“This is your plan, Dawn?” Kasumi asked. “A hotel safe for valuables?”
“It’s not meant to hold it forever,” Dawn said. “Just long enough for us to figure out what to do with it.”
Mireya folded her arms over her chest, inhaling deeply. After they’d made their way back to their hotel, Dawn had asked the night receptionist for access to the safe room and then had her leave. Now, the seven of them— two thieves, five Heirs— were huddled around an open safe, where the First Spell lay inside after Mireya had reluctantly parted with it. The scroll seemed so insignificant and unassuming for an artifact of such power.
“Now what?” Shane asked.
Dawn closed the door over. “Leilan, you’re going to input a number between zero and nine. Don’t say it out loud. Don’t let anyone else see what it is. Just remember it.”
Leilan slowly nodded as he moved forward and knelt on the floor in front of the safe, hesitating before he covered the keypad with his hand and pressed a button. A dash appeared on the display for the first digit.
“Cyrin, you’re going to do the same,” Dawn instructed.
Cyrin frowned, but they seemed to have figured out what she was doing. They blocked the keypad and chose their digit, and a second dash lit up.
Dawn scanned the group. “Kasumi, you’re going next, then Mireya.”
Kasumi shuffled forward, hiding the number she chose from view. When she stepped back, Mireya bit her lip as she stared at the keypad. She didn’t want to seal away the First Spell, but the alternative seemed to be running off into the night with it— something that wasn’t below her, but she wasn’t feeling it tonight. With extreme reluctance, she moved in front of the keypad and pressed the button for the number one.
The safe whirred and beeped pleasantly, displaying the cLoSed message.
“The two of you have two digits of the code,” Dawn said to her and Cyrin. “Two of us have the other two, so no one knows the full code. That means no one can go rogue and open it before we discuss, and that we can only unlock it together.”
“Are we really going to come to a decision?” Kaja asked skeptically.
“We don’t have much of a choice but to anymore,” Dawn said. “Not if anyone wants to leave with it. Now, let’s get back to our suite and get some sleep. We’re already tired enough of each other on top of just being tired.”
Mireya wanted to throw another bitter remark at them, but instead, she clenched her jaw shut and followed the group into the lobby. The elevator ride up was silent and charged with resentment.
A soft buzzing on her nightstand woke Mireya up the next morning. She rubbed her eyes and reached over for her communicator, brushing the hair from her face so the scanner could identify her. After it unlocked, she had to blink a few times before she could read Cyrin’s message.
meet me in the lobby, sleepyhead
gotta do my hair first but i’ll be there
see you in five years then
She snorted and slipped the device around her wrist before getting up.
Mireya flicked the light on so she could get ready. Her experience at this hotel was soured by knowing it was the Heirs’ suite, but it really was a good room. The wall color was metallic bronze, which was a little strange, but the rest of the furniture and décor was in rich copper or brilliant rose gold, making everything around her shine. She picked up a change of clothes from her suitcase and got ready in a few minutes, most of which was spent arranging her hair into a pair of buns with the help of a brassy mirror.
As soon as she pushed the door to her room open and saw the long hallway with the Heirs’ rooms ahead of her, everything about the night before came back to her. The realization, the shock, the strange sense of hurt betrayal that she hadn’t been able to shake. Mireya grimaced and hurried down the hall.
She didn’t find herself passing anyone on her way to the elevator, which brought her some strange relief. She pressed the button, thinking about that for a few moments. Maybe Dawn was right. Maybe she did need time to cool off.
The doors opened with a soft ding, and she stepped in.
When she got down to the lobby, she spotted Cyrin leaning against a newspaper stand by the doors, flipping a coin deftly from hand to hand. He always tried to linger near the exits when he could, she knew, in true escape artist fashion, and he looked for the unexpected ones too. Mireya had learned a lot about him in their time together as a team, but she hadn’t yet figured out why he prided himself so much on being able to get out of any situation, no matter how unlikely. It was starting to look less like a skill to be honed and more like a compulsion to her.
“No sunglasses?” she asked as she walked up to him. “You wore them when we were here a few days ago, and I thought you liked being anonymous.”
“I thought about it,” Cyrin said, tucking the coin away. “But it’s cloudy out, and I would rather be seen for who I am than as an idiot.”
“Like those two things don’t match.”
Cyrin shook his head at himself. “I walked right into that one.”
“I could grab them, if you don’t want to head up there again,” Mireya offered, more seriously. “You could change your mind once we’re out.”
That made Cyrin scowl faintly. “This is my home city. I shouldn’t have to hide my face here.”
She’d said something wrong, and they were right. It wasn’t a huge deal anyway. “No, you shouldn’t,” she said, grimacing internally at herself. “Let’s head out. Grab a newspaper.”
Cyrin took one off the top of the pile as they stepped out the doors. The hotel was located on the Taeveni Courtyard, Mireya’s favorite landmark in Storm City. In the center of the cobblestone square, a statue of the Taeveni— or as Aphirans knew it, a thunderbird— towered above its fountain, wings unfurled as it clutched a storm cloud in its talons. Its curved beak was open, like the creature had turned to stone mid-screech.
Mireya always felt a flood of love for her city rushing over her every time she returned. The alpine air was the same as Crystal City’s, but she preferred Storm City’s weathered, unyielding curves of stone to the cutting edges of glass slicing at the sky. The city screamed of its history instead of its progress. She liked being somewhere that remembered itself, no matter how much of its past had been stolen.
That morning, the courtyard had an open market, with rows of stands lining the edges. Mireya smelled spices and honey, and she spotted the stand it was coming from, pointing it out to Cyrin. “We should get mulled wine,” she suggested. “I think it’s a good time for that.”
“You say that every time we’re here,” Cyrin said, but they were already walking that way.
“It’s always time for mulled wine.”
They each got their own drink, paying a deposit to take the reusable glasses, and went to take a seat on the rim of the fountain. Cyrin laid out the newspaper over the stone. They raised an eyebrow as they pointed out the headline to her: Alleged Discovery of the First Spell Prompts Archeological Digs in the West and South.
Mireya shook her head. “Of course they’re assuming it’s an Aphiran artifact and not a Ren one. They’ll look everywhere before they look here.”
Cyrin raised their glass in a mock toast. “It works out for us getting away with it, doesn’t it? If you think about it, it’s just karma. Revenge is a dish served cold, and it’s had about five centuries to chill.”
Mireya grinned, and she saw them smirk too, but their expression looked weary. Cyrin usually held themself like they were sitting for a portrait at all times, poised and elegant, but they seemed to be giving up on that today. Their hand holding the glass was limp, and their shoulders were slumped. Everything pointed to them being exhausted.
“How’d you sleep?” she asked. “Was it fancy enough for you?”
Cyrin rolled his eyes amusedly. “I don’t have a fanciness quota to meet before I can fall asleep somewhere, despite what you’d expect, but it was fine, except that I woke up too early.” A gust of wind blew past, and he ran a hand back through his hair to keep it out of his face, pausing for a few moments. Mireya thought he might explain the reason he’d woken up, but instead he let out a long breath and added, “My room is teal.”
“Teal?” Mireya repeated. “Like it was in their hotel in Crystal City?”
Cyrin nodded. “Exactly.” His finger ran over the newspaper at his side distractedly, highlighting random passages. “Teal was the House of Justice’s color. That room used to host the Heirs from that House.”
“Oh,” Mireya said with surprise, then she quickly added, “My room’s in bronze. It must have been for the House of Wisdom.”
“I bet they’ve hardly seen any visitors since those Houses fell, only housekeeping to keep the dust off.” Cyrin took a sip from his glass.
Mireya glanced at the newspaper, which was fluttering in the wind. “I wonder what they thought when they realized they’d have to let us stay there. If they have guests, it’s probably not usually people like us.”
Cyrin was staring at the cobblestone under their feet, and she wasn’t sure they’d say anything, but they looked up at her again. Their gaze was stormy.
“I didn’t think the five of them were bad people,” they said. “Maybe they aren’t, outside of being Heirs. But we can’t support the Houses.” Their voice was quiet, but it surprised Mireya to hear faint anger under their words.
“I know,” Mireya said. “We can’t.”
Cyrin took a deep breath. “I know they’re not the same people as who we oppose them for, but the Houses— the Heirs still carry that legacy with them. They choose to live with it. They aren’t the battlemage or the people who planned the Fading, but that’s where they get their power from. They profit from the price that so many had to pay for them.”
“Not the battlemage,” Mireya corrected them. “The Butterfly.” Her heart still had another name for him. Dante.
Cyrin blinked, a shadow falling over their face. “Why are you commenting on that, of all the things that I just said?”
They didn’t understand. For a moment, Mireya wished she could get them to, just so Dante might be remembered with the mercy he deserved. But Cyrin didn’t know Dante, didn’t even know she’d known him. Right now, she knew she looked too sympathetic towards someone who had started a long line of hurt, and Cyrin was one of those who had been tangled up in it. She couldn’t defend her old friend’s name without alienating her closest one today.
“Sorry,” she said, washing down the bitter taste in her mouth with a sip of her wine. “It’s an old habit.”
Cyrin took a few seconds to nod. “It’s fine.”
“What should we do with them?” Mireya asked, keeping her voice soft so it would be less obvious she was trying to change the subject. “Seems like neither of us are very happy with how things are now. How many ways of opening the safe have you thought of already?”
“Five,” Cyrin said right away. “No, six. There’s a seventh way too, I guess, but it’s not master thief behavior to drop it off the roof and hope it cracks open.”
Mireya snorted, wanting to ask about them all. “I doubt we’d be welcome any longer if we did any of them, though.”
“True. That wouldn’t matter, unless…” Cyrin paused. “Do you think we should hear them out?”
“Could it hurt?” Mireya asked. “No matter what, I want us to get that artifact back, with honest methods or not. If we’re talking with them and it looks like we can get out of this in a way we want without too many hard feelings, there’s no sense in making unnecessary enemies. If it doesn’t look that way, I vote we say yes to whatever we need to, then steal it back once they’ve left with it, like we first planned."
“Works for me.”
The two of them clinked their glasses.
“Although I know it’s because you’re feeling bad about the double-crossing.” Cyrin pointed at her with a teasing smirk.
“Um, no, you’re getting soft and projecting onto me,” Mireya protested. “Nice try.”
She knew exactly what he was talking about, though. She’d found herself genuinely enjoying the time spent with the Heirs at points, and it had caused her to almost regret the way their adventure together would have to end. Especially with Dawn. The reveal of their identities should have wiped out that regret, but she wasn’t sure that it had.
“I know better than to,” Cyrin said with a smirk, but it was late getting to his face. He cleared his throat. “Anyway, I was thinking I should stop by the Hall of Saints, pay Saint Feyven a visit. We missed it last time we were here.”
“That’s a good idea,” Mireya agreed. “I think you promised them a prayer.”
“I did, and I’m not in the business of disappointing Saints. Do you want to come along?”
“Sure. I’ll make the walk with you, but I’ll wait outside.”
Cyrin nodded, and they stood up together, finishing the last of their mulled wine. Mireya hurried to the stand to return their glasses and get their deposits back. When she came back, she placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. “There could be time if you wanted to see your family, too,” she said softly. “It’s a short train ride from this part of the city to the Prism.”
She wanted to leave him the option, but she knew what he’d say, even before the look in his eyes got distant. “I haven’t put in a six-month notice,” he joked, but she could tell his heart wasn’t in it. “I don’t think we have any weddings or funerals coming up either.”
Mireya hoped her smile didn’t look too forced. “Too bad for them,” she said, emphasizing the last word.
It was only the slightest amount, but she saw Cyrin’s expression lighten. “Come on,” they said, nudging her gently. “I’ve missed the place.”