Captain Volker Weingartner has successfully transported Marionette Engel and Werner Waltz to the capital as ordered by the Kaiser. He drops them off at the conductor convention and temporarily leaves to make a phone call. However, when he returns…
Förderung » Promotion given at 1930 hours.
Die Hauptstadt, Capricorn
“Where… are they?”
The question was barely audible above the commotion echoing around the dome building of the convention.
Kleine and Fischer exchanged looks. Heimler and Marionette remained silent. The group was sitting collectively, stiffly together on the black leather cushions lining the reception area as civilians, diplomats, and conductor engineers rushed around in the background. The convention staff were righting fallen conductors and restabilizing toppled tables. Some even were making futile attempts to sweep the glass that had fallen in from the dome window.
“I-I’m sorry, sir,” Fischer stammered, standing at attention. “The… there was an earthquake. It was chaotic. Everyone was gone before I knew what happened.”
Captain Volker Weingartner pinched the bridge of his nose. He was starting to have a migraine.
It wasn’t like he couldn’t see the irony in the situation: his top-performing subordinate was currently the centerpiece of all of his problems.
He had just made a trip several blocks down to make a phone call from an old booth that had been installed a year before the end of the Reservoir War. He had been made aware the last time he was here in the capital that it still had not yet been connected with the capital’s main communication grid—which meant that it could not be tapped. Although he had to leave a brief message with the maid of the person he was trying to reach instead of speaking with them directly, he had felt that he had a bit more of a handle on the situation. He’d made his way back to the convention building in confidence—despite the earthquake and chaos—only to find that his naivety had gotten the better of him.
A squeaking resounded from behind him, followed by a question from a familiar voice: “Are you all alright? First earthquake I’ve ever experienced. Always thought they were more of a Taurus and Scorpio thing.”
Weingartner turned and found Ludwig Waltz, Werner’s elder brother, approaching them. He personally held the man in high regard. In fact, he held anyone who dedicated their life to service in high regard, especially those who had served during the Reservoir War. He just hoped Ludwig held himself in the same
“Oh, Ludwig,” Weingartner greeted him cordially, “it’s good to see that you’re alright. I didn’t realize you would be here. Are your mother and sister alright?”
“They’re shaken up, but they’re fine,” Ludwig replied, scanning his face with narrowed eyes. “Is everything alright here? Werner just up and disappeared. Where did he go? Did something happen?”
Weingartner paused. It felt cruel lying to family, but still he said, “There’s no need to worry. Werner is just—”
“Hello!” came a sudden cheerful chirp.
Upon turning, Volker found a man dressed in a crisp, dull periwinkle military police officer uniform standing at attention behind him.
“Police Inspector Leonhard Zwingli, sir!” the man sang. “Reporting in to pick you up to meet the chancellery cabinet and the Kaiser!”
Although he was caught off-guard, Volker nodded. “At ease, Zwingli. Unfortunately, we’ve run into an issue—”
“Oh, there’s no issue,” Zwingli hummed. “No issue at all.”
And then Volker saw it.
A tattoo of a scorpion crawled up the Zwingli’s face from the nape of his neck. It rested on his cheek for a moment before crawling back down and hiding behind the collar of his uniform.
“Captain…” Kleine, now standing, whispered faintly. “That’s just like…”
Zwingli clasped his hands together. “Like I said, I’m here to take you to the Kaiser and the chancellery cabinet. They’ll be absolutely happy to answer any questions you have when I get you there!”
“What was that…?” Ludwig stared at the man’s cheek.
“Oh, hello, Ludwig! Still trying to be covert?” Zwingli beamed, causing the addressed man to tense.
“How do you know my name…? What are you talking about—”
“Let’s not pretend that we all don’t know what’s going on,” Zwingli tutted. “Faking ignorance is like being not true to yourself, and not being true to yourself is the worst thing you can do for yourself. Anywho, you’re not important right now.” He turned back to Volker with a grin. “Captain, will you, your men, and your ‘guests’ join me?”
* * *
As they stepped out from the convention, they were met with a street cluttered with glass and metalwork that once decorated the top of buildings. Some of the overhanging wire cables of a v-tram parked in the distance had snapped, and the wires now dangled dangerously in the air—sparking at the tips.
Fischer and Kleine looked around with varying degrees of apprehension, while Heimler and Engel looked on with little alarm.
Personally, the sight reminded Weingartner vaguely of how this city looked during the Reservoir War. The chaos, the tension. Back then there were barricades set up around the city blocks and insulating cables running through every street. Pillars of smoke and obliterated buildings resulting from grenades gifted by zipping air Elementalists were common then too. So this—as terrible as it was—didn’t disturb him one least bit.
As he followed behind Zwingli with his men in step behind him, Weingartner began, “The earthquake—”
Zwingli threw his head back and laughed as they passed by a group of military police officers herding a confused-looking woman with straw-blonde hair off of the street. “Yes, the earthquake! The earthquake!” Instead of elaborating, he craned his neck and flashed a smile. “You used to be a teacher, right, Volker?”
Weingartner tensed. “Yes, I was… How did you know—”
“Oh, I looked into you. You’re a little bit important…? Yes, you’re a little bit important to someone who’s very, very important to me.” He smiled back at the others. “All of you are.”
Was he referring to… Waltz?
Weingartner tried cautiously, “Are you the Manipulator?”
Zwingli barked a laugh. “No, I’m not the Manipulator. I’m just an offshoot containing a spore, but I’m also the Manipulator talking through the offshoot. It’s sort of weird when I do this when I’m somewhere else because the current goes two ways. It’s harder than you’d think. Of course, Zwingli—me—won’t remember any of this later. It’ll be more or less a dream. So don’t be weird if you see me later, alright?”
Spore? Offshoot? Whatever those things were, one thing was clear. This man was in a manic state.
“But you know, Captain, I’ve always wanted to be a teacher too! Wanted to be one ever since I was younger, but my family said that all the time I’d invest wouldn’t be worth the pay. I knew they were looking out for me so I decided to continue serving even after my required years were up. But you know what…” Zwingli stared at a group of children being guided into one of the wood-laced buildings to the left. “I’ve decided recently that I’m going to become a teacher. No matter what. I haven’t spoken to my family in two months now. I’m not going to let anything stop me.”
They passed a series of buildings with shattered windows that had once been painted over with the Augen’s eye symbol in blue.
“Do you have any teaching tips for me, Captain? Oh, what kind of classroom do you prefer?” Zwingli pressed. “A classroom that promotes individualism or collectivism? Which works better? It’s always so hard to tell. Individualism can lead to new ideas and rapid progress, but it also can lead to rebellion and selfishness that can also hinder that progress. No one wants a show-off star student. On the other hand, collectivism is more supportive and steadier. It can be a bit fast too but then again it can turn into the majority versus the minority. Oh, I don’t know. Maybe the best choice is just to give up…” He grimaced. “No, no, I can’t give up. I have to become a teacher.”
“I respect individuality,” Weingartner replied slowly, somewhat concerned at the man’s erratic behavior.
Zwingli brightened. “But you had to shift that way of thinking once you became a military officer, right? You can’t have individuality when you have to have everyone listening to exactly what you say—oh, speaking of which! How about discipline? How did you discipline your students? Your subordinates?”
“In my opinion, you have to beat it without break until it breaks,” Zwingli raved. “I think that’s the best way to go when you have someone hard and stubborn. Exhaustion’ll eventually exacerbate the fine hair-line cracks that exist in every single thing. Everything breaks. Everyone breaks. And then after it breaks…”
“I don’t think human beings and objects are equivalent,” Weingartner interjected.
“Right, right. Of course, I believe in letting everyone do what they want to do,” Zwingli continued. “But it’s irritating when they swear that they’re going to do something but then backtrack and say ‘nevermind’, or if they don’t dedicate themselves to it fully. What’s the point in that? Don’t say it and don’t think it if you’re not going to do it! Where’s the passion? Why won’t they take the final step? Their lives are so fragile—what’s the point in holding back?”
Zwingli stopped short, still grinning, and gestured up.
The chancellery building loomed before them. It stood tall with pointed spires and walls made of firm gray-brown bricking. Its entrance was guarded by a flight of steps at the top of which Geminianesque gray, thick pillars held up an extended roof. The small black flags bearing the Capricornian symbol that hung from poles and that went up the steps were overshadowed by the large Capricornian banner that hung down from the building’s pointed roof.
Zwingli led them into the building which was filled with subdued chatter and the constant ringing of phones. Eventually, he guided them into an empty marble-tiled hall with walls lined with black-and-white photographs. Past Kaisers, sitting tall and firm.
At the end of the hall, they reached a pair of wooden doors and came to a stop.
“Just the Captain and the Augen leader,” Zwingli chirped.
Weingartner gave the other men a nod and stepped into the room with Marionette behind him. Zwingli followed in behind them and closed the door tightly.
The Kaiser’s main communications office was the epitome of woodwork that was highlighted by the gray light barely shining in through the drawn curtains. The walls were made of glossy cedar. The central, elongated table at the center of the room was made of dull mahogany. And at that table sat a row of wizened, graying military officers—generals—decorated with medals and ribbons that consumed their entire chests. It wasn’t a very practical thing to wear if out in the field; but in this civilian setting, they all looked impressive. At the very end of the table sat a man with dark combed-back hair and cloudy gray eyes upon which one monocle rested. He had a stout but young face and a well-trimmed mustache. This man was more decorated than all of those who sat at the table despite his youth.
Grand Kaiser Kafke Netzche.
His presence carried with it a domineering pressure.
Behind the Kaiser stood a woman who looked vaguely familiar. A white lab coat hung over her thin frame, and her eyes were narrowed as if in amusement. Moon-shaped earrings—seemingly made of paper—dangled from her ears.
Weingartner immediately stood at attention with a salute. His heart hammered in the silence that followed, and he watched anxiously as Zwingli moved to stand behind the Kaiser and beside the woman.
“At ease, Volker,” the Kaiser said, voice deep and rumbling like the earthquake that had shaken through the entire city.
Weingartner straightened and folded his hands behind his back.
“You’ve done well delivering First Lieutenant Werner Waltz and Marionette Engel to the capital,” the Kaiser said, peering at Volker through his monocle. “Given the volatility of Waltz’s situation, it’s understandable that the situation has gone out of your control. Still, the criterion was met. I’ll have the generals sign off that you completed the mission.”
“I’m not sure about Werner Waltz’s position at the moment,” Weingartner reported. “I can conduct a search myself—”
“There’s no need. We’ve lost contact with him temporarily too, but we know generally where he is,” the Kaiser replied.
Apprehension built in Weingartner’s stomach.
“Sir, may I ask a question?” he asked after a beat.
“Am I correct in saying that you’re aware of True Conductors?”
The woman behind the Kaiser chuckled.
“Yes, I’m aware of them,” the Kaiser replied. “And since you’re clearly wondering, I’m not being manipulated, but I am working with this ‘Manipulator’ that you and your subordinates have been theorizing about. I’d like for you to refer to him as Scorpio from now on. Calling him just a Manipulator is rude. He’s the Saint Candidate of Scorpio, and you should treat him with respect.”
The information came so suddenly that Weingartner at first thought he’d misheard. But as he registered the Kaiser’s and the generals’ calm, stony expressions, the weight of reality sank in. Marionette stood stiff beside him, eyes narrowed, fists balled.
That truthfully wasn’t what Weingartner had wanted to hear at all. The case of the Kaiser being manipulated was a much easier pill to swallow and more manageable than this alternative.
The Kaiser folded his hands together. “But I’ll tell you this. At the moment, I’m actually considered a ‘tower’ for Scorpio. The thoughts of about one-fourth of the ones being manipulated flow first through me and then to him. That way, I help relieve some of the burden off Scorpio. I am still fully aware of myself.” He motioned for the woman standing behind him. “Dämon, please share the order documents with Marionette and Volker.”
The woman—Dämon Forstchritt—rounded the table and handed him and Marionette one packet of stapled papers each. She walked back to stand behind the Kaiser as Weingartner scanned the minimal text on the front page.
Executive Order 783: Alles Für Alle
Due to the imminent need of vitae supply from reservoirs throughout the country, the Alles Für Alle Order has been decreed.
Procurement 1: Internal Vitae Self-Rejuvenation. Vitae-harvesting from the border through conflict with the country of Argo has been deemed insufficient in supplying the appropriate amount of vitae for the current needs. Therefore, further harvesting through utilizing the conflict caused by the Verbundene Augen movement will now be centrally funded. Provisions include exacerbating tension through targeted propaganda to those in the movement and the military police.
Procurement 2: The Elevation and Progression Project. Headed by Dämon Forstchritt; Contributors: P.D. Oran, Marta John. Funding will be diverted to research focusing on vitae-particle elevation from the second level more directly to the fourth level. Living subject volunteers will go under treatment to support direct vitae-conversion advancement.
“Procurement 2 was blessed enough to receive volunteers from aged veterans,” Dämon said with a pleasant smile. “They understood what progress and service means.”
Weingartner rapidly flipped through the rest of the packet. Words, numbers, statistics, figures, projections all arguing the same point: the citizens were livestock.
“It makes sense, doesn’t it, Volker?” one of the seated generals pressed. “We need to provide for our people. Even if it’s with our people. As cruel as it may sound, it’s practical.”
Weingartner’s stomach swam with nausea and his vision blurred.
What the hell was this? He had to be dreaming. If this was all real, then what the hell had he been doing with his entire life?
“Well, Volker? What are your thoughts?”
“Why are we fighting then…?” Weingartner clenched his fists to stop himself from shaking as he threw the packet onto the table. “Just so we can harvest some vitae for the reservoir?”
“What other reason would we fight?” The Kaiser’s words cut through Weingartner’s nausea. “Unless you think there’s a better reason to take another person’s life? For glory? For honor? For intangible ideals? For something easily changed like land? Giving our life for what our founding fathers wanted? Taking another life to protect another life you find more valuable? Tell me, what other reason do you think makes it justifiable?”
“You took my movement”—Marionette threw the papers down onto the floor— “and turned it into your puppetshow?”
“Your movement?” Zwingli snickered. “It’s not your movement. It’s everyone’s movement. You’re still so self-righteous even after all of these years… Where do you think you even got the idea for the movement to begin with?”
Zwingli continued to chuckle as the scorpion tattoo made its way onto his face again. “During the Second Raid of Okör, you were cut by a Projector, weren’t you? You have a scar on your chest that you wear like a badge of honor.” He placed a hand on his chest. “That was me. I felt bad for you. All you wanted was change, but you were too afraid to do it. So I amplified that thought for you. Of course, my spore in you died when that version of me expired. When I came around this time, I was happy to see you making good on all of that passion and so I decided to gift you even more.”
“What…?” Marionette took a step back. “What are you saying?”
“You’re a tower too, didn’t you know? You think your ability to tune into the people in your movement was a natural ability?” Zwingli smiled. “I must admit you give quite impassioned, motivating, inspiring speeches. But planting myself into the people you inspired really helped move things along.”
“You’re lying…” Marionette whispered, eyes wide as she took a step back.
The Reservoir War…
Weingartner felt light-headed. “Then what was the Reservoir War for…?”
The Kaiser replied stonily, “As our country grows, the demand for vitae grows, and our reservoirs can’t keep up. The kaiserin before me wasn’t able to find a way to fix this issue—or maybe he chose to ignore the obvious answer. I’m not making the same mistake.”
“How far does this go?” Upon receiving no answer, Weingartner pressed, “We’re just going along with what this… ‘Scorpio’ says—just like that?”
Zwingli chuckled again.
“No, you misunderstand. I was the one who requested that Scorpio aid us.” The Kaiser, eyes half-lidded, leaned back in his chair. “A saint candidate’s vitae contains the memories of thousands of former inhabitants of Signum. You could say they represent the wants, needs, and blood of the people. They’re literalrepresentations of their respective nations, and they serve the people. Us. Our agenda.”
This man, Weingartner realized, was unfit to command over this country. All of them were.
“And… the syzygy? Where does that fall into all of this?”
“Whatever the syzygy is, it’s not my concern. My concern is only with Capricorn.” The Kaiser waved a hand. “Regardless, now that we’ve gotten this matter cleared up, I would like to offer you a promotion, Volker.”
“Yes, you’ve done quite well at the border, and your loyalty and compliance despite the unknowns in delivering Werner Waltz and Marionette Engel to us highlight your capability.” The Kaiser’s gaze remained hard, cold. “You’re going to be promoted to major, and you’ll be transferred to work in the capital. This promotion comes with the insurance that your immediate kin—that includes your pregnant daughter—”
Weingartner’s heart hammered.
“—will be excluded from all government projects related to vitae-conversion. And it, of course, comes with the caveat that you keep this information strictly confidential.”
Weingartner shook his head. “No, no. I refuse—”
“Do you understand the position you’re in, Volker?” The Kaiser interjected. “You and your division have killed civilians at the border. That’s what’s on paper. There are two angles I can address this from. The first is that the civilians were rebellious, traitorous members of a domestic terrorist group called the Verbundene Augen and that your actions were in the right—”
Marionette snapped up to look at him. Her clammy face twisted with outrage.
“—the second route is that you and your division were insubordinate monsters who willingly gunned down protesting civilians.” The Kaiser sighed. “If you don’t accept this position and don’t keep this quiet, you will be putting yourself, your family, and your subordinates to the firing squad.”
“Firing squad?” Weingartner recoiled. “We didn’t even know—”
“Don’t you think that’s an appropriate response for a vile act like this?” the Kaiser inquired. “The people won’t care about the circumstances, and they won’t be satisfied with a mere dishonorable discharge, Volker.”
“This is extortion,” Weingartner whispered. “Blackmail…”
“This is loyalty, Volker,” the Kaiser argued calmly, leaning forward. “So what is your choice?”
* * *
Major Volker Weingartner stepped out from the chancellery office with cold sweat rolling down his back. The doors closed behind him, leaving Marionette alone with the chancellery cabinet. Heimler, Fischer, and Kleine were leaning against the wall a meter away and straightened as they registered him.
Volker approached them and stared for a moment.
“What’s going on? Where… Where do I go?” Heimler questioned in confusion as he looked around. “Am I free to go? Who do I report to? Where’s Marionette?”
Giving no acknowledgment, Volker walked past them, past the marble halls lined with aged photographs and paintings, past the busy reception room, past the pillars and large banner that decorated the front of the esteemed building, past the flight of stairs, down the sidewalk. He stopped short two buildings down and turned to find Fischer, Heimler, and Kleine following behind him in confusion.
“Sir, please tell us what’s going on,” Kleine said, doubling over to catch his breath. “W-With all due respect, sir. What did the Kaiser say? Are they going to help the lieutenant?”
“The Kaiser is working with the Manipulator—no, the Manipulator is working for the Kaiser,” Weingartner said faintly, mechanically. “From the very beginning, the conflict that the entire Augen movement is causing was being used by the high chancellery to resupply the reservoirs. They’ve also been working on a way to convert people who are still alive into high-level vitae for the reservoirs.”
Kleine and Heimler paled.
“What happened to your confidentiality agreement?” came a pleasant voice paired with the click-clacking of heels.
Volker looked over Kleine’s shoulder and stiffened.
Kleine turned, eyes widening before taking a step back. “T-That’s Dämon Forstchritt!”
“Indeed, that’s me. Leading Capricornian conductor engineer,” Forstchritt said pleasantly as she stopped in front of them. There was a stack of familiar-looking papers in her hand. “Now, Major Weingartner, what exactly are you doing? I came here to give you the order packet you left behind and here I find you already going against your agreement.”
“‘Major’…?” Fischer looked between them in confusion. “Er, congratulations, sir.” He turned to Forstchritt nervously. “Whatever information the major just gave us—I swear we’ll keep quiet.”
Forstchritt smiled. “Ah, a man of dedication and true patriotism.” She turned her eyes from him to Weingartner. “You on the other hand—”
Without thinking, Weingartner unholstered the pistol at his belt and pointed it at the woman’s chest. He held it low and tight to his body so it wasn’t visible to the pedestrians passing them by from afar.
“Captain…?” Kleine whispered, eyes wide. “What are you—”
Forstchritt chuckled. “Are you going to kill me then—out in public? What are you planning to do? Don’t you care about your family?”
Weingartner had no idea what the hell he was doing, but he turned to his subordinates and said calmly, “I can’t allow Capricorn to continue like this. I’m not going to force you to come with me. You can leave here and continue on doing what you were doing before this. If you find the need, you can even report me if you’d like so you don’t get in trouble—”
Weingartner archer a brow at Kleine. “ No ?”
There’s no question about it, sir,” Kleine straightened. “I-I know this is wrong, but my loyalty has always been to the first lieutenant and second lieutenant and to my unit. They’re not here right now so… I… my loyalty is with you. I… I want to go home, and I don’t want my family to be a part of whatever this is.”
Weingartner placed a hand on the man’s arm. “Good man.”
“Let me help you, Cap—Major,” Heimler interjected. “Everything you’ve said here just proves that we were right from the very beginning. I’m not even sure what they’d do to me if I stayed.”
Weingartner looked to Fischer.
“I’ll follow you,” Fischer responded tightly, glancing at Forstchritt, lips pressed, eyes narrowed. “Where are we headed?”
His attitude was questionable but at the moment Weingartner needed all the help he get could.
“I made a call to a friend earlier,” Weingartner informed them. “He’s lost a lot to this country and to the war already. I think he’ll be willing to help us.”
Forstchritt chuckled. “Are you being serious? You’re hindering Capricorn’s great progress just because of what? Guilt? Indignation?”
“I am not going to let my future grand daughter grow up in a country that looks at its people like they’re livestock,” Weingartner said through gritted teeth as he walked up to her and pressed the pistol against her abdomen. “Now walk.”
* * *
The moon was hanging low in the sky when they peeled out of the alleyway they had stowed away in for hours.
They crept in-between the open alleyways with shadows from spires and bell towers casting shadows along their path. The buildings looked angry and frowning in the dark and the v-trams were stalled cold on their tracks giving the entire city a cold and desolate feel.
The imposed citywide curfew seemed to be holding up exceptionally.
Every so often, a stampede of boots against concrete would resound somewhere in the distance followed by harsh shouting. Militärpolizei. Weingartner couldn’t tell if they were searching for Augen members, for civilians breaking curfew, or for Forstchritt herself.
While Volker and his subordinates would press against the wall and remain silent whenever they would hear the military police approaching, Forstchritt would simply chuckle.
Weingartner had bound and gagged the woman with the rope that Kleine had conjured as soon as they had pulled into their hideaway space, so her laughter wasn’t audible beyond half a meter away. Still, her relaxed, affable demeanor was unnerving. They had checked her body to ensure that she wasn’t marked with the tattoo, but that didn’t reassure Weingartner in the least bit—hence the bindings. Zwingli had said that Marionette was also a tower but she had been unmarked. That was possibly the same case for Forstchritt, but the risk was worth the bargaining chip. Right now, relying on unsteady assumptions was the best they could do.
As they continued on through the empty streets, they eventually climbed onto a low-hanging brick bridge built above one of the main streets. Brick castle-like towers rose up on both sides of the bridge—a pair on either end and one pair at its middle.
When they were about to make their way over the middle part of the bridge, Weingartner stopped short and squinted into the dark. Something was moving there hidden in the shadows cast by the middle towers.
Weingartner lifted his pistol, falling into a crouch as did his subordinates behind him. He called out, “Stop. Who’s there?”
“Captain?” came a whisper from the darkness. The voice was familiar.
“Wolff?” Weingartner didn’t lower his weapon. “Come out.”
“With all due respect, sir, I am not stripping again,” Gilbert whispered back as he peeled out from the dark and into the blue moonlight. His uniform was matted with sweat and caked with soot. His face was barely recognizable behind a thick layer of dust and ash. “I’m sorry, but there’s too much going on and not enough time to act like we’re at a bar.”
Weingartner squinted past him and saw Brandt, Stein, and Nico pulling out from the dark. They were all similarly dirty.
“The peacekeepers and some turn-tail ELPIS leader took him, sir,” Gilbert replied. “It’s too dangerous to hand him over to the Kaiser. The Kaiser is—”
“—‘tower’ for the Saint Candidate of Scorpio,” Volker concluded.
Gilbert blinked and tried, “Should I debrief, sir?”
* * *
Volker slowly digested the information Gilbert reported to him about his experience below 43rd Street. He could tell Gilbert and the men who had gone with him down there were also digesting the information he himself had just divulged to them as well.
After a beat, Weingartner studied Brandt and asked, “Why are you here—Zu, is it? Why didn’t you go with the ELPIS leader?”
“It’s still Brandt, sir,” Brandt replied. “I’m more Brandt than Zu.” He grimaced. “And I’m here for the same reason everyone else. I… We need to stop this. This is my country too.”
Stein spat at his feet.
Weingartner frowned at Stein before nodding. “Alright. We need all the help we can get. Your knowledge could be useful.”
“I don’t remember much, sir. About my time as Zu, I mean. I’m sorry.”
Weingartner sighed. “That’s fine.” He then turned back to Gilbert and asked testily, “Am I correct in saying that we’re all on the same page then, Gilbert?”
“Seems to be the case, sir,” Gilbert replied. “So what next?”
“We’re heading to an old friend of mine. An ally,” Weingartner murmured. “After we touch point, we need to find someone higher up the ladder who is on our side. And then…”
“Are we talking about a coup?” Gilbert asked plainly.
The night’s atmosphere thinned and cooled as the question rang through the air.
A coup d’état.
Hearing the words spoken out loud brought with it a great weight.
Weingartner took in a deep breath and nodded. “Possibly.”
“So?” The shadowy figure of his mother glanced back at him with a small smile. “You’re seeing them all through my eyes now. What do you think? It’s a righteous reason for you to serve, isn’t it? Maybe it could even become your reason to serve.”
Werner stood behind the Police Inspector Zwingli whom his mother was currently manipulating. Beside him sat the Grand Kaiser Kafke Netzche. The rest of the chancellery cabinet lined the oak table in front of him.
Being in the presence of such authority would have humbled Werner if it were not for the conversation he had just witnessed between his captain-turned-major and the cabinet:
One, weaponized conductors had the capability of converting the vitae within an individual into the vitae of the reservoirs. Two, the chancellery cabinet and the Kaiser were doing this willingly and knowingly. Three, the conflict at the Argoan border was most likely being used to help resupply the country’s reservoirs.
Werner could understand the logic behind this line of thought. If one were to look only at the numbers, the figures and results indicated that this vitae-conversion was a resourceful practice. If there was going to be battle and conflict, it would be best to take advantage of it. Argo had always been an aggressive party, and so using them in such a fashion was reasonable.
“Yes, that’s my Werner,” his mother praised.
Even so, there was a strange and heavy weight in his chest at this revelation. Remorse, guilt, something else?—he wasn’t able to dissect it.
Perhaps it was because it seemed as if the procurements of the Alles Für Alle Order were… unreasonable. It was one matter to use an enemy party and those who dedicated their lives to service to help fuel reservoirs. It was another to be using common civilians. Additionally, the soldiers serving in the Border Force had no knowledge of this which was—
Why would they need to know? It wasn’t a soldier’s position to be questioning orders though, was it? Ethics had no place here.
While that was true, the second procurement of the order, in particular, was especially disturbing. Atienna would not find this acceptable. Neither would Chance. In fact, they would most likely find the general act of vitae-conversion abhorrent.
The reason for Olive’s red-hot anger and anguish was clearer to Werner now. When he had first witnessed Olive’s flames of hatred, he hadn’t been able to fully comprehend the situation. He had no background information to approach it with. In all honesty, seeing the prince filled with such vehement rage and murderous intent disturbed him. It was out-of-character and worrisome.
All Werner had only known at the time was that P.D. Oran was the subject of Olive’s hatred and that Oran himself was valuable. And so he had acted accordingly. He hadn’t had the time to explore further as he was swept here right after.
Although morality and ethics usually did not have a place here and in the field, this was—
“Why are you relying on what the others think?” His mother frowned. “Is that all you are? Is that really what you think or are you just trying to keep up your appearance as a fair, reliable, reasonable leader to the people you’re connected to? Even though you don’t have to hold up your appearance for them right now? I mean, they’re not even here.”
Werner hesitated. He hadn’t felt the others’ thoughts and feelings in some time, but was that truly the case? Was he overstepping his bounds and position due to their influence? The Kaiser and the cabinet had years of experience on him, after all. Their authority and wisdom was—
No, he needed to get his mind in order. This saint candidate. This thing. It —not ‘she’ because it was not his mother—was trying to play senseless games with him.
The Kaiser believed he was acting in the best interest of the people, Werner knew, but it appeared as if he was choosing a faulty route. The Kaiser and the chancellery cabinet needed to be examined and held accountable and their methods examined—even if they were the highest authority.
Werner had steadily begun to learn this through his experiences with Major Ersatz and Colonel Fritz von Spiel: those in authority—despite their years of experience—were not perfect, unquestionable higher-parties that deserved absolute obedience. Even though it felt uncomfortable, it was right to question when necessary.
“Aw… Is that so?”
I hate that woman.
The sudden thought jarred Werner from his realization.
I wish I could just sleep.
Maybe I should go walk my dog.
Ugh, there he goes again.
Why do I have to do this all the time?
I should just give up already.
How dare they try to stop us from gathering?
All these damn annoying Augen members causing damage and making us pay for it.
The military should just shut down.
I want to become a teacher.
I want to serve fully.
What the hell is the Kaiser doing.
It’s been so long since he’s come home.
I love you.
I hate you.
Werner winced as his head pulsated with incoherent, echoing voices that came at him from every direction.
Sadness. Happiness. Anguish. Anger. Euphoria. Grief. Heartache. Joy. Love. Pleasure. Satisfaction. Bliss. Loss.
All of the sensations poured into Werner’s chest and expanded out so rapidly and suddenly that it hurt. It was nonsensical because he knew it was not physical pain, but it hurt. The whirl winding emotions acted like a vitae ray tearing its way through his chest and head.
“Oh? This is interesting…” His mother peered into his face. “Can you hear and feel all of that? Even though you’re not one of my towers? Maybe it’s because you’re a True Conductor…? All of you arevery leaky…”
Werner could barely hear her above the clashing thoughts storming his mind.
“Maybe it’s because my towers are so close to me right now,” his mother continued on. “Two-thirds of all of my spores… I wonder how you’d fare if Leona was here too.”
He couldn’t tell which thoughts were his, what feelings were his—everything blurred together in a swirling black vortex.
Listen to her.
The Kaiser cares for no one.
The Kaiser cares for everyone.
“What? You can’t handle it?” it—his mother, not ‘it’—murmured gently. “That’s disappointing.”
Before Werner could stop himself, he fell forward onto his hands and knees as the thoughts and feelings agonizingly poured out from his chest and head into his stomach and limbs. It felt as if they were coursing through his veins and filling his lungs. But—
This weakness was unacceptable. He needed to right himself and excise this Manipulator. Now that he’d learned this pertinent information, he needed to—
Why should I do anything?
It’s easier to just go along with what they’re saying.
Less resistance is easier.
It’s easier to meet people’s expectations.
The path is already laid out.
It’s all down to the numbers.
His mother gasped suddenly. “Ah, Werner, it seems like your associates are causing trouble… Well, I respect that passion.” Out of the corner of his eye through the hazy agony, she smiled. “Let’s just see how they fare against the Saint of Victory.”