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Dreams Lie Beneath
Author:Rebecca Ross

I tumbled back into the water and filled myself with it, my gills flexing in relief. I found my second dagger on my belt and I took it in my hand, swimming and cutting through the serpents. I discovered that if I swam deep, where the cobblestones lurked like a riverbed, the snakes would not bother me, and so this was my path. It was dark and cold and quiet, but I could see the golden shine of the key up ahead. Lennox hovered near the surface, struggling with a patch of lily pads. He had charmed his feet into fins; that was why he was able to swim with such agility.

I neared the key, and my heart lifted as I anticipated ending this challenge. It had at last found its resting place on the street. I swam slow but steady, drawing in water, letting it wash through me, my hair streaming like a fiery pennant. I realized upon closer examination the key was a golden rock the size of my palm, wedged into the cobblestones, and I saw Lennox cut himself loose far above me. He noticed my presence then, and began a furious descent. I quickened my strokes, but my left leg was aching, the serpent’s venom affecting how strongly I could kick.

I was reaching for the lambent stone when Lennox’s fingers closed about it. He tugged, but the rock held fast, and he frantically worked to uproot it with his dagger. I knew his air was wearing thin—his face was mottled and I wondered if he was about to drown himself, all for pride. I wondered if I should interfere—if I should stab him—and the mere idea drummed an ache in my stomach.

So I waited. Waited for his lack of air to force him back to the surface, for him to abandon the key.

But his dagger found the root of the stone, and he worked it free from the ground. Instantly, the nightmare broke, and the flood began to drain into the hole the rock had left behind in the ground. I felt the water swirl around me, the pressure ease in my ears, my gills flutter in desperation. The serpents turned into silt, the lily pads into pollen.

It was over. I was vanquished.

And through the eddy of draining water, Lennox grinned at me.


“You dear, foolish, reckless girl,” Imonie said to me, but there were tears in her eyes as she eased my head back beneath the water. I was sitting in the tub, my left leg hanging over the side so she could tend to the serpent bite. But my gills had yet to fade, and I couldn’t breathe air. I was confined to the bath, where my gills would allow me a minute or two above the surface before they screamed for water.

There’s a cost to every charm.

My father’s words haunted me. Perhaps my gills would never fade. Perhaps I would be doomed to live the remainder of my life in a tub or a lake. I sank into the water and breathed it in, suddenly thankful that it muffled the sounds of the world. Sounds of Lennox speaking to Papa just beyond the closed door. Sounds of townspeople ringing the bell, distressed to hear that there was a new warden in Hereswith. Sounds of Imonie simultaneously scolding and praising me as she cried.

I had lost the town. Our home. And the guilt weighed heavily in my chest.

I remained beneath the surface, my heart broken. I felt as if I had been turned inside out of my own body, like I had been split open and I didn’t know how to hold myself together. I was uncertain if it was due to the shock I was feeling, to acknowledge I had been defeated by Lennox, or if it was a side effect of my rash enchantment.

I knew a few fundamentals of metamara magic, which studied the transformations and adaptations of nature and objects. I knew enough to get me in trouble, and it made me think of my mother. Of what she would say to me if she saw me in this moment, half girl, half water creature.

Imonie’s hands were gentle as she drew the poison from my wound with a salve, and when her ministrations were done, she left me alone. I remained in the water for another hour, until I felt the painful shift in my body. My gills closed, forcing me to sit up, to return to the air.

I coughed up the last bit of water. My skin was pruned as I carefully climbed out of the tub and dried off. I pulled the cork and watched the water swirl and drain, swirl and drain until the tub was empty.

I had hesitated. That was why I’d lost. I should have stabbed him. I shouldn’t have waited for his air to run out, allowing him the chance to win. There was no one to blame but myself, and I longed to turn back time, to change my actions.

The mirror hanging above the washbasin drew my gaze, and I stood before it, as if I had forgotten my own face.

The gills had left behind scars in my neck. Three thin slashes on each side just beneath my jaw, catching the light like iridescent scales. I gently touched the scars, surprised by their tenderness. They would remind me of my loss, of my foolishness, and yet I didn’t feel the urge to hide them.

I stepped into the dining room. Lennox was sitting at the table, papers spread out before him, spectacles perched on his nose. My father sat across from him, bleary eyed and still running a fever, drawing up the contract for the new warden. Phelan stood before the bookshelves, reading the illuminated spines and holding a cup of tea. Imonie was bustling in the kitchen, cooking away her distress. All four of them stopped their tasks and looked at me. I stood on the rug in a slant of morning sunlight, my black dress still wet from my long submersion, my hair a snarled, copper mess around my shoulders.

“Well met, Miss Clementine,” Lennox said in a cheerful voice, holding up his glass of mulberry wine. “I must say you were a worthy opponent.”

I said nothing, staring at him until his smirk eased and he returned his focus to the papers.

My father’s gaze lingered on me the longest—he was noticing my new scars, how they gleamed every time I breathed—and he sighed as he resumed writing the document, his quill scratching over the paper. I walked past Phelan to the kitchen counter, where the teapot was still warm, and poured myself a cup. Imonie set down a pitcher of cream and the honeypot, as she knew my preferences, and I put far too much into my tea, stirring it around and around, my thoughts far away.

“How is your wound?”

I turned, startled to see Phelan was standing close to me. Imonie made a sound of dislike, but the magician didn’t notice.

“I would say it’s in the same condition as your boat, Mr. Vesper,” I replied, and took a loud sip of tea, just to irritate him.

“Then it must be in shambles.”

“An adequate word to describe it.” I knew he was asking after my leg, but I spoke of the wound in my spirit.

He didn’t glance away from me as I expected—it was rude to stare too long at someone in court, where he no doubt had grown up as a countess’s son—and I wondered what he saw in me. I dropped my gaze first, unable to hold his uncanny stare.

“And when can we expect you to vacate this cottage, Mr. Madigan?” Lennox was saying.

“We’ll be gone tomorrow,” my father replied without hesitation.

I set my teacup down on the counter with a hard clunk. Tomorrow? The disbelief swelled within me, and I bit the inside of my cheek to hold back the torrent of words I wanted to spew.

“Excellent!” Lennox said. “I do believe this cottage will suit me very well, although there is that rather nice house on the hill. . . .”

“Yes, that’s Mazarine Thimble’s mansion.” Papa’s voice cracked with exhaustion. “It’s her property and will most likely remain that way.”