by Amanda Cast
There was singing. It was a humming song that vibrated throughout Pandora’s entire being. It spoke in a whisper and caressed with the wind. Only there was no wind. It was just the song. It told a story. It was told with her blood. It told of her death.
She opened her eyes and took a deep breath as if she had just emerged from a pool of water. She really did hate her subconscious.
“Pandora!” Serene said and pawed at her arms. “You’re awake. I thought you’d take longer, but thank the gods you didn’t.”
Pandora blinked and felt several hard, but tiny things poked into her back. She was still on the arena floor. Sand was sticking to her hands. It itched. She held it up and looked at how dirty it was. Pandora rubbed her fingers together and the red, clumping sand was dislodged.
“You need a bath,” Serene said, “But I am so glad that you’re all right.”
“Mother?” the hatchlings said one after another. They waved their heads over her body.
“We were worried, Mother,” Emerald said.
The others agreed.
“I hate to break up this little moment,” Greg said. He was standing to the side. “But we have a little bit of an issue right now. You have to get cleaned up, dressed, and on your way. We can’t stay here anymore.”
“What?” Pandora asked.
“I’m sorry, that’s what they said,” Serene told her. “The new Lady was kind of nice about it, but after all the damage we did they don’t want us around.”
“Plus you called her a bi—um…” he stopped and looked over at Pandora anxiously. “All right, kids,” he said to the hatchlings, “Your mother is just fine, but she can’t get up with you over her.”
Their heads drooped, but they backed away without argument. Greg hesitantly held out his hand to help Pandora up. When their hands touched he flinched, but he his grip was firm and he pulled her up easily enough.
“I’m sorry I’m dirty.”
“Yeah, um, just please get dressed, both of you. I don’t want to be here anymore than I have to be. These elves are freaks.”
“I don’t know, surface elves can be pretty bad too,” Serene said. “Not that I’ve met any other than my father, but he doesn’t like them much.”
“Ok,” Greg said. “That’s interesting and all, but you see we have this problem where we have an entire city kind of mad at us, and we need to get out. So if you’d get dressed we can talk about this all while we’re walking in the dark.”
“Are you mad at us?” Serene asked.
“No, I’m mad at you,” Greg said. “Why did you have to go and challenge her? What kind of dumbass move was that? I mean… damn it… augh!” He tangled his fingers into his hair and pulled back. “Motherf-…”
“At least I don’t have to cuss every five seconds,” Serene said.
“You cussed at her.”
Pandora groaned. “I should have just dealt with my subconscious for a little longer.” She brushed herself off the best she could. At the gape mouthed, wide eyed expressions she received Pandora said, “Come on, Serene. We need a bath and our clothes.”
“I don’t like this,” Serene said. “I think we’re just going to die in the tunnels. They’re not giving us any food or water or anything.”
“We will find a way,” Pandora said. “Just believe in that.” Pandora wished that she could.
Serene stumbled and sighed. Light spells were not part of the magic that she could wield without consequence and she was exhausting herself as they walked. They were lost in the tunnels deep below the earth’s crust and there was no one willing to help them find their way.
“Does anyone know anything about the…this hell hole?” Greg asked. He ran his hand over the stone. It was a creamy color. Topaz had called it living stone. His fingers left a lasting mark.
“They could have at least let us have weapons,” Serene mumbled and lost her balance again. Pandora reached out and steadied her. Serene felt frail.
“Mother, Momma,” Emerald said, “I am tired. Can we rest?”
“Yes,” Pandora said and helped Serene so that she could sit down on the unforgiving floor. “I wish we had a light stone.”
“I could light the way,” Rubio offered.
“No,” Greg said, “You would burn up the air… unless you can just glow. Can you glow?” Pandora listened for sarcasm, but it was a genuine inquiry as far as she could tell.
“He could a little bit when he was in the sun, but I don’t know if he can without it. Even then that light would be really dim…” Pandora trailed off.
“Well, our eyes would adjust,” Greg said and sat down on the floor. Star curled up next to him and put her head in his lap. He stroked her soft hide absentmindedly. Star closed her eyes and her sides heaved with a satisfied sigh.
“I don’t know…”
“We need some light,” Greg said. “We can’t go stumbling around the dark.”
“We are stumbling around in the dark. These tunnels aren’t marked in any language I understand. Everything is in underdark,” Pandora said. “If it was in draconic we would be in better shape.”
“Maybe we could ask for directions?” Greg offered.
“Traveling is dangerous. We’ll be lucky to find someone who won’t kill us for being human and having dragons with us.” Pandora sat down as well and leaned against the wall of the tunnel. The contours of the tunnel jutted into her back and lacked support where it was needed. It was still better than nothing.
“I’m thirsty, Mother,” Topaz complained and lay down next to her. He pressed as much of his body against her leg as he could. His warmth gave her some comfort.
“I am, too,” Pandora told him and rested her hand on his side. She patted him gently. “As soon as we find a stream you can have something to drink.”
“How long do you think that will be?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Pandora admitted. “Everyone gather close. I want you all touching me.” The hatchling gathered close to Pandora and Greg and Serene pressed against the growing hatchlings. “We should get some sleep and then we’ll try and scavenge for something.”
“What can you scavenge for down here?” Greg asked. ‘It’s not like we can eat a cactus or an insect or even blades of grass if we’re desperate.”
“That’s gross,” Star told him.
“Well, it’s what people and animals do when they’re desperate to survive,” Greg said. “I don’t know how you dragons survive trying experiences if you’re not willing to do something considered gross.”
“Less talking, more sleeping,” Serene said.
“Whatever,” Greg said. “I don’t see why I should listen to some punk twelve year old.”
“Because I can kick your ass,” Serene said.
“Momma said ass,” Rubio whispered.
“Enough!” Pandora said sternly. Her voice echoed down the halls. “Stop bickering and no swearing. Go to sleep. We’ll worry about everything when we wake back up.”
In the darkness Pandora could not be certain if she was sleeping or just dozing. Her butt and her back hurt from the hard floor. Her skin was the only thing giving, and her body had just gone through a near death experience.
“Mother,” Rubio whispered. Apparently she hadn’t been sleeping.
“I can’t sleep. Can I have a gold coin?”
“Momma has all the coins,” Pandora said. “I don’t even have my gold ring on. I’m sorry, dear.”
She felt and hand on her shoulder and it was pushing her. She opened her eyes and felt miserable. Every muscle in her body ached from a mixture of lack of sleep and hard stone poking her in the back.
“We should get moving,” Greg said. “I’m sorry. You get to wake up Serene.”
“You know,” Pandora said, “I’m more dangerous to wake up than she is.” Pandora groaned and realized that she was surrounded by hatchling bodies that were bigger than her. “Time to move everyone,” she said. “We have to get moving.”
“Where are we going?” Topaz asked.
“Well, I have an idea,” Greg said.
“How is it that the guy who didn’t believe in dragons always has an idea,” Serene asked as she started to cast another light spell.
“Well, I know how to adapt and over come. Magic makes you guys so weak and complacent,” he said. “You never think of other ways to use it.”
“Whatever,” Serene said.
“What is your idea?” Pandora asked.
“Well, Topaz is a stone dragon, right?” he asked. “Well, maybe he can ask the stone where to go or follow it in his head until he finds the way out. That might work. What do you think?”
“I can try,” Topaz said.
Pandora wondered at how many hatchlings were forced to explore the extent of their powers. Guilt grew in her belly and chest. She had to find a safe place for them so that they could grow up healthy and strong.
The spell that Serene cast was weak and dim, but after hours in complete darkness it hurt Pandora’s eyes. She could see everything.
“Perfect,” Serene said. “When we get to the surface we’re going to be blind.”
“We’ll just have to cover our heads and keep our eyes closed so that we can slowly adjust,” Greg told her. “It’s not rocket science.”
“What is rocket science?” Serene asked. Disdain poured from her words like a waterfall.
“You know, it’s not my fault y’all could meld two beautiful things together and be awesome and didn’t. I’m so glad there is no magic in my world. Otherwise we’d be useless like you.”
“I am not useless,” Serene said.
“Do I need to separate you two?” Pandora asked. “Will you please behave?”
Both of them shuffled their feet and looked away from Pandora. It did not prevent them from giving each other nasty looks though. Pandora sighed. It was useless. She was surrounded by children.
She decided to stand beside Topaz while he had his head against the stone. His eyes were closed and he appeared so peaceful to her, but she knew that his mind was straining. It had to be. Figuring out how to use magic that was beyond you two moments before was a stressful thing.
What if he gets lost? She thought. Please don’t get lost.
“Mother, how long is it going to take?” Emerald asked. “It smells bad down here.”
Pandora sniffed. “I don’t smell anything.”
“I smell it,” Star said. “It smells like wet lizard.” She swung her head and looked from one dark continuous direction to the other. “I think it’s coming from where we’re headed.”
Rubio sneezed. “I wish I hadn’t tried to smell it,” he said.
“Is it that bad?” Serene asked.
“It’s pretty bad,” Emerald said. “I wish Topaz would hurry up.”
Pandora frowned and wondered if he was lost in the stone. Would it be possible for him to get stuck? Were their dead ends? She touched the top of his back gently. What are you seeing?
“Is the smell getting stronger?” Star asked. “It smells like it’s getting stronger.”
“More importantly,” Emerald said with her head cocked to the side. “Do you hear that?”