to. The Lord let her do it; he knew how important it was to get out of the Labyrinth on your own two feet.
Still, he urged her on and half-dragged her out of there. The Last Gate closed behind them, muffling the dragon's angry growls, and the Lord told her the two words he said to every Patryn that escaped from the Labyrinth: Never forget.
Twilight covered the Nexus like a mantle, filling with a soft light that beautiful city.
"I'm free... I made it. I'm finally free..." Those were her last thoughts before she sank into the sweet arms of oblivion.