by Amanda Cast
In the Dark
Pandora could not hear the hissing for minutes more. It was quiet and subtle in the way it seeped into the air. It tickled the fine hairs on her ears. Then there was the smell. Pandora could not place it other than to say it smelled similar to the hatchlings, only it was fishier.
Topaz was still in the stone. Pandora kneeled down between him and their path. Her eyes could only see as far as Serene’s globe allowed. Whatever was out there would see them first.
“You know,” Greg said quietly. “That sounds… sort of like draconic.”
“It’s not draconic,” Serene said. “I don’t understand a word of it.”
“Well, right now I can’t make anything out of it. I have to actually hear it better. But it’s hissing and… well… it sounds a lot like Draconic.” He shifted and crouched down in front of Star and Rubio.
Serene moved to the front and raised a barrier around both sides. “Well, let’s see what we are dealing with out there.” The globe of light flickered.
“Can you put something into that?” Serene asked Pandora.
Pandora frowned. “How do you want me to do that?” she asked. “It’s your spell. It’s a spell.”
“I know that,” Serene hissed.
“Dragons,” Greg murmured.
“What?” Serene asked.
“They said, ‘dragons’,” he told her. “They think we’re young dragons. Of course, they understand and hear what I am saying. They are intrigued because I understand what they’re saying.”
“So they’re close?”
He nodded. “They have good hearing too.” Greg had no weapons and he was not a good fighter, but he tried to shield Star from whatever was to come anyway. His body was slight as an adolescent boy’s body is prone to being, and he did nothing to cover her length, but it was kind of him to try. Pandora smiled fondly.
“Do they eat them?” Serene asked. “No one is eating my children.”
“They might,” he said. “How the hell am I supposed to know?”
“I’m scared, Greg,” Star said and craned her neck to butt him anxiously in his side. “Can you ask them to leave us alone?”
“How about you ask them who they are,” Serene said.
“Well, that’s fair enough,” Greg said. “Who are you?” There was some hissing and he strained to listen to it. There was little fear that they could hurt him with Serene’s barriers up. “They say they are the people of the Underdark. They are not elves or dragons. Oh, I’m sorry, they’re not human either. There is nothing wrong with being human…yeah well… all right, I’m sorry. What did you want?”
Pandora shifted uncomfortably and tried to shake Topaz awake, or at least back to where his body was. It did not work. She moved closer. It was taking a long time for Greg to answer.
“I don’t understand,” he finally said. “What was it that you wanted? You wanted the Stone Singer?” He whispered to Star, “What is a Stone Singer?”
Star shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. Stones don’t sing.”
“What do they want with this Stone Singer?” Pandora asked.
“Do you know what they’re talking about?” Greg asked.
Pandora sighed and rolled her eyes in frustration. “Just ask the question. What do they want with the Stone Singer?”
“What do you want with the stone singer? Oh, they want to take her to the stone dragons that live in the underdark.” He frowned. “No offense to the dragons present, but I have a problem with seeing more organized groups of people. I think we should find a cave, make Topaz get it pretty and then chill.”
“What will their leader do?” Pandora asked.
Greg repeated the question. “Oh, they just want to hear the story. They have heard of it, but the elves killed the dragon that made the song before he could bring back the tale. Oh, that’s… well… I shouldn’t say it. Anyway, what do you think we should do?”
“Do they mean us harm?”
He asked and then said, “They will not harm us if we will not harm them. They ask if we are armed. What should I tell them?”
“Tell them that between the seven of us we only have one dagger,” she said.
He nodded and relayed the message. “They promise that they will not hurt us. They mean to help us. You won’t try and take the hatchlings from us, will you? No? All right. I guess… I’ll have to ask the others.”
“So long as they mean no harm or to take the hatchlings,” Serene said.
There was more hissing and then Greg nodded to Serene. She stared at him. He rolled his wrist and his fingers flicked emphatically. “Drop the barriers.”
“Oh,” Serene said and dropped them. “I hope they have food and water.”
“Well, I’m sure they do. I just hope they’ll share,” Greg said. “Oh, I don’t think they like the light very much.”
“Well, we can’t see in the dark,” Serene said.
“Um… they don’t want us to be able to see, I don’t think. They fear that the elves and dragons will hunt them down. They think it best for everyone involved. They sense our fear and anxiety.”
Pandora stood up. “We cannot leave without Topaz. He is still in the stone.”
“Maybe one of them can get him out. Serene turn off the light,” he said.
“What are you… oh fine. Your dialect is strange,” she told him and the light went out. It was impossible to see, and Pandora did not leave Topaz’s side.
“Hello?” Greg said. The hissing was louder, and Pandora could make out some subtle chirrups and clicks, too. “Oh, there you are. Your hands are kind of… hard… and cold. Oh, well, that makes sense. Don’t touch the elf. She’s a racist. Haha, yeah, I know.”
“I am not a racist,” Serene said angrily. “What are they?”
“I think they’re the people that were getting slaughtered on the building,” Greg said. “It’s hard to say sense I can’t see them, but you can imagine.”
“They’re reptiles, Serene. They’re intelligent reptiles.”
“Oh, well, that’s cool. They’re like dragons only not as pretty. I get it.”
“I don’t think I’d revere dragons around them,” Greg said. “They only like the stone ones. Oh, that reminds me. We… um… well… that is to say. We have a stone dragon with us, and he was looking for a way out for us. I think he might be stuck.”
The hissing was angry and something ran into Pandora. She teetered a bit and then hard, scaly hands reached out to steady her. He said something and Greg told her not to worry. She could feel the cool tips of his claws on her skin. His breathe was short and smelled of decaying things.
“He needs you to move.”
“He can go to the other side,” Pandora said sternly. “I won’t leave him.”
“She’s not going to move,” he told the lizard man. “You’re going to have to go to the other side…yes, she’s only twelve. Me? Oh, I’m only fifteen. We are going through some rough times right now. Yeah, I know.”
“Great, small talk,” Serene said.
“No, we’re not dragons… neither are the girls. The only dragons here are the hatchlings. Yes, we had some problem in Varanar. It was nasty business. Amazon there almost died.”
“Greg, I don’t know if you should be telling them all of this,” Serene said.
“What is it going to hurt?” Greg asked. “Besides, they seem friendly enough.”
“Yeah, and so did the elves before they tried to kill us in some round about way that would stop them from starting a war or something. So, whatever,” Serene said. “You’ll have to forgive me for not trusting any person who came along offering to help me.”
“Well, this isn’t all about you.”
“Will you two just kiss and shut up already?” Pandora asked testily. “Topaz could be in serious trouble and all you care about is bickering with one another.”
“It isn’t me!” Greg said defensively. “She’s the one that started it.”
“Mother!” he said and leaned heavily into her. “I’m sorry I took so long. Issricra said you were worried about me. I just… I think I got carried away.”
“He said that you are too young and unpracticed to try things like that,” Greg said. “I’m sorry I even mentioned it.”
“It wasn’t your fault. I agreed to do it,” Topaz said. “How could you know the limits of magic anyway?”
Serene snorted and Greg let out a quiet groan of frustration.
“What did you find?” Serene asked.
“It’s going to take years for us to get out on our own,” he said. “I could probably make short cuts though.”
“We’ll see when it comes down to that. Right now we have an invitation,” Pandora said.
“Invitations never end well,” Topaz said warily.
“You’re telling me,” Serene said. “But Greg insists that it’s all right. I guess it’s better that we go. Hopefully we can feed you there.”
“I am hungry,” Topaz said seriously.
The lizards tied ropes around their wrists or legs (respectively), and led them through the dark tunnels. Pandora tripped, bumped into things, and swore under her breath more than once. It was better when her muscles and bones were completely lubricated with movement, but for quite a while she waddled more than walked.
Pandora’s feet hurt from all the walking and bumping before she finally crashed into the back of one of the creatures escorting her. “Sorry,” she said as it stabled her. “Thank you.”
“Are we there then?” Greg asked. “Ok, but can we find some way to see now? I know you want to keep your secret but I think I’m going to get vertigo if I can’t see. Well, I’m not blind and this is disconcerting. All right, all right.”
“What?” Serene asked.
“They say that if the dragons approve they will help us get to the surface. They know a place where they can easily let us out, but we have to stay in the dark for now for their safety,” Greg said.
“That is ridiculous,” the half elf said.
“It is fair,” Pandora said. “If they help us get to the surface then I think we can bear with their paranoia.”
“I agree,” Greg said.
“Well then,” Pandora said, “Hopefully they’ll be kind and place us where we are in and out of the way all at once.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Serene said.
“Well, we don’t have much by way of options,” Greg told her. “Look, we have gotten out of sticky situations before. If this is sticky, we can get out. I have faith in you.”
“I wish we had stayed at the academy longer,” Serene said quietly.
“I’m sorry,” Pandora apologized. “They were convincing. I did not suspect that they would try and kill us.”
“I don’t think they intended to until they found out you saw the story.”
“I saw blood,” Pandora said. “They did not even ask me what it was a saw. I wish I could go back and look at it again. It was very grabbing. It was emotional.”
“It looked kind of hideous to me,” Serene said, “From what I could see of it anyway. Daddy always said that underdark elves were vulgar.”
“I don’t think Uncle Lindal should be judging what is vulgar or not,” Pandora said uncomfortably. She thought his taste was rather vulgar in the gaudy direction.
“What are you trying to say?”
“Nothing,” Pandora said and moved closer to the lizard man.
“Momma,” Star said softly. “I’m tired. Can we rest?”
“I don’t know,’ Serene said. “We’re here though. We have to meet this group of dragons and then we can see.”
“I really hope he’s not homicidal,” Greg said. “I’m getting tired of al this crap.”
“Well, let’s not mention where you come form and we might be all right,” Serene said.
“Speaking of which, we need to start teaching you how to speak our languages without the ring,” Pandora said. “It is going to run out before long.”
“I know,” Greg said. “It is useful though.” There was some hissing and clicking. “Oh, I think we’re here.”
“Does this space feel open to any of you?” Serene asked.