Kaja hadn’t cooled down much when Leilan and Dawn returned, but although Leilan found some bitterness in her gaze, it didn’t hold the same challenge as before. Whether she actually had meant her words or not, seeing that brought him some relief. If the two of them weren’t on opposite sides, being the most senior Heirs, their work would already get easier.
“I’m sorry for what I said,” Leilan said, exhaling softly. “I don’t think of any of you as irresponsible. Really, I don’t. We’re stepping into territory that Heirs don’t deal in, though, and I want to be sure we know what we’re doing first. If we drop into this meeting, what are we hoping to do?”
He saw his Heirs relax slightly, and even with the tiniest bit of tension gone, they seemed much more ready to work.
“We want to make them a competitive offer for the theft,” Shane said. “Sparrow— that was the name of our helpful crime boss— did warn us that we won’t get to bargain fairly, because these two are the only ones who can do it, so they can ask for whatever they like, and we don’t want them taking deals from anyone else.”
“We do have House coffers, though,” Kaja added. “We can draw money from those.”
“Also, we should make sure that we can actually work with them,” Dawn said. “Not because we have anyone else to go to, but we should figure out to what extent they can be trusted.”
Leilan hummed approvingly. “We’ll see what we can learn there.”
“If we’re concerned about the uncertainty of this, maybe Leilan and Shane should go to the meeting?” Kasumi suggested. “We shouldn’t all go, and I feel like they can handle it.”
Pleasant surprise hit Leilan even as he nodded. It felt good to know that he was trusted, and that he wasn’t being looked to just because he tried to guide the others. Shane also looked a little surprised, but he hurriedly nodded as well. “We can go,” Shane agreed.
“When’s the meeting supposed to be?” Kasumi asked.
“Just about any minute now,” Kaja said. “Shane knows what table to go to.”
Leilan glanced at Shane. “In that case, are you ready?”
Shane smiled faintly. “I’ve already talked to someone very suspicious today, so I guess I can do it again. Besides, it’s honestly more interesting than meeting with mayors.”
“Kaja’s in charge while I’m gone,” Leilan called over his shoulder as they walked away, and although he wasn’t sure, he thought he might have seen Kaja smile, very slightly.
Even though Shane never pointed to the table in the nearby sitting area that he was leading them to, Leilan somehow instinctively knew which one it was by the man sitting at it. He wasn’t sure what it was about him— maybe the distinctive robotic legs he spotted under the table, or the clever gleam in his green eyes— but he could tell he was important to this place. The man, Sparrow, stood up when they approached, smiling as he examined Leilan. He felt a little too closely observed by him, and his smirk looked too knowing, his eyes taking in too much. Just when Leilan felt like he’d learn everything there was about him if he watched him any longer, Sparrow turned his gaze to Shane, nodding appreciatively.
“You’re ready to see them, then?” the crime boss, folding his hands together in front.
Leilan nodded. “We’ll hear them out.” Or rather, they’ll hear us out, but we’ve got to look in control.
Sparrow smiled, and even though it was a very likeable and charming smile, Leilan didn’t trust it. At least he knew his instincts were working right, because this was a crime boss. “I’ll take you to them.”
He led them past a bar and up a staircase made of clear plastic, so that Leilan could see people walking beneath the steps as he went up. An area filled with tables, much like the place they’d just come from, was at the top, and although he looked, he didn’t see the person in the spacesuit there.
“It’s that table over there,” Sparrow said, pointing at one to their right. “You should be able to talk about it right here.”
“Thank you,” Leilan said quickly.
He expected that to be the end of it, but instead Sparrow turned to Shane, frowning slightly. “Have I met you before?” he asked, a trace of curiosity in his words. “You have a familiar face, but I can’t place it.”
Shane shrank back slightly. “I doubt it.”
Sparrow chuckled, shaking his head. “I meet too many people to keep track of them all,” he said, stepping away. The metal of his legs clanked with the movement. “Welcome to the Arcade, whoever you are. Have your fun.”
“What was that?” Leilan whispered to Shane, watching him leave.
“I don’t know,” Shane whispered back. “Let’s just go meet these two.”
Leilan had almost forgotten to scope out the thieves, and he looked the people at the table over as they walked towards them. Both of them were of Ren descent, olive-skinned and dark-eyed, but most of the similarities ended there. The girl had vibrant blue hair tucked into buns on the top of her head, and all of her clothing was only a few shades away in any direction of color. Leilan felt like he was looking at a paint catalogue for blue, but he had to respect the commitment to the style. The only other color he could see on her was the red mushroom earring on her left ear, which, strangely, didn’t have a matching earring on the other ear. She didn’t have any visible weapons, unlike most of the people here, but something told Leilan that didn’t make her unthreatening. He might have imagined it, but the air around her seemed to crackle a little when he and Shane got closer.
The other person at the table, to the girl’s right, was more subtle but also more intimidating. Their black clothes were fitting for a thief, stealthy and functional, and their dark hair fell in slight ringlets around a calm, composed face. They shifted their position with slow gracefulness when they saw they were being watched, raising one arm to let it rest on the table, and Leilan spotted one of those bracelets with lights that indicated a person’s pronouns around their wrist, like the one he’d had when he’d first transitioned. The activated lights were white for they/them pronouns and purple for he/him, with both colors at the same brightness, which meant this person wasn’t indicating a preference between them. They had a MagicBox on their belt, and Leilan was reminded that they were both potentially dangerous mages, but he couldn’t find a MagicBox on the girl’s person. So where was her magic?
The person in black gestured at two empty chairs once Leilan and Shane reached the table, his hand swinging through the air in an almost dismissive way. “Have a seat,” he said in a smooth, cool voice.
Leilan noticed that Shane was looking at him through a slightly narrowed gaze, examining his features, and he remembered that he’d seen the explosion downtown. He guessed that this was the mage who’d been there, and that Shane recognized him from it.
“Thank you for sparing your time,” Leilan said. He paused, unsure where they were supposed to start, and then continued, “So, you’re the Stormguide and the Specter?”
The two thieves turned to each other, exchanging grimaces, and he had to hope their disgust wasn’t directed at them.
“I can’t keep using that alias,” the mage in black muttered to their teammate. “And most of our work is done in our first names when we have the option. It’s time to be done with that.”
The girl nodded, turning back to them. “I’m Mireya,” she said, “though you might know me as the Stormguide.” Her voice was bright and airy, and Leilan guessed that she wasn’t as serious of a person in different contexts. “And this is Cyrin.”
“I’m Shane, and this is Leilan,” Shane said. “There’s three others with us here, but I don’t think you’ll see them tonight.”
Cyrin leaned back in his seat, his gaze sharpening. “What do you want with the First Spell?”
The question came so suddenly, so matter-of-factly, that Leilan’s first answer was nearly What? That wouldn’t have looked good.
“Are you supposed to know that?” Leilan asked instead, keeping his voice even and measured.
“Normally, I could care less about what happens to the things we steal,” Cyrin said. He had an elegant but direct way of speaking, his meaning unmistakable despite how he made each word sound refined. “It usually ends up getting passed off as a legal possession, sold for more money, or hidden in the walk-in closet of someone’s third home while getting undeclared on taxes. The First Spell isn’t a treasure, an art masterpiece, or an heirloom that someone swears belonged to their family five centuries ago, though. It’s power.”
“Giving that over requires some trust, and right now, all we know about you is that you’re ambitious, because you want that power,” Mireya added. “And maybe your names. They could be your real names, but they could also be your pets’ names for all we know.”
“My childhood cat was named Shrimp,” Shane said. “You’d be able to tell if I made ours up from a pet, believe me.”
Mireya seemed to be trying not to smile, but Leilan heard it in her voice. “Alright, now we know about your ambition, your names, and your poor cat who had to live with the name Shrimp. What about your plans? Anything dastardly?”
“It’s hard to say anything specific, because we haven’t exactly had a long time to plan anything,” Leilan said. “What we do know is that we don’t want anyone to misuse it.”
“Neither do we,” Cyrin said. “So, how do we know that you won’t?”
Leilan paused. It was frustrating that this couldn’t be more straight-forward and that they had to go through this before they could negotiate, but he’d be doing the same thing in their place. He wouldn’t trust just anyone with the First Spell, and there was no reason that Mireya and Cyrin should either. What he wasn’t sure about was how they could prove themselves to them.
“You don’t know that,” he admitted. “We just showed up here with the promise of money and the looks of power. Knowing the general trend of people like that, that might not do much for our trustworthiness.”
Shane shot him a confused look, but he saw the flicker of a smirk on Cyrin’s face. “It doesn’t, but I appreciate the self-awareness.”
Mireya hummed softly, looking between Leilan and Shane. “It’d be good to wait and see more of who you are, so that we could figure that out,” she said. “But we haven’t got that time, because we’re a little bit wanted, and staying out of jail and unmurdered is how I like living my life. So we might do something new for this.”
“New how?” Shane asked.
Instead of answering him, Mireya turned back to Cyrin and spoke. Her voice and the sounds were perfectly clear to Leilan’s ears, but he couldn’t understand a word of what she was saying, and it took far too long for him to realize that she was speaking a different language. That was incredibly rare— most languages other than Aphiran didn’t have a large number of speakers, and weren’t taught very often. He’d never considered how speaking a second language could be useful, because it was unlikely to find someone else who spoke it, but that seemed to be the strength of the thieves’ communication. They were having a conversation right in front of Leilan and it was all a secret to him.
He understood that Mireya had said something surprising, though, by the way Cyrin’s eyebrows raised and their short response in the same language— disbelieving, almost to the point of amusement. Mireya answered them with certainty, a slight gesture of the hand making it seem like she was insisting on a point or explaining something. Cyrin said what sounded like a question, and after her reply in an affirmative tone, they nodded, and both of them turned back to Leilan and Shane.
“Well, this is going to be different from however you usually make your deals,” Cyrin said, tapping their fingers on the table. Leilan didn’t correct them and mention that this was their first. “We’re requiring something else of you besides money, though we'll want that too.”
“And that is?” Shane asked, frowning slightly.
Mireya grinned. “How helpful can you make yourselves?”