Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.
“The effort you put together to try and take the First Spell from me was very touching, though,” Sparrow added. “It’s nice to have a challenge, although you didn’t raise that much of a fight. Mostly, I appreciated being a threat to you.”
“We don’t know your plan, but we’re not just going to leave you with the First Spell,” Shane said firmly. “You’re exactly the type of person who shouldn’t have it.”
Sparrow laughed. “Well, your friends don’t have long to stop me, and I doubt you can do anything. But let’s come back to that. What type of people shouldn’t have it?” He smiled, flashing his white teeth. “I’m making a guess here, but I don’t think you’d want the Specter and Stormguide to have it either.”
“You mean Cyrin and Mireya.” The words were spoken so quietly that Shane could hardly tell it was Clarity who had said it. Her lips had barely moved.
Sparrow gave her a hard look before he shrugged. “Sure. Why not? Mireya is known by so many names that it makes no sense to call her by merely one anyway.” He gave Kasumi and Shane an amused look. “Tell me, how old do you think she is?”
Kasumi blinked. “In her early twenties? Maybe around the right age to still be in college, even though I don’t think she goes?”
Sparrow raised an eyebrow. “Try two thousand, one hundred, and seventy-one years old.”
Shane scoffed. “No. You just strung a bunch of numbers together.”
“Two thousand, one hundred, and seventy-one years old,” Sparrow repeated. “I have the number in mind, don’t I?”
Kasumi shook her head. “No way. Shane, you know history— how long ago would that be?”
“That’d be in the last years of the Hollow Age,” Shane said immediately. “Anything not in the Spark Age, we consider ancient history. The Houses wouldn’t have even formed yet.”
Sparrow pointed to him. “Exactly. You might know Mireya as just Mireya, or maybe as Saint Mireya? Perhaps the Spark herself? The very person who fought the Taeveni, lived, and came out of the North to unite Aphirah and create the Houses?”
“You are actually making this up,” Shane said. “Mireya Kaltrina lived for centuries, but the Fading killed her five hundred years ago. She disappeared in Renvara the exact same time that it was created and that the North surrendered.”
Sparrow shook his head. “She never got it. That part was down to luck and leaving the area. She did become rather isolated for a long time until recently, though, hence her disappearance.”
“But Mireya controls electric current,” Shane said. “She’s a Major Mage as well, sure, but she would have different powers from the Saint Mireya who fought a thunderbird. She wouldn’t control—”
He paused for a long time, as realization hit him like he’d been slapped in the face with a history textbook.
“Lightning,” he finished quietly, and Sparrow nodded with a smile.
Kasumi held up her hands. “Assuming for a moment that any of this is true, you haven’t said anything that makes me think she’s less trustworthy with the First Spell than you. Only things that make me think that you’re having a stroke.”
Sparrow pondered that for a moment. “What do you think she was doing in Renvara at the time of the Fading?”
“Piracy? Returning for a visit home? Something mundane enough that I wouldn’t know. You’re implying that—” Shane shook his head. “I don’t know for sure what you’re implying, but the blame for the Fading rests on the Houses and the Houses only. The battlemage they used was a half-Ren man from the West anyway.”
“Yeah,” Kasumi agreed, though she sounded less eager to accept the blame.
“If you’re getting out of here— you might, because I haven’t decided your fate yet— you should ask her that question. That should make for an interesting conversation.” Sparrow grinned.
Shane scowled. “What about Cyrin? Are you going to blame the Summer War on him or something? I’m sure I know enough history to refute that.”
Sparrow gave him a searching look, the faintest smile of curiosity floating on his face. “Are you sure I don’t know you from somewhere?”
Why that question again? “I haven’t had the displeasure, I’m sure.”
Sparrow hummed softly, then moved on. “Cyrin’s a different case entirely. Mireya may live across time, but Cyrin is alive at all the wrong times.”
“What the fuck do you mean by that?” Kasumi asked.
Shane had an answer, though, or at least part of one. “Good at everything except dying. You called him the Specter, as if he were a ghost. I thought it referred to his stealth, but it doesn’t, does it?”
Sparrow nodded. “He’s survived not just the unlikely, but the impossible. Something that no one before or after him has ever lived through. Even I don’t understand it. His magic is strange, too. If he ever figures it out…” He smiled, with a menacing feeling to it. “Oh, he’s dangerous already, but if he figures it out? Who knows what he could do.”
“I don’t feel very threatened by that,” Kasumi said. “I don’t see that kind of potential in Cyrin, because they seem better than that. It’s glaring in you, though.”
“You don’t wonder what he had to do to survive?” Sparrow asked. “Do you think he’s survived at all? A heart has to change to keep beating.”
A burst of short, quick anger shot through Shane, warming him like the bronze wristbands that were weighing down his pocket. Cyrin Bridger had a better heart than that, he knew. He’d felt the evidence as the soft sunlight of an embrace.
“I wonder what you did to sit on top of a world of crime like this,” Shane snapped. “All I can picture is you clawing your way up a mountainside of evil, accumulating terrible deeds and pouring out harm into the world. How’s the hatred treating your heart, if you still have one? I hope that Cyrin and Mireya come for you and take back all that you took from them.”
Kasumi went very still next to him, and it took Shane a moment to see that it was because the look on Sparrow’s face had shifted away from its mocking, playful menace. All of the lightheartedness was gone, replaced by a dark, cold look of hate that was entirely focused on Shane. Before it could sink in that he should be terrified, Sparrow snapped his fingers.
“I think I’ve just thought of what I’ll be doing with you, Shane,” he said coolly. “Is that your name?”
Shane could only nod slowly.
“Perfect. Thank you for reminding me of my hatred.” Sparrow turned to Clarity. “Clarity, weave up some Salve flux.”
Shane had no idea what that was, but Clarity seemed to know, because she cowered a little. “I can’t actually do that—” she began quietly.
“Now,” Sparrow snapped.
Clarity still didn’t reach for her MagicBox, so Sparrow leaned over and whispered something in her ear, his lips shaping the words harshly. Shane saw her close her eyes and nod shakily as she went to grab some magic, holding it in her hand before she began to create a spell.
After a few moments of watching her progress, Sparrow looked at Kasumi. “Can you pass along a warning?”
Kasumi’s face was baffled, but she nodded.
“Wonderful. I’ll let you decide yourself what message you want to pass along after this.”
Clarity let out a faint sound of what sounded like pain, and Shane’s gaze snapped back to her. She was swaying on her feet, a strained look on her face, and she looked like she was about to be sick. She was holding a spell, and Shane’s jaw nearly dropped when he saw it. Pure magic of the best quality was brilliant white, and the less pure it got, the more yellow tinges it had, but the entire spell was a sickly, weakly sparkling gold. It hadn’t looked that way when she’d started. What had she done with it? What was it doing to her?
Sparrow nudged Clarity, and she nearly lost her balance, stumbling to the side. “Target him.”
Shane didn’t have the time to react. The spell hit him in the chest, sending a shock through him, and he lost his balance as he fell to the ground. He gasped for air as his chest burned without heat from the inside, as if there was a painless fire smoldering in his ribcage. He didn’t know what it meant, and that was most of what scared him.
“Shane!” Kasumi shouted, pulling him up.
“I’m fine,” he panted, getting on his feet again, but he didn’t know that he was. His head was spinning, and Kasumi had to push her hands on his shoulders to keep him standing upright. “I’m fine.”
Clarity was on the ground too, on her hands and knees, but there was no one to help her up. Her face contorted with pain as she struggled to her feet, gasping softly, and Sparrow gave her a dismissive glance. “You can leave now,” he instructed, and Clarity squeezed her eyes shut as she moved towards the door, pressing a hand to her stomach and swaying from side to side as she bolted.
It swung open before she got there, and Shane saw several people in the doorway that he didn’t recognize. Their eyes swept the scene— four unconscious people, a sickened Clarity, him being half held up by Kasumi— before they very clearly decided not to say anything about it.
“There’s been an incident in the Arcade,” one person in front of the group said as Clarity pushed past them and into the hallway. “Something to do with a magical gridlock that’s cutting off places. The Nest was affected.”
Sparrow glanced back at Shane and Kasumi. “You’ve been busy, haven’t you?” He shook his head, addressing his followers now. “Leave them be. I’m heading down with you.” His followers headed through the door, and after a long, curious final look at the two of them, Sparrow left the room as well.
Shane exhaled deeply, his chest still burning, and Kasumi removed her hand from his shoulders. This didn’t make sense for Sparrow. Why hit him with a healing spell and leave unconcernedly? There was some purpose to it, but the reason was just escaping him, always one spinning thought out of reach.
“Well, if we’re free to go, and you’re fine…” Kasumi said slowly. “Should we leave? Do we need to find Cyrin?”
Shane closed his eyes, taking deep breaths. The burning in his chest was starting to gain a feverish heat, and he could feel it spreading. It was making him dizzy, and his legs were getting weak. What had been in that spell? His heart raced, at first with fear, and then it started beating even faster until he was sure it was a bad sign.
“I might… actually need a moment,” he gasped, pressing a hand to his chest. “I don’t feel right.”
Shane’s lungs suddenly felt like they were closing up, and he struggled for breath as pain flared up in his chest. Every muscle in his body felt like it was burning now. He tried to get another set of words out— something to describe whatever was happening to him— but the room was swaying before his eyes, flashing in and out of darkness like the lights were going out. He groaned, collapsing to the ground again, and the darkness rushed in to smother everything else out.