Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.
Cyrin’s gaze flicked over the unsuspecting backpack, trying to figure out its purpose. Shane’s face was slightly confused, like he wasn’t sure what he had in mind for it either, but he held it out a little further. Hesitantly, with an arm that was still shaky from their Hollow, they took it from him.
They felt so stupid right now. All they’d needed to do was weave a spell without messing it up and they hadn’t even managed to do that.
“There’s a few things in there,” Shane said weakly. “Things we picked up at the Arcade.”
“Anything fun?” Kasumi spoke up.
“Some were interesting,” Shane said. “Some were dusty and— well.” He chuckled nervously. “Dawn aptly described them as more forgotten than the third Bridger sibling—”
“Sounds forgotten, yes,” Cyrin said, hurriedly setting the backpack down and unzipping it. His chest hurt in a way that had nothing to do with his Hollow. It felt more like a bruise being hit than the blow that had caused it, but it stung all the same. “Are they artifacts?”
Shane pressed his lips together. “A few of them are.”
Cyrin reached in, feeling his hand close around a cold metal sphere, and he sensed for the magic. “A Projection smoke bomb?”
“I think there’s four of them.”
He dug around some more, pulling out a handful of rose-gold rings. “These have Force. I think they push things around.”
“That sounds about right,” Shane said. “Mireya used them to pick up and move an object without touching it.”
Cyrin couldn’t identify the last item in there by feeling it, so they opened the bag and peered in. It was a rectangular black case that wasn’t large, but it seemed to make up most of the bag’s weight. There were a few buttons along the side with a clear plastic case covering them that kept them from being pressed on accident. He stilled for a few moments when he saw the solid red light in the corner of the case, then he slid the pack over the ice back to Shane.
“That is a bomb.”
Immediately, Kasumi’s gaze snapped to Shane.
“It is,” Shane said, sounding displeased and even a little self-disgusted.
“Shane, why have you got that?” Kasumi hissed in a whisper.
Shane grimaced. “I didn’t know what we’d need. I know how they work, so I thought… I don’t know. I don’t like having it, believe me.”
Cyrin tore his gaze away from it to look up at him. “Is this what you’re suggesting?”
Shane looked away.
“I’m not— we’re not damaging a monument. Especially not with this.” They felt their stomach turn as they pushed it even further away from them, using the tip of their foot so they were hardly in contact with the bag. “I don’t work with these.”
“Okay,” Kasumi cut in. “You don’t want to damage a cultural site. Shane definitely doesn’t want to. I don’t either. So, we need another kind of solution.”
“We either need a non-spell solution to get through the shield, or to fend off the—” Shane jabbed a finger at a Bane serenely drifting around a short distance away. “Those… things. I think those are our options.”
“And we’re not using the bomb for either of them,” Cyrin said firmly.
Did Shane look relieved? “No, we aren’t.”
Cyrin looked down at the Acid spell in their hands, biting their lip. It wasn’t entirely useless, but it wasn’t good enough on its own for either purpose. The largest problem with it, they decided, was the structure. The magic wasn’t any weaker from how they’d woven it, but it would be less efficient for the shield because the spell would burn itself up much faster if it didn't have the right surface area. However, structure didn’t matter so much for the trap, as long as he used extra magic for it.
“Let’s try to get through the shield another way,” they said. “I’ll save this for the Banes.”
Kasumi cleared her throat. “I might have an idea, but I’m going to need someone to tell me if it’s stupid or not. Cyrin, you know magic theory, right?”
“A little.” He’d taken a semester course on how different cultures observed magic as part of the degree he would have gotten.
Kasumi reached into the bag, pulling out the rings. “If these are Force, could they move through the shield?”
Cyrin hesitated, taking one of them from her hand and pinching it between his fingers. “Maybe. The Force in the shield is far stronger than these, but they’re both the same type… It would have some effect on it, although I’m not sure to what extent. It’s worth a try.”
“I thought most Minor Mages got trained on it?” Shane asked curiously.
“They usually do,” Cyrin confirmed. “I hardly used magic until I was an adult, though, so I wasn’t being taught much about it before then.”
Shane’s brow furrowed. “Wait. How old are you?”
“So, you’ve only been regularly using spells for a few years.”
“I’m not that experienced of a mage,” Cyrin admitted. “I’m an acrobat first, honestly.” He was prepared to follow it up with a you got me— what did it matter if they thought he wasn’t what they’d imagined? The deal was sealed already.
Instead, Shane said, “That’s quite impressive.”
Cyrin blinked. “What is?”
“You haven’t been using magic very long at all, but you seem pretty proficient to me. You’re good at creating spells on the fly when they’re needed quickly, which I hear is one of the hardest skills to master.” Shane paused. “Are you some kind of prodigy?”
Cyrin chuckled as he took the rest of the rings from Kasumi. “Not at all, but thank you.”
“Really?” Kasumi asked. “It would seem you’ve got some natural talent.”
“You just watched me fuck up a simple spell. If I were watching me right now, I would be generous to describe myself as decent.”
“You were hardly in the best working environment.” Shane held up the Tremor spell. “Speaking of, if we’re not going to start the trap just yet, you should put this back.”
“Good idea.” Cyrin grabbed it back and stuffed the spell in his MagicBox, shaking out the pins and needles from his hand.
“You know, there could be a lot of opportunity for your magic, if you ever felt like leaving your… career field,” Kasumi suggested. “There’s people who would pay a lot for that skill, if you like being a mercenary but want something more legal—”
It’s just another exploitive way of selling myself out to people I like even less. Cyrin slipped the rings on their fingers. “Thanks for the offer, but I’m not becoming an aristocrat’s pet mage or a weapon for the Houses.”
Kasumi smiled, but her teeth were slightly gritted. “Fair enough.”
“I think Sparrow mentioned you were good with magic,” Shane said. “Well, more broadly. He described you and Mireya as good at everything except dying.”
Cyrin grimaced. “It’s not a compliment.”
“No? It sounds like one,” Kasumi commented.
Cyrin shook their head, turning away to face the shield so the two of them couldn’t see their throat as they swallowed.
Shane coughed awkwardly. “Well, he didn’t just talk about you both, if it helps. He mentioned your previous client and the professor too. The ones who weren’t so good at not dying.”
Cyrin frowned. “What professor?”
“The… the one who died?”
“Obviously, if they weren’t very good at the alternative,” Kasumi muttered.
“I haven’t heard anything about that.” Something about this didn’t sound right to Cyrin. “Our last client, yes, but nothing about a professor.”
“Sparrow said he— the professor was a he— received footage of your last theft from your client,” Shane explained. “He was an artifact professor at the university, and apparently he was the one who figured out you’d found the First Spell. He leaked the news and, well, people weren’t happy.”
“When you say ‘the university’, you mean Crystal City University, right?” Cyrin asked slowly, turning around.
“Sparrow called it that too, and we were in Crystal City at the time, so it definitely seemed like it from context,” Shane said.
“I call bullshit on what Sparrow said.” Cyrin twisted one of the rings on his finger. “I doubt there’s a professor of artifacts at that university that I don’t know personally, and I’m sure I’d have heard about one of them dying. Especially if it was at his desk in broad daylight.”
“Why’s that?” Kasumi asked.
“I went there to learn cultural studies, which is a great way to meet everyone in the humanities department and have them tell you why your field is basically theirs, so you should just study sociology or literature instead.” Cyrin lifted a hand up to the shield. “Except the people in economics. They politely pretend that they aren’t a humanities field and leave you alone.”
“Really?” Shane’s eyes were wide. “I went there for the humanities too. I know it’s a huge university, but I’m your age, so we would’ve been in the same graduating class—”
Cyrin honestly regretted disappointing him. “I didn’t get a four-year degree there, so I wouldn't have graduated with you. Just a two-year one.”
“Oh,” Shane said, then he shrugged. “Well, that’s still an interesting intersection.”
Cyrin did agree, but he had to hope Shane didn't look too far back into it.
“So, what does it mean that you didn’t hear about him dying?” Kasumi asked.
“It means I doubt that anyone actually died.” Cyrin met her gaze. “Sparrow told us our previous client was dead, but never mentioned a dead professor. He probably lied to you about it, but didn’t try the same with us because he knew we’d have guessed it.”
“Why would he make that up, though?” Shane asked. “And if there wasn’t a professor who figured it out and got killed, how did the discovery of the First Spell get leaked?”
“Sparrow’s always prepared to lie. Who knows what his reason was this time.” Cyrin shrugged. “As for the other part… I don’t know. I’ve been wondering about how that happened, but I haven’t had time to worry about it so far. Hopefully I won’t have to at all.”
“Could there be someone who has it in for you?” Shane suggested.
“I’m about to sound awfully pessimistic.”
“Then don’t,” Kasumi said matter-of-factly. “Let’s see if this idea for the shield works before anyone gets back and we have to explain to them why they’ll have to wait around for us.”
Cyrin sighed softly, stepping forward to the shield again. “Right. Let’s try it.”
There was an oppressive silence for a few seconds as he moved his hand closer to the surface of the rippling magic, just before the point where it would repel him. Deciding he didn’t like the quiet, he spoke up again.
“So, Shane, did you go to Crystal City University to study engineering? Computer science, maybe?”
“Don’t you dare hurt me by implying I was a STEM major,” Shane deadpanned, but he saw him smile slightly in the corner of his eye, and the mood felt a little lighter.