The motel bathroom was old, out of date, and actually a lot cleaner than I would have expected from a place like this. The motel looked like it hadn’t been remodeled since the 70’s, but it was well taken care of.
After doing my business, I washed my hands and then looked into the mirror above the sink. There was a crack going through the mirror, but I could still see myself. I looked even worse than I felt, and I felt like shit after watching my dad and Aunt Dora get murdered earlier today.
When I left the bathroom and stepped back into the room I was sharing with Cliff, I was surprised to see the wooden box sitting on my bed. I glanced to Cliff, who was sitting on his own bed on the other side of the room, staring across at the box.
“I thought you and Mom said we should leave this in the car,” I said, feeling confused.
When Mom first saw the box in the back seat, she went pale and stared at it with a look of shock, and almost horror. However, the only thing she said is, “Don’t touch it.” She refused to talk about it again until we stopped for the night in this model, and then, all she did was repeat her previous instructions to not touch it.
“We did,” Cliff answered with a deep scowl. “I didn’t bring it in, and neither did your mom.”
“Then how…?” I started to ask, until remembering that it was some kind of magic box. I’d seen it suddenly appear out of nowhere twice before.
Cliff picked up his cell phone and made a call. “Theressa, you’d better get over here. Now.”
Mom rushed over from her room next door, and nearly burst through the door just seconds later. She was about to say something, then paused to stare at the box.
“Did you…?” she started.
“No,” Cliff answered. “Neither of us touched it.”
Mom’s eyes widened. “No…” She snapped around to stare at me with a worried expression, then turned back to the box. “No. Not Byron. Choose someone else.” Of course, there was no response.
“Choose me for what?” I demanded, desperate for answers. I’d spent several hours crying over what had happened to Dad and Aunt Dora, but now, I wanted to know why. I needed to know why this had happened, and so far, Mom and Cliff had been completely silent. “What the hell is going on? Why did those people attack us? WHY DID THEY KILL DAD?”
For a moment, Mom just stood there, then whatever strength that she’d been using to keep going, drained out of her. She suddenly looked completely and utterly exhausted, in every sense of the word.
“The box,” she said, staring at the box again, and then at me. “They wanted the box.”
“I saw that much,” I answered, though I still had absolutely no idea of why.
Mom sat down on the edge of the bed, being careful not to touch the box. She had a haunted look in her eyes as she stared at up me. Whatever this was, it wasn’t good, but I already knew that much.
“Magic,” Mom said with a sigh. “As you’ve already seen today, magic is real.”
“Yeah,” I said, grabbing an uncomfortable wooden chair that was sitting in the corner, and moving it closer to Mom before I sat down. “I saw that.”
“I don’t know how it works,” Mom explained. “I don’t think anyone truly understands it, but Dora had some theories. She always thought that magic was like the ocean, and that came and went like the tide. At high tide, magic flooded our world and brought things with it. Things like gods and monsters. Then like the tide, it recedes, taking most of those things back out with it.”
“The tide went out a long time ago,” Cliff said. “We’re at low tide now.”
“Even when the tide goes out,” mom continued, “there are still a few scattered tide pools.” She gave a faint, almost pained smile. “Magic left, but a large number of magical artifacts were left behind. These are the tide pools that remain at low tide. Some of them are powerful, and many of them can be extremely dangerous.”
“Like that fire staff,” I said, remembering the guy who first attacked us. “Or that Peacekeeper thing.”
“Yes,” Mom answered. “Or Cliff’s sword.”
I glanced to Cliff, and the sword and scabbard that were leaned up against the wall beside his bed. He merely nodded, not saying a word.
“One of the most powerful of these artifacts is Pandora’s box,” Mom stated with a deep scowl. Her eyes went to the wooden box on the bed.
My eyes went wide at that. “Wait… Like the myth?”
“Exactly like the myth,” Cliff said.
“Maybe,” Mom added a moment later, confusing me. She gave me a wry smile before explaining, “Nobody knows for certain if this is the same box as from the myth, or if people just assumed it was due to the similarities. The person who owns this box is always called Pandora, which is both name and title. But again, we don’t know if this went back all the way to the original Pandora of myth, or if one of Dora’s predecessors had simply been named after the Pandora of myth.”
I stared at the box, my eyes drawn to the intricate carvings on the lid, which slowly moved and shifted as I watched. Dad had been a professor of mythology, so this was exactly the kind of thing he would have been fascinated by. I wanted to ask him what he thought, but that just made my heart ache and the tears begin to come again.
“I don’t know where the box originally came from,” Mom admitted, “or who created it, and neither did Dora. I’ve spent twenty-five years researching it, but all I’ve found were contradictory stories and rumors. Dora was the world’s foremost expert, and even she only had vague ideas and rumors of its origins.”
“But what does it do?” I asked grimly. “Why did those people want it?” I stared at Mom, noticing that she was dancing around the answers, trying to take her time getting to them.
Mom scowled, pinching the bridge of her nose, which was something she often did when stressed. “It is…a vault,” she finally said. “To store other magic artifacts and keep them safe.”
“To keep them from causing trouble,” Cliff added.
“Maybe,” Mom corrected him. “The truth is, we don’t know the exact purpose any more than we know where the box came from. Not for certain. However, Dora had always believed that the box was there to lock away the other artifacts, to keep them safe and out of human hands until magic came back.”
“And that’s why she put that magic staff in there?” I asked, staring at the box again.
Mom nodded, “Yes. Dora was always searching for magic artifacts, so she could put them into the box. That’s how I first met her…” Mom gave me a pained smile. “I found something on a dig, something that I couldn’t explain. Then, Dora came along looking for it…”
Cliff gave Mom a thoughtful look. “Dora said it was some kind of amulet…”
“Yes,” Mom agreed. “It gave good luck to whoever was wearing it, but bad luck to everyone around them.”
This was the very first time I’d ever heard about Mom having a magic amulet, and I was pretty sure that I hadn’t seen anything like that around the house. Well, Mom had brought lots of old jewelry and stuff home, but none of it looked like it was magic.
“I became Dora’s companion,” Mom explained with a faint smile. “I spent years, traveling the world with her, looking for artifacts. And during this time, I met your father, who was one of Dora’s research contacts.”
I didn’t know what to say or think about all this. I’d never known about this part of my mom’s life, and I had a hard time believing that she’d been running around the world, looking for magic artifacts like some kind of Indiana Jones. However, after what I’d seen today, and how my mom had reacted to the danger, it was hard to doubt too.
“So, this Alexander guy wants the box,” I said, trying to get Mom back on track. She was starting to cry a little, and I was too. I wanted…needed to distract myself from Dad’s loss. “Because it has a bunch of magic stuff inside?”
“The box contains an arsenal of artifacts,” Cliff said. “Some are powerful weapons. Some don’t do anything useful at all…”
“So, this box is like that Warehouse Thirteen show on TV,” I said, thinking of a TV show from a couple years ago, where the main characters ran around collecting magic items, then hiding them away inside of a giant warehouse.
“Very much so,” Mom admitted. “Fortunately, very few people even know it exists.”
“But these guys do,” I said, my voice cracking as I did.
“Unfortunately, yes,” Mom replied.
“Tell him the rest,” Cliff said, fixing his gaze on Mom. He gestured to the box. “I think he needs to know…”
“You’re right,” Mom said, giving me another worried look. “You do need to know…”
“Know what?” I demanded suspiciously, wondering what it was that she was still dancing around.
“The box requires a host,” Mom said carefully. “When one host dies, it finds a new one. The host is always called Pandora, which as I said awhile ago, is both name and title. Pandora is the only one who can open the box.”
“So, if there isn’t a Pandora,” I thought aloud, “then the thing stays locked?”
“I wouldn’t count on that keeping the box out of the Kraesse’s hands,” Cliff stated with a grimace. “Not now.”
“Byron,” Mom said, putting a hand on my shoulder. “I think the box has already chosen its next Pandora. I think…it may have picked you.”
“What?” I gasped in surprise and confusion.
“It has been following you,” Mom explained with a sigh. “When it appeared in the car, I thought it had come for me... But then, it came here…” She gestured to the box. “I think it chose you to be the next Pandora.”
“Why?” I asked, staring at the box. I wasn’t sure if it I was asking it or Mom. “Why me?”
“I don’t know,” Mom said with a deep scowl. “I have no idea what criteria the box uses to choose the next Pandora, and I’m not sure Dora ever did either. She said that she used to be a servant to the previous Pandora, before she’d been chosen. Physical proximity seems to be a part of it, but there are probably other criteria as well.”
Cliff looked at Mom. “I would have thought it would pick you…”
“Me too,” Mom admitted. “I would seem to be the most qualified person, probably within a thousand miles. I’m an archeologist, have experience with artifacts, and I’m familiar with the box…and Dora.”
Mom stared at me for several long seconds, making me extremely uncomfortable. Again, I had the distinct feeling that she was leaving something out, that she was still dancing around what she wanted to tell me.
“What aren’t you telling me?” I finally blurted out.
Mom and Cliff shared a look. “It the box has chosen you,” Mom said, giving the box in question a glare, “then I don’t think there’s anything we can do. We might be wrong…and there might still be time…”
“Maybe it hasn’t made up its damn mind yet,” Cliff said.
“Choose someone else,” Mom ordered the box. “Choose me if you need, but please, leave Byron alone.” The box didn’t respond.
Mom’s reactions were really starting to freak me out, and after everything I’d already seen today, I hadn’t though that I had enough energy to get freaked out any more.
“I don’t want to worry you any more than necessary,” Mom said. “And we don’t know if it really has picked you to be the next Pandora…”
“I hope not,” Cliff said. “It would be good to know where the box is, but…”
“Well, I am worried,” I blurted out. “What do you mean? What aren’t you telling me?”
Mom and Cliff shared another look, before Mom said, “I’ll explain in the morning. We should know whether the box really has chosen you or not, by then.”
After this, Mom carefully picked up the box and left my room with it. I tried not to get all worried and worked up, but it didn’t help. Between that, and my dad’s murder, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to sleep. However, sleep still claimed me the moment my head hit the pillow.
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