“Do you trust Carthis?” he said again. “To do this right. Win Ellegy’s freedom and return it to her people.”
No, was Fiearius’ instant internal answer, but he didn’t speak it aloud. No, he didn’t think Carthis was going to back off once this battle was won. The way they’d backed off their agreement with the Ellegian rebels was enough to prove that. Carthis wasn’t interested in lofty goals like freedom. They were after territory.
But what he said to Dez was, “We’ll deal with that when we come to it.” He gestured towards the next stairwell. “C’mon.”
But Dez still didn’t move. He continued to stare out that window until Fiearius marched back down the hallway to retrieve him, but just before he seized his arm, Dez turned. He fixed his stare on him and froze Fiearius in his place. “Do you trust me?”
Fiearius regarded him skeptically. It wasn’t the kind of question he expected from Dez. Since when did he care about what anyone thought of him? Especially what Fiearius thought of him. He didn’t like the implication.
“Sometimes,” he answered, meaning it to be flippant and still gesturing that they should move on, but Dez’s stare hadn’t wavered. The intensity of it made him unsettled. So finally, he relented, “Sometimes I don’t agree with your methods, alright? But if I didn’t trust you, I wouldn’t have brought you into this. Now can we go?”
Dez was nodding slowly, but he still wasn’t moving. Something was wrong, Fiearius realized too late. “I’m sorry,” Dez muttered under his breath.
Fiearius’ mouth dropped open. “What did you–”
He didn’t need to finish the question. The city answered for him. The first explosion he couldn’t see, but he felt it shake the ground beneath his feet. His eyes searched out the window in horror just in time to see the second tower of fire and smoke erupt from the horizon. And the third. And the fourth. The entire city laid out before him became blanketed in black smoke like someone had painted over it.
The explosions were still sending shudders up the spire when Fiearius spun around to Dez, an accusation already on his tongue, only to find the hallway behind him empty. Dez had disappeared.
Fiearius’ heart pounded in his chest. “Shit.”
The explosion had caught them all by surprise, Carthian and Society alike. Leta only barely managed to drag her current patient, one of her own med team who had taken a bullet to the shoulder, under the cover of a downed shuttle in time to avoid the main brunt of the blast. A chunk of concrete larger than the shuttle itself had landed directly where they had been just a second before. Her hands were still shaking when she climbed out of the crevice between the two and into the chaos.
Black smoke filled her lungs and she choked it out, pressing her wrist against her mouth as her watery eyes blinked hopelessly through the unnavigable scene. She could see nothing and her ears were still ringing from the blast, turning the shouting voices around her into little more than the distant whispers of ghosts. She stumbled forward, her feet tripping over the scattered debris so she clutched onto whatever she could find for support.
Another explosion, somewhere in the distance, shook the ground and she grasped onto the concrete block more firmly. She needed to see. She needed to take stock of who was still standing. Who needed help. Who was no longer with them.
Her foot hit something soft and she looked down at the lifeless body of a Society agent. Head trauma, she listed off diligently, noting the blood spattered across the ground. Another agent lay a few feet away. That one had been dead before the bomb even went off, the bullet hole straight through her chest still leaking.
Finally, her hearing started to return to her. The ringing began to subside and out of the din she heard a call for help. Quickly, she scanned the space around her and staggered towards the voice. Her sealant gun was still clutched in her hand from stabilizing her teammate and she hit the switch to charge it up preemptively.
“Please! Someone!” the voice cried from the thick of the smoke. She was getting closer now, she could start to make out movement near her. “Help!”
Finally, she saw him. A young man on the ground with a bent metal bar, a building support of some kind, lodged straight through his abdomen and into the debris below. Leta felt her blood turn cold at the sight. His face was pale, his eyes bloodshot. There was a Society librera, thick and black, tattooed into his arm. Without hesitation, she hurried to his side.
“I’m here, I’m going to help you,” she told him as he choked up a lungful of blood onto the ground beside him. How, she wasn’t so sure. Maybe in a clean hospital she could save him. Maybe under controlled conditions. Maybe not in the middle of a warzone with new explosions going off every few seconds.
But she had to try.
“Hang on, I’m going to get this thing out of you.” She stood up and looked up and down the metal bar. It had to come out, there was no doubting that. She’d just have to deal with the damage it caused after the fact. The man was dying, there was no time to try anything else. So she gripped the bar with both hands, trying to line it up with the wound as much as possible, pleading it would be a clean extraction. But when she took a deep breath and tugged, it didn’t move.
“Shit,” she groaned, tugging again. It was lodged too deep into the ground. It wouldn’t budge. She tried one more time as in her ear, her COMM started to buzz.
“–eta!–re you–kay?” came the garbled voice.
“Fiearius?!” she shouted back into it. “Fiear, is that you? We were in an explosion. I don’t know what happened, I’m okay, but–”
“–ack to–ip–nee–get ba–to–sh–” his distorted voice tried to tell her, but Leta didn’t understand.
“Fiear, say again, I can’t read you, I–”
A loud bang cut her off and froze her in place. A gunshot, she realized a second too late, only as she looked down at the man at her feet. The metal bar was the least of his problems now, overtaken by the bullet that had gone straight through his head.
Leta looked up at the murderer, expecting to find a Carthian soldier and ready to berate them. It was unnecessary. He was innocent, wounded. She could have tried to save him. But when she met the eyes of the woman with the gun and the handful of people with her, she realized right away she wasn’t looking at a Carthian. No, the Carthians that had accompanied her out here were clustered between them, hands up, weapons stripped and being held at gunpoint by these new arrivals.
“Hands up, doc,” ordered the woman and Leta hesitantly obeyed, fixing her with a furious glare nonetheless. “Get in line with the rest.” She gestured with the end of her pistol towards the Carthian captives.
Leta ignored the second command, instead looking between her captors and working them out in her head. They were neither Carthian nor Society. No libreras marked their skins. They were the ones responsible for the bombing. And she knew who they were.
“You’re Ellegian,” she said at last, meeting their leader’s eyes. “You’re the Ellegian rebellion.”
“Genius,” remarked the woman carelessly. “Now get in line.”
“No,” Leta said at once, earning her a few more guns trained on her. “No, I know you. Not–not you. Your leader. Ezra Norran?” The woman’s brow creased. “I’ve been talking to him for the past month. My name is Leta Adler, I work with Fie–Admiral Soliveré. We have an alliance with you.”
The woman was still eyeing her curiously. She seemed like she wanted to shoot her, but at least had one or two reasons not to. She must have recognized at least one of those names, Leta thought. Leta hoped…
“Perhaps I’ve heard of such a thing,” the woman admitted slowly. “Perhaps I haven’t. You’ll meet Ezra soon enough regardless and you can ask him yourself. But I should warn you, Ms. Adler.” The woman took a step closer and propped the end of her gun under Leta’s chin to lift it higher. “Our allegiance? Has changed.”