The warmth of the vitae stream cast the white pillars in an iridescent glow. Lambda hummed to herself from where she was perched on top of one of the slanted pillars. She’d been busily scrubbing away at a patch of overgrown moss on a stubborn spot on the pillar for quite some time.
Gamma had been watching her scrub from afar ever since she’d started the useless, repetitive motion. The Lambda kneeling before him now was a far cry from the Lambda he remembered from centuries ago. Gone was the proud, intelligent person who had refined theories of vitae and vitae conversion in those white halls of Ophiuchus. In their place now stood a husk of a person who probably couldn’t even distinguish one vitae theory from the next. The same could be said in a different sense for Theta who had been thoroughly corrupted by their improper initiation. Although Theta was clearly still brilliant as always… ‘Francis Foxman’ was a man who deserved punishment. The same applied to Iota’s incorrect initiation into Iris McKillop. Gamma had been set on returning Iota to the cycle, but Beta thought it would be too cruel and wasteful. In the end, like every other incorrectly initiated person, Iota had been her own downfall.
“It’s really not coming off!” Lambda gasped.
The image of a young girl with twin braids exclaiming the same thing burned at the edges of Gamma’s mind.
Frowning, Gamma trudged over to Lambda, grabbed a hold of her wrist, and pulled away from the pillars. “Save your energy, Lambda. It’s not worth it.”
Lambda blinked up sleepily at him and allowed him to cart her away from the vitae streams and pillars to where Tau had set up a small white metal table along the back cavern wall. Tau glanced up at her at their approach before continuing to flip through the newspaper in his hands. Across from him, Beta reclined, arms crossed, eyes closed.
“This is ludicrous—absolutely ludicrous!” Tau suddenly threw down the newspaper and stomped on it over and over again with his foot. “They’re pressing the law with those ridiculous tariffs! The law! No, they didn’t write correctly the law to begin with! Why even allow tariffs to be so high in the first place? Why excuse imports from specific countries! Wrong! Wrong—ack! I bit my tongue!”
Tau had changed little—at least on the surface. Gamma had been glad to find that at least one other person hadn’t been so careless in burning up and using their vitae. When Tau had disclosed that he’d wanted to use his former identity as Vincente Giustizia to his advantage earlier, however, Gamma had been filled with disgust and disappointment.
Beta cracked open an eye, picked up a glass of water from the table, and handed it to Tau.
Tau downed the glass between his shouts—“Barely any of us left.” Gulp. “Omicron, Omega.” Gulp. “Kappa now too. Burned away.” Gulp. “Theta and Pi are still alive, but they’re not quite themselves.” Gulp. “We still haven’t found anyone to initiate Iota back into.” Gulp, gulp, gulp. “And now Scorpio is awake. And I almost lost some of my officers to his damn spores! And they’re building even more of those ley lines! Do they have the proper licenses? I doubt it! Doubt it!” He slammed the glass back down onto the table. “Scorpio! Obviously, he broke the free will clause because he nearly tore the damn country apart with his offshoots! But Libra hasn’t done a thing! If Theta were with us then—”
“Is it the saint candidates or the True Conductors?” Lambda murmured. “Which one is the wrong one this time?”
“It’s clearly both,” Beta responded. “Both, unnatural in their own way.”
“It’s also clear that these incorrect initiations have been a major setback for us,” Gamma added. “We’ve seen it now with Theta, Omicron, and Iota. We cannot lose another one of us to an incorrect initiation. Those were some of our best and wisest. Having them lose their honor in such a way is despicable. Leaving them alive was a mistake. It would be a mercy to return them to their resistor or even into nothingness—whichever their path may be. I listened to you, Beta, but we will no longer use discretion with them.”
There was a stretch of silence, and Gamma allowed himself to listen to the hum and trickle of the waterfall and vitae stream behind him.
“You speak of discretion, but… when Theta said that they knew about the ‘daughter,’” Beta drew, resting an elbow against the table and leaning into her fist. “What did Theta mean, Gamma?”
Gamma paused, feeling a rare, icy invisible hand seize his heart.
“Wtorek Izsak has a daughter,” Beta continued. “Wtorek Csilla. The papers say she was a ‘failed’ saint candidate of Taurus.” She looked him up and down. “You were correctly initiated, yes?”
Tau set his glass aside. “Of course he was. Omicron confirmed it.”
“I trust you, Gamma,” Beta finally said after a beat. “Even if your initiation was incorrect. There aren’t many of us left. Perhaps we should think of putting new members into resistors to carry our purpose out once we’ve returned to nothingness.”
“I respect you, Beta. I really do.” Tau frowned. “But it’s absolutely disgusting that you’d suggest something like that! Going against our own rules! Disgusting!”
Gamma stared at her for a moment before he spoke: “The syzygy is drawing nearer and nearer with every day. Even though more and more saint candidates have opted for the syzygy since our time, we must hold steadfast to what was taught and asked of us by…” He grimaced. “… by Ophiuchus.”
“I think it’s time we initiated Alpha,” Gamma drew. “At this point, Theta has become a nuisance. We should make dues to remove them and bring them at least a small peace. And since True Conductors are easier to dispose of than reservoirs and ley lines and we know the identity of some, we will start focusing more on their eradication.”
Serpens Establishment, Ophiuchus
In the belly of Ophiuchus, beneath both the Serpens Establishment and the Black Constellation Detention Center, the Saint of Passion entered a dimly lit room at the center of which a long, black, rectangular table rested. Its lacquered, marbled surface hosted a single checkered game board scattered with small game pieces imprinted on with stars.
Scorpio sauntered over to the table and inspected the board. If his most recent memories were correct, he thought, then this was a game he and Libra had set a little over a century ago. Itero Recino, endless like them. It was his turn, if he recalled correctly.
After setting the wine bottle and glasses he’d brought with him down onto the table, he reached out to move a piece and—
—suddenly flew across the room. He cracked against the checkered wall opposite and slid to the ground as he cradled his throbbing cheek. A glance backwards informed him he had formed a good-sized dent in the wall. His pulsating arms and legs informed him that a break had occurred. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed.
Standing in the place where he’d once stood was a young girl with curly brown hair barely tamed by twisting braids. The dress she wore was off-white and printed on with numerous flowers, which contrasted greatly with the dark russet-colored light that enveloped her hands like gloves.
“Oh, hello, Csilla,” he greeted her casually. “Or Taurus, Saint of the Fortress.”
She stormed over to him and threw her glowing fist into the wall, causing the entire wall to form cracks and the entire building to rumble dangerously. Scorpio supposed those above would’ve thought it an earthquake.
“You’re an idiot!” Taurus seethed, clenching her shaking fist. “You have no self-control! You nearly killed True Conductors! You pushed against the free will clause—”
“What? You’re upset that I broke up your little game of pretend house?” Scorpio rubbed his cheek, smile dipping slightly. “It’s not even a full house anymore, dear Taurus. Wtorek Izsak is dead.”
Taurus’s eyes widened, and she lifted her fist—
—before a hand around the wrist stopped her short. Libra, Saint of the Scales, stood behind her, shaking her head.
“Y’know he’s just tryin’ t’aggravate ya. Don’t give in. It’s just Scorpio.”
“It’s good t’see ya, Csilla. Yer mother was making a fret about ya. Y’sure just up and leavin’ was what ya wanted t’do?”
Taurus grimaced, lowering her fist as the light around her hands dimmed. She looked away.
At that moment, the granite doors to the room creaked open and three figures entered. One was the golden Leona, Saint of Victory, who immediately seated herself at the table and began pouring herself a glass of wine. The next was Pisces, who drifted in like a ghost, sparing them all a smile before seating himself as well. The last was an elder, graying man dressed in a monochrome suit. The Head Chairman, who took his seat at the head of the table without acknowledging any of them.
After dusting himself off, Scorpio rose to his feet, flashed Taurus a smile, before walking over to the gray man. He knelt before him in a sweeping gesture before placing a kiss on the elder’s backhand.
The elder did not seem impressed.
“I remember when you first entered Ophiuchus. The years haven’t been kind to you.”
“Which is why I’m standing down for the next head chairman election,” the Head Chairman replied. “I suggest one of you take my place.”
“That would go against the free will clause,” Libra stated, walking over to the table and seating herself alongside Taurus. “Our interference would overstep—”
“Not if it’s a free election of a non-governing body,” Scorpio replied, drifting over to his own chair and seating himself. He poured himself a glass with a hum. “I know Leona is preparing to run. Perhaps I should too?”
Libra sighed, folding her hands across the table. “We have several other topics we should discuss.”
“We should start with our ‘failed’ saint candidates issue first,” Scorpio said, swirling his glass of wine. Noticing Leona’s stare, he chuckled. “Oh, I wasn’t referring to you, dear Leona, or Taurus either.”
Leona frowned, unamused.
“But speaking of Leona, that Maria Gloria-Fernandez…” Scorpio peered at her. “Would you care to explain?”
Leona remained silent.
“Fine. There’s also the issue of Aries who is stuck inside that group of True Conductors. I saw her at the threshold.”
“The threshold?” Libra stared. “Impossible. No one returns as themselves from the threshold… But…. that explains a lot.”
“Well, I took a taxi, Libra. Anyway, the fact is that Aries is with them now.”
“Does that make them no longer viable for the syzygy?” Taurus wondered. “They seem to operate more or less the same…”
“There’s also Virgo’s whereabouts to consider,” Scorpio muttered, suddenly feeling less amused.
“Perhaps we should also consider possibly re-baptizing Gigi.”
“That might not be the best option,” the Head Chairman said, “considering what Sagittarius did during this incarnation.”
“Sagittarius aside, I’ve been considering returning my title,” Leona said. “Although I expect an immediate return, I would have to return to Leo to select a successor if that were the case.”
“Right. You have that unique way of selecting candidates…” Scorpio muttered, moving to pour a glass for all the others. “Will it be a passable baptism though is the question…”
“Perhaps it’s the most merciful way,” Pisces reasoned, accepting a glass. “However returning—even temporarily—when so much is happening in your domain with the crown, Leo? That’s quite risky.”
“Especially if we consider ELPIS has now been divided between Theta and Gamma,” Libra agreed. “They’ll be causin’ a ruckus left and right.”
Taurus tensed. “Most, if not all, of them are very different now…”
“Yes—despite bleaching their vitae to try to remain the same.” Scorpio chuckled. “Of course, at their core, they’re destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.”
There were multiple nods of agreement.
“Let’s focus on what we’ve accomplished so far,” Leona interjected. “First, we have a number of True Conductors groups under our surveillance and care now. Second, the threshold of reservoirs needed for the syzygy has almost been met by the countries’ own, independent actions. Third, our ley lines are making progress. Fourth, we have more True Conductor hunters to find the rest of the needed True Conductors.”
“Dear Werner’s and my old partner Jericho’s group,” Scorpio mused. “You do realize all of these accomplishments were thanks to my intervention.”
Leona glanced at Scorpio, smile thinning. “Although such inelegant, reckless means of doing so put a sour light on those accomplishments.”
Scorpio met her gaze head-on, but before he could respond, Pisces lifted his glass of wine. The Saint of Cycles was a constant, it seemed. Smiling, Scorpio raised his own glass as did the others around him.
“Cheers to the years and lives we’ve lived and given! Cheers to the syzygy and the end!”
Crystalline clinks filled the room.
Part III End.