“Virgo?” Maria perked up from where she was laying on the sofa in the corner of the room. “You will be taking El to Virgo?”
Werner nodded as he fastened a conducting pistol to his belt. At the moment, he was standing in front of a long table that was topped with different conductors, insulators, and kickstarters. “Cadence’s information networks show that there is a small group of Virgoans that are proactively protesting the war. They appear to be an established group with meaningful connections. They may provide us the best and safest opportunity to have Ilunaria give her ceasefire speech.”
Maria glanced over at Atienna. Atienna, seated at the opposite corner of the room with a book in hand, lowered her reading material and offered a genial smile. It was only the three of them here.
“You will not be going, Atienna…?” Maria wondered.
Atienna shook her head. “I…”
“Nico and I will depart to the area first with Francis,” Werner explained on her behalf. “Cadence will serve as our communicating representative. I will touch point with Atienna through our connection should any problems arise. I believe the memories and knowledge I have from you alone should be sufficient.”
Maria hopped up to her feet and joined Werner at his side. “Well, I would like to join to!”
“I’ve been cooped up there the entire time, yes?” Maria’s smile waned. “I would like to step outside a little bit. A small adventure?”
Werner frowned before looking over at Atienna. Atienna gave a subtle nod. Maria beamed.
Atienna watched the two chatter with each other—Maria more so chattered than Werner—and then depart through one of the seven gates painted around the room. She let out a sigh as they left before she drifted to the sofa Maria had just been laying on. She sank down onto it, closed her eyes, and allowed herself to drift off as she felt the other two touch down into Virgo.
Outskirts of Virgo, Virgoan-Ophiuchian Border
Emilia Bergmann stirred from her rest and blinked blearily around. The lush green foliage that she had pulled around herself for cover was still in place. She stretched out with a yawn only to startle when a figure burst into the foliage in front of her. She threw out a fist and cracked against her assailant only to realize it was Klaus a second after.
The man stumbled back, cradling his face with a groan.
“O-oh my gosh!” Emilia stammered. “I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”
Klaus pulled himself up to a sit, adjusting his glasses as he rubbed his cheek. “Y-Yes, I’m fine. I probably should’ve announced myself first…” He trailed off as he scanned the darkness around her. “They… haven’t come back yet?”
“It’s been days now…” Emilia shook her head. “I’m worried about Alwin and Csilla…”
Klaus searched her face. “We were ordered—not ordered but… They told us to wait here, right? No matter what? They seemed so serious. But… should we go after them? I’m not sure what would happen if we got caught by the Virgoan border patrol… Our licenses are defunct since we’re technically…” He faltered. “…dead.”
Emilia ruminated in the quiet for a moment before she clenched and unclenched her sore fist.
Courage and loyalty once again.
Royal Courts, Xing Clan Territory, Sagittarius
“The Emperor has chosen an heir.”
As soon as Arjun stepped into the royal courts, he was met with this announcement blaring from the speakers that had been set on top of the tiled buildings. He was bewildered—so bewildered that he nearly dropped the conducting staff that he had been carrying with him. He had brought it out as a precaution. After all, he was a prince breaking exile by returning to this place.
The courts themselves were flooded with people wearing swaths of colorful cloth garments and robes. Arjun could vaguely make out members of the Xing Clan, the Hoshi Clan, and Kyaal Clan among them.
“An heir…?” Arjun murmured. “Already…?”
Arjun was so dazed that he didn’t even notice that an attendant was approaching him until said attendant was right in front of him. Arjun tightened his grip on his conductor but was surprised to see the attendant bow at him instead of attacking him.
“You are Arjun Gandiva Uttarētāra, correct?” the attendant inquired, rising from the gesture.
“I—” Arjun fumbled for his pocket and pulled out his royal seal. “Yes, I—”
“Prince Arjun of the Tāra Clan, your exile has been lifted by the new Emperor.”
Arjun stared in disbelief.
“All clan royals have been requested to meet in the war room in half an hour.” The attendant bowed deeply and began walking away.
Arjun grabbed the man’s arm. “The war room?”
“Please do make haste. The Emperor is heading out to Virgo at the end of the day.”
“The war room?” Arjun repeated.
“For the war, my lord.”
Serpens Establishment, Ophiuchus
Head Chairman of Ophiuchus Seamus Dolby strolled into the chairman meeting chambers with his head held as high as it usually held it.
Upon entering, he noted that all the chairs were occupied—all but the thirteenth chair at the head of the table. He walked over to the chair—the throne—and eased himself into. Then, he crossed his ankles, leaned forward, and smiled.
Seamus addressed the newest faces at the table first since he was a gentleman—“How are you taking your new positions as head chairs, Sybil, Alice, Flannery?”
International Relations. Psychological Evaluations. ELPIS Investigations.
“Fine,” Alice answered curtly, “it’s not so different from how it was when I was second chair.”
“That surprised me since Talib was known for his work ethic,” Seamus replied, brows raised. “It’s a shame that we still haven’t found him… All of that chaos… We can only hope for the best…” He turned to Flannery next. “And you, Flannery, newly licensed and all. I was quite surprised that you were recommended by both Leona and the past head chairman himself for the position if Leona were ever to leave. I thought the second chair would succeed her in her absence.”
“We can discuss after this meetin’ if ya’d like,” Flannery answered calmly. “Just the two of us for now.”
Her gaze was eerie—like it was piercing right through his skin. A saint candidate, hm? Seamus was certainly intrigued, but this was not a fish he wanted to wrangle right now.
Sybil nodded at him.
“Leona and Talib.” Seamus sighed as he leaned back in his chair. “The two front-runners of our election… missing… absent…” He closed his eyes and clasped his hands together. “It’s terrible. I wonder if this was ELPIS’s intention…? Either way, I’ll be sure to maintain our organization in their absence.”
“You know if it’s that much of a hassle, you could’ve just continued giving me your votes,” Gabrielle interjected with a wry smile. “I thought you had faith in me.”
“I do, I do.” Seamus nodded seriously. “I have faith that you’ll run your department exceptionally.” He sighed. “I hope you’ve all read the reports on our Prognoikois Aurora Reservoir from the Conservation Department submitted by our own William here as well as the chlorowheat report from our Hårek. The ELPIS Department’s report was just printed this morning as was the International Relation’s report, but as first chairs, I’m sure you’ve already gone through it multiple times.”
Sardine grimaced and shook his head. “It’s awful. Just awful. Everything is falling apart. Oh… all our hard work. What’s the point? It’s too late.”
“Now let’s not have any of that defeatist attitude.” Seamus clicked his tongue. “The Progognoikos Reservoirs, the loss of saint candidates, the war, the chlorowheat, Monadism— yes, it’s a lot, but this is why we’re here. To deal with these things when they happen—
“Prevention should be why we’re here,” Nadinaline interjected. “Our purpose is to prevent things like this from happening, not to work as damage control.”
“Very true, Nadine,” Seamus agreed, reveling in how his agreement brought a frown to Nadine’s face. “But we all have to admit we’re doing our best. 1969 is an unprecedented year—”
“1942,” Hårek interjected.
Seamus turned to him. “Excuse me?”
“You said 1969,” Hårek explained, looking somewhat annoyed. “It’s 1942.”
Seamus chuckled. “Are you feeling alright, Hårek? I know times are troubling and I do sometimes wish it was 1942 so I could relive my childhood, but we have to live in reality.”
Seamus became aware of the fact that everyone was staring at him now. Flannery especially. The woman snapped up to a stand as her stare intensified.
“Is… this a joke?” Hårek frowned.
Seamus reflected the frown before offhandedly reaching out to the other four. He didn’t expect an answer from Matthias or Constanza, but he did expect a booming response from Veles and an endearingly annoyed snap from Lyrs. Instead of that, however, he received a coughing fit paired with a familiar, unexplainable sensation of deja vu.
Seamsu hacked and coughed and hacked and coughed, doubling over on himself as his coughs intensified. In the distance, he heard cacophonic music, bright laughter, radio station static, honking horns. There were flashes of color too—dark greens, faded yellows, pale blues. Nothing came together.
When Seamus came back to himself, he felt lightheaded. He was on all fours on the ground still coughing. Hårek was at his side telling him to breathe, while Libra was on his other side gripping his arm.
Seamus coughed again, dislodging something from his throat that fell onto the ground.
“What is it?” Flannery demanded. “What do you see?”
It was a flower.
He coughed again and again.
More flowers fell from his mouth.
The lack of reaction from the others informed him that this was something only he was seeing. Oh dear.
Seamus swallowed the coughs with difficulty and rose to a stand as he tightened his tie. Hårek held him, but he brushed the man off and instead faced Gabrielle who had been hovering over him a second ago. “Miss Gabriel,” he said, “I’ve decided to temporarily hand the position of head chair over to you.”
Gabrielle did a double-take. “What?” She shared a concerned look with Hårek. “You really do need to check into the Medical Department…”
“It seems,” Seamus informed as he tuned into the faint music whispering out from the back of his head, “that I’ve lost track of my better halves.”
Everything cut to black.
Atienna opened her eyes as the faint tendrils of a faraway dream escaped into the recesses of her mind. A familiar gray ceiling met her gaze. Her mind was muddled with sleep, but she was still able to discern that it was brighter than usual in the room. That and it was a bit cold and breezy.
Atienna rose from the sofa and was startled to find that all seven of the gates in the room were lit open with pale tangerine light. She stared at them, wondering if Francis was involved in something complicated or if he was trying to transport something rather large. When she reached out to Werner about this, she found that he felt quite distant. She reached out to Jericho, then Olive, then Maria, then Cadence—all with the same result.
Perhaps they were sleeping—
A mewing sound drew Atienna’s attention away from the peculiarity. She looked on towards the nearest gate and found a familiar, small white kitten standing shakily in front of the glow. Oh dear.
Atienna walked forward and then sank into a crouch as she reached out for the cat. “Here, now. Don’t be troublesome. Come here, little one.”
The cat ignored her and continued to meow at the gates.
“Alice?” Atienna tried, holding out her hand.
The kitten looked back at her, meowed once, before turning back towards the gate.
Not heeding her command, Alice leapt right on into the gate.
Atienna stared after it expectantly, but—as she expected—it did not return. Atienna pondered if she should make an attempt to retrieve it. The other five were quite fond of this cat, weren’t they?
Atienna rose to a stand, placed a hand beneath her chin, and studied the gates.
It was very peculiar.
She neared the closest one to her, keeping care to keep just enough of a distance from it to not accidentally stumble in. The last time she had seen the gates open to this degree had been back last year in Gemini when Francis had nearly sunk the Twin Cities.
The gate in front of her began to flicker abruptly before something began to seep out from its corners. Something white and spindly, curving. It reminded Atienna of a thread—which made her mind go to one of the ELPIS Leaders. This theory soon left her mind as the ‘threads’ came out more from the gate. The ‘threads’ were too thick to be threads—too unorganized in shape and form.
As soon as she reached that conclusion, the roots began to spread along the walls rapidly until they covered every square-centimeter of it.
Half-alarmed, half-intrigued by the oddity, Atienna moved carefully towards the center of the room as she carefully surveyed the newly-formed structure around her. The shade of white from the roots was so pure that it almost hurt to look at.
Are you satisfied?
Atienna whipped around as the question resounded just behind her and threw out her fist. Her fist, however, met nothing. And her feet met nothing too. Suddenly, she was in free fall—tumbling right down through the ground that crumbled away beneath her.
The room with walls wrapped in vines grew more and more distant from her as she fell, fell, fell into an empty blackness that seemed to expand out endlessly.
The syzygy? No, a dream, Atienna thought. This has to be a dream.
At this point, she could no longer see the room with the roots. It was pitch black emptiness.
She continued to fall, fall, fall—
A blip of white burst out from the corner of her eye. There in the distance was a large, familiar white line that seemed to stretch on from north to south without end. Blossoming up from that line rose a familiar great, white tree.
Something in the air abruptly changed. It suddenly felt denser, colder.
Atienna was no longer falling but floating—her hair spreading out around her head like a halo When she moved her hand, she felt resistance. It felt like that time she’d taken a drive into the river in front of the falls in Cancer to save Albertine.
Atienna gasped for breath and a burning sensation flooded her lungs—the pain too real to be just a dream. She could not tell up from down. She could not tell which direction to swim. Desperately, she clawed at the water around her and squeezed her eyes shut—
An arm suddenly wrapped around her wrist, and she was dragged in a direction she could only assume was upwards. A second later, she broke through what she assumed was the surface of the water and took in a deep breath.
She coughed, gagged, opened her eyes—only to wince as bright light assaulted her. Chatter assaulted next—laughter, whispers, giggling, splashing, screaming, and a faint and odd tune that she could not quite put a finger on.
When her eyes finally adjusted to the light, Atienna found herself standing in waist-deep water. She was wet, cold—because her long silky and leather garments were nowhere to be found. Instead, she found herself in tight, bright swimwear—or she assumed it was. She had never seen anything like it in her life. A cool breeze against the back of her neck made her reach for her hair. She stopped short. Her hair was short—barely coming up to her ears.
“Damn, did you nearly drown in 4 feet of water, girly?”
Atienna looked up to find a bare-chested standing only a hair’s breadth away from him. The man was deeply tan, wearing the tightest, shortest pair of swim pants she had ever seen. Tucked under his arm was a long red plastic device that spelled out the word ‘LIFE GUARD’ in Common.
“What…?” Panting, Atienna took a step back away from him and looked around in confusion.
Men, women, children were crowded around her in the water. They too were wearing swimwear that boggled her mind—the colors, the tightness, the styles. It was unlike anything she had seen before.
A swimming pool, she concluded. She had read of them in novels, but this was not what she had pictured at all.
“Excuse me, girly.”
Disoriented, Atienna turned back towards the man—and then her gaze fell onto the banner that was draped just behind him.
Painted in all green bubbly letters on that banner stretched across the unbelievably sunny blue sky was—
WELCOME TO THE NDOTO ANNUAL POOLSIDE THRASH of 1969
Part IV End.
long a/n: Whew this part was a part™ and I have very mixed feelings about this part…. But!!!! We are done!! Maria has conquered the beast!! And lost some things along the way but!!!
I’m now going to spend some time re-reading/editing the entirety of SC! i really need to edit the heck out of this part TTTT sorry for the disjointed updates for this part by the way. as many of you know, I decided to pursue a second bachelor’s in comp sci in tandem with my master’s degree & I’m also working at the same time. also… i… last week… had the unfortunate luck of having several of my accounts hacked. I spent two days trying to get everything in order and had exams right after that. it was just a rough week ahah, but we are over the bridge now!
and we’re not going on a complete hiatus just yet! P4 ended a very strange™ note, didn’t it? Yes yes—p5 is a much different animal than the other parts. It’s a bit like part 3 but with Atienna vibes—anyways…. I’m going to be releasing the first couple of chapters of p5 gradually before we go on an official hiatus just so you can get a taste of the vibe and… interesting characters™ there. I won’t put the blurb for p5 here because it’s a bit spoiler but I’ll put it at the end of one of the next few chapters. There’s also going to be a new website associated with p5 which you may have already seen up in the corner there. there will be more details in the next chapter but you can actually access the website now if you can crack the password!!
anyways, ty for reading up to this point and following the journey of our MCs! hope you stay for the rest of the ride! that being said, it’d mean a lot to me if you could possibly spread the word of SC around or donate through the support option up at the menu bar! it’s alright if not. I do appreciate you reading all in all ^^