Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.
Leilan was dragged along until Kaja let go of him, at which point they both walked briskly through the rest of the Arcade and across the skybridge. Once they were in the other building and had reached the elevators, Kaja jammed the up button so fiercely she was almost punching the wall. He looked over and saw her knuckles turning white through her clenched fists.
“Are you thinking we’re going in there to fight?” he asked slowly. “Or…”
“Why?” Kaja asked, very bluntly.
“You look like you’re about to hit somebody.” Leilan said the words cautiously.
Kaja glanced down at her fists, clenched by her sides, but didn’t loosen them. “Doesn’t matter if there’s a physical threat or not,” she grumbled.
“Maybe not,” Leilan relented, “but we might just be going there to help. If that’s the case, we don’t need to storm in there looking like we’re ready to—”
“Doesn’t matter,” she growled, and the sudden hint of distress that pitched her words surprised him. “They’re in trouble, regardless of what kind of threat is up there. And this stupid fucking elevator is not showing up, and we need it to, and who knows what the fuck is happening to them up there, and this fucking elevator—”
Kaja suddenly kicked the closed doors, her foot colliding with the metal noisily. His heart racing, Leilan leapt back, watching with wide eyes. He stood back, as he watched Kaja’s shoulders rise and fall with heavy breaths, her fists still clenched. Finally, she loosened them to cover and rub at her face with her hands, and it dawned on him that she was probably more upsetthan she was angry.
“Did that help?” he asked, very quietly.
“No,” she muttered, her words muffled through her palms. “I need to kick that bastard instead.”
Leilan opened his mouth to speak, but it took a while for him to think of anything to say.
“If this doesn’t end here,” he said finally, “we will make this right. I know we will.”
“Oh, we had better,” Kaja said, her words turning dark. “Whatever he’s done, he’s paying for it.”
Leilan felt a pang in his heart. Kaja almost seemed as worried as him.
The doors finally opened, and it was lucky there was no one inside coming down, both because they didn’t want to run into anyone and because Kaja stormed inside the moment they were wide enough for her to pass through. As Leilan followed, she jammed the button to the top floor, then pressed the close door button repeatedly. He would’ve told her the button didn’t really speed things along and the doors would shut at about the same time regardless, but he didn’t want to get yelled at.
“Dawn’s calling the cars so we can get back to the hotel quickly,” he told Kaja as the doors closed, and the elevator started to rise. “But we’re closer, so I think we’ll get there first.”
“Let’s hope Kasumi is in a state to help with whatever the problem is,” Kaja murmured.
The elevator slowed suddenly, but they couldn’t be at the top yet. Leilan’s gaze flicked up to the display to see that they were only at the twenty-third floor. He tensed, already worrying about the delay this would cause them, but Kaja had it sorted.
“Stay the fuck out!” she barked as soon as the doors opened at the man who was about to enter the elevator, and he flinched, taking a step back. “Our friends are in trouble at the top floor and you are not going to slow us down.”
The man looked shocked, his eyes wide. He was dressed in business formal, and Leilan took a guess that he worked on behalf of the Fortune, rather than a more criminal role in the Arcade. “I just— just want to get something from my office five floors up—” he stammered.
“Take the fucking stairs!” Kaja shouted at him, slamming the close door button, and the man dashed away as the doors shut again.
Leilan took a deep breath as the elevator went back to rising, giving Kaja a side glance. She was staring intently at the crack in the doors, just waiting for them to open again.
“Did I hear you call them—” he started.
“Leilan, I will throw you down this chute if you finish that sentence,” Kaja said, not tearing her gaze away from the doors.
Leilan glanced away again. Well. It was something, at least.
The elevator deaccelerated to a stop as they approached the top floor, and Leilan was about to mention that they didn’t know where they should be looking for Sparrow’s office. But he was distracted from that though by the doors opening to reveal someone standing in front of them, and he tensed.
He’d never seen the woman before, and he took in her appearance quickly. She looked about his age, but stood a little taller than him. Her blonde hair hid some of her face, but he saw her blank expression and the way her blue eyes were bloodshot. He froze when he saw the MagicBox on her hip, and Kaja stiffened beside him as well, but she did nothing to reach for it or cast a spell. Instead, she simply stepped in the elevator, holding the button to keep the doors open.
As a tense silence lingered between the three of them, she finally spoke up.
“To the right, down the hall, three doors down,” she said, very quietly, without looking at them.
Kaja immediately moved out of the elevator, turning right.
“Thank you,” Leilan said hurriedly, following after her, but the stranger didn’t say anything. She just nodded, staring straight ahead. He glanced over his shoulder as the elevator doors closed, just in time to catch her raising her forearm to her face and wipe her eyes.
In that moment, he felt a burning of empathy for someone who he didn’t even know.
Ahead, Kaja had shoved the door they’d been directed to open, and Leilan expected her to storm inside. Instead, she stood in the doorway, her lips slightly parted and speechless. This was only more worrying. He hurried over, and it was only when he got to standing behind her than she stepped in, moving out of the way so he could see inside.
Inside the room— an office for Sparrow, judging by the layout— there were seven people. Six of them were lying on the floor. The only one who hadn’t collapsed was Kasumi, who was kneeling on the ground and had just turned her head to them, a mix of panic and relief flashing in her eyes when she saw them. Leilan’s gaze flicked around to the other people in the room. Four of them looked to be associates of Sparrow who he didn’t know, but the other two were… Shane and Cyrin. Both of them were lying side by side, with their eyes closed and holding very still.
Panic sparked within Leilan, and he darted forward.
“Kasumi, what happened?” he asked urgently, dropping to kneel beside her and examine Shane and Cyrin both at once. It wasn’t possible, so he turned his attention to Shane, holding his hand to his neck. He sensed his pulse, slow and faint, and he could see the rise and fall of his breathing. Relief crashed over him, but he was still drowning in worry.
Kasumi swallowed, meeting his gaze, and he didn’t like the look in her eyes at all. “Do you want the good news or bad news first?”
“Just share, Kasumi,” Kaja ordered, hurrying over as well.
Kasumi hesitated, taking a deep breath. “The good news is,” she said quietly, “Shane should be completely okay. He looks bad, I know, but he’s just recovering.”
Even though the danger for his friend seemed to be past, he felt his heart skip a beat out of fear anyway.
“From what?” Leilan asked, with a feeling he wouldn’t like the answer at all.
Kasumi looked over to Cyrin. “What they have now,” she said, a strange finality in her voice. “It’s magic poisoning. Shane had it, and Cyrin took it for him.”
Slowly, as the words processed, Leilan turned his head to Cyrin, who hadn’t moved.
“What?” he asked in a whisper.
“Just look,” Kasumi said.
“Holy fuck,” Kaja said suddenly, and the tone of utter shock in her voice scared Leilan like nothing else. She didn’t say what she meant, but she didn’t need to. He saw it a moment later.
Cyrin’s arms were spread out slightly to their sides, palms face up. A flicker of gold magic flashed under the thin skin of their wrist, and even though he’d already heard the news, Leilan still couldn’t believe it. That faint glow… that was certain death.
“Why?” he whispered, unable to move. “How?”
“Clarity was here,” Kasumi said, her tone immediately turning disgusted. “She let Sparrow know was happening, and he didn’t bring the First Spell. Then she cast this on Shane.”
“Clarity? Was she a mage with blonde hair?” Kaja asked.
Kasumi nodded quickly.
Kaja growled under her breath. “She better hope she doesn’t run into me twice.”
“We passed her in the elevator,” Leilan said quietly for context. “She told us to go here.” He reached for Shane’s hand and held it, but his eyes were still on Cyrin.
“Really?” Kasumi sounded unimpressed. “Well, she fled. Cyrin showed up late, and he…” She hesitated. “He figured out it was magic poisoning, and then he seemed to think he had to do something about it. He got the idea of transferring the corrupted Salve, but he wanted to take it, as opposed to giving it to one of them.” She glanced to the four unconscious henchmen. “He decided to, even though…” She trailed off helplessly.
Leilan didn’t understand. Of course Cyrin would want to help— he’d shown himself to be far from heartless. But they weren’t paying him for this. He’d made an oath with Leilan to protect the Heirs, but that had been a vow of equals. Failing it meant Cyrin was indebted to him, not that he risked something as severe as losing his life. But that was exactly the sacrifice Cyrin had just made.
“We’ve got to take him back with us,” he said, holding Shane’s hand tighter. “He saved Shane’s life. There’s very little we can still do for them, but…”
He couldn’t finish what he was saying. His heart ached for Cyrin, but it also ached so, so much for Shane. He could’ve lost him. Lost Shane, of all people. His friend’s pulse was weakly racing through his palm, and Leilan clung to it, knowing it was only there because of a near-stranger’s brave compassion. Just knowing how close it had been filled him with something close to grief, and Leilan didn’t know what he’d be doing if Shane was the one dying here, if he’d been the one to find him instead of Kasumi. He didn’t want to know. He didn’t want to imagine the way his heart would tear itself in his chest.
He felt his eyes burn, stinging with something between insane relief and deep sorrow. He owed Cyrin everything for this, but he didn’t know how he’d ever repay the debt of his closest friend’s life with this little time left.
The office door creaked open, and he heard Mireya’s voice.
Leilan finally turned, seeing her and Dawn standing in the doorway. Just like he and Kaja had done, their gazes scanned the room, looking progressively more worried. They finally got to Cyrin, and Dawn only looked more confused, but Mireya’s eyes widened with what looked like realization.
“What happened?” she asked again, much quieter, already sounding like she was in shock.
Leilan expected Kasumi to launch into what must have been her third explanation of the situation, but instead, she pushed herself to her feet, striding forward to meet them until she was standing directly in front of Mireya. She raised her feet and looked Mireya directly in the eye—which wasn’t hard, given they were both the same height. Leilan had no idea what was coming, but he saw the spark of something fierce in her eyes.
“Mireya,” Kasumi said calmly. “Got any Saintly wisdom to spare in this time of trouble?”