「page 315」


On this particular page,
a song existed with beautiful lyrics,
and a moonlit, orange melody,
whose tune everyone knew by heart,
whose meaning no one understood.


Atienna opened her eyes.

A cat poster tapped to the ceiling met her gaze followed by the pastel blue walls dotted with paw-print stickers. When she swung her legs off of her bed, her toes brushed against a ball of yarn and a plush mouse toy that were guarding the floor. An odd smooth yet energetic tune paired with sizzling and banging seeped out from beneath the crack of the bedroom door. The shirt and pants she had received to wear last night from Werner were still as brightly patterned as ever.

In conclusion—she was still here.


“Good morning, Atienna! Do you want eggs or pancakes?”

Atienna looked down at the two plates Werner had shoved in her face the moment she stepped into the dining room. On the left were two sunny-side-up eggs cooked into the shape of hearts. They were plated beside two slices of star-shaped toast and surrounded by small sausages cut into the shape of octopuses. On the right were two fluffy pancakes shaped like cat faces. Blueberries and nibs of chocolate formed the cats’ eyes and mouths.

“I…” Atienna studied Werner and tried again—Werner. She stared into his eyes.

His sunglasses were perched above his head, and his gaze was clear.

No answer.



Atienna replied with a half-smile, “Whatever no one else wants is fine with me….”

“Are you sure you don’t have a preference?” Werner cocked his head. “You don’t want to choose still?”


The room suddenly felt colder.

Atienna whispered, “What did you say just now…?”

Werner cocked his head. “I said… ‘Are you sure you don’t have a preference’? Did I use the wrong word…?”

“No, no—what did you say after that?”

“I didn’t say anything else…? At least I don’t think I did…”


A stretch of rather awkward silence ensued. It felt out of place. Atienna had never experienced this sort of thing with Werner before. Perhaps, there were beats of uncomfortableness when their connection began, but— 

“Well, that’s okay. Choosing can be hard sometimes,” Werner chirped. “Why not both, right? You can have both!”

He walked her over to the dining room table where Gilbert, Klaus, and Carl sat with their own plates of food in front of them. It appeared as if Gilbert had opted for the protein-heftier meal, Klaus the sweeter option, and Carl the best of both worlds. 

Nico was nowhere in sight.

“Nico went to work early today at 5:26 in the morning,” Werner explained as if reading her thoughts. 

“What time is it now?” Gilbert asked.

Atienna paused, forkful of eggs halfway to her mouth. She eyed Werner’s hand.

However, Werner didn’t reach for his pocket. He merely recited, “10:13 am. On. The. Dot!”

“Overslept…” Gilbert muttered.

“Overslept?” Carl frowned. “This is way too damned early.” He pointed to the demolished pancake in front of him with his fork. “The only thing that’s making it worth it is this.”

“You like it?” Werner brightened. “I can make it again if you’d like! This is Nico’s favorite too.” He headed down the hall towards the kitchen. “I’m gonna prepare Kaiser’s breakfast. I’ll be right back.”

Atienna watched his receding back until he rounded the corner.

“So. We’re still here.”

Atienna looked back at Gilbert who was inspecting the octopus sausage he’d impaled on his fork. 

“So it’s not a dream…” Klaus murmured.

“Could still be a dream,” Gilbert replied. “Just a very long one.”

“How the hell do we get out of it?” Carl muttered before jabbing his fork at a blueberry on Klaus’s plate. “You gonna eat that?”

Klaus pushed his plate towards Carl after sharing a look with Gilbert and receiving a nod. “There’s something about that that I noticed, Lieutenant…” He pushed his thick glasses up the bridge of his nose and spoke in Capricornian. “I thought something about the name of this place sounded familiar. I… took some Virgoan language lessons back at the military academy. Ndoto. That means ‘dream’ in one of their languages.”

Gilbert lowered his fork and stared at Atienna. Atienna looked away for a moment before meeting his gaze. This was something she knew would happen eventually.

“What the hell did you just say just now?” Carl interjected. “Speak in Common, dammit. You don’t hear me talkin’ Geminian in front of you, do you? That’s rude.”

Klaus stammered in Common, “Sorry. I’m not very good. I have an accent—”

“So does Captain Ditzy and his is thicker than yours,” Carl interjected, “and I understand him fine.” He nodded at Gilbert. “He didn’t talk like that before… right?”

“No, it’s another fucking weird addition to this hellhole.” Gilbert then translated Klaus’s words quickly for Carl before eyeing Atienna again. “If you knew that thing about ‘Ndoto’, then why didn’t you fucking say?”

Oh dear, Atienna thought. How to explain herself properly… His frustration was certainly warranted…

“Lieutenant,” Klaus interjected, “there are a couple of Virgoan languages, so maybe it was one that she wasn’t familiar with?”

Gilbert held her gaze. “Well, was it?”

The conversation fell silent as Werner re-entered the room with Kaiser at his feet. There was a filled porcelain food bowl patterned in his hand. He set the bowl down in the corner of the room and stepped back as he watched Kaiser approach it. The cat peered into the bowl and let out one long meow.

“Meow?” Werner fell into a crouch. “What’s up, Kaiser?”

Kaiser meowed again—longer this time—before pawing the bowl.

“Aw—I know, I know. This is less than usual, huh?”

Again, Kaiser meowed.

“I’m sorry, buddy, but the vet says we need to cut down how much you eat. Nico agrees too—”

Mrowww—Kaiser threw himself rather dramatically onto his back.

“Awwww.” Werner rubbed the cat’s belly with a sympathetic expression. “Sorry, little dude. Change is hard. I’m real sorry.” 

Kaiser pulled away from him, flicked his tail dismissively, and began to eat. When Werner reached out to stroke his head, Kaiser pulled away. Werner hung his head for a moment before hopping to his feet and approaching their table. He thumbed the descending stairwell behind him.

“I’m going to head downstairs and work a bit, since the store’s still open,” Werner said, hands on hips. “We close early on weekends though, so I’ll be done by noon! You guys are free to come down and chill if you want before that. Otto’s working today—”

“Is…”  Atienna tried. “Is Safiyah down there?”

“Safiyah?” Werner placed a hand on his chin.

“You said Safiyah was working a shift or….”

“Oh, right!” Werner snapped his finger. “She doesn’t work on weekends. Just afternoons on weekdays. You don’t remember her number? I can give it to you later. You guys are real tight, right?”

Atienna wasn’t sure how to respond.

“Anyways, I better get to it.” Werner pulled away. “Catch you on the flip side.”

Gilbert pinched the bridge of his nose as he watched Werner depart down the stairs but returned his attention to Atienna again a moment after. “Why didn’t you say anything about the Ndoto thing? You didn’t know?”

Thankfully Werner’s temporary and rather pleasant intrusion had given Atienna some time to collect herself.

“‘Ndoto’ is a term that’s familiar to me,” she answered. “And it does mean ‘dream.’ I just didn’t want to say anything presumptuous… ”

Gilbert sighed. “I get it. We’re all out of sorts, but we’re in here together. We need to communicate. Talk to each other. Miscommunication is the worst enemy on the field and in civilian life. It gets people killed and in bad situations.” He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “So, I’m listening. What does it all mean? How does it all fit in with Virgo? Are all the signs in just one of your languages? All of them?”

It was quite interesting to see Gilbert take up this helm of leadership and to see how he held himself when interacting with people outside of Werner. She’d seen him interact with Cadence and had vague recollections of his interactions with Olive. He was definitely being rather gentle with her.

“Virgo has 21 tribes, and we each have our own way of living… but our land can be divided into five distinct geographical regions,” Atienna explained after a pause. “Tribes within each region are more culturally similar to each other than they are to tribes of other regions. There are technically 21 languages, but there have been arguments that there are only five languages since they are quite similar. The Imamu tribe is one of the tribes that speaks the languages classified as ‘Tembo’. Most of the signs are in this type of language, though I have noticed some signs in other Virgoan languages. Perhaps it’s just an attribute of this particular attribute.” 

Carl arched his brow. “You talk like a book.”

Atienna offered him a smile. “A good one I hope.” She glanced at Gilbert. “I’m sorry for not telling you about my suspicions immediately…” 

“It’s fine.” Gilbert waved her off. “Anything else you need to report?”

Atienna pulled out a notepad that she’d been keeping in her pocket. “I spoke with Werner last night—”

“Did he say anything?” Gilbert pried. “I mean…”

“No, not quite,” she said, sliding the notepad2 over to him. “But I asked him for something to write things down on and he offered me this, so I’ve been taking notes on the… possibilities. It’s a bit… sloppy but it could perhaps be a starting point.”

She’d written a couple of major topics in all-caps in Common down on the page with small notes bullet-pointed below them.




SAINT CANDIDATE/ELPIS MACHINATION THEORY (influential on other theories)




Gilbert accepted the notepad from her. He hummed as he scanned it. “Glad you didn’t write the ‘this is real and we’re all crazy’ theory down. The hell is the morbid death theory?”

“Death?” Klaus paled.

Gilbert squinted. “Saints. Your handwriting is almost neater than Werner’s.” 

“I had a lot of practice. It comes with the occupation,” Atienna replied with a small smile. After a pause, she continued. “Perhaps we should redact or adjust the time travel theory. Everyone ‘here’ doesn’t appear to be familiar with the common terms that we know. ‘Conductor’ was one of the words that I noticed they found foreign immediately. I also believe there may be some… unfamiliarity with the terms ‘Virgo’ and ‘Common’—at least perhaps in the context that we’re familiar with them.”

“Maybe…” Klaus adjusted his glasses. “It’s dimensional travel?”

Carl snorted.

“Hey, shut up, Carl. I don’t see you offering any ideas.” Gilbert moved onto Klaus before Carl could retort—“Klaus, look. I missed you. I even cried for you a bit when I thought you kicked it. But you need to get your head out of those stupid fantasy books.” 

Klaus flushed.

“Anyway, Atienna”—Gilbert pointed down the stairwell that Werner had disappeared down—“That is Werner, right…?”

“I… It’s difficult,” Atienna murmured. “I feel him, and I feel the others, but…. they’re so far away.”

“Well, that’s pretty cryptic.” Gilbert sighed, running a hand down his face before he began to play with his sideburns. “Looks like we’re going to have to make assumptions. We don’t know if Nico and Werner here are actually Nico and Werner, but we can’t risk acting like they’re not. We’re all on the same page on that, right?”

Carl nodded as did Klaus.

“Well, obviously Otto is not Otto because Otto fucking died.” Gilbert frowned. “So… fuck.”

“Yeah. Your captain was mentionin’ a kid named Stefano who used to work for us was Cadence’s agent or whatever,” Carl said. “Stefano—the poor bastard—someone got nicked by that Scorpio bastard. Ended up endin’ his own life.”

There was a long stretch of silence.

Carl grimaced. “Shit. What if Cadence is like Werner?”

Atienna wondered for a moment—a dangerous moment—if perhaps Cadence would be able to smile as easily, as honestly as Werner if that were the case. But no. Cadence and Werner—they were precious to her just the way they were. To desire change…

Gilbert handed Atienna her notepad back. “Good notes. Keep it up. Good to have someone with a brain around here.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that…” Still, Atienna accepted it with a small smile and then froze as she scanned the pad3. She blinked and then relaxed. For a split second there, she swore she had seen dark green ink splashes on the page. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, however.

“I’ve known Werner since we were kids so I’m pretty weirded out by the way he’s acting,” Gilbert drew suddenly, garnering her attention. “Worried, freaked out, you know.” He nodded at Carl. “Nico’s got me freaked out too, and I’m sure you feel the same.”

Carl grunted and nodded.

“You—” Gilbert gestured to Atienna. “You’re really calm about this entire thing. You’re all wired up to Werner and the others, so I thought you’d be more antsy.” He thrummed his fingers. “You’re good at keeping things to yourself, but I just wanna reiterate that we need to keep communication open.”

Oh dear. Gilbert was being rather direct as always. Perhaps he was thinking about that time they spent in the bushes together when she’d overridden Werner. He’d comforted her then—or at least he’d tried to. On the other hand, there was a real possibility that he was suspicious of her too. Suspicion with shades of concern.

What would be the correct thing to say? Gilbert was truly kind and loyal. 

“I’m just… processing everything,” Atienna murmured. “It’s just very….”

“Surreal?” Klaus offered.



Once Werner closed up shop for the day, he invited them all downstairs into the bakery. Otto seemed to have left before they came down—or perhaps he’d left because they came down. Atienna helped Werner clean up the store with Klaus just as they’d done before. Carl and Gilbert say cross-armed at their tables.

Werner animatedly thanked them in-between beats of air-instrument-playing to the radio. He seemed particularly energetic today. It appeared as if there was some grand opening at some bar tonight that he’d been looking forward to going to. 

“I’ve got it,” Gilbert mumbled to himself as he watched Werner package the cakes and pastries on display into clear boxes. “I know what fucking happened.”

Carl rolled his eyes, while Klaus nodded attentively from where he was helping Werner package the cakes. It appeared as if—despite Werner not being quite Werner—Klaus was still highly affected by the man’s words of praise. 

“We’ve all fucking died,” Gilbert declared. “And this?” He paused to gesture widely around the storefront and then—with almost fearful deliberation—pointed to Werner. “This is fucking eternal damnation. Just like Atienna’s last bullet point.”

Carl arched a brow. “You’ve gotta be shittin’ me.”

“Listen.” Gilbert jabbed his finger down onto the table before he thumbed himself. “I’m a shit person. I’ve killed people.” He pointed to Klaus. “And so has he.” He squinted at Carl. “And you? You’re the guy on top that orders people to kill other people.”

Carl grunted. “Yeah, crackpot theory.” He jerked his head at Atienna. “Except we’ve got a saint over here—” 

“Wait did you say killed people?” Werner rounded the counter and approached Gilbert’s table. He pulled out a chair, flipped it around, and sat down. He leaned forward against the back and frowned . “Gil, you wouldn’t hurt a fly. That’s why you left the gang, isn’t it? You’re not a shit person either. You’re a good guy! The best guy—”

“Wait—” Gilbert did a double-take. “The gang…?”

“You don’t remember that either…?” Werner’s brows met. “How about you, Klaus?”

Wide-eyed, Klaus shook his head.

Werner’s expression became pensive—though he brightened immediately after. “Well, that’s okay! I have an entire photo album we can go through to help jog that VNW out of your system.” 

A photo album?

Atienna set down her broom against the wall and approached the table too. She came to a stand between Werner and Gilbert.

Werner craned back his neck to look at her. He was wearing his sunglasses again, so she couldn’t quite see his eyes. “Look. If you ever need anything or you’re confused, you can ask me. Like old times sorta.” He thumbed his chest with a grin—“I’m your ride and die.”

Gilbert blanched. “Saints. I hope not.”

“Huh? Why’d you say that?” Werner’s face fell slightly. “You don’t believe me? I’m here for you, Gil. Really.” He gestured around the table. “For all of you.”

“Er… Did you mean ride or die, Captain?” Klaus offered. “Ride and die is sort of… an end game.”

Werner looked back at him in thought. “Ride or die…?” He perked up. “Oh, is that how the saying goes? That does sound a lot cooler. I’ll use it from now on. Thanks, Klaus! You’re really good with words, huh?”

Klaus flushed at the attention. “Well, no, sir—it’s just that I read a lot.”

The door to the store swung open abruptly, and Nico stepped into the shop. He looked as displeased as he did when he’d first laid eyes on them. Instead of Kaiser being tucked beneath his arm, a packet of files was. He threw that packet onto their table before throwing himself down into a chair at their table.

“What’s got you in such a damned bad mood, Nico?” Carl asked.

“Since you’re not getting it handled in the Small Services District,” Nico said, pushing forward the packets—four of them—towards each of them. “I had to submit an order for your lost IDs myself. The paperwork took four hours of my life.” 

Werner hopped to a stand, rounded Nico’s chair to stand behind him, and began to massage the man’s shoulders. Nico relaxed, and his glare lessened. 

Gilbert and Carl both made faces.

“Those packets have your IDs and the usual informational packets they give to the VNWs. How Ndoto runs, some history facts, what’ll happen to you, etcetera.”

Gilbert opened his packet and pulled out what appeared to his ID card. He showed it to Klaus and then Atienna briefly. It appeared as if he was Level 5 and living in The Judge district. His card was marked over with the familiar [VNW INFECTEE] stamp as were Klaus’s and Carl’s cards.

“The infected status limits your access to Level 2, and it prevents you from taking the KM-test which lets you upgrade your level until you’ve recovered from your VNW bout.”

Atienna picked up her packet and pulled out a brightly colored pamphlet4 from it. It seemed to describe the level-system that Ndoto operated in. There were seven levels total, and one could ‘level-up’ in a sense through taking something called a KM-test. KM—Kuelimika. Tembo language again. Meaning—enlightenment. 


Each upgraded level came with increased access to certain areas as well as more VPs—whatever that meant. Something quite curious.

Peculiar though. Did that mean that individuals who were at lower levels could not afford the same luxuries as those in higher levels? A capitalistic, merit-based society or…? Was it worth to ponder the structure or meaning of something that was possibly not real?

“Level 2….” Gilbert squinted at the pamphlet in Atienna’s hands. “It says here the age range for that ‘level’ is 11-16 years, Werner.”

Werner remained smiling. “Does it?”

“Yeah, it does.” Gilbert lowers the pamphlet. “Your ‘ID’ says Level 2. So. What’s up with that?”

“What are you implying?” Nico interjected, eyes narrowing. “Those are recommendations, not golden rules. What are you trying to say?”

“I’m trying to say that Werner is obviously not in that age range,” Gilbert replied thickly. “Why don’t you upgrade or whatever?”

“Oh.” Werner frowned slightly in thought. “I actually took the Level 3 test eight times already. I managed to get 21 points out of 150 last time because Ollie helped me study, so I’m getting better, you know? But you need 125 points to pass—” 

Carl arched a brow. “Shit. How long did it take you to pass your other tests?”

“Level 2 took me twelve times, I think? It was a while ago. I only passed because Nico helped me study.” He trailed off before he shrugged. “But that’s alright. Level 2 gets me all I need—the clubs, no curfews, the grocery, the mall. Nico handles the rest. Don’t need anything else really. I’m happy where I am.”

Atienna felt faint. A flutter of happiness, but also… unease.

“I contacted your family members to inform them of your condition and special circumstances.” Nico rolled his neck. “So they’re expecting you to come home tonight. You can take the trains to your district. Home addresses are in your packets somewhere. Turns out there really is a new program that we’re putting out for non-dangerous VNWs so it’s your lucky day. I recommend you keep to the straight and narrow or I’ll recommend you to the Small Services District.”

Family…? Atienna lingered on that word. Kichea, Kamaria, Bachiru, her father…? Her mother…? Were they here? Safiyah was, so…

A knock on the store door drew Atienna’s attention away from the conversation. 

Werner was at the door immediately, whipping it open before throwing his hands wide open. “Caddy, you’re here!”

Nico scowled before rising from his chair and headed out the door behind the counter. What a peculiar personality this Nico had. But Atienna didn’t spend much time thinking of it because—

Werner stepped aside and allowed the person at the door to enter the shop.

“Saints.” Carl let out a breath— a sigh of relief. “Finally.”

Cadence Morello—her Cadence—entered the room. Cadence looked just like she did the last time Atienna had seen her. White blouse done up to three buttons from the top, oversized suit jacket, slacks, short orange hair topped with her familiar hat, poker face expression. The only oddity was the fact that she was not wearing her conducting rings. Accompanying her was a vaguely familiar young man dressed in a loose beige suit.

“Felici-fucking-ano,” Carl hissed. “You really had to fucking crawl back from the grave too, huh?”

Feliciano Donato, son of former caporegime Donato. Both involved in the human trafficking machinated by the Campana family. Both murdered in twilight by Maria.

Atienna paid no mind to him, however. Instead she quietly focused on Cadence and felt relief warm her chest.


There was no answer.

The warmth ebbed. Truth filled in the cracks of realization.

“Fuckin’ hell.” Carl rose from his seat. “Finally! Someone fucking normal!”

Cadence arched a brow at him.

Feliciano turned on his heels and peered out the store windows. “We’re all good, ma’am.”

Cadence sighed as she drifted forward. “Finally.”

She snapped her un-ringed fingers as she walked forward and a shimmer of copper light slid out from both her hands like gloves. They rode up her arms before meeting at her torso and shooting down her legs and up to her arms to her face. When the light burst and faded away, Cadence’s hair cascaded down in auburn waves from her ears to her back. Her suit flourished out into a beige dress with thin arm straps, and a tangerine-colored, rather expensive-looking purse hung from her shoulders. Jeweled angles dangled from her wrists, a flower-shaped pendant from her neck, and floral chandelier-like ornaments from her ear. Her flat shoes rose up to heels—giving her a height on top of the centimeters she’d already grown within a second.

An illusion created.

No? An illusion broken.

Atienna’s heart fluttered. Something about how Cadence held herself was mesmerizing.

Werner gave two enthusiastic, loud claps which Cadence, who gave an affirmative nod in response, appeared to appreciate the gesture.

Gilbert muttered under his breath, “What the fuck…?”

“You can conduct without a damned conductor too…?” Carl fell back into his chair. “Shit. Don’t tell me…”

Marching up to him and past Atienna, Cadence frowned and huffed with crossed arms. “What’s that supposed to mean?” She paused. “What are you doing here anyways? I thought you were going to stay at a hotel in the district and then head to the bar by 9.” She looked him up and down. “What’s with the outfit? You look a little bit dusty.”

“Dusty? The hell is that supposed to mean?” Carl rose back up to a stand and grabbed Cadence by the shoulders. “Cadence, what year is it?”

Cadence arched a brow before placing a hand on her hip. “The year is 1969. The month is June. It’s the 16th.” She snapped the fingers on her other hand. “And we are going to make our dreams come true tonight.”

She spoke in crisp Common without a discernible accent.

“Well, fuck.” Gilbert threw his ID card onto the table. “The swindler’s got it too.”

“Wait, no, no, no.” Carl squeezed Cadence’s shoulders. “This is just an act, right, Cadence? Your puttin’ up a play to skin by—so you don’t get marked as whatever like us.”

“What are you…?” Cadence trailed off as her eyes fell on Gilbert’s ID. “VNW…?Gilbert…?” 

Gilbert leaned back in his chair.

“They…” Werner scratched the back of his neck. “They all have it. I was gonna call you last night but I figured you’d be sleeping. And I… kinda forgot to.”

“What…? Even Carl?” Cadence’s hands flew to her mouth as she whipped back to Carl. “No…“ After a beat, she lifted her hands and cupped his face in her hands.

Carl went completely white and ripped himself away from her. “Cadence, the hell are you gettin’ handsy for?!”

Cadence’s brows knit and worry creased her features. Atienna had only seen Cadence’s face contort in such a manner five times before—when Werner had taken Feliciano’s beatings for her, when Francis had nearly collapsed the Twin Cities, when she’d found Werner overdosed, when Maria had lost her arm, and when she’d found out the kids had been taken. All other instances of concern had always been concealed by Cadence’s unaffected, affable facade. She’d always said, “What’s the point of lookin’ worked up when everyone else already looks worked up? Ain’t good for my nerves or anyone else’s.”

“Why are you talking like that?” Cadence whispered, clasping her hands in front of her chest. She spun on her heels and locked eyes with Atienna.

Instinctively, Atienna tensed and tried—Cadence?

“Atienna too? Now of all times? Your poor things…”

Klaus cleared his throat. “This is…? The one who helped us escape from Argo?

“Who’s Morello?”

“You’re Cadence Foxman.” Carl jabbed a finger at her. “You! Former associate of the Romano Family and… associate of the Foxman Family! That’s you!”

“Associate?” Cadence scoffed. “I am a member of the Foxman family.” She gestured to herself, sending her bangles clacking. “I’m Cadence Foxman.” She looked back at Carl. “I’m your sister.”

Carl froze. “You… mean like… in spirit, right?”

Cadence’s hands went to her mouth, and her eyes began to glisten. “What stage of VNW are you…?”

“Oh fuck,” Carl swore.

Cadence immediately burst into tears. 

“It’s okay, Caddy!” Werner came up behind her and placed. “They’re at stage 3, but Shion came by and said that there was a new program for VNWs at higher stages. They don’t have to go to the Small Services District! They can just chill around here until they recover!”


Werner nodded enthusiastically.

“It’s happening so close to our grand opening though.” Cadence sniffled, wiping a tear from her eye with a delicate finger. “We’ve just worked so hard for this and to have this happen…?” 

Atienna wanted desperately to come to Cadence’s side and comfort her, but it felt like there was a wall preventing her from doing so. A wall of logic? A wall of reason? Atienna was not certain—or perhaps she didn’t want to be. What she was certain of was that although she felt Cadence close by, the distance between them was only growing.

“Er…” Carl shifted uncomfortably, eyes wide. “Don’t cry, Cadence—”

“The grand opening is still happening though, right?” Werner tried. “Your brothers set it all up—”

Carl blanched.

“And you’ve just gotta make your live performance and get the crowd all excited like you usually do. It’ll be awesome!” Werner shook her lightly. “I’m stoked!”

“Are you now…? Well, I suppose you’re right.” Cadence wiped her cheeks and let out a breath. She placed a hand on her cheek. “I haven’t seen Allen around recently, and Francis has been acting odd. I thought it was just the stress of everything but…”

“Nico said he saw Francis in the Market District at the new bar last night on his way back from work or something,” Werner reassured her. “You know if he’s working, he’s himself.”

“Francis and Allen?” Carl interjected. “They’re here?”

Francis and Allen, Atienna pondered. Since Allen hadn’t been seen for a while and Cadence perceived Francis as acting ‘odd’, perhaps that meant…?

Cadence glance fretfully at Carl before she turned back to Werner. She paused abruptly and put her hand to her nose. “Werner, what’s that smell…?”

Werner looked around. “Smell? Do you mean the cinnamon? 

“No!” Cadence recoiled before slapping him hard on the chest. “You’re smoking again, aren’t you? You promised me that you quit!”

“Huh?” Werner rubbed the area where he’d been slapped. “Caddy, I didn’t. It might’ve been Otto—” 

“Otto?” Cadence huffed, slapping him on the chest. “That hooligan? Don’t tell me you’re still hanging around with him again?”

“Ow! Ow!” Werner stepped back. “He works here, Caddy. And he’s a good worker too. He’s a good guy—”

“Don’t ‘Caddy’ me. They aren’t ‘good’ guys!” Cadence closed the distance between them, driving Werner back and back. “If you hang around people who smoke all the time, you’ll start picking it back up too! If you hang around with people who pick fights all the time, you’ll start picking fights again too!” She sighed. “Your taste buds are all you have left because your brain’s obviously not working, so you need to treasure them!” 

“Aw, there’s no need for that…” Werner frowned before grinning. “What about my personality and charm?”

“Do you think that people will buy bland food from someone just because they have personality and charm? All style, no substance!”

“Hey, that’s mean.” Werner frowned again. “What’s with the bad vibes, Caddy? Everything’s all good now, isn’t it?”

“The VNW is one thing, but you’re a whole other thing altogether!” Cadence snapped. “How can Nico even let you hang out with those rapscallions without saying a word? Irresponsible. Hardly a guidance officer.”

“Hey, don’t say that about Nico! He works really hard! Like you! And they’re not r-raps-rapscalli—” Werner shook his head and protested, “They’re my friends!”

“They’re using you!”

Carl stared wide-eyed at Atienna before exchanging a look with Gilbert. Gilbert appeared flabbergasted and exhausted at the same time. Atienna didn’t remain a part of three-way gaping triangle for long and returned her attention to Cadence.

Cadence commanded the attention of the room. Something about the way she held herself and moved even when in frustration and anger was breath-taking. She twinkled like a star.  

Werner huffed, rolled his eyes, covered his ears. A moment later he was turning on his heels and stomping off towards the door behind the counter.

“Wha—where are you going?” Cadence demanded. “Are you walking away from me?! I’m trying to help you!” She followed after him. “Why are you being so childish?”

“Why are you always being so mean me?” Werner began slipping through the back door.

“Because I—” Cadence was stopped mid-sentence as the door slammed shut right in front of her. She pushed on the door, but it didn’t budge. “Seriously, Werner? Why are you being so childish?” 

“What the fuck did I just witness?”

Cadence turned to them and offered Gilbert a sympathetic look. “Did you really just swear, Gilbert dear? Oh, you poor thing. You have it real bad, don’t you?” 

Gilbert remained silent, apprehensive clearly.

Cadence rounded the corner and floated on towards Carl. She took his hand in hers and stared worriedly into his eyes. Carl made a face that was between aghast, confusion, and horror, but he didn’t pull away from her this time.

“Do you want me to have Feli call someone to pick you up and take you back home?” Cadence pressed. “Carl?”

At Feliciano’s name, Carl looked up and glared at the man who stood posted rather military-like in front of the bakery’s door. Feliciano eyed him back with knit brows and worry-tight lips.

“Wait—” Cadence gasped with disgust. “What are you wearing?” Her gaze passed over all of them. “What are you all wearing?”

“I’ve been asking myself that question every fucking second I’ve been here,” Gilbert muttered. 

“Well, no wonder your VNW isn’t cured already.” Cadence released Carl from her grip and flipped her long locks over her shoulder. “If you don’t look good, you won’t feel good.” She headed towards the exit door and motioned them to follow. “Come, come.”

“Come where?” 

“Stress shopping, silly.” 


In the end, they reasoned that they would be able to get more information outside the pamphlets from ‘Cadence’ as opposed to ‘Werner.’ Thus, Atienna accompanied Cadence —who had conductorless-ly transmuted her old ‘guise’ back on herself—on her shopping venture alongside Klaus and Carl. Gilbert had opted to remain behind at the bakery to wait for Werner. Atienna knew that Gilbert’s loyalty was one of the factors contributing to his staying back but she wondered if Cadence’s over-friendly and elegant disposition towards him was another contributing factor.

Atienna was still trying to get a handle on the concept of VNW and how it was perceived by this place. They had called it a psychological disease of sorts that was common. Those who didn’t have it were averse towards those who did. Yet it was similar to the common cold or flu? Harmful at times enough to warrant quarantining and harmless at other times to a degree where taking a person who had VNW to ‘shop’ wasn’t perceived as odd at all. Peculiar.

Cadence guided them into a small shop across the street from the Waltz Wibele, and Feliciano held the door open for all of them.

It was brightly lit inside and populated by life-sized mannequins modeling different, brightly-patterned articles of clothing. Scarves, bright blouses, flared out pants, headbands. Flower-patterns. Cropped shirts that exposed the stomach. Many of the articles of clothing were patterned with an odd symbol—a circle with an upside-down tree captured inside of them. Some shirts startlingly had Cadence’s face captured on them beneath the apparent slogan—A CADENCE FROM ME TO YOU.

Cadence led Atienna and Carl around the store by hand. Occasionally, she would wind scarves around their necks, throw shirts over them, and top their heads with headbands, clips, and hats. She attended to Klaus too, switching out his glasses and vests for sunglasses and a sweater. 

“Fab! Absolute fabulous! Aren’t these threads just gorgeous?” she would say. Other times she’d just click her tongue and shake her head. “Not taste,” she’d say.

She stopped in front of a display that hosted a rather expensive-looking black leather jacket. After pursing her lips at the jacket, she removed it from its place and handed it to Feliciano whose arms were already full with the other articles of clothing Cadence had thrown in them earlier.

This Feliciano was a rather meek man behind his stolid facade. When Carl kicked the back of his leg, Feliciano apologized profusely for getting in his way. Carl looked rather pleased with the outcome.

“Why the hell are we shopping in the middle of all this?” Carl finally asked as they made their second round of the store.

“If you look good, you’ll feel good,” Cadence repeated her mantra as she took them in front of the mirrors at the back of the store. “That’s self-care. Not for anyone but yourself. That’s a rule of life. Plus, it’s a good mood booster.” 

“What happened to ‘appearances are deceiving’?” Carl arched a brow as he studied his reflection.

Atienna missed Cadence’s voice saying those words.

Cadence threw Carl a large tie. “Deceiving? You know I hate liars. All liars know how to do is create gossip. They don’t care how their lies and gossip affect others. That’s the paparazzi for you.”

Oh…. interesting.

“Paparazzi?” Klaus repeated, confused.

Atienna studied Cadence in thought until Carl caught her eye with a jerk of his head. Their gazes met. Although Atienna could not hear his thoughts, she assumed he was pondering the irony of Cadence’s words.

“So this Ndoto place,” Carl tried, “what’s it all about?”

“What? You don’t know? You didn’t receive the informational packets they usually give VNWS?” Cadence asked with a frown. She shook her head. “That Nico…”

“No, we got ‘em,” Carl replied. “Just didn’t feel like goin’ through propaganda.”

“Propaganda…?” Cadence repeated with a frown as she came up behind Atienna. She reached around Atienna’s head. and fastened a necklace with a tree-shaped pendant around her neck. She then leaned in close, her new height now allowing her chin on Atienna’s shoulder. With a smile, she whispered into Atienna’s ear with twinkling eyes—“Fab, dear. Absolutely stunning.”

Atienna stared into Cadence’s eyes through the mirror. Cadence.

No answer.

Cadence frowned. “You know that look in your eye, Atienna dear, reminds me of…” She pulled away from Atienna, rounded her, and began to dig through her purse. A moment later she presented Atienna with a slip of paper. “You know… You had the same look in your eye that one time we all had VNW together a while back.”

What…? Curious…

Atienna accepted the slip of paper from Cadence. It was a photograph—colored photograph. She froze as she registered the picture’s contents.

 Captured in the white frame was Atienna herself and the other five standing—all looking several years younger, all wearing light green button-up shirts and faded brown slacks—in front of the backdrop of a blue sky and a stark, governmental building. In the photo, Atienna stood sandwiched in-between Werner and Maria. Jericho stood just beside Werner, while Cadence, Shion, and Olive stood in front of them. Werner’s expression was familiarly hard, cold, unyielding, while Maria was grinning brightly. Jericho’s face was unreadable, and he was offering a solemn thumbs-up to what Atienna assumed was the photographer. Olive was scowling with crossed arms, while Cadence—hair short, stature short—was looking back at Atienna with a sly wink. 

“What the fuck…?” Carl jabbed his finger at Cadence’s face in the photo. “Cadence, that’s you. The real you.”

“That looks like the captain…” Klaus murmured faintly. “You don’t think that…?”

Cadence pulled back, lips pulling tight as she sent Carl a glare. “I know… that you’re not well right now, Carl, but can you please not say that? That really hurts.” She took the photo back and folded it into her purse. “I only make myself look like this to avoid the paparazzi. This isn’t the real me.”

“But—” Carl protested.

Atienna placed a hand on Carl’s shoulder and studied Cadence again. “So, Cadence, you’re saying that all six of us had VNW at the same time? Would I be correct in saying that we had the same… delusion?”

“Apparently,” Cadence responded, crossing her arms.

“Apparently?” Klaus tried, his voice faint.

“No one remembers their VNW experience well,” she replied. “You don’t remember your dreams, do you? Breaking out of a VNW bout is just like waking from a dream. You remember wisps of it the moment you wake, but it all fades to smoke the longer you stay awake.” She looked back Atienna. “That was actually the first time we all met each other in person—but I think our VNW made us think that we all knew each other before that.”

The coldness crept back into Atienna’s stomach as she felt the distance between her and Cadence grow even more. Such a simple statement; such a lonely proposition.

A stretch of silence ensued.

Carl cleared his throat after a while. “You really think you’re my sister?, Cadence”

“You really don’t think I am?” Cadence challenged. Hurt was clear in her voice.

“I mean…” Carl gestured to her. “Not by blood. We grew up on the streets together, but—”

“On the streets?” Cadence gasped. “Heavens, no! Our family runs an entertainment corporation we started back when my singing career took off. We’ve never ‘been on the streets.’ Ndoto isn’t a place for that. Is that why you’ve been swearing so much? Because you think you grew up on the streets—” 

“You’re a singer here?” Carl did a double-take. “You hate singing. You said you were bad at it.”

Cadence huffed, seemingly insulted. She then took a quick look around before she flourished her hand. Copper light gathered in her palm and formed a glowing, oddly-shaped microphone. That same copper light slowly spread along her body, outlining her in a warm glow that reflected off the mirror behind her. Taking in a breath, she began tapping her foot slowly and nodded her head to a beat only she seemed to hear. Her lips parted and—

“My mother, my universe, 

Unhappy thoughts become inverse,

Open your eyes, open your eyes,

We’re riding out this dream—you and me,

on this once-in-a-lifetime wave.

Open your eyes, open your eyes.”

Cadence’s voice was melodic, dreamy, ethereal, smooth. There was a strength to her voice and a refined sturdiness to the way she held herself—to the way she held Atienna’s gaze without looking away. It was mesmerizing. 

Cadence flicked her wrist and dispersed the microphone and the light in the blink of an eye. She took a look around the store before placing her hand on her hips rather defiantly. “How’s that for singing? Can you believe that that one paper said that I sound like a bird squawking its last breath? How rude!”

Atienna remained silent. Klaus and Carl gawked.

“I’ll take your silence for applause,” Cadence said, lifting her chin. She headed to the front of the store and motioned them to follow. “Come now. I bet you’re all feeling much better now that you no longer have to wear that garish clothing, right? I certainly feel much better.” She waved at Feliciano. “Feli, check out for me, would you?”


When Atienna returned to the Waltz Wibele with the others, she found Werner sitting at one of the tables at the front of the store with Gilbert. There was a tray of cupcakes topped with pastel orange frosting dotted with sprinkles sitting in front of them. As Atienna neared the table with Carl, Klaus, Feliciano, and Cadence, she was able to see that there was a small letter-shaped cookie placed on top of each cupcake. The letters spelled out GOOD LUCK CADENCE.

Werner looked up at them pensively and fiddled with his fingers before casting a pensive glance in Gilbert’s direction. Gilbert arched a brow at him.

“Sorry for closing the door on you earlier, Caddy…” Werner mumbled, appearing sheepish. “I know you only mean well. The guys just mean a whole lot to me, you know? You do too.” He fiddled with the tie to his apron.. “I… made these cupcakes for you today to celebrate the grand opening tonight… if you want to try them?”

Cadence crossed her arms and remained silent as she approached the table. She plucked a cupcake—the one topped with the letter ‘A’—from the tray, inspected it, before taking a small bite. Her cheeks flushed a second after and she put a hand to her cheek and kicked one of her legs back. 

“Not too sweet. Texture is good. Flavor is on point.” She grabbed another cupcake and nodded at Feliciano who stood behind her holding shopping bags. “Feli, give Werner the jacket.”

Feliciano stepped forward, reached into one of the bags, and presented Werner with a familiar-looking leather jacket. 

“Really?” Werner broke out into a grin and leapt to his feet as he took it. “Is this for me? Really, Caddy?”

Cadence waved an absentminded hand as she nibbled on her cupcake. “I just got it on a whim. I can’t have you looking unfashionable if you’re coming tonight, right?”

Werner swept Cadence into a hug despite her protests. Atienna felt distant from it all. Jealous? No. Just far away. Carl and Gilbert, on the other hand, looked flabbergasted but much less so than before.

“Carl, are you feeling well enough to come to the grand opening tonight?” Cadence asked once she’d wrangled herself out of Werner’s grasp. “If not, I can call someone to come take you back home?”

“Er…” Carl hesitated, glancing at Gilbert. “What the hell is this grand opening you all keep talking about anyways?”

“The TwinStars Disco Club, remember?” Cadence put a hand to her mouth as worry knitted her brows again. “Our grand opening is tonight… our dream…” 

Feliciano cleared his throat abruptly. “Ma’am…” He leaned forward and whispered into Cadence’s ears.

Cadence audibly gasped before she turned on her heels and headed towards the door with Feliciano at her tail. “Think about what you want, okay, Carl?”

She was out the door a second later. Atienna looked after her before settling down at Gilbert’s table alongside Klaus and Carl. She then shifted her attention to Werner who was still holding up the jacket and grinning. 

“You get anything from her?” Gilbert asked.

“More nonsense,” Carl replied thickly. “Apparently the Foxmans is an actual entertainment corporation. Not too far off from what we actually are, but she made it sound like it was official.”

“Well… Our next move should be to find an exit to this hellhole.” Gilbert ran a hand down his face. “Doesn’t look we can shake sense into anyone here. Not sure if sense can be shaken into them.” He eyed Carl. “The swindler was saying that Francis was acting weird recently. Maybe he’s normal like us. He could be our ticket out of here.”

“They implied that Francis was going to be at the grand opening, didn’t they?” Atienna murmured. “The disco club…” 

“How would we get there…?” Klaus asked tentatively. “Would Cadence give take us maybe…? I’m not sure if she’s coming back though…”

Gilbert sighed and “Hey, Werner, mind taking us with you to that grand opening thing would you?”

Werner lowered the jacket and turned to them. He appeared hesitant. “But… Nico was saying this morning that you guys should self-isolate at home with your families and look over the pamphlets… J-man said he could help if I brought you, but…” He looked them over. “I don’t want you to get worse…”

J-man again. Quite a peculiar moniker. 

“We won’t get worse because we’re not…” Gilbert sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Listen. You’re Nico’s commander. He’s not your commander. Okay?”

“But…. neither of us are commanders?” Werner tilted his head slightly. “Nico’s a guidance officer and I’m a pâtissier.”  

Gilbert ran a hand down his face. “Ugh. Forget it. I thought you said you were my ride or die, Werner.”

Werner startled. “I am! But…”

“Going out to new and familiar places,” Atienna interjected, “would help us adjust more to these surroundings, don’t you think? 

“Would it…?”

Atienna felt rather uneasy, using these methods she’d learned from Cadence on Werner. ‘Werner’…? Werner…? Cadence, ‘Cadence’. 

Oh…” Werner seemed to think on it. “That does make sense…” He spread his arms with a smile. “Yeah! We’ll all go together. It’ll be fun! Do you all still remember how to roller disco?”

“I still don’t know what the hell ‘disco’ is,” Gilbert muttered.

“Aw, it’s real fun.” Werner pointed to the ceiling. “They put a bunch of lights, and they bounce off of this ball thing, and there’s just a really chill vibe, and you just dance.”

“Sure, sure. Sounds great.” Gilbert shared a look with Klaus. “When are we going to go?”

“I’m gonna go say bye to Kaiser and Nico first,” Werner replied as he headed towards the door behind the counter. “Then we’ll head out.”

“Nico’s not coming?” Carl asked.  

“Better if he doesn’t,” Gilbert muttered. “Not with the way he’s looking at us.”

“Nico’s been really busy with work recently,” Werner answered before sweeping out the room. “It’s real serious but also super hush-hush.” 


Half an hour later, a loud roar tore through the street in front of the store. Atienna, who had been waiting in the bakery with the others for Werner, startled at the sound and turned to the window. She was rather confused by what she saw.

On the street was Werner, wearing a plain white t-shirt and the leather jacket Cadence had gotten him earlier. His hair was combed back just slightly, although it seemed the wind already had had its way with it. He was straddled on top of a strange looking bicycle with a thick black body lined with metal cylinders. Its entire body rumbled and vibrated, generating a warm hum. 

Sitting just behind him with arms wrapped around his waist was a woman wearing a polka-dotted dress. There was a black helmet over her head that concealed her face but barely tamed her orange locks of hair. 

Gilbert was out of the bakery in an instant. Atienna followed him with Klaus and Carl tailing her. 

“Werner!” Gilbert shouted, waving his arms. “Where the hell are you going?”

“To the grand opening!” Werner replied, waving back with both his arms. “See you there!”

“What do you mean—‘see you there’?!” 

“Huh? I mean… You guys are coming too right…?”

“What?!” Gilbert snapped. “We don’t even know where the hell it is! That’s why you’re taking us—”

“Oh! Right… you don’t really know where it is, huh?” Werner ruffled his hair. “You go straight and then you make a turn and go straight again and go on the ramp onto the highway and make the exit and you keep going straight and it’s the building on the left that says the name of the bar on top.”

“Wha—” Gilbert did a double-take. “What the hell kind of directions—wait, no. That’s not what I meant. You need to take us—”

“See you there, buddy!” Werner waved again, turned the handles of the bike which caused its body to roar, and shot down the street before disappearing around the corner.

“Why…” Gilbert whispered. “Why is he so… stupid?” He cupped his hands over his mouth and shouted. “Turn left or turn right?!”

There was a long pause of somber silence.

Oh dear.

“What now, Lieutenant?” Klaus asked tentatively. 

A long, sleek v-while pulled in front of them as soon as the question left his lips. The v-ehicle slid to a park in front of them, and Feliciano stepped outside of the driver’s side. He walked around the v-ehicle before pulling the door closest to them open. Inside was a roomy interior lined with leather seats. It had a single occupant —Cadence Foxman.

“Well, don’t just stand there,” Cadence said. “Get in.”


The v-ehicle was rather roomy inside and fit all of them well. Atienna was squeezed in-between Klaus and Gilbert across from Cadence and Carl. Feliciano operated the v-ehicle and remained silent the entire time, occasionally casting them shy glances from the rearview mirror.

Cadence spent the time checking her appearance in a handheld compact mirror while occasionally humming a semi-familiar tune under her breath. 

Atienna studied her in-between taking peaks out the car window. The streets seemed so lively out there. Colorful people, colorful storefronts. Everyone was smiling. Colorful, bright, pleasant, unnerving just like everything and every person in this place.

“So Francis is at this roller disco place?” Carl tried to break the silence.

“Mhm.” Cadence inspected her nails. “Our roller disco place. A place that all levels can have a good time at. Like a mixer.”

“And it’s owned by the Foxman Corporation, an entertainment business.”


“A legal business,” Carl continued. “Run by our blood family. You, me, Allen, Francis.”

“Yep,” Cadence popped. “What other type of business would we be if not legal, Carl? We do other things too like philanthropy.” She smiled at Atienna. “I even give music lessons to Kichea.”

Atienna froze.

“And you think this is all real?” Carl continued. “You’ve got a back history and what not.”

“Of course.”

“You ever think that it’s kinda weird that this place is literally called ‘dream’ in a different language?”

Cadence stopped inspecting her nails.

The v-ehicle passed under a bridge, casting them in darkness. It was a darkness that was soon broken up by splotches of copper light. The shimmering orbs dispersed through the car, illuminating Cadence’s face first then Carl’s, Gilbert’s, and Klaus’s. Cadence’s index finger was raised in front of her face and continuously emitted the orbs.

“Ndoto does mean dream,” Cadence answered. 


“What do you think dream means? Something you experience when you sleep, obviously, but there’s also ‘dreams’ as in cherished aspirations, ideals, and ambitions, right?”

Right. Words were quite difficult things, after all. Multiple meanings for such a small thing.

“This place was named that because it’s intended to be a place where we can all achieve our dreams”—Cadence twirled her hand around and the orbs began to take different shapes: squares, triangles, hearts, cartoonish-looking people, animals— “regardless of our circumstances. When we arrive—no matter if we come here poor or rich, no matter if we’ve experienced good or bad—everything becomes equalized.”

“When you arrive?” Gilbert arched a brow, eyeing. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“What do you think ‘arrived’ means, silly?” Cadence tossed her hair and flicked her wrist. The copper items floating around the v-ehicle shrunk back into orbs that then blossomed into lily-like flowers. “Most residents of Ndoto are immigrants—or at least their parents or grandparents are. Some are refugees seeking asylum from wars and political—” 

“Wait, war is real?” Klaus interjected. “It’s… the captain—Werner—said… He made it sound like he didn’t know what it was…”

“What? He said that?” Cadence sighed. “That idiot. He probably thought it meant something else or said something off the top of his head to try and lighten the mood.”

“So there is war?” Gilbert pressed.

They passed out from underneath the bridge and the v-ehicle came flooded with light. The copper flowers dispersed. 

“I’ve never experienced it myself. I’ve only heard about it. An urban legend, what have you.” Cadence leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. “Jer—well, a friend of mine thinks that there’s no way to escape war since the sparks that cause it are ‘opinion’ and ‘choice’ which all people have. He said something about wars becoming less physical and more ideological as we gradually become able to live more comfortably and focus on our ‘vices.’ Fascism, democracy, socialism, communism, human rights, and so on. Depressing, don’t you think? I think he thinks too much. No one wants to hear a depressing song though, right? They want to hear a happy, fun song.” 

That was a choice in itself, Atienna thought.

“Huh?” Carl arched a brow.

“You’ll understand once you get over your VNW bout.” Cadence hummed and looked out the window. “Ndoto is an escape from all of those things. Everything that’s bad is a faraway dream.”


a/n: whew. nothing like using your entire weekend to write a chapter while having projects due the next day. //fingerguns.

there’s a new update on the utopia site. hints for the password are–check the ndoto waves! ((because i’ve seen some people struggling with the passwords, passwords will be tweeted on the story twitter four days after chapter releases!)). there are three footnotes so please be sure to check them out!

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