Our attention falls on the television screen. I wonder if he can see and hear us as my eyes search for a camera.
“My lord and creator speaks,” Ariadne 256 says, gesturing a hand to the screen.
“Greetings, travelers, and welcome to my abode. I hope you are enjoying the sights, especially that last one,” Daedalus says in a reedy quavery voice wearing a triumphant smirk on his face.
“You’re a monster,” Theseus says in a faint whisper as his eyes fall on Ariadne 256.
“A little louder, demi-god. I am elderly and hard of hearing,” Daedalus says with a chuckle.
“I said you’re a monster!” Theseus roars, hot spit flying from his mouth.
“Easy does it. He is attempting to goad you, and it is working,” I tell Theseus.
Daedalus laughs at Theseus’s outburst. The sound of it sets my teeth on edge. He even begins to clap and wipe a tear from his eye.
“Monster?! Do you three believe you are the heroes here or heroes at all? You, Theseus the great hero, are nothing more than a half-bred cur whose whore mother slept with the sea god. Slayer of the Minotaur! Did you ever see things from his point of view? Then there is the Titan, the escaped prisoner from Tartarus. In your heyday, you were a murder of women, children, and men. How are you making your atonements with all that blood on your hands? And you, Death God, are the biggest villain to all of mankind, and I will prove it,” Daedalus says, chastising all of us.
“Trying to get a rise out of me,” I say with a tsk. “Long life has ill-suited you. Let me relieve you of the burden so you may rest in peace, possibly be reunited with Icarus.”
“How dare you speak his name!” Daedalus yelled.
The automaton covered its ears and coward at his raised voice like a child who has gotten caught in the cookie jar. I side-eye Polus. He gives me a small nod, and I watch the air swirl around his fists. When his eyes turn white, I raise two fingers as a hold gesture. I am not quite done yet. Daedalus composes himself before he speaks again.
“Tell me, heroes,” he says with an air of mockery, “how did it feel not to be able to save the bitch cunt witch from her fate? How does it feel to know you have failed? I hope it stung! Seek me beyond the black doors, and we will hold our palaver—”
There was possibly more, but I grew weary of this and desired to push on. I directed my fingers at the screen, and Polus let loose his power. The television bent and twisted out of shape as the screen cracked. Something inside blew and caused a small fire. The smoldering television fell to the ground, emitting smoke. I nodded in satisfaction.
“The black doors, huh? How many more doors do you think until we get there?” Polus asks.
“There are five more doors until we reach the maker’s home within the center of the labyrinth,” Ariadne 256 says and press forward.
As the doors open, we are greeted by a solo guitar playing. It is played in a classical style, and the song is, of course, “El Dorado” by Dannis Gore. We enter as the doors close behind us.
True enough to the music and words above the doors, everything in this place is gold, the buildings, the streets, the cars, the sidewalks, and the people. Even the sky is a golden color. It is as if King Midas exploded, releasing his curse upon the populace. As we walk down the center of the street, we can’t help but look at the people.
Their bodies are cast in gold, trapping them in the last horrifying moments of their lives, preserving their agony for all eternity. They were fleeing, but I couldn’t be sure from what. Their eyes are all wide and full of terror. Their mouths open in silent, eternal screams. Some lay prone on the ground while others trample them underfoot. Some appear to be crawling away. Mothers hold their children close to their breasts while the children’s faces are buried in those breasts. Fathers huddle around their families with arms outstretched as if to protect them from their fate. Some people stand before open car doors while others are in the cars. No one escaped. This is the scene for as far as the eye can see.
As we move further into this level, we see that some had taken a moment for one last kiss with their lovers, partners, or significant others. They are trapped in a never-ending golden kiss.
The heat in here is oppressive. Theseus and Polus wipe sweat from the back of their necks and foreheads.
“I feel like a baked ham,” Theseus says.
“It’s about as hot as Tartarus in here,” Polus agrees.
“I agree this is becoming unbearable,” I say.
As we progress, the heat beats down on us. I can’t help but notice how labored our breathing has become. Our breathing becomes labored, our footsteps falling sluggishly, and our steps drag as we all stagger to keep upright. The automaton is unphased and continues to move down its track with ease.
I look around as my vision begins to blur and water. I see golden bodies hanging out of the windows in some of the buildings we pass. My clothes cling to me as I finally fall to my knees, panting. Theseus falls next to me as he slowly gasps for air. Polus staggers up and takes a large panting breath in, and picks Theseus and me up. He throws over a shoulder and plods forward. It is the titan strength and indomitable spirit I have always admired despite their misgivings. He carries us one slow staggering footstep at a time. He bares his teeth and grunts with every step until we reach the next doors.
He deposits us on the ground and collapses to his knees. We slowly struggle to our knees, joining him as we look at a pair of azure glass doors with lime green glass door handles. I look above the door, and although my vision is blurry, I can make out the words above.
“If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.”
It is from Walt Witman’s Leaves of Grass. It makes me wonder what we shall see beyond this door as I begin to crawl to it, followed by my companions. The doors open to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Dark Pastoral. We crawl through, and the doors close behind us as we find ourselves in cool soft grass under an overcast sky. The soft breeze against our hot skin feels like Elysium. We lay there in the grass, cooling off and catching our breaths. I hear the sound of rushing water nearby.
“Water…” I croak out.
“Is it safe?” Theseus croaks back.
“It is safe. Drink your fill, travelers,” Ariadne 256 replies.
We all slowly rise to our feet and head to the sound of the water. It is a clear stream with a rock-lined bottom. We fall to our knees before the banks like worshippers at a shrine. The water is blessedly cold, almost freezing on our hot skin as we plunge our hands in. We cup our hands, scooping up the cold water and drinking it. It is sweet and refreshing ambrosia. Then we splash our faces and the backs of our necks. Each one of us submerses our heads in the water to come up and shake our heads vigorously. We break out in gales of laughter. I am not sure what is so funny, but it can’t be helped. Thunder rumbles in the distance, and we stop laughing, looking in that direction.
“Think it will rain?” Polus asks, taking another drink from the stream.
“One can hope,” I say as lightning flashes in the distance.
We each take another drink or two, then return to the automaton and the path through this level of the labyrinth. We march through the waist-high grass as it glides along next to us. The wind is picking up as more flashes of lightning appear in the sky above us. Long rolling claps of thunder are only getting closer, and a storm is imminent as the scent of petrichor fills our noses.
The rain starts with small cold pellets of water from the sky, then to a steady drizzle, and finally a heavy shower. Like the cool grass and cold water, the rain is a blessing to us after dealing with the suffocating heat of the last level. We continue forward as lightning fills the sky accompanied by thunder. As the cold rain abates, I can see the familiar white tiled wall of the next level.
We find two glass walls and a glass ceiling built into the tile, keeping this area dry from the rain. The doors are of lime green glass with dark blue handles. A meal sits on a round wooden table with three wooden chairs placed around it. My mouth waters at the sight of the grapes, apples, roasted seasoned potatoes, bread, butter, beef strips, wine, and ale. Metal plates, silverware, and cups are placed in front of each seat.
My stomach rumbles. I am famished, and I can’t remember the last time I ate. I look at my companions, and I can see their eyes full of ravenous hunger. Polus’s hand rests on his stomach as he eyes the banquet before us.
“This is a resting spot, travelers. Come, dry yourselves off, and feast. We have more levels to traverse. Come, come, it is safe,” Ariadne 256 says, gesturing toward the table.
The three of us grab a towel, sit at the table, and begin to eat as another storm begins as raindrops hit the glass ceiling above us. As I eat, my eyes keep going to the lime green words etched into the wall above the door.
“We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing our own skin.”
I couldn’t help but wonder what waited for us behind these doors.