4.1: Chance Direction

Re-cap:

The convergence has occurred and communication has been set in stone. Olive has discovered that the other five can see the phantom ghost of his sister and a pitiful hope stirs in his chest. The assassination investigation occurring in the background and his bathroom conversation with Claire, however, weigh on his mind.

New Ram City, Aries

“Good morning!”

Olive snapped up in bed, heart thundering as his eyes darted around the room. Sunlight was just beginning to spill onto his carpet from the window, and his bird chirped its morning song at the foot of his bed.

Damn Maria.

Thirty percent whatever.

Olive fell back and closed his eyes tight. Just as sleep was beginning to claim him again, he was greeted with the rattling of morning street traffic echoing at the back of his mind. From Cadence’s end. It had to be.

What in the world was going on? This synchronization thing was happening too frequently now.

He opened his eyes and glared at the ceiling. No use sleeping.

He swung his legs off his bed, fed his bird, and then made his way toward the door.

“You’re up early, Ollie.”

Olive paused and turned his head. Lavi. She sat on the windowsill, looking out at the courtyard below.

“Did something good happen?” she continued absentmindedly.

“More like a series of unfortunate events,” Olive muttered.

“Really?” Lavi turned away from the window. “I like your new friends.”

Not friends.

“It was nice speaking to someone other than you for once,” she continued, somewhat cheeky. “I mean, you’re so grumpy all the time.”

Olive froze in place. What was this? She’d never said anything like this before. Not even once. She had always just been there by his side as if she’d never left, always acting like all was right in the world. A ghost. An illusion. Something Doctor Kingsley had said: ‘felt nothing and only existed as a reminder.’

But they had confirmed it, hadn’t they? The other five.

She was more than an illusion that only he could see. Right? Or?

“Lavi, you—all this time…” Olive whispered, taking a step toward her. For these eight long years that she’d been at his side—“Have you… are you lonely?”

“Huh?” Lavi frowned. After twirling a dark lock between her fingers, she looked down at her feet. “I guess it does get boring sometimes.” She pulled her knees to her chest. “I was never an extrovert like you, but I’m not a hermit either, you know.”

A terrible, yet familiar feeling seized his chest.

How could he have not realized?

“If that’s the case then…” Olive swallowed, looking away. “I’ll find a way to make it so that… you can talk to people whenever you want. I promise.” He looked up at her and found her staring at him rather vacantly.

There was a stretch of silence.

“Okay,” she said with a strange smile, and she disappeared.

* * *

When Olive cracked open the door to his room, he found that it was Samuel and another guard posted by his door. Trystan was nowhere to be seen.

“Your highness, you’re up early,” Samuel said as he noticed Olive peeking out the doorway.

“Like I could sleep with all the racket you’re making out here,” Olive said, slipping into the hall. “Well, I guess it’s fine since it looks like you’re temporarily free from the leash that Trystan has around your neck.” He looked around with disinterest. “Where is he anyways?”

Samuel and the other guard exchanged nervous looks.

“About that… Trystan’s been stripped of his position as head royal guard.”

Olive started. “What? Why? Because of what happened yesterday? That was my fault. I just passed out. As much as he’d like to, he wouldn’t knock me out.”

The two exchanged looks again.

“No, it wasn’t that, your highness.” Samuel clenched the conductor that hung at his side. “Trystan has been arrested for… treason.”

Treason…?

“They found evidence linking him to your assassination attempt,” Samuel continued. “From the conductor inspection.”

Olive’s ears began ringing and he felt his blood run cold.

“The conductor-type and conducting-type that he uses matched the one used on you. Plus, the timeline matched up with his transfer to the royal palace and…” Samuel looked away. “Well, all the royal guards know. During his days at the academy, he was very vocal about his views on the royal family and officials. It was so obvious. I can’t believe we didn’t see it.”

Olive remained silent.

“Everything is all right now, your highness,” Samuel said gently. “He tried to get close to you as head royal guard to probably finish the job he failed to do. It’s a good thing he’s gone.”

Olive gave a noncommittal grunt. “The Ophiuchian Agents work pretty quickly for all the trash talk everyone likes to give them.”

“No, it was actually the Investigation Bureau,” the other guard supplied. “They were running a parallel investigation themselves.”

Olive frowned.

“Right now, the IB is trying to send the peacekeepers back to Ophiuchus since their job’s finished,” Samuel said. “But you know Ophiuchians. They always want to have control—”

“I’m hungry,” Olive interjected. “Let’s get breakfast.”

* * *

The chairs lining the table in the dining room were empty as usual, although the table itself was full. Eggs, bacon, pancakes, fruits, yogurt parfaits—the surface was completely cluttered with them.

Olive settled down at a random chair and began to pick at the food with his fork.

Samuel and the other guard were standing by the wall. At the opposite end of the room was another set of guards. All four of them seemed to be at ease. Olive hadn’t seen the royal guards relaxed like this in weeks.Being relieved of the suspicion surrounding the assassination investigation must do wonders for the stress lines.

Well, it all seems a little too convenient ta be true.

Right. It would be a different story of Izsak and Gabrielle had closed the case but if it was the Investigation Bureau—wait.

Olive shook his head. There wasn’t any point in thinking about this. He knew that. So if he knew it, then who thought otherwise…?

Who was synchronized?

Olive scanned the room carefully as a vague sensation of déjà vu greeted him.

“So, this is the kinda stuff royalty gets treated with.”

Olive nearly jumped as the voice within his mind resounded right next to his ear. Leaning with an elbow propped on the table to Olive’s right was one grinning Cadence Morello. She picked up a pear from the fruit tray and took a bite.

Olive blinked.

And then he realized that he was the one taking the bite, not her.

He frowned and put down the pear she’d made him pick up. He glanced at the guards. They didn’t seem to register anything out of the ordinary.

“Sorry ’bout that,” she said with a mild wince.

What was she doing here?

Cadence shrugged as she turned around and leaned against the table with crossed arms. “Not like I can control it. I’m actually preparin’ for a job and decided to hit my favorite bar just beforehand. Was drinkin’ with some tourists and found myself here.”

There was a slight throb at Olive’s temple, followed by a series of images and sounds. The first was of Cadence entering a brightly lit bar. The next was of her sitting in a booth surrounded by a group of young men and women marveling at the bar’s interior and ‘the beauty of Geminian architecture.’ After that came the image of Cadence pulling out a deck of cards and setting it on the table. And then one of Cadence pulling a man’s wallet from his pocket as she threw an arm around his shoulder. The last image—Olive somehow knew—was what Cadence was doing at that very moment.

Classy.

“What should I call ya by the way?” Cadence gestured to Olive. “Are ya a stickler for titles or do ya wanna be called somethin’ else?” She raised her hands. “Just wanna get along with everyone since we’re here together.”

Olive sighed.

“All right, your majesty. Then it’s free real estate with nicknames,” Cadence chortled. “Anyways, I couldn’t help but notice your predicament.”

It wasn’t really a predicament.

Olive blinked, and his surroundings abruptly changed. He was standing in front of the booth Cadence was seated in. He could see the flashy jewelry worn by the people seated at her table—none of whom acknowledged him—to a startlingly clear degree, and he could hear the faint clinks of glass and silverware in the background. There was a disgustingly strong smell of v-cig smoke in the air.

Olive knew in reality, he was still sitting at the table back at the mansion. He could even taste the sweet parfait he’d just spooned into his mouth. Still, it felt strange.

He examined Cadence’s card game with disinterest. What was this? Poker?

I’ve got a good eye for people. Comes with my profession, Cadence’s thoughts echoed in Olive’s mind as she flashed a charming smile to the woman across from her. Trystan—that’s tall, dark, and handsome, right? From what I can tell, he’s a cherry boy. Honor and duty type of guy. A schoolboy playin’ warrior. She dealt the cards to the tourists and placed a bet of fifty Geminian Cens. Definitely not the type of person to try an assassination attempt. Wouldn’t want that on his record.

The tourists placed their bets in Aquarian Dracul.

“The Investigation Bureau thought otherwise, but maybe you’re right. Maybe I should be listening to the words of someone who’d cheat tourists out of their money instead,” Olive retorted.

I may not know much about politics, but I know enough to not trust a politician. Cadence increased her wager. And I’m pretty sure those are more of your thoughts than mine.

The tourists exchanged nervous looks. Some folded. Others clung to their cards, grinning.

Anyways, cherry boy was obviously framed. Cadence increased her wager again while patting the woman to her left on the shoulder and subtly pulling off the woman’s silver necklace and pocketing it.

“Not like I can do anything. The IB already made its decision. And it has nothing to do with you,” Olive muttered.

Well, the point is that your assassin is still out there and ya don’t have a royal guard that’ll fly to your side on command anymore. Cadence made eye contact with him. You’re not tellin’ me ya don’t even feel a little bit worried about tall-dark-and-handsome? Not a bit of righteous justice coursin’ through your veins?

Olive frowned. He didn’t want to be patronized by someone like Cadence. She was probably just concerned about the possibility of her dying along with him.

Man, kid, ya really don’t pull your punches, do you? Cadence leaned over the table to order another round of drinks from the bar. When she pulled back, she unfastened the wristwatch from the man sitting across from her and tucked in her palm.

How in the world are these people not seeing this? Olive wondered. It was kind of impressive.

Anyways, shouldn’t ya be a bit more concerned about dyin’? Or is this just how kids are nowadays?

“Why are you calling me a kid when you’re one yourself?” Olive returned.

Cadence’s smile cracked for a moment, but she brought it back up easily. Look, I’ll admit it. I don’t wanna die. But, I don’t want you to die either. I get easily attached. What can I say?

Cadence finally revealed her cards, as did two of the other tourists who had not folded. Judging by the tourists’ ecstatic faces and cheers—

“You lost,” Olive noted.

Did I? Cadence winked and tapped her full pockets.

Olive blinked.

The bar scene slowly faded away from his vision, and the dining hall came into focus before him. He’d been working on an omelet the entire time he’d been speaking with Cadence. It was odd—being mentally present in more than one place.

Cadence was back standing at his right, hands on hips.

“I do think it warrants some looking into,” came a familiar, sudden, quiet voice to his left. “Being wrongly accused and arrested is a bit pitiable, don’t you think? But it’s ultimately your decision, Olive.”

Olive didn’t need to turn his head to see who it was. Atienna. Cadence offered her a tip of her hat at her sudden arrival. Her presence was calming as always.

“Fine. I’ll look into it,” Olive sighed, rising to a stand. “I probably won’t be able to do anything, but I don’t want your deaths on my hands—”

“Your highness?”

Olive jumped in surprise. Samuel was standing puzzled right behind him.

“Were you speaking to me, sir?” Samuel asked. “I couldn’t hear you from my post.”

Olive looked to his left and right. Atienna and Cadence were gone. Of course.

* * *

It wasn’t hard to give Samuel and the other guard the slip when they brought Olive to the royal palace upon his request. They weren’t as tightly wound as Trystan nor were they as keen as Alexander. In fact, as soon as they arrived inside the main entrance hall, the two immediately began to gossip with the other guards present.

It was expected. They hadn’t been the most attentive before or during the assassination incident. Olive waited for the guards to start talking about how they had seen Trystan’s betrayal coming before he leisurely made his exit.

People love to gossip, came Cadence’s observation.

Olive jumped at the echo of her voice inside his head. They still seemed to be synchronized, unfortunately, but at least it was to a lesser degree than before.

He slipped through a door that led to the stairwell. He peered up, squinting at the stretch of red carpet extending up numerous zigzagging staircases. He then glanced down at the same red zigzagging below downward.

Okay, so you wanted to visit your family. That’s really cute of ya, but what does this have to do with the whole Trystan-and-assassin thing?

“The royal dungeon is beneath the palace,” Olive sighed. “It’s where Trystan is being kept and interrogated, probably.”

Saints. You keep a dungeon beneath your royal palace? Monarchies are really somethin’ else.

Olive waved away her thoughts and began his descent. He moved quickly, but quietly. Tense. As he went deeper and deeper down, the decorative walls became bare and unpainted and the carpet was traded for hard concrete flooring.

He paused as loud clanging echoed from below. Pressing his back against the wall, he continued slower. When he reached the next floor space, he peered cautiously around the corner. A great oak door. The light leaking from the space beneath the door was warm. There was a sweet smell wafting out.

The kitchen.

He quickly passed this area and descended further.

After three more levels, he reached an absurdly long set of stairs. It seemed to go on for miles, and he became self-conscious of his labored breathing as he continued down. Near the bottom, he began to hear a sound other than his panting.

Stomping leather boots.

He paused just in front of the threshold where the floor level met the stairway.

It was dim here. The floor was cobblestone, the walls brick. There were wooden tables draped in red sheets along the walls. Large pillars ran from the floor to the high-rise ceilings. From his angle, he could just barely make out the wrought iron door leading to the jail.

Voices and footsteps drifted toward him.

“—it was really Trystan. I always had a bad feeling about him when we were together at the academy.”

“Right? He was always so snooty. Talking about how reliant we’ve become on Ophiuchus—look at him now! Caught not by Ophiuchus, but by us. Ha!”

“Yeah, he was only popular there because his grades were kinda good and he was kinda okay with his conductor. Nothin’ special.”

Three pairs of footsteps began to drift away.

Olive darted forward, hurtling toward the table across the room and ducking beneath the tablecloth before clamping his hand over his mouth. Damn it. This was so stupid.

What’s with all the sneakin’? Can’t ya use your authority to just waltz in there?

“I’m a prince. I’m just here for appearances. I don’t actually have a say in anything,” Olive whispered under his breath. “If they find me here, they’ll put more guards on me and I’ll never be able to sneak back in here. I’m not crawling around for fun.”

“Hey, guys, I’m kinda hungry. How about we grab lunch real quick?” One of the guards sighed.

“I was hoping you’d say that. I was just about to eat my hand,” responded another.

“You’ve been liking food a lot recently huh?” asked the third.

“Are you calling me fat?”

Olive waited for the shadows of boots to pass him by and listened for the pad of footsteps to fade up the stairs before peeling out from beneath the table.

Wait, wait, wait. What if there are more of ’em?

“There aren’t,” Olive said, brushing off the dirt from his shirt. “Clement, Adam, and Leslie are the only ones on guard around this time since it’s near lunch. They always skip out for food.”

Wow, y’know the rotation of your royal guards? You’re pretty good, kid.

“It’s nothing special. Just helps for when I sneak around.” Olive looked around the room. There wasn’t much to see. Just a v-light barely brightening the room and a thin window near the high ceiling.

He walked over to the dungeon door, which had rust creeping along its edges. He reached for the handle and paused. He grabbed the padlock that hung there.

Locked.

Olive took a step back and scanned the walls.

What’re you doin’?

“Looking for the keys,” Olive sighed. When he noticed that the key holder built into the wall was empty, he swore under his breath before addressing Cadence. “What are you doing? Why are you still here?”

Jeez. Don’t take it out on me, your highness. Can’t help it. And ya could always lock-pick it.

“I’m not the type of person who learns how to break into places in my free time.”

Well, you’re in luck because I happen to be the type of person that does.

Olive frowned. “Are you planning on overriding me?”

Nah, I’ll just tell ya how to do it. Not sure what model that is, but I’m pretty sure usin’ the end of that pin in your shirt’ll do.

Creepy how she knew that. Olive reached for the gold-pressed pin and unfastened it.

A minute later and he was kneeling on the ground, blankly jabbing the end of his pin into the padlock with little result.

No, no, no, ya can’t just go straight in like that—

This was stupid. How else was he supposed to do it?

To the side! You’re supposed to feel for it and twist it and—

“You really should avoid becoming a teacher,” Olive muttered under his breath. “Or a lock picker. Your job prospects would be—”

“What are you doing?” A cool voice abruptly cut their conversation short.

Olive felt his heart skip a beat, and he could feel Cadence’s heart do the same. A chill crept up his spine, but it was not a hair-raising chill. Rather, it was a familiar one.

Olive rose to his feet and turned.

It was the Capricornian Lieutenant. Werner Waltz. He stood there with his hands folded behind his back inspecting the room with an unreadable expression.

“It seems that I’ve synchronized with you and Morello,” Werner said calmly. He raised his hand briefly to his temple before clasping it behind his back again. “This is reckless.”

“I don’t have time for this,” Olive grumbled, turning away from him.

Cadence tried to assuage Werner while Olive continued working on the padlock, which he was now tempted to smash his head against.

“So you don’t believe Carter was the perpetrator,” Werner said after a lengthy pause. “Then who do you think did it?”

“Don’t know,” Olive said. “Don’t really ca—”

Werner held up his hand, cutting him off short. “Someone’s coming.”

“Wha—”

“You need to hide.”

Olive’s eyes darted around the room. The table. Beneath there.

He made for it. Or at least he tried to. He barely took his first step before he tripped over his own foot and face-planted on the ground.

Kid—

Shadowy arms abruptly wrapped around Olive’s waist and drew him up off of his feet. Up, up, up, up, until he was near the ceiling and straddled against one of the pillars. Before he could scream, a hand was clamped over his mouth and a familiar ‘shhhh’ brushed his right ear.

Don’t panic, came Werner’s voice although Olive could no longer see him. Decreased synchronization?

Below them, one of the guards from earlier approached the cellar door. He unhooked something from his belt and hung it on the wall. The key.

The guard let out a sigh, rubbed his face, and headed back up the stairs. The sound of his footsteps echoed for a moment before silence fell.

Olive swallowed and looked over his shoulder. He glared into the shadows, and then—

“Claire?!” Olive whispered incredulously, jerking his head away from the clamped hand.

The sight was almost unbelievable. There Claire was hanging upside down from the pillar. He was using his legs to wrap around it and hold himself in place.

“Wha—what are you?!”

“Wait, wait, let me get us down first,” Claire whispered back in a strained voice.

A minute later and they were both on the ground. Claire collapsed back against the pillar behind him and sighed. “You’re pretty heavy, you know.”

Olive frowned.

“Anyways, I’m really glad you’re okay after yesterday. Should you really be—”

“What are you doing here?”

“I—what do you mean—”

“Don’t play dumb.” Olive looked him over. “What are you doing here in the dungeons?”

Claire’s eyes bulged. “This is a dungeon?” He looked around bewildered. “You have dungeons beneath your royal palace?”

“Wha…?”

“I thought this was the treasury.” Claire took a step back and swiveled in a full circle. He pointed at Olive. “I thought you were trying to steal something so that’s why I—what are you doing here then?”

Olive shook his head incredulously before he snapped: “First off, does this look like a treasury room to you?!” He startled himself with his own shout and pulled back with crossed arms. He continued more quietly: “Secondly, why would I steal some from the treasury? And third, what were you doing looking for the treasury in the first place?”

Claire opened his mouth and then closed it before he said, “The Ramicus.”

Olive stared. “You broke into the treasury of the royal palace to try and steal a pot that I was going to give to you.”

“I thought since you fainted… I didn’t want to stress you.”

“I’m more stressed now that you’re here—”

There isn’t time for this. Werner’s thoughts cut through like a knife. You came here with an objective.

The prince clicked his tongue in annoyance and turned away from Claire. He walked to the cellar door and unhooked the key before inserting it in the slot.

“Wait, what are you doing here though?” Claire pressed from behind him. “I mean… the dungeon—isn’t it dangerous?”

Kid—it was Cadence now—careful.

“Trystan was arrested for my attempted assassination,” Olive stated plainly.

That’s the opposite of bein’ careful.

“Trystan?”

Olive ignored him and pushed the door open. The metal door creaked on its hinges and scrapped against the floor. Olive stepped inside with Claire following shortly behind.

Surprisingly, the room inside was well lit.

The dungeon consisted of ten individual jail cells—five on the left and five on the right. A wide walkway divided the room in half, and at the center was a long table piled with documents.

Only one cell was occupied. The one closest to the window. A figure cloaked in shadows was sitting on the bed in the cell and had raised his head at their entrance. When he registered them, he shot up and ran to the bars.

“Your highness?!”

Olive frowned and put a finger to his lip.

“W-What are you doing here?” Trystan whispered.

Trystan looked worse for wear. There were bruises on his cheek, and his left eye was swelling. His fingers that were wrapped around the bars of the cell were raw red. It looked like the Investigation Bureau had interrogated him thoroughly. But even still—

His eyes were strong.

They glimmered with a sort of fiery intensity that Olive supposed all foreigners thought Ariesians possessed.

“I could ask you the same thing,” Olive returned.

Trystan’s eyes widened at the implication, and his grip on the bars tightened. “It wasn’t me, your highness. I would never dare to take the life of an Ariesian—much less a member of the royal family. It’s my duty to protect them.”

“You sure like waxing lyrical,” Olive said, looking him over. “But the evidence is really stacked up against you. You need to start keeping your political opinions to yourself.”

Trystan froze.

“I read through some of your papers earlier today.” Olive reached into his pocket and pulled out a slip of folded paper. He opened it and recited in a mocking tone: “‘The election of feudal lords has moved from competitions of merit to calculated nepotism. The royal family has devolved from its former state of reassuring the people through their image to being mere figureheads. They need to be reformed.’”

That’s a bit dramatic.

Olive ignored Cadence and continued, “Anybody reading your papers would think you were a radical. Maybe you’re radical enough to think that an assassination would solve everything.”

Trystan’s grip on the bars loosened and he stared into the floor. “That’s… not the way true, permanent changes are made. The reason I became a royal guard was because… I wanted to try to change things from the insi—”

“Are you going to break him out then?” Claire asked, sounding a bit hopeful.

Trystan finally noticed him standing behind Olive. “You’re… How—”

“Long story,” Claire said with a wave. “But we’re going to get you out of here—”

“No, that would be stupid,” Olive interjected.

Claire paused. “We’re not breaking him out?”

“Firstly, there’s no ‘we.’ Secondly, breaking him out would cause more trouble for him and for me,” Olive continued. “Doesn’t help him look innocent.”

Olive turned away from the cell and walked to the center table. He moved aside the papers there that detailed aspects of the case recorded by the Investigation Bureau. There, beneath the file. He picked up two thin metal objects that had been set to the side together. He held them loosely for the other two to see.

“My arrow…” Trystan identified. “And the one you were shot with.”

“Since the IB didn’t have the actual conductor used on me, they focused on the conducting type used instead and the fact that an arrow was used. A Conductor who is a fire Elementalist who uses a bow conductor.” He pointed to the tips of the arrows. “But the real evidence is here.” He tapped his shoulder. “And here.”

“You believe me?” Trystan whispered.

“You’re too stuck up to dirty your hands trying to kill me.” Olive waved him off. “But who knows.” With that, he headed back toward the door.

“Your highness—no, Olive.”

Olive paused and turned.

Trystan met his eyes. “Thank you.”

The very sentence made Olive nauseous. Disgusting.

He exited the cellar without another word, Claire following.

Abruptly, Claire said, “Let me help you, Olive.”

Olive stopped in his tracks, turned, and stared.

This guy is too suspicious. No one ever offers help without schemin’ somethin’ behind the scenes.

Olive had to agree with Cadence on that part, but—

Claire pressed on: “You’ve seen me. I’m pretty good at getting in and out of places. Maybe even better than you.”

He was pushing it now.

“Why do you want to even help me?” Olive asked.

“Like you said.” Claire shrugged. “I’m an idiot.”

Maybe he really was an idiot.

Or maybe he’s playin’ idiot.

Either way—

Someone is coming—Werner again, cutting through their thoughts with his clipped voice. Storming of footsteps down the stairwell followed.

Olive grabbed Claire’s arm. “Okay fine. I’ll let you be an idiot. How did you get in here?”

Claire pointed up to the window.

* * *

Half an hour later Olive and Claire arrived at the specialized conductor store where they first met. They entered the building side-by-side and were welcomed by a familiar mess of tables topped with conductor parts and a haze of smog.

Didn’t think this’d be the kind of place a prince’d hang out at.

Olive nearly jumped at the sound of Cadence’s voice. She’d been silent during their journey here. He, for a moment, had hoped the synchronization was gone. Why in the world was she still here—

“Chance?” The owner of the shop appeared out from behind the curtains at the back of the store. Wiping her hands on a rag that hung at her waist, she walked up to the counter and squinted at him.

“Didn’t expect you to be here so soon,” she said. She glanced at Claire. “You were here the other night, weren’t you? You know each other?”

“Claire.” Olive thumbed at Claire. “Marta.” Olive pointed to the woman. Introductions done and over with.

“Nice to meet you, Claire.” Marta gave him a slight bow of her head before turning her attention back to Olive. “You here to sleep again or…?”

“I’m actually here about that thing you were talking about last week.”

“That thing?” A question from both Claire and Cadence.

“My vitae-spectrophotometer!” Marta boomed, causing Claire to jump.” I’m finishing up the trials as we speak. I’m hoping to get it board-approved at Ophiuchus by the end of next month.”

“I need to use it.”

Marta paused. “Use it?”

“Borrow it,” Olive tried. “Test trials.”

Marta looked unconvinced.

Tell her that you’ll convince your uncle and aunt to set up an exhibition to promote her invention thing.

Why? It wasn’t like he could actually convince them of that, and he doubted Marta cared.

But she doesn’t know that. And besides, there’s one thing I know about anyone who creates anything. They always seek validation.

With nothing to lose, Olive told her what Cadence suggested.

Without another word, Marta took them to the back of her store. It was as cluttered as Olive expected, but for some odd reason he felt an itch to clean it up. Its appearance was… unacceptable.

After rummaging beneath her desk in the corner of the room, she pulled out a large rectangular contraption and hefted it onto the desk. It was black with two slots set slightly off-center. She connected its two cables to a square generator conductor and a large, cylindrical, glass insulator.

The generator conductor was an Ariesian brand with the obnoxious Ariesian ram printed at its center. It read ‘100 VPps’ and 10K VP charge. One hundred vitae particles per second. And ten thousand vitae particles stored inside? That was pretty good.

Noticing Olive’s stare, Marta shrugged. “Plugging into the vitae provided by the city generator conductors is too unreliable.”

Claire cleared his throat. “Sorry, I’m confused. What does this do?”

“Whenever someone uses a weaponized conductor, some of their vitae lingers on not just the conductor, but whatever they used their conductor on,” Olive said. “A Manipulator’s vitae’ll still be in whatever they manipulated. If a Projector uses a conducting rifle, their vitae will linger on whatever they shoot at. And, well, you can see why Elementalists are so dangerous.” He pulled out the two arrows he had tucked into his coat pocket and nodded to the device. “This thing can extract and read that vitae.”

“Oh! So it’s like the V-Type Test they give you so that you can find out your conducting type?”

“Don’t compare my baby to that simple thing!” Marta snapped. She placed a gentle, loving hand on the device. “The V-Type Test isn’t sophisticated like this thing. This baby here—it can read vitae colors. And not just from human beings—no, that would be too boring. My vitae-spectrophotometer can read the colors of anything.”

“I see,” Claire said, despite evidently not seeing.

“Everyone has a unique color to their vitae, so…” Olive removed the arrowhead from Trystan’s arrow and moved toward the machine as Marta messed with the cables connecting everything together.

“You sure know a lot about conducting,” Claire noted.

“Not conducting. Vitae theory goes over my head. But… conductors—yeah, I know a thing or two.” Olive set the arrowhead in one of the slots. Marta handed him a cubical glass cover to slip over it. “I wanted to be a conductor engineer when I was younger.”

“What made you change your mind?”

Both Claire and Cadence asked the question.

“I realized it was stupid. Pointless,” Olive answered as he helped Marta check the cables. “You make things thinking that you’re helping people. That you’re making a difference. But that’s just you trying to reassure yourself that something you’re putting so much effort into actually matters. It’s stupid.” He moved away so that the mechanic could hook an empty vial to the other slot. “Sometimes just by doing that, you make it worse for everyone else without realizing it.”

Damn, kid. Uh, are you all right?

Marta ran the machine.

After half an hour, a wispy light spilled into the empty vial. They then tested the assassin’s arrow next. After another half an hour, another empty vial was filled.

After retrieving the vials, Olive held them up to the light. The one labeled ‘death arrow’ contained a swirling vermillion light while the one labeled ‘Trystan’ contained a pale-rose light.

“They’re different!” A grin broke across Claire’s face. “This proves Trystan is innocent!”

“It’s not enough,” Olive said. He tapped his shoulder. “We need to test one more thing.”

After the third vial was filled with a blood sample from Olive’s shoulder and it was treated, they examined the contents of the former. It swirled vermillion.

“Now we’ve proven Trystan’s innocence,” Olive said, slipping the vials into his coat pocket. “And—”

“I don’t get what’s going on and I don’t want to get involved,” Marta interjected bluntly. “But you’re going to have that exhibition set up for me, right?”

“Yeah, don’t worry. You’ll have your moment in the spotlight,” Olive muttered. He tapped his pocket where the vials were stored. “But first I have to turn this into—”

“Wait.” Claire gave a rare frown. “Is that a good idea? I mean, you already know you can’t trust some of the people at top. They might just get rid of the evidence as soon as you give it to them.”

I agree, came Werner’s sudden thought. Caution is key.

Had Werner been quietly watching the entire time? Creepy.

But he had a point.

“I’ll hold onto it until I can get to Gabrielle or Izsak—they’re Ophiuchians that’re here to investigate this mess.”

“That’s a good idea,” Claire approved. Abruptly, he checked his wristwatch. “Oh—I have to go now. Sorry.” Before Olive could respond, Claire had already made it to the curtains. “But I’ll keep in touch! Good luck with everything!”

Your Highness, I don’t mean to get in-between you two, but I know a liar when I see one.

“The prince is a bit rude, don’t you think, Clarence?”

“Yeah, but that’s not our problem. Kid is probably goin’ through a phase or something. I mean, it’s not like he really has a place here. He’s only being kept beside the throne because the king and queen feel for him. If those two have a kid, then it’s going to be an entirely different situation alltogether. I mean, look at him. Any successor’d be better.”

“It’s dishonourable to speak of the prince in such a way. We are royal guards now, Clarence, Menma. Criticism of Aries’s government is necessary, of course. The feudal system is flawed. But this is rude, unempathetic—“

“Look, Menma, Trystan’s at it again with his politically righteous talk. That’s why no one likes you man. If you keep up that downer attitude, no one’s gonna come help you when you need it.”

A conversation between Trystan and two fellow royal guards

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