The two of them spent the last of their time waiting in silence— but not an uncomfortable silence— until Kaja’s communicator beeped twice, indicating their seven minutes had run out.
“We’ll want to be on the other side of the pillar for this,” Leilan commented.
Kaja slowly nodded. “You know, you’re probably right.”
They looped around it, and Leilan let the spell stone rest in his palm before he picked it up and rubbed it between his fingers. After a few moments, the pearly-white stone glowed with a soft light. He and Kaja exchanged another glance, then Leilan looked cautiously around. No one seemed to be paying them any attention.
“This had better be fun,” Kaja said. “Mireya said it was the most fun of the tasks, and it’s because we just get to cause problems and general distractions.”
“I’m mostly concerned with whether it works or not,” Leilan said. “But, yeah. It could be fun.” With that, and one last quick look around to make sure no one was watching them, he placed the final stone at the foot of the pillar.
The pandemonium started small. A mage walking just a few feet away bumped into an invisible barrier and was thrown back with a cry of surprise as they stared at where they’d been going, finding nothing in their way. Soon, it was happening all over the Arcade where Leilan and Kaja had been. People were finding themselves enclosed by invisible walls, bumping into obstacles that didn’t seem to be there, and it was causing chaos. The grid Mireya had drawn for them, marking lines between structural pillars, had manifested itself in real life with Force shields connected together by the arrangement of spell stones that Cyrin had charged with magic.
“This is kind of fun,” Kaja remarked, watching a very hardened-looking mage suddenly snap and rush the Force barrier with a battle cry. “I like knowing that Sparrow’s going to hate it.”
Leilan folded his arms over his chest, as the battle cry turned into a surprised yelp and the mage bounced off the shield. “I feel a little bad for this, but I might be taking a tiny bit of pleasure in it too.”
He saw a mage, apparently figuring out it had to be Force, slinging an Acid spell at the barrier, but it fizzled out uselessly against it. Cyrin had informed them that the shields could only be deactivated if the spell stones acting as the points in a matrix of Force were targeted, not where the barriers were themselves. Until someone examined where the invisible walls connected and saw all the stones placed by the bottom of pillars— which wouldn’t occur to anyone for a while yet, with the panicked frenzy just starting— the barriers would stand, and this entire section of the Arcade, including the Nest, would be unnavigable.
“Wanna grab a drink?” Kaja suggested casually, as someone resorted to smashing a wooden chair from a seating area against the barrier with a guttural yell. “We were instructed to stay around until Mireya and Dawn get here.”
Leilan glanced at the chaos. “Sure, but we should, uh, find a different bar. The closest one has about four shields and two hundred rioting people between us and it.”
They slipped away from the scene as nonchalantly as possible and found a bar— which were not lacking in the Arcade— farther from the pandemonium. As Kaja went up to the counter, Leilan got them a table, wondering how this heist was going for everyone else. The time they’d waited should have allowed for Shane and Kasumi to cause chaos at the Nest, getting themselves caught so Cyrin could follow, and Dawn and Mireya had a short task away from the Arcade.
The part about Shane and Kasumi getting caught had worried him the most, because it could also go wrong very fast. He almost hadn’t agreed to it, especially once he’d heard that there would be a real bomb. He trusted Shane to make it work, in terms of setting it off safely, but he was concerned about the part afterwards. Would Shane go into shock? Would Kasumi know what to do if he did? Leilan wasn’t sure he would know either if he were there, but he hadn’t wanted to trade places with Kasumi because he wasn’t too sure about her and Kaja working together, and Mireya had called dibs on Dawn as her teammate anyway. He could only hope the two of them were alright.
Kaja came back with his drink, and he realized he hadn’t given her his order, but she handed him the gin and tonic he’d wanted anyway. “Cheers to making the plan work?” she suggested tentatively, raising her own glass.
“Cheers to being partners in crime.” Leilan clinked her glass with hers.
They both drank, and he found himself glancing over his shoulder at the Arcade section with the barriers, which still had not calmed down. It seemed to be the subject of discussion of the other tables around them, and most of the conversations blended together, but a particularly close one was distinct enough for him to follow.
“The news hasn’t gotten to Sparrow yet,” a woman just behind Leilan whispered. “He seems to be busy.”
“He wasn’t in the Nest, was he?” a man asked.
“No, he wasn’t tonight. He’s either elsewhere in the Arcade or in the next building over.” The woman sighed. “This might interfere with our departure.”
The sounds of the bar got louder as laughter rose up from elsewhere, but Leilan was now listening closely to the man’s response. “We’ll figure it out. Everyone still in there will be able to find some way to get out by the time we leave for Starlight City tomorrow.”
“They had better.” The woman blew out a tired breath. “The last thing we need is a stupid prank making things harder. Sparrow will be livid.”
Leilan’s thoughts were buzzing. He tried to catch Kaja’s eye, but she was staring off into the distance, holding her beer halfway to her face. He nudged her to get her attention, raising his eyebrows meaningfully, and she just frowned at him. That wasn’t going to work.
“Finish up your drink,” he said, draining his quickly and standing up while trying to ignore the burn. She looked confused, but she swallowed her beer up and stood with him. “Let’s head to the exit.”
They made their way back to the hidden entrance from the Fortune, but Leilan decided to linger away from it. They didn’t need to leave now, but he wanted to have the option to leave quickly, and it would be easier for Mireya and Dawn to find them.
Kaja cleared her throat, watching him impatiently. “What’s the matter? That was a good beer.”
“Did you hear what those people behind me were talking about?” Leilan asked.
Kaja shook her head. “I found it too loud for any eavesdropping.”
“They were talking about a plan Sparrow has to travel with people to Starlight City and do something there,” Leilan said. “They’re leaving tomorrow.”
Kaja frowned. “Well, did it sound like a big plan?”
“Any plan Sparrow is making, now that he’s got the First Spell, is bound to be big,” Leilan said. “Besides, we’re supposed to be traveling to Starlight City tomorrow, as well…”
Kaja stood up straighter. “We’re going there for the Houses’ anniversary party. They could be too.”
Leilan nodded. “I think it’s too much to be a coincidence.”
“Is that where he’s planning to carry out his plans for the First Spell from?” Kaja’s brow furrowed as she fell deep in thought. “It’d be a very dramatic backdrop, as a celebration his enemies are throwing.”
“I think he means to undermine it, then,” Leilan said. “We’ve obviously got to let the others know what’s happening, but— who else can we tell? Can we even warn them?”
“Not without too many questions.” Kaja shook her head slowly. “Our best bet is to show up, get chewed out for leaving irresponsibly, deliver some half-truths and white lies. We can’t get the event canceled, and we can’t become the subject of too much scrutiny there. But it’s also dangerous to let it take them by surprise. There needs to be someone there who can be prepared in the event that Sparrow tries something there.”
Leilan pressed his lips together. He couldn’t think of any of the Heirs’ close family members who wouldn’t ask too many questions, and his own mothers were out of the question. He owed them a huge apology already, and this definitely wouldn’t bring him back into their good graces. But not everyone at that party would be family…
“We can tell Marius,” Leilan said suddenly. “He’s on the guest list along with the other Cardozos, like other families that are involved with the Houses or just plain rich enough to attend. He’s going to be there.”
“Perfect. He already knows a bit about our recent adventures, too, so he’s safe to tell.” Kaja nodded. “We need him as an ally.”
“We can let him know now, but I don’t want to distract the others from whatever they’re doing.” Leilan blew out a sigh. “We’ll have to wait to tell them.”
“Let’s hope Mireya and Dawn hurry up with their little errand.” Kaja raised an eyebrow. “I know we told them they don’t have to hurry, but I know they wouldn’t anyway. They’re probably too busy flirting.”
“Maybe,” Leilan admitted. “Well, as long as they’re having a good time, right?”