Sunday, June 8, 2008

Chapter 1

by Amanda Cast

Slightly Lost

The Temple District of the sprawling human city of Vestron was all a bustle. People shifted and flowed through the roads between different temples to worship different gods depending on what they wanted. Children milled around trying to pick the building they wanted to enter. The buildings varied in size, structure, and materials. The streets were winding and twisted. It was a maze of chaos that could rattle the mind of someone who grew up out of the way of such a place.

Pandora, a quiet girl of twelve, stood to the side of all the movement and excitement of temple attendants. Her light brown hair, though recently brushed and washed, was matted behind the nape of her neck and she was pulling the knots out calmly as people rushed by her place on the walks. Her father left her outside of one of the temples so that he could pray for a good job to provide for his family. He’d recently been laid off from his job building homes in the Terrace District.

Pandora’s mother had insisted that her strange, quiet daughter go with him and perhaps find a god. They were always looking for strong people that were steady. Pandora was both strong and steady and far wiser than her namesake, but she was also dull and plodded through life as though she was a swayed backed mule who was retired to the fields. She saw little in the world around her other than what she felt was important to see.

The girl heaved a heavy sigh and trudged away from the temple. She couldn’t remember the god’s name. She doubted it was really important and she doubted even more that the deity even existed. Pandora doubted a lot of things. The theology and philosophy of religion always escaped her. Gods seemed to have little interest in the day to day workings of man anyhow.

Why would they care if her father was employed or not? He’d be better off asking the God of Justice, whoever he or she might be, for help. She shrugged at herself and shuffled along some more until she reached the Temple of Combat. It was more aptly an arena, but men would say many things to justify their stupidity.

At least it was volunteers only and not slaves from all over the world and criminals, as it was in the other area in the town. She stood outside, watching the entrance thoughtfully for a time—her mind moving slowly over the idea of going in.

A slight girl who could have been her age or younger caught her eye. Where Pandora was plain and oafish, the strange girl was lithe and vibrant. She had long shining golden hair that caught the sun and played with the colors of light. Her eyes, from the distance, shone as light colors can only shine and they were noticeably exotic in shape. Pandora couldn’t remember seeing anything like her before, but noticed the elongated ears that weren’t quite pointy, but were close enough to be elfin. Perhaps a half-elf?

Pandora’s curiosity was rarely piqued. Caution didn’t seem to be a problem, so Pandora followed the girl, wanting to get a closer look at her. She dove and weaved through people, occasionally bumping into them. The people smiled at her and patted her on the head affectionately.

The strange girl must have plenty of friends, Pandora mused slowly, following at a slower but more direct route. She could guess the girl’s final destination was the Temple of Combat. It was wide, squat, and loud. The Arena Temple, as Pandora referred to it, looked very much like an arena and sounded like one too. It was so incredibly noisy. Pandora did not like noise. It hurt her head and jumbled her thoughts.

The sounds of cheering and clashing of metal against metal vibrated under her skin. Her brow furrowed and her eyes narrowed. A slow shiver edged through her body as she edged through the crowd. Blood thirsty heathens, she thought after slowly assembling the words in her head.

Pandora was almost as tall as most of the adults that were crammed along the rails and managed to look over their shoulders, but she could not see much. She could hear the swords clashing and the sound as it struck armor. When the cry of pain was issued from the loser, there were cheers and groans from the winners and losers of bets.

The girl felt disgusted. The black and red d├ęcor felt oppressive and made her breath feel constricted. Black warriors and animals were depicted on red walls. It reminded her of fresh and dried blood. Tapestries thick and heavy depicted the sword and glaive of the god, whoever it was. People were crowded along the rails and it smelled of sweat and rotting flesh. The smell clung to the wet lining in her nose and throat, and the sounds rang in her ears and crawled under her skin.

Her head began to hurt and the thought of the death that collected in the arena was enough to make her decide that she had over stayed her welcome. She enjoyed combat, but there were better things in life than killing. Combat could also be used to protect.

Tired of the gods and their inane worship she wandered around for something else to occupy her mind. Before she realized it her slow trundle brought her outside of the Temple District and into a part of the city she did not recognize. She frowned and looked behind her, but she could not tell from which way she had come.

The buildings were all tall and loomed over the narrow streets. Part of her hated the city, but Pandora was not one to have a passionate hate for an inanimate object. She was also far too detached to care much about what people around her did. So long as no one was harmed her nerves were fine and her blood cool.

She sighed and started tugging at the knots in her hair. She listened. In a city so large, you would think that people would be everywhere, but people gravitated to the main areas. Even the roads with frequent traffic were not nearly as congested as they might have been. Magic really was a wondrous thing.

She wondered where the portals were in this area of the town. It was a well kept area that she could not quite remember ever being in before. Pandora rationalized that she probably had not. There were some places poor children did not go intentionally.

There were large trees lining the walk ways. They grew shallowly, Pandora suspected, and were sustained by magic. The bark glowed subtly and the leaves had a purple and blue sheen. The bark was smooth to the eye with subtle patters in shades of gray.

Elaborate poles snaked upward into stylized leaves that held flower carved glow lights. There were matching trash cans and fencing. Everything was uniformed, neat, and only one piece of lonely papyrus fluttered in the air, flew for a few feet, and then landed again.

A woman was walking her dog and was dressed in rich linens and silks. They were subdued colors of blue and green. They comforted Pandora and set her mind at ease. She let out a happy sigh and for a moment forgot what she was going to do.

“Oh yes,” she said dreamily and listened again. She walked for a little bit longer and then heard the sounds of children laughing. She decided to follow it. There was music, circus music. She could tell because of the upbeat waltz created by instruments she could never hope to identify.

The music lifted her heart and put a spring in her step. It was not much faster than the one before, but it was a noticeable difference to her. Before long she came to a large fair ground. Luckily for her money was not required on entrance, because she did not have any. She reached for her shoulders to see if the straps to her bag were there. It was so light she often forgot about it. Sometimes she found nice things that were lost and made good money returning misplaced items or selling them when the original owner couldn’t be found. It helped pay the rent and get food.

The smells of popped corn and roasting meats made her stomach grumble. Children were running circles around their parents and caretakers, begging for funnel cakes and cotton candy. Pandora sighed as she watched one family. The little girl was dressed in a pink linen dress trimmed with cream lace. She had bouncing red curls and sparkling green eyes. Her little brother grasped her hand tightly.

Pandora wondered what it would be like to have a little brother grasping for her hands.

Further in she heard something about a dragon and paid a bit more attention. She saw bars raised up high and a red, spiked hill setting over the tents and rides. There was a blue one some ways away from it. She smiled and strolled casually over. Many of the people that gathered round looked in wonderment and fear.

Only one other person did not seemed phased by the dragon. It was the elf girl Pandora had seen earlier. Pandora eased over to stand beside her. The elf girl was so much tinier than she thought. Her head did not even make it to Pandora’s shoulder. When Pandora turned to look back at the dragon the red beast had lowered its head and stared at the two of them.

The dragon was standing on four legs that were thick and powerful for launching off of the ground. Its wings were flat against its back, but the hide between the bones was thicker than any leather Pandora had ever had the honor of seeing. Her nostrils exuded a then gray smoke that formed tendrils in the air before dissipating. The skin flared out as it exhaled, but the scales on the flesh were still evident.

Pandora looked calmly into the swirling red and orange eyes of the dragon and then calmly into the dragon’s toothy maw that could have eaten her house. “Hello,” said the Dragon.

<Chapter 2>

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