We stand before a stone archway flanked by two knight statues. Their hands hold the hilts of massive swords, the tips resting against the base between their feet. Two black lamps in sconces are directly above them. We move in close to the archway and examine the knights.
Polus pushes and pulls on one to make sure it is sturdy and solid, while Theseus does the same to the other. I extend my senses to see if they hold any remnant of a soul but sense none. When we are satisfied, we proceed down the stone hallway. Similar black lamps decorate the walls, lighting our path. It is a short hallway, and at its end, we are standing before a pair of mahogany doors.
“What in Tartarus?” I ask.
The automaton says nothing but glides through her entryway, the doors opening with a repeat of “Dance of the Knight”. My companions look at me with uncertainty, and my stomach lurches with unease. I take a deep breath and cautiously enter, Theseus and Polus following close behind.
The walls and floor are mahogany like the doors we passed through. Above us are stained glass chandeliers. On the walls are disturbing images of landscapes and people melting into puddles of goop. I stop and stare at one painting. It is of what I think is a male. His eyes are black, full of horror, and his arm is outstretched to the heavens as if calling to some unknown deity. His mouth is open in a silent scream, and his lower jaw bone rests on his chest. Pieces of his flesh hang suspended from his face, arms, and hand, revealing the bone underneath. The flesh makes a long dripping trail to the ground, puddling where his legs and feet should be. I shudder, and as I tear myself away from the image, I find Polus and Theseus examining the paintings as well.
“What kind of world did this place come from, do you suppose? Or are these just a series of short glimpses into the remnant worlds like you and the robot discussed?” Polus asks, looking away from the melting landscape.
“I wish I knew,” I say.
Theseus shakes his head slowly, and we press on to the end of this hallway. Ariadne 256 slides through her opening in the wall beside the French doors. We step slowly into the next hallway, the white linoleum floor nearly blinding. The glass wall is covered in vines, small patches of blue sky and sunshine coming through. Tiny venus fly trap heads have replaced the leaves of the vines. As we pass, they follow our progress and open their tiny little mouths as if debating whether to advance on us.
At the end of this particular hallway is a common wooden door you would find in any house. The automaton passes through her tunnel, but the door does not open this time. We look at each other and sigh in exasperation. We each silently raise a fist and play rock, paper, scissors to see which of us will open the door.
I beat both Polus and Theseus with rock. Theseus beats Polus with paper.
“Fuck! This trip has already been more than any of us have bargained for. That door better not be booby-trapped, or I am really going to be pissed!” Polus says and reaches for the door
As his hand grips the knob, we all involuntarily brace ourselves for something to happen. Polus turns it, and the door opens easily, if not a little creakily. They must not oil those hinges. We enter and take five steps, and another wooden door stands before us.
The cycle repeats. Open door, five steps, door. Open door, five steps, door. Open door, five steps door. Open door, five steps, door. Open, five steps, door. Open, five steps, door!
“What the fuck is with these doors!” Polus yells.
“It is a metaphor for life,” Ariadne 256 answers calmly.
“I will show you a fucking metaphor for life,” Polus growls, his eyes glowing white.
Polus lets loose a scream as he summons all his will and power, raising both fists and punching the air before the next door. The door goes sailing off and is carried on the rip wave of the blast into the next door and onto the next door and so on. The sound of smashing and crashing wood is deafening thunder in the small area, causing the walls and floors to vibrate with the force of the wave.
We watch the doors shatter and splinter into fragments and dust. Polus exhales slowly through the nose as he lowers his arms and unclenches his fists. He licks his lips as he looks at us, a smile breaking out on his face. Theseus and I break into laughter and applaud his work. The automaton appears flustered as it wrings its hands together, completely unsure of what to do now that Polus has altered the labyrinth.
“Gentlemen, the door is open, literally,” Polus says.
“Shall we?” Theseus asks.
“Let’s shall,” I say.
The three of us march down the long hallway to the scent of sawdust, whistling, “We are off to see the Wizard” in unison. The automaton moves slowly along her track alongside us. Its eyes are wide and fearful as it glances over at the three of us. We come to the end of this stretch at a revolving door. We proceed through, and on the other side is the all too familiar white tile wall.
A pair of pink glass doors with black glass handles stand before us now. Above it in pink writing is one word, repeated three times. “Toro, Toro, Toro!” which means bull in Spanish.
“Oh shit, I got a bad feeling about this,” Theseus says, his eyes fixed on the phrase above the door. As the automaton passes through its tunnel, a flourish of “Oh Fortuna” by Carl Orff plays. Theseus’s hand goes to the hilt of his sword. He swallows hard and draws it. Polus and I pick up on his sudden unease. I summon my scythe while Polus balls his fists. With a sense of trepidation in the air, we pass through the doors, tensing as they slam behind us.
We find ourselves in a circular room. There is a rumbling sound from below as the ground starts to shake. Stone walls rise around us, forcing us into the center of the room. We stand back to back, shoulder to shoulder, weapons at the ready. Part of the newly formed wall slides away, making a doorway. The sound of mechanical footsteps echo against the tile, and we turn our attention to the darkness as two red orbs appear. I can feel my friends tense as whatever is stalking us draws closer.
As it steps into the light, I am unsurprised to see an automaton of the fabled Minotaur. Its wide shoulders scrape the sides of the entryway as it passes through. The massive horns on either side of its head are golden. Its barrel chest is made of a clear see-through material, so you can see every gear turning. Its red eyes focus on us, letting loose a bellow followed by a snort. Steam pours from its nostrils as it lowers its head and charges at us, running at full speed.
We split off in three directions, ducking, dodging, and diving out of the monster’s way. It runs headlong into one of the stone walls, causing the stone to crack in a spiderweb formation. The beast shakes its head and turns faster than a machine its size should move. It opens its mouth, letting out a roar and charging at us again, completely undeterred.
Theseus lets loose a return battle cry, running at it with his sword raised. As he nears it, he drops to his knees, sliding on them for a moment to slice one of the Minotaur’s legs. The automaton stumbles from side to side as Polus’s fist makes contact with the side of its face, sending it veering off course. I open my wings, flying up and around the stumbling beast, slicing its back with my scythe.
Theseus gets up and launches himself into the air, screaming as he plunges his sword into the back of its neck. The beast lurches forward and lands on its knees. Theseus places a foot onto its back and kicks forward, pulling out his sword. The Minotaur falls, slowly rolling to its side and then onto its back. The three of us surround it.
The Minotaur’s breathing, or what passes for breathing, sounds labored and shallow. Its red eyes soften as it looks between the three of us. Its gaze stops on Theseus, and it beckons him with its hand. Theseus kneels, and the Minotaur whispers into his ear. As he listens, his eyes widen, his face grows slack, and all the color drains from his face.
Polus and I exchange nervous glances as Theseus looks back at the Minotaur. The Minotaur nods its head and then lays it on the ground. Theseus rises to his feet and drives his sword through the chest of the creature. The light of the Minotaurs’ eyes goes out, and the gears stop moving. The walls slowly recede.
“Theseus, what did it tell you?” I ask.
“Daedalus has finally found a way to cheat death. Alchemy mixed with necromancy magick in the form of boxes that trap souls so he can put them into the bodies of the automaton, keeping them alive forever,” Theseus says as his gaze falls on Ariadne 256. “If their robot body is damaged, they get resurrected into a new model.”
“Madness, bedlam, and blasphemy! We must destroy these boxes and set these souls free,” I say.
“What do we do with Daedalus, then?” Polus asks.
“We will cross that bridge when we come to it. But I am sure when the time comes, an opportunity will present itself,” I say, calmer than I actually felt.
“What are we acting on, Than?” Theseus asks.
“I am not sure I follow,” I admit.
“Are we acting as agents of justice and Dike, or are we agents of retribution and your sister Nemesis?” Theseus asks.
“I am afraid we have to be both in this scenario,” I answer.
“I can live with that,” Polus says.
“As can I,” Theseus adds.
“I can as well,” I admit.
“Come, champions, do not dally. The next door is that of the maker,” Ariadne 256 says as she moves down her track. We follow her to the next tile wall, which has a pair of black glass doors with red glass door handles. Etched above the door in black letters are two words. “The Inventor”.