by Amanda Cast
On a cool autumn day Uncle Lindal burst into the heater room where Serene and Pandora were arguing over whether or not they should press the eggs to be any certain gender. When the door flew open Pandora and Serene jumped and looked at him with confusion.
"Go up to your rooms and wash up," he said hurriedly. "Wear something nice and grown up." Then he was gone.
The girls were not accustomed to panic from Lindal and Pandora wasn't accustomed to panic at all. Serene jumped up and rushed to obey her father's orders. She never had any doubt that when her father did command in such a way that it was important.
Pandora moved slower, but it was a faster pace than her usual. She loped the stairs with little concern in her mind for what Lindal would be worried about. If it was all that important he wouldn't be telling them to dress nicely.
Her Uncle had told her to freshen up, so she washed her face, privates, and arm pits thoroughly. She paused to look in the mirror to see if she missed anything and then ran the cloth over her arms and legs to get rid of the sweat that was there. She then dug through her closet for her favorite tunic.
If she was honest with herself, she'd admit that it wasn't a tunic. It was fit to her form, but it strained in her chest. When she had been fitted for it she was all but flat. Now her chest was beginning to develop and it was happening quicker than she liked. The fabric was a fine green linen that was sturdy and soft all at once. Along the hems of the garment pink and blue flowers were embroidered in an entwining pattern. She pulled it on over her head and situated herself. She turned this way and that until she was satisfied and the pulled on some tight fitting leather trousers that showed off her muscular legs quite nicely.
Pandora dug out her dress boots of black leather and pulled them on. She fiddled with them until they sat perfectly right under her knee just before it would start restricting her movement. She checked the silver and black lacing just a long the outside just to make sure everything was as she had been taught and walked over to the jewelry box on the oak vanity along the wall farthest from the window.
It was filled with castoff necklaces from Serene and bracelets that would fit around Pandora's wrist in some fashion. Pandora's hands were larger than Serene's so most everything was a tight fit. Lindal had bought her a couple of rings that Pandora thought tasteful. They were simple gold or silver with designs carved into them. Pandora couldn't stand having large rocks sitting on her knuckles like Serene could. She slipped on one of the rings onto her left index finger and then picked out a necklace. She clasped it around her neck and examined herself in the mirror for a long moment.
"Oh cripes," she mumbled and then reached for her hair brush and jerked it through her hair until met no resistance. The feathery strands along the outside half drifted up and she tried to smooth them down.
All in all it only took her ten minutes. She left her room and sauntered down the stairs. Serene burst out of her room in a flurry by the time Pandora was halfway down the first flight. Pandora paused and looked up to see what her cousin was wearing, and decided that Serene never looked quite so grown up before now, at least when she was standing still anyway.
For the brief moment that Serene wasn't running in her dress and slippers Pandora noted that the simple gown of pink muslin she wore made her look taller and accentuated what little chest Serene had through the lines in the dress. Her shoulders were bare and it show cased her color bones and the simple golden chain she wore. Pandora thought she looked prettier in that than in the curtain gowns she liked to wear out in public.
"Do you think Daddy will approve?" Serene asked when she caught up to her cousin.
"I don't see why not. What about me?"
"Well, you look fantastic, but I think he wanted you to wear a dress," she said with a mixture of approval and anxiety. "You really do look good. You could start a new style."
Pandora was silent for a while. Her mind rolled and turned for a reply. "You don't think I look plain, do you?"
"Oh, no, quite stunning. You're turning into quite the woman," Serene said. Serene was thirteen years old and her first monthly flow had ended just three days before. She was obsessed about the idea of becoming a woman.
"You look very pretty and grown up too," Pandora said awkwardly.
Serene blushed and beamed with pride, "Thank you!"
"It's only the truth," Pandora said evenly, "You shouldn't dress so gaudy all the time. It takes away from your natural beauty. Pink looks good on you."
Pandora hoped that Serene wouldn't go around wearing only pink from now on. That would be horrible.
When they reached the drawing room Pandora was a little nervous about what they were going to face. She couldn't imagine why her uncle would sound so panicked. With the exception of the dragon eggs he was always so calm and sure of himself.
She was not sure what she expected if she in fact expected anything. However, had she speculated she was fairly certain she would not have imagined an old man dressed in mage robes sitting by the window sipping tea with her caretaker. Lindal and the strange mage seemed to be having a very nonchalant conversation, and Pandora wondered where all of Lindal's panic had fled off to.
"Uncle Lindal," Pandora said respectfully to get their attention.
"Ah, Pandora," he said with an amused smile. "Is Serene with you? Ah, there she is. Why don't you two come and join us for some tea. Master Mage Hindeon has decided to call on the two of you."
"I hope I am not interrupting anything," the mage said with a tight smile. Pandora found him very insincere. His perfectly shaped goatee was even suspect.
"Nothing that can't wait," Pandora said before Serene could open her mouth to prattle on about just what exactly he had interrupted. Pandora guided Serene over to sit by her father and she took the seat angled closer to the mage.
"I have heard rumors about your home," the mage said succinctly.
"Rumors?" Lindal asked, drawing out the word with subtle surprise.
"Yes, I hear that you are keeping strange eggs in a fire place," he said with an amused tone.
Obviously fake, Pandora observed attempting to keep her face neutral. She was very good at neutral. "And if we are?"
"I would like a look at them. I'm very curious as to what they might be. The rumors also say that you two lovely young ladies are obsessed with them and hardly ever leave them unattended." He bore his gaze into Serene who was looking rather panicked. She was not sure what she should say.
Pandora watched him in her most unsettling fashion and he turned to look at her. Pandora suspected that he thought her nothing more than a simpleton. If he had done his homework that is definitely what he would think. Pandora knew she was not the brightest brain in the city, but she also knew that she was the most unnerving child and could look as though she was peaking into a soul she could not quite understand. He shifted uneasily.
"We are children, Master Hindeon. We are prone to your obsessions and our games. I don't see why you are so concerned with childish things."
Lindal covered his face with his tea cup, but Pandora knew that he was trying to hide a smile. "She is quite correct. My niece can be very astute when she puts her mind to it."
"And what does she normally put her mind to?" Hindeon asked. Pandora could feel his eyes grating over her and combing her with magic to find out what exactly she was good at.
"I like sparring," Pandora said for herself. "Hand to hand is my favorite. Uncle Lindal is kind enough to entertain my childish obsession."
"Is it really childish."
"People say girls are not supposed to fight unless they are part of the Empress's personal guard. I will never be in her guard now that I am disowned. It went from a dream of a profession to a childish obsession."
"Quite poetic, young Pandora," he mused dryly. "Why would your mother disown you?"
"You don't have to answer that, Pandora," her uncle said turning her gaze to the mage darkly.
"No, it's quite all right, Uncle Lindal," she said with an innocent smile. She turned back to the mage. "My mother was not fond of the idea of me keeping in contact with my cousin. She's very much a purest."
"Oh, I see," he said, mildly amused.
Pandora turned her attention away from him and looked out of the window. The sky was over cast and oppressive, but Pandora thought that the cool air and open area would be preferable to that of the mage's company. He did not seem like a nice man to Pandora, though she could not place her finger on why. He had not been anything other than polite.
"Well, with your permission, I would like to see what is in that fire place. It would calm down the people of the Academy to know that there aren't dragon eggs being kept in the city unattended."
"I assure you that there are no unattended dragon eggs in this house," Serene said with a sniff.
"Oh, undoubtedly," he said with a wry smile.
"Perhaps after we finish our tea and biscuits we will go and let you see what is there, Master Mage. The girls are undoubtedly hungry after their studying." Lindal gave his daughter a nudge under the table.
"Oh, certainly, Daddy," she agreed. "I'm quite famished. Discussing philosophy with Pandora can be very trying on the brain."
Pandora eyed her cousin. "I was never aware of a discussion, Serene. I do know I do a lot of listening though."
"Oh, you're such a wonderful listener, Pandora, and you never tell my secrets. It is so appreciated." She reached over and touched her cousin's and then gave it a good squeeze. "I'm so glad that we're so compatible."
"As am I, Serene," Pandora said with a small smile. She then picked up a biscuit and started to butter it slowly. She was in no rush to take the mage down to the heater room.
No matter how slowly Pandora ate or drank the tea still ended. She gulped down the last of her now cold tea and set it down. The inevitable had come. Tea was over and everyone was looking at her expectantly. Serene was not lying when she said she was famished.
Pandora decided that she put too much sugar in her tea. The after taste made her thirsty. She wanted water and it made her… irritable. She didn't like being irritable.