Isabel flew one of the drones ahead of them, calling out turns as they came up. After about three turns, Anansi had an idea to lose the Minotaur’s pursuit. Each corner, one of the gods would turn around and lift up a slab of the Labyrinth’s floor and flip it over, masking their scent. As soon as the lab was back in place, the Labyrinth healed itself so no trace remained.
Ryan lost count of the turns after a dozen. All he could be sure of was that it was some number of turns past that when Athena held up her hand to call a halt to their flight.
They did not hear the thunderous footsteps of the Minotaur anymore, nor the scraping of its halberd along the floor. The only sound was their own, labored breaths, being driven by habits hardwired into their genetics to gasp for air they didn’t need after that much exertion. But their pounding hearts told their bodies that they needed air, and their bodies didn’t bother asking what they thought of the matter. Only Crystal was able to suppress the need, and Ryan had to wonder if that was just because she’d spent so long as a goddess she’d gotten used to overcoming her biology reflexively, or if it was because her human form was an affectation so she wasn’t as bound to instinct as they were.
“We lost it,” Athena said after they had gathered their breath and calmed themselves. She gave Anansi a respectful bow of her head. “I’d never have thought of that way to shake a trail.” Anansi gave her a grin of appreciation.
“What the hell was that thing?” Isabel asked over the speaker. “I know, I know, it was the Minotaur, but…why was it so dangerous.”
Athena shrugged. “The Minotaur is a creature of Tartarus, bound to the Labyrinth during its creation. We don’t know exactly what it is, just that it hates gods and has killed them before.”
“At least we can resurrect after death, right?” Ryan asked, trying to find some bright side.
“Oh, yes,” Athena said, and Ryan felt a bit of relief before she continued, “The Minotaur knows this. It takes nanoverses with it, back to its lair, and kills the gods over and over as they resurrect until the nanoverse eventually dies from heat death.”
“Oh.” Ryan shook his head. “Then…glad we lost it.”
“That,” Dianmu said, her eyes glittering with something akin to mirth, “is perhaps the biggest understatement I have heard since nineteen forty-five.”
“What understatement did you hear then?” Isabel asked.
“That the United States had dropped a…oh, what was the term?” She looked at Crystal “’a rather powerful bomb’ on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
Crystal rolled her eyes. “I told you already, love, I was a bit taken aback. I didn’t think they were nearly that close to splitting the atom.”
“Hold on” Anansi said. He’d wandered a bit further down, and was tilting his head. “I hear something. It sounds like…water?”
Walking over to where Anansi stood, Ryan could hear it too. A gentle bubbling sound, like a home fountain or a shallow brook. “Athena? Any idea about running water in here?”
Athena shook her head and unsheathed her sword. The rest followed, weapons drawn and at the ready as they rounded the corner.
Ahead of them small fountain, a simple design that had water bubbling out of the top and running down to a basin at the bottom. Behind the fountain was a door. Ryan ran his eyes over the door, blinking a few times. Something about it seemed off. He focused with his divine sight and it became clear – there weren’t any equations to the door. No laws of light for reflection and absorption to determine its color, or mass or strength or anything. Even though it was real and solid, it wasn’t there as far as his power was concerned. Over the door was written a riddle:
I can be broken with a breath.
Shattered by my name.
Dispelled with a clap.
And conversation’s bane.
“It’s a riddle. Speak friend, and enter,” Ryan said.
Athena gave him a raised eyebrow, “I don’t think that is the answer.”
“No, it’s…” Ryan shook his head. “Okay, Athena? Once we’re done here, once we get a twelve hour break, we’re watching those movies. Everyone else here has seen it. You may be the only person remaining on the planet who doesn’t get the reference.”
“Twelve hours? How many movies are there?”
“Three. Just three. Well, unless you include the Hobbit trilogy, but that would add another ten or twelve, easy.”
Athena gave him an incredulous look. “A full day for six movies?”
“Oh, yeah. But they’re awesome. An epic quest, destroy the evil, wars…they’ve got everything.”
“Sounds too much like our lives right now,” Athena muttered, as she approached the door.
Ryan realized he couldn’t argue that point, but Dianmu stepped in on his behalf, “You may be right about that, but wouldn’t it be nice to watch someone else go through all that for a change?”
“I suppose,” Athena muttered.
“Great,” Crystal said, “so this one at least is easy, right?”
“Silence,” Ryan said, striding past Athena to walk up to the door. “The answer is silence.”
The door sat there, not acknowledging his answer. Ryan shrugged and reached for the handle.
“Ryan wait!” Athena said, but it was too late. The moment Ryan’s fingers brushed the door, a massive shock ran through his body. He felt his muscles seize up, and then he was flying through the air, his flight momentarily slowed by the fountain. He ricocheted off the top of it and was propelled a bit into the air.
Thankfully Anansi’s hand snapped out before he hit the ground, negating his momentum enough so he landed as gently as if he’d tried to lay down.
“Ryan!” Isabel’s voice was harsh over the speakers. “Ohmigod, are you alright?”
He could feel smoke rising from his clothes. His brain was scrambled, trying to come back online. “Ow,” he said as he pulled himself to his feet. “I’m alright, I’m alright.” His back ached in protest, but nothing felt broken at least.
“Good. Then you’re an idiot, and if I was there in person, I’d smack you.”
Athena walked over him and gave him a quick up-and-down glance to confirm he wasn’t lying about his injuries. “Riddle doors,” she said, brushing a bit of dust off his sleeve, “usually open once the riddle is answered. Touching before that can be dangerous.”
“Oh, now you tell me,” he said, and before she could object he raised a hand. “I know, you tried. Just let me have that?”
She gave him a smile that spoke volumes towards her affection of his stupidity. “Of course.”
“Well,” Dianmu said. “If it didn’t work…Silentium. Anjing. Cairensu. Silencio. Siopi. Dumili.”
“Schweigen,” Isabel chimed in.
“Was that German?” Ryan asked, “when did you take German?”
“Senior year of college,” she responded. “Just a semester. That guy I was dating, Brian? He wanted me to take it with him?”
“Good Brian or Jerk Brian?”
Anansi cleared his throat, although he was grinning at the exchange. “The riddle is in English, so I don’t think the answer would be in anything else.”
“He’s right, loves.” Crystal frowned at the door. “Speaking it isn’t enough.”
They stood there for a moment, staring at it. “Well,” Ryan said after a bit. “That shoots that theory to hell.”
“What theory?” Athena asked.
“That if we were just silent for a bit, it would open. We’ve been babbling nonstop since we got to the door, I figured maybe the answer was being silent.”
“If that’s the case, the door would have already…” Athena’s eyes widened. “Oh, no, Ryan. You’re right. Babbling.” Before anyone could ask She gestured towards the fountain, twisting reality as she did.
With that wave of her hand, the water froze to ice.
They stood there motionless, none of the gods breathing so not even that would break the silence. “Uh, Isabel, love? Mind powering down the drones?”
“Oh, right. Pick them up and carry them through? I’ll turn them on in…five minutes, should be enough time.” Slowly they lowered to the ground and went dark.
Almost minute passed of no motion, no breath, and nothing happened. The only sound Ryan could hear being his own heartbeat in his ears. Is that too much noise? The sound of my own heartbeat? Can I even stop that without dying?
Thankfully, he didn’t have to find out. After the minute had fully passed, the door clicked open. Crystal motioned and, with a quick twist to reality, negated the sound their feet made so they could walk through without closing the door.
As soon as she did, everyone shared a momentary glance towards her. Although none of them did speak telepathically, the shared thought was clear. Why didn’t any of us think of that sooner?
Once they were through with the carefully gathered drones, Ryan opened his mouth. “Well, at least-“
The door slammed shut before he could get any further with that thought, cutting him off abruptly. The sound was far louder than anything they had heard before, an apocalyptically loud noise that caused them to clamp their hands over their ears.
As it faded, and the ringing died down, they heard another, more distant noise. The bellowing roar of the Minotaur.
“I think it knows where we are.” Athena said, glancing back at the sealed door. “And I don’t think that will hold it.”
“We can’t just keep running,” Ryan responded, “We got lucky there weren’t any death traps between last time and here. If we keep it up, we’re going to wind up dead in a different way.”
“Do you have a better idea? No god has successfully fought the Minotaur before.”
Ryan opened his mouth, and then shook his head in frustration.
“Since it’s so slow, perhaps walk quickly instead of sprinting away?” Dianmu suggested. No one had a better idea. Moving as quickly as prudence allowed, they took off down the hallway.
Behind them, the monstrous sound of enormous hooves resumed.