Here’s to Forever

Written by Solar Lin
Art by Samantha Gades

tw: violence


“Everyone, please,” Helen clinked her champagne glass. “May I have your attention?”

The room immediately fell into a hush, and Helen smiled.

She continued, her nails tapping on the champagne flute. “Today was a very special day. I got to marry the love of my life!”

In front of her, her family cheered as they clapped. The groom’s family, however, didn’t budge. They only stared at the newly-wed couple seated at the front table, not making a single comment. Helen was already well aware that his family would never accept her, but she wasn’t going to let it ruin her big day.

“And so,” Helen turned to Paris, her hand reaching into his cheek, caressing it. “In honour of him finally being wedded to me, I would like to make a toast to our everlasting love.”

A single tear dropped on Paris’ cheek, wetting Helen’s thumb. “Helen…”

“Hush, dear, you’ll have your time to make a toast!” Helen giggled. “To Paris. My darling, my love in life and death. You have no idea how terribly grateful I am to have you join our family. I knew, from the very first time I laid my eyes on you, that you’re someone I’ve been longing to meet. Someone I wished to spend my eternity with.”

“Helen,” Paris whispered. “Helen—”

“Let us make a toast, yes? To our marriage,” Helen ignored Paris and raised her glass. The rest of her family followed her gesture, cheering and hooting louder. Helen took a glance at Paris’ mother and saw tears silently rolling in her grey cheeks.

Tears of happiness, of course. Who wouldn’t want to be together forever with the most beautiful woman that ever existed?

Helen stepped forward to kiss Paris, broke the foot of the champagne flute, and buried the glass deep in Paris’ heart.

“Here’s to forever.”

The Lucky One

Written by Solar Lin
Art by Mason Kimbarovsky


There used to be a swing in Gemma’s backyard.

A swing so tall, she was afraid to climb into it when her brother first set it up. But her sister eventually dared to, and Gemma, as always, followed her lead. When her sister pushed it forward, Gemma soared into the sky as if she had wings of her own. And there, high in the sky, she could see the whole world beneath her feet, as if it was hers for the taking. There, high in the sky, with the cosmos just on the tip of her fingers, she felt as though she could climb to her seat among the stars. Her sister used to giggle, careful, Gemma. Don’t fly too high!

Gemma wished she had taken her sister’s advice.


There was a girl who used to come to Gemma’s home every day after school.

Her name consisted of two words, but now Gemma could only remember the last half: Beth. Back when Gemma knew more of her than just broken memories, they used to promise each other never to stray farther than the other could follow. Back when Gemma still had Beth’s face memorized, they used to say that it would be them together, forever, against the rest of the world. The bracelet they made together was a promise of that. 

It’s a pity that Gemma had sold that bracelet for a bus ticket, a long time ago.


There was a lake Gemma’s mother used to take her to.

It’s a beautiful place with crystal clear water that reflects all the colors of the sky. There, her mother told tales of queendoms and dames who slay dragons; each story made Gemma yearn for more. There, as she watched the golden hues of the sky bleed into the water when the sun kissed the surface, Gemma taught herself to be someone else—to be the ruler of a queendom, to be the mighty slayer of dragons. Her mother only laughed and whispered, be anything you want, dear. But don’t be a stranger.

Gemma wished she had stayed in the blissful ignorance of not understanding what her mother meant.

And there was—

—there are camera flashes everywhere.

Gemma blinks, disoriented by the rapid blinding lights.

Once, those flashes looked like the diamonds—like the stars she always wanted to hold in her hands. Now, every flash only reminds her of the life she’s left.

“Miss Giroux!” Someone calls. A reporter, Gemma knows, though she can’t really tell which one of them is talking among the sea of reporters in front of her. Not that it matters. “Miss Giroux, there are rumors circulating about your involvement with James St. Clair. Do you have any comments on that?”

Gemma grits her teeth, trying to not let her annoyance get the best of her.

James St. Clair. The guy who made her feel pretty and then discarded her like a used toy the morning after. If he had wanted a damned publicity stunt, the least he could do was ask. It’s not like Gemma’s a stranger to the game.

Any involvement I’ll ever have with him, Gemma thinks bitterly as she hides behind a charming smile, will be my knuckle against James’ pretty, punchable face.

“Miss Giroux!” Another faceless reporter shouts, arms flailing wildly in the air. “Is it true that you’ve signed a contract to be in Antonoff’s film? Are you aware that Loren Stirling will play a role opposite to yours? Can you give a clarification on whether or not this is intentional?”

Gemma fights back a smile, refusing to give these snakes any scrap of reactions or information that could be twisted into their own narratives.

Loren Stirling. She and Loren have a not-so-private rivalry that the whole world knows about: Gemma stole his role, and Loren stole back Gemma’s lovers; Gemma exposed Loren’s embarrassing tendencies for an article called Things We Do in Sleepovers! and Loren splashed all Gemma’s secrets for a spread called Getting to Know Gemma Giroux!, and the list goes on and on and on.

Now that’s someone interesting, though Gemma isn’t too happy to see him again.

“Miss Giroux!” Another reporter yells, fighting for a fraction of Gemma’s attention. “Miss Giroux, since things are clearly going brilliantly in your career, we at Q Magazine wonder if you’re as happy in your private life? Will we be seeing a certain Miss Madeline Arden, perhaps making a trip?”

Madeline Arden. Gemma feels a pang of sadness at the mention of that name. Madeline, possibly the only person Gemma has ever felt genuinely secure being with, the only friend she thinks she has… And yet, she’s more interested in the next gift Gemma will give than Gemma herself. Though Gemma supposes she can’t blame Madeline for that—after all, that’s what she had promised her at the beginning of the relationship when she was too scared that Madeline would slip through her fingers if she had no reasons to stay.

Gemma understands too late that no friend is better than a friend who only sees you as a walking credit card.

“Miss Giroux!” At this point, Gemma doesn’t bother to look for the source of the voice anymore. “You look absolutely radiant tonight! Mind telling us all about your diet plan and how to stick with it? We heard Alexander la Rue designed a corset just for you!”

The flood of questions keeps coming, and the reporters shove each other just to get a good photograph of her, barking over each other like a pack of wild hyenas. Once upon a time, when Gemma was still climbing her way to stardom, she would’ve been flattered by all the attention.

Now she’s just numb.

“Miss Giroux!” Hoo, boy. Here comes another stupid question, Gemma thinks. What is it this time—my affairs with the hottest stars around here, or my waist size that seems to be infinitely more interesting than any of my real achievements? “Miss Giroux, I’m from Aleve.”

Aleve. Gemma’s hometown.

Gemma raises her hand, gesturing to all the other reporters to stop. When the chatters die, Gemma beckons the reporter—a pretty young woman with dark ringlets around her face—to continue.

“I—uh…” the woman flusters at the sudden attention she’s getting. “Well, we’d like to know how you handled the big change in… in lifestyle. Since you started out living in a small town like Aleve, and now you’re… well, you’re the biggest star in such a dazzling city, Angelus….”

Gemma smiles at the woman. Such a brave soul, venturing out to interview her in the biggest movie premiere of the year where there are sharks who’re ready to chew anyone alive just to get a glimpse at Gemma.

Gemma wonders how she’s not trampled yet.

Gemma likes her.

She smiles.

Apparently, the young woman takes Gemma’s smile as a cue for her to repeat her question.

“If you don’t mind… would you share a little bit of your experience, when you were still a newcomer? You look right at home around here, and no one would’ve thought that you came from Aleve—”

“Home?” Gemma repeats.

The reporter gulps.

Home, huh?

The camera flashes fizzle out as old memories appear in Gemma’s mind, tinted with a golden glow of nostalgia and reminiscence.

Don’t fly too high, Gemma, her sister once said as she watched Gemma looking at the world from above her swing.

But you saw something else, didn’t you, Sis? Gemma wonders. You saw the seeds of ambition in my eyes, didn’t you? Me, a girl from a small town who had nothing of her own, seeing how big the world could be. You knew right from the start that I wanted it, huh?

Don’t go where I can’t follow, Beth once said. Back then, Gemma only laughed and brushed it off, saying that they would always keep in touch no matter how far the other went.

But that wasn’t what you meant, was it? Because everything would’ve been fine, no distance would’ve separate us… had I not sold my soul to reach success in this place. You saw it coming, didn’t you, Beth?

Don’t be a stranger, dear, her mother once asked. Or maybe it was a plea; Gemma couldn’t decide.

If I come back home right now, as I am, Gemma thinks, would you know me, Mother? Or have I become such a stranger that you wouldn’t recognize the person sobbing at your feet?

Ten years, that’s how long it took. Ten years of sacrificing everything she had for the promises of a glamorous life that she wanted so much. Ten years of forgetting who she was until she had nothing left of her old self, no proof that that girl ever existed at all. Ten years of desperately begging for someone to give her a chance until her knees bled. Ten years of clawing through the lies and deceits of the glittering angel city until she herself became one of the devils inhabiting it.

Ten years and ten million tears.

Gemma should’ve known better.

She should’ve known that home isn’t a place with sparkling jewels that blinds you from noticing people that actually matter. She should’ve known that home isn’t a haunted place filled with vultures disguised as humans with sweet smiles and sweeter promises, only to snuff you out the moment they get the chance. She should’ve known that home isn’t a place where she has to flash her dazzling smile just so people won’t hear the truth rattling behind her teeth. She should’ve known that home isn’t a place of desolation and loneliness amidst hundreds of people screaming your name, fawning all over you just so they can look at your imperfect cracks and make them their headlines.

Gemma should’ve known that home isn’t a place at all.

“Miss Giroux?” The young woman calls, snapping Gemma back to reality. “Miss Giroux, are you alright?”

… Yes, Gemma thinks. For the first time in so many years, yes.

“No more questions, please,” Gemma demands, then steps back and struts through the red carpet, heading for the exit.

Like moths to a flame, the reporters quickly shuffle and run after her. Gemma can hear her costars calling her name, wondering why she’s headed north when the entrance is in the opposite direction.

Gemma keeps walking.

“Miss Giroux!” The reporters call. “Miss Giroux, where are you going? The gala hasn’t even started yet—Miss Giroux!”

No more. No more. Gemma only has one destination in mind.

Home, she lets a smile slip into her face. Home, where warmth crackles from the fireplace at her childhood home, with her sister’s laughter ringing in her ear. Home, where the treehouse she and Beth built was the grandest place she’d ever known, and Beth’s crescent dimpled smile was the only thing she could see. Home, where her mother let her be anyone, anything, as long as she’s not a stranger to those she holds dear.Home, Gemma thinks. I’m going home.

The Tapestry

Written by Solar Lin
Art by Mimipic Photography


As far as the kingdom goes, there wasn’t a single thing more enticing than the pictures woven on a tapestry that hung on the palace’s great hall.

The crowning glory, the Queen boasted to every nobility and royalty that came to visit. It’s apparent that the Queen favored the tapestry above any other treasures she owned, and that the tapestry was her pride and glory, equal to the crown she wore on her head. Many have tried their hands at winning the art from the Queen’s hand, determined to own the masterpiece whose legend was heard all over the land—but there were no riches in the world that could pry it from the Queen’s clutches. 

The tapestry was as permanent on the wall as the pride in the Queen’s heart whenever yet another visitor fawned and doted over its magnificence.

A sorcery, the townsfolk often whispered in the dead of nights. The allure of the piece of art was almost frightening. The way the picture glowed beneath the moonlight made it seem like it had a life of its own. One of the palace’s servants spread rumors about how the clouds and the grass and the flowers swayed if he looked close enough. Another conspired that witchcraft was the sole reason behind its beauty. Come and see by yourself if you dare, they challenged the townsfolk. Every inch of the tapestry is dripping with magic.

None heeded their words, but it hardly mattered. The very next day, they left the kingdom wordlessly and were never heard from again.

A price to be conquered, the bachelors from neighboring kingdoms conspired. A rich oaf once said that the key to the prospering queendom was through the Queen’s hand in marriage, and her heart was intricately woven in every seam and thread of the tapestry. To conquer the queendom meant they would have to attain its most prized possession first. And so, one by one, the bachelors came to study the art, trying to see what was so special about it, in the hopes of seducing the Queen and emerging as the queendom’s new King.

In the end, all ships went home, and none ever succeeded.

How foolish were those people, the Queen often giggled to herself. It was always amusing to hear the people’s whispers of the tapestry as if it’s something of a mystery. As if the answer wasn’t already written so plainly in the art, if only they knew how to look.

*

A story, the Queen thought, as she watched people mistaken the tapestry for something else entirely, time and time again. She held the truth close to herself and the person who made the tapestry itself, knowing that their story was one that the people weren’t ready to hear.

Because once upon a time, there was no tapestry that took the world’s breath away only by its presence. Once upon a time, there was no Queen, no rumors, no contenders surrounding it. Once upon a time, there was only a thread and a needle, and a hand that guided it—a hand so soft and gentle who could breathe life into everything it touched. Once upon a time, there were only a servant girl and a princess, the two of them against the world.

Somewhere along the line of that once upon a time, the servant girl’s love flowed too much to be kept in one body. Even the most skilled writers wouldn’t be able to perfectly capture just how tremendous the love she shared with the princess, so she expressed it by doing the only thing she knew how to do: weave. Her hands then started to work themselves to immortalize the most beautiful moments and feelings she experienced, all the summers and springs she and the princess went through. And the beauty of the tapestry grew with the servant girl’s love for the princess, its magnificence radiated the princess’ beauty herself, as she blossomed into a young woman.

The servant girl, however, was no more. She perished in place of the Queen when a band of rogues broke through the castle and tried to assassinate the Queen, who was then a princess. That night, the Queen wept as she watched the blood drained from the only love she ever knew and swore to keep her spirit alive by honoring the servant girl’s lifework. A week after the servant girl’s funeral, the Queen was crowned. And the very next day, the tapestry was hung in the great hall, which became a witness of the Queen’s ruling since then.

All the others thought the tapestry came to life on its own, but the Queen knew the truth. It was everlasting love that made it so glorious—a love that was so strong that it could transcend death. There was no magic needed, no witchcraft involved, no sacred practices done. The secrets of the tapestry were laid bare in its pictures, every emotion pouring from the seams. The story was as transparent as the opalescent mosaics on the palace’s glass ceilings, just as how the Queen’s heart was, once. It was as simple as that.

After all, it started with a thread and a needle. A servant girl and a princess whose love was too much for the world, they decided to capture their story inside a masterpiece, knowing that the truth will be lost to time, eventually and inevitably.

in screaming colors

Written by Solar Lin
Art by Sean Sinclair


Red was the color of the backpack that Loren mistakenly took home on her first day of elementary school.

She only realized that she took the wrong bag after her mother asked her to do her homework and saw another person’s scribbly handwriting all over the notebook that wasn’t hers at all. The very next day in class, Loren stood on top of her table and held the bag like a prized trophy she’d won, shouting that she’ll claim the bag as hers if no one else did. Then a girl jumped in front of her out of nowhere, her hair wild and her eyes furious, pointing her finger at Loren and accusing her of thievery. A brawl broke out between Loren and the girl and they were only separated after a tattletale reported the incident to the homeroom teacher.

That was the day Loren first met Cara.

Orange was the color of the crayon their second-grade teacher forced Loren and Cara to share.

Loren had forgotten that she was supposed to bring crayons that day, while Cara had forgotten that there was an art class at all. Loren wasn’t thrilled to be seated with the crass girl who jabbed her dirty fingers at her, and Cara didn’t want to sit next to the girl who was going to take her favorite bag. The teacher scolded them for being fussy, and didn’t let them swap partners or even go home to take their crayons. In the end, Loren and Cara begrudgingly shared the tiny crayon until not a chalk of it was left.

That day, Loren and Cara sat together at lunch. Only because they were the last people in the classroom, and not because Loren secretly didn’t have anyone else to sit with—absolutely not.

Yellow was the color of the school bus that Loren insisted on riding on.

Her mother had always driven her to school up to that point, but after stepping into the sixth grade, Loren felt like it was time for her to ride the bus. Little did she know, the bus was crowded with kids she hardly recognized. She didn’t even know where to sit or if there were any spots left for her. Loren thought about turning back and asking her mother to drive her, before she spotted Cara sitting alone in the backseat, already staring at her.

Loren thought, fine. It’s better to sit with Cara than to sit with a group of gum-spitting boys anyway.

Green was the color of the leaf in the woods of Birkstyria National Park.

The park would be a wonderful place for a seventh-grade field trip, if it wasn’t so incredibly vast that it was easy for carefree kids to get lost. Loren had teased Cara and stolen her keychain, and Cara had chased her to get it back. The two ran around for what felt like hours, and they only realized that none of their teachers or classmates were in sight after they’d exhausted their stamina. At first, they were excited about being able to get away from the teachers’ prying eyes for a change, but then night fell and the woods darkened and neither of them had any idea on how to find their way back. Eventually, the teacher found the two cowering underneath a tree, with their hands in each other’s. The teacher said it was a relief that a classmate noticed that they were absent, or they would’ve been left out in the wilderness until who knows when.

Cara’s hand tightened upon hearing that, and she didn’t let go of Loren’s hand the whole way home. Strangely, Loren didn’t mind.

Blue was the color of the ribbon Loren gave to Cara on her fourteenth birthday. 

She had worked a part-time job as a dog-walker for months in order to afford that ribbon, though she would never tell Cara that. Just something I found laying around in my house, no big deal, Loren said when Cara asked her where she bought it. Loren didn’t know that Cara saw her the day Loren bought the ribbon. She was about to approach and ask Loren what she was doing when she heard Loren speak to the shopkeeper. The best ribbon you have, please. For my best friend’s birthday. It has to be blue, to match her eyes.

Cara kept that secret to herself and wore the ribbon every day.

Indigo was the color of the midnight sky that Loren and Cara sat under, right before high school started.

Loren climbed to Cara’s room the moment she heard Cara’s sobs leaked through the phone, and Cara dragged Loren to the roof to keep her from hearing her parents’ shouts downstairs. They said nothing and sat in silence all night, while Loren occasionally wiped Cara’s tears from her cheek. The last thing Loren remembered was Cara asking her if she’d like to come to her house again, and Loren saying yes almost instantly.

The next morning, Loren woke up with the sun on her face and Cara’s head on her shoulder.

Violet was the color of Cara’s dress that she wore on their high school’s spring dance. 

Loren was never one for dances or fancy parties—she wasn’t even planning on going. But suddenly Cara showed up in her dress, her blue ribbon intricately braided into her black hair, and Loren never knew just how beautiful flashing lights and disco balls could be when they were reflected in Cara’s cerulean eyes.

Loren was glad that Cara had forced her to attend the spring dance. She wouldn’t have known just how perfectly Cara fits in her arm as they sway to the music together, if she hadn’t come.

*

Red was the color of Cara’s cheeks in the dead of a winter night.

She and Loren were walking home together after a long day of studying at the library for their final exam, and the snow was raging. When Loren dropped Cara off at her doorsteps, Cara asked Loren if the storm messed up her hair or if her face looked awful from being whipped by the wind for one hour straight. Loren was so tempted to tease her and say that her hair looked like a rat’s nest, but she was too exhausted to joke around, and decided to tell the truth instead. Loren told Cara that she looked beautiful.

Loren hadn’t anticipated for colors to rise to Cara’s cheeks, hints of pink spreading on her nose. Whether it’s from the cold or from something else entirely, Loren didn’t know. Loren didn’t dare to ask.

Orange was the color of the sunset Loren and Cara watched together on their high school farewell trip to Amber Island.

Somehow they were separated from the group, and Cara laughed as she reminisced about the time they were lost in a national park, all those years ago. It’s just like how it was back then—you led me astray and I stupidly followed you, she remarked. Loren only smiled. The situation was the same, yes, but everything else was different. They weren’t scared, they knew their way back home, and there were no terrifying shadows lurking in the trees anymore.

Only one thing remained the same: Cara’s hand on Loren’s palm, never letting go.

Yellow was the color of the daffodil Loren gave to Cara. 

Just so you won’t miss me too much in university, Loren jested. Cara smacked her head as rosy tints blossomed in her cheeks, mumbling Get outta your ass, Vale, and tucked the flower carefully in between her book. We’ll stay friends, won’t we? Cara asked once the announcement for her plane boarding boomed through the speaker. Friends, Loren nodded. Of course.

Loren should’ve asked Cara to give her a flower, too. Or anything of hers that she could hold.

Green was the color of the lanyard Loren wore as a teaching assistant.

Juggling between the job and her own studies wasn’t easy, but Loren never complained, not one bit. It puzzled her parents to see their daughter working from dawn to dusk. Loren didn’t know how to say that her only motivation was to see Cara’s smile in person rather than on screen after three long years. Eventually, Loren only answered, I wanted to visit my best friend.

Her parents only smiled knowingly to themselves, and Loren worked harder.

Blue was the color of the ribbon Cara wore on her hair, the same shade of blue that Loren gave years ago. 

It was the first thing Loren saw after being separated from Cara for nearly four years, and her heart almost gave out at how relieved she was to see Cara again. On impulse, Loren ran all across the airport, her body colliding into Cara. About time, Vale, Cara whispered in her embrace. Loren couldn’t get a word out, for fear of every emotion she felt flooding out, all at once.

She only made a silent promise to always be with her, for as long as she could.

Indigo was the color of the sky outside of Loren’s apartment balcony. 

Both Loren and Cara had just graduated, and they decided that a comfortable night-in was a merrier celebration than any parties they were invited to. They bought wine and cooked dinner together, talking about their future underneath a sky embroidered with a thousand stars.

But no stars were brighter than the ring Loren offered Cara.
Gold was the color of the glasses of champagne, raised to Loren and Cara’s honor. It was the color of Loren’s hair underneath the sun, veiled by white tulle that draped down her back. It was the color of the spark in Cara’s eyes as she stood at the altar, waiting for Loren as Loren walked down the aisle. It was the glint of their rings on their fingers as they said, I do.

A Star Called Asterion

Written by Solar Lin
Art by Victor Garcia

tw: non-graphic violence


A Greek mythology retelling of the Minotaur.

I was born an abomination.

My mother’s eyes filled with disgust the moment they laid on me, the blaze of her father’s flame scorching hot on my skin. I understood that she would incinerate me if she could, if that meant she wouldn’t have to hold me a second longer.

“Get it off me!” she shrieked. The palace servants around us scrambled to find a cloth to shield their hands, to prevent them from directly touching my flesh. Still, none of them stepped up—they were all too busy pretending there was something else to do, even as my mother continued to scream. 

My mother only sighed in relief when a man stepped out of the chaos to take me into his arms, relieving her of my burden.

The man’s arms were frail and thin. He himself did not look very strong, but the dauntless glint in his eyes told otherwise. He was the first human who looked at me as a soul, as something worth saving—which I wasn’t, but he did not seem to heed that fact.

“When the Great Bear ascends in the sky,” the man declared, and the room fell into a hush. “Then I will take him with me.”

My mother’s voice rang clear when she spoke. “We’re well aware that you’re insane, Daedalus,” she scoffed, and that was when I learned the man’s name. “But surely you can’t wish to tame that beast.”

Beast.

That was what my mother had called me before she gave me a name—if she even gave me one at all.

And she was right: a beast I would be. But I did not know that back then.

Daedalus only smiled. “I do not wish to tame him,” he said. “I wish to give him a home.”

And so began my childhood.

*

The home Daedalus gave me was nothing like the palace. It was a twisting maze of stones and vines that led nowhere, though I could find a bed and food once I memorized the right path. Daedalus had called the place a labyrinth.

“And it is yours, son of Minos,” he said, and that was when I learned that I had a father; his name was Minos, and he was a king. So by birth, I was supposed to be a prince.

I was a beast, instead.

Daedalus lived inside the labyrinth as well, though not with me. Apparently, the king and queen had gifted him his own house in the middle of the maze—as retribution, Daedalus said once. I did not yet understand why such retribution was given to Daedalus, or why my own parents would give a man a house and cast their own child into walls of stones. But I did not think to question it then.

*

Daedalus continued to show me compassion, even when I wasn’t the most pleasant to be around, even when I gnawed on his hand out of hunger. He generously taught me how to navigate the labyrinth, how to read the olden tales and speak a human’s language, and how to function as a man instead of a wild beast.

Then, on the brightest day of summer, he brought a girl with him. An apprentice, he said.

She was curious and strange, perpetually fascinated by the inner workings of the labyrinth. She was brighter than me, and she often helped with my studies when she whispered all the right answers into my ear. When she spoke, her voice sounded like the ocean I heard on the other side of the walls: passionate and untamed, beautiful and soothing. Her hair was the shade of the sunset, her eyes were as bright as the Northern star. The fact that I had hooves and fur—that I was a beast, never seemed to mind her.

She became the reason I wished to see the world she spoke so highly of, back then.

*

One day, Daedalus and the girl were called to the palace.

They had been in the middle of teaching a lesson on how to properly converse, and I waited patiently for their return. I wanted to practice conversation with the girl whose name I had yet to learn.

But when Daedalus returned, the girl was gone.

His eyes had never seemed so sad when he whispered, “I wish you lived in a different time.”

Then he left with two guards behind him, and I never saw him again.

I tried not to be too upset. After all, his kindness was enough to last a lifetime.

*

I grew up alone, from then on. It might have been the law for such a creature like me to be solitary, but I couldn’t help but feel loneliness washing over me. How I wished someone would call me, even if I had no name. How I wished to hear Daedalus’ chuckle and the girl’s laughter again.

Kindness was poison, I thought. Once I had been given a taste of it, I yearned for it as if I couldn’t live with it.

*

The labyrinth became my sole companion during those years. My one true friend, who was neither kind nor evil. But no matter how many times I travelled through the labyrinth, I never could make it a friend the way Daedalus was to me, for the labyrinth was unforgiving and soulless.

My only consolation was knowing that the more I tried to befriend it, the more it felt like it truly belonged to me, just as Daedalus had intended it to be.

*

Then the seasons began to change. My once short horns started to grow long and curved. I could navigate the labyrinth even in my slumber, and it had started to warm up on me.

But time was harsh on my older memories. I began to forget the calluses on Deadalus’ hands, the way he bent metals, his deep and crestfallen eyes. I began to forget the vibrancy of the girl’s soul, her laughter, the way she theorized where the edges of the world were. I began to forget the sound of my own voice.

Being alone in the labyrinth erased my existence, it seemed. I thought I had been forgotten by even my mother and father who caged me here.

*

Then, on one cold night, the King—my father—came. It was the first time I had ever seen him.

“Do me proud, son,” he grinned, his face twisted with malevolence. “Kill them all.”

I was too confused by his request to notice that he had addressed me as something other than beast. I did not understand what he asked of me.

But when morning came, I did.

*

It turned out, I hadn’t been erased. I hadn’t been forgotten.

My presence had somehow spread throughout the land, as far as the land went—or so the whispers said.

Apparently, rumours had spread of the monster that lived beneath King Minos’ castle, a creature of Tartarus only he could control. When the crown prince fell in a tragedy, the king required the nation of the Gray-Eyed One to send their youths to be slaughtered by a monster, every seven years, to clench the monster’s bloodthirst.

The monster in question was me.

It seemed fitting. I did not see myself having another identity other than a monstrosity. And my father had looked at me with pride and a threat that I had no other choice but to perform what he had asked me to.

So I killed.

*

My first murder went as smooth as the Aegean on a blessed day. It hardly seemed fair, as I was a few feet taller than my opponent, but my father celebrated my victory. He clapped in satisfaction as I buried my hand into the boy’s chest, tearing out his heart. I supposed my father expected me to eat it too, so I took one bite and threw the rest out.

I did not relish the action. But the brute act was what would gain me my name.

I was no longer called monster or beast. I had surpassed such nameless titles. I was now known as the Minotaur—the Bull of Minos.

I did not like the name, as much as I did not enjoy eating people’s hearts. But for the first time in my life, my family had given me a name. Who was I to refuse it?

*

My reputation grew quickly.

I started to hear hoards of ships landing on the docks more often. Only the luckiest of visitors were able to catch a glimpse of me—the Mighty Minotaur. I even got to see the nobility and the esteemed guests of my father, visiting to see me in all my glory.

Behold the great curse from Poseidon, they said.

I pretended to not understand human language. I pretended to be an animal. I pretended to not notice their eyes scanning me, in disgust and in awe. I pretended to not hear the whispers of how to slaughter me, and what hero would claim the eternal glory for vanquishing such horror.

I pretended to not mind all the attention.

*

So this routine continued, and I kept killing. I welcomed the dozen of young men and women who came to me to die. To die for what, I didn’t know. I didn’t understand. All I knew was that I had to kill.

At the end of each day, after I was bathed in the blood of those poor souls, I would often hear my father’s voice above, showing me off to his kingly friends.

“Nothing can defeat it,” he boasted, his golden crown sparkling in the sun. “My Bull, my Minotaur, my most prized possession.”

I just wished that once my father was proud enough of me, he’d let me see Daedalus and the girl again before it was too late. I wondered if they knew that I was truly changing into a beast, and that all their efforts in trying to humanize me were in vain.

*

Another seven years passed. Another round of tributes would come to die.

The gate opened, and I was ready to stain my hand with blood again. But it wasn’t a group of tributes trembling in their sandals that greeted me.

It was the girl with fiery hair, and she had come alone.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. The sight of her was enough to cure all the aches I’d endured over the long years without her. Suddenly I had hopes—hopes of being somewhat human again, as much as I wasn’t.

But she looked different. I suspected that the years hadn’t been kind to her either, judging by her face that was lined with despair, her rosy cheeks that were streaked with tears.

I recognized her face. But I barely recognized the sad soul occupying it.

“Please,” she sobbed. “Kill me.”

As she said that, a surge of emotion surged within me. I did not know if there were words for such a strange emotion yet, but all I understood was that I wanted to take her pain and make it mine.

But I wasn’t articulate. I had been a monster for so long. I couldn’t comfort her the way Daedalus had when we were young. So I spoke only facts.

“I only kill tributes,” I stated. “You are no tribute.”

To my surprise, she laughed. The bright girl I’d met years ago returned, for a flickering second.

“I didn’t know you could…”

“Speak?” I guessed.

“Joke.”

I thought it was strange, since I did no such thing. “It wasn’t a joke.”

“It still made me laugh.”

I never realized, until then, just how much I missed hearing a person’s genuine laugh. Such a delightful sound must have been surprising to the labyrinth as well, seeing how it quieted down as the girl spoke again.

“I’m glad you’re unharmed.”

Another strange thing to say. Of course I was unharmed. I was the one inflicting pain upon countless people—a sin I had begun to realize I had to atone for one day.

“You want death,” I reminded the girl. “Why?”

All light disappeared from her face. “Father wishes to wed me to the victor.”

“Victor?” I asked. I assumed she meant the victor among the tributes they sent to me, the one who could emerge victorious. But— “There is no victor.”

“There will be,” she sobbed again. “I’ve come of age. There will be a victor and there will be a marriage.”

I had heard of marriage. Daedalus had explained the customs to me once, in a story. I had heard of wedding bells. But I thought happy cheers usually came with them.

“Do you not wish to be wed to a victor?”

“I wish to be wed to someone I love,” she said. “I’d rather die than be someone’s prized wife. So kill me, Asterion.”

Asterion. Daedalus had never taught me that word before.

“Asterion?”

Her head tilted. “Is that not your name?”

I knew she wasn’t asking for confirmation. I knew she was stating it as a truth, giving the name to me.

Asterion.

Asterion meant neither bull nor monster. Asterion was not my cruel father’s prized curse. Asterion was not my vain mother’s worst shame.

Asterion was a name of its own.

“What is your name?” I asked. Then and there, I made my decision: I wanted to speak the girl’s name on my tongue, just once in my life.

“Ariadne,” she answered.

“Ariadne,” I confirmed. “Go find someone you love.”

“I can’t. As soon as someone…” she hesitated. “Wins, they’ll be wed to me immediately. And it’s not like I can just pluck out a random person and make myself love them in one night—”

“I won’t kill you as long as there’s a chance you could find someone you love.”

“But still—do you know how many tributes plan on slaughtering you and take me as their shared goods? They set up all kinds of deadly traps. I tried to sneak in and dismantle their snares, but when I arrived… It was already undone.”

So that’s what the serrated spikes and the nets were for. I tried not to laugh—did the tributes not know that the labyrinth and I are old friends at this point? It would never let them harm me.

“Ariadne,” I repeated. “Go find someone you love. Once you’ve found them, send them to me. Ask them to call me by—Asterion.” The greatest thing I could ever hear before I perished was for someone to call me the name I had just been bestowed with. “Then I’ll send them back to you.”

“But—”

Before she finished her sentence, the horn from the castle blared. The sun started to peek from the horizon, announcing a new dawn, casting an orange glow on Ariadne’s hair.

Befriending her was my greatest achievement.

“Go,” I told her.

She hesitated.

“Go.”

“Daedalus died,” she said unprompted. “His son flew too close to the sun and he got burned with him.”

Somehow I already knew. Somehow I could feel Daedalus’ death, even when I was confined in these stone walls. If I hadn’t let the world go, I might have cried and I might have raged. But somehow I had let him go, too.

“Go,” I told Ariadne for the last time.

Then she did something that no one had ever done before.

She rushed forward and hugged me.

“Thank you, Asterion,” she whispered. “Brother.”

For months after Ariadne visited me, I prepared myself for the Furies.

I wouldn’t have to wait much longer. I’d heard whispers of how the princess of Crete had found herself a lover. They wept, saying that the pair was cursed because Ariadne’s lover was doomed to face the Mighty Minotaur, who slayed even the King’s best contenders.

Silly people of Crete. Didn’t they know that this story was a happy one?

I saw Ariadne’s lover before he saw me.

He looked just like any other tribute—covered in grime, sweat beading his face. But while all previous tributes had carried only their weapons, this young man was carrying a ball of red yarn.

I figured the yarn was for him to navigate the labyrinth so that he would not get lost and die of starvation.

Clever Ariadne.

I conjured her face in my mind one last time, and I made myself visible to him. The moment his eyes caught mine, I knew I had to give one last show.

I pretended that I was plagued with animalistic madness, and I charged.

“Wait!” he shouted, dodging my attacks. Despite his trembling hands, his voice was loud and clear. A voice befitting of a prince.

I charged again. Call my name, I thought, wishing that somehow he had the gift of telepathy. Call my name, and you will be a victor.

He stayed quiet. He unsheathed his sword, and I charged at the sight of the blade.

“Please! I do not wish to harm you,” he called out, alarmed. “Ariadne told me to find you. She said you can help me win this.”

And that, I could do. That, I would do.

So call my name.

“Asterion!” he pleaded. “Please—”

I rushed forward, reveling in the way the wind felt howling in my ear for the last time. I savoured the faint smell of the ocean and I bid my farewell to the labyrinth that had raised me.

And I let his blade behead me.

The man’s face was full of regret—I wanted to speak, tell him that he should be happy. He was about to become a king, after all, married to the loveliest girl the world had ever known. He shouldn’t have cried over the death of a curse. But he weeped over my headless body, and for the first time in years, I smiled.

I felt his arms cradling my head. My soul was on the verge of leaving the mortal plane, and I spoke one last wish in my mind.

Live well, lover of Ariadne.

Be her light, as she was mine.

“Rest easy, Asterion,” the man whispered, his tears wet on my forehead. “May you live on among the stars.”

I was born an abomination.

But I wasn’t dying as one.