by Amanda Cast
Ranting and Listening
“Pandora! Bathing room. Now,” Serene said when she rushed about two hours after her last class. She threw down her pack so hard it bounced off of the wall, but it also seemed to repel her into the bathing room.
Pandora groaned as she rose off of the bed. She moved as little as possible when the hatchlings were not demanding her attention. Her joints seemed to creak and pop as she moved, but it was satisfying none the less. When Pandora was on her feet she waddled into the bathing room.
“What is it?” Pandora asked as Serene darted around her slammed the door shut. She quickly moved her arms and created barriers that felt stronger than usual.
“I was practicing,” she said in a low, panicked voice. “I haven’t spied or stolen in so long. I didn’t want to forget.”
“A month or so really isn’t that long,” Pandora said. She was missing the point.
Serene stomped one of her delicate little feet onto the floor. Pandora was amused. “I heard something,” she said.
“All right,” Pandora said and leaned against the wall. Her legs were starting to tremble.
“This is serious!”
“I’m certain that it is,” Pandora said slowly. “Are you going to tell me what it was?”
Serene took a deep breath. “It’s about Greg.”
Pandora’s brow furrowed.
“I think he’s in trouble.” She gripped Pandora’s bruised arm. Pandora twitched deep inside with the desire to pull away, but resisted. “I was sliding through the shadows and breaking enchantments to get inside of places…” She shook her head and her blond hair shifted into her face. She let go of Pandora’s arm and pushed it back behind her small pointed ears.
“I guess that is really beside the point. I slipped in on some master mages, but they weren’t teachers. They were just… look, it’d be easier for me to show you than to tell you.” Her hands were on Pandora’s head so fast she had not time to respond.
Pandora was in the shadows. She was part of the shadows. She felt a thrill from it; no, it was Serene who was thrilled in the shadows. Pandora was simply along for the ride.
Serene viewed the shadows as one views a maze. She felt undetectable as she moved passed students and teachers. No one expected shadow magic to be used in the Academy. It was a banned magic from students. Only Masters were allowed to even attempt to learn it. It would be Serene’s death if she were caught under usual circumstances.
The colors around her were far more vibrant. Pandora always assumed that the world would be darker and gray when shadow magic was applied, but instead every color was bejeweled. For Serene it was natural. It was normal. Pandora’s mind tried to shrink away from the images. It was too bright and dwarfing.
Pandora also noticed texture. The bark of each tree was different in depth and pattern. She never noticed it before, but Serene was aware of it. Serene was always aware of it. Her fingers brushed against the bark and the feeling of it shocked Pandora, but Serene took pleasure in it.
The shadows fell upon a door. Serene approached it with several glances around her as she moved. When she reached the door she felt the enchantment on the door. Red light filled her eyes when she closed them and rested her ear against the wood. She could hear the enchantments singing. The magic was woven into the very wood and danced through the grain.
Serene focused and listened closely to the harmonies at the lock. It had a simple enchantment there that would prevent magic from being used on it. She wove her own spell into the lock and found that it was simple and would be picked easily enough. However, there were enchantments on the tumblers as well. One wrong move would seize the lock.
Serene slid her lock picks out of a small holder on her wrist. She carefully—but deftly—picked the lock. It was a complicated orchestration of magic and technology, but she molded it to her will in the end. The lock clicked and Serene cracked the door open enough to slip through. She shut it again and cast a simple locking spell on it that she could undo at her leisure.
There were no more shadows for her to meld into so she cast a more demanding spell onto her person. The magic slid over her skin and seeped into her bone marrow. She was invisible. She looked down at her hand to make certain it had worked. Her mind formed the outline of her fingers, hand, and arm. It was much like wiggling your fingers in front of your face in the dark. You could not actually see them, but your mind put them there anyway.
“I do not see why we should keep him here,” a man’s voice said and drew Serene’s attention. She stepped quietly to the source of the noise. There were two men, tall and stick thin standing by a window inside of a large room.
“I don’t think we should be talking like this here,” said the other man. He had black hair, but there was no life to the color. It was limp and lacked luster.
“It isn’t as if the boy could listen even if he wanted to. None of the students have the skill and all the other teachers are worried about the same thing.”
Irony is wonderful, Serene thought and leaned closer to the scene.
“I here there is an elf here that can use shadow magic.”
“That is simply a rumor. None of our students have the capability of using that magic. They are all too young.” He turned his face to the window, staring outside. “I am worried about another illness breaking out into the Academy. We lost three students.”
“Can you imagine if it got out though?”
The black haired mage shrugged. “We could always kill him, I suppose, and burn his body. That is what he told us to do with those that die of illness. Hopefully it would burn the plight he brings to us out of the world.”
Fear gripped Serene’s heart. It was strong and almost over powering. Her muscles froze and her breath stopped in the middle of her throat. She knew they were talking about Greg, the boy that had taken care of Pandora when everyone else would have watched her die. He did not deserve to be repaid for his knowledge and kindness by death and a burning.
“We could, but the Arch Mage is set against the idea. I hear they are making him give them ideas on how to revolutionize our way of life,” the other said. “How long will that last though?”
“I don’t know. He is reluctant to help us. He says it will make us grow too fast.” The mage sounded dubious.
“Well, he cannot leave the Academy. He must slowly vanish from the eyes of the students and then he must perish.”
Serene’s heart was pounding painfully against her ribcage. Suddenly her muscles released and she was able to leave. She fled with Pandora firmly set in her mind.
Pandora was thrown back into her own mind and at a loss for breath. She slumped against the wall and shook her head. “Please don’t do that again,” Pandora said weakly.
“Sorry,” Serene said, “I was just worried.”
“I know,” Pandora said, but she could feel her head throbbing where the magic had grabbed hold of her. “Just, please, warning next time.”
“I don’t think there is a way to describe what I just did,” Serene said.
“Where did you learn how to do that?”
“Daddy taught me so that we could exchange memories,” she said. “It’s how I know my mom.” Her expression changed and she looked away to hide her sadness and feeling of loss.
“I…I’m sorry,” Pandora said. “But what do you want to do about Greg?”
“He’s your friend, isn’t he?”
Pandora pondered this. “Well, yes, he is, I suppose. He is not my enemy and I wish him well.”
“You’re insane,” Serene said with less conviction than usual. “I wish you were more normal.”
“It is not my way?” Pandora asked, tilting her head to the side.
“Yeah, I noticed,” Serene said. “Well, what should we do?”
Pandora felt helpless. “You’re the smart one, you tell me.”
Serene rolled her eyes. “Pandora, please, work with me here. I know you’re not a moron.”
“We have to worry about the hatchlings. They’re our children,” Pandora said.
“Greg saved your life,” Serene said.
“He is also the one who endangered it,” Pandora pointed out. “He brought the disease with him.”
“It wasn’t his fault. He didn’t ask to come here anymore than we did. He needs our help. You saved Chloe, why can’t you save him?”
Pandora frowned at Serene. “I’ll talk to him about it. I’ll make sure he stays useful and have him try to draw things out, but the hatchlings must grow before we can escape. They have to at least be able to hide among human children.”
“We can’t wait that long!”
“Well, we can talk to them and see if the process can be sped up, but we can’t leave. Focus on your classes and I’ll focus on mine.”
“You’re not taking classes.”
Pandora’s face broke out into a devilish grin, “I’ll focus on fighting then.”
“You’re so barbaric,” Serene said reprovingly.
Pandora shrugged. “You enjoy magic, and I enjoy fighting. To each their own.”
Serene sighed and rolled her eyes. “You talk to Greg at dinner tonight, all right? I’m sure you can get your other friends to help.”
“A shame your friends probably wouldn’t be interested,” Pandora said blandly and headed for the door.
“Oh, don’t you start on them,” Serene ordered in a low, angry voice. “They aren’t like us. They’re normal.”
Pandora gave Serene an expectant look.
“Two of your friends are tribal. One hangs out with them. I mean, that’s not normal at all. They’re not even citizens. They’re foreigners of paltry little tribes.” Serene realized that she was rambling and stopped.
“You’re a half elf,” Pandora pointed out.
“Yes, I am, but I’m still less of a freak than you are. You’re all grrr and ‘ooo smash’. Did you forget that you were born a girl? For gods’ sake what in the world is wrong with you? You don’t even feel right. You just stare out like an idiot.” She threw up her hands, almost hitting Pandora in the process. “I rant and rave at you and all you do is stare at me. What is wrong with you?”
Pandora tilted her head to the side and prepared herself should Serene try and attack her.
“You’re always so calm, so numb! One of your friends is in danger and all you do is stand there and say ‘well other things are more important’ yet you’ll go and save some psychotic bitch? Then you have the nerve—the nerve—to talk about my friends like you know them. You don’t even know yourself.”
A dramatic exit was impossible. Serene was forced to undo all of her enchantments before she could leave. She wrenched the door open when she could get to it and slammed it hard behind her, leaving Pandora by herself to mull over what her cousin had just said to her.