Talib Al-Jarrah knew he was born with a golden spoon in his mouth—granted, it was quite a bitter spoon. While most children in Scorpio during the war were out learning tactics and gun-play with the threat of an enemy attack over their heads, Talib and his family were pulled away from the war-zone and found haven in a well-furnished shelter with other wealthy families of Signum.
The bitterness came on the eve he was to leave Scorpio to the area hosting the shelter. On that day, Talib bid farewell to his childhood friend Omar, who was to depart the city on a later train, and promised to write letters to him. Not half an hour after Talib’s train departed, the city erupted into flames—the heat from the conducting grenades even reaching their cart on the train from the distance.
“I’m sure Omar and his family got out fine,” his mother had lied to him.
Still, Talib wrote letters to his friend. It was the only way to offset the nightmares of the different ways Omar could have met his end. That guilt of leaving his friend behind lived inside of Talib for years. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t figure out how anyone thought the war was worth the death of so many people—the death of his friend. Just for reservoirs? Really?
The shelter itself wasn’t too bad. It was there that he met Flannery and Alice, after all—though he always feared losing them like he’d lost Omar.
Flannery was like a tornado of fire, whisking them away on imaginary adventures around every twist and turn. Alice—oh, saints. He never quite got along with Alice. She was all about ‘reality this’ and ‘reality that’—held a high head even when they were all cowering beneath the bombarding shells. While she operated on actuality, he preferred to operate on possibilities. Flannery was the glue that held them together in the beginning. His unspoken promise with Alice to figure out what had happened to Flannery during the candidacy ceremony continued to fortify their odd relationship.
And it was through his personal relationship with Flannery that Talib had taken up the helm of the detective. It had started with a small blip—a joke. Flannery had misplaced the handbag Alice had gifted her one day, and Talib had joined her in her search. Absentmindedly, he had quoted a famous line from the detective of his mystery novel—something like “the mystery is afoot” or “ah, the perpetrator has found its way into our home.” And Flannery had laughed. It was the first time she’d cracked a smile since the ceremony, so he’d felt as if he’d just deciphered some archaic code. He continued pulling random lines from the novels; and when those lost their novelty, he even went on so far as to adopt the style of dress from the main character of the novel and incorporated the character’s speech mannerisms into his own.
He knew it was all nonsense. Absolute, utter garbage. But sometimes it was fun. His eccentric rants about diabolical bubble blowers tickled him so much that he went on and on with it until it became a permanent skit. Plus, it got Flannery and Alice to laugh—sometimes Wtorek’s daughter too. He was certain Jericho even smiled once at it. What better reward was that?
Now—his introduction to Jericho was peculiar. When Alice had first requested for him to fill in as Jericho’s partner after Gabrielle showed interest in the man, Talib had been taken aback. He was quite well aware of his personal reputation among his fellow peacekeepers as the ‘conspiracy theorist’ and the ‘weird one,’ so he didn’t think he was suitable for the role as an evaluator. But he wanted to do good by Alice and by Gabrielle especially. The latter was someone whom he respected greatly as a war hero; and he was still gobsmacked that she’d asked him to join her posse. Meeting Roberto, the Wtoreks, Moerani, and Ferris—a very charming woman—through Gabrielle was icing on the cake.
In the end, what Talib had been tasked to evaluate were Jericho’s morals, values, and actions out in the field. Instead of doing that, however, Talib found himself evaluating Jericho more as a co-worker—no, a partner—and not just because they both happened to be originally from Scorpio. They shared a mutual ‘peculiar strangeness’ that turned eyes. That and Jericho’s intense passion for his work was somewhat inspiring—although Talib felt some personal pity towards him after learning about his personal history with ELPIS. That aside, Jericho actually listened to him when he went on his tirades about the Organization. It was nice to have an actively participating audience. They were like a duo straight out from his detective novels, or so Talib thought.
Needless to say, Jericho had Talib’s approval; and after Jericho was brought into Gabrielle’s fold, they continued to partner together on missions. During their downtime, they’d even bonded over their ‘arts and crafts’ as Roberto had called it.
Then Gabrielle had finally disclosed the contents of Izsak’s coded message about ‘saint candidates’ and ‘reservoirs.’ Talib was both startled and honored to be provided such a revelation. He promised to keep it discreet. However, he hadn’t been so willing to do it just because of selflessness. As always, Flannery’s failed saint candidacy whispered at the edges of his mind.
There was a connection somewhere between the two—he was certain. He just didn’t know what it was. Diving into Ophiuchus’s libraries proved fruitless as many of the texts were barebone or overly poetic when it came to the subjects like pre-Reservoir War history and the saint candidates.
When he ended up working alongside the Saint Candidate of Leo alongside Jericho in the Twin Cities, however, Talib began to wonder if he was in over his head. The revelation that the Anima-Vitae Hypothesis was fact paired with the truth of ELPIS’s origins opened up a whole new door in the realm of possibilities. If vitae could store memories, then what of the reservoirs? And what did that make the saint candidates whom ELPIS knew of and loathed so much?
Before Talib could get any of the notes down about it, one thing had led to the next and he was suddenly facing off against yet another saint candidate—of Sagittarius this time.
And then Talib fell in.
When Talib finally stumbled into his apartment in the aftermath of his fall, he immediately went to his standing mirror to confirm that it was still him standing there.
Something had gone wrong. He was certain.
More than having a full picture of everything from his bathing in the reservoirs, all he had were fragmented pieces—faded memories like photographs ripped straight out of an album, one picture for each page, each page either torn or missing. The feelings were intense—anger, despair, desire, longing—but there was no concrete knowledge to back it up.
And that was because he hadn’t bathed long enough in the reservoirs, he knew. Leona—Leo—hadn’t acknowledged the wrongness when he’d spoken with her briefly after he was rescued by the Sagittarian prince, so he deduced that there was a wrongness about her too. But if he just dipped himself into the reservoirs for a moment longer then everything would be clear—no, no, no.
Some things he remembered clearly enough, and that was already too much.
He remembered Nareen—rather, he remembered being Nareen. He remembered looking at himself through Nareen’s eyes during their encounter in that cafeteria. He remembered handing himself that folded lotus flower. And he remembered—
The war. The Reservoir War. Weaponized conductors capable of producing vitae for the reservoirs. The purpose of all of that was…? The end result of all of his, Alice’s, Gabrielle’s, the others’ efforts was…?
Saint candidates, the operators. ELPIS, the resistors. And True Conductors, the gears needed. From the very beginning, it had all been set in stone.
True Conductors—Jericho…? And then the Ariesian prince by relation too…? Could they be…?
In a fit, Talib stormed over to the bulletin board that Izsak had helped him put up on the wall months ago and stared holes at the crisscrossing red strings that connected articles to photos to small posted notes in a complex web. He had spent the past half-year putting this thing together and he’d been rather proud of it.
Now, it mocked him.
He lunged forward and tore the red string from the pins, ripped the photographs and articles away from the tape, and fell onto his back heaving as all the papers rained down around him.
Anima-Vitae Hypothesis, read one sticky note.
Aries, the Saint of Ashes, read another. That was Lavender Chance. He knew that now.
Taurus, the Saint of the Fortress. Wtorek Csilla—Izsak and Elizabeta’s daughter.
Leo, the Saint of Victory. Leona.
Virgo, the Saint of Bonds. Dear Virgo.
Scorpio, the Saint of Passion. That was him now, wasn’t it?
Yes, it was.
Everything really had been put into place from the very beginning. The Organization was a reality.
But what was it all for?
The singular word shook him to his core. It was the foundation for plans that he couldn’t recall. The end result of it was unknown to him, yet the pulse of it surged through his limbs and mind like electricity. The desire to complete it like an unreachable itch, an unquenchable thirst.
The end result. The end result? He needed to know it, but he couldn’t recall it, yet a dip in the reservoirs would resolve it but—no!
He had to tell Gabrielle and Alice about the conductors, about the saint candidates, about ELPIS. Even if it meant that they’d have to lock him up forever. It was worth the sacrifice to end it all.
Instead of storming out the door, however, he crawled onto his bed and stared desolately up at the ceiling.
No, he couldn’t. The syzygy had to happen. No, it was going to happen. If he told Gabrielle or Alice, then it would take longer for them to reach that stage of completion.
Talib stiffened and turned his head towards the standing mirror just across the room. In place of himself in its reflection he found Nareen, the corner of her eyes crinkled, her lips pulled up ever so slightly.
“Regardless of whether you want it to happen or not,” Nareen’s image said, placing a finger to her lips. “It’s inevitable. It’s the force—the passion—of the people. You’ll realize it too. Just like I did.”
The first time Talib manipulated a human being, it had been by accident.
After falling into the reservoir, he’d been plagued by mirages—illusions—at the most random of times. Women dressed in loose, concealing, silken garments dancing out of the corner of his eye whenever he sank into his cubicle for work. Hooded caravans and saddled camels trudging along the road whenever he glanced out the window on a train ride. He’d even seen the sixth ruler of Scorpio kneeling in front of him at one point when he was eating breakfast.
Memories, he was certain. At times they were so distracting that they interfered with his work. He’d gotten himself into more than one sticky situation because of it.
The illusions culminated finally in a mission where he was sent to Scorpio to investigate a ring of conductor smugglers alongside a peacekeeper named Patrick McClellan. Frankly, he didn’t get along too well with Patrick, but since Jericho had gone off to join the ELPIS Department, Talib had put on his best charade.
They were chasing down the smugglers through the twisting city of Gavrivaz when Talib suddenly found himself separated from Patrick and meandering through a narrow alleyway surrounded by clay and limestone walls that reached so high they almost rivaled the walls of the Twin Cities.
Just as he had been about to send out his mediums to search for his partner and the perpetrators—he could send more mediums than before now, although he was still stuck using a conductor due to his faulty baptism—he had been ambushed by one of the smugglers. The man was rather scrawny, with a gaunt-looking face. Obviously, he was not a very strong combatant.
In his mind’s eye, however, Talib had seen the singular man as an entire mob of red-faced men and women wielding torches and pitchforks. The hallucination had Talib tearing down the empty alleyway in horror as the single man closed in on him and grabbed at his arm.
Fearing for his life, Talib reached for the closest thing he could use as a weapon—which just so happened to be his pen-knife conductor—and held it out blindly. Although he couldn’t see the tip of his conductor piercing the other man’s flesh due to squeezing his eyes shut, he could feel his vitae entering the man—feel himself entering him. It was like diving into a pool of water on a painfully hot summer’s day—a shock to the system, refreshing. At that moment, Talib suddenly found that he knew so many things about the man—
Nash Alam. Height, 153 cm. Weight, 71 kg. Vision, 20/20. Family, two daughters and two sons. His wife, ill. Occupation, smuggler—but only because that was the only job he could find that paid enough to take care of his wife’s medical bills.
Surface-level memories of Nash tucking in his children into the small bed on the floor they all shared, of Nash pressing tender kisses onto the back of his wife’s hand as she lay there gray and dying, and of Nash’s employers consistently cutting his pay and him being only able to spare his family a small loaf of bread at dinner constantly as a result.
It was just so sad.
Only when Talib came back to reality a moment later and found Nash hovering blankly above him with the pen-conductor driven in his knee did Talib realize the atrocity he’d just committed. He scrambled back hastily in horror before hesitantly pulling the pen-knife from the man’s leg.
Nash didn’t even flinch.
“I am so, so sorry,” Talib stammered, hands raised. “Are… you okay?”
Nash nodded silently.
Talib felt no different than he had before, and he was certain that Nash—despite that vacant look in his eye—still had his mental faculties about him. Talib knew this because he remembered doing this many times before.
“What are you doing?” Appearing beside him, Nareen whispered in his ear. “You always thought that there was a communication error between peacekeepers and the common people, didn’t you? Now you’ve found the way to solve it. Now you have a chance to understand each other, so do it.”
How did she know he thought that?
“Because we’re the same now, Mr. Al-Jarrah.”
This was wrong.
Then again, he’d already done it.
“Don’t you understand that if you keep doing this, Nash Alam,” Talib murmured hesitantly, “there won’t be anyone left to take care of your children and your wife? You don’t want that, do you?”
Nash shook his head.
“You want to be there and protect your family, right?”
“Then you have to turn yourself in, Mr. Alam.”
But my family, my wife—came Nash’s thought that somehow made its way to Talib.
“I’ll take care of them for you,” Talib said. “I have the money. I can do it. I promise.”
After a moment, Nash blankly nodded again.
Relief spread through Talib’s chest before worry about his manipulation being discovered by other peacekeepers followed. If that happened, Talib realized, then not only would he be arrested and his license revoked, but then his vitae would be removed from Nash and the man would just go back to his old ways. So, Talib decided then to conceal his manipulation as best as he could—even somehow managed to make Nash lose awareness of the manipulation too.
It was a meticulous game.
Talib later watched through Nash’s eyes as the man reunited with his family, bid them temporary farewell, and then turned himself in to the local authorities. And Talib felt joy at this. He had done this. Their happiness was achievable because of his efforts. If he could do this much with this ability, what else could he do? Maybe, he thought to himself, he could use this ability to his advantage. He could help guide people who had lost their way and maybe even garner information on what this ‘syzygy’ was about without taking a full-dive in the reservoirs to ‘complete’ himself.
And so as time went on, he began to test his abilities further—to help people.
He didn’t do it too often—mostly on cases that he was on with Gabrielle in order to boost her record. After all, he didn’t want to draw suspicion, and he didn’t want to be dragged into a promotion position just yet. Gabrielle never suspected a thing. But why would she? It wasn’t as if he was doing anything wrong. The only reason living manipulation was outlawed was because it had negative effects on both the Manipulator and the living medium and because it was an unhealthy dynamic. He understood the science behind that now; and he was certain that although he didn’t contain the normal amount of high-energy vitae particles in himself saint candidates usually contained, he would still be able to inject his vitae into others without any side-effects. That and his intentions were altruistic instead of malicious.
It was all down to science and goodwill.
That aside, Talib found a sense of camaraderie connecting to individuals across Signum. Although they were from all different walks of life, they shared dreams, passions, and desires to better themselves and their lives. He felt that being ‘with them’ helped to quench his thirst to complete the syzygy, to ‘complete’ himself, to gain the knowledge hidden in the reservoirs.
But still, he needed more—more than just individuals involved in the peacekeeping cases he was working on. And so he did just that, converting random passersby at times into his mediums. Two mediums became four, four became sixteen, sixteen became two-hundred fifty-six, and more and more. But Talib reassured himself that he was only doing it to get more information through those connections for Alice and Gabrielle, to get more of an understanding about Flannery, to get more of an understanding of the goals of ELPIS—the organization that whisked Jericho away, the organization made of relics and of fools.
Talib assured himself that when he got all of the information together, then he would be ready to tell Gabrielle, Alice, and the others.
But then he met—entered—a young Taurusian woman named Fekete Evelin while on a routine checkup of the country’s main generator conductors. The woman was in no way involved in the case, being a local bartender in a town he’d stopped by during the assignment. He bumped into her accidentally while switching tables, and he caught sight of the dark bruises around her neck and arms. Worry filling his chest, he immediately used his conductor to enter her.
In horror, he found that the woman was filled with unending despair. It was the only thing she’d ever known. From neglectful, abusive parents to a neglectful, abusive husband who had beat her head on the kitchen sink over burnt toast just that morning—she was trapped in a cycle. At the moment, she was saving up money to try and leave him.
You don’t have to suffer. I’ll help you with the money, he told her with empathy. You can be free. It’s your choice. You want to be free, don’t you?
With glassy eyes, Fekete agreed—yes, she wanted more than anything to be free.
Then all you have to do is leave, he informed her.
That statement gave her so much relief—he could tell. And so he departed her side with a hop in his step.
It was on the train home to Ophiuchus that Talib felt Fekete select the kitchen knife from her cupboards and walk over to her husband who was drinking at the dining room table. As fury boiled over in her chest, she stabbed him over and over again before turning around and staring holes into the small figure standing just behind her. Without hesitation, she stabbed the small figure over and over again too.
What are you doing?! Talib cried in horror to her as he forced her to stop. Why?!
Her expression was eerily calm. There was even a faint smile touching her lips. This is freedom, she thought as she slit her throat. Now, I leave.
And just like that, his connection with her snapped in two.
After coming back to himself in the train cart, Talib immediately darted into the nearest bathroom and vomited.
Nash—Talib desperately reached out for the man for consolation, but in horror found that Nash was not sitting patiently in his jail cell in the Scorpioan city but dashing through the detention center’s halls as alarms blared around him.
He had planned a breakout attempt, Talib realized.
There was a gun in the man’s hand that had already been fired twice. But the man didn’t care about the lives he’d just taken. All he could think about was his family—getting back to his wife and daughter.
You need to stop! Talib ordered, now absolutely furious.
And Nash did stop—just in time to be bulleted through by the prison guards running up just behind him.
Talib agonized about Nash Alam and Fekete Evelin for weeks. But every time he tried to find comfort in the others he had entered, he only found that they too had reverted to their old ways—most going by some inane interpretation of the ‘orders’ he gave them. The alcoholics found solace in other addictions, the greedy found other ways to earn a surplus, and the abused fell to other abusers or became abusers themselves.
One night, Talib laid awake in bed feeling all of his mediums go through the cyclic motions in agony. In the end, he couldn’t change a thing.
“So you realize it now. That’s what passion is. You can’t stop it.”
The guilt was bottomless.
“But why should you feel guilty?” Nareen’s voice continued to whisper in his ear, although he had covered up his standing mirror weeks ago.
What happened to Fekete and Nash was—
“They both wanted this from the very beginning. You know that. All you were—all we are—is the passage of time or a burst of passion in a single moment.”
It was terrible.
“Aren’t you glad that Fekete’s husband died though? He was a wicked man, wasn’t he?”
Yes, he was. But Fekete—
“Well, you felt Fekete’s last moments. That euphoria of being free.”
It was true. What had truly disturbed Talib so much was not only Fekete’s death, but the relief the woman had felt as she’d plunged the knife into her throat.
“She was happy and—”
It was all because of him that Fekete could move forward through the final act.
It was almost kind of funny how things kept ending. To be wandering around trying to change was the keystone of suffering because realizing failure to change was true grief. It was better to revel in absolute unchanging self and maybe even hedonism—like Nash and Fekete had. Anyone who resisted was laughable—like Gabrielle, like Alice. Any suffering that they encountered was deserved.
As soon as the thought left Talib’s mind, nausea overtook him.
He needed help. Flannery could—no, not Flannery. Flannery—Libra—was a coward. Irresponsible, abandoning their plan for the syzygy as if it were nothing, like they hadn’t poured centuries of blood into it. Right now she was so useless. Slovenly. It’d be better if he’d just killed her and have someone else take up the helm of Libra—well, no. Libra had always been like that—standing back neutrally and looking down at everything and judging ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ like she wasn’t even involved. The arrogance!
Talib shot up in bed, cold sweat escaping from every pore in his body.
How could he even think that about Flannery?
“What do you mean?” Nareen continued. “It’s not like we haven’t done it before—kill someone I mean. Although it was only that one time that we’ve ever killed another person ourselves. Most of the time, they all kill each other. It’s a pity.”
“You… You killed Shion,” Talib realized in horror as the memory of a cloud of blackbirds swirled in his mind.
“No, we killed Shion.”
No, that wasn’t true.
But he could still recall sending those flocks of birds on after Shion as she desperately tried to fly away. He remembered aiming the birds at her face, limbs, hands. He remembered her tumbling from her conductor and desperately searching for the sky for it right up until the very end.
“You know it’s true.”
And Talib laughed—laughed because he suddenly remembered Shion’s desperation in her final moments, her tearful struggle for the truth despite being just a simple woman. She’d tried to change and that was the result. A fruitless struggle. Laughable, hilarious, pitiable.
After his chuckles had subsided into pained groans of agony, Talib finally decided it firmly in horror: he needed help. Now. He couldn’t wait around and try to hold it off any longer.
Before he knew it, Talib found himself standing on the platform bridges that oversaw the Prognoikos Aurora Reservoirs. His legs were sore from walking the entire distance from the Serpens Establishment to the reservoirs since the trains were down for the night. But despite his fatigue, he continued onwards.
The sky was pitch-black save for the silver moon peeking out from in-between the clouds. But that sliver of light seemed to act like a spotlight on the glimmering reservoirs.
Talib needed to know more—what the syzygy was, why the saint candidates were so desperate to complete it, why things ended the way they did, and maybe some semblance as for the reason why Fekete and Nash suffered their fates. Had it been his own fault or theirs? Maybe that knowledge and wisdom were hidden away in the reservoirs somewhere, in the memories of past Scorpioan saint candidates; maybe there was something there to ease his concerns—his suffering.
As Talib neared the spot above his reservoir and basked in the warm updraft from below, however, regret bombarded him. Why in the world had he come here?
The clicking of heels behind him cut off those thoughts shortly after.
“So you’ve finally come,” came a silken voice. “You took longer than I expected.”
Upon turning, he found a familiar woman with golden hair standing there—a faint, familiar smile touching her lips.
Leona, Saint Candidate of Leo, Saint of Victory. She was dutiful, strong, and just. Always had been. Even if she was half the person she was before.
“You were playing a dangerous game, Talib Al-Jarrah, manipulating people while having such a small amount of high-energy-level vitae inside of you.”
“We’re the same in that regard, aren’t we?” Talib returned, feeling eerily calm. “So you’re going to force me to jump then, are you?
“I have quite a lot more vitae in me than you, Talib.” Leona chuckled. “And don’t be ridiculous. It’s still your choice.”
“This time, yes,” Leona said. “In the very beginning, there was always a choice with the ceremony and potential candidates—do you recall? In fact, it was viewed as an honor to accept the role, and everyone did so knowing the responsibility they were taking on. If you step off now, you will just follow in the footsteps of so many before you.”
After a beat, he whispered, “What is it like…?”
“I suppose equating it to ‘enlightenment’ would be… the romantic way to put it.”
“Enlightenment you say…?” Talib suppressed a laugh at the ridiculousness of it—but still, his attention was drawn down to the reservoirs. The warmth felt like it was pulling him in. “Why…?”
“The amount of the high-energy vitae particles associated with Scorpio in you now is much larger than before. As you know, high-energy vitae particles—especially those of matching wavelengths—attract each other. At the moment, resisting the pull of the reservoir is going against the laws of physics itself.” Leona regarded him. “But rest assured. Afterwards, you will still be you.”
That last bit was surely a lie. But it sounded like she believed it wholeheartedly.
He would become like them—Talib was certain. It was only natural. Centuries upon centuries of memories from past saint candidates and others extinguishing his own sense of self. What was twenty or thirty years compared to two-hundred, three-hundred, four-hundred?
“If you wish, once you fully complete yourself, you can choose not to fulfill your duties as a saint candidate—just as Flannery did.”
“Flannery…?” Talib looked away from the reservoirs as the full realization dawned on him. “You put Flannery through this too without even giving her a choice…” He whipped back to Leona, now absolutely livid. “How could you?! You’re all insane… What you’re trying to do—even though I can barely remember what it is, I can still tell—you’re monsters.”
“Your words are unkind, Scorpio—”
“No, no—don’t call me that!” Talib snapped hysterically. “All you people are doing is shoving what you think is right on us! You and ELPIS both!” He slapped his hand against his chest. “How can change happen if you’re here interfering with everything?! Just give us a chance! The syzygy—”
“Wow… that passion. You truly are a suitable candidate,” another voice, deeper in tone, resounded from the dark.
“You…” Talib felt his blood run cold as he registered another figure emerging from the shadows into the silver moonlight. “You killed Izsak…?”
“I’m sure you’ll realize it once you remember it fully.” The figure reached out and placed a hand to Talib’s chest. “Nothing will ever change. Different faces, different stories, the same ending.” The figure chuckled. “You coming here instead of you going to either Gabrielle or Alice just shows that you’ve already made your choice.”
Talib knew with a falling heart that there was a partial truth in that.
Giving him a good and hard push, the figure left him with—“Good morning, old friend.”
Talib stumbled backwards off the platform and tumbled down through the night air. He barely managed to catch sight of the clouds pulling away from the moon revealing its beauty in full before he crashed through the waters of the reservoir.
The heat of it seared his skin and filled up his lungs, blinding his eyes and suffocating him in terrible things.
Memories of revolutions, assassinations, war, peace flooded him as did the experiences of the countless people he had turned into his mediums and offshoots with his spores in previous iterations of himself. All of their actions—despite the different times, the different situations, the different personalities—ended up being exactly the same. Those who tried to change died. Those who embraced themselves lived gloriously until the end. The very beginning of Signum, ELPIS, and himself eclipsed his mind as did the path sauntering downwards. The ending was clear.
If there was any word for all of it, he supposed ‘enlightenment’ really would fit.
As Scorpio broke up through the surface of the reservoir, he burst out laughing. His own meandering fit of anguish from earlier was just so hilarious. It was the first time he’d experienced an incomplete baptism like that, so it was an interesting experience at least.
The answer was obvious. There had never been reason or rhyme to any of it—not for Omar’s death, not for the war, not for Fekete’s and Nash’s fates. All of it was the cycle of life. And if it was to continue like that forever—or at least until the syzygy—then why not live by throwing oneself into passion and hedonism until the end?
The next time the Saint of Passion saw Flannery Caertas, he reveled in her expression of utter despair as she laid eyes on him. He’d always been curious about her ability to see the flow of vitae. It was such an omniscient ability—to see the beginning and end, life and death—that he was sure it bestowed some sort of wisdom. It was such a waste to be given to someone who refused to act unless slapping down a verdict at the very end.
Libra seeing her childhood friend become just the same as her—surely Scorpio thought that this would cause her to move. But then Libra had smiled and chatted about the weather as she’d seated herself beside him as if everything in the world was right.
It infuriated him. How dare she act as if everything was normal? Her lack of acknowledgment just showed her lack of care! The irresponsibility! Did she really just want to wait around for the syzygy to happen?
It took every single fiber of his being not to slap her every time he saw her.
What? Did she think that he was the same as her? Apathetic and careless? Not wanting to take up the helm?
That was when he’d decided to set one of his goals. He would drag her out of hiding and force her into the light that she averted her eyes away from. Look at it, look at it, look at it!
But Libra wasn’t the only faulty party. The other active saint candidates too were wrong. Sagittarius was a traitor. And Leona, despite her heavy involvement in Signum’s affairs, wasn’t pushing the syzygy hard enough—wasn’t doing away with ELPIS to the full extent of her ability. Scorpio figured it was probably because her baptism was faulty like his had been. And so, he had delicately cut her out of the picture so he could take matters into his own hands. Of course, none of the others turned an eye—some maybe did so out of curiosity, others maybe out of negligence. Well, fine. He’d show them exactly how far he could go.
But after setting that goal, Scorpio realized it still wasn’t enough. There were too many others around Libra and himself that lived in delusions. Like that Gabrielle Law. The complete and utter arrogance of that woman was laughable. His mind rattled with memories of the riveting speeches she’d given to all of them about a world of true peace that she’d be able to bring if she made it to head chairwoman.
Just who did she think she was? What made her so special? Why did she think she could accomplish something no one else could do?
He would have to correct that false way of thinking—force her to face the reality of herself and her ‘perfect, utopian’ world.
And that Alice. She was the worst offender of them all. She thought people were capable of true change—no, she mistook small shifts in habit and behavior as signs of true change. She didn’t see the full picture. She didn’t see that all of those small shifts would gradually take a person back to the very beginning, coming full circle. Or—at least she refused to see it. Ah, the arrogance and ignorance of it all.
But plainly telling them of their folly wouldn’t teach them. No one learned that way. Showing them and having them experience their folly and failures themselves—now that was how something stayed ingrained in the brain.
Not too long after infecting Leona, Scorpio decided to go to Capricorn to investigate a suspected True Conductor named Werner Waltz. As he made his way through Capricorn to the capital, he made sure to create living mediums whenever he could. He had no intention of converting them into infectious spores at that time. He merely needed to get as many eyes on Werner Waltz as possible.
Almost every other Capricornian he entered, however, contained in them suppressed anger, dissatisfaction, grief, and contempt. The oppressive and yet somehow paradoxically hands-off reign of the current Kaiser and the lack of vitae reservoirs and related shortages in the border-lining towns of Capricorn strangled the people. No one knew of it, but economic inequality was around every corner. In order to escape it, Capricornians often stayed longer in service than the required years to escape heavy non-service taxation and to earn enough of a stipend to move to cities and towns where vitae was supplied more readily. However, this led to work shortages in other areas such as agriculture and research and development. The chancellery had tried to adapt by creating military positions in science-related fields, but it was still insufficient.
In other words, the system that made Capricorn strong was tearing it apart. No system lasted forever. Every single one failed, only to be rebuilt again with ‘improvements,’ only to fail again.
Scorpio mulled over all of the pitiable Capricornians with empathy before deciding to visit the Kaiser at his place of residence—the location of which he pried out from the man’s v-ehicle driver.
The Kaiser showed no surprise when he found Scorpio lounging on the sofa of his living room.
“Who are you and what business do you have?” was all he asked.
“The Saint of Passion. I would like to speak with you, dear.”
“I know of your kind. The previous kaiser told me all about you,” the Kaiser had said after a minute pause. “I haven’t heard news of any ceremony recently. Aren’t you supposed to be primarily focused on Scorpio instead, not here?”
“Usually,” Scorpio replied, “but I’m here in search of a True Conductor who holds citizenship in your country.”
“You know Capricorn doesn’t involve itself with those things,” the Kaiser replied steadily, “so I’m unable to help you in that department.”
“You seem to know many things, Kaiser,” Scorpio conceded, extending a hand, “but you seem not to know the suffering of your people.”
The Kaiser didn’t budge. “What type of Conductor are you?”
“I’m a Manipulator,” Scorpio answered honestly. “But you needn’t worry about me manipulating you. I rarely do things like that. You know we only exist as mediums of knowledge and wisdom.”
Still, the Kaiser refused to move.
“There has yet to be a kaiser that has fully understood the will of the people.” Scorpio kept his hand extended. “Wouldn’t you like to be the first? This is the only chance you have. Do your people truly love you or hate you? You can find out.”
And so the Kaiser took his hand—the man was the youngest ever kaiser and the most curious of them all, after all. Thus, Scorpio showed him everything: the people’s thoughts, their feelings, their wishes and desires. In the end, the Kaiser collapsed on all fours on the ground, panting, heaving, half-weeping.
“I didn’t realize it had gotten that bad… I…”
“Most people don’t.”
“The reservoirs… we need more reservoirs.”
So that was what the Kaiser thought the problem was. What a foolish man.
Scorpio almost laughed but instead said, “I’ll see what I can do for you. Of course, I’d like information about my True Conductor first.”
Unfortunately, the Kaiser informed him that Werner Waltz had departed back to the border just two days prior. The development was somewhat irritating, but Scorpio continued his investigation by converting several Capricornians who were headed to the borders into spores and mediums to surveil Waltz better. And that was the end of it. Or so he’d thought.
Just as Scorpio was to depart the capital back to Ophiuchus, he encountered Marionette Engel in the capital’s main square. She looked much older than when he’d last seen her during the war, but her eyes still burned with the fire that he’d helped to light years ago. The crowd she was rallying, however, didn’t seem to contain that fire. And as she protested something or the other about ‘the Watch’ and the secrecy of the Kaiser and higher military officials, many turned a blind eye.
Frankly, Scorpio felt pity for her. Many movements died with the passage of time. If the defunct movements were lucky, they would inspire future movements. If not, they were simply forgotten. That was how it went.
He continued to watch Marionette even after her rally ended and after she bid farewell to her few supporters too. He watched as she stowed herself away into an alley and sank to the ground, back pressed against the wall.
How pitiable to see a flame die.
And so, as he passed her by, he transferred some of his vitae into a sheet of origami paper and subtly cut Marionette on the cheek with it.
Change, he reminded her. You want change.
Even if it was impossible.
It was only later—after he returned to Ophiuchus and conversed with a half-lucid Leona while admiring his newly fixed bulletin board—that he began to connect the dots together. The small Capricornian reservoir, the people’s unhappiness, the Kaiser’s internal defeat, Marionette’s desire—all the puzzle pieces were already set up, like a game.
That pursuit of passion—Scorpio loved it.
The infection of True Conductor Werner Waltz truly had been an accident. As soon as Scorpio realized that one of his offshoots had infected the man, he flew into a mad panic. True Conductors were extremely valuable, after all. And while there was just a small surplus of them compared to the amount needed for the syzygy, every single one of them was still precious—especially when they were so hard to find. His desperation almost led to him reaching out personally to Libra, but—
—then Scorpio felt Werner. He’d never entered a True Conductor before so the breadth and depth of entering one of them left him breathless. So many crisscrossing thoughts and feelings bleeding into each other—the vitae of one person operating independently yet in sync with all the others. The way they influenced each other was remarkable. It was so different to how saint candidates like himself and ELPIS leaders operated. And—
Scorpio was completely enamored by it.
There was also something about Werner Waltz that reminded him vaguely of Fekete—as in being under the domineering oppression and watchful eyes of another. Unlike Fekete, however, Werner didn’t have a desire to escape. He bore on with it as if it were duty, bent himself to meet perceptions. Fascinating. Everything about him was fabricated—even his will and strength. Layers upon layers of lies.
Scorpio truly enjoyed getting to know the falsities in Werner as he did the falsities of Cadence, Atienna, and Olive. Cadence, the one who tried the hardest to change ‘for the better’ and who had attempted to pretend exteriorly until her interior matched—but failing every single time. Atienna, who after all of this time still remained fixated in spot—like Libra—while displaying a false facade of kindness and empathy. Olive, who had convinced himself that he was moving forward despite binding himself to the idea of ‘bringing back his sister’ and who more than anything—deep down inside—wanted everything to disappear. And Maria—no. Jericho—he waited with anticipation for.
Still, Werner was Scorpio’s favorite. He just couldn’t get enough of it; and so he kept dissecting Werner further and further, hoping to deepen his understanding of the man, hoping to get to the bottom of who the man truly was and who he was meant to be. Even if it meant breaking them all in the process.
Every so often doubt and regret would burn at the edges of Talib’s mind—though those episodes grew far and fewer in-between. He even cried over them sometimes. And he acted on them, of course, because he was a man of passion. Any resistance against internal desire was going against human nature itself. And he was made of thousands upon thousands of memories of so many humans—and, unlike Leona and her complex, he did not distinguish himself much from humankind.
And so he’d laid little hints for Gabrielle’s group. The notes, the biting remarks, the letters. It wasn’t his fault that they ignored all the signs. But that was human nature—averting the eyes to focus on their own bent version of reality. Still, he tried his best. But gradually his good intentions melded into something else. Instead of warning them to the best of his abilities, somehow he began turning the entire thing into a game, testing how far he could push until they realized something was off, testing how much he could act and pretend. Why? Because it was just too fun.
Die Hauptstadt, Capricorn
It was exactly how Scorpio pictured it. Their expressions. Eyebrows furrowed and raised, lips parted into gapes or pulled downwards into grimaces. The atmosphere in the room was perfectly thin.
Scorpio placed a hand on his chin and allowed himself a moment to take it all in—their faces, the weapons in their hands, the way they either tensed or moved backwards. The fear in the room was poignant.
“You Capricornians should be thankful I offered my help to begin with.” Scorpio broke the silence with a hum. “I’m helping you refill your reservoirs even though this country isn’t my domain.” He chuckled. “All of those medals and speeches about glory, honor, and valor—yet you don’t even realize what or who you’re fighting for. For your country? You’ve already seen what your country wants to use you for. So if not that then for the people? But they all despise you. Maybe for money and power? Such temporary things—”
“No, don’t!” Gabrielle snapped suddenly.
Scorpio turned just in time to see one of Von Spiel’s men fire a rifle conductor at him. He barely had the time to blink before he felt the heat of the ray sear through his head.
Then, for a moment, there was nothing. Just black emptiness. In the next moment, Scorpio found himself lying on the floor and blinking up at the dome ceiling—with just one functioning eye.
“W-What the hell—” came the stammering whispers. “What the hell are you?”
Scorpio sat himself up and glanced at the floor around him. It was scattered with fleshy bits of his skull, flesh, and hair—and oh, his other eyeball too. Those fleshy remnants pulsated with dark blue vitae before vibrating and slowly slinking their way back to him. They crawled up his legs, went up his arms, flowed up his neck, before fitting into their correct places in his skull.
Blinking as the optic nerve of his other eye reattached itself, Scorpio lifted his hand and flicked his wrist. The paper cranes surrounding that particularly feisty Capricornian swarmed him and lacerated his skin. The man tried to take cover and swat them away but it was too late—
Gereon Böhm, 22 years of age, 182 cm, 115 kg, Grenadier, aka Lance Corporal. And—or so Scorpio realized as he dug through Gereon’s surface-level memories: such a poor, pitiable thing.
Scorpio ordered Gereon to stop his fit immediately. The latter obeyed, stilling and lowering his rifle.
Scorpio sighed, pulling himself to a stand and dusting himself off. “You were told at least a little bit about how high energy vitae particles work, right? Do you really think someone whose body contains the vitae particles that reservoirs are made of would be felled by some silly conductor?”
He peeled off his damp trench coat slowly and held it out to Gereon who paced over and took it from him. He’d always hated having to wear that thing for the act.
“High-level energy vitae particles are naturally attracted to each other,” Scorpio explained. “Every single vitae particle in my body is crying out to return to where the largest, nearest mass of my vitae particles resides—which is me right now. Now, you might be asking why I’m not being drawn into local vitae reservoirs or why local vitae reservoirs are not drawn into me.”
No one responded; everyone stared. Maybe no one was asking. But who cared?
“It’s all about the wavelengths and color attributes of vitae particles. That’s actually one of the reasons why a person is chosen to be a saint candidate. It’s quite complicated, Alice. Not as simple as you put it.” He turned to them and popped his neck. “Of course, I’m particularly good at this since I can directly manipulate my own particles, but I digress: killing me or trying to won’t do anything for you. I’m truly just an observer now.”
Ignoring the stares he continued to receive, he flicked his hand in the air again. This time Roberto stiffened, unholstered his pistol, and pointed it squarely at Alice and Gabrielle.
Gabrielle startled, eyes wide as beautiful realization dawned on her. “Talib… how could you?”
Scorpio ignored her and addressed Martin, “Major General Von Spiel, you were so eager to sacrifice yourself and your men to me before, but what now? What is it for? Did you want to uphold the Capricornian standard for bravery and valor? Do you value you and your subordinates less than your country?”
“So you’re the one ruining our country,” was Martin’s response.
“Ruining your country?” Scorpio stared and then burst out laughing. He wasn’t quite sure how long he laughed for, but his throat was sore when the laughter subsided. Wiping a tear from his eye, he said, “You call the will of the people you’ve sworn to protect ‘ruining your country’?”
Another soldier began aiming a rifle conductor at him, so Scorpio jerked his head. Gereon aimed the rifle conductor at his own mouth, paused, and then fired.
What a pitiable fool.
Gereon’s headless body hit the ground a second after. The initial soldier startled and screamed Gereon’s name, but Scorpio interrupted him—
“Two months ago, Gereon accidentally shot and killed a man and his daughter while attempting to apprehend Augen members at a rally. The Militärpolizei covered the incident up, and Gereon hasn’t been able to live with himself since. He’s thrown himself into every operation he’s been assigned like it’s his last and was hoping to die on assignment. I gave him a choice, and he chose this.”
Scorpio gestured to all of them and sent several of his origami papers hurtling towards a select few of Von Spiel’s men. They too tried to shoot at and dodge the papers, but Scorpio nicked them quite easily.
“Now if you’re so eager to lay down your lives, I would at least like to know you all better.” He spread his arms wide. “I’ll grant you your deepest desires! Shall we see them all, everyone?” He turned back to Martin. “Unless you have a different idea, Major General.”
Martin grimaced and jerked his hand down, signaling his remaining subordinates to cast down their weapons. The sporeless subordinates obeyed.
But it wasn’t good enough.
“I want to hear it from your mouth, Martin.”
Again, no answer. Only a glare.
Scorpio lifted his hand in the air—
“Stand down!” Martin spat through gritted teeth. “Everyone, stand down! No one fires at the saint candidate. Put down your weapons. We don’t have the faculties to go up against something like this.”
His words echoed through the hall, accentuating the sight of the conductors and rifles already lying on the floor.
Scorpio smiled. “Thank you. And now, Mr. Von Spiel, you know that honor in battle and Capricorn’s brand of bravery are not suitable for you. It wasn’t suitable for Fritz either. It’s truly a pity about him. If only we found him sooner, then we could’ve protected him.”
Martin grimaced, eyebrows furrowing and eyes afire, but he said nothing.
Scorpio prepared to move on but paused when he noticed that one Capricornian was still gripping a weapon tightly.
Ah, it was Ludwig Waltz.
“Ludwig,” Scorpio acknowledged him, causing the man to stiffen, “if only you showed this sort of rebelliousness and bravery all those years ago.” He smiled when Ludwig paled. “Do you think that performing something like a heroic sacrifice will make them forgive you? No, you’re just running away again. Let’s not make any more mistakes, okay?”
Viktoria placed a hand on Ludwig’s shoulder; and after they shared a brief look, Ludwig lowered the weapon.
Scorpio then approached Hilton and Louise who both tensed. “You can leave this place with each other. Both of you are very valuable to us, after all.” He jerked his head back towards the others. “None of them understand how truly special your kind are.”
“Oh, don’t worry about any Augen members stopping you. I’ll tell them to keep you safe. In fact, I’ll always be watching you from now on.”
Tensing and paling, Hilton glanced over Scorpio’s shoulder then relaxed slightly. Scorpio followed his gaze to Gabrielle who was nodding at him.
The arrogance of that woman.
Hilton grabbed Louise’s arm and slowly headed on towards the exit. He paused at the threshold, tense, as if expecting to be shot or attacked. When none of those things came to be, he broke out into a mad dash with Louise in tow.
Scorpio watched them disappear from his sights before switching over to watch them trek through the city via the eyes of his mediums. He then made his way over to Maria’s ‘crew’ and knelt before Lita who was surrounded by a protective barrier made of Morandi, Simon, and Emmanuel.
“You have eyes like Libra, though I see they’re much weaker,” Scorpio noted, extending his hand to her. “I wonder if you would have been a better Libra than her. Anyway, I would like to have my vitae read. Would you be so kind?”
Morandi and Simon pushed Lita further behind them and remained silent.
Scorpio ignored them, keeping his hand extended. “They saved you, I’m assuming? Would you be able to live with yourself if something happened just because you didn’t want to act? A fate of constantly having to be rescued? I’m not sure if it’s sad or disgusting. Poor girl.”
Trembling, Lita shoved past Morandi and Simon despite their protests and put on her glasses conductors. She tentatively reached out for Scorpio’s hand and then looked up at him. She paled not soon after her as her eyes widened in horror. With a screech of terror, she pulled away from him and buried herself into Morandi’s arms.
Seeking rescue again—hah-hah.
Scorpio pulled back with a chuckle. “Is it really that bad?” He glanced at Simon who was pale. “A Monadic priest like you being with these kinds of people is quite irresponsible. I’m sure even if you were not higher in the Monadic order, you would still know to bring special cases like this to the temples.”
He turned back and ordered Roberto and the other Capricornians who had just been converted into his spores to release the bound Augen members. They did so without question. He didn’t have them take away the weapons of those who were sporeless—because the result would be the same whether or not the sporeless fought back; and he wanted them to see and know this. He did, however, have his spores and mediums line the perimeter of the building and then sent one soldier out of the dome on an errand.
Once that was all settled, Scorpio snapped his fingers. “Now that you all seem to understand your situation and the stage is set, let’s talk.”
Several of the origami animals floating around the room refolded themselves into the shape of crowns. He guided those paper crowns down onto Gabrielle’s, Alice’s, Von Spiel’s, Weingartner’s, and Ludwig’s heads. After taking a bow, he snapped his fingers again. The crowns re-folded themselves into jester hats.
Martin, Gabrielle, and Ludwig shook theirs off, while Alice and Weingartner remained impassive.
“You shouldn’t feel despair about the fact that you’re facing someone like me,” Scorpio said. “You should despair that even if you weren’t, the ending would be the same.” He tapped his chest. “As you’ve probably heard many times before, I didn’t force any of those ‘infected’ Capricornians to do anything they wouldn’t have actually done. Save for a few instances like now, I’ve never taken full control of them. In fact, only one-sixth of the Capricornians that are here for the protest in this capital have my spores in them. The others have been pulled in by their own passions. What’s happened within these past couple of weeks would have happened over the next several months regardless of whether I interfered or not. This animosity has been brewing since the war’s end. I’m sure Libra will make the same verdict.”
“Very wordy, Talib. But if you’re so confident about that,” Gabrielle said calmly, “then why didn’t you just let the months-long rolling plan happen instead? This seems a bit much, Talib, even for you.”
Arrogance burned in her eyes, but so did pathetic, hidden desperation—the same desperation she showed whenever Izsak was brought up.
Scorpio pressed his fingertips together. “I did say patience was a virtue, didn’t I? One I admittedly don’t have…”
The soldier he’d sent off earlier returned carrying two red bottles of wine.
“Let me explain all of your positions to you fully.” Scorpio accepted a bottle and uncorked it. “First, Capricornians, your plan is to stop and dispose of the Kaiser, right? But who do you think will take his place? Who do you trust to do it?” He gestured to Martin—“You?”—then to Volker—“Or you?” When neither man responded, Scorpio chuckled. “The Kaiser used to be just like you with the same ambitions, morals, and goals—I know because I’m in him—but look at him now. What makes you think you’d be so different? You’re all about ‘now, now, now,’ but you don’t even think about the future.”
Thunder began to rumble outside.
Scorpio poured out the wine from the bottle and watched as the red leaked in between the tiles. “As for you, peacekeepers, all the first chairs of the departments are aware of the existence of us saint candidates just as all of them are aware of vitae conversion. I’ll let your imagination tell you what that implicates for the Reservoir War and for the other countries of Signum.”
“So, why are you telling us all of this?” Gabrielle asked.
Scorpio leisurely paced over to her and handed her the empty bottle.
After a moment of hesitation, Gabrielle took it from him and searched his face for something—someone—like a pitiable fool. “And… what’s this for?”
“Don’t you recognize it?”
Gabrielle arched a brow, staring into the bottom of the bottle.
“It’s going to be your best friend from now on.” Scorpio smiled as Gabrielle frowned in confusion. “How else are you going to be able to bear living with all of this from now on? Poor thing.”
Gabrielle’s eyes widened, then narrowed before she tightened her grip on the bottle and melted it into nothing with magenta flame. She, however, didn’t make any other daring moves. “Sorry, Talib, never was a drinker.”
“Alice, you see it too, don’t you?” Scorpio continued, not looking away from Gabrielle. “The only reason Gabrielle Law is so bent on becoming head chairwoman is because she can’t live with the guilt of what she did during the war. All of this ‘creating a better Ophiuchus to bring peace to Signum’ is a coping mechanism. It doesn’t matter if she drags down other people with her. There’s no altruism here. Still… we followed her.” He leaned in close so that he was only centimeters away from Gabrielle’s face and whispered, “You’ve fought for nothing, but you’ve lost everything.”
“Talib, you need help…” she muttered back.
Her worry and empathy bled into him. But then he cast a glance down at the paper jester’s hat at her feet before smiling and peeling back. He leisurely made his way to one of the convention tables still set off-center on the floor.
“Now what?” a Capricornian close to one of his offshoots muttered.
“Now, we wait,” Scorpio replied, seating himself on the table.
“For what?” whispered another.
“For the protest,” replied one other. “The riot…”
Scorpio closed his eyes and hummed. “I wonder which side will pull the trigger first?”
Through the darkness, he could see through the eyes of all his offshoots and mediums. Two sides with anger and venom coursing through their body. One, wanting their sons, daughters, fathers, mothers to return home from the borders. The other, wanting to return home safely to their sons, daughters, fathers, mothers. Both, wanting their version of justice and retribution. The other side is wrong, they thought—The other side is being manipulated.
He could see the Augen members linked arm-in-arm on the streets facing off against the military police standing in a line and beating their batons in a steady, intimidating rhythm and matching the thunder rolling on the horizon.
Who would shoot first? Guessing was exciting.
After a moment of waiting, Scorpio figured it was time. He reached out to the spore budding inside of Werner Waltz and squeezed and squeezed, until he felt something crack, until Maria slipped under and another took her place.
Just one more. Then he would get them to Libra. It was just too enjoyable now.
Satisfied, Scorpio returned to himself and found that the dome was darker now. Rain was pattering on through the broken dome window above, and the floor was flooded almost entirely. The sporeless Capricornians, Gabrielle, and Alice shivered in the damp dark and watched him silently.
It was a hilariously familiar scene.
“All of you people just never change. Time, time again you live, fight, and die in vain. Don’t you realize it’s all just starting all over again? Another revolution is nearing its end. Different faces and different actors but the same ending. Don’t you want an end to that?”
He unlatched himself from the table and approached the glass-ridden floor beneath the dome.
“We’re all in a constant state of dynamic equilibrium. There’s movement but no change. We mirror the cycle of vitae and nature around us. It’s inevitable.”
He held out his fingers to touch the rainwater dribbling down.
“They say equilibrium is death, don’t they?”
“Talib,” Alice finally spoke, her voice even as she ignored the glares she received from the Capricornians, “you’re confused. You’re having a derealization or dissociative episode—I’m not sure which—but you need to come back to yourself before this can get any worse.”
“My dear Alice, you always prided yourself in keeping your distance from your patients,” Scorpio muttered. “You always took pride in your work. But you’re a hypocrite, you know? Did you call it ‘distance’ when you personally bought Jericho his glasses? I doubt he even knows how expensive it is, by the way.”
“Let me help you—”
“Like you helped the Ariesian prince too? You see how that ended. He almost murdered someone.”
“That was you.”
“No, that was him,” Scorpio replied. “You tried to help him when he was younger, right? He was troubled. But after seeing what he did earlier, you can see that your efforts were fruitless, can’t you? When something is broken, even after you glue it back together, those hairline fractures are still there. Nothing can be permanently changed. Not even your other patient, not even my partner, not even Jericho.”
Alice tensed. “What did you do?”
He pointed over to the open door. “You can go and see if you can stop him if you’d like.” He then gestured widely at all of them. “In fact, all of you can leave. I won’t stop you myself.”
The sporeless Capricornians remain fixated in place.
Yes. Accept it.
“You can try to stop this hand of time—this wave of passion—if you’d like. You can cut down my two remaining towers and disconnect the spores connected to them—but what about those out there without the spores? What about the desires of my offshoots that have been drawn out onto the surface?” He chuckled. “Well, no matter. I would like to see you all struggle until the very end.”
Scorpio raised his hand and drew all of his floating origami papers back into his palms. He signaled all of his offshoots and mediums to exit the building. Only when the last of his offshoots left did Volker and Martin exchange wordless glances. They both looked to Gabrielle, but Gabrielle didn’t acknowledge them. And so, after shouting a couple of orders, they took themselves, their remaining subordinates, and Werner’s family out of the domed building. Maria’s crew followed them out not too long after.
So they refused to accept it still, Scorpio thought. Well, watching them crumble completely with reality would be a suitable pastime.
All that was left now was himself, Alice, Gabrielle, and Roberto.
“For a person who is all about passion and pushing forward,” Alice drew, after shooting Gabrielle a worried glance, “you’re giving us a lot of opportunities to disrupt your plans, Talib.”
Her gaze hurt.
“My plans?” Talib chuckled. “They’re not my plans—” It was then that a small memory of Jericho’s trickled over to him—a memory containing Alice herself. “Oh.” He blinked. “Alice, you were the one who made Jericho promise to only use his conductor on ELPIS members, weren’t you? It was the best agreement you could reach with him about that.”
Alice’s eyes narrowed and then widened as she paled. “What have you done…?”
Smiling, Scorpio gestured to the exit.
One thought on “18.⭑-2: Saint Candidate, ∞ Schadenfreude”
Sorry for the slightly delayed chapter. Scorpio’s E D G E was almost too much for me. After this we return the normal rotating schedule.
As a partial apology/shout out, here is a sketch my friend drew of Werner recently on her twitter: https://twitter.com/nichimiey/status/1402879037794439168. Please check her out if you have the time! (And please just ignore the conversation below the tweet where I didn’t realize it was Werner for half a second.)
Thanks for reading!
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