Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled Maiden on a Slab. Please enjoy. Also, if you haven’t already checked out my FAQ on my upcoming book, Magic Once Removed, please check that out as well. Thanks again!
His torch represented many things. Illumination. Warmth. Comfort. It also represented a potential disaster of biblical proportions. The ancient parchment he held in his free hand was as dry as British wit and a single spark would cause it to go aflame which would leave the man lost, potentially for good. in that forgotten, dank, dark labyrinth. It did not help his psyche that there were times he had to hold the blistering orange flame perilously close to the map to see its intricacies and read its ancient inscriptions that detailed how to get by the perilous puzzles that loomed.
On the surface, the instructions were nothing more than banal advice that covered topics of aversion and resisting temptation. Do not grab this and do not touch that. All that glitters is not gold. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. However, the man knew in this particular instance they needed to be followed to the letter.
Take, for instance, the statement “Let Ariadne be your guide.” Under normal circumstances, a statement such as that could be considered advice that one should follow the credos outlined by the former Cretan princess to achieve happiness. In this case, however, it was an almost literal instruction. Often the man found himself at a fork in the maze and needed to look down at a sapphire amulet dangling around his neck. Whatever direction it glowed was the way he went.
As he proceeded through the maze the man shuffled along the slab floor at a brisk but slightly awkward pace. The scabbard tied to his waist with a leather belt banged against his leg with each step. He would rather not have carried with him the Sword of Aegus. He preferred using the derringer he kept in his vest pocket whenever danger lurked its ugly head. However, he was told that the sword was the only weapon that could defeat what awaited him at the end of the maze, as long as the novice swordsman was able to find its target.
His black boots were not doing well. Once shiny, they were now scuffed beyond belief as those floors were hell to them. Because his clothes became covered with dirt and grime as he navigated through the cavern, he made a few mild curses to himself for not wearing his casual outfit but at the same time, other than the addition of a coat, it was no different than his usual garments.
The near-identical stone walls made navigation a chore and it was quite easy to get lost even with the map. Hung from several of the various stone partitions were murals that depicted bulls and men fighting. He liked those as opposed to the ones that showed a man, woman, and a beast performing other less reputable and socially unacceptable activities. Those caused the man to quickly avert his eyes as his cheeks became flushed. These paintings did little to help, though, as they seemed to be randomly placed and were nearly identical. At least, the man did not have the artistic eye to discern the tiny subtleties that set them apart.
That is why when he arrived in a narrow room barely wide enough to hold his broad shoulders there was an almost palpable sense of relief. It was as if a great weight was literally removed from his back even though the grid of small squares at his feet should have made him feel nervous. He recognized this, deep down. The man read ahead and realized that there would be a dire and potentially fatal consequence should he make a mistake, though it did not quite mention how. Yet seeing the room also indicated he was making progress. The last few rooms looked nerve-rackingly familiar even if his talisman told him he was headed in the right direction.
He studied the panels at his feet. Each square had a depiction of supposedly mythological creatures whom the antediluvian Greeks held in reverence. His bespectacled eyes took another elongated stare at the instructions as he once again held the torch dangerously close to the piece of parchment to get a better look.
Start with the right foot on the centaur. Hop left, left. Make sure you are on the gorgon. Take a ninety-degree turn to the right to face the hydra. Now hop to the right twice. Leap two steps over the siren and the satyr. Move one step forward with your left foot to land on the keres. One last ninety-degree to your right. Jump over the Cyclops and then hop left, left. Step on the dryad with your right foot then middle, right, left.
Sweat amassed dripped profusely down his back immediately after he took his last step. His foot sunk almost half a centimeter when he landed on the final square and was accompanied by a faint but distinct click. He quickly glanced over his shoulder. Walls that seemed solid and immovable were suddenly opened. Hidden panels slid open and revealed long oblong cylinders. He looked forward and saw the same thing was happening in front of him as well.
He dropped the torch and the map as he slammed himself against the floor then covered his ears and eyes shortly after he landed. The man could feel the wind as a flurry of arrows rocketed over him. Most of the shots were near-misses though one managed to clip the top of his bowler hat and pinned it against the adjacent wall.
Suddenly, things were peaceful. The panels in the walls closed. Arrows were no longer being fired. All was silent except for the glowing embers of the fire. An eerie ambiance radiated from the walls. The man slowly rose to his feet though his eyes darted around the room all the while.
He was swiftly forced back to the floor as the second wave of arrows sailed past him. He was then forced to one side and had to place his back against the wall to avoid the third wave as it flew perilously close. One arrow managed to remove a button on his obsidian-colored vest as it narrowly missed smashing against his firearm. It was followed by another arrow that passed through the knee of one of his pants legs and took off the top layer of skin from that knee.
Perhaps due to instinct, a premonition, good peripheral vision, or good old-fashioned luck, he realized that a fourth wave was coming from the opposite side. He scrambled across the floor and then put his back against the opposite wall. A few arrows pierced his vest and pants and caused quite a number of surface-level scratches though, he thought, “Those paled in comparison to the damage done to my exquisite clothes. Yet, had I not acted so quickly and correctly, it would have been far worse. I could have been a human pin cushion, or at least a human arrow cushion.”
The man’s chest convulsed rapidly. His white undershirt was soaked with perspiration. Blood trickled from his small wounds as another unnerving silence befell the room. He waited, and waited, and waited, until he was sure this time that the coast was clear. The man stumbled to his front to get his hands under him and lift himself to his feet.
Another wave of deadly projectiles was fired. He stood on his hands this time and moved them around hastily. At one point, he had to push himself into the air to avoid a particularly deadly barrage. Not that he was completely successful as one managed to graze his chin. His sword slipped from its scabbard as he did all of this and landed with a loud clang against the tiled floor.
After that wave had finally ceased, the man looked up slightly only to notice that another barrage was coming from above. His legs split as another wave fired. One grazed his calf but otherwise, he emerged unharmed. He exhaled a long and deep sigh quite apprehensive that one of the arrows would find a much more sensitive and important to him than his calf was targeted.
Another silence filled the room but this time the man wasn’t taking any chances. He set his legs down and dashed out the exit on the opposite side which he entered and hid behind a perpendicular wall. His legs shook and his body quaked. The man poked his head around the corner and peered into the puzzle room he was just in. He dared not reveal his entire head as he did this lest it be removed by a wayward arrow. Thus, a waiting game commenced.
Minutes passed. Every second felt like an hour. Finally assured that the trap was no longer active, functionality returned to his legs and his composure was eventually regained. He took inventory of his items and realized that most of it was missing. A cold sweat formed on his brow and he desperately reached for his neck. He let out another elongated sigh of relief. The amulet was still around his neck and, more importantly, still in one piece. It was one less item to worry about but he still needed to gather his map, torch, and sword.
The man re-entered the puzzle room slowly walking along the edge of the grid as he did. About halfway into the room, he knelt and leaned over. He reached out and reacquired his map. It was the item closest to him at the edge of the grid. His torch was a little more difficult to retrieve but only by a negligible amount as it too was relatively close.
His sword, on the other hand, required a bit more effort. It had bounced quite a distance away, to the man’s pained and anguished chagrin. He stretched an arm out as far as he could reach but he could not even lay a fingertip on the sword. With trepidation, he decided to lie on his stomach to extend his reach further. He leaned increasingly further until he was barely able to touch the hilt with his index finger and thumb. The man pulled the sword toward him. He lifted it and for a moment seemed to have it locked in his perilous grip. It would require patience but eventually, he would be able to get it back.
Suddenly, it slipped and crashed against the floor, bouncing over and over again.
Each small pinging noise it made reverberated against the man’s skull with the ferocity of a dozen screaming jet engines. The torch and the parchment fell from his hands as he covered his ears and his eyes as he once again dropped to the floor.
No arrows. Nothing happened at all.
It appeared that the trap was no longer active.
Relieved but not wanting to take any further chances, the man reached down unconcerned with the tiles. He grabbed the sword, placed it in his scabbard, gathered the map and torch, and then scampered out of the room before anything else could go wrong.
Now free and safe, he took another look at the parchment as he rested his back against a nearby wall as his posterior hit the floor. He thought, “Left, left, turn, right, right, leap, forward, turn, jump, and then left, left, middle, left, right. Ah, I mixed up the last two steps. Ancient parchments are notoriously difficult to read especially when written in a language that one has only a base level of familiarity with. It appears I’ll have to brush up on my studies.”
The rest of the outing was far less eventful. There was a simple puzzle that involved lighting torches with his own and a room that had a pit of spikes one could potentially slip into if he or she chose the wrong door. Yet that puzzle was unbelievably easy to solve, especially in comparison to the perilous riddle room of before. Perhaps a thousand years ago it would have been difficult to figure out that the four-legged, two-legged, three-legged creature of the morning, afternoon, and evening, respectively, was man. Now, even elementary students know the answer to that riddle.
After what seemed like days but was only about an hour, he finally arrived at the end of the labyrinth. He noticed a sharp contrast when he entered the final room. The walls were likely made of concrete. Normally this would be considered drab but the gray when contrasted with the drab browns and moldy greens of the rest of the maze provided the room with an air of majesty.
A gigantic cauldron of fire hung overhead and provided far more illumination than the small torch did throughout the rest of the maze. It was so bright that the man initially had to cover his eyes before he slowly opened them and let his eyes adjust. The torch was discarded as it was no longer necessary. A red rug lay at the man’s feet. He followed it with his eyes until they reached the other side of the room. The sight would have made a normal man’s jaw drop to the floor, but he remained calm as he was used to these sorts of sights.
On the other side of the room was a stone structure carved into the shape of an elaborate, resplendent throne. In the center was a concrete bed. Lying flat on top was an elf whose long hair dangled off the side making look as though her white t-shirt contained a bit of yellow. Her feet were a brown blur as she shook her feet which moved her brown hiking boots widely. Thick bracelets bound both her arms and legs to the granite and restricted all movement. The man drew his blade and walked toward the maiden.
She turned her head toward the man. “Who are you?”
He smirked, pushed his glasses further up his face with his index finger, and flashed a wry smile. “My name is Gregory Sole, yes, the Gregory Sole, the famed kishef-mahker.”
“What the hell is a kishef-mahker?”
Gregory stuttered. “A-a p-paranormal expert and hunter I suppose would be the best way to describe it.”
“Okay, great. Am I supposed to know you or something?”
“Surely you’ve heard of me or at least my grandmother Eileen Videre.”
“I’d shrug if, you know, my hands weren’t chained!”
“I thought everyone related to the paranormal has heard of me.”
“Well, you thought wrong. Are you just going to stand there or are you going to help?”
Gregory glared. “I was planning on assisting but I must confess that your attitude has left me flabbergasted. Such disrespect for your elder.”
“Elder my ass. What the hell kind of paranormal expert are you? I’m probably like two hundred years older than you. Don’t you know how long elves live? That’s like paranormal 101!”
“I also know that in terms of relative age, a two-hundred-year-old elf is about equivalent to a seventeen-year-old human which is why I described myself as your elder. I must add that your attitude has done nothing to dissuade that assessment.”
“You talk so weird too! God! Just cut me loose.”
Gregory glowered and wondered whether he should turn and leave though he knew that was never really an option. If nothing else, his internal deontological compulsion cultivated since childhood would bring him back. He had to admit to himself, though, that this young elf was testing that principle he was quite proud of to its very limits. He set the map down on the floor to leave a hand free to examine her restraints.
“It looks like we’ll need a key.”
“No shit, Sherlock. I guess we can add ‘Master Detective’ to your list of skills.”
“Do you know where I can find one?”
“Maybe the bull-headed guy’s got it or something. Why don’t you ask him?”
“Where is the Minotaur, anyway?”
“I don’t know! Why the hell are you asking me so many questions? Just use the sword, you idiot!”
Gregory looked at his right hand. “The sword’s intended use is to slay the Minotaur.”
“Its intended use is to cut so cut the damn chains!”
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Then cut the metal, not me, moron!”
Gregory scowled and lifted the sword. Though the maiden was and would remain oblivious to this it was, for a moment, aimed directly at the maiden’s neck. He wondered whether it would be worth it. Eventually, a cooler head prevailed and he turned the blade back toward the metallic clasps. As he hacked away, sparks flew with every blow.
The young woman closed her eyes and turned her head. “Ow! Ow! Ow! Would you stop that? You’re making me blind.”
“I’m just doing as you asked.”
“Well, obviously, it’s not working. Try something else. Use that pointy end to pick the lock or something.”
“That will not work. It is difficult enough to pick a lock with the proper equipment nevertheless with a blade that is much too large to fit.”
“Didn’t you bring any lock picks or whatever?”
“I’m afraid not. I did not anticipate the need when I ventured into this labyrinth.”
“You’re worthless. Did anyone ever tell you that? Completely worthless.”
Gregory nearly lost his cool. He wanted to express an incredibly appropriate retort even if it was only two words long and would betray his lifelong streak of not using profane language. Luckily, before he could debase himself in such a manner, he was interrupted by the maze’s guardian who had returned.
The Minotaur charged and head-butted Gregory against his side with the top of his forehead, causing him to go in one direction as his blade sailed in the other. He crashed against a corner of the slab altar then rolled awkwardly, shoulders-first, two or three times against the cold, unyielding floor.
Ariadne’s amulet unclasped and the momentum of the man’s motions caused the trinket to fly through the air. It landed with a hideous crashing noise and shattered into mist before it disappeared without a trace. Despite this, luck was on his side, at least partially. The Minotaur didn’t hit him with his horns. He would have been in much worse shape than having a couple of bruises and perhaps a mild concussion. Admittedly, it is difficult to feel fortunate when one is shaking the cobwebs out of his head when one’s vision has blurred.
He took a glance at the young woman. She shouted something and Gregory attempted to listen but it was as if sound itself had disappeared. No matter, in fact, if anything, it was the only thing truly fortuitous that happened during recent events. He doubted she had expressed words of encouragement.
Inspiration suddenly metaphorically struck Gregory against the side of his head. He walked backward until his posterior pressed against the wall, and then he removed his coat to use it as a cape. He shook it in a style reminiscent of the matadors of Barcelona.
The monster commenced a second thunderous charge. For a brief second, Gregory believed his plan was working and a wry smile crept onto his lips. Reality quickly dissipated such an inane fantasy and erased his smug grin. Gregory quickly realized that the Minotaur was ignoring the coat and was headed directly toward him. Not a second too soon, Gregory leaped to the side just avoiding being impaled by one of those sharp horns. The Minotaur managed to stop just before he collided with the wall.
Gregory’s coat was snared on one of the creature’s horns. A few swift motions from the monster’s head were all it took to rip it to shreds. He turned toward Gregory. Fire seemed to burn from his eyes.
“Great”, the man thought, “One more coat sacrificed for another ungrateful whelp. I’m not sure why I thought that foolish plan of mine would work.”
He rose to his feet. Another spark of genius rose to the forefront of his mind. With yet another haughty smirk, he reached into his vest pocket, pulled out his signature COP derringer, and unloaded.
All four bullets were absorbed by the Minotaur. With a single flex of the creature’s muscles, they fell lifelessly to the ground. The Minotaur exhaled a bloodcurdling shriek that reverberated against the walls and caused the ground to shake. Gregory’s ears popped and suddenly sound returned.
Another scream filled the air. It was louder and more shrill. Moreover, it sounded much more profane. Gregory looked toward the noise’s origin, the maiden on the slab. Her screams echoed against the walls and nearly drowned out the creature’s enraged howl. Both noises rattled in the man’s brain. He now realized what Lovecraft was referring to when he wrote of noises that could drive a man mad.
Soon the screams ceased. The Minotaur’s focus returned to the paranormal investigator.
“Oh sure, that worked for Indiana Jones but not for me,” Gregory thought to himself as he placed the gun back into his vest. “And now the Minotaur is mad. My day just kept getting better and better.”
The Minotaur planted his left foot while his right swung back and forth and scraped against the ground. A white smoke fumed from his nostrils and his mouth began to froth. Gregory braced himself. There was little distance between the two which meant there would be little time to react. Another charge commenced. The paranormal expert dodged the moment before the Minotaur’s horn would have skewered his lower intestine. He kept from falling, though just barely, with one knee on the ground and a hand hovering above the floor.
The creature wasted no time and made a following attack. Again, almost purely out of reflex, Gregory stood straight and in one swift motion grabbed the Minotaur by its horns. Whether he realized it or not, it was the correct option, as foolish as it may have seemed. It provided a chance to fight back as minuscule as his odds were of winning. Moreover, had he attempted to dodge, the paranormal investigator would have had a nice cylindrical hole in his chest.
Gregory’s muscles bulged as the two engaged in their little tug-of-war. The maiden was seemingly impressed by his physique as she temporarily halted her vulgar cavalcade of grievances and simply stared.
As impressive as he was for a human, though, compared to a supernatural creature Gregory was weak. The heels of his boots left large leather streaks on the floor as he was slowly driven backward. He knew his muscles were no match for the paranormal which is why Gregory preferred to use cunning, magic, or a weapon, a weapon was always good. Then he remembered the Sword of Aegus. To defeat the Minotaur, he needed that blade.
Retrieving it was easier said than done, of course. He attempted to formulate hasty schemes but the dire situation made it difficult to think. Sweat started to pour from every pore making his clothes little more than expensive wet rags. Blood started to trickle from his hands as his muscles started to ache. The pain only further clouded his thoughts. Soon there was only one thought swimming in Gregory’s brain.
Let go and he was dead. The Minotaur would make sure of that. What Gregory did not take fully into account was the creature’s short temper. The Minotaur surely would have easily won a war of attrition had he continued that tactic which would have eventually worn the man’s muscles to the ground, perhaps literally, but that sort of rational thinking was beyond his capability. Frustrated with the lack of success, the creature flung his head upward and Gregory was flipped into the air.
As the creature quickly glanced to the left to the right obviously wondering where he just flipped his prey, his questioning look was answered when a great weight descended from the sky and landed heavily upon the creature’s back. The force temporarily knocked the Minotaur down to a hocked knee. When he gathered his feet, he hurled his hooved hands wildly at his back in a desperate attempt to remove the extra two hundred and twenty pounds he suddenly carried.
He gouged the creature’s eyes with both thumbs thereby temporarily blinding him. The Minotaur let out an anguished screech as he trotted recklessly in random directions. The pain seemed to be its only focus as it continued to bellow. Gregory thought, “Don’t all of these creatures have a weak spot?” The paranormal investigator punched the back of the head, the neck, the ears, and the side of his skull hoping to find a vulnerable point. Unfortunately, Gregory had the same amount of success as the fly that landed in the creature’s hair.
The Minotaur continued to stagger about the room until he collided, hard, against a wall and Gregory went flying in the opposite direction. He landed with a resounding thud on his left arm. With no time to cry about the pain, he quickly rose to his knees and then his feet while his eyes remained affixed on that creature.
Gregory’s arm dangled limply and flapped like a trout on land as he walked. Gregory diverted attention from the Minotaur momentarily to check his wound. His worst fears were abated and he let out a relieved sigh. It was a dislocation, not a break. The arm may have pulsated with an excruciating pain but his injury was easy enough to remedy. He had already done it several times during a multitude of his adventures. He simply grabbed his left arm with his right hand and popped his shoulder back in place. With watering eyes and a slight moan through clenched teeth, he endured the pain with an otherwise stoic resolution.
Gregory grabbed his left arm with his right and popped the shoulder back in place. His eyes watered and his face winced. The man let out a bemoaned cry through clenched teeth. Otherwise, he was stoic and resolute. With the throbbing now lessened, his focus could return completely to the creature. The Minotaur’s hands were no longer covering his eyes. They had shifted to his nose and his moans had become deeper and somehow more tormented sounding than before.
“That’s right,” Gregory thought to himself. “When he hit the wall, he must have hit his nose. Judging from his reaction that must be his weak point!”
Utilizing the distraction, Gregory dashed toward the blade now resting in the exact center of the room. The creature heard footsteps and even his primordial brain ascertained the kishef-mahker’s plan. He either was able to ignore the pain or it ceased and his vision returned to his bloodshot eyes. He was ready to engage in an impromptu race.
Both the man and the creature charged toward the center at opposing forty-five-degree angles. Gregory had better agility than the creature and ample head start, but the Minotaur was still able to close in quickly as he was able to cover a great amount of distance with every single step. Gregory was a few feet from the blade when he realized the creature was still going to beat him. Unless he acted quickly, he would soon be staring at his intestines as they dangled from the Minotaur’s horns.
The only thing for him to do was to perform a wild and desperate attempt that he knew was sure to be incredibly painful. As it was his only chance he dove headfirst like a baseball player attempting to steal second base. His white shirt was ripped to shreds as he slid against the floor. Both his chest and stomach were heavily bruised and lacerated in the process. During the slide, he grabbed the blade with his left arm and, in one swift motion, more out of muscle memory than conscious thought, swung his legs just out of reach of the creature’s stampeding hooves.
The Minotaur took a few steps forward before he realized Gregory’s flesh wasn’t being kneaded by his spiky hooves. He turned and scowled which revealed several rows of jagged, gritted teeth. Yet another charge was made. Gregory soared to his feet and then stood his ground. He lifted the blade with both hands and moved his legs apart to brace himself for the upcoming blow. At the critical point, the man thrust his arms forward.
Their collision was so intense that the man’s grip was forced off the blade as he flew against a nearby wall. The sword had the opposite but equal reaction. It penetrated through the creature’s nose and was driven through the creature’s brain out the back of his skull. It was so quick that the creature did not have time to realize that he was dead.
Gregory’s arms quivered and his legs wobbled as he lifted himself off the ground. His bare stomach and chest were now a bright crimson thanks to his newly acquired scrapes and gashes. Those wounds were superficial but painful nonetheless.
He assessed his attire. The vest was a lost cause and his shirt too was mostly ripped to shreds. It barely hung from his muscular shoulders and his trusty derringer hung in the pocket as if it were holding on for its dear life. After placing the beloved firearm in his pants pocket, Gregory discarded the destroyed items of clothing. His pants were in a little bit better condition for though the knees were completely torn it otherwise was in comparably decent shape.
He staggered toward the deceased creature lying face down with the sword stabbed through his head like a shish-kebab. As Gregory did, he noticed that his boots flopped on his feet and the ground was perceptively sharp and coarse. He lifted his right foot followed by his left. The soles of his boots were gone, so he discarded them. Shoeless, shirtless, and practically pantless, it was another adventure that ended with a suit damaged beyond repair. His closet at the hotel was full of spares but it was still annoying when he ruined a good suit.
Gregory remained resolute and looked over the Minotaur until he found, around the creature’s neck, partially hidden in the thick fur, a shiny silver key. It would not yield to his tugs so he reached into the fur intending to release the clasp of the chain the key was attached to. However, the fur was coated with a foul-smelling viscous liquid that he found repellent. The notion of reaching into to unclasp the chain was revolting to him but he realized he had no choice. After several deep sighs and finding a resolve unlike any he ever had before, Gregory dove back in and searched for that clasp.
It proved incredibly difficult to find. Several frustrating minutes passed. The thickness and slickness of the fur made it difficult for him to get a good grasp on the fastener. He struggled immensely and his already weary fingers grew increasingly more fatigued with each passing moment.
“What the hell are you doing?” asked a shrill voice. Gregory turned toward the maiden who was screaming at the top of her lungs. “Get your head out of your ass and get the key already and let me free!”
Gregory rose and turned away from the creature.
“Uh, what are you doing?” He did not answer. Instead, he walked toward the bed where the parchment he had dropped earlier still lay. Gregory picked it up off the floor, studied it for a moment, dropped it again, and then headed to the foot of the altar.
He knocked on a few specific spaces until his knuckles hit a switch. Gregory pressed down and an opening to the right of the altar emerged. The man walked through and left the maiden alone.
“Hey! Hey! What the hell are you doing? You can’t just leave me here.”
Gregory popped his head back into the room. “Of course I can.”
“But-but-but how could you abandon a sweet young girl?”
“Sweet? Now, that’s a laugh. You’ve shown me nothing but ingratitude even now moments after I’ve slain the Minotaur and was searching for the key necessary for your release.”
“But-but I’ll starve.”
“Nonsense, you’ll die of dehydration long before you starve. Besides, probably someone out there will miss you enough to search for you though I must admit that does seem unlikely; considering your attitude I cannot imagine anyone would particularly want you back. Also, now that I think about it, any rescue would assume they’d somehow be able to get here without the map or amulet. Oh well, I’m sure your hypothetical rescue party will think of something.”
Gregory flashed a hearty grin, waved, and disappeared.
“Hey, what the hell? Get back here now, old man! I demand you get your ass over here and release me right now! It’s your damn job, ain’t it? Do it now!”
“I know you’re still there old man! Answer me!”
The room remained silent.
“Um, Gregory? Are you still there?”
Silence was golden except for in this particular situation.
“Mr. Gregory Sole, world’s premier kishef-mahker, grandson of Eileen something or the other, you wouldn’t just leave me here to die, right? Right?”
Several flies buzzed above the decaying creature’s head but otherwise, the elven maiden received no response. As seemingly Gregory truly left, tears welled in her eyes as the maiden started to sob. “Oh God, I’m going to die here! What the hell was I thinking? I should have been nicer to him! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to piss you off! I’m sorry, Gregory! Please come back! I’ll be nicer, I promise!”
“That’s all I needed to hear.” Gregory marched back into the room with renewed vigor and resumed his search for the clasp.
“What the hell? I thought you left!”
Gregory turned his head, looked at her, and smirked before resuming his task.
“You bastard! You scared the shit out of me! I honestly thought you left!”
Gregory’s answer was a sardonic laugh.
“I take back my apology! I’m sorry for nothing! Nothing! You hear me, nothing!”
“Too late. You’ve already apologized and revealed your true form.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Got it! Finally!” Gregory rose triumphantly and lifted the unclasped key above his head. “Now we can set you free.”
“Hold up. What do you mean I revealed my true form?”
The man walked to the maiden’s side. “Somehow I knew that your tough, foul-mouthed, not to mention woefully disrespectful exterior was a façade.”
“Bullshit, you know nothing about me.” The restraints made a satisfying clank as the key unlocked each of them. “I just, I just, I just-”
“You just what?”
“I just… knew how gullible you men are and knew if I put on the waterworks you’d come rushing to my side to let me free and I was right.” The young girl sat up on the bed and rubbed her wrists and ankles to return circulation to her extremities.
“Anyway, I knew you wouldn’t leave me here alone. It goes against your nature. You’re too much of a boy scout to do something like that.”
“I certainly won’t deny that I never truly intended to leave but I admit you made it tempting, perhaps more so than any other temptation I’ve ever faced in my life.”
Her eyes darted about the room. “Anyway, I suppose I should thank you or something, so um, thanks, I guess. Er, no, wait, no, I really do mean it. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. I’d say it was a pleasure but I do not wish to lie.”
She removed a pack of cigarettes from the back pocket of her cargo shorts along with a silver matchbook. The maiden removed a match, lit one of the few cigarettes she had left, put it to her crimson lips, and took a long, hard drag.
“God, that feels so good. I needed one of those for a while.”
“I didn’t know elves smoke.”
“Yeah, well, it’s one of the bad habits we picked from humans.” She took another long puff. “Good thing elves have better lungs than you weak humans.”
“Is that so?”
“I don’t know. We’re better at everything else so I’m just going to assume our lungs are better as well.” She finished smoking the last of her cigarette and stubbed it out against the stone bed.
“Okay, I think I’m ready to go. Thanks again, but uh, I guess I’ll get going now.” She hopped off the bed and made a bee-line toward the exit.
“Wait, where are you going?”
The young woman turned with a bewildered expression on her face. “What do you mean? I’m headed back to my hotel. I’m on vacation and I’m planning on enjoying the time I have left.”
“Okay, I guess I can understand. Before you go, though, I’d like to ask, what hotel are you staying at?”
“Why do you want to know that?” Her brow furrowed. “Oh, I get it. All you men are the same. Here I thought you were a nice guy and everything but really you’re just an old pervert! That’s the real reason you rescued me. You deserve to be treated like shit.”
For the first time in a while, Gregory was at a loss for words. “No, I, I mean, I meant, I just wanted to know where you were at so I could ask you a few questions.”
“Yeah, I’m sure, something like, ‘Hey baby, since I’m here, wanna get breakfast. Should I wake you or nudge you?’ Go to hell.”
She turned and started storming toward the exit. Gregory grabbed her arm. “Please don’t go. I assure you my intentions are pure.”
“Let go of me.”
“Only if you promise to stay and hear me out.”
The maiden paused. “Fine. Just make it quick. What do you want to know?” Gregory released his grip.
“Thank you. My first question is why were you captured?”
“You don’t know?”
She shrugged. “Nuh-uh. Am I supposed to? That dumbass creature just grabbed me while I was exploring the caves. I probably should have brought a friend. I guess the elders were right about the buddy system.”
“Minotaurs do not grab random maidens. They never act unless directed to do so by a higher power.”
“You mean, like God?”
“No, not like God. I’m referring to anyone that has more authority, more intelligence, and more supernatural ability than a Minotaur”
“Well, who’d want a Minotaur to nab me or whatever?”
“I haven’t a clue but I intend to figure it out.”
“Oh, okay, cool, well, good luck with that.” She once again turned toward the door.
“Aren’t you the least curious about anything that has happened? Aren’t you at the very least curious about why you weren’t killed immediately?”
“No, not really. Just happy to be alive and desperate to get back to enjoying my time here. It’s my first trip to Greece and I don’t intend to waste it. Speaking of which, peace!” She lifted two fingers over her head and again rushed to the door.
“You were on top of an altar which tells me you were intended to be a sacrifice.” That statement made her pause.
“Yes. There was a red carpet and everything. Whatever was going to happen here was certainly part of some bizarre ritual.”
“Who was I going to be sacrificed for?”
“I’m not sure. Perhaps we can learn more from your father?”
She turned around and faced Gregory. Her eyes began to water. “Daddy? You know my daddy?”
“Yes, Ilyana, he was the one who gave me the sword. He was the one who told me he believed the Minotaur had kidnapped you. He was the one who sent me here to bring you back home.”
She shook her head and wiped the tears from her eyes. “You can tell him where to stick it. I’m not going home, okay? You can’t convince me otherwise.” The maiden dashed through the door and left. Gregory ran after her but by the time he reached the exit, it was too late. There was no sign of the girl. It was as if he was alone in the serene forest and the bright midday sun.
The man sighed, “My only clue was that she is staying at a hotel somewhere in Greece. I supposed he could check out each one and see if she’s there. How many could there be?”
Gregory then remembered that when he searched for a place to stay his online query returned over nine thousand results. He realized that when he went back to his hotel to retrieve his phone even if he reduced the search to only major metropolitan areas it would still be an overwhelming number to investigate. There was little chance he could go through them all and find her before her vacation ended so he needed a better plan. Before that, though, he needed to retrieve the map and the sword. Both were borrowed and it would be nice to return them if such a thing was possible.
He approached the corpse that was the new home for the blade. Gregory pulled vigorously and made a valiant attempt to remove it from the Minotaur’s skull. Unfortunately, the weapon refused to budge. It was embedded far too deep. Perhaps returning his client’s scabbard would suffice. Even if it didn’t, there was little else he could do.
Gregory then walked over to the stone bed, reached down, and grabbed the map. The man paused noticing a small object. It was silver with red and black text in the foreground. “A matchbook, of course, it’s the matchbook Ilyana used when she lit her cigarette.” Gregory snatched it from the ground and read the text, “The Tycherós Hotel.”
“I know of that place, vaguely, incredibly vaguely. I just happened upon it during my search for hotels, but I still remember a couple of things. After all, that was one of the various places I considered staying. I believe it is a small villa in Rome and hopefully the only place in existence with that name. Well, that obviously will be my next destination, after I attend to these annoying cuts of course, and get something to eat. There’s nothing like fighting a Minotaur to work up an appetite.”
With that settled in his mind, he headed out to go to his hotel to take care of his various needs, which included treating his wounds, bathing, and donning clean, untorn clothes. After treating himself to “a decadent lunch followed by a small cup of tea,” which he felt he had earned, he would be off to Tycherós.
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