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«Death's Shadow», Darren Shan

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Everybody else had been terrified of the beast. His mother, the midwife, the people of his village. Even the godly Heracles shook with fright when he came to capture the Minotaur. Nobody saw the great hero’s fear, but the Minotaur smelt it and as always it drove him mad with hunger and lust. During his long years of captivity in the Labyrinth, King Minos had sent many prisoners his way. Some were resigned and went to their deaths with a smile on their lips, praying for redemption. But they’d all trembled when the Minotaur breathed on the back of their neck and ran his claws along the soft skin of their stomach.

But this baby was calm and confident. The Minotaur was a bloodthirsty, savage beast, but even at that young age Beranabus had a special way with animals.

Beranabus gurgled hungrily and tugged the Minotaur’s mane again. Slowly the beast rose and smiled—it was the first tender, unhating smile of his life. He considered the problem of feeding the baby, he clawed through Brigitta’s remains, but she was no use for milk as he had ripped her body apart. There was plenty of water in the Labyrinth, but the baby needed something more nourishing.

With another warm smile, the Minotaur stooped, held the boy in one hand, cupped the other and collected a fistful of blood from one of the pools around his feet. With a gurgle of his own, he held his hand to the baby’s mouth. Beranabus resisted for a moment, but despite his human form, he was of demonic stock. And so, with only the slightest reluctance, he opened his lips and let the Minotaur feed him, growing strong on the cooling blood of his butchered mother.

The next few years were the happiest of the Minotaur’s miserable, slaughter-filled life. The baby was his sole companion, the only person he ever loved or who loved him back. He carried Beranabus high on his shoulders as he stalked the young men and women sent to him by King Minos. Some heard Beranabus laugh or coo as they fled and wondered where the sound came from. But they never wondered for long.

Beranabus didn’t see anything wrong in what they did. He knew nothing but this world of darkness and butchery. The people they killed meant nothing to him. They were creatures to chase, animals to feed on.

When Theseus finally came to the Labyrinth and, through trickery, felled the mighty Minotaur, Beranabus wept. Vain, proud Theseus was severing the Minotaur’s head, to take as a trophy, when he heard the child’s sobs. Startled, he followed the sounds to their source and examined Beranabus by the light of a torch he had smuggled into the maze.

Beranabus didn’t look unnatural. Theseus thought the boy was six or seven years old and assumed he was one of Minos’s unfortunate victims. He tried to lead the child out of the Labyrinth. “Don’t cry,” he muttered awkwardly. “The beast is dead. You’re free now.”

Beranabus glared at Theseus and his eyes blazed with a yellow, fiery light. Theseus quickly backed away. He hadn’t been afraid of the Minotaur, arrogantly sure of his success. But this child unnerved him. The boy was an unexpected find and Theseus wasn’t sure what to make of him.

“Come with me now or I’ll leave you,” he snapped.

Beranabus only snarled in reply and crawled across to the dead Minotaur. Theseus watched with disbelief as the boy spread himself over the monster’s lifeless body and wept into the thick hairs of his bloodied, ruptured chest. He stood uncertainly by the pair for a while and thought about hacking at the Minotaur’s neck again, to claim his prize. But then he caught another glimpse of the boy’s yellow eyes. It was ridiculous, but he had a notion the child might prove more of a threat than the Minotaur.

“Stay here then,” Theseus pouted, turning his back on the boy, deciding to leave the Minotaur’s head intact. If people questioned him afterwards, he would say the beast fought valiantly, so he’d decided to have him whole as a mark of respect.

Following a trail of thread to safety, Theseus wound his way out of the Labyrinth to take his place among the legendary heroes of that time, alongside the likes of Heracles, Jason and Achilles.

He left the orphaned boy alone in the darkness, weeping over the corpse of the slain, demonic beast. He assumed the child would die in the shadows of the maze, unnoticed by the world. Life was cheap and Theseus didn’t think the boy would be any great loss. The slayer of the Minotaur was a shallow, shortsighted man who cared only about his own reputation. He could never have guessed that Beranabus would outlive and outfight every legendary warrior of that golden age, and eventually prove himself to be the greatest hero of them all.

DEAD GIRLS TELL TALES

It’s strange being alive again. This world is huge, complicated, terrifying. So many people and machines. You can travel anywhere and communicate in ways I never even dreamt of when I first lived. How are you supposed to find a place for yourself in a world this convoluted and uncaring?

Life was much simpler sixteen hundred years ago. Most people never travelled more than a few kilometres from the spot where they were born. Men sometimes went off to fight in distant countries, and came back with tales of strangely dressed folk who spoke different languages and believed in frightful gods. But girls and women rarely saw such sights, unless they were kidnapped by rival warriors and carted off.


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