He growled in frustration and started to pace faster. “Even on my own turf, amongst my own people, you manage to elude me,” he spat angrily. “How long were you on Vescent?”
“A week, sir.”
“A week!” Morgan cried, clenching his fist. His face grew red. “A week and not a single agent notices. And now here you stand.” He looked over at her, and sudden cruelty blazed in his eyes. “Your throat practically bared before me.” He took a decisive step towards her. “I could slit it now and you would go willingly.” He reached out his hand as though to choke her, but the flesh never touched. His hand hovered inches from her neck, quivering with tension until finally he ripped it away.
“Sit down,” he ordered again as he tore across the room away from her.
Leta did as she was told. He glanced back and snapped, “Stand up.” She did. “Knock over the chair.” It tumbled to the ground in a clatter.
And then they stood in silence, watching each other. Leta was desperately eager, she wanted nothing more than to appease him, to make up for her sins, redeem herself in his eyes. He was upset, that much she could see, but she didn’t know what to do. His eyes focused on her and she could see a kind of realization starting to dawn in his eyes. And the tiniest hint of a smile.
“Slap yourself in the face,” he said. Without a second’s pause, Leta lifted her arm and left a burning red mark across her cheek.
“Harder,” he said quietly, and Leta tried again. Half her face burned in protest, but a chuckle escaped from his lips. Then his eyes traveled down to her waist.
“That knife.” He nodded to the long dagger she had sheathed at her hip. “Draw it.”
The hilt was in her hands in an instant, and his grin spread.
“Drag its blade across your palm.” Leta winced as she made the cut, but the pain didn’t stop her then, nor when she obeyed, “Now make a fist,” and the blood seeped between her fingers.
“Very good, very good,” he said softly. After a moment’s pause, he mused, “You’ll do anything I say, won’t you?”
“Of course, sir,” said Leta. “Anything for the good of the Society.”
A flash of irritation passed over his face. “Yes, yes, indeed,” he wrote her off shortly. “Tell me, the ships attacking our beautiful city. Whose are they?”
“Carthis,” she answered at once. “With some help from Utada and a few others.”
“And do you agree with the attack?”
Leta was gripped with disgust. “No. Of course not, they’re scum!”
“They are,” he agreed. “And the rioters?”
“Trash,” she spat. “They deserve nothing but death and shame.”
“And who should rule?” he pressed eagerly, coming even closer. His foul breath splashed on her collarbone, their noses almost touched. “Who? Who is best for Vescent?”
“The Society,” she replied firmly. But she knew it wasn’t the answer he wanted. Hesitant, carefully, she amended, “You should rule Vescent, sir.”
Morgan’s expression of intensity shifted toward a broad grin.
“That’s right, my dear, that’s right.” He lifted one hand to cup her cheek. His other hand, she realized dimly, was unfastening his belt buckle. Absent feeling and concern, Leta stood in obedience as he went on, “And your mistake. The Rogue Verdant. What of him?”
“Fiearius Soliveré,” Leta said, “deserves only — ”
Execution, she finished in her head. Fiearius Soliveré, high traitor that he was, deserved execution. There was no doubt in her mind of that.
But the word caught in her throat like bile. Breath halted in her nostrils. Why couldn’t she say it?
What was she even saying?
The thought of Fiearius brought to mind the image she had of him locked in combat with Ophelia on some rooftop a mile away. It brought back that terror that that would be the last image she’d ever have of him. That he could die there as she turned and ran.
And from there, sprouted other memories. Fighting at his side in the heart of Blackwater, walking hand in hand with him in the streets of Tarin, lying in his bed as he turned strands of her hair around his fingers and told her stories of Satieri. The story of Internal Affairs. The story of his lost son as silent tears rolled down both of their faces. The story of his exile. The pain of losing one’s home that she herself could understand. Her home. Vescent. Where she stood now on the precipice of liberation.
It was as if floodgates had been opened. Everything came back all at once. Not just thoughts of Fiearius, but of Cyrus, Corra, the Dionysian, the last year of her life all came into focus and she knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that what was happening, here, this, wasn’t right.
Leta told herself to breathe as panic burned through her. Eyes closed, she heard Arleth Morgan say, “Yes, my dear?” while she swiftly took in the horrible scenario: Arleth Morgan, a Society Councillor, the scourge that had taken her home to begin with, stood before her, nauseatingly close.
She wanted nothing more than to recoil from his touch and pummel her fist into his face. But her gun was halfway across the room, out of reach, and Morgan was double her size. There was still a knife in her hand, but she needed to play this carefully. If he was going to kill her, and surely he would the moment she attacked, she needed to finish the mission first.
So she snapped open her eyes and finished, strong as she could, “Execution! Fiearius Soliveré should be executed..” As though this line of thought impassioned her so greatly she couldn’t bear it, she tore away from him and started to pace the room angrily. “The scum, fooling me for so long, I’m ashamed of myself.”
Leta was hesitant to glance back at Morgan for fear that he would see through the act. If anything, he seemed annoyed that she had separated from him. But if his response was any indication, he was buying it.
“It’s not your fault, Leta,” he assured her, reaching out and grasping her shoulder again, pulling her back towards him. Her heart was pounding in her chest, but she forced herself to go on.
“It is my fault,” she argued fiercely, ripping away once more and, praying he didn’t grow suspicious, crossed towards the console where she slammed her fist down in frustration. “I should have known better. I shouldn’t have been tricked. I’m weak,” she insisted as her eyes frantically scanned the screen as she did some very quick thinking.
On the screen, the Verdant’s CID was still logged in. The menu before her was where she needed to be. She just had to find the defense controls. Find them and shut them off. Without him noticing.
Ever so carefully, she reached her thumb out of her clenched fist and hit the option for the missile controls. Another menu sprang up and she cursed the Society for burying these controls in so many layers.
“But that’s why I’m here to help you,” Morgan was saying. She could feel him approaching her from behind. Hastily, she scrolled through the options. “I’m here to reform you.”
“Can I even be reformed? After all I’ve done?” Leta asked, sounding as torn up as she could as she manically searched for what she was looking for. He was practically upon her now.
Target calibration? No. Pressure monitors? No. She could practically feel his breath on her neck. But finally, she laid eyes on what she needed. Manual emergency shutdown. Her thumb tapped it, the screen shifted to read ‘Please Scan CID for Identity Confirmation’ and her heart leapt into her throat as heavy hands seized her shoulders and spun her around so that she was face to face with Morgan once more, locked in his grip.
“Oh,” he whispered, leaning in to her ear. “I think you can…”
For one piercing second, they regarded each other heatedly. Then, in one flash of a motion, Leta reached back and slapped the copied Verdant CID onto the scanner with a ‘thwap.’ The console let out a high-pitched ding and a droning voice said, “Ground-to-air Missile Defense — inactive. Manual activation required for reset.”
Morgan’s eyes went wide and Leta couldn’t help but grin as she said, “No, sir. I really don’t think so,” as she gripped the hilt of her knife and swung it straight at his chest.
The rooftop shuddered, like it was a boat on a rocky sea, when the first bomb hit.
Fiearius had wrangled Ophelia to her feet, holding onto her wrists as though his life depended on it (and in some ways, it did). As the roof shook, he peered out at the smoking spot at the horizon in wide-eyed wonder.
She did it. Leta had done it.
Only moments later, Carthian ships started to puncture the cloud cover. The second explosion followed. This one, further away, but the great bellow of the Nautilus’ containment hangar collapsing in on itself reached his ears even from here.
Dez was suddenly at his side. “I’m guessing that means we won,” he remarked dryly. Fiearius cast him a tired look, overwhelmed by relief. Now, those Carthian ships would bring soldiers to sweep up the mess and finish this once and for all. They had already won. Vescent was theirs.
Then why did he feel so uneasy?
Adjusting his hold on Ophelia to one hand, his other hand went to the COMM in his ear. “Leta? Leta, you read?” He waited impatiently for her response. “I’m fine, I did it, we’re done,” he wanted to hear her say.
But only ringing silence met his ears.
“Leta?” he said again. “Leta. Come in.”
His stomach twisted and his eyes swung to Dez.
“I need to get to her,” he said.
She was clearly alive, she’d completed her task. Her COMM had probably just fallen out or shut off or maybe the control room she was in blocked its signal. There were many logical explanations. She was probably fine. But for some reason, he just felt an unbearable need to have her in his sights and be absolutely sure. And if there was one thing Fiearius had learned over his years of reckless danger, it was to trust his instincts no matter how much sense they made.
But there was still the matter of his silent captive. Ophelia had said nothing since he’d first restrained her, only shooting him furious glares every few seconds. He couldn’t let her go, but if he did what he should have and took her back to his ship to lock her up for later? That was a lot of time risking what might have been Leta’s safety.
And then Dez said, “I’ll take care of Varisian.”
Fiearius’ eyes narrowed at him, immediately suspicious. “You mean shoot her?”
Dez rolled his eyes as he came closer. “No. I’ll take her to the Dionysian for you. Unless it’s too shattered from that ungraceful fall from the sky you made.”