Leta was frozen.
Her gun was in her hand, her finger poised on the cold metal trigger, but she couldn’t pull it. She couldn’t even aim properly. The weapon vibrated in her shaking grip and, as if of its own accord, refused to be pointed at the man advancing towards her. But it wasn’t the gun fighting, it was herself. What was she even thinking? She couldn’t shoot Arleth Morgan. She couldn’t shoot a Society Councillor. She admired him — his strength, his courage to fight for the Society. Why would she ever want to hurt him?
“Now now, Ms. Adler. No need for violence,” said Morgan, still smiling. He held out his broad sweaty palm. “I’ll take that if you don’t mind.”
Of course she didn’t mind. Without hesitation, she set her weapon into the man’s palm. He smiled at her with a twist of smug self-satisfaction as he unloaded the gun and placed it neatly on the console beside them.
Seeing the gun sitting there, useless and out of reach, sent a sudden bolt of panic through her. Logic came rushing back. She was in enemy territory, sabotaging their defenses. She had a job to do, a mission to complete and she had just handed her main defense to a godsdamned Society Councillor, what the hell was she–
Morgan must have noticed the expression of pained confusion across her face. “You passed through our docks recently, didn’t you?” he asked thoughtfully. The curious smirk he gave her made it clear he found this a lot more amusing than she did. “So what do you think? I’m not really versed in the sciences myself, but I’ve been quite impressed by the work our ARC team has been doing. I would love to get your medical opinion.”
“ARC?” Leta breathed. “That’s what — that’s why I’m — ”
Her mind swam. The innocuous shot of fluid that had turned Fiearius into a raving nutcase, Ren into his polar opposite and was now freeing Leta’s own mind and allowing her to see clearly for the first time in over a year.
No. She backed up on her heels, stepping back toward the door, desperate to get out.
Morgan let out a low hearty chuckle as he slowly paced a circle around her. “I’m afraid it’s no use, Ms. Adler,” he told her simply. “Fight it as you might, you know the truth. You can trust me. I have your best interests in mind.”
Of course he did, Leta realized, sharply halting in her tracks. He was a Society Councillor, one of their fearless leaders. It was an honor to even be permitted in his presence. After all, it was a privilege rarely afforded anyone.
“Have a seat, Ms. Adler,” Morgan said quietly and Leta immediately dropped into the nearest chair.
He stopped pacing and glanced down at her curiously. “Actually, stand up,” he said, and Leta shot up to her feet.
A slow grin spread across his ruddy red face. “Perfect.”
Fiearius glimpsed the gun in Ophelia’s hand, and he knew he only had fractions of a second to act before a bullet made its way through his skull. His body throbbed, blood streamed down his arms and face, and Ophelia was as sharp, relentless and lightning-fast as she’d ever been. They’d once joked back on Satieri that her desire to take his job was so fierce that she would one day kill him herself just to make a vacancy.
It didn’t seem quite so funny now.
As he froze on a Vescentian rooftop, a battle waging above him and below him and around him, his mind turned first to whether or not dying here would make a good ending to his story. The location could have been better, but the timing was actually quite fitting. Fiearius Soliveré, rogue Verdant, killed in the midst of the first decisive action against the Society’s rule since the Second Division War. Shot in the head by his long-time nemesis. Yeah. He could die with that.
And then, as those fractions came to an end, his thoughts went somewhere else. They went to Leta, wherever she was right now, hopefully where she needed to be, getting this operation over with. He could see her face now, screwed up into anger as she scolded him for letting Ophelia get the better of him. “You really let her kill you?” she’d ask indignantly. “Her? Gods, Fiearius, you’re better than that!”
And Gods, he wished she was right.
Fortunately she didn’t have to be. Just as his time came to a close and he expected the bang, an anti-climactic ping rang out across the sky and was followed by a shout of pain as Ophelia dropped the gun and seized her hand as it started to soak with red.
Fiearius, who had been mid-stagger when his near-death crisis occurred, finished the stumble backwards and looked around wildly for the source of his good luck. Had Leta ignored his order and come back? Had his crew recovered from the crash and come after him? Was it just some rebel who happened to be in the right place at the right time?
But when Fiearius laid eyes on his savior, running across the adjacent rooftop and leaping the gap onto his then charging towards Ophelia and slapping her in the back of the head with the butt end of a rifle, it was not Leta nor Harper nor any Vescentian passerby at all.
“Dez?” Fiearius exclaimed, unable to believe it. He hadn’t seen nor heard from nor spoken to his ex-partner, ex-enemy, ex-friend, ex-everything since he’d kicked him off the Dionysian nearly two months ago. And now he was here. Dodging Ophelia’s wild kick and and swinging his fist towards her face.
“Have you been following us?” he yelled, shell-shocked. “How? What the hell are you doing here?!”
Dez didn’t look up as he shouted back, “Making sure you don’t die.”
There was no time for questions. Ophelia jumped back on her feet, bleeding from scratches on her face, but apparently still energized enough to lash out at him with her sword again and again. He barely avoided each swipe, taking hasty steps back and using his rifle to block the blade.
Dez may have been tough, but Fiearius knew from personal experience that he was no scrapper. Exhausted as he was, he launched himself forward, aiming to restrain Ophelia’s sword arm before one of her strikes made it through his defensive.
But she was ready.
He was mere inches from grabbing her forearm when she suddenly spun around, turning on him and making a thin but deep slice across his hand. He recoiled, but her refocus gave Dez an in. He elbowed her in the chest and used the momentum to plant his fist in her abdomen. As she doubled over, Fiearius forgot the pain in his hand and full-on tackled her with his whole body. She fell backwards onto the cement and Fiearius pinned her wrists to the ground. Dez, taking his cue, reached down and tore the sword from her restrained hand and tossed it to the side with a clatter.
Beneath him, Ophelia writhed and struggled, trying desperately to break free of Fiearius’ grip, but this time, gravity and weight were on his side. She couldn’t budge.
Not that it stopped her from trying. “Would you cut it out?” he growled, exasperated. In response, she hissed a spit into his face.
“Out of the way, Fiearius,” said the voice behind him. Fiearius looked up to find the end of a rifle about three inches from his face, pointing right at Ophelia’s temple.
“Dez, what the–don’t!” Fiearius exclaimed.
“She tried to kill you, Fiearius,” he said sharply. “Again. Your misplaced sense of mercy will be your end.”
He couldn’t argue. And last time they’d met, Fiearius had indeed promised that he would never again be so forgiving. And yet–
“Don’t,” he said again as Ophelia finally started to let up her rabid fighting to free herself. She was watching him with the stare of a predator just waiting to see what their prey would do next. “We can’t just kill her. We were her, Dez. And we could use her.”
Desophyles clenched his jaw. He kept his rifle trained on her face and fell eerily silent. Until finally, much to Fiearius’ surprise, he dropped it to his side.
“Fine, then what do you suggest?” he snapped impatiently. “The moment you let her go, she’ll have her hands around your throat. So what are you going to do?” He looked between the two of them. “Rehabilitate her? Right here on this rooftop?”
Fiearius rolled his eyes. Although at the moment, he didn’t really have a better solution. He looked down at the woman beneath him and she just glared back with all the hatred in the Span. What was his plan?
“Funny,” said Arleth Morgan gently, “how we’ve come to this.”
He walked a slow circle around the room, never taking his cold grey eyes from her. “So long you’ve been a thorn in my side. That pesky little itch that wouldn’t go away. And now look at us.” He paused beside Leta’s shoulder and grinned at her. “Just like old friends, aren’t we?”
Leta felt hollow and blissfully empty, as if her every doubt and worry had been wiped cleanly from her memory.
“Yes, sir,” she said.
“I was very worried, you know. When you left Vescent,” he went on. “I knew you didn’t believe the stories about Calimore’s death, of course. Stubborn as you were. But at least here, you were contained. At least I could keep an eye on you. But then you ran off — on a pirate ship of all things? And you–” Leta felt his fingers gently brush down her arm, “–slipped from my grasp.”
Morgan shook his head sadly and kept pacing. “And what was I to do? This woman, engaged to a traitor, loose in the Span? What did she know? How much had Calimore said? He at least was detained. He was manageable. You.” He pointed his finger at her and shook it slowly. “You were always just a loose cannon, waiting to go off, weren’t you?”
Leta felt a burn of shame at his words. Gods, had she even known how much of a threat she had been? She should have turned herself in months ago, what was she thinking? And Ren. Gods, Ren. That traitorous bastard, spreading lies about the Society’s good name. She had been engaged to that monster?
“I’m sorry, sir,” she said at once. “Ren didn’t tell me anything. And I would never have said anything anyway. I would never betray the Society.” But she had. She had come here to do just that. The realization made her stomach twist.
But Morgan was just nodding in solidarity. “I know, Leta, I know. Your dedication is commendable,” he assured her before reaching out and grasping her shoulder. “But you know…you have to die.”
Leta’s eyes widened on him. She had to–? At once, her mind revolted. No, no no, that couldn’t be right, she couldn’t die, she had to–
But he was right. She knew that. She was a risk. She had to die. She aimed her eyes on his face and nodded. “I know, sir.”
Morgan choked back a laugh. When she looked up at him, he admitted, “This is just so much fun though,” which didn’t make sense to her, but who was she to question him? He released his grip and turned his back on her. “You’re very difficult to kill, you know.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” Leta said, regret and apology in her voice.
“My assassins on Tarin didn’t even get close. The bounty hunters that chased you from station to station? Useless, greedy fucks,” he went on, his tone growing more agitated the more he spoke. “I still believe the Mariah was the perfect trap. A plague ship? How could she resist, I thought. But that Soliveré whelp managed to release it before it could be sprung.”