Strange Cosmology Part 80

The sound of the minotaur followed them down the hallways of the Labyrinth. Ahead, Ryan saw Athena and Anansi. They’d heard the monstrous hoofsteps approaching and were already moving, though they kept their pace just slow enough for the others to catch up.

CLOP.

“Reshaph!” Crystal shouted as they caught up with the other two, “If you have a way out of here, now’s the time to bloody well share it!”

“Right,” he said, and Ryan could hear his fingers tapping on the keyboard with the same desperation their feet hit the floor. “Okay, up ahead, turn left!”

CLOP

They did, and to Ryan’s relief at the end of the hallway he saw a massive stone door, the twin of the one they had come through. To Ryan’s dismay, the door at the end of the hallway was nearly a full mile of straight corridor ahead.

CLOP

As was often the case, the universe decided that since things could get worse, they absolutely should get worse. At the sound of that last footstep, the Minotaur barreled around the corner and into view.

As with before, once they could see it, its feet and by extension its mass move far faster than the slow, deliberate clops would have indicated. The charge it initiated to follow them was the most bull-like of anything it had done, barreling along headfirst faster than the gods could move without massively draining themselves.

“We’re not going to get the door open in time!” Dianmu shouted, glancing over her shoulder. Ryan could see she was right – the Minotaur was moving too fast. They’d reach the door before it did, but only by a narrow margin.

“We won’t need to,” Anansi responded, motioning ahead. Gravity near the door split, the downwards direction shifting towards either wall.

As soon as the gods reached the end, the Minotaur closing in on them, they leapt up to the walls and began to run out of its grasp. It raised its halbreds, slashing at the equations as soon as he reached them.

Gravity asserted its rightful direction, but no force involved at any point told inertia it could not keep doing exactly what it was meant to do. In this case, what it was meant to do was keep all ten tons of angry cow person and slam it into the door as hard as its bulk allowed for.

The stone doors that sealed the end of labyrinth outweighed the Minotaur by several orders of magnitude. If it had just been a question of the Minotaur’s mass and the door’s mass, the doors would have won every time. But those weren’t the only objects in the equation, and the door’s hinges buckled under the impact. Stone doors went tumbling to the ground as the Minotaur’s mass carried it through and into the field beyond.

By comparison, five gods slamming into the stone below was an undramatic affair, just a few gentle puffs of flesh on stone. It stung, but Ryan had endured worse falls. They all got to their feet and took the opportunity to leap out and into air beyond.

Being in an open space again was an immense relief, and Ryan took a deep an unnecessary breath of fresh air. The Minotaur was attempting to right itself. “We still have to deal with that,” he said, before he looked over at Athena, whose lips were a tight line. “It’s out now, we can’t ignore it.”

“I know,” she growled, looking at the assembled gods. “Anyone have an idea for fighting this thing?”

Crystal nodded. “I had time to think while I was waiting for you all, loves. Follow my lead.”

By the time she finished relaying instructions to them, the Minotaur had managed to regain its feet and was bellowing in rage.

The gods scattered in all directions before it could charge, hoping to buy time as it picked its target. After a momentary pause, it turned to charge after Ryan.

It would be me, Ryan thought with a frown, but now that it had a target, he had a role to play.

The first thing to do was to start running in an arc, not in a straight line. No longer constrained by the Labyrinth walls, he could keep moving and prevent it from building up too much momentum. The Minotaur was faster than him, but it couldn’t accelerate like him, and it definitely couldn’t turn like him.

Once it was starting to get frustrated, he turned around and twisted reality directly in front of the Minotaur’s face. It reached up and slashed away the changed equation, and Ryan shouted, “You were right!”

Crystal heard the shout and signal the others. The plan hinged on one theory being true, and they just had confirmation that it was.

The Minotaur hadn’t tried to talk, tried to reason, just acted on animalistic instincts. And those instincts included slicing any equation the gods threw at it, even if Ryan had changed the direction of a single oxygen molecule in the air in front of its face.

“Now!” Crystal shouted, and they reached out and began to twist reality, each of them targeting the Minotaur. Crystal started changing the coefficient of friction of individual furs on the Minotaur’s back. Athena went for a single degree increase in temperature around its eyes. Dianmu maneuvered the blades of grass beneath its feet. Anansi twisted the photons reflecting off its horns to change their color, and Ryan kept running, while throwing changes to the air in front of it over his shoulder.

The Minotaur’s arm’s blurred, and Ryan began to think they had been wrong, that the brute had too much stamina. Even with its arms flashing, it was still gaining on Ryan, and he had a horrible vision of being impaled on one of those halberds.

Then he saw it. The Minotaur’s strikes started to slow down, and individual equations stayed changed for a fraction of a second, then a full second. It took the Minotaur the same amount of effort to undo these tiny twists as it did to undo larger ones.

The Minotaur’s steps were also slowing as it slashed at the air like it was trying to ward off a horde of angry gnats  that were buzzing around its face. “Almost there!” Crystal shouted as they continued their tiny alterations.

The monster, upon hearing her voice, turned and began to direct its charge at Crystal. She planted her feet and stood her ground, instead increasing the speed at which she sent her alterations at the Minotaur. It was starting to get confused, snorting and stamping the ground. Every other hunt against gods, they had been running or exhausted long before. Now they were…still fine?

The Minotaur, as Ryan had previously noted, has the skull of a bovine with hyena jaws attached. Now, bovine heads were noteworthy for many things. They were very solid when the beast ran into things, they were excellent at finding the best patch of grass to each, their ability to manage four stomachs was impressive, and they had a wonderful ability to scan their surroundings for possible threats.

As anyone who grew up on a farm could attest, they were not particularly noted for their ability to solve complex problems. Although the Minotaur was at least somewhat smarter than the average cow, as evidenced by its ability to wield weapons, there were newborn infants somewhat smarter than he average cow.

The Mintoaur, without seeing any results from its frantic slashing at the divine twists to reality, dropped its attempts to cut them apart and lowered its head to charge.

“Now!” Crystal bellowed the moment it stopped.

Each of them changed what they were doing. Ryan grabbed every available photon in the cavern, throwing them in a weak imitation of Tyr’s sunbeam spears from so long ago. Athena heated the ground it was standing on so rapidly it skipped turning into a liquid or gas and went straight to a plasma. Anansi cut a segment of the ceiling above it, dropping over a hundred tons of stone on its head,  and Dianmu threw her hands together, causing spears of the ground Athena hadn’t touched to rise up towards the Minotaur’s gut. For her part, Crystal waited until every other gods effect hit, and then grabbed every bit of available matter and turned it molten for just long enough to trap the brute if it somehow survived all of that.

The last thing she saw was utter confusion on the Minotaur’s face as it was engulfed in divine fury.

In the aftermath of all that, the air seemed almost too silent. After the silence had gone on for just a bit too long, Resheph broke it with a low, “Damn, I’m glad I haven’t done anything to piss you all of.”

Ryan paid it no attention. As the silence echoed through the field, horns sounded from a distant structure, one that reminded him of a fresh and maintained version of the buildings he had seen on Olympus all those weeks ago.

They’d beaten the Minotaur, but in doing so, they left the doors open for any horrors left in the Labyrinth to break free.  What was worst, they’d lost the element of surprise.

Moloch knew they were here.

Next Page

Strange Cosmology Part 79

Incase you missed it, we’re skipping ahead in time a bit to get things back on track. Anansi and Athena have overcome the obstacle they were faced with, and the group has been following their drones. Thank you for your patience.


 

Crystal paced to the end of the hallway, then turned around and headed back the way she had come. The two drones with her followed obediently, like puppies not sure why their owner was wandering around the house.

It was one thousand, three hundred, and twenty three steps. On average. She supposed it would be more accurate to add the point seven that it technically came out to, but that always bothered her. How can you take seventy percent of a step? It was like digging half a hole.

A day and a half, by the way she was counting the footsteps. That’s how long since Isabel had vanished, and Crystal had been cut off from the rest of the gods. She’d spent almost the entire time pacing, knowing she had to conserve her strength. It wasn’t quite as dull as sitting on a dead world orbiting a black hole, but at least back then she’d been able to pass the time by wallowing in self-pity and guilt. Plus, the gravity had done some interesting things to the landscape, making the dust on the surface roll almost like the tide.

This time, her friends were still out there, and she could do nothing to help them. If they were even still alive.

She slammed one fist into the palm of the other hand. She hated not being sure if Ryan had undergone Apotheosis. I never should have let him come here. Bringing the possibly Nascent Eschaton into the Labyrinth was just begging to have the last million subjective years been for nothing.

The end of the hallway was reached again, and she started to turn again, when one of the drone’s crackled to life.

“Hello? Is this damn thing working?”

Crystal whirled to face it. The voice wasn’t Isabel’s. “Who the bloody hell?”

“Ishtar! I got the little robots working.” Crystal finally placed the voice.

“Resheph? What the sodding shit is going on? Where’s Isabel?” She practically shouted at the drone.

“Ishtar, I have no idea who Isabel is. I just woke up about two hours ago, naked in someone’s staging area. There were some computers and you lot were being watched. I’m guessing she’s behind this setup?”

Crystal frowned at the drone, “It’s Crystal now, love. What do you mean – was there any sign of a struggle?”

“Not much of one. A chair was knocked over, and one of the screens has a crack.” Reshaph was silent as Crystal thought. “If someone came here, they had to get past all the barriers y’all threw up.”

“Wait, those are still there?” Crystal blinked in confusion. “That’s not possible.”

“Eh, possibile’s a funny thing. A god couldn’t do it, y’all were pretty extensive. A monster sure as shit couldn’t do it. But that’s not to say there aren’t things that could have done it.”

Crystal’s frown deepened. “Angels.”

“Pretty much only thing I can think of besides the Creator that wouldn’t have left a trace,” Reshaph agreed. “Piss any of them off lately?”

“Only one I’ve even see this century was Uriel, and she’s on our side.”

“What about Lucifer?”

“Got himself offed by a mortal,” Crystal said dismissively, her mind churning. “I don’t see why Uriel would have taken Isabel. Only thing that makes sense is…”

“Moloch’s got himself a pocket angel. Er. That is assuming you all are still after him?”

Crystal nodded into the camera. “We think he’s trying to do to the Olympians what he did to your kin. We don’t know why, but it’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“Damn. Well, I’m looking for some payback. I’ll come join you all then?”

“We lost our navigator,” Crystal said, shaking her head as she did. “She’s who the angel abducted. Right now, best you can do is monitor for us.”

“I don’t know much about computers.” Reshaph said, his voice low and slow.

“Good news is, Isabel did most of the work. Just watch the monitors and the map it’s making. How close are the others to me?”

“Uh, hard to tell.” Reshaph paused for a bit, and Crystal could hear the sound of him muttering to himself. “Looks like Group B is almost to you, if they have a turn up ahead. Group A might be a bit further, but it really all depends on if things turn and where they do, you know?”

Crystal slumped against the wall, sinking from her feet to sit, resting her head in her hands. “The others, are they alright?”

“Near as I can tell. There’s supposed to just be four of them, right?”

“Yes. Brilliant. At least one damn thing hasn’t gone wrong.”

Reshaph let her sit there for a bit before speaking again. “I think you’re close to the exit.”

Crystal immediately sat up, her heart pounding. “Come again?”

“Well,” He said, dragging out the word, “the map shows where everyone’s been, right? Both other groups had a pretty long stretch where they never turned north, or if they did it was after heading South for a bit first. So I think you’re close. Based on what we see as they get to you, I might be able to figure the rest of the way out.”

“If I was there, I could kiss you,” Crystal said with absolute sincerity. “Reshaph, if you-”

The rest of her sentence was cut off when she saw them round the corner. Ryan and Dianmu. Before she could greet them, however, Ryan was gesturing and twists to reality dragged the drone into his hands. “Reshaph!” he shouted at the drone, “where the hell is my sister?”

It took some explaining to catch Ryan and Dianmu up to speed, and then for Dianmu to catch Crystal up as well. While Ryan spent some time calming himself after apologizing to Reshaph, Crystal spoke directly into Dianmu’s mind. “How’s he doing?”

Dianmu didn’t even blink as she responded. “Better than at first, but he’s become somewhat unspooled. Have you seen the other two yet?”

“Not yet,” Crystal shot back, watching Ryan closely. “Reshaph thinks the other two will be along soon, and we’re near the exit,” she said out loud. “We just need the data from their trip to be sure, love.” She put a hand on Ryan’s arm. “We’ll get her back.”

Ryan took another deep breath, and seemed to calm down some. “Thanks, Crystal.”

Dianmu cracked a rare grin. “I’ve been telling you that for the past two days, and she tells you once and you believe her?”

Ryan at least had the wits to look somewhat sheepish. “It’s only because she had two days of groundwork to work with?”

Dianmu paused and considered. “I’ll accept it,” she said.

Crystal relaxed, watching them. “Well, loves, I’m going to suggest you two try and fill any lingering hungers while we wait for Athena and Anansi. Once they’re here, we can-”

CLOP.

“…oh you have got to be sodding kidding me. Now?” She saw Ryan’s eyes light up with rage.

CLOP.

“Reshaph! Any update on Athena and Anansi?”

“Uh…yes. Looks like they’re almost there. Go, turn right, I’ll start figuring out how to get you out of there! What is that thing, anyway?”

CLOP.

“It’s the bloody Minotaur,” she checked Ryan and Dianmu, who looked like they were well enough to move. Which was good, because they’d have to be.

It was time to run now.

CLOP.


 

Next Page

Strange Cosmology Part 67

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!”

“On it!”

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.

Next Page

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.

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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.

Strange Cosmology Part 65

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?”

“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.

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