“And why exactly do you expect me to believe that?”
Dorrion E’etan crossed his arms over his chest and regarded the man next to him. This man who had been hunting him for years, a man who E’etan had, quite admittedly, wronged in more ways than one, a man who he had always assumed would be his end. And yet here they stood, united at last and he wanted to ally with him?
Fiearius knew it, too. “I don’t expect you to believe it. Hell, I’d be surprised if you did.” He provided E’etan a sideways smirk. “Way I see it though, you got two options.” He raised one finger in front of his face. “Believe me. Help me. Save this fancy apartment you waited so long for from being destroyed. Or.” A second finger joined the first. “Don’t help me. Be worthless. And I’ll just kill you.”
E’etan snorted his skepticism. “Option three, I just kill you.”
Fiearius flashed him a grin. “Option three, you could try to kill me. But even if you survived the attempt, and you wouldn’t, without my help Carthis will still sweep through and blow the whole place to hell anyway.”
Clearly, Soliveré put more faith in his allies than E’etan did. “I’m not concerned about Carthis.”
Fiearius put his fingers to his chin and nodded slowly, a false showing of consideration. “I can tell. But you should be. They’re approaching a pretty alarming level of desperation. And–” He peered up at the sky above them. “Right about now, probably, when they realize where I’ve gone, they’ll get there. And when they do, you should be very very concerned.”
His intimidation tactics weren’t going to work. “We have enough forces gathered here to repel whatever Carthis’ scrambling can conjure.”
Fiearius grimaced, turning around and leaning on E’etan’s desk. “Correction. You did have enough forces to repel Carthis.” When E’etan just stared him down in silence, he added, “They’re mine now.”
“Yours,” he repeated blankly.
“Oh yeah.” Fiearius grinned. “Funny thing, when you let invaders come and blow up half your city, people get pretty pissed. They become real easy to win over. And when you’ve got the platform to do it…” He tapped his wrist twice. “Bet you regret making me Verdant now, huh?”
E’etan sniffed a quiet laugh. “Not at all. You’re exactly what dear Aela described you as.” He searched Fiearius’ face for a moment, eager to see a reaction to his wife’s name. Disappointingly, he got none. “Stubborn, resourceful and loyal to a fault.” His brow raised on his forehead. “Which is how I know you’re bluffing.”
Maddening as he was, Fiearius just smiled back at him as if they were merely discussing the weather or the local news. “Bluffing ‘bout what exactly?”
“You would never let anything happen to your beloved Satieri,” E’etan accused, nodding his head towards the window where the city of Paradiex sprawled out before them, glittering and gleaming, still speckled with patches of blackened stone and smoke. “Whether you’re dead or not.”
Fiearius let out a small ‘hm’ and continued to nod thoughtfully as he stared out the window. “Alright,” he decided at last and turned to face E’etan fully. “You wanna try door number three?” He spread his hands out to his sides. “You wanna try and kill me and see what happens? Let’s do it. Let’s give it a shot. If you’re so curious to see how this plays out.”
E’etan eyed him, but didn’t move. The amusement dropped from Fiearius’ face. “Yeah, buddy, I’ve seen your service record too. I didn’t fuckin’ think so.”
In demonstration of his fearlessness, Fiearius turned his back to him and slid towards the console. “Well if you’re done screwing around, we’ve got a lot of work to do and not much time to do it. Half the Society’s fleets are serving me now, but there’s still some out there loyal to you. How bout we send ‘em a signal we’re playing for the same team now, yeah?”
E’etan snorted a quiet laugh. “Quite a few won’t be eager to accept that notion, you know.”
Fiearius shrugged. “They’ll come around when the bullets start flying. For now, we need as many following our orders as we can get.” He continued to hit keys on the console, but predictably, the machine locked him out.
“They’re already in place.” E’etan shoved him out of the way with his shoulder and entered the correct identification into the console. The screen flashed a welcome message and the main terminal faded into place. “They’ve got standing orders to defend Paradiex at all costs.”
“Course they do.” Fiearius pushed him aside with ease and started scanning through the terminal for what he was looking for. “Because you’re a selfish asshole.” Before E’etan could even bark ‘excuse me?!’, Fiearius shot him a grin and said, “I, however, have bigger plans.”
How Aela had ever put up with this nuisance of a man for as long as she did, E’etan would surely never understand. His voice was flat as he asked, “That so?”
Fiearius sucked in a deep breath, laced his fingers together and stretched them out in front of him. “You’ll see. Just take a break, stand back and watch me work.”
“That’s not going to work.” Leta was shaking her head, her arms over her chest, her expression grim. “Showering Satieri in explosives is exactly what Fiearius was upset about. Whatever his plan is, preventing your all-out assault will be the key element of it.”
Arsen grit his teeth, his fists braced against the table so hard, she could see his knuckles turning white. “Unfortunately, as I have said multiple times, Dr. Adler, our bombers are the only tactic that have even the remotest chance of success anymore considering we have lost over half of our forces overnight and the enemy has gained them.”
Cyrus, who stood a few feet behind Leta, snorted indignantly and grumbled, “Well whose fault is that?”
This was the fifth emergency war council meeting that had convened in the forty-eight hours since Fiearius’ disappearance and in the course of those five meetings, they had gotten approximately nowhere. Everyone in the room looked like they hadn’t slept in days. They probably hadn’t. Leta herself certainly hadn’t, though not for lack of trying. She’d tossed and turned all night, wrought with worry, until she’d finally relented and joined Cyrus in the Beacon’s kitchen for coffee and companionship. She hadn’t questioned it when he’d followed her to the latest congregation of arguments and irresolution.
Arsen did, however. “What the hell is he even doing here?” He threw his hand towards Cyrus. “He’s not part of this Council, why is he–”
“Because we’re talking about my brother,” Cyrus snapped. “I think I deserve to be in this conver–”
“Your familial relations are irrelevant to–”
“Arsen,” Gates barked, speaking over them both. The strategist snapped to attention. “Please continue your status briefing.”
“Yes sir.” He shot a glare at Leta who had interrupted him to begin with. She simply raised a brow at him, unflinching. “As I was saying. We’ve lost contact with our monitoring agents. As such, we are no longer able to track the movement of the Society fleet. Admiral Soliveré was well aware of our monitoring operations, where they were, how they conducted themselves. I can only assume that this is not a coincidence.”
“You only ‘assume’? So that’s what you people talk about in these meetings? Wild accusations?” Cyrus let out a noise of disgust and Leta swore she saw Arsen’s eye twitch.
“Without our agents, without knowledge of the enemy fleets, we’re sitting ducks in the dark,” he went on, doing his best to ignore his heckler. “We need to act quickly. We need to strike. Soliveré could be planning an attack on our ships, on Carthis, anywhere and we won’t–”
“This is ridiculous.”
Even Gates now shot Leta a dark look. “Adler–”
“No, this is ridiculous,” she said again, lifting her palm in the air. “Fiearius isn’t planning an attack. If he’s planning anything at all, and I’m not even convinced of that, he’s planning a defense.”
“The man assaulted three officers, stole a ship and abandoned the main fleet,” Arsen growled at her. “I’m not comfortable pretending he’s still a friend.”
“Well I’m not comfortable with this council automatically assuming he’s out to kill us all,” Leta spat right back.