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The Last Spell 35.1

by SilverNight

Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.

When he was five, Leilan had gotten properly, truly sick.

He still didn’t know what it had been with, since he’d never visited a doctor for it, but he remembered the way his stomach had felt like it was splitting apart in his chest. That week, his family’s neighbors had complained of slight belly pains and vague nausea, blaming it on likely water contamination in their area, but he’d been the only one to actually get ill. It had been a nasty few days of him moaning weakly in his bed as his mother had fretted over their options, all of which had been too costly. Finally, the best path had been decided on— give him time to get better, and hope that he did. It was a risk, but they didn’t have health insurance and they needed to eat that month.

His saving grace had arrived in the form of Kalea, his oldest sister, rushing into their room with a cunning smirk and a waggle of her eyebrows.

“I have a plan,” she’d announced, grandly plopping to a seat on the creaky floor in front of his bed.

Leilan had merely groaned at her and attempted to hide his face from her with a pillow, but she’d snatched it away from him and sat on it.

“Guess what.” Kalea had grinned, before she’d held up a glowing cluster of slightly yellow-tinted magic. It had taken Leilan a moment to recognize it for what it was, since he’d hardly seen any magic at the time. Certainly, he hadn’t ever seen his twelve-year-old sister dangling it by a strand, even though he’d known she’d tested for being a Minor Mage.

“You got magic?” Leilan had asked disbelievingly.

“Not just any magic.” Her grin had widened. “It’s Salve magic. That’s the kind that heals you. I think it’ll get rid of whatever you’ve got.”

“How’d you get it?”

Kalea had clicked her tongue. “Never mind you that.”

“Comforting,” Leilan had grumbled.

“Enough of that grousing,” Kalea had said with a wave of her hand. “Come on, don’t you want to feel better?”

At the time, Leilan had had been curious about how she’d gotten access to this solution, but it had been clear to him why she’d thought of it. Kalea had wanted to be a doctor, and she’d frequently spoken of her dreams with pride. Their mother had encouraged her, promising she’d heal many people one day. It wasn’t until they were all gone, really, that Leilan had realized his mom had probably never had the heart to explain the unlikeliness of it ever happening, and Kalea had never gotten to an age suitable for her dreams to be crushed at.

“Yes,” he’d admitted.

Leilan didn’t exactly remember how Kalea had made the spell, but he knew she must have struggled through it, given that she’d never received any real training with magic. What he did recall was feeling better after she’d done it, by some miracle—and then afterwards when his mother had scolded Kalea on the possible dangers of what she’d done. It was the first time he’d ever heard the words magic poisoning spoken, but he’d managed to glean their meaning from the short dispute. A rare occurrence, but a deadly one, caused by unstable Salve magic. Leilan would’ve had a reaction almost right away if he’d contracted it, so his mother’s worry wasn’t fully warranted, but the severity of magic poisoning hadn’t been lost on him since.

Even so, now that it had hit close to home, he realized he possibly hadn’t been taking it seriously enough this whole time.

The plane jolted as the wheels hit the ground, and Leilan snapped out of his brief daze, realizing he’d been staring at Cyrin’s still form. He looked away with an uncomfortable swallow. It enraged him that there was really, truly nothing to do about it, even just to make things easier for him. Other terminal conditions could be treated— staved off, even, for a time. But magic poisoning wasn’t a slow-acting cancer, or even normal poisoning that an antidote might exist for. It had been a death sentence for all of human history and its only mercy was that it never lasted for long.

Not for the first time, Leilan did the mental math on how long it had been. About eight hours of the night, if Cyrin had taken the poisoning around ten in the evening. Then two hours before getting on the plane. Finally, a seven-and-a-half-hour flight north. He knew averages were misleading, but if he was going to go with the statistic of a one-day survival time that had been drilled into his head with every magic poisoning PSA he’d encountered, Cyrin had about six hours left.

The House event was in four hours. Saints knew when— or how— they’d be getting back from it.

Leilan drew in a deep, strained breath, covering his eyes with a hand. He knew he should be mentally going over their plan, but all that would come to mind was how wrong this was.

Mireya had a point. Maybe he hadn’t known what he was saying when he’d called Cyrin a hero. He wasn’t wrong, but he’d missed the point entirely. The seven of them were caught up in a web of injustices, and it was causing good people— heroes— to suffer from it. Not only that, but the fault lay with the same system they were traveling to visit. The same system he was supposed to inherit and uphold. The same system Mireya had once built up herself two thousand, one hundred and fifty years ago. And if a system got heroes killed… well, how could it be anything other than villainous?

She must be horribly disappointed. Isn’t she?

“Leilan? Are we going?”

Leilan blinked, pulling his hand away from his face to see Kaja in the aisle next to him, already carrying Cyrin. He glanced over their blank face. During the flight, he’d tried to gently shake them awake a few times to see if they would eat and gain some strength, but it had only earned him incoherent mumbling. Sometimes, he’d thought it had been a plea. Other times, it sounded like Cyrin had uttered a name— once, he could’ve sworn he even heard them say Mother. But those brief moments of consciousness had never lasted long enough for Cyrin to open their eyes, much less eat.

“Yeah,” he said hollowly, rising from his seat. “We’re going.”

~ ~ ~

Leilan knew Shane wanted to say something. He knew how to read his friend, and as he watched Shane stand in front of a mirror to try on a suit, his need to speak was visible in every bit of his composure. It was in the tight clench of his jaw, the way his hands were folded stiffly behind his back, the tension in his shoulders. Even the green of the suit brought out the fire in his eyes. When Shane suddenly turned away from the mirror to face him and throw up his hands, Leilan was ready for it.

“This is so fucking stupid,” he muttered.

“What is?” Leilan asked. He knew everything was messed up at the moment, but he wanted to hear Shane explain it to him.

Shane swept his hand towards the door. “We have someone, here, in our hotel, who is dying, and I’m trying on a suit.”

Leilan knew that wasn’t the end of it, so he quietly nodded, attentively listening. Sure enough, Shane went on, beginning to pace around the room.

“And I get it, we’re on a mission, one we have to keep up appearances for,” Shane continued bitterly, walking back and forth in front of the mirror. “We have to show up as Heirs. But how is it not heartless to leave Cyrin here while we go to a party in our finest clothes and sip champagne? We couldn’t have done anything without them, and here we are, preparing to abandon them in return for their help.” Shane suddenly whirled to Leilan again, his gaze piercing with quiet but burning outrage. “How is any of this fair? How is it right?”

Leilan inhaled a deep breath, scanning his friend’s face. This anger wasn’t for him, he knew that. But it was surprising nonetheless to see it from Shane.

“It’s not,” he said. “It’s not fair or right to them. I don’t want to pretend it is.”

“We should be doing right by them,” Shane said, his voice suddenly quiet. “Anything else is just cruelty.”

“Shane,” Leilan said softly, stepping closer to rest his hands on his friend’s shoulders. “I hear you. I really, really do. But we can’t stay here anymore than we can bring Cyrin along with us. We did the best we could by bringing them to Starlight City. Mireya’s saying her goodbyes now. The best way to honor them is by finishing the work we started with them. The closest thing to what is fair is bringing Sparrow to justice.”

Shane stood still, dropping his gaze as his expression clouded.

“I know,” he said in a faint voice. “And it still doesn’t feel like enough.”

“Okay,” Leilan said gently, keeping his hands where they were. “Let’s start there. Knowing that nothing we do will feel like enough, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything— what could we still do for them to make this better?”

Shane was silent for a few moments. He didn’t look up, but Leilan felt the deep breath he took as his shoulders rose, then fell.

“We should send flowers to his family,” he said. “Anonymously or otherwise. We should make sure that a window’s open in their room before we leave. Mireya should receive Cyrin’s share of the reward. And if anything comes out about criminal ties or deeds after he dies, what happened here needs to be part of the story. He shouldn’t be a shameful figure. He deserves to be known as a hero.”

“We can do all that,” Leilan promised. “I’m sure Mireya will personally see to the window. We can likely find out who their next of kin is from her as well. Those are good ideas, Shane. Thank you for bringing them up.”

Shane nodded, finally flicking his green eyes back up to Leilan’s face. “Alright,” he said quietly.

Leilan felt a wave of sadness wash over him as he watched him. From all he could tell, Shane had barely enough energy to be angry— the rest was weariness.

It hadn’t always been this way, he knew. Shane had once been highly motivated and passionate. He’d been an academic with his eye on a doctorate, and he’d spoken of his ambitions and plans with excitement— with hope, too, since he’d had his parents’ support every step of the way. Leilan still saw traces of it, sometimes, when Shane got to talk about history, and his interest in it betrayed him into going on at length. But other than its short revivals, that passion had died a firm death. Three years and counting and the light in his eyes had not been resurrected.

When Shane had stood in the parlor and said those words— I should be dead— like it was an injustice to him that he wasn’t, Leilan hadn’t reacted with surprise. All he’d been able to feel was a knowing ache. For realizing that of course his closest friend felt that way, and that of course nothing in the last few years, done by Leilan or anyone else, had changed that.

He still couldn’t do much, he knew. But that didn’t stop him from gently wrapping his arms around Shane and holding him close.

Tiredly, Shane leaned into the embrace as he hugged Leilan back, his breathing shuddery and hardly controlled. Leilan held on tighter so there could be no doubts about whether he was going anywhere.

“We’ll be in this together, Shane,” he said softly. “Like we always have been. You had my back the moment you met me, when I was a scared kid feeling out of my depth in my new life, and I’ve got your back now. You are brave and good-hearted enough for this.”

He might’ve heard a sniff from Shane. Or it might’ve just been a sharper inhale through the nose. Either way, his friend hugged him tighter.

“Love you, Leilan,” Shane said quietly. “Thank you.”

Leilan closed his eyes, letting the hotel room and the place they were going slip out of his mind for a few moments. He still had one thing left to say before they could leave here.

“Love you too, Shane. However dark it seems, I promise you, you’re going to make it.”

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u can't have villains exist just 2 b villains
— ShadowVyper