by Zenia Dehaven
The stylus bled black rivers in its wake as it danced across the papyrus. Its wielder’s eyebrows knitted together in a furrow, like a peasant girl’s wretched attempt at sewing. Huffing, the man sat back. The nubs of the wicker chair’s legs squeaked against the stone floor. He inhaled, breathing in the soft musk of night and old parchment, and rested his palm on the drawing. His pointed finger landed on an inky mark like a ship dropping anchor. The torchlight burned crimson and gold behind his eyelids, but the man ignored it. The study vanished like a drop of blood in a pool. He stood in a bleak corridor. The ceiling above his head stretched so high it might have brushed the base of Mount Olympus itself. The man raced down the hallways, counting his turns, retreating when he met a dead end. Left, right, left, left, dead end, back, right. His gaze was sharper than a hawk’s as he searched for a sliver of daylight that heralded his escape from the underground labyrinth. Then, sooner than he would have liked, he found it. There was a bronze door at the end of a long corridor, its edges shimmering with the promise of sunlight.
Daedalus opened his eyes and sighed, burying his face in his wrinkled hands.
Not good enough.
He scratched his beard and hurled the scroll aside, where it amalgamated with its brethren of bastard sketches beside his desk. He ran a hand through his mop of gray curls, untangling some of the knots with the crooks of his fingers. His chair groaned as he rose, pacing back and forth in his study that was barely larger than a weapon cupboard. The room was windowless, but he didn’t mind. His walls were overrun with sketches of his inventions, so windows would have been an inconvenience, with their natural light washing out the parchment ink. Some of the scrolls displayed grand ships with furling sails and majestic figureheads of sirens and goddesses and kings at their prow, inspiring her crew and driving terror into the hearts of her enemies. Daedalus chuckled at one sheet he had forgotten about, plucking it off the wall. His son had scribbled soldiers onto the ship’s deck, each equipped with an impressively large sword, ax, or bow. Every soldier’s smile expanded beyond the lines of their misshapen faces. Thankfully, Daedalus had shown this idea to the shipbuilder prior to his son’s creative additions.
He pinned the drawing back on with the others, noticing an older sketch of a weapon that King Minos had requested. “Requested” wasn’t quite the right word, as Daedalus would have had his head separated from his shoulders if he had refused. He had forged an ax so sharp that it cleaved through chainmail like butter. After fastening the blade onto a body that perfectly counterbalanced its weight, he delivered it to the king. He remembered kneeling on the cold floor before the king of Crete’s throne, his aging knees barking in protest. His eyes were locked downward, his strong arms held the ax high above his head in offering. Though he wasn’t privy to Minos’s reaction, he heard the onlookers gasp at the expert craft of the ax, and he stifled a smile. Minos deemed the weapon worthy of his kingliness and named it “Thunderclap” in honor of his godly sire, Zeus.
The blade is sharper than the wielder, Daedalus thought.
His gaze drifted to a sheet of parchment so old that the edges wrinkled like the cheeks of a smiling old woman. It was a crude drawing of a saw, with jagged, uneven teeth designed for chewing through tree trunks. Rudimentary, of course, but not inconsiderable, especially considering it had been created not by himself, but his nephew.
Shame gripped Daedalus’s heart as the memory rushed his mind before he could close the floodgates.
“I based it on a fish, see!” Talus said, bouncing on his heels as he handed Daedalus the paper. “I was eating salmon, the one we get from the market, and noticed how sharp its spine was. It made me think, if we made a big version of that—” he spread his ten-year-old arms out wide for demonstration, “we could make a tool! Something to help cut trees, or anything really!”
Daedalus frowned at the illustration, feigning disapproval, but the idea was sound, especially for one as young Talus. They stood just outside his ocean cabin, which perched on the edge of Mount Acropolis. The ocean waves hissed against the mountain hundreds of feet below as they continually crashed into its stony surface before retreating back into Poseidon’s realm. Daedalus loved the ocean. The salty air kissing his skin helped rejuvenate old ideas and advance his current works-in-progress. He loved to watch Helios’s chariot drag the sun to the edge of the water, bleeding into the ocean with molten gold. The whisper of the waves against the cliffside sung him to sleep, until recently, when his fool of a brother insisted that he take Talus under his wing for an apprenticeship.
He looked back at his nephew, whose mousy hair whipped wildly as the sea breeze funneled around them. This was not the first sketch Talus had created during his stay, but rather another impressive addition to his growing collection. The boy had a gift, there was no doubt about it. If he continued to perfect his craft, he may even rival Daedalus one day.
Or surpass him.
The thought bloomed something rotten and hideous in Daedalus’s mind, and he crumpled the parchment in a clenched fist.
Daedalus rubbed his eyes until red and green fireworks burst across his vision, forcing him back to the present. He kept the sketch of the saw as a painful reminder, but sometimes the pain was too much for him to bear, especially in moments of frustration like now.
His recent sketches were dedicated to different variations of cages. His latest design was a set of reinforced iron bars that stood so firm that they could withstand the impact of a rushing chariot or the brute force of a charging bull. The expanding pile at his feet taunted him for his repeated failed attempts at designing his most ambitious project yet. He was tempted to throw them all into the fireplace and watch as they shriveled and died.
From the hall beyond his open door, he heard rapid panting, the slap of bare soles on stone floors, and then Icarus tumbled into the room, the firelight bouncing prisms off his sweat-beaded cheeks. Sand dusted his knees and palms. His chestnut hair was unkempt and matted with dirt, his sandals strung together by bare threads.
“Father!” Icarus gasped, then paused, doubling over as he sucked in air. His small shoulders rose and fell, and, in his frenzy, his toga had slipped off his shoulder. Daedalus knelt by his son and readjusted it as he recovered from his feverish sprint.
“Thank you, father,” he said, his hands still clasping his knees, trembling.
“Put your hands behind your head,” Daedalus said, locking his fingers behind his head as an example. “And then breathe.”
Icarus looked up, his eyes narrowing as he studied the gesture. He mimicked his father, inhaling deeply, then exhaling. The redness slowly drained from his face like a river receding after a long drought.
“Thank you,” he said once his heart stopped galloping in his chest. A smile stretched across his chapped lips. “The tournament was incredible!”
Icarus’s energy was so electric that Daedalus worried his papyrus would catch fire from his enthusiasm alone. His son’s bubbling energy reminded him achingly of Talus, and, for a heartbeat, his nephew stood before him, frowning at the cold expression on his uncle’s face when he had anticipated praise.
Daedalus clasped Icarus’s hands, trying desperately to anchor himself to reality. He noticed scratches on his fingers and turned his hands over, searching for abrasions or broken skin.
“Who won the races?” he said, mostly to distract himself from slipping back into his past. Thankfully, Icarus jumped on his question, as his passion for athletics was unrivaled.
“Deucalion was in the lead,” he said, the words tumbling out of his mouth like wine sweeping from a pitcher’s lips. “But on the last lap, Androgeus threw a spear and broke one of the wheels of Deucalion’s chariot! He was not happy. He left even though he still won second place.”
“Did you enjoy yourself?” he asked, letting Icarus’s hands drop to his sides. The cuts were hardly skin-deep, but he wouldn’t lose his child to something as avoidable as an infection from a rogue shard of glass or metal.
“Yes!” Icarus said. “You must come next time! Please?”
Daedalus resisted the itch to glance back at the pile of failed designs lurking beside his desk. Icarus’s eyes were wide with a childish plea, the torchlight bouncing in his brown irises like twin suns.
“King Minos has given me a great task, my boy,” he said, the words feeling hollow on his tongue.
“You’re always working,” Icarus complained, crossing his arms over his small chest in a proud pout. “Won’t he let you rest? His soldiers were at the tourney today.”
“I’m not a soldier,” Daedalus said, though his son wasn’t wrong. He had spent months slaving over this labyrinth, holed up in his study as he racked his brilliant mind for a solution. He couldn’t remember the last time he walked the palace gardens or dueled with Icarus with wooden sticks in the strawberry fields. His tongue couldn’t recall the taste of the salty ocean air, and his skin was pale and leathery from the months locked away from the reach of sunlight.
Though he was only in his forties, the years of constant labor and stress under Minos’s roof had withered away at his body and spirit. His joints creaked like unoiled door hinges when he groaned out of bed in the morning. The ghosts of his past visited him in his sleep, disrupting the few hours of the night that he still had to himself. Though his grip on a stylus remained steadfast, his fingers ached from the tension.
His physical and emotional torment had worsened since Minos bestowed him the task of containing the monster prowling beneath Crete’s floors.
“How about this,” Daedalus knelt by Icarus, resting his weary hands on the boy’s shoulders. “After I finish this project, I’ll take time off. A whole month. How does that sound?”
Icarus beamed. “Yes!” His lips parted to speak, possibly to list the various athletic events they would spectate together, when a voice interrupted him from beyond the study’s door.
“The queen demands your presence,” the guard said. He stood in the doorframe, his shoulders drawn and his armored hand clutching a ribboned halberd. His armor was so shiny that Daedalus could’ve used it as a bronze mirror.
He ignored the guard.
“I have to work,” he said to Icarus. “I will see you at dinner.”
Icarus nodded, excitement still radiating from his youthful face, and dashed past the guard, who blinked in surprise as the boy skirted past his knees.
Daedalus stood, wincing from the movement.
“If her highness says she wants to fuck another bull, I ask that you kill me with that.” Daedalus nodded his head at the halberd.
The journey to the throne room was silent. The guard’s glistening armor clinked and clanked with each step, and the noise made Daedalus speculate if he could design heavy armor suited for stealth. This man couldn’t have ambushed a deaf satyr if he tried. The poor boy had balked at his crass tone towards the queen, and Daedalus guessed that he was too stunned to strike up conversation. The grotesque story of Queen Pasiphaë’s lust for the bull was now commonplace amongst Crete, though most pretended to ignore it in fear of Minos’s wrath. Some drunken guards were overheard to joke about wearing bull horns and crawling on all fours around the queen in hopes to entice her, and their heads were found on pikes in front of the palace grounds the next morning.
Though, while the queen’s intermingling with the bull was public knowledge, the byproduct of their union remained a hushed secret.
Daedalus heard the commotion in the dining hall before he saw it. High lords and soldiers and charioteers were now deep in their cups, celebrating the tournament’s spectacle with songs, cheers, and japes. Daedalus spotted Androgeus, one of Minos’s sons, in the throng of the gathering, surrounded by inebriated lords and long-lashed prostitutes. Everyone in the hall seemed desperate to have a word with the victorious prince, squeezing in and shoving each other in hopes to be graced by his royal presence. Daedalus was impressed that Androgeus found time in between conversations to sip his wine. His brother, Deucalion, wasn’t present.
Icarus sat at a table with younger princes and sons of high lords. His garb was plain, he bore no sigil and wore no crown, but his charisma was enough for the elite boys to forget about his lowborn status. As Daedalus watched, Icarus reenacted Androgeus’s victory over his brother. He hooted as the imaginary spear shattered the unseen chariot and he bowed to his captive audience. The other boys clapped, showering Icarus with grapes in lieu of flowers and wreaths.
Daedalus smiled at the sight but marched past the festivities with his stern guard.
Two seasoned soldiers stood proudly on either side of the throne room doors. They sprawled from the floor to the ceiling, their dark oak embroidered by golden script. If the men recognized Daedalus from his near two decades of servitude, they didn’t show it. His guard gave them a rigid nod, and they returned the gesture, swinging the grumbling doors open.
The king and queen of Crete sat in their respective thrones, and neither of them were happy.
Minos was dressed for an evening of entertaining his favorite lords and sons, not political formalities with his wife. He wore a loose tunic and rested a sheathed sword across his knees. As Daedalus approached, he adjusted the golden crown that rested upon his square head. His gaze briefly met Daedalus, but he glanced back at his wife, his shoulders drooping at the resolve in her eyes. She sat cross-legged in her throne, her blonde hair braided over her left shoulder. As the child born of a union between the sun titan Helios and a sea nymph, her beauty was undeniable. Her shimmering hair caught the light of her father’s sun in the day, and, at night, it seemed aglow with its own luminosity. Her red gown hugged her slim figure, and her neckline dipped generously low. She looked at Daedalus and smiled, though a sadness seeped through her beauty.
A sadness that had been born the same day that Asterius tore from her womb.
“Your highnesses,” Daedalus said, bowing. The motion sent a small spasm up his back, but he bit his lip, suppressing the urge to cry out. He stood tall, releasing the pain slightly. “You have summoned me, my queen?”
Pasiphaë nodded, her rose lips parting to speak, but her husband interrupted her.
“This can’t wait till morning?” Minos was glaring at her. His hand was wrapped around the sword’s hilt, his knuckles white from his tight grip.
“No,” she said, her voice lighter than a whispering stream. She didn’t look at Minos, who was seething with the fury of an offended god. “I have a task for you, Daedalus.”
“I apologize, but I am preoccupied with the task that King Minos has given me,” he said.
Pasiphaë was undisturbed by his response, waving aside his words with a slender hand.
“This task is related,” she said. “It’s about my son. He won’t eat.”
Daedalus’s heart plummeted into his stomach, and then down further until it dropped down into the pits of Tartarus. The memory rushed to meet him even as he tried to barricade it from his mind.
Pasiphaë screamed, clutching her swollen abdomen. Even in childbirth, she beamed like a star, but now her serene face was twisted with pain. Daedalus watched as the handmaidens rushed about her bedside, yelling commands to each other over the queen’s wails.
And suddenly she was not Pasiphaë, but Naucrate, and it was his wife contorting in pain as she struggled to push the child from her.
She cried again, and Daedalus’s vision cleared. No, it was the queen writhing on the bed, for Naucrate was long dead. The thing inside her pushed up against her belly. Something like a goat’s horn pressed up from inside of her, trying to break through her skin. Daedalus’s hand trembled as he reached for the knife.
“I agreed to help contain… him,” Daedalus said, pushing away the cursed images of childbirth from his mind. “But I asked not to interact with him.” He struggled to refer to Asterius as “him” and not “it.”
“My lord husband has asked that you design his forever home,” Pasiphaë said. “All of your labors will go to waste if he starves before the labyrinth is complete. See my gentle son and evaluate why refuses to eat.”
Let it starve, Daedalus thought, but out loud, he said, “Forgive me, my queen, but as I recall, your gentle son ripped out of your chest.”
Pasiphaë’s golden cheeks flushed pink, and Daedalus regretted the unnecessary jab at the queen the moment it left his mouth. Her reputation had been irrecoverably tarnished by no fault of her own. King Minos had requested a mighty bull from Poseidon with the promise to sacrifice it in his name. Poseidon relented. However, after Minos witnessed the bull’s striking appearance, he deemed that a sacrifice would be a pitiful waste of such an impressive creature. He killed a common bull in the name of Poseidon, hoping to fool the god of the seas into believing that his promise had remained unbroken.
If there is anything to know about the gods, it is that they offend easily and punish cruelly.
Poseidon, furious at Minos’s betrayal and subsequent deceit, cursed Pasiphaë with an unruly lust for the bull. She summoned Daedalus, demanding that he create a cow-shaped apparatus from which she could pursue intimate relations with the creature. Daedalus refused, for she was clearly not in her right mind. Minos was away on a hunting trip, so he tried to stall out Pasiphaë’s distorted demands, avoiding her and her servants for days in hopes that her husband would return and pardon Daedalus from performing the task. On the sixth day, Pasiphaë threatened to slit his throat, and the inventor sighed and relented.
Months later, when the contractions began to wrack her body, she summoned Daedalus once again to assist her in the unnatural birth. He wanted to refuse her summons, desperate to distance himself from her perverse fetus and avoid reliving his own trauma after losing his wife to childbirth, but he steeled himself. It was Minos to blame for her predicament, not her, and she need not suffer further for his vanity.
After the bloody occasion, the handmaidens collapsed from exhaustion and Daedalus laid down the knife that had freed the horned creature from the womb. Pasiphaë held her son in her arms, gazing almost lovingly at it. Its furry body was golden brown, like slightly burnt bread, and already rippled with muscle. Its gray horns curved, their tips sharp enough to be dangerous, but still stubbed, not sharp enough to be a true weapon just yet. Its equine legs were curled against its belly, its cloven feet rubbing together as Pasiphaë sang a nonsensical melody. The monster’s large eyes were closed, its snout snored softly in its mother’s embrace. From afar, the babe may even resemble an ordinary human boy.
Daedalus supposed that, even though the circumstances of its birth were beyond unnatural, she had carried it within her. It had nourished in her womb, and she birthed it like the rest of her children, though if she hadn’t been immortal, the creature would have torn her to shreds. Pasiphaë named it Asterius. It meant “star.”
Sometimes Daedalus wondered if her fondness for the monster after its birth was a remnant of Poseidon’s curse, but nearly a year had passed, and a delicate sorrow gleamed in Pasiphaë’s eyes. She did love it, he decided, or she would have let it starve long ago.
Pasiphaë’s long sigh snapped Daedalus back to the present.
“You must also evaluate his strength,” she continued. “He has grown greatly powerful in the last few months. You must examine him to ensure you build something that can contain him. Do you understand?”
Daedalus recognized the soundness of the queen’s argument; it would be fruitless to labor for such a long time over a design that might not withstand the creature’s might.
“I will go,” he said. Pasiphaë leaned back in her throne, the tension in her tanned face washing away, but the traces of melancholy remained.
“Then it is done,” Minos said, his legs already braced, as if preparing to leap out of the room to enjoy the roaring celebration in the dining hall. “Go, then.”
Daedalus turned on his heel, then paused, remembering his promise to Icarus. He faced his overseers once again, swallowing his unease as he searched for the best words to make his request.
“My lieges,” he said. “It has been an honor to work for you and for the kingdom of Crete. After I discern the reason for your son’s lack of appetite and complete the labyrinth, may I have time off to spend with Icarus? He already has to grow up without a mother, I don’t want him to grow up without a father, either.”
The noble couple looked at each other. Though their marriage was by no means the happiest, they had an uncanny ability to communicate to each other through their eyes alone.
Pasiphaë spoke first.
“What happened to Naucrate was a tragedy,” she said, and her voice caught slightly. Though Naucrate was buried over a decade ago, she spoke as if the wounds were still fresh. “She was my friend before she was your wife. Should you solve Asterius’s lack of appetite and create a suitable home for him, you may have time with Icarus. He looks so much like her.”
“Yes, he does,” Daedalus said, moved by the remorse in her tone. “Thank you, your highness.” He bowed.
The queen nodded, but she was looking past him, her eyes glossy as her mind drifted into memories privy to her alone. Daedalus emerged from the throne room with a firm resolve in his heart. In his own grief, he had forgotten the closeness between Naucrate and the queen. Some said that they were nearly sisters, although Pasiphaë’s noble status cleaved them from ever being true equals. Naucrate never seemed to mind serving as her handmaid, and Pasiphaë still held her friend in the highest regard.
Naucrate’s disregard for status was probably why she agreed to marry an impoverished inventor like Daedalus.
The guard waited for him, but he was now accompanied by a tethered goat. The beast bayed at him and locked its lopsided eyes on Daedalus’s toga. He tugged against his leash, reaching to chew on the delicious fabric. Daedalus patted the doomed creature on the head, scratching the space between its horns.
“Come,” Daedalus said, pushing past the guard. “We have a monster to feed.”
As Asterius’s existence remained a secret from the general public, his current residence was deep below the palace floors, where Minos once sent prisoners to live in absolute darkness until they went mad from solitude and begged for freedom in return for secrets on the king’s rivals. In preparation for the creature’s birth, Daedalus had reinforced the prison cell with strong bars, but nobody had been prepared for the might of the bull-human child. He was fortunate that the cage had held for this long, given his progress on the labyrinth was abysmal.
The stairwell to the prison spiraled downwards and was tightly wound, intended to induce panic in captives as they descended further and further down, away from the sunlight and murmurs of civilization above. Daedalus carried a torch, its light licking the beige walls and casting warped shadows of two men and a goat against the surface. Of the three, the goat was easily the most graceful as it clopped down the steps with a natural assuredness. The guard’s armor clanked, the sounds of metal rubbing metal ricocheting against the stairwell walls. By the time they reached the prison door, Daedalus’s knees were throbbing, and the back of his tunic was sticky with sweat.
Daedalus breathed heavily before the barred door, inhaling the musty, underground air as he prepared himself for the beast that lurked beyond. The young guard was unfazed by the countless downward steps, his smooth face stern, not yielding any sign of fear. Or perhaps he was too young to understand terror; his armor was spectacularly clean; he was likely untested by the horrors of battle. He might have been Talus’s age if he was still alive.
What if Daedalus couldn’t create this inescapable labyrinth that Minos had ordered? What if he became another Sisyphus, constantly striving for an impossible goal, only to lose all of his progress when he realized his sketch was another failure, another parchment to be burned?
If Daedalus didn’t have his mind, what was he?
It was this dangerous line of thinking that doomed him nearly twenty years ago.
Daedalus glared at Talus, this boy who had undergone barely a few weeks of instruction and already challenged him in craftsmanship and creativity. He was born from the loins of his idiot brother, who couldn’t discern a spoon from a trebuchet, and yet his offspring possessed an almost demigod-like intuition. Should he continue to expand his talents, he would be renowned not just in Greece, but throughout the entire world. He was handsome, charming, and witty, all features that appealed to gods and mortals alike. He would become the gods’ preferred moral inventor, and Daedalus would be shoved into the shadows of obscurity. Forgotten.
In a fit of rage, his vision ringed with writhing pools of red, Daedalus pushed Talus off the edge of Acropolis.
The undiluted terror in his nephew’s eyes as he stumbled backwards would haunt Daedalus for as long as he lived. Talus’s arms flailed forth, trying desperately to regain his balance and cease his fall, but it was too late. As he tumbled from the mountain peak, his frightful cry piercing the serene hiss of the ocean against the cliff side, a blinding pillar shot down from the heavens. The boy froze mid-fall, his limbs spread awkwardly, hands still arced to grasp whatever handhold that may save him. Talus’s body contorted, folding over itself like a potter molding wet clay, and a new shape emerged from the light, one much smaller and rounder than the boy he had been heartbeats earlier. A partridge, its white feathers the shade of the cumulus clouds, flapped out of the beam. It fluttered about for a moment, its bobbed head flicking between the cliffside and the ocean, before catching the air current and drifting away, and Daedalus would never see Talus again.
A voice erupted in Daedalus’s mind with such violence that he fell to the ground, his hands pressed over his ears as if that would alleviate the pain. The voice was female, and though he had never encountered her before, he knew it to be that of the goddess Athena, the goddess of wisdom, craft, and warfare.
“Daedalus,” she said, each word striking his mind like a mallet against a gong. He thought he was screaming, but the voice of the goddess suffocated everything: his voice, the crashing waves, the whispers of the wind. “You are banished from Athens on my authority. If you ever return, I will smite you. I only spare you for your talents as a craftsman is undeniable, but your crime against your own blood is unforgivable. Begone, kinslayer.”
Though Athena was more calculated than her brother Ares, whose temper had ignited more wars than anyone could count, her frigid judgment was even more terrifying than her trigger-happy sibling. Daedalus left Athens, leaving behind all of his work and everything he’d ever known, except for Talus’s sketch, the only remnant of his former life. He looked for work, seeking a lord that would offer him food and shelter in return for his craft. Several recognized his name and tried to wrangle him into their service for mere scraps, but Daedalus had refused. He knew his worth, and, even now, refused to suffer a blow to his reputation by working for a meager governor with hardly any land to his name. Eventually, the clothes on Daedalus’s back became uncomfortably loose and his stomach growled ever louder in yearning, and he was running out of options. He arrived on King Minos’s doorstep as the shadow of the proud inventor that had embarked from Athens, but Minos had heard of Daedalus’s ingenuity, and accepted him.
And thus, Crete had become his begrudging home for the last fifteen years.
It wasn’t all terrible, Daedalus conceded. He had fallen madly in love with the queen’s silver-eyed handmaiden, a fair woman named Naucrate, who, for reasons beyond his comprehension, agreed to wed a wretched man like him. She had died on the childbed, her eyes gazing lovingly at Daedalus as the last breath sighed from her lips. He had held their son in his arms, his own flesh and blood, but the babe was a stranger to him. In that moment, he had wished Athena had destroyed him and sent his soul straight into Hades rather than bear the grief that ravaged him that day.
“Come on, you dumb thing,” the guard said, trying to nudge the ill-fated goat towards the barred door. Perhaps it smelled something unnatural in its wake because the creature was straining against its leash, trying to scurry back up the stairwell to safety beyond.
“Ugh, fine,” the young man groaned, scooping the baying goat into his ironclad arms. “Let’s go.”
With his free hand, he unlocked the door, and it swung open with an ease that sent gooseflesh down Daedalus’s neck.
The entire prison had been converted into one massive cage. In between the threshold of the opened door and the cage that bore Asterius, there was an extra set of bars so that the unfortunate guard assigned to feed the monster could shove whatever doomed animal inside without being consumed themselves. The torchlight illuminated several meters in front of them, but its light wasn’t powerful enough to expose the entire length of the room. The monster was nowhere to be seen. Daedalus listened for it, perhaps for rugged breaths like those of a seething bull, but the only sound disrupting the tense silence were the panicked cries of the goat, now thrashing in the guard’s arms.
“Go on,” the guard said, and tossed the creature into the makeshift feeding cage, slamming the door shut before it could escape. The goat butted its horns against the bars, but the man ignored it. He tugged on a pulley, removing the barrier between the goat and the monster that waited in the shadows.
But Asterius didn’t appear.
The two men waited for some time for the creature to claim its meal, but nothing moved in the darkness. The goat continued bashing its head against the enclosure, but even it grew tired and eventually rested, sitting down. The minutes crept past, and while Daedalus’s concern mounted with each thundering heartbeat, the younger man’s impatience was simmering. He shifted from foot to foot, annoyance weighing his brow as he stared harder into the cage, as if that would encourage the monster to emerge. Perhaps, like Minos, he wanted to rejoin the party upstairs rather than handle these grizzly matters.
Eventually, he huffed in annoyance, lowering the barrier between the cage and the exterior.
“Maybe pushing the goat closer will make it come out,” he said. He stepped inside the cage, keeping the goat from escaping with his body when it tried to dash past him.
Daedalus noticed then that the barrier between Asterius’s prison and the feeding cage had been damaged. The film was dented, its edges not quite sliding into its slot, as if something had continually rammed into it with brute force.
“Wait!” Daedalus cried, but he was too late.
Like something out of a nightmare, the creature came crashing through the broken barrier, tearing through it headfirst as if it were made of papyrus rather than solid steel. With unimaginable speed, the humanoid shape grabbed the guard’s arm, its yellow eyes boring into the young man’s panicked face. And just as quickly as it appeared, it vanished back into the darkness, dragging the screaming guard back with him.
Daedalus stared into the shadows, his mouth agape with shock. There were terrible, wet, snapping sounds from deep inside the room, accented by bloodcurdling howls from the man, until finally there was a resounding crunch, and his shrieks ceased. The moist noises of tearing continued, as well as lowly grunts that sounded like the beast itself. Like a human baby who outgrew their mother’s milk and yearned for solid food, Asterius’s appetite surpassed animals. He now craved human flesh.
The bars between Daedalus and the monster remained intact. The goat was now completely silent, though unharmed by the monster’s swift attack, it trembled. Asterius had wanted the man; he had learned that each of his meals was accompanied by a human. He had destroyed the barrier just enough to be unnoticeable by the untrained eye, but frail enough that he could crumple it with one blow and snatch away his human dinner before the unfortunate guard had an opportunity to react.
Asterius had not only grown powerful, but more intelligent. Daedalus wasn’t sure which was more terrifying. And despite his own fear, he wanted to see the beast himself.
“Asterius?” Daedalus said, his voice a whisper drifting along the stone floor.
He received no response; did he expect one? Even if Asterius had the capacity to speak, how would he pick up a language when he was locked so far away from civilization and the life that continued above him, unaware of his existence? Was the creature even aware of what he was? That he was neither animal nor man, but a cursed hybrid that neither group would ever accept?
There was shuffling in the darkness, and Asterius appeared in the torchlight.
Daedalus had expected the beast to approach on all fours like a beast, but he walked like a man. Though just over a year old, he was nearly as tall as an adult male. His legs were furred and ended with bull-like hooves, similar to those of a satyr, but while satyrs were lithe and nimble, Asterius was built like a warrior. His humanoid torso was bare and corded with muscle. His golden skin and fur reminded Daedalus of Pasiphaë. Though his head was entirely that of a bull, intelligence flickered from his dark irises.
Blood dribbled from his maw onto the base of his neck, and he wiped it away with the back of his hand.
He observed Daedalus for a moment, and he wondered if the creature would remember him. He had delivered him into this world, after all. But that was a foolish thought, and Daedalus shook his head free of it.
Asterius then looked to the goat, his large head tilting to one side, as if in curiosity. The goat, still shaking like a frail leaf in a whirlwind, offered him a terrified “beh?” in return.
To Daedalus’s utter disbelief, Asterius knelt by the quivering creature, folding his bull legs under his human chest. With a large, human hand, he stroked the goat’s head, itching its temple. The goat froze for a moment, as if expecting Asterius to wrap his hands around its throat and snap the life from its body, but the monster showed no signs of aggression. After several minutes of Asterius petting its head, scratching its side, each gesture so unexpectedly gentle, the goat relaxed, nestling its head on his lap.
Asterius looked to Daedalus again, and raised his chin, as if in challenge. Suddenly, he didn’t see a monster, but a boy who would grow up without parents who loved him. He saw a child whose entire existence was doomed because a vain king offended a prideful god.
He saw the terror in Talus’s face when Daedalus succumbed to his fear of failure.
He saw the disappointment in Icarus frown when Daedalus chose his work over him.
In Asterius, he saw the nephew he had failed and the son he was failing.
Pity almost wrapped around Daedalus’s heart until the torchlight danced against the human blood dripping from Asterius’s snout. Daedalus left him then, still petting the goat with painstaking tenderness, and he wondered if Asterius had ever experienced love since the day he was born, cradled in his mother’s arms.
About the Author
Zenia is an MFA student in the Popular Fiction Writing and Publishing program. They primarily write fantasy with the goal to incorporate diverse characters from historically underrepresented groups. When they’re not writing, they enjoy group exercise classes, drawing, and playing video games. They live in the DC area with their family and two dogs.