As we clean the table of all the food and drink, my eyes keep wandering to the quote above the door. I am unfamiliar with it or its origins.
“It is the Canadian novelist André Berthiaume,” Ariadne 256 says.
“I will admit I am unfamiliar with his works, something I will have to rectify,” I say.
“Of course, my lord,” the automaton responds.
I believe I heard mockery and condescension in her voice. Was it her or the maker that controlled her, I wonder?
The automaton moves through its tunnel, and the doors swing open to “The Blue Danube Waltz” by Johann Strauss.
The three of us step through into a grand ballroom. The doors close behind us as Strauss’s waltz continues to play.
The walls are high and made of white limestone. The vaulted ceiling is sectioned off by domes. Massive chandeliers dripping with pearls and streamers hang from the center of each one.
Tables and chairs flank the dance floor, inviting the guests to sit and rest. The walls are lined with banquets groaning under the weight of food and drink. The smells of rotten meat, moldy bread, and stale drinks assault our noses. All of the dancers are wearing elegant clothes, ball gowns, waistcoats, and powdered wigs. Their faces are covered by masquerade masks resembling plague doctors, lions, unicorns, solid black and white faces, and even a mixture of the two.
Their feet are clamped and set into grooves on the floor, pulling them into the set patterns of a waltz. They are all automatons, including the band whose members are also wearing masks. They play “The Blue Danube Waltz” on repeat, possibly only programmed with one song.
The dancers smile and laugh as they move about their assigned spaces, but their eyes are full of livid terror. There is a lull in the music, and the dancers stand in starting positions, ready to go again. One closest to the edge of the dance floor, wearing a devil mask, slowly turns its head in our direction.
“Tom Tuckers, Miami, Florida. Nineteen-eighty-three,” devil mask says.
His female companion in a Harlequin mask looks at us and says, “Ann Catherdy. Albany, New York. Nineteen-seventy-five.”
The music starts up again, and they begin to dance as the three of us turn our attention to Ariadne 256. The automaton smiles pleasantly at us as it sways in time with the tempo. Its eyes watch the dancers with excitement.
“Who are they?” I ask.
“Winners, those who have beat the labyrinth and gained their immortality,” Ariadne 256 answers.
“I highly doubt this was what they thought you meant by immortality or the price they would pay,” I say.
“And yet, my lord, they accepted their prizes and their fates,” Ariadne 256 says coldly.
Hot rage fills me at the apathy of this thing before me. I am half tempted to tell Theseus to draw and finish what he started in the aquarium by severing its head. Instead, I control my temper, knowing we need her to guide us and avoid Daedalus’s wrath.
“Then come now, machine, lead the way,” I growled.
“Very well, God of Death,” Ariadne 256 says.
As Ariadne 256 proceeds forward, the dance floor opens in the middle, pushing the dancers to either side. Neither the dancers nor the music miss a beat as the track for Ariadne 256 is revealed. The automaton moves forward, beginning to waltz once it hits the dance floor. We follow, but we do not dance. Then we are assaulted by the shouts of the dancers, their voices surrounding us, begging to be heard.
“Sandy Hawkins Atlanta, Georgia Eighteen-seventeen!”
“John Phelps. Chicago, Illinois. Nineteen-forty!”
With every name, location, and date, they let loose a laugh that borders on madness.
“Samantha Sutton. London, England. Nineteen-twenty-four!”
“Stavros Adamos. Athens, Greece. Nineteen-ninety-two!”
The laughter grows louder with an occasional wheeee from the female automatons as their male counterparts spin or lift them. What we don’t notice is that they are closing in on us.
“Mallory MacDonald. Lewis, Scotland. Seventeen-oh-seven!”
“Robert Montgomery. Arlington, Virginia. Nineteen-forty-eight!”
They grab us, their hands vice grips that desperately cling to our arms and clothing. They continue to shout and laugh. Name! Location! Date! They pull at us, forcing us to look at the mad terror in their eyes.
We fight them off and force our way forward as they hang on for dear life or whatever passes for their life. Ariadne 256 dances on, seemingly oblivious to our plight. As we free ourselves, their empty hands grab at the air in the spaces we once occupied, laughing harder and shriller than before. It was like fighting through molasses. By the time we reach the end of the dance floor, their voices have taken on a begging, pleading quality, and some are sobbing.
“You can’t leave us!”
“Please help us!”
As the music stops, the floor resets itself. The dancers’ mouths shut as they are reset to their start positions. We are standing before the orchestra, all of us looking at the automatons on the dance floor, when Daedalus’s voice speaks from behind us. We spin around, turning our attention to the stage.
The conductor is an automaton that is the spitting image of Daedalus. It winks at us and grins. I take an involuntary step back. Theseus’s hand goes to his sword hilt, and Polus shakes his head in disbelief.
“Dance, you grand champions! Dance!”
The conductor winks and turns before facing the orchestra again. The waltz begins, and the automatons resume their dance. We can do nothing but watch helplessly.
Our guide moves around and behind the bandstand toward the back wall and a giant mirror. We follow slowly, giving an occasional backward glance at the dance floor. The automaton goes through the mirror, and we follow.
On the other side are the all too familiar white tile wall and the next door waiting for us. The doors are dark blue glass with brown handles. Above the door, etched into the tile, is a quote from Grimm’s fairy tale Snow White. “Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who is the fairest of them all?” As the doors open, we are greeted by Claude Debussy’s “Clair De Lune”. We brace ourselves and enter the next level of the labyrinth.
The room is covered in mirrors, the floor, the walls, and the ceiling, for as far as the eyes can see. Bright fluorescent light comes from long tube light fixtures from above. The hum of the lights and the automaton gliding along on her track are the only sounds until we step onto the mirrors. Our footfalls make thumping noises on the glass. I catch the reflection of the automaton, and she appears to be walking on two fine legs. The dull expression on her face is transformed into a warm, loving smile. The emotionless eyes are full of bright intelligence. She looks at me through the mirror, and her eyes fill with sadness, but in that sadness, I can see hope. I give her a slight nod of understanding, and her smile widens as she wipes tears from her eyes.
This is her true self. This is the one Theseus knows and once loved. This version is what Daedulas is suppressing from his hiding place within the center of the labyrinth. Theseus reaches out and touches the glass. The anguish on his face is heartbreaking. Ariadne, the true Ariadne, stops before him and places her hand on the glass to meet his. Tears stream freely down her cheeks. They press their foreheads against the glass and close their eyes.
The automaton continues down its track, unhindered by its reflection’s absence, while Polus and I allow the two to have their moment.
“Theseus, it is time we press on,” I say softly.
Theseus nods, then opens his eyes, jolting away from the mirror in alarm. Ariadne is gone, and in her place is a younger version of the demigod. He is in blood-caked armor, pointing the tip of a bloody sword blade at his older self. In his other hand, he holds the freshly killed head of the Minotaur, the open neck still dripping blood.
We stand in awe. As Theseus approaches his younger reflective self and touches the mirror, it turns black. He looks over at us, his face wide-eyed with wonder and amazement. Polus nods slowly, and I offer a small shrug. Then there is a sudden tapping from inside the mirror behind me, and I cautiously turn around.
My heart stops for a moment at the sight of the two teenage gods, a male and a female. They smile warmly at me, and instantly I know that I love them unconditionally. The girl is dressed in a white hooded robe, her white wings are unfurled, and I can see that her feathers are tipped with black. She holds in her hand an all too familiar object, my scythe. The male is a black ghost-like shadow, but rippling through his body are specks of gold and white light. Both of them have blue-green eyes, full of love at the sight of me. They reach toward the glass, and I reach out for them, but the mirror darkens as I touch it.
I look over my shoulder to see both Polus and Theseus standing there with open-jawed expressions of wonder. I look back at the black mirror and try to peer into it, but even my godly eyes can’t see past the black. Then we hear another tapping sound. This one is coming directly behind Polus. Polus swallows hard as he turns around and looks.
It is a female Djinn. She has long fiery red hair, and her forehead bears the mark of her house. She wears a black hooded cape and is barefoot in the grass. She offers Polus a toothy smile and a wink. Then she turns to the side to show off a baby bump which causes Polus to take a step toward her. The motion causes the reflection to laugh as she rubs her belly and nods at Polus. She blows him a kiss, and then the mirror turns black.
Then every mirror turns black as we march in silently forward. None of us speak, still in awe of what we have been shown. My mind reels, and I am sure my companions’ minds are going over it as well. I have so many questions, but I am sure the answers will reveal themselves in the future when the time is right. We reach the next tile wall and pair of doors. The mirror room is completely black behind us.
This time the doors are made of brown glass with pink door handles. Above it in brown letters etched into the tile is a quote from Dante. “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” The automaton goes through its tunnel, and the doors fly open to Sergei Prokofiev’s “Dance of the Knights”, and as before, we enter the next level of the labyrinth.