Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for violence.
“How long should we wait for the next two to go up?” Kasumi asked.
“As briefly as you think you can without causing significant trouble for them,” Mireya said. “If any of you fall, we’re technically obligated to do something about it, but please try to avoid that.”
“Though you should also try to avoid being stuck at the bottom when the Banes make it back,” Cyrin said, weaving another spell that Leilan thought was more Acid.
“True,” Mireya agreed. “There isn’t really a best way to do this.”
Leilan cracked a weary smile. “Except for the five of us to not be down here at all.”
Cyrin returned the smile. “Well, on the bright side, at least we won’t be escaping the Banes only to get caught by some sleepy security guard on night shift.”
“Don’t jinx us,” Mireya warned. “You should stop right there before you doom us all.”
Cyrin tossed her their spell and started another. “It would only be the third or fourth time something’s gone wrong tonight.”
“Shut up or something’s going to be wrong with your face.”
Leilan couldn’t help but admire how comfortable the two mercenaries were around each other, exchanging lighthearted banter in one of the most dangerous places in Aphirah. He wondered how many heists they’d shared like this, a rare team of a Minor and a Major Mage, laughing in the face of danger.
“Should the next pair of us head up?” Kasumi asked, head tilted up to watch Dawn and Shane’s progress.
“You probably could,” Mireya said. “If you’re next, you should probably take Dawn’s rope, since you’re lighter.”
As Kasumi nodded and pulled herself up on the rope, beginning her climb, Leilan glanced at Kaja. “I’ll go last.”
Kaja hesitated, frowning, and he was sure she’d challenge him. Instead, she looked up at the long climb above, and he thought he saw her swallow. She nodded silently and clenched her jaw as she took Shane’s rope, the muscles in her arms heaving as she clambered up.
“So,” Mireya said. Leilan startled when he saw that she was staring intently at him. “Are you the ringleader?”
Leilan looked up. Dawn wasn’t on her rope anymore, and Shane was climbing the final distance. “They listen to me, mostly,” he said. “I don’t know why they do.”
Mireya raised her eyebrows, and he could only hope that she wasn’t thinking the other Heirs were his employees and that he was really the one to be cautious of. At least she wasn’t saying anything in front of Cyrin.
“They’re back,” Cyrin cut in, finishing another spell with a quick flick of his fingers. Leilan spun around to see a pair of Banes rounding the curve, clawed hands outstretched. “Keep an eye on the walls.”
Mireya pushed him towards the ropes. “Start climbing.”
Leilan knew he shouldn’t wait, but he faltered. “Are you going to—”
“We’ll fend them off as you climb,” Cyrin promised, weaving up another small spell, every moment of his hands too fast to track. “You need to get going. We’ll be right behind you.”
Leilan decided he was right. Tugging on his gloves, he took the rope Kaja and Shane had taken and pulled himself up.
He hadn’t realized that his arms were aching and sore from the climb down until they were holding his full weight, and he nearly dropped back to the ground. Leilan gritted his teeth. No matter how tired his arms were, they were going to have to get him out of here. He blew out a long breath, heaving himself up higher, one pull at a time.
He heard hissing sounds soon enough, and although he knew looking down would be unnerving, Leilan glanced at the conflict below as he climbed. Mireya had both her hands raised, sometimes squeezing a fist around the air and flicking it, and a Bane would go flying like a doll seized and flung by a child. He could have sworn she was grinning. Cyrin was nearly a whirlwind, moving over the ice in bends and twists like a skater as they dodged clawed swings and flung spells. He saw them dance out of the way of a Bane’s slash before dashing it to smoke with a strike of their fist. In that movement, the back of their jacket shifted, and he caught a glimpse of dark ink between their shoulder blades, where only a vertical point of a concealed tattoo was visible between the sweep of their black hair and the fabric.
“Keep going, Leilan!” It was Shane, calling from above.
Leilan looked up again, picking up his speed. He guessed he was just short of halfway up. Kaja was the only other one still climbing, but she was near the top. She wasn’t going especially fast, even though she was the most physically suited of the five Heirs to a vertical climb, and if they had started at the same time he could have easily outraced her. He nearly shouted encouragement up to her, but something made him reconsider. He wasn’t sure whether it was because he thought she wouldn’t appreciate it or that he was starting to feel breathless.
A growl came from somewhere close that he couldn’t see, and he suddenly froze, feeling the thud of his heartbeat reverberating in the rope under his hands.
“Leilan, hold still,” Cyrin shouted from below, and although Leilan was in the perfect position to stay paralyzed, he couldn’t help but react when he saw the shadow swooping on his right. He moved down, ducking his head as low as he could.
The Acid spell splattered against the Bane, but it was still in motion, with too much momentum to stop right away. The Projection collided with the rope above him, clumsily snagging it with its claws before its shape dissipated. As the rope shook, Leilan heard a shriek, but he couldn’t tell if it came from above or below. He was reasonably sure it wasn’t his own.
“Saints,” he whispered, then he laughed nervously, squeezing the rope tighter in his hands. “Thank you, Cyrin, for—”
Leilan heard the rope make a strange sound almost like a creak— like a bending branch with too much weight on it— as it shuddered in his grip, and he went very still again.
“Something’s wrong with his rope.” Cyrin’s voice sounded very quiet to his ears, or maybe just very far away.
It felt impossible to raise his head again, but when Leilan looked up, he saw the problem instantly. Where the Bane’s claws had snagged the rope, there was a slash in the cords that didn’t go all the way through, but it was damaged. He could see the fibers slowly, slowly splitting and snapping from his weight, and he thought his heart might stop.
“The rope’s breaking,” he hollered, not speaking directly to the people above or below him.
“I can scale the other rope,” Cyrin said, sounding like he was speaking to Mireya. “I could help get him over to that one—”
“They’re too far apart,” Mireya said. “He’d have to jump, and I don’t think he wants to do it.”
Another of the rope’s cables shredded, and Leilan swore he felt himself fall an inch.
“You’ve got the Banes?” Mireya’s question was almost impossible to hear in her lowered voice.
A short pause from Cyrin. “Leave them to me.”
“Leilan,” Mireya called. “I’m going to get you out of there. Do you trust me?”
“You don’t even trust me,” Leilan yelled back. “What in the name of the Saints do you mean by that?”
“Whatever issue I have with you, I can think of a million better places to resolve it at.”
Her voice was patient, almost too patient, like she had all day even though she only had a few seconds. The rope creaked again. He heard another ghostly shriek from a Bane that Cyrin had presumably dashed to fumes, the sound muted and distant. He didn’t want to think about falling that distance.
“Yes,” Leilan said, then louder, “Yes, I trust you.”
“You’re going to let yourself fall,” Mireya said, very plainly. “I’m going to catch you with the Force rings, and then I’m going to throw you at the other rope. I recommend that you grab it.”
“Is that going to work?” Leilan asked in disbelief.
“If it doesn’t, Cyrin can always… catch you himself or something.”
“No, Mireya, you’re making this work,” Cyrin huffed.
“Fine,” Mireya sighed. “Yeah, I’ll make this work. Are you ready?”
Leilan knew he wasn’t, but he wouldn’t be getting any readier. “Ready.”
“Just let go,” Mireya said. “I’ll do the rest. Get ready to catch.”
It took everything he had in him to loosen his grip on the rope as it shuddered again instead of grasping it tighter, but he uncurled the fingers of his upper hand from the rope one by one, before shaking a deep breath and releasing his other hand’s hold.
Leilan barely had time to register that he was falling before invisible hands caught him on his back. He heard a grunt of effort, and then the hands pushed him, hurling him in the direction of the other rope. Leilan flailed in front of him, his arms sweeping through the air in search of something to grab, and he felt all the air rush from his lungs when he caught ahold of the second rope. He took it with both hands, and he hung there for a few seconds, breathless.
“That was harder than I thought,” Mireya wheezed. “Imagine if that had been Kaja.”
“Keep going,” Cyrin called. “I’m nearly out of magic, so I’ll follow you up in a few seconds. Mireya will join us soon.”
Mireya had gone back to using the rings on the Banes, tossing them to the side almost effortlessly. Leilan guessed she would be alright.
“Okay,” he said, taking a deep breath before he went back to his climb.