Here's Looking at You, Kid.

By: Kitty Ryan, 2004

Rating: PG-13
Author's Note: This bizarre little effort was written for the SFF Challenge at the Dancing Dove.
There had been three people in classroom 532E, Imperial University of Carthak. Anyone walking down the main student corridor, the one with its grey carpet enlivened with irregular splashes of puce--because students can make stupid mistakes and the slaves hadn't gotten around to fixing it up yet--could have seen it.

But then the flash of emerald-green light came, and there were four.

"That's it. Somebody build me a shrine!"

Inside 532E, one of the mysteriously increased group was triumphantly taking in the glory of his own image.

Someone else was just rolling his eyes. "Ozorne, are there any active listening spells in here?"

"I've just completed one of the most complicated, complex, difficult and challenging pieces of magic created in living memory, and you're asking about listening spells?"

The eye-roller was called Tristan; he was grinning. "Of course you have," he said lazily. "And it's perfectly normal for anyone to demand a shrine from the universe after finally pulling that spell off, Mynoss-yes. It's just that, because you are you, your Imperial Highness, if anyone's just heard all that, you'll probably get one. Isn't that right, Arram?"

A third boy, the one called Arram, was muttering to himself inaudibly, and didn't respond until Tristan poked him. "Complicated, complex, difficult and chall--what-say? Oh, yes. Right. Er...probably."

Ozorne groaned, looking as miffed as any youth can when they're wearing gold eyeliner. "Arram, you're away with the Undine. And Tristan, you are a scag. Consider yourself condemned to death. Just look at it, will you?"

'It' was the glorious image. The fourth person. Well, an impression one of the original three, given a tangible form. Not a mirror image, simply an exact replica. Brown hair, large, amber-coloured eyes, wide and handsome face. The same in every detail. It was the sort of thing that kept philosophers up all night.

"It is brilliant, Ozorne," said Tristan, keeping his voice as soothing as he could. "The Masters'll be singing your Imperial and well-deservèd praises."

Ozorne tore his eyes away from the simulacrum and gave his friend a long, cold stare. "Are you mocking us, Staghorn?"

Tristan, who knew he looked good in a blonde-brown, well built, healthy sort of a way--and that there was a chance that remaining in this blessed state depended on his answer--smiled disarmingly. "Never that," he said. "I just know that this is more than I could ever pull off. You'll be an Adept so fast you'll break records."

"Too right I will." Ozorne looked toward the dark and very quiet Arram, feeling somewhat mollified. "What do you think of me...I mean, it."

Arram examined the thing, eyes screwed up. "It's excellent," he murmured, rather distractedly.

Ozorne preened.

"--might be better if you couldn't see the wall through it, though."

There was a sigh. The heir to Carthak's power and throne waved a hand, making his semi-transparent likeness dissemble into a collection of green sparks that burned the eyeballs before fading away. "You're both scags, and if any of you say another word you're both dead. Come on."

Ozorne stalked out into the corridor, childish pettishness at war with highly sophisticated disgust. His two friends followed in his wake.

"It was just my practical opinion," Arram murmured, looking entirely unapologetic. "It was nearly there, but perhaps it was more difficult for the particles to coalesce on the number of levels required to--"

Tristan elbowed the seventeen-year-old hard in the ribs, looking incredulous. "Don't you ever know when to shut up, Arram?" Hag only knows, he thought, tiredly and not for the first time, if I've any idea why Ozorne likes this bookworm. I mean, honestly, Draper's got to have the political awareness of a gadfly...

"I was only saying, Tristan, that if some magic had been"

...And now the survival instincts of a lemming?

Just as he was contemplating this, Tristan noticed that Arram trailed off into an inarticulate mess. And that he was blushing.

Varice Kingsford was walking towards them, dazzling in her white Novice robe, yellow-gold hair shining around her face, hips swaying just the right amount as she moved. The girl managed to look wonderful even when she was standing on puce.

Tristan looked her over appreciatively, and Ozorne managed to thaw a little, cracking an approving smile as she neared him.

It was only a matter of who would manage to speak first.

"Varice, if you get any more precious you'll have to be locked away."

"Lady, you grace my father's halls this evening."

Tristan won, by half a second. Varice pinked prettily, gracefully inclining her head, but there was a slightly bored look in her eyes as she gazed at the young men. However, a compliment, trite or no, was a compliment. She turned to the winner first.

"Why, Tristan," she said, soft and low. "If you keep saying things like that I simply won't know what to do. " Lowering her eyes, Varice stepped closer, so that she could brush against Tristan's hand for a brief moment. Maybe that would inspire him, the next time he wanted to be charming.

"And you, your Highness," her tone changed to mischievous as she faced Ozorne, catching his eye and then looking deferentially away. "You are always far too kind to me. One day, I hope I'll be able to find a way to repay you."

Arram watched her, mouth open and face glowing. He was enthralled. He was always enthralled when he watched Varice turn up her charms on people. It was another kind of magic. It was beautiful.

"Hello, Arram."

Varice Kingsford was talking to him, and smiling. Oh gods... "Er...hullo, Varice. I mean, good evening, Miss"

It was painfully embarrassing. Tristan and Ozorne were smirking as Varice's smile turned brittle, exchanging glances; making it seem as if they lived in an entirely different world from the tall, string-bean Arram Draper. With a faint: "Goodbye, boys," Varice went on her way.

The three stared after her for some time, two of them enjoying the memories, the other wishing they didn't exist.

"Smooth, Arram. Very smooth."

Arram glowered. "Point made, Tristan. "

"Oh, don't take it to heart, friend," said Ozorne, sweetly. "You just need to let yourself grow up a little. You're brilliant, but you've led a bit of a bookish, sheltered life thus far, if you know what I mean. Lovelies like her like to be involved with real men. Men of the world."

"Like you, you mean?"

Any faint wit on Arram's part was lost on Ozorne as he assumed the role of Worldly Better. He whistled. "I live in hope, Arram," he said, squeezing his shoulder; or, as near to it as he could reach. "I live in hope."

With that, he and Tristan walked off, leaving Arram alone by the classroom door.
It was so early in the morning that the description 'very late at night' might still have been useful, and Arram couldn't sleep.

He was sitting on his bed, shoulders slumped, tousled head sticking out through his nightshirt, staring at the small mirror on his wall.

A long, bony face, with a nose that was too big for it. A tired mouth that couldn't grasp the polysyllabic whenever Varice was in the room. Wide, innocent dark eyes, which were currently crusted with traces of the sleep he couldn't quite get. Pathetic. He knew he could do a better job at creating simulacra than his friend had, though. He could feel it. Ozorne had been doing it all wrong, working with his magic as if he were painting a picture, rather than creating an actual thing. He was sure that a real simulacrum should be able to look like it was breathing. And have traces of its maker's Gift, of course, but that seemed to almost impossible to achieve.

Arram's eyes closed as theories and possibilities flowed through his mind. Black and white sparks played along his fingers. He forgot the mirror. Sitting there, Arram's shoulders relaxed and his head fell forward; magic flowing, slowly, from his hands.
The magic went on, and time passed around the boy in his trance-like state.

Hours? Seconds? It was hard to tell. All Arram knew was that he'd been sitting; then he'd pitched forward, to land, in a painful, awkward way that was depressingly familiar to him, on the floor.

Stiffly, feeling unreasonably tired, Arram got to his feet and rubbed his eyes.

And rubbed them again.

And stared.

His own reflection was looking at its own reflection, in his mirror.

Mithros, Mynoss and Shakith!

Arram walked around, so he could look himself in the face.

Did I mean to do this? He wondered dreamily, and he reached out to touch the creation lightly on the shoulder. His hand jerked back. It was warm. I should never let magic leak when I'm distracted...

Arram looked again.

It was him, certainly. All the identifying features were there, but...something wasn't quite right. Looking at the simulacrum, Arram could sense that he hadn't gotten everything just so. It was less obvious than it had been in Ozorne's, he knew. The thing was definitely present in all three dimensions, but it wasn't quite him. For one thing, it had much better posture, and didn't look dead on its very large feet. It was as if Arram had painted a picture and had left out some of the detail.

Quite a bit of the detail. Somehow, Arram hadn't been able to give it clothes. Must have been too much of an effort.

"It's like...a scaffold," he murmured, eyes glassy. He really was tired. "My framework. Arram, without the trimmings. " Slowly, Arram leaned forward again, and touched its chest, half expecting to feel it on his own body. It was breathing, slowly and regularly, utterly relaxed.

"Can you hear me?"

It couldn't; Arram wasn't expecting it to. But...the skin, and the all felt scarily real. He looked at it, taking in its flawless, blank face.

You know, he thought, ears slowly starting to ring, I don't look half-bad, really.

"Smile," he commanded, having no real idea why he did so, and letting a tiny spark of his gift slip from his hand to the body it rested on.

The simulacrum smiled.

Half-laughing, and suddenly breathless, Arram whispered another command in its ear.

The simulacrum backed away a little, breaking the contact. It looked confident. The gawky body, usually all elbows and knees, seemed poised. Almost...suave, and the smile was still there. Then, it started to speak, as Arram had nervously told it to.

"Hello, Varice," it said. "Now, I'm not going to pay you a compliment, here, because you've probably heard them all and you know they're true, anyway, but I just want to ask you if I can walk you to class sometimes. It would be an honour. Believe me."

With that, it stepped forward, calmly took Arram's hand, and kissed it.

Arram grinned sheepishly as the simulacrum moved back into its original position. I can't believe that just happened...and it...I...we sounded a bit wordy, there, but honest, I think and...oh Mithros, this is amazing.

Feeling dizzy, now, the boy let his lips brush against...his own, he supposed. Arram had never kissed anyone before, and he wanted to see what it was like, and, more importantly, if he was any good at it. Now he was going to find out both, at the same time.

"Respond," he whispered against his mouth.

It did. He did. Then the ringing in Arram's ears got louder, and the simulacrum faded away; leaving a stringing, burning sensation on his lips as the body melted away to sparks.

Arram Draper slumped to the floor, heavy-lidded eyes closing.

" me a shrine."