The Minotaur turned the ribs in his hands, trying not to focus on the still warm blood oozing between his stubby excuses for fingers. He grimaced as the flow matted his thick fur.
But the work must be done, so work he did. With three fingered hoof hands unsuited to delicacy. The Minotaur couldn’t remember when he’d started creating his statues to the fallen. Only why.
To remember them, the only way he could. Monuments to his many failures, standing where they had fallen.
Finishing the figure’s head with a loving pat, the Minotaur stood to his full height. He flinched as his horns brushed the iron bars overhead, but it meant that more of him got to enjoy the sunlight filtering in through the thick marble windows across the prison floor. It was his one and only pleasure in this twisted pit of despair.
Aside from the stories, of course. They nourished the Minotaur more than food or water ever could.
The slamming of large bronze doors echoed through the maze halls. The Minotaur dropping his twisted sculpture to the floor, running to the noise without hesitation. His hooves pounded stone, echoing off the thin carved tunnels. He turned and twisted, knowing where to step and where to avoid triggering the traps. The many, many traps.
He arrived at the maze entrance panting and huffing to see a young man with flowing blonde hair, standing below the iron barred gate and gazing between four identical, yet deadly, paths. As soon as the man saw the hulking mass of minotaur, he bolted for the nearest opening like a rabbit before a tiger.
Setting after him, the Minotaur tried to call out, to warn him of the dangers the maze held with its traps and puzzles. But it was with a mouth more suited to eating cud than making words. They came out twisted, malformed garbles which only drove the young man to run faster, and harder. Pelting down the catacombs to the yells and whoops of the guards peering down from the barred windows set overhead.
The man took a left at the fork and the Minotaur jumped to stop him, his outstretched paw getting a touch of boot for his troubles.
The man stopped, turning to laugh and holler, stepping back onto a bit of floor ever so slightly darker than the rest. A half-moon blade fell from the ceiling and met him to the face, cleaving it in two. He collapsed, slowly filling a puddle of gore which started flowing down a drain.
All the Minotaur could do was wish to join it, just flow out of there once and for all. He looked at the body and whispered a prayer to any God who might listen, although he doubted they would.
Two statues in one day was unfair, unreasonable. But if he didn’t then there would be no memory of their death, their sacrifice. Once again he got to work, feeling the crack of cartilage as he made his tribute. It would join its brethren as number eighty-seven. Eighty-seven little humanoid statues which were the best he could manage.
Aria emerged from the shadows, where she hid. None of the guards knew the Minotaur had managed to keep a guest alive. The keeper, Virgil, must have suspected her existence, for he kept putting little packets of cheese, or meat in with the Minotaur’s food. Things herbivores couldn’t and wouldn’t eat.
“It wasn’t your fault,” said Aria, red hair and kindness draping across her waifish face.
The Minotaur grunted in response.
“You couldn’t have stopped him. He didn’t listen to you.”
Another grunt, and a shrug of the shoulders. The Minotaur had seen it too many times. They came, they died, he made statues, and then it repeated. A story as brutal and simple as a guillotine.
“Would you like a story, later?”
This time the Minotaur grunted more affectionately. It didn’t matter he knew them all, they were still the soothing highlight of his day.
“Maybe your favourite one today?”
The best of them to the Minotaur’s ear was the one about the fish, whatever they were. He hoped to see one, one day.
The Minotaur stood, moving a hand to gently stroke Aria’s shoulder, but she drifted and faded into the shadows. A second later the guards appeared at the bars. The Minotaur never knew how she did it, she just knew when they’d arrive and hid accordingly. Although the guards helped her by never stooping to his levels in the maze.
Instead, they stood in front of the bars set in the ceiling, blocking the light the Minotaur cherished. Looking from the corpse to him, they laughed. One lurched in the background, stumbling and waving his arms in imitation of a monster going down the hall.
The laughter ballooned in volume, echoing around the maze chambers like a grand symphony until the Minotaur screamed in frustration.
If they wanted a monster, the Minotaur would give them one. He walked to the bars and roared so hard they rattled. And then he rattled them again, gripping them and bending a minotaur-sized hole.
The guards’ laughter stopped, and they fell over themselves to rush backwards. They fetched polearms more ornament than function. But then they paused, starting to smile as they witnessed what came next.
Despite the cords of muscle running over his body, the Minotaur couldn’t lift himself. He was just too heavy. It was the beauty of the design of the labyrinth jail that the barred doors were all set in the ceiling, preventing his departure.
The Minotaur roared again, this time in frustration. He was so close, yet so far from the sun and freedom he craved.
But he wasn’t useless. As the guards came forward, he dripped a hand into the fresh cadaver and threw. He sprayed them in blood, skin and organs. One man passed out as a kidney hit him in the eye, and the others fled.
That got another roar, one of victory.
A hollow one, but victory all the same. When they had left, the Minotaur rested his head back on the floor. He would pay for that, one way or another. He always did.
It wasn’t fair. He didn’t ask to be born. He didn’t ask to be locked in this maze as a means of waste disposal. He just wanted to be free, and to enjoy the sunlight. To bask in as the outside world must every day.
Another shadow lurched overhead. Out of the corner of his eye, the Minotaur could see Virgil resting on the bars. He alone didn’t fear the minotaur. Almost seemed to care for him. “Are you alright?”
The Minotaur grunted, waving a lazy claw. Alright was never going to be an option.
“I’m sorry,” whispered Virgil, to the sounds of the guards entering the room again. “I try to make them behave, but they won’t listen. The Captain is a nephew of the King.”
The fact the Minotaur was the King’s son didn’t seem to help. Apparently, that was too close to royal comfort. A fact he conveyed with another grunt.
There was an awkward pause, the kind shared by first dates with nothing to say. After, Virgil said, “I will ask for him to be assigned to a more noteworthy post, at the gatehouse perhaps.”
The Minotaur snorted. He was to stay locked down here, whilst his abuser was rewarded with all the sun he could desire. It truly was a man’s world.
“They deserved far worse than bloody clothes. But I’m sorry, the King wants you punished.” Virgil whispered, then dropped something down to the Minotaur, a small, wrapped package. And then raised his voice, “Look. You can’t behave like this. Do you not like your nice conditions, the sun on your horns? The food?”
There were titters and hoots from the guards in the room the minotaur couldn’t see, and then Virgil continued. “I have to take your sunlight away. You understand that, right?”
The Minotaur nodded, looking at the fading orange light. His one true joy as it left him.
“You obviously need to learn responsibility. We are not cleaning up after you like some spoiled brat. You can fix your own bloody mess. Fix it by the morning.”
Virgil left before he could see a response from the Minotaur.
Rage crawled down the Minotaur’s spine, and he punched the wall nearest him, causing showers of dust.
Then he looked to the bar gap in the fading light and understood. Just as the guards pulled shutters in place. Virgil could only do so much, but by the Gods he was helping where he could.
When darkness came and the guards snored, the Minotaur helped Aria through the gap in the bars. If only he had known he could bend them sooner, but the guards would have heard anyway.
Aria mouthed a thank you, giving a lingering embrace before she left. Her hand dancing fleetingly on his snout, before she turned and fled.
In the dim fading candlelight, he could see her slip out of the door into the far end. He’d miss the stories and the whispered songs. But at least he’d finally managed to save a life. A far more fitting tribute than statues could ever be.
It wasn’t much, but at least one was safe. That was all he could do. Before he bent the bars back with a snap to wake the guards. At least he knew now he could do that, for his next guest.
After a while he went to the bundle from Virgil. It was a bunch of large chalks, large enough to even fit the Minotaur’s paw.
The Minotaur sat on the floor, and started to draw with mellow orange and yellows.