Fiearius ducked his head below the rim of the Dionysian’s hull and squinted through the smoke that filled the landscape of Ellegy. The skyline was hazy, with dulled orange glows of fire atop its towers and spires where the Carthian bombs had landed. The sounds of the firefight above were drowned out where they were on the ground, but Fiearius had seen enough of it firsthand on the turbulent flight to the planet’s surface to know it was still going strong.
The boom of another direct hit met his ears and a wave of air and smoke blasted across his face. The ground shuddered. A black Society fighter ship appeared from the fog and zoomed over the Dionysian, followed shortly by a Carthian warbird, firing shot after shot at its prey.
One-man fighters, Fiearius thought with amusement. Most all of what the Society had left. As Arsen had predicted, the Society had taken their knowledge of the CORS’ whereabouts and set about striking it as hard as they could. Ellegy hadn’t been left truly undefended, the Carthian dreadnaughts had had a rough go of it taking out the surface defense systems, but without Society destroyers swarming the skies, the task had been at least possible. Quin, who was commanding Fiearius’ air forces above the planet, had been thrilled to find that instead of elaborate defensive maneuvers, she was free to just shoot down anything with a Society librera that moved.
Fiearius himself hadn’t heard what had become of the CORS itself. He vaguely wondered if he would miss his lavish admiral’s quarters if the thing was blown to bits. But the chance to take Ellegy instead? Worth it.
Fiearius glanced back as Javier hurried down the ramp toward him. The young man took a brief moment to squint at what little of Ellegy he could see, then turned, unphased, to deliver his message.
“Leta’s on the COMM, trying to get a hold of you, says you’re not answering.”
Fiearius frowned and tapped the COMM in his ear. It made a disconcerting ‘bzzt’ and then proceeded with its typical digital ‘whirr’ to inform him it was functioning. “Damn thing keeps cutting out,” he muttered under his breath.
“Want me to track you down a better one?” Javier asked, but Fiearius just shook him off and hit the switch.
“Leta? You rang?”
The woman’s voice on the other end of the line was drowned in noise. She shouted to rise above it. “Finally, there you are. After that run-in with the fighter we thought the Dionysian might have gone down.”
“I can outmaneuver a damn Society fighter,” Fiearius argued, ignoring Javier who was still hovering nearby, obviously wanting to be a part of this conversation. “Made it through just fine. Landed and ready to go. Just waiting on the rendezvous. How are things on your end?”
“We’re just finishing our final descent,” Leta shouted back. “How’s it look out there?”
The smoky landscape drew his eye and he grimaced. “Might not be the Ellegy you remember.”
Leta sighed. “Looking forward to it.”
As Fiearius watched a Carthian transport lower through the clouds in the distance, he wondered if that was the ship Leta was on. As soon as the Ellegian attack plan went through, his instinct had been to ask her to board the Dionysian with him. She was part of the team. He could think of no one else he trusted more to undertake this mission with. No one else he had as much faith in. And the whole operation had been her idea.
But she’d asked for distance. Quite explicitly. So he’d ignored the urge and given her what she wanted. Now she was leading a Carthian medical team on the other side of the city to assist the ground troops and he was settling for a distant second best collaborator in his upcoming attempt to assassinate the Ellegian Councillor.
There was another blast of wind and smoke rolled up the ramp into the cargo bay as just outside, a narrow black ship planted itself on the smooth Ellegian street they’d chosen as a docking location. Within instants, the ramp of the ship opened and a cluster of armed men and women flooded out in a hurry, their eyes and weapons scanning the area. Behind them, emerging from the haze like a steadfast pillar of calm, was the man Fiearius was waiting for. Desophyles Cordova.
Fiearius took a deep breath, gripped his gun in his hand and hit the COMM one more time as he headed down the ramp. “It’s go time. Good luck out there, kiddo.”
“You too,” was Leta’s distracted response amongst a flurry of other voices around her. Her ship had probably landed, they were likely preparing to head out themselves. Distance, Fiearius reminded himself and forced the tiny seed of disappointment from his mind.
But only seconds later, the COMM lit up again. “Oh, Fiear?” He paused halfway down the ramp as Leta said, “Take care of yourself, okay?”
Fiearius chuckled and replied, “Always.” The line went dead and he glanced back over his shoulder to Javier, “Report to Harper in the armory, Pigeon. Defend the ship. If she’s got so much as a scratch when I get back, it’s your head.”
Javier just sighed and agreed, “Aye aye cap’n,” before running off into the Dionysian. Which left Fiearius to turn back to Dez who was standing at the base of the ramp, his arms crossed behind his back, patiently waiting. The group that had accompanied him were still hanging behind him, a couple of them casting curious or even distrustful looks his way. Though most seemed to have their Society libreras covered beneath clothing, those that were visible had clearly been altered to a different symbol, a symbol that Dez now wore on his own arm.
“I still can’t believe you’ve amassed followers,” Fiearius remarked, regarding a familiar-looking man who was watching him relentlessly. He’d unofficially worked in conjunction with Dez’s ‘people’ before, but he’d never actually seen any of them in person. It was hard enough keeping his relations with the one secret, let alone the entire ‘terrorist’ group.
“They’re not followers, they’re brethren,” Dez said at once. “Defectors just as you and I are.”
“Did you modify those yourself?” Fiearius prodded Dez’s tattoo. He’d connected the top lines of the symbol to the diamond on the bottom and altered the cross to make each side symmetrical. The lines that had been added clearly weren’t quite as smooth. “You were never very good at that. Need me to clean it up for you? Still got my inking rig upstairs if–”
“I believe we have a task to complete?” Dez interrupted and Fiearius flashed him a humorless grin.
“Yeah yeah, I’m ready. This lot coming with us?” He gestured over Dez’s shoulder.
“No,” was Dez’s short answer as he lead the way out from under the Dionysian and towards the main road. As he’d said, the ex-Society agents he’d brought with him hung back and then scattered off in every direction. The sight made Fiearius’ stomach churn.
He turned back and jogged forward a few steps to catch up to Dez. “Might I ask what they’re up to then?”
“You might ask.” Fiearius rolled his eyes. “I’ll say nothing other than they work for the same cause as us.”
“You said that last time,” Fiearius growled. “And we all saw that pile of bodies.”
“Fiearius, as someone who started a war that has lead to countless lives lost and homes decimated, I wouldn’t really want to argue the nuances of necessity if I were you,” Dez countered. Before Fiearius could even open his mouth to retort, Dez looked back at him and stated, “I promise, their end goal is in line with yours.”
It wasn’t the end goal that worried him. It was the whatever means came beforehand. Still, he obviously had little choice in the matter now. Their destination was just ahead, a great, beautiful structure that housed the Ellegian senate. Its ground floor was wide and vast, stretching many city blocks and its white stone spires punctured the sky. It would have been a nice sight, on any other occasion. But on this occasion? Yet another instance of the death Dez accused him of?
He picked up his pace and hurried past Dez, eyes locked on the great wooden doors. “C’mon, the ground troops won’t be able to hold the Society off our location forever. Let’s get this over with.”
“Adler! Look out!”
Leta looked up just in time to see the tiny silhouette of the burst grenade soar over her head and moved just in time to narrowly avoid the blast of shrapnel and bullet shells it shot out in every direction. Something scraped across her arm, something else brushed her hair, but when she put her hand to her head, it was still dry and clear of injury.
Not everyone else was so lucky.
Leta had expected to be put to work when she stepped off the Carthian transport into the active front lines of the newest warzone. And she was prepared for most of it. The screaming of the wounded, the chaos of the med team scrambling to help, all things she had become numb to in the first few months of working in the ER back on Vescent.
In the ER, however, she hadn’t been under constant attack from enemy forces and scrambling to find any cover she could manage while applying wound sealant to a soldier’s legs. She supposed she’d have to attribute her preparedness for that to the Dionysian.