9. Monsters In The Dark

Eric’s head was spinning with images of bull leaping, of Sookie in his arms, the feel of her around his body, his possessive actions toward her, her vows to him and her sweet words of what he meant to her.  In the space of a second he was out over that cliff again and then safe in her arms and in body as she loved him.  It was too much.   He needed to sit down.  Finding a wall to rest on he sat and just let his mind tumble through the images as he heart pounded from the emotions he felt.

Did you ever think this would be your life?  In all the dull painful hours in Appius’ office?  Did you ever think you would be here and feeling all this?

No, not for a second, but I wouldn’t change anything!

Well, maybe he would change Minos’ attraction to Sookie.  That was a danger that neither of them needed.  Still, at the feast tomorrow they would find The Pythia and tell her the message from the vampire at the ruins.  Then what?

He realized for the first time he had no idea.

If it was an explosion in 2005 at Rhodes that caused all this, what would happen if that event was changed?  Then…they would never have come here!  This would never have happened!  He would never have told her he loved her, never have felt her touch, her kiss beyond that horrible day in his office.

Despair filled him.  He had been so afraid of her leaving him that it never occurred to him that they would lose this time together when all was put right again!  He needed Sookie!  He came up off the wall to start back to the palace.  This was too important, it couldn’t wait.

He barely made it two steps before he felt a sharp blow to the back of his head and then everything went dark.

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The first thing he noticed was the smell. Rotted flesh and feces filled his nostrils.  His stomach rolled over.  The second thing he noticed was the pounding in his head.  It beat in the rhythm of his heart.  He made a sound half way between a grunt and groan when he opened his eyes and found that he was in a dark dank place. He was stretched out so that his feet rested on one wall and his head the other, so immediately he knew the width of this space.  Looking up he could not see the ceiling.  Looking to his right and then his left he saw flickering torches in the distance on both sides.

Where the hell am I?

Turning over and rolling to his feet, he groaned again, dragging himself up and then resting on the wall while his head calmed back down from his efforts.  Trying to gather his wits he listened.

Water was running behind the wall he was leaning on.  The sewer? Underneath the city?  Looking down the corridor first right and then left again he see no appreciable difference between the two.  Which way?  He pushed himself off the wall and meant to move when the little round rock that Calisto had given him fell out of his waistband making a loud plop on the floor for such a small rock.  Immediately, it rolled to the left and kept going down the corridor.

Bacchus said you would need this soon, she had told him.  Slowly, he started to move after it before he lost it in the dim light.  It kept moving slowly in front of him as if it knew where he was going even if he did not.  Despite its slow speed he was pressed to keep up with it at times leaning on the wall heavily panting in his efforts before pressing on until he could see it again.  Sometimes he had to stop and listen for the small sounds it made as it moved ahead of him, then he would hurry to catch up to it again.

Keeping up with the rock was all he could manage in addition to fighting the urge to sit down and rest.  In his mind he saw flashes of Sookie, snippets of her face as she looked at him, talked to him since he had arrived in Knossos two day before.

Had it really only been two days? 

So much had happened since then.  Before he could go deeper into his thoughts the rock would slip from his sight and pull him on.  Part of him wondered if she was all right or if something had happened to her as well.  Those thoughts made him press on as well.  He had to know if she was well.

Suddenly the rock stopped and he panicked.  He got down and started sweeping the floor to find it with his hands.  His thoughts were becoming clearer now and a memory of Sookie kept playing over and over.

This city was designed by Daedalus himself, as was the Labyrinth that is beneath it. I met him once, at the palace.  He was there to consult with Minos and the Leapers had been summoned to attend the function as well. I learned that day about the architectural intents in design and how everything the he builds is set to compliment the land it rests on.  The city and the Labyrinth run downhill, its entrances at the bottom of the hill that Knossos sits atop…

Where was that rock?  He was searching as his mind got hung in this loop.

The city and the Labyrinth run downhill, its entrances at the bottom of the hill that Knossos sits atop…

Oh, Sookie what if I never see you again?  Stop it! You will see her again.  You will get out of this and see her again!

I don’t even know where I am, he told himself feeling the despair settle into his tired aching bones.

The city and the Labyrinth run downhill, its entrances at the bottom of the hill that Knossos sits atop…

Where is that rock?  He was frantic now, on the verge of losing his composure as the senseless thoughts that had been looping in his brain finally started to make sense.  His hand brushed the stone and he reached for it holding it tightly to his chest as he fully realized what he had been working to accept.

…the Labyrinth run downhill, its entrances at the bottom of the hill that Knossos sits atop…

As if to confirm his realization a terrifying roar rang through the passage he was kneeling in. It sounded like a bull, an angry bull, a hungry bull.  It sounded like the Minotaur.  He held the stone tighter and closed his eyes praying to open them and find himself someplace other than The Labyrinth beneath the city.

He was still there when he opened them and the roaring was coming closer.  His hands shaking the little stone fell out and started to roll again.

The city and the Labyrinth run downhill, its entrances at the bottom of the hill that Knossos sits atop…

Bacchus said you would need this soon.

The stone was rolling downhill toward the entrance!  All he had to do was follow it!  A burst of adrenaline made the ache in his head subside enough to get up and move behind the stone.  The hungry roaring sounds coming closer he prayed for the stone to roll faster.  Sometimes it got stuck and he had to get down and find it in the near dark to set it on its path once more.  At times the roaring was so close he could almost feel the Minotaur’s hot breath on his neck, others it was so far away he could barely hear it at all.

Glad I am not the only one lost, Eric thought trying to stay as quiet and move as quickly as possible.  Instinct told him that the Minotaur would be attracted by sound.  For hours or days he stumbled in the dark, rescuing the stone from getting stuck in crevices and along the corridor.  It seemed as though it would never end.  He made himself stay focused on the moment and did not wonder what would happen when he got to the entrance that would surely be locked and guarded.  Those thoughts made his legs weak and encouraged him to sit down and give up.  He would take turns thinking of holding Sookie again and then thinking of keeping up with the rock that was still rolling in front of him to keep him going.

I shouldn’t have been so demanding with her after the leaping, he thought, his tired mind wandering after he had been in the dark so long he was starting to think he would never see the sky again.  She’s right life is filled with dangers that we never see coming.  I certainly never planned to wind up here!  The thought that she might be as anxious as he had been earlier when she was in the arena with the bull tore at his heart.  He would have done anything to spare her from feeling that way.

“I’ll explain better, my love.  I will make it up to you, Sookie. I swear it!”  In his dehydration and wounded state he had not realized he had spoken aloud until he heard the roars growing closer.  The Minotaur had heard him.  Panic seized him as this monster came closer.  Scrambling to pick up the rock his hand sank into something soft and slimy.  A moment later the smell of something rotten assailed his nostrils.

He pulled back and tried to shake it off his hand.  Halfway through wiping his hand on the floor the stench became too much.   His stomach rolled over, but he forced himself to calm.  Inspiration struck him then that perhaps he could hide his smell in the rotten matter on the floor.  It might buy him a few precious seconds if the creature found him before he found the door.

Holding his breath he smeared himself in whatever it was on the floor.  He took his mind away from where he was and what he was doing thinking of Sookie in the market square the day before as she had shown him all the delights of the festival.  When he was done he put the rock back on the floor and followed it again, all the time listening to the sounds of the creature coming closer to him.

The rock stopped again in front of a crack in the Labyrinth’s wall.  With the creature nearly upon him he scooped up the rock and pressed his long frame into the crack, trying to keep his breathing as shallow and quiet as possible.  He was sure the sound of his pounding heart would give him away, at least he was until the creature came into view.  When he got his first look at the mythical Minotaur he was pretty sure his heart stopped beating all together.

The books he had read on the steamer told him that according to legend after he ascended the throne of the island of Crete, Minos competed with his brothers to rule. Minos prayed to Poseidon, the sea god, to send him a snow-white bull, as a sign of support. He was to kill the bull to show honor to the deity, but decided to keep it instead because of its beauty.

Minos had thought Poseidon would not care if he kept the white bull and sacrificed one of his own. To punish Minos’ arrogance, Poseidon made Pasiphaë, Minos’ wife, fall deeply in love with the bull. Pasiphaë had commissioned Daedalus make a hollow wooden cow, and climbed inside it in order to mate with the white bull. The offspring of that wretched union was the monstrous Minotaur.

The creature that passed only several feet from his hiding place seemed unlikely to have been born of woman.  It was at least nine feet tall, its head and shoulders calling to mind the sacrificial bull that Sookie had killed in the arena.  Its body was in the shape of a man having two arms and legs but its muscles were so large and thick that it was almost in its own way when it moved.  It stopped right in front of Eric and turned its large head sniffing the air for its prey.

The dim light caught its milky white eyes.  It’s blind, Eric thought and wanted to sigh in relief when he realized that silence and scent were indeed his friends when it came to evading this creature.  There was no way to fight it without a weapon, the long horns would skewer him in seconds.

Whether born of man or god it was here and it was real!  If he had not been so exhausted and terrified then he might have felt some sense of elation.  He was sure his Sookie would no matter her state to see something with her own eyes that had been lost to the mists of time and relegated to the status of mere myth.  Her bravery, unbending strength and insatiable curiosity were what made her so fascinating to him.  The feeling she brought to him warmed and strengthened him even here.

After a while, hard to say how long in the stifling stinking dark the creature moved on.  Eric remained hidden until he could no longer hear the creature then he slipped out and placed the rock on the ground again, beginning again his quest for the entrance to the Labyrinth.  The stone was moving faster now and he was having trouble keeping up with it.  He fell several times in an effort to not let it slip from his sight, the last time coming down hard hitting his head again.  He tried to rise but did not have the strength.  He knew he was going to die here under the city.

Accepting his fate and giving up the fight allowed his tired mind to realize who had placed him here.

Minos.

Oh, Sookie, I am so sorry, he mourned as the thought of what would happen to her now that he was out of the way.  I hope you can forgive me, my love, for failing you after all.

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There was a light.

“Oh, God!” There was Sookie.

“He’s alive!” There was a man he didn’t recognize.

“I’ve got him.” There was Sam.

“Let me help,” the unknown man said.

“Oh, baby,” Sookie touched his brow.

“We must hurry! The drug will wear off soon and the guards will be after us!”

He felt himself float away in the arms of those he loved and those he didn’t know.

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His eyes opened slowly.  “Drink some water, Eric.”  Sookie’s voice was soft and soothing as she held his head.  The water was cool and refreshing.  He drank long and deep before she took the cup away and laid his head back down.  He reached for her, taking her hand in his.  Touching her made him feel stronger already.

“I thought I had lost you, baby.” She was touching his face now, assuring herself that he was indeed all right.

“Never,” he told her, his eyes closed because it took more strength than he had to keep them open.

“Will he be all right?” Sam asked from nearby.

“Yes, I believe so,” Sookie assured him.

“Call on me if you have need of anything.”

Sometime later he felt Sookie wash him of the residue from his adventures in the Labyrinth.  He tried to speak but his lips wouldn’t cooperate, properly.  He passed out again.

When Eric awoke later he found Sookie wrapped around him in her narrow bed.  His slight movements brought her immediately awake.  He felt a cup at his lips and more cool water sliding down his throat.  When she took the cup away, she got up and returned with some bread and cheese.  He was starving, and made short work of them.  Finally he sat up on the side of the bed and moved to the corner to relieve himself.  He made it back to the bed but was grateful that he had to go no further.  He lay back down at her urging with her tucked to his side again.

“Minos put you in The Labyrinth,” she said in the quietness of the house.  It must be very late because there was no other sound to be heard other than her voice.  It created the illusion that they were the only two people in the world.

“Did he say that?” She scoffed.

“Everything but.  He could hardly own it and play the noble man his ego demands.”  She told him of their conversation on the way to the palace and how she had felt something was wrong.  When she finally made it home and found him missing she suspected the worst.  She had gone to Sam and together they had gone to Daedalus for help getting into The Labyrinth.  They had barely entered it when they found him in the corridor.

“Minos has a secret entrance in the palace far from where we found you, Eric.  How did you come so far in the dark alone?”

“Calisto gave me a gift from Bacchus.  A small round stone.  I remembered you said the entrance was downhill so I followed the stone as far as I could.”  She mulled that over a bit.  “I think that means that in some way Bacchus must be real.  The Minotaur sure is!”

“You saw it?” she asked, rising to look at his face.

“Up close.  It was terrifying.”  He told her of his experiences and instead of the awe and joy he expected from his experience he watched her face grow dark with fury.

“Damn him for doing this to you! To us!”

“Damn who?  Minos?”

“Who else?  He thought if you were gone that he could claim me as his and not lose his honor!”

“I’m tougher than that.  I survived Appius.  Minos is a lightweight next to him.”

“This is not funny Eric Northman!”

“Who the hell is laughing Sookie Stackhouse?”

“You are! You’re making light of what happened today.  Who does he think he is?”

“The King of Crete, Sookie.  That is who he thinks he is.  No one denies him what he wants.  He may have more power than Appius did, more men at his beck and call but he is not the first entitled man I have dealt with and he probably won’t be the last.”

“How can you be so calm about the fact that he almost had you killed?”

“Because he didn’t succeed.  Now he has tipped his hand and we have the advantage. Next time he won’t catch me so unaware.”

“How did he this time?”

“My head was full of what had happened.  Seeing you bull leaping, what happened between us after and I had just realized…” he stopped remembering his thoughts of losing her if they returned.

“Realized what?”

“That if we set time right then none of this, Crete, me and you, this,” he said gesturing them sharing a bed, “None of this will have happened.  I was on my way back to the palace to talk to you about it when they took me unaware.”  Her eyes were round in fear as his words sank in.

“Never have happened?” she repeated, moving closer to him, placing her arms around his aching body.

“No, we will be back to where we were before this.  Me in New York mourning the loss of you and you in Crete on a dig hating me.”

“I never hated you, Eric.”

“Yeah, but my actions drove such a wedge between us that you didn’t tell me good bye before you left and you didn’t send me the monthly telegrams anymore.”  She didn’t say anything to that, only burying her face further into his chest.  “If you never disappear then I don’t change, Sookie.  I remain the same coward who was unworthy of your affections.”

“No,” she said, still hiding her face in denial of words. He held her closer, well aware that this might be the last time he ever got to feel her beside him like this.  If Minos didn’t kill him then returning to their own time would likely leave them without their memories of what had happened here. Either way, his time with Sookie was limited.  He was surprised to find out that he could only regret the ending and not a moment of the journey.  “We could just stay here,” she said, raising a hopeful face to look at him.

“There is the King to consider.”  Her face twisted in anger again then cleared.

“You are right.  I would rather have you safe and alive in a world where I never knew your love than dead here where I have only your memory.”  He kissed her brave face and pretended that he didn’t find either of those choices as unacceptable as she did.

“Rest now, my sweet Sookie.  I haven’t given up yet.  Love may win the day after all if we just believe.”  He wiped her silent tears tenderly before she sniffed and put her head back on his chest exhaustion taking them both away soon after.

   

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