Chapter 52: Homecoming

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With widened, bloodshot eyes, Cyrus watched as the buildings and lights of Paradiex sped past the train window. His heart was still banging against his ribs after their mad dash through the city streets. Horribly, the Beacon was twenty minutes away, but they’d escaped the HQ; they’d made it as far as the city transit.

And they had Dez to thank for that.

Rifle in hand, Dez had led them out of the HQ, barking orders to turn left, turn right, down that alley. With Fiearius’ arms thrown over their shoulders, Cyrus and Leta had followed, crossing breathlessly through the city to the temporary safety of the PIT train. Shockingly, no one had questioned them along the way nor even spared a passing glance. Apparently the librera Dez wore engraved into his arm was a powerful detractor.

Now, Dez stood at the doors, regarding the transit map thoughtfully as if leading escaped convicts was as routine as taking a lunch break.  At Cyrus’ side, Leta looked tense enough to spring up at any moment. Fiearius slumped between them, his eyes half-lidded, still mumbling Society propaganda nonsense under his breath.

It was the strangest caravan of people Cyrus could imagine. And what were the chances they made it to the Beacon unscathed? Thankfully, the train was empty at this off-hour, but that didn’t mean they would go unnoticed . . . It didn’t mean they already hadn’t.

Leta seemed to be thinking along the same lines.

“Corra and Finn will have the ship ready,” she breathed. Her eyes were shining with hope and fear. “We have to hurry. When we get to the Beacon we can just — just run aboard … “

“Escher Van, knife wound to the stomach, pronounced dead August 14th, 1859,”  groaned Fiearius, his voice low and hoarse, as if he were talking in his sleep. Leta hurried to quiet him, but it was then, overhead, that the train speakers crackled to life.

“ATTENTION CITIZENS OF PARADIEX,” said a cold male voice, clipped and brisk. “AT APPROXIMATELY 10:50 PM, THREE FUGITIVES ESCAPED CONTAINMENT AT THE SOCIETY HEADQUARTERS. AUTHORITIES BELIEVE THEY ARE ARMED AND DANGEROUS, TRAVELING AS A GROUP IN THE SOUTHWEST SIDE OF THE CITY … “

The voice went on to list physical descriptions of each of them, all the way down to Cyrus’ glasses and the shade of Leta’s hair. Horrified silence enveloped the train, until —

“Took them long enough,” muttered Dez to himself.

Dez may have been the only reason they’d made it out of the HQ alive, but Cyrus was far from trusting him. “Why are you helping us?” he growled suddenly. “What’s your plan here?”

“As I said before,” Dez replied calmly, shifting a glance in his direction. “I changed my mind.”

“What do you mean, changed your mind?” Leta demanded. “You’re the reason Fiearius can barely walk right now!”

Cyrus swore he saw amusement flicker in Dez’s face.

“Fiearius is the reason Fiearius can barely walk right now,” he said at last, arching an eyebrow. “He knew what he was getting himself into. Frankly, he should be grateful he’s still alive at all.”

“Yes, thanks to you,” Cyrus pointed out impatiently. “So I’ll ask again. What the hell are you up to? You’ve been hunting us for four years. You can’t really expect me to believe you’ve suddenly just had a change of heart for no reason.”

Dez did not look perturbed in the slightest. “I do have my reasons.”

Before Cyrus could growl another question, Fiearius suddenly shifted in his seat, cracked open his red-rimmed eyes and dug his hand into Cyrus’ shoulder.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Fiearius said in despair, his voice weak, clawing his fingers into Cyrus’ shirt and breathing short and shallow. “I didn’t kill her. I wasn’t there– “

“Fiearius, it’s okay,” Cyrus assured him in alarm, trying to shake off his painful grip. He couldn’t stand the weakness in his brother’s voice — it made him want to cover his ears, or look away.  “Just — just take it easy.”

“No no no, I didn’t do it,” Fiearius groaned, pain in his eyes. “I couldn’t have done it. Why do I remember it? It was so dark. And thick. Sticky.” He looked down at his hands, his eyes wide. “I didn’t. I didn’t–”

“Breathe, Fiear,” said Leta quietly, her voice low and soothing. She put her hand over his. “Just take a deep breath.”

“I know where I was,” he insisted. “I know, don’t I? Did I … “

But then, Fiearius trailed off: his voice thinned with doubt and his eyes moved toward Leta, searching her face, as if in a fog. He regarded her hazily, and then his face softened. Cyrus saw — not that he particularly wanted to see this — Fiearius suddenly circled his fingers around Leta’s wrist, squeezing her hand.

Leta looked surprised, but did not speak or move her hand away. It was Dez who broke the silence.

“Be ready,” he said coldly as the train slowed and an overhead bell dinged.

“NOW ARRIVING AT — WEST DOCK A. DISEMBARKING PASSENGERS PLEASE WATCH YOUR STEP AS YOU EXIT THE TRAIN.”

The train doors glided open, and with some difficulty, Cyrus and Leta pulled Fiearius up to his feet. Staggering under the weight of his much taller brother, Cyrus hurried out onto the train platform.

Outside, night had fallen over the ship docks, but the Beacon was easily spotted: the size of three houses, it was at the end of the row of ships, parked silently and innocently. Or so he hoped.

As they ambled toward it, movement near the ship made Cyrus’ heart clench in his chest — but thank the gods, it was just Finn, standing against one of the Beacon’s walls, smoking a cigarette. At the sight of them, he bolted upright and the cigarette dropped out of his mouth.

“You made it, holy fuck, you made it.” He hurried forward, worry masking his face as he stared at Fiearius. “Is — is he alright– ?”

“Help me get him to the med bay,” said Leta at once. “His legs are in bad shape — “

Before Finn stepped forward, a sudden brisk, irritated voice approached, making them all freeze. Even Dez raised his eyebrows curiously.

“Excuse me! Excuse me, stop right there!”

It was a docks officer, clipboard in hand, glaring around at all of them suspiciously. Heart pounding, Cyrus stared at the librera stitched into the officer’s jacket as he demanded, “Do you have clearance to be on the docks at this hour?”

Leta glanced at Cyrus. Cyrus glanced at Finn. And Dez answered with absolute confidence, “Of course.”

The officer eyed him for a moment, his gaze traveling to Dez’s own librera before he corrected, “Well I’ll still need to see some identification. And — what happened here — ?”

He’d noticed Fiearius. Wounded, bloodied, barely conscious. Everyone paused, watching as realization dawned over the officer — he suddenly gasped in alarm — but then, just when Cyrus was certain this was it, it was all over, Finn stepped forward, grabbed the gun from the waistband at the small of his back and cracked it across the man’s face.

“Right,” Finn muttered, watching as the man sank to the ground in a pile of limbs. “Let’s just get the hell out of here right now yeah? Before someone calls this in.” He kicked the man aside with his foot, then grabbed Fiearius’ arm to throw around his shoulders, relieving Leta.

Together, they staggered up through the ship’s side entrance and up the stairs, a lopsided caravan all the way into the cargo bay where the Dionysian sat carefully hidden from the outside world.

“We need to get him downstairs to the med bay, over this way — ” Leta was saying, but suddenly her words were drowned out by a mangled cry.

 

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