Leta might have cringed had she not been fuming. The rest of the war council didn’t know it yet, but they’d all be recoiling in just a moment. But not from her. Oh, she would gladly tear into Arsen’s entirely short-sighted statement. She would be more than happy to rip him to shreds over it. But she didn’t need to. Sure, it would be satisfying to retaliate herself. But it would be even more satisfying to watch Fiearius do it better.
Beside her, his face had turned to stone. He stared across the table at his opponent, eyes glinting with malice, his knuckles protruding from his fists and his whole body trembling ever so slightly. Leta recognized him instantly. The Fiearius that only came out when a line had been crossed. She’d first seen it in the fighting ring, so long ago now, but still engraved in her memory like it was yesterday. She’d seen it when he fought and killed Ludo. Most recently, she’d seen it with Dez.
Usually, the sight of this particular side of Fiearius, the one that lusted for blood and lost himself in the process, sent a wave of worry straight to her heart, but here, now, for once, she embraced it. She didn’t even flinch when his quiet, poisonous words broke the silence.
“Don’t. You. Dare speak of cost to me.”
Arsen, Leta surmised, had never met this man before. If he had, he wouldn’t have dared to even open his mouth to speak. Not that he got any words out.
“Don’t you fucking dare!”
His fist slammed into the table once more and the room was filled with a horrendous crack. The glass coating the surface shattered beneath his hand and two thick lines extended outward from the impact.
“You want to talk cost?” Fiearius spat, oblivious to the blood speckling his hand. “Let’s forget for a moment that I lost my best captain and commander. And that my own fleet took hits during the battle, just as yours did. That we lost three ships of our own, nearly three hundred women and men. Let’s forget that on that level, at least, we’re even. The cost of war. Unavoidable.”
“But you–” Fiearius’ voice started to crack into a horrible manic laugh. His fist opened and his fingers instead clawed at the shattered glass. “You–” The words choked in his throat and he squeezed the shards against his palm, thick red liquid dripping between his fingers. “I expect to lose people to our enemy. I don’t expect to lose them to our own side.”
Finally, Arsen’s resolve seemed to stumble. His frown didn’t soften, but his shoulders fell ever so slightly and Leta couldn’t help but notice him glance toward the still silent Admiral Gates, perhaps begging for help. Gates, however, never took his eyes off of Fiearius, watching the scene unfold with a guarded interest, but little else.
With no one coming to his aid, Arsen mustered his courage. “The incident on the surface–”
“Incident?” Fiearius snapped, a wild look in his eyes. “Incident?!” And a long, terrible laugh to match. “You fucking destroyed my ship! You killed my crew! Five of the most hard-working, loyal, dedicated people who’ve been part of this cause since day one! And you fucking killed them!”
Arsen’s facade crumbled even further. “As I said, the Society scrambled our tech, what happened was–”
“Oh no, no no no,” Fiearius cut him off. “It wasn’t the Society that killed them, it was you. Or whoever the fuck gave the order to blindly fire full power ship weaponry into a populated city. That person? They took something from me. Something valuable. So I want something valuable of theirs.”
“I’m sure we can discuss proper reparations–” started one particularly brave captain, but Fiearius growled his disinterest.
“Proper reparations, I want their fucking head, you understand me? On a stick. Or a platter, if you fancy fucks prefer. But a head. Now. So who the fuck was it?”
He looked around the room, but unsurprisingly, no one spoke up. “Was it you?” Fiearius demanded of Arsen who lost his nerve and looked away. “You?” He swung towards Gates who blinked back at him, unphased. “I don’t give a shit if it’s your godsdamned president, I want blood for this.”
The mention of the Carthian president sent a ripple through the room. Arsen found his guts again. “Soliveré–”
“If you’re not about to give me a name, you can shut your fucking mouth,” Fiearius barked.
“What happened was regrettable, but–”
“But it was an accident and we will not be resorting to thuggish violence–”
The words seemed to land somewhere volatile in Fiearius’ brain. Leta saw him visibly twinge, like someone had reached inside him and flipped a switch. Reason was replaced entirely with his grief. For the first time since this conversation started, Leta felt more nervous than appeased. “You piece of–”
“We would be happy to provide you a new ship and a new crew and any other reasonable requests you might have.”
Leta watched as Fiearius bared his teeth and his tensed every muscle in his body. “Fiear–” she ventured hesitantly. This could turn very bad very quickly. Leta could see it all playing out before her eyes. Fiearius would leap across the table and fix his hands around Arsen’s throat, throwing him to the floor. They would wrestle, the larger man clawing at the other like an animal. Like he’d done to Dez. Then someone, a few people, would seize him and drag him away, kicking and screaming in a frenzy. Any moment now.
And then Arsen sealed the deal. “Until that time, I ask that you yield the floor to rational discussion regarding next steps.”
Fiearius’ breathing went from being jagged and heavy to slow, measured and smooth. Leta saw his stance change. She’d known, walking into this room, that his rage would get the better of him at some point. It was inevitable. But not like this. She knew now she had a half second to act just as Fiearius growled, “I’ll show you rational.” A half second to put an end to this before it began, as only she could.
Leta still wore the bruise on her eye where she’d gotten involved the day before. A bruise Fiearius had apologized for in every cognizant moment since. A bruise she prayed would be enough to pull him back just as he readied himself to lunge.
Holding her breath, she reached out and grasped his shoulder. “Fiearius.”
For just a flash of a moment, Leta felt his muscle tense and she nearly flinched, expecting to be brushed out of the way, but his eyes flung to hers, demanding explanation and then — then he stopped. His face fell. She swore she saw yet another apology behind his stare. The switch, thank the gods, was turned off.
Across the room, Arsen barked, “Admiral, if you continue to threaten violence on this council, I’ll be forced to restrain you.”
Fiearius spun back towards him. “I’d like to see you fucking try.” But as angry as he sounded, it was different now. More snippy than outright fury. Leta let out a deep breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.
Before Arsen could respond, finally, at long last, the one person in this room who hadn’t reacted to a single thing spoke up. “Council, yesterday was a difficult operation for all of us. I suggest we adjourn this meeting and allow some time for heads to cool off. We can reconvene first thing tomorrow to discuss what comes next.”