We Who Steal Faces
by Tony Pi
1st Place - Best Interior Art - 2011
January 4, 1588
Mafeo Premarin, my eyes and ears in the shadows of Venice, was dying of poison.
I knelt by Mafeo's bedside and took his trembling hand. His flesh felt cold, patches
of red mottled his skin. He tried to speak but fell into a fit of coughs instead. I
looked for blood in the sputum on his beard. None yet, a small relief.
The assassin had left a trail of bodies: intelligencers in Amsterdam, Paris, and
Lisbon. They were good men, all, loyal to England. Whoever killed them was
blinding us to the intrigues abroad. In these times when Spain sought to overthrow
Elizabeth's reign, we needed the vigilance of every spy. I refused to let the killer
take any more of my operatives, least of all my top man.
"Who did this to you, old friend?"
The point of a stiletto grazed the side of my throat.
"The poison's robbed him of his voice," Luca said in his father's stead. "If you are
Flea, you know how to earn my trust. Show me his face."
His caution was wise. In these times of looming war, spies like us had to take every
precaution to know friend from foe.
"I'll need that mirror in the restello frame."
Luca allowed me to stand. I took the mirror and slid open a secret compartment
along its top. Inside lay the handkerchief Mafeo had hidden there when I first
taught him how to thieve. I felt the prickle of Lightning magic dancing within the
silk threads. Mafeo, last to touch the kerchief decades ago, had left an impression
of his younger self trapped in the silk like a fly in a spider's web.
I willed the Lightning to enter my flesh, letting the magic shape my body into the
exact image of my apprentice as he had been in his prime. My brawny physique
thinned and shortened, and my skin darkened to a sun-bronze. Pain blossomed in
my left hand. Teethmarks from a mastiff's bite, still scabbing over, reminded me of
our first burglary together as master and pupil.
Luca gasped at my transformation, but Mafeo managed a faint smile.
"Proof enough?" I asked with Mafeo's voice as it had been.