by Amanda Cast
When Pandora stopped by Instruct Hargoth’s class he had some strange bandage on his face over his nose. When he saw Pandora in her bruised and battered state he started to smile and lifted his arm to wave hat her but then winced and shrugged apologetically. She simply nodded her head to him and hoped the small line of her lips was noticed as polite enough.
“Well, he kept his end,” Star said with much disappointment.
“Pandora, wait!” one of the students cried out when she turned her back. “Instructor Hargoth wants to speak to you.”
Pandora turned around again and motioned for the hatchlings to stay back as she approached. “Yes, Instructor?” she said politely.
“I was just wondering if you’re all right. Your face looks terrible.”
“So does your nose.”
He chuckled at that. “I never thought you would actually give me such a beating. You’re something else. I was wondering if you would like some private tutoring. I could teach you how to better augment your body and perhaps a shield spell or two.”
Pandora mulled this over in her head and looked back. It would be useful knowledge for her to have, but she was afraid of using magic. What if it made her weak again? Her past attempts had not gone so well for her.
“We would take things at your pace. I could meet with you on weekends and on my free hour.”
“Why are you so eager to teach me?” Pandora asked. Though she was not a naturally suspicious person she was learning not to trust any adult in the Academy.
He leaned down and whispered into her ear. She could feel the magic in his voice, but it was a muffling magic. How she knew this, she did not know, but it was a not a charming spell. “I have heard something in one of the lounges. They all think that we are with them. I don’t want anything to happen to you or your family, Pandora.” He looked back at the dragons with such an anxious look that Pandora could not doubt him.
She nodded. “When is your free hour?”
“It is at three. Bring your hatchlings. They may learn as well.”
“Is it at three every day?”
He nodded. “I’ll get a few more healing potions. I can’t teach you effectively while we have fevers and are trying to heal.”
“Our deal was…”
“This is more important than a deal. I wanted to see if you would keep your word. You have. You are a worthy student. I am serious, Pandora. Lives are at stake here. The lives of the dragons are at stake… or at least their freedom is.”
“They say they need us,” Pandora said.
“They will not out right kill you, no. I know that you are worried about something. I just don’t know what. I’ll help you in any way that I can.”
“I will need to discuss this with Serene and you will have to be tested for truth,” Pandora said. “I cannot risk the lives of the children.”
“Of course not.” He shifted uneasily. “I am not supposed to tell you this, but your Uncle has fled from the city. His house has been looted. There is nothing for you to return to. The Emperor may be setting a trap for you.”
Pandora frowned. “I will have to discuss this with Serene,” she said. “Please, excuse me. I must go. I will see you at three.”
“Eat only a light lunch,” he said after the magic was broken and they parted ways.
Pandora could not remember a time where her heart had ached more. She feared terribly for her uncle and her parents—even her violent mother. What if they were going to hunt down her family and try and kill them? She had no family name and had never mentioned one. Would that be enough to draw them to her parents? Would he hunt them down and send their heads to her.
The hatchlings were worried. They pressed up to their mother and bombarded her with questions. She could not speak. Her throat was so tightly constricted that it made it hard for her to breathe.
She took the hatchlings to the garden outside of the kitchen and requested that Raoul watch them while she went in search of her cousin. She could not find her anywhere. She hunted at her classes, but she was not there. She was no where to be found.
Pandora was almost to tears when she finally stumbled onto Terabeth. Manners and politeness were thrown out of the window. “Terabeth,” she said breathlessly. “Where is Serene?”
“How should I know?” Terabeth asked rudely but Pandora sensed that she was lying.
“Where is she, Terabeth?” Pandora said with more authority. It was much darker than the voice she ever used with the hatchlings.
“She doesn’t want to talk to you. I know what you said about us.’
“I didn’t say anything about you,” Pandora said without changing her tone. “Tell me where she is. This is important.”
“And what are you going to do if I don’t tell you?” Terabeth said boldly. “Are you going to hit me?”
Pandora was losing her temper. She was not used to being emotionally stimulated and she was feeling overloaded. Terabeth’s rudeness and lack of help was almost too much for her to bear. She clenched her fists and her muscles strained downwards as if she were trying to stretch her arms all the way down to the floor.
“You are such a brute and a liar. I know what you said about us.”
“And what did I say?”
Terabeth’s mouth just moved noiselessly. “I can’t explain it.”
“Why not?” Pandora asked and Terabeth took a step back from her.
“I’ll scream,” Terabeth warned and her hands started to raise slowly as if she were about to cast a spell.
“Don’t you dare,” Pandora warned and closed the distance between them. “I need to speak to my cousin. I don’t care if you don’t like that I said you were apathetic about Greg. Serene would not defend you on that count. Do not push me Terabeth. I may not speak often, but I will rip your very soul to shreds if you push me.”
“Don’t threaten me!”
The blue robed mages were forming a circle around them. Terabeth was trembling from fear and bravado.
“I haven’t even begun,” Pandora said.
Terabeth raised her arms and started to utter the words for an offensive spell. Pandora was quicker and grabbed her, disrupting the spell. It sent an electric spark out of Terabeth’s finger tips.
“Don’t try and cast magic on my again, Terabth,” Pandora ordered. “Tell me where my cousin is.”
“I won’t!” she said angrily. “It is none of your business.”
“It is my business,” Pandora said. “You tell me or I swear by all the magic in this world that I will throw your lead brained head throw a god forsaken wall. Am I clear?”
Terabeth gave her a defiant look, but when Pandora started to draw her back to keep good on her promise Terabeth screamed, “I’ll tell, I’ll tell,” she said. “She was taken to the infirmary.”
Pandora’s eyes widened with worry and she pushed Terabeth away. “You had better not be lying to me,” she said and ran into the appropriate mirror.
When she reached the infirmary the healers tried to stop her from simply barging in, but she pushed them out of the way with a combination of momentum and her magical strength. They protested, or at least it sounded like protests. She looked around feverishly, but there was no Serene to be seen.
She opened doors and slammed them shut again. She threw things including beds and bellowed like an angry beast at any healer that came too close to her. Their magic slid around her skin, unable to stick to her.
“Where is she,” she finally said to one of the healers that shrank away from her in abject terror. “Where is my cousin?”
Pandora punched him in his jaw and he fell to the floor. The other healers were too afraid to approach. “Where is she you little bastard?” Pandora asked.
He pointed to a wall that had a candle stick.
“That is too cliché. Even for you losers,” she hissed and walked up to it. She could feel the magic of it burning her palm, but she twisted it and the wall slid apart. Her skin burned, but it still felt numb. She hurried down a corridor and followed her instincts. She knew that Serene had to be there. She could feel her cousin—vibrant and beautiful.
She opened all the doors along the way and gave them a look inside. Nothing. Finally she found one that would not open. There was magic blocking the way. She could feel the sound proofing on the other side. She closed her eyes and touched the door with her palms. At first it burned, but she could feel it entering her and the magic dispelling. There was still a lock on the door though, and Pandora had not ability to take of that cleanly. She knocked on the door, but when no one answered fast enough she kicked the door.
It started to splinter, but it did not break. The door flew open and a wild haired mage stood before her. He was featureless to Pandora. She shoved him to the side and could see Serene sitting there in a chair, glassy eyed. “What did you do to her?” she asked with the same predatory darkness.
“What are you doing here?”
“What did you do to my cousin?” Pandora asked again. The room was getting brighter, the colors sharper.
“You do not belong here,” he said and started to cast a spell. She gripped his hand so hard that she could feel his fingers snap in her grip. He cried out in pain and fell to his knees.
“I’ll break your other hand,” she warned. She could feel him trying to mend the bones. She put more pressure on the hand and he cried out. Started to pass out but she slapped him with her other hand. “Oh no you don’t.”
“Please,” he said. “I was only trying to help.”
“Only trying to help?” she asked. “Only trying to help? Why was she hidden from me? Why did no one tell me where she was? She is my cousin. You should have told me.” She twisted his hand to get her point across.
“I…I can’t think.”
“I don’t care if you can think,” she shrieked. She could recall no other time that she had shrieked.
“Pandora?” her cousin moaned. “Pandora?”
“I… I meant no harm,” he babbled. His free hand was around the wrist of his broken hand. “Please, let me go.”
Pandora let go and pushed him back. “You had better not try another spell or I’ll smash your face in.”
He did not take the threat idly. He cowered in the corner. Pandora felt a grim satisfaction for a moment and then all her anger and tension melted away when she turned to look at her cousin.
“Serene,” she whispered and reached out to touch her cousin’s hair. “Oh Serene, what have they done to you?” she asked and gingerly tried to pick her cousin up off of the chair. She was so limp and frail. It terrified Pandora and she held her cousin to her chest. She seemed like a tiny doll compared to Pandora.
“Pandora,” she whispered again, but Pandora was not certain if her cousin even knew she was there. “So sorry,” she whispered. “So sorry.”
When Pandora turned to the door to leave the Arch Mage was standing in the door way. The air around him crackled with power.