Eleni and I teleported to the front steps of Clio’s Face of History Museum along with Calli, Ao, and two hand-trucks with boxes of Grecian theater masks. The wolves shook their heads, slightly disoriented from the jump.
Eleni looked at me and said, “I still hate that, it makes me sick.”
I flashed her a smile and replied, “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it after four or five hundred years.” I recently gave Eleni ambrosia, with Aunt Hestia’s blessing, to repay her the favor for helping to save me several months ago. For all intents and purposes she was immortal, not deified, but immortal.
She laughed. “I guess time is on my side now. Come on, let’s get these in to Clio, then go get lunch. I am starving.”
“Right,” I said as we climbed the steps to the door and entered. The docent at the desk took us to what looked like a small conference room, with a long table and some chairs.
“I’ll let Clio know you are here,” she said, exiting the room and closing the door behind herself.
Eleni and I began carefully opening and sorting the boxes as we laid them out on the table for Clio to examine. My collection of masks had been with me for many years. Usually made of wool, linen, or leather, they were worn by the actors in ancient Greece to portray different characters on stage. The masks covered a range of time periods as well as materials. We were still unpacking the boxes when Clio opened the door and entered.
“Dinlas, Eleni, how are you?” she said with a warm smile.
“Clio, it’s so good to see you. How have you been feeling?”
Clio answered as we hugged, “I have good days and bad with my headaches. Today is a good one. How is your memory doing? Everything still okay?”
I nodded, then glanced at the partially open door as Clio’s pet fox, named Duck, slipped into the room and proceeded to freeze in a standoff with my wolves.
“Girls,” I said, “leave Duck alone.”
The girls whined for a moment in harmony, then came and laid down at my feet. For his part, Duck jumped onto the table and proceeded to begin cleaning and preening, seemingly unconcerned by Calli and Ao’s dark glances.
“Okay, so what do we have here? Are these all of the masks?” asked Clio as she examined the table.
“Yes,” I replied as Eleni stepped closer to Duck and rubbed behind his ears.
Clio frowned as she peered at the table of masks, some in small vacuum-sealed cases and others in boxes.
“Is something wrong?” asked Eleni as she watched the perplexed look on the muse’s face.
“Well, these two,” she pointed to two of the linen masks, “these aren’t genuine. They’re fakes, probably from the second or third century.
“Really? Are you sure?” I asked.
Clio cut her eyes at me, pointed to herself, and said, “Umm, Muse of History.”
I felt foolish for questioning her, but I just couldn’t believe I had fakes in my collection. “But…I mean…you’re sure?”
“Din Din, I don’t question how you get stabby with your sword, don’t tell me how to read history.” Eleni burst into laughter and I felt my face flush. Clio is one of few people who I would allow that to go by without a retort. Clio saw my red face, smiled, and patted me on the cheek. She then turned back to the collection of masks. Eleni, Duck and I all watched while the girls snoozed under the table and the muse sorted the masks, muttering to herself about how and where she would display them in the museum. She was near the end when she paused at a leather mask, her hand hovering over it as if she were afraid to touch it.
“What’s the matter, Clio?” I asked as she clearly hesitated at this mask.
“This, this mask,” she replied after a moment, but then said no more.
I waited for her to elaborate, but when she didn’t I asked, “What about it?”
She didn’t answer, but instead gingerly touched it, then pulled her hand back as if she had been shocked or burned by it.
“I don’t want it in here. You need to take it back, Dinlas.”
“Sure Clio, but can I ask why?”
“Possessed?” Eleni and I echoed in unison.
Clio continued to look at the mask but refused to touch it. She turned to us and said, “In ancient times there was a running play in Greece about the Minotaur. The play was an extremely unflattering view of Minoan people and their culture. The final act of the play involved the Minotaur killing many of the citizens and the king reveling in the bloodshed. One night, the actor wearing the mask transformed and went insane, killing the other actors as well as members of the Greek audience. It was said that a Minoan witch, descended directly from King Minos himself, cursed the mask. All who wore it would become possessed by the spirit of the Minotaur and commit its same atrocious deeds.”
Eleni scoffed as she walked over next to Clio and looked at the leather mask on the table. It was dark, stained with the oil of the thousands of hands that had touched it, and did have a sinister look to it. The leather mask covered the cheeks, chin, and forehead with leather straps that came off the edges and tied in the back to hold it in place. A slit was cut for the eyes and was open across the bridge of the nose and a hole over the mouth allowed for speech.
Clio gave a small gasp when Eleni picked it up and turned it over in her hands while examining it. “Please Eleni, put it down. It has a dreadful energy coming off of it.”
Clio was right, through my glasses, I could see the mask actually exhibited a black aura. Menacing and angry it was.
Eleni chuckled at the muse and suddenly held the mask out to Duck, who jumped back quickly, startled by the sudden movement. He gave a yip and a bark then eyed Eleni curiously. I watched her too, she was acting peculiar and it wasn’t clear at the time what was happening.
Eleni held the mask up and looked at the inside of it. It was stained with who knows what in many places. Sweat? Perhaps blood? It was unclear but the next thing Eleni did was definitely unexpected, she pressed the mask up to her face.
Clio reached out as Eleni put her face in the mask, to try and stop her. From our vantage point, it looked as if Eleni was in a trance and couldn’t help but put it on. The moment it touched her face the mask seared itself to her skin, Eleni broke from her trance and tried to pull it back off.
The mask, adhered to her face, seemed to meld itself into her features as she now began thrashing to pull it off. Eleni stumbled backward and fell out of sight on the other side of the table.
“Clio, what is happening?” I exclaimed as the wolves both jumped up from under the table and her fox scampered back out of the way.
Clio shook her head as she took a step back. “I don’t know. It’s…it looks like she is transforming…”
I stepped around the table and saw a horrifying sight on the floor as Eleni kicked, thrashed, and struggled to remove the mask that was now firmly affixed to her face. It looked like a second skin. As she struggled, her body began to grow, her shoulders broadened and became more muscular. Her shirt ripped in multiple places as her body grew and changed. My petite assistant grew in size and mass as she flailed and thrashed on the floor in what appeared to be agony. But as shocking as her bodily changes were, even more appalling was her head which slowly twisted and morphed into that of a bull. Horns sprouted and a thick bluish, almost black, wiry hair sprouted all over her body. Calli and Ao were now on their feet, hackles raised, snarling and growling at the beast on the floor. When the change was complete it sprang up and lunged forward between Clio and I. It, well Eleni, snarled between the two of us as it tried to decide who to attack first. Darting in from somewhere, Duck slipped in and bit the fully formed Minotaur on its heel string, causing it to bellow and swat at the agile fox. Duck swerved out of reach of the Minotaur and another roar of frustration shook the room.
“Clio, get back,” I said, pulling her out of reach of the creature.
The muse struggled against me and said, “No, Duck! I need to get Duck!” The monster swung a clawed hand in her direction, narrowly missing.
“Clio, get back,” I repeated as I pushed her behind me. For his part, Duck shot out again, bit the creature on the leg and then retreated. The minotaur turned and focused now on Calli and Ao who were snarling and encircling it.
The minotaur snarled back, then turned to Duck, and took another swipe. In an impossible move that only a nimble fox could pull off, Duck jumped straight vertical as the clawed hand swept under him, then landed on his feet and disappeared between the wolves and me.
I drew my sword and stared at the creature. It was Eleni. At least I think it was still Eleni, though any semblance of her was gone, and instead there stood a seven-foot-tall snarling minotaur with wretched fangs and a piss-poor disposition. I crouched low while the monster eyed us, wolves and fox included, as if it were deciding to fight or flee. Clio needed no urging to retreat now as she visibly flinched and backed away from the snarling beast. Duck, on the other hand, darted out a third time and bit the creature on the leg before escaping under the table with a yip and a bark. Seizing on its moment of distraction, I slapped the minotaur on its ribcage with the flat of my sword. I still couldn’t bring myself to attack since I had no idea if it would hurt Eleni.
The minotaur had had enough for the moment. Two wolves, two deities, and an unnervingly feisty fox were more than it wanted to deal with. With a casual shove of its hand, the table with the priceless theater masks was tossed aside. That allowed it to sidestep us and bolt for the door. It never slowed down as it lowered its shoulder and smashed through the wood and disappeared into the hall. The minotaur moved with unnatural speed and agility as it fled from us toward the main entrance. I chased after it but by the time I reached the lobby of the museum, it was gone, smashed through the front doors and out into the busy street. Clio arrived behind me and pulled on my arm.
“What just happened?” she asked as she looked at the damage to the front door of the museum. Duck appeared and jumped into her arms. The fox was wide-eyed and trembling as Clio stroked him and tried to calm him. I had to admit, when it came to protecting Clio he was more brash than common sense.
I looked at her and replied, “You tell me. What was that mask?”
“Cursed, It was cursed. It felt vengeful and angry, like it contained a violent spirit,” she said.
“Violent and angry, you mean like the ancient Minotaur? An ancient monster of superhuman strength that feeds on mortals?”
Clio kept looking out the doors, but nodded her head and whispered, “Yeah, like that. Just like that.”