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Minotaur Hotel

MinoAnon Jun 3rd, 2019 (edited) 2,264 Never
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  1. Chapter 1
  2. > You don't exactly remember the details.
  3. > You were traveling, that you know for sure. But where exactly you were, or your destination, that's gone. Maybe you were in a dingy truckstop to take a piss and have a snack of questionable quality, the cold dark night muffling everything outside. Or you were in an airport having a drink in a sports bar at 4AM, eyes wide awake while your mind was exhausted to the bone. Or you were going for a stroll during one those dark hours of the soul and stopped at a street vendor.
  4. > Regardless, there was some white-haired, balding old man beside you, having a drink of his own. He was easily on his 80s or 90s.
  5. > Unprompted he started talking to you, hopping from subject to subject without much of a noticeable goal in mind. Regrets from his younger years, how a life spent traveling the world takes a toll.
  6. > Closest he ever had to a home was a place he 'squandered and left to rot', he said. Now he was old and tired, he wondered if anyone would ever take over that place now.
  7. > You don't remember much else after that, but you did leave the place with a folded deed in your jacket's inner pocket. You promised the old man you'd take better care of it than he did.
  8. > We'll see about that.
  9. > Somehow, without ever being told where it'd be, you found your way to it.
  10. > Once it was a high class, majestic hotel, but now it was laid to ruins. You could still glimpse how it was built under an art deco spirit, despite the ruined walls and decaying ceiling.
  11. > There were more rooms than you bothered to verify. You gave up when you found 148 rooms in the ground floor alone, while the corridors still went on and on.
  12. > All the rooms you checked were completely ruined by time, showing no sign of violence however. The hotel's main restaurant was an entirely different situation; it had been vandalized and broken down to even the smallest objects.
  13. > In the entire hotel there was no sign of life, not even bugs or critters who'd made their home in the ruins. But you could feel a chill creeping down your spine as you explored the restaurant.
  14. > The cold room was boarded up. Either due to a lack of common sense (perhaps there's a reason why one would board a room with no other way out) or having a brave, exploratory spirit (you are captivated by this place's mystery) you start pulling out the furniture blocking the way.
  15. > You open the door and there's only darkness. You stand under the doorway, letting your eyesight get used to the dark, which is when you hear it; a slight breathing coming from the darkness.
  16. > It smells like a farm in there.
  17. > That's when you notice a small glimmer, a flickering flame, lighting up inside.
  18. > You see it now. Whatever that is, it's chained to the room's wall. There's nothing else in the cold room; all the clutter has been removed.
  19. > You hear a deep sigh from the creature. It speaks with a deep, rumbling voice.
  20. > "So you are the Labyrinth's new master. I am your servant, then. Keeper, and prisoner, of the Labyrinth."
  21. > You see now the creature; it has furry, animal-like legs and a human's torso. It's head is that of a bull, but a terrifying one; half of it has been striped of flesh and is just bone, its empty eye socket shining a flickering flame. The creature is what anyone would call a minotaur.
  22. > "I am bound to do your bidding. If your wish is for me to remain here, it shall be done. I shall answer any question you have as well, Master."
  23. > The minotaur makes no other movement, seeming quite resigned to its fate in the cold room.
  24. > What do you do/say/ask?
  25.  
  26. > "Why are you chained to the wall?"
  27. > "That was what the last Master saw fit to do with me… I obey the Master's command. He didn't need to chain me. I would have obeyed his command to stay here. But he did chain me regardless."
  28.  
  29. > "What makes us the new master now?"
  30. > "The ownership of the Labyrinth was passed to you. You have the deed. I always know who the Master is."
  31.  
  32. > "What's your name?"
  33. > He hesitates before answering. His flame eye shifts ever so lightly.
  34. > "My name is whatever my Master wishes to call me, and the previous one offered me no name. But my birth name, before I became the Keeper... was Asterion."
  35. > A warm silence lingers, expecting.
  36.  
  37. > "What do your duties as Keeper entail?"
  38. > "The Keeper is meant to realize the Master's will on how the Labyrinth should be. The Labyrinth attracts those who are lost and looking for their home. Long ago a Master decided to turn it into a soothing place, and thus I arranged it to his will."
  39.  
  40. > "How did this, uh, 'Labyrinth' fell into ruins?"
  41. > "Over the years the Hotel did shift and change, according to every new Master's will. The previous Master did not take kindly to me. I am a monster, after all, a cursed and undying one at that. He chose to close down the Hotel and lock me here."
  42. > "Being a monster is reason enough for damnation."
  43. > "After all, that's what sentenced me to this Labyrinth in the first place. It was made to imprison me."
  44.  
  45. > Suck him off.
  46. > The Minotaur is malnourished and the room smells horrible. You have absolutely zero horniness in you to do such a thing.
  47.  
  48. > "Ask him what type of people used to consider this their home."
  49. > "Just about anyone in need, if fate sees it fit for them to stumble here. Runaway children from horrifying homes, homeless wanderers running away from a threatening past… Those who have no one else, and no place to call home..."
  50. > "Before the last Master took over this place it belonged to a man who fought in… The First Great War. He saw it fit to bring those displaced by bloodshed."
  51. > His voice falters for a moment, and you hear a little cracking.
  52. > "... The Hotel was glorious, then."
  53. > "Master survived the First War, but not the Second… That is how the last Master inherited ownership."
  54.  
  55. > "Let's also test if he is truly bound to our will. Ask him what his deepest and darkest secret is"
  56. > "Ah… I may keep no secret from my Master… I've existed for long enough that I care not for keeping them, regardless. If there is one secret, it is… I did not fight Theseus, the Athenian warrior, when he came to take my life. I gave it willingly. For my cowardice, and monstrosity, I was sentenced here… The Gods saw it as a joke of sorts, to make me undying here, in this eternal Labyrinth… Teach me a lesson. But over the centuries a few Masters saw it fit to make me into more than a beast."
  57. > "...My family would be ashamed at my meekness."
  58.  
  59. > "His life before he became Keeper?"
  60. > "Ah… I suppose it's become matter of legends. I was born from a queen who had an illicitous affair with Poseidon's white bull. I was raised in the court of King Minos, in Crete, he took me as his son. But eventually my sister demanded I be taken away, and they left me in my first Labyrinth, alone. The warrior Theseus came for my head, in rebellion against my father's reign. But I had nothing to live for. He provided me with mercy."
  61. > "The previous owner attempted the very same. Perhaps his gun is still around in the Hotel… But as you can see I cannot die, not this time. I only lost some flesh."
  62. > His eye flickers madly.
  63.  
  64. > "Ask him about the injuries. If they need tending, if they hurt, etc."
  65. > He hesitates for a solid moment. His eye's flame flickers wildly.
  66. > "Master ought not worry about me. It stopped hurting a long time ago. I cannot die."
  67.  
  68. > You decide to free and feed Asterion.
  69. > He does not budge when you approach to check his cuffs. You realize however you have no key.
  70. > You tell Asterion you'll be right back. You check around the kitchen and restaurant. It's difficult identifying any object at all, as everything has been thoroughly destroyed -- even the shelves have been ripped off and thrown to the floor. The floor's tiling itself is in ruins.
  71. > The pantry has no food at all. But you do find a handgun while looking for scraps of food.
  72. > You're a kleptomaniac protagonist so, of course, you take it -- if only to look badass.
  73. > As you search, however, you feel as if something weird is going on -- like your attention lapsed for a second. As if you forgot what you were doing. But now you turn around and see some bread in the pantry, and you feel something in your coat pocket -- a key. You also find a bottle of wine and water, and some cheese.
  74. > You return to the cold room, Asterion has not budged since you left him.
  75. > You undo his cuffs, his arms fall heavily on the ground and he slumps forward a bit, much like a corpse. But his eye's flame still flickers. You manage to get a glimpse on his back; it is covered in horrific bedsores and you can see his raw flesh.
  76. > You offer him the water, but he doesn't seem to have the strength to take it from your hand. You give him water like you'd bottlefeed a calf, by propping his head a bit upwards and holding the bottle to his half-exposed, boney mandible.
  77. > Feeding him is a long, drawn-out process, but you manage it nonetheless. Asterion is completely silent during the whole process, only murmuring a short phrase afterwards.
  78. > "Thank you, kind Master."
  79. > His eye's flame burns slowly, emitting a soft glow warming up the cold room. Once more you feel it, a lapse in your attention, and something clicks outside -- the electricity seems to have returned to the restaurant and kitchen.
  80. > "I am bound to your will, Master. What is your command?"
  81. > You can order Asterion around, ask him any other questions about the hotel, him, what he can do. He seems however to be quite sleepy from the exertion.
  82. > You have with you a bottle of wine and a gun.
  83.  
  84. > You ask Asterion about the magic going on here -- weird stuff has been happening, like the food and the key showing up out of nowhere. Feels like you suddenly blank out for a second there.
  85. > He is slow to respond.
  86. > "The Labyrinth and I are bound to the Master's will. Your wish is my command, and the same goes for the Labyrinth… Hotel, itself."
  87. > "The Hotel, it… *Blinks,* when it rewrites itself to your command. My job as a Keeper is to make sure the intention of your wish is realized, to interpret it so the Hotel understands."
  88. > "If… If I am not around, the hotel may conform to your wish… But not to your wants, Master. It is advisable to be prudent."
  89.  
  90. > You ponder whether it's better to let him sleep here, in the cold room, or take him somewhere cleaner.
  91. > You ask Asterion if there's any place where you can take him to clean up and recover.
  92. > He seems to have a brief lapse of his own for a moment there -- he slouches further forward and his eye's flame goes very dim, scarcely more than an ember. You hear him sighing deeply as his flame returns, albeit still dimmer.
  93. > "There's one now. First room to the left of the restaurant."
  94. > You did not ask him but he went ahead and seemed to do something. Seems like Asterion is proactive in fulfilling your wishes -- perhaps you should keep that in mind, as this little stunt seems to have tired him further.
  95. > The room should be very close to where you are now -- but moving Asterion is not exactly simple, what with his bedsores and other wounds.
  96. > You can try carrying him -- he is not exactly small but he is thoroughly malnourished, so he'd be perhaps light enough to carry.
  97. > You can also try being more creative.
  98.  
  99. > You think to yourself that you'd want a stretcher, wheelchair, a cart… A stretcher would probably be the best option. Yes, a stretcher and -- you feel the flickering as the Hotel conforms itself to your wish.
  100. > You find it outside the cold room.
  101. > Asterion seems to be nearly out, barely conscious. Fortunately the stretcher can have its height adjusted.
  102. > Roll: 6/20
  103. > You're kind of sloppy in rolling him over, and he's not cooperative. But your choice of a stretcher makes up for what would otherwise be a sloppy moving of an injured person. You rolled him to his side, so he's not laying on his bedsores.
  104.  
  105. > As you pull the stretcher outside you finally get a good glimpse at Asterion.
  106. > He is for the most part covered in dark fur, but his hygiene is abysmal -- it is hard to say whether his fur is dark or merely disgustingly dirty.
  107. > He does wear some tattered cloths -- some have mixed together with his bloody back.
  108. > His face's right side is that of a bony, malnourished minotaur. He has a pair of very impressive horns, curling forward. The left side of his face is another matter entirely; it's just bone, with two bullet holes; one beneath his empty eye socket and another on his forehead.
  109. > To say he wears a loincloth would be an overstatement; in the process of moving him whatever was left of it fell apart, but you can't see anything but a vague, albeit sizeable, bulge as his fur covers it.
  110.  
  111. > You arrive at the room Asterion told you about.
  112. > It is an infirmary, albeit one like you'd find in a period movie from the First World War. There are medical supplies, but none too modern.
  113. > You shimmy Asterion over to a very comfortable hospital bed. He seems to be mostly out of it by the time you check him over, but nonetheless you tell him to rest well, once he wakes you'll clean him up.
  114.  
  115. > You set out to investigate and explore the Hotel.
  116. > As you previously saw it is in disrepair. It was once a majestic place, clearly, with a tasteful art deco architecture, while now it lays in ruins. But only the restaurant has been purposefully vandalized, all other damage seems to be a matter of time taking its toll.
  117. > You do not find any bugs or wildlife in the Hotel. While this means at most you are dealing with some wall mold flaring up any allergy you might have, it also makes for an eerily silent setting.
  118. > At most you'll hear a drop of water falling in the distance. The silence unsettles you.
  119. > During your exploration you find a wide, sprawling lounge with what is nearly a ball room connected to it. You sit down on a stool in front of a bar counter, and for a minute you allow yourself to think how this place ought to have been before it fell in disrepair.
  120. > For a moment you can glimpse it; parties in that lounge with well-dressed folk, a barman with a snappy suit making whatever drink you desired. Indeed you can almost hear the rustle and bustle of those people long gone, but you snap awake once you feel it -- the flickering of your mind.
  121. > You look around and the place seems… Clean, at least. You won't say it's returned to its glory, but the walls no longer are water damaged, the counter's surface is not dusty (albeit not spotless either.) When you turn around you notice all the chairs are now placed neatly on top of the tables, as if the lounge was soon to open.
  122. > You get up and look outside through the lounge's stained glass windows. There's an unkempt, dead patio where once you'd probably find a garden. Further outside is an eerie, empty, sprawling desert. It looks terrifying. To right you see a wing of the hotel. You try counting how many floors there are but your brain isn't really cooperating; whatever number you think there is, when you check again you find there's one more floor than you previously counted.
  123. > You explore some more; not too far from the lounge you find a gallery of sorts. It's like seeing a museum, except every exposition is a different room in wildly different architectural style. There're little plaques written in some language you've never seen before, but which you can effortlessly comprehend; each exposition is a room preserved from each previous Master's preferred architectural style. It goes back thousands of years; you don't bother checking the oldest rooms for now.
  124. > All the while you've been trying to clean the Hotel, to the best of your skills. You sometimes go back and check on Asterion, who's still sleeping deeply.
  125. > Roll: 19/20
  126. > He does catch you by surprise; you can't say he's improved too much from his malnourishment but his horrific bed sores are all but gone, leaving only a few patches of naked skin. It becomes apparent to you that Asterion is able to heal himself at an inhuman rate. Perhaps this is part of him being undying?
  127. > Looking at him you do feel a lapse on your mind, though of a different kind than the previous ones. It is more tenuous and you can't grasp it now, but perhaps you may eventually be able to affect Asterion himself with your will.
  128. > You start feeling tired; what a day you've had. Eventually you retire to the infirmary where you left Asterion and, after checking up on him, you lay down for some sleep yourself.
  129.  
  130.  
  131. Chapter 2
  132. > You wake up suddenly as you feel something shift around you. You look to the bed beside yours and you see Asterion, wide awake, sitting up groggily on his bed. He doesn't seem to be all there yet but he's awake and cognizant of your presence.
  133. > "Pardon me, Master," he murmurs. "I was terribly rude yesterday. I ate before you, and imposed a burden on you by allowing you to carry me. That is terribly unbecoming of a Keeper."
  134. > Asterion seems to be much better today, at least physically. What do you do?
  135.  
  136. > You tell Asterion that it wasn't any trouble at all, and that you want to be a good Master to both him and the Hotel. You ask him if he needs any more rest, or if you can help him to get cleaned up.
  137. > Asterion seems to be taken back by your response, but it's difficult to know for sure with his half-skull face. He takes a moment to respond, looking towards the wall.
  138. > "I… I believe I can clean myself on my own, but… I would be deeply grateful if Master could… Help me to the washroom."
  139. > You say that's no problem at all. You take a moment, however, to check the bathroom first for how you'll take him there. You find that it's about just as old-timey as the infirmary Asterion set up. It doesn't even have a shower, it has instead a big basin for what you'd imagine would be a sponge bath.
  140. > While the idea of giving Asterion a sponge bath might be enticing, you set out to modernize the bathroom a little. You take some ideas from previous visits to hotels and hospitals and you make it into a restroom for people with disabilities -- handles, non-slip floor tiles, a nice showerhead… But you keep the basin, why not?
  141. > You help Asterion up. You notice quickly that it's not really a matter of whether or not he *can* walk -- he seems to have recovered at a miraculous speed -- it's more an issue of that he seems to have forgotten how to walk. He must have been chained for quite a long time indeed.
  142. > He seems impressed, or perhaps amazed, with the changes you made to the bathroom but doesn't comment on it.
  143. > Once you are in the bathroom he speaks up.
  144. > "Master, I believe I am capable of proceeding on my own. Thank you kindly."
  145. > That's what he said. But you're the boss here, after all, and Asterion is still a bit wobbly. And he probably will have some difficulties with the shower.
  146. > So Anon, what's your command?
  147.  
  148. > You choose to respect Asterion's wishes, although you stay nearby to watch for him.
  149. > Your decision to stay around proves itself a wise one almost immediately. Asterion supports himself with both hands on the sink, walls and handles to move safely, but when he approaches the toilet to relieve himself this becomes a problem as he has to hold his dick with at least one hand.
  150. > He is quickly losing his footing. You go in and support him, putting his right arm over your shoulder and holding on to his waist with your left arm.
  151. > Asterion goes terribly quiet for a few moments, not moving an inch. You are to his right; you see the bony side of his face, the flickering flame, trembling in distress. But he relaxes, and seems to welcome your help.
  152. > "I am very sorry, Master," he says. You tell him it's ok. He still struggles to start peeing; you decide to have some chit chat to break the tension.
  153.  
  154. > You ask Asterion about the hotel's staff. Was there anyone else working there, what happened to them?
  155. > "...Some of our guests, mainly those with no surviving loved ones, would often elect to stay here indefinitely. It was not demanded of them but they'd often take on roles in maintaining the Hotel."
  156. > You look down and get a glimpse of Asterion's dick. He'd easily be considered well endowed by human standards, more in thickness than in length. He sports a dark, uncut dick, with a nice mushroom head only peeking from his foreskin.
  157. > "I could do their functions, by channeling Master's will, but the Hotel is infinite. There's only so much I can think of. I was never good with gardening, nor with creating art to display on our walls. The guests would often take on those roles and many others… It made for a more lived-in Hotel."
  158. > This whole exercise strikes you more as a masculine bonding than anything sexual, and Asterion doesn't at all seem annoyed by what's happening.
  159. > "When the last Master took over he kicked out everyone, and locked me. But it really was my fault, he really only wanted to get rid of me. I would have gladly died if it meant the guests could have stayed… But, you know, undying and all that."
  160. > Despite the somber subject matter the last sentence's tone strikes you as some kind of joke; dry and shy, but a joke nonetheless. You can only see his skull in a perpetual toothy grin.
  161. > He turns to look at the shower, trying to make sense of it. "Master… Perhaps I should take your offer. I would appreciate some help in washing myself."
  162. > You help him to the shower, pulling over a stool to let him sit down. You let Asterion settle down under the showerhead and then turn on the water, making it lukewarm.
  163. > Perhaps you didn't expect much from this, which is why Asterion's reaction surprises you. The warm water makes him moan and become putty in your hands.
  164. > Whatever this minotaur might have gone through in the past, you can rest assured you've made him overjoyed in this brief moment.
  165. Roll: 20/20
  166. > You let him soak under the water for a minute while you inspect his back for wounds -- there's no trace of his bedsores. You'd actually go so far as to say that Asterion, somehow, managed to pack on some bulk during this night. He's gone from a malnourished survivor to an unimpressive, but otherwise decent-looking guy in a single night.
  167. > How did he look like during his prime, you wonder.
  168. > Your train of thought is interrupted as Asterion suddenly shudders, which swiftly turns into sobs.
  169. > He's doing his best to muffle his crying but you can see as he shakes. Perhaps this is the moment it's finally hit him; that his suffering has come to an end after who knows how many years locked and chained.
  170. > What do you do?
  171.  
  172. > You give him some space for a moment, but put your hand over his shoulder and, seeing as he makes no opposing reaction, you turn it into a crouched down hug. You tell Asterion it's ok, and say no more, just letting your hug speak for itself.
  173. > He sobs silently once more, then bursts out completely, crying it all out at once and making no attempt at discretion.
  174. > By how desperate it is, and how he curls forward into himself, you'd expect him to be feeling some terrible pain.
  175. > It takes a long time for him to even begin to settle down, even then he's far from regaining his composure. You and your clothes are completely soaked by then but you don't pay it any mind. Once his sobs have reduced to occasional shudders you go around him and look him in the face, clean the snot off his snouth and give him a proper hug from the front.
  176. > He clings tightly to you.
  177. > Only after that do you two proceed into actually washing him with soap, shampoo, conditioner -- everything.
  178. > You can't say he's become joyous, but you do catch him smiling and he does crack a few jokes as you scrub his back. By the time the shower's done and you two are drying up the climate seems to have turned onto something closer to a locker room than a hospital.
  179. > "Before I forget, Master," he says, "it is customary for the Master to choose the Keeper's uniform. Tell me what you'd like and I'll manifest it into something that fits me."
  180. > Asterion has been imbued with the sweet fragrance of lavender.
  181. > By then he's standing up well enough on his own -- it seems his physical recovery works in weird ways, seeing as simple bath can make such a big difference.
  182. > After drying up Asterion does seem ecstatic. You wouldn't imagine yesterday he had been chained to a wall for who knows how long.
  183. > When he turns to you with a toothy grin you see another person than you did yesterday. The gloomy, broken down man is gone. He seems hopeful and cheerful.
  184. > "Master, if you would honor me… Would you allow me to cook you a meal? I am feeling much better now. So far I've not been much of a proper servant to you, but I can do it now… Tell me what you want and I'll cook it."
  185. > Before he does that, however, there's the matter of his clothes -- he's still naked, although you are invited to tell him how to dress.
  186.  
  187. > "Well, we haven't been very good about keeping to custom thus far -- might as well go the whole hog," you say. "You may choose, Asterion, but if you so wish I could pick a closet for you."
  188. > Asterion smiles sweetly at you.
  189. > "Well, that surely is unorthodox. If it would pacify Master's mind -- I took quite a lot of pride in looking my best for my previous Masters, and that is a tradition I intend to keep regardless. I would prefer it if at least my work uniform was your choice, but for now, if Master affords me this liberty, and knowing we have no guests..."
  190. > Asterion approaches a drawer besides his bed and the Hotel flickers for a moment. He opens and pulls from it a comfortable toga. Before putting it on he smells it, and holds it tenderly for a moment.
  191. > "It's been a long time, but this is how I dressed back home before I was locked in the Labyrinth. I doubt it fits the Hotel's architecture, but it no doubt is comfortable."
  192. > Asterion dons his favorite set of robes, taking some time to adjust it. It is not exactly a prudish outfit; much of him is exposed.
  193. > "A little loose, perhaps… I lost so much weight. But I am sure to grow back, and it won't take long."
  194. > Asterion takes you back to the Restaurant. There's a counter from which one can see the kitchen and talk with whoever's inside, he sits you comfortably there. He proceeds to pull all sorts of ingredients from the otherwise empty pantry, preparing for you a luxurious breakfast.
  195. > While he cooks he talks a bit about himself.
  196. > "I may look scrawny now, Master, but make no mistake, my truest shape is quite distinct. I shall recover my strength, I'll look the part of the Hotel's Keeper. Before the Hotel fell into ruin I often wore suits and I enjoyed it a lot, back then Master enjoyed seeing me like that too, and it fits the Hotel's architecture. He was the one, too, who asked me to take on dark fur, he thought I looked striking with a white dress shirt.  Before him the Master asked me to have red fur, and before that I was white. When I was born my fur was white, like my father's. But that too is up to the Master's choice. My appearance is somewhat flexible..."
  197. > Asterion pauses for a moment as he glimpses his reflection on the kitchen's metallic surfaces. He gingerly touches his half-exposed skull.
  198. > "Well that will take a while to heal," he mutters. "Not everything can be dealt with a snap of the fingers."
  199. > He then turns to you, his left eye burning very dimly.
  200. > "Master, did you truly speak your heart yesterday?... That you wish to be a good Master to the Hotel and I?"
  201.  
  202.  
  203. > You tell Asterion that, yes, you want to be a good Master... But if he's okay with it, you'd prefer being his partner instead of Master. You'd prefer if he called you by your name instead of Master. And you'd like it if, one day, he becomes his own master and becomes free.
  204. > His reaction to what you said is mixed, perhaps melancholy, which might not have been what you expected. He seems at a loss for a while but speaks up eventually.
  205. > "Master, I cannot be truly free. My sentence to the Labyrinth is eternal, and I am forever bound to the Master's will."
  206. > He reflects for a second, munching on his words.
  207. > "But I do appreciate your kindness, Master. And I would be happy to have you know that, within servitude, I have found happiness and joy. I've had gentle Masters who gave me a purpose. I was very happy, and many of my Masters afforded me great freedoms within my service… Perhaps you should know, the Master's original role was to torture me, as part of my eternal punishment. But a Master did come, one day, who chose to grant me mercy and a purpose."
  208. > "It may surprise you but what I've experienced, being locked in the cold room, is quite mild to what was fated to me. It only hurt in comparison to what I lost."
  209. > "To know that you wish to be a good Master to the Hotel and I, it fills me with hope. And… I see you intend to… Have me call Master by your name. But if my will matters here, I enjoy calling my Master… Well, Master. I enjoy it. Much like I enjoy looking my best for the guests, and to bring pride to my lord."
  210. > The talk about his freedom seems to have showed some melancholy in him, but he seems honest about his hope; he has a slight but firm smile.
  211.  
  212. > You tell Asterion that you plan to let him have as much freedom as his servitude allows. He smiles, but says nothing.
  213.  
  214. > While on the subject of his clothes, you tell Asterion he looks good with the toga. He's free to wear it when he's not on-duty. He seems to appreciate your response -- for a moment there it seems like he's even showing off to you. That perked him up.
  215.  
  216. > You ask about how he's been healing up. You ask how long does he think it'll take for him to recover his strength.
  217. > "That is difficult to say for sure, Master. My vessel is linked to the Labyrinth, to the Hotel. The more we restore and improve the Hotel, the closer I'll be to my former glory. But that has its limits. Sometimes the Hotel will have wine; it is no regular wine, there's something godly to it. If you do find any, I would plead you inform me, I can restore quite a bit of my power with a few bottles… And my power comes, too, from my Master."
  218. > "... It may not take long for me to recover, but that we shall see."
  219. > He seems quiet after that last point.
  220.  
  221. > You ask how Asterion would personally like to look. He smiles sweetly at you.
  222. > "Again, Master, you are too kind. My wish would be to bring my Master joy and pride with how I look. But if there's one thing… I suppose I would at times wish to have my fur white once again. It reminds me of Crete."
  223. > You ask him to tell stories of Crete, of Ancient Greece; he seems to perk up at the request, but says he can do it while you work later today.
  224.  
  225. > You ask about how modifying the Hotel works. Can You really rule over the entire hotel?
  226. > "For the most part, yes, the Hotel will realize your wish. It cannot do what the materials you pick cannot do; it is impossible to build a firm structure with straw, and marble won't be as warm in winter as wood would. But the Hotel does play a few pranks with mathematics. There is always one more room than you think there are, and there is one floor more than what you last counted. Much of the Hotel is ever shifting. A lot of the Hotel is fixed and stays the same, but at times rooms will spawn somewhere for no reason."
  227. > "There are a few rooms which follow specific rules, but they are so more thanks to tradition. We have a room where we have enshrined one room of every style the Labyrinth ever followed, down to its inception. That is a tradition we have preserved for millenia."
  228. > Do you have to worry about older parts of the Hotel caving in/flooding?
  229. > "Yes, but that is something I can fix quite quickly, Master. That is a small issue. My duty as Keeper is to realize the intention of your wish -- tell me how you'd wish the Hotel to be like and I shall execute your will."
  230. > You say you'd like to modernize the Hotel.
  231. > "Very well, Master. What do you have in mind, specifically?"
  232. > You can post pictures of what you guys have in mind.
  233. > You ask Asterion if he'd like us to make any modifications to the hotel to better accommodate his tastes.
  234. > "I can think of a few… Master, if… If you would like me to have freedom within my servitude, would you allow me to prepare then a surprise? There are a few modifications I have long wished for. I can fit them within the Hotel myself."
  235.  
  236. > You ask about the weird desert outside, what's up with it?
  237. > "The Hotel is the Labyrinth, Master, and desert outside are its borders. I cannot cross the desert, but others can. But it was not always a desert; the outside will change and shift to reflect your wishes for the Hotel. If you wish to make the Hotel into a beach resort, we'll be in a beach. If you wish it to be a monastery cradled among mountains, it shall be so."
  238.  
  239. > You explain to Asterion a few ideas. Even if he is bound to the Master's will he doesn't need to be a slave. You add not every master will be like you, ever again, and that being a slave to an evil person will only corrupt his duty to the hotel. There may be a point where no master ever comes again, there may be no life left in the universe. And then he will have his freedom, even if he is immortal and undying. Asterion should learn to be truly free, because eventually the universe will run out of masters to give. He should learn the skills he needs to manage his prison forever and keep it well long after the universe outside has died.
  240. > Asterion remains quiet as you speak, and a tense silence lingers once you are done. He seems somber, but resigned, when he does speak up.
  241. > "When there is no one to take on the role of Master… Then I shall be alone again, much like I once was in Crete, when father put me in my first Labyrinth. And the Hotel will revert to its original shape, the Labyrinth to punish me for eternity. My powers to shape this place come from my Master, and if there is none or if Master is unwilling I too am powerless."
  242. > "When I am alone for good I can still have the freedom of my own mind, Master. But until then I enjoy what freedom I am afforded..."
  243. > "I am sorry Master, but this is not a topic I appreciate talking about. I understand what you mean. But this is not a topic I enjoy. Hopefully I still have a few good millenia left."
  244. > You feel something weird and wholly uncomfortable creeping up on you, like freezing roots entangling around you, as a consequence of this conversation.
  245. > **Exposing Asterion to deep existential dread has rendered him despondent; there are truths one may not be ready yet to face. Further sinking into despondency may affect Asterion's psyche, the Hotel and dice rolls.**
  246.  
  247. > You think out loud if there's a way to make you immortal.
  248. > Asterion seems to hesitate before responding.
  249. > "Many mortals have tried. It is not what one would call a wise pursuit."
  250. > He says no more.
  251.  
  252. > You shift the topic to something lighter; didn't you see a bottle of wine earlier?
  253. > You bring it over to Asterion and his face (and eye) light up. He cannot contain his joy but he still tries to keep his composure. He doesn't waste much time however; before you can say much he's already popping off the cork and chugging the whole thing at once.
  254. > When he's finished drinking the last drop of it he sighs deeply, contented.
  255. > He doesn't say much, he seems relaxed and enjoying whatever he's feeling from it. But from his gentle smile and nearly closed off eyes you know he's doing well right now.
  256.  
  257. > You've had your meal, Asterion so far had been busy cooking and cleaning. Now, enjoying the buzz, he stops to devour what's left from your breakfast.
  258. > While he's at it you tell him he has your permission to prepare his 'surprise,' to add his modifications to the Hotel -- and to take on white fur.
  259. > He looks at you brimming with joy -- perhaps thanks to the wine's assistance.
  260. > "Thank you so much, Master… Not only for the wine, for everything."
  261. > He's like a puppy who can't contain his excitement at seeing you. It's clear he's no longer despondent. But there's something else going on too -- the fire on his left eye socket burns a tad brighter, and you swear you the two bullet holes on his face seem to heal slightly. Perhaps this wine can help Asterion heal from his graver wounds?
  262.  
  263. > While Asterion devours his food you manage to get some chit chat in.
  264. > He's been locked for a good while now, so you catch him up on the modern world.
  265. > You start with WW2, telling him the Allies won. Asterion immediately asks about France in particular, then about Italy and Greece. He seems happy to know that Italy and Greece are doing ok, but he's overjoyed knowing that France is still around.
  266. > "I am glad… Before the last Master locked me away I served under Master Andre. He was a kind frenchman and died defending France from occupation. Even if he's no longer with us, I'm glad his country stands. He did have a deep love for Paris in particular."
  267. > You tell Asterion about nuclear bombs and the following Cold War.
  268. > He seems horrified by the idea of mutually-assured destruction, but is pacified in knowing that a nuclear holocaust is no longer a serious threat to mankind.
  269. > He is saddened to hear about Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  270. > You tell Asterion about the space race and about man going to the moon.
  271. > He is impressed. He seems to marvel and admire at how the current age has achieved so much. But there's a shadow of sobriety there; he asks if the Gods of old, from Ancient Greece, are anywhere to be found.
  272. > "I didn't believe they'd be in the Moon, but… I always hoped they'd be there, since they've disappeared without a trace long ago and I couldn't think of any other place. Oh well… I suppose I should take some solace in that; that they won't ever again check up on the Labyrinth."
  273. > You tell Asterion about computers, television and the Internet.
  274. > He doesn't quite grasp what's so special about the Internet; maybe it's something one has to see to grasp. He does mention it reminds me of something of Master Andre; he wished to bring a radio to the Hotel but he found that it could catch no transmission there.
  275. > "Getting the radio to work was quite a challenge. I didn't know how, neither did Master Andre, but a guest, an engineer, figured out a way. It was quite difficult, it involved a lot of maths about the Labyrinth's structure, but… Should we house an engineer in the future, perhaps he could make an attempt. Maybe we can have an 'Internet.'"
  276.  
  277. > Once Asterion's done eating he tells you he'd like to show you something. He guides you across hallways with bedrooms lined on both sides. He's a little tipsy from the wine but that's not an issue. He turns right four times, walking in a square; you'd expect you two would be returning to your starting point but instead you face a single door, similar to all others except for having a star instead of a room number.
  278. > "These are the Master's Quarters, only the Master and his Keeper may go in."
  279. > You see a living room, perfectly in line with the Hotel's Art Deco architecture. It seems to have resisted the damage of time better than most of the Hotel.
  280. > It's impeccably organized, if only a bit dusty. You explore around some more.
  281. > There's a Master Bedroom, still with Master Andre's clothes in the closet. It has a few wooden trinkets here and there, Asterion mentions Master Andre enjoyed carving.
  282. > There's a large, Executive-like Office; Asterion explains this is where you can design the Hotel to your heart's content. There is a chest off to the side; Asterion explains it's where most of the tools for rebuilding and reshaping the Hotel are.
  283. > A little off to the side of the Living Room you find an entire wing of its own to the apartment, like a second (considerably humbler) apartment within the Master's Quarters. While still in an Art Deco style this one is quite a few notches more austere, although it still affords privacy to whoever lives here.
  284. > Asterion takes a moment to check it over; wistfully inspecting every little element. There are a few wooden carvings around. Off to the side there's a bedroom and an old-timey training room. The bathroom diverges wildly from the Art Deco style; it's like a greek bathhouse.
  285. > "Those were my Quarters, Master. But this too is up to your choice. Master Andre preferred that I be nearby while off-duty, as I could still cook and be of use then. I did not dislike it; the silence at night always bothered me, and being nearby Master Andre, listening to his radio, his laughter, provided me with some comfort. We used to spend our nights together, I'd only retreat to my quarters to sleep and bathe."
  286. > Asterion lays down on a nice leather recliner. From where you are standing you can see up his short toga; he has no loincloth protecting his goods so you can see his balls and uncut dick, plump and resting over his taint.
  287. > He doesn't seem to realize he's showing you his junk, or if he does he may just not be very modest. But, after all, you did get to know him when he looked much worse, so perhaps he believes there's nothing to hide from you.
  288. > It may be your inner perv speaking but you think to yourself; perhaps in due time you could see yourself asking Asterion to change other aspects of himself, aside from his fur. You surely could appreciate him having his balls a little on the plumper side, like a proper bull, so you'd get more glimpses of his junk in moments like this. And who knows, maybe it'd be fun seeing the minotaur get horny easily with a hyperactive set of testicles.
  289. > "Well, Master? Where do you wish to start? We could start reshaping the Hotel right now."
  290.  
  291. > Before you start, you suggest to Asterion he might want to go through Andre's belongings, see if he wants to keep anything.
  292. > Asterion stays silent upon hearing your suggestion, looking thoughtfully at you. He cracks a slight smile, thanks you, and goes straight to Andre's bedroom.
  293. > Asterion seems to know exactly what he wants; he collects all of Andre's wooden carvings. There are a few books and notebooks stashed away; he takes them too. Inside Andre's drawer there are a trinkets; pens, pencils, a set of prayers beads and a cross. Perhaps Andre was a religious man, and Asterion collects those belongings.
  294. > He doesn't seem to have anything in mind about what he'll do with those objects; he summons a wooden box and lets them rest there, in his quarters.
  295. > You tell Asterion he can keep his quarters; you want to afford him his privacy. You tell he's free to design his housing as he wishes, as well.
  296.  
  297. > Afterwards you go to the Office; Asterion is by your side. You check the chest and are surprised to find a wide assortment of folders, alongside a box of trinkets. Asterion chimes in.
  298. > "Master can rebuild each and every room one at a time, but that would take an awfully long time. Managing the Labyrinth as a whole can be accomplished here. There are only a few folders of documents."
  299. > "The Architecture folder deals with how the Hotel looks, Landscaping with how the outside looks. That's simple enough."
  300. > "The Contracts folder is more complicated; it deals with binding and non-binding rules previous Masters saw fit to impose upon the Labyrinth. The old Masters may be at rest now but their will persists through these Contracts."
  301. > "There's also Structural Mathematics and Labyrinthian Technology… Structural Mathematics governs the fundamentals of reality and… It's best not to mess with it unless we really know what we are doing, as even a tiny change to mathematical constants can destroy everything."
  302. > "Labyrinthian Technology is an assortment of inventions we have accumulated over the centuries that harness the Labyrinth itself. It's where the radio receiver should be, among other inventions."
  303. > "Master may explore the folders freely, but the last three in particular are quite tiresome to read, not many Masters could go over more than a document in a day -- and the folders are brimming with papers."
  304.  
  305. > You take a quick glance on the Labyrinthian Tech folder; the file about the radio receiver is the most recent one.
  306. > To say the maths about this document are Labyrinthian is an understatement. It's an immense report on what it calls data transmission across different dimensions.
  307. > Roll: 1/20
  308. > You really can't make any sense of it, at all. It's like the letters and formulas themselves are shifting as you read, laughing at you. Perhaps you can try again at another time, or you could get an engineer or mathematician to interpret it for you.
  309. > Perhaps because you couldn't glimpse any knowledge from it, you do not feel any tired at all. You could still try checking another folder.
  310.  
  311. > You open the Landscaping and Architecture folders. You've never designed a building, much less a landscape before, but somehow the complex architectural writing in these documents comes naturally to you -- perhaps this is a bit of the Labyrinth's magic.
  312. Roll: 20/20
  313. > You have a vision shining brightly in your mind. You'd like to fully modernize the Hotel, make it into one of those luxurious Dubai hotels by the coast, with artificial islands. No expenses spared.
  314. > Asterion stands behind you, silent, as you write down your vision. You are so focused you don't notice the Hotel and the room around you flickering in and out of existence. Eventually he joins you, with tools of his own he goes through your designs and corrects imperfections here and there, sometimes taking a moment to design a few aspects himself. He seems to have gotten the gist of what you're going for.
  315. > You have no idea how long it's been -- somewhere down the process you reset this world's clock a few times. You've been using one of the trinkets to aid you; it's a snowglobe on which a simulation of the Hotel is updated in real time to your specifications.
  316. > There are a few rooms of the Hotel which are stubborn and resist your commands; you can't quite make much sense of them, but you do know one of them is the Gallery where there are old rooms from previous iterations of the Hotel.
  317. Roll for Revelation: 15/20
  318. > A pattern does come to mind; you cannot change much in Asterion's room. It seems that your promise to let him arrange his quarters is *binding.* Similarly there are other rooms which are tagged with Asterion's name; perhaps those are part of his 'surprise' for you?
  319. > Once your mind can't string together anymore thoughts of this sort you stop to admire your handiwork.
  320. > You cannot say this is among the world history's greatest buildings. But for a layman you were nothing short of a genius.
  321. > Perhaps an architect could go over your work later for refinements but, for now, there's nothing lacking at all. You look outside, through your recently created window, and you find yourself high up in the sky looking down to a nearly tropical vista of artificial islands, each one a habitat of its own. Each room should afford its guest excessive luxuries.
  322. > All of that said, the structure of the Hotel by itself is not mind-bending or reality-shifting; perhaps that is something you could accomplish in due time, as your dominion over the Hotel's tools grows. For now, however, the Hotel is safe, traversable and has a modern style.
  323. > It does not have internet or television signal, however -- that would fall into Labyrinthian Tech.
  324. > Before you head out to check your work -- you couldn't get the Tech folder at all, but you still have some gas in you to check the either the Contracts or Structural Mathematics folder.
  325.  
  326. > You decide to check Contracts.
  327. > Those papers are made of a different material; it's paper, yes, but it's heavy and seem to be essentially indestructible.
  328. > You don't know where to start. You pick a paper from the folder and…
  329. Roll for Revelation: 13/20
  330. > Reading it isn't exactly simple, but it's a thousand times easier than the Tech folder. It doesn't take long either; it's like the words jump into your mind in the blink of an eye.
  331. > This Contract deals with ownership and inheritance of the Hotel. It is a non-binding agreement that the current Master, upon retiring from his duty, usually transfers ownership of the Hotel to a promising long-standing guest of the Hotel.
  332. > There was a provision on what happens if a Master dies before transferring ownership, but it's been crossed out and is unreadable.
  333. > The Contract dates back to about a millenia.
  334. > You make a mental note to search about immortality next time you look over the files; for now however your mind is fried.
  335.  
  336. > Finally you awake from your fevered burst of productivity.
  337. > You look around; gone are the decaying art deco walls. Now you are in a modern, luxurious Western-style office. Behind you is a vast window from which you can gaze at a tropical environment.
  338. > You put away all the files, folders and trinkets; when you turn around you find something on the table you hadn't seen before. It's a metal bucket containing ice and a bottle of wine in it, besides two fine glasses.
  339. > You look around, Asterion is nowhere to be seen.
  340. > Roll: 15/20
  341. > You find him on his quarters, which now too are in the modern style you picked for the rest of the Hotel while retaining a few different elements. His recliner remains, for starters, and you do find some greek elements here and there; painted vases mostly. The walls have a few peculiar paintings, of Picasso's Vollard Suite.
  342. > Asterion himself is looking at a full length mirror, not noticing you. He's only wearing a loincloth and, very notably, his fur has gone from dark to an opaque white. Under his fur you can see tones of a slightly pink, fresh skin, most notably on his half-exposed butt.
  343. > It's clear to you that Asterion recovers at an exceptional speed. He's still not muscular, but he's filling out nicely. His back is starting to show some bulk and definition, his butt has some meat to grope.
  344. Roll: 18/20
  345. > He doesn't notice you at all. While you are struck, looking at his white fur, he's looking at his face in the mirror. You manage to figure out what he's doing; he's trying to put on a nose ring. His tail thrashes wildly as he seems to be having some difficulty.
  346. > What do you do?
  347.  
  348. > While he's distracted you silently pick your phone and…
  349. Stealth Roll: 13/20
  350. > … take a picture of his back and somewhat exposed butt. Asterion does not notice it but as you move to put your phone back on your pocket he hears you shifting and turns to you.
  351. > Asterion doesn't seem to have too many qualms with nudity, perhaps that's a remnant from his Greek traditions. He doesn't seem bothered over you finding him in this position.
  352. > "Master!" He approaches you, ecstatic, almost going for a hug when he pauses and, remembering his position as Keeper, deciding instead to bend a knee and bow to you.
  353. > "The Hotel looks wonderful. I can hardly believe so much has been accomplished in a single day. I am forever grateful, my kind Master."
  354. > Perhaps you weren't prepared for him kneeling in front of you, but you had a nice comeback ready anyhow.
  355. > "The hotel looks good," you say, "though not as good as you do."
  356. > Asterion seizes up as you say this, his tail flickering to and fro.
  357. > Now you realize his white fur has a big pro; you can clearly see his cheeks going red.
  358. > He doesn't budge, neither does he say a single word in response.
  359. > Instead you kneel down to his level and raise his chin up. You ask if he wants help with the nose ring; he nods sharply.
  360. > "It, it's just about passing it through the hole on my nose. It's just hard to do it myself."
  361. > You take it from his hand and do it; Asterion may have spent years without using the ring but seemingly the hole did not heal. It really is a simple matter for you.
  362. > Asterion firmly looks at your face while you do it, shuddering a bit, and eventually settles to closing his eyes and waiting. Once you've put it he trembles for a second…
  363. > letting out a rumbly moan, as he collapses to both his knees.
  364. > You pat him on the shoulder and rise from your kneeling position. He remains there, eyes now only half-closed, his face flustered as he pants visibly.
  365. > He looks up to you, expectantly, trying to muster out something.
  366. > "Master… May I hug you?"
  367.  
  368. > "Yes, Asterion. You don't even have to ask."
  369. > He doesn't immediately rise up to hug you, he takes a moment just to look at you from below. When he does get up he hugs you tightly and lifts you from the ground, sinking his snout on your neck and breathing deeply.
  370. > He holds you tightly, eyes closed as he breathes in deeply. Of course you hug him back, and take some enjoyment from him no longer feeling malnourished as he did yesterday.
  371. > "You are a wonderful Master," he mumbles before slowly putting you down.
  372. > He doesn't seem to have anything else to say for now, instead he only looks at you expectantly. He's like a puppy, happy to have you here. Just being like that has helped calm him down and he's no longer panting.
  373. > You also get to take a closer look on him; his snout and tummy are of a soft, pink-ish tone. There's fur over there but it's a little bit shallower and softer. You wish you could rub his tum!
  374. > You mention you found some wine after finishing up on the Hotel; why don't you two have a drink together?
  375. > He's happy to oblige. He puts on his toga while you two fetch the wine, the glasses, but Asterion hesitates for a second.
  376. > "Master, about the wine… There is something you musn't forget, ever. The Hotel's wine is meant only, exclusively, for you and I. Guests may drink of it only under exceptional circumstances, and even you, Master, ought to drink it only sparingly."
  377. > "It'll keep you healthy, if you drink it with moderation. But mortals weren't meant to have much of it and can grow sick, quickly, from having too much. Aside from you and I, we only allow a guest to have it if he or she is very sick."
  378. > You take a glass of the wine, while Asterion ignored the glass and chugs the whole thing from the bottle.
  379. > The wine is exceptionally sweet, but also flows down your throat like silk. It's amazing, until suddenly it isn't; it's quickly become unbearably sweet. The upside is that you sure can feel it in you.
  380. > Drinking the Hotel's Wine reinvigorates you in the blink of an eye.
  381. > Meanwhile Asterion is sinking down on the sofa, enjoying the wine's effect, giggling here and there for no reason. He doesn't seem to notice but you can see now that his skull's bullet holes are closing up entirely and there seems to be some skin growing back.
  382. > It seems like your workday has come to a close, but it's still too early to go to bed.
  383. > Asterion seems to be happy, about the Hotel, the wine and his newly placed nose ring. You could try and talk a bit about any of those subjects.
  384. > You could also try and explore the Hotel; perhaps you two can have fun seeing how it is now.
  385. > Or you can come up with any other idea. Your flirting previously seemed to have an effect on him, maybe you should think up other ways to get at him?
  386.  
  387. > Asterion is just relaxing on the couch. You take this moment to munch over on a few ideas.
  388. > You check whether the TV is working or not; it only shows static, which spooks Asterion for a moment there. You try commanding the Hotel to show you a movie but it doesn't really work.
  389. > There're a few questions on your mind, but you also think this could be a good moment to give Asterion a proposition.
  390. > His personal bathroom is like a greek bath house, isn't it? You ask if he'd like to take a bath with you.
  391. > Either because of his upbringing, or because he really enjoys your company, he takes you on the offer right away. "Yes, Master, I would enjoy bathing with you!"
  392. > Minutes later you two are in his steamy bathroom. Asterion is quick to undress down to his loincloth, then to nudity.
  393. > Either boldly or shyly you undress just the same, and now you two are naked facing each other. You've already seen Asterion's junk before, it's a nice uncut dick on the thicker side, with a hefty pair of balls, although nothing inhuman by any standard. Now however his dick is of a pink tone, as opposed to its previous dark hue.
  394. > This is his first time seeing you however. You tried seeing if he was looking at you but, well, that Hotel Wine hit hard so you're not really sure.
  395. > As you soak on the hot water you take the moment to ask a few questions.
  396. >  You start with the wine. What other affects could it have on you and where does it come from?
  397. > "The Wine… It shall make you healthy, Master, and if you take it only sparingly it is likely it will make you live longer as well. It slows aging as well… About its origins, it too is a part of the Labyrinth."
  398. > "The Labyrinth is supposed to be my prison and torture. Should I become too mangled to feel pain, the Masters of old would pour it on me to force me back into shape."
  399. > "That we use it instead for our own benefit is a joyful corruption of the Labyrinth's intended purpose."
  400.  
  401. > Well that was a bit darker than you imagined.
  402. > Let's try a lighter subject, shall we? You ask about the nose ring. Seems like Asterion really likes it.
  403. > "Y-yes, Master. I can't quite tell why, but I enjoy it deeply." You try seeing if he's blushing but there's too much steam. "I, I feel really good with it."
  404. > You ask him if he generally enjoys piercings and jewelry like that.
  405. > "I must say I do." He struggles with his words for a second. "I used to have nipple piercings, long ago. But the nose ring, I suppose I enjoy it for…"
  406. > Seems like he kind of lost courage there at the end, he doesn't seem too eager to speak up. Still there's a slight smile plastered on his face.
  407.  
  408. > You tell him that, if he likes it, you could see yourself adding a mark on to him. An ear tag, maybe have him use nipple piercings again. If he wants to, if his face still bothers him, you could even give him a metal mask, it could look good on him.
  409. > This time you can see it well enough; Asterion is blushing madly.
  410. > "If, if this is Master's wish… I would display your mark proudly, and happily, whatever it may be… To bear the mark of a kind Lord such as you, it would… I would love it, Master. What you proposed would be quite easy to do and we'd scarcely need magic. But, Master, if I may offer a remark... "
  411. > "When I drink of the wine I know my body recovers, which I do myself. But as my power grows, there is still a part of it that only you may command. I could not change my fur's color without your approval, you see."
  412. > "Master… I can change my body with magic, to fit your vision, but I would wish, I would be happy, if you commanded me to heal myself. I would not be able to magically alter myself for a while, but my face would be… More whole. And that would make me happy."
  413. > "While I recover I would not mind wearing a mask, either… But to have my recovery hastened is what I wish from my depths."
  414. > Asterion asks to spend his transformative powers on healing himself. Do you accept his wish?
  415. > This does not stop him from undergoing non-magical modifications, like a nipple piercing.
  416.  
  417.  
  418. > Whatever wish you may have had for how Asterion should look, you remind yourself of how you've treated him so far. You've tried respecting his wishes, allowing him freedoms. You must comply with his request.
  419. > You state firmly you accept his wish, that you want him to use all his power to heal himself.
  420. > Perhaps your previous conversation had left him flushed already, panting, but your response clearly affects him. He's shaking a bit, even in the warmth of the water.
  421. > "Oh, Master..." he mutters, before sort of hugging you and laying the left, bony side of his face on your chest. You can't see what's going on but you can see him shuddering as it happens. It doesn't seem to be a wholly comfortable process for him, but neither does it seem painful.
  422. > When he looks up to you you are glad to find his face for the most part healed. He has skin and there's no sign of any bullet wounds. His left eye socket is still empty, however, and you can see a flame burning brightly inside.
  423. > You drape an arm over Asterion, pulling him tightly against you, not saying a word. Sometimes you catch him looking up longingly at you, about which he doesn't seem to be entirely shy, and at times he'll snuggle on closer to you.
  424. > Time passes; it's not always easy to guess what's going on through Asterion's mind. His face, still pressed against you, can shift from joy to calm observation, then to something more somber for a minute before relaxing again.
  425. > Eventually he settles on a goofy, cheeky expression, stifling a laugh here and there.
  426. > You ask him what's so funny.
  427. > He doesn't seem to compliant at first -- perhaps the first time you've seen him not readily give in to your will -- but you grab on to one his horns and smugly repeat your question. That seems to have gotten him going -- you'd go so far as saying that he looks almost dazed after you grabbed him by the horns.
  428. > "Ah… I wish to carry Master's mark, and to become a good servant for my kind lord."
  429. > Well, isn't he direct? You pet him behind his ears and reassure him he's already a good servant, that only gets him to melt further against you.
  430. > But maybe that's enough for the night, isn't it? This whole situation has gotten you quite riled up but you don't feel it's the right moment to make that move on Asterion. You wait a while, thinking about gross things, so your member settles down.
  431. > "Maybe it's time we got out and dried up, eh?"
  432. > Asterion does not respond immediately; he only looks at you from below, still laying his head on your chest.
  433. > "May I remain a few minutes more, Master?"
  434. > You cannot see his crotch from this angle, since he's almost laying down on his stomach, but you can imagine his predicament. You allow him to stay for a while longer, besides you, but eventually you two get up. Asterion adoringly dries you up then dries himself; you are a gentleman and you insist on returning his favor.
  435. > Asterion ties up his loincloth, then looks cheerfully at his own reflection in the mirror. While he's distracted you decide to summon him a little surprise; you discreetly command the Hotel to make a magnetic levitation lamp for Asterion.
  436. > He had seen the spooky static TV, which didn't impress him too much, but something as simple as the lamp fascinated him. He spent a while examining it, seeing if there were any invisible strings. You tell him he can take it to his room -- he does so like a boy with his christmas present.
  437. > It's not like you've lifted weights but today has been a long day, you are terribly tired and almost falling asleep where you stand. Asterion doesn't seem to be doing much better. You're hungry however; Asterion won't let you go to bed without a hearty meal which he cooks at your Quarter's new kitchen.
  438. > There's very little else to do; while he cooks you entertain some thoughts. You can see yourself 'marking' him with one or two nipple piercings, which seem to be readily to his liking. But there are still other options; maybe a nice golden necklace, or a chain connecting his piercings. You could give him a nice ear clip, maybe write your name on it so Asterion knows he's yours. His face is mostly healed but a mask is not out of the question, or you could go with an eyepatch to cover his exposed eye socket.
  439. > It's a pity you can't readily use his shapeshifting magic. The thought of giving him a heftier set of balls was quite enticing… Wouldn't it be nice having him easily getting horny? Or have them peek from under his short toga. Although, seeing how he looks at you, you might already have achieved that effect in the first place.
  440. > You could also see yourself changing his equipment proper… His dick isn't bad at all but maybe something on the rougher side could fit him better. Wouldn't it be nice seeing a big cock dangling from between his legs as you fuck his brains out and cum inside of him? Now that would be a fine mark as well for your loyal servant.
  441. > You may have lost the chance to change his junk tonight, but perhaps you should take some solace in how Asterion has turned more affectionate. He brings the food over to the sofa with a neat foldable table. But instead of joining you in the feast he sits on the floor, besides your leg, and looks up expectantly at you.
  442. > Under most circumstances you'd have told him to eat with you, but this time you notice how much this comes from a place of affection for Asterion. You let him be.
  443. > You dedicate a hand to petting his head, sometimes grabbing his horns. Once he lays his head on your knee and you flick his nose ring, he doesn't seem to mind it at all.
  444. > After he eats it's time to go to bed. You're completely exhausted. But now is your last chance, for the night, to tell Asterion anything you might want to say.
  445.  
  446. > While he's still laying his head on your knee, looking up to you, you take a moment to tell Asterion a few kind words. You tell him you're grateful for his help in understanding how the Hotel works, and you reinforce what you said before; you have the full intention of being a good Master for him and for the Hotel.
  447. > Asterion doesn't say a word, only closing his eyes as you speak and relaxing his head further on your leg.
  448. > You add another thing. You do remember him mentioning he'd get lonely during the nights. You invite him to share your quarters… *If he so desires.* You stress it's not about you commanding him to do it. He has control here. Neither do you allow any tone of lasciviousness in your voice; this is an offer of companionship.
  449. > Asterion takes his time giving you an answer. You know he's awake, as he shifts and mulls at his response.
  450. > "I appreciate your kindness, Master. But tonight I can sleep in my quarters."
  451. > Asterion's thoughts can be difficult to guess, but you seem to be struck with a moment of attunement with him. He's made it clear by his actions he enjoys physical contact with you, and that he does derive some joy in serving you. But there's something there; his servitude traps him still, and he can't think too highly of himself to see him sleeping besides his Master.
  452. > "Very well," you say. "Still I will tuck you in."
  453. > He takes a few minutes to get ready for sleep. You two go into his room, illuminated by his new magnetic levitation lamp, and you surprise him with a teddy bull you got for him.
  454. > He seems confused by it, but as soon as you give it to him he's hugging it while still insisting he doesn't get what it's for.
  455. > He's not used to being treated like this. You don't have a book to read for him but you keep talking; about your life, about something funny that happened the other day, and Asterion falls asleep, hugging his teddy, before you know it.
  456. > And now it's time for your rest. Good night, Anon!
  457.  
  458. Chapter 3
  459. > The last two days in your life have been like a tornado. You found a magic Hotel that manifests your wishes, found out you were its new Master, freed and cared for its minotaur Keeper, Asterion, and reshaped it into a Dubai-esque resort.
  460. > Two days.
  461. > It takes you some time to get up from your exceptionally soft bed. Your mind is trying to piece together all those pieces. But eventually you hear some metal clanking from outside.
  462. > You find Asterion in the kitchen, preparing a breakfast. He is wearing his comfortable toga, tail softly swishing back and forth as his back turned to you. You take a moment to take a solid look at him; just two days ago he was malnourished and covered in his own filth.
  463. > Now his once dark fur turned into a soft, opaque white, under it you can see a pink tone to his skin. His back, half exposed, is starting to ripple with muscle, and his toga drapes over a growing booty. You just make out his crack, as his tail sits comfortably between his two gropeable cheeks.
  464. > You make some noise to announce your presence. Asterion turns to you, a smile on his face.
  465. > "Good morning, my dear Master," he says as he goes ahead and hugs you briefly (you did say he didn't need to ask for permission). It's a brief, innocent hug.
  466. > During breakfast you have some inconsequential chit chat as you decide on today's errands. This time you insist he eat alongside you, instead of waiting until you are done. He is no doubt hesitant but goes with it.
  467. > As you sip from your coffee you ponder about last night. Asterion was very affectionate then, you two got somewhat close to, perhaps, going too far too quickly. None of it was bad, of course, but -- him laying his head on your chest as you are naked in the bath seems kind of bold in retrospect.
  468. > Today the airs between you two have settled down considerably, turning into something akin to a domestic normalcy. You still take some good glances at Asterion while he's not looking at you and you manage to catch him a few times looking longingly at you.
  469. > Once you're ready to start your day you two return to your Office and go back to putting in some work into the Hotel's Architecture. You did amazing yesterday but there's still a lot of sharp corners to smooth out.
  470. > Today you're less manic about it. You take your time, enjoying the experience, and Asterion is more willing to chirp in with advice and suggestions.
  471. > The wine from last night has left an effect on you; you still feel invigorated from it. While Asterion's going over some details of the architecture you decide to take another go at the Technology folder, maybe today you can figure out how to get internet to the Hotel.
  472. > You open the thick report and...
  473. Roll: 18/20
  474. > ... it quickly and easily makes sense this time.
  475. >> Cross-Dimensional Data Transmission
  476. >>This document details extensively how data from other dimensions can be acquired and used in the Labyrinth. Most of the document consists of mathematical proofs.
  477. Understanding it fully is a gargantuan task but, upon closer inspection (skimming through the pages), you realize it relies on a highly sophisticated and simple modular design.
  478. >> The Cross-Dimensional Data Receiver/Transmitter itself functions perfectly well as a module of its own.
  479. >> If you want Internet connection or TV channels it would be as hard as setting down a few cables yourself from the Receiver/Transmitter to a local machine, and connecting a router in the outside world to a little device.
  480. >You seem to still have it in you to a go on another document; you pick a Contract from the Folder and…
  481. > 13/20
  482. >>This is not a Contract per se but certainly has the trappings of it. It is a child's drawing, of a young boy and Asterion.
  483. >>Once a widow and his children were displaced by war and pulled into the Hotel. The father shortly after became Master. Asterion assisted in the raising of his kids. When the father retired from his post as Master his son took on the mantle, and he chose to immortalize one of his childhood drawings of Asterion as an everlasting Contract.
  484. >>The thought of Asterion caring for children warms your heart.
  485. >> [Your spirit is emboldened by this knowledge and your rolls today will reflect it.]
  486. > Now, isn't that a nice start for your day?
  487. > After lunch you tell Asterion you're going out to connect the cables back in the outside world to get you two an internet connection. He is initially distressed by the idea -- after all, didn't Master Andre die when he went back to the outside world? But Andre went to the war, you're just going back to your apartment for some 30 minutes to connect some wires.
  488. > It's an uneventful trip. Once you're back Asterion is nowhere to be found at first but…
  489. > ...You find him at the Hotel's gym, wearing only his loincloth, getting acquainted with the new equipments you picked for it. You haven't been gone for long, he's barely worked up a sweat, but you can enjoy watching him bench press 90kg effortlessly. And this is his third day of recovery. You wonder what he'll be able to do in a week or two.
  490. > You tell Asterion to keep up his training while you finish up on the internet and television, which takes you one hour more. You tell him you two will meet up later at your quarters.
  491. > You arrive before he did, so you wait. When he does arrive he motions to go for a bath first but you're too excited about showing him television and the internet.
  492. > As you set everything up you take a few peeks at Asterion. It's incredible how his body changes so quickly. His pecs have grown while you were away and it's not only just a pump, he really does gain muscle mass in the blink of an eye. Maybe that's a perk of his magical nature?
  493. > His musk from the workout is also difficult to ignore. It's not a dirty smell, neither does he smell like a farm. It's hard-hitting masculine scent, difficult to describe, not at all unpleasant.
  494. > You start with television; that ought to be easier to grasp to Asterion.
  495. > Well, Asterion is from Greece, isn't he? So how about a documentary? You tune in to watch one about Athens and their democracy.
  496. > Asterion's first reaction is one of cautious surprise, but then it turns into that isn't at all what you expected. He is amazed by the television, the moving images, the sounds; but Athens doesn't seem to be a place for which he has nothing but contempt. He does get a laugh or two from the bad costumes, however.
  497. > You switch to a cooking show; surprisingly enough this captivates Asterion. He watches intently as the host works on a few french pastries.
  498. > "I suppose I was mistaken, Master. I thought this 'television' invention wouldn't be too different from a radio. Aha, moving pictures… The spirit of human invention truly is amazing."
  499. > Once that's done you watch a dubbed documentary about Japanese cuisine; that too glues him to the screen.
  500. > "I had a few Masters from Nihon," says Asterion. "Back then they were going through a terrible period of war, the Sengoku Jidai. I was saddened when you told me about the nuclear bombs and Japan, but… Well, I am glad they are doing alright."
  501. > Asterion seems prone to falling into bouts of melancholy here and there, as his memories resurface. But here his face shows only a measure of warm nostalgia.
  502. > Now you want to check the internet. You have a few cheeky ideas. You start off with a video of a racoon eating grapes with his little hands.
  503. > "Master, that is adorable, but… Is that all? The internet seems to me like only a smaller moving picture."
  504. > You're only starting, don't you doubt it.
  505. > You show him your search engine of choice. You begin with a few safe searches; you show him a few pictures and pages about your hometown. Even if it's nothing special Asterion is eager to learn more about where you came from.
  506. > He kind of gets the idea after that. The idea of free knowledge is immediately appealing to Asterion.
  507. > Before you let him go wild you open up a few different tabs for him. Wikipedia, Youtube… e621. And you leave him be.
  508. > It's not always easy to tell what's going on in Asterion's mind and you're not looking at the screen either. But you capture what you believe was the moment it clicked for him.
  509. > He's seeming a little frustrated with something; maybe he hasn't understood how to make this page work. He types a few searches and his brow is growing increasingly furrowed. But then -- he's looking at the screen, trying to make out what he's found and -- his eyes go wide.
  510. > His face goes red, but he says nothing. He goes on a clicking spree. You see him readjusting the computer; he sits upright on the sofa, his legs closed together, with the computer on his lap. Seems like he's having some trouble there.
  511. > You let him get engrossed in whatever he's looking at. Maybe you can take a peek at it while he's distracted…
  512. > ... But as you're passing behind the couch he notices you and closes the laptop quickly.
  513. > You didn't get to see it but you can still tease him in other ways. From behind him you hold on to a horn of his, firmly, and gently pull him towards you.
  514. > "So, what did you think of the internet?"
  515. > "...It's definitely not like the radio, Master. It's, uh, quite something! I thought it was just a smaller television at first but, I get what it's for now."
  516. > You tug gently at his horn and you can feel him giving in to you, barely holding on to a sigh.
  517. > "What did you like most of it?"
  518. > He's doing his best to contain himself but it's clear holding his horn is a weak spot of his. He moans under you, his face going red.
  519. > "Ah… So much to see, Master. I… I..."
  520. > He's left speechless, holding on tightly to the notebook over his lap. You don't think that loincloth of his can do much to contain his erection.
  521. > Bullying Asterion is fun and hot but you still don't want to go too far with him. You are enjoying the slow build up, and not only of his submissiveness. You think you'd like to have something with this minotaur, yes… But not because you are his Master. Maybe there's some wisdom in letting time work its magic.
  522. > You let go of his horn but pet him softly behind his ears. He's still musky from his workout.
  523. > You could do it like last night and join him in bathing, but you have another idea. You tell him he can take his bath but not to take too long. Meanwhile you make dinner for the both of you; it's not as elaborate as his cooking but it'll do for the night.
  524. > You have a few more surprises in store for him.
  525. > You haven't forgotten what you talked about him regarding 'marking' him as yours. You haven't been too sexual tonight with him, so you'd say now's not the time to do something like piercing his nipples. But you can mark him in sweeter ways.
  526. > While he's distracted with his bath you summon a golden necklace in greek style, with a sapphire adorning it. It's not gaudy or tacky, neither is it effeminate.
  527. > When he comes out of his bath, wearing his toga once again, he's stunned to find you waiting for him with dinner ready. He musters up a reaction, telling you that it's his duty to care for Master, not yours to care for him.
  528. > "I wanted to do something nice for you, Asterion. Now sit down and close your eyes, I have another surprise for you."
  529. > You put the necklace on him. He shudders as your hands brush against the scruff of his neck.
  530. > "Open your eyes."
  531. > He looks down to the necklace, fingering it slowly. He gets up and looks at his reflection in the mirror.
  532. > When you talked about marking him before there were obvious sexual undertones, both in you and in his reactions. But now it's a gentler warmth that spreads on Asterion's face, on the edge of his smile.
  533. > Sometimes you can see just how tired Asterion is for existing for so long. And, at times, he seems at the peak of his youth. This moment is a mix of both; you see in his eyes how he's been through many centuries, and that this moment has reached into his heart.
  534. > "I'll cherish it dearly, Master, and show it proudly..." he says. He stops himself before going on; whatever he wanted to say, he didn't, and you can't glimpse what it is from his face.
  535. > You sit down to eat, and the rest of the night is uneventful. Asterion is left quiet after your gesture, pensive.
  536. > The night could end in this mixed note but you have one final card up your sleeve. You turn the TV back on and pick a slow, almost boring wildlife documentary. You tell Asterion you often fall asleep while watching TV on the sofa, he's invited to stay if he wants.
  537. > Asterion's answer is immediate and unequivocal; he wants to, of course. The silence of the Hotel always did bother him at night.
  538. > You sit on the middle of the sofa, of course, and let him choose where he sits. He pauses, looking at you for a long time, mustering up something like courage. He seems to manage it and, in an almost dignified manner, kneels on the floor beneath you to watch TV.
  539. > Well, you appreciate the gesture -- you give him a long pet on his head to show it -- but that's not what you had in mind.
  540. > "No, sit with me Asterion."
  541. > This is perhaps the first direct and unequivocal order you gave him. And now you see a side of him you hadn't seen too clearly before; of straight, direct obedience, with not a single drop of any other emotion.
  542. > "Yes, my lord."
  543. > He sits up on the sofa, close beside you. You let time pass; you two settle down, relax and sink into the sofa. You feel drowsiness settling in. You look to your side and Asterion, too, is almost asleep.
  544. > It's now or never.
  545. > You stretch out your arm over his shoulder and so gently pull him to you. It's not enough to move his weight but he shimmies to you, and you pull him further guiding his head to your chest.
  546. > You stay there, his head on your chest as you caress it, and together you fall asleep.
  547.  
  548.  
  549. Minotaur Hotel -- Chapter 4
  550. > Sleeping in a sofa, no matter how high quality it is, isn't too good for your back. But the minotaur snoring on your chest (and drooling a bit) makes up for it.
  551. > You peek down and you can somewhat see the bulge in Asterion's loincloth. He seems to be having a very sweet dream right now. You let yourself fall asleep again, holding on to him more tightly.
  552. > When Asterion does wake up it's because of you shifting slightly under him. You two exchange knowing glances. For this brief moment, even as you still hold his head against you, you see Asterion as entirely your equal -- not a servant, but someone for whom you have a strong affection already. And while it's often hard to figure out what Asterion thinks you can see it now; he entertains the same thought.
  553. > During a late breakfast you go over a few points with Asterion.
  554. > Now the Hotel is pretty functional. It has all the luxuries one could hope for and, with Internet and television, a guest won't even be cut off from the outside world here.
  555. > Sure, there's always space for improvements. But, let's face it; it's good enough to house a few guests now, you can figure out any other kinks later.
  556. > "So, how about we open up the Hotel for our first round of guests? How can we do that?"
  557. > "Certainly, Master. We can do it from your Office, by establishing a Contract."
  558. > You two make your way there. Before you learn how to do a Contract you take a moment to check your Folders for the day.
  559.  
  560. >> Spontaneous Generation of Life
  561. >>This is a binding, regular contract. Its enforcement is mandatory and it can be amended. It rules over the creation of life in the Labyrinth.
  562. >>This Contract contains a labyrinthine list of lifeforms; perhaps a list of all lifeforms there are in planet Earth. The spontaneous creation of nearly all of them has been manually turned off, as all are set to immediately attack Asterion.
  563. >>It does not stop lifeforms from copulating and generating offspring.
  564. >>One day a Master tired of always having eagles peck away at Asterion's liver, and so the first version of this Contract came to be. That Master preferred crows.
  565. >> Seems like previous Masters, even the most generous ones, found it easier to blacklist animals entirely than to rework how they act towards Asterion.
  566.  
  567. > You check the Structural Mathematics Folder for the first time.
  568. >> You cannot begin to comprehend the files, mostly composed of extensive mathematical proofs for esoteric concepts. Most of those date back to the creation of the Labyrinth and haven't been altered in any shape or form since. It seems like this is the deepest layer determining how this entire place functions.
  569. >> There's one document that's quite recent, but blatantly unfinished. It was never signed and holds no effect. It seems to be authored by the same person who created the machine that lets you bring internet to the Hotel.
  570. >> The summary of this unfinished proposal is that the Labyrinth is "a Hub Dimension" whose gateway is locked to Earth. Expanding its gateway to bring in lifeforms from other corners of the Universe would be a Technology project, but opening gateways to other dimensions can be done by modding what's called the Dimensional Gateway Protocol.
  571. >> Should you have the team for it you can attempt this project.
  572.  
  573. > Asterion goes over the process of writing a Contract.
  574. > It is not difficult, but it's tricky. It uses natural language so you really are just writing on a piece of paper, but you soon find out that here writing a Contract is more like writing code than saying what you want.
  575. > There's a syntax to it and there are limits to what you can command. If your Contract is somehow invalid it won't take effect.
  576. > Asterion gives you an example.
  577. > He asks you to write two lines:
  578. 'Henceforth mortals shall be immortal within the Labyrinth.
  579. Henceforth The Prisoner Asterion shall be mortal within the Labyrinth.'
  580. > Both lines shine in a fierce red. "There are wishes," Asterion says somberly "that no Contract nor Master may realize."
  581. > With that said he walks you over your first valid Contract. You write:
  582. 'The Labyrinth is reopened for lost wanderers, with a limit of 12 guests.
  583. This Contract commences its enforcement 3 hours after its signing and is valid until revoked or contradicted by a posterior Contract.'
  584. > You have a few ideas for what kind of people you want in the Hotel; people you could trust enough to turn into staff for a few specific functions. You add a few guidelines around that.
  585. > You date the Contract and sign it. The paper shifts into a different, indestructible material; your will is the Labyrinth's command.
  586. > The Hotel itself flickers for a second.
  587. > Well, better get to work.
  588.  
  589. Chapter 5
  590. > The Hotel is gracefully strict with schedules and timing.
  591. > The Guests arrive everyday at 11AM, sharp, never more than 3 at once. They find their way in without really knowing how or why. They aren't too surprised by the massive, one-eyed minotaur dressed in a suit taking their names and carrying what little luggage they have.
  592. > In fact very few carry anything with them at all. Most seem to be on the rougher side of life; they have their reasons to be wandering the world and have no hurry for going anywhere in particular.
  593. > But your will is the Hotel's command; you asked for trustworthy people and that's what you got. No matter what's their past they all adapt quickly and, after a day or two to get their bearings around the infinite Hotel, they settle into doing something useful.
  594. > You decide to set up a security and exploration team for the Hotel. Asterion tells you there *should* be no reason to worry, as *most if not all* threats in the Labyrinth have been dealt with already. But better safe than sorry. Regardless, those muscular guys look pretty good in hunky security uniforms.
  595. > Asterion doesn't mind cooking for you and the guests but you find that means he has less time available -- he has to get up earlier in the morning and he's busy until late at night. And you can't have that; you two have settled on a routine of falling asleep together on the couch watching TV. So next comes a proper kitchen staff.
  596. > The Hotel cleans itself so that's not an issue.
  597. > For now your final team is R&D. You got a nice team of ostracized academics who got lost somewhere in their labyrinthine campi and don't mind having free shelter and food in exchange for chasing the weirdest fucking ideas. They've been going over the Folders in your office. They can't change shit without your approval and have a hard time reading the files -- a harder time than you do -- but they're making progress.
  598. > About Asterion; he proudly displays the necklace you gave him, and everyday he has to readjust his uniform as he keeps bulking up at his supernatural rate.
  599. > His lack of an eye isn't really a problem, but it calls too much undue attention. After the first night with guests he meekly brings up the topic of the mask as you watch TV; he wouldn't mind having a mask for a while, as his fiery gaping eye socket is probably more eye-catching.
  600. > Manifesting him a mask reminds you of getting him the necklace, but it's not as intense. You do pull him into a hug later that night and mention he looks striking with the Mask; he huffs sharply but you can't see his reaction.
  601. > You do notice, however, that Asterion has some fun on the following day with looking intimidating to the guests, even if he's at your beck and call. You let him have his fun.
  602. > There are still moments of hot and heavy suggestivity, make no mistake. He still goes absolutely mad with every chance he has of treating you like his dear Master -- no matter how many times you tell him he doesn't need to, he still has a thing for sitting beside your feet while you give him headpats. But more often than not there's a soothing atmosphere between you two.
  603. > Asterion's still your servant and he absolutely loves being treated like it, but more and more you -- and him -- share moments when you both feel like equals. Like room mates or a live-in couple.
  604. > And at times Asterion will surprise you with small gestures of affection that seem beyond his duty as Keeper. He's figured out how instant messaging works and he's constantly chatting with you during working hours, just telling you sweet things like how he's eager try cooking you a new dish tonight or asking you to choose what he should focus on in the gym that day.
  605. > There's really something growing there. ***You have taken your time with Asterion, helping him up from bottom of the well up to a flourishing, cheerful minotaur. And he seems to be into you more and more with each day. It's about time you make your move.***
  606.  
  607. > It's been about a week and a half since you've let the first guests in, they've all settled into routines and the Hotel's running smoothly.
  608. > It's a slow day, and a weekend in fact. On your Office desk there's only one decision to make.
  609. > The R&D team has finished their first assessment of the Folders in your Office. You asked them to figure out if we could eventually bring in lost wanderers from other species into the Hotel -- maybe mythical creatures, cryptids, aliens, who knows?
  610. > That's not something any previous Master asked for, so Asterion's *for the most part* unsure.
  611. > Your R&D breaks it down to you into very simple terms.
  612.  
  613. Mythical Creatures
  614. > The Labyrinth is actually perfectly equipped to bring in mythical creatures. There is only one Contract stopping it from doing so, and you can amend or revoke it.
  615. > The Contract was placed, however, when a satyr came into the Hotel and threatened to tell the gods how the Master had gone soft on Asterion; bringing in mythical creatures could be a problem if they decide to snitch.
  616. > On the other hand… Are there even any gods around anymore?
  617.  
  618. Extraterrestrial Beings
  619. > The Labyrinth has what is called a "welcoming range," which is the area from which it can bring in new guests.
  620. > If we want aliens then we have to increase this range; this is a Labyrinthian Tech project and we'd need engineers for it.
  621. > We'll probably need to have habitats for them too, but that should be simple enough.
  622.  
  623. Extradimensional Beings
  624. > The Labyrinth is what's called a "Hub Dimension." It's actually easier to open gateways to new dimensions than expanding the Labyrinth's "welcoming range."
  625. > A previous scientist left some work on this halfway done already. This is a Structural Mathematics project.
  626. > Finishing his work shouldn't be as hard as bringing aliens, but making sure those extradimensional beings can exist inside the Hotel could be an enduring challenge.
  627.  
  628. > If you want more options the R&D Team can go for that, but exploring more ideas will take on a turn.
  629.  
  630. > You take a careful look at all the options. They all have pros and cons. In the end you choose Mythical Creatures; there's a risk but you're confident you can master how to write airtight Contracts, and that can pave the way for you. Afterwards you could try Extraterrestrials; you can think of a way or two of twisting the Labyrinth into something… spectacular, to say the least.
  631. > You laugh, thinking of the possibilities. You are dreaming big now, and starting to get how this whole Labyrinth thing works.
  632. > You call the R&D boys to tell them of your choice. Work will only start on monday, and today's saturday. Your and Asterion's proper day off since this whole thing started.
  633. > You sit back to admire your handiwork; you reshaped a dying, dilapidated dimension into a Dubai-esque paradise. You are bringing together a nice team of hardworking people who could use the help.
  634. > And there's that one lovely man you've been growing awfully fond of. It really, really is time to celebrate.
  635. > Then it flickers -- the Hotel. For a second. Then you look to your table and, again, there's your trusty wine bucket. Guess that's a gift from the Hotel itself.
  636. > This time there are no glasses -- this one's only for Asterion.
  637. > Currently he's out, gone to the gym. So you sit back to relax, collect your thoughts and, why not, plan ahead.
  638. End of Chapter 5
  639.  
  640.  
  641. Chapter 6
  642. > As all your thoughts sink down your mind you're washed by a soothing wave.
  643. > Perhaps you have been nervous about taking this step. I mean, have you ever really asked Asterion if he's into men? You didn't but he's made that clear enough by his actions.
  644. > Regardless you feel such an affection for him. Even if he wasn't into you, you'd still want to do good for him.
  645. > You get up when you hear the door opening and closing. You go to the living room to greet Asterion, who's midway through undressing. This time he was wearing some modern workout clothes over his greek-style loincloth, as he thought the toga might weird out the guests. He has his mask on, dark and fierce-looking over his sweet face.
  646. > You feel emboldened -- by everything. Without giving any reason at all you approach Asterion and hug him tightly. You can feel how much he's bulked up since you met him.
  647. > He's not exceptionally well-defined, like a bodybuilder -- he's buff and bulky. He's told you about it, he likes being strong, muscular, and bulky, but doesn't care too much about being defined and down to little to no bodyfat.
  648. > "Master..." he mumbles as you hug him, not knowing how to react. "Pardon me but I am sweaty from my training session. I don't want to leave Master..."
  649. > He's not smelly at all. You've found you greatly enjoy how he smells after his workouts. It's a strong, thick scent.
  650. > You let him go but leave a hand going over his waist. You pull him with you to the window, but ask him to take off his mask -- you want to see his face, his eyes.
  651. > "Look at that, Asterion," you tell him. "We built this, you and I. Just ten days ago this place was in ruins, we turned it into a paradise."
  652. > Asterion's left silent. Your hand's over his waist, you can feel how strong his lower back has become and your arm is gently supported by his butt. You can tell he doesn't know what to do with his arms, whether or not he should hold on to you similarly.
  653. > "And you, Asterion," you go on, looking into his eyes. "How could I imagine what it'd be like to know you? Being this Hotel's Master does come with many perks. But if I had to choose between you and the Hotel, I wouldn't think twice before going with my minotaur. Regardless, I do intend to keep my word, to be a good Master to you, and to the Hotel."
  654. > You feel Asterion fidgeting beside you, still struggling with what to do with his arms. You try and guess what he's thinking; his flushed face, the sweat dripping down his forehead, his swishing tail make it clear enough. You pull him closer to you, smashing your sides together.
  655. > "I like everything about you. Everything. How you lay your head on my chest when we watch TV, how kind and gentle you are, how..." You let out a smile, "How you react when I pull at your horns or when I pet you. Even how you smell."
  656. > And there he goes; so slowly he raises his hefty arm, going over yours and holding you tightly against him. He's panting now, his thick tongue barely visible as he can't hold himself. "Master," he mumbles.
  657. > "How you've been growing, how handsome you are. I really do mean it, I like everything about you. I can easily see myself having a life here, with you."
  658. > Asterion's let it all out. You look into his eye and you can see how it's wet, not too far from letting out a tear. But he's holding it, panting, holding it all in.
  659. > You extent a hand to his chin, only barely stroking it. When you pull it back he willingly comes with it, closing his eyes as he lets you guide him. Your nose touches his snout, you feel his breathing on you as your tongues graze each other. You navigate your hand from his chin to the back of his head and pull him closer still as your tongue invades his mouth. He still holds on to your back, now for support as he leaned in.
  660. > But you can do better. The back of his head is good, but what about his horns? With both hands you grasp them and you make him into your toy, setting the pace for your increasingly sensuous kiss. His meekness turns into moaning and you can hear his tail flicking, almost convulsing. His tongue trashes inside his mouth as you savor each other, as you handle his head and mouth.
  661. > He's shaking now, moaning. "Master..."
  662. > You end your kiss but pull his forehead against yours. You feel his ragged breathing. Asterion's struggling with his words, trying to find something to say, but nothing comes out. But his body says it, he tries to pull you closer in, hugging you.
  663. > You stay there, enjoying this tender moment. You let go of his horns and once more scratch his chin, pulling him in to exchange quick pecks.
  664. > "I have a gift for you," you whisper. You hold on to his hand and pull him to the office.
  665. > "A bottle of wine. I'd say we have reason enough to celebrate. And you can guess what I want afterwards, I want you to finish up on healing yourself."
  666. > For the first time so far you've seen Asterion hesitate before going for the wine. His legs are shaking as he looks at it, then back to you, his eye tearing up.
  667. > This time he lets go of his meekness, completely, and kneels in front of you. But this time there's something more to it. He's giving in to you, but not because he's your servant. He looks to the bottle of wine, to you, and puts a hand over his face, his eye socket. He's shaking, trying to say what's on his mind.
  668. > "Master, there is something else I want," he spits out. From his face you can see the effort he's put into saying that single phrase must have been gargantuan. You listen up attently. "I want you, Master. All of you. I want to heal, yes, but… I'll have other bottles eventually. I want you now Master, I want to be yours.
  669. > He considers his words, still thinking hard. From his kneeling position he leans his head over to you, pressing his forehead against your tummy. "You've come into my life and… I thought that was it for me, that there'd be no one else again, ever. The cold room would be my eternity. And even if someone did come up again, who could I ever hope for? I could look to the future and I'd only see nothing."
  670. > You embrace his head, enveloping him as he keeps talking. "But you showed up, a Master came. And it could be a Master like any other, who'd treat me as the servant I became or the prisoner I was. But you came, and you… I am a person when I'm with you. Master, because I am person, I want to serve *you*."
  671. > "So make me yours, Master," he says, almost demandingly, as he roughly breathes on you, catching your scent. "I've had many lords over the centuries but none like you. And I want to be yours like I've never been anyone's before. Give me the wine, and make me yours."
  672. > You smile tenderly, looking down to him. He's the one kneeled before you, you're the Master, but going by his words you'd expect him to be in command.
  673. > You do as he asks, open the bottle and raise his chin so slightly with your hand. You give it to him like you'd bottle feed a calf, slowly raising the bottle so its contents pour down his throat.
  674. > Asterion looks at you throughout the process, directly at you, even as the wine starts taking its effect and rebuilding the skin around his eye socket. He goes into his wine daze quickly, his face flushes and a handful of drops spill from the side of his lip.
  675. > Once the bottle's completely turned upside down you gingerly pull it back while holding Asterion's neck with your other hand. As you do so he opens his mouth and extends his tongue, reaching out for every single drop.
  676. > Asterion's turned into quite a sight here. His face's flushed, a trickle of wine running down the side of his lip, down his neck to his pristine white fur. His tongue is lewdly extended, reaching out for every drop. You look further down; his loincloth is obscenely bulged. You run a foot under it and there's a fat slippery puddle; Asterion's dripping, well, like a bull.
  677. > In the absence of wine he once more places his head against your stomach, huffing wildly at your scent.
  678. > You know what he wants and you sure as hell want it too. You grab him by the horns and manhandle him further down to your crotch. You let him have his fun, huff wildly on your straining dick, he's pushing more towards you than you're pulling him to your crotch. You see a hand reaching down to his clothed erection but he only barely holds it, reaching further down to see how much he's dripping.
  679. > While still grinding his face against you, you reach down and unzip your pants, but don't pull them down. Asterion does that for you, stopping to enjoy your dick despite the underwear. He's licking you, groaning, his breathing becoming more ragged even if he's only barely touching his own dick.
  680. > You graze your underwear's waistband, that's enough of a sign for Asterion. He pulls it down knowing full well your dick will hit him on his snout and spread a string of precum over his face.
  681. > He savors it, all of it. "How my Master has a fine manhood," he mumbles as he goes from smelling you to giving tentative licks around your balls.
  682. > You hold on to his nose ring -- he groans and huffs wildly as you do it. With only a single push or pull of your finger he submits entirely to you. You push him a bit, to give space to your dick, and pull him back guiding his mouth to your member. His tongue is out, lolling from his mouth, even before you start pulling.
  683. > His warmth quickly closes in on your member, he nurses on to your head trying to coax, and taste, every drop of your pre. His tongue is still out and it's longer, more flexible, than you ever imagined. While only your dickhead is in his mouth his tongue's already exploring the underside of your dick, trying to reach your balls.
  684. > You've never had this before; he's not giving you a blowjob, he's making love to your dick and enjoying every moment of it. You can already see a string of saliva running down his neck and another half-suspended, hanging down from his chin.
  685. > He's hungry for you -- unsurprising considering you've been building up for this for over a week.
  686. > Your hand travels from his nose ring back to his horn, now you have the leverage to control the pace for real. You pull him sweetly onto your dick. It slides softly on his mouth and realize how sweet is getting a blowjob from someone with a long snout like his; he can take more of your dick than any human could.
  687. > He takes it all. Another string of slobber hangs from his chin. He looks up to you, unmoving… Then you feel it, his long tongue bathing your balls even as all your dick's buried in his mouth. Then he almost tries to swallow you, his throat constricting, massaging your dick.
  688. > Commanding the pace of this whole affair… You could give it up entirely and let Asterion have his fun, clearly he's capable enough on his own. But you know he wants it from you, your love and mastery over him all mixed up together.
  689. > You use his mouth for your pleasure. You facefuck him, increasing pace as you see he both enjoys it takes it well, until you feel his slobber hitting your foot -- the same foot wet with his plentiful precum. While his snout is buried in your crotch you raise that foot and stroke his clothed dick with it.
  690. > "What a loyal servant," you say to him. "The best servant, my minotaur."
  691. > The praise makes him go wild. That tongue of his can work miracles and you're sure now he's trying to swallow your dick and drink your cum.
  692. > But you have other plans. This is no quick and dirty blowjob. Sure, your minotaur likes it rough but you just have to scratch the surface and you see again the glimmer of affection in his eyes.
  693. > He wanted to have you mark him, more than he wanted you to spend his magic healing his eye. So you'll respect his wish to have your will, your mark, on him.
  694. > "Asterion."
  695. > He looks up to you. You gently push him backwards, off your dick, but he resists stubbornly. Once only your head's in his mouth he still suckles at it, and when it pops out he still tries to catch it with his tongue out. He only stops when you pull him back to your crotch, your dick going over his face.
  696. > "Asterion, you are mine."
  697. > "Yes, Master. I am yours. Your servant, and still even more of me belongs to you."
  698. > Even in the middle of a blowjob he knows how to talk sweetly, you see. Now that's a talent.
  699. > "You want my mark on you."
  700. > This time he doesn't speak up, he only nods and pokes your balls, the base of your dick, with his snout.
  701. > "Your will," you say, grazing his chin with a caress, "is that I impose my will on you."
  702. > "Yes, my lord."
  703. > "Take off your loincloth."
  704. > Still kneeling he undoes, exposing his member. It's just as you expected; pink-ish, with a nice foreskin partially covering its head, furiously hard as it leaks copious, gooey strands of pre.
  705. > That's when you notice; he's still wearing that necklace you gave to him.
  706. > "This is one of my brands on you," you mutter as you finger the sapphire. "You display it well, as you should. Now I'll make you further mine."
  707. > You kneel down to his level and put your forehead against his. You steal a kiss, then you lean further towards his ear. While you hold his head against yours, your other hand travels down his pecs, stomach, fluffy treasure trail. You grope, stroke and explore his thick member, coating your hand in his pre. He moans wildly at you, crashing his snout your shoulder.
  708. > But you go further down. You gingerly hold his balls, feeling their heft.
  709. > How long has it been since he last came? You don't think he had that kind of release since you arrived. He might as well have been pent up for decades. But that's not enough to you.
  710. > "Asterion, you're my bull," you whisper. "My virile minotaur. I want you horny and excited, as much of a man as you can be. Let's give a boost to those balls of yours."
  711. > He moans, grunts, thrashes against you. You'd expect him to be cumming, and indeed there are some fat spurts of pre shooting out, but that's just form your words. He breathes raggedly against your neck for a while longer until he mutters "Master" as you start feeling his balls grow on your hand.
  712. > They were already fat before, slightly thicker than just about any human's. Now they are exceptional and even more befitting of him, of his manly body and dick.
  713. > But he can still go just a little bit further. You want to see those balls swinging as you fuck him, you want momentum, you want to feel that weight.
  714. > "A little more, baby. You can do bigger..."
  715. > He moans once more against you, his drool now running down your chest. "Yes, my Master," he blurts out, a perverted smile plastering on his face. You feel them grow and expand again, making his sack taut, smooth, gloriously heavy.
  716. > He's almost collapsing on top of you as his balls settle down again, and his eyes show he's on a whole different world of pleasure now.
  717. > "Now that's my boy. Look at yourself. My prized bull."
  718. > He can only respond with another grunt. There're strands of saliva and your precum over Asterion's precious necklace, his dick is now spurting strands of precum. He looks down, to his new set of enhanced balls, and smiles.
  719. > "I am all yours, Master," he mumbles as he tries to take your dick back into his mouth.
  720. > Again your dick is taken in by his warmth. It glides, in and out, and your excitements glides up and up. You have no more walls. You're on the last stretch now.
  721. > "Now here's your prize, my good boy," you say as you take hold of both of his horns. "Take it all, don't waste a single drop."
  722. > That drives Asterion wild. He's not cumming yet -- you'd feel it on your leg, as he's now grinding your dick against it -- but it sure looks like he's having a mindblowing orgasm.
  723. > You hammer your dick in and out, again and again, as that final fire builds up inside you. Asterion's looking up to you, teary eyed from the blowjob, but absolutely enthralled.
  724. > How his his tongue teases at the underside of your dick and how his throat constricts against your head is taking you forward. But what pushes you over the edge is how he looks at you.
  725. > You two have coated yourself in a layer of sex, of domination and submission, but if you just scratch the surface you'll find that spark in how he looks at you. And that's not sex. You know what it is, and it pushes you ahead like nothing else.
  726. > You pull out so only the head's in and hammer it down his throat; then you hear it as he drinks the first spurt of your cum directly from the tap. But you want him to taste it too, you pull back so only the head's inside and you keep up with a quick, shallow fuck, letting all the wave of your orgasm ride violently as you use your minotaur however the fuck you want.
  727. > You're out of your mind, but not so much that you don't feel the obscene spurts hitting, coating your leg with Asterion's jizz. His face is completely flushed and his eyes are in a daze. He just keeps on cumming, humping your leg while you fill his mouth with your cum.
  728. > Your orgasm stops, or at least you're only spurting out a few final strands of cum. But Asterion's still going, almost convulsing on you. He can't even bear to swallow your cum, it's all just pooling in his mouth sealed against your dick. He's literally out of his mind, but his body is still going, still reveling in it all.
  729. > It goes on and on. He does stop convulsing, but his dick keeps spewing shyer loads -- maybe he doesn't even notice it. But he's still looking at your eyes, your dick softening in his mouth, and you you feel his tongue rolling the cum around, tasting it, memorizing its flavor.
  730. > You let go of a horn and take that hand to his chin. You push him slowly off your dick -- weaning off your little calf. Again he doesn't want to stop suckling on you, but he lets you pop it off from his mouth.
  731. > He raises his hand to hold your dick and kiss its head, lick it softly. His lips for the most part are sealed, he's holding on to your cum.
  732. > You push him backwards a bit, so he's looking at you. "Open your mouth," you command, and he shows you all that cum you gifted him.
  733. > Your hand goes from his chin to his neck, his throat. "Now swallow it." Softly he closes his mouth and you feel it, your load going down his throat.
  734. > There, you do see it in his eyes. There's sex; and there's love. You see it. You almost cry. You raise him up to you and kiss.
  735.  
  736. > It's not over yet. There's another thing he wants, he asks for. He knows exactly what it is and you comply.
  737. > He's done this before, he could do it himself. But he wants your hand doing it. The symbolism counts.
  738. > He's lying on your bed, splayed. You can feel his exhausted body twitching, still convulsing every once in a while. His balls, heavy and massive, resting over his crack, his spent dick over his belly button.
  739. > You pierce his left, then his right nipple. He said you'd have to be quick. You slip in the nipple piercing, then you clean it off with alcohol. The whole process hardly takes more than five minutes.
  740. > You see there are perks to being undying and nearly indestructible; only a single drop of blood comes out and it coagulates in an instant, and he didn't even flinch.
  741. > He's in control of it all. He wants you and he makes sure you know it.
  742. > The nipple rings have a small sapphire each. Matching with the necklace.
  743. > It's done so quickly. He's yours, through and through. You lay down with him, he's on his stomach and he shimmies over to lie his head on your chest. Just like when you'd watch TV together. This time however you pull him to kiss you, even if the position is a bit awkward. You can still taste your cum on his mouth.
  744. > Your kiss descends into shorter pecks, then just having your lips together, letting your scents and breathing mingle, until eventually he lays his head back on you. You caress his head as he looks to you. Goddamnit as soon as he flips on to his back you're caressing his fuzzy stomach. But you don't want him to stop looking, seeing you.
  745. > The way he looks just gets to you.
  746. > Ah, there it is. That glimmer. That's it, right there.
  747.  
  748. Chapter 7
  749. > And just like that, it's like a handful of things stop making as much sense as they used to.
  750. > Asterion sits down on his own bed, in his quarters. Why is he here?
  751. > He came just to wash his hands in his bathroom before dinner. That's all. Really. But now he's sitting on his bed, illuminated only by the Mag-Lev Lamp Master gave to him. He looks at it, enthralled by the very notion of a floating lamp, as turbulent thoughts curl and twist under the surface of his mind.
  752. > 'I only slept here one night,' he thinks to himself. 'After that Master and I have slept in the couch. Is this place even mine?'
  753. > 'Before that I spent decades in the cold room. It's been more than half a century I actually lived here.'
  754. > He mumbles a curse or two in greek. He feels his own face, now just about completely restored. He cups his right pec, caressing the nipple ring Master put on him just a few hours ago. He looks down, to his enlarged testicles, about the size you'd find in a proper bull.
  755. > Having his nipples toyed with could always get him going. But this time he's not aroused. He's anxious and his mind can't stop. This isn't his place. But those are his Master's marks.
  756. > Can a servant, even if he's also a lover, ever have the audacity to truly want, to have it said?
  757. > In a way he knows his answer. He's told his Master what he wanted when they made love. But the teachings imposed on one for centuries hardly are erased in a single day of lovemaking. So now Asterion chews through this bone again, again, as many times as necessary.
  758. > This is his Labyrinth. To struggle in accepting he, a monster and prisoner, can be loved. To reject the notion, because he is what he is. And why would anyone love him? Even now if he has any redeeming quality it surely is all a facade. He's a monster, that he's been told since the day he was born.
  759. > Can a broken down man ever challenge that which is his most fundamental belief?
  760. > He can't be loved. But, at times, it is almost as if he can. Over the centuries there were people who loved him, he presumes, like the previous Master's children he raised to adulthood. They were like his children too -- even if he wasn't Master's lover. But those sparks of love, he finds them every once in a while. Holds tightly and, as a wind blows, forgets about them.
  761. > This is his Labyrinth. To reject love, seek it out, find it and forget it again.
  762. > Everyday is a struggle.
  763. > But tonight he wants more. To want is such a strong, simple thing, and in those small moments something warm can be grazed.
  764. > Asterion wants to sleep with his Master without the facade of watching TV, to be held and hold him, to wake up to him in the morning every day.
  765. > Asterion is consumed by want, and if there ever was a moment in his life where his meekness gave way, it is now.
  766. > He gets up and unplugs the Mag Lev Lamp from the power outlet, taking it with him to the Master's Quarters. He plugs it in Master's bedroom; it could use an extra source of light. For this he doesn't ask permission.
  767. > After dinner, once he and Master are cuddling (still naked) while a cooking show plays on TV Asterion makes his move.
  768. > "Master, may I sleep with you in your bed?"
  769. > Asterion may be submissive in body and spirit, but even in the trappings of servitude one's wants often shine in discreet ways.
  770. > There's the question, and there's what's left unsaid. There's no 'tonight,' no implication this is a one-off affair. There's a want, left hanging, a continuous desire.
  771. > "I wouldn't want anything else," says Master as he nuzzles on Asterion's ear. That is his choice.
  772. > Tonight Asterion chooses to hold on to the warmth. He doesn't forget it, and it starts taking roots.
  773.  
  774.  
  775.  
  776. Chapter 8
  777. > It only takes three days of dedicated work for your R&D boys to have the whole Contract about mythical beings figured out.
  778. > For reference:
  779. >Mythical Creatures Contract
  780. >> The Labyrinth is actually perfectly equipped to bring in mythical creatures. There is only one Contract stopping it from doing so, and you can amend or revoke it.
  781. >> The Contract was placed, however, when a satyr came into the Hotel and threatened to tell the gods how the Master had gone soft on Asterion; bringing in mythical creatures could be a problem if they decide to snitch.
  782. >> On the other hand… Are there even any gods around anymore?
  783.  
  784. > Revoking the Contract is simple and would only take a few minutes. The three days are spent in deciding and preparing what will substitute it.
  785. > Since the worry is that a snitch could come in, your team made it so Mythicals must sign a self-enforcing non-disclosure agreement not to reveal anything about the Hotel to anyone, particularly Gods.
  786. > Your team tried its best to make it so, first, no one with ill intentions will find their way to the Hotel; second, that if they do arrive, they won't be able to snitch and, third, if they do find a way to snitch, they'll be stopped.
  787. > Asterion was anxious about this whole thing -- he wouldn't talk much about it but his body expressed it well enough on its own. But the lengths to which your team went through set his mind to peace.
  788. > Once everything's signed and sealed you all sit back and wait at the reception. It's 10:59AM, your new guests should be here… Now.
  789. > …
  790. > No one shows up. You go out, look to the roads and horizon, but there's no one.
  791. > That's when you look down and see it; an old, tiny lacquerware saucer with a depiction of an eastern dragon. You recognize it as a kind of traditional sake-drinking ware. How did this get here?
  792. > You bring it in. Everyone's confused by it. Asterion's the first to speak up.
  793. > "Master, could this cup be our guest?"
  794. > You give it to Asterion, who takes it to the reception desk. You all wait, wait, and --
  795. > The Hotel flickers. The dragon depicted in the cup starts shifting, crawling around the cup and out of its surface. At first it's no bigger than your index finger but it grows as it paces around, crawling down to the floor.
  796. > Finally the dragon seems to have settled on a somewhat permanent size. It's smaller than you perhaps expected, at about 5 feet long. It's blue, a cold, dull blue, with a pair yellowed-out horns protruding backwards from its head. At spots throughout his body you find sickly-looking whiteish spots. It has a set of long whiskers, pale green eyes, and wears what can best be described as the roughest, sloppiest fabrics you've ever seen, made worse by how they've been worn down by what you can only imagine as two or three centuries of disrepair.
  797. > This dragon has seen better days -- or perhaps not. Asterion himself, even when locked in the cold room, had an air of distinction in his attitude. This dragon here, you don't think he's ever had even that.
  798. > The dragon doesn't say much -- or anything, at all. Doesn't seem like his mind is really there but Asterion manages to guide him through the paperwork, even if by the end no one can really read what he's scribbled as his name.
  799. > Your staff takes your new dragon guest on a wheelchair, to help him settle down.
  800. > Three days later you check back on his room. You can't say his progress has been amazing. Truth be told there's clearly something wrong about him and he can't fully think straight. Maybe you should invest in a medical crew?
  801. > Anyhow, you find that the Labyrinth's magic somewhat translates to you what he's saying, even if he's not fully coherent.
  802. > He's from Japan. He has a brother; they were once one, but split in two and formed two rivers flowing from the same source. But when war came the source and the two rivers were contaminated, his brother and he were locked away.
  803. > When you ask his name he can't seem to remember it well. But the word "quicksilver" comes out.
  804. > Once he's done talking a slight pang of lucidity shines in his eyes. He looks firmly to you and bows completely.
  805. > You can't see his face, since he's essentially pressing it to the floor, but you wouldn't be surprised if he's sobbing.
  806. > "Noble Host, have you seen my brother? We've lost each other and I can't live without him."
  807. > You have no idea where or who his brother could be, and your little dragon guest isn't being too clear about.
  808. > What you can extract is that this dragon's cold river was used to make fine sake, and his brother embodied the warm water. That's not much.
  809. > This guy isn't saying much but you have the inkling he and his brother had a very, very special bond.
  810. > Regardless, this guest -- let's call him Quicksilver for now -- really could use some medical attention. Or a priest, seeing as he's a mythical creature of japanese folklore.
  811. > What will you do to find this dragon's brother and heal him?
  812.  
  813. Chapter 9
  814. > Before we go down Quicksilver's story, how about we take a peek between Anon and Asterion?
  815. > Since saturday, when you made clear what you felt towards Asterion, things have changed a bit in how you two live together.
  816. > Gone are the days of inventing a pretext to snuggle up on him on the couch.
  817. > Quite often you'll see glimmers and reflexes of Asterion getting off on being your servant, but increasingly more often you share moments devoid of those connotations. There's not really a hierarchy in waking up each morning holding your lover, or cooking for him while he takes a bath after his training session.
  818. > Still, your Master-Servant relationship is there, shining when you least expect.
  819. > For example, your choice to overclock his balls had a few peculiar consequences. First of all, that toga of his? Now his balls would always be peeking from underneath, and wearing a loincloth would only switch that for a bountiful bulge. That's not an issue in your private quarters, but elsewhere it is.
  820. > Second, Asterion had to do a few adjustments to his wardrobe overall to compensate for his new package. You think then that, maybe, this wasn't such a great idea after all. But, much like your minotaur proudly showed off the necklace and masg you gave him, it seems like he does get off a bit in carrying your new brand.
  821. > Sometimes you two caught guests peeking at him. When working out in modern clothing his nipple rings would be easy to see, and when bench pressing at times his package would be quite a sight to behold. Add in that menacing mask of his and he looks like he could snap anyone in half for the smallest slight. Asterion seems aware of the stares -- then he looks at you and you know he's melting inside, thinking of how he belongs to you.
  822. > Finally it's no surprise his balls have made him hornier. Asterion already seemed to be easily excitable -- just holding his horns could get him to feel fuzzy even before you two had your first night together as a couple -- but now throughout the day you'll find your minotaur having to fend off wave after wave of sudden horniness. A few times throughout his shift he'll slack off to find you, for no given reason, but you know why he's doing it. You can see it in his eyes even if he's trying to come up with some small talk.
  823. > He doesn't have it in him, yet, to straight up demand or initiate sex. And you like seeing him getting progressively riled up. So during those impromptu visits you finger his nose ring when he's not expecting and gently pull his face to yours. Your lips clash; you tug at a horn while at it, setting the pace as he complies with every pull and push, and your other hand toys with his pierced nipples. Now those can get him moaning in no time.
  824. > Then, while he's about as riled up as he can get, you slap his supple butt and tell him to get back to work. You two can have your fun later in the night. Asterion seems to enjoy this kind of treatment, by the time you two have your intimacy at night his loincloth will be absolutely soaked in precum.
  825. > About sex itself, you're taking your time. Exploring what Asterion can and likes doing is a little adventure on its own.
  826. > First of all, he's absolutely always on board to servicing you with his mouth, no ifs or buts. If he's just waking up and you pull his face to your crotch he'll eagerly take it, for as long as you want, and thank you for your virile seed afterwards. That's another thing -- he doesn't ever want to waste your seed.
  827. > If you are feeling randy too you can take that midday kiss you two often have into an impromptu blowjob. Your only regret in this subject is that Asterion's horns scrape the underside of your office's table -- your fantasy of being an Executive and having your secretary service you while you have meetings is not feasible.
  828. > His dick -- you find out there's a reason why he doesn't mess with it too much during sex. He's really, really sensitive and easily gets overwhelmed. His delicate foreskin gives way to a beautiful, shiny cockhead. Just rubbing a precum-slick finger around it will have him trashing on the bed, unsure whether to hump or not.
  829. > Now you also learn that, for Asterion, sex is much more inside his own head than in his body. He obviously likes being dominated, used however you want to, and that makes him happier than you could ever make him by jerking off his dick. But there's also a need for tenderness there, when you're making love. If you only dominate him, he'll be satisfied, but if you also let it shine how he's safe with you, how much you like and appreciate him, he'll give in completely to you. And that's how you can get him to motivated to really use that long tongue of his in his blowjobs.
  830. > He doesn't ever ask you to make sure he cums. It actually seems like, to him, cumming is an entirely optional thing -- not blowing a load has the upside of keeping him horny for when Master needs him next. But, regardless, half the time he cums from giving you a blowjob and only slightly grazing his dick with a hand.
  831. > Even if he does cum he finds ways to recharge his batteries quickly enough. You've caught him being naughty once, smelling your underwear; that you had to punish swiftly by using that mouth of his. Once you woke up to him lazily exploring your armpit with his snout, hesitantly licking it. Seems like he really has a thing for scents.
  832. > But make no mistake, you've been using more of his mouth. On your second day as lovers you took the time to get intimately acquainted with his newly pierced nipples. Fortunately they had been completely healed by then, so you could nibble and flick them with your tongue slowly driving your bull mad. Again, Asterion's dick is really sensitive and the key to making him cum is getting him to feel submissive -- and appreciated. Loved, perhaps. As long as you make it clear you are in control and he's yours, your dear minotaur, chances are he'll burst into a geyser of pearly white cum.
  833. > You haven't explored his sweet, pink asshole yet. At most you grazed it with a finger while passionately kissing him. He reacted with surprise, but melted afterwards. Isn't that a sign of good things to come?
  834. > Now, with all of that said, it's time we get to business… Hotel business.
  835. > You and your more medically-inclined staff give the dragon, 'Quicksilver,' the best examination you can. One of your R&D boys, as it turns out, has a Medical Degree. He gives out the diagnosis of mercury poisoning, and shortly afterwards you have a treatment plan going.
  836. > Quicksilver ought to be treated with dialysis. Getting the machine is simple, a wish can do it, and this time this one employee can manage it -- but getting a proper Medical Team really should be a priority.
  837. > About Asterion, he's taken a liking to dragon. Quicksilver may not be entirely lucid but Asterion tries to give him some company.
  838. > Fortunately, it turns out Quicksilver does have something akin to Asterion's incredible recovery speed. Just about any person who had been put through a mercury poisoning like him would be a goner but he's making a quick recovery.
  839. > Now, searching for his brother -- you start with the cup Quicksilver came out of.
  840. > You take a duo from your security team and set them out to find a historian who can identify the cup's origin. They return with a positive result; you now have an approximate area where Quicksilver and his brother originated from.
  841. > There's only one river splitting in two there. One split was used to brew sake, the other neighbors hot springs… And, as it turns out, the first one indeed had been contaminated with mercury during the 60s. Everything's going smoothly.
  842. > You dispatch your team to go there and find the brother.
  843. > Your team collects a sample of both streams' waters.
  844. > They have some difficulty with that task. The area may not be too large but, still, who knows where this deity could be hiding?
  845. > They end up having to hire a local translator/guide. That gets them going in the right direction. Turns out the cup had a symbol for a shrine that had been destroyed centuries ago which bordered Quicksilver's river. There was a similar shrine on the other stream, and that narrows down your investigation considerably.
  846. > There are only ruins left, most of them half-buried, so your team gets out the shovels and, after a rough day's work, finds a broken, rusted katana with a dragon engraved. Some more digging and they find the other end of the broken blade. Both ends have dried up blood.
  847. > Your team returns to the Hotel, confident this ought to contain Quicksilver's brother.
  848. > By then your mythical guest has made nothing short of a miracle recovery. He's not fully restored by any means but he's lucid and capable enough to move by himself, despite still being clumsy. ***Seems like mythical beings really do enjoy very quick recovery times, if given the proper treatment.***
  849. > So far Quicksilver's not much of a talker but he's no loner either. Asterion can get him talking easily enough and, when you visit, he seems to always make it a point to treat you with deference.
  850. > Asterion went ahead and customized Quicksilver's room as well, making it into Japanese-style bedroom from a few centuries ago. That was after Quicksilver was relocated to the ground floor, so he could be closer to the artificial islands. Asterion went ahead and, in one of them, placed an artificial waterfall beside a Japanese-style shrine. You'll often find Quicksilver there.
  851. > So, when your team gives you the news they likely found Quicksilver's brother he's lucid enough to be there.
  852. > The atmosphere is tense when your team returns. We can only be sure they found the right object once we succeed or fail at coaxing him out.
  853. > Quicksilver himself, whose attitude so far has been a steely determination in making a good recovery, looks like someone else entirely. He's agitated, anxious, uncontrollable.
  854. > But when your team shows him the sword it all comes crashing down. He's shocked by how the sword is in such a bad state and, with a shaking claw, caresses the engraving.
  855. > "Brother, it's me. Come out, come out brother."
  856. > Nothing changes. The world is suspended as everyone waits, waits, waits, and --
  857. > The Hotel flickers.
  858. > The engraving is gone.
  859. > Everyone looks in confusion to the sword, then looks around. There's no one there, when --
  860. > From the ceiling a red, eastern dragon falls, hissing and snarling at everyone around.
  861. > He catches everyone by surprise, but your choice to have a dedicated security team pays off. He's no bigger than Quicksilver -- 5 feet long -- so three of your securities manage to pin it to the ground.
  862. > While the dragon's still struggling against being handled like that, Quicksilver himself reacts. He calls out to his brother but the dragon seems too far gone.
  863. > Quicksilver approaches shaking like a leaf. He drops down to floor and looks closely into his brother's eyes. "Brother, it's me, we're together again, please set your mind at ease." But the struggling red dragon only snarls, spilling beads of saliva over Quicksilver's face.
  864. > The cold water dragon ponders for scarcely more than a second, and does something no one was quite ready for. He holds his brother's head down, pining it to the ground, then kisses him on the lips.
  865. > Their lips just clash at first, the red dragon seemingly mustering no particular reaction. But Quicksilver keeps at it, as you see confusion settling on the red dragon's mouth. Then the beast's eyes shine with something, a glimmer of recognition, even if it still isn't really kissing back.
  866. > Then Quicksilver mutters something to his brother's ear. You can't hear it. But, piece by piece, the deity's mind seems to return.
  867. > The red dragon stops struggling and relaxes on the floor, still pinned by your security staff. After everyone's sure he won't be trying any other tricks he's taken to the infirmary, where he's kept for observation.
  868. > Quicksilver was physically ill, but once you got that sorted out he made a quick recovery. His brother seems to be the opposite. He's perfectly fine physically, but at best he's a loud noise away from going on another rampage. Quicksilver's presence proves soothing enough that those incidents don't cause any damage, however.
  869. > You and Asterion make it a point to visit them.
  870. > "Anon-sama, Asterion-Sama." This time he doesn't bow to you, his attention is completely on his brother on the infirmary bed. "I am deeply sorry for… What happened. Both for my brother's behavior and… My display."
  871. > "My brother… Locked away in a sword, thrown away afterwards with blood still caked on his blade. It is quite simple. He's been impure for so long that his mind has receded. He's in bloodlust."
  872. > He won't even show you his face.
  873. > "And what I've done… Anon-sama's and Asterion-sama's hospitality so far has been nothing short of godly. I shall never forget what you've done for my brother and I. But I understand that your honorable establishment ought not have a place for ones such as my brother and I. We shall make a swift exit… I would only ask you, plead to you, Anon-sama, that you give us the time to have my brother recover. To let him purify from the corruption consuming him. Then we depart leave without leaving a trace. Our presence won't tarnish your establishment."
  874. > You have a situation on your hands now.
  875. > What do you tell Quicksilver, and -- assuming you let his brother recover -- what do you do to heal him?
  876.  
  877.  
  878. Chapter 10
  879. > "Nonsense. You and your brother can stay, in fact I would insist you do."
  880. > Quicksilver's subtly widen and he's a tad taken aback by your response.
  881. > "About you and your brother, of all places there might be this the one where your feelings for him won't be a problem. That's really not gonna be an issue for us. Actually, knowing you and him are like that is a good thing, in a way. Once he's getting better we can get you two settled in the same room and you boys can enjoy some privacy."
  882. > That last point makes Quicksilver nearly turn red like his brother. He does try a bit more to squirm his way out of it, not really accepting that he and his brother might have a place here.
  883. > "Does Anon-Sama not understand? My brother and I, we..."
  884. > "I think I understand quite well."
  885. > Asterion, standing beside you, fidgets a little. He seems to be thinking of his own way to convince Quicksilver.
  886. > His fingers gently interlace with yours. He smiles down to the cold dragon. "We understand your situation quite well. Master and I may not be brothers but we share a bond nonetheless, which may not be dissimilar from yours."
  887. > This settles the issue, and nets you a nice bonus; later you finally ask the dragon his real name.
  888. > The dragon of cold waters is called Kota, the dragon of hot springs is Onsen, and now they're officially your guests.
  889. > Now, healing Onsen is looking up to be, hopefully, a simpler task.
  890. > You have your staff carefully clean Onsen's sword from all the caked blood and remove the rust.
  891. > You intend on reforging the blade but this first step seems to have an immediate effect on the spicy red dragon.
  892. > Asterion, meanwhile, has been studying his own way to try and heal Onsen.
  893. > Earlier you authorised Asterion to work on a project of his own; it turns out he built a whole, authentic greek bathhouse in the Hotel for the Guests to use. He suggests to Kota that inhabiting a new body of pure water could be therapeutic.
  894. > It may take a while to reforge the blade, but those first steps already set Onsen into an acceptable recovery.
  895. > You and Asterion check up on the two of them a week and a half later, once they've settled on their private room.
  896. > Your intention was making a brief checkup; you didn't want to interrupt their privacy now that they had been finally reunited in health. But once you get there you're surprised to find the two brothers set up a dinner for all of you.
  897. > You, Asterion, Kota and Onsen spend the night in this double date of sorts. Onsen is not a shabby cook and Kota's managing the drinks, it's a great experience through and through.
  898. > You wouldn't say what you and Asterion have is a secret. After all you do live together, that is widely known, but perhaps not many realize why. But you don't often show your affection to Asterion when others can see -- it would be unbecoming for a Keeper to moan in front of the guests as you pull at his horns, no matter how sexy that vision is. And when you do share gentler shows of affection it is quite often when you two are alone.
  899. > This dinner is a reprieve from this. Sitting on the floor, having an experience of having an authentic 17th century japanese meal and drinks, you go so far as putting your arm over Asterion's back and pulling him close to you. As the night goes and you two get tipsy you start sharing a few kisses too.
  900. > Asterion seems to have gotten along nicely with Kota -- the two have a similarly subdued personality.
  901. > Onsen is boisterous however, chirpy, direct. While the night goes on you find he seems to have taken a few pages from your book, he's the one coiling around Kota when he's not expecting it and just generally trying to sneak in some affection.
  902. > They tell their story. The two of them sprung from a single water source which parted into two rivers. Since they were first manifested the two of them had a connection that could not be described.
  903. > They weren't always lovers, over the years the precise shape of their relationship shifted and changed, but their love was always the same. For many decades they struggled with those feelings, with the taboo of it all. They were males and siblings, their union was doubly forbidden.
  904. > But they were young and uncontrollable too. Try as they might to avert from each other, all it took was a night of Kota's sake and bathing in Onsen's hot springs for them to wake up coiled together, reeking of sex, their union consumated.
  905. > They should have been ashamed. They should forbidden themselves from ever approaching each other.
  906. > But the warmth of their beating hearts was too great and they consummated their love again, and again, and again.
  907. > You want to see where this will go. You ask for more sake and make sure everyone's having their share. Knowing Asterion, even drunk, remains submissive you manage to control how far you two go, but Kota and Onsen are getting visibly hot and heavy as they exchange their affections.
  908. > "Since then," says Onsen, holding on dearly to Kota's hand, "that's what we are. We are lovers. Actually… More like spouses. We belong to each other through and through."
  909. > But that didn't go so well with the villagers. It took a long time but one day their lovemaking was seen by a villager. And that lead them to being sealed away, in a cup and in a sword. Then their rivers became polluted by blood and, later, mercury.
  910. > "But now you two are back together. Your chance to make up for lost time, wouldn't you say?"
  911. > You are a gracious host, however. That's enough for you.
  912. > The night ends in a cheeky tone. Kota and Onsen escort you to the door, as you say your good nights you notice Onsen coiling further and further around Kota -- who is discreetly coiling back. You know what they're gonna do as soon as the door closes, you're happy for them.
  913. > The night isn't over for you either. You have your own horny minotaur besides you. It's late in the night, there's no one around, and you two drunkenly make your way to your Quarters. You grope Asterion's butt all the way. He raises his tail for you, smiling and lolling his tongue as you use him however you want.
  914. > The moment you get to your Quarters you go in for a proper, drawn out kiss.
  915. > "Master..." he mumbles, seemingly wanting to say something. You break your kiss while holding his forehead against yours. "Do you see what the Hotel is for? This is what it can accomplish and helping people is what I want, what makes me happy."
  916. > "I am your servant but please, don't forget… Since you've arrived I am living the life I've always wanted… There were many Masters who put the Hotel to good use, but none that..."
  917. > He leans in for a kiss, holding you tightly. But then you feel him turning colder for a moment, losing his excitement.
  918. > "I envy those brothers, however," he says. "I do envy them. Hopefully now they are reunited for eternity."
  919. > He nuzzles your neck going down, to you chest, stomach, crotch. His excitement is returning. He's on his knees now, you do your old routine, tug at his nose ring, his horns, use his mouth for your pleasure, let him taste your precum. But you pull out and tell him you have another idea.
  920. > You two go to the bed, you tell him to undress and get on all fours and to raise his ass up.
  921. > "M-master? Wh-what is your intention with this?"
  922. > You don't give him an answer. You turn on the Mag Lev Lamp so there's only a soft, cozy light showing his beautiful pink hole. You know Asterion's clean, you two bathed together before going to the dinner and you made sure he was all ready for tonight's plan.
  923. > Asterion has a manly musk, clean but manly. You breathe against his hole and he shudders. You have to spread his ample, thick butt with both hands before you can dive in properly.
  924. > You've never seen Asterion so… vocal. He's turning incoherent quickly, moaning your name and trashing his tail around. You finally start licking his hole, just gently caressing it. He goes limp and starts slouching, going from all fours to his laying on his belly. You don't stop, you keep probing his pink hole with your tongue, having it gradually relax.
  925. > Every once in a while you go further down to his balls. You fondle them, so heavy and full since you enhanced them. When you grasp his dick he's spurting pre, leaking non-stop. His pre tastes wonderfully salty, you collect it to smear back on his hole.
  926. > When you leave his hole be while doing this your minotaur readjusts himself. He's back to being on all fours, now he's the one spreading his cheeks to you. His tail is raised for you.
  927. > "Aren't you eager tonight? Seems like you are in heat."
  928. > "I am always in heat for my Master."
  929. > Indeed.
  930. > He's eager for whatever you have in store for him. But you are a gentleman, you don't intend on fucking him tonight. You wanted to see his reaction to having his ass toyed with and you're satisfied with what you've seen.
  931. > But you can hump that booty nonetheless, even if you don't penetrate it.
  932. > You put your dick between his cheeks and tenderly push off his tail to his side. You grope his muscular asscheeks.
  933. > You start humping and he starts moaning out your name.
  934. > You love this minotaur.
  935. > Normally you wouldn't ask for permission on how to use him, but you know Asterion's been through a lot. "You think you'd like it if I spanked you, bull boy?"
  936. > This gets Asterion freezing up for a second.
  937. > "Have I done something wrong, Master?" His voice is profoundly conflicted.
  938. > "No, not at all. Is just some people like being spanked during sex. Not to hurt them, it's not supposed to hurt."
  939. > Asterion doesn't give you an answer. You take that as a "no," which is fine. But you'd say now he needs some tenderness.
  940. > You flip him over so he's laying in his back and you get back to humping his butt, without penetration. Seems like that spanking question gave him cold feet but it's nothing some kissing and holding on to his horns doesn't fix. Five minutes later he's full steam ahead again.
  941. > You're both enjoying it but this won't make you cum. You stop and gear up for tonight's finale, his mouth.
  942. > The Mag Lev Lamp's soft light lets you see Asterion's eyes shining up to you. The way he looks at you.
  943. > "I don't want this to ever end, Asterion."
  944. > Right then there's no tinge of you being his Master. It's just you, and just him. And it drives him crazy. His tongue goes wild on the underside of his cock, his throat spasms against your dick. He even cums before you, hosing you with his mythical load.
  945. > You dump your own load on his eager mouth. As always he keeps it in his mouth, tasting your seed, until you get down to him and give him some affection. You're holding on to his thick neck when you feel him gulping it down.
  946. > You have one final surprise for the night. You start scooping up all the cum he hosed you with and taking it to his mouth, letting him have a taste of his own mess.
  947. > You also got a taste of it, of course. It turns out mythical cum is quite sweet, almost like honey.
  948. > You two fall asleep on each others' arms. You're sure Kota and Onsen are in a similar predicament right now.
  949.  
  950. > Kota and Onsen's whole predicament took a lot of attention and care from your whole staff. You're glad they are here, of course, but you are glader your other mythical guests so far have arrived with much simpler life stories.
  951. > A gang of kobolds found their way into the Hotel a few days ago. Maybe "sneaked in" is a more appropriate term. Actually for the longest time no one realized they had gotten in, they were just really good at hiding and were thinking they'd get kicked out -- it did not cross their minds the Hotel would take them in willingly.
  952. > It's quite possible you'd never have found out about them, seeing as the Hotel is infinite, unless *they* hadn't found out about Kota.
  953. > The cold dragon, with his extensive expertise about everything alcoholic, has taken the task of chiefing the Hotel's lounge. It's a different place from the main restaurant. The lounge is for fun and confraternization, the restaurant is for your daily meals.
  954. > The eight kobolds one day just gathered around him, with no pretense of stealth, and settled down to help him.
  955. > It turns out those kobolds descend from a lineage that served under a dragon from Europe, who was slain by a knight some centuries ago. Its cave collapsed, stranding the kobolds. They survived, had descendants, and for all this time have looked for another dragon to serve.
  956. > Kota may not be the european dragon they were seeking but he's a dragon nonetheless.
  957. > He doesn't appreciate the kobolds' shenanigans too much but he believes he can whip them up into a proper team.
  958. > Now they are proper guests and the lounge's waiting staff. They're clumsy and don't have good manners, yet, but they are quick learners.
  959. > It's not only the kobolds. Just the other day a proper demon -- red skin, horns, spade-tipped tail, a skull head and all that -- just walked in.
  960. > Sometimes his belly seems to move weirdly, you think he has a mouth there too.
  961. > He's a demonic lawyer and on the same day he arrived he happily set down with your Contracts team.
  962. > As a demon you'd expect him to be a threatening, menacing presence.
  963. > Well, he is, but not because mostly because he's a lawyer.
  964. > The law is scary man.
  965. > He quit from hell because he was just tired of dealing with all the fucked up shit sinners from hell could do.
  966. > His name is Robert. He likes long afternoons at the library, Nautical Law and an early night of sleep.
  967. > He's kinda boring.
  968. > You receive a dozen more humans into the Hotel. You assemble a Medical Team out of them. Your Chief Medical Officer is glad to have a proper team now.
  969. > Perhaps you'll need more people in the future for excursions into the outer world; you reinforce your Security and Exploration team.
  970. > You're accumulating quite the staff now. Maybe it's time you get a proper HR Department going.
  971. > *A single plucky intern will do.*
  972. > There's a last addition to the Hotel. Guests always arrive at around 11AM, but this one guy parked his dingy car late in the evening and skipped the reception desk entirely.
  973. > He's a griffin; he has the head of a bald eagle and eagle-like arms, but from his chest down he's lion-like. He wears a tattered tank top printed with the United States' flag, camo pants and a US-flag bandana.
  974. > You'd wager he's homeless and lives on his car. He smells very musky, you don't think he's taken a bath recently.
  975. > He walks on all four legs and goes around bumping on people, sometimes getting a whiff of their crotches.
  976. > "Oh so this is one of those fancy, high society joints eh, everyone smells like soap. Jesus, do you guys take one bath a week or something."
  977. > He goes straight for the lounge and takes a seat at Kota's counter. He's leaning on the counter, his dirty forearms leaving marks on the surface.
  978. > The griffin eagerly demonstrates his class and pedigree. With his legs spread wide he starts scratching his junk through his camo pants, really going at it, getting his talons to scratch those sweaty, hard to reach places.
  979. > Kota's disgust for this unwashed gaijin is immediate and cannot be contained.
  980. > "Who do I have to talk with to get a beer and a good american burger here?"
  981. > "I will arrange your drink sir, the kobolds shall take the order for your meal."
  982. > The griffin asks for your most american beer, Kota privileges him with his most diluted piss-beer.
  983. > He wants 8 burgers, "just like ma and pa's."
  984. > The kitchen staff in their infinite wisdom triples the oil on the grill and use Authentic American Transfat Cheese Substitute
  985. > They at first favor not putting in any greens but they find some fine, aged, soggy lettuce that seems authentic.
  986. > The griffin's joy over this authentic recreation of the American experience cannot be described.
  987. > Kota's disgust for the gaijin grows exponentially as he realized the griffin literally shoves the burgers whole down his mouth-hole and pours entire jugs of beer at once.
  988. > The griffin quickly spirals out of control. He lets out a sharp shriek that echoes through the Hotel, perhaps his attempt at laughter. "I take back what I said buddy, this place right here ain't no fancy joint, you guys know how to treat a guy."
  989. > "Hey there you rice noodle, whadya say I Hiroshima your Nagasaki over this counter? I'm sure your Lil' Boy will take a liking to my Fat Man. Or you can bomb my Pearl Harbor if that's your thing, I ain't too picky."
  990. > There are moments in life which stand as a merciful reminder of Christ's everlasting mercy and piety, and remind us of his sacrifice to bring salvation to us. This is one of those moments.
  991. > "C'mon old man, we all know two nukes clearly weren't enough so let's make this night our third."
  992. > Kota, having only recently come out of his cup-based imprisonment, has yet to learn about the nukes and how, according to some, "two clearly weren't enough." He remains unmoved by griffin's comment, at most happily surprised he knows the names of two prosperous Japanese villages.
  993. > The griffin shovels another burger down his gaping, all-consuming mouth-hole and climbs on the counter to take a peek at Kota's crotch.
  994. > "Oh hey you have no bulge down there, are you a girl? Or are you one of those dragons, the ones with dick coming out and shit? That's neat, how does it feel like to get fucked in the slit, grandpa? Is your dick a noodle too? Can I call you grandpa while you're spanking me?"
  995.  
  996. > Meanwhile you and Asterion are having a private dinner in your Quarters.
  997. > None of you are wearing much; Asterion's only on his toga, without a loincloth, so his balls are peeking from underneath it. His nipple rings are exposed, and he sometimes toys with them.
  998. > Your minotaur bf seems to consider this a special occasion somehow. He went all out, and now you are enjoying the dessert; homecooked macarons.
  999. > Baking macarons ain't easy, you better appreciate it fggt
  1000. > Asterion has a final ace up his sleeve, however.
  1001. > "Master… I have one final surprise for the night."
  1002. > He goes to the fridge and pulls a bottle -- a bottle of Hotel wine. "Onsen found it earlier today and brought it to me."
  1003. > You know where this is going. Asterion approaches you almost sideways, his tail is raising in anticipation.
  1004. > "I am ready for my Master. I submit my will to you. Please, make me yours again, and again."
  1005. > You touch his chin, pulling him to you for a kiss when someone hammers on your door.
  1006. > "Anon-sama! Anon-sama! There's a man in my lounge and the security won't do anything! He's taken Onsen as hostage! Anon-sama I require assistance!"
  1007. > How absolutely rude. You're already shirtless, only wearing shorts, you open the door like that hoping that Kota will get the hint but it's no use, he spirits you away -- Asterion has to run up to catch to you.
  1008. > What you find in the lounge is perhaps the vision of Kota's personal hell.
  1009. > Three fourths of the hotel staff is around a single table, watching as the griffin pole dances on a rod of iron punched through the table.
  1010. > You look to the side and find that someone punched a wall and ripped one of the supporting rods inside it, enabling them to fashion the pole.
  1011. > It is with great applause the griffin pulls down his camo pants to reveal a speedo with the American flag printed on it. He isn't the buffest guy around -- maybe that would be Asterion -- but this guy would be the dream of anyone who ever wanted a rough, thick soldier to take them away.
  1012. > He only stops his drunken out, but surprisingly well coordinated dance to kneel on the table so the guests can pour jugs of beer down his throat.
  1013. > Eventually the just start pouring beer on him.
  1014. > The crowd starts chanting out his name -- "LUKE LUKE LUKE LUKE YEAAAH" -- as he pulls his speedo just enough to show his ass.
  1015. > Kota is trying to pull Onsen away from the crowd, pleading for his brother to preserve their honor.
  1016. > Half the kobolds are working overtime to keep this chaos from getting worse, the other half is trying to touch the griffin's junk.
  1017. > Your HR intern is crying in the corner.
  1018. > Your Chief of Medical Staff is throwing opioid prescriptions like dollar bills at Luke, who's almost grinding his junk on medifag's face.
  1019. > Robert the demon is at the corner reading a treatise on Nautical Law while calmly having his dinner.
  1020. > Well.
  1021. > Asterion finally catches up.
  1022. > Fortunately no one notices his nearly undressed state, seeing as 'Luke' has all the attention.
  1023. > "Master this is so tragic," Asterion says, "he didn't fill the paperwork! He has no room assigned to him. What shall we do?"
  1024. > You just wanted to fuck your soon-to-be horse-dicked minotaur bf, is that so much to ask?
  1025. > 'Luke' lets out an eagle shriek, cackling while guests get up on the table to spank his ass.
  1026. > "I like this joint! You guys reckon I can crash here fer a while?"
  1027.  
  1028. Chapter 11
  1029. > Some days were better than others.
  1030. > Being an undying entity in a realm created to torture you, then being left behind as each one of your kinder Masters one day perishes, it gets to you.
  1031. > It gets to you and only keeps getting heavier.
  1032. > So some days are like this.
  1033. > Master's sleeping. Your head is on his chest, you hear his heartbeat. You look down to his crotch, his fine male member, and any other day your mind would just swim with the idea of getting it in your mouth and making love to his knob. But this morning you're just cold and the air around you weighs a ton on you.
  1034. > Yeah, that happens sometime.
  1035. > But you are the Hotel's Keeper so you must get up. You must.
  1036. > …
  1037. > More often than not you envy mortals. No matter how bad things get they always have a final ace up their sleeve; death.
  1038. > You had it too when you lived. You got pulled from your family and locked away, alone, for years on a labyrinth. No way out, no company, nothing. It ate away at your mind.
  1039. > What had you done to deserve this? You cried yourself to sleep thinking of mom and dad every night. Why had they sent you here?
  1040. > There was no hope of escape either. You tried everything you could.
  1041. > It had been years when someone finally came to visit and he wanted your head.
  1042. > Perhaps it would be a mercy. You hoped it would be. But the gods had other plans.
  1043. > How you envy the mortals today.
  1044. > You know Master is trying to find his way to immortality. You told him it was an unwise pursuit. How many mortals have attempted it over the years? From Gilgamesh to Genghis Khan. Every mortal is fated to die.
  1045. > You'd much rather join Master in death, when old age came to pick him. But you know that won't be allowed. You're here forever.
  1046. > So many times during the millenia you've hold on to the idea, to the dream. It's what you think of before going to bed; let me die. Let it end. But it never will.
  1047. > At other times you've entertained an even worse idea. One so selfish, so greedy, that if you've ever said it out loud you're sure it'd just justify the gods in sentencing you to the Labyrinth in the first.
  1048. > Even today you avoid thinking about it. Just the thought makes you shiver.
  1049. > To even think of the future turns you into this; cold, deadweight stone.
  1050. > This has been a constant over the centuries. The better things get, the better the Master, the more frequent those cold days would become.
  1051. > You suppose there are people who were never meant to have happiness. You may have tricked the Labyrinth into becoming a fine place but the Gods ought to still have the last laugh. Now you have it all, but your mind won't let you enjoy it.
  1052. > Some people truly weren't made to be loved.
  1053.  
  1054. > You've talked about this with Kota. This was back when he was recovering still, a day or two before his brother arrived.
  1055. > The Medical Chief had given him a very strict diet, which meant no alcohol, but you had once or twice sneaked in a drink from the pantry. Not the special wine, just regular sake.
  1056. > Mortals don't understand that, for undying monstrosities and mythical beings, the idea of keeping good, healthy habits is mostly pointless. More often than not you're just out there to dull your senses as much as you can.
  1057. > Master had not authorised you to drink, but he hadn't ever forbid you either, so that was your loop hole this time.
  1058. > "We are very small, Asterion-sama," Kota said, in-between sips from his sake. "It may be the humans who you protected, as was my case. It may be the gods who set you up for failure. We are very small regardless, compared to them."
  1059. > He refilled his sake dish, looked at it longingly, then drunk it all in a single go.
  1060. > "Some people really weren't ever meant to be happy. But we weren't meant to die either, so we just keep on existing."
  1061. > But things changed after Onsen arrived. Back during that dinner night you and Master had with him you had a brief moment alone with Kota again, you went to the balcony for a breath of fresh air while Master checked on Onsen's cooking.
  1062. > "Kota, you still think about what we discussed? About how we are small?"
  1063. > You took another gulp of your drink. That was a happy night but even the best ones have some sourness to them.
  1064. > You didn't know what answer you were expecting. You supposed any of them would be both good and bad.
  1065. > "I do," he said, looking off to the distance. He hesitated, licked his lips, weighted his words. "I believe I know where Asterion-sama is going."
  1066. > "Is that so."
  1067. > "I have changed my mind, if that's what you want to know. Perhaps there is a mercy. For my brother and I, reunited as we are, yes. I see that there is such thing as mercy."
  1068. > But there was a point hanging there and you both knew it.
  1069. > "Anon-sama is mortal, however," he mumbled. "What is a decade for someone who's lived through centuries? It goes by so fast. It won't last too long and you know it. Enjoy the time you have with him, don't think about it too hard. Let it be. Enjoy it, Asterion-sama."
  1070. > You took another swig of your drink.
  1071. > "Perhaps we'll need more sake," Kota said.
  1072.  
  1073. > The idea of getting up and working seems colossal to you in those cold days. But if you focus on each step it's more bearable.
  1074. > Turn over. Get up. One leg at a time. Look around. Walk to the kitchen. Open fridge. Eggs. Pan. Butter. So on.
  1075. > It is just unbearable enough to count as torture, but not so much that Master can see through you. The gods ought to be having their last laugh right now, if the damned bastards still exist at least.
  1076. > You hope Master notices it; that there's something wrong with you. You would want nothing else now. But he's still sleepy, his mind ought to be busy with all the recent Hotel projects. The R&D, the aquarium.
  1077. > The aquarium. It's almost done. The animals will be deployed soon.
  1078. > You shudder at the idea.
  1079. > Master Anon has been delving deep into the Contracts. You don't think there were many Masters who tried to master them with such gusto. Maybe, if someone can do it, that's Master.
  1080. > But the animals of the Labyrinth were created to torture you.
  1081. > Back during the early Labyrinth, everyday the eagles would peck your eyes and liver out, in the truest greek fashion. You'd be thrown into a river and eaten alive, then left to regenerate all your way back to health.
  1082. > That is until the Masters realized that being completely mangled meant you couldn't feel any more pain, just a dull discomfort.
  1083. > Master Anon thinks he can show you the animals, the sealife.
  1084. > If someone can do it it's him but by the gods you are so afraid.
  1085. > Perhaps your first bout of matinal inertia doesn't catch Master's attention, but your uncontrollable shaking and breaking your coffee mug sure does.
  1086. > "Asterion, are you ok?"
  1087. > Sweat is dripping down your forehead and you can't string two words together.
  1088. > You probably look like a beast to him now. Just a regular, lowly bull.
  1089. > "Moo."
  1090.  
  1091. > Master Anon is a peculiar one.
  1092. > He insists you should have time off during the weekends. Well it is traditional for the Master to have the weekends off, sure, but there's no respite for the Keeper. Still he insists.
  1093. > Today he insists on something even more queer; you should a day off.
  1094. > It's wednesday. Middle of the week. There's work to do and -- a day off? You've never had something like that. You don't get sick so it's not like your body can't work.
  1095. > Your body is fine, why should you not be able to work? But Master insists. And you must obey.
  1096. > It's your day off but not his, so he works. But he decides to work from his office today so he can keep an eye over you. You don't quite get what he means by that. You can't die, you'll regenerate from any injury, why does he have to make sure you are ok? You are always ok. You can't die. You will forever be ok.
  1097. > You watch TV. You browse the internet. You think about jerking one off while Master's working but you really, really can't get hard today. You try thinking of Master -- him holding your horns as he pulls your mouth on his manhood, the taste of salty pre all over your mouth and dripping from your lips to your chest.
  1098. >... It's no good.
  1099. > You may not feel too hot but you can give your Master a good time nonetheless.
  1100. > Didn't he joke he wanted you to blow him in his Office during a meeting? Well he's not in a meeting now but you can take his seed there right now.
  1101. > Robert, the demon lawyer, had passed by to deliver some paperwork just some minutes ago but he left. Master should be free enough.
  1102. > You get up and amble your way to the Office, to Master. He's reading. You walk up to him, drop to your knees and sink your muzzle on his crotch.
  1103. > On any other day Master would be pulling you by the horns. But he's looking at you weird today. Something's off. He's noticed you aren't into it.
  1104. > Maybe you really are becoming just a plain, old, dumb, worthless bull. Master ought to be seeing that now. He's not horny. He doesn't want you.
  1105. > "What's wrong babe?," he says. "Come here. What's going on, tell me."
  1106. > But you can barely string together words. You're just some dumb animal of the land and you can't even give a proper blowjob.
  1107. > He pulls you up from your knees, kisses you. You can't fake it, he knows you're stone cold today.
  1108. > He wants to have a talk, you two go to the dinner table.
  1109. > Master is so peculiar sometimes. "A talk." You're his servant, he could just tell you as it is right then and there. But Master likes some of his formalities, his manners, those rituals.
  1110. > He tries to figure out what's going on with you but stringing words together is so hard today.
  1111. > "I'm cold."
  1112. > "The air is heavy."
  1113. > "It's hard doing things."
  1114. > That's about as much as you can say.
  1115. > Now look at what you've done, Master's calling down to say he's taking a day off too. This is your fault, you're so useless you hybrid monstrosity.
  1116. > "There's something I've meant to talk with you for a few days now, bull boy," says Master. You're no longer at the table, you're at the couch, cuddling. He said contact could help you feel better but you are not feeling it.
  1117. > "I had the boys at R&D take a good look at the Contracts and they've been finding some… Stuff. Things I don't think anyone's ever found."
  1118. > You rumble, letting out a "moo."
  1119. > "They found excerpts from your trial's transcript. It says here you weren't present then."
  1120. > It's true. The whole thing happened while you were housed in Hades.
  1121. > Now, that was a place to spend your eternity. Less of a pain than the Labyrinth that's for sure.
  1122. > "We've found some very curious points so far. Poseidon, for instance. Turns out he was the one defending you and he tried pulling all the strings he could. No expenses spared. He tried getting you to return to the sea."
  1123. > "Return to the sea? I'm not from the sea."
  1124. > "Well, the Cretan Bull who got your mom pregnant was Poseidon's white bull, so he kinda considered you a grandson. So he set up your whole defense, with witnesses and everything."
  1125. > There are few things which an undying, millenia-old monstrosity can consider 'new.' You've seen it all, all humanity can pull out of its sleeve.
  1126. > But this is new. You didn't think you *had* a defense.
  1127. > "It's not only that. He didn't win the trial for you but he got to influence the sentence. It is thanks to him that we can rewrite the Labyrinth, that was his idea. And the whole Master thing, too. He put in a lot of stuff, we're still trying to figure it out."
  1128. > "And the witnesses… There were quite a few. Poseidon's kids tried but couldn't get in. And does the name Geryon strike you as familiar?"
  1129. > Now that's a name you hadn't heard in a while.
  1130. > "He was a friend I made in Hades. He was killed by a greek hero too. A hybrid monstrosity, just like me."
  1131. > "You're not a hybrid monstrosity. You are a hybrid, I suppose, but not a monster."
  1132. > "What's the difference? Being a hybrid is what makes me a monster."
  1133. > "That's not true. You're… You're lovely, Asterion. You're kind, loving, handsome. You, you are everything I could hope for and more."
  1134. > You don't think Master's lying. But surely those feelings of his won't last. Eventually he'll see you for what you are, and this brief period in your eternity of being Master's lover will come to an end. He'll find a fitting mate, soon enough. He's the Master of the Hotel and he can have anyone he wants. You're just his servant, soon he'll understand you're no more than a toy.
  1135. > "I love you," he says, hugging you from behind. "I want to be with you, forever. I want you to be mine, and I to be yours. Trust me Asterion, believe me, please."
  1136. > 'Trust me, believe me, please.'
  1137. > That is technically an order. A command. And you're bound to the Master's will.
  1138. > But, you realize now after millenia, perhaps there are commands you are not bound to fulfill. Maybe because they are impossible. Or they make no sense. How can a man love a monstrosity? The idea is too preposterous to even entertain.
  1139. > Perhaps this is the gods' final punishment to him; to again and again struggle with the idea of being loved.
  1140. > … But Poseidon defended him. Someone did. And, his old friend from Hades...
  1141. > "Geryon. What about Geryon, you were saying?"
  1142. > "He made his way to the trial and stood as witness in your favor. There was someone else too, your mom."
  1143. > "Mom? Pasiphae?"
  1144. > "Yes. She challenged the gods, said 'meekness ought not be a flaw worthy of punishment.' She blamed herself for what happened to you. Didn't care for her reputation or Crete's, she went against the gods themselves. That's a mother's love, for you."
  1145. > A mother's love.
  1146. > He does not remember, no one does, but Asterion nursed from his mother's breast. Like any other child. His mother never said she loved him; he was the sign of her shame, of her crime against nature. He was her shame. But he nursed from her breast regardless, she allowed it.
  1147. > Can a man be so bold as to hold onto the warmth of love?
  1148. > "Mom loved me?"
  1149. > Asterion doesn't notice he's crying. Neither does he have any control over what happens next, over his body as it curls up in pain, as the hurt of centuries comes out in a single muffled scream.
  1150. > A man is told all his life he's unworthy of love, that he's a monster, that the Gods have forsaken him. That is his everything.
  1151. > Then you hold this man, speak to him of love, of a God who granted him his favor, of a friend who made his way from hell itself to defend him. And of a mother's love, too little too late, but love nonetheless.
  1152. > You tell a man he's worthy of love, then show it. Make him see the proof.
  1153. > What can a man do when his most fundamental belief is broken like that?
  1154. > He screams, in horror, in sadness, it's a wail like no other -- but it's warm, it burns so bad, and that kind of hurt beats feelings nothing at all. And just like that everything burns away, all the hurt, and that man is left adrift in a sea of possibilities.
  1155. > The world is nothing like he imagined, and as he wails he can hardly contain the joy that a man, a man with the shining spark of humanity, can be wrong.
  1156.  
  1157. > The screaming, the wail, the crying, the heaving.
  1158. > Once Asterion's just a mess of sobbing, twitching man on the couch, letting out a laugh between his crying, Anon starts humming.
  1159. > Singing.
  1160. > Among those divine documents, the excerpts from the trials, there was a whimsical little thing. It was just a few pages with lyrics, written by a previous master. Lullabies for his kids. But Asterion would fall asleep before them, so he wrote them down for future masters.
  1161. > You sing, holding on to your minotaur, the sobbing, crying, laughing mess of pure man.
  1162. > You say you love him, again, and this time he curls up to you and pushes his face against your chest. This time it hits.
  1163. > "Will you believe me this time?"
  1164. > "Yes, Anon," he says between his sobs. "I'll always believe you."
  1165. > "I want you to be mine, Asterion, in ways you've never belonged to anyone. I want to date you, to make it official. Will you be my boyfriend?"
  1166. > A man's told all his life he's not even a man. He's an object. Undeserving of love. But in a single night it all comes crashing down, now he's left with a hunger made all the more ravenous from all the centuries of starvation.
  1167. > Asterion wants, and today his want burns brighter than it ever did. Asterion turns around and looks at you in the eyes. You've never seen him like this; fierce and burning up.
  1168. > "I love you, Anon. I will be yours, and I will be a man."
  1169.  
  1170. > Later, it doesn't take long for Asterion to settle down. He falls asleep quickly thanks to the songs.
  1171. > It's still early in the afternoon, you're far from tired. But you're not going to leave your minotaur alone. So you try and nap, organize your thoughts, fit together your ideas.
  1172. > Lots of things are about to happen.
  1173.  
  1174. > That was Wednesday. Now it's Friday afternoon and everyone's here for the celebration. Everyone.
  1175. > The aquarium makes its grand opening; it's an installation outside of the Hotel, by the beach, and from it there's an underwater glass tunnel that makes a labyrinth of its own around the artificial islands you shaped for your Dubai-esque magical hotel.
  1176. > The Labyrinth hasn't seen wildlife for centuries and now its seas are teeming with life; fishes from all around the world all mixed together into a magically-sustained habitat. And no funny business; none of them seem to notice or care for the people in the aquarium, much less Asterion.
  1177. > Everyone's having their fun. Luke's making a fool of himself, trying to get people drunk and to make a mess too, but it's too early in the day for anyone to go with his shenanigans. After a while he settles down and just enjoys the peaceful moment, then joins the R&D boys. Robert the demon is with them and they are all collectively getting *smashed;* the brunt of this project was their making and you wouldn't believe how much math went into designing the tunnel. Your Chief of Medical Staff later goes along with him.
  1178. > They yell at you that they wanna pick a project of their own now that doesn't involve contracts; they want to bring in the aliens next.
  1179. > The kitchen staff is joking around, saying we'll need a fishing crew to start getting some fresh fish around.
  1180. > The HR intern is off to the side, enjoying the moment but not getting nearly as smashed as anyone else.
  1181. > Kota and Onsen disappear for a while, then you look up and see the two of them are *outside the tunnel* swimming along with all the wildlife.
  1182. > You and Asterion are there together, as always.
  1183. > You two haven't really hidden your affection for each other from the staff, but it's something you don't flaunt around either. You keep it cool and discreet while outside your Quarters. It just seemed like the professional thing to do.
  1184. > But now it's all changing. This doesn't seem too much like a job anymore, it's more like a community. A village, growing, expanding. Those people are your friends. You go out for dinner with each other, you drink together, you talk about life.
  1185. > You and Asterion are holding hands as you look out to the sea, talking about the smallest things. People eventually do look to the both of you, how close you two are -- the hands mixed together.
  1186. > Light from the surface streams down to the tunnel, giving it an ethereal, shifting light. If one would look at you from behind the light coming from outside would shadow the details, make you like a silhouette. Two shadows holding on to each other.
  1187. > No one says anything but they all figure it out, if they hadn't known already. Except Luke -- he makes a big fuss about it ("Hey look, Anon's a bull fucker!") but someone shuts him up.
  1188. > "You know," you say to your boyfriend, "I think Poseidon in the end got what he wanted."
  1189. > "What do you mean? We lost the trial."
  1190. > "Yeah, but… Look around you. We returned you to the sea, wasn't that what he wanted?"
  1191. > Asterion remains speechless for a while. With his free hand he holds the golden necklace you gave him.
  1192. > "Yeah. I suppose you're right. Maybe he'd be happy knowing I'm doing fine."
  1193. > "I'm sure he would. Your friends would be happy."
  1194. > Asterion smiles softly. "I suppose I had some really good friends, didn't I?... And I have more of them now too."
  1195. > He holds tightly to your hand.
  1196. > "This is very fine. I'm ok with this."
  1197. End of Chapter 11
  1198.  
  1199. Chapter 12
  1200. ENCOUNTER 1
  1201. > You decided you wanted to send out an exploratory team into the depths of the Labyrinth, see how far they can go.
  1202. > You picked Luke as muscle, some added security personnel, with a medic for any emergency.
  1203. > Over three days the team makes multiple excursions into the upper floors of the Hotel -- over the 200 floor count, 500, 3000 and so on. They don't investigate every floor, since even inside a floor the Hotel just goes on and and on. It's infinite in all directions.
  1204. > Your suspicions were confirmed. As your team went into the upper floors the Hotel became… Glitched. Decoration would repeat again and again. Sometimes the entire floor would be a black, sprawling emptiness that could still be walked on.
  1205. > Very rarely the Hotel would give way to a true Labyrinth carved out of dark, sinister obsidian. In those floors there'd be no ceiling; the sky itself was a vortex of swirling red, purple and dark. From the walls a foul smelling liquid would continuously drip.
  1206. > Asterion, upon hearing of such a sinister location, said that's the Labyrinth's primordial state. That's what happens when a Master lets it be freely.
  1207. > Your team, at the end of their many excursions, is happy to inform that there were no hostile occurrences; there was no one there…
  1208. > Except a cat.
  1209. > It has no face, at least no facial features at least. It's face is glitched out, like a complete void, a hole into another reality.
  1210. > You can still pet it just fine though and it doesn't seem to act any differently from a regular cat. Except its meows sound like metal rubbing together.
  1211. > It does react differently to Asterion; it starts glitching whenever he sees the minotaur, which manifests as the cat clipping through furniture as it shifts, blinking into existence randomly.
  1212. > You can ask your R&D team to research the Glitch Cat (they call it 'Glatch') or do something else with it.
  1213.  
  1214. > You decide to keep the Glatch but have it studied by R&D.
  1215. > They completely fail at cracking what's up with it. They don't even know how to start.
  1216. > Well, they do get some laughs out of playing with it.
  1217.  
  1218. ENCOUNTER 2
  1219. > One day a man shows up at the Hotel. You're called down to the reception, he wants to talk with the Hotel's owner.
  1220. > He looks like he's on his late 40s. He has fair, white skin and curly hair. His clothing is weathered, he looks like what you'd expect a hiker to look like after a week in the woods -- if that hiker could still maintain an impeccable sense of style. And the smell, he smells like fresh laundry.
  1221. > "Mister Anon? Good morning. I'm a delivery guy and, good lord, I've been looking all over for you. Spent one week checking back on your apartment everyday, there was never anyone there! I started asking about you and I couldn't get any good leads, but before I know it… Here I am! I asked around for directions and, luck would have it, you're here too!"
  1222. > "Look, Mister Anon, I have this letter for you. I've been instructed to take your answer back, so… Well, if you can write it I'll be glad to send it back. And get back to my regular life."
  1223. > The letter comes in a plain white envelope. The returning address is written there; it seems to an unremarkable address.
  1224. > It reads:
  1225.  
  1226. > Mister Anon.
  1227. > I'm sorry for taking so long in sending you a letter. Father is senile and it took me a while until he was lucid enough to tell me about you. He's told me he's given you the deed to the hotel.
  1228. > [There's something scribbled here, unreadable.]
  1229. > Well, I honestly don't know how to say what I want without giving off the wrong impression, so I'll be blunt. Dad can do that kind of stuff. I'm not too sure that kind of attitude of his is, well, right. It's kind of sudden, isn't it? 'Here's a Hotel, you can do whatever.' It's just… Well, he's senile. He doesn't get how much of a hassle it can be to uproot your life to take some business you just got from someone else. And dad even when he was young was kind of a brash guy… So, yeah, he's difficult. He has a history of bad, impulsive decision making. He's done a lot of bad things.
  1230.  
  1231. > Look, what I mean to say is that if you regret taking the deed, it's fine. You can send it back to me and that'll be it.
  1232. > If you like it, however, that's very fine too. You can keep it. I mean, nothing I could do about it, since it's yours already and that's it, but I want you to know it's all cool.
  1233. > Also, if you *do* want to keep the Hotel, would you mind telling us how you're doing? Hope everything's ok.
  1234.  
  1235. T."
  1236. > The delivery guy's waiting for your answer.
  1237.  
  1238. > You tell him he can take some time off to relax. He must be tired from the trip. The lounge's that way and it's on the house for him. But you do tell him some of the guests aren't human so it's good if he keeps an open mind, try not to freak out and all.
  1239. > "That's cool," he says, kind of unmoved by what you just said. "Cool. I've seen a lot of weird stuff working deliveries, man. You wouldn't believe. So is ok, I don't think that'll be an issue. And thanks for the welcome man, really appreciate it."
  1240. > While he's having his fun you write a response to T.
  1241. > "Hello, T.
  1242. > Yes, I do intend on keeping the Hotel. I've settled well here and I'm building quite a life, really enjoying it. Things are going well.
  1243. You're welcome to drop by, if you're ever in the area. Maybe it wouldn't be too great bringing your dad since he's going senile, but you really are welcome.
  1244. >Anon."
  1245. > Later you check up on the delivery guy. He had been talking with Kota for a few hours now, just enjoying the foods and drinks. Dude seemed to be getting along well with everyone.
  1246. > You offered to book him a room for the night. He hesitated at first but quickly gave in. Before going to his room though he talked to you for a while.
  1247. > "What you're doing here is cool, little guy. Really like it. You see, while I was coming here I happened by some lost guy wandering around. Dude isn't doing too well, I could tell, but he gave me the heebie jeebies… Look, you think you could take him in? I don't have too much cash with me so I don't think I can pay for his stay, but if you do me a solid here I swear I'll pay next time I pass by."
  1248. > You tell him the guy he saw wandering is welcome to stay. No need to worry about payment.
  1249. > "Nice. Real nice little dude. Real kind of you."
  1250. > You tell him you'll send out a team to find him, but the delivery guy cuts that idea down.
  1251. > "Nah, don't worry about that. I know the general area where he was camping out, it'd be easier to fetch him on my way out than trying to explain it to your crew. Don't worry about it."
  1252. > You're about to show him where his room is when he springs up with one final request.
  1253. > "Hey, so, the dragon guy, Kota? Yeah, he was telling me about all the people around here and all that. And he was telling me the minotaur, *the* minotaur from Ancient Greece, he's here. Is that true? Like, if it is, you think I could meet him?... I'll be honest with you little guy, I really want to take a picture of him for my kids. They're gonna shit their pants."
  1254. > Now now, that makes you cautious. You're not sure you want pictures of the Hotel or its guests getting out. Especially not Asterion.
  1255. > You tell him that 'the minotaur' may already be asleep, so how about leaving the meeting for tomorrow morning? It's already getting late after all.
  1256. > "That's fine little dude, don't wake him up for my sake. I should be going to bed too, by the way."
  1257. > You escort him to his room and give him your letter.
  1258. > Later you meet up with Asterion and discuss what's up with this guy.
  1259. > Asterion is hesitant, perhaps overcautious. Knowing this guy may have some relation with the previous Master… Asterion would rather be safe than sorry.
  1260. > All of this discussion, however, ultimately is a moot point. By the time you've gone to the reception in the morning you learn he's left a few minutes ago; he wanted an early start.
  1261. > Wel… Guess that's that.
  1262. > He did leave a message for you: "I'm gonna find the little dude in the desert real quick, I'll send him over to you. Btw my phone number is XXX-XXX-XXX"
  1263.  
  1264. ENCOUNTER 3
  1265. > You and Asterion settle down one night to look over his stuff.
  1266. > You found a Contract mentioning something called 'Poseidon's Parting Gift,' you suspect it might be in Asterion's room.
  1267. > Asterion himself has absolutely no idea what it could be. He never actually met Poseidon, so he can't imagine what his 'parting gift' could be.
  1268. > You find it quickly that there's not *much* in Asterion's quarters. He's a very austere man. There's some furniture, most notably his favorite french reclining chair. His closet has clothes, which are unremarkable even if they look great on him.
  1269. > The most salient objects are the previous Master's wooden carvings and the Mag Lev Lamp you gifted him (which is actually in the room you two share).
  1270. > You expand the search. Your Quarters. Nothing remarkable either.
  1271. > Now, the Office, that's another story entirely. It's literally brimming with magic trinkets and papers. From Contracts setting the laws to Mathematical documentations governing reality. Magic papers can literally pop into existence at the drop of a hat! And there are all the tools you use in writing and implementing Contracts, too.
  1272. > Unless Poseidon's Parting Gift is the Mag Lev Lamp, if that thing is *here* it must be in the Office somewhere. But you really have no idea what's it supposed to look like. So, it seems, you're out of leads for now.
  1273. > You think to yourself that Poseidon's Parting Gift is set to spawn in the Hotel because of a Contract, which you've unearthed already.
  1274. > Maybe you could amend it and choose *where* to spawn it.
  1275. > So you rewrite the Contract, setting it so five minutes from now Poseidon's Gift will respawn on top of your Office Desk.
  1276. > You and Asterion wait.
  1277. >...
  1278. >...
  1279. > Asterion looks at you. His face is somewhat blushed, and he proceeds to hug you firmly.
  1280. > "Thank you for doing all of this for me, Anon. You're so good to me. Even if it doesn't work, thank you for car--"
  1281. > The Hotel flickers, and you hear a thud of a hard object hitting the desk.
  1282. > Oh, look at that, it worked. Aren't you a smart little boy? Thinking with Contracts pays off!
  1283. > On your table is… One of the snowglobes that was in the chest containing the Folders.
  1284. > Well, you know for sure it wasn't on the table before. So it's safe to assume this snowglobe, not too different from the others, is Poseidon's Parting Gift.
  1285. > You and Asterion inspect it closely.
  1286. > It's aptly described as a darkened ball of glass. Neither you nor Asterion know how or what do use it for.
  1287. > Well, that's what you have R&D for, right?
  1288.  
  1289. ENCOUNTER 4
  1290. > Robert, the demon lawyer, hasn't been seeing much Contract work since the team's gearing up to bring over extraterrestrial life.
  1291. > He's been going through some previous Contracts during his downtime and, one afternoon, he come over to talk with you.
  1292. > "Boss, I know you didn't like the whole 'The Maggot' Contract, but I've been looking it over and… This thing, yes, it's horrifying but it's actually kind of… Look, we've brought back animals to the Hotel, right? The Labyrinth can create life. But this Contract here *designed* life and that's not something we've managed to do so far."
  1293. > "If you'll allow me to study this, maybe we can find a way to do that too, to design life however we want."
  1294. > You tell Robert he can go ahead.
  1295.  
  1296.  
  1297. Chapter 13
  1298. > Well, he does give you the heebie jeebies so you suppose the delivery guy was right.
  1299. > He, the guy that was wandering around, he's waiting at the end of the parking lot. And goddamnit there's something *wrong*.
  1300. > He's not approaching. He's just standing there. And just looking at *him* makes your gut twist and turn, you're sure there's something wrong with him.
  1301. > But he's a guest, and if he's not approaching you suppose you will have to.
  1302. > What you see is a jackal man. He's not wearing much at all. Just a tattered loincloth, a necklace with a hourglass, some jewelry -- earrings, mostly.
  1303. > And -- is that sand under him? He's in the parking lot, it should be asphalt, but he's on a pile of sand.
  1304. > As you approach him you notice something else -- the sheer smell. This dude has an overpowering musk, and you're not really sure it's *the good kind.*
  1305. > He speaks up first.
  1306. > "I am sorry if my presence disturbs. The man, the running man, he told me I should come here… I am sorry. I don't quite know why I did. I shouldn't, but he was very insistent."
  1307. > He gives you a terrible, overwhelming sensation of grief. Grief, yes, that's what you feel. You take a step forward and he retreats just as many steps.
  1308. > "I will not be a nuisance to your establishment. But could the good sir perhaps spare me a meal? I'll be on my way afterwards. I shouldn't stay long."
  1309. > No, that won't do. This guy makes you panic a bit inside but you suck it up.
  1310. > "The Hotel is a haven for the lost. And you seem lost enough by a long shot. We're going to get you more than a meal, come in."
  1311. > The jackal is taken aback by your attitude. But he's not convinced.
  1312. > "My good lord, you are too kind but I am a cursed wretch. I would bring ruin to your Hotel. I musn't stay for long, lest misfortune come."
  1313. > Again, that won't do. You provide him with no choice.
  1314. > He enters the Hotel with his tail tucked between his legs. You look back and he's left a trail of sand all the way in. You tell the receptionist you'll deal with the paperwork later, now this guy needs some serious help.
  1315. > You get the kitchen staff to prepare him whatever he wants. He's very modest, he starts with fruit and is surprised by how big and juicy the Hotel's fruits are. You insist he can have more, so he asks for 'grains.' You tell the staff to make a proper lunch for him already, with a few options of protein and carbs, plus some salad on the side.
  1316. > He doesn't eat; he devours. And you keep asking the kitchen to keep it going.
  1317. > It's not exactly easy being there; this guy has a strong musk and it's not on the good side.
  1318. > That's when Luke comes in for his breakfast. But the moment your eyes lock you know that he knows; and he knows that you know that he knows. You two then feel a chasm forming in-between, as your faces say everything.
  1319. > You cannot stand the musk as it is; and Luke is determined to have it. He makes a beeline for the two of you.
  1320. > Right here, a few weeks ago, you had the privilege of witnessing something that could only be described as God's grace. You remember it well; There are moments in life which stand as a merciful reminder of Christ's everlasting mercy and piety, and remind us of his sacrifice to bring salvation to us.
  1321. > Again, this is one of those moments.
  1322. > You may be able to feel this man's grief, but whatever extrasensory perception Luke's brain had has been pissed away thanks to his excessive, gross consumption of american piss-beer.
  1323. > "Hey there, who's the new guy? I could sense a stud had walked in all the way from the fourth floor, what's your name, sand dog?"
  1324. > Perhaps Luke's forwardness distracted from how he called the jackal "sand dog." Perhaps he just didn't hear it--
  1325. > "You look like a proper sand digger to me, are you from the Iraq? Now that was a nice campaign, real proud of that one. Anyhow, how about you dig my hole with your tongue and shovel that bone of yours to the hilt?"
  1326. > No, he definitely did hear it. And Luke continues.
  1327. > "Are jackals like dogs? Do you have the knot? That's so cool man. Hey, you smell like sand, have you ever fucked on a beach?"
  1328. > The jackal's mind is overwhelmed. He's heard more words in the last twenty seconds than in the last century entirely. He can only say a single phrase in response.
  1329. > "Yes, I am sand," followed by shoveling more food into his mouth.
  1330. > "Cool, so cool. You wanna hang out afterwards? Let's go to the beach, I can show you the beach, we have sand there. Do you like authentic american beer?"
  1331. > Well, if you want to stop this it's your chance. Do you let Luke do his thing?
  1332. > You intervene. You tell Luke he can hang around but you're trying to acclimate the guest. So no, for now he should stay with you.
  1333. > Luke's about to give you a comeback when the jackal himself responds.
  1334. > "You are very kind," he says and extends a hand to caress Luke's cheek. There's something of nostalgia there in his eyes, he actually takes a good, long moment to look Luke's face over.
  1335. > "You've made this old dog feel young again. Thank you for your words," and he goes back to eating. He didn't say it, but there's a firm 'no' there.
  1336. > You can almost see Luke getting even more enticed, but he gets it under control.
  1337. > After that you see things shifting over in a good direction. Luke himself settles down but decides to stay, behave and enjoy the company. It actually turns into a very pleasant moment.
  1338. > The jackal doesn't talk too much but he's not silent either. You don't have to ask much about him, he says it before you do.
  1339. > "You are an amazing host, master Anon. And you're a fine young man, Luke. But, as I said, I should be on my way. I am cursed and would bring misfortune to all of you."
  1340. > Again, you won't let him do it. You proceed to escort him to his room, Luke insists he comes along. You think he's about to start one of his shenanigans again but you're surprised to see him remaining perfectly quiet all the way to the jackal's door. He only speaks once the jackal's gone in and you two are alone.
  1341. > "Boss, I think this one's gonna try to sneak away while we're not looking. Look, we both know I'm a horny son of a bitch but I can keep it in my pants and guard this hallway, see to it he doesn't leave. Trust me on this one. I'll make sure our guy, eh, Jojo the Jackal, doesn't do anything harsh."
  1342. > This is perhaps the first time you've seen Luke talk in a completely serious, straightforward way.
  1343.  
  1344. > Well, the delivery guy was right. This guy's a handful. Problems start cropping up very, very quickly.
  1345. > There's sand everywhere. Everywhere, even in places where the jackal couldn't even have gone in. There's sand in your office, in the underwater aquarium, in other guests' rooms. Even in the hotel kitchen, and that's actually a health hazard.
  1346. > And his room -- the plumbing is always getting clogged with sand.
  1347. > And the heat. During the late afternoon 'Jojo the Jackal,' as Luke has taken to calling him, just radiates a scorching heat. Fortunately your guests are very considerate and don't mention it -- but you know Jojo has noticed it.
  1348. > This is all turning into an issue.
  1349. > During a check up on the jackal he had a few words for you.
  1350. > "Master Anon has been so merciful with this old dog. But now you see, I am cursed and cannot hope to ever break this hex. Wherever I am, my surroundings turn into a desert."
  1351. > You have a mission now -- how to deal with this whole situation? Just leaving things be isn't sustainable.
  1352.  
  1353. > You set up a meeting with R&D.
  1354. > Together you draft a document; The Statute of Curses.
  1355. > "It establishes that all curses, hexes, or otherwise placed upon Guests of the Hotel, whether by god or mortal, shall henceforth manifest within the Labyrinth but outside of the Hotel proper; the Hotel shall henceforth include the Lobby, the Master's and Prisoner's Quarters, the Aquarium, and all Guest Rooms and Accommodations, including the Restaurant, Bar, and Lounge, and all future additions made by the Master."
  1356. > The Labyrinth seems to resist at first to your attempts at implementing this clause, until you add a final point:
  1357. > "Curses and hexes shall manifest in this way so as to not interfere with Guests of the Hotel or with the punishment of the Prisoner."
  1358. > And then it all settles smoothly into the Contracts Folder.
  1359. > Perhaps you can't dispel 'Jojo's' curse, but maybe you can make it so it's not really impacting on his and everyone else's quality of life.
  1360. > On the following day, after lunch, you and Asterion check up on Jojo. You're happy to find that Luke has, indeed, been keeping an eye on him.
  1361. > Turns out the two are actually at the beach now, thankfully they're not doing anything lewd.
  1362. > Jojo seems like another person entirely. He's still musky, you can feel his smell from quite the distance -- it's like sand, sunscreen, skin oils and pungent crotch -- but somehow it has a tinge of cleanliness to it. You guess that's just how he smells.
  1363. > He's still composed largely of sand, but now at least he's not grungy. Plus his tattered loincloth has been substituted for a… New loincloth.
  1364. > As you approach further you feel the heat emanating from Jojo, however. Well, that's not something your Contract interfered with. Seems like some issues remain with him.
  1365. > Luke doesn't seem to mind though.
  1366. > Jojo's talking; Luke's laying his head on the jackal's lap, just listening. There are a few empty bottles of beer around. Jojo seems to be telling stories; of the ancient gods and Egypt, the jungle, the times when magic flourished in the world.
  1367. > And Luke… Seems to be listening. Just that.
  1368. > Yes, maybe he gets a whiff of Jojo's crotch every once in a while but he doesn't go farther than that.
  1369. > The jackal sees you. He'd bow if Luke wasn't on his lap.
  1370. > "Master Anon, Master Asterion, what a pleasure it is to see the both of you. I was just telling this lad a few tales... What I can remember, that is. I suppose my mind falters; it's been so long since I've been afforded companionship. I've traveled the deserts for a long, long time."
  1371. > "Well, you can take some relief in knowing that's come to an end," you tell him. "Can't say we managed to dispel your curse, but hopefully it shouldn't be too much of an issue. We're implementing some of the Labyrinth's magic to do it."
  1372. > "Excuse me, what?"
  1373. > Jojo's incredulous. So you explain to him, roughly, how the Contracts work.
  1374. > "But don't worry about that. What matters is, you're welcome to stay here. You don't need to go back to wandering."
  1375. > Jojo, again, is dumbfounded. He doesn't know how to react, but he looks down to Luke. "Boy, would you please rise for a moment?"
  1376. > Luke begrudgingly sits up. Jojo gets up -- towering over you, now that you notice -- and bends the knee.
  1377. > "Master Anon, if this is true, if thou hast truly afforded me comfort from my curse… I would pledge my loyalty to thee. I may be destitute, forgotten, lost to time, but I am a god nonetheless and I cannot forget thine kindness. Would you take me as thine servant?"
  1378. > Well, that's not the kind of reaction you expected.
  1379. > You look to Asterion. It's not always easy to read him, but he's looking directly at you and making no attempt at all to hide his feelings; *he does not like this idea.* He's clearly nervous with Jojo's display -- or, is that sadness? Jealousy? There's something there he's struggling to come to terms with.
  1380. > "My good sir," Asterion starts speaking -- but goes silent. He again looks at you, his hand shaking as he tries to reach out to you.
  1381. > You reach out and grasp Asterion's hand.
  1382. > "Your offer is very noble," you tell the jackal. "But I cannot accept it. I treat Asterion as my equal," he holds your hand tighter, "but he's already my servant here in the Hotel. I wouldn't want anyone else. Nonetheless, I would be happy to be your friend and you're welcome to take up a position in the Hotel. We have a lot of slots open, if you want you could even be a lifeguard here at the beach."
  1383. > Luke grins, looking at you two holding hands.
  1384. > Jojo raises his head and sees it too. It's hard to see through the fur and sand but you'd say he's blushing. He thinks on his words for a moment.
  1385. > "It is I who must be thankful of your kindness, Mas -- I mean, Anon. I didn't mean to overstep boundaries, I was… Erh. I take your offer, thank you, I have a place now then, I just don't want to be misinterpreted in..."
  1386. > "Get a room, you two. There will be no handholding in this Dubai-esque magic beach."
  1387. > Luke pulls Jojo back to a sitting position and once again lays his head on his lap. "Look, Anon, Asterion, I have a very long shift scheduled for tonight and I want my R&R, ok? So, Jojo, you were saying again?... That story you were telling."
  1388. > Luke, thankfully, saves you all from an awkward end to the conversation. Jojo goes back to telling his story, you and Asterion walk off to the Hotel still holding hands.
  1389. > You don't actually get very far before stopping. Asterion's thumb is caressing the back of your hand, he's leaning closer to you with each step, you can just feel the smile radiating from his face even if you're looking ahead.
  1390. > He stops and pulls you into a kiss. It quickly turns intense. He's going all out with his tongue and you pull him onto you by one of his horns. You grind against him and you feel his throbbing rod against you.
  1391. > "Tonight I'm taking your cherry," you tell him. "Whether you want it or not."
  1392. > You look into his radiating eyes, the broad smile on his face. "Anything for my Master."
  1393.  
  1394. > A little later that day, not too far from clocking out, you decide to go out for a walk around the Hotel and stretch your legs, clear your mind a bit.
  1395. > Tonight Luke's gonna do one of his shows, but that's still in a while -- which is why you find it strange hearing some louder ruckus coming from the Lounge.
  1396. > It doesn't sound bad at all -- it seems like… Onsen and Kota laughing?
  1397. > You check it out and -- is that the delivery guy?
  1398. > Kota is on his barman outfit, and Onsen is barely wearing anything -- he's soaking wet and seems to have just come out of the bath house. The two are side by side with an arm draped over each other and tails coiling -- it's not everyday you see the two of them so close in public.
  1399. > You don't quite make out what they are talking about -- you hear the word "trap" but not much more. Then the delivery guy sees you.
  1400. > "Hey it's the big little dude! I got something for you!"
  1401. > The delivery guy seems to be happy to see you, but quite honestly he was having the time of his life with Onsen and Kota, that's clear as day.
  1402. > "Look you two," he says turning to them, "we'll talk later, I have a job to do after all."
  1403. > He reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out a few papers.
  1404. > "So, little dude, you know how it goes. This time I've got a letter for you, but that's not all."
  1405. > You open the envelope. It says:
  1406. > "Anon.
  1407. > I'm really happy you chose to take care of the Hotel and I wish you all the best. It's not exactly easy, but your enthusiasm gives me faith. Our delivery man says the Hotel is quite impressive now and you were a very good host.
  1408. > I'm also happy with your invitation. I can hardly wait to see it with my own eyes how it's like now, under your management. How about you give me a call when you can? My number is XXX-XXX-XXX.
  1409. > I didn't quite mention in my first letter, as I didn't want to be too forward but I take it you're taking good care of the Keeper? He's been through a lot, as you certainly know well. I'm sure you and him must be angry at father still, after all that's happened. Well, maybe only you, Asterion was always a meek little guy so he might not hold on to resentments.
  1410. > As I said before, dad's really not too lucid anymore. And he's made some bad decisions long before that was an issue. But sometimes he can string together some thoughts and he insisted he'd send a postcard for Asterion.
  1411. > I would understand if you don't want to show it to him, and if Asterion himself doesn't want to see it, but we're sending it anyway.
  1412. > As a final point, the delivery guy is just very, very fond of snakes, and he's just a real forward guy. If he makes any impolite requests please understand he doesn't mean any harm.
  1413. T."
  1414. > The delivery guy then extends you a postcard.
  1415. > The handwriting is horrible, bordering the incomprehensible. After much effort you discern it's addressed to Asterion. It's message is quite simple.
  1416. > "I'm sorry for not being good enough."
  1417. > Huh.
  1418. > The delivery guy is looking at you expectantly now. Seems like he has something on his mind.
  1419. > "So, the lovebirds over there told me you took in that guy I sent over and he's doing fine. Glad to hear that little dude, he was one needing the help. I'm always looking out for fellow travelers, you see. So look, I promised I'd pay you and that's where we are now. Feels right I should leave something for this Hotel here, since it's so nice and all that. So, tell me little dude, what's on your mind?"
  1420. > "I mean, I may not have a PhD or anything of the sort but I ain't dumb. I've worked for this family and a few others doing deliveries for a while now, so if you wanna know anything I can give you an answer or two."
  1421.  
  1422. > You ask the delivery guy if he knows the man who gave you the Hotel's deed. Why did he leave the Hotel the way it was when you found it?
  1423. > "Yeah yeah, I've known him for quite a while. Dude's old as fuck, I've been working for him and some other families for the longest fucking time now as their delivery guy. I guess you could say they are an old money kind of folk, you know what I'm saying? Or they were, at least, I don't think there's much left today. But I still get enough to get by."
  1424. > "Now lemme tell, you this dude's has done a lot of fucked up shit over his life. But recently he softened up and now he's trying to make amends, you know? So, I don't know much about exactly what happened but some one or two years ago he got it in his mind he needed to find someone to take good care of the Hotel, and I suppose that's how he met you. Now, why did he leave it to rot… I don't know, really. I can only imagine he couldn't get in. I wouldn't know why though, I found it pretty easy to get in."
  1425.  
  1426. > You ask the delivery guy how he's doing.
  1427. > "Aw, thanks for asking. I'm doing very well, those two snake lads you have here are a joy to be around. I dunno why man, I just love snakes, aren't they the fucking coolest shit."
  1428. > You ask if he's seen anyone else who could use a place to stay.
  1429. > "Oh, I'm always meeting some special folk while running my routes. Haven't seen any recently, but if I do find someone who fits the bill I'll give you a call, you can bet on that."
  1430. > You mention he's welcome to stay in the Hotel as a guest, even indefinitely.
  1431. > "Jeez dude that's mighty nice of you but I'll have to turn your offer down. I mean, my delivery job ain't easy but I'm doing well for myself, have my family and all that. So thank you for your offer… But maybe one day I can see myself bringing the family around for a vacation here. They'd feel right at home, I'm sure of it."
  1432. > "Oh yeah, and about kids? The old man's son, the guy who sends you the letters, he's a pretty fine dude. I actually worked with him for the longest fucking time, doing deliveries. But I mean, you gotta understand his situation. His dad wasn't that great, yeah, but the son's trying to do what's right, you know?"
  1433. > You ask him if he wants to meet Asterion.
  1434. > "The minotaur? Hell yeah I do, if it's not a bother. I mean, what are the odds, you know? Ever since I passed by here that first time I keep thinking how small the world is. Here am I delivering a letter and then I'm meeting river deities and now the minotaur. That doesn't happen everyday, you know."
  1435. > You send Asterion a message. You explain to him there's a special guest you'd like him to meet.
  1436. > When he enters the lounge -- your majestic Asterion, white-furred Asterion with his piercing eyes, wearing dress pants and shirt with sharp suspenders framing his bulk, draping over his pecs -- the delivery guy immediately starts smiling.
  1437. > "Look at that, the very legend! I'm so glad I get to see you. And it seems you're doing quite well for yourself."
  1438. > Asterion takes a while to respond; he actually carefully looks at the delivery guy before saying a word, a slight smile forming on his face. "Ah, yes, I am doing quite well as of lately. But, legend? That's flattering of you, sir, but I am afraid I don't have your name."
  1439. > "Ah, everyone just calls me Tricky, because I take all the tricky deliveries no one else would. But that doesn't matter, I wanna know about you, how's life treating you?"
  1440. > "Never been better. No one's ever treated me as kindly as Master Anon."
  1441. > Tricky takes a good look at you two for a second; you can't tell what's going through his mind, and it's hard figuring out what he's feeling. You can see there's some faint smile on his face… And there, for just a second, his age really shows, how tired he seems.
  1442. > "Is that so? Glad to hear that, I guess. You see, I was talking with Kota and Onsen back there and… Well, nevermind. I'm glad you're doing well, is all. And as good as you've ever been, no less."
  1443. > And Tricky stops at that. There's a silence, as he seems to ponder on what to say next. You look to Asterion and he seems happy with this stranger's warmth.
  1444. > Is there something you want to say or ask?
  1445. > You remember Tricky wanted to take a picture with Asterion. He hasn't mentioned it, but that's something you can bring up.
  1446.  
  1447. > And then it hits you.
  1448. > Tricky. A delivery guy who gets along with snakes. Who found his way into the Hotel on his own and knew where Jojo, an egyptian deity was.
  1449. > Is this guy Hermes?
  1450. > You look over to Asterion, he doesn't seem to have noticed. You look back to Kota and Onsen, who seem similarly in the dark.
  1451. > At that moment a chill runs down your spine. If this guy really is Hermes then you're playing with fire. He can risk the entire Hotel if he snitches to the other gods.
  1452. > You do your best to not show any sign of revealing your knowledge to him. Fortunately he doesn't even give you a sideways glance, he doesn't suspect a thing. You let the conversation proceed.
  1453. > "Well," he continues, "I suppose it's reassuring, in a way. The world's a crazy place, one day you're on the top of the world, on the next you're at the bottom of the well. And vice-versa. Some things change, and others don't. Sometimes that's for the better. The meek will inherit the earth and all that. Well, I'm ok with it all."
  1454. > "Anyhow, I'm glad I got to meet you Asterion. Glad you're such a nice guy and all that. Now, I do have a question for you, and it's perhaps an insensitive one, but" and he cracks out laughing, "I really need to know, ok? Do you mind if I ask my rude question?"
  1455. > Asterion giggles in anticipation. How bad could it be, maybe that's what he's thinking. He agrees to Hermes before you get a chance to say anything else.
  1456. > "Ok, ok," Hermes covers his mouth with the back of his hand, giggling. "I'm so sorry in advance, is just, I've been itching to know this for the longest time. Did you stop it with the cannibalism?"
  1457. > "Huh?" Asterion's taken aback, but he takes it in stride. "I'm sorry sir, perhaps the legend as you heard it is wrong. I never had a man's flesh," then he gives you a sideways gland, "I mean, I never ate a man's flesh."
  1458. > "I'm not talking about men, bull boy."
  1459. > "Oh," Asterion blushes. "Oh dear. It only happened once, ok? I don't eat beef, but my sister tricked me that one time when we were little. That's all."
  1460. > "Now that's a relief," he says, carefully pronouncing each word. He's still giggling, but there's something there under the surface. "I have one final delivery here for the night, for you, Asterion."
  1461. > "Now, you took in the jackal. As I said before, I do my best to look out for travelers, those are my people. I said I'd pay, but didn't think you'd have it in you to actually charge. So I went ahead and ran a little errand, I know a little fan of yours and he wanted to send you a gift. So here, have it."
  1462. > From his coat pocket he takes out a small, fistful-sized lump.
  1463. > It's an intricate, intensely red statue of a bull.
  1464. > "Now don't just eat it, your friend put a lot of effort in it."
  1465. > "I'm sorry, but who could have sent this to me? I am at a loss, I don't think I have any surviving friends."
  1466. > Hermes looks off to the side, seemingly thinking.
  1467. > "Well now that's part of the surprise, eh? Give it some thought, I think you can guess who it is. You can take some time, even once I'm done here with you two I promised the little snakes back there we'd have some more talking."
  1468. > Asterion takes a good, long look at the delivery guy. "I'm sorry, have we met before? It seems to me as if you knew me already."
  1469. > The delivery guy giggles. "The legend of the minotaur is well known, who wouldn't know you is what I'd ask."
  1470. > "Oh," says Asterion, kind of conflicted. "Well, I don't quite know what to do with that."
  1471. > You tell Asterion there's some management business you wanted to talk with him. You turn to 'Tricky'. "Feel free to enjoy the bar, we should be right back."
  1472. > You immediately set out to find Jojo. While on the way you explain to Asterion you suspect 'Tricky' may be a god in disguise, Hermes.
  1473. > You can feel Asterion's heart sinking as you say that. "Oh no," he mutters, "no, no, no. It makes sense, I knew I had seen him somewhere before, I just couldn't place my finger on it."
  1474. > Once you do find Jojo you ask him about the man who sent him here to the Hotel.
  1475. > "The running man? Well, Sir Anon, there's not much to say, really. He's an old… traveling companion. I've been wandering for quite a while, many centuries, and sometimes he'd show up out of nowhere. The was not much he could do about my curse but he was always kind, he'd spare me food and drink, and he never had an unkind word to me. He's always looked out for my safety, even if we don't see each other much. But we never talked much. He's always told me he's all about helping travelers, people wandering around."
  1476. > "He does like playing pranks, but I've never had harm come from them… It seems clear to me he's no ordinary human. I once met a son of his, walking along with him, and he is one much like Sir Asterion. He is a man from the waist up and a goat below it."
  1477. > Well, that's enough. Surely he's Hermes.
  1478. > You and Asterion return to the Lounge. He's still there, talking with Kota and Onsen, everyone's having the time of their life. You call 'Tricky' over to a far off table for a talk.
  1479. > "We have a little subject we'd like to address with you, if you don't mind," you say. "Our talk tonight, it gave off the impression you've known Asterion for a while. Is that the case?"
  1480. > "Well, everyone's heard the legend. So yeah, I know him."
  1481. > "That's not what I mean."
  1482. > 'Tricky' cracks a wide grin.
  1483. > "I honestly don't know what you're talking about."
  1484. > You and Asterion weigh your options on how to go with this conversation.
  1485. > 'Tricky' starts giggling. "Well, little guy," but this time he's talking with Asterion, not you. "So what will it be? What do *you* have to say about this?"
  1486. > You look over to your Asterion. The possibility this might be Hermes -- the certainty of it, actually -- has him sweating bullets. You've never seen him like this before. His face is flushed, his nostrils are flaring with each exhale, he has his hands twisted together in front of him.
  1487. > "Cut the crap, Hermes. Just fucking stop it, I don't have any patience for your shit."
  1488. > You've never seen Asterion speak like this. Ever.
  1489. > And you look to Hermes. You've never seen someone with a bigger shit-eating grin.
  1490. > "Oh my, you aren't so meek anymore, things did change eh," he says while holding on the giggles. "You two are just too funny, sorry, I can't hold it," and he bursts out in laughter.
  1491. > You and Asterion are left adrift, trying to make out what his intentions are. The sinking feeling on your stomach keeps growing stronger, you feel like dying, and Asterion doesn't seem too far off. But he's not being shy about it.
  1492. > "Hermes you piece of shit," he says, shaking. "I swear to you if you keep this up I'll tear your head off and drink your ichor."
  1493. > This only makes him laugh harder.
  1494. > "The little guy really has grown, eh. Look, yeah, I'm Hermes, sure. Finally you noticed. So what now? Why the long face?"
  1495. > "So, are you gonna tell the gods? What now?"
  1496. > "Tell the gods? About what?"
  1497. > You may be dying of anxiety here but this piece of shit god is having the time of his life, that's clear enough.
  1498. > "About the Hotel, damnit!"
  1499. > "Why would I, little guy? This place here is mighty fine as far as I'm concerned. Plus nearly all of them are straight up *senile,* there's not a single thing anyone can tell that can stick to their heads."
  1500. > "I mean, haven't you figured it out little dude? I'm the patron of the travelers. I protect the lost. Who do you think made it so the Labyrinth would bring in lost souls in the first place? Athena got you convicted, yeah, but Poseidon got you a lighter sentence and I gave him a hand. "
  1501. > "I mean, Athena's still around, she probably still has it out for you, but she's way past the point of no return. Even if she had a head on her shoulders she's lost all her power, so no chance. No one cares about the Labyrinth, lil' dude, chill out. And I like it here, I like what you've done to the place, Anon. You took in my buddy and I'm happy for that."
  1502. > Hermes takes a sip from his drink, stifling laughter, but midway through snorts and spills whisky everywhere.
  1503. > "Oh, I get it now! You're like this because of the lil' shit! The snitch, the satyr! Oh I get it now, you think I'm gonna snitch on you. Oh boy, you guys haven't figured it out eh, Pan's my kid, all satyrs are my grandkids. Who do you think stopped him from snitching? Why do you think I want to take a picture with you, I wanna scare the shit out of him!"
  1504. > Hermes laughs heartily.
  1505. > You ask him what he means by the gods going senile.
  1506. > "Well, most of the big ol' ones just didn't really catch up, you know? Time passed, people stopped worshipping them and they didn't want to get on with the times. Didn't want to work a job, couldn't take it they weren't the bigger gods anymore. The younger, smaller ones found some success in keeping a few worshippers still, even if merely incidental. I get some sustenance nowadays from the sheer number of travelers in the world, so I get by. Most of us pass as mortals now, living pretty regular lives. The ones who went senile, we have a nursing home for them if they have no kids to take care of them."
  1507. > Hermes takes another good long sip of his drink. You ask who replaced the old gods. He looks up to you and says "Jesus."
  1508. > You ask if there's a way for Asterion to stop being a prisoner of the labyrinth. Something we can do with the old gods to revoke his sentence?
  1509. > "Aww, sorry little dude. Bull boy's sentence is eternal, no way around that. Some things just can't be revoked, you know. But why would you want that in the first place? If Asterion's sentence is revoked then the Hotel's gone. Everyone here is kicked out as soon as that happens. Is that what you want?"
  1510. > Hermes turns to Kota, waves and shakes his empty cup at him. Kota comes over with a full one.
  1511. > "Thanks handsome. Now, where was I? So, yeah, what's in this for you lil' dude? You now get to rule over his own little realm, you have everything. Live out your days and let someone else take the Hotel, that's how it goes. They can even be your kids, that works. Anyhow once the day comes you're dead, it's no longer your problem."
  1512. > You look over to Asterion. He's remained quiet since his outburst but now you see steel in his eyes as he stares at Hermes.
  1513. >This time you answer before Asterion.
  1514. > "It's not about 'ruling my little world.' It's about making sure the Hotel, Asterion and the guests are taken care of. And Asterion's not some toy I'd throw away when I die, that's not the point, I care about him, I don't want him to be alone again. And I don't want another Master to come around who'll mistreat him again. I live him, and I want what's best for him."
  1515. >You don't know how you're coming across. You feel a warmth and a pride over your Asterion, and a rage at what Hermes has implied.
  1516. >You feel Asterion grasping your hand, holding it tight, and you see that your words have calmed him down.
  1517. > And when you look at Hermes you see that shit-eating grin again.
  1518. > "You'd love a hybrid? You humans never cease to amaze me."
  1519. > "Yes, I do, I love Asterion."
  1520. > And now you see a softness spreading across Hermes' face. He finishes his drink, ponders his words.
  1521. > "You know, I like you two. I'm just messing here with all of this, trying to see what Anon's made of. I have kids, you know, quite a few of them are hybrids. I'm Pan's dad, and my boy's had a rough life. It ain't easy finding someone to settle with when you are half goat, half bull."
  1522. > "May not seem like it now, but I'm a little invested here. Poseidon and I have been watching over the Labyrinth for... a few thousand years now. And I like you, Anon. So I'll tell you what's up."
  1523. > "No mortal should seek immortality, that is a fool's errand. But there's something about the Labyrinth you may not have realized: a sentence here is for eternity and cannot be revoked. And you, Anon, you have been a bad man; perverting the Labyrinth's goals, retooling it to give mercy to he who should be damned. That is a crime against divinity itself."
  1524. > "Take that as a warning, a threat, a gift. Keep up what you are doing and you may find yourself sentenced for eternity as the Labyrinth's Master."
  1525. > Hermes goes silent, looking at you with not an inkling of smugness.
  1526. > What do you do?
  1527. > "Hermes, that's exactly what I want to happen."
  1528. > He cracks a smile and laughs.
  1529. > "I like you, Anon. I would be happy to have you as the permanent Master of the Hotel. You can count on me to vote in favor of sentencing you to eternity in the Labyrinth."
  1530. > He laughs to himself.
  1531. > "I always liked you mortals. And if there's nothing else you'd like to talk about I'll be off."
  1532. > Hermes seems to be a weird guy. Perhaps you should take this paradoxical conversation as him saying he's on your side.
  1533. > It all feels weird. Well, in a way you're getting what you wanted in the first place; a way to make sure Asterion and the Hotel will remain safe. And you'd be here forever. Well, maybe you're not going down the road you imagined but the destination seems to be the same.
  1534. > But as the idea settles on you -- you feel good! This is good news for sure.
  1535. > You squeeze Asterion's hand -- you've been holding him all this while -- but he doesn't squeeze back. You look to his face and it's… blank. He's looking off to the distance.
  1536. > And there you see it, something you've seen before. It's that same dullness in his eyes he has when he has a bout of depression. You've learned by now that Asterion reacts in a peculiar way to good news. He doesn't believe he deserves them.
  1537. > "Asterion?," you say.
  1538. > He glares at you, suddenly jerked from his trance. He stutters before getting a few words out, "I'm sorry, I was just… This is all a lot to take in at once. I don't know what I'm feeling."
  1539. > You still have some more questions for Hermes. But you tell him you'd like to have a moment with Asterion, so you two get up and -- well, you drag Asterion by the hand to the hallway outside the Lounge.
  1540. > Asterion has his back against the wall, he's looking down at the floor. You take a good look at him, your beautiful boyfriend. His eyes -- almost completely healed -- his beautiful white fur, his pink snout with that ring you put on him. He's wearing a dress shirt, beneath you can just see the faint shape of his nipple piercings.
  1541. > You hug him. He's too wide now for you to hold securely with a hug. He's grown so much since you found him in the cold room; he's built like a brick shithouse now. You put your head on his chest and smell him, his earthy, masculine scent.
  1542. > He hugs you back.
  1543. > "Don't go cold on me now, big guy," you tell him.
  1544. > He shudders as you say that and nuzzles on your neck. Two times you can feel him trying, and failing to speak out loud.
  1545. > "It'd be too selfish of me, Anon," he whispers. "I can't let you do that. Do you know what this means? You have a chance at an afterlife still, one outside this place, wherever your soul will go."
  1546. > "I know exactly what this means. I want to stay here with you. I need you to be strong for me now, Asterion, and trust me."
  1547. > You kiss him; a long and gentle kiss, shy at first as your lips just brush together. His hands clutch you and you feel the boldness rising on him. He lets you explore his mouth with your tongue, you grind your crotch against his, you grope his ass with a hand and feel his tail rising up in anticipation.
  1548. > He's hot, you know it. And when he's like that he's like putty in your hands.
  1549. > But this time it's different.
  1550. > "I trust you, Anon," he says when your kiss breaks. "I love you."
  1551. > You feel the heat back under his skin. After one last kiss you two go back to the lounge. You still have a few questions for Hermes.
  1552. > "Well well, you two look better now," says Hermes, yet another drink in hand. "So, what will it be?"
  1553. > "You told us about the gods going senile. But Jojo, the jackal god you sent us, he's old and has no worshippers, how did he not go senile?"
  1554. > "If you want to know the nitty gritty about how it happens I'm afraid no one knows for sure. What it seems to me is that senility is more a kind of godly madness than, well, what you mortals would call getting old. We're hard to kill, gods, but we can go crazy just as easily as you mortals can."
  1555. > "So imagine a big guy like Zeus or Athena, they were important and central back then. And now they're shit, that could drive anyone mad. Meanwhile a smaller god who never had all that glory could fare better."
  1556. > "I keep myself busy, stay on my toes. My kids and I are fine, no senility here. Not much, at least. Having a few worshippers makes a difference, they don't even have to know it's you. Sometimes I'll just go to an airport and make sure everything's going fine, and that helps me too. I do what I can. My kids are the same. We are all doing ok, living humble lives."
  1557. > You ask him if he could point you out to the deities who'd be willing to be on your side.
  1558. > He lets out a giggle.
  1559. > "Look, little dude, some of the stuff you say is just too funny. I want to give you an answer but -- look, I can't let a joke like that slide… Look, ask me that in a few days, ok?"
  1560. > Hermes is laughing uncontrollably. He knows more than he's willing to tell you, that's for sure, and you don't think he's gonna give you a better answer to that question.
  1561. > "Ok, look, I'll give you a followup on this in a few days… Just…" he keeps laughing. "Yeah, I'll help you out on that. Soon. Just not now."
  1562. > Well, regardless of his cryptic response you do tell him you'd be open to having him and his kids as guests of the Hotel. He likes the idea. Who knows, maybe someday?
  1563. > "Heh, we could get a proper set of gods to preside over your judgement, Anon. That's actually something we'll need to do, get a court of gods, mythical creatures, so on. We'll need *some* amount of godhood to muster up a sentence, you know? But don't worry about that for now, it comes later," then he cracks his shit eating grin again. "It's almost like marriage. But with more sinister undertones, since as you'll be sentenced for eternity and all that."
  1564. > Well. You look to Asterion, he's blushing and looking away.
  1565. > Well, there's still a few things you want to ask him.
  1566. > You ask if Hephaestus is still around and sane, and if he'd be willing to help out with fixing Jojo's hourglass and Onsen's katana. Turns out he is around and sane, Hermes will see what he can do.
  1567. > Now, there's a question that had been gnawing away at you. But you wouldn't want Asterion to be around to hear it.
  1568. > "Hey, bull boy, could you get me something to eat real quick? I'm starving. Get something for you too, it's about time we had dinner."
  1569. > "Right away, *Master* Anon," he says with a smirk.
  1570. > You turn to Hermes and ask quickly."Who's the man who gave me the Hotel's deed? I want to understand why he locked Asterion in the cold room and kicked everyone out."
  1571. > He gives you one of his shit-eating grins.
  1572. > "Well. What you asked me doesn't make much sense, little guy. You're basing yourself off a wrong assumption here. The person who locked Asterion away is one guy, and the person who gave you the deed is someone else entirely."
  1573. > "Now, why did the previous owner lock Asterion away? I have no idea at all. I know he was family to the Master before him, his one sibling, and that's how he got the deed. But he had no heir, so the deed reverts back to… Your benefactor, who saw you fit to take the role -- with which I would agree, mind you."
  1574. > "Well, what I'm about to tell you is quite shameful for a delivery man but -- that postcard to Asterion? I read it, I know what it said. Perhaps now you can appreciate it in a new light."
  1575. > Hermes smiles smugly at you.
  1576. > "Whether you can guess it or not, it's fine," he says. "And now I'll take my leave. This is a good moment, wouldn't you say? It's classy, leaves you wanting more."
  1577. > "No, not yet," you say. "You haven't taken your picture."
  1578. > "Oh my, you're right."
  1579. > Asterion's coming with the food. You beckon him to lean onto you.
  1580. > "Bull boy I want you to make your scariest face in this picture, ok? We're gonna make that snitch pay."
  1581. End of Chapter 13
  1582.  
  1583. Chapter 14
  1584. > Sometimes you just can't wait.
  1585. > Maybe it's all the thrills you had today. That conversation with Jojo, which left Asterion insecure, and then the whole thing surrounding Hermes. Seeing your minotaur show his anger and then trying to figure out all the pieces of this puzzle.
  1586. > When you blink it's like you could fall asleep right then and there. You're exhausted to the bone.
  1587. > But the thrill, it gets you going. You can't wait. You're not even at your Quarters yet, you and Asterion were making your way there when you felt that silent shift in the mood. It's like a switch going on. You were side by side, holding hands, looking ahead. You didn't need to look at him to know he was into it too.
  1588. > You bumped onto his arm, letting out a laugh. You can feel his smile even if you're looking ahead. And you two slow down together, coming closer and closer, until there's that final moment when you look at each other in the eyes.
  1589. > What a magnificent man, you think to yourself. His eyes are halfway closed already, in anticipation to you, but he gives a step backwards.
  1590. > It's like a dance, he goes until his back hits the wall. You're holding on to him, you're pulled back by his sheer inertia. You take one hand to his chin and guide his mouth to yours.
  1591. > "And you're all mine," you whisper before taking him.
  1592. > It's that violent kind of heat. Romance is a soft, tender flame. And this one is the wildness that burns when you're in the groove of it. There's a music to it.
  1593. > You rub his crotch; you feel his hefty balls and his stiff cock. You knead the fabric, pressing it against Asterion's piss slit, until you feel the dampness of his pre soaking through. Your movements are deliberate; you caress and knead him enjoying each shift of his crotch.
  1594. > "Is Master pleased by my eagerness?" he whispers to your ear. He's now nuzzling your neck, digging at your scent. And you sink your head on his chest; he smells earthy, dusty almost, but there's a wafting scent of man. You undo a button from his dress shirt, teasing him, and to get some more of that scent.
  1595. > You caress his rump with a hand, starting from his sides and approaching his crack. You stop just as you're about to go over his hole. He looks at you knowingly and -- that's it -- raises his tail for you.
  1596. > You kiss him one more time. Goddamnit you're gonna fuck in the hallway if it keeps up like this.
  1597. > "Let's go. To our quarters, now." You punctuate with a slap on his rump.
  1598. > "As you command, Master."
  1599. > This time he goes on ahead, showing his swaying butt for you. It's amazing how much Asterion's bulked up, he has a butt shelf now. Two fat mounds, you can't ever hope of holding them properly.
  1600. > "So, Master will be taking me tonight?"
  1601. > "Yes. I'd hope all that rimming I've done has prepared you."
  1602. > He turns to give you a sideway glance, as he raises his tail again.
  1603. > "Your servant is ready."
  1604. > "Keep walking, bull butt."
  1605. > Asterion's unbuttoning his shirt before you even close the door. But then, as you two glance at each other, a softness returns. Maybe it's the privacy, or how your room is halfway lit, half covered in shadows. You two clash again, kiss, and this time it's soft.
  1606. > "You wouldn't want anyone else as your servant, Master," he says, alluding to your earlier conversation with Jojo. "And you would spend eternity with me?"
  1607. > "Yes. A thousand times yes."
  1608. > "I'll take it." His eyes glimmer under the half light. "Whatever you'll give me, Anon, I'll take it."
  1609. > You know what he wants when he looks at you like that, hungry eyes for being dominated.
  1610. > "On your knees. Get to work."
  1611. > It's like a well oiled machine now. He unzips and drops your pants himself while you pull him by the horns onto your crotch. You grind his nose on your dick and balls.
  1612. > "Look at me, Asterion," you say. You want to see his eyes gleaming at you. "Get to work now."
  1613. > He takes all of you at once, his muzzle is grinding on your pubes now as his tongue extends to your balls. You feel him shuddering and shaking at the swift beginning, his moan echoes through the apartment.
  1614. > "That's my boy."
  1615. > How his eyes glimmer. His pink muzzle would be cute if it wasn't dripping slobber and crashing on your pubes. The memory of how he always drinks your cum gives you a spark. Asterion groans as a drop of pre lands on his tongue.
  1616. > You bring a hand down to tug on his nose ring, pulling his nose back onto your pubes. His column arches in anticipation, his tail raises, he opens his mouth to take everything he can into his throat.
  1617. > Sometimes when you are making love you just stop and admire his beauty. You caress his face. "That's my boy alright."
  1618. > Asterion gingerly slows down his blowjob, suckling on your dick head still. "I love you too, Anon," he says and goes back to pressing his nose to your crotch while caressing your balls with his tongue.
  1619. > "Let's wash up, I want you clean for what's to come."
  1620. > You both get up and turn on the lights properly. Just like that the mood shifts again. Now you are aware of your own nudity and Asterion's raging hard-on leaving a wet patch on his pants. You look at him for a moment, up and down, and he gets the hint.
  1621. > It's curious how one's mood shifts. There was something hot and kinky about getting that blowjob from your minotaur, and now he's your boyfriend undressing. He's massive, rippling with muscle, with his swaying bull balls and pink tummy, barely covered by white fur. He struggles to get out of his pants, holds on to the counter for support while his tail thrashes.
  1622. > "What a day we had, huh," you say. You feel comfortable in the nude around Asterion, but the wait for him to undress leaves an odd flavour in your mouth. He's there, exposing himself, but you're not touching him.
  1623. > It's uncomfortable for lovers to be exposed, but apart. That last step that precedes touching is what makes it right.
  1624. > "First an egyptian god pledges his service to you, and another just waltz right in." And now he's naked, with his uncut dick bloated and pointing at you, a strand of precum dripping from his barely-covered dickhead. He collects it with a finger and tastes it, a grin spreading on his face. "One of the old ones no less."
  1625. > You two go to Asterion's bath house-style bathroom. "What do you think of Hermes?"
  1626. > "He got under my skin, Anon. I was this close to doing something stupid, until you..." he stops, holding off his tongue. "But I think he was trying to figure us out and I have the impression we went well."
  1627. > "... Until I? What were you saying?"
  1628. > "Well. You said a lot of things that made me… happy. I'm happy. I was pissed too, but I was with you, and… I didn't think you'd want to abandon me, and you don't. So I'm happy."
  1629. > You hug Asterion from behind, your dick rubbing against his butt, your face nuzzling against his back and neck. He puts his arms over your and throws his head back.
  1630. > "All things considered this was a good day," he says. "I felt a bit cold for a moment there. When Hermes talked about sentencing you." His tails swishes, rubbing over your dick, then raises as you playfully grind on him. "I still don't know if it's… I don't know if it is right of me to want you to do it."
  1631. > You think carefully where to step now. What words to use. But Asterion speaks up before you.
  1632. > "Nonetheless you are right, I should trust you." You feel the rumble of his voice as you hold your ear against his back. He is so warm today. "So I will."
  1633. > You two get into the tub, cuddling together. There's a moment of rest there, as you two let the hot water relax your muscles, but you know you can't let that moment of peace stay. You grab his dick and jerk him a few times under the hot water, the both of you laughing. He goes for a sloppy, sideways kiss.
  1634. > "Yeah, I trust you alright," he whispers. "Even if you're just trying to get me to put out for you."
  1635. > "As your Master I have the right to remain silent."
  1636. > "Of course, Master," he says with a smirk. "You know, we have that one wine bottle still."
  1637. > Oh, you know where this is going.
  1638. > "I suppose," he says while he reaches for your dick, "I can still take one more of Master's brands."
  1639. > "Your eye will be fully healed, too."
  1640. > He nuzzles onto you and breathes in your scent.
  1641. > It comes and goes, this fire between you two. You jump from joking to love and, yes, to lust. And you can't say for sure where one ends and the other starts. Before you know it you're back to just enjoying each other's company.
  1642. > Asterion breaks the silence. "So, some of Hermes' descendants are hybrids."
  1643. > "Yes, that's what he said."
  1644. > "I hope they visit someday. I'd like to get to know them."
  1645. > "Tomorrow I'll send him a message, say again they can visit."
  1646. > "Thank you."
  1647. > You get up from the water and start drying each other up. Asterion sits down on a stool while you dry his horns. You stop to admire his back, and you're reminded of that first morning in the Hotel when you gave Asterion a bath. His skull was half exposed, his back was covered in bed sores. When you got him under the water he burst out crying.
  1648. > You caress his back. There are scars from his wounds, it's as if Asterion had never been injured in the first place.
  1649. > "All my life I've been told I don't deserve love. But here you are. Neither am I a monster to you. And I trust you, so… I'm not a monster. I'm not." He swallows suddenly. "I was also told the gods had forsaken me. But that's not what I've been seeing lately, guess that's not true either. It's kind of terrifying, in a way, I sometimes feel like everything I know is wrong." He turns to you, his eyes have the slighest hint of being wet. "But I'd be happy if that's the case, I'm fine with being wrong on this one."
  1650. > How sweet his lips are.
  1651.  
  1652. > Under the Mag Lev Lamp's halflight the mood shifts again.
  1653. > "To us," and you clink your cup of whisky with Asterion's wine bottle.
  1654. > "For crimes against divinity," says Asterion.
  1655. > You finish yours in quickly, while Asterion continues chugging his. You come closer and caress his pink tummy. The shallow white fur is so soft against your touch, it grows shorter as you snake your hand down to his crotch.
  1656. > He's not hard anymore but that's changing quickly. You take a nice handful of his balls, so full and ready to burst. With your other hand you slowly jerk his dick and find there's still some precum under his foreskin.
  1657. > He shudders when the last drop of wine falls on his tongue.
  1658. > "I'm the one supposed to milk you, Master."
  1659. > "Then get on the bed, about time I broke you in."
  1660. > It's so brief; while he's moving you see his fully healed eye. And it dawns on you that, perhaps, it wasn't bothering nearly as much as everything else going on in his life.
  1661. > He crawls on top of the bed on all fours then lays on his forearms. His tail is nicely settled on top of his crack, but once you grope a nice handful of ass it slowly raises up and to the side for you. "That's more like it." You pry his fat cheeks apart and take a nice, long lick at his hole.
  1662. > You feel Asterion's shudders as you get him nice and ready. "Master..." he says as he leans back, trying to get more of your tongue's caress. You give it to him, getting him relaxed for what's to come. His breathing becomes ragged and the sheets shift beneath you as he grasps it.
  1663. > Even after washing up Asterion still has his earthy, woody scent. His hole slowly gives out as you tease and probe it, until you see it relaxing before you while covered in your saliva.
  1664. > You pop out the lube and get a nice drop of it on your hand. You spread it around your index and middle finger, then caress Asterion's pink hole. "Are you ready for it, bull boy?"
  1665. > "Make me yours, Master."
  1666. > Asterion is tight but he's opening up quickly, he gives in easily to your lubed finger. "How's it feeling?"
  1667. > "It's, uh… I feel a bit 'full'." You curl your finger towards his front. "Ah! There, I felt it. Ah, yes..."
  1668. > You give him time to adjust as you continue to massage his prostate. Doesn't take more than two or three minutes for him to be rocking back onto your hand.
  1669. > You give him a second finger and get a better grasp on his insides. Asterion's breathing turns desperate, his tail swishes to and fro in front of you. Your own dick strains and leaks on the sheets.
  1670. > Three fingers in he speaks up. "Ah, it feels good, weird but good. I want you now Master, please."
  1671. > "Lay on your back, I want to see your face while I take you."
  1672. > You put a pillow below Asterion's lower back, propping his butt up. He has his legs spread open for you, his arms thrown back. His soft, pink tummy rises and falls with each breathing, he has an anxious smile on his face. You can't help but scratch it while you position yourself between his legs.
  1673. > "No one's ever done this to me, Master," he says. "Back in Crete it was considered shameful to be the receptive partner."
  1674. > You grind your dick over his ass, spreading the lube around. Asterion balls drape over his taint, you hold them up while lining your dick with his relaxed hole. "I'm not going to shame you."
  1675. > He smiles to you. "I know. Even an old bull can learn new tricks."
  1676. > With your dick grinding you lean on top of him. He has to crane his neck awkwardly to get a kiss from you but you have something else in mind. You go lower and take one of his pierced nipples on your mouth, tugging at it softly. Asterion moans under you, then you feel his legs shift as he pulls you closer by the hips with them.
  1677. > You press your dick against his hole, feeling the resistance softly giving in. You tug harder at his nipple and lay more of your weight on him. You feel the wetness over his dick, all the precum he's leaking.
  1678. > The warmth envelops your dick and Asterion wraps his arms around you, leaving you no room to pull away. He keeps pulling your hips closer with his legs, getting more dick in the process. You stop playing with his nipple and you just lay your ear on his chest. There's his quickened heartbeat, yes, but you can feel the soft rumbles he and moans he can't stop himself from making. There's a strong scent around you, of his chest and armpits, but it's not unpleasant.
  1679. > You're halfway in when Asterion pulls you into a kiss again. With a firm thrust you fuck him to the hilt and he moans under his breath as you make out. He takes a hand from your back and put it on his tummy, just above his crotch. "I feel full… It's good, Master."
  1680. > "I'll make you mine tonight." You pull his nose ring until your foreheads are against each other. "Breed you properly, leave my seed inside you."
  1681. > You feel something shifting in Asterion as soon as you say that. His breathing quickens, his tongue is lolling from his mouth. His column arches, his tail thrashes beneath you, his hand presses down harder on his tummy. He looks at you with a fire and you know he's ready.
  1682. > You start fucking Asterion properly, slow at first to let him get used to it but it becomes he's ready for whatever you give to him. So you, of course, hold him by the horns and go to town at your own pace.
  1683. > That's when you take a good look at his dick, fully erect and spurting precum. Seems like being taken like that is giving him a good time. You hold his dick and jerk it briefly, just the head, and it sends Asterion thrashing wildly and spasming around your dick. Yeah, now that's nice, you hilt your dick on him and rub a finger on his dick head to make him spasm again around you.
  1684. > You don't keep this up for too long, Asterion's panting and sweating buckets after this brief little manipulation. If you kept it up for long he'd cum way too early.
  1685. > "Master," Asterion says, "how would you want to brand me? Say it, please."
  1686. > You've thought long and hard about this. That bottle of wine, you knew, would give Asterion another go at his shapeshifting. And you've seen it how he enjoys carrying your 'marks.' How did you want to change his form?
  1687. > There was something you had in mind for a while now. You gave him a nice set of bull balls, you love seeing how they sway when he's walking around in the nude. And seeing him on fours tonight made you realize how you'd want to see them swinging when you fuck him.
  1688. > Now, his dick is fine, very fine actually, but -- you could have it matching his bull balls. How nice would it be to see it swinging with his balls. But that's not all you have in mind.
  1689. > Asterion may still have mixed feelings about being a 'hybrid,' but you? You think he's hot, handsome, sexy, and you could go with some more of that. It excites you how masculine and beastly he is, even the tiny details -- how his nostrils flare when he's excited and pent up, how his tail thrashes when you hold him by the horns.
  1690. > You take hold of his dick, gently but firmly. "You're my bull, Asterion." You don't stop fucking him while stroking it, so slowly, to punctuate what you have to say. "You got the balls to match, and now let's go for the dick. I was thinking something… horse-like. Yes, a nice horse cock to match your balls."
  1691. > You look carefully into Asterion's eyes for a glimmer of hesitation, fear, regret. You're walking a tight rope here, showing him your will, knowing he enjoys it but also trying not to go too far.
  1692. > But you don't find any of it, instead you feel his ass spasming around your dick again as he throws his head back. He holds your hand over his dick, then with his free hand pulls you for a kiss.
  1693. > Asterion then sinks his nose on your neck and takes a deep whiff of your scent. "Anything for my Master." You feel his dick shifting against your hand, growing longer, thicker. Its head changes too, flaring, and when your hand grazes the base you feel his forming sheath. It stands straight up, pulsing with Asterion's heartbeat, still spurting strands of pre.
  1694. > Asterion himself twitches and shudders as his dick changes, the process itself seems to give him pleasure. And in response he tightens up, with both hands he hugs and pulls you closer to him.
  1695. > You look down to his crotch, to his newly formed horse dick. It's pink, with a few dark spots, its head is completely flared.
  1696. > "Like this, Master?"
  1697. > "Yeah, like that bull boy. Just like that. You're doing so well."
  1698. > It all gets to you, all of it at once. Asterion's moans, his raw ass spasming against you, his dick pressing against your stomach spreading his pre and pulsing with each heartbeat. And it gets to him too; you feel his own climax approaching.
  1699. > You slather your hand with Asterion's pre and start jerking him. Your own orgasm is almost here, building up, until you look up to Asterion's eyes.
  1700. > And you notice it; his eyes fully healed, his face twisted in pleasure, his tongue lolling out. His eyes glimmering as they see you.
  1701. > "Asterion… You're mine."
  1702. > You start jackhammering into him and you lose control, you cum inside him and he throws his head back. You feel his equine dick flaring against your hand as it shoots ropes of cum directly on you.
  1703. > Asterion yells out your name as you keep filling him, marking him with your seed, branding him with your will.
  1704. > You kiss again, both of you covered in Asterion's cum. You're still buried deep in him, your dick twitching, when you start scooping up his cum with a finger.
  1705. > Asterion opens his mouth eagerly for you, his tongue ready.
  1706. > When you two kiss again his mouth tastes sweetly, perhaps because of how you feel towards him.
  1707. > "Did I do well, Master?"
  1708. > "Yes you did, Asterion. You're amazing."
  1709.  
  1710. > You ended up realizing your fantasy, not much later you fucked Asterion against a wall while his bull balls and horse dick flopped around with each thrust of yours. It was nice having the added lube of your cum. It was even better later when, on the bed, he laid on his stomach and you could see a string of your cum dripping down his taint and balls.
  1711. > "You're loving it, aren't you?"
  1712. > He smiles deviously at you. "I'll proudly bear Master's seed, and whatever mark he sees fit to give me."
  1713. > You pull him up to cuddle with you, his head beside yours as you face each other. You look down to his crotch -- his dick is now retreated into his pink sheath. You give it a feel, how soft it is.
  1714. > "Do you like it?"
  1715. > He blushes, his smile turns sheepish. "Well… I do, yes. It's. I don't know how to describe it, but yes, it's fun. Feels good when you were fucking me."
  1716. > You tell him you should wash up but he's procrastinating it. Then it dawns on you he may want to go to sleep exactly like that.
  1717. > There's one last thing you have to do tonight however. You go to the living room and pick up the postcard, the one sent by the man who gave you the Hotel's deed. It's addressed to Asterion, it says "I'm sorry for not being good enough."
  1718. > Now that's an understatement, assuming it came from the man who locked Asterion in the cold room. But you have a suspicion now, that the man who hurt Asterion and the one who gave you the deed are two different people.
  1719. > And you have a hunch on who your 'benefactor' may be.
  1720. > Asterion's waiting for you at the bedroom, still naked, almost dozing off. You explain to him the whole situation, how Hermes delivered this postcard.
  1721. > "I think it comes from Poseidon."
  1722. > Asterion checks it quickly. "I'm sorry for not being good enough," he reads out loud.
  1723. > He doesn't say anything else for a while. He looks up to the ceiling and closes his eyes.
  1724. > "He tried to defend me in the trial," he says. "And he says he's sorry for not being good enough." He puts the postcard away at the nightstand.
  1725. > You cuddle up to him. "Well, what do you think?"
  1726. > "I suppose it's a nice thought. It's… I wish I could meet him someday. That transcript you found, he sees himself as my grandpa, right?... I'm ok with that." He turns to you. "It would be nice. But that's my past and my future is here with you. I love you, Anon."
  1727. > You two sleep peacefully together.
  1728.  
  1729. Chapter 15
  1730. > Some shifts are tougher than others. It's not easy being a Terminations Officer in a research ship, it's a lot of work. But some shifts are worse than others.
  1731. > This one didn't have much work to do, no terminations to perform. It was looking up. But the three of them had that brilliant idea, of checking old files from way back when Doctor Centauri still worked there. And they found it, what they shouldn't, and so they stared at the computer screen for over an hour, going up and down a single file. Checking it over and over again.
  1732. > Some shifts are tougher than others. There's a gradation to them. They get you tired first, just plain old tired. Keep at it and that's when it gets to your bones, that exhaustion that pulls you to sleep.
  1733. > It ain't bad, if you can't usually get to sleep. Some people are like that, their minds are just filled with too much faces popping up all the time. You can't ever stop thinking, remembering.
  1734. > "Ever wonder where Doc ran off to?," says Magenta.
  1735. > But if you keep at it, it's like exhaustion folds into itself. You stop feeling tired and you just feel empty, and it seems like you start seeing the world from a very tiny computer screen inside your own head.
  1736. > Keep at it for a while longer and you get there. You just keep folding it all into itself. Keep folding. Like a fractal, keep folding. And then you get there, to that point where your face just stops acting on its own and you forget how to move your hands.
  1737. > Sometimes you forget how to see entirely, how the shapes and colors fit together.
  1738. > "Doc said he'd retire off to Station Beauty to finish his research," said Cyan.
  1739. > x remembered how to see, for a moment. He looked far into the computer screen, beyond the document, towards their faint reflection on the monitor. There to his left was Cyan, to his right Yellow, and put together they were Black.
  1740. > "He was already old back then. I'm not sure he's still around," says Yellow.
  1741. > "I think we've earned ourselves a little vacation," said Magenta. "We could hop into Beauty, see what Doc found so special about it."
  1742. > Magenta's words floated in the darkened, musty server room. Cyan didn't know what to say. He often remained silent. Yellow wasn't so shy.
  1743. > "I can get behind that. Always wanted to see what was up there." But even Yellow could show some tenderness every once in a while. "Maybe I'm wrong, Doc can be there too. I'd like to find him."
  1744. > "Doc, eh," mumbled Cyan. "Alright. Yes. Let's find Doc."
  1745. > They turned off the computer. In the darkness Magenta saw their reflection more clearly.
  1746. > They were called Black. A three-headed thing, reptile in most aspects.
  1747. > The left head is called Cyan and he's shy.
  1748. > The right head is Yellow and he lost an eye.
  1749. > The middle head, Magenta, controls the body.
  1750. > The body itself is magenta-colored, which makes sense now that he thinks about it. Huh, it does make sense.
  1751. > They get up and walk to the docks.
  1752. > You'd think stealing a spaceship would be a sneaky affair. But not in this ship, not when it's so severely understaffed. That's usually what happens when too many contracts get terminated.
  1753. > They hop on in, still wearing the same clothes from their shift, and without interruptions set out to the stars. Magenta looks off to the cosmos, and to their reflection in the ship's window, and realizes he's forgotten Doc's face. But he ain't admitting that to Yellow and Cyan.
  1754. > Meanwhile, Yellow himself isn't sure Doc ever existed in the first place. And Cyan isn't thinking too hard about this, he just want to give his brothers a break. He's a selfless one.
  1755. > Magenta inputs the commands, because he commands the body. Destination: Beauty itself.
  1756. > It's gonna take a while. So, the good brother Magenta is, he breaks the first aid kit and gets the strong stuff, a sedative syringe. Or two.
  1757. > "Oh?" mumbles Yellow. "Busting out the good stuff eh. That ain't good for our -- I mean, your liver."
  1758. > "Our," corrects Magenta.
  1759. > Terminating a contract is delicate work, it ain't ever easy. So injecting in an artery isn't hard.
  1760. > "You're a softie, Magenta," says Cyan.
  1761. > Sometimes he forgets to respond, or to think. That's one of those situations.
  1762. > They sit at the commander's chair, fully in control of fate, and drift off to sleep.
  1763.  
  1764. > They sit at the stool, the notion of fate itself defenestrated entirely alongside all reasonable expectations.
  1765. > They are in a brightly lit, white room. It is quite spacious; you get used to cramped spaces when you've lived your entire life in a research ship. And then a room like you'd find in a planet, one with a proper breathable atmosphere, chills you to the bone.
  1766. > That's too much space. It's just plain wrong.
  1767. > There's also a bed on the corner, a plain old bed. That's where they woke up. And it's wrong too, as they've always slept on a velcro sack screwed to the wall on dormitory A3.
  1768. > And you're sitting on a stool, there's a -- a thing in front of you in a haz-mat suit. You can't see its face, whether or not it has a face, as even the visor is covered in reflective material.
  1769. > "This is first contact," the thing in the suit says. "A moment for history!"
  1770. > This is all very unsettling, Magenta thinks to himself. He knows his two brothers, the two other heads, share the same general disposition. But he's also relieved, in a way, knowing that he can just sit in the stool and do nothing for once. What's the worst that could happen?
  1771. > He can just not think, for a while, and let his brothers do the talking.
  1772. > "Is this Beauty?" asks Cyan. "Nicer than I expected."
  1773. > "Now, aren't you kind," the thing in the haz-mat suit says. "Indeed, I am quite a looker."
  1774. > Magenta, were he willing to dedicate a few of his neurons for foresight, would find it peculiar that this thing could understand their language. But he's enjoying, the sheer emptiness of thought.
  1775. > "Where are we?," asks Yellow, who seems to have more things figured out.
  1776. > "You are inside Minotaur Hotel, and you are our guests."
  1777. > "How convenient, we were going for vacations," says Cyan.
  1778. > "Yes, maybe that's why you found your way here. This place attracts people who are lost, needing some rest. That's how I got here."
  1779. > Magenta tunes the fuck out.
  1780.  
  1781. > They sit on a bed too soft inside a bedroom too large in an atmosphere with no trace odours of air recycling. But all of the room is child-proofed and that xeno-reinforced door sure as hell ain't opening from the inside.
  1782. > There's a mirror there, though, in front of the bed, protected by a panel of bulletproof glass. Magenta looks at it. A cyan head to the left, an yellow one to the right. A fat gut in the middle, all of it magenta-colored, and the head above it is a Terminations Office.
  1783. > There's a desk off to the side (bolted to the floor) and a monitor (behind bulletproof glass) playing a video.
  1784. > On the bed there's a piece of parchment and a few small purple boxes. They don't recognize this script but, somehow, they can read what it says:
  1785. > "We've concluded your organism is capable of ingesting the liquids in these boxes. They should provide you with adequate sustenance until we can provide you with a full meal plan. We are sorry for the inconvenience. -- Hotel Management."
  1786. > The boxes have the same weird script, it says; "Minotaur Hotel™ Brand Grape Juice". There's a cartoonish drawing of a smiling, white-furred being with horns sprouting off its head. It's giving a thumbs up and a balloon pops from its mouth.
  1787. > "Perfect to get yourself *moooo-ving* for a new day!"
  1788. > "NOT FOR RESALE"
  1789. > His brothers are discussing what to do next, what's going on, what's gonna happen to them, an escape plan, how to survive, the atmosphere, food. Magenta pops in the plastic straw in the box and sucks its ambrosia.
  1790. > Once that's done he just lays on the bed for another nap and they come along with him. Commanding the body has its perks, after all.
  1791. > "Magenta, what if they dissect us?"
  1792. > "Indeed," says Yellow.
  1793. > "Indeed," repeats Magenta, in an unforeseen episode of echolalia.
  1794.  
  1795. > They sit on a wooden chair -- how fancy, organic furniture -- alongside three other spacefaring individuals. They are in a very large room, for their standards, and off to the side there's a table with Minotaur Hotel™ Brand Grape Juice nutrition boxes.
  1796. > "Very well," says The Human. "We've concluded there's no risk of contamination, that you are all physically healthy and that we can provide you with adequate housing, breathable air and feeding. So we've decided we should start off with a little seminar on how life at the Hotel works, to get you guys settled."
  1797. > Magenta looks to the side. Sometimes it takes a while for what his eyes see to make sense to his brain. It's like being one or two blinks behind. But eventually the shapes start making sense.
  1798. > There's a synth sitting to his left, in the circle. Clockwise from him there's a slug man. Then the human, and to Magenta's right there's a gecko.
  1799. > "Magenta I want a nutrition," says Cyan as he tries to stretch his neck towards the table. "Please."
  1800. > "The human is talking, Cyan," says Yellow.
  1801. > Indeed, he is talking. But Magenta rediscovered then how to move — such a finding cannot go unexpressed — so he collects three juice boxes. He has to hold it on his left hand, because his brothers don't control any of their limbs. Yellow isn't hungry though.
  1802. > It is comforting, in a way, Magenta thinks. "This place is very ok. I don't need to think much. I can just be."
  1803. > The synth is speaking. The slug speaks. The gecko too. Magenta didn't bother listening but regretted it when all eyes fell on him, on the three of them.
  1804. > "To be seen is unsettling," thinks Magenta. "What do they want from me?"
  1805. > "Hello," says Yellow. "You can call us Black. We come from a research ship."
  1806. > "We set out for a vacation, we were looking for Beauty."
  1807. > "And what did you do in the ship?" asks the human. "What was your job?"
  1808. > Yellow breathes in to respond but Magenta startles himself out of his stupor.
  1809. > "I terminate contracts."
  1810. > "Oh, a lawyer then. We can always use a lawyer for R&D." The human scribbles something on his notepad.
  1811. > Cyan and Yellow don't know what to do. They look to Magenta for guidance but he's tuned off again, drinking from his Minotaur Hotel™ Grape Juice nutrition box.
  1812.  
  1813. > But the humans do not ask Black to work.
  1814. > They had never been to a Hotel before, or out of the research ship for that matter. The entire idea for this place is alien to them; a place where you can just be, with such spacious rooms, and not have to do anything for it. Free food, free Minotaur Hotel™ Grape Juice.
  1815. > It seems like a trap. That's what Cyan and Yellow say. "We should find a way out."
  1816. > But there are perks to being in command of the body. And Magenta as of lately has been uncooperative. He's still figuring out how to put the shapes back together and the idea of getting out of bed seems monumental.
  1817. > When they do get up he mostly follows Cyan and Yellow's orders. They seem dead set on unraveling the Hotel's mystery.
  1818. > They are befuddled by how you can keep turning right, time after time, and never reach the same point where you started. The Hotel seems to work under a non-Euclidean structure of sorts.
  1819. > Magenta is unfazed and generally disinterested.
  1820. > They get lost many times and see many things.
  1821. > Once, after turning left about fifteen times, going deeper and deeper into the Hotel, the sepia walls gave away to bare, purple obsidian walls. The ceiling itself seemed to disappear in a flash and a similarly purple, raging sky hung overhead.
  1822. > They heard the noise of something metallic crashing up ahead. Cyan and Yellow were curious but cautious; Magenta was only marginally aware of his surroundings and didn't hear their pleas for him to *stop walking.*
  1823. > They turn left one last time and that's when they see him. White-furred, the horns, wearing a loincloth of sorts, wielding a double-bitted axe against a dozen straw dummies. There are three dozens of them cut to pieces, thrown to the side, and the creature seems to have no intention of stopping its rampage.
  1824. > Cyan and Yellow tell Magenta to run.
  1825. > The thought does not cross his mind. He stays and watches, transfixed, as the axe's shape seems to make so much sense. The way it cuts through the dummies. And the creature's rage, so primal, so simple -- he envies it. A fire like that would smother away all other emotions. And to witness it gives Magenta an ember.
  1826. > He cannot look away. He's been starving for days now, for a shred of emotion, now it encroaches and binds him.
  1827. > Yellow and Cyan despair, they are crying, but Magenta won't budge.
  1828. > That's when the creature turns to them, axe in hand. It's covered in sweat, some foam spills from its mouth.
  1829. > A thought crosses Magenta's mind. The ship they stole had a gun, which however is not a very sophisticated choice when you have three heads. The axe looks good, but is it wide enough for three heads at once? Doesn't seem to be. That won't do. It's either all or none, can't cheap out on that. But if that thing is holding the axe then maybe he could do it in a single swing.
  1830. > The creature looks down on them, its nostrils flaring wildly, its tail thrashing behind it.
  1831. > "Please don't tell Master about this. He doesn't know I've been practicing."
  1832. > Magenta does not give his brothers a chance to muster a reaction.
  1833. > "You are the maker of grape juice."
  1834. > Asterion, towering over the hydra, ponders his response. He has lived for centuries; he has taken in the refugees from thousands of human conflicts. He has seen everything.
  1835. > Except this. The comment about the grape juice. He reflects that even an old bull ought to see new things every once in a while.
  1836. > He does have, however, something Asterion is all too familiar with. Those eyes. So tired, they are. He knows them too well. This is a man on the brink of collapse.
  1837. > Asterion, as a rule of thumb, likes all the Hotel's guests. But this one, he immediately likes better, because he's far too lost. Men like Asterion are like that; eager to find emotion in unexpected places.
  1838. > "Yeah. In a way. Kinda. I can summon the grapes but its the kitchen staff who makes the juice."
  1839. > "I really like your juice Mister Minotaur Hotel Tee Emm."
  1840. > "Thank you, that's very sweet of you. Does that mean you won't tell Master?"
  1841. > "Who's Master?"
  1842.  
  1843. > Magenta's memory is very spotty. The days seem to blur together. He does remember Asterion -- that's the creature's name -- gave him a sip of the spicy grape juice. It made him feel better.
  1844. > "This will be our little secret."
  1845. > He visits them often now, maybe every other day.
  1846. > Cyan and Yellow made a friend of their own; Nito, the Gecko.
  1847. > He's on the short side, around 4 feet and a half, and thin. He knocked on their door asking for help, if Black had any supplies to fix his holographic glasses.
  1848. > They didn't, so he just got in and they hung out.
  1849. > "You guys are so stylish," he said.
  1850. > "We've been wearing the same jumpsuit since we got here fourteen cycles ago," says Yellow. "What could you mean by that?"
  1851. > "I mean the magenta, cyan and yellow thing. You guys look so cool, the most aesthetic folks in this place if you ask me. I want my glasses to have that same color scheme."
  1852. > And from that day onwards they hung out a few hours every day. Because Nito thought they were cool.
  1853. > Nito couldn't fix his glasses, so instead painted its frame with CMY streaks to match his new friend.
  1854. > Nito thinks just standing around looking cool is fun. So they do just that, stay around the Hotel's lobby. Loitering. No one seems to mind.
  1855. > Cyan and Yellow find it funny. Magenta is unfazed, for the most part.
  1856. > There's one person who catches his eyes, every once in a while. He doesn't talk about him, but whenever the griffin passes around, walking on all fours and bumping on people's crotches, Magenta always accompanies him with his gaze. Yellow and Cyan feel their loins stirring.
  1857. > "Really? The griffin?," whispers Yellow.
  1858. > Magenta may have the mind to enjoy some eye candy, but not to offer an explanation. And on the few times the griffin bumped on their crotch he made no motion to push him away.
  1859. > Nito and Black prefer to talk only when they're inside Nito's room. Talking in public isn't stylish.
  1860. > To hang out and talk with a friend does not require a subject. To hang out is to entertain oneself in a tolerable way, allowing your brain to fall into a torpor that disguises one's approaching death. Hanging out is like opening a wrapped gift; it may hold nothing inside, but the chance of it containing an end to everything makes one's heart rejoice. But Black wouldn't know it since he never got a gift in his life.
  1861. > Nonetheless, sometimes they have a subject to talk about; Nito enjoys talking about his memories. Black tolerates it, as long as he does not have to offer the same, and as long as Magenta is afforded a few Minotaur Hotel™ Grape Juice nutrition boxes, as it keeps him pacified.
  1862. > "Is just, I was all alone in space, no family, friends, nothing. I mean I had them at some point, but then I became a technician and started getting frozen for the longer trips, and before I knew it everyone was dead of old age. That was kind of a wake-up call, getting a message saying my nephews died."
  1863. > "One day I just locked myself inside a closet to scream a little, when I came out I was in the parking lot. Came out of one the earth people's cars. Just like that. Is pretty cool though, I had received a copy of their broadcasts and those were so fun. Have you ever seen The Simpsons? Man, I always thought Earth life must be the shit. I wanna have a human kid just like Bart Simpson."
  1864. > "Anyhow once I got out of the car I was asking myself 'How the fuck did I get here?' But it's ok. Fuck that shitty spaceship technician life. I mean, the rooms here are so fucking big, it's terrifying, but the people are nice. It's real weird though how no one sleeps in a sack velcro'd to the wall, I'm having a hard time getting used to the bed thing."
  1865. > "Yeah," said Magenta, having sucked out the last drops of grape juice. A momentous occasion, breaking his three days of silence. "We locked ourselves in a ship and set course for Beauty. Now we are here."
  1866. > "Beauty? What the fuck were you gonna do there, that place's a literal dump."
  1867. > Magenta does not readily answer. He tries again to suck the juice by scraping the plastic straw against the box's bottom. Gets a few drops, spread thin over his tongue.
  1868. > Magenta's mind sparks for a brief moment. His eyes lose their dullness and, as light shines through, he understands the shapes of his surroundings. He feels the weight of life on his back, but its lighter than it's ever been. He breathes in, shifts himself, and notices that he does not have to command each and every part of his body to do his bidding; it's like he is one single person, for a moment.
  1869. > "This is good," he says.
  1870. > "Yeah dude, this grape juice thing the earthlings have is the shit ain't it."
  1871. > "Yes. The shit."
  1872.  
  1873. > "You should take a bath and pick a new set of clothes," said Asterion. "HR told me you're a lawyer, I thought we could go up to the Office today and show you around."
  1874. > They are in Black's room. Spacious, as all bedrooms in the Hotel are, although this one has an overflowing trash can of juice boxes.
  1875. > "We don't have any other clothes," says Magenta. Cyan and Yellow look at each other, unsure whether to tell they're not a lawyer.
  1876. > Asterion looks Black over for a moment, up and down, taking note of his measurements. Black's not particularly tall. But, well, three heads. He's chubby, clearly, and unkempt.
  1877. > "Go have a bath," says Asterion as he reaches out to give Black a pat on the shoulder. "I'll deal with that."
  1878. > While Black showers Asterion allows himself to muse about what life could have been. He's raised a few children over the centuries, the sons and daughters of previous Masters. But they were never his.
  1879. > Perhaps this could change, now that he's with Anon.
  1880. > Asterion commands the Hotel to manifest what he has in mind. A set of clothes fitting for Black. He thinks it through, the fabrics, the threads, how big they should be.
  1881. > Perhaps they could have children of their own, someday. But today, for this unspoken occasion, Asterion allows himself to feel a fatherhood over this lost man. Lost in the stars, found on Earth, and lost still inside his own mind.
  1882. > Some emotions musn't ever be said out loud. Loving another man is simple, straightforward, it flows softly from one's tongue. However this ember of fatherhood, over one who is not your flesh and neither is a child, must be kept silent. It would die otherwise.
  1883. > "This is called a turtleneck, Black," says Asterion. The hydra is naked before him, still damp from the bath. Cyan is blushing at how exposed they are. Yellow smirks at Asterion, the smug piece of shit. And Magenta is wide awake, for a moment seeing with eyes unclouded.
  1884. > "I made this for you. There are some more in the closet."
  1885. > Magenta does not show gratitude. He could not. The thought cannot cross his mind. He puts it on and that's it. Cyan and Yellow stay quiet — Asterion is Magenta's buddy, and Nito is theirs. But this is the first gift they've ever received.
  1886. > Asterion smiles. The gift was good but this closes the deal. Yellow and Cyan see it, such a simple thing, and just like that they both settle on liking him too.
  1887. > They all feel small in Asterion's presence, secretly wishing his hand could envelop theirs.
  1888.  
  1889. > "I'm sorry," says Magenta. The paper in front of him seems like a colossal task. He won't admit it but — simply put, it's like his mind is dulled. He sees the letters, knows he can understand the Hotel's language, but — putting words together sounds so tiresome.
  1890. > Nito is right beside him — turns out he started working in R&D a week ago — and Asterion is standing up across the table. Off to the side, reading something, is a human — 'Master' Anon, as Asterion puts it.
  1891. > At a single glance Magenta realises he both envies and hates him, and wishes Anon would like him. But he cannot fathom why.
  1892. > "I, I don't know. This is not the kind of Contracts I work with."
  1893. > "*We* work with," interrupts Yellow. "It's *we.*"
  1894. > 'You're not the one who controls the hands,' thinks Magenta.
  1895. > "We were a Termination Officer back in the ship," continues Yellow. "We, uh, terminated contracts., sure Not this kind though."
  1896. > Sometimes one regrets dearly one's wishes. Today is such an occasion for Magenta, as at times he wanted to feel once again. Little did he know he would be blessed, this fine morning, with the fiery emotion of panic.
  1897. > "Yeah," says Cyan. "It's more like..."
  1898. > The most wretched of emotions can often pull one back from the brink. Magenta ponders, for just a brief moment, that he understands Asterion now, what he must have felt while cutting down the dummies with his axe. This horrible fire puts one back together alright.
  1899. > But it also makes one vulnerable, which is dangerous when one scarcely can control oneself. And right now Magenta does not realize he is panicking, that his breathing is growing desperate, that all eyes are on him as Cyan is about to say that which is unspeakable.
  1900. > Magenta deep down believes himself to have a handful of moments of eloquence.
  1901. > "Cyan, stop, this is not a topic I'd like to discuss here, at this moment, perhaps we could talk it out with our supervisor in a private environment."
  1902. > That is what he wishes to say.
  1903. > Instead he blacked out.
  1904.  
  1905. > Things changed after the incident.
  1906. > Not exactly for the worse.
  1907. > Still no work to do. That ain't bad.
  1908. > Asterion visits more often. Nito too.
  1909. > Their bedroom has been baby-proofed again.
  1910. > Every other day Black goes to a room besides the infirmary and talks with "the therapist." Magenta doesn't have much to talk about and that seems to be an issue. Sometimes they make an exercise wherein two of the three heads use ear plugs and blindfolds, so each one at a time gets to have a private session with the therapist.
  1911. > Now Black is expected to take a pill everyday. Magenta figured out what it was, made the math, and realized they are not provided with enough pills at a time to overdose. He made a formal request for a higher daily dosage. Cyan and Yellow have presented another formal request to not be allowed near any medication unsupervised.
  1912. > Now they also have a 'buddy.' The synth, the one they met during the seminar, who escorts them wherever they go throughout the day. That is his job.
  1913. > Nito, Black and the Synth become a trio of sorts. They hang out, which is Nito's code for loitering and looking cool. The synth is happy to be of use for their aesthetic-seeking mission.
  1914. > The days blur together. It goes on like this, for a while.
  1915. > Until Nito got the bright idea of taking Black to the lounge at night, so they all could have a chance at socializing. It was overall a lousy proposal, seeing as Black's therapist forbid him from drinking "the spicy grape juice."
  1916. > But the sounds of the lounge soothed Magenta. So many people coming and going, the clinking of cups, laughter. Cyan and Yellow talking with Nito and the synth. He could tune out, yeah, and let it all happen. Enjoy the sensations.
  1917. > That's when Magenta saw *him*, the griffin. Just walking around on all fours, wearing nothing but a red and blue tank top and a matching speedo. Bumping on people's crotches when he could, of course, but also stopping to chat each one of them up. Like a host.
  1918. > Magenta stared at him from afar. Luke saw it, the fixed gaze, and made his way to Black -- to his crotch, more precisely. With no attempt at stealth Luke got under the table and put his face between Black's legs.
  1919. > There were few guests in the Hotel who wouldn't push him away when he did something like that. It had become a game of sorts. People knew him as the harmless pervert, and knew they could swat him away with a rolled up newspaper. He also knew some didn't like his forwardness at all and avoided stepping on their toes.
  1920. > Now, this three-headed alien guy, he had never made any attempt at pushing him off. Never talked to him either, sure, but now Luke was curious.
  1921. > He didn't *bump* into his crotch. Luke buried his face on the hydra's crotch, digging around for his scent and what kind of junk he'd have. Now, he had noticed this chubby lil' guy seemed to be packing, there was quite a bulge to his pants, but the griffin was surprised with what he felt. This dude seemed to be packing balls the size of baseballs and his musk wasn't at all something to trifle with. It smelled like a mighty fine dick, alright.
  1922. > The synth and Nito both watched, speechless, as Luke kept digging at Black's crotch under the table. Cyan himself was turning magenta with embarrassment and Yellow was looking off to the side. Magenta was the only one looking down, to Luke's face. Their eyes met, and stayed glued together.
  1923. > When a man has nothing to lose in life there is no reason for shame or fear of rejection. So Magenta does what comes naturally; he grabs Luke by the back of the head and grinds the griffin's face against his crotch. Quickly enough the bird gets it and starts enjoying the show.
  1924. > Magenta looks to everyone around him, all rendered speechless by his display.
  1925. > "Don't stop on my account. What were you saying again?" said Magenta, looking at Nito.
  1926. > "Huh. So, I… I was saying that, so, The Simpsons? I had only watched the first seasons back then. So, uh… Wow, he's still going?" Nito looks under the table for a good second. "So now I'm watching the new seasons and they are so much better, hands down. I'm making some online friends too, from Mexico and Argentina, and we always discuss every new episode."
  1927. > Luke has his forehead pressed against Black's crotch now, he's taking a proper breath of air as his mind processes what's going on. Sure, he's been having quite a few escapades since he's gotten here. Actually, let's be honest, he's been slutting it up. But so far there's always been a pretense of keeping it clean, a stealthy exchange of glances, chatting a bit here and there, until one day Luke would conveniently find himself alone with his newfound lover.
  1928. > Well, no one's been this intensely forward before -- unless he's doing his strip show, in which case it's all fair game, but even then there's a distance. Tonight there are people around and this guy's boldness impresses Luke.
  1929. > He motions to get out from under the table but Black still holds his head. They lock eyes again, Black towering over the griffin. Luke looks away first, towards a chair nearby, and Black lets go of his head.
  1930. > Luke stumbles his way from under the table and pulls a chair over, besides Black, and brings it too close for comfort, as far as Yellow and Cyan are concerned, but Magenta pulls him even closer.
  1931. > Magenta's heart runs wildly, but his gaze is steeled. It is weird for him. He feels alive and in control, for once. "Maybe this is what Asterion feels when he's practicing," he thinks. "Or with Master Anon."
  1932. > Luke fires off a barrage of questions. "Hey, so, what's your name space noodle? I've seen you around but never figured you were tough like that. Is it true you can pilot a space ship? What's it like fucking in space? Does your junk just flop around in zero gravity, how does that feel like? You have a slit, don't you, does your dick ever feel cold when it's out? Do you guys ever kiss each other? Are you like three minds in one body or do you all have just one brain in your gut?"
  1933. > To fiercely want something is a powerful emotion. One who is unused to feeling at all never knows how to react to it. This shows, such lost men speak a language that can only be understood by those who have been put through a similar scenario.
  1934. > Magenta wants, fiercely, and he speaks his own language.
  1935. > "Yeah, I can pilot a space ship," he says as he puts an arm over Luke's shoulder and pulls him to his chest. Even for a bar that is a bold move; it is haphazardly done, Luke's just thrown over Black, there's no elegance at all.
  1936. > "Uhuh," says Luke, in a daze. Magenta looks down to Luke's crotch — he's only wearing a speedo after all — and finds the steely, dripping confirmation of the griffin's want.
  1937. > There's the language of sex, which is for the most part universal. But the words of desperate want are secret. Luke knows them. Dazed as he may be with this man's forwardness, he knows such a fierceness always comes at a price.
  1938. > "We're Black" says Magenta. Silence hangs heavy as he looks down to Luke, still lost in the hydra's scent. The griffin's eyes dart to and fro. Yellow and Cyan still look away. "You wanna find out what space is like?"
  1939. > Right then and there it all clicks, again and again. The gears and cogs of the minds of men shift all together in unison, and the closer you look the more of them you see. Like a fractal, folding over itself forever until, suddenly, the moment's passed. But it has changed everything.
  1940. > "Yeah," Luke says, but whatever edge was in his voice is gone. He kneads Black's turtleneck sweater, like a needy kid sinking deeper into a hug. A kid wearing a red and blue speedo, his erection, hard as it may be, dying quickly due to another type of excitement.
  1941. > "What's your name?"
  1942. > "Luke."
  1943. > Magenta looks away for a moment, to the drink Nito's holding on his hand. He snatches it and gulps it all down at once. Goddamnit he deserves some of the spicy juice every once in a while.
  1944. > "Yellow, where's the ship."
  1945. > "Uh. It's in the docks. But it's on lockdown, I don't think we're allowed to pilot it, our therapist --"
  1946. > Magenta's no longer paying attention. He's looking around, hunger in his eyes. Asterion's not here, but he knows where the bull must be.
  1947. > "I'm in control," Magenta thinks to himself. "I have this. This is mine." He nearly jumps up from his sitting position, holding to Luke's forearm and the two set out to find the Hotel's Keeper — Luke's shift be damned.
  1948. > Such a want makes one want to cry. That's what Magenta thinks as they turn right in four consecutive intersections. He's nearly crying of want, and it feels so good. He's holding on to dear life, in the form of Luke's forearm, and clawing his way out of his own mind.
  1949. > They're one burst of shamelessness away from straight up running through the hallways. When they turn right Black holds on to the wall, dragging his claws across it. It makes him feel alive, this simple vandalism, leaving a mark.
  1950. > He's smiling and doesn't know it.
  1951. > He bangs on the door to the Master's Quarters and doesn't realize it.
  1952. > "Asterion! I want my ship!"
  1953.  
  1954. > "I suppose this is what having a teenage son must feel like," Asterion thinks to himself. The minotaur's only wearing his loincloth -- it's 11PM -- and the kid is asking for the car keys, holding on to his dopey-looking quote friend unquote. And, sure, he got the car with his own money, it's technically his, but the kid's not really all right in the head so you know he shouldn't drive it now.
  1955. > And he fucking knocked on your door when you were about to bottom, your ass is lubed and your man's waiting in bed with his dick losing hardness as we speak. You want your me time, damnit, but the kid's desperate and somewhat off the rails. And every dog deserves to have a day.
  1956. > All of that said. Magenta's eyes, burning like hellfire, plus Cyan's and Yellow's complicit stares make for a compelling case.
  1957. > Quick, tough choices are often necessary.
  1958. > "Don't let Magenta do anything stupid," Asterion says to the two saner heads. Then he steps closer to Luke. "You too, don't let him -- goddamnit you're completely into it, aren't you."
  1959. > Whatever bravado Luke displays is gone. He's in for the ride no matter where it goes.
  1960. > "Ok. The synth has the codes for the ship. I'll send him a message, he'll be your chaperone. What are you even doing anyway?"
  1961. > "Show Luke the stars."
  1962. > Asterion's eyes grow wide. He looks Black and Luke over again. The griffin is still wearing just a speedo -- isn't tonight his shift at the lounge? -- and Black's hand grasps Luke's forearm with a violent, needy want. Magenta's eyes are wide awake.
  1963. > Such a fire runs the risk of burning out. It is imprudent.
  1964. > But a man must be allowed to try.
  1965. > "Very well. Don't do anything stupid, you hear me? When you come back I want you to come here immediately so I know you are ok."
  1966. > "Thank you," says Yellow. He looks to Magenta, expectantly.
  1967. > "Yeah," says the middle head, coming briefly out of his own daze. "Thank you Asterion."
  1968. > "Well, look at that," says the bull, smiling faintly. "Have fun, little guy. Just be careful, ok?"
  1969.  
  1970. > Asking dad for the car keys, as much as a bonerkill as it may be, isn't enough to dampen one's moods completely. And a man as thirsty for life as Magenta cannot possibly care enough to be bothered with the synth's presence.
  1971. > As they make their way to the docks Magenta finds his emotions settling into a less turbulent shape. He's still holding to Luke's forearm — the griffin's hand is cold, seeing as the hydra is pressing too strongly.
  1972. > "Sorry about that," he says, letting go of Luke's arm.
  1973. > "It's ok," the griffin says. He wants to say more but he's lost too.
  1974. > "You've never been to space before?"
  1975. > "No. My bro got picked for the program instead." Luke follows now a step behind Black. The synth watches over silently. "But the launch didn't go so well."
  1976. > "This ship launches smoothly. You'll like it." Black waits for Luke to catch up, and seeing as the griffin seems shy he goes back to holding his forearm again, this time softly.
  1977. > "I'll show you the neighboring systems. The planets, whatever you want. We can make a jump, we'll be there in a minute."
  1978. > "Can we see the moon?"
  1979. > "Earth's moon? Sure, there's not much there though. What do you wanna do there?"
  1980. > Cold sweat drips down Luke's back. He stops walking and pulls Black.
  1981. > "Can you really show me the moon? Really?"
  1982. > "Yeah. But is that all you want?"
  1983. > "Can we land there? Can we go out?"
  1984. > "I think," Cyan chimes in, "we have a suit that could fit you, Luke. We have ours at the ship too. So yeah, sure."
  1985. > The synth remains quiet. He knows what's up.
  1986. > Luke is aghast. He doesn't know what to say. It feels like his life has been turned upside down in the blink of an eye; just twenty minutes ago he was getting ready to strip at the lounge, talking up the guests, and now he's walking on two legs and feeling inadequate for only being in his speedos because he's going to the moon. Black holds on to his forearm, pulls him around, and he feels so small and safe.
  1987. > Luke's not a sensitive guy. He's the kind to bury his face on someone's crotch in public and hang out in the lounge until someone catches his eye for a quick fuck. Then, once it's all done, the griffin will either kick the guy off his bed or make his smug walk of shame back to his bedroom.
  1988. > Luke's a kinky, raunchy son of a bitch who would eagerly debase himself to bust a nut.
  1989. > But now he's small and lost, hopeful and  — sad, so sad too. He seizes Black in a hug that lasts too long, an awkward gesture around someone who doesn't know how to hug back.
  1990. > The three of them — Black, Luke and the synth — arrive at the docks and board the ship Black stole.
  1991. > "This is my dream, man," Luke says, trying to contain his sniffles. "Going to the moon. Goddamnit this is the one thing I've wanted the most in my entire life. Jesus Christ..."
  1992. > Magenta doesn't know what to do with his arms. He looks around, to his brothers, who don't seem know what to do either, but the synth gesticulates with his arms giving him the hint.
  1993. > That's how Black learned how to hug.
  1994. > Luke wipes off the snot running from his beak. "Let's go."
  1995. > Black, Luke and the synth board the spaceship. The synth is smiling smugly throughout it all, as Black gives him orders on how to prepare for launch.
  1996. > While Black's opening up his maps, preparing their course to the moon, Luke awkwardly looks around the ship. It's not a rocket, like he imagined it'd, it's more like an airplane with a main chamber not much bigger than a bathroom, with a hallway leading off to some intimidating, smaller rooms. It isn't cramped, but it's not spacious either.
  1997. > Black — all the three heads — feels alive, damnit. He goes for the locker with the exosuits and pulls out his own, adapted for him having three heads. With no shame he undresses while Luke watches.
  1998. > Luke may be having a deep, personal moment but he's still a horndog. He studies Black's junk; he has obscene balls, alright, *and* a slit. And it isn't a dainty one either, Black seems to be packing enough that even his slit bulges out noticeably even if there's no dick hanging out.
  1999. > Luke's conflicted. He feels so safe around someone with an attitude like Black's. But also can never forget he's a dirty stripper. He knows his place in life, knows he wasn't picked for the space program because he wasn't smart enough -- while Frank, his brother, damn sure was more than enough.
  2000. > He feels dirtier here, now, than he's ever felt pole dancing, or giving a sloppy blowjob outdoors, or killing Japanese during World War II or watching over the napalm victims back in 'Nam.
  2001. > The griffin wishes Black would just smash his crotch against his face. This all feels wrong, being treated like this, lead around by the forearm. Luke's not used to it, or to having someone smart (he can pilot a spaceship!) like Black giving him the time of day.
  2002. > "Why are you doing this for me?"
  2003. > Luke glares at Black's exposed crotch. None of them are horny now, even if they were about to rip their clothes off back at the Lounge.
  2004. > But Luke drops down and crawls over to Black's crotch, nuzzling his his balls with his beak.
  2005. > Magenta's mind goes haywire. He wants this, yes. He wants Luke. But he wants to be in control even more, and he doesn't like Luke's eyes like this. He wants them back to how they were.
  2006. > Black pushes Luke back.
  2007. > "No. Not now. I like you better the other way." He extends Luke's exosuit. "Strip and put this on."
  2008. > "Oh. You mean, a sexy strip?"
  2009. > None of them are horny. The awkwardness hurts. It's like two blind men trying to find each other on a soccer field.
  2010. > "No. Just undress."
  2011. > Luke obeys. Slipping in the suit is difficult, as it goes against the direction of his feathers and fur. Plus his lion tail ends up squished down his leg. Through the entire process Luke once more has the eyes of a lost child, holding on a knot on his throat. But once he's all geared up he looks himself over, runs his hands over the form-fitting material of the suit… And smiles. A pure, innocent smile.
  2012. > "Is this it? Am I ready?"
  2013. > "Yeah. You'll get to walk on the moon."
  2014. > He's like a kid on christmas, giddy on his seat. Black makes sure the seat belts are all placed correctly. The synth has finished preparations and takes his own seat in the back. Black's ready.
  2015. > The ship makes its way to the runway -- it's just like a plane in this regard.
  2016. > "You haven't answered my question. Why are you doing this for me?"
  2017. > There are a thousand ways to say you fancy someone. Some are more eloquent than others, and some are more obvious.
  2018. > "I want to impress you."
  2019. > One ought to forgive Magenta for being inelegant.
  2020. > The ship picks up speed.
  2021. > "I'm easy to impress. You don't need to go this far."
  2022. > "I want to impress you as much as I can."
  2023. > "Why me?"
  2024. > "That's a stupid question. I want you. I want hard. What else could it be?"
  2025. > The ship takes off -- like a plane -- except it's going at an uncomfortably steep angle. But it's nothing too jarring.
  2026. > Luke settles down as he chews the hydra's words. A strange relaxation comes over him. It's like they speak a same language, one he forgot he could speak in the first place. Those thoughts take his mind off from the panic and excitement of his current situation.
  2027. > "You could have anyone, space cadet. Who wouldn't want a ride to the stars?"
  2028. > Magenta, eager as he may be, is lucid and knows how off the mark Luke is.
  2029. > "You're wrong. I'm fucked up all the way, straight up crazy. I've done too much horrible shit. And, regardless, you are thinking all wrong too. You make me feel good. That's reason enough."
  2030. > "But tonight is the first time we've talked. How can you be sure I'll make you feel good?"
  2031. > "You're thinking too hard about this."
  2032. > Luke swallows his words, looks ahead to the night sky. Talking makes him calm down. He doesn't want to stop now, the panic is encroaching. The ship is going over the clouds now. This is what his brother, Frank, must have felt, then he felt nothing ever again.
  2033. > "I'm all fucked up too," he mumbles. "I'm a mess."
  2034. > Luke wishes he was giving someone a sloppy blowjob, or getting rawdogged on the beach. Just… Having his rear up, face rubbing against the sand, thinking about the next shift. What he's gonna wear then. How he's gonna tease Kota. That keeps his mind away from unsightly thoughts.
  2035. > He doesn't deserve nice things. A trip to the moon? No fucking way, he was straight up told he wasn't good enough. His brother was and look where that landed him, blown to bits.
  2036. > "I'm a piece of shit. I don't deserve to be the first griffin in space."
  2037. > "I don't deserve to live but you won't see me complaining."
  2038. > The two of them feel the tension in the air. There's a chain keeping the two of them together now, the bond of men with too many sins on their backs. Throughout this night the two of them felt like crying on their own moments but now that's gone, their eyes are as dry as deserts.
  2039. > It's a lucidity like no other. Look too closely and you'll find they are like crazed beasts, baring their fangs, but against no target in particular. They're testing the waters, and each other, while letting out that which musn't be seen.
  2040. > The stars shine so brightly in the thin, upper atmosphere. It's a strong, constant shine. They don't shimmer like you'd see from the surface. They're like diamonds.
  2041. > "What did you do?" Luke asks.
  2042. > "I worked in a research ship, my job was euthanasia. If someone knew too much and Management thought they shouldn't be able to get out then I 'terminated' their contract. I murdered a lot of people."
  2043. > "Huh." Luke looks up to the ship's ceiling, thinking of what to say.
  2044. > "'Your' job?" Cyan speaks up. "It was *our* job, you weren't alone there!"
  2045. > "Stop," says Yellow, looking at Cyan.
  2046. > "I'm the one controlling the body. I'm the one who did it. You two are innocent."
  2047. > "Now listen here, you —"
  2048. > "Fucking shut up Cyan! Shut up! Let him have his moment goddamnit, he can let it out and we'll talk later. Now shut up, fucking shut up."
  2049. > Cyan mumbles a curse under his breath. Yellow turns to look expectantly. "You were saying?"
  2050. > "Uh," Luke stutters. The moment is gone. Magenta looks ahead, steaming.
  2051. > They cross the second, upper layer of clouds. The ship's trajectory becomes less steep. Luke closes his eyes and enjoys the hum of the engines. He tries to grasp it, that spider's thread lost to Cyan's words. The air between all of them grows peaceful. Luke looks inward. There it is.
  2052. > "I killed a lot of people too," he says. "I went to a few wars. They weren't bad people, but it's war and that's how it went."
  2053. > He chews on his words, looks to his side, to Magenta's face.
  2054. > "It isn't murder if it's your job, that's what I always told myself. I mean, it isn't if it's war, that's the law. You're not a murderer either, I don't think so."
  2055. > "May not be murder but they struggled just the same. Ain't that right, Yellow?"
  2056. > Yellow flashes Luke his face -- only one eye, the other lost.
  2057. > "But you left," says Luke.
  2058. > "We did."
  2059. > "So, you're doing what's right. It's right, you know. You stopped. You're here, living."
  2060. > "Well, that wasn't the plan."
  2061. > "What do you mean?"
  2062. > "We found a file about us. We never knew what kind of thing we were, we never found other hydra people. Turns out Yellow and Cyan were stitched together to me. We are some sick experiment from that research ship, they just made us into an employee too. That's why I control the limbs. That was the last straw. Couldn't take it anymore."
  2063. > Luke remains silent. He hasn't felt like this, or talked about such subjects, in a long while.
  2064. > "So we decided to kill ourselves. There's this black hole called Beauty. The doctor who raised us relocated to the space station orbiting it a long time ago. We set a collision course to the black hole and took a sedative. Then we woke up at the Hotel. Somehow our ship landed there on its own."
  2065. > "Yeah, the Hotel does that. I was just wandering around on my car when it pulled me in. Then I didn't want to leave." He looks around, trying to see if the moon is anywhere near the windshield.
  2066. "So you planned to die in this ship huh." Luke shifts settles back on his seat with a smirk. "Are we going to kill ourselves now?"
  2067. > "No," Magenta chuckles. "I'm taking you to the moon."
  2068. > "Cool."
  2069. > Silence, but a friendly one. Luke hums a song, forgetting that as of this very moment he's the first griffin to leave Earth's atmosphere. The ship readjusts its trajectory, a sense of weightlessness makes his stomach feel weird, they're about to reach orbit.
  2070. > "You wanna go to the gun range tomorrow? I can show you the gun I intended to use when I was planning on killing myself. I can teach you to shoot."
  2071. > "Ok." The hydra already knows how to shoot but they can pretend they don't. Then Magenta thinks harder. "Are we gonna kill ourselves?"
  2072. > "Nah man. Life's worth it."
  2073. > "Yeah. I guess it is."
  2074. > An astronaut in orbit is still under the effects of Earth's gravity. But he'll still experience a sensation of weightlessness, of a seeming absence of gravity. Keeping that in mind Magenta looks over to Luke, who's now coming to terms with his current circumstances. The griffin's queasy, but also excited and trying to push through.
  2075. > There was a sensuality between them, back in the lounge. It shifted into a fire, a want so strong, but not for sex. Black wants sex, of course, it doesn't help he's a virgin. But the want was shifting. Then they talked about murder, and it became a comfortable if stale dryness.
  2076. > "This is a very peculiar moment in my life," Magenta thinks to himself. "I'm learning so much about myself. There are kinds of want. But the feeling of want is itself better than its absence."
  2077. > Luke, between the slow pangs of nausea, struggles with regretting this whole endeavor. But he also holds on to a few words, that his brother would be happy to see him like this. Luke would like it if that thought could get him to tear up a little now, but such emotions pale in comparison to nausea.
  2078. > They remain alone with their own thoughts for a while. Luke stops agonizing, eventually.
  2079. > "You can unlatch the seat belts now. You've never been in orbit before, have you?"
  2080. > Luke struggles at first, seeing as he's not 100%, but like a child learning to swim he gets into the groove. Black joins in, after locking down the controls and making sure they're on the right trajectory. He holds on to a rail on the ceiling, watching Luke pushing himself off surfaces and experimenting with his angular momentum. He bumps his head a few times, but that's par for the course. Doesn't take long before he's becoming bolder and laughing.
  2081. > Magenta bides his time, a wide smile spreading over his face. He positions himself and, when Luke's floating in the middle of the ship, launches himself off on to him. He hugs Luke, their faces awkwardly squishing together, as the two of them set off now towards another wall further ahead.
  2082. > They're all laughing together, Luke 'pinned' between the hefty hydra and the wall. He realizes then that one's weight matters just as much as their speed in those zero gravity collisions.
  2083. > Against all expectations, black is warm, cold blooded. For most people he'd be a bit too chubby. But it all makes a comfortable package, soothing. Luke finds himself hugging back tightly without thinking. All laughter dies down.
  2084. > The synth watches silently as the two of them share the moment. He takes off his seat belts and goes down the hallway, off to the engine room, so the two can have their privacy.
  2085. > Luke and Black feel the heat between them, their mutual thirst for each other. But Luke, as his excitement over zero gravity dies down, is reminded of his brother. And Black is reminded of how he held the griffin's arm as they ran to Asterion's room.
  2086. > "I am in control here," Magenta repeats to himself.
  2087. > He reaches back on his suit and pulls a rope, with a clasp on its end, from one of its pockets. He locks it on one of the ship's rails, then pulls a similar rope from Luke's suit and locks it to his own suit.
  2088. > "There. We won't drift apart now."
  2089. > "Aren't you a romantic now," Luke quips back. But he turns around and lets Black spoon him from behind. "No one's ever treated me like this before."
  2090. > "I've never treated anyone like it either."
  2091. > Luke laughs at Magenta's non-joke. "This is too sappy for me. Want me to give you a blowjob? A zero gee bee-jay?"
  2092. > Magenta holds him tighter. "Shut up."
  2093. > Together they look off to the distant stars. The moon is coming into view now.
  2094. > "What is it like living in space? What are the stars like? To how many planets have you been? What kind of food do you eat in space? Is it like a tube of toothpaste? If you eat dehydrated food do you get thirsty?"
  2095. > Magenta breathes in.
  2096. > There's no doubt this night will be unforgettable for Luke, seeing as it is the culmination of a greater part of his unresolved issues. But there's something else that stands out, very noteworthy.
  2097. > The griffin has always been a curious, if rude, fellow. It's not something he's particularly aware of. Some would say he is dull enough to have no self-awareness. But he's just sharp enough to know no one is willing to put up with his motor mouth.
  2098. > But, tonight, someone is. No question is left unanswered.
  2099.  
  2100. > "That's one small step for a griffin, and one giant leap for griffinkind."
  2101. > Black and the synth look to each other, failing to grasp the context. Luke has his arms on his waist, looking proudly off towards the sun, while insisting on holding his red and blue speedo.
  2102. > Now they're fully equipped with their bulky suits for proper space exploration and wearing reflective helmets. They've just left the ship, barely given their first few steps.
  2103. > "I don't get it," says Cyan.
  2104. > "Look," Magenta says via their radio. "If you leave your underwear here you'll have to walk naked from the docks to your bedroom."
  2105. > "I don't care." Magenta can feel through the griffin's voice that he's smiling.
  2106. > "What else do you want to do?"
  2107. > Luke doesn't respond. He continues looking to the horizon.
  2108. > "Shit, there's really nothing to do here, is there?"
  2109. > "It's a moon. What can you expect to do in a moon? Unless you like studying rocks."
  2110. > "Huh. No, not rocks. That's why I… We can go for a walk."
  2111. > This time the synth insists on following them all the way. Can't run the risk of an accident.
  2112. > Walking on the moon is more like hopping like a bunny. It isn't exactly intuitive. Luke and Black remain quiet, focusing on it, and no one notices it when Luke turns off his radio, to only turn it back again 10 minutes later.
  2113. > "... Shit."
  2114. > "Is something the matter?"
  2115. > Luke doesn't respond quickly. Magenta listens carefully -- is there some static in their radio? -- but then he recognizes the sound. Luke's sniffling.
  2116. > "Sorry, is just, uh, I can't wipe my eyes or my nose. It's bothering me." He sobs.
  2117. > "Why are you crying? I thought you'd be happy."
  2118. > "Is just… My brother, me too. We tried getting into the space program. He did, I didn't. But the spacecraft exploded on its way up. It's so wrong, dude. He was so much better than me, I'm a piece of shit."
  2119. > "Was he better than Luke?" Magenta thinks to himself. "Maybe he was. I can't know for sure. Maybe I can ask about it and see how better each one was… No, that would make him sad. If Luke is better, then he'd be sad for his brother. If his brother is best then Luke would be sad because it's true. Maybe I should lie. What should I lie about? Or change the subject. Maybe there's something smart I can say."
  2120. > "He'd be happy knowing you made it," Cyan says. "He'd be damn proud of you. If he couldn't be the first griffin in space, who else would he pick? You."
  2121. > "Come here. Give us a hug," says Yellow. "It's ok. No one can hear you cry in space."
  2122. > Giving a space hug in bulky suits isn't exactly comfortable, and crashing your helmets together is a bitch. But it does the job.
  2123. > "Please don't cry," Magenta says. He wants to say something more, but it gets stuck inside his own mind.
  2124. > "You are not a piece of shit," is what Magenta would like to say. Because that is what he sees, Luke *cannot* be a bad person. He cannot stomach the idea. But now he knows more about the griffin; he's killed people too. Just some minutes ago he thought they were similar, just about as sentenced to hell as each other. So the two of them are similar. But Luke can't be a bad person.
  2125. > "But I am a bad person," he concludes. "But if I'm a bad grape then Luke is one too. And that can't be right. And if Luke isn't bad, then neither am I."
  2126. > "Can I not be a bad person? That can't be right."
  2127. > He's paralyzed. Luke notices it too, that Black has gone immobile in their hug.
  2128. > "Black? Black?"
  2129. > Magenta keeps thinking. "Do I hate myself more than I want Luke to not hate himself? Because if I do, then I would think Luke is bad. But if I don't want him to feel bad, more than I should feel bad, then I also need to not feel bad."
  2130. > "Is a world where Luke kills himself the one that should exist? Even if I want to die. I can't have the two."
  2131. > Yellow chimes in. "Give him a second, he's thinking. He gets like that sometimes."
  2132. > "And if I kill myself then my brothers will die too. And they are doing well. I am the one who killed people, not them. If that's true then that shifts the balance, and neither Luke nor I should die. But if I'm wrong and me, Yellow and Cyan share the blame, and if they are doing well, then I can do well too. So, this all means, I can choose to live, maybe I can do well, and neither Luke nor I are bad people. And if I pick the other option then we all die."
  2133. > "You're not a piece of shit, Luke."
  2134. > By then Luke's already stopped crying, he was left waiting in a clunky space hug. Perhaps the gravitas of the situation has been lost, alongside the intimacy of not wearing helmets hiding your face. But even in this uncommon situation there's something worthwhile to be found, like Magenta's tone of sincerity, or what, without thinking, Luke says next.
  2135. > "Neither are you."
  2136.  
  2137. > Taking off from the Moon is a simple affair, the ship's thruster can send them off. And in less than ten minutes they're comfortably on Earth's orbit. The auto-pilot is taking them to the set of incomprehensible coordinates labeled MINOTAUR_HOTEL_HU-RE.
  2138. > Black and Luke only then start taking off their suits. Magenta takes a long look at Luke's eyes, noticing they're still red and there are wet trails running down his eyes. But he doesn't say anything. The silence between them is comforting, so are the long, open glances they exchange at each other.
  2139. > "How long until we get to the Hotel?"
  2140. > "About one hour until landing," Magenta says.
  2141. > "Hey," Yellow chimes in. "It's not that simple. Don't be wasteful, this ship only has so much fuel, where will we find more of it from now on? Reduce acceleration. We'll get there just the same with half the expended fuel."
  2142. > "Yeah, I'm sure Luke won't mind. Do you, Luke?"
  2143. > "You're asking if I have an issue with taking longer? No, not really."
  2144. > "Settled, then."
  2145. > Magenta sets out to make the adjustments. It's not as simple reducing a value, the whole trajectory has to be redone to account for the Earth's rotation. Luke watches as Magenta manually goes over everything, propping his head on his hands.
  2146. > All the three heads can feel Luke's gaze boring into them, expectantly. It's weird, in a way, how this quiet, pensive griffin is the same who buried his face on their crotch just earlier this night.
  2147. > "Is there something I can help you with?"
  2148. > Magenta doesn't look away from the screen. What can he say? No, he can't help with piloting. There's nothing else to do, really. But is that what he wants to hear? Maybe he'll be sad. Is there something I can tell him to do?
  2149. > "Yes, there is," says Yellow. "Once Magenta is done here with the calculations we could use a hand to get ou of this suit."
  2150. > Luke blinks and raises his head from his hands. "Magenta? So, Black is the three of you put together. And each head, Cyan, Magenta and Yellow. Right?"
  2151. > "That's right," says Black.
  2152. > The calculations are complete. Black sits back on his chair and slouches.
  2153. > "Well, did you like it?" Magenta asks.
  2154. > "More than you can imagine. I'm much more than happy tonight," Luke unfastens his seat belt and maneuvers himself towards Black. "Don't forget though that tomorrow you and are going to the shooting range."
  2155. > "Sure," Magenta mumbles. His mind is somewhat exhausted after all of this. He hasn't thought and done so much since their escape from the research ship.
  2156. > Luke himself unfastens Black's seat belt, to which Magenta responds with a quizzical look. The griffin tries to pull the hydra up but he's not cooperating.
  2157. > "Lemme help you undress, get up."
  2158. > The two of them carefully get out of the bulky suits. Now they only have the skin tight uniforms. It's strange, Magenta thinks, that earlier he undressed in front of Luke and felt nothing at all. But now he feels naked, while still wearing clothes. It's uncomfortable, not helped by how Magenta's mind is feeling foggy. But the griffin has other plans.
  2159. > "Magenta," Luke whispers as he buries his face in the hydra's chest.
  2160. > The hydra is exhausted, cold, ready to sleep. But the sheer excitement in Luke's face, how desperately the griffin holds on -- it stirs something alright. Magenta's mind fog disperses, little by little, as Luke explores his body.
  2161. > It comes back, that feeling of being in control. It's like life is being breathed back into him, he feels like he's back at the lounge with Luke's face on his crotch.
  2162. > Magenta is not gentle. In zero gravity, floating in the ship's main chamber, he grabs the griffin's head and pushes him down to his crotch. He's not a talker either; no commands, no dirty talk, just raw action.
  2163. > With one hand he rubs Luke's head over his crotch, no shred of patience, while with the other he awkwardly peels away the skintight suit's pants. He's almost angry while at it, angry at those pants for getting in the way, and furiously eager for Luke.
  2164. > Luke is in heaven, being manhandled like that. Normally he can take or dish out everything; sub or dom, top, bottom, switch. But he has a special button of his own. He can't resist a strong-willed smart guy like that, one who can do all those calculations, pilot a space ship, do science. He just feels like being a toy for a man like that.
  2165. > He'll service Black however he wants it. Luke gets to work in sniffing out the hydra's groin. It's a magnificent, if indeed alien thing. Black has testicles the size of baseballs and his musk drills into the griffin's brain with a violence. It can't be a normal smell, there must be something different, and Luke's addicted to it already.
  2166. > Now, the main dish. Black's dick is hidden away inside a slit, but it's not a dainty little thing. His whole crotch bulges out and the hydra's dick starts poking out. Luke gets to licking it, gets his tongue bathed in the hydra's musk and flowing juices.
  2167. > Magenta snorts. Cyan is sheepishly looking away -- maybe trying to give Magenta his privacy -- while Yellow openly watches. The synth has long gone back to the engine room.
  2168. > Magenta puts a hand over his slit and pries it apart, while still holding Luke's head. His dick slides out obscenely, going to the right of Luke's face. Luke's eyes grow wide as he sees it all up close.
  2169. > Black doesn't have a dick, he has club to kill someone with. It's a purple, angry-looking battering ram with a blunt-ish tip. There are bumps on its left and right sides, and just holding it the griffin can feel the hydra's vicious heartbeat. It's thick and long, it almost exudes an aura of violence. Most people, men or women, are unlikely to ever be able to take a monster of this calibre.
  2170. > "You're gonna destroy me," Luke says just before plunging his mouth onto the monster dick before him.
  2171. > Perhaps a toothy blowjob from an eagle's beak doesn't sound too appealing but Luke is the creature who would shovel multiple burgers down his throat. He can open his maw wide enough and he knows no such thing as a gag reflex.
  2172. > Black's grip over Luke is about as aggressive as his dick. Luke takes the plunge on his own but it's the hydra's grip which pushes him down until the dick hits the back of Luke's throat.
  2173. > The griffin isn't gagging or choking but the brutality of that thrust makes him grunt. Black readjusts, holds Luke's head with both hands, pushes him downwards so the griffin's neck is straight. Luke knows what's about to happen and breathes deeply in anticipation.
  2174. > Black impales Luke's throat with his dick. The griffin's neck bulges obscenely, the hydra lays a hand over Luke's windpipe to feel his own dick. He pushes Luke away, but not enough to let him breath, and brings him up to his dick again.
  2175. > Yellow is scared, but excited, at how Magenta is acting — and impressed at how well Luke's taking it. He's only tearing up a little while looking up to Magenta, his eyes wanting more.
  2176. > Magenta keeps fucking Luke's throat for a few seconds more — it sends a chill down his spine how he can feel his own dick in Luke's bulging neck. He's drooling, the droplets of saliva suspended in the zero gravity environment.
  2177. > But even in this frenzied rut he knows he can't just break his toy. Magenta pulls out his dick and Luke desperately gasps for air, unable to say a word. But even then he looks up to Black, to his three heads but mostly to Magenta, and keeps his mouth open, eager, even if there are tears and snot running down his beak.
  2178. > "I can take it," he blurts out. "Do it, do i--."
  2179. > Magenta impales him again and goes all out now, using the griffin's throat as his cock sleeve. The zero gravity makes it easier; he's pushing and pulling the entire griffin while thrusting his own hips. Luke's beak is touching his crotch everytime now. When Black pulls back again his dick is covered in slime, the mix of mucus and his own free flowing, pent up precum.
  2180. > Luke coughs violently. "Again," he says. But this time Magenta has another plan.
  2181. > He's not one to bother saying what's on his mind. He grabs Luke by the beak and brings him up while turning him around. It's awkward, in zero gravity and they'll bump heads on the walls a few times, but that's not gonna stop him.
  2182. > "You're gonna gonna rearrange my guts with that, dude," Luke says, his voice hoarse after the brutal fucking. He takes off his pants. "Yeah, fuck yeah, don't you go easy on me."
  2183. > Even if Luke wanted to have it easy, Magenta's too far gone already. He roughly grabs the griffin's lion tail and uses it to guide the griffin's waiting, eager hole towards his battering ram.
  2184. > It's gonna be a tough one, Luke knows. That thing's blunt head is a weapon, just going in will be a challenge. But he can take it, he knows it.
  2185. > "Magenta. Magenta listen to me."
  2186. > The frenzied hydra takes a moment to register that Luke's saying something at all. He doesn't come out of daze but he stops, his angry dick at the griffin's hole, waiting for what he has to say.
  2187. > "Go all out. Don't you pussy out. I can take whatever you can dish. Fuck me no--"
  2188. > No one can hear you scream in space, but they can from the engine room.
  2189. > Luke isn't exactly tight, he's used to a rough fuck too. But the sheer thickness of it and that blunt head, it's like taking a Coke can up the ass. And the throat slime mixed with pre, good a lube as it may be, isn't nearly enough to make it an easy entry. But the sheer excess of it all, the sheer lust, sends Luke into a frenzy as well.
  2190. > The griffin starts rambling, not making sense at all, as Black grinds his way in inch by inch, not once taking a break to let him readjust. He thought the blunt head would be hard but even now there are the bumps lining the hydra's dick, he feels each one going in.
  2191. > Luke puts a hand over his stomach and feels it distending with the monster rearranging his insides.
  2192. > Luke's going crazy. It hurts, yes, but not nearly as much as it feels good. Intense. He looks for support around to push back, to get more in, until he feels hydras gut resting over his butt and those obscene balls grinding against his.
  2193. > Magenta himself is nearly passing out in excitement. He won't last long, he's not worrying about that at all. He pulls out, enjoying Luke's guts grinding against his monster, and pushes it all back in. A deep fuck, quick but no desperate, and the three heads together are already feeling the building orgasm. Luke's not pacing himself either, with one hand he's jerking his own dick.
  2194. > The whole affair doesn't last more than 10 minutes. It's brutal, rough and honest. Magenta wants to plant a nut deep inside this piece of ass. There's no romance or gentleness. Luke's a toy right now, a cocksleeve, and the griffin is loving it.
  2195. > Magenta picks up the pace and breathes deeply. He squirms his toes and feels that wave of pleasure taking him, pushing him over the edge. He looks down to the griffin and, for a few seconds, he musters enough brain power to understand what he's saying.
  2196. > Luke's screaming, yelling for more. To cum inside him, use him, make him into a cumdump.
  2197. > Magenta holds the griffin's hips with both hands and nearly pulls out all his dick, leaving only the blunt head in. With a final thrust he erupts deep inside Luke, as deep as anyone has ever gotten, and fills the griffin with weeks of pent up seed.
  2198. > Luke yells and pumps out his own load, heaving as he feels his guts pumped full with wave after wave of cum.
  2199. > Luke's face is dripping snot, tears and sweat. He's nearly passing out, but still holding his stomach to feel all the dick inside him.
  2200. > "Don't pull out, please," he says.
  2201. > Magenta has no intention to. He pulls the griffin up to his gut, hugging him, with his dick still impaled.
  2202. > "We stay like this now," Magenta says, nearly asleep.
  2203. > Cyan finally speaks out. "Luke, are you ok? I thought you were gonna fucking die."
  2204. > Luke manages to laugh. "No. I can take whatever you throw at me. Can't break this military brat, no si--" he moans again as Magenta grinds his hips against him again. "Goddamnit, I'm gonna get addicted to you. Yeah, keep it like that, ahh..."
  2205. > "I can remain hard for as long as you can take it," Magenta whispers. "Can you keep it up until we land?"
  2206. > Luke looks over to the cockpit's timer; still one hour and a half until landing.
  2207. > "Whatever you want, sir."
  2208.  
  2209. > It's 5AM when they get out of the ship. Luke's passed out, wearing Black's pants -- staining them with leaking cum -- while Black carries him slung over his shoulder (that way his butt is propped up, which minimizes leaking). The hydra may be chubby but he's not weak, carrying Luke around isn't impossible. The synth's run off to inform Asterion they're all home safe and sound, albeit exhausted.
  2210. > Cyan and Yellow think that it's a problem how they don't know which one is Luke's room. Magenta has receded back to his silent self. He ignores his brothers and goes to their room.
  2211. > He puts Luke on the bed. The poor griffin fucked his way to sleep. Magenta takes a moment to inspect him properly; run a wet washcloth over his beak, over his cum-covered stomach, and to check if he made any damage to his ass. He's happy to see that, indeed, the griffin can take a pounding like he says he can. But it's sad how he's leaking so much of that cum, still.
  2212. > With all the moving the griffin wakes up. He looks up to Black, to the three heads, then to his surroundings.
  2213. > "Fucking hold me," he mumbles. "Now, hold me."
  2214. > Black is happy to comply. The two of them quickly intertwine their limbs, feelings each other's heat, trying to remain as close together under the sheets to ward off against the Hotel's air conditioned air.
  2215. > Luke runs a hand over his ass, feeling the damage.
  2216. > "Damn, you did a number on me dude."
  2217. > "That's what you asked for."
  2218. > "I did, yeah." Luke looks up to Magenta's glimmering eyes in the darkness. "I had a shift tomorrow at the lounge. Gonna have to call in, can't dance if I can't walk."
  2219. > "Sorry about that."
  2220. > Luke cuddles against the hydra's gut. God that feels good.
  2221. > "Nah, you ain't getting it. I want it again. So, gun range after we wake up and, tomorrow, another fuck. How about that?"
  2222. > Magenta kisses Luke.
  2223. > They fall asleep shortly after, enjoying a deep, restful sleep like they've never had before.
  2224.  
  2225. > Turn left fifteen times and the Hotel's walls will give away to the old Labyrinth's purple obsidian. Look deeply into it and you'll see it's carved with raw fangs, that the stone itself seems to be imprinted with suffering.
  2226. > Go further, and you'll find the Minotaur's Training Room.
  2227. > Even a faithful servant and loyal partner has a need for privacy. Sometimes a secret is kept for no good reason, maybe only because a man grows empty if he has no rich, intimate life.
  2228. > Black sits on the ground, his back turned to a wall, while he watches Asterion cut down dummy after dummy with his axe. The minotaur lets out out frenzied, blood-curdling screams as he crashes his two-bitted axe on the dummy's head. And when the axe grows stale he grabs his next weapon, a colossal glaive which he wields almost like a straight sword.
  2229. > Magenta is enthralled by Asterion's rage. He couldn't think to look away. Just the sight strengthens his ember, and he's willing to get any help he can.
  2230. > Asterion's training session goes on and on, until there are no more dummies. Then he summons more, and more, and more. It is beyond excessive. The bull only stops when his own body can take no more.
  2231. > Asterion's spread out on the ground, his nostrils flaring as foam spills from his mouth. His chest expands and contracts in an almost unsettling speed.
  2232. > Black approaches and sits besides the minotaur.
  2233. > "Why?" he asks.
  2234. > Asterion's breathlessness gives him time to ponder his words. There are so many answers.
  2235. > "Because I am not used to being loved," he thinks, "or to being treated well. I've lived knowing I was worthless. But now I have Anon. If I can be loved I am not worthless. And that fills me with centuries of rage."
  2236. > But is that the only answer? No.
  2237. > "Because Anon would understand my wrath," Asterion thinks again, "and he wouldn't mind. But I want something of my own. This rage is mine. This is me, claiming ownership of myself."
  2238. > But that is not what Asterion says. He can't speak.
  2239. > "Because I am afraid the gods will come and I would rather be safe than sorry." That's a good one, he thinks, but he doesn't say it either.
  2240. > "Because long ago I had a friend, after I died and was sent to Hades. It's been centuries and a god brought me a gift from him, a red, wooden calf. And to think that he remembers me still, it makes me happy, and sad I will never see him again."
  2241. > But he doesn't say that either.
  2242. > "Black," Asterion says, "love makes a beast out of me. It made me hungry and thirsty. The want hurts so good, it's like being about to cry, just one blink away from the first tear, and enjoying every second of it. It makes me into a beast eager to live."
  2243. > Black curls up, resting his arms over his knees.
  2244. > "But don't you think, for a second," Asterion continues, "that I'm a monster. No, I'm not falling for that again. Not a monster, no sir."
  2245. > And with that he gets up, filled with a second wind. With glaive in hand he goes into a final burst of destruction.
  2246. > "Not a monster," he says in the end. He supports himself on his glaive and doesn't collapse this time. The minotaur turns to Black and, this time, his age is plain to see on his face. Asterion is impossibly old, even if his white fur is pristine and his snout has a childish pink tone to it.
  2247. > "Luke tells me you two had a good time."
  2248. > "Aye."
  2249. > "Did I ever tell you what got me sentenced here?"
  2250. > Black shakes his heads negatively.
  2251. > "My crime was meekness. I had no reason to live, so I allowed my executioner to take my head. For not putting up a fight I was sentenced to eternal torment, here I was made undying. This wretched obsidian maze is the Labyrinth's primal form. Birds would peck my eyes out every day and they'd grow back. Masters would leave tales of the tortures they devised for me, so the next one would learn from generations before. They knew how to prolong my pain."
  2252. > Asterion's grip on his glaive grows firmer.
  2253. > "Hold on to that ember, Black. Hold it as tight as you need to, but don't smother it. There's much to live for."
  2254. > Asterion's breathing settles down, little by little. The centuries of age fade away and he again looks like the kindly Keeper of the Hotel. He smiles widely, his eyes gone soft too.
  2255. > "Now give me a hug. You're a man now, how about we get something to eat and celebrate?"
  2256.  
  2257. Chapter 16
  2258. > "This is a fine gun indeed," says Black after firing a few rounds from Luke's semi-auto. Luke begins bragging about it while the smell of gunpowder is thick and the echo still rings.
  2259. > Nito and the Synth watch from a few meters behind the griffin and the hydra. Nito peeks at the target and can't hold back his surprise when he sees Black didn't miss a single shot. He never expected the overweight hydra to be good with a blaster, much less a gun with recoil. Neither did the gecko expect him to get along with Luke like that.
  2260. > Nito didn't know how to feel about it. It wasn't an enjoyable emotion at all. For a while now Black had been his buddy, they hung out nearly everyday. There was a sense of exclusivity there. Just the two (four?) of them looking cool as shit in the lobby. The Synth had joined them lately, sure, but he kinda fit the whole aesthetic they had going.
  2261. > Luke was different. He was a mythical being while they were from space. There was gap there and Nito didn't know what to make of it.
  2262. > Neither did he like how Black and Luke were just… *one inch too close.* Or, to be more precise, how Magenta didn't seem to mind it. That also was strange, so far the middle head had been just this… accessory that didn't do or say much. But today it seemed to be in charge. Cyan and Yellow were tagging along.
  2263. > Luke had insisted they all go to the beach after the shooting range. And now the gecko's discomfort was multiplied tenfold. The griffin had thrown his clothes aside and ran to the water in a flash, Black went leisurely made his way to the water. The hydra's mostly naked body, save for a pair of trunks, was a strange sight: mostly magenta with yellow and cyan starting on the hydra's respective necks.
  2264. > Black was quite hefty but he didn't seem to mind, he had no shame about his weight or the absurd bulge on his trunks.
  2265. > Nito watched from the shade, alongside the synth and the life guard, Jojo.
  2266. > "Aren't you going to join them?" asked the gecko to the synth.
  2267. > Nito didn't know what to think of the synth either. He did know quite a bit about him just from observing; the robot was evidently a cargo-carrying model, equipped to handle heavy loads. He had a reptile-like anatomy, with a long, flexible tail for balancing and holding tools. Those models don't usually have a very sophisticated programming, but this one in particular had been assigned to look out for the hydra so the gecko assumed he had been modded to some extent.
  2268. > He could see that those modifications had been quite… Bold, one could say. Under most circumstances no working robot would be equipped with anything resembling genitalia,  but this one had a discreet slit on its crotch.
  2269. > Beyond that Nito was aware this unit had seen better days. His artificial white skin was yellowed out. Instead of eyes it had a visor, but it was cracked.
  2270. > "You should be able to handle some salt water, you were made for harsher environments. Plus you should be watching out for Black, right?"
  2271. > "I should," responded the synth, "but he seems to be doing fine. So maybe it's best if I don't interfere."
  2272. > Right as he finished speaking a sharp, crisp sound echoed through the beach. Black had just given Luke's butt a fierce slap as they horsed around.
  2273. > Nito sunk further into his own gloominess. This was so weird. Black had never acted like this before, when Magenta kept to himself.
  2274. > "Let's get out of here," Nito mumbled.
  2275.  
  2276. > Nito's room was once like any other bedroom in the Hotel, but it didn't suit his style. He wanted something dingier, with a touch of decadence, so he petitioned to have its bright wallpaper substituted for black. He also wanted neon signs on the walls, a home gym and even a station to work on his projects.
  2277. > By "projects" he meant his pair of holographic glasses, a metallic frame with no lenses that, when activated, projected the image of lenses that would continuously shift in color. He had bought those with his first salary, even if he could try and get a new pair the gecko still wanted his old one. He believed there was something inherently fashionable to old things.
  2278. > Nito sat on his workstation, the synth on the floor, in silence the gecko started working. He knew it would be useless, he didn't have the parts to fix his glasses, but the synth was there and Nito thought he'd look cool tinkering around like that.
  2279. > After about half an hour the synth spoke. "What are you trying to accomplish?"
  2280. > "This beauty here is my old pair of holographic glasses," the gecko gushed, he had been waiting for this. "Got it with my first salary and it traveled the galaxy with me. Broke down before I got here and now I'm trying to fix it."
  2281. > It is very difficult to read the synth, since its visor is broke. But perhaps there's a touch of eagerness and excitement in how quickly it springs up to look at Nito's project. The glasses' pieces are all neatly arranged on the table, the synth goes over each one of them.
  2282. > "We are gonna need some new parts. Squishy might have them," says the synth.
  2283.  
  2284. > "Squishy" is what everyone calls the slug merchant. He's a curious guy. The only person in the entire Hotel on whom the Labyrinth's universal translation seems to hold no effect. As so no one knows his real name, Squishy is just what Luke calls him and it stuck.
  2285. > He resembles a large earth slug; big, fat, and squishy body, with a dark grey coloration, two silvery stripes down either sides, and a few dark-blue spots along his back. He has four thin, spindly limbs which he uses as legs and arms, with three fingers and toes on each “hand” and “foot”. His “face” consists of two feathery feelers in place of eyes, and two short, fat feelers on either side of his mouth. He has a strong, pungent, almost cloying “musk”, which seems to originate from the slimy coating down the front of his body.
  2286. > When he's not working — curiously enough he got a position in HR — he can often be found in the aquarium, in some dark, unassuming corner.
  2287. > There's a theatricality to it. Squishy treats himself as the exotic, risqué dealer of mysterious wares from outer space. And Nito thinks of himself as the hero of a cyberpunk novel, sneaking his way to talk with an informant. The synth follows closely behind, greeting everyone and chatting them up — "oh, we're just going to see if Squishy has a part we need!"
  2288. > Besides a couple making out in the privacy of the aquarium, the three of our heroes convene. Nito goes straight for the kill; "I want a miniature holographic projector, what do you want in exchange for it?"
  2289. > Squishy looks off to the side and gurgles coyly.
  2290. > "Don't you play dumb, slug, I know you have one with you."
  2291. > The slug hums excitedly, its equivalent of laughter, but shakes his head negatively. Perhaps he's run out? Or… He only has one left, and doesn't want to part with it.
  2292. > He points to the synth. From a sack behind him he pulls a visor, it could substitute the robot's broken one.
  2293. > "No, I want a goddamn holographic projector."
  2294. > The synth doesn't interfere, but questions the necessity of this all. Don't they live in a post-scarcity hotel where all their physical needs are tended to? They don't even have a currency.
  2295. > Nito keeps insisting, spelling out exactly what he wants time and time again as if the slug was a fool. Squishy becomes enticed with the gecko's insistence. The slug starts circling around him, looking him over. The gecko stands his ground but being looked at like that sets him on edge. But the slug's musk slowly hits the gecko's nostrils and it starts taking effect. It's a damp, somewhat stale scent, like a sweaty lockeroom or damp underwear after a workout.
  2296. > Squishy slurs appreciatively and comes closer, laying a hand on the gecko's waist. Nito feels his skin tingling.
  2297. > "What's your price?" Nito asks.
  2298. > "Fluids," he mumbles in slurred English.
  2299. > "What?"
  2300. > "Uh," the synth intervenes. "He means… *Your* fluids. That's what he charges. You go to the bathroom and he will..."
  2301. > Squishy hooks a finger under the gecko's waistband. The slug's musk is overpowering, Nito can't hide the fact his dick is rock hard.
  2302. > But neither can he ignore that he's a virgin and he's never done this before.
  2303. > Perhaps a smoother man would have politely rejected the slug's advances, or someone bolder would have enjoyed the opportunity and dumped a fat load down that throat.
  2304. > Not our gecko, no. He panics and runs away.
  2305.  
  2306. > The synth catches up to Nito shortly after, back at the gecko's room. Without a functional visor it's difficult to read the robot's emotions but if the smirk on his muzzle is anything to go by he's entertained, but trying his best not to show it.
  2307. > Nito is sitting on the floor, trying to come down from his panic. The synth sits beside him, thinking to himself that he better not show how funny this has all been as it would only make the gecko feel worse.
  2308. > "Hush. No one saw you, the couple was distracted, nothing bad's going to happen."
  2309. > Nito doesn't answer. Sure, he worries about his reputation -- a lot, he wouldn't do his best to look good if he didn't. But his distress now isn't because of that.
  2310. > There are moments in life where a man faces the full brunt of his inadequacies. A friend may offer a helping hand and soothing words but it cannot change the truth.
  2311. > Nito isn't terribly old, but he's existed *for a long time.* As a teenager he chose to become a space ship technician on a whim and as soon as possible set out for the stars. He quickly accumulated many trips on his belt, but there was an element he only considered far too late. All that space travel, either in sub-light speed (in which the procedure is freezing the crew) or in relativistic speeds (where time dilation becomes a problem) meant that when he came back home (it had only been three years for him) all his siblings had died already and even the grandkids were about to retire.
  2312. > Lifetimes had passed while he was away. He was being scolded by elderly grandkids he never knew he had. And all that adventuring, what did it do to him? He was still so small, in so many ways.
  2313. > Today a slug merchant offered him a blowjob, and now all of it had come back.
  2314. > The synth couldn't imagine all of this. He thought it was only about getting a projector for his glasses.
  2315. > "We have other options," the synth put an arm over the gecko's shoulder, "I asked if my fluids would do it--"
  2316. > "No, you aren't doing this for me," the gecko blurted out. "Absolutely not!"
  2317. > The synth smiled. Nito's overflowing emotions were, well, cute, in a way.
  2318. > "Well, Squishy only wants organic fluids. So no, it wouldn't do regardless. He gave us two other options. First, he said I can work for him to pay it off..."
  2319. >  "You won't work to pay this off either. That's out of the question."
  2320. > "Well, thank you for that. That leaves us one final option… Do you know Jojo, the lifeguard? He has a lot of jewels on his fur, he gives them away, and if we can get one of them Squishy will take it."
  2321. > Asking? Asking for jewels?
  2322. > Nito imagines himself going up to the beach, walking up and down to find the jackal -- just the idea of going out makes him feel awkward, inadequate. Even if the gecko works out he's so far from having his goal body. Everyone will stare at him and notice how he's a fish out of water.
  2323. > Even if he does go through with all that, will he just ask for them? He doesn't even know Jojo properly. He'll laugh at the gecko's face or, worse yet, think he's *weird*. Nito would rather go hungry than have someone think he's weird. Even then, what will the jackal ask in return?
  2324. > Right then Nito starts questioning why he's doing all of this. All this trouble for a pair of glasses, which he intends to use to look fashionable. Is it really worth it?
  2325. > "Fuck it, I'll just throw it away."
  2326. > "Throw away what?"
  2327. > "The glasses, it's not worth the trouble."
  2328. > "But they're still good, if we get the projector it'll be as good as new."
  2329. > "It's not worth the trouble."
  2330. > "No, c'mon," the synth gets up and pulls Nito by the forearm. His voice shifted slightly, there's some hurt to it. "Don't say that. I'll go with you, we can do it together."
  2331. > Nito doesn't want to go, he hates the idea, but saying it out loud will only make this whole situation more awkward. Out of sheer shyness he lets himself go, all the way to the beach.
  2332. > Indeed the two of them are an awkward sight, making their way across the sand. Nito's feet aren't used to walking on sand, neither is he accustomed to a planetary atmosphere or being exposed to the sun like this. It's all so alien to him. His feet are too hot, the air is humid, he just wants to be back in his room.
  2333. > A little up ahead they find their target, Jojo, sitting a few feet away from Luke and Black, all of them soaking up sunlight in front of the sea.
  2334. > Nito stares daggers at the hydra and the griffin. Black is sitting with his back to a palm tree, Luke's cradled between his legs, laying on the hydra's tummy. It's disgusting how openly affectionate they are. Don't they care for what people passing by will think?
  2335. > "Jojo!" the synth calls out.
  2336. > The jackal waves lazily at them.
  2337. > "Hello, children of the stars. Is something the matter?"
  2338. > At this time of the day Jojo emits an overbearing heat, Nito can't even bring himself to stand closer than three feet of him. But the synth doesn't seem to mind -- after all he was built for extreme environments.
  2339. > "We need your help," the synth goes on before Nito has any chance to interrupt. "Nito and I want to buy a thing from Squishy, he wants one of your jewels in exchange. Could you give one to us?"
  2340. > "Is that so?" the jackal smiles. "Sure, have this one." He takes a diamond-encrusted ring from his finger and extends it.
  2341. > "Thank you, Jojo."
  2342. > How easy it was! Nito remains reactionless but inside he brims with joy. Now all they have to do is --
  2343. > The synth sits down on the sand and starts chatting with Jojo -- asking how his day has been, if any incident had happened at the beach, and so on. This wasn't part of the plan. Nito still feels like he's being watched by Black and Luke.
  2344. > "So, little one," Jojo says, "last we talked you told me you were waiting for Master Asterion to assign you a new master. Has that been resolved?"
  2345. > "Not yet, Asterion and Anon are still thinking about it. They're trying to figure out someone who won't throw me away like my previous master."
  2346. > The synth and Jojo spend about forty minutes chatting. Nito has no choice but to sit down alongside them, and afterwards the duo pull him into the conversation.
  2347. > The conversation's end is punctuated by the synth hugging Jojo -- and what a hug it is, he nuzzles against the jackal's chest adoringly. "Thank you Jojo, you are so kind."
  2348. > The jackal hugs back, hardly containing his affection for the robot.
  2349. > Nito doesn't know what to think of it. But the discomfort shifts and twists inside of him. He looks to Black and Luke, cuddling to each other, enjoying a nap. And for a moment there, as he sees the synth hugging the jackal, he does not feel awkward -- instead the gecko realizes he's selfish and self-centered, that he's the problem.
  2350.  
  2351. > Nito did not buy the projector. It felt wrong in more ways than one. The synth did all the work, first of all, and the gecko realized that -- maybe loitering, trying to look cool isn't the best course of action.
  2352. > On the following day he dragged the synth back to his room and surprised him with the visor he got from Squishy.
  2353. > It didn't take more than a hour to get him up and running, and to finally see the synth's "eyes."
  2354. > The chaste, warm hug Nito got then -- it felt better than crossing the stars. He hugged back and for that brief moment the gecko was all there in the moment.
  2355.  
  2356.  
  2357. Chapter 17
  2358. > One day Robert, the demon lawyer, shows up at Anon's office with results from R&D.
  2359. > You may recall you chose to have the lads research two project -- 'The Maggot,' a monstrosity so vile that even the harsher masters outlawed it, and a mysterious thing the Labyrinth calls 'Poseidon's Parting Gift.'
  2360. > It took quite a while but the results are in for both projects.
  2361. > POSEIDON'S PARTING GIFT
  2362. > This snowglobe made out of darkened glass was among the Folders in your office and, at a first glance, seems to hold no special purpose. But R&D knows for a fact it must be special somehow so no efforts were spared. After more than a month of experimentation here's what they got.
  2363. > It may seem like it's made of glass but it's actually an unknown material, and seems to be indestructible. It cannot be chipped or scratched either. Contracts can make it spawn in specific places but there exists only one of it; it cannot be copied, divided or altered in any way.
  2364. > Robert unraveled a special property of this object. He may be a lowly demon but he knows enough about old gods to raise a hypothesis. He suspects this object may contain a smidgeon of Poseidon's divine power, which he finds all the more likely after they concluded it cannot be damaged.
  2365. > Robert, upon reading the Contracts, makes an extrapolation: he would go so far as saying that the entities described in the same Contract where Poseidon's Gift is mentioned (Athena's Sprawling Madness, Zeus' Recursive Violation, Ariadne's Wail, Dionysus' Wine; Hephaestus' Crafting Tools) may all carry fragments of a god's power.
  2366. > Nito also figured out something about it. After running tests on it for days without much any conclusive results he found it weird how… at times, he could see something inside it. It looked like *a starry sky.* And so he figured it out. Poseidon's Parting Gift seems to display a glimpse into the cosmos itself.
  2367. > Nito, knowing of Robert's suspicion, raises a question: what if this snowglobe is a gateway to another dimension or, who knows, contains one entirely?
  2368. > Nito and Robert work alongside each other, bringing their hypothesis together. They made a breakthrough: this snowglobe seems to be tied to an otherwise unremarkable document in the Labyrinthine Mathematics folder. After a few tests they conclude they can run code on it, much like they could program the Labyrinth.
  2369. > Notably, there's one line of code that sticks out: the snowglobe can exist under one of two possible states: 'sea_of_fury' and 'bountiful_ocean'.
  2370. > It would seem this allows R&D to fully program an entire universe from scratch. The possibilities are endless, they say.
  2371.  
  2372. THE MAGGOT
  2373. > This is not the only finding R&D has stumbled upon.
  2374. > Robert took upon himself to study The Maggot.
  2375. > He has rigorously examined every sentence in that Contract, running each one in in isolation, tinkering with all aspects of it, to truly find out  how it works.
  2376. > His findings are puzzling.
  2377. > First of all, it is notable that it was not possible to reproduce this Contract's content in another Contract. It seems to be a one-of-a-kind document. It can be amended, it can be rewritten from scratch, but it cannot be reproduced.
  2378. > It would seem that this is the only Contract which can *create a new *kind* of lifeform* in the Labyrinth. You can order the Labyrinth to spawn non-sentient entities that already exist elsewhere, but with this Contract you can create a new species from scratch -- but *only one*.
  2379. > In order to do so you must offer the following elements:
  2380. > a description of your creation
  2381. > a clause that governs its spawning into the Labyrinth
  2382. > a purpose or mission, which must be worded as to align with the Labyrinth's mission (to torture Asterion)
  2383. > a fragment of a god's power.
  2384. > The godly fragment you offer for this Contract will affect the creature that spawns from it, for better or for worse. It would be wise to offer a fragment that aligns with the purpose you wish it to fulfill.
  2385. > The godly fragment you offer cannot be reused for other purposes.
  2386. > If you offer a godly fragment, spawn one or more creatures and remove the fragment then the creature and all its descendants will permanently cease to exist.
  2387. > A godly fragment that is in use under this Contract cannot be used for any other purpose simultaneously, neither can it be returned to its original god.
  2388. > After all of this, Robert offers a few tidbits of speculation.
  2389. > He cannot say for sure, but he suspects this very Contract may be a fragment of a God's power -- which one he cannot say for sure. It would explain why this Contract is one-of-a-kind and cannot be reproduced.
  2390. > He comments that, while we have found Poseidon's, Hephaestus' (the Folders) and Dyonisius' (The Hotel Wine) fragments, there may be others in the Hotel -- although they may manifest as the monstrosities previous Masters outlawed.
  2391. > Robert believes that returning a fragment to its original god may strengthen them -- whether that is desirable or not is another story entirely.
  2392. > Hypothetically, Jojo may also be able to manifest one object like this, although he may be too drained of power to do so.
  2393. > Godly fragments are a scarce, unique and persistent resource; you may use each one creatively, but keep in mind it is not a resource you should spend foolishly.
  2394. > A godly fragment cannot be used for two purposes at once, but it is not expended after using it. It can be relocated for another purpose, but chances are any benefits gained from its previous use will be lost.
  2395. > A godly fragment can be offered to the god that originated it, which will strengthen said god but permanently remove the fragment from your possession. Whatever function the fragment played in the Labyrinth will be permanently, irretrievably lost.
  2396. > A godly fragment can be incorporated into contracts to achieve special effects that would otherwise be beyond a Contract's power.
  2397. > A godly fragment can be used to spawn unique entities within the Labyrinth.
  2398. > Not all godly fragments contained within the Labyrinth are under your possession; if you so choose you may attempt to *hunt them down.* There are more fragments than you've found so far -- Robert speculates that there may be one for each deity that participated in Asterion's trial.
  2399.  
  2400. > You ask Robert about Hermes' godly fragment.
  2401. > He returns two days later with a leatherbound diary as your answer.
  2402. > It wasn't easy getting the Folders to spit this one out, he says. This one is, seemingly, a compilation of notes left by a previous Master about the 'Labyrinthine Entities.'
  2403. > The text itself is hard to translate and takes quite a bit of effort, but Robert found the excerpt about Hermes.
  2404. > "The god Hermes left a fragment, indeed, but it is quite unlike all I've witnessed so far. It is called "The Trickster's Mind." At most it vaguely reminds me of Dyonisius'. One would be inclined to believe the drunken god's fragment is the Labyrinth's healing Wine, but in truth the fragment is an ethereal presence which spawns the Wine.
  2405. Hermes', as I said, is far stranger. For weeks I've attempted to make it spawn in all sorts of locations with no success. What shed me light was that, all along, it was already 'active.' So, instead, I set it to be inactive and… By the gods, it was chaos.
  2406. Hermes' godly gift is not an object; it is the Labyrinth's very mind. When I deactivated it the entire realm failed to interpret even my simplest wishes and all Contracts broke down.
  2407. Afterwards I tried inverting its effects and it was even worse. The Labyrinth became stubborn and would find loopholes to my every wish. It retroactively reinterpreted all Contracts in all the ways that opposed my will.
  2408. Hermes' gift truly befits him. It is said he always favored Man over God. His gift, in the form of the Labyrinth's mind, is easily summarised in one principle of the Law: in dubio pro reo.
  2409. This will not do. I cannot use this fragment to achieve immortality."
  2410.  
  2411. > You ask Robert about trying to create a labyrinthine set of conditions which would make it so the creatures produced by The Maggot wouldn't be hostile to Asterion.
  2412. > He looks at you as if you've said something profoundly stupid.
  2413. > "You've never had kids, have you?" he says.
  2414. > He pulls a crumpled napkin from his pocket and writes something down on it. He places it in front of one of the other snowglobes R&D uses to test whether or not a Contract will run. The globe turns green, confirming it will.
  2415. > "There. Done. Check it out."
  2416. > "If this Contract generates a creature which directly descends from the Prisoner he will have to raise it to adulthood."
  2417. > "See, Anon, the Labyrinth knows what's up. Raising kids is cute and all but then you have to deal with custody. So there's your torture," he sips from his coffee. "This is how law should be written, dry, simple and straight to the point."
  2418.  
  2419. > You ask Robert about using Poseidon's gift for The Maggot, or returning it to the old god.
  2420. > Robert twiddles his thumbs.
  2421. > "Well, I suppose either of them could work. If you return it, though, you'd have to find something else for the Maggot. If you do that we could try and find another fragment from some other god."
  2422. > He closes his eyes for a while and seems to be lost in thought.
  2423. > "There are other fragments we could use for The Maggot, but the snowglobe is the only one Poseidon can use… Now, do you want to strengthen one of those old gods? You can open your greek mythology books, none of those gods was really a nice guy. Sure, maybe he's changed, but maybe he didn't."
  2424. > You ask one more thing about the snowglobe. If indeed it leads to another universe, can we open it?
  2425. > "Nito and I have found some success in coding it, I'd say… Yes, eventually we may be able to find a way in. But it's weird, you see, why did *Poseidon* leave *this* in particular? You see, Hephaestus left the Folders, which are quite useful, and Dyonisius' Wine is pretty good too. So what can this snowglobe actually do? What was he thinking?"
  2426.  
  2427. > You look over the diary about the other gods' fragments.
  2428.  
  2429. > "Zeus' Recursive Violation. Now this was quite the curious experience, it did not go at all like I expected. Zeus has quite the fame over his sexual exploits, going by this entity's name I was expecting… Well, rape."
  2430. > "I had to drag Asterion all the way to the courtyard. He's not being very cooperative, or anything beyond vegetative, since his experience with Athena. I placed him in the dais and waited for Zeus' entity to spawn and, well, it did, and indeed it seemed quite rape-y, but it just shrieked and burst into a cloud of blood and guts."
  2431. > "I tried five more times, the same thing happened. It's so puzzling! But I think I got it now, after I went over some of the trial transcripts."
  2432. > "Hera, Zeus' wife, *hated* Athena with a passion and despised his infidelity. So the tricky lass had her revenge in the Labyrinth. If her godly fragment is active it instantly obliterates Zeus'!"
  2433. > "I haven't fully figured out Hera's gift, it seems to have quite a few very obscure properties. When commanded to manifest it comes as a quite unremarkable gold ring, unfitting for a Master such as I. It's harmless however (if you aren't married and cheating, that is), and useless for my pursuit."
  2434. > "I do think there may be some hope if Asterion manages to kill Zeus' Recursive Violation. Only then will I be able to capture his godly fragment. Having Hera kill it does not reveal the gift."
  2435.  
  2436. > "Hypnos and his entourage of siblings have left behind a single fragment. This includes Thanatos, the god of death. I had high hopes for this one, surely the god of death would lead me closer to finding immortality."
  2437. > "Unfortunately this entity is like Hermes'. It is more of a concept, an immaterial aspect of the Labyrinth. I only figured out what it does after perusing the trial transcripts."
  2438. > "The siblings of sleep and death either abstained or voted in favor of Asterion's condemnation, since his meekness indeed was an affront against the greek ideals. But together they found his sentence excessive, so they crafted this fragment for him."
  2439. > "It is simply called 'Sleep' and it's brought me endless disappointment. The transcripts indicate that, if it is active, it will bring restful sleep to the Prisoner and, notably, if he is gravely injured in the Labyrinth he will be allowed to die only to reform after a few days have passed."
  2440. > "Afterwards I checked the Best Practices Manual. It would seem that the one Master who enjoyed beheading Asterion was responsible for deactivating this fragment. I took pity on the poor bull, but his service to me is not yet over. Once I achieve immortality I will grant him sleep."
  2441.  
  2442.  
  2443. > "Athena's Sprawling Madness. What a horrifying name."
  2444. > "It is said Athena was born from Zeus'. He had such a terrible headache he asked the gods to cleave his head open with that brutish labrys. From his head sprawled open Athena came out, and from the ichor splashed upon the axe this whole affair started. It really is sad, but what can a man do? The bull must serve his sentence."
  2445. > "I called him to the courtyard and had him wait there until the scheduled time, when the monstrosity manifested."
  2446. > "The thing is like a head split apart, is what I can say, shambling about with a speed you wouldn't imagine. It jumped on top of Asterion and that was it, the bull was done for. I have no idea what happened, it just stayed on top of him, covering his head, and he stopped struggling. They remained like that for hours, I had to despawn it actually."
  2447. > "I do regret this. It brought me no closer to immortality and now Asterion is useless. I hope this episode of insanity is temporary, I need him on tip top shape to aid in my exploration."
  2448.  
  2449. > You remember that Hades treated Asterion kindly. What about his fragment?
  2450. > You find it halfway through the diary -- but notably all the following pages are blank, which makes this the last note.
  2451. > "I have identified among the Contracts that which refers to Hades' godly gift. It is simply called 'Eternal Oath.' Now this sounds very promising, it would be fitting for the god of the afterlife to have a gift relating to eternity. And the name itself, doesn't it sound kind and inviting? Hades supposedly favored Asterion. His gift must be enjoyable like Dyonisius' Wine!"
  2452. > "Asterion's still in a temporary state of insanity from his last encounter with Athena's Sprawling Madness, clawing away at his skin again I'm afraid, so this time I'll be going on alone."
  2453. > "This one has a peculiarity, it only has one mode. I cannot invert it. I know one mode usually does something good, the other does something bad, so I believe it means this fragment is overall neutral. Neither has it ever been spawned, as far as I can see."
  2454. > "I'm sure this will be the one. Soon, at the obsidian courtyard, I'll achieve immortality."
  2455. > And nothing else was ever written in this diary.
  2456.  
  2457. > You look in the diary for records relating to Ares, Apollo and Artemis but there are none.
  2458. > Perhaps the writer never got so far as exploring those gods' fragments.
  2459. > Anyway, this has been enough information for now. You have something in mind now, you want to have a conversation with your minotaur about what you've seen today.
  2460.  
  2461.  
  2462. Chapter 18
  2463. > You go back to work after studying the previous Master's diary but what you've learned weights on your shoulders. You knew Asterion had been put through a lot over the centuries but today's realization hits hard.
  2464. > You can't focus on your work. You end up going out after telling the R&D boys you're done for the day.
  2465. > You want to find Asterion, talk with him. You don't know just yet if you want to tell him what you found out but, well, you figure out you want to give him a hug.
  2466. > You ask where he is via text message but you get no response. You ask if anyone's seen him and the answer is negative. You go to the gym, surely he must be training, but he's not there either.
  2467. > This is very strange, you think to yourself. Asterion doesn't usually disappear like that.
  2468. > You keep wandering aimlessly, checking your phone every few minutes for a response.
  2469. > You feel a chill running down your spine. For a second there the Hotel —
  2470. > It shifted. You don't know exactly what changed, you're still in the same hallway you were before but —
  2471. > There, it happened again. You look behind you and what you see is an endless hallway stretching back to infinity. When you look back where you were going now the hallway turns sharply to the left.
  2472. > You keep walking, trying to make the Hotel shift back to normality but you can't quite muster the focus to do it.
  2473. > That's when you hear it, the distant rumble of metal crashing against rock. You keep walking towards it, the hallway leading you into a non-Euclidian spiral of left turns. The Hotel's soothing walls harshly give way to walls of purple obsidian which, too, lead towards a sinister field of jagged, purple rock covered by a sky that is nothing short of apocalyptic.
  2474. > This place is horrifying. The rock itself seems to be carved out of a shifting material, at times you can see it twisting into faces and guts.
  2475. > Is this the Labyrinth's original form?
  2476. >You look up ahead. There he is, Asterion… Wielding a two-bitted axe, cutting down training dummies like they were butter, his face contorted in a fury you could never have imagined coming from your kind minotaur.
  2477. > He doesn't see you, you keep your distance. He's like a beast, foaming at the mouth, his entire upper body drips sweat, you can hear his ragged breathing despite all the distance.
  2478. > This is weird. You've never seen this face of his. Just seeing this feel wrong, as if you were overstepping boundaries. It's like seeing him naked, his mind's recesses exposed. You may be his boyfriend, but you don't think this is something he wished you to know.
  2479. > But then you see, up ahead too, Black the hydra sitting on the rocky ground. He jerks his head in alarm as his eyes lay on you. Asterion notices his sudden movement and turns towards you.
  2480. > His crazed eyes shift quickly back to a measure of normality as he sees you. He drops the axe, it hits the rocky ground and echoes painfully across this hellish landscape.
  2481. > Asterion is caught like a deer in headlights. He is stuck midway through, neither man nor beast. His eyes are lucid and glimmer exactly as you're used to but the whole picture — the obsidian, the hellish sky, his foaming mouth, thrashing tail, the piles and piles of cut-down dummies — it's like you're seeing someone else entirely.
  2482. > And there's something more: distress. The way he looks at you, it's a mix of fear, regret… Shame. You've seen him naked in a way he would rather not be seen.
  2483. > Asterion's breathing shifts slightly, from exertion to fear. It's hard to say for sure but his eyes, they seem to glimmer softly.
  2484. > "Have I intruded?" you ask. They are far away from you, so you have to speak out loudly, almost yell, and the awkwardness of it hits you deep. Asterion averts his gaze.
  2485. > You slowly walk up towards him. This alone gives you a while to think and gather your thoughts. It seems like Asterion does the same. He tries wiping the foam dripping from his mouth with his forearm, with only mild success. He does the same with his sweat-dripping forehead, then readjusts his toga.
  2486. > You two are at an arm's length and he can't bring himself to look at you.
  2487. > "I'm sorry I intruded in… this. I was just looking for you and found my way here."
  2488. > Asterion is still looking down. "It's alright, Master. I just didn't want you to-to…" he stutters, stops, and takes a moment to collect his thoughts. "To see me… Like this. Like a beast. Acting so brutishly."
  2489. > You've had it in your mind to give Asterion a hug since you read about what he had been through. It seems like this is the time, but before you go ahead Asterion speaks up again.
  2490. > "I suppose it feels right. To have something which is mine like this. I haven't trained like this, with the axe, in a long time… Many centuries. I felt like having a go and I didn't know what you'd think about it. And I… I suppose it felt… It felt warm in my heart, having a secret. I am so sorry, Master, I shouldn't have kept this from you."
  2491. > You pull Asterion into a hug and rock his towering frame to and fro. He softly goes along with your gesture, hugging you tightly and cradling his head on your shoulders. He lets out a long, grave rumble and -- you catch him letting out a "Mooo," which he interrupts halfway through by covering his mouth.
  2492. > It is not often you catch him mooo'ing like that. You had taken note of it -- it's cute, even if he doesn't seem to like it too much.
  2493. > Holding him by a horn you pull him into a kiss. He seems to resist at first and you quickly find out why, his lips really are covered in slobber. But you've kissed him right after he had given you the best blowjob of your life, so this isn't far from your experience. He does give in after trying (and failing) to back away a few times. Asterion returns the kiss and pulls you closer.
  2494. > "You're not a beast," you whisper on his ear after you break the kiss. "And you're not the one who should be apologetic, I'm sorry I intruded on your privacy."
  2495. > Asterion doesn't answer, but doesn't let go of you either. His head is again cradled on your shoulder, you hear his rough breathing close to your ear.
  2496. > "That said," you go on, "I wouldn't mind hearing you 'mooo' more often. It's adorable, I like it."
  2497. > You try and get a glimpse at Asterion's face, which isn't exactly easy as he's hugging you and not letting go. You do get to see a side of his face -- the one which was reduced to bone when you found him in the cold room. He's looking into the distance behind you, his gaze shifting ever so lightly.
  2498. > It takes a while but your minotaur closes his eyes, nuzzles his face onto yours and lets out a shy 'mooo' just for you.
  2499. > This has been a lovely, tender moment with Asterion. Do you want to add something?
  2500. > If you don't, you think to yourself, you could wait until later tonight to bring up the topic of what you've learned about Asterion's past -- how he suffered under previous Master's and the Labyrinth's creatures.
  2501.  
  2502. > Knowing that Black's right over there you decide against talking about Asterion's past. But you do ask your minotaur if he'd like to keep training. You could sit with Black and watch.
  2503. > In response Asterion silently picks up his axe and looks around, searching for his next target. He paces towards it, draggings the labrys for a few steps. He sighs deeply and looks back at you and Black.
  2504. > "I'm sorry Anon, I don't think I have it in me right now. Maybe I should call it quits for tonight."
  2505. > Maybe your little moment drained him of rage, or maybe he can't let go with you around. Either way you all go back to the Hotel after Asterion stashes his axe in a chest in the corner.
  2506. > On the way you jokingly mention you'd be up to learn how to wield that axe of his.
  2507. > Asterion seems somber at that comment. "I would rather you not touch the axe, Anon," he stops and turns towards you. "I really wouldn't. It is a bad thing and I don't want to see you wielding it."
  2508. > Asterion has come a lot out of his shell since you two met. This may be the time he's been the most firm with you. He definitely does not want you touching the axe.
  2509. > You and Asterion drop Black off at his bedroom then you make your way to your Quarters. This has been a very mixed day for you, you can't say for sure if it's gone well or badly.
  2510. > As soon as you close the door you begin undoing your dress shirt, still lost in thought. You have your back turned to Asterion. You feel his great mass embracing you from behind, and now in the closed environment of your apartment you feel how musky Asterion is.
  2511. > He holds you tighter than he did back in the Labyrinth and rubs rocks his face against your shoulder, sneaking in a good sniff of your neck now and then. He tenderly mutters your name under his breath and presses his stomach against your back.
  2512. > It's almost a kind of sensory overload. Usually you're the one holding him. But you can't say it feels bad, having that snout breathing your scent and his warm, firm gut fitting so nicely against you.
  2513. > You can feel your minotaur growing hornier, but also remaining indecisive on how to proceed. You turn around, take the lead and pull him by the horns to give you a proper kiss.
  2514. > When you two part lips your eyes lock and you see something beyond excitement in Asterion, a deep warmth for you.
  2515. > He drops to his knees and presses his face against your stomach, just above your crotch. It feels as if he's going for a blowjob but, actually, he settles on looking up to you adoringly and hugging your legs.
  2516. > "You treat me so well," he says with his mouth pressed against you. "I've never felt this before in my life. Can you hold me, Anon? I want to be on the bed with you."
  2517. > You couldn't have imagined Asterion asking you for something so directly a few months ago. You're happy to comply. As always with Asterion you're the big spoon holding him from behind, you get to enjoy his tail swishing over your crotch.
  2518. > You stay in silence for a long while, just enjoying this tender moment. Of course you're rock hard with your dick rubbing against his ass, and your minotaur eagerly pushes back and grinds against you. When you put your head on his shoulders he nuzzles against you gently. But none of you take the leap.
  2519. > Asterion eventually breaks the silence.
  2520. > "It feels weird. I love you, I do, and it… It makes me think. All my life I've been told I'm bad. A hybrid, a monster, so many names and I believed them. I thought the gods themselves had forsaken me." He places his arm over yours and interlaces his fingers with yours. "But none of it is true. I'm not a monster and now I know the gods, even my mom and my friend from Hades, stood up for me. And it's so difficult to… Make sense of it. When I thought I was a monster it was easier to be sad. But I, I get angry every once in a while now. I didn't get angry like that until you said you, you loved me. I don't really know what to feel or think. I feel angry because of what I've been put through, now that I think… Know I am not a monster."
  2521. > He breathes deeply. You can feel his stomach contracting and expanding under your grasp.
  2522. > "It doesn't feel like it's me, when I'm angry. I've never been wrathful, not even when I sparred… Not even with Hades, and our battles were far from playtime."
  2523. > You snuggle closer with Asterion. He welcomes your touch and arches his back in response, pushing butt onto your crotch.
  2524. > Your minotaur seems to have lost track of the conversation, or perhaps has decided he's said enough. His tail rises up as he lets out a drawn out moan deep from his throat. Before you can say anything he starts undoing his loincloth.
  2525. > His butt is exposed to you, the two firm mounds of muscle covered in a layer of short, white fur. His musk is so strong, from a day of work and training, it smells like pure, damp manhood with a tinge of an earthy scent. You've never seen Asterion as sweaty as today, after all.
  2526. > You undo your pants and get out of your shirt while trying not to distance yourself from Asterion. He looks back to you, smiling, and with his free hand he spreads a cheek for you exposing his pink hole.
  2527. > "Your servant is eager to carry your seed, Master. I'm ready for you."
  2528. > Asterion has proven himself an eager and capable bottom ever since you started fucking him. You don't often need to put much time in preparing him anymore, just a generous coating of lube will do it.
  2529. > You know how he likes it. You tease his hole for a while, going slowly and sensuously, but tonight he wants it hard and now. He pushes back against you trying to get your dick lined up with his hole. You pull his head back by his right horn and he goes limp under your grasp while letting out a grave 'moooo.'
  2530. > You position yourself and, still laying on your side behind him, you penetrate him with a single smooth, slow thrust. He takes you to the balls like that. His tail thrashes against you as he lets out a second, louder 'mooo.' With his left hand he starts playing with his right nipple, his right hand goes to his erect, dripping equine dick.
  2531. > He's impatient tonight. He doesn't usually play with his dick while you fuck, neither does he tighten his hole so eagerly around yours. This will not be a drawn out fuck, your minotaur is deadset on getting a dose of your seed inside his guts.
  2532. > Everytime you thrust forward he pushes his rump backwards to you. With every thrust he lets out a grunt made louder by how he strokes his own cock in unison.
  2533. > You're about to go over the edge when you get a better idea. You pull out completely (to which Asterion responds with a dejected 'mooo') and pull him onto his back. You take your position between his legs, put a pillow beneath his butt and prop his legs over your shoulders.
  2534. > You enjoy seeing your bull's face as pleasure hits him again. He throws his head back and arches his back as you enter. When you your whole dick is in he puts a hand over his crotch, pushing it back as if trying to feel you inside him, and gets back to stroking his gargantuan dick.
  2535. > You're not holding back either. You fuck him in long, quick strokes which push you through every barrier. You reach out to hold Asterion by both horns, which gives you perfect leverage to thrust inside him with high impact every time.
  2536. > Asterion grunts suddenly and bursts out in a 'mooo', one more like a wolf's howl, just as you're about to cum. His dick gushes out spurt after spurt of cum, coating his chest, face and the sheets around him. Some strands get into his open mouth, others paint over his left eye. His hole clenches tightly and it pushes you over the edge. With a nearly pained grunt you let out your own seed inside Asterion. Like so many times before you've marked him as yours.
  2537. > You take a moment to appreciate your handiwork, with your dick still inside him keeping his guts plugged. Asterion's been fucked silly and is completely out of himself. In those moments you know what he appreciates, you lay on top of him, hugging his wide frame, and enjoy the mixed scents.
  2538. > You take your sweet time cuddling, but eventually you two have a bath together in Asterion's mini bathhouse. Again he cuddles up to you, his head on your chest.
  2539. > There's a sense of deep peace among you two, and the silence which breeds, which indeed seems pleads for, a new conversation. You hold on tightly to him, as if not even letting him go is an option.
  2540. > "We found a diary in the Contracts today. It belonged to a previous master who tried to achieve immortality."
  2541. > You don't even have to look down to the minotaur's face. He shifts and becomes stiff on you.
  2542. > "It had entries about the fragments of power the gods left behind in the Labyrinth, and it told of what the… things did to you."
  2543. > Asterion doesn't say anything, the tension silences you. He seems to be thinking about what to say, and it doesn't seem to be an easy affair.
  2544. > "I didn't want you to see that," he mumbles. "I don't like remembering it myself. Even if, more than ever, I catch myself wanting to..."
  2545. > "Wanting what?"
  2546. > But he doesn't want to say anything else. You hug him, as you always intended to, and he sinks down on your chest.
  2547. > "There was a god who, I knew," he whispers, "always stood by my side. It's Hades. He gifted me, the Labyrinth, with a statue. I can spar against it and it's, it's just like the jolly battles we used to have. That old master, he set Athena's beast against me and I… I don't remember much. But when I came to myself I found the diary and traced the master's footsteps to the, the courtyard. There I found Hades' statue and the master's corpse. So I knew then, I did, that Hades stood by my side."
  2548. > He holds you tighter.
  2549. > "I didn't want you to know about it. I felt freed, at least until the next Master came. Those were a rough couple of centuries and it seemed like there would be no end to my torture… I can't say Athena's thing made me mad. I was already mad before it. I was something else altogether."
  2550. > He raises his head from your chest and looks directly at you. You can see then how old Asterion truly is, despite his youthful appearance.
  2551. > "I would rather not talk about those times, Anon. I've avoided those topics, knowingly. But if you do wish to know more, I can talk about it. Just give me some time."
  2552. > He touches your forehead against yours.
  2553. > "For you I will do it."
  2554.  
  2555. Chapter 19
  2556. > It had been a long time coming. You kept contact with Hermes and the son of the man who gave you the Hotel's deed. At first you thought he had been the Labyrinth's previous Master who, for some reason, had turned regretful in his old age.
  2557. > But figuring out the delivery man was Hermes -- *the* Hermes, one of the greek gods -- had set off your alarms. And he mentioned he and Poseidon watched over the Labyrinth so, you figured out, maybe that old man was Poseidon?
  2558. > Regardless you kept contact with the man's son. Oftentimes he would send a message or two to check up on you and Asterion. You couldn't say for sure if his intentions were good, but you didn't see anything that would imply they were bad.
  2559. > You also had sent that snow globe, 'Poseidon's Parting Gift' back to R&D. Your boys had figured out it had a series of very particular properties -- for example, how it seemed somehow connected to a whole another universe, while also being a fragment of Poseidon's power. You wanted to know more about it.
  2560. > It was a friday afternoon when the results came in -- just in time, because T. and Hermes had asked if they could visit this sunday.
  2561. > The results sent a chill down your spine.
  2562. > You were expecting the whole research around this thing to be a long, costly and drawn out process. How wrong you were. Now that R&D knew what their goal was they found out getting the snow globe to open its "gateway" was a simple affair. It actually only required a single line of the Maths Folder to be modified. The snowglobe itself seemed to have been designed to be used.
  2563. > The gateway always seemed to open up at exactly the same place; always the same island in the same planet, which had an atmosphere identical to Earth's.
  2564. > Today they had run two final experiments.
  2565. > First, they had confirmed they could change the very physics of that universe via the Hotel's folders. From those results Robert and Nito theorized that the snowglobe contains the universe, as opposed to merely being a gateway to it, and that this universe is fully reprogrammable -- maybe even more than the Labyrinth itself.
  2566. > Second, they sent a few samples from Asterion to it (blood, fur, horn shavings). Usually none of those materials would be able to leave the Hotel -- but they did, this time.
  2567. > You had a hypothesis, that perhaps Poseidon's 'Final Gift' could be an escape route of sorts. A way to give Asterion a way out of the Labyrinth. It seems like, indeed, that is the case.
  2568. > In your office you read about all those results. You had thought about giving back Poseidon's godly fragment, which would strengthen him. But it's clear the old god really left something truly special and useful for Asterion, something absolutely unique.
  2569. > You have some time to collect your thoughts before sunday, when Hermes, T. and, maybe a few others will visit.
  2570. > Your mind is in turmoil. Do you intend on returning Poseidon's gift, if the situation presents itself?
  2571. > You can ask people for their opinions, including Asterion and all other guests.
  2572. > This choice is not final. You'll get to confirm your choice later. But you must decide on your intentions.
  2573.  
  2574. > You decide you'd like to know what's Asterion stance on this whole matter. After all it's Poseidon's Parting Gift to *him.*
  2575. > About half an hour later you meet up with Asterion on your quarters to discuss the matter. You explain to him what R&D found so far -- how this snowglobe seems to contain an entire universe in itself, that it may have been Poseidon's wish for Asterion to use it as a way out, but also that it could be used to strengthen Poseidon and, maybe, restore him from his senility.
  2576. > You let the minotaur hold the snowglobe. He looks at it longingly, caressing it like a cat.
  2577. > "So Poseidon… Grandpa, left me this so many centuries ago? It was so close to me for so long. If only I had known..."
  2578. > You've grown used to how Asterion expresses his emotions, you can read them clearly now. He has his ears drooping down, his lips quiver so slightly, his eyes glimmer with a slight wetness.
  2579. > "But… An entire universe? I do wonder, would the wildlife attack me there? Would I have to worry about the gods' entities coming for me? Would life there be… Normal, without having to worry about the contracts?"
  2580. > He holds the snowglobe close to his chest.
  2581. > "I would like to return it, Anon. I think it's the right thing to do, even if I do want to keep it. But perhaps we could visit this universe before returning it to Poseidon. Do you think that could be done?"
  2582. > Going by what R&D told you, yes, it would be feasible. But you don't know for sure if this universe is safe, now how it works for sure.
  2583. > You tell Asterion you'll look into it and make the proper arrangements. He should get ready for it. It's friday, Hermes and T. will visit this sunday, so this leaves you with only one day to do it.
  2584. > You can't know for sure what awaits you inside the snowglobe. Do you want to take someone with you? Who?
  2585.  
  2586. > During dinner, later that night, you discuss with Asterion another point. Another option you have is using Poseidon's Gift for The Maggot. Wouldn't it be fitting, in a way? Asterion descends from Poseidon's lineage. It would make sense to use his godly fragment to sire children.
  2587. > Asterion remains quiet after you tell him about this option. He keeps looking away, lost in thought.
  2588. > "Is Poseidon's Gift the only option we have? Could we use another god's fragment?," he asks.
  2589. > R&D said you could use other fragments, but which one you used would have an impact on what The Maggot becomes.
  2590. > The minotaur remains lost in thought throughout the rest of the night. You let him have his space. The two of you go to bed somewhat early, anticipating a long day tomorrow.
  2591. > Sometime during the night, however, you're awoken by the rustling of sheets and the thumping of hooves. It's still dark outside. Asterion's up and getting dressed -- more precisely, he's putting on a set of ancient greek armor you've never seen before.
  2592. > He notices you aren't sleeping.
  2593. > "I was hoping you'd wake up. I want to do something... It's dangerous. I am scared, it's probably not a smart decision but it's something I should do. I don't know if I want you to see it but I'm afraid of going alone. And it would also be dangerous to you, Anon, if you don't do exactly as I say."
  2594. > Asterion looks expectantly at you. How do you respond?
  2595.  
  2596. > Of course you'll go with him. You ask Asterion where you two are going, what's happening, should you bring someone else?
  2597. > "We're going to the older parts of the Labyrinth, to visit an... Old friend. He and I will spar, then we will fight to the death. He may kill me a few times. I've defeated him before but that was a long time ago. You'll be safe as long as you do not interfere. We won't be needing anyone else. All I need you to do is to the Master's duty. When the fight ends, whether I lose or win, you must pour wine on me so I may heal."
  2598. > You're getting dressed while he speaks. Your minotaur summons a hood of cain mail, to protect his head and neck, and a helmet fitted for his bull head.
  2599. > "It's Hades. You musn't interfere in our combat, Anon. He is the single thing in the Labyrinth that is allowed to hurt, even kill a Master. But he will only do so if you challenge him. He once did exactly that, he killed a Master who bore a fragment of a Hera's power. If I defeat Hades in combat he will bequeath me both his and Hera's power."
  2600. > Asterion finishes adjusting his armor. He rises and seems to you more like a mythical hero than the kind, lovely minotaur you've grown accustomed to. He seems sorrowful at first, rivers of sweat drip down his forehead, but he closes his eyes, breathes deeply, and his demeanor changes ever so slightly.
  2601. > The hotel around you blinks. You're used to it now but this time it's particularly jarring, it keeps blinking, again and again, as if reality fought back against whatever Asterion's trying to do.
  2602. > When the world around you settles you look again at Asterion and he seems -- younger? It's like suddenly his face is brimming with color, his cheeks are rosier and his eyes glimmer with a new youth.
  2603. > He smiles. Now his posture reminds you of the chiseled statues of greek temples. Draped in his armor like that he seems like another person entirely, with a cocky smile befitting of a prince.
  2604. > "Let's go, Anon! Hades waited for my return for thousands of years, let us not leave him there for a minute more."
  2605. > You ask him if there's anything else you can do to help.
  2606. > "Well," he turns to you and kneels before you. "I would greatly appreciate a kiss and a good luck charm from my Master and lover."
  2607. > What do you offer Asterion as a good luck charm?
  2608.  
  2609. > Your minotaur lowers his head in anticipation. Maybe he's expecting something on the classical side like a handkerchief. You surprise him by kneeling in front of him, pulling him by the shoulders and giving him a hickey. Asterion moos in surprise, then shudders as you playfully bite on his neck.
  2610. > "A-anon, it tickles..."
  2611. > His ears flicker in response and he can barely contain himself from bursting out in laughter.
  2612. > You don't give him a chance to recover, as always you grab him by a horn and pull him for a deep kiss. You have to struggle with a giggling bull, now wide eyed from your sudden move. He stifles his laughter and gives in to your kiss.
  2613. > When you pull back you find Asterion beaming with joy. Your choice may have been unorthodox but he thoroughly enjoyed it. It feels almost alien to see him like this, seemingly younger than you're used to and brimming with joy.
  2614. > With this little ceremony over the two of you set out for the older chunks of the Labyrinth.
  2615. > You take all the left turns until the Hotel's walls give way to purple obsidian. You are back at the training grounds where Asterion was cutting down the dummies a few days ago. He picks both his glaive and his labrys, holding one over each shoulder.
  2616. > He sees you eyeing his weapons. You've never had the chance before to see them up close like this.
  2617. > "You shouldn't ever touch this axe, Anon," he says with a smirk, "but you are welcome to look at it."
  2618. > The labrys has a very rough, basic design and, upon closer inspection, you have a hard time determining what it's made of. The base of its hilt seems to be made of bronze but, almost like flesh growing from it, the rest of it and most of the axe's head seems to be made of the same obsidian from the Labyrinth's walls. But the blades themselves are metal, a very sharp one at that.
  2619. > There's a red and black liquid staining one of the axe's bits. In fact this liquid is dripping. You look back to where the axe was and this weird goop stains the chest where Asterion stashed it.
  2620. > The glaive is a whole different affair. It seems to be a much more modern weapon and a great deal of care went into designing it. It has a hook of sorts coming from the back of the blade.
  2621. > "We go deeper still into the Labyrinth, Anon," Asterion says. "Into one of its oldest chambers, the courtyard."
  2622. > You realize that calling this place "the Labyrinth" is no misnomer. It is a maze of corridors whose walls grow more horrifying the deeper you go. The ragged obsidian walls seem to sprout faces, more clearly the deeper you go. Past a certain point you realize those faces have a bovine snout and horns, its eyes locked in despair.
  2623. > Asterion catches you looking at them and says nothing. His face is now locked into a frown.
  2624. > Eventually you arrive at a vast, open courtyard. The sky above seems outright wrathful, as if from its purple storm a tornado was about to come down.
  2625. > Up ahead there's a statue of a man. Both his beard and hair are long, made out of curly hair. He has a simple straight sword and shield in each hand. At his feet there's a statue of a three headed dog. What is most impressive, however, is the area surrounding it; around it there's a large field of white Asphodelus flowers. It's a sight both beautiful and haunting, a purple sky brimming with wrath, a lonesome statue of a man and a field of flowers swaying with the breeze.
  2626. > "The courtyard and the dais," Asterion says. The frown in Asterion's face gives way to a smug smile. "Stay back, Anon. The flower field is our arena. While the battle rages you should stay away from it, enter only when I'm victorious or defeated."
  2627. > Asterion goes forward. As soon as his right hoof steps on the field the statue's dog comes to life and lets out a howl and goes out on a run around the field.
  2628. > From far away you barely make out the statue's movement. Now it's breathing, his head lowers down to take a good look at Asterion. You get as close to the field as you can to hear what they have to say.
  2629. > "The calf returns," says Hades, his face locked into an expressionless, stony stare. "You seem to be doing well. Not at all like a malnourished inmate."
  2630. > "That's right. This generation has been kind to me," replies Asterion. "However I have to say I'm sorry for my absence, Hades. I lost my will to fight and let the labrys waste away."
  2631. > "So it is yet again as when we first met. You gave up and after the fall you rise again. You even look the part, calf. Let us see then, the vigour of your will. A spar it is, or are you ready to face me in true combat?"
  2632. > "Let us start with a spar. I am rusty and so is my axe."
  2633. > "Very well."
  2634. > Hades raises his shield and sword while Asterion thrusts his glaive on the soil. The whole scenario seems almost comically mismatched, as a fully armored minotaur is pitted against a seemingly normal human, wearing a toga, equipped with an unremarkable sword and shield.
  2635. > Cerberus stops his run to let out another howl. The battle commences, Hades and Asterion start circling around. Each step they give seems to have a flow-like quality to it, as they feel out the footing below the flowing mass of flowers.
  2636. > Hades paces with a relaxed grace, barefoot, shield and sword raised almost expectantly. Asterion seems conflicted in his footwork, at times trying to approach and quickly retreating before trying any attack.
  2637. > "Allow me to speak frankly with you, calf," Hades says. "You seem confused. Now where's all that fire? You weren't this shy back in the Asphodel Meadows."
  2638. > Hades attacks with a trio of flowing sword swings, baiting Asterion into an attack. After a basic backstep the minotaur's furrowed brow and flaring nostrils give way to a clarity, to eyes wide awake.
  2639. > Asterion lunges forward and swings his labrys diagonally twice, trying to pressure Hades. The first strike misses, the second hits the god in his shield, nearly bringing him off balance. Your minotaur takes the chance to advance again for a third swing but Hades jumps back as if he was weightless.
  2640. > "Now that's more like it," says the old god. "Let's see how you fare against a lively opponent now."
  2641. > With the same grace from his previous jump he hops towards Asterion for a wide swing of his straight sword. The minotaur prepares to step back but changes his mind. He raises his labrys and bats away Hades's sword with the face of his axe. But the parry is sloppy, had Asterion not hesitated it could have sent the sword flying away.
  2642. > Hades is left with his side exposed to Asterion. For a brief moment their eyes lock. Asterion's swing reverses back towards the old god, who in the nick of time throws himself out of the way.
  2643. > Laughter booms out from the field of flowers. You can't tell from whom it came but both smile and continue on with their fight.
  2644. > While Hades is getting up from his roll Asterion recovers from his swing and runs towards his target. He prepares an overhead attack. Hades only looks up and sees the axe, about to come crashing down, when it should be too late.
  2645. > He raises his shield. Asterion's axe comes crashing with full force, hitting directly and pushing Hades against the soil.
  2646. > Cerberus howls and then deathly silence falls. Asterion slowly raises his axe and slings it back over his shoulder then offers a hand to Hades. The old god is wheezing and coughing, and bellowing in laughter.
  2647. > "I went easy on you! You weren't half as rusty as you made yourself out to be."
  2648. > Hades looks over his shield. Asterion's direct hit bent it out of shape right in the middle, cracking the wooden frame in the other side. The handle is barely holding to the frame.
  2649. > "I'll have to go with my sword alone, then. Ready for the real battle, calf?"
  2650. > Covered in armor with his axe slung over his shoulder, flowers reaching up to his knees, Asterion seems like a hero of legend. He turns sideways to look at you, a cocky smile plastered on his muzzle, then turns back to his opponent. "Yes. To the death now. I should tell you, however, that this may be the last time we fight. I intend on taking your godly fragment, Hades, and Hera's too."
  2651. > "And why would you do that, calf? Have you gone greedy and proud?"
  2652. > "Far from it." Your minotaur looks down for a moment. "I wish you were the real Hades, sometimes. Not just a statue. I'd have enjoyed telling him all about our plan. We are trying to get Master sentenced to the Labyrinth and... Perhaps you'd have helped us."
  2653. > "Now why would you do that? Is this his wish, to be sentenced here for eternity?"
  2654. > Hades looks down to you, his furrowed brow shaking you to the core. But he bursts out into a guffaw again when his gaze returns to your minotaur.
  2655. > "You dog. I always thought you'd seek out a human instead of another mythical. Figured you'd want humanity, always. You may be half calf but your soul is all man... And greek too, picking another man as a lover. Just like the Sacred Band of Thebes."
  2656. > Asterion tears up upon hearing those words. The air grows thicker, wind blows softly swaying the asphodelus field.
  2657. > "If my godly fragment will be of use, then still I shall help you, calf." Hades goes back to the pedestal where he stood, picks a helmet laying on it and puts it on. "After you rip it off of me, that is."
  2658. > Cerberus lets out another howl and the fight is on. Both fighters surge forward at the same time for an attack. Asterion goes with a downwards diagonal slash towards the god's shoulder, Hades thrusts towards Asterion's stomach. It seems as if both attacks will hit but midway through the combatants contort themselves to avoid the hit. Asterion throws himself on the opposite direction of his blow, letting his axe's momentum carry him, and Hades crouches forward and lunges out of the way.
  2659. > But luck, sheer luck, favors Asterion. Hades fails to get a good grasp on the soil and falls prone.
  2660. > Asterion finishes his wide slash and lunges forward preparing another overhead swing. Hades rolls, sees the incoming strike and raises his sword. But Asterion only feigned his attack, while the god is distracted he brings up a hoof and stomps on his right shin.
  2661. > Hades screams in agony and flails sword wildly. Asterion backsteps, assessing the damage he's caused, while Hades tries to - and fails - getting up. It would seem like Hades' mobility has been impaired from that stomp. The god brings his left hand to his helmet and Asterion makes a mad dash towards his target, ready to bring the axe on him. But in the blink of an eye Hades turns invisible, flowers rustle, and Asterion crashes his axe on the soil.
  2662. > Hades tries finding an opening against Asterion. But the wind stopped blowing and the flowers around him sway with the god's every step, signaling his position. He throws a slash against Asterion, who in turn back steps as he sees the rustling coming closer.
  2663. > Asterion thrusts with his axe, trying to shove and throw Hades off balance but misses entirely. The god takes the chance to counter attack with a nasty slash against Asterion's left arm. Your minotaur reels, throwing his arm back, but makes a desperate attack by making a one handed swing against the place where Hades ought to be. The attack hits but no blood spurts. Hades managed to block with his sword. He nearly tumbles backwards but holds his footing.
  2664. > This is Asterion's chance, but his follow up is sloppy. He misses a downwards swing and, in fact, Hades stomps his axe's hilt to propel himself towards Asterion.
  2665. > He slashes Asterion on the stomach and goes for a followup attack towards his head. On the last moment the minotaur dodges to his left and, instead, the attack hits one of his horns -- sending it flying away.
  2666. > Asterion's reaction is nothing short of prodigious. With the momentum from his lifesaving dodge he throws his axe back and strikes a direct hit against Hades's head, shattering his helmet to pieces.
  2667. > Hades is no longer invisible and is dazed from the hit, streaks of dark ichor matting his face.
  2668. > Asterion attempts a follow up but completely loses his balance. His left horn is broken and now he keeps his head at an angle, seemingly disoriented from the sudden weightlessness. He puts a hand over his stomach, his arm's fur is now covered in red and black blood.
  2669. > Hades recovers sooner from his daze and goes for the first strike. He does a sloppy, breathless slash which nonetheless connects with Asterion's left forearm, again. The god takes hold of Asterion's right horn and attempts a thrust directly on Asterion's throat. It grazes the minotaur's neck but goes inside Asterion's chain mail via the face opening. When the god pulls back his sword, in an upward motion, Asterion's chain mail bursts into its links with a spurt of blood; Hades cut off Asterion's left ear.
  2670. > Asterion seems to have run out of luck here, another close call like that and it'll be his end. Hades isn't doing well either but can still take some more close calls.
  2671. > The minotaur reels back, letting out a pained moo, but doesn't lose his footing. He goes for an upwards swing against Hades' hand. Asterion's attack is exceptionally sloppy and unbalanced -- but it seems this has played in his favor, as Hades misjudges where the minotaur's one-handed swing will land.
  2672. > It connects -- a spurt of ichor goes off and two of the god's fingers fly off into the distance. He screams in pain, his sword is thrown back.
  2673. > Hades is defenseless now, but Asterion is clearly not doing well either. The god will have to either run off to find his sword amidst the flowers or, who knows, pick up Asterion's glaive. Either way he'll have to run.
  2674. > The god looks around, still disoriented from losing his fingers and looking around for his sword, when Asterion lunges sword feigning a horizontal slash. Hades loses his footing entirely in trying to backstep, which leaves him open for a hoofed kick squarely on his chest.
  2675. > The god loses his wind entirely. Asterion doesn't waste any time. He brings his axe up and crashes it on Hades, a direct hit on the god's left shoulder.
  2676. > Hades screams, dark ichor spurts violently from the wound, throwing Asterion off. Were he human the battle would be over, but still he has some fight in him.
  2677. > With a surprising nimbleness, betraying his godhood, Hades gets up and runs as if he was entirely uninjured. He figured out where his sword is and picks it up. Asterion is right behind him however and in a single dance the two repeat the very same strike with which they started the fight.
  2678. > Hades thrusts his sword into Asterion's stomach, the minotaur attempts a wide slash.
  2679. > Dark and red blood spurts out. Hades sword impaled the minotaur, whose axe swing ended with his labrys crashing on the soil.
  2680. > Hades, however, is worse off.
  2681. > The god's head rolls down the flower field, his body falls down.
  2682. > Cerberus howls. The battle is over, Asterion is the victor.
  2683. > You run up the flower field. Asterion collapses on the ground before you get to him.
  2684. > You finally get to see up close the full extent of his injuries. His left ear and horn were cut off entirely, his left arm was slashed twice, you can almost see his bone. Hades' slash on his stomach was less than a centimeter from goring Asterion entirely, and still the minotaur got impaled.
  2685. > He's kneeled on the ground, holding on to the sword on his chest. His once white fur is covered in red and black. He looks up to you and attempts to laugh.
  2686. > "I did it, Anon." He curls up in pain, his voice is but a whisper, but there's still a drop of joy in his voice. "But look at me... My left side can't take a break."
  2687. > He groans and points an arm towards the pedestal where Hades' statue stood when you arrived. There's a bottle of wine there now.
  2688. > You bring it over to Asterion. You help him take a few sips from it, which immediately bring relief to his face.
  2689. > "The sword," he says. "Pour it on my wound when I pull it out."
  2690. > Asterion breathes, rises back to a kneeling position and in a single savage move pulls the sword out. His blood flows freely and you can't ignore that it is red with oily black strands. You follow his instructions and pour the wine on his wound, trying your best not to let a single drop go to waste.
  2691. > Asterion's sigh is nothing short of blissful. You hold him, supporting his weight, and help him down to lay down on the ground. Halfway through the bottle he raises his hand. You help him back up and -- like the first time you met, you bottle feed the minotaur. He notices it too and can't help but let out a chuckle.
  2692. > Asterion keeps a hand over his wound. It starts closing before your very eyes.
  2693. > "Could you summon my ear back? And... Hades' head."
  2694. > The Labyrinth flickers around you, stubbornly so in fact. You can almost hear its wrath for a moment, just as things turn dark. But now you have in front of you Asterion's ear and the god's head -- what's left of it. It has turned back to stone, locked in a calm expression, as if looking out to the horizon.
  2695. > The head cracks. Cerberus struts behind you and he, too, is turning to stone, cracking and bursting into dust. Hades' body follows the same fate.
  2696. > Asterion takes his ear, puts it back over his stump and pours wine over it. In a few seconds it's as good as new.
  2697. > Your minotaur seems to not feel pain anymore. He looks to what remains of the god's statue.
  2698. > "This is goodbye." His voice seems conflicted, stuck between melancholy of a departure and the joy of his hard earned victory. He tries standing up and accomplishes so with your support. He walks up to the body, kneels and pries away a ring from one of his remaining fingers. He goes back to the pedestal and now you two find a helmet -- fashioned to fit a minotaur's head -- where the statue once stood.
  2699. > "Hera's and Hades' godly fragments. They are ours now."
  2700. > Asterion gets up and takes a final swig from the wine, then turns to you and pulls you into a kiss. You two share this victory, the sweet ambrosia of the gods.
  2701.  
  2702.  
  2703. > Asterion tries to walk, and he can, but you insist he sit back down to let the wine take effect. The two of you enjoy a moment of peace further below the flower hill. Even if the sky is contorted in wrath the breeze is refreshing.
  2704. > There're many questions going on in your mind now. First of all, you'd like to know what your minotaur is feeling. He seems to be having conflicting emotions, maybe talking about Hades will help him work it out.
  2705. > Your minotaur seems to mull over the words for a while before answering.
  2706. > "Hades was... He took me under his wing after I died. I went to his realm to wait for judgement and he, Hades was welcoming. He wasn't too chatty but, in his own way, he liked having me around. And I enjoyed him, too. He was like a father, at least for a very brief period of my 'post-life.'"
  2707. > "Clearly I was no great hero, but he did not think I had done anything wrong either. He thought I was a good sparring partner too. Even training exercises in Hades were to the death, as you saw here. I beat him once then."
  2708. > "When I was sentenced to the Labyrinth he made a gift for me, that statue. What I fought wasn't the real Hades, it's just an effigy."
  2709. > "It's been millenia since I last sparred with it. I lost my will to fight and it tore me apart seeing him again."
  2710. > "Now... I am happy. Hades would be proud of me if he knew of this victory. But I am also saddened, for over the centuries I came here often. When I was in doubt I'd sit in this meadow and ask myself what he'd say."
  2711. > "It feels like I've lost what remained of my friend, but I've done the right thing. Hades would be proud."
  2712.  
  2713. > Asterion seems eager to return to the Hotel now. You two slowly make your way back home. You pass by the obsidian walls with bovine faces once more. Asterion remains silent, even shy, as you do so. You try to bring up the topic, discreetly, but your minotaur seems unwilling to speak of it. He looks away from the walls.
  2714. > A bit further ahead you ask him about the labrys. Why can you not touch it? What is the liquid dripping from it?
  2715. > "I don't want you to touch the liquid, Anon. It's, uh, blood. It never stops dripping, it never will. It was kept with me in the labyrinth back when I was alive, then it dripped a black liquid," Asterion stops talking for a minute, mulls his words, and then continues. "After Theseus... used it on me, it began dripping red and black. The gods sentenced the axe alongside me to the Labyrinth."
  2716. > Asterion doesn't seem too talkative tonight. But you still have the time to ask a final question before you reach your quarters.
  2717.  
  2718. > You ask him if you aren't supposed to touch this axe in particular, or if you shouldn't touch any labrys at all.
  2719. > "It's just this specific labrys that I'd rather you not touch. I wouldn't have an issue if you used another axe, and if you want I'd have no problem with you touching my glaive." Asterion stops dead on his tracks and snickers at you. "If you really want I could teach you how to use the glaive too. Same goes for using a labrys, as long as you summon one for yourself."
  2720. > You ask about the blood in the labrys. What would happen if you were to touch it?
  2721. > Asterion fidgets upon hearing that question.
  2722. > "It wouldn't *harm* you, it wouldn't really be an issue but... Is just that there was a Master once, centuries ago, who thought he could become immortal by consuming the liquid. When he figured out it was my blood he... He had me strung up and bled. He died from it, from drinking my blood, after going mad."
  2723. > Asterion puts his armaments aside and takes you into a hug.
  2724. > "I just don't want to put you at risk. If this liquid can bring you any harm I'd rather keep it away from you, Anon."
  2725.  
  2726. > You ask about Hera's ring. What does Asterion know about it?
  2727. > Your minotaur had kept it on a little pouch in his armor. He pulls it out to show you the ring.
  2728. > It's a very simple and straightforward gold ring -- a wedding band, to be precise. It has no gemstone. Upon a closer inspection it bears countless scratches, as you'd expect from a ring that's been heavily used over decades, centuries, millennia.
  2729. > Asterion lets you handle the ring but he keeps a close look on it. He does so with a half-open mouth, his face shifts subtly as if he's thinking on what to tell you.
  2730. > He sighs heavily. "I'd like to have children too, Anon. I'd like that a lot, it's like a dream come true. Everything we've had. But we need a godly fragment, I thought... Hera protected marriages. It's not about kids per se but if we need a fragment for The Maggot, then... I thought it would do the trick."
  2731. > He crosses his arms and looks off into the distance. He mumbles something you can't quite distinguish, then returns his gaze to you.
  2732. > "That is, if we don't use another fragment for it. In that case... It's a wedding band. And... Well. When we do the sentencing thing and you become the permanent master, I thought we could make it... Official."
  2733.  
  2734. > Official? A dozen different ideas suddenly run through your mind. You can see yourself asking for Asterion's hand with this ring, but also using it on The Maggot. Kids are an even bigger commitment, aren't they? Both are good options. Fortunately you don't have to make a decision tonight.
  2735. > You do tell Asterion you'd like learning how to fight with him.
  2736. > One thing is certain however. You pull Asterion into a deep victory kiss. You make your way back to your Quarters for a well deserved rest.
  2737. > You won't have too long to sleep, but during what little time remains you cuddle up to Asterion and spoon him. Hera's Ring is on your nightstand, waiting.
  2738.  
  2739.  
  2740. > It's 8AM when Nito and Robert finish briefing you, Asterion, Luke and the synth about what is known about Poseidon's Gift.
  2741. > It seems to contain an entire universe in itself. Asterion shouldn't be able to leave the Labyrinth but he will go just fine, since this pocket universe is still contained inside the Labyrinth.
  2742. > Luke is armed to the teeth. The synth isn't equipped for combat, even if he's the physically strongest among you. Robert doesn't give much mind to self-defense, he relies on Luke and Asterion to do the dirty work.
  2743. > Asterion has his axe and a knife. Luke convinced him to keep a handgun even if he's mostly unfamiliar with using one.
  2744. > The climate is tense, but under control. It's impossible to tell what awaits you, and you'll only have one day, one chance, to figure out what's inside it before Hermes comes back.
  2745. > Getting in and out of the universe is a simple affair. You and the four others can shift into just as easily as you'd command the Hotel to change. In the blink of an eye you are off.
  2746.  
  2747. > You and Asterion materialize first. It takes a minute for each one of your buddies to arrive.
  2748. > It's morning. You are in a beach, the coastline facing north. To the south there's a pathway going further into the island.
  2749. > Luke touches the ground in a maddened sprint to secure the perimeter. The synth and Robert watch, trying to contain a giggle at Luke's agitation.
  2750. > Asterion scans the environment silently. He feels like a different person, clad in his armor, axe in hand, the sea's breeze mixing his fur with saltwater. His eyes shine differently under this new environment.
  2751. > For a moment Robert's and Asterion's eyes meet. They stare at each other, brows frowned in confusion and a sudden anxiety. They look at Luke who seems completely oblivious.
  2752. > Asterion and Robert feel a chill running down their spines. They look around but cannot find whatever it is that's bothering them so much.
  2753. > Luke finishes his scouting. He's found a handful of tattered, rotted huts further down the beach. There's no one there and not trace of life.
  2754. > Asterion looks at you, worry in his face -- but not fear. He tries to calm down but clearly is unable to.
  2755. > You try to comfort him. His breathing calms down but he's still sweating bullets.
  2756. > "There is something immensely powerful here," he says. "It's like I can't breathe."
  2757. > Robert shares the sentiment.
  2758. > Here are your options.
  2759. > There's a path further into the mountainous island. Luke suggests you follow it, as it would take you to a higher ground.
  2760. > If you follow the coastline you can investigate the huts Luke found. He found nothing of interest there, but perhaps further exploration may give clues.
  2761. > Asterion and Robert seem unsettled by something. You can tell them to guide the team, but their disorientation might make this a fruitless endeavor.
  2762. > The synth, unfazed and relaxed, suggests he could run a few geological analyses on this place.
  2763.  
  2764. You can pick only one.
  2765.  
  2766. > You decide to go along with the synth's suggestion. He seems to be the one most in control of himself. He starts searching around for samples. The rest of your team waits.
  2767. > This time Luke, too, notices the thing which set Robert and Asterion on edge. Differently from them, however, he perfectly maintains his cool.
  2768. > Asterion follows suit, Robert too although he still remains on edge.
  2769. > After about 10 minutes the synth returns with the results. He tells you this island has an extensive history of volcanic activity, that its ground is mostly from magmatic origin.
  2770. > He adds this planet seems to be, at least in composition, habitability, temperature, atmosphere, identical to Earth.
  2771. > He did not notice anything which could explain why Asterion, Luke and Robert are in distress.
  2772. > The three of them discuss it among themselves. Luke and Asterion sense out the source of whatever is going. It's to the southeast.
  2773. > Asterion, however, looks up to the pathway going south. From his transfixed gaze you know that's where he wants to go. He mumbles something under his breath. He wants to go deep into the island; it would take quite a bit of time.
  2774. > Robert now believes the party may be able to find out more about this place by examining the huts down the coast and making an in-depth study about their architecture and about any remains around. It wouldn't be quick.
  2775. > Luke is aware of a strange presence, but perfectly under control. He doesn't know whether it is a good idea or not to seek out the source of this power. He is sure seeking out the source would take quite a lot of time; it is very far.
  2776. > The synth could make a more extensive study of the land but that would take significantly more time.
  2777.  
  2778. You can only pick one.
  2779.  
  2780. > It's 8:30AM.
  2781. > You decide to go with Asterion's suggestion, to go south and further into the landmass. You follow a dirt road across rocky landscapes sidelined by some shy, yet green vegetation.
  2782. > Asterion often stops to study the plants, but doesn't say anything back.
  2783. > The synth comments that this flora seems to be identical to Earth's vegetation.
  2784. > At times the dirt road splits into multiple pathways. Asterion seems resolute on which one you should pick. After about 10 minutes of walking you find an old, abandoned village — more like an archaeological site, in truth.
  2785. > Asterion still looks further south, wistfully, but he tells the party to investigate the village.
  2786. > A cursory investigation reveals a few points about the village.
  2787. > There are no signs of human life here in a long while. The structures are eaten away by time but there's no sign of violence or struggle.
  2788. > The synth spots some wildlife (a few lizards), but they scurry away before you or anyone else can identify them for sure.
  2789. > Near the village's center Robert finds a statue of a woman kneeling in prayer, head bowed to the southeast. Her hands are raised up, holding a hollow stone horn with holes both on its tip and base.
  2790. > The features and details of this statue have been erased by a long time of being exposed to the elements.
  2791. > In front of the statue there's a shallow clay pot with a lid on it. It contains fine sand. A circle was drawn on the sand.
  2792. > The synth informs you he can try making an analysis of the vegetation and, if luck permits it, wildlife. He believes he can give basic results in 30 to 60 minutes.
  2793. > Luke is vigilant, but calm. He still feels the presence far away. He informs you it should be a few hours away to the southeast.
  2794. > Neither you or the synth can feel this presence.
  2795. > Robert seems very interested by the statue. He thinks it can hold some significance, as it's the single best preserved structure you've found. He'd like to dedicate some time to it, ranging from 30 to 60 minutes.
  2796. > Asterion is set on going further south. You ask him how long it should take. He thinks for a minute.
  2797. > "I don't know."
  2798. > Asterion seems hesitant to tell his mind. While the rest of the party searches the village you pull him aside to take a breath away from the others. You two sit atop a rocky cliff edge, a few feet away from the village's edge.
  2799. > Asterion's gaze is always locked on his surroundings. He seems to be in a world of his own right now. Holding his hand, however, snaps him out of it. You ask what's on his mind. He looks to the south again.
  2800. >"It's been so long, it's so hard to remember it but... This place reminds me of Crete. And if it is, then... My ho-- the place where I was raised, it's to the south."
  2801. > His face is vacant and expressionless as he says it.
  2802. > "Maybe that's what Poseidon wanted, to bring me back home."
  2803. > He curls up a bit, hands curled into trembling fists.
  2804.  
  2805. >It's 8:50AM.
  2806. > Asterion wants to go to the south.
  2807. > Robert suggests investigating the statue. The synth suggests investigating wildlife. Both can be done at the same time.
  2808. > Luke is vigilant.
  2809.  
  2810. What do you choose?
  2811.  
  2812. > You tell Robert and the synth to make their respective investigations.
  2813. > The synth collects data about the plants nearby but fails to take any quality pictures of the wildlife. His investigation takes a catastrophic turn when his attempts to communicate with Nito back in the Hotel all fail, and his database about Earth life turns out to be completely corrupted.
  2814. > After 1 hour the synth failed to raise any results whatsoever.
  2815. > Robert's study about the statue, however, goes exceedingly well.
  2816. > The statue has been exposed to the elements for centuries. It's difficult making out any details but Robert notices there are hieroglyphic carvings in the horn it's holding. He cannot make it out, but upon calling you and Asterion to check it over your minotaur starts shaking.
  2817. > "This is Cretan writing," he says. "I recognize the alphabet."
  2818. > It's been millennia since Asterion last saw any of it. But word by word he managed to translate it.
  2819. > It reads:
  2820. > "The rainwater worships the vacuous god."
  2821. > "With a wine offering he may be summoned."
  2822. > "The wine feeds he who is inscripted on sand."
  2823. > It's 09:30 AM.
  2824. > You may try doing something about the statue.
  2825. > You can proceed south to the place Asterion wants to see.
  2826. > To the southeast, hours away, the great power lays.
  2827. What do you do?
  2828.  
  2829. > You tell the party not to mess with the statue, for now. There's no telling what it may lead to. It's time you set out south.
  2830. > As you progress Asterion becomes firmer in what paths to follow. He starts recognizing the scenery. You reach a village, also abandoned. Asterion holds to your hand nervously but, as you progress, a smile appears on his face. He starts pulling you by the hand, pointing towards landmarks.
  2831. > In this village there are multiple statues like the one you found before.
  2832. > Robert tells the synth and Luke to afford you some privacy.
  2833. > Asterion takes you to a courtyard, its sides overrun with wild flowers and bordered by stone benches, like a rudimentary coliseum.
  2834. > "This is where I used to play when I was a kid!" His eyes sparkle at the sight. "I had friends, Anon. It's so weird to think of it now, but... I was kid once."
  2835. > Asterion is not radiating joy, but neither is he surround in melancholy. He tells you about his childhood friends and their escapades. He takes you further from the village down a rocky valley to show you where he and his father had hunted wild goats and, just on cue, a small herd passes by.
  2836. > You meet up again with the party. Asterion is starry-eyed, telling them about what a feast they can make if time allows it.
  2837. > The palace of Knossos, Asterion's first home, is just a few minutes further ahead. Is there anything you wish to do here before proceeding?
  2838.  
  2839. > You ask Asterion to tell you about Crete and its history.
  2840. > He becomes even more excited at your question.
  2841. > "Back when I was a kid Crete was the main force in the Mediterrean, Anon. Poseidon favored us and our island, it was the best place to live in. No poisonous snakes, no lions, nothing that could hurt you, and plenty of wild goats to hunt. We did have a problem with earthquakes and a volcano, but that was a small price to pay... I suppose that was our downfall, in a way. The other cities in the region paid us tribute, and as our power waned Athenas sent Theseus... You know what happened then. And that was Crete's downfall."
  2842.  
  2843. > It's 10:30AM.
  2844. > Asterion has been pulling you by the hand further in-land, towards the place where he grew up. You've been going up a cliff, overlooking the village you just left, when the Palace of Knossos rises up further ahead.
  2845. > It's truly a marvel. It's a palace built with the construction and architectural techniques of millennia ago, and respectable on its own right. Its colors are perfectly preserved. Differently from the other houses and huts in the island, this place seems to have perfectly withstood the test of time. It doesn't have overgrown weeds or cracked tiles.
  2846. > Asterion leads the party to the east entrance. It is unlocked.
  2847. > The palace's interior shines with a gentle warmth, made evident by how it is lit by torches. The hearth is lit as well.
  2848. > Asterion wants to give you a tour of the place -- it's just like how he remembers it. He can barely contain his excitement, in fact whenever you are afforded a few seconds of privacy he's seizing you up into a hug.
  2849. > Luke is more cautious. He is made wary by how this place seems to have been maintained -- just who is living here? He suggests scouting the palace for threats.
  2850. > Robert seems puzzled by this location. He suspects the palace may be a special location inside this universe, but his initial attempts at making sense of it have given you no result in advance.
  2851. > The synth thinks he could try dating the palace, or running any analysis you may suggest in particular.
  2852. > Asterion is eager to explore the palace with you.
  2853.  
  2854. Pick one. You can try picking two but it'll probably lead to splitting up the party.
  2855.  
  2856. > You try coordinating the party into doing all proposals in a single go while keeping them together.
  2857. > Asterion leads the party with Luke, checking each room for threats. Robert and the synth go on the back conducting their investigations.
  2858. > Unfortunately the party is far from being in synch. The synth and Robert often require a longer time in a single room, hindering Luke's and Asterion's exploration. This takes a serious toll on your time management, you lost two hours in this endeavor.
  2859. > Hindered by the slow pace, Luke's scouting went terribly. While he did not find any threats in the palace, the exploration was so slow and noisy that any hostile creature in the palace had plenty of time to hide or simply evade the party. *As a result you have absolutely no guarantee this place is safe, even if not threat was found so far.*
  2860. > The synth's investigation, however, proved extremely fruitful. He can safely say the entire palace -- no, *everything here* dates precisely to about the sixteenth century before Christ. That is the palace's age, yes, but also the soil's, the rock's, everything that is not living nor of a more recent magmatic eruption.
  2861. > Robert's investigation gives mixed results. He's found multiple statues in the palace identical to the one you found in the village. Each one does have a few differences; the ones outside are more consumed by the elements, they can depict non-descript men and women, but all hold up a rhyton with the same inscriptions.
  2862. > Robert has the impression the powerful entity off to the southeast may be keeping this place preserved.
  2863. > The rhyton reads:
  2864. > "The rainwater worships the vacuous god."
  2865. > "With a wine offering he may be summoned."
  2866. > "The wine feeds he who is inscripted on sand."
  2867. > There are dozens of statues in the palace. Asterion says those were not there back in his time.
  2868. > Asterion is very eager to show you the entire palace and would gladly run off with you, but in keeping close to the party he takes a slower pace and shows you around the rooms. He's pulling the party in a specific direction, towards the section of the palace kept for the royal family.
  2869. > It's an entire floor in the south wing of the palace. It's been kept precisely as he remembers it, with very few changes.
  2870. > This is Asterion's home.
  2871. > It's a warmly section of the palace, with sunlight coming through open windows, filtered by rough cloths as drapes. The window panels are made of wood, finely decorated and painted with a vivid red.
  2872. > The furniture is humbler than what you'd expect for the home of a royal family. Even the royalty back then did not have the comforts of a foam mattress, instead a lot of the finer comforts depended on fine tapestries on the floor or a dozen cow skins over rough wood furniture.
  2873. > You and the party arrive at a long hallway. The warmth of the living room has disappeared entirely. In the end of the corridor there is a single window, high up on the ceiling, bringing in a single beam of light. The entire place is lit in a blue-ish hue, with dust particles in suspension.
  2874. > Suddenly it turns cold. Asterion faintly notices it.
  2875. > There are a dozen rooms off to each side. Right there, as Asterion pulls you further in, that this chunk of the palace is easily a labyrinth in and of itself. There's a coldness to it. You look inside one of the rooms, it is austere with a straw mat on the floor as a bad. You can imagine a child growing up here, it wouldn't be too different from a prison.
  2876. > The first rooms in the hallway are better furnished, with a handful of comforts. The biggest room, belonging to King Minos and his wife, is indeed quite luxurious.
  2877. > Asterion's room is all the way down the hallway, after a number of empty rooms.
  2878. > There's a thick wood beam locking it from the outside. Asterion lifts it aside as if it was nothing.
  2879. > His bedroom is as much a hybrid as he is.
  2880. > It is small and cramped, your minotaur has to scoot sideways to pass the doorway. It is bathed with the same blue tone from the hallway, shrouded in a chilly air and lit by a single beam of light coming from up in the wall facing outside.
  2881. > At the same time there are a few candles burning here, on a tiny dish on the floor. Their light however pales in comparison to the room's darkness.
  2882. > The room barely has any furniture. There's a straw mat to the right, a small chest to the left, a few carvings besides it. Asterion sits on the floor, cross-legged, and opens the chest for you. There's a small wooden bow and a few arrows there. The bow is barely longer than your forearm. With the chest between his legs you can imagine a younger Asterion, a child, holding it tight against his chest, wielding this small, fragile bow.
  2883. > It seems wrong, seeing Asterion here. He is big and strong, cramped up in this cold room holding a toy box from his childhood.
  2884. > He smiles and eagerly shows it all to you, even the rough wooden carvings of cows. He digs up the chest and finds something he hadn't seen before, a finely decorated rhyton made out of a bull's horn. Despite the few differences, he is happy to be here again.
  2885. > Luke is looking at you two from the hallway. In this trip he's left behind his jokey persona and stuck to a professional attitude. Now however he seems dejected.
  2886. > "This place is like a prison," he says.
  2887. > As he says that Asterion's swishing tail bumps on the candles, they go out. The room becomes colder, and you get a glimpse of Asterion's past; a horned kid sitting cross-legged on the last, cramped room of the palace, playing with a handful of wooden carvings.
  2888. > Asterion looks up to you with a smile, a look of profound love and trust in his eyes.
  2889. > "Thank you so much, Anon."
  2890.  
  2891. > You crouch down and hug him. He's all happy to have you here and hugs back without a single drop of hesitation.
  2892. > In fact he pulls you down between his legs and proceeds to tell you about each one of the wooden carvings, how he got them from one of the palace's guards who'd sneak them into his room, usually by the window.
  2893. > It's been over three thousand years and Asterion still remembers the name of each one of the carvings.
  2894. > Luke waits outside, away from sight, giving you privacy.
  2895. > You tell Asterion he can gather up whatever he wants to take back to the Hotel.
  2896. > "Really? I can do that?! Thank you Anon!"
  2897. > He picks up his tiny chest, the one containing the bow, arrows and rhyton and proceeds to gingerly cradle his five wooden carvings in it. He takes out the rhyton, it's a hollowed-out bull's horn used to make offerings to the gods and dead. It is similar to the rhytons held by the statues, but this one is intricately decorated.
  2898. > "This isn't mine," he says. Asterion studies it closely, tries his best but can't make out anything in particular about it. He stashes it away in the chest regardless.
  2899. > Asterion turns around, looking to the floor. Aside from the straw mat and candles there is nothing else.
  2900. > He looks up to the window, so many feet above him, and all the way back down. Asterion holds tighter to the chest.
  2901. > "The guard threw the carvings from that window."
  2902. > The room grows colder as Asterion's excitement dies down.
  2903. > It becomes so silent you can hear Luke's breathing outside.
  2904. > Without saying a word Asterion leaves the room. You and Luke follow close behind. The entire party follows him outside, as he goes out, seemingly, for a stroll on the palace. He walks at a hurried pace, keeping some distance between him and the party.
  2905. > You try approaching him to talk. He doesn't respond to anything you have to say at first, neither does he want to show you his face, but once you hold on to his hand his pace dies down.
  2906. > He's not crying, but he's not too far off from it. He doesn't want to talk but he curtly says he wants to visit a certain garden.
  2907. > You navigate the palace's labyrinthine hallways all the way to a small courtyard hidden between buildings. There's a cozy garden here, tastefully kept with vines crawling up the walls.
  2908. > Asterion enters the garden with some reverence, pulling you by the hand. He hesitates for a moment however, scanning it.
  2909. > Up ahead there's a single tree, swaying softly in the wind. There's a stone slab besides it, with one of the statues placed on top of it holding a rhyton.
  2910. > Asterion sits on the slab and pulls you close, scooting away from the statue. He looks at the tree.
  2911. > "This is where I used to come to think. I had a dog, Anon, his name was Treasure, he died a few years before I was shipped off to the Labyrinth. This is where we used to play and where I buried him."
  2912. > He puts an arm over your shoulder and pulls you close. It's awkward, but he contorts himself to pull you again, putting his snout over your shoulder.
  2913. >He starts sobbing on you.
  2914.  
  2915. > It's 12:30
  2916. > You stay by Asterion's side. He takes his time letting it all out. When he does speak his face is streaked by tears and his snout is covered in snot. You clean his face with a handkerchief.
  2917. > "I just... I didn't know what I expected, Anon. I came here, it really is like Crete with only a few differences like the statues, and I thought to myself 'I'm back home!'... But this isn't home. Was this ever a home in the first place? It's been so long, what could I even remember? I thought it'd be happy but no, I was raised in a prison."
  2918. > He blows his nose on your handkerchief and looks dejectedly to Treasure's grave.
  2919. > "Treasure was my one good friend. And my sister, but she was the one who had me sent to the labyrinth." He sighs and holds his head on his hands. "I think I want to go home, Anon. I had fun today, I loved being back in Crete, but it's enough. Can we go back to the Hotel now?"
  2920. > You and Asterion, hand in hand, set out to meet up with the party to discuss your next move. Robert stands nearby, while the synth and Luke remained at the top of the palace -- you didn't see what they were doing in your hurry to follow Asterion.
  2921. > You hear a long, loud whistle from above in the palace. You follow it and meet up with Luke and the synth. They are looking off into the southeast.
  2922. > "Master Anon," says the synth, "we have detected something quite... strange."
  2923. > Luke hands you a binoculars.
  2924. > "I'm no genius but I don't think Crete has a desert like that."
  2925. > From this high point you can see that the east side of Crete has been turned into a raging desert. A sandstorm rages there.
  2926. > "That isn't supposed to be there, I remember that well enough."
  2927.  
  2928. > Asterion said he'd like to go home, but the discovery of the desert might prove enough of a reason to persist.
  2929. > Robert suggests you study the statues before leaving.
  2930. > Luke and the synth believe it might be unwise to venture into the desert unprepared.
  2931. What do you do?
  2932.  
  2933. > Before you leave Robert tries one last inspection on the statues. The inscription reads:
  2934. > "The rainwater worships the vacuous god."
  2935. > "With a wine offering he may be summoned."
  2936. > "The wine feeds he who is inscripted on sand."
  2937. > He glimmers only one thing: beneath all of the statues there is a clay dish filled with sand, with a circle drawn on it. Robert wonders -- what would happen if something else is written on the sand, and an offering is made?
  2938.  
  2939. > Meanwhile you and the synth contact Nito, informing of your intentions on returning to the Hotel. He prepares your way out.
  2940. > Nito believes whoever you send back to the island will spawn at the location you were in when you left -- the palace, that is. He also calls up guests, mustering up a group to go in once you return.
  2941.  
  2942. > Asterion's nearby. He's going over the small chest of belongings he gathered and reflecting on everything he's seen so far.
  2943. > He picks up the rhyton he found on his room. It's a bull's horn, finely decorated with gold and silver, vaguely similar to the ones held by the statues all over the island.
  2944. > While you are waiting for Nito to set up your return trip, Asterion approaches.
  2945. > "I want to show you something, Anon."
  2946. > He pulls you by the hand back to the small garden. On his other hand he has the rhyton and a bottle of wine -- he brought one along, in case someone got injured.
  2947. > "We did this to honor someone, back when I was a kid," he says. "I want you to know more about what it was like."
  2948. > He pours some wine on the horn, which then falls to the roots of the tree. It quickly is absorbed.
  2949. > "Is there someone you'd like to honor, Anon?"
  2950.  
  2951. > "You."
  2952. > Asterion looks off to the side, blushing lightly at first, before shrinking down into an embarrassed mess trying to hide his face from you.
  2953. > "Anon, come on..." he mumbles as he sits on the marble slab. His hands can't hide the goofy smile on his muzzle. "That's not what I meant."
  2954. > You pull him into a kiss, passionate but interrupted by your bull's giggling. You hug him by the shoulders and he pulls you in by the waist. Once your kiss breaks he nuzzles his face on your chest, eyes firmly closed.
  2955. > "I was going for something else, but I'll take it."
  2956. > In that case... An idea comes to your mind. You've come very far since getting the Hotel's deed -- finding Asterion locked in the cold room, healing him, bringing in guests, helping them get back on their feet. It's been quite a journey, and now you're seeing all those fine people coming back to help you and Asterion.
  2957. > It's time you express your gratitude.
  2958. > You call up everyone -- the synth, Luke and Robert -- for a toast.
  2959. > At the foot of the tree they all gather.
  2960. > "I'd like to make a toast. First of all, to Poseidon, who defended Asterion in his trial and gave us the chance to see this world. It is no understatement we wouldn't be here without him, maybe I would have never been given the Hotel's deed in the first place. So, to Poseidon!"
  2961. > You pour some wine into the rhyton, it spills to the ground. It is quickly absorbed by the soil.
  2962. > "But that is not all. Were it not for you, and all the other guests we have back at the Hotel, none of this would have happened. A Hotel is only as good as its guests, and we really don't have anything to complain about. So this one goes to you."
  2963. > You pour another stream of wine, which too is absorbed by the soil.
  2964. > Robert, Luke and the synth burst out in applause and celebration, breaking the palace's somber silence. You all have a collective hug -- even Robert, usually more collected, joins in eagerly.
  2965. > You are too busy being squeezed by everyone, you don't notice anything odd. But Asterion suddenly shifts and starts looking cautiously at your friends.
  2966. > "Synth... Your chassis, when did you whiten it? You seemed more yellowed out just now."
  2967. > The synth doesn't respond -- he's horsing around with Luke now, who's stumbling about and shrieking loudly in laughter.
  2968. > Asterion looks to Robert, who's off to the side giggling at the duo.
  2969. > "You... Are you guys *drunk*?"
  2970. > The synth has Luke pinned to the ground. Asterion picks the synth up, then pulls Luke up and takes a whiff at his breath.
  2971. > "You *are* drunk! Luke, are you feeling alright?"
  2972. > Luke seems to be having a great fucking time. He seems to find Asterion's horns very funny-looking, and tries holding them like a steering wheel.
  2973. > "Look guys I'm riding a bulldozer! Mooove, mooove!"
  2974. > The synth has climbed on Robert's back and is now trying to steer him as well.
  2975. > Fortunately for all of you, Nito has just finished opening up the gateway back to the Hotel. The ruckus may have given out your position in the palace -- if something is there in the first place, of course -- but you won't be staying long.
  2976. > You all make it back safely to the Hotel. Asterion holds the rhyton and wine close, not letting any of the lads touch it.
  2977.  
  2978. > What a journey you had! You went inside a relic created by a god and explored a pocket universe! You glimpsed into a distant past, witnessed the Palace of Knossos at the height of its glory, saw the childhood home of your minotaur boyfriend! This day will be recorded for ages, your feats are easily comparable to the first landing on the moon!
  2979. > As you come to your senses back at the Hotel a thought crosses your mind -- will you be greeted by a celebration? Maybe Kota is already serving the liquor.
  2980. > You materialize before all others. You hear raucous laughter, the room is filled with joy. You open your eyes and...
  2981. > Black is in the room, spinning on an office chair, giggling. Magenta's head is thrown back, tongue lolling out, while Yellow is nibbling on Cyan's neck, who in turn is having quite a heated exchange with Nito.
  2982. > "I swear, I swear I didn't let him have the spicy grape juice, I don't know what's happening."
  2983. > Nito is mumbling incoherently in anger -- something about "alcohol killing gains."
  2984. > You look around. There are more people in the room. Jojo is watching the duo, giggling to himself. Nito is distracted and doesn't realize the jackal is pulling jewelry from his fur and putting it on his clothes.
  2985. > Squishy is nearby too. He seems to be reacting weirdly to whatever is happening -- he's climbed a tall shelf and seems to be taking a nap.
  2986. > There's some ruckus coming from the next room over. The door is open, you can just catch Kota and Onsen sword fighting with rulers.
  2987. > Asterion materializes beside you, and then Robert, Luke and the synth.
  2988. > Time comes to a halt as your party looks at what's happening.
  2989. > No one says anything, until Magenta (still spinning on the office chair) catches sight of you.
  2990. > He spins once more, and you see the cunt's smile growing larger.
  2991. > On the second spin he's grinning from ear to ear, barely containing himself.
  2992. > "They're here!" he yells on the third spin, and all hell breaks loose.
  2993. > It *is* a party but everyone's sloshed already.
  2994. > All the guests in the Hotel are drunk and they are all feeling *a-ma-zing!*
  2995. > Kota, Onsen and Jojo in particular have visibly bulked up -- not too different from how Asterion quickly gained weight when he started taking the wine.
  2996. > You had it in your mind to ask Nito to try and reprogram the pocket universe, but maybe it's best to leave that for when he's sober.
  2997. > For now, it's a party.
  2998. > Is there something you want to do? You can also try and see what shenanigans a few of the guests are up to.
  2999.  
  3000.  
  3001. > Despite their drunkenness, the guests manage to make their way to the Hotel's lounge. It seems they had a brief celebration in mind for your return but now that all of the Hotel's guests are drunk that humble plan has been blown to bits.
  3002. > Asterion looks at you with his brow furrowed.
  3003. > "I'm a bit perplexed, Anon. The Hotel's wine isn't supposed to be drunk by the guests under normal circumstances, it can get ugly very quickly. But nothing seems to be going wrong. Maybe it's fine if it's done through the rhyton."
  3004. > You look off to the side. Luke, still wearing his camo clothing, now proudly displays a a paper sign taped to his chest with "DUMB BITCH" written on it. He and the kobolds are trying to maneuver his beak so it lines with the bar's beer nozzle. He is failing the arduous task, his head and clothes are soaked in beer.
  3005. > Luke seems fully realized; he experiences today the full realization of his soul, the purest apotheosis a man can witness. He smells like cheap beer.
  3006. > "Well," Asterion adds "I'm glad we didn't offer too much wine, just half a cup was enough to send the entire Hotel into a frenzy."
  3007. > You aren't given much time to ponder those matters. The cooking staff prepared a banquet and you are starving.
  3008. > You now stand as witness to the consequences of honoring all the guests in the Hotel. You and Asterion, for now, can only stand and watch.
  3009.  
  3010. > ROBERT, THE SYNTH AND THE MOST GLORIOUS COMPETITION
  3011. > You hear a bleat coming from the hallway, followed by the synth and Robert -- now shirtless, proudly displaying his belly mouth with its tongue lolling out -- bringing in *a goat.* It's one of the Cretan wild goats you saw earlier today. It looks quizzically at the ruckus around him, with a weird calmness in its eyes.
  3012. > Robert and the synth stand in front of each other, a circle forms around them. Tension rises as they stare each other down. Robert, with the goat over his shoulders, squats a dozen times then passes the goat on to the synth.
  3013. > This Minotaur Hotel's first goat-lifting competition. A new tradition is born today, destined to withstand the centuries.
  3014. > The goat, however, proves itself insufficiently heavy. It runs off into the Hotel and the duo spawns a bull -- a small one, for starters.
  3015. > Robert and the synth each succeed in performing a dozen squats with the bull on their backs. You knew the synth was good at lifting and carrying stuff, but you never imagined Robert to be a similarly capable strongman competitor.
  3016. > A young bull is clearly insufficient. The first bull runs off, they spawn now a mighty belgian blue. The synth lifts him with no issue but it starts squirming on Robert's back. This will not do, they need a more willing weight.
  3017. > That is when the synth and Robert look up to your table, to Asterion, and the minotaur immediately comprehends the terrible fate that awaits him.
  3018. > Asterion tries to run away but the grace of the Olympian spirit is greater than his speed. The synth holds him like a bride and manages a few weak reps.
  3019. > "Anon, they are bullying me! Make them stop!"
  3020. > Before you make it up to them, Robert takes hold of Asterion and pumps out a dozen squats. His supremacy is established and he presses the bull over his head, victorious.
  3021. > As the winner of this mighty test of virtue, Robert is crowned with a laurel wreath made out of cut beer cans. He sits atop the counter with kobolds feeding bunches of grapes to his belly mouth.
  3022. > Asterion goes back to eating, knowing full well something like this will become a frequent occurrence in the years to come. He may have been distressed at first but he can't stop himself from giggling now.
  3023. > "This sure beats being locked away in a cold room. I can get used to it," he tells you.
  3024.  
  3025. > In the middle of the lounge there's a small circular stage with a pole, for Luke's pole dancing routine. There's some commotion going around ii. People are cheering for Luke to go up and do his thing but he griffin seems to be a tad indisposed -- all the beer he drank from the tap seems to have knocked him over the edge. Despite the guests' pleas he remains in the sidelines, sitting besides Black leaning his head against the hydra's shoulder.
  3026. > But the people want entertainment. If Luke won't do it, someone else will.
  3027. > Kota, the blue dragon, climbs the stage and roars. His blue scales don't hide his flushed cheeks. He's as sharply dressed as always.
  3028. > "I suppose my american friend has gone soft," he yells to the crowd. "As much as it pains me I feel like I am left with no other choice. The lounge must go on!"
  3029. > He takes off his vest and throws it to his brother, then coils around the pole. The crowd cheers in anticipation, then grows silent as Kota remains still, building up tension.
  3030. > For a moment it seems like he's frozen due to stage fright. He breathes in just as the crowd gets restless, then looks up and lets out a gust of icy breath. It goes all the way up to the ceiling and comes falling down as snowflakes. The whole stage starts sparkling with Kota's snow, then he begins his routine.
  3031. > Luke's poledancing borders on the public exposition, while Kota's is sensual, voluptuous in a subtler way. He's an eastern dragon after all, coiling himself around the pole and shaking from one end to the other like a wave.
  3032. > At times he looks up again and lets out another icy breath. While the crowd is distracted he undoes his clothes, one by one, and drops them on the floor. The crowd can't tell when it happened but now he's only in his fundoshi.
  3033. > Kota lets out another icy breath but this time it comes down as rain. People look back and find Onsen breathing out a gush of warm air, a cheeky smile plastered on his face. Without saying a thing he makes his way to the stage.
  3034. > He too is tipsy but it doesn't stop him at all. As soon as he steps on the stage he goes for the kill and gives Kota a long, sloppy kiss. The blue dragon is caught by surprise but gives in without hesitation. He undoes his brother's clothing and soon enough both of them are only in their fundoshis.
  3035. > The crowd goes crazy, but it goes further. Onsen coils himself around the pole and starts climbing it. Kota follows suit and the two of them end up making out three meters up the pole. Their straining fundoshis are visible, if you maneuver yourself just right.
  3036. > The two of them don't seem to have any intention of stopping anytime soon. They become a background attraction. The party goes on and they remain there, nearly having sex.
  3037.  
  3038. > Black and Luke watch the show from the sidelines. The griffin bit more than he could chew but the hydra has been nursing him with a few boxes of (non-spicy) grape juice.
  3039. > "You'll be fine, Luke," says Cyan. "Just rest for a while and it will be fine."
  3040. > "Drink the juice," says Magenta. He smiles softly at his goofball and ruffles his head feathers. "The juice will make you stronger."
  3041. > There are times in one's life when the full intricacies of reality are made bare. It's understandable that our boy Luke, covered as he is in cheap beer and with a "DUMB BITCH" sign taped to his chest, may be witnessing an epiphany -- after all as of today he may be the only griffin who can say he's been both to space and a pocket universe.
  3042. > "You know, Black, when I enlisted in the army I thought I was going out on a heroic adventure," mumbled Luke. "I was sixteen or something, and in retrospect I realize I was too young for going to war. It messed me up, I knew it then, and still I chose to go to the Vietnam War."
  3043. > Unfortunately, Luke is sober enough only to experience clarity -- not enough to share it.
  3044. > What he *actually* says is:
  3045. > "Now Black I was a sixteen army hero, World War Two and the 'Nam I was so small."
  3046. > "Yes, baby," responded Yellow. "You are our army hero."
  3047. > Luke measured his words carefully. His brain was going on overdrive as the finer aspects of his self became clear.
  3048. > "No, Yellow, that's not what I'm saying, what I'm getting at is that I'm not sure in retrospect that was what I wanted in life, because today we had this adventure and I'm not sure I like being a soldier, being on edge like that reminded me too much of a bad version of myself, maybe that's something for my past. I've been mulling it over, do you think we could go on a star trip someday? I'd like to see the galaxy. But I don't want it to be a guns blazing adventure, I'd like it if we could do it as a couple, you know, a proper vacation, you think there's some nice, safe place we could go to?"
  3049. > Unfortunately that's not what he said.
  3050. > "No I'm not saying yellow, I'm not sure I wanted this soldier adventure, I don't like the edgy version. I've been meaning to ask, you think we could see the stars, no guns, a nice space vacation?"
  3051. > "Whatever you want, Luke," giggled Cyan.
  3052. > "Drink the juice," said Magenta.
  3053. > Yellow leaned in and licked Luke's forehead, then pulled off the "DUMB BITCH" sign with a bite.
  3054. > The griffin pondered his words carefully. He felt as if he was holding something very precious in his hands, a realization of a lifetime.
  3055. > "Being around you makes me believe I am worth something, you know. I love you."
  3056. > What he said:
  3057. > "Being around you makes me believe I love juice."
  3058. > Magenta laughed. "Isn't he perfect, boys?"
  3059. > Luke feels a slight panic, knowing he failed in conveying his epiphany, but he quickly figures out he'll surely remember all of this tomorrow when he wakes up.
  3060.  
  3061. > With Luke out of commission and the noodles making out in the ceiling a power gap sets in among the kobolds.
  3062. > There is no leadership, no oppressor.
  3063. > What is a kobold to do when all the masters are out of their minds?
  3064. > While the party rages the kobolds make their plans. Of course, they are still on the clock and are still going around serving appetizers, but three factions emerge: pro-Luke, pro-Kota & Onsen and pro-Squishy (who is also unconscious but previously bribed them with crackers).
  3065. > In the span of fifteen minutes each faction goes through multiple coups and strategic plans.
  3066. > It all amounts to nothing, however, as a savior emerges: Nito.
  3067. > He is no dragon but he's a gecko -- close enough -- and is the most sober person around -- after all, alcohol kills gains.
  3068. > When two kobolds start biting each other in a bloodless civil war Nito lifts both of them by the scruff of their necks.
  3069. > Such raw power! He can lift *two* kobolds! All their beady little eyes focus on him, their new master, he whose might prevailed.
  3070. > Nito's reign is short. Tomorrow the kobolds will return to their previous allegiances but while it lasts he proves himself a capable leader who will take them safely across the Party of All Parties.
  3071. > For generations to come the kobolds will speak tenderly Ravelord Nito, First of the Gecko, He Who Mastered the Three Colors.
  3072.  
  3073. > Jojo the jackal sits off happily to the side, not really doing much to celebrate. It's still afternoon, he exudes considerable heat since his fur is as hot as the Saharah's temperature. He is happy just being around.
  3074. > But that won't do. The synth approaches him, he is used to dealing with intense temperatures and doesn't mind.
  3075. > He extends a hand and takes Jojo for a dance. He holds the jackal tenderly, thinks back to the day they were at the beach with Black, Nito and Luke. Perhaps Jojo isn't the most technically inclined person around, but he has a lot of heart and love to give.
  3076. > The jackal, even if he's no longer wandering the world with no destination in sight, still lives out his days comparatively secluded in a beach house outside the hotel. It's not easy being around him when he can cause heatstroke by just being around. But today Jojo feels glad knowing the marvels of technology, that engineering created someone capable of being around him like that.
  3077. > They take their time dancing, holding each other so tenderly.
  3078.  
  3079.  
  3080.  
  3081.  
  3082.  
  3083. Chapter 20
  3084. Some nights just sing like the sirens. As soon as he puts a coat and closes the door he feels it in his throat that he is someone else already, a different creature from what he is during daytime. His footsteps sound alien and the coat sits *too well* on his shoulders. He says nothing, after all he is trying to be silent, but if he spoke the voice would be of someone firmer than he thought himself to be.
  3085. The minotaur leaves his lover sleeping on the bed and goes out to face his own labyrinth. Ideas twist and turn in the back of his mind. His long shadow covers the dimly-lit hallways, tall horns jutting out from a bestial body lumbering forward, holding tightly to a few trinkets. His stride is long and gracious, even if his hooves make it impossible to be silent.
  3086. It hardly feels like the Labyrinth, Asterion thinks to himself. Neither does it feel, tonight, like the Hotel. He lets himself get lost in the infinite hallways just like he did when he was a teenager, freshly shipped to the labyrinth back in Crete.
  3087. Back then his worries were simple -- when will I be able to go back home? When will I get a visitor? Why did Ariadne do this to me? Then he died, was shipped to Hades, then shipped here. He was cattle, as one could reasonably expect. A bull ought to be used to being shipped, sold, used. There ought to be no surprise when the time comes to butcher him.
  3088. But tonight he felt like that teenager again. How sweet is it to have such small worries, Asterion thinks to himself. I need some fresh air, I could do with some stargazing.
  3089. With a blink he commands the Hotel to lead him. A turn to the right takes him back to the reception, empty -- just like the day when Anon arrived. He unlocks the front door and sits on the stairway. The stars up above, so small. Here I am, an undying prisoner, yet I feel so normal. Wearing a coat, sneaking around, it's so chilly tonight. It was just a few hours ago that I made a trip back home, to some Crete, and tomorrow my grandfather is coming to visit. My boyfriend and I brought back home my childhood toys. This is all so small.
  3090. Asterion's nose is cold, thanks to the breeze. He rubs it with the back of his hand, covers it and exhales to get his breath's warmth. He giggles as he does so. Undying, incapable of getting sick, and worrying about getting cold! He laughed even if his throat was tied in a knot.
  3091. Ah, I think I'm in love. More than love with someone, in love with life. Asterion, how old are you? How many millenia again? You are an old bull, older than the World Wars, older than Christ and even that old stinking Roman Empire. Someone as old as you has no place falling in love like that. You should be on a retirement home, for goodness' sake! But here you are, giggling like a calf, feeling all fuzzy and warm inside. A boyfriend waiting on your bed, a relative visiting tomorrow, a whole hotel brimming with people who had a blast today -- I have it good. I have it damn good. And, well, if everything goes according to plan -- no more torturing. No more masters, none of that. Maybe even kids. Marriage. Maybe even retirement -- should I retire one day? Does that even make sense?
  3092. Well, I guess I can figure that out as we go along. It's so weird, feeling normal like this.
  3093. The minotaur didn't bother wiping away the tears, they were sharp streaks of cold running down his fur. Oh, it all felt so sharp, the crispy night air, the stair's marble, even his cold nose. He rubbed it again until it was warm, that sensation too was radiant.
  3094. Oh, I have it good, I do, Asterion said. He felt conflicted then -- being on his own tonight felt good, a secret as tiny and precious as a firefly. But he also wanted to share this brief moment, this different version of himself. He wished someone else was passing by -- Black, Luke, Nito, Onsen, Anon too -- just so they could hear him giggling. Even if they said nothing at all and just went on. Sometimes one does want to be seen.
  3095. He sat there, stewing on his wants, mainly the simplest one there is -- I want to live! And, even if he could not say it, he knew he wanted to share it. He dreamed up fantasies. Maybe, who knew, in just a few months he and Anon would have kids. The thought made Asterion burn inside. How would they look, what would their personalities be like? He wanted to hug him, her, them, those unseen, undefined children just beyond his grasp. He wished they were there, now. He closed his eyes and tried imagining them, perfect little bull-headed children.
  3096. At the same time a thought stirred in the back of his head. He had a reason to come out in the middle of the night. Asterion clung to the joy, to the radiance, but knew too that something ate away at him. He just could not bring himself to admit it.
  3097. He had brought with him the rhyton -- a decorated bull's horn he had found in the pocket universe, with which he and Anon made a libation. They had honored the Hotel's guests and Poseidon, when they returned they were all drunk... Kota and Onsen seemed to have gained some weight too.
  3098. He smiled still and faked laughter as he steeled himself for what he was about to do. In a flash he was someone else entirely. He didn't want to be seen anymore, Asterion could only wish no one saw what he was about to do. He uncorked the bottle of the Hotel's wine. There was about two thirds of it left from the day's journey. He let the cork roll away into the night.
  3099. "For Poseidon. Grandpa. Thank you for standing up to me, and for your gift."
  3100. When the minotaur left his bedroom he felt electric, sharp, his voice could pierce walls. But now his words were small and muffled by the night. He felt cold, too cold, no amount of rubbing his nose would change that.
  3101. The minotaur poured a first strand of wine. He faked laughter. Can't have grandpa drinking it all at once. But his joke didn't seem funny. A chill ran up his spine. This is a very idiotic thing to do. Do I even know who he is? He is an old god. He may have treated me well but maybe it's for the best if he doesn't have power anymore.
  3102. I am so small. I am. What if Poseidon is dangerous and I'm destroying everything by giving him power? He might have tried to protect me but that doesn't mean he's trustworthy. Same goes for Hermes.
  3103. Asterion's limbs felt so heavy, all of a sudden. He slouched forward, his back felt boneless, then he felt like dropping down like an old ragdoll.
  3104. Hold yourself, Asterion. Don't go cold now. Don't go cold. You have so much going on for you... Well, if you will just fall like that then at least go to your room. Anon will be there. Everything will be ok. Just get up, one leg then the other.
  3105. But he didn't. His back was against the stairs, an uncomfortable position, but the minotaur couldn't see himself moving. He could see the stars, his everlasting friends. He wished again to have someone to share this moment with. Perhaps for different reasons now. His eyes were dulled, like his senses. Time passed, the night grew colder, but off in the distance, from the road, there was a sound. Regular, like footsteps, but harsher. Like a horse, or someone wearing very tough boots.
  3106. Now that's odd, who could it be at this hour? Asterion stood back up, not wanting to come off as some weird person lying on the stairs. Perhaps shame beats depression, he thought. Just as quickly as he had become someone else -- the bold Asterion crossing the hallways, then the small thing thrown on the staircase -- he was now something in-between. Not quite glorious nor disgraced. He was normal, the person one usually is on the outside but never on the inside.
  3107. It was hard seeing through the darkness. Impossible to tell for sure who was approaching. But Asterion could just make out him waving -- and, presumably, the stranger was aware of the minotaur's presence.
  3108. "Hello. Excuse me sir." It was a firm voice, raspy, but it had a tinge of shyness. Asterion had to listen closely, his words barely pierced the night. "I'm afraid I somehow got lost. Would you be able to tell me what place is this?"
  3109. A man's identity is like a flame. It flickers, shifts quickly. In the dark no one would see how Asterion's eyes changed from the dullness of being lost inside himself to the glimmer of being another man's beacon.
  3110. "I can, of course. This right here is a hotel, a lot of people end here after being lost for a while. It's a fine place to stay in for a while, if you are needing some time to heal." No dark, gloomy night could hide the pride dripping from Asterion's voice. "We call it Minotaur Hotel."
  3111. "Is that so? That's just the place I've been needing. But... It seems fancy. Don't think I have the cash to rent a room. You think they'd be fine letting me stay in just until the morning? I won't be a bother, just don't wanna stay in this cold any longer."
  3112. "Oh, don't worry about that. The rooms are cheaper than you'd expect. But if you can't pay, no, that's not gonna be an issue either. I can hook you up with a room, we have more than we know what to do with them."
  3113. "Oh? You're the owner of this place?"
  3114. "No," Asterion responded without thinking, only to feel his own word stinging inside his throat. He could feel his own fire flickering. "Well, kinda, yes. You could say I'm a partner."
  3115. "Oh. You sure it's not gonna be a bother? I don't want to get you into trouble, if we're overstepping boundaries here. Won't your, well, partner, co-owner, get angry you let someone in like this?"
  3116. The stranger's voice cracked, for just a moment. It was hard seeing but the man had his arms close to his body. Shy, lost, feeling small.
  3117. "No, I'm sure he won't. Not gonna be an issue." Asterion took a swig of the wine, felt it burning his throat and warming his core. He even felt some excitement, a stirring on his loins. This power, this position -- finding a lost soul and bringing him in to recover, it made him feel alive. Before Anon came this was the minotaur's bread and butter, what made him want to live. "What's your name, young man?"
  3118. The lad chuckled. "Young man? I don't think you sound much older than me."
  3119. Asterion leaned back, a cheeky smile spread on his lips.
  3120. "Oh yeah? How old do you think I am, then?"
  3121. The stranger didn't think twice. "Thirty. Thirty five, at most. But that's going by your voice, I can't see much."
  3122. "I wish. Try something higher, much higher."
  3123. "Fifty? Can't be much more than that."
  3124. Asterion supported his head on his hands, not laughing but enjoying the warmth spreading in him. This is just what he wanted, after all, someone to share this moment. Didn't matter who. "You are trying to flatter me, *boy.* I said higher, much, much higher."
  3125. "Damn. Eighty?"
  3126. Asterion laughed, his voice boomed across the parking lot.
  3127. "You gotta be kidding me. No way you're past eighty."
  3128. "I'm older than dirt."
  3129. "You seem to be doing well, then. Hope I'm doing as well as you when I'm that age. With a big hotel too, doing well enough to let some traveler in for the night without paying."
  3130. "Oh yes, I'm doing well, very well. Can't complain about that. I've been through a whole lot, but today... Yes, life's good now."
  3131. Asterion took another swig of the wine, then did an old favorite trick -- he summoned an open bottle regular wine behind him and extended it to the stranger. He took it and sat beside the minotaur.
  3132. "You didn't tell me your name, boy. Mine's Asterion."
  3133. "Sorry about that. You can call me Storm."
  3134. "Huh. Is that what your mother called you? Storm?"
  3135. "Well, no. Not my birth name. But it's what my boss used to call me, it stuck."
  3136. Sometimes it's best not to ask, Asterion thought to himself. He was about to speak up but the man, Storm, did so sooner.
  3137. "He was a good man, my boss. Like a father. I didn't have one, mom raised me on her own. I was a little shit until I met him, he taught me how to be a man. So I prefer it, feels right... You may think it's no regular name but Asterion's no common one either."
  3138. "I suppose it isn't, nowadays. But, you know, I'm older than dirt. It was a normal name back when I was a kid, back home. It's my great, great grandfather's name."
  3139. "A Roman name."
  3140. "No, definitely not Roman," the minotaur chuckled. "I'll forgive you this time, boy, but never associate me with those barbarians."
  3141. It feels good being a man, Asterion thought to himself. It felt damn right.
  3142. "Oof. Lesson learned, I guess. Then... Greek? Greek name, I mean."
  3143. "Getting closer, now. But I don't consider myself Greek either. Had too many quarrels with them back when I was a teen. I'm Cretan."
  3144. "Crete's part of Greece though, isn't it?"
  3145. The minotaur laughed again. "Not when I was born, no. I'm Cretan, through and through. As Cretan as it gets."
  3146. "Makes sense, I guess."
  3147. "It does? What, if you don't mind me asking?"
  3148. "I mean, you're Cretan, you own a place and call it Minotaur Hotel, your name's Asterion. It's, like, the whole set, you know what I mean? Plus, yeah, you really are old. It's been a while since Crete wasn't part of Greece. A century, I think."
  3149. Asterion didn't answer. How much had Crete changed, he wondered. How different was it from his memories, from the replica that was Poseidon's gift? He felt his heart stirring.
  3150. "All that's missing is a labyrinth," Storm continued. "Then we're set. You'd be the minotaur... And you'd need to be a cannibal, too."
  3151. The boy's comment hurt, but Asterion couldn't stop himself from chuckling. "You think that happened?"
  3152. "The minotaur?"
  3153. "No. I mean, you think he was a cannibal?"
  3154. "That's what mom told me. That's what I heard my entire life."
  3155. "You think it's true? Why would he be eating men and women, didn't regular meat work just fine?"
  3156. "Legend says he was a monster. Maybe he didn't think much about it, just had a taste for human flesh. Suppose it just hit him one day, the hunger, and he ate someone whole. Then they locked him in the labyrinth."
  3157. Storm took a long swig of his bottle. Asterion looked off to the side, to this young man -- who called him a murderer, a cannibal, worse of all, a Roman. But how could this boy know? How could anyone, really? The legend spoke louder than he ever could. This conversation had happened many times over the centuries. Asterion had always been an impeccable gentleman, going to great lengths to explain the truth.
  3158. But tonight he was tipsy, a little bit out of himself, and eager to have some banter.
  3159. "I'll tell you what happened. It wasn't none of that. He wasn't a cannibal, neither was he a murderer. But his sister made a fuss about just that, that he'd become violent, so they sent him off. Being locked up made him mad, broke him, so when Theseus came he didn't have much to live for."
  3160. "And how do you know that, gramps?"
  3161. "I'm Cretan, boy. And old. I know what I'm talking about."
  3162. The shadow besides Asterion looked down to his bottle of wine, swiveling it around. A tail swished, ears flickered.
  3163. "Sorry, don't believe you," he mumbled. "Sure wish I did, though. Wish someone had told me that before."
  3164. "You do? Why, is it important to you?"
  3165. "... I like the legends. Mom didn't, boss did. I learned to like 'em... If you don't mind me asking, how was it, Crete? How is it there."
  3166. "It was the pearl of the Mediterranean. Beautiful place. Majestic architecture, for the time. Meat, milk, wine, honey. Not a single dangerous snake in the entire island. Everything you could ask for. I grew up hunting wild goats, when my parents let me. Me and my dog. Running up and down hills of tough soil, hard from the volcano."
  3167. "Ever did any bull leaping?"
  3168. "Excuse me?"
  3169. "That's what the Cretans did. Bull leaping. Did you do it?"
  3170. "No. No bull leaping."
  3171. I was bull leapt, though. But he doesn't need to know that.
  3172. "You really are old, huh."
  3173. "Sure am. But I'm still kicking and I have no intention of quitting anytime soon. In fact," Asterion smiled in the darkness, "might just be getting married soon. Already have the ring and all."
  3174. "Oh, wow. Huh." Storm seemed at a loss. "Well, congratulations, I guess. Lucky girl." He looked back at the Hotel, thought to himself what a lucky gold digger.
  3175. "Not a girl. A man." It was dark but the stars were enough to light Asterion's smug smile. "My man, my partner in this Hotel. And if the gods allow it we'll have half a dozen kids running around too."
  3176. "... Aren't you too old for that? Weren't you, like a hundred years old? Are you sure you'll live long enough to raise those kids? I don't want to be rude, is just..."
  3177. Asterion laughed out loud. He liked the kid, Storm.
  3178. "Oh, don't worry about that. I'm not going anywhere. That's just how it is with me. You die once and then that's no longer really an issue, no longer afraid of it. Just live and enjoy. I never had kids, you see, never. I may be old but, fuck it, I'm doing what I want now."
  3179. Storm didn't know what to make of this man's ramblings. He wasn't even sure Asterion was speaking the truth -- he didn't seem old, for starters. But he seemed nice enough, plus he was offering free housing and this wine was the shit.
  3180. He swished his tail. This night had taken such a strange turn. Less than an hour ago he had been leaving a farm -- didn't want to employ him, like all the others -- and so suddenly he found himself lost, wandering down an empty road with a building up ahead. And now there was this old man, talking about the minotaur.
  3181. Maybe I shouldn't be here, Storm thought. This is too good to be true. He's gonna throw me out like the farmers did.
  3182. Asterion noticed the lad lost in thought.
  3183. "You seem tired. Let's get you a room so you can have your rest. It's very late."
  3184. "No. Maybe it's best if I kept going. You were very kind, thank you, but I think now I shouldn't bother you. I really can't pay. It's not right."
  3185. "Don't worry about that. That's not an issue, we are doing fine. We don't lose anything by letting you sleep in one of our vacant rooms. Besides, if you want so badly to be useful we have plenty of job opportunities here. Some of our guests just end up helping around."
  3186. Too good to be true, Storm thought. He was ready to have the rug pulled from under his hooves. But if this old man wasn't letting him go easily then the boy decided he'd do it in style.
  3187. "You think the minotaur was a monster?" the lad asked.
  3188. "No. I'm sure he wasn't." Asterion spoke firmly.
  3189. "Huh," Storm reconsidered what he planned on saying. "Would you take him as a guest, then? What if he was a cannibal? Would you take a minotaur as a guest?"
  3190. The wind howled in laughter even if none of them did.
  3191. "The name of the place is Minotaur Hotel, Storm. What do you think?"
  3192. Storm took a long swig of his wine.
  3193. "Well now I feel like a fool."
  3194. "Then let's get inside, don't want you getting a cold." Storm got up -- too quickly, one might add -- and extended Asterion a hand. "Well, aren't you a gentleman."
  3195. "Respect your elders, boss taught me that."
  3196. "I'm not old enough to need that kind of help, but I appreciate the thought." The lad extended the bottle. "Nah, keep it. Consider it your housewarming gift."
  3197. Asterion went ahead. Light poured out from the Hotel's doors, breaking the curtains around the duo. The minotaur already had a smile plastered on his face -- he couldn't wait to see the lad's surprise upon seeing he was a minotaur. Now that would be a story to tell tomorrow morning.
  3198. "Welcome to the Minotaur Hotel, my pride and joy," said Asterion as he turned around.
  3199. And there he was, Storm. About six feet tall, dark as night with a child-like pink nose, a fine set of horns jutting forward and a tail swishing behind him. He was wearing an old, cruddy leather jacket and faded jeans. He was looking now to Asterion, wide-eyed, but not nearly as shaken as the old minotaur himself.
  3200. They stood there, eyes locked, as chills crawled from the back of their heads down to their spines, leaving all their fur raised like a cat's.
  3201. A boy is told all his life he's a monster, carved from the same stone as the cannibal murderer born out of a queen's illicit affair with a beast. Destined for bloodshed, one can assume, marked for disgrace. No father but raised by a mother whose love was off-balanced, who fully expected him to be a killer. He became a criminal for a while, because that was expected of him, but he didn't have the meanness in him to hurt others. Went off to find himself -- that is, working odd jobs. Found and instructed by a farmer who filled a void for authority but who, ultimately, had to cut costs.
  3202. That's how he got his name -- 'Storm' was the farmer's old prized bull, who had passed away (throat slashed, bled like a pig, strung up in the courtyard) just that morning and was being served in a fine, luxurious meal. When the black minotaur found his way to the farm it was like seeing the dead coming back to life. And that's how he was dubbed 'Storm.' And that's how he became a cannibal too, eating the bull's flesh. The farmhands cheered at him, at the grotesque spectacle of the living bull feasting on the dead.
  3203. Never had Storm eaten bovine meat. He had robbed, stolen from his mom, cheated on gambling. Never had eaten beef. And on the day he found a clean, proper job as a farmhand he did it. It may not be human flesh but he was half bull, so he was a cannibal now. Just a fact of life. At least he was following the minotaur's tradition.
  3204. This is the lad's life. Safely a monster, at best a beast of burden. That's who he is, old Storm. Raised dreaming of the old fiend in the labyrinth back in Crete. For hundreds of nights he fell asleep thinking of one day meeting him, of being spirited away by the minotaur who'd take him as a son. They'd be a fierce duo, the two of them, they'd be killers, have their own labyrinth. Just like in the legend. And not getting killed by Theseus -- or, well, maybe they would, but it wouldn't be too bad. Better than living a normal life. Wouldn't be too bad dying with, well, his dad.
  3205. But he gave up on it. Storm wasn't cut from that cloth. Tried getting into a gang -- which gang wouldn't want a motherfucking minotaur? But he couldn't stab someone for the initiation test. It was a disgrace -- it was the gang with the pussiest test, too, the other ones expected a murder. And he, the mighty minotaur, couldn't stab an old lady.
  3206. And the farm. Eating the bull's flesh, becoming Storm himself. A beast of burden.
  3207. It all goes through Storm's mind as his hair stands raised. He looks at Asterion, his pulse raised, nostrils flaring. He doesn't know whether to walk out, to do nothing, or to hug this man, this impossibly old man who is not his father but just as well might be. This man who didn't raise him, who wasn't there, who didn't spirit him away, a motherfucking minotaur from Crete stuck in the middle of nowhere keeping a hotel running. Fucking Minotaur Hotel goddamnit. I could have Google'd it, met him earlier. And then this fucker has the gall -- the gall of letting me stumble on him after I got my shit together and stopped being a piece of shit robber.
  3208. And -- and he can't be my father, if he says he's never had kids. He can't be.
  3209. But all that rage has to go somewhere and he's the best target there will ever be. Asterion's mind runs wild too, but less so. It all comes down to a single word.
  3210. "Storm..." His voice drips with warmth. The tone of a man captivated by something too precious. And it only serves to push Storm further down the chasm he's falling into.
  3211. He lunges towards Asterion.
  3212. A hybrid, half man, half bull, walks the tight rope of humanity and bestiality. At times one side or the other takes command. You can see the bull when he charges, horns aimed at his target to gore him. And there's the man when he leaps to his target in rage, hands raised to strangle him.
  3213. Storm is all man tonight.
  3214. Asterion, too, is man. He's a gentleman and a trained warrior. He sidesteps, Storms misses his mark and lands off-balance. Asterion easily comes from behind the young man, pushes him to the reception desk and holds the black bull's hands on his back.
  3215. Storm's head hits the desk. His eyes, so dark, look back to Asterion. The old bull can just see the faintest white in Storm's eyes, just a strand of white. The boy struggles but he's no match, he lacks the strength and ferocity of the godly lineage of Asterion.
  3216. Asterion presses the boy's head against the desk, holding him by a horn. His heart is cold, calm, barely accelerated. He is oddly controlled. It's a moment devoid of self-reflection, where a man's inner beast is made bare. He presses Storm against the desk, makes sure he knows his place, but does not hurt him. He holds the boy's hands almost loosely, more willing to let him break free than to dislocate his shoulders.
  3217. Storm trashes, tries to kick Asterion too with no success. But time passes, he remains immobilized and the reality of his circumstances crush him.
  3218. What am I doing? Just what am I doing?
  3219. Asterion knows it's over when the boy's back goes limp and he rests on the table. He's calm, the two of them are at peace. It reminds the old minotaur of his own dad, King Minos, who used to hold him just like this, by the horns, whenever he did something wrong.
  3220. King Minos was not a kind man. He did worse than holding Asterion by the horns. There were many ways to punish a boy half bull. Breaking his horn was an efficient punishment -- it rendered the boy unbalanced, it'd be weeks before he was walking straight again. Pulling the tail was painful too and doesn't leave marks. If leaving evidence wasn't an issue you could also treat him like an untamed horse, with the same perversity, knowing that a bull's hide is hard to damage.
  3221. The white minotaur, today, felt it all stewing inside him. The warmth for a young man he just met and the old ghost of his father. Without thinking he rubbed his thumb on the boy's horn -- how easy it would be to snap it. Just the tip. Would teach him a lesson.
  3222. He catches himself stewing in malice. Those old ghosts, how a father treats his son leaves a mark. But I am loved today. I submit to my Anon and I rule over others. This is the same person, one Asterion, ruled and ruler. I can be both in one because I am loved. I suppose I am a hybrid too in this regard. To reign and submit. Same eyes that see this boy bent over a desk are the ones that submit to my man.
  3223. "We are hybrids, but not monsters."
  3224. He looks down to the boy. His nostrils flare in uncontrolled breaths, snot runs down his nose and to the the desk, just a single tear threatens to fall from his eye. Not a tear of sadness, it's of desperation.
  3225. Asterion is almost pushed to gloat. Rub it on his face. But softness again falls to him, he starts thinking, almost says that, in Crete, a guest would never attack the host. But he holds himself.
  3226. "Are you hurt? I'm sorry. I'll let you go now. Please remain calm."
  3227. "Mooo." He lets go of the boy, he remains laying on the desk. "I should go," Storm says, too ashamed to show his face.
  3228. "No. Absolutely not." Asterion goes around the desk and snatches sheets of paper. Storm's head is still on the desk, Asterion scribbles something on the paper right besides the black minotaur's head. "Minotaur Hotel. It's in the name. You are lost and now you're found."
  3229. The two look at each other. Storm's not sold on the idea. Shame, one could think, beats depression but also self-care. The black minotaur has nowhere to go but he can't face what he's done. Can't accept a mercy after you've shown you're not worth it.
  3230. "I'm a cannibal," Storm says.
  3231. "Sure. Beef?"
  3232. "Yes."
  3233. "So am I, then. It's what got me shipped off to the labyrinth. Ariadne went ballistic about it. Human flesh though, have you had it? That's what matters."
  3234. "No." Storm fidgets. "Are you *the* minotaur?"
  3235. "Until this very night I thought I was *the only* minotaur. So yes. I am Asterion the Second, adopted son of King Minos the Second of Crete. Labyrinth. Theseus. So on."
  3236. "I thought you were dead. Theseus killed you thousands of years ago."
  3237. "I *am* dead. I died, went to Hades, was judged by the gods then sentenced to this place to be tortured forever. From 1944 until some months ago I was locked away in a room here. But now it's a hotel. Minotaur Hotel. And aside from that one time I have never had beef, and never had human meat. Not a cannibal."
  3238. Storm stands up. Asterion extends him the papers, with rough Xs marking where he has to sign. In a daze the black minotaur fills the blanks, still feeling his cheek roughed up from the impact. He leaves the address field blank, Asterion notices it but keeps quiet.
  3239. "Are you sure it's ok if I stay here?"
  3240. Asterion looks down to the boy. "I've been around for thousands of years and I've never even heard of another minotaur. I'm not wasting this chance. You could have gored me tonight and I still wouldn't want you out. You are --" and Asterion stops. He measures his words carefully, careful not to reveal the knot on his throat.
  3241. He was about to say 'mine'. Mine, in the sense that some men can possess others, how a wolf cares for a cub. My cub. My boy.
  3242. He searches for whatever else he can say -- you are a welcome guest. A treasured addition. Unique. Special. But it all sounds mechanical. It's not wrong, but neither is it *just right*.
  3243. "You are like me. I can't let you go. I would give you the clothes off my back, I'd bleed for you, I don't care what you've done. Please don't go. I've never met another minotaur, never thought you existed. Doesn't matter what happened here. If this wasn't a hotel and I lived on a shack I'd still house you and go hungry for you. Please stay."
  3244. A boy is told all his life he is a monster, yes, and the love with which he was fed was sick, the men he looked up to were twisted. It leaves a gaping hole in his mind, a swirling mass eating away when left unchecked. Words can't mend it. You can't heal it with talk. It is sick in a way that escapes language.
  3245. What makes it click inside Storm's mind is not the white minotaur's words. There is, in fact, nothing that could be said that would convince him. No combination of words can do that job. But Asterion looks at him with a softness, and keeps looking. Storm can see his own reflection in those eyes. A softness inside himself, too. It's growing warmer -- but not too much. It's a tender giddiness. Storm finds himself entertaining thoughts too childish to acknowledge -- things he had buried long ago when he stopped fantasizing about a dad spiriting him away.
  3246. In a way, he realizes, it feels like wearing a shirt on the wrong size. He's grown and reduced to a child. Nursing thoughts of a father that does not exist, dreams that he wouldn't even want realized now that he's an adult.
  3247. But the giddiness gets the best of him. There were no words that would convince him and, indeed, there are no words going through his mind. It's the emotion that seals the deal. Those eyes. It's too good to be true -- but Storm is so tired. Even if it was all false he'd still accept it. Whatever can go wrong it pales to how much he needs the help right now, the help to fill this void he cannot verbalize.
  3248. It almost goes sick, for a second. Storm and Asterion walk a tightrope of mania. The giddiness can become too big for those two hybrids who finally found kinship, it can grow into something that will fester. The two know it, even if they won't say it. Storm thinks of the times he stole from his mom, he sees that he might end up stealing from this man as well. And Asterion knows he can forgive it. The blossoming hope of a man too willing to give, and a boy unused to limits and basic discipline.
  3249. It is about to reach critical mass. But the fire can't last. The two of them blink and the world around them returns. Asterion's flame flickers and he is reminded of the Hotel, Anon, the day they have tomorrow. The tortures too. What he was feeling just before Storm arrived, the conflict, the joy. He exists beyond this boy. And the boy sees the same. No parental substitute can truly fill the gap left by an absent father or the twisted love of a mom who didn't know how to love. It goes cold, for the both of them.
  3250. But the embers remain even after the spell is over.
  3251. Asterion hands a card key to Storm. The lad -- more than two hundred pounds of minotaur, six foot tall, dark as night, 22 years old -- looks down to it and feels unimaginably old. There's someone inside him who wants a father but reality is more complex than that. The giddiness is gone. He feels regular, normal, mediocre -- but so alive. It is not a bad sensation.
  3252. This is the moment where Asterion would lead the esteemed guest to his room. It would be over, this brief chapter in their lives. But Storm's eyes are still wet and Asterion holds on to an ember. He feels wonderfully normal.
  3253. "Are you hungry? We can get you something to eat. Lounge's closed at this hour but there's always the kitchen. You can ask me about Crete, the legend, the labyrinth. I'd like to know more about you."
  3254. Storm ponders for a moment. He feels this is an important moment, struggles with accepting this one simple offer. He looks to Asterion, to the Hotel around them. He's reminded of the petty criminal he was, because it's as far as it can get from this minotaur in front of him.
  3255. His answer, then, is a promise. It's the answer of a man.
  3256. "You said you had some job opportunities here, didn't you? You think I could work here? I'm good, I work hard, won't cause trouble. I'm sorry for what I did, don't know what came to me. I don't need much either, just a roof and food. I'm not picky. Don't slack off. I'm a beast, I want to be useful."
  3257. Asterion puts an arm over the lad's shoulder. They have found their agreement, those two blind men grasping for a connection. Storm leaves behind the wine. He walks behind the white minotaur with a wide stride that leaves him unsure of who he is. He feels very adult.
  3258. Asterion's coat sits well on his broad back, as it should. He feels his best self. The two minotaurs delve into the labyrinth, the sounds of their hooves clashing against marble mesh into a single rhythm. Impossible to say where one ends and the other starts.
  3259.  
  3260.  
  3261. Chapter 21
  3262. Argos was the name of the boss's dog: a black and white male border collie who had the peculiar habit of herding kittens. They'd start off scared or hostile to the lumbering fool. The dog didn't have the finesse to lift them by the scruff of their necks, instead he'd haphazardly grab them with his mouth and cart them off, covered in slobber. They'd hide in the gap between the fridge and the wall or would climb up the couch and jump on to the bookshelf.
  3263. But after two or three weeks they'd find common ground. Argos would lay on the floor on his side and the kittens would play with his face. That way they were setting the rhythm instead of getting spooked with the dog's energy.
  3264. Argos' eyes said it all. They'd be wide in human-like distress if any of his kits ever mewed out in pain. He had a selection of barks, ranging from whiny to grave, should a stranger or unknown animal approached them. And if someone so much as mentioned their names he'd perk up and watch carefully what was happening.
  3265. That look in his eyes, the whites showing as he galloped off to his charges. While these thoughts crossed Storm's mind, the black minotaur sat on a tall stool in the kitchen as the white minotaur -- Asterion -- stood cooking. His dried out, sweat-soaked leather jacket was an insult to the stainless steel counters. His hooves left crescent-shaped prints on the tiles -- even now bits of dirt fell from them down to the floor. Storm shifted on his stool. He spun a spoon on the counter, balanced it on his finger, looked at his own reflection. Then looked up to Asterion.
  3266. Yes. Ol' Argos and his kittens, wonder how they are doing now.
  3267. Asterion slid a plate overflowing with food over the counter. Then he slid another, full but not as much. French toast, fruit and jam, eggs and bacon, a bowl of porridge with cinnamon and honey, a tapioca pancake with ham, coconut and grilled cheese, a few smaller bowls with a variety of unshelled nuts, a tiny omelette with jalapenos -- then a cup of milk.
  3268. Asterion wanted to say many things, but men often speak in a language of their own. He flicked his ears, his tail relaxed and pointed to the ground.
  3269. "Eat." It was eloquence enough for the situation.
  3270. Under most circumstances, Storm would have been bashful. This is too much food, he would say, but he was starving and there was no place for all that fake humility. He pigged out. Throughout it all he could only think of Argos, that old dog, and the way he looked at his kittens.
  3271. Storm eats in silence. Asterion watches. It is difficult to argue with the honesty of good food and hunger. Thoughts skitter to and fro among them.
  3272.  
  3273. You ever think what does a dog feel about his pups?
  3274. I don't believe that particular thought ever crossed my mind, no. I suppose it must be a kind of love.
  3275. Yes, that's what I meant. A kind of love. But how does it feel?
  3276. Hum. How does a dog feel, now that's a good question.
  3277. I bet it's in the eyes.
  3278. In the eyes, what do you mean by that?
  3279. It's a kind of love you feel in the eyes is what I'm saying. You just look at something and there it is. A love that comes from the eyes. Sure, a blind person must be able to feel it too. I guess even if they don't have eyes there's something in us that feels the same. If I lost my eyes I'd feel it still. And if someone looked at my pup, wanting to hurt him, he'd know the pup is mine. Or my kitten, calf, kid, whatever.
  3280. Weren't we talking about dogs?
  3281. Were we? I thought we were talking about eyes.
  3282.  
  3283. That conversation never happened and never will: It would have required Storm to stop eating, something which sounded viscerally wrong. One could argue some conversations really have no place ever happening. They merely have to look at each other.
  3284.  
  3285. In the silence their minds are perturbed by much more mundane worries. Storm thinks of names; Asterion thinks of contracts -- what do I call him? I can't call him Asterion; just his name alone would be disrespectful. Sir? Is that too formal, maybe? Boss? He's not my boss, not just yet. I haven't signed a contract. I did sign the guest paperwork, though. Is that a contract? Is making a promise a contract? Can one exist only in voice? Can a contract be food? Cooking for someone is like a promise: there are very few things as sacred as a host extending food to a guest. You cook, he eats, and eats damn well. That is a contract. You don't need a birth certificate if you're cooking for someone as well as this, cooking a damn fine meal meant to fatten him up. Him. What do I call him? Storm, I suppose. Just Storm. Nothing else. Don't think about it. I wonder what his name is. But if he hasn't told me it's not my place to ask. I haven't told him my name. As long as he doesn't know I can be this person wearing a leather jacket and jeans walking across the night looking for a place to sleep. I guess it's badass, in a way, even if I'm going hungry and cold. That person is Storm; if he knows my name, he'll know about the smaller me. That's something boss told me. Keep your chest up, shoulders back, that's how a man is supposed to stand. If he knows my name I'll forget to puff up my chest. Is that worse than going hungry, though? I wonder what he's thinking.
  3286.  
  3287. So many things unsaid. Blind men grasping about. Failing to find each other. How many perfectly fine fathers have gone unloved because they did not speak up at the right time? Is a son expected to know of a father's love when it was never said in the first place?
  3288. Asterion takes the pans and starts washing them. His back is turned to Storm, he swishes his tail and flicks his ears. The young minotaur feels small compared to the hulking white bull. His coat sits too well on his back. Meanwhile Asterion scrubs the pan used to cook the oats, coated in a thin layer of somewhat dried-out porridge. The gunk accumulates in the sponge, and he runs it under the water and pours more detergent. His hands are wet and dotted with oat gunk.The clinking of cutlery fills the room alongside the hum of water falling down the sink.
  3289. A parent's love, he thinks. Spent five thousand years believing my mom didn't love me, then learn she went against the very gods after I was already dead. Wish she had said it before. And that she hadn't stood by when dad sent me to the labyrinth. But it's nice too, I suppose. Love doesn't make you perfect, or better. Not to an appreciable extent. The adult must speak up. Cross that chasm of awkwardness. Hope I'm not coming across too strongly.
  3290. "My father," Asterion says. "Was not a good man. King Minos the Second. You must know about my mother, her name was Pasiphae... She fucked Poseidon's bull. That's how I came to be... So, Minos, he wasn't my biological father, but he raised me. Fed me, clothed me, at least, paraded me around too. I was a sacred thing back in Crete. But he wasn't a good person. I was kept in a, uh... cell, I could say. Yeah, a cell. He treated my sister ten times better than me. Mom wasn't great either. She wasn't all there, in the head I mean. Everyone knew what she did, so that pushed her off. So that's how I was raised. Loved my sister, though, but that didn't go well either... Sorry if I'm meandering. It isn't easy being half bull, is what I'm trying to get at. People don't treat us exactly well."
  3291. "I didn't have a dad," Storm said. He poked at the porridge with his spoon. "Mom said he was human though, so... No bestiality, no. But she doesn't know who he is. No idea who he might have been. That's mom. I wasn't an easy kid either, things weren't well between us... Grandparents. No grandparents. They are alive, but mom didn't get along with them. Or with anyone, really. I told you about my old boss, that's about it. My story."
  3292. There's so much more there, they both think. Asterion closes the faucet but it remains dripping into the stainless steel sink. He dries his hands, rubs them vigorously on a cloth to dry as much of the fur as possible.
  3293. There is a want in the air, for the two of them. Is this all? Surely there's more. But one can only say so much in a single night. Better quit when you're ahead, they both think.
  3294. "You must be tired. After you finish your meal, I'll show you the room; you can rest as much as you want."
  3295. "Sure. Thanks dude. Mister Asterion."
  3296. "Just Asterion is fine."
  3297. "Oh. Sure, ok. Thanks for the food, it's very good."
  3298. "You're welcome. Happy to be of use."
  3299. Asterion washes Storm's dishes. The younger minotaur remains in his stool, shoulders retracted, twiddling his thumbs. Is this the monster I spent my childhood thinking about? I thought I was meant to be a cannibal beast. I tried joining a gang because that's what he was supposed to be.
  3300. "There's something you should know," Asterion blurts out. "Today, in just a few hours, we are getting a very special guest... Two of the old Olympian gods, Hermes and Poseidon. We'll be discussing some important matters."
  3301. "Oh." Gods are real then, Storm thinks. Guess it shouldn't be a surprise. "So I should stay in my room."
  3302. Asterion turns to Storm.
  3303. "No. On the contrary. Rest well, but when you wake up ask for me. I'm not sure how Poseidon is nowadays but if he's 'fine' maybe it'd be good for you to meet him... Well, don't worry about it. Just relax, ok? You'll find everything you need in your room. Sheets, towels, shampoo, conditioner. There's a tooth brush and toothpaste. A hair dryer too. A mechanical brush too! Have you ever used one of those? They're just amazing, check it out when you get there. If I didn't have obligations I'd stay the entire day with mine. There's oil for your fur too. Everything you'll need."
  3304. Storm laughs. "Ok, sure gramps. I got it." And he regrets it immediately. They are made naked with a single word. To be seen like that is a sin.
  3305. But Asterion snorts, smiles. His eyes narrow in a drowsy sort of grace. "Sure you do. Now let's go. It's already past your bedtime."
  3306. They walk to his room. Their steps remain mixed together, echoing down the hallways, but their laughter and banter makes it clear who's who. When the door closes and Asterion is left alone on the hallway, he has a smile on his face. His ears ring, as if he had just been listening to music. He feels light, as if he was riding a breeze.
  3307. It's nearly dawn now. He sets out to his room, and hopefully Anon is still sleeping. Oh, but it would be great, too, if he's awake. Asterion can't wait to share what just happened. As he makes his way, he entertains a thought, one bittersweet and delicious. Some forms of love have a selfishness to them. Maybe it is the case of a father's love. It must feel good to be a father, to look at your children, to see them so well. Pride must be clear in the eyes, he thinks.
  3308. I'm a fool, he thinks, with a wide smile plastered on his face. I do it because it feels so right. It is selfish, in a way. I'm doing it because it feels good to me, but I suppose it's a good selfishness. It's good for other people, for him, for the guests. It's a good, selfish love.
  3309. Asterion turns right, right, right again, then goes up a flight of stairs. Up ahead is the door to his and Anon's quarters. He checks his phone before going in -- it's 5AM and his boyfriend should still be sleeping. His boyfriend. The minotaur is torn between wanting Anon to rest and wanting him awake now to share the sweetness of this emotion. He goes in, softly scraping his hooves over the floor. Doesn't turn the doorknob down when closing the door. It clicks softly. Then he takes off his coat. It rustles.
  3310. The apartment is tinted in purple light coming from the dawn through the large windows. Asterion takes a moment to enjoy it all, this home painted in broad strokes of lilac. Just a few more steps and he'll be in bed with Anon, but he's not satisfied yet. He holds this moment. It is his right to savor it.
  3311. The minotaur goes to the kitchen instead and brews a fresh pot of coffee. He does not want to drink it now. He feels wonderfully tipsy, so why spoil it?, but the bubbling water and the scent of fresh coffee give him a pretext to delay the inevitable conclusion to this adventure.
  3312. Asterion doesn't take a single sip, it all goes to the thermos. Anon will have a fine cup of coffee waiting for him when he wakes up. The thought fills Asterion's eyes with joy.
  3313. Anon hardly stirs in his sleep. The minotaur stands by the bed, hoping his boyfriend will wake up. Would I even tell him what just happened? Not at once, no. I'd tease it out, bit by bit, take my sweet time telling him. About the stroll, the chilly air, the stranger coming through the parking lot, our talk. Wouldn't tell about the rhyton, no. But I'd tell a lot, and I'd enjoy every second of it.
  3314. But Anon doesn't stir. What is a needy minotaur to do in such circumstances? Lay down and pretend to sleep, one would assume, then pretend to wake up in an hour or so. To Asterion's credit he does try it: he lays on his back and looks to the ceiling. His mind, however, runs a hundred miles per hour. Waiting is torture.
  3315. The minotaur turns to his side, awkwardly maneuvering his horns on the pillow. There's his man alright. Usually Anon is the one holding him, but this time Asterion figures out he'd like to do the holding instead. He shimmies closer. His snout is about to touch Anon's, he enjoys the shared scent they've built -- this bed, their sheets, the place where they've made love countless times and where their smells have mingled.
  3316. Asterion promises himself he won't disturb Anon's sleep and promptly breaks his oath. He lays an arm over the human's side and curls it up his back.The two of them press together. Asterion fits Anon's face against his shoulder, close to his neck. If his boyfriend tried, he could nibble his neck -- nothing would be better right now.
  3317. I won't wake him, the minotaur thinks, while kissing the top of his human's head and tightening his hug; he snorts, flicks his tail and ears, entwines his legs with Anon's, nudges the human's face with his muzzle. I won't be selfish. It feels electric. Asterion's back fur stands straight as he shudders. The minotaur has an erection, and he grinds it against Anon's morning wood, but sex is the last thing on his mind right now.
  3318. Anon shifts and scoots closer to Asterion's chest, and the minotaur responds by tightening the grip on the human. He can hardly contain his smile. Asterion kisses Anon's forehead, licks his face, nuzzles his nose, [ulls his boyfriend from the realm of Hypnos.
  3319. Anon asks what time it is. Asterion answers by redoubling his affections, giving him as many kisses as it takes for the human to reciprocate.
  3320. "Mooooo!" the minotaur says while sinking his face on his man's chest, giggling.
  3321. "What's gotten into you today?"
  3322. "Mooo!" Asterion tightens his grip and rolls to his side, pulling Anon over him. "Mooooo!"
  3323. He knows Anon likes it when he mooos like that. It made him ashamed back then, but now he enjoys it because Anon does too.
  3324. Is this love, too, selfish? he wonders. He thinks back to Hermes' visit, when he mentioned the idea of getting Anon sentenced to the labyrinth. It seemed selfish to Asterion to even entertain the thought. It seemed horrible as well to allow himself to be happy, to consider he could be deserving of love.
  3325. However, time has been kind to this old bull. He rolls around on his bed with his man, laughing, mooo'ing more than he has ever allowed himself to. He gropes Anon and is groped in return. They grind their members together. He arches his back every time he feels his man's breathing on his neck. Their fire wanes and rises, grows tall enough that it is about to lead them to sex, and simmers back to a nearly chaste affection.
  3326. This is the right selfishness, Asterion thinks. All the ways in which we give ourselves to our sinful pleasures and graceful passions, our fleeting joys, all those children we embrace as we grow drunk with life, until we lay down to sleep forevermore. This is the happiness in the good of others, and in mine own, the selfishness of the venomless snake. He kisses his man, this brutish hybrid who has never killed, who carries a sentence with no burden.
  3327. "Moooo" is all he says, giddy in knowing that there is time. For an undying soul, time acquires a torturous aroma but it allows one to meditate and solidify memories. Asterion knows that, no matter what happens, he will always have this one perfect recollection of rolling in bed with his beloved, in this precious dawn colored in lilac, at a hotel where lost souls find sanctuary.
  3328. For once he is thankful of the gods and of his immortality. After five thousand years, it arrived, this single moment of glory that justifies one's life. The gods will find me here, living, and I will not die again. But if I did, I lived enough to witness what I was born for.
  3329. "No, really, what's gotten into you? I'm not complaining but is something going on?"
  3330. "Mooo!," Asterion replies and gives a long, drawn-out, not-at-all sensual lick over Anon's face. Now, he thinks, I suppose I can talk a bit. Tell it bit by bit, savor it. "I'm in all sorts of loves today. "So many things to say, how can a single mouth spout it all? I'll never forget the day you arrived. You made five thousand years worth it. I've been someone else, someone just right, since you came into my life. "Hold me and never let go."
  3331. Soon they will let go, to face this new day, but Asterion believes that their embrace will persist even then, in this everlasting memory, in this lilac-tinted room. Even if thunder lasts just a moment amidst a storm its perfect streak, its roar, is eternal in the minds of those who heard it. Oh, if I could be thunder itself.
  3332. So many thoughts. He moos. The moment is eternal until it isn't. Now, time is past and whatever hopes of everlasting memories are dashed. The mind itself is like a river, and no single yellowed leaf can ever hope to float forever in this stream. Water turns foamy white as the current grows turbulent and the memory is pulled deep down into the cold stream where no light touches. Eternal memories for only a brief moment. Asterion knows it, and believes it doesn't matter. To merely hold the hope of eternity, as frail as it is, is enough. Beautiful. It's something you can clutch during the harshest storms, and pray to. Besides, he'll have more of those blissful mercies, more days like this will come, more leaves fallen from a lilac sky dancing downstream.
  3333. "I went out for a stroll tonight," he whispers. "Didn't want to wake you up. It was very enjoyable, but I missed you. Now I want you all for myself. Gotta make up for lost time." He nuzzles Anon's nose, the two share a morning-breath kiss. "I made coffee for you... No, don't get up just yet, I want you to stay a while longer.... Hey, can you pull my horns? Or my nose ring. Yeah, I want it, come on."
  3334. Anon, still halfway asleep, complies with his minotaurs demands. Asterion's eyes go dreamy, although not as much as customary, he's enjoying it in a different way. The minotaur giggles and even fights back a bit: they are locked in this gentle tug-of-war wherein the logical end is their faces pressing together. The human pulls the ring only with his pinky finger; Asterion gives in and fights back again and again. Lilac, then orange, sunlight splatters their shadows at the wall like two continents drifting until they come and stay together into one final landmass.
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