“Where am I?”

She opened her eyes to the starry night sky with the moon in full brilliance, its light giving the desert a mysterious silvery glow. The trees stood still in the night, as there was no symphony from the nocturnal this time. In fact, there wasn’t any whisper of a breeze that she was used to.

“Hello?” she asked, her echo responding. She tried her best to hold in a cough, but it forced its way out of her throat in a bloody fashion.

“How is that po…” she started, but the burning sensation in her throat choked back her words, the pain in her chest forcing her to her knees and a bloody cough forcing its way out of her for a few seconds, its grazing sound scratching her throat.

“What the hell?” she asked, looking at the blood on her tiny hands.

“He comes,” she heard a raspy voice say. Right ahead of her, between two palm trees, stood a hooded figure with a shiny oval object in its hand.

“What did you do?” she asked as she stood, but the sight of it floating off the ground, its cloak smoky in appearance made her stay down.

“I paid you. Now, run before he comes,” it said again, pointing behind her.

“I don’t…” she started, but its booming voice made her take to her heels.

“FLEE GIRL! HE COMES FOR YOU!”

She shuffled her tiny feet away from him and up the dune, struggling with all fours until she got to the top, where she saw a grand palace seated like an oasis, surrounded by exquisite vegetation and glowing majestically in the dead of night, the sight of men walking about frantically baffling.

“How?” she wondered. As she tried making her way down , she tripped and rolled down, crashing onto a stoned walkway that led to the front of the house, a searing pain in her knee.

“Damn it!” she swore, examining the throbbing bruise. Then, another fit of coughing overcame her, keeping her down while grappling her tiny chest.

 “How did you get out of your room?” she heard a man ask, seeing two men towering over her.

“She must have climbed down again,” the other one said, the sight of him jarring to her.

‘How are you alive?’ she wondered as they picked her up  and ran to the large wooden doors, into the marble floored and double-volume lobby and onto the ornately curved stairs, turning left into a wide corridor that led to a massive bedroom.

“Good! You found her!”

She was placed in the arms of a large bearded man sporting an ornamental robe and a golden turban on his head.

“Secure all the doors! No one in or out. Do a count of everyone before you begin your search. And leave a few men with me.”

“Yes, sir,” one of the two said, both bowing before they shuffled out of the room.

 “What’s happening?” she asked.

“They’ve come for it,” the bearded man said, his voice shaking with every word he spoke.

“What do you mean?”

“It was too valuable, they said,” he went on, his eyes wide with untold fear.

“What?”

“Too valuable for one person. Someone would come…”

“Wait, please slow down.”

“I didn’t think they were serious.”

“Have what? Have what? Please, you’re scaring me,” she spoke, tearing up.

“How could I resist?” he went on, making his way to the fireplace just ahead of his bed. He turned around and showed her what was in his hand, and as soon as she saw it, she nearly collapsed.

“They want this,” he said, a strange fascination written on his sweaty face. She merely shook her head.

“An antique. A mythical urn that stores the souls of the wicked men of the land, where they are subjected to a never ending punishment for their crimes on earth. Look here,” he said, showing the distraught girl the figures. On the matte grey vessel was a golden band that ran in the center, adorned with black etchings of a figure holding the same vessel with its mouth open towards people that appeared to be fleeing from it, only to go back to another one of the hooded figures holding the same vessel outwards to them.

“A cycle, I was told. Like the stories we heard.”

“Of what?” she croaked, trembling with fear.

“The first one releases you to live out your punishment, the second captures you again, and the cycle repeats itself for eternity,” he said, smiling at it. She shook her head in disbelief, muttering to herself:

‘Didn’t I already take this?’

“HE’S HERE!” they heard a man shout.

“Oh dear God!” her father said.

“Sir, stay inside!” his guards said as they walked out of the room.

“Defend me!” he called out as he held the girl, whispering in her ear:

‘Under the bed. He might not find you there!’

“I don’t understand…”

“Do not argue with me. Go now!!”

She crawled underneath and waited. Just then, she heard screaming. Grown men, strong and mighty as they looked, screaming in agony. The type she recognized so dearly from her own victims, when they know their death is upon them. The ones mixed with blood spurting from their open throats, or those that came when they held their own intestines in their hands.

“Wait, please! I have money, I…”

His words were cut off by a swishing sound. She covered her mouth to keep herself quiet, especially when she saw her father’s head landing right in front of her. She whimpered as she saw footsteps enter the room, walk around the room and go to the fireplace.

“Better be worth something, old man,” she heard the intruder say.

‘Oh my god, how is this happening?’ she thought. ‘It can’t be true, it can’t be real!’

Then, she felt her throat itching. She shook her head as if to ward it away, but it began throbbing more furiously until she just let the blood and spit soaked cough out of her. She saw the footsteps stop at the door.

“Hmm,” she heard him say as his feet got closer to the door and stopped again where her father’s head was. Then, she saw it rise and come at her while shrieking, forcing her to scream as loud as she could. The head was thrown away and she saw a hand grab her by the throat and pull her out from underneath the bed.

“Oh God, no! Please, no!” she pleaded with him. Under the moonlight, she could see the blood on his face, the one dripping from his blade with every inch he came nearer to her. She never realized how terrified people were when they were looking at her like that.

“It’s been a while,” he said, undoing his belt and letting his soaked clothing fall to the floor as he pinned her down and spread her legs open.

“PLEASE!” she pleaded one more time on deaf ears, and before he could do the unspeakable, she found herself on the desert again.

“Oh God! I thought he – am I…”

“Dead?” the raspy voice asked her. The hooded figure floated towards her, the urn in its ghostly hands.

“What is happening?” she demanded.

“Your payment, sir. For retrieving my urn.”

“What?”

“Did it give you pleasure to violate and mutilate an innocent girl?”

He looked at his tiny hands, remembering how much time he took snuffing the life out of that sickly girl, how she pleaded and begged, and how much joy it gave him when he finally gouged her eyes out.

“Were you not cackling when you slaughtered an entire palace?”

“I was getting the urn for you!” she snapped. The figure shook its head, speaking again.

“So defensive. Most of the people here always feel some sense of remorse for their actions. But not you, I see, even when you’re your worst victim.”

“Let me out of here. LET ME OUT!” she barked. This time, the figure threw its head back in laughter.

“Yes, at once my liege. Shall I make you supper as well?” it asked mockingly. The girl ran to it with a fist, but went right through it before she fell on her face.

“Enough!” the figure boomed, “your crime was as despicable as it was inhumane. You laughed as the girl wept, celebrated her pain and ended her life too brutally for any to endure. You only had a taste of her fear. Now you will live through the pain, then after the fear, then the pain, for as long as you are here.”

“No,” she said defiantly, unable to accept her fate.

“It is done.”

“Please,” she said weakly.

“Hide elsewhere before you find you; buy some time before the inevitable.”

“No, pl – please, no,” she now begged, falling to her knees, “I’ll change, I promise I will.”

“Run away.”

“Please, spare me…”

“FLEE GIRL! HE COMES FOR YOU!”

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