Leta had never forgotten the day they lost Archeti. The feeling of the planet quaking beneath her feet, the dark storm swirling overhead, the sickly glow cast over the city that felt like a poison had spread through every brick, every slab of concrete, every breath of air. It had haunted her dreams on cold, lonely nights when the rain had battered her windows on Vescent. And as Cyrus landed E’etan’s ship in the middle of a deserted street of Paradiex and Leta peered out of the missing door, she was living it again. Only worse.
Wind whipped at her hair as she took in the scene. It was as bright as daylight in summer, but the wrong color entirely. Debris littered the street and tumbled along the pavement, driven forward by the constant shake of the ground beneath her feet. Moments before, her ears had been filled with the boom of the ark’s cannon and the high-pitched whirrs of Carthian fire. Now, below the clouds, all she could hear was the crack and crumble and churn of the Nautilus and the sound of her own blood pounding against her eardrums.
And in the center of her vision, of course, was the beam. Blinding green light, seemingly descending from the clouds themselves. Her destination.
Gripping the Caelum Lex in her hand, she pushed her hair out of her face in vain and stepped out of the ship onto the street. But she only made it one step before a rough hand had seized her wrist.
“The hell do you think you’re going?”
She turned back to Fiearius and frowned. Last she’d checked, as Cyrus secured the ship’s landing, Fiearius had been hunched over a console sending out orders to his fleets. She’d hoped she’d have a little more time before he noticed she was gone. Still, she wasn’t about to back down. “You know where I’m going. This is why we landed here, remember? Stay with the ship, I’ll be back once it’s done.”
Leta was unsure if she had ever seen him look so appalled before. “Oh I don’t think so.” Before she could react, he reached over and plucked the Caelum Lex from her hand, released her and took a few steps backwards in the direction of the Nautilus. “You stay with the ship. I’ve got this.”
She stepped after him in a fury, having to shout to be heard over the noise. “No, I’ve got it. Give it back.”
“You’re injured,” he argued shortly.
“I’m fine,” she shot back.
“You’re lying,” he pointed out, nodding towards her arm which gave her a shot of pain in response. “You’ve done enough today. Let me handle this one. It’s simple.”
She reached out for the orb, but he easily held it out of her grasp. “Fiearius,” she chided, but he took another step backwards. “Fiearius,” she tried again, more softly. He didn’t move this time. “Fiear–” She drew closer and was surprised to find he didn’t fight it when she wrapped her fingers around the sphere. But when she tugged, he didn’t let go. She shot him a glare, but he met it with a look she wasn’t expecting. One that bore right through her and made her chest pang with guilt.
“I’m not losing you,” he shouted above the churn of the Nautilus with such intensity in his stare that Leta nearly let go. But after a brief moment of doubt, she seized the orb tighter.
“I’m not losing you either.”
They stood like that in the empty street, each with a hand around the Caelum Lex as the winds and rain tore at them viciously. Until–
“Gods, can you do your melodramatic bullshit later?” Cyrus snapped, seizing the sphere out of their grasp and storming past them down the street. “We don’t have time!”
Leta felt her face flush red with embarrassment, but she quickly brushed it off as Fiearius took her now empty hand and pulled her after Cyrus.
“If this doesn’t work, that thing is going to squash us,” Fiearius warned his brother as they caught up to him. “Or devour us. Or whatever the hell it does.”
“Oh, I know exactly what it does.” For an instant, Leta saw a look of absolute terror rise in Cyrus’ features, but he quickly swallowed it.
“Spare me the details please,” Leta mumbled. It was bad enough hurrying straight towards the source of danger not knowing exactly how it might kill them if her gambit didn’t pay off. But it would pay off. This had to work. Gods, it had to work. The arks were programmed to protect the Caelum Lex, right? That was what Corra had said. So if she put the Caelum Lex in danger — if the Nautilus put the Caelum Lex in danger — the arks would react.
The further they moved down the street, the harder it became to do so. The winds grew stronger, the rain, harsher, and Leta found herself having to shield her face with her forearm to keep the elements from blinding her. She’d been in hurricanes before. They came every few years on Vescent. But even a hurricane felt nothing like this. It was warm too. Hot, even. Hot and loud. Between the weather, the noise and her wounds from earlier, she was quite sure she had never been so uncomfortable in her life.
She wasn’t alone. “How close do you think we have to be to this thing?” she heard Fiearius shout, sounding far away despite the fact that he was still clutching her hand.
A few feet ahead, Cyrus said something in return, but it was drowned out by the roar of a nearby roof being torn from its structure and horrifyingly bouncing away down the street behind them.
“What?” Fiearius yelled back. Through squinted eyes and past the haze, Leta saw Cyrus shake his head and shrug dramatically.
Looking up, the Nautilus’ beam seemed like it would plow over them any second now. Every few seconds it stuttered or shook, but it remained steadily moving in their direction just as they moved in its. How close was too close? When would the arks above them jump into action? Or when would the Nautilus itself simply destroy them before their rescue ever had a chance?
How close would they have to be to realize this whole plan was idiotic and they should turn back, jump on E’etan’s ship and just flee into obscurity?
But as many doubts as Leta had, she kept moving, one step at a time, even as the steps became struggles themselves, the wind so strong it threatened to throw her all the way back the way she’d come. The landscape began to change. The rain slowed and then finally stopped. The heat became sweltering. Sweat poured down Leta’s forehead. The street was no longer a street, but simply a long path of rubble and destruction. Leta tried not to wonder how many bodies lay under that debris, not quick enough to escape the Nautilus’ wrath.
Cyrus had fallen back to join them, taking Leta’s other hand more for his own strength than for hers, she thought, and Fiearius lead the train, using his body to block out at least some of the vicious winds.
As sure as Leta had been when she set off, the closer they got, the more that confidence faded. They should head back, she thought more than once. They should head back and forget this whole thing. It wasn’t working. The Nautilus was right there and it wasn’t working. She was about to finally voice the dismay that was plaguing her when suddenly she heard a shout and felt a harsh tug as Cyrus yanked her backwards. Her other hand, slick with sweat, slipped out of Fiearius’.
“Stop! Come back!” was all she managed to hear as Cyrus proceeded to shake his head and wave his hands in the air violently. Fiearius looked back and then down at where his foot was against the pavement. Except it wasn’t pavement. Or at least, it wasn’t solid pavement. When he stepped backwards, there was a depression left where his boot had been.
“That?” Cyrus shouted, keeping his communication simple and full of hand gestures as his voice cracked at its volume limit. “That is bad! We go closer, we die!”
Leta tried to calm the heavy breaths that were filling her lungs, the panic that was starting to set in. It wasn’t just the ground beneath Fiearius’ feet, she realized suddenly. All around them, the debris was starting to look less angled, less sharp, like it was very slowly melting away. And even as they stood there considering it, she felt the ground beneath her feet starting to soften.
Alarmed, she stumbled backwards. It didn’t work. It didn’t work. Nothing worked. Tearing it apart from the inside had failed. Attacking it on the outside had failed. Everything she tried kept failing and she couldn’t fix it. This huge fucking shitty death beam was going to destroy this planet and there was nothing she could do about it. Maybe the ark couldn’t track the orb after all, maybe it didn’t think death beams were bad, whatever the reason, the beast of an ancient machine clearly wasn’t interested in protecting the Caelum Lex from being melted.
Subconsciously, she looked down at the sphere in Cyrus’ hand and realization struck her. It wasn’t melted. And as Cyrus kept stepping backwards away from the Nautilus’ range, it wasn’t going to be. Godsdammit.
This was stupid. She knew this was stupid. But it had to be done, didn’t it? They’d come all this way, they’d fought through all that wind and rain and they were the only ones now who could save Satieri from being annihilated. Millions of lives were at stake. Millions of people would die if this thing wasn’t defeated. It had to be done and she was going to have to do it.
Leta heaved in a deep breath, reached out and grabbed the sphere out of Cyrus’ grip before he could figure out what was happening. “It needs to be closer!”
But as she tried to run forward, he pulled her back. “You’ll die!”
“I’m going to die standing here arguing anyway!”
Cyrus shook his head. “We need to figure something else out!”
Leta sighed a sigh no one would ever hear. He could be in denial all he wanted, but, “Cy, This is our only shot!”
“There’s another way, there has to be!”
“We’ve tried everything!” She yanked her hand from his and took another step forward. “I’m taking it a bit further! Just enough to trigger the arks!”
“You can’t go further!”
“I have to, Cy, I have to, this is–”
“Give me that!”