It was indeed a long time until Mireya returned from her walk— or maybe it had been a sulk. Shane wasn’t sure. The heat got fixed sometime that afternoon, but it was several hours into the night before the elevator dinged and Mireya stepped through the opening doors, looking strangely composed. He wondered what that would mean for their argument— no, their agreement.
No one summoned the group of seven to the living room, but they all drifted there within a few minutes of each other with some silent understanding that it was time to discuss what they’d been thinking about for the last twenty-four hours. Shane felt safest next to Leilan, who had thoughtfully left him a space on the once-full couch. As expected, Mireya and Cyrin sat side by side, separate from the rest of the Heirs. The fireplace crackled in the first moments of silence.
“So,” Dawn said softly, at last. “I think everyone needs to be open with their vision for the First Spell. We just might have a few ambitions in common, but we also need to see where we’re divided over them. That’s the first step.”
“Are we going to go around in a circle and share our feelings?” Kaja asked. “That’s childish.”
Shane could already feel a headache starting as Leilan gave her a tired look. “What’s childish is not considering other people’s feelings just to be selfish. We’re going to act like adults here.”
“I would hope so,” Kaja said. “But Kasumi has literally brought a juice box to this conversation.”
Kasumi narrowed her eyes as she slurped from her straw, pulling the juice box closer to herself defensively. “You leave my orange juice out of this.”
Mireya heaved a sigh. “I’ll share.” She leaned back, her expression blank except for the challenge in her eyes. “I know the Houses see magic as a threat. They know its uses are varied, but it looks like more and more of a weapon in the hands of their opponents, and it scares them. Even if they—” She paused. “Even if you could find a way to manipulate the magic supply by creating and destroying it to only give it to the law-abiding, and I don’t think you can, is that still fair?”
“Can you give an example of why it wouldn’t be?” Dawn asked, sounding curious rather than confrontational.
Mireya nodded. “Let’s take Cyrin. He’s a Minor Mage involved in the activities of the Arcade, which is not only a center of crime but of anarchy too. He’s exactly who you’d hope to target with an enforced blanket ban of criminal magic use, in short. Yesterday night, he used magic to rob a museum, which was illegal. No judgment, of course.”
Cyrin snorted. “I think everyone in this room is pretty happy that I did. I don’t feel all that judged.”
Mireya rolled her eyes, almost playfully. “Two days before that, he used magic to contain a spell that would have unleashed a fiery earthquake in downtown Crystal City, which prevented untold damage and casualties. What if his hands were tied? What if he didn’t have the magic he would need to act with?”
There were a few moments of thoughtful silence. Shane found himself barely nodding.
“But if the person who made that spell didn’t have access to magic either, the threat wouldn’t have existed in the first place,” Kasumi said slowly, like she knew it was a good argument and was reluctant to refute it. “For all the good uses it has, magic is the largest enabler of crime that Aphirah has.”
“You rely a lot on the good ones,” Cyrin said. “Hospitals save lives with Salve. Flare provides power to some of our cities. The planes we flew here on used Force to help their engines. When the First Spell was created to stabilize magic, it did so by concentrating its supply in the world’s mountains and hills and controlling its power and purity, making it more reliable for humans to use. Even if you could avoid getting rid of magic entirely for a blanket ban and found a way to only leave magic accessible to these uses, why would you use the First Spell for the very opposite thing it was meant to do?”
“The First Spell is a tool,” Kaja said flatly. “It can do a lot of things, even things it wasn’t meant for.”
“Well, so can magic.”
Shane didn’t even realize he’d spoken the thought aloud until six pairs of eyes were on him. He resisted the urge to squirm under the attention— he’d been hoping to get away without saying very much.
“Go on,” Leilan encouraged him.
“Okay. Well.” Shane cleared his throat awkwardly, his pulse fluttering as he swallowed. “Magic is a natural resource. A material, almost. It becomes whatever humans make of it, using their creativity. Of course it’s going to have good and bad uses, because people will have thought of both. But we don’t fault metal for being made into bullets. If we did, we wouldn’t put it in our wedding rings.”
He hoped there was one of those hospitals with Salve nearby. Being watched this closely made him feel five seconds away from a heart attack.
“That’s what this debate sounds like, really. If we grabbed the wrong magic scroll and it could do anything with the world’s supply of metal, I don’t think we’d be talking about eradicating it.” Shane shifted in his seat. “There’s so much else we can do. The possibilities really might be limitless. What could we do instead?”
The silence went on for long enough that he wondered if he was going to have to say it all again, and that might have been too much, but then Leilan cleared his throat.
“There’s something I talked about with Dawn, when we were first wondering if we should try to hire you both,” he said. “A conversation about what we’d even use it for. My ideas won’t match the ones of the Houses, but— we were thinking it could be used to seal up the Tremor rift in Amber City.”
Cyrin hesitated before speaking. “That’s in line with what we’d probably do too. We’d get rid of the Fading and magic poisoning too.”
“But like you said, the Houses aren’t going to do that,” Mireya cut in. “Or if they do, it’ll only be through getting rid of most magic.”
“The Houses don’t want any of those things to exist,” Dawn said. “Maybe it’s not their priority, but…”
“I’m a little hesitant to believe it,” Cyrin said. “Given that the Houses created and weaponized the Fading against the Ren to force them to surrender their lands and magic, and five hundred years later, it’s still around and we’re still the only ones who can get it.”
Mireya bit her lip and nodded.
“They can be our priority,” Leilan said. “They should be, in fact.”
“I have a suggestion that I’m not sure anyone’s going to like,” Shane said.
“Well, you’ll say it anyway,” Kaja muttered.
Shane did a good job of ignoring her this time. “What if the five of us didn’t share it with the Houses?”
Silence after his contributions was becoming the theme.
“How so?” Mireya asked.
“We’re not the same as the Houses,” Shane said, glancing at Cyrin as he spoke. “We do exist separate from them. Our loyalties are supposed to lie close to them, but our values can’t match up exactly. If we don’t think we can fully trust them with the First Spell, then why hand it over to them at all? Why don’t the seven of us figure it out?”
Kasumi sighed. “I don’t dislike it, actually. What’s a little more treason, anyway?”
“Kind of insignificant at this point, honestly,” Dawn said. “I’m in.”
Shane looked between Cyrin and Mireya. “I know you aren’t perfectly trusting of us, but I think you prefer us to the Houses. If we’re better at all, this is a lot safer than the alternative.”
The mercenaries exchanged glances.
“We do prefer you,” Cyrin said.
Mireya’s stare was hard as it passed over each of them. “Would you really leave them out of this? All of you?”
The Heirs all nodded with different timings— Kaja’s was the latest, but it was a full nod.
“If we’re all comfortable with this, we can take it out of the safe and reunite up here to figure out how it works, use it on whatever we can agree on, settle the deal, and end our oaths,” Leilan said cautiously. He stood up. “I’m ready to go downstairs.”
Kasumi got to her feet a moment later. Mireya and Cyrin stood as one.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Shane climbed out of his seat to call the elevator for them. “I feel like this is historic,” he said, with a nervous chuckle. “Reaching this kind of compromise.”
“Yes, we know you’ve always wanted to see something like that,” Kasumi told him. “Hopefully the next few minutes are grander. Changing the world doesn’t happen every day.”