Strange Cosmology Part 66

The next two hallways combined created a gauntlet of traps. First there was one with whirling saw blades lining the walls, too densely packed to allow them to slip between the blades. When they destroyed the blades, they healed rapidly.

Anansi solved that one by wrapping them in spheres of solid air. As the blades shattered, they propelled each god down the hallway further.  By the end of it Ryan felt like a hamster that had fallen down the stairs in its ball, and was rolling fast enough where it carried him down the next hallway. This one was lined with poisoned darts in the wall. Ryan supposed it was supposed to be bypassed by stepping on the correct pressure plates. Since they were all wrapped in balls of air moving at near highway speeds, they just let their momentum carrying them though the danger.

When they got to the end and tried to stand up, Ryan discovered that gods were still bound by the motion of liquid in their inner ears, and promptly collapsed to the floor in a heap with the others.

“You all are a mess,” Isabel said watching them try to dizzily untangle themselves. “Hey, I got to catch some sleep. Do me a favor and recharge the drones while I do?”

“Sleep?” Ryan was getting help regaining his feet from Dianmu. “What? How long has it been?”

“Ryan, you all spent almost ten hours running from the Minotaur the first time.”

“No,” Athena frowned. “There were only about twenty turns…”

“Thirty-five, according to my map,” Isabel said definitively. “And they were long hallways. Outside the one that was only a couple hundred yards, each one was a mile at least. Longest one was five miles. You didn’t realize?”

“It’s the light in here,” Dianmu said, “It doesn’t change.”

It made sense to Ryan. Without normal indicators of time passing – hunger, thirst, tiredness, all that – they’d all gotten used to relying on the sun for that. Without the sun… “Okay, thanks Isabel. Get some rest, we’ll push on a bit further.”

“Don’t forget there’s a partially reanimated body in my staging area, love!” Crystal piped up with a grin. “He’s probably gotten most of his organs back if you want to see them, yeah?”

“Oh, good,” Isabel said faintly. “I’ll just go…poke his spleen, I guess?”

“Whatever floats your boat. Sleep tight!”

Isabel signed off, and they took the drones one by one and put their batteries back to full. “Everyone okay with pushing forward?” Ryan asked as they did. “We’ve burned a lot of power, but I haven’t felt any Hunger yet.”

“I’ve got a ways left in me, though I’m feeling a bit peckish,” Anansi said.

Dianmu nodded. “I, for one wouldn’t mind getting a bit further from the Minotaur before we lay down to take care of that. A good bit further.”

“Agreed,” Athena finished recharging her drone and let it resume its flight. “Shall we?”

They headed on, moving as quickly as they dared without Isabel scouting. Turns were chosen at random with each intersection, trusting Isabel’s mapping software and their own guide marks to prevent them from doubling back on themselves.

As it had been when they last fled the Minotaur, they met minimal resistance. Ryan found himself starting to clench and unclench his fist. The problem wasn’t just that he was expecting a trap at any moment, although that was beginning to grate on him. The problem was those damn footsteps. Unlike before, they didn’t seem to fade with distance, and a couple times Ryan could have sworn they were getting closer. A few times they stopped for just long enough for Ryan to relax, and then CLOP they would resume.

That irritation was starting to settle into the group as well. Or at least, everyone seemed to be on edge. It wasn’t helped that the speed of the hooves would vary every now and then, making them useless for even telling time. Just irregular enough to get under your skin, slow drop water torture for your ears. It went on for hours, or maybe minutes. Maybe days, with how warped the sense of time was in here. Maybe it had been days and Isabel was dead and they would wander in here, listening to that damn sound for the rest of their lives.

Finally, Ryan couldn’t take it anymore, “We have to do something about it. We can’t keep running the entire time.”

“As I said before,” Athena snapped, stopping so abruptly Dianmu nearly walked into her, “if you have any idea, I’d be welcome to hear it. If you don’t, then you can kindly shut the hell up.”

The venom in her voice surprised him. He hadn’t heard anything like it since that first night in Empyrean Provocation, so long ago, when they’d buried the animosity under drinks. Instead of clearing his head, however, it just fanned his anger. “You keep saying no god has beaten it before. There’s five of us, Athena. Have five faced it and lost before?”

“I think, Ryan, you should take a deep breath.” Anansi’s voice was soft, but his eyes were steel. “None of us enjoy dealing with this any more than you do.”

“At least he wants to do something about it,” Dianmu added, and where Anansi’s voice was soft, hers was a razor blade across the throat. “I’m also tired of fleeing like mice. We are deities, not children.”

“Children?” Crystal’s voice was incredulous. “You, Dianmu, are talking about children? Bloody hell, if anyone has the right to do that here it sure as hell isn’t you.

“Oh, gee, Crystal, are you older than all of us? Because I almost forgot that for a second, in spite of you mentioning it nearly every day since I met you.” Ryan clenched his fists as the words poured out of his mouth.

“You wouldn’t have forgotten if you had any respect for the wisdom of your elders,” Anansi stepped in before Crystal could deck Ryan, but his voice had lost its softness and gained an cold edge.

“Wisdom!” Dianmu cracked. “Spoken by one who advises endless flight! Have you considered that we will eventually be worn down and Hungry? We will need to sleep? What will you do when the Minotaur comes across us starving?”

“Assuming it even does,” Athena said, stepping forward as she did. “But I can see some would rather face a headlong suicide attack than exercise even a modicum of prudence.”

“Hey guys,” Isabel said through the drones, her voice heavy with sleepy confusion, “what are we yelling about?”

Crystal chimed in, looking at Dianmu and Ryan, “we don’t know if Ryan’s undergone Apotheosis yet. We could be throwing away our last chance to prevent the sodding sun from exploding!”

“Don’t,” Ryan snapped, his eyes narrow. “Don’t you dare use me as an excuse to justify you being a coward.”

Crystal looked ready to hit him, but before she could Athena stepped forward and slugged him hard enough where he dropped to one knee. Isabel shouted for them to stop, but no one was listening to her. “You don’t get to speak to her of cowardice, and you certainly do not get to accuse me of it by proxy. I left a friend to die because you were too weak to help me carry him.”

Ryan’s head was ringing, and the equations around Athena danced. “Good to know some things never change,” he said, nearly spitting. “Athena’s first solution is violence. For everything except the current threat.”

“Guys! Ladies and Gentlemen! Anyone hearing me?” Isabel sounded frantic. Ryan didn’t care.

“Athena has used diplomacy before,” Anansi said, “but I’ve never known you to attempt the trick, Eschaton. Perhaps you are projecting some?”

Being called the impersonal Eschaton by Anansi, by anyone here, was enough to push Ryan over the edge. He reached out to grab those equations, to begin a twist. “My name,” he growled, “is ACK!”

One of the drones had flown into his face, slapping him across the nose with its rotors. Other drones started to do the same to the rest as well. “Everyone shut up and listen!” Isabel shouted once she had their attention.

“Mortal, you think you can PFFTP.” Whatever Athena had about to say was cut out when this time the drone hit her across the lips.

“Look, you all are freaking out, I’m not. Stop and think. Why would I be the only calm one?”

“Because you haven’t spent the whole hours listening to that damn sound!” Ryan snapped. “This is just as self-righteous as when you showed up to tell me to move on after-“

This time, the drone didn’t clip his nose. Isabel struck him on top of the head with it, hard. “Asshole. You just tried to throw Mom and Dad’s death in my face.” Ryan could hear something in that voice, the brittle sound Isabel got when she was on the edge of tears. That note cut through the rage like a spear. “You promised me…damnit, Ryan, something’s not right.”

“Oh crap,” Ryan could still feel the rage there, but it was somewhat subsumed. “Everyone, wait, I think she’s right.”

“Of course you do,” Dianmu snapped. “She’s your sister. Do you have an original thought Ryan, or do you just bend to whatever woman spoke last?”

Athena frowned. “That doesn’t make sense, Dianmu. He…he started this. You hadn’t voiced support.”

Dianmu clamped her mouth shut, clenching her fist. Not in anger, but as if she was holding something back. “It didn’t.”

“Really?” Crystal said, “because it seems to me that…that…” her brow furrowed. “Damnit. You’re right.”

“I still want to hit all of you,” Anansi said, turning his eyes away from the group. “I still want to- there!”

He pointed at the wall. High up was a faintly glowing sigil, one Ryan was certain hadn’t been there before. With a quick snap of his hand Ryan sent that lightning bolt he’d meant for Anansi to scour a line across the stone and the sigil. Everyone else joined in, the rage suddenly channeled into destroying that patch of wall.

It exploded spectacularly, showering bits of rock on them. The Labyrinth reformed, this time without the Sigil.

The rage faded as quickly as it came, and Ryan felt his cheeks flush. Looking around, everyone else was starting to look similarly embarrassed.

“Ha,” Isabel said, her voice cheerful again, although Ryan thought it was a bit forced. “I knew you’d fall for the fake ‘I’m about to cry’ trick. You always do.”

Did I? Or was she just saying that to make me feel like less of a heel? “Guys, I’m-“

Athena cut him off. “It was the sigil. We were all influenced. None of us meant…none of us meant any of that.”

Crystal took a deep breath and nodded. Anansi gave a weak smile, and Dianmu inclined her head slightly to agree.

Except, Ryan knew he had, at least somewhat. Sure, the sigil created the anger, but some of it he had meant in the moment. The others, from their looks, felt the same way. “We should…we need to keep moving. Away from the Minotaur,” he focused those last towards Athena by way of apology, and she gave him a nod to show she agreed.

“Wait,” Dianmu frowned. “Does anyone hear it’s foo-“

Dianmu was interrupted as the Minotaur burst through the wall directly between the group, letting out a furious bellow. They all stumbled back, and the wall of the Labyrinth closed up behind it.

It was in the middle of the group. If they fought, maybe they could take it. If they ran, they’d have to split up. For the moment, Ryan could only stand there staring at it. Pick one, Ryan! Do something or you’re dead. At that moment, though, all he could do was wonder if they had passed the Trial of Soul…or failed miserably.

The Minotaur took advantage of his paralysis to lunge at his head with one of those horribly serrated halberds.

Next Page

Hey everyone, quick note on this part. I may have made a mistake in planning the length of time they will be in the Labyrinth, so we’ll be seeing exactly how that shapes up. Apologies for any continuity errors this causes – the relevant parts will be edited to put everything in the correct timeframe.

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