Sunday, September 20, 2009

Change follows change

Maria isn't waiting for directions. She grabs Dante's wrist and drags him after her. Away from the change. I think she thinks she's being helpful.

I notice she's only helping Dante. Sigh. Better follow them. Even though she doesn't have a compass. If she did, she wouldn't be running away. Well, she might. Most people run from change.

Grass bends and falls beneath my shoes. Some times your people call them runners. Runners for running. I do a lot of it. Catching Maria and Dante is easy. A few blood-pumping heartbeats is all it takes.

The change crashes along silently behind me. It barely ripples the harmonies—

The music. The possibilities.

I stop running. "Andy!"

He doesn't. Maria's white-knuckle grip means he has to run or be dragged. He's chosen to run. His family doesn't like to be forced into anything.

"Little busy, Ethan," he says. Traces of his father in the tone. Only Dante can't pull off the unshakable calm. Hard to when he's trying to maintain his footing.

"We have to go back," I call.

Maria stops, too. Dante nearly collides with her.

"Are you crazy, Ethan?" Her face is flushed.

I'm not sure I like how it feels when she says my name.

"Most think so," Dante says. "But he's not. He just experiences reality a little differently from the rest of us."

"We aren't going back," she says. "Not while that…thing is there."

"Technically it's finished with back there," I say. "It's whatever is in its way now that need to be worried."

She gives me a look like she could strangle me, which I take to me she's aware that what's in front of the change is us. I don't mention we'd have to go through the change to reach stable ground. It's obvious. Even more obvious she's not interested in listening to me anymore.

Oh well. Don't need her to.

"Divert it," I tell Dante. "I know you can."

"I can try." He wrinkles his brow. "But I'm not really plugged into the dream fields. You're the one with Fortune ties."

"You're the mirror-carrying mage."

"Not today. I left it at home."

"Guys." Maria pushes at her hair. "This isn't the time to argue. One of you do something or let's put the Abyss between us and that thing."

She cusses like Girl Val. There's something endearing about it. Dante must think so, too, because he adjusts his scarf and faces the change. He doesn't really need the mirror. Not in our world.

Fingers moving through the air, he traces shapes. Sigils. Instructions for the universe. On your side of the glass this was called mirror magic. Or it will be. Depends on when you're reading.

Glyphs glow with intent against the unknown of the coming change. They sizzle. The music in my head remixes. A symphony obeying a conductor. I think the dream fields will listen. There's a small chance they might not. They don’t like being told what to do.

It's still possible. We can divert the change. It will work. I can hear the beats spinning in our favor.

The change pauses in its approach. Brushes against those violet blue flames. Shrinks away.

Dante holds the glyphs in place by the strength of his will. He's easily more powerful than I am. More skilled. If he wasn't, I wouldn’t have waited for him to do something.

"That's so icy!" Maria’s eyes are wide and shining. "Totally frozen, Andy. Totally."

Dante's mouth twitches. He's trying not to smile. To divide his focus. Interrupt his concentration. He must like the way she says his name. You won't believe me, but I know how that feels. To have someone say your name in a way that makes you want to forget what you're doing. Even if they don't realize that's the tone they've used.

How it feels is how what happens next happens. I realize it's not really her fault. Not completely his fault, either. Just circumstance. A combination of different sounds. Improvisation. The universe can be full of it. Especially when mirror mages are involved.

Dante's focus wavers. The glyphs dim. And the change begins to move. Partially remaining instructions are enough to nudge it a little off course. But not enough.

The change warps the glyphs as it swallows them. Twists and rolls on itself for a moment. Then it surges toward him.

Maria screams out a wordless warning. Panic has her totally frozen where she is. I lunge. Grab his arm. Yank him toward me.

I don't reach him in time to keep him from being clipped by change. But I get there before he takes the full brunt. Before he's swallowed up and spat out somewhere else. The change rolls on its new course.

Maria is completely safe. Dante did what needed doing.

He coughs into my shoulder. I can't hear anything, so I have to assume he'll be fine. We can survive a run in with a change, but no one escapes unchanged. If you think you could, you probably think you go somewhere in your dreams.


Maria stumbles over. The change has left the ground half-sand, half-scrub. The edging of a beach. The Shifting Lands have shifted. We're not where we were before.

I ease Dante to the sand. Gently. The change is spreading over him. Leeching out what little color his pale violet hair had left. Turning it a familiar black. Wild Changes, undirected as the ones in the dream fields are, can't create new possibilities. Only work with what exists within you.

Dante's father has dark hair. Curly. Dante's now-dark hair isn't curling. He'll be grateful for that small kindness.

"What's happening to him?" Maria half-slips, half-sits beside us.

"That thing contacted him," I tell her. "Now it's playing with his potentials. Don't worry. Minor physical alterations is about all it can affect on someone like him."

Or me. Got caught once. When I was little. Long before Avalon ever came to our world. My parents were doing something. I wandered off. Had my first unscheduled side trip. Might not have found my way back home if my brother hadn't found me.

The compass I have used to belong to him. Before our parents were killed, Matt traveled the dream fields a lot. Then he became King of Inspiration and he stopped exploring our world. Too many responsibilities. Heavy is the crown, you might say. You'd be wrong. There's no crown.

"What about someone like you?" Maria asks. Her unspoken question is what about me.

I point to my hair. "How do you think I got this white streak?"

I don't tell her it would be different for her. She isn't grounded, because she isn't properly connected to Beauty. The change might take her. Swallow her up. Not spit her out somewhere else, but spit her out as something else.

Like it's done with the bits of vanished cities.

"Is he ok?" Maria looks at me. "I mean, except for his hair."

You'd think she'd like his hair being such a boring color.

"You sure he's not hurt?" she asks. "He looks like he passed out."

I shrug. It wasn't the change that hurt. It was the spell being twisted while Dante was still connected to it. If there hadn't been mirror magic involved, it wouldn't have hurt at all. But if there hadn't been mirror magic involved, we'd still be running away from where we wanted to go.

Dante gasps, jerking up like someone returning from the dead. His eyes are wide—the too large pupil contracting, letting the deep ultramarine of his iris expand to a normal size. Both of them. His mismatched eyes match again. Always thought he'd been born with one violet and one blue. Maybe he wasn't.

He draws in a breath. His eyes go over my shoulder. He smiles a little and I prepare for him to give Maria some kind of unnecessary assure that he's fine. Probably apologize for worrying her.

"Hey." He points to something behind her. "Looks like Vancouver found us."

Or not. Dante, like Thursdays, is full of surprises.

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