One, two. One, two. The steady rhythm of his knuckles hitting stone was the whole world now: Radimir had stopped noticing the weird noises that came from all directions, everything from animals crying in pain to human voices. It didn't matter. It didn't matter.
After a few more repetitions, Radimir looked at his knuckles. When he'd started doing this about a week and a half ago, his hands had been a bloody mess. Now they were scabbed and numb, just beginning to scar. Not ideal, but it would have to do. He needed to toughen himself. Years of living a normal person's life had made him soft, made him weak. He had to harden, body and mind, had to become the stone his hands beat against. Only then would he be able to bear changing this way.
And what will you do when you see her again?
Radimir pushed the thought away; it already kept him up at night. He'd promised her he'd changed, and here he was, trying to make himself into that person again. What a fucking joke.
He couldn't think about that. Radimir sighed and started beating the wall again.
One, two, one, two, one, two...
Radimir tilted his head up, checking to see if he'd missed any spots on his neck. There. Just as he touched razor to skin, static crackled overhead. Radimir yelped and dropped his razor in the sink, leaving a large nick on the underside of his chin. Pressing one hand to the cut, Radimir looked around for the noise—and then the static faded, and someone spoke. It was a man's voice, low and somber, but Radimir couldn't understand him. Was that Greek?
Frowning, Radimir looked at the ceiling. There were no speakers; the voice seemed to come from the walls themselves. Then there was another crackle, this time from the little metal ball Persephone'd given him. He'd left it by the side of his bed, forgotten. A tinny, mechanical voice started speaking, this time in English. And what it said made Radimir's heart sink.
He was... infected? The hell did that mean?
He looked at his hands. They hadn't changed—they were still bloody from yesterday's exercise—but he looked for difference anyway, for some subtle sign of disease. Redness around the veins in his bracelets of fortune; itching around the scabs on his knuckles. He pressed the back of his hand against his forehead, feeling his temperature. But he was fine.
Could this Minos be lying? But what would he gain? There was no point lying to a dead man, and Radimir was as good as, especially if he'd really contracted that mysterious sickness.
Radimir shook his head. It didn't matter, anyway. Whether he was lying or not—whether Radimir was sick or not—he was going to win. There was no other option.
Radimir rubbed his temples. This was too much to process, too much to think about. It was ridiculous—wasn't it bad enough he'd been abducted by some crazy woman dressed as a nurse, that he'd left the woman he loved to die alone?
The silence smothered him. He couldn't keep sitting here, but, before he could do anything, the ball crackled, and another transmission began. It was still the same, computerized voice, but the message was much different. Radimir listened, his heart sinking lower with every word.
He'd gone and gotten himself into spy work! He was not made for subtle lies and manipulations; he was a blunt instrument. This was not his world. This was not what he could handle.
But... the ball had said it could get him out of here.
Slowly, Radimir walked over to the ball and picked it up. It was cool under his fingers, like his heat would never touch it. Then he turned to the steel door and pressed his hand against it. As far as he could tell, it was still the same: there was no handle, just smooth metal, so polished he could see his blurred reflection in it.
After a minute, he shook his head and tossed the ball back on his bed. He wasn't made for this; it wasn't who he was. He looked at his hands for a moment, and then he balled them into fists and started pounding the wall again.
Radimir woke sharply, heart pounding. His fingers searched beneath his pillow for a knife that hadn't been there in years; his eyes flicked around the room. Where was he? He couldn't remember.
He sat up, and, slowly, the world trickled back to him. The cell, lit only by the dim light above his mirror, was still the same as he'd left it—but the little metal ball had rolled up against the door. Had he kicked it there in his sleep? No, the sound would have woken him up.
Frowning, Radimir slipped out of his bed and padded to the door. He knelt to pick up the ball, and his knees just brushed the door. It slid open—not much, just a crack. Radimir froze. Then he got to his feet and put his hand in the crack. It was real; he could smell the air outside. It wasn't fresher, but at least it was cool.
Hesitantly, Radimir grabbed the door and pushed it open further, 'til there was just enough space for him to look out. It was the middle of the night; everything was silence and stillness. The only light came from a rope of LEDs on the floor, just enough to see the path between the other cells and the cell doors. If there were people in them, Radimir couldn't tell: all their doors were shut.
Radmir looked at the ball. How...? Then he shook his head. Didn't matter. He wasn't any good with computers; thinking about it would just make his head hurt. He pushed the door the rest of the way open and stepped outside. The floor and the walls were metal, like his door, so Radimir tread lightly to keep from making noise.
Was there anyone here? He hadn't seen another person since his arrival: clothes and food appeared in his room sometime during the night, always when he was sleeping. He'd heard noises, sure, but most of them seemed to come from somewhere below his cell.
Well, as far as he could tell, the place was empty, and there was no way out. Maybe he'd do a little exploring, see if there was anything else to this place. Looking to his left and to his right, Radimir realized the hallway stretched on for ages in both directions. After a moment, he picked left—he tended to favor it because his right shoulder still ached sometimes.
What would he do if he ran into a guard?
...Well, it wasn't like they could do anything worse to him. Radimir started walking, keeping to the walls. The center of the floor would make more noise, and his shoes were already loud as it was. To see how far he was going, he counted cell doors, lightly brushing his hand over each one that he passed. Were there people in there? Or had they all already been freed?
Radimir shook his head to clear it and decided to look down at his feet as he walked instead. He took a few more steps—and then a white shape, nearly invisible in the dim light, flew up in front of him. "Shit!" Radimir stumbled back, holding his arm over his face to protect it... but nothing happened.
Slowly, Radimir lowered his arm. The white shape was still there: it had settled on the ground. It was a pigeon. Only he could see straight through it. What was this place? The pigeon pecked at the ground for a moment, and then it tilted its head back, looking at Radimir in that bland, brainless bird way. Radimir made a shooing motion with his foot; the bird fluttered its wings indignantly, and then it disappeared through the floor.
"What the fuck?" Radimir whispered. It was dangerous to talk, yes, but sometimes you couldn't help it. Maybe he should start walking the other way. He turned and nearly stepped on something: a spider. With a red eye instead of a head.
Okay. He had to be dreaming. He looked at the spider for a moment, half-tempted to pinch himself, and then the spider clicked and whirred, and a blue line of light shot up to Radimir's eye level. The line broadened into an image of a bored-looking woman with a shield and spear. "There has been a technical malfunction," said the woman—at least she had an actual voice, not just a recording. "Please return to your cell, or guards will be summoned to escort you."
Radimir blinked. "...Okay?"
The image made a noise that sounded a lot like an irritated sigh, and then it disappeared. The spider, however, stayed by his feet. Apparently, it wanted to make sure he was really going to return. Rubbing the back of his neck, Radimir walked back to his cell: the door was still open. The moment he stepped inside, it slammed shut with a clang that he felt in his bones. Radimir looked at it for a moment, and then he shook his head. At this rate, he wasn't going to get any sleep.
Lukas laid a hand on Fenrir's neck. The dog whined softly. "I know," Lukas murmured. "I'm bored too." He scratched Fenrir behind the ears and picked up his little metal ball. It was Minos's work; the bastard's name was written all over it. But, for the life of him, Lukas couldn't figure it out. There were obvious signs of tampering—by the mysterious Labrys, no doubt—but it was still impenetrable. Lukas was a weapons dealer, not a hacker.
Sighing, he looked at Fenrir. The dog cocked his head, and Lukas smiled. No matter how strenuously you bred for aggression, you could never rid a dog of its inner puppy. Lukas tossed the ball straight up. With a vicious click of teeth, Fenrir caught it. The ball beeped; Fenrir yelped and dropped it. Fenrir growled, but Lukas picked up the ball, frowning. He'd been playing that game with Fenrir constantly since he'd realized he couldn't crack the ball without better tools. There wasn't even a scratch on it, much less any sign that Fenrir's attention had damaged the programming. So then what...?
He unscrewed the ball and looked at the two halves again. It looked just the same—and then the ball beeped again, and his cell door slid open. Lukas stared at it for a second, and then he screwed the ball back together and put it in his pocket. "Looks like Labrys is a man of his word." Fenrir tilted his head toward the door, panting softly, and Lukas got up. "Come on, boy. Let's have a look around." He nudged the door open further and slipped outside, one hand on the ball and one hand on Fenrir's collar.
Outside his cell, dim fluorescent lights overhead showed that the cells stretched on for an age in either direction. How big was this place? How much of Knossos had survived?
How many other people were a part of this sick experiment?
Lukas's hand clenched on Fenrir's collar; his right hand stung and burned. No! Not now! Fenrir, sensing his agitation, began to growl softly. Lukas made himself relax. "Let's go left, shall we?" he asked, forcing lightness.
After a few minutes of walking, he noticed an end to the hallway. And, more importantly, a door. A way out... or maybe a way in. Lukas broke into a trot. He put his hand on the door handle—and all the lights went out. Fenrir pressed against his leg; Lukas dug his fingers into Fenrir's fur. He was glad of the dog's bulk beside him: there was something eerie about this place in the dark.
Lukas shook his head. Stupid! He touched the handle again, but, before he could turn it, something wet landed on the back of his neck. Fenrir growled again, louder this time—and there was another noise, heavier, like someone breathing.
The lights came back on, blinding Lukas for a moment. He wasn't alone. Something huge, half-again his height, cast a shadow on the door in front of him. Slowly, Lukas released the handle and turned to face the creature.
What he saw could not exist: a giant, three-headed dog. The two heads on the side were both focused on him, teeth bared, but the middle head—which had a second face—hung back, ears cocked as though listening to something.
Fenrir let out a single, sharp bark that echoed down the silent hallway. In response, the great beast took a step toward them and began growling low in each of its three throats. The sound sent a chill down Lukas's spine—but then he felt a flash of anger. His right hand began to itch, but he ignored it and sank into the horse stance: a deep squat with his fists ready at his sides. He couldn't fight this thing if it attacked him, but he would die on his own terms, no one else's.
And then, suddenly, the three heads silenced, and the dog sat down on its haunches. The breathing noise grew louder, and a man melted out of the shadow in front of him. Was it a man? No man could make the light seem dark; no man could be hardly taller than Lukas and still tower. Lukas was looking at a god. But
he was still weak somehow. Lukas felt none of the horrible obligation he always felt around the bitch—this god was
trapped, nothing but a body bag and a gas mask.
What had Minos done?
The god swept toward him: there were no footsteps, only the heavy, deep sounds of his strange breathing. Lukas shuddered, but he did not break his stance. He'd been taught better than that. When the god was a few inches away, he stopped; the thick smell of brimstone and sulfur drifted off him in waves, making Lukas queasy. A hand appeared from the shadows, pointing back the way Lukas had come. Lukas glanced down the hallway but didn't move. The god pointed again, and his breathing grew louder and more agitated.
Lukas did not move. He only took orders from one person, and she was back in Sweden. His voice came out as a whisper, but at least it was something. "Who are you?"
The god made another wheezing sound. The three-headed dog barked sharply and got to its feet, trotting to the god's side. Fenrir growled, but the great dog came close enough that Lukas could smell the middle head's fetid breath. Though Fenrir kept growling, the dog shuddered under Lukas's hand. Lukas did not move. The god pointed again and, through his wheezing, managed one word: "Go."
There was refusing to be frightened, and then there was just being stupid. It was time for a tactical retreat. Frowning, Lukas nodded. The god stood still: though Lukas couldn't see his face, he could feel the god staring at him, like a weight on his shoulders. His right hand started to burn—no!
Pride or no, he could not risk another incident. Nodding tersely at the god, he grabbed Fenrir's collar and started back for his cell. The god watched him leave: once Lukas was almost out of sight, the god put his hand on the great dog's chest, and the pair faded into the shadows.
Scowling, Lukas returned to his cell. The door was still open. The moment he stepped inside, it slid shut with barely a whisper. Lukas sat down on the bed and took the ball from his pocket. "Some help you were," he muttered, tracing the seam in the middle. "Almost as bad as Dionysus."
The ball flashed green, and the air grew heavy, like before a lightning strike. Was it the bitch—? The lights in his cell flashed brighter and went out; a horrible wailing filled the air. Lukas cried out and covered his ears. The sound hurt; he felt like his ears were bleeding. Beside him, Fenrir whined, but Lukas couldn't see his dog-it was too dark. For a moment, Lukas saw a great, manlike shape, outlined in red light the color of blood.
Then the moment faded, and the lights came back on. Dionysus was standing in front of him, looking around the cell with an air of gentle puzzlement. His eyes were huge and watery; Lukas found himself blinking in sympathy. When Dionysus noticed him, he swallowed hard. "I don't know how I got here," he whispered. "I'd say I've lost my way, but I don't think I ever had one."
Lukas looked at him blankly. He could handle a certain amount of strangeness—that was the price you paid for working with gods—but then there was shit like this. How was he supposed to know how to deal with the god if the god didn't have a clue himself?
All of a sudden, a bracelet on the god's wrist started beeping. Dionysus glanced at it like he'd never seen it before. "Oh. The walrus must've gotten into the pudding again."
Lukas was wondering if it was worth it to ask him what that meant when his cell door slid open. A woman in scrubs stood there: her hair was frizzy, and there were dark circles under her eyes. When she saw Dionysus, her hands clenched into fists.
"Damn him!" she muttered. "I told Minos you shouldn't have been involved!" She strode over to Dionysus: he shrank back against his IV stand, but she pressed a hand to his forehead, and Dionysus's eyes slid shut. Her voice turned soft. "That's right. Just follow me." Without a glance at Lukas, she took Dionysus's hand and led him from the room. The door slid shut behind her.
Lukas blinked. Fenrir let out a low whine and laid his head on Lukas's knee. Sighing, Lukas patted the dog's head. "I know," he muttered. "I hate gods too."