Minako jolted her head. Did I doze off in this terrible place? If so, why aren’t I back with Renee? If this place is only a nightmare, then sleeping should let me go back home… back to the beautiful dream world, our world… Even if it wasn’t real, it was bright and happy… Warm sun and unlimited possibilities in the sky... And… I had Renee. Not like this place. It’s cold like Siberia with no light in front of my eyes. Maybe the blizzard outside is too blinding. Maybe I’ve found refuge in a cave where only insects skitter across the floor among the remains of the long deceased, frozen time capsules in this barren winter wonderland. But worst of all, I’m alone. I miss the warmth and comfort of being with someone, anyone… She shivered again and hugged her knees. Is this what it means to be lonely? Renee… She buried her head in her knees. Please… Come find me, Renee…
A clicking and scraping noise resounded in her ears. Minako’s heart did a backflip in her chest. Someone or something is coming. Her legs trembled violently as she gripped the wall tightly with her hand. She finally managed to stand and backed toward the wall on her unstable feet until she was absorbed in its shadow. Closer and closer, the clicking and scraping grew louder. Who exists in this world outside of this ominous cage? She tried to cover her breath in the shadow as well, but it would not allow her to hide. Her heart pounded like the crashing waves of the ocean. Even if I can hide my breath, the footsteps could definitely hear my heart crying from the darkness. Doom approached, it was silent like death. Minako clenched her eyes shut tightly, hoping to further shield herself from the ominous footsteps. I have to know… She opened her eyes slowly. Just who do these footsteps belong to? Who else could exist within this world? And… especially outside of this suffocating cage? Who was strong enough to overcome the impending darkness? Didn’t they say that there were monsters here? Is this a monster?
“Well…” He smirked, crossing his arms across his chest. The chains attached to the cuffs decorating his wrists danced lightly against his torso. “It seems to me that we have some new company…”
Minako’s eyes grew wide as she cupped her hand to her mouth, desperately trying not to cry, scream, or vomit. It’s terrible! No, horrifying!
He was a tall man. His solemn, yet twisted happy face seemed tired, worn, alone, and slightly unhinged. Before the rest of his facial features came into view, his crystalline blue eyes pierced through the darkness. Whatever light managed to exist in this place reflected off his fair hair. But did all of this make him a man? A few inconsistencies with that theory existed. If he was indeed an average man, why did horns sit nestled among his fair hair? And why did his hands and feet end in claws? His whip-like tail seemed to wag in delight and the limply resting large, flesh colored wings on his back were impossible to ignore.
Was he even human? Demons who were half-man, half-beast, and decorated in chains beckoned the world’s misguided souls to the depths of their fiery abyss. They were composite creatures, born from the sinful souls of the misguided man. And yet, to live in this blackened abyss, was he more sinful than any mere man? Still, his demonic characteristics were more than composite, they were almost mystical, resembling a legendary dragon. But those composite demons—minions of the fiery abyss—did not possess wings at all. Wings belonged to the angels of Heaven. The strongest of all the demons, after all, was the devil called Lucifer, an angel that had fallen from Heaven for his sinful heart. And then, to further pull himself from God, he pierced his own wrists with chains to destroy his wings and then he became a composite monster, the torso of a man with broken wings and the hind legs and horns of a goat.
Wings and chains… I’ve seen them in books before, creatures of the underworld... Minako backed away from him slowly. This terrible satanic minion probably has his way with girls like me… before he eats them for breakfast.
His clawed hands fingered the lock on the door and the chains rang against the bars. His claws were like keys, the lock opened with ease. He stepped into the cage that contained the girls.
I’m not sure how many of them are in this cage, but I remember the infinite pairs of gleaming, yellow eyes that always watched me through the darkness. All of them now hid in the shadows and I’m left alone, standing up to their monster. The girls have made me Saint George and chosen me to fight their dragon. Minako continued to step away from the door as the metronome within her heart kept setting its tempo even faster.
The creature now stood within the prison, towering over all of its inhabitants as the giant monster who would reign above their city. “You just got here, didn’t you?” he asked Minako, reaching his clawed hand toward her wrist.
Minako pulled her arm back quickly, but his claws were lightning quick and he latched onto her arm before she could rescue it. Minako pulled at her arm endlessly, but it was a worthless attempt, the creature would not loosen the vice of his grip.
Minako’s hands trembled as she stood face to face with him, wrapping her free fingers around her wrist as she continued to pull on it. “Where is this place? Why do you keep these girls imprisoned here? Is your world so unappetizing that you would trap women from another world for your pleasure?”
The creature’s eyes were blood red as he tightened his grip on her arm. It was as if he intended to squeeze her blood from her arm like it was wine to accompany his supper. He turned his head and threw her arm back toward her in disgust.
Minako clenched it with her free hand and took one more step back.
“Do you… Do you really see me as that kind of monster?” He growled quietly. “I’m trapped here too, you know…” He looked upward and wrapped himself in his arms. “There was such light and warmth in the world, wrapped tightly in God’s embrace, a star in his endless sky. I shined so brightly, and it was heaven. But...” His eyes narrowed as his expression grew cold and his fist clenched as he bore his fangs. “But it was a lie! Shunned by God’s love, turned away from the warmth and light and the endless stretch of Heaven… To be a monster, to inhabit the darkness, all alone… Was this my fate all along? To be embraced so warmly, so lovingly, to be brought so far up, that I would fall even farther, even faster?” He snarled. “I hear all of you! Endlessly, you speak of hope for something you remember. Sealed in a box by God? How pathetic! You love evil, then no wonder you’re all here in this nightmare! Pandora, your savior, will she really come to rescue you? Why would she come down here to this stark, black hell to rescue the Devil’s consorts? You’re all pathetic!” He began to laugh, low at first, but it grew louder and more maniacal.
Minako’s heart leaped into her throat. She swallowed hard to return it to its rightful home. It still was not enough. To feel so loved, to be so full… To lose it all in one moment and be left with nothing. How selfish of me for sobbing about being away from Renee. He may have been a demon, but he lost all his warmth, love, and all his memories of why he was shunned in such a way. They all had… Everyone here, they had some sort of memory, very distant and clouded in the white hell blizzard surrounding them; as they were interned deeper in the blizzard, their memories of the golden dream world slipped further away from them. But unlike this demon, they clung to a far off light. Whether it existed here or not, they knew it existed somewhere and that it would save them. Pandora, the woman who held high the torch lit with hope would save them.
“Ummm…” Minako reached toward the demon, but her hand fell short as he stepped back toward the bars of the cage.
His claws brushed against the metal bars of the prison, a quiet ringing resounded in their ears. He lowered his head. “It’s not… It’s not that you’re pathetic… But… But after all these years, your hope never wavered, your faith stood so strong…” His claws gripped the bars as he turned back to them, to Minako. “I wish… I wish I were still like you, so full of hope and belief in the light of Pandora…”
Minako lowered her head. “Don’t wish to be like me… I’m the newest one here, remember?” Minako crossed her arms and wrapped her hands around her elbows. “I still can’t handle being away from Renee or my own world…”
He cocked his eyebrow. “You really did just arrive?”
Minako nodded her head. “Do you normally come to visit this cage?”
“I don’t…” he murmured, “The light…”
Minako raised her head. “The light?”
He turned his head toward the bars slowly, his expression changing to that of an almost helpless loneliness. “Stolen from the loving arms of God, cold and lonely in the darkness, I was promised the beautiful priestess Pandora... All the demons from all the kingdoms were. Four priestesses would emerge in the midst of this tragedy, one for Rubiihoppou, one for Emeradotouhou, one for Topazuseihou, and one for Safaiananpou. She would bring with her the location of the box, hidden deep within her heart. And she would find all her demons.” His grip loosened, as if he was too weak to grab hold of the safety of the bars, his pride’s strength faltering. “I waited every day for her, so she could place me back into the welcoming arms of God. I waited every day…”
Minako clasped her hands to her heart. “It’s okay to feel scared when you’re lonely… Being lonely is hard for everyone… Nobody likes it...” She took a hesitant step and reached her hand toward him.
He lowered his head and clenched his hands around the bars tightly. “Don’t you dare pity me! I’m not that frail to feel scared or lonely!”
“But… You’re all alone…” Another step.
“Being alone and being lonely are different. People who are lonely don’t have the strength to stand. I’m standing, why can’t they?”
Minako stopped and lowered her gaze, examining the room. People who did not have the strength to stand… All the inhabitants of this room were like that… aside from me and this demon who stood and gripped the metallic bars of the cage. Is it possible to be lonely and still have faith and hope? Or is this a façade? She clenched her fist. “Then give them the strength to stand! Aren’t they all here so one of them can be Pandora? Choose one!” She swept her arm out across the cage.
He shook his head. “None who ever appeared within this prison fit her qualifications…”
“All of them have hope for the future. Isn’t Pandora the one who carries the torch of hope?” Another step.
His shoulders seemed to sink as he tightened his grip on the bars again. “The women called Pandora are more than mere mortals… Carrying a torch of hope for everyone is more difficult than carrying it for yourself alone…”
“Is it the name, then?” Another.
“No… That would be too simple. A name is merely an identification for something…”
“So choose one and name her Pandora… That’s how it works, right?” Another.
“We give her the title Pandora because she is already the one who should receive such a title… Calling another such a name would only anger the true Pandora…”
“And you said she is supposed to be beautiful, surely any woman here is as beautiful as she should be…” Another.
“Does beauty make a person into what they truly are?”
Minako lowered her head. People are what they are because of who they are… Outside factors may give them some advantages… But… People grow using what they are already made of… She lowered her head.
“Her heart… emanates warmth…” His voice shook.
Minako raised her head. Someone who holds the torch called hope… She must be strong enough to light it on her own.
He turned back toward her, his eyes filled with tears as though his heart was afraid to move forward or stay back. He lowered his head, but glanced up at her face. So pretty, yet already showing the suffering of this desolate hell of darkness. He clenched his eyes shut quickly. I can’t look at her face, it’s pitiful and heartbreaking.
Minako reached her arms toward him and pulled him closely within her embrace. “It’s okay… I know you’ll be alright.”
He started to shrink back, but his knees began to drop from under him as he crumpled in her arms. So fragile and weak, a china glass doll with the physique of a demon.
This creature is a demon… Right? And if that’s true, why do I feel such heartbreak toward him? It’s like a knife in my heart. Why is my heart crumbling as his tough exterior shatters on the floor? Minako tightened her grip on his frame. Is his heart made of glass too? Wouldn’t that hurt him? I can do that, at least… I can keep him from shattering. “I’ve been selfish...” Her eyes began to fill with tears. “I was miserable here, ripped away from Renee... I thought I was suffering. But… You’ve waited down here all these years, praying for a priestess who won’t come. Is she just too wrapped up in the dream we have all awakened from? I’m not sure, but… but it seems unfair for her to leave you down here when you need her more than you will admit.”
He looked up at her with his weak eyes, even as his head began to fall back toward the ground. “She doesn’t exist…” His voice shook. “She doesn’t... exist… anywhere in the world!”
“No!” Minako tightened her grip. “You’ve been alone all these years… Waiting down here in the depths of darkness for someone who’s supposed to save you… If you knew she didn’t exist, why would you wait? Her heart is sleeping, silently, waiting for the moment she needs to be here… I know it! I know she’ll come, so… so don’t think she doesn’t care about you… and everyone…” The tears began falling lightly down her face.
A slight smile crossed his face as his voice broke. “So… much… faith… If only… I could… be so strong… But… but I… don’t know… what to do… anymore…”
Minako held him closer in her embrace as the tears continued to fall from her eyes. “You’re not so weak… I would have given up long ago. No… even now I feel like my heart is breaking… But, even if it’s hidden, your faith has clearly never faltered… That is such enormous strength…”
He tried turning his head from her, but his weakness overcame him and his eyes remained fixed on her face. This girl... is that type of person. It’s too much… a person like that… A kind person... I feel sorry for her. Kind people are clung to, they’re sought out, and taken advantage of… By people… and creatures… like me… That’s why… That is why I avoided the women here… and left them alone… I don’t want them to be involved especially when I’m just their monster… I can do it on my own… Yes, I’ll keep running on my own… He lowered his head and attempted to raise his hand to his face… Tears… I don’t have to be understood… I don’t care if they’re scared of me… If they hate me... Or, if I’m alone… He ran his arm lightly across his face. I promised myself I would never cry, but… I’m sorry…
He thrust his arms around her body, knocking her backwards to the ground with the weight of his body and chains. He buried his face in her chest.
I’m sorry… I’m going to cling to you. I’m really... powerless on my own… I lied… I’m so weak… He shut his eyes as a few lone tears streamed down his face. “I… I don’t know… what… to do anymore… I… just… don’t know… I can’t… do anything… on my own… By myself…”
Minako wrapped him tightly within her arms as she sat up. “I know there’s a difference between being alone and being lonely… But… Being by yourself is scary… Being alone… is a very frightening way to live…”
His head fell downward from the strain of trying to sit up with her. I can’t… I can’t stand up… on my own… with my own power… His eyes began to close in fatigue, as his grip around her body weakened. “How warm… Your embrace is… so much… like a current… flowing through me…” His breathing was shallow. “My name…”
“What?” Minako compensated for his weakening grip by tightening her own as much as she was able to.
“Pandora… the priestess… she knows… knows my name… Maybe not… on the surface… But… but… her heart… will react to it…”
Minako ran her hand across the back of his head, trying to calm his restlessness.
Minako pulled her hand back from his head as it trembled. Her heart jumped into her throat. Somewhere, so long ago, I remember that name deep in my heart… ”Nickolas… No… Nick...”
His mouth uttered the last words he could manage before his weak body gave out. “Nick?”
It rang through her ears like the last whisper of a long forgotten history, trying to be rediscovered. The priestess Pandora knew the names of the demons in her heart… Pandora… The woman who held high the torch bearing the light of hope… She was a selfish girl who was unable to awaken from the beautiful dream in which she lived… Her true name wasn’t Pandora at all, it was Minako.