I’ve seen a few monsters and unusual creatures in my years. Cerberus, the dog with three heads, who slavers irrepressibly as he guards the gates of the Underworld. Hydra, the deadly water serpent killed by Heracles that would regrow two heads for each one decapitated. The abomination that was the Minotaur, which had the body of a man and the head of a bull. Theseus put an end to that one, killing it with its own horn.
The point I’m making is, I’m not easily shocked by beasts and fiends. I have developed a hardened-skin to them. So when I turn to discover the source of the drool on my shoulder and gasp, you know it’s disturbing.
At first, I think it’s a werewolf. It stands 6 feet tall on its hind legs, has thick black hair covering its body, and sharp teeth and nails that could rip a human to shreds in seconds. But it can’t be, its torso and face are more akin to a gorilla, almost human. Expecting an attack, I prepare myself, but it doesn’t move. Instead, it clicks and grunts.
Then Duncan clicks and grunts back.
Perplexed, I look at my companion, who is having a staring battle with the creature. Bones has fainted in a heap on the floor and is no help to anyone (not that he was much use before). I edge back, trying to create some distance between myself and the werewolf-gorilla-thing.
“It’s a varulven,” Duncan tells me in a posh English accent, maintaining eye contact with the creature.
I don’t know what alarms me more, the lethal monster, or Duncan’s ability to talk.
“Um…what’s happening, Dunc?” I ask, shuffling further back.
“The varulven would like to know why you want the box.”
I feel the wooden box with my hands. I’d forgotten I had hold of it.
“Why?” I ask.
Click, grunts and whistles pass between Duncan and the varulven, but I barely register them. Something within the box is pulling at me like a magnet. I hold it up and trace the carving along the side of it, scraping off years of grime. It’s a message written in the language of the immortals. It reads: Dearest Pandora and Epimetheus…
Pandora’s box! Hades delivered it to Pandora and my brother, Epimetheus. Gifted on behalf of Zeus as part of my punishment for stealing fire from the gods. When Pandora opened the box, all evils in the world escaped, to cast an everlasting shadow over mankind.
And now I hold it.
“This varulven is a guardian of the box,” Duncan tells me. His voice has no emotion, and he appears lost in a trance. “She warns that no man may open the box and survive—”
“She!?” I didn’t mean to say it out loud, and the varulven responds by showing its teeth and growling at me. I hold my hands up defensively and apologise.
Duncan carries on, “The varulven says that you are welcome to try, but you will die in a ball of flames like the others, and your soul will wander this cave for eternity. No-one other than the intended recipient can open or hold the box. It is a miracle you are not dead already.”
I examine the skeletons surrounding me, and shiver as an icy breeze passes through me. The ichor that runs through Epimetheus runs through me. That must be how I can hold the box and why Alastor sent me to find it. What does he want with it?
“How are you speaking to this…varulven, Dunc?” I ask as I hug the box.
“They raised me,” Duncan breaks eye contact with the varulven for the first time to look at me, but his face remains blank, like he’s under a spell.
The box whispers my name in the wind. Quietly at first, and then louder until it’s as deafening as a blizzard. I can’t ignore it any longer.
I have to.
“You will perish before the lid is open. You do not understand what you hold.”
The howling of my name drowns out Duncan’s warning.
My fingers scrabble to the open the box, clumsy with excitement, but there is no way of unlocking it. Anger swells inside of me. All sense of reason and judgement has abandoned me. I must have whatever hides inside. I must.
“How?!” I shout at Duncan. “Tell me! How do I open the box?! Tell me now! Ask the creature.” I am delirious, unable to control myself.
“You must read the marking,” he says calmly, “but no-one but the—”
I’m not listening.
Dearest Pandora and Epimetheus, may your hearts, like this gift, remain sealed for eternity.
The box shakes, and I laugh as the spell works. Warmth emanates from it, and then the lid springs open to reveal a clay jar. I grasp it and look inside. At first, I’m disappointed. It’s empty. But then something fires out.
It looks like a firefly, and it pings around the cave like a pinball machine, and then flies straight at me and disappears into my abdomen. Fire burns inside of me. It runs through my veins like lava. The pain is excruciating, and I’m sure I must explode. My eyes bulge, my muscles tense, and my bones strain as my body fights against the invasion.
And then I’m released and filled with an overwhelming energy.
I stretch out my arms and let out a satisfying scream. I am strong again. Complete. My powers have returned. I am filled with…hope. Hope that I can defeat Alastor and his games. Hope that I can prove myself in the Pantheon. Hope that I can make the world a better place.
The light exits through my mouth and returns to the jar, which I quickly seal in the box. The wind calms, and I let out a sigh.
“Duncan, tell the varulven she must move the box and hide it.” The box is no longer calling to me, and my senses have returned to normal. The magic is powerful. Devastating. It must not get into the wrong hands – Alastor’s hands.
Duncan clicks and grunts, and the varulven nods. It looks at me, curious, but it doesn’t have the chance to respond. A gunshot fires in the distance, and a bullet pierces the varulven’s shoulder. Screaming, she staggers back and collapses on the floor.
“Aye!” Duncan shouts, confused. He’s back to his normal self.
“Where am I?” Bones asks groggily as he stirs, and then he lets out a strange whimper as he spots the varulven bleeding out on the floor next to him. “You shot it?” he asks as he realises he’s not in danger.
“No, I didn’t,” I say as I look cautiously out of the cave. “Looks like one of your Flintlock friends did.”
Bones staggers to his feet to have a look and then dives back to the floor as they fire another shot. It misses, but not by much. They are not far away.
“Balls, balls, balls,” he mutters to himself.
“Aye,” Duncan groans. He’s on the floor trying to staunch the varulven’s bleeding with his shirt, and he’s making a mess of it. I help him, and the varulven looks at me with exhausted gratitude and makes a whistling noise. I think she’s saying, Thank you.
“How do they know we’re here?” I ask Bones.
“They’ll be hunting that thing for its teeth and fur,” Bones says angrily and pulls out his gun. “We should put it out of its misery and hand it over.” He stomps over to the helpless varulven and points his gun in its face.
“Do it, and you’ll be next,” I threaten.
Bones hesitates and then decides not to test me. “Fine,” he mumbles and makes a show of putting his gun away, except he’s too heavy-handed, and the gun goes off. “AHOOOOOOOOOOOO!” he screams, clenching his jaw and fists while hopping on one foot. “HMMMMMMM. MY FOOT, MY FOOT, MY BLOODY FOOT! AHOOOOOOOO. AH. AH. AHHHH!”
“Shhhh,” I tell him. I can’t think with him blubbering in the background.
“It hurts! It really hurts. It really, really hurts. Ow, Ow, OOOOOOOW! I’m bleeding, Dunc. DUNC! I’m blee-ee-eeeeeding. I can’t look. Is it bad? It’s bad! How bad?”
Duncan takes his trousers off and gives them to Bones to wrap around his foot. “What are you doing?!” I chide.
“Aye,” Duncan explains and points at Bones.
“Am I…am I a real pirate now, Dunc? Now I’ve been shot?” Bones sobs as Duncan bandages his foot with his long trousers.
“Aye,” Duncan nods sympathetically and gives Bones a cuddle.
“Good grief,” I mutter under my breath. The Flintlocks are closing in. There are five of them, and they must have heard Bones’ screaming. The whole of Tiverna Isle must have heard him screaming. “We need to get out of here!” I yell.
The varulven stumbles to a secret entrance at the rear of the cave that is almost impossible to see in the darkness. She is carrying Pandora’s box in her good arm while the other hangs uselessly at her side.
“Go!” I shout at Duncan and Bones. The Flintlocks are almost on us. Duncan, naked save for his boots and y-fronts, stoops his considerable frame to take Bones’ weight, and the pair of them crawl after the varulven. Shaking my head, I follow, crawling backwards so I can monitor our pursuers.
“Bones, your gun,” I whisper as we enter the tunnel. He gives it to me just as the Flintlocks move into the cave. They fire blindly, hoping for a hit, but none of the bullets come near us. With any luck, they won’t see the hidden tunnel. We crawl through one at a time, and we are almost away when Bones cries out, “DUNC! You’ve crawled on my foot. My mangled foot.”
For the love of…
Someone peers down the tunnel and stares right at me. It’s a man with a thin face and a long black beard. One of his eyes has a milky glaze. Smiling, he points his gun at me.
I smile back and fire.
I don’t wait to see if I’ve hit him. “Move,” I yell and crawl backwards down the tunnel as quickly as I can. The passage dog-legs to the right, taking me away from immediate danger, but I can still hear gunshots being fired at us.
I can’t see where I’m going, and the tunnel narrows as we try to escape with the Flintlocks hot on our tail. A bullet strikes the wall next to me, and I hear a rumbling noise as the rock shakes. Just as I think I will be spelunking for the rest of my life, I fall into a cavern where I’m greeted by a tribe of eight varulvens. The injured varulven clicks and points at the quivering Bones and Duncan, then the box, and finally at the tunnel. The others listen carefully and then ready themselves for battle, positioning themselves to greet our pursuers as they emerge.
I don’t wait to find out what happens. The Flintlocks don’t have a chance against a tribe of varulvens. I can see a light high up in the distance, which means a way out. “Over there,” I yell to Duncan and Bones, pointing towards our exit.
“Aye,” Duncan says, relieved. Together we carry the trembling Bones away. After a minute, a piercing scream cuts through the air, followed by a rumbling sound like the roaring of a giant’s stomach. I turn just as the tunnel we escaped from collapses on itself. The varulvens are moving deeper into the cavern, calm amongst the chaos surrounding them. One, which I assume is the alpha by its size, has Pandora’s ox tucked safely under its arm. It’ll be safe with them.
The light source expands the higher we scramble. Finally, we reach our exit and claw away at the stones until the gap is big enough for us to crawl out. I climb out first and help Bones behind me. Duncan follows last. We emerge onto the edge of a steep ravine, and the sun is beating down, oblivious to what has just happened.
After a few minutes of blissful silence, Bones, who, having inspected his foot and discovered that he has only grazed it, turns to me. “Can we have our money now, please?” he asks.
I think he’s earned it.
5 Days Later…
Rackham still hasn’t come back for me. Something must have happened to the cruise ship.
How in Tartarus am I supposed to get off this godforsaken island?