by Amanda Cast
The new room was nice enough. The floors were crafted from a warm glowing wood that made Pandora feel at home and comfortable inside when she was not paying attention. She could feel the magic in the room. It was a spell woven of charm and illusion, but everything was real. It was all simply enchanted.
The hatchlings approved of the room well enough. They could smell the gold woven into fabrics and what lined the floor so that the magic would last. They decided to form their piles on the floor and sleep there instead of on the beds. They became sleepy and fell asleep, but at the same time they did not seem comfortable. Perhaps it was the magic.
Pandora dressed into something cleaner and fresher. She needed to get Serene and the hatchlings food, but she was beginning to feel heavy and tired. She was certain it was the room and knew that she had to escape it before it was too late.
She did not feel that much better even in the kitchen. She was distracted and exhausted. She enlisted Shalielle’s help to take the food up to the room. It was not in the dorms so access was much less restricted. Shalielle spoke, but what she said was lost to Pandora. She simply could not help but trail off into her own head and try not to sleep.
The room was filled with the breathing of rest and snores. Pandora yawned and set her tray down onto the tea table next to a window. The sun was hanging low in the sky. It felt as though each second made her muscles feel heavier.
“Something light,” she heard Shalielle say, but she could pay it little mind. She simply nodded as if she understood and they roused the occupants of the room for their dinner. Shalielle left feeling much more tired than before, or at least it seemed that way to Pandora.
She curled up onto the bed with Serene. She did not want to leave her alone. They had tried to separate them just that day, and they learned it would not be so easy as they thought.
She was asleep before she closed her eyes. Her mind was black and empty. She was too tired to dream. Her body and mind were overwhelmed. She needed the peace.
It did not stay with her long, however. Much sooner than she would like someone was walking in her head. It was an underdark elf with elongated ears that made the surface elves look like half breeds. He had long white hair dyed a dark green at the bottom as it faded to white. He stood full in her mind. He was frowning.
“You must be tired,” he said and the world in her head went from black to a glowing purple. The lights were the faintest lavender and the darkness they fought was a rich, royal purple. Carved stone walls with pictures of dragons and elves fighting strange lizard men created a limit to the space. Chairs of onyx appeared in crafted room as well as a table and a tea set.
“Now, why don’t you join me instead of playing god,” he said and Pandora materialized in her own head.
“Who are you?” Pandora asked.
“A friend,” he said and took a seat. “Please, be at ease. I know you are tired.”
“You did not answer my question,” she told him and stayed at her feet.
“If I answer will you be seated?” he asked.
He stood up and bowed to her with a flourish of his hands and wrist. “I am Balille of Clan Ganintor,” he said and then sat down.
“Pandora,” she said politely and took the seat opposite of him. “You are a dragon,” she said when she realized what language he was speaking.
“Very astute, my friend Speaker,” he said and poured some tea. “I am here to speak to you on dragon business.”
“I am dreaming,” Pandora pointed out. “I am trying to rest.”
“I know. I would not bother you if it were not of the utmost important,” he assured her. “Sugar?” He motioned to sugar bowl.
She shook her head and picked up the tea. It smelled bitter, rough, and bland. She sipped at it and it tasted the same.
“It is not a leaf blend,” he admitted. “We do not have the resources for such luxuries.”
“Oh,” Pandora said. “Is it mushrooms then?”
“What is it that you needed to tell me?”
“You are not one for pleasantries, I take it,” he said and took up his cup and sipped at it. He gave Pandora a sly smile. “Immortals do not rush things.”
“I am hardly immortal, Dragon Balille. I am a mortal with a life that will be snuffed out before it even begins.”
“Perhaps,” he said, “Perhaps not. The cards have not yet been turned.” He smiled kindly at her and set down his cup. He was waiting for something. She could feel it down to her toes. “For such an impatient mortal you are incredibly patient.” He finished his tea and Pandora decided to sip some more at her own.
“This is about the dragons under your care.”
“So it was not a dream.”
“What?” he asked.
“I thought it was a dream. Emerald can wander through dreams then. Interesting.”
“That is a plain name for such an extraordinary dragon,” he told her, “But the fact that she can travel through dreams is only so important. She came to us for help and now I come to you.”
“Why not Serene?”
“Serene will not let me in,” he said. “She has closed her mind so tightly that I cannot crack it without hurting her. I cannot risk it. You are weaker in your mind right now. You exerted too much of yourself today, but not at the expense of anything other than your mental vulnerability.”
“What did Emerald tell you?”
“She asked me if she could choose her form now. Usually we wait until our young are at least five years of age before we help them with their transformation. They give up a portion of themselves to do so. It is renewable, but it takes time.” He tapped the arm of his chair. “We like for them to transform when they have energy and power to spare. We fear for your wards.”
Pandora’s mind was a mess of thoughts, accusations, and blame all piled on her own shoulders.
“Hush,” the dragon said gently. “You are all willing to make sacrifices for one another. It is an endearing trait that I appreciate.”
“Do you want me to stop them?”
“Yes, and more,” he said. “I know I have taken my time in getting here, but we never rush anything. There is simply too much time and so little to do to rush.” He gave her a sad, knowing smile, but he did not know and he did not understand. “You see, there is a way for us to help you escape that will not endanger the lives of the hatchlings or of you and your cousin.”
“There is also Greg,” Pandora said, tasting the words in her mouth.
“We will help him too,” he said. “I will go to him and tell him where to meet you. Serene will be able to help you. She is a thief, yes?”
“I will give you an image. Follow it,” he said. “Wake your cousin as soon as I wake you. For now I must go and find Greg.” He filled her mind with images of corridors and dark passage ways. There was a mirror propped up against a wall. The shining part was facing the wall. It was just big enough for the hatchlings to fit through. If they grew anymore then the plan would fail.
“You see the dilemma. You just turn it over and clean the surface. When you do you will be able to enter. We are ready for you. Both must be open and clean,” he said. “Be well, my friend. We look forward to greeting you.” He left her alone in the purple lit room.
Hardly any time seemed to pass before she was forced from sleep. Her body ached all over and trembled. It was not a violent push, but it felt that way to her body if not her mind. She turned to Serene and pushed her until she woke.
“Pandora? What is it?”
“Help me get the dragons up and I’ll help you load the bag. We have got to get out of here. Now.”
“What is wrong? Did you have some premonition?” she asked.
“No, nothing like that. I was given a message through a dream. Come on, Serene. There is no time to talk about it. Greg will be waiting for us. He does not have things to get ready.” Pandora slid out of bed and pulled on her leggings and tunic from before. She woke Emerald first and she obeyed quickly to get the others up. They all did their part in loading everything up and they were out in the hallway in only a matter of minutes.
There was a guard outside their door. “Where you are going?” the man asked. He was a master mage.
“We need to get something for the hatchlings,” Serene said quickly. “It’s an emergency, we have to go.”
He shook his head. “No, I don’t think so.”
Pandora frowned but he was asleep before she could draw back to hit him. He collapsed into a heap on the floor.
“Is he all right?” Serene asked.
“Not our problem,” Pandora said. “We have to go. Now.” She pulled Serene down the corridor and the hatchlings were forced to scramble after them. It was a noisy procession, but it moved quickly.
Greg was waiting for them anxiously in the atrium. He hurried to them. “It thought you weren’t going to come. I thought I was insane. Was there really a dragon in my head?”
Pandora nodded and led then all into a mirror that seemed random but her gut told her to enter it. “The door has magic,” she said. “Can you undo it, Serene?”
Serene touched the door and she leaned against it. Her eyes were closed and after a moment that seemed like an eternity the door opened and swung open. “It is in here,” Pandora said and led them through a maze of junk and trash. “Do you feel it? Do any of you feel it?”
“No, what are you talking about?” Serene asked. “This is crazy.”
“No, it isn’t. Greg was waiting for us, wasn’t he?” Pandora asked. “Just trust me.”
“That never ends well,” Serene told her.
“There!” Pandora said. “Greg, help me turn it.” Mirrors were not delicate, but they were heavy and unwieldy. They were worse than any sword Pandora ever held. They grunted and huffed as they turned it. It wanted to slip from their hands. Such was the way with mirrors. They propped it against the wall again. Their hand prints gave them a vague idea on how long it had been hid away without use.
“We have to clean that?” Greg asked. “Without windex?”
“Yes, without… whatever you just said,” Pandora said.
“Give me a moment,” Serene said and reached into the bag. She pulled out a cloth and a small skin of water.
“How long has that been in there?” Greg asked as he wet the cloth.
“I don’t know. I put it in there in case of an emergency. Water is water no matter how stale when you need a drink,” Serene said defensively.
“Please,” Pandora said and the two of them fell silent. “Do you have another cloth, Serene?”
Serene shrugged and reached back in. She pulled out a handkerchief and handed it to Pandora. Greg and Pandora made quick work of the mirror, but it was streaked. There was little they could do about it.
“Don’t you have some spell for this?” Greg asked. “You know, like Harry Potter shit?”
Serene rolled her eyes. “Who is Harry Potter?”
“Not important,” Greg said irritably. “How does it work?”
“It should be ready,” Pandora said. “Dust gets on the mirrors all the time. It doesn’t make them stop working unless the problem becomes too great.” She touched the mirror, but it was solid under her fingers. “There is no way to contact them without dreaming.”
“Well, I’m not volunteering to fall asleep,” Greg told her.
“Well, you don’t have the capabilities anyway,” Pandora said. “So it’s really a moot point.”
“Seriously, don’t you have magic for this?”
“Earth magic would work,” Serene said. “But I’m not good at earth magic.”
“Oh, I could do it!” Topaz offered and closed his eyes. Slowly but surely the dust began to lift off and go towards Topaz.
“Did you know he could do that?” Greg asked.
“Never thought to ask,” Pandora said and touched the mirror again. Her hand went through it. “I’ll be right back.”
Pandora stepped through the mirror and looked around. She was in a dimly lit purple and black room. Elves of the Underdark were standing before her. They bowed and she bowed back. “I’ll be right back,” she told them and stepped back through to let the others know it was all right.