Written by Solar Lin
Art by Victor Garcia
tw: non-graphic violence
A Greek mythology retelling of the Minotaur.
I was born an abomination.
My mother’s eyes filled with disgust the moment they laid on me, the blaze of her father’s flame scorching hot on my skin. I understood that she would incinerate me if she could, if that meant she wouldn’t have to hold me a second longer.
“Get it off me!” she shrieked. The palace servants around us scrambled to find a cloth to shield their hands, to prevent them from directly touching my flesh. Still, none of them stepped up—they were all too busy pretending there was something else to do, even as my mother continued to scream.
My mother only sighed in relief when a man stepped out of the chaos to take me into his arms, relieving her of my burden.
The man’s arms were frail and thin. He himself did not look very strong, but the dauntless glint in his eyes told otherwise. He was the first human who looked at me as a soul, as something worth saving—which I wasn’t, but he did not seem to heed that fact.
“When the Great Bear ascends in the sky,” the man declared, and the room fell into a hush. “Then I will take him with me.”
My mother’s voice rang clear when she spoke. “We’re well aware that you’re insane, Daedalus,” she scoffed, and that was when I learned the man’s name. “But surely you can’t wish to tame that beast.”
That was what my mother had called me before she gave me a name—if she even gave me one at all.
And she was right: a beast I would be. But I did not know that back then.
Daedalus only smiled. “I do not wish to tame him,” he said. “I wish to give him a home.”
And so began my childhood.
The home Daedalus gave me was nothing like the palace. It was a twisting maze of stones and vines that led nowhere, though I could find a bed and food once I memorized the right path. Daedalus had called the place a labyrinth.
“And it is yours, son of Minos,” he said, and that was when I learned that I had a father; his name was Minos, and he was a king. So by birth, I was supposed to be a prince.
I was a beast, instead.
Daedalus lived inside the labyrinth as well, though not with me. Apparently, the king and queen had gifted him his own house in the middle of the maze—as retribution, Daedalus said once. I did not yet understand why such retribution was given to Daedalus, or why my own parents would give a man a house and cast their own child into walls of stones. But I did not think to question it then.
Daedalus continued to show me compassion, even when I wasn’t the most pleasant to be around, even when I gnawed on his hand out of hunger. He generously taught me how to navigate the labyrinth, how to read the olden tales and speak a human’s language, and how to function as a man instead of a wild beast.
Then, on the brightest day of summer, he brought a girl with him. An apprentice, he said.
She was curious and strange, perpetually fascinated by the inner workings of the labyrinth. She was brighter than me, and she often helped with my studies when she whispered all the right answers into my ear. When she spoke, her voice sounded like the ocean I heard on the other side of the walls: passionate and untamed, beautiful and soothing. Her hair was the shade of the sunset, her eyes were as bright as the Northern star. The fact that I had hooves and fur—that I was a beast, never seemed to mind her.
She became the reason I wished to see the world she spoke so highly of, back then.
One day, Daedalus and the girl were called to the palace.
They had been in the middle of teaching a lesson on how to properly converse, and I waited patiently for their return. I wanted to practice conversation with the girl whose name I had yet to learn.
But when Daedalus returned, the girl was gone.
His eyes had never seemed so sad when he whispered, “I wish you lived in a different time.”
Then he left with two guards behind him, and I never saw him again.
I tried not to be too upset. After all, his kindness was enough to last a lifetime.
I grew up alone, from then on. It might have been the law for such a creature like me to be solitary, but I couldn’t help but feel loneliness washing over me. How I wished someone would call me, even if I had no name. How I wished to hear Daedalus’ chuckle and the girl’s laughter again.
Kindness was poison, I thought. Once I had been given a taste of it, I yearned for it as if I couldn’t live with it.
The labyrinth became my sole companion during those years. My one true friend, who was neither kind nor evil. But no matter how many times I travelled through the labyrinth, I never could make it a friend the way Daedalus was to me, for the labyrinth was unforgiving and soulless.
My only consolation was knowing that the more I tried to befriend it, the more it felt like it truly belonged to me, just as Daedalus had intended it to be.
Then the seasons began to change. My once short horns started to grow long and curved. I could navigate the labyrinth even in my slumber, and it had started to warm up on me.
But time was harsh on my older memories. I began to forget the calluses on Deadalus’ hands, the way he bent metals, his deep and crestfallen eyes. I began to forget the vibrancy of the girl’s soul, her laughter, the way she theorized where the edges of the world were. I began to forget the sound of my own voice.
Being alone in the labyrinth erased my existence, it seemed. I thought I had been forgotten by even my mother and father who caged me here.
Then, on one cold night, the King—my father—came. It was the first time I had ever seen him.
“Do me proud, son,” he grinned, his face twisted with malevolence. “Kill them all.”
I was too confused by his request to notice that he had addressed me as something other than beast. I did not understand what he asked of me.
But when morning came, I did.
It turned out, I hadn’t been erased. I hadn’t been forgotten.
My presence had somehow spread throughout the land, as far as the land went—or so the whispers said.
Apparently, rumours had spread of the monster that lived beneath King Minos’ castle, a creature of Tartarus only he could control. When the crown prince fell in a tragedy, the king required the nation of the Gray-Eyed One to send their youths to be slaughtered by a monster, every seven years, to clench the monster’s bloodthirst.
The monster in question was me.
It seemed fitting. I did not see myself having another identity other than a monstrosity. And my father had looked at me with pride and a threat that I had no other choice but to perform what he had asked me to.
So I killed.
My first murder went as smooth as the Aegean on a blessed day. It hardly seemed fair, as I was a few feet taller than my opponent, but my father celebrated my victory. He clapped in satisfaction as I buried my hand into the boy’s chest, tearing out his heart. I supposed my father expected me to eat it too, so I took one bite and threw the rest out.
I did not relish the action. But the brute act was what would gain me my name.
I was no longer called monster or beast. I had surpassed such nameless titles. I was now known as the Minotaur—the Bull of Minos.
I did not like the name, as much as I did not enjoy eating people’s hearts. But for the first time in my life, my family had given me a name. Who was I to refuse it?
My reputation grew quickly.
I started to hear hoards of ships landing on the docks more often. Only the luckiest of visitors were able to catch a glimpse of me—the Mighty Minotaur. I even got to see the nobility and the esteemed guests of my father, visiting to see me in all my glory.
Behold the great curse from Poseidon, they said.
I pretended to not understand human language. I pretended to be an animal. I pretended to not notice their eyes scanning me, in disgust and in awe. I pretended to not hear the whispers of how to slaughter me, and what hero would claim the eternal glory for vanquishing such horror.
I pretended to not mind all the attention.
So this routine continued, and I kept killing. I welcomed the dozen of young men and women who came to me to die. To die for what, I didn’t know. I didn’t understand. All I knew was that I had to kill.
At the end of each day, after I was bathed in the blood of those poor souls, I would often hear my father’s voice above, showing me off to his kingly friends.
“Nothing can defeat it,” he boasted, his golden crown sparkling in the sun. “My Bull, my Minotaur, my most prized possession.”
I just wished that once my father was proud enough of me, he’d let me see Daedalus and the girl again before it was too late. I wondered if they knew that I was truly changing into a beast, and that all their efforts in trying to humanize me were in vain.
Another seven years passed. Another round of tributes would come to die.
The gate opened, and I was ready to stain my hand with blood again. But it wasn’t a group of tributes trembling in their sandals that greeted me.
It was the girl with fiery hair, and she had come alone.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. The sight of her was enough to cure all the aches I’d endured over the long years without her. Suddenly I had hopes—hopes of being somewhat human again, as much as I wasn’t.
But she looked different. I suspected that the years hadn’t been kind to her either, judging by her face that was lined with despair, her rosy cheeks that were streaked with tears.
I recognized her face. But I barely recognized the sad soul occupying it.
“Please,” she sobbed. “Kill me.”
As she said that, a surge of emotion surged within me. I did not know if there were words for such a strange emotion yet, but all I understood was that I wanted to take her pain and make it mine.
But I wasn’t articulate. I had been a monster for so long. I couldn’t comfort her the way Daedalus had when we were young. So I spoke only facts.
“I only kill tributes,” I stated. “You are no tribute.”
To my surprise, she laughed. The bright girl I’d met years ago returned, for a flickering second.
“I didn’t know you could…”
“Speak?” I guessed.
I thought it was strange, since I did no such thing. “It wasn’t a joke.”
“It still made me laugh.”
I never realized, until then, just how much I missed hearing a person’s genuine laugh. Such a delightful sound must have been surprising to the labyrinth as well, seeing how it quieted down as the girl spoke again.
“I’m glad you’re unharmed.”
Another strange thing to say. Of course I was unharmed. I was the one inflicting pain upon countless people—a sin I had begun to realize I had to atone for one day.
“You want death,” I reminded the girl. “Why?”
All light disappeared from her face. “Father wishes to wed me to the victor.”
“Victor?” I asked. I assumed she meant the victor among the tributes they sent to me, the one who could emerge victorious. But— “There is no victor.”
“There will be,” she sobbed again. “I’ve come of age. There will be a victor and there will be a marriage.”
I had heard of marriage. Daedalus had explained the customs to me once, in a story. I had heard of wedding bells. But I thought happy cheers usually came with them.
“Do you not wish to be wed to a victor?”
“I wish to be wed to someone I love,” she said. “I’d rather die than be someone’s prized wife. So kill me, Asterion.”
Asterion. Daedalus had never taught me that word before.
Her head tilted. “Is that not your name?”
I knew she wasn’t asking for confirmation. I knew she was stating it as a truth, giving the name to me.
Asterion meant neither bull nor monster. Asterion was not my cruel father’s prized curse. Asterion was not my vain mother’s worst shame.
Asterion was a name of its own.
“What is your name?” I asked. Then and there, I made my decision: I wanted to speak the girl’s name on my tongue, just once in my life.
“Ariadne,” she answered.
“Ariadne,” I confirmed. “Go find someone you love.”
“I can’t. As soon as someone…” she hesitated. “Wins, they’ll be wed to me immediately. And it’s not like I can just pluck out a random person and make myself love them in one night—”
“I won’t kill you as long as there’s a chance you could find someone you love.”
“But still—do you know how many tributes plan on slaughtering you and take me as their shared goods? They set up all kinds of deadly traps. I tried to sneak in and dismantle their snares, but when I arrived… It was already undone.”
So that’s what the serrated spikes and the nets were for. I tried not to laugh—did the tributes not know that the labyrinth and I are old friends at this point? It would never let them harm me.
“Ariadne,” I repeated. “Go find someone you love. Once you’ve found them, send them to me. Ask them to call me by—Asterion.” The greatest thing I could ever hear before I perished was for someone to call me the name I had just been bestowed with. “Then I’ll send them back to you.”
Before she finished her sentence, the horn from the castle blared. The sun started to peek from the horizon, announcing a new dawn, casting an orange glow on Ariadne’s hair.
Befriending her was my greatest achievement.
“Go,” I told her.
“Daedalus died,” she said unprompted. “His son flew too close to the sun and he got burned with him.”
Somehow I already knew. Somehow I could feel Daedalus’ death, even when I was confined in these stone walls. If I hadn’t let the world go, I might have cried and I might have raged. But somehow I had let him go, too.
“Go,” I told Ariadne for the last time.
Then she did something that no one had ever done before.
She rushed forward and hugged me.
“Thank you, Asterion,” she whispered. “Brother.”
For months after Ariadne visited me, I prepared myself for the Furies.
I wouldn’t have to wait much longer. I’d heard whispers of how the princess of Crete had found herself a lover. They wept, saying that the pair was cursed because Ariadne’s lover was doomed to face the Mighty Minotaur, who slayed even the King’s best contenders.
Silly people of Crete. Didn’t they know that this story was a happy one?
I saw Ariadne’s lover before he saw me.
He looked just like any other tribute—covered in grime, sweat beading his face. But while all previous tributes had carried only their weapons, this young man was carrying a ball of red yarn.
I figured the yarn was for him to navigate the labyrinth so that he would not get lost and die of starvation.
I conjured her face in my mind one last time, and I made myself visible to him. The moment his eyes caught mine, I knew I had to give one last show.
I pretended that I was plagued with animalistic madness, and I charged.
“Wait!” he shouted, dodging my attacks. Despite his trembling hands, his voice was loud and clear. A voice befitting of a prince.
I charged again. Call my name, I thought, wishing that somehow he had the gift of telepathy. Call my name, and you will be a victor.
He stayed quiet. He unsheathed his sword, and I charged at the sight of the blade.
“Please! I do not wish to harm you,” he called out, alarmed. “Ariadne told me to find you. She said you can help me win this.”
And that, I could do. That, I would do.
So call my name.
“Asterion!” he pleaded. “Please—”
I rushed forward, reveling in the way the wind felt howling in my ear for the last time. I savoured the faint smell of the ocean and I bid my farewell to the labyrinth that had raised me.
And I let his blade behead me.
The man’s face was full of regret—I wanted to speak, tell him that he should be happy. He was about to become a king, after all, married to the loveliest girl the world had ever known. He shouldn’t have cried over the death of a curse. But he weeped over my headless body, and for the first time in years, I smiled.
I felt his arms cradling my head. My soul was on the verge of leaving the mortal plane, and I spoke one last wish in my mind.
Live well, lover of Ariadne.
Be her light, as she was mine.
“Rest easy, Asterion,” the man whispered, his tears wet on my forehead. “May you live on among the stars.”
I was born an abomination.
But I wasn’t dying as one.