Leta snapped open her eyes. She hadn’t realized she’d fallen asleep, but it took only seconds to gauge her surroundings: she was lying on a couch in Ren’s apartment, alone. Her throat was burning, her eyes were streaming — thick black clouds were filling the room.
She vaulted from the couch, just as Fiearius and Ren rushed in from the balcony. She didn’t have to time to register what they could be doing out there, not when the smoke was growing thick. “Fiear — Ren,” she coughed, pressing her forearm against her mouth and nose, “there’s a fire — we have to — ”
“We have an extinguishing system,” said Ren quickly, crossing toward a console screen embedded in a wall. “It should have activated already.”
Fiearius said the words so sharply, so confidently, that Ren and Leta stared as he crossed through the room. He snatched their bags off the floor, tossing Leta’s into her hands. “What do you need from here?” he added to Ren. “Grab it. Fast.”
“What are you talking about?” said Ren, eyes wide. “The system will react, it just needs a minute, we’ll be — “
“I’m telling ya, it won’t,” Fiearius insisted. “It’ll have been disabled. This isn’t gonna be stopped. Trust me.”
Ren opened his mouth to argue, but Leta was inclined to believe him. The look blazing in Fiearius’ eyes — she’d seen it before. Many times. It meant trouble.
And for that reason, she seized Ren’s arm and marched them toward the exit. “How do you know, Fiearius?” she asked. “What is this?”
Fiearius wrenched open the door and cast her a dark look. “Varisian.”
Ophelia Varisian was the woman who had hunted Fiearius when Leta had been on the Dionysian. But she’d disappeared; this didn’t make sense.
“How? How do you know this is her?”
“Cause this isn’t the first time she’s done it.”
As he spoke, Leta’s eyes were naturally drawn to Fiearius’ right forearm: a gnarled burn scar ran from his wrist up to his elbow, twisting up his flesh. Leta felt momentarily stunned: she’d read that report. He’d been burnt in a base raid where a fire had somehow gotten out of control. There had been no mention of arson. Certainly no mention of Ophelia. But now wasn’t the time to ask why.
“Wait,” said Leta, snapping back to her senses and throwing out her arms to halt them. “We can’t leave yet — we have to help people get out of here.”
Closing his eyes in agreement, Fiearius inhaled a smoky breath. “You,” he pointed at Ren, “Start evacuations downstairs. Leta, take this floor.” He nodded towards the ceiling. “I’ll go up.”
Leta nodded as Fiearius bolted off towards the stairs and without a moment’s hesitation, she turned to the nearest door and rammed it open. “Hello? I’m here to help!”
Fiearius dodged down the stairs and burst out of the crumbling, blackened door, pulling with him an older woman in a robe, who stumbled behind him. She’d spent the last minute half-coughing, half-sobbing in the smoke. But they’d made it: he’d dragged her from the hallway where she’d been fenced in by flame, through the front doors, down into the wet grass and toward a circle of trees where Leta was tending to patients, Ren at her side.
“I think she’s the last one,” he said, out of breath, as the woman sank against a tree and put her face in her hands.
“And the extinguishing system?” Leta asked, her eyes reflecting the distant flames. As she spoke, she wrapped a bandage around a teenage boy’s wrist — she must’ve run back to the Dionysian for her supplies.
He shook his head. With most of the occupants safe, he’d swung by the system’s controls on this last run to see if the building could be saved. But what he’d found was — “Gone,” was all Fiearius managed, chest heaving as he put his hands to his knees and crouched over. “Probably the first place to bur–”
But his words were drowned out. Suddenly, up on the hillside, the building gave a tremendous, long, unending crash as two of its walls thundered to the ground. Flames shot toward the sky and black smoke billowed into the air. Everyone stopped to watch, horrified.
So much for saving the building, Fiearius thought, finally pushing himself up and running a hand through his hair. His eyes turned to the tenants, clustered around one another in the night chill, their faces lit only by dancing orange light and his mind turned to Varisian, somewhere out there, perhaps still nearby, watching, laughing maybe that she had just destroyed these people’s lives.
He’d destroyed these people’s lives. He never should have come here. This was a mista–
Fiearius wheeled around. It was the woman who had greeted them in the lobby, waving a tablet and looking frantic, tears in her eyes.
“Are you sure?” asked Ren. “Who?”
“Y – yes – we’re missing Gardon!”
Fiearius couldn’t help it: he darted a look toward Leta. Naturally, she was staring at him, looking awed and horrified all at once.
“Right,” he muttered, mostly to himself as he turned on his heel, “I’ll be back — ”
“Fiear!” Leta called after him, voice straining in the cold night air. He could hear the fear in her voice as he rushed back up the hill towards the blackened complex that was quickly becoming more debris than structure.
It wasn’t the first time in his life he’d found himself running about a burning building. The first time — gods, nearly twenty years ago now — had been his unwilling induction into the life of a 1st Degree Internal Affairs agent. It was the first night he’d truly faced his own mortality and the first night he’d walked away with someone elses. The face of Pieter Rowland, crazed eyes alight with the same tumultuous flame that surrounded him now, still haunted him, even today. Especially now.