“I’ll do it,” he volunteered, an offer that he’d thought would relieve her.
“It’s my clinic, Fiear,” she snapped, ripping her arm from him yet again. Anger filled her face, but her voice was cracking. Was that the nearby smoke making her eyes red? “My people, my responsibility and–”
“Running into burning buildings is my specialty,” he interrupted, the tiniest of smirks twisting into his lips. It was no time for jokes, but the desperate need to keep the woman before him from breaking was enough that he’d try anything. He gripped her shoulder for just a moment before promising, “I’ll check it out,” locking eyes with Cyrus. Cyrus nodded his understanding at the unspoken order to watch over her, and then Fiearius ran straight into the mess himself.
And it was a mess. All around him, rebels were cheering as they watched the clinic’s demise. The Carthian soldiers, the ones that Gates had gone through so much trouble to have stationed here, to protect it, to keep it safe, had been rounded up, stripped of their weaponry and they too stared up in silent horror. Closer to the doors were people Fiearius vaguely recognized. Leta’s staff, attending to those patients they had managed to get out of the destruction. Few as they were.
He felt a few sets of eyes on him as he pushed his way through the crowd, unyielding. A few murmurs, even a few shouts (“Is that the admiral?” “Soliveré? Here?”) but he ignored them all. No one even tried to stop him as he barrelled straight into the building without looking back.
He was only inside for a moment when the smell hit him. He recognized it instantly. Burnt flesh was a scent one never forgot.
Fiearius drew one last breath of relatively fresh air before he powered forward. Flames licked at his flesh as he ran through the space as quickly as he dared over the debris and squinted through the smoke for any signs of life
Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any left. There were shapes in some of the beds, but he only spared them a passing glance before he needed to look away. Fiearius would never describe himself as squeamish, but there were some images he didn’t need burned into his memory.
The back of the clinic yielded no further results. He called out and received no response. The realization hit him slowly. They were too late. If anyone else could have been saved, he’d missed the chance by a long shot. He tried not to imagine who those charred corpses belonged to ten, twenty minutes ago, but outside, there was at least one woman who knew. The thought made his stomach churn.
“Dov’ha rei’ja…” he muttered, marking the ih’laana with his fingers over his chest before turning back for the door. But just as he did, he heard a noise that gave him pause.
A crash followed by a curse and then a ‘aha!’
Fiearius turned back and around the corner into a room he’d neglected to check. And there, crouched on the ground in a halo of medicine containers and shattered glass, was the source of the noise.
“Nikkolai?” he asked, almost in disbelief. The young blonde man looked up at him, startled.
“What the hell are you–” Fiearius began, but he cut him off.
“Help me with these,” Niki coughed, gathering as many of the bottles as he could hold in his arms. “If we lose this stuff we won’t get it replaced for weeks and those people out there need it now.”
Fiearius didn’t have time to argue. He rushed forward and seized an armful of his own and then forcefully pushed Nikkolai out of the door before he could argue.
As the two of them made a dash for the exit before this whole place decided to collapse, Fiearius glanced back around the room one last time. All of this. All those people. All of Leta’s work. Reduced to ashes. And for what? A statement? Political protest? Who had even started this?
As if reading his mind, Nikkolai suddenly explained, “I didn’t really see what happened. Just that one of our regulars got in an argument with one of the Carthian guards. Things just escalated from there.” He too glanced back over his shoulder. “It burnt so fast…We barely got anyone out.”
Fiearius felt some obligation to comfort the kid, but he had no words of comfort to give. Hadn’t Leta warned of this exact thing? Hell, even he, separated from Vescent, could have predicted this happening the moment Carthis swept into the place. He wasn’t feeling very comforting, he was feeling angry. An anger that was only exacerbated when he reemerged into the sweet relief of the cold night air and realized the attention of the crowd had altered. No longer were they jeering at the Carthian guards or the clinic they’d destroyed. Their focus had gone to someone else: Leta.
From the doorway, he could see her in the middle of a circle of rioters, speaking passionately, but her words didn’t reach him. Whatever she was saying wasn’t going over well. Cyrus was at her side, his body language defensive as the protesters rounded in on them.
Without another word, Fiearius dumped his pile of medicine into the arms of a shaken clinic worker nearby and pushed his way through towards the epicenter of this charade. The fury was burning through him now, filling his veins and spreading into his clenched fists. He paid no heed to the people he pushed out of his way, some more forcefully than others. One looked ready to start a fight with him next, but one look at his face and they backed off. Smart.
He was nearly through when the conversation finally met his ears. “–trusted you! We believed you were on our side–” someone was yelling at Leta.
“I was,” Leta was pleading over the jeers of the crowd. “I am, I–”
“This was our safe space,” yelled someone else. “We needed it! And you sold it out to those Carthy scums!”
“I didn’t, I’d never!” Leta cried. Fiearius slipped through the angry crowd and glimpsed her expression, torn with despair and determination.
“We thought you were one of us,” snapped one woman, stepping forward out of the fray toward her, her voice cold. “Thought your loyalty was to Vescent.” Fiearius shoved one last body out of the way just in time to see it happen: Leta stepped backwards. Cyrus stepped forward. And then in a flash, two sets of arms reached out from the crowd and seized Leta’s arms, wrenching her backwards as someone yelled, “Whose side are on?!” and launched their fist.
The blow cracked across Leta’s face, and she staggered slightly against the man holding her arms, but then pulled herself free and held her wrist against her blood-soaked mouth. She didn’t look particularly hurt, but she did look angry, and it was nothing compared to the rage that roared in Fiearius’ chest.
With a growl, he threw himself into the crowd and grasped the assailant, seizing her wrist tightly in his grasp and pulling his gun against her head.
Yells and gasps filled the air. They sounded scared. As they should be, Fiearius thought furiously as his finger tightened on the trigger and–