Leaving Crystal City had been easier than Leilan had expected.
After a slightly dazed Mireya had rejoined his group, they had left the Arcade and returned back to the hotel. Kaja and Kasumi were already there packing their bags, and Leilan, Dawn and Shane had joined in while Mireya left to get her own suitcase. An hour later, she had returned with Cyrin, both with their own bags and Cyrin with a question.
“Can I leave my jetpack here for a while longer?” Cyrin had asked.
“A jetpack? I don’t see the problem with that, as long it’s out of the way,” Leilan said. “What do you mean for longer, though?”
Cyrin had reached beside the couch he’d sat on at their meeting and pulled up a seemingly empty fist— that was, until he’d tapped the air and a jetpack appeared in his grasp out of nowhere. The Heirs had all taken a step back in surprise.
“You’ve had that right there this whole time?” Kasumi exclaimed.
“I considered asking you and Kaja to find it and move it elsewhere,” Cyrin said. “But I figured it would be impractical to tell you to walk around here and wait to bump into a heavy metal item at knee height.”
“Knee height is waist height for Kasumi, so that would’ve also been misleading,” Kaja remarked.
Kasumi had shot Kaja a glare. “I am at the perfect height to kick you in the knee, and one day, I’m going to do it.”
Cyrin’s jetpack had been moved to the teal room for the long-gone House of Justice, as Leilan knew that it wouldn’t be disturbed there. He’d seen the look that had flitted across Cyrin’s face when he’d seen the room, more suspicious than curious, and he’d been glad the other bedroom doors were all closed. It was much better to have the thieves think they were staying in a strangely designed hotel suite than for them to see the other symbolic colors and put the clues together.
Leaving the hotel had been the dangerous part. Leilan had been worried that they’d get caught by one of their bodyguards, especially with Acelin’s vigilance. Luckily, Daphne and Acelin were out working with authorities to locate Favia, and Shane had messaged them that the Heirs were staying in their suite for the day. It was a lie that wouldn’t last them very long, but it had been long enough for them to make their first flight.
And now, Leilan was thirty-five thousand feet above the ground, calculating the amount of trouble that he could get in for this.
He knew he was supposed to be getting his sleep on this plane, but he wasn’t sure how to relax. None of the others seemed to be either. Mireya and Dawn were talking in the two seats behind him, in rapid conversation from Mireya’s part and shy replies from Dawn. Kaja had gotten up to pace the aisle half a dozen times already, and every time she passed him, Leilan heard her grumbling something uneasy under her breath. He couldn’t see Shane and Kasumi very well, because their seats were separated from his, but he spotted Shane’s foot tapping anxiously.
In the seat to his left, Cyrin was staring out the plane window at the sky that was turning orange over the clouds. Their posture was relaxed, but held stiff, and Leilan hadn’t seen them move in a while. They were wearing earplugs, so Leilan spoke just loud enough to get their attention. “Are you alright? You seem preoccupied.”
Cyrin took out an earplug, looking a little surprised that he’d asked. “I’m alright, sorry. I just don’t like the airplane noise very much.”
Leilan nodded. “Too loud?”
Cyrin shrugged. “Not really. It’s just the buzzing, the humming. I find it hard to listen to.”
That surprised Leilan. If they had a jetpack, they couldn’t be the type of person to have a fear of heights or flying, so it didn’t sound like an excuse for one of those. But they still looked uncomfortable, and the noise seemed to be the only reason for it.
He wondered why that was.
Leilan smiled softly. “Sorry, I don’t want to bother you. You can put the earplugs back in.”
“You’re good.” Cyrin removed the other one, weighing them both in his hand. He paused, then added, “I guess the reason you’re coming along with us is so we can know you better, and it’d be hard to learn anything about you if I stayed silent this entire flight, wouldn’t it?”
Leilan chuckled. “That’s true, and I really would like you to trust us.”
“Conversation it is, then.” Cyrin shifted so that he could face Leilan better. “You’re from the West, right?”
Leilan nodded. “Amber City, in fact. I know I’ve got the accent.”
“It’s a nice city,” Cyrin said. “The climate’s a bit warm for me, and the Tremor rift causes me some problems because it’s my Hollow, but I love the history it has.”
“It’s definitely not in its golden age,” Leilan said, with a rueful laugh. “It’s seen better years. Shane studied history, actually, he knows more about it me.”
“He did? I should talk to him about history sometime.”
“You’ll never be able to get the conversation to end.”
Cyrin laughed. “Storm City’s in a similar spot. The difference is that its glory days were five hundred years ago.”
“As opposed to eighteen,” Leilan agreed. “Are you from there?”
Cyrin nodded. “Mireya also is. I moved to Crystal City a few years ago, but she’s been there for longer.”
“Any chance you can recommend anything for us to do when we get there?” Leilan asked.
They tapped their fingers on their armrest. “Do any of you like snow?”
“I think our answers would range from indifferent to a no.”
“Find a fireplace and stick to it, in that case.”
Leilan smiled. “Hopefully that shouldn’t be too hard.”
“It won’t. It’s always cold, so we have fireplaces in just about every building. There’s a saying we have that says you can’t start the show in a Storm City theater until someone stands in front of the fireplace and shouts ‘fire’ once the seats are full. It’s a joke that a lot of people from elsewhere don’t get.” Cyrin paused for a moment, like they’d just thought of something. “Are all of you from Amber City?” The tone of their question indicated they already knew that they weren’t.
“No, we’re all from pretty different regions,” Leilan said. “Dawn’s from the South. Kaja’s from the coastal part of the North. Shane and Kasumi are from different places in the East.”
Cyrin tilted their head to the side. “How come you all know each other?”
Leilan had known a question like this was coming. He just had to hope that everyone else would have the same answer if asked.
“I’m sure you’ve gathered that we’re all from very rich families,” he said, and after a moment, Cyrin nodded. “Our families know each other well, so we pretty much grew up together. We meet when we like to.”
“Sorry if we’ve stolen from any of your families,” Cyrin said. “I mean, we’re not sorry for it, but there’s a fairly good chance you’ve been a target of ours.”
Leilan rolled his eyes playfully. “Truthfully? I doubt we would even notice.”
Cyrin smirked faintly. “That’s why. A prized item or two gone wouldn’t make a dent for you.”
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. Leilan understood exactly why the mercenaries were wary of them.
“I assume a lot of your clients are people like us, too?” Leilan asked. “Oligarchs wanting to steal from other oligarchs, I mean.”
Cyrin’s brow furrowed as they nodded slowly, but it wasn’t a frown on their face.
“What is it?”
They hesitated. “You called yourselves oligarchs.”
“I did, yeah.”
“I’ve said that before, but this is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone else in your economic position say it. They don’t like admitting it. Some will call themselves aristocrats in a proud way, as a badge of status, but oligarch conveys something different. They can’t pretend they don’t have control of political power if they refer to themselves as oligarchs.”
“I think the shoe fits,” Leilan said. “Saints, this is probably the riskiest conversation I’ve had in the first-class section of a plane.”
“Or just a brave one.” Cyrin’s smile flickered over their lips again.
Leilan watched Kaja stand up to pace the aisle yet again. “I’m hardly feeling brave,” he said. “I was just dragged along into this.”
“Dragged along,” Cyrin repeated. “Let me guess, rich family telling you what to do?”
Leilan laughed dryly. “Surprisingly, not this time. None of our families know we’re doing this yet.”
“That is surprising.”
“Why did you figure it would be family?” Leilan asked.
“Well, it’s always family.”
“Not all families are like that. Especially not the healthier ones.” He’d had one like that once.
He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he saw a distant look pass over Cyrin’s face for a moment, and their grip on their armrest tightened slightly, like they were using it to stay stable. Leilan felt the sudden urge to apologize, but he wasn’t sure what he’d done.
“I might get some sleep,” he said quickly. “Do you mind waking me up when we start our descent?”
Cyrin nodded. “Good idea. Tomorrow’s going to be busy.”
Before Leilan set his seat in the bed position and rolled over— he’d always been a side sleeper— he saw Cyrin put his earplugs back in. He wasn’t sure how long it took for him to drift off, but at some point, he stopped hearing the white noise of the plane’s engines.