Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and violence.
Mireya’s mind was buzzing as she directed the boat out on the waters again, then to an uninhabited stretch of land several minutes away from the town. The Houses had lied. They’d lied about the spell and what it would do. They’d lied about how peace would be made. They’d lied, and now an untold number of people were going to die. Because of her and Dante.
Mireya shored up their boat on a small rock beach surrounded by pine trees, pulling Dante out with her and sitting him against a trunk. “Dante,” she said, firmly at first, and then more urgently when she got no reaction, “Dante Weylin, you need to focus.”
“It’s my fault,” Dante said hollowly, staring at a point just past her shoulder. “It was caused by me. The Fading, or whatever he called it.”
“Dante, they lied to you,” Mireya said, grabbing his shoulders and shaking him slightly. “They lied to both of us about it. They didn’t want us to know what it would really do.”
“How many people are in these mountains?” Dante whispered. “Fifty million? Sixty? How many of them did I doom?”
“You didn’t doom anyone. It was the Houses’ plan—”
“It would be impossible without me,” he snapped suddenly, and Mireya flinched back slightly. “I’m the only one capable of doing something like that. I did it for them.” He rubbed his face before burying his head in his hands. “The Houses will get their fucking peace, all right, once it spreads to every person into the mountains and leaves Renvara too weakened to resist.”
Mireya bit her lip. “Can’t you stop it?”
“Only— only when I’m doing a controlled number of spell repeats. This was a tidal wave, a chain reaction.” Dante shook his head. “I can’t stop it once it’s set in motion.”
Mireya slumped back, her eyes starting to burn. “This is happening?”
Dante didn’t say anything, just shook his head again, and she felt her heart sink in the moment before it filled with rage. The Houses were going to pay for this. She didn’t know how they would, or how far down the line it would happen, but she knew they would. She’d lived this long, and she’d live to see that revenge.
“Well,” Dante said slowly after a long minute, and Mireya sat up a little as he looked up again. “I don’t know, but…”
He removed his flintlock pistol from his belt again, weighing it in his hand, and Mireya stared at it. “Dante,” she said uncertainly. “What—”
Her gaze flicked back up to his face as she realized. The look in his eyes was the most serious that she’d ever seen him.
“Tell me,” she ordered anyway, her voice shaking slightly.
Dante rested the barrel of the gun on his knee. “You know, don’t you?”
She only made her stare fiercer, looking him straight in the eyes.
“If there’s a way to stop it— that is an if— it might have to stop with me, because it started with me.” Dante took a deep breath. “I don’t know what else there is to try. If I can’t keep it from spreading any further if it’s not supposed to stop, and it only exists because of me—” He held up the gun. “It might have to die with me.”
Mireya immediately lunged for the pistol, and he pulled it back, leaping to his feet. She stood as well, grabbing it and trying to pull it from his grasp, but he held on, breaking away with a grunt of effort to hold it at his side. They stood facing each other, both of their expressions deadly serious.
“Dante, no,” Mireya snapped. “You’re not doing that. You’re not dying.”
“I don’t know what else I can do,” Dante fired back, gesturing to the pistol with his other hand. “I just know I need to make it stop.”
“You’ll think of something,” Mireya urged him. “Maybe you’ve never done something on a scale like this before, but we can figure it out. You don’t have to—”
“Name something else we can do about it, Mireya,” Dante said firmly. “As you can tell, I am desperate, so I will try it. We don’t have time to lose, not when there are so many lives on the line and when every moment is one that could be saved, so if you have something, say it. Please.”
No. No. Her thoughts were all coming up empty, no matter how hard she was trying to think of something.
Dante slowly nodded after a few moments of silence. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “There isn’t much else to try.”
“But you can’t die. You can’t—” Mireya choked up a little. “You can’t do this.”
“There’s millions of people who could die. I’m just one person.” Dante hesitated. “I know that you know it, Mireya. My life can’t be worth all of theirs.”
Rationally, she did know it, but to her it wasn’t true. Dante, with his grin and brave swagger and love for adventure that he kept over a warm heart, had a life that mattered more to her than anyone else. He was supposed to live as much of it as she could, not have it cut short like this. His life was worth more than millions to her.
“Even if it’s an obvious trade by the numbers,” she argued, knowing it was futile, “I can’t lose you. I wouldn’t know how to lose you.”
Dante smiled sadly. “You were going to lose me anyway. I’m a Major Mage too, but I didn’t get the immortality in my magical encounter that you got from yours. I was twenty when I met you, and you were twenty-two. Now, I’m twenty-five, and you’re still twenty-two. At some point, even in my best-case scenario of a peaceful death in old age, you’ll be around to see it happen.”
“I know, but it’s not supposed to happen like this,” Mireya whispered. “What about—?” She shook her head. “I know you weren’t raised in our Ren culture, but you know what’s said about those who take their own lives. They’ll never find the sky.”
“I know, yeah,” Dante said. His voice had gotten weaker. “They’ll get trapped with their bodies, just what like leaving a window closed at an indoor death does. I’ve heard it.”
“I don’t know what stock you place in it, but I’m a pirate too, and I know what kind of superstitions we follow because we wager it’s safer to inconvenience ourselves a little than to run the risk of breaking it,” Mireya said. “Even if it doesn’t scare you, it scares me. I don’t want that to happen to you.”
Dante wasn’t looking at her anymore. His head had turned to the side, his dark gaze watching the waves lap against the rocks. “It does scare me,” he said quietly, and Mireya listened. “It’s not like I’ve grown up taking it especially seriously, but I didn’t think I’d ever have to worry about that kind of dishonor. If there’s a sky to find, I need to find it, but— Saints, I have to die. I have to.” He breathed in a shuddering breath, a faint look of terror passing over his face. “I just don’t want to.”
He watched the sea. She watched him. Even though her heart felt like it was sinking below those waves and cracking at the bottom, she used the moment to make the most regretted decision of her life. She held out her hand to him.
“Give it—” Her eyes welled up with tears. “Give it to me.”
Dante turned back to her, looking her over, with such a strange look of relief and sadness on his face. His eyes were watering too as he stepped forward, hugging her to his chest. Mireya let out a quiet, hollow sob as she tucked her head under his chin.
“Remember that painting?” he whispered. Mireya could only nod against his chest. “Try to find somewhere for it to go. Or hold on to it. As long as someone’s seeing it.”
“I promise I will.”
Slowly, he pulled away, pressing the pistol into her hand as he moved, curling her fingers around the grip for her. Mireya had held a gun many times before, but this time felt the heaviest. Dante backed up until he stood several feet away, his eyes falling from her face to the gun and then back to her face, but she didn’t raise it at him. She didn’t know how to.
“It’s okay, Mireya,” Dante said softly. “You can point it at me. You can do this.”
Mireya let out another sob. “I’m not as brave as you are.”
“You are,” Dante assured her. “You are so much braver. Remember how many times I had the position on the mast during a storm and you’d swap places with me, while you were hard at work on trying to stop the storm? I couldn’t even do anything at my new position, I was in so much awe. There’s a reason why people revere you. You’re brave enough to do the things no one else can.”
“Not this.” Mireya shook her head with panic, sniffling. “No, I’ve changed my mind. Neither of us is doing this.”
That same look of faint terror flashed over Dante’s face, and she understood. As much as she hated it, she understood. He wouldn’t be talked down from this just because she refused to help. He’d do it himself anyway, no matter how afraid it made him. She couldn’t save him from death, only possibly doom him forever. Her conscience wasn’t worth dooming him for.
“If you won’t do it, Mireya, you’ll have to hand me that gun,” Dante said, very quietly. “And if you won’t do that, I’ll have to use my dagger.” His meaning was clear. It’s a slower way to go.
With a shaking hand and a sob in her throat, Mireya raised the gun so it was pointed directly at his chest. The look of fear slipped off Dante’s face, turning into relief again. He nodded as he watched her face, looking for something, and she swallowed as she nodded back.
“There should be a bullet in there.” Dante took a deep breath, relaxing his shoulders like he was already preparing for impact. “I love you.”
She could hardly get the words out as she felt something fall down her cheek. “I love you too.”
Dante stole one last glance at the sea before he gave her the barest of smiles, so unlike his usual grin that she could hardly spot it. His lips moved, near silently, and Mireya barely caught his last words. “Thank you,” he whispered.
The gun went off. Mireya dropped to the ground with a sob as Dante did too.
“Whatever you killed your friend for…” Dawn paused, searching for her words. “Did it work? Did it achieve what you were trying to do?”
Mireya shook her head. “It didn’t,” she admitted. “Nothing changed at all. I had to leave him there, and I couldn’t find the place I left him when I came back. He died for nothing.”
“Mireya, I’m… I’m so sorry.” Dawn looked at her with sympathy. “That’s terrible.”
Mireya sighed, laughing sadly as she turned back towards the city. “There was no way to know then. There wasn’t even time to think. All I can take comfort in is knowing that he died quickly.”
Dawn nodded slowly. “Was he a friend of Cyrin’s too?”
“No, he was from a different time of my life.” If they ever had met, they would have been friends, she was sure of it. If only they weren’t separated by five centuries of time. If only Dante hadn’t unintentionally created the Fading that Cyrin loathed so much.
“A friend from before. I see.” Dawn frowned suddenly. “How long ago was it, then?”
Mireya was saved from having to give an answer by her communicator buzzing with a call. She looked down at the screen, frowning, and saw that it was Clarity. “Just a minute,” she said, pointing to it as she put in her earbuds. Dawn nodded, picking up her stylus again.
Mireya answered the call. “Clarity?”
“Oh, hey.” She heard Clarity let out a deep breath, like she’d been holding one in. “I wasn’t sure you’d pick up.”
“Why not?” Mireya asked, then she remembered. “Oh, did you hear the news already?”
“Sparrow bragged to me that he got the First Spell from you two. I swear on the Saints, I didn’t know it was his plan.” Clarity was speaking fast, her words rushing into Mireya’s ears. “I know, it looks like I was pushing you to steal it so he could just get it from you, but I needed it for myself and couldn’t tell you about that until now. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, it wasn’t me—”
“Whoa, whoa, slow down,” Mireya said. “You’re just as surprised as we are, I believe you. It’s okay. What are you calling for?”
“I called Cyrin first. They said I should speak to you directly.” Clarity sighed. “I heard what you’re planning to do, and I can support you. I need a favor, though.”
Clarity cleared her throat. “Remember that surprise you heard about yesterday? It’s a spell I’ve been working on for a while. I still can’t share everything about it, but Sparrow’s going to want the First Spell for something specific now that he has it, and this could stop it. I’m going to need you to break into my lab and grab it for me. You’ll be able to tell what it is, I promise.” She paused. “Can you do that?”
“I think so,” Mireya said. Dawn seemed to be listening in to her side of the conversation, but she didn’t mind. “Why can’t you be there?”
“I—” Clarity hesitated, then sighed. “I can’t go back there without Sparrow suspecting me, and I’ll need it to stop him. He doesn’t know about it, but he might already be suspicious.”
“Clarity,” Mireya said slowly. “Are you in trouble?”
Clarity didn’t speak for a long time. “Sparrow has the First Spell on his person. Find him, and you’ll find it. Cyrin has heard this too.”
Mireya bit her lip hard. If Clarity wasn’t going to answer her question, there wasn’t any point to asking again. “Okay. That’ll be part of the new plan we make.”
“Okay. Good.” Clarity’s voice was brighter again. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Will I?” Mireya asked.
Another hesitation from Clarity. “Yes,” she said, then more quickly, “It’ll all make sense later, I promise. Love you.”
“Yeah, love—” Mireya started to say, but the call ended suddenly. She frowned, staring down at her communicator for a moment before shaking her head and looking back up at Dawn.
“Everything alright?” Dawn asked.
“Yeah.” Mireya nodded quickly. “Just got some information from a friend. When is our jet taking off?”
Dawn checked the time. “About two and a half hours from now. Why?”
“We’re adding to the plan,” Mireya said, standing up and pushing the door to the balcony open so she could move through it. Dawn followed a moment later. “Let’s make sure everyone knows.”