All at once, Society agents flooded the hallway, grasped Leta by both arms and dragged her into their fold. Dez strode ahead of them, swinging his sword at his side with an air of utmost casualness. Beside her, agents seized Cyrus and Ren too, and Leta’s mind raced with one thought: please don’t let us be separated, please don’t separate us, please don’t …
For better or worse, all three of them were marched down the long hallways and through the same metal black door marked TEMPORARY CONTAINMENT UNIT. Inside, the walls were sterile and cold, the pure-white floor filled with chairs and metal benches. With a jolt of her heart, Leta saw one of the chairs was occupied.
But he looked nothing like the Fiearius she knew. His back slumped in the seat, held upright only because his wrists were bound to the chair. His empty gaze was set across the room, unblinking. Worst of all was the shining blood. The lower part of his legs splayed uselessly, drenched in red. A blade had cut him cleanly right behind the knees. He wouldn’t be able to walk.
So he wasn’t out there freely planning an expert move that would stun them all, like she’d been praying. No, he’d been caught. And it wasn’t just that. He was hurt. Badly, badly hurt.
Leta stared, aghast, until the agent at her back prodded her into a chair and tied down her wrists.
“Fiear — Fiearius,” said Cyrus breathlessly, torn between relief and horror. “What happened?”
It was several seconds too long before Fiearius responded, his eyes flickering in their direction. “I was reckless,” he responded. “And stupid. That’s what happened.”
An agent had to push Cyrus’ shoulder down to get him to sit and bind his wrists, but that did not prevent him from whispering, “Ok, so what’s the plan?”
But for the first time in Leta’s memory, Fiearius didn’t intend to conspire. He didn’t bark out instructions. A tired, bitter laugh rolled out of his lungs.
“There’s no plan, little brother. We lost.”
Cyrus nearly leapt out of his seat. “What?”
Fiearius simply leveled him a long, even stare and said quietly, “You heard me.”
Pleading filled Cyrus’ face. “But how the hell can you say that?”
“You knew this couldn’t last forever, Cy,” Fiearius sighed, an exhausted, sad smirk passing over his face. “It was only a matter of time. We’ve lost. It’s over.”
Cyrus opened his mouth to protest and at last, Leta could take no more of their conversation.
She turned to Ren, who had been directed toward a seat at her side — he took it obediently without a word of protest. He seemed ignorant of everyone else talking in the room. The agents were barking back and forth over their heads, but Ren’s eyes were shining on her, reflecting the fluorescent lights of the ceiling.
“You must have known,” he said quietly, “that this would happen.” Because it was Ren, because he was the kindest person she’d ever met, it was not an insult. He only gazed at her, full of sadness.
Leta shook her head, her throat tightening. “It was a risk I was willing to take. And you must have known I would come after you.”
“I thought — I thought you would try.” Ren’s mouth jerked toward an affectionate smile. “Knowing you.” But then his expression dissolved again, worry marring his brow. “How did you — how did you even find — ?”
Of course he had questions. Of course he wanted to speak with her. No doubt they had mere minutes left, if that.
“I tore apart your apartment,” said Leta softly. “After you went missing. I did it before the authorities could. I also got into the vault in your office. I read your journals. It all added up — that you knew too much.” Her eyes moved toward Cyrus and Fiearius. “I boarded their ship. They’ve … they’ve been helping me find you … “
And now they could be killed for it. All at once, Leta was flooded with nausea, her worry far beyond tears. She was simply forced into a choking, stunned silence, her chin touching the top of her chest as she held in a scream. It was only when Ren spoke — so clear, so confident — that she looked up again.
“They won’t hurt you, Leta.”
Ren looked, of all things, encouraging. It was the same expression he wore when he once tutored children in math, or when he spoke to his nieces and nephews: full of warmth and reassurance. “The Society won’t hurt you. They won’t h — “
In the corner of Leta’s eyes she could still see blood pooling on the floor from Fiearius’ legs.
“Ren,” she said, feeling hysterical, “the Society on Vescent wouldn’t let me off-planet because I spoke out. My dad was terrified they were going to kill me. Don’t you remember what it’s like there? What have they done to you?”
“It was a misunderstanding, Leta.” That strange, eerie light returned to Ren’s eyes. “They just wanted your help. They need your help — “
“Stop, Ren,” Leta interrupted, breathing hard. “Stop saying those words.”
“You can be a great help to them.” Ren nodded at her eagerly. “They could really use your help. Remember when you worked for them? Remember how much happier you were? You can help — “
Leta’s scream rung around the room.
Calm and amused, Dez stepped between them.
“Yes, please do,” he muttered dryly. Still holding his sword at his side, he glanced over Ren disinterestedly and then looked over to Fiearius. “You’ve administered the ARC fluid, yes?” he said, addressing an agent nearby.
“Yes, sir,” responded the woman promptly. “Ten minutes ago exactly. The dosage appears to be affecting him as we predicted, sir.” Dez continued to watch Fiearius curiously as though he expected something to happen any moment.
ARC fluid? Dosage? What was this about? Cold fear rippled through Leta, like an icy breeze. It couldn’t have been … it couldn’t have been …
Abruptly, Dez was standing before her, delivering orders to the agent nearest. “What were you thinking?” Theatrically, he swept a hand toward Leta. “She doesn’t need to be restrained. Release her.”
Confused, Leta looked between the two guards as they stepped forward to untie her.
“You did well,” said Dez, smiling at her as the bindings fell from her wrists. “I had my doubts that you’d be able to pull it off at first, but lo and behold, here we are. Congratulations. The Council will be made aware of your good work.” A grin with a hint of malice spread across his face. “I do hope the experience wasn’t too traumatic for you.”
“What?” Leta bit out through gritted teeth, meeting Dez’ cold, dark eyes and refusing to look away. “What the hell are you even talking about?”
“Now, Ms. Adler, there’s no need to pretend anymore,” Dez told her simply. “The Soliverés are in our custody. As agreed, Mr. Calimore will be returned to your care. And we can all go home.” His smile sweetened, and horrible dread spread through her veins. He was playing her, he was truly playing her — and in front of an audience.
In front of Fiearius.
“I’m not — !” she gasped. “I don’t work for you! I would never — “
“You don’t have to hide who you are anymore,” Dez went on gently. Just as Leta went to jerk her forearm away, Dez reached for it: carefully, meticulously, he rolled up the end of her sleeve, inch by inch until the solid black lines of the librera were visible.
The whole room went still. Leta could feel Fiearius’ avid stare, realization dawning over his face, as he gazed, fixated, at the shining librera on her arm.
A smile spread over Dez’s face as he regarded his old friend. “She’s good, isn’t she?”
And with that, a fierce growl burst from Leta’s throat and she tore her forearm free. “It’s not like that, Fiear!” she yelled at once. “Not anymore, I don’t work for them anymore and I would never turn you in – “
“I’m still impressed you never found out,” Dez interrupted, rubbing his jaw thoughtfully. A knowing grin touched his face as he added, “Especially with how close you two are…”