Death's Shadow

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PART ONE - A WHOLE NEW WORLD

Chapter 1 Snapshots of Beranabus I

Brigitta was sixteen years old and about to get married. She had been promised to a prince since birth. He was handsome and kind, and she was looking forward to the wedding. She had dreams of bearing many fine warrior sons, becoming queen of a mighty empire and living a long and happy life.

But the prince angered a powerful priestess. For revenge, she summoned a demon on the day of the wedding. The beast killed many of the guests and kidnapped Brigitta. She suffered terribly, but the demon didn't kill her. Instead, several months later he sent her back to the prince-pregnant.

Brigitta was in shock, but the prince cared only about the shame this would bring upon his family. He called in a favour of King Minos and sent Brigitta to Crete on his fleet's fastest ship. Her mouth was bound and her face covered, so nobody could identify her.

At the island she was led into the infamous Labyrinth, where her face and mouth were freed under cover of darkness. She was left to roam the twisting pathways of the maze until the Minotaur found and killed her.

Like hundreds of other doomed victims, Brigitta tried to find a way out of the Labyrinth, but her quest was hopeless. She could hear the harsh breathing of the Minotaur echoing through the tunnels, and the scraping of his hooves along the dusty floor. She knew he was following her, watching, waiting, savouring her anguish and fear.

Brigitta was in the final stage of her pregnancy. She hoped the Minotaur would kill her before the baby was born, to spare the child a ghastly death. But she could not delay the birth forever. Eventually she had to lie down and, in the blood-stained dirt of the maze, delivered a squealing boy. There was no light, so she could not check if he was deformed. He felt like a normal baby, but she would never know for sure.

As she cradled her son to her breast, the Minotaur moved in for the kill. He did not mask his footsteps. The beast hoped she would run. He liked it when his prey ran. But Brigitta only sat there, hugging her baby and crying. Just before the monster reached her, she leant over the infant and whispered, "Your name is Beranabus."

Then the Minotaur was upon her, and the corridors echoed with human screams and bullish howls of vicious delight.

When he had sated his inhuman appetite, the Minotaur turned his attention to the baby. The child had been silent since the beast had separated him from his mother. The monster sat on Brigitta's severed head and picked up the baby, studying him with a vicious smile.

The Minotaur shook Beranabus wildly, to make him cry. But instead the baby did something entirely unexpected-he giggled. Although he looked like a human child, he was a creature of two universes. He had the mind and curiosity of one much older.

The Minotaur growled and held the boy up by his foot. He clamped his jaws around Beranabus's head and squeezed softly.

Again the baby laughed, then reached out with a trembling hand. The Minotaur thought the baby meant to slap him away. But Beranabus was only fascinated. He explored the beast's fangs and nose, patting and stroking them as if playing with a doll.

The Minotaur released the child's head and hoisted him up for a better look. The baby scratched the beast's scalp and horns. The Minotaur chuckled throatily, then winced as Beranabus tugged his hair. He reached sharply for the baby's hands. But although he wrapped his large, hairy fingers around the boy's pudgy wrist, the Minotaur didn't rip the fingers off or even bite them. There was something unusual about this baby which the Minotaur had never experienced before.

Beranabus wasn't afraid.

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.

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