Francis/Theta prepares to sink the Twin Cities in an explosive event.
Meanwhile, the Serpens Establishment of Ophiuchus also rumbles with change. Jericho, who has been thrown to Ophiuchus through one of Theta’s portals from the Twin Cities, now faces a dangerous enemy alongside Olive, who has just finished taking the written portion of his exam.
Serpens Establishment, Ophiuchus
Jericho’s ears rang with the wail of sirens as he picked himself and his suitcase off the white tile floor.
It was an odd sensation. He knew where he had landed before he had even taken a survey of his surroundings. And that was because—
Jericho turned his head.
Olivier Chance stared back at him wide-eyed. Behind the Ariesian prince stood Sagittarian Prince Claire Yuseong, Trystan Carter, and the Sagittarian guard Felix. Jericho glanced backwards. Just behind him, two other peacekeepers were just beginning to right themselves. Gabrielle and Talib. They had been thrown to this location too through Theta’s portals, it seemed. And so had—
“Are you alright?”
Alice stood on the opposite side of the large portal that divided the hallway as she asked the question. Her voice barely carried above the wail of the sirens as her gaze swept from him to Olivier to Talib and Gabrielle. “Are you alright?” Her gaze pierced through him specifically.
She wants the truth. Not— “I’m uninjured.”
“I’m unsure,” Jericho replied after a moment’s hesitation.
Alice met his eyes and nodded. “Okay—”
“We’re fine, Alice. Go get reinforcements,” Gabrielle called above the sirens as she took in her surroundings. “Something isn’t right here. There aren’t any other agents around, and we’re right outside the Detention Center. Go. Now.”
Alice frowned, gaze lingering on Jericho and then Talib and Olivier, before she dipped her head and disappeared down the hall.
“Is that you, Olive…?” Gabrielle asked, finally noticing Olivier’s presence and then Claire’s. “And Prince Yuseong Haneul…” She reached over and shook Claire’s hand abruptly. “It’s good to see my home country getting along with Sagittarius. Though if you’re here for the State Conducting Exam, you’re in the wrong place…”
“Good to see you always focus on what’s important….” Olivier mumbled.
“Right…” Gabrielle rolled her neck and nodded to the portal. “Olive, Prince Yuseong, do you think you can make that jump? I would like to get you both as far from here as possible.”
Claire startled, glancing back at the portal before digging into his pocket and pulling out his conductor. “I can carry myself over with my conductor, but—”
Gunshots and a series of shouts resounded from down the hall in the direction of the detention center.
Jericho’s heart started racing. Correction: Olivier’s heart started racing.
The detention center. Olive’s fear bled through. Jin went down there. Izsak. I think… I’m not sure… I… the proto-conductor. I’m sorry…
It is okay, Olivier.
Footsteps resounded down the hall and two figures came into view. A man and a woman. The man held the woman at gunpoint as he dragged her forward.
“Do not move, or I will shoot this woman.” The request barely carried over the call of the sirens.
Jericho stepped in front of Olivier. Trystan who was already in a protective stance in front of the prince gave Jericho an odd look. Jericho received the same look from Talib, but he wasn’t unused to receiving stares.
As the gun-wielding man and the hostage drew nearer, Jericho identified them. Wtorek Elizabeta, who appeared more concerned than afraid. And Wtorek Izsak, who was expressionless.
No. That wasn’t Wtorek Izsak. Cadence had heard Omicron confirm the fact days ago: Wtorek Izsak’s vitae had already left his body went the resistor was used on him. ‘Gamma’ had been initiated.
Jericho tightened his grip on his suitcase.
In other words, this Gamma had to die—
The image of the terribly conjured stuffed animal that was still resting on his bedside in his apartment abruptly flashed through Jericho’s mind. This was followed by a faded memory of Wtorek Izsak resting a hand on his head while conjuring a mountain of similarly ugly stuffed animals with a lackadaisical smile.
Jericho’s rage dampened abruptly, leaving him with an uncomfortable hollowness.
It didn’t matter who Izsak was before, Jericho thought. It wasn’t Izsak anymore.
“Move aside—” Gamma said as he pressed the gun to Elizabeta’s temple. He stopped short, however, as he registered Olive and Jericho. “True Conductors…”
“Trouble with the wife?” Gabrielle asked, smiling thinly, sweat dripping down her forehead.
Gamma didn’t respond.
How can she say that in this situation…?!
“Izsak, I’ve been hearing really weird things about ELPIS,” Gabrielle drew. “Things about ELPIS, the Anima-Vitae Hypothesis, and these things called resistors.” There was a pause. “How much of you is you?”
“Would my answer change anything?” Gamma asked.
Gabrielle’s expression darkened. “Yes, yes, it would.”
Elizabeta’s brows furrowed in confusion. She craned her neck towards Gamma and whispered, “Honey, please…”
Before Gabrielle could continue, she was suddenly thrown to the left against the wall by an unseen force. Correction: by a surge of wind. Talib was at Gabrielle’s side in an instant, checking for damages.
The sound of footsteps resounded up the hall from the direction Izsak had come from and it was followed by a sigh: “Hey, I’m doing Omicron a big favor here by busting you out and ruining my stellar Ophiucian reputation, and you repay me here by running off without me?”
Still gripping Elizabeta tightly, Gamma turned his head. Jin Ilseong appeared behind him, bow conductor cocked.
“Aunt Jiji?” Claire stammered, wide-eyed.
“The saint candidate of Sagittarius,” Talib realized.
“Aw crap,” Jin blanched as she registered Claire. “What are you doing down this way? Oh, well…”
She pointed her bow conductor, aimed it at the center of their group, and jerked it backwards. Instead of a burst of air coming at them, however, the air around them stilled and became dotted with blue light.
Something was wrong.
Olivier suddenly gasped, scratching at his throat as he fell to his knees. Trystan was on the ground too, wheezing. Claire and Felix were topped beside them. Talib and Gabrielle were in the same state along the wall.
And then Jericho felt it. The air had thinned. His chest ached dully, while he felt Olive’s chest burn as if it were on fire.
Stumbling forward, Jericho clicked open his suitcase and dragged out his conductor. He gripped his weapon tightly as his vision blurred and doubled. With this level of concentration, he knew he wouldn’t be able to properly wield it. There was only one target possible.
But Jericho’s gaze was drawn not to Jin. Instead, it was drawn to the man standing behind Jin: Gamma, who had shoved Wtorek’s wife to the side and was now staring down at them with a look of righteousness.
Jericho tightened his grip, bit the inside of his cheek unknowingly until he drew blood. Olive wheezed beside him.
There shouldn’t be hesitation, Jericho realized. The choice was clear.
Jericho whipped out his conductor sending a thin line of vitae hurtling forward. It missed its target but the effect was the same. Jin’s conductor shattered in her hand, and the blue flecks of light dotting the area dispersed.
“My conductor!” Jin yelped. “That was expensive, you jerk!”
Gasps filled the air as everyone who had been subjected to the vacuum took in a deep breath.
Jericho rubbed his throat and coughed lightly, turning to Olive who was being helped to his feet by Trystan. Trystan himself was staring at Jericho’s conductor wide-eyed. However, Claire and Felix paid him no mind as they guided each other to their feet and neither did Gabrielle nor Talib as they righted themselves. Instead of addressing him, however, the wheezing Trystan whipped out his bow conductor and fired an arrow of flame vitae straight at Gamma who had aimed his gun at them. Jin darted forward and lifted a hand in alarm to block it. A crunch resounded as the arrow wedged itself right below her middle finger. Jin swore and cradled her hand as she ripped out the arrow. But it was too late. The fire spread, igniting her entire hand in a wreath of pale rose flame.
Jin screeched as she cradled her hand. “That. Is. It!”
A burst of blue-flecked wind whirled through the hall, causing the flames to die away and leaving her hand smoking.
Trystan stared. “How—”
Don’t tell me—
Jin aimed a mock gun at Trystan and winked. “Bang!”
Out from Jin’s mock pistol came a burst of glowing air. The invisible arrow hurtled forward, striking Trystan right through the shoulder and sending him flying backwards over the portal. He hit the ground on the opposite side, rolling to a stop after a couple of meters.
Worry and panic seized Jericho’s chest.
“Trystan!” Olive shouted.
Trystan grimaced as he cradled his bleeding shoulder and craned his neck towards them. “Y-Your highness, I’m fine—watch out!”
Jericho whipped around just in time to see Jin aim another mock gun at them.
Jericho launched himself at Olivier and curled around him just as a gust of wind took them backwards and into the portal.
Olive’s ears rang as his eyes adjusted to the light. It took him a moment to realize that Jericho was draped over him. Their gazes met.
“Are you okay?” Jericho asked as if everything that had just happened was a walk in the park. He cocked his head. “It’s not a walk in the park. It’s dangerous.”
Jericho unfurled from him and rose to a stand to assess his surroundings. Olive did the same, albeit more hesitantly.
The atmosphere was warmer now, Olive realized, and everything was brighter. And colorful. Particles of light floated through the air fluorescently, casting everything in a multicolored, psychedelic glow. This light originated from below the raised bridge that they were now on top of. Vitae reservoirs. Thirteen of them.
It was the tourist attraction site within Ophiuchus that Jericho had taken them to before ELPIS attacked the detention center.
But… where were the tourists? It was empty.
It was shut down before I left. To do a double-check and clean down any of Theta’s portals.
Well, they obviously hadn’t scrubbed it down well enough.
A duet of groans arose from just beside Olive. Talib and Claire, who were just beginning to pick themselves off of the ground. Talib rose first and offered Claire a hand. The Sagittarian accepted the gesture dazedly.
“It seems like we’ve been tossed to the Prognoikos Aurora Reservoirs,” Talib assessed.
Olive nodded at Claire. “You… okay?”
Claire was pale, dazed, quiet, unlike himself. His conductor was loosely gripped in his hand. “I…” His gaze flicked to and then past Olive.
Olive turned his head.
Theta’s portal was open just a couple of feet away from them at a hidden strip just in front of the railing on the left side of the bridge. In front of that portal stood Jin and Gamma.
It was just the six of them here, Olive realized. Gabrielle, Trystan, and Felix must have either been thrown to a different location if they entered the portal or they were still within the Serpens Establishment.
“I don’t have my suitcase,” Jericho whispered to both Olive and Talib.
“You don’t have your conductor,” Olive realized.
“Okay, okay,” Jin grumbled, brushing off her uniform and fixing her hair. She slid her hands into her pockets and nodded at them. “Let’s just go our separate ways now, alright?” She thumbed Gamma. “I’m just here for him. Not ya’ll. So let’s not create some dramatic fight about this, okay? I’m tired. My head hurts. My reputation is ruined.”
“I will not leave until those True Conductors have been put down,” Gamma said, gripping his handgun tightly. He glanced to the side at the light rising up the bridge from the vitae reservoirs below. “And this reservoir—”
“You’re the one who’s going to be put down.” Jericho glowered.
Olive blanched. Was it really the best idea to make threats without a weapon?
I need to let him know, Olivier.
“Yeesh. Why are you two so violent?” Jin sighed before nodding back at Gamma. “Omicron and your gang are waiting for you to tell them what’s what with the syzygy and everything, you know that?” She twirled a finger around her temple. “They’re missing some marbles. Your records aren’t so great.”
Gamma frowned. “You didn’t tell them?”
“I’m already doing enough for you, aren’t I?”
Gamma didn’t respond and instead lock eyes with Olive.
Olive’s hand subconsciously went to his throat as he felt the ghost of Wtorek’s—no, Gamma’s hand—hand wrap around it. The memory of the intent to kill in that man’s eyes in New Ram City all those months ago still haunted Olive’s nightmares. It was the same here. A nightmare bleeding into reality.
“There is no point in me being here if I don’t deal with this,” Gamma responded, lifting his gun.
Jin shrugged. “Well, you heard the man. He won’t go away until I put you down so it can’t be helped.” She took a step forward.
Olive’s heart raced, chest still achingly raw from Maria’s loss of Conta. He glanced at Jericho as cold sweat broke down his back before he pulled the peacekeeper behind him and extended his hand. With a grimace, he drew a line of flame vitae between his group and the two outsiders.
“I’ll burn you to a crisp,” Olive said, managing to keep the shake out of his voice, “if you take another step forward.”
“I heard rumors but….” Talib murmured from behind him. “You really can conduct without a conductor…”
Olive stiffened and looked back at Talib to find the man studying him perplexed. Before any words could be exchanged, however, a cold gust of wind speckled with blue blasted through the area. The torrent extinguished Olive’s drawn line and knocked him clear off of his feet. Jericho caught him by the scruff of his shirt and righted him.
“Wow, you’ve sure improved a lot in that short amount of time, kiddo.” Jin whistled, as she waved off the smoke in the air. “But air still beats fire. Like paper beats rock.” With that, Jin flicked out her hand and then curled it into a fist.
Unlike before, the vacuum formed in an instant. Olive fell forward as his vision blurred Talib and Claire were already collapsed on the ground. The Sagittarian prince was still conscious, however, reaching for his conductor which had fallen from his hands.
Jericho stumbled towards Jin but eventually he too fell to his knees. Still, he crawled forward relentlessly as Olive’s vision faded to black—
—and then brightness cracked across Olive’s vision. As he tried to get his bearings, Olive came to realize that he was somehow now only inches away from Jin who was looking down at him with an arched brow. No. He was seeing through Jericho’s eyes. Relentless Jericho.
“Geeze, Glasses, you’re desperate, aren’t you?” Jin sighed.
Fire needs oxygen to spread. And if Jin’s removing the oxygen via vitae particles from the air, then she has to be shifting the oxygen atoms somewhere else, Jericho. Somewhere else being right—
Olive urged Jericho to extend his fingertips further and further until Olive was able to feel the slight change in the air pattern surrounding the woman through Jericho’s fingertips.
Just before the white sparks erupted from Jericho’s hands, a flicker of black appeared out of the corner of Olive’s—rather, Jericho’s— eyes. Olive knew who it was immediately. Lavi. She gazed through Jericho at him with a sharp expression that Olive had never seen on her face before.
“Don’t hold back,” she said. “Not with them.”
With an audible roar, the white flames burst forward in aninstant, consuming Jin in a white aura of fire. Gamma and Jericho were thrown backwards in opposite directions by the explosion.
Through Jericho’s eyes, Olive was able to see Claire gasp, grab his conductor, and whip it through the air. Flecks of sky-blue light shot out from his conductor followed by a gust of wind.
Olive’s eyes fluttered open. His senses returned to him as he took a deep breath, gasping, heaving. Air had never tasted so good. But as thankful as Olive was for the additional oxygen Claire had brought in, the gift came with an acrid, all too familiar scent. Burning flesh. At the smell, he gagged and retched before screeching and wailing reached his ears above the crackle of flame. Olive turned in slow horror towards the sound. The silhouette of a human enveloped in a crown of white flame stumbled back and forth along the bridge in agony.
Claire was wide-eyed, unmoving beside Olive.
And then Olive’s horror settled in—the horror at Jin’s immolation, the horror at the realization that he had meant to do this to Jin. It wasn’t like how it was with Gamma back in New Ram City. Not like how it was with the Sagittarian assassins weeks ago. This time, to protect the others, to not die, to continue on, he had been intending wholeheartedly to… kill?
Tears burning at his eyes, Olive bent over and gagged again as revulsion seized his entire body. But before he could fully empty his stomach contents, an agonizing anger crumpled his chest. His gaze was torn from Jin and towards Jericho who had picked himself off the ground only a second after the fiery explosion, who had run past the immolated Jin, who had launched himself at Gamma without hesitation. Now on top of the man, Jericho wrapped fingers around his throat.
Olive could feel Jericho’s hands tightening around Gamma’s neck, could feel the other man struggle fruitlessly beneath Jericho’s grasp, could feel life leaving the man’s body.
But what if Izsak is still—
Jericho hesitated but only for one moment before he squeezed and squeezed and—
No. False hope. False hope.
—was tossed backwards by an abrupt torrent of wind.
“That really, really frickin’ hurt, kiddo.”
Olive’s gaze flicked to the one who had spoken and nearly fainted at the sight of her. It was Jin, no longer surrounded by white flames and instead cloaked in gray smoke. Her suit was badly tattered and singed at the edges, but despite that, her Ophiuchian armband shone brightly. And she looked unscathed. Unharmed. Just covered by a thin layer of soot and ash.
How…? Olive couldn’t comprehend it. Had she driven the oxygen away with her vitae particles? But he had seen her ignite in flame. What in the world—
“…But I see that you’ve got someone you’re connected to in our ranks,” Jin noted. “That changes things up.” She glanced at Claire then at Olive then at Jericho. She threw a look back at Gamma who didn’t look at all surprised by her lack of injury and then at Talib. “Let’s clear the stage of the non-essentials, shall we?”
And with that, Jin threw out her arms outwards towards opposite sides of the bridge. A gust of twin winds kicked up, one throwing Gamma straight into the portal and the other tossing Talib right off the bridge.
Jericho hesitated for less than a second, before he launched himself not towards the portal that Gamma had disappeared into but towards the railings after Talib. He managed to reach the rails just as Talib tumbled past him. Missed by a hairsbreadth.
“Claire!” Olive shouted in panic.
Claire snapped out of his stupor, twirled his conductor, and took off from the bridge in a blast of wind. He hurtled downwards after Talib, disappearing with a boom that shook the bridge.
Jericho stiffened and whipped his attention back to the portal—the portal that had dimmed away back into a black stain. Olive felt the rage in Jericho’s chest dissipate instantly. But the emptiness that the feeling left behind was almost as unbearable.
But they had to focus.
A click-clacking suddenly echoed from behind Olive. Upon turning his head, he found a newcomer coming up the bridge slowly. A woman. She was flanked on her left and right by a peacekeeper. The light from the reservoirs cast her golden hair in an odd light.
It was the first time Olive had seen her up close himself, and something about her gave him unease.
Wasn’t she back in the Twin Cities? Had she fallen into one of the portals? Even if she did fall into one leading to the Serpens Establishment, why did she come here?
His gaze flicked to the two peacekeepers behind her.
And that wasn’t even close to enough people to handle Jin, was it?
Jericho was at his side immediately, expressionless.
“Are you two alright?” Leona asked as she fell into step beside them. She was calm. Unnervingly calm.
Olive tensed, nodded.
“How are you here?” Jericho. Direct as ever.
“I fell through one of Theta’s gates,” Leona explained, “and landed in the Serpens Establishment. With the sirens blaring, I suspected that Gamma was being freed. And if he was free, I assumed I would have to keep an eye on our reservoir. It seems as if I’ve made the correct choice.”
… How had she known Gamma’s name?
“My partner. Talib,” Jericho said. “He—”
“I saw,” Leona replied calmly. “Believe me when I say he will be fine. The Sagittarian prince—”
“Come on, Leo.” Jin sighed from across the bridge. “You’re always butting in where you don’t need to butt in.”
“You’re an embarrassment, Jin,” Leona replied, meeting the woman’s gaze. “Why are you doing this?”
So Jin hadn’t been lying. They did know each other. Closely.
“I just felt like it.” Jin shrugged. “Was bored. Felt like fighting for the losing side for once. A change of direction. Don’t you ever feel bored with winning?”
“Gone with the wind.” Jin thumbed the black stain.
Leona looked her over. “And are you still to pursue this route, Saint of Arrow and Direction?”
Jin cracked a grin. “Of course, Leo. I mean—since we’re being formal now—of course, ‘Saint of Victory’.”
Leona motioned for one of the peacekeepers behind her with an index finger. The peacekeeper shuffled forward, placing a belt in Leona’s waiting hand. The belt was equipped with a number of bladeless hilts, several handguns lined with glass tubes, and other miscellaneous weapons. Conductors. She calmly clipped the accessory around her waist.
Leona nodded at Jericho. “Jericho, please escort the Ariesian prince back to the Serpens Establishment.”
Claire’s got Talib. I’m sure of it.
Jericho continued to stare. “You… will face Jin alone?”
“Of course,” Leona replied. “As I said earlier, the traitor who allowed all of this to come into fruition is not your concern. It is mine—”
Olive suddenly felt the hair on the back of Jericho’s neck rise. Jericho whipped around just in time to see Jin cock a mock gun in their direction.
Leona pushed the both of them backwards, drawing out a bladeless hilt and igniting it in a flash of gold. She did a strange twisting movement with her wrist and dispelled the invisible arrow of air with a flourish.
Jin changed course and curled her hand into a fist. The air thinned again, and Olive’s vision blurred. However, in one swift movement that was barely perceptible to Olive’s eye, Leona plucked a bladeless hilt from her belt, ignited it, and threw it at Jin. The screech it made as it tore through the air was unsaintly, and it hit Jin’s shoulder right on target. The woman yelped, and the air instantaneously became breathable again.
“Dammit!” Jin snapped, before ripping the conductor from her shoulder and tossing it to the ground. She frowned, taking a step backwards. “I forgot how good you were when it comes to close quarters…”
Jin flicked her wrist, and the feel of the air changed. Olive braced himself gawked when Jin suddenly shot up to the sky leaving glowing flecks of blue light in her wake.
Leona reached into her belt again and drew out another bladeless conductor. Instead of throwing it, however, she swung it upwards. Out from its tip unfurled a gold whip that flew out and wrapped itself around Jin’s ankle. Giving the whip a sharp tug, Leona slammed Jin back onto the ground. The Sagittarian groaned as the bridge trembled.
Leona glanced back at them. “Agent Jericho, I told you to escort the prince away.” Her eyes were ringed with an intense golden light.
Without thinking, Olive stumbled back, grabbed a hold of Jericho’s hand, and pulled him backwards. And then he began to run, leaving behind Leona and her two apparently non-combative assistants, leaving behind Jin, leaving behind the reservoirs. He pounded up the bridge dragging Jericho along behind him. He had no idea if he was heading in the right direction. He just knew he had to get himself and Jericho away. Just like he had dragged Werner away from that battlefield. Pathetic. But sometimes running away was the best route.
A sudden and loud sonic boom resounded in the air followed by a loud clang. Olive glanced left just in time to see a wrestling Leona and Jin crash down from the sky onto a bridge running parallel to them. Jin untangled herself from Leona and shot up to the sky again; but the other woman leaped onto the railings of the bridge, ran along its length, launched herself up at Jin, and wrapped her arms around Jin’s legs. They fumbled there for a moment before Jin flew higher and higher until they disappeared into the clouds.
What in saint’s name…
This was ridiculous. Were they even human?
Abruptly, Jericho stopped running behind him.
Olive stopped too and turned. He knew what Jericho was thinking of. Gamma and the portal.
They have been right in front of me, Olivier. This entire time. This is the closest I’ve gotten. To them. And my purpose is to eliminate false hope. Destroy them. But I let them go. Not just here with Gamma. With Theta. With Omicron. Only Omega. It’s not enough.
Jericho stared into Olive, causing Olive’s heart to skip a beat. The man’s eyes were intense. Almost scary.
Is it this connection? Am I forgetting? A pause. I would rather become nothingness than for my anger to disappear. It’s my purpose.
The memory of Theta’s words— “You’re already close to becoming nothingness”— to Jericho resounded within Olive’s mind.
I can’t fail. I am going to eventually become nothingness. That is fine. That is natural whether what ELPIS has taught me is true or not. But only if I fulfill my purpose before then. I can’t fail.
Olive’s heart dropped to his stomach. Hearing Jericho think that was…
They killed your family. But you don’t feel hatred.
Olive’s heart dropped even further at the statement, but he shook his head. Was this really the time to be thinking about this?
Jericho continued to stare at him.
Olive guessed it was.
Of course I’m angry, Jericho. At them. At myself. I obviously want them to go down and to be locked up for good. But for me, killing them won’t do anything. It’s stupid and meaningless. And it doesn’t get anyone anywhere. And I can’t live with the guilt of doing something like that. No matter who or what they are.
Frowning, Olive studied Jericho from the corner of his eye.
I can’t wrap my head around your revenge thing at all. I don’t agree with it… And I know my opinion doesn’t mean much. Doctor Kingsley probably knows better. But I don’t think it’s good for you. I mean, there’s literally a bunch of books saying things like ‘revenge is a cycle’… then again, I’m an idiot and naive so who cares what I think.
Jericho blinked. I care. What you think.
Okay. Then I don’t think the ‘become nothingness’ spiel even means anything. Doesn’t matter whether the Anima-Vitae Hypothesis is true or not. Burning energy versus burning a soul.
An uneasiness took over Olive at the thought of it ringing true.
But that’s not the point.
He grabbed a hold of Jericho’s wrist, tugging him forward and continuing with him onwards down the bridge.
The point is that there’s still stuff after too—whether you decide to keep going with this revenge thing or go for a different route.
Their footsteps echoed along the walkway, interspersing with the resounding booms of Leona and Jin’s battle in the distance.
If being a part of this has taught me anything, it’s that there’s always stuff after.
Olive let out a sigh of relief as the edge of the bridge neared their sights. Just beyond that was a pathway leading to an empty train station.
Jericho’s eyes widened slightly.
Finally, they reached the threshold of the bridge.
Olive slumped and proceeded to collapse onto the ground panting. Jericho blinked down at him, not even remotely out of breath.
“That is an ‘interesting’ way of thinking.”
Olive grimaced back up at him. “When you do air quotes, it’s just insulting.”
I think I appreciate it.
Olive stiffened before grimacing.
A shadow suddenly passed over both of their heads causing them to tense. When Olive looked up to the sky, however, he let out a sigh.
It was Claire, slowly sinking towards them while riding his staff conductor. Balancing precariously on the staff beside him was Talib who had one arm slung over the Sagittarian’s shoulder. Olive felt Jericho’s chest lighten immediately. Although Jericho didn’t fully comprehend the feeling, Olive did. It was relief, filling in the emptiness inside of Jericho.
“Partner, it’s good to see you in one piece!” Talib exclaimed as he hopped off of the staff with Claire’s assistance.
“I am glad you’re okay,” Jericho responded.
Olive winced. Jericho was still so awkward.
Jericho blinked down at him.
Olive winced again before he stiffened and turned to Claire “Leona and Jin—”
“Yeah… We saw both of them while we were flying over here,” Claire muttered. His expression was grim, pale, but still he offered Olive his hand and helped him up to his feet. “Seems like you were right then.”
Olive opened his mouth, unsure of what to exactly say, but then another boom resounded and he allowed the silence to continue.
Talib broke the quiet, peering at Jericho hopefully. “And… Izsak?”
“Gone,” Jericho replied curtly. “Through Theta’s portal.”
Talib’s expression fell.
A click-clacking suddenly echoed from behind them. It was Leona, drifting down the bridge towards them. She was sweating and panting lightly, but she appeared unharmed. She assessed them silently as she came to a stop in front of them before she paused and assessed Talib. “Are you all alright?”
Olive nodded as did Claire. Talib inclined his head. Jericho remained impassive.
“Good.” Leona extended her hand. “Talib, Jericho, I would like any of the suppression cuffs you still have on you.”
Without hesitation, Talib unhooked both of his from his belt and handed it to her. Jericho stared at Talib before following suit. Leona clipped the items to her own belt before turning on her heels and starting down the bridge again.
“Did… Did you…?” Claire called after her.
“I will take Ilseong Jin into custody where she will face trial for collusion with ELPIS,” Leona answered curtly, disappearing from their sights and leaving the click-clack of her heels echoing in her wake.
Olive glanced at Claire who was whiter than a ghost and winced. He opened his mouth and then closed it, still unsure of what to say. It was easy to convey his feelings to the others he was connected to, but with those outside of their group, it was still…
That didn’t go as planned, Jericho thought.
Olive turned to Jericho and sighed with a grumble. It never does.
Would it be customary to… hug now?
Olive hesitated, considering. No.