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Hat by khronosabre
Hat
Honestly I started this chapter with the fancy rich people scene primarily so I could draw Alyx with a fancy hat. Did you know I love fancy hats? One day I'm just going to have a million fancy hats and wear them everyday.

From Caelum Lex: A Sci-Fi Web Serial
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Stroll by khronosabre
Stroll
Every so often I get all inspired to do a totally different kind of composition with a cool setting. When I picture a scene so vividly I just have to draw the whole thing. Back when Leta was leading Ren and Fiear around riot-ravaged Vescent was one of those times. Broken decrepit stuff is my fave.

From Caelum Lex: A Sci-Fi Web Serial
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Knock knock knock.

The sound echoed through the Beacon’s empty command deck. Corra let her knuckles fall from the door as she waited. You better answer, she thought, half in threat and half out of worry that he would not. Sure, it was very late at night (or very early in the morning), but when they’d shared a ship, Finn had always kept odd hours.

Fortunately, the door slid open. A disheveled, yawning man greeting her on the other side. His hair stuck up at all angles, his eyes were squinting into the light of the hallway and his shirt was nowhere to be found. Clearly, she’d woken him.

Before she could even spare a word of half-hearted apology, Finn blinked himself into waking and said, “Well. This is surreal. When was the last time I found you outside my door in the middle of the night?” which made her laugh.

“Been a while, true,” she admitted, brushing past him to enter his room. It hadn’t changed much since she’d been here last, years ago as that was. There were an extra few layers of mess. More mostly-emptied bottles than was healthy. A pile of laundry that probably hadn’t been touched in far too long. But the smell was the same. Comforting, Corra thought. But now wasn’t the best time for reminiscing.

“Not that kind of visit though,” she added, a touch more harshly than she intended.

But Finn just laughed. “I would never have presumed as much.” Hitting the button to slide the door shut, he turned back into the room. “So what can I really do for ya, cap’n?”

Captain. The word made Corra outwardly cringe as she lowered herself onto a couch.

“Well, we can start with that. I thought I made it clear that I’m only here temporarily to figure out this Transmission business.”

“Crystal,” Finn agreed, sitting down across from her.

“Then how come the crew seems to believe that I’m their returning prodigal captain? Here to save them from their troubles?” She rose a brow at him, quite sure she knew where the rumor had come from. She noticed he didn’t deny it. “Which I guess is my second point. This ship. Is a mess. I’ve been here all of twenty four hours and most of that time has been spent listening to everyone’s griping. There’s not one person on this boat who’s not pissed at somebody else. What the hell happened?”

“Eh.” Finn leaned back, sliding his palms behind his neck. “Depends who you ask.”

“That much I got,” Corra mused. “Cai blames Alyx, Alyx blames you, Daelen blames everyone. What’s your take? Just so I have a, y’know, well-rounded view.”

“Well, I s’pose I’ll take my fair share of the responsibility.” Finn grinned and added, “Though for the sake of argument, I might point out it was you who left your devoted flock to fend for themselves.”

Corra let out a bitter laugh and shook her head. “Fair enough. It’s not just the ship either. Cy and Addy are a wreck just waiting to happen. Oh — and Leta! I just got off a call with her. In my absence, she’s apparently taken up murdering Society Councillors in the middle of Carthian ballrooms.”

“No kidding?” Finn raised his eyebrows, intrigued. “Like I said. We’re all a mess without you.”

“Clearly. But I can’t clean it up this time.” She fixed her eyes on him, far more seriously this time. “I really can’t. I’ve already been away long enough. I have people relying on me, people who are genuinely suffering who need my help. I need to get back to them. So.” She sat up straight and dropped her palms on her knees decisively. “The real reason I came by. Let’s talk about the Transmitter.”

“Right. The Transmitter. The mystery device you want to hunt down.” Corra couldn’t help but notice his tone of disbelief.

“You said you wanted to help me find it,” she reminded with a note of warning.

“Of course, and we absolutely will,” Finn agreed. “I just think it’s a bit odd, that’s all. That you’re so interested in this bizarre legend.”

She’d had this conversation already. First with Addy, though she hadn’t pressed it. Then with Cyrus, who had. Corra was prepared for the questioning, but not from Finn. “It’s more than a legend. It exists. The Transmission I have proves it.”

“Sure, it probably exists, but you don’t know what either of those things are or what they do,” Finn pointed out.

“The names say all I need to know,” Corra countered at once. “They transmit.” Before he could ask, she jumped in herself, “What, where and why? Who knows? But if the Transmission is worth a slew of bounty hunters after me and the Transmitter has the Society after it, it’s probably a good idea to figure it out first, don’t you think?”

Finn did not look convinced. “To add to your arsenal?”

“To keep out of everyone else’s.”

Finn paused, surveying her through narrowed eyes. He sounded curious, not judgemental, when he asked, “Why, though? Don’t you have enough to worry about?”

“Plenty,” Corra agreed. “But this is part of that. God only knows what Callahan’s people want with it, but considering their business, I doubt it’s good. The last thing I want is more power in the hands of slavers, no matter what that power is. As for the Society? They hold Ellegy and Ellegy is still the center of the ally market. Don’t really want them to have it either.”

Finn looked suddenly intrigued. “If you want the Society out of Ellegy, why not help out Carthis then? I hear that’s their plan. Enemy of my enemy and all that.”

Corra lifted her shoulders in a shrug. “Carthis doesn’t have allies themselves, but they’ve made no indication they’re outright opposed to them either. If they want to take Ellegy and, more importantly, hold Ellegy, they’re gonna have to leave some things alone to appease its people. What easier thing to leave than the centuries old system of power and abuse they love so much?” Finn opened his mouth again, but Corra cut him off, “And no, Fiear’s supporting the Ellegian rebels who want to keep the place exactly as is sans Society control. There are a lot of sides in this conflict, but none of them care about my side.”

Finn propped his head in his hand and frowned thoughtfully at her. “Y’know, for someone who’s been gone five years, you sure as hell know a lot about what you missed.”

Corra just chuckled. “I wasn’t around, but I wasn’t gone. This territory war isn’t my concern, but the human impact is. And my friends’ lives are. I’ve helped out where I could.”

“Helped? Raisa said you were buried deep in the ally trade, getting yourself sold and bought by top-shelf assholes.”

“I was. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t slip some intel the Dionysian’s way here or there. Or that I couldn’t convince a contact to send some work to the Beacon.” Her small smile spread into a grin. “Or have Leta convince Fiear to attack the absolute perfect diversion for my own missions.”

Finn returned her grin. “Devious. I like it.”

Corra released a long sigh and leaned back against the couch. “I mean, you can’t just abandon your flock entirely. Who knows what they’d get up to without you?”

“S’pose that’s true. When I left Fiear alone, he started a war.”

Corra grimaced. “That he did.” A moment of silence fell before she finally mustered up enough courage to ask, “You two doing okay?”

Finn looked amused. “You make us sound like a bickering married couple.”

“Aren’t you?”

“We’re fine, as far as I know.”

Corra leaned forward and rested her chin in her hand. “He doesn’t mind your –uh– less than enthusiastic feelings about that war you mentioned? Couldn’t help but notice this ship’s steered pretty clear of any battlefronts.”

“Being able to do so is a luxury I’m not willing to sacrifice,” Finn muttered. “Besides, this boat is a mess, you said it yourself. What help would we be to the great Soliveré fleet?” He let out a laugh that Corra got the feeling held a tinge of bitterness, but whether or not that bitterness was aimed at the fleet or the state of the ship, she couldn’t begin to guess.

“We’re still friends, if that’s what you’re asking,” he went on. “We talk, occasionally meet up, though less than we used to. Busy man and all. But does he hate me for wanting to keep my nose out of it all? I don’t think so. He asked us if we were interested in helping exactly once, many years ago.”

“And what’d you tell him?”

“That I’ve lost my taste for violence.” Finn smirked darkly.

Corra couldn’t ignore the lump that formed quite suddenly in her throat. She didn’t need to hear him say why. She knew why. The day still played out in perfect recollection in her own head every so often, just as it was now. The day Archeti fell, at the time, felt like a blur, but years later every detail was in focus. Every mistake she had made. And everything she could have done to change the outcome.

She forced herself to swallow the lump, but when she spoke, all she managed was, “That’s understandable,” and even those words came out dry and brittle.

Finn’s face flashed momentary realization and for a second she thought she saw a hint of apology, but he hurried onward, “But really, how much good could we do, anyway? The Beacon’s barely afloat as it is.”

“Yeah,” Corra agreed instantly, nodding perhaps a little too enthusiastically. “Definitely.” An awkward silence hung in the air as Corra tried to recompose herself. She could feel Finn watching her with interest, but she couldn’t meet his stare, instead locking her eyes on her own hand, tense and clenched at her side.

Finally, at last, she drew a deep breath. “Well. I did a little research on this archive and the Transmitter and all. Want to help me draw out a plan of attack?”

She could have sworn she saw brief disappointment cross his face, but Finn smiled and leaned forward in his chair. “Let’s do it. Tell me what you got.” The smile grew a little wider. “I gotta say, cap’n. I’m lookin’ forward to working with you again.”

Corra regarded him curiously, but then a mischeivous smile formed on her own face. “Yeah? Let’s get through this briefing and see how you feel after, hm?”

—————

Addy trotted down the stairs to the lower deck, purpose in her step. She was full of energy, more than she had been in weeks — months, even. For the first time in ages, she was excited for something. Something that wasn’t just another boring budget meeting or planning committee negotiation or even the grand opening of a new business which was, pathetically, the most exciting event that happened on Archeti as of late.

No, for once, she was excited for something different. An adventure, like the old days. Corra had just finished laying it out to her: the Beacon would be touching down on the very moon they’d only escaped from days previous, though fortunately the other end of it. Finn and Corra themselves would seek out the mysterious archive Eriaas had mentioned to search for the artifact the Society had been so interested in. But as they did that, they needed someone to scour the archive itself, the books, for clues.

Addy had said yes before Corra had even finished asking.

Finally, she reached her quarters and slid open the door. She’d only be gone for the day so there wasn’t much packing to be done. She threw a bag onto the bed and started to gather what little she needed. A few snacks, a supply of water, a tablet to reference what she found, she could probably borrow a gun from Corra. And of course, before she left, she’d have to make sure everything for Kalli was squared away.

Currently, the little girl was across the hall with Cyrus. Cyrus, who was a whole other can of worms right now. Fleetingly, Addy paused to look out into the hallway and the closed door, a knot in her chest.

They hadn’t fought about staying aboard the Beacon for the time-being instead of returning to Archeti. They hadn’t even talked about it. Gods, they’d barely talked at all since that one awful fight back at Eriaas’ mansion, except about their daughter. Kalli, as always, was the one safe subject, the topic they always agreed on and understood entirely. It only became so blindingly apparent when they agreed on absolutely nothing else.

Neither of them had said anything about how long they would be staying. Neither of them had brought up the fact that Cyrus had quietly chosen quarters separate from hers. Neither of them had commented that they had seemed to be taking their meals at different times. They spoke for over an hour while trying to find Kalli’s lost purple dragon toy, but neither Cyrus nor Addy seemed willing to address the fact that their relationship was quietly falling apart.

Addy was still frozen in place, staring at Cyrus’ door when that very door suddenly slid open and Cyrus emerged from inside. Quickly, she looked away, but not quite quickly enough for him not to notice.

“We got a landspout,” he said, leaning in the doorway. Code for when their tiny tornado had worn herself out into a far lesser threat. Kalli was asleep. Addy smiled.

“What did you two get up to this morning?”

Cyrus shrugged and meandered a few steps into the room, his fingers still trailing on the doorframe. “A spaceship landed on a remote planet covered in dirty laundry and was eaten by a three-headed monster. We avenged it.”

“The usual, then.”

“The usual,” Cyrus agreed, but then his eyes traveled down to where her hand was still halfway in the bag she was packing. “You, uh, going somewhere?”

“Uh, yeah,” Addy answered, hesitantly closing the bag. “Corra’s got this mission, I’m gonna help out a bit.” Cyrus eyed the bag, then her and nodded slowly, his lips held a little too tight to be natural. He was hiding something. Not very well, when did he ever? But there was something he was holding back. Something he was doing a lot lately. Anger, maybe. Frustration? Disappointment? It made Addy’s heart wrench more than she’d anticipated, seeing whatever words and feelings he held go unspoken, unaddressed. And suddenly she did something she wasn’t expecting.

“I was actually going to ask if you wanted to come too.”

Cyrus looked up at her, surprised as she was at the invitation. “Come with you?”

“Yeah,” she said, sticking to it regardless. “It’s a simple thing. Just reading some old books, digging for information, the likes. Nothing all that dangerous, just research.” She let out a chuckle. “All us nerds are good for.”

Cyrus returned the laugh half-heartedly, but shook his head. “I should stay here and look after Kalli.”

Of course he should, that was Addy’s plan after all. In the end, there was no better babysitter than Kalli’s own father while she was away. But without thinking, she shook her head and said, “Alyx can watch her.”

He was now eying her warily. “I don’t know, she might be a bit much for Alyx…”

“Well there’s Daelen or Cai–”

“She’s a bit much for anyone who’s not used to her.”

“Then they can trade off.” Addy dropped the bag back on the bed and walked over to him. “Come on. Come with me. It’ll be fun.”

He wasn’t looking at her at all anymore. Instead, he was staring at her bag with a slight crease in his brow. Finally, he glanced her way and asked, “Do you really want me to come with you?” in the kind of tone that implied he couldn’t possibly believe that she did.

The question drove a spike of pain through her chest. They truly were falling apart. And as little as she’d recognized it lately and as little as she’d allowed herself to care, suddenly she cared. She cared a lot. Cyrus was by no means perfect and as of late, he’d been so far and distant from her, she had started to forget how deep that caring went. Once upon a time they’d been two happy fools falling madly in love as they ventured across the Span, facing danger at every turn. It seemed so long ago now, but for the first time, it occurred to her that maybe she didn’t want to have an adventure in order to get away from Cyrus. Maybe she wanted an adventure to try and get Cyrus, the one she’d fallen for, back.

Carefully, she stepped towards him and took both his wrists in hers. “I do,” she told him, meeting his stare. “I really do.”

She tried not to smile as his cheeks turned a shade of pink she hadn’t seen in years and he looked down at his feet. “I dunno, Adds, it could be dangerous, I mean–”

“A library?” She scoffed. “Dangerous? Cy.” She lifted a hand to his cheek. “What happened to the fearless ‘terror of the Span’ who used to call me from the middle of secret anti-Society missions? Or write me messages from the far edges of space? Or take me on dates to dangerous gang-ridden areas of town?”

Cyrus sputtered his indignation. “That was an accident!”

Addy laughed and cupped his other cheek. “Please, Cy. Come with me. On this daring trip to the library. Please.” The smile dropped a little from her face as she said, “We need this…”

He still looked reluctant. He definitely didn’t look happy. He didn’t even look like he agreed. But finally, to Addy’s great relief, he slipped his arms delicately around her waist and kissed her forehead. “Alright. If it’s that important to you, I’ll come.” She grinned and was about to pull his face towards hers for a real kiss, when he grinned mischievously and added, “But you get to break the tornado warning to Alyx.”
“You were right,” Fiearius grunted, leaning against the heavy bolted door with his arms crossed. He scowled. “I don’t like this plan.”

Leta just shook her head, not looking up from the book she paged through as she sat lounged in a plush red armchair with her feet up. Beside her sat Admiral Gates, smoking from a cigar and looking like he was enjoying his evening, as odd as it had turned out.

“Why not, Admiral?” he asked, smirking through an exhale of smoke. “I thought you were just dying to get away from the party.”

True enough, that was the one positive effect of Leta’s idea. But the idea of waiting it out hidden in this mansion’s incredibly well-furnished underground panic room until the danger of the supposed assassin upstairs passed was obviously not Fiearius’ kind of plan. For a man who lived on the cramped Dionysian, he didn’t seem very comfortable in other confined spaces.

“I was,” Fiearius growled, his fingers tensing against his arms before he pushed himself from the door and started pacing across the carpeted floors. “But we’ve been down here an hour. Nothing has happened, nothing’s gone wrong at the party. What are we even waiting for?”

“You know what we’re waiting for,” Leta reminded, trying to keep her patience.

“We have to wait for dessert to be finished, yes?” Gates muttered absently, who did not seem to find an assassination attempt particularly surprising or worrisome. When they had approached him in the ballroom and insisted he come with them or something terrible might happen, Gates had treated them as though they’d just asked him to play a game of cards instead of save his life. “Happens more than I care to admit,” he’d sighed in amusement as they descended the stairs to their temporary prison.

“The assassin was supposed to do the deed before dessert, right,” Leta agreed, “but–”

“‘Before dessert’ was ages ago,” Fiearius cut her off, running a tense hand through his hair and gripping the edge of a desk with the other.

“–but we’re going to wait it out a little longer,” Leta continued. “To be safe.”

The desk made a dull thump as Fiearius slammed it back against the wall. “I don’t like this.”

“So you’ve mentioned,” mumbled Gates, now uncorking a glass decanter he’d found on the table and sniffing the bottle with interest.

“I don’t like hiding like some coward,” Fiearius said. “If someone wants to kill me, fine, but I want to look ‘em in the eye when they try it. I want to know the face of my enemy,” he went on, gripped by some unbearable passion or perhaps just unextinguishable boredom. It was often hard to tell with Fiearius. “I want to meet them head on. I want — ”

“Leta,” Gates interrupted suddenly, looking over at her. He corked the decanter and set it aside. “Since we’re here regardless, I’ve been meaning to ask you about your foreseeable plans in the upcoming days.”

Sparing only a quick glance at Fiearius to take in the wonderfully dumbstruck look on his face, Leta answered, “To be honest, I’m not quite sure. Vescent doesn’t seem like the best place for me right now and my clinic, if Nikkolai is to be believed, is running just fine in my absence. I’ll probably stay on as the physician aboard the Dionysian for a time, if for no other reason than to spare anyone from the Carthian med teams the task.” She glanced meaningfully at the ship’s captain who rolled his eyes.

“Half of those stories are made up.”

She raised her eyebrows pointedly. “Which means half are true.”

Gates was nodding, his fingers laced together under his chin. “A noble sacrifice, I’m sure,” he said at last. “Well I certainly don’t intend to take you from the important and impossible task of keeping the Dionysian flying, but it’s good to hear you’ll be close by because we might have another significant need for you.” Leta frowned at him curiously and he asked, “Tell me, have you been to Ellegy?”

“Uh–yes, I have,” she answered, voice full of questioning. “My dad did a lot of work in the capital city. My family had property there, we used to visit every other summer, sometimes more.”

“That’s what I thought. Well. As I’m sure you’re aware, Ellegy is the natural next step in the war. So far, we’ve only managed to claim small victories that do us little good in the overall scheme of things. But Ellegy? The great, powerful Ellegy? Rich in resources, technology and wealth? Not to mention, the known location of one of our own assassin’s targets.” He gestured towards Fiearius. “If we can take Ellegy, we’ll finally be in a good position to start ending this war.”

Leta couldn’t disagree. Ellegy and Satieri were the Society’s two giants. They’d fortified them beyond penetration since before the bullets even started flying. Losing just one would be devastating to the whole Society structure and Leta had known for a long time that, with Ascendia finally calming down in Carthis’ favor, Ellegy was on the horizon. But that still left a gaping question.

“I get all of that, but I’m not sure I get what you think I can do to help.”

Gates’ mouth twisted into a smirk. “Ellegy has always blocked Carthian citizens from entering their borders. They certainly don’t allow space pirates to saunter in either. Not a single person in our strategy meetings has ever set foot on the planet. But you? You have.”

A nervous half-chuckle escaped Leta’s lips. “Ages ago. When I was a child, a teenager maybe, but–I mostly just stayed on my parent’s property. Maybe hung out with some of the neighbor kids, played in the park, I don’t know anything of any value.”

“Perhaps not,” Gates admitted. “But you may know more than you think and regardless, as a citizen of the Ellegian cluster if not Ellegy itself, you have a perspective that none of us do. I don’t expect you to be an expert, but if you have any fraction of insight that could help us plan the largest attack we’ve made so far, I want you in those meetings. If you’re willing.”

“Of course,” Leta said at once. “I mean, if I can help in any way, I’ll–”

“Hang on a second.”

Startled, Leta looked over at Fiearius, having almost forgotten he was in the room. He was eyeing Gates, face full of suspicion. “Why the hell do we need her for that?”

Leta bristled. “Excuse me?”

“No no, you don’t understand–” Fiearius said quickly.. “Not saying you shouldn’t help, you should, we do need you, but not for that. The specific thing. The knowledge of Ellegy thing.” His apologetic expression snapped back to confused anger when he swung his attention back to Gates. “Because we have experts. People who’ve always lived on Ellegy. On the ground. Currently.”

Leta looked between the two of them, but Gates had looked away. “Ah,” he said quietly, not meeting anyone’s eyes. “Right.”

“The rebels?” Leta filled in on her own, turning to Fiearius when Gates didn’t answer. “The Ellegian rebels you told me you were in contact with.”

“Yeah, those rebels,” Fiearius confirmed, sitting down in a chair across from them. “Who know a lot more useful intel about Ellegy than you do. No offense.”

“None taken.”

“So I ask again. I’ve built a good relationship with the rebel leader.” Fiearius brought his forearms against his knees, leaning in.  “They’re on our side, they’re ready to take our orders, you signed off on this course of action, so why are you trying to hire a Vescentian tourist as our strategic team’s Ellegian expert?”

Gates met Fiearius’ stare coolly. “Unfortunately, the president–”

“Oh, fuck,” Fiearius growled preemptively, dropping his head in his hands.

“–has deemed the rebel forces on Ellegy too risky of an investment.”

“Of course.” Fiearius slapped the arm of his chair dramatically before rising to his feet and starting to pace again. “Of course, they’re too risky. Because they might pose a threat to your little expanding empire.”

“We’ve been ordered to cease contact with them immediately and any further relay of confidential plans is prohibited.”

“I can’t believe th–no, actually–no, I can believe this. I can completely believe this. I knew you would pull this shit before the time came.” He clenched a fist and somehow held off on punching a hole in the wall with it. “Gods forbid there’s anyone at the end of this who you owe anything to.”

Leta watched Fiearius as he tore across the room, a barely contained tornado of rage, but when she spared a glance at Gates, feeling her own spike of anger (it was going to be just like Vescent, like Ascendia, all over again, wasn’t it?), she didn’t see the man she expected. She thought she’d find Admiral Kaiser Gates, stern, resilient and, as always, uninterested in his counterpart’s opinion of Carthian policies. Instead, she saw Admiral Kaiser Gates, hesitant and thoughtful, like he didn’t really think cutting off the rebels was a very good idea either.

“–waiting for the day it’s my turn,” Fiearius was still ranting across the room. “When’s that order going to come from the president? Put Soliveré on the chopping block, he’s ‘too risky’, he’s–”

“Fiear,” Leta interrupted, softly, but he heard her. His fists were still clenched in frustration when he turned to look at her, but his anger lessened in her gaze. He glanced at Gates who met his eyes firmly, then back at Leta whose mouth tightened a little at the corner, and then finally he turned away entirely.

“This is ridiculous,” he declared. “The assassin’s probably long gone by now. He failed his mission over an hour ago, I’m not waiting here any longer.”

This time, no one argued as he marched towards the heavy security door, unlocked the bolts, swung it open and walked out.

Leta stayed where she was another long moment, watching the man still beside her, unflinching and unmoving. She released a small sigh before rising to her feet and following Fiearius back upstairs.

——————

Fiearius stood on the edge of the party, jaw tightened, expression unreadable as he leaned his shoulder against a pillar. Leta stood beside him, silent for several minutes as she watched couples glide through the dance floor, though she wasn’t really seeing them. Her mind was back in the panic room, considering what Gates had said.

“What do you think changed their mind?” she asked finally, her voice an undertone.

“They found out,” Fiearius answered. He didn’t look away from the dance floor as he spoke.

“About the rebels meeting with Dez?” Leta guessed. “How?”

“Who knows? They’ve got spies everywhere. On Ellegy, surely. Could have planted one inside the rebel cell itself. Hell, maybe even my pretty you-clone watcher’s been digging through my messages when I’m not looking, what difference does it make? If they know, that alliance is dead,” Fiearius growled under his breath. “I told him not to. I told him it was too big a chance.”

“But he met with them anyway,” Leta sighed. “And now Carthis thinks the Ellegian rebels are in league with terrorists.”

Fiearius groaned. “How many times do I have to tell you, Dez and his people–”

“Aren’t terrorists, I know,” Leta cut in. “Weren’t responsible for the bombings, didn’t cause the transit meltdown, are just easy scapegoats, I know, I know. But you told me yourself what they have done.” She raised her brows at him pointedly. “And none of it Carthis would approve of. So I’d venture a guess that the Ellegy meeting–”

Fiearius was already shaking his head and sighing. “Not good. Yeah. I know.”

They fell into a thoughtful silence again before Leta mused, “Do you know what they’re planning?”

“Not a clue.”

Leta paused. Then a smirk twisted her lips. “Well, maybe when we get back to the ship, we should call the rebel leader and ask.”

Fiearius shot her a look of amazement. “Call the rebels? Despite Carthis’ very clear prohibition on contacting them? You, newest member of the strategic team, breaking the rules? Already?”

Leta blinked slowly, full of innocence. “Prohibition? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I never got any messages mentioning a prohibition, did you?”

Fiearius barked a laugh and then wound his arm around her, drawing her to his side warmly. “I knew there was a reason I liked you.”

Leta grinned, dropping her eyes to the floor. After a moment, her brow creased and she ventured, “About that me-clone spy. You haven’t…?”

Fiearius glanced down at her wryly. “Just who do you think I am?”

“Well then, that was a nice break.” Leta glanced back at Gates just as Fiearius let his arm drop to his side and took a step away. The older admiral looked between them, a little too knowingly, Leta thought, before walking straight through the space Fiearius had left beside her. “Back to work then?”

“Back to work,” Fiearius sighed in agreement as he and Leta followed the man back out of the hallway. Still standing by the entrance were the guards they’d had posted there before secluding themselves.

“Anything weird happen while we were gone?” Leta asked the woman and she dutifully shook her head.

“Nothing out of the ordinary at all, miss.”

“And isn’t that a relief,” Leta muttered under her breath. Fiearius snorted his agreement and held out his arm for her to take as they walked down the steps towards the main ballroom.

“I suppose I’ll have to look into the who’s, what’s and how’s of this little ordeal, but for now I’m thinking a drink is in order,” he said, faking a posh nobleman’s accent as best his working-class Satierian tongue could manage. “Do you concur, dear lady?”

“A drink wouldn’t go amiss,” Leta admitted though she paused halfway down the stairwell to peer out over the crowd. “I should probably find my date though.” Fiearius made a sort of disgruntled noise, but fell obediently silent as she searched the room for a sight of Liam. Hopefully he would forgive her for abandoning him for so long in the middle of a gala. Maybe he’d be more willing if, as soon as she found him, she told him they could leave the gala.

She had just thought she caught sight of a familiar face when a voice behind her slowly drifted into her conscious awareness. “–whole schedule’s off now,” the voice was saying. One of the guards she’d just spoken to. “Admirals need a lot of protecting I guess so the first rank’s gonna be pulling overtime to accommodate. And you can guess how happy Lady Illusán about that.”

“Not,” said the other guard with a snort.

Leta didn’t understand why she suddenly felt a need to listen in on this conversation about the budget and schedules of the hired security. It certainly wasn’t interesting, but something compelled her to pay attention when the first guard went on, “Precisely. I mean the lot of them were supposed to be let off-duty when Gates slipped out in the last course, but now–”

And just as suddenly, Leta was very glad she did.

She turned around in alarm and marched back up the stairs. Fiearius, who seemed to have been dazing off waiting for her, perked up and followed, his mouth half-forming a question that never quite got out. Before he got the chance, Leta demanded of the guard, “What were you just saying?”

The woman looked startled and then embarrassed and then quickly nervous. “N-nothing, miss,” she explained hurriedly. “Just idle gossip, won’t happen again, miss.”

Leta shook her head in frustration. “No, no, it’s important. What you said. Gates slipping out in the last course?”

Now the poor woman simply seemed confused. “Wh — yes, miss. The schedule indicated Admiral Gates would be discreetly departing early as always.”

“Always?” Fiearius asked, finally seeming to somewhat catch-up in the conversation.

“The Admiral tends to always leave these functions early, sir. The first rank guards that watch him are only ever scheduled until dessert.”

The panic that had been slowly rising in Leta hit its peak. “The assassin had to act before dessert–” she breathed.

“Because he’d be gone after,” Fiearius finished for her, eyes widen.

“But now–”

They both swung their heads toward the ballroom floor where front and center, Admiral Gates was back to his duties, already deep in some political discussion with his fellow military brass.

Fiearius was the first to react.

“You two,” he ordered to the guards, “With us.” He marched down the stairs, Leta on his heel. Together they pressed through the crowd, side-stepping guests who were laughing, drinking, singing — they had no idea an assassin was among them.

Adrenaline surged through her and Leta had half a mind to yell to Gates across the room, but then she glimpsed it, in the corner of her eye: a flash of black metal. A gun. It was locked in a man’s hand, at his side, moving in and out of sight as its holder marched toward Gates through the crowd.

Shock bolted through her veins. Her hands reached for Fiearius’ arm, and then, before she could think to do otherwise, she pushed herself forward and seized the weapon and the man’s forearm in one motion. Gritting her teeth, she twisted his hand hard, drawing the weapon away. Fiearius was yelling her name as the guests jumped back, a chorus of screams erupting around her. The assassin wrestled his hand back, growling furiously to free himself, but in the back of Leta’s mind, she knew she’d done it. She’d already drawn enough attention to him.

“Over here!” a  guard yelled over the fray, while another gasped, “Grab him!”  In a flash, the man was ripped  backwards, his grip freeing from the gun. Leta saw that Fiearius had swung his forearm hard against the man’s throat, dragging him away. The assassin struggled furiously against Fiearius, but his efforts died off when the guards arrived, parting the crowd.

Shock drowned out sound in Leta’s ears as she watched, transfixed. It happened in slow motion: Fiearius stepped away, chest heaving hard; the guards withdrew their weapons, then forced the assassin against a wall, and seized his wrists with metal restraints.

Awed murmurs rippled through the crowd — horrified, confused, even some drunkenly excited at all the commotion. But when the guards escorted the assassin from the room, the scene somehow became a lot more chaotic. She lost sight of Gates who was being flocked to in worry by everyone in the room who needed to earn his favor. She even lost sight of Fiearius amongst the clammer.

She was vaguely aware that people were talking to her, clapping her on the back, congratulating her on a job well done. How brave, they said. How selfless. What a relief she was here to act.

But she’d gotten lucky, said the cold, logical voice in her head. That was all. They’d accidentally forced the assassin to act sloppily, and caught him in a desperate act. If they’d been off at all, the assassin would have done his job quickly and quietly in the mansion somewhere, not desperate and urgent in the middle of the dance floor, not sure he’d get another chance before his target disappeared. Dazed, all Leta could focus on was her own breath, still shorter than it should be, and her own heartbeat, still pounding away in her chest relentlessly.

She was also vaguely aware of the gun she’d wrestled away still sitting heavy and cold in her hand. Part of her wanted to just hand it to someone to get it away from her, but another part, the part she recognized as the one that had spent too much time in the company of space pirates on the Dionysian, wanted to grip it tighter.

Slowly, she began to drift out of her daze and then, much more suddenly, she was dragged out of it by a frantic tugging on her arm. Shaking her head, she forced herself back into the moment and found herself face to face with Liam, whose face was stark white.

“–hear me? Leta? Are you okay?” he was saying, grasping her hands in his.

“Fine,” she said. Realizing she’d sounded a bit harsh, said again, more softly, “I’m fine. Really. I–”

But Liam looked as alarmed as she’d ever seen him, his eyes frantic. He held her elbows and drew her closer.

“Leta, you need to listen to me, right now. I found something,” he explained breathlessly, starting to steer her away from the fray. “When you were gone, I followed someone, I found — ”

“Liam, liam, it’s okay,” she interrupted, putting a hand on his shoulder. “It’s all taken care of. He’s in custody. He failed. Everything’s okay. The guards have the assassin.”

But to her growing dismay, his response was not, “Oh thank goodness.” Nor was it any sort of relief at all. He simply knit his brow, confused.

“Assassin? What? No, I don’t know anything about–” He shook his head furiously. “Leta, there was this man that stuck out to me. I shadowed him for a while. He seemed normal enough, but he went upstairs, I thought why the heck not, and I followed him and he made a call. I heard the whole thing.”

“What thing?”

“It was–about you. About Soliveré. That you didn’t know–Something with–Ascendia? And Vescent and Ellegy and –They said things about–” He was stumbling over his words, speaking too fast, but he came to a sharp halt and heaved a deep breath. “He’s a Councillor, Leta. A Society Councillor is here.”

Leta felt as though all the blood in her body had turned cold. Her grip on Liam’s shoulder tightened and she leaned towards him as she hissed, “What? How do you–Are you sure?”

“Positive, without a doubt,” Liam answered without skipping a beat. “I know what I heard. He’s a Councillor.”

“Who is?”

Liam opened his mouth, but words didn’t come out. He frantically looked around the two of them, his head whipping back and forth until finally it stopped and his wide eyes grew wider. “Him,” he breathed and Leta followed his line of sight to, “The one talking to Soliveré.”

Not just talking to Soliveré. Smiling with Soliveré, laughing with Soliveré. The two of them seemed to be sharing some cordial joke or story like any of the vague, polite society acquaintances at this party. And then the man, who looked no more interesting than any other middle-aged man in attendance, reached up his hand and let it drop affectionately on Soliveré’s shoulder. His fingers tightened. And that was when Leta had to do something.

What, however, was another matter.

“Fiearius!” she shouted to him without even thinking. He looked over at her, surprised. So did the man beside him. And before she could even consider reason or logic or the best plan of action, she remembered the gun in her hand. Almost of its own accord, it lifted into the air.

A loud bang and a cacophony of gasps filled the ballroom.
Liam wasn't sure what he was expecting to find when he excused himself from the dinner table and left the ballroom in search of Leta. The stairways were blocked off by security, but there was a door left open in the courtyard that seemed to have been used recently. Drink in hand, he half-walked, half-wandered up the carpeted staircase, away from the party. It wasn't the first time he went exploring where he wasn't supposed to: it was rather in his nature, as an investigative journalist, to poke around a bit. He just didn't think he would have to seek out his own date and her ex.

Still, the thought didn’t sour him: he was surprised Leta had agreed to be his date at all. After his messages had gone unanswered, he’d nearly given up on her. And now he was terribly glad he hadn’t. Amazingly enough, Leta seemed to enjoy his company.

Upstairs, Liam was just wondering if he would soon be accosted by security when he spotted the missing pair. Fiearius and Leta stood in the doorway of a guest bedroom, their heads bowed closely together as they looked down at a tablet's screen and whispered amongst themselves.

" -- we don't know who he's after," Leta was saying in a hurried tone. She hadn't noticed him yet. "Or do we?"

"Well," FIearius grunted, "we can probably guess."

When neither of them looked up, Liam broke in. "Everything alright?"

Leta looked up quickly, startled. Then she relaxed. "Liam," she sighed. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to leave you down there."

"What're you sorry for? I love a good party." He grinned, and Leta looked relieved. Liam noticed, with some amusement, that Fiearius' face fell into a scowl. He dropped the tablet out of sight.

"Someone after you?" Liam asked, nodding toward the screen, then meeting Leta's eyes in concern. "Again?"

"That's what we're trying to figure out. We’ve sort of stumbled into -- “

But Fiearius cut her off, holding out his hand sharply. “Hang on. We’re not sharing what we’ve found with this guy. Have you forgotten what he is? Because I haven’t.”

“Not this again,” Leta groaned. “Didn’t you just get done telling me you’d behave like an adult?”

“I am behaving like an adult. And any sensible adult would know that this can’t get out,” Fiearius snapped, his eyes were locked on Liam with a sort of intensity he imagined probably intimidated some people. Wasn’t that what his colleagues said? That Admiral Soliveré was a towering, intense force of nature that on one in their right mind would cross? That it was no surprise he did so well in the shadier regions of the Span? That if he wanted to be, he was terrifying? Himself, he wasn’t phased.

Leta wasn’t either. She rolled her eyes. “For the gods’ sake, Fiear.”

“This is why I didn’t want him following us.”

“Why? You really think he’s going to take this and go straight to his editor? Right now?” She put her hands on her hips. “Before we can do anything. Really.”

“Dov’ha ti’arte, Leta, is it really worth the risk?”

Did they forget he was standing right here? He was almost tempted to just let them carry on. It wasn’t the worst thing to hear Leta Adler defend you. Still.

“Might be for the best.” Liam smirked. “Can’t promise I won’t bust open the story, you know, like I have a thousand times before.”

The irony seemed to be lost on Fiearius, who just glared at him for a moment longer then replaced the tablet where he’d presumably found it. “Come on, we have work to do,” he growled, sweeping towards the door, catching Liam and Leta in his wake. The door was shut, the lock was clicked and they were on their way back down the hall, walking faster than Liam even thought Leta could in those shoes. Whatever was going on, they were in a hurry.

The trio descended the main stairs back towards the ballroom. Liam couldn’t help but catch the eye of one of the guards, confused, in all likelihood, how they’d gotten up there to begin with. Neither of his companions paid the man any heed, however, so he just smiled briskly and made to follow after them.

But suddenly, there was a large calloused hand in his face that made him stumble to a halt. “Nope, you stay here, don’t have time to deal with you,” Fiearius barked sharply. “Go eat some cheese or tiny sandwiches or something.” The man waved his hand in the air flippantly and then stalked off, leaving only Leta, more apologetic than he’d ever seen her.

“I’ll see you later, alright?”  Leta knit her brow, looking troubled, but with a familiar light of determination in her eyes. “I’ll tell you everything, there’s just something we need to take care of first. And be careful at the party, okay?”

“Careful how?” he wondered, unsure if she was joking or not.

“Just watch out for yourself.”

“You too.”

He watched her retreating back as she followed after the tall redhead plowing through the crowd, but something else caught his eye. He wasn’t the only one watching them. A perfectly average-looking middle-aged man stood near the edge of the dance floor, seemingly engaged in a conversation with a group of socialites. But whatever the topic of conversation, it clearly didn’t interest him for his eyes were fixed on Fiearius and Leta as they moved across the room.

Liam might not have thought anything of it, had he not just been abandoned by two people who clearly thought something was amiss. But as it so happened, there was something about the man’s stare that bothered him. Something far too intense, far too meaningful, for simple curiosity.

Well, he hadn’t become an investigative journalist for nothing. He straightened his jacket and slipped into the crowd.

-------------

Leta followed on Fiearius’ heels, weaving herself through the throng of guests. She felt a stab of guilt at leaving Liam behind again, but she had something far bigger to worry about: finding the assassin that had infiltrated the party.

Fortunately, Fiearius seemed to know what he was doing. Or at least he was walking as though he did, stalking with the utmost importance through any clusters of people standing in his way. No one was foolish enough to try and stop him.

“What’s the plan here?” she asked, ignoring the strange looks she was receiving from the gowned women and suited men they passed.

“Well. The message said the deed had to be done before dessert’s served, right?”

“Why is that, do you think?”

“No idea,” Fiearius admitted, finally leading them off of the ballroom floor and into one of the support hallways that looped around it. “But it’s a starting point.”

“And a time limit,” Leta added.

“Right.”

Without hesitation Fiearius pushed open a set of double metal doors that led to the kitchen. Inside, wait staff flooded by with trays of drinks, entrees and horderves. Fiearius didn’t wait for one of them to notice him before he demanded, “When’s dessert?”

The sudden barking question startled a few of them. Confused a few more. Finally, a woman answered, “Fifteen minutes, sir. We’ll be happy to bring it to your table if you--”

But Fiearius had already stopped listening. Leta rushed after him as he abandoned the kitchen and started down the hallway again. “Then our assassin’s running out of time. We need to find him.”

Leta nodded, but of course, that was the best solution. Track him down before he’s able to act and put a stop to it. But as they passed by an archway that looked out onto the ballroom, she found herself slowing to a stop and staring.

“There were pictures in the file, I think I’d recognize his face,” Fiearius was saying, his voice ever growing quieter as he continued to walk away from her. “Maybe we can get some guards in on this. No, I don’t want to cause any panic. We need to be subtle, remove the threat, don’t let anyone notice. You and me can split up though, cover more ground, are you good at face descriptions? Am I?” Finally, he seemed to notice he was alone. “Leta?”

It was true, what he’d said. The assassin was running out of time, but so were they. And as Leta watched the masses of people flit and mingle and dance across the ballroom, it became abundantly clear that they didn’t have enough.

“Fiear, there’s no way we can find him in time,” she pressed quietly as she felt him rejoin her in the archeway. “He’s only got fifteen minutes, he’s probably not going to wait til the last second and he’s likely not even on the floor anymore. We need a better plan.”

Fiearius faltered. “We could look for the weak points. Where he could make his strike. We could--”

“Fiear,” she cut him off, “There’s no time. This mansion is huge.”

Furrowing his brow, he moved his gaze to the dance floor. “We’re not too late, are we?” he breathed, sounding more fearful than Leta had ever heard him.

For her part, she didn’t understand. She’d never known Fiearius to be worried about potential assassins. Usually, he’d scoff at such a threat and dare them to try, but perhaps there was something she didn’t know here. Perhaps in their years apart, he’d experienced something that shook him. Perhaps he had reason to not be as confident as he used to be. Regardless, she didn’t like the look on him. “If we were too late, you wouldn’t still be standing here,” she pointed out gently, laying her hand on his arm, hoping he’d find it comforting, but suddenly he regarded her with a sharp, confused stare.

“What? What does that have to do with anything?”

Now she was certain she didn’t understand. “If it was too late, you’d be dead,” she elaborated more clearly, feeling a little less sorry for him now.

“Why would I--,” he began and then promptly shook his head. “You think he’s after me?”

“Of course. The note said something about a five-star funeral, it’s obviously referring to an admiral.”

“There’s more than one admiral here,” Fiearius said. “Why would you assume he’s after me?”

She crossed her arms over her chest and regarded him impatiently. “Who doesn’t want you dead?”

“But who’s stupid enough to try and off me?” he barked, apparently amused by the notion. There it was. The Fiearius she recognized. All shreds of sympathy left her.

“So you think he’s after Gates,” she concluded, not in the mood to humor his ego. “Who’s still milling about with those majors near the bar, by the way. And I think he’s after you. We now have less than ten minutes to figure something out. How about we agree to disagree and work on the contingency that it could be either?”

“Fine,” Fiearius agreed, back to business at last. “You got an idea?”

Leta smirked. “I do. But you’re not gonna like it.”

-----------------

Liam half-walked, half-ran down the hallway. Walked only because he knew it was in everyone’s best interest to stay quiet and undetected, but ran because he absolutely had to find Leta and Fiearius as soon as physically possible. He’d known something was fishy about the ordinary-looking man who’d been staring at them from across the room, but despite his suspicions, the worst he’d expected to uncover when he followed him upstairs to his guest quarters was a wealthy Carthian with a particularly nasty grudge against his cluster’s second admiral. The truth, he’d found in his years of investigative reporting, was typically droll.

Not this time.

When he reached the stairs, he barrelled down them, no longer caring who heard. There wasn’t time. This go-around, one of the guards let out a semi-scolding, “Hey--” but Liam was already out of the stairwell and into the ballroom before he could manage much more.

For all he knew, this discovery was the exact thing Leta and Fiearius had been so worked up over when he’d found them earlier. But they had been in a different room. And if they knew what he knew, shouldn’t he have run into them during his investigation? If they knew, where were they now?

He stumbled to the edge of the dance floor, paying no heed to the group of women who glared at him for nearly bumping into them. Hurriedly, his eyes scanned the room. The two of them shouldn’t have been hard to spot. Both were tall, which helped and Liam had never met anyone else with hair as ridiculously iconic as Admiral Soliveré. If they were in the ballroom, he’d see them. And he didn’t see them.

Abandoning the dance floor, he started to race through the support hallway where he nearly ran into a parade of waiters carrying ornate dessert platters towards the main hall, but still no sign of either Leta or Soliveré.

Next he tried the foyer, the entrance hall, the vestibule. He even attempted to head back towards the stairs until the same guard that had called him out before pointed a finger his way and growled, “That’s the one! Been sneakin’ around--” Liam quickly hurried the opposite direction.

He was running out of places to look. Most of the ballroom was sitting down to eat their elaborate single-serve cakes, but the two people he needed, the two people he absolutely had to tell this news, were nowhere.

Where were they now?

Caelum Lex          Tumblr          Facebook          Contact Me


VOTE FOR US PLEEEASE

Hey friends! Do me a favor and click that voting link right there? That would mean a lot to me thanks :)

So hey, I'll do a little kiriban thing for the heck of it, if anyone catches a screenshot of the 50k marker. Don't promise anything fancy, but I'll do you a quick doodle at the least. Cuz why not. Tradition. All that.

How are you all doing? Tell me about your lives, I always like that. Me, I'm pretty good. Kinda just...working and stuff. I'm starting a new cosplay! My second. That'll be fun. Is anyone watching Star Wars Rebels? I frickin love it. I'm gonna dress up as Hera for Celebration since it's in Anaheim this year and I'm kind of forcing my boyfriend to be Kanan, but he gets a lightsaber out of it, so he's alright with it. We'll take em to Wondercon and SDCC too so hey, threefer, huzzah.

I actually don't have anything else! But tell me about you!

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:iconk-zlovetch:
K-Zlovetch Featured By Owner Apr 29, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Héhéhé, thanks for the watchback :love:
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:iconkhronosabre:
khronosabre Featured By Owner May 17, 2015  Professional General Artist
But of course!
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:iconduvell:
Duvell Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2015
^^ I deff need to say that I love your gallery. that are some damn nice arts <3 such nice story inside it.
And thats why I got intrested in your story..What I will read in the future :)
(usual I need to take my time for that because English is not my native language.)
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:iconkhronosabre:
khronosabre Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2015  Professional General Artist
Aww man that is so nice thank you ; ; I'm so glad you like it! If you do check out Caelum Lex, let me know what you think :D
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:iconduvell:
Duvell Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2015
^^ you are welcome!!
And I sure will let you  know what I  think about it :)
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:iconarteaus:
Arteaus Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
How often do you get around to the Western united states comic cons (if at all?) My wife and I live out in Tucson and there are three just in Tucson, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City alone. The reason I ask is I got my wife interested in you're stuff and I thought it would be a good venue for you to promote Caelum Lex (that and so I can fanboy right in front of you...)
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:iconkhronosabre:
khronosabre Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2014  Professional General Artist
Aww that's really sweet.  I'm actually a purveyor of the even more western comic cons. SDCC, Wondercon Anaheim, Comikaze (LA). I don't table, just attend (because I have nothing to sell except a website haha) , but I try and hand out cards for CL when I can. But if I ever do hunker down for a table (and believe me I consider it every year...) and you happen to make it out to the southern California area cons (and you should, they're great), I'll definitely let you know :)

PS thanks so much for reading and spreading the word, you're the best!
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:iconarteaus:
Arteaus Featured By Owner Nov 18, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I try my best. We sci-fi junkies need to stick together. If I ever do end up at one of those cons (very likely) I'll look for your table ;)
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:iconjupiterblossem:
JupiterBlossem Featured By Owner Sep 19, 2014  Student General Artist
Thanks for the fave! Heart Love 
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:iconfreelex30:
freelex30 Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2014  Student General Artist
Thank you for the Fav! Feel free to watch me to, really appreciate! La la la la 
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