Thomas didn’t bother wasting his own breath on questions; he just kept running, following Minho. Without having to look behind him, he knew the Grievers were gaining ground at an alarming rate. Every inch of his body hurt, inside and out; his limbs cried for him to quit running. But he ran on, hoped his heart didn’t quit pumping.
A few turns later, Thomas saw something ahead of them that didn’t register with his brain. It seemed … wrong. And the faint light emanating from their pursuers made the oddity up ahead all the more apparent.
The corridor didn’t end in another stone wall.
It ended in blackness.
Thomas narrowed his eyes as they ran toward the wall of darkness, trying to comprehend what they were approaching. The two ivy-covered walls on either side of him seemed to intersect with nothing but sky up ahead. He could see stars. As they got closer, he finally realized that it was an opening—the Maze ended.
How? he wondered. After years of searching, how did Minho and I find it this easily?
Minho seemed to sense his thoughts. “Don’t get excited,” he said, barely able to get the words out.
A few feet before the end of the corridor, Minho pulled up, holding his hand out over Thomas’s chest to make sure he stopped, too. Thomas slowed, then walked up to where the Maze opened out into open sky. The sounds of the onrushing Grievers grew closer, but he had to see.
They had indeed reached a way out of the Maze, but like Minho had said, it was nothing to get excited about. All Thomas could see in every direction, up and down, side to side, was empty air and fading stars. It was a strange and unsettling sight, like he was standing at the edge of the universe, and for a brief moment he was overcome by vertigo, his knees weakening before he steadied himself.
Dawn was beginning to make its mark, the sky seeming to have lightened considerably even in the last minute or so. Thomas stared in complete disbelief, not understanding how it could all be possible. It was like somebody had built the Maze and then set it afloat in the sky to hover there in the middle of nothing for the rest of eternity.
“I don’t get it,” he whispered, not knowing if Minho could even hear him.
“Careful,” the Runner replied. “You wouldn’t be the first shank to fall off the Cliff.” He grabbed Thomas’s shoulder. “Did you forget something?” He nodded back toward the inside of the Maze.
Thomas remembered hearing the word Cliff before, but couldn’t place it at the moment. Seeing the vast, open sky in front of and below him had put him into some kind of hypnotized stupor. He shook himself back to reality and turned to face the oncoming Grievers. They were now only dozens of yards away, single file, charging in with a vengeance, moving surprisingly fast.
Everything clicked, then, even before Minho explained what they were going to do.
“These things may be vicious,” Minho said, “but they’re dumb as dirt. Stand here, close to me, facing—”
Thomas cut him off. “I know. I’m ready.”
They shuffled their feet until they stood scrunched up together in front of the drop-off at the very middle of the corridor, facing the Grievers. Their heels were only inches from the edge of the Cliff behind them, nothing but air waiting after that.
The only thing left for them was courage.
“We need to be in sync!” Minho yelled, almost drowned out by the earsplitting sounds of the thundering spikes rolling along the stone. “On my mark!”
Why the Grievers had lined up single file was a mystery. Maybe the Maze proved just narrow enough to make it awkward for them to travel side by side. But one after the other, they rolled down the stone hallway, clicking and moaning and ready to kill. Dozens of yards had become dozens of feet, and the monsters were only seconds away from crashing into the waiting boys.
“Ready,” Minho said steadily. “Not yet … not yet …”
Thomas hated every millisecond of waiting. He just wanted to close his eyes and never see another Griever again.
“Now!” screamed Minho.
Just as the first Griever’s arm extended out to nip at them, Minho and Thomas dove in opposite directions, each toward one of the outer walls of the corridor. The tactic had worked for Thomas earlier, and judging by the horrible screeching sound that escaped the first Griever, it had worked again. The monster flew off the edge of the Cliff. Oddly, its battle cry cut off sharply instead of fading as it plummeted to the depths beyond.
Thomas landed against the wall and spun just in time to see the second creature tumble over the edge, not able to stop itself. The third one planted a heavily spiked arm into the stone, but its momentum was too much. The nerve-grinding squeal of the spike cutting through the ground sent a shiver up Thomas’s spine, though a second later the Griever tumbled into the abyss. Again, neither of them made a sound as they fell—as if they’d disappeared instead of falling.
The fourth and final approaching creature was able to stop in time, teetering on the very edge of the cliff, a spike and a claw holding it in place.
Instinctively Thomas knew what he had to do. Looking to Minho, he nodded, then turned. Both boys ran in at the Griever and jumped feetfirst at the creature, kicking out at the last second with every waning bit of strength. They both connected, sending the last monster plummeting to its death.
Thomas quickly scrambled to the edge of the abyss, poking his head over to see the falling Grievers. But impossibly, they were gone—not even a sign of them in the emptiness that stretched below. Nothing.
His mind couldn’t process the thought of where the Cliff led or what had happened to the terrible creatures. His last ounce of strength disappeared, and he curled into a ball on the ground.
Then, finally, came the tears.
A half hour passed.
Neither Thomas nor Minho had moved an inch.
Thomas had finally stopped crying; he couldn’t help wondering what Minho would think of him, or if he’d tell others, calling him a sissy. But there wasn’t a shred of self-control left in him; he couldn’t have prevented the tears, he knew that. Despite his lack of memory, he was sure he’d just been through the most traumatic night of his life. And his sore hands and utter exhaustion didn’t help.
He crawled to the edge of the Cliff once more, stuck his head over again to get a better look now that dawn was in full force. The open sky in front of him was a deep purple, slowly fading into the bright blue of day, with tinges of orange from the sun on a distant, flat horizon.
He stared straight down, saw that the stone wall of the Maze went toward the ground in a sheer cliff until it disappeared into whatever lay far, far below. But even with the ever-increasing light, he still couldn’t tell what was down there. It seemed as if the Maze was perched on a structure several miles above the ground.
But that was impossible, he thought. It can’t be. Has to be an illusion.
He rolled over onto his back, groaning at the movement. Things seemed to hurt on him and inside him that he’d never known existed before. At least the Doors would be opening soon, and they could return to the Glade. He looked over at Minho, huddled against the hall of the corridor. “I can’t believe we’re still alive,” he said.
Minho said nothing, just nodded, his face devoid of expression.
“Are there more of them? Did we just kill them all?”
Minho snorted. “Somehow we made it to sunrise, or we would’ve had ten more on our butts before long.” He shifted his body, wincing and groaning. “I can’t believe it. Seriously. We made it through the whole night—never been done before.”
Thomas knew he should feel proud, brave, something. But all he felt was tired and relieved. “What did we do differently?”
“I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to ask a dead guy what he did wrong.”
Thomas couldn’t stop wondering about how the Grievers’ enraged cries had ended as they fell from the Cliff, and how he hadn’t been able to see them plummeting to their deaths. There was something very strange and unsettling about it. “Seems like they disappeared or something after they went over the edge.”
“Yeah, that was kinda psycho. Couple of Gladers had a theory that other things had disappeared, but we proved ’em wrong. Look.”
Thomas watched as Minho tossed a rock over the Cliff, then followed its path with his eyes. Down and down it went, not leaving his sight until it grew too small to see. He turned back toward Minho. “How does that prove them wrong?”
Minho shrugged. “Well, the rock didn’t disappear, now, did it?”
“Then what do you think happened?” There was something significant here, Thomas could feel it.
Minho shrugged again. “Maybe they’re magic. My head hurts too much to think about it.”
With a jolt, all thoughts of the Cliff were forgotten. Thomas remembered Alby. “We have to get back.” Straining, he forced himself to get to his feet. “Gotta get Alby off the wall.” Seeing the look of confusion on Minho’s face, he quickly explained what he’d done with the ropes of ivy.
Minho looked down, his eyes dejected. “No way he’s still alive.”
Thomas refused to believe it. “How do you know? Come on.” He started limping back along the corridor.
“Because no one’s ever made it …”
He trailed off, and Thomas knew what he was thinking. “That’s because they’ve always been killed by the Grievers by the time you found them. Alby was only stuck with one of those needles, right?”
Minho stood up and joined Thomas in his slow walk back toward the Glade. “I don’t know, I guess this has never happened before. A few guys have been stung by the needles during the day. And those are the ones who got the Serum and went through the Changing. The poor shanks who got stuck out in the Maze all night weren’t found until later—days later, sometimes, if at all. And all of them were killed in ways you don’t wanna hear about.”
Thomas shuddered at the thought. “After what we just went through, I think I can imagine.”
Minho looked up, surprise transforming his face. “I think you just figured it out. We’ve been wrong—well, hopefully we’ve been wrong. Because no one who’d been stung and didn’t make it back by sunset has ever survived, we just assumed that was the point of no return—when it’s too late to get the Serum.” He seemed excited by his line of thinking.
They turned yet another corner, Minho suddenly taking the lead. The boy’s pace was picking up, but Thomas stayed on his heels, surprised at how familiar he felt with the directions, usually even leaning into turns before Minho showed the way.
“Okay—this Serum,” Thomas said. “I’ve heard that a couple of times now. What is that? And where does it come from?”
“Just what it sounds like, shank. It’s a serum. The Grief Serum.”
Thomas forced out a pathetic laugh. “Just when I think I’ve learned everything about this stupid place. Why is it called that? And why are Grievers called Grievers?”
Minho explained as they continued through the endless turns of the Maze, neither one of them leading now. “I don’t know where we got the names, but the Serum comes from the Creators—or that’s what we call them, at least. It’s with the supplies in the Box every week, always has been. It’s a medicine or antidote or something, already inside a medical syringe, ready to use.” He made a show of sticking a needle in his arm. “Stick that sucker in someone who’s been stung and it saves ’em. They go through the Changing—which sucks—but after that, they’re healed.”