Somewhat on a different tack, and inspired by a figure on display at the Summer Wonder Festival, and as a Lovecraft pastiche:
I commend my memories to tablet, for many have spoken of my heroism: how I slew the bull of Minots, saving Athens from its debt; and freeing the land from the wrath of the gods.
The truth is both more awe inspiring, and more terrifying than I can tell publicly -- my hands shake even now as I recall the sight of what lurked down in that maze of tunnels -- yet I can not bear to think of the truth forever being lost to memory.
And so I, Theseus of Athens, recall the time a full three decades ago, when my hair was still black and my sword arm strong, when my father was king before me. When we were forced to pay Minos' blood price with Athenean lives. A time of love and betrayal.
When I faced the Beast from the Stars.
All of Athens was in mourning -- not for those who had died, but for those who would soon perish, seven young Atheneans chosen by lot, standing before the shadowy Cretan ships. Even I was rending my clothes, painting my face with ashes as I watched Minos' soldiers debark, proclaiming their duty as mothers begged them to spare their children.
My father watched, his eyes heavy and I knew that though it pained him, he knew no other option. We had sworn to send our youths to Minos, to stand judgement. And Minos' judgement took place at the hands of a beast who no man could bear to see -- some said it was the child of Minos himself, walled up for his hideousness. At the time I had no inkling of the terrible truth, and instead merely saw the man who raised me -- who taught me how to fight and how to rule -- weeping as he sent them to their deaths.
It could not stand, I would not stand for it! I called a challenge to the bronze-clad soldiers, telling them to leave the children.
"You cannot deny us what was promised," said their leader, his eyes filled with what I took to be hatred. His hand on his sword as I approached.
Instead I kneeled down before them, "I am Prince of Athens, and so my life is worth ten of other men. Take me, and leave these youths to their families."
At this my father cried out in terror, for he knew it was true, and that it was a sacrifice only I could make. He leapt down from his seat, to drag me back. But the guard clasped my shoulder and nodded. "You know not what you do, but it is a worthy sacrifice."
I turned to face my father, "Please do not ask me to take back my words." I smiled with ignorance, and looked to the crowd. "Their children will grow up happy and strong, as much as Athens needs its prince, it needs its people more."
And my father knew he could not dissuade me, nor could he demand my sacrifice be undone -- not without angering the people and proving himself unfit for rule. Instead he watched as I boarded the cypress-wood craft and set sail for my doom.
Crete itself was a paradise, the fields were full of barley and olives grew in abundance. But despite this wealth, its people were full of sorrow, always seeming like they were mourners at a funeral -- like those I had left behind.
I was led to the citadel a free man -- for they knew I had no place to go -- and presented me to Minos.
His eyes were full of fury as he saw me, "A single sacrifice? Does Athens think I have become weak and addled with my age?"
The guard shook his head, "This is the first-born son of Aegeus, who has pledged to take the place of the sacrifices."
Minos lost his rage for a moment, realising what it meant for me to stand there. "Then you have accepted your death," he nodded at me, "You have but one day to live on Crete, make what peace you can, for tomorrow you shall be taken to the lair of the bull."
And thus I was able to explore, to see the citadel of Knossus where Minos ruled from, to see the people who lived like slaves among such riches. The more I explored, the more I became unsettled; the more I saw, the more I worried -- not just for the Atheneans, but for the Cretans as well. There was no joy to be found here, no music filled the air... until I found her.
Alone in the city of sorrow she danced, her movement graceful as she filled the citadel's garden with some small portion of mirth. She took my breath away as I took in her shapely form -- even now I still remember her slender limbs, her alabaster skin, her storm-dark hair.
But her eyes, her eyes were her greatest treasure. As our gazes met, I felt myself enchanted, as if cursed by Aphrodite. I stepped closer. "I beg you, please share your name with me?"
"I know you," she nodded. "You are an Athenean, you descend into the caves tomorrow, and death shall follow your path." She still never stopped in her dance, not until I took her by the wrist and stared into her endless eyes.
"I am no mere pig to be slaughtered, I am child of Aegeus, a royal prince. I shall face the dangers of the caves, and shall even slay the bull said to lurk in its depths."
At this she took her hand from mine and returned to her dance, sparing me a look. "In which case I must dance twice as hard, for the death shall be my brother's."
"Your brother?" I asked, my heart catching in my chest. "You are the king's child?"
"Yes, I am Ariadne," she said as if it was nothing, "And deep within the caves dwells my brother, Asterion."
"Then he surely suffers. I shall end his suffering, letting him rest with the gods." I stepped in front of her, forcing her dance to stop, and for her to look at me. She studied my face, seeing the certainty on there, and kissed my cheek.
"If you wish to end our suffering, you will need my aid." She whispered, and gave me a spindle. "Use this to find your way to the maze's heart. Use this to find Asterion."
I still cannot remember where the spindle had come from, she seemed to draw it from nowhere, her movements so fast and fluid. But at the time I was blinded by infatuation. I kissed her as well, sealing my promise to her.
When they had spoken of a cave, I had expected to be taken to a ravine or a cliff, thrown into a tunnel and had it sealed behind me. Instead the lair of the bull was little more a dish shaped depression with a single hole in the centre, a pit spanning down into oblivion.
Minos saw me off, at the time I felt certain it was to make sure I did my duty. Now I wonder what he felt there, as he handed a pitch sodden torch to me. "You face a more terrible thing than you realise." He said, "But know that you shall grant Crete peace for another seven years."
I was taken aback by his words, surely it was Athens who was spared for seven years? But it was too late to question him, I was lowered into the darkness -- the torch my only solace in the tunnels. I unravelled the spindle, letting the thread fall to the ground, and looked at my surroundings -- all around me were tunnels carved into the rock. My first challenge was to choose my path, for they were all alike.
I picked the one ahead of me, and trusting my fate to the gods, I went onwards.
The tunnels curved unnaturally, it was certain these were no water chiselled caves, but also no mortal hands had touched these stones. They were so smooth there seemed no tool which could do it, seeming more like the lightning of Zeus had bored their way through, making it rise and fall, splitting and rejoining at near random. More than once I found myself doubled back, the silken thread crossing itself as I travelled onwards, never knowing if my path led me to my doom, or just back upon itself.
Time lost its meaning, even the torch seemed to splutter and die before long, leaving me in darkness. I was reduced to crawling on my hands and knees like a beast, leading the silk behind me, feeling for it ahead of me while I tried to navigate. There was no chance of memory or logic to win out here. Everything was at the mercy of fate.
And the roar that shook the tunnels was a sign that my fate was ahead of me, beneath me. Lurking in the heart of the caverns.
I finally found the way ahead growing lighter, and while I feared I had somehow returned to the hole that had been my entrance, I was equally afraid I had found my quarry. And to my sorrow, it was the latter.
When I could see once more, I stepped forwards -- no longer crawling, but walking like a man -- finding a chamber that dwarfed any king's hall, lit by crystals set into its walls. But I had barely any time to study them before my attention was drawn to the bull of Minos.
Even hunched down, its horns scraped the ceiling of the cavern. Had it been free, it would have towered over any building, any tree. It was a mountain that lurked within the hall, its body set with more of the crystals, its flesh entwined with blood-red bronze. It barely seemed like it could notice me... Of which I was grateful, as even now merely remembering the way it breathed turns my bowels to water. It had a single great eye, occupying its entire head, shining like the crystals in the wall, turning this way and that.
How could this have ever been a man, I wondered? What curse had twisted flesh and blood into this thing?
I wanted nothing more than to run, to flee into the darkness and hide there forever more. If my legs would have let me, I would not have born witness to it for another moment... but fear defeats even the greatest warrior, and so I stood there as its head turned slowly to focus on me.
It opened its mouth to roar, guttural nonsense that even now I can still hear ringing in my ears. It crept forwards with a speed that I could not believe possible, grasping me in its clawed hands as my body finally started to obey me.
I shrieked, I screamed. I pounded my hands against its flesh and armoured skin. The beast didn't notice, it threw me against the chamber's wall as I coughed up blood, my back aching and for a moment I thought I would never walk again.
But I was fortunate, after a second my legs were filled with agony, and I could crawl once again. I would like to say I saw a weakness and went between its legs, knowing it could not reach me there...
In truth I knew I was dead, and my life was over. I sought only one second more to breath, to plead with the beast for more life! I prostrated myself before it, and then I heard her voice once more. "Stop!"
Ariadne stood there, the thread in her hand as she wound it onto another spindle. "You have found my brother," she nodded to acknowledge me, and then stepped forwards. "You have done enough to trouble us, surely by now even you must know that death had come..."
She spoke to the bull-man, its eye slowly focusing on her as it reared to attack... and then stopped, halting as she raised her hand.
I saw the shadows move, her body shifting in ways that should not be possible. "I thank you, Theseus of Athens."
"What is happening?" I croaked, fearing my bones were broken by its single blow. "Why does he stop?"
"He stops because I commanded it, and my orders carry more weight than that of a corpse..." she bid the beast lower its head, and it did so, crawling to the ground, its head deep within the dust. "I named him Asterion, for he came from the stars, but its true name is Warudaros."
"What is it?" I asked, already fearing the answer.
"It is a suit of armour, designed to protect and to conquer," she touched its eye, and the eye opened to reveal a corpse, shrivelled into nothingness, little more than blackened bones and hollow sockets. But nothing about it seemed human, the body was all wrong. "It carried my brother, but I became separated. It built this nest, this maze of tunnels to protect him, even from his sister."
She turned to face me. "I am sorry, but it was necessary. You would distract it long enough for me to find you. For this, I thank you, Theseus of Athens."
"What... are you?" I asked, my head empty of anything other than questions, my tongue full of dust and fear as she stepped closer.
Her skin sloughed off her, as I may have shrugged off a cloak, revealing a blackened skeleton beneath. She still moved, despite everything and I remembered the legend of the myrmidons. Of men made from ants. The flesh she wore had been merely a disguise, and she was the thing within, an ant that walked like a man. "Ariadne discovered me, found my pod where I landed, only to run screaming when she saw me." She had no lips, only tusks that moved when she spoke. "She fell from a cliff before I could stop her, her body broken and dying." She brushed against my face with a hand which was nothing but claws. "I became Ariadne, to find my brother... and now I have."
I stared into her eyes, the one part of her that was the same, two pits of darkness, as deep as Tartarus. She really was the woman I had seen, the woman who had enchanted me. And may Aphrodite have mercy on me, I still feel love for her -- even now.
But she turned, returning to the beast, and stepped into its head. I crawled closer. "If you are not Ariadne, who are you?" I knew her, I loved her... I just wanted one second longer, despite everything.
"I am Arick of Lampadias." She nodded, sadly as the eye closed, hiding her from view. Her voice rang out, echoing against the walls, "Pray we never meet again, for my kind are not like yours, and will not be satisfied with seven. The hunger of the Waruder shall never be filled."
The beast returned to life, roaring with sorrow, bellowing with freedom as it raised its hands to the ceiling, lifting it as it crumbled. Dirt rained down upon me as I crawled into a tunnel mouth, sparing a last look back as the bull-headed creature rose into the sky, its feet blazing with stars as it went.
It took me hours to be discovered, the maze of tunnels collapsing around themselves, having to dig my way to escape.
When they asked what had happened I lied, I told them I had killed the bull, and in its death throes it brought the maze down upon itself.
People believed it, people believed me. Even Minos wept with joy -- despite the loss of his daughter, who was never seen again.
I sailed home a hero.
And so, as I lay here, an old and dying liar, I write down the truth.
For despite her warnings, despite the death her kind would bring to all of the Achaeans...
I would sacrifice all of Athens for the chance to stare into her eyes once more.
Edited by Tindalos, 30 July 2019 - 08:10 PM.