by Amanda Cast
“Oh good, you’re awake,” the Arch Mage said when Pandora finally came through. She was in a strange room, but a comfortable bed. “I see you are quite formidable. You certainly had my healers befuddled and terrified.” He did not sound amused.
Pandora could care less.
“Now, why were you so eager to find your cousin, I wonder?” the Arch Mage mused.
Pandora simply glowered at him. Surprisingly her face did not hurt in the act. Nothing hurt anymore. She looked down and touched her arm. There was not bruise there.
“Who healed me?” she asked.
“No one,” he said. “I was not aware that you need healing. Now, the healers that you accosted needed some healing as well as a sleeping draught. You upset them a great deal.”
“I couldn’t give a dragon’s shit about that,” she said crudely.
“That is very unlike you, Pandora. Your cousin may be disappointed.” He chuckled. “She deserved to be where she was,” he said suddenly.
“And what did she do?”
“She was caught stealing. A student warned us that someone may try and take one. We had no idea that it may be your cousin. She was using Shadow magic no less. Isn’t that shocking?”
“What did you do to her?”
“Nothing more than tire her out really. She was also the reason for a lot of healing too, if you can imagine,” he said. “You are both extremely powerful, you know. At the age of twelve you can take down most experienced mages. I find it… fascinating.”
He laughed at Pandora’s expression. “I thought you would be more malleable than your cousin. You were always so quiet. You just flowed at first. You seemed to accept your imprisonment. Serene was trying to use us against ourselves, if you can imagine.”
“You say that too much.”
“What?” he asked.
“If you can imagine. You say it too much. You should come up with something else.”
“I will say what I want too,” he said with such intensity that it made Pandora pause. “I am the Arch Mage. I could kill you, but I won’t.”
“And why not?” Pandora asked.
“Because that would bring me nothing but the Emperor’s wrath and it could cause much worse… well… that is none of your concern. It is merely mine. I will not kill you or your cousin, Pandora. To kill one I would have to kill the other and the four hatchlings under your care. They would kill everything and everyone if you were harmed. We are under strict orders not to harm them either.”
Pandora gave him a dubious look. “I don’t understand.”
“No, you wouldn’t. You are so simple, Pandora. Fighting is all that you think about. You did not think to ask where she was before you started tearing the place up. You simply flew into a frenzy. It was appalling and beautiful all at the same time.” He leaned back into his high backed chair and rubbed his thin hands together. “You are a beast. Not a human.”
Pandora narrowed her eyes at him.
“But that matters very little. You see, your cousin have over drawn herself much as you did with Chloe. It makes you both oh so vulnerable. However, as appealing as that is to keeping you both in line I know that it will only make you go into a murderous rage, so I advise that you find a way to make her strength and mind return.”
“And what about her Shadow magic?” Pandora asked.
“Well, we’ll be seeing her father about that. He might just get executed.”
Pandora’s entire body tensed. “He’s the only bartering chip you have that you can do anything to, Mage,” she said with disgust. “I wouldn’t throw him away so casually.”
“There is your family,” he said.
Pandora snorted. “Why should I care about them? I’m disowned, remember?”
“You, who saved the girl who tried to kill your cousin, would care less about your mother and father?” he asked. “Surely, you do not think me a fool.”
Pandora’s tense silence was enough of an answer for him. His face literally darkened as he watched her. She could feel the illusion magic from where she sat.
“You are playing with fire, Pandora,” the Arch Mage told her as he laced his fingers together. “You just might get burned.”
Pandora threw the covers off of her legs and slid out of the bed. She had been weak for so long she finally realized how strong she was. She walked over to the old man with confidence in her stride. “Then burn me,” she dared.
“You are a cheeky little brat,” he said with a twisted smile. “I can appreciate that where others cannot, but that does not mean that I tolerate it.”
Pandora was a tall girl. She stared down into the mage’s eyes. “You are playing with fire as well, mage.”
“I never thought it would be in your nature to be so defiant. So obnoxious. It is your cousin’s nature and her design, but you were always so respectful. I never wanted harm to come to you, Pandora.”
“But you would kill my family?” Pandora asked. “The family that loves and supports me? Surely you are not such a fool to think that I would stand by and let you do that.”
“Honestly, it is a surprising event. Even when you saved Chloe all I saw was a grim determination. There was no passion. No emotion. No heart. You stand before me now with the same flat emotional being trying to intimidate me. Yet earlier you had so much passion and anger that you broke bones and destroyed an entire wing of my school simply to find your cousin.”
Pandora eyed him suspiciously.
“I know your weakness, Pandora.” He sounded an amused chuckle. “Well, another one of them.”
“Oh, well, why don’t you inform me then.”
“And make it easier on you to correct it?” he asked. “Well, I suppose you won’t do anything about it. It is not your nature.”
Pandora was beginning to get frustrated with this conversation. She crossed her arms over her chest in order to stop herself from clenching them. “You’re right. I cannot shut out Serene.”
“No, you cannot,” he agreed. “That makes you… interesting. Serene would probably abandon you, you know.”
“That’s not true,” someone other than Serene said.
“You’re awake,” the mage said blandly.
“Yes,” Serene said. She was leaning against a door way that led to another room. “I would not abandon Pandora.”
“Oh, I think you would. It is your nature to be fickle and flighty, is it not?”
Serene rolled her eyes, but the gesture was as weak as she was. Pandora wanted to go to her and giver her strength, but she was afraid to do it in front of the Arch Mage. Would he sense what they were doing?
Pandora went to her cousin and gave her the support that she needed to go to the bed in the room. Pandora sat with her and Serene kept hold of her cousin’s hands. She looked at Pandora with such an apologetic expression that it was almost enough to make Pandora’s heart break.
“Charming,” the mage said dryly. “You are both lucky that we need you. Otherwise I would kill you both. Am I clear?”
Serene turned her face from Pandora to the mage. Her expression went from softness and love to hatred and was so fiercely beautiful that Pandora’s breath caught in her throat. “We’ll keep that in mind,” she said.
“Please leave,” Pandora said softly, afraid to try and speak any louder. “We need to retrieve the hatchlings and our belongings.”
“Oh, your belongings are already here. Though, the funny thing is that we could not find the hatchlings. I wonder where they are. Perhaps they have found a way to abandon you.”
Pandora did not let his remark bother her. She let it roll on by as easily as the morning breeze.
“Just go,” Pandora said.
She felt, rather than saw, the mage rise up as regally as he could with his robe falling around him in a straight line. She heard his careful steps as he left. She would not be impressed by an old man putting on a show and trying to scare her. She and Serene had the upper hand. That was the only reason they were still alive, but how long would that last?
When he was gone Pandora touched Serene’s head and then pressed her palms against her temples as Serene had done to her. She then began to feed Serene small amounts of her power. She was not strong enough yet to be able to spare much, but she gave what she could so that Serene could meditate at the very least.
“How do you feel?”
“Better,” Serene said with a weak smile. “Thank you.”
“It’s all right. I was just repaying some of that loan,” she said. “I’m going to go find the hatchlings and then come back, all right?”
She nodded. “All right.”
Serene and Pandora leaned forward and touched their foreheads together. Pandora wondered if Serene would hate her for what she did and shame gripped her heart.