Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for mature content.
Cyrin spent the elevator ride staring blankly ahead at the buttons for the hotel floors until they blurred into nonexistent numbers in his vision. There it was again, that urge to escape, to bolt for the nearest exit, but he felt trapped and the sealed doors weren’t helping. He felt frozen to the ground, like if he just stood still enough, the threat would simply pass him by. But that wouldn’t happen. He might be getting farther from the suite with every passing moment, but he’d have to go right back, and he’d still have his problem.
He really should have been anticipating Shane Hawking from the moment he’d heard about the Heirs— he’d already known his first name, for Saints’ sake. If he had anticipated it, maybe he wouldn’t feel panic pinning him down like this now.
He heard a soft ding an unknown amount of time later, but he didn’t register it was for the elevator until he saw Mireya, Kasumi and Leilan standing outside the open in the lobby, facing him concernedly. He hadn’t even seen the doors move. One moment they’d been traveling downward and the next they were already there, with him holding up the group.
“Is he angry?” Kasumi asked uncertainly. Her voice sounded muffled to his ears, and she wasn’t speaking to him. Dimly, he wondered if they’d tried getting his attention already. “He’s clenching his fists.”
“No, he’s not angry,” Mireya said. “That means he’s— it’s just— you can step out, Cyrin. It’s okay.”
Willing himself to move forward, Cyrin stepped out of the elevator, letting out a deep breath. He slowly unclenched his fists, raising his hands closer to his face. There were small crescent marks on his palms from the impression of his nails. “Sorry,” he murmured.
“You’re fine,” Leilan assured him. “When you’re ready, we’ll head to the reception.”
Cyrin nodded, blinking several times until their vision returned into focus. The lobby was entirely empty at this hour of the night, while the world clocks on the wall showed brighter times in Crystal City and Spark City. It was unsettling to hear only the rush of cars on the road and the ticking of time. They wouldn’t have guessed this hotel got that quiet.
“I’m alright,” they said, forcing conviction into their voice. “Let’s go.”
The four of them rounded a wall, expecting to see a lonely concierge at the front desk, bored on their night shift, but there was no one at the reception. All of them slowed to a stop when they saw it. Something was crawling at Cyrin’s senses.
“This isn’t right,” Leilan said. “I’ve been down here at many times of night. The lobby gets empty, but the hotel always has someone staffed here.”
“Maybe they’re on break?” Kasumi suggested. “We could wait until they get back, since we don’t have a key to the safe room.” She pointed to the door behind the desk.
“Wait,” Cyrin said, stretching out an arm to feel for whatever was invisibly tugging at their senses. It felt like magic, but weak magic, and they closed their eyes to concentrate.
“What is it?” Mireya asked.
Cyrin flicked their wrist to the side and back. “I’m sensing Concealment and Force,” they said quietly. “But it’s… a faded feeling. Old. Like it’s already been cast and used.”
Leilan’s gaze darted to him. “You’re detecting spells that aren’t active anymore?”
“I don’t know,” Cyrin said. “I think that’s what it means when the magic feels that way, like a remnant. Or an echo.” If they were concerned for him at the moment, he was not helping his case.
Mireya frowned, stepping towards the door. “If it seems like it’s gone, we should be—”
A new spell made Cyrin’s senses tingle again, and he caught her by the wrist, which caused his fingertips to spark. “There’s someone casting Force,” he hissed softly. “This is definitely happening right now. There’s probably a Concealed unconscious receptionist somewhere around here too.”
Everyone looked to the door to the safe room. It was closed, but he thought he saw a crack of light pouring out from underneath.
“We need to get in there, right now,” Kasumi said.
“Cyrin and I first,” Mireya said.
Cyrin rushed to the door, kicking it in. He could have just opened it normally, as it swung wide, unlocked. Inside the room, Pia and another person were standing in front of the safe they’d chosen for the First Spell. Pia had her hands spread, flinging the Force spell at the very battered-looking safe, and it shook violently as the door cracked open. He didn’t recognize the other person, and he didn’t seem to be a mage, but he had a utility belt carrying gadgets and devices—if they had to guess, they would say he had developed them himself. Their gazes snapped to him and Mireya as they stood in the doorway.
“What are you doing?” Mireya snapped, clapping her hands to summon power to them. The light in the room went out, and Cyrin felt the hairs on the back of their neck rise.
Pia grinned, her face barely visible in the darkness. “Sparrow’s collecting his dues.”
Cyrin reached for their knife as Mireya raised her hands, both about to strike, but they missed the other thief’s movement of tossing an item through the air until it had landed at their feet. A high-pitched hiss like a kettle’s whistle pierced their ears as a purple-tinted gas filled the air, blocking the projectile from view. Cyrin waved it away from their face, swinging the blade in front of them with their other hand, but the haze didn’t clear and they only struck empty air. They heard Mireya cough, and in their next breath they were too, choking. The air had gotten too thick.
Pia shouted something to the other thief about grabbing the scroll and covering his face, but her words were much harder to understand by the end of her sentence than when she’d started. Cyrin gasped for air, stumbling towards what he hoped was the safe, but he only slumped to his knees. His vision was blurry, his head was hurting with dizziness. He felt drowsier than he would have thought possible. This wasn’t just a smoke bomb.
Sparrow emerged from the gas, standing in front of him with a smirk that was somehow crystal clear in his sight even though the rest of him was hazy.
“No!” Cyrin shouted, but his cry came out strangled, and he doubled over coughing again.
Sparrow crouched down to be at his eye level. “Dying yet, my ghost?”
Cyrin swung at him as he lunged with the last of his energy, but there was nothing to hit. Only illusions and violet mist. He went tumbling forward into darkness as his tunnel vision swallowed him up.
Clarity’s room was cold, but her body was warm. They were laying across her bed, Cyrin’s arms around her waist, and he could feel the slight rise and fall of her breathing as he held her close. He pressed his lips to her neck, just above the flutter of her pulse so he could feel closer to her heart, and she snuggled against his chest with a soft sigh. He was familiar with the two of them like this, only half-dressed and so still and so quiet, a heavy and yet air-light haziness seeming to hang over them. He couldn’t remember what night this time was, not when they all blended together in his mind, but it didn’t matter. His mind wasn’t racing, for once. He couldn’t think of much at all.
This is how it was, he thought as he trailed his fingers over her arm. They hadn’t spent time like this, not since he’d started questioning the two of them and then found his answer. Cyrin hadn’t ever related to the idea of romance, and he’d more or less settled with the label of aromantic by the time he was in college, but Clarity had confused him, given him an extra period of doubt. He didn’t love her in the romantic way, he knew that now, might have even known it deep down at the time. But there was still that feeling, wiping the thoughts from his mind and replacing them with passion. So what was it?
Clarity shifted, burying her face against their shoulder, and Cyrin ran a hand through her long hair to keep it out of her face. Their gaze fell on the back of her neck as they cleared it, and— no. They weren’t remembering this part correctly.
“Clarity,” they whispered, leaning in to get a better look.
“Hmm?” She didn’t open her eyes, just tried to press closer to them. She looked perfectly calm, almost asleep.
“There’s something on the back of your neck.” It was a mark on her skin, possibly a tattoo, but it didn’t have the sheen of ink. The more they tried to focus on its shape, the more it blurred in their vision, like it didn’t want to be seen. Cyrin frowned, blinking rapidly as it settled for a moment. A… shield? Had they forgotten this somehow?
Clarity didn’t move, but she was silent for a long time. “It’s nothing,” she said finally. “There’s no need to worry.”
“I’ve never seen it before. How did you get—”
“Shhhh,” she said softly, almost as if she was bored of the question, gently pulling him back to her. She found his hand with hers, her fingers warm against the skin of his wrist. “Just relax. It’s all going to be fine.”
Cyrin was sure he had something more to say, but then she pressed her lips to his, and he didn’t mind forgetting it.