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Dreams Lie Beneath
Author:Rebecca Ross

I felt him watching me, thoughts churning. He was stern and imposing, even as he perspired from a fever, bedridden. I favored him in appearance, far more than I did my mother. My father and I were both tall and willow thin, with square jaws and large brown eyes and wiry auburn hair, lustrous as copper when it met the light. A stranger could tell we were kin from a mile away. But that was where our similarities ended. Our souls were two different points on a compass; the intent behind our magic flowed in opposite currents. He was cautious, reserved. Traditional. And I wasn’t.

I knew what he saw in me. I was young and reckless. His one and only daughter, who favored the wilder, natural study of magic. My ideas and spells scared him sometimes, although he would never say such a thing aloud. Because without me, Papa would never take a risk.

“Pack what you need for the divination,” he said.

Relieved that he believed me capable, I walked to his desk. A detailed map of Hereswith was spread over the wood, river rocks pinning down the four corners. It was a map I had memorized with its crooked, winding streets. Above the desk, shelves lined the wall, burdened with leather-bound spell books, stacks of paper, jars brimming with crushed flowers and salt crystals and swan quills, ornate ink pots, cast-iron spoons with jewels embedded in the handles, silver bowls nestled into each other, a potted fern whose wilting leaves dangled like unrequited love.

I gathered what I needed: a bowl that shone like a full moon, pink salt, dried gardenias, a spoon with an emerald chip, a pitcher full of water, a swan quill, a silver inkwell that was crafted as an octopus, its tentacles holding a vial of walnut ink. I charmed them all beneath my breath with a shrinking cantrip—a spell my mother had taught me—until the objects could sit cradled in my palm, and I slipped them into my pocket, where the remedies waited. The objects clinked like musical notes when they met, weightless as air.

My father made a noise of disapproval. Of course, he wasn’t fond of any sort of metamara magic, which transformed and influenced objects.

“Why don’t you pack a bag?” He indicated his worn leather satchel, sitting on the floor beside his writing chair, like a sad dog awaiting a walk.

“My pockets will do fine.” My leather satchel was for my art supplies alone, and I didn’t want it mixing with magical ones yet. “Now, then. Where is the book?”

“There will be absolutely no enchanting the book to make it fit in your pocket, Clementine.”

“Very well. I’ll carry it in my arms, like a good avertana.”

Papa wasn’t amused. But he relented, feeling the urgent pull of the afternoon, the slant of sunlight as it began to shift across the floor. I wouldn’t have much time to fetch the nightmare. So he uttered a spell in his storytelling voice, smooth and polished like sanded oak. And the book of nightmares materialized. It had been sitting on the map of Hereswith, in the center of my father’s desk, charmed invisible.

Clever, I thought. All these years, I had believed my father had simply hidden the prized ledger in a secret nook.

I took it reverently, surprised by how heavy it was. Seven magicians had kept detailed dream recordings before Papa had come to Hereswith, and I had always hoped to become the ninth magician, after my father retired. But I felt the weight of those inked dreams of people now dead and buried. I felt them as if I had embraced a millstone.

I met Papa’s gaze, and he saw my shock. I hadn’t realized it until now. The weight he carried as the town’s magician. And suddenly . . . I didn’t know if I was strong enough to bear it.

“Come here, daughter,” he whispered.

I crossed the room, the book heavy in my arms, and sat on the edge of his bed. I could feel the feverish heat rolling off him in waves, and it made me worry.

“I’ve taught you all that I know,” he said. “You’ll do just fine recording this dream, as long as you stick to the rules and predetermined spells.” He paused to study me with squinted eyes. “You know, it’s not a bad thing to be fearful every now and then. The fear reminds you of limits, of what lines you should not cross. Of the doors you shouldn’t open.”


“And what does that sound mean?”

I smiled. My dimples I had stolen from my mother, and I knew my father softened at the sight. “It means I hear you, Papa.”

“Hear but do not heed?” he countered, but he was teasing. “Regardless, it’s time for you to do a visitation on your own. Go to the Fieldings and come directly home. If you’re not back before dusk, I will come searching for you. And we both don’t want that.”

“I will return with time to spare,” I said, rising from the bed. “And if you’re not feeling well by nightfall, then I can—”

“I will be more than fine when the new moon rises,” Papa growled. “Tell Imonie to set me a place at the dinner table. We’ll eat before we go, as we always do.”

There was no sense in arguing with him, no sense in telling him that he might be more of a burden, that his fever would make him and his enchantments weak and frail.

“Drink your tea,” I told him, and slipped from his bedroom.

I descended the curling stairwell of the cottage, scaring Dwindle, my old calico cat, on the way down.

“Did I hear your father say to set him a place at the table?” Imonie asked, her back angled to me as she tended to meat sizzling in a skillet.

I often forgot how sharp her hearing was. She could hear through walls, it seemed.

“You did, and I don’t think he’ll listen to reason.” I stopped at the counter, where the pan of almost-burned cherry galettes was cooling. “And you should stop eavesdropping, by the way. One day you’ll hear something you wish you hadn’t.”

“We’ll see about that,” Imonie said with a snort, seeming to answer both dilemmas—my father’s stubbornness and her keen hearing. She glanced up at me, a rare smile warming her solemn face. “Now, are you going to help me fry this venison, or are you going to tend to that nightmare?”

“Ugh, I’m off, of course.” I pushed away from the counter but swiped two cherry galettes.

“Clementine!” Imonie cried, but she wasn’t surprised as I grinned and shoved one of the pastries in my mouth, bolting out the front door.

I lingered by the withering jasmine at the front gate, long enough to tuck the remaining pastry in my pocket and look up, to where the clouds were streaked like ribs across the sky, exposing a burning heart of sun.

What a strange day.

I glanced at the book of nightmares in my arms. It was a tome, the sort that could hold back an ironclad door. I had read only portions of it, and some accounts had made me laugh at their absurdity, while others had actually made me fall asleep, only to wake hours later with my cheek pressed against the caramel-tinged pages. But there were some recordings that made me shiver, dreams influenced by the mountains. They had sparked such fear in my bones that I hadn’t slept for a week after reading them, although none of these nightmares belonged to me.

No. I studied nightmares, and I confronted them every new moon in the streets of Hereswith, when the magic flowed freely from the mountain fortress and dreams were cursed to materialize. But I didn’t know what it was like to experience a nightmare. What it felt like to wake frightened from something that felt hauntingly real.

As a magician, I chose to never dream.