Instinct saved Ryan’s life. He leaned to the side as the halberd occupied the space where his head used to be.
In contrast to its slow gait, the minotaur’s strikes were lightning quick. Even though Ryan dodged the initial blow, the Minotaur twisted the halberd sidewise and angled it towards Ryan’s neck. He had to turn the lean into a full roll, and even then the halberd followed him.
Dianmu saved him, her glaive intercepting the chasing blade before Ryan found himself cornered and diced. The Minotaur flicked its halberd, catching the glaive in the serration. The goddesses strength was no match for the Minotaur’s and it ripped her weapon from her grasp, sending it skittering down the hallway.
Dianmu flipped away before the Minotaur could impale her, and Ryan rolled out of reach of that flashing weapon as the Minotaur’s focused returned to him.
With a gesture, Dianmu’s glaive returned to his hand, and Ryan drew his sword. “Together?” She nodded.
They had been at an intersection, a three way stop. Athena and Anansi had gotten trapped on the other side of the Minotaur, and Crystal was alone in front of it. As far as Ryan could tell, the Minotaur hadn’t turned its head once yet.
He and Dianmu charged the Minotaur as one, blades flashing through the air. Faster than even the gods could move, the Minotaur answered with flashing strikes of its halberd, blocking both their blows with its own blade and sending them flying down the hallway with quick raps of the haft. They didn’t even look like they had much power behind them. The kind of strikes that you might use to discipline a naughty puppy, if you were the kind of person who thought that was a good way to train an animal. This asshole probably is, Ryan thought as he dragged himself to his feet. Probably kicks cats, too.
It was a useless, petty thought, but it made Ryan feel better. He reached out to grab the equations governing the Minotaur’s movements, trying to increase the viscosity of the air it was operating in and slow down its movement.
With another flip of that blade, it cleaved the equation in two. Without Ryan’s manipulation of the rules, normal laws snapped back into place. Athena wasn’t kidding about that.
He hoped the other three were doing better than he and Dianmu were.
When the Minotaur burst through the wall, Athena and Anansi had both been caught off balance. Anansi had brought up his curved sword to meet the Minotaur’s blade, but it had twisted the attack at the last moment and nearly sliced his neck open.
Athena’s heart was pounding as she chopped wildly at the haft before it could decapitate the spider god. It didn’t break the halberd, but it did stop the Minotaur from making the quick movements needed to finish Anansi’s life. “We have to run!” she shouted to Anansi.
“What about the others?” He threw a twist in reality at the monster, the air around it starting to heat rapidly.
As always, the Minotaur sliced away the alteration with a contemptuous flick. It’s all the same. It’s happening all over again. Anansi gracefully flipped away
“They need to run too! Everyone needs to scatter or we’re dead.”
Under the Minotaur’s legs, she could see Dianmu and Ryan making a foolish charge, but before she could shout a warning, it was attacking her. Although she parried the first two strikes, the third sliced open her left bicep. Bright red ichor trickled down her arm towards her fingers.
Athena pushed through the pain, pushed through the fear. “Go for the ankles!” Anansi shouted as the two on the other side were sent reeling back by another sharp blow. Athena knew it was useless, knew they couldn’t stop this thing – but she did dive in with Anansi regardless, hacking at where hoof joined leg. Anansi was driven back, but Athena’s blade found its mark, and for her trouble she got the flat of the Minotaur’s blade directly in her face, flipping her down the hallways.
The Minotaur didn’t bellow in pain, it didn’t gasp, it didn’t roar. It certainly didn’t buckle. Before their eyes the wound Athena had inflicted closed itself.
“We should run,” Anansi said as he got back to his feet.
Athena shot him a dirty look. “The others can’t hear us. It’s doing something where we can’t be heard.”
“Isabel!” Anansi looked at one of the drones as Athena parried another incoming blow. “Tell everyone to run!”
Athena hadn’t seen any of what was happening with Crystal so far, and silently hoped their warning would come in time.
Crystal had been directly in front of the Minotaur’s path through the wall. The force of the blow had sent her skidding down the hallway with the chunks of masonry, and one of those shards had struck her across the skull hard enough for her to black out for a moment. When she regained her senses, she felt something wet and sticky across her face. Ichor, she thought, getting to her feet.
“Oh god Crystal, your face,” Isabel said.
“Just my forehead, love. It always bleeds like crazy. What’s going on?”
“Athena’s calling for everyone to fall back. But we’re all split up. The only way to go as a group is to go through that thing.”
Crystal raised her eyes for it, wiping away the ichor as she did. The Minotaur was fighting the others, but it was staring directly at her as it did.
At least it hadn’t moved to attack her. In fact, based on the placement of its eyes, staring straight ahead…it could see all of them best this way. She reached for her sword and the Minotaur snorted. So much for a blind spot.
Experimentally she pulled back her sword and hurled it like a dagger at the Minotaur. Without breaking stride, the half of the halberd came up to send the sword spinning away. A quick change to the vector of its momentum brought it back to her hand. “We’ve got to do it. Can you find a way for us to reconnect?”
There was a pause before Isabel responded. “Sorry, arguing with Ryan and Dianmu. They want to fight, but they’ll go. Uhh…reconnect? Not sure, don’t have maps of any of the paths, but I can try. But you have to go now. Ryan’s pulling back because his leg got a nasty gash, Athena’s arm is already sliced. They’ll be pulling back. You have to go.”
Crystal looked at her sword. “Not yet. Have them pull back, okay love? I’ve got an idea.” She started to run down the hallway away from the Minotaur.
There was another few seconds of silence. “Done. They’re running. And…so are you? Crystal, what’s your idea?”
Crystal glanced over her shoulder. The Minotaur was turning to follow Ryan and Dianmu. The slowest group. With Ryan’s injured leg… Crystal waited till it was finished turning, then twisted reality around herself. A minor twist, but it plunged her into total silence as she ran. The Minotaur didn’t turn around as she approached. Its attention was focused on its prey.
Which meant Crystal’s was able to, in a single fluid motion, leap up to stab it in the back. The Minotaur did bellow in pain this time, and attempted to slam its back against a wall to crush her. Pulling her sword and herself free, she leapt off and began the dance to the ground.
As fast as the Minotaur’s blades were, it really was a dance. Like she had with the Hecatoncheires in Cypher Nullity with Ryan so long ago, Crystal used the equations she was seeing – not to manipulate them, but to predict where the Minotaur’s strikes would be next. Force equations, vectors, acceleration profiles – all of them painted a picture of what would be happening precious milliseconds before it did. She dodged the blows before they were begun, and twisted and parried seven in the air her way to the ground before flipping away.
Her head started to pound. Tracking that many equations at once was a trick she used rarely for a reason, and the rapidly forming migraine reminded her of why. “It’s right behind you!” Isabel shouted through the speaker.
“That was the plan, love. Keep a drone near it and let me know if it turns aside, yeah?”
With that, Crystal took off down the hallway, ichor dripping from her forehead into her eyes, the Minotaur dogging her heels. We’ll find a way back together. We will.
Crystal just had to hope they wouldn’t be doing so in the Minotaur’s lair.