by Amanda Cast
“I don’t think I like my subconscious,” Pandora muttered when she woke up. Topaz was lying beside her on the bed, or perhaps it was more half on top of her. She reached for his head a weak and clumsy hand. She could remember no time in her life when she felt this horrible.
Topaz woke from his sleep when he felt her shift. He met her hand and rubbed against it. “You’re awake, Mother.”
“Yes, I am,” she said gently and smiled at him. “I see your wing is better. I’m sorry for breaking it.”
“You should have just let me kill her,” Topaz said.
Pandora sighed and rubbed under his eyes. He crooned with pleasure. “No, I couldn’t let that happen,” she said softly. “Please don’t think of it anymore.”
“I can’t help it,” he whined and rubbed against her hand. “I love you. I don’t want you to die. I couldn’t leave you alone. What if that crazy bitch came after you?”
“Topaz! I know that Serene and I don’t talk like that around you.”
“But it was Oola,” Topaz said in panic. He realized that he tattled and hastily defended her by saying, “She was very upset.”
“I’m glad she came to see me,” Pandora said, “But I’ll have to talk to her about how she talks to you—or rather, around you.” Pandora closed her eyes. She felt tired already and so terribly weak.
“Are you all right, Mother?” Topaz asked. His body swayed with worry and the tip of his tail twitched.
“I’ll be fine. I just have to regain my strength,” Pandora said. “How many days was I out?”
“Three,” he said and then his face lit up as though he had an idea. “Healer!” he called.
One of the journeymen walked in. He was only around eighteen but he carried himself with a commanding air. “I’m not a servant to summon,” he started and then saw Pandora and his expression changed to that of relief. “It’s good to see you awake, Miss Pandora. I’ll have some food brought up for you right away,” he said and then left.
A master entered a short time later. “Miss Pandora, I’m glad to hear you’re awake. Topaz there would not leave your side until you were, he claimed.”
“I’d like him to stay longer,” Pandora said and gave him an affection but weak pat on the head. Her hand fell limply to the side after she was done and she sighed.
“You need to eat and regain your strength,” he said. “It might take a while for the amount of energy you’re used to having to return to you.” He eyed Topaz as though he was a nescience.
Pandora had no strength left to change her posture on the bed as that of a protective one. Topaz hissed at him. “Stop upsetting Mother,” he ordered.
“You nearly killed a student. I just can’t trust you in this room.”
“She had it coming,” he said tensing. “And I can’t trust to leave Mother alone with the likes of you.” He hissed again and shifted as though he were preparing himself for an attack.
“Stop, Topaz. Please. Don’t rile up the healers.” Her tone was firm, but the power of her voice simply was not there.
“Please, Pandora, save your strength. We have some broth coming up for you. It isn’t much, but after several days of not eating your stomach might not be able to handle much more.” He looked anxious. “We might have to wait for your cousin to get back to give it to you though. Things aren’t as safe as they used to be.”
“What do you mean?” Pandora asked.
“People have been getting sick,” Topaz explained. “Their magic and potion curatives aren’t working.” The tip of his tail twitched.
“That, and Topaz won’t let anyone but her close to you. If they have so much as a slightly elevated temperature or blood shot eyes he won’t let them without ten feet of you.” He scowled at him. “We don’t go anywhere near them anymore anyhow.”
“Why not?” Pandora asked, genuinely startled.
“Because,” he said, annoyed, “It is a foreign disease. We have a foreign boy taking care of it. His name is Greg. He is the reason there is illness in here. He has been taking care of the sick. So far he is doing rather well. He says that he did not bring over a lethal strain.”
“You aren’t even trying,” Topaz said in disgust. He knew his mother was thinking it but didn’t have the strength to say it.
“We have been doing research in order to keep Greg’s pathogens, as he calls them, to himself. We do not understand what he is talking about half the time. These are things he grew up. Myth, if you ask me.”
Topaz snorted. “Just get the food for my mother,” he ordered.
“Do you need to go to the Privy,” another journeyman asked as she walked up behind the healer.
“Yes,” he said. “Will you watch?” he asked.
She nodded and he slid off the bed. He gave the master healer a wary look and headed off to the privy.
“I’m sorry,” she said patiently to Pandora. “He’s been very protective of you. He has been afraid that Chloe would come and try something on you. I hear that Serene can’t even go to class without an escort. Chloe has all but been confined to her rooms. Your friends are ill, but I can tell them that you’re awake if you’d like.”
“I’d like that,” Pandora all but whispered and tried to move her fingers. All she managed was a pathetic twitch.
Her eyes flew open when she felt Topaz getting back onto the bed. She must have been dozing. The journeyman who watched over her smiled and waved before she left and Pandora closed her eyes again.
After a while lying on her back was noticeably uncomfortable. She pushed herself onto her side and cuddled up against Topaz who crooned with pleasure at her attention. The effort left her feeling light headed and her body shook.
Serene came in shortly after with the other three hatchlings and a bowl of soup. They were almost a week old now. Pandora wondered how they had behaved for Serene. She gave her cousin a weak smile over Topaz’s neck.
“I’m so glad you’re all right,” Serene said as she set down the bowl on the table. “We were starting to get worried, and then everyone is getting sick. I think my elf blood is protecting me. Some of the other elf bloods aren’t catching it either. We’ve been playing healer… though Greg says it’s playing nurse. You ate with him that one time, didn’t you?”
Pandora gave a slight nod.
“He was a little rough at first, but I think he’s feeling guilty, you know?” she asked and then frowned. “He really shouldn’t. He didn’t ask to be brought here. Still it’s better that it’s sequestered in here, and he has a pretty good grasp on the situation. No one has died yet. Just plenty of fluids and high nutritious broths. Most of it comes up, but it helps. Can’t waste anything that does stay down, you know?”
She put her hands on her hips and looked down at her cousin’s back. “I’ll have to sit you up to feed you. I doubt you have enough strength to hold it up yourself. Topaz, if you’d move please? You can get back on as soon as she’s finished.”
“Yes, I promise, though, if you like I’m sure one of the others wouldn’t mind taking your place so that you can go outside and get some fresh air. You shouldn’t be cooped up in here all the time.”
Topaz slid off of the bed and hit the floor with a soft thud. “I’ll think about it while Mother eats,” he said.
Serene gripped Pandora and repositioned her on the bed. “You feel like dead weight,” she said as she pulled and pushed. She grunted with the effort, but to Pandora she felt strong.
“You were never much of a talker, Pandora, but this silence is a bit much,” Serene said with her last breath before supporting her hunched over body with her own knee. “You’re tiring me out.”
“The healers tired her out,” Topaz accused.
“Oh,” Serene said. “Well, they have to know about her condition, don’t they?”
“Shouldn’t mother be well rested after all that sleep?” Rubio asked and rested his front legs onto the bed and laid his head on Pandora’s lap.
“She hasn’t eaten for all that time, and the human body needs nourishment as much as it needs sleep,” Serene explained and picked up the bowl.
“We were worried, Mother,” Emerald said to the side. She made no attempt to get close to Pandora as Star took the place on the other side of the bed.
“Yes,” Star agreed. “We should have helped Topaz kill Chloe. She almost killed you too.”
“Hush,” Serene said with sudden vehemence. “Pandora almost died to save Chloe. You shouldn’t tell her that her sacrifice was worthless. Look at her condition.”
“Mother shouldn’t be like this,” Topaz said angrily. “She’s strong and brave and…and…and great. She can’t be weak and tired like this. It’s Chloe’s fault.”
Serene sighed. “I’m sorry, Pandora,” she said as she carefully guided a spoon of broth into Pandora’s mouth. “They’ve been like this since you passed out. She was almost torn to shreds by these three and Topaz. If a teacher hadn’t come the shields would have been destroyed in no time.”
“That isn’t fair!” Star whined. “She tried to kill you, and now she runs around with Mother’s power inside of her. At least the bitch is sick.”
“Star, I have told you not to use that word,” Serene said.
“But I can’t think of a better word for her!” Star said defensively.
Pandora smiled despite herself and didn’t have the strength to hide it. Luckily they were so focused on Serene in their argument that they paid no heed to Pandora’s amusement.
“Well then,” Serene said sharply, “I guess we’ll have to acquaint you with a dictionary then, won’t we?”
Star looked more mutinous than Pandora had ever seen her. “She tried to kill you!” she said with a stomp of one of her clawed front feet. Ice formed on the floor around her. “She does not deserve to live! She did not deserve Mother’s sacrifice.”
“It is not for you to decide,” Serene said more quietly this time. It was obvious that Serene would rather have Chloe died and gone.
“I agree with Star,” Rubio said.
Emerald rolled her eyes and muttered, “That’s a first.”
“It is not!” Rubio said hotly at Emerald. “I agree with Star and Topaz about Chloe. She’s evil. I can sense it.”
“Chloe is just a very sick girl,” Serene said. “Would you please stop? You’re upsetting Pandora and she needs her strength to recover. She can’t waste it on worrying over your bickering.”
“We’re not bickering,” Star told her. “We’re debating with you.”
Serene glared at her.
“I think you should be feeding Mother,” Emerald reminded her. “You all need to let her focus so that Mother can get better.”
Star glared at Emerald but clamped her jaws shut and removed herself from the side of the bed and curled up in a sulk.
The others left Serene alone until she tipped the last of the broth into Pandora’s mouth. “Let me get you some water,” Serene said. “The broth is kind of salty. You’ll need it.”