“Fine. Keep it,” I sniffed. “It’s wrong, anyway.”
Lea dropped the book, almost as quickly as she’d snatched it away. It was difficult to tell if the puff of dust that rose between us came from the book or the carpet.
Her sniff of disdain was interrupted by a sneeze.
“Trust Father’s people to put the wrong words down. I suppose it is to be expected of words that do not truly speak.”
That was always Lea’s main complaint about lessons with the Seneschal. She did not take the same pleasure I did in making the words on paper speak. She would much rather I read it to her, or the words be tuned to a speaking stone.
I pushed the dust cloud aside with a gentle nudge from the spirits in the Air, and bent to retrieve the book. It creaked as I opened it.
“They are not all wrong. Just some of them.” I turned a handful of pages, carefully. The paper was stiff, cracked in places. I would have to tell Magi Robert to move the window of his library so it did not catch Sollux directly. Another three pages, and then….
“Ah! Here.” I set the book down on the side table, and turned it so that Lea could see the formulae.
She stared blankly, indulging me, a smile-at-court upon her lips.
“The words and numerics are correct, but it does not take into account different properties of the reflective surface. Well, it does,” I corrected myself, “it just does not go beyond the surface.”
I looked up. Lea’s smile was still in place. I sighed, having wasted a perfectly good pun. I took her hand, and led her over to where I’d draped my mirror’s shroud over something of like size.
“What do you think this is?” I asked my twin.
She reached out, and snatched the shroud back with a snap of her wrist. The red cloth billowed as it sank into a pile on the floor, settling around a large block of dark stone.
“That looks suspiciously like the slab of rock that was to replace the damaged crenelation along the north battlements,” Lea said.
My spirits fell, much like the long bolt of gold-trimmed red velvet, crumpled on the floor.
“Here is a riddle for you, Agragjha,” she continued. “Why I should I not tell the Seneschal where this is?”
I met Lea’s smile-at-court with one of my own. I held up a finger. “He already suspects one or both of us is responsible. He just hasn’t mentioned it to Father because he has not found it yet. And he would never think to look in here for it.”
We were, after all, in the third floor of our tower living quarters.
It was worth it, to see Lea’s eyes widen, her smile falter.
“How?” she asked, looking to the narrow doorway to the stairwell landing, and then to the low arch that led to the parapet. She spun, and clutched at my hands.
“You must tell me!”
“If I tell you, you’ll simply run wagging your tongue to the Seneschal.”
“I will not!” she breathed.
She could not lie. Not to me, just as I was unable to speak anything but truth to her. Mother said it should have been thus between us and all of our kind. But Father’s blood had apparently loosened our bonds to the Truth where others might be concerned, a fact that Mother took great delight in using to her advantage amongst the Twilight Court.
“You cannot speak of this to Father, either.”
Lea’s mouth hung open for a moment. The lie on her tongue would not take to the air, though. Her mouth snapped closed, her lower lip protruding ever so slightly.
“Fine,” she muttered, and then brightened. “Now tell me how you did it!”
Her pout returned when I patted her hand. “Later. I must show you what I have learned!” I turned her hand over, and pressed her palm against the rough side of the stone that had yet to be chiseled square.
“What do you feel?” I asked her.
She made to speak, then paused, giving me a sidelong glance.
“No trickery,” I assured her. “Just tell me what you feel.”
She slid her fingertips over the rough, uneven stone. “It is just dead stone.”
“Are you certain?”
Lea’s eyes narrowed. “You said there was no trickery.”
I moved her hand along the stone, and so felt her start, felt her gasp against my ear as our fingers brushed from the unworked, broken stone to the smooth, glossy surface of the rear of the block.
“It is warm!”
I had purposefully placed the stone where it would be in the deepest shadows of the chamber, well away from the balcony or windows’ late morning light.
I had to move quickly, to cover her eyes as she leaned over to peer at the stone.
I tightened my palms against her closed eyes, anticipating her trying to strip my hands away.
I did not anticipate her driving an elbow back into my stomach, and staggered back, trying to reclaim my breath that seemed to have fled so suddenly. The floor, too, pitched this way and that.
Golden-gloved hands closed over my arms, steadying me.
“Do not do that, sister!” Lea gasped. As if she were the one who’d had the breath stolen from her.
My tongue worked, but I lacked the breath to make the words. I tore myself from her grip, spinning, the room tossing as I stumbled to the side table. I heaved at the great book, to a nearly blank page. A gesture, and one of the quills nearby sped to my hand.
“What—“ my twin began, but I coughed, smeared the lettering, started again.
“Did… you… glance… at… the… stone?” she read, over my shoulder. “I—“ the denial froze on her tongue.
“I had to, didn’t I?”
As if it were my fault? I was the one who’d covered her eyes!
“I told you not to!” I finally managed to wheeze. I waved a hand at her. “It is too late now. Go take a closer look."