2.6: Jericho Raid

Re-cap:

Peacekeeper Jericho has just arrived in the Twin Cities with his assigned partner Talib Al-Jarrah to investigate the disappearance of fellow peacekeeping agent Leona–a case to which he has been reassigned. He has been introduced to fellow agents Gabrielle Law and Wtorek Izsak who are off to investigate an assassination attempt on the Ariesian prince. Jericho finds himself very familiar with the city and stumbles upon a demolished bar which he somehow knows falls under the ownership of the Foxman Family. 

Surprised by Jericho’s knowledge, Talib then informed Jericho that that he had arranged a meeting with the Foxmans and the Romanos for them. 

Twin Cities, Gemini

“Jericho.”

Jericho sat up from his bed in the darkness. The doorway across from him was illuminated and crowded by a familiar silhouette.

“Jericho. My wallet. It’s gone. The Organization stole my wallet.”

“You lost your wallet?”

“No!” The lights to the room flicked on, and Talib’s form was revealed. Disheveled curls, wide and searching eyes, heaving shoulders. “The Organization stole it! They knew it was a limited-edition denim Libran designer wallet! It was diamond-studded and everything!”

“You were pickpocketed,” Jericho concluded.

“Yes.” Talib nodded. “Pickpocketed by a member of the Organization.”

Jericho thought on this before he shook his head. “You bumped into someone earlier. He must have taken it.”

Talib opened his mouth to argue but instead gave Jericho a steady once over. “Did I interrupt your nap?”

Jericho swung his legs off the bed. “I wasn’t sleeping.”

At least he didn’t think he had been. Time seemed to bend oddly when he had been lying down staring at the ceiling. Was it an hour that had passed? Several minutes? An entire day?

He walked over to the storage chest at the foot of his bed. He clicked it open and pulled out his suitcase. His change of clothing was still inside, as was his conductor. And Izsak’s stuffed animal. He pulled the case out and rose to his feet. Talib was still staring at him from the doorway.

“Our meeting with the Romano Family and the Foxmans?”

Talib checked his wristwatch. In turn, Jericho reached into his suit pocket for a pocket watch he didn’t own. He stared at his hand when he found nothing and then returned his attention to Talib.

“The meeting is in about an hour,” the man said, walking over to the bed next to Jericho’s. He knelt down beside his own chest, flipped it open, and pulled out his folded suit and a colorful stack of small, square papers. “Do you want to shower first or…?”

“I don’t need to shower.”

Talib placed the stack of papers on the bed and rose to his feet. “Everyone needs a shower, my friend. To wash off the deeds of the day. To refresh oneself. To appear presentable, not only for oneself but for one’s companions.”

Jericho paused.

Appearances were everything.

“And, of course, to do away with any possible trackers that the Organization might have on you.”

* * *

Jericho’s hair was still damp when they arrived in front of the cobblestone building an hour later. The walls of the building were also damp despite the lack of rain. A result of the fog rolling in from the not so far bay, Jericho concluded.

They were greeted by a large, burly man who motioned them in without a change in expression. A silent guide, he led them through a hazy dining hall saturated with the sounds of clinking wine glasses and laugh-filled chatter. Between those paired noises, a saxophone blared out a hoppy tune complemented by some hidden singer. They passed through this hall quickly and entered the kitchen in the back. Jericho met eyes with some of the kitchen staff before pushing through a curtain-draped passage at the end. After being led down a long flight of stairs, they arrived in front of a twin set of mahogany doors with golden handles. With a grunt, they were ushered inside.

The room within was fashioned similarly to the dining hall upstairs, save for the ornately designed columns that rose up from the wooden floorboards and the single rectangular table that occupied the room. At the table sat four men. One was noticeably older than the others and had a graying, balding head. He sat at the table’s head. He was neither heavyset nor overly thin. His sun-kissed face paired with the silver streaks that ran through his mustache gave him a friendly look. Like he could reach out one of his heavily ringed hands and offer a lovin’ pat on the head.

To the old man’s left sat a young man. His light brown hair was loosely styled back, and his caramel-colored eyes seemed almost amused despite the professional dark red suit he wore. The two men to the older man’s right were also in similar suits although theirs were of different colors. Blue and green. Neither were smiling with their eyes. Their grim expressions seemed unfitting.

Talib stepped forward first, approaching the table with an extended hand. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Don Romano.” He spoke in lightly-accented Geminian that Jericho vaguely understood. Odd. He’d never taken any lessons in learning languages outside Common.

The old man who was evidently Don Romano accepted the gesture with a nod. “Agent Talib al-Jarrah, right?” He spoke in Common, and his voice was baritone and croaky like something was stuck in his throat. “It’s a pleasure to have an Ophiuchian visiting our fair city. Please do speak in Common.”

“If you wish,” Talib agreed. “I don’t want to butcher your beautiful language, after all.”

The don smiled.

Francis Foxman stood after and introduced himself. Then came Allen and Carl’s introductions which were brief and unsmiling. It didn’t occur to Jericho until all men were looking at him that he had known their names before they had given them. And because he already knew their names, he had thought that they already knew his. But as the silence stretched on, he realized that was not the case.

Jericho approached the table with an extended hand. “Jericho.”

Another round of curt, yet firm handshakes.

Don Romano gestured for both of them to sit at the other end of the table. They obliged and met eyes as they did.

Idle—‘obligatory’ as Alice often called it—conversation started. There was talk of weather, friendly and daily ongoings, and other things Jericho did not believe pertained to their purpose.

“Is there something wrong, Mr. Jericho?” Francis Foxman asked, turning his head away from Talib’s train ride tale to meet Jericho’s focused gaze.

“We’re looking for an Ophiuchian agent. Talib informed you before we came. They passed by here three to four days ago,” Jericho supplied nonplussed. “Have you seen anything unusual within this time frame?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Jericho could see Talib half-grimace. Allen’s brows rose, Carl looked torn between perplexed and smug, while Francis seemed as nonchalant as always.

“Right, your reason for being here.” Don Romano rubbed his chin. “You two are the first peacekeepers I have seen face-to-face in a decade. I was actually very surprised by your call, Mr. al-Jarrah. I trusted that Ophiuchus had enough confidence in us to allow us to run our operations without interruption. If another Ophiuchian was sent here earlier without our foresight, then…”

“Of course, Ophiuchus is very aware of the contributions made by your businesses in keeping peace,” Talib interjected before Jericho could even open his mouth. “Although the peacekeeper in question was here several days ago, the Twin Cities was not her destination. She was headed for Aries for a case.”

Francis’s smile faltered. “You’re not referring to the assassination attempt, are you?”

“That is correct.”

“Ha, well, they did a sh—”

A loud thud from beneath the table silenced Carl before he could finish. It was followed by a yelp from and then a glare directed in Francis’s direction.

“It seems as if they’ve failed in the task they were given.” Don Romano did not seem amused nor contempt when he spoke. And despite his words being curt and simple with no questions attached, Jericho felt inclined to answer. It seemed as if Talib felt the same because the man cleared his throat and nodded.

“Yes, they failed their task,” Talib said. He folded his hands beneath his chin. “And it’s something that all departments in Ophiuchus are curious about. But we don’t have an answer for the failure. And that’s because the peacekeeper in question—as I’ve said—went missing right before she was to board her train to the Ariesian capital. Right here in this capital.”

Jericho waited for Talib to mention the organization, but Talib never did. The silence that stretched on in place of his usual ranting was long.

“Which is why my associate here is asking if you’ve seen anything strange recently,” Talib finally concluded.

Another beat of silence.

Don Romano either let out a heavy sigh or took in a deep breath. “These cities are large, Mr. al-Jarrah. I am not even foolishly arrogant enough to say that I am aware of everything that happens in my domain—which is only this half of the Twin Cities, mind you.” He chuckled. “Perhaps I should retire.”

Showin’ vulnerability while hidin’ vulnerability. This man was definitely wise in his years. Someone who dealt with all types of people.

But…

…he was also cunningly kind. Calculated neglect paired with rationed praise. Even knowin’ this…

“Any information will be helpful. Anything out of the ordinary.”

“You’re in the Twin Cities,” Carl said. “There’s nothing ordinary about any day.” He paused and glanced across the table at Francis and then at Romano. “With all due respect, of course.”

Francis reached into his coat pocket where he pulled out a stack of v-cigs. He offered it around the table before selecting one for himself and lighting it with a flick of his wrist.

“As I’m aware, you do not have a Conducting License, Mr. Foxman.” Talib inclined his head toward Francis’s hand. “Despite your position, you are not above prime laws. Without a license, it is illegal to operate a conductor. Depending on the type of conductor in question, the repercussions can be quite serious.”

“If I recall correctly, that law only applies to weaponized and generator-type conductors.” Francis waved his cig in the air in-between two fingers. “I’m afraid to say that this is just for show. A normal general conductor.”

Talib’s brows raised to almost comical levels. “I see. Forgive me. I didn’t mean to be rude. I’m only doing my job.”

“Of course.” Francis smiled thinly. “We all are—”

“Anything unusual,” Jericho repeated, “would be helpful. Thank you.”

Allen and Carl exchanged looks as they always did while Francis seemed to stifle a laugh like he normally did in these types of situations. The boss, on the other hand, remained unreadable.

Then again, Jericho didn’t quite understand what type of situation this was. Too nostalgic and friendly to be a matter of investigation and business. His head was beginning to hurt but he ignored it.

Francis hummed before letting out an ‘ah’ of realization. “Well, actually…” He took a drag of his cigarette. “One of our cargo ships left the docks without our prior notice, but that’s a personal affair. Nothing to do with your missing agent.”

Jericho had known about the cargo ship, but he didn’t know how.

“As you can see, miscommunication is the greatest downfall in any relationship.” Saying this, Romano clasped his hands and leaned forward. Met Jericho’s eyes.

Jericho stared back.

There it was again. That itch to answer a question that had not been asked.

“What about your business that was burned to the ground?” Jericho asked. “That seems unusual.” Talib kicked his leg underneath the table for some reason. Jericho ignored it and continued, “It may tie in with our investigation.”

“I see word gets around fast.” Francis took another drag. “Your concern is warranted, but that was just an accident. The conductor generator in the building overheated. Led to a blown insulator and an explosion. It was a very tragic occurrence. We lost many patrons and many of our employees.”

Jericho stared at him. “The conductor didn’t overheat. Your bar was attacked. Why are you lying?”

Something in the atmosphere snapped in two. It snapped so abruptly and with such force that even Jericho became aware of it. Aware he had misspoken.

The bud of Francis’s loosely held cigarette dribbled ash onto the table.

All eyes were on Jericho, but he didn’t care. All he wanted was an answer. And then he would be one step closer to—

Talib cleared his throat and laughed heartily while clapping Jericho on the shoulder. “Ah, yes, my associate Jericho here is using an old Ophiuchian interrogation technique, you see. It’s a very old, yet effective thing. Used in the olden days when Ophiuchus first started as a peacekeeping organization. Absolute confidence. He’s a stickler for the past and—”

“It is understandable for there to be doubt between us.” Don Romano smiled as if amused. “After all, by name, you peacekeepers represent justice. By rumor, we represent the opposite. Trust is something that must be forged by hand—”

“But I do. I trust you.” Jericho turned to the don and looked him up and down. He then glanced at Francis and Carl and Allen.

The room was silent.

“Which is why I don’t understand why you’re lying about this. Hiding information from us acts as an obstruction of justice. Peace.” Jericho blinked. This was a fact.

Francis shook his head, flicked the line of ash from his cigarette, and took a drag. “If you trust us,” he said with a thin smile, “then trust me when I say that whatever is occurring with our establishment has nothing to do with your missing peacekeeper. It’s a personal matter.”

The smile looked like it could cut through steel.

“Of course.” Talib reached out of his pocket and pulled out a square piece of yellow paper. He placed it down on the desk and pushed it toward Francis. “Well, if you think of anything, please write it down here. It’d benefit us both if we work together.”

* * *

“Well, that was awkward.”

Jericho was winding down a long stretch of cobblestone stairs alongside Talib. The stairs curved around high-rise buildings that scratched at the darkening sky. The buildings seemed to stretch endlessly in all directions and were pressed up tight against each other. Despite this, it felt much easier to breathe here.

Their descent was crowded with people rushing up and down. And Jericho wasn’t sure if he was tasting the smoke from the city, smoke from the pipe of the woman next to him, or the lingering ashen smog from Francis’s cigarette. Above the echoing voices that volleyed within the walls around them, Jericho could barely hear Talib speak. He managed to interpret the man’s words from studying the movement of his lips. But unfortunately, Jericho did not know how to respond to Talib’s statement and settled on a change of topic:

“They were lying.”

Talib inclined his head before stroking his nonexistent beard. “Yes, yes, I believe they were.” He pushed up his hat and ruffled his hair. “It seems as if their pub incident has to do with bad blood.”

“Bad blood?”

“Yes, poor relations. Maybe one group wronged another. Maybe a rival family—although, I doubt that’s the case. From what I know, the two families are trying to hold a peace between them.” Talib readjusted his hat. “So maybe it’s something akin to a petty sense of justice or maybe… vengeance?”

“Vengeance…” Jericho tried the word. It melted in his mouth.

“I noticed that you seemed very, very passionate about this case, my friend. While I do agree with the sentiment that the families are overstepping bounds and need to be dealt with, I don’t think direct confrontation is the way to go. It’s very messy,” Talib said. He peered out at Jericho from beneath the brim of his hat. “Passion is neither good nor bad. Without it, there would be nothing to drive a person to a dream.”

Jericho blinked at him.

“Well, no matter. I’m sure the Romanos and the Foxmans have all the assets they need to handle their situation. What I’m interested in is that ship that left their port at the bay without their notice.”

Jericho tilted his head. “You think the disappearance is tied to the Foxmans?”

“Tied to them, yes. Whether it’s a tightly wound string or a loosely wound one is the question. But a tie is still a tie. Something is there.” Talib scratched his chin. “Just like the Organization. Slow, steady, but relentless. That’s passion for you.” He tapped his nose. “It would give me ease of mind if we crossed the Foxmans off the list.” He quickened his pace a little and slid his hands into his pockets. “It warrants a looking into, doesn’t it?”

Of course, it did. Anything that could involve ELPIS did.

Jericho took a step after him and—

“We are ELPIS.”

Jericho stopped short and whipped his head around. Nothing. Just an ordinary street crowded with ordinary people, many of whom sent him a glare as he blocked their way. Even still, that word rang in his ear, worming its way out from his temple.

Where had it come from?

Raising his hand to his ear, Jericho combed through the area with eyes. Nothing, nothing, nothing. And yet there was that feeling again. Like something was stringing him along.

His left foot moved first. Then his right. Forward and forward into a brisk walk. Weaving past the pedestrians around him. Destination unknown. Down the stairs to the bottom. Through the one-road streets loosely dotted with v-ehicles. Past the fallen TwinStars Pub. Forward through a haze of humid fog.

Onward, onward, until the noisy chatter of the city became drowned out by the sloshing of waves against a cement ridgeline. Onward until the acrid smell of smoke became drenched with the smell of seaweed and brine.

Finally, Jericho came to a halt. He didn’t know how long he’d been walking, but he was sure it was a long time because he was now out of breath. He glanced around but could see nothing through the thick haze that surrounded him. He was lost. No, that wasn’t it.

The fog around him peeled away revealing the other end of the invisible string.

Before him loomed a warehouse with cracked wooden walls and cracked windows that bled out warm light. Even from this distance, he could hear muffled shouting from within.

Warehouse number 13.

Despite the pull, Jericho knew this place had nothing to do with the case. Nothing to do with Leona. Nothing to do with ELPIS other than that coincidental number. Nothing keeping him there, but—

help me.

This was not the first time Jericho had heard a cry for help from within his mind. Echoes of the past were always present—so much so that sometimes he thought they were more than just phantoms. It was during these times that Doctor Kingsley advised him to focus on a physical object he knew was real but—

someone help me.

But this was the first time that Jericho heard a cry that resounded so loudly. The cry drilled out from his temple and encircled him.

He had to go. He couldn’t not go.

He started forward and—

Something wrapped around his wrist and stopped him from pursuing the echo any further. A hand. Talib’s hand. The man was panting heavily and wiped the sweat from his forehead as he doubled over.

“There’s something going on inside the warehouse.”

Talib straightened and adjusted his hat. His eyes narrowed as he seemed to strain his ears. “So it seems.”

Jericho turned back to the warehouse. His head pounded. “We should go investigate.”

Talib held up a hand. “Wait. Let’s not go rushing into things without knowing what we’re rushing into. This may not be within the jurisdiction of our investigation.”

Jericho frowned. “It may involve Leona.” A lie with no ground. He was not very good at lying or, so he’d been told.

“And how would that be so?”

Jericho stared.

“I’m not suggesting we leave it be. We’re peacekeepers by profession, Mr. Jericho. Peace requires patience and planning. We don’t want to accidentally kick start an incident.”

“Then…”

Talib winked and tapped his nose. “I trust your intuition. From what I’ve seen, you seem to be blessed with a very good one. That or you’re psychic.” Before Jericho could even question the odd theory, Talib cleared his throat loudly with hands on hips. “But you are too forward. Regardless, you’re my partner. And so, acting on our contract—”

“Contract?”

“Will you allow me to first survey the area before you enter?”

The earnestness of the question was both suiting and unfitting for Talib. Jericho nodded.

Talib reached into his trench-coat pocket and pulled out two items. The first was the stack of colorful, square papers from earlier, which he placed on the ground. The second was a silver pen with a hollow glass center. It looked like it was out of ink.

Flourishing his hands out dramatically and kneeling to the ground, Talib raised the tip of the pen in the air and lightly tapped it onto the plain white top sheet of paper. The tip pierced through the sheet. Dark blue light began to spill into the ink container of the pen. The light trickled down the sides of the container and dribbled down to the pen’s point before bleeding out onto the white paper. From there, it coated the sheet in a translucent dark blue glow.

Talib lifted his pen away. His eyes were glazed, seemingly focused on some distant point on the sheet. The paper trembled beneath his gaze before its corners drew up toward each other as if guided by an unseen hand. After the corners met, it creased and folded and creased and folded again and again.

The finished product was a bird. No. A crane. An origami crane with paper wings that lifted it into flight just above Talib’s head.

Talib pressed his pen—his conductor—onto the next square of paper which was an orange-yellow color. After absorbing the vitae from his conductor, the paper folded itself into a similar crane and floated up beside its white companion.

Talib repeated this pattern three more times with his eyes becoming more and more glassy with each conduction. When he finished, a rainbow of five paper cranes flapped around his head.

“I’ve never seen a Manipulator manipulate more than two objects before.”

Talib didn’t respond.

The origami cranes departed from their circular route around his head and headed toward the warehouse. They slipped in through the cracks between the wooden walls and disappeared from sight.

Soon, Talib grimaced. “There’s a confrontation going on inside…. they… one of the groups look like children… I…”

“What about the other group?”

“They’re saying that they’re…” Talib hesitated, brows furrowing. His unfocused eyes widened. “ELPIS.”

That was all Jericho needed to hear. In an instant, he was in front of the warehouse doors. Delivering a swift kick, he blew them open. A gust of wind whistled through the chaos unfolding within. But none of the participants in the chaos acknowledged him. Some of them couldn’t.

Nothing within the warehouse was without motion. Not the barrels of trash fire rolling along the ground nor the fragments of wooden crates being blasted through the air. Not the screaming children who darted left and right—some in flight, some in fight. Not the figures dressed in white cloaks that become stained with red.

Snip by snip. Snapshot by snapshot. It was almost the same. The only thing missing was the sand and the beat of the sun—

No, something else was missing. That feeling wasn’t there.

A sudden animalistic roar came from his left, and Jericho turned just in time to see a cloaked figure swing at him with an axe that had a blade-bit made of yellow light. Dodging the blade with a swift step backward, Jericho swung his suitcase up and cracked it against the figure’s temple. There was a splatter of red. The figure slumped to the ground with their conductor still flickering yellow in their hand.

Jericho stared at the conductor.

So, that was what it was. It wasn’t the same after all—

Help me!

Jericho snapped his head to the right. Just a couple of meters away lay the corpse of an adolescent. Half of their face was missing. Most likely shot through by a Projector conducting gun of some type. Dead upon impact.

Jericho did not linger. Something drew his attention away. Not a shout or a scream. Not a flash of light or a blur of a makeshift weapon. No. A pulling feeling. That string again.

He made his way around the chaos while dodging children who swung wooden planks and steel crowbars blindly while tucking beneath rays and blades of psychedelic light. Jericho maneuvered around the chaos with ease. No one present appeared to be a professional Conductor.

He dodged the swing of a bat while ducking under a ray of vitae when he saw it.

Him.

There—just behind the hull of a torn-down ship. A familiar boy was dragging along another, much younger girl by the arm. The boy had a scar running across his face. Despite having never seen this boy before in his life, Jericho knew that his name was Duccio.

But that was just who the boy appeared to be. Appearances were deceiving.

Jericho’s gaze flicked behind the children where a figure in a white cloak swung at them with a glowing conductor blade. A Projector. The boy shoved the younger to the side. The white figure hesitated for a moment before continuing after the boy.

The boy became agitated at this and whipped her head around to gauge the distance between her and her pursuer. A mistake on his part. He didn’t see the steel beam that jutted up from the floor in front of him and tripped right over it. He rolled forward before scrambling to his knees. He turned her head.

The white-cloaked figure was already at his feet and raising his weapon in the air.

Jericho rushed between them, kicking the figure’s weapon-wielding hand into the air and swinging his suitcase right in the figure’s gut. There was a mix of a yelp and a wheeze; he flew back into a pile of wooden crates.

Jericho didn’t check to see if the white figure was immobilized. Instead Jericho stared down at the boy.

Jericho’s head buzzed.

But the ever-present dull headache that had been invading his mind since he had woken up from the medical Conductor’s room in Ophiuchus ebbed away. His head felt clearer than ever before. A clarity that reminded him of his childhood days before the war’s end. Like a splash of cool water washing away the sand that had made home in the cracks of his dry skin. Yes. It was a refreshing, nostalgic sensation just like that. Like water. That too was the manner in which the boy’s face peeled away, revealing an entirely different face underneath. A shimmering splash—a wash—of copper light. Vitae. Revealed beneath the light was a boyish freckled face, a pair of caramel brown eyes, and hair as wild and red as fire. But this was not a boy nor was it a girl. It was a young woman.

“Jericho,” the young woman said his name despite him not having given it.

“Cadence,” Jericho returned. “How do I know your name?”

She stared, smirked, and then asked in Geminian: “How am I supposed to know tha—” Her eyes widened, and she shouted in Common: “Look out!”

Jericho turned his head and brought his suitcase up just in time to catch the swing of a steel, spiked bat in the handle of his suitcase. His assailant let out a gasp of surprise which was then followed by a shout of alarm as Jericho jerked the assailant’s weapon into the air with a tug of his suitcase. He plucked the bat out of the air and drove it up his attacker’s chin. His attacker flew backward and collapsed to the ground a meter away.

Jericho turned his eyes from the fallen figure and back to the young woman. Cadence.

“You killed him…”

“I believe I merely incapacitated him.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. You incapacitated him.” Cadence hopped to her feet and circled him. He followed her path with his eyes and blinked when she came to a stop in front of him. “And he attacked you.”

“Yes.”

“Which means he saw you.”

“Correct.”

“Which means you’re real.”

“I believe I am.”

“But you’re like the rest of ’em, aren’t ya…?”

Jericho paused and thought on this. He had been too focused on his objective and the possible ties his objective had with ELPIS to pay any of it enough mind but…

“I think I am.”

Cadence looked him up and down incredulously before hesitantly reaching forward with her hand. She pressed hers against his.

Electricity surged through his entire body at the contact. Cadence must have felt it too—he knew that she did—because she let out a surprised yelp and pulled away. He did not allow her to pull away any further, however, and reached out for her arm and tugged her to his chest—which allowed her to just barely skirt a bright ray of purple vitae that seemed to have come from nowhere. Instead of hitting her square in the chest, as was its original destination, it burrowed through a stack of metal beams behind her.

Cadence chuckled at the sight of the singed metal. “Always heard ELPIS members were violently crazy, but this is a whole ’nother level.” Amusement or fear—Jericho couldn’t tell which one the young woman was chuckling with. On the surface at least. But somehow, deep down, he knew exactly what sort of emotion was behind the statement. As if the feeling were his own.

“They are not ELPIS.”

Cadence stared. “Not to hark on my savior or anything, but these folks literally burst through the doors and said, ‘We are ELPIS.’”

“They were lying.” Jericho swung his suitcase at another white-cloaked figure who charged at them before he pulled Cadence by the scruff out of the line of fire of a conjured gun. “Appearances are deceiving.”

Cadence, still dangling from the collar of her shirt, raised a brow. “So I’m assumin’ you’re not the one who is all ‘appearances are everything’ then.”

Jericho glanced down at her. “No… that wasn’t me.”

“But you know what I’m talkin’ about then.” Cadence hummed. “And I thought so. You don’t seem like the type.” Then she frowned. “If they ain’t ELPIS then—”

Jericho dropped her in favor of catching the wooden swing of a child’s bat. He jerked it out of the child’s hands, paused as he felt Cadence’s stare, and then tossed the bat to the side. He stepped forward which sent the child stumbling back. He paused as a faint, static-filled memory scratched at the edge of his mind. But before the memory could fully form, Cadence stepped in-between the two and gave the child a toothy smile and jerked her thumb backward.

“Ya better skedaddle, kid. The guy you just swung at? Take a good look at that sash on his arm.”

The child’s eyes flicked to the band on Jericho’s arm. The child must not have noticed it in all the chaos, but beneath the overhead v-lights that shone brightly down on them, the sash now glowed. The child’s eyes widened.

Cadence grinned. “The Ophiuchians are here now.”

With trembling lips, the child scrambled backward and darted away without throwing a look back. Cadence cackled at this. “It sure is nice to have friends who gotta bitta international pull, right?”

Friends? Was that what they were? Doctor Kingsley had always told him that creating a supportive social circle was one of the best ways to facilitate reintegration. It was something that Kingsley had always encouraged him to put more effort into. And here this individual was offering friendship. Kingsley would let him be if he agreed, correct?

Unsure how to respond, Jericho replied with a thank you.

Cadence raised a brow. “You’re really savin’ my ass here, so I should be thankin’ you.”

He stared at her. And then somehow, he realized: “You work with Don Romano and the Foxmans.”

There was no change in her expression. Before he could pursue the matter any further, she held up both hands and shook her head. “Is now really the time ta be talkin’ about this?” She gestured to his suitcase. “And isn’t there a weapon inside there that’s more effective than swinging that around?” She paused and gave a lopsided grin. “And I ain’t talkin’ about the stuffed animal.”

Jericho put his hands around his case and drew it to his chest. “My conductor is only used for dealing with true members of ELPIS.”

“And is that your choice or your lady doc’s choice?”

Jericho froze.

The clarity that had splashed upon Jericho dripped away. Replaced by the murkiness that had been present from even before he fell down those stairs. The particles of the past that clung to him tightly clouding his mind.

Cadence seemed to notice this change because she started, held her head, and then frowned. “Hey, I—”

It was then that the doors to the warehouse flew open once more. Jericho tensed and whipped his head in the direction before he brought up his suitcase.

The threshold was once again crowded by an army of silhouettes with conductors in hand. The sensation of déjà vu was dizzying but Jericho remained focused. As he lifted his suitcase in preparation, a hand was abruptly placed on his shoulder.

Cadence pointed at the suitcase. “Call me a bit proud, but I doubt an old suitcase could hurt our heavy guns, ya know?”

‘Our heavy guns’?

Jericho returned his attention to the doorway. All those who stood there were in suits. After one of them gave a shout in what sounded like Geminian, they all charged forward. Anyone who wasn’t in a suit was their enemy, it seemed. Without hesitation, they swung their conductors. Unlike the white-cloaked figures, these individuals seemed like they were trained Conductors. Licensed, perhaps.

“Wonder how they got here,” Cadence said as she watched the tide of battle change as if for sport. She glanced at him. “Not ta be rude but ya don’t seem like the type ta plan ahead for things like these.”

As if to answer her question, one of the suited men came to a skidding halt in front of them after firing a pistol conductor at one of the cloaked figures.

“You all right, Morello?” the man asked in Geminian, and Jericho found himself vaguely able to understand him. Not lifting his gaze from the battle scene, the man reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a slip of heavily creased paper. It was square, white, and had a tear at the center. There was a message scrawled in blue ink: warehouse 13—possible internal family-related incident. “Some Manipulator sent this to us. Ophiuchian apparently.” The man paused, seeming to finally realize Jericho’s presence. He eyed the armband and then gave an awkward salute. “W-We’re glad to accept your assistance, sir.” His Common was very accented.

Jericho lowered his case. “There is no assistance. This incident does not fall within our jurisdiction.”

Both Cadence and the man exchanged looks.

“But then…” the suited man began. For some reason, Jericho knew that this man’s name was Donatello.

“This appears to be an internal situation. It does not seem to involve our case. These are not truly ELPIS members.”

“How do you—”

Cadence held her hand up to silence Donatello and tipped her hat. “Well, regardless, thanks for comin’ here to save me even though I ain’t in your jurisdiction.” She extended a hand. “Cadence Morello.”

Jericho stared at the hand for a long moment as he listened to the battle raging on in the background. It didn’t seem like the appropriate place to be doing this exchange.

“It’s never an appropriate time or place unless ya make it one.”

Jericho thought on this for a minute before he ceded. “Jericho.” He accepted the gesture.

The brushing of their fingertips sparked electricity again but left their palms warm.

Donatello glanced between them in confusion.

* * *

The situation was dealt with swiftly.

It was a very efficient execution.

The white-cloaked individuals were herded together into an inescapable corner by a team of suited men. One of the cloaked figures broke away from the group, scrambled to their knees, and begged to be spared.

Cadence, who had been hanging on the outskirts of the scene, frowned. “Wait—”

But the man who headed the raid—the man who looked as if he’d just come from a funeral—raised his hand and brought it down swiftly. Alongside his fist came a rain of Projectors’ vitae bolts. The flashing lights that pelted down were dizzyingly nostalgic. If Jericho closed his eyes, he was certain he’d slip into the past. Instead of doing that, Jericho glanced at Cadence.

She’d tried to speak with him more after their aid came. About what was happening between them and why. But whatever it was, it was not pertinent to his case. When he’d told her this, she’d stared and laughed before shaking her head and walking off with a wave. Now, she seemed pale. In the flashing light, she looked almost sick. Which didn’t make much sense to Jericho. This was her profession, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it common to see things like this?

He glanced back at Cadence. There was color in her cheeks again, and she was wearing a crooked smile. All in order.

A sudden dull pain shot through his arm, and he stared down in confusion. Nothing out of the ordinary. No injury visible.

He glanced back at Cadence. She was still smiling but she was gripping her arm. There was no injury visible there. The only thing out of the ordinary was a faint trail of scarlet that ended a couple of meters away from her. But the floor was painted in red. It was difficult to tell the source of the trail.

He rubbed his arm absentmindedly.

It had been a while since he noticed pain.

Manipulator: a Conductor who falls into one of the five general conducting-type categories. Manipulators utilize vitae strictly intraneously. They are able to inject their internal vitae into objects and manipulate the physical movements of those objects. Some are even capable of using their object of manipulation as a medium and ‘see’ through the medium. (Manipulation of living things is highly outlawed and highly dangerous to both the Manipulator and their victim.)*

Conducting 101 by L.B. Ran with an addendum by the Literary Department of Ophiuchus

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