As Francis/Theta tears through the Twin Cities, Werner faces Colonel Fritz von Spiel while Atienna faces Yulia Kriska. Two connected True Conductors against two connected True Conductors. One seems to show mercy and the other ruthlessness, but the truth is…
Twin Cities, Gemini
Pulling Sefu closer to herself, Atienna tuned her ears to the sound of the small footsteps drawing nearer from down the road. Yulia sank to her knees, arms widespread. A beat after, a familiar boy flew into the woman’s arms from the side of the street. He wrapped his arms around her neck and buried his face in her nape. The two of them sat there embracing each other for a very long and quiet moment.
“K-Kirill…?” Alexei whispered in realization. His face paled, and he suddenly looked to be in more pain than Yulia had put him in.
The boy unfurled from Yulia’s side and peered down at his father who tensed immediately. Yulia took off her conducting gloves and fitted them gingerly onto Kovich’s hands.
“K-Kirill…” Alexei stammered. “I… I’m so sorry. I had to do it. We had no money, Kirill. No food. But they could feed you, Kirill. They said they’d take care of you. And they did, didn’t they? And I had to. But now. I’m almost there. Not yet. I’m not ready yet. I haven’t been able to make a good place for you yet. But when I did—when I do—I was going to…”
Yulia’s brows furrowed and her lips tipped downwards, but Kovich placed a hand on her arm. He then looked up and met Atienna’s eyes.
“It’s your choice,” Atienna said to both Kovich and Alexei, “but choices can’t be undone.”
Still… How sad.
Even if this was Alexei’s attempt to dissuade Kovich from using his conductor, Atienna knew that there was some truth to the man’s words. Yes, Atienna could see it clearly—what his intentions had been. Good intentions sometimes led to terrible outcomes. Atienna’s mother was an example of that, although Atienna was certain her mother would never make a choice like this one.
That aside, Atienna knew that even the cruelest, most selfish person tried their best to make the ‘right’ choices. But that also meant that the kindest, most selfless person sometimes made the ‘wrong’ choices—
Kovich sank into a crouch in front of Alexei.
The man’s eyes widened. “K-Kirill—”
The boy reached forward with his gloved hand—
—and placed an index finger to Alexei’s lips as he shook his head.
“‘Kovich,’” he corrected in Aquarian before pulling his hand away. “You left me. I think I understand why now. But that doesn’t matter to me anymore. Because Yulia and Fritz won’t leave me. Ever. And they’re all I need.” He pulled himself up to a stand, locked hands with Yulia, and looked up at her.
Yulia frowned back down at him before she sighing, nodding, and tightening her grip on his hand.
So that was Kovich’s choice then.
Atienna let out a sigh of relief.
“Can we go now?” the boy asked. “Get Fritz? He seems really angry…”
And then laughter rang from Werner’s end into Atienna’s ears.
Colonel Fritz von Spiel threw his head back and laughed as he locked eyes with Werner. “You are like me. To a Virgoan advisor of all people?” He doubled over, still laughing. “You’re probably going soft!” He turned to Gilbert, then to Stein, then to Kleine, then to Bergmann. “Your lieutenant is as bad as I am! If you’re going to arrest me for collusion with an enemy party, then you might as well cuff him too.”
“You say he’s like you, but I don’t see him working with ELPIS,” Stein grunted.
“Well, it’s probably because all of the people you’re connected to are well off, aren’t they?” The colonel scoffed wryly, bitterly at Werner. “Lucky you…”
Werner’s men looked to him uncertainly, but before Werner could give an order, the colonel charged towards him and grabbed the nose of his handgun. As his men started forward, Werner held up a hand. Werner’s grip on his gun was still tight. The only thing that the colonel had done was line his own forehead up with the mouth of the weapon.
“Shoot me. Do it. Shoot me now.”
Werner’s eyes narrowed.
“I’d rather die than rot away in prison. I’d rather die than be stuck in one place forever with—with—” The colonel jerked his head back down the alleyway, cuffs clacking. “—with them constantly burrowing into my head!”
Werner froze. “Colonel von Spiel, you will be taken in for questio—”
“If you really are a True Conductor, then you understand.” The colonel’s eyes were livid as he gripped the nose of the gun tight with his injured hand. “It’s torture! Constantly being pushed back and forth against your will. Being forced to want things you don’t want. To the point where you don’t even know what you want anymore! Basically falling damn apart.” The colonel stared holes into him. “Isn’t that right?”
Werner didn’t respond.
“If you don’t put a bullet in me now,” the colonel continued. “I’ll tell everything I know about Capricorn to Yulia and I’ll have her go tell Aquarius’s government agencies about it. And if I go to jail for this, then I’ll tell Capricorn that you’re like me too—that you’re a liability.”
Werner tensed, finger twitching. He couldn’t allow the colonel to divulge Capricornian military secrets. The dangers that it would impose on Capricorn would be monumental. And… the others…
At that moment, Werner saw through Atienna’s eyes:
Yulia silently shook her head as she pulled Kovich closer to herself.
It wasn’t going to happen.
Colonel Fritz von Spiel paled before choking out a laugh. “…. Why? Why can’t you even let me escape…? Do you want to make every single moment in my life torture—”
Through Atienna’s eyes, Werner saw Kovich lower his gaze teary-eyed.
“Stop looking like that… Dammit, you…” the colonel whispered, releasing his grip on Werner’s gun and taking a step backwards in defeat. “And now because of you two, I look like a damn fool…”
“…the fuck is going on?” Stein muttered.
Gilbert responded by telling him quietly to shut up.
“You’ll be given a fair but thorough investigation and trial, Colonel von Spiel,” Werner said, lowering his gun slowly. “And you’re mistaken. I will always be loyal to Capricorn—”
A gunshot suddenly rang out without warning.
Werner stiffened before doing a quick, rapid assessment of all of his subordinates’ weapons. None of them had fired. He hesitantly looked over his own weapon and let out an internal sigh of relief. He had not unknowingly fired either.
But the colonel doubled over cradling his throat and let out a groan of pain. When he removed his hands from his throat, however, there was no wound, no blood. Instead, red dribbled out from the corners of his mouth.
“You’ve got to be kidding me…” The colonel spat and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “That… stupid woman…”
Yulia’s hand went to her throat where a bullet-sized hole had suddenly formed. The wound spurted out red, dribbling out in-between her shaking fingers. Kovich let out a wail, simultaneously reaching out for Yulia while cradling his own neck which was not bleeding.
“Y-Yulia.” He whimpered. “Y-Yulia!”
Atienna stared, frozen. What exactly had just—
The world suddenly went black.
When color returned again, it took a moment for Atienna to get her bearings. She was pressed back against the alleyway wall behind a large garbage bin. Sefu was pulled tightly against her lap, his legs parallel to the wall beside them and hidden away from anyone peering into the alley. Her left hand was cupped over his mouth, while her right hand was over her own. Sefu blinked up at her, wide-eyed and confused.
Werner had overridden her, it seemed.
Yes, I apologize. Werner’s synchronization skirted her mind, and his mirage phased in front of her. He pressed a finger to his lips. Remain silent.
A pair of footsteps resounded by the mouth of the alleyway. Despite the hammering in her heart, Atienna’s curiosity itched inside of her mind. She carefully peered around the trash bin.
A man with brown hair wearing a pair of square-rimmed glasses stepped in front of the entrance of the alleyway. Wtorek Izsak. No. Gamma. There was a gun that was billowing out smoke in his conductor-gloved hand. He stared remorselessly down at Yulia who was now gagging on the ground and then at Kovich who was clutching her body and coughing up blood.
Atienna’s heart plummeted, the world spinning around her.
They were not ‘what was important’ to her, but she didn’t want this to happen either. This wasn’t the ending that she wanted. No…
“Was this the only one?” Gamma asked
Another woman stepped into view beside him. The polka-dotted blue dress was unmistakable. Iota.
“Yep, Omega saw Omicron meeting with her and some Capricornian soldier,” Iota replied, peering down at Yulia and Kovich. She nodded at the boy who had gone into convulsions on the floor. “Looks like this kid was connected to them too though.”
Kovich’s body stilled.
Alexei who had been cowering away from the two stiffened when he noticed this and tentatively reached out to the boy. “Kirill…?”
Gamma reloaded his gun, jerking his head towards Alexei whose eyes were glued to Kovich. “And who is this one?”
“Dunno. He looks Aquarian.” Iota studied Alexei before bending down and tapping the crystalline formations protruding from his arms. “Did a conductor do this?” She shook her head and clicked her tongue. “You see, this is what happens when you play with fire.”
“What did you do to him?!” Alexei spat as he crawled forward to his son. “You—”
Gamma pointed the gun at the Aquarian’s head. “Do not fear. You will return to the cycle.” And he fired.
The gunshot rang loudly through Atienna’s ears. She squeezed her eyes shut and pulled back behind the trash bin. Sefu startled in her hold and almost snapped up to a sit, but she gripped him tightly in place.
“Whoever he was, he might have been a True Conductor too,” came Gamma’s voice.
There was a clattering sound.
He’s discarded his weapon, Atienna, but he’s a Conjuror. Werner’s image was still perched in front of her, finger still pressed to his lips. Remain still.
“They always tend to gather together.” —the sound of receding footsteps followed Gamma’s statement.
“It’s good to have you back, Gamma,” Iota drew as her footsteps faded along with this. “You came back just in the nick of time.”
Atienna’s heart hammered wildly in her chest as she pulled Sefu even closer to herself.
This had been the result of her choice. Her choice to let Yulia go had led to this encounter. A correct and incorrect choice in one. Atienna had thought that she had been showing Yulia mercy, but she wondered if what she had shown the woman instead was truly cruelty—
You made your choice, but they also made theirs. Werner looked down at Sefu. There is no time for regret when a decision has been made.
He had merely told her the words she had expected him to say. Firm, concise, logical. And that was both very troubling and very comforting to her.
Werner frowned and opened his mouth to address her thoughts. But before he could speak a word, he disappeared from her sights, suddenly pulled back into his own surroundings.
Fritz covered his mouth and hacked a cough. Blood seeped out in-between his fingers. He pulled back his hand and stared at it in disbelief. Werner’s men stared at the red with a mixture of confusion and surprise. Nico appeared concerned.
“That stupid woman…” the colonel hissed before abruptly bending down to pick up the candy basket he had discarded earlier. He turned away from Werner and started forward down the alleyway without hesitation.
Werner’s men raised their weapons at his approach.
Werner cocked his own handgun.
The colonel froze at the sounds.
“I can’t let you leave, Colonel von Spiel,” Werner stated plainly.
“I can’t leave anyways, Waltz,” the colonel returned before he retched and more blood poured out from his mouth. He held the basket away from his body, almost as if to not dirty it. “And now look at what they’ve done. They’ve turned me into a damned deadman walking.”
The colonel took another step forward, prompting Werner’s finger to drift towards the trigger of the gun—
And then a pair of hands enveloped Werner’s own. Looking down, he registered Atienna’s image. Her eyes were pained and sad, and he could feel her wavering remorse spill into him dizzyingly.
Regardless, it was his duty to bring the colonel in.
Werner tensed despite himself as Atienna lifted one of her hands in response to his thought. Her gaze merely softened, however, and her hand ghosted his cheek causing him to tense. The intimacy was strange, although he oddly didn’t think it was inappropriate. And although she was far from him, he could feel the warmth of her palm. He was also able to feel her intentions. And none of those intentions involved her overriding him or subtlety influencing him to make him choose what she thought was right.
He has only one place he can run to.
And the choice here, Atienna was saying, was his own. To follow through with his duty, to prevent the colonel from leaving, to attempt to heal the colonel so that the colonel might have the slim possibility of living long enough to be questioned by Capricorn. That or to allow the colonel to try and reach Yulia’s and Kovich’s sides before they died. To be more precise, to show mercy.
Werner turned his attention back to the colonel. The man wasn’t looking in his direction at all. Instead, Von Spiel stared down south of the alleyway past Werner’s men and in the direction of where Yulia and Kovich most likely were.
Werner didn’t know enough about the link True Conductors shared to tell if medical Conductors would even be able to aid the colonel’s injury. The colonel looked near dying despite not suffering any external afflictions. And although Werner despised assumptions, given the events presented so far, he knew it wouldn’t be unsound to assume that the colonel was being dragged to death’s door through his connection with Yulia Kriska.
It was dangerous.
Yes. And it was also rather unfortunate.
Werner found himself lowering his weapon before he could even register he was doing it. His palms immediately began to itch causing him to freeze. This show of mercy could paint him as traitorous—perhaps weak. But when he turned to his subordinates, he found that all of them had already followed along with him in lowering their weapons—although, Stein did it while grimacing. Now they looked to him expectantly.
This was not rank-and-file. This was trust. Respect.
The colonel stared at Werner in dulled surprise before he scoffed and coughed out more blood. “You too, huh?”
Werner signaled for his men to step to the side. His men obeyed, drawing to the alley walls, some more hesitantly than others. The colonel glanced at them with an almost grateful expression as he dragged himself forward. The man stopped short at the mouth of the alley before turning towards them with a grimace.
“Why? Even though they’ve ruined everything in my life…” Von Spiel’s grip on the basket tightened, and his voice cracked. “I can’t help but go to them when they call me…”
And with that, the colonel stumbled forward and disappeared down the street. Silence followed.
Nico was the first to break the quiet. “Did he…?”
“No.” Shaking his head, Werner closed his eyes—
—and Atienna opened her eyes.
She let out a quiet breath and peered around the trash bin to the mouth of the alleyway once more. The first thing she was met with was Yulia’s open, lifeless gaze. Draped over the woman’s still body was an unmoving Kovich. And beside them both lay Alexei, one hand extended out towards the boy.
“Are you alright, Miss Atienna?” Sefu whispered from on top of her.
A click-clacking echoing through the streets cut her off. Before she could fully register the sound, a shadow passed over them.
Atienna’s heart hammered as she turned to look upwards.
“Cvetka…?” Sefu’s brows rose. “You entered through the light too?”
The way Cvetka’s black hair curled around her pale cheeks made her appear ghost-like. The only signs that she was among the living was her very light panting.
Cvetka ignored Sefu and studied Atienna. “Good. At least you’re still alive.” She glanced down the alley towards Yulia. “Was that you?”
Atienna shook her head. “ELPIS.”
Cvetka let out a quiet sigh before glancing at Sefu and finally answering him, “I ended up coming out of one of those portals four blocks away.” Her gaze flicked back to Atienna. “Although I doubt my employers will accept that excuse.”
Struggling up to a stand despite Atienna’s protests, Sefu managed, “Your diplomat. Alexei—he—”
“Is dead,” Cvetka confirmed. “So is Yulia. So is Kirill Drei. So is Fritz von Spiel.”
Atienna felt her heart sink.
What a terribly sad ending.
“The good news for the both of you is that this started and began as a strictly Aquarian issue,” Cvetka continued. “It won’t affect Virgo at all.”
Sefu did a double-take. “What are you saying? He is one of your people, is he not?! How can you say something like that? He’s dead!”
Sefu truly had a good heart, but…
Atienna rose to a stand and put herself in between Sefu and Cvetka. She could feel Sefu’s gaze press against her, but she remained firm and in place. Cvetka regarded her before she inclined her head towards Sefu.
“He’s injured,” she said. “I will contact some of the Ophiuchian Transmutationists in the city. They may be able to assist Sefu, and we can seek protection and escape under their care while what’s happening here passes.”
Those few sentences alone revealed many things to Atienna. Firstly, Cvetka was connected to someone in the city. Secondly, Cvetka had enough authority to be in direct communication with Ophiuchian agents. Thirdly, Cvetka’s Ophiuchian contacts were most likely in the ELPIS Department given that those were the active peacekeepers in the city. And finally, all of these things together led to the theory that Cvetka’s employer belonged to the ELPIS Department. And that would most likely be—
“Despite everything that’s happening, the gears in your head are still turning,” Cvetka noted, drawing Atienna out of her thoughts. “You would do really well working in my occupation. It’s safe. It’s comfortable. You and those you care about would be protected.”
“It’s a bit strange hearing you say that…” Atienna murmured, eyes downcast. “It’s almost as if you’re trying to convince yourself that.”
Cvetka chuckled lightly. “I know you know. The three of us aren’t so different from each other.”