“The knowledge you seek is at the center of a vast labyrinth in the Mountains of Ash. There are several twists, turns, and obstacles. This will not be an easy journey. However, you seem determined. I suspect you will succeed in your quest.” The oracle leans in, dropping her omniscient demeanor. “So, what are you looking for, kid?”
I'm startled by this, but I know better than to lie to an oracle. I choose vagueness. “A name."
“What, like, the name of your true love or something?” I didn’t expect the oracle to not know. Or to be quite such a gossip.
“Fine, be coy if you must. But good luck, kid. I'm rooting for you…whatever your name is. I can’t remember. Did you even tell me?”
“No,” I say flatly. I turn and leave the temple, hoping she can't read my thoughts while I’m here. Though, if she didn’t know what I was searching for in the labyrinth…
It feels silly, really, to not know your own name. I have a birth name, but it’s never been my name. I don’t blame my parents, really. Not for that anyway. Locking me out for wanting to be man and woman and something else, yes. For giving me a name that does not suit me? No. When you’re giving a name to a child, you really just have to hope for the best. Usually it works. But it doesn’t work for me.
So here I am, on a quest to find the perfect name. I’ve tried several out but none gave me joy and I have to believe when I find the right one, it will. After my dispute with my parents, I traveled town to town looking for the right name and a place to call home. None has fit, but the last place had a lovely young woman who kissed my forehead and told me to see the all-seeing oracle. Maybe that was a clue. All-seeing, not all-knowing. But it did seem that she knew I could find my answer in the labyrinth. So, the Mountains of Ash it is.
It takes me almost a month to find my way up the correct mountain. There are plenty to choose from and they all look the same. The village at the edge of the mountain range warned me not to go up more than one mountain a day, but I am too impatient. I cannot stay in this village any longer without knowing who I am and what I am called. It takes even longer to find the labyrinth. So long that I fear I missed it. But finally, in the mix of snow and ash that these mountains are famous for, I find the labyrinth. And I know my troubles are only just beginning. It won’t be easy. But neither is being nameless. I must know my true name.
I enter. It isn’t a maze, so the path itself is simple, but that means there are going to be more obstacles to get to the center. I’ve heard of minotaurs being in these things.
I’ve been in the labyrinth for two hours without a sign of any obstacles, which doesn’t make me feel any better. It makes me feel worse, actually. An impending sense of doom.
Finally, I hear a giggling noise. I turn to try to find the source of it and find a mermaid. Perhaps it’s a mermaid, at least. It looks like one, but there is no water, she is merely swimming through the air as if it were an ocean. “I’m not going to kill you,” I say.
She laughs again. “Oh, sweetheart, I’m not here to be murdered by you. Or kill you, for that matter. No, we’re going to play a little game.”
“A play for my soul?"
"No, darling. For your name.” So she knows what my quest is for.
“All right. What game?”
“Yes and No. I ask questions to see if I can guess what you're thinking of and you tell me yes or no.”
“What? Aren’t I supposed to be the one asking the questions?”
“That was a question, so I shall not answer it. Do you have something in mind?"
“All right.” I don’t understand how this works. What does she get if she wins? What do I lose? Either way, I think of something obscure. Something strange. A manticore. “I’m ready,” I say and I hope she doesn't ask if it’s an animal first.
“Do you think you’re too good for your old name?"
“Have you tried other names?"
“Are you ashamed of this quest?"
“Hold on a moment. Aren't you supposed to be asking about the thing I’m thinking about?"
“I am, darling. But it’s only yes and no. Don’t worry, I can see the rest. But this is a test, after all. And I have just one more question. Are you ready?”
I nod and then realize this is the whole question. This is the easiest one to answer. “Yes."
“Then you shall find what you seek.” She kisses the top of my head. “Good luck.”
After a blue mist that as far as I can tell was designed to make you forget your own name (an easy test to pass), a strange parchment that won’t let me pass until I unscrambled 50 words (again, all name-based and again, none of them are my true name), and a grueling fight with an actual manticore (I am starting to think this labyrinth was created solely for me), I come to the center of the labyrinth.
In the center, there is a clearing that has about 50 large bubbles that move around slowly but none of them are landing or popping. I look into one. It’s cloudy inside. I get so close trying to see inside that I accidentally pop it with my nose. Out falls a slip of paper to the ground. This is it. This has my name on it. I take a deep breath and pick it up. On it are three letters.
“Mio,” I say aloud. It’s perfect.