Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Chapter 52

by Amanda Cast

Pancakes and Sausage

Pandora rose early and enjoyed the silence of the complex. After five years she grew accustomed to the noises of dragons playing and exploring their powers with Greg. In the early mornings Pandora did not get to hear the familiar sounds. Now she was left in her own little world with her own space. She longed for the moments as she longed for the company of someone other than Greg, Serene, and the hatchlings.

Greg helped Topaz form the kitchen more than Pandora or Serene did. It was a complicated work of cabinets and counter tops, and it was always warm. She checked the vents and then the ice box. It was not as nice as her uncle’s had been, but it served its purpose and they had unlimited space without dimension manipulation.

There was plenty of meat in it, but she was uncertain if it would last them long enough. She decided to dry the bear meat so that they could have something during the time she was away. She hoped it would be enough.

“Amazon?” Greg asked from the doorway. Pandora jumped and turned to face him. “What are you doing up right now?”

“What are you doing up?”

“I… had to use the bathroom and your door was open so I thought you would be here.” He walked over to the ice box and peaked inside. “We’re not doing bad. It’s still only the middle of summer.”

“I know,” Pandora said. “But I have to go away for a while, so I want you to be well situated.”

He was quiet for a while and then he quietly shut the ice box. After a tense moment he looked up at her. “Where are you going?”

“Well, first I’m going to go hunt a bear and get you some more potions as well as get some more meat and sinew. I’m sorry, Greg. Serene went out of control and I have to go take care of it.”

“Why can’t I go with you? Why can’t we all go?”

“Because it’s more than just your normal tight spot. She is now the Emperor’s Mage.” Pandora took a deep breath and turned away from him. She could not stand the thought of the realization of betrayal on his face.

“How the hell?” he asked. He said quietly after that, “How did that happen?”

“I don’t know. It was part of the plan, Greg, but we wanted to feel around it first before we came to you about it.” She sighed heavily and walked away from him. Her guilt weighed heavily on her shoulders and they slumped. “She ruined everything and now I have to go and help her.”

“She’ll get you both killed,” Greg said and closed the distance between them in a couple of long strides. He gripped her shoulders and then wrapped his arms around her entirely. She froze and stiffened instinctively. “I don’t want you to die, Pandora.”

“I don’t want to die either, Greg,” she told him and forced herself to relax.

“Then why don’t you let her get out of it on her own? The kids need you. I need you.”

Pandora broke free of him. “Don’t say that,” she said. “I need you to watch over them while I’m gone. I’m taking Topaz with me when we go to the city, but I need to take Rubio with me when I go hunting. Topaz is going to be changing the entrance and making another room today.”

“We are supposed to discuss everything, Pandora,” he reminded her.

“I’m sorry, Greg. There just isn’t time.”

“Why is she with the Emperor?”

Pandora licked her lips and looked away. “You know how we started looking for Uncle Lindal a few years ago after we got situated?” Greg nodded and Pandora mimicked the movement. “Well, we haven’t found him because he isn’t alive.”

Greg’s eyes narrowed and he jerked his chin to the side, but his eyes stayed focused on Pandora. “He’s dead? When did he die?”

Pandora took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders. Her throat trembled. “Around the time we were fleeing he was being beheaded. The head was already delivered before we even left. They were going to show it to us in some dramatic presentation.”

He frowned. “And now you are going out for revenge.”

Pandora nodded.

“Your uncle was a criminal, Pandora.”

“So? We’re murderers. Seems like you’re surrounded by criminals,” Pandora said. “You would be surprised what you had to do to survive, wouldn’t you? Doesn’t matter now, does it? The Emperor made a deal and he broke it. He crossed the wrong twelve year olds.”

“So this is vengeance. You’re going to risk your lives for vengeance? What about the kids?”

“You can take care of them. You know how to and they trust you.”

“I can’t do this without you,” he said softly.

“Yes, you can,” Pandora said. “I leave you alone with them all the time. You’ll be fine.” She stepped farther away from him. “I’m going to make breakfast. Could you get the kids up?”

Greg sighed and gulped. His face was etched in deep emotion pain that made Pandora stop breathing. She did not want to hurt Greg, but she knew that she must. Greg needed passion that she could never give him. Simply caring about him would never be enough. He left her and hit the door frame on his way out.

Pandora squeezed her eyes shut and leaned against the counter. She hated caring so much. Life was easier before she met Serene.

After a moment she started to make breakfast. She made pancakes created from nut flour and made syrup out of blueberries. To go with them Pandora fried up some venison sausage. Only two of the plates had the pancakes, but the other four were piled high with sausage and had little containers of blueberry syrup on the side.

By the time Pandora was balancing the tray through the door Greg already had them at the table and dressed for the day. Rubio was wearing his dark green and brown hunting tunic. There was a cap on the table next to him.

Greg helped her set the table and lay out the food. Pandora bent down and laid Topaz’s food in front of him. He started to gnaw on the sausage right away.

“When is Momma coming back?” Star asked as she speared a sausage with her fork.

Greg gave Pandora a meaningful look and thrust a big triangle of pancake into his mouth so that he would not have to say anything.

Pandora set down her fork and laid her palms on the table. “Momma won’t be back for a while,” she said. “She… um…”

“No, go on, Pandora,” he said with a steel edge in his voice. The children looked from one to the other in confusion. Greg only called Pandora by her name during tense moments, and they knew it.

“She is currently in the Imperial City. I will be leaving to join her.”

“Mother, no!” Rubio said. “What about our hunting trip. Greg said we were going hunting.”

“We are still going hunting,” Pandora said. “It’s just that I have to go help Momma out. Greg will stay here and take care of you. I want you all to watch out for each other. Emerald will be able to reach me in dreams so I can let you know how everything is going.”

“First Momma and now you?” Star asked. “Are you going to abandon us?”

“No, dearest,” Pandora said with shocked sincerity. “We would never abandon you. We’ll just be gone for a little while, and then… then we’ll be back. I promise.”

“Are you going to bring Momma straight home?” Rubio asked. His food was forgotten in front of him.

Pandora shot Greg a desperate look but he was unsympathetic and gave her a stone cold frown. Pandora took a deep breath. “Momma and I love you very much. We are just trying to eliminate a threat to your safety. It is a sacrifice for us because we want to spend every moment with you that we can. I don’t want to leave, but I must.”

“Is there anything else you want to tell them?” Greg asked bitingly. Pandora flinched at his tone.

“I will be taking Topaz with me when I go.”

Star and Rubio started shouting at once. Emerald looked upset for a brief moment but she quickly masked it and started eating without concern.

“Why does he get to go and we have to stay behind?” Star asked furiously.

“Yeah!” Rubio intoned.

Pandora sighed. “Because Topaz chose a form that is easy enough for me to explain having around. He can also get into places that none of us can get into. He’ll be ignored by anyone and everyone. No one will suspect him of spying.” She turned her gaze to Topaz who was gnawing contently at his food. “He already has the art of it down. You, Star, are a beautiful little girl that men would try and hurt and take advantage of. Then you would get all ice cold and blow your cover. Rubio… you should not have listened to Greg about your appearance.”

“What is wrong with his appearance?” Greg asked.

“He’s a half elf with red hair and red eyes. That is a big warning flag. I cannot explain why I have him running around with me in the Imperial City. Granted, most, if not all, humans are entirely ignorant about dragons, but they know that elves and humans do not come in those colors.”

“Well, why can’t Emerald go?” Rubio asked.

“I’m needed here for communication purposes,” Emerald said.

Both Star and Rubio glared at her. “You’re a freak, Emmy,” Star said. “You should be furious, too.”

“Topaz is not mad,” she said as she dipped a small bite in the syrup. “Why should I be mad?”

“Topaz gets to go with her,” Star yelled with an emphatic pointing of her finger.

“I am pleased to stay home,” Emerald said. “Greg is responsible and will take good care of us. It is Topaz’s loss that he leaves. He will not further his training.”

“We have a life time to train,” Rubio said.

Emerald shrugged. “Mother said she will come back to us. She will come back.” Her green eyes bore into Pandora with unfailing trust. “Mother always keeps her word.”

“What about with Momma coming home soon. She said she would come home soon,” Rubio said.

“That was just Mother trusting Momma to do what she said. You cannot blame her for misplaced trust.” Emerald stopped talking to pull the sausage off of the fork and chew it patiently.

Greg, Rubio, and Star seethed quietly for a long time. They ate very little, but Topaz and Emerald finished their breakfast without complaint or comment. Pandora forced herself to eat, but the pancakes stuck in her throat and the sausage tasted bland and dry.

Pandora did not want to leave her haven and return to a world that only wanted her dead anymore than the hatchlings wanted it. Why did Serene always get her into these messes?

<Chapter 51><Chapter 53>

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