Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled Dire Consequences. 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 made him nervous. It may have provided the only illumination in that dank dark labyrinth but at the same time, the blistering red flame represented a potential disaster. The held an ancient parchment as dry with his free hand was as British wit and he knew a single spark would cause it to go aflame.
He at times had to hold the torch perilous close to see the intricacies of the map and read the ancient inscriptions. It described how to decipher the dangerous puzzles that waited for him on his path.
The parchment chiefly discussed 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. These warnings that have echoed through the ages are typically general and often can be banal but in this instance the man needed to follow the instructions to the letter.
Oft he’d happen upon a crossroads where the parchment read “Let Ariadne be your guide”. He’d look down at the charm, reputed to be once owned by the Cretan princess herself, or at least so said the fast-talking salesman at the bazar who sold him the trinket at a, to quote the man, “ridiculously low price”, hanging around his neck. Whatever direction the sapphire amulet 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. His scabbard tied to his waist with a leather belt collided against his leg with each step.
He did not wish to carry the Sword of Aegus. The man much preferred a gun, which he still carried with him as he navigated through. However, it was the only weapon that could counter what awaited the man at the end of the labyrinth. Hopefully, it’d be able to do the job even if its user is completely inexperienced with it.
His shiny black boots were not doing well. These floors were hell to them. He regretted not wearing his less formal outfit as his clothing was acquiring all sorts of dirt and grime in the cavern but at the same time, other than the addition of a coat, his casual outfit was no different than what he currently wore.
It was quite easy to get lost even with the map. The stone walls were near-identical. It also seemed that the only decoration was murals that depicted bulls and men fighting. There were a couple that showed man, woman, and beast performing other less reputable and socially acceptable activities, but the man quickly averted his head when he saw those. Otherwise, there was little to demarcate one room from the next.
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 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 though his talisman did suggest he was continuously moving 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 reverence. His bespectacled eyes took another elongated stare at the instructions, holding 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 and dripped profusely up and down his back immediately after his last step. His foot had sunk almost half a centimeter when he pressed his foot on the final square and, what was far more ominous, it was accompanied by a faint but distinct click.
He glanced over his shoulder. Walls that seemed solid and immovable were suddenly opened with the sliding of hidden panels that revealed long oblong cylinders. Similar activity was happening in front of him as well.
The man hit the floor, dropping the torch and the map in the process as he covered his ears and eyes. A flurry of arrows rocketed through the air and sailed over him. The man could feel the wind as the deadly weapons passed. Most of the bolts just missed him 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 fired. An almost eerie ambiance radiated. All was silent except for the glowing embers of the fire. Assured that the coast was clear, the man started to rise to his feet.
Only to quickly be forced back to the floor. The man moved to one side and placed his back against the wall to avoid the second wave. They sailed perilously close. One managed to remove a button on his obsidian colored vest, narrowly avoiding his firearm tucked tightly in his vest at the same time, and another arrow passed through the knee of one of his pants’ legs. Luckily, it narrowly avoided penetrating except for the top level of skin.
Perhaps due to instinct, a premonition, good peripheral vision, or good old-fashioned luck, he realized that another wave was coming from the opposite side. He rolled put back against the wall on the other side.
A few penetrated his vest and pants and caused more than a couple of surface-level scratches, not to mention all the damage these bolts were doing to his exquisite clothes. Yet had he not acted so quickly and correctly, it would have been far worse. He would have been a human pin cushion, or at least arrow cushion.
The man’s chest convulsed rapidly and his white undershirt was now soaked with perspiration. Blood trickled from his small wounds as another uncomfortable silence befell the room.
He waited, and waited, and waited, until he was sure this time that the coast was clear. The man rolled to his front to get his hands under him and lift himself to his feet.
Another wave of deadly projectiles fired. He stood on his hands this time and moved them around hastily, once having to push himself into the air before landing back on his palms, to avoid them all. Not that he was completely successful as one managed to graze his chin.
His sword slipped from its scabbard as he did this and landed with a loud bang against the tiled floor. He would have picked it up immediately but he was more than a little preoccupied.
After the wave of arrows that flew just under his neck and chin ceased, the man looked up slightly and noticed that another wave was coming from above. His legs did the splits as another wave fired. One grazed his calf but otherwise, he emerged unharmed.
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 stared with his peripheral vision at the puzzle room but he dared not look completely in lest his head be removed from a wayward arrow.
Thus, a waiting game commenced.
Soon hours passed as well.
Finally assured that the trap was no longer active and with functionality returned to his legs along with his composure satisfactorily regained, he took inventory. The torch was gone and so was the map. Both he let free of his grasp during his impromptu session of gymnastics. He’d have to recover his sword too.
After pawing around his neck, the man let out a sigh of relief. The amulet was still around his neck and more importantly, was still in one piece. All he needed to retrieve, then, were his map, torch, and sword.
The man went back into the puzzle room. He walked slowly to the edge of the grid, knelt, and leaned over. Reacquiring the map required little effort. It was relatively close, 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.
Then there was the sword. That thing was not particularly close. It had bounced quite a distance away, to the man’s pained and anguished chagrin.
He reached from his knees but wasn’t even close to reaching it. The man lied on his stomach and reached as far as he could without touching a tile. His arm stretched and stretched and stretched 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, 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.
He covered his ears and his eyes, dropping the torch and the parchment one more time in the process, and once again as he 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 the torch, and scampered out of the room lest he be incorrect in his assessment that the room no longer posed a threat.
Now free and safe, he rechecked how he was supposed to solve the puzzle. He needed where it all went wrong.
Left, left, turn, right, right, leap, forward, turn, jump, and then left, left, middle, left, right. Ah, he 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. It appeared he’d have to brush up on his studies.
The rest of the outing was far less eventful. There was a simple puzzle that involved lighting torches besides 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 that.
After what seemed like days but was only several hours and mind you this included the amplified time when he waited for the deadly room to stop firing arrows, he finally arrived at the end of the labyrinth.
He noticed a sharp contrast when he entered the final room. The walls were a concrete gray. In of itself, this was not particularly notable but when contrasted with the drab browns and moldy greens of the rest of the maze, it provided the room with an air of majesty.
There was a gigantic cauldron of fire hanging overhead that provided more than enough light. It was so bright that the man initially covered his eyes before slowly opening them and letting his eyes adjust. The man discarded his torch. It was no longer necessary.
A red carpet lied at the man’s feet. His eyes followed until they reached the other side of the room. The sight would have made a normal man’s jaw drop to the floor, but for this man, he was not taken aback as he was used to this sort of thing. This could mostly be attributed to his experiences with his particular field of expertise.
On the other side of the room was 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 blonde hair dangled off the side. She wore khaki shorts, a white shirt, and large brown hiking books. Thick bracelets bound both her arms and legs to the granite and prevented all movement. The man drew his blade and walked toward the maiden.
The maiden turned her head toward the man. “Who are you?”
He smirked and pushed his glasses further up his face with his index finger and flashed a wry smile. “My name is Gregory Sole, yes, the paranormal expert Gregory Sole.”
“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!”
“A two-hundred-year-old elf is equivalent to relative age as a seventeen-year-old teenager which is why I described myself as your elder. 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 around and leave. Had it not been for an internal deontological compulsion cultivated since childhood and fear of losing respect in the paranormal community, for he had an idea of the kinds of rumors that would circulate as the members of said community are notorious gossips, he would have.
He set the map down on the floor. Gregory then thoroughly examined 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. He lifted the sword and aimed it directly at the maiden’s neck. For a moment he wondered whether it would be worth it before he resisted temptation and hacked away at the metallic restraints. The maiden did not seem to notice the internal dilemma the man had just experienced.
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?”
“Sorry. I forgot.”
“You’re worthless. Did anyone ever tell you that? Completely worthless.”
Gregory nearly lost his cool. He wanted to express a particularly profane albeit incredibly clever and appropriate retort even if it were only two words long. Luckily, before he could debase himself in such a manner, he was interrupted by the maze’s chief resident who had recently entered the room from wherever he had gone, to greet his new visitor.
The Minotaur charged the man and head-butted him against his side with the top of his forehead. Gregory went in one direction and his blade went in the other. He crashed against a corner of the slab altar then rolled awkwardly neck-first two or three times against the cold, unyielding floor.
Ariadne’s amulet unclasped as Gregory did this and the momentum of the man’s motions caused the trinket to sail through the air. It landed with a hideous crashing noise and shattered into mist before it disappeared without a trace. That’s magic items for you. At least he no longer needed it to navigate the maze.
In spite of 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 after a moment where his vision was 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 if anything, it was the only thing truly fortuitous that happened during recent events. He doubted she expressed words of encouragement.
A metaphorical light bulb appeared over his head. Gregory walked backward until his posterior pressed against the wall. He removed his coat and used 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 allowed himself to elicit a wry smile.
Reality quickly dissipated any such inane fantasies and erased his smug grin. The Minotaur ignored the coat. He headed directly toward him.
Not a second too soon, Gregory leaped to the side before he was impaled by one of those sharp horns. The Minotaur managed to stop just before he collided with the wall.
His coat snared on the creature’s horns. In a few swift motions of the monster’s head, it was ripped to shreds. He then turned his head toward Gregory with a stern look washed over his face.
Great, the man thought, one more coat sacrificed for another ungrateful whelp. He also chastised himself for the slipshod plan unsure why he believed it 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 fired four times into the Minotaur.
All the shots were absorbed. With a single flex of the creature’s muscles, the bullets 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 noise’s origin, the maiden on the slab. Her screams echoed against the walls nearly drowning out the creature’s enraged cries. Both noises rattled in the man’s brain. He now realized what Lovecraft was referring to when he wrote of noises that could drive men mad.
Soon the screams ceased. The Minotaur turned his head at the paranormal investigator. His eyes were filled with flames of a raging inferno.
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 was mad. His 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 skewered his lower intestine. He stayed on his feet, though just barely. One knee was on the ground and a hand hovered above the floor.
The creature wasted no time and made a subsequent attack. Almost out of reflex, Gregory rose to his feet and in one swift motion grabbed the Minotaur by its horn.
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. More importantly, 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. His physique must have been at least somewhat impressive as the maiden temporarily halted her vulgar cavalcade of grievances to admire his build. All his faults aside he was incredibly put together and strong.
Compared to a supernatural creature, though, he was weak. The heels of his boots left large leather streaks on the floor as the man was slowly driven backward. He knew his muscles were no match for the paranormal which is why Gregory preferred to use cunning and 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. As the sweat poured from every orifice which made his clothes nothing more than an expensive wet rag, he attempted to formulate hasty schemes. Unfortunately, the intense pain and precarious situation made it difficult to think. If nothing else, he knew as soon as he released his grip, he was a dead man. The Minotaur would make sure of that.
What Gregory did not take into account was the creature’s short temper.
The Minotaur surely would have won a war of attrition and 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. Gregory was flipped into the air.
Then the creature was suddenly puzzled. Where did the man go? He looked to the left and looked to the right. Gregory was nowhere to be found.
A great weight descended from the sky and landed heavily against the creature’s back. The force temporarily moved him down to a hocked knee. When he rose to his feet once again, 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.
Gregory resisted. He gouged the creature’s eyes with both thumbs which blinded him.
The Minotaur let out an anguished screech as he trotted recklessly in all directions. All he could think about was the searing pain.
Fists flailed wildly. The paranormal investigator wanted to find anywhere the creature may have been weak. He punched the back of the head, the neck, the ears, and the side of his skull. No reaction. Gregory had the same amount of success as the fly that landed in the creature’s hair.
The Minotaur staggered about the room until his stumbling finally ended when he collided, hard, against a wall on the opposite end of the room.
Gregory was flung off the Minotaur’s back by the force of the crash. He landed with a resounding thud atop his left arm. With no time to cry about the pain, the man quickly rose to his knees then his feet. His eyes never left the creature.
The man’s arm dangled limply and flapped like a trout on land. Gregory diverted attention from the Minotaur momentarily to check his wound. After he did, he let out a relieved sigh.
It was a dislocation, not a break. The arm may have pulsated with an excruciating pain but his malady was easy enough to remedy. He had done it several times during a multitude of his adventures.
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 abated, he focused completely on the creature.
The Minotaur’s hands were no longer covering his eyes. They were covering his nose. His moans were also deeper and somehow even more tormented than before.
When he hit the wall, he must have hit his nose. Judging from the reaction, that was his weak point.
Utilizing the distraction, Gregory dashed toward the blade now residing in the exact center of the room. The creature heard his footsteps and even his primordial brain ascertained the paranormal expert’s plan. His pain suddenly ceased and his vision returned through bloodshot eyes. He was ready to engage in the impromptu race.
Both the man and the creature charged toward the center at a forty-five-degree angle. The Minotaur had the speed but Gregory had the agility and more importantly had an ample head start.
Gregory was never a particularly fast man but he needed to conjure all the strength he could on his aging but not quite old frame to beat the Minotaur to the sword.
Yet the creature was able to cover a great amount of distance with every step. Gregory was a few feet from the blade when he realized the creature was still going to beat him and unless he acted fast, he would not arrive on time and would feel the pain of the sharp horn as it pierced through his stomach.
There was only one thing to do. A wild and desperate attempt that was sure to be incredibly painful. It was also the only chance he had.
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. Thinking more out of instinct than conscious thought, he moved his legs in such a manner that he was able to wrap himself around the creature’s feet. Gregory managed to swing his legs just out of reach of the creature’s stampeding hooves.
The Minotaur made a few steps passed the man before he realized he didn’t make any contact. He turned quickly and scowled at the man through gritted teeth.
Yet another charge was made. Gregory soared to his feet 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 complete lost cause and his shirt too was mostly ripped to shreds. It barely hung from his muscular shoulders. Gregory discarded both items of clothing. They weren’t long for this world.
His pants were in a little bit better condition. The knees were completely torn but otherwise they were in decent condition. Perhaps they could be converted to shorts, not that Gregory would ever degrade himself by wearing such things.
He staggered toward the deceased creature now 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. Gregory lifted his right foot followed by his left and examined both.
The soles of his boots were gone. They must have disintegrated during the shoving match he had with the Minotaur. Both were immediately discarded.
Shoeless, shirtless, and practically pantless. Another adventure ended with another suit lost. His closet at the hotel was full of outfits like the one he wore to the labyrinth but it was still annoying when he ruined one beyond repair.
Still resolute, Gregory searched the Minotaur until he found, around the creature’s neck, hidden in the thick fur, a shiny silver key.
He pulled on it. It didn’t budge. His hands reached into the hair and immediately withdrew. The smell was nauseating and an unidentifiable clear but viscous liquid lined the hair. After several deep sighs and finding a resolve unlike any he ever had before, Gregory dove back in and searched for the 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. His fingers, already weary, grew increasingly more fatigued with each passing moment.
“What the hell are you doing?” asked a shrill voice. He turned toward the maiden. “Get your head out of your ass and get the key already and let me free!”
Gregory rose. He 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 emerged right next to him leading to the way out. 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 in the room. “The hell I can’t.”
“But-but-but what would your paranormal buddies think when they discover you abandoned a sweet young girl?”
“Sweet? Now, that’s a laugh. Besides, I’ve slain a Minotaur. They will have no concern of a random elven maiden when I tell them that.”
“But-but I’ll starve.”
“Nonsense, you’ll die of dehydration long before you starve. Besides, I am sure one of my companions will wish to see proof of my alleged accomplishment. Perhaps when they come here to confirm my kill they will find it in their hearts to rescue you as well. Assuming they manage to remove the key of course, and I suppose get here on time as well. I can’t imagine how they’ll be able to without the map or amulet but those guys are smart. I’m sure they’ll think of something. Oh, and I’d suggest being far more polite to them as well. Not all of them are as patient as I am.”
Gregory then waved with a hearty grin 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, paranormal extraordinaire, 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.
Minutes passed. It seemed that Gregory truly left.
Tears welled in her eyes. 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 him 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 thought you left!”
Gregory laughed uproariously.
“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 for a scared young woman.”
“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. Boy howdy, did you ever make it tempting.”
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.”
“Your welcome. I’d say it was a pleasure but I do not wish to lie.”
She reached into her pocket and removed a pack of cigarettes and a silver matchbook. The maiden removed a match, lit one of the few remaining 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 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 plastered 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 the 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, Kenzie, 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. His only clue was that she was staying at a hotel somewhere in Greece. He supposed he could check out each one and see if she’s there. How many could there be?
Gregory suddenly remembered. When he searched for a place to stay his online query returned over nine thousand results. He realized that even if he reduced the search, when he went back to his hotel to retrieve his phone, 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. He needed to find another way.
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 he could do and was left with no alternative.
Gregory then walked over to the stone bed. He reached down and grabbed the map.
The man paused. He noticed a tiny little object. It was silver with red and black text in the foreground.
A matchbook, of course, it was the matchbook Kenzie used when she lit her cigarette.
Gregory snatched it from the ground. The text read, “The Tycherós Hotel.”
He knew of that place. Vaguely. Incredibly Vaguely. To tell the truth, he just happened upon it during his search for hotels, but he still remembered a couple of things. After all, he did consider, briefly, of booking a room at that particular place.
Gregory remembered it was a small villa in Rome and the only place in existence with that name. His next destination was clear.
Or so it would have been had he not had other matters to attend. His cuts were still quite painful in spite the stoic façade and his stomach’s growls were beginning to become considerably loud.
It was settled. Before going to the Tycherós, he’d go to his own hotel. He’d dress his wounds then after a shower and a bath, he’d treat himself to a decadent lunch followed by a small cup of tea. Gregory figured he probably earned it at this point.
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