It started in Limbo.
Or at least what felt like limbo. A cold metal box filled with fabric seats that would itch your skin and provide no comfort. There were bright lights that hurt my eyes. They would hum and flicker.
The boxes were seemingly endless. Each one was different. There were bags and books, washrooms, and sleeping quarters. I recognised this place as a ‘train.’ Abuela had taught me about them, a hollow boxed meant for transport. She never mentioned them being filled with plants, however. Vines from the rails and the floor were covered in moss. There was fog that clung close to the floor as well. It left my feet cold and damp; however, it didn’t reach over the seats. The place smelt like Ozone. A calm before the storm.
I was lost, and it was such a strange feeling. Before the realisation had set in, I was calm. When I realised I was alone, I tried anything to be found. When nothing worked, I awaited my death. I tried to break the glass, to kick and scream. I punched the glass until my knuckles were bloodied and I could almost see the bones. I only stopped because I couldn’t even lift my arms anymore. When that happened, I screamed and cried, until my throat closed and my eyes burned, then I just waited and watched, as the train continued its journey through nothingness.
I’m sure I would have lost my mind if not for the library of books I had. I read them cover to cover more times than I could count and learnt enough English that I could speak it with no problems.
When I outgrew my clothing from my homeland I took clothing from the bags I found. Usually pants and white cotton shirts. I took to keeping my clothing in bags along with some of my favourite things from the train. Like a wardrobe.
One day while exploring the train I found a small creature hiding under the seats in the fog. It was a dog, shivering and cold. It had deep black fur and amazing blue eyes, like mine. I titled my head and so did the dog. I extended my hand and he emerged. I fed him and gave him water. I named him Aztec. He was my best friend. Jut him and I for years.
I had a recurring nightmare on the train. The blood of a kind man spilled on the stones that never arrived again. Somebody used my dagger in gloved hands to slit the throat of papa, the greatest and kindest man in the entire world. I don’t know who it was. Their face was shrouded in shadow, but they ruined my life. They put me on the train and killed my grandfather. I often wonder if they asked the stars back home. The dead only have the truth to tell.
I kept myself sharp over the years. I trained in the art of the blade.
'Slow down.’ A voice said in my head. I looked at Aztec with its head resting on its paws.
“No,” I replied, slashing the blade of the pocketknife I had with me. It was made of Abyssal Obsidian. My papa’s knife. Aztec growled and jumped off the seat and pushed the back of my legs causing me to fall onto my knees. He rested his head on my lap and looked at me.
‘Don’t you miss the rain?’ He asked. ‘The feeling of it on your skin?’
“Sometimes…” I closed my eyes and imagined it. Daring myself to reach into a corner of my mind that I locked away. Her black hair, fair snow-like skin, and vibrant green eyes, as we played in the warm summer rain. I can’t place her face properly. It’s all blurry… I know her name is Atlas, and that she was my best friend but… nothing else. Cujo is there too. His face is static, all of him is static. A face and memory I can’t place. I can almost feel the rain on my skin, and the scent a forest would have during a storm. Wet earth. I opened my eyes and shook my head. I was lost and nothing I did was going to change that.
The train cars were filled with screaming, and the train came to a violent stop. Outside the windows, I could see a dilapidated building with a broken glass ceiling, with plants overtaking everywhere. There was a fog rolling over the lips of the windows and from underneath the tracks. The doors shuddered open with a squeal and the scent of damp earth was overpowering. Aztec Wasted no time jumping off the train into the building.
‘Are you coming?’ He asked. I looked down the length of the train grabbed a leather bags that held my clothing and favourite books; took a deep breath and took a step out of the train into reality.
I cried, feeling the cold of the rain prick my skin like needles. I looked behind me, but the train was gone. I took off running the wolf at my heels. I felt so small in that place. I laughed like I hadn’t since I was five. I rounded a corner and froze. It secreted a scent of rotting flesh that had been left in the hot summer sun for days. I could see maggots crawling through holes in its decaying skin, that was falling off in chunks. I slipped behind the corner as it turned to look at me. I didn’t want to look. Understand I didn’t want to look at it, but my kind is curious, and I needed to know what it looked like. I needed to see its face.
What I saw, no god would have been made. It wasn’t anything natural. It was just wrong. It looked human enough, but its arms and legs were too long, body too emaciated and face far too gaunt. Eyes sunken and bloodshot. Those teeth are as sharp as needles, just like an anglerfish; yellow and decayed. It had a small amount of hair; thin and greasy. It sniffed the air. Could it smell me? I prayed to the gods that it couldn’t.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. When I opened them again, the thing was inches away from my face, and I screamed. I tried to run past it, but it grabbed the collar of my shirt and threw me to the ground. Aztec growled and bit its thin leg but it kicked him to the side and he whimpered in pain. I didn’t have time to yell his name before the thing wrapped its claws around my throat and threw me like a rag doll to the side. Slipping my left brow causing blood to trickle into my eye. I fumbled for my small pocketknife and lunged. Time felt slow. The fight was more like a dance. It slashed and stabbed. I dodged, then attacked. The wounds steamed and sizzled. It nicked my law jaw on the right and racked its thin nails across my stomach. I swallowed the pain and danced our waltz of death. I was sluggish as more blood-soaked my clothing. I tried to keep fighting, but my feet stumbled over each other, and the station filled with laughter. Shadows figures, with white pin eyes. They sounded like mice playing on a broken record.
“Shut up,” I groaned as I tried to crawl to Aztec, but the thing grabbed me and broke the bones I didn’t have. I screamed as it broke my limbs with ease, and I couldn’t even crawl. The shadows had pooled around us like quicksand. I saw Aztec on his side, breathing laboured. I just wish he had gotten a chance. Warm tears streaming down my face. I knew I was going to die.
I could feel cold slippery hands grab my legs and pull me down. I tried to kick and swim, only to sink further. It felt like I was drowning in oil, slick and thick. Hard to swim in and impossible to see. I couldn’t hold my breath. I wanted to scream, but when I opened my mouth; the oil-filled my lungs. I could hear them still. Taunting me.
“Do not fight us.”
I didn’t listen to them; I kicked and tried to swim. I couldn’t see that monster anymore. My lungs burned. I felt myself dying as my limbs grew heavy and dense. I closed my eyes and didn’t fight back anymore.
I felt a hand grab my shirt and lift me out of the oil. The fresh air of the station filled my lungs with bliss. I opened my eyes. My stomach is still in pain. My eyes focused, and I saw a shadow taller than the rest. They all cowered before him. A crown of black adorned with blood-red rubies.
“You were only meant to take the monster,” His deep voice howled it echoed, and sounded like a broken record. Harsh whispers followed. “No! That is no excuse. You strayed from your order,” the shadow barked. The shadows squealed and dissolved, leaving me alone with their prince.
“Are you ‘the prince’?” I asked, and the shadows moved to look at me.
“I am,” he said, twisting into a human form. He was handsome. Features chiselled. His eyes were dazzling. The right was blind, but the left was red. A jagged scar ran through the right eye. This only made him more handsome. His hair was messy and cut in a wolfish way. Around his face was dyed red. He had a medusa piercing and snake bites. He still wore his crown. Holding himself with such power, such confidence. He wore a simple tunic and pants with heeled boots. “Are you all right?” He asked. Even his voice now was charming. Deep and throaty.
I whined, looking at the wolf. The Prince followed my gaze. “Your companion?” He asked, but I was too weak. I’d lost a lot of blood. He seemed to notice. He smiled as I blacked out. I heard him say something that I couldn’t quite make out.
I didn’t know when I realised I was dreaming. It all felt so real to me. To my left, there was a long twisting river, so huge I couldn’t see where it stopped or started. Sitting on the edge, letting her feet dangle in the water, was a little girl. She wore a white dress and her hair was in a braid. With a start, I realised it was me, age four or five. She was sitting alone, so I went over to join her by the river.
“You have finally arrived,” she said, not looking at me.
“I’ve waited a very long time for you.”
“I don’t think I understand.”
“Why did you stop? You could have been great; so powerful.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, as the figure of the girl changed into my grandfather. He was a strong old man, build like an ox. He looked so intimidating, but to his grandchildren, he was a big softie. I smiled at seeing him again. “Papa.”
“Pandora, you run from me,” he said.
“What are you talking about? I’m not running away from you.”
“You haven’t figured it out yet, have you?”
“Figured what out?”
“How long has it been just over a decade now since the accident? How is that scar healing?”
My back burned. That scar, no one knew about it; not even Papa. I stared at the river and dread filled my heart; I saw faces and grabbing hands. It felt cold; I watched what looked like my grandfather dip his feet in the water and the pieces clicked together in my mind.
“You cannot refuse. This is who you are.”
“You remember the day so well, it was sunny, not a cloud in sight. So, you played down by the river all by yourself. It was so normal, wasn’t it?” The figure had changed again to Atlas. “Oh, you used to make such amazing things, and dance with the water, trying to see how much you could push it. On this day, you pushed it too far. The water burnt your clothing, turning it black, scaring you’re back, in that horrible way. Do you know what the figure is called Pandora?”
“It is called the Lichtenberg figure. Often caused by electricity. You ran home, making sure no one would see you, and you burned that dress away, and prayed no one would see the newly formed scar on your back. Does it still hurt even now, eleven years later? You knew what had happened that day; and though if I never use them again, nothing will happen, I will never face that truth. You were too afraid.”
“No. That’s not true.”
“You cannot lie to me. I’m you,” she’d changed and looked just like me “You can’t lie to yourself, not really. Because deep down, you will always know it is a lie.”
“I can’t,” I said, looking at her. She wore a black dress. Eyes like onyx, pure black and soulless. She twisted two rings off her fingers and handed them to me. “Take them. They are yours. The Hallowed weapons.” She held up a silver ring carved with eyes. She held up a seconded was black with the same lines as my scar. “The story goes Achilles , was called Aristos Achaion, the best of Greeks.” They fit perfectly. “Remember the stories you were told; those will keep you alive, find friends, and keep sharp. Don’t fear who you are.”
I opened my mouth to speak, but before I could, I hit the water and was engulfed by acidic pain. Searing hot and cold all at once. My skin felt like it was burning away. I felt like I was going to die. I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate, but it was so hard through all the pain. Soon the shock went away and when I opened my eyes again, the surrounding waters looked more like an ocean. Above me, I could see a blur that I assumed was the moon. I saw for the surface, but just before I broke through the water, I sat bolt upright in a white room. I still felt that buzz on my skin and saw the two rings, Alexis and Achaion on my fingers. There was something over my mouth and a rhythmic beeping. There was a chair in the corner and in the chair was the prince. He wore a black blouse, and black slacks, like a dark prince, would. He looked over at me and noticed I was awake. “By the gods, I thought for sure that you were dead,” he said.
I saw the door open and a man in a white coat walked in. He noticed I was awake and pulled out a strange box and started talking. He might have been handsome, but his face was too small for his head, and he looked all cocky like he was the best person in the world.
“Subject 217 is awake after five days of comatose status.” His voice was nasal and annoying. He walked over to me and played with wires. I could hear his heart beating and smell the blood from a small cut on his hand. I let him finish what he was doing. He looked straight at the man in the chair. But did nothing, like he wasn’t even there. The prince raised a finger to his mouth, gesturing for me to remain quiet. The man started talking again.
“Vitals are strong, and the specimen is healthy. Testing can start in a matter of days,” He was still standing next to my bed, his voice really getting on my nerves. I didn’t like how he called me a specimen, nor the fact he seemed so snarky about his little magic box. I balled my hand into a fist and was ready for a punch. I waited for the perfect opportunity to strike them. The sickly-sweet scent of blood filled the air. I kicked the thin covers off and got out of the bed. I could see his name now, Dr. Mandell. He was holding his nose, screeching at me. He was so annoying.
“You bitch,” he said.
I still felt that acidic water on my skin and saw the fear in his eyes as the water filled his lungs and he coughed and gagged. He clawed at his thought and tried to scream. Water streamed from his mouth and his eyes bulged from his head as he bloated. His eyes rolled to the back of his head, and he fell to the ground, no longer making a sound. I turned my attention to the man in the chair.
Had he brought me here? Was he a friend or was he a foe?
“Okay… so I think I should start off by saying I didn’t bring you here.”
I wanted to call bullshit, but more people can rush into the room and within seconds black pike was in their chests where their hearts should have been, and the prince grabbed my hand and pulled me into the shadows, dumping us outside a rundown old cottage.
“My name is Drake; I’m trying to help you…”