The automaton stops and gazes at the black doors. There is an air of hesitation on its part to enter the tunnel that will grant us access to Daedalus, our intended target. The black doors are taller, wider, more opulent than the other doors we passed through. It speaks volumes on human vanity.
My mind races, and my heart joins it as I maul over what the Minotaur told Theseus, and he relayed to us. As we stand before the final door, thoughts of the automatons, Icarus, and the Minotaur all swirl in my head. I nearly have an answer to a larger puzzle, but before it can fully form, my thoughts are interrupted by the automaton.
“My lords,” it says in a hushed tone of reverence, “my maker!”
Tears flow from its eyes, down its cheeks, and glisten in the light. It bows its head and makes a grand sweeping gesture toward the doors. It remains in that pose as it goes down the track and through the tunnel. The doors open, granting us access. The music that begins to play is “Lacrimosa” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. How grandiose of him. The song means to weep in Latin.
The three of us enter a massive circular room akin to a cathedral with gray stone walls, stained-glass windows letting in artificial sunlight, and a dome ceiling. Hewn into the circular stone walls are staircases leading all the way to the ceiling, hand railings, and doorways leading to rooms. Looking over these banisters are automatons of men, women, and children. Their eyes are full of fear and wonder, touched with a twinge of hatred.
In the center of the room, under a brilliantly white spot of light, is the inventor himself. Behind him is a massive circular stained glass window. He sits inside a metal box with two oxygen-pumping apparatuses on either side, forming some sort of iron lung. A tube leads from the pumps into his nostrils. His faded blue eyes are full of life and intelligence. They focus on us, filling with contempt as a sneer breaks out on his ancient face.
“Come, come into the light, gentlemen, and let our palaver begin,” Daedalus invites us.
We brace ourselves as we step into the light, but we find no trickery. It is simply light. The Ariadne 256 remains in her bowing pose behind the immortal inventor. Daedalus’s sneer turns into a spiteful smile as he waits for us to make the first move.
“We have come seeking answers, ancient one. The gods were attacked recently by a user of golden magicks by one known as Gerard. I need to know how he acquired your magicks and his whereabouts,” I say.
“Oh, yes! Of course, you need to know, my lord!” Daedalus answers, his voice full of scorn and mockery. “What, can’t the almighty gods divine the whereabouts of one lowly mortal? Aren’t you all-powerful? Did you say his name was Gerard? A blessed name, one for the ages, he has dealt a mighty blow for the mortals against you tyrannical gods! And you, my Lord Death, are the worst of all of them.”
I feel my temper flare inside of me as a ball of white-hot rage, and I beat it down with a couple of calming breaths. This man is wily, and I wish not to offset him, yet he springs a trap on us.
“I can see immortality has served you poorly. You have not grown in wisdom but contempt and hatred. I am but a form of change, the final change, for there is life to be had after death. I am as inevitable as the tide or the sun to rise and set. I would offer you rest had it not been for the curse keeping you here. Would you allow me to try?” I say.
Daedalus’s eyes are livid as he replies, hot spittle flying from his mouth. I have struck a chord with my calmness and my words.
“I have defeated you! I have found a way to keep you away! Inevitable! Inevitable! I have built a dam, a wall to stem your tide! Me! Me! A lowly mortal! Look around you. What do you see?! You see my children! My grandchildren! Never aging like me! Eternal as the sun! Unable to be touched even by you!” Daedalus roars.
“Foolish, old goat, do you not know dams burst, walls crumble and break. You have merely prolonged their existence in this unnatural half state. Haven’t you wondered why your son continues to leap to his doom from that hill?” I ask.
“I…I…I..” Daedalus searches for words, but I speak before he can find any.
“His soul is traumatized from his horrific death. Yet, you ripped him out of the Underworld and the peace of the afterlife. He relives the trauma again and again, as most ghosts do. He is in denial of what has happened to him in both life and death. You have an unstable soul in a machine’s body, and you expect it to be well. That is on you,” I say.
“No! No, that’s not true! That is impossible. I loved my son and you…you stole him from me!” Daedalus yells.
“Yes, very sad, anyway it would seem hubris has always been your downfall,” I say. “I grow weary of your self-righteous anger and this palaver. You will tell me who Gerard is, and we will put an end to this farce, restoring the natural order.”
“No, I refuse. We are done here. I command you to leave me and my labyrinth!” Daedalus says.
I summon my scythe and unfurl my wings to their full extent. I allow my aura to slip, filling the room with a cold that would permeate the soul of mortals and strike the fear of death into their hearts. The inventor feels it as his eye widen and a gasp escapes his lips. The automatons watching feel it, all of them backing away from the railings and out of sight. Ariadne 256 rises, placing both hands up in a surrendering gesture. Daedalus pants in short, fast breaths as I approach the iron lung. I lean in, our noses almost touching as my obsidian eyes gaze into the faded blue of his.
“I am a god! I am the lord of souls and the undying lands! You shall command me nothing!” I roar.
I place my hand on the door to the iron lung, and the metal begins to age and corrode beneath my touch. I do not break eye contact or pull my aura back as the door gives way and falls. The metallic thud of it hitting the ground echoes off the walls of the room. I step back, folding my wings close and pulling my aura in. I give a nod to Polus, and he steps in, removing the shriveled body of Daedalus from the lung.
The inventor’s eyes are wide, full of fear and hate as they roll around in his head. Polus’s hand tightens around Daedalus’s throat, and he bares his teeth, letting out a growl. He reminds me more of a rabid dog than a man at the moment. Daedalus grips the Titan’s wrist with both hands for support. Theseus moves to the back wall and places his hand on it. Daedalus’s eyes follow him. Theseus places his cheek against the center of the wall with both his palms against it. He appears to be listening to something. Daedalus squirms in Polus’s grip, and Polus shakes him to get him to stop.
“I thought so,” Theseus says. “It’s a false wall. There is something behind it, and I can feel and hear the air coming through the crack.”
“How do we open it?” I ask the automaton.
Ariadne 256 smiles and begins to move to the back wall.
“Don’t you dare,” Daedalus begins, but his words are choked off by Polus.
Ariadne 256 places its hand on the wall. Her fingers begin to move in a circular pattern, and the crack in the center becomes more prevalent. The wall begins to recede in two different directions, causing the room to rumble and shake as they move back on their tracks. Theseus enters, followed by the automaton. Polus and I follow soon after, bringing the inventor with us.
The room is an alchemist’s laboratory. Vials, beakers, and chemicals rest on tables. Shelves holding books and pieces of parchment line the walls. I see mirrored glass and frames, the same mirrored pieces used to ensnare us in dreams. Then my heart stops.
A sudden chill runs up my spine as I break out in gooseflesh, my stomach dropping. I see black boxes with gold symbols etched into them. They are the same type that Sisyphus imprisoned me in when I was in Corinth. Daedalus was the inventor then, too. I count, and there is a box for every god. I turn on my heels to face the inventor to find that contemptuous sneer back on his face.
“You have much to answer for,” I growl.
Daedalus draws back and spits on me. The hot spittle lands on my cheek, and I wipe it away with the back of my hand. Polus begins to shake the inventor. He flails wildly in the Titan’s grip. I search the vials and beakers until I spot one with a bright neon blue liquid simmering over a flame. I recognize it at once. It’s Lamnus juice, truth serum, how fortuitous. I can’t help but wonder. Did my sisters, the fates, set that up for us? Daedalus’s gaze follows mine, and realization of what comes next fills his eyes. He begins to struggle and squirms in Polus’s grip as I make my way to the serum.
I retrieve the beaker and bring it back to the squirming inventor. Polus places Daedalus down on a nearby stool and pinches his nose shut, forcing him to breathe as he tips his head back. I pour the serum down his throat, and Polus closes his jaw and holds it. There is a momentary struggle as the inventor refuses to swallow, but swallow it, he does. Soon his body grows lax, and his eyes glaze over, the serum taking effect. He is ready to answer our questions.
“Can you hear me?” I ask.
“Yes,” Daedalus says.
“Gerard, who is he? And the mirrors, what do you know of them? They have your fingerprints all over it, ancient one,” I ask.
“My last living grandson. I am so proud of him. I merely assisted in the mirror’s construction and gladly too. Afterward, I gave them their magickal blessing,” Deadlus says, smiling widely.
“The boxes?” I ask.
“The next phase of the plan. The mirrors were only phase one. We are to wear you all down, break you all, imprison you all, and the world of man will be free of all godly influence,” Daedalus answers.
I look over my shoulder at my companions. I see all I need to see from their shocked and worried expressions. I turn my attention back to Daedalus. I need to ask my next questions quickly. I am not sure how much longer the serum will last.
“Oh yes, the glory hounds. Tell me who would mourn the damned, the lost, the broken, and the forsaken? You? Most definitely not! They are so eager to fill the holes inside of them that they rush in, damn the consequences. They got what was promised, and I kept every broken one of them,” Daedalus says.
“Ariadne?” Theseus asks.
“Hmm? Oh, yes, her, I suppressed her soul to make her more compliant,” Daedalus says proudly.
“I have heard enough,” I say.
Daedalus begins to blink rapidly as the serum begins to wear off. Polus moves in to restrain him, and Theseus draws his sword. I survey the laboratory, and I know what needs to be done.