Warning: This work has been rated 16+.
If Mireya wasn’t sure whether the Heirs were starting to get familiar with her or not, she got her answer when Shane knocked on her door the next morning.
“Wake up, Mireya!” he called. “You outslept me, and you know what that means.”
Mireya rubbed her eyes. “That I might have actually had a nice morning?”
“Maybe.” Shane paused. “But also that you need to get up. The plane’s here in three hours. Dawn tried with the airlines, but she couldn’t find anything with this short notice, so we got a charter from the Houses.”
“Got it.” She yawned, sitting up and climbing out of bed.
She figured Shane had left, but he spoke again after a few moments. “I have a question that I’ve been meaning to ask, actually.”
“I might have an answer.”
“What does the Fortune stand for? The casino? Is it named that for the money there?”
Mireya snorted at the unexpected question. “What? No. It’s the Fortune, as in fate. You’ll get laughed at if you don’t know what it stands for.”
“Okay,” Shane said, slowly drawing out the word with skepticism. “Well. See you out here soon!” His footsteps receded down the hallway.
“Not even a thank you,” Mireya said to herself, fixing her hair in the mirror. “I just saved him from so much bullying.”
She left her room once she’d gotten all ready, finding most of the group to be in a bit of a frenzy. Kasumi was making breakfast, and it seemed she’d thought to do it for all of them and not just herself, because there was a plate of pancakes for Mireya sitting on the counter. Leilan was busy on a call, packing a suitcase in the living room as he talked to someone about arrival times, but he found a moment to give her a quick smile. Cyrin was sitting in front of the fireplace and swiftly weaving magic, with the spell stones from the vault in front of them. She gave them a salute, and they switched to casting one-handed so they could return it with a smirk.
The only one around who didn’t seem to be in a hurry was Dawn. Mireya spotted her on the balcony outside the living room window, sitting in a chair and turned away to face the city. A tablet rested in her lap. Feeling curious, Mireya took her pancakes and pushed the glass door to the balcony open, waving to her. Dawn smiled and gestured for her to take the other seat.
“What are you up to out here?” Mireya asked, sitting down. “It’s a bit windy.”
“Just some art. I finished packing, and I needed a moment to relax.” Dawn set her tablet and stylus on the small table between them so she could see. “The cold keeps me alert, anyway.”
Mireya peered at the screen. Dawn had been drawing clouds, delicately shading them with gray and blue and smudges of white. There was enough detail to the art that she could almost make out individual water droplets. “Wow, that’s really good.”
“Thanks. Storm City has some great clouds.” Dawn laughed, before she pointed to the lower, empty half of the screen. “I haven’t decided what buildings I should draw, though.”
“You could do a full drawing of clouds and no buildings, but Storm City wouldn’t look right without its sky.” Mireya shrugged.
“Yeah, that makes sense.” Dawn tapped the end of her stylus on the table. “Do you like storms?”
Mireya blinked. “How come?”
“I don’t know, you’re from this city, so I figured you’d seen a few. Plus, I heard you had some sort of Arcade codename— the Stormguide?”
“Oh, I see.” Mireya laughed. “They’re fun, I guess. I prefer watching them to being in them.”
Dawn nodded. “And your codename?”
“I got struck by lightning once and nobody’s let me forget about it.” It wasn’t a lie, technically.
Dawn’s eyes widened. “Seriously? That’s astonishing. Were you fine because of your electricity powers?”
Mireya glanced down at the Taeveni Courtyard below, at the replication of the thunderbird that had once been so hard to fight. It looked so harmless carved in stone. “Long story short, yeah,” she said. “There’s a bit more to it, but I was fine.”
She looked over and saw Dawn tracing a crooked streak of pale yellow, slashing at the blank canvas from a billowing cloud. “That’s very interesting,” the artist said. “You live a strange life.”
Mireya chuckled. “Don’t you?”
Dawn pondered that, looking up at her. “I guess,” she said. “Most people don’t become Heirs, or have the chance to be one. I didn’t assume I would be.”
“Really?” Mireya asked. “No lifelong ambition to be in charge?”
Dawn shook her head. “Not at all. I actually took the position from someone who had more ambition than me.”
Mireya raised her eyebrows. “Is there a story there?”
“I suppose there is.” Dawn set down her stylus. “I had an older brother. His name’s Jasper, and he was the Heir before me. I don’t think you would know too much about him, but he was… a problem. He was only in it for the power. He sabotaged plans, ruined Heir discussions and decisions, always wanted his way. He really just couldn’t wait for my House’s leader to die.” She bit her lip. “I really didn’t like seeing it.”
Mireya nodded slowly. “And you took it from him?”
“I used the Champion’s Appeal.” Dawn broke her gaze away for a moment. “It’s this weird, old rule in House code that no one’s bothered to get rid of, even though I was the last person to use it in a long time. If there’s concern that an Heir or Leader is acting out of line in a dangerous way that could bring down the House, someone from the House can challenge them to the position. It’s risky for both people, though. It involves a special Chant spell for each person that acts a bit like a lie detector, except it weighs the two people’s morals and character against each other. The person it deems better wins the appeal and the role.”
“It does sound archaic,” Mireya mused. “But you won, yeah? You were the better person. You got someone corrupt out of power. That’s pretty good.”
“I’m not sure I am.” Dawn smiled, thinly and without any joy. “I might not have been power-thirsty, and I’m not now, but I don’t have any direction because I didn’t actually want the position. I just knew we needed him out of it. He…” She paused, and her next words trembled. “I had to do some horrible thing to keep him from doing horrible things. No one else was going to, so I did.”
“Dawn,” Mireya said slowly, with a growing realization. “You had a brother?”
“It wasn’t just any binding Chant spell. Not the regular ones like Cyrin and Leilan swore.” Dawn wiped her eyes. “It was more like the Oathbound ones. The ones that kill you if you fail at them.”
The air rushed out of Mireya’s lungs for a moment. “Oh.”
“If I killed my brother to get power, it doesn’t sound much better than whatever he did with power, right? Maybe even makes me worse.” Dawn let out a shuddering breath. “Sorry, I thought I might be able to talk about this without crying, but it’s only been a few seasons. I—”
“Dawn, you aren’t him,” Mireya said firmly. “I’ve only known you for a few days and even I can tell that.”
“Not very long ago, you thought we were all like him.” Dawn blinked back more tears. “I might be.”
“I thought— never mind what I thought.” Mireya shook her head. “I knew you weren’t corrupt like that. This really doesn’t change my opinion of you.”
It did, though. It couldn’t have been easy for Dawn to do, and it must have taken a huge amount of bravery for her to stand up to her brother, knowing what the only two possible outcomes would be. Her death or his— or as Dawn saw it, his blood on her hands.
Dawn sniffed. “Have you ever had to do this?”
It took Mireya a moment to figure out what she meant. “Take someone’s life, you mean?”
Dawn nodded, wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her sweater.
“Yes,” Mireya said hesitantly, and quickly added, “It’s a very hard thing to mentally justify to yourself. You could have had all the reasons in the world to do it, or just no choice at all, and it will still seem like you did the wrong thing and there was something better to do.”
“If I ever managed to justify it to myself, I should know I’ve gone off the deep end.” Dawn smiled that thin, regretful smile again. “I need to know it’s wrong. If it starts to feel right, something terrible has happened to my heart.”
Mireya nodded after a moment. “Yeah… Yeah. The people it rests easy with are mostly the people who should be feeling guilty about it.”
Dawn turned her head to look back at the cityscape. “Was it hard?” she asked, her voice a little more even. “For you?”
“I’m not sure I’ll ever fully be able to put into words how much it’s affected me,” Mireya said. “But… yes. I saw the memory again just last night as if it were yesterday, so I know it’s stayed with me all the time since. I’m not inclined to let myself forget, either.” She took a deep breath. “He was my closest friend at the time, and he had to die.”
A woman closed the door behind Mireya and Dante as they stepped out of the back of the car. “This is as far as we can drive,” she said. “We’ll walk the final ten minutes.”
Mireya nodded, balancing her feet on the uneven gravel path as she scanned the path ahead. The mountain road had narrowed substantially, with pine and spruce branches stretching out in their way and the occasional fallen boulder that made driving impossible. Beside her, Dante shivered slightly, pulling the coat that didn’t quite fit him tighter around himself. He was too used to the loose clothes of pirates and the warmth of the tropics to have owned a coat suitable for these mountains, and the coat actually belonged to one of the House members who had sent them off before the drive.
“We’re ready,” Mireya said, looking to Dante for confirmation. He nodded, but tightened his jaw.
The woman— a member of the House of Wisdom and the Cardozo family— then started to lead the way up the trail. She must not have been important enough to have her own bodyguards, but also important enough to be chosen for this, so Mireya couldn’t guess at her rank. The stones rattled and crunched under their feet as they hiked, and sometimes she’d wobble over a loose one and bump into Dante, but he kept her upright.
Finally, the trees on their left thinned, and they found themselves on a cliff overlooking a forested valley. The sky was streaked with opaque white clouds that reduced visibility further out, but they weren’t high enough for it to matter much to them. The wind was fierce, and Mireya brushed dark hair— not yet aqua— from her face whenever it picked up.
“Interesting place to broker peace from,” Dante mused, tucking his hands in the coat’s pockets. He kept a healthy distance from the cliff— Mireya knew he could already be thinking of the view as a backdrop for a painting, but his vertigo seemed to be kicking in.
The Cardozo woman looked him over, nodding slowly. She looked ten, maybe fifteen years older than her, with brown skin and natural chin-length hair. There had been a strangely hollow look in her eyes ever since she’d picked them up in the car. “I understand it must be,” she said, taking out a spyglass. “It’s certainly no assembly room or diplomacy visit. But it’s where it must happen.” She raised the spyglass to her eye, scanning the forest below, before she passed it to Dante. “Look to the clearing towards the west.”
Dante took it, and he spent a while examining the clearing. “Who’s the guy in bright turquoise, and how much money did it take to dye his coat that way? A full tax season?”
“It’s teal,” Cardozo corrected, before clearing her throat and ignoring the second part of his question. “He’s a representative from the House of Justice.”
“The Morrow family, huh?” Dante passed Mireya the spyglass, and she was sure he was wondering if there were a way to steal the coat from this distance. He was pretty good, and enough of a kleptomaniac to try, but he was probably out of luck this time.
She squinted until she found the clearing and could focus on the three people standing in it. They were in a triangle formation, with the man in the arguably more turquoise than teal coat standing between the other two. The leftmost person had a spell in her hands, which she held away from her body, as if she didn’t trust it. The other person was a young man from Renvara, his arms folded over his chest and his head lowered. She wondered if he felt like a traitor at this moment. She and Dante might be traitors, too. It would all depend on how everything here played out.
“We need to signal to them that we’re here,” Cardozo said as Mireya lowered the spyglass. Dante took it again. “Can you create a lightning strike?”
“Yes, but these are old growth forests. I don’t want to start a fire,” Mireya explained. “I do know the whistling language, though. Want me to call to them to let them know we’re here?”
Cardozo lowered her gaze to the clearing. “Say whatever you can.”
Mireya placed her forefingers between her lips, inhaling deeply before whistling a series of tones of different pitches and lengths to compose her message. The high, shrill sound carried over the mountain and into the valley. Wolves above and below.
“They heard it,” Dante said, peering through the spyglass. “They all reacted to it, at least. I’m going to assume the mage doing a scared little dance in place meant that.”
Cardozo turned to him. “Is the spell close enough for you to use?”
Dante hesitated. Mireya knew this mission was strange for both of them, because she wasn’t sure when the last time he’d paused before saying anything had been. “I think so.”
Cardozo nodded, something like relief creeping over her face. “Good. You’re preventing war, you know.”
Mireya pressed her lips together. “It’s just a Rationale spell, right? One that will make everyone in Renvara want peace so they’ll surrender, nothing more?”
“Nothing more,” Cardozo promised. “The part about it only affecting the Ren so it doesn’t confuse anyone Aphiran is up to your friend here, because it’s been elaborately designed to sway someone of their perspective, but he has said he could control it that way. The distance is so the spell doesn’t spread to the two of you, because it doesn’t need to.” She cleared her throat. “The Houses are very grateful for the two of you, by the way, as I’m sure you know. It may be sneaky, but this is how we avoid war between our two nations.”