“What even happens if you make contact with it?”
Kasumi asked, pointing at the shield. “You seem to be hesitant to get too
“If you try to touch it, the Force pushes your hand
back, like magnets repelling. It actually works a lot like a magnetic field— you’ll
feel a strength opposing your own, like something’s getting in the way,” Cyrin
said. “I’m just far enough away that I’m not being forced back.”
“And what about if you manage to push through that?”
Kasumi asked impatiently.
“Well, if you really try with these things,
then it flings you back. Usually hard enough to break your wrist. So, I would
really hope these rings could do something about that.”
“The hesitation’s understandable,” Shane said. “You
can’t climb out of here with a broken wrist.”
Cyrin huffed. “I can’t?”
“Alright, here’s our worst-case scenario: if I break my
wrist, I get to show Shane how to climb a rope in style. Which means nothing
can really go wrong.” This plan could go very wrong, and there were plenty
of ways for it to, but they weren’t about to think through all of them. This
was improvisation, and there wasn’t time for that. “So really, what am I
Even so, Cyrin was cautious as they moved their hand closer
to the surface of the shield. They felt some resistance, an invisible push
trying to drive them away, but it wasn’t as strong as they would have imagined
for a shield this powerful. Reassured, they shoved their hand further, just
through the surface of the magic— and felt an unexpected sensation in their
fingertips as some of the numbness from the chilly air dissipated.
“It’s warm,” they said, surprised.
“Is it really?” Shane asked, stretching out an arm. “I
really wasn’t dressed to be down here, so I am freezing—”
“No, don’t touch it,” Cyrin warned. “Broken wrist,
Looking disappointed, Shane pulled back his arm as his
“Could there be a reason for that?” Kasumi asked.
“Like energy being released by the magic?”
“I don’t think so, magic generally doesn’t give off
ambient heat unless the spell is designed for it. Magic’s not exactly energy,
so it isn’t as simple as it being lost as thermal energy.” Clarity would have
known for sure, but Cyrin wasn’t certain with his explanation. “Maybe it’s
different if there’s a lot of it.”
“Maybe,” Kasumi said, but she didn’t sound so certain
“It seems like it’s working so far at least,” Shane remarked.
“Your wrist looks attached.”
“That is reassuring, isn’t it?” Cyrin pushed further.
It was getting more difficult, and he found himself
straining slightly now, but he could feel his hand steadily moving through the
magic. He was warmer now, too. What had first felt like stepping into a heated
home out of the cold outdoors now felt like drawing his hand close to a candle
flame. When the cold air hit his fingertips again, the sharp temperature change
was so sudden that it felt more like a burn than a freeze.
“Well, looks like I can’t show off my climbing skills,”
he said, hearing a small thrill enter his voice. “My hand’s on the other side.”
“Too bad,” Kasumi said, sounding relieved.
“Now…” Cyrin paused, slowly moving his other hand
through the shield, before he curled his fingers. The shield felt nearly solid,
and he could almost grab the magic as he cautiously pushed the Force apart. A
gap formed between his hands, spreading as he pushed outwards until he thought
it was the right size. So, he could move it, but there was one more thing to
test. He removed both hands, and the gap stayed open.
Shane whistled appreciatively. “Looks like we’re all
getting out of here.”
“Told you I could do it. The Banes don’t like hearing
Shane snapped his mouth shut quickly, and it took
Cyrin shaking their head teasingly at him for him to relax again.
“Can you see the others through it?” Kasumi asked.
Cyrin peered through. “They aren’t there yet.”
“There shouldn’t be anything going on in there,” Shane
said. “It sounded like they were going to pick the First Spell up quickly and
grab whatever looked helpful on their way out.”
Cyrin’s gaze flitted to the ground where the skeleton
had been. “They’re probably just sightseeing,” they said. “Probably fine.”
They weren’t completely sure of that, but it did leave
them time to work.
Cyrin took out the Acid spell as well as some unused
magic, having learned their lesson about keeping the Tremor away until
necessary. With much better focus than before, they spun the magic strands
together, taking care not to make any mistakes this time.
“Hate those things,” they heard Kasumi mutter, and
they paused their work briefly to look up. She was watching one of the Banes
that was making its rounds nearby, drifting back and forth. It wasn’t looking
at them with its jackal eyes, but they knew it was acutely aware of their
presence. Kasumi’s expression was sour, but her voice had an edge of fear to
it. “Why’d they have to make them look so creepy?”
“Is that rhetorical?” Cyrin dropped his gaze back to
his magic, making a few quick twists.
“Kasumi, we’re the reason why.” Shane chuckled,
but he was sounding a little uneasy. “It’s supposed to scare us off.”
“Still,” Kasumi insisted. “Whoever designed the
illusion to look like that should have had a job at a horror film studio
instead, not here.”
Or should have had the chance to use their
talents without the need to prepare for invasion,
Cyrin thought dryly.
He was carefully keeping his face neutral, or he
believed he was, but Shane’s gaze flicked over him. “Let’s try not to be
insensitive,” he said, seeming to guess his thoughts. “You can think they look creepy.
They honestly are. But there’s a good reason for their existence, and criticizing
their purpose delegitimatizes that reason.”
Cyrin had to admit, he respected Shane. It was hard to
know that if he’d gained any respect from Shane, he’d be losing it soon.
“Yeah,” Kasumi muttered, tearing her gaze away from
the Bane. “Okay.”
Cyrin gave Shane a slight smile and nod. “It should be
“Thank you,” Shane said, pulling at the collar of his
coat. “That’s good, it’s starting to feel a little warmer.”
That made Cyrin pause. Was it?
He hadn’t noticed that his hands hadn’t gotten cold
again once he’d finished with the shield. He stepped closer, and the air did get
slightly warmer, about the same temperature as when he’d been touching the
shield. He was still too far away from it for that to be normal.
“It is,” Cyrin said slowly. “Something’s going on.”
“Force doesn’t give off heat in any circumstance that
I know of,” Kasumi remarked.
“It doesn’t,” Cyrin said, as a thought occurred to
them. “But this shield isn’t just Force.”
They tucked the Acid away and stretched out a hand,
focusing on the blend of magic in front of them. Most of what they could sense
was Force, but there was also a tiny bit of Tremor that they already knew to be
there. They concentrated harder, and they could just barely tell that beyond
that, there was the slightest trace of a third kind of magic.
“It’s got Flare,” they said. “Barely any at all, but
just enough to raise the temperature a bit.”
“Did we activate it with the rings?” Shane was
“We must have.” Cyrin drew their hand back. “It has
about the same amount of Tremor, which—”
As they moved, they felt a drop of water land on the
back of their hand, spilling through the crease between their knuckles and
dripping onto the ground at their feet.
Not yet understanding, Cyrin stared down at their
hand, rubbing at the wet spot, before they turned their gaze up to where the upper
arch of the shield met the wall. The ice there was glistening, unnaturally
reflective. They reached up to touch it, and their palm came away damp.
They only had to show their hand to the others to
inform them what was happening.
“It’s melting the ice.” Kasumi spoke like she hadn’t
decided how scared she should be yet, but that she knew at least a little
terror was the right response.
Shane bit his lip. “It’s just starting, right? How
serious could it get?”
Cyrin placed his hand on the spot again. “It’s just
not enough to melt the place around us, or cause substantial damage to the
monument,” he said, shaking the water off. “But there has to be some reason it
was part of the shield’s spell. A safety measure."
“Like… a trap?” Shane eyed the melting ice
“This shield is only supposed to be opened with Acid
spells,” Cyrin said, thinking out loud. “It could be designed to react to
different ways of opening it. If the Flare is supposed to activate when the
shield is disrupted, then the Tremor probably has a similar purpose.”
“But the ground’s not vibrating,” Kasumi observed. “And
the ice isn’t cracking either.”
“Sometimes it works like a signal,” Cyrin murmured. “Like
a ripple that’s hard to feel, going out from its source. Or a wave of a
frequency that we can’t detect.”
“Now you seem like a STEM major,” Shane teased,
but his heart didn’t sound like it was in the joke.
Cyrin chuckled, but it was weak. “Magic is both
science and art. I usually stick to the artistic perspective, but other people
I know prefer to think of it more scientifically. It’s hard for anyone to say
which it’s more of.”
“I think I’ll keep an eye on this Bane,” Kasumi cut in,
pointing to her left.
“Sure.” Cyrin didn’t turn, but instead looked back at the
slowly thawing ice. It was still dripping water in a puddle that was refreezing
at his feet, but he couldn’t ever see it melting a large section of the
Permafrost’s Fall, let alone triggering a collapse on any intruders. No, it
couldn’t directly be dangerous to them.
“There’s a few more over here,” Shane said behind him. “Do you
think they like this?”
“We’re not on our way out and have no intention to,”
Cyrin said, removing the yet from his sentence just to be safe. “They
should ignore us.”
“It’s just that, actually. They aren’t looking at us.”
Shane’s voice was strained, like he was trying to say
something more but was afraid to, and Cyrin realized that he wanted them to
The sharp gazes of the Banes were focused on the
melting ice, seemingly paying no attention to the three of them. The
Projections very much surrounded them, though, and Cyrin saw more drifting
their way, as if drawn to their exact location. Their jackal masks were blank
and emotionless as always, but they knew that they hadn’t shown up to throw a
pool party in the thawed ice puddle.
The Flare and Tremor weren’t meant to rig the Fall for
destruction. What little ice that had melted would freeze over once they closed
up the shield again. It was meant to create the tiniest amount of damage and
then draw the Banes’ attention to it.
“I think,” Cyrin said slowly, “that the Banes might
not be designed to only interfere with us if we try to leave. They might also
act when the monument is damaged.”
“It’s just water!” Kasumi protested, and they couldn’t
tell if she was pleading with their reasoning or the Banes. “It’s not that
None of the Banes gave any reaction to her words.
Another drop fell from the melting patch of ice, and Cyrin thought they saw
their gazes follow it.
“They aren’t going to stand like that forever,” Shane
whispered. “At some point they’ll decide it’s been melted enough and strike
before we’re ready.”
“We’ll be ready,” Cyrin promised hurriedly, scrambling
to take out both parts of the trap spell. The Tremor in their palm made their
hands shake, but they’d have to ignore it this time. “All we need is for the
others to be done and ready to run. They should be back soon. They need to be.”
Saints, where is Mireya? Where are all of