Werner was invaded by the Saint Candidate of Scorpio. Following his infection, he was thrown to threshold of life and death while the other five took his place. At the threshold, he was tortured by Scorpio to near breaking point. However, in the threshold he also found Lavi who was revealed to be Aries and the forgotten Shion Myosotis who was a former True Conductor in their circle. After recalling what he truly wanted, Werner grasped the role of protector and returned to the surface.
At the final hour, the Kaiser was executed by Verbundene Augen leader Marionette Engel who was soon executed herself.
As Capricorn enters a period of recovery and demilitarization, Werner…
William Saovàng, First Chairman of the Reservoir Conservation Department
Motto: “I’m busy! Stop asking me for my motto already.”
Die Hauptstadt, Capricorn
Captain Werner Waltz always started his mornings by going over the 7-day itinerary he composed at the beginning of each week.
One, seven days a week, 0430 hours: awaken.
Most nights he slept in his office located in the Mueller Building in the Military District-turned-Resources District to cut transportation time: the apartment the capital had provided him was more than halfway across the city. It was not difficult to wake up at the exact second and hour as he rarely had dreams to tie him to slumber.
Immediately after awakening, he would head out of his office to freshen up at the overly-furnished bathhouse installed within the office building. At this early hour, Atienna and Jericho were usually the only ones awake—although they were distant and far off in a fog. Due to this fog, greetings were difficult, so Werner always scheduled them for later in the day.
Two, seven days a week, 0450 hours: begin his morning exercises in his office.
These exercises included the following: a set number of push-ups, sit-ups, and other resistance training that only Jericho had opted to pick up after he had formally taught them to all the others. Then came the 8-kilometer jog around the Mueller. Following this, he would attend the shooting range and ensure he hit all of his selected targets before leaving.
If Jericho synchronized around this time, Werner would tutor the man on how to aim and fire properly—be it with the man’s conducting whip or a normal handgun. Jericho had once asked him why he was still practicing despite not needing to anymore. Werner answered him simply: his departure from the field was not an excuse to neglect honing his skill, body, and training. Werner merely hoped Klaus, Emilia, Derik, Gilbert, and Alwin were implementing this the same way.
Three, seven days a week, 0600 hours: return to the bathhouse and freshen up thoroughly.
He would ensure that after a cold shower, he would dress in the appropriate attire and be presentable for office culture. The capital office employees were not given any specific dress code—Werner found this unprocedural and lacking—but many opted for a dress-shirt and tie paired with a military suit-jacket, so Werner had adopted this too. His gloves were an item he opted to add on to the dress-wear, although he always took them off when doing paperwork away from the eyes of others. Overall, the attire was somewhat uncomfortable compared to his Border Force fatigues, but it was manageable.
Four, seven days a week, 0615 hours: routine mail check.
On this particular Wednesday morning, there was a thick stack of letters waiting for him in the small post office attached to the exterior of the building. He was greeted with a salute from Post Master Renning as he picked up the letters and offered one in turn, but he did not remain for small chatter.
Five, one Wednesday a week, 0620 hours: visit the cafeteria bakery.
On all other days of the week, Werner would merely visit the cafeteria to purchase a cup of black coffee—although recently, he’d taken up to adding two sugar cubes to the morning brew. It was a minor indulgence, but one that was acceptable.
Wednesdays were different, however.
On Wednesdays, he would also stop by the small bakery cubicle set to the side of the main food line area. There, he would find small rectangular slices of multi-layered chocolate cake laid out on top of small plaster plates and hidden behind a plastic wall. He would then carefully peruse them and purchase the one with the most decadent and perfect appearance.
Six, seven days a week, 0630: head back to his office.
Werner’s office was located on the third floor of the building. There were two routes to reach this floor: one through a rolling elevator and the other up a series of mahogany staircases. Only on Wednesdays did he opt for the rolling elevator to reduce the probability of accidentally dropping his cake, coffee, and letters.
With items one through six now completed, Werner arrived at his office, shut the door, and sank down at his neatly organized desk. Carefully setting his cake down on the table beside his cup of coffee, he surveyed his room.
Nothing appeared out of the ordinary. All of his books were still slotted in alphabetical order in his mahogany shelf pressed along the left wall. His filing cabinet was dustless and still locked on the opposite wall. The sofa beside it was clean. Additionally, his pens and papers were still laid out methodically and properly in stacks and rows on his desk in front of him.
Appearances were deceiving, however.
Even though it was not visible to the naked eye, Werner was certain that Scorpio had planted one of his spores here somewhere—most likely even more of them dwelled in his apartment. In other words, Werner was—always was—being watched. His palms itched at the idea.
Six, seven days a week, 0635 to 0650: collect thoughts.
Serving at the capital allowed more spare time to think than serving in the trenches. Near the border, there were always tasks to complete in-between the lulls of vitae-ray fire and gunpowder. Stock, supplies, training, re-briefings. Productivity. Here in the capital, however, the social network made it so that one could not complete a task without waiting for another to complete their task. This led to a surplus of idle time. Thus, there was time left to think like now.
Werner picked up his fork, carefully cut away a piece of the cake, and slid it into his mouth. It melted slowly.
The cake was sweet but not overly so. The creamy overtones of the coconut-peanut frosting balanced well with the sharpness of the cocoa sponge.
This was an acceptable cake. No, it was an almost perfect cake. This sort of patisserie was made with care and finesse. Its delicateness was to be admired. A noteworthy achievement. And it was only on Wednesdays that the cake reached this level of acceptableness. On Tuesdays, it was too dry. On Fridays, it was too underdone. This day was the only reasonable day to enjoy it like so.
Enjoying cakes, however, brought with it the memory of birthday cakes. Of course, they were not from his own memory. Werner had not celebrated a birthday since he was eight. Celebrating it any older than that was ‘childish’ and ‘embarrassing’—or so he had come to believe. Olive, Maria, and Atienna, however, thought differently.
Jericho’s birthday had come and gone without celebration within their group. Instead, a small office party was hosted by Ferris in the Serpens Establishment for him. Werner and the others, of course, had synchronized on-and-off during the event. Werner’s own birthday had already passed with little to no incident despite the insistence of the others—namely Olive, Maria, and Cadence. He was not one for unnecessary celebrations, after all.
Olive was a different story. Sugar-filled, blindingly bright memories of birthday parties before the Tragedy and the quiet celebrations that came afterwards encroached on Werner sometimes when he was enjoying this delicacy. Often times, like he was doing now, he pondered on whether or not to host a celebration for Olive within the group since Olive was still young. The preparations needed for such an event had to be considered, however. There was also the matter of the actual birthday cake and the distribution of the cake. They had not physically met one another since the Augen movement’s end. Along with this, only Atienna had some skill with baking among them, so that meant that Werner himself would have to learn it—
Or perhaps was he putting too much thought into this.
Werner paused in thought and checked his pocket watch. 0650 hours.
Snapping the watch shut and re-pocketing it, he set down his fork and pushed his cake aside to allow himself to move onto item seven of his itinerary. He began to peel through his letters.
The first letter was a brief weekly summary of the logistics of the new Demilitarization Project.
“Demilitarization” for Capricorn meant the decentralization of the Militärpolizei. Decentralization of the Militärpolizei indicated an unrefined halving of the Militärpolizei workforce through layoffs and cutting other police-funding costs. This left many without jobs. In addition to this, Argo still had not yet signed the official armistice, and so the Border Force still needed to be kept in place. Those formerly in the Militärpolizei often enlisted in the Border Force. Cause and effect.
Werner had proposed starting an infrastructure project to provide these unemployed individuals with alternate career and job options several months ago. It had been accepted by the chancellory cabinet but had been under ‘consideration’ for over an entire month now.
Werner moved on to the second letter. It was a two-paged call for Acting Kaiser General Watzmann to resign due to his ‘incompetence in effectively managing demilitarization and peaceful transition.’
The third letter was a rebuttal of the second and was asking for signatures to support the Acting Kaiser.
It was most likely that the ones who compiled these letters were not interested in the ‘incompetence’ of the Acting Kaiser himself, but rather the power shift that came with his position.
Werner agreed with the thought.
Life in the capital permitted him to face a different type of battle. He was not fond of these underhanded politics. He was certain some of his animosity was from Olive and perhaps even from Atienna. His own personal dislike for it stemmed from the fact that this indirectness only hindered progress in the long term. When there was a clear solution, it needed to be pursued. Actions like these produced unnecessary barriers to progress. Diverting attention away to less important matters would lead to failing to protect—
Werner checked his pocket watch again before moving on to the next letter. This one was from Mother. She wrote to him three times a week. Her messages ranged from praises at his position, wishes that Viktoria and Ludwig could be like him, and warnings of not bringing embarrassment to the family. Today’s letter fell under the latter category.
Why was he even reading these letters from that woman anyways?
Werner paused, temple throbbing. Cadence.
“—that was an accident. Honest,” came her voice paired with a half-salute as her image phased before him. She was leaning against his desk only a centimeter away with crossed arms. Despite her solid form, he could not tell exactly where she was. “Why do ya even read her letters, Captain?”
“She’s my mother, Cadence.” There needn’t be any further explanation than that. Respect, returning dues, family.
“Yeah, well, Ricardo took me in too and gave me a job but…” Cadence looked out his window. “I feel a lot safer workin’ with the Foxmans and all of ya than I did when I was under him. Maybe ya’ve spoiled me a bit and I’m expectin’ too much now, but…” She sank down to the floor and hung her head.
Resisting a sigh, Werner reached out and placed a hand on her head. I appreciate your concerns, Cadence, but it’s better to focus on the issue in front of you rather than another’s. The children—
“Hey, Captain, ya know that’s not how it works.” Cadence offered a half-smile. “All of your problems are automatically my problems.”
Werner paused. And yours are mine. Are the Foxmans still avoiding ELPIS Department involvement?
“They tried ta cover up the blazin’ hellfire; but with that info broker Astante bein’ in the city and bein’ their lapdog, I can’t tell if it was worth the back leg. It’s a headache.”
It was an unfavorable position.
Werner removed his hand and moved on to his next letter. This one was from Viktoria, detailing how she was looking into a place to stay in Sagittarius while working somewhere there near the Bodhi Temple. It was code again. It appeared as if Weingartner and Heimler had moved locations once more. He would have to consult a map—or have one of the others consult a map—to deduce their new location.
If I didn’t read Mother’s letter, Werner thought to both himself and to Cadence, it would draw attention to Viktoria’s letter.
“Ya could pretend ta read it, couldn’t ya?” Cadence suggested.
Briefly, Werner recalled Nico’s analogy on umbrellas and the rain.
Cadence raised her brows.
Before Werner could reply, there was a knock at the door. After Werner offered an invitation to come in, Nico entered the room. He was dressed in a white lab coat sewn with the Capricornian emblem over the chest.
When Werner looked back to Cadence, she was gone. It appeared as if the tension was still there. He made a note to address it later before he turned back to Nico and greeted him with a nod: “Good morning.”
“Mornin’, Captain,” Nico mumbled. He paced over to the desk, rounded it, and leaned against it in the same place Cadence had been just a moment before.
“You’re here early. Is it slow at the hospital?”
Nico nodded. “A couple of old military police people transferred in recently. Took a lot of shifts off of me, but I have to teach them some things too. It’s not so bad though.” He mulled, then smiled. “Gilbert’s physical therapy is going well, but he swears like a sailor. Scares some of the more elderly patients that we have in the PT room with him.”
From what Werner had gathered from Maria’s end of things, he believed it was more appropriate to say Gilbert swore more than a sailor. Regardless, Werner said, “I’ll speak with him about that.”
Nico chuckled them eyed the cake. “Is that from the cafeteria? Can I try some?”
Werner nodded and slid the plate to him. Nico happily indulged himself.
“Wow—this is good!”
“The flavors are balanced well,” Werner agreed, “and the texture is smooth. It’s only on Wednesdays that the cake is up to this standard.”
Nico glanced at him and then chuckled. “Your palette is somethin’ else, Captain.” He forked another bite into his mouth. “Wolfram’d be touched if he heard you say that.” When he seemed to notice Werner’s confused look, he explained, “He’s the one who cooks for this office on Wednesdays. All other days of the week he’s makin’ meals for the hospital. Says it takes a lot of precision to get everythin’ right.”
“He’s quite good,” was Werner’s response to that.
As Nico went in for another bite, the door to Werner’s office flew open. Gilbert, clad in the standard capital office wear, stormed in with a stack of files tucked under his arm.
Gilbert grumbled, “That dumbass Fischer bumped into me in the damn hallway and went ‘Oh! Good morning, sir!’ and saluted me like we were all damned peachy. Pissed me off.”
Lance Corporal Wilhelm Fischer was indeed working in the capital now. Werner had not yet encountered him and had only read one of his reports delivered by a secretary. There was a minimal amount of error in the write-up, so Werner had to send it back only once.
“You didn’t cause any trouble, did you?” Nico sighed.
“Of course not,” Gilbert muttered. “I’m not an idiot. I just spilled my coffee on him a little bit.”
Werner shook his head. Childish. “Did you finish the report on the eastern border?”
“Yeah,” Gilbert replied, placing the files beneath his arm in the desk tray. “Oh shit—is that cake? They were all out of it by the time I got here. Let me try some.” He took the fork from Nico before digging into the plate.
Werner meanwhile glanced at the knotted sleeve on Gilbert’s other arm and what was missing below it. He resisted a frown.
“You’d think they’d toss out that Kaltes Auge title once you got working to the capital,” Gilbert said between mouthfuls of sponge, “but you still managed to keep it around.”
Nico arched a brow. “Am I missin’ on some office drama?”
“Yeah. They call Werner ‘The Cold Eye of All Things Clerical’ now.” Gilbert snorted. “Write illegibly? Get a date wrong? Accidentally sneak a typo in there somewhere? Enter the wrong number in the wrong column? ‘Cold Eye will come for you and put you in a time loop of never-ending editing.’”
Werner frowned. “Taking up a position in the capital does not mean working any less. Mistakes on the field should not be tolerated nor should any mistakes here. Our work here affects everyone beneath us. If we want to protect—”
“No need to preach to me, Werner,” Gilbert replied. “I’m with you there.” He jabbed his fork in the direction of the files. “That’s why all of my paperwork is damn near perfect. I didn’t spend five hours crying over it for it to be sent back for editing.” He paused, glancing at Werner. “But the typos thing is a bit much, Werner. You’ve got to admit that.”
“If you’ve met the criteria to be serving in the capital as an officer,” Werner replied, “you should not show lack of professionalism by allowing a typo in your report.”
“Part of being in the capital comes with the general idea that you don’t have to do that much work, you know? People usually think about it like a vacation.” Gilbert grimaced. “But yeah. We have it pretty lucky here. I hope everyone down south has it this easy. First we have the Argoans then the Augens and now anti-Aquarian-Capricornians.”
“I heard that half of ‘em are originally Augen members. They… think that partnerin’ with Aquarius’ll just bring Capricorn into even more conflict—even the Aquarians are part of the group.” Nico shrugged light-heartedly. “Not everyone can be satisfied, but that’s what keeps the ball rollin’.”
“I’m sure they’re handling themselves fine at the border, Gilbert,” Werner answered. “It’s not beyond their training.”
Gilbert rubbed the back of his neck to signal he’d received and understood the message. “I hope Glasses is alright. Doubt he has time to research and read his books down south.” He scraped the plate four times with his fork.
‘Glasses’ was not referring to Klaus. It was referring to Jericho. The scrapping code spelled out S-H-I-O-N. The question Gilbert was truly asking was whether or not Jericho had successfully researched the name ‘Shion Myosotis.’ Apparently, Gilbert had heard Scorpio mention the name when he had been imprisoned by the saint candidate in the execution tower. Atienna proposed it was the name of another True Conductor. Werner considered the name was perhaps one that Scorpio dropped to send them on a fruitless investigative chase, but the possible loss of information could not be risked. Thus, Jericho had been tasked with going through the Conductor records in search of a match through Moraeni’s aid in the Licensing Department.
Werner straightened his files and tapped them on the desk twice. N-O.
Gilbert hummed, then shrugged.
Werner frowned slightly as the man scraped the last of the cake from the plate into his mouth, but he permitted the action. Once Gilbert finished, Werner took the plate from him and set it to the side. As he did so, he felt both Nico’s and Gilbert’s gazes drawn to his left cheek. He didn’t need to look at them to know that Scorpio’s mark had trailed its way back up to his face. The mark was unpleasant. A sign of change. And a sign of a mistake. A forgotten time. Then again, perhaps all of that was too philosophical for him.
“Well…” Gilbert drew after a beat. “I’m gonna split. Only came here to complain anyways. I have like ten reports that Schiller bastard shoved off on me yesterday.”
Werner frowned. “If the reports were originally to be completed by Schiller then—”
“It’s fine. It’s fine. I’m not going to become a typical capital asshole so I better put some legwork in.” Gilbert waved them both goodbye as he slipped out of the office. “See you at lunch, Werner. Later, Nic.”
There was a beat of silence after the door closed.
“Anyways.” Nico uncrossed his arms and moved to open the window behind Werner just a crack to let in the cool winter air. “Enough about us and them. How are you doin’, Werner?” He glanced around the room, then at the sofa beside the cabinet. “Are you really sleepin’ here?”
“It’s more efficient.”
Nico hummed in consideration. “Well, can’t argue with that—but maybe you could add some decorations to make it feel more like home?” He pointed to the cabinet. “Maybe a cute lamp there.” Then he gestured up along the wall. “And maybe some of those hangin’ v-lights or dangly pattern things they’re always talkin’ about on the radio.” He snapped his fingers. “You know, I was talkin’ to Mutton the other day, and he said he had a statue of his dog in his office to remind him of home. Ever consider puttin’ one in here of Fenrir?”
Werner chuckled briefly. “That would be excessive, Nico.”
It was good that Nico could enjoy himself so casually after leaving everything behind.
Werner frowned and subtly shook the thought away.
“—Ophiuchus’s doubled-down on its Manipulation laws, I heard,” Nico was continuing. “The Conducting Law Department’s pushin’ out new guidelines at the end of the month. Livin’ manipulation research might be blacklisted just like life conjurin’ research.” He met Werner’s gaze. “You’d think that’s a good thing… right?”
“Whatever laws, guidelines, and events come, we’ll just have to adapt and prepare for them, Nico. That’s all there is to it.”
Nico nodded slowly, appearing reassured.
“You would think that it would be a good thing,” Werner found himself continuing. “They say ignorance is not necessarily a bad thing; however, acting as if you’re not ignorant or halting the pursuit of knowledge despite ignorance is, don’t you think? When is ignorance more valuable than knowledge? On matters of unethical subjects? But you would think that knowledge of unethical topics—beyond just conjuring life and living manipulation—would be more useful than ignorance of them, wouldn’t you?”
Nico cocked his head after a beat of silence. “Who thinks that? Atienna…?”
Werner stiffened, paused, then nodded. “I believe so. However, the fact remains that… we must be vigilant.”
“You know what helps with vigilance and alertness?” Nico chirped a beat after and patted him on the shoulder. “At least five hours of sleep.”
Werner allowed a brief smile. Hours, he thought. Pulling out his watch again, he read the hands. 0701 hours. A frown pressed his lips. He was one minute behind—
Nico peered over and startled at the face of the clock. “Oh no—I need to head back soon.” He was at the door a second later, waving and saying in departure: “Stuff’s always happenin’, Werner. The world still spins when we sleep, you know? I think it’s okay to relax sometimes.”
* * *
Werner spent the rest of the day going through files and papers. Every so often, a secretary or fellow capital soldier would enter his office to deliver to him more papers to go over. For every ten papers he received, he would mark five up in red pen and send it back via secretary to be revised. His work was somewhat equivalent to quality assurance. He was the main communicator between Ophiuchus and Capricorn in Ophiuchus’s support of Capricorn during its current political shift. In order for Ophiuchian support in controlling further unrest and providing Capricorn with certain funds, Capricorn had to provide Ophiuchus with a weekly social needs and progress assessment detailing how much its demilitarization and policy changes had progressed. So far, Werner had deemed the progress acceptable as did the International Relations Department of Ophiuchus.
At 0721 hours, Werner had finished all of his work. He finished much earlier than he’d expected, and he turned back towards his window in thought.
Despite the early hour, winter had brought with it a shorter daytime; and so the backdrop of the sky behind the city was a dark, navy blue. The clouds overhead had parted just slightly to spill out faint moonlight that illuminated the empty, snow-dusted streets.
The scars left by the Week of Blindness—as the series of Augen protests and riots that ran through the capital had been aptly named—were unnoticeable. All the craters formed on the sidewalks by earth Elementalists and the scorch marks pelted into alleyway walls by Projectors had been smoothed away. The Augen eye which had been formerly painted onto every single building in the city had been scrubbed clean the very first week after the Kaiser’s death. Although Werner had not seen it himself, he’d heard that even the dilapidated statues around the city had been refurbished. Perhaps this indicated that the city was healing. Or perhaps it indicated what the country was trying to hide.
Werner checked his watch again. He still had an hour to spare before dinner.
It felt unnatural having this spare time available to him. It didn’t feel right not to feel stiff tension resting on his shoulders. This extra expanse of time to think was also odd. He wondered if it was truly acceptable for him to experience something like this. It felt as if he was being lazy and unproductive. He was certain there was more that he could do to help and protect them—then again, why did he have to think in terms of ‘lazy’ and ‘productive’?
Werner waved Maria’s vibrancy off. In the quiet that followed, the duty and calling to protect pulsated at the back of his head like it did in his every waking moment. It shadowed him even when he slept.
As Werner moved to close his window, he was drawn away by a knock at the door. After he resituated himself at his desk and made sure everything was tidy and in order, he called the mysterious visitor in.
A woman in a military suit entered his office and remained by the threshold of the door. A folder filled with thick papers was tucked under her arm. “I have a couple of things I need to squeeze in, Captain Waltz, if you don’t mind.”
Werner nodded before indicating the metal tray at the corner of his desk. “That would be good. Put it there. Thank you.”
The woman approached his desk and gently set the file down in the directed area. She, however, remained standing there afterwards. Werner frowned at this then—
“How are you doing, honey?”
—he stiffened and slowly lifted his head to fully meet the woman’s gaze. The woman’s blonde hair was tied back in a tight ponytail, while her lips were pulled into a smile. Despite the dull glint in her dark brown eyes, her—his—gaze pierced Werner through. Scorpio.
“I told my partner to look after you for me, but you know me—I have to see you myself because I care about you.” Scorpio looked around the room “You’ve been doing so well. Serving Capricorn to your fullest even after everything that’s happened. That’s what they call a loyal, obedient dog. You’re still remaining true to who you really are.”
Werner remained silent.
“What you’re doing here isn’t so different from when you followed the Kaiser and your superiors. It’s just now instead you’re listening to them.” He chuckled. “Appearances are still everything. You’ve just switched which appearance you’ve chosen to don. It’s a very ill-fitting one. Soon there’ll be nothing of you left, but that’s all right, Werner. You—like everyone around you—will remain in that state of dynamic equilibrium. To believe and change only to end up where you’ve initially begun.”
“Is there a reason for your visit?”
Scorpio extended a hand towards him. The moonlight made his skin deathly pale white and his fingers thin, long, skeletal—as if they were reaching at Werner from beyond some grave. Much like Otto’s hand did in his nightmares back when he still had them.
Werner ordered himself to move, but he couldn’t. He was frozen in place just as he had been before in the execution tower, just as he’d been in the Kaiser’s office, just as he’d been when he’d stood in that white room before her. His palms itched at the memories, and his skin prickled at the thought.
Werner, however, remained steady and braced himself for Scorpio’s icy touch. But before the man’s hand contacted his cheek, Werner found his own hand shooting forwards and wrapping around Scorpio’s wrist. He squeezed down hard—almost waiting to hear that familiar crack.
“I would rather you not do that, Voz,” Werner said. “I really don’t like it when you do that.” He released Scorpio from his hold as he felt a warm presence hovering just over his shoulder. He was ashamed that his weakness had been so apparent, but he still thought regardless: Thank you, Maria.
Werner heard no words in return but instead felt a warm press on top of his head. It appeared as if the synchronization was not strong enough here either.
Scorpio’s smile thinned as he pulled his hand away. “Oh, it’s you again. Leo’s problem child.”
Werner’s eyes narrowed at this statement, but he could feel Maria peek in with intense interest.
“I’d rather not talk to you, but since Leona is vexed and you’re still something akin to human… I suppose I have to love and care for you too.”
The man was playing in riddles again. However, this was information; and so Werner remained silent and took notes internally.
“Anyways, I have something that will keep you busy for quite some time, Werner.” Scorpio reached over again, but this time opened the folder he’d placed in the tray. TRUE CONDUCTORS was printed in blue ink there. “I’m sure you’re aware of it, but Miss Atienna has been doing good work looking into peculiar incidents around Signum these past few months. We’ve parsed through the lot of them and picked a select few of interest. Of closest relation to you, Werner dear, is a woman in the anti-Aquarian-Capricornian movement.”
Werner could already connect the dots. The time had arrived. This momentary false ‘peace’ was over. This sensation of unproductivity and laxness would be corrected. He did not, however, feel any form of relief at this.
“It’s laughable, isn’t it? Even though I dangled the carrot of peace in front of them, they chose the stick of conflict instead. Every single time.”
“I’m being assigned to investigate a suspected group of True Conductors,” Werner concluded.
“You’re being assigned to hunt them—but this isn’t just for us. This is for the peace of your country. The people Atienna marked as possible True Conductors might disrupt Capricorn’s ebb and flow, so that should interest you, dear. The Acting Kaiser would like the anti-Aquarian-Capricornian movement dismantled from the inside out too. Ophiuchus is too slow for him—which I agree with. Of course, while I’m all for embracing the fleeting passions of movements, I’m for the syzygy even more so.” He drummed his fingers on the file. “There is a time limit. It wouldn’t be fun if it weren’t made into a game and if you weren’t putting your all into it. If you don’t find them by the time listed in here, then our deal will be reconsidered. And if Atienna’s deductions were wrong? Well…” His eyes narrowed into slits, his lips upturning ever so slightly. “The decision lies with you.”
Werner kept his expression impassive, then nodded. “Will this be a solo or a task force operation? If it’s the latter, will you be handing the selection of members?”
“Accepting without question once again… Not only that but you’re straight-to-the-point as always. How cold of you. Capricornian through and through. I admire it.” Scorpio leaned forwards. “Why’re you so interested in that anyways? Were you expecting your subordinates to help you? Klaus, Emilia, Zu, or Otto—oh, he’s dead, isn’t he…? Poor thing.”
Werner resisted a grimace.
“And Derik is bound to that cruel prince…”
Scorpio stared past his shoulder out the window.
“Anyways, to answer your question—well, we can’t very well have the little pieces that keep you locked in place from going away with you. You might escape with them if we allowed that. The same applies to everyone in that cute little manor in Eisburg.”
Viktoria, Ludwig, Mother, Gilbert’s mother, and Ulrich flashed through Werner’s mind.
“By refusing to be taken in with us like dear Hilton, you’ve technically imprisoned not only yourselves anyways but those around you and beyond you too. I doubt Atienna dear cares about the latter group, of course…” He gestured around the office. “Then again, from the beginning, this is only an illusion of freedom. Even if my eyes weren’t always watching you, that freedom of yours would still be an illusion. There’s only one way to be free for every single person walking on this earth, but they’re pulling you away from it…”
“I merely want to be prepared,” Werner said after a pause. “I would like all the guidelines and rules you’re able to provide. I do not want to make a mistake.”
Scorpio hummed at this. “Well. You can’t choose your subordinates serving at the border, but you’re free to select whoever you want stationed here.” His smile thinned. “I know you, so I already know who you have in mind.”
Werner tensed but didn’t respond.
Scorpio paced back to the door finally but paused there. “By the way—have you been using a new cologne, Werner?” He turned back to him, eyes narrowed slightly. “You should take care of yourself. You know that you’re important. If you don’t take care of yourself, then we’ll have to take you into our care instead regardless of the little game of deal you’ve played with Leona.”
Werner remained silent.
Scorpio smiled again, then waved. “Remember. I’ll always be watching. Everyone is. Glad you all enjoyed your cake.”
The door shut a moment after, and a cloud passed over the moon. The itch at the base of his palms remained.
Werner slowly pulled the file out of his tray and laid it before him. Since he had partially assisted Atienna in narrowing down possible True Conductors, he already had an idea of who he was to find.
At the thought of Atienna, a voice sank down to him—I’m sorry, Werner…
“We’re doing what’s necessary.” For the time being. “That’s all.”
* * *
Werner spent the night debating on whether or not to request Nico’s and Gilbert’s aid with the assignment. He momentarily considered Fischer as well. However, the latter man had already proven his falter twice in high-pressure situations beyond the field and had proven himself untrustworthy along with this. As for the other two—this was beyond rank-and-file, despite him being able to order them on the mission due to being their superior. Of course, Werner understood that their relationship was beyond rank-and-file all the same. Drawing them into a possibly dangerous operation when they had stable, well-paid positions in the capital was… difficult.
In the past, he would not hesitate to select members for matters like this. However, now the impulse to protect them collided with his impulse to protect the others. It was a grating conflict, an itch from within that could not be scratched. There was only one thing that could give him temporary peace.
In the end, Werner presented the operation to both Nico and Gilbert and allowed them the option to join.
“Don’t even need to ask,” was Gilbert’s response. “Not like I’m not used to being someone’s dog. How much is the raise?”
Nico had a more earnest, bright reply: “Of course, I’ll come! Let me just make sure everythin’ is taken care of for my shift at the hospital first.”
* * *
On Saturday morning, Werner boarded a train bound to Aquarius alongside Nico and Gilbert. As he entered the compartment assigned by his train ticket, he found it already occupied by a man and a woman dressed in fur coats marked with triple waves at the shoulder pads. He met each of their gazes as the realization settled in.
Nikita Knovak clicked his tongue, shook his head after exchanging a look with Dunya Kramer beside him, and then nodded at Werner. “Still crazy, Capricornian?”
Katharina Groth, First Chairwoman of the Conductor Regulation and Conducting Law of Ophiuchus
Motto: “Peace Through Order”
The Week of Blindness will forever be put down in history. It will infamously be known as the week in which Capricornians bore arms against their friends, family, and neighbors. Beginning with the attack on the capital’s Grand Hospital on the Monday of the first week of December, it reached its conclusion with the death of past Kaiser Kafke Neizche and the capture of Verbundene Augen leader Marionette Engel on that week’s Friday. The death toll was believed to be in the thousands.
After suffering this grave loss together, never again will we repeat our past mistakes. Together, we stand united as Capricornians.
Die Zeitung, Issue #441, 12.12.1941