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Electrostatic

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He dreams, and in his dreams water pours across the world and hardens into ice. He dreams, and the wind comes from the four corners of the world and blows and blows until he is all alone. He stands there in his dream, and the earth reaches up and pulls away the words that surround him. Something is missing, he knows that much—but then fire whips about him, higher and higher, until it is all he can see.

He wakes with a yell, and can never quite remember what was missing. Ice, wind, earth, fire—that's all quite right. But his alarm is due to go off in two minutes and he has early morning office hours today, so there's no time to worry about it further now.

***

She never dreams anymore, or at least not anything that she can remember upon waking. But in contrast, the daytime seems brighter than it ever was before, full of wonder and possibilities. The colors around her are so vivid, and yet she knows exactly which paints she would mix to capture them on canvas.

There had been a fox, she knows. She paints foxes sometimes, quick sketches of sinuous red jumping and running and spinning, but none of them look quite right. It's the one thing she can't capture, when everything else just flows from her brush these days. And so, of course, it's the most important.

She reaches for the other memories, and they come to her eventually. There had been fire, and ice, and sparks, and wind. She can't feel the magic anymore, but she remembers the way it settled deep within her and spread around, until none could withstand her and the words she wielded.

She reads sometimes, when she isn't painting. Her exhibition has finally been rescheduled now that she's back from medical leave, but there's still time. She knows a little bit about the four classical elements, and wonders if there might be a connection somehow, so she pokes around the library databases. And then she finds one certain paper, and she's certain that it has to be connected—but how, and why?

***

It's five minutes before his office hours end, and (as usual) nobody's shown up, even though he's giving an exam next Monday and he would have thought that at least somebody would have questions. But when there's finally a knock on the door, it's a student he doesn't recognize at all.

"Hi, sorry, I don't go here, I'm a grad student at your sister school across the state," the young woman says. "Did you write this?"

The paper she's brandishing in his face indeed looks familiar. It's the one he wrote about the classical elements and their association with magic, years ago, after that first impossibly vivid dream. Ice, wind, earth, fire. Had he been alone in the dream?

"I was particularly intrigued by your replacement of water with ice," she continues. "The traditional four elements are earth, water, air, and fire, but you wrote about ice instead. Why?"

He shrugs. "It just seemed right."

"The topic's a bit out of your wheelhouse, isn't it? All of your other publications are on nineteenth century literature."

"It's good to get outside of your comfort zone once in a while," he says. "I'd been falling into a rut, but then I—" (He'd had a dream, and that had changed everything. But he can hardly say that.) "—I started doing some research on areas that were a bit further afield for me, and on this one I ended up doing enough research that I thought I might as well turn it into a paper and see if I could get it published."

"What about lightning?" she asks. "Have you ever considered whether it might fit as a type of elemental magic?"

"I believe lightning would simply be considered a manifestation of air, or perhaps fire," he says. "But like I said, it's not my main field, and it's been a while since I did any research on it. I certainly didn't see any reason to include it." There had been no lightning in his dream, or in any of the dreams since. Come to think of it, there had been no storms at all.

"What about this earth magic?" she asks, flipping through the paper and stabbing at one of the pages with her finger. "Why'd you include that?"

"Because it needed to be there," he says.

***

The bear strove forward, its powerful paws pummeling the ground. He sat on its back without fear of falling off; he had been riding on the bear for as long as he could remember. Around them, creeping calamities surged forwards, but he had plunged his hands into the heart of the earth, and the magic he had found there would withstand them all. He reached out to the earth, and the earth pulled on the creatures with all the might of its gravity until they had no words left, and no threat remained. He stroked the bear's neck gently, and they continued on through the mine.

***

"What about you?" he asks, to stave the tide of questions. "You're a grad student?"

"In art," she says. "I'm a painter. I have an exhibition coming soon; it was supposed to be last year, but I had to take medical leave."

"I'm sorry," he says. "I hope things are better for you now. I had to take medical leave once, and if anything, I found myself more energized afterwards. Just getting a bit of a fresh start, I suppose. That's around when I wrote the paper you're asking about, actually."

She looks him in the eye. "That's how I felt, too. I thought it was a dream, but now I'm not so sure. What do you think? Was it a dream?"

Of course it was a dream. It couldn't be real, that would be ridiculous. But—how does she know about it? "Are you talking about the bear? Riding through the world as it unfolded around you?"

"In my dream—my experience—it was a fox. And there was no earth magic."

***

Her fingertips tingled from the sharp static. Lightning was bottled up inside her heart, and she let it fly free. It sparked and bounced from one creature to another, tearing their words away from them until they had no power left. Another tide of skittering sinister foes followed in their wake, and were once again undone.

The fox's strong muscles rippled beneath her, wanting to be let loose. She leaned against its neck and let it go where it wished. There was nowhere here that she needed to fear anymore, now that so many types of magic were within her reach.

***

He shakes his head. "Shared hallucinations, perhaps?"

"Seriously? You'd rather think you were hallucinating than believe your own senses? You know it was real, you might as well admit it." She flips the printout of his paper over to the blank side and grabs a pen from his desk. "So, when I was there, there was a forest, and then a meteor hit, and then over here there were some old halls that got filled with water but then I learned how to turn it to ice..." She draws a map as she speaks. It looks very familiar. Except—

"You say this was a factory? And you found lightning there?" he asks, tapping one point on the map.

"Some sort of city full of ironworks and machines for creation," she says. "I never knew what it was for exactly. It was crumbling and long abandoned, though I was able to give it sparks of life once again."

"When I was there," he says, "it was some sort of cavern of entry into the bowels of the earth."

"A mine? Because there was a mine over here—"

"No, not a mine. Something deeper, and darker. I touched the earth and the earth reached back, and its magic settled in my soul. I was there earlier than you; perhaps time passes faster there, and the city you knew had not yet been built."

"Perhaps," she says. "There is precedent in literature for time to pass differently in other worlds than our own. But I'm grieved to learn that there was a type of magic that I missed when I was there; I hope it's not lost forever."

"I'll tell you about it," he says. "I can't give it to you, because I hardly know how I got it myself, and the magic's all gone now that I'm back here—I can't feel it at all. But I'll tell you everything I remember. And you can tell me about the sparks of lightning that came afterwards."

She nods. "I'm glad I'm not the only one who remembers it. But I'm sorry you missed out on spark magic. It was my favorite, with the way it jumped from creature to creature, and could vanquish several opponents with a single word. I wish you could have seen it. But I'll try to tell you what it felt like, and how it worked, and, oh, how beautiful it was."

***

He dreams that night (or is it a dream?). In his dream, words whip around him and chittering creatures draw near, but the bear is sturdy beneath him, carrying him speedily away from the danger. That's what was missing before, he realizes, but now they are reunited and they sprint across the land faster than even the winged creatures can fly.

He still thinks it feels like a dream, but she had told him that it was real, and perhaps she's right. He's not sure that he particularly cares whether it's real as long as he is here now, together with his bear, racing across the land. He guides the bear south, towards the place that had earth magic in his time and spark magic in hers. "We'll see what we find," he whispers. Maybe it will be something completely new. If so, perhaps he will write about it when he returns. But for now, he just wants to explore. There is land unfolding below him and a bright sky above him, and there is magic in his heart. He reaches for ice and for fire, for earth and for wind, and they spring forth as if they had never gone away. He leans forward, and lets the bear carry him onward.