The Box's Pandora part 10

I was in the large open yard behind the cabin, standing in what Theressa referred to as a ‘weaver’ stance. I had a gun in hand and was carefully aiming at my target. However, when I pulled the trigger, absolutely nothing happened. Of course, that was no surprise, because there was no ammunition in the gun.

“Decent stance,” Theressa told me, “and you’re holding the gun properly. Now, we just need to get you to a range, so you can actually practice shooting for real.”

“I do feel kind of silly,” I said wryly.

When Theressa suggested that I learn to use a gun, so that I could protect myself in the future, I’d thought it was a great idea. After all, I’d seen first-hand that it was a dangerous world, and knew that people might come after me because of my connection to the box. Because of that, I’d spent half the day getting lessons on firearms from Theressa and Cliff. They showed me how to clean and care for the weapons we had, how to handle them safely, and even how to shoot them. However, the one thing they hadn’t been able to do, was let me shoot them for real.

Unfortunately, Cliff’s cabin, as nice as it was, was not in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t have the kind of open space and privacy that we needed to go shooting firearms, since there was too much risk of accidentally hitting someone. The nearest neighbor’s house, was only two hundred yards away, on the other side of a few trees. That might seem like a nice distance, but it was still too close, and they certainly wouldn’t appreciate the gunfire.

“Now, clear the gun as if it was loaded,” Theressa told me.

I did as Theressa directed, wondering why she hadn’t taught me about guns before, before all this happened. But when I considered the question, I realized that I already knew the answer. My dad. He didn’t…hadn’t liked guns, and probably wouldn’t have let her. He was probably also the reason that I’d never seen her using a gun until a couple days ago.

Once we were done with the lesson, Theressa and I went to the back porch, where a table and some chairs were set up. Cliff was already sitting there, where he’d been watching us. Of course, he had several weapons at hand, including that magic sword. And unlike the gun that I’d been practicing with, I had no doubt that the ones he had were loaded.

As I sat down, I casually crossed my legs in a feminine manner. I’d been practicing yesterday, trying to get into the habit of using more feminine body language, and it seemed that my practice was paying off, because I was already starting to do it without much conscious thought. Sitting like this was starting to feel comfortable, and almost even natural. And strangely, I hadn’t caught myself sitting with my legs spread open, even once today, which is what had always felt natural to me before.

“You’ll need to practice with live rounds,” Cliff told me after I was positioned in my seat. “You might have the basics down, but they don’t do any good until you learn how to handle a gun as it fires for real…and how to hit your target.”

“Think of this as just the safety training part,” Theressa said. “That way, once we get to a range, you’ll be ready to go straight to the shooting.”

Cliff nodded at that. “And that being said, a sword can still be useful, even in modern times.” He glanced over to the neighboring house, probably thinking about the fact that a sword didn’t make any noise, so wouldn’t bother the neighbors.

“Especially a magic sword,” Theressa pointed out wryly.

“Of course,” Cliff agreed, reaching out to ouch the sword, which was leaning up against the side of the cabin, within easy reach.

“How in the world did you get a magic sword anyway?” I asked. I’d been curious about that, ever since I learned that he had a magic sword. “Those things don’t just grow on trees…”

“Well,” Cliff said with a forced smile. “As a matter of fact…” Then, the smile faded and he let out a sigh. He scowled for a moment before saying, “Dora gave it to me…the first time we ever met.”

“She just gave you a magic sword?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.

With a nod, Cliff explained, “About eighteen years ago, I was at a ren faire… Back in those days, when I was a lot younger, I used to attend a lot of those.” He gave a self-conscious smile. “I was interested in the whole knight and sword fighting thing. Then one day, I met Dora, who, as I later learned, had come to satisfy a nostalgic whim.”

“She always liked those historical reenactments,” Theressa commented with a sad smile. “Even those Civil War ones, and that happened decades before she came to the US.”

“I suppose that when you get as old as Dora was,” Cliff mused, carefully not looking at me, “the past has a lot more sentimental value, even the parts you weren’t directly involved with.”

I just stared at Cliff and Theressa, gulping as I considered the fact that I now had the potential to live a very long time as well. One day, would I be coming to some kind of event, where people are dressing up and pretending that they’re living in this time period? It was hard to even imagine.

“The sword?” I asked, to get Cliff back on topic.

“Of course,” Cliff responded with a sad look. “Dora saw me, pulled me aside, and suddenly had the box in her hands. Needless to say, I was surprised by that trick, and trying to figure out how she did it. Then, she opens the box and pulled out the sword.” He had a faint smile at that point, and his eyes were staring off into the distance. “She gave me the sword and said that the box told her it belonged with me.”

“She just gave it to you?” I asked in surprise.

Cliff nodded at that. “Yeah. I’ve only seen her give away an artifact one other time.”

“I’ve only seen it once, personally,” Theressa added. “The box usually doesn’t like to give up artifacts.”

“No it doesn’t,” Cliff agreed. “Anyway, after this surprise gift, we got to talking, and before I knew it, I’d agreed to be her guardian.”

“Her guardian?” I asked in confusion. “I thought she was a little too old to need a guardian…”

“A bodyguard,” Cliff told me. “Someone who protects her and the box.”

Theressa added, “Dora has had a number of guardians over the centuries, though Cliff is the only one I’ve ever met.”

Cliff shook his head sadly, and I could see not only his grief, but also his guilt. I suddenly realized that he blamed himself for Dora’s death, at least to some degree. It was his job to protect her, and he’d failed.

“I’ve been training Jake,” Cliff said in a quiet voice that carried the ache in his heart. “I wanted him to take my place one day…to protect Dora the way I did. She needs…needed someone she could trust to watch her back.” Then he shook his head and whispered, “But I failed her…”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Theressa reminded him with a deep scowl and an angry flash in her eyes. “It was Kraesse.”

Just then, Jake came around the corner, carrying some kind of machine gun. “Everything looks good,” Jake called out to us with a nod.

Ever since Jake had arrived yesterday, he, Cliff, and Theressa and taken turns patrolling the area around the cabin, looking for any signs of intruders. Cliff still didn’t think that those people would be able to find us here, and that they probably wouldn’t bother looking, but it was better to be safe than sorry.

Jake took a seat beside his dad, and I looked him over, while trying to look as though I wasn’t. Jake still had no idea of who I really was, or at least, of who I’d been before I was Pandora. He was nearly ten years older than me, but he thought that I was older than he was. If the situation hadn’t been so weird, I probably would have laughed at that.

“Not quite how I’d imagined spending my spring break,” Jake said with a chuckle. “But I’ll remember it more than getting drunk on the beach.”

“You wouldn’t want to spend too much time at the beach anyway,” Cliff told him with a faint chuckle of his own. “All that sun will fry your brain.”

“Don’t I know it,” Jake responded. “I got more than enough sun when I was in Iraq.”

Cliff looked at me and explained, “Jake here, was in the Army and did a tour over in the desert.”

Jake nodded agreement, though added, “I’m glad I got out when I did. College is a whole other challenge, but at least I’m not getting shot at.”

“Amen to that,” Cliff agreed. His eyes went to the gun that Jake was carrying, and added, “and I hope it stays that way.”

Jake shrugged at that. “We’ll see if this Kraesse guy cooperates.”

“Well,” Cliff suddenly announced, looking at me. “You’ve practiced a little with firearms, so do you think you’re up for practicing with something that doesn’t need ammunition?”

“Sure,” I answered.

Cliff got up and hurried into the house, coming back a minute later with two practice swords that I’d seen hanging on the wall. He handed one to me, then indicated that we should go out into the yard where there was more room. My stomach knotted up a little as I considered the sword in my hand, because I couldn’t help but thinking about the sword lessons that Aunt Dora had given me, such a short time before she and my dad had been killed.

As we got into position, Cliff stared at me for a moment, and I could see the look of simultaneous attraction and pain in his eyes. “Dora and I used to spar,” he admitted. “This brings back a lot of memories…”

“We don’t have to do this,” I started to say, but Cliff held up his sword and took an aggressive stance.

“No time like the present,” he said, his voice and expression going calm and professional. “You never know when you might need to know how to use one of these…”

Cliff and I sparred for over half an hour, and though he was going easy on me, I definitely felt like I was making progress. The sword started to feel less awkward in my hand, and a little more natural. The slashes and blocks came more easily. Before long, Cliff wasn’t holding back quite as much, which I took as a compliment.

“Very good,” Cliff told me. “You’re learning faster than I expected…”

“Thank you,” I responded with a grin. I might have jumped up and down and cheered, and maybe even did a little smack-talk, if I wasn’t trying to behave like a mature adult.

“I am getting a little tired though,” Cliff reluctantly admitted. “I’m not as young as I used to be.”

“Me either,” I responded wryly, though I still had plenty of energy to keep going.

“Hey, old man,” Jake called out with a grin. “You need me to come take over?”

Cliff glared at his son, then asked me, “Do you mind sparring with Jake for a bit?”

“No,” I responded, eager to keep practicing. I was doing so well, that I didn’t want to give up the momentum just yet. “Bring it on.”

Jake came up and took the sword from Cliff, who went back and joined Theressa on the porch. For several seconds, Jake and I just stood there with our swords ready, watching each other to see who made the first move.

“Pandora,” Jake said politely.

“Jake,” I responded.

There were several seconds of silence before Jake said, “I know that Pandora isn’t your real name, and that you only inherited it a couple days ago. Is there something you’d prefer to be called?”

I hesitated a moment, then admitted, “I don’t look much like my old self, so I need to get out of the habit of using that name.”

“I understand,” he responded with a nod. “And it would probably be pretty awkward if I called you Dora for short.”

“Very awkward,” I agreed, glancing back towards the porch, where Theressa and Cliff watched.

“Then I guess Pandora will have to do,” Jake said with a friendly smile. “Unless you want to use Pan?”

With a shake of my head, I replied, “Not especially.”

After this, Jake made the first move, coming at me with a slash, but going slow enough that I was able to block it. I returned the favor by coming at him, and in a few seconds, we were going back and forth, much the way Cliff and I had been doing before he got tired. He didn’t hold back quite as much as Cliff had, which meant that I had to work harder to keep up. Fortunately, I seemed to be picking things up fast enough that he didn’t completely overwhelm me.

One thing that I’d noticed earlier, and which this sparring seemed to emphasize, was that underneath my curvy body, I actually seemed to have some pretty good muscle tone. I was bit more athletic than my appearance might suggest, which was a good thing, or I never would have been able to last so long with the sparring.

“You aren’t bad,” Jake told me, looking like he was now taking this sparring a bit more seriously. “How long have you been practicing?”

“Today is the second time I’ve practiced with one,” I answered.

For a moment, I wondered if Jake was trying to flirt with me, but the very idea was awkward and uncomfortable, enough so that I got distracted. Jake took advantage of my distraction to lunge at me, though I reacted on pure instinct and lashed out with my sword. A moment later, a sword went flying through the air.

Jake stood there, staring at his empty hand in surprise. “How did you do that?”

“I don’t know,” I started to respond, feeling simultaneously proud of myself, and surprised.

“Where did you learn that move?” Cliff asked, as he and Theressa came towards us.

“I don’t know,” I repeated with a shrug. “I didn’t really think about it. I just did what felt right…”

“Well, your instinct was definitely the right move,” Cliff said, giving me a curious look. “Dora used to use that move…” Then he abruptly stopped, staring at me even more intensely, before sharing a questioning look with Theressa.

Theressa gave me a curious look as well, and I could see the wheels turning in her head. That was the same look she had whenever she was trying to figure out some archeological mystery. I didn’t like that kind of attention being focused on me. I felt like enough of a freak as it was.

“Maybe muscle memory,” Theressa finally said.

“What are you talking about?” Jake asked.

“Pandora doesn’t have nearly enough experience with the sword to pull of that move,” Cliff said with a frown. “Especially when no one ever even taught it to her…”

I scowled at that, asking, “So, what does that mean?”

Theressa looked me in the eyes as she answered, “I think that when you became the new Pandora, you not only inherited Dora’s appearance, but you might have inherited some of her muscle memories as well.”

“That would explain how she’s able to pick up the sword so quickly,” Cliff mused. “At some level, her body may already know what to do, and her head just needs to learn how to catch up.”

“It would explain some other things too,” Theressa said, though she didn’t elaborate on what.

However, I’d already noticed how easily I’d picked up on some feminine gestures and mannerisms, and how comfortable and natural they were starting to feel. I suspected that this might be what Theressa was referring to. Then, I remembered that dream where I’d met the previous Pandoras, and how they’d all said that they were a part of me now. I felt a chill go down my spine. Is this what they meant by that?

“If that is the case,” Theressa continued, “it might make things a little easier…”

“It certainly seems to be helping with the sword play,” Cliff said. “Maybe we can use this to speed up some other training that she might need.”

Jake suggested, “Maybe we can test this at the shooting range. Dora was a pretty good shot, wasn’t she?”

“Good idea,” Cliff agreed.

At this point, it was pretty obvious that our sparring session was over, so we all went back to the porch. I took a seat, and was very conscious at the way I’d almost automatically crossed my legs, as though this was my normal way of sitting. The idea that I’d somehow inherited some of Aunt Dora’s body language and mannerisms, along with her appearance, was definitely creepy. However, I didn’t know what I could do about that, other than second-guess every move I made. Nor was I sure it would even be a good idea to try.

Jake took the swords back into the cabin, and when he returned a couple minutes later, it was with four bottles of beer. I accepted one, and noticed that Theressa gave me an odd look for a moment, though she didn’t say anything. Since she’d made a big deal about my now being an adult, and had been treating me as if I was one, she couldn’t really say anything. I took a sip of my beer, and though I didn’t like the taste, I drank a little more. Since I was an adult now, I was damn well going to enjoy the benefits.

“Dora never said anything about inheriting her predecessor’s muscle memory,” Cliff told Theressa, as the two of them continued the conversation.

“The effect seems subtle enough that she may not have noticed it,” Theressa pointed out. “And even if she did, that was centuries ago. She very well could have just forgotten, or merely have thought that it wasn’t worth mentioning. The truth is, we don’t really understand how this magic works, so all we can do is guess at a lot of it.”

While Cliff and Theressa discussed this, I noticed that Jake was leaning back, sipping his beer, and watching intently. Then, I looked over at the magic sword that was leaning up against the wall of the cabinet, within easy reaching distance. I remembered Cliff’s story about how Aunt Dora gave him the sword, which still confused me a little because I thought that a Pandora’s job was to put artifacts into the box, not hand them out.

Then I looked back at Jake, with my eyes going wide in sudden realization. Cliff hadn’t asked Jake to come here, just so that he could help guard us. Cliff had asked Jake to come, so that he could meet me. Even though Aunt Dora was gone, Cliff still wanted his son to take over for him and become a guardian. My guardian.

With that, I took a sip of beer, wincing slightly at the taste. I didn’t know what to say about all this, so instead of just blurting out the first thing that came to mind, I bit my tongue and kept silent. That was mature and grown-up, wasn’t it?

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