The dominoes have fallen.
Omicron, a leader of ELPIS, has broken into Ophiuchus’s Black Constellation Detention Center in an attempt to retrieve Wtorek Izsak. Although her attempts ended in failure, Alice Kingsley was taken during the chaos. Not so long after this event occurred, Fortuna and two of the elder Foxman brothers met up to discuss business only to suddenly fall through a mysterious portal. Upon awakening, they discover their captors are ELPIS and among their captors is the city’s commissario Vincente Giustizia and one Francis Foxman. Cadence who was with Fortuna, Allen, and Carl at their moment of capture is now…
The light that swallowed them all up was something out of a nightmare. No, that wasn’t right. Cadence was sure Atienna had said one time that nightmares and dreams were made of things taken from the real world: maybe a conversation you had, a book you read, or something you saw briefly while passing by some place. But what Cadence saw wasn’t anything remotely close to any of those things. Nothing in reality could even serve as a cue to bring it into a nightmare or a dream.
One minute Cadence was across from Fortuna and the next she was free-falling through the air into a void of pale tangerine light. And just the minute after that, she was hurtling towards a concrete ground along with the others. Her fall was broken by Carl who cracked against the floor beneath her first, leaving her only mildly jarred by the impact. She scrambled off of him immediately, still laying low, and let out a sigh of relief as he groaned in response.
He was still kicking. So were Allen and Fortuna who were both out cold. There were other bodies scattered alongside them. Lower-rung executives of the Romano family.
This was not looking good.
Cadence’s head pounded furiously alongside each beat of her heart as she took in the scene. The pound resonated in her ears, drowning out the anger that had swelled up in her chest only moments earlier.
What had that feeling even been? One of the others? It had to be. Jericho? Definitely. No one else quite had that flavor of anger. She briefly considered reaching out to him but—
No, no. She needed to focus on herself first. The detective could handle himself.
Even so, she attempted to reach out but was met with a startling wall unlike anything she’d ever encountered before. It hurt to even near him—like someone was punching her repeatedly in the gut. Cadence figured if that wasn’t a sign telling her to focus on her own situation instead, she didn’t know what was. And a hairy situation it was.
Still keeping low, Cadence gauged her surroundings. It was dim and dark with the only light permeating the area emanating from a handful of candles that spotted the floor. There were bookcases lining the wall, and a board game toppled on top of a stack of books to the right.
At the center of the room were a row of chairs. Two of them were occupied.
Cadence’s heart skipped a beat, and she stilled.
None of the two people sitting in the chairs moved. And upon closer inspection, Cadence realized that they were tied to the chairs. Most likely unconscious. Other captives? Probably captured earlier. So this was a hostage situation. And there were no Campanas in sight. This had to be them then—
Cadence’s eyes darted left and then right.
There was no door. There was no latch on the ceiling to an attic nor any cellar trap descending in the pits of saint’s knows where. Nothing.
No. There had to be a door. An exit. Maybe behind one of the bookcases. Like a hidden one.
A sudden updraft of wind blew through the room carrying with it a conversation.
“—and then I told the chief, ‘That’s how they did it twenty years ago!’ Man, you shoulda seen the look on his face.”
“He’s definitely a character. But, you know what… don’t tell him this… but with the way things are heading now, I’m starting to have some hope for this city.”
They were voices Cadence’s recognized. But from where? She searched her memory for faces, and after a beat, she matched two and two. The voices belonged to two of the police officers who served under Vincente. The ones who had accompanied the commissario to the Foxman’s casino.
Gambling, Cadence snapped her ringed fingers and conducted the form of one of the officers she’d seen accompanying Vincente over herself. She popped up immediately and came face to face with a man and a woman dressed in police uniforms.
“Huh?” The woman officer stared at Cadence. “Butch, what are you doing in here already?”
“You tell me,” Cadence tried with a shrug. She scanned the area behind them. Where had they come from?
The man and the woman exchanged looks before the man asked, “Chief call you in too?”
“Sounds about right,” Cadence affirmed.
“Well,” the man sighed, gesturing to the bodies, “help us tie up all these bastards with the others before they wake up.”
And so with great effort, Cadence aided the two officers in lugging the bodies of the executives onto the chairs lining the center of the room. She was startled when she saw that Agape Rosario and one of the mayor candidates—Depa Amaril, if she recalled correctly— were already tied to two of the chairs, but she kept the expression hidden with a grimace and a yawn. Instead of focusing on those two, she focused her attention on making sure to place Fortuna, Allen, and Carl beside each other. As Cadence began tying up the eldest Foxman brother, he began to stir.
“Don’t throw a fit, Allen,” she whispered into his ear, tying the rope into a very loose knot around his wrists. “This ain’t the usual deal.”
Allen met her eyes as she pulled away and nodded as she winked.
After she finished helping the two officers with their work, she joined them at a table pressed alongside the bookcases lining the wall. She had barely managed to get a conversation started to try and gather some information when another updraft chilled the back of her neck. Following this temperature drop, two additional figures entered the room. Cadence nearly jumped at the sight of them.
Vincente Giustizia, the police commissario. And a woman wearing a polka-dot blue dress. But in the direction where the two had stepped out from, there had not been a door nor a window nor a tunnel nor anything like that—Cadence had double-checked. There was simply a flash of pale tangerine light, and then the two were suddenly stepping forward into the room from the bare wall.
Cadence barely had time to comprehend the scene before Vincente rushed up to the row of bound executives and started a ten-thousand-words-per-minute rant. Any of the poor bastards who were still unconscious were immediately awoken by his shouting.
Cadence resisted gawking. She could tell by the reactions of the other two officers that this was a normal occurrence for them.
Vincente. Campanas? Being paid out by the Campanas? That seemed pretty likely, but…
Vincente spent the better half of fifteen minutes yelling at the executives about vague concepts like justice and retribution, only taking seconds-lasting breaks to cough or down glasses of water. If the situation weren’t so serious, Cadence probably would’ve burst out laughing at the absurdity of it.
Another fifteen minutes in and there was another flash of light from the far corner of the room and—of all things—a group of children poured out and began to dash around wildly. Cadence immediately recognized them as members of Matilda’s gang. Which led to all of her theories up to that point flying out the window. Another figure entered the room behind the children but they seated themselves in the shadows at the corner there without speaking another word.
That was not the end of the mysterious appearances, however, and not even five minutes later another person—a rather beautiful woman—stepped out from a flash of light from behind Fortuna while flipping her hair.
There was more chatter, more senseless shouting, and then—
And then, a familiar voice wafted out from the darkness.
Cadence felt her head buzz as one of the children brought a candle to the corner of the room which revealed Francis Foxman sitting there. Unbound, reading leisurely. Cadence was so thrown out of sorts by his appearance that she didn’t even notice that he was speaking until he was standing in front of Fortuna and his brothers.
Cadence’s gaze flicked between Francis and Vincente and Fortuna, Allen, and Carl. Her mind spun.
Was he playing the other side? And why? What side even was that? Vincente’s side? The Campana’s? No, it couldn’t be the Campanas. Not with the bad blood between the Foxmans and them. Maybe this was a plan against the Campanas. But wait—what was Vincente’s deal with this then? What was Vincete’s goal? More money? Was the old man not paying him enough? Well, Ricardo wasn’t paying him anything now since he was in the hospital, but Bendetto or Cavallo were supposed to cover that part on Ricardo’s behalf. No. Backtrack. Francis wasn’t the type to care about that. But. Wait—what if this ‘Francis’ was a fake? Someone able to put on a disguise. Like her. Was this person really—
“Francis!” Carl snapped, leaning so far forward in his chair that he nearly toppled over. “What the hell’s going on? What are you doi—”
“Shut up, Carl.” Fortuna snapped in a whisper. “No one say anything else.” She was pale, staring at Omega who kept flipping her hair. “That doesn’t matter now. Open your damn eyes.”
Cadence wasn’t sure if it was the look in Fortuna’s eyes or the audible tremble in her voice that did it but no one else dared to speak another word. The silence that followed was peppered only by the crackle of the flickering flames.
In that quietness, Francis towered over her—over all of them—and the candlelight twisted the shadows across his face in a way that made him look strange, foreign. Finally, he closed the book he’d been holding and spoke addressing Fortuna: “I see you’re a bright girl. You seem to know exactly what your position is.”
Fortuna remained silent but did not avert her gaze.
“And what about you?” Allen’s voice broke through the silence. “What’s your position in all of this?”
Allen sounded calm. Too calm. To the point where Cadence wondered if he was in on all of this. But what was this? Wait. No, Allen had a decent amount of pride. He would never let himself be tied up like this—well, maybe he would if it involved a lot of money. Royalty-levels of inheritance money. But that didn’t seem to be the case.
“Oh, can I answer that,” the one called Omega hummed, stepping into place beside Francis and leaning in close to Allen’s face. “Theta’s been designated leader this time around, so the position would be…” She lifted a hand up to gesture above her head. “On top of us.”
“Theta?” Carl echoed Cadence’s thoughts. “What’s that?”
Exactly. Why did that word—that name—sound so familiar? Wait. ‘Name’?
There was an updraft again—this time from the corner of the room where Francis had once been seated at.
“That would be my name,” Francis answered. A small smile touched the corner of his lips. “Or perhaps it would be better to call it a pseudonym. No. Let’s just call it a name for now.”
“What’s this?” came a voice from the direction of the updraft. “If you’re going to smile, Theta, I would at least like to be here to see what miracle made it possible.”
Another figure stepped out from the corner of the room in the direction of the updraft. A woman who was dressed in slacks and a loosely buttoned blouse. A woman with a tattoo emblazoned on the left side of her face. A familiar tattoo of a snake in the shape of an S divided by a vertical word. ελπίδα. ELPIS.
Omicron. Alice. ELPIS.
The synchronization hit Cadence like a punch to the gut, and she could barely keep her head on straight as the wall that had separated her from Jericho crumbled in an instant. The memories from Jericho’s recent encounter with this woman suddenly sharpened into focus and throttled through Cadence like lightning.
The atmosphere in the room changed instantly. Cadence could feel it. She could see it in the way Agape visibly stiffened, see it in the way Carl’s eyes widened, see it in the tremble of the soon-to-be mayor of the city, see it in Allen’s narrowed eyes. Fortuna and the soon-to-be mayor, however, remained pale and expressionless. They had already somehow known—ELPIS was their captor.
Seemingly undisturbed by Omicron’s appearance, Francis let out a quiet sigh. “You’re a ridiculous person.”
Saints. Cadence felt her legs begin to shake, felt her bones rattle in the cage of her skin. A cold dread seeped out from her chest, while a sweltering heat clenched the skin of her throat. A strong sense of awareness bled into her mind, and she suddenly became overly conscious of her own breathing.
In and out. In and out.
Wait, no. Think, Cadence, she told herself. Francis. Was he being held hostage? No. He was too calm. His demeanor, too casual. Like a walk in the park. Manipulation? It had to be, right? Like Izsak? Backtrack. Where in saint’s name had Omicron come from—had any of them come from? Teleporting. Portal. Yes. That was it. “Spatial manipulation?” Was that what Werner had called it back when the man had synchronized with Jericho? That sounded like something out of one of Atienna’s ridiculous novels. But that was the only explanation for how they’d all come to this place. A flash of bright light and a rush of air. Just like what Jericho saw at the Serpens Establishment.
Something clicked in Cadence’s mind.
If she could just get to one of those portal things then—
The rage overcame Cadence before she could finish the thought. She’d felt it once before during that night of her first convergence with the other five. A boiling hot anger that bleached the world around her white. A terrifying fury. An inferno that ate away ate the cold dread in her chest. Eating away at reason. No, no, no.
Detective, calm down. Please, Cadence pleaded, biting the inside of her cheek as she saw her hand form into a fist, knuckles white. She tasted iron.
Not an override. Saints, please not an override. She wouldn’t survive that. She wasn’t like Werner or Jericho or Maria or Atienna. She wasn’t even like the prince. If she came out of her disguise, she was going to die. For sure. There was no doubt about it. And the others would probably die too.
Ya see, detective? Ya don’t want the others to die, do ya? Please, calm—
And then another figure stepped out from the darkness behind Omicron. It was a woman with layered blonde hair and piercing blue eyes over which a pair of square, red-framed glasses rested.
Doctor Alice Kingsley.
The anger dimmed in Cadence’s chest, and she felt her balled fist relax.
Look, they haven’t hurt Alice yet. I gotta keep low so I can get outta here and figure out how ta get the others out in one piece, aight? Cadence scanned the room for Jericho’s image but could not find him. Her thoughts weren’t a complete lie. Getting out was a priority.
“Who’s that?” Francis inquired, nodding at Alice.
“An Ophiuchian,” Omicron explained, grabbing Alice by the arm and jerking her forward. “Caught her on the way here.”
“‘Ophiuchian’?” the woman in the polka-dot dress spat, suddenly storming over to the peacekeeper.
Cadence tensed. Felt worry and fear and anger crash together in her chest. Calm down, Jericho.
“How dare you even call yourselves that?! You’re not Ophiuchians. You’re—” she roared, grabbing Alice by the scruff. “You’re pieces of—”
“I recognize you,” Alice spoke to Iota calmly. “You’re a Libran wanted war criminal. Wanted since the end of the Reservoir War. Iris McKillop.”
The aggressive woman’s eyes widened.
“You escaped the Black Constellation Detention Center five years ago,” Alice continued quietly, studying her from over her glasses. “You were imprisoned for targeting orphanages, medical hospitals, and neutral areas during the war. And you were vocally against the regulation of conductors after the war ended.” Alice lifted her head. “ I find it hard to believe that someone like that would join an organization like ELPIS.”
Growling, the woman lifted her fist.
“Don’t, Iota,” Francis said, causing the woman to halt immediately. He walked over to Alice and stared at her. “Is it customary for a person who’s been captured by a renown terrorist organization to be this calm?”
Alice’s eyes narrowed.
“I see. So it was your intention to be captured.” Francis continued staring. “Why? Is it that you wanted to find out more about us?” He hummed in thought. “Curiosity is a powerful thing, but paired with a clever mind it’s quite fatal.” After a long pause of silence, his gaze shifted to Iota. “But we would also like to learn more about you too, peacekeeper.”
Iota released Alice with a scowl, before turning around and kicking down a nearby stack of books. The books toppled over onto the ground startling the children who had skirted back to the opposite corner of the room.
“Leave,” Francis addressed the children. “You can return tomorrow morning.”
Cadence followed his gaze to the children. Were they being indoctrinated into ELPIS? Just like Jericho had? Wait, no. Not the time to be thinking about that.
The children stiffened and nodded before herding together to the corner of the room where they had first emerged. One of them—the girl who had brought out the candlelight to Francis—pulled something out from her pocket. Something shaped like a shortened syringe. No. It was a conductor. She tapped it against a spot on the wall that was darker than the others, causing the spot to glow with tangerine light. Without hesitation, the children stepped through the light and disappeared from sight.
When the light faded, Vincente sighed.
“Dammit!” Iota let out a sudden roar and stormed over to where all the executives sat lined up. Without warning, she cracked a fist against Carl’s face sending the man backwards.
Carl crashed through a pile of books behind him and hit the floor with a loud thud, chair and all. Allen glowered from his restraints. Fortuna remained silent and tense. Cadence made herself appear only mildly miffed at the violence, although her heart raced wildly.
“What happened to your hair?”
Cadence returned her attention to Francis—Theta?—and found that he was now standing only a centimeter away from Omicron and was threading his fingers through her hair. Omicron did not seem at all disturbed by the intimate gesture.
Cadence had no idea what the hell was going on.
“That one that I mentioned. The one with the suitcase,” Omicron explained. “He was there. I believe he might have a promising profession as a barber.”
“It suits you,” he said.
The corners of Omicron’s eyes crinkled.
“The damned suitcase bastard again?” Iota scowled, rubbing her knuckles and glowering in Omicron’s direction. “The same one from New Ram City who got—”
Omicron held up a hand and nodded. “I wasn’t able to retrieve Izsak, and I wasn’t able to retrieve Ersatz either. But I’m sure Omega has regaled my failures already. People nowadays would call this a ‘bust’.” She glanced back at Theta. “You were right. We should have waited until we finished our work here before attempting to get them.”
“You mean I was right,” Vincente muttered. “At least you made it back in one piece.”
“Ersatz?” Theta inquired, pulling away from Omicron.
“Pi,” Omicron said as if that clarified anything at all. “Ersatz was shot by that suitcase peacekeeper. He fell through one of your gates, and I wasn’t able to slip him one of your proto-conductors, so I doubt he’ll make it back here.” She paused, peering into his face. “Do you happen to know where he ended up?”
Theta placed a hand on his chin. “No, I’m unsure of where they went. I wasn’t present at the time.”
A faint memory of a cold cave flashed through her mind, causing Cadence to realize that she had an inkling of where the major ended up.
“I thought the suitcase peacekeeper was a Projector,” Omicron said, “but as Omega suspected, he’s more likely a Specialist.”
“Maybe that’s a good thing,” Vincente interjected. “About Ersatz, I mean. He was unstable. The initiation process was faulty. What happened at the Aquarian-Capricornian border was reckless.”
“At least he did something,” Iota rebutted, smoothing out her polka-dotted dress and wiping her blood-stained knuckles with a handkerchief she had pulled out from nowhere. “All you do is run your little office and complain about everything.”
“And what do you do, Iota? Leave a blood trail pointing to us wherever you go?” Vincente scowled. “Do you know how many city laws you’ve broken since coming here? You—”
“We don’t need pointless arguments.” Ending the entire debacle with a simple statement, Theta returned his attention to the row of executives.
“You’ve lost your mind, Francis,” Agape drew, locking eyes with the man. “I understand being averse to the Campana and Romano Family’s changing relations, but this is ridiculous. Even I wouldn’t go as far as this. There’s no way you’re going to get out of this alive. Taking us all in like this is already a death sentence. But working with ELPIS—against your family—you’re not coming back from this—”
Before Agape finished her sentence, Omega burst out into a feathery laugh. Cadence had almost forgotten that the woman was even there since she’d been so quiet the entire time.
“No coming back?” Omega flipped her hair again slowly as she turned to face Agape, and the sideways ELPIS tattoo imprinted on the back of her neck became visible in the dim light. “Are you making every decision in your life thinking you can go back and reverse it?” Omega bent down over her knees, looking down at Agape like she was talking to a child. “The moment we called ourselves ELPIS we knew we could never go back.”
Cadence felt her heart skip a beat. The statement in itself was not what unnerved her. It was the reaction to the statement by their captors that did. All of them were smiling. Even Vincente was smiling faintly like it was some kind of joke, like they were all on the same page—whatever damn page that was.
“You’re sounding very indignant about your situation, Agape Rosario,” Francis—‘Theta,’ Cadence decided, since thinking about him as ‘Francis’ felt wrong—drew. “You seem to think you don’t belong here.”
Agape tensed as he neared.
“I suppose that’s fair. How about this. If you offer me a reasonable counter argument as to why you shouldn’t be here then I’ll release you immediately,” he continued. He glanced back towards Alice and watched as she was tied to a chair beside Agape by Omicron. “That is how you handle it in your peacekeeping state, right?”
Alice did not answer, merely observing Theta and the other ELPIS members quietly. Jericho was right—Alice’s icy gaze was almost mind-reader-like. Even though the woman wasn’t even looking in her direction, Cadence still felt like the woman was able to hear her thoughts.
That aside, it was clear to Cadence that Theta wasn’t at all serious with his proposal. He was teasing them. Baiting them. Only an idiot would—
“T-The city needs us,” one of the lower-tier executives stammered from beside Allen. “It’d fall apart if we weren’t here. Thugs would be roaming the streets and destroying people’s livelihoods. Small-time business owners would have to deal with loan sharks, and their debts would just pile up.”
“… Yes, you’re right about that. This city has become too reliant on your organizations,” Theta murmured, expressionless. “No, perhaps Signum has. Especially reliant on your product.”
There was a brief pause, and several of the executives directed their gazes at Alice.
“I doubt the peacekeeper is interested in your organization’s activities,” Theta stated calmly. “She’s been looking at us. Not at you. Besides, you’re arguing for your freedom. You’re almost acting as if you don’t want it.”
“A-And,” the executive continued, swallowing, “the southern countries wouldn’t be able to defend themselves from Argo. Without our modified conductors.”
“They wouldn’t have thought about engaging in war from the very beginning,” Theta rebutted, “if they hadn’t been provided with conductors. The easiest path is always the one that is chosen despite what lies at the end.”
“We’re not the ones who ‘chose the path’ if you want to speak in metaphors,” Fortuna interjected. “We sell the product. We don’t force people to buy it. So pinning it on us is just…” She stiffened into silence when Theta turned his eyes towards her.
Silently, the man sank down so that he was eye-level with her and stared directly into her eyes. “Shrugging off your responsibilities and problems just proves that you’ll never change.”
Cadence’s stomach started doing flip-flops.
“Well, obviously the defendants are doing a piss poor job at presenting their case, and I know you’re just playing around so I say we cut to the chase.” Vincente cleared his throat, breaking the silence that followed Theta’s statement. “So we’re really moving forward with this then?”
Theta rose slowly. “Do you have any objections, Tau?”
Commissario Vincente—Tau now apparently—sighed loudly before he shrugged his shoulders. “It can’t be helped. You’ve been elected the leader this time around, and rules are rules.”
Iota glanced between the two, still wiping her hands with the handkerchief. “So what’s first?”
“The entire city,” came Theta’s answer.
There was a beat of silence.
“We will swallow up this entire city,” Theta said, meeting each and every ELPIS member’s eyes. “The crime organizations. The conductor engines that power the east and the west and the one below. Everything.”
The pure conviction of the statement reverberated throughout the room sending shivers down Cadence’s spine. Everything? Swallow up? What did that even mean?
Omicron’s eyes widened, and she turned to Theta with an expression knotted with apprehension—Cadence took note. Iota, on the other hand, clapped her hands and whooped loudly.
“I knew it!” Iota exclaimed, spinning in a tight circle and sending her polka-dotted dress frilling outwards. She threw her hands into the air with a wild laugh. “With you here now, we can do anything! I’ll bring in some of the new recruits and—”
“It’s not going to be that explosive, Iota,” Theta corrected. “We’re still going to allow the crime organizations to whittle each other away with their paranoia first. There is no point in wasting energy.” He turned to look at her. “And I’ve already told you how I feel about recruiting more. If we grow too large, we won’t be able to control our limbs. We won’t be able to tell who knows what and who wants what. Just take a look at the group that’s operating in Scorpio using our name. Better yet, consider the suitcase peacekeeper.”
“Right…” came the grumble. “Should I call off that Campana recruit from attacking the warehouse then—”
“No. They are necessary.”
“You really think the Campanas and the Romanos will be at each other’s throats that easy?” Tau interjected, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
“That is one of the reasons why I’ve only gathered the Romano executives and related parties,” Theta replied, voice stilted. “If that isn’t enough then our Campana recruit will put on a moving show.” He glanced at Omicron. “And I trust that aside from your rescue plan you’re still managing things fine on the west side of the city with the Campanas?”
Omicron nodded. “Of course, darling.”
‘Darling’? Okay. This was too much.
“If you’re having trouble,” Theta continued nonplussed, “I can—”
“No, no.” Omicron held up a hand. “I can handle everything on the west side on my own. I won the board game, didn’t I?”
“Well, I’m excited,” Iota popped, seeming rather cheerful and bubbly for someone who’d just punched another person across the room. “We haven’t done anything this big since Aries.”
Aries? The…Tragedy of Aries? No, no, no.
Cadence pulled with all of her might away from Olive as she felt synchronization with him skirt her mind.
Not the kid. If the kid were to synchronize with her, he’d probably ask her—or make her—do something rash and stupid. Like some self-sacrificial bull. She didn’t blame the kid. Naivety was a sparkly thing, but she didn’t need any of it now.
But… Was this the same sect that caused the Tragedy of Aries then? Saints. This was a plummeting down the scale from bad to terrible.
“Theta, are you sure about this?” Tau asked suddenly, crossing and uncrossing his arms clearly agitated. “Is this really you talking?”
Theta stared at Tau for a moment before turning approaching the executives slowly. He stopped in front of Fortuna and Allen.
“We have several things we want from you,” Theta said. “You’ve taken something from us. Something very, very important.”
Theta motioned for Tau who stepped forward. The police commissario drew out something from his pocket and dropped it into Francis’s waiting palm. It was a pendant almost identical to the one Omicron had that Jericho had destroyed. And it was also identical to—the memory trickled dreamily to Cadence now—the one that had been embedded in Mladen’s chest in Atienna’s cavern.
Theta held the pendant out to them. “The one called Verga was tasked with shipping these from Gemini to our designated location. They are called resistors.” He closed his fingers around the pendant. “You killed Verga. I don’t find fault in that. But we’ve lost our package because of it.”
This was what Verga had said that he was delivering for ELPIS? Resistors?
Tau scowled and ruffled his hair. “You know if I’d known he was such an unreliable and disgusting bastard, I wouldn’t have—”
“You were confused at the time and still adjusting to everything. No one blames you for advising Omicron to partner with Verga,” Theta replied to Tau without lifting his gaze from Fortuna and Allen. He then addressed the two again. “Where is it?”
“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” Fortuna replied evenly. “Even if I did, do you really think I’d tell you anything?”
“You should know whether or not we’ve ever shipped something like that,” Allen drew. “That is if you really are Francis.”
A beat of silence.
“You’re the ones who started assuming I was Francis Foxman,” Theta replied as he pulled away. He gingerly handed the item back to Tau who re-pocketed it.
What the hell did that mean? Cadence’s mind went in a loop. Was he implying manipulation or was he implying that he was really not Francis and was just a doppelgänger in disguise? How? A Transmutationist conducting vitae intraneously? Yeah. Maybe Theta was using a proto-conductor stored with a Transmutationist’s vitae. But why? There really didn’t seem to be a point in doing that now. But then again, this person’s speech patterns were so different comparedto Francis’s. Weird, stilted, unnatural. Was there any other explanation?
Allen’s eyes narrowed.
“Oh no, Theta,” Omega said breathily, “you’re going to make their heads spin if you say things like that. There’s nothing more dangerous than leaving someone alone with those kinds of thoughts. Around and around they’ll go.”
Acknowledging her with a nod, Theta continued: “If you can’t tell us that information, I’m expecting you to tell me to at least tell me where the third generator conductor in this city is and where you’re keeping the conductor parts you produce.”
“Third generator conductor?” Fortuna exchanged a look with Allen. “There are only two generator conductors powering this city. One in the east and one in the west. It’s been that way for decades.”
“There’s one more,” Theta stated this as if it was fact. “There is information I received from the information broker called Astante. Approximately one year after the Reservoir War ended, a new reservoir began forming here. It was discovered by the Romano Family and kept secret from the Geminian government and the peacekeeping state. The Family has been harvesting it for years in order to fuel their underground conductor manufacturing plants.”
“That’s the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard of…” Fortuna murmured.
“Hm, so you’ve been kept in the dark about it too,” Theta surmised, studying first Fortuna’s and then Allen’s and Agape’s faces. “The one most likely to know about it would have been Ricardo Romano. Unfortunately, Iota has put him and the head of the Campana organization temporarily out of…”
“Out of commission,” Omicron provided. She had moved to stand behind him.
Theta glanced back at the woman and offered a smile. “Yes.”
That was a conclusion that Cadence was already nearing but hearing it said out loud made a slight shiver go up her spine. ELPIS had been the ones behind Ricardo’s stabbing. An odd sensation built in Cadence’s chest as she acknowledged this: a weird mix of satisfaction at guessing correctly and a fear of the consequences of the correctness. And—betrayal, hurt, anger.
“You!” Fortuna bristled. “You were the ones who…” She took in a deep breath and glowered silently instead.
“I do apologize for what happened,” Theta said, fixating Iota with a look. “Things were meant to proceed more smoothly than that.” He turned back to her, smiling with just his eyes. “But we must move on regardless and take advantage of the cards we’ve been dealt… You still have knowledge of where you store your conductor parts.”
“Do you really expect me to tell you where it is after you’ve just told me that you attacked my father?” Fortuna questioned, tremble just barely audible in her voice.
Theta merely chuckled. Not musical. It made Cadence’s stomach flip flop.
“We already know the locations of two of your warehouses,” Theta said, inclining his head in Iota’s direction. “And if I’m timing this correctly, one of the warehouses is now up in flames and a Campana executive—one of our new recruits—will be seen on the scene implicating the Campanas—”
Abruptly, the mayor candidate Depa Amaril burst out from his seat, the rope binding him snapping with a sharp pop. Without warning, he rushed forward at Tau who happened to be closest. The two men fell to the floor before Depa ripped out the knife that he’d embedded in Tau’s chest. Heaving, Depa sat on top of Tau’s body while brandishing his knife at the other ELPIS members.
What a stupid guy, Cadence thought.
But none of the ELPIS members paid Depa any mind and instead stared down at Tau’s body expressionlessly. Not even a hint of remorse or mourning. Cadence’s gaze flicked to the police officers she was sitting with. Nothing.
Suddenly, Tau shot up, cracking his fist against the to-be mayor’s face and sending the man flying backwards. Cradling his cheek, the commissario jabbed an angry finger in the to-be-mayor’s direction. “That’s assault, you know that?! That’s up to six months jail time in Gemini!”
How was he still up and moving like it was nothing? Those were Jericho, Maria, and Werner levels of resilience, and those three weren’t normal. Wasn’t the commissario in any pain? No—near death’s door? What was going on?
“M-Monster!” Depa stuttered, cradling his cheek with one hand and gripping the blood-stained knife with the other. “You’re all monsters!”
“Dammit!” Tau spat blood from his mouth and waved off the female officer who had finally rushed to help him to his feet. Whipping around, he jabbed a finger at Iota’s and then Omega’s directions. “I asked if you checked him for weapons! You said yes!”
“I don’t recall ever saying yes,” Omega hummed, flipping her hair. “I thought you did it, Iota.”
“My hands were full,” Iota snapped, “if you don’t recall.”
Depa scrambled backwards, but his meaningless escape was halted by another figure standing just behind him. Theta. Depa whipped around, jumping to a stand and pointing the knife at the man.
“Are you sure about this, Depa?” Theta asked quietly, raising both of his hands.
That was when Cadence saw it. Theta’s right hand was gloved. Most definitely a conductor.
“Theta!” Omicron shouted.
Depa charged while Theta flicked his gloved hand.
There was a flash of red as the knife pierced through Theta’s bare hand which he had raised to block the knife. Instead of the knife coming out of the other side of his hand, however, it exploded out of Depa’s back. The mayor candidate’s eyes widened, and his body went slack. He toppled to the ground unmoving. Dead in an instant.
Cadence’s heart hammered wildly in her chest.
The blood on Theta’s palm from which the hilt of the knife protruded was glowing with a tangerine light. And as the man gripped the handle of the knife and began pulling it out from his hand, the blade of it slowly retracted back into Depa’s back. Without flinching, Theta ripped the knife out fully and tossed it into the floor.
Out of the corner of her eye, Cadence could see Omicron flinch in his stead.
“If you mean to kill someone then it’s only natural that you should expect to be killed yourself.”
After saying this to Depa’s corpse, Theta then turned back to face the row of executives—
“If you haven’t deduced it already, I am what you would call a ‘Specialist’ nowadays. Although I don’t expect you to understand the type of conducting you’ve just witnessed, I do expect you to understand this. The only way of getting in and out of this place is through me—whether that is through death or another means.”
Theta inclined his head to Depa’s corpse.
“The things people do not understand or cannot predict tend to be what inspires the most fear in them, so let me tell you this: what has happened to Depa can happen to you with a snap of my fingers. I hope this comforts you.”
“Are you okay, Tau?” Omega asked, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear as she approached the commissario. She peered at the bleeding wound on his chest. “That doesn’t look good.”
“Go to Lambda and have her fix that,” Theta stated to Tau, holding his own bleeding hand. “This has happened too many times to you already. You need to be more careful.”
‘Lambda’? Wait, that aside. Weren’t they being too casual about Tau’s injury?
“You should get your hand looked at by her too, Theta,” Omicron drew, approaching the man with a roll of gauze she seemed to have pulled out from nowhere.
“This is nothing,” Theta replied, although he allowed her to bandage his hand.
Tau grumbled to himself in the meanwhile before nodding in Cadence’s direction. Cadence’s heart skipped a beat at the attention but she let out a quiet breath when she saw the police officer still sitting beside her rise and join Tau’s side. Cadence followed suit and followed Tau and the other officers to the very same wall the children had disappeared into earlier. It took a great deal of effort to cross the room, and she could feel Allen’s gaze burning into her back the entire them. Not only that but—
It felt as if chains were weighing down her arms and legs making each and every step more labored than the last. It was Jericho, she knew. And she used every bit of her power to crawl away from his thoughts—from the feelings of guilt and worry—as she continued onwards after Tau. All she needed now were her own thoughts. Thoughts of escape. Thoughts of survival.
Tau drew something out from his pocket. The same proto-conductor the children had. He tapped its point against the wall, and the dark splotch there ignited with tangerine light. Without hesitation, Tau and the two other officers stepped on through.
Cadence, on the other hand, hesitated at the threshold and threw a glance back over her shoulder.
Theta was seating himself across from Omicron at the game board table. Alice, Fortuna, and Allen were still lined up in the neat row. Carl was still on the floor.
Shaking away the last of the invisible chains that bound her ankles and wrists, Cadence faced forward and stepped through the light.
Resistors are an item utilized by ELPIS and carried by the designated leaders of the organization. They are knife-shaped pendants, appearing to be almost like conductors. Their purpose is unknown but may be used in their initiation process. Verga, a member of the Romano Family, was contacted by Tau (ID: Commissario Vincente Giustizia) to ship these items into Ophiuchus.
Add note: 15.07.1941 | Verga’s death has resulted in the loss of the shipment of resistors.
Add note: 30.07.1941 | ELPIS leader Omicron (ID: Charite Haussman) requested information on location of resistors. None available.
Add note: 16.08.1941 | The resistors have been discovered to be in the hands of ⬛⬛⬛. Omicron not to be contacted.Information card #456, Category E, Astante’s Brokering Files