Once again, I was surrounded on all sides by a thick fog. This time, I immediately recognized the fact that I was dreaming, though I also knew that it wasn’t merely a dream.
Though I couldn’t see through the fog, I could still feel the presence of the other Pandoras, and I knew they were coming before they emerged. Eight Pandoras stepped out of the fog at the same time, surrounding me.
“We are Pandora,” every Pandora said simultaneously, including myself.
Then, the Pandora I was most familiar with, Dora, stepped forward. “Pandora,” she greeted me formally.
“Pandora,” I responded in the same tone. Once the formalities were out of the way, I said, “I take it that I’m here because I’ve been fighting the box…”
“Each of us has resisted the box on occasion,” Dora told me with a wry smile. “With varying degrees of success. The box can be insistent, and does not understand the needs of the world, or of our hearts.”
“I needed that mirror,” I pointed out. “Without it...”
Dora let out a sigh. “Unfortunately, you will have to make do without the mirror. You were taking a valuable artifact to the very people you should be hiding it from. You should not be surprised that the box took drastic steps in order to protect it. As it is, you still risk yourself, and the box along with you.”
“But I have to help Theressa,” I protested. “I have to…”
“Of course, I understand,” Dora told me gently. “The box may not understand such things, but we do…” She gestured to the other Pandoras.
“My village was under attack,” the Pandora in the leather armor said, stepping forward. “We found an artifact that could protect us, though the box called for it. I resisted its call, so we could use the artifact… But during the attack, one of the enemy recovered the artifact and used it against us. Because I ignored the box, I lost the artifact along with my village.”
The Pandora in the leather armor stepped back, and another Pandora stepped forward. “I once found a weapon, that I thought to use, for the protection of myself and the box. I resisted the box for nearly a moon, though the call only grew stronger until I could resist no further.”
“It is not our purpose to use the artifacts we collect,” another Pandora added. “Merely to save and protect them.”
“Ours is to guard the box,” yet another Pandora said. “And to serve its purpose.”
“Yet we had needs and desires of our own,” said one of the Pandoras behind me, whom I couldn’t see at that moment.
“What you are attempting is dangerous,” Dora told me with a sigh. “You risk much to help Theressa.”
“Too much,” stated the Pandora in the nice renaissance style dress.
Dora gave her a cold look, then turned back to me. “Since you will continue on this quest, with or without the mirror, we will try to improve your odds of succeeding.”
“And surviving,” Pandora in the leather armor added.
“What do you mean?” I asked, giving Dora and the other Pandoras a curious look.
Dora smiled faintly, and then told me.
The Roadkill Café was a small diner, with a very unfortunate name. Apparently, the owner had a twisted sense of humor, and in spite of the name, the food was really good.
My breakfast was a squirrel pancake, which sounded a lot grosser than it actually was. It was basically a normal pancake, with some pecans thrown into the mix, and with a pecan syrup over the top. Other specialties on the menu included raccoon and possum pancakes, neither of which actually included the animals they were named after.
“How’s your chicken crossing the road?” I asked Jake, who was eating another of their oddly named specials. That one was actually just a chicken fried steak, with some scrambled eggs on the side.
“Pretty good,” Jake said.
I took a sip of my coffee, noticing how Jake was watching me. He was probably trying to reconcile the woman he saw in front of him, with a teenage boy named Byron. Since Jake had never actually met me back when I’d been Byron, he was obviously having a hard time seeing me that way. I smiled faintly at that, since I didn’t want him to think of me as Byron. I was Pan now, and that was how I wanted people to think of me, especially Jake.
“Man,” Dave said, leaning back with a sigh. “I wish we still had that mirror. I mean, when this was all done and over with, we could have made a fortune using that thing. Imagine, finding El Dorado, the Lost Dutchman’s Mine, or where some pirates buried their gold…”
“I’m afraid the mirror doesn’t work like that,” I replied with a chuckle, earning curious looks from both Dave and Jake.
Yesterday, when I’d put the mirror into the box, I’d had visions about it, much like I had with Tom’s artifact. I’d been too distracted to notice them much at the time, but during the long drive, they came back to me a bit, enough so that I had a basic idea of the mirror’s history and how it worked. Not that this did me much good now.
“The mirror can only target another person, not a place or item,” I explained patiently. I took another sip of coffee. “And it can only target someone of great importance to the user. In other words, it lets you check in on your loved ones or enemies, but doesn’t do much else.”
“Damn,” Dave responded with a disappointed shake of his head. “That’s too bad…”
“But still very useful,” Jake said with a sigh. “We could have used it more.”
I nodded at that, feeling guilty over my part in losing the mirror, before we’d recovered Theressa. I had no doubt that if we failed to save her, then I’d blame myself for the rest of my potentially long life.
“Well, we should be at our destination sometime tonight,” Jake said thoughtfully. “I doubt they’ll have moved Theressa since the last time we checked up on her, especially since they seem to have been keeping her there since they caught her.”
I cleared my throat, then awkwardly said, “Actually, we need to make a detour first.”
Jake gave me a look of surprise. “What detour? And why?”
“Last night,” I said carefully, “I talked to Dora.”
“What?” Jake blurted out, giving me a look of surprise.
“Part of her is still tied to the box,” I quickly explained. “Sort of like her ghost. She and the other previous Pandoras have talked to me a couple times in my dreams…”
“Why didn’t you say something about that before?” Jake asked, giving me a curious look that might have had a hint of suspicion in it.
“Are you sure it wasn’t just a normal dream?” Dave asked, more curious than anything.
I gave Dave a wry smile. “Trust me, this wasn’t a regular dream.” Then I looked to Jake. “Dora and my other predecessors have only contacted me like this a couple times, mostly to translate when the box is trying to tell me something.”
Jake scowled at that. “So, the box was trying to tell you something last night…”
“Not so much, this time,” I admitted. “But Dora wanted to help save Theressa…”
Jake blinked at that that. “But she’s dead. How can she help?”
I let out a sigh, thinking about last night and my conversation with Dora. “Dora had a safe house, not too far out of our way… And according to her, she has some things stored there that we can use.”
“Then why didn’t she tell you about this earlier?” Jake demanded in frustration, obviously thinking about how we’d gone to Dave, simply because we had nowhere else to go.
With a shrug, I admitted, “I’m not sure. Maybe because she didn’t think we really needed it. Or maybe she was afraid it might be compromised, like her house was.” Of course, my own guess was that she’d wanted me to learn how to stand on my own two feet.
“Did she tell you what kind of things she’d stored there?” Jake asked.
“Weapons and money,” I responded with a shrug. “I figure, your dad probably played a large part in setting it up…”
“Then there will definitely be weapons,” Jake mused thoughtfully.
“That should make things a little easier then,” Dave offered. “It will mean a delay before we can get to your friend, but any extra firepower will be useful…”
Jake sat there in silence for several long seconds before nodding agreement. “If it isn’t too far out of our way, and won’t cause too much of a delay, then this might be just what we need.”
Once we were done with breakfast, we hit the road again for another continuation of our never-ending road trip. After all this traveling, I’d decided that if I ever had the chance, I’d get an RV, so any other road trips I was forced to go on, would be a lot more comfortable and convenient. Of course, first we had to survive what waited at the end of the current trip.
We drove until early evening, around the same time it would have taken us to arrive at the house where Theressa was being held, if we hadn’t changed our plans. The house that Dora had told me about, was a small, two-story craftsman, which was the last house in a dead-end street. Its location, and the hedges around it, provided a good deal of privacy.
“Is this it?” Jake asked.
I glanced at the street address number on the side and nodded. “This is the address she gave me.”
I climbed out of the car and went to the front door to ring the doorbell. To my relief, nobody answered. With the way my luck had been working lately, I wouldn’t have been surprised if a family of squatters had moved in.
“So, I’m assuming you don’t have the key,” Dave commented wryly.
“No key,” I admitted. Then with a smirk, I moved the street number sign that was next to the door, revealing a keypad that had been hidden beneath it. “But I do have the code…”
After entering the combo that Dora had given me, the door unlocked and we went inside. I slowly looked around, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. Of course, that was no surprise since all the interesting stuff was hidden away. Since I’d been in Dora’s house as well as Cliff’s cabin, my first thought would have been to check for a hidden room in the basement, even if Dora hadn’t told me about it.
“Knowing my dad,” Jake said, going straight for the stairs, “he’ll have hidden any weapons in the basement.”
“Why didn’t I think of that?” I asked wryly, following close behind.
“Stairs,” Dave said in an obvious Indiana Jones impression. “Why did it have to be stairs?”
The basement appeared to be empty, though it didn’t take long for us to find the hidden door, and to unlock it. On the other side, there was a large room, which contained a veritable treasure. Not only was there a nice collection of weapons, but there were also a lot of antiques. Obviously, Dora had been storing some of her real valuables down here along with the guns.
Dave held up an impressive looking rifle, which definitely looked like something from the military. “Nice… We’ve got enough shit here to take over a small country…”
“Maybe a small county,” Jake corrected him, though he still looked impressed. “I think this will do nicely.”
I nodded agreement, though I was distracted by a sudden urge to look in the back corner. Obviously, the box was speaking to me again, though I still wasn’t sure what it was saying, at least not at first. Then, it suddenly dawned on me.
“There’s an artifact,” I blurted out.
“What?” Jake asked, looking around in surprise. “Where?”
“Here,” I answered, pointing to a shoe box that was sitting on a shelf. There was an envelope on top, with the name ‘DORA’ written on it. Since Dora was no longer around, I opened the envelope and read the short letter inside.
‘Inside this box is an artifact, which I have kept hidden from you until now. I have a feeling that it might come in useful someday. I don’t like having to deceive you, but I know that if you were aware of this artifact, you’d feel obligated to put it into your box.’ I paused at that, then read over the second paragraph which explained what the artifact did.
“I’m pretty sure Dora didn’t know that this was here,” I said with a grin. “But I’m glad it is.”
Jake read over the letter as well, then chuckled. “Thanks Dad. Even after you’re dead, you’re still looking out for us.”
“Then, he and Dora have that in common,” I said with a sad smile.
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