Sunday, July 20, 2008

Chapter 37

by Amanda Cast

Barely Breathing

Pandora hit something hard and round when she walked through the mirror again. She had moved back through so quickly the momentum almost made her fall back into the mirror. She rubbed her nose and forehead and looked around the room. Her eyes were watering and she was a bit disoriented.

“You can’t keep that shield up forever,” a voice said. It was one of the mage’s voices. Pandora’s eyes managed to focus on a man in night clothes. They almost swallowed him. “Oh, look, we have a guest. Going to visit your father?” he asked.

“Drop the shield and go,” Pandora said and stepped between the mage and everyone else.

“Don’t be so bold,” the mage said and his hands and lips started to move in a spell. Pandora grabbed the closest thing to her and threw it at him. She hit him square in the chest and he was forced to take a step back or topple over. The spell was disrupted, but it was too late for the mage. He had been moving his hands too face. The spell backfired and instead of chain lightening going through the bodies of the children it coursed through his. He collapsed after his muscles stopped seizing up on him.

“Come on, Pandora,” Serene said from behind her, but another magic was in the way.

“Now, where does this lead?” he asked. He tried to touch it but something was in his way. He frowned at Serene. “Now who taught you to do that?”

Greg flew at him and punched him in the face. Pandora had not realized how hard the teenager could actually hit, but the mage stepped back into the barrier. Greg was at a loss on what to do next. He did not have the instincts to fight or the rage to back it up. He was no fighter. He was a quick thought and a sudden emotion and then he could not back up his first action.

Serene dropped the barrier to cast another spell. She lifted the disoriented mage off of his feet and threw him to the side. “Go through,” she commanded the hatchlings. “Hurry.”

“But Momma!” Topaz said mutinously. “What about you?”

“Go!” Pandora reiterated for her cousin who was busy trying to hold back another mage. “Greg, push them or something!”

Greg turned to push Topaz through. Topaz looked as though he was going to attack Greg for trying, but a quick look at Pandora told him that it would be unwise for him to do so. It would make her most displeased with him. He slid through the mirror and the others reluctantly followed after him. Greg went through as well.

“All right,” Serene said and she started to glow. “Play time is over.”

Spells were flying at them and the mages who were trying to stop them were concentrating hard. Fighting two little girls should never be this difficult. Pandora stepped behind Serene and put her hands on her cousin’s shoulders so that she could pull her through when she did whatever she was going to do.

Pandora was not exactly sure what happened, but one moment she was waiting to pull Serene through with her and the next they were flying away from everything else right through it. She could see the mages and the items that were anywhere in front of them and even some to the sides was flying against the wall.

Pandora landed on a hard stone floor that was thankfully swept clean of pebbles and any other sort of rocky lumps. Serene landed square on top of her torso, winding her and Pandora thought she heard something in her chest crack. When she finally managed to get Serene to roll off of her so that she could sit up the mirror was turned around and magically sealed to the wall.

“What happed?” a dragon of the underdark asked. He was taller than any elf Pandora had ever seen with long limbs and shortly sheared white hair tipped with the same green from the dragon in her dream.

“We must have tripped some device,” Serene said. “There were mages in night gowns.”

“That would kind of humorous,” Greg said. His ring was allowing him to understand the words spoken.

The dragon turned to Greg. “You speak no language, yet all understand you,” said the dragon. “Where did you get such a ring?”

Greg shrugged and when the dragon held out his hand Greg gave him his. The ring was on his middle finger. The dragon inspected it.

“It will have to be recharged soon,” he said. “It is not enchanted properly. It is dream magic though. Perhaps in studying it we can find out how your mages did this and duplicate it permanently.”

“You don’t understand it yourself?” Serene asked, shocked.

Another dragon smiled and said, “Our magic is like water. You can never fully capture it.”

Emerald looked the female dragon thoughtfully.

“Ah, a young one of our gifts and more,” said the female dragon. Her skin was a faint shade lighter than the male’s and her skin gave off more of the purple light. She did not have white hair as the others did. Her hair was a rich brown that made Pandora think of a sweet candy.

“I do not recognize the others,” another dragon said. “They are similar but different from other dragons. They have magic I cannot place or name.”

Finally one of the dragons decided to help Pandora to her feet. “I hope your fall did not harm you, Speaker,” he said respectfully.

“I think I might have cracked a rib,” Pandora told her. “Where is Balille?”

“I will wake him,” said one of the dragons who did not approach.

“He was sleeping,” said the dragon that helped her up. “In order to communicate with one such as yourself at such a long distance one such as us must be sleeping.”

“Oh,” Pandora sounded. “Thank you for helping us.”

“You are Speakers,” the dragon told her as if that explained all of their motives.

“What now?” Serene asked and bushed off the imaginary dirt from her skirt. “Thank you for helping us, by the way.”

“Yeah,” Greg intoned and finally got to rest his hand back to his side. “Thanks.”

“Let us show our guests to their quarters,” said the tallest of the dragons. She had green hair that cascaded all the way down to the floor even with some of it up in a headdress. “When they are rested and refreshed we shall take them to the Lady of Vanadar for introduction.”

The other dragons bowed respectfully to her and led the awestruck quests up a long flight of stairs that left them all gasping for breath and their calves begging for rest. Pandora winced with pain at every step and breath. Her ribs had to be cracked at the very least. She held her torso and tried to keep her discomfort to herself. This was not the good sort of pain.

The dragons gave her little her little notice, but she could see concern in those that were not quick enough to casually roll their eyes away. They were trying to spare her dignity. She appreciated it, but she would also prefer a potion or some spell to make her feel better. She was constantly blinking to keep the tears out of her eyes and her throat was constricting as if to sob.

It was not as though she had never broken any bones before. She had been training to fight as long as she could remember. At the age of eight it went from drills and the how to do something without hurting yourself in the process to shear brutality and a lot of healing. A few students had even died from the training. Pandora remembered accidentally killing one of her classmates with a wooden sword. She had hit him in the wrong spot when he tried to dodge out of the way. And he had died instantly. After that day Pandora never did like weapons of any sort. They were too risky.

The memory made her pause. Greg skirted into her back and he apologized. “Are you all right, Amazon?” he asked gently.

“I… I was just thinking about Oola and the others,” she lied. He was easily convinced of this and nodded.

“Yeah, we didn’t get to say goodbye, did we? I hope they understand,” he said. “Maybe we could find them all later and make amends.”

“I wish we had thought to bring Mack with us,” Pandora said. “He might not be safe… considering his heritage.”

“You know, I really don’t think he had dragon blood,” Greg said after they had started moving.

“Why not?”

“I just… I don’t think it’s possible.”

“There has to be a reason it is forbidden,” she said. “Perhaps it can happen.”

“But they don’t forbid elves and humans,” Greg said.

Pandora shook her head. “Humans forbid nothing. It is the dragons and elves that forbid,” Pandora said. “You lived with humans.”

“But what about here?”

Pandora shrugged. “It is a mystery what happens in the Underdark to all those who are not of the Underdark.” Pandora winced. Talking was as painful as walking and breathing.

“I think you might have broken something,” he said worriedly.

“I’ll heal up,” she promised. “I just need to get a little bit of rest.”

“You don’t heal from rest though,” Greg said and Pandora could not help but look over her shoulder at him. It hurt and made a tear roll down her cheek, but she did it anyway.

Greg must have decided to let her alone and stopped talking when she did not say anything more. Her memories drifted back to that awful day when she had killed her classmate.

She was eight years old at the time and her parents had sent her away for two months so that she could get into better mental shape. All children that were learning to become guards in the palace had to go when they were eight years old and once every two years after that to make sure that they were still up to par.

Pandora had learned with all weapons when she was a child. They were fit for her, but became progressively heavy as she became older to work up her strength. Up until she went to the camp though she never needed to actually fight anyone, not seriously. They would spar, but it was much like a mock duel—whoever hit the kill zone first won.

Pandora never dreamed that she could actually hurt someone with wooden weapons and healers present. It was easy and safe.

She made friends with a girl named Susan. Susan was almost as strong and fast as Pandora and the two of them sparred in their free time regularly instead of practicing etiquette.

One day one of the instructors had found them playing around with fight stances and gave them wooden swords that were made of a heavy and hard wood. He made them fight one another, but would not let them stop when one had lost. Both of the girls were tired and exhausted by the time the accident happened. They were afraid to disobey him. They did not want to lose their future.

Pandora, by that point, was having trouble lifting the sword, much less swinging it. She became sloppy. The sword tip fell and she tried to steady it out by mustering up her last bit of strength. She was going right for Susan’s shoulder, but instead of backing away she tried to drop and dodge it. Pandora was going to fast and Susan reacted to slow.

The next thing Pandora knew her friend was dead and nobody cared. Pandora had forgotten. She had pushed it away into the back of her mind so that she could not dwell on the loss and the anger.

Part of Pandora had died with Susan.

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