by Amanda Cast
“If it is, it’s really crowded,” Pandora muttered. The air moved and murmured with the breathing of everyone in the cavern. If the room was open, Pandora felt nothing of it.
“I can’t see a damn thing,” Greg said. “Oh, they want us to be quiet.”
Pandora frowned and Topaz moved closer to her. The lack of light was disconcerting. They could have walked Pandora around in one big circle and she never would have known. There was a group of the lizard men breathing as one in front of them. Their escorts hissed and the line that connected Pandora to the lizard man went taunt and then lax.
The air pushed back her hair and tugged at her clothes in a noisy exhale. “Greetings,” a large, deep, and very ancient sounding voice said. “I see my friends bring me Speakers.”
Pandora bowed to the sound of the voice. It was where the group was breathing. Then it dawned on her. It was a dragon that was breathing. She blushed at the realization. “Greetings, Dragon,” she said.
“It has been a long time since I have seen humans,” he said, “And I have not seen hatchlings since my own children.” He heaved a heavy sigh. “It is good to see the youth of today.”
“Hello,” the hatchlings said.
“Such respectful little ones,” he said approvingly. “Your parents must be proud of you.”
“We are,” Serene said.
“Oh? A half elf girl and a human boy are your parents?” he asked the hatchlings. “What is the human girl then?”
“We only have mothers,” Emerald said. “Momma is Serene, and Mother is Pandora. They adopted us when we were eggs.”
“How is it that two girl-children come to possess four dragon eggs? These are Septum Hatchlings.” He ho-hummed thoughtfully. “You are very blessed and cursed all at once. How can children hope to protect such precious beings?”
“They are actually pretty good at getting out of tight spots,” Greg said. “You should have seen them back at Varanar.” There was a quick chirrup. “Oh, sorry, man.”
“Getting out of tight spots and protecting are two different things,” he said. “These hatchlings are not even a quarter of the way to their first year of life and already they have seen things that no other hatchling sees until they are at least five.”
Pandora’s hair stood up on end. Her shirt was pulled toward the dragon’s nostrils as he sniffed her. “You smell of death and of stone. You smell of magic. Perhaps I am wrong in assuming that you are a human. No human smells as you do.”
“How many humans have you smelled?” Topaz asked.
The adult dragon chuckled. “I have not smelled as many as you, young one,” he said. “But I know what she smells of. She smells of dragon kin.”
Serene snorted and then choked. “I’m sorry,” she said with sincerity and then cleared her throat. “I don’t think Pandora is dragon Kin. She’s human as human can get. Little boring though.”
“Only she does not touch magic as humans touch magic. It flocks to her. It hungers for her.” His head moved from Pandora. “It hungers for you as well, young one. I can feel my own magic being drawn to you. Perhaps that is why the Shadow and Dream dragons of Varanar were so threatened by you. They felt an attraction that they cold not bear.”
“Surely Speakers are not that rare,” Serene said. “Two stand before you and we’re not even a year apart in age.”
“For many centuries I have locked myself out of the world. I enjoy the people here. Their memories are long and transcend death, but they are refreshing compared to the immortals of the world. They have the mortality that we all crave, but they have memories that we find comfort in.” The dragon chuckled again and then sighed. “They have told me that you are in distress.”
“We are,” Pandora confirmed.
“You have been exiled from Varanar for defeating their leader, who was a Speaker, in combat. Is this true?”
“Yes,” Serene said. “We killed her, and we would do it again. She would not stop until we were dead. She wanted to enslave the hatchlings.”
“I do not think that enslave is quite the word. Indoctrinate, maybe, but not enslave.” He yawned. “What is it that you need, young ones?”
“We need to get somewhere safe to raise the hatchlings,” Serene said. “So far everyone wants to use them for their own gain.”
“You would be safe here,” he said. “You could raise them as you see fit, but ones such as yourselves will grow sick and troubled in the world of darkness. I can already feel madness scratching at your skulls for welcome and succor.”
Pandora wished she could look at her cousin. There were some expressive eyebrows she wanted to share. She rarely had an expression she wanted to share. She gave a quiet sigh.
“Well, I don’t mean to sound short or impatient,” Serene said, “Though, honestly I am both.” The dragon and girl chuckled at the joke. “But I think we would love to get back to the surface. Is… there any safe place for us up there out of the way from the main world but close enough to make it useful?”
“I might be able to find something for you,” he said. “Would you like to be near some natural caves? They will serve well enough for living space until you can craft something better.”
“That sounds great,” Serene said. “Maybe temperate? Nothing too cold or too hot? The hatchlings are very demanding.”
“I like the idea of a nice scorching desert,” Rubio said and Star agreed.
“I think there is a nice little valley that might do you well enough,” he said. “You are lucky that the empire of the human race has not spread there, though how long it is safe from the countries of the surface is beyond me.”
“Uh… Dragon, sir,” Pandora said uncertainly.
“Yes, young one?”
“I was… I was wondering… why do you live here with… uh…the people of the underdark?”
He chuckled again. “Because I am old and tired. I have seen the human race rise and fall many times. I have watched their memories become nothing but ashes and dust. The people here are misunderstood by the other races. They are indigenous much like the dragons. They are what originally inhabited the dark places, and they remember back to when the septum was created.” He sighed. “But the elves will not accept them, and Humanity would not either. They do not accept dragons, so they could not accept something with no capability of looking like you.”
Pandora nodded and said, “You are probably right. Humanity has not accepted me and I am human.”
“It is a shame. You seem like such a wise and likeable child. Perhaps when you are situated I will visit you and your brood. It would please me if it would please you.”
“You will always be welcome in our home,” Pandora said.
“That is all I ask in exchange for helping you,” he said. “I would love to see how these little ones grow.” He paused. “Stay away from the dragon kingdoms. You will be close to the elves, but they should leave you alone because of you, half elf. It is a shame. Come, my young friends. I shall take you to your new home.”
Time was hard to track without something to track it with. There was no light to tell them how long they had been walking through the dark tunnels. They moved so they could not track it by drops of water or even by the shifting of rocks, not that they could see anyway. Time was tracked by sleeping and steps. Pandora counted steps a lot.
“Mother,” Topaz said.
“Yes, dear,” Pandora said.
“I’m tired. Are we almost there?”
“I don’t know,” she said, and she heard the familiar shuffling of Greg stumbling. “You all right, Greg?”
“Oh, yeah, I just can’t wait to get back to the surface. This dark thing is killing me. I don’t want to be blind. Ever,” he said.
“We are almost there,” the dragon said. “I can hear it.”
“Uh… dragon.. sir…” Serene said tentatively. Pandora had skirted around asking him for the time they had been together.
“Yes, young one.”
“What is your name?” she asked.
“Ah,” he sounded. “I have no name that has lasted. Many call me Master. Some call me friend. If I had a mother I do not know what she would have named me. Name me what you would be pleased to name me. For centuries I have simply been ‘The Dragon’.”
“How about…” Serene trailed off thinking.
“You sound like one of the old Japanese guys on TV,” Greg said. “Maybe if we called you
“What kind of a name is
“I like it,” Pandora said. “Do you like it, Master Dragon?”
“If Greg thinks that it suits me from his world then I cannot complain. I will be
“It does me,” Greg said and then mumbled under his breath for a little bit. “I mean… it pleases me. It reminds me of home even if I wasn’t from
“Agreed?” Serene said uncertainly.
Pandora reached up with the cloth and tried to tie it to her face. It was thick where it was supposed to go over her eyes and the straps were thin enough to work in her fingers, but she felt clumsy. Her escort helped her tie it and assisted her in making sure that it would keep the majority of the light out of her eyes. He spoke to her, but it came to nothing for Pandora.
She took his hands in hers and turned to face him. She could not see his face, but she could imagine from the faces in the stone palace in Varanar. “I wish I could have learned more about you all. Perhaps we can come and visit your people and learn from you,” she said in draconic.
“I take it as an honor,” Pandora said. “I am sorry for how others treat them,
“Perhaps they will one day, young one.” He took a deep breath and held it before he said, “It is time to begin. They will be leaving you now. They cannot stand the light. It has been too long since their race has seen it.”
They all said good bye to their escorts. Greg had the longest good bye. He hugged them all and his voiced hinted at waving. He sighed heavily as he took his place next to Pandora.
“I’m going to miss them,” he said.
“I don’t know… I just wish I understood what they were talking about. It’s different than Draconic, you know? I just hear and know Draconic. I can speak it…”
“Yeah, but on the bright side your mouth is already made to speak their language. That’s pretty sweet. When this ring runs out I’ll never get to talk to them again.”
“Well, you can at least learn how to understand them,” she said. “You’ll probably learn some draconic while you’re at it.”
“How could I not living with four dragons and two Speakers?” He nudged her playfully and she had to regain her balance.
“It would be nearly impossible, I’m sure,” Serene said. “You’re lucky Pandora likes you or I’d kick you to the wolves.”
“I like him too, Momma,” Star said.
“No accounting for taste,” Serene said.
“Oh, so you can steal my phrases, but I’m lame,” Greg said.
“Whatever,” Serene said.
“May I, Mother?” Topaz asked.
“Yes,” she said and patted him on his back. “Behave and don’t do anything before Master Tokyo tells you to.”
“Yes, Mother,” he said excitedly and followed the sound of Tokyo’s heavy breathing.
The ground moved, but the stone made no sound. Serene’s stomach growled and she moaned and thumped her belly. Pandora became more aware of the beat of her heart and the pulsing of her temples at every pump.
Then light began to seep under the bottom of Pandora’s blindfold. Her eyes were both hungry for it and hurt by it. She hissed and pressed the bottom of it closer to her keeps. She squeezed her eyes shut as tightly as she could.
“Yes, the light is bright,” the dragon agreed. “I wonder what the world looks like now.”
“What?” Serene asked. “Are you blind?”
“I was not so lucky as you, young one. When I was much younger my eyes were gouged from my face. The surface is just as dark as the underdark. I am not bitter though, I have learned to cope, and my other senses have heightened beyond anything you could comprehend.”
“That is amazing and sad at all the same time,” Greg said. “Um, how long do you think it’s going to take us to get used to this?”
“It varies. Serene will probably be the first to adjust. Mind the hatchlings,” he said. I will speak to Topaz later and instruct him on how to contact me when you are ready for guests.”