Pandora opened her eyes blearily, observing her surroundings. This definitely wasn’t a place anywhere near her home.
It was a limestone cave, filled with phosphorescent and bioluminescent minerals, mushrooms, lichens and other interesting glowing things. Mirror-still pools of black water reflected the light everywhere, and wherever a white cavefish broke the surface, its ripples sent light flickering and bouncing. In the distance was the steady drip-drip-drip of water. The moss was, in places, thick enough to lie down and have a nap on; such was the case with the large, uncomfortable rock upon which Pandora currently sat. The stalagmites and stalactites were tipped in strange, blue goo that only added to the magnificence of the cave.
All in all, it was beautiful. It took Pandora’s breath away.
She flicked her brown hair out of her face and touched the black water apprehensively with one of her fingers. Nothing jumped out at her, so she gathered her dress up near her thighs and dipped a leg in. It touched the ground and the cool water only reached her knees.
Pandora got off her rock and began to walk. Her motions disrupted the water, causing light to go everywhere. She waded around the stalagmites, peering at the blue goo and other glowing things as she moved. Cautiously, Pandora tapped one of the mushrooms exhibiting a bright green light. It inflated at once like a balloon, making Pandora shriek. The mushroom then slowly deflated, returning to its original state.
Pandora turned to another mushroom. This one was emanating a purple light. She poked it ungracefully with her finger and it, too, inflated so fast that it was a blur. Pandora giggled at her newfound entertainment and decided to experiment with all the strange things of the cave. She stuck her finger into the thick goo that capped one of the stalagmites and struggled to pull some off because of how sticky it was. When she finally pulled away her finger, she dipped it into the water and gasped. The glowing goo spread like wildfire in the water, illuminating the cave so that she could see into the shadows. The cavefish all began to shine different colours, changing from one colour to another in merely seconds. Pandora opened her blue eyes widely at the light show taking place all around her.
This was no normal cave. But it was definitely an amazing cave, and Pandora loved it.
A smile tugged at her lips as a school of shining cavefish circled her legs. She took a step forward and the cavefish followed her. As she walked through the water, the cavefish circled her loyally, never leaving. Her legs took her deeper into the cave, but she wasn’t scared because there were no shadows, no places for any unwelcome company to hide.
Something tickled Pandora’s legs and she squeaked in surprise. The most beautiful creature she had ever seen was swimming in front of her.
It was a mermaid, with a long, shining tail that changed colours brilliantly just like the cavefish. Her ivory skin was smooth and her long, auburn hair danced in the water.
“You’re a mermaid,” Pandora breathed, bending down and disregarding the fact that she was letting her dress get heavy and wet.
“Yes,” the mermaid spoke back in a melodic voice, entrancing Pandora.
“Could you – could you maybe tell me where I am?” Pandora asked, still overwhelmed by the beauty of the cave and the creatures that lived in it.
“You are in the Mir Cave, one of the many, not well-known entrances to the city of Mir,” the mermaid sang, brushing her hair behind her back with long, slender fingers. “It is definitely a strange sight to see you, a human, in this cave.”
“Why’s that?” Pandora queried curiously.
The lights reflected off the water on the mermaid’s skin, making her look ethereal. “Because only one human has ever discovered this place before, and even then he never made it past the entrance. He was a very old man, and he died just over there.”
The mermaid pointed over to a moss-covered rock a few feet away. Pandora was quite shocked to see the wicked gleam in the black eyes of the mermaid.
“How did he die?”
The mermaid chuckled throatily. “He was much too old to even walk, but he was trying to wade through these waters. His age just caught up with him. He fell out of tiredness, hit his head on that rock, and died.”
“And then what happened to his body?” Pandora asked, rather afraid of the answer.
Another wicked gleam appeared in the mermaid’s eye, slightly frightening Pandora.
“We ate him.”
Pandora took a step back.
“You eat people? I always thought mermaids were sweet, innocent creatures. That’s what my mum always told me when she read me stories…”
“Don’t believe everything you hear, child. Stories are simply stories,” the mermaid whispered, tracing ripples in the water with her fingers.
“Well… What is this Mir place you spoke of?”
“It is a grand city ruled by the King and Queen. Despite it being a thriving, rich place, quite a large number of citizens are poor, but all are friendly. A word of warning, my child; don’t be fooled by the illusions of those with dark souls.”
“Uh, all right,” Pandora said, taken aback. “Would you be so kind as to lead me to this Mir place? I must confess that my legs are getting cold from the water…”
“Certainly, as long as I get something in return,” the mermaid declared.
“Do you have anything specific in mind?” Pandora asked.
“I do like the look of that necklace you’re wearing,” the mermaid hinted, swimming closer to Pandora. Pandora could see the mermaid’s bottomless, black eyes and blood red lips up close.
Pandora unclasped her silver necklace from around her neck and handed it warily towards the creature in front of her, wondering whether or not she would keep her end of the bargain.
“Thank you, human,” the mermaid whispered, fastening the beautiful piece of jewellery around her neck. “Though you must remember, I said merely a few moments ago not to be fooled by the illusions of those with dark souls.”
With that, the devious mermaid swam away with Pandora’s favourite necklace, much too fast for Pandora to be able to even have any chance of catching her.
The poor girl sighed and waded forward. She was a sixteen-year-old girl who had no idea where she was, nor where she was going. How much more vulnerable could she get?
Last night, she had finished her chores as usual. Then she had eaten dinner with her mother, father, and brother, Daniel. After that, she went to bed. The night had proceeded as it usually did.
Yet for some reason, Pandora had not woken up on her bed. Instead, she had woken up on top of a mossy rock. In a cave. And she hadn’t the foggiest idea how that had happened.
She came from London, and she knew that this magical cave full of magical creatures and magical glowing things couldn’t possible be anywhere near London.
Unless she made it back in time for dinner, Pandora would never hear the end of it from her mother.
Something slimy brushed her legs. The once loyal cavefish were gone, replaced by a group of around five mermaids and mermen, all swimming around merrily. The most striking thing about them, for Pandora, was the fact that their eyes were all fairly similar shades of light brown. None had those horrible black eyes belonging to the thieving mermaid.
“She committed a sin against this child. I can sense it,” one of the mermen commented to his companions, no doubt referring to the mermaid Pandora met earlier.
“You reek of bad vibes,” a mermaid added.
“Reek?” Pandora repeated indignantly.
“Don’t speak, child. Just follow our instructions. No doubt you’re looking for the way to Mir. Just walk in that direction,” another mermaid helped kindly, pointing behind Pandora.
“I – well, thank you very much,” Pandora thanked gracefully, smiling.
The mermaids and mermen swam away and Pandora turned around. She began what would become a very long walk to the city of Mir, entertaining herself along the way by poking jumpy mushrooms and tossing more goo into the water when it got a little dimmer.
The girl tired quickly, forcing her legs to fight the resistance of the water. Luckily, the water seemed to be getting shallower and shallower as she went along.
And then she saw a fountain, and knew immediately that she wasn’t to touch it.
It was a beautiful fountain, with carvings of ivy and angels everywhere. There was also a strange inscription that Pandora didn’t understand.
Cupiditate superveniente omnia.
Cupiditate est cujusvis ruinae.
Water flowed freely from the top, fell down three tiers and landed in a pool of clear water. Pandora felt awfully thirsty – that journey through the cave had been tiring, and her throat was dry.
She cupped her hands and placed it in the water. Then she brought her lips closer to her hands.
A/N: Is anyone fluent in Latin? D: I only translated that inscription with Google Translate and everyone knows that you can’t trust Google Translate. Oh, and yes, those who have read TSW will be familiar with the cave. (Mrs. Shona, anyone?)