The morning was cool and inviting as Pandora wandered through the woods around the complex. She wished that Serene was there to share it with her. Serene always enjoyed a lovely morning in the dappled sunshine. Between the rich smell of green growth and rich soil it was intoxicating to her half elf cousin.
The thought of her cousin made her uneasy. Serene was supposed to be back earlier so that she and Pandora could make their plans, but she was late. It could be for any reason, and Pandora knew as well as any body else that Serene was easily distracted. Pandora hoped that it was neither danger nor a boy that kept her from home. Serene loved boys far too much.
Pandora massaged her stomach as if to ease the queasiness, but the knot did not go away. It tightened and she grimaced. Pandora halted and took several deep breaths with her eyes closed. A stray hair tickled her cheek and she pushed it back and shook her head. The short strands settled back into place and she sighed.
“Where are you?” she whispered and stared out toward the valley’s mouth.
After a moment Pandora started to walk again. She decided to ignore the purple sparrows that darted around overhead and watch the floor for any signs of animals. She was not hunting, but it was always good practice to identify any markings that she could.
She noticed something hanging from a twig and she moved closer to it. The fabric was unfamiliar to Pandora and she reached out and touched it. “Hmm soft,” she said and tugged it free. The fabric was primarily a dark tan, but there were darker spots dotting all through the fibers. She held it under her nose and gave it a sniff.
“Elves?” she said, perplexed. It smelled like flowers and freshly cropped grass. There was also the subtle suggestion of sandalwood. Pandora wrinkled her nose and crumpled it in her hand. She wondered what the elf was running away from when he lost part of his shirt and if he was still in her valley.
“Damn it,” she swore in Greg’s language and debated on continuing her rounds with the traps or going to warn Greg and have Topaz lock up the complex so that the elves could not get into it. “What if they already know?” she thought out loud. Moving was not something any of the members of the small group wanted to do.
Pandora’s mind was spinning in place as she tried to figure out what she was supposed to do. Her children could be in trouble and she was away, but then they could still be safe and she could endanger them by going to them. Emmy? She thought and reached out for the dragon.
There was no response. Emerald had to open the connection. As long as she did not Pandora could only assume that they were safe. Eventually she would wonder where Pandora was and try and contact her. Then Pandora could warn her about the danger, but would it be too late?
Pandora kicked a tree and then hit it with the side of her fist. Anger and frustration welled up inside of her and she felt the urge to fight. She gripped the tree and pressed her forehead hard against the bark. Her fingers tore away the protective husk of the trunk and she rocked back and punched the tree again.
Her chest heaved as she pulled in the air and pushed it out again. She took a step back and collapsed down onto her knees. Pandora hunched over so that her torso was bobbing over her thighs. Her fingers gripped the back of her neck and she fought to bring her temper under control. She did not want her children to see her in such a state. It frightened her that thoughts of danger to them could put her into such a frenzy.
She took several deep breaths and slowly calmed herself. She whimpered quietly and then lifted her head and sat back so that her bottom was on her heels. She rubbed her palms on her cloth leggings and then stood up.
Pandora pushed her hair back and out of her eyes. Elves in her valley were not a good thing, but she could not lose her good sense at the wrong time. She took another deep breath and continued to check the traps. Some of the more obvious ones were broken.
She kneeled down beside one of the snares. The vine rope was severed in two. She looked up at the tree tops. The purple sparrows were staring down at her. She stood back up brushed her hands off on her leggings. “This is not good.”
The leaves behind her rustled and she spun on the ball of her foot to see if someone was there. “Nothing more than the wind,” she muttered.
“No, not really,” someone said from behind her. She turned back to see a man with white hair and startling blue eyes several feet away from her. He was leaning casually against a tree as though he had always been there. He had long pointed ears just like her Uncle Lindal, but something about him told her that he was a dragon.
“What do you want?” Pandora asked in Draconic.
“Ah, just as I suspected,” he said. “I can’t say that I’m surprised and that I’m not.” He pushed off of the tree trunk and sauntered over to Pandora. “You are brave, and I appreciate that in a Speaker.”
“How long have you been watching me?” she asked and squared her shoulders. He stood taller than Greg.
“Long enough to know how dangerous you are,” he said. “Now, what is a human like you doing in a dump like this? You could be an elite soldier for the Emperor… yet here you are.” He waved his hand as if to encompass the whole valley.
“It’s beautiful,” she said and set her jaw. She watched him warily.
“Not beautiful enough for a woman like you,” he said with a smarmy smile.
Pandora sneered despite herself. “You must not have watched me long enough,” she said. “I suggest that you leave this valley and forget anything you have seen here.”
“Or what?” he asked.
“Or I might kill you,” Pandora said boldly and he laughed at her.
“You’ll kill me?” he asked. “Have you ever even killed anyone before?”
She leveled him with a look and his expression changed several times in a few seconds. It settled on a disbelieving smile. “No,” he laughed.
“You don’t have to believe me,” she told him. “It only matters if you don’t leave.”
“I don’t think I want to leave. I am intrigued by you and your little family,” he said.
Her blood ran ice cold. “You stay away from them,” Pandora said in a quiet, controlled voice. Her fists clenched at her sides.
“Oh? Are you worried about four little dragons and a human male?” he asked. “I won’t harm them, don’t worry. I’m interested in you, not them.”
“And why are you interested in me?” she asked.
“Because you are a human Speaker,” he told her. “You are a rarity… if not a first.” He chuckled softly. “I would like for you and yours to come and live with me.”
“We are doing just fine where we are. We’re quite happy, actually.”
“How can you be happy here? You are setting traps to catch animals for food. How do you hope to take care of them?”
“We’ve lived here for five years with no difficulty,” Pandora said. “If you’re curious, I was twelve at the time. This is our home. We are not leaving. You leave.”
“You were twelve when you settled this little valley?” he reached out to touch her face and she jerked away and stepped back. He curled his fingers in and dropped his hand. “So you are only seventeen years old. You are…so young.”
“I am,” she agreed. “Go back to your home and forget about us. We want nothing to do with the dragons, elves or humans. We want to be left alone.”
“You can’t be left alone forever,” he told her. “Eventually you have to come out and play with the rest of the world.”
“That will have to wait until the children are older and able to take care of themselves.”
“But you won’t live that long without help,” he told her and touched she was so petrified by what he said that his cool fingers actually did touch her cheek. “I can see the flame eating away at you. It is devouring your very being. Without bonding your soul to a dragon you will die tragically young.”
“That is a risk I must take,” she said. “My death does not concern me.”
“Who will watch after your little dragon children if you will not be around to protect them? The little human whelp?” He shook his head. “You should be with the dragons.”
“No,” Pandora said. “We will take care of our own problems. Please leave.”
“My name is Lisille,” he said. “When you want to find me, just say my name and elves and dragons will point the way. I will leave for now though, since you asked so nicely.”
Pandora watched him turn to leave. Part of her wanted him to stop and talk to her longer, but the other part of her was afraid that he, too, would try to take the hatchlings away and force them to be something they were not. She stood and watched the woods for him, and did not leave the clearing until well into night. Even Emerald’s thoughts could not compel her to leave.