17.4: Prince, 1700 No Longer Human

Re-cap:

Olive, Trystan, Gilbert, Stein, Brandt, Claire, and Nico have fallen down into the facility beneath 43rd Street after suppressing an apparent reservoir leak. Already beneath 43rd are peacekeepers Gabrielle, Talib, Alice, and ELPIS leader Francis who have been directed here by Marta. 


Nicht Mehr Menschlich » No longer human. 1700 hours.

When Olive cracked open his eyes, he was met with gentle, pale rose light. A dimly lit ceiling hung low over his face, and something soft was cushioning the back of his head. It took him a moment to realize his head was resting on Trystan’s lap, and that the light was emitting from a flame-tipped arrow held in Trystan’s hands.

“Are you alright, Olivier?” Trystan asked, face eclipsing his own.

Olive popped up to sit with a groan as he cradled his pulsating shoulder and abdomen. He opened his mouth to respond but ended up in a coughing spasm. No matter how hard he hacked, the itch in his throat and chest would not subside.

“Don’t be so dramatic.”

Olive glanced to his left through heaving tears to find a man sitting there cross-legged. It was… Stein? Olive wanted to tell the man “don’t be so creepy” but couldn’t get the words out.

A pair of footsteps approached them, and a shadow passed over him—Gilbert, flask of water in one hand and gun in the other.

“Are you still the kid?” he asked as he offered the flask.

Olive grabbed it, took four large gulps, before heaving as his coughing subsided. He handed the flask back with a thank you before scanning the area. He could barely see anything past the small flame Trystan was producing from his arrow. Several feet away, he could faintly make out Nico, Claire, and Brandt standing in a circle.

After inspecting his hand to confirm that the proto-conductor ring was regrettably no longer there, he asked, “What’s going on?”

Gilbert pointed to the ceiling. “The floor caved in. Looks like we fell into the sewers. Turning out to be a fantastic leave.”

Olive scrambled to his feet, nearly knocking his head against not the ceiling but a low hanging slab of rock propped up by a cement pillar. He dusted his clothes with disgust and wiped at the back of his pants. He tested his chest pocket and felt the pocket watch still there.

“Never gotten a little of dirt on you?” Gilbert snorted.

“It’s supposedly a sewer system,” Trystan said as he helped Olive dust himself off. “But I don’t see any indication of that.”

“Do you have any other name to call it?” Gilbert challenged.

Trystan frowned at him.

“Anyway, we’re lucky no one got hurt,” Gilbert continued. “You’ve been out for a couple of hours.” He thumbed Claire, Brandt, and Nico. “They found a maybe way out about half an hour ago. We’ve been waiting for you.”

Olive grumbled, “Well, thanks for waiting.”

Gilbert snorted. “This is a pretty sorry casket.

Continuing to snicker at his unhilarious joke, Gilbert guided them to where the others were gathered. As Olive approached them, he formed a small ball of vitae flame with his hand for light. The enclosed space caused the smell of smoke to intensify, and Olive had to suppress the urge to gag. As he tried to keep the flame steady, his shoulder began to pulsate painfully and the world around him swam. He staggered slightly, extinguishing the flame and gripping his shoulder.

“It’s alright, Olivier,” Trystan said, looking back at him with concern and holding up his flame-tipped arrow. “I’ll light the way for us.”

“We should probably take it easy after all that vitae we expelled anyways, Ollie,” Claire added helpfully. “And good morning by the way.” He pointed to the wall behind him and added with a sheepish chuckle, “You came just in time. We were trying to figure out who should go through the wall first…”

It wasn’t so much a wall but a series of cement blocks that had fallen on top of one another. A very narrow hole opened up in between the layers of debris near the floor—barely large enough to fit someone of his current stature.

Olive grimaced.

* * *

After crawling through the small space for what seemed like hours, they pulled out of the opposite end and found themselves in a dark hall lined with metal doors. Large gray pipes and insulating cables slinked along the ceiling and walls giving the hall the illusion that it was much smaller than it actually was.

‘Sewers.’ Right.

Gilbert tried the first door to their left to no avail, Stein the second, and Brandt the third. As Olive approached the fourth door along the wall, he stopped short as whispering reached his ears. For a hopeful moment, he thought it was one of the other five finally cracking through the override. The next moment saw to him realizing that the whispering was resounding behind the door.

“Well, that’s creepy,” Claire noted helpfully from beside him.

Trystan immediately pulled Olive back by the shoulder and held out a halting hand. Always so dramatic.

Once the others had gathered around, Trystan began to push the metal door open. It was heavy, old, so it scraped along the ground and creaked at its hinges. The whispering stopped immediately.

Stein, Brandt, and Gilbert exchanged looks before Gilbert gave a two-fingered signal. They then drew out their blade conductors and handguns causing Olive to grimace. With that, Trystan pushed the door open fully and they stepped collectively inside.

The room itself was dimly lit by a small glass tube running from ceiling to ground perpendicular along the wall. A drip-dripping sound that Olive couldn’t pinpoint the source of filled in the otherwise silent room. An iron smell paired with a poignant sour stench permeated the air. The scents seemed to increase the weight of the dark, musty gloom that blanketed everything in sight. Two figures were moving nervously around in that gloom at the far corner of the room. 

Olive tensed as one of them stepped forward hesitantly and called out— “Trystan?”

Olive squinted as Trystan held his arrow out further into the dark revealing the face of the one approaching them.

“Marta…?” Olive whispered incredulously.

Marta ran to Trystan swiftly. “What are you doing here? Did you come because of the peacekeepers? Did they send you?”

Her voice was shaking, her fingers trembling. There were dark circles beneath her eyes, and her usually frizzy hair was dampened down to her scalp. Nothing like the wiry, bright woman Olive had secretly admired.

“You know each other?” Gilbert asked, glancing between them.

Trystan frowned. “Yes, she and the prince are familiar with each other. She’s a conductor engineer from New Ram City… What are you doing here, Marta?”

“This…” Marta swallowed. “…is where I work… There was a vitae leak in the facility so I came back from the convention to fix it. It’s controlled now but…”

“That was you?” Gilbert arched a brow. “And you work for…?”

“Under Dämon Forstchritt for the Capricornian government.”

Gilbert merely said, “Fuck…”

Wait—‘we’…?

Olive squinted past Marta towards the figure squirming behind her. Unlike the first time he had encountered this man, Olive recognized him as soon as his face peeled out from the dark. P.D. Oran in the flesh.

“Holy shit,” Gilbert muttered as he registered Oran. “You’re the guy.”

P.D. Oran stared at them in wide-eyed panic. “Why are you here? You have to leave.”

Gilbert arched a brow. “Well, that’s what we’re trying to do—”

“What is this…?” came a hiss.

Olive glanced over and found Brandt standing by the light source in the room. There was something in the corner there, he realized. A vaguely humanoid shape curled up on itself. Heart pounding, Olive approached the light source with Trystan at his feet and the others not so far behind.

Cowering in the corner there Olive found a young woman chained by suppression-cuff-like shackles to the tube of light—no, the tube of vitae. Her hair was dark and matted, her vaguely recognizable military uniform rotting around the cuffs. Barely visible below the nape of her neck glowed a white snake tattoo. Dark crescent half-moons hung below her eyes, and a cloth was tied steadfastly over her mouth.

Brandt removed her gag, and she blinked weakly at him as she coughed.

“I asked you what this is,” Brandt demanded, snapping to a stand and glowering at Oran and Marta. “What the hell are you doing down here?”

Saints. Brandt, calm down,” Gilbert said, placing a hand on the man’s shoulder as he sank down in front of the woman. He undid the cap on his flask and pressed the bottle to her lips. “What’s your name?”

“K… Kappa,” the woman managed after she took a painful sip.

“You’re with ELPIS, right? What’s a terrorist like you doing chained up here?” Gilbert asked casually. When he received no response, he turned to Marta and Oran. “You heard the man. What’s going on here?”

Marta swallowed, shaking her head. “I’m not sure. We usually don’t have access to this hall. We were only able to get here because the entire structure collapsed.” She wrung her hands. “We were… trying to help her.”

Olive looked to Marta worriedly.

Kappa glowered but then looked away as she muttered something in a language Olive couldn’t understand.

“We should bring her with us out of here,” Brandt said, testing the shackles. “We… could bring her in for questioning.”

“I…” Olive swallowed. “I… agree—”

“No. I won’t make it,” Kappa interjected. “I can’t use my legs. And I’m not answering any questions from anyone who uses those things.” She glared at the conductor in Gilbert’s hand.

Olive’s gaze trailed to the woman’s legs which were hidden by the gloom. He didn’t want to inspect further and looked away with a grimace. As much as held ELPIS in contempt, he didn’t think anyone deserved to be treated so inhumanly. And who was behind his? The Capricornian government?

Kappa turned to Brandt. “Just kill me. There’s nothing of me left. There’s no point.”

Brandt opened his mouth in protest but—

“You heard her, Brandt,” Gilbert said. “Not the killing part but we need to find a way out of here before we start playing hero. We’ll double back.”

Brandt hesitated before nodding.

Kappa dipped her head with a grimace.

“We…” Olive tried. “We’ll come back for you.”

Kappa lifted her head before smiling thinly. “What? Are you Capricornians…? I feel sorry for you. You’re all fools.”

“The hell is that supposed to mean?” Gilbert arched a brow.

“Better to see it for yourself,” Kappa replied.

Stein cracked his knuckles and stepped forward with a growl, but was stopped short by a hand on the shoulder from Brandt.

After waving the two men off and away, Gilbert nodded at Marta and jerked his thumb back to the doorway. “Mind showing us a way out of here?”

Marta tensed before nodding. As she and Oran led them back out to the hall, Olive glanced over his shoulder back towards Kappa hesitantly. He saw Brandt doing the same.

After peeling out into the hall, they were led past a series of archways that dripped with water and a dark room littered with broken glass. As they entered another hall at the end of this dark room, they saw faint, warm light pouring in from the opposite end.

“Finally,” Gilbert muttered.

“That’s not the exit,” Marta whispered to them. “That light is from the… vitae we have stored here… but there should be a door leading up and out from it if it hasn’t collapsed…” 

That wasn’t very reassuring…

“Stored vitae? A reservoir?” Gilbert pressed, ignoring the latter remark.

“No.”

As they continued forward, whispering filtered down towards them. Gilbert again signaled for Brandt, Nico, and Stein to ready their weapons before they crept forward together. At the end of the hall, they found an open doorway with a door barely hanging by its hinges. They filtered inside slowly, cautiously, Gilbert leading the front and Olive and Claire at the rear.

The room was littered with papers, fallen piping, and scattered insulation tubes. The source of light and warmth was emitting from the glass cases built into the walls. Swirling pools of vitae. One of the cases swimming with vitae, Olive noted, looked as if it had been cracked and fused back together with heat.

Three figures wearing suits hovered around a desk at the center of the room. White bands were wrapped around their arms. Two familiar women, and one very vaguely familiar-looking man. Laying on the desk the peacekeepers gathered around was another vaguely familiar-looking unconscious man dressed in a suit jacket.

The peacekeeper who had tensed and had lifted a conductor-glove at their entry stopped short and stared. “Trystan? Haneul?”

“Gabrielle…?” Trystan returned the stare in confusion before glancing down at Olive. “What—”

“Francis?!” Nico cried in horror as he rushed over to the unmoving man’s side. “What happened? What did you do to him?”

Francis. The man lying on the table was Francis. Francis, who was important to Cadence. Olive realized he had almost forgotten that fact, and that fact terrified him.

“We didn’t do anything,” Alice informed him calmly, coolly, arms crossed. “He was knocked unconscious by the debris after a—” Her eyes narrowed and she calmly gestured to the fused-looking glass container “—vitae leak sprung from the containers here.” She studied the container with a frown. “It somehow returned to the container, and we managed to reseal it.”

“Yeah, the entrance is blocked, and he was our ticket out of here so we’re stuck in a situation. But the real question here is what are you all doing down here?” Gabrielle glanced at Nico who was testing Francis’s pulse. “Are you from the Twin Cities?”

Nico nodded, clearly distracted, before moving to inspect Francis’s temple which was nicked by a small gash.

“And why are you with the Capricornian military?”

Nico froze.

“Trystan?” Gabrielle pressed. “Mind telling us what’s going on?”

Olive tensed when Trystan looked at him. After a moment of thought, he gave the guard a nod of approval.

“I believe we encountered vitae from the leak above. It reacted strangely to the vitae coming from our conductors so we attempted to… lure it—for the lack of a better word—to an unpopulated area which happened to be 43rd Street. The ground was weak, and we fell through and found ourselves here.”

“I see…” Gabrielle walked abruptly up to Olive causing him to stiffen. “I can tell that you’re the highest-ranking one here. What rank are you?”

“First lieutenant,” Olive answered, suppressing a grimace.

“I guess that means you probably wouldn’t understand what’s going on here then. Not far enough up the ladder. Well, neither am I apparently,” Gabrielle said, crossing her arms. She nodded at Marta then at Oran. “You got here quick, Marta. You could’ve given us a tour of this place yourself instead of sending us on a wild goose chase. I see you’ve got popular company too. 

P.D. Oran gave Marta a wide-eyed stare as Marta tensed.

“Well, we’re here.” Gabrielle gestured widely. “Mind telling us why you invited us?”

Marta paled even further and looked around at everyone nervously.

“We don’t have any of those tattoos,” Gabrielle interjected. “We’re not being manipulated.”

She knew?

“We don’t have the tattoos either,” Olive added. “The scorpion tattoos.”

Gabrielle’s brows rose as she studied him. “Well… it looks like we’re more on the same page than I thought.” Glancing at Marta again, she pressed, “Well?”

After a beat, Marta shakily swallowed and started the explanation off by affirming the truth in the Anima-Vitae Hypothesis. She elaborated on the existence of multiple energy levels of vitae and how the highest level functioned—attracted to vitae particles of the same energy level and unable to ‘return to the cycle’. She then explained the ability of weaponized conductors to elevate energy levels with a 0.30 probability.

Olive was secretly satisfied at how close his theories were and felt a bit of pride too. All of these feelings, however, were overshadowed by the reality of what this all meant.

“Yes, I got that already. Mr. Foxman here explained that bit to us,” Gabrielle replied with a frown. “Apparently he and his buddies were the ones who developed half the theories we have today, but that’s not what I’m asking you.”

Olive blinked. What? ELPIS developed the theories? Would Francis know about a way to help Lavi then…?

Gabrielle kicked at a stack of papers at her feet sending them fluttering into the air. “What I want to know is what this is all about. My reading comprehension in Capricornian is pretty good, but maybe I’m a bit rusty. So, just help me clarify if what I’ve been reading is true. It’s what you asked me to come here for, isn’t it?”

Marta took a step backwards, before balling her fists. “I didn’t join until the end… but… we’ve been working together with Dämon Forstchritt on a government-funded project to create a conductor capable of overcoming the barrier to the fourth-highest energy level of vitae… We’ve successfully increased the mid-level, soft vitae to volatile, high-level vitae conversion rate to 90% without risking the vitae slipping down an energy level excessively.”

“And how did you do it?” Gabrielle pressed.

Marta bit her lip, fists clenching tighter.

“I asked you how you did it!” Gabrielle seethed.

Olive startled. He’d never heard Gabrielle sound so angry before. With slight alarm and concern, he studied the peacekeeper cautiously—only to have the emotions become redirected to Marta when he registered the latter’s expression.

Tears spilled from Marta’s eyes as she buried her face into the crook of her elbow. “By using people who are still alive!”

What?

“The reason why weaponized conductors can’t convert vitae in the person they’re used on fully to the fourth energy level… is because…” Marta took in a deep breath. “… is because when a weaponized conductor is used, a person usually dies. That returns their vitae to the lowest e-energy level … But… but if the vitae in a person who was still alive was directly… somehow directly…” She fell silent, wringing her hands again.

“Just spit it out already,” Stein growled irritably.

Marta practically shouted, “We increase the vitae particles in a living person directly beyond the fourth energy level of vitae. That way we make sure that it’ll be converted. The particles at this super-level are unstable so they naturally lower until they reach the fourth level of energy—the level of energy for the vitae reservoirs.

“What the fuck…?” Gilbert muttered.

Marta continued, nearly hysterical, “The super-elevated vitae particles react to particles in the soft vitae state and pass energy onto them and elevate them to the same state—over and over again until all the particles lose enough energy to fall back into the fourth-level state. That’s why I ran back here. If the vitae came in contact with any living thing then—then—”

“… then they would’ve been converted?” Olive whispered.

“But we managed to bring the vitae back,” Oran stammered, gesturing to the glass case. “There’s a fail-safe mechanism. It’s okay.”

“Ethics aside,” Alice interjected, “do you understand how dangerous this is?”

Marta grimaced. “Yes. I know. That’s why I—”

“They’re still conscious,” Gabrielle pressed, eyes narrowed. “Aren’t they?”

Oran stepped, shaking his head and raising his hands. “No, no, no, we don’t have any evidence of that. And… they knew that they were going to be used like that. They signed an agreement—”

Talib and Alice exchanged looks with a frown.

“Oh, I’ve had my fair share of speaking with so-called ethical conductor engineers,” Gabrielle muttered, “but you take the cake.”

“They forced us to!” Oran argued. “We had no choice. We—”

Olive’s gaze was slowly drawn to the vitae swirling in the resealed glass container on the wall. The conversation faded as he became hyper-focused on the barely audible sound emanating from the case. It almost sounded like groaning.

A wave of nausea rolled over him as bile climbed up from his stomach and hit the back of his throat. Guided by a sudden urge to save face for Werner, he briskly walked out of the room and into the dark hall outside before he pressed himself against the wall and heaved and heaved and heaved. He continued heaving until his stomach and eyes burned.

It didn’t make sense. Why would someone make something like this? How could a conductor like this even exist? Conductors could do so much more—more than being weapons. He’d childishly dreamed when he was younger of creating some vague conductor capable of improving life for everyone somehow. Why would anyone…?

Footsteps approached him from behind.

Olive pressed his head against the wall and felt the cool seep into his forehead as he recollected himself. He turned. “Trystan, I—”

Olive stopped short. The silhouette standing before him had a much larger and taller frame than Trystan. Tensing, Olive squinted past the dark.

“Brandt…?”

Suddenly the silhouette lunged at him and threw him against the wall before forcing him to the ground. Olive barely had the time to register what was happening before fingers curled around his throat.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Brandt whispered, eyes wide as he tightened his grip. “I should’ve done this before. But you can’t—you can’t. It’s gone too far. Lieutenant, a True Conductor like you can’t—”

Olive clawed at Brandt’s hands as his vision swam. He couldn’t breathe—he couldn’t breathe—just like back then.

Burn him. Burn him. Burn—

No, no, shut up—

A flash of pale tangerine light suddenly burst out from behind Brandt. A soft click! followed.

“What do you think you’re doing?” came a familiar voice.

Brandt turned his head, revealing the figure standing there. It was Francis, silver-pistol in hand, gaze unreadable.

“Release him,” Francis said as he cocked the gun.

Footsteps resounded from behind Francis as Gilbert, Stein, Alice, and Nico filtered out from the room. Grimacing, Brandt lifted his hands into the air and backed away on his knees.

Trystan darted to Olive’s side immediately, guided him up to a stand, and glowered at Brandt. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I-I’m fine…” Olive rubbed his throat.

Nico joined his side and inspected his throat before turning tentatively towards Francis.

“What the hell is this?” Gilbert snapped as he stormed over and dragged Brandt up to a stand. “What the hell is a matter with you, Brandt—”

“Who are you?” Francis interjected calmly. When Brandt didn’t reply, Francis drew his thumb across his cheek, rubbed away whatever was coating his skin there, and partially revealed the snake tattoo hiding beneath it.

Brandt’s eyes widened. “Theta…?”

Gilbert stiffened. “Brandt, You’re one of them…?”

Stein tackled Brandt to the ground before anything else could be said. “How long?!” He swung a fist, then another one—sickening crack after sickening crack. “I asked you how fucking long!”

“F-From the very beginning!” Brandt choked out, flailing as he tried to catch Stein’s swings. “Before we even met!”

“So you were playing with us?!” Stein growled, grabbing him by the scruff. “Why the fuck did you invite me to have dinner with your parents, you sick fuck—they aren’t even your parents! What about your damned fiancée!” He went in a tirade in harsh Capricornian before he spat in Common—“You fucking let Vogt die, you bastard, didn’t you?!”

Brandt glowered back. “They are my parents! That is my fiancée! And—” He shook his head. “There was no hope for Otto. He lost too much blood. I know you’re grieving but he returned to the cycle—”

“Grieving? Cycle?” Stein spit in the man’s face. “I’ll show you a fucking cycle.” He lifted his fist one last time, but before he was able to deliver the blow, a hand around the wrist stopped him short.

Gabrielle stood behind him, gripping his wrist tightly with a frown. “That’s far enough.”

“Enough, dammit,” Gilbert snapped, darting over and pulling Stein off Brandt and away from Gabrielle. “Cool it, you hear me, Stein?” He then stared down at Brandt with a grimace before he glanced back up at Olive. “Are you alright, kid?”

“I said I was fine…” Olive mumbled, trying his best not to look at Brandt’s bloodied face.

“Mr. Brandt, is it?” Francis interjected. “What name did you choose?”

“…Zu.”

Francis’s eyes widened slightly.

“That’s the reaction I should be giving you,” Brandt muttered, eyeing the gun. “You’re…”

“Yes. I’m different.” Francis regarded him for a beat before gesturing loosely to Olive. “Zu, you will make no more attempts on this man’s life. Although I’m not the leader now, I was the elected leader previously. Will you accept?”

Brandt,” Brandt interjected, wiping some of the blood dribbling from his nose. “It’s Alwin Brandt… and…” He hesitated. “Okay. Understood. Good.”

Really?” Gilbert recoiled with incredulity before running his hand down on his face. “Get the fuck up.”

Brandt obeyed.

Francis lowered his gun. “How did you come here, Mr. Brandt? I wasn’t made aware that you were initiated. The others aren’t aware of you either.”

Brandt grimaced. “I wasn’t initiated correctly. I don’t remember much. Just flashes and maybe… some feelings. All I knew when I woke up was that conductors and True Conductors were bad… but I don’t know why. It drove me insane. Whoever initiated me didn’t wait around to see whether or not I was initiated properly. Took my resistor with them. Honestly, by the look of things, I doubt there’s enough of me for another round.”

Nico frowned almost sympathetically while Stein continued to glower.

“I wasn’t sure what to do,” Brandt continued. “I thought I’d figure out what was going on if I waited long enough for you or one of the others to come by. I ended up joining the Capricornian army in the meantime because it was originally what Brandt—I— wanted to do but…” He shook his head. “I thought I’d be able to figure out what was going on after I realized Pi was initiated into Major Ersatz but—”

Gilbert and Stein exchanged a look.

“Something happened. His initiation was faulty too. He…. He was unstable—”

“You fucking knew Ersatz was a fucked bastard and you just acted like you had no clue?” Stein hissed. “I would’ve shot you down instead of the Aquarians!”

“Stein, cool it,” Gilbert repeated.

“Who else is here?” Brandt tried tentatively. “Omicron—”

Francis’s brows furrowed, and he looked away. “Her resistor was destroyed during an incident involving the Twin Cities. She has passed.”

“I’m sorry, Theta. I… I had no idea.”

“Those who are here that I’m aware of are the new Pi—”

Gilbert and Stein exchanged looks again.

“—who is working alongside me. Gamma, Kappa, Tau, and Iota are also here—though I have yet to meet this Kappa. I’m not with the others at the moment. My viewpoint regarding our objective… has shifted—”

“Iota isn’t active anymore,” Brandt interjected.

“Oh, right, you probably’re the one who let her go, aren’t you?” Stein sneered. “Gotta be buddy-buddy with the rest of your lot.”

“No, that’s not it.” Brandt frowned. “You always jump to conclusions without thinking, Stein. That’s why all of your hook-ups are one-nighters.”

“What the hell did you sa—”

Brandt dug into his uniform pocket and pulled out a glowing object. A knife with a clear glass hand filled to the brim with white light. “This is Iota’s. We encountered each other on the way here and she gave this to me for safe-keeping when I revealed who I was.” He glanced at Stein then Gilbert. “She’s returned to her resistor. I’m not sure if this was before or after she ‘escaped.’”

Francis nodded in thought. “Contradictorily, I believe her returning was the best route. Iota’s faulty initiation led to a great instability she was unable to overcome…”

“And Kappa…” Brandt continued, handing the resistor over to Francis. “She’s here. I didn’t have a good look—I don’t think I would know even if I did—but she’s been locked up. I think Scorpio’s been harvesting her vitae. I’m not sure what for, but…”

Scorpio…?

“To fill proto-conductors most likely.” Francis’s eyes narrowed, closing his hands around the resistor. “I’ll retrieve her—”

Gabrielle interjected, “So they’re using this Kappa’s vitae to make it seem like ELPIS is working along with the Verbundene Augen movement.”

“It appears so.”

There was a beat of silence.

“So what happens to me now?” Brandt muttered. “I think this is the last time for me. There’s not enough of my vitae left.” He tapped his upper arm. “Are you going to finish my initiation then or…?”

“It’s not my decision to make, Mr. Brandt,” Francis responded calmly, “whether you join Gamma—which I recommend against given Gamma’s current ideals regarding incorrect initiations—or me or choose to stay here. Of course, your group accepting you is a separate matter.”

“We’re not fucking taking you back,” Stein spat.

Francis blinked at Stein. “You have an unpleasant way of speaking. If you’re afraid, you needn’t worry. There won’t be an incident like this again—”

“Francis…” came a tentative voice to Olive’s left.

Francis turned his head, frowned slightly before recognition flickered in his eyes. “Nico…?”

Nico looked him up and down. “Er… sorry. I know this isn’t the time, but it’s good to see you.”

Francis stared for a beat before nodding. Abruptly, Nico closed the distance between them and wrapped Francis in a tight embrace.

Francis stiffened before he slowly returned the gesture. When he pulled away, he offered an amiable smile. “Wow, you’ve gotten fit. Maybe we should enlist Carl. The doc told him he needed to get his cholesterol and weight in check about six months ago, I think. He hasn’t been keeping to it.”

Nico brightened immediately, hopefully. “After what happened back home… I thought you’d be… I don’t know. You look fine—like yourself. The tattoo…”

Francis drew a thumb across his cheek, smudging away the rest of the pigmented dust there and revealing the white snake underneath.

Nico’s face fell. “Francis… I’m sorry…”

“What? What for?”

Nico remained silent.

“No need to look glum,” Francis replied. “I’m still me.” He then turned to the rest of them and offered a polite smile that seemed out of place in the situation. “If I recall correctly, you’re the gentlemen—the Capricornians—that we were doing business with before…” His gaze stopped short on Olive. “And you—according to Mr. Brandt here—you’re a True Conductor.”

Trystan tensed, holding him back with an arm.

“It’s fine.” Olive swallowed, brushing Trystan’s arm aside. He looked over Francis slowly and muttered, “I… I’m connected to Cadence. If you… remember her. She was ‘here’ before me, and I’m stuck here now. Locked in. If you know anything about it.”

Francis’s eyes widened before he exchanged a look with Nico. He then turned back to Olive and smiled kindly—not quite the polite smile that Olive recalled him giving strangers or business associates. “Yes, I remember Cadence. And you are?”

Olive hesitated, glancing back towards Gabrielle and Alice. Maybe doing this privately would be—

“They’re very aware of the nature of True Conductors,” Francis reassured him. “If there were such a thing as a trustworthy peacekeeper, perhaps I would consider them to be just that. I’ve done business with Miss Law as well.”

After a beat of hesitation and exchanging a look with Trystan, Olive answered, “Olivier. Olivier Chance.”

Alice and Gabrielle startled and exchanged looks with a frown.

“Are you saying that you’re…?” Gabrielle trailed off, staring holes into him as she took a step forward.

Olive scowled in response.

Gabrielle’s eyes widened, and then she pinched the bridge of her nose with a sigh. “I need a drink.”

Olive felt his cheeks pinken.

What was her problem? She was always like this.

Francis nodded. “Ah. The Ariesian prince. The one Gamma encountered in New Ram City. I heard very briefly about you—before Gamma tried to kill me, of course.” He extended his hand. “May I see what I’m sure you’re aware of that is causing this issue?”

Despite seeing Trystan tense out of the corner of his eye, Olive extended his marked palm out for Francis who accepted and inspected it. The man’s frown deepened, and Olive could tell he was looking at the scars.

“So this is the entry point. Interesting… The scorpion mark seems only half-complete. Perhaps, Scorpio is marking what he views as his progress. That is the one who did this, by the way. The Saint Candidate of Scorpio—the Saint of Passion.”

Scorpio?

“So,” Olive tried, “this mark is on people who’re being manipulated or who’re mediums?”

“The mark is superficial. It has nothing to do with the actual manipulation.”

“Then… it’s possible for someone who’s being manipulated to be running out there without this tattoo thing…”

“Yes, it’s possible, but it would most likely not occur.” Francis locked eyes with him. “Scorpio is too egotistical and vain to not leave a mark.” He pulled back slightly, studied Olive, before looking to Brandt. “Children rulers… We eliminated this issue centuries ago, but it seems as if the problem has resurfaced yet again. Troubling… though perhaps it’s better to set that situation aside for now.”

“That’s how a lot of things are turning out,” Brandt replied.

“Shut the fuck up,” Stein snapped.

Olive grimaced.

“Easy, Stein. Anyway, nice monologue—Francis, was it? Nice change in occupation by the way.” Gilbert nodded. “You sound like an expert on all this and like you’ve got beef with the person who did this—which I like—so how do we fix this? He’s stuck like this, and I’d rather have Werner back. No offense, kid.”

“Like I want to be here either…” Olive grumbled before glancing at Trystan.

“Well, Mr. Wolff, one of my reasons for coming here is to find the person who served as the entry point of this Manipulator into Cadence,” Francis said before focusing his attention back on him. “Now, Olive, there are two ways that we can do to resolve this issue without killing you.”

The Theta part of Francis didn’t seem to know how to put things gently, Olive thought as he suppressed a frown.

“The first is to eliminate Scorpio’s towers.”

“Towers?”

“Yes, this Manipulator’s mediums—off-shoots—doperate in a fungal spore-like fashion. That leads to rapid spread which is most likely how so many became infected so fast. Especially in the Augen.”

That confirmed it.

“Whether the founding of the Augen was the result of the Manipulator or if the Manipulator hijacked it is a different story—” Francis’s accent changed briefly “—However, this connection is a two-way street. Scorpio isn’t all-powerful and doesn’t have an endurance that allows them to fully preside over all of the spores simultaneously.”

Nico tentatively moved over to Brandt’s side and began to inspect his bleeding face. Stein shot him a glare but Nico ignored it.

“That’s why Scorpio delegates individuals to share some of that burden with him. A delegation of power so to speak. The towers are the initial spreaders of Scorpio’s spores and act as a direct link from those spores to Scorpio. Eliminate a tower and you can theoretically cut the connection between Scorpio and those spores and offshoots.”

It was… that easy? Wait— eliminate?

“Identifying who the tower is… is a different story. Most likely Leona has unwittingly and unwillingly become a tower and has spread Scorpio through the ELPIS Department. I suspect your Kaiser is one too, although I’m not sure if it was willingly or not…”

“So the Kaiser and Scorpio are together then,” Gilbert muttered. “So we’re fucked.”

Ignoring him, Francis placed a thoughtful hand on his chin again. “But other than that, I can’t say… Olive, you’ve probably been nicked by a tower that all the infected Augen members are connected to. Unfortunately, searching for this tower without someone with the ability to see vitae flow is pointless. Therefore, the second option is to rely on the Libran saint candidate.”

“The Saint Candidate of Libra?” Alice tensed.

Francis nodded. “I was told by Tau that she was active at the moment and in this city. That itself is a rare miracle. Libra is a very powerful Specialist. Similar to that one peacekeeper with the suitcase, Libra too can bring down vitae particles to an energy level that causes the particles to separate and break apart. This ability on its own is merely destructive, but Libra also has a secondary ability.” He pointed to his eyes. “If I recall correctly, Libra contains in her eyes the ability to see the flow of vitae. The rarity of having these two conducting abilities together is why we are extremely lucky that Libra appears to be present here.”

Now, Alice was pale.

Olive understood the concept but was troubled by how Francis was referring to the saint candidates.

“Simply put, Libra can distinguish one person’s vitae from another’s. And so, Libra can see Scorpio’s vitae within an individual and cut it out without harming them. All we have to do is find Libra… and hopefully convince them that saving a True Conductor is worth their time.”

Was this what Iota was referring to in the train cart?

“Is…” Gilbert tightened his grip on his de-activated blade conductor. “Is that why this… Scorpio or the Kaiser or whoever asked us to bring Werner here? So we can get this Libra to cut him out? Because… True Conductors are valuable to them? Fuck—I don’t know what’s going on.” 

Francis frowned. “That is most likely what the original case was. This infection was probably an accident… however… Scorpio is a person who gets carried away too easily as you can see by Leona’s state. She most likely objected to Scorpio’s actions, and Scorpio responded accordingly.”

“What…” Olive swallowed. “What do you mean?”

“I’m not sure whether or not this ‘Werner’ who was infected is conscious right now or not,” Francis replied. “If he is and Scorpio is presiding over him… then Scorpio might be too carried away with that to even consider bringing you to Libra.”

What in saint’s name did that mean?

Abruptly, Francis gestured to Gilbert’s conductor. “An additional word of advice. You’re aware that Scorpio can spread through cuts, I’m assuming. But you also shouldn’t use a close-ranged conductor when confronting an infected individual—especially if they are also using a close-ranged conductor. Close-ranged conductor-to-conductor contact can also transmit the infection since the infected person’s vitae contains Scorpio’s vitae particles.”

Olive’s heart skipped a beat. “What about me? I… I used my vitae flame to try and cauterize someone’s wound earlier… I…”

“Is there any blue or odd coloration to your vitae?”

Olive shook his head.

“Peculiar… It’s most likely that this man’s—Werner—vitae was what was infected and somehow that isn’t immediately transferable to you,” Francis explained, putting a hand to his chin again. “I would like to believe that you’re safe, but I would have to see your vitae to be sure. So when you have a conductor on hand—”

“About that, Francis—” Olive closed his mouth. Wait. Maybe this wasn’t a good time.

“No, go ahead and ask.”

“I should just show you,” Olive mumbled before he extended out his hand and formed a ball of crimson flame in his palm.

Francis’s eyes widened. “That shouldn’t be possible.”

Olive quickly extinguished the flame. “My sister was a potential saint candidate for Aries. A failed one. She… died during the Tragedy, but I’ve been able to see her since then. I’ve been able to conduct without a conductor ever since then too…” He could feel Alice’s and Gabrielle’s gazes boring into him, but he continued. “I thought that maybe her saint candidacy had to do with it.”

“The Saint Candidate of Aries…?” Francis tilted his head. “How are you still alive?”

Olive grimaced, pushed away a snappish remark to the back of his head, and said, “Iota said that the saint candidates messed up or something with me—” Before he could finish, a sharp pain ignited in his shoulder causing him to extinguish the flame and cradle the area in pain.

Trystan steadied him in alarm and remained supporting him until the pain subsided. When Olive straightened himself, he met Francis’s hard gaze.

“Do not conduct again,” the man said.

What…?

“Do not let any person who takes over next conduct. You are putting your life and Cadence’s life at risk every time you do that. Do you understand me? This prolonged polarization is already putting your life at risk, but conducting is exacerbating it. Do you understand?”

Swallowing, Olive nodded. “Okay.”

Francis offered a genial smile before his face fell flat again. “That aside, yes, I would call it a mess up—but Olive… if it were the case that Aries entered you during that incident, then you and Cadence should’ve died as soon as your connection opened. You True Conductors are faulty. If there is one less of you or one more of you, you will crumble apart and die… I don’t quite understand it.”

“I don’t know either…” Olive mumbled faintly. “But… I know you don’t have all the details, but is there a way for me to… remove Lavi from me? So she can live on her own?”

“If we try to separate her from you, you and the people you are connected to may die.”

“But—”

Francis frowned. “It appears that you don’t understand the gravity of saint candidacy. Let me explain. The countries of Signum are named after the ones who founded Signum. You call them your ancestors. The saint candidates are chosen because they have attributes, characteristics, and personalities similar to those ancestors…” He looked to Brandt. “Correct?”

“Yeah,” Brandt—whose face was now more or less healed by Nico—replied. “That’s right.”

“Those individuals are chosen because they are most compatible for receiving the vitae—the memories—of those ancestors which are stored in the Prognoikos Aurora Reservoirs in Ophiuchus. Traditionally, in my time, this was done to pass on knowledge and wisdom from the past to the present.”

Olive felt faint. Signum was… Lavi was—

“I’m sure you’ve realized it, Olive. Saint candidates can be considered the ancestors themselves.”

“My sister—”

“She completed the saint candidacy ceremony and took on the memories of your ancestor Aries which have been stored over the centuries from other saint candidates of Aries.” Francis’s gaze softened. “We aren’t like them as I’ve said. We don’t burden and force the living to take on the task.” He stared at his hand. “Not intentionally, at least.”

“No.” Olive shook his head. “But she was a failed saint candidate. That can’t—”

“To be frank with you, I don’t understand the term ‘failed’ saint candidate or why they use it. As long as the baptism has occurred, they are the ancestor.”

“She’s still… Lavi though… right?” Olive whispered. “And… Signum…?”

Francis studied him for a moment before murmuring, “Whether or not she is your sister is entirely up to you.”

“If that’s the case with saint candidates then where does Monadism fall into this? What about the king and queen?” Trystan pressed. “What about the governing bodies of all of the other countries? Are they aware?”

Olive bristled and before he could stop himself, he was snapping, “What are you trying to say, Trystan? That my parents forced Lavi to be like that? I thought you were all about licking people’s boots.”

Trystan stiffened. “I’m sorry, Olivier. I didn’t mean it like that.”

Shame burned Olive’s cheeks. “…No, it’s fine. I’m sorry.”

“About your governing bodies… I’m not sure.” Francis finally said, gaze lowering. “Omicron destroyed many of our old records. I understand her intentions, but now it is an inconvenience… I’ll try—”

“Help! Someone help!”

The desperate shout resounding out from the room cut Francis off short. Alice and Gabrielle exchanged looks before dashing back down the hall and into the room. Olive darted after them with Trystan at his tail.

Once he re-entered, he found Marta keeling over the table at the center of the room. She was pale, her face clammy and dripping with sweat. Claire was inching back away from her as were Talib and Oran. Alice and Gabrielle were ringed around her and staring at her in utter confusion. She was hacking, coughing, knees trembling.

“Marta!” Olivier shouted, darting over to Marta’s side.

Trystan followed shortly behind him and caught Marta as she staggered forward.

“S-She said that she didn’t come in contact with any of the vitae, but—” came P.D. Oran’s whimper as he scrambled backwards out of the corner of Olive’s eye. He didn’t finish his sentence and scrambled out of the room.

Suddenly, the skin on Marta’s cheeks cracked and split revealing a glowing liquid that seeped out from the gash. The liquid dripped onto Trystan’s hand, and he pulled back with a yelp and cradled it. He proceeded to shove Olive back as Marta bent over and puked. But what splattered onto the floor was not bile nor was it blood. It was the same glowing substance that was weeping from her skin.

“Get away, Olivier!” Trystan shouted. His hand was now bubbling and blistering and splitting to reveal the very same psychedelic light that radiated from Marta’s body. He stared at his hand in horror before doubling over with a grunt of pain.

Olive reached for him in alarm, accidentally grabbing hold of the royal guard badge hanging at his hip, only to be sent flying back with a kick to the chest. Badge still gripped in his hand, Olive hit the ground before scrambling back to his knees. Upon looked up, however, he froze in confusion.

In the place Marta once stood was a gooping, glowing viscous mess. No longer a humanoid shape. The liquid spread across the floor and spilled onto the central desk and melted it an instant. And Trystan, who was now on his knees on the ground—his face was… was melting off. Melting just like how everyone had melted down the bone during the Tragedy. Flesh from his forehead dripping in a glowing sludge into his eyes and lips and chin, until none of his features were almost indistinguishable. Nothing was visible besides one thing. One singular eye which turned in its socket to stare straight at Olive.

What…? What was happening…?

Olive scrambled forward only to be jerked backward by the back of his uniform. It was Gabrielle, eyes wide, face pale.

“Leave him!” she shouted, continuing to tug him back. “We need to get out of here now, Your Highness!”

Olive resisted, scrambling forward desperately, only to be tugged back by the arm by another person. Gilbert.

“Kid, come on—”

No, no, no.

“Are you fuckin stupid?”—the profanities came from Stein who had looped around and was now crouched in front of him with a scowl.

“What the? Stein, I ordered you to leave!” Gilbert snapped. “Get out of here!”

“L-Let me go…” Olive whispered. “They’re still—”

Stein delivered a quick punch to his gut cutting him off short and winding him completely. When he doubled over with the pain, Stein picked up like a rag doll and threw him over his shoulder. Olive kicked and shouted and screamed, but it was no use—Stein carried him away from Trystan and Marta without a drop of hesitation.

“Into the gate!” someone shouted as pale tangerine light and a sudden draft filled the room. “Into the gate!”

No, nono

The last thing Olive saw before he was swallowed up by the pale tangerine light was the glowing puddle of vitae that had once been Marta coalescing together with the puddle of vitae that had once been Trystan.

* * *

And suddenly a dark sky was opened up above Olive’s head. He scanned the open area around him in utter confusion. Lamp posts were dotting gray sidewalks, and a small v-tram rolled along the tracks in the distance. Square buildings rose around him in an otherwise empty, dark street. The moon beat down heavily from above.

Alice and Talib were on their hands and knees heaving and panting a couple of feet away. Gabrielle was standing beside him with one hand tightly gripping Oran who was kneeling beside her. Claire was leaning against one of the nearby lamp posts. Gilbert and Nico were collapsed on the ground in front of him, and Francis and Brandt were catching their breaths just a step away. Stein was still holding him up over his shoulders.

But… but…

Where was Marta? Where was Trystan? Where—

Still down there.

Olive’s throat clenched and he began to sob uncontrollably. His chest hurt, and he couldn’t breathe, but he still smacked and kicked at Stein with all of his might until the man released him.

He tumbled to the knees on the ground as he stared at the gray cement—as he tried to think. But he couldn’t. Nothing coherent formed. Just. Marta. Trystan. Marta—

If it weren’t for Marta—if it weren’t for her shop and her accepting his company no questions asked—then he would’ve ended it years ago. He’d always made excuses that he had to visit her and see her inventions. Just one more day, he’d thought. One more day just to see what new things she’d made. And it was his fault that she was here. He had promoted her vitae spectrophotometer and that had eventually brought her here. And now…

Olive began to tremble.

And Trystan was always there. Trystan had always listened to his stupid rants about conductors and had put up with his sour mood. Trystan had always been that piece of Aries that reminded him of home. And Trystan had been accompanying him more than just for duty—that was what Trystan himself had said. And Trystan had held so much passion, had wanted so much change, actually acted on that desire to change—if anything, he deserved to be a feudal lord, not a royal guard. No, he deserved the title Olive himself currently had. And Olive himself had… brought him down there.

That’s what happens to people who care that much. Haven’t you noticed that the ones who desire the most change are the ones who are crushed under the weight of their ideals?

No! There was no way that Trystan was—

“I… can reverse it,” Olive whispered to himself, wiping his tears from his eyes. “I can definitely reverse it.” He threw himself onto Francis and gripped his sleeves. “It can be reversed. It’s all about the energy levels. We just have to find a way to make their vitae particles drop back to the lower energy level. We can do it. It can happen. I know it—”

Francis held him tightly by the arms. “Olive, listen to me. I will not let you believe in a false—”

“Francis, shut up! Shut up! Please! Don’t you dare say that! You said you’re the ones who came up with the theories! You can help fix this!”

“Even if you were able to successfully drop the energy levels to the mid-level, their vitae particles have intermingled. There would be no way to distinguish any of their individual vitae particles from each other. All that thing is now is what you could consider pure energy and a storage system for memory—”

“Then we just separate them! By the wavelength and color density! All we have to do is try! Over and over again until we can do it!”

Simple goal after simple goal.

“Olive,” Francis murmured, more gently this time. “It’s impossible. The best thing we can do is find a way to return them to the…”

Olive stopped listening.

No…

He sank back to the ground, still gripping Francis’s arms. Francis held him there for an unknown amount of time before five shadows eclipsed him from above. Alice, Gabrielle, Gilbert, Nico, Claire.

“Olive… correct?” Alice pressed—not as coldly as she usually sounded—as she sank to her knees. “You should—”

“Leave me alone!” Olive snapped, ripping away from her—away from them, from everyone. He stumbled forward blindly until he stopped before a singular, unmoving figure.

P.D. Oran stared up at him blearily, tiredly. “I-I’m sorry… I didn’t know…”

Why…?

“You—you—” Olive whispered, reaching forward and gripping Oran loosely by the scruff. He opened his mouth, closed it, unable to find the words. Too many questions. Incomprehension.

Why did Oran help research something like this? Why did Oran just sit there and do nothing to stop it? Why did Oran keep making excuses? Why did Oran not warn them if he realized Marta was…? Why? Why? Why?

Finally, Olive arrived at an appropriate question—“Why are you alive…?”

Oran paled, looking stupidly innocent. “What…?”

Olive couldn’t stand it anymore. He didn’t want to see it. Enough. No more.

Crimson sparks curled at his fingertips as he tightened his grip on Oran’s collar. The embers lapped at Oran’s cheek as the man flailed in confusion and alarm.

“W-What are you—”

The others shouted at him from behind but he threw out a hand and formed a ten-foot ring of fire around himself. All the times he’d spent practicing and refining this skill was coming to play at this moment. The irony didn’t escape him.

Just go away. 

That’s right. From the very beginning, after the Tragedy, it never was ‘I should disappear’ for you. It always was ‘they should disappear.’

“You’re a genius. You can do so much for so many people,” Olive hissed at Oran. “But you do thisWhy?”

“I had no choice—”

“So you did it because you were afraid? You’re a coward!” Olive glowered. “Oh… I’ll give you something to really be afraid of.”

“Ollie!” came Claire’s shout above the fire. “What are you doing?!”

“It’s Scorpio…” Francis said. “He’s—”

“Olive!” Gabrielle snapped. “Stop—”

A burst of blue-flecked wind whistled around his cage of fire but Olive merely sent the flames higher and used the oxygen to fuel the flames. When a lick of crimson ember kissed Oran’s cheek, the man sobbed in pain as he tried to tug himself away.

Olive couldn’t wrap his head around it. This man was crying from a little burn? After everything he’d done? How dare he cry.

Olive increased the output of crimson light as sparks burst out from his hands. The flames went up and up and up and down and down and down as they crawled across Oran’s clothing and consumed it all.

I told you, didn’t I?

The putrid scent of burning flesh curled in Olive’s nostrils and he felt bile climb up his throat, but he continued fueling the fire.

You shouldn’t be afraid of being a coward. You should be afraid of being brave.

The flames began to lick at Olive’s own clothing but he bore with it.

The only thing you were ever really afraid of was what would happen if you went all the way like this. That’s why you held back all the time and did nothing for so long. But congratulations, you’ve conquered your fear.

Right. All of his apathy was…?

Tears burned at his eyes and evaporated with the heat of his flame.

Chance, stop it.

The familiar and cool voice spread through the back of Olive’s mind, momentarily quelling the anguish and rage burning in his chest.

Werner…?

Standing behind Oran straight-backed with a stolid expression was a man with platinum blonde hair and ice-cold but tired eyes.

It was Werner. One of the others. Finally. But…

Think. Oran holds valuable information, Chance. You can’t lose him. Think about Lavi. And control yourself. Don’t let momentary passion deter you from your goal. Werner glanced over his shoulder, staring at something Olive couldn’t see. The Manipulator is trying to prove a point. Don’t let her.

No. He wanted this. He couldn’t stand looking at it anymore. Just like back then. He was not going to let go of this. Not anymore. But wait. Maybe—was he really going to give this up for someone who wasn’t his sister—

And Francis had said it was impossible to begin with. There was no point—

Your cowardice isn’t from being afraid of going all the way, Werner interjected, eyes cool and steady.It’s from not wanting to lose anything. I’m connected to you so I know this. And, in this situation, that is an acceptable fear to have. You don’t want to lose your sister, correct? What Francis said is not absolute.

Realization washed over Olive like a cold wave. The fire still burned furiously in his chest but he fought past the anguish and haze. Shame curled up in his chest followed by guilt and disgust. In horror, he released Oran who fell to the ground wailing in agony. He had just—

“Claire!” Olive shouted desperately above the roaring fire as he ripped off his military jacket and began beating it down on the flame over Oran. “Claire, help!”

Calm down, Chance. 

Olive whipped to the man in panic. “Werner, I—”

But Werner was no longer there nor was the feeling of cold calm. The only thing left was the burning weight that dragged Olive’s heart into his stomach. But he didn’t let the feeling consume him and sank to his knees as a cold torrent of blue-dotted wind extinguished the flames around him and the embers pecking at Oran.

“Saints…” Olive whispered tearfully in horror. “I-I’m sorry…”

Oran whimpered weakly in front of him—clothes smoking, skin discolored, eyes wide.

Really? That’s it? What? Because you value human life? Or because you think he can help with Lavi? She’s the Saint Candidate of Aries—no, she is Aries. She isn’t your—

It didn’t matter. In the end, Lavi was still his sister. Outside of the other five, she was the only family he had left now that Trystan was—

What a shame. At least you know what it feels like now—how it is to try and take another life without acting in self-defense. Quite proactive. 

Brandt and Nico rushed to Oran’s side as the smoke around him cleared. Oran was alive—this much Olive knew. Because he knew the exact temperature needed to immolate a human alive and to kill them. It was a number he never dared rise to—until now.

Well, I’m not sure P.D. Oran is going to want to live after what you’ve done. Still, you’ve realized how tiny and insignifigcant a single human life can be, right? Always making the same mistakes. It’s meaningless and pathetic. Just put them out of their misery.

Nausea swam in Olive’s stomach and pinpricks ran up his arms. His shoulder pulsated with pain, and a coldness began seeping out from his chest. Abruptly, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a familiar ghostly silhouette emerging from the embers that were dying on the ground. 

With her black hair bleeding into crimson flame, Lavi glared at something over his shoulder. Then, she locked eyes with him—her gaze was clear and focused—“No, now you really know what the weight of a human life means to you.”

Olive’s vision swam, and he fell forward into darkness.


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