Category Archives: Part 1-2

Chapter 42: Seeing Stars Pt. 3

Cyrus seemed to be thinking along the same lines. “How old is she?”

“Nineteen,” said Finn without missing a beat, pushing himself up to his feet and brushing sand off his chest. “Completely of age. I asked last night, don’t worry.”

“Nineteen? So Fiear was … babysitting her,” Leta put in innocently as Corra roared with laughter. “Wow, that’s so generous of you, captain.”

Fiearius glanced shortly at her, not particularly interested in their commentary on his little misstep. There was a much bigger issue he had yet to wrap his head around. Ignoring Leta, he caught Finn’s eye. “People were after me ‘cause of her? Why?”

“Ah … well,” began Finn, smirking uncertainly, “Think you might’ve accidentally kidnapped her, mate.”

As Fiearius stared at him, dumbfounded, Cyrus snorted and muttered, “Well that’s new.”

“Very new,” Leta agreed, “not everyday Fiear agrees to do something as nice as adopt a child — “

“In Fiear’s defense,” interrupted Finn loudly, raising his voice as if he were a lawyer on trial, “she is, in fact, as I said, nineteen. And more importantly, he was doing her a favor. Pretty sure she wanted to get away herself. He was helping.”

He gave Fiearius’ shoulder a brotherly shake. But then he glanced warily in Richelle’s direction and mumbled, “Really, though … probably should drop her back off somewhere … “

“Yeah, like at a daycare,” Leta snapped. Cyrus snorted.

Well, this was starting to get away from him now, wasn’t it? Fiearius ran his hand through his hair and sighed slowly. Before he even asked, he was nearly certain he knew the answer. But he had to ask it nonetheless. “And where did I find her exactly?”

“Out on the peninsula,” said Finn and, just to confirm Fiearius’ worst fears, “At Jodar Donovan’s estate. She’s his daughter.”

Of course, the one night he decided to take up kidnapping had to be the night he also decided to pay a drunken visit to the most powerful man in Paraven. And ‘steal’ his daughter. His nineteen year old daughter. Fiearius felt his stomach turn over with anger and disgust and absolute frustration. Just his fucking luck.

But there was still time to fix this. He could just give her back and run for it. Everything would be fine. If only–

Abruptly, he spun around and pointed up at the girl still standing firmly rooted at the top of the ramp. “You! Get off my ship!”

Richelle just planted herself more firmly and shouted back, “No! I’m not going back there!”

“Yes you are, get off my ship! Now!”

“You promised!” she cried. “You promised you’d take me away from here!”

“That was before I found out taking you away from here is likely to get me killed.” He took a firm step towards the ramp. “Get down here.”

Even from where he stood, he could see the tears starting to well in her eyes and her voice start to crack as she stepped further back into the ship and despaired, “You don’t know what it’s like. Being his daughter, it’s–I have to leave. I can’t go back there. I can’t.”

Fiearius closed his eyes, grimacing with anger, and, admittedly, pity. He certainly knew what it was like to feel hopeless and desperate. But then again, he also knew what it was like to be hunted by angry, powerful men who wanted you dead. And that second one was quite a bit worse.

“I don’t need another trouble-making runaway,” he snapped, any hint of sympathy falling from his voice. “Get. Off. My. Ship. Now.”

Even from this distance, her eyes were visibly shining with tears. She certainly looked every bit her (too young) age when she gave one last shriek of “No!” suddenly turned and fled into the depths ship.

A blank, awed silence followed her disappearance, at least until Fiearius let out a raw growl of frustration and pressed the heel of his palms into his eye sockets. This was just not his fucking day, was it?

And just to make things worse, Leta piped in, “Nice. Wonderful. We’ve now kidnapped a young innocent girl. Well, maybe that’ll make you think better about trying to pick up girls eleven years younger than — “

At last, Fiearius felt his anger boil over, and he spun around. “What’s the matter, doctor?” he taunted. “You jealous?”

Leta’s mouth fell open. “What, jealous?” she sputtered. “Of what, exactly?”

Fiearius cocked his eyebrow and couldn’t resisting muttering, “Oh I think you know of what.”

Everyone else was suddenly exchanging glances and looking away. Oblivious to their discomfort, Leta gasped at him, completely affronted, “You’re a pig, you know that? You really are.”

“Aw don’t be so hard on yourself,” he chided, tilting his head and frowning at her in false pity. “Can’t help what ya like.”

He knew he’d done it now: Corra looked shocked, Leta was agape, looking ready to slap him in the face. Her voice shook. “You — are a such a piece of sh — “

But he never found out what he was, exactly, as another powerful voice roared from the other end of the docks.

“There they are!”

Everyone went rigid. Fiearius spun around just in time to see them —  a dozen Paravian officers sweeping in, yelling orders, guns raised, shouting, “Under the statutes of Paravian ground laws, you, the crew of the visiting ship Dionysian, are placed under arrest. Hands where we can see them please.”


Chapter 42: Seeing Stars Pt. 2

image2With a wince of pain, Leta cracked open her eyes. Morning light was flooding from the nearest window and pouring over her face, cutting through her skull like a knife, making her see stars. Gods, she couldn’t remember the last time she was this hungover …

She managed to pick up her head achingly and glance over the bed which was not, she noticed curiously, hers. And she was not actually under the covers, but on top of them. She still had her shoes on. In the next confusing moment she realized her arm was numb and prickly — because Cyrus was asleep on it, snoring into his pillow.

Oh right, she thought, tugging her arm free and sitting up. Some of the night was coming back to her now: she vaguely remembered stumbling into this hotel room late last night because the Dionysian “was too far of a walk.” The room only had one bed, and she’d told Cyrus they could share it, although he’d insisted he’d sleep on the floor because he was a gentleman, of course; who did she think he was, his brother?

Naturally, they’d argued loudly back and forth for ten minutes and then fallen asleep before reaching any resolution. Now, feeling somewhat amused, Leta gently nudged Cyrus’ shoulder with her elbow.

“Cy? You alive?”

Squeezing his eyes shut, he groaned, “Barely.” His glasses were still smashed up on his face, askew.

Leta pressed her palm to her aching forehead and peered around the small, shabby excuse for a bedroom.  “How’d we end up in a hotel room anyway?” she breathed in confusion. “We can’t afford a hotel room. Even one as shitty as this … “

“I believe you expertly talked the clerk into giving us a payment extension,” Cyrus mumbled, putting his feet to the floor and casting her a smirk. “Said you’d have enough money to pay him in the morning.”

“I said that?” Leta mumbled in amazement. “Well … I don’t, so we’d better get out of here fast.”

Ten minutes later, after splashing cold water on her face and regaining some consciousness, Leta stood outside the hotel, squinting against the morning sunlight reflecting off the water. Cyrus walked beside her back toward the ship, ruffling his untidy hair.

“Suppose I’ll owe Ren an apology for that, huh?” he said, gesturing back toward the hotel. Leta laughed.

“I think he’ll understand. So where do you think the rest of the crew ended up?”

“Last I saw last night, Corra was arguing with Finn. About gods know what…You know how combative she gets when she drinks,” he muttered, rolling his eyes. “Nikkolai was helping Maya not vomit. I vaguely remember Amora sitting at the bar looking offended.” He frowned thoughtfully. “Oh and there was that girl Fiearius showed up with all of a sudden. Before those guys with the uniforms stormed the place and they both ran off.”

“Yeah,” said Leta blankly, blinking her eyes, “what the hell was that about?”

Cyrus just shook his head. “I don’t wanna know, frankly.”

Leta wasn’t sure if she wanted to know the answer, but nonetheless, after a short pause, she ventured, casually as she could, “So do you think Fiear took that woman back to the ship with him?”

The look Cyrus gave her in return was one of pure, unadulterated disgust. “Please,” he begged, “please don’t ever ask me that ever.”

Leta laughed, but it was a half-hearted, short laugh that died quickly. “I didn’t say you had to picture — alright, nevermind, sorry.” A tired sigh passed through her lungs — thank the gods she’d soon be passed out in her own bunk, ready to sleep away her headache. “Let’s just go back to the ship and pretend last night never happened, yeah?”

“Good idea,” Cyrus muttered, but then he suddenly stopped short, his eyes widening. “Or perhaps not…” he muttered, pointing up ahead at the docks where a large vacant spot lay open, just a patch of sand blowing in the wind. Leta’s mouth fell open. The Dionysian–it was gone.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Was there any chance his loyal, faithful crew hadn’t noticed the Dionysian was gone from the docks? Any chance at all? Given his luck lately, Fiearius had to guess no, which was why, once he’d landed the ship late that morning, he stalked through the cargo bay toward the exit, in a hurry to get this confrontation over with, thanks.

Unfortunately, he still had some rather vocal company.

“You can’t do this, Fiear!” Richelle was hurrying down the stairs after him, desperation in her voice as she grabbed for his arm. “I told you, I’m not going, I’m not going back to Paraven!”

Fiearius wasn’t interested nor concerned with why this girl wanted to avoid her home planet so much, so he merely grunted, “Yes, you are,” and punched the gear to lower the exterior ramp.

“No, I can’t go back here! Let’s just go — you said I could come with you! You said so last night!”

Fiearius glanced at her begrudgingly. What the hell was the matter with this girl? He’d met plenty of ship-chasers before, most of which were beyond desperate to get off their local rock, but rarely were any quite this adamant when they ended up back there anyway.

But whatever the reason, it had nothing to do with him. Once the cargo bay door creaked open, Fiearius marched outside.

Predictably, the scowling, dark faces of his crew greeted him at the bottom of the ramp, each looking sunburnt, exhausted and dirty,like they had been waiting for hours.

“Oh look, the great captain returns for his abandoned crew,” Corra called bitterly as Cyrus shook his head and Leta glared at him in disgust.

“I can’t believe you flew the ship when you were that drunk,”  she muttered. “Are you completely insane?”

The only person not calling for his beheading was Finn, who sat on the ground a few feet away, smirking tiredly. “But still, overall, a pretty good night, eh mate? Hey — how’d you even get away from those authorities who were runnin’ after you, anyway?”

“Yeah, what was that about?” asked Cyrus suddenly. “Those people chasing you last night. What’d you do?”

Fiearius was perplexed. “What people? I didn’t do anything. Why do you automatically assume I did something?”

“Because you did do something,” said Finn at once, amused and interested now. He glanced up the ramp of the ship and smirked “Don’t you remem-”

But his words were cut off. “Wait,” said Leta sharply, shielding her eyes from the sun and following Finn’s eyeline, “who’s that?”

Fiearius knew who she was looking at before he even glanced backwards. On top of the ramp, Richelle was standing with her hands planted on her hips in defiance, glaring at him as she shouted, “I’m not going back!”

Fiearius shook his head at her, but Leta repeated, “Go back?“All at once, confusion and disgust darkened over her face. “Wait, she’s who you brought back with you to the ship last night? But she’s — “

Chapter 41: Paraven Pt. 3

While Leta grappled for a response, Corra was offended on her behalf. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she demanded, flaring up.

Fiearius shrugged one shoulder, glancing toward the ceiling. “It just means that a little flirtation is harmless, that’s all.”

“Oh really?” Corra snapped back, planting her hands on her hips. “Think Ren would agree with that?”

“Corra — “ Leta muttered warningly, suddenly willing this conversation to end before it built up and exploded. Fiearius and Corra got into tiffs often, but never about her.

But neither of them listened. “Not if he never finds out,” said Fiearius bluntly, and Leta gaped at him.

“Yeah, let’s all take relationship advice from Mr. Non-commitment,” Corra said, her voice laced in sarcasm. “That’ll turn out well. What’s the longest you’ve even been with someone? Four hours? And then just find someone new to sleep with at the next dock?” She rolled her eyes and told Leta firmly, “Don’t listen to him, he doesn’t know anything.”

“One, what I do in my shore leave is none of your damn business. And two, it’s not like it matters,” Fiearius argued. “Getting a drink and having a chat isn’t fucking, it’s just getting a drink and having a chat. It’s innocent.”

“But it can lead to something that’s not innocent,” she pointed out.

Fiearius’ eyes narrowed. “Or it could not.” Just as Corra opened her mouth to argue back, he cut her off. “Not giving much credence to self-restraint, are you? It is possible to hold back primal urges, y’know.”

Leta glanced between them. “Why are we even talking about this?”

“No no, self-restraint’s possible,” Corra went on, ignoring her, “but even if you can hold back, the intention’s still there.”

Fiearius scoffed. “What intention? Just because you talk to someone means you wanna fuck ‘em?”

“No, but– “ Corra began confidently before she was interrupted.

“No, that’s right,” Fiearius snapped. “It doesn’t mean that. So why can’t she have a drink and have a chat without her boyfriend getting dragged into it, huh?”

Corra suddenly cocked her head to the side dangerously. “Why are you so intent on getting her to be unfaithful?”

“It’s not being unfaithful, that’s exactly my point.”

“Yeah? If you were engaged to her,” she gestured to Leta, “would you want her flirting with other men?”

Leta was certain she was blushing bright red by now, even more so when Fiearius said loudly, “If I was engaged to her, I sure as hell would be confident enough in that to not get all worked up over it.”

Corra crossed her arms, unconvinced. “But why the hell are you being so defensive about this anyway?”

“I’m not being defensive.”

“Yes you are.”

“No I’m not.”

“Clearly, you are — “

“Would you stop?” groaned Fiearius. Before Corra could speak again, he snapped, “Look, I don’t give a shit what she does or doesn’t do, okay? So stop.”

“Well obviously you do give a shit if–”

“Enough, already!” gasped Leta, finally bursting with anger and embarrassment.  “Just – quit talking about me like I’m not standing right here, would you?”Pointedly avoiding Fiearius’ eye, she muttered “I’m going to find Cyrus,” and pushed away from the bar.

Behind her, she could hear Corra yelling at him (“look, you upset her, ass!”), and while Leta did not want to admit it, their argument had taught her one thing: it was time to do something about Fiearius.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

“Lady problems?” posed Finn’s cheerful voice in Fiearius’ ear, elbowing him pointedly as he sidled up at the bar. Apparently, Finn had witnessed the last five minutes of Corra raging at him before finally, mercifully, she stormed off after Leta.

Fiearius only groaned in response and dropped his forehead on the bar.

“That bad huh?” said Finn, now sounding amused. “What the hell happened?”

“Fuck if I even know,” Fiearius muttered under his breath.

“Nice. Well, I just spent a half hour flirting with a married woman whose husband, she regrets to inform me, is a bounty hunter, so before I’m slaughtered, I think it’s time to play one last drinking game.” He waved over the bartender.

“Good plan,” Fiearius agreed, pulling himself up to attention. “I propose a game we’ll call ‘Tank the Tiki’. The rules are simple.” He lifted his ridiculous glass to his friend and smirked. “Whoever gets drunkest fastest wins.”

Finn seized his drink. “You’re on.”


Chapter 41: Paraven Pt. 2

It was, quite possibly, the tackiest bar Leta had ever seen. Actual dirty beach sand was strewn across the floor and neon lights flashed green and blue. It was a tiki bar, Corra had informed her excitedly, before pulling her inside. The scene was both horrifying and fascinating, and as she stood in the crowd of patrons, nursing a glass of water, Leta found herself observing more than participating in the party.

At her side, Corra was excitedly explaining the origins behind the carved wooden tiki head adorning a nearby wall. It certainly wasn’t the first time she’d gone off on a history lesson and clearly Cyrus was used to it as he feigned interest perfectly. “So it’s from the Origin then?” he asked politely.

“Yeah, I read all about them in this book,” Corra told him, buying into his ruse. “There’s this legend about how the tiki man was the first man and from him came all others.”

Cyrus nodded slowly, hardly paying attention as he sipped his drink. After a moment, he asked, “That guy?” pointing at the angry face on the wall.

“Yeah, that guy,” Corra replied, a little irritated at his lack of commitment to this conversation.

He eyed the horrifying face glaring at him a moment longer before muttering, “His poor wife…”

Corra appeared ready to launch into the next phase of the lesson, but Cyrus beat her to the punch, turning to Leta and asking, “Why aren’t you drinking?” He raised his own drink, a fruity concoction held in an actual cut of pineapple with a tiny umbrella sticking out of the top. “They may look stupid, but they do taste good.”

It was a moment before Leta realized she was being addressed. With a start, she tore her eyes away from a bright neon mermaid sign. “Wh — actually, I’m not feeling well.”

“When has that ever stopped you?” said Corra bluntly.

Leta almost argued, but she snorted instead, admitting defeat. “Good point. I’ll get a drink.”

Sliding through the crowd of people, Leta moved to the bar counter and was surprised to find herself standing next to — of all people — Fiearius. They locked eyes in surprise and at once, a smirk arrived on his scruffy face.

“You know, if you wanna buy me a drink, kiddo, you don’t have to ask.”

“Nice to see you too, Fiear,” said Leta politely, although she grinned back before picking up the drink menu. The menu featured only obnoxious, sugary, brightly-colored cocktails, the kind Leta would never order on a regular day, but in this instance she leaned in and ordered the drink. But not for herself.

“Here ya go, sir,” said the bartender moments later, arriving with the most ridiculous drink Leta had ever seen. It was in a tiki head mug overflowing with pure sugar-water, complete with a mini umbrella and yellow straw sticking out of it. He did not hand it to Leta, but rather, to Fiearius. “From the lady, here.”

Leta barely stifled her giggles as Fiearius stared in disbelief at the drink, then arched an eyebrow at her knowingly. Then he reached for it — he had to use two hands — with no shame whatsoever.


“I’m flattered,” he cooed sweetly, tilting the straw toward his mouth expertly. “So,” he mused, a suggestive hint in his eyes. “You come here often?”

For a moment Leta simply eyed him. She couldn’t discern between his joking flirtatious advances or his real ones (did he have real ones?) these days. But rather than dismiss him as she knew she should have, she followed her first impulse: she reached to take the glass from his hand and sipped it. “Thank the gods, no. Can you believe that this is my first tiki bar experience?”

“That so? Well I daresay you’ve been missin’ out.” He reached for the mug again, taking it back from her and took a long drink, too long, as if he were stalling. When he finally brought his drink down back to the bar, he glanced over at her thoughtfully and then promptly looked away.

“So,” he began abruptly. “What’s new?”

Leta blinked. In all her time aboard, Fiearius had literally never asked her any form of niceties, and for one moment, her stomach turned over. Did he — ? No, he couldn’t possibly have known.

After a spell of silence in which Leta simply stared, he cleared his throat and changed the subject, glancing around the bar casually. “Suppose this place was Corra’s choice?”

Glad for the awkward moment to pass, Leta laughed. “Yes, how’d you know? She loves places like this. And Cyrus is over there pretending to like it, for her sake … “

“Is he still on that?” Fiearius groaned as he lifted his drink to his lips, but it stopped a few inches away and suddenly he pointed at her instead. “I’m blaming you, by the way. For encouraging him.”

Leta looked through the bar. Corra was still lecturing Cyrus on the decor, if the way she waved her hand around was any indication.

“I make no apologies,” said Leta, raising her voice with dignity. “He should be happy. Besides, I don’t see you setting him up with anybody.”

“Fair point. Let’s change that, shall we?” Suddenly, Fiearius spun around on his stool and scanned over the crowded bar. Then he unabashedly pointed to a nearby woman in a short grass skirt and coconut bra holding a tray of drinks. “How about her?”

“That’s a waitress,” said Leta composedly.

“Yeah, she’s a working girl. He’ll like that.” Admiring the woman a moment longer, he added, “He’ll like the skirt too…”

Leta wrinkled her nose. “He’d probably be allergic to it. What about her?” she added innocently, tilting her head toward a woman who was awkwardly climbing onto a table to dance.

Fiearius barked a laugh. “Ah yeah, now we’re onto something. How ‘bout the blonde in the corner who looks like she’s about the vomit?”

“She’s on the short list,” Leta confirmed at once. “And what about the guy holding her hair back?” She pointed. “He’s quite handsome. Is Cyrus interested in men at all?”

Looking suddenly thoughtful, Fiearius frowned. “Y’know, I’ve always wondered. I don’t think so … ” He shrugged carelessly and added, “If you think that guy’s so handsome, why not buy him a drink yourself?” He grinned suggestively. “Nothing more appealing to a guy than a girl handin’ ya a tiki head with a pink umbrella.”

“No thanks. I’d rather not.”

“Why not?” Fiearius asked, nudging her with his elbow. “No harm in it. Why not order another mug of tiki brains and go say hi?”

“Because she’s a married woman, that’s why not,” came a cheerful voice behind her suddenly. It was Corra, swinging her arms around Leta’s neck and beaming drunkenly at the pair.

Fiearius didn’t seem to appreciate the interruption. He rolled his eyes at her and turned back toward the bar. But that didn’t stop Leta from hearing what he suddenly muttered sharply under his breath.

“She ain’t married yet.”

Even Corra heard it. Leta felt her smile drop off of her face in surprise. No, she wasn’t married yet, and the nastiness in Fiearius’ voice made her suddenly feel very warm around the neck, like a spotlight had been forced over her head.

Chapter 40: Fighting It Off Pt. 3

“What is it?” he asked slowly, trying to keep his voice gentle, although he wasn’t sure he wanted to know, honestly. “Is this — is this about the fight earlier?” he asked, scratching his hair nervously.  He asked himself quickly — what would Elsa, one of his ex-girlfriends, have done? She was always good at this shit. Unfortunately, she was unreachable, far away at the military base. And Leta was still in front of him, hastily brushing away tears with her wrist.

“Do you want me to go get someone?” Finn went on. “Cy … Corra … Fiear? Or — ”

At that, Leta made a noise of disbelief — it was either a hiccup or a laugh, he couldn’t tell. “Why the hell would you go get Fiearius?”

“Er, no idea,” Finn admitted, smirking uncertainly. “He’s even worse at this stuff than I am.”

The words hung in the air as Leta watched Finn for a moment, looking terribly worried, then moved her eyes away, hugging her arms tighter across her chest. Probably this was his cue to leave, but Finn found himself immobile as he tapped his fingers on the counter and went on, as if playing a game.

“Is this … about your fiance?” he guessed. “Or is iiit … uh … well y’know, I can’t help if you don’t tell me.”

At that, Leta did laugh, heavy and breathless. “You can’t help even if I do tell you,” she muttered, and it was then he noticed Leta lean back on the counter and, subtly as she could, pick up the discarded piece of paper and turn it back over, shielding it from view.

Finn glanced at the paper a moment — well, whatever it was she couldn’t tell him, clearly that piece of paper knew.  He was just considering reaching for it when Leta spoke, seemingly out of nowhere.

“Have you known Fiearius for a long time then?” she wondered, steadying her shaky voice and rubbing her nose with the back of her hand.

Finn blinked, then recovered his surprise — maybe she just wanted to talk.

“Yeah, awhile,” he said at last, leaning his hip against the counter and frowning in thought. “We met at a bar at a couple years ago, on some shitty backwater planet, right after I got kicked outta the military.”

“So you were in the military,” she muttered, passingly curious. “You’re from Carthis then?”

“Naw, I’m actually from Archeti,” he said, and he saw the mild surprise in her face. Most people who grew up on that gang-ridden planet never managed to leave. “Grew up there, went to the military academy to become a fighter pilot.”

“But you got kicked out?”

“Er, it’s a long story,” said Finn, grinning. “Anyway, so I met Fiearius at this dive. We were drunk and started yelling insults at one another ‘cause he — well you’ve seen him, he’s got all those tattoos. All of ‘em are symbols of the Society. And Carthians are no fans of the Society … what with all those territorial disputes and all. And I happened to be wearing a Carthian military jacket,” he recalled, starting to laugh. “Old habits, I guess. So tradition tells us we were supposed to beat the shit out of each other. But we bought one another a round instead. And the rest, as they say, is history.”

Leta’s lips twitched toward a half-smile. After a moment, Finn went on, choosing his words carefully, “And y’know, I know the guy pretty well. And clearly  … he cares. About you. I mean, he was a jackass earlier. But if something was really — wrong with you right now, he’d want to help — “

Was this the wrong thing to say? Leta’s eyes widened and her smile faded, her mouth forming a thin, hard line. After a moment she glanced to the floor and muttered, “I know,” in a voice that was neither happy nor distressed.

Finn wasn’t sure what else to do or say — but then, Leta’s forehead wrinkled again, and her eyes filled with fresh tears that began to pour silently down her face. And although he barely knew this woman, he found he couldn’t really handle the sight of her crying. And she was clearly important to Fiearius, one of his best friends; he had to do something …

Which was why Finn glanced to the side and sharply slid the piece of paper off the counter, bringing it quickly to his eyes as Leta looked up in alarm. Before she could snatch it away, he read through it hastily and felt his heart turn over in his chest.


Chapter 40: Fighting It Off Pt. 2

Stepping behind her, Finn wound his forearm around her neck, capturing her in a chokehold for her escape. Over her head, he glimpsed Fiearius staring dully at him before Leta used evasive tactics, striking his ribcage with her elbow and slipping from his grip.

From the sidelines, Fiearius scoffed, “That would never work.”

Leta’s face darkened, but she purposely looked away from Fiearius. Finn, however, was intrigued to see where this was going. “Oh?”

“She’s too weak,” he said bluntly, lifting his shoulder in a shrug. “If someone was actually trying to choke her, no way she could get out of it like that.”

At last, Leta gasped in insult and wheeled around. “Weak? Did you just call me weak?”

“All I’m saying is if someone twice your size is tryin’ to kill ya, no amount of fancy hand formations are gonna stop that,” Fiearius said simply, sounding actually serious about the topic. “Kick him in the balls, bite him, pull his hair, fight dirty. He’s gonna be. You’re gonna have to as well.” He gestured at Finn and a smirk pulled across his face. “No offense, mate. Just think all that special Carthian technique’s a bit bullshit out in the real world.”

“That’s funny coming from behind such a massive black eye,” Corra pointed out bluntly, raising a brow at him as she added sarcastically, “Oh captain, master of the fight.”

Leta kept her eyes on Fiearius for a beat longer, her mouth clenched tightly. “Thanks for the advice,” she muttered dryly, turning her back on him and facing Finn again. Clearly working to reign in her frustration, she inhaled sharply, “Let’s go again. Come at me this time.”

For a moment, Finn simply stared at her and lifted his eyebrows wearily. He wasn’t sure he wanted to be in the middle of this anymore … clearly, Fiearius was invested in her well being … but then again, she did sincerely want to learn …

Sighing, he nodded, and then crossed forward over the mat to seize her arms. This time, she reacted quicker than she ever had and pulled every move together: she twisted her wrist, wrenched away and effectively nailed a punch to his arm, sending him staggering back in surprise.

Finn steadied himself, grasping his shoulder. “Whoa,” he said, blinking slowly. “Fiear should piss you off more often,” he muttered, and Leta smiled uncertainly. “No, seriously, that was really, really good,” he assured her, and this time Leta’s grin sort of exploded all over her face.

“Yeah? Really?”

“Definitely,” said Finn fervently, still feeling surprised but nonetheless impressed.  “Guess you learn quickly. The whole crew can sleep a little better with skills like that next door.“

“Great, one less thing for me to worry about,” Fiearius interrupted suddenly, his voice bitter with sarcasm. “I feel a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.” He pushed himself to his feet and started to leave the room, still somewhat unsteady on his feet — but nonetheless, his exit had an impact on at least one person in the room.

“What the hell’s wrong with him anyway?” snapped Corra impatiently, throwing her hands in the air.

“What isn’t wrong with him?” muttered Cyrus, rolling his eyes.

“Who knows,” Leta said quietly, pressing her fingers to her forehead. Finn was about to suggest they go for another round when she said, “Actually — actually I feel kind of tired. Dizzy. Let’s just call it a day, yeah?”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Later that night, Finn found himself in dire need of painkillers. Although he didn’t want to admit just how sore and achey he was after their stint in the cargo bay, he’d certainly earned an unpleasant reminder that he wasn’t a spry, fit twenty-two year old cadet anymore. Gods, he wasn’t even in his mid-twenties any longer. Was he really going to be twenty-nine soon? At least he was younger than Fiearius …

Grimacing to himself, Finn slowly wound his way downstairs toward the infirmary. When he stepped inside, he received a jolt of surprise — he wasn’t alone down here. Leta was leaning against one of the exam benches, intently regarding a slip of paper in her hands.


If he was surprised to have company, it was nothing compared to her reaction. Leta nearly jumped out of her skin, gaping at him as if he’d caught her undressed.

“Whoa, easy killer,” he laughed, wondering if she was still jumpy because of Ludo, as he crossed into the room.

“Yeah, hi,” she breathed, clasping one hand to her chest. Clearly flustered, she turned back to the counter, holding one hand across her forehead as her eyes darted around. “Do you — what is it you need?”

“Just some aspirin. I can get it,” said Finn, waving her off and approaching the cabinet beside her. But it was then he glanced sideways and noticed Leta wasn’t just startled; she was downright upset. Her eyes were red-rimmed and glassy, her voice hoarse from what must have been — crying. Was she crying alone down here?

She was doing her best to avoid his eyes, awkwardly straightening jars along the shelf. Finn slowly opened the cabinet and ventured, “You uh — you okay?”

Apparently, it was exactly the wrong thing to say. Leta’s hands gripped the counter and she gazed at the row of jars, her forehead scrunching, her eyes suddenly, horribly, filling with tears.

“Oh shit,” Finn breathed, closing the cabinet quickly, now downright alarmed. Female tears were horrible to witness, especially from her — usually, this woman was hard as stone.

Chapter 39: Flesh and Blood Pt. 3


“Of course. At that point, I was the prime agent of Internal Affairs, along with Dez. Which meant we were used to the most dangerous jobs and the most responsibility. Natural way of things, then, to offer me the Verdant gig.” He took a deep breath here and looked down. “Unfortunately, job offers from the Society aren’t made of paperwork and signatures. And the poor bastard who already had the position? He hadn’t left yet…”

“Did you — you killed him?”

“I didn’t want to,” he defended instantly. “I–they wanted me to. The council wanted me to. Which was very reassuring, considering doing so would cause me to take his place and probably end up in the exact same boat sooner or later.” He rolled his eyes. “I didn’t want it. At that point, I just–I wanted to leave. Get away from all their fucking games and bullshit and–I was tired of so much fucking death. But–” His words caught in his throat as the memory of that very fateful afternoon, something he often tried to forget, came flooding back to him.

Finally, he swallowed the lump in his throat and finished, “But they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. So I did it. But I…I couldn’t stay. I couldn’t be–I ran…” He looked down at his hands, fidgeting nervously in his lap and frowned.  “I just…ran.” He sighed heavily and looked up at the ceiling. “Which wasn’t easy, mind you. Any legitimate ship would have all eyes on it looking out for me and they’d cut me off from all my accounts so buying myself passage on an illegitimate ship wasn’t even an option regardless.”

“Fortunately, there was still one person out there not buried in the organization and with enough spare cash to help me out,” he explained. “And you know what they say about the thickness of blood. Even after ten years of separation, all it took was twenty minutes of shouting for Cyrus to agree to lend me a hand. And a few hundred thousand credits to buy this beauty.” He gestured up at the ship around them.

“I always wondered how you got this ship,” said Leta thoughtfully, glancing up at the ceiling with unexpected fondness.

“Not that it did me any good at first,” Fiearius went on. “At the time I didn’t know what I had run off with.” He turned his wrist over to examine it. “When you join the Society, they implant a unique CID right here.” He tapped the base of his hand where the identifying microchip had been injected oh so many years ago. “That way you’ll always have access to your information and it’s impossible for it to be stolen or lost or…anything. It’s just there. Always.”

He took a deep breath and leaned forward again. “It’s sort of an archaic system at this point, but the Verdant’s CID is…special. Not only does it have full access to all of the Society databases across the whole span in every department. More than that. It’s…uniquely transferrable.” He grimaced as he explained, “Society weaponry carries data signatures specific to its user. When I shot the Verdant? His CID wiped clean. And mine…got a lot more expansive.”

He’d captured Leta’s attention now. Her mouth was hanging open. “You have access to the Society’s complete database?”

“How do you think I was able to find the Baltimore so easily?” he asked with a shrug. “I have everything. Everything they don’t want me to have. And until someone else comes along and ‘transfers’ it away? They can’t have it back.” He smirked tiredly. “They built the Verdant system to be unreasonably secure. Unfortunately for them….they picked the wrong Verdant and now they’re stuck. Can’t choose a new one ‘til I’m dead. Can’t kill me ‘til they catch me. And haven’t had much luck with that so far.”

He smiled at her simply for a moment until he frowned suddenly and added, “That, by the way, is the part you can’t tell anyone about. D’ya know how many aspiring little Society bastards are gonna come after me if they knew a tagged bullet to the head would give them the highest title in the whole organization?” He grimaced in disgust. “It’s bad enough with just Dez. Not a word.”

Leta was simply gaping at him. Any second now, he figured, she’d have a whole slew of questions for him — particularly about her fiance. It always went back to that with her, didn’t it? She’d demand more about how to use this to get to him. She’d want to know more about where he was, see the plans for the prison ships, get any and all information possible until she could order Fiearius to sail out there right now and rescue him.

But to his surprise, what she said was, “Why’re you telling me this?”

Fiearius blinked at her slowly, finding himself shocked and, undoubtedly, confused. “I don’t know,” he admitted after a moment. It was perhaps the most sensitive information he’d been keeping and he’d just spilled the whole lot of it to Leta without even second-guessing himself. Why had he told her this?

Accusingly, he held up the whiskey bottle, nearly emptied now, and glared at it. “I must be drunk,” he concluded at last. “Or just stupid.” He eyed Leta carefully in his peripheral. Somehow, as stupid as it was, he wasn’t struck by any particular feeling that he’d done the wrong thing. His gut genuinely didn’t seem to believe that Leta knowing his most well-protected secret would change anything. She wouldn’t do anything with it. She wouldn’t breathe a word of it. It was safe with her, he somehow knew. After today, after…well, everything, he could trust her with at least that.

“Well regardless,” he said suddenly, “you know now.” He looked down at his hands and then laughed, “Figures a doctor would get it all out, huh? Why I’m here and,” he laughed again, bitterly, “why I’m crazy. Don’t even think about making a study out of this, by the way or perhaps I’ll go nuts on you too.”

Leta frowned, surveying him closely. “Do you want my professional opinion?”

“Not really,” he admitted.

“You’re not nuts,” she said, plowing forward as usual. “You just have triggers. And Ludo found one of them.”

Fiearius sighed heavily. “Yeah, I suppose he did.” He glanced over at her and his face softened. “Well, thanks for getting me outta there. And patching up my messes.” He lifted his bandaged arm to look it over. “Literal and figurative…” he muttered. “How many times have you saved my sorry ass now?” He chuckled grimly, but met her eyes with a serious stare as he finally confessed, “Pretty sure I’d be dead by now if you hadn’t shown up. So — thanks.”

Leta’s lips twitched toward a smile as she muttered, “Anytime.” For someone who always demanded his recognition and gratitude, this time, she simply shrugged one shoulder.

It was then he noticed the thin cut in Leta’s cheekbone. A fresh line of blood ran through it, catching his eye at once. “Ah shit, kiddo,” he muttered, reaching out to wipe the drop away with his thumb. “You okay?”

He realized a second too late that he’d startled her: her shoulders went tense and rigid. But she did not, as he would have expected next, pull away.

“Wh — no, I’m fine,” she dismissed, her voice quieting. He knew he was supposed to, but he didn’t withdraw his hand from gently holding the smooth angle of her face. To his amazement, she only continued to gaze at him in a muted kind of alarm, but he swore he felt her soften against his hand.

It was a precarious moment, as if time had halted. Fiearius was certain there was no right move here, but he couldn’t help it — he met her eyes, and then his gaze lowered. He could have counted every freckle on her face. It was then a voice broke over the room.

“Hey, everything al –”

It was Cyrus. He stopped short in the doorway, looking startled. Fiearius felt Leta slide away discreetly and his hand dropped.

“Are you okay?” asked Cyrus, clearly noticing the layer of bruises on his face. But then his eyes darted toward Leta with a hint of suspicion, and he ventured, “Is everything — alright?”

“Everything’s fine,” said Leta hastily before he could answer. She pushed herself down from the bench and was not, he noticed, meeting anyone’s eye as she started to put medical supplies back on the counter. “Everything’s fine — “

Fiearius had never seen Leta look so flustered before. It was an odd sight: she kept her back turned to them and closed all the cabinets in quick succession. Tearing his eyes away, he forced a grin at his brother. “C’mon, Cy. I’ve been more beat up than this before.”

“He just needs rest,” Leta assured him, pulling her bag off the counter and turning toward the door. She passed Cyrus a watered-down smile, bid him goodnight, and slipped past him toward the hallway, a definite note of urgency in her step.

“Er — goodnight,” said Cyrus blankly, although she’d already disappeared. Silence blanketed the infirmary for a moment until Cyrus turned back toward Fiearius and arched an eyebrow in suspicion. “What the hell was that about?”


Chapter 39: Flesh and Blood Pt. 2

“No, I’m not telling you that.”


“Because you don’t need to know.”

“Sure I do. For medical reasons.”

“Medical reasons? Medical reasons?

“Just tell me.”

“Fine.” Fiearius groaned, relenting at last. “It’s Exzalion.”

Predictably, Leta let out a ringing laugh that filled the infirmary. “Fiearius Exzalion Soliveré?” she repeated, stating each word meaningfully and raising her eyebrows in amazement. “That’s a hell of a middle name. What’s it mean?”

“I don’t know,” Fiearius grumbled good-naturedly, wondering how they had even gotten onto this topic. “It’s some word in old Ridellian. I barely know modern Ridellian, let alone all that crap.”

Fiearius leaned over and plucked the whiskey bottle from her hands to take a long swig that burned down his throat. The bottle was nearly empty now, and he was feeling warm and woozy … when had this happened?

Sometime in the past hour, the tone of the room had lightened. Darkness and guilt and shame were still hanging uncomfortably over his shoulder, lingering just out of sight, ready to pull him in, but a distraction had arrived in the form of conversation, laughter and the woman seated next to him.

Frankly, he was surprised Leta was still down here at all. She’d looked ready to bolt after treating his wounds and he couldn’t blame her. But perhaps he wasn’t the only one hiding from something: to his surprise, she too had taken a long swig from the whiskey bottle and sidled up on the bench beside him, swinging her legs to the floor and making herself comfortable, like they were out at a bar and it was the most natural act in the world.

Fiearius was just tiredly admiring a particularly dark stain of crimson streaked across her blouse — was that his blood, or hers? — when she started chanting his name curiously, as if trying the word on for size and deciding she rather liked it. “Exzalion. Exzalion. Exzalion. Interesting. So did you get teased for that in school?”


“Teased?” he repeated incredulously, pulling his eyes away and smirking lopsidedly at her.  “Please, I grew up on Satieri. Nearly everyone had crazy old Ridellian names. Hell, my parents actually did me a favor with Exzalion, I knew a guy whose first name was Sna’il. Didn’t help that he was the slowest runner in the whole class.”

Leta snorted, then leaned forward to reclaim the whiskey bottle from his hands. “Well he should’ve done what I always did in school, and skipped gym and recess.”

“Ironic,” he remarked thoughtfully. “Since now you’re, you know, a doctor, specialist in health and all that…”

Leta took a tiny sip of the whiskey, then smirked wryly around the rim of the bottle. “Oh you’d be surprised. Health care professionals can be very self-destructive.”

“Yeah I can see that,” he muttered, eyeing her thoughtfully through the slight alcohol-induced fuzz in his vision. He lost track of the conversation for a moment, until he said, “Suppose being from that planet of yours doesn’t help much, huh?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know, with how cold and dreary and,” he grimaced in disgust, “wet that place is. No wonder you can handle your liquor so well, growing up in a depressing place like that.”

“Depressing? Vescent is one of the most beautiful places in the span!” she yelped, throwing out her hands. Pink flushed her cheeks brightly as she went on, clearly impassioned, “You can’t even imagine what the Inner Harbor looks like at night. Or what the gardens look like in autumn. The city is all white stone architecture … and on the shore, all these quaint beach towns … not to mention, we have the best food,” she informed him with satisfaction. “It’s peaceful, it’s not depressing.”

She scowled at him, a storm cloud in her face. But a moment later, the storm dissolved and she admitted carefully, “Although it is — it is changing. The main city is changing. Since the Society started growing there … “

Fiearius figured as much. He had become well aware over the years of the Society’s effects on a place.  “Yeah I can certainly understand that. Though I guess I haven’t really seen the change personally,” he admitted after a pause. “Satieri was infested with the Society long before I was born.”

“And that was a really really long time ago,” she pointed out, arching her eyebrows significantly as she barely held in a snort.

“It wasn’t that long ago,” he scoffed. “I’m only 27.”

“You’re almost 30, your birthday’s in July, I looked you up,” she said without missing a beat.

Fiearius blinked. Looked him up? “Wait, wha–” he began, but before he could ask, she cut him off.

“So did you like growing up on Satieri?”

Fiearius regarded her suspiciously for a moment, feeling particularly confused about what had just happened. His head was just a little too sluggish to figure it out though so he relented and replied, “Oh yeah. I loved it. Have you been? She’s gorgeous.” He spread his hand out in front of him and narrowed his eyes into the distance. “Just miles and miles of desert and then these huge shining metropolises, it’s incredible. Nice warm sunshine-y days, crisp cold nights. And Paradiex itself is the best damn city in the span. Can’t ever run out of things to do. Every day’s a new experience.”

A happy lilt caught in his voice — he couldn’t help it when he talked about home. But when he looked to the side again, he found Leta tilting her head at him curiously, much too curiously, and he knew at once he was about to be asked one of the dreaded questions.

“So why’d you leave then?” she wondered.

A heavy sigh released from his chest. “I didn’t have a choice.”

She continued to stare at him unabashedly, unapologetically eager, and Fiearius had to grumble, “Is there any chance I’m getting out of answering this?”

She blinked her wide green eyes and said, “No.”

He groaned and ran his fingers over his forehead. “Fine. But you can’t ever repeat this, okay? I’m serious. Not to anyone. There’re only like three people in the span who know and if anyone else finds out–well, we’ll all be fucked, okay? So not a word. Not even to Corra. Promise?”

“I … okay,” she agreed slowly, looking startled.

He kept her stare a moment longer before he exhaled sharply and leaned back on his palms. “They gave me a promotion,” he replied simply and for a long moment, left it at that. There were only so many words, after all, and this was not an easy thing to explain. Tentatively, he glanced at her. “Your planet’s got a Society following now. You know who the Verdant is?”

Leta’s eyes were wide and shining with curiosity, reflecting the lights overhead. “No?” she guessed, sounding uncertain.

“What, seriously? Gods, don’t you pay attention to anything?” he groaned, rolling his eyes and ignoring the fact that anyone not within the system likely wouldn’t have a clue. “The Verdant is the Society council’s contact. They’re sort of this faceless voiceless entity that no one has access to for security reasons. No one except the Verdant, that is. Its the Verdant’s job to be the interface between them and the department heads. The Verdant knows everything that’s going on in all branches of the Society at all times. It’s a–well it’s a pretty big responsibility. And more than a bit dangerous. So guess who they tried to give the job to.”

Chapter 38: Monsters Pt. 3

It was Finn, pushing himself forward to the edge of the crowd, out of breath, a gun in his hand. He was not alone. Corra and Cyrus hurried forward, just a few minutes too late. Both of them stared, thunderstruck, at the body of Ludo. And then at the man who killed him.

Corra’s hands flew over her mouth. “Oh god,” she muttered between her fingers. To Leta, she assured, “We came as soon as we heard but–” Her eyes traveled back to Fiearius. “Oh god…”

At her side, Cyrus looked ready to throw up.

It was indeed a sick sight. Fiearius stood over the dead body, his face dark, his skin covered in blood, looking every inch the assassin the Society had crafted him to be. He didn’t seem to recognize his brother’s presence, nor his friends’, nor anyone’s. For a man surrounded by people, he had never quite looked so alone.

Suddenly, with more strength than before, Leta moved forward decisively and cut through the crowd, ghost-like, entranced, but with a strange bout of resolution.

She stepped over Ludo’s body as easily as though it was a fallen chair, and then, her hand closed Fiearius’ forearm, her other hand on his shoulder.

“Come on, ” she breathed (she could feel his warm seeping blood on her fingers). “Back to the ship, come on.”

Finally, Fiearius drew his eyes from the crumbled shape of Ludo and met Leta’s stare as though he didn’t recognize her. His eyes were dazed and for a moment, it seemed he didn’t know where he was. Slowly, realization dawned over his features. He looked down at the gun in his hand, as though surprised to find it there, and back to the corpse, finding that too unfamiliar.

And when his gaze came back to Leta there was something there she had never seen in him before. Fiearius, so typically cocky and arrogant and full of swagger, looked–he couldn’t have been–frightened?

To her relief, he did not fight her when she tugged gently on his arm to lead him away. The gun slipped from his fingers, thudding to the ground. His eyes were on his feet as she guided him toward the door, her hand circled around his forearm. Cyrus, Corra and Finn simply stared at them, dumbfounded.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

It wasn’t enough for Leta to lead Fiearius out of the bar. With her hand tightened around his wrist, she led him all the way through the city, back to the docks, toward the Dionysian. She guided him up the ship’s ramp, passing through the cargo bay, the crew deck, the emptied corridors, until they reached the bridge.

The bridge, where he belonged, lest he had forgotten. It was for her sake as much as it was his: it was only when Fiearius moved forward and slowly dropped into his captain’s chair that she managed to take a breath.

And that was all she wanted. Him, here. Alive. Ludo’s death was a justified one in her eyes, but gods, she’d almost lost Fiearius for it. And it showed. Crimson streaked down his arms and coated his hair; his face was a mess of forming bruises; he looked exhausted enough to sink to the floor as he stared hollowly at the dashboard, eerily silent.

Words sat readily on her tongue. She wanted to rage at him for not knowing earlier what kind of monster Ludo was. She wanted to tell him he was an absolute maniac for going after ten men in a crowded bar, for nearly getting himself killed, for scaring her to death.

But even as she tried to summon the anger, it never reached the surface. She rested her eyes on the back of his head for a long moment, noting the blood soaking the nape of his neck.

“Let me just  … get her off the ground before someone gets gutsy,” he muttered at last, feigning his best tone of normalcy as he flipped a switch on the console. “Then I’m thinking I might need a bandage or two if you don’t mind.”

Softening, Leta only nodded, not that he could see it. Just when she turned to slip out to go ready the infirmary, he unexpectedly spoke again.

“And thank you. For everything.” His voice was soft, hoarse and utterly burdened with defeat. His words shocked her, and locked her in place, halfway in, halfway out of the cabin.

“And I’m sorry,” he added, even quieter. “For everything.”

All at once, sorrow stirred in her chest. Ludo was gone, but the suffering he caused wasn’t over; this was no victory. And now, she was quietly and tensely aware that she had just witnessed Fiearius at his absolute worst.

Shamefully, she could’ve sworn she felt her throat swell closed of its own accord, but only for a moment. In lieu of a response (no words seemed right, really), she lowered her hand to the slope of his shoulder and stayed there, for a few moments more.


Chapter 38: Monsters Pt. 2

It was the dirtiest fight Leta had ever seen.

From the far end of the room, she clasped a shaking hand over her mouth and watched, transfixed, as Fiearius somehow tore himself free from the three men that held his torso and then threw himself at Ludo like an uncaged animal.

The sight sent an icy tingle down Leta’s back. Fiearius had no sense of self-preservation whatsoever, he was practically animalistic, almost suicidal in his attempt to throw himself at the fight.

But somehow, Ludo was ready for him.

Broad and burly as he was, he was surprisingly agile — graceful, even — when he slid to the side, seized Fiearius by the back of the neck and slammed his forehead onto the edge of the bar with a sickening crack. A second later, Ludo’s men grasped Fiearius’ shoulder and lifted him, allowing Ludo free reign to push up his sleeves and slam his fist into his Fiearius’ jaw over and over, making blood smear over his mouth.

A horrified yell erupted from Leta’s throat, but it was lost in the chaos: all around her, panic was unfolding as people circled closer to the fight in excitement or rushed to the door in fear.

In the chaos, Leta was pressed up against the wall and had to fight her way forward. In the jostle, she glimpsed the fight: Fiearius, outnumbered as he was, still managed to slam his elbow against one of the men and freed himself a second time. But this time, as he lunged at Ludo, he seized a bottle off the bar and crashed it against Ludo’s temple, shattering glass over the screaming crowd.

Ludo let out a yell as Fiearius shoved him against the wall and raised his fist, fury in his eyes. Before he could swing his fist forward, one of Ludo’s men sliced a knife across the flesh of his shoulder.

Fiearius’ raw growl of pain reached Leta’s ears even from twenty feet away and it made her heart grow cold. He was so outnumbered, it was as if he was fighting a whole army himself. Panic gripped her chest as she pushed herself into the fray — she had to get to Fiearius, she had to help —

Leta flung her hand toward her hip to get her weapon. Horribly, she felt nothing there. Her gun was missing, where was her gun?

Fear plunged through her as she wheeled around in horror. In her peripheral she could see Ludo’s men shove Fiearius to the floor, one of them raising a rifle overhead like a bat. She searched the floor for her gun and heard Ludo laughing; she could hear him say “Do you think they’ll miss you? Do you think they’ll miss you when you’re gone?”

And then, Leta saw it. In the far end of the room, a patron, looking horrified and fearful, held up a handgun, moving it between Ludo and Fiearius in confusion. He wanted to end the fight but didn’t know how. For Leta, it was as though the commotion slowed down and she was afforded an eerie moment of perfect clarity.

Time sped up once more, and before she could think, she advanced toward him and grasped the man’s wrist. With all of her strength she twisted his hand toward the ground, so his gunshot exploded into the floor, making screams erupt all around her.

But that didn’t matter; the gun was hers.

Wheeling around, she cried, “Fiearius!”


Three men were forcing him down to his knees, his arms pulled behind his back, when Leta threw the gun. The weapon skidded under the tables, across the floor, and in one last burst of anger, Fiearius lunged for it.

Ludo’s men went after him, struggling, raising their weapons, but in the next moment, a decisive gunshot cracked through the bar. Screams flew through the crowd before the whole bar suddenly hushed, quiet and still.

Leta stopped breathing, gripped in horror. It was only when she elbowed her way forward to see the aftermath that breath returned to her lungs.

The body of Ludo was sprawled across the floor, lifeless and limp as a ragdoll. Blood pooled and pooled from his head, but Leta did not wince. She did not even blink.

It was over.

Ludo’s men stepped away, backing into the crowd, while Fiearius didn’t move. He stood above the body, his chest was heaving, the gun still pointed at Ludo’s head, a mess of red laid on the floor at his feet. His expression was empty. His eyes were stone. All that fury and rage that had brought him here was gone and his struggling over. Now, he was still. Slowly, he lowered the weapon to rest at his side.

Movement rippled through the room. Ludo’s men were looking around in alarm at one another, deciding what to do, if they wanted to defend Ludo after his death. Anxiety rose in Leta’s chest: they had to get out of here. They had to leave.

But before she could make her numb limbs move, a confused voice arrived in her ear.

“What the hell is –“