Cyrus didn’t know what to believe. He’d known Leta’s father was entangled in the Society bureaucracy, and he’d known Leta hated him for it. But here he was now, offering them safe passage through the headquarters, aiding in the release of a most-wanted prisoner. Stoic and business-like, as if they were all headed toward a late afternoon meeting, Leta’s father walked briskly down the hallway toward a set of busy elevators.
One set of doors slid open, admitting a handful of people, some of whom nodded greetings.
“Tritius!” yelped a man, staggering back in surprise. “Haven’t seen you on Satieri in months! How’s Vescent? What brings you here?”
“Tidying up a few loose ends,” came Tritius’ curt reply as he passed him and swept into the elevator. Cyrus purposely kept his eyes down as he followed in after Leta, who looked just as confused as he felt.
Calm and silent, Tritius reached to hit the correct floor — the one labeled ‘ARC FACILITIES.’ Cyrus narrowed his eyes curiously, but it was Leta who spoke up.
“What’s that mean?” she demanded. “‘ARC facilities.’ Dad, what is that?”
But Tritius only gazed at the closed doors, perfectly ignoring her.
It was quiet for several seconds until Leta asked her father, in a small voice, “But you’re sure — you’re sure he’s still alive?”
“Yes.” Tritius did not look at her. “For now. They can’t kill him yet. They’re waiting for his executioner to arrive.”
For the first time, Leta showed a crack in her armor: her expression dissolved toward grief.
Cyrus glanced over at her and hesitated. Fiearius had often warned him not to tell anyone this particular piece of his history, but now, he was certain, would have to be an exception.
“The Society has a position called the Verdant,” he explained quietly, “who’s a liaison between the Council and the Departments. They have access to all Society records, a whole database, everything. The Council made Fiearius Verdant before he left Satieri. That’s why they hunt him, he stole their database. And the only way to get it back–”
“Is for the next Verdant to kill him,” Leta finished, nodding at him, exhaling sadly. “I know. He told me about it. A month ago.”
Cyrus could only gape at her. Fiearius had told her that? One of the most personal, dangerous, darkest secrets of his existence? It was unreal, and clearly, he was underestimating how much Fiearius trusted, and cared, about her …
Leta turned to her father. “Who’s this executioner? When will he be there?” but Tritius had gone back to ignoring her.
Finally, the elevator lurched and halted. The doors slid open, revealing a dark, empty hallway. Cold and metallic, it felt as sterile as an asylum.
Leta immediately pushed out of the elevator, looking around frantically for any signs of Fiearius, but Tritius did not move. In fact, he remained in the elevator, reaching to hit the button for another floor.
“I’ll leave you here,” he said quietly, his eyes on his daughter, who looked alarmed.
“But where do we go from here? And how do we get to Fiear? Is he in a cell? How do we get out?”
“I re-wrote the passcode into his cell,” Tritius replied as the doors closed between them. “The numbers to get in — are your birth date.”
For several seconds, the words hung in the air as Leta stared after him, agape. Cyrus came to his senses and nudged her forward, and at once, they started down the hallway.
Adrenaline flooded Cyrus’s veins now as they half-jogged down the dim, empty corridors. He had the sense they were close, and as they turned a corner, Cyrus felt his lungs freeze up.
In the glass cell, not ten meters from them, sat the figure of his brother on the white sterile floor. He appeared mostly unharmed, except for the unnatural way he sat: his back against the wall, unmoving except for the subtle rise and fall of his chest. So he was alive. Oh gods, he was alive.
But Cyrus only caught a glimpse of that familiar rust-colored hair before he saw who was standing directly in front of that glass window. Then, his heart stopped for a very different reason. Dez.
Immediately, Cyrus seized Leta’s arm and staggered backwards around the corner. Fortunately, Dez didn’t seem to notice: he was conversing quietly with a man beside him, both of them regarding Fiearius curiously, like a science experiment, or a specimen in a zoo.
“Seems like a waste,” the man was saying conversationally, tapping a note onto his portable console. Dez glanced toward him and raised a brow in question. “Putting him through the ARC I mean,” he clarified, gesturing towards the window. “They’re just gonna kill him, what’s the point?”
For now, the two men seemed to have no idea they were being eavesdropped upon. In response, Dez just shrugged absently.
The man went on, “Can’t really say I understand what we’re waiting for anyway. That guy, right? What’s his name–Lawry?”
“Yes,” mused Dez. “I believe so.”
“See, I don’t get it,” the man continued. “Why do we have to keep this asshole here, taking up space, scaring the crap out of the research staff just waiting for some director from Ri’en to show up and kill him?” He nudged Dez with his elbow. “You caught him, Cordova. Why can’t you just do it?”
“I’m not allowed,” Dez replied shortly, though his tone had become rather tense. Bitter, even.
“Bet that’d be satisfying though, huh?” The man remarked, stretching his arms out in front of him as he watched the figure beyond the window curiously. “After everything you two have been through.”
Dez said nothing. The man at his side let out a heavy sigh. “So this Lawry guy then.”
“He’s to be the next Verdant.”
“So it’s true then? This shit.” The man gestured toward Fiearius.
“Is the current Verdant,” Dez confirmed coldly.
His companion let out a low whistle. “Crazy. The new one’s gotta kill the old one? Is it punishment for Soliveré killing the last one? Or is it symbolic or something?”
Dez was silent once more until finally he muttered, “Something like that.”
“Well, still,” the man finished bitterly. “I don’t know why I’m having to waste all this ARC testing on him when I could be using it on someone who’ll actually be around next week to study. And they’ve got my entire team on it, you know that? As if we don’t have anything more important to do. It doesn’t make sense.”
“It does make sense,” Dez replied at once. “It’s needed. To sedate him.”
“Sedate him?” the man repeated incredulously, laughing “He’s wounded, bound and locked in a cell. How much more sedative does he need?”
Dez frowned thoughtfully at him, and then back into the window. “You’ve never met Fiearius, have you?”
The man raised a brow at him, spent another few moments watching Fiearius and finally shrugged his shoulders. “No offense, Cordova,” he said at last. “But he doesn’t seem all that impressive to me.”
Dez tilted his head thoughtfully. “No,” he agreed. “But that,” he nodded towards the man behind the window, “is not Fiearius.” The man looked over at him, perplexed. “Not after what you’ve done to him.”
The man continued to stare at him until at last he let out a barking laugh and asked, “Cordova, you’re not feeling sentimental, are you? I know he was your partner and all, but c’mon. The guy’s a nutcase.”
Dez just watched Fiearius a moment longer until he muttered, “So they say,” and turned to leave. His colleague, shaking his head, followed after him. They disappeared down the hallway.
And now was their chance. Perhaps the only one they’d get.
In a rush, Cyrus dodged around the corner and went straight for the glass, pounding on it to get Fiearius to look up, to move — anything. Leta was at the console, hurriedly typing in the passcode.
Suddenly, with a hissing release of air, the glass barrier slid out of the way, allowing entry. Cyrus immediately crossed toward Fiearius, crouched to the floor and began to shake his shoulders.
In a voice very much unlike his own, Cyrus found himself begging.
“Fiearius, Fiear, c’mon, please — we have to go — “
It was moments too long until his brother stirred. Only an inch, but relief flooded over him.
“Fiear — “
“Orlé Sana, age 31,” Fiearius muttered in return. His voice was hoarse, barely audible, but he continued as if he were reciting something he’d memorized. “Two shots to the parietal lobe. Both bullets shattered on impact. No exit wound.”
Cyrus stared. Dread was returning to him slowly. “What?”