But as similar as it was physically, it felt entirely different. This street, this community, had once been warm, kind, welcoming, but now it was cold, dark and empty. Which made sense, there was a battle going on above them. Even in the daylight, the explosions could be seen in the skies. But it was more than that. Fiearius got the distinct impression that it had been cold here for a while.
Still, he was glad to find no blatant opposition as he traversed the shadows of the buildings towards his old home, Leta behind him. She was being extra careful to stay beneath the cover of shade, he noticed, but he couldn’t tell if it was to remain unseen or simply to keep her delicate skin out of the harsh Satieran sun. Any other time, he might have teased her about it, but now, when the only noises were the distant shudders of ship fire and their own footsteps, it felt wrong to disrupt the quiet. It felt wrong to make jokes. Everything, actually just…felt wrong.
He tried not to think about the wreckage they’d left in the Satieran atmosphere…
“Fiear,” he heard Leta whisper behind him and her hand reached out for his arm. His grip on his gun tightened as he looked back at her, but she didn’t seem to be reacting to a threat. She was standing very still, facing him, but her eyes were locked on the upper window of a building across the street. “Look.”
Carefully, he did as he was told, though not quite as subtly as she had. He met the pair of eyes that were watching them from above, they widened in alarm and the curtain was drawn shut instantly.
“There were others, too,” she muttered, glancing over her shoulder. There were no more obvious spectators in view, but Fiearius didn’t think she was wrong when she said, “I swear it, I can feel them watching us.”
So they weren’t as alone as he’d thought. He felt a touch of pity for these people, terrified and holed up in their homes, waiting for whatever was going to happen to them next. What would he have done, if he’d still lived here during all of this? Been like these people and stayed inside with his family, hoping it would all turn out okay? Or would he be up in the sky, fighting off the invasion?
It didn’t matter now. “As long as they’re watching and not attacking, I’m fine with it,” Fiearius mumbled and continued onward. They were almost there, he could see the steps to the door from here, still missing a chunk after Fiearius had gotten into an impromptu fight with a shotgun in 1853. He stepped over a dark patch of concrete, tinged ever so slightly red, where he’d once tripped and reopened a wound from a recent job gone wrong. He didn’t have to look at the wall of the neighboring apartment to know that there would still be one big and one tiny handprint stained into its surface.
Fiearius had always been acutely aware of the marks this place had left on him over the years, how Satieri still lived in his veins and shaped his bones, but it had never occurred to him how many scars he himself had left. And as he approached the front of the building he had once called home, it quickly became clear just how much of an effect he’d had.
“Dov’ha ti’arte…” he breathed, finding himself stunned to a stop as he looked up to take it all in. The building hadn’t changed in a decade. It was the same shambly old building, dated, but comfortable, homey, with its friendly green door and cheerful round windows. It may have been given a fresh coat of paint, but it was hard to tell given the layers of graffiti that covered the lower floor.
There were libreras, and then altered versions of libreras, the same that Dez and his followers wore. Anti-Carthian slurs, scribbled Ridellian prayers, Society posters of his face, their slogans changed from ‘beware’ to ‘be aware’. But the piece that took up the most space, the thing your eye was drawn to first was the huge painting of Fiearius, his eyes and mouth covered by the bold phrase in red paint ‘THE ROGUE VERDANT LIVES’.
Startling was an understated description.
Fiearius was still standing, staring in a stupor, when he felt Leta’s hand on his arm. “You okay?” she asked.
No. No, he was not okay. This was not, in any sense of the word, okay. Fleetingly, he thought of Dez. This was probably his doing. Spreading lies and bullshit to garner more people to his crazy purpose. But then just as fleetingly, he remembered someone else. A ship captain he’d met long ago on Archeti, long before Dez’s movement, aboard a Society ship he was stealing. The first he stole, actually. And the words that had never left him. ‘You’re an inspiration. A legend. You give us hope.’
Gods, how the hell had this gotten so messy?
“Yeah, come on.” He marched up the stairs, decidedly ignoring the bizarre, disturbing shrine that had been resurrected here on his behalf, but as he barged through the front door, he found it didn’t end there. The murals continued in the hallways. On the doors to the apartments within. The ones that hadn’t been torn down to reveal equally defaced and trashed rooms inside anyway.
People had lived here, that much was certain. There was tossed furniture, strewn linens, things left behind that weren’t worth packing when the residents had been run out. There was an abandoned plush dog toy at the bottom of the stairs. What remained of a dresser at the top of them.
“It’s apartment 24,” he told Leta, though he didn’t need to. Even from the landing, the door they needed was apparent. It was where all the paintings and drawings and scribbled sentences culminated. The original color of the doorframe wasn’t even visible anymore, so covered in additions. The door itself was nowhere in sight and as Fiearius carefully stepped over a beat up couch cushion onto the threshold of his old home, he didn’t feel the same sense of familiarity he had on the street. The four walls of the cramped living room may have stood in the same place, the doors to the balcony, shattered, were where they were meant to be, but this wasn’t his home.
“Is this stuff–yours?” Leta crept around him into the living room, stepping over abandoned paint cans, broken furniture and glass.
“No. Don’t know what happened to my stuff.” He shrugged. He hadn’t even thought about ‘his stuff’ in a decade. Must not have been that important. “Didn’t have much to begin with.”
“So this is recent then.” She gestured to the mess around them. By the way some things still sat, untouched and innocent, it seemed whoever had been run out of here had been run out of here quickly. When she reached the one remaining bookshelf that hadn’t been torn apart, she lifted the broken picture frame from it gently. It flickered on, just briefly enough to show its image.
“This poor family…” Fiearius heard her mutter as he walked the opposite direction towards the bedroom. It was difficult enough to not wonder if he was in some way at fault for this. He had no intention of getting to know his victims if he was.
The bedroom was less ransacked than the main room of the apartment. There was still a bed in it, for one thing and though the writings on the wall were similar to the rest of the building, he spotted a few cruder ones in here. He almost wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it. Almost.
“You okay?” he heard Leta ask from the doorway and this time, he frowned back at her.
“Would you stop asking me that?”
At once he saw her bristle with irritation. “Oh I’m sorry, is my genuine concern for your wellbeing bothering you?”
He rolled his eyes. “A little bit.”
“Well get over it.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “This is really weird. I’m sure it’s even weirder for you. I just want to make sure you’re alright because I care, deal. Now I’ll ask again, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he lied, almost smirking. Annoying or no, Leta’s eternal willingness to battle him on even the smallest things added just a touch of normalcy to this otherwise alien situation. “Now help me move this, would ya?”
Setting their hands down on the mattress,they pushed the heavy bed out of the way into the corner of the room. Underneath, the hardwood floorboards looked entirely innocent, just like any other piece of flooring. He could still remember the afternoon Aela installed the box beneath them, smiling ever so proudly to herself. “No one will ever find it,” she had declared pulling her palm from the floor and wiping her hands together in satisfaction.