Leilan flinched awake as the last of the walls went tumbling down.
His cheek was cold against the lobby floor— the lobby, he was still in the lobby safe room. Not in Amber City. Not in the middle of the worst earthquake his hometown had seen in centuries. He had no idea what that purple gas had been, but it had made him see things he’d hoped to keep out of his mind. There was a high-pitched ringing in his ears that still sounded like a scream—whether it was Kalea’s or Malia’s, he didn’t know. He wouldn’t ever know.
Wincing, he opened his eyes.
Kasumi was sprawled out next to him, her eyes closed. He was concerned at how still she was until he saw the slight rise and fall of her breathing. Leilan was about to reach out to her, but he heard a foot falling against the ground, and he froze. He half-closed his eyes, barely able to see the room through the gap between his eyelashes.
He was sure his brain was playing tricks on him again when the astronaut from the Arcade stepped into view, leaning over him.
The astronaut didn’t do anything. At least, they didn’t seem to be doing anything. It was impossible to see through their glass visor when all it showed was a refracted view of him lying on the floor. He held completely still for several more seconds until the astronaut moved away, and it was all he could do to not gasp in relief.
He saw them move over to Mireya, who was slumped against the door to the safe room. As far as Leilan could tell, she was fully out of it. He thought the astronaut spent a long time observing her, because they seemed to be trying to get a good look at her face. After a while, the astronaut backed up a step, hurriedly moving inside the room. Leilan wasn’t sure anymore how much of this was hallucination and how much was reality.
The astronaut knelt next to Cyrin, and Leilan thought the mercenary’s face had a strange, reflective sheen to it, from what he could tell. Hesitantly, like they didn’t know what they were doing, the astronaut touched Cyrin’s shoulder.
Cyrin sat up immediately, gasping for air, and the astronaut jolted back. The two stared at each other for a moment before Cyrin scrambled back on his hands, eyes wide with fright. The astronaut made a break for it, nearly tripping over Leilan as they ran out the sliding doors to the street, disappearing out of sight. Cyrin wiped at his face, shaking his head, and Leilan realized there were thin streaks of tears on his cheeks.
“You okay?” he asked, pushing himself up on his arms with a grunt of effort. His muscles felt weak, and he thought he had some bruises from his fall when he’d passed out. Absent-mindedly, he reached for his neck to make sure the conch shell pendant was intact.
Cyrin nodded, looking away from him once he’d given him a glance to see that he was fine. He dragged himself over to the safe, where the door was hanging open. “It’s gone,” he confirmed quietly.
Leilan shook his head. He wasn’t ready to process that disappointment yet.
“Try to wake up Kasumi,” Cyrin instructed, moving over to Mireya. “We woke up, they shouldn’t be far behind.”
Leilan hoped so. Mireya and Kasumi were smaller than him and Cyrin, and he could only hope that whatever dose of the gas they’d breathed in wasn’t worse on them.
He crawled over to Kasumi, lifting her back and neck and shaking her gently by the shoulders. “Kasumi,” he whispered. “You need to wake up. Whatever you’re seeing, it’s not real.”
“Dad?” Kasumi murmured drowsily, her expression remaining blank.
Leilan swallowed. “You’re remembering him, Kasumi. You need to break out of it.”
Kasumi didn’t answer.
Fingers shaky with anxiety, Leilan pulled up one of the two Heir group chats on his communicator— the informal one with personal usernames, because he knew all of them loathed checking the serious one— and typed out a message.
We need all three of you downstairs. There’s been a problem.
Kasumi’s wrist buzzed, so he knew it had gone through.
Cyrin was holding Mireya up against his side, shaking her arm. When she didn’t rouse, he looked frantically at Leilan. “We need help.”
“I sent a message to the other three,” Leilan said. “You got more magic earlier, right? Can you do anything with it?”
Cyrin shook their head after thinking. “I don’t know how it could help.”
Leilan looked back at the sleeping Kasumi, a burning question on his mind. He finally asked it. “Cyrin, what kind of mage are you, exactly?”
“I’m just a Minor Mage.”
“Not even an Alchemist or Artificer. Nothing special.”
Leilan gave them a look, trying to figure out whether they actually believed it or not. He didn’t know how good of a liar Cyrin was, or if they would even lie about this. “Are you sure about that?”
Cyrin looked genuinely baffled, so his money was on them meaning it. “What do you mean?”
“How did you sense a spell that was already cast and used up? There shouldn’t have been anything for you to detect.”
Cyrin shrugged. “I think I’ve done it before. It’s not too hard if it hasn’t been very long since it was cast. It’s just a lot fainter.”
“Minor Mages aren’t able to do that,” Leilan said. “They can only sense magic that is active in the moment, not… whispers of old magic. I don’t even know if that’s a real thing.”
Mireya slumped a little, and Cyrin caught her before she slipped off their shoulder. “I’m not sure what to tell you, Leilan, but I can.”
Leilan frowned. “Well, what’s your Hollow?”
“It’s Tremor,” Cyrin said. “I had a hard time using it in the Fall.”
“I saw that,” Leilan said, nodding. “But it wasn’t affecting you in the usual way. Normally, when they’re around their Hollow, Minor Mages feel really ill. They get really dizzy, think they’re going to be sick, have trouble staying standing. You just got… strained and shaky.”
“Sounds like an adverse reaction to me,” Cyrin said, but there was confusion on their face and vague alarm in their voice.
“No, no, I know,” Leilan said quickly. “It just wasn’t typical of a Minor Mage. There’s a few things about you that aren’t. Do you know if you’re actually… if…?”
Cyrin gave him one of those long, difficult to read looks. “Well,” he said finally. “I don’t see what the alternative is.”
“There they are!” Shane yelled, rushing to the front desk. Kaja and Dawn were just behind, equally hurried.
“What happened?” Dawn asked, getting on the ground beside Mireya. “Why are they unconscious?”
“We all were,” Leilan said. “There were… There were two people in here, breaking the safe open with magic. They threw some kind of grenade with gas in it.”
“They were Sparrow’s followers.” Cyrin shook his head. “They took the First Spell. It’s gone.”
“Gone?” Shane repeated, like he couldn't quite believe it.
“He’ll have it soon.” Disgust and bitterness mixed in Cyrin’s voice.
“What’s going on?” Mireya muttered as she opened her eyes, shifting and putting a hand to her forehead as if she had a headache.
Dawn took one of her arms while Cyrin took the other, and they helped her up. “We’ll talk upstairs,” she said quietly. Mireya nodded, her expression weary.
Kaja knelt to pick up Kasumi, scooping her up in her arms with barely any effort. “Come on,” she said, looking back at the safe room, where the lights Mireya had put out were just starting to sputter to life again. There was a rare uneasiness in her voice. “We’ll have to have an entirely different conversation now.”
Kasumi roused when the elevator stopped at their floor, blinking up at Kaja as the seven of them stepped out. “Why are you holding me like I’m a small child?” she mumbled, wriggling a bit.
“Because you are pretty small,” Kaja said, not unkindly. “And you also passed out.”
“Those two people work for Sparrow,” Leilan told her. “They stole the First Spell while we were all seeing things in that gas.”
“That bastard,” Mireya growled, more alert now. “Of course he had something up his fucking sleeve.”
They all took the same spots they had sat in for their last talk, with the exception of Kasumi, who Kaja laid out on a couch to herself. Leilan could see that even the Heirs who had stayed upstairs were tired, and he knew that ideally, they wouldn’t be having another, possibly more difficult conversation at this hour. They were all spent.
“So,” Cyrin said quietly, rubbing at his face. His eyes seemed mostly dry now. “We can’t do what we planned to do, and Sparrow will also have the First Spell soon. This is a very low moment.”
“How bad is it that it’ll be in his hands?” Dawn asked.
“Bad,” Cyrin said. His lack of eloquence was worrying, if nothing else was. “Very bad.”
“It’s bad for you because you were hoping to keep dangerous magic out of the hands of criminals, and he could now potentially control all of it,” Mireya said. “And it’s bad for us because he has visions for magic that we don’t like at all.”
“So, when he was setting us up with you so that you could get it out of the Fall…” Shane leaned back in his seat, aghast.
“He was planning to leave the hard work to us and then steal it before we could do anything,” Leilan said. “I didn’t trust that he was facilitating things out of the goodness of his heart, but I didn’t know this was his ulterior motive.”
“Mireya, Cyrin,” Kaja said slowly. “You had a client who went missing after you went to the Permafrost’s Fall for him, right?”
Mireya nodded. “We did.”
“Sparrow also said he’d sent nearly every client you’ve gotten your way on his personal recommendation,” Kaja said. “I’m guessing that included the one before us.”
“It did include that one,” Cyrin said, sitting up suddenly. “I see what you’re thinking. Sparrow orchestrated us going to the Fall the first time, too. That way, we’d stumble across the First Spell and have footage of it, and then the news of us discovering it would get out.”
Kaja nodded. “I think he must have known where it was even before you went there.”
“He mentioned a professor who received that footage and revealed it before getting killed, but Cyrin doesn’t think such a person exists,” Shane said. “Sparrow must have made him up and done the revealing himself.” He rubbed his eyes tiredly. “This makes about ten percent more sense now.”