Chapter 34: Plan A

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Leta grit her teeth and ripped off another strip of bandage, then quickly rolled it around the man’s injured arm. The dark green color of his uniform, torn and smoke-stained as it was, told her this one was Carthian. She’d lost track some twenty patients ago who it was she was treating: Carthian, Society, civilian, she’d even located one of Dez’s people who’d been caught in a blast. With the way the streets of Ellegy looked, it was hard to imagine anyone who hadn’t been.

The smoke had grown so thick now that the scenery had actually darkened, and it was difficult to see how much of the city skyline was even left. Leta and her team had navigated through it mainly by following the sounds of distress. From the time they’d left the rebels’ hideout, it hadn’t taken long to find a slew of people in need of assistance and from there, a trail of decimation to follow. There was no shortage of work to be done.

Unfortunately, there was also no shortage of danger for it to be done in either. Once the dust had settled from the rebels’ distraction, Carthis had apparently reacted by putting more troops on the ground. The Society had reciprocated in turn and Leta was unsurprised to hear the sounds of gunfire rising up again as she tied off the bandage and shoved the roll back into her bag.

With him stable, Leta looked up for her next task. Across the street, a member of her team was shouting for help with a patient who was slipping away more quickly than he could manage. She was about to move over to assist him when the sharp bang of a rifle being fired went off behind her. A terrible groan and thump followed as Dez’s target hit the ground and Leta glanced back at him in frustration.

“Every time you do that, you’re just giving me more people to help,” she snapped.

“Not if they’re dead,” he pointed out dully, not tearing his eyes from the direction of the firefight. Leta couldn’t say she would have ever chosen Desophyles as her bodyguard, but he had followed her, gun in hand and seemed intent to provide silent cover as she worked and who was she to deny something she truly needed? Even if it came from a questionably motivated source.

Still, she thought she was starting to figure it out.

“So your Plan A for ‘solving’ Ellegy involves keeping me alive and unharmed,” she recounted thoughtfully as she crouched beside her teammate and held the woman’s legs steady as he hastily applied stitches to the gaping abrasion in her thigh. “Plan A is Fiearius, isn’t it?”

The accusation was met with nothing but Dez’s usual silent stoicism as he stared off at the end of the street, gun at the ready. He did not, she couldn’t help but notice, refute it.

“Or at least Fiearius’ cooperation,” Leta corrected herself, taking the needle from her colleague’s hands and finishing the stitching herself. “What do you need him to do?”

Again, Dez didn’t respond. Leta shoved a roll of bandages in the direction of her teammate and stood up to face the man. “What are you planning?”

This time, at least he broke his stare to glance over at her. “I need to keep you alive, I don’t need to keep you informed.”

Leta rolled her eyes. “No, but it’ll be a lot easier to convince him if you’ve convinced me first.”

She thought she saw the tiniest twinge of a smirk in Dez’s expression as he muttered, “So you’re aware of it.”

Though the comment made her bristle uncomfortably, Leta ignored it. “You really think he’s going to help you? He barely trusted you before, now after what you’ve pulled here today?” She gestured at the crumbling skyline of Ellegy. It may have been the rebels who executed the task, but it was Dez who had put the idea in their heads. Leta had no qualms blaming him for the entirety of it.

“Not to mention,” she remembered suddenly, marching down the street towards where one of her people was helping a sobbing woman. “Weren’t you supposed to be with him to help with his mission?” She glanced back at him as he followed her obediently. “Which clearly you’re not.”

“He won’t need me,” was Dez’s matter-of-fact excuse. It didn’t ring as particularly comforting to Leta, knowing that Fiearius was out there alone. Even as capable as she knew he was, he almost always made a point to bring along backup for a reason. Her hesitation must have shown on her face because Dez followed up with, “By the time he arrives, everything will be taken care of.”

If it was meant to be reassuring, it wasn’t.

“And regardless of my actions, Fiearius will approve of Plan A,” Dez went on, oblivious or simply uncaring how unsettled Leta surely looked. “Though he may not realize it at first.”

“Sounds familiar,” Leta grumbled.

“Fiearius will help,” he said with an unshakeable certainty. “With or without your approval.”

Leta opened her mouth to retort, but suddenly her COMM made a noise in her ear that she didn’t immediately recognize. Her mouth snapped shut and she furrowed her brow in confusion, tapping it, but it continued the odd low-pitched hum. It came through clear and strong, unlike any of the Carthian signals she’d received. It didn’t sound like it came from Quin or anyone else in the fleet. It didn’t sound like Fiearius–

The thought of his name was enough to jog her memory. The noise. She did recognize it. Hurriedly, she scrambled through her bag til she found her tablet, its screen lit up and displaying an alert she was expecting but praying not to see, matched perfectly to the noise she had hoped to never hear.

Leta felt her heart plummet, her breath catching in her throat. The tablet in her hands was shaking and her eyes, fixed onto it, grew blurry. She looked up at Dez and found him equally difficult to make out in the haze.

“He won’t help you,” her voice didn’t even sound like her own, rather the voice of someone else from far far away. “Fiearius died.”

———

Fiearius’ eyes shot open and all at once, he was bombarded with more sensations he’d ever felt simultaneously. None of them were good. Every muscle in his body tensed to the point of pain, his lungs gasped for breath, fire burned through his veins. Every inch of him was screaming out in protest to whatever was happening and on top of it all, he felt a very powerful urge to vomit.

But what the fuck was happening?

His vision was blurry, one eye even more than the other, and everything he could see held a sickly green tint. When he tried to lift his hand, it shuddered, unwilling, and his fingers were locked into a sort of claw, stiff and unbending. His heart pounded in his chest, his chest which felt like someone had taken a torch to it and though most of this was unfamiliar, the way he could feel his arms, legs and back twitch at intervals reminded him of one very specific incident when he’d been seven years old and taken on a very stupid dare involving an electrical outlet.

Seriously, what the fuck?

Images of what were supposed to be the last few seconds of his life flooded into his brain. He’d been shot. Killed. Ophelia had killed him. He died, he could remember dying and though Fiearius didn’t believe in any particular story of an afterlife, he was sure as hell none of them included waking up in your final resting place feeling worse than you had when you passed. And if that’s what this was, damn, would the religious nuts of the Span be disappointed.

Gradually, as he lay flat on his back on the cold marble floor, the fire in his senses started to dull. Whatever violent electrical charge had gripped him started to loosen its hold, he began to catch up to his breath and the vision in his right eye inched towards clarity. His blood still burned as it flooded through him, but even that was beginning to numb when he first heard the voices down the hall.

“Confirmed, ma’am.” It was Ophelia. Shaking off a particularly violent twitch, Fiearius tried in vain to look over in the direction of the voice. He could vaguely make out two blurry shapes by the door. If either of them saw him moving in the background, they didn’t appear to be concerned by it.

“The Verdant database has been transferred to my CID.”

“Good,” was the Councillor’s nonchalant response. “And good riddance. Curse the man who proposed Soliveré’s appointment to begin with.”

Fiearius wondered vaguely where his gun was. If he was alive, somehow, miraculously or cursedly, he wasn’t sure which, he still had a mission to complete. But before he could even begin to reach around for it, he heard the sounds of footsteps approaching him. At once, he forced his body to relax, his eyes to close and he played it as dead as he could manage. The fire in him raged stronger for a moment, but he fought it back. When the footsteps stopped, he was still.

“I warned them, you know,” said the Ellegian woman, bitter and resentful. “He was a bad choice. Too unpredictable. They said ‘flexible’, I say ‘fickle’. They were naive, Varisian. They liked to think that the function of a Councillor is selfless, that our main trait is making difficult choices for the greater good. They wanted to believe that we are adaptable, focused and free, but they forgot one thing. They forgot the hunger. The greed.”

Beyond her, Ophelia muttered, “Ma’am?”

“Just reminiscing, Varisian,” the Councillor replied. “A post-mortem, if you will.” Fiearius felt the sharp pain of a pointed woman’s shoe ramming into his ribs and spent all his effort to not react.

“Of course,” was Varisian’s quick response. “May I inquire as to next steps?”

Fiearius felt the woman turn away from him. “Absolutely. I suppose I’ll wait here until my fleet returns and wipes these invaders from existence. Shouldn’t be long now.”

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