by Amanda Cast
A Time for Fighting
When the hatchlings were oiled and put back to bed Serene pulled Pandora into the bathing room and cast a spell over the door. “How long are you going to act like a spoiled brat?” she asked.
Pandora stared at her.
“Don’t give me that blank look. You always give me that blank look!” She stamped her foot angrily onto the tile floor. Her golden hair flounced ridiculously.
“I’m not acting like a spoiled brat,” Pandora told her. “Just because I’m not acting like you’re used to doesn’t mean I’m spoiled. I never wanted to be here. I’m not a mage. I don’t belong. I’m here because of you.”
“That’s a hurtful thing to say!”
“Is it? Is it hurtful to say that I’m here because I didn’t want you to die? Is that hurtful?”
Serene hesitated. “No, I suppose not.”
Pandora sighed. “Serene, I’m trying to make the best of this. I don’t have the money to buy books. I can’t learn if I don’t have the books. I’m not like you. I can’t sit there and listen and soak it all up. I don’t even know if I can do this books or no.”
“You don’t have to try and be a mage, Pandora. You don’t have to learn about magic either if you don’t want to. You can just take combat classes and learn some things about buff magic.”
“Yes, you know… something to augment that insane strength of yours more… something to toughen your skin and blood vessels and ways to make you faster. You know… the things that mages use to stand a change against people like you. You’d be unstoppable if you could use it. I have faith in you. Why don’t you go talk to the councilor about that.”
Pandora nodded. “You’re right, Serene.”
“Of course I am,” Serene said. “Do you feel better?”
Pandora nodded again.
Serene hugged her cousin. “I’m sorry, Pandora. I really am. I know you don’t have anything against mages, but I know you feel all alone. I do too.”
“At least you’ve made friends.”
Serene nodded. “I’ve also made an enemy, I think.”
“Chloe,” Pandora agreed. “She either wants to kill you or date you.”
“Or both,” Serene said and was awarded with a smirk from Pandora. It was as good as a giggle.
“That’s disgusting,” Pandora told her, but she continued to smirk. “I’ll keep an eye on her. If she tries to touch you I’ll have her on the ground faster than she can sneeze.”
Serene giggled and nodded. “Thanks. It’s good to know that you have my back. I have yours too. Never forget that.”
“I won’t,” Pandora promised.
“I think we’re done here,” Serene said. “I have a class at one, but you can show me where you have been today. I didn’t get to do any exploring. I just chatted with Terabeth about some things. You know.”
“Not really,” Pandora admitted. “I don’t know what girls our age talk about. I think I’m too interested in knocking out people’s teeth.”
“Oh! There is a spell for that too.”
“Oh, I forgot. I have a class at eleven. I managed to get into another combat class with my tirade. Do you want to come and watch?”
“Sure,” Serene agreed and lifted the enchantment on the door so that it would open. They checked on the hatchlings and then left the room. Chloe was standing outside of her door about to enter. She glanced back and when she realized who she was seeing she glared. She waved her hand over the door and it opened. She disappeared inside.
“She has serious problems,” Serene said. “And what is with her eyes? Terabeth says that she uses enchantments to look like that. I think she looks like a UD reject.”
Pandora shrugged. “It’s none of our business.”
Serene agreed grudgingly and the pair headed down the hallway to the mirror. “Anyway, can you believe this place?” she asked. “There are mirrors to everything. Did you know that they’re permanent enchantments? The knowledge on how to make them is long gone, and if you go to newer parts of the Academy you have to take the stairs. Nuts huh? We live in an old boy’s dorm for the security.”
Pandora gave an acknowledging grunt.
“Do you even care?”
“I just don’t have anything to say,” Pandora told her.
“Oh, well, anyway… isn’t this place fascinating? I wish I was able to visit it on different pretenses, but all considering.”
“It isn’t exactly written that we can’t enjoy our time here, Serene,” Pandora pointed out and walked into the mirror. “We just have to behave.”
“I don’t know if your outburst counts as behaving.”
“Well, maybe my actions will be separate. I know you want to see Uncle Lindal.” Pandora sighed. “I’m sorry if my outburst ruined your chances to see him at the holiday.”
They took a series of mirrors and got lost once, but they managed to find the practice field. No one was there so Serene and Pandora played a game of tag while they waited. Eventually three mages in blue robes showed up. They were all boys and they eyed Serene with appreciation and smirked at Pandora condescendingly.
Serene gave them a contemptuous glare, but they only smirked at her.
“Hello, ladies,” one of the boys said with a swagger and a grin to back up the tone.
“Hello,” the cousins said together.
“I think you two should head out. There is a class going to be held here. It’s not for little girls.”
“Well, it’s a good thing we’re not little girls,” Serene said with her hands on her hips. Her legs were braced apart and she leaned forward with the words.
One of the boys with sandy blond hair rolled his eyes. He was scrawny, but the pathetic hairs on his chin gave him away as a pubescent boy. “I don’t think you girls can handle it. Especially you, Shortstack,” he said to Serene.
“It’s a good thing she’s not in the class then,” Pandora said, putting a calming hand on her cousin’s shoulder. “I am.”
“Oooo,” the blocky sidekick of the group said and the others jeered and laughed with him.
“Go back home little girls.”
Pandora snorted. “How about you put your money where your mouths are,” she said with an uncharacteristic grin. “I’ll take on all three of you. What do you say?”
“Please, we’d eat your lunch, little girl,” the leader said.
“I think you’re afraid of me,” she taunted. “Not afraid of a little girl, are you?” she asked.
“I say we give her a try,” the blocky boy said. “Teach her that she doesn’t belong here.”
Pandora side stepped around them once and then walked into one of the circles. “Whenever you’re ready.”
“Who is going to make the barrier?”
“Serene can,” Pandora said and motioned for them to come into the circle.
“What are you? Twelve?” the blocky boy smirked.
“Actually, I am. And you’re going to get your ass kicked by me,” she told him and saw Serene’s face go into a big o before she hurried and cast the barrier.
“No turning back now, little girl,” the leader smirked.
“I wasn’t the one trying to turn back,” she told him and then lunged at him; her hand went for his throat. It connected and she lifted him off of the ground and threw him against the barrier. Before the boys could respond to her attack she spun around and connected with the sandy haired boys face with her elbow. He fell like a heap. She balanced and shifted for a kick to the blocky boy’s chest. He reached up to intercept but she was too quick. He staggered back. Before he could recover she was on him.
Pandora punched in him in the nose and he fell back, clutching his nose. A punch barely missed the back of her head and snagged her ear. Unlike the sword there was no sting, just the rubbing of flesh. She caught his fist and threw him over her shoulder on top of the blocky boy.
“Done?” she asked moving back so that her eyes were on all three of them.
It took a moment, but Pandora noticed that she was not the center of their attention. There was a black robed mage standing not too far away and Serene was hastily undoing her barrier.
“What is the meaning of this?” the master mage asked.
“Master Kline,” one of them stuttered.
Pandora turned and bowed respectfully to the mage. “They did not believe that I belonged in a combat class.”
“And maybe you don’t,” he said. “Humility is part of being a warrior.”
“With all due respect, Master Mage, you are a mage.”
“And apparently so are you. You are in this Academy aren’t you?”
Pandora frowned and said to Serene in Draconic, “Why does everyone want me to be a mage?”
“They might be crazy,” Serene said with a smirk. They spoke too quickly for the mage to understand.
“Just because you are a Speaker does not mean you may be disrespectful,” Master Kline said dryly.
Pandora took a deep breath. “You might be right. I do not belong here. I am not a mage.”
Master Kline walked around her and she could feel the sticky fingers of magic prickling at her skin and at her insides. It touched intangible places. “If you are not a mage, why do I feel magic in you?”
“I do not know,” Pandora said. “But having the power to be a mage does not make me one.”
Master Kline nodded. “No more fighting before the instructor arrives. Do you understand?”
“Good. You three, go to the healers,” he ordered and the boys staggered away.
“Off with the swagger, on with the stagger,” Serene gloated. “You kicked so much ass.”
Pandora gave a smug smirk. “Yeah, I know.”
Serene shifted and fidgeted. She then pushed Pandora and cried “Tag! You’re it!” She darted off.
The game lasted even after others arrived. Some of them even joined in with them. It turned into a large group before the instructor arrived. “Well! Looks like everyone is warmed up.” He saw Serene doubled over and winded from all of her running. “Some of us are a little too tired.”
“Not…in…class,” she managed and dramatically fell over. Everyone laughed and then gathered up.
“Where are Gregor, Blane, and Jacin?”
“There was a mild accident,” Pandora explained.
She grinned at him. “I’m Pandora. I’m a new student of yours.”
“You’re one of the Speakers. Well, welcome.” He thankfully was not wearing a black robe. It was comforting. “You’re the first person to show up for the first time wearing appropriate clothing. Is the blond girl your cousin?”
“Well, if she’s going to hang around let’s put her to some use. Does she make decent barriers?”
“Excellent. Call her over and the lesson will begin.”
“I’m glad you’re feeling better,” Serene said. She was holding Pandora’s hand and swinging it like a little girl would swing her mother’s hand. “You really did kick ass.”
“Well… all those times your father was beating me up I did learn something,” she said. “Anyway, if I stood half a change against him they stood no chance against me.”
“You should swagger,” she said. “You deserver a good swagger.”
Pandora managed a jerky swagger but quickly fell out of it. “Thanks for helping in class.”
“Well, he seemed impressed with you and not so happy with his students. You did go easy on them, didn’t you?”
Pandora shrugged. “I didn’t want to hurt them like I did the other three. At least there is no permanent damage.”
Serene shrugged. “We probably shouldn’t mention this in front of the hatchlings.”
“Agreed.” Pandora sighed. “I do feel better though. It was nice to get some of this aggression out. It was building all through that ride.”
Serene nodded. “The sunshine feels wonderful though.”
“It does,” Pandora agreed. “We should take the hatchlings out for a small walk before they eat.”
“Hey, Serene!” a voice shouted from behind them. Serene and Pandora dropped hands and turned to see who was calling. It was Terabeth. She was panting by the time she reached the cousins. “Hello, Pandora.”
“Hi, Terabeth,” Pandora said politely.
“Would you like to join us for lunch today?” she asked.
“I’ve got to take care of the hatchlings.”
“Lunch ends at two. I have a class at one,” she said. “Come one Serene, you have a class at one too.”
Pandora frowned thoughtfully. “Hey, Serene, you just go. I’ll take care of the hatchlings since you did it before the class.”
“That sounds fair. Thanks, Pandora.”
“Well, you have a class, I don’t. I have to check on the status of those tutors of mine. I’ll see you later, Serene, Terabeth.”
Serene hugged Pandora and walked off. She heard something about sweaty and gross. Pandora never felt more alive.