Chapter 1: Divinity Incarnate
A warm summer breeze caressed the stone walls of the sprawling labyrinth of Knossos in the divine plane. The empty city was bathed in the moon’s glow, and the stars shimmered from their perches in the night sky. Cicadas chirped, filling the foreboding quiet. Deep in the labyrinth’s belly, a guttural snarl rippled through the air. The beasts stirred.
The goddess Artemis sighed, crossing her legs on her throne, seated at the Northern edge of her temple in the city. She stared out through the Doric columns. Perched high on a hill over the city, she could see into the labyrinth. She took a deep sip from the chalice of ambrosia she held in her hands.
She enjoyed coming here to get away from Olympus, to absorb the quiet and solitude. She knew that with the time for the Hunt fast approaching, she wouldn’t be alone here for long. The beasts were getting restless. She tapped her long fingernails on the arm of her throne, trying to think of a plan.
“You grow restless, sister.” A voice called from behind her. She turned on her throne so she threw her legs across the arm of the opposite side. She turned to face her brother. Glorious and golden, the sun god oozed warmth and sensuality. Glowing golden eyes complimented hair of spun gold that hung in waves around his face. His tan skin shimmered with light. This was Apollo.
“The time is near. Are you prepared?” She asked, her voice light and melodious. She waved her hand and a goblet of ambrosia appeared in Apollo’s hand. He nodded his thanks and took a deep sip.
“I have my offering.” He mused, swirling the glass in his hands. Artemis huffed. Of course, he was prepared. Only she would leave it to the last minute. Artemis didn’t want to admit that her worshippers hadn’t been as zealous as of late. Her offerings were dwindling.
She rose from her seat and strode to the edge of the temple, staring out at the monolithic walls that rose sixty feet in the air, the stone walls that created intricate pathways. They filled the labyrinth with various terrains, traps, rooms and secrets, all designed to facilitate the Hunt. The event that took place once every fifty years. A price they paid for the continued imprisonment of that retched beast. The hope that one of us might win the event drove us.
“Do you not find it vile?” She asked, “Sacrificing our children, to it.” She clenched her fist, her nails digging into her palm. Her brother hummed behind her.
“I hate it.” He admitted. “But we have little choice.”
“I’ll do what I must.” She sighed. Maybe she would find someone strong. Maybe they could survive.
In the depths of his cavernous prison, the beast stalked the empty corridors that contained him. He had spent his life wandering these endless corridors and dead ends. Knowing every groove as a lover’s caress, every hidden room. He dragged a ragged claw sensually across the altar at the center of the labyrinth. His treasure… The other beasts scurried past him in the shadows. He raged as he saw them and greeted them with a bellow and snarl that reverberated through the night. They retreated.
Among the beasts, he was insanity. He was rage. He was vengeance. Thousands of years of chains and torture, pain and unending loneliness. Memories of starvation and endless hunger assailed him. He clenched his claws and growled low in the back of his throat.
How he yearned to hunt. To stalk his prey, to feed, to feel the thrill of the chase. How he longed to be free. This time, he would end it all. He would gain his freedom; he longed to feel his claws slice across the neck of some of the pretty goddesses that delight in his torture. Imagining their screams, he would delight as the being they created came to haunt them.
Staring up at the incandescent moon, he tilted his head back and sighed. Tonight’s air was thick; the time was fast approaching. The Hunt would begin soon. His offerings would come, and one by one the labyrinth would swallow them. He bit his lip and smiled. That’s what they get for seeking his treasure.
He examined the intricate freezes on the stone altar that sat in the labyrinth’s heart, running his fingers over the familiar edges. Grooves for sacrifice and blood graced the surface of the altar.
Salvation lies in the heart of the labyrinth. The words of a father long dead. Words that had remained useless to him for millennia. He had paced the center of this maze, examined every crevice and corner. He had never unlocked the supposed power and secrets that were locked away in here.
He stalked down another corridor, moving away from the heart of the labyrinth. He moved to the great Abyss, the sea of shadows, on the Southern border. The abyss called to him. He heard the screams of the souls locked within. He could hear the rattles of the monsters in the forests nearby. Shadows gathered behind him.
“They are not quiet, my lord.” A low rumble sounded. Footsteps padded, and a large black panther stood beside him. Huge in stature, the panther’s head rose to his chest. His fur glistened in the moonlight, like a raven’s wings. The beast hummed low in the back of his throat and continued staring into the abyss.
“How many eons have we been here, Sable?” The beast said quietly, his gaze lost in the shadows. He was tired of listening to the screams for millennia. He had been starving, thirsty, always alone. Memories flashed, a small beast with his little claws curled, crying at another dead end, hungry and lost.
“Long enough for the stars to have changed.” Sable answered, used to his master’s erratic thoughts. The beast ran a clawed hand down the smooth fur of the panther’s back affectionately.
“I wonder what the ocean looks like.” He mused with a sinister smile. I wonder what freedom tastes like. He would not let his father’s legacy die in vain.
“My lord, you know what we must do. Yet, you have yet in all these years to do it.” The panther tread cautiously, not wanting to stir his master’s ire. The beast smiled and chuckled.
“I think its time to leave, Sable.” Could he do it? Be the monster everyone accused him of being?
The edges of his sanity were crumbling. Yes, he could.