Empty Architecture
rating: +17+x

In the cool at the end of a day of sudden darkness, there is a man with hair grey before his time. He descends the windy bluffs of south-Sicily onto the sandy beaches below, warm and rich despite the uneasiness in his own heart.

His name is Daidalos, an inventor of certain fame. It has only been a year since his son died.

The altar before him is dedicated to a new god, one whose cult had steadily grown over Daidalos’s lifetime, spreading from isle to isle like a parasite. A usurper, some whisper: a titan-killer, born out of the foreigners who had arrived on Delos. Helios’ prayers have not been heard for some time.

Daidalos knew that most of anyone. It is true the inventor had appealed and sacrificed to every god — to all their epithets of sea and sky and death to ever preside in the world — but to Helios he sacrificed most of all, partly out of sentimentality and partly out of something more. Ultimately that proved a fruitless venture: the titan did not answer his prayers. Helios had never been one to support Daidalos, even for the most beautiful gifts the architect had painstakingly built for the titan in the past. Perhaps Helios had known then what Daidalos would become, what he would do. Or maybe the titan had already been waging war with the new god, desperate to maintain control over his domains.

So Daidalos learned to temper his investment, his expectations. This altar now, dedicated to the god of light Apollyon, is a simpler thing. Its body is composed of blocks of travertine, undecorated and unadorned. The little paint that graces the votives along its edges is subdued, desaturated so as to compliment the stone and clay rather than overpower it. Its sacrifices are partitioned in such a way for the blood to funnel, for the stone to remain clean and pure.

Now, at last Daidalos places the wings upon the altar. Impossible wings that dared the pendulums that upheld reality to work, but had them fail anyway. Wings that without his own ingenuity would be utterly unable to fly, mere bundles of bronze and wood and wax and tar. Though certainly sentimental, they aren’t his first attempt at the question of flight. He had always dreamed of flying off the acropolis of the city-state of his childhood, far away from that place of small people with smaller minds. He’d made tests using mice, rats. Sometimes they flew far. Sometimes they died. But that was the way of things, always had been. In Daidalos’s eyes, to craft true beauty there must always be ugliness, death, disease, hardship, be it from the self or to the self. This is the sacrifice of the creator, the exchange at the heart of his most brilliant successes in life.

He has placed the wings upon the altar, removing his hands. Fire consumes them swiftly, red wax dribbling down the altar-steps, mingling to the point of homogeneity with the blood of the bull and the snake, the lamb and the mouse, each and every animal collected and serviced in the name of the new god.

Light graces the world. Daidalos lifts his old eyes, old yet still as sharp as they’d been since he had been a mere boy. Some epithet of the god before him has heard his pleas. He imagines a form both brilliant and terrifying descending from across the sea-winds, finally there for him and him alone.

A voice whispers in Daidalos’s ear.

‘Staring at the sun will give you no answers. You’d do better talking to a seer.’

A man stands behind them, the very image of a youth kissed by the sun. His torso is bronze, his eyes a burnished airy blue, his hair golden flax. He is inspecting Daidalos’s altar, rooting through the burnt offerings, selecting the blackest bones.

‘Are you the good god?’

‘Perhaps.’ The god grins, something animal behind it. It’s all teeth and light, ichor staining his gums. He reeks of new divinity. His form flickers. A young boy stands before Daidalos, a face all too familiar. A whore’s boy, a coin around his neck.

‘Stop that,’ Daidalos starts.

‘Would you rather I have another face?’

He morphs again, and the god is now the image of the man the Inventor used to be, straight-backed and well-muscled, a full head of dark, black hair.


‘Pity. Perhaps this instead.’

And he’s a woman. A queen, with eyes as brilliantly gold as a thousand rising suns.

‘I brought you here for a reason. I don’t have time for games.’

The god is back to his original form in an instant, his hand gripping Daidalos’s jaw, lips whispering savagely in the Inventor’s ear.

‘I could kill you.’

‘I’ve already given far too much for the sun. Are your domains not partly that of fate? Would cutting my story so short truly be enjoyable, for your kind?’

Apollyon shrugs, pacing closer to Daidalos. His breath smells of something burning. ‘Maybe I just find it more interesting. How your life can end, and mine is forever.’

‘I doubt that.’

The god stops, face unreadable. Daidalos speaks again.

‘I need you-’

‘On what grounds?’

‘Let me speak.’

‘I already know what you want. You want me to bring him back. And I cannot.’

‘Every other god and spirit has refused me.’

‘Death is not in my domain.’

‘But you are fate.’

‘I am not the Three.’

‘But you could be. You could… convince. Petition.’



The sun burns just a little brighter, and Apollyon’s eyes are suddenly a blackened red.


The god reaches out, hand tightening on Daidalos’s wrist, and the Inventor cries out. He smiles.

‘Why should I? What would you give me?’

‘Is Ikaros’s own sacrifice not enough?’

‘He died venturing too close to my Domain, yes. But accidentally. His stupidity drove him into it. One human boy, with sullied blood is not enough for my ilk.’

‘I can make temples, a thousand temples, with a million offerings. I can offer up cities to you, Apollyon. I can give you so much.’

‘For just one boy?’


The new god stands still, walking around Daidalos, peering at the wretched man groveling before him.


'He is- he was everything. He was important to me. He-’

‘Do you even listen to yourself?’

‘He loved me.’

‘Did you love him?’

When Daidalos doesn’t respond, the god laughs. The mark he’d left on Daidalos’s wrist sears through his flesh, and his whole arm is red.

‘I can give you-’

‘Spare your whining. There is an old law, Inventor. Where one soul passed can escape the confines of fate, it is in exchange for another. An ancient law, that most in the High Places and their Farther Reaches would not have you know. But I am not most gods, and you are not most men. So perhaps, we can play a game.’

‘A game?’

‘A soul for a soul. You want your boy back. But the ancient laws only work in equal measure. The mark I gave you binds you here, to this altar. Seven years, and you return with an equivalent sacrifice, someone or something of value equal to you, or perhaps greater, than Ikaros. Then perhaps even fate might be rewritten.’

‘What do you get out of this?’

The god’s eyes only twinkle, predatorial. ‘Does it matter what I get? Maybe I just want to see you fail. Or succeed. Maybe I just want a good story. It all depends on definitions, does it not?’

‘I’ve cared for nothing more than Ikaros. This-’

‘This is everything you ever wanted. Unless you are admitting you did not care much for the boy. Then it should be easy, no?’

Daidalos spits upon the god, but the god only laughs, his physical form turning into ash in the sea wind.

‘A soul for a soul. A son for a son. Seven years hence. Remember, Inventor.’

‘What if I- What if I can’t? What if-’

But the god is gone. Daidalos stands up after hours staring at the spot he left, at the soul-shaped brand upon his wrist. He hobbles off, a trail of tears in his wake.

Daidalos was nine years past ten when first blood stained his hands, a memory that remained salient like some haunting spirit for what seemed lifetimes after. Kalos was but a boy, his own nephew, but it hadn’t been until then that the Inventor had felt a jealousy so potent that it tasted like ash under his red tongue.

The compasses the boy had made at only ten years of age were something of divine skill. Something he should have mastered, not a child. The idea of this boy being the same blood as him had only posed injury on insult. So, he did the logical thing. He took the boy high onto the temple of their ancient city, before that great goddess of wisdom to which all great thinkers pay homage, and pushed him off the brink.

The boy’s body wasn’t threatening as he fell. Neither were his screams. After, nothing had been left on the rocks below but a red smear, the body soon feasted upon by the hawk that nested in the acropolis walls. Daidalos hadn’t even bothered leaving the site, after the deed had been done. It was strangely freeing, the emptiness. Even as the guards took him away, even as he stood trial, even as his sweet sister castigated him.

He was exiled, in the end.

‘I’m not coming back. There are better places out there than the shadow of mine own family,’ he told the watchers at the gates, ignoring their jeers. True statements, all. He would never return to Athens.

Later Daidalos would tell himself that Kalos’ death was an intentional act, an excuse to leave Athens and become better, to rise as he was meant to. He’d tell himself this so much so that the story replaced truth, and truth became story. It would be better than the alternative: that the boy’s death was a human grotesque, a slip on his part, a moment of lost control. Because how could he lose control? He was the Inventor. There could be no accidents.

It is strange how quickly a place fades in the mind after one leaves it. The only thing that remains are emblems, be they of phrases heard at the market, of shadows on street corners, of yarns spun from histories invented by victors thrice over. Sometimes people can be emblems.

Of Athens, the emblem Daidalos remembered most was his sister Perdix’s face as she called out to him by that gate on that last day. Stony eyes judged him from a stony face, one that had never been beautiful, but now lost an inner radiance that had roosted in her features unmoved before Kalos died. She was nothing but hard lines and jagged edges now. A sculpture given relief by her grief. Daidalos the sculptor.

‘Let us hope that you keep this promise, brother, of all the others.’

Years have passed since that day on the beach with the god of light. The inventor’s life has changed. He’s slain monsters of his past. Minos no longer draws breath. The king Kokalos has paid him handsomely for his deeds in glorifying his city, and Daidalos knows that if he stayed he could have had the whole kingdom and all its provinces and districts should he have wanted it. But he left anyway. Kingdoms were of no more interest to him anymore than grains of sand.

He still hasn’t found anyone or anything worth keeping that fits Apollyon’s curse. At times, he views their meeting as one would a sacral nightmare, and wonders if it had indeed been one after all. But the mark the god gave him, the compulsion to return, is still emblazoned on his wrist. It is pain without relief. Not a sharp pain, but a slow, throbbing ache, and Daidalos wishes more than anything that he could remove it. But he cannot.

He sails from island to island, and before long it’s been five years, and he’s leaving a merchant ship clad in nothing more than yellow rags, a beggar in all but name. He is the wanderer, the seeker, the fool. He walks up the stone steps of the harbor of a remote fishing town, an island among thousands in the wide Aegean Sea, breathing in the salt air as an old man does. He’s old now, yes. But despite everything, he still has some vigor in his bones, and so he walks.

The village huddled on the bluff is a small one of clustered houses and granaries and ovens of barren stone and peeling stucco and saltworn mudbrick, battered by the passage of the winds to the north. Around it is a wide grove of fig trees. In the center of the town is a small hostel, and a cistern from which water is stored and drawn. It is the largest community for miles of sea, and its dyes are its main export.

In the day, people move about doing what they do, and Daidalos watches.

At night, merchants come out in the village square, and Daidalos watches.

And then it’s been a week of watching, and Daidalos’s golden-brown skin is weathered and cracked by sun. It’s then, at the week’s end, that Daidalos finds something unique, something of value in this blasted town. An emblem.

A boy sits by the cistern, feet bare and brown. He only has one eye, deep and glittering. His other eye is burnt shut. There is something about him which draws a crowd. He’s telling stories.

Some are nothing but fragmented yarns of sailors, no doubt overheard by the boy from the various merchants that came and left the village over the years. Others are long and storied, with villains and heroes and highs and lows, beginnings and endings. Others still are more stationary: wanderers searching for things they never find, mystics looking for meaning, lovers who can never be with their other halves.

The stories are frivolous. They should be frivolous. Daidalos ought to dismiss this child as he’s done with all the others, but for some reason, his feet do not listen.

He stays, he listens. Then he does it again, and again, and again. He’s hooked.

Though larger than the other isles on the twenty year-old Daidalos’s voyage to anywhere but the place he had been born, Crete maintained the commonalities inherent in all those other lands settled by humanity. The aromas of the human body, of the human food, of the scents to dispel it. The places for the building of things, the crafting of others. The houses for the artisans, for the musicians, for the artists, for the laborers, for the builders, the farmers. The houses for the prisoners, the latrines and cesspits for the disposal of feces, the middens for the disposal of trash, the baths and the brothels, the tombs for the reverence of the dead. The houses for the ancestors and the shrines and the altars for the countless gods that lined the ports, looked after ships on their voyages, blessed grain and meat and sky and sun and life and death. And above it all, there were the palaces set upon the high places, the sprawling bull-courts for the king and the king’s wife and their many children and the king’s soldiers and the king’s servants and the king’s concubines. All of it Daidalos took in as it was presented to him: not as any rare marvel, but assessing it with a critical eye. For the world was given to him as it was in any other place. The only thing which set Crete apart was that no one knew him.

It was easy to place in an apprenticeship. A young heady man he had been then, still full of the vigor of youth. He found work under a silversmith, a proud immigrant who hailed out of Mycenae to the north lauded for his work creating the most intricate of images in the metal that felt alike to life, so much so that he was known as the Soul-Catcher by contemporaries of the craft.

Daidalos found the man’s work dull. It lacked a life to it that he knew his own hands could master better. But there would be time for the world to know that. The Inventor was patient.

A year passed before the Soul-Catcher died, of a purported illness to the bowels. Daidalos rose, and became renowned for his craft and brilliance in all the arts of both silver and gold, and bronze too. The Soul-Catcher’s name and reputation was unknown to everyone but the man who had replaced him thereafter.

Three more years passed, and Daidalos grew bored. He returned to the tradition of working wood as was his father’s profession. Five years passed, and he tired of that also. He attempted work in the arts, in painting images upon the walls, and devised techniques both brilliant yet alien, but even that proved not enough for him. For all these things were material. There was no active participation in the admiration of the product. So it was that his eyes turned to what would become his highest of proceedings: architecture.

By this point he had fostered a reputation of equal if not more renown to the one he had cultivated in the city-state of his youth, this time not overshadowed by anyone remotely kin to family. It was of little surprise, then, when the king’s men came to him one day, their whole host the image of crimson. Bronze spears glinting in the dawn, their loincloths were dyed redder than blood, their belts richly detailed with the scarlet horns of the good king Minos’s great house. The leader came up into Daidalos’s workshop as the Inventor had been reviewing his lists, with a singular request: the queen desired for a new temple and altar to be constructed, upon the hill-that-always-looked-to-the-dawn. Word of his success with the embellishment of the docks and the northern palaces on the isle had come to her. She wished to see his work for herself.

In the end his answer was a simple inevitability. He never looked back even once as they led him up and up, across the bridge, into the ancient labyrinthine palace of Knossos.

Daidalos constructs an altar.

This one is nothing of his prior designs. It is not the white pristine thing of Sicily, nor the bright and beautiful works of his on Crete, or in Athens. It’s just stones. Random stones. Maybe one day, he’ll find the energy in himself to make it beautiful. But the years wear at the knit of the muscles beneath his skin. He’s not the man he used to be, and hasn’t been for some time.

A voice, the first human voice that addresses him directly as a person and not an old beggar since he’s arrived on this island, cuts through him like a knife.

‘I’ve been looking for you,’ it says. The words mince nothing. ‘You like to hide.’

It’s him. It’s the boy. Daidalos hasn’t seen him up close, not truly. In every instance of the boy’s stories, the Inventor has found it better to stay back in the shadows. To let them coax the edges of his exterior, and little else.

The youth is so much frailer up close than he looks from afar. The scar that engulfs his eye snakes its way down his body like a drakon, and there’s some on his right arm, too. The boy misses two fingers on one of his hands, half-torn stumps. Where Daidalos has been shaped by time and choices, this boy has been weathered by far more, despite his shorter life.

The Inventor chooses not to acknowledge him, bending down to pick up a heavy stone. But this one is more than he can budge, and suddenly the boy’s by his side, and they lift it together - setting it in place.

They’re sweaty and heaving by the end of it.

‘I know what you do.’

Daidalos grimaces.

‘What would that be?’

‘You don’t think I don’t notice that extra coin. You hide in the crowds near the ends, when it's busiest. But I remember everyone who comes to me.’ He lifts his chin, eye twinkling. ‘I remember you most of all.’

‘You pity the beggar?’

‘An image you create. Not real.’

‘Everything is real,’ the Inventor says. ‘You tell stories. Reality is a jest, a trick of light on the wall. It can be anything, so long as people believe it.’

‘In some ways yes. But you’re wrong.’

‘I’ve lived longer than your lifetime thrice over.’

‘Have you ever heard of the story of the philosopher and the manticore?’

The Inventor doesn’t stop the boy as words configure into a winding tapestry of a wanderer who traveled to a library guarded by a manticore that wore the face of each of its kills. The monster had been given the city of scrolls to guard by the titan Prometheus before he left earth to find fire to bring back, and awaited its master dearly. As the centuries passed, and no master came, it watched countless pilgrims come before the city gates, and devoured countless souls. With every soul it devoured, it took the face and memories of the last keeper, each one in the manticore’s eyes as real as the one before.

One day, a philosopher had come to the gates. The manticore that day had decided to toy with its prey. It gave him a thousand riddles, just as the philosopher gave it a thousand answers, but on the final riddle, the philosopher only asked one question.

Do you remember him? Your Master.

The manticore remembered a thousand-thousand masters, so it replied. Masters of crafts, teachers, priests, gods. It remembered them all. All except its first.

For the first was unattainable. The one thing the manticore desired most of all: not to own, but to be appreciated for what it was. It believed that if it found the master that put it there, it might find the things it forgot, the family it might have had, the truth that could be.

‘It let the philosopher go,’ the boy says in the end.


‘Because there was nothing left to value anymore. Through all the masks that covered it, engulfed it, reshaped it, it had lost its anchor. There was no more Manticore left. Only an empty mirror, looking into nothing.’

The boy’s single eye gleams. ‘So here I wonder. Who are we?’

‘That’s a pointless story.’

The boy shrugs. Daidalos continues his work long after the sun sets. And for some reason, the boy stays with him. The boy helps.

And for some reason or another, a mystery undivined, Daidalos cannot hate him for it.

To the Inventor, life was struggle. For if one sat back and let fate chart their course, collisions would occur. He hated collisions. They were messy, they had collateral, and they were not logical. They were everything that he was not.

Daidalos was the sort of man who believed that despite fate’s architecture for his life, he could still hope to bend his path however he would. He need not be constrained by the meandering of purposelessness, for everything was his own to construct, to deny, to destroy. There were moments, of course - those temptations set out by the Sisters, bait hoping he would catch. But he liked to think himself above that. He would be tested, yes. But he was still in control.

The first time he saw Pasiphae, Daidalos was drawn instantly to her.

A queen sold like a broodmare to the great king Minos of whom legends had already been spoken for his children’s work serving as Argonauts, there was something about her that immediately resonated with the Inventor’s bones. Something not entirely human, a darker edge that was more primal than anything else. Not animalistic like those younger gods, never that, but ruthless. Ageless. Cruel.

Daidalos had never quite understood the intricate nature of human relationships. The concept of trusting anyone - truly trusting them - to him was foreign, though people certainly trusted him besides. Up until this point, he had never met anyone of his calibre who felt the way he did. Not until her.

Her eyes were gold. Not simply a golden-brown, but a true gold, like captured light from the sun. It was of little surprise to him who the temple had been commissioned for. Her father was Helios, a titan of the sun, that ancient charioteer of the heavens. She lived her life before Crete in the east, among cities carved of living rock in the high steppe, where the grass swayed forever and the sun never set.

It was not the stories of her youth or past that fascinated the inventor. Rather, it was her inner distaste for everyone and everything around her, her complete disdain and lack of attention for her lessers. She was molded by the hatred of her fool husband, of her children who did not care for her, of the land that still viewed her as some exotic good rather than a queen. Her coldness was frigid for a daughter of fire, and at every step of the erecting of the great temple of the sun, she fought him. He made thousands of adjustments, thousands of changes to his vision for hers - not to sate her or serve her, of course not, but to see her true self unfold. To know her dreams and her signs as divorced from the past through which she had been manufactured.

For the first time in his life, he found himself desiring a connection. Nothing concrete, no firm foundations - but something threadbare wove in and out, slowly yet surely. The temple rose out of the earth, walls frescoed with colors of the richest pigments, pillars carved of dark cypress and ebony painted black and gold and red. A statue stood over it all, of the great titan, painted as if some beautiful sentinel, an Egyptian dream.

With every change he made, they grew closer. She would take him on hidden walks, through passages untended far away from the oversight of the king and his men, deep into dark chambers from more ancient times, high onto ridges whipped with salt and smoke and sea, peering out over the whitewash of the Earth-Shaker’s domains. They came to know one another in their own way, their secret way, both architects of different things and different dreams yet united in their propensity to control, to dominate the other.

There were more projects after that, and gradually he grew beloved by the court, and especially the King Minos, who thought him Hermes born anew. And when the king’s last advisor died, officially of old age or some stray pitfall, the king dubbed Daidalos his own ear, and took the Inventor and set him by his throne as the voice of law and reason.

That night, the queen kissed the Inventor for the first time. It was a reward for the murder that went unspoken. A chaste thing, on the forehead as a queen would bless her subject. But neither of them could ignore the fire in their eyes and hearts and livers. And neither of them would ignore it, for many years to come.

‘The process is iterative,’ Daidalos explains, cold eyes never leaving the boy’s as he demonstrates. ‘Outside, then in, outside, then in. And slowly, the image will form. It is not like painting, or wood carving. To work silver, one must have patience. You must play a game with the metal. An imitation game. Sometimes it will show you an image you had not yet considered.’

‘Like a story’, the boy murmurs.

‘Or a maze,’ Daidalos says back.

The boy says nothing more, only soaking in the words as he took the cup and worked it himself. It is the first time Daidalos had bothered to teach someone anything since Ikaros, but the act of it is like slipping on an old, used glove. The goblet was not difficult to prepare for the session, and it was a small cost to Daidalos’s time to do so. The boy needed a new medium for his craft. Of all the arts that Daidalos had learnt in his life, it seemed fitting that the first profession he had risen into upon arriving in Crete would be the first that would be passed on, here, now.

They don’t finish the cup that day. The boy spends weeks polishing details. The end-product is a crude facsimile of a greater master’s work, but it is a beginning. Even Daidalos sees the boy’s promise. And the boy has something not many others do have: a vision.

After everything is done, they don’t know how to speak to one another. The boy is all out of stories, and Daidalos is all out of guiding words. So he lets the boy guide him. They go up together, high above the village. There is a ledge there, and a cave. It looks north: over the smallport, over the sea with all its windy luster, into the far haze beyond which Daidalos knows the gates of death lie. It is not the most incredible sight Daidalos has ever seen, nor the most marvelous. It is a plain cave, and the hill it sits on is not tall. Yet somehow, something in him is moved.

On its walls are scrawls and etchings and paintings. These are images of things the boy has said before, Daidalos realizes. It is then that he sees it for what it really is: a place the boy can go to have solitude without judgement. This is where his stories are born.

‘Why show me this?’ he asks the boy. Daidalos hopes his hands aren’t shaking too much.

‘Why not?’ Is the only answer he gets, the boy’s single roving eye darting to a painting of a black goat on the far wall. A story seems to have come back to him. The boy sits cross-legged as he always does when he tells stories, beckoning for Daidalos to sit. ‘Now, has anyone ever told you of how the goat lost his tears?’

Daidalos was kneeled before the king and all his concubines and guards, Pasiphae’s hand clasped Minos’s own. In the Inventor’s mind’s eye, it was his own hand clasping hers, slick with the smell of sex.

‘You would build it?’ The king’s voice was dark, but hesitant. He truly believed in the ruse that the Inventor and the queen had devised: that the keeping of the kine of the sea had led to the queen’s… infatuation with the bull. It had been easy to plant the seeds. To present the sacrifice. To make him greedy enough to keep it living beyond all else, so as to trigger the Earth-Shaker’s wrath.

‘I will build it. I will make a way for the queen to live out her fantasies unimpeded. So that she will not die mauled by a beast of the field, I will make a construct that she might lie inside. And perhaps the god’s curse will be appeased.’ His voice was solemn, firm. It spoke of a man to be trusted, a man to be feared, a man to be respected. He had the king’s ear, after all. So many more doors were open, now. So much more than there’d ever been, all his life.

‘Yes. Yes, that’s good.’

‘Is that all, my good king?’


So he went. He wrought the wooden cow, of the finest cypress and cedar, fit with ebony eyes. It was marked with cow’s blood, and adorned with cow’s hide, uncured and untreated. He spent days sewing it on, mating the seams in the construct. He killed seven cows for it all, to make the coloring just right.

On the final night, the night it was completed, he presented it before the queen’s chambers. One by one she dismissed her servants, and it was him and her, and the moon above them was a silver apple carved in a black vault littered with stars.

‘There’s something in your eyes,’ she told him then. ‘They’re what I love most of you.’

Daidalos thought her simple, even as he drowned in her. His eyes were a dark, dull brown, almost black. They were nothing more special than anyone else in the world’s. But she whispered in his ear, teeth biting softly at his throat. He let out a strangled cry.

‘Mine are the sun’s, but yours? In them, when the light is right, I only have ever seen stars, my beloved.’

The night they shared was nothing beautiful, or even fulfilling. It was animalistic, a need brought about by the final crowning moment of the avulsion of their constraints. Neither of them were gentle. But the moon was full, the tides were high, and the bull he made watched them through it all.

Neither of them mentioned anything about love after that, either. In some ways, Daidalos would wonder thereafter if everything about it had been an illusion, born out of his desperation to be relevant, in control: that the story he had devised was the real truth, and everything else a lie.

None would ever know the wiser.

The next few months with the boy are the same. He teaches the boy the crafts he knows. The boy shows him the island’s secrets: the pools with names known only to him, the keeves with hidden sounds from beyond the world’s confines, the old tablets written in stone from those who had lived on the island before. Each and every one flush with story.

It’s a mirror, a dark mirror. In the boy’s avid tongue, his yearning for knowledge, Daidalos can only remember the blood on his hands, the scream of his first murder.

Too much like Kalos, the Inventor of the past whispers. Too eager. Too brilliant.

But Daidalos finds he does not care. Because the boy is not his own blood. The boy does not exist in the Inventor’s sphere, but instead is a bright and brilliant sun in his own right. A whole separate world, with its own paths and signs and wonders. Daidalos wishes to walk the paths unhindered by his own.

He ought to kill the boy, should he shine too bright. But not now. Not yet. After all, there is still so much both of them can learn from the other.

The night the babes were born was a silent one. The king did not speak, only muttered. The queen sobbed quietly as her midwives and handmaidens gathered around her like a shield, and whenever she started screaming they gave her something to bite down on. No guard nor son nor daughter of the king or queen said a word.

Daidalos was in his workshop, pouring over plans for something or another. Exactly what had been forgotten soon after the babes had been born.


One was a fair child, a girl as healthy as can be, with eyes a vibrant sea-green so unlike either Daidalos’s or Pasiphae’s own. Her name was Ariadne. It was odd, some spoke, of how normal the girl was, after the blasphemy of the twins’ conception. The queen had made sure she had been nowhere to be found when the bull used the contraption Daidalos had built. It was better for everyone - that the court think it was a bull, rather than Daidalos, who was the children’s sire. That was divine punishment enough for the king’s refusal to use the original bull as a sacrifice.

No, that was not the Earth-Shaker’s punishment.

The other twin, the girl’s brother, was. A crumpled, deformed thing he had been, breathing passages stifled hard under a thick caul, one that had to be quickly cut to ensure survival. He did not breathe right, his head was bleeding, his nose misshapen and monstrous. He was a human boy, yes, but all wrinkled like some animal, with skin peeling white and covered in fine hairs. The midwives called him little calf, but all the queen saw was his eyes, his perfect little eyes, dark pools that the light bounced on in sheens, never looking at her, only to the window, only out into the dark, black night. He was her star-child, and despite everything, she found an overwhelming sense of love in herself for him, one that would persist from that moment until his last, dying day.

She named him, in the end, Asterion - the same name as Minos’s foster-father from all those years ago, the name that the king had striven so hard to supersede and erase. A name that the king resented most of all, but he would not deny his wife this wish, nor would he interfere.

Five years passed, and the boy’s health began to fail. Pasiphae had been quick to commission Daidalos once more with an impossible task: save Asterion.

Seven long days and seven sleepless nights, the boy’s heart almost giving out twice in that time, and there was a working solution. Asterion’s head was encased almost entirely in an apparatus of the most intricate bronze, bolted to his skull, woven with his veins and skin. The mask fitted upon it was the image of the bull’s head, grand and terrible, and one almost could forget a child lay beneath its visage until the blood started to run out of the ornate nostrils, the frail body slowly giving out to support an over-large bulbous head. Asterion never spoke like other children - in fact, he never spoke at all, unless the dry whispers that sounded only the barest amount of words to some who listened, people who were neither Daidalos nor any in the royal house, had been indeed the child attempting speech. Soon his limbs too were augmented, blood given and taken. Slaves and servants in Knossos had begun to take to calling the boy the Shambling Bull, after that. Later, the Minotaur.

He was so unlovely compared to his sister, and disturbed so many in the palace, that king Minos was lost as to what to do with the strange child. In the end, Daidalos was the one who suggested the solution. And if a part of his soul whispered how wrong such an idea was, how evil, Daidalos pretended he never heard such a thing at all. Because how could he have?

The Labyrinth would be more than just a maze. It was everything.

‘You never pray when you burn things,’ a voice says behind him. Daidalos doesn’t bat an eye. He’s loath to admit that he has grown used to the boy, who he likes to think now is more like his silent shadow than another person.

It has been a while since he last knelt at the altar at sunrise. He sighs.

‘Of course I pray. Not out loud, though.’



A wave crashes below them, smothering old beds of limestone under a foamy flotsam and drying ripped up kelp and dead sea-creatures. Things welling up from the past, left in low tide high up on the shore to rot.

‘My father never prayed aloud. I suppose it is a learned attribute.’ And sometimes, though he does not say this aloud – not with the boy so near — it is better to let things stay in your head, to fester, rather than pollute the world with them. Because that’s what his problems are - a pollution, a rarer kind of plague known by name only to him.


‘What, do you?’

‘Always. I have nothing to hide. Did your father have things to hide?’

And you? Do you have things to hide? The boy doesn’t say this, but Daidalos imagines the words real as blood on his tongue. A shiver runs down his spine.

Another crash. The surf is uncharacteristically rough, waves full of white-caps. The sky lightens, a cloud shambling. Daidalos exhales.

‘Everyone has things to hide. My father was like any other man, I suppose. He liked carving wood more than his own son. Nothing I would give to him would be enough.’

The boy is silent for a moment, eye for once never meeting Daidalos’s. ‘I never knew my father.’


‘No. I never knew anyone.’

Daidalos throws another branch into the fire, watching the flames climb higher in the blush of the dawn.

‘Maybe that is better. To have no father at all, than one who cannot bring himself to be one anyway,’ he says at last, the words laced with a bitterness he’s not sure is dedicated to his father or himself. He’s poison, he’s always been poison (something he accepts now, had not before but knows consciously with every fiber of all his being and yet still remains unwilling to change because what difference would it make now, after everything that’s happened, that will happen), and just because he’s now a hermit on an island so insignificant it’s not even marked on any maps makes it no different.

The boy purses his lips, watching as Daidalos takes forth two fish, one for each son, and throws them in the flames. It’s only when he’s sure the fire’s consumed them that he takes one last look at the altar, and walks away without a word.

The Labyrinth was complete at last, Daidalos’s great creation, the dream of a construct that interacted with its participant finally realized with a cold yet methodical precision. It was nature embodied through man, a ravenous beast of a design, so cunning that not even Daidalos himself could fully chart every trick in its hollow halls.

When they finally introduced Asterion to the pit, the boy did not move from the entrance for two weeks. The lightless, echoing halls seemed to frighten the Minotaur, and a great din howled up from the bowels of Knossos like some frightful spirit of death.

Over time, a boy became a monster.

As the years wore on, and Ariadne flowered into a maiden most beautiful, Daidalos saw how the augmentations wore on Asterion. His mind, always a fragile, premature thing, had been bent, twisted, deformed by years of puncturing and modification and black dreams. First, mere animals were all that was needed to keep him alive. But then things became bloodier. Monkeys, petty thieves, pirates.

When the war with Athens broke out, Daidalos found himself facing the land of his exile, and smiled. When Crete survived, and a treaty forged, Daidalos was again consulted for the terms. Seven boys, seven girls, virgin blood. Good numbers all, healthy and youthful, without any loss of blood or parts.

That would be enough to satisfy Asterion’s needs each year.

There can be no love without sacrifice. There can be no power, without love. At times, he wondered if any one of those youths might have been nephews and nieces, daughters and sons. He wondered how Perdix would see him if she saw him smile. What she would say.

He dreamed sometimes, of leading her to the Labyrinth. Of showing her his work, in all its beauty and terror. He dreamed of the look on her face, of her asking him, begging him, to save her.

The dreams would always end before he did.

Children play in the distance, laughing and shrieking as they run to and fro around the field below. The boy and the Inventor sit upon a hill in silence, watching. They had spent that day finding resources to make dyes for paints, the boy showing the Inventor the best spots on the isle to find madder and woad and other such plants.

‘Why do you never speak to others your age? Why do they never speak to you?’

The boy shrugs, nothing betraying his blank face. ‘They might be afraid of me.’


‘I am a monster.’ The boy smiled, pointing to the eye burnt shut on one side of his face. ‘A war took it from me. I have been running to find it, ever since. But it keeps getting away.’

‘You won’t find an eye again by chasing wars, boy.’

‘The war that took it came and went.’ The boy’s voice is suddenly grave, wise beyond his years, drenched in history and longing. It is clear to Daidalos that to the boy an eye meant more than simply something to see with. ‘I am alone. Everyone has their eyes but me.’

The boy says little more. Later Daidalos learns the perceived truth of it: that the boy had not been born on this island any more than Daidalos had; that he grew up knowing nothing more than the bowels of a slaver’s ship. He lost his eye asking for food. He had escaped by his own wits, or so the men at the square said at night; that boy was a cunning rat, with hands of a trickster and the mouth of an oracle, one foot in the past and one foot far off in a distant future, but never here, never now.

A boy with secrets in his bright eye and a dead innocence in his dark. Old knowledge. It’s later still that Daidalos realizes the boy never truly answered him, choosing rather to deflect, to escape in the silence and the shadows.

‘Perhaps you are all I need,’ the boy had said, last closing their talk, words that ripped a cold shiver reverberating across his heart. He wanted more answers, and the boy had more questions, but neither wanted to ruin this, so neither spoke too quickly. Every word mattered.

‘Then you need very little indeed.’

‘No,’ the boy peered up resolutely. ‘You are a story most intricate. I see worlds in you, so different to my own. I want to look inside your worlds, explore the paths that others abandoned. I know you feel the same of me. That alone is why I like you. That alone is why we talk. And that is how it will be.’

‘To what end?’

The boy’s eye grows distant, staring up at the sky. The sun is high above them. No clouds are there for shelter from the light.

‘Of that, only the gods know.’

The Minotaur, dead at last. Ariadne left with the killer, some doomed romance. Daidalos felt nothing but free the day it happened, like a weight had finally lifted, until he remembered that with this there would be an end to everything he had built. The king raved about curses and gods and distant war. As for the Inventor, he knew then that the Earth-Shaker had finally and completely realized his revenge.

‘You’re nothing but a worm burrowing into a thousand corpses. More poison than any man,’ Pasiphae whispered to him, on the last night they ever had together, words that haunted him for ever after. ‘Our children both gone, and it’s all you. You never cared for them. For me.’

‘And you claim yourself better?’ Daidalos retorted, because he was right. For all Pasiphae tried, she was still half a titan, barely managing to constrain the guise of humanity over her divine flesh. She was divinity by blood, and him by soul, and they were meant to be together. To burn together.

‘No. But I imagined you would be.’

He did not remember much of the night after that, only fragments. A vision of a brothel at the docks, going through every whore he could muster. He had money for them all, but nothing worked. They were too short, their eyes too dull, their lips too dry, too cracked. They were not divinity trapped in flesh. They were just whores, and he was just a man, nothing he did or they did could change that, for him to be able to picture his love. The last of them looked up at him with the same hatred he felt toward himself, a vivid memory piercing through opium and wine as he shoved a coin under her tongue worth more than her entire life.

For some reason he ended that night as the sun rose, his feet walking the flagstones before the altar and temple he had raised for Pasiphae’s father all those years ago. But like his own dreams, the temple was lifeless, the paint peeling, the votives long-since pilfered. Sailors did not pay homage to Helios anymore. They would rather give their offerings to the new god, Apollyon. For the fortunes of Crete, that great city-state and testament to the human fire which his craft had so enriched, were turning with the tides.

He screamed at the sea, at the Earth-Shaker, at his daughter, at Pasiphae, at his sister who never wanted him at all and the cities that exiled him and the people that hated him and himself, his poison, his dreams.

He was empty and alone. He was pitifully, mercifully, pointlessly still human, and no closer to divinity that he had been when he first stepped foot on Crete’s shores.

The eyes are finally slathered on the coracle he’s spent the past few days meticulously constructing. It is his own unique design, better than any other. Daidalos will leave. It has been a year already, far longer than he’s stayed in any of the other places since Ikaros died. He burns a lone offering by the sea, in a makeshift brazier of driftwood and decayed kelp and pottery shards. In his mind’s eye, he sees the Earth-Shaker astride a chariot set for war, powerful and cruel and wild and masterless as he always has been, a shadow born out of the wider ocean beyond the gates of the Atlantes and their pillars. He sees the dark god wearing a necklace of bones and shells and broken amphorae, and something else. The dangling wreck of wings, a cruel echo of the past.


Kneel, the god seems to demand, desiring wanton recompense. Bow to me. The prayer on the Inventor’s soundless lips is meek compared to the great god’s image.

Lead me. Guide me, wherever my end might be. Give back-

No. Not that. Never that. That avenue always turned up answerless.

He stands up, stepping inside his coracle. Perhaps he might find a larger port, eventually. These months the seas are calmest. It would be easy to island-hop until he got there. And maybe, just maybe, he’d find another king to fill his rudderless life. Another realm to infiltrate, to mold to his will, to pop like a tick, and move on.

But when he looks back, he sees the boy watching him from the bluffs. It’s then in that moment that Daidalos remembers that the human heart is little more than a lonely hunter, and for all the greatness anyone might hope to become, be, or have been, none are immune to its pull: that most doomed yearning, for someone, or something, that might hope to complete them. A guiding thread in the dark.

A delusion.

He drags the coracle back to shore. The sun’s set by the time he realizes he’s been lying on the sand staring at nothing for hours. He stays.

The tower Daidalos had been locked in was unlovely. It was an old thing, a remnant of the palace before the good king Minos had refurbished it. It stood tall and rectangular and leaning, its flat roof clung to with lichen and dead grass, with a singular window at its top, the only light Daidalos had known for the last few weeks since Asterion’s death.

‘Would this be my prison, then?’ the Inventor had asked Minos before he had been led up the winding stair. ‘I was not responsible for the boy’s death.’

‘We will be cursed, now,’ was all the king said during the sentencing, leaning bent upon his chair. Those days, he showed more grey than black in his hair, his chest sagging from the weight of his crown. ‘Cursed by the Earth-Shaker himself. Who among us is to blame for anything but you? You made the wooden cow. You made the labyrinth. It was your advice which set everything in motion. And now you will never see daylight again, outside of that tower. I would not betray my kingdom to be cursed overlong for the follies of one man.’

Daidalos thought it no accident that the only surviving Athenian boy, the one who had left with Ariadne, had been the very image of the Earth-Shaker. After all, it was not unknown for gods to dally with mortalkind. No, the Minotaur’s death would not bring upon them the Earth-Shaker’s wrath. It was a message to him, after all.

A warning.

The queen visited him on the third week of his captivity, after he subsisted on foul food and meager winnings. She was beautiful as ever, and something tore at the insides of his heart. But both of them were proud people, and whatever fire had burned inside them had died years ago.

She had her servants lay something before her feet, before Daidalos’s. It was a large casket, elaborate like a king’s. She bidded they remove its lid, and Asterion’s dead eyes stared back at the Inventor’s.

‘They told me that the body had been dragged to the sea and dumped,’ was all Daidalos said. He had dearly hoped that of all rumors at least, had been true.

‘No. I had my people take the body. I would not have it defiled. Not my son’s.’

‘Why is he here?’

‘Do you want to leave this place, Daidalos?’

The question was innocuously simple, but Daidalos still could not find it in himself to approach a satisfying answer. Because, did he? If he left, he could go out into the world as he had before Crete. He could live on his own at last. He could be free.

But what is freedom without power?

‘I don’t know.’

Her hand closed around his, breaking Daidalos from his stupor. Her gold eyes stared deep into his dark ones. ‘Everything that happened between us, Daidalos. It can still be forgiven. Look upon our boy. Bring him back. Then I will restore your position in court by the means I know that you know I possess. You will have the power, the freedom, to do anything. You could leave. You could rule Crete. You could… we could…’

Her voice trailed off, and Daidalos looked upon the face of his doom. Asterion’s mask was half broken off, revealing a shriveled face barely recognisable as a human of any sort, full of pock-marks and boiled skin and dried pus-filled cracks. But it was the face of his son, of his own blood. And Asterion’s eyes, dark as night, were uniquely analogous to the Inventor’s own.

‘You want me to undo death.’

‘I do. The boy does not rot. The remedial blood and humors still course through his veins, and will forever thanks to the gifts you gave to his body. It is still possible.’

‘Only a god can do that.’


Ten years passed. Each day, he worked, slept, worked, slept. The queen commissioned for him any part or instrument or sacrifice he needed. She bid her servants to give him the most delicious of rich delights for the tongue and belly, more so than he had ever enjoyed before as the king’s architect and ear. Many went half-eaten.

He worked himself into a daydream. He started on animals as he always had. Small birds first, with broken wings. When that failed, he moved to mice, rats. It was always easier with smaller creatures with smaller souls. And then, dogs. Cats. Foxes. And then…

A boy arrived on the last day of the tenth year since Pasiphae’s commission. The queen never quite told him why she had found him a servant. The boy was plain, with wide lips and dark eyes. He had been born in a whorehouse by the docks. He liked to make things, and he would help Daidalos with whatever he needed, no questions asked.

His name was Ikaros, and when they met, he was only ten years old. There was something around his neck which Daidalos thought unique: a golden coin, hanging by a singular red thread. And despite the obfuscation of his past’s motley mosaic, he saw the boy for what he was and wasn’t, could have been and should have been, never was but might become. He laughed.

Whether it was out of an appreciation for the gods’ humor, or a sick, twisted sense of inexplicable grief, even Daidalos could not know. But for one reason or another, he welcomed Ikaros with open arms.

‘You asked me why I did not like talking to people who were not you.’

The boy’s voice is firm, without any trace of hesitation. He’s biting his lip, something Daidalos has tried to train him out of, but it seems he can’t. The boy is imperfect, but for some reason the Inventor does not mind such a thing.

‘That was months ago.’

‘Yes, but I understand now. I know why.’


The boy exhales. ‘Stories, and the people in them, the characters — they are always extensions of the teller. You, as the creator, are never alone. There is never a disconnect between you and your characters, because some part of you always lies within them, no matter how monstrous or good, strange or inviting. They are you, and you know them as you know yourself.’

Daidalos says nothing, only beckoning for the boy to continue. There is a gravity there in the dead space lingering between them, something Daidalos knows can only result in something devastating. It’s been there for some time - a hairline fracture, but a fracture all the same.

‘You will never be as close to anyone as you are with the ones you create. I have seen countless wanderers, immigrants, travelers who come in from one island to the next looking for a story. They’ve all come from backgrounds immeasurable: rich, poor, leprous, healthy, old, young, beautiful, ugly. I tell them stories, like the ones I tell you. Oftentimes, they tell me theirs in exchange. Their eyes are all the same. Even if they have the most companions in the world, a whole host of friends or lovers, they are the same.’

‘What’s the same, some tripe about humanity?’

‘There is always the separation. That is why I do not like talking to others, I think. It’s because I’ll never know them.’

For some reason, Daidalos stops cold.

‘Since I was young, I have not connected with others the way I feel I am supposed to, am expected to. I have always felt – alone. But not in the way that needed to be fixed, or could be fixed. I was content in my loneliness, even as I accepted it. But as I grow older, I see the same look in other people that I see when I look into the bronze mirror, or the surface of the cisterns, or the ponds of the marsh. They all have it. They all think that they can fix it, but they have it, and nothing they do will fill it, not really. No matter how close you become to another person, and how much you know of their darkest and strangest moments, there will always be a widening gulf that hangs over us all, ready to eat us whole. Maybe it’s caused by their past, or my past, or the past of their compatriots, or something else. Gods, fate, what they were born into. Or other things: the darker horrors they try so hard to bury, that well up in the dread hours of night. No one can truly know a whole person. No one ever will.’

‘But we’re different. Because-’

‘Maybe. I hope we are, will be. I wish-’ the boy cuts himself off. ‘There are things we hide from one another.’

The word ‘we’ does not go unnoticed by the Inventor.

‘You can still find happiness with another person even in spite of that, child. Is this really about other people? Or is this about-’ Daidalos pauses, voice catching on the words. They’re nasty words, words he never wanted to pay heed to, except now it’s all he can think about, and he has to know, he needs to know the answer. Pasiphae was right all those years ago: he’s a pathetic worm. But he doesn’t care, not anymore. ‘Us.’

The boy says nothing.

‘Answer me.’

The boy still says nothing. Daidalos’s hand reaches out, forcing the boy’s chin up so their eyes meet. But the boy’s eye is not full of life at all, but separated with a distance, a hazy resignation.

The boy finally opens his mouth, drawing in a shaky breath.

‘You won’t leave the island. Why is that?’

‘You didn’t answer my question, boy-’

‘I’ve been watching you. You’ve gone out to the beach every night for weeks, taking your coracle out to the waves, but you always turn back at the last of it. Why?’

‘I-’ Daidalos pauses. There’s a faint bruise flush on the boy’s jaw, but he can’t let go, not now. He needs answers. And the boy - he just, he doesn’t care. Why doesn’t he care? Why does he ask the most worthless of questions, here and now, when Daidalos is asking him something so much more important? ‘Is it us? Is it?

‘You can’t even say my name. You’ve never said-’

‘Tell me.’

The boy keeps going.

‘When you look at me, you don’t see me. I don’t think you ever have. But I like talking to you, so I said nothing of it. I still don’t think any of it now. But you still don’t see me, all you see is them-

Who?’ He vaguely registers he’s screaming now, making a scene, but this is too important. He has to know-

‘Your-’ the boy’s voice is labored, breathing jittery and broken, and maybe some of that is from the fact Daidalos’s hand is like iron on his jaw, and maybe some of that is because of fear, or something else more improbable that might break whatever illusion that stands between them that neither of them want to acknowledge. Something that can’t exist, because for it to be betrayed, it had to have been there in the first place. ‘Your sons.’

Daidalos’s mind turns to pristine marble. It’s only then, a few moments later, that he sees the welt on the boy’s contorted face, the tears streaming down his cheeks, the body curled up on the ground. Daidalos stumbles back, his fist still shaking, clenching and unclenching and clenching again. Because what the boy said was impossible. The boy was a second chance yes, but for the nephew he killed, for Kalos, not the sons he lost, never them. Nephew, not sons. Nephew, not sons. Never that. Never-

The mark upon his wrist flares black. Apollyon’s words loom.

Ikaros was not a good assistant, regardless of whatever claims the queen might have made. He was obtuse, disrespectful, and had a crude language about him. He interfered more than he helped, always asking stupid questions, distracting Daidalos from the gravity of his task.

Even then, the Inventor could not keep him away.

Because the boy looked at him with admiration. Where Pasiphae looked at him then like the worthless worm he supposed he was relegated to, a tool rather than a man, and the king looked at him with a growing distaste for reasons unknown to all men but himself, the boy looked at him like he had hung the very stars. Daidalos’s eyes strayed to the broken form of Asterion. In a way, he supposed, he had.

Ikaros was no equal, not anymore than Asterion was. But this new boy listened to him, idolized him, and that was something Daidalos loved.

Every time you look at me like that, the whispered, hidden thoughts led. I could drown.

Are you-

Are you my son?


Three years passed like quicksand. Three more long years of monotonous, fruitless work and countless empty bloody sacrifices to bring back or preserve what had always been a worthless life in the Inventor’s eyes, and the words finally slipped from Daidalos’s mouth. Not accidentally – nothing was accidental with Daidalos, nothing ever had been or will be – but the words still came as something of a surprise to the Inventor. I love you, false yet purposeful words wrought and fashioned by a master to his pet – and Ikaros’s entire face lit up, and Daidalos felt more like a god then than he’d ever before. He felt worshipped. This was the most joy he had ever brought another human being in all his life.

He was drunk on it.

They are making a silver cup again. The boy is so much better than he had been when Daidalos first showed him how to work the metal.

While they work, they talk.

‘Someone I told a story to once told me something.’ the boy says as he hammers, eyes never leaving the cup. He doesn’t look Daidalos in the eyes anymore. Not after what happened. ‘That a future that did not come to pass is the same thing as a dead branch on the tree that is the past.’

‘That might be truth. In a way.’


Daidalos clears his throat. Outside, a cloud covers the sun. For a moment, a multicolored halo surrounds its imprint.

The mist smothers it whole.

‘Every action we make, every possibility that could have ever been true for you and myself — it exists, boy. It will always exist, in sharp relief against our own life. Loss is what defines us. Every great empire has given something up to live. Every great man has sacrificed, has lost, to be where they are.’

‘Do you think lost lives are connected?’

‘By what do you mean?’

‘In the barest sense, that the dead branches of my past could be connected to someone else’s. That in another life, I had parents, and you had living sons. And in that life, we lived, grew old, and died, never having met the other. But we were happy.’

‘That does not sound connected, to me.’

‘But what if it was? What if-’

The boy wipes his eye, clearing his throat. Something had been caught in it.

‘Perhaps our present is a dead branch. What if we are the remains of someone else’s truer world? That our meeting was never meant to happen, but it did, because the gods needed to prune a tree. What if every life here exists in a dead space, continuing only because it is what it knows to do, rudderless into Khaos. And when we’re gone, we don’t go to the underworld at all. Because we are ideas, concepts, and our pain is but an empty shadow of the others: the true people, who have truer dreams.’

An image begins to write itself upon the boy’s cup as he speaks, hammering into the metal in a dull, throbbing rhythm. Daidalos asks what it is, will be. He’s not sure he’ll like the answer.

‘You’ll see.’

In the end, it was a singular conversation that changed everything. It was not the ultimate dividend - everything was a combination of a thousand different factors interplaying with one another, something Daidalos knew well - but it was pivotal. It was the end of a long day of work, and outside their window all the land was bathed in dusk.

Ikaros was talking excitedly about some project or another of his that Daidalos cared little for, but pretended to entertain regardless. The meandering conversation had gradually died, like all of their great discussions, until the boy was left muttering, and Daidalos still deep in work.

But there were always surprises.

‘I was talking to the queen of late.’

‘What?’ Daidalos abruptly stopped his labors, looking up. ‘What reason has she to talk to you?’ The boy - his son - was not looking at him, only staring out of the window. The setting sun painted his skin blood-red. It was times like these that Daidalos was starkly reminded that nothing of his here had truly ever been his, that Crete and Minos’s influence pervaded everything he had built. He hated it.

‘I don’t know. We talk sometimes. Of her father. Of her time among the people of the sun. Did you know that there are a thousand worlds hidden in the sun’s chariot?’

‘That’s what’s called a story. Surely you are old enough-’

‘Just- let me have this.’

Daidalos's cold eyes bored into the boy, the carved image of a stern father, unforgiving but just. Ikaros cleared his throat. He continued.

‘There are a thousand different worlds hidden in the sun’s chariot. She told me of them all. Their names: Aster, Orion, the dawn-kingdoms and the gates of dusk, the oceans of darkness, the cities where phoenixes roost in temples where flames burn forever. She told me so many things. Impossible worlds with impossible cities built from impossible dreams.’

Ikaros picked at some scab or another through all his diatribe, eyes never meeting Daidalos’s own. It struck Daidalos in that rare moment of clarity - but no less criticism - that his stupid boy had been mulling over this for a long time before coming to the Inventor with such frivolities. And yet…

‘One day, father. When we leave, if it ever comes to that, you have to promise me. We’ll go to the gates of the sun. We’ll visit all of those cities and know their icons and their names and their stories. We’ll leave this tower and this palace and this dead monster we tarry with day by day, and we’ll find a better world.’

In the distal horizon, the entire sea seemed stained with rust. Aside from the voices of the wind the city below Knossos was uncharacteristically silent, sprawling like a prescient graveyard by the shore.

‘Those are just stories. They aren’t real.’ Daidalos’s throat was strangely dry.

‘Then we can make them real. We can build a better world. I know I’m not- I know I’m a nobody. And you’re brilliant, you’ve always been - but we can do it. We can do it together. Side by side. Like it was meant to be.’

Daidalos had not the heart to tell the boy there was no plan nor meaning to be had beyond the Fates’ design, given his accidental birth. But something was in Ikaros’s eyes, so pure and determined, so desperate in the light of the dying sun and the wheeling stars…

Daidalos realized at that moment what he had always known, but never confronted: the true futility of the years’ long commission of the queen. And she thought to use this whore’s son, this blood of his, against him? The Inventor? He looked down at the body on the bench, at his lesser, blasphemous son's corpse. Asterion was no more than a mere mummy sustained by relict blood and ichor, skin long-since darkened by the herbs curing it. Even the paint upon his face to give it pallor did little for confidence in life. Minos’s superstition had grown, and Daidalos's contacts within the palace guard had been whispering of plans for a sacrifice more human than not, inspired by the cults of the east. A sacrifice of a body of mind and soul.

Daidalos would be killed soon. He did not know the day, or the hour. But he would die. And he would have nothing to prove his mark but the things that had been polluted by Minos anyway. When he had come to Crete, he had wanted - he had not known what he wanted. But whatever that dream had been, it had to have been more than this shadow of humanity he had been living for the past few decades. Ikaros… Ikaros was pure. Yes, Daidalos had a new son now, more precious and beloved than Asterion could have ever hoped to be. They could fix things. The boy’s dreams were maligned, yes. But the Inventor could do with those like he always did with things that needed correction: fix them, and reap their fruits.

Maybe they could even be content, in a way.

He had to leave.

One month and three days and seven hours later, Daidalos watched his second son hit the surface of the waves, bones and wings shattering in the surf. Nothing and no one was there but the gods to witness their screams.

The boy’s new chalice is finished at last. Upon its shining surface is a singular scene, accented in arsenic highlights that gleam a pale gold in the low-light. It is simple, but the detail impeccable: the engraved image of Daidalos and a boy, teacher and pupil, Inventor and storyteller, father and son, looking to the sunrise.

Only one word issues from Daidalos’s lips when his eyes drink in the devastating image, tearing through his gut like a sharp chisel through stone: no.

‘A soul for a soul. A son for a son. Seven years hence. Remember, Inventor.’

And so a long and lonely year passed, after that. Daidalos found himself in a king’s court, the same position he had been with Minos. Except in Kamikos, it took far less time to accrue power, influence. All Daidalos had to do was say his own name, and the king Kokalos lapped it up. Even offered one of his own daughters for Daidalos, not that the Inventor cared. He now had the position many men only dreamed of having, only he did not feel fulfilled. He felt bored.

When he saw the beggar arrive two years after that, something stirred in his heart. For though the beggar was clothed in rags, he was familiar. Members of the court whispered that the man could be a god in disguise, but the Inventor knew better. This was a face etched deep into the recesses of Daidalos’s mind, severe with cheeks hard as bone, eyes rimmed in deep crimson. It was a face more used to being crowned than not. So why was it there?

Daidalos stood in the shadows and watched.

‘I have a test,’ the bent man said. A sea-shell was in his hand, an electric dream. In his other was thread red as blood. ‘Any who can twine this thread through this sea-shell can have kingdoms. My god will make it so.’

‘My kingdom is more for me than any other. And who is your god?’ the king Kokalos asked.

‘A god is a riddle. A god of the seas as much as the skies. A god of death and a god of life. A god of dreams, and a god of nightmares. This divinity is all of these and more, but one is foremost. This is the god of invention, O great king.’

‘You name many gods, yet you speak as if you only know one.’

‘My riddle is my truth. That and no other.’

The king accepted in the end, presenting the puzzle to the Inventor later when they were behind closed doors. Daidalos knew he did not have to solve the puzzle. He knew what the man really was there for. It was pathetic, really - that Minos would resort to such lengths to intercede and retrieve his dear Inventor. How many kingdoms had the king walked and given the same riddle? How many had turned him away, or attempted and failed?

Solving the riddle would only cause problems. Daidalos did it anyway. Part of it was pride, his own hubris, it was true. But the other part of it was for something like justice.

The man was in the royal guest-rooms, when Daidalos finally went to see him. Entertained by the king’s own daughters, no doubt the king’s design, the superstitious fool that he was. But Daidalos had a different design, that night.

The years he’d spent locked away in a tower had calcified his hatred. He had toyed with the concept of a confrontation for years - one the Inventor had imagined a thousand times over in his head at night, every night, as he spoiled over his first dead son, as he buried his other dead son, as he rose anew in a land so similar yet so strange to his old one. When he had been alone in those long years, in stolen moments when Ikaros was not by him and no guards stood near the door to watch him, on ships rowing endlessly on windless seas, he would whisper the words. Words he imagined Minos saying as he died. Words he imagined himself saying to Minos, words that would fix everything, that would make the king know exactly how much he had taken from Daidalos, and how much Daidalos would take in return.

He bid the daughters to leave the room, a cauldron in his right hand, bronze rods in his left. Minos the man was moaning, muttering to himself, voice forlorn in the silence of the chambers. The only thing audible in that moment was the fire Daidalos himself lit as the water heated in the cauldron, steam shadowing the air.

He wanted to see Minos suffer. He wanted the man to know that the person who built his kingdom from nothing could just as easily snuff everything he had and bring it all down in a mere moment. But when Daidalos finally turned and looked at the man in question, he stopped. For Minos was not the king he once was, just as Daidalos was not the man he once was.

The man before him, eyes lidded shut as his wretched voice yearned for something invisible, something lost, was the image of a beggar. The smell of shit and piss clung to his shriveled, stretched skin like flies to a corpse. His fingernails were long and yellow, his hair matted with sweat and bile.

‘They already heated my water,’ the man said at last, voice not nearly so commanding as it had been when it came from a throne. A tub was not nearly so grand. ‘Leave an old man be.’

‘Not all of it,’ Daidalos whispered then, relishing in the way Minos’s body went rigid at the words. How it shook, ever so slightly, like a leaf in the face of the cross-winds. ‘I hear you were searching for a god.’

Perhaps Pasiphae had finally removed him, in the intervening years since Daidalos left. Perhaps that was why Minos had sought Daidalos out. Perhaps…

The man in question lifted his head, eyes glinting darkly. ‘So what if I was.’

‘Perhaps one has heard your pleas.’

‘So it seems.’

‘I solved your riddle.’ Daidalos declared, placing the shell by the bathside. Never once did the Inventor stoop to meet Minos’s eyes face to face, but that suited them just fine. ‘A simpleton could do it.’

‘A shell is its own kind of labyrinth. You were always good at puzzles. My greatest servant.’

‘Let neither of us pretend I was in your court of my own volition toward the end of things.’

Minos laughed, a hollow laugh built of creaking bones and shallow breaths. Then he stopped, eyes at once far away. ‘The shadow. The- your boy. Where is he?’

Daidalos paused from his ministrations. The water was half-boiled now, frothing at the surface. ‘You knew of him?’

‘I would see him in her gardens at times. My wife’s. I always thought you two had been plotting something, though no one would tell me a thing. Were you?’

Daidalos only shrugged. ‘Nothing that bore fruit.’

‘Where is he?’

‘Ikaros is dead.’

Minos’s breaths wheezed and wheezed. Daidalos slipped a single rod into the water.

‘He was your son, wasn’t he.’


Minos paused, muttering to himself. It was then that Daidalos noticed that the old king had eyes that looked at nothing. Just as Daidalos’s eyes were still sharp, his years-old adversary’s were now blinder than night.


‘The one you called my shadow.’

‘No. No, I was speaking of Asterion.’ Minos smiled, yellow teeth glinting in the dark light. ‘I unburied it. Your great secret.’

‘Have you now?’

‘You were the one who cursed us. But not in the way I thought. I should have known, the boy’s frailty, his insanity, his eyes. His eyes were neither that bull’s or my wife’s. But whenever I looked at you, I saw his. The Minotaur’s.’

Daidalos looked at the man of his desires, but Minos’s eyes remained sullenly staring at the wall. The beggared king continued.

‘I thought I was going mad. Looking at the unholy corpse in the week after you left, I saw it. The truth, hidden from me all those years: to light at last.’

The first rod was hot, burning in the Inventor’s hand as he removed it from the water. But Minos’s next question blindsides him.

‘Did you love him?’


‘Asterion. Did you love him?’

‘He’s not my son.’

‘But he was. He was your blood, and you were the one who gave him the labyrinth, you were the one who kept him alive at the cost of his own sanity. You don’t have to love a child to be its father, yet you kept him alive. The only thing that boy’s life needed was blood. Animal blood, human blood, it mattered not the source. We could have gotten that from anywhere, but you were the one who suggested-’

‘Let me remind you that it was you who gave all those decrees. That blood is on your hands as much as mine.’

‘Why did you keep him alive? I know why I did. It was to appease the gods. But you always fancied yourself among them, above them. Tell me, why did you?’

‘I-’ Daidalos paused, shutting his jaw with an audible snap. He stepped closer to Minos. ‘The queen. She-’

Minos burst out laughing, cackling and coughing and splashing in his tub. ‘Of course. That witch.’ But then he paused, eyes roving blindly around the room, searching for a Daidalos he could not find. ‘But I don’t know if that is the whole truth. It isn’t, is it? I saw you with that boy. The whore’s boy. Your shadow. You treated him with the customs of our culture, something like respect. And yet you never did with Asterion. No, maybe you did not love him.’

‘He was a bastard and an inbred. He had no right to claim -’

‘You didn’t like Asterion because he couldn’t regale you your greatness. Is that it? You like the whore’s boy, because he always would tell everyone how much of an honor it was, to walk the ground your feet had walked, to lap up your leftovers. Perhaps you had him do favors for you, yes? Like a good cupbearer should for his elders. What a-’

‘I would have you be silent now, my good king.’

Minos trailed off, eyes shutting for a moment.

‘It’s been years, since you called me that. I can’t remember the last.’

‘Not much reason for it.’

‘I did what I thought was right.’

‘So did I.’

‘When I looked -’ Minos’s voice caught on something, hand reaching to curl over the rim of the bath as he turned to seek out Daidalos’s voice. There was growing graveness in it, beyond the grip of mere old age. ‘When I looked at Asterion’s eyes, it was not just yours I saw. There was something in them, even in death. Something so- so much like a man’s. I think it’s always been there, even when he was alive. But the bull was such a monster I couldn’t- I wouldn’t-’

Daidalos took another step. The king kept speaking.

‘How could a father do that to a son? Even with everything. How could I- How could you-’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Is it because, in the end, the inventions you made to keep him alive would combust should the boy die? Is that what he was? Simply an extension of your own hubris? A painted vase, rather than a person? To be observed from afar as a prolonged and manufactured life, a shadow of a man, but not a man at all?’

‘I know not, my good king.’

‘Am I all of those things too?’ The next words were a whisper, almost pleading. ‘Am I too your monster? Was all of Crete?’

Daidalos did not deign to give that a response. Another rod slipped from the cauldron. Burning, burning, burning.

‘Pasiphae is dead.’

‘What?’ Daidalos’s words slipped out abruptly. Someone like Pasiphae had always seemed an immortal pillar in his life, all those years. She remained as he did. To think of her- to think of her gone, dead? It made the Inventor feel strange, a feeling he did not like. He smothered it whole.

‘A week after you left, and she’d risen up against me. She and all the guard in Knossos, just like I had against my own father, in my own time. They meant to kill me, but instead she just ran me off, like a dog. I’m a king, not a dog. I’ve always been a king. Ungrateful bitch. Someday I’d have loved her, you know that?’

In his heart of hearts, Daidalos knew this meant something. This meant that through all his trials, all his fears, of dying, of death - of Ikaros’s death, something in all of that was profoundly avoidable. If he and his son had just waited a week, Minos would have been dead. Daidalos would have been free. Ikaros would have been alive.

‘You had a lifetime,’ the Inventor said at last.

‘She never gave me the chance. It was her fault.’

He slipped out another rod, placing it on the ground. Safe-keeping.

‘How did she die?’

‘Their rebellion was swift. But on the final day, she died in her sleep. Of old age - imagine that. The daughter of a titan, my wife, dead in her bed like every other soul on earth. The city was in panic after that. I slipped out alone.’

‘You said she drove you out.’

The former king gave no answer. Briefly, Daidalos wondered if Minos himself had arranged her death, or if Pasiphae had died by the hand of one of her collaborators. It was human nature after all, to see design where there wasn’t. To hope, because the simpler answer was always not enough, too plain. Too meaningless.

‘So you went searching. Kingdom by kingdom.’

‘Yes. I wanted you.’ Minos coughed, lurching in the bath. ‘I needed - I wanted to rebuild.’

The next words were not practiced. There were no long monologues like in Daidalos’s dreams. There were no admittances that might make such a thing relishable. He saw it now: Minos was not the kind of man to apologize, never would be, just as Daidalos had never been, either. They were unstoppables, monsters of men who swallowed the world whole and left nothing behind.

There could only be one. Daidalos’s next question was carefully articulate, each syllable murmured like a prayer.

‘What if I don’t want that?’

There was a pregnant pause. Minos pushed himself up in the tub, shoulders shaking.

‘Man’s life is a hollow architecture, my Inventor. An empty thing. And the house you built is the most empty of all, for all the temples and palaces and monuments you’ve made to fill it. Tell me, Daidalos, are you happy? I have lost everything now. My kingdom. My wife. My sons. For the whole time that we have known one another, I have only known the hunger in your eyes. Perhaps now that I’ve lost as you have lost, you are at last content.’

Daidalos felt nothing but empty.

As with all great works, built on phantasmal foundations, there must be an end. Minos's last words were a choked laugh, one that turned quick to screams as the first rod seared into his skin. But the Inventor grew impatient. And so he became the Destroyer. Daidalos did not stop bludgeoning the king’s head until there was no more head to see, nothing but a sunken, red mess smeared on bronze.

Daidalos offered up the king's body to Apollyon, because the love of revenge completed was surely a powerful enough exchange for the loss of a child, but the god was as silent then as he had been the past year. As he remained, for six years more.

Sun rises. Water heaves. Gulls cry.

Daidalos and the boy board a ship filled with goods en-route to Asia Minor. Then Canaan. Then Egypt. Then after that, Crete. And then, at the end of things…

‘Where are we going?’ the boy asks.

‘Anywhere but here.’

There are other things Daidalos wants to say. That they’re going to the beginning, to the end. That he’s getting his son back, however false that sounds now. That they’re free. In the end, he says none of those things; he draws the boy in tight to his chest, arms encircling the thin frame, a solemn, tentative kiss pressed to the boy’s forehead. This kiss, unlike all that had been awarded to Daidalos in his own life, is not out of any sense of obligation or reward.

It would be a long year, to Sicily.

Unlike his first two sons, the love slowly built here is not conditional. It is rather more like the Labyrinth as Daidalos had originally conceived it, before it had increased in its complexity and heartlessness: a single, winding path, into and out of the heart of darkness. The position that he’s found himself now with the boy, with a son who is not his son but is truer to the word than any of his blood children is an inevitable, inexorable, ineffable conclusion to a chapter of his life that has left him the most raw and vulnerable he’s ever been.

In another life, a man and a boy will arrive on a darkened shore alone, a morning storm smearing the horizon to the east. Waves will crash and shiver on sand as they walk soundlessly to a saltworn altar. They are similar animals - creatures shaped by pasts and circumstances, constructed and not, left haggard by the world and its creeds.

A sun will rise red as blood just as it does now, staining all the seas - a god ascending for his prize. In this branch of this tree of this lonely, lost life, the man will step forward, intent to shake off the boy, but the boy will step with him. So they will stand, side by side, their shadows given relief in the morning light; in that moment, art will become life, the vision inscribed on the boy's chalice a reality.

Perhaps then in that distant hour it will be so that finally, Daidalos the inventor, the master, the architect, the god, the shadow, the murderer, the poison, the worm, the manticore is left in the darkness. That at last Daidalos the man will step into the light. Maybe after that he will offer the boy to the god of light. Maybe he won't. Maybe they'll live a life together, free of the confines of fate. He'll tell the boy the entire truth of his past, and the boy will tell his own. They'll build a life to be lived in, and then they'll journey to the sun and see all the beauty Ikaros never could. Maybe then Daidalos could finally find it in himself to admire something that he had not created as truly a thing of beauty that did not need be defaced for his own mastery.

But here, in the present, the man is still hugging the boy. Daidalos is afraid. He's still bound by his nature. He still doesn't dare call the boy by a name. When they arrive at the shores of Sicily, he'll have to make a choice. He's not sure it will be the right one.

He’s not happy. But for the first time in his life, he feels as if he could be.

He doesn’t want it to end.

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