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Dreams Lie Beneath
Author:Rebecca Ross

Dreams Lie Beneath

Rebecca Ross


To my parents, who first taught me how to dream

Part 1

Magic of Old


September’s new moon waited for the sun to set, and I found myself trapped in Mazarine’s library, drawing her twelfth portrait by candlelight. For as long as I had known her, she had never left her house during the day, and she kept her curtains closed while the sun reigned. She liked to summon me every few months for various things, the foremost to commit her face to paper with my charcoal stick as if she forgot what she looked like, the second to read to her from one of her leather-bound books. I was eager to do both because she paid me well, and I liked the stories I could sometimes coax from her. Stories that came from the mountains. Stories that were nearly forgotten, turning into dust.

“Do I look the same as I did the last time you drew me?” she asked from where she sat in a chair, its armrests carved as roaring lions. She was wearing her usual raiment: an elegant velvet gown the shade of blood with a diamond necklace anchored at her neck. The stone caught the firelight every time she breathed, winking with secrets.

“You look unchanged,” I replied, thinking that I’d drawn her only three months ago, and I continued with my sketch of her.

She was proud, even with her multitude of wrinkles and her age spots and her strange beady eyes. I liked her confidence, and I drew it in the tilt of her chin, the hint of her knowing smile, and the waves of her long quicksilver hair. I wondered how old she was, but I didn’t dare ask.

Sometimes I feared her, although I couldn’t explain why. She was ancient. I had rarely seen her move from the furniture scattered about this gilded, shadowed room. And yet something pulsed from her. Something I couldn’t identify but all the same cautioned me to keep my eyes open in her presence.

“Your father does not like when I summon you here,” she drawled in a smoky voice. “He does not like you alone with me, does he?”

Her words unsettled me, but I concealed my feelings. The dimness of the room was like a cloak, and while it seemed impossible to draw a portrait in such poor light, I did it well.

“My father simply needs me home on time today,” I said, and she knew what I implied.

“Ah, a new moon awaits you tonight,” said Mazarine. “Tell me, Clementine . . . have you read one of my nightmares recorded in your father’s book?”

I had not, because there were no recordings of her nightmares in the book my father filled and guarded. I didn’t want to confess such to her, for fear it might upset her.

And so I lied.

“My father doesn’t let me read all his recordings. I’m only an apprentice, Ms. Thimble.”

“Ah,” she said, drinking from a sparkling glass of wine. “You are an apprentice, but you wage war beside him on new moon nights. And you are just as strong and skilled as him. I have watched you fight in the streets on the darkest nights. You will surpass him, Clementine. Your magic shines brighter than his.”

I finished with her portrait at last. Partly because her words fed a hungry spirit within me that I strove to keep hidden.

“Your portrait is done.” I set down my charcoal, wiped my fingers on my skirt, and walked the paper to her. She studied it by the candlelight that burned from iron stands around her, wax dripping like stalactites.

She was quiet for a long moment. A bead of perspiration began to trace my back, and I felt anxious until she grinned, her yellow teeth gleaming in the firelight.

“Yes, I am unchanged. What a relief.” She laughed, but the sound was far from reassuring.

My blood hummed with warning.

I gathered my supplies, tucking them into my leather satchel, eager to be gone. I couldn’t judge the time of day, since Mazarine had the curtains drawn, but I sensed that afternoon was waning.

I needed to get home.

“A magician and an artist,” Mazarine mused, admiring my sketch of her. “An artist and a magician. Which one do you desire to be more? Or perhaps you dream of learning deviah magic and combining the two. I would indeed like to see an enchanted drawing of yours someday, Clementine.”

I hefted the satchel strap onto my shoulder, standing halfway between her chair and the double doors. I didn’t want to say that she was right, but she had an uncanny sense of reading people. She had also watched me grow up in this town.

Since I was eight, my father had instructed me in avertana magic, a defensive magic that lent its strength to spars and duels. We often faced spells bent by malicious intent, which made for dangerous and unpredictable situations, such as the new moon nights. And I liked avertana more for those things, but I also had started thinking of the other two studies of magic, metamara and deviah—but deviah in particular. To take one’s skill and create an enchanted object was no simple feat, and I had read of magicians who had devoted decades of their lives to reach such achievement.

I needed more time. More time to hone my craft of art before I tried to layer magic within it. I had taught myself how to draw and had gradually become proficient with charcoal, as art supplies were hard to come by in this rustic town, but I knew my experience was lacking, and there were many other branches of art, waiting for me to explore.

“Perhaps one day,” I replied.

“Hmm” was all Mazarine said.

She at last rose from her chair with a slight grunt, as if her bones ached. I always forgot how tall she was, and I waited while she crossed to the other side of the room, where a bureau sat in a darkened corner. I listened to her open the drawers; I listened to the chime of coins as she gathered them in her hand.

“You claim I am unchanged,” she said, coming to meet me where I stood. “And yet you are not, Clementine. Your skill is improving, in magic as well as art.” And she extended her fist—knuckles like hills, veins like rivers beneath her papery skin, fingers full of coins.

I turned up my palm, and she paid me double. More than she had ever bestowed upon me before.

“This is very generous, Ms. Thimble.”

“Your father and that housekeeper of his who looks after you may not like me. But you are the only one in this town who does not fear me. And I reward such valor.”

I held her gaze, hoping my wariness wasn’t shining like ice within me.

“Let me walk you out,” Mazarine said with a sweep of her arm. “The day grows old, and you must prepare for tonight.”

But she didn’t move, and I sensed she wanted me to precede her. I led the way to the double doors, and she remained two steps behind me. We passed a mirror hanging on the wall, which I had never noticed before. Its frame was golden and elaborate, fashioned as vines and oak leaves. I saw my reflection—a girl with a smudge of charcoal on her chin and thick copper hair that refused to be tamed by a braid. My gaze began to shift to the doors when I caught a glimpse of what walked behind me.