The following is a description of The Labryinth as described in The Death Gate Cycle, which is a series of books written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. If you're reading the series now, or plan to, I will be trying to keep the spoilers to a minimum. But something inadvertent may slip in, so tread carefully.
A brief history of the world
Instead of just blurting out a definition and description of the Labyrinth, it helps to know why and how it was created. So for those of you who haven't read the series, I am providing a small summary of the creation of the Labyrinth. This includes an abbreviated history of the world...
The books are set in the distant future of our earth.
After man unleashed hell upon himself (in the late twentieth century) Dwarves and Elves reemerged from the rubble. Magic was reintroduced upon the world, the primary beneficiaries were the elves and the humans. Elves, tending toward the spiritual, used magic to enhance their technology, so the primary elven magic was mechanical in nature. Humans, tending toward the physical, used magic to enhance their spiritual needs, so human magic dealt with controlling beasts, and other humans, and other summoning type spells.
After an undisclosed period of time, two "mutant" strains of humans came to be. These strains were Sartan and Patryn. Both races used rune magic, which was much more powerful and dynamic than either human or elven magic, and both races became extremely powerful, and became the self-appointed leaders of the world.
The Sartan saw themselves as beneficient leaders who tried to govern fairly, and help guide the mensch (mensch is a collective term the Sartan and Patryn used to refer to humans, elves, and dwarves) as parents would guide their children - which is exactly how they saw the mensch, as immature, incompetent children. Sartans were great builders, and designed beautiful cities for the mensch and themselves. Eventually, the mensch bestowed deity status to the Sartan, and although the Sartan denied godhood, they began to believe it themselves, even as they renounced it.
The Patryns saw themselves as loners and rebels. They had strong family bonds, but little loyalty or honor outside of the family unit. They used their magic for self-indulgence, ambition, and greed. Not a few had visions of world domination. Patryns, however, liked to work behind the scenes, working the strings of their mensch puppets.
The Sartan and the Patryns became natural enemies, and bitter wars were fought.
As the years passed and wars went on, the Patryns were becoming more powerful, and it even appeared that they would win. Since the Sartan saw themselves as compassionate leaders (as opposed to belevolent dictators), and they saw the Patryns as evil, they could not allow this to happen.
They proposed to sunder the world into its elemental fragments, and create a prison for their enemies, and (after the rehabilitation of the Patryns) a world of their own for them. All the living Sartan gathered, and cast a spell that literally ripped the world apart and divided it into the air, fire, stone and water components, the Nexus (where the Patryns could live by themselves in peace), and the Labyrinth (the tribulation the Patryns must survive in order to obtain the Nexus).
This is how the Sartan won the war.
The elemental worlds are noded in Arianus, Pryan, Abarrach, and Chelestra.
The Labyrinth was designed to be a rehabilitation world for the Sartan's ememies. The rationale behind its creation was that the Patryns would have to band together and work in harmony with one another in order to overcome this difficult world. (i.e. become more Sartan-like). By doing so, they would learn valuable lessons, in peace, teamwork, loyalty, honor, and as a bonus, it would also remove the Patryn's unwelcome influence on the mensch.
In actuality, the Labyrinth was a horrific death-trap. It is filled with evil creatures, who are hell-bent on destroying anything that moves, especially Patryns. The Labyrinth itself tries to turn the magic of its wielders against them. Every waking moment is a life and death struggle for Patryns who are still trapped within.
Instead of challenging the Patryns and forcing them to band together, it began to kill them, and was the perfect incubator for their seething hatred of the Sartan. Every death in the Labyrinth is attributed to the Sartan, and pledges of hatred and revenge are spoken. "Never Forget", they say. It did have one intended consequence, however. Patryns became fiercely loyal to one another. They die protecting each other, and their children.
Few Patryns marry, life being so transient in the Labyrinth. But those who do bond to each other, do so with these vows:
My life for your life.
My death for your life.
My life for your death.
My death for your death.
That is to say:
"While we live, we will live as one.
I would sacrifice my life to save yours.
If you die, I will spend my life avenging you.
If you die, a part of me will die with you."
Generations within the Labyrinth have given the Patryns a rather fatalistic outlook.
Creatures of the Labyrinth
- Wolfen: Wolf-like creatures, who hunt by scent and kill with relentless glee. The Wolfen attack in packs. They do not use magic, but they are resiliant against it. Wolfen are not the most dangerous of the Labyrinth creatures, but you wouldn't want to run into a pack alone.
- Tiger-men: Like wolfen, Tiger-men hunt in packs. The have the added danger in that they can wield rudimentary magic. They are most dangerous, however, at hand to hand combat. Their claws rend Patryn rune structures, and inflict serious damage. They also use magical projectile weapons, which can take down a Patryn, at which point they can kill them at their leisure.
- Chaodyn: You get one chance to kill them. Chaodyn are man-sized insects with an impenetrable carapace. They have one weak spot on their chest, but you must strike directly into the creature's heart killing it instantly, because they heal immediately, and if any blood is spilled, the blood turns into another Chaodyn, and then you are facing two where you were facing one. Very dangerous - very stupid creatures. They do, however, fight with swords.
- Snogs: Little is told about Snogs in the Death Gate Cycle, but it does say that Snogs are hard to detect because they look and talk like Patryns. The difference is that their rune tattoos (Patryns tattoo magical runes all over their bodies) are mirror images of what would appear on a real Patryn. I assume that Snogs are magical, but it is never explicitly stated. (Snogs killed Haplo's parents).
- Dragons: Dragons are the most dangerous of the conventional Labyrinth creatures. They are almost impossible to kill. The only Patryn to ever defeat one was Lord Xar. They are intelligent, cruel and magical. When they capture a Patryn they incapacitate them, and begin to torture them to death. Then they use their magic to restore their victims, only to torture them near to death again. Only after they grow bored with their victim do they finally kill them, and begin to hunt for their next sport.
- Dragon-Snakes: Dragon snakes cannot accurately be called a Labyrinth creatures. They are very powerful supernatural creatures created during the sundering. They are the personification of hatred and evil in the universe. They are found originally on Chelestra, and were frozen for most of the time between the Sundering and the opening of Death Gate. When Death Gate was opened, they spread to the other realms, including the Nexus and the Labyrinth. They have the ability to morph into any form they choose. And they feed on fear and strife. Therefore they do not kill anyone themselves, unless it serves to incite conflict. Rather they flatter people in power (like Haplo, and later Xar and Samah), all the while undermining them, and pitting them against each other. Prevalant among the Dragon-Snakes is one called Sang-Drax (which is the elven translation of "Serpant Dragon").
Within the labyrinth are areas, partitioned by gates. The nature of gates is not gone into great detail, but they seemed to be numbered, and follow some sort of level system which start at the center, and increases as the Patryns extended outward. The falling of a gate is implied to have some significance, and mark periods of time.
Patryns measure their age in gates, although it's not determined if a "Gate" is a constant time period.
Other Labyrinth Inhabitants
The Patryns were not the only unfortunate people to be cast into the Labyrinth. Many Sartan were imprisoned there as well. Dissenters and other Sartan who opposed the Sundering were sent there as well. Two notable Sartan who found themselves within the Labyrinth were Zifnab (who escaped almost immediately), and Alfred Montebank, who was sent there after a confrontation with Samah.
Other Sartan were sent there as well. Some learned to live in relative harmony with the Patryns, and eventually, even began to intermarry, and "half-breeds" were born. These Sartan/Patryn mixtures use both Sartan and Patryn magic in complimentary ways.
In the history of the Labyrinth, only one mensch has ever entered. Hugh the Hand, a human from Arianus follows the Sartan Alfred into the Labyrinth in order to be released from life. Alfred casts a spell on Hugh, and Hugh cannot die (or kill - major bummer, since Hugh is a professional assassin). Hugh wants desperately to die and only Alfred can remove the spell.
After centuries of being trapped in the Labyrinth, the Patryns finally managed to escape. The very first Patryn to ever defeat the Labyrinth and escape into the Nexus was Lord Xar. He entered into the Nexus and learned this history of the world, and learned of the other worlds and of Death Gate, from the books the Sartan left there to educate the Patryns after their rehabilitation. He went back into the Labyrinth and began helping other Patryns escape. He is the only Patryn who has ever voluntarily gone back into the Labyrinth after escaping. He does this in order to amass an army against the Sartan.
In the very center of the Labyrinth is a city. The city of Abri, is located near the Vortex (the entry point of the Labyrinth), and was built by Patryns and Sartan half-breeds who decided that it would be in their best interest to fortify a city, instead of spending their lives trying to defeat the Labyrinth. The city is located at the base of a giant mountain (in which many escape routes are built), near the River of Anger. The rushing river provides protection against the Labyrinth creatures, and lookouts are posted everywhere, but the city provides a safe haven amidst chaos.
The leader of the city is a half-breed named Headman Vasu.
The city has fought off countless attacks, but its greatest danger was after the Dragon-Snakes entered the Labyrinth and began to organize the creatures against Abri. For days the battle raged until the Dragon-Snakes realized that it would cause more fear hatred and war if they traveled to the end of the Labyrinth and seal it shut, trapping the Patryns inside forever.
Since this is the climax of the series, I will refrain from detailing the end of this battle, but I will say that this battle wasn't faught in the Labyrinth alone, but encompassed all the worlds of the mensch as well.