A/N: Absit Invidia is my NaNo2012 project this year. Hope you guys like it! Let me know what you think in a review!
Disclaimer: This is an original work. Any resemblance to previous or current works is purely coincidental. Please do not plagiarize.
"You know, you're not s'posed to be up here."
Lucre had been standing on the highest balcony in the Vault's manor, watching the festivities go on without her in the garden. From up here, the party seemed so small, nothing more than a gathering of bright lights and people she didn't know as they walked around and talked to each other, completely forgetting who the party was supposed to be for.
She was dressed in a poufy princess dress with a plastic tiara in her hair, because her mother had insisted that little girls liked princesses, or at least they were supposed to. There was a book of fairy tales in her hand, a gift from her father.
She jumped at the sound of the voice, turning her head towards it.
A young boy stood in the doorway to the balcony, a smile on his face. She stared at him, trying to remember where she had seen him before. He had short blond hair and gray eyes, and was wearing glasses. She thought she had seen him at the party earlier, standing with the man who had come to speak to her father. A thought struck her. Was he one of the Gainlings?
"...It's okay," he said, coming to stand on the balcony next to her. He tilted his head, offering her a secret smile. "I'm not s'posed to be up here either."
She blinked at him, a confused frown appearing on her face as she tilted her head. Did that mean he wasn't going to tell on her?
"My name's Caleb," he said. "You're Lucrecia, right?"
"Mm..." she said softly, lowering her head and looking away. "But...um...my family calls me Lucre."
"What are you reading?" he asked, gesturing at the book in her hand.
Lucre hesitated for a moment before showing it to him, opening the book to the first page. He took it from her, flipping through it. He didn't seem surprised about the fact that she was reading, at least. Zeke would have teased her for it.
She flushed as he continued to read, lowering her eyes to the ground. "...It's a princess book," she said. Zeke had always told her that boys didn't like princesses.
"...Is it because you're a princess for today?" asked Caleb, handing the book back to her. He grinned, taking a step back and bowing from the waist. "Princess Lucrecia?"
"W-Why are you doing that?" she asked.
"That's how a knight greets a princess," said Caleb, straightening up. "That's what Mom says anyway."
"You're a knight?" asked Lucre.
"No," said Caleb. "But I can be, if you're a princess for today. We can play pretend."
"O-Okay..." said Lucre. She turned away, leaning on the balcony railing again and watching the party below. No one was even looking up at them. She caught sight of her brother playing with some of the other children and quickly stepped out of sight, not wanting him to see her. If he saw her up here, he would definitely tell.
"My dad says you're a princess," said Caleb, joining her. "Not a pretend princess, but a real one. Is that true?"
She bit her lip, thinking it over. "Um...maybe," she said. Her father had given her an explanation like that, when he had explained why Ruin was inside her."I think so, but I don't think it's the same as the ones in the stories?"
"Why not?" asked Caleb, frowning at her.
"I don't have a castle," said Lucre.
"Doesn't this count?" He gestured towards the manor behind them. Lucre made a face, shaking her head.
"It's not pretty," she said. "It's creepy. And I don't have a crown."
Caleb frowned in thought, cupping his chin and looking up at the stars for a moment. "Maybe...maybe that just means you're a different kind of princess," he said. "Like...you don't have a castle or a crown, but you're the daughter of the leader of the Vault clan, and you could inherit it, so you do all the same things that a princess does. Like if I were to be a knight, I'd do all the things that a knight does, but I wouldn't wear a suit of armor."
"Why not?' asked Lucre.
"They're heavy and they stink!" said Caleb. "Dad says so."
He turned away from her, watching the party again. Lucre stared at him. His eyes shone in the warm light coming up from below. Gainling eyes always shone in the right light. They were pretty, unlike her own eyes when they shone. She liked his, but hers scared her. She'd like hers to always be brown.
"...Caleb?" she asked, because she realized that she was curious. He looked up at her. "...What's a knight do?"
"...Hmm..." said Caleb, looking back at the party. "Well a knight...a knight protects the princess."
"Always?" asked Lucre.
He nodded once. "Always..."
The memory of that night was still fresh in his mind as he sat at his desk, one finger drifting lightly over the paper flower in his pencil cup. He still remembered the Vault manor the way it had been that night, lit up with lights and music instead of with fire and blood. Caleb sighed, taking his glasses off his face and leaning back in his seat as he stretched out the stiff muscles in his neck and shoulders. He had been sitting at his desk for what felt like all day looking over things. If it wasn't homework or a lab report, it was something or another.
The scent of strong coffee brought him back to life, and he straightened up, watching as a mug of hot coffee landed on his desk.
"Are you still working on that?"
Lucre leaned forward, resting one hand on his shoulder as she studied the sheets of paper in front of him. She had untied her dark hair for the night, it hung around her like a curtain, nearly falling to her waist. Her eyes were a warm honey brown. At least, they were now. She also smelled faintly of gunpowder. He frowned as he realized that, but decided against asking about it, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
"You can't tell me you're not even a little curious," he said. "Two students hospitalized, both from the same department? One of them was shot first, the other was found in a coma at his hospital bed. No suspects, and according to the doctors, the second victim is perfectly healthy. If that doesn't sound like magic, I don't know what does."
"It sounds like magic," admitted Lucre. "But it doesn't sound like it has anything to do with my brother, and anyway, you've already canvassed the area. You can't really do any more than that." She moved her hand, running her fingers lightly through his hair. He closed his eyes, leaning back in his seat and savoring the moment as he felt himself relax.
"...You're surprising me, Lucre," he said, smirking slightly. "I thought you of all people would have been the first to want to get to the bottom of this."
"I do," said Lucre. "I really do. But I don't want to see you run yourself ragged on what looks like a wild goose chase. I know you're curious—."
"Curious doesn't begin to describe it," said Caleb. "I don't know of any spell that can put someone out for that long—at least, not one that I wouldn't have been able to detect. The biological implications—."
Her fingers stilled. "Ah, so it's research," she teased. "You could have just told me that."
"I'm looking up real leads too," he promised. He opened his eyes, reluctantly pulling away from her as he reached for his laptop. "This," he said, pressing a button and pulling up an image he had looked at earlier. It was a map of the university.
Lucre frowned, looking down at it. "What am I looking at?" she asked.
"A map of the university," replied Caleb, smiling.
"Well, I know that," said Lucre. "What's it supposed to mean?"
"I was walking back from the science building when I started feeling a little strange," said Caleb, zooming in on the map and holding the pointer over the building in question.
"Magically strange?" asked Lucre.
He nodded once. "...I...sensed the lingering trace of powerful magic."
"Another Gainling?" asked Lucre.
He picked up the cup of coffee she had left for him, taking a sip and shaking his head. "No," he said. "I would know another as soon as I felt it. There aren't that many of us left, and the ones I know of aren't anywhere near here. It's not a Vault either—it didn't have the same...feel..."
He shook his head, lowering his eyes back to the pages in front of him. "One of these days, I'm going to write a detailed summary of the magic of all of the clans, so that we can finally start using some concrete terms to describe them."
"I don't think you can describe magical power in units, Caleb."
"Why not?" asked Caleb. "Just because the units haven't been invented?"
"Because it's different for every clan," said Lucre. "But continue—you were saying about the presence?"
"Yes," said Caleb. "I was saying that I felt traces of powerful magic, from a clan I wasn't familiar with, directly outside the science building. I did not feel those same traces by the time I reached the corner."
"They disappeared?" asked Lucre, staring at him now.
He nodded. "They disappeared," he said. "Without a trace."
"But you obviously found a trace, or you wouldn't be telling me this now," said Lucre.
"Mm. I doubled back and felt it again, outside the science building. And again, on the road out by the quad. And again, in front of the library."
He pointed at the respective points on the map as he spoke, glancing at Lucre. She had a thoughtful frown on her face, studying the map carefully. At last, her eyes widened in realization, and she glanced at him.
"Steam tunnels," she said.
He nodded once. "That was my theory. I felt all the traces near the steam tunnel vents. Which means there was some serious magic cast underground."
"...From an unknown clan?" asked Lucre.
He nodded once. "From an unknown clan," he confirmed. "But one that's actually a clan. And one that might know something about your brother."
"When do you want to go?" she asked, straightening up. She frowned at him, tilting her head. "You're not studying for finals, are you?"
"Please," said Caleb, waving his hand vaguely in the air. "Those are two weeks away. I was actually thinking of going tonight, if you feel up to it." He thought she would. The smell of gunpowder had given her away. She had been working on her gun.
She thought about it for only a moment.
"I'll get dressed," she said, rushing from the room.
Caleb watched her go, his bedroom door swinging shut behind her. He got to his feet, rubbing at his stiff shoulders as he stared down at the collection of papers in front of him, his laptop still displaying the map of the university. At length, he sighed, grabbing his glasses and slipping them back onto his face.
The knight protects the princess, he reminded himself .