10.3: Maria’s Battling (Riposo)

Re-cap:

Maria is to pick up a package for the Campanas in Hapaira, Pisces. After some mishaps involving murders and capturing a disagreeable bounty hunter, Maria discovers that the package is in fact a blind girl. The girl insists on being returned to the Twin Cities immediately. In an attempt to return faster, the girl tricks the Chevalier Renee, who is also in Hapaira searching for something, into battling it out with Maria. Before their duel can reach its climax, however, a wave sent by the Elementalist bounty hunter swept the three into the ocean. Maria rescues the girl, bonds with her, and learns that the girl is actually a Specialist who is capable of seeing the flow of vitae with a conductor. The two are eventually rescued by Maria’s crew. Still on Maria’s mind, however, is the mysterious beast of the deep and Conta’s odd behavior.

Aboard Gloria’s Grail, International Waters

Renee was already on her ship when Maria climbed on board with the blind girl in tow. He was in the middle of assisting Giorgio and Simon in lowering the ship’s flags when Maria stumbled across him. After they stared at each other for a full minute, she rushed at him and bound him with the rope that was being used to lower the flag. He didn’t have his conducting gloves on, so it was easy to take him down. She placed Renee alongside the bounty hunter who was already tied at the foremast.

Morandi brought Maria and the girl a bundle of blankets, while Maria heartily explained to her curious crew exactly what had occurred between herself, Renee, and the girl. None of them were surprised, it seemed. Ley and Conta took in the information with unreadable expressions, while Morandi, Simon, and Giorgio just appeared exasperated. 

“We pulled Renee out of the water when we first came out looking for you,” Giorgio explained, perplexed. “We had no idea that happened. He didn’t mention it either. He just started helping around on deck.”

When Maria came around to Renee with the little girl attached to her hip, the Chevalier looked them over and chuckled wryly.

“My, my, Miss,” he said, addressing the girl, “you certainly create quite a lot of strife around yourself, don’t you? Well, I am quite happy to see you safe.” 

The girl lifted her head but then mumbled to the ground, “Maria, can you please let him go? Everything was a misunderstanding…”

“A misunderstanding?” Maria peered down at her.

The girl flushed. “No, I lied to him so…” She dipped her head in Renee’s direction. “I’m really sorry for lying to you. Maria is a good person.” She looked back up at Maria. “And Renee is a good person too, so…”

Maria considered the girl’s words before she addressed Renee, “I like you a lot, Renee. If we can all get along, then I can free you, yes?”

Morandi and Giorgio exchanged a look from beside her. 

“Well, if this girl is not in any harm’s way, then being in your company unbound would be a pleasure,” Renee returned with a good-natured shrug. “I am not one to raise my hand against fair maidens when I’m given a reasonable choice.”

And that was that.

Maria cut his bindings with a quick draw of her blade and offered him a hand.

“Madame Gloria-Fernandez, I thank you for your generosity,” Renee said, inclining his head and accepting her gesture. “And I do apologize for being so rough with you earlier.”

“You weren’t being rough though?” Maria blinked at him.

Renee stared at her for a moment before chuckling. “Ah, yes, it was you who was rather rough with me, but I do love fierce women.”

Maria stared at him before she laughed and slapped him on the back. “You are funny, my dear Renee!”

“I am overjoyed that I can humor a beautifully fierce woman like yourself,” Renee returned. He glanced down at the bound bounty hunter. “Might I ask where you are off too now? I don’t mind a detour, but I do have things I must do.”

Maria scratched the back of her head. “Well, you see, my friend, since we are already out at sea despite trying not to be out at sea, I say we move forward and head to the Twin Cities just as planned, yes?”           

The girl’s grip on Maria’s arm tightened.

Maria blinked down at her in surprise. “You don’t want to return to the Twin Cities anymore, my dear?”

The girl opened her mouth, closed it, and thumbed the conductor glasses around her neck.

Maria put little thought into it and nodded. “Well, we don’t have to go.”

The girl startled. “R-Really?”

“If you don’t want to do something, then you don’t do it,” Maria replied. She paused, frowned, thought of Cadence, Werner, and Jericho. “Hm… but I might go on my own…”

“Captain,” Morandi interjected, “while I’m no fan of the Campanas, and I’m ecstatic that you’re suggesting putting aside the Campana’s request, this is still the Campanas we’re dealing with. We should be—”

“I do not think that the Campanas will be thinking of us much with everything that is going on in the city,” Maria returned.

Morandi frowned. “What do you mean by that, Captain?”

Maria placed her hand on the girl’s head and hummed. “I will tell you some other time, yes?” She had a strange feeling he would be upset if he learned what had happened to the Foxmans. And she had seen enough people upset recently. No more!

“We should probably head to land even if we’re not headed back to Gemini,” Ley who had been watching the exchange from the sidelines interjected. She yawned. “Water Elementalist is still out there, right?”

Maria hummed in agreement, thrumming her fingers along the girl’s head. She peered down at the girl and beamed. “You say you have never seen the Scarabe Temple, yes? How about we start there?”

***

The next day, however, as Maria swung on her hammock in her quarters, she learned of the Campanas ‘product’ from Cadence’s investigations. She didn’t like it at all.  Something about it gave her discomfort. And whenever Maria didn’t like something, she sought to change it. 

But before she could reach a final decision, she was jarred out of her thoughts by a commotion coming from up on deck. Stampeding footsteps above her head, audible shouts of alarm that carried through the levels down to her quarters. In other words—excitement. 

Maria darted through the empty halls and made her way up onto deck. When she broke out onto the surface, she was met with the warmth of the sun that beat down on her in a buttery haze. Despite this warmth, however, there was a misty chill in the air. 

Maria approached the railings at the mast of the ship where nearly all of her crew members had gathered. Giorgio, Chef Raul, Emmanuel, Morandi, Renee, Ley, and even Conta crowded the area, pointing, gasping, muttering amongst themselves with their gazes focused on the horizon. 

The blind girl stood a little ways off from them, shivering in confusion as she stared blankly around. Maria tapped the girl on her shoulder, took hold of her hand, and squeezed both of their bodies in front of the gathered group. 

Maria spotted the attraction immediately. 

It was a wave. A gigantic ocean wave—almost tsunami-like—that stretched endlessly east and west. Its body was filled with flecks of purple light that gave it a luminous, unearthly glow. The torrent barreled towards them, the entire ocean trembling in its wake. Its behemoth force sent the ship rocking back and forth.

“The Elementalist,” Ley said with a grimace. 

Simon began muttering a Monadic prayer under his breath from beside her.  Maria reached over and patted him on the shoulder absentmindedly as the wave continued its course towards them. As it drew nearer and nearer, it began to deafen the surrounding chatter. Closer, closer, closer—

But just as the wave was about to crash into the side of the ship, it came to an abrupt stop. There it remained, towering above them like an arching wall. It concealed the sun, leaving the ship cast in a purple glow. Large dollops of sea water splashed onto the deck of the ship from the wave’s body, drenching half of Maria’s crew members 

It was like a salivating beast, Maria thought to herself. She wasn’t afraid, however. Merely fascinated.

“You have dared to turn the hunter into the prey?” A deep, baritone voice suddenly boomed out from somewhere within the wave. “And then you turn tail and run?  Who do you think you are to run from my—Veles’s—presence?! Who are you to take one of my followers from me—Veles?!”

The bounty hunter who was still bound to the mast of the ship threw his head back and laughed. “You’re in for it now, pirate. The beast of the deep is gonna sink you to the depths of the ocean!”

“It’s him!” the girl shouted from beside Maria. “The leader who I told you about!”

“Is it?” Maria stared at the curiously before she cupped her hands and shouted upwards, “Are you the bounty hunting leader?” 

Her voice barely carried above the roar of the rushing water, but her crew members seemed to catch on and offered her mixed expressions.

“You dare address me with such disrespect!” the voice called out from the towering wave. “I—Veles—am not a bounty hunter leader. I—Veles—am a guild master!” 

Saints. Another delusional seafarer. Great.

Olive was looking in. He seemed a bit upset. Probably about the children.

A part in the waves suddenly formed, and a figure stood on top of a spout of glowing purple water in the newly formed gap there. It was a shirtless man with a tanned, bare chest. His hair was black, wavy, salt-damaged. He looked a bit regal with the golden earrings dangling from his ears and the golden chain hanging from his chest, or so Maria thought. She certainly fancied the fur cloak that was thrown loosely over his shoulders.

He looked like—

some drunk guy pretending to be a king. What is he wearing.

The man lifted his hand in the air. It was gloved. A conductor.

The sea between the ship and the man glowed purple and rose, forming a bridge of water between the man and the front of the ship. The man walked forward onto that bridge, pacing across it with reverence. 

Maria’s crew skirted backwards as he stepped onto the deck, while Maria studied him with interest. The girl cowered behind Maria, still holding her hand.

The man—Veles—flicked his conductor out in the direction of the bound bounty hunter. A razor slash of glowing water shot out from the seawall behind him and sliced the rope binding the bounty hunter in two. The freed man stumbled forward, rounding Maria and her group before coming to a tense stand behind Veles.

Veles pointed at Maria with a gloved finger. “You—”

“Okay, okay, let’s settle down now.” Saying this, Ley stepped in between Veles and Maria with her hands raised. She yawned tiredly and pulled off the magenta veil that she had constantly kept over her face. Simultaneously, she reached into the folds of her shirt and pulled out a familiar-looking badge that she flashed for all to see. “My name is—” 

That’s—

“Oh.” Maria stared. “It’s Gabrielle.” 

Ophiuchian Peacekeeper Gabrielle Law stared back at Maria, mouth hanging slightly ajar. The woman shook her head and flashed her badge again.

“My name is Gabrielle Law,” she stated clearly, meeting each person’s eyes and shining her badge at them. “Second chairwoman of the General Investigations Department of Ophiuchus. Since we are on open, international waters within Signum, you all fall under my jurisdiction. I seek to mediate the conflict here… and to resolve a case that I’ve been assigned that you happen to be caught in the middle of.”

She really has a terrible personality. Swooping in like that last minute just for show…

Veles threw his head back, laughed, and pointed at Gabrielle. “What dominion do you think you have over me—Veles?!” 

“Leader,” the now freed bounty hunter whispered from behind him. “We’re licensed by Ophiuchus. The peacekeeping agents do have legal authority over us. We can’t bounty hunt without their approval…”

“Nonsense!” Veles boomed. “Do you know who I am?”

Saints. Here comes a monologue… 

“I am the sea. I am the beast of the deep. The oceans roll with each step I take. I am not in your presence—you are in my presence! Yes, that’s exactly who I am. I am someone who was selected to potentially become the Saint of the Deep. I am someone who saw a higher purpose than becoming tha—”

“I was a potential saint candidate too!” Maria interjected, while clapping in support of his speech. “I am Maria Gloria-Fernandez and—” 

“I know exactly who you are,” Veles interjected, glowering. “You are the one whose head I am seeking! You are the one who slaughtered my fellow guild mates and captured—”

“If you’re talking about those people in that surfboard shop, I wasn’t the one who killed them,” Maria said. 

“How dare you lie in my presence?” Veles snapped. 

“I can vouch for Miss Gloria-Fernandez,” came a voice from behind. “If you cannot trust her words, I do hope you can trust mine.”

Veles stared past Maria with a frown before recognition flickered in his eyes. And then his expression brightened. “Renee!” 

Maria turned and found Renee standing behind her wearing an amicable smile. The towering wall of water hadn’t seemed to disturb him in the slightest. In fact, he seemed more annoyed by the fact that he was drenched from head to toe than anything else.

“You two know each other?” Maria asked, brows arched.

“It’s been quite some time Renee LeBlanc,” Veles bellowed in confirmation.

“I am graced by your presence, Veles. Your entrances are as eye-catching as always,” Renee answered, dipping into a bow. He side-glanced at Morandi, who was gawking at him, and he added under his breath: “Please try to humor him. It improves his mood.”

Veles threw his head back and laughed. “To think I would encounter another fellow True Conductor at a place as quaint as this.”

Renee tensed. “Veles, perhaps—”

Maria, wait—

“What?!” Maria gasped, eyes sparkling. “You are both True Conductors too?!” She gestured to herself. “I’m one as well, yes?”

Don’t know why I even try.

***

“Ohhh, so you and Renee met each other at a True Conductor meeting a couple of years ago, and you met Claire there too.” Maria nodded. 

Maria was sitting at a round table that she had Giorgio and Morandi set up for her on deck. Chef Raul had thrown a white tablecloth over the top and had nervously placed all their best wines on its surface before stepping back and observing from the sidelines. 

The sun was warm above their heads; the sea was calm; the wine was fragrant. All-in-all, it had turned out to be a perfectly pleasant day. 

Sitting alongside Maria at the table going clockwise was Gabrielle, Veles, Renee, Morandi, and the little girl. Her other crew members and Veles’s man were dotted around the deck, looking in with terribly concealed curiosity.

Maria, Veles, and Renee were the only ones seated who had taken up wine-drinking. Gabrielle was as relaxed as they were, however, and was leaning back in her chair with arms crossed. 

Veles took a sip of wine. “And you, Miss Captain, as you’ve said, have encountered Claire through one of the ones who you were connected with. As they say, True Conductors are drawn to each other.” He raised his glass of wine towards her. “And those who were sought to become potential saint candidates naturally become acquainted.”

“Here, here!” Maria chimed. “To the strong!”

“M-My apologies, Captain, excuse me,” Morandi interjected from her left. He cleared his throat and then muttered, “But pray tell… what in saint’s name is bloody going on here?!” 

Maria looked to Veles, then to Renee, and then to Gabrielle. “We are… having a tea party, yes? A wine party!”

“A wine party,” Morandi repeated, glancing at Veles and then at Gabrielle. “With a bounty hunter who is after your head and who wants revenge because he thinks you killed his fellow bounty hunters…” He glanced at Gabrielle. “And with an Ophiuchian peacekeeper.”

“Let me correct you, commoner,” Veles drew. “I am a guild master, not a bounty hunter.”

—how is it possible for someone with as many screws loose as you to exist—

“It just so happens to be that I dabble in affairs that you call ‘bounty hunting’ because it amuses me.” 

“Great…” Morandi muttered under his breath. “We have another one…”

Veles met Maria’s eyes. “As for my fellow guild mates…”

“Let’s just get some discrepancies out of the way,” Gabrielle interjected, leaning forward. “Veles, we were not the ones who killed your… guild members. If you’d like, once I return to Ophiuchus, I can see if I can get a separate investigation going for you regarding that. I was with Maria when she discovered the bodies. They were long dead before we even arrived at Hapaira.” She folded her hands in front of her. “I am also acting on my authority as a peacekeeping agent to retract your bounty on Maria Gloria-Fernandez since she’s currently involved in my case. We can move further with this if we need to after my case is—”

“Nonsense!” Veles boomed. “I am acting on my own authority to retract my bounty on Maria Gloria-Fernandez.” He extended a hand out to Maria. “If you truly have not murdered my fellow guild mates in cold blood, then that leaves only one relationship for us—camaraderie through our shared True Conductorship and potential saint-candidacy-ship.”

“I didn’t kill them,” Maria affirmed. She paused, glancing to the side. “But I am sorry for your loss. Losing things is… painful, yes?”

Veles studied Maria for a moment and hummed. “Oh, and what of my guild mates that returned to me missing fingers and needing care after their encounter with you?”

“I mean, your crew was aiming to kill my crew too, yes? And you gave them a fright!” Maria chuckled. “I have to protect what is mine.”

“I must also protect what is mine,” Veles responded. “So, reparations clearly have to be made.”

“Oh, most definitely.”

There was a beat of silence.

Morandi swallowed nervously from beside Maria. 

Maria herself could not fathom why he was nervous. Actually—Maria scanned the deck—everyone seemed nervous save for Gabrielle and Veles. She didn’t understand it at all.

“Well, it’s good that we are on the same page then!” Maria beamed, raising her glass of wine.

“Truly,” Veles cheered, lifting his glass to clink against her own. 

In unison, they took a sip.

Morandi let out a quiet breath. “What…? T-That’s… it?”

Maria turned to Gabrielle and leaned forward. “So, Gabrielle! You surprised me! What is a peacekeeper doing on an adventurer’s ship?”

Gabrielle pinched the bridge of her nose before she folded her hands in front of her and elaborated: “My purpose on this ship is to investigate the crime organization known as the Campana Family. Since they’re extremely covert and are partially allowed to exist by Ophiuchus itself due to a blind-eye agreement, their activities have remained mostly unknown by us.” She paused, gaze drifting to the girl sitting beside Maria. “We’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this—for one of their shipments to end up on our radar—to assess their activities to see whether intervention is necessary. The Foxmans were kind enough to extend a helping hand by placing me in your group. I’m now asking for your cooperation.”

“You have it,” Maria popped. “Now that I know you are Gabrielle, I like you even more, Ley!”

“Right… Now that this is out in the open,” Gabrielle continued, “I’d like to speak to Maria, Renee, Veles, and the young girl alone.” She paused, gesturing to the surrounding men and women. “Now. Please.”

Maria waved her hand in the air, as did Veles. Morandi rose from the table and inclined his head towards the doors leading below deck. Begrudgingly, the rest of Maria’s crew along with Veles’s man followed him downwards. Conta who had been observing everything from the crow’s nest of the ship lingered for a while longer before disappearing below along with them.

“I wasn’t aware you were selected to be a saint candidate, Miss Gloria-Fernandez,” Gabrielle said after a lapse of silence. The peacekeeper studied her for a moment before moving on to Veles. “And you were selected too, but for Aquarius. But you both never actually went through the candidacy ceremony… Is that correct?” 

“The Monadic orphanage Conta and I were a part of was raided by pirates right before I was supposed to head for Ophiuchus for the ceremony,” Maria recalled. 

“… by pirates, you say?” Veles set his wineglass down. “You wouldn’t happen to be referring to the guild master, would you?”

“Guild master?” Maria cocked her head.

“Yes, I was also in a Monadic orphanage, albeit in Aquarius,” Veles elaborated. “It was a small, quaint place that was graced by my presence. It was only natural that I would be selected for saint candidacy. However… right before my ceremony, a man claiming to be a guild master recruited me to work under his wing for a short while.”

Something strange tickled Maria’s chest.

“What did he look like?” Maria pressed, leaning forward.

“… He was tall,” Veles replied, rubbing his chin. “Muscular. I believe he had a graying beard. And he also had an eyepatch over—”

“—his left eye,” Maria finished. She locked eyes with him and then chuckled. “What a coincidence!”

Veles nodded. “Truly.”

It’s obviously not a coincidence! Olive again. Still keeping her pleasant company. His mood seemed to be slightly alleviated. 

“So, you were both prevented from starting the saint candidate ceremony by the same person,” Gabrielle concluded. “Is there any information you can offer me about saint candidacy? Maybe… any connection to ELPIS?”

Maria felt her heart skip an odd beat at the mention of ELPIS, but she shrugged it off and shook her head. “You certainly ask a lot of strange questions, my dear Gabrielle.”

“Saint candidacy is beneath me now.” Veles waved the notion off.

Clear disappointment flashed across Gabrielle’s face, and for a moment she remained silent.  After the moment passed, she pressed, “There are several more things I would like to ask you. Firstly, what is this ‘True Conductor’ that you keep mentioning? And secondly…” She locked eyes with Maria. “How did you know my name?”

“It has to do with me being a True Conductor—how I know your name, I mean,” Maria replied without skipping a beat. “Jericho is mine, you see.” 

Gabrielle tensed. “You know Jericho? The Ophiuchian peacekeeper?”

Maria…

“Yes, he is mine, like I said.” Maria scratched her head. “I actually don’t really understand it well myself, but what he knows I know.”

I don’t even know why I try.

Gabrielle stared at Maria long and hard before sighing and clasping her hands together. She glanced at Veles, then at Renee. “Can any of you elaborate any further?”

Renee shrugged his shoulders. “Miss Law, I am afraid that the best I can do is to say it is an exclusive club.” 

“A club.” Gabrielle frowned. “Right.” She stared at him. “I actually do have a personal question for you myself, Renee. What exactly is a Chevalier of Cancer doing all the way in Hapaira? Chevaliers are almost always bound to remain within Cancer, so as a peacekeeper I can’t help but be curious.”

“I am searching for a Cancerian duchess who’s run away from home,” Renee explained, swirling his glass of wine. “I was ordered by the royal throne of Cancer to retrieve her.” 

“And her name?” Gabrielle pressed.

Renee set down his glass of wine. “My apologies, Miss Law, but it is only by coincidence that I have found myself in your beautiful presence. I don’t mean to sound rude, but that truly is none of your business. This is a Cancerian issue.”

Gabrielle arched a brow at him before leaning back and holding her hands up in their placatingly. “That’s fair enough, Renee. My main purpose here is to handle the case with the Campanas. Everything else is just bonus…” 

Gabrielle abruptly reached across the table and tapped the blind girl on the shoulder. The girl had been sitting tensely, quietly beside Maria all the while. Maria had almost forgotten she had been sitting there.

“Hey, kid, I’m one of the good guys,” Gabrielle said. “I’ll take care of you. If you’re alright with it, would you mind coming with me back to Ophiuchus?”

The girl hesitated.

Gabrielle grimaced, but then glanced at Maria. “I have to question the captain too, so she’ll be there with you.”

The girl, still tense, nodded slowly.

Veles rose from his seat. “This conversation no longer holds any pertinence for me, so I—Veles— will take my leave.”

“I don’t need to question you for the case so you’re free to leave,” Gabrielle affirmed, offering a loose wave. “I’ll submit a report about what happened to your guild mates for you. It’d most likely be handed down to Piscese authorities, though.” 

“No need.” Veles waved his hand. 

“Well, I kinda have to,” Gabrielle elaborated. 

“So soon though, Veles?” Renee inquired, brow arched.

“There is no bounty here for me to claim any longer,” Veles explained. “And the murderer I seek is supposedly not on this ship. My time is valuable, my friend. I will not waste it.” 

With that, he departed from the table and headed below deck. He returned a minute later with the other bounty hunter in tow. He paced over to a puddle of seawater half a meter away and dunked his gloved hand right into it. The puddle began to glow with purple light, and with a flick of his wrist, he sent the puddle back into the ocean. When he drew up his hand a second later, the ocean rumbled and a platform of water rose up to the ship. He walked over to the newly formed platform before pausing and nodding back at Maria.

“I will tell you this, fellow potential saint candidate,” Veles said as he stepped onto the water alongside his bounty hunting guild member. “The request I received for your head was most definitely made by someone close to you. It was submitted to one of my fallen brethren and held very detailed information about your persons. Information only someone close to you would know.”

“Is that so?” Maria hummed. She offered him a wave. “Thanks for the concern, my dear!”

With that, Veles flourished his hand in the air once more and road off on an ocean wave into the distance.

Maria stared after him until she could no longer see his silhouette. 

What in saint’s name just happened…

I got to meet an exciting person, my dear Olive, Maria explained with a grin.

You mean a crazy person. A pause. Maria’s gaze was drawn to the little girl. You saw that on Cadence’s end too… right? The kids…  

Olive’s chest twisted into knots that knotted Maria’s own heart.

“…. Say, shall we rescue your friends?” Maria asked quietly as she stared off in what she assumed was the direction of the Twin Cities.

The girl startled beside her. “R-Rescue them…?”

“Yes, rescue them!” Maria chimed, nodding with certainty before she took the girl’s hands in her own. “There are others like you under the Campanas, yes? And if you are scared to return to them now, then how do you think those who are still there feel?”

The girl’s milky eyes widened. “I…” Guilt carved itself into her features.

“If you are too scared, my dear, you needn’t worry,” Maria hummed, releasing the girl’s hands and rising to a stand. “I can rescue them all on my own, yes—”

The girl grabbed a hold of Maria’s hand. “I-I know where they keep them. Where they kept me. Even though I can’t see, I remember the way. I… let me come… please?”

Maria beamed down at her. “I was hoping you would say that, my dear—”

“Maria,” Gabrielle interjected tersely. She was standing now, frowning deeply. “Look, I understand how you feel, but I need to bring this back to Ophiuchus first. This is beyond your paygrade. The best thing you can do to help children who might also be this girl’s situation is to come to Ophiuchus and testify—”

“How will that help?” Maria cocked her head. “I know they are there in the Twin Cities, yes? What will going to Ophiuchus and telling the people there that I know the children are in the city do? The children will be in that place longer if I go. It is… sad, no?”

“These are complicated things, Maria,” Gabrielle explained with a sigh. “You need to look at the bigger picture. These crime organizations need to be dismantled slowly so the social structure of the Twin Cities doesn’t fall apart. A testimony and a key witness need to be present so we can have a verdict to move this case forward with better resources. This is all just preliminary footwork. If we act too fast, the Campanas may be able to do a cover up and even more children can be hurt.” 

Her career could be on the line if she loses control of this case. Like I said. Terrible personality.

“When you put it like that, it does sound complicated….” Maria agreed. She snapped her fingers. “But that’s just because you think it the way. If you think it’s uncomplicated, then it won’t be complicated. I mean, right now all I see is someone I want to save. And I will save them—” 

“Look, I’m not saying that we’re not going to save them—”

“But you are going to wait to save them? That does not make sense to me.” Maria rested a hand on the girl’s head. “You said much, much earlier that you knew someone who was good with kids, yes? What do you think he would do?” (*)

Gabrielle’s eyes widened a fraction, and she seemed to stare past Maria into the distance. Her gaze dropped down to the girl at Maria’s side and something flickered in her gaze.

“You know, I’ve moved up a lot of ranks in my department recently. Starting to think that’s because that guy’s no longer there to hold me back all the time.” Gabrielle sighed and fell back into her chair. She ran her hand down her face and met Maria’s eyes. “I’m going to take point on this, and I’m going to make a call to Ophiuchus before anything goes down.”

Renee poured the peacekeeper a glass of wine.

Maria beamed again. “They say you have a terrible personality, but I can clearly see that you are strong!” She hummed in thought. “They’ve also always said that I should try and make my point instead of just doing things, and I must say doing it this way is refreshing!”

Gabrielle paused. “Who’s ‘they’?” She sighed. “And what’s this about a terrible personality?” 

But Maria was already running up to the wheel of the ship. She gave the thing a spin and exclaimed—

“Twin Cities, away we go!”

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