by Amanda Cast
Pandora never made it back to her room. She woke up with her skin feeling raw in a dark room on a few rags on a floor. There were servants looking at her. She could barely move. Her arms felt like dead weight. There was a servant sitting beside her. The woman’s skirt was pooled around her.
“Good, you’re awake,” she said and handed her a piece of an apple. “You looked awful last night when Raoul brought you to us. He had to drag you all the way here. What happened?”
“I don’t know,” she said and took the fruit. She popped it into her mouth and chewed the juicy morsel obediently.
“Well, he was up all night fretting over you. I think he went to get your cousin and bring her here. I hope she has the good grace to leave the dragons outside. You know how she hates them.”
Pandora nodded. “I’m sorry if I caused trouble.”
“It is all right, but I wish he had taken you to the healers. He seemed fretful though. He said you feared for your life with them.” The woman eyed Pandora. “You’re not one of those conspiracy people are you?”
Pandora’s brow furrowed and she shook her head. “I just believe that they would not treat me. They would probably study me.”
The woman must have picked up that Pandora was worried. “I’m Shalielle,” she said and then Pandora noticed that she had a tattoo on her neck. It was a complicated work that looked little more than flourished knots. “I’m Raoul’s mother.”
“Your name sounds elvish.”
“It is an underdark name, actually,” she said with a weak smile. “When I was freed I came back to the surface.”
“Oh,” Pandora said and scratched her ear. “Raoul is a good kid.”
“You’re a kid too,” Shalielle pointed out. “It doesn’t matter anyway. I hope you are feeling a little better.”
“I feel weak and ungainly again,” she said blandly. “I am glad that Raoul brought me here instead.”
“Why is that?”
“I was able to learn more about him,” she said. “Can I have another piece of fruit please?”
“Why not?” she asked an gave her another apple slice. “He shouldn’t be too long. It’s almost breakfast time. Does she usually miss breakfast?”
Pandora shook her head.
“I’m back!” she head a voice call and the door to the room was thrown open and the two half elves poured through. Serene looked positively frantic.
“Why did you leave last night?” she all but shrieked.
“I needed a run,” Pandora told her.
“You should have taken me with you! What if you had died?” she asked. “You can’t run around the school at night anyway. You’re not strong enough to run at all.”
Raoul shifted uncomfortably and cast an uncertain look to Pandora. She simply shrugged and said, “You worry too much.”
“I worry too much? You have… you don’t have the strength, Pandora! Your body is still weak from the illness and then you almost killed yourself to help that ungrateful little—“ She stopped abruptly and looked at Raoul.
“I felt fine. I’ll tell you what might have happened later. I just don’t have the strength right now.” She attempted to get off of the floor but it was a pathetic scramble.
Shalielle stood up and helped to pull her to her feet. When she was released Pandora collapsed against the wall and sighed heavily.
Serene moved over to support her. “Thank you for your help,” she said to Shalielle. “I hope we won’t have to bother you like this again. I’ll talk to you later, all right, Raoul?”
He nodded and watched with forlornly as they left.
Pandora and Serene did not go straight up into the room. Instead they went to the dining hall where Serene watched angrily as Pandora ate. If Pandora paused for more than a moment after chewing and swallowing Serene would yell at her to eat more. When Serene was satisfied she dragged her cousin into the privy and cast several different enchantments onto the door so that the hatchlings could not hear.
“What did you do?”
“I just… I was fine…”
“Just say it,” Serene ordered. Her ears were red with anger.
Pandora sat down on the toilet and hunkered down. “I tried to channel,” she said.
Serene looked skeptical. “Like you did with Chloe?”
Pandora nodded and then thought for a moment and shook her head. “It was much less complicated than what I did with Chloe.”
Serene was pensive now. She leaned back onto her enchanted door. “I think I might understand what is going on with you.”
“What?” Pandora asked.
“I’m not going to tell you that your body is naturally just as weak or as strong as my own… or even weaker. You’re used to having a certain amount of power and strength. You were regaining it, but you were still weak.” She tapped her lower lip thoughtfully. “I think.. maybe… you’re primarily powered by magic.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I mean, you have to eat and everything just like anyone else. You’re still recovering from an illness that has left others still in bed. Many are having problems contacting and gathering power right now as it is. Your physical body was already taking a hit because you gave too much of yourself to Chloe. When you got sick it only got worse. Your hardly able to function and you almost stopped breathing more than once when you were ill. I had to use magic to keep your diaphragm going.”
“That is what Greg called it anyway. He explained it but it didn’t make much sense anyway. It isn’t important. What is important is that you were regaining your magic faster than your physical strength.”
“How do you know that?”
“Well, I don’t know. I think you are because you channeled your power out and then you can barely walk on your own anymore. I’m going to try something.”
Serene placed her palms on Pandora’s forehead and pushed her head back so that Pandora’s head was tilted back almost awkwardly. “Open up to me,” Serene said. “Just relax your mind, drop your barriers and your defenses. Pretend that your skin is air and welcoming.”
Pandora cleared out her mind and tried to not focus on any part of her body. She then felt something entering her head. At first it was like a fine mist, preparing the soil to take more water than it could dry. Then she felt like a glass, taking in water from a pitcher, but she did not fight it. There was nothing obtrusive or explorative about the power that entered her. It felt warm and comforting. It felt natural.
When the power stopped Serene took a step back. “I didn’t give you too much,” she said. “I can’t risk it. Plus, it takes longer to return if I use too much.”
“What did you do?” Pandora asked. She felt stronger again.
“I replaced some of the power you lost. I had to redirect it to your muscles and such. I think it should be enough, but don’t try and channel anything for some time. You need to get back into your top form.”
Pandora nodded. “Thank you, Serene.”
“It wasn’t a problem really. I just can’t cast as many spells as I’d like, is all,” she said and removed the enchantments from the door. “I’ll have to tell my teacher I over exerted myself. You should mediate and try to call more to you on your own.”
“I don’t think I work that way.”
“Then how do you work?”
Pandora shrugged. “I think I’m going to drop in on a combat class.”
“I don’t know if they’ll let you.”
“I’ll just kick someone’s ass and then dare the teacher to tell me otherwise,” Pandora said in a perfectly natural voice. Only a small twist of her lips indicated that she was joking.
“You should be more careful though. What if fighting makes you use your power?”
“What if it is what gives me power?” Pandora countered. “I think I can only use my power if I cast a spell or give it to someone else. If I lost it fighting I would have been debilitated long before now. Fighting makes me feel strong and alive.”
“You are weird,” Serene said. “I have to practice magic so that I can get better at it and you think fighting makes you get more power?”
“Well, Oola gets her power from singing. I feel the magic gather around her. I just never paid much attention to how I became powerful. I’ll be sure to keep my senses open when I’m fighting. Cross my heart.”
“Better not hope to die though,” Serene said tersely and then smiled despite herself. She hugged her cousin tightly. “I don’t know what I would do if I lost you.”
“I’m resilient,” she said and hugged her cousin back. “Besides, you wouldn’t let me die anyway. You’re too stubborn.”
“Pot callin’ the kettle,” she murmured and they left the bathroom.
Four dragons were watching them as they exited. All of them looked curious, but Topaz also looked suspicious.
“Is something wrong, Mother?” Star asked.
Pandora blinked and then shook her head. “No, everything is just fine. I feel much better now. Thank you.”
Star slid off of the bed and rubbed her head against Pandora’s thigh.
“I think I’m going to have to talk to the Arch Mage about getting you other sleeping arrangements. You will break those beds soon and the room is getting too small to hold you,” Pandora said.
“Are you calling me fat?” Rubio asked with a wicked flick of his tail.
“Yes, she is,” Serene said with an equally wicked smile. “Now, all of you get up. We need to get you fed and such.”
“Can we use the privy now?” Emerald asked as she slipped off of her bed.
“Yes,” Pandora said. “After breakfast the four of you are getting baths. Then we’re going for a walk.”
“Sounds great,” Rubio said. He loved the hot water on his hide. “Mother, can we stay in the sun?”
“You know Emerald doesn’t like the sun all that much,” she said. “We’ll have to stay where there is some shade too.”
“Emerald is no fun,” he whined. “She won’t even play with us.”
“She plays with me,” Topaz said, eyeing Rubio dangerously.
“Well, that’s because you both like to fight like idiots,” he said and flicked his tail so fast that one of Serene’s shoes flew across the room and hit the wall.
“We are not idiots,” Topaz said.
“Mother is a fighter. She’s not an idiot,” Emerald said angrily. “Take it back, Rubio.” Emerald circled around the red dragon. If she had hair it would be standing up on end.
“I won’t,” Rubio said stubbornly.
“You will!” Topaz said and his claws clicked dangerously on the floor.
“Enough!” Serene said with authority. She had gotten very good at authority while Pandora was sick. “You will apologize to Emerald and Topaz, Rubio.”
“And Mother!” Emerald said with a strange desperate quality.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I didn’t mean to insult you, Mother.”
“That is not a proper apology,” Topaz said fiercely. He looked ready to jump on Rubio.
“People that shit on the floor shouldn’t talk about proper,” Rubio said hotly. Steam was coming off of his hide.
Topaz roared and Pandora quickly stepped between them. “Enough,” she said sternly. “You have lost both of your coins for the day.”
“But Mother!” Rubio said, stricken.
“You should not push Topaz, and Topaz you should not act so violently to people that disagree with you. Had you let it lie you would be getting punished right now.” She turned and left them to follow.