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The Last Spell 35.2

by SilverNight

Apparently, five Heirs and their special guest still had to wait in line for their own party, so Leilan had plenty of time to stare off at the Summer Palace while anxiously counting the minutes.

The Flare-enhanced spotlights illuminated the sides of the grand building, making the details and textures of the walls clearer in the dimming glow of the early winter sunset, and the pillars at the entrance cast heavy shadows over the marble steps. The domed roof towered over them, forcing Leilan to crane his head if he wanted to see the gilded top— and yet, the palace was short, compared to the modern city skyscrapers that surrounded it on all other blocks. The tourists, kept out by the exclusive event indoors, filled the cobblestone plaza around him, settling for the dramatic evening views in place of visiting the inside.

It was ironic, Leilan thought, that the Houses would celebrate the anniversary of their founding by reuniting in the only palace in Aphirah that wasn’t theirs— the palace that was a relic of the Summer War, named after the man who very nearly succeeded in making the East its own country eight centuries ago. And yet, it was also fitting. It was going to an old enemy’s former seat of power and asserting their own might over it. There were few declarations of authority that could be stronger than that.

The line shuffled forward, bringing them a few steps closer to the front, and Shane, who had his eyes fixed on the palace, bumped into Leilan with a murmured apology. Leilan knew this was an important location to him, as a site where history had unfolded, and he couldn’t help but wonder what was on his mind right now. He’d have asked, if the six of them didn’t feel so unusually silent.

That silence was suddenly and unexpectedly interrupted by Kaja’s sigh, as she glared over the tops of their heads to the front of the line.

“This line is too slow,” she grumbled, kicking impatiently at the cobblestones. “Can’t there be a VIP line or something?”

“This is a VIP line. There isn’t a single person in this line who isn’t a VIP, or else they wouldn’t be invited,” Kasumi pointed out.

Kaja threw up her hands. “Well, I think there should be a VVIP line. A very, very—”

“I think we could all figure out what that was supposed to stand for,” Mireya said flatly.

Shane, who didn’t have Kaja’s height but was still solidly second-tallest, was peeking over the line. “I suppose this delay would be worth it if there was any chance it’d keep someone like Sparrow out, but I doubt even this security would manage that.”

“Exactly!” Kaja exclaimed. “While we’re being lumped in with all these people, Sparrow and his cronies are probably sneaking into a top floor window as we speak.”

“Well, not the top floor,” Shane said. “That’s been magically sealed off and hasn’t been accessed since Summer died. No one’s figured out how to get in.”

Kaja cast him a dry look. “Forgive me for trying to make a point.”

“The party’s still just starting. We’ll only be fashionably late,” Leilan said patiently.

Mireya huffed. “Fashionably late was twenty cobblestones in line behind us. We’re not going to be fashionably late. We’re going to be plain old late and wearing last year’s out-of-style designer clothes.”

Kaja pointed at Mireya. “See, the Saint agrees with me.”

“No, you don’t get to pull the Saint approval card,” Mireya protested.

Dawn cleared her throat, and Leilan expected the bickering to go on right over her, but surprisingly, everyone actually went quiet and turned her way.

“I could walk up to the front and ask nicely if we can skip it,” she offered. “They probably don’t want us waiting.”

“Or I could walk up and ask them meanly. That sounds like it’ll work better,” Kaja said.

Dawn sighed softly. “Okay, here’s what’s gonna happen. I’m going to ask nicely. And if it doesn’t work, I’ll be back so you can play bad cop.”

“I’ll be here when you need me,” Kaja agreed.

Dawn left the line, tugging up the sleeve of her dress so it was more symmetrical with her other shoulder. It was a lavender purple gown that gave her surprisingly good mobility for the formalness of the attire, so she had no trouble walking quickly to the entrance, where security was diligently scanning the fingerprints of a woman wearing the scarlet of the House of Strength. In fact, all of them had done a rather good job walking the line between wearing outfits that were the expected level of fanciness and yet functional enough that they wouldn’t be restrictive for their heist. The suits Leilan, Shane and Kaja were in— gold, green and red respectively— were made of flexible, comfortable fabric, and Kasumi had worn a silver cocktail dress and shorter heels that she could still run in, which she proved by sprinting circles around the Heir suite when Leilan had expressed concern. Even Mireya had gotten one of Kasumi’s halter dresses for the occasion, which was of course in blue. Leilan was quietly relieved that their outfits didn’t seem like they would be problems tonight. They had enough of those already.

“Who’s here already?” Shane asked quietly.

“All of the House Leaders are,” Leilan said. “So is Marius, and plenty of other guests who made it here early.”

“Has Marius noticed anything yet?” Kasumi asked.

“No,” Leilan said. “He messaged me just to let me know he’d made it in and that the tiramisu dessert was great.”

Kasumi hummed. “Keeping that in mind.”

Shane glanced at Mireya with an unreadable expression. “What about Clarity? Has her location moved?”

Mireya tapped at her communicator, staring intently at the screen. “Not yet,” she said, a little wearily. “She’s still in the Starlight City downtown area.”

“Anywhere in particular?” Leilan asked.

Mireya waved a hand. “Just the Gallery in general.”

She received four blank stares in response.

“The what?” Kaja asked.

A look of realization passed over Mireya’s face. “Oh. I guess it’s a bit like the Arcade, just in Starlight City instead.”

“Starlight City has its own Arcade?” Kasumi asked disbelievingly.

“A wannabe Arcade,” Mireya amended, in a lower tone that only their group could hear. “Less grand, smaller fronts instead of the Fortune. It’s a lot less fun without the gambling ambiance, honestly. Sparrow doesn’t have a stranglehold on it, though, which is the good thing about it.” She paused. “I tried to convince Cyrin to work out of there instead when we partnered up, but they didn’t want to leave Clarity behind. So we stayed in Crystal City.”

Well. It didn’t reassure Leilan to know that there was a similar den of crime in Starlight City, but he wasn’t a cop, and he didn’t expect to need to hold on to this information, because hopefully he’d be able to forget any of this ever happened when it was all over.

“You’ll find her,” Shane said softly after a pause, and suddenly Leilan could identify what was on his face. Sad, almost-mournful empathy. “Whether she shows up here or not.”

Mireya looked up from her communicator as she lowered her wrist, looking a little surprised. “Thanks,” she said quietly.

“Hey!” Dawn’s voice called from ahead.

Leilan turned to see her at the front of the line, waving them forward with haste. The people at the front of the line had begrudging but complacent expressions, leading him to think they’d relented to let their group skip ahead of them.

“Being nice worked!” Dawn hollered, sounding just a little proud.

“I’ll be damned,” Kaja muttered as she stepped out of line, looking disappointed that she no longer got to be mean to some unfortunate security guard.

The rest of them followed, quickly passing those ahead of them. Leilan saw a few irritated expressions being shot their way, before he caught a word being whispered through the line— Heirs— and those looks rapidly turned shocked, almost disbelieving. He didn’t have time to focus on who any of them were, if they were from his House, if they knew the five of them had been gone. He just hurried along.

Dawn was talking to one of the security guards— a woman with a deeply bored scowl— and she pointed at them as they joined her. “This is the rest of my party,” she said.

The security guard looked them up and down, raising her eyebrows, and Leilan could tell she’d already had her fill of the guests. “There’s six of you,” she said. “Which one of you short girlies is from the House of Honor?”

“I’m sorry?” Kasumi asked, but Leilan wasn’t sure if it was a genuine question or she was just offended about the height comment.

The security guard pointed between her and Mireya. “You and her are both wearing their colors, hun. Which one of you’s the Heir?”

Kasumi stuck up her hand, and she seemed to be trying to make herself even taller on her high heels.

“Alright. Get your IDs ready.” The security guard then waved at Mireya. “You can get back in line, hun.”

The six of them were silent for a long moment. Leilan watched Mireya’s eyebrows knit together.

“Uh,” she started faintly, sounding unusually awkward.

“What?” the security guard asked, with flat impatience. “Are you going to tell me you’re a sixth Heir or something, hun?”

“No,” Mireya hastily corrected. “It’s just—I need to stick with them.”

The security guard folded her arms over her chest. “Well, here I was told you all were Heirs needing to get in the building, pronto, but if you’re not, then—”

“She’s my date,” Dawn cut in firmly. “Don’t House members get a plus one to go in with them?”

Startled, Leilan turned to Dawn to catch the stubborn tilt of her chin and the calm look in her eyes. That was the face of someone sticking to their words. The security guard looked like she was about to argue further, but when she saw it, she visibly faltered and thought twice.

“Alright,” she relented. “Your IDs out, please, and we’ll scan her handprint along with yours.” She paused. “Enjoy your date, hun.”

They got their identity confirmed, and although Leilan could tell that the security guards wanted to make a fuss over Mireya’s very old ID, just like the agents at the airport had—which he now understood the reasons for— they took one look at Dawn and decided not to pick that battle. Good for them.

As they left the checkpoint behind and moved into the Summer Palace, Leilan heard Mireya whispering, “Uh, so, was that an excuse or did—”

Dawn scooped up Mireya’s hand firmly, the resolved look still on her face, and that not only shut up Mireya but kept any of them from speaking up too.

“Where are we all headed?” she asked evenly.

Leilan looked around at their surroundings. Somehow, the palace looked even more vast on the inside. The floor was checkered marble, looking clean and pristine despite thousands of tourists walking over it daily. Gold carvings of leaves trailed up the white stone walls like ivy, seeming to grow up all the way to the high ceiling. Ahead of them, two elegant staircases curled up at the corners of the farthest wall, leading up to the floor above. A raised platform sat between them, covered in a velvet red carpet that was fenced off, and a regal-looking throne rested on it.

Of course, the place was full, and this was just the entry hall. House members and other affluent or influential Aphirans drifted about the space in their finest clothes, striking up conversation in groups or making a stop at the buffet. Leilan squinted around, trying to find his mothers, who would be wearing some outfit in gold, white, or both. To his disappointment, he didn’t see either of them. He’d hoped to explain himself and the other Heirs to them here, but…

Leilan shook his head to clear it. They weren’t here on personal business. He’d have an easier time talking to them after he’d saved the day, anyway.

“We’re splitting up,” he said. “Talk to people and keep up appearances, but don’t get distracted. Keep an eye out for anyone suspicious— and Mireya, keep monitoring Clarity. If you see anyone and decide to follow them, send a message to the group chat that has all of us first.” Leilan paused. “Clear?”

He got five decisive nods in return.

“Alright.” Leilan looked around their strange little team, feeling a funny sense of pride for a moment, before he patted Shane’s shoulder and broke away from the group. “Go forth and mingle.”

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1515 Reviews

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Mon Jun 03, 2024 4:36 am
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IcyFlame wrote a review...

Ok I’m finally caught up! Sorry again for how long this has taken me!

I really enjoyed the description at the start of this part. It brings me into the moment without getting too in depth and I like the subtle Summer War reference too to give us world building without tonnes of detail.

“Well, not the top floor,” Shane said. “That’s been magically sealed off and hasn’t been accessed since Summer died. No one’s figured out how to get in.”

Such good foreshadowing! And because Shane is such a history buff there’s no questioning the relevance of him making this point.

I’m also loving the bit of extra Dawn love this chapter. Her worth isn’t always super obvious, so the fact she can get them into the party with no questions asked is a nice flex of the fact that actually she’s a really useful asset. Also massively squee-ed over Mireya being referred to as her date even though it’s under the guise of getting her in!

The splitting up gives me both Scooby Doo and ominous vibes… last time they split up we know what happened!

I’m looking forward to the chaos (I think) but can we please get updates on how Cyrin is doing because my heart hurts? Mireya and Dawn can only heal it so much xD

See you for the next chapter!


IcyFlame says...

@Plume I need you to catch up so we can have more chapters pls <3

Plume says...

Ahhh I will I will <3

SilverNight says...

WAIT ICY OMG how did I not notice this review??!?! Man I'm so behind on this that I'm even behind on the reviews. Thank you (both!) so much <3

The heavens laugh with you in your jubilee; my heart is at your festival.
— William Shakespeare