“My what?” said Jessica, her cheeks turning red as she stepped back from Libus.
“Not all of us have spent our entire lives within the neutral city, Jessica. In fact, I’ve only spent a small portion of mine there, and recently at that. Which means I can recognize a magical item when I see one, especially if I have to see them everytime I look at your face. Not that looking at it is any displeasure, of course.”
“What are you talking about, Libus?” Cinis said as Jessica glared. “Are they fake or something? Like the gemstones are disguised glass?”
“I’m not cheap, they’re real,” snapped Jessica. “But even so, what makes you think they are magical, Libus?”
“A glimmer here, a glitter there. There are signs even for those ungifted to recognize such items. I’ve seen enough of them in the past to know to look for them and to be wary of them. I do admit they are especially well made, and if you constructed such an object, then I have drastically underestimated you. To accomplish such a feat at your age would be astounding, assuming you are your age. Which is another reason they should come off, Jessica. I want to see what’s underneath those earrings, besides ears.”
“What exactly do they do?” asked Cinis, wringing out the water still clinging to his shirt, and backing away as he remembered the way Jessica had made her crate come to life. And the way she had seemed to move too fast when he attacked her, faster than should be possible. This time, he would be ready.
“Why should I trust you if you have a veil?” Jessica demanded of Libus, who smiled and shook the black bag. The bag itself appeared to be made of silk, the drawstring the same material as the fabric. Near the mouth of the bag, his fingers appeared darker, as if the light itself was sucked into the pouch, or as if it behaved the opposite as a candle darkness, instead of light, emanated from within.
“Why should I trust you if you know what a veil is?” Libus answered.
“What does a veil do? And how is it worse than the earrings that you’re wearing, Jessica?” Asked Cinis, now several feet from the two of them, his hand on the top of a nearby crate. If matters turned for the worse, he could use it as a shield, or a weapon, or to use the wood’s buoyancy to help him float away.
“As Libus mentioned,” said Jessica, turning to face Cinis, swaying slightly as the current picked up and their raft turned around a bend in the river, “there are those that can sense magic and magical objects. Typically, the less advanced the magic is, the easier it is to recognize, though keen and attentive eyes can sometimes see past even the most carefully woven spells. Think of it as a sense—for instance when I speak you can hear me. When I am nearby you can feel my body heat. Magic has its own way of speaking, and those that are trained can hear or, more accurately, feel it.
“For shady reasons,” she said, with a look toward Libus, “you may want to hide that magic, or muffle the noise that it makes. A veil is capable of hiding it or silencing it nearly completely. And a veil can only be made using dark magic, by weaving shadows themselves together.”
“Like how Rorcul tried to kill me when we were escaping?” asked Cinis, glancing at the veil and his hand gripping the crate lid tighter, shoulder muscles tensing.
“Exactly like that. Which is why,” she said, her voice accusing, and her shoulders squared against Libus, “it concerns me that Libus not only has one, but also led you to Rorcul inside the palace gardens in the first place.”
“Don’t forget I also delivered you from him,” said Libus, “and am continuing to deliver you as we speak. You are correct, Jessica, that only dark magic can create a veil. But I never created it, rather I liberated it from someone. I can work dark magic as well as Cinis can swim. Not only that, but I am wearing no disguise. If there is anyone who should be suspected for not revealing their true form, it is you, Jessica.”
Jessica’s eyes narrowed, and the hairs on Cinis’ arms pricked in anticipation. She bit the inside of her lip, and the sounds of the forest intensified to fill the silence of their conversation—the shriek of a falcon sounding high overhead, frogs croaking low on the bank, and rodents chattering in the dark gaps between trees. Fish rushed under the raft, one or two slamming against the wood in their trek upstream. And as Libus met her stare, Cinis became aware of a new sensation, a smell that just barely tickled the inside of his nostrils. The smell of his hands after he cleaned the metal on his daggers, or after he counted out coins from the tavern at the end of the night.
“Fine,” spat Jessica, reaching up to her earlobes and flicking open the clasps that held the earrings in place. And Cinis gasped, nearly falling backward as her transformation began.
A seam formed down the middle of Jessica’s face, taut lines stretching from her nose to her ears and pulling outwards. As she pulled the earrings away, lines of light twisted apart, rushing toward the earrings and pulling Jessica’s features with them.
First, the color drained from her hair, the dark brown flushed away to be replaced by blonde that had only peeked out through what appeared to be sun-induced highlights a moment before. Then her eyes flickered, the chestnut irises flooding to blue as she blinked away the pigmentation, followed shortly by a morphing of her facial structure as her cheeks and jaw pressed inward, narrowing her features in a way that aligned fittingly with the shape of her body.
Chills ran up Cinis’ spine as the transformation completed, and he realized where he had seen her before, only a few days prior.
“You, I saw you in the tunnels,” he stuttered, keeping his eyes on the earrings which now gleamed in the sunlight, “only I thought there were two of you!”
“You knocked my earring out when we collided,” answered Jessica. “Both of them have to be in for them to work.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said, his heart racing. “Now you look—”
“Like an angel,” finished Libus.
“An angel?” Cinis repeated,. “I suppose that’s a compliment, but I was going to say—”
“Not that type of angel, boy, and quit gawking,” Libus interrupted shaking his head. “By Corsus, for all that Rearden taught you of number and reading, he could have interjected some culture into your education. An angel is what those of Air Magic descent are called. Blonde, slim, sky-blue eyes, pointed features. The spitting image, Jessica, so much so that I wouldn’t be surprised if you were descended from nobility. Quite interesting that none of your magic has been typical of what I would expect from an angel.”
“You’ve kept your own secrets,” said Jessica, dropping the earrings in Libus’ veil. “And I’ll keep mine. I’ll be wanting those back when we are back on open road.”
“Of course,” said Libus. “Rest assured, I only steal from those who deserve to be stolen from.”
“So comforting,” said Jessica dryly as Libus closed the pouch, and her earrings disappeared.
Then they continued floating down the river, Jessica sitting on a crate and consulting her map, Libus staring at the forest line, and Cinis trailing his back to the water, wondering what else he did not know.
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