Cadence felt stretched thin between the other five—even more so than usual. A bit of tension on the nerves. A hair bit exhausting.
She’d been in Werner’s form for well over a day now. Rode the train to the Capricornian capital to keep up appearances. Read over the letter Werner had received a couple times over. Her Capricornian reading skills were worse than her Common reading skills despite their psychic connection. Practice, practice, practice, she knew, but bah. During her train ride, Werner had synchronized with her to apologize for ‘the extra task’ she had to take on by mimicking him. She didn’t mind at all, but she was beginning to think that he was starting to develop a habit of spoiling her. And Olive. And Maria and Jericho. And—well, she didn’t mind it. In fact, thinking about it eased her skyrocketing nerves a bit.
Still, she didn’t let her nerves show. Not to Matilda and her gaggle who were all nervously sitting around disguised as Ariesian men and women twice their age via Cadence’s own proto-conducting rings. Not to Francis either who seemed to be completely consumed in his own thoughts from where he sat in the corner of the room. He was flipping through a book and occasionally offered small smiles to Matilda and her lot and gave unreadable looks to his own men and the Campana’s men. Despite the thoughtful and serene—and gloomy—appearance, Cadence was pretty sure no one was home.
So when Francis put down his book and grimaced, Cadence knew something was up. She approached him just as the alarms in the Serpens Establishment started going off on Jericho’s end.
“They’re moving through my gates. It’s something large.” Francis held her gaze and put his hand to his mouth. “Cancer, Capricorn, Scorpio, Aries.” His eyes started flicking back and forth as he clenched his fist. “Lueur de Fée. Comientzo. Oroslita—”
Cadence placed a hand on his shoulder and snapped her ringed fingers—transmuting the appearance of one Alexander Charming over herself. Identity theft, yes. But eh—the reward was worth the crime. The lie on the other hand…
Needless to say, seeing and feeling Maria’s ship crash down into the Serpens Establishment was a wake-up slap to Cadence’s face. She would have spent a minute gawking at the dramatic entry if it weren’t for the fact that Werner immediately dropped a—
1330 hours. Commence the operation.
The situation was pretty serious, but Cadence was pretty sure that Werner was a bit too serious.
Still, a push was a push. She gave Francis a shake on his back and hopped on through the nearest gate with Matilda and her ragtag squad and into—
First stop. And what a hot and humid first stop, it was.
The particular gate Cadence had stepped out of had been placed last week in a dingy tool shed located at the far corner of town.
Cadence popped her head in the shed. Hot as hell, and no one around. She stepped out and signaled Matilda and her gang to follow suit.
“Transporting goods, transporting people,” sighed one of the kids, his voice coming out hilariously squeaky compared to his transmuted buff appearance, “transporting goods, and now transporting people again.”
“Are you complaining?” Matilda looked back at him. “To me, it just sounds like you’re talking about how good business has been.”
Cadence resisted whistling. Matilda had gotten a bit ballsy recently, but Cadence herself was actually proud. The girl sounded like a little Fortuna now.
“Business might be slow for a while though,” Cadence noted as she guided them all briskly into the town square. “Anyways, best ta stock up on resources.”
“Because of the war…?” Matilda asked tentatively. “Right…?”
“Mm.” Cadence rolled her neck as they entered the town square. “Something like that, kiddo.”
At the center of the square was a metal, cylindrical device sprouting glass tubes and copper sprockets. The device stood two times taller than Cadence and reminded her of the octopuses she’d seen in the picture books Francis had read to the kids. The glass insulator tubes spilled out from its body and onto and into the ground. From there, they sprawled out into the distance.
Ley-lines and a conducting capacitor, siphoning off vitae from a distant reservoir. The Trystan Project was almost done…
Looks great, kid.
Cadence headed to the long house across from the device. She didn’t bother knocking and pressed through the swinging door. Inside, she found a familiar rectangular table cluttered with blueprints and measuring devices. A metal fan was whipping lazily above the table.
“W-what is this…?” Trystan’s father stammered, approaching them as he wiped his brow. “Alexander, right? What’s going on here?”
Cadence pulled up the royal insignia hanging at her belt. In reality it was just the lid to a can of beans she’d transmuted over. “Mr. Henry Carter, you and several other members of your workforce and family have been ordered by decree of the royal family to have an immediate audience with the Bureau of Investigations in the royal capital.”
Lie now, explain later was the deal. And for once Cadence didn’t like it at all. Ironic given her profession. But the weight of all the white lies that had been carried on for this entire past year was starting to hurt her shoulders. Werner’s chlorowheat, Francis’s face, the aftermath. Just thinking about it felt like a knife to the chest. But given the circumstances and short timeline, playing into this ‘practical convincing’ really was—not the morally right thing to do but—the necessary thing to do. Truth needed time, a discussion, a sit down. The truth would come real soon, but… unfortunately, this was how it had to be.
“What…?” Trystan’s father glanced back at the other Ariesians in confusion. “I…”
The more authority, the lengthier the sentence, and the more needlessly complicated the lingo, the less likely people were to question things. Supposedly.
“We must depart immediately.” Cadence gestured to the exit. “Time is of the essence.”
Trystan’s father shook his head. “Wait, no. We can’t leave. Not now. We’re almost done here—”
“The summoning is about this Trystan Project,” Cadence lied. “There has been an issue with licensing the project. You might be subject to penal action not only by the Investigation Bureau, but by Ophiuchus’s Conducting Law and General Investigations departments too. The worst case scenario is that the project is dismantled.”
“What?!” Henry took a step back as everyone behind began to whisper amongst themselves. His eyes became desperate. “We’ve spent so long working here—you don’t understand. We… This project—my son. He—you knew who didn’t you?” The man faltered. “This can’t be right… Prince Chance said he’d handled the paperwork. Wait. Prince Chance—will he be there too? Is he the one who…?”
Cadence ignored the painful pang of guilt in her chest. “You will be given the details once you arrive at the royal capital.”
“How long will this take…?”
“As long as it needs to,” Cadence replied.
Henry looked back at the men and women standing behind him. “A-Alright… let me get my things, then I’ll—”
“Get your spouse too,” Cadence said before exiting the long house. “Come to the town square. My fellow guards will tell you who needs to come along.”
Cadence then quickly went door-to-door around the square and pulled familiar faces out into the afternoon sun. Matilda and her gang followed suit. Thankfully, Torrine was an exceptionally small town so it took only about half a minute to find and gather everyone they needed. Trystan’s parents, a couple of conducting engineers, and one or two others. Cadence felt a pressing need to bring everyone in town on board, but she knew it couldn’t work that way.
She handed off the reins temporarily to Matilda before heading back to the shed they’d come out from. Placing her hand on the side of the building, she transmuted the illusion of a large v-ehicle over it. After altering the dimensions slightly so that the open door of the shed became the open door of the v-ehicle, she masked over Francis’s glowing gate inside. Then, she gave a two-fingered whistle.
Matilda and her gang came on towards her a moment after with the townsfolk in tow. As soon as the townsfolk laid eyes on the v-ehicle, they began to whisper amongst themselves. Among the whisperers, Cadence spotted Trystan’s father and mother—hand-in-hand.
“We’re taking you to the nearest station,” Cadence explained as she motioned Henry forward and nodded towards the ‘v-ehicle’. Best to keep them from talking amongst themselves—for now. “This v-ehicle will get you to the nearest train station as soon as possible.”
“Forgive me if this sounds rude,” Henry drew slowly, “but I don’t understand why we can’t just take ourselves to—”
“Mr. Carter, I repeat that this summons is by royal decree. If this summons goes un answered, the project could be dismantled indefinitely.”
Take it easy on them, Cadence… please?
Yeah. Maybe she was being a bit harsh. She was just a bit anxious and in a bit of a bad mood now admittedly. It wasn’t like her to take it out on others. Wasn’t like Werner either. Damn.
Slowly, one-by-one the Ariesians filed into the dark of the large v-ehicle. A gust of wind flowing out from the door indicated that the gate had opened. Cadence concentrated, adjusting the illusion she was transmuting to match the scenario of the people loading into the shed. It’d be pretty questionable if they waltzed in just to see the person ahead of them disappear into thin air, after all. Filling in the false seats with illusions of the people entering them was a difficult feat. But Cadence had thrown piano keys over the Twin Cities, so this was manageable.
“They’re all in,” Matilda said, breaking Cadence out of her trance.
Cadence pulled away from the wall of the shed and wiped sweat from her brow. The transmutation disintegrated, but she didn’t stop to watch the light show. Instead, she slipped through the gate inside the shed—
And as soon as Cadence stepped back into the room assigned to the Ariesian gaggle in Francis’s ‘domain’, she was immediately met with their hushed whispering. Confusion clearly. Their confusion made sense—the room didn’t look much like a room, after all. It looked like the interior of a v-ehicle. A lavish one. Leather seats and table for champagne and all.
Saints. Cadence wished she had a v-ehicle like this one. Maybe she could somehow convince Olive to put some money in stocks so she could get something like this down the road. Not that she had the license to drive it. Not that having a license really mattered in the end. Anyways—
Cadence ran her hand along the wall beside her and slipped her fingers beneath the circular metal disk she felt there. It was invisible to the naked eye, but as soon as she ripped it from the wall, copper glowing cracks fragmented across its invisible illusion and shattered it into visibility. The proto-conducting disk. The illusion of the interior of the v-ehicle shattered away along with it in copper glowing shards. The leather seats became wooden chairs and bookshelves. The champagne table became a table topped with bite-sized appetizers and glasses of water.
The Ariesians startled. Some stumbled back over themselves, while others pulled closer together. At the very same moment, a sheepish-looking Pi, a flustered Epsilon, and a scowling Tau entered the room together from the gate on the opposite side of the wall. As expected, half of the Ariesians recoiled at their entrance.
Henry did a double-take but then slowly approached Pi despite his wife looking more than unhappy. “Mladen…? Mladen? What’s going on here?” When he only received a confused look in response from Pi, Henry gestured to himself. “It’s me. Henry Carter. Captain. We served together during the—”
Pi looked past him towards Cadence as she shed her disguise. Henry followed his gaze, prompting the other Ariesians to do the same.
Cadence got to it before they could say anything— “Long story short—I lied earlier. There ain’t a royal decree or summons or anything like that. The Trystan Project is 100 percent safe. Relatively speakin’…”
“You’re not—who are you?” Henry looked around. “What is this place?”
Cadence held up a finger. “You folk on the other hand? You’re in all kinds of danger. You’re basically bein’ used as pawns and bargaining chips of some real shady folk. I know I sound like a half-crazed villain but it is what it is.” She gestured loosely to Henry as she felt a weight pull down her chest. “It’s a long story, but Trystan was… it was because of these shady people that he died.”
“I don’t understand…” Henry paled as did his wife beside him. “You know our son…?”
“There’s food and drinks in the corner there and some books ta read if ya get bored. If ya need anything other than that”— Cadence pointed to Epsilon and then to Tau and Pi— “those guys can take of it for ya—”
“What?! How dare you try to coerce me into joining you in another lawless campaign of yours!” Tau snapped, gesturing wildly around. “I refuse to have any part of this—this! What even is this?! Criminal abduction?! You should be jailed!” He whipped to the Ariesian who stood closest to him, which so happened to be Henry. “You! Are you being kept here against your will?!”
Henry did a double-take. “I—ye—”
Tau whipped back to Cadence and shook his finger at her. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to be an accomplice to your illegal hijinks again!” Turning on his heels, he walked right back in the way he came with Epsilon tailing behind him.
Pi remained in the room and looked to Cadence for direction.
“Well…” Cadence drew a moment after “…ya can just ask Pi instead then.”
“Pi?” Henry looked back at Pi who waved awkwardly. He turned back to face Cadence. “Who are you…?”
Got it. Got it.
Cadence slipped back through the gate with a wave. “No time ta explain in full just yet! Just trust my word that you’re in perfectly good hands—”
* * *
Cadence made her way through the gates and into the room Werner had deemed as headquarters. It was more crowded inside than the heart of the Twin Cities during the holidays.
Cadence approached the board herself before crossing off a slew of names marked with her initials in Quadrant 1. She eyed the names in Quadrant 2 where her initials were also marked.
Now off to… the Twin Cities then Comientzo.
As she squeezed her way through the crowd and traversed the gate again, her mind began straying to Alma. Before she knew what she was doing, she was dipping into her connection with the others. Specifically, she sought out Jericho and Maria who were running through the Serpens Establishment. Through their eyes, she saw the fog of chlorowheat curling around the corners of the white halls. She saw peacekeepers and children tangled up in each other’s limbs. She saw Jericho feel pain for the first time in a long time—Werner got to him before she did. She saw Maria breaking Louise and Hilton free from their prisons. But she could not see Alma, so—
Where was Alma…? Alma…?
As soon as one of her kids wrapped their tiny hand around Maria’s, however, these thoughts slipped briefly from her mind.
The kids were going to be safe. Even though she, the Foxmans, and Maria failed at preventing them from facing awful things again, at least the kids were safe now. She and the others would just have to try harder next time. It would take some work, but all things took work.
That being said, she was thankful that her next couple of stops in the Twin Cities didn’t require as much convincing because of her reputation—though it required a handful of different guises. Comientzo involved a quick pick up of Moraeni and El—the duo were quickly delivered to the good old doc who offered a pleasant smile at their arrival. Cadence found her gaze lingering on El after the fact—and not just because she figured El had a pretty face behind that ask. El was… a potential component of Werner’s plan. Hard emphasis on potential.
Felt nice not to have to lie—at least to them. Less hurt feelings. More trust. Again, Cadence didn’t fail to see the irony in her thought process. Moral dilemma aside, she was happy to cross out additional names on the to-do board. Felt like a game of bingo or something—with a lot higher stakes.
* * *
“I swear I saw her… I swear it!”
“You’re pulling my leg. Why would she be somewhere like that?”
Half-way through crossing off a slew of names in Quadrant 8—her last batch—Cadence paused and looked to her left. She had been dipping in with Werner and his family situation, but the conversation of Giorgio and Emmanuel brushing past her had caught her attention.
“Say, who exactly did ya see?” Cadence called out to them with a wave. She stood on her tippy toes to get their attention through the crowd.
The two men exchanged looks.
“Eh, don’t worry about the Captain—the one who glares a lot, I mean.” She approached them. “I’ll keep him off your back.”
“We saw Alma Miraggio in the flesh inside the Serpens Establishment—”
Cadence grabbed Giorgio by the arm. “Where?”
“I…” Giorgio glanced at Emmanuel. “I think it was the farthest west wing of the building. It was so chaotic. I’m not sure…”
There was still time—
Werner synchronized in and appeared right in front of her. He looked more than a little distressed and distracted.
“I’ll be in and out. I promise. I just wanna let her know that she has a way out,” Cadence said. She paused, glancing past Werner towards Emmanuel and Giorgio who only looked mildly surprised to see her talking to herself. She met Werner’s gaze again. “That there is always a way out.”
* * *
Serpens Establishment, Ophiuchus
Cadence adjusted her gas mask as she stepped into the fog of the Serpens Establishment’s westmost wing. She was invisible via transmutation at the moment—not exactly perfect since she’d hastily pulled it over herself. No time to stress it. No time to pay attention to the water soaking into her pants and shoes either.
She waded through the water down the hall and then rounded the corner.
She pulled back behind the wall as she spotted two figures huddled against the wall down the next hall. She nearly slapped herself a moment later as she realized she was invisible. Shaking her head, she peered around the corner—
Alma and Enzo, holding hands.
Cadence heart—despite everything—still soared at the sight of her.
“Damn insane terrorists,” Enzo was muttering, “We should’ve left after we sold half the product. They couldn’t give us a damn warning before dropping us here.” He released Alma’s hands and looked up and down the hall. “Stay here. I’ll be back.”
He departed down the hall in the opposite direction. Cadence took the opportunity to quietly approach Alma from behind. When she reached Alma’s side, she sank down, placed a hand on her shoulder, and dispelled the illusion.
Alma did not scream. She only gasped as she turned. “Cadence…? How…?”
“Ya gotta come with me, Alma,” Cadence urged. “It’s only gonna get more dangerous from here. You can’t stay with Enzo. It ain’t safe for you. Look where he brought you—”
Alma remained stiff as stone.
“Alma, he hurts ya.”
Alma shook his head. “He’s helping me achieve my dream, Cadence. We were able to book a bunch of places that were almost impossible to get into. I know it looks terrible, but there’s always a storm before the rainbow. I’m so close now—”
“Close? Close how?”
Alma looked down the hall. “There’s this… drug that’s a cross between morrowheat and sorrowheat. They call it chlorowheat. Have you heard of it? He’s been sell—”
Cadence felt her blood run cold. “You and Enzo… were the ones who were….” Memories of that awful night only a month or so ago seized her body. “You… gave the chlorowheat to… them? And… then they… gave it to… W—” She shook herself. “Do you know what that does to people?!” She pulled back a moment after. “I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean ta shout. I mean, I’m bein’ a hypocrite here. But… that stuff’s dangerous.”
“I don’t really understand the market and business things like that, but Enzo said we needed the money,” Alma replied, gaze softening. “Did something happen, Cadence? Did you miss me? I’ve missed you terribly. It’s alright. Soon, I’ll make my return debut—”
“Alma!” Cadence recoiled. “This… this is insane!”
“Cadence…” Alma pulled back slightly. “I thought you would understand—my dream has always been—-”
“What? Your dream? A dream ain’t… ain’t worth thrownin’ away the people that helped ta get ya there!”
“What are you talking about—”
“If that’s the case, it ain’t a dream. It’s a nightmare!”
Alma’s brows met. “You’ve changed—”
“Alma! Look at where we are!” Cadence leapt out to a stand “You’re workin’ with ELPIS! Sellin’ things that hurt people!”
“It doesn’t sound like we’re too different. then” Alma’s cold gaze faltered a moment later. “I… didn’t mean it like that. You know what it’s like… wanting to escape but being unable to. People who judge are the ones who have it easy.”
Before Cadence could even think of a response, she was pulled into a synchronization with Werner. Through his eyes, she could see Nico pinned against the ground by a Capricornian military police officer—one of Scorpio’s mediums.
No, not Nico—
Her desperation intertwined with Werner’s own, until—bang! The phantom sound echoed in her ears and spun her head around and around.
Cadence returned to herself a second after and stared dazed down at Alma. Alma’s gaze was serene. Almost like Cvetka’s and Alpha’s. Cadence hated herself for thinking the thought, but—
Abruptly, she felt Nico’s hand on her shoulder through her connection with Werner.
Cadence pulled out a proto-conductor from her pocket and placed it gently into Alma’s hands. “If ya love me, then leave. No, if ya love yourself, then leave. Leave him.” She took a step back. “I got other people I need ta take care of, Alma. I can’t… always be waitin’ for you. But… I still love ya.”
With that, she took back off towards the gate she’d entered in from just as the time hit—
Greta, Gilbert, Kramer, Matthias, Constanza, and Knovak had reported in at 1331 hours. Quadrants 1-4 had been successfully evacuated by 1335 hours. These quadrants included the families of Ferris–and Ferris herself–Emilia, Klaus, Otto, and Alwin as well as specific individuals from Aries, Cancer, and the Twin Cities. Captain Weingartner’s unit and the Twin Cities unit handled a majority of these evacuations.
Target individuals were quarantined in different sections of Francis’s rooms to be further evaluated. Units were divided based on how well members of the unit worked together and how well they would be able to complete the evacuation. Individuals deemed easier to evacuate were scheduled in the first quadrant, while individuals more difficult to evacuate were placed in later quadrants. Note: notice could not be given due to the risk of drawing Scorpio’s attention.
Werner had completed several evacuations himself in the first five moments following the operation. He moved quickly, minimizing unnecessary conversations and frequently checking his pocket watch and the quadrant board to ensure that all units were holding to the set deadlines.
Check watch. Move out. Evacuate. Bring targets to designated room.
Protect, protect, protect.
Check watch. Move out. Evacuate. Bring targets to designated room.
Protect, protect, protect.
Check watch. Move out. Evacuate. Bring targets to designated room.
Protect, protect, protect.
Check watch. Move out. Evacuate. Bring targets.
Protect, protect, protect.
The single thought moved him forward—
Werner was drawn out from his focus as he collided with another body. It took an entire second for him to register the fact that he was back in headquarters. It took another second for him to register he had just crossed off the final target for Quadrant 7.
Werner looked to find a scowling Sagittarian on the floor. It was a man who was a part of Weingartner’s unit.
“I apologize.” Werner extended his hand.
With reluctance, the Sagittarian took it, brushed himself off, and headed out through one of the ten gates painted on the walls of the room. People were staring.
Despite feeling a familiar itch on his palm, Werner met their gazes as he headed to the nearest gay. “There is no time to idle. Everyone needs to hold to the timeline. Now.”
The onlookers resumed their activity.
Saints, Captain. Givin’ me flashbacks about our first meetin’.
It wasn’t Werner’s intention to be rude or overbearing but someone needed to ensure the operation proceeded as planned. If one individual appeared to falter or slow, others could potentially follow suit. Setting an example was necessary. Appearances were everything.
I know, Captain.
Werner exited the headquarters and entered another one of Francis’s rooms. It was small, square, bare of any furniture. Here, he was to meet with another unit to perform.
Werner checked his pocket watch.
They were almost late. Tardiness would be unacceptable.
Protect, protect, protect.
They were late.
Protect, protect, protect.
Protect, protect, protect.
Protect, protect, protect.
Protect, protect, protect—
Werner looked away from his pocket watch. Nico was doubled-over and panting heavily beside him. Werner berated himself for not noticing his arrival. It was a slip in attention. It was something in need of rectification. But there was no time to converse or reflect. More delay would lead to a delay in evacuation. A delay in evacuation would lead to a failure to protect. However, Nico’s appearance was concerning.
“Are you alright, Nico?”
Nico straightened and wiped the sweat from his brow. “No need to worry about me, Captain.” He sighed, placing his hands on hips. “Well… I can’t say runnin’ back and forth between the sick area and out on the field is a relaxin’ experience.”
Werner frowned. “I… apologize for assigning you both retrieval and medical tasks. Your expertise in both the field and medical application is rare and valuable.”
Nico raised his hands. “It’s alright. I can’t complain. Honestly gettin’ out is better than sittin’ around with… my dad all day.” He shrugged with a half-smile. “I appreciate the faith you have in me though. How’s it goin’ with Cadence and the others?”
Werner was grateful that the situation with Nico and the confession was settled. Conversation continued as normal: the kiss forgotten.
Well, I wouldn’t say it was forgotten—
“There was an incident with Jericho but we’ve temporarily resolved it,” Werner replied, pushing away Cadence’s thoughts. “He—”
Protect, protect, protect.
The thought returned, hammering like a bell in his head. It rang true. There was no time to be thinking such thoughts and engaging in this idle chatter. Werner observed the black-painted door on the will beside him, frowned, and checked his watch again. He repeated the action 15 seconds later.
Protect, protect, protect.
Again, he repeated the action.
Where were the other members of the unit?
Protect, protect, protect.
45 seconds had passed now. Werner eyed the gate. The time for departure was nearing. If they were late then—
Nico reached out suddenly, closed the pocket watch, and held it shut in Werner’s hand. “Werner, we’re on time. Actually, we’re ahead of time. Focusin’ too much on tryin’ to be on time can make you all tangled up to the point where you’re actually late. Sort of like the centipede’s dilemma.”
The oddity of the conversation caused Werner’s unease to lessen just slightly.
“The centipede’s dilemma…?”
“Hyperreflection,” Nico explained. “Basically you think so much about doing a certain thing that you end up forgetting’ how to actually do it—even though you’re an expert at it.”
“I see.” Werner studied him. “Are you suggesting that it would be best not to think at all?”
Nico merely smiled as he wiped his brow again. “It’d be nice to not have to, wouldn’t it?”
Once again Nico was oddly and strangely philosophical sometimes. It was a comfort.
Nico pulled his hand away from Werner’s.
Werner lowered his pocket watch in turn. “I apologize.”
Still smiling, Nico arched a brow. “For what?”
Before Werner could consider an answer, a tap on the shoulder commanded his attention. It was Gilbert. Behind him stood Greta.
“Quadrant 8 now, right?” Gilbert thumbed the gate behind him.
* * *
Eisburg was quiet as usual, but this did not warrant dropping caution. Transmuted disguises of carefully selected, high-ranking Militärpolizei officers had been transmuted over Werner and the others. Werner split off from Gilbert and Greta at the town square. The latter two were to head to their respective targets—
Ya mean their family, Captain?
Pay attention to your own surroundings.
Yeesh. Got it—
Nico accompanied Werner through the cobblestone walkways until they reached the small house at the end of the path. The spring garden outside the house looked as pristine as they always were, while the exterior of the house appeared cleanly. Close to perfection.
Quadrant 8. Targets 9-16, Werner thought as he passed the wooden gate and came onto the porch. Glancing back at Nico momentarily, he rapped on the door. Thudding resounded from within before the door creaked open just a sliver. Even so, Werner was able to identify his sister standing in the crack. She appeared tired.
Werner lifted a fake conducting license—detailing him as a high-ranking Militärpolizei officer—from his pocket. “We need to come inside.”
Pushing the door open more just slightly, Viktoria squinted as she read his license. “I’m sorry… this is just not a good time, sir.”
Werner stuck his foot in the doorway as she moved to close it. “This is urgent.”
“I apologize, sir, but we really can’t right now,” Viktoria insisted, eyeing his foot with a frown.
Werner resisted checking his pocket watch, but even so he knew they were wasting time.
“Viktoria, it’s me,” Werner mouthed.
Viktoria paused, eyes widening. “Wern—”
Werner placed his fingers to his lips and entered the house as Viktoria allowed him passage. He scanned the entrance hall as Nico followed in behind him.
“What’s…?” Viktoria clasped her hands together as she looked him up and down. She eyed Nico uncertainly. “What’s going on here… sir?”
Ludwig entered the hall from the west living room before stopping short and staring. “What’s going on?”
Werner stared at his brother for a moment before he asked, “Is your wife here?”
The door across from Ludwig opened and his wife stepped into the hall.
Werner regarded momentarily before he eyed the interior of the room she’d just stepped out from. Inside he saw an occupied bed and a figure sitting at the bedside. Mother and father respectively.
“Excuse me.” Werner brushed past his siblings and entered the room despite Ludwig’s protests.
His father Ulrich, who was bent over with his hands clasped in front of him, frowned as he looked Werner up and down. “What is going on?”
“There’s been an evacuation order for the central states of Capricorn,” Werner lied, flashing his license again. “There will be preparatory military exercises hosted here, and selected families have been chosen to temporarily vacate their homes.”
“My wife is ill,” Ulrich said, rising to a stand. “We can’t leave. If we have to host soldiers, we will but we will not leave. If you require documentation, I’ll provide it.”
Werner was surprised at the defiance. While his father had always been quiet and authoritative, he had always highlighted the importance of following ranking order. He’d always said that was how he’d survived the Reservoir War: by following ranking order.
Why… are they being so protective of her anyways—
Werner stepped forward and approached the foot of the bed. He looked down. Mother looked frail, like glass, like she’d break apart with just a touch. She was tangled in her bedsheets with sweat dabbing her brow. Her eyes were half-lidded, her gaze non-piercing. For once, Werner did not find himself tense and stiff in her presence. He was not sure, however, exactly how he felt in her presence now, but he was certain of one reality: he should have been here as soon as Viktoria had called. It was his duty—
“She’s always had a weak constitution,” Ulrich explained. “It runs on her side of the family. She can’t be without care at the moment—”
“We are aware of her situation,” Werner replied, “You will be moved into a location that has the proper facilities to care for her.”
Nico approached the bed, knelt down beside Mother, and held her hand in his. She stirred as Nico assessed her. After half a minute, Nico drew, “She is very weak, but she should be able to handle transportation—”
Ulrich frowned at Nico. “She won’t be able to handle the transportation.”
“I assure you, Herr Waltz,” Werner said, “that the transportation will be minimally taxing in time, distance, and physical burden.”
“How exactly would it be a short travel when the nearest medical center is half an hour’s train
Werner stiffened at his father’s tone. Still, they were wasting time. Werner reasoned that it might be best to allow Cadence a full override since she had closed off her final task of the rescue portion of the operation. It felt irresponsible, however.
Nah. I’d be happy ta Captain. Dealin’ with family is always—
Werner tensed at the croak, and his gaze was drawn to the bed.
“Is that you, Werner?” Mother said again.
“Your wife seems confused, Herr Waltz,” Werner said, tensing as he glanced around the room. He knew mediums could be potentially placed all anywhere in this room. They couldn’t allow Scorpio to be aware of their actions. Not yet.
“What are you talking about?” Mother whispered. “Are you deserting, Werner?”
Werner felt his blood run cold at the question, even though he knew the situation was more than that. He was not abandoning his duty—
He found us. Atienna’s voice rang clear.
In other words, they were nearing the time.
Werner tensed and checked his pocket watch. 1343 hours.
I’m sorry. But something is—
“I apologize,” Ulrich said, drawing Werner back into himself. “My wife has been missing our son terribly these past few days. He was her favorite.”
Ludwig came up behind Werner and peered at him curiously. He stiffened, gaze flicking from Werner’s face to his pocket watch. “Werner…?”
Ulrich’s brows met as his eyes also landed on the pocket watch.
Ludwig’s wife entered the room. “What’s going on—”
A knock resounded at the front door.
Werner held out a hand in his sister’s direction. “Don’t open the door, Viktoria.”
“What….? Are you in trouble?” Viktoria whispered. “When I called the other day—”
The front door rapped again and a voice rang out, “Militärpolizei! Please let us in.”
“It’s the opposite,” Werner replied, pulling out the pistol strapped to his leg. He nodded at Nico and pushed back against the wall next to the door: out of sight of the entrance.
Nico knelt down in the far corner of the room beside Ulrich, pulled out Francis’s proto-conductor, and splashed the dark liquid onto the ground.
Ludwig’s wife put her hand to her mouth at the sight and appeared to turn green. “What in saint’s name is that—”
“I insist on coming in!”
With one last pound, the door splintered at its hinges, swung open, and cracked against the adjacent wall. Werner lunged forward and grabbed Viktoria by the arm. He pulled her out of the entrance’s line of sight beside him. Ludwig’s wife did the same thing for Ludwig, pulling them both to the opposite of the doorframe and behind the wall. Nico froze on the ground tense.
Werner didn’t risk peering around the corner. He scanned the room. On the mantle beside his mother’s bed was a small, propelled-up, round mirror. In the reflection, he was able to identify three women and three men in Militärpolizei uniforms standing at the threshold of the entrance.
“Hello?” The woman who stood front and foremost paced down the entrance hall. “Hello?”
Werner looked over the bed towards his mother and then his father. Ulrich eyed him. Werner shook his head in turn causing his father’s eyes to narrow.
“Hello, hello, hello?” The woman seemed to catch sight of Ulrich because she brightened and started walking towards the room.
Werner’s finger moved to the trigger of the pistol as the woman’s shadow touched the doorframe. He could see the tip of her nose, although it was clear that she could not see him just yet.
Werner whipped out his pistol and aimed it at her as she turned her eyes on him—
Protect, protect, protect.
Before Werner registered what he was doing, he aimed the gun down and shot at the intruding woman’s foot. Just like what he’d done to the Sagittarians tailing Weingartner and Heimler in Zhūshā Cheng. It was insufficient.
The woman stumbled backwards with a yelp into the arms of the officers standing behind her.
Nico lunged for the black stain on the ground, but one of the male officers fired a warning shot just barely missing Nico’s hand.
“Well, these are unfamiliar and familiar faces, aren’t they?” The woman laughed, shaking her foot. Blood splattered onto the ground.
“This again.” Ludwig tensed, pushing his wife back slightly. “Don’t let them touch you.”
Six quick bullets straight to the skull would be sufficient in . But they were innocent mediums. And—he had to protect them too. The pounding thought. If only he had chl—
Don’t go there, Captain. Please.
Werner tensed. I apologize.
The leading female officer lifted her hands up in the air. “I came to you first because you’re one of my favorites, Werner. But don’t tell my partner that, okay?” She looked around the room. “And here I thought giving your mother some privacy during her hard time was kind-hearted of me. Betraying my trust like this—really, how could you? I am quite forgiving though—”
Werner kicked out his foot, sweeping the woman clean off her feet. When she fell to the ground, he kicked her in the temple and pulled away as she fell limp.
“So we’re doing this again are we?” asked the male officer who had fired the warning shot. “I guess it’s only natural when confronted and put under stress to struggle until the very end and even lash out at the ones who are only trying to help you, right, Wer—”
Werner lunged at this officer and elbowed him in the diaphragm. When the man doubled over with a wheeze, Werner brought the butt of his gun down hard on the man’s head. The man stumbled forward onto the ground. The officer, who had been beside that man, pulled out a conducting glock.
Werner charged at this man and grabbed for the weapon. They grappled with each other for four long seconds as the man laughed as if amused. Then
Pinning the man to the ground, Werner whipped around and pointed his pistol at the last two officers standing at the threshold of the door. One was standing right next to Ludwig and the other next to Viktoria. The former was pointing her conducting-gloved hand in Ludwig’s direction, while the latter was pointing a conducting rifle in Viktoria’s direction.
Werner knew the exact angles he needed to hold and fire his weapon to eliminate them in less than a second, but–
Protect, protect, protect.
Again, his hands began to shake.
“Capricornians really do have misaligned passions, don’t they? You poor, poor thing. Your history, profession, and your passions don’t line up. They rarely do. Life is short and still we choose to suffer through it instead of enjoying ourselves.” The officer standing beside Viktoria smiled as she waved her gun at Viktoria. “Now I’m quite forgiving unlike Leona. Recall the others back and we can pretend like this never happened. In fact, we’ll even let you hold on to those True Conductors you—”
The woman slumped to the ground with a bullet-sized hole at the back of her head. Werner looked towards the entrance and spotted Greta and—
“G-Gilbert..?” Viktoria whispered.
Ludwig launched himself forward toward the remaining officer beside him and pulled the man to a choke hold. The officer fell limp 15 seconds later. Werner assessed Gilbert and Greta’s condition in the meanwhile but stopped short when he realized they were looking with alarm over his shoulder.
Werner whipped around to find Nico pinned on the ground by the female officer he had knocked out initially. His father was picking himself off the ground. Evidently, Scorpio’s medium had shoved him aside in favor of Nico. Werner knew he had made an error. He should have eliminated the officer completely, but he also had to protect the officer. But—
Captain, snap out of it! Nico! Nico!
The officer pulled out a combat knife from her bootstrap and lifted it in the air.
No. Werner could not allow Scorpio to ruin Nico the way Scorpio had ruined him. No, he would not allow it—
Werner aimed the gun and pulled the trigger. The bullet hit the woman in the temple just as she turned her head towards him. The knife clattered to the ground and the woman fell like a ragdoll on top of Nico.
Werner was at Nico’s side in an instant, rolling the woman’s body off of him. He helped Nico up to a sit. “Are you alright? Were you injured?”
Protect, protect, protect.
Nico shook his head, eyes wide. He then turned to the woman lying dead beside him and paled ever so slightly. A calmness shadowed over his features, and he studied Werner with concern. “Are you okay?”
Werner could not bring himself to look at the corpse.
Werner looked over at his father who had picked himself off of the ground. Gilbert and Greta filed into the room a second after.
“What’s going on?” Ulrich’s eyes narrowed. “Werner?”
“It’s all done and ready,” Gilbert answered Werner’s unasked question.
“I will answer your questions once we’ve arrived somewhere safe. Those Capricornian soldiers were being used by a powerful Manipulator. One that we’ve encountered before.” Werner reloaded his weapon as he turned. “I assure you the place I’m about to take you will be able to take care of mother.”
Ulrich frowned. “Is this because of the conflict between Aquarius and Cancer and Leo? Because you were recalled to the capital? Is this what this is about?”
Ugh. Saints. Are you kidding me? Is that what it looks like it’s about—
“That is irrelevant to the situation,” Werner replied, tensing at the unintentional interjection. He glanced at his mother who was eye-level with him in bed. He tensed upon realizing that she was alert.
“Irrelevant?” Ulrich frowned even deeper.
Werner felt trapped in his mother’s gaze, and his palms began to itch familiarly. A hand on his shoulder gave him temporary refuge. “I just want to protect you.”
Mother held his gaze before she closed her eyes and nodded. The gesture surprised Werner. He was uncertain of what to think. Viktoria, Ludwig, and his wife nodded silently in unison.
“Alright,” Ulrich conceded after a long five seconds.
Werner quickly opened up a gate Nico had placed on the ground and fed his family through to Francis’s location just as Maria and Jericho encountered Leona and Scorpio.
Ngoto, Imamu Land, Virgo
Stepping back into her hometown after not stepping foot in it for over a decade felt queer. Atienna was certain she had visited the hometowns of the other five more frequently than her own. She had parted from Dimka’s side earlier that morning before walking a thirty minute trek through the plains of southern Imamu Land with Sefu. He had been informed of Werner’s plan and had offered no questions, only assistance. His loyalty… made Atienna feel uncertain. She’d rather not think about it.
At the moment, she was passing through a mowed, wide path that stretched flat as far as the eye could see. Along the edge of this path were longhouses that were spaced far and few between. She could spot a few children running in front of some of the houses and ducking behind bushes that popped up here and there. In the distance ran a vitae-stream that carried with it a warm light and humid atmosphere.
Upon arriving in front of her childhood home, Atienna took a moment to pause and take it in. The wooden panels of the exterior had been bleached white slightly by the summer sun. The vines crawling up the side of the wall had overgrown to the point where it was spilling like a waterfall onto the ground. It had even grown to the point where it concealed half of the windows.
“It’s a beautiful house,” Sefu noted.
Atienna smiled at him before lifting the drape hanging at the entrance. Taking in a breath, she brushed inside the house. From the entrance she could see the house’s layout in almost its entirety. The small kitchen on the left connected to the small living room on the right. Down the hall were three doors leading to the bedrooms.
There was someone bustling around the kitchen. Safiyah, Their eyes. Atienna’s voice caught in her throat.
“Atienna?!” Safiyah gasped before rushing forward and throwing her arms around Atienna’s neck.
Atienna stiffened at the gesture but returned it warmly. “It’s good to see—”
A duo of gasps resounded just a moment after.
Atienna barely had the time to pull away from Safiyah before she was hugged around the upper chest and waist by two separate pairs of arms. When she looked down she was saw who she expected—Kamaria and Kichea. While Kichea’s face was buried in her leg, Kamaria’s face was fully visible to her. Her eyes were watering, but she was evidently refusing to spill tears. Atienna wiped some of the unspilled tears away with her thumb.
“Did you get me something, Ati?” Kichea asked, pulling away to look up at Atienna with clear eyes.
Atienna’s voice caught in her throat again. Kichea had grown an entire head taller since she’d last seen her. Atienna could feel something take root in her chest as she looked over them, and she wasn’t sure whether she enjoyed the feeling.
“I—” Atienna paused as she looked around. “Where is Bachiru…?”
“Bachiru went with your father to the Great Tree this morning. He took your mother with him actually—”
Atienna felt her heart drop.
A miscalculation. Still manageable.
Adapt, adapt, adapt.
Atienna smiled. “Oh, of course he is. Well, I suppose that he’ll miss our reunion here then.”
Atienna spent the next two hours telling Safiyah, Kamaria, and Kichea on the floor of the living room. Half of the stories were exaggerated and pulled from Maria’s experiences, but Kamara and Kichea seemed utterly enthralled by the tales. That was Maria, of course. Safiyah evidently didn’t buy half of the stories and spent a quarter of the time teasing Bachiru. Atienna really wished she wouldn’t—
Commence the operation.
Atienna rose up to a stand as the thought rang through her head. Her siblings and Safiyah looked up at her in confusion.
“Close your eyes,” Atienna said, clasping her hands together with an impish smile. “I actually have a surprise gift for you.”
Kichea immediately closed her eyes while Kamaria rolled hers.
Kamaria reluctantly closed her eyes too.
“You too, Safiyah.”
Safiyah arched a brow before chuckling and closing her eyes. “What’s gotten into you, Atienna? First all of these tall tales and now this?”
“No peeking,” Atienna continued. “Hold each other’s hands, alright? I’ll lead you.”
Safiyah chuckled, shaking her head before taking Kamaria and Kichea’s hands in her own. Atienna’s smile slid from her face, and she nodded at Sefu. Sefu pulled the proto-conductor from the folds of his robes and placed the gate down on the ground.
With that, Atienna took Kichea’s hand and walked them all right through the gate. Sefu followed behind her.
Once they were on the other side in Francis’s room, Atienna let out a breath. Safiyah, Kamaria, and Kichea opened their eyes at the sound. Their expressions of amusement and excitement instantly melded into confusion as they looked around the exitless, candlelit room.
“What… what is this place?” Safiyah whispered, turning to Atienna.
“It isn’t safe out there anymore,” Atienna answered, clasping her hands together. “You were being used as hostages against me. I can’t explain fully right now because I need to go get Bachiru and my father, but this is the safest place for now—especially in light of the war.”
Kichea drew nearer to Kamaria. “Ati?”
“I don’t understand what’s—” Safiyah’s eyes widened as if in realization and she rushed forward with a raised hand “W-What about my family—”
“Sefu, look after them.” Atienna looked away quickly as she slipped through the gate alone. As she passed through the gate, she whispered—“Great Tree.”
* * *
Great Tree [?], Virgo
When Atienna stepped out from the gate, however, she did not see the Great Tree of Virgo rising up from the quiet, damp marshes nor did she see the usual scratchy treelines dividing the sacred area from the political tribal houses and council buildings. There was no ivy-overgrown No—there was not a tree in sight.
Instead there was a wide street lined with odd, colorful buildings with striped awnings. Even odder v-ehicles lined the sides of the road. However—there were no people in sight and the sun was unexpectedly bright.
Where was this? No—what country was this? It had to be one outside of Signum. Had Francis accidentally sent her to the wrong location?
She looked back in the direction she’d come from and found Francis’s gate still pulsating on the side of the brick building. Then, she stepped forward curiously as a thought curled in her mind— perhaps, if this was a place outside of Signum, they could find refuge here as the war boiled over…?
A misfire. It was Werner. Atienna, we need to keep to the timeline.
Ah, here she was trying to wander away in desperate circumstances once again.
Atienna pulled back to the gate and whispered—“Outside the Great Tree” — as she stepped on through.
* * *
Outskirts of the Great Tree, Virgo
Finally, Atienna stepped out into familiar surroundings. She’d emerged onto a well-trodden path overgrown with different foliage. Vines hung up all around her head. This was the path she’d guided her mother down many times before. Comfort and contempt.
A pulsating out of the corner of her eye drew away Atienna’s attention and thoughts. She turned in the direction—
Atienna’s eyes widened as she took several steps back. Just a few meters in front of her glowed the pulsating white bark of the Great Tree. Its trunk—she’d never been this close before. She didn’t quite understand it. She was certain that she was still on the path she’d guided her mother down, and it was nowhere near this close to the Great Tree.
Hesitantly, she reached out towards the bark—
“You! What are you doing here?”
Atienna turned in the direction of the shout and found a cluster of Virgoans clustered several meters away around a generator conductor and a series of white tables cluttered with conducting parts and insulation parts.
One of the Virgoans neared her before pausing in his pursuit. He motioned her away from the tree. “Get away from there! You’re not allowed to be here—”
“You know her?” one of the Virgoans asked.
“I—yes—that’s my sister, but—”
Atienna squinted past the first cluster of Virgoans towards the latter voice. Bachiru. She rushed forward, brushing past the other Virgoans and stopping short in front of her brother.
“What are you doing here, Bachiru?” she demanded quietly.
“Researching,” Bachiru replied in confusion. “This tree. It could help mother. I think—”
Atienna couldn’t help but feel a slight spark of irritation at the sight of his innocent curiosity. He was always getting into trouble.
“Bachiru, where is father?” Atienna demanded, grabbing his arm. “Where is mother? Why in the world would you bring her here?”
“They’re on the other side of the tree,” Bachiru stammered, shaking his head in confusion. “What are you doing here? How did you get here—”
Atienna glanced back at the tree’s wide trunk that stretched almost infinitely in either directly. Her father was on the opposite side? Did Francis even have a gate placed over there? She tugged him away from the staring and whispering crowd.
“Atienna! What are you doing?! Let go of me! I’m—”
She was running out of time—
“What are you doing?”
Atienna stopped in place and turned. Behind her stood a tall, middle-aged Virgoan dressed in the leather garb of the Mkuki Tribe. Over this was a white lab coat, and perched on his nose were a pair of round glasses.
“Doctor Nge!” Bachiru flushed. “I am deeply sorry for the disturbance. My sister is—”
Doctor Nge—clearly Scorpio—raised a hand as he closed the distance between them. He ignored Bachiru and instead stared at Atienna. “What exactly are you doing here, Atienna?”
Time was up, but Atienna was not concerned about Scorpio. Rather, she was concerned about her father. Unlike the others, she had only been tasked one group to evacuate. This was because she was to handle the task of gaining Scorpio’s attention at the correct moment—when all quadrants had been cleared—and of siphoning information from him.
Scorpio looked back at Bachiru before his eyes narrowed. “You’re… running out here too?”
He found us, Atienna informed the others calmly. But—
‘You’re running out here too’—that was what Scorpio had said. ‘Too’—as in ‘also’, as in ‘addition’, as in ‘as well.’ In order to say that word, one would have to have knowledge of a previous term. In other words—
I’m sorry, she thought to the others, but something is…
“You didn’t even try to disguise yourself with Cadence’s transmutations?” Scorpio noted. “Did you want to be caught? You did, didn’t you? You didn’t even want to go along with this escape to begin with.”
“You sound like you were already aware of our plan,” Atienna proposed calmly.
Scorpio’s lips split into a white smile, and Atienna could see Werner encountering Scorpio’s other humanoid mediums in the distance. “You sound like you were already aware that you can’t trust every—”
Atienna clocked him right in the face before he finished. As he stumbled backwards, she grabbed Bachiru by the arm, opened a gate right at her feet, and pulled both of them through it.
Serpens Establishment, Ophiuchus
Maria looked over her shoulder at Jericho then back at Leona, Scorpio, and Scorpio’s human mediums.
Jericho stepped back towards the gate on the desk behind him and activated it with the proto-conductor Maria had handed him.
“Taking the True Conductors under our care was one thing. Running away is another thing. I know it’s natural for Olive to run away from things,” Scorpio drew, “but I thought you were the types to embrace and charge at things blindly without a care for anything or anyone, Maria, Jericho.”
Jericho frowned and seemed to search Scorpio’s face.
“About the True Conductors I know you took—how sure are you that they’re actual True Conductors? How sure are you that they aren’t my mediums? Isn’t it strange that you were able to ‘rescue’ them so easily?” Scorpio crossed his arms. “The truth is that you’re not sure of anything at all. You’re all stumbling blind.”
“Blind? Being unsure?” Maria considered it. “Werner does say that you should not act if you’re confused, but that does not mean that you should not act if you are uncertain or afraid.”
“Afraid? You, Maria?” Scorpio chuckled. “You know… Vega’s rooms are much, much safer than our basement here—as you can see.” He gestured around him. “Thank you for keeping them safe for the time being. When the syzygy arrives, we’ll be happy to take them back from you. In exchange, we’ll hold you instead—”
Scorpio’s left hand flung out towards the direction of the gate, and he stumbled forward suddenly. He straightened himself immediately and stared at his left hand in confusion only to repeat the action again. Each stumble brought him closer and closer to the gate.
Leona glanced at him with an unreadable expression. “What… are you doing?”
“Are you serious?” Scorpio shot her a look. “This isn’t me—”
He was jerked forward again by his left hand, this time electric sparks lighting up the air in-between his hand and the gate. Scorpio’s eyes widened, and he chuckled. His peacekeeper-mediums drew nearer to him.
“Oh, it’s that priest, isn’t it—”
The sparks erupted between his hand and the gate again, and he flew forward towards the gate. Leona lunged for Scorpio and grabbed him by the legs. She flourished her blade as she was dragged along through the water with him.
They can’t be together. We can only deal with them separately.
At the thought, Maria rushed towards Leona and delivered a flying kick to her stomach and forced her to release Scorpio. They tumbled forward in the air for a moment before splashing into the water together in a tangle of limbs. As soon as she landed, Maria struggled to right herself back up onto her feet with her one hand. It was unbelievably difficult, but she finally managed to get herself up on her knees. When she did so, she registered that Leona was already standing. The woman was dripping wet and staring past Maria’s shoulder.
Upon turning, Maria spied Francis’s gate on the table dimming. Jericho was nowhere in sight and neither was Scorpio. A handful of Scorpio’s mediums were missing too. The rest were standing motionless around the room. In her mind’s eye, Maria saw Jericho, Scorpio, and Scorpio’s mediums arriving in front of Olive at the Prognoikos Aurora Reservoirs.
“How dare you…” Leona said through gritted teeth as she slowly turned to face Maria.
Maria struggled up to a stand, pulling her conducting blade from her belt. She activated the blade at the same moment Leona activated hers. Gold illuminated the room.
“After everything I’ve done and given you, you still bite the hand that feeds you?” Leona snapped, pointing the tip of the conductor at Maria’s throat. Her eyes were afire in a way Maria had never seen before. “You struggle and crawl to live and yet you still dare to walk the same ground I walk on? Scrape the bottom of the barrel of everything I’ve collected? Take from me? Dare walk on the same ground I walk on? You really are no better than an ant.”
Maria remained silent and lifted her blade as well, pointing it in the direction of Leona’s heart.
a/n: 27.3 tomorrow ((i know i said today but… listen awieorueiwor)). my chapter update promises are like a slot machine