The unwritten story of an Athenian tribute, prisoner of the Labyrinth . . .
Most foxes don't have my black hair, but their lean frame and sharp grey-blue eyes are mine. I am not a complete one of them, nor one of us; I am special. And in this city, and in these times, special is equivalent to deadly.
I've known that that scamp Minos's orders would drive me to my fate for years. Ever since two years ago, when I noticed seven young men and women were disappearing every seven years. I remember my best friend Jace, who suddenly bid me farewell one day with no explanation, and I never saw him again.
I am determined to survive. Always it was the seven most beautiful maidens that left to never come back. This Great Year, I am one of them. I know my cunning nature and sly demeanor give me a greater chance than anyone of being imprisoned with the Beast of the Maze. Even if I do not use my cleverness for the proper things, I use it for the right things – but I keep them to myself. Not one person I know, and knows of me, does not refer to me as Blachas Vaika, the Black Vixen. Even my real name, Alettou, is "fox". I live up to my namesake well.
My mother calls. I embrace my little sister and my mother. They hold tight with worry. "Mother," I say, "if I do not return, teach Atta as I would. I will put an end to this tyranny, even if not directly." My mother holds me closer.
"I know you will, Vaika," she says. She hands me a black glass pendant – a fox. I put it around my neck and tuck it under my chiton. My little sister, Atalanta, named for the bravest and best heroine, tugs on my braid one last time. I kiss them both, then hitch up my chiton and hurry to the ship.
My companions sit across from and beside me. We do not talk; what about? They sit like stones. I can almost hear what they think: We are prisoners of Athens. The Minotaur will destroy us. Hades, have mercy. Food.
I am not quite sure where that last one came from. Perhaps my scanty meal before departure is influencing me. I can only hope I die a quick painless death, and pray my passage fare will not be lost in the maze. I much prefer the heroes of Elysium to keep me company eternally, than, say, Charon the ferry man. I made sure to bring an extra drachma or two to persuade Charon to let me in quickly. The Underworld's waiting room is not comfortably furnished, I believe.
The rocking of the boat continues. I watch the sparkling white city of Athens, where I was born, raised, taught, and taught to be clever, fade into nothingness as green-blue sea takes its place.
I think instead of my fate. I know I will die in the maze, gored by the Minotuar. But there are stories of a hero, one by the name of Theseus, who I know would not resist a challenge like this. He is not here, now, but I can and will put in a good word for him to the princess Ariadne.
I spot the princess as soon as I step onto shore. She is standing next to her pointy father, Minos. And I mean pointy, from his beard to his chin, to his spindly fingers. I an surprised he has not poked himself just by interlacing them. Even his mouth is as thin as parchment, his nose like a blade.
Ariadne looks at me, and her eyes frown. I flash my eyes. She pulls me aside when we have begun marching to our cells.
I waste no time with formalities. "This madness must end," I whisper furiously, masking my words with coughs. "There is a hero – a son of the gods on his way. You must help him. Guide him in the maze."
Ariadne replies in a hushed voice, "I will my consult tutor of this. Best of luck, and may the gods be with you." She kisses my hand and disappears in a sweep of her silken chiton. I make the three-fingered gesture above my heart and push out, an ancient charm to ward off evil.
A satisfied feeling spreads around me, but is soon weighed down by dread. I enter the maze with the thirteen other tributes. I had decided earlier that Crete, despite its beauty and civilization, is a lonely little island of prisoners.
The Minotuar, for one. He is a monster, but a prisoner nonetheless. Daedalus, the genius. Icarus, his son. Ariadne, confined to the palace. And the fourteen unfortunate innocents, whom I am one of this year.
The Minotuar lies in wait.
I wander through the maze, navigating by sound. Hunger tears at my stomach. The walls rise to tower above me, but there is enough space between the top and the dungeon roof for me, a skinny girl, to fit. Nicks and crevices in the walls provide ample footholds and handholds, made by the monster's ramming into them. I am a quick climber, for when a predator is hunted, she runs. I finger my pendant.
Heavy breathing sounds behind me. I leap onto the wall and make it to the top just as the Minotuar barrels by. A wail sounds not long later, and a fellow prisoner dies in agony.
I stay on my wall.
Blackness descends, thicker than ever before. I know this is the end. No light, no hope, only a quick death. I find myself in a corridor next to the Minotuar. Climbing over the wall, I run into a dead end. I stamp my feet in frustration, and the Minotuar charges toward me. I know where his horns are. I position myself so that it will stab into my heart.
What I notice as he runs is that he smells of rotten meat. His eyes are small and beady, but not intelligent. He is well over seven feet. The horns are black and white, deadly and sharp like knives. The monster is ever closer. Time does not slow.
I feel no pain.
When I next open my eyes, I see a pale, sallow man in ragged black robes with a hood. I draw out my passage fare, and my extra payment. Charon looks at me with eyes of black, soulless fire, and counts out the drachmas meticulously. I look around.
Transparent figures mill around me. I am in a room of black stone, the walls, the couches, the tables, and the floor. I recognize Jace, and he moves toward me. Charon tells me, "Newcomers are supposed to wait. However, thanks to your generosity, you may come with the next boat. Move!"
For the first time, I see a black stone door set behind him. Charon opens it, and points into the crowd. "You, you, you, you, you, and you two, and you too. That's ten. Move!"
Perhaps he punctuates all his sentences with a "Move!" at the end. I turn to the door and pass through it to a black wooden boat. Jace is part of the group. I grip his ghostly hand as we board the rickety ferry.
Charon's face has turned transparent. I see his skull, tinted greenish. Sickened, I look away to the river. It is black and oily, flowing smoothly and coolly. Occasionally a gold statue floats past, which shouldn't be possible, or a bouquet of wilted flowers; twisted dolls, bloody swords, and even platters of half-eaten food swirl by. Charon sees me looking. He looks as though he is grinning, but it is his skull.
"Those are discarded dreams. Hopes and visions, all tossed in when the spirits pass. I cannot even imagine how polluted this river will be in three thousand years," Charon says. I look at the black fox around my neck, and pull it off. I kiss it, and let it fall from my hand into the murky depths of the river.
"Be nice, all of you. We of the Underworld like to keep the traffic smooth. Move!" Charon docks on the black sand, and we file off. I hear the guardian dog before I see it. Cerberus barks, and I see his massive shape clear through the gloom. He bigger than a horse. I remember that I know how to ride one.
I look at Jace. He lets go of my hand, gives me one last smile, and I return it. We know that this is the final end. He moves to one line, I move to the next. When I am in the judgement pavilion, I wait before the judges.
They declare Elysium.
My deeds were small, but apparantly the Fates could see them. I have them to thank for my eternal afterlife.
The new den is never as good as the old, but I will make it as close as possible.
So? Tell me what you think. . . (You know you want to). Oh, whatever.
I can't quite remember where this came from, really. I think it was the Hunger Games. Ah, not like it matters now, does it?