Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for violence.
“Helpful?” Shane echoed.
Leilan could hear the swirl of all his other questions in his friend’s anxious voice. What are we going to have to do? Is this going to get us in trouble? What happens if we can’t fulfill whatever they ask of us?
“I think it depends on what you want help with,” Leilan said, speaking slowly.
“Financing,” Cyrin explained. “Paid travel, lodging, and other expenses.”
Leilan felt his heart slow with relief. They could easily provide money for that. “Sure—”
“For the both of us, yourselves, and whoever else is with you,” Cyrin continued. “Because you’ll be coming along with us. You said there were three others, right?”
Leilan swallowed as he sat back slightly, regretting that he’d answered so quickly. “Yes.”
“Paying for seven would get expensive fast. We’ll let you pick that up, since it seems you can handle it.”
Shane cleared his throat. “Excuse me, but why are we going with you?”
“So we can be around you long enough to make sure we can leave the First Spell in your hands.” Mireya’s grin stayed wide. “We can’t trust you if we don’t get to know you at all, can we? If we decide we can’t hand it over after some time together, consider the financing as the upfront payment and the travel as your vacation, and the deal ends there. If all goes well, we’ll give you the First Spell for the rest of the money.”
“How much are you asking for?” Shane asked.
Leilan thought he saw the mages hesitate for the shortest moment— leading him to guess they hadn’t actually thought about a price yet— before Mireya answered, “Fifty million.”
Shane didn’t seem to bat an eye at that figure, and Leilan knew he shouldn’t either, but some small part of him fluttered with panic when he first heard it. He’d had to recalibrate his ideas of what was a lot of money for him over the course of his life, which was a feature of the rags-to-riches pipeline, but he wasn’t sure he’d ever get past the initial shock whenever he saw a large price for something. It probably was for the best that he hadn’t lost that instinct— it kept him in touch with how it was for most people.
“We can manage that,” Shane said. “As for time, how many days will—”
Cyrin slowly held up a hand, and Shane stopped talking almost immediately. They didn’t seem interested in talking over him, though, because they kept silent. Their face was focused, but Leilan could tell they were distracted from the conversation, and he watched them carefully, trying to figure out what had gotten their attention.
“There’s someone sneaking around, behind me and to my right.” Cyrin spoke suddenly, but quietly, and Leilan wondered how his voice could be so urgent and calm at the same time. “It might not be for us.”
“What?” Leilan whispered, scanning the people nearby.
Mireya ignored him, glancing at Cyrin through the corner of her eyes without turning. “Do you think it wouldn’t be?”
“They’re up to something, but I’m not sure what, and if it doesn’t concern us then we should stay out of it.” Cyrin was refusing to look over their shoulder at whoever they meant, and Leilan was getting frustrated that he couldn’t tell which person it was. “Let’s just keep acting like we didn’t notice them.” They had hardly finished their sentence before their eyes widened. “Flare.”
Leilan barely had the time to realize that was a warning and to dive under the table before a comet of heat shot by him, and the next thing he knew, the wooden chair he’d been sitting in exploded into flame. He was too startled to shout, but he heard Shane’s yelp and the sound of chair legs scraping against the floor as the Heir jumped away. Leilan shuffled back against a table leg and used whatever part of his brain that worked in emergencies to kick his chair away from the table so the fire wouldn’t spread.
“Definitely us,” Mireya muttered, and her chair hit him in the shoulder painfully as she got up and pushed it in.
Cyrin had already gotten to his feet too, and Leilan poked his head out as far as he dared to watch what was happening. He wasn’t able to see for long, though, because the light overhead went out, and all he could glimpse was a brief electric spark where Mireya was standing. In the darkness, he heard someone shout, and sounds of clamoring as the other people in the meeting area wondered what was happening. The table shook overhead from someone invisible bumping into it, and it felt so much like an earthquake shelter that Leilan had to close his eyes and go still for a few moments.
He opened them just before the lights came on again. A woman had fallen to the floor not far away, wincing as she clutched her wrist. Cyrin had moved in the darkness and now stood above her, but his almost-relaxed stance made Leilan think he’d had nothing to do with it. The woman, now glancing around in search of something, yanked a strand of shiny material that had gotten wrapped around her hurt hand. As Leilan’s gaze followed the filament, he realized that it was a thick metal wire with a curved end like a hook, and that the other end was clutched in Mireya’s hand.
Had she shocked the woman with it?
He suddenly remembered the electric feeling in the air around her, and how he hadn’t seen her carrying any magic. She didn’t need to. Mireya had some of her own.
Their attacker scrambled to reach for an object on the floor suddenly, but Cyrin kicked it away from her, causing it to slide in Leilan’s direction. He realized it was a MagicBox, and he quickly picked it up. Now that he was holding her weapon, it felt safe enough for him to come out from underneath the table.
“Hey, can this wait?” Mireya asked sweetly, rolling the wire back up and tucking it into a pocket of her very blue coat. “We’re having a meeting here, and your attempted murder is getting in the way of things.”
The woman muttered a curse under her breath as she pushed herself to her feet. Cyrin let her, folding his arms over his chest as she backed away, his eyebrows raised ever so slightly. The mage backed away, shooting a look of fury and disgust over her shoulder as she rushed off without her magic. There were a few chuckles from onlookers, but everyone rapidly turned back to whatever they’d been doing, unconcerned by the interruption.
“Should we— go somewhere else?” Shane asked, a slight tremor in his voice. He was behind Leilan now, having backed up against the next table.
“No need for that,” Cyrin said, taking his seat at the table again. He motioned to Leilan, and once he’d remembered what he was holding, Leilan tossed the MagicBox over to him. Cyrin cracked it open and removed the magic inside as Mireya and Shane sat down again. “She’d have to get a lot better at taking people out with fireballs for that to be worrying, and it’s a lot harder to do that without your magic. Where were we?”
“We were in the midst of an attack,” Leilan said slowly.
Cyrin looked up from the cluster of magic in their hands, their dark eyes grave. “It might not be the last one you find yourself in if you stay with us.” They flicked a spell that must have been Acid at the chair on fire, because the flames sputtered and went out. Leilan stared uneasily at the burned wood for a few moments before he pulled over a different chair and took a seat.
“But we can work something out for that,” Mireya said quickly. “Cyrin, you could make a Chant oath with that magic, right?”
Cyrin pulled out a strand of magic, wrapping it around their finger. “I don’t make them often, but they’re not hard. I could.”
Mireya turned to Leilan and Shane again. “We make a mutual promise,” she said. “You agree to our terms of the deal, and we’ll keep you safe from whatever harm we encounter on this adventure. Does that work?”
Leilan would have liked to go over this with the other Heirs before they agreed to anything, much less sealed it with magic, but he wasn’t seeing much of another choice. He just had to hope they would understand. He nodded, and seeing that he was okay with it, Shane did the same.
“Whoever wants to do it, just lay your arm out on the table, palm up,” Cyrin said, his voice softening slightly. Leilan couldn’t tell if it was because he knew magic oaths could be scary or because he’d decided he could be gentler at this point in the conversation, but it felt encouraging. “No one’s going to be kneeling. It’s a vow of equals.”
Shane pulled his hands into his lap at that, pressing his lips together uncomfortably, and so Leilan placed his arm out on the table.
“Do I have to use my full name for this?” Leilan asked. “I’d rather not.”
“The oath needs a true name, not necessarily a full name,” Cyrin assured him. “It doesn’t have to include your last name, just as the one I’ll use won’t have it, but it does have to be you in some way. It can’t be made up, such as—” They paused. “Shrimp.”
“I’ll have you know Shrimp was a real name for a real cat who wasn't owned by the most mature of children,” Shane said, and Leilan didn’t think he was imagining Cyrin’s slight smile or the amusement in it.
Leilan wasn’t about to use his deadname, which had never felt true to him anyway, but he did have an old last name that he hoped would work. “I’m ready, then.”
Mireya leaned forward interestedly while Shane sat back further, as Cyrin twisted the magic strand into a spell, then molded it into a shape like an S. Leilan was more familiar with this part, and so when Cyrin placed their hand in the top curve, Leilan placed his own in the lower one. Cyrin snapped their fingers, and the spell glowed softly.
“I, Cyrin Troy, enter into oath.”
“I, Leilan Ashworth, enter into oath,” Leilan said.
Cyrin took a deep breath. “I vow on behalf of myself and Mireya to protect our clients from harm and to defend them in dangerous situations until our deal has ended.”
“I vow on behalf of myself, Shane, Kaja, Dawn and Kasumi…” It felt wrong to place his friends in the promise without talking to them first, but Leilan swallowed and kept going. “To accept Mireya and Cyrin’s conditions of the deal, and to follow them wherever needed for the purposes of the heist.”
“This I swear,” Cyrin said.
“This I swear,” Leilan repeated, and when he’d finished, the spell around their hands seemed to burn up and dissipate.
Mireya smiled. “When and where are we meeting you next for making our plan?”
“Top floor of the hotel on the Plaza of Claws,” Shane said. “Tomorrow… morning? We have some people who aren’t early risers, but we’ll make sure they’re ready. I was also going to ask how long we’ll be gone for.”
“Maybe three or four days,” Mireya said. “We can’t say where we’re traveling to out here, of course, but there will be some flights.”
Leilan nodded. “We’ll provide for that tomorrow.”
“You should go back to your team,” Cyrin suggested, standing up with the rest of their attacker’s magic. Mireya hopped to her feet beside him. “Let them know what’s happening. There’s going to be a lot ahead.”
“We will, thank you,” Shane promised.
As the mages walked away, Leilan set his elbows on the table and placed his head in his hands, sighing heavily enough that his shoulders felt like they’d risen and fallen a mile.
“You good?” Shane asked.
“Yeah,” Leilan mumbled. “We’ll go back, I just need a moment.”
What was happening to him? He was just trying to be the model of an Heir on diplomatic missions, and now he was stumbling into dens of crime, hunting for missing people, and making deals with criminals. That wasn’t how he was supposed to act.
Leilan Akamai hated being an example.
And right now, he felt like the example of a mistake about to happen.