by Amanda Cast
A hand was covering her mouth. It smelled of sandalwood and something sharp that she could quite place. It made her nose itch and she huffed and then sneezed into his hand. He pulled back and then wiped his hand on his shirt. It was black with black iridescent buttons. “Why did you do that?”
“You’re wearing too much perfume,” she said at the same volume he’d been speaking, but her voice was even and calm where his was shocked.
“I don’t like it, Uncle Lindal.”
“Shhh,” he said holding his fingers to his lips.
“Why do we need to be quiet in your own home?” she asked. She was a bit testy about being woken up in the middle of the night. She had only fallen asleep an hour before and was a bit groggy.
“Well, I can’t let the servants know what we’re about to do?”
Pandora frowned at him. “And what are we about to do?”
His voice got low and his posture changed to match. He leaned close to her and said so hushed that she could barely make out what he said, “We’re going to get some dragon scales.”
Pandora frowned. “You can’t just take them from a dragon, Uncle Lindal. Serene said so. The book said they had to give them willingly or die. I’m not killing any dragons.”
“No, no, no,” he said motioning with his hands for her to be quiet. “We’re going to take them from a very bad man who does bad things with them. It’s for the good of the city.”
“So we’re stealing?” she asked. She wasn’t the smartest person in the world, but she wasn’t entirely stupid either.
“No, no, no,” he said putting a hand on her shoulder. “We’re commandeering dangerous property from a dangerous man. It’s a public service for the good of the empire.”
“I’m not stupid, Uncle Lindal,” she said flatly.
“And I don’t think you are,” he told her and reached behind him and pulled out some black trousers and a black tunic. It didn’t have iridescent black buttons like his shirt did. Part of her was pleased with that. It was a simple linen that wouldn’t reflect light. His black silk shirt would do that. “But I need you to put these on. I need you to go with us to keep Serene calm. She insisted on going, and you’re the only one that can make her feel good about being quiet and patient.”
“That makes no sense. All she does is talk.”
“Yes, but she admires how calm you are. Really, Pandora, you should pay more attention to the world around you. I don’t know how you lived so long lumbering around like a blind giant.” He patted her head. “You’re a good kid though. I only need you for one small thing. You won’t have to hurt anyone or pick anything up. I promise.”
“But you’ll make me break into someone homes,” she said. “I didn’t ask for you to take me in. I shouldn’t have to do this as payment.”
“This isn’t payment, dear. This is a family outing.”
She stared at him and her wheels were turning in her head. “If he’s so dangerous, why are you taking two children with you?”
“I can’t get everything we need fast enough. Serene is faster than me and has more experience with the scales. I’m going to disarm everything and you and I are going to serve as a distraction. Do you trust me?”
“You shouldn’t ask questions you won’t like both answers to,” she told him. “Get out and let me dress. I’ll be outside in a moment.”
He let out a strangled noise of success and fairly vanished before her eyes he moved out of the room so quickly. She dressed slowly and deliberately, taking a small bit of pleasure in making him wait on her. When she moseyed out he handed her an amulet to wear around her neck and a stone encrusted ring.
“What are they for?” she asked.
He grinned at her and held his fingers to his lips. Serene was standing next to him. She was wearing a form fitting black outfit. She looked like a tube with spindly arms and legs. Compared to Serene Pandora was a brick. Both of them were only slightly developed. Pandora found out she was a late bloomer from a teacher and several of her female classmates. Pandora suspected that Serene’s mixed heritage contributed to her flat chest and stick shaped body.
“Good thing he isn’t far away,” Lindal said as he led the girls out of the house and down the street. There was a curfew in the city. It wasn’t strictly enforced, but the Centers were always shut down at a certain time. If someone didn’t get there in time they would have to find a hotel to sleep in or find a mage that would make them a temporary portal home.
The home they approached was dark and Pandora found herself disoriented from lack of sleep and adrenaline. She followed blindly after Serene and her uncle almost bumping into valuable items along the way. She imagined that the man they were robbing was as tacky and as much a collector of junk as her uncle and cousin were. She couldn’t remember where they had come from and couldn’t determine where they were going.
All she knew was that her uncle stopped a lot to wave his hands around and fiddle with magical devices.
Pandora wanted to go home and sleep—that was, if she could fall asleep after all this madness.
Almost there, she thought to herself. They had to be. She couldn’t stand much longer in the house. It reeked of magic and the spells seemed to cling to her skin and stick to her hair like smoke.
Everything happened so fast after that it almost made her head spin. When they broke into a wonderfully decorated vault filled with glass show cases she was directed to a raised platform. She was to stand there and wait until something happened. She didn’t know what that something was or what she was supposed to do about it. The room was dark, but she could just hear her extended family scurrying around in the dark picking up this and that.
Then something dark and foreboding entered the vault and looked straight at her. “What is this?” he shouted.
Pandora stared at him and then a voice behind her started talking in a very strange voice. It was loud and she couldn’t understand the words, but it made her dizzy. She felt a small hand grab her ankle and then the three of them were gone.
“Some of the scales are missing,” Serene said with a panic stricken voice. “I know I counted them right. Did you count them right, Daddy? I know there were supposed to be 67. I know there were, but 28 are missing. No more scales are coming out. All four of a certain type are gone. They’re the wish scales. That is an extinct dragon, Father. Some mage killed the last of them centuries before I was even born. We may never find another.”
Pandora watched her quietly for a moment. She was surrounded by scales of all types and colors. Many of the scales had patterns on them. Serene, who had read the book front to back, knew exactly what each kind was. She was devastated over losing the wish scales.
“They’re gone, Daddy, gone!”
“I’m sorry, Pumpkin. I’m sure we’ll find out where some more are. I’ll look around for them, all right? I swear.”
“But Daddy,” she whined, “It has to be in here. I know I put all four in here.”
Pandora took a seat on a stool and nudged one of the scales with her foot. She had no idea what kind of scale it was, but it was a red scale with a black pattern on it that reminded her of a child’s heart. She reached down and traced it with her fingers.
“They’re scales from one of the septums. I so wanted to have a set of all of the dragon septum scales. It would have been so amazing. He had all the other ones. Some of those are missing too! I don’t understand.”
“Perhaps you’re not thinking the right thoughts,” Pandora suggested as her eyes traced over the pattern on the scale over and over.
“No, I know it should work because I got all the other ones. I don’t know what is wrong with it. This stupid bag must be broken!”
Pandora sighed. “Can I go to sleep now?”
Lindal gave her an almost pleading look.
Pandora sighed again, only this time it was deeper and heavier. “Look, Serene, I think you’re just tired. I think you should to go sleep, and then we’ll give the bag a closer look. I’ll help Uncle Lindal put the scales away. You just calm down and get some rest for school in the morning.”
Serene looked as though she was going to cry. “Fine!” she said and threw the bag down onto the ground and ran out of the room.
Pandora picked up the bag and looked into it. She pondered for a moment and then reached one hand in. “Give me the Septum,” she said authoritatively and something hard and rather large was in her hand. She got down on her knees carefully and set the bag down on the floor so that she could use her second hand to pull out the object. In her hand she held on very large chicken egg shaped item that was sapphire blue streaked with silver. “What is this?” she asked.
“A dragon egg,” her uncle said in utter amazement.