by Amanda Cast
The next three weeks were a blur, a painful blur. It seemed that the more Pandora’s strength returned the more strength she had to be sick. The more she could do meant the more time spent with a bucket in the privy. It was a miserable time, but Serene was always there, cleaning up after her. The dragons helped in every way that they could, but Star and Rubio proved to be the most useful. They helped to break her fever. Emerald and Topaz would hold her down during violent bouts that she couldn’t remember.
She was better now. Still weak, but better.
She laid on the freshly changed sheets of her infirmary bed staring up at the ceiling. Serene had told her that Chloe was practically under arrest. She couldn’t leave her room. Topaz terrorized her when he was not helping wit Pandora’s care. Because of their help and good enough behavior they were given their necklaces back. All of them were much more pleasant for it.
“Hey, Amazon,” Greg said as he entered the room. It was empty but for the two of them. “How are you feeling?”
“Like I could eat real food,” she said with a small smile.
“Well, we’ll see what we can do,” he said and sat on the stool by the bed. “I’m glad to see you make it. I hope you don’t have a relapse, that would suck. On the bright side, I’ve been working on a vaccine with the more open minded people that live here. It’s going all right.”
“Oh? That’s good,” she said.
“I was also told to get you emotionally prepared for a hearing.”
Greg frowned and was quiet for a time before she shrugged. “You see, it’s about Chloe.” He looked over at the door anxiously. “They’re talking about keeping her here despite all of her antics.”
Pandora frowned. “Oh.”
“I think they want you dead. I think they might be pulling her strings.” He was quiet for a little bit, but at the same time it was not the silence that invited input. “I think they might want to kill me too. I might have run out of my usefulness to them.”
He looked desperately at Pandora. “What am I going to do?”
She frowned and shrugged. “I don’t know, Greg. I’m just kid myself.”
“We need to get out of here. All of us do. It isn’t safe.” He rubbed his hands together so hard it seemed as though he would chafe the skin off.
Pandora nodded. “I agree, but the hatchlings can’t survive such a journey. There is no way we could be clever enough to smuggle them out of the Empire. They’re dragons, after all.”
“We’re not leaving them,” she said tartly. “Don’t even consider it.”
He sighed. “I’m just worried,” he said softly. “I know I can tell you this, because well, we have the same enemy. I couldn’t tell Mack. He’d think I’m crazy.”
“I don’t know about that,” Pandora said. “He might believe you.”
“Oola might, but then she believes everything.” He turned on the stool so that he wasn’t facing Pandora. “I just think we should all make a break for it. I don’t know if you can last a year at this rate. I mean, look at you.”
She shrugged. “What am I supposed to do? All I can do is bide my time and hope.”
“That shouldn’t be all!” Greg said in a sudden explosion of frustration and anger. “You should be able to leave if you need to.”
“There is nowhere for me to go, Greg. There is nowhere for you to go either. We’re trapped and all we can hope is that our captor isn’t cruel.”
“They’ve been trying to kill you and Serene if you haven’t noticed,” he said bitingly.
Pandora rolled her eyes, an uncommon gesture born from frustration. “They might be trying to kill me. They won’t succeed.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I have plenty of people watching my back,” she said. “You will to if you stop being so paranoid. You have not out lived your use. I’m am obstacle. I can’t figure out why they haven’t killed me yet.”
Greg frowned. “I wonder why they haven’t been up front about it too,” he said quietly. “Why would they want you dead, but not just kill you? It can’t be because of the hatchlings. They give them freedoms because of you and Serene, bet you anything.”
“Could you pour me some water? I can’t quite maneuver the pitcher yet.”
“Yeah,” he said and reached over distractedly. “I guess I could ask Oola. She might know.”
“Hey, Amazon,” he said tentatively, “Do you think they’ll ever let me leave here?”
“It’s not a matter of if they let you or not.” She paused and stared at him with a pensive expression. “It’s a matter of when you’ll escape.”
“So you think I’m not entirely paranoid?”
“Oh, you’re paranoid. I didn’t say you were wrong in your paranoia. Just, not everyone is out to get you.”
Greg nodded. “Yeah, yeah, you’re probably right. You gave me a lot to think about.” He gave her a covert look. “You’re very good at that. Making people think.”
She gave him a tiny smile. “I guess I can be.”
“Oh, you are,” he said. “Look, we’ve got to get out. Just please think of a way that might be possible. Please, Amazon.”
“I’ll try, but I don’t see how it will be possible.”
“Chloe simply needs some treatment and she’ll be fine to continue her schooling,” one of the master mages said to the Arch Mage.
“That is absurd,” another said. “She tried to kill two of the students even after one of them nearly died to save her life.”
“We’ve no evidence that she almost died.”
Serene sat beside Pandora completely furious and fidgeting in her seat. Several things could be making Serene incredibly angry. One could be that the Arch Mage looked bored. He had already made his decision. This was just happening to say that it happened.
“Students died from the illness that she purposefully brought Pandora into contact with. She had to be physically pried away from her. Pandora was weak from what she had done to save Chloe’s life and then she purposefully inoculated her with that infection.”
“She survived. That matter is really moot.”
“Attempted murder is still attempted murder. We are simply lucky she did not succeed. She does not belong with our students. She is mentally deranged and should go elsewhere for psychiatric treatment. She does not belong in the Academy.”
Chloe glared at him with more intensity than she had ever glared at Serene. Her eyes and hair were their appropriate color, but she still had that same strange look to her. She looked as deranged as ever, only now Pandora could feel power seeping from her. It was just that though, seeping away.
The Arch Mage stood up suddenly and his robes flared out and settled around him. “Attempted murder is attempted murder. For months she has maligned the good names of mild mannered students who did nothing to defend themselves against her. Now she has attempted to murder two students that she hardly knew at all out of jealousy. One such as she does not belong in our school. She could succeed, if not against Pandora and Serene, then against another student who is less resilient.” He gave her a stern look that she shrunk under. “You will be sent home today. You have an hour to pack and then you are gone.”
“No!” Chloe cried out in anguish. “This place is everything to me!”
“You should have thought about that before you acted,” he said and waved his hand. “This matter is over. Pandora, Serene, you will come with me. There are matters we must discuss.”
Pandora frowned and sighed. Sitting and listening on the uncomfortable benches tired her out more than she realized. The prospect of dealing with the Arch Mage under such circumstances was what made her realize how bone weary she really was.
Greg and Serene helped her up, but they left Greg standing in an isle watching after them forlornly. Pandora afforded him a smile over her shoulder. As her muscles loosened from the time on the bench she began to walk with more grace, but she was still fatigued.
The Arch Mage waited for them and when they were a comfortable distance away he turned and stepped through a mirror behind the podium. They stepped in after him into a room of decadence and magical objects. Some of them had the feel of permanent enchantments and some had the feel of temporary. They floated and moved over tables or were locked away behind panes of enchanted glass.
He motioned for them to continue following. They went into a smaller, darker room that was decorated with one mirror. It was a magic mirror that made the traveling mirrors of the Academy look like apprentice work. Pandora had no real understanding of the enchantments, but she could tell it was overly complicated.
“This is very important,” he said. “I heard from Greg what the healers did—or rather, didn’t do.”
Pandora and Serene frowned and shifted uncomfortably.
“Can Pandora have a chair? She is still weak from the illness,” Serene said, changing the subject. It was a touchy and uncomfortable matter filled with suspicion and anger.
“Certainly,” he said and motioned to a chair. It slid across the floor to Pandora. She situated it and sat down. “Needless to say,” he said. “The Emperor has asked me to arrange a meeting between you two and him. He has questions and a request to make of you.”