Dez steeled himself and stuck to his story. “Well I did. I didn’t like what she was doing, but I didn’t try to kill her, Fiearius. It was a–”
“An accident?” Fiearius finished for him, feeling a spike of madness run through him. His knuckles were white and his fingernails, curled into his palm, were starting to draw blood. “Was it an accident? Did you not mean to fuck everything up?!”
“You were just looking out for me, is that it?” He heard himself laughing in a voice that wasn’t his own. “Just trying to act in my best interest?”
Dez took a slow step back.
Fiearius followed him. “It’s not your fault, it was the will of the dov’ha that they die! Was that it?!”
“Fiearius–” it was Leta this time, hesitant and worried, but Fiearius couldn’t bring himself to hear her. His blood boiled and his vision narrowed and all he could see was an image of Aela and Denarian, standing side by side and dripping blood onto the dirty floorboards. And he couldn’t hold it back any longer.
Pride be damned.
The noise that erupted from his mouth as he flung himself at Desophyles Cordova was barely human. It could be identified as many things: fury most of all, grief, pain, despair, vengeance, but sanity was not among them. There was nothing conscious about the way Fiearius attacked, trying all at once to seize Dez’s arms, pummel his fist into his face and rip the flesh from his neck with his fingernails. He wanted blood. He craved the feeling of its warmth on the palms of his hands, the dirt that clung to it, scraping against his skin and riding down the lines of his sweat.
Dez didn’t go down without a fight. When the two men hit the floor with a heavy thump, he tried in vain to hold off Fiearius’ wild thrashing from above him. But there was no force that could stop him now. He felt a fist crack across his cheek and the hot metallic tang of blood spreading through his mouth, but it hardly registered. He was pure energy and adrenaline, a hurricane, a tornado, nothing could stand in his way.
Not that nothing tried.
“Fiearius, stop!” said a voice behind him he couldn’t place as he managed to get his hands around Dez’s throat and squeezed.
“I know you’re mad, but this isn’t the time!” the voice went on. Wasn’t the time? This was the perfect time. There was no place more fitting for an end. Dez was clawing at his wrists, leaving lines of red as he gasped for breath. His legs kicked out beneath him, trying to sway Fiearius’ balance, but it was all useless. Fiearius’ throat laughed a laugh that wasn’t his. Nothing could stop this. It was inevitable.
But then something grabbed his arm and pulled, catching him off-guard. He was so surprised, he didn’t even know anyone else was there, that he let go without resistance, releasing Dez from his hold. Furious, he threw that arm out behind him, feeling it hit flesh and bone just before Dez took his shot and pushed. Fiearius didn’t have the balance anymore to fight it. He was flipped onto his back and pinned down.
“That’s enough,” said Dez through heavy breaths as Fiearius flailed madly under his grip, desperate to get out. But he had the disadvantage now. Dez was bigger, stronger. He was stuck.
“You okay?” he asked someone else and when Fiearius tilted his head to look up at the other presence in the room, he wasn’t shocked to see the wild red hair and dark freckled face of Aela looking back at him.
“I’m fine,” said Aela before focusing on Fiearius. Her eyes were sad, but stern. “Fiear, you need to calm down. We need to leave.”
But Fiearius shook his head, a little and then a lot. “You–” he breathed slowly, grimacing as he still tried to struggle away from Dez. “–You don’t get to tell me what to do anymore. Never again.”
Aela looked briefly confused. “Fiear–”
“Why didn’t you fucking tell me?! What the hell were you doing?!” He finally got a fist out of Dez’s grip and into his ribcage. The man flinched but didn’t let up.
Aela still seemed lost. She glanced at Dez who muttered, “He thinks you’re her,” which made no sense and only served to make Fiearius angrier.
But now she looked at him not with confusion, but pity. She crouched down above his head and carefully put a hand on his temple, but he shook it off immediately. Her touch was poison, she was just as bad as all the rest. She had used him, betrayed him. She was vile. And then she said, “Let him go.”
“You’re fucking kidding,” said Dez.
“I’m not, let him up.” She got to her feet and waited as, understandably reluctant, Dez did as she said, one by one releasing his hold on Fiearius’ limbs. He was right to not want to. The moment Fiearius was free, he leapt to his feet and raised his blood-stained fist to pick up where he’d left off, but a small hand seized his wrist and held it back.
He turned to find Aela looking up at him, stern and serious. “Fiearius. You need to come back to me now.”
He stared at her for a moment, his mind racing. Hadn’t she died? What was she doing here? How dare she show up and order him around? He grit his teeth and ripped his wrist from her grasp. “Fuck you.”
She was unphased. “Fiear.” Both her hands reached up and grasped his face. Her palms were soft and warm and made his skin crawl. He wrapped his fingers around her wrists and was about to push her from him when she gave him pause. “You’re having an episode. You need to come back.”
The words didn’t compute inside his head. Episode? What was she talking about? He wasn’t having an episode, he had an obligation. His son had been killed, he needed to avenge him. His son, Denarian, he–
–was standing in the doorway, his hands shaking, tears starting to well in his eyes. He took a step backwards when Fiearius looked at him, afraid, like he’d been caught where he shouldn’t have been. He shouldn’t have been here. He shouldn’t have seen this.
“Both of you, honestly,” Aela was saying. She didn’t know he was standing there yet. “How many times does this have to happen? Do you not have enough violence in your lives already without bringing it home? Next time maybe I’ll just let you two rip each other to shreds.”
Fiearius didn’t listen to her. His eyes were locked on Denarian’s, trying to apologize without words. The last thing he wanted was for the boy to see him like this. At his worst. But he had. I’m so sorry, he willed across the room. I’m so so sorry.
I’m so sorry I let them kill you.
“Come back to me.”
The hands holding his face turned him back to their owner, but it wasn’t Aela. The red hair beneath her headscarf was now brown, her skin turned to snow and her green eyes shone up at him sadly. “Come back to me,” she whispered again.
“Leta–” Fiearius finally relaxed against her touch, but as he searched over that familiar face, desperate for it to ground him here in reality, he saw what he’d done to it. There was a circle around her eye, tinged red and the beginnings of purple. Was that from– Had he–
“It’s okay,” she spoke over him, shaking her head. “I’m fine. We need to go, okay?”
He was nodding before he knew what he was agreeing to. “Right,” he said for the second time today. “Let’s–”
Suddenly, a great vwhirr erupted out of the window, leaving a space only long enough to wonder what it had been before everything shook so violently that all three of them lost their footing and fell to the floor.
When Fiearius looked up again, the room was filled with smoke and dust. The screams he’d heard before were closer now, just outside. A woman shrieked a name. A child was sobbing. Someone was shouting out orders, telling people to leave, to run, this whole place was going to come down.
“Are they trying to kill you now?” Dez asked as he got to his feet. He held out his arm to help Fiearius up and he took it, dragging Leta with him.
“They should know where we are,” Leta breathed before coughing into the smoke. “They shouldn’t be firing near us.”
“They shouldn’t be firing at all.” Finally, he started to feel his senses come back to him. They needed to act. Quickly. “Leta, grab what you can fit in your pack.” He pointed to the pile of Aela’s documents. “Dez–” He met the man’s stare. Minutes ago, he’d wanted nothing more than to kill him, but now? Now he just wanted to get out of here alive and with the city not destroyed. Dez wasn’t ideal. Dez was a liar, a traitor, scum. But he’d do. “Come with me, let’s see what we’re dealing with.”
“I’ll be right behind you,” Leta promised as she hurriedly scooped whatever she could into her bag. Fiearius didn’t feel guilty leaving her in the room alone as he and Dez ran from apartment 24, down the stairs and out onto the street. She was probably safer in there anyway.
The street was in chaos. Fiearius couldn’t tell where the blast had landed, but it wasn’t far. Everything was in a haze. He could barely make out the silhouettes of buildings against the clouded light of the suns, he could see people running through the streets, carrying what possessions they couldn’t leave behind, desperately clinging to loved ones and scattering in all directions. Where could they go? Where would they be safe?
It was then that he noticed a pair of eyes on him. They belonged to an older woman, one that at first he didn’t recognize through the smoke and through the years. But slowly her face returned to him, younger than it was now, peering through the crack in his apartment door and demanding he pay his rent. When he’d known her, she’d always been frowning and grumpy, but now she was frightened. Of Carthis? Or of him?
He was still trying to figure out which when Dez nudged him with his elbow. Breaking away from his old landlady, he glanced back to ask what he was gesturing at, but he didn’t need to ask. All around him, the people that had been running and fleeing had stopped to stare. They watched, waited, expectantly, as though at any moment he might burst into flames or light or who knew what.
Well, Fiearius certainly didn’t know what. What the hell did these people want from him? If they were looking for a savior, they were looking in the wrong place. As soon as Leta joined them, they were leaving and these people could figure out what was next on their own.
But as confident as he sounded in his own head, his feet didn’t move and as he realized slowly that he knew more of these faces than he’d like to (the man with the dog across the street, the owner of the store at the corner, a woman he’d went on a few dates with way back when), the reality of this, being home, started to sink in.
These people looking at him now weren’t afraid of him, the supposed nefarious Rogue Verdant. They were curious. Patiently waiting to see what he might do next, this man that they’d once shared a home with. In their eyes he wasn’t a story, he was a person, one from the very same ground as they were. These people were his neighbors, people he’d known, celebrated with, greeted every morning. And now they were in danger because of something he had done. He had brought Carthis here. He had trusted them to do as he asked.
Dez had been right to be angry. What the hell had he done?
The next blast hit a block away. The calm in the street vanished in an instant. Those that weren’t running in the opposite direction as fast as they could, weren’t, only because they had fallen to the rocking ground and couldn’t right themselves.
Choking through the smoke, thick and black and flooding the narrow street, Fiearius hurried to the side of his cranky landlady, Dez meeting him on the other, to help her back to her feet.
“Head to the tunnels on Mari’lea!” he shouted, the first thing that came into his head. She might not be safe there, but she’d damn well be safer than here.