One is expected to maintain a certain level of respectability when one is next in line to lead a city-spire.
Experimenting with dark magicks in one's practice ritual chamber does not meet any criteria for respectability that Rose is familiar with, and yet - here she is. There are darker arts than the one Rose has deemed herself capable of controlling, but not many, and not by much, and none of them suitable learning material for an archmage-to-be.
Ah, well. She can't seem to control herself. She must have a weakness for incredibly dangerous pastimes. But she has taken every precaution she can devise; her past few attempts to delve into shadowmagic have yet to produce any measurably negative consequences. A blorb (orb, she mentally corrects) of cyan plasma hovers over her right shoulder, rippling with magenta and streaked with veins of golden light, and she snaps her fingers once to test that the spell recognizes the trigger command. The orb bursts into hot white light that illuminates every corner of the room, bright enough to make Rose's eyes throb. This kind of ritual works best in the dark of night, but late evening is the closest Rose is willing to risk, and never without a burst of sunlight at the ready. Being a lightmage has its advantages.
Satisfied, Rose lets the light fade back into the blorb (sigh) and runs her finger down the lines of the mantra. The page feels almost sandpaper-rough under her touch, the ink dark and glistening as though it should still be wet, though Rose retrieved this particular volume from under preservation wards over a hundred years old. She half-expects her finger to come away with the whorl of her fingerprint dyed black, but when she finishes committing the incantation to memory her finger is unmarked.
She's halfway through the second line and has a palmful of darkness when the wind chime at the door rings quietly, the glass rods tapping against each other in playful, winding circle. Immediately, Rose closes her fist on the shadow coiling in her palm and ignores the squirming as it attempts to slip out between her fingers. With a snap, the blorb blazes through the room, and Rose opens her hand long enough for the shadow to be razed out of existence. To be safe, she uses the same hand to catch the pastel orb of light magic and presses it through her palm until the magic lights up her veins.
While the magic cleanses that hand, she rises to her feet and uses the other to carefully close the shadow book, tucking it under her arm with the front cover pressed to her side. Dusk rites finished an hour ago, and only one person could set the wind chime off without pulling the cord on the far side of the door; as Rose approaches the door, the tiny scrap of breeze leaves the glass chimes and winds through her hair instead, looking for the bells she usually wears as earrings and coming away empty. John has an inkling of what kind of magic Rose has taken to practicing on the side, but if someone else is with him, it wouldn't do for Rose to make it obvious just which book she's referencing in her rituals of late. Once the light magic finishes soaking into her skin, Rose smooths her face into a fittingly benign yet enigmatic smile and opens the door.
"Hey Rose!" John scoops her up in a hug before she has a chance to so much as blink, spinning them around in a wobbly circle as he dances backward. Rose is in her usual practice outfit - soft, loose cotton leggings and a tight, cropped halter leaving her midriff bare - but John's almost in full ritual gear, his ceremonial robe skirts hanging to his ankles on one side in a waterfall of blue, floaty fabric. "Sorry, I know you were practicing, but guess who's back!"
"Back again," a low voice mutters, almost too monotone for the joke to filter through. Rose, in the middle of trying to embrace John as warmly as one can with only one arm to work with, looks up from the crook of John's shoulder in surprise. "Seriously, you two couldn't postpone the wedding like, a year?" Dave says, waving two fingers at Rose in a short salute from where he's ensconced himself in the corner by the balcony, the dark crimson and black of his armor and the tint of his shades almost making him the picture of a warrior - only for the white-blond shock of his hair to give away the game. A year and a half away from home has changed him almost imperceptibly - but perception is Rose's forte, and she sees the steadiness in his hands, the way he relaxes against the wall with an ease born of quiet confidence rather than fragile, fidgety tension of a boy uncomfortable in his own skin. Time away from Summerstorm (away from Ambrose, Rose doesn't quite allow to rise above the level of her subconscious) has done him good.
There's really only one reasonable reaction to this turn of events. "Dramatically toss this book onto the shelf, dearest John," Rose commands, flipping the sinister tome up from under her arm and neatly tapping it against John's shoulder. His eyes gleam back at her with silent laughter as he obediently whistles the breeze into motion, lips pursed as he floats the book over to Rose's messy bookshelves, and Rose bobs up on her toes to kiss him a little too earlier, so that the book drops onto a cushion beside her unmade bed instead.
"You guys put syrup to shame. No, shit, you could put candy apples out of business. The syrup industry called, they'd like their sucrose back." Time away, it seems, has not done anything to Dave's ability to run his mouth like his life depends on it. Rose pulls back, gravely returns John's wink with one of her own, and theatrically kicks up one heel as John rockets them toward Dave as fast as the wind can carry them in an enclosed space. "You're depriving small troll children of their favorite sugar-covered confectio-holy shit no-" Dave has time to say before they collide with him, the metal of his armor scraping against the stained glass wall and digging into the soft part of Rose's elbow as she helps John reel Dave into their hug.
"You cannot escape, brother dear," Rose says in an playfully ominous drawl, as John clumsily attempts to smooch Dave on the cheek while still grinning with all his teeth. It doesn't quite work out, to Dave's clear horror. "No one can escape the huggles."
Unfortunately, even going up on her toes isn't enough for Rose to reach Dave's cheek - it's truly galling. Rose had thought she'd moved past being bothered by such petty trifles as the fact that her twin brother surpassed her in height over two years ago, but apparently not. In every other respect, they're still almost identical - the same shade of warm, sienna-brown skin, hair the color of the sun at high noon, and eyes not quite right for children of a lightmage house, Dave's a deep red and Rose a pale lilac - but where Rose stayed slight and small, Dave shot up past even John. Rose held onto the faintest hint of hope through their younger years that she'd inherited the ludicrously tall gene as well, but it was never to be, and now here she is at twenty two, the presumed shortest of their friendcohort.
(Really, though, Jade was already taller than Rose before she left. Still. A clear case of Schrodinger's stature. As long as Jade cannot be accounted for, Rose can dream.)
Well, this is a grand opportunity nonetheless. Rose leans back as far as John's grip and Dave's reluctant-but-not hug will allow, scooping the first dark, plum lipstick she can off her sidetable and applying it with a flourish that makes Dave eye her warily. "Need a boost?" John asks, grinning evilly, and Rose nods gracious assent. John whisks her a foot off the ground with a plume of air, and Rose offers him the lipstick as she slowly chases Dave's cheek.
"You people are evil. Evil," Dave insists, moving his face away from Rose just as slowly. "Holy fucking shit tits, I should never have left you two alone together. It's like a ungodly nexus of pranksterism all up in this shit and I'm not. Having. It - oh god fine." Having cranked his neck almost to a ninety degree angle in a (futile) effort to evade Rose, Dave turns his head in time to see John has finished applying his own coat of lipstick and toss the lipstick over his shoulder, a smudge of plum purple on the white of his front teeth. "Have at me, you monsters."
Rose plants an enormous plum lipmark high on Dave's cheekbone, her mercy born only of consideration for familial propriety. John, being John, goes all in, pulling Dave down with an arm around the back of his neck for full mouth-to-mouth contact. "There are consequences for leaving to train in the mysterious ways of the warrior at a remote temple in the mountains without sending so much as a letter to your closest friends and family in the interim," Rose says in her best stern, lecturing tone, borrowed directly from John's father. When John and Dave start to get a little more heated, she sighs and starts to loll back, pressing the back of her hand to her forehead in a swoon. Neither of them appear to notice, until she kicks Dave in the shin with the utmost, well-honed subtlety. "Alas, if you want him, you'll need to wait a year and a day, after which our honeymoon phase will come to an ignominious end and John will once again be free for other quadrant offers."
Dave looks up with a purple-lipped grimace, this close to bending John over backwards. John can bend quite far, since he never falls over without the wind buoying him back up, but Rose suspects that she'd get dragged down with the two of them and that would just be silly. "You beat me to it while I was abroad learning mad warrior skills. That's goddamn devious, Rose."
"Yes, I deliberately timed my diamond proposal with all of the cunning at my disposal specifically so that this exact sequence of events would commence, brother dear." Rose tosses her hair as well as she can, with what she thinks is a passable effort; she cropped it short just a week ago in preparation for the wedding ceremony, and after years of living with a river of tiny braids looped into a long tail down between her shoulders, having her hair cropped close at the nape of her neck feels freeing. Still, it's not as convenient for dramatic hair tosses - a truly poignant loss. "Do distant warrior temples even have access to quadrant tokens? Or is it more of an ascetic monk lifestyle?"
"I don't come cheap, y'know," John adds, nodding and rubbing his chin meditatively. This has the side effect of smearing more lipstick across his face; tragic. "I have super high standards. Sooo high. But also, since Jade ducked out, I have a responsibility to marry basically your entire family, so I'll cut you some slack."
It took two years for them to be able to joke about it, and after the third year it's simply become another in-joke - still, somehow, Rose has to suppress an internal flinch. She and Jade had been an arranged match, in an entirely different quadrant, but having one's best friend run away to become a gentlewoman adventurer and see the world on the eve of one's wedding is the kind of thing that...doesn't happen every day. John presses her hand in a reassuring squeeze almost before Rose finishes quashing the thought, a silent apology, and Rose squeezes acceptance before stepping back to let Dave breathe. "Will coming back for the wedding set you back too far in your training?" Rose asks, while Dave swipes at his mouth and looks crestfallen at the amount of lipstick that comes off on his hand.
Dave shrugs with one shoulder, letting John tug him and Rose out onto the balcony to sit by the edge. "Dunno. A lot of it's just 'you'll know when the time is right' and other super deep shit like that, so you just have to feel it? Go figure. But John's my beautiful windy prince and you're my strong yet delicate murderblossom of a sister, and I've got all kinds of protective urges going at cross purposes, see. Gotta supervise this shit like a goddamn hawk."
"Murderblossom," Rose repeats. Sometimes, she forgets just how downright weird Dave can be, and then he comes up with something like that. His lip twitches up in a crooked smirk, which means he's doing it on purpose, too, the faint moonlight reflected and channeled into the glass of the spire below lighting up his face with an unearthly pale blue glow. Most of the city-spire has cycled into soft, white-blue night settings, with the last of the golden daylight cached over the course of the day reserved for the greenhouses of each level of the city, and the veil canopies draped across vast swathes of the city levels flutter and roll in the gentle summer night breeze.
While they settle on the balcony, Rose tucking herself in between the two boys to prevent further shenanigans, John with his legs sprawled out and Dave sitting with a knee drawn up to his chest (not defensively, as it might have been in the past, but in a relaxed slump), and she contemplates the spire below. In just a few years, Rose and John will be responsible for that - illuminating Summerstorm's crystal pinnacles and encouraging fair weather for skyships and plentiful rainfall for farms below, negotiating with other city-spires' archmages in the careful dance of weather magery across the hemisphere.
Technically speaking, they've already taken over a good part of the daily rites for the current pair; changeover between archmages tends to involve an extensive apprenticeship phase, and after Jade - left - Rose was grateful when the current lightmage in power allowed for a reprieve while John and Rose acclimated to being primary ritual partners. Working magic rites with John is a different experience entirely compared to how it felt working with Jade; less electrifying, less charged with unspoken tension, but infinitely more uninhibited, spontaneous without being unfamiliar, and with a sense of warm security. Both John and Jade are open and honest and quick to laugh, but John has always been touched by underlying sadness, and that translated to a devotion Rose could see lasting for the foreseeable future. Even if they hadn't been rocked by Jade's abrupt departure, Rose can't imagine anyone else she would have sought diamonds with.
"Yeah, well, you know this also means you have to pick one of us to help out tomorrow," John says, laughter bubbling up as he flicks Dave's (entirely too amusing) cape with tiny bursts of wind. His skin, a shade or two lighter than Rose's and Dave's, looks ice-frosted where the spirelight glances off his silvery blue windmage tattoos. He could have put them anywhere, but naturally John chose to tattoo curves up one cheek and down the side of his throat, where very few ceremonial outfits would ever cover them up. Rose has her own personal, stylized sun on her back, and she...honestly can't say that's much better, considering how many of her own ritual robes are backless in some form or another. Hmm. "And by picking one of us, I mean me, because Rose can do her own makeup wayyy better than I can."
Dave groans. "Seriously? Dude, I came here to like. Guard your body. By stabbing things, or you know, hitting people in the face until their face breaks. Whichever. You still can't do your own eyeshadow? We need to have a goddamn talk, my man."
John points, mutely, at the smeared purple mess of his mouth. "To be fair, you had fairly excellent technique, considering the rush job," Rose says, and John preens a little. "We shall have to endeavor not to makeout too hard at the altar. Also, really - hit people in the face?"
"Until their face breaks. Look me in the eye and tell me that's not effective as all hell," Dave says. Rose meets his eyes, despite the shades (years of practice), and his expression is so perfectly poised between utter seriousness and the faintest of ironies that she honestly could not say for sure whether he's joking or not. Impressive, and far more effective than his old deadened, brittle mask of inexpression. Rose will be glad to have seen the last of that mask. She crosses her fingers as best she can with John's still threaded through hers, and hopes that Dave's deep-rooted lack of self-esteem has grown over with something better, something here to stay. She'd let him go back to that warrior temple for ten years if it meant never again coming across her brother huddled alone in a corner of his room, and having him ask her if living was even worth it.
"Guarding my body, huh," John adds in, belatedly, waggling his eyebrows significantly at Dave as he leans around Rose a little. "Uh-huh? Uh-huh."
"I'm honor-bound not to bang you when you're marrying my sister in the morning at the asscrack of dawn, so put those eyebrows down, perv." Dave rolls his eyes when Rose and John look at each other and then turn back to Dave with two sets of waggling eyebrows. "Who put you two in charge of a city, again? And speaking of the cracked ass of dawn."
"Let's not," Rose deadpans, while John snickers and then stands. "Yeah, I get it," John says, helping Rose up. "Mr Warrior Temple Guy has to get his beauty sleep, which means he can't stay up all night with us."
"Hey, you try timing three different skyship layovers to get halfway around the planet before D-day when you only get the letter a week in advance." Dave stays seated for a second longer, staring out over the spire before pushing up with a shuffling clang of armor. "Also, if you show up with massive eyebags to your own wedding because you don't know when to go the fuck to sleep, it's your funeral. Because Momma Lalonde will bury you. Yo, Rose, is my room still free, or is it the new in-house distillery?"
"Just as you left it, brother dear," Rose says, tipping her head back to kiss John as he starts to bob off the ground and float toward the balcony railing. "Right down to the piles of shitty swords and preserved dead animals."
"Hell fucking yes." Dave shuffles from side to side, a ghost of his old agitated, insecure fidgeting, and John switches over to kiss him with considerably more tongue involved. "Hell fucking yes," he repeats, more than a little distracted, and Rose does the responsible thing and gently drags him back into the room by his cape. It's looking more than a little worse for the wear, ragged at the edges and showing signs of regular wear-and-tear where Dave's neat stitches no longer suffice, so Rose supposes he really has been fighting with it on. Incredible. She'll have to find a suitable replacement early tomorrow, after she dresses in her own wedding gear, since knowing Dave he'd willing show up to the wedding ten minutes late in the same outfit he's wearing right now. Their household tends towards packrat behavior, and she has little doubt there's a cape tucked away somewhere in the ritual clothing hall.
"Off you go," she says, giving Dave's back a tiny push to usher him to the door to the rest of the house. John's still lingering on the balcony, by the sound of the wind playing with the chimes and bells outside. A thought occurs to Rose. "How long will you be at Summerstorm? It'll be good to catch up, if you can."
Dave makes an uncertain wave with his hand, watching Rose with a hesitant expression. "Depends on when the next flight out to Horizon might be, since that's the first stop on the way back. It's trade season, so there's a lot of ships going in and out. Guess we'll see," he says, voice stilted, and Rose can guess why he wouldn't want to stick around overly long. She hugs him again, face pressed against the armor, and clasps her arms around his waist until Dave wraps both arms around her back, thumping his forehead against the top of her head. "Missed you," he mutters, an embarrassed whisper, but there was a point in his life when Dave might have been too anxious and introverted to say even that much aloud.
"And I missed you." They stay like that a few moments longer, before Dave reluctantly heads down the hall to his old room, the heels of his boots clicking on the marble tiles. Rose doesn’t shut the door until he's vanished into his own, the wind trickling through her fingers and up her arm until she turns to walk back to the balcony.
The book of dark magicks still lays on the cushion to one side of her bed rather than on the shelf, and her eyes skim over it as lightly as possible before fixing on John, who perches on the balcony railing with one leg swinging over the side. His raven dark hair almost stands right on end as the wind rakes through it in restless furrows, but by the time Rose rejoins him it has settled back down into its usual tousled mess. He's cleaned his face up somewhat, but most of the makeup just transferred to the back of his hand. Rose diplomatically takes the clean hand and lifts it to her mouth, pressing a kiss against his knuckles - just to leave more lipstick there. It's the little things, really. "Tomorrow is the day," Rose says, leaning her head against the side of John's arm; her eyelids lower a little as John laughs.
Then she frowns, as the laugh sinks in, and her finely-tuned John-interpreting skills spin into motion. "Nervous?" she asks, lifting her head a little.
"No, not nervous!" John says, maybe a little too quickly - or maybe Rose merely perceives it that way, because light only knows she has prior experience that urges her towards healthy paranoia on the night before a wedding. John bomps his head against hers and brings her hand over so he can press it between both of his, the soothing touch of a moirail. "Just - I have a surprise for tomorrow! Hopefully it works out, anyway."
"Surprises? At our wedding?" Rose says, dryly.
"It's more likely than you think," John returns, his laughter barely stifled. "Eh. Dave probably has the right idea, though; we should get to sleep soon."
Rose nods, though she's hardly tired, herself. All attempts to keep to a regular sleep schedule over the course of the past few stressful weeks proved fruitless, naturally, leaving Rose currently primed to stay awake into the small hours of the morning, but even so - "I second the motion."
"Passed." John lets go of her hand, his posterior already slipping off the railing as the wind catches him, and Rose settles for a kiss on his forehead to avoid cutting off his whistling while he's busy levitating himself fifty feet above the spire level below them. "I'll see you in the morning! Promise!" he says, brightly, before floating off toward the roof below him. It's not unusual for John to hop from roof to roof while returning to his family's residence further along the spire ring - the wind can only carry him so far before he has to drop and catch his breath - but Rose notes that if he's going straight home, he's angled the wrong way. As she watches, somewhere between amused and curious, John drops another level instead, his skirt flapping around his leggings as he heads down and at an angle along a thin crystal curve of the light rings. Part of his surprise, she supposes; she could come up with some conjecture as to where he's headed, based on his current trajectory, but in the spirit of good faith, she turns away from the balcony.
Instead, she goes around the bed and stoops to pick up the shadowmage book, stroking her fingers over the cover and weighing the decision in her mind. She hasn't lost much more than a half hour to the interlude with Dave and John; if anything, the delay would only make the conditions more appropriate for practicing a shadow ritual. She's still in her practice outfit. It could be done, easily. As long as she follows the correct steps and doesn't falter on the mantra, the risk is minimal, and summoning a new blorb to oversee her practice isn't much of an impediment.
Rose hesitates, and then moves to the bookshelf, pulling four of the foremost books forward and tucking the dark magic tome behind them. With an extra book set casually on top of the row, the four books are small enough that the extra space taken up by the tome at the back makes it appear that the forward line runs in single file with the rest of the row. Not the best method of concealment, maybe, but Rose hasn't caught anyone snooping around since her last unpleasantly bitter argument with her mother.
And soon, she won't be staying in this house anymore. Stripping off her practice gear as she goes, Rose walks to the bathroom to get ready for bed.