“Heda, the Skai-”
“Bring them in,” Lexa cuts Indra off, refusing to look up or show her surprise. Instead, she keeps her eyes on the tip of her blade, turning it against the pad of her finger just as she’s done for the majority of the night, further wearing down the almost raw skin.
She’s been waiting – quietly, patiently, and though no one would know it, nervously. She did not think that the Sky People would come to their senses. From the moment that she excused herself from the conference the evening prior, she’s done nothing but prepare and wait. Two riders had been sent immediately, one East and one West. Both had returned roughly half an hour ago with the news that the nearby clans had traveled through the night and were in position on all sides of the Ark.
To anyone aware of warfare or strategy, it would appear that she intends to kill a fly with a hatchet, but she will not underestimate these people again. She will try a different tactic this time. Before, on the bridge, her warriors had made a spectacle of themselves. This made them easy targets, which is not their usual custom. Normally, their way is to usurp victory from the cover of the forest. But the spectacle at the bridge had been part of Lexa’s strategy when she’d made the call. It had also been part of her hubris. While she had sent her warriors to kill those that had fallen from the sky, she had not intended for it to actually need to happen. She had believed that just the appearance of her war party would send the invaders scattering. She had wished to intimidate them away.
It had failed, and it had cost her people dearly. Tris, and later Anya, had not been the only casualties of that mistake, but she had learned a valuable lesson in the loss. This time, she would actually make war not shout out her intentions and assume that it would be enough. Those in the Ark would have no warning, no sight, no smell, no sound of what was happening until the Trikru were upon them. Death would come swiftly. They were surrounded and they didn’t even know it. And most importantly, they wouldn’t stand a chance, despite their technology and ingenuity.
As sunrise drew closer with no word from the Skaikru, she wanted to feel remorse for what was about to happen. Truly, the feeling was there, but she would not give it attention or even acknowledge it. There was no time, and remorse would serve no purpose. Too much was hanging in the balance. She had taken due diligence to provide this enemy with an alternative, more than what was expected of her by her people. In fact, she risked public scrutiny for doing so. But she knew that Clarke would appreciate the effort, however minute in light of other recent transgressions. She also knew that Clarke had been the only reason that she was even trying. But, just like Clarke, the council wouldn’t listen to her. They listened to no one. At least this way, their blood was on their own hands.
Surely Clarke would have no other way to see it.
Surely Clarke would see that she’d tried.
But as the tent flaps are thrown back and Abby and Kane are ushered into the small space, she finds again that she had been wrong, only this time she is thankful for it. They have shown, just in the nick of time.
She looks at them, her eyes never wavering as she takes in their appearance. They’re alone, which is surprisingly confident or utterly stupid. They seem haggard, tired, and thin, but strong. They’ve proven that strength, or at least Clarke and the original invaders have. But this is not Clarke. This is the council, and as such, Lexa is stronger, and she wishes to make that known.
“You agree to the terms,” she asks coolly, still turning the blade against her pad.
“No,” Abby answers, her posture rigid and defiant despite her small stature.
The blade stops. “Then you intend to leave?”
“No,” Abby says again.
Lexa swallows her consternation and raises her chin. “Then why have you come?”
“Heda, it’s a trap,” Indra snaps out in their native tongue.
Lexa raises a hand to silence the warrior, but while Indra’s tongue stays, her hand doesn’t leave the hilt of the sword around her waist, and Lexa knows that she will lash out if this situation is not treated carefully.
“We came to offer you a treaty,” Kane says, lifting his hand to show the rolled parchment in it. “One that we feel is fair.”
“For both sides,” Abby adds pointedly.
Lexa cocks her head for a moment, debating within herself. The sheer insolence of these people to come to her and not only refuse her offer of benevolence, but to undermine her in front of her people would have seen any other person on the spot. She does not wish to do that, not at all. She does not wish to hurt Clarke any further, but it would seem that the Skaikru are determined to die. There is only so much that Lexa can allow to happen without retribution, at least publicly.
But any such debate is halted as Indra steps forward and backhands Abby so hard across the face that the doctor stumbles and twists back into Kane.
“You dare to insult the commander,” she shouts, drawing on her sword as she moves in for Abby again.
Kane grabs Abby and backs away from the impending attack, and though Lexa is quick to speak, she’s unshaken. She merely orders the other guards to remove Indra and hold her for her disobedience. Lexa’s orders are carried out swiftly and without question, bringing the scuffle to a stop just as quickly as it escalated. In all reality, she’s grateful to Indra for what she has just done. Abby little more than secured her own execution with her behavior. She could insult Lexa on the Ark because there, she is the leader. But here, in front of Lexa’s people, where Lexa’s word was law, it could not and would not be tolerated. Indra may have given Lexa an opportunity to avoid killing Abby, but it comes with a price, one that Lexa will have to visit upon the warrior later.
Lexa wonders idly why doing what is right never falls into line with what is needed or expected. She laments it, but she is not naïve enough to dismiss the truth of these matters. She will do what is needed, what is expected, regardless of whether or not it feels right.
“So this is how you treat your allies,” Abby fires at her angrily as she smears some of the blood that’s beaded on her lip with an angry swipe of her hand.
Lexa stands and sheathes her dagger at her waist before stepping closer. “You should learn to show respect, Abby.”
“Respect,” Abby repeats incredulously, but Kane puts a hand to her arm to stop any further outbursts.
“Abby,” he says quietly, and there is a sense of urgency in his tone and pleading in his eyes, though neither woman looks at him.
It takes a moment for Abby to reign in her temper, to swallow her tongue, but once Lexa’s sure that she’s calm, she merely holds out her hand. Kane places the treaty in her palm a little hesitantly and Lexa unrolls it. It’s the same treaty that she had drawn up, but there are some major amendments. She scans the changes and glances up at the two in front of her, her mind whirring with this information and making her exceedingly uncomfortable. She has to think quickly, to speak decisively, but she has absolutely no idea how this can be handled without war. So, she decides to bide herself some time to think things through by asking questions.
“You wish to move into the mountain?”
“Yes,” Abby says, her tone less than pleasant.
“You also wish to remain completely independent of my people and my command?”
“And as a…,” Lexa looks down at the treaty to get the correct terminology. “Gesture of goodwill, you will cure the Reapers inside when you retake it?”
“It’s a fair trade,” Kane says. “We take territories that we’ve already conquered that are separate from your own, we remove ourselves from your lands so you’ll have no reason to attack, we are able to remain autonomous, and we help your people in the process.”
Lexa nods. It’s a sound plan, a fair one, but there is one major problem that cannot be ignored. “You will also take control of the acid fog and missile systems,” she points out. “And you’re clearly still hostile towards me and my people.”
“The acid baths were destroyed,” Kane says, purposefully ignoring the missile systems.
“Beyond repair,” Lexa asks.
“Well, I-I don’t know,” Kane says.
“And the missiles?”
Kane knew it was coming and merely sighs.
“Our defense systems are none of your concern,” Abby says. “Unless, of course, you plan to attack us… again.”
Lexa turns and picks up a pitcher of water, calmly pouring some into a cup to again bide her some time to think, though her thoughts are a war all on their own. Really though, she knows the answer.
“Giving an enemy more strategic leverage is my concern,” she rejoins.
“We’re not your enemy,” Kane interjects.
“Commander, I think you misunderstand,” Abby says, stepping forward and taking the full glass from Lexa’s hand. “We aren’t asking you to give us anything. The Mountain is already ours.”
She drains the cup, a smug expression on her face as she scrutinizes Lexa’s demeanor. Truth be known, she’s beyond nervous; she’s terrified. This girl could and would have her killed on the spot with little more than a passing glance. But she also knows that Lexa respects power, or at the very least, aggression. So, she’s putting on the bravest face that she has, doing her best to intimidate and appear unaffected, even though it’s taking a supreme effort not to tremble. She doesn’t wish to be like Lexa, but if this is all that Lexa can understand, then so be it.
Ultimately, Abby just needs to find the chink in Lexa’s armor. She believes that there must be one somewhere, some flaw that she can exploit. She keeps looking, but even now the girl is just as implacable as ever, absolutely refusing to rise to the bait. The only soft spot that she can find is Clarke, her own daughter, and she can’t conceive of going there. She recognized the affection in Lexa’s actions of the previous night. She knows what she saw and what she saw is incomprehensible. But more than that, it’s disturbing. Lexa is a monster, and Clarke may have her flaws, but she deserves so much more than an angry, cold-hearted murderer. If anything, Abby truly believes that Lexa’s affection will kill her daughter one way or another. She knows that it already has in so many ways. She won’t allow it. She’ll die first. And by the cold look in Lexa’s eyes, she believes her death may come at any minute.
“You may have killed the Mountain Men,” Lexa replies unshaken as she turns to pour another cup. “But you have yet to actually claim the mountain territories. It is within my ability to stop you.”
Abby sets her cup on the table a little loudly. “We’ve already taken the Mountain.”
Lexa sets the pitcher down and smiles almost gently at Abby. “I thought we agreed not to insult one another.”
Abby smiles back. “Sometimes the truth is insulting.”
Lexa’s eyes harden even more, if that were possible, and it’s Kane who explains. “We sent some people last night armed with make-shift signal generators to subdue the Reapers. They haven-”
“The Reapers are currently being detained, and the mountain is already ours,” Abby cuts Kane off.
“I could have you killed right now,” Lexa says lowly.
Kane and Abby share a curious look before the silence that’s now dominated the tent is destroyed. “Abby…? Come in, Abby.”
Lexa’s eyes shift to the small radio on Abby’s waist and she watches as Abby lifts it to her mouth. “Go ahead, Raven.”
“Just checking in.”
“We’re fine, so far. Check back in another five minutes.”
The disembodied voice dissipates and the radio stays firmly clutched in Abby’s hand. “You could do that,” Abby says, lifting the radio to dangle it like a carrot in front of Lexa’s face. “But if I don’t check in every five minutes, you die anyway, all of you.”
Lexa feels a jolt of anger slither up her spine and her fingers twitch for the weight of her sword.
“The way I see it, Commander, you don’t really have a choice here. You accept the terms and let us walk out of here, or not only do we kill the Reapers we’re holding, but we mark the territories you so generously mapped out for us and start launching missiles.”
Lexa gazes deeply into Abby’s eyes, disturbed by how much like Clarke’s they are because for all of the ways that they are similar, Abby’s are far more treacherous than her daughter’s. Clarke wouldn’t hold people hostage. Clarke wouldn’t be so careless, so callous. That is why she respects Clarke, why she trusts her, why she loves her. But she doesn’t feel love at this moment; she feels anger, incredible anger.
All other thoughts leave Lexa as she focuses in on Abby and Kane, trying to discern if they are telling the truth. Kane seems grieved, but that doesn’t speak of a lie. His desire to stop the fighting has been evident since the beginning. But all that Lexa can see of Abby is a desire to win, no matter how ruthless she has to become to do so. Lexa respects her more in this moment, but it changes nothing really.
Lexa sips on her water as she reels with this information. What can she do to shut this down without giving in to these demands? If what they say is true and they have already taken the mountain, it is too late to stop it. But a small party of survivors in the mountain cannot be their biggest concern. Those still sitting in the Ark are still vulnerable.
“How many people did you send to the mountain,” she asks calmly.
“That’s none of your concern,” Abby says quickly, knowing that if given enough time, Lexa will find a way to stop their momentum. “You should consider the lives here, of your own people.”
“And you should consider yours,” Lexa says. “You aren’t leaving me many options here, Abby. If what you say is true, then you will strike out at us no matter the outcome here. My only real option is to take as many of you with us as I can. And I assure you, those left on the Ark will go with us. I’m asking you if those who will survive in the mountain are enough.”
“Those on the Ark are more prepared than you might think,” Abby says.
“Perhaps that’s true, but my answer is no. I cannot allow you that kind of power.”
“What if we were to agree to dismantle the missiles,” Kane interjects, both women turning to him with murder in their eyes.
“No,” Abby says.
Lexa gestures to Abby and says, “You have your answer,” before turning and retaking her seat. Her heart is beating wildly in her chest as Kane and Abby proceed argue quietly, but she stills herself and focuses on the best way to protect the majority of her people. The warriors from the Trigeda, TonDC, and the KruWoda are in the forest, but those still in the territories won’t stand a chance. Even her fastest riders could not make it in time to get word to them before the missiles struck, especially not with the Ice Nation deep in the northern mountains, at least two day’s ride.
Truth be known, she would not mourn the loss of the Ice Nation. Andrea would surely not survive an attack of that magnitude without warning. With the Ice Nation gone and the three local nations surviving almost completely intact, perhaps the Sky People lashing out would not be such a bad thing, especially if she could take them down after the fact. So she considers if there is a way to use this to her advantage.
She breaks it down into pros and cons, mentally assuming the best and worst case scenarios based on the action and reaction of those involved. The worst case scenario is that the Skaikru attack now and several clans are all but annihilated, including the Reapers and the Ice Nation. She would then take down those in the Ark and make her way for the Mountain. Her two biggest enemies would fall, and while her numbers would be nearly decimated, her people would still survive. Blame would be placed on the Sky People and scrutiny removed from her. But it’s still not good enough. Does she have to sacrifice the Reapers, the Western nation, Southern nation, or the old and young that still remain in the TonDC, the Trigeda, and the KruWoda?
The best case scenario is that she buys some time with the Skaikru. If she could get word to the clans, they could all be evacuated. She could send word to the Ice Nation, but only someone trusted, someone who wants to take down the Sky People and can keep a secret. That warning wouldn’t make it in time by design and Lexa would still lose her two biggest foes, but retain most of her people. Polis wasn’t laid out on the map, so they would survive as well, and the Reapers would be rehabilitated.
No, she doesn’t have to sacrifice many at all if she can play this right.
She would have to sacrifice Clarke though.
But the Sky People refused her offer of inclusion. By agreeing to this treaty, she is under no obligation not to attack later by their own design. She can placate the Skaikru and use that time to learn the mountain. The acid fog is gone. She already knows this. She was with Clarke when Bellamy destroyed it. She read the desperation in Cage’s eyes when he came to her. If the Sky People do not attack now, they lose all of their leverage and they will learn that threatening her and her people is folly. She just needs to ensure that they don’t until it’s too late for them.
And when it’s too late, like a snake in waiting, she will lash out and destroy them.
Another betrayal would mean the end, but is this not a betrayal of Clarke’s people? Is this not asking too much, demanding too much? Could Clarke understand? Would she even survive?
Lexa’s stomach swirls as her heart rages against her mind. Again she wonders why what needs to happen can’t be the right thing, the easy thing. Again she wonders how much loss and suffering she will have to bring on these people, on herself, on Clarke, before something feels right. She knows that there’s no going back from this. If she follows through with this plan, Clarke is truly lost to her, and that’s assuming that Clarke’s not already.
She looks at Abby and Kane, studying them, looking for another choice but finding none. These people are the enemy, no matter how much she cares for the loss of life or Clarke. No attachment will ever be enough to stop what’s already been set in motion. And she hates it. She hates how it feels and what it makes her do. She hates herself, and in doing so, she knows that there are no options anymore.
It’s win or lose.
She remembers the words that her mother used to say when she was very young, “In life we are all either kings or pawns, emperors or fools.”
Just remembering her mother, being with her, especially at such a young age, is enough to remind Lexa of who she is, where she comes from, and what she was born and raised to do. But the words, though she never really understood them before, now make a lasting impression. The strong build their lives on the weak. The strong live because the weak die. And that’s how it has to be. That’s how Lexa has to be if she intends to be one of the strong ones, one of the survivors.
She motions to one of her warriors to come close, hating her heart for its incessant bleeding and throbbing, and shuts it away as she speaks in their native tongue. “Send our fastest riders to the Northern, Southern, and Eastern clans and order them to abandon their territories. They can take to the edges of the wastes and wait. They will need to do so quietly. They cannot be seen or heard. I will speak with their heads in a week’s time in Polis to give further instruction.”
“And the Northern clans,” he asks in a whisper.
“Bring me Indra.”
The man leaves and Abby’s radio crackles as she checks in yet again. Once the conversation stills, Lexa takes this opportunity to put her plans into motion.
“I want to make sure that I understand the terms of your treaty,” she says, standing. They both give her their attention and she chooses her words carefully. “You are choosing to deny our offer of inclusion and protection. You wish to remain separate from us, completely. As such, you may or may not attack at will at a later time should you decide, but you will attack now if I don’t agree.”
“Yes,” Abby says resolutely, shutting off any additional outbursts from Kane.
“You’re certain that you wish to do this?”
“Yes,” Abby says again.
“Commander, Abby, this is-,” Kane tries again.
“Enough, Marcus,” Abby cuts him off yet again.
“You’re going to get us all killed, Abby,” he finishes.
“We have the mountain. We’ll be fine.” And as these words leave Abby’s mouth, she looks pointedly at Lexa, driving her threat home.
Lexa gives a slight, crooked smile, letting her heart shrivel and die just a little more in the face of what she plans to do, even as she lets her prey turn and walk away with their lives intact. She’s okay with it for now, because she’s patient, because she’s smart, because she’s neither a fool nor a pawn, no matter how Clarke would see her soft.
“Okay,” Lexa says. “The Mountain is yours and you’re free to go.”
Abby is a little taken aback, and she knows that Lexa has something up her sleeve, but what could she possibly do that wouldn’t see her people destroyed?
“You- you agree,” Kane asks.
“Yes,” Lexa says.
Silence falls but Lexa wishes this to be over so that she can be alone to harden herself against what she knows is coming. It’s done. It’s over. Like Costia, she will sacrifice Clarke, and by extension, herself.
The tent flaps are thrown back and Indra is led inside, a baleful expression on her severe face.
“Please escort our guests back to the Ark,” Lexa orders her warriors.
They do as bid but Kane stops at the opening to the tent. “You won’t regret this,” he says before following after Abby.
Lexa can’t help but think that he will, but she focuses her attention on Indra who is seething at the ground at her feet, her hands tied behind her. Lexa pulls her dagger from her waist and releases the warrior.
“Relax, Indra,” she says. “You’re going to get your war.”