The Saint Candidate of Scorpio has raked his hands through Werner Waltz’s country of Capricorn, unveiling not only the dissent and unrest throughout Signum but also the entire group of True Conductors. Each of the six were put under the spotlight beneath Scorpio’s eyes, while a mysterious seventh burned brightly for an instant. Now the hunt begins in various ways for the six True Conductors, while the background parties begin to…
The woman on the ground trembled beneath the light pouring in from the singular, small opening of the cavern ceiling above her. Down from that light sauntered small snowflakes that melted into tiny rivers that trailed down the woman’s pale face. It was a face frozen into a twisted expression of agony. Her fingers were also frozen in place—curved and arched in a way that made them look like talons. Her back was arched all the same, highlighting the bullet-wound the size of a cens coin in her shoulder and the knife with a clear glass handle embedded in her abdomen just below that. Despite this clear agony, the warm glow pulsating from the vitae stream at her side almost made her wide, wild, bloodshot eyes appear peaceful.
ELPIS Leader and designated leader Gamma listened to the woman’s death rattle alongside the three women and two men encircled around her. Although those standing with him had appearances vastly different from his own, he knew they all shared three similar aspects: the white snake tattoos imprinted somewhere on their bodies, their dedication to upholding what was right, and the fact that they were all silent, watching, expressionless. They remained like stone statues even as the thrashing woman lunged forwards abruptly and clawed at Gamma’s face. Not even a flinch.
With a final raspy moan, the woman’s eyes snapped to the back of her head and she fell onto the ground like a ragdoll. Dead. In the seconds that followed, the trickle of the vitae stream and the steady drip, drip, drip of the blood from the claw marks on Gamma’s face filled in the quiet.
Slowly, not quite in unison, the circle of six placed their hands over their chests and knelt to one knee. Dipping their heads, they chanted in unison:
“There is no end,
There is no beginning,
There is only the cycle,
Whether enemy, whether friend,
Whether family, whether stranger,
Whether on land, whether on sea, whether in sky,
Whether alone, whether in company,
Whether in peace, wheter in war,
May all return to where all began.”
At the end of the incantation, the quiet remained for some time.
“We’ve been fooled,” Gamma said, breaking the silence as he rose to a stand.
The woman to his right rose not soon after. Her skin was dark and inked over with intricate white designs that spilled onto her face and down her chest where they met at the white snake tattoo there. She muttered in a milky voice, “But who would do something like this—”
“It doesn’t matter who they are, Delta!” The glasses-wearing man across from her leapt up, ripped off his hat which was sewn on with the words Oficial de Policía, and stomped on it over and over again. “All that matters is that they’re absolutely, completely, utterly despicable! Absolutely despicable! Amoral, childish, no respect! Defiling not only vitae like this but the cycle and the sanctity of what we do? It goes against the rules— our rules! Rules we’ve nailed down since the very beginning before we even bleached our vitae! Do not tamper! Even if they’ve forgotten it, this is just! Common! Decency—”
“If they’re so terrible, Tau,” Delta interjected, “then wouldn’t it matter who they are? So you could bring them to justice before your jester’s court?” She looked him up and down. “And are you sure you’ve been initiated correctly? Don’t you seem too in-tuned with this whole lawman attitude?”
Tau stopped stomping on his hat to push his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “I wouldn’t expect someone who spent more time pouring over things like vitae theory instead of actually—”
“Aren’t you just taking out your lack of skill in vitae theory on me?” Delta interjected. “It was always law and justice with you, wasn’t it? Like Libra? So much so that you brought the court out into your daily activities?”
“Oh, don’t pull that on me! I refute it!” Tau hacked a cough before snapping, “Are you saying that law and justice shouldn’t be brought into daily life, huh?! Is that what this is—”
“Enough,” Gamma interjected. “Play a round of Itero Recino if you wish to take it any further.”
Tau quieted after a scowl and nodded, while Delta’s lips pressed thin.
Gamma’s gaze drifted to the single woman who was still kneeling on the floor. “Get off the floor, Lambda.”
Reluctantly, the woman agreed and dragged herself up to a stand.
“Most likely…?” Delta pondered out loud as she studied Lambda. She sank down to the deceased woman’s body and ripped the knife—the resistor—from her body and studied the empty hilt. “This was done some time before we were initiated? This level of vitae theory machination could’ve only been done by one of us, right? At least done by the oldest of us…?”
“Why would they do something like this…?” The man to Gamma’s right pondered out loud. He was dressed sharper than all the others, sporting a crisp blouse, a pair of suspenders, and polka-dotted bow-tie. “It’d be nice if we had access to Theta’s records, but from what you told me…” He shook his head. “I still can’t believe that they’d join hands with criminals…”
“You don’t think Theta’s destroyed their resistor, do you, Iota?” Delta queried, glancing at Iota then back at Gamma. “You said that they were initiated incorrectly, Gamma? They stole back their resistor from you too?” She tossed the resistor onto the corpse. “I hope they didn’t end up destroying it in a moment of passion. There aren’t many of us left.”
“Oh, right, Omega is gone too…” Iota hummed, re-adjusting his bow-tie. “That’s too bad. They were quite good with mediums, weren’t they?”
“They met their end chasing after the peacekeeper with the suitcase,” the final woman replied as she tucked a lock of her mousy brown hair behind her ear. She had not taken her eyes off of the deceased woman. “To avenge people she held dear.”
Iota shook his head. “What a foolish thing to do…” He glanced at her. “Omicron died after you were initiated, right, Beta?”
Beta remained impassive. “You call it a foolish thing but you were doing the same thing in your previous initiation.”
Gamma studied her with a frown.
“Well, that me was a fool too,” Iota replied after a pause. “A fool like them.”
“They’re not fools,” Tau muttered, picking his hat off the floor and dusting it before sneezing. “They’re criminals! Heathens! Giving up everything they’re meant to stand for. Breaking the cycle. Pushing for the syzygy. Disappointing…”
“What was that book that Theta always enjoyed reading?” Delta mused. “There was a quote that really spoke to me, wasn’t there? Reminded me of them? Something about higher beings walking among common men and either being corrupted or disappointed in the end?”
“So much so that they’d try to push something like the syzygy?” Tau scoffed. “A terrible analogy. Absolutely terrible! There’s no responsibility with that—none at all!”
“Them—higher beings?” Iota muttered a second after, not quite challenging, not quite agreeing. “Then what would that make us?” His eyes narrowed. “I can’t believe Leo also…”
“Hey, let’s not get into that talk, ‘kay?” Lambda hummed.
“There’s no justifying them,” Tau agreed.
Another stretch of quiet passed.
Beta finally said, “I doubt this was Theta’s work. Even if Theta’s was a faulty initiation, their integrity would be more than this—enough to overpower whatever twisted intentions that Francis Foxman holds.”
“I agree.” Gamma nodded. “That much of Theta remains, at least.”
“But who else would it be?” Iota pressed, frowning. “To disrupt everything like this….” He grimaced. “Tau’s right. They should be punished. Whoever did it doesn’t deserve to return to their resistor.”
“I believe it may be Alpha,” Gamma stated after a pause of thought. “They’re one of the few who are as skilled and knowledgeable in vitae theory to the same degree as Theta. They may have been doing this from the beginning.”
“But—” Iota shut his mouth. “Why?”
“The reason doesn’t matter. The actions do—” Hypocrite, a voice whispered at the back of Gamma’s head, giving him pause. “—We will have to find them to be certain.” He found his gaze drawn to the corpse of a young girl draped across some stalagmites. Perhaps she was no older than fourteen. “They may bring the syzygy closer with their recklessness just as Theta has. It cannot be allowed.”
“A faulty initiation?” Delta suggested.
—ELPIS’s greatest downfall, Gamma knew.
“Damnit, because of this muck-up, we have another entire damned stain to clean!” Tau began pacing back and forth. “Ley lines, the True Conductors, the suitcase peacekeeper, Scorpio, the damned reservoirs, dirty conductors, and now our damned resistors?!” He gestured wildly around the area. “When there’s one crime, there’s always more! It’s a damned mess! People don’t know restraint! Don’t know how to clean up after themselves!”
Gamma followed Tau’s wide-sweeping gesture and studied the dozen bodies half-buried in snow and scattered around them. The corpses—some prostrate, some hanging off the rock formations that crept along the walls—had all had the same fates as the dead woman now lying at his feet. Embedded in half of those corpses were empty resistors. Scattered around half of them were shattered resistors, glass fragments almost blended in with all the white snow.
“Take care of them, Delta,” Gamma said.
“I suppose I will?” Delta pondered, fastening her glove conductor over her hand and approaching the nearest corpse. She placed her hand over its chest, and in a flash of white light, it disappeared in an instant. Pulling away, she licked her lower lip.
“It doesn’t matter the barrier.” Gamma stared past them all and towards the vitae stream and the white pillars that grew up from them in the distance. “We have all the time and opportunity in the world provided to us—something others do not have. It would be a grievance if we used this time to complain instead of act. If we burn out before we complete our duty, we have other options. We must not forget that we’re the only hope remaining.”
Iota and Delta nodded, while Tau and Beta remained silent.
“We will find everything we’re looking for. No matter the cost.”
Black Constellation Detention Center: Sub-Floor, Ophiuchus
Wtorek Csilla, the Saint Candidate of Taurus, peered into the two-way mirror and studied the man curled up in the corner of the small room on the opposite side of the pane. The white bed set off to the left-hand wall was still pristinely folded, the glistening chicken and potato mash on the metal tray set alongside the wall still untouched. Despite the gauntness of his face, the hollowness of his cheeks, and the dark circles beneath his eye, the man would not accept any of the ‘gifts’ they had given him. What a pitiful man.
Taurus found her gaze drawn away from him and towards her own reflection on the window-mirror. Her long brown hair was frazzled and had not been tamed by a comb nor calmed into braids in quite some time. She had often deferred the difficult task of managing her hair to Wtorek Elizabeta and Wtorek Izsak—the latter was always the best at braiding. But now she was no longer by their side, she supposed she would have to cut it. What a spoiled life that had been. What a pitiful girl.
“Hilton Tyler,” mused a rumbling voice from behind her. “Now that man is a valiant man. But all valiant men fall—sacrificed by those who sing them as heroes. Then come the bitter regrets. It turns out they don’t enjoy being a hero but merely the idea of it. But that’s with everyone.”
In the reflection of the window, Taurus spied a familiar man approaching her from behind. His dark curls framed his tanned face, and his eyes glistened with an intense fervor. He had long since abandoned the trench coat and matching fedora she had often warmly associated with him. The only thing that remained of his old visage was the white sash that was wrapped around his arm. A hollow imitation. And so she did not turn to face him. Another pitiful man.
“Do you really think everything you did in Capricorn was justified?”
“Not this again—of course, I do.” Scorpio extended his hand and seemed to hold Hilton in his palm from the distance. “I’ve already broken the shepherd. The rest will soon follow. Even so, they were quite a beautiful group of True Conductors. That Maria on the other hand…”
Maria? Oh. Leo’s problem child. Taurus had never personally agreed with Leona’s way of selecting Saint Candidates. She’d predicted this sort of fall out.
“Have you thought about it? We’re so close to the syzygy now, Scorpio,” Taurus murmured. “And yet barely half of us are here to witness it.”
“Well, you can blame ELPIS for that. The fools.” Scorpio twirled a dark curl around his finger before crossing his arms. “Besides, I think the others would be happy if we saw the syzygy to the end without them being forced to awaken here to help us achieve it.” His eyes softened briefly. “It would be a meaningful gift, wouldn’t it?”
“I don’t think Sagittarius would be satisfied with not seeing the syzygy with her own eyes.”
“So, you’re siding with Libra about that? Gigi would just slow things down if we brought her back. You know how she is. If it weren’t for her then we would’ve had all the True Conductors necessary for the syzygy after I did my work in Capricorn. What a shame.” He hummed. “We’d have quite interesting conversations about a particular deceased peacekeeper, if she did return. Fortunately, the people that peacekeeper left behind will be useful in that aspect. I can’t wait until we set dear Werner and Atienna on the hunt…”
He always spoke like she could read his mind. It was irritating. But perhaps it was his intention to make her feel that way.
“It could turn into a game. ‘Who can find the most True Conductors first?’ A True Conductor or a Saint Candidate.”
“The leylines weren’t in place back then during your stunt in Capricorn and they’re still not in place now. The syzygy wouldn’t have happened. You always jump into things without thinking about the consequences.” Taurus shook her head. “You know… Jin burned brighter than all of us.”
“You always focus on the ‘can’t’s instead of the ‘can’s. Anyways, Leo would be hurt if she heard you say that.”
“Capricorn would hurt you if they ever found out what you did.”
“Well, Capricorn isn’t here now, are they?” Scorpio’s eyes narrowed. “All thanks to them again.”
ELPIS again. It was always ELPIS. They disrupted everything. They took everything.
“How long do they think they can fool themselves? I pity them. It’s the only thing that keeps them going. If they reach any sort of epiphany now, their realization about their own self-destruction would tear them apart. But that’s the case with every being capable of thought. That’s the lonely agony of resisting the flow of the tide.”
“Yes, that’s what we should think after all this time, isn’t it…” Taurus murmured, more to herself than to him. After a beat, she shook herself and said, “I heard that Capricorn’s reservoir in the Prognoikos Aurora is looking almost complete now. You’re mourning Capricorn, but will you be actually happy if they return before the syzygy?”
“Well, I do miss their staunchness. I’m quite interested in what they’d think I’ve done with their boring country. So, that’s a yes for me. Leo might say otherwise.”
“Leo… she has a lot on her plate. She’s a good person.” Taurus studied Scorpio’s reflection for a moment before looking back at Hilton. “He was a good person too.”
Scorpio arched a brow. “The reporter? Well, I’m sure even you can tell now. It’s all pretend. He’s become the embodiment of regret. If only I could comfort him without breaking him. We will find Louise Bonnefoy and the True Conductor connected to her.”
“Talib. I meant Talib. He was good.” She supposed she would’ve considered Scorpio the same at some point.
Scorpio’s smile thinned. “Are you frolicking in the fields, dear? I’m still Talib Al-Jarrah, Csilla.”
Taurus studied his face, recalling the man who had comforted her when Altair and Vega—rather, ‘Omicron’ and ‘Theta’ as they’d ridiculously named themselves—had raided the detention center some time ago. Without a second thought, Talib had curled around her protectively just as her father would have.
Looking away from Scorpio as this memory burned itself into her mind, she muttered, “In name only.”
Scorpio’s smile became even more sweetly cruel. “Would the same apply to Wtorek Izsak?”
Taurus felt a painful tremor in her chest.
“The bond between child and parent. Truly there is no stronger bond than that. I know first hand,” Scorpio sang. “You know he’s dead… You shouldn’t cling to that foolish ‘hope.’ I know you feel. It’s a sad irony.” His words were kind and gentle, but there was a hint of cruel anticipation in them too like he was looking for a reaction. “He’s returned to the cycle… How ELPIS views that as a peaceful experience never ceases to draw wonder from me. Perhaps if I were to infect one of them, then maybe…”
Csilla felt her heart crumple at the statement and the intention. She suddenly recalled how she had tried to earn her conducting license earlier this year to try to become the youngest licensed Conductor. At the time, she had faintly felt the urge to make the Wtoreks proud. But when Izsak had died, her goal had been postponed and another girl had taken that title from her—Yuseong Eunji, apparently. Csilla wondered briefly how Izsak would react to her failure if he were still here. She knew he would still encourage her to get her license regardless. She knew his eyes would still glimmer with pride. Those same eyes would not offer the same to her now because of Gamma. The pitiful man.
“It’s quite peculiar how influential a particular person’s vitae is the younger they are,” Scorpio mused, leaning in close with a hand on his chin. He was studying her with fascination. “You’d imagine it’d be the opposite.”
Taurus extended a hand and touched his chest before slowly, steadily pushing him back. “Are you running for the head chairman position even though everyone else is standing down for Leona? Is that why you’ve come to me? For my thoughts?”
Scorpio pulled back, hand still on chin. “Out of all of us who’ve been up and about these past couple of years, only Leona and Pisces have been serving dutifully—and myself included of course.”
Taurus felt a pang of indignation at his thinly-veiled accusation but she didn’t allow him to get any more out of her and remained unmoved. He had gotten enough already.
“However…Leona was not baptized correctly. She barely has half of the vitae necessary to be considered ‘Leo.’ Didn’t you notice?”
“I’ve read why that happened, but you know our reservoirs recover with time.” Scorpio frowned. “She should’ve re-basked herself like I did.”
“This particular baptism wasn’t made with the most suitable person, so she may not be able to withstand bathing in the reservoirs—”
“Stop defending her and being so stubborn! If she isn’t completely suitable, then she should’ve passed on the title once her reservoir recovered, but she didn’t and she hasn’t!” Scorpio snapped, his gaze sharpening before narrowing. “And now the election is coming and she’s using it to prolong her stay as ‘Leona.’ Why? Because she’s afraid of ‘dying’! I know it. I saw it.”
A saint candidate being afraid of death was a laughable concept.
“You’re seeing things that aren’t there, Scorpio,” Taurus muttered. “This isn’t like you.” It was more like Talib than anything. A cruel and twisted version of him. “The syzygy is what’s important. Whatever petty feelings you have should be second to that. You know this.”
But he was always the type to be swept away by earthly passions.
“You’re wrong. I see everything.” Scorpio tapped the two-way mirror twice. “It’s because I see everything that you’re seeing what you see here now: the reservoirs in Capricorn, the True Conductors, Leo and Cancer, Aquarius and Capricorn, the rumble in Sagittarius, everything falling into place.”
Taurus studied him. “You should watch your words, Scorpio. When you say it like that, you’d really be going against the free will clause. We can’t allow that.”
“Oh, I know, dear. It’s all their own actions. I could see that clearly as I was setting the stage and speeding up the inevitable chemical reaction.” His eyes glowed with harsh intensity. “And what I see now is that someone like that doesn’t deserve to be given the title of leader.”
“Whoever becomes chairman doesn’t matter because whoever becomes it will push the syzygy forward,” Taurus said calmly. “Besides Leona is very popular. She’s built her reputation up with her own hands. She’s practically a celebrity. A star. You’ll find it very difficult to beat her in an election through normal means. And I doubt Libra would be pleased if you did the same thing you did to Capricorn to the election.”
Scorpio’s smile dipped for a moment before he pointed upwards as his lips curled. “People claim to love watching stars—” Out from the pocket of his shirt slipped a piece of vitae-coated gold origami paper that folded itself into a star. It sauntered up to the ceiling where it hovered in place. “—but truthfully they love watching stars fall even more.” He slowly pointed to the ground, and the paper star shot downwards before crumpling into a pathetic wad. “‘It turns out you were nothing too,’ ‘You also couldn’t achieve anything,’ ‘We’re the same.’ They praise, worship, then hate, become jealous, and praise again. Pitiable things.” The light in Scorpio’s eyes dimmed. “Even the current chairman is no different. Even though he sought our wisdom when he began his position, he looks at us with disdain now.”
Taurus extended out her foot and coated it with her vitae. She brought it down hard a second after, disintegrating the crumpled origami star and shaking the foundation beneath them—
“By the way, I saw them briefly. I hadn’t seen them in a while, so I thought they’d finally departed forever, but… It seems like they’re having some trouble in Gemini and Leo. They disappeared through one of Vega’s gates before I could attach one of my mediums to them unfortunately… however—”
Taurus felt light-headed as she allowed her vitae to dissipate around her foot. “‘Them’…?” She looked up at Scorpio and found that a full smile was splitting across his face. A truly pitiful man.
“Leona is too wrapped up in the election now to give ELPIS her undivided attention.” Scorpio bent over her so that they were almost nose-to-nose. “I was thinking of perhaps handling them finally myself since I can multi-task… but perhaps you would like to play hunter-and-executioner instead? You did enjoy playing house with the Wtoreks. I assure you this play is different only by a slight margin.” He extended his hand out to her. “You’re conflicted—I can tell. This barrier that you and I share—let’s remove it together so we can embrace the syzygy to the fullest. What do you say? We’re so close now, Saint of the Fortress.”
Taurus presumed he was merely trying to draw her eyes away from the Ophiuchian Chairman Election. But… he was right. What stood before Taurus now was a great barrier. And as the Saint of the Fortress, her duty was not only to be a barrier of defense but to also break down any barriers that deterred the people. The duty pulsated within her.
Therefore, Csilla had to find them: friends, teachers and students, ELPIS. To find him: Papa, Wtorek Izsak, Gamma. Barriers to the syzygy in the long term, to the livelihoods of her people in the short term.
How pitiful they all were.