Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.
Shane had learned very early on how to walk in a crowd when you had power. The key was never to convey any of that power. If he was walking with others, like he was now in Crystal City’s downtown, they could all walk single file without giving much of a clue that they were together, or all in a line while talking to each other, but never in a line without talking among themselves. Ordinary people wove through the crowd without regard to anyone else. People with regular friends made conversation with each other. But a clear group that wasn’t chatting stood out, often in a way that seemed like they thought they were above that behavior. That got noticed. And while an Heir’s power was not to be overlooked— he’d been told that enough— it didn’t mean everyone always had to be looking at him.
Kasumi and Dawn were both to his right, and Favia to his left, so they had gone for the talking way of blending in. Amazingly, their discussion wasn’t constricted or controlled by an invisible script. Shane had been taught what subjects were fine to talk about and what to avoid in conversations that existed only for the sake of having one, but he appreciated that the Heirs didn’t stick to that list of pre-approved topics. It felt good to have something natural about their dynamic, that responsibility and professionalism didn’t have to stifle everything they could have in a relationship. They did have to know each other.
At least, he appreciated it more when the conversation was actually interesting.
“My feet hurt,” Kasumi huffed, nearly stumbling into Shane as she tried to stay alongside the rest of the group. “And they’re also numb. You’d think that means they wouldn’t hurt, but they do. I think they’re dead and I’ve been walking on dead feet.”
“We can hold a funeral for them when we’re back,” Dawn said sympathetically.
“Actually, we’re going to be late for dinner,” Shane said. “We should leave almost the moment we get back to the hotel. Funerals have to be scheduled 48 hours ahead at minimum.”
“Favia, is it in your job description to pick up and carry people who can’t walk any further?” Kasumi asked their bodyguard hopefully.
Favia’s look was blank. “Not unless it’s an emergency. If it is an emergency, I’m required to, miss.”
Kasumi sighed. “Damn.”
“You can always change out of the heels when we get there, you know,” Shane told her, getting to a street corner just as the walking sign flashed green. Every time the lights changed for them, the downtown crosswalks were flooded with pedestrians, creating clashing currents of people all going their own way. “Funerals need to be planned ahead, but we can make time for something like that.”
“I’ll take my last step before I lose any of my height or sense of style.”
“Have it your way.”
“I know this would be harder for you, Kasumi, but I’m actually enjoying this,” Dawn said softly, head raised as she looked around at the mountain peaks scratching through the clouds and the light from billboards flashing off glass windows. “It’s kind of nice to get out of the car and travel differently, isn’t it?”
Shane was fairly sure he agreed with her for different reasons than what she was thinking, but he nodded anyway. Kasumi just shrugged.
“We’d have missed a lot of this on a drive,” Dawn continued, now gesturing at the fluid motion of the crowd. “It’s cool to be a part of it instead of on the other side of a glass pane. Maybe it’s something we can do more often—”
The ground suddenly rocked under Shane’s feet, like an explosion under the earth rippling its way up to them, making him lose his balance. He reached out blindly for something to hold on to, and his fingers curled around something, but he was still falling. It turned out to be the equally unstable Dawn’s arm that he’d grabbed, and she managed to clutch onto a lamppost at the last moment, stopping her fall and his. He heard a shriek behind him, and he turned his head to see Kasumi— who no doubt had been wobbling in her heels— lifted into Favia’s arms.
“I don’t mind that we would have missed the crime though,” Dawn muttered when the shaking had stopped, her gaze fixed on something across the street that Shane couldn’t see.
“Put me down, put me down, I take it back,” Kasumi protested, wriggling in Favia’s grasp until the bodyguard set her down. “I’ve changed my mind about being carried.”
“It was an emergency,” Favia replied, her voice flat, but there was a concerned crease on her forehead as she scanned the area for signs of further danger.
“There, look,” Dawn said suddenly, tugging on Shane’s sleeve, and he turned around to see what she meant.
On the opposite side of the street, people were staggering to their feet, gathered around a scene. There were two people facing each other, one standing in a smoking alley, the other with their hands raised, fingers still glimmering with the echoes of magic. The crowd was pointing accusing fingers at the man in the alley, and it took him a moment to realize that probably meant he was the one responsible for causing the earth to shake. The other person, clearly a mage, must have interfered. Shane could only really get a look at them before both people burst into motion, the Minor Mage to dash into a building and the culprit to flee back in the direction the four of them had been walking in.
“That was Tremor, wasn’t it?” Kasumi asked slowly.
“I think there was Flare too,” Dawn said. “I was watching that side of the street. They’re both mages, and the one who went into the building cast a Force spell to shield the street from the blast. I think they were just a bystander.”
Shane turned to Favia. “You’ve got to leave us if there’s some threat to the city that’s bigger than us, right? You should go after them.”
Favia pursed her lips, watching the escaping mage push his way through people. “Yes,” she said slowly, considering the situation. “Tremor magic counts as a threat of that size. Following them protects you better than staying with you.”
“Go ahead,” Kasumi said hurriedly. “We’re only a few minutes away now, and there’s more bodyguards at the hotel. We’ll be alright.”
Favia gave a stiff nod, then quickly moved through the crowd, forcing her way between pedestrians to follow a path parallel to the runaway. Remembering that they needed to keep moving, Shane grabbed Dawn and Kasumi each by one hand and pulled them along.
“I bet Kaja and Leilan haven’t had anything nearly that eventful today,” Kasumi said, somewhat distantly.
“I hope they haven’t,” Shane muttered, trying to replay the scene in his mind. The explosion had left an echo in his mind of vibrations that had faded from the earth but not from his thoughts. It could have been so much worse, and he didn’t even need to imagine what could have happened if the other mage hadn’t stepped in. What had they looked like? He’d barely gotten a glimpse before they’d dashed into the next building over, but he thought he remembered a wave of dark hair, black clothes, olive-brown skin like Leilan’s. Someone almost familiar, in a strange way. “There’s already a lot going on, and we don’t need any more to deal with.”
“It’s been an amazing day,” Kasumi said, so calmly that he almost missed that it was sarcastic until she added, “My feet are so fucking sore and it needs to get over.”
“We are going to tell them about the explosion, right?” Dawn asked. “The information from the meeting is most important, of course, but we should let them know about this.”
Shane glanced over his shoulder to watch the scene again. Media crews had already shown up, crowding around the alley before there were even police officers to tape it off, cameras zooming in on the smoke. Whatever the magic event had started as, it was now a show for screens everywhere.
“They might already know,” he said.