Eyes of a Child
by Nich Maragos
Though no one knew it, Derek Eccles at sixteen was a better magician than his teachers. His life was made miserable for it. Today, for instance, he was sitting alone with the school guidance counselor in the head office. Derek was getting restless while Professor Wolfram held forth in an afterschool "conference". "Mr. Ethelbert tells me that you've been acting up in Elements II today. Again. So what's the excuse this time?" the large man demanded.
"It's all him," Derek scowled, "him and his stupid fundamentals of magic. I try to tell them that they're not right, and he gets mad. Sends me here. Some people just hate being wrong, I guess." He crossed his arms and looked defiantly at Wolfram.
"I see," the professor said doubtfully. "And which aspect of his instruction do you consider incorrect? He is, you know, one of the foremost experts in the land on the principles of magic."
"So?" challenged Derek. "That doesn't mean anything. Anyone can be wrong and he is. The other day he taught us that there were four types of elements. Air, water, earth, and shadow. He said that those four types were the basis of all magic, and that there were no other elements than them. Which is totally false. I know of at least two more."
"Such insolence is not lightly tolerated at this academy, Mr. Eccles," the teacher reminded him. "You had best have proof, and a good proof, if you expect anyone to pay attention to such nonsense."
"I did!" Derek protested. "And I told Etheltwerp about it. He just refused to believe me. Do you want to hear my argument? It's perfectly sound. Of course, if you're not willing to listen like he was, I suppose that won't make any difference."
"That's Ethelbert," he growled, ignoring the rest. "And, no, I don't want to hear your sorry excuse for an argument. Look here, boy, this is an academy. We, the teachers, instruct you, the students. Not the other way around. Do you understand me?"
"--Wait, wait. You called him Etheltwerp?"
Derek nodded. "Who cares? He wasn't in the room."
"That is not the way we treat our elders, young man!" his father scolded. "I want you to apologize to you him tomorrow. During class, where everyone can hear you."
"Do you understand me?" he asked in a stern voice, the one he used when he'd absolutely made up his mind and wouldn't change it until the end of the world.
Derek nodded sullenly, internally refusing ever to apologize to a teacher. At least, not until they apologized first. He was still seething over not even being listened to simply because he was a student. He was careful to let none of his emotion show through in his face, however.
"Now get out of those filthy clothes. We're going to see your mother," his father, his voice the same as before with a touch of uneasiness.
"Why are we going there again?" Derek whined. "There's no point. Always in the same condition. Always asleep in the same stupid bed. She's not even a person anymore." As soon as the words were out, Derek knew he had gone too far. One look at his father's face confirmed it. The man looked like he didn't know whether to burst out in anger or break down in tears.
"Dad, I'm sorry," Derek said hastily, "I didn't mean it." Long, tense moments passed until finally his father's face returned to normal. He nodded his head, acknowledging his son's apology.
"Branndon!" he called to his younger son, who had wandered into the next rom. "It's time to go!"
The asylum was all the way over in Enhasa, which meant they'd have to take the skyway. Derek hated going down to the world below. It as so cold, so dreary. He sometimes thought that the Earthbound Ones, who would occasionally approach them to beg, were former Enlightened who'd died and been punished for their wicked days. He had heard tales of powerful wizards in Zeal who could conjure the dead and the wastelands, he decided, was where they were conjured from.
Not that the Earthbound Ones were entirely useless. One the contrary, one of the beggars they'd met on a previous journey had impressed Derek's father so much that he'd been hired as a slave for the family. The slave had a name, but Derek had called him "slave" for so long that he couldn't remember his real name.
Fortunately, this trip went without incident. Even without hindrance, the journey both ways took several hours. They were only able to go every few weeks. His father wished they could go more often. Derek, if he had his way, would stop going altogether.
They arrived at the Dream House. The building held many people who, like Derek's mother, had chosen to dream their life away. Dreams were special in Enhasa. There was an aura around the city that allowed sleepers to lucidly dream, to control and act out their fantasies. A year after Branndon was born, Tristan and Perdita had gone to the Dream House for their second honeymoon. Both slept. Only one woke up. And since then, Perdita's existence had been entirely in the confines of her own mind.
Tristan blamed himself. It was thought that those who escaped to their dreams did so because they were unhappy with their life. He secretly suspected that she'd retreated because of him, because he hadn't been a good enough husband. So he made himself go again and again. Though he'd admonished Derek severely once for calling Dream House "the morgue", he always felt when visiting his wife that he was paying his respects to the dead.
She lay there serenely as ever. She still wore the same elaborate garments that she'd had on that day, though covered with a thin layer of dust. They were able to feed her somehow, in some method Tristan did not understand. She was not able to exercise or do any physical activity, and the small parts that could be seen outside of her robes--an ankle here, a wrist there--were bone-thin. He was afraid to touch her for fear of putting her in pain. Of course, he considered darkly, pain might be one way of bringing her out of it. But no. He couldn't bring himself to do that.
He sighed. Derek noticed this,a nd wanted to ask why they'd come. But he knew better. He knew he'd get in trouble. He also knew the answer to his unasked question, so it was a moot point. Besides, his father would be saddened. That was the most important thing.
"Let's go home," Tristan said, with a cold hollow voice. He always got this way after these visits. Derek tried to talk him out of it, but he always came, and was always disappointed. It reminded Derek of a moth drawn to a candle flame, always emerging with burn scars. Never learning.
* * *
"So what was that magic stuff all about?" his father asked as they manuvered through Enhasa's streets to the Skyway. "You never told me what your justification for that outburst at Professor Ethelbert was supposed to be."
Derek was silent for a few moments, considering. When he decided his father was sincere, he began to explain.
"First, how much do you know about elemental magic?"
"A little," his father responded. "Four elements; fire, air, water, and shadow."
"Mostly right," Derek agreed. "Those four. What most people don't realize, though, is that there's some overlap. Both water and air wizards have some healing spells. Shadow mages can cast all three second-level air, water, and fire spells. It's simply a matter of some groups of matter containing other groups' spells."
His father nodded slowly. "So what does that have to do with anything?"
"Only it's not that simple," Derek continued. "Fine, so Shadow has a few spells from the other three. But what about resurrections pells in the Air group? They have nothing to do with the air element, or any of the other three for that matter. What relation does Hypno Wave have to do with fire? The only possibility is that the "mystery spells" are overlaps from unknown elemental groups, that contain not only these spells but other spells indigenous to that group.
"Ethelbert," his father corrected sternly.
"Ethelbert," Derek repeated mockingly, "said I was completely out of my league, that I was only a first-semester Ele student, that if what I was saying was true we'd know already, all that crap."
"Watch your language," Tristan reminded him halfheartedly. "Is that stuff true? There are really more elemental groups?"
"Yeah," Derek said proudly, "I've identified two others. There might be more, I'm not sure. Anyway, I've named the cure group Light and the other one Mind. I've even taught myself a couple of Mind spells," he bragged. "This could explain the few students who don't seem to have any proficiency for magic--it's because the schools can't teach their natural element."
"Is that...is that wy you tried so hard to look into this?" Tristan asked carefully. Derek had failed all magical aptitude tests given him at the standard testing age of ten. Some ugly, and fortunately short-lived, rumors had arisen around then that Derek's magical failure was because he was the illegitimate son of an Earthbound One. Tristan had to pull some strings in order to have Derek admitted to the Magic Academy.
Derek said nothing, his pride gone and replaced with his usual slow, burning anger. "Yeah," he said again. "I'll go back tomorrow and show them my new magic. They'll be sorry when I break into their minds and tell everyone their dirtiest secrets."
"You'll do nothing of the sort," his father commanded. His hard tone softened. "I know you're angry. But revenge is not the best way to do this. Study your Mind magic some more, get really good at it, and we'll give performances someday. If you really want to get back at them someday, that's how it'll be done. It's a better way, trust me."
Derek sighed. "I know. You're right, that's what I should do. But...I want to get them now. I hate waiting." He scowled at they arrived at the Skyway exit port.
"Excuse me, sir!" a strong voice called out from behind them. They looked behind them to see a police officer striding toward them purposefully. "The skyways are closed by order of the Queen, long may she live. We've got some rogue Earthbounders causing trouble and we hope to contain them down there. Sorry for the inconvenience." Without another word, he turned to go back to his station.
Tristan sighed. "Daddy where are we gonna sleep?" Branndon whined.
"I don't know," he answered distractedly. He knew that there were no inns in Enhasa, it wasn't a very big city. There was really no option but one, and it was the worst possible.
"Dad?" Derek spoke up tentatively. "Um...can we sleep in Dream House tonight?" Tristan closed his eyes. This was what he'd been dreading. But there was no other choice.
"I guess so," he said dully, like one reading out the fate of a condemned man.
* * *
Day gave way to night. Derek, Tristan, and Branndon had settled into their room. It was late at night, but all three were still awake. Branndon was bouncing on the bed with glee, happy that he was being allowed to stay up past his bedtime. Derek was dead tired and getting crankier with every passing minute. Tristan, though, would neither force Branndon nor allow Derek to sleep. Sheer horror kept him awake as he sat in a chair and looked at the three beds as if they were jagged hunting traps.
The hours took their toll, and at last even Branndon pulled the sheets up over his head.
Branndon dreamed that he was king of all Zeal, with pretty Schala as his queen. All day long there were fairs where everyone was happy. The Earthbound Ones disappeared and no one had to worry about them. Everyone in Zeal was happy but King Branndon was the happiest of them all.
Tristan dreamed, not of his wife, but of being a young man in his twenties. He wandered through both Zeal and the wastelands, neither knowing nor caring what would hapen to him next. He did odd jobs here and there to earn the little money he needed. He grew strong fighting beasts in the wastelands. He did, in short, whatever he wanted to. No worries. No cares.
Derek dreamed of power. His Mind magic developed, giving him the ability to completely dominate the mind of another. In the dream, with the power, his deepest wish was fulfilled.
He had told his father the truth, mostly. All save for the reason why he had studied the discrepancy in the magic groups. It had been the Hypno Wave spell in the fire group that facinated him. To be able to use magic to control the thoughts of another...but it was the only spell he could find in any group that had to do with the mind. Puzzling that over was what had led to his breakthrough.
He couldn't have cared less about Light. Healing and such were of no interest to him. What did grab his attention was emotion control, specifically the emotions of Arista Casildea. Derek loved her with all his being. She did not return the favor. He knew this because he'd told her of his feelings once, and she publicly rejected him. She was from a wealthy, powerful family and had no time to waste on the apparently magicless boy.
In the dream, he said the necessary words and she was his. "I love you," he said.
"Derek! I'm so glad to see you again!" she replied.
He blinked. Arista was no longer in the dream. She had been replaced by his mother, resplendent in the fabric she'd worn before it had faded and dusted over into dull pastels. She looked energetic and vital as she rushed forth to hold her son again.
"Mom?" he whispered. "Where...how did you get here?"
"I don't know," she told him, crying tears of joy. "I was having the dream I always have, and suddenly you appeared. You've grown." She touched his cheek. He felt awkward, being the focus of her love. Usually the only time people looked at him was when they were angry and were about to reprimand him. He looked into her eyes. The intense adoration and love in them brought tears to his own eyes.
"What's wrong?" she asked softly.
"I...never knew how much I missed you," he said weakly. "I was only six when you left. I'm just now remembering how sad I was. I haven't seen you in this way since I was a child." And suddenly he knew what was happening. He'd been dreaming about love, which triggered earlier memories of his love for his mother. I must have unwittingly reached out with my mind magic and found my way into my mother's dream, he thought.
"I'm sorry I left, Derek. I think about you sometimes, you and Tristan and Branndon. But I didn't leave because I didn't want to be with you! You have to know that. I was very happy having a husband and two children. I loved you all very much.
"The reason I didn't wake up--the reason I think that applies to everyone that doesn't--isn't that I was unhappy in my normal life. It's that I don't know how to wake up. I'm so lost in my dream world that I can't get out. Tell him...tell Tristan I love him. And never forget that I love you too--"
Derek's eyes opened.
* * *
Tristan's fears proved groundless, as all three of them woke up the next morning.
Derek told his father of the dream while Branndon went to see if the skyway was open. Tristan cried silently throughout the recounting. His eyes dried and began to look hopeful as Derek finished with his theory on how their dreams had converged.
"Do you think," Tristan started excitedly, "that you might be able to use your magic to wake her up? Maybe go inside her mind and help her?"
Derek was at a loss. "Um...all I know how to do is make people sleep and...and that's it," he corrected himself hastily.
Tristan was too disappointed to notice the slip. He sank back into the chair and sighed again. "Well," he remarked, "you'll get better at this magic someday. One day...she'll return."
They sat in silence, neither looking at the other, until Branndon bounced in. "It's reopened!" he said exuberantly. Derek and Tristan remained motionless. Branndon stopped, unsure of why they were so sad. "It's open!" he tried again, uneasily.
"Okay. Let's go, Derek," Tristan said in a monotone.
Derek nodded somberly. The three departed, Branndon in the lead; the momentary unpleasantness already forgotten.
Derek hung back behind his father. He was ashamed. The properties of Dream House included total recall of your dreams; if not, the thrill of dreaming would be lost upon waking. Derek remembered word for word the emotion-changing spell his unconscious had taught him. He could fix his problem with Arista, but he could not reunite his parents. The knowledge made him feel small and selfish. But only for a moment. His thoughts turned back to Arista. Her rejection had done nothing to cool his love, he had never stopped thinking about her. He couldn't wait for school that afternoon.
* * *
Ethelbert's unusually nervous today, Derek noted. The thin teacher's eyes kept darting to the window every few seconds, as if he expected something to happen. So far, Derek hadn't seen anything unusual. Probably just being weird, he concluded.
His gaze wandered over to Arista. She looked as fair as ever. Her long, dark violet hair was in a ponytail today to keep it out of her face as they worked in the lab. Arista's element was fire, she was the best user of the element Derek knew.
Perhaps she'll show me some, Derek thought with satisfaction as the hour wore on and Ethelbert continued to drone. He planned to use the spell on her after class, when they were packing up. No one would notice among the chaos that the end bell usually brought.
"Derek!" the high, shrill voice called. He was startled out of his thoughts as the professor singled him out for a question that he didn't know the answer to. The students laughed at Derek's embarassment, and the old fuse began to light itself again. He forced himself to remember his father's words and calm down. A glance at Arista helped things immensely. She hadn't laughed at him at all when he couldn't answer. He furrowed his brow as he looked back into his textbook. Had that been a hint of sympathy?
The bell rang.
The mad rush to leave the building began as the students furiously packed their bags, hoping to avoid the crowds. Derek's things were already packed; indeed, he hadn't bothered to unpack at the beginning of class. He looked at Arista again and silently wished for success. He got out of his desk and to his feet. He took a step and almost tripped over his own feet. Steadying himself, he began to walk toward Arista. She looked up at him in surprise. "Hello, Derek," she said neutrally.
"I...," he started, unsure of how to explain himself. Just do it! he told himself. No explanation would be necessary after he'd cast the spell. He began to say the words, so absorbed in the spell that he didn't notice a slight tremor in the ground.
"Plux shan sysre esce..." She looked at him in confusion. The ground was definitely shaking now. Etherlbert shouted something about an earthquake, but Derek didn't notice. Everything except he, Arista, and the spell he was weaving escaped his notice. The sky outside flared with golden beams.
"...Rempte ytter taost..." Cracks appeared on the violently heaving floor. Arista started to run for the door. Derek put a restraining hand on her shoulder, looked into her eyes, and spoke the final words of the spell.
"...tuerind geive ossly--" He never finished the spell. The floor yawned open, split by the devastating yellow pillar of heat that exploded upwards through the room. Arista screamed in pain, caught in the full force of the ray. Hurt as she was, she still managed to grab the edge of the gaping hole in the floor with one hand. She looked pleadingly up at him, extending her other hand through the hole. He kneeled quickly to grab it, but another blast through the floor threw him forward, over Arista. He scrambled to his feet and turned around just in time to see her fingers disappear over the edge. Not knowing what else to do, he jumped after her.
The blast had left a thick hole in the ground all the way through the floating island. Derek hadn't the time to be impressed at the force of whatever did this. He was falling too rapidly. He spun slowly in the air as gravity pulled him to the wastelands below. When the ground brought itself into view, he saw a bright red stain on the earth. It seemed to be spreading itself up into the air in all directions.
Suddenly, the stain was no longer in view. A bright, diamond-blue circle was expanding in the air below him. He had no time to wonder what it was before it was upon him, and he was on the other side.
"Hello. My, my, you're an interesting thing. From Zeal, eh? Well...we'll just take you back and find out alllllll about it...yeeeees..."