Cvetka Akulova checked her make-up in a small handheld mirror before she entered the small office within the Serpens Establishment. The room was rather unpleasantly jumbled with books and small sheets of paper that were scattered across the floor. Light spilled in rays from the pulled blinds, and they illuminated the bulletin board on the left wall. The board was cluttered with photographs and spider-webbed with red string. The photographs captured the close-up profiles of men and women in black-and-white. There were names on sticky notes pasted below each photo alongside clippings of news articles. Beneath all of this clutter was a large map of Signum.
Categorized by country, she realized.
Cvetka’s eyes went to the Aquarius section. Sure enough, her picture and name were pinned there alongside Yulia Kriska’s. There were two red strings tied around the pin above her photo, and she followed one to Gemini, to the pinned photo of a very familiar-looking man. Astante Aurlio , read the note beneath him. Beside his photograph was the picture of a smiling, freckled, ginger-haired, boyish young woman. Cadence Morello , the note below it read. There were three red strings tied to the pin on the redhead’s photo. Cvetka followed one of the strings down to—
“Are you admiring my work?”
Cvetka startled and turned.
A man was lounging on a leather blue sofa against the wall behind her. He was twirling a pen with one hand and resting his cheek against the other. There was a beauty mark just below his left eye.
“I… I’m impressed.” Cvetka turned back to the board. “The amount of True Conductors you’ve discovered is—”
“It’s the work you should’ve done in the first place.”
Cvetka swallowed before calming herself and nodding. “I do admit that I’ve been slow recently in tracking down—”
“I don’t understand why Leona lets you run free when you’re so… useless. You find nothing, and the things you do find, you let die. And you think you’re clever enough to be playing games.”
“Games? I’m not sure what you—”
The man pointed his pen at her. “If it were up to me, I’d have you chained up in that prison of ours downstairs. All of you True Conductors. Until the syzygy.” He twirled a finger around a lock of his hair. “So, why are you here, Useless?”
“Leona wanted me to introduce myself since we’ll be working together from now on,” Cvetka replied, extending her hand. “I’m—”
“Cvetka Akulova. Age, 24. Birthday, June 24th. Blood-type, AB. Aquarian with a Capricornian father—parents both alive. Conjuror. Left-handed. Vision, 20/20 in right eye, 20/15 in left. Height, 165 centimeters. Weight, 60 kg. Occupation, false Aquarian advisor.” He flipped his pen. “Occupation, useless.”
Cvetka swallowed, clenching her left hand. “That’s very impressive, although it’s not very polite to comment on a person’s weight.”
The man twirled his pen. “Why are you complimenting me when I just insulted you? Do you think it’s impressive? It’s not. Are you only here to introduce yourself?”
Cvetka shook her head. “Leona wanted me to tell you to come down to the detention center.”
A woman with a rope of dark hair sat bound to a white chair. Her hands were locked together in front of her by a series of ten white suppression cuffs, but her smile was light and casual. Before her stood a woman with golden hair and a somber-looking man.
“Oh come, you guys,” the bound woman sighed. “Don’t look at me like that.”
The door behind the golden woman and the somber man creaked open, and a thin man entered the room and came to a stand between them.
“Oh, welcome back to the party, Saint Candidate of Scorpio, Saint of Passion,” Jin greeted. “Your welcome for the invitation. I don’t mind getting passionate with you this time around despite our last fiasco.”
“That look is very becoming of you, Jin,” was the thin man’s greeting paired with a smile that dipped into a frown. “How could you do something like this? With them? It’s pathetic. Pointless! Against everything we’ve worked for! You traitor.”
Jin sighed and rolled her eyes. “There’s the usual dramatics…”
“It’s not like you to go back on your word, Jin,” the somber man drew from the side. “Why would you go and do something like this?”
“Like I said, I wanted to try for a change in direction.” Jin shrugged. “Not like what I did really made any noise.” She smiled. “Unless you’re saying that I did make some noise. Enough to throw things up in the air.”
“Your arrogance never changes,” Leona murmured.
Jin threw her head back and laughed. “My arrogance? Look who’s talking.”
“Where is P.D. Oran?” the Saint of Passion interjected, arms crossed, fingers thrumming.
“You found him. I looked. In the Bodhi Temple. Where did you put him? Did you give him to them?” The Saint of Passion reached forward, gripping Jin by the scruff. “I can rip it from you if I had to.”
“Let’s tango then,” Jin offered, flashing a lackadaisical grin. “Just slide your vitae right into me.”
The Saint of Passion stared at Jin before a smile curled on his face. He leaned in close and whispered into her ear, “Oh, I will. And we’ll return you right back to the cycle after that.”
Jin continued smiling, unperturbed. “And around we go.”
Leona paced down the long, empty hallway as she flipped through her file in hand. As her heels clipped against the tiled floor, however, she became aware that she was being followed. An instinct. When she turned on her heels, she found the familiar, thin Saint of Passion approaching her from behind.
She greeted him with a pleasant smile as he came to a stop in front of her. “Is there something you need—”
A sharp pain exploded at her abdomen, and she looked down to find a pen embedded there.
She was better than this, she knew. The only reason he’d slipped past her defenses was because she had trusted him. An embarrassment.
“I’m sorry, Leona, but you’re just moving things along too slowly now,” the man said, pulling out the pen and catching her as she fell limp in his arms. “You should rest. I’ll take things from here.”
He picked up a photograph that had fallen out of Leona’s folder as he held her in his arms. Captured in black and white was the image of a stern-looking man dressed in a crisp Capricornian uniform. Slipping this photo into his pocket, the Saint of Passion finished with, “Let’s move up the syzygy, shall we? Capricorn seems like a good place to start.”
Part II End.