by Amanda Cast
An actual dark elf who could not understand a word of draconic was the one that found Pandora lost in a twisting cavern. She was short just like Serene, and her long white hair flowed all the way down to the floor. Pandora was mesmerized by her massive chest and found that her eyes kept drifting to them. Never in her life had she seen one so large and she wondered if hers would get anywhere close to that size.
The elf seemed amused, but Pandora did not get to see her white teeth. She only saw a painted red line that was curved into a kind and understanding smile. Pandora was in awe of her long nails as well. They were trimmed into rounded points and painted gold. Gold and silver bracelets dangled from her slender wrists. She had more jewelry on that Pandora had ever owned. Her ears were jingling with all the jewelry she wore.
Jewelry was not the elf’s only adornment. She also wore light armor made out of some sort of lizard hide and metal. It was orange and black and she wore a tabard over her right shoulder with an emblem that Pandora could not describe because she could not figure out what it was.
When they reached the back entrance of the place that Pandora was staying the elf bowed to her. Pandora bowed back, just as low. She was not sure what was supposed to happen in parting. The elf waved and walked off. Pandora nodded to a guard who nodded to her and she entered a garden of lights and statues.
It was a perfectly symmetrical display of craftsmanship. It almost made Pandora dizzy. Every statue had a replica and for every pattern of lights there was another to match at an exact distance. White and green dominated the color scheme, but there were red, pink, orange, blue, and silvery lights as well. There were flowers carved out of the stone that were so realistic in design that Pandora could almost imagine what they smelled like.
It struck Pandora that the beauty they valued was much different than that of the surface elves. Pandora had not met many, but mortality and the fragility of life were what the elves seemed to cherish on the surface. Plants and wild life were beautiful to them. Stone and metal was worn and changed by the weather. Change and mortality were a part of their world.
However, in the dark caverns of the underdark the gardens were not filled with flowers that would bud, bloom, wither, and die. They were filled with stone. They were imitations of life, but not live. They were immortal, but at the same time they never actually lived.
She kneeled down and touched one of the blooms gently.
“It is like nothing you have ever seen before, I am sure,” someone said from a few feet away.
Pandora looked over to see a female dragon. She could see green scales on her cheeks right under her eyes and along her jaw. They were the color of emeralds and it seemed as though Pandora could stare into them into eternity and beyond.
“Yes,” Pandora admitted.
“This garden was crafted by a traveling stone dragon. It cost a small fortune and a lot of meat, but we think it was well worth the price.” Her fingers were lithe and delicate. Pandora thought she could smash them into tiny pieces if she breathed improperly. She touched a stone rose bush that was in eternal bloom.
“He was gifted with an eye for mathematics,” Pandora acknowledged.
The dragon’s eyes were blue, not green as she would have expected from her green scales. Those blue eyes regarded Pandora for a long moment before anything else was said. “I suppose that you are correct. It is as though he placed a mirror in the middle and simply allowed things to form. It would grieve me to thing it disoriented you.”
“It does in some ways, but I do find the detail to be wonderful. You can feel the texture of the petals, but it does not bend as it should. It feels brittle.” Pandora rose to her full height. The dragons, for the most part, made her feel like a giant in their secondary form.
“We take beauty in this harsh world where we can find it. A delicate petal would not survive our world. It would find no sun on which to feed and no soil to take root. We live in the dark and survive in the dark.”
“I wonder if it saddens the people here that they cannot see the sun. For us the sun gives life generously, but is perhaps a little too generous sometimes. Everything in moderation is well and good, but some things can be over done.” She gave the elf a small smile. “I should go an see if my cousin and children are awake.”
“You refer to them as your children, yet they are dragon and you are human.”
“They are adopted into my heart and call me Mother. I am their mother. They are my children. There is no other way that it can be. They gave me the role and I accepted it. It is a gift of trust and love.”
“We sometimes adopt the children of dragons who have fallen or are too poor to give their children a proper upbringing,” the dragon told her, “But we do not take in the elves. That is for the elves to do.”
“It is simply a matter of different ways,” Pandora said. “Love and loyalty are just as strong no matter what race gives them to you.” She bowed to the dragon. “I must see if they are as refreshed as I am so that we may see the Lady of your fair city.”
“Certainly. May the shadows wrap in their cool protection,” the dragon said, “And your dreams be sweet with life and satisfaction.” The dragon bowed just as deeply to Pandora.
Pandora was in a daze when she finally found the room that housed her cousin, Greg, and the hatchlings. Greg was awake but groggy. He gave Pandora a lazy smile when she walked in. “Good morning.”
“Do you think it’s morning?” Pandora asked.
“I think it might be,” he said and yawned. “That was a strange sleep. I’ve never had such weird dreams.” He scratched his cheek. “Do you know if they’re going to feed us?”
“Of course they will,” Pandora said. “It’s just a matter of if we’re going to like it or not. You know how it is here, don’t you? Their resources are rather limited and they’re feeding hundreds of dragons off of whatever is down here.”
“Do you…think that they eat people?”
Pandora shrugged. “Don’t ask what anything is, that’s all I’m saying.”
“That’s probably sound advice,” he agreed and fiddled with the hem of his shirt. “Everything is moving so fast.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, one moment I’m about to kiss the girl that I’ve had a crush on for months… and then the next I’m here. Everything is so strange and different. I don’t know what to make of it or why.”
“Why the why?” Pandora asked.
“It’s just something people who are from earth say… at least from my part of it.” He looked intently at one of the dragon shaped pillars. “Are they really dragons?”
“The people who are helping us out right now. Are they really dragons?”
Pandora nodded. “They are. I have never seen a dragon in secondary form before, but I know they are dragons. I can just tell.”
“They look like dark skinned elves to me,” he admitted. “I can’t see the difference.”
“Well, you haven’t seen an underdark elf yet,” Pandora said. “I saw one when I was making my way back. Her outfit was a bit hideous.”
Pandora nodded but would not elaborate. She knew it had been hideous. There was no denying the memory of her internal reaction to the elf’s outfit.
“Do you think you would be able to point her out if you saw her again?” he asked.
She shrugged. “I imagine so. She was rather distinctive to me, but then I haven’t seen many elves so it is hard to say.”
“I bet they all look alike except for their dye jobs,” Greg said.
“No, I imagine they are as unique as you and I are. They will have different colored eyes, different shaped faces and bodies. They might be predominately short, but they will be unique. Their hair might help you though.”
“Unless they change it all the time,” Greg said.
“You’re not very optimistic right now,” Pandora pointed out.
“Well, I just don’t know about all this. They were going to kill me up there when I wasn’t useful anymore. How do I know they won’t do the same thing to me here?” he asked. “I mean, this bothers me a little bit. There are dragons, over powered twelve year old girls that kick my ass, and power hungry old men. My world is upside down.”
Pandora nodded. “So is mine. I was nobody before all this. I am in my world… but now I’m sort of not. The Underdark is different than the surface. Different rules apply here. I don’t know them.”
“Then how do you know they’re different?”
“Because they are. You can see it right now. This is a clan home. It’s massive. It belongs to a clan.”
“You said that.”
“Clans seem important here,” she said, trying to ignore his glib remark. “I can tell that much, but I don’t know what else is important. Family homes are smaller and more personal. Children move out of their father’s homes, but I think the children never move out here. I think they just stick around or get banished and then have nothing.”
“You think? Why do you think that?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know how this world runs. It is different than the surface just as our whole world is different from yours. There is magic here. Feel it in the very stone. I just can’t make sense of the rest of it.”
“What are we going to do?” Greg asked.
Pandora shrugged. “What do humans do best?”
“Adapt and over come? Outsmart everyone?” he asked hopefully.
She gave him a mischievous smile. “Exactly.”