Pandora woke up on the floor of the chemistry lab. For the last month, she had been in the habit of never sleeping in the same place twice—never allowing anyone to predict where she would be when she was most vulnerable to surprise. It was a habit she had begun in early October, following Jude Bellow’s nocturnal torture. To her, it didn’t matter that he’d been expelled: part of the boy’s ability included teleportation; if he wanted to come back to the school, there was nothing that could stop him.
Her paranoia had only increased following Justice and Absalom’s joint raid on the campus just a week ago. Though Justice had come to execute Maxwell Swift, she had believed he had come for her. She had told the man as much…
“Stop it!” Phaeton screamed. “Stop it! He didn’t do anything wrong!” Rage was bubbling up inside of her but she restrained herself. Fighting Justice only led to her friends getting hurt. If it was spare them, she would do anything… “I’m the one you’re after—me! Leave my friends alone and just…”
Justice turned on the young woman and hesitated. “You?” he asked. “Why would I be after you?”
Phaeton looked up and fixed Justice with a quizzical look. “You… You’re not after me?”
“Not unless you’re the one who turned Kyle Fairbanks of Palmer, Alaska into a flaming effigy.”
She had all but confessed to killing her father and, try as he did, Max had failed to kill Justice. The man had a knife slipped between his ribs; he had been shot, engulfed in flames and thrown out a window. Against all odds, Justice had escaped. Granted, there was the chance that he drowned trying to escape Governor’s Island, but his body had failed to turn up in the weeks since that night…
Once Justice had finished licking his wounds, he might return to the New Vindicators Academy with a new target. He might come for her and she was determined not to make the job easier for him.
Gathering up what little bedding she took with her each night, Pandora opened up the window and slipped out over the quad. She wasn’t supposed to use her powers like this—a girl flying between the buildings might draw unwanted attention to the school—but it let her avoid having to answer any awkward questions about why she was heading back to the dorms with a rolled up sleeping bag. Besides, she never felt more alive than she did while flying.
Razi would be awake—the girl rose with the sun. Fortunately, Razi respected her roommate’s privacy. She never asked her where she went each night or why; she didn’t even mind that Pandora kept their window unlocked. Putting her palms on the sill, Pandora prepared herself for the sight of Razi sitting on the edge of her bed, her nose buried in a book.
Tossing her bedroll atop the bed she hadn’t slept in for weeks, Pandora moved to the closet and grabbed the strings of her shorts. Before untying them, she glanced over her shoulder at Razi to ensure the young woman was focused on her book. Despite Razi’s apathetic outlook on nearly everything, Pandora felt self-conscious around the girl: Razi was so thin and Pandora carried a little extra padding on her bones.
With her back to her roommate, Pandora hastily stripped and dressed; she tugged on a black T-shirt and a plaid skirt before sitting down to cut a hole in her red fishnets and lace up her knee-high boots. Without so much as a word to her roommate, Pandora darted out the door and froze at the sight that awaited her…
Vines raced from her door, across the floor and snaked up the wall; they trailed over the ceiling and down the wall to her right, leaving a spiraling path that led down the hall to the stairwell.
Pandora cautiously stepped out into the hall and approached the adjacent wall to examine the flowers born on the vines: from her threshold, she could see the violet flowers packed with so many long, broad petals that its core was obscured, but on a closer inspection she saw that those flowers were not alone… What she had mistaken for flecks of white amongst the field of green and violet were actually tiny flowers roughly the size of her fingernails.
A few other girls were standing in the hall, spellbound by the sight that had greeted them this morning. Some had noticed Pandora’s emergence into the hall and greeted her with giggles. Looking back to her door she saw there was no mistaking that this path began at her room. “Razi?” she called back into the dorm. “I think your brother’s up to something…”
“He’s not my brother,” Razi said reflexively. The apathetic young woman gracefully strode to the threshold and scanned the floral arrangement. “But this is strange… even for him.”
“What’s he up to?” Pandora asked.
Razi pulled their door shut behind her and set off down the hall, wearing a determined expression. Whatever was happening, it was enough to pry her away from her book long enough to investigate the source of this phenomenon…
Pandora quickened her pace to fall in beside the Filipino girl. They marched past the giggling girls and threw open the door to the stair well. Here, the flowery path twisted around the stairs, leading them down to the main level. There, they followed it towards the Lighthouse and into the Common Room, where they ran into a familiar face…
“Excusez-moi,” Martin Curie said as he turned a corner and ran into the taller of the roommates. The Frenchman was holding the hand of a tall, busty redhead—his classmate, Tatjana Nelson. “We were looking for ze cafeteria?”
Tatjana’s eyes shone with recognition. “You’re…” she struggled for a moment to summon her name to memory. “Pandora Filash, right?” she asked.
Pandora stared at the pair in wonder. “You’re both students at the Vienna school, right? What are you doing here?”
“Some of us came early, to ‘elp wiz ze preparations…”
Tatjana smiled at Pandora. “Fiore’s waiting for you,” she said, pointing in the direction the path of flowers led. Snapping out of her stupor, Pandora followed the German girl’s outstretched hand and through the patio doors, saw the flowers rise up to form a tunnel leading down towards the shore.
“Fiore?” Pandora asked. She looked to Razi and then back to the door. At first she stepped cautiously but as realization set in, she soon broke into a run. She pushed the sliding doors aside and hurried down the trail the Italian boy had left for her. Sure enough, at the end, she found Fiore Caspian standing on the shore, staring out towards the Manhattan skyline.
“Fiore?” she asked, striding towards him. “What are you doing here?”
Fiore turned and flashed her a roguish grin. “Waiting for you to wake up,” he said, stepped forward the join her. “I am glad that you have found the trail I left.”
“It was kind of hard to miss,” Pandora said, “and a little embarrassing…”
“Embarrassing?” His expression changed to a look of confusion. “Why would it embarrass you? I was the one who made the flowers…”
“It was embarrassing because… well, you left a trail of flowers leading from my door to… Wait, why did you leave a trail of flowers from my door?”
Fiore’s grin resurfaced. “I know that we did not spend much time together when you were in Vienna but since you and your classmates left, you have frequently entered my thoughts. Since then, I have gladly looked forward the day when we met again.” He reached down and took her hands in his. “Pandora? Would you be my date to tomorrow’s wedding?”
Pandora leaned back and raised an eyebrow at the boy standing before her. Six-feet-tall, Fiore was a head taller than she was; his body was lean and his frame was lithe. His shoulder-length blonde hair shimmered in the rays of the rejuvenated sun and his rich blue eyes pierced her to her soul. Looking at him, Pandora felt he wouldn’t have been out-of-place on a magazine cover. Fiore was a fetching young man and in her mind, far out of her league…
“Is this some sort of joke?” she asked, snapping back her hands. “One of your friends put you up to this? What, the French kid? The guy who turns into candy?”
“It is not a joke.” There was a hint of urgency in Fiore’s voice as he raised his arms in surrender. “Please, Pandora… I am being truthful: I have thought of you fondly and I would like greatly to sit with you—to dance with you…”
Pandora shook her head. “Guys like you don’t usually go for girls like me, Fiore.”
“I am not like other guys,” Fiore said, flashing her a smile that he hoped would convey his innocence. “Please, Pandora, I really do like you-”
“Might as well save your breath, pretty boy.” At the sound of his voice, the blood in Pandora’s veins turned to ice. Shivers ran up her spine as she turned to face their guest. “Trust me: I’ve barked up that tree before.
“Between you and me?” Jude Bellows shrugged. “I’m starting to think she plays for the other team, if you catch my drift.”
To Be Continued... wrote:Pandora versus Jude