Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
After they had walked over and Cyrin had slipped inside the monument, Mireya loitered outside the Hall. The wind had picked up, and scarves were fluttering in the wind, waving like flags in the sea of people moving by. Mireya could barely make out the writing on a rippling poster taped to a lamppost, warning about the risks of magic poisoning and how to prevent it. The poster was a common sight in Crystal City or the Arcade, but she’d never seen one of those anywhere in the North before. Magic poisoning was caused by low-quality Salve magic getting trapped in the body of the person it was meant to heal, and it was both untreatable and fatal, but it was so rare in Renvara where magic was of good quality. She supposed that people could be budgeting with cheaper magic to save for higher costs of living, or maybe there was local magic scarcity— things that wouldn’t have been a concern for the area before.
Before. She was thinking of things far in the past as if they’d changed with the last season.
She surveyed the outside of the Hall, starting to wander from the entrance a bit. The inside was filled with art— painting, murals, and sculptures of Saints—but the entire building was a masterpiece in its own right. Silver pinnacles stretched from the sloped roof, while the walls were studded with elaborate window openings carved from the stone. The massive double doors were open wide to welcome the visitors. Most of them were tourists, Mireya knew. Few people made the active choice to follow a Saint anymore— largely because it was an active choice, a commitment to self-improvement with a role model to act as a guide down a path of an aspired value, where the follower chose their Saint based on what they were the patron of.
At first, it had surprised her that Cyrin could reconcile that commitment with a lawless career, but it had made more sense to her once she figured out that being a mercenary was probably his largest reason for it. He clung to guilt too hard, and this was his way of making it a lifesaver instead of an anchor. Mireya knew him to be good enough of a person already that he didn’t need to worry about staying afloat in a sea of personal failures, but he worried too much about rising waters. She didn’t blame him. Some actions felt like floods.
She was snapped out of her thoughts by a bony hand squeezing her shoulder from behind, nails digging into her skin.
It took everything in her not to react by reaching out to the nearest power source and shocking the person touching her. Instead, she spun around, trying to remove the hand, but it only clenched her tighter. For such a frail hand, it had a remarkably strong grip.
The woman holding her was elderly, in her seventies or maybe even her eighties, was about Mireya’s height, and was also Ren. There was a fervor in her wide, dark eyes, and Mireya flinched at seeing it focused on her. The woman shook her shoulder, her nails now painfully pinning her in place.
“You are the Saint?” she rasped, and it was difficult to tell whether she really meant it as a question or not.
“No— no,” Mireya stuttered, stepping back and hoping to get free. It didn’t work. “I’m not a Saint at all, sorry.”
“You are,” the woman insisted, her cracked voice turning the words into something like a growl. Mireya flinched again. “You look just like her. We’ve all seen the art.”
“I hear that a lot,” Mireya pleaded, prying the woman’s fingers away one by one. “I get the misunderstanding, I really do, but you’ve got the wrong person. She’s dead, in fact.”
“She doesn’t die,” the woman hissed, and Mireya recognized what the fervor in her eyes meant. It was desperation. This woman needed a savior. “Not Mireya Kaltrina, the Spark, patron saint of harbingers. The world needs her, at all times. Where have you been?” Her voice grew angrier. “Where have you been?”
Mireya stumbled back, breaking free from her vise-like grip and immediately bumping into someone in the crowd. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled, not because of the collision. “I’m sorry.”
She turned and pushed her way through the crowd, running as soon as she had the space to.
She knew the woman wouldn’t be able to catch up, and there wasn’t anyone following her, but she couldn’t slow down. It wasn’t a person without hope chasing after her. No, it was all she’d left behind, and that was far harder to outrun. All this talk of Cyrin needing sunglasses and she’d forgotten that maybe she needed them more.
Mireya looped the Hall, coming back to the main entrance. Cyrin was standing outside the doors, scanning the crowd and frowning until he saw her. “Are you—” he started to ask.
“Just follow me.” She dashed past him.
Cyrin slipped behind her. “Why are you in a hurry? What’s going on?”
“I’m not in a hurry, you’re just moving with the metronome of a drowsy snail.”
“Okay, rude,” he muttered, but he caught up to her side and stayed with her.
They went all the way back to the Taeveni Courtyard before Mireya allowed herself to slow, stopping at the fountain once more. Cyrin watched her silently as she composed herself, his eyebrows raised expectantly, but his expression was without judgment. In fact, she could read concern in his gaze as he waited to make sure she was fine.
“Sorry,” she said at last, her words slightly breathless. “I had to get away from someone.”
Cyrin immediately switched to speaking in Ren— which was a little less secretive than it usually was because of their location, but it was still safer. “Police?”
His forehead creased. “Sparrow?” It sounded so strange and wrong, to hear the name of their enemy spoken as the word for the bird in her native language. She almost wanted to tell him to keep it out of his mouth when speaking in it.
Mireya shook her head. “No. Someone who hasn’t lost faith yet.”
As Cyrin hesitated, she wondered if he was having trouble translating her words. It was possible, because he wasn’t a native speaker, but she was near certain he knew every word she’d used. As realization spread over his face, however, it dawned on her that he’d been translating her meaning instead.
“Come here,” he said finally, speaking in Aphiran again as he moved to the fountain again and motioned for her to sit next to him. “We can take as long as you need.”
Mireya let out a deep breath, and she let her head fall on their shoulder. They put an arm around her in a side hug, and she felt some of the tension leaving her body and easing into comfort. It wouldn’t be right to be here without them by her side, she realized. She couldn’t imagine doing this job with anyone else.
“I love you,” she said in Ren quietly, easing closer to them.
She saw Cyrin smile slightly, and they rubbed her back comfortingly. “I love you, too,” they said, responding in Aphiran. She’d never heard them say it in Ren— one day, she might ask why. “What can I be doing for you?”
Mireya shook her head. “I’m okay, I promise. Just—” She shrugged, a little helplessly. “I forget sometimes, who I’m supposed to be. Who I’m not.”
Cyrin nodded, his gaze falling to the cobblestones briefly. “Yeah,” he said, his voice distant. “But that kind of thinking gets treacherous, doesn’t it? If I were who I was supposed to be, I’d have stayed in university, gotten a business degree like my family wanted—”
“And then entered your family’s pharmaceutical business, profiting off people like Autumn,” Mireya finished. “People you want to save.”
“Exactly,” Cyrin said. “I’m not sure where I’m at instead is the best place, exactly, but I’m glad that I didn’t turn out like that. I couldn’t be your eternal annoyer if I had.”
Mireya snorted. “You are kind of insufferable. Especially when you’re right.”
Cyrin grinned. “Am I right about this?”
Mireya tried to punch him in the shoulder, but he dodged like he’d known it was coming, dropping his hand in the fountain behind them to fling water at her. She shrieked with indignation and joy, splashing him in return until he had to face away, both of them laughing.
“Anyway—” Cyrin broke off laughing again as she flung the last of the water on her hands at him, and he shook his head in amusement and wiped his face. “I can’t call Autumn, because it’s night hours at her hospital with the time difference, but Clarity’s always up at this time, and I told her I would call her while we were here. Do you want to join in on that?”
Mireya almost wasn’t sure if she did want to. Almost. That last night with Clarity still stung a bit, and she knew Cyrin made a lot of allowances for her. She was in a good enough mood at the moment, though, and she knew she wouldn’t feel better by giving her friend the silent treatment. “That’s a good idea. Video call?”
“So we can show off the scenery? Definitely.” Cyrin tapped their communicator, letting a Projection appear above their wrist as they started a call.
Clarity took a few moments to answer, as usual, before she appeared at her coffee table. The faint glow of her fireplace lit the wall behind her. “Here!” Her voice was still somewhat distracted, like she’d been busy at the moment Cyrin called.
Cyrin smiled. “You’re still working on that surprise thing, aren’t you?”
Clarity’s gaze flitted to the side, and she moved her hand off-screen. There was the sharp click of a MagicBox being snapped shut. “Nope,” she said unconvincingly.
“Of course,” Cyrin said, his tone knowing.
“What is this surprise, and why don’t I know about it?” Mireya demanded with mock offense.
“To be fair, I don’t actually know about it either,” Cyrin commented.
“You both don’t understand surprises, don’t you?” Clarity snorted. “It’ll be here when you get back. How’s it going over there?”
Cyrin and Mireya exchanged glances, and she knew they were both thinking that they couldn’t share very much out in public like this.
“Well, we got what we were here for,” Mireya said. “The rest of it isn’t so fun.”
“Have you—” Clarity pantomimed snatching an item and scurrying off with it. “—yet?”
“Not yet,” Mireya said. “It’s in a safe, because apparently we have to talk about what to do with it before anyone can leave with it.”
Clarity clicked her tongue. “There’s fighting?”
“You could say that,” Cyrin said. “We’ll be leaving with it one way or another, though.”
“Good. I really cannot wait to see it.”
“There’s something else you might want to see, Clarity,” Mireya said, reaching into a pocket of her coat. “I mean, you might not, but I’d like you to take a look at it.” She held up the device Kaja had found.
Cyrin blinked. “What is that? Where did you find it?”
“I think it’s a battery cell,” Mireya said. “We found it— where we went looking for the other thing.”
“Interesting,” Clarity said, leaning forward. “A battery? I could see it.”
“One of our clients suggested it was a power source for a new spaceship,” Mireya said. “Optimally small, lots of power to keep something running, probably either has a way of recharging or there’s lots of them. What do you think of that?”
Clarity snorted. “New spaceship? I’m not a rocket scientist, but we’ve had batteries that small for a long time.”
“A long time?” Cyrin asked. “How long?”
“Like, literally hundreds of years. If it were new, it would be a prototype that’s smaller, but just as powerful,” Clarity said. “We’ve gotten a lot better with that technology.”
Mireya felt dizzy with how fast her head was spinning. The astronaut in the Arcade. This device had reminded her of that one, but whatever he’d picked up had been smaller, slimmer. She’d been sure of it.
“It could be from the spacewreck,” Clarity mused. “That mission started five hundred-ish years ago, didn’t it? But it would’ve had to be taken from its crash site, and that’s kept pretty secret.” She shook her head fiercely. “Sorry, I’m thinking out loud. Can I have a look at it when you get back?”
“Of course,” Mireya managed to say, tucking the battery in her pocket. Cyrin was giving her a very strange look, and she had to pretend not to see it. “You’ll see this and the other thing too.”
“And when we see you, we could support you for a bit,” Cyrin added. A strange hope filled their voice. “I mean, I’m not going to know what to do with my cut, it’s that much. But you might be in need of a change. Don’t you want to get away from him?”
For a moment, Mireya swore she saw something like fear sweep over Clarity’s face, something like terror echo in the blue depths of her eyes. But it was gone so fast, and they were talking through a screen. She wasn’t sure she’d seen it properly.
“I’m okay,” Clarity said, smiling a moment later. “That’s generous of you, but I’m fine where I’m at. You work on getting that money, and I’ll stick to my work.”
“Okay,” Cyrin said. They were looking to the side now, so that neither Mireya nor Clarity could see their face fully. “We’ll see you soon.”
“Bye, Clarity,” Mireya said.
“Bye, both of you. Kick ass for me.” Clarity ended the call.
Cyrin slowly lowered their wrist, but they didn’t turn around until Mireya cleared her throat gently. “Do you feel like talking about that?”
“I don’t know,” Cyrin said. “Do you feel like talking about the battery?”
“I don’t know.”
Cyrin nodded, standing up after a moment. “We’ll figure both of them out,” they said, looking back at the hotel and pulling their jacket tighter. “I’ve cooled off enough to head back up, literally and figuratively. What about you?”
“I’ll stay out here a little longer,” Mireya said. “Until I get cold enough.”
“See you in five years then?” Cyrin joked.
She let out a huff of laughter that clouded the air, waving him back towards the hotel. “Go find a fireplace. I’ll be out here with my actual tolerance for the cold.”
A smirk flitted over their lips. “Enjoy the weather, then,” they said, slowly walking backwards so that she could catch the spark in their eyes.
“Said no one ever in Storm City,” she joked back, and with a laugh, Cyrin turned around and slipped through the automatic doors.