There's no such thing as Hourglass Eyes
Xander awoke in the hospital. There was the steady beep-beep-beep of the machines-that-went-Ping!
and the groan of the IV machine as it pumped saline into his veins. In the next room over, a crazy man was talking about washing his shirts, but that he couldn't do that, but that he needed to. Nurses bustled around giving medication, caring for needs and otherwise catering to both patient and doctor.
“Your son seems to have suffered a severe allergic reaction to a substance in his face paint last night,” the doctor said. The miasma over the town which would later be known as “the Sunnydale Effect” was hard at work enforcing preconceptions, rationalizations and outright falsehoods and the elder Harrises were eating it up. They nodded in all the right places, frowned at all the right times. “His cough seemed to subside with some of the medication we gave him, but the discoloration of his skin and eyes has had no change.”
“How could this have happened?” Xander heard his mother ask.
“We're not really sure at this juncture, but we suspect it was most likely a recessive genetic disorder that is just now showing up,” the doctor began, only to be cut off by a nurse.
“Xander is awake now, Doctor Jones,” she said.
“Thank you Nurse-” the doctor made a big show of looking for her name tag, but it seemed to Xander just an excuse for the doc to look down the busty woman's scrubs. “-Nurse Maxwell. We'll head right in.” Doctor Jones was late 40s, a little overweight with a bald patch with closely cropped salt and pepper hair in a Picard-style cut. It was obvious he was going for dignified, but just barely managed pompous. “Ah, young Xander, how are you feeling this fine afternoon?”
Afternoon? The last Xander remembered it was sunrise. And how was he feeling? Frankly, he felt like crap. “My lungs ache; my throat burns like I just swallowed a gallon of lava; I can barely lift my arms up off the bed; and I'm coughing blood. How do you think
His mother jumped at the harsh, sarcastic comment that rasped out of her son's throat. His voice was still recognizable, but the only time he had ever had something as bad was when he'd had strep throat back in the 6th grade. Tony Harris glared at him for causing a scene in public, but didn't say anything.
“That's not to mention that everyone looks like walking corpses,” Xander continued.
“Visual hallucinations...very interesting,” the Doctor muttered, noting that reaction on his clipboard. “Anything wrong with your other senses?”
“No, everything sounds fine, it still smells like a hospital, but I haven't eaten anything, so that's not different,” Xander replied, this time with less venom than before, but he refused to look the man in the eyes. To see those dead, glassy orbs swiveling around in their sockets made him want to hurl. On some level he realized that nothing had truly sunk in. He was in shock. He looked up at the corpses that spoke with his parents voices. He could see the anger in their faces, the horror his appearance instilled in their minds. His father was defensive, his arms crossed over his chest and his legs farther apart than normal, trying to look more menacing than he was. His mother was standing, holding herself as if cold. Xander could tell she had no idea what to do about this strange situation. Xander couldn't blame them. He knew that as soon as he went home, everything was going back to normal. The drinking and yelling would start back up. His parents never actually hit each other or him, but they were both drunks. Tony Harris was a very nice man when he was sober, but he fell into a bottle in the 80s after having lost his job and had trouble, and little desire to, climbing back out ever since. All the anger he held inside bubbled out like foam from a shaken bottle of Schlitz. Jessica Harris went the other route into depression. She had been like many mothers when Xander was a child, loving, caring, sober, but the loss of her brother in a brutal accident had put the kibosh to that when Xander was 5. As his mother had withdrawn into herself, Xander had drifted away from the core of the Harris household, spending more and more time with Willow and Jesse.
The doctor rattled off a few more reasons why Xander would be seeing things and how this would impact his body. He rationalized away why Xander's black hair had turned a sickly silver-gray in one night. They had tested for dyes and found none. His skin was golden and dull, but there was little chance that he was going to return to the more “traditional” hues of skin tone any time soon. Even the skin under his fingernails had changed. He picked up a mirror and looked at his reflection. Golden gums, but his teeth were pure white, whiter than they were before. But his eyes...his eyes were the aureate hue of the sunrise with twin hourglass pupils edged in orange fire irises. He almost threw the mirror across the room, but paused as he realized that he could see people as they truly were in their reflection. In the mirror his parents were whole, unblemished by his accursed sight. He reached out a finger, but touched only cold glass.
His cough hadn't improved by that night so he was kept overnight in the ICU for observation. The sounds of the machines and the crazy people who practically live in the ICU came alive without the sounds of cars driving down the road and all the people moving all over the place like during the day. He was unable to sleep. His IV ran out and it took the nurses nearly half an hour to replace it and Xander had to deal with the beep-beep-beep that rang out like a siren so close to his ear, yet too far to reach. Sleep was difficult to find anywhere. The man complaining about his shirts the previous afternoon had changed to calling out for his wife, or ex-wife who had died fifteen years prior, but the senile man still called out her name, hoping beyond hope that she would return to him.
Xander learned that this happened every night and that “you just get used to it” as the nurses said. Xander had no desire to be there long enough “to get used to it” and hated that he was locked up, nearly shackled to the bed with the anti-clot machine strapped to his legs. A child cried out from the pediatric side of the ICU, a young girl who called out for her mother, saying something was sitting on her chest. She was sobbing, but no one went to check on her. Xander turned his head to see a creature perched upon the child like Christopher Walken in the Prophesy
with the looks of Freddy Kruger. It was misshapen, twisted into a mockery of humanity as it bent closer and closer to the girl's mouth and it seemed to fade in and out of view constantly like slow pulse of vision. As its eyes extended, latching onto the poor girl, the creature...the-the demon
seemed savor something unseen, a scent or a taste that came from the girl. Physically bound by IV and machine as surely as shackles to a dungeon wall, Xander's options were severely limited. But words came to mind, arcane phrases few mortals of Xander's world knew and even if they did, rarely ever dared to speak. To a part of Xander, a part that he had been just a day previous, they were well remembered words of significant quality, like loving friends come to visit. His fingers moved almost unbidden into the somatic components of the spell. He whispered the words and the spell flew both from his mind and his fingers, hitting the creature perched on the bed. Xander watched, satisfied as its eyes rolled up into its head and it fell backwards unconscious, a satisfying crack as it's head hit the floor at an unnatural angle and was still.
It would be fifteen minutes before nurses went over to see what went wrong, but by that time, Xander wasn't paying attention. Xander's only concern was that which took place, prompting the girl's survival, the actions that Xander himself took. Actions that should not have been possible. The with the possible eliminated, all that remained was the impossible. This particular impossibility defied logic as Xander knew it and went straight into the arcane.
He had cast...a spell? Xander asked himself.
He had cast a spell. Xander knew it had happened, as there was clear evidence right across the ICU.
How was that even possible? How could it have happened? And was that last night more than just a dream or a hallucination? Was it something more? Something greater?
Every part of Xander's thinking being said it was true. He had been Raistlin for those hours, for that night. But was that it? Those kids, those people: had they really killed them? Were they at fault? Or was it Caramon, Tika and Raistlin's fault? Where did Xander end and Raistlin begin?
Willow visited that afternoon.
“I was really worried about you, but they wouldn't let me visit because you were in the ICU and I'm not family, except we're really
good best friends and I really wanted to come, but they were worried at first that it was an infection, and they didn't want me there to spread it or catch it, because if I was exposed earlier, I could have been spreading it since I took you to the hospital, but it's not an infection, so now I can visit,” she said before taking a deep breath and blushing at her babble. She glanced nervously and held up her gift. “Fruit basket?”
“Thank you Willow,” Xander said, smiling at his friend, but looking away from her.
“Are...are you okay? Do they know what happened?” she asked hesitantly.
Xander didn't answer at first. He lifted his head up and looked at the window over her shoulder. She was whole in the reflection. It wasn't like seeing her face, but she was alive
in the window.
“What do you remember from Tika?” Xander asked. Willow's face paled and the girl froze as sure as if she was paralyzed by a spell. She looked intently at the fruit basket on her knees.
“She thought that she was doing the right thing,” Willow replied quietly. “She saw the goblins and all she could think about was how they had taken over the Inn, the tree, the whole of Solace. She had no reason to think they were children changed into monsters. But yesterday morning, I saw them, I saw them transform back. Tika didn't know, but I
do. I don't understand how I know her. Xander, I know her like I was her...” She looked up at him, where he appeared to still be staring out the window. “Xander,” she asked quietly, “why are you still wearing your contacts?”
He turned to face her, looking over her shoulder, his eyes purposefully not looking at her, not focusing at her, refusing to see her like the walking dead. His expression wasn't stony, but serious, dark. “I'm not wearing contacts, Willow.”
Looking into his eyes, she gasped as she saw the hourglass pupils dilate in the change of light from window to room. She stared in silent horror and shame, shame that he was the one to suffer and not her. She did, in a lot of ways, blame herself. She could have argued. She could have done...what else could she have done? She gulped and looked at his skin and hair once more for a closer inspection.
“You have Raistlin's curse,” she said. It was a statement, not a comment and Xander took it as such, but he nodded in confirmation anyway. “What-” she paused, taking a breath. “What else did you get from him?”
“I can see like he can,” he told her, clenching his fists around the sheet covering him. He stubbornly glared out the window. “I have magic, Willow.”
“I can cast spells,” he explained, a bitter tinge to his voice, though it wasn't directed at her. “Granted, I've only ever tried one, but it worked.”
“Spells?” she squeaked, startled.
“Yes, I seem to have some of Raistlin's magic as well,” Xander admitted. “I'd have rather gone as Sturm or hell, if I'd have known I'd be getting knowledge from someone, I'd have dressed as Einstein. If I wanted magic powers, I'd have gone with Doctor Strange.”
“I'm glad I didn't go as a ghost,” Willow said. “I might still be one. Although then my hair might not be so curly,” she commented, pulling at lock of her long red hair that jumped back like a coiled spring. It wasn't as frizzy as Xander, or rather Raistlin,
remembered the real Tika's being, but it gave Willow a styled look to her normally straight hair and looked...well, it looked pretty damn good on her.
“Whatever was done can be undone,” Xander said, repeating something Raistlin had heard someone say at the Tower of High Sorcery before he took his test. “But there is always a cost.”
“How is Jesse?” Willow asked.
“I don't know,” Xander rasped. Willow thought she saw a touch of anger flash over his eyes. “He hasn't been by. From the way he ran off, he might not even know I'm here.”
“He wasn't in class yesterday,” Willow said. “I don't know what's up with him.”
Xander was silent as he sullenly glanced away, crossing his arms.
“He's better not be running away,” Willow said with a furrowed brow.
“I wouldn't be surprised at all
,” Xander rasped before falling into another coughing fit. Blood flecks were stark against the white blanket and johnny he wore. Willow panicked and called in the nurses. Daytime nurses were just so much better than the night shift. They pulled the worried redhead out of the room, and checked Xander over, finding nothing different.
“I'll just call the doctor since the medicine we've got you on doesn't seem to be doing anything for your cough, but your lungs seem okay, doesn't sound like you've got any fluid in them,” she told him. She asked him to rate his pain, and he gave a modest three out of ten. With his memories of Raistlin, the racking cough and the pain it brought was practically an old friend compared to being crushed by a black dragon's claw.
Willow watched with a worried brow as doctors and nurses swarmed over her friend, no one really clear on what had happened. Willow knew better than anyone what would happen if any of them told the real story of what happened that night. Willow knew more about making and serving beer than she ever thought she'd ever know. Every time she picked up a frying pan she got an image, a half memory, of her hand, Tika's hand, swinging the pan into draconian heads. Sometimes the pan was replaced by a shield bashing an armored opponent or shielding against dragon breath. Tika didn't like Raistlin; in fact, she damn near hated him. Raistlin was sarcastic, caustic and brutal with the truth. He was also the person Caramon loved more than anyone. Tika knew Caramon felt affection for her, but anything greater was overshadowed by his need to care for his brother. Tika didn't like it, but knew that more than a little jealousy was housed in her breast. Willow worried that she and Tika were too much alike. She worried that she would start to hate Xander like Tika hated Raistlin.
She watched as the coughing fit subsided and the nurses pulled back. Xander leaned back, his chest heaving as he tried to find the breath he lost in his coughs. For the first time he looked right at her.
“Willow,” he rasped. “Thank you.”
The girl's worries vanished with those words. She rushed over and pulled him into a hug.
Unbeknownst to Willow, Xander wasn't looking at her, but over her shoulder. Jesse stood in the doorway, looking haggard as he stared at their embrace. As Willow's arms embraced him, she never saw the scowl the hospital inmate shot at the healthy teen standing in the doorway. Jesse squirmed under his friend's gaze and that suited Xander just fine.
Nervous, his confidence shattered, Jesse turned and fled the hospital.
“Okay, okay, okay so you can cast spells, and that is so cool, I really wish I could cast spells, but that's your thing and I'm cool about that, but I mean I didn't even think magic was real and now Xander's a wizard or are you a sorcerer? Is there a difference, because I've never really been sure; are you like Raistlin with all the robes and stuff, or did you just get a few spells? And you don't seem to have a spellbook, oh, and don't Raistlin type-wizards lose their spells as soon as they cast them if they don't write them down? And that could be a bad thing if you lost all your spells,” Willow said before taking a gigantic gasp of air to refill her lungs, suddenly looking very worried. “I need to sit down.”
“You are sitting down,” Xander said helpfully.
“Oh,” she replied. “Good for me.”
Xander tossed a book into her lap. It was dark leather bound with golden trim. The pages were old, stained yellow with age, but with negative images of letters and words that once adorned the pages. Flipping to the cover she realized that whatever had once been on the spine was erased, replaced by a bit of filigree. The first few pages were filled with strange, arcane writing that had no tell as to the meaning. Willow looked up at Xander for an explanation.
“Raistlin made it,” he replied to her unvoiced question. “I think
it's a copy of his spellbook, but I'm not sure. I can only make out a little here and there of the words. Every time I read it the pages make more sense.” he began to cough, but waved off her attempts to help. “The way he worked, I get the impression that he saw everyone changing, so he broke into that new age shop-what's it called? The Magic Box, I believe-and grabbed a book. He cast a spell erasing what was there before and replaced it with copies of the books he had with him.”
“But how can you use it?” Willow asked.
“I don't know if I can,” he replied. “Not yet at least. I remember a few things he could do, sleight of hand and the like, but the spells, I've cast three and then they're gone. Out of my mind like I never had them in the first place.”
“Is that how it's supposed to work?” Willow asked. “It's magic. Magic's really real. And you can do it. Magic's real. I sound crazy, but I'm not crazy. Is that allowed legally?”
Xander rolled his eyes and sighed dramatically. “Oh, I don't know, maybe you should ask a lawyer.”
Willow shot a glare at him before poking him hard in the arm.
“Not nice to make fun of me,” she warned with full on resolve face.
As he spent time in the hospital, Xander spent less and less time watching the television and more and more time working out the esoteric nature of the book in his hands. The book that Raistlin had preserved for his own use. It wasn't written in the spoken language of Krynn, nor any of the tongues Raistlin was familiar with spoken by other races and other planes. This was a language constructed for one reason: the expression of magic. The Language of Magic was unique, having verbal forms, but was primarily written. Each wizard had their own shorthand for spells, their own personal encryption into the Arcane Arts. Raistlin's was particularly complex and if it weren't for Xander's personal insight into his mind, the Sunnydale boy would have been helpless. Even so, it was an arduous task that Xander fought through one phrase at a time.
One phrase was the command to sleep, with a series of notes on what was required for a material component and what gestures were needed for the effect. Another spell was the cantrip, a method of prestidigitation, performing many minor tricks of illusion and misdirection that worked well with other skills gained from Raistlin's experience. One by one the spells revealed themselves to Xander like putting together a puzzle one piece at a time. Eventually he had deciphered the spells of Sleep, Magic Missile and others, expanding this to include the powers to throw fire from his hands in bolts and even throw an arrow of acid created by some guy named Melf. There were spells to charm opponents and innocents and several to induce sleep. But eventually, Xander got to what appeared to be the end of Raistlin's rather limited spellbook. He tried flipping to the next page, but realized that several of pages were stuck together in one clump that seemed to change in size depending on how you looked at it. Sometimes it looked about five pages thick, other times thirty. After fiddling with it for days, Xander got the bright idea that there might have been an arcane lock on the book. After much practice and failed attempts, Xander cast the counterspell, Knock, unlocking the books hidden contents. Xander opened to that first page of the locked section and started to read.
“Fiz-fist-fizban? Fizban's Fantastic and Fabulous Fireball?” Xander asked, holding the book at arm's length. He turned the book sideways and back trying to see if there was something more to it. “Well, okay that's page one. Wait, wasn't Fizban really...?” Xander shook his head and turned to the next page. “The Spellbook of Fis-fist-Fistandantilus?” Xander set the book down on his lap, hyperventilated for a moment, “Oh my.”
The Cypher was different from Raistlin's, but oddly similar enough so that Xander had a place to start.
It was three weeks before Xander was allowed out of the hospital and back into school. He'd completed his work on time since there was little else to do in the hospital save for watching reruns of Law & Order and its various spin offs. A little known fact, it's possible to watch Law & Order nearly 24 hours a day on hospital television.
Before his stay, Xander had a healthy, if not chiseled, musculature, but now after three weeks of low calories and no exercise, Xander was weak and it showed. Clothing that had fit before his stay now hung off his body, only serving to emphasize his weakened state. Normally someone in such a situation would have had at least a week of recovery and physical therapy, but Tony Harris was convinced that was for liberal sissies and shipped Xander off to school the very next day.
He looked at himself in the mirror; nothing but golden skin and bones. His hair had grown out and he hadn't had time to get it trimmed, but it was growing out a dirty mix of gray, white and black, no stripes, but with no uniform discoloration, making it appear dirty, matching his sickly appearance. Xander looked at his closet. There were Haiwaiian shirts now several sizes too large for him, and pants that would only work if he tightened them close with a belt. Even his socks were too big, slipping down his ankles to get caught under his heel as he walked. Xander rifled through his “present clothes” the section of his closet where gifts from family members resided and were rarely if ever worn in public. A part of the problem was that a number of them were purchased while drunk, and so the choices were less than desirable, even for a fashion blind individual like Xander. Goodness knows he loved Willow like a sister, but he had no desire to dress like her.
Deep at the bottom of the pile (which had been up to that point layered chronologically like an archaeological dig site) was a purchase from back in the days his uncle Rory actually still had a license. Bright crimson Red Sox hoodie, years old so it actually fit his new frame, while still disguising his fragile state; Xander pulled it on over a simple white shirt and an old pair of black jeans that were just baggy enough to prevent him from looking like an anorexic Goldfinger reject.
Laboriously, he hefted his school books one by one and stuffed his backpack with only the bare essentials. He had his notes for the last few classes he had missed, two pens, two notebooks and the seven books he needed for classes that day. In times past he would have simply jumped on his skateboard and ridden it to school and stopped quickly when he ran into someone. Now he wasn't sure he even had the strength and dexterity to keep himself going at a regular pace on the contraption. Instead he chose the long way: walking to school.
By all rights, he shouldn't have even been out of bed, but he doggedly put one foot in front of the other, pushing himself until he could see Principal Flutie at the gates. The very friendly but strict administrator was not a bad person, but he had this way of looking at you that made you feel like a little kid. A side effect of that was that not too many of the “bad kids” took him seriously. They always seemed to forget that there is a difference between a kind man and a weak man. Someday they were going to push Bob Flutie too far and that was a day Xander always wanted to see.
“Come along son,” Flutie said, motioning for him to hurry. “Don't want to be late.”
Xander tried to run, he really did, but the crisp November air was sharp going into his lungs and by the time he made it to the gate he was practically falling over.
“Are you okay son?” Flutie asked, “I would help you to your feet, but regulations state that faculty are not allowed to touch students in any way that can be misinterpreted.”
“You-” Xander knelt on the ground, his arms straight, holding him up, as he coughed blood on the sidewalk. “You have permission to help me up.”
The older man grabbed Xander's arm and helped him to his feet, only then noticing the stain of red on the concrete.
“Are you okay? Should we take you to the hospital?” Flutie asked, hovering about him.
“I just got out and they said they couldn't do anything,” Xander said, with a shake of his head. “I need to be somewhere other than a hospital bed.”
“I'll give you a note for your first class,” he said. Xander looked up in surprise and regretted it as it was the first time the Principal was able to look into his hood. The man flinched as if slapped and immediately looked away to prevent eye contact. “You, uh, just make sure you have something to cough into. For health reasons, you know. The school board is very serious about blood born pathogens; it seems to be something they pride themselves on.”
“You don't have to worry- hack!-cough!-rasp!
-about me, Principal Flutie,” Xander said, still finding it a little hard to breathe, but he was back on his feet again. Bob scribbled something on a blue pad, ripped off the first one and handed it to Xander.
“Welcome back to Sunnydale High, Mr. Harris,” he said.