Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #General, #Anthologies (Multiple Authors)
The Minotaur grabs my hips, thrusting up, dragging me down. Again and again he does this. I lean into him, wrapping my arms around his neck as we bury ourselves in each other with such force I feel stolen by pleasure, near death with it, as though my heart surely cannot beat one more moment at such a frantic rhythm.
I break first, my body clutching around the Minotaur in such brutal waves that all I can do is writhe, breath rattling with pleasure. I expect the Minotaur to follow, but before my body is done he turns me and thrusts again, still hard, hot, only now I am bent at the waist with nothing to hold on to but his hands on my hips as he pounds into my body with quick sharp strokes, faster and faster, frantic. I come again and again, helpless to stop him, unwilling to stop him even though the pleasure is too much. His hands move; he touches me, stroking, and I am rocked into one final climax that the Minotaur finally joins, his voice rumbling into a bellow.
We drift in the hot water—spent, exhausted—until, finally, the Minotaur pulls me to shore and we lean against each other, breathing hard in the silence of the labyrinth. For the first time in my life I feel truly satisfied—comfortable and safe—though those feelings do not last long. I turn my head, brushing my lips against the Minotaur’s arm, and say, “You were telling me something.”
He kisses the top of my head. “I was.”
“And you are not easily distracted,” he rumbles, sighing. “So. You know the myth. You know what else is part of it.”
“Death,” I say. “The deaths of young men and women.”
“That part, at least, is true.” The Minotaur drags in a deep ragged breath. “The king thought to use me as a weapon against his enemies. So he made me a monster. Fitted me with the helmet, took away my name by magic so that I would know myself as nothing else, and then enchanted me into the labyrinth.
He wanted fear and so he made it. In me.”
“So you killed,” I say carefully, because to utter those words feels almost as terrible as the crime. The Minotaur, though, makes a low sound—frustration, maybe—and I feel him shake his head.
“I did not,” he says in a hard voice. “Or rather, I did not mean to. The young men who found me attacked with all their fear and fury, and I was forced to defend myself. The girls I did not touch, though I tried to help them. They ran from me. They ran into the darkness of the labyrinth and hurt themselves on the rocks, or were killed by the creatures who inhabit the maze.”
“How long did that go on?”
“Years. Until the king was murdered by his enemies. His death sealed the gate into the labyrinth. At least, that particular gate.”
“With you in it.”
“Forever. Though the king, in a fit of humor before his death, left me one chance of escape.”
“Ah,” I say. “And is that where I come in?”
“If you wish,” he says slowly. “But it will be dangerous.”
“Worse.” The Minotaur holds me close. “The king’s own magic.”
I close my eyes. I try to make sense of what he has told me, but it is no use; his words live like a fairy tale inside my head, indistinct, but full of simple truths—a prince, cursed, trapped in the heart of a tangle—and I, the poor woman lured to his aid. A golden goose will be next, I think; mice who talk, or a woman with hair as long as a river.
“Is there light here?” I ask the Minotaur. “Real light? Any at all?”
He hesitates. “There is. It is part of something I would have shown you later.”
I frown. “Show me now.”
The Minotaur sighs, and pulls himself from the water. I follow, stumbling in the dark. The air is cool on my wet skin. I shiver, and suddenly find myself draped in heavy furs, soft and warm. I hug the hides close to my body and listen to the Minotaur move through the darkness.
Then, light. A blue light, flickering and pure. It has been such a long time that I find myself momentarily blind, and I shield my eyes even as I try to see the Minotaur. He stands before me, so very still, and I cannot look away from the hard lines of his body, covered in scars, or higher yet, his face.
What little I can see of it. The mask is as horrific as my fingers told me it would be, though it covers only the upper half of his head; the bridge of his nose and scalp. All bone and fur, with giant horns stretching like arms in the air. I can see the straps holding it in place, cutting into his skin.
I also see his eyes. I move close, staring. Blue, I think, though it is impossible to say. Just that there is a soul in them, a soul I have only heard and felt until now, and I want more of it, so much more. I want to look into his eyes and hear him speak. I want to know what he sees when he gazes at my face, what he feels when he touches me, when he is inside me.
The Minotaur moves, and that is enough to break the spell. I look down at the source of light in his hands, and find a round mirror, complete with silver frame and handle. Light flees the glass, flickering wildly, and when the Minotaur tilts it toward me I see another world—blue sky, trees, mountains bathed in snow and sun.
“I found it years ago,” says the Minotaur softly. “I used it to see the worlds beyond the labyrinth. And there are many. Worlds upon worlds, gathered like beating hearts, warm and fine.”
I stare at the mirror. “You left me in the dark on purpose.”
The Minotaur glances away. “I thought you would fear me, otherwise.”
“You could have tried.”
“No. I did not dare.”
I fight for words. “You thought I would be disgusted, didn’t you?”
He goes very still. “And are you?”
“You can ask me that? After everything?”
He opens his mouth—stops—and his eyes turn somber. “Forgive me.”
I sway close, but do not say what I feel—you do not need to fear me, only trust me, please, before I lose my nerve in the light—and instead point at the mirror. “Is that how you watched me?”
“Yes.” The Minotaur tears his gaze from my face and holds up the mirror. An eagle soars; I hear music from beyond the glass. A flute, lilting and delicate. The image shifts; suddenly there is darkness again, cut with electric beams and men in uniforms standing over a sleeping bag. I watch them nudge my belongings with the tips of their shoes, and feel in my heart a pang.
“I could send you home again,” says the Minotaur quietly. “You are not of this place—not yet—and as such you are permitted to leave. The labyrinth does not hold every heart.”
“Doesn’t it?” I look him in the eyes. “How did you bring me here?”
“I willed it.” He holds my gaze with a heat that reminds me of his hands on my body.
“To free you from the labyrinth? You could have found another.”
“You and no other,” he says firmly. “There was never any choice. Not for me, once I found you.”
He has already said as much, but those are not words I tire of hearing. I touch his waist and slide close, until I must crane my neck to look at him. His jaw is strong, his skin smooth. And his eyes, caught behind the mask of bone, are most certainly blue.
I kiss the Minotaur. His arms wrap around my body, pulling me off the ground, and as my feet dangle and the furs drop away I realize something awful: I cannot imagine being without him. The Minotaur is part of me now. And I am part of him.
A scream cuts the air. We both flinch.
“Don’t send me away,” I say. “Promise.”
He gives me a hard look. “If you are truly set on helping me, we must go now.”
I say nothing—just nod—and the Minotaur presses his lips against my forehead—one quick hard kiss, full of something more than mere desire. He takes the mirror in one hand, grabs me with the other, and we run. I have no clothes, but forget to care as the air behind us cracks like a whip. Distant, but close enough. I remember how fast the harpies move.
“What do I have to do?” My voice is breathless. I almost trip and the Minotaur hauls me close. He says nothing and I ask again, tugging on his arm. His jaw tightens, and for a moment I see him as others might: the cruel mask, the horns, the giant body hard with muscle. Dangerous and powerful. A beast.
“I must have a champion,” he rumbles, and his voice returns my heart and mind to its proper place. “I, who have slain so many.”
“A champion,” I say, but there is little time for more. The harpies grow louder, their shrieks violent and sickening. I fight the urge to gag, struggling to focus only on the Minotaur and myself.
He slows, and by the light of the mirror I see a familiar sight: the door of bones through which I entered the labyrinth, my first time summoned by the Minotaur. The skulls grin, bones polished and white, but as I near I see dark liquid trickle from the sockets of their eyes, and I know in my gut it is blood. The Minotaur’s own eyes are hard as flint as he looks at the bones. His mouth tightens into a thin white line.
“Beyond that door is the site of the gate the old king used to usher in his sacrifices. It is the gate through which I entered, and it is the only gate through which I can leave.”
“I thought you said it was sealed.”
“Sealed, yes. But the labyrinth is not bound by doors. Nor would I be bound, if the curse upon me was lifted.”
The harpies are nearing. I glance over my shoulder into the darkness and the Minotaur says, “Also trapped, put here by magic through the wiles of some ancient priest. Perhaps another legend, in your time.”
“Can they be killed?”
The Minotaur shakes his head. “Harpies are immortal. So much in the labyrinth is.”
I reach for the door. The Minotaur stops my hand. “One last chance. You could go, if you want. Back to your home.”
“I have no home,” I tell him, and haul open the door. Just in time; screams split the darkness and I glimpse red eyes, glowing like pincers left too long in flame. I dart into the room—the Minotaur follows—and together we close the door, leaning hard against it. Bodies slam into the barrier; my entire body shakes with the impact. Beneath my ear I hear faint laughter, more than one voice. The skulls on this side of the door are also leaking blood. My skin is smeared with it.
“So comes the Minotaur at last,” they whisper; like ghosts, mouths unmoving. I back away, staring, and again hear laughter, faint voices drifting high and lilting.
“Oh,” they whisper, and I feel the dead staring, staring so hard. “Oh, a woman now, heart so full. Not like the others, Minotaur. Not like them, those screaming butterflies in the oubliette.”
“Enough,” says the Minotaur. “You know why we are here.”
“The king’s gift,” they murmur. “Ah, girl. You are dead as you stand. There is no heart full enough for this man. No woman brave enough to hold a Minotaur.”
I do not understand. I glance at the Minotaur and find him pale, mouth drawn tight.
“No,” I say, knowing well enough that look on his face, the defeat. “No, whatever it is I have to do, I am strong enough.” I step up to the door and look straight into the eyes of a skull. “Tell me what I have to do to free him.”
“You must hold him,” they say.
“No,” protests the Minotaur. “There is more.”
But I cannot ask, because the Minotaur suddenly screams, back arching so deeply I hear his spine crack like the wings of a harpy. He falls to his knees and the skulls whisper, “Hold him. Hold him tight.
I scramble to the Minotaur and crash into the sand, flinging my arms around his heaving chest. I press my cheek above his pounding heart and hold him with all my strength. He groans my name, but his voice—full of pain—shifts into a howl. I cry out with him, terrified, and then cry out for another reason entirely as the warm skin beneath my hands suddenly becomes fur. The Minotaur writhes; I glimpse his hands, long fingers shedding skin and nail to become claws. I almost forget myself—almost let go—but a voice inside my head whispers, hold on, hold on, and I do not loosen my arms.
The Minotaur fights me. He is large and strong, but I squeeze shut my eyes and dig my nails into his back, chanting his name, holding on with all my will. I am afraid of him—afraid for my life—but I think, faith, and do not waver.
The fur shifts, gliding into scales. A smaller chest; I almost lose him, but I regain my grip and hear a hiss, feel a tongue rasp against my cheek. The Minotaur struggles, flopping wildly, dragging me down into the sand and rolling on top of me. I cannot breathe, but I wrap my legs around the Minotaur—his entire body, one long tail—and hold my breath, screaming inside my mind.
Another shift—feathers—a body smaller, still—but I grapple and pull and hold—and then again—
leather, tough—a beast as big as the room—but I take two handfuls of a mighty ear, shouting as my arms pull and my joints tear. Battered and bruised, I fight to keep him. Fight, too, for my life.
Again and again he shifts—an endless struggle of creatures I cannot name—until, suddenly, it is simply the Minotaur again, the man I know. He slumps within my arms. I do not let go. I am too afraid, and my fear is good. A moment later I feel another transformation steal over the Minotaur. This time, stone. Stone that takes me with him.
I do not understand at first. Only, my body feels heavy, as though gravity is pulling down and down. I hear a scraping sound, like rocks rubbing, and see from the corner of my eye the Minotaur’s skin go gray and hard. I remember the first time seeing him, some ghost light playing tricks, the curve of his shoulder resembling stone. This time it is no illusion.
“Save yourself,” whisper the skulls. “Let go.”
Let go, my mind echoes, as I watch with horrified fascination as stone crawls up the Minotaur’s body, over my own, encasing both our legs in a dull hard shell. I feel as though I am being dipped in concrete.
I feel as though I am dying. I gaze into the Minotaur’s face, looking for some sign of the man I am risking my life for. His eyes are closed. He is unconscious.
“Let go,” whisper the skulls. “Let go and you will be free.”
It is not too late. I could pull away. But I look again at the Minotaur and remember his voice, his touch, the feeling of home in his arms, and I cannot leave him. He is all I have, all I want, and to lose him, to lose that part of myself I have given him when for the first time in my life I belong —