But now he was beginning to feel even more self-conscious. What exactly was he supposed to do? He hadn’t been anything but a monster for the past five years, and he had very few impressive skills before that. He looked over his shoulder at Zolteotl, who was now hanging upside down off the tree branch, their hood dangling over pointed ears. “And I guess just wanting to isn’t good enough?” Zolteotl snorted, shaking their head so their tail wagged from side to side.
“Come on, this shouldn’t be too hard!” they purred, the tree branch suddenly lowering and snaking around the clearing as Zolteotl clung to it. Jaw narrowed his eyes as everything he knew about gravity and reality fought against what he was seeing, racking his mind for ideas. “Everyone has something special about them. Something they wanna do. You should see some a’ the fellows who already got in! So what is it for you?”
//Nothing?// Jaw thought, sudden and uncomfortable emotion choking his throat. //I don’t know what I’ve been doing for a long time. Just to survive, and if I’m honest with myself, sometimes I don’t know if I even want that.//
“Glory? Safety? Or just for the heck of it? I’ve sure met some thrill-seekers before, I’ll tell ya that much.”
//And it’s exhausting sometimes. I’m always on my feet, always looking behind my back. Trying to stay two steps ahead of the rumors, the stupid rumors and theories.//
“But thrill-seeking can’t get you anywhere, buddy. And you better hurry up and show me something cool, ‘cause I don’t have all day. Got more folks to pick up from other worlds, you know.”
//I just don’t want to be so tired.//
The tree branch moved elegantly around Jaw like a snake, and finally he turned to stare at Zolteotl with a hard stare. They met it with equal amusement and coolness, lying on the thick branch with their feet kicked up behind them and head on their arms.
“I never cared much about the past,” Jaw growled. “I never saw any point to worrying about your mistakes, even before everything happened. But I never had to run from it. Now, the only point for me is to keep going. To run away. To stay alive.” He shifted slightly, his feet stirring up soft green leaves. “It’s been years, though. Too many to count. So I think by this point, I’d appreciate a little extra stamina.”
With one quick movement, Jaw leaned his head forwards and snapped down on the branch where Zolteotl was draped, only inches from their arm. His teeth sheared it in half, tiny bits of bark flying off from the impact, and as he opened his eyes, for a split second he saw the Labyrinth’s host tumbling towards the ground.
Within a second, though, they vanished from the freefall and appeared above Jaw’s head, cackling with delight. “Oh man, you’re ballsy!” they laughed, tail-tip flicking back and forth. “I like it! Ahhh…” Closing their eyes and grinning, Zolteotl snapped their fingers as the tree branch snaked itself back into the trunk. “Alrighty. Through here, then.” With a rumble, the earth pooled inwards as a large stone gate rose out of the ground, looking out of place in the thick rainforest as the dust settled around it. When Jaw turned to look at Zolteotl with a mixed expression of confusion and suspicion, they only winked and disappeared, leaving the hum of the jungle to fade back in.
For a second Jaw wavered, wondering whether he should just leave this insanity behind, before he remembered his own words. Life happened how it happened, and the only way to go was forwards. Squaring his shoulders, Jaw took a deep breath and moved into the gateway, flinching as he spotted a flash of movement inside the maze, a whip-thin wooden tail flickering by. //Okay, okay… with any luck I won’t die. With any luck I’ll be doing the opposite of that! Here goes nothing...//