Chapter 6:

Chapter 6: Masks of Diplomacy (Lance)

Soulbonded Wings

Finding Evangeline Moonshadow was not an easy task. That was one of the reasons Lance had saved delivering her letter for last. Unlike Blake, Reed, Amy, and Ark, there wasn’t a location on campus he could be certain to find her at any given time. While this wouldn’t normally be an issue, Lance couldn’t readily track her down by following her schedule, either. Eve had quite a habit of keeping a low profile, and most of the students in their cohort couldn’t remember the last time they’d seen her. Bookmark here

Lance had been looking since breakfast and it was already lunch.Bookmark here

His friends weren’t much help, either. Est was a pretty reserved person, so Lance hadn’t been expecting him to have any ideas. On the other hand, Lance had been counting on Rafe to at least have an idea.Bookmark here

“Eve Moonshadow?” Rafe asked. His eyes widened and his face went pale, his tale drooping down behind him. That wasn’t a good sign.Bookmark here

“I have a letter for her from the king,” Lance said, keeping his voice down so as not to draw any attention. “Do you know what she does in her spare time? Where I can find her?”Bookmark here

“N-No,” Rafe said, shaking his head quickly. He almost looked afraid of the girl, which was surprising. He had a lot of confidence in his strength, so the spooked look in his eye was unusual. “I don’t know anything.”Bookmark here

“Why not just give her the letter in class?” Est looked up from his sandwich and raised his eyebrow.Bookmark here

“I want to talk to her in private,” Lance said, but he wasn’t going to tell them why. “It’s a complicated thing.” Bookmark here

“You could ask Josie,” Est offered next. “I think she’s Eve’s roommate, right? She’d probably know more than anyone.”Bookmark here

Lance shook his head. He’d already considered going to Josie about Eve, but it wasn’t that simple. “Already thought of that,” he sighed. “She’s locked herself in the potions lab, brewing up something or other.”Bookmark here

Est and Rafe both paled. All three of them knew that when Josie was brewing the smart move was to stay far away, lest you become one of her test subjects.Bookmark here

Breaking the awkward silence, Lance turned his attention back to Rafe, still surprised how little information Rafe had about the elusive Eve. True, given the nature of her magic and the other mysteries surrounding her it wasn’t that unusual that she was such a private person, but it was still notable. “Rafe, you really have no idea? I thought you were taking notes on all the girls in class.”Bookmark here

Rafe lowered his head and sighed, his ears drooping. He acted like an insensitive jerk sometimes, but inside he was a sweet little puppy. A puppy who persisted in humping your leg even when you told him to stop, but still a puppy.Bookmark here

“So… a few months ago, I asked Eve out on a date, right?” Rafe asked. Lance slumped, resisting the urge to rub his forehead in frustration. Bookmark here

The gesture was wasted, Rafe picked up on it anyway. “Hey! She’s cute, and she’s got that whole ‘mysterious beauty’ thing going! I wanted to see if she was up for a good time!”Bookmark here

Lance didn’t waste his time being polite, massaging his temples and shaking his head. He groaned. He could already see how this was going to go.Bookmark here

“I’m guessing it didn’t go well,” Est said, biting into his sandwich. He smiled gleefully as the juices ran down his chin. Rafe’s ears drooped again and a haunted look crossed his face.Bookmark here

“She said that if I ‘propositioned’ her again she would skin my ears and tail in my sleep and make a handbag out of them,” Rafe said, shaking. “What… what does that even mean? ‘Propositioned’?! I just asked if she wanted to go somewhere and have some fun!”Bookmark here

“Uuuugghh…” Lance groaned, practically slamming his face into the table. In another situation he would probably be reacting the same as Est, with restrained amusement at Rafe’s utter failure at getting a date, but the problem was Rafe’s horndog tendencies were now having an adverse effect on his business.Bookmark here

To call Eve “guarded” would be an understatement, and if she was just ambivalent about Lance before (and that was a pretty optimistic thought) she certainly wasn’t going to be receptive now. “Thanks, Rafe, you’re a big help.”Bookmark here

“Hey, all I did was ask her out!” Rafe protested. “You didn’t see the look in her eyes! She wasn’t kidding she stared at me like I was lower than trash!”Bookmark here

Lance could see where she was coming from.Bookmark here

“What about Sabine Scarlet?” Est volunteered. Lance raised his head, and let out a long, deliberate groan to let Est know how he felt about THAT idea.Bookmark here

“Look, I know you don’t like her, but-“Bookmark here

“No, you’re right,” Lance said, forcing a smile to his face. He stood up from his seat. “I can’t let my personal feelings get the better of me. This is important, so I’m going to just be… diplomatic. I’ll talk to Sabine, and see if she has any idea where Eve might be.”Bookmark here

Est nodded his head, already turning his attention back to his meal.Bookmark here

“Hope you survive it,” Rafe called after him. Lance walked across the cafeteria, to the table where Sabine Scarlet was sitting, reminding himself to keep his emotions in check.Bookmark here

To say Lance didn’t like Sabine Scarlet would be like saying Somalda’s Diamond Island was a little shiny. The girl had enjoyed her first weeks at the Rem Magic Academy inflicting countless torments on Elly, continuing the string of abuse that Elly had been forced to endure all of her life.Bookmark here

The one light in the darkness was that she hadn’t laid her hands on his sister herself. If she had, then Lance might have turned that prissy face she was so proud of into a fountain of blood. He almost had, too, when he’d heard that Sabine had used her magic on Elly and put her in the infirmary; it was by the grace of the inquiry that he’d stayed his hand and learned the truth. Bookmark here

Since then, Sabine had kept far away from Elly, and that suited Lance just fine. The less he had to see of her the better.Bookmark here

As Lance approached the table he felt his hand began to curl into a fist, and had to catch himself, shaking his head. He was a prince, he needed to mind his position and keep his temper in check. Taking a few deep breaths to calm himself, Lance set his face in a charming smile a strolled over to the girls’ table.Bookmark here

“Hello there ladies,” he greeted them. “Can you spare a moment of your time?”Bookmark here

“Well, hello my prince,” Sabine’s face brightened as she spotted him. She brushed her hair behind her ear and flashed a smile, batting her eyelashes. “I’d be pleased! What can we do for you today?”Bookmark here

While Lance couldn’t stand Sabine, the feeling didn’t appear to be mutual. Haughty bitch she might have been, when she spoke with him she was deferential, courteous, the epitome of a lady’s lady. The sort of attitude Lance had come to expect from girls like her. Over the years he’d grown used to girls of all ages coming to him with false intentions behind those smiles of theirs, their eyes reflecting nothing but a desire for wealth and status. Bookmark here

Sabine’s green eyes held nothing different in them, and the thought she was trying to flirt with him after the way she’d abused Elly turned his stomach. But he couldn’t let his disgust show, so he pressed on through his disdain and explained, “do you ladies happen to know where I can find Eve? I remember her spending time with you rather often.”Bookmark here

Sabine blinked, her flirtatious smile falling away for a second as a look of confusion crossed her face. “Eve? She’s right… hey, where did she go?”Bookmark here

Sabine glanced around, and suddenly Lance realized that there were four trays resting on the table, not three; the fourth appeared to have popped into existence when he wasn’t looking, courtesy of Eve’s illusions. And the girl herself was gone.Bookmark here

“Wow, that’s, like, totally rude!” Mindy Cromway gasped, her drawling lilt stinging Lance’s ear in irritation. Sabine may have been repugnant, but at least she didn’t speak with an annoying Southros Basin accent.Bookmark here

The third girl still at the table, Jasmine Redfern, said nothing at all, simply staring silently at Lance with those calm, cool eyes of hers. Of the three girls in Sabine’s little clique, Jasmine was the one Lance found almost tolerable. Sabine’s eyes were filled with falsehood and desire while Mindy’s were as dim as a drained orica, but Jasmine’s gaze held some depth in it, a wise patience that considered things thoughtfully. But Lance didn’t bother asking her. Whatever wisdom she held in that silent gaze she seldom put it into words.Bookmark here

With Mindy’s voice that sounded like the scraping of steel against cobblestone and Jasmine’s voice that was never heard, Sabine remained the only conversation partner he could withstand. “So you’re saying she was just here?” He asked, playing dumb like he had no idea what could be up.Bookmark here

“She does that a lot,” Sabine sighed, flicking her hair over her shoulder and shrugging, like the fact that one of her friends just blinking into nonexistence was a fact of life that couldn’t be argued with. “One second she’s here, the next she’s gone, it’s no use trying to keep track of her.”Bookmark here

“I think it’s, like, totally cool,” Mindy laughed, twirling one of her blonde pigtails. “Eve could just be, like, standing there while I’m telling her about the latest bag I picked up or just, like, the most fabulous coat in the world, and before I notice she’s totally gone and I’ll have been talking to the air for like ten minutes!”Bookmark here

Lance suspected that Mindy experienced that with a lot more people than just Eve.Bookmark here

“It’s creepy, that’s what it is,” Sabine scoffed, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “Gotta say, the way that girl is sometimes, it just creeps me out.”Bookmark here

Lance resisted the urge to scowl. Another sign of Sabine being the bitch she was under her polite façade. “Come on now,” he laughed, trying to play it cool, “even if you think she’s creepy you shouldn’t talk that way about your friend.”Bookmark here

In a second the affable air around Sabine burned away into nothing. She furrowed her brow and glared at him. “It’s because she’s my friend that I can talk about her like that!” She snapped, surprising Lance momentarily. Uncrossing her arms she rose to her feet, walking around the table.Bookmark here

“Hey, hey, I’m sorry,” Lance said, taking a step back and holding his hands up to de-escalate the situation. “I was just saying you shouldn’t insult your friends behind their backs, it’s rude. You don’t need to get upset about it.” He was legitimately shocked that someone who cared so much for appearances would actually raise her voice against him.Bookmark here

“What? I don’t care about that,” Sabine scoffed, flicking her hair back and pointing an accusatory finger at Lance. “If anyone is being rude here, it’s you.”Bookmark here

Now that was a surprise. Lance had been nothing short of a perfect gentleman so far, and around Sabine that was quite a feat. “Rude? I apologize if I’ve offended you, but-“Bookmark here

“You called my friend creepy, so yeah, you offended me,” Sabine snapped, and for a second a ripple cascaded through her hair like she was about to let out her magic. Lance reassessed the situation with caution; it became clear he wasn’t the only one who needed to keep his temper in check.Bookmark here

“H-Hey, Sabine, I don’t think Lance was actually calling Eve creepy or anything,” Mindy said, her eyes widening frantically as she waved her hands. “Like, I think he was just saying that, like, maybe you shouldn’t say it? Maybe?”Bookmark here

“He didn’t mean it that way,” Jasmine said, her voice surprisingly gentle in its sternness with how deep it was. “He wasn’t saying he thought she was creepy.”Bookmark here

That seemed to calm Sabine down a hair. Her gaze still smoldered his way but at least the temperature of the room was dropping back to normal levels. She muttered a “fine” and straightened out, flicking her hair back over her shoulder. A lock had come loose in the earlier outburst.Bookmark here

“My apologies for the misunderstanding,” Sabine said with a smile, that air of politeness returning. She placed her hand over her chest and lowered her head. “I should have known that a prince wouldn’t be the sort to speak ill of a girl to her friends.”Bookmark here

“…No, it’s fine,” Lance said, still a little shaken. He’d seen Sabine’s temper before, but this was the first time he’d been the direct target of it. Just because she thought he was agreeing with her that Eve was creepy?Bookmark here

It didn’t make sense with the Sabine Scarlet he knew, but he didn’t have the time to waste worrying about it. One thing that the exchange had made clear was that Eve was long gone, and no one knew where. So he tried the next best thing.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry for the misunderstanding,” Lance said, trying to smooth things over with a smile. “In fact, I actually have something for Eve, that’s why I’m looking for her.” He set down is bag and unlatched it, flashing the letter. Of course, Sabine recognized the seal instantly.Bookmark here

“Is that-“Bookmark here

“Yes,” Lance cut her off. “It’s imperative I deliver it to Eve, it’s a letter of gratitude from the king himself,” he explained. “For her help during the… situation in Estval.”Bookmark here

“Yeah! I almost forgot!” Mindy piped up. “When she and Reed Rivers just, like, disappeared! We were totally confused! I was all ‘hey, where did they go?’ and then Sabine was like-“Bookmark here

Lance cleared his throat, standing up straight. “Yes, exactly,” he said, nodding. It was clear that Eve was keeping most of what had happened in Estval a secret from her friends, and he wasn’t going to be the one to put those pieces together. Bookmark here

“That’s why I’m trying to find her. Next time you girls see her, can you let her know that I’d like to speak with her in private? It would really mean a lot to me,” he added, smiling squarely at Mindy. Her cheeks flushed in response and she squirmed in her seat a little, playing with one of her pigtails.Bookmark here

“As you wish, my prince,” Sabine said with a saccharine smile, lifting the hem of her skirt in a curtsy. Lance politely bid the ladies farewell and returned to his own table in resignation. He’d done his best, but he still was no closer to…Bookmark here

A flash of gold in the corner of his eye drew Lance towards the exit to the quad, double doors that stood open and revealed Eve Moonshadow standing just beyond them. His eyes met hers and she held her gaze for a moment, just long enough to signal that she knew he was there; and with a nod of her head past her shoulder she turned and wordlessly bid him to follow, and follow he did.Bookmark here

But when Lance stepped out onto the quad, she was nowhere to be seen. Had she been there at all, or was it another one of her illusions?Bookmark here

“So, my prince, I hear you’re looking for me?”Bookmark here

Eve’s voice came from behind him, cold as it touched his ear. A shiver went down Lance’s spine but he smiled, straightening out and turning to greet her. She was a lot farther away than she sounded, leaning against one of the pillars on the steps, her arms crossed over her chest. It looked like she didn’t have a care in the world, but Lance suspected that was yet another one of her lies.Bookmark here

“I am,” he smiled politely, taking the letter out of his bag and flashing it to her. She noted the seal with little more of a reaction than a raise of her eyebrow. “It’s a letter from the king,” he followed up with, though it clearly made little difference. Eve’s face was as unreadable as a mask.Bookmark here

“I see,” Eve tersely answered. “Is that all?” She’d made no move to take the letter he offered, she hadn’t even given it a second glance. Her blue eyes never left him, her gaze cold and piercing like she could read his thoughts.Bookmark here

Lance let out the breath he didn’t know he’d been holding and shook his head. “No, actually,” he replied, still keeping up his false smile. “I had a few questions for you about what happened in Estval, and I was wondering if you wanted to talk about it.”Bookmark here

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Eve’s expression darkened. Lance was about to get a peek under that mask.Bookmark here

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