Mireya was surprised by how quickly the astronaut could move in that suit. She would have expected him to be weighed down by it— maybe even weighed down by Aphirah’s gravity, if he was used to outer space— but he darted out of the shop so fast that she didn’t even realize what had happened until he was already tearing off through the Arcade.
She’d just been curious before, but now she really had to know what that was about.
Mireya sprinted after him out of the shop, following as best as she could. She could just about match his speed, but he’d gotten a head start, and the crowd hadn’t exactly cleared a path for her. The astronaut was fleeing deeper into the Arcade rather than to the exit, making his way through the corridors between shops similar to the one they’d just left. He ducked into a passage on the right, and Mireya followed.
They were now approaching the private sections of the Arcade, the areas that belonged to individual gangs and were off-limits to non-members. The neon signs of symbols in her vision got brighter, a warning that she shouldn’t get much closer. Mireya began to worry that he would enter one, but surprisingly, he stayed clear of them. Instead, he swerved again, but the movement looked sudden to her, like he was planning his escape route in the moment.
Not only that, but this passage didn’t go much further until it ran against a wall that the Arcade shared with the Fortune.
She could tell when the astronaut realized it too, because his stride slowed for just a moment. He sped up again, changing course slightly to move towards a heavy door at a corner of the dead end. Mireya knew it led to a fire escape up to the roof, but if he knew too, he didn’t seem to care.
The astronaut threw the door open and dashed though. It barely had time to slam noisily before Mireya opened it for herself.
“You know, I’m not really sure what it is about a chat that makes you decide that you need to run away,” she hollered up at him while he was racing up the staircase.
The astronaut didn’t answer, just kept going. She wasn’t sure he could really talk through his helmet anyway.
“Was it something I said?” she called. “No, never mind, I didn’t actually say anything to you. You get my point.”
Still no reply. Mireya shrugged and began to climb as well.
The metal of the steps clanged under her feet as she got higher up. She wasn’t in the same rush as before, even when she heard a door above her open and close. She’d catch up.
When she got to the top and pushed the door to the roof open, she saw just what she’d expected to happen. The astronaut was cornered, with no way off the roof besides the way they’d gotten there. He was standing at the edge, staring off the side at the street below. Mireya noticed his posture was rather stiff, and he wasn’t looking away, even though he should have heard her come up.
“I don’t bite,” she shouted.
The astronaut turned to face her, and something happened in that moment. He didn’t seem to have lost his balance, but he stumbled, wavering dangerously as he staggered several steps away from the side of the roof. They weren’t even that high up— the Fortune wasn’t a skyscraper— but it seemed to her like he’d gotten scared once he’d had his back turned to the edge.
An astronaut who was scared of heights? Mireya couldn’t imagine what kind of nightmare that would be.
“Hey, don’t worry, I’m not even here to hurt you,” she promised. “You haven’t given me a reason to. I’ve just got questions.”
The astronaut backed up, glancing to the side every few seconds to keep an eye on the nearby edge. He was close enough that she would have been able to see his face through his visor, if it weren’t for the bright sun reflecting off it.
“What’s that device you bought?” she continued, shouting over the wind. “It’s got a lot of power, way more than something that small should. Is it new?”
The astronaut held out a shaking arm, like he was feeling for something to his left.
“I miss new things all the time,” Mireya called. “It could just be that I haven’t been paying attention, but whatever that is, it definitely caught my eye. What is it?”
Shuffling even further away, the astronaut straightened, his shoulders rising and falling with deep breaths. He shook his head, so slightly that she barely caught it, and then firmly closed his outstretched fist in its white glove.
Mireya was unable to keep from sputtering in surprise and disbelief. She scanned the area where the astronaut had been standing, but she didn’t see any sign of him at all. It was like he’d never been there.
Had he actually popped out of existence? Or just gone invisible? How had he done that without casting a spell?
“Am I that unpleasant to talk to?” Mireya muttered. “Rude. Well—”
Without any further warning, she charged the spot where he had been, hoping to collide with him before he could move out of the way if he was still there.
Fortunately, she did make contact with something invisible and solid.
Unfortunately, it appeared to be a foot that was in her way.
Mireya tripped, her momentum carrying her forward. She instinctively threw her hands out in front of her as she tumbled, expecting to catch herself and scrape her palms on the roof’s concrete surface. It was as the world wheeled around her, spinning by in a way that meant very bad news, that she realized there would be no catching herself on anything. Her face was now nearly parallel to the street, over the street below, and her arms were pushing through empty air.
She was falling off the roof.
Mireya didn’t have the time to get scared. She wasn’t sure that she could have been scared even if there had been the time for it.
Her collarbone throbbed painfully as it hit something, and then there were arms around her shoulders, tugging her back. She heard a slight grunt of effort by her ear, the sound muffled somehow. Mireya fell backwards this time, slamming into the body behind her and tumbling to the roof with a gasp that felt like it took all the air in her lungs. Her vision was still replaying the way that the sky had swung by and rolled into the city.
Instinctively, she thought of her rescuer as being Cyrin or Dante. Both of them had saved her from some uncalculated risk many times over, and at least a couple of those times had been catching her. She knew it had to be the astronaut, though.
Mireya looked up in time to see the door to the fire escape opening and closing, seemingly on its own. There wouldn’t be any catching him now.
Almost in a daze, she pushed herself up and dusted herself off, walking towards the staircase again. She wasn’t in a hurry anymore.
Dante Weylin had always been an unusual person, even before he’d become a Major Mage. He was half-Ren and born in Amber City at a time before nearly anyone was going in or out of the Renvara mountains, which was almost unheard of. Despite his uncommon parentage, it hadn’t had much effect on his upbringing. Mireya had heard about how every day, he would leave his home— a humble, ground-floor apartment in the section of the city known as the Old Town— and go to the port on the river to watch the ships.
“The port raised me,” Dante had explained. “The sailors, too. I would say goodbye to them when they left and greet them when they came back. They always came back. I was just waiting for the day when I could join them and I wouldn’t have to say farewell anymore.”
It hadn’t surprised anyone when one day, he’d gotten on board one of those boats and committed to its crew. What had surprised him was that he’d joined a pirate crew when he’d expected a merchant or cargo ship. Still, he’d taken to it rather quickly.
“I didn’t see the illegal piracy coming.” Mireya could hear Dante’s voice in her head now, in that non-rhotic West accent of his, exactly as she’d heard it long ago. He had punctuated the statement with a laugh. “It honestly wasn’t too different from my dream job, so I guess it was second best.”
“What was your dream job?” she’d asked.
“Legal piracy.” He had grinned cheekily, in a way that was so different from Cyrin’s soft smirks and Clarity’s sly smiles, but just as familiar. “Pirates are cool, you know that? It was funny to realize that’s what all my sailor friends were, so they’re even more awesome role models than I thought. I’m talking about myself too when I say pirates are cool, of course.”
Mireya had heard many of Dante’s stories of piracy over and over, of daunting escapes, robberies and duels, but there had been a story she’d only heard once. Even so, she’d never forgotten it.
Dante had been on his pirate ship just off the coast of Taray Vere one night, barely a half hour’s distance from Amber City, when there had been tectonic activity in the area and the Tremor rift near the city had ruptured. At first, he hadn’t known what he was seeing from the deck when he’d watched a wave of sparking, white light flow from the dark land into the even darker ocean.
“But I knew it could only be powerful magic when it collided with us and rocked the boat harder than any projectile or storm could,” Dante continued in her mind. His voice was building up with excitement. “I fell off and hit the water in its path— and then I felt it. A ripple in all of my cells, spreading from one to the next, and the next, and the next. The magic passed me, and we shored up, but I kept feeling it. It took me a couple weeks to figure out what I could do with it.”
The ability Dante had gained from the Tremor quake had made him a legend. He could spread the effect of a spell that a Minor Mage had made, repeating its action over and over without another spell being cast. He was even able to make the repeats happen elsewhere, as a spell seemingly hopping from one targeted location to another. A single spell could become a dozen, a hundred, or even a thousand, then become one great chain reaction of magic that was far more powerful than what it had started as. It might not have been an earthquake, but it had the same feature of spreading to everything nearby.
“And that’s how I became a Major Mage.” Dante had laughed, and Mireya would rather forget every single story he’d ever told her than forget the sound of that glorious laugh. “Not bad, is it?”
Dante hadn’t just been not bad. He’d been incredible. And when someone so grand, with so much that was special folded into one life, with a gift to affect everything around him so profoundly, was gone, the whole world felt it.