As those connected to the six outside of the six gather and then hide at the convention hall, Veles arrives and blows their cover.
Meanwhile, Shion guides Werner through the Threshold.
Überfall » A thorough raid completed at 1800 hours
Die Hauptstadt, Capricorn
Maria loved the taste of the ocean. Sometimes when she was on still waters on the ship, she would scale down the side of the hull with rope, dip her fingers into the still ocean, and lick her fingers of the salt.
Of course, she didn’t go around drinking cups of seawater. That was nonsensical. At the orphanage, they’d always taught her about the dangers of consuming saltwater and the dehydration that would follow. That and things like combat, culture, and ethics—although she never liked the last two things.
Regardless, because of her intense love of the ocean, she wasn’t too upset when a torrent of water came down from the dome window above her head and soaked her to the bone. It was quite refreshing—although Emmanuel and Morandi, who lay beside her, didn’t seem to think the same.
As Maria licked her lips, however, she spat at the saltiness and wiped her free hand across her blurry eyes. When her vision cleared, she found two familiar men standing on a glowing purple arm of water a meter above her head.
Veles and Simon.
Maria hopped to her feet in surprise and prepared to greet them but—
“You foolish Capricornians dare capture my guildmates and subjects!” Veles boomed, dark eyes narrowed with fury as his gaze fell on Morandi and Emmanuel. “I, Veles, will—” He paused, catching sight of Francis who was still gripping his dampened v-cigarette. “You—that tattoo—you are with ELPIS… with that Conta!”
A perturbed look crossed Francis’s face before an arm of water suddenly shot out from the spout that Veles and Simon were standing on and towards him. The wave swept him up and slammed him against the wall without mercy before encapsulating his entire body in a glowing sphere of liquid.
Francis struggled in the waters, pulling the knife out from his belt and dragging it across his palm. The sphere became filled with red flecks of blood that glowed pale tangerine as he clenched his gloved hand. A couple of meters away, a dark patch of drying blood on the floor glowed tangerine too before erupting with a geyser of glowing purple liquid. The orb of water around Francis’s body shrank in turn. However, Veles extended his hand and simply added more water to the sphere.
“Francis!” Nico whipped out his pistol and fired at Veles’s gloved-hand.
Veles blocked the bullet with another arm of water and then sent out additional water whips to Von Spiel’s men dotting the balcony. The water engulfed them in suffocating light as the glowing tangerine patch on the floor dimmed. Francis then fell limp.
Maria leapt onto the railings and launched herself at Veles who pulled up a barrier of water to stop her. Piercing through the wall with a dive, she collided into the man’s body, effectively knocking him to the sidewall. She fell on top of him, pinned him to the ground with her knees, and pulled a combat knife from her belt just as the spout he’d been riding on top of with Simon began to waver. She whipped around and launched the combat knife at Simon who startled backward as the knife cut into the cloth at his shoulder and sent him flying backwards. The knife pinned him against the wall just as the water bridge he was standing on collapsed down to the convention hall below.
“Veles—” the maskless Sagittarians abruptly shouted, scrambling forward with the other two masked Sagittarians. “Wait!”
Veles blinked up at the Sagittarian, lowering his hand. “Claire?”
“Veles.” Claire sighed, doubling over with a pant. “They’re friendly! They’re all friendly. They’re with me!”
Veles looked over to Morandi and Emmanuel who nodded furiously. He then clenched his gloved fist. The tomb of water encasing Von Spiel’s men and Francis fell away, sending globules of water and their bodies to the floor. Nico darted over to Francis’s side and began to perform chest compressions while the few who were spared—Werner’s sister among them—began to do the same to Von Spiel’s men.
“Please, Veles,” Claire urged again.
Veles flicked his hand in the air and out of the mouths of all the unconscious Capricornians and Francis flew orbs of purple water. Claire then sent out a burst of blue-speckled air towards the collapsed men and women and seemed to force air into their lungs. The men and women hacked and coughed and spit out water before groaning.
Gabrielle darted over the railings and tensed as she peered down into the convention building. Maria craned her neck and followed Gabrielle’s gaze to find all of the drenched Capricornians down there staring up at them.
Pulling her armband lower as if to hide it, Gabrielle called down to them—”It’s just a water leak! Doing plumbing! We’re wrapping up the convention. Hope you don’t mind—” She dropped to the floor just in time to dodge a barrage of bullets and a blinding white vitae ray.
“They’re peacekeepers!” came the shout from below. “Working with the Kaiser! They’re spies!”
Gabrielle grimaced as she adjusted her armband. “What kind of backwards nonsense is that—”
Another barrage of bullets and a couple of white vitae rays cut her off short.
Werner’s mother screeched and ducked her head. “What’s going on?! Why are they shooting at us?”
Gabrielle turned to Nico who was hovering over Francis.
Nico shook his head. “He’s out cold.”
“Well, then it’s a good thing half of them don’t know how to aim.” Gabrielle tightened her glove conductor and sent out a burst of magenta flame below—only to be stopped by a hand around the wrist by Martin.
“They’re still Capricornians. They’re only being manipulated, peacekeeper. They’re innocent. You can’t be a fire Elementalist and conduct without someone being dead, so please stand down.” Martin signaled his remaining subordinates forward. They approached the railings with either rifle-conductors or regular rifles—one even handing a weapon to Ludwig who still lay prostrate on the ground. “Shoot to maim, not to kill!”
Gabrielle stiffened as did Friedhelm and Volker lying across from her. They exchanged grimaces as Von Spiel’s men began to slowly, methodically return fire.
“We barely have enough to hold them,” Volker said calmly as he pulled himself up onto all fours and made his way over to Martin and Gabrielle. “We can’t lose more to Scorpio’s spores.” His eyes narrowed. “With all due respect, Martin, you’ve been in the capital too long.”
“And you’ve been out at the borders too long,” Martin returned.
“I agree with the major general, Captain,” Friedhelm interjected. “We shouldn’t—”
Maria’s attention was drawn away from them as she was flipped on her back by Veles.
“Do you know who you’ve knocked to the ground?” Veles boom as he pinned his knee to her chest. “Who are you to—”
“It’s me—Maria!” she chimed before she flipped him over.
“… Maria?” Veles looked her up and down. “Nonsense! You can’t fool me—”
“I am stuck in this… ‘override,’ we call it! You know when you are in someone you are connected to, yes? Through vitae…?” She laughed. “Well, I don’t really understand it but that is how it is.”
Pausing, Veles looked her over again and then chuckled as he pushed back his mopping hair. “Oh, it’s clear now. I sensed it was you so that’s why I let my guard down.”
Claire, who was now pressed against the floor by the two other Sagittarians, looked between them. “You… know each other?”
“I met him and Reneé back in Pisces, and we are traveling together—” Maria blinked, crawling off of the man. “Oh, you know Veles too!”
Claire blinked. “Reneé too…?” He then continued with a half-smile, “Reneé and Veles attended one of our first meetings back in the day. Funny how that works.” After pulling himself towards the edge of the balcony, he sent a burst of frigid air down. The water at the feet of several of the ones below iced over with the cold which froze them in place.
An Augen member aimed a rifle up at Claire but then paused and instead shot just a centimeter away in Gabrielle’s direction.
Gabrielle grunted, dodging backwards. “So, looks like that Scorpio’s willing to throw in the towel when it comes to True Conductors.”
Claire studied her then the Augen members, before turning to Veles. “We could really use your help, Veles.”
“Help you?” Veles rose to a stand, not flinching as a bullet whizzed past his ear. “Claire, I hold you in high regard but I have more important matters to attend to. I am Veles, after all, Beast of the Deep—”
“You—” Martin stormed over to him and grabbed him by the shoulder. “You’ve not only drawn the Augen’s attention but you’ve injured my subordinates and put our best escape route out of commission. Who—”
Veles slapped his hand away. “You dare touch me—”
Martin recoiled but Gabrielle picked herself off the ground and slipped in between them. She gently pulled them apart, saying calmly above the peppering gunfire, “Major General, Veles here was also a potential saint candidate…. of Aquarius, if I’m remembering correctly. Being even a potential saint candidate looks like it comes with a lot of quirks. Still let’s get along, okay?”
“I’ve evolved beyond this saint candidacy.” Veles waved the thought off. “Besides, I’m an extraneous Conductor. My vitae particles are blessed onto those water molecules only for a short period, and I’m not humored at the moment to do it again—”
“An extraneous water Elementalist?” Martin shook his head. “That’s just an over-glorified Manipulator…”
Veles whipped his hand out towards Martin’s face, barely touching the man’s nose with his palm. “I could rip the water molecules out from your blood and skin with just a wave of my hand. I would like to see a common Manipulator do that! I will not tolerate this disrespect—”
The door against the wall leading from the balcony to below began to rattle and shake as pounding resounded from behind it. Klaus, at Volker’s direction, conjured a large steel block several meters thick in front of it. He then collapsed to the ground after, panting heavily. The dull pounding vibrated through the steel still.
“We can’t keep arguing and stay here,” Gabrielle said. “If we keep shooting like this, the military police’ll be drawn by the noise and it’ll be a three-way massacre.” She looked over at Claire. “Do you think you could carry us out, Prince Yuseong?”
“I can’t carry more than one person at a time,” Claire said. “It takes too much vitae. But… I can try, starting with—”
“That’ll take too long.” Gabrielle shook her head. “They only have an advantage in numbers and most of them obviously haven’t shot a gun in a while… If we could just get someone down there—”
“Any person who goes down there will become infected,” Volker interjected.
“If it’s to protect the country,” Martin muttered, “I’m sure plenty of my subordinates would be willing to do it. If necessary, I’ll go down there myself. If we become infected, then this Libra or Jericho can just come in and—”
“There are side-effects of infection, Martin,” Volker argued. “One of my men has already—”
“Weingartner, I’m still your superior—”
All this shouting…
“But why does there need to be sacrifice?” Maria pipped. Upon receiving confused looks, she explained, “Well, since I am already this ‘infected,’ I can go down and take care of them without worry, yes? You cannot get infected when you are already infected—that is how it works?”
“By yourself?” Martin asked uncertainly.
Maria nodded, not understanding the apprehension. “I would like a proto-conductor though—preferably a sword one, yes?”
“That’s insane!” Ludwig objected, whipping around from where he’d been aiming and firing off his rifle. “You can’t do that! Your arm is—”
Volker held up his hand. “I have faith in her. I’ve seen her in action.”
Friedhelm hesitated for a moment before handing over a blade proto-conductor from his belt with insulating tubes still glowing with his vitae. Maria accepted it and was prepared to ignite it when—
“W-What’s going on?!” Ducking beneath the rain of gunfire and white rays, Werner’s mother made her way over to them with Viktoria and Werner’s father following swiftly behind. “What sort of operation is this?”
Maria was rather surprised at how nice and combed her hair was, despite all the chaos going on.
Coming up behind the woman, Viktoria rushed to Ludwig’s side and—after some resistance—helped him back into his chair.
Still gripping his rifle, Ludwig glanced between them once seated. “I’ll handle this, Captain Weingartner. Sorry.”
Volker nodded as the entire building rumbled, prompting Ludwig to lead them all to the corner. A Waltz familiy adventure? Maria wondered.
Before they even reached that area, however, Werner’s mother began whispering. “You didn’t tell me that the Augen was involved in this, Werner. And, Ludwig, why are you involved in this? You’re no longer a soldier. You shouldn’t bother people.” She turned back to Maria. “Werner, I told you not to get involved in politics! Politics is dangerous to get involved in if you don’t have a high enough position. And you’re still a first lieutenant after all this time. You could be court-martialed. Think about what people will think of the family if that happens!”
As Maria stared into the woman’s eyes and listened to her words, something uncomfortably cold crawled up from her chest to her throat. What was this? Fear…? Apprehension? No, Maria refused it.
The woman looked around. “Is anyone going to explain to me what’s going on here?”
Ludwig grimaced. “It’s complicated. I can explain—”
Maria flicked her proto-conductor on and pointed it at Werner’s mother’s throat. The woman stiffened, eyes wide, pale face illuminated by the glow of vitae.
“Werner, what do you think you’re doing?” Werner’s father grabbed at Maria’s wrist and tried to pull her arm down, but she kept her hold steady.
“Maria!” Ludwig snapped. “Enough!”
Maria glanced at him and then deactivated the proto-conductor before smiling at Werner’s mother. “You act like you do not know, Miss Waltz… but how do I say this? I think Jericho called it intuition, yes? You already know that I am not him, but you are acting like you do not…. I’m not sure but I think—is it to keep up appearances?”
Werner’s mother stared.
Maria walked right up to her and pressed the de-activated proto-conductor to the woman’s abdomen. She leaned over and whispered into her ear, “I said the people who are important to the people important to me will be protected by me, but… I am reading the atmosphere now… and… well… you are not nice to the things important to me, so… Even if Werner is mad at me and hates me for it, if you are not nice I will just kill you. It is not a big deal.” She pulled back with a chuckle. “Okay? Understand?”
The woman didn’t respond.
Maria then noticed Simon still pinned to the wall by the knife behind them. She brushed past Werner’s family and unpinned Simon before catching him halfway through his fall and sheathing the knife. When she released him, Simon took a step back and studied her before he hesitantly tried— “Captain?”
“Simon?” she returned.
“I’m a bit overwhelmed…” he admitted, looking faint.
Maria patted him on the shoulders and gestured over to where the rest of her crew huddled. After making sure Simon made it to them safely, she paced back over to where Gabrielle, Martin, Friedhelm, and Volker were now huddled together on the ground beside the railings.
They all looked very tired.
Volker glanced back at Werner’s family. “Have you taken care of everything? Are you ready?”
“Yes, Other Captain, but before that!” Maria went through the proto-conductor rings in her pocket and found one that was etched with what looked like a cartoonish sun. “I think it would be best if I go as myself? I do not understand the politics of this country, but it would not be very good to have people think Werner is fighting all of his people, no?”
Maria slid the ring on and felt warmth as Cadence’s vitae slid over her arms, her torso, then legs. She didn’t care to check her appearance after the warmth faded because she knew Cadence’s transmutations were always the best. She did take notice, however, of how the Capricornians stared.
“You look… much more put together than I was expecting…” Klaus whispered from his position by the barricade.
Maria laughed. “What do you mean—”
“Wait.” Hilton, who had been taking cover beside Alice and Talib, inched forward along the ground towards them. When he reached them, he gingerly pulled off his camera and set it to the side as the fire rumbled in the background. He then gestured to the rings in her hands. “Let me help.”
Maria stared at him. “Will you beat them with your camera? That is… very creative!”
Hilton shook his head, extending his hand out to her. “Those proto-conductors—they’re filled with an intraneous Transmutationist’s vitae, right? Of different people? That you’ve met?”
Gabrielle tensed. “Wait, Hilton, what are you thinking?”
After a moment of thought, Maria dropped the rings into Hilton’s waiting hands.
Hilton started flipping through them and trying them on, each time taking on the appearance of someone familiar or vaguely familiar to Maria. There was Tulio, then Carl and Allen, then an Ariesian man Maria vaguely recognized, a man who looked like he’d come from a funeral, and then—a familiar blonde man with his hair done up in a ponytail. His checkered light blue suit was just as she remembered it.
“Reneé?” Maria gasped, realizing. “You’re connected to the photo-man!”
“Superb!” Reneé sang, Librish accent melting into a Cancerian one as he examined his arms and legs. “Maria, your friend’s transmutation skills are exceptional if I do say so myself.”
Reneé flipped his ponytail over his shoulder and sighed before extending his hand out to Maria who placed her hand in his. He kissed it just as he did in the past before she flipped his hand over and returned the gesture all the same.
Gabrielle sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “I thought the plan was for you not to reveal the fact that you’re a True Conductor in front of Maria since she’s a medium.” She looked “I wasn’t exactly expecting you to show up though, Reneé. Is this one of those polarization override things?”
Reneé nodded then shrugged. “Hilton—the poor Libran fool—still believes in things like justice above all, so needless to say I will step in for him despite the ramifications. He is not quite… combat proficient?”
“And does that not apply to you?” Gabrielle arched a brow. “Justice-believing, I mean?”
“As a chevalier, I believe in honor.” He gestured towards Louise who was tucked into a ball across the balcony. “She is a citizen of Cancer and it would be dishonorable to leave her in a foreign, dangerous land.”
Louise tensed as she stared at Reneé from across the balcony.
“Aid from Cancer too?” Volker frowned, hesitant. “I don’t—”
“True Conductors are important to Scorpio,” Talib interjected suddenly from where he lay beside Alice. “I don’t believe he’ll be willing to infect another one after what happened to Werner. I think it’s worth the shot.”
Reneé nodded. “From what I understand, all I need to do is not get cut or shot by a… infected person’s weapon or vitae? That is not so hard. Training programs in Cancer are much more… individualized and specialized than Capricornian programs, after all.”
Several of the Capricornians shooting down at the convention briefly turned to glare at Reneé before continuing their fire.
Veles suddenly boomed with laughter. “Well, if my subjects and subordinates are joining the fray, then it would be unsightly for me not to do the same. Fine! Since you’ve asked, I’ll help you.”
Gabrielle stared at him. “Do you even know what’s going on, Veles?”
“I’m omnipotent.” Veles lifted his chin. “There is not a thing that I don’t know.”
Reneé smiled pleasantly before walking over to Klaus and whispering something into his ear. After exchanging a glance with Volker who nodded, Klaus conjured up what appeared to be a set of conducting gloves and handed them to Reneé. The effort left him panting heavily and sweating.
“Thank you, Capricornian,” Reneé said, sliding the gloves on and placing a gloved hand onto the steel barricade behind Klaus. The area beneath his hand began to glow. When he pulled his hand away, the glowing metal spilled out onto his palm and solidified into a rapier as the light dimmed. He ran his gloved hand on the blade causing it too condense before it took on the shape of a pistol.
“You’re… a Transmutationist, Reneé?!” Maria gasped. “I thought you were a Conjuror this entire time! Can Transmutationists fight? I always thought they were more… doing the healing?”
“That is the stereotype…” Reneé said. “…but I wanted to become a chevalier when I was younger despite what my family said. So I found a way to be innovative. It’s a bit more convenient and less energy-consuming than conjuring. Transmutation can protect just as much as it can heal.”
Nico tensed from where he tended to Francis out of the corner of Maria’s eye.
“—anyway…” Reneé gracefully made his way over to Louise—not minding the gunfire.
Louise pressed against the wall as he stopped in front of her.
“Miss Bonnefoy, I have been searching for you for months,” Reneé said pleasantly, extending his hand. “I know my form might be peculiar to you, but I’m glad to find you unharmed. Your family is very worried about you.”
“Are you going to take me back?” Louise asked faintly.
Reneé paused, retracting his hand. “Well… the most important thing right now is to keep you safe.”
“And who asked you to bring her home?” Gabrielle asked from across the balcony.
“That is a matter of Cancerian affairs,” Reneé replied slowly.
“So it was the minister?”
“Why are you interested, Miss Law?” Reneé turned to her. “And why did you bring Miss Bonnefoy up here with you?”
Gabrielle remained silent for a beat before saying, “She was in the local vicinity, so we wanted to see if she knew anything. That’s all.”
Reneé considered this and then knelt to one knee and held his hand out to Louise again. This time, Louise accepted the gesture. Reneé bowed his head in turn and bellowed out a slew of words in Cancerian. The language was quite similar to Leonian, but the distance and noise made it hard for Maria to understand it. Something about a creed and a promise?
Reneé rose to a stand afterwards and turned to Volker and Martin. “Okay, I am more than happy to offer my assistance now.”
Maria stared at him for a moment before pacing over to where Lita stood between the rest of her crew. She mimicked Reneé’s movements, dipping into a kneel and bowing her head as she took Lita’s hand in her own. However, she couldn’t quite think of what to say, so she simply kissed Lita on the hand and popped back up on her feet.
Veles chuckled, watching them and shaking his head. “I bow to no one.”
Maria made her way back over to the railings, ducking her head as she dodged a bullet and activated the proto-conductor. “We will beat them into submission, yes? And take care of any stragglers?” She nodded at Martin. “And no killing? That is not too hard. That sort of kindness and mercy can only be given by the strong, no? And I am strong—”
“Scorpio’s spore might make that a bit difficult,” Talib interjected. “Francis said that part of what Scorpio does is bring and intensify thoughts people already have to the surface. You might not be able to do that for all of them.”
Maria grinned as she hopped up onto the railing and whipped away a hurtling white vitae ray with a flick of her wrist. “Even a thought can be overcome with strength and will, no? Maybe my tale will spread even to here!”
Talib frowned slightly.
Offering Reneé and Veles a salute, Maria leapt. She aimed for an opening on the ground below but was suddenly swept away by a wave of glowing water. The cold shock jolted her awake, and she rode on it towards one of the generals. She sliced the rifle he was aiming at her in half before hooking him in the crook of her elbow and driving him against the wall as they were thrown against it by the wave.
Once she picked herself off the ground and brushed back her moping hair, she found that the patches of water on the ground that were not iced over were now coiled around the legs of half the Augen members, locking them in place. Veles stood slightly above the floor on a platform of water and waved his hand lazily through the air. Reneé meanwhile twirled around the Augen members who were rooted in place and shot at their weapons and slashed at their legs with a mild manner.
This is absolutely fantastic! Maria thought as she blocked an ill-aimed ray of vitae from a woman in simple clothing. She then sliced through the woman’s proto-conductor. It went through like butter.
Reneé was quite graceful, and Veles was quite strong, she thought. Although she figured Werner would say they were disorganized and unsynchronized, she knew they were a fantastic trio. If only those two men would accept an invitation to join her crew. In the past, she would’ve just swooped them up, but now…
Maria turned on her heels and caught the charge of a sharpened, wooden picket. Ripping it from its wielder’s hands, she bashed it over their head—
I know where Conta is.
Maria paused, the world around her slowing to a sluggish pace.
I’ll show you.
The convention disappeared from Maria’s eyes, and she found herself staring with an aerial view over a spotless alleyway in between two gray, square buildings. The alleyway was occupied by two figures. An older man with glasses sat against the alley wall and a woman bound in rope lay on the ground across from him.
Gamma and Dämon Forstchritt, Scorpio provided.
There was a monochrome photograph in Gamma’s hands. Captured in it was Gamma himself, a woman, and a young girl with braids. They were standing in what looked like a poppy field and having a picnic.
Another man with a metal gorget hanging from his neck ambled into the alleyway and came to a stop in front of Gamma. “What is that?” the man asked.
Even from the distance, Maria could hear them clearly.
Tau, Scorpio provided again.
Gamma slid the photo back into his pocket. “It’s nothing important. Were you able to get the location of the Kaiser?”
“The bastard’s hosting a ‘speech to the people’ tomorrow. The same day as that protest.” Tau spat. “There’s no doubt about it. He’s absolutely working with Scorpio. The filthy, corrupt, vile—”
“How extraordinary!” Dämon laughed abruptly. “You’re absolute relics but you still know about hypocrisy!”
“Look at the vanity and egoism in this one.” Tau shook his head as he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Unsound medical practices, unethical malpractice—”
“You’re calling me unethical?” Dämon scoffed.
“You gleefully told us what you’ve been doing beneath this city and Kappa. Your cruelty, gluttony, and greed know no bounds!” Tau snapped before pulling back with a sigh. “Still, you deserve a fair trial…”
“Usage of conductors corrupts absolutely,” Gamma stated. “Desire to utilize and harvest more vitae leads to desperation. Desperation bleeds into violence.” He stared at her. “Conductors are items designed to take, weaponize, and harvest life. Pointless deaths, but still they continue to be used.”
“And what about you?” Dämon struggled to sit. “What about your desperation to stop the use of conductors…? I bet you’ve killed more people than I have. The thing is—all of your work results in nothing. No progress. No change. If we’re talking about pointless deaths, you would be the experts.”
“You viewing it as pointless proves you know absolutely nothing.” Tau shook his head. “You value nothing.”
Dämon shook her head back at him. “As Signum’s population continues to expand, the demand on the reservoirs will only increase. If we spend too much time debating ethics, we make no progress and the reservoirs deplete. We fight over the remaining reservoirs and either waste or obliterate each other. Before we know it, we won’t be here anymore to debate it. That’s why we need innovation now. Ethics comes later.”
“So you choose the easiest path,” Gamma replied evenly. “You have no work or moral ethic. No sense of responsibility.”
“What’s your alternative then?” Dämon challenged. “What energy can be equivalent in force and power to a person’s life, memory, and soul? Nothing—absolutely nothing. Even if you find something equivalent, how will you change the people that’ve lived with its comfort for so long?”
Tau frowned, glancing at Gamma. “She knows a lot for knowing nothing though, I must admit…”
Dämon chuckled. “That’s because Scorpio’s told me everything—all about you too. He pities you all. Everytime you destroy a generator conductor, a reservoir, or whatever is in between, it gets fixed and replaced a couple years later.” She leaned back against the wall behind her. “Still, you come back every single time. Restarting from zero.”
Gamma rose to a stand and walked over to her. He pulled out a pistol from his belt and aimed it at her forehead. Tau remained impassive, but Dämon tensed. Gamma then withdrew his gun.
Dämon shakily continued, “You know Scorpio may be my employer, but I pity him too. He said you live in the past and his kind lives in the future.” She glanced up, seemingly staring at Maria—and Maria could see a blackbird perched on the edge of a building reflected in the woman’s irises. “But the present is what matters.”
Gamma studied her before turning back to Tau— “You still haven’t heard from Iota?”
“No…” Tau shook his head. “Stubborn fool. She refused to rely on Theta’s proto-conductors and went ahead and took the damn train here. I’m not surprised she’s not here yet. Riding in something like that? I would rather walk!”
“The cost of an incorrect initiation,” Gamma agreed. “We should be sympathetic to her condition.”
Tau nodded before glancing at Gamma again. “Are you really going to return this Theta to the resistor?”
“It’s for their own good. This ‘Francis Foxman’ is corrupt, profits from conductors, and is leading Theta astray. We wouldn’t have run into this issue if Theta was initiated correctly… The only other way is for Theta to conquer their condition—which I doubt will happen despite my respect for Theta.”
Another shadow spilled down the alleyway as a figure approached them. Maria recognized Conta immediately despite the woman looking a tad bit different. The sight of that mousy brown hair was unmistakable.
Gamma greeted Conta with a nod. “How is Oran, Beta?”
“Healing,” Conta replied. “His burn wounds look painful but they aren’t too severe.”
There was a beat of silence.
“I respected your opinion to keep Oran and Fortschritt alive,” Gamma finally said, “but their value to Scorpio highlights our need to return them to the cycle.”
“They could have knowledge on stopping the syzygy effectively,” Conta returned.
“Or their knowledge can catalyze it.”
“They still deserve to stand trial like I said,” Tau interjected. “We can’t abandon our morals.”
Conta glanced at Tau. “Were you always this dramatic? Every time I forget that Libra was your teacher, you’re inclined to remind me.” She then paused and looked up directly towards Maria—rather at the bird Maria now realized she was seeing through.
Heart hammering, Maria used all of her strength to try and call out Conta’s name, but—
The alleyway faded from her vision, the convention hall taking its place.
Maria blinked in confusion. Although she was back in the hall, there were no longer any Capricornians or Augen members running around. Instead, the entire area was flooded with water and dotted with bodies—unconscious or groaning. Von Spiel’s group was going around and putting them in cuffs. Volker was speaking with Claire, while Friedhelm and Klaus were sitting beside each other against the back wall. Gabrielle and the other peacekeepers were assisting them, while Werner’s family was just coming down the ramp at the back. Nico, with Louise’s aid, was helping a now-conscious Francis down the ramp just behind them.
The fight was over? Already? That was disappointing…
Maria glanced to her left and was pleasantly surprised to find Simon, Morandi, Emmanuel, Lita, and Reneé standing at her side.
“Are you alright?” Simon asked. “It is you, right, Captain?”
Maria beamed and wrapped an arm around the priest’s shoulder. “It is me! It is so good to see you, Simon! I was worried about you! You are very frail, no?”
“Only when compared to you,” Simon replied pleasantly. “I’m a bit confused, by the way, Captain…”
“What do you mean?” Maria laughed. “What is there to be confused about—”
Maria’s vision was drawn to Veles who was now speaking with Gabrielle and the other peacekeepers.
You’re both searching for the same thing. Aren’t you? I showed you where she is.
Are you tricking me?
I may be many things but I’m not a liar. Even if I was, you’re ‘strong’ aren’t you? Strong enough to overcome my tricks?
Conta flashed into Maria’s vision again.
“Veles!” Maria waved her hand wildly in the man’s direction. “I know where Conta is! I’ve found her!”
Simon, Morandi, and Emmanuel shared a look.
Veles broke away from the peacekeepers and stormed over to her. “How?”
“It… was told to me? And also intuition!” Maria nodded firmly.
Simon frowned at her. “Er, Captain—”
Veles stared before nodding with a chuckle. “Well, we both have exceptional intuition, and my intuition and omnipotence tell me that your knowledge is sound.” He gestured wildly towards the convention doors. “So—we return to the hunt!”
Reneé chuckled. “It looks like we’re parting ways then despite reuniting for just a moment.” He extended his hand. “You both always tend to attract interesting events—which just sohappened to help me find the person I was looking for so I thank you.” Then he retracted his hand and offered a bow. “Until we meet again.” With that, he headed on towards Louise, brushing past Gabrielle who was pacing towards them.
When the peacekeeper stopped short in front of them, she immediately said, “I don’t like what I’m hearing. We need to keep together until we get the plan down. Wait until—”
“I am telling you now like I should when I’m about to go,” Maria explained. “Besides—you said I should be solo until Jericho comes, yes?”
“No, not ‘yes’! That’s not what I meant—”
Veles waved his gloved hand in the air, causing the sheet of water laying on the ground to glow purple. The water rushed on towards them, swept them off of their feet, and out the door.
Francis watched as Maria and the water Elementalist were swept up by a tidal wave and out of the convention hall. Frowning, he made his way over with Nico’s assistance to Gabrielle who was still staring at the door and grimacing.
When Gabrielle noticed him, she turned with arched brows. “Oh, you’re up now? You have impeccable timing…”
Francis cut to the chase—“Maria is most likely being led by Scorpio to Conta—she was asking about her earlier. I have concerns that if the suitcase peacekeeper—Mr. Jericho—polarizes next, his vendetta against us will be taken advantage of by Scorpio.”
“Jericho…” Gabrielle looked over her shoulder to Alice who was inspecting one of the cuffed Augen members.
“Scorpio planned this well. He is expecting me to go after them.” Francis pulled out his damp packet of v-cigs and lit one for himself after offering some to Nico and the peacekeeper. After taking a puff, he muttered, “Or I could just be paranoid.”
“Are you going after them? If you are ”—Gabrielle jerked her thumb back towards Alice— “you can take her with you. She knows him.” She glanced around the hall. “I need to clean up here before unwanted extras come.”
Francis stared at her before shaking his head. “I will come back for Alice if I find that it is Mr. Jericho.” He pulled out three proto-conductors filled with his vitae from his jacket and handed them to Gabrielle before handing an additional one to Nico. “Because if I stumble on Gamma first and a Conductor like you is with me… it will be an unpleasant situation for all parties.” He met Gabrielle’s eyes. “Do you understand, peacekeeper? This is a sign of trust.”
With that, Francis slipped into a gate.
The click-clacking of the train’s wheels against the tracks echoed in Werner’s ears. The darkness around him allowed him to enjoy the constant, calming, repetitive sound.
Werner opened his eyes after he felt a gaze prick his skin. Gilbert sat across from him staring pensively. No scars were crossing the man’s face, and his eyes were not bagged down by dark circles. No medals gleamed at his chest nor Werner’s own.
“What is it?” Werner asked just as he’d done before.
“What do you mean ‘what is it’?” Gilbert grumbled, uncrossing his crossed arms and falling back into his seat. “You’re not gonna tell me why you decided to switch from your nice stint at the capital to here?”
Werner glanced out the window and found Shion’s reflection staring back at him. “I’ve already told you.”
“So you’re just doing your duty as a Capricornian and didn’t want to rely on nepotism or whatever?”
“What other reason would I be here?” Werner asked, before closing his eyes again. “You shouldn’t be focused on other people’s reasons but your own reason.”
No. That isn’t why. That’s never been why. Not even… Not even after I was gone.
The memory of warning Otto about being dishonorably discharged if he didn’t perform up to par at the border conflict flashed through Werner’s mind.
Werner opened his eyes.
The scenery had changed again, the train windows becoming replaced by damp cement walling, the carpeted rug becoming replaced by a hard and earthen floor that was waterlogged up to his knees. Strung v-lights lined the wall near the ceiling, while metal bunk beds rose from the waters.
Gilbert stood shaking in front of him. The man’s lips were pulled back with a snarl but his brows were furrowed with fear and regret.
This was the day of Magda Rath’s execution.
The bunkers around Werner melted down and then grew into matchstick trees as the waterlogged floor solidified into well-trodden, muddy earth. Instead of Gilbert standing before him now, it was Magda—kneeling with her back turned to him.
Magda Rath: deserter and traitor to Capricorn. Henning Rath: husband of Magda Rath and murderer of Otto Vogt. Otto Vogt: exceptional sniper, deceased.
The gun in Werner’s hand felt heavier than before. But he knew this had already happened. He had executed Magda Rath cleanly and had written up a report that very night—reduction of 212th Division soldiers by one unit.
But… why did you do it?
To fulfill his duty as a Capricornian. Thinking any other way was traitorous and unacceptable. Because that was who he was and the appearance he needed to maintain in order to—
No. That isn’t why.
This was the same situation he’d faced when he’d confronted this memory with his mother, Werner realized. The same question: meaning and purpose.
I’m sorry for bringing you back here, Werner. I don’t want to hurt you… but I want to show you.
Hurt? From a memory? Impossible.
No one has to know what your reasons are. In fact, they don’t know what they are, and they’re not thinking about it either. They can’t see it. Because those reasons are yours and yours alone. You can be honest.
Werner paused, considering, as he lifted the gun up to the back of Magda’s head.
These two actions and his warning to Otto had the same reason, he understood. But if he hadn’t done those things due to his desire to perform his duty as a Capricornian and to the Kaiser, then what was it?