a/n: hey, thanks for checking out Starry Veins! This is the novel I wrote for Round V of LMS, and it's still a first draft! While I don't discourage any feedback, I prefer not to receive feedback on grammar! I'm not polishing this draft up yet, so I'm not as concerned about editing. I am, of course, open to all feedback, but I ask that you keep this in consideration! Thanks <3
“Accersi cribrans aquas de nubibus supra.”
“You’ve been trying to make that spell work for hours,” Alanna said, side-eyeing Rowan. “It—”
A crack split the air above them. Rowan glanced up and managed to shut their eyes in enough time for a sheet of water to break over their heads and douse them and the roads beneath them.
The grey Rowan was riding rose her head abruptly at the noise and the sudden motion. Her nostrils flared and she snorted, but after a few moments had passed, she relaxed once again and bent back down to nibble at the grass.
Alanna glared at them, hair soaked to her skin and the water dripping down her face and her clothes.
“Sorry,” they said. They removed their cloak, which had been too hot even as the night brought a cool breeze.
Danica, who had been collecting what kindling and wood she could without straying out of the circle of industrial corral around the outpost, approached and dropped what she had reaped from her efforts. She glanced at them and frowned. “What happened to the two of you?”
Alanna scooted away from Rowan and began to take her hair out of its braid. “Ori won’t stop messing with magic. What were you even trying to do?”
Rowan glanced up towards the seal-grey sky, fading to an inky blue towards the east. The moon was already clear, white as a cut-out of paper. It looked not unlike the spells they had tried to cast on their ceiling, in an attempt to make a breathing mosaic they could look at.
“I wanted to know if I could make it rain,” they said. They sighed. “I’ve fallen out of practise and I… It’s been a while since I’ve brushed up on it.” Rowan pulled out of their bag the music box that Cassius and Ember had given them. It was safely dry, protected by a swath of their change of clothes.
They opened it. A tiny bird, bright blue and white-bellied, sat perfectly still on a silver stand. They put their fingertip in the gear slot on the side of the box and slowly rotated it. The bird’s wings unfolded and lifted up and down in rhythm as the sweet chimes of the music began to unfurl into the air. The tiny painted beak opened, as though it were the bird singing. Rowan hummed along to it, already long since familiar with the tune.
Danica set up the wood she had scavenged into the shape of a hut. When she was finished, she stepped back.
Rowan set aside the music box as it continued to sing. To the melody of the song, Rowan sung and held out their hands, cupping their palms “Creatio ex nihilo; lapis. Manus magnitudine.” Their heart fluttered as they waited.
A pale glow radiated off their hands, shimmering in a rough outline above them. Then the stone formed, slowly and carefully, until with a pop! noise, the stone was formed and fell into their hand, weighted. It was misshapen, and not at all a nice-looking rock, but it was a rock all the same.
Pain pulsed through their fingers, but they couldn’t care less. They had asked for the right thing, and they’d gotten it. They leaned forward and set it beside the wood Danica had set up.
“That’s better than making it rain,” Alanna said, wringing out her hair. “Practise more of that.”
“How long have you been interested in magic?” Danica wondered, as she collected some more stones around to join Rowan’s.
They shrugged, gently closed to music box and set it aside. They stood up and ran their fingers through their own damp locks, wriggling it to catch the breeze. “I thought it was fascinating since I was young. There’s so much you can do, if you know how to ask. I was, at the time, the only one who showed any interest anyway. Cassius has a talent for it, but he’s also good at talking to people, so it makes sense he would know how to ask for what he wants.”
“What do you mean by ‘if you know how to ask’?”
“Magic is like… Well, it’s like it can listen. The language is the bridge to communicate with it, and you cast spells in the way you ask for them. But it’s tricky, it sometimes takes words too literally, sometimes gives your something completely different from what you intended.” They smiled. “Words have power. Magic makes you think about that.”
Alanna took off her shoes and shook them out. Droplets flew off into the night, sparking as the caught some of the dimming skylight.
Danica glanced towards her. “Alanna, what’s your sister like? From what I’ve heard of her, she sounds lovely.”
Though she was still drenched and grumbly about it, the corner of Alanna’s mouth lifted. “Isa’s great. She looks after all of us, and she’s really good at embroidery. She’s one of the only people Cassius ever listened to.” She swiped at her bare arms, as if this would dry her faster. “She’s really nice. To everyone. And she’s really pretty. She’s tall, taller than Ori. She has this silver-gold hair—” Alanna brushed a hand over her own hair, as if to demonstrate.
“Isadora is the oldest of the six of us. Alanna’s right, she’s kind and wonderful. You’d like her. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like her.” Rowan smiled.
“I know your sword hasn’t got a fancy hilt, but…” Alanna shrugged. “I don’t know. You’re not a knight, are you? You seem like you’d be a knight.”
Danica smiled, tense, and shook her head. She sat for a moment, resting her arms on her knees and folding them. “No. I never had the chance. I was able to get the training I have now, but knighthood was never… Not that it would have mattered. I lived in one of the outside settlements, the one all the way south on the Ocean of Mirrors. They don’t have knights there, only in the kingdoms. Besides, I’ve never done something nearly impressive enough to be noticed by any sort of royalty.”
Alanna glanced over towards Rowan. Rowan bit their lip. There wasn’t all that much humour to be found in their situation, but irony certainly didn’t miss them, and there was something to that.
Rowan wound the music box again. As the notes rose in the air, they crouched down on their knees and held their hands over the pile of woods. “Advocabit ignis tu vitae,” they sang quietly.
A mist green glow ran over their hands and wrists, then flashed. Sparks spat out from their hands and showered over the wood. A moment later, it sparked to life. They grinned.
“We didn’t even need Ember for that,” Alanna said, weakly, as though meant as a joke, but then her expression fell. She cleared her throat. “I don’t see how you could have been less impressive than Enoch. What would he have done to impress royalty that you haven’t?”
Danica’s eyebrows rose. “Enoch’s a knight? I… He didn’t say anything.”
“Cassius saw his sword hilt,” Rowan said. “He was pretty evasive about it, though, so I’m not sure that’s a story he was willing to share.”
“I didn’t realise knights had special hilts,” Danica said. Her brow knitted together, stressed. “I grew up wanting to be a knight, but I can’t say I know all that much about them.”
Alanna was staring into the fire, a peculiar expression of consternation on her face.
“Cassius loved those kinds of stories. Of knights, of myths, of dragons and their riders, of anything fantastical or out of the ordinary. Poems, books, songs. He’d get lost in those.” Rowan smiled. “It was one way to keep him quiet.”
“Can any member of royalty make a knight?” Alanna asked, as though she’d heard nothing they’d said.
They pursed their lips, joy dimming. “From what I understand of the knighting ceremonies, yes, but I certainly don’t know as much as Cassius. Or Enoch.”
“Then, by extent, anyone with trueblood?” She looked up to meet their gaze, inquisitive, her pale eyes bright.
“Alanna,” they murmured, ducking their chin. They shook their head and stared as the blue flames licked up the wood, cracking gently in the spreading night. “I would assume it is whoever sits on the throne, in particular. I can’t imagine they allow children to swing swords around their best warriors’ heads.”
Alanna folded her arms over her chest and looked away, still with a frighteningly calculating look about her.
Danica coughed quietly. “Everyone has childhood dreams. I’m happy enough now, I don’t need to be running errands for a king or a queen whom I have very little contact with. If I were ever to serve, it would have to be someone I really believed in. Helping kids out of situations like Caddy and Hypatis has been rewarding. Getting to see them off somewhere better for themselves.” She smiled. “It’s not the glorious life, and it’s not always the most above board, but it helps them, and that’s all that matters in the end. What do the two of you fancy yourselves growing up to become? If you have any thoughts.”
The music box ran out again. Rowan shut it and carefully stowed it away, not yet putting it back into their dampened bag. “An explorer. Maybe a historian, maybe I’ll stay with the Chronicler’s Guild.” They tucked their legs to their chest and put their chin on their knee. “I want to see the ruins. I want to know what secrets are buried there. Why is trueblood so vital? How much of any of our origin stories actually holds up?”
“Those are certainly big questions,” Danica said, chuckling. “I hope you’ll find the answers you seek.” She turned to Alanna. “What about you?”
Alanna stared into the fire, something intense in her eyes as the sapphire flames lit them up, now an eerily bright blue. The shadows the light cast over her face danced and drew lines like reverse constellations over her cheeks.
She shrugged. “I’m not sure. But I really want to see Glacier’s Keep, properly. With Isadora and Mishal.”
“I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to play my music anywhere, of course,” Rowan said, leaning over to gently nudge Alanna’s shoulder.
She blinked, as though drawn from a spell, and glanced over. Then she smiled and nodded. “Yeah, they’re really good on their violin. And they sing sometimes. They’re really enchanting when they sing. Cassius has accused you of using magic when you sing.”
They laughed. “And as I told Cassius, that’s impossible. I’ve always sung in our tongue. To my knowledge, there are no songs in Magic.” They leaned back, and sighed. “That would be… incredible though. Imagine the spells you could weave like that.”
“Well, I’d love to hear you sometime. Maybe you’ll find opportunity in the City of Bells. It’s a very musical place, from what I hear,” Danica said.
They nodded and glanced up towards the starry sky. “Yeah,” they said. “I’d like that.”