There was a moment then, as her hands desperately gripped the rope above her, that she knew they’d made a mistake. They were falling. They were still falling. The rope was falling with them. They had just jumped out of a falling ship to simply fall on their own. Maybe, she thought, during those impossibly long seconds, they would have been safer inside the Spirit after all.
But then she felt a violent tug on her waist. The rope in her hands went taut and suddenly, instead of falling, they were swinging.
She looked up to see the metal bond thing, distant but visible, securely fastened to the exterior beam of a neighboring skyscraper. It was the same skyscraper that was starting to get a lot bigger. Closer, would perhaps be the better word, she realized. In fact, it looked like in a matter of seconds, she was about to slam right into it.
The rope twisted a little as Cyrus climbed up a few feet towards her, but when she looked down at him, she also saw the Paradexian street seemingly miles below her and that, as it turned out, was the last thing she was able to see.
Leta barely felt the window as she plowed through it. What she felt the most was the landing. She felt the little specks of glass dig into her skin. She felt the thumps of her body as she rolled across the grey carpeted floor. She felt the searing pain in her head when it slammed against a flimsy room divider that collapsed on contact. And most of all, she felt the rope seize around her waist when it ran out of give.
For a moment, she lay there, looking up at the strips of fluorescent lights above her and finding she was genuinely surprised to still be able to look up at all. But she could see the lights. She could also see the glass-covered desk beside her, adorned with photos of a young man and a dog. And she could see Cyrus, forcing himself onto his hands and knees and coughing violently.
Leta didn’t notice how much her hands were shaking until she pushed herself upright and reached out to him. “Cy, you okay?”
“Y-yeah,” he answered, sounding surprised at the truth himself. “You?”
Quickly, she took stock. There were cuts all over her, her head hurt, her body hurt, everything hurt. But she was alive and they had made it to Paradiex. Alive.
Cyrus looked over at her through a curtain of his dark hair, breathing heavy. And then he released a quiet manic laugh. “Gotta admit though. That was pretty cool.”
Leta returned a grin. “You are a true action hero, Cy-cy.”
As he pushed himself to his feet, his limbs shuddering and his body seemingly barely able to support itself, he mumbled, “Do action heroes feel like this after?”
Leta shrugged and took his offered hand to pull herself up. “Only the good ones.”
He snorted his appreciation and the two of them carefully stepped their way over the shattered remains of their entrance towards the blustery hole they’d made in the building. Holding her breath, Leta peered over the edge to examine the street below them. It wasn’t difficult to see what had become of the Spirit. The black chunk of metal buried in the center of the pavement covered in fire and smoke told the story well enough.
“Guess we’re not leaving anytime soon,” Cyrus muttered.
“After the trouble we went through to get here, why would you want to anyway?” Leta joked in return, trying to stay light-hearted despite the dread seeping back into her system. They were here now. They had a task ahead of them. This was only just beginning and so many more things could go wrong.
As if to punctuate her point, the building suddenly shook as one of Carthis’ blasts hit ground somewhere not too far off. She heard Cyrus audibly groan. This was his home they were destroying. And right now, they were the only two that had a chance to stop it.
They just needed to find Fiearius.
“Do you know where we are?” Leta asked.
“Ehm…” Cyrus scanned the street outside the window, looking for familiar landmarks. “Ah. Yeah. That’s the bank right over there. We’re not far. Ten minute walk. Five minute run.”
“Great.” Leta nodded, took a deep breath and turned away from the window. There weren’t any more moments to waste. “Let’s go.”
“I’m calling back the fleet.”
Fiearius turned away from the console he was using at the wall to glare at E’etan. “Don’t you fucking dare.”
“This is your plan to save Satieri?” E’etan demanded, throwing his hand towards the window where his usual view of the skyline had turned to a view of only smoke and flame. “Let Carthis destroy it?”
Fiearius’ knuckles turned white as he gripped the edge of the table. “No,” he growled. “But you have to trust me.”
E’etan didn’t. “Yes, trust the man who’s been our public enemy number one for ten years, killed all of my colleagues and now shows up threatening my life and giving me orders. Do you think me dim?”
“You’re still arguing and that threat still stands so yes,” Fiearius snapped, typing a string of commands onto the screen. “Yes you must be quite dim.”
There was nothing about this situation E’etan liked, though Soliveré was right about one thing: he didn’t really have much of a choice. When he’d made the slightest inclination towards counteracting Fiearius’ orders to the Ellegian branch of the fleet, he’d quickly found a gun at his temple. After that, he’d decided to just go along with whatever scheme the Verdant had concocted. At the very least, he was curious to see where it would go.
That is, until his old friends showed up and started mowing down E’etan’s city.
“You launched every ship we have from Satieri. All that’s left of the Ellegian forces, your band of deflectors and the ships you brought with you. They’re all in the skies. If you just call them back, we can destroy Carthis’ entire fleet and end this whole thing.” Reasoning with this fool was a lot like reasoning with a pet, E’etan was quickly discovering. You could tell it not to shit on the carpet as much as you wanted, but it was still going to do what was natural to it. And if the past decade told him anything, what came naturally to Fiearius was destruction.
He acted like he didn’t even hear him. “Any word yet from Captain Otan?”
Rolling his eyes, E’etan glanced at the console on the desk. “Nothing yet.”
“Shit,” Fiearius growled, tapping something else onto his own screen. “Fuck you, Gates…”
“Is this Carthis’ plan?” E’etan mused to himself, leaning against the window and watching Fiearius with vague interest. “Send you here to distract me from simply destroying them? Not a bad plan really.”
Fiearius snorted his disinterest. “Without me, you wouldn’t be able to destroy them.”
“With you, I’m not able to destroy them,” E’etan countered. “Since you sent every defense we have elsewhere. Forget Ellegy and Vescent and fucking Ascendia, Satieri needs help now!”
He was met with a sharp glare over his shoulder. “Gods, some kinda shitty tyrant you are. Have you never played chess? It’s part of the plan, are you gonna help or are you gonna keep complaining because the offer still stands.” Fiearius lifted his gun indicatively.
Despite his irritation, getting shot in the head at this point didn’t sound all that appealing. E’etan turned back to his screen to check for any updates. “That’s your plan then? Become a tyrant?”
“Play nice and I’ll teach you how to do it properly,” Fiearius muttered in response.
“Oh I’d be honored.” Still none of the captains they’d sent to the other strongholds had sent in a report. It either meant things were going very well or very very badly. Fiearius seemed to be of the prior opinion, but as far as E’etan was concerned, it didn’t matter. He watched another streak of fire blast across the sky and bury itself in the entertainment district, sending up a plume of grey and black to join the haze. This was ridiculous. The city would be leveled before this ‘plan’ of his ever came through. His fingers hovered over the keys. He could just type the command. Call them back. He’d die, but at least Paradiex might live. If he just–
“I didn’t, by the way.”
E’etan glanced over his shoulder, but Fiearius wasn’t looking at him. “Pardon?”
“I didn’t,” he said again, his tone empty of emotion. “I didn’t kill your colleagues, the other Councillors.” E’etan let out a single laugh of disbelief, but Fiearius was unphased. “I tried, don’t get me wrong. But I didn’t kill a single one.”
“Then who did?”
He looked thoughtful for a moment. “Dez. Varisian. Leta killed two. Me though? Not a one.”
“So I’ll be your first,” E’etan remarked, expecting him to turn it towards another threat to get back to work.
But Fiearius’ expression was grim and his voice cold as ice when he said, “Fitting. Isn’t it?”
The image of a small red-haired child appeared in his mind. The boy screamed and yelled and fought as E’etan seized his hand and dragged him away from his mother who cried out in horror. He could still hear the gunshot. He could still feel the blood on his hands. He had never meant to kill the boy. The image, gruesome and heart-numbing, had never stopped haunting him even after all this time. Perhaps, if nothing else, that was one thing he and Soliveré had in common…
A nearby explosion drew him out of his daze and he turned his eyes back to the screen. “Otan’s sent an update.”
“Great, read it to me.”
“No sign of Carthian forces in Ellegian orbit, our forces moved in and–”
Suddenly, the door to the apartment flew open. Both men in the room looked up in surprise. Standing in the doorway was a woman, covered in dust and speckled with blood. Her brown hair, perhaps originally neat and put up, was a mess. Her bright green eyes were wide and fixed on Fiearius who stared back at her in a certain kind of horror and shock E’etan would never have expected from him.