Darkness was like a blanket, it was warm and wrapped me in comfort, but little things pierced holes into my rest. First, it was a pounding in my head, followed by pain around my wrists and ankles, and then the clogged smell of dirt. I fought against these annoying interruptions, trying to sink myself back into the black forgetfulness, but reality would not be thwarted.
Everything came flooding back in a wave, the revelation, the ship, the storm, the island, the pursuit. I struggled to wrap my mind around all the events that had transpired. At that moment, I felt drained more than ever before.
I was painfully aware of the tightness around my wrists, pushing itself in rudely as if saying it would not be ignored. It was a struggle just to open my eyes, and even when I did, my vision was blurred, and everything seemed sideways. It took what seemed like forever for it to clear enough so I could take in my surroundings.
The raw skin on my wrists and ankles beneath the bindings, was the source of the discomfort that had pulled me out of unconsciousness. Shifting, I tried to pull my arms forward only to meet screaming pain that shot through my haze. I realized too late my hands were behind my back and I lay with my face pressed into the dirt. With a feeling of defeat, I focused on the village spread out before me.
Small primitive huts stood spaced in a rough circle, fires burning away in front of each one. The roofs were slanted like an A-frame for the inevitable tropical rain to roll down. Adults, adorned and dressed in the same way as the original four, either peered at me as if I was some oddity or ignored me altogether. Naked children hid behind their parents or scurried by as if I were a monster from their nightmares.
My mouth tasted like dirt. I lay there unable to make a coherent thought or even make a small plant sprout in the ground before me. Whatever those hunters had done in the jungle still lingered, and I had no way to tell how much time had passed. Nothing came when I called. The panic that had gripped me as I fell into unconsciousness resurfaced. The abilities I’d had almost since birth did not come to me when I called. Growing a flower had been nothing, I had not even to spare a thought, and it happened. Now, with whatever poison they had used coursing in my body, I could not even muster that.
A woman with the air of importance strode into my view. The medallions and beads hanging from her neck, covered her bare breasts and clanked as she squatted before me. In her hand, she held a gourd filled with a liquid that smelled sickeningly sweet, almost cloying. It filled my nose with its stench.
When she saw I was awake, she grabbed my face roughly and squeezed my cheeks until she was evidently satisfied I had opened my mouth enough.
“Drink.” The command was gruff. I tried to pull my head away, but I was no match for her in my weakened state. The potion was thick, like drinking syrup instead of water. It coated my mouth and tongue before sliding down my throat. Coughing wracked my body as I tried to swallow it, some of the brackish fluid coming back up.
The woman stared at me with the same anger the men in the jungle had. I wondered if they had seen the ship or if the storm I had called during my loss of control had impacted them. Did they know I was responsible for that? I did not think it possible, but I did not understand why these people were so angry with me..
“What…” I coughed again, and my voice was rough as I tried to form the words in my mind.
“SILENCE,” her voice interrupted me just a fraction of a second before her hand connected with my face. If I had not already been on the ground, the slap would have put me there. I felt the inside of my cheek open up against my teeth, and my mouth filled with hot ichor as I blinked back tears of pain. “The offering does not speak!”
The woman stood abruptly in one fluid moment and regarded me where I lay on the ground. For a moment, I thought she would add insult to injury and kick me as well, but she turned on her heel and stormed out. I let out the breath I didn’t know I was holding and spit the fluid from my mouth. I was going to feel that slap for the rest of the day.
As I struggled with the bindings, fighting through the pain, and trying fruitlessly to access my powers, warmth spread through my limbs. It radiated out from my core, and the darkness tugged at my thoughts. Whatever the woman had given me was the source of this drugged state. I fought back, trying to stay awake, as a stray out-of-place thought danced through my head. Before the blackness pulled me beneath its comforting blanket again, I thought of how much Hekate would want to know of this potion and what it did to me.
Voices filled my ears as I swam back to the light of consciousness. I floated in and out, between awake and dreaming, and could not be certain whether what I heard was in my drugged haze or truly happening around me.
“Paluaga will be appeased.” The voice that spoke belonged to what sounded like an old man, his tone raspy. “The Ever-Living Fire will ignite with the life of our offering.”
“She struggles in the darkness.” It was the voice of the woman who had slapped me earlier, “The screaming scares the children.”
“Do what you must to keep the offering quiet then,” I heard the man grunt in annoyance as he strode away.
I desperately wanted to open my eyes and look around me, but I fought the urge and remained as still, listening to them. Once they grew quiet, the strange feeling of being loomed over snapped my resolve, and I cracked one eye open. Seeing the woman so close to my face, I jerked back instinctively before she caught me in her vice-like grip again.
“Scream, and I will cut your tongue out.” She was angry. There was a look in her eyes that shook me deeply. “Paluaga cares not if you have a tongue.” Her smile was wicked and there was no comfort in the gesture. She looked at me as if I was nothing. “No one comes for you. There is no safety for you. There is no Morpheus,” she spat his name like it was a swear word. I couldn’t stop myself and cringed, flinching away from her. “There is no rescue. There is no one to save you. You will never see those you cry for again.”
Pinching my mouth open, the angry woman poured the thick liquid down my throat again. I gagged, trying not to swallow, wanting to spit up the foul concoction.
The woman did not slap me for my defiance. This time, she balled up her fist and punched me so hard I saw stars. Cursing me, she unloaded all her pent up anger upon my body. I rolled into as small of a ball as I could while she punched me hard in the stomach. I almost vomited up the potion. I lost track of how many times she hit and kicked me. This had to be a nightmare? How could I even explain what was happening? How could this be reality?
“Paluaga’s displeasure has cost me my husband. My sons! They died because the god is angry! He has brought the foul creatures onto our shores.” She grabbed a handful of my hair and pulled my head back so I could not look away from her ire. “You will make it right. You will appease Paluaga.” My head bounced off the ground, and my vision blurred with the force at which she had slammed it back down.
Enough of the drink had gotten down my throat, that I felt the now-familiar warmth spreading through me. Like talons, the darkness tore at me, dragging me back down into the depths. The last image burned into my eyes was the angry woman spitting as she tore a long strip from the hem of my dress and tied it as a gag around my mouth.
“You will not scream.” The words followed me into the depths as hot tears of desperation streamed down my face.
And so it went on. It became a routine that repeated, but I had lost track of the passage of time. I could not tell if one day had passed, or if this torture lasted for days. All I knew was when the darkness, when reality started to flood back into me, the angry woman would be there with curses, kicks, and more of that drink to send me into the inky black. When the darkness covered me, I would find respite from the terror of my new reality, or I would endure moments of pure dread. The softness of dreams would whisk me away from the pain in my body or the nightmares would come. When they came in that drug haze, I felt the hand of the unnamed dread. They were the same dreams that sporadically chased me from my sleep since the business meeting. Here there was no respite from the terror.
Climbing out of the fog felt different this time. The smell of dirt was not as strong, and it did not fill my nose. My back was pressed against something cold, and what I thought was the ground was hard. My arms and legs felt wet and my muscles ached. .
When I finally opened my eyes, I only saw the twilight sky above me. When my head lolled to the side, I realized I was no longer in the small hut. Fires burned orange, casting their flickering light across the land. My arms were down at my sides, yet I still felt the grinding of the ropes where they cut into my flesh. The cold stone at my back sent chills along my skin as goosebumps rose from the cool wind.
I took a deep breath of fresh air, savoring it for a moment.
“Has the sacred drink been prepared according to the rituals?” The voice of the old man from my fever dreams swept over me.
“Yes.” The woman’s voice cut me as surely as her anger had before.
She appeared at my side, the gourd in her hand once again. I had enough time to scream out before she gripped my mouth with her strong hand and poured the drink down my throat. Spitting as much out as I could, I struggled weakly against the bonds that held my arms and legs in place. My defiance earned me another ear ringing slap.
Dark sigils shimmered on my body. Painted in liquid the color of mortals’ blood, the red contrasting vividly against my pale skin.
“Great Paluaga, we call you to accept this sacrifice in your honor! Your shores have been defiled, and we have suffered your anger. We beg you to turn your favor back to us.”
As he continued to speak, the woman shoved the gag back into my mouth against my protests. In desperation, I succumbed to fight-or-flight instinct, and as flight was not an option, I bit the woman’s hand as hard as I could. It earned me yet another slap, which split open my lip.
From my position on the stone altar, my heart stopped when the old man stepped into my view, the glint from a blade held in his hand.
All the struggling, all the hoping and digging inside for my powers came to a head at this moment. Still dazed from the sticky syrup they had forced me to drink, I lay powerless on the altar of a primitive people’s god. I could see the ritualistic symbols they had marked me with as I stared at my reflection on the blade of the knife.
Alone, I felt the anger rise in me, but for the first time in my life, that anger was fruitless and impotent. I could not even summon the power I feared the most to save me.
“Has the offering been prepared in accordance with the command of Paluaga?”
“Yes.” The woman took the knife, a grin of pure malice stretched across her lips.
I closed my eyes as fear gripped my heart, the kiss of the cold steel against my skin sent shivers along my body. I struggled against the darkness and the bonds holding me down.
“Take this sacrifice in your name,” the tribal elder intoned. “We beseech your generosity and pay for our transgressions that displeased you with this offering of blood.”
The first Touch of the knife brought delayed pain. A blade so sharp it sliced neatly through my forearm mere seconds before my mind registered what happened. The gag muffled my scream, but I still could hear the laugh of the woman chase me down into the darkness. It washed over me, embracing me like a welcome friend. I slipped back into the blissful sleep of oblivion.