Category Archives: Part 2-2

Chapter 51: The Long Goodbye Pt. 3

Finally, Gates turned to him. “It’s good to have you on our side, captain.”

Fiearius glanced over at him. Gates was a strange character, one he had yet to fully figure out. He seemed to transcend Fiearius’ natural distrust of Carthians, but he wasn’t so transcendant that Fiearius would say he trusted him. The jury, as it were, was still decidedly out. But he was certain of one thing.

He smirked at the man and shrugged his shoulders. “It’s good to have a side to be on.”

———————–

“Is it always this fuckin’ cold here?” Fiearius grunted, rubbing his palms together as he trotted down the stairs toward the water. Leta laughed.

“It’s spring. This is actually unseasonably warm.”

Leta guessed it did not feel particularly warm to Fiearius. A salty breeze rose as they walked the docks toward the Dionysian. Purple clouds swirled overhead, and there was a hint of thunder in the air. Forks of lightning lanced across the sky.

Slowing to a halt, Leta suddenly felt an odd pang: she really was home again.

Fiearius must have noticed the look on her face. “You alright?”

“It’s just strange. Being here.” She looked back at the city, much dimmer than she remembered. Power was still out in some areas. A few buildings that had once dominated the skyline hadn’t survived the battle. It was Fall’s End, but —

“Part of me feels like I never even left at all. And the other part has never felt so out of place in my life.”

He moved to join her at her side. “The woe of the well-traveled I suppose,” he muttered thoughtfully, shoving his hands into his coat pockets.

Suddenly, as she gazed over the dark churning water, she was struck with a memory. “Did you know this is where we first met?”

“What, Vescent?” He eyed her suspiciously. “Yeah, pretty sure I was aware of that.”

“But here, specifically.” She took a few steps further into the dock. “Right here. This is where the Dionysian was. Dock C.”

Fiearius followed her, his brow drawn together in astonishment. “How the hell do you remember that?”

Because she’d never forget it, she thought at once. She remembered that day in vivid, colorful detail: she’d agreed to follow a panic-stricken Cyrus to this very spot to help his injured brother. On the Dionysian’s ramp stood a towering figure, his handsome face dark and twisted in pain as he’d yelled over the sound of the rushing waves. It was her first image of Fiearius. I should’ve known, Leta thought absently, that you would be trouble.

Aloud, all she said was, “It was only a year ago.”

“Just a year? Feels much longer, you’re fucking exhausting.”

Leta just shook her head, ignoring him.

“I wonder if it would have gone differently,” Leta felt herself mumble. “On Vescent. If I’d been here the whole time, I mean. If I could have helped the riots, or actually done something, or … ”

“Hey.” Fiearius’ voice was sharp, and his eyes burned on her face. “You did do something. We wouldn’t be standing here if it weren’t for you.”

Leta felt herself nod, but it was an empty sentiment. Since she’d killed Morgan, it felt like the Carthians had talked of little else. Their praise made her uneasy, almost nauseous; little did they know, there was nothing heroic about how she’d killed him. She’d been backed into a corner like an injured bleeding animal, fighting for her own life and no one else’s, and she’d barely slipped away. But the Carthians acted like she’d assassinated the man for Vescent, and that Delia had died honorably …

“Speaking of your valiant efforts,” Fiearius said suddenly. “I almost forgot. Gates asked me to give you this.”

He slid his hand into his coat pocket and withdrew something. It was a small white-gold pin, shining even in the dim light, shaped like the Carthian ignisia. In cursive it read:

Dr. Leta Ella Adler

Awarded for Special Services to the Carthian Military

Special services — for killing a Councillor, no doubt. Leta’s stomach clenched. Like she needed another reminder of that horrible day.

“He wanted to have the whole ceremony for you,” Fiearius went on. “I told him it wasn’t your style. So here.”

But Leta shook her head, eyebrows raised. “I don’t want it. I definitely don’t want it. Just drop it in the water for me, will you?”

Fiearius regarded her with amusement. Then, to her surprise, he closed his fist and slipped the pin back into his pocket for safe-keeping.

A beat of expectation passed between them, and Leta realized this was it; there was no reason to linger any longer. This was the goodbye.

“So,” he said, more quietly. “You’re really staying here then.”

“I have to,” Leta said, finding it rather difficult to look him in the eye. She stared at his collarbone instead. “You’d stay too, if your home was in shambles.”

Hours earlier, Gates had asked her to stay and help rebuild Vescent, and how could she refuse? If she stayed on the Dionysian, it would be purely for selfish reasons, purely because that was where Fiearius was and there was no reason to pretend differently. Pushing that thought aside, Leta said quickly, “But what about you? Where will you be off to after your ship’s good as new?”

“Not too sure yet. I’ll let all those fancy Carthian strategists figure that out for the most part. But at some point I’m probably gonna have to hunt down Dez and Varisian. If she’s even still alive…”

Fiearius had told Leta what had happened on that rooftop after she’d left. The fight, the rescue, the defeat. And then he’d left Ophelia with Dez who had promised to deliver her to the Dionysian. Unsurprisingly, Leta had thought, neither of them ever made it to the ship.

“Where do you think they went?”

“Gods, not a clue.” Fiearius dug a hand into his hair and shook his head. “I stopped understanding that man’s motivations a decade ago. But I don’t like this ‘could show up anytime without notice’ situation we’ve got going on right now.”

“At least you’ve got a nice big Carthian posse looking out for you now,” she pointed out with a bit of a smile. She knew better than anyone how Fiearius felt about that.

“They tried to assign me a bodyguard,” he groaned. “Can you believe that? Me? With a bodyguard. I get security, sure, but these people take it way too far.”

“I’ve heard they’re going to start enforcing a more strict lockdown here after that Society ship got through last week,” Leta muttered thoughtfully. “No incoming or outgoing ships whatsoever starting next month. Even Carthian.” After a pause, she muttered, “The Dionysian won’t be coming back for a while.”

She could feel Fiearius watching her intently. After a moment, he asked, “You sure you don’t want to come?”

Internally, Leta knew it was not too late. She could have left her home behind again, climbed aboard the Dionysian and just let the Carthians rebuild Vescent without her.

In a lighter voice than she felt, Leta said, “I couldn’t. We already got your new physician all settled in. Don’t want to stop on any toes.”

Fiearius grunted in disgust. “A doctor and a Carthian. The two things I hate most.”

“I know.”

They exchanged mute smirks. Leta felt hers ease slowly from her face as she wondered how long they could do this, how long could they possibly extend this goodbye? Already, she could hear the Dionysian’s crew moving through the cargo bay, prepping the ramp, readying for departure …

Fiearius must have heard it, too. In hastened silence they regarded one another. Then, as if a silent, sad decision had been agreed upon, Fiearius drew closer, leaning in; Leta stepped toward him and lifted her heels; their lips brushed with some trepidation, before they melted into a familiar rhythm. It was a slow burn of a kiss, as if they had all the time in the world to stand together on the dock. His hand gently grasped the side of her face and Leta barely realized her fingers were clasping the edge of his jacket to keep him close.

Slowly, reluctantly, they slowed and parted lips, even as they held onto one another. Leta could feel his lips drag away from hers as she exhaled, eyes closed.

Finally, Fiearius eased away from their embrace, his expression dark and unreadable.

“Take care of yourself, alright?” he muttered, sliding his hand out from hers as he turned away. It made her chest ache to watch, but Leta did not blink as he walked up the ramp, glanced over his shoulder and went out of sight.

For several minutes more Leta stood alone on the dock, listening to the rolling waves and watching as the Dionysian rumbled awake and then slowly lifted from the water, disappearing into the cloudy sky.

END OF PART 2

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Chapter 51: The Long Goodbye Pt. 2

“Oh thank God, you’re finally awake,” she breathed, tossing her magazine to the floor and standing to her feet. “They said it would be any time now, they said it would work and you’d wake up but I didn’t really–y’know–believe them.” She reached around his head to straighten out his pillows. “How do you feel? Are you comfortable? Can I get you anything? Food? Water? Well I guess that’s what the IV is for–”

With a great effort, Finn held up a hand to silence her. She clamped her mouth shut and he managed, “What happened?

“You don’t remember?” She tilted her head and smiled sadly. “Oh, Finn. You’ve been in and out of surgery for nearly a month. Unconscious the rest of the time. We almost lost you.” Apparently feeling this story was worthy of some gravity, she sat down on the edge of his bed. “You got stabbed. Callahan. He got you real good.”

“Bastard,” said Finn absently, his voice was hoarse, like he’d been out all night in a smokey bar. Now that she mentioned it, the story felt familiar. The man’s face flashed in his mind’s eye. The knife. The blood. It was all coming back to him. Except …

“How’d I get here?”

“Corra found you and dragged you back to the Beacon.”

“Corra,” he repeated quietly. His vision was coming in more clearly now, and he realized the room was absent the person he wanted to see most. “Where is she? Please tell me she’s giving Callahan what he deserves.”

Suddenly, Alyx’s expression fell. Apology stirred in her eyes.

“Maybe?” she guessed, and Finn was instantly suspicious.

“What do you mean, ‘maybe’?”

She averted her eyes and fiddled nervously with the edge of the blanket. In a quiet voice he’d never heard Alyx use, she began, “Finn … ” which made worry bolt through him.

Grimacing through the white-hot pain in his middle, he lifted his head and sat up. “What happened? She — she’s alright?”

“Maybe. I don’t really know. I think she’s alright, I hope–”

“Alyx,” Finn cut her off sharply. “Where. Is. Corra?”

“I’m sorry, Finn,” Alyx whispered. “She left.”

Her words hung in the air heavily.

“Left?”

“She wouldn’t say where to. Just that she had to go. And then–she left. Caught a ride on a Carthian cruiser and — look, I’m sorry, she just completely disappeared.”

“So she’s not with the Beacon,” Finn finished, trying to wrap his head around this news. “She left the Beacon. When — when I was like this?!” he growled. “I can’t even get out of bed! What about our ship?”

Alyx’s forehead creased in confusion. “Finn, the Beacon’s fine. It’s just docked for now and the crew’s–”

“Who’s taking care of it?”

“I am,” Alyx hurriedly explained. “Just until you’re better. You really shouldn’t get so worked up, in your condition –”

But Finn was already shaking his head. “This is insane. We have to find her. Contact her and make sure she’s alright and bring her back here.”

“She doesn’t want to be found, Finn.”

“Why did you let her leave?!” he demanded.

“I didn’t let her leave,” Alyx snapped. “She told me she was leaving and she left, I wasn’t exactly in a position to stop her.”

“Did you even try?!

“Of course I tried! But she’d already made up her mind. She–she said she had to go. That she–” Here, Alyx inhaled shakily. “That she couldn’t face you after what she’d done.”

“What she’d done?” he repeated, sitting up straighter. “What does that mean?”

Alyx shook her head. “I don’t know exactly. I think she blamed herself for your injury. But–there was something else. She–did something or, I don’t know, gave something to the Society? Something that lead to–Archeti…”

“Archeti,” Finn interrupted, closing his eyes. A wave of sickly nausea made his head swim. “What happened?”

The look on Alyx’s face said it all. As did the reluctance in her voice when she mumbled, “They’re already planning to rebuild  … ”

“How many?” he pressed quietly. His voice was growing thin. “How many people were lost?”

Alyx’s voice — he could not believe it, he’d never seen her like this — cracked and splintered with emotion. “There are only estimations,” she said. Tears threatened her. “Too many. Far too many, Finn, they–” Her eyes clamped shut and she clenched her fists. “They say millions…”

“Millions?” he heard himself mumble, feeling lost and numb. What was she even saying? He wracked his memory for some understanding. The stabbing, he remembered. Corra finding him, that was coming back. Then–the earthquake?

“It’s gone, Finn,” Alyx croaked, shaking her head and brushing tears from her eyes. “Archeti’s gone.”

Finn had no words. He couldn’t even think. Corra was gone, Archeti was gone, his home, his family. He’d been stabbed and nearly dead for a month and now that he was finally awake, everything had changed. Everything was different. More empty.

In that moment, he felt none of the pain that was plaguing him, no sorrow for his losses, no despair. He was merely a husk of a person, a shell, and he fell back on his pillows with a soft thump as Alyx quietly took his hand and squeezed.

————————

“So! What do you think of the new facilities, then?” Gates asked briskly, surprisingly energetic for a man his age, and a man who had just led a huge memorial service. Fiearius followed him down the long narrow hallway, looking around the new space.

Soon after the attacks, the Carthians had begun to build a makeshift base in the old Society docking complex. It hadn’t looked like much then, but as they walked through it now, it was beginning to look a little more sturdy.

“It’s…nice,” Fiearius commented as he peered through the doors they walked by to see what was inside. Lots of green fatigues and Carthian tech by the looks of it. “I guess.”

“This section is being converted into offices for those assigned to the rebuilding of Vescent,” Gates explained, either oblivious or purposely ignoring Fiearius’ skepticism. “We’ll move the barracks from the east wing out to the subsidiary building and there’ll be a whole new meeting room where they are now.”

Fiearius could only nod in vague interest. Frankly he wasn’t that concerned about Gates’ decorating plans. He was more concerned at the moment with the young cadet busy painting a stencil of the Carthian insignia on the wall. He wrinkled his nose in disgust.

“This is all starting to seem very permanent,” he pointed out dryly.

Gates cast him a look. “As permanent as it needs to be,” he replied, his voice even. “Vescent is in shambles. You’re aware of that. We may have liberated the planet from the Society but it still has a ways to go in terms of recovery. The least we can do is oversee and help them through that process.”

“Sure, of course,” Fiearius agreed, still nodding slowly as they continued on through the complex. “Just thought it might be nice to get some Vescentians in here. They might have some opinions. Since it’s their planet and all.”

Gates stopped walking and regarded Fiearius with a kind of amused curiosity. “Captain, we have every intention of bringing in a chorus of Vescentian voices in the coming days. This is their home and Carthis intends to keep it that way. We’re here to help. Nothing more.”

Fiearius paused a few yards down and looked back at him. “And I’m sure Vescent being a key strategic position against Ellegy and Exymeron have nothing to do with it,” he mused, tilting his head at him. Gates, however, just laughed.

“If we’re going to continue to work together, we’re really going to have to work on those Satieran biases of yours,” he remarked as he joined Fiearius and they matched their strides again.

“Nah,” said Fiearius with a lopsided grin. “Keeps ya on your toes.”

“Indeed it does,” he agreed. “And on that note, now that your ship is back in order, we’ll have to soon discuss next steps.”

Fiearius nodded. “The Society’s probably already got something cooking. I’m sure there’ll be little doubt what comes next if we wait long enough for them to put it in action.”

“I’m afraid you could be right. We’re at war now. A sloppy start to one. But a war nonetheless.” Gates pushed open the door and Fiearius was met with a gust of cold wind as they stepped back out onto the streets of Fall’s End. The rain had finally let up, but the ground was shiny and wet and the air smelled like the salty sea. Together they stood looking out at the skyline, hazy and cloudy as it was.

Chapter 50: Morgan Pt. 3

Fiearius didn’t even choose to acknowledge the slight. His itch to find Leta was only heightening and, fearing the worst, he would take any out afforded him. Even if it was from Dez.

“The ship’s about a mile that way,” Fiearius snapped, forcing Ophelia’s arms into Dez’s hands. “Put her in the containment unit next to the cargo bay. Harper will know where it is.”

Dez readjusted his grip on Ophelia, who was still watching Fiearius with vicious anger. “Aye aye, cap’n,” he muttered dryly, but Fiearius wasn’t listening. As soon as he was free, he tore off across the rooftops towards the defense building where Leta hopefully still was. Alive.

In the distance, the third bomb went off and the city shuddered.

——————-

Leta narrowly side-stepped the massive fist flying at her face. She gasped and stumbled to the left as the mountain of a man that was Arleth Morgan plummeted towards her. Her dagger to the chest had only served to aggravate him. She’d come face to face with a very different beast than the one that had been satisfied by playing with her like some sick puppet.

This one wanted her dead.

Leta fled to the other side of the room, desperate to catch her breath and her bearings. But every time she thought she made some leeway, she turned to find another attack already descending upon her. Morgan slammed his fist towards her, planting it instead into the wall behind her as she ducked out of the way just in time. His other hand frantically reached out, trying to grab her arm, her shirt, anything it could, but she swung the knife at him again, slicing his clutching hand just as it started to close around her forearm.

“You little bitch!” he roared, raising the bloodsoaked hand and swiping it at her in a great arc. This time, it made contact, hitting Leta across the face and causing her to stagger to the side, nearly losing her footing.

Bracing herself on the edge of the console, she pushed herself back to her feet and spun into another strike, dragging the blade across his upper arm. But to her dismay, it barely even dented his coat. Instead, he grinned maliciously and used her momentary lack of balance from the hit to seize her wrist.

She tried to yank herself free, but his grip was too strong. He pulled her closer, twisting her arm to the side, making her cry out in pain.

“Do you really think you can walk out of here alive?” he spat in her face. “After everything you’ve seen? All you know? All you’ve done? Only one of us is leaving this room, Leta. It’s over.”

She let out her own shout of pain as he twisted her harder, locking her into place, but Leta wasn’t finished. “Fuck–you,” she growled, glaring at him out of the corner of her eye and then, ignoring the impossible angle of her shoulder, kicked her leg off the ground and landed her knee in Morgan’s groin.

He howled and doubled over at once, releasing his grip just enough for her to wriggle free and get a better vantage point. Her arm was searing, but she paid it no attention. There was no time. She was going to finish this, once and for all. Morgan was right about one thing. There was no other way, only one of them would be leaving.

More firm in her decision than she’d ever been before, she gripped her dagger in both hands and raised it above her head. With a mighty yell, she brought it down for the final blow, sinking the blade into the soft flesh between Morgan’s neck and shoulder.

But it wasn’t a final blow. And the beast didn’t go down.

Instead, he rose up, faster than she could even process, and before she knew what was happening, a thick calloused hand encircled her neck. Her whole body was slammed back against the wall, forcing all the air from her lungs and when she tried desperately to fill them again, she found she couldn’t. No matter how much she gasped, no air made it past the blockade. Desperately, she clawed at his hands.

But Morgan’s grip didn’t budge. His other hand reached over his opposite shoulder and ripped the dagger from his flesh and he tossed it aside as though she’d merely scratched him. A low laugh chortled out of his throat as Leta struggled with all her limbs, kicking and hitting and writhing to get free.

“You know what?” he breathed. “I was going to just watch you kill yourself. But this.” His lips twisted back into a grin. “This is better. This is much more entertaining.”

Just as Leta swung her legs out for a kick, Morgan grasped her neck with his other hand as well, pulled her from the wall and slammed her onto the floor.

Her head hit the concrete, her back landed with a thud and her vision blurred. She was allowed one hasty breath before he was back on her throat and this time there was no escaping. His arms had her upper body pinned and his legs managed her lower. All she could do was flail out with her hands, hopelessly praying to make contact with Morgan’s face, neck, anything that should could attack with every last ounce of strength she had left, but he leaned back and all she touched was the frantic air between them.

The harder he pressed, the longer she went without breath, the more her senses started to fail her. What had been pain started to sink towards numbness, the noise of the control room all but faded out until she could hear nothing but her own scattered heartbeat. Her arms lost their resolve and started to weaken.

This couldn’t be the end. To free Vescent but lose her life in the process? She couldn’t die here.

But her mind started to fade, her eyes started to blink closed and then her arms fell weakly onto the concrete beside her and her fingertips touched something wet. Startled, she turned her head just enough to see the blurry vision of blood on her hand. Blood from the discarded knife that was mere inches from her grasp.

Filled with newfound purpose, Leta heaved one last gasp, dragging in any tiny semblance of oxygen she could manage and reached. She felt the metal. Desperately, she clawed for it.

But Morgan adjusted his hands on her throat and shook her against the ground, causing her to lose her touch. “Why won’t you–fucking–die?!” he growled furiously and squeezed harder.

Leta choked as his thumb dug into her airway, but she just reached again. Reached with every part of her shoulder, her arm, her hand, her fingers. Her muscles strained, her whole body tensed and then finally, miraculously, she felt it. The hilt. Her fingers clambered over it messily, her shaky hand tightened and out of a pure act of instinct, she swung it at her assailant furiously.

Leta felt the metal sink into Morgan’s neck. She felt the hot blood spill from his artery onto her hand. She felt the splatter of it land on her face as she gasped her first breath. But it didn’t stop her.

She ripped the blade out and sunk it in again. And again. And again.

Morgan’s grip loosened. His eyes fluttered backward into his head. He fell away from her. Blood flowed from him freely, but he was gone, possibly long before Leta finally dragged her dagger from his corpse for the last time. She wasn’t sure how many times she’d stabbed him. She didn’t care. She had just been so desperate to make sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this was finished.

Morgan collapsed in the center of the room in a pool of deep red and Leta stumbled to her feet and staggered backwards against the wall, still clutching the dagger with shaking hands, gasping for air. It was over.

——————–

Fiearius didn’t know what he’d find as he held his wrist to the control room CID scanner and the doors slid open. As he’d run through the streets, passing the remnants of bloody battles, staving off the aches and pains of his own confrontation, his mind had strayed to every possibility. He’d arrive and she’d be victoriously cheering her achievement. She’d be valiantly defending her position, mowing down a Society onslaught with ease. Perhaps he’d arrive to find the room empty, Leta having already moved on.

All of them were preferable to the possibility he feared most and the one he stumbled into.

Across the dimly lit room was Leta, on the floor, slumped against the wall. A fallen corpse sat in the middle of the floor, but he ignored it and gazed at Leta. She looked so oddly small: her arms hugged her knees, and a dagger shining with blood hung loosely in her hand. Dark bruises covered her arms and blood caked her skin and hair. She was looking toward him, but she didn’t react — she didn’t even blink. Her eyes were vacant and empty, staring into the middle-distance.

No, he thought, desperation gripping his chest. Ice filled his lungs. He couldn’t breathe. No no no, he couldn’t be too late —

His voice croaked out of his throat. “Leta?”

“Leta,” he said again, louder this time, as he came closer. As he stepped over the fallen body, he realized her shoulders were lifting and falling. Not much, but–she was breathing.

“Leta!” he yelled, closing the distance between them and grasping her face with his hands. Even then, she didn’t seem to see him. Shock — she was in shock.

“Leta, c’mon,” he pleaded with her, brushing her hair out of the way and wiping specks of blood off her face with his thumb. “Leta come back to me, c’mon. It’s okay. It’s over now. It’s gonna be okay.”

Finally, she gasped a heavy breath and her eyes shot to his in alarm, like she didn’t recognize him. Suddenly she struggled, as though trying to move away from him, slipping further down the wall. But Fiearius moved a hand to her hip and held her steady. She was trembling.

“Hey, hey, it’s alright, it’s me, you’re safe.”

“Fiear?” Her voice shook out of her throat. “Fiear. Fiear, I–I killed a Councillor.”

His stare swung to the man he’d stepped over to get to her. “Him? That’s–”

“Arleth Morgan.”

Fiearius didn’t even know what to say. Congratulate her? Thank her? But Leta had already moved on to one of the other ghosts haunting her. “The missile defense!” she remembered suddenly, looking frantically to the console. “Did it–”

“Shut down,” Fiearius confirmed for her, feeling an exhausted smile come over his face. “The bombs were dropped. Carthian troops are on the ground. You did it.”

Leta shook her head, apparently remembering something else. “Delia. Bran, the rebels. We have to go help them!” Fiearius had no idea who she was talking about, so Leta added urgently, “They’re just outside, they need help!”

She started to push to her feet, but Fiearius gently grasped her shoulders. Inwardly, his heart twisted. As he entered the building, he’d stepped over a dozen fallen bodies. “Leta, I’m sorry,” he mumbled, brushing her hair behind her ear. “There’s — no one left out there.”

Leta’s eyes went round. Then she looked away, and her gaze slid out of focus — she was leaving him again. He’d seen Leta hurt, injured, upset, but he’d never seen her like this. “C’mon, let’s get back to the–” he began, but just as he took her arm to lead her away, a voice broke into his ear.

“Cap’n?” Eve asked tentatively, cutting through the static. Right away, he knew something was wrong. She sounded like she was on the verge of tears.

“Harper.” Fiearius stood up, turned away from Leta and touched the speaker in his ear. “Everything okay out there?”

“No, cap’n,” she said, her voice shaking. “We heard the bombs, mission’s done right?”

“We’re just about to head back.” He glanced over his shoulder to Leta who was watching him with a sad, vacant curiosity.

“Alright.” Her voice was scared. “I think you’ll–you’ll want to get back soon.”

He didn’t want to ask. He didn’t want to know. But he had to. “What happened, Harper?”

At once, Eve’s voice cracked. “The crash. We didn’t want to say, we didn’t want to–Some of us — some of us are hurt real bad, cap’n.” She paused, and then went exhaled, “S-she said she was fine, cap’n. She said–she said she was okay. Just hit her head is all. We didn’t know how bad she was hurt, we didn’t know, we–”

“Who? Who’s hurt?”

There was a long silence on the other end of the line. Until finally. “Amora. Amora’s–”

Fiearius felt numb. “Amora’s what?” Leta was now looking up at him in absolute horror. Glittering tears formed at the corner of her eyes.

“Amora’s gone, cap’n.”

Fiearius’ hand fell away from the COMM. He felt like his entire body had been drained of blood. Amora. Amora, the innocent. He had just been teasing her a few hours ago at the breakfast table. She’d over-salted the eggs and she’d turned red in the face and scolded him for pointing it out. Fiearius had always had the impression that Amora never really liked him. Their views of the span could not have been more opposing. But she’d been a permanent fixture on his ship for the last two years either way, preparing every meal for his crew, keeping the deckhands in line, she was an important asset of Dionysian life. One he often took for granted.

And now she was gone. Just like that? No dramatic exit. No cry “I can’t take this anymore, cap’n!” as she stormed away in a fit. No. She was just…gone. Just like the rebels who’d helped Leta. The Carthians aboard the fallen ships. The Vescentians who died in the riots. The Archetians who didn’t make it out. Gone. One more number in a quickly growing list of casualties.

He could feel Leta watching him. She knew. He didn’t have to say it. Her expression crumbled, so crushed, so completely heartbroken.

“We did it? We won?” she asked emptily.

“We did,” he confirmed for her quietly.

After a long pause, she murmured, barely moving her lips, “It doesn’t feel like it.”

He didn’t have an answer. Instead, he did the only thing he could manage. He crouched down beside her, put his arms around her shoulders and pulled her against his chest.

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Chapter 50: Morgan Pt. 2

He growled in frustration and started to pace faster. “Even on my own turf, amongst my own people, you manage to elude me,” he spat angrily. “How long were you on Vescent?”

“A week, sir.”

“A week!” Morgan cried, clenching his fist. His face grew red. “A week and not a single agent notices. And now here you stand.” He looked over at her, and sudden cruelty blazed in his eyes. “Your throat practically bared before me.” He took a decisive step towards her. “I could slit it now and you would go willingly.” He reached out his hand as though to choke her, but the flesh never touched. His hand hovered inches from her neck, quivering with tension until finally he ripped it away.

“Sit down,” he ordered again as he tore across the room away from her.

Leta did as she was told. He glanced back and snapped, “Stand up.” She did. “Knock over the chair.” It tumbled to the ground in a clatter.

And then they stood in silence, watching each other. Leta was desperately eager, she wanted nothing more than to appease him, to make up for her sins, redeem herself in his eyes. He was upset, that much she could see, but she didn’t know what to do. His eyes focused on her and she could see a kind of realization starting to dawn in his eyes. And the tiniest hint of a smile.

“Slap yourself in the face,” he said. Without a second’s pause, Leta lifted her arm and left a burning red mark across her cheek.

“Harder,” he said quietly, and Leta tried again. Half her face burned in protest, but a chuckle escaped from his lips. Then his eyes traveled down to her waist.

“That knife.” He nodded to the long dagger she had sheathed at her hip. “Draw it.”

The hilt was in her hands in an instant, and his grin spread.

“Drag its blade across your palm.” Leta winced as she made the cut, but the pain didn’t stop her then, nor when she obeyed, “Now make a fist,” and the blood seeped between her fingers.

“Very good, very good,” he said softly. After a moment’s pause, he mused, “You’ll do anything I say, won’t you?”

“Of course, sir,” said Leta. “Anything for the good of the Society.”

A flash of irritation passed over his face. “Yes, yes, indeed,” he wrote her off shortly. “Tell me, the ships attacking our beautiful city. Whose are they?”

“Carthis,” she answered at once. “With some help from Utada and a few others.”

“And do you agree with the attack?”

Leta was gripped with disgust. “No. Of course not, they’re scum!”

“They are,” he agreed. “And the rioters?”

“Trash,” she spat. “They deserve nothing but death and shame.”

“And who should rule?” he pressed eagerly, coming even closer. His foul breath splashed on her collarbone, their noses almost touched. “Who? Who is best for Vescent?”

“The Society,” she replied firmly. But she knew it wasn’t the answer he wanted. Hesitant, carefully, she amended, “You should rule Vescent, sir.”

Morgan’s expression of intensity shifted toward a broad grin.

“That’s right, my dear, that’s right.” He lifted one hand to cup her cheek. His other hand, she realized dimly, was unfastening his belt buckle. Absent feeling and concern, Leta stood in obedience as he went on, “And your mistake. The Rogue Verdant. What of him?”

“Fiearius Soliveré,” Leta said, “deserves only — ”

Execution, she finished in her head. Fiearius Soliveré, high traitor that he was, deserved execution. There was no doubt in her mind of that.

But the word caught in her throat like bile. Breath halted in her nostrils. Why couldn’t she say it?

What was she even saying?

The thought of Fiearius brought to mind the image she had of him locked in combat with Ophelia on some rooftop a mile away. It brought back that terror that that would be the last image she’d ever have of him. That he could die there as she turned and ran.

And from there, sprouted other memories. Fighting at his side in the heart of Blackwater, walking hand in hand with him in the streets of Tarin, lying in his bed as he turned strands of her hair around his fingers and told her stories of Satieri. The story of Internal Affairs. The story of his lost son as silent tears rolled down both of their faces. The story of his exile. The pain of losing one’s home that she herself could understand. Her home. Vescent. Where she stood now on the precipice of liberation.

It was as if floodgates had been opened. Everything came back all at once. Not just thoughts of Fiearius, but of Cyrus, Corra, the Dionysian, the last year of her life all came into focus and she knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that what was happening, here, this, wasn’t right.

Leta told herself to breathe as panic burned through her. Eyes closed, she heard Arleth Morgan say, “Yes, my dear?” while she swiftly took in the horrible scenario: Arleth Morgan, a Society Councillor, the scourge that had taken her home to begin with, stood before her, nauseatingly close.

She wanted nothing more than to recoil from his touch and pummel her fist into his face. But her gun was halfway across the room, out of reach, and Morgan was double her size. There was still a knife in her hand, but she needed to play this carefully. If he was going to kill her, and surely he would the moment she attacked, she needed to finish the mission first.

So she snapped open her eyes and finished, strong as she could, “Execution! Fiearius Soliveré should be executed..” As though this line of thought impassioned her so greatly she couldn’t bear it, she tore away from him and started to pace the room angrily. “The scum, fooling me for so long, I’m ashamed of myself.”

Leta was hesitant to glance back at Morgan for fear that he would see through the act. If anything, he seemed annoyed that she had separated from him. But if his response was any indication, he was buying it.

“It’s not your fault, Leta,” he assured her, reaching out and grasping her shoulder again, pulling her back towards him. Her heart was pounding in her chest, but she forced herself to go on.

“It is my fault,” she argued fiercely, ripping away once more and, praying he didn’t grow suspicious, crossed towards the console where she slammed her fist down in frustration. “I should have known better. I shouldn’t have been tricked. I’m weak,” she insisted as her eyes frantically scanned the screen as she did some very quick thinking.

On the screen, the Verdant’s CID was still logged in. The menu before her was where she needed to be. She just had to find the defense controls. Find them and shut them off. Without him noticing.

Ever so carefully, she reached her thumb out of her clenched fist and hit the option for the missile controls. Another menu sprang up and she cursed the Society for burying these controls in so many layers.

“But that’s why I’m here to help you,” Morgan was saying. She could feel him approaching her from behind. Hastily, she scrolled through the options. “I’m here to reform you.”

“Can I even be reformed? After all I’ve done?” Leta asked, sounding as torn up as she could as she manically searched for what she was looking for. He was practically upon her now.

Target calibration? No. Pressure monitors? No. She could practically feel his breath on her neck. But finally, she laid eyes on what she needed. Manual emergency shutdown. Her thumb tapped it, the screen shifted to read ‘Please Scan CID for Identity Confirmation’ and her heart leapt into her throat as heavy hands seized her shoulders and spun her around so that she was face to face with Morgan once more, locked in his grip.

“Oh,” he whispered, leaning in to her ear. “I think you can…”

For one piercing second, they regarded each other heatedly. Then, in one flash of a motion, Leta reached back and slapped the copied Verdant CID onto the scanner with a ‘thwap.’ The console let out a high-pitched ding and a droning voice said, “Ground-to-air Missile Defense — inactive. Manual activation required for reset.”

Morgan’s eyes went wide and Leta couldn’t help but grin as she said, “No, sir. I really don’t think so,” as she gripped the hilt of her knife and swung it straight at his chest.

——————–

The rooftop shuddered, like it was a boat on a rocky sea, when the first bomb hit.

Fiearius had wrangled Ophelia to her feet, holding onto her wrists as though his life depended on it (and in some ways, it did). As the roof shook, he peered out at the smoking spot at the horizon in wide-eyed wonder.

She did it. Leta had done it.

Only moments later, Carthian ships started to puncture the cloud cover. The second explosion followed. This one, further away, but the great bellow of the Nautilus’ containment hangar collapsing in on itself reached his ears even from here.

Dez was suddenly at his side. “I’m guessing that means we won,” he remarked dryly. Fiearius cast him a tired look, overwhelmed by relief. Now, those Carthian ships would bring soldiers to sweep up the mess and finish this once and for all. They had already won. Vescent was theirs.

Then why did he feel so uneasy?

Adjusting his hold on Ophelia to one hand, his other hand went to the COMM in his ear. “Leta? Leta, you read?” He waited impatiently for her response. “I’m fine, I did it, we’re done,” he wanted to hear her say.

But only ringing silence met his ears.

“Leta?” he said again. “Leta. Come in.”

Nothing.

His stomach twisted and his eyes swung to Dez.

“I need to get to her,” he said.

She was clearly alive, she’d completed her task. Her COMM had probably just fallen out or shut off or maybe the control room she was in blocked its signal. There were many logical explanations. She was probably fine. But for some reason, he just felt an unbearable need to have her in his sights and be absolutely sure. And if there was one thing Fiearius had learned over his years of reckless danger, it was to trust his instincts no matter how much sense they made.

But there was still the matter of his silent captive. Ophelia had said nothing since he’d first restrained her, only shooting him furious glares every few seconds. He couldn’t let her go, but if he did what he should have and took her back to his ship to lock her up for later? That was a lot of time risking what might have been Leta’s safety.

And then Dez said, “I’ll take care of Varisian.”

Fiearius’ eyes narrowed at him, immediately suspicious. “You mean shoot her?”

Dez rolled his eyes as he came closer. “No. I’ll take her to the Dionysian for you. Unless it’s too shattered from that ungraceful fall from the sky you made.”

Chapter 49: Fall’s End Pt. 3

Exhaling shakily, Leta paused against a sooty brick wall to gather her courage. Just across the street, the jet-black glass defense building arched high into the air, glittering eerily in the night. Inside that building was the missile controls that could end this battle.

She was close.

Unfortunately, Fiearius had been right. The Society had been prepared to defend this very spot from a barrage of Carthian soldiers. A circle of agents surrounded the front entrance, armed to take down any offense. Leta had no options, no way of distracting the guards. If only the crew was here to occupy them like they planned. If only the crew hadn’t been injured. If only the ship hadn’t crashed.

Panic fluttered in her chest. For a moment, she flattened herself against the brick wall, closed her eyes and heaved a slow, deep breath. She could do this. She could find a way past them, surely. She just had to find a distraction or a sneaky way around them, or —

Suddenly, movement to her right caught her eye. The sound of boots on pavement. In one motion, Leta snatched her gun from her hip and directed it at the figure in the alley, cold as ice.

But an odd scene met her eyes. It wasn’t one person; it was a whole circle of men and women, looking dirt-streaked and frenzied, all of them armed with rifles and pistols and swords. But they did not advance. Instead, the group exchanged looks and the leader, a young but sturdy man, held up a hand in surrender.

Still, Leta held her weapon steadily. The figure in front grunted his disapproval.

“Stand down, Sochy, you’re outnumbered.”

Leta’s eyes shifted over the crowd curiously. Each of them wore blood-red bands tied around their upper arms. These aren’t agents, she realized with a jolt.

They were rebels.

“Sochy?” she repeated, lowering her gun an inch. “I’m not with the Society. I’m — “

“Leta?”

Someone gasped. Then a young woman pushed forward in the crowd, looking thunderstruck. She had thick dark curls and a familiar heart-shaped face …

It was the woman who had housed her and Cyrus the last time they’d been on Vescent.

“Delia?” she breathed in shock.

Leta could hardly believe it. Delia was a Society loyalist and when Cyrus had (a little foolishly) exposed their less-than-friendly relationship with the organization, she hadn’t reacted well. And yet here she was. With a group of rebels in the streets of a chaotic Vescent.

“What’re you — how — What’re you doing here?”  Leta managed, loosening her grip on her gun but not relinquishing yet. She was still desperately outnumbered.

But Delia threw her arms around Leta as if greeting an old friend. “I could ask you the same thing. After you guys left, I don’t know. I couldn’t get what you said out of my head. It just kept gnawing at me and suddenly I started seeing things. Things like you said about the Society. Around the city, on the Titan. And then I met up with these guys,” she gestured over her shoulder, “And that was that. And here I am.”

“Dee, you know this Sochy?” grunted the leader.

“I’m not a Sochy,” said Leta at once.

“She’s with the resistance, Bran,” Delia said, turning around. “She knows the Rogue Verdant.”

At once, a wave of interest rippled through the group.

“The Verdant?” the man demanded, eyes blazing. “Is he here?”

Leta opened her mouth, but hesitated.

“He is,” she said at last. More gasps. “He’s here. We were in the small ship that crashed on the west end.”

“I knew it!” Delia cried, voice thick with emotion. “I just knew you’d all come back. Bran — she’s telling the truth. She’s close with the younger Solivere. She’s the doctor they travel with.”

Leta met the man’s eyes squarely, willing him to believe it. Bran visibly relaxed, but his eyes burned on her face.

“The Rogue Verdant. If he’s really here — can you bring us to him?”

“Yes. I can,” she said, and everyone stirred. Gods, maybe these people could go to his aid — maybe they could help him bring down Ophelia.

“But first, I — I need your help.” She stepped forward, lowering her weapon at last. “See over there? I need to get into that building to shut down the city’s defense systems. Do you think you could provide a distraction? Or maybe just–”

But she didn’t need to finish. Bran held up his long rifle, cocked it noisily, and nodded.

“The defense building. Not a problem. Leta, was it? If you’re really with the Verdant? We’ll get ya in there.”

“Stay back for this part,” added Delia, flashing her a nervous smile as she joined the throng.

All at once, the rebel squad cocked their guns and drew forward around the alley, excitement buzzing between them like they were headed out to a sporting event.

“On my mark, “ Bran said. “Three, two — “

Then, in a flash of motion, yells of mirth and anger exploded into the air as they all stormed toward the agents, guns ablaze.

Leta watched in amazement as chaos flooded the street. Then she tore her eyes away to do her job: she carefully navigated the fight as the resistance battled the guards. All around her, guns were firing, blood was spilling, both rebel and agent alike, but she didn’t have time to watch, to aid them, to help the wounded as her instincts demanded. She headed straight through the fray towards the main entrance which Bran had already reached and yanked open for her.

Forcing herself not to look back, she plowed through them and kept running. She didn’t even realize Bran and Delia had followed until Delia called to her, “Do you know where you’re going?”

Leta knew too well. She spent most her childhood alone in the atrium of this building, waiting on her absent father to take her home from school. And when he didn’t — when he made her wait until past dinner time, until it was dark out, until it was past her bedtime — she took to wandering the halls, lonely, tired and curious. Once or twice, a security guard took pity on her and even gave her a tour.

And even as a child, she’d always wondered what the large metal door on the second floor held behind it. She hadn’t been surprised though when the Verdant’s blueprints had labeled it the defense control room. So she headed straight for the stairs.

Fortunately, it seemed that the building’s defense had mostly been stationed at the doors. No one was around to stop them as the three ran through the clean white halls of the administrative building. They didn’t even see a soul until Leta charged onto the second floor landing. There was the door. Right up ahead. And two guards right beside it.

She had her gun up before the closest one even noticed her. She’d fired it before the second could move. The agent cried out in pain, seizing her bleeding leg and doubling over.

Bran was on the last one standing like a whirlwind before Leta even knew what was happening. He tackled the man to the ground, using his rifle as a battering ram. Delia joined him only moments later, seizing the weapon from the agent’s hands and throwing it across the floor. Leta went straight for the door, praying the CID Cyrus had given her would work. Supposedly it was identical to Fiearius’, save for the extensive database (in case it fell into the wrong hands of course). Still, she found herself holding her breath as she held it up to the keypad and–thank the gods–the door slid open.

In her urgency, she failed to prevent the woman she’d shot from lifting her COMM to her lips. “Code 640, I–I repeat, code 640, there’s–” It was only a moment before Delia had slapped her gun in the woman’s face, knocking her out, but it was enough.

“Code 640?” repeated Delia. “They must know we’re here. They’ll send reinforcements.”

Bran turned to Leta. “Do what you gotta do.” He nodded towards the control room. “We’ll buy you some time.”

Leta looked between them, heart clenching. If Society reinforcements came here? To fight just the two of them? There was no way they could–

But Delia cocked her rifle in her hand and took up position facing the stairs. Bran was swapping the clip of his own. And with the end of this right behind her, Leta couldn’t argue.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

In a rush, she turned and slid inside, pulling the door shut behind her. Darkness plunged the room and it was a moment before her eyes adjusted: windowless and dark, lit only by the bright screens lining the walls. But there was no mistaking the main console screen, brightly lit up in the center of the room.

Leta darted right to it and scanned the CID. In only seconds, the Society’s librera blazed alive on the screen.

Quickly Leta dropped her fingertips to the keyboard, but something made her freeze. The back of her neck chilled.  Just as she straightened up, she heard an oily, interested voice break cleanly through the room.

“Well,” said a man, sounding as if his curiosity had been aroused. “I wasn’t expecting you, Leta.”

A yell locked in Leta’s throat.

In a half-second, she threw out her hand to grab for her gun, just as the brawny figure eased forward into the light. He was round as a boulder, his shining bald head nearly touching the slanted ceiling as he walked a circle around her, observing her with glinting silver eyes.

The sight of her seemed to please him: his nostrils flared out, and his face flushed red and oily, like he’d been carved out of wax. Finally, a smile slithered across the Vescentian Councillor, Arleth Morgan’s, face. “I’m so happy to finally meet you.”

image3

Chapter 49: Fall’s End Pt. 2

Just then, a vague, far-away shout reached Leta’s ears — it was coming from the broken consoles. Hastily she shoved aside a pile of metal and debris, letting Cyrus’ voice come in through the static.

“– be okay. Fiear? Leta? Dionysian, anyone? Please come in. Please–”

“Cy!” Leta answered, hitting the COMM. Her own voice sounded foreign and strange to her ears.

“Leta! Oh gods, you’re okay. You’re alright. Is Fiear there? Is–”

“He’s fine, we’re fine.”

“Dionysian, come in! Come in, Dionysian,” said a third voice through the static. A Carthian officer. “Are you able to complete the mission?”

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” growled Cyrus, “They were just in a damn spaceship crash and you–”

“No, he’s right,” Fiearius coughed, unsteadily pushing himself out of his chair and stumbling a few feet forward. He looked to Leta. “We made it to the planet. Somehow. There’s not a lot of time, we need to get moving.”

Leta stared, shell-shocked. He was right, but —

“Fiear, the crew. They could be injured if they weren’t strapped in, I need to check  — “

But Fiearius silenced her, dropping a hand on her shoulder. She thought it might have been a gesture of affection but a moment later, as he raised the COMM to his mouth, it seemed more like he needed her support to not topple over. “Can anyone hear me? Come in.”

A long, heavy silence replied in which Leta waited with bated breath and Fiearius beside her. Surely they couldn’t have been the only survivors. How hard had they crashed?

But finally —

“Cap’n? I read you, cap’n.”

Fiearius released a sigh of relief. “Harper. Thank the gods. You alright? Is anyone with you?”

“We’re alright, cap’n,” said Eve. “Lil shaken. One of the deckhands didn’t strap in soon enough, got a bit beat up. Few cuts and scrapes, nothin’ fatal. We’re alright.”

Relief rushed over Leta.

Fiearius went on, “Harper, change of plans. I need you to stay here and look after the crew and defend the ship.”

“But Cap’n–”

“Tend to the crew. Defend the ship,” Fiearius said again, sharper this time. He turned to Leta and unholstered his gun. “Let’s get you to your final destination, shall we?”

———————–

Her city was unrecognizable.

As Leta led Fiearius through the cobblestone streets of Fall’s End, a picture of what had happened here became very clear. Gone were the white stone benches, sparkling fountains, and lush gardens. Now, buildings were charred black from gunfire and explosions. Wood slats barred windows and doors. Society propaganda posters screamed on every wall and lightpost. Smoke rose through the streets; it smelled like burning garbage. The aftermath of the riots lay everywhere.

But it wasn’t only aftermath. People still took to the streets even now. They had worried about resistance once they’d landed, but as they charged down streets and through back alleys, it seemed the Vescentian people themselves were taking care of the agents on the ground. Or at least keeping them occupied. Masses of them, armed with signs, bats and defended by piles of furniture and the remains of felled shuttles fought for their city as Leta and Fiearius traversed it. Mostly, the Society agents seemed overwhelmed, ill-matched for this much raw rage and desperation. One battleground they passed, not so much. It took all of Leta’s willpower to keep going as she watched these people, her people, mowed down by Society firepower.

The battle overhead, though far away, was just as horrifying. The blasts from Carthian and Society ships lit the skies as glimpses of great sweeping vessels plowed through the clouds, dust and smoke.

Quickly and carefully, Leta climbed up the rungs of a metal rusted ladder onto a rooftop, eager to avoid a particularly crowded square, when she heard it. The great crack from above. She pulled herself to level ground on the roof, her hair whipping around her face in the violent wind as she looked up just in time to see the bow of a Carthian destroyer, alight in flames, plummeting out of the grey haze.

Leta’s breath caught in her throat as it fell and kept falling. But just before the great impact could occur, a burst of red flashed across the sky and before her eyes, the ship, once a great heaving mass, was vaporized into little more than smoke and debris. She only caught a glimpse of it before the shockwave hit. She braced herself against it, shielding her eyes with her forearm.

“That’s what we’ve gotta switch off,” said Fiearius, suddenly beside her, once the dust had settled.

“I can see why,” Leta admitted, in quiet horror. Gods, that ship, those people…Gone, just like that.

“We close?” he grunted.

Leta nodded toward the topmost glittering spire of a building in the distance. “We’re almost to where we were supposed to land.”

Without waiting for his response, she started off again, carefully making her way across the rooftops. This strip of apartment blocks were all connected, making them an easy path to stay out of the way and unseen. They just had to make it to the end of the row, lower back to ground level, head a block north and —

She saw the flash out of the corner of her eye before she heard Fiearius’ shout.

“AGHH – SHIT!”

Leta whirled around to find him yanking a small knife from his shoulder. Blood gushed from the wound, but he quickly looked up at her, eyes wide and frenzied. “Leta, look ou–”

She spun around just in time and stumbled backwards as the blade swung at her, barely missing her abdomen. It swung again and she took another step back until Fiearius seized her arm and dragged her backwards, behind him. Only then, was she able to get a look at what or who was assaulting them. That flip of platinum blonde hair as a nimble leg suited in black, shot out and knocked Fiearius’ pistol from his hand just as he fired it.

Ophelia.

Leta didn’t understand. They had left Ophelia tied up in Blackwater shortly before Quin’s ships had destroyed the Society base for good. There was no way for her to be here. She had died there. She couldn’t have survived.

“Leta, go!” Fiearius yelled, gritting his teeth as the woman came at him again with her blade. He managed to catch her wrist to hold it back, but she only used his momentum to deliver another kick to his side.

Leta rooted in place, shocked. She had to go, but she had to help Fiearius. He was still battered from the crash, his headwound still shining with blood and now his shoulder was dark red. She had to–

“Go!” Fiearius shouted again, taking only a moment to glare at her as he tried to wrestle Ophelia to the ground. He was succeeding. For the moment. “You need to finish this! I’m fine, just go!”

Leta met his eyes for a fleeting, piercing second. Then she forced herself to turn and run.

———————-

Fiearius only glanced at Leta’s back long enough to make sure she was retreating and even that was too long. In his negligence, Ophelia’s talons seized his hair and used it to slam his head into the roof below their feet. If he wasn’t already whiplashed and bordering on a concussion, he certainly was now. But as she raised her blade above her head to deliver the crucial blow, he jumped unsteadily to his feet and staggered out of her way. The metal hit concrete in a clash, but it was only half a second before it was coming at him again.

Fiearius gritted his teeth and dodged the attack, trying to get in one of his own, but she was quick. She side-stepped him and the hilt of the sword jabbed his back. He spun towards her, she sliced again, he dodged, she countered. As they fell into the pattern like a sort of dance, Fiearius growled, “How–the hell–are you–” She managed to connect her fist with his cheekbone. He stumbled backwards and glared up at her, wiping the blood from the corner of his mouth. “Not dead?”

For the first time since she’d appeared on the rooftop, Ophelia paused her onslaught to regard him with a kind of cold fury he hadn’t ever seen before. She paced a slow circle around him, her eyes never leaving his face, her ponytail in a frenzy as the wind bit at her from every direction. “You always did count me out too readily, Soliveré,” she growled beneath her breath, before spinning the blade in her hand, repositioning her grip and taking a clear run straight towards him.

This time, he was better prepared for her. As she charged, he charged back, narrowly avoiding the sharp end of her weapon and planting an elbow in her side. This only seemed to enrage her further as she lashed out with her free hand at his knee, weakening his stance. She used the leverage to force him back again where he laid half his weight into keeping from falling onto the ground and the other half into holding back her arm as she tried to plunge a sword through his chest.

“You’re on the wrong side,” he growled, wondering why a woman who surely couldn’t be more than half his weight was so difficult to keep at bay. “The Council–you really think they won’t turn on you too?” Either his grip was slipping or her resolve had strengthened because the blade slipped an inch closer. “Varisian, haven’t you been paying attention?” he growled.

Now his grip was definitely getting weaker. She was pressing all of herself into that weapon and the point of it was poking through his shirt and into the top layer of skin.

“They’re manipulating–” He strained to keep it from going any further. “–an entire population. They destroyed--a planet.” It sunk a little further. He fought to keep the sting of it from reaching his face. “You’re just a pawn to them.” He met her icy blue eyes fully. “You’re just as expendable as me.”

He wasn’t sure if it was his words that got to her or if she merely experienced a short bout of fatigue from the near constant barrage she’d been throwing at him, but it was enough. For just an instant, and likely not longer, she was lighter. Or at least just light enough that when he pushed himself from the ground, he was able to throw her to the side onto her back.

She fumbled — the slip-up was as much a surprise to her as it was to him it seemed. But as Fiearius, bleeding freely from all his wounds, struggled just to get onto his feet, she had already found her next move. When he finally righted himself and turned to meet her next swing, he was met instead with the end of his own gun pointed directly at his head.

“Drop something?” she mused.

——————–

Chapter 48: Bombs Pt. 3

“Smartest in engineering, not child-rearing,” Cyrus insisted.

“Doesn’t matter, you love her, you’ll love this baby, you’ll figure it out,” Fiearius argued before releasing his grip on him and continuing off down the hall.

But Cyrus wasn’t finished. “And what if we don’t? What if we can’t?” he snapped, following after him.

“You can,” Fiearius answered simply. “And you will.”

“But–the war and the ships and where are we gonna live and how are we going to raise a child with the Society after us–we can’t just figure it out, it’s not that easy.”

“Good thing you’ve got seven months then,” Fiearius pointed out.

“We’ve only been together for two months, and we weren’t even actually together for most of it, what if it doesn’t work out? What if she decides she hates me?”

“Well then you’ll figure that out too.”

Cyrus drew in a deep breath, presumably to argue some more, but Fiearius suddenly stopped walking and spun around. Cyrus would have plowed right into him had he not seized his shoulders and held him at arm’s length. “Cyrus. I know it’s scary. I know it’s bad timing. I know you’re worried. But you have to have faith that you are going to be an amazing father. However things play out.”

Skepticism masked Cyrus’ face. He continued to glare at him as Fiearius released him again and started to walk away.

He’d only made it a few steps before he heard Cyrus mutter begrudgingly, “I don’t believe you.”

Fiearius grinned and called back over his shoulder, “I know. But you will.”

——————

It was strange to be back in the mess hall, surrounded by the Dionysian’s crew. With her pack slung over her shoulder and a small bag of luggage in her hand, she looked even more out of place than usual: merely a temporary traveler amongst this rabble of a family. But despite appearances, the familiar faces greeted her with as much enthusiasm as ever. Amora had wrapped her in a bear hug, Rhys called out to her “Lyra!” and even Maya gave her a warm smile.

She was unsurprised to hear that the crew was all gathered here at the request of their captain. No doubt he wanted to make some sort of dramatic speech to rally them. It was just Fiearius’ brand of narcissism. So she’d happily pulled up a chair and sat back in eager anticipation with her old friends until at last she spotted Fiearius as he strode inside the doorway, Cyrus hovering behind him.

“Alright, listen up!” Fiearius shouted, and all conversation stopped simultaneously. Every eye trained on the captain as he walked forward into the center of the room. His tone was calm and reflective as he went on, “My crew. My dear faithful crew.”

His eyes scanned the room in one large swoop, taking in all the faces around him. He took in a deep breath. “You’ve all followed me into some real shit and back. It probably won’t surprise you that I’m not really one for open-faced gratitude. I don’t say it often. But I appreciate it. I appreciate everything, all the danger and all the recklessness and all the crap you’ve put up with. And I’m here to ask if you’ll put up with it one more time.

“We all have different reasons for being here,” he went on. “For some of us, that reason is that we can’t go home. And for some of us…we’ll never be able to.” His gaze traveled to Eve who was seated solidly in the front, listening with heavy intent, and beyond her, Nikki who was huddled under Javier’s arm, so distraught he barely even looked like himself. Leta felt her heart clench. The loss of Archeti was visible everywhere, even here.

Fiearius drew in a deep breath. “I’m sure you’ve noticed that we’re docked to a Carthian station. And you might have wondered ‘what the fuck are we doing? Carthis is a piece of shit’. And you’re right. But!” He raised a finger in the air. “With Carthis we’ve been given a chance. A chance to get our homes back and to make sure no one else loses theirs. And we–I–am going to take that chance.”

“Tomorrow the Dionysian heads for Vescent,” he said decisively. “Our main objective is to deliver someone you might recognize to where she needs to go.” He gestured to Leta. “But we’ve got people, we’ve got weapons and we’re pirates for fuck’s sake, so to hell if taxi service is all we’re gonna do. We’re gonna fight. We’re gonna make sure Leta gets there safe. And we’re gonna win.”

There was a general murmur of excitement and interest around the room. The crew glanced around at one another, shuffled in their seats, muttered their thoughts, but they died off as quickly as they’d started.

“Tomorrow,” Fiearius said again, his voice more hesitant this time. “The Dionysian takes a step forward it can’t turn back from. Tomorrow, we’re starting a war against the Society. Some of you have no qualm with the Society. Some have even more cause to hate them than me. But this could be an extensive campaign. I’ve made my decision and this ship’s in it for the long haul. Til the very end, whatever that end may be. If you want no part in this, speak up now. We can have you put on another ship and taken wherever you need to go. No problem.

“But. Regardless of your history with the Society, we all saw what they’re capable of this week. And I don’t think anyone in this room can doubt that they need to be put down. Tomorrow the Dionysian goes to war. But she’s nothing without her crew. I ask that you stand with me. One more time. Stand with me and we can end this. Stand with me and we can change the Span. Stand with me and let’s make this shitty old rustbucket part of history.”

The mess hall went up in a cheer of fervor. Rhys let out a whooping yell. Eve jumped to her feet and seized the captain in a crushing hug. And despite herself, Leta couldn’t stop from beaming at Fiearius as he joyously rallied his crew around him. As soon as she realized, she wiped the grin off her face lest anyone see, but perhaps it was too late. When she looked back up, she found Fiearius watching her, a smile of his own lighting his face. A cocky one. He raised a knowing brow at her and she frowned good-naturedly in response, crossing her arms over her chest.

Relenting, she made her way towards the thinning crowd around him as they presumably moved off to engage in one of their traditional Dionysian celebrations.

“Nice speech,” she remarked dryly as he finally wrenched Eve away from him and turned towards her.

“Liked it, huh?” he asked. “Knew you would.”

Leta just rolled her eyes. “Listen–I’d really like to go over the map with you one more time, make sure we–”

But Fiearius was no longer paying attention. “Richelle!” he called out to the young brunette as she wandered towards the kitchen. She glanced back at him in surprise to hear her name and turned their way. Despite her rather…odd induction onto the ship, Leta couldn’t help but like the girl. She’d certainly grown a lot amongst the crew and now, it was difficult to believe the circumstances of her first day aboard had even happened.

“Need something capitaine?” she asked cheerfully.

Fiearius jutted his thumb towards Cyrus who was still silently sulking behind him. “I hear this guy’s been giving you engine lessons, huh?”

“Oh, yes!” she exclaimed. “Thrice a week.” She smiled proudly. “I absolutely love it. Who knew?”

Fiearius hardly seemed to be paying attention to her answer. “He says you’re a natural at it.” Richelle beamed. “How confident do you feel about manning it alone?”

The beaming stopped instantly.

Cyrus, who perhaps hadn’t been listening at all before, was suddenly tuned in. “Wait–what?” he demanded, stalking forwards into the circle.

But Fiearius spoke over him. “You think you could handle it on the trip to Vescent and back?”

Richelle glanced between the two brothers nervously. “Well–Alone? I don’t know if I’d–”

“What are you talking about?” Cyrus snapped. “I can’t–she’s not ready to–”

“We can get Cy set up with a COMM to keep in touch from the station,” Fiearius explained calmly.

Cyrus was anything but calm. “The station? You’re leaving me here?!”

Truthfully Leta wasn’t at all sure of what was going on, but it certainly seemed as though Fiearius had simply lost his mind. Cyrus had always run the engine on the Dionysian. The ship didn’t move without him. “Fiear,” she muttered, “is that a good idea?”

Fiearius ignored her and put a hand on his sibling’s shoulder affectionately. “Cy, Addy needs you right now. You have a responsibility to her first, so yeah. I’m leaving you here.” He patted him firmly. “Besides, you’re in no shape for this kind of operation and you know it.”

Cyrus was dumbstruck. “But–But the Dionysian–”

“Will be fine without you,” Fiearius assured him. “If you can, take Richelle down to the engine and give her one last lesson of yours. It’s a simple trip with the possibility of a little tiny bit of maneuvering involved. She’ll be fine. We’ll be fine. You’ll be fine.” He grinned at the both of them. “Get to it.” And then added to Leta as he turned to walk away, “Maps, you said? Maps. Great. Let’s do it.”

Leta felt a tad shell-shocked, but not nearly as much as Cyrus and Richelle looked. They stared at each other in worry and, in Cyrus’ case, exasperation as Leta hurried down the hall after the captain, feeling perplexed. Funny, she couldn’t help but think. Chasing after Fiearius in a state of confusion before a horribly dangerous mission? It felt just like old times.