A few more minutes passed in a claustrophobic haze until Shane felt the car come to a stop. The driver turned around in his seat as the four of them opened the doors and stepped out. “Best of luck,” he said encouragingly.
“Thank you,” Dawn replied, closing the doors behind them. “And sorry for the bother.” Kasumi had the grace to stay quiet even though it was clear who she meant.
Shane got to admire the City Hall as much as he wanted on their walk up the marble steps. It was one of the few traditional buildings left on the Boulevard of the Flares, and he’d been very glad when the vote to remodel it in a more modern style had failed. He couldn’t imagine someone tearing down these mighty pillars and walls only to replace it with something reminiscent of an office park. Maybe he did care about architecture too.
The guards at the entrance bowed their heads when they stepped through, and Shane returned the acknowledgement with a nod. He finally had the chance to read that the name on their bodyguard’s badge was Favia when she took the front and led the way. Their footsteps, especially Kasumi’s heels, echoed on the mosaic flooring as Favia took them down hallways lined with paintings and sculptures, most of which were the portraits and busts of previous mayors. She stopped when they reached a set of white double doors, putting one hand on a doorknob. “I heard the mayor’s ready for you, so you can just go in,” she told them as she opened one door.
Shane was sure of that. They were almost a full twenty minutes late.
The only person sitting at the meeting table for six glanced up from his communicator when the three of them entered, and a polite smile came to his face as he stood. “My esteemed Heirs,” he said welcomingly.
“Mayor Skender,” Dawn greeted him as she shook his hand first. Shane gave the mayor a perfect diplomatic smile when they shook.
“Please, sit,” the mayor urged them as he took his spot again. Shane pulled out a chair, and he was once more in between Kasumi and Dawn. “I’m aware we’re missing two, but I think we can make the best of it.”
“We’ll fill them in when they get here later,” Kasumi said, with a glance at the two seats that remained empty.
Mayor Skender nodded, shuffling through his stack of papers before pulling a heavily annotated one from it. “I’m afraid there’s been much to report, and although I hate to have a negative briefing, most of it is not good news.”
Shane had been expecting that, but he still had to suppress a sigh. “Start with the general changes, please.”
The mayor took a deep breath before reading from the file. “According to our police, magic-related crime is currently the crime increasing the fastest, with a 17% percent rise since you last visited here.”
Kasumi frowned. “But that was only two seasons ago, and you said it was the highest it had ever been?”
“That was at the time,” Mayor Skender said with a dismal shake of his head. “Now we’ve hit a new record. Since that summer, we’ve had several extreme examples of anarchist displays, and more and more of them are starting to use magic. It seems the two things that we’ve had the hardest time controlling are coming together to create something that’s entirely out of our ability to stop.”
Shane’s fingers tapped the table. “What’s one of those examples?”
The mayor pulled out a different paper from the pile. “On the Forty-First Day of Fall this year, a team of four Minor Mages showed up in front of a police station, just before the workday was supposed to start. Together, they cast a Concealment spell over the entire building. While it lasted, there appeared to be just empty space on a street where it had been, like nothing had ever been constructed there. No one could enter because they couldn’t find the doors.”
Shane nearly spluttered. “Four people managed to hide an entire building?”
“I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone using Concealment that way,” Dawn said slowly.
“That’s not all those four mages managed to do,” Mayor Skender said, glancing up from the file with a grave look. “It wore off fast, as that spell tends to, but they had a good couple minutes with it. People soon started moving away from the invisible building, claiming there was something wrong with the air, and it became evident what the problem was when it reappeared. The police station had been set on fire using Flare, and although it hadn’t been going long enough to damage much of the building, no one had seen it as long as the spell lasted.”
Shane leaned back in his seat. “So, not only did they create magic powerful enough to make a large building go invisible…”
“But they also managed to set it alight and hide that, smoke and flames, from view too,” Mayor Skender finished for him. “It’s out of control.”
He rubbed his face, shoulders heaving in a silent sigh. Kasumi’s face had settled into a deep scowl, while Dawn was resting her chin in her hands, lost in thought. If they were here to make plans as well, he would be the one expected to make the suggestions, but he was feeling more like getting up and walking away from this talk.
“I take it none of you had already heard of that specific occurrence,” Mayor Skender concluded.
“No,” Kasumi said. “It would be your job to inform us.”
The mayor nodded. “That’s fair—”
“And right now, I’m not liking that much what I’m seeing about you doing your job,” Kasumi continued, her voice relaxed. “Crime doesn’t just increase on its own. It increases when authorities regularly fail to enforce laws, and then suddenly it doesn’t take a master culprit to get away with something. Everyone can commit anarchy if the police are useless enough.”
Mayor Skender sat up straighter, adjusting the lapels of his suit. “Our police force is quite capable, I assure you. They’ve just been overwhelmed by this wave of disobedience and rioting, like everything else in this city, and they consider it their top priority.”
“Then they can’t keep up fast enough, and that makes them useless,” Kasumi said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear with perfect calm. Shane exchanged a look with Dawn. They’d both seen this many times with her, where she would dig into someone without showing any of her frustration or acknowledging the threatening nature of her words. Gracious insulting, as Leilan called it. Kaja’s way of talking, in comparison, was regular insulting. “That doesn’t look good on you.”
“What I think she means to say is that it’s a little disappointing to see that things have gotten worse, not better, in the time since we were last here,” Dawn cut in with, when the mayor’s eyes widened slightly.
Shane was sure that Kasumi had meant exactly what she had said, but he nodded. “We’re here to learn more about the problems that need solving, and it seems there’s more than there were to begin with. Currently, it is your responsibility, even if it is a lot to manage.”
Mayor Skender sighed. “I apologize. May we carry on?”
He didn’t want to stay in this meeting, if he was being honest. The more information he received here, the more of it was his responsibility. But Dawn was already attentively listening again, and Kasumi was back to being silent, so he definitely had to take the higher road. Shane nodded, with only a slight glance at his communicator to check the time, before he agreed. “Let’s move on.”
Kasumi wasn’t the type to stomp, but she walked several steps ahead from the group with more force than was necessary when they emerged from the meeting room. Favia glanced at Shane while they followed, and he shrugged, too tired to explain. Dawn looked calm, giving smiles to anyone they passed on their way out, but he could tell she was worn out too by the way her shoulders slumped slightly.
“I never thought a city could be so incompetently run,” Kasumi muttered as soon as they’d left the building and were out of earshot. “No one knows what they’re doing and at the higher levels, everyone’s failing at their job.”
“We can at least figure out something with Kaja and Leilan from what we know,” Dawn said, catching up to her. “Their plane’s probably landed by now, so we should see them by the time we get back.”
Kasumi glanced at Favia. “Where’s the car?”
The bodyguard checked her communicator, pausing as she read from it. “I know this will be frustrating, miss, but it actually went to pick the other two up.”
Kasumi scoffed. “Unbelievable.”
“Why don’t we just walk?” Shane suggested. He didn’t want to worsen the mood any further, or be stuck in another car. “It would have taken about the same time to walk as we spent waiting to get here, and we don’t need to call another car.”
“Good idea,” Dawn agreed, and Favia nodded.
Kasumi sighed. “I guess I can do it in heels.”
They finished walking down the steps and reached the sidewalk again. Boulevard of the Flares was the first step on their way back, and Shane noticed there was a difference from last time he was here. It took him a moment to realize what that difference actually was. The iconic magic lanterns and lights still hung on the sides of the road, and the crowd looked as lively as he’d always seen it, but the echoes of disorder were clear. Graffiti covered the front of an office building’s door; a business had all their windows papered up. Two police officers stood by a bench, having to glance around frequently to keep an eye on everything, like a riot could break out at any moment.
Maybe it could. Shane wouldn’t be so surprised if it did.