I had been beautiful once… I suppose I’m beautiful still. But by the time I woke up they had already covered me in jewels and gold and ivory, put me on a steel rack and polished me to an unnatural gleam. Obviously I wasn’t beautiful enough for them. Encrusted with gaudy rocks and metal, I watched the crowd as I was wheeled out, the auctioneer telling my ‘story’. He upsold me as being fitted with ‘the most precious gemstones and genuine ivory, carved by the finest craftsmen alive’, and that I would be ‘the beautiful, perfectly unique centrepiece of any collection’. I remember the crowd murmuring in shadows, the air of excess filling the room like a stinking fog. The bidding soon began - one hundred, hundred fifty, two, three, five, seven - soon the auctioneer went silent, simply pointing at numbers in the crowd. I’m not sure how much I was ‘worth’. I don’t want to know.
I spent the rest of the night stored off to the side, among paintings and sculpture and God knows what else. Even after the auction itself ended, as I sat in the dark under a sheet, I could hear the after-party down the hall. Hollow laughter and quiet music and muted chatter, pretentious to the nth degree. They sounded so confident in themselves. It was horribly intimidating.
Later some men came in, wrapped me up tight, put me to a crate, and wheeled me away somewhere else. The movers weren’t gentle with me. There was movement and talking, some dusty rays of light peeking through the spaces between the boards - and then it all went dark, muffled. It was claustrophobic in there, like I was put in a coffin too early; I felt like screaming, but nobody would hear.
I’m not sure how long I was in transit, but eventually I was unloaded and unwrapped, set in front of the one who bought me. He was old and sharp looking, with leering eyes like a vulture and the coldest hands I’ve ever, ever felt. His very presence was terrifying and inhumanly cruel as he inspected the precious ivory and gemstones that adorned me, his breath somehow both careless and greedy as he laughed with the men that took me from the box. His ‘morbid antiquity’ was what he called me. I was chilled down to my bones.
Soon he decided that he had better things to do, and had me set in a corner in the frigid room, among his gallery of expensive things that deserved better. I remember a painting of a rowboat on a riverbank, with two children, a boy and a girl, walking along the other shore. For some reason that stuck with me - it makes me want to cry, to think something so innocent was owned by that man. The entire gallery was like a crypt, a hideous chamber packed things that would be better off dead and buried. It was the darkest place I’ve ever been in, and at the same time it was lit with the most tasteful fluorescent lighting I’d ever seen.
Time passed and I was moved to a big, vaulted room with chandeliers and tables, put up in front of a stage and podium. That night the man had invited dozens of ‘his associates’ to wine and dine on a whim. I remember the man was complimented on his taste in decor by a nasty, witchy looking woman in a red dress. She looked right at me. She knew I heard. I hated her.
I hated everyone in that room.
After that horrid ordeal he had me put back in that corner of his gallery, where I stayed for God knows how long. I was there for too long. More than a few days, maybe weeks. After a long while I could hear voices echoing down the hallway. I recognized the man’s voice instantly, it made me nauseous to hear - but there was also a woman. She seemed warmer, almost familiar to me. If it wasn’t for the man’s voice I would have almost felt relief; by the time they finally turned on the lights I was shaking hard enough to rattle the stand.
She seemed so familiar. I couldn’t place her face, but I knew her. I definitely knew her from before this horrible time. She looked heartbroken when she saw what had become of me, and got right to work at unhooking my spine and ribs and arms from the stand. She helped me shake off the jewellery and took the rubies out of my eye sockets, and the crown from my skull. If I had skin it would probably be bruised from the weight of it all. I still have marks on my bones.
I can’t really remember what happened after that. I remember holding the woman’s hand and being led at a dead run down a hallway. I was led down some stairs and outside and then I was in the Library.
My saviour stayed with me for a long while. She’s something like my guardian angel; she got me clothes and helped me find a place for myself, and helped me learn to take care of myself after what I’d been through. She introduced me to the Hand, and her allies there who helped her find me and break me out. I owe everything to them, really; the Hand saved my life.
And now, I’m going to try and save yours.