by Amanda Cast
The courtyard of the Academy was impressive. It felt open and free. Orbs that were circled by hollow discs floated in random intervals all over the place. They were of every single color imaginable, but they could not make up for the lack of vegetation. It all seemed sterile and uninviting.
Students wearing standard blue robes walked around the court. They were alone, in pairs, and in groups. Many of them were lugging around large tombs that appeared to be arcane in nature. Some were laughing and joking around. Some were clearly stressed in a negative fashion.
“Welcome to the Academy,” the Arch Mage said as he exited the coach. He offered Pandora a hand, but she refused it.
She then went to work on coaxing Serene out of the coach. Once she got her cousin’s attention the girl exited without much fuss. She reached for Topaz and held him close to her tiny chest. He looked as though he had grown over the course of the ride. He was crooning something into her ear. Pandora gave him a small smile and then helped the others down. Rubio decided that since he was a boy he could walk. Star decided that because she was better than Rubio the Arch Mage could be permitted to carry her inside. Emerald snuggled into Pandora’s arms, enjoying her attention.
The Arch Mage looked pleased that he was allowed to hold Star, but she acted more like a haughty cat than an honored dragon. Pandora decided that he was not all that bad, but she kept an eye on him none the less.
Many of the students noticed their leader and were in the process of greeting him when they noticed the dragons and the two girls. Many of them looked beyond awed.
Before Pandora could call Rubio to heal they were surrounded by a semi circle of pushing and milling mage apprentices.
“All right everyone,” the Arch Mage said in an unnaturally loud tone. “Settle down. Yes, I know that it is amazing to see four dragons of such a young age, but if you will be quiet I will introduce you.”
The students gradually began to quiet down. Many had to get the last word of their whispered conversation. When they were properly hushed he continued. “Our Academy has been graced with the presence of Pandora and Serene. They are speakers and the guardians of Star, Rubio, Topaz, and Emerald. I hope that you will treat them all with the respect that they deserve for their strength, skill, and their responsibility.”
Many looked impressed. Some were not quite so impressed.
The mages burst out into a sudden flurry of questions but the Arch Mage quieted them with a hand gesture. “Please, everyone. Our newest arrivals are tired from their journey and need some rest before they can answer any of your questions. Perhaps if you are lucky enough to have either of the Speakers in class they will be more than happy to explain what is they do.”
The apprentices were not satisfied, but they went when the journeymen herded them away. Many of the gray robed mages looked back with a mixture of curiosity and the desire to disobey orders, but they all did as they were told.
“I’ll take you inside, but I will have one my Masters show you to your quarters and have them bring up some food for you and the hatchlings. I have some business to attend to.”
Pandora nodded. “That’s fine. What kind of accommodations will we have?”
“You will have your own bathing and privy room as well as a washing basin and mirror. You’ll have a particularly large room that is suited for six since you will have six in there with you.” He paused and gave Star a covert look her concern. “They do know how to use a privy right?”
“Oh yes, it was one of the first things they learned after hatching,” Pandora said with a bit of hidden pride.
“Well, that is comforting,” he said.
“We’re not barbaric,” Star told him haughtily.
“Oh, I would never accuse you of barbarism,” he said with mock contriteness and a small bow of his head.
“Using the privy is unseemly,” Topaz said mildly. “Dragons are meant to have their droppings outside for everyone to gag at.”
“That is unseemly,” Pandora told him.
The doors to the Academy’s main tower appeared to be ornate. Gold and silver lines traveled over the ebon wood, but closer inspection told Pandora that they were runes used to denote Draconic. It was the language of magic, after all. The door was layered with enchantments that were concreted in the gold. The silver served another purpose, obviously, but Pandora could not begin to guess what it was.
They opened wide to reveal mirrors of a magical variety. Ordinary mirrors were made out of silver, but since enchantments could not hold to silver magic mirrors had to be made out of steel. It was a painfully difficult process, but magic mirrors were not fragile and it took a concentrated effort to break it.
“What kind of mirrors are those?” Pandora asked.
“Oh, well, that’s a bit complicated to explain,” the Arch Mage said. “We’ll simplify it by saying that they allow access to certain parts of the school.”
“Oh… like shadow walk?”
“Yes, only slightly different. It works much like the Centers. Only it has limited access. Students can go through most of the mirrors, but there are some that only Journeymen can go through. There are some that only Teachers and Masters can go through, and there are a couple that only I can go through. Though, I can invite others to join me, but I have to renew the invitation each time. There are some that only certain students can go through as well. That wholly depends on what hall they are assigned to and their gender. Boys cannot go through that one and girls cannot go through that one.”
“Oh,” Pandora said and nudged her cousin closer to the center of the room where a black clad man with gold trim stood waiting for them.
“Greetings,” he said to everyone, not bothering to distinguish anyone in the small party.
“Hello,” Pandora said mildly.
“Greetings, Master Torrence,” the Arch Mage said warmly. “I’m glad that you have volunteered for this little excursion.”
“It is no trouble,” he said, but his lips were pressed tightly together.
“Oh, I’m glad to hear that. Anyhow, these lovely young ladies and their charges are in need of a place to live.”
“Of course,” he agreed. “I have their identification pendants here.” He pulled out six medallions on thick golden chains. He handed them all to Pandora. She set down Emerald and doled them out, putting them on everyone’s neck. Even Serene’s.
She hefted up Emerald again and grunted quietly with the effort.
“How long have you been expecting us?” Pandora asked.
“Oh, a wind message was sent to us as soon as you agreed. I suppose we got it an hour ago. It was more than enough time to prepare for you. Right this way,” he said motioning to a mirror.
Pandora frowned at it skeptically, but Rubio was not the least bit shy of it. He simply bull rushed right through and the mirror gave a ripple. Pandora nudged Serene through. It was being to get to Pandora that Serene was so quiet. Serene was never quiet. Pandora then set down Emerald and urged her through. Emerald gave Pandora an uncertain look before she stepped into the rippling metal.
The girl held out her hands for Star. The Arch Mage handed the blue and silver dragon over and then Pandora walked through the magic mirror as well. Instead of the usual magic cling she was used to she felt nothing. It was as if she were walking through a doorway. A doorway that had no enchantments.
It was a pleasant but unsettling change.
The hallway she entered was lined with doors. Girls were standing in doorways of rooms that probably were not their own chatting away. There were not many of them to Pandora’s reckoning. She did know that the Academy was the only coed magic school in the Imperium. She never believed that there were many girls that actually attended.
Some of them looked back and before they knew it every door was opened and staring at the dragons and the two girls. The master mage might as well not have been there.
Pandora felt uncomfortable.
The Master Mage ignored the girls. He obviously did not care that Pandora, Serene, and the four hatchlings were being ogled at, and why should he? Pandora had heard no order for him to keep the others in the dorm respectful or, at the very least, to uphold etiquette.
“This will be your room,” he said and waved his hand over the door. “It will respond to any of your hands if you’ll just wave them like so… good, Pandora. Serene?”
Serene gave the man a blank stair. Pandora took Topaz from her and dropped him onto the ground. “Serene, please,” she said and reached over and forced Serene’s limp hand to wave in front of the door. “Good enough?” she asked.
The mage’s face tightened into a look of distaste, but he nodded. “Breakfast will be served at seven. Please do not be too late. Breakfast ends at eight. Then you are to go to the administrations building and discuss what courses you are to take. For now,” he snapped his fingers and their luggage appeared in the middle of the floor of their—as promised—large room. “Unpack and rest up. Dinner will be in an hour. However, if the hatchlings are in need you make take them down to the kitchens for whatever service they require.”
“We’ll need aloe oil,” Pandora told him.
“What was that?” he asked.
“Aloe oil. It’s for their hides. They grow so fast that their hide itches horribly. We soaked them in it good this morning, but it has been a while. We’ll need instructions to the kitchen as well. The hatchlings are being patient, but they are starving. They haven’t eaten since this morning either, and neither have we.”
“I will arrange for the oil. The kitchens are just off of the dining facilities. They’re the third mirror from the left. Understand?”
Pandora nodded. “I understand.”
“Good. Have a good evening, ladies.”