Chapter 33: The Tower

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“B squadron repor--bzzt--injuries and–enemy sightings on--bzzt–”

“–multiple explosions at–east and northeast positions of–”

“–the hell is happening out there? Someone get me a–bzzt–”

As he sprinted down the hallway, Fiearius growled and hit the COMM in his ear, which had erupted with panicked voices and broken questions since the moment the explosions began. The COMM was still refusing to fully function, but he heard enough to know what was going on: chaos.

The explosions in the city, Dez’s plan, whatever it was, was no longer his concern. Carthis could handle it. And if they couldn’t — well, he’d handle it later. Leta was safe, Quin and his fleet were still in the air, taking down Society warbirds and Harper had reported that the Dionysian was far from any of the attack points. Of course. She was parked next to Dez’s ship. Even he wouldn’t risk his only way out of here.

For now, Fiearius had a task to focus on. He couldn’t spare the brainpower worrying about what was happening outside this building when what was happening within it was so important. He needed to get to the Councillor and off the damned woman before she was able to make another escape attempt. With her out of the way, what little defenses Ellegy had would crumble into disarray, giving the fleets above just enough leeway to score their victory.

Whatever rebellion Desophyles had planned would have to wait. One thing at a time.

Fiearius sprinted up the next stairwell, leaping groups of steps in single bounds, and charged through the next hallway. Up another set of stairs. How many of these were there? Another hallway to the next stairs, his pace never slowing, his feet pounding against the marble flooring. He had to be getting close now. This tower couldn’t go on forever. Out of the windows in each hall, he could see the city below grow smaller and smaller. Briefly, he thought about how much Leta would hate this, the heights and all. Maybe it was a good thing she wasn’t here with him.

The thought was just leaving his mind when he crested another step into a hallway and felt a sharp, white-hot pain sear through his upper arm. Fiearius staggered back down a few steps, clutching the spot that burned and stung and poured blood between his fingers. Another bullet flew dangerously close to his head and he backed up again, making sure to conceal his whole body from the apparently occupied hallway above him.

Gingerly, he moved his hand to survey the damage. It looked nasty, but the bullet had left what was essentially just a very deep scrape. He’d live. Gritting his teeth, he kneeled on the step and unholstered his gun. If this lady thought a few Society guards were going to keep her safe, she had another thing coming…

Carefully, he crept up the stairs one by one to peer over the surface of the landing at what he was dealing with. The moment his head lifted above the floor, another bullet flew above it.

Okay, so they were good Society guards. Still…

Fiearius backed up against the wall and lifted his head again, only enough to get a look at the hallway. Five agents, each armed with a familiar looking pistol with a librera branded onto the side of it. Society-issued, Fiearius realized with interest. He’d recognize that gun anywhere, he’d carried it around for nearly a decade. And he knew its ammunition carried the CID data of its owner. Data that, upon Fiearius’ death, would transfer his Verdant database directly to the wrist of whichever of these fuckers managed to off him.

Interesting. They seemed to be getting a little less picky about his successor these days.

Unfortunately for these particular agents, none of them were destined to be the next Verdant, Fiearius thought with some grim amusement as he cocked his own pistol, raised himself just enough to get a clear aim and shot the first woman right through the forehead. Kinda sad they thought they had a chance.

When he glanced up again, the remaining agents had taken cover behind the pillars, though he managed to hit an elbow or a knee, he couldn’t quite tell since he had to duck immediately to avoid the retaliation. Dez had brought a few flash grenades with him from the Dionysian. Too bad that piece of shit ran off with them, Fiearius grumbled internally.

He was readying his gun to take another shot (surely he could get them out of cover long enough to take them out) when a loud ringing went off in his ear, sharp and piercing and painful. The goddamn COMM. He hurriedly smacked the thing and Quin’s voice evened out.

“–ship comin’ in on your location,” she was saying.

“Well take it down, I’m busy here,” Fiearius snapped back as someone got brave and nearly landed another bullet in his shoulder. He shuffled further down the steps.

“Damn well tryin’, it ain’t goin’ down!” Quin shouted. “It’s headed lower than the others, I don’t think it–”

Her voice was cut off by a mighty crash up above and whatever she said next, if it even made it to the COMM in his ear, Fiearius ignored entirely. A tremendous wave of dust swept out from the landing and shattered glass flew and tumbled and scattered down the steps. Fiearius braced himself as tiny pieces slid across his skin and then charged up the steps to see the scene for himself.

The window in the hallway was gone and in its place, part of a ship jutted out into the space. A shiny jet black ship that the building folded out of the way to make room for, although not for long. The crash almost looked intentional. Almost. Except that as Fiearius stood on the precipice of the stairwell, he could see it starting to slip, ever so slowly, downward.

Through the cloud of debris, there was a cough and a hurried scrabbling as someone tried to right themselves. Fiearius aimed his gun in the direction of the noise, fully intending to stop them before they had the chance, but as he saw the figure of the agent start to rise, it wasn’t his finger that pulled the trigger, nor his gun that went bang.

The man sunk back to the ground as another bullet flew across the room and was met with the sounds of sliced flesh and a mortal groan. The ship in the wall lurched. One more gunshot from the ship’s hull echoed through the hallway. Fiearius watched a deep crack weave its way through the marble floor. The whole building moaned its distress as the vessel began to slip out of its hold.

It seemed to happen in slow motion. The black shape that had only just appeared in the wall began to disappear from it. At first, very gradually and then, quite suddenly, it was just gone, leaving in its place a gaping hole through which he could see the sky. The sky and the small agile form of a woman, leaping from her lost ship across the impossible gap of air, reaching out, desperately grasping for the edge of the floor that was left exposed to the elements. And Fiearius watched in amazement as her hands connected. She clambered up into what remained of the hallway and darted across it, throwing her back against the wall and breathing heavily.

Wind whipped through the floor now, viciously tearing at Fiearius’ skin and hair, the high altitude and newly made hole into the great big sky ripping the air from his lungs. But his focus was locked on the woman who was breathing heavily and clinging to the interior wall like her life depended on it. It took a moment of the dust settling, of the shock wearing off, for her to realize she was not alone here. And when their eyes met, recognition hit them both.

“Varisian,” Fiearius breathed as Ophelia’s eyes widened in horror. Finally forcing herself from the wall, she began stalking towards him and Fiearius immediately raised his gun. But she didn’t approach with anger or malice rather–concern?

“If you’re here to fucking set me on fire again–” Fiearius began to threaten, stepping backwards as she continued towards him, unphased by his weapon entirely.

“You can’t be here,” came her cold voice. “You have to go.”

Fiearius was lost. “What–”

“You have to–” she began again, but suddenly, behind her, the door at the end of the hallway swung open. A burst of wind blasted past the angular middle-aged woman standing in its frame. Her face was mostly in shadow, save for the cold stare that cut straight through the hallway towards Fiearius. He didn’t need to see the rest to know who was standing there. And he didn’t need another chance to waste. He shifted his gun away from Ophelia straight to the Councillor and fired.

It probably would have hit too, had Varisian not reached out and shoved his arm off mark half a second before the gunpowder lit.

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