The area is mostly dark. A beam of light shines into the massive tank of water on the left side of us. We march down a floor covered in industrial carpet with theater strip lights running along the ground on either side of it. On the right wall are wooden cutout images of the creatures who are supposedly meeting in the tank with information on said creature.
Light reflects off the water, casting warped shadows on the wall, floors, and us, but nothing stirs within the expanse of water. All of that deep water is slightly unsettling. There is nothing in there…or so we think. We stop in our tracks as a thunk emits from the tank. We glance over to see the skeletal remains of a mermaid bumping into the glass as it drifts with whatever current is in there. The automaton stops and joins us as we approach the glass and stare at the remains.
“Why is this tank empty?” I ask.
“Monstro,” Ariadne 256 answers.
“Monstro?” I ask, looking at Ariadne 256.
“Than, the tank is not empty,” Polus says.
I look back at the water and see the skeletal remains of other merpeople, sea creatures, fish, turtles, sharks, and humans, all floating lazily around in the tank. Then there is movement from the bottom of the tank, something huge and black. Large bubbles rise from the depths as we all take an instinctive step back.
“Monstro comes. This is the end of the line,” Ariadne 256 says coldly.
Monstro rises from the bottom of the tank, solid black and the size of a blue whale. It circles around, letting us see and know its size. It finally stops and looks out at us from behind the glass. Its eyes are full of predatory intelligence. It takes each one of us in, eyeing us up and down as it does so. There is a crackling sound of speakers from above, and Monstro begins to speak to us.
“Greetings, questers god, Titan, and half-breed it is a pity you are taking the shorter way to Daedalus. It saddens me not to be able to riddle you three who have lived long lives as I have. Of course, the riddle is a matter of life and death.”
Monstro let out a low, rumbling laugh. Then my eyes fell on the human skeletons, and understanding dawned on me. I looked to my companions and saw they had reached the same conclusion.
“But you never know with Daedalus’s temperament, you may find yourselves on the bridge above the water riddling for your lives after all. I hope and pray that is the case. Ohhh, how tasty you will be,” Monstro says before descending back to the bottom of the tank.
The automaton moves along its track but stops when Theseus’s hand goes to the hilt of his sword. It turns all its attention to him when he says coldly, “How did those people end up in the labyrinth?”
“They are from different eras, centuries,” Ariadne 256 answers in a chipper tone.
“I didn’t ask from where I asked how,” Theseus says.
“My master Daedalus uses the internet to find puzzle masters, geo trekkers, adventurers and offers them a challenge of a lifetime. He invites them to the website to sign up, and then he gives the coordinates here. They are all so eager for the challenge and the prize at the end,” Ariadne 256 says.
“What prize?” I ask.
“Why, immortality, of course, as well as the fame and notoriety of solving the labyrinth,” Ariadne 256 answers.
“Immortality? Immortality how?” I ask.
“Information is restricted…password, please…five seconds to compliance, four…three…two…one..invalid password…end of the line,” Ariadne 256 says in a flat monotone.
It turns and moves forward as Theseus draws his sword. He raises it, aiming to cut off the automaton’s head. I would have let him if it weren’t for the simple fact that we needed her. Polus and I move to stop his advance. I come round his front and push him back with both hands into Polus. Polus wraps a restraining arm around his chest and grabbing the sword hand by the wrist.
Theseus bares his teeth and struggles against the Titan. Polus tightens his grip until the sword drops, clattering to the ground. Theseus struggles, but by this point, Polus has his other arm wrapped around him, holding him in a bear hug. Theseus looks defeated, relaxing in Polus’s grasp.
“Let me go! Let me put her out of her misery! That’s her! That’s really her. I don’t know how, but it is!” Theseus cries out as his voice cracks and tears begin to flow from his eyes.
“I know. I can feel the soul within the unnatural machine. I don’t know what magicks Daedalus used to make it happen, but it is something I intend to find out. The problem is, right now, we need her to guide us. Now swallow down those emotions, and let’s move along. I swear by the gods, the inventor will answer for this blasphemy. Can you finish this quest, demigod?” I say.
Theseus closes his eyes, choking back his tears and nodding his head. Polus lets him go at once. Theseus bends down and retrieves his sword. He sheaths it as we follow the path to catch up with the automaton.
We find the automaton waiting for us at the next white tile wall and set of glass doors. These ones are orange with yellow glass handles. Above the door in orange, “How could they see anything but shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?” It is a quote from Plato’s Allegory of The Cave. Ariadne 256 moves through her tunnel, and the doors swing open to the music of Edvard Grieg’s “In the Halls of the Mountain King.”
“Guys, what are we walking into this time?” Polus asks.
“I know not,” I say and go through the open doors.
The others follow as the doors close behind us. I take in the irony of the words from above it as we are in a deep, dark, dank cave. Cold stone walls, ceiling, and floor surround us. There are holes cut into the wall to our left, allowing us to see the automaton moving on its track. Water drips from the ceiling, and artificial light comes from the holes to light our path.
“Stay on guard and stay close,” I whisper.
I wait for a response, and when I don’t hear one, I turn and look. They are both gone, and I am alone. Then I am cast into darkness, which isn’t a problem for a scion of the night. I see in the dark as clearly as the day. Then I am propelled forward as the ground beneath me moves. It is another automatic sidewalk moving at a heightened speed. I would fly above it, but the cave walls are too narrow for me to open my wings. Ahead of me is an opening and blinding white light. The automatic sidewalk rises beneath my feet and throws me forward. I go sailing through the opening and crash face first on the stone ground with an oomph. I groan as I push myself up on my elbows.
I look around the large stone room. To my left, Theseus is down on one knee, panting, with his sword drawn again. Polus gasps for air to my right, down on both knees with his fists touching the ground. I don’t know what they saw in the cave, but I will have to ask at some point. There is barely any light in the room, but I see the horror in front of me.
There is a loud echoing click as light floods the center of the room, spotlighting a dark-haired woman chained to a pillar. I know her. It’s Medea, the sorceress, the one who had cursed Daedalus with immortality. I was looking at the old man’s revenge.
“By my holy father,” Theseus whispered.
“This is not right,” Polus whispered.
All I could do was watch as if paralyzed by the sight. She writhed in agony as lines of golden magick light ran up her body, melting away the flesh and clothing that it touched. This was immediately followed by a silver line of magick that healed her only to have the gold line rush over her again. She couldn’t cry out. Her mouth was covered by what looked to be human flesh sewn over it. Her eyes were full of fear and anguish as another ray of gold ran over her body, and she let loose a muffled howl of pain. The manacles and chains must have wards on them, preventing her from using her magick. If we could free her, then she could assist us in the labyrinth. Her eyes fall on me, filled with desperation and pleading. I nod my acknowledgment.
“We move on three!” I shout.
Polus and Theseus rise and stand next to me.
“One, two, three!” I yell.
We advance but step on unseen metal plates that open trap doors beneath our feet, sending us falling into darkness. I open my wings and catch Theseus by the wrist. I swing him up, and he lands on my back, wrapping his arms around my neck. Polus drops as I hang suspended, waiting to hear him land. Theseus pants quietly in my ear as I wait. Then there is the sound of impact echoing up to us in the darkness. Theseus and I let out a sigh of relief.
“I found the ground! It wasn’t that far of a drop, and that creep-ass robot is down here with me! Fly back up and see if you two can spring Medea free!” Polus shouts up to us.
“Let’s do it, Than,” Theseus says in my ear.
I ascend only to be struck down by an unseen force. It rests on my chest like a weight, sending us plummeting back into the darkness. I assume it is more magicks as we hit the ground below. Theseus coughs from underneath me as I watch the ceiling close up. Polus’s face fills my vision as he helps me up, and I, in turn, help Theseus up. We stand at the white tile wall of the next level. The yellow glass doors with azure glass handles stand before us. The automaton waits patiently by its entrance. Above the door, in yellow, is a verse from a song written by Edgar Allen Poe.
“Over the Mountains,
Of the Moon,
Down the valley of the Shadows,
Ride Boldy ride,
The Shade replied-
‘If you seek for El Dorado!”
It is about a knight who failed to find the fabled golden city. To the right of the doors is a television mounted to the wall. It turns on, and we see Daedalus’s smiling face.