Mireya stared at the sixth object that had been shoved in her face so far, blinked a few times so it wouldn’t seem so close, and tried not to laugh. “Not that one either.”
Dawn heaved a melodramatic sigh when she took back the artifact, a bottle that had been labeled with Chant and hadn’t seemed useful to Mireya. “Please just let us buy you a fun magic item for this heist?”
“Gladly,” Mireya said brightly. “But I don’t want you to get scammed.”
Shane was spinning in a circle to see in full the shop that was nestled inside the criminal den of the Arcade. Such a shop should have seemed suspicious to anyone; it was filled with artifacts that were certainly unregistered as magic items and customers making illegal purchases. However, Shane was apparently oblivious to it all. “Is that likely to happen here?”
“Very,” Mireya informed him. “And this is the shop I trust the best.”
Leilan looked at the shelves distrustfully. “At least we’re not here for much.”
“What about this?” Dawn asked hopefully, holding up another bottle. “It’s a Salve potion.”
“Best case scenario, it’s water,” Mireya said, adding a tease to her voice. “Worst case scenario, it’s water with cheap magic that will give you poisoning when you’re already in trouble.”
“Nope.” Dawn quickly set it back on the shelf.
“Is there anything here that might be worthwhile?” Leilan asked.
“There’s this whole section here that we haven’t looked at,” Shane suggested, moving to the far side of the aisle. “It’s pretty dusty.”
“If no one’s bought it, it’s a bad sign,” Mireya warned.
Undeterred, Dawn moved over, holding up a dust-covered candle. “This stuff looks more forgotten than the third of the Bridger siblings.”
Mireya took a sudden interest in a set of metal rings in front of her at that comment.
“Who is that, again?” Leilan asked.
Dawn nodded. “Exactly.”
“I think their name starts with a C,” Shane said slowly. “I can’t remember at all, though.”
“No, Casper’s perfectly famous,” Dawn said.
“So is Camilla,” Leilan added. “There’s a third C name, I think— anyway. Point made, this stuff is very much forgotten.”
“These have Force,” Mireya said suddenly, slipping the rings on her fingers. There were eight of them, four for each hand, all of them rose-gold metal. “According to the label, I think they’re supposed to—” To test her thought, she reached forward, closing her hand as if to grab something, then pulled it towards herself. The candle in Dawn’s hands got free, drawn towards Mireya as if held by invisible hands. “Well, look at that.”
“We should definitely get those,” Dawn said, as Mireya returned the candle to its shelf without even touching it.
“How about these?” Shane asked, pointing to a few small metal spheres from another shelf. “They’re supposed to be Projection smoke bombs.”
“Those are super useful,” Mireya agreed. “They can’t be tested before you buy them, but usually the ones from here work. Usually. Regularly enough that I haven’t quit business with them. Anyway, buy a few.”
Shane nodded. “Does this place have actual explosives?”
Mireya pointed a couple of aisles over. “Back where we got the nylon climbing ropes. I guess those could be good to have, as long as you’re buying.”
She expected little of it, but when Shane turned to leave, Leilan stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. His forehead had creased from his confused frown. “Why do you want those?”
“Backup,” Shane explained. “They’re easy to use quickly if something goes wrong. I hope none of us will have to do anything on this heist, but they’d be good to have.”
“Well, yes, but…” Leilan’s brow furrowed. “Why explosives specifically? Are you sure?”
“I know how they work,” Shane said, in a strangely flat tone. Mireya watched Leilan’s look of confusion turn to one of… pity? Concern? Sympathy? “I’d be able to use them myself.”
“I think what Leilan means is that he’s wondering if you’re comfortable with them.” It was definitely pity that Mireya heard in Dawn’s voice.
“I’m fine,” Shane muttered, but it wasn’t far off from a snap. “I’ll be back.” He moved away from Leilan, disappearing around the corner of a shelf. Leilan sighed softly, watching the space where he’d been.
Mireya cleared her throat. “Is there a reason why he might not be comfortable with those?”
Dawn bit her lip. “It’s a long story. If he says he’s okay, and it was his idea, he should be alright. He probably just didn’t want us to make a big deal of it.”
“Is there anything else we need from here?” Leilan asked, a little hurriedly, and Mireya got the message that this was a personal matter for Shane. That was fine. Keeping secret identities was a problem, but she could respect privacy.
“Not really,” she said. “You can still look around while we wait for Shane, though.”
“I wish we could look for Favia,” Dawn said distractedly, and from Leilan’s side-eye, Mireya immediately knew it was something that she shouldn’t have said.
“Favia?” Mireya asked, fighting to keep the curiosity and glee out of her voice.
“Dawn’s bodyguard,” Leilan said slowly, obviously reluctant to share the information. “She went missing here yesterday. We went searching, but we weren’t able to find her.”
Five people with closely guarded identities. A reserved suite with a vibrant teal room. A bodyguard necessary for protection. She wasn’t liking what she was learning.
Instead of frowning, Mireya nodded sympathetically. “I’m sorry to hear that. I’m sure she’ll turn up soon.”
“Hopefully.” Leilan smiled thinly, as if he already knew that was a weak promise to make in the Arcade. “I’m going to go find Shane.”
“Probably a good idea,” Mireya agreed. “See you in a minute.”
She expected Dawn to say something similar as Leilan left, but she didn’t hear anything from her. Turning around told her why. Dawn was staring intently at an artifact that Mireya had seen on display a few times at this shop. It was a set of earrings, made to look like a pair of snake eyes. The dark pupil slit was obsidian in the center of a mother-of-pearl circle. Dawn reached forward to touch one, but pulled her hand back before she actually did, and turned to Mireya.
“These have Rationale,” she said. It wasn’t much of a question, but the statement wasn’t accusing either. Just a flat realization. “That’s what the label says.”
Mireya wasn’t sure whether to shrug or to nod. “Rationale isn’t inherently illegal. It’s just frowned upon, and that’s most of the policing.”
“Some uses of it can be prosecuted,” Dawn said. “Only when it’s used on other people or intended to affect them, but— that has to be what this artifact is for.” She blinked, looking back at the earrings. “Isn’t that what this is for?”
“Dawn, this place is made for criminals, built by criminals, run by criminals,” Mireya said softly. “I don’t think you should have to like everything you see here. Just don’t be surprised when you see it.”
Dawn’s face was difficult to read. Her expression wasn’t closed-off, but it had settled into some emotion that Mireya couldn’t quite label. “For the most part, this doesn’t seem like a place with good people. There’s just no good reason for this to be on the market.”
Although she felt the urge to tell her that lawlessness wasn’t synonymous with wrongness— that anarchy wasn’t bad, because the Houses were so much worse— Mireya didn’t think she could say that, even though she guessed Dawn would be one of the most responsive of the five to an opinion like that. Dawn wasn’t wrong about how Rationale would be used to harm people, either.
What did she mean by for the most part, though? Had she just not wanted to call Mireya a bad person to her face?
If that was the case, it stung a little. She wasn’t even sure why it stung.
“Whoever eventually grabs it probably isn’t going to have the best intentions,” Mireya admitted. “However, I know it’s been sitting there for a long time, unpurchased. Not everyone here is rotten to the core.”
Dawn slowly nodded, looking a little reassured. “I guess that’s true.”
Feeling more hopeful, Mireya was about to shoot her shot with additional persuasion, when she felt it nearby. A buzzing sensation of nearby electric current, like a murmur in her bones. She felt it often, but it didn’t feel like someone had flipped a light switch this time. No, it was a fierce hum of power and high voltage, one she could almost hear in her ears.
She stepped out of the aisle, and almost immediately saw who was most likely to be the source of it. The owner of the shop was sliding a recently purchased item, some thin device that Mireya couldn’t identify, across the counter to its buyer, who was wearing some bizarre white outfit with a helmet. The buyer turned the device off, and the feeling went away, but it was quickly replaced by shock when the buyer turned around.
She was looking at a fully suited astronaut.
Mireya shook the Force rings off her fingers— which were slim enough for the action to work— and let them fall to the floor. The clattering it created caused to Dawn to startle and look away from the earrings. She wouldn’t be able to see the astronaut from her position.
“Sorry, can you buy those for me?” Mireya said hurriedly, already leaving the aisle. She didn’t know why she had to check out the astronaut, but she knew that she was going to. “I’ll meet you back here.”
Behind her, she heard a confused “Okay?” from Dawn.
The astronaut saw her the moment she was out of the aisle, because she’d stepped right into their exit path. A quick glance at the stranger’s light-up bracelet told her that she was actually in his exit path, because even though his identity was completely concealed by the spacesuit, she was still lucky enough to tell what pronouns he used. They stared at each other for a moment (at least, she thought he was through the helmet), before Mireya tilted her head towards the exit, an indication that she had questions to ask him, outside the shop. Both of them stayed still for a little longer, neither one making the first move.
In the end, the astronaut did make his way to the exit. By bolting towards it.