Chapter 21: A Real Trickster

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Once the Dionysian had landed on Dune, it hadn’t taken much time for Fiearius to dig up information about this guy that Leta wanted to meet so badly. After Leta, Cy and Corra left the ship, he’d gone to the bridge and loaded up the Society database with the intention of only skimming through Arnett Casner’s profile, perhaps confirming Leta’s report on his employment status. He’d ended up reading the whole record. What he found was horrifying enough that it made him wish he’d done so sooner. Ideally, before the doctor, his brother and his best gunhand left to find the guy.

Arnett Casner was a 2nd Division Solutions Agent, Internal Affairs, Vescent.  On one hand, he mostly did the lighter work: he fed the outspoken Anti-Society dissenters into the prison ship system. As a 2nd Division Agent, he didn’t have the execution powers of their 1st Division colleagues. On the other hand, Fiearius had never met one that didn’t want that power.

Casner, he’d read, was no different. If anything, he was worse. 2nd Division agents getting unnecessarily violent with their captives was a common story, but Arnett Casner had been convicted of outright murdering at least four of his. With each case, he’d put in a transfer request to the 1st, but each time, was denied on grounds of inability to follow orders. He’d ended up serving on nearly every prison ship in the fleet as a receiving officer where, in his final week of service, he’d tortured a Carthian spy to death. His last job had been bringing in one Vescentian Ren Calimore for questioning and detainment. And then he was out.

He’d also gotten away with all the misdeeds of his career. Casner was a prominent enough figure in Vescent’s budding Internal Affairs department that they couldn’t outright get rid of him. Instead, they had, true to Leta’s story, retired him to Dune where he took on a more ‘public relations’ style role, throwing parties and creating social contacts to gain a foothold for the Society in its upper crust. He really had retired. But, now knowing what he knew about this vicious bastard, even that didn’t soothe Fiearius’ nerves much.

In the end, his imagination got the best of him. He could just see cocky little Leta walking up to this guy, Corra and Cyrus obediently in tow, and asking him questions about the Baltimore like the entitled princess she was. What happened after that, he preferred not to picture. In any case, now he was obligated to step in.

Begrudgingly, he stopped in his quarters to dig up something decent and formal to wear and cover the many distinguishable tattoos on his arms. Then he slicked back his hair with enough gel to turn the characteristic red into brown and made a brief pit-stop at a nearby costume shop to buy the most covering mask he could find. It just happened to be in the likeness of a fiery red bird. Good enough to make him completely unrecognizable? Absolutely. Subtle? Not at all.

After that, locating the gala was easy. The whole estate was lit up enough to break the city’s power grid. It was just as easy to sneak around and swagger into the back entrance like he owned the place.

Finding Leta in the sea of gowns and masks had been more challenging, but soon enough he’d spotted the tall woman in the long purple gown and dark mask near the bar. Without a word of greeting, he’d tugged her by the elbow onto the dance floor, and with that, he was right back where he’d started so many years ago, using the wonders of muscle memory to remember dance steps he’d only barely formally learned. Of course back then, he hadn’t really had to force any girl to dance with him.

Now, he secured Leta’s hand tightly in his, his other hand pulling her closer by the hip, just in case she tried to run away or cause a scene. Fortunately, once her shock wore off, Leta allowed herself to be drawn onto the floor. Even so, he’d never danced with a woman who looked quite so angry at him.

“What’re you doing here?” she hissed sharply. “You swore off this stupid party. And what the hell kind of entrance was that? You could’ve just given us away completely you know — “

Fiearius, unlike his dance partner, spoke clearly and patiently. “Well, you know, I thought Cy might be kinda pissed if I just let you all die,” he mused, grinning down at the woman who was glaring icily through her mask. “Although if he was dead, he probably wouldn’t have had a chance to be pissed.” He grimaced but shrugged off the thought. “Guess I should have thought that one through a little better, huh?”

“So you had a change of heart,” she spat. “That’s convenient.” But he swore he saw amusement come reluctantly to her eyes as he lifted her arm and let her spin under it. “Lovely mask, by the way.”

“Why thank you,” he remarked, lifting his chin proudly as she spun back to him. His was the only mask in the room that was adorned with feathers. “I rather like it. I feel like a beautiful princess.”

“Great. Now how about watching where you put your hands?” she warned, as his palm went to the small of her back. He grinned and slid his hand up an inch agreeably.

“So I found Casner,” she went on, lowering her voice and glancing past his shoulder. “He’s over there by the bar. Here, look.”

Gripping his wrist (with unnecessary aggression, he thought), she steered him to the side. In spite of himself, Fiearius looked over curiously toward the man who was responsible for the disappearance of Leta’s boyfriend. Fiance. Whatever.

Now, he looked like he did not have matters of kidnapping on his mind. Casner was slanted elegantly against the bar, surrounded by men and women who were laughing at something he’d said. Mid-thirties, with slick black hair, Casner was quite tall, somewhere between thin and muscular, but not quite either build. A cigar was in one hand, a rocks glass in the other. His grin was bold and broad. And why wouldn’t it be broad? He believed everything in the room — the women, the orchestra, the liquor — belonged to him and only him.

Fiearius recognized that brand of gloating when he saw it. Hell, he used to live it, too. The Society sure knew how to make you feel like the most important person in the span even as their measly pawn. And to think of all the murder and bloodshed this man was capable of … one of the most violent and dirtiest in recent Society history …

“Listen,” he muttered, leaning in to Leta’s ear, “you really wanna do this, fine, but this guy’s not the retired socialite you think. He’s dangerous. As are the people he hangs around with. There’s at least — “ He stood briefly on his tiptoes to peer over the crowd to where Casner was milling with his posse, “three guys over there I can guarantee know how to disembowel people in about ten seconds.”

Leta’s eyes, brighter than usual beneath her mask, found his. “I’m not scared of them,” she told him coldly. So coldly that he almost believed her. She must have sensed his skepticism, because she went on lightly, “Why would I be? I’m just a young girl, rich off of her parents’ money, eager to hear about their amazing careers in government. All I need to do is get him talking about his last job. How hard could that be? He’s the biggest jackass in this room. Well, second biggest,” she muttered, flicking her eyes at him pointedly.

Ignoring the slight, Fiearius snorted. Oh, he wanted to believe her. He wanted to believe that she could walk up to those guys and act just casually enough and say just the right things to get the information she needed without getting killed. It was a nice thought. But an unlikely one.

He had to commend her bravery though, even if it probably was halfway steeped in ignorance. If she could actually pull it off? He would be thoroughly impressed. But as one of the very kind of people she was about to approach himself, he had doubts. Though Leta had never tried her supposed womanly wiles on him, he was fairly sure, even if she did, he’d be able to see right through it.

It didn’t matter though, did it? She was going to do whatever she pleased regardless of his warnings. Regardless of how dangerous this was. Regardless of how stupid and reckless and irresponsible. Maybe Aiden had a point. Maybe there really were some similarities between them…

Well if he couldn’t stop her? The least he could do was lend a more experienced voice to the effort. Before she could slip away, he leaned down, just barely missing her nose with the monstrous beak on his face, put his hand on her cheek and said softly, “Be careful, my dear. Tread lightly.”

He drew back and passed her a knowing glance through his ridiculous mask. For a moment, she regarded him tensely, both of them standing still on the flowing dance floor. Then Leta reached up and immediately shoved his hand off her face. How ladylike, he thought in amusement, watching as she walked away from him and wove through the crowd toward Casner. After waiting a beat, he followed.

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