I dream of the world outside, of trees.
People say they are green, some say they are brown.
I think they are both.
Like I, both human and a monster.
I live below the dungeons, below the royal kitchen and way below the throne. That is where my family sits. Ruling over a whole kingdom hiding a secret.
I am their secret.
A maze created explicitly for a beast like I. A monstrosity concocted by my own mother and father. An accident. From birth, I was raised to be better, to be faster to be the best. A son worthy of a King, a God but I was neither.
So here I sit on a wooden stool throne, a disfigured prince in the centre of a maze, alone.
Every first day of a new month. A new group of young men and women shall enter my maze and get lost in my lovely home, lighted by nothing but torches that never die.
They would all be sliced open, turned inside out ripped into pieces to be put back together, a whole different creature. Only to feel suffering and pain, an experiment, like I.
If they fail in my parent’s eyes, they get tossed inside the maze with me, then die by my hands. The look of emptiness in their eyes, clouded with fury and disbelief.
The shock of the truth that they have become something they cannot comprehend.
Something they would spit on and kick around.
Disgusted with what they have become.
Today is the first day of a new month.
Steam and light escape my chest as I sigh, preparing myself. I feel tired.
I rise from my worn stool as a beautiful young woman walks into my room; the first to have ever reached the centre.
‘Oh, you are…’ she begins.
‘A monster.’ I finish.
‘Yes, but handsome.’ She walks in further unafraid and begins circling me.
I’m startled; no one has ever been so blatant.
‘I may be a monster, but I was like you once.’
‘No, that is not what I meant.’ I sit back on my stool.
She smiles, ‘A slave?’
‘No. I meant a person.’ I slam my hand on my table strewn with books. Golden mist puffing out.
‘Well, you would be the first person I met to say so.’
I look up at her curiously. ‘But aren’t women persons?’
She looks at me oddly and bursts into laughter. She has a beautiful laugh; you could feel it infect you. Making you smile, although you don’t understand why.
‘You are right, we are. But like the King, he sees us as decoration. Ornaments to be presented to the world. As objects to be used for pleasure and performers to ease their shortcomings.’ She drifts off, looking sad.
‘Well, I must be a woman then. Am I not being used as an object to make other kingdoms afraid of this kingdom?’
She walks up to me unafraid and touches the machinery that was half of my face.
‘I suppose we are neither man or woman but simply human.’
‘Not all of us.’ She kisses my forehead then my lips. It sends a jolt through my body, sending me backwards onto the floor.
She peeks down at me biting her lips with guilt, but I see her eyes are glistening with humour.
‘Never been kissed?’
‘I do not look like something a person would.’
‘I did.’ She says shrugging.
‘You are different.’ The realisation sinks slowly in my chest.
I could not possibly kill her.
‘You must leave, escape.’ I say as I walk to her and pick her up carrying her over my shoulder.
She fights my hold but I only tighten it.
‘We will! Let me walk, I know the way, thank you!’
‘How could you possibly know?’ I walk through the maze, turning left, right, right, left straight and onwards and repeat.
‘Do you know where you are going?’ she asks, giving up on struggling and just going with the ride.
‘No, but I will find a way.’
‘I know the way.’ She whispers, frustrated.
I halt in my steps, unsure to believe her.
‘I have an invincible twine wrapped around my wrist…’ she begins.
I grunt in disbelief and keep walking.
‘I do! The king’s secret.’ she pauses hesitantly.
Did she know the king? My father?
‘You know the king?’
‘Yes.’ This was said barely in a whisper, shamefully.
‘He is my father.’ I say, shrugging nearly dropping her but I quickly catch her in my arms.
She looks up at me in my arms, studying my face.
‘I can see that, but you are not like him.’
‘I know.’ I growl, my father was a king while I was a monster.
‘No! I can feel you misunderstand what I meant. You are not like him, you are kind, brave and good.’ She then taps my nose like I was a child.
‘I am not any of those things. I am a monster. I have killed, murdered people. I can show you their bones, or you have already seen them on your brief stay here in my home.’
She remains silent; smiling up at me as if she knows something about myself I didn’t know.
I look up at the next turn to ignore her, but we encounter a group of men with swords drawn, and at the sight of me they charge.
‘Release the lady changeling!’ One shouts but I throw the said lady over my shoulder and with one swift brush of my metal; they all go tumbling to the ground unconscious. There was something odd about them. Their swords seemed melded to their hand, but that couldn’t be possible.
I could swiftly end their lives now. A single stomp and the blood would splatter the walls and ooze out their body. Innards barely enclosed in their chest.
‘Go left.’ Says her voice from behind. No gratitude at all from her. Who was this woman?
No wonder my father had thrown her here. She must have infuriated him.
No point arguing, she did seem to know the maze, I continue onwards following her every direction.
Oddly, I soon begin to smell a wet earthy scent in the air. I have never gotten this far since my rebellious teenage years. There had always been soldiers with lightning rods waiting for me.
Light falls through an open door. It was no light I have ever seen. It was not flickering like the torches that hung throughout my maze. It was like a white transparent veil shimmering down.
I walk swiftly through it feeling nothing but energy as I take my first step out of my home. My maze. My prison.
The world outside is shimmering under the light of a round object floating in the sky. It must be the moon I have read in my books. The light falls upon a valley. There was nothing but sticks poking out from the ground, covered with hundreds of leaves. Trees. I was looking at hundreds or thousands of trees.
‘You can put me down now, and you are welcome.’
I put her down, and she smiles at me smugly.
‘You are free.’
I am not. Though a thrill spreads through my body at the idea.
‘I cannot, I must return.’ ignoring the feeling.
‘Why?’ she takes my hand.
‘I cannot let them make any more monsters like me.’ I plead.
She comes close and hugs me.
She pulls away slightly.
‘You are not a monster; you are a better person than anyone I have ever met before. You could have eaten me, killed me, raped me, cut me into a million pieces, but you did not. Plus, I have read all the journals.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘They tried so hard to make you a mindless beast. A monster that you think you are but they failed, and they knew it.’ She presses her hand on the human side of my face.
‘You are free.’
‘They will make more of me of all the people inside. I have to kill them.’ I emphasise.
Tears slip down the corner of her eyes.
‘No, they will not.’
‘Yes, they will!’ I push her away. ‘I have seen all their experiments. I killed them all. The pain in their eyes was unbearable to see until death took them then I was free.’
‘You won’t have to do that anymore. Your mother and father, the king and the queen are dead.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I read all the details of what they did to you since you were a boy. Locked up and hidden from the world.
Unknown to the people, that they had a worthy king, a protector to their kingdom.
Their rightful king.
They were greedy, selfish and mad! They experimented on you so they could find a way to eternal life.
All it took was their own poison to destroy them.’
‘You poisoned my parents?’ I could not let her go now. She murdered my parents, as horrible as they were, they were family and King and Queen.
She shakes her head.
‘No, they killed each other, both wanted the throne for their own, and they both thought they had found a way to live eternally.
They never shared their secret with anyone, even each other. The night before I had been summoned to your father’s room. I found both the King and Queen on the floor dead.
Your people accused me and sentenced me to the Changeling’s Maze.
I believe they each sent a concoction of their creations to each other that night. To their own downfall.’
‘How can I believe you?’
She shrugs, ‘I’m just a girl, but I believe everything happens for a reason. Maybe I am here to save a Future King.’
She comes close and taps my nose again.
‘That’s you by the way. Your people need you, time for a change! End the suffering, you know how that feels, and so do they.’
‘Who are you?’ I ask, confused, my whole life completely unravelling the moment she entered it.
‘Why would they follow me?’
‘You will understand once you get up there. Let’s go!’
We climb up the side of the castle through the jutting steps on the side like a secret pathway for spies.
We soon enter the castle hallways and see my greatest fear come true. All of the people were part machines like I am. However, theirs were mismatched and horribly done.
‘They had to sell their bodies for money. If they could not afford the high taxes your father set, they had to donate pieces of themselves.’
I was not alone. We were not monsters but survivors.
As if she could read my mind, she pats my arm gently like she was proud of me.
We walk to an entrance to a large courtyard. People have assembled there waiting for me, hearing of my presence.
There were even dogs with mechanical legs, horses with metal mouths and maids with shifting arms that turn from one kind of brush to another.
High lords with arms that shift into large metal shields. There were hundreds of them. I move towards them, drawn by mutual understanding. We were all the same.
They are all waiting for me to step out into the courtyard.
‘Go be a king.’
‘Who are you?’ I turn to her astounded by everything.
She smiles kindly, ‘I’m Kera, and we’ll see each other again, don’t worry.’
A shimmering portal appears behind her; through it, I see a bedroom with clothes strewn all over the floor. Odd objects I have never seen before, but I have not seen many things.
She scratches her head, ‘This was supposed to be a mysterious and epic goodbye exit but now that you’ve seen my room that’s a fail. Kind of messy, I know.’
I laugh for the first time, ‘You are a strange lady, Kera.’
She shrugs, smiling, ‘I know.’
She walks backwards and disappears.
I turn back to my people and walk out towards a new beginning.
‘It’s time for a change.’