Fiearius didn’t even choose to acknowledge the slight. His itch to find Leta was only heightening and, fearing the worst, he would take any out afforded him. Even if it was from Dez.
“The ship’s about a mile that way,” Fiearius snapped, forcing Ophelia’s arms into Dez’s hands. “Put her in the containment unit next to the cargo bay. Harper will know where it is.”
Dez readjusted his grip on Ophelia, who was still watching Fiearius with vicious anger. “Aye aye, cap’n,” he muttered dryly, but Fiearius wasn’t listening. As soon as he was free, he tore off across the rooftops towards the defense building where Leta hopefully still was. Alive.
In the distance, the third bomb went off and the city shuddered.
Leta narrowly side-stepped the massive fist flying at her face. She gasped and stumbled to the left as the mountain of a man that was Arleth Morgan plummeted towards her. Her dagger to the chest had only served to aggravate him. She’d come face to face with a very different beast than the one that had been satisfied by playing with her like some sick puppet.
This one wanted her dead.
Leta fled to the other side of the room, desperate to catch her breath and her bearings. But every time she thought she made some leeway, she turned to find another attack already descending upon her. Morgan slammed his fist towards her, planting it instead into the wall behind her as she ducked out of the way just in time. His other hand frantically reached out, trying to grab her arm, her shirt, anything it could, but she swung the knife at him again, slicing his clutching hand just as it started to close around her forearm.
“You little bitch!” he roared, raising the bloodsoaked hand and swiping it at her in a great arc. This time, it made contact, hitting Leta across the face and causing her to stagger to the side, nearly losing her footing.
Bracing herself on the edge of the console, she pushed herself back to her feet and spun into another strike, dragging the blade across his upper arm. But to her dismay, it barely even dented his coat. Instead, he grinned maliciously and used her momentary lack of balance from the hit to seize her wrist.
She tried to yank herself free, but his grip was too strong. He pulled her closer, twisting her arm to the side, making her cry out in pain.
“Do you really think you can walk out of here alive?” he spat in her face. “After everything you’ve seen? All you know? All you’ve done? Only one of us is leaving this room, Leta. It’s over.”
She let out her own shout of pain as he twisted her harder, locking her into place, but Leta wasn’t finished. “Fuck–you,” she growled, glaring at him out of the corner of her eye and then, ignoring the impossible angle of her shoulder, kicked her leg off the ground and landed her knee in Morgan’s groin.
He howled and doubled over at once, releasing his grip just enough for her to wriggle free and get a better vantage point. Her arm was searing, but she paid it no attention. There was no time. She was going to finish this, once and for all. Morgan was right about one thing. There was no other way, only one of them would be leaving.
More firm in her decision than she’d ever been before, she gripped her dagger in both hands and raised it above her head. With a mighty yell, she brought it down for the final blow, sinking the blade into the soft flesh between Morgan’s neck and shoulder.
But it wasn’t a final blow. And the beast didn’t go down.
Instead, he rose up, faster than she could even process, and before she knew what was happening, a thick calloused hand encircled her neck. Her whole body was slammed back against the wall, forcing all the air from her lungs and when she tried desperately to fill them again, she found she couldn’t. No matter how much she gasped, no air made it past the blockade. Desperately, she clawed at his hands.
But Morgan’s grip didn’t budge. His other hand reached over his opposite shoulder and ripped the dagger from his flesh and he tossed it aside as though she’d merely scratched him. A low laugh chortled out of his throat as Leta struggled with all her limbs, kicking and hitting and writhing to get free.
“You know what?” he breathed. “I was going to just watch you kill yourself. But this.” His lips twisted back into a grin. “This is better. This is much more entertaining.”
Just as Leta swung her legs out for a kick, Morgan grasped her neck with his other hand as well, pulled her from the wall and slammed her onto the floor.
Her head hit the concrete, her back landed with a thud and her vision blurred. She was allowed one hasty breath before he was back on her throat and this time there was no escaping. His arms had her upper body pinned and his legs managed her lower. All she could do was flail out with her hands, hopelessly praying to make contact with Morgan’s face, neck, anything that should could attack with every last ounce of strength she had left, but he leaned back and all she touched was the frantic air between them.
The harder he pressed, the longer she went without breath, the more her senses started to fail her. What had been pain started to sink towards numbness, the noise of the control room all but faded out until she could hear nothing but her own scattered heartbeat. Her arms lost their resolve and started to weaken.
This couldn’t be the end. To free Vescent but lose her life in the process? She couldn’t die here.
But her mind started to fade, her eyes started to blink closed and then her arms fell weakly onto the concrete beside her and her fingertips touched something wet. Startled, she turned her head just enough to see the blurry vision of blood on her hand. Blood from the discarded knife that was mere inches from her grasp.
Filled with newfound purpose, Leta heaved one last gasp, dragging in any tiny semblance of oxygen she could manage and reached. She felt the metal. Desperately, she clawed for it.
But Morgan adjusted his hands on her throat and shook her against the ground, causing her to lose her touch. “Why won’t you–fucking–die?!” he growled furiously and squeezed harder.
Leta choked as his thumb dug into her airway, but she just reached again. Reached with every part of her shoulder, her arm, her hand, her fingers. Her muscles strained, her whole body tensed and then finally, miraculously, she felt it. The hilt. Her fingers clambered over it messily, her shaky hand tightened and out of a pure act of instinct, she swung it at her assailant furiously.
Leta felt the metal sink into Morgan’s neck. She felt the hot blood spill from his artery onto her hand. She felt the splatter of it land on her face as she gasped her first breath. But it didn’t stop her.
She ripped the blade out and sunk it in again. And again. And again.
Morgan’s grip loosened. His eyes fluttered backward into his head. He fell away from her. Blood flowed from him freely, but he was gone, possibly long before Leta finally dragged her dagger from his corpse for the last time. She wasn’t sure how many times she’d stabbed him. She didn’t care. She had just been so desperate to make sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this was finished.
Morgan collapsed in the center of the room in a pool of deep red and Leta stumbled to her feet and staggered backwards against the wall, still clutching the dagger with shaking hands, gasping for air. It was over.
Fiearius didn’t know what he’d find as he held his wrist to the control room CID scanner and the doors slid open. As he’d run through the streets, passing the remnants of bloody battles, staving off the aches and pains of his own confrontation, his mind had strayed to every possibility. He’d arrive and she’d be victoriously cheering her achievement. She’d be valiantly defending her position, mowing down a Society onslaught with ease. Perhaps he’d arrive to find the room empty, Leta having already moved on.
All of them were preferable to the possibility he feared most and the one he stumbled into.
Across the dimly lit room was Leta, on the floor, slumped against the wall. A fallen corpse sat in the middle of the floor, but he ignored it and gazed at Leta. She looked so oddly small: her arms hugged her knees, and a dagger shining with blood hung loosely in her hand. Dark bruises covered her arms and blood caked her skin and hair. She was looking toward him, but she didn’t react — she didn’t even blink. Her eyes were vacant and empty, staring into the middle-distance.
No, he thought, desperation gripping his chest. Ice filled his lungs. He couldn’t breathe. No no no, he couldn’t be too late —
His voice croaked out of his throat. “Leta?”
“Leta,” he said again, louder this time, as he came closer. As he stepped over the fallen body, he realized her shoulders were lifting and falling. Not much, but–she was breathing.
“Leta!” he yelled, closing the distance between them and grasping her face with his hands. Even then, she didn’t seem to see him. Shock — she was in shock.
“Leta, c’mon,” he pleaded with her, brushing her hair out of the way and wiping specks of blood off her face with his thumb. “Leta come back to me, c’mon. It’s okay. It’s over now. It’s gonna be okay.”
Finally, she gasped a heavy breath and her eyes shot to his in alarm, like she didn’t recognize him. Suddenly she struggled, as though trying to move away from him, slipping further down the wall. But Fiearius moved a hand to her hip and held her steady. She was trembling.
“Hey, hey, it’s alright, it’s me, you’re safe.”
“Fiear?” Her voice shook out of her throat. “Fiear. Fiear, I–I killed a Councillor.”
His stare swung to the man he’d stepped over to get to her. “Him? That’s–”
Fiearius didn’t even know what to say. Congratulate her? Thank her? But Leta had already moved on to one of the other ghosts haunting her. “The missile defense!” she remembered suddenly, looking frantically to the console. “Did it–”
“Shut down,” Fiearius confirmed for her, feeling an exhausted smile come over his face. “The bombs were dropped. Carthian troops are on the ground. You did it.”
Leta shook her head, apparently remembering something else. “Delia. Bran, the rebels. We have to go help them!” Fiearius had no idea who she was talking about, so Leta added urgently, “They’re just outside, they need help!”
She started to push to her feet, but Fiearius gently grasped her shoulders. Inwardly, his heart twisted. As he entered the building, he’d stepped over a dozen fallen bodies. “Leta, I’m sorry,” he mumbled, brushing her hair behind her ear. “There’s — no one left out there.”
Leta’s eyes went round. Then she looked away, and her gaze slid out of focus — she was leaving him again. He’d seen Leta hurt, injured, upset, but he’d never seen her like this. “C’mon, let’s get back to the–” he began, but just as he took her arm to lead her away, a voice broke into his ear.
“Cap’n?” Eve asked tentatively, cutting through the static. Right away, he knew something was wrong. She sounded like she was on the verge of tears.
“Harper.” Fiearius stood up, turned away from Leta and touched the speaker in his ear. “Everything okay out there?”
“No, cap’n,” she said, her voice shaking. “We heard the bombs, mission’s done right?”
“We’re just about to head back.” He glanced over his shoulder to Leta who was watching him with a sad, vacant curiosity.
“Alright.” Her voice was scared. “I think you’ll–you’ll want to get back soon.”
He didn’t want to ask. He didn’t want to know. But he had to. “What happened, Harper?”
At once, Eve’s voice cracked. “The crash. We didn’t want to say, we didn’t want to–Some of us — some of us are hurt real bad, cap’n.” She paused, and then went exhaled, “S-she said she was fine, cap’n. She said–she said she was okay. Just hit her head is all. We didn’t know how bad she was hurt, we didn’t know, we–”
“Who? Who’s hurt?”
There was a long silence on the other end of the line. Until finally. “Amora. Amora’s–”
Fiearius felt numb. “Amora’s what?” Leta was now looking up at him in absolute horror. Glittering tears formed at the corner of her eyes.
“Amora’s gone, cap’n.”
Fiearius’ hand fell away from the COMM. He felt like his entire body had been drained of blood. Amora. Amora, the innocent. He had just been teasing her a few hours ago at the breakfast table. She’d over-salted the eggs and she’d turned red in the face and scolded him for pointing it out. Fiearius had always had the impression that Amora never really liked him. Their views of the span could not have been more opposing. But she’d been a permanent fixture on his ship for the last two years either way, preparing every meal for his crew, keeping the deckhands in line, she was an important asset of Dionysian life. One he often took for granted.
And now she was gone. Just like that? No dramatic exit. No cry “I can’t take this anymore, cap’n!” as she stormed away in a fit. No. She was just…gone. Just like the rebels who’d helped Leta. The Carthians aboard the fallen ships. The Vescentians who died in the riots. The Archetians who didn’t make it out. Gone. One more number in a quickly growing list of casualties.
He could feel Leta watching him. She knew. He didn’t have to say it. Her expression crumbled, so crushed, so completely heartbroken.
“We did it? We won?” she asked emptily.
“We did,” he confirmed for her quietly.
After a long pause, she murmured, barely moving her lips, “It doesn’t feel like it.”
He didn’t have an answer. Instead, he did the only thing he could manage. He crouched down beside her, put his arms around her shoulders and pulled her against his chest.