“And what of me, ma’am?”
The Councillor could not have sounded more surprised. “You? What about you?”
And Ophelia could not have sounded more confused. “In assuming my place as Verdant, ma’am? I’m ready to serve and await your orders.”
“Ah yes.” The footsteps moved away from Fiearius and made a small circle nearby. “Our new Verdant, of course. Well.” There was a long pause as the Councillor seemed to consider her options. Finally, she decided, “You can just stay here with Soliveré, can’t you?” Before Ophelia could voice her concern, a quick succession of noises filled Fiearius’ ears. The sound of metal sliding out of a sheath, the same metal sliding into flesh, a horrible groan followed by the thump of a body hitting the ground.
“Like I’ve always said,” the Councillor remarked, calm as ever considering she’d just murdered a woman by her own hand. “The Verdant is a weak link. Regardless of who bears the title.”
The woman’s clicking footsteps began to move away and tentatively, Fiearius opened his eyes. Beside him, barely holding herself up, was Ophelia, her hand clutched over her chest, trying to keep in the blood that was spilling from her onto the marble floor. It pooled outward, Fiearius could feel the warmth of it as it met his arm. Varisian’s eyes were glazed over, her breathing was shallow and shaking. But just for a moment, she looked up and her stare met Fiearius’.
Of all the things Fiearius would have expected from the woman who had murdered him, relief was not it, but relief was what was written into all of her features. Her final words to him rang in his head, again, ‘I’m sorry’. None of it made sense. Ophelia had been trying to kill him for years. She was pure loyal Society. Her allegiance to the Councillors was clear.
But as she kneeled there, bleeding out, dying at the hand of the woman she supposedly served, clearly the tables had turned.
Weak and growing weaker as she was, Ophelia frowned in what must have been determination, but looked a lot like pain. “Where is it?” he saw her say, more than he heard it as her voice was too weak to carry the short distance between them. Fiearius stared back at her, lost, until she snapped, “Gun. The–gun–where–”
The gun, of course, there was still a chance to finish this. Though it sent a terrible surge through his left side and across his middle, Fiearius forced his body up onto his elbows and frantically looked around for the weapon he knew he’d dropped somewhere around here. It was difficult to see, his vision was still a haze, but finally he saw the dark shape of the pistol just out of reach.
Bracing himself for the consequences, he stretched his arm out towards it, gritting his teeth as what felt like lava inside him rumbled and burned in protest. He could still hear the Councillor’s footsteps down the hallway. He had to get to her before she got away. Before he slipped away again. This had to happen. Desperately, he reached even further and his fingertips mercifully touched cold metal.
In an instant, the gun was in the air and his finger pulled the trigger. Where he’d aimed it, however, was another story entirely. Though Fiearius could make out a shape in a direction, his aim was hardly on point. The gunshot echoed off the walls, but there was no shout of impact, no collapse of a corpse. Just footsteps ceasing and a distant, “How’re you–”
Before Fiearius could even begin to try and line up another shot, he felt the gun being wrenched from his hand. Ophelia. She seized the weapon and with what looked like all the strength left in her, rose to her feet, aimed, and fired.
This time, the distinctive sound of bullet meeting body hit Fiearius’ ears. And then again. And again. Ophelia kept firing the gun over and over, all of her shots hitting her mark until the pistol clicked uselessly beneath her fingers, empty and spent. She dropped it and it clattered to the floor in unison with its victim who, from what Fiearius could make out, slumped to the ground ungracefully and went still. Ophelia, only moments later, did the same.
For a moment, Fiearius just sat there, barely propped up, taking in the silence and trying to wrap his hazy mind around what had happened here. A mission gone badly, no doubt about that. And yet the Councillor lay dead and defeated, as he had planned. Thanks to Ophelia, of all people. He glanced over at her where she lay, heaving in shallow breaths, her face pale and her eyes drooping. Maybe someone could save her. Maybe whatever miracle had saved him would reach her too. But if something was going to change, it would have to change soon because she was fading and fading fast. And Fiearius was in no condition to be that miracle she needed.
“Thanks,” he managed, his voice hoarse and rough. He wasn’t even sure she heard him until one eye from beneath her messy blonde hair flicked up towards him.
“It wasn’t for you,” she sputtered.
She gasped in an awful breath. “If you get out of here–” she coughed, “–save Satieri–”
Fiearius snorted indignantly, a gesture he regretted as soon as the spike of pain shot through his chest. “That’s the plan.”
But Ophelia was weakly shaking her head. “Not from–Society. From Carthis.”
Fiearius looked down at himself, unable to look elsewhere, mostly unable to look at her. “I will,” he mumbled, but when he glanced back at her, she wasn’t moving any longer. Her heaving breaths had stopped. Her eyes stared emptily at nothing. She was gone.
Feeling a strange urge to move away from the body, Fiearius clenched his jaw and pulled himself a few feet backwards to lean against the wall. His finger raised to his COMM weakly. “This is Admiral Soliveré, addressing all channels. Need medical assistance in the Capitol Tower ASAP. Repeat, medical assistance to the Capitol Tower.” He waited for a moment, but the COMM made no noise, not even a buzz of recognition that it was even on. He tried again. “If anyone can hear me, I need medical assistance.” Still nothing. “Hello? Anybody?”
He was starting to feel weak. Too weak. Whatever force had awoken him from death was starting to wear off now that his task was done. He was slowly becoming more and more aware of how much blood he no longer had, how much of his life was still smeared across the floor. He swore he could even feel the bullet still lodged in his chest, grating against his slowing heart.
“I think I’m dying,” he said into the useless COMM. “Again.” If only he’d let Javier find him one that wasn’t broken like he’d offered. Maybe the pigeon would find that funny. In the end, after everything, it was only him that could have saved Fiearius’ life. If only Fiearius had let him.
The chuckle that escaped his lips was barely more than a sharp breath. He was so tired. He’d never been this tired before. Sleep had never sounded so good. “Sorry, pigeon,” he muttered, letting his eyes close and his head roll back against the wall. “For not listening. And sorry, Harper. For leaving you behind. And Cy. For not calling you before all this.” His voice grew quieter and quieter as his mind started to drift towards unconsciousness. “Sorry Leta. For…well, everything.”
Save Satieri, Ophelia had said and he wanted to do that, of course, but right now? All Fiearius wanted to do was rest. “Sorry to you too,” he mumbled as he felt the sweet relief of blackness envelop him. “I tried.”
Although Leta had indeed prepared for this moment, she’d never felt less prepared for anything in her life. Her whole body shook like she was outside in freezing air as she forced her legs to jog up countless flights of stairs toward Fiearius. Behind her, Dez followed.
“I’m still not sure I understand,” he said, his breath coming short as he raced up the tower. “You remotely monitor Fiearius’ life signs?”
Explaining why and how Leta had gotten such a morbid alert to Dez was not particularly something she was in the mood to do in her current state of duress. On the other hand, explaining it, acknowledging the science and fact and logic of it, maybe was exactly what she needed to make her breathing even out, her heart stop pounding and her head stop reeling.
“Not always,” she managed to get out. “Just a–dramatic change in them.” Like when they stopped, she added silently.
“It’s something my team back on Vescent developed,” she went on, trying to ignore how much her voice was quavering. “You inject a microscopic device into someone’s bloodstream and it can sense when their heart stops. Then it’ll release an electrical impulse and a small cocktail of chemicals to reinvigorate the nervous system and speed up blood clotting in a wound.” She hesitated, before muttering, “Theoretically anyway.”
“You never tested it,” Dez concluded, his tone flat.