The Councillor smiled and then laughed. “Varisian?” she called across to them, her voice nearly garbled by the wind and the outside sounds of battle it carried. “Kill him.”
Fiearius met Ophelia’s eyes just briefly and he could have sworn he saw a hint of apology there before she brandished a blade and attacked.
Leta didn’t argue when the Ellegian rebels escorted her and her team towards the neighborhood they had holed up in. She didn’t argue either when they were herded into the back room of a house that could have belonged to any normal Ellegian family. Nor did she argue when the woman who’d brought them all in told her she’d have to wait to speak with their leader.
No, Leta saved her arguing power for the exact moment when she was brought out of holding and into the house’s dining room to face Ezra Norran, the man she had been in contact with for over a month, the man Fiearius had been in contact with for many months and the man who had apparently decided to take his rebellion and flush it all away.
“What the hell are you doing?” she demanded the minute he looked across the room and locked eyes with her.
Ezra was an older man, lines marring his tired face, his greying hair pulled back into a ponytail. Still, despite his age, he looked like the kind of person you didn’t challenge to a fight, specifically because you’d lose.
He regarded Leta curiously, but said nothing so she went on, “Kidnapping Carthian forces? What exactly is that going to accomplish? We’re on your side. We’re here to help you. But you’re blowing up your own city and rounding us up.”
Still, Ezra remained silent, as did the other rebels standing around the table watching in some sort of wonder as Leta, finally exploring her rage and frustration, let out a bitter one-note laugh. “I hope to the gods you have some sort of plan here, at least an explanation for why you’re capturing your allies.”
The man blinked his grey eyes curiously. “Allies. That’s an interesting notion, isn’t it? From what I understood, Carthis had decided they wanted nothing to do with us.”
Leta opened her mouth to retort, but the words caught in her throat. It was true, after all. Carthis had denounced the Ellegian rebels and cut them out of the attack plans. But Fiearius hadn’t. Leta hadn’t. And from the messages they’d shared just before they’d abandoned the CORS, Ezra had known that. He’d agreed to continue supporting them. And yet…
“Look, Ms. Adler, don’t get me wrong,” he went on, moving around the table toward her and leaning against it. “I have a lot of respect for you and for Admiral Soliveré and what you’re trying to achieve. And I know, truly,” he held his hand over his heart, “that what you’re here for is the freedom of the Ellegian people. But forgive me if I feel the need to call a spade a spade. This?” He gestured vaguely towards the window, the outside, the burning city under attack. “This is not a rescue mission. This is an invasion.”
Leta wanted desperately to argue. To prove him wrong, to defend their purpose here, but she found she couldn’t. Not without lying. Or at least dramatically stretching the truth.
“Of course, we’ve no real ill intent towards Carthis and certainly not you,” Ezra continued. “The enemy of our enemy is our friend after all. We want the Society dismantled as much as you do and even as we speak, our forces are aiding yours in that fight. We’ll help win this battle. It’s just…what comes afterwards that I worry for.”
“And that’s why you’re kidnapping soldiers,” Leta finished for him, her tone still bitter. “As an insurance policy?”
“More like a bargaining chip,” Ezra corrected and though what he was saying made her angry, she couldn’t quite hate him for it. He spoke so earnestly, as genuine as he always had been in their messages, she couldn’t entirely fault him. “When the smoke clears and our victory is secured, it’s going to be us against a massive military force ready to sweep us out in one fell swoop. I need to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“But–Ezra, like this?” Leta rubbed her palms against her temples. “You know as well as I they’re going to just see this as an act of aggression. They’ll use it as a reason to attack you. They’ll just spin the entire planet as Society sympathizers.”
Ezra shrugged and said something that left Leta speechless. “Maybe we are.”
“It’s different on Vescent, I know,” he tried to explain, pushing himself from the table. “The Society’s presence was new and imposing, something swooping in to take over an existing system. But on Ellegy? The Society isn’t some outside force taking over our government. It is our government. It’s a fundamental structure of the Ellegian way of life. There’s no one on this planet that doesn’t know someone within it. My own sister is the head of the Ellegian Department of Science and Technology. My father worked for fifty years in the Department of Transportation. My mother, the Department of Health. It’s not us versus them. It’s just us.”
Leta was shaking her head before he’d even finished. “But you’re a rebellion, you’re fighting against the Society.”
“We’re fighting the current Society regime,” he corrected. “The one that’s lost sight of what Ellegy should and can be. Now I’ll admit that without the actions of you and even of Carthis in the rest of the Span, what we’ve started here wouldn’t have been possible. But nonetheless, this remains, at its heart, a civil war. And these supposed allies of yours offering ‘help’?” Now it was his turn to shake his head. “Opportunists.”
Leta could not point to any particular sentiment she disagreed with, but the entirety of it still left a foul taste in her mouth. Opportunists or no, Carthis was still the driving force behind this effort and this tiny rebellion hadn’t stood a chance against the Society fleets or even the ground forces without their intervention. And now acting like their help was an inconvenience? Attacking Carthian forces? On top of it all, lying about their allegiance until they had already arrived?
Leta grit her teeth. “We had an agreement, you and I. We were on the same page. We’d fight the Society together with Carthis and negotiate where things landed politically afterwards.”
“I know,” Ezra sighed. “And I’m sorry we neglected to tell you when that changed, I really am. But we couldn’t risk the overall plans falling through.”
There were few things Leta liked less than feeling used, but the uncomfortable feeling edging in on her from all sides was coming in a close second. “And dare I ask what made you change your mind?”
Ezra’s eyes flickered past her and Leta drew a deep breath as she turned around to find Dez standing in the corner of the room, arms crossed over her chest, watching in interest. “Of fucking course.”
“Careful with this one,” Dez advised Ezra, stepping out of the shadows. “Any harm comes to her, we can wave goodbye to our Plan A.”
Leta balled her fists at her side and lifted a brow at him. “Plan A?”
“You’ll see,” Dez assured her and then smiled emptily. “Welcome to Plan B though. I can tell you’re not a fan.”
Hardly in the mood to talk to Dez of all people, Leta spun back around on Ezra. “This is who you’re listening to now? Do you have any idea who he is?” She let out a groan and dragged her blood-stained hands down her face, not even wanting the answer. “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even matter who it came from. How could you even entertain a plan that involves blowing up your own city? How many people were hurt in those explosions? And for what? A distraction? How many had to die so you could get the edge on the Carthian troops?”
Beside her, she heard Dez open his mouth to speak, but she held up a finger to him and snapped, “If you even think of saying it was ‘necessary’ I swear I will take you down with my bare hands.” The man regarded her curiously for a moment and then obediently shut his mouth.
“But Ms. Adler, it was,” Ezra argued and she rounded on him with fury in her eyes. “If we hadn’t set off the explosions, we never could have made the extractions we needed and without the extractions, if Plan A fails, even if it succeeds, we’d have nothing to negotiate Carthis’ exit with.”
“So the people out there, your people, as you pointed out, that are dying and suffering, mean nothing? Instead of helping them, you’re blowing them up and hiding away with your political negotiation assets?”
“They don’t mean nothing,” Ezra argued. “But we have a bigger goal–”