Chapter 49: Refuge

Leta grit her teeth and steadied her hand as she pushed the needle through the flesh and expertly tied it off. “There you go, all done,” she told the little girl who opened one tear-filled eye to peer down at the stitches in her arm. “You were very brave.”

The child sucked in a breath, her father provided Leta a word of thanks and the two of them headed out of the shelter into the camp just as Daelen, carrying a huge box of supplies that covered his face, walked in.

“You should be resting,” he told her, not for the first time, as he slid the boxes on top of the spent ones.

“I’ve rested enough,” Leta shot back without hesitation, already hovering over the crates before he even opened them. “Did you bring me more gauze? I’m running low.” Continue reading

Chapter 48: Beam Pt. 3

“Cy, please,” she begged, feeling her emotions starting to get the better of her. “Please, we can’t stay here. We need to go. We need to find the Beacon, we need to deal with the arks, we need to finish with Carthis–” He didn’t respond. He barely even reacted. Leta’s desperation grew. “Fine, I need to leave, Cy, I can’t–” The words were choking in her throat, her eyes watering heavily now. “I can’t wait here — I can’t –”

“Look,” he interrupted suddenly, his arm lifting and his finger pointing to the skies. Leta did as she was told and her breakdown was momentarily paused as she watched hundreds of ships, Society ships, Fiear’s ships, lowering out of the clouds towards the city. They were landing? And then there was the bulbous shape of the ark. Or, gods, there really were three arks?! They too, seemed to be lowering, their cannons finally quieted despite the Carthian ships still hovering in the air around them.

That is, until one of those Carthian destroyers ventured a little too close to the surface, chasing after a Society vessel. The ark barely charged up before a flash of red light burst across the sky and incinerated the Carthian instantly.

“They’re protecting us…” Cyrus muttered and when one of the others arks fired upon a different Carthian ship, Leta realized he was right.

Gasps of awe reached her ears and she glanced back to find a whole flock of Satierans on the remains of the street behind her. She hadn’t even noticed them, but there must have been a hundred at least and more flooding in, all of their attention on the skies above them. All of them wondering what the hell was going on.

Again, Leta tugged at Cyrus’ arm, though with no real purpose. She didn’t know what she wanted anymore. To leave, to not have to look at this mess, this decimated city, this end so opposite from what she’d wanted. And yet at the same time, she wanted to stay. She wanted to never leave. Just in case…

Cyrus seemed to still be in a daze, staring up at the sky emptily when Leta spotted a ship separate from the others. It was coming their way and she recognized it instantly. The Beacon.

Leta took a few steps back as it hovered over them, whipping up the winds so tumultuously she had to block her face with her arm. The ship’s landing mechanisms extended and it slowly began to descend upon the flattest spot of the Nautilus’ corpse, but before it was even close enough to touch ground, the ramp began lower.

It was relieving, sure, to know there was a ship here with friendly faces, but Leta couldn’t relish in the Beacon’s presence as much as she would have liked to. They were going to ask. And she was going to have to answer. She was going to have to put into words what she didn’t want to say because if she said it, it meant it was true. It meant he wasn’t coming back. And just thinking of how to say it to Corra, to Finn, to Addy and Alyx and all of them…

Her chest felt like it might implode and she clamped her eyes shut, willing the tears out of them as best she could. Had she not done so, she might have seen the spectacular leap from the edge of the ramp, still far too high in the air, rather than just hear the thud of feet on metal that followed it. She would have seen the figure that sprinted across the torn hull and made Cyrus gasp. She would have known that it wasn’t Addy who had seized him in a bear hug so tight he coughed.

When she finally opened her eyes, Leta’s breath left her lungs in a hurry as Fiearius haphazardly dropped his brother and scooped Leta into his arms, lifting her off her feet and spinning her in a dizzy circle.

The warmth of his hold sent Leta into a shock. She couldn’t react, she couldn’t think, she couldn’t even gauge the emotions flooding her senses as she stumbled back onto her own weight and buried her head in his chest.

He was alive.

Alive and breathing and covered in dirt and scrapes but seemingly unharmed and she was so relieved and so thankful and yet at the same time really really — angry?

“Where the hell were you?!” was the first thing she managed to get out of her mouth, pulling back to look at his face which grimaced in apology.

“Right, well–funny story, that…” he muttered.

“What happened?” she demanded again, stepping backwards, nearly enough to break his embrace.

“Well, see, I was following you and Cy, but then, y’know…” He shrugged. “I realized why you didn’t just throw the damned thing to begin with.”

“Because that was stupid?” Leta pointed out.

“Right and–”

“Because we needed it to control the arks,” she finished.

He pointed at her. “That’s the one. And that’s why I kinda–went back for it.”

“You what?!” Cyrus rejoined them now.

Fiearius cast his brother an uncomfortable glance and explained, “The big green death beam had moved, y’know? Cuz it was hit and all. It was falling. And I knew where the little ball was and where the beam was and I figured it’d–be fine?”

Cyrus did not looked like he agreed. “You’re insane.”

“I’ve been told that,” Fiearius admitted. “But I got it. And I’d already lost track of you two so I just–ran. Wherever. And the thing crashed.” He waved at the Nautilus. “And then the Beacon tracked the orb, found me, we got the arks, landed the ships, threatened Carthis, found you.” His arms around Leta’s waist tugged her closer. “And here we are.”

She must not have looked satisfied. She didn’t feel satisfied. She continued to gape at him, a frown creasing her brow and a rage burning in her stomach. His list was so cheerful, sing-song even, like everything was alright. Like nothing had even happened. Like she hadn’t been standing here crying and feeling empty and, gods, mourning him.

“P’ahti!” a voice cried out as the Beacon finally landed properly and over Fiearius’ shoulder, Leta saw Kalli and Addy running to Cyrus who caught them in an enthusiastic embrace.

“Hey,” Fiearius’ voice cooed in her ear. “It’s okay. Everything’s fine. It’s–”

“Don’t,” she cut him off, her voice harsh as she glared up at him. “Don’t ever. Do that to me again.” He opened his mouth to respond, but she slapped her open palm against his chest to silence him. “Ever!”

He frowned down at her seriously, but slowly a smile started to pull across his face. “Okay.”

“I’m serious,” she said, her very serious voice starting to crack. “Never.”

He nodded. “Right.”

“I thought you were dead.”

“I’m not though,” he pointed out.

“Doesn’t matter! Don’t ever do it again!”

“Okay.” He smiled softly at her. “I won’t.”

She slapped his chest again and stared at the back of her hand, sniffing heavily and using her other forearm to wipe away the water that she hadn’t even realized was streaming down her face. “Good,” she muttered, tapping each finger at a time against his shirt and heaving a deep breath, determined to get a hold of herself. “Just…good.”

She ignored him as he chuckled quietly, but she didn’t fight when she felt his hand on the back of her head, pulling her against him into his warm embrace. Her body ached, her mind was tired, but for the first time today, something felt right.

“Carthis is leaving,” Fiearius told her as he looked up at the skies.

“Of course they are, we have arks now,” Leta mumbled against him, her eyes closing as exhaustion started to take hold of her.

“Leta,” he pressed. “I think this means we won.” Without looking up, she pulled him closer and her eyes filled with tears.

Chapter 48: Beam Pt. 2

Her argument with Cyrus was cut abruptly short when Fiearius ripped the Caelum Lex from her grasp. But she’d anticipated that.

Instantly, Leta spun around, prepared to fight him for it. But, to her surprise, she didn’t need to. Fiearius didn’t go sprinting off towards the Nautilus’ beam. He didn’t run to some poetic death among the ruins of his home planet. He lifted the Caelum Lex and with all of his might, he threw it.

“What are you–?!” Cyrus began as Leta watched the tiny shape disappear into the distance, seeming so insignificant as it bounced off a pile of rubble and rolled away to be blown out by the blinding light.

Cyrus’ mouth was wide open. Leta was stunned. And Fiearius turned to them and spread his arms impatiently, as if to say ‘why didn’t you geniuses think of that?’ But he didn’t have much time to gloat and she didn’t have time to explain why she hadn’t. Suddenly, there was a boom so loud and a blast of air so strong, it brought Leta to her knees.

With her eyes sealed shut and her hands over her horribly ringing ears, Leta tried to right herself, to look up, but a pressure rained down on her so heavily she couldn’t move. Every inch of her felt pinned to where she’d fallen and no matter how hard she fought, she only barely managed to turn her head just enough to see the thick green beam of light flickering and, gods, was it falling?!

The pressure lessened or perhaps her panic just gave her strength enough to look straight up to see the black shadow of the ship itself immediately above her, a glowing red wound just barely visible in its side. Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped just as another explosion forced her to look away.

When someone grabbed her wrist and yanked her to her feet, she didn’t question, she didn’t fight. She just ran.

Her feet stumbled over the pavement, the toes of her boots catching on debris, but she stayed upright and moving forward as more explosions went off far above them. Her ears rang, her mind reeled and she’d already run for blocks before she even thought to look up and take stock of what was happening around her.

It was Cyrus who had grabbed her hand and he continued to lead her onward as fast as his legs could carry him. He was bleeding from his shoulder and he stumbled every few steps, but his grip was strong and he seemed to have more sense of direction than she did. She held his hand tighter.

But as relieved as she was to know she had Cyrus leading her, when she looked back, expecting to find Fiearius where he had been, where he was supposed to be, following after them, her heart stilled in her chest. He was nowhere in sight.

Frantically, she looked around them, eager to catch sight of that familiar flash of red, but all she saw was dust and debris, flickering in the fading green light.

No way. No way were they leaving him behind.

Leta yanked on Cyrus’ hand and he turned back to her.

“Where’s Fiearius?!” she yelled, but she couldn’t even hear her own voice.

Fortunately, Cyrus was able to read the question anyway. First he looked confused, then worried as he too looked around them. “He was right behind us!” she read him shout.

Well he wasn’t anymore.

Leta tried to rein in the panic starting to take over her mind. Did they go back for him? Did they keep pressing forward? She had no idea even where he was, but she couldn’t stop imagining him laying in the street behind them, knocked out by a flying piece of debris or trapped beneath a collapsed building.

When she looked at Cyrus, she saw the same questioning running through his eyes. And though Leta never arrived at an answer, he did.

He seized her hand tighter and kept running.

Dread plunged through Leta’s chest. Were they really just going to leave him behind? Injured or stuck or, gods, please gods, not dead. They were just going to abandon him? Cyrus, sure, he had a family to get back to. He had obligations to look out for himself. But Leta? She could go back, she could look for him, she could drag him out of this mess, the mess that was her idea. Maybe they could go on to end the war and save Satieri and fix the Span without him, but right then, she wasn’t sure she wanted to see a Span without Fiearius Soliveré strutting about it.

“I’m going back for him!” She ripped her hand from Cyrus’ and turned around, but he grabbed her shoulder and pulled her back just in time.

She stumbled backwards as a chunk of metal taller than a building suddenly buried itself in the pavement just feet in front of her. Another slammed onto the ground to their left. A deafening creak filled the air and Leta looked up in horror as the shape of the Nautilus tilted and writhed as red light continued to hit it again and again and again.

The green beam, just barely staying on, was nearly horizontal, throwing a streak across the city skyline. Leta ducked as it arced over their heads and then swung back, drawing figure eights in the air and burning anything it touched.

The creak grew louder and the beam curved upwards, away from the city entirely, facing straight up and finally, at long last, flickering into nothingness as the machine creating it, seemingly in slow motion as Leta looked up at its blasted, burnt out shell, still being pounded by ark fire from every direction, started to fall. Fall, she realized as she stared up in wonder and terror, straight towards them.

All sense of nobleness and logic died in the forefront of her mind as self-preservation kicked in and all it said was ‘don’t get crushed’. This time, it was her who grabbed Cyrus’ wrist and pulled him out of his stupor and into a sprint.

The groan of the Nautilus’ fall grew ever louder by the second and though Leta didn’t dare look back, she knew it was nearly upon them. Pieces of it were starting to land all around them, alight with red flame and only creating more obstacles for Leta to avoid.

She had no idea how much more they needed to run, how far away they needed to get, but she just kept running and praying inside her head, focused on one thing and one thing alone. Stay alive. Get out of the way. Stay alive.

And then suddenly, she felt Cyrus’ arm twist in hers. He made a noise, one she couldn’t hear above the horrific screech, and then before she knew what was happening, she was being pulled backwards. Her back hit metal with a thump, Cyrus’ hands gripped her shoulders and pushed her to her knees before her head was buried in his chest and then the blast came.

It was the worst noise Leta had ever heard, but she only heard it for a moment before her ears decided they couldn’t process it. The wailing scrape of a megaton of metal boring into the planet’s surface turned into a dizzying ring. She felt the wall at her back forced forward as the impact cloud of debris, rocks and fire drove past them, filling the space and making her cough against Cyrus’ hold. She clamped her eyes shut as they were filled with dust and held on as she felt her whole body being pushed by the sheer force of the air around her making room for the massive new addition to Satieri’s landscape.

It went on for what felt like hours, a constant stream of sound and motion that seemed to never end. But finally, slowly, it started to fade. The pressure, the noise, it became gradually more bearable, until Leta felt Cyrus loosen his grip around her. Tentatively, she opened one eye and saw his mouth move, but didn’t hear the words. Then he shakily rose to his feet. Leta joined him, at last taking in all of what had happened.

They were standing behind a huge chunk of the Nautilus’ exterior which had embedded itself in the street and had shielded them from the brunt of the crash. The crash which made her breath catch in her throat when she peered around the barrier at it.

The sight was barely recognizable. The street they’d stood on was gone, replaced instead by the vast twisted hull of the ship, dotted with flames and open gashes. The clouds above had dispersed, blown away by the monstrous falling object, leaving the air finally clear to see the ships still occupying the sky above.

Now that the winds were dying down, the scene was eerily quiet. It felt — dead. Like she and Cyrus were the only living things for miles, though surely that couldn’t be true. She hoped with all her heart that the Satierans here had fled before Carthis’ death machine ever arrived. She hoped with all of her being that one in particular wasn’t lying beneath the mess before her…

Leta’s hand was shaking when it reached out to rest on Cyrus’ shoulder. Her knees felt like they were going to buckle beneath her. Her eyes were watering, though she wasn’t sure if it was from the dust particles still floating around or the flood of emptiness she felt suddenly in her chest. But there was no reason for that emptiness. He wasn’t gone. He couldn’t be gone. Not like that. Not just — there one moment, gone the next. There was no way. Not Fiearius.

There was a noise behind her, a voice calling out words she couldn’t quite understand. Her heart leapt in her chest, but when she turned, she didn’t see who she was hoping for. Instead, a woman was climbing over the remains of a building, shielding her eyes from the light and peering out at the destruction they stood on the precipice off. She waved her hand and a few others joined her. Satierans, Leta realized. Satierans come to inspect the aftermath.

But it wasn’t over, was it? The arks were still in the air, Carthian battleships still swarmed the planet. It wasn’t over. Leta couldn’t just stand here and do nothing. Do nothing and wait for something that wasn’t going to happen.

If he was back there, if he was at all behind them, if he was on that street when the Nautilus hit — There was no way he survived that–

She swallowed the lump in her throat, ignored the plunging feeling spreading through her and turned to Cyrus. “We need to find the ship,” she said without even thinking. Of course, the ship was probably gone, decimated by that impact. “Or the Beacon. We should get in touch with the Beacon.”

Cyrus didn’t look at her. He stared straight ahead at the wreck, his mouth slackened and his eyes glazed. She snapped her fingers in front of his face. “Cy, come on.” Her voice was cracking. “Cy, we need to do something.”

Finally, he turned his attention to her and clamped his jaw shut. For a moment, he seemed to agree with her. She needed him to agree with her. She needed him to be his logical self and tell her they had to leave, standing here was a waste of time, there was nothing here for them. There was nothing left…

But he didn’t. He hesitated. He looked out at the Nautilus and seemed as reluctant to leave it as Leta felt.

Chapter 48: Beam


Leta had never forgotten the day they lost Archeti. The feeling of the planet quaking beneath her feet, the dark storm swirling overhead, the sickly glow cast over the city that felt like a poison had spread through every brick, every slab of concrete, every breath of air. It had haunted her dreams on cold, lonely nights when the rain had battered her windows on Vescent. And as Cyrus landed E’etan’s ship in the middle of a deserted street of Paradiex and Leta peered out of the missing door, she was living it again. Only worse.

Wind whipped at her hair as she took in the scene. It was as bright as daylight in summer, but the wrong color entirely. Debris littered the street and tumbled along the pavement, driven forward by the constant shake of the ground beneath her feet. Moments before, her ears had been filled with the boom of the ark’s cannon and the high-pitched whirrs of Carthian fire. Now, below the clouds, all she could hear was the crack and crumble and churn of the Nautilus and the sound of her own blood pounding against her eardrums. Continue reading