Just then, a vague, far-away shout reached Leta’s ears — it was coming from the broken consoles. Hastily she shoved aside a pile of metal and debris, letting Cyrus’ voice come in through the static.
“– be okay. Fiear? Leta? Dionysian, anyone? Please come in. Please–”
“Cy!” Leta answered, hitting the COMM. Her own voice sounded foreign and strange to her ears.
“Leta! Oh gods, you’re okay. You’re alright. Is Fiear there? Is–”
“He’s fine, we’re fine.”
“Dionysian, come in! Come in, Dionysian,” said a third voice through the static. A Carthian officer. “Are you able to complete the mission?”
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” growled Cyrus, “They were just in a damn spaceship crash and you–”
“No, he’s right,” Fiearius coughed, unsteadily pushing himself out of his chair and stumbling a few feet forward. He looked to Leta. “We made it to the planet. Somehow. There’s not a lot of time, we need to get moving.”
Leta stared, shell-shocked. He was right, but —
“Fiear, the crew. They could be injured if they weren’t strapped in, I need to check — “
But Fiearius silenced her, dropping a hand on her shoulder. She thought it might have been a gesture of affection but a moment later, as he raised the COMM to his mouth, it seemed more like he needed her support to not topple over. “Can anyone hear me? Come in.”
A long, heavy silence replied in which Leta waited with bated breath and Fiearius beside her. Surely they couldn’t have been the only survivors. How hard had they crashed?
But finally —
“Cap’n? I read you, cap’n.”
Fiearius released a sigh of relief. “Harper. Thank the gods. You alright? Is anyone with you?”
“We’re alright, cap’n,” said Eve. “Lil shaken. One of the deckhands didn’t strap in soon enough, got a bit beat up. Few cuts and scrapes, nothin’ fatal. We’re alright.”
Relief rushed over Leta.
Fiearius went on, “Harper, change of plans. I need you to stay here and look after the crew and defend the ship.”
“Tend to the crew. Defend the ship,” Fiearius said again, sharper this time. He turned to Leta and unholstered his gun. “Let’s get you to your final destination, shall we?”
Her city was unrecognizable.
As Leta led Fiearius through the cobblestone streets of Fall’s End, a picture of what had happened here became very clear. Gone were the white stone benches, sparkling fountains, and lush gardens. Now, buildings were charred black from gunfire and explosions. Wood slats barred windows and doors. Society propaganda posters screamed on every wall and lightpost. Smoke rose through the streets; it smelled like burning garbage. The aftermath of the riots lay everywhere.
But it wasn’t only aftermath. People still took to the streets even now. They had worried about resistance once they’d landed, but as they charged down streets and through back alleys, it seemed the Vescentian people themselves were taking care of the agents on the ground. Or at least keeping them occupied. Masses of them, armed with signs, bats and defended by piles of furniture and the remains of felled shuttles fought for their city as Leta and Fiearius traversed it. Mostly, the Society agents seemed overwhelmed, ill-matched for this much raw rage and desperation. One battleground they passed, not so much. It took all of Leta’s willpower to keep going as she watched these people, her people, mowed down by Society firepower.
The battle overhead, though far away, was just as horrifying. The blasts from Carthian and Society ships lit the skies as glimpses of great sweeping vessels plowed through the clouds, dust and smoke.
Quickly and carefully, Leta climbed up the rungs of a metal rusted ladder onto a rooftop, eager to avoid a particularly crowded square, when she heard it. The great crack from above. She pulled herself to level ground on the roof, her hair whipping around her face in the violent wind as she looked up just in time to see the bow of a Carthian destroyer, alight in flames, plummeting out of the grey haze.
Leta’s breath caught in her throat as it fell and kept falling. But just before the great impact could occur, a burst of red flashed across the sky and before her eyes, the ship, once a great heaving mass, was vaporized into little more than smoke and debris. She only caught a glimpse of it before the shockwave hit. She braced herself against it, shielding her eyes with her forearm.
“That’s what we’ve gotta switch off,” said Fiearius, suddenly beside her, once the dust had settled.
“I can see why,” Leta admitted, in quiet horror. Gods, that ship, those people…Gone, just like that.
“We close?” he grunted.
Leta nodded toward the topmost glittering spire of a building in the distance. “We’re almost to where we were supposed to land.”
Without waiting for his response, she started off again, carefully making her way across the rooftops. This strip of apartment blocks were all connected, making them an easy path to stay out of the way and unseen. They just had to make it to the end of the row, lower back to ground level, head a block north and —
She saw the flash out of the corner of her eye before she heard Fiearius’ shout.
“AGHH – SHIT!”
Leta whirled around to find him yanking a small knife from his shoulder. Blood gushed from the wound, but he quickly looked up at her, eyes wide and frenzied. “Leta, look ou–”
She spun around just in time and stumbled backwards as the blade swung at her, barely missing her abdomen. It swung again and she took another step back until Fiearius seized her arm and dragged her backwards, behind him. Only then, was she able to get a look at what or who was assaulting them. That flip of platinum blonde hair as a nimble leg suited in black, shot out and knocked Fiearius’ pistol from his hand just as he fired it.
Leta didn’t understand. They had left Ophelia tied up in Blackwater shortly before Quin’s ships had destroyed the Society base for good. There was no way for her to be here. She had died there. She couldn’t have survived.
“Leta, go!” Fiearius yelled, gritting his teeth as the woman came at him again with her blade. He managed to catch her wrist to hold it back, but she only used his momentum to deliver another kick to his side.
Leta rooted in place, shocked. She had to go, but she had to help Fiearius. He was still battered from the crash, his headwound still shining with blood and now his shoulder was dark red. She had to–
“Go!” Fiearius shouted again, taking only a moment to glare at her as he tried to wrestle Ophelia to the ground. He was succeeding. For the moment. “You need to finish this! I’m fine, just go!”
Leta met his eyes for a fleeting, piercing second. Then she forced herself to turn and run.
Fiearius only glanced at Leta’s back long enough to make sure she was retreating and even that was too long. In his negligence, Ophelia’s talons seized his hair and used it to slam his head into the roof below their feet. If he wasn’t already whiplashed and bordering on a concussion, he certainly was now. But as she raised her blade above her head to deliver the crucial blow, he jumped unsteadily to his feet and staggered out of her way. The metal hit concrete in a clash, but it was only half a second before it was coming at him again.
Fiearius gritted his teeth and dodged the attack, trying to get in one of his own, but she was quick. She side-stepped him and the hilt of the sword jabbed his back. He spun towards her, she sliced again, he dodged, she countered. As they fell into the pattern like a sort of dance, Fiearius growled, “How–the hell–are you–” She managed to connect her fist with his cheekbone. He stumbled backwards and glared up at her, wiping the blood from the corner of his mouth. “Not dead?”
For the first time since she’d appeared on the rooftop, Ophelia paused her onslaught to regard him with a kind of cold fury he hadn’t ever seen before. She paced a slow circle around him, her eyes never leaving his face, her ponytail in a frenzy as the wind bit at her from every direction. “You always did count me out too readily, Soliveré,” she growled beneath her breath, before spinning the blade in her hand, repositioning her grip and taking a clear run straight towards him.
This time, he was better prepared for her. As she charged, he charged back, narrowly avoiding the sharp end of her weapon and planting an elbow in her side. This only seemed to enrage her further as she lashed out with her free hand at his knee, weakening his stance. She used the leverage to force him back again where he laid half his weight into keeping from falling onto the ground and the other half into holding back her arm as she tried to plunge a sword through his chest.
“You’re on the wrong side,” he growled, wondering why a woman who surely couldn’t be more than half his weight was so difficult to keep at bay. “The Council–you really think they won’t turn on you too?” Either his grip was slipping or her resolve had strengthened because the blade slipped an inch closer. “Varisian, haven’t you been paying attention?” he growled.
Now his grip was definitely getting weaker. She was pressing all of herself into that weapon and the point of it was poking through his shirt and into the top layer of skin.
“They’re manipulating–” He strained to keep it from going any further. “–an entire population. They destroyed--a planet.” It sunk a little further. He fought to keep the sting of it from reaching his face. “You’re just a pawn to them.” He met her icy blue eyes fully. “You’re just as expendable as me.”
He wasn’t sure if it was his words that got to her or if she merely experienced a short bout of fatigue from the near constant barrage she’d been throwing at him, but it was enough. For just an instant, and likely not longer, she was lighter. Or at least just light enough that when he pushed himself from the ground, he was able to throw her to the side onto her back.
She fumbled — the slip-up was as much a surprise to her as it was to him it seemed. But as Fiearius, bleeding freely from all his wounds, struggled just to get onto his feet, she had already found her next move. When he finally righted himself and turned to meet her next swing, he was met instead with the end of his own gun pointed directly at his head.
“Drop something?” she mused.