by Amanda Cast
Power and Looks
The morning left a bitter taste in Pandora’s mouth. She woke up to Topaz butting her in the side with his head and begging to be taken down to breakfast. The other three waited sheepishly behind them.
Pandora rolled out of bed and pulled on whatever she pulled out first. She and Serene had not bothered to unpack the night before. They did no have time to unpack now either. Perhaps on the weekend when classes were out for rest and catch up they could catch up on their housekeeping.
“Serene, get up,” Pandora said and nudged her. “It’s time to feed the hatchlings.
Serene blinked at her cousin slowly when she managed to pull her mind from its slumber. Not a moment later she sprung straight up looking around in a panic. “Oh shells and scales,” she cried. “I forgot where we were.”
“You’ll get used to it.”
“I’d rather go home,” she said stubbornly, but got dressed anyway. Her face was drawn tightly. “What time is it?”
“Probably five,” Pandora said after a quick glance out of the window.
“Well, they weren’t fed enough yesterday. They probably want to get a head start today.”
Serene sighed and pulled on her shoes.
“Momma, aren’t you hungry?”
“Well, I guess I am a little, but I have to eat breakfast with everyone else.”
“Why can’t we eat breakfast with everyone else?”
“Well, you demand a different diet,” Serene said and patted Topaz on the head. “When you get your humanoid form I guess you can join us, but until then you worry people a bit too much.”
“Why?” Emerald asked quietly.
“Well, people don’t really know much about dragons,” Serene explained. “Anyway, look at you. You all must have grown three feet last night.” She sighed. “Well, lets get you fed and oiled. Then Pandora and I have to take showers, go to breakfast, and see our councilors.” She rolled her eyes.
Pandora shrugged. “Then we have to feed and oil you again.”
“I wonder if we can work our schedules around your needs,” Serene mused idly as they left the room.
“I need to use the privy,” Star said.
“Me too,” Emerald agreed.
“And so do I,” Pandora said thoughtfully. “All right, everyone back in.”
They all took turns using the privy and then were outside again.
Down in the kitchen it was much the same story as the day before. Pandora entered first, leading the dragons in tow. They still had plenty of room between them and the door, but they were too large for Pandora and Serene to carry two at a time. Everyone had to walk now. It made Pandora a little sad. She had enjoyed holding them. The time was too short.
“Hello, Pandora,” a boy said at her elbow. He was four years younger than Serene and Pandora and a half-breed. He was half elf, but he was an Underdark elf. Pandora was not entirely certain of his parental history, but she knew that he had bad light sight and tended to stay in the darker lit places in the kitchen.
“Hello, Raoul,” Pandora said kindly and patted his silvery white hair.
“I’ve been put in charge of making sure the dragons have enough food,” he said brightly. For such a dark creature he sounded strangely of sunshine and fresh air.
“So is it ready?” Rubio asked and rubbed against the boy’s leg like a cat.
“Oh, yes,” he said and rubbed along Rubio’s long, slender neck.
“Delightful!” Star said and leapt forward.
Rubio, not to be outdone, ran after her. Topaz stayed back and close to Serene who was getting uncertain looks from the cooks. His milky green eyes swirled and changed into brown.
Emerald nudged Raoul’s hand. “Why does one like you work in the kitchens?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” Raoul asked with a wide, kind smile.
“I feel… something deep inside of you…it is hidden, but it is power.” Her sides swelled as she breathed his scent in deeply. “You belong in class. Not in kitchens.”
“Do you think so?” he asked.
She nodded her head much as Pandora and Serene would. “Momma can help you learn some magic so that you can be noticed. You do not belong in kitchens.”
“My mother says that my father’s people are warriors, and she’s no mage.”
“Even those of the UD use magic,” Serene said, “And if Emerald thinks you have what it takes, I’ll help you learn some in exchange for your help. The others look terrified of them.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I guess I can see why. Dragons are so powerful and…and…just…wow. I mean… Dragons are awesome. It’s too much for some people.” He grinned at them. His teeth were bleached white behind his charcoal gray lips.
Emerald preened. “Well, that is true. We are powerful and they should fear us and our Mother and Momma. They’re powerful too. I can feel it all the time. I can feel them.”
“Really?” Serene asked, shocked.
“I could feel you from the moment I existed. It bound us together and we could feel your feelings and understand your words. We’ve always been aware of you.”
“It is true,” Topaz agreed.
“EEEEEE Someone control these beasts.”
Pandora broke from the other four to go see what Star and Rubio were up to. When she saw them they had knocked over many bowls and were cowering as one of the cooks struck at them with a broom handle. “That’s enough,” Pandora said and walked over to the cook. She deftly grabbed hold of the broom and wrenched it out of the woman’s hands and whapped her against the head. “You will not strike them again. Next time they may attack you.”
The two hatchlings crawled on their bellies behind Pandora. The cook’s mouth was gaped open as she stared at the twelve year old girl brandishing her broom like a weapon. The woman worked her mouth silently and then shrieked, “Get them out of my kitchen!”
Pandora frowned. “You had better be glad I am a temperate creature, Madam, or I would have hit you again. They are welcomed here by your masters. You will be gracious to them and to us.”
The woman sputtered. “This is inexcusable!”
“But it will be excused.”
“Well, be quick about feeding them. There will be different arrangements from now on. Mark my words.”
“Certainly, Madam,” Pandora said without her usual mildness.
The cook turned on her heal and stalked off. “You’ll be cleaning this up, Raoul.”
“You just have to ruin everything,” Emerald told Star and Rubio bitingly. “Now the poor boy has to clean up after you. You should be ashamed.”
Both of them had the good grace to look abashed. They shuffled from side to side with their bellies dragging the ground and their necks snaking over it in submission. “We didn’t mean to, honest.”
“I’m very ashamed of the two of you. You might look like a beast, but you’re not. Just because you don’t look like any of us means you get to act like a puppies.”
“We’re only three days old,” Rubio pointed out quietly.
“I don’t care. Toddlers act like fools because they don’t know any better or their parents let them get away with it. We will not let you get away with it, “Serene told him. “Now, the two of you will behave or else. Do you understand?”
“Good,” she said. “Raoul, would you be so kind as to get their food? Pandora and I will start cleaning up the dishes.”
Raoul nodded and hurried to do as he was bid.
Topaz and Emerald gave Rubio and Star the cold shoulder while they ate. Rubio and Star could hardly eat they were so upset about how everyone responded to their antics. They glanced at Pandora frequently to see if their protector would give them any comfort, but she was just as annoyed with them as Serene was.
When they were finished with their meals everyone was told to be polite and thank Raoul for his kindness and Star and Rubio apologized rather grudgingly to the cook for their actions and the cook, after a stern eye and a meaningful sway of a broom apologized to them for over reacting.
With everything finished the girls led the hatchlings back to the rooms and oiled them thoroughly. They then took turns showering and putting the hatchlings back to bed. With a promise that they would be back as soon as they could they left the room. Others were leaving their rooms as well. Chloe was among them and gave Serene an ugly look before vanishing into the mirror.
“Hi,” one of the girls said with a shy smile. She was tiny and lithe; much like Serene, but her hair was a burnished brown. She had golden eyes and her skin was covered in freckles. “I’m Terabeth,” she said. “I live across the hall from you.”
“I’m Serene,” Serene said warmly, thankful for the positive attention. “This is my cousin Pandora.”
“You’re the Speakers,” she said, nodding.
“Yes, we are,” Pandora said because she felt she should say something.
‘That is so amazing. I wish I could talk to dragons,” she said.
“Oh, anyone can talk to dragons,” Serene said. “And dragons can talk to any body. They normally just don’t waste their time on people that don’t speak their language.”
“Yeah, they can be a bit elitist,” Serene explained, “But they can be fun too.”
“And childish,” Pandora added. “They send children to pass along insults.”
“Well, that too,” Serene said with a blush.
Terabeth giggled. “Would you two like to eat breakfast with us today? I saw you eating alone last night, and I would hate for you to think that we girls are inhospitable.”
“Oh, well, that would be nice,” Serene said. “Pandora isn’t much of a talker. She prefers to listen more than anything else.”
“Oh?” Terabeth said, glancing at Pandora. She gave her an awkward smile before turning back to Serene. “Why is that?”
“I don’t know. You’d have to ask her, but she can be damn… I mean… she can be quite scary when she needs to be, and I don’t even think she’s trying.” Serene said it with a hint of pride, but Terabeth seemed a bit unnerved.
“So what are a couple of Speakers like you doing in a place like this?” she asked.
Serene and Pandora shrunk, or at least it felt like that to Pandora. The cousins glanced at each other and then looked away from Terabeth. “We, um…”
“It was highly advised,” Pandora said simply.
“Yes, highly,” Serene agreed, unable to keep the bitterness out of her voice.
“Oh,” Terabeth said, ducking her head in embarrassment. Her teasing question had made the girls entirely too uncomfortable. “I didn’t mean…”
“No,” Serene said cutting her off. “It’s all right. It’s bound to be a question everyone is going to ask in the middle of a semester. What are two untrained girls doing here? Especially one with no apparent magical ability what so ever,” she said with an anxious glance to her cousin.
“You mean… she can’t… cast magic?”
“Um…she’s never tried. She’s unusually strong though… especially for a girl our age.”
“Oh wow,” Terabeth said with forced amazement.
Pandora was sorely tempted to just go and see if she could eat with Raoul. He was more appreciative of her company that Terabeth obviously was, and Pandora didn’t want Serene to go without new friends. Pandora knew that she was not the most entertaining of dinner companions.
“So, what kind of classes are you going to be taking?” Terabeth asked Serene when they approached the mirror.
Serene took the step through the mirror to think about this. “Well, I was thinking about taking… um… maybe some subtle casting classes, basic shields and barriers. That short of thing. What type of classes are you taking?”
“Oh, I’m taking enchanting. It is so fascinating, but no one can figure out how to make permanent enchantments that don’t need to be recharged all the time anymore. Isn’t it sad? I hope one day to crack that mystery.”
“That’s quite ambitious,” Serene said approvingly.
“Don’t you think so?” she said, her face flushed with the excitement. “I’m also taking Magic in History, Meditation, Basic Flames, and Spell Formulas.”
“What do you think you’ll take, Pandora?” she asked politely.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Pandora said. “I haven’t had much time to think about it.”
“I think you should take meditation. You seem like it would be an easy enough beginning for you, since you don’t have much experience and it isn’t hard to catch up in. Are you more of a fighting sort?”
“There are fighting classes as well. They’re supposed to help build focus and to save your butt when your magic cannot help you. Don’t see the point really.”
“I’m sure there is more to it than that. Have you taken any of those classes?”
“Well, not yet, but we’re all required to take at least one before we can become journeymen.”
Pandora nodded. “I will take those as well.”
“I think you’ll do well,” Terabeth said and then returned her attention to Serene. “So you want to do shielding?”
“Well, it’s not something I’ve really tried, but my father does this really neat trick with a barrier. It is really amazing.”
“What does it do?”
“Well, when you hit it hard…” they stepped through the dining hall mirror, “It could possibly break your bones, but if you just casually saunter through it...well, you get the point.”
“That sounds complicated. I don’t know if many of our master mages can do that.”
“Well, he’s an elf and has lived a long time.”
“Really? Elves are so beautiful,” Terabeth said. “And so are you.”
Serene blushed. “Thank you,” she said. “You’re lovely yourself.”
Pandora rolled her eyes and sighed.
“Something wrong, Pandora?” Terabeth asked.
“No, nothing at all. I’m just hungry. I didn’t eat much last night.”
“Oh,” she said with a quiet giggle. “We sit over there,” she said pointing to a long table lined with benches. Before they sat down Terabeth introduced them. “Everybody, this is Serene and Pandora. Serene, Pandora, this is Jankyla, Retarji, and Britlyn,” she said.
Pandora noticed that all the girls were pretty, and all of them had different coloring. Where Terabeth had brown hair that looked as though the sun had highlighted it with red Jankyla had coppery red hair that was worn in loose, perfect curls. Pandora knew that she used magic to do her hair in the morning. Her rich brown eyes raked across Pandora in an almost insulted fashion and her lips twitched into a sneer that just couldn’t be repressed.
Retarji was the warmer of the three already seated. She gave Serene and Pandora both a warm greeting. She was more stately than the other girls. Her limbs were long and lanky, just waiting to be elegant and her face had the look of innocence itself. She kept her black hair pulled back in a high ponytail and her hazel eyes twinkled.
Britlyn looked tired and disinterred in her friends and breakfast, but she was still pretty with her green eyes and white blond hair. She struck Pandora as only part human.
“Were you up too late last night studying, Brit?” Terabeth asked reprovingly.
Brit, as she had been called, shrugged half heartedly. “I just didn’t sleep well. I kept tossing and turning. The mattress must be too lumpy or something.”
“Well, you sleep fine on it most nights,” Jankyla said as the new arrivals sat down. “It can’t be that bad.”
Brit shrugged again and yawned. “I just couldn’t sleep.”
Pandora decided that she would eat as quickly as possible or at least get away from the table as quickly as possible. She stopped listening to the girls and then girls did not pay any attention to her. Serene seemed to be having a good time and was the center of attention the entire time. Her name was mentioned once or twice, but it became clear to Pandora if no one else that she was not that important.
When she was finished she excused herself and left the table. She saw Chloe, glaring at her cousin when she left.
Pandora saw a journeyman and stopped him. “Excuse me. Could you tell me where the councilor is?”
“Oh, yes,” he said with a warm smile. “I could take you if you like.”
“That would be preferable,” Pandora said and the journeyman led her through a series of mirrors. “A person could get lost here.”
“That is true,” he agreed, “But the Academy was haphazardly built at best.”
“Oh,” Pandora sounded.
“So, you’re one of the Speakers, yes?”
“I suppose so.”
The journeyman chuckled. “Well, I never though I’d meet one. Anyway, I think that Master Gerald should be able to take care of you. Good day.”
Pandora waved him goodbye.