Greg and Pandora sat across from each other for several minutes, but to Pandora it was an eternity. Finally Greg stood up and sat next to her. “What is wrong, Amazon?” he asked.
She gave him a small smile and then it faltered and she sighed. “I met someone today.”
Greg blinked and his brow wrinkled together. “You… met someone?” he asked uncertainly. “We’re in the middle of nowhere. How did you meet someone?”
She sighed again and looked away. “It was a dragon. He was spying on me,” she said. “His name is Lisille.”
“Sounds girly,” Greg mumbled and scratched his ear. “But… what did he want?”
“He wanted me… us…to come and live with him and the dragons… I guess.” She sighed.
Pandora nodded and took his hand as she stood up. “Let’s go to my room. Serene put some spell on the door.”
“Serene loves her spells,” he said and squeezed her hand.
She ignored the gesture and led him through the hallway and pushed her door open. She looked around cautiously before leading him through and shutting the door.
“I cannot get over how stocked your room is,” Greg said and went to one of the chairs in the corner. She claimed the other making certain that the ward was working.
“Topaz wanted to make me happy,” she said as she sat down. “I don’t know what to do, Greg. I was so angry…”
She reached into her belt pouch and pulled out the cloth she had found on the twig. She did her best to smooth it out and then handed it to Greg.
“What were you angry about?” he asked as he inspected the cloth. His thumb stroked it over and over again. “It feels nice.”
“I think it’s of elfin make,” she said.
“Looks like camo,” he said and handed it back to her. “Or some sort of it. Um… camouflage, anyway. Look, Amazon, was the dragon wearing that sort of cloth?”
She shrugged. “I honestly wasn’t paying much attention to what he was wearing. I was more concerned with him trying to seduce me.”
Greg blushed and covered his face quickly with his hands. “He was trying to seduce you? How in the world could you tell? No one has ever tried to seduce you before.”
She shrugged. “He thought I was amazing for a human. Immortals are quite frequently attracted to mortality. It makes them feel… something, I think.”
“So you think we’re like drugs to dragons and elves?” Greg asked.
Pandora thought about that for a moment and then nodded. “Yes, I suppose so. Anyway, I was more like a novelty item to him anyway. He had never seen something like me before.”
“Something like you? You aren’t a thing, Amazon. You’re a… fascinating young woman.” He reached up and pushed some hair out of her face. “You should cut your hair again or grow it out.”
“I should leave it for now,” she said. “I hope that Serene comes back soon. I hate that she is not here.”
Greg’s face twitched from a smile to a frown and back to a smile again. “Uh… yeah… that would make things interesting,” he said. “I like being a…”
“What?” Pandora asked.
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” he said nervously. “What do you want to do about the dragon? What can we do about it?”
“I don’t know,” Pandora said and leaned back into the chair. The cushions gave, but stone did not. “He hasn’t been watching for too long. He did not mention Serene. He mentioned you and the children, but not Serene. She’s a bit hard to miss too.”
“That is true,” Greg agreed. “So he knows where we live. Should we move? Can we do it in time?”
“We can move the entrance and change it up a bit. That should make it harder for him to find us.” Pandora scratched her cheek and then squeezed her eyes shut. “He promised to leave and to let me find him when I want him.”
“That’s the word he used. I don’t think it will happen. I hardly know him or his uses so I don’t see why I would.”
“Always so pragmatic,” Greg said dryly and then stood. “I had better go get some rest. No telling what a long day I’m going to have tomorrow.”
Pandora nodded and watched him go. She relaxed into the chair and closed her eyes. The day was not good. The traps were empty or destroyed and a dragon knew where they lived. Nothing was working right.
She then remembered Serene pushed out of the chair. She went to her stone chest and concentrated on it hard so that it opened. There was a mirror sitting on top of several layers of cloth. She loomed over it and saw her reflection, but when her hand touched it her reflection disappeared and Serene’s face took its place.
“Oh, thank the gods,” Serene said from the mirror. “What in the world took you so long?”
“I ran into trouble,” Pandora said and returned to the chair with the mirror held in front of her. “Anyway, where have you been? I’ve been waiting to hear form you for weeks.”
“Oh, well, you know… things got sped up a bit.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you know how I was supposed to change the records at the schools?” Serene asked.
“Yes,” Pandora said warily.
“Well, onethingledtoanotherandIhadtokilleveryone.” She took a deep breath and then smiled, but her eyebrows were drawn so low that half of her eyes were hidden.
Pandora frowned and raised an eyebrow. “You… did what?”
“I killed all the teachers… at all the schools.”
“It was all confusing, but it ended up working all right. There is no one to remember that neither of us completed classes or to even say we never went.”
“Did you kill the students too?” Pandora asked.
“No,” she said uneasily. “I did kill a lot of the journeymen though. I had to make sure that we could get our spots.”
“You weren’t supposed to kill everyone.”
“We can’t pussyfoot around this, Pandora. We’re out for blood, remember? We take down anyone we have to take down. And I hope that you remember that these people imprisoned us and tortured us. Do you remember that?”
“My old teachers never tortured me,” Pandora said. “Did you kill them, too?”
“No, but did tweak their records. I did have to take care of the ones that ran the camps though. It makes sense, I promise,” Serene said. “You’ll have to trust me.”
Pandora sighed and nodded after a long moment. “All right,” she agreed. “What are you doing now?”
“I… uh… I’m the Emperor’s Mage.”
“No,” Pandora said firmly. “This is too soon! You’re taking it too fast. We’re just kids.”
“We’re seventeen, Pandora. We have been through more than people who are immortal. I think we can handle one stupid, egotistical man.”
“And his army,” Pandora reminded her. “This is serious, Serene. You should have come to me first.”
“Well, I couldn’t. It came up. I had to enter the tournament, and they took all of my magical items away. It’s a good thing that glamour rings have wonder hidden enchantments. I’m sorry, Pandora, but you’re going to have to hurry back to the city and take your place by the Empress. You’ll like her.”
Pandora scowled disapprovingly at her cousin. “You were supposed to come back so that we could talk to Greg about all this and then leave. Now, not only have we lied to him, but you’re leaving me to deal with this alone.”
“It couldn’t be helped. You have to hurry.”
“I can’t just leave Greg and the children. I have to get them more potions, and the food stores could get down low… and Topaz isn’t ready.”
“I need you to hurry,” Serene said. “I can give you a month at the most, but then you have to be here. I don’t want to stay here any longer than I have to.”
“You should have thought about that before you went off on your own like that. We had plans, Serene. How could you go and change that.”
“Well, you know what Greg always says,” Serene muttered.
“He doesn’t even know what that means! Look at me, Serene. You’re making me lose my temper.” Pandora took a deep breath. “I have to talk to them in the morning, but just so you know I have a dragon stalking me. I don’t know what he’ll do to them when I’m away.”
“If he’s stalking you, he’ll probably leave the others alone. Don’t worry about it, Pandora. He deserves this after what he did to my father.” Serene’s voice hitched and she shook her head. “Just hurry, Pandora. I need you here with me. The children will be all right with Greg and Topaz will be a great help.”
“What if… what if they try to breed him? He’s only six; he can’t be... doing that with dogs.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Serene said. “Don’t’ worry about it so much. Get the potions from Grizzle and Greg and the hatchlings can take care of themselves. We’ve taught them everything we know.”
Pandora sighed and rubbed her forehead with her free hand. “How can you do this to us, Serene?”
“We planned this together. It’s just going a little different. The best plans of mice and men.”
“That doesn’t make sense. Mice don’t have plans.”
“Yeah, but men do, and they get laid to waste a lot. The plan isn’t demolished; it just had to change a bit. Everything will be fine. I promise. Get the potions and come to me. Same time tomorrow if we can manage it. I’ve been busy. Plus, I think that he is interested in me.”
“That isn’t good.”
“No, it isn’t. Not when you want to kill the man and… well, I have to watch what I say. Just hurry, Pandora. This is serious, and remember: We have to hate each other.”
Well, you’re not making it difficult, Pandora thought. “I’ll do my best. I’ll talk to you tomorrow and let you know.”
Pandora was too annoyed with her cousin for the usual loving farewell. She simply dropped the mirror into her lap and covered her face in her hands. The muscles along her skull tightened and she began to get a headache.
Pandora put the mirror away and left her room. She needed to talk to Topaz, since he was going to be going with her when she left. She knocked on his door and slipped in. He was sleeping on his pile of gold.
“Topaz, dear?” she whispered and edged closer to him. He opened his eyes and blinked at her.
“Do you remember when Momma and I told you that we would be leaving the family for a little bit?” she asked.
He bobbed his head up and down. “Yes, Mother,” he said and stretched before hopping off of his pile. “Are we leaving now?”
She shook her head and opened her arms so that he could press his flank against her chest. She hugged him close and buried her face into his fur. “No, but Momma has sped things up a bit. I need you to do me a favor and craft another room and move the tunnel entrance a bit so that it cannot be found so easily. I’m going to take Rubio out and we’re going to go hunting bears, so I need you to take care of the others while I’m gone.”
“Does that make me in charge?”
“No, Greg is in charge, but he’s not strong enough to fight on his own. He’s only a normal human man. I might need the three of you to watch over him and make sure that no dragons or elves hurt him.”
“Why would dragons or elves try and hurt him?” he asked and sat down. He leaned into Pandora and she hugged him close.
“I don’t know, love, but I just want to be careful.” She kissed the top of his head. “There are too many people that have tried to kill Greg, Momma, and me.”
“I’m sorry, Mother,” he said quietly. “I will do my best to make a nice room and move the entrance before you get back. Are you sure you don’t want to wait for me?”
“I would love to, but I can’t. Momma sped things up too much and I have to act quickly. It takes too much time to travel. Get some sleep. I love you.” She kissed him on top of his head again and then gave him a good rub down before standing and leaving the room.