Even with Shane’s prediction that Leilan and Kaja
would already be informed of the explosion, he was still surprised to see the
news coverage playing on the screen when they got to the suite. Kaja was eating
from a bowl of potato chips and sitting on the couch, keeping her eyes on the
action after a brief nod of acknowledgement at their entrance. However, Leilan
stood up to give them each a hug. This wasn’t an unusual action for him, but
Shane got the feeling that the Heir of the House of Compassion was squeezing
him a little tighter than normal.
“Looks like there’s trouble in town,” Leilan remarked,
gesturing at the footage.
“We were there, actually,” Kasumi said. “Right when it
“I’d say it was more drama than trouble,” Dawn added.
Kaja glanced away from her viewing to look at Kasumi
curiously. “You saw it?”
“Yeah, we should have waved at the cameras or
“You mean, you should not compromise national security
and the identity of future leaders by getting needless attention,” Leilan said,
but mostly as a joke, and there was interest in his voice.
“Whatever.” Kasumi held out a hand. “Chips.”
Without looking, Kaja grabbed a handful from her bowl
and flung them in her direction. Kasumi only managed to catch about two of them.
“What in the world made you think that was a
good way to share food?” Shane muttered, as Dawn scrambled to pick up and throw
away the fallen chips, and Kasumi quickly ate the two she’d caught. Leilan
shook his head, looking too tired to criticize.
“Anyway,” Kaja said, wiping her mouth and turning down
the volume. “All five of us are here. What did the mayor have to say?”
“It’s not great news,” Shane said, taking a seat on a
different couch. Dawn went for an armchair, while Kasumi took a cushion and sat
on the floor. “Long story short, there’s more and more crime in our capital,
and more and more of it involves magic. With some rather excellent timing, we
just saw an example in person on our way back. It’s out of hand.”
“I think we need a little more detail than a long story
short,” Leilan said slowly.
“Besides that, the mayor is also an incompetent idiot,”
Kasumi added, to which Shane and Dawn gave hesitant nods of agreement.
“That’ll do,” Leilan said, with some resignation in
“Sounds like Skender’s not great at enforcing our
laws,” Kaja said, still half-watching the news broadcast. “It isn’t just
Crystal City, though. This problem exists across all of Aphirah, especially in
our largest cities.”
“It would be great if we could control magic,” Kasumi
mused, crossing her legs and folding her hands in her lap. “But as much as we
want to, we can’t exactly regulate nature.”
“I don’t know about that being good,” Leilan said,
frowning slightly. “Most magic doesn’t get used in crimes. There are perfectly
lawful and helpful uses for it.”
“I mean, ideally we’d cherry-pick between what we
control and what we don’t.” Kasumi shrugged. “But again, not exactly possible.”
“That was a dangerous situation,” Dawn said softly,
drawing everyone’s attention to her. She looked bashfully at the ground, her
dark braids spilling over her shoulder as she pulled her legs up to her chest.
“I think magic’s a wonderful thing to have, and limiting access to it would also
limit our potential for creativity and innovation, but that scared me. The
blast could have ripped through a city block, with the force of an earthquake
and the power of a wildfire, if that other mage hadn’t contained it. It could
have been a disaster.”
“I know, that’s terrifying to see,” Leilan said
sympathetically. “I’m very glad it wasn’t worse.”
“I might have to process it sometime.” Dawn cleared
her throat. “I don’t think it’s sunk in how close that was yet.”
She glanced up after saying that, her gaze flickering
between each of them. When her eyes met Shane’s, he thought he saw something
expectant in her expression, then disappointment when no one said anything. Was
Dawn hoping for someone to agree with her? Aside from the suddenness of the explosion,
Shane hadn’t been too fazed by it. Sure, he’d been in danger at that moment,
with very little protecting him from it, but he’d had worse—
Oh. She’s newer. This could be her first
time being threatened.
It wasn’t his first, but he remembered that. He wasn’t
about to dismiss someone else’s experience of it.
“Me too,” Shane agreed, and he felt a little better at
seeing a slight wave of relief pass over Dawn’s face. “It’s hard to get more
dramatic than that.”
“We can take it easy for a little bit,” Leilan
suggested. “All we have left planned for tonight is dinner. Let’s be grateful
for our heroes and process things at our own pace.”
“Do we know who either of the people were?” Kasumi
asked, pointing to the screen but looking at Kaja.
Kaja shook her head. “No one’s been identified yet.”
“We sent Favia after the one who started it,” Shane
said, and he immediately saw Leilan’s eyebrows raise until they were almost
hidden in the bangs of his red-dyed hair. “I mean, she went after him herself.
She said it was her duty.”
“You walked back alone?” Leilan asked incredulously.
“It was either that or wait around for a bodyguard here
to get to us, which isn’t exactly safe either,” Kasumi argued.
Leilan sighed. “You really were fortunate then. Acelin
would have gotten you if you’d told them.”
Shane rubbed at his jaw. “You know, we’re not at so great
risk that we can’t be anywhere on our own. We’re Heirs, not six-year-olds
without critical thinking skills.”
“True,” Kaja agreed, setting her bowl of chips to the
side on her armrest. “If Shane holds that opinion, that’s how you know it
wasn’t even the slightest of a threat.”
The other three all turned to stare at her, which
Shane was glad for, because it meant they missed the red flushing his cheeks. “You
can just call me paranoid next time,” he muttered.
He saw Kaja pause in the middle of grabbing a handful of
her snack, just a moment of hesitation before she spoke again through a
mouthful. “Not my intention,” she said, which was just about as close as she
got to apologizing. “Maybe more like… cautious. Keeping an eye out for stuff.
It’s not bad that you’re always on the watch.”
“Kaja,” Dawn said in a reprimanding tone.
Kaja huffed. “I haven’t offended everybody today,
believe it or not. I’m pretty sure I didn’t insult Marius.”
Kasumi blinked. “Wait, you saw Marius?”
“He’s on vacation here and happened to be on the same
plane as us, in a seat right next to our two,” Leilan said. “We caught up while
waiting in the Amber City airport. I have some duty-free confectioner’s marshmallows
from there for you, Dawn, by the way.”
Dawn beamed. “You’re the best.”
“How’s Marius doing?” Shane asked. “It’s been a while
since I last saw him.”
“He’s doing well,” Leilan said. “He told us he’d be at
the House anniversary gathering in a week, so we’ll all see him then.”
The communicator on Shane’s wrist buzzed, distracting
him before he could reply. “It’s a call from Favia,” he said, starting to take
his earbuds out of the compartment in the side of the device.
“No, put it on speaker,” Kasumi said. “I’m curious to
see what she’s learned.”
Shane nodded, turning up the volume and accepting the
call. “Shane Hawking, in the presence of all other Heirs, speaking.”
“I take it you got back safely,” Favia said. Her voice
was measured and even, but there seemed to be a tinge of worry pulling at it.
He heard noise in the background of her audio, sounds of idle but loud
“Yes, we did.”
Kasumi cleared her throat. “So, what did you find? Did
you catch the suspect?”
There was a pause, and Shane could imagine her
glancing around a room, deciding on what to say. “I didn’t,” she said after a
moment. “I followed him to a casino on the opposite side of the ravine, but
lost him there. I’m not too concerned about that, though, because this seems to
be bigger than an explosion.”
“A bigger explosion?” Kaja asked, leaning forward.
“What? No, a—” Favia sighed. “There’s something more
important here. It seems like everyone in this casino knows why the explosion
happened. From listening, the news in the air is that it was a fight between
the two involved, with the suspect making an attempt on the person who contained
Shane scowled. “Why were they fighting?”
“The victim knew something,” Favia said. She paused
again, and this time, the silence carried more weight. “There’s some
information they have, valuable information that people would want for
themselves, or never getting out. It’s something we’d probably want to know and
make sure no one else knew.”
Shane could feel the anticipation building as the
other four Heirs pressed in around him, and he held his wrist further out to
“What kind of information, Favia?” Leilan asked.
“It’s going to sound a bit unbelievable.”
“It’s okay, tell us,” Dawn urged her. “We won’t
Even though the device’s speaker, Shane couldn’t miss
the awed rattle in the deep breath that Favia took before she went on.
“The First Spell has been found,” she whispered, with
all the reverence that such a statement demanded. “And two people know how to