The leader more reflects the people,
than the people the leader.
There was an ice cream parlor just outside of the field. The parlor was as bright and colorful as everything else in this place with a stripped red-and-white awning marking its entrance. A small patio with tables topped with pastel blue parasols dotted the store’s front. Half the tables were occupied, while the interior of the store appeared crowded.
Olive was walking ahead of her with his arm thrown around Eunji’s shoulder. Lavi was at Eunji’s left and Trystan at Olive’s right and Claire at his right. Felix was walking just behind them—footsteps silent, still wearing the bandana around his face despite Olive’s teasing.
Atienna hung behind them with Derik and Klaus—the latter who was informing the former of everything that had transpired since their arrival. Her gaze flicked between Lavi and Olive as she turned over Lavi’s words in mind. She needed to speak with Lavi privately—that much she knew.
Aside from this, Atienna had discovered a new peculiarity—the time-frame in which all of the ones who were ‘normal’ were arriving. Was there a pattern to it? Atienna knew she would have to get more details to be sure—that was, if this plan with Francis didn’t turn out.
Once they reached the front of the parlor, Olive turned back to them, extended his hand, and wiggled his fingers.
Atienna hadn’t felt threatened by Olive’s blackmail at all. She had accepted to take him for this ice-cream trip in hopes of gleaning more information from him and so that she could stay by his side just a little longer. It seemed as if all these familiar faces were constantly nearing her just slightly before pulling away from her completely.
Atienna withdrew her ID card again. According to the pamphlets, these cards were also used as a form of currency. The pamphlets didn’t go into deep detail, of course, but Atienna found it a curious system. didn’t hand her his card and merely showed it to him. He stared at the VNW stamp on it and arched a brow at her.
“Do you think it would be trouble if I went in with this card?” she tried, studying his expression.
Olive frowned and pushed the card away before turning back to Claire and the others. “Ice-cream is on me.” He turned back to Atienna then and asked, “Vanilla or chocolate?”
“I’m sorry… What?”
“What flavor do you want?”
“You don’t have to buy me ice-cream, Olive.”
Olive chuckled—it was a warm sound. “What? Do you think I’m going to use that as a quid pro quo? It’s just ice-cream, and I was only joking earlier.”
“That’s a mischievous joke, don’t you think?”
Olive shrugged. “Come on though. It’s not much of a choice to make. Chocolate or vanilla? They’re the most basic flavors you can get. Nothing too hard about choosing between direct extremes, right?”
Something seemed off again. Though, Atienna didn’t know this Olive well enough to know what was off and what was not. So, she replied with, “You would make a good sales man, Olive.”
“Not a prince?” Olive responded with a coy tone. “Not choosing is still a choice, you know? Well, I’ll make the choice for you then.”
Before Atienna could say anything else, Olive headed into the parlor with Claire, Eunji, Felix, Trystan, and Lavi.
Atienna took a seat at one of the patio tables with Derik and Klaus. She noted how Derik hadn’t followed Olive in.
“This is how brats become spoiled.” Derik sneered. “You pamper them and they think they’re the top of the world. Obviously this brat hasn’t been to hell and back like the bratty prince. Wouldn’t hurt to make this one suffer a bit.”
Klaus made a face. “So you think that people need to suffer in order for them to better people…? You haven’t changed.”
“And you’re still a pussy, so you haven’t either,” Derik snapped back. “Why the hell are we sitting here anyways? That isn’t the prince brat, right? Why are we sticking around for? Better to ditch him and find the real one.”
It seemed as if Derik had settled on the conclusion that the versions of the people they had seen her were not in fact them at all. It was a dangerous conclusion that Atienna hadn’t chosen to settle on just yet.
“Maybe you have changed,” Klaus muttered. “Normally, you’d’ve left already.”
“Derik,” Atienna began. “Do—”
“You people just attract weird shit like magnets,” Derik continued. “don’t you. If that Scorpio dick is the one doing this weird ass shit, then I wanna be the one who kills him.”
People sitting at the tables around them were beginning to stare.
“Keep your voice down…” Klaus muttered.
Derik kicked him from beneath the table in response before nodding at Atienna. “So Klaus tells me the dead are walking and the ‘captain’ is a dumbass in this place—”
“I didn’t say that,” Klaus stammered.
“—and that swindler from the train is some rich bitch,” Derik continued, “and the brat prince is even brattier. The peacekeeper with the staring problem was brought up here too, right? So is there a weird version of all the people you’re connected to running around? You’re the only one in your group that’s normal?”
Atienna considered the idea. She had met Olive, Cadence, and Werner. She had heard Jericho referenced multiple times, and had heard Maria mentioned once. Maria? If anyone were to be themselves in this place, it would be Maria. No, the only person Maria could be was Maria. That was simply how she was. Yes, Atienna was certain of this fact. Past everything that had happened since they’d first met, Maria had remained herself. No, she had become more like herself. Irritatingly bright.
Atienna looked up at Derik.
“Do you not feel it anymore—the…. drive to”—Atienna wondered how to put this appropriately—“tend to Olive?”
Derik frowned. “How the fuck am I supposed to know?” He crossed his arms. “Yeah, well, maybe I don’t feel like following him around all the time, but that’s because I just don’t feel like it.”
“Is it because you no longer have that impulse at all or because the person who that impulse is associated with—from your perspective—is not that person?”
Before Derik could answer, Olive and his group joined them at the table. Olive set small cups of ice-cream in front of them. A green-colored one for Derik and a pink one for Klaus. Atienna herself received a cup of ice-cream that consisted of a scoop of vanilla and a scoop of chocolate.
Olive seated himself at their table, while the other adolescents seated themselves at an adjacent table. Atienna studied Eunji and Felix from the small distance but it seemed as if their attention was captured by Claire.
“So why do you want to go to the roller disco?” Olive asked, digging his spoon into his cup of strawberry ice-cream. “For your VNW recovery? Or something sneaky?”
“Why do you want to go?” Atienna returned.
“Because everyone’s going,” Olive replied. “And it’ll be fun. Why else would I go?”
Atienna smiled and tried a spoon of the chocolate ice-cream. Bitter and sweet. Just how she liked it. “Your parents—you mentioned them earlier,” she drew. Meaning they’re alive. “Are they okay with you going to this bar so late night without their supervision?
“What…?” Olive chuckled. “Yeah, of course.”
Did ‘danger’ not exist in this place? Murder, abduction, crime? Impossible.
“Do you love them?” The question slipped out before Atienna could stop it.
“Your parents, I mean,” Atienna amended. “That’s… a strange question. I apologize.”
Olive made a face. “Yeah. That’s a weird question. They’re annoying sometimes, but of course I love them.” He pointed his spoon at Derik’s bowl. “Mr. Stein, your ice-cream is melting. Are you going to let a gift from your favorite student go to waste?”
“Favorite student?” Derik arched a brow. “You’re not even my favorite person.”
Olive chuckled, amused. “If you don’t want to be marked as a VNW infectee, Mr. Stein, you should try pretending a little. Our school has habit of suspending teachers for a while if they have VNW.”
“Does this face look like the face of someone who gives a shit?” Derik challenged.
“Not really.” Olive laughed again. “I like this version of you, Mr. Stein.”
“What you did earlier when you were trying to get
“What do you call that?”
“What?” Olive replied, arching a brow. “Oh.” He lifted his hand and waved it. “You mean when I did this? Well, it’s fire. What? Does your VNW delusion thing not include fire being a thing?”
“I don’t believe fire as I know it normally springs from someone’s hands,” Atienna noted, choosing not to address the snide remark.
“It does if you have an affinity for it,” Olive replied. “Wasn’t this info in those pamphlets they usually hand out?”
“I may not have gotten to that part yet, so I do appreciate your patience,” Atienna replied earnestly.
Olive arched a brow. “Werner said you had VNW but you don’t seem all that different…”
He hadn’t been the first one to say that.
“Anyways, what were you saying?”
“Oh. You called it an ‘affinity’…” Atienna continued. “Is that what you call the subset or categories of people who can…” She hesitated. Choosing words that did not exist to describe something that potentially did not exist was trying. “… create elements like this?”
“Categories are for losers,” Oliver returned, leaning back in his chair.
That didn’t quite answer her question. Was he toying with her?
“Categories are helpful in understanding things though, don’t you think?” Atienna tried back. “There’s many categories here—the districts, the levels, and so on—”
“You know what Jericho say about categories?” Olive returned, licking his spoon clean. “Placing things in categories takes away from the meaning of the original thing because we’re categorizing it with the definition of our world view instead of how it actually exists.” He snickered. “A bit much, right?”
Atienna wasn’t sure. That sounded more like something Francis would say. “I see…”
“For fuck’s sake,” Derik snapped. “She asked you a fucking question not to write an entire damned essay. Do you call conducting conducting and if not what the fuck do you call and how the fuck does it happen?”
Everyone around them was staring. Felix shook his head. Olive only seemed more amused.
“Life,” Olive replied, wiggling his fingers. “We call doing this kind of thing ‘burning life.’ Or vitae if you want to be old-fashioned and fancy.”
Derik and Klaus exchanged looks.
“So you still call it vitae…”
“The tree lets us use it,” Olive continued. “Everyone who becomes a citizen can use it. The tree gives just like that.”
Atienna frowned slightly. There it was again. Tree. Virgoan. Was he referring to the great tree…? Did that somehow exist here? Virgo. Great Tree. Saint candidate. ELPIS.
“Sounds cultic when I say it out loud,” Olive finished, “but it is how it is.”
Claire suddenly rocked back his chair and leaned towards their table. His sunglasses concealed his eyes. “Have you heard the rumors, Ollie?
Olive looked back at him. “Rumors?”
“The reason who all the guidance officers have their hands full.”
Trystan sighed. “Maybe you should focus more on the exams coming up instead of rumors.”
“Come on, Trystan,” Olive said. “Don’t be like that. Let your guard down a bit and enjoy. I hope you aren’t a downer when we go to the bar.”
Atienna’s gaze lingered on him, then on Lavi who watched him with narrowed eyes.
Claire continued in a whisper, “Apparently, Ndoto’s first ever murder happened just two days ago.”
A shout echoed across the street.
Derik and Klaus were immediately on their feet. Everyone around them remained seated and unaffected, while the pedestrians walking by remained walking—continuing on as if they hadn’t heard.
“Don’t mind that,” Olive said, leaning back into his chair. “Just let the guidance officers handle it. It’s probably nothing.”
How unlike Olive.
Atienna considered the prospect as she was uncertain if looking into it would benefit her investigation into this place. Given their current status as VNWs, Atienna figured that investigation into could potentially lead them to falling into an even more compromising situation. Though, she was curious.
Atienna turned upon feeling Eunji’s gaze on her skin. The girl looked torn between remaining at her ‘brother’s’ side and her concern—her desire to move.
Atienna rose to a stand.
When Atienna, Klaus, and Derik finally made it to where she assumed the sound had originated from, she found a crowd dispersing in front of a small store. Making her way through the crowd with the men, she found four figures standing in front of the store front. A man and a child on the right, a man on the left, and a woman standing in-between them with her back to the crowd.
The unfamiliar-looking man on the left had a hand on his swollen right cheek. He had curly brown hair, pale skin, and sharp cheekbones. He had on a plaid jacket thrown over a loose button-up. The most prominent feature about this man were his heterochromic eyes. One brown. The other gray. His gaze was eerie.
The man and the child on the right were a bit more familiar to Atienna. The girl was dressed in an outfit that seemed like a mix of overalls and a dress. It was frilly and pastel yellow. Beneath that was a wool pink blouse. The man was dressed in a loose, oversized suit. Lita and Simon.
Were they normal?
Atienna’s attention then turned to the woman who stood at the center. The woman’s hair was a curly dark brown, and she was fitted with a navy-blue suit. From the reflection of the store’s window, Atienna could vaguely make out a gold badge on the woman’s chest.
The woman began to turn around. Atienna didn’t want her to. The possibility of facing a Maria who was not Maria felt unsettling as was the possibility of facing a Maria who was Maria. The first was a contradiction against the law of the world as she knew it, while the second would bring about a bitterness—Atienna knew. Her Maria would pose her with an innocent question, “Why are you doing it like this?” Then she would rush forward and break free of this place with her sheer willpower. Well. If Maria were here, this puzzle wouldn’t be a puzzle at all but a—
The woman turned fully, revealing that her eyes were not green not amber. The signature mole that Atienna had been expecting to blemish the corner of her eye was also not present. Still, the woman’s face was familiar to Atienna. Although she was missing the gold sheen to her hair, the person standing in front of her was undeniably Leona Gloria-Angelo.
“That’s the first chairman of the ELPIS Department,” Klaus whispered, “isn’t it? She’s the one behind this—”
“Ten-fucking steps behind like usual,” Derik snapped back at him. “Leona kicked the bucket already.”
Klaus’s eyes became as wide as saucers. “What?”
Leona approached them slowly as the rest of the crowd thinned around them.
Derik reached for his belt but found nothing. Klaus took a step back. Atienna remained rooted in place, feeling her hands itch, clenching her fist.
Leona stopped short in front of her. Then, she extended a hand. “Miss Imamu, I’ve heard from Nico about your predicament. Shouldn’t you be resting with your family at home?”
Atienna looked down at her hand.
“Do you recognize me, Miss Imamu?”
“You do, but it seems as if in your mind we’re not on the best of terms.” Leona let out a breath but did not pull away her hand. “Let me correct your misunderstanding. I am Araceli Gloria-Angelo. A vice-chief guidance officer. I watch over the Market District. We’ve worked together multiple times before.”
What was going on? Were past saint candidates being incorporated into this place—this dream, this reality—too? First Lavi, now Leona—though, they were both ‘failed’ saint candidates in a sense, weren’t they? Did that come into play here?
Since Leona—Araceli—refused to lower her hand, Atienna hesitantly accepted it.
“I assume you’re here to attend the roller disco to become re-acclimated to the atmosphere?”
Instead of answering, Atienna’s gaze drifted to Simon and Lita behind her.
“A small dispute,” Araceli replied. “If you don’t recall, the man is Simon Ilgesius-Elgado. He works as a secretary for the guidance council. The girl is Lita Gloria-Fernandez—”
“An immigrant taken under Maria’s wing. Simon sometimes acts as her caretaker,” Araceli affirmed. She added a bit more quietly, “I think they’re both suffering from VNW. Lita punched that man over there because she was under the impression that the other man assaulted her somehow… so she assaulted him. I’ve resolved the issue.”
Atienna looked back at the man with the odd eyes.
“You needn’t bother yourself with this given that you’re unwell,” Araceli continued. “Though—we should probably keep this development under wraps. The public already looks upon VNWs unfavorably. My district has less of these prejudices, of course”—pride was in her voice—“but… no place is perfect. Not even Ndoto.”
Atienna returned her attention to Araceli. Her expression was pleasant, gentle, unfamiliar.
“I’ll be taking them to Maria for the time being, so you needn’t worry about them.”
“Ah, yes. Maria tried to send Conta to deliver a message to you at your home—to invite you to a meeting this coming Monday,” Araceli said. “Since Conta’s obviously missed you, I’ll invite you myself. Monday in the Baobab Tree District. Hopefully, you’ll be semi-recovered from your VNW bout by then so we can discuss pressing issues. If not, we’ll deal with it then.”
This was rather sudden, wasn’t it?
Atienna’s gaze returned to Simon and Lita. “May I… speak to them for a moment?”
Araceli conceded with a nod.
Atienna paced over to Simon and Lita. Lita turned to her before Simon—who tensed—did.
“Who are you…?” Lita tried, squinting at her through half-lidded eyes. “Your vitae.. it’s… familiar. Normal….”
“I—” Atienna paused as she realized, “You can see…?”
Lita nodded silently as her hand drifted to her damp eyes. She closed her eyes, and she trembled as she nodded. “I can see. Everything is… so bright. I… but it gives me a headache.”
“You’re Atienna, aren’t you?” Simon asked tentatively.
“Atienna?” Lita mumbled. “Maria’s friend…”
“What is this place…?” Simon pressed. He stared over her and towards Araceli. “How is this possible? Do you know?”
Atienna shook her head.
“There’s something weird about the vitae here,” Lita murmured. “I can see it without my conductor. I-I can see, but…”
“What did you see…?” Atienna pressed.
Lita shook her head again, shielding her eyes. “I can’t explain it… I need to look again, but it hurts… my eyes. I-I’m sorry…”
Atienna felt a prick of frustration at this but calmed herself a moment after and placed a sympathetic hand on Lita’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. It’s alright.”
“Is it?” Lita whispered. “Can it be alright if he’s here?”
“It’s him…” Lita continued. “I saw his vitae for just a moment, but… it’s Proteus.” She hugged her stomach. “I would know him anywhere.”
Heart hammering, Atienna froze and slowly turned to the odd-eyed man from earlier. He was standing to the side conversing with Araceli now. Their gazes met. His eyes held a familiar hollowness to them—but unlike Alpha’s eyes, Atienna could see the bottom of his gaze.
An ELPIS Leader? Here? A deceased one? But how? Once vitae became bleached and parted from a vessel, it was unable to return because it had broken from the cycle. Wait. No, no—she was making assumptions again. Assuming that these variants were the actual people they resembled. Assuming that the vitae cycle had any footing here. Assumptions made without proper deductions were faulty just as deductions made without proper assumptions were.
Atienna let out a breath and returned her attention to Lita and Simon. “The people here aren’t like the people we know. From the perspective of people here, we’re mentally unwell. Leona—Araceli—said she was going to hand you over to Maria.”
Lita’s face brightened slightly.
“The captain?” Simon said hopefully.
“Maria might be different from the Maria you know,” Atienna murmured. “I’m sorry but I’m not sure. But drawing attention to ourselves in our current situation might not be the best thing to do at the moment. For now, we should go with the flow, don’t you think? I believe we may have found a way out of here, so please stall if you can and we’ll come get you then. If not, I believe we’ll be seeing each other on Monday, so we can… exchange notes then—”
Two shadows approached them. It wasn’t Derik and Klaus who remained rooted and tense where Atienna had left them, but Proteus and Araceli.
Proteus looked down at Lita and smiled as he rubbed his red cheek. “No hard feelings, hun. I’ve been told I have an unpleasant face, so you’re not the first to do that.” He reached for her head.
Atienna tensed. Simon pulled himself over Lita. Proteus paused and retracted his hand. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a series of familiar and colorful fliers. The ELPIS fliers Atienna had seen when she’d first arrived here. He pushed them into Lita’s face only to be stopped by a hand around the wrist.
Araceli released his wrist only after he retracted the papers. “Should you be giving out fliers of an organization that expunged you, Proteus? That’s imposing on the happiness of members of that organization, is it not? I doubt they would be happy if they found out an ex-member was giving them a bad name.”
Proteus merely smiled with a shrug in response.
Araceli neared Lita and Simon then before guiding them away from Proteus slightly. Before she departed with them, she turned back to Atienna and said, “Don’t forget: this Monday, alright?”
Araceli departed with Lita and Simon then leaving Atienna stare at their retreating backs. Atienna reasoned if Francis was unable to get them out of here, Lita’s eyes would be useful in unravelling the framework of this place.
“You’re Atienna Imamu, aren’t you? One of the policy makers? I’ve read about your most recent policy… It’s a bit cold if you ask me.”
Atienna whipped back to Proteus. “Recent policy…?” She tensed, clenching her fist. Jericho’s dull rage was simmering in her somewhere—though she couldn’t reach it fully and she couldn’t tell if this was because he had neared ‘acceptance’ when Proteus had died or if this was because Jericho himself felt distant.
“What do you think of mirrors, Miss Imamu?”
Derik and Klaus came to her side finally. Proteus eyed them and then gestured to the shop they were standing in front of. Oddly enough, it was a mirror shop. Its windows were filled with mirrors of various sizes. Atienna caught sight of her reflections and then looked away.
“Do you think I should get a mirror?” Proteus continued. “I don’t have any at home, so I was considering it for a while… but I don’t want to seem vain. Then again, I guess it doesn’t really matter if I have one or not, does it? Not unless I’m vain—which I’m not.”
What in the world…?
Atienna didn’t feel the same uneasiness she’d felt the others feel when they had encountered Proteus previously. The void—the emptiness—was not present. His presence felt oddly normal.
“Hey. Back off, fucking weirdo,” Derik snapped. He squinted at the man. “You look kind of familiar…”
Proteus raised his hands. “It was just an innocent question.” He eyed Atienna. “What do you think about mirrors?”
There was a beat of silence.
“I don’t think anything of them… and it’s up to you whether you get one or not…” Atienna drew slowly, tense. “Were you meaning to ask what I know about them?”
“Why the hell are we talking about mirrors…?” Derik interjected.
“Mirrors are important, so why shouldn’t we be talking about them?” Proteus said. “They’re the only way we can look at ourselves, aren’t they? They reflect everything back.”
“Not everything,” Atienna corrected. “Mirrors reflect most but not all light. Some of it is absorbed.” Odd. Proteus had always claimed to know everything, hadn’t he? A slip-up like this was unusual—though being unusual seemed ‘usual’ in this place.
“True,” Proteus said, “so that means we can never see ourselves fully, doesn’t it? Still, maybe you should get a mirror, Miss Imamu.” Proteus headed towards the door of the mirror store. “Seeing a blurry image of yourself is better than not seeing yourself at all. If you can’t see yourself, maybe the policies you write would reflect better on your character.” He stopped at the shop door and waved before he entered. “As always, thank you for spending time on your fellow citizen, policy maker.”
Olive and his group as well as Felix and Eunji were no longer at the ice-cream parlor when Atienna returned. Atienna assumed they’d headed together to the roller disco already given the lateness of the hour and given Olive’s demeanor. If this was her version of Olive, she was certain they would’ve waited.
Atienna traced her way back to the roller disco alongside Klaus and Derik. They hit a crowd as soon as they were two blocks from the building. The crowd was lively and loud—chattering in excited shouts. An infectious energy. They were also all dressed in bright and loose clothing. Some were wearing odd shoes—platforms with small wheels attached to their bottoms. They reminded Atienna of miniature versions of the Aquarian inline skates she’d read about before she’d served as an advisor to Chiamaka.
“Why the fuck did you stop for?” Derik muttered before pushing himself through the crowd. “Move aside—”
“Hey, watch it!” a man from the crowd pushed Derik right back.
Derik stumbled into Klaus’s arms and looked as if he was about to launch himself right back at the man. A shout prevented him from doing so—
“Atienna! Klaus! You guys made it!”
Atienna turned at the familiar shout and felt an odd sort of relief come to her as she registered Werner approaching them from behind.
“Derik?” Werner threw up his arms before clapping his hands down on Derik’s shoulders. “You’re here too? I didn’t think this was your kinda thing. Is it because some of your students are in the area? Were you at the game? Ollie did really good, huh?”
Derik stared wide-eyed. “What the fuck…?” His mouth thinned a second after. “You really weren’t joking, Kleine…”
Werner stared at Derik. “Did you just swear, Derik? Aw—did you have a bad day?”
“I don’t even know how to fucking respond to that,” Derik muttered.
“Aw, it’s alright!” Werner gave him a light shake. “I’ll make sure you have a great time tonight, and we can turn a bad day into an awesome day, right—”
“Hey, Werner,” a voice came from behind them again. “On time like usual, I see.”
Upon turning, Atienna registered Olive standing behind her alongside Claire, Eunji, Felix, Lavi, and Trystan.
“Ollie!” Werner released Derik, went over to Olive, threw an arm around his shoulder, and gave him a light shake. “And your buddies! How’re you guys doing? You guys did great at your game!”
“Good evening, Mr. Waltz,” Trystan greeted Werner with a curt wave.
Werner frowned slightly. “You can call me Werner, you know? When you call me ‘Mr.’ it makes me feel old…”
“Trystan’s just bitter about you cheering for the other team earlier,” Olive said with a snicker.
Trystan startled and sent Olive a glare.
“Wait. Really…? I said I was sorry…” Werner frowned apologetically, earnestly. “It’s hard to see the color of the team shirts with my glasses sometimes. I promise I won’t do it again…”
Olive snorted. “Nah, it was hilarious. Anyways, I thought you’d be inside already.”
“Oh yeah. I was just about to go in with Iris earlier, but…” Werner said, releasing Olive and placing a hand on his hip. He fell to a crouch and began scanning the crowd low.
Derik made a face. “What the hell…?”
“I swear I saw this poor little kitty walking around earlier,” Werner continued, sounding worried. “There’s so many people around… What if someone accidentally steps on the little guy?”
“Come on. I’m sure you were just seeing things.” Olive nudged Werner up to a stand.
“I promise you there’s no cat around here.”
“Are you sure…?”
“Yeah, yeah. Come on. Let’s get in line—”
“Oh, we don’t have to get in line, Ollie,” Werner popped before thumbing an alleyway just around the building. “Caddy said we can use the back entrance to skip the line!”
The next thing Atienna knew, Werner was leading them around the back of the building to the door Atienna had entered in earlier. Faint music—a strong, popping beat—emanated from the building.
Olive’s group filtered in through the door first with Eunji and Felix pausing to shoot Atienna a look just before entering in themselves. Klaus and Derik entered shortly after followed lastly by Werner himself. Atienna watched them go, catching glimpses of the warped mirrored halls as they left. She remained outside, watching as the backdoor closed shut. She took in a breath as she tried to collect her thoughts. Once they found Francis, then…? And then escape? Out back into the beginning of a war…?
The door creaked back open.
Werner popped his head out.
“You coming, Atienna? You know it’s not as fun if you’re not there.” He held his hand out to her. “I’ll help you pick out your rollerblading shoes if you’re worried about that!”
Atienna let out a breath, accepted his hand, stepped over the threshold, and entered the building.
a/n: no footnotes in this chapter o/. two more chapters before hiatus. maria, where are you?
6 thoughts on “29.5:《A:M》Autarchy/Heteronomy”
As always Atienna struggles due to her inaction. If she made her mind up to leave or to stay instead of idling it wouldn’t be as hard. Or at least it sure feels as if she’s playing along in order to stall. Which is understandable since it’s such a dream like place. And that it’s oddly detailed for a dream which means it’s more likely to be real on some aspect.
I have no idea what I’m talking about, but the point is that reading Atienna stuff hurts me slightly because everything is a difficult choice for her. Imagine never being able to be pleased with what you’re doing. Always giving up something in favor of the other. Which is true irl as well but we don’t really dwell on it as much as she does. Such anxiety really only applies to the more important decisions. Whilst I feel like Atienna would rather die than being forced to pick pizza or hamburger for the night.
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Ty for your thoughts! You’re definitely spot on about Atienna never being pleased about what she’s doing. Like Scorpio said, she’ll never be satisfied. He also said that she’ll make those around her unhappy. ~~Representing a person’s quarter-life crisis iewaorueoi jk~~ ((I say this but I really do care about atienna as a character aioweruoeiwr)). She definitely has a lot of growing to do.
Atienna definitely is an indecisive person & when she does choose, she tends to make the more pragmatic/less moral choice that—in story verse—may be the ‘right choice’. But if looked at in real life, that choice might be frowned upon. She may or may not not want to face the consequences of making a choice and have it result in something like her mother’s choice. Or maybe she feels like she’s superior because she thinks so deeply on making a decision and on whether something is right or wrong compared to others. Mayahps that is why while she loves and cares for Maria, she also feels bitter towards Maria as a person. Maria is basically opposite of her.
I also wouldn’t say that she struggles to decide between choosing two food options aiweoerueoi but that’s a funny thing to think about.
Alternatively everything up until now has been a dream.
//strokes chin. Very nice thoughts. It was nice to read—
Speaking of reading, thanks for reading!!! Congrats for catching up ahah. There’s a discord server for story discussion that’s pretty active if you’re interested. We have server emojis and character bots ahah.
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Discord time then!
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Oh yea and thanks for the last 5 chapters and well everything. It’s been fun reading this
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I actually find Atienna’s indecision kind relatable even though it’s frustrating. It feels like like you said she doesn’t want to bother with the regret of choosing and she also doesn’t want to bother people with them not liking her choice. She does seem like an unhappy person like the other reader said with a lot of room to grow.
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ah, I’m glad that you find Atienna’s indecision relatable. she hits just a tiny bit close to home too ahah. she definitely has room to grow like the other characters, but because of who she is and her perspectives, her growth look a bit different™