Die Hauptstadt, Capricorn
Ariesian Prince Olivier Chance was onto something. At least, he thought he was onto something. If he wasn’t actually onto something, he figured he might as well leap out the window to make up for the twelve hours he’d just wasted.
At the moment Olive resided on the third to highest floor of the Beobachter Library. It was an old building with wooden floorboards that creaked and groaned whenever Trystan Carter would walk over to bring him the books he requested. Having just brought over a rather large stack of gothic-looking books with yellowed pages, Trystan now sat across the table—reading a book instead of staring, as per Olive’s request. At the moment, the man was going through a thick anthology of Capricornian fairy tales with unusual interest.
Although Olive hated to admit it, even after holding a license for a month, he still found coming up onto these limited-access floors nerve-wracking. Everything here had an air of professionalism to it compared to the lower levels, from the robust round tables, to the glass bookcases, to the stained-glass windows, and to even the people. Suited men and suited women, scholarly and serious, threaded around the study tables around him with purpose beneath the drooping stone chandeliers that hung down from the dome-shaped ceiling. Orderly. Executive. Intimidating.
Olive wondered if this was just Capricornian design, engineering, and culture at work. Truthfully, he’d been a bit excited to come to this country. And not just for research. It was embarrassing to think about it, but he’d spent more time than he’d liked when he first came to this country admiring the old gothic-looking, gray-bricked, many-windowed buildings and ‘squareness’ found in the design of everything. He’d gotten a glimpse of this place through Werner’s memories, but it wasn’t the same as seeing it for himself.
“Excuse me, sirs,” came a voice in Common as a shadow spilled over the table, “are you foreigners?”
Glancing up, Olive found an auburn-haired young man holding a handful of pamphlets. Not waiting for an answer, the young man reached forward with one of them. Before he could deliver the item, however, Trystan grabbed him by the wrist and squeezed. The man stiffened, staring wide-eyed at Trystan. Olive nodded and signaled the guard to release his grip. Upon being freed from Trystan’s iron hold, the Capricornian offered a genial smile and handed Olive the pamphlet.
FIGHT FOR THE PEOPLE NOT FOR THE COUNTRY, it read in Common. Just below it was the image of the curly-mustached Kaiser aiming a conducting rifle at some enemy in the distance. Half of the Kaiser’s body peeled away like torn paper to reveal a skeleton hidden beneath. Part of his conducting rifle peeled away in a similar artistic style to reveal that what the Kaiser ‘truly’ held was a death certificate. Tiny letters were printed just below the image: ‘Sponsored by the Verbundene Augen.’ Beneath that print was a cartoonish drawing of an eye with three lashes.
The imagery was provocative, to say the least. The meaning was clear.
“We’re having a meeting later today,” the young man continued. “The founder—Frau Marionette Engel, I mean—won’t be on-site, but we’d appreciate all the support we can get from—”
“Who exactly do you think they’re out there fighting for?” Olive asked, glancing up at him. “It’s easy to say all this when you’re here, right?”
It wasn’t like Olive disagreed with the idea. He just disagreed with people speaking about it without doing anything about it. Empty words. Just like the politicians back home. Saints, Olive could hear them now, filibustering in the meeting chambers about the same thing over and over again without actually implementing any policies. Not that Olive himself knew any better.
For a moment, he considered crumpling the pamphlet and tossing it over his shoulder. But then he thought better of it, smoothed it onto the table, and folded it into a rectangle.
“Bookmark,” he said in Capricornian when the man arched brow.
The man frowned before walking off without another word. Olive didn’t bother watching him go and refocused his attention on his work.
Laid out on the oak table in between him and Trystan were stacks upon stacks of books and papers. Werner had synchronized with him several hours prior when Olive had initially arrived at the library and had spent several minutes organizing everything into a manageable, efficient set-up to streamline Olive’s research process. The entire thing had fallen into disarray since then but Olive figured as long as nothing was scattered on the ground it was fine.
To Olive’s left rested translated pages from Pema’s journal that he had snuck out from the Bodhi Temple in Sagittarius. As Cadence had pointed out, “They said ya can’t bring a book down. Doesn’t mean ya can’t bring a copy ya made yourself down. Loophole!”
It had been a touchy task. A risk. He was still the prince of Aries, after all. He had expectations riding on his shoulders.
But he had ta do what he had ta do.
And Olive knew he couldn’t stay cooped up in one place forever. The answers never pooled together in one place—or so was Atienna’s thought. And that line of thought had marked Olive’s decision to leave the Bodhi Temple behind.
It had taken Olive several weeks to find a library that hosted P.D. Oran’s works regarding the topic he’d taken interest in since the incident at Ophiuchus two months ago. Weeks of looping through the tightly structured bookstores of Libra, through the libraries squeezed between the weeping canals of Pisces, through the art galleries that dotted every street in Cancer, and finally to here. The capital of Capricorn.
The topic that evaded him so? That would be the one regarding the two different forms of vitae in existence. The ones Olive had known about since it was taught to him upon starting classes at the Royal University. Soft, living vitae and hard, non-living vitae.
And so Olive had turned to P.D. Oran, whose publications regarding vitae basics were taught universally in Signum. Most of P.D. Oran’s other works were censored or redacted by the Literary Department of Ophiuchus due to their provocative and anti-conductor rhetoric, insistence on the Vitae-Anima Hypothesis, and constant criticism of Ophiuchus’s state in Signum. Oran’s works regarding vitae theory beyond the basics were therefore practically non-existent. The only advanced books about it that Olive had seen were Conductors: Who is Using Who? which Atienna owned back in Virgo and the one that currently sat opened on the right side of Olive’s table. Between Vitae.
Former crime executive-turned-ELPIS leader, Francis Foxman, had told Cadence that True Conductors were like open channels, constantly accepting and releasing a flow of vitae. He’d said that normal people were not like that. He’d also obsessively talked about cycles. Olive figured it was all a metaphor, but….
There was a broken link in theory here. And Olive was certain it wasn’t on Francis’s end. The man had taken on the memories of Theta after all. And Theta probably knew a lot more about vitae than even the top professors at New Ram City’s Royal University.
That being said, the general, widely accepted belief was that vitae was merely energy—burned off after usage through a conductor—and could be replenished through ingesting soft, living vitae in food. But if the Anima-Vitae Hypothesis were true—if vitae was representative of the soul—then replenishing it seemed impossible. How could someone even replenish a soul? Quantify it? Was that why ELPIS was so against conductors—even general ones? Because it utilized ‘the soul’? And where did hard, non-living vitae fall into this? The vitae reservoirs even?
Jericho had only vague impressions of conductors being evil, and Francis still hadn’t contacted Cadence since the Twin Cities incident. No answers from the most viable sources.
And what about conductor usage? Holding the Anima-Vitae Hypothesis true, vitae returned to the cycle after it was used by a conductor, didn’t it? The only time in theory that it didn’t return to the cycle was when vitae was bleached white. So, in theory, Lavi had returned to the cycle during the Tragedy of Aries and had somehow entered him—which was an old hypothesis that Olive was on the verge of confirming. But had Lavi entered him because he was a True Conductor and had an ‘open channel’? But that was before he’d become a True Conductor.
On another note, Pema’s notes had suggested very annoyingly vaguely that her ability to conduct without a conductor—like Olive himself could—had to do with her utilizing vitae that was in a different state than soft and hard. Which was completely off the books. But P.D. Oran’s Between Vitae also stated the possibility of there being a third form of vitae that was the ‘missing link’ between soft and hard vitae. A highly-energized state of vitae.
Of course, Oran’s words bordered on the line of pseudoscience, and half of his proposals on it were denounced. Paired with Pema’s drunken ramblings, it didn’t seem very reliable, but still…
And so after constantly turning these topics over inside his head—and with Atienna’s assistance—Olive had come to develop a hypothesis over these past few weeks:
This third state of vitae mentioned in both Pema’s notes and P.D. Oran’s texts had to do something with what happened to Lavi. And that third state of vitae involved saint candidates and his own ability to conduct without a conductor.
At the thought of his sister Lavi, Olive frowned. She’d been appearing around him less and less recently. His stomach churned with worry and apprehension at the thought. He hated thinking about it. But at the same time, he was somewhat relieved by it. Lack of question and confrontation.
Stupid, Olive thought, drawing a hand down his face.
Where was the line between pseudoscience and science drawn anyway…? Reality and fantasy?
Ugh. I’m becoming like Talib… he thought.
“Olivier,” Trystan said suddenly, “I know that your research is very important to you… But I really believe you should pay the king and queen a visit, especially since you’ve managed to obtain your Conducting License. I’m certain they would be glad to receive a visit. Plus, your future prospects—”
Olive grimaced, no longer listening.
That was how it always was with Trystan nowadays. Always talking about going back home. Always wanting to push him back towards the royal palace. That had probably been Trystan’s agenda to begin with, Olive figured. Probably wanted to push his political agenda onto him. Probably the only reason Trystan had insisted on bodyguarding him.
Oh, Olive, you know it’s not like that… It’s more than that, don’t you think?
Olive shook his head. That was a stupid thought—
A woman suddenly slid into the chair across from him right beside Trystan. Her hair was wiry, her face smudged with oil, the goggles resting around her neck fogged over with soot. The overalls she wore were in a similar state.
Trystan didn’t make any moves towards the woman. Merely gave her a tight frown of disapproval.
“Well.” The woman blinked at Olive expectantly. “Let’s see it!”
Here sat the second reason for Olive being in this capital. Marta John, the Ariesian conductor engineer whose shop Olive frequented back at New Ram City whenever he’d run away from his guards. He liked her because she never cared much for his royal status nor his history and she was blunt. Several months ago, she had been called into Ophiuchus to implement her new vitae-spectrophotometer invention, and her name had been in the papers ever since.
Olive had written to Marta upon receiving his physical State Conducting License. He’d been writing to his aunt and uncle at the time and had just done it on a whim, really. And frankly, writing to Marta had been much easier than writing to his aunt and uncle. Olive hadn’t been expecting to receive a card back from her, but lo-and-behold, he did. Paired with Marta’s congratulatory letter came an invitation to the diplomatic conductor convention in Capricorn.
Two birds with one stone, Olive figured.
Olive dug into his coat pocket and pulled out the plastic card that he personally thought held too much power. His half-smiling, half-frowning portrait was captured on the left-hand side of the card while his personal details were listed to the right.
Olivier Chance / 1925 / M
License Special Class Royalty
Conducting Type Elementalist (Sub: Fire) / Intraneous User
Most used c.a. N/A
Conducting No 16-81-55-14-924
Issued Year 1941 / Expires Year 1945
The Ariesian ram horn was watermarked in red just behind the slew of information, while the Ophiuchian stamp of approval was slapped right over his portrait.
“Well, look at that…” Marta arched a brow. “You actually went out and got one. You know, I need someone to keep an eye out on my shop in New Ram City since I’ve been so popular lately. You heading back to the royal life after your research spree, or do you want a job?”
Olive gave a non-committal grunt. Not something he wanted to talk about. “So you said you’re here for that convention, right?”
Marta returned the shrug with a nod, adjusting her goggles around her neck. “Was invited by Dämon Forstchritt, leading face of Capricornian conductor engineering, herself. Head conductor engineer of the state and all that.”
“Never heard of her…” And Olive had heard of everyone in the conductor engineering sphere.
Marta nodded, half-heartedly. “Her work in previous years was mostly in the pseudoscience realm, but she’s made a name for himself recently since she’s one of the ones who helped to develop the proto-conductor.”
Olive perked up at this, frowned. “…. Literally have never heard of her.”
“Well, anyway, I’m working with her on a new project,” Marta continued. “Word is that P.D. Oran might also be involved.”
Olive recalled his encounter with the somber, reclusive, fidgety man back at the Bodhi Temple. He hadn’t seen Oran when he’d returned to the temple after completing his exam and had figured Oran was just avoiding him. Olive would’ve never guessed that Oran had returned to the public realm. Maybe to repair his reputation?
“You gonna stick around for the conductor diplomatic convention thing?”
Olive shrugged, but then paused in thought. If he could directly speak to P.D. Oran now, then maybe he could get a word in with him about Between Vitae.
“Hey…” Olive grimaced. “Look. I hate asking for favors. I’m not demanding it. Not pulling the prince card. But… do you think you could…” He grimaced harder, looked away, rubbed the back of his neck. “Can you maybe introduce me to him?”
Marta blinked, returned his earlier shrug. “Well, like I said… It’s all rumor, but I can put in a word for you. I mean, you are the Ariesian prince, like you said. Flash that badge of yours, and I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
A pressure came off of Olive’s chest. “Thank—”
A sharp prick at the base of his palm cut Olive off short. He gripped his right hand with a wince before glancing down.
Absolutely nothing. Dead silence. Radio static.
Olive’s ears rang as he came to realize he could no longer feel or hear any of the others. It was like a void had opened up and swallowed them whole leaving him completely—
Before he could digest the feeling, his shoulder suddenly erupted with burning pain—like it was on fire. He tumbled out of his seat and onto the floor sending the papers cluttering his study table fluttering into the air. Trystan shouted in alarm before coming to his side.
“Your Highness! Your Highness!”
Olive had told Trystan many times not to call him that. But he couldn’t even focus on grumbling about it because—
There was that all-consuming, deathly silence. And the terrible burning heat eating away at his shoulder.
Olive stared wide-eyed at the high-rise ceiling as the papers rained down around him. Some of the pages caught the light spilling in from the stained-glass windows, causing several words to become illuminated,
The pain felt exactly like the pain he’d felt when he’d fallen out onto the brick pathway outside the Royal University over half a year ago. The memory forced its way into Olive’s mind, painting over the library’s ceiling, over Trystan’s concern, over Marta’s alarm.
The memory of air that was no longer thin and dry but heavy and cold. The memory of a dimming sun. The memory of shouting guards. The memory of thinking it was all a bother.
The present returned a beat later as Trystan and Marta’s shouts rang in his ear. And then, she finally appeared before him.
As he lay on the floor, her dark hair fell like a canopy over his face as darkness crept in at the corners of his vision. He couldn’t help but think the reason she was here was to watch this unfold—
What? No. He couldn’t. Lavi. The others. Trystan.
He had to fight.
“No, Ollie, it’s too late,” Lavi whispered down to him.
Her dark hair dragged him into black.
Twin Cities, Gemini
“Again! Again! Again!”
Ariesian-Geminian, part-time swindler Cadence Morello clawed her way out from beneath the tangle of arms and limbs as she gasped for air. Her assailants were cruel, however, dragging her back into their clutches as they stomped on her legs and shoulders.
“Again! Come on, Cadence! Do it one more time! Please?”
The dock warehouse’s metal walls and closed windows threw back their sadistic cries at her.
“Ya know, just because I can make myself look like a horse doesn’t mean I’m actually one!”
“Giddyap! Giddyap!” were their responses to that as they pounded on her back.
A creaking paired with a soft gust of wind indicated that the warehouse doors had been opened. Twin shadows spilled over Cadence’s face.
“Cadence,” was the first greeting.
“Good to see you’re in good company, Cadence,” was the second paired with deep laughter and a grin.
Cadence cracked open an eye, flashing that same grin back in the latter speaker’s direction. “‘Course—oh, wait! Carl, were ya serious when ya told me that you were gettin’ the kids a buncha candy from Ferrari’s store?”
Carl arched a brow. “What are you talkin’ about—”
Hook. Line. Sinker.
“Candy!” the children screeched as they scrambled off of Cadence’s body and mobbed Carl with their tiny fingers.
Carl let out a shout of alarm, stumbling backwards as they dangled from his arms, clung to his waist, darted between his legs.
Cadence picked herself up off the ground, dusted off her beaten suit, and stepped into place beside Allen. She watched with a cheery-eyed amusement as Carl transformed from a crime executive into the best new playground on the block. All without a conductor.
“Ya know,” she said to Allen, “for all that complainin’ that Carl did about Maria only takin’ the older bunch of kids, he gets along with ‘em all better than the both of us. Think it’s ‘cause they’re on the same wavelength?”
Allen gave a noncommittal grunt.
Carl spent five minutes trudging back and forth across the warehouse with the children acting as ball-and-chain before finally handing off the babysitting task to two of his lackeys who happened to enter the warehouse just then. Maximillian and Stefano. Poor saps. As Carl stomped away from the children and approached them, Cadence offered a smirk and a tip of her hat.
“Business ain’t good, Cadence,” Allen said suddenly. “We’re barely reigning in profit at this point. People’ve been conservative with spending since what happened with ELPIS. We’d be more than comfortable if we were just looking out for ourselves, but…” He eyed the children who were dragging Maximillian and Stefano to the ground.
Cadence glanced at him. “What are ya suggestin’, Allen…?”
“Ain’t gonna break the deal with Francis,” Allen explained. “But we gotta find a different way to deal with this. Another business opportunity. Something.”
Damn. Back to the black path?
Cadence figured she could probably take a couple more odd jobs here and there. Maybe even one from Fortuna. But the caveat of it all was that if she found herself kicking it with a not-so-nice employer, she actually had something they could use against her this time. Something to really lose. Something other than… Alma.
“Any word from Nico?” asked Carl. “From your weird psychic-link thing?”
Allen and Carl were both privy to her status as a True Conductor. They’d nonchalantly asked her about it the last time they’d met up with Francis at the Sognare two months ago. And she’d told them. They didn’t know more than the fact that she was connected to five other people across Signum and that ELPIS didn’t like True Conductors much, but the two brothers didn’t bother asking too many questions.
Accept everything. Reject nothing. Twin Cities motto.
“Geeze, not so loud, Carl. Anyone ever tell ya that ya’d make a terrible spy?”
“That’s why I wasn’t born as a Manipulator.”
“And how would ya know that if ya never used a conductor or one of ‘em V-Type Tests before?”
“Can feel it in my bones. Hell, you’ve never takin’ one either. Why you boggin’ me?”
Cadence chortled. “Well, just wanted ta point out that ya can make a bangin’ cens if ya sell that skill on the market. Probably.”
“Cadence.” Allen frowned.
She rolled her neck in thought.
Nico, unlike them, had made a successful escape from the city. Nothing holding him back here anymore. The past buried behind him. In between the Foxmans, Nico, Fortuna, and herself, Cadence wondered if Nico had somehow managed to get the best hand in the game. But good for him. Right?
She sighed. “Doesn’t look Nico’s comin’ back any time soon. He’s in the deep necka the woods. Fully into his combat medic life.”
Allen took out a v-cig and shook it. Took a drag. “Could really use his help. ‘Specially with the sick kids. ‘Least he won’t charge like a damn debt collector like his father.”
Cadence absentmindedly played with the rim of her hat as she listened to the children squealing. Finally, she said, “Hate to say it, but it looks like Nico’s moved on—”
She was cut off as a sharp pain pricked her right palm. Swearing, she doubled over and cradled her hand.
“The hell, Cadence?” asked Carl.
“It’s nothin’.” Cadence waved him off as she studied her bare, unblemished palm. “Looks like the oberleutnant got a minor injury is all.”
I will enter.
Suddenly, Cadence found herself face-first on the floor. Her limbs ached, her chest burned, her eyes stung. It felt she had just been pounded against the ground. Almost like when Feliciano and his gooks had nearly beaten her—Werner—within an inch of her life. No. Like when she’d been thrown sideways by that explosive conductor in the TwinStars Pub months ago. Back when this whole schtick began.
With a hell of a lot of effort, she cracked open her eyes. Allen, Carl, and a ring of children were looking down at her.
Did one of the others—
She couldn’t hear or feel any of the others. A nauseating, dizzying sensation. Like she’d been pushed down into an endless abyss. Stomach-flipping, puke-inducing. Not pretty. She wanted to puke so bad but everything hurt so much that she couldn’t. She wished someone would just knock her out to put her out of her misery.
“Cadence! What’s goin’ on with you?!” came a shout from one of the faces above.
She couldn’t quite make out their expressions anymore. They were all clouded over by a memory. A memory of air that was clouded in smoke. A shroud of it, suffocating her with its gray hands.
She couldn’t breathe.
Not only that.
She couldn’t move.
Really, just like that time when it all began in the burning TwinStars Pub over half a year ago.
Memories of flames danced on the outskirts of her vision. In her mind’s eye, those flickering embers were reflected in the shards of glass scattered around her.
No. It couldn’t be. Not like this. Not when she had all these people to take care of, all these people relying on her. Not when she’d made that promise with Francis.
She gagged, hacked, coughed.
The last thing that crept into Cadence’s mind as the past blurred into reality was an unnerving distorted image.
Captured in those shards of glass on the bar floor in her memory was the reflection of dozens of eyes all gazing back at her.
3 thoughts on “14.2: Prince & Swindler, 0000 False Ignorance”
maybe the Saint of Passion can force someone to relive an event?
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Mmm good theory 😉
ohhh what’s going on.
[[[“No, Ollie, it’s too late,” Lavi whispered down to him]]]
I feel bad but I have been having some doubt that Lavi is not fully team Olive but instead is team syzygy
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