Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #General, #Anthologies (Multiple Authors)
We keep thrusting, savoring the aftershocks, fighting for breath—so tangled that as the Minotaur turns us, I remain pressed against his body, one leg hooked over his waist, fingers digging into his hard shoulder. I do not want to let go. Neither does the Minotaur, if his hands are any indication. He cradles my body, holding me as I have never been held; as though I am wanted, needed, desired. His breath ruffles my hair; his lips trace a path down my flushed cheek.
“I did not dream,” whispers the Minotaur. “I did not dare.”
“You brought me here.” I am still breathless, muscles limp and warm. “You must have thought something would happen.”
The Minotaur touches my face. “Not this. Truly.”
I close my eyes. “Not an optimist, then.”
A short gasp of laughter escapes him. “No more than you, I think.” He runs his fingers through my hair and I sigh at the simple pleasure of it, the warmth and strength of his fingers.
“There were others, long ago,” he says quietly. “Women who came to me as a novelty, a freak to be bedded. But never for more. Not like this.”
“You think this is more?” I press gently. The Minotaur shifts in my arms and places his hand over my heart. After a long moment, I do the same to him. I cannot help myself.
“Yes,” he breathes. “I know it.”
I try hard to think of a response, but before I can, the Minotaur stiffens and pulls away.
“What,” I begin to ask, but his large hand claps over my mouth and my heart begins to pound all over again. The Minotaur is so very quiet, I would not know he was there if he did not touch me. I try to do the same, hardly breathing, and after a moment I hear a distant sound. It is a cracking note, like a whip
—or a sail kicked by a sharp breeze.
Then, suddenly, a woman screams; a bloodcurdling howl that twists like a sour wind, so bitter the sound becomes a taste inside my mouth: like ice dragged over by filth, or candy doused in gasoline.
The Minotaur stands, dragging me with him. I do not resist. I stare blindly into the darkness, my fingers tight around the Minotaur’s hand.
“You must go,” he whispers.
I shake my head. “I thought you were alone. Who was that woman?”
“Not a woman. A harpy. More than one. And they have caught your scent.” The Minotaur embraces me, an act that feel so desperate, so lost, fear cuts my heart, stealing my breath.
“I should not have brought you here,” rasps the Minotaur. “Forget me when you leave this place.
“No,” I protest. “No, I won’t.”
But I hear that odd crack split the air—again and again—and in my head I imagine wings snapping, like bones breaking, and the taste of those rising howls makes me bend, gagging.
The Minotaur touches my hair, my cheek, and then slips away, leaving me alone and blind. I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand. I hear the harpies coming, but do not run. I do not know how, in this place.
“What about you?” I call into the darkness.
The Minotaur’s voice drifts like a ghost. “They will not hurt me.”
He is lying. I know it. And I see, suddenly, sparks of red in the darkness, glowing like the embers of hot coals. A deep fire, slow burning. It takes only a moment to realize I am looking at eyes.
The harpies scream. I flinch, stumbling backward, and for one brief instant glimpse against that hateful light the outline of a man. A man wearing the horns of a bull.
And then the harpies are there with us, the air stirring foul with the beat of their wings, and the Minotaur steps in front of the creatures with his arms outstretched, shielding me with his body. I watch, horrified, snatching glimpses of bulbous breasts, stringy hair, talons sharp as knives. The Minotaur bellows a word I do not understand, then staggers, grunting. I hear flesh rip, and something hot and wet spatters my face. I scream—and the world disappears. I bolt upright in my sleeping bag, skin slick with sweat. The sudden silence bears down upon me like anchors stuffed in my ears, and all I can do for one long moment is sit, staring, listening to my heart rage and rage. I lick my lips and taste something metallic. Touch my face. My fingers come away dark with blood.
My body is sore. My nightshirt is gone.
I throw back the sleeping bag and grab clothes. I dress quickly, heart pounding, staring into the darkness of the stacks, the labyrinth. Not a dream , I tell myself, fighting to hold on to that belief. It would be easy to forget, despite the blood and the aching. It would be easy to do as the Minotaur asked and pretend my time with him was nothing but fantasy. Everything about this, fast as a dream from beginning to end.
But I refuse. There is no explanation for what has happened, what I have allowed myself to become in so short a time—but I am changed now. I cannot turn back. Only, finding the Minotaur again will be difficult. Returning impossible if he does not want me, if he is hurt…
I stop myself from thinking. Stay simple. Crouch in my bedding and close my eyes, willing sleep. If that is what it takes.
Nothing happens. Worse, I cannot feel the Minotaur in the shadows. My watcher, who has been with me from the beginning of my time in this place, is gone.
I roll to my feet and stare into the unlit stacks, the endless aisles, the labyrinth. I listen with my heart, but still cannot find that quiet presence. Cannot find, inside my head as I close my eyes, that warm shadow pressed against my back. It makes me hurt. It makes me remember loss, something I have not felt in years. Abandoned once, abandoned again. Though the reasons, this time, are different.
I walk into the darkness, leaving behind my belongings, the evidence of my existence. In doing so, I abandon routine. I do not care. I enter the labyrinth blind, hands stretched to trail across the spines of books, taking turns as they come, winding deeper and deeper into my own oubliette. The catacomb maze is endless, but so is my desire, and all I can think of is the Minotaur.
Somewhere distant, sound comes to my ears. I stop cold, listening, and from very far away catch the faint glimmer of a flashlight. Men, speaking. Entering my home.
“Heard a scream,” says a low voice. “Like someone dying.”
“Easy enough down here,” replies another. “Goddamn, it’s creepy.”
I close my eyes, listening. I know they will find my belongings. Once they do, my life is over. My luck, the one time I am not careful.
Nothing to lose. Your life was already over. Over the moment you began believing in the Minotaur.
I search my heart for regret, but find none. Not yet, anyway. I turn and walk away, slipping deeper into the stacks, the labyrinth. The voices of the men fade quickly, as does the light they shine. I try not to think of them. I walk for a long time, each step a breath of memory—my childhood, my abandonment, my desperation—how afterward, the isolation and solitude of the library was a balm, sweetness.
All of that, my life, leading to this moment. Searching for a fantasy that should not exist. That perhaps does not exist. Not anywhere but my heart.
After a time, I stop. If the security guards are searching for me, I have not heard or seen them, and I must rest. Close my eyes, for just a moment. I sit on the tile floor, my back against the books, and think of the Minotaur. Remember him holding me, kissing me, moving inside my body. Warmth spreads through my muscles, making my eyelids heavy. I curl into a ball. Think of that low rumbling voice, and close my eyes.
Perhaps I fall asleep. Either way, when I open my eyes there is sand beneath me, darkness all around.
I sit up. I am not afraid. Not for myself.
“Hello?” I whisper.
“Hello,” rumbles a familiar voice, soft and low and startling close. “Hello, again.”
I close my eyes, fighting down a smile. “You’re alive.”
“Yes.” I do not hear the Minotaur move, but his large warm palm suddenly presses against my cheek.
“I heard you calling for me. I felt you. I could not say no.”
“Gone. For now.”
I touch his hand, holding it to my face. “I’m covered in blood. Your blood.”
“A small injury,” he says, and a moment later I find myself scooped off the ground, cradled in strong arms that hold me close against a broad hard chest. The Minotaur carries me. His presence feels like an old friend. My friend, if I allow myself to imagine him as such. And I do.
I kiss his collarbone. I kiss the smooth skin just below his shoulder. I run my tongue over the hard nipple near my cheek.
The Minotaur stops walking and hoists me higher in his arms. Bends his head and captures my mouth in a long hot kiss that makes me sigh. He sinks to his knees and sets me on the ground, still kissing me, his hands fumbling over my clothes. I brush him aside and curl close, reaching beneath his loincloth to touch him. The Minotaur shudders. I slide even closer. I take him in my mouth.
He is so thick I wonder how he ever fit inside my body, but I love the hot feel of him beneath my tongue—love even more giving him pleasure—because it makes me feel like part of him, and that is something I never imagined, not with anyone.
He touches my shoulders. He is shaking, but he does not tell me to stop, and I take the invitation, going further, deeper, using my hands and mouth, feeling him ignite as I push closer to some indefinable edge. His hips thrust, again and again, and a low shuddering moan escapes his throat, building as I suck hard.
The Minotaur pulls away from my mouth as he comes, though I still hold him with my hands, savoring his violent release as though it is my own. His breathing is ragged, harsh, and when he grabs me up in his arms I feel a new weakness in his body; tremors in his muscles, in the breathlessness of his kiss, that makes me desire him even more.
“Why?” he murmurs. “Why do you want me? Why did you want to come back?”
“I don’t want to be without you.” The words slip free so easily it frightens me.
The Minotaur’s breath catches. He cradles my face between his hands. I cannot see his eyes, but I am sure he can see mine. “Why? Of all men, why me?”
I wish I could see his eyes. I wish it so badly. “Why me? ”
The Minotaur exhales slowly. His arms slide around my body. He holds me close and whispers in my ear. “Because I wanted you. Because I wanted your help, but I also wanted just…you. To touch you, once. I have watched you for so long.”
I cannot speak. He stands and lifts me into his arms. “There is something I must show you.”
He carries me through the darkness. I listen to his heartbeat and the shuffle of sand. The air becomes warmer, humid. Nothing of the harpies.
The Minotaur walks for a long time. The oubliette is larger than I expected, or else we have left that place and his entire home is made of darkness. He finally stops, though, and lowers me to my feet. I stay within the circle of his arms and he says, “In front of you.”
I kneel. I reach out and touch water. Hot water. I lean closer and steam bathes my face.
“A natural spring,” says the Minotaur. “Take off your clothes. I will wash away the blood.”
“And you? It was your blood, after all. You’re hurt.”
“Then we will wash together.” There is tension in his voice. He shows no hesitation, though, when he helps undress me. He holds my hands with care as I step blind into the hot water. It feels good, though I cannot help but think of the harpies. I mention them again as the Minotaur slides into the water beside me.
“There are always risks,” he admits. “Risks for the unwary. It is the labyrinth, after all.”
“I’ve always thought of the library as a labyrinth,” I tell him, and the Minotaur makes a rumbling sound, splashing warm water over my arms and rubbing his wet thumbs across my cheeks.
“All places of paths and knowledge are part of the great maze,” he says. “Some more so than others.
Your library is one of them. The veil between worlds is weak there. Weak enough even for one as untalented as I to reach through.”
“Why just reach? Why not step through entirely? Escape, if that is what you really want.”
The Minotaur’s hands still. “I am bound here.”
“No.” I think of all that has passed between us, what little he has told me. “No, not completely. You brought me here to save you. That’s what you said.”
The Minotaur remains silent for along time. Not until I press my fingertips against his cheek does he make a sound. His sigh is warm.
“I should not have brought you to this place,” he murmurs. “Not the first time, not the second, and not now. Selfishness begged it. Despair and loneliness. But I know better, and better means keeping you safe. You must not free me.”
“I must,” I whisper. “You know I must.”
Again, the Minotaur says nothing. He washes me and I do the same for him, discovering in the process a terrible slash across his shoulder.
“It is already healing,” he says quietly. “I cannot die here. The king forbade it.”
“He controls this place?”
The Minotaur’s laugh is bitter. “No one controls the labyrinth. It is beyond spells and magic, beyond anything that can be controlled by mere men, or their counterparts. But that does not mean that those who come here are so free. The flesh is weak.”
I kiss his shoulder. “Not so weak.”
“Against you, powerless,” he murmurs. “I never imagined such a thing. Not in any dream.”
“Why?” I kiss him again, at the base of his throat. My breasts rub against his chest and his hands snake down to cup me tight against him. He is hard, and I feel a moment of astonishment at how ready I am for him. I hook my leg around his hip and he takes me in one long slow movement. I groan.
“Because I am a monster,” whispers the Minotaur hoarsely, moving inside me with delicious strength.
“I have always been so, since the beginning.”
“No,” I murmur, and cry out as he gently squeezes my breast.
“There is a legend native to your age and time,” he says, breathless as he thrusts hard—once, twice—
then slows his pace, drawing me out. “The Minotaur in the labyrinth, a beast of sacrifice and blood.
Child of a queen and a God.”
I have trouble speaking, thinking. The Minotaur leans against the edge of the hot spring; I move against him, riding his body, and manage with some difficulty to say, “I know that myth.”