by Amanda Cast
To Fight a Tree
Greg was in one of the classes that Pandora stopped by that day. He looked like he was struggling against the boys and girls in the class. Pandora doubted that he fought a day in his life. He probably had no need to.
Topaz sniffed the air and clawed the dirt. He was ripping up the grass and Pandora told him to stop. He snorted and stopped clawing, but he still looked around protectively.
“Oh, Pandora,” the instructor said with a pleased smile. “I’m so very glad to see you.”
Pandora gave him an informal bow and her lips twitched into something similar to a smile, but not quite. “Hello, Instructor,” she said politely.
“Rejoining classes? I received no notification.”
“I will not keep such illusions, Instructor. I will attend classes when I want and if I want. You are more than welcome to accept me or send me away, but I am stuck in the Academy regardless of what we do.” Pandora reached down and touched Topaz’s head. She could feel him tensing up beside her.
“As long as you keep the children under control you are more than welcome,” he said with a stern eye toward Topaz.
“Behave, Topaz,” Pandora said. “I need to do this so that I can get better.”
Topaz nodded and the hatchlings fanned out around the class.
Greg approached her and whispered, “Why are they doing that?”
Pandora smiled sadly at him. “They fear for my life. I am too weak to properly defend myself and they feel that I am not safe.”
Greg frowned. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Hey, did you give any thought to what I said?”
Pandora shrugged. “I cannot leave yet. When I can you may come with me. I am not—they are not ready.”
Greg frowned but nodded. “Just don’t forget.”
Pandora shrugged. “I am here to fight—not to talk about this.”
Greg grumbled and nodded. “All right.”
“Well, you two seem to know one another,” the instructor said. “Pandora, Greg, why don’t you two have a go at it.” He looked pensive. “Pandora, go easy on him.”
Pandora smiled and nodded. Greg looked annoyed that he was told that a twelve year old girl should go easy on him, but Pandora simply felt…smug.
The instructor raised the barrier around them and Greg stood in front of her. He was uncertain and so was Pandora. Pandora did not want to hurt him, and she and her uncle had always played rough with one another.
Greg finally approached her. He wound up for a punch but when he let it fly she was no longer there. She was behind him and he stumbled forward. She did not attack. She said nothing as he straightened up and turned. He tried to hit her again and she blocked and dodged while he tried to hit her.
“Pandora, don’t go that easy.”
Pandora nodded and managed to maneuver him onto the ground so quickly he did not realize he was on his way until his back hit the dirt. He coughed and sputtered and gasped for air. “What was that?” he asked.
“That was me not going so easy on you,” she said with a small smile. “I am an Amazon, as you called it.”
“Well, I’m new at this,” he said defensively.
“Are you hurt?”
“Does pride count?” he asked with a small chuckle.
Pandora gave him a gentle, amused smile. “Pride does not count when it comes down to the fight,” she said and offered him her hand. He took it graciously and she hefted him up. He was heavy, but she felt stronger.
“So, what did I do wrong?”
“Everything,” Pandora told him. “You should not be afraid to hit me. They can heal me with a wave of their hands.”
“But will they?” he asked darkly with an uncertain glance toward the instructor.
“I’m not worried about that. If nothing else there are potions, and Serene can steal those.” Pandora gave him a mischievous smile. “You shouldn’t worry so much. I’m getting strong again.”
“So, shall we dance?” Greg asked playfully.
Pandora nodded and she stepped away from him. She dropped into an easy fighting stance. It was comfortable and loose. She did not feel the usual anxiety. She felt confident and assured. Greg was no match for her.
They circled one another for a while before Pandora moved in. She punched him in the chest and he was pushed back. She stepped back and said, “I cannot fight him. He has no heart.”
“Maybe you could teach him then?” the instructor asked.
Pandora frowned. “I do not know if I could. He has never fought before. Why did you put him against me?”
Greg looked embarrassed, but Pandora could not afford to be nice. She needed to fight, and she did not like using Greg as a punching bag. If she wanted to hit something she would hit a tree. It moved more.
“I thought it would be a good learning experience for you both,” the instructor said with a small smile. “I heard you were not at your top form and I thought his strength would balance with your experience and he could learn from you.”
Pandora eyed him skeptically. “I could kill him if I was less experienced,” she said reproachfully. “I’m not exactly your normal twelve year old girl.”
“Well, that is true,” Greg mumbled.
The instructor shrugged. “You can fight me, if you want, Pandora,” he offered.
“But,” he said with a sudden sharpness, “You cannot have any potions or healing afterward.”
“Then neither can you,” Pandora said with a predatory smile.
“Fair enough,” he agreed.
Pandora’s entire body ached.
She was euphoric.
“Are you all right?” Serene asked as she looked over Pandora’s bruises. She was working privately on herself. She offered to take care of it.
Pandora pulled away and shook her head. “No, the deal was that neither of us were to heal after it. We have to heal naturally.”
“That is insane!” Serene exclaimed angrily. “You can’t go around looking like you just got out of a bar room brawl.”
“Oh, it was better than a brawl,” Pandora said dreamily. “I feel so wonderful!” She gingerly touched her forearm. The instructor had gotten her good with a staff. They fought with everything. He was far more experienced, taller, and heavier than Pandora. He was probably stronger too, but he was just as fragile.
“How can you feel wonderful?” Serene said anxiously. “You’re bruised all over!”
“It just means that I got into a good fight. Besides, you should see what he looks like. I broke his nose.” She felt smug and satisfied.
“And what kind of example are you setting for the hatchlings?”
“She was awesome!” Rubio burst out suddenly. He ,was glowing. His entire body was shaking with excitement from watching her.
“She was,” Topaz agreed with a purr of pleasure. “It was watching art.”
“It was like watching art,” Star corrected.
“It was art. There was no “like” about it,” Emerald said while Topaz looked like he was going to explode because he could not come up with a clever and biting enough retort of his own.
Star rolled her eyes in a very Serene fashion and snorted. “It was fighting.”
“Fighting can be art,” Rubio said.
“It’s called Martial Arts for a reason,” Emerald said.
“Yeah!” Topaz blurted.
“This really isn’t worth fighting over,” Serene said. “Just look at her! That’s what fighting gets you.”
Pandora plopped back down onto her bed. Her nerves cried out in pain as she landed on the tenderized flesh. She let out a small groan of pain, but it reminded her of how alive she really was. It beat the dragon snot out of being ill.
She could feel every muscle in her body. When she sat down for too long she was painfully aware of each. She could not bring herself to mind though. It had been too long since she had felt that pain.
“You’re insane,” Serene said. “I’m going to lunch with Tera, now. You going to be all right?”
“Yeah, I’m going to go in an hour. That’s when Oola gets out of class.”
“All right, you know, you should go to class too. It’s best for you to learn what you can while you can.”
“I am,” Pandora said. “It’s amazing.”
“You are insane,” She said again, this time punctuating every syllable. “I love you, but you’re crazy.”
“The pain means I’m alive,” Pandora told her wistfully. “It is so good to be alive.”
“Sure,” Serene said. “I’ll see you later.”
“Ok, bye,” Pandora said and gave her a feeble wave before letting her hand fall again.
“Mother,” Topaz said and nudged her side. She hissed in pain and he jerked back. “I’m sorry, Mother!”
“It’s all right, dearest,” Pandora said and reached out to pat him on the head. Her arms felt heavy, but in a delightful way. Touching his freshly oiled head made her palms burn anew.
“Mother, you always seem to be in pain,” Topaz said softly.
“I’m not always in pain,” Pandora said. “But if you’re going to be a fighter, pain is something you have to be used to.”
“You fought a long time, Mother,” Emerald said and nudged her ankles. They were the one part of her that was not bruised and battered.
“Yes,” Pandora agreed, “But not long enough.”
“You really like fighting then, Mother?” Star asked.
Pandora smiled and then stretched, allowing the feel of her muscles and skin to hum through her body all the way to her toes. “It makes me feel alive, Star. It’s the only time I feel alive.”
“But it’s dangerous,” she said anxiously. “You… you could die!”
“I could,” Pandora conceded. “But it is the only time I truly feel.”
“I don’t understand,” Emerald said, shaking her head.
Pandora could not respond. She had no idea what she should say or do. She simply laid their, enjoying the feel of the air on her skin. Not many understood what it felt like to just be numb.