by Amanda Cast
And Something Else
Arenas always have the same concept in mind when they are built. The arena of Varanar was no different from that of Vestron except for that instead of being built upward it was dug down. Black and green stone were prominent, though the floor was covered in sand. There were no columns and arches. It was just a flat surface all but perfectly vertical. There were three entrances made of metal bars and magic.
Pandora inspected it and began planning how she was going to fight and attempted to imagine all that she could fight. The sand would slip under their feet and could possibly cause her to lose her balance. She pondered on what could make the occurrence rare if not unlikely, and to make it far more likely for her opponent.
“Mother,” Emerald said cautiously and Pandora turned to look at the green dragon. “I have something to tell you.”
Pandora kneeled down so that Emerald could easily whisper into her ear. Emerald’s breath was hot and smelled of iron rich blood. “What is it, dearest?”
“You and mother are different from that other Speaker,” she said. “We do not know if she is normal or not.”
“What do you mean?” Pandora asked quietly and motioned for Serene to come over to them. The half elf rested on her knees and the other hatchlings stuck their heads close to their mothers’ faces.
“She does not have magic the way you have magic,” Emerald said.
“I felt it, too,” Star said quietly and looked over her shoulder. “I think it might be important.”
“We all do,” Rubio said.
“What are you talking about?” Serene asked and held Rubio’s head in her cupped hands. He closed his eyes and sighed.
Topaz’s hide was wrinkled around his eyes and they swirled all the colors in the world that were set in stone. He rubbed his head against Pandora’s neck and cheek. “Mother, you will kill for us, won’t you?” he asked.
“I will do anything for you, my love,” she said. “You are all precious to me.”
“Mother, Momma,” Emerald said, “I think we can help you win.”
“Why is that?” Serene asked. Star was wrapping herself around her Momma.
“It’s more of a how,” Rubio said and fidgeted.
“We did not tell you, because you wanted to protect us from the mages,” Emerald said.
“They’re so ignorant about dragons,” Star interjected.
Emerald shot her sister a stern look. “We need to tell them,” she said and then turned back to her mothers. “You can use our magic.”
The center of Pandora’s forehead wrinkled. “I can’t…”
“Yes, you can, Mother,” Topaz said seriously. “It’s not a spell. We don’t cast a spell when we use our magic. We just use it.”
“It’s as natural as breathing and sleeping and eating,” Star started.
Topaz said without missing a beat, “And shitting.”
“Don’t be crude,” Star said. “It’s rude.”
Topaz snorted. “Just trying to lighten the mood,” he said against Pandora’s stomach.
“You’re just as worried as the rest of us,” Star said testily.
“It’s not like we think you’ll fail,” Rubio said hastily, “But if they make you fight kids, I don’t know if either of you could go through with it.”
Serene and Pandora exchanged uncertain glances.
“In fact,” Emerald said quietly, “We don’t know if you can kill at all.”
“Or if you will,” Topaz admitted and his entire body drooped closer to the floor.
“How are we unlike the other Speaker then?” Serene asked.
“Oh,” Emerald said and then coughed, “She can touch the magic and she can use it. She is an elf and a magical creature by nature, but she can only touch the magic of the dragons she is close to.”
“So we can touch the magic of other dragons?” Pandora asked.
Emerald’s face wrinkled in thought, “I think you can use ours.”
“But what is your magic?” Serene asked. All of the dragons and girls were now leaning so far into each other that their heads were touching.
“Fire and Death,” Rubio said.
“Ice and Soul and more,” Star said.
“Dreams and Memories,” Emerald said.
“She also spits acid,” Rubio interrupted and Emerald pulled back just to glare at him.
“I am Stone and… Renewal?”
“What do you mean?’
“Some of our abilities are new to the world, I think,” Star said. “The magic has no name and we don’t know the extent to which it goes. Rubio is fire and he exudes warmth when he uses magic. I absorb it.”
“She consumes it and is going to get fat,” Rubio said.
“I thought we were having a serious moment,” Emerald said.
“We are, but—“
“All right,” Serene said, cutting them all off. “What else can you tell us?”
“Em and I are war dragons,” Topaz said. “And I think I want another name.”
“Now is not the time to get a new name,” Star told him.
“Since when did you start calling Emerald ‘Em’?” Serene asked, digressing right along with the others.
Pandora sighed. “Just tell us what we can do, if you please. They won’t give us much longer to talk.”
“Oh, sorry, Mother,” Star said.
“You can take on stone skin, for one,” Topaz said. “It will protect you from blades, but I don’t know what it would do against a mace.”
Pandora nodded. She could just see skin shattering off of her body. The thought was unpleasant.
“You can resist the effects of Dream magic,” Emerald offered.
“That’s good to know,” Serene said earnestly.
“Some other things could hurt you greatly,” Star said. “Rubio and I don’t know the extent of what we can do, and we don’t know what you can do. I think we should just try and go an easy fire and ice route.”
“We’ll do what we can,” Pandora said.
“Are you going to use a weapon?” Star asked.
“I am a weapon,” Pandora said. She closed her eyes and focused on a single thought. She was stone so hot that it was malleable. It shifted and changed at every movement, but the form always stayed the same. Her fingers changed from round, useless nubs with fragile nails to claws that could rival a dragon’s in strength and durability. She looked down at her hands and saw claws at the tips of her fingers. They were hard and sharp. Relief rushed over her. It had worked.
“How did you do that?” Topaz asked.
“I am the stone,” she said. “I hear it sing.”
Emerald licked her mother’s cheek and then breathed her blood scented breath against her face and into her nose and mouth. “You should use my acid to get into their very blood,” she said. “Think of me when you cut. Think of it.”
“You do not need spells to wield the fire and the ice, Momma,” Rubio said. “You just have to think about it and it will come.”
“The same with you, Mother,” Star said and rubbed her cheek against Pandora’s face. They laid their foreheads together. “I love you, Mother.”
“I love you, too,” Pandora said. “They will not take you from us. Behave for Greg. If… if we fail… you all do what you think is best, but look out for Greg.”
“We will not stay here if you die,” Emerald said. “We will flee to another place. We will take Greg back to the surface. Maybe he could live with the tribes or the surface dragons will take us in.”
“We won’t fail and we won’t die,” Serene said. “But mind Greg and your manners.” She cut her eyes at Topaz. “You mind your mouth, too, young dragon.”
“Yes, Momma,” he said sheepishly.
Pandora and Serene kissed the hatchlings on the tops of their heads and pressed foreheads with them. Each time their eyes closed and Serene’s eyes were watery when they finished exchanging their “I love you”s. The cousin’s stood up and took each other’s hands and walked away from them towards the awaiting dragons.
“Are you scared?” Serene asked.
“Yes,” Pandora admitted. Her heart weighed heavily in her chest.
“Are we going to die?” she asked as Pandora’s hands faded into their natural shape.
“Not if I can help it,” Pandora said and stopped and pulled her cousin close. She took her other hand and looked down at her cousin. Serene was too short for Pandora to press their foreheads together as they had with the dragons. “I won’t let anyone hurt you, Serene. I won’t let anyone hurt those hatchlings. I’ll find a way to consume everyone in here with Rubio’s fire if I must. I won’t let you die.”
“I won’t let you die, either,” Serene promised. She started to pull away but stopped. “Pandora, I’m sorry.”
“For what I said to you at the Academy,” she said. “I’m sorry that I took their side instead of yours. You mean more to me than they ever could and I know you love me more, and I’m sorry.”
“I know,” Pandora said and hugged her cousin. “We can do anything together, Serene. We’re family and we’re Speakers. They will not defeat us. They can’t. Fate will not allow it.”
“Are you sure?”
“No,” Pandora said. “But I can believe it. It gives me strength and courage. No one will take our family from us. No one.”
Serene nodded and then they broke apart and continued to the dragons who had allowed them to have their discussion in peace. For safe measure they had spoken in their native tongues.
“Are you done saying your goodbyes?” Hannin asked.
“Why is it,” Serene said idly, “That everyone is out to kill us in one manner or another?”
“Well,” Pandora said, “I think it could be because we’re irreverent.”
“That could be it,” one of the dragons said with a nod. The jewelry that dangled from his ears shivered as he moved.
“Or it could be because they know we’re more powerful than they are,” Serene said, “And they’re worried we’ll try and take over the world with four hatchlings.”
“I think we could, but I’m not up for the work,” Pandora said to her cousin.
Serene glanced at Hannin to see his reaction. Pandora looked back for one last look at the Hatchlings who were now crowded protectively around Greg. Greg looked worried, and he pet Star absently as he watched Pandora and Serene entered the entrance to the preparation chambers.