Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for violence and mature content.
Casper’s drunken laughter was louder than the party music as he closed the door behind the last of his guests. Cyrin watched him stumble back to the home bar and slam more shot glasses on the counter, turning the music down. “Now that it’s just the three of us, we should have another drink,” he said with a grin, already rummaging for another bottle of tequila. “Well, the first for you two.”
“It’s bad enough that you’re drinking with all of your friends right in front of Magnus,” Cyrin said firmly. “Stop trying to offer him some.”
Behind him, but just enough to his side that he would be able to see Casper, Magnus squeezed his hand. Cyrin squeezed back, giving him a look to make sure he was alright. His brother had been silent nearly all night, occasionally squeaking out single-word answers to drunk party guests who were too enthusiastic over meeting the youngest Bridger. Cyrin had spent the event guarding him like a hawk, driving off anyone who made him uncomfortable. He wished he’d had an excuse to leave and take Magnus with him, or even just a way to, but he had neither. Camilla had had an allergic reaction to an appetizer and Allison had taken his car to get her to the emergency room.
Casper rolled his eyes as he poured himself a shot. “I know you think you’re great for trying to get sober, but you’re killing the mood on my birthday.” He threw the glass back. “What’s the problem, anyway? He’s like, twelve, right?”
“Seven,” Magnus mumbled, hiding behind Cyrin a little further.
“Whatever. It’s not his birthday.” Casper frowned as he reached for the bottle again. “It’s not, right?”
“Casper,” Cyrin warned, letting go of Magnus so they could snatch the bottle of tequila away. “You should have stopped with the drinks a long time ago. There are other ways to be social than getting wasted with a hundred something guests.”
“What, by standing in the corner and using a death glare on anyone who stumbles up to you?” Casper laughed. “Sounds fun. You used to do better than that.”
Cyrin set the bottle on the floor— there was a coffee table just to their right, but it had gotten flipped at some point of the night. “Magnus,” they said quietly, pulling their brother closer, “is young enough that this is neither age-appropriate for him nor safe. Allison and Camilla, like the two of us, were only here to keep up appearances because it’d be strange if they didn’t show up, and they were very relieved to leave. Do you really want to be the kind of person who drives their family away?”
Casper snorted, searching below the counter for something. Taking one bottle away from him when he was standing in a bar wouldn’t do much good. “I mean, I was pretty thrilled when you left for college.”
“Well, I missed you,” Magnus protested.
“I know, little guy. I missed you too.” Cyrin ruffled the dark hair on his head.
“Ever thought about going somewhere far away and staying there?” Casper had found a bottle of gin and was spilling it on the counter in his attempts to pour it. “That’s the best present you could give me.”
“I don’t know where I’ll be living once I graduate,” Cyrin said, slowly and evenly.
“Yeah? Well, I know where you should be right now.” Casper swallowed his drink, closing his eyes and bracing himself on the counter. “With Mom.”
“Mom’s just back home,” Magnus whispered in confusion.
“She is, she’s okay. He means the mom he and I share, Lycila.” Cyrin kept his voice calm as he rubbed Magnus’ shoulder comfortingly, but he was giving Casper a hard glare.
“It’s not fair, you know?” Casper said, slurring his words together. “That you get to live and have no worth while she was stolen away from us. The world wasted a second chance it’s never given to anyone before on you.”
“Why is he talking like that?” Magnus sounded terrified.
“It’s fine,” Cyrin assured him, swallowing. “He’s just… saying the things he usually keeps to himself. It’ll pass.” He looked back at his older brother. “Casper, I don’t care what you do with your opinions, but I need you to sober up. You’re scaring Magnus.”
Casper sneered. “No, I’m very eager to share my thoughts now.” He slammed a fist on the counter, and Cyrin watched the shot glasses rattle. “Don’t you remember that funeral, when no one could understand why you weren’t in a casket with her? How you were a ghost among the living?” Each of his words was more growled than the one before it. “Well, why aren’t you dead?”
“I don’t have the answer to that,” Cyrin said, but their voice was starting to shake.
“What if you are dead?” Casper went on, slowly rounding the counter. “You already are to me.”
It was then that Cyrin saw the knife from the bar in his hand, sharpened and gleaming bright. His pulse spiked with alarm.
“Casper, you’re very drunk right now. You aren’t thinking straight.”
“I’m not?” Casper snapped, gesturing with the knife, and they took a step back. “Then why have I been thinking this since you came out of that room?”
“Magnus,” Cyrin said, very slowly, not taking their eyes off Casper. “I need you to run upstairs. Find somewhere nice and safe to spend the next few hours.”
“Casper, stop,” Magnus whimpered.
“Magnus, now, please.”
“Only one way to find out if you’re really dead or not.” Casper was staring at them with pure, unfiltered hatred, and they were starting to feel sick.
Cyrin backed up, glancing behind him at his younger brother. “Magnus, you need to—”
Casper lunged, far faster than he’d imagined he would with drunken reflexes.
Cyrin stumbled back, gasping, as the knife caught him in the ribs. He heard Magnus shriek with pure terror as he dropped to one knee, pressing one hand to the injury as sharp pain flared up in his chest. He felt thick, red blood seeping through his fingers, and he couldn’t help but scream as Casper ripped the knife out.
“Get out of here, Magnus,” Casper ordered, throwing the knife aside. “I’ll let you know how he dies.”
Cyrin heard a muffled sob and rushed, light footsteps as Magnus ran away, the sounds fading into silence as he got too far to hear. A strangled cry of pain escaped his throat as he tumbled to his hands and knees and then the ground, unable to keep upright.
“Don’t mind me,” Casper said, stepping closer to them. “Just making sure you get there.”
“Casper,” Cyrin choked out. “Please.”
“Now you’re feeling close.” Casper walked around them in a slow circle. “Don’t worry. I’ll leave you an open window to fly out of, like we did the first time. I know tradition.”
Keeping a hand pressed to the wound, Cyrin reached for the only item that might be of some help to him, but stopped before they closed their fist around it. They needed Casper to be gone first.
They needed to seem dead.
Cyrin made their gasping breaths slower and lighter and closed their eyes, slumping fully against the ground in the spreading pool of their blood. They couldn’t stop breathing entirely, but they had to hope Casper couldn’t tell a nearly dead body from a dead one. It seemed like an eternity of ignoring the burning in his lungs before he finally heard a sigh from Casper— a sigh not exactly like relief, but one for when a task was done and behind.
“May the skies receive you.” They heard their brother say one of the only phrases he knew in Ren. There was a longer pause before Casper snorted and said, “As if you’d ever make it.”
A new pain hit Cyrin in his chest, higher and to the side of where the stab wound was.
He heard Casper walk away, and there was the sound of the promised window opening. A silence stretched on for a few moments, and he was sure his heart racing against the floor would give him away. But then Casper’s footsteps moved in the direction of the door to his house, and he heard it close noisily behind him as keys rattled in the lock, then nothing.
With a groan of pain, Cyrin rolled over on his back, gasping for air. His hands were shaking too much to undo the clasp on the chain around his neck, so he pulled on it until it snapped, and the pendant fell on his chest. He picked it up, flicking the tiny compartment open. Inside was a small cluster of magic, just enough for one emergency spell.
He barely knew how to cast Salve, which was enough to make the risk of magic poisoning real even though he had Renvara magic. But if he didn’t cast it, he’d die anyway. He had to take his chances.
With trembling hands, Cyrin went what they thought were the right motions of weaving the spell, twisting, tying, and pulling until they had something that looked more or less right in their hands. They didn’t have time to refine it, so they unbuttoned their shirt, pressed the spell to the bleeding wound in their chest, and weakly snapped their fingers.
Cyrin winced as his body pulled itself back together, closing up so there was no break in their skin except for the line of a scar that was lighter than the rest of the skin around it. He lay there for a few moments, gasping, as his head spun and his vision went in and out of focus. He was alive, yes, he was alive, but he was still in a pool of his own blood. He was covered in it. Saints knew how much he’d lost having to wait for Casper, and it could still even be fatal.
He lifted his wrist with a heaving breath and called Allison on his communicator, letting his arm fall close to his face so he’d be able to hear it.
“Cyrin? Hey!” His older sister was quick to answer, but also too quick to let him get a word in. “Camilla’s going to be okay, though I don’t think she’ll be going back to the party. She stayed away from the seafood, but there might have been some cross-contamination with another plate. I’ll need to speak with the caterers Casper had.” Allison clicked her tongue. “Is the party still going? It’s super late, but the last one he threw went even later, so—”
Cyrin let out a long, shuddering breath, closing his eyes so the tears were contained.
“Cyrin?” Allison had heard him, and now there was concern in her voice. “Cyrin, are you okay over there?”
“I need you to pick me up.” It had only been a few minutes since they’d last spoken aloud, but their voice rasped like they hadn’t used it in years.
“I don’t know if I can.” They thought they heard heels clacking as Allison paced. “I could leave Camilla at the hospital for a little bit, but it’d be too long to get to my house. You’re still at Casper’s place, right? I guess I could get you to the hospital—”
“The hospital is exactly where I need to go.” It was a fierce struggle to get the words out through their heavy breathing.
“What in the Saints happened?” The anxiety in Allison’s voice had spiked, and they blinked their eyes open. “Is Casper there? Can he tell me what happened? I can call him instead.”
“No, no, don’t,” Cyrin begged. “Don’t call him. Please don’t tell him anything about me at all. Just—” The ceiling darkened in his vision, and he thought he might pass out. “Please, I need you to come get me. I’ll tell you everything later.”
“I’m on my way. Hang in there, okay?” She ended the call before he could think of an answer.
Cyrin lay panting, struggling to keep the ceiling lights bright in his vision. He needed to be conscious when Allison got here, because he needed to tell her to find Magnus. Hopefully he would come out for her.
The lights were getting… brighter now. They were different colors, too, suddenly gaining crystal clear focus like pixels in an image. Cyrin squinted until he realized he couldn’t see anything but them, and that the pixels weren’t clear. They were shifting, out of place, like static on a screen. He heard the crackling sound in his ears.
“No, no,” he muttered, not sure why he was trying to cling to this memory of him dying, but it didn’t matter. He fell into the next one.
The next time Cyrin blinked, he was standing, and the room had shifted into the Bridger family residence. More specifically, it was the west wing, with its large, picturesque windows and its cozy, warm lighting. He glanced at his shirt, feeling it for blood or a gash in the fabric. No sign of it, but his eyes were still teary. Inhaling deeply, he looked up, scanning around him.
The west wing could have been a complete residence if it were cut off from the rest of the mansion— it had a kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms as well as many sitting rooms. He was in the library, a large room with expensive rugs and tall bookshelves of rare books that connected the wing to the rest of the estate. Cyrin looked through the doorway to the next room over, where he could just glimpse the back of an armchair facing a luminous window. A hand hung limply over the armrest.
He found himself taking a step back as a shiver traveled down his spine, then hurrying away to the door that led to the rest of the house, turning the handle forcefully.
It didn’t open.
Cyrin stared at it, rattling it with more force, even pushing against it with their weight. Nothing happened.
“Okay,” they muttered, taking a deep breath and trying to push back the dread rising in their chest. They’d broken out of holding cells, of skyscraper windows, of the most secure vaults in the world. This was just another locked door, and not even a special one. They could do this.
Cyrin kicked at it several times, each kick more powerful than the last, but the door didn’t budge. They frantically tugged at the handle, hoping that they’d knocked something loose, but there was no sign that anything they were doing was working. A faint cry of despair escaped their throat as they gave up on it and rammed their shoulder against the door, then one of pain as it twisted.
No. No, they’d done everything to make sure they’d never end up locked up here again. They’d learned all there was to learn about unlikely escapes, made it out of countless impossible situations, never gotten trapped somewhere since then. This couldn’t be happening.
The sound of static from the screen that he knew was in the next room only got louder, filling up his ears. Cyrin let out a sob, closing his eyes and pressing his forehead against the door. Even though he couldn’t see it, he knew the armchair would be in full view if he turned around. He couldn’t turn. He just needed to get out of whatever trip down memory lane this was.
As if sent by them, a hand grabbed him by the shoulder and ripped him out of his illusion.