This story is by Trynda E. Adair and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Is this what death feels like? Pandora thought, struggling to breathe air choked by heavy Frankincense smoke. She tried to push aside the pounding in her head and think back to what had happened.
Blood. And screams.
The memory of Aemilius tearing the throat from one of his serving slaves was the first to come back to her. A shiver ran up her spine as she remembered how the other slave’s hot blood felt splattered against her cheek. Pandora hadn’t seen what the boy had done from where she stood behind Aemilius next to her twin sister. His prized possessions kept their eyes forward or there were consequences.
She swallowed against the tightness in her throat. What had become of Chthonia?
They’d tried to flee when chaos broke loose in the massive room, but became separated. Pandora had rushed across the massive Atrium alone, avoiding any creatures who slaughtered Aemilius’ slaves. Someone knocked her from behind. She stumbled forward and collided head first with a marble pillar at the corner of the centre pool. The memories ended there.
Thunder boomed as something metal connected with the stone wall.
Pandora’s heart jumped.
She forced her heavy eyes open halfway.
Her weak fingers dangled in the warm, reddened water of the centre pool. Trails of smoke drifted from hanging bronze incense burners, leaving a grey haze suspended between the pillars supporting the Atrium’s high ceiling.
“Who the fuck does he think he is?” The menacing growl echoed through the space, “Come into my territory–MY CITY–” another incense holder crashed into the wall across from Pandora, “—tell me how to conduct myself!”
Resin and embers dropped across the bloodied body discarded on the floor below the blackened spot on the wall. The smell of burnt hair made her want to gag, but Pandora remained motionless until the smell of Frankincense masked it. She had survived the carnage, staying unnoticed might be her only way to survive now. The only way she’d find Chthonia.
“Rid yourself of him then. Those who call themselves Elders think they are untouchable, but they are just as fragile as any.” An unfamiliar feminine voice echoed through the Atrium, “One just has to know their weakness.”
Pandora recalled the toga clad, silver haired man that evening. He’d come while Aemilius was receiving visitors from Rome’s elite to caution him about restraint. One moment the two were talking, the next, Aemilius hung in the man’s hand and the quiet chatter around the room fell silent.
That was when all Hades broke loose.
“Weakness? It sounds like you are turning on your own kind.”
“They are not my kind, dear Aemilius.” The woman chuckled, her laughter sounding like bells ringing together in harmony, “Do as you have been commanded, let Behemoth think they are in control, We’ll return soon with more instruction. Best they not know of our presence here.”
“As you wish.” Aemilius’ paused before replying stiffly. The feminine voice chucked, and the chamber grew silent once more.
Pandora did not move.
Heart pounding in her chest, she waited for any sign that her Dominus had left. This might be Pandora’s only chance at freedom. Her only chance to live. Pandora had seen what he’d done to some of his previous play-things.
She watched an oil lamp crash into the pillar nearest her. The pottery burst into a ball of flame before showering the pool and edge of Pandora’s bloodstained tunic. Her leg flinched and she bit back a whelp as the hot oil burned through the fabric to her skin.
Pandora held her breath, praying to any god listening to remain unnoticed.
The silence continued for a moment before Aemilius’ deep chuckle crawled through the room.
“I’m surprised Pandora,” Aemilius spoke behind her, “I didn’t think you had so much fight in you.”
She sighed with defeat and let her heavy eyes slide shut. Aemilius had owned Her and Chthonia for three years; Pandora should have known it was impossible to hide from those creatures.
His bony fingers laced into her tangled mess of braided hair as an iron-like arm wrapped around her torso, lifting her like a helpless wounded animal.
“Mmmno” Pandora slurred without thinking as her eyes pulled open, instant regret washing over her.
His fingers tightened. The tangled blond strands pulled at her skull as he wrenched her head back, exposing her neck.
“What?” Aemilius snapped in her ear, pressing his cool chest against the thin fabric clothing her back. Pandora swallowed hard, but said nothing. She knew better. “That’s what I thought.” He growled, giving her head a light, but still painful shake before running his cold tongue against the flesh of her neck as he inhaled deep through his nose, “You belong to me.”
A meek cry broke free as she felt his sharp teeth pierce her shoulder.
The bottom of her stomach twisted as her vision swayed. The world blurred and Pandora wondered if this was when she would leave her body behind. If it meant she would be free of his torture, Pandora welcomed death.
When her sight returned, Pandora locked eyes with her reflection across the open building. She watched Chthonia’s eyes tense, but she made no move to help her. They had faced everything together, Chthonia wouldn’t just leave her behind.
Another fleeing slave pulled Chthonia by the hand out the front entrance, leaving Pandora to whatever The Fates had planned.
Her shoulder grew numb and eyes drooped as it grew more difficult to hold them open. She strangled another cry as Aemilius’ tightened his grip on her. Pandora refused to give him the fear he craved.
Aemilius pulled away with a satisfied growl.
“And you always will.” Aemilius said. He licked the puncture marks and released her with a rough thrust.
Pandora stared up at his bloody pointed teeth, unable to force her weak limbs to work as the monster stepped over her.
She blinked and the next moment he was beside her.
One hand grabbed the back of her neck, the other pressed his wrist to her dry lips. Pandora flinched away from the bitter metallic taste. She gagged as cold, thick liquid filled her mouth. Aemilius held her in place until she choked back the foul liquid. The smallest amount of strength filled her, but it did little good.
He released his hold on Pandora and dropped her back to the stone floor.
She convulsed as her insides twisted. Fire erupted in her veins with every struggled heartbeat.
Pandora gasped in pain as she tried stumbling to her knees. Dark spots started to cloud her vision, and every muscle screamed at her attempt to flee after her sister. How could Chthonia abandon her to face this alone?
“Don’t worry,” Aemilius spoke, washing the blood from his wrist in the Atrium pool, “Chthonia won’t be gone long. You’re worthless to me without your twin.” He shook the excess water from his hands before drying them on the only unbloodied corner of Pandora’s tunic.
A cruel smile pulled at his lips as Aemilius stood.
Pandora collapsed under her own weight as Aemilius turned away. The sound of his sandals slapping against the stone faded into the distance as darkness closed in around her. She lay motionless in exhausted agony, gasping for air even though each laboured breath burned.
It was in that moment, she knew this was what death felt like.