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Dreams Lie Beneath
Author:Rebecca Ross

It had been a good while since such an event had occurred. So long, in fact, that I had almost forgotten it always hung as a possibility.

I was ten years old the first time it happened. Two older magicians had come to town on the heels of the southern wind, just before the new moon, and had challenged my father for the right to guard Hereswith from nightmares. A year after that, another set of them had arrived, keen to win the town that thrived in the foothills of the infamous mountains. In both instances, the magicians at least had the courtesy to write to my father a fortnight in advance, informing him of their intentions. And while it didn’t seem fair, the newcomers could lawfully win the title to become warden of the town and displace my father, but only if they defeated the nightmare before Papa did.

He had vanquished the challengers in both instances. But my father was ill tonight. I would most likely face the new moon on my own, and I had never encountered competition when it came to a nightmare’s defeat.

“Are you going to speak with them, Miss Clem?”

I glanced at the baker, who had crossed her arms and was glaring in the direction of the men. “No, I’m not,” I said, relieved the Brambles had refused to open the door to them.

“Then I will.” Before I could ask what she planned to say to them, Lilac marched out into the market and drew their attention with a sharp whistle.

I remained lurking in the stall, and while I couldn’t hear what the baker said, I saw her point to the northern street. Point to where Mazarine’s mansion sat visible on the hill, catching the last hue of the sunset.

I watched, mouth ajar in horror, as the magicians nodded and began to take the northern road, up to the troll’s mansion. I had every intention to go directly home and avoid crossing paths with them. I had every intention to mind my own business and leave the strangers to their fate.

In fact, I made it halfway home before I stopped at the crossroads.

But I turned north and took a side street, rushing over the cobbles, cutting through a neighbor’s garden, jumping a low rock fence, to catch the men before they became Mazarine’s next unexpected meal. If I hadn’t known what she truly was, I wouldn’t have chased after them. Or so I told myself as I hurried to meet them on the road. They were almost at her gate. And I had a moment of hesitation, a moment of doubt. . . .

“The magician you seek doesn’t live here,” I announced.

My voice startled them.

The blond actually made a noise and jumped, to my immense satisfaction, but the dark-headed one only widened his eyes at the sight of me emerging from the dusk.

“Of course the magician lives here,” the blond said with a sweep of his hand. He glanced back to the manor. “This is the finest house in town.”

“The magician doesn’t live here,” I said again, sharper. “And I must say it’s a terrible night to arrive, gentlemen.”

The dark-headed one studied me with hooded eyes. I sensed he was not at all impressed until his gaze drifted to the book of nightmares I held. He saw the flame within me, then, although the dusk made it difficult to measure my lack of shadow. But he said nothing, only brought his gaze back to mine.

The blond, however, was belligerent. His pride was bruised from being turned away and snubbed by every single resident of Hereswith. “We know which night we arrive, miss. And you are not the town magician.”

He meant it as an insult. I only smiled.

“Indeed not. That would be my father.”

The magicians exchanged a careful glance.

“Then you must be Clementine Madigan,” said the dark-headed one.

I had to swallow the shock of that—to hear my name flow from a strange magician’s mouth. I hoped that I didn’t flinch, that my smile didn’t falter. “I am. And you’re both lucky that I’ve chosen to aid you this night, despite the fact that you’ve arrived unannounced. Come, you can sup with my father and me, and we’ll put you up for the night, since the new moon is rising and you need to be off the streets.”

I turned and began to walk home, listening as the magicians scrambled to follow me.

Imonie heard us coming, long before I even laid a hand on our gate. She heard me and the tread of unfamiliar boots in my wake, and she threw open the door with a murderous look on her face.

“You’re late, Clementine.”

I came to a stop on the stoop, narrowing my eyes at her. “Yes, well, I ran into these two magicians on the street.”

She scrutinized them over my shoulder. A long, uncomfortable moment passed. “I see that.” She brought her eyes back to mine and said, “Go and tell your father we have company.”

I did just as she bade, and found my father still in bed, flushed from fever.

“Who did you bring home?” he croaked at me.

I stood in the center of his chamber and stared at him, realizing he was worse than before.

Dread unfurled within me, and I set the book of nightmares back on his desk.

“I found two magicians wandering the town, seeking you. I brought them here, so they’re off the streets tonight.”

“You what?” He was suddenly ripping the quilts away, stumbling to his feet. I reached out to steady him, because he looked like he was a breath from fainting, his eyes unfocused until they found me. “Who are they?”

“I don’t know their names yet.”

“Are they from the Luminous Society?”

“No, they’re not.”

Papa stared at me, but he was not seeing me. His gaze was very distant, and he was suddenly shaking.

“You need to lie down . . .” I tried to direct him back to bed, but he broke from my grip, lumbering to his wardrobe and drawing out fresh clothes. A long-sleeved linen shirt, a green waistcoat with golden embroidery, a white cravat, a black jacket . . .


“Go and change, Clementine, and then return to me here,” he said, pausing to lean on the wardrobe. “We both must look our best tonight.”

He must sense it, then. He was being challenged by upstarts for his town, for our home.

I left his chamber and shut the door, tarrying in the upper hallway, listening. Imonie was setting two more places at the table; she set the china down with clinking intensity. The magicians were quiet, but I heard them walking in the room beneath me, the floor protesting their elegant steps.

I slipped into my bedroom.

A few candelabras were lit, casting uneven shadows on the walls. My window was closed and shuttered tonight, because of the new moon. The desk before it was messy, crowded with my journals of spells and illustrations, a tray of pastels and charcoal and half-drawn imaginings. Imonie had already laid out clothes: my favorite black-and-white striped skirt with pockets, my weapon belt, a stark white chemise with billowy sleeves, a velvet bodice that laced up the front.