by Amanda Cast
It was a long walk to the
There was also a great deal of light. Music danced in the air and the hatchlings crooned along with it. It was almost painful, but no one told them to be quiet even though everyone wanted them to hush.
“Mother, look!” Emerald said excitedly. “Do you see it?”
“See what?” Pandora said as she patiently looked over the railing. “The gold?”
Emerald’s triangular head nodded emphatically. “It makes me sleepy just looking at it.”
“Well, let’s keep moving, dearest. The gold is there to stay. We have nothing to get it with. You know that Momma and I are not in good sorts right now.”
Emerald looked disappointed but nodded. The other hatchlings looked at it longingly. Their tails dragged behind them as they thought about the gold and that their mothers could not get it for them.
“For dragons raised by humans that cannot control them they are very well behaved,” the captain of the escort said. His name was Hannin, or just Han, as the others called him.
“We behave because we love them,” Topaz said proudly with a flick of his tail.
“Most of our young would try and steal the entire pile without question, but they asked about it and obeyed when you told them no,” Han said to Pandora. He ignored Topaz.
“They obey us because they know no other way,” Serene said.
“That is not true,” Star said huffily. “Topaz is right. We obey you out of love and respect, not because we’re mindless.”
Serene gave Star a fond smile and patted her on the head. Greg rolled his eyes. Pandora shrugged and stroked Topaz’s head soothingly.
“They do keep secrets from you though,” said one of the other guards. Her name escaped Pandora, but she thought it was something that started with a V. Vivian? Vivvanna? She shrugged at her own lack of memory and gave a little snort.
“We told them when they hatched not to tell us what they were capable of,” Serene said. “We did so to protect them from the mages when they coerced us into that prison they call an Academy.”
“I probably should have kept my mouth shut too,” Greg said irritably.
“You are too hard on yourself, Greg White of Earth,” said one of the other dragons. “You were alone in a world that was not your own with people who are not your own. Understanding was lost to you both. Ignorance is bliss, but it is as dangerous as knowing too much.”
“Seems like you’re screwed either way,” Serene said quietly.
Viv smiled at Serene in that patiently patronizing way that adults smile at children. “It is a delicate balance that we all must mind.” She looked around and then looked back at Serene. “One must always be aware of the dangers of this world and know enough to avoid them. To seek too much knowledge of the dangers of this world will only lead to death. Those who are curious live long. Those that are too curious die young. Those that lack curiosity do not live at all.”
Pandora glanced at her cousin and could tell that the half-elf was doing her best not to roll her eyes. Pandora smiled faintly despite herself and then forced her face back into its stoic, flat expression.
Pandora, all in all, felt lost inside. She had no idea what to expect when she met the Lady of Vanadar. Serene slipped her hand into hers and gave it a gentle squeeze. Strength filled Pandora from her very center and she turned and gave Serene a soft smile.
There was more talking, but Pandora found that she was too immersed in her own thoughts to pay much attention. The purple light of the Underdark lamps cast deep and dark shadows on every inch of the cavern floor. She could barely make out the texture because one subtle rise would overwhelm the rest.
“Mother,” Rubio said, snapping her out of her reverie.
“Yes, Rubio,” Pandora said without a look to spare to the red dragon.
“What if they try to take us away from you, too?” he asked. He was closer to her than she had thought and she could feel his warm body pressed against her leg. The top ridge on his back reached her mid-thigh. Had they really grown that much? She reached down and stroked his soft hide gently.
“You will be with me however long you want,” she said. “I will never send you away or let someone force you away.”
“Do you promise?” he asked.
“Of course she promises,” Emerald said, but there was a worried pitch in her voice and she looked away when Pandora turned her head to her.
Serene’s hand held tighter. Pandora had spent too much time staring at the floor. They were already a building that stood tall in the large cavern of the underdark. It was molded from black stone and in the shadows of the violet light carvings of dragons and elves could be seen. There was also a strange lizard-like creature cowering under their daggers and claws. Their hands were raised in surrender, fear danced in their eyes in the steady light, but the dragons and the elves killed them none the less.
Pandora stepped away from her cousin, entrapped by the scene. She stumbled on Rubio but caught herself before she lost too much of her balance.
“Are you all right?” Serene asked. Pandora had not dropped Serene’s hand and she had nearly tumbled down with her.
Pandora said nothing. She stared at the carvings on the building and read the silent story that it told. She heard the whispers in her mind and her heart was filled with sadness for the lizard folk that fell at the blades and claws. Blood dripped from the walls and a wail pierced into her heart that sounded like slaughtered hatchlings. There were no hatchlings in the depiction, just terrified lizard folk that knew they were going to die.
Her hand was up in the air, reaching out for the lizard folk that were dieing by the hundreds and bleeding their red blood down the building.
“Pandora,” Serene said and shook her. “Are you all right?”
Pandora shook her head. “No,” she said. “I don’t think I am.” She wanted to cry, but dragons looked at her with suspicion and she could feel a circle closing in around her. Fear slid its icy fingers around her heart and squeezed. She gripped her chest and shook her head. What was wrong with her?
Serene moved closer to her and looked frantically around at the dragons circling in toward them. “Pandora, what is the matter? Pandora?”
Then the world was quiet except for Serene’s voice. Pandora let out a relieved explosion of air and then took a deep breath and sighed. She glanced up at the building again. It was silent and flat to her, and her heart ached at the loss of emotion that she had felt. She took note of her surroundings and saw that the dragons were circled around her legs, staring out at the Underdark dragons suspiciously.
They leaned into each other and whispered hastily in a language that Pandora could not understand. Greg was leaning forward and staring intently at one of the pairs. When they noticed they stopped talking and turned away.
“Come,” Hannin said with less warmth and welcome than he had before. “The Lady is waiting and you are wasting our time.”
Pandora narrowed her eyes at the dragon and a familiar sensation of restlessness prickled at her skin and crawled through her body. She felt as if something were moving and growing inside of her and trying to break free. She blinked and shook her head again. Her eyes moved to the building and she could not stop looking at it until she was inside.