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Dreams Lie Beneath
Author:Rebecca Ross

I arched a brow. “Oh? And what is that, Mr. Fielding?”

He raked his hands through his thin hair. “My daughters shouldn’t be playing Seven Wraiths. I know your father disapproves of the game. I know it makes his work that much harder, with nightmares sprouting up like weeds, thanks to the cards being dealt. But I can’t keep my daughters from playing it. They’re of Seren ancestry; both my and Jane’s families hail from the mountains. And so my daughters will continue to play the game, even with the threat of nightmares, just as Jane and I once did. Because we long for home, even as it lies in ruins, doomed. Even as we have never seen it with our own eyes. Only in dreams do we behold it.”

Silent, I listened to his every word. I knew the Fieldings were of mountain descent, just as Imonie was. I knew they would not be able to return to the home of their ancestors until the new moon curse was ended. But I didn’t think such a spell could be broken by playing a game of enchanted cards, which had ironically been inspired by the same curse. In particular, by the seven members of the mountain court who had each played a hand in the Duke of Seren’s assassination.

“It’s not my place to tell you whether or not your daughters should play the game,” I said. “All I wanted to do is to remind you that the new moon comes tonight. Ensure your shutters are bolted, your doors are locked, your family and livestock are all safe inside tonight, Mr. Fielding.”

“As I do every new moon, Miss Clem,” he said, somewhat indignant. But then he seemed to realize what I was implying, because his scowl and voice mellowed. “You don’t think . . . that my little Elle’s nightmare will manifest tonight?”

I didn’t know. But it inspired a tremor in me when I imagined coming face-to-face with the armored knight who reeked of violence, who had threatened a little girl. I had to confess that Elle’s nightmare had felt alarmingly tangible. It had fooled me for a span of terrifying moments, when I had been her, believing everything was real and unfolding, as if I could have reached out and touched the cold glint of the knight’s bloodied armor. And perhaps it was only due to my inexperience with divination, and perhaps it was only due to the fact that this nightmare had been spawned by a sinister card game. But it felt heavier than the others I had encountered.

I glanced at the mountains. If the new moon chose to spin Elle’s nightmare when the stars began to burn . . . the knight wouldn’t be a wisp in a dream. He would be flesh and blood encased in steel, and his sword would be ready to cut.

I wanted to know who he was, what he wanted. If he was inspired by someone.

I bade Spruce Fielding farewell and began to walk home, my gaze on the sunset. But I feared I wouldn’t be able to find the answers I sought. Not until I challenged the knight in the streets of Hereswith.


“Miss Clem!”

I was just coming upon the market, which had become vacant as shops closed early for the evening, when I was intercepted by a frantic Lilac Westin, the revered baker in Hereswith. Flour dusted her face as she all but collided with me.

“Miss Clem, there are two men in the market!”

I blinked, wondering what this had to do with me. Whether she was attempting to play matchmaker, which she had woefully done with me in the past.

“Are men forbidden from the market these days, Miss Westin?”

“If only they could be,” the baker countered, but then pondered on such a possibility, and her face creased with a frown. “Although my business would surely suffer for it. But no, there are two men—strangers—lurking about town, asking about your father.”

“My father?” I echoed. “Why would they be asking after him?”

Lilac hesitated, and I saw the panic in her expression. Quickly, I moved around the baker and made for the market on quiet tread, hiding behind a stack of empty wire cages at the trader’s stall. Lilac rushed behind me, and we stood in the shadows and watched the two men drift aimlessly about the market.

They were not what I expected. I had envisioned dignitaries sent by the Duke of Bardyllis to collect the town’s dream tax, milling about with rings on every finger. Or perhaps delegates from the Luminous Society, visiting to ensure my father was adhering to all magical laws. Or perhaps descendants of the fallen mountain duchy, such as Imonie and the Fieldings, searching for a safe place to settle. But these two men were dressed in dark clothes, finely tailored, with silk-lined cloaks and rapiers belted at their sides. They were too young to be ranked members of the duke’s court, too inexperienced to be delegates. Nor did they appear to be seeking sanctuary. But they boasted the air of ones who thought they were important, their posture stiff and proper.

They walked past a burning streetlamp, and I finally saw it. The men cast no shadows, and I sensed the illumination within them.

They were magicians.

“How long have they been in Hereswith?” I asked.

“For an hour now,” Lilac said. “They’ve gone from shop to shop, asking where to find your father. None of us will tell them. And Mr. Jeffries—bless him—agreed to put their horses in his stable but closed the inn early, refusing to give them admittance, so they’ve been wandering, seeking hospitality and answers.”

I continued to watch the magicians. One was blond, his hair trimmed short, his face coldly handsome as he knocked on the Brambles’s door. The other magician had dark hair bound with a ribbon, and his face was trapped in a scowl, as if he had smelled something foul. They looked related, one like day, the other like night. Brothers, most likely.

And they could not be here for anything good.

They were uninvited, trespassing on my father’s territory.

“I bet they’re vultures,” I murmured, thinking of all the magicians who visited Hereswith to glean information about the doomed fortress in the clouds. Vultures was the word we used for such people, because they only wanted stories from us before traveling to the mountain doors—the sole passage to the summit, where Seren’s abandoned stronghold waited for someone to arrive and break the curse. One could reach the fortress if they could merely open the mountain doors, which sounded quite simple until one realized the doors were enchanted and impossible to open since the curse first fell a hundred years ago. But it didn’t deter ambitious magicians from trying, and using us along the way.

“Miss Clem,” Lilac whispered. “If they’re vultures . . . why are they asking for your father?”

Her question gave me pause. She was right; when vultures arrived, they wanted to speak to mountain descendants, not the town warden. My voice wavered when I said, “Then they must be here to challenge my father for Hereswith.”

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