The moment Cyrin stepped in the room, the sensation of Salve was overpowering, pulling at their senses like a warning sign. It wasn’t the only surprise the office held. Four unconscious followers of Sparrow were sprawled on the ground, but Sparrow himself was nowhere to be seen. Their gaze swept the floor, landing just in front of the desk. Kasumi was kneeling on the ground, her back turned to them. Her fingers dug claws into the carpeting, looking ready to tear it up.
And there was Shane, collapsed limply on his side in front of her. Eyes closed. Completely still. Without even getting close, Cyrin could tell that the feeling of the Salve magic seemed to radiate out of him.
A chill of dread shot down their spine.
“Kasumi?” Cyrin whispered. “What happened here?”
Kasumi looked over her shoulder, and he was taken off-guard by the horror in her wide eyes. She was staring at him, evidently in mild shock, which worsened his panic. Before he could repeat the question, in case it hadn’t sunk in, she threw a different one back at him.
“Where were you?” she demanded.
Another stabbing pain joined the one in his chest, this time from guilt.
“Sparrow knew I was coming,” he said quietly. “He sent Pia to slow me down. I’m sorry. Clarity betrayed us—”
“Oh, she did, alright,” Kasumi said, and there was fear creeping into her voice with the bitterness. “Your supposed friend cast a spell on Shane, and something’s wrong with him now. I haven’t been able to wake him up since.”
Cyrin stood there for a moment, trying to process. Clarity did this? But she wouldn’t—
No, he had to rethink what Clarity would and wouldn’t do. He’d been so, so wrong about that, and he couldn’t be a fool any longer.
He hurried over, wiping his eyes of the half-formed tears he’d nearly forgotten about as he knelt next to Shane, laying him flat on his back. Shane’s head fell limply to the side, and he gave no reaction. Cyrin’s heart rate spiked with worry.
“How long has he been like this?” he asked urgently.
“Five, maybe six minutes.” Kasumi bit her lip. “Can you help him?”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Cyrin said, swallowing his dread. “Let me take a look at him.”
He patted Shane down quickly for injuries, but he couldn’t find any— which made sense if Clarity had cast Salve on him, at least. Whenever he touched Shane’s skin, however, it felt unnaturally warm, like he’d just come back from a run on a summer day. He held the back of his hand to Shane’s forehead, where it felt even warmer.
“He’s burning up,” he said slowly as he pulled his hand away. “Like a fever.”
“Sparrow told Clarity to weave ‘Salve flux’, if that helps,” Kasumi said. “She took a reaction to it too, but hers was different. She just looked violently sick, but didn’t… collapse.”
“Flux?” Cyrin repeated, frowning. “I’m definitely feeling Salve around him, but I don’t know what flux is—”
They spotted something sparkling on Shane’s neck and froze. It had just been a flash, gone in an instant, but the mere sight of it filled them with utter dread.
Cyrin had to will themself to reach out and pull away the collar of his shirt. Trapped just below the skin, following the tendons in Shane’s neck, a yellow streak of light flickered and shifted like lightning. They’d seen this before in diagrams on magic safety posters and warnings, but never, never in a shade so yellow and impure, and they couldn’t help but gasp.
“There’s unstable Salve magic trapped in his body.” Cyrin could hardly believe they were saying the words, delivering the news of a death sentence. “It’s magic poisoning.”
Kasumi stared at him. “Magic poisoning, or like… Magic poisoning? The real thing?”
Cyrin swallowed, feeling for Shane’s pulse. It took him a moment, but he found it in his neck, racing but weak. “I think so.”
Kasumi shook her head. “No. No, that can’t be right. He—” She looked at him in panic. “You’ve got to be able to help him. You have to. You promised you would save us from harm.”
Cyrin didn’t know what to tell her, but she was right. They did have to save Shane, and not just for the reason that she was thinking of. They let their gaze fall back to the Heir of the Hawking family, lying almost deathly still.
Almost like his parents.
Their hand shook as they pulled it away from Shane’s neck and placed it on his ribcage to monitor his breathing instead. Shane was taking weak, shallow breaths that hardly made his chest rise and fall. Magic poisoning could take up to a day to kill, but it did kill, and in a much faster timeframe that was the agonizing two to three weeks of its form in the Fading. It was an indisputable, unquestioned fact of the world— Aphirah had two moons, there were five of seven Houses left today, and magic poisoning killed everyone who got it.
But it couldn’t kill Shane. It couldn’t.
Kasumi was right that he needed to help, but it wasn’t only for the reasons she was thinking of. Even if he hadn’t sworn to protect each Heir, even if it hadn’t been his fault for getting here too late, even if he hadn’t failed to spot Clarity’s betrayal, he did need to. The sound of static was crackling in his head again, but he pushed through the terror that formed with it, focusing on the important questions to ask himself.
Wasn’t he trying to redeem himself? Could he ever forgive himself if he was able to help and chose not to? Didn’t he owe Shane anyway?
Because Cyrin could help. And they did owe it to Shane to do something, even if Shane didn’t know it.
They pulled their hand away.
Maybe cheating certain death once wasn’t enough. Maybe they had to risk it again.
Cyrin took a deep breath, not taking their eyes off Shane’s face. “I can move the magic poisoning,” they said, very quietly.
“You can remove it?” Kasumi said, her head snapping up. “Oh, thank the Saints—”
“No, not remove it.” Cyrin’s gaze flicked up to hers. “I said, I can move it. Salve is meant to be in a body, and it doesn’t want to exist outside of one. When it’s unstable, it can’t be used up for healing, and it stays around and interferes with your health until you die of it.” They paused. “Unless it goes to another body.”
Kasumi looked around at the four unconscious people lying nearby. “Well… we could transfer it to one of them, although…”
“No, I’m not doing that.” Cyrin shook their head. “I’m taking it myself.”
Kasumi stared at him for a long moment. “You are? Why?”
“I’m helping him, but I’m not sacrificing anyone else’s life to do it.” And mine might be the only life that can come back from it.
“But—” Kasumi protested. “You can’t do that. What about Mireya? What about the First Spell? We still need to get it back from Sparrow.” Her voice got more frantic. “If you do that to yourself, if you die— doesn’t your culture believe that’s dishonorable? Don’t you have an entire part of your belief system about life and death dedicated to that?”
“Kasumi,” Cyrin said firmly, but she kept talking.
“Are you planning to survive this, then? The impossible?” she demanded. “If that is something you can do, how do you know that you can? What did you live through that made Sparrow say you’re a survivor of something that’s killed everyone else? How confident are you in that?”
“Kasumi,” Cyrin repeated. “Do you want Shane to live or not? It’s a yes or no question.”
She looked at them like they were crazy for a long time before she dropped her gaze. “Yes.”
“Good. Leave that to me.” Cyrin tried to keep his voice as even as he could. “I need you to send a message to the other two groups. Tell them where we are, and that they need to get here as soon as they can. Can you do that for me?”
“I can.” Her voice trembled as she nodded.
“Thank you.” He gave her the barest hint of a smile, as much as he could summon at the moment, before he turned his attention away again and opened his communicator.
Cyrin needed to send a message to someone about this, but he didn’t have time to send one to everyone. He could send one to Mireya. He could send one to Autumn. He could send one to his father, or his step-mom, or any of his siblings, whether they liked him or not. He could even send one to Clarity, presumably still in the hallway or heading down the elevator, if he wanted. Making his decision, he opened his chat with Autumn and typed up a message.
i have to do something risky, and i might not be back for a while. if you hear from anyone that anything has happened to me, talk to your doctor, and they’ll be able to get in touch with my lawyer. they’ll be able to keep taking care of you. i love you, alright? give freckles a hug for me.
They sent it, knowing Autumn wouldn’t see it for a few hours yet. It was well too late in the night for that, and she should be sound asleep in her hospital bed right now. The thought of her resting safely brought them some peace in these moments, too.
Cyrin took Shane’s hand, where golden magic was sparkling under the lines of his palm. It still felt sickening, whatever this Salve flux was, but they ignored their revulsion.
“I’m sorry for what I did to you,” they whispered in Ren, so that Kasumi couldn’t understand. “You live with that pain every day now. I can’t fully make amends, but I can save you. You deserved better.”
Closing his eyes, Cyrin focused on the magic trapped inside Shane’s body— and then on forcing it towards him.
The gold under Shane’s skin shifted, traveling up through his hand and into Cyrin’s, where it streaked and illuminated his skin as well. It felt like lava was flowing up his arm veins, with how long it took for him to draw the magic out. Soon, it turned into a burning pain. Cyrin gritted his teeth, and occasionally he let out a grunt of effort or of pain, but he did not stop until the last of the Salve had left Shane’s body and moved into his.
He sat back, gasping weakly, as Kasumi watched him with sad, solemn eyes.
“Thank you,” she said quietly. “The others should be on their way.” She paused, clearly thinking about saying more, but she settled for a soft, “I’m sorry.”
Cyrin closed their eyes, already feeling their grip on reality slipping. They couldn’t think through that feverish, burning heat. “Makes sure Shane wakes up,” they whispered, giving up as they felt the last of their energy drain.
“I will,” Kasumi promised. As they felt themself slowly slumping to the ground, they thought they heard her add, very quietly, “You know, I hope Sparrow’s right about what he said. I hope you can survive the impossible.”
Cyrin clung to that wish as the world went black, blacker than it was already with his eyes shut.
I hope I can survive this too.
I’m going to.