by Amanda Cast
Pandora and Serene were late for dinner. Serene waited by the mirror while Pandora scanned the crowd for Oola. It was Oola who spotted her and waved to get Pandora’s attention. The girl gave a genuine smile in Oola’s direction. “Come meet her before you go with your friends?” Pandora asked.
Serene thought about this for a moment and gave her friends an anxious look before she agreed. Serene and Pandora approached Oola and her friends. “Hi, Oola,” Pandora said with a shy smile. Anxiety suddenly gripped her. What if Oola’s friends didn’t like her?
“Hey, Pandora, we were starting to wonder if you didn’t want to eat with us.”
“Oh, there was an emergency with the hatchlings. Oola, I’d like you to meet my cousin, Serene. She’ll be eating somewhere else, but I thought…” Pandora frowned at herself. She was babbling just like Serene.
“Hello,” Serene said with a bright smile and a small curtsey. Her eyes were still red and her nose still a little worse for the wear from the crying, but Pandora thought she was still beautiful.
“Hi,” Oola said kindly. “Are you all right?”
Serene nodded. “Like Pandora said, there was an emergency with the hatchlings. Anyway, they’re waiting and I promised. I’ll talk to you later, all right?”
Oola smiled at her and nodded. The group of quiet onlookers waved too.
“She’s very pretty,” Oola said.
Pandora nodded. “She is. She looks very much like my mother.”
“Oh, well, that’s nice. I’m sure she takes something from her father,” Oola remarked. “Anyway, let’s introduce you, shall we?”
Pandora nodded agreeably.
“Everyone, this is Pandora. She and Serene are Speakers. Isn’t that amazing?” she asked. Some of them smiled and one of them looked baffled. “Anyway, sorry… Pandora, this is Mack—or Mackendean—as his mother named him.” Mack made a disgusted face. “You can see how he gets made fun of.”
Pandora nodded solemnly and gave Mack an apologetic look.
“That is Diajeer. He is tribal too, but he’s from a different area than me,” Oola explained. He gave a small salute by pressing two fingers to his lips. He was much darker than Oola, almost distractingly so. He reminded her a lot of the Underdark elves except that his hair was dark and curly instead of flowing and white. He also appeared much more civilized. Underdark elves were often described as feral, and Diajeer was one of the most cultured people she had ever seen. The only thing that made her look twice were the puckered half sphere scars that decorated his brow in one line.
“This is Greg,” Oola said with more reserve. “Greg White, actually.” She gave Pandora an uncertain smile. “He’s not from around here.”
Greg gave her an appraising look and nodded to her.
“He can be a bit grumpy,” Mack explained. “He’s only been here for a couple of days. Most people think he’s insane.”
“I’m not insane,” Greg said. “I don’t belong here.”
“Neither does she,” Oola told Greg. “The mages forced her to be here.”
Diajeer eyed Pandora and leaned closer as she was piling food onto her plate. She hesitated in her actions and looked at him uncertainly. He said in a heavily accented voice, “Is this true?”
Perhaps Oola exaggerated a lot. Pandora nodded. “My cousin and I were both…coerced into attending the Academy.”
“That is a shame,” Diajeer said. “I was much pleased to be here.”
“I imagine most everyone is pleased to be here.”
“I’d rather be home,” Greg grumbled and pushed around some noodles on his plate.
“It isn’t that bad,” Oola said as she rolled her eyes. “I mean, your world doesn’t even have magic. How could it possibly be as awesome as this one? I bet you don’t even have dragons where you’re from.”
Greg frowned. “Dragons are mythical creatures,” he told her.
“No, they aren’t.”
“Look, you might believe the story some guy told you that he is a dragon and that shit, but he isn’t. Even if they were real they wouldn’t run around in human form. That’s just stupid.”
“Tell him,” Oola demanded.
Pandora frowned, knowing that she was speaking to her. “You’re wrong, Greg,” Pandora told him quietly. “I currently have four dragons in my care. They are a bit unique, but they are still dragons.”
“Whatever, you’re all crazy.”
“Could you introduce one of them to him, Pandora?” Mack asked. “Just to make him shut up. Oola has been arguing with him about it since he first arrived. He stubbornly won’t believe anything we told him or that the mages told him.”
Oola whispered into Pandora’s ear, “He was made Mack’s roommate.”
Pandora made an understanding noise and said, “The hatchlings are currently in trouble and aren’t allowed anything that might be construed as fun. We’re going to have to get their food and take it up to them because of their behavior.”
“What did they do?” Oola asked.
“They destroyed most of my clothes and half of Serene’s. They also dug through our jewelry boxes and almost destroyed Serene’s enchanted box. A lot of it was her mother’s and she’s quite upset.”
“Yes,” Oola snapped suddenly. “It’s enchanted so that it can hold more, you twit.”
Greg glared at her. “You don’t have to be a rude bitch.”
“You’re not supposed to use that kind of lewd language,” Diajeer said with a frown.
“I don’t care. I’m sick of how she’s acting.”
Mack rolled his eyes. “Just relax. She’s very empathetic and between you and Pandora you’re making her upset and edgy.”
“I don’t mean to upset anyone,” Pandora said.
“No!” Oola exclaimed, “It’s just that you’re hurting from what the dragons did and that’s bothering me. It’s not you, honest. “
Greg rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”
“If you don’t like us why are you sitting with us?” Oola asked.
Pandora took this time to eat in peace since she was not the center of attention. She watched with mild interest.
“I am sitting with you because I have no where else to go,” he said. “What do you want from me? I don’t belong here.”
“Well, boohoo,” Oola jeered. “You think you’re the only one with problems in this world? You’re lucky that the Academy took you in. They could have left you on the streets.”
“All their going to do is run experiments on me,” he told her. “That’s what my people would do if magic using freaks like you showed up.”
“That is uncalled for,” Mack said warningly.
Obviously Greg was in the mood to ignore warnings. “What? You think I’m a freak. You think I’m a freak because I don’t have any of this ‘magical’ energy that you guys talk about. And what is with this ring?” he asked flashing it around that table. “I have to wear to understand I word you freaks say.”
“Stop calling us freaks,” Oola half shrieked causing some of the surrounding people to turn and stare at them.
“Well, you are freaks,” he said hotly. “Look at you and Diajeer here. You both have some freaky tribal markings all over you that you cut into your bodies. Look at that girl. She looks like a fuckin’ Amazon.” He motioned to Pandora emphatically as he said it.
“What is an Amazon?” Pandora asked.
“An Amazon, you idiot, is a woman warrior.”
“Then I suppose I am one,” she said with a pleased nod. “Well, I will be when I’m technically a woman.”
“What the fuck ever,” he said and rolled his eyes. They were brown, but different from Pandora’s. “You probably can’t even fight.”
The people at the table went still and stared at Pandora with wonder. Greg looked shaken. “Whatever,” he whispered. “I’m out of here.” He struggled to get his legs free of the bench and then stormed out of the room.
“Adolescence,” Oola said grimly. “I really can’t stand him.”
“I think he has a lot of aggression to get out,” Pandora said.
“Well, I don’t know what they want of him here, honestly. I can’t cast magic. He has no power or ties to the magic. Not everyone has it. People like him aren’t even permitted to enter the tower unless they’re someone high up, and even that is rare,” Mack mused.
Pandora shrugged. “He’s probably right. They probably want to find out how he ticks and where he came from. It is a bizarre story, but I believe him.”
“You do?” Oola asked, shocked.
Pandora nodded. “He was upset. I don’t blame him. Mack, perhaps you should talk to him. There are things for him to do and play student that don’t involve much magic. I’m taking combat classes. I’m sure he could do that same, but I would imagine that he would need to go somewhere else and get away from the mages.”
“Why?” Oola asked.
“I don’t trust them.”
Diajeer shrugged. “I don’t trust them much either. You hardly touched your food. You should eat.”
Pandora nodded and focused on her food. She listened to the people around her talk about their lives. She found it interesting to hear about the lives of the tribal people. Unlike Oola, there were no dragons living with Diajeer’s tribe. There were plenty near, but they were mostly earth and fire dragons. The more interesting dragons tended to live within the dragon culture, and earth dragons rarely ventured forth from the ground.
“Once, long ago there was a dragon that felt compelled to meld into the world. She and her mate left the eggs with my tribe and we raised them the best we could in the ways of the earth, but that was long before I was born, and the younger dragons would come up to help. Earth dragons are much different than Kilooli is.”
Oola nodded. “Earth dragons feel bound by duty and honor to always tend to the land. They give themselves wholly to it when the time to do so drives them.”
Pandora vaguely remembered Serene mentioning something about earth dragons and their devotion to the land.
“I think I should go talk to Greg,” Mack said. “I’m sorry.”
“No, you should probably tell him what Pandora said,” Diajeer said. “I’ll go with you. They’re about to clean up. It was a pleasure, Pandora. I hope to see you again.”
Pandora smiled at him.
When the boys were gone Oola said, “Aren’t they something else? Anyway, I’m glad you could make it. Do you need any help getting the food up to the hatchlings. I would love to help.”
“I’m afraid you might fawn over them,” Pandora said, “And they are being punished. Perhaps another time?”
Oola looked disappointed, but nodded. “All right. Anyway, is that all you’re doing?”
“No, I took their gold away from them,” Pandora said.
Oola gasped. “You didn’t!”
“I did,” Pandora said somberly.
“Kilooli loved his gold. You couldn’t have him part from it,” Oola told her. “I mean, he was always drenched in it. His bead was made out of it.”
Pandora gave a small laugh. “Well, I got the idea because they were trying to take our gold. We can’t permit thievery.”
Oola nodded. “It is best to nip it in the bud now. Anyway, I think Serene is waiting for you. You’d better go.”