by Amanda Cast
Pandora no longer made the pretense of going to class. Those days ended briefly. Instead she took lessons from Serene when she had the strength, but mostly she took walks and tended to the hatchlings. Her strength was returning, but it was slow and tedious.
Oola greeted her warmly at the garden square. “Hey there,” she said. “What are you up to? Taking the hatchlings for a walk?”
“It’s nice outside,” Rubio said. He was practically glowing.
“It is,” Star agreed.
Emerald looked at the shade under a tree longingly. Pandora followed her gaze and sighed. She wanted to rest in the shade too.
“I was going to practice some, but I thought I would try and find you instead. Lucky me, I didn’t have to look far,” she said with a wide grin. It seemed to take up half of her face. “Would you like to sit down and talk then?”
Pandora’s face relaxed and she nodded. “I would,” she agreed, though she doubted she would talk much.
Emerald led them to a secluded place where there was plenty of shade and thick grass. She stretched out and Pandora sat down and propped herself up against the green dragon.
“They are so beautiful,” Oola sighed wistfully. “You are lucky to have them with you.”
“I think we’re lucky,” Emerald said loyally and yawned wide. She laid her head down and closed her eyes.
Topaz patrolled the perimeter for a little bit and then joined Pandora and Emerald. He laid his head down across Pandora’s lap and closed his eyes as well. Star and Rubio played a clumsy game of tag.
Oola sat beside Emerald’s head. “So are you feeling better then?”
Pandora nodded. “I’m not entirely well, but I am feeling better. It is hard sometimes though. I am used to strength and power. Now I feel week and cumbersome.”
Oola frowned sympathetically. “You should have just let Chloe die. She was a regular pest about everything. She didn’t deserve your help at all.”
“I know,” Pandora agreed. “But it is not my way to just let someone die.” Pandora sighed. “It would have been easy enough, I suppose, but it just isn’t me.”
“You strike me as prudent, usually,” Oola said warily. “I just don’t see why you can’t always be prudent.”
Pandora shrugged and closed her eyes. “Will you sing for me, Oola? I love to hear you sing.”
Oola looked pleased for one brief shining moment before giving Pandora a suspicious look. “Is this your way of changing the topic of discussion?”
“There is nothing to discuss, Oola. What was done is done. Please, I would like to hear you sing.”
Oola opened her mouth to say something more but must have decided that it was a pointless endeavor and closed it again. She shrugged helplessly and then smiled at Pandora. “You’re hopelessly stubborn,” she said and then was silent for a short time. Then she started to sing. It was in her own tribal language, but the melody and tone sang to Pandora as a heroic ballad. Oola’s voice always managed to carry her away.
She let the magic of her friend’s voice envelope her. She could feel it rolling over her. It was not like Chloe’s magic. There was no sticky and obtrusive about it. It was soothing and kind. She could feel the foreign power seeping inside of her skin pleasantly. When the song ended the magic slowly faded away, but a small portion of it seemed to stay within her flesh.
“Pandora? Are you all right?” Oola asked worriedly. She sang with her eyes closed.
Pandora opened her eyes and blinked. “Oola?” she asked uncertainly, “Is something wrong?”
Oola blinked and jerked back. “You were just… in a trance or something. I don’t know!” She leaned forward but did not try and touch her.
Pandora looked around to see Star and Rubio watching attentively, but not with hostility. They seemed enraptured. After a moment they shook their heads and blinked just as their mother had.
“Your magic is powerful,” Pandora said and sat up for a moment.
“It is,” Emerald agreed.
“You feel…warm and kind,” Pandora said inadequately.
Oola frowned. “What are you talking about?”
Pandora was uncertain. Emerald nudged her with her nose gently and Topaz snorted. “It is all right to tell her, Mother. I am sure she would be pleased,” Emerald said gently.
Pandora pat the young dragon’s head affectionately and nodded to herself. “Most mages have a sticky feeling to their magic. It clings and is uncomfortable. There is hostility or the will to control or discover. I don’t know. I just… I don’t like it.”
She shrugged helplessly.
“I have felt it too,” Star said, slowly advancing on Oola. She reached out her nose, her neck drawn taunt as she tried to close the distance between them more efficiently. “I too have felt the mage’s touch of magic.”
Rubio made a disgusted face behind her and sneezed as if he had just smelled ground peppers. He shook his head and followed behind Star, but was more intent on Pandora than Oola.
“I don’t understand,” Oola said.
Topaz nudged her side gently and she stroked his head obediently. Thankfully, Oola had no fear of dragons as other students did.
“You are a rarity among your kind,” Topaz told her. “I can tell.”
Emerald rolled her eyes but said nothing.
Topaz turned a hostile glare toward her. “What would you know?” he asked.
“What would you know?” Star said, defending her quiet sister. “You only know the mages here. You know nothing of her people.”
“Hush,” Pandora said softly and the dragons quieted. “We will not fight over this. Oola is indeed special for many reasons—not just her ability to sing magic into the very air.”
“What do you mean?” Oola asked. She was, comparatively, at a loss for words.
“You are full of love and compassion,” Star said, “Even if you did want to kill Chloe.”
“I wanted to kill Chloe,” Topaz reminded Star.
“Well, you’re a hostile little shit,” Star said scathingly. Some of the grass turned to ice shards under her feet.
“Stop this,” Pandora said with more force this time. “Topaz, Star, if you have nothing helpful to say do not speak.”
“I’m trying to explain,” Star said and twisted her head away in a sulk.
“That is fine, dear, but please, do not upset Topaz in the process.”
“I’m not upset,” Topaz said. His nostrils flared out.
Pandora gave him one of her stern looks, but he looked defiant and ready to argue this one out. “It is not important, Topaz. You need to take a moment and think about your next actions.”
He curled up into a little ball.
Oola looked from Pandora to Topaz skeptically before finally settling on Pandora. “What are you talking about?”
“It is most unusual to me,” Pandora said. “My knowledge on magic is limited and I’m sure you know more about your abilities than I do. I am simply making an observation. I hope that you do not mind.”
“I just… What do you mean you feel kindness?”
“Well, your magic lures me. It calls to me, I suppose. I do not understand what it means. I do not understand what you do to me.” Pandora shrugged. “I think your voice is addicting.”
Oola blushed. “You’re sweet,” she said and leaned forward and gave Pandora a quick peck on the cheek. “I think that is why I like you.”
“I think you like me because I cannot resist your music,” Pandora said.
Oola looked hurt and embarrassed. She moved away from Pandora and looked at a tree in the opposite direction. “I am sorry you feel that way.”
Pandora frowned and thought clumsily on how to fix her mistake. “I only meant,” she started and then stopped when Oola looked back at her with a bewildered expression.
“You don’t know what to say?”
“I rarely do,” Pandora admitted. Her face was flushed hot and her heart ached with the embarrassment and her body ached with guilt.
“You always seem to say the right thing,” Oola told her.
The compliment only made Pandora feel worse. “I’m not smart enough for that,” she said. “Usually I am silent when I am speechless.”
Oola laughed a grating laugh that made Pandora flinch. “You are not speechless then?”
“I said usually,” Pandora said softly. “I did not mean to hurt your feelings. It just… struck me that you are attracted to me because of my attraction to your voice.”
“You think I’m attracted to you?” Oola asked, appalled.
Pandora’s negative emotions were overwhelmed by confusion. She did not understand Oola’s reaction. She stared at the older adolescent. The dragons watched. Star’s tail snaked across the grass—back and forth.
Oola blinked. “Oh,” she said, blushing under her tanned skin. “I… wow… I’m sorry, Pandora. This conversation is getting out of hand.”
“I guess,” Pandora said uncertainly.
“I’m sorry, Pandora. I over reacted. I thought you meant something else. I just want to be friends with you. That’s all. I hope you aren’t put off by that.”
“Why would I be?” Pandora asked with genuine confusion lacing every sound her mouth uttered.
“I… oh never mind,” Oola said, looking away. “I guess it is just my singing you are attracted to. I’m sorry, Pandora. You’re not normal.”
“No, I’m not,” Pandora agreed, but she did not understand what Oola was trying to say.
“I know that you mean well. I’m glad my magic does not bother you as others does. Does Serene’s magic bother you?”
Pandora shook her head. “Serene loves me, for some reason. I do not know why. I do not know if she can help but to love me any more than I can help to love her. We are all things that the other lacks. We are all things that the other should be.” Pandora frowned. “Do you understand?”
Oola looked as though she wanted to withdraw again but only nodded. “I think I do. You are soul mates.”
Pandora rolled this idea over in her head and shook her head. “No, it is not that. I think it is simply something far greater than all of us that binds us together.”
“You mean, like the gods?”
Pandora shook her head. “Something far more powerful than gods,” Pandora told her. “Even the ‘gods’ are bound to fate.”
“Why do you say that?”
“It is something my mother always told me,” she said. “Even the gods cannot fight it, for it can end the life of even the most powerful being at the hands of the weakest. It is a force to be respected.”
“Do you worship fate?”
Pandora frowned and shook her head. “No, you do not worship something such as that. You respect it and do not tempt it unless it is necessary.”
“I… well, I guess it isn’t that important then. It just is. But why would it bind the two of you together?”
Pandora shrugged. “That hardly matters. I was drawn to Serene the moment I saw her, and she was drawn to me the moment she saw me. We could not be kept apart by any power.” Something suddenly dawned on Pandora. “That… that is why.”
“I finally stood up to my mother. I would always stand quietly while she ranted and raved. It was the best way to have her temper subside quickly. I never…” She stopped and touched Rubio’s head gently. “I never talked to her in such a way before.”
“I don’t understand,” Oola said with an embarrassed tremor in her voice. “I guess it doesn’t matter anyway. If you say you are bound, then you are. I just hope it doesn’t destroy you. You’re special too, Pandora.”
Pandora was pleased. “Thank you,” she said with a small smile.
“Do you… do you think my magic binds us, Pandora?” she asked.
Pandora thought this over, testing the ideas slowly in her head. The dragons fell asleep before she answered, “I think you are part of my destiny and I am part of yours. How long we play our roles, I do not know, but I hope we will always be friends.”
“I am sure we will be,” Oola said and lulled Pandora into her trance with another song.