If Shane had to place himself and the two people sitting on either side of him on a spectrum of who was feeling the most bored, he wouldn’t have to give his ranking a second thought.
To his left, Dawn was hunched over a touchscreen and holding a stylus, only directing her attention away from it when she needed to tuck a dark braid behind her ear or glance up at her subject. Whenever she was at work on her art, Shane would notice drops of ink or smudges of paint staining her brown skin, but her hands were clean today. Dawn liked to sketch, and she found it easier to use a screen when traveling. She looked perfectly focused on her work, and he would guess that she could go on waiting another twenty minutes without any problem.
Kasumi was a different story. She’d changed her position on the bench every half-minute, and she had even got up at one point to pace around. Just when Shane had gotten tired of hearing her heels clicking, she’d sat back down in an even stranger position. Currently, her chin was resting on one knee with her other leg folded underneath. It looked uncomfortable, and she was getting pale in this cold, but Kasumi still somehow managed to hold it with her usual grace. She’d no doubt move again shortly.
And him? He was too exhausted to hold any real opinion.
Shane sat up hopefully when he heard footsteps and the swish of the hotel’s revolving doors behind them. Just a few moments later, a bodyguard tapped him on the shoulder. “It’s an estimated six more minutes,” she said, and he nodded before dismissing her indoors again. He couldn’t remember if she was the one who’d be joining them on the ride, but someone would. There were two more in the lobby, watching their Heirs through the windows.
He checked the car’s progress on his communicator despite just hearing of it. It wasn’t like there was anything else to do. Shane considered himself rather patient, but this day already wasn’t going as planned. City traffic only made things worse. He fell somewhere between Dawn and Kasumi on that spectrum, where he could hold it together but was ready for this to be over.
Kasumi’s finger suddenly blocked his view of the screen as she pointed at the red dot that was still several blocks out. “Seriously? It’s still that far away?”
Shane shrugged, glancing at the plaza ahead. Cars, trucks and motorcycles formed a slow-moving ring around it, while the crowd of pedestrians took a turn waiting at the lights. “It’s very sluggish today.”
“At this rate, Leilan and Kaja will get here well before the car does.”
“No, they won’t. They’re way too late for that.”
Kasumi shook her head. “You take things too literally.”
Dawn looked up from her artwork. “You know, Kasumi, it might be good to look around at this landmark if you’re so bored. It’ll keep you engaged.”
“I’ve done nothing but stare at the Plaza of Claws for the last however many minutes it’s been,” Kasumi insisted. “Besides, Shane’s the one who really cares about these buildings, not me.”
“I studied history, not architecture,” Shane reminded her. “I don’t really know that much about it.”
She pointed to the clock tower on the opposite side, which Dawn had made into her main subject of the sketch. “So you’re saying you didn’t spend time reading up on all the historic sites before getting here, such as that?”
Shane sighed. “It’s a thirteenth century Spark Age building, constructed to commemorate the Summer War. It’s Force that keeps the gears and hands turning rather than anything mechanical or electric.”
Kasumi smirked, her straight black hair spilling to one side as she tilted her head smugly. “Yeah, I thought you had.”
“Kasumi,” Dawn said gently, chiding her, but made no real rebuke before she went back to her work.
Resisting the urge to act unprofessional, Shane turned back to the plaza and closed his eyes, inhaling deeply through his nose before releasing the breath.
As three Heirs, they were all on equal standing, but being twenty-four years old— or more aptly, three years older than Kasumi and Dawn— he had unofficial sovereignty for the moment. He was glad he wouldn’t have it for more than a few hours. Leilan was much better at managing all of them, despite being only a little older than Shane and three full years younger than Kaja. But their flight was delayed, and they wouldn’t get to Crystal City until their meeting with the mayor was over.
That left him in the thrilling position of what his uncle would call diplomatic responsibility and what Shane called being the scapegoat if Kasumi is feeling spiteful. The Heir of the House of Honor had already offended quite a few government officials in her short time with the role.
He hoped he would be lucky today.
Shane must have spent several minutes lost in thought, because when Dawn and Kasumi shifted, he opened his eyes to see that the car was finally here and that they’d both stood for it. The same bodyguard who had come out before now stood between them and the vehicle. She tapped a tinted window, which rolled down to reveal their driver, who looked the three of them over. “Ms. Fairburn,” he said to Dawn in a gruff voice, then he addressed Shane and Kasumi in turn. “Mr. Hawking, Ms. Hisakawa. My apologies for the delay.” He wasn’t supposed to know their first names.
“Are you naming respected House officials?” Kasumi asked, her tone light and almost sweet. “Or the three people you kept waiting for almost half an hour?”
Dawn gave her an upset look at the same time that Shane gave her a warning one. It wasn’t a good idea to go saying that on the street, even if it hadn’t been such an impolite way to announce it. But the driver just let out a low laugh, gesturing to the backseats. “I will do my best to get you there as close to on time as possible, miss.”
Shane cleared his throat. “I’d like to check the car first, if I may.”
The driver didn’t look to be expecting the request, but he nodded and stepped out almost right away. “Of course, sir.”
A quick look over his shoulder as he stepped towards the front told him the reactions of the others. Their bodyguard was impassive and silent, just there to do her job. Kasumi looked vaguely frustrated that he was slowing them down, but she seemed to understand. And Dawn just watched with a solemn, sympathetic expression that looked almost like pity.
That was the worst look to get.
Shane did his best to push it out of his mind as he examined the front two seats, fingers trailing over the surfaces that were harder to see. Next were the back seats that they would be sitting in, one row facing forwards and one row back. He stepped out again to open the trunk and scout the inside, pulling up the carpeted bottom to inspect underneath. And most importantly of all, he crouched down to search the underside of the car, scanning every square inch of the surface for something that shouldn’t be there.
When he stood up again, Shane didn’t say he was satisfied. He wasn’t quite sure it was true. It was easier to say nothing, so he just stepped in the car and moved to the right side in the forward-facing row. Dawn sat on his left, and Kasumi took the backwards seat facing him. The driver and their bodyguard took their seats up front, and then they were buckled and driving.
It was worse than being on the bench, he decided. It was nice to be out of the cold winter air, and it was a setup designed to be comfortable, but he couldn’t get himself to relax. The closest he could get was a little distraction from looking out the window. The largest of the mountain ravines that ran through Crystal City was occasionally visible when they passed through an intersection, and Shane was relieved they weren’t taking one of the crossings. Not only would it be the worst spot for traffic, but he didn’t need to worry about plummeting right now.
He glanced over to Dawn’s side of the car to watch the skyscrapers through her window instead. Only a little light shone through the gaps in the clouds, but it was enough to make the glass sparkle like the snow on the peaks behind. It was a dazzling effect, but Dawn didn’t seem interested in the view, or even in going back to her drawing. Instead, she fidgeted with her ring with a black gem that showed she was of the House of Loyalty, twisting it on her finger and biting her lower lip. If he didn’t know better, Shane would guess that she was worried.
Well, if she was, that made two of them. Kasumi looked carefree now that she was in the car.