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Sarah Raphael hadn’t intended to go to the labyrinth that day. She rationed her visits, or tried to: at first no more than an hour at a time, and then, after some experimenting, no more than a day and never sleeping there. And though the crucial factor seemed to be the length of time stayed in a single visit rather than a cumulative amount, it seemed sensible not to go every day, even if she had the time.

The man she thought of as Matthew, for lack of a name he’d chosen himself, had told her not to disappear. He’d seen how drawn she was to the quiet and solitude of the labyrinth, and he’d understood how she felt even though his own attraction to it was different. He had loved the statues for their companionship, however strange and silent; she loved them because with them she was still alone.

She didn’t have time for a visit, not really. She only had her lunch break and some of that had already been spent walking around the corner to the doner kebab place. It was better to save her trips for when she had more time to settle into the luxury of solitude. But it was noisy and crowded at the station, and files were piled on her desk and all of them were full of pain, and she remembered a statue of a pool of water with every ripple and waterweed rendered in translucent white marble. A fish was leaping up to snap up a mayfly. Only the tip of its tail touched the still white surface of the pool, and the mayfly’s wings were thin as paper.

Sarah picked up her kebab and phone, and strode purposefully outside. Anyone who saw her would assume she was cutting her lunch short to go work on a case, which was something she often did. She checked for observers, stepped behind a pillar, and remembered being five and crawling inside a hollow tree. It had been mossy and slightly damp, with powdery bark showering down the back of her neck if she bumped into the walls, but it has been her place. She was the only one who could fit into it, the only one who knew there was an inside you could get into.

The sound of the rushing sea and the cries of birds filled her ears. The air was cool and crisp, the light a muted gray-white like early morning at the seaside. She breathed in the scent of salt and brine and stone. Without Matthew gathering seaweed and shellfish, those smells had faded. She finished her kebab quickly, so the smell of meat and fresh-baked pita and onions wouldn’t have a chance to make their mark in the air, and set out to find the statue of the leaping fish.

Sarah kept a notebook to track where she was going and how to find her way back, but she had learned a number of routes by heart and this was one of them. She passed between the minotaur with the shaggy fur and upturned horns of a Highland bull and the minotaur with a man’s intelligent eyes in a beast’s face, heading for the sixteenth vestibule.

The floor of the corridor was wet, making her splash through puddles. A tide had come through. Matthew would warn her of dangerous tides, but the marks on the walls were only ankle-high. This tide had left an unusual amount of debris behind: pebbles, clumps of seaweed, seashells, and a twisted fragment of driftwood.

She wondered what Matthew would have made of the driftwood. He had told her how he had found a leaf, and it had made him realize that trees actually existed. He had only known statues of trees then, all his memories of the real thing washed away. She had taken him to a wood with bluebells, and he had walked carefully to not crush them beneath his feet, touching the corrugated bark and marveling at it. He had, she had thought, been in much the same frame of mind that she called up to enter the labyrinth.

Sarah stepped over a heap of kelp, skirted by a place where the wall had partly collapsed, ducked her head to pass through an archway guarded by a pregnant woman holding a platter overflowing with bunches of grapes, and came to the sixteenth vestibule.

There was the statue of the pool and the leaping fish and the mayfly. She sat down beside it, folding her legs beneath her. Each scale on the fish was detailed. Tiny indentations in the pool suggested the shadows of water striders underneath. If she had all of infinity to observe the statue, she would never stop finding new wonders.

She could hear the rush of water, and very faintly beneath that, the cry of gulls. Light moved slowly across the walls and floor. She was the only person in the labyrinth, and it enclosed her like the walls of a hollow tree.

Her phone alarm went off. Reluctantly, she got up and left the vestibule. The light was brighter now, less gray and more white. The seaweed shone slick and wet. As a child, she’d liked to step on kelp pods. She selected a good fat one and brought down her foot sharply. It gave way with a satisfying pop. When she lifted her foot a long strand of kelp came with it, unraveling the pile and revealing, half-buried in sand, a bright fragment of yellow stone beside a sea-polished ring pull.

Garbage in the labyrinth felt like a violation. Sarah stooped to pick up the metal tab, hoping there wasn’t any more.

The yellow stone came with it. It was a ring.

Sarah examined it, intrigued. She had never found anything man-made in the labyrinth since Matthew had left it. The metal was silver-white and very shiny, and the yellow stone was startlingly bright in the soft gray light. She’d worked enough jewelry store robberies to identify common metals and stones, and guessed the metal to be platinum or rhodium. But the yellow stone stumped her. It was too opaque for topaz or amber, and was astonishingly bright, almost glowing.

She lifted the pile of kelp to see if anything else was in it. Metal rang sharply against the floor. Another bright ring was tangled in a strand. When she picked up the strand, the ring dangled, strung like a pendant. It was identical to the other, except that its stone was green instead of yellow. It might be jade, but it was so bright. No stone she’d ever seen was that bright.

She remembered Matthew saying, “The House is full of Mysteries.” He had let her read some of his diaries, and ever after she could hear when he was capitalizing a word.

“Another mystery,” she said aloud.

Sarah considered the possibility that a new person had found the labyrinth, and the rings belonged to them. It was not impossible, but she thought it unlikely. She had seen no other signs of another person, not even a new smell. The rings had come with the tide, and that suggested that they came from either outside the labyrinth, like the birds or the leaf Matthew had once found, or had been swept up from some nook or cranny not even he had found in all his years living in the House.

Her best guess was outside. Or, as Matthew would have said, Outside. But she had never been entirely certain where Outside was. The birds were birds of Earth. The seaweed was common seaweed. But when she had first opened the way to the labyrinth, she had seen many doors. Ever after that, she had seen only the one. Where had those other doors led? Other parts of the labyrinth? Other places? Other times? Other worlds?

The labyrinth was the one mystery that Sarah had felt no desire to solve. It was enough that it existed, and she could go to it. But this smaller mystery intrigued her. She touched the yellow stone, hoping to identify it by feel.

The rush of water grew louder as the light darkened. Sarah Raphael tried to clutch at the walls, thinking it was a flood, and found herself stepping out of pool in a forest.

Her clothes were dry. Even her shoes were dry. She felt as if she was in that state between sleep and waking, when you’re awake enough to wonder where you are but asleep enough not to know. She was asleep enough not to know who she was, and awake enough to notice, but it didn’t worry her or evoke more than a mild curiosity.

She took another step away from the pool and felt something swing from her hand. She looked down and saw the rings, the green one still dangling from its necklace of kelp and her forefinger still on the yellow stone.

The dream state vanished. Sarah Raphael knew who she was and how she had come there. It seemed that the forest, like the labyrinth, could cause memory loss. She would have to be careful of that, and also careful not to touch the yellow stone again until she wanted to leave, for it seemed that was what had transported her. She dropped the rings into her jacket pocket, kelp and all, and looked around.

The light was green, filtered through the tall trees. She couldn’t see their tops, nor could she see the sky. The ground was covered with lush green grass. Small pools were scattered throughout the forest. The air was warm and smelled of grass and rich earth and clean water.

Sarah knelt beside the pool she had stepped out of. It was the pool of the leaping fish. She recognized it the same way that Matthew sometimes recognized people he had seen as statues in the House. But she could see clear down to the pebbly bottom, and it was empty. It held no fish, no water striders, not even any waterweeds. There were no mayflies in the air, nor any other insects. She could hear a soft background chirping, but no other sounds.

And yet the wood did not feel dead or empty. The trees and grass lived and thrived. It needed nothing else. Sarah was sure she was the only human there; the sense of solitude was as certain and welcome as in the labyrinth. But she didn’t feel like a stranger or an intruder. The wood accepted her presence.

She sat down on the grass, breathing in the silence. There was no sound but that of the birds and the rustling of leaves in the wind.

There was no wind. The realization broke through the sense of lazy peace. Maybe the rustling was caused by the birds, but no matter how she craned her neck, she couldn’t see any. Sarah took off her jacket and dropped it by the pool to mark the spot. She stood up and stepped softly toward the sound.

The rustling and chirping and chittering grew louder as she came nearer. She began to distinguish little grunts and squeaks and snuffles as well. It sounded vaguely familiar, and when she finally saw what was causing it, she began to laugh.

The wood had animal inhabitants after all. It had guinea pigs. A colony of them moved among the grass, grazing and playing and making all manner of noises. There were at least thirty of them, some adults and some half-grown and some babies, black-and-white, brown-and-white, and ginger-and-white. They had no fear of her. When she crouched down and held out her hand, a few of them trotted to her and allowed her to pet their rough fur.

She walked around some more but saw no other animals, though she did come across more scattered guinea pigs. There were no birds or insects, nor was there any wind. The air didn’t grow colder, nor did the light grow dimmer. It always felt like a summer afternoon.

Sarah returned to the pool she had stepped out of and sat beside it, as she had sat beside the marble pool in the labyrinth. She looked into the clear water, which seemed both shallow and infinite, and wondered about the small mysteries she’d discovered. Where had the rings come from? What did the green ring do? How was this wood connected to the labyrinth? Why were the only living inhabitants guinea pigs?

The last question was the only one she could come up with a theory for. The labyrinth was inhabited only by birds and fish. Animals lived in the ocean, but Matthew had never seen otters or dolphins or seals. Some property of the labyrinth seemed not to admit mammals other than humans. Similarly, this wood might not admit animals other than humans and guinea pigs.

That thought led her to compare the labyrinth and the woods. Where the labyrinth had stone, the wood had earth and grass. Where the labyrinth had statues, the wood had trees. Where the labyrinth had birds, the wood had guinea pigs. The labyrinth was cold, the wood warm. The labyrinth had night and day, while the wood seemed to always be mid-afternoon. And yet they felt similar in some ways: quiet despite an ever-present noise, places of solitude and forgetting.

And then Sarah stopped comparing, and simply existed in the wood, breathing in the smell of the grass and the earth, petting the guinea pigs that wandered by, looking into the water.

Matthew would love this place, she thought. Though it has no bluebells.

That thought brought her back to full awareness. Sarah’s head jerked up, her body stiffening. How long had she been in the wood?

Hastily, she took the yellow ring out of her pocket and touched the stone. Nothing happened. She pushed back a flash of alarm. The yellow ring had brought her to the pool in the woods, not the tree beside the pool.

Sarah stepped into the pool and touched the yellow stone. She remained standing in the pool, her feet unpleasantly wet within their shoes.

Maybe she didn’t need the ring. She didn’t need anything but herself to get to the labyrinth. Sarah summoned the feeling that opened the path to the labyrinth. Nothing happened.

Still standing in the middle of the pool, she made herself calm down and think about it. She had two rings, and they were obviously a set. Maybe yellow brought you to the wood and green took you out of it. All she had to do to find out was touch the green stone.

And if that doesn’t work, you’ll know for sure that you’re trapped here forever.

The thought of being trapped in the wood, as Matthew had been trapped in the labyrinth, brought less terror than perhaps it should have. He had learned to fish and eat seaweed, and he’d had the birds for company. She might find nuts and fruits, and she’d have the guinea pigs. He had often been cold and in danger, but he hadn’t been unhappy.

That lack of unhappiness had come at a steep price, of course. He’d lost his memories and his old self, and they’d never completely come back again. Sarah suspected that staying long enough in this place might do the same. Maybe it was the nature of places between worlds.

She had plenty of memories it might be better to forget. If she forgot who she was and stayed here forever, she’d never know that outside there was a world she’d never quite fit into, full of people who had never quite understood her and whom she’d never quite understand. There was something terribly tempting about the idea of letting Sarah Raphael fall away like a jacket you took off when it was too hot, and standing bare-armed and free.

Matthew, she thought again. The man whose name isn’t Matthew anymore. He understands me. He’d care if I disappeared.

And there were those names in her files, those missing people, those families who needed to know what had happened. There was the next Pinny Wheeler. What would happen to him if she wasn’t there?

“Goodbye,” said Sarah to the guinea pigs and the trees and the grass and the pools. “I’ll come back. But I can’t stay.”

She touched the green stone. The light darkened, becoming silvery moonlight. She was back in the sixteenth vestibule, beside the leaping fish. She jumped up and hurried through the halls, ducked under the dangling marble grapes, and almost collided with Matthew.

“You didn’t answer my calls. You didn’t show up for work. The police went to your house, but no one was there.” He gave her a glance that held something of the wry knowingness of the man he had become, and something of the absolute faith of the man he had been and in some ways still was. “I knew you’d be here.”

Sarah opened her pocket and looked inside before picking up the rings, careful not to touch the stones. “Don’t touch these. I found them here, washed in by the tide. Have you ever seen anything like them before?”

He began to shake his head, then glanced upward as people do when they’re trying to remember something. “Matthew Rose Sorensen did. I think… Yes… Ketterley had one. He wasn’t wearing it. He had it in a locked glass case, in the room where he did the ritual.”

“Do you remember the color of the stone?”

“Green,” he said immediately. “It was very bright.”

Sarah nodded, satisfied at finding one more piece of the puzzle. She'd hunt down the rest later. “Yellow takes you to the wood, and green takes you away from it. A green ring by itself would have been useless to him. I wonder if he knew it.”

But Matthew didn’t pursue the talk of Ketterley. “Sarah, where have you been?”

“A wood,” she said. “Like the labyrinth, but living. A wood between the worlds. You’d like it. It has guinea pigs.”

“Were you trapped there?”

She shook her head. “I stayed too long, that’s all. It was beautiful. Quiet.”

A flash of fear came across his face, and in it she saw all the men he had been and all the men he was. All of them had known and still knew the fear of loss, of being lost, of losing everything. “I still worry that you’ll disappear.”

“I did disappear,” said Sarah. “But I came back.”