The last domino falls.
Ricardo Romano, don of the Romano Family, has been stabbed alongside the don of the Campana Family at a meeting that was meant to unite the two rivals. Fortuna Romano, Ricardo’s daughter, temporarily puts aside her engagement with Ambrose Campana and orders Cadence to investigate both the Campanas and the Foxman brothers for possible involvement.
Twin Cities, Gemini
Fortuna Romano could easily divide her life into three time periods. This was because for each of those time periods she held a different name—rather, a different title.
Her first title was ‘Trash’. It was a name ceremoniously bestowed upon her by the store owners residing in the poorest district of the Twin Cities which had become her first home. The name was never said with malice, merely offhandedly:
“Ah, Trash is outside again. Why don’t you bring her some food?”
At the time, Fortuna hated the name just as she hated her powerlessness in accepting the scraps of food they tossed out to her. She didn’t know the word ‘pride’ but she certainly understood the concept of it. She couldn’t object though. If she did, she knew she might end up being even hungrier than she already was if the store owners retracted their kindness.
Her second title—name, rather—was given to her by Ricardo Romano on a particularly cold morning mid-autumn. She wasn’t quite sure what day it was as she never counted the days at that time. She instead counted meals. And Ricardo started off with bringing her first meal of that day which was a slice of warm pizza with cheese that melted in her mouth like butter. He brought her the second meal of the next day as well as the third meal.
“Well, aren’t you fortunate being fed by me all the time?” Ricardo had asked one day as he shielded her from the rain with an orange-yellow umbrella. “You’re expecting it at this point.”
“You don’t look like you need the food,” she said in between gulps of the tomato soup he’d brought to her in a cup.
“Oh, quite a tongue on you.” Ricardo had chucked. “And what’s your name?”
She told him what it was at the time.
“Trash, hm? That’s not a very flattering.” Extending a rough, calloused hand, Ricardo said, “How about we call you ‘Fortuna’, hm? Since you were fortunate enough to come across me. And let’s increase your fortune a bit, shall we? How about you come home with me?”
Fortuna didn’t see the man as much more than a food source at the time so she had accepted the invitation in order to get access to even more food.
In the beginning, she didn’t pay much attention to the quality of the food nor clothes that she was showered with when she was taken in. She was much too hungry, much too cold, and much too focused on
All she could think about was food, food, food.
Eventually, however, as the months under Ricardo’s care carried on, the ravenous hunger subsided and she began to realize the strangeness of her situation. One day, after she wandered her father’s mansion in search of him and finally discovered him lounging in his large office, she had asked, “Why are you being so nice to me?”
The man had laughed. “Well, I’m your father now. Shouldn’t that be the case?”
Father. It was a word she knew but not one she was familiar with. Another word she was not familiar with was ‘friend’ which Ricardo saw to educate her about when he introduced her to another girl around her age. The boyish young girl had freckled cheeks and shockingly copper-colored hair. When the boyish girl smiled, dimples formed at the corner of her mouth. Upon their introduction to each other, the boyish girl had taken a swooping bow and introduced herself as “Cadence Morello, black knight of the Romano Family.”
“Keep her out of trouble, all right?” Ricardo had asked, not clarifying who was to look after who.
It was through Cadence that Fortuna met Nico Fabrizzio and the Foxman brothers. In the beginning, she had been spoiled so thoroughly in her father’s care that she merely viewed the group as ruffians and had wondered why her father seemed to be associated with any of them and why he wanted her to be associated with them. Of course, time changed her thoughts just as time changed everything.
They had a strange dynamic—Nico and Cadence. Nico would always tearfully get himself into some sort of trouble, and Cadence would always rescue him from it with a smile and a slew of carefully woven words. That was something Fortuna had admired about Cadence back then and even now.
One day while Fortuna was with the two walking through an alleyway enroute to the Sognare, Nico got himself into a situation that Cadence had great difficulty getting him out of. The situation involved the son of one of the executives of the Romano Family—one Feliciano Donato. He had taken to pestering Nico and had recruited several of his friends to crow on the boy. Cadence had stepped between them attempting to assuage Feliciano but Cadence’s words seemed to only infuriate Feliciano more.
“Come on,” Cadence had said to Feliciano, nodding in Fortuna’s direction, “don’t want ta be violent in front of such a pretty doll, do ya? I mean, she’s Ricardo’s dau—”
Fortuna had skirted away from them as soon as Feliciano raised his fist and delivered a cracking punch to Cadence’s cheek cutting her off. Nico had yelped in alarm and lunged for Cadence only to be tackled to the side by Feliciano’s goons.
It was a sort of violent scene that Fortuna had thought was long behind her. And as the violence escalated and Feliciano turned his eyes on her, Fortuna could not help but think of only escape.
It was then that Francis appeared from nowhere, rushing into the alleyway like a madman and delivering a well-aimed flying kick to Feliciano’s chin. It was something out of one of the superhero comics she’d sometimes read in the newspaper. It quickly turned to something else, however, as Francis ripped off one of the lids of a nearby trash can and started beating Feliciano over the head with it. The flurry only lasted a second as Francis was tackled to the side by one of Feliciano’s friends. The latter was, however, was tackled too—by Cadence of all people who leaped like a cat at him and began clawing and biting at his face.
As Francis had picked himself off the ground, he had tossed Fortuna the trash lid and had given her a nod, before leaping back in and helping Nico rip Feliciano’s friend off of Cadence.
Staring at the unraveling chaos in front of her for only a moment more, Fortuna had gripped the trash lid like a madwoman and then charged into fray, slamming the lid against heads, bodies, and limbs of friends—accidentally—and foe alike.
They were, of course, fighting a losing battle since Feliciano’s gang outnumbered them greatly 10 to 4. However, at the last minute, Carl and Allen—at the time they had towered over all the street children—stormed into the playing field, and their appearance marked the changing tide of battle. All it took was Carl picking Feliciano up by the scruff and throwing him ten meters down the alleyway, and Feliciano and his entire gang tucked tail and ran.
After their small victory, Allen had taken them to a popular candy store afterwards where they had regaled their tale of victory to all of the other children within.
Fortuna admitted it. Those times in between the tutoring lessons Ricardo made her attend where she ran through the streets of the Twin Cities with the other children were truly wonderful—even if picturing a teenaged Carl and a near-adult Allen beating up children was hilariously pitiful looking back now.
But then Fortuna had met Bianchi. It was him that changed everything.
Bianchi was one of the executives of the Family at the time and would always shower her with gifts when he would come to her father. That had been why he had been one of her favorites and also why she did not question it when he took her out for dinner one night.
But the bastard had taken her to the Casa de Bambolle.
She was too young at the time to realize what kind of place it was and had skirted away from the half-naked men and women who lounged around on the silken couches. When Bianchi brought her to one of the couches at the corner of the establishment far away from watchful eyes, she had smiled and squirmed uncomfortably.
“Now, Fortuna, this is the first time you’ve ever been to place like this right?” He put his arm around her shoulders. “I’m sure you’ll like it—”
Before he could make any further moves, however, a young woman who seemed to have come from nowhere grabbed him by the wrist. Fortuna had recognized her. She was a pianist that Cadence liked to visit at the Sognare—Alma.
“Excuse me,” Alma had said quietly, eyes lowered to the ground, “but there is an age limit at the Casa—”
Before Alma could even finish, the man had ripped his wrist out from her grip and slapped her across the face sending her onto the floor. Fortuna had flinched away from him an instant, cowering against the arm of the couch.
“Do you know who I am?!” he had seethed.
“What do you think Miss Agape Rosario will say if she’s seen you here with her?” Alma had murmured from the floor, holding her reddened cheek. “With a girl who looks too well-dressed and well-fed to be visiting this place.”
Bianchi had stared at the woman long and hard before the rage in his eyes cooled. Without another word, he left the premises with Fortuna in hand and returned her to her home. He did not look at her as he dropped her off.
Still feeling rather skittish the following day, Fortuna had informed her father of the occurrence.
In that moment, Ricardo’s eyes were terrifying; and even though he spoke to her with kind words afterwards, Fortuna found herself shivering in her shoes. Powerless.
Not so long after that, her father had introduced her to as an aspiring young and handsome police officer by the name of Vincente Giustizia. The officer had extended a kind hand down to her and had smiled charmingly: “You’re a brave girl, Miss Fortuna. Did you know that? Well, I’m here to help brave girls like you, okay? You can rely on me.”
Fortuna had been so enamored by him that she had merely flushed and nodded wordlessly.
Two days afterwards she watched as Bianchi was escorted out from the bank that he owned in front of a crowd of photographers. He had looked pale, clammy as if he had already died.
“And that, Miss Fortuna,” Giustizia had told her after, “is what we call justice.”
What a lovely word.
In her childish fantasy at the time, Fortuna imagined herself being just like Vincente Giustizia—even by his side—as an officer of justice. Gallant, charming, powerful.
That was why when she came across a young woman being unwillingly dragged by a roguish man into the Casa De Bambolle on a particularly sunny morning while on her way to school, Fortuna had immediately gone to her father. When she told her father of this event, however, he merely rubbed his chin in thought. “That would be Mr. Enzo. He’s under the Campana Family. It’s best we turn a blind eye to that one. We’re just beginning to work things out with them.”
And that was that. The dismissiveness of her father was like a slap to the face.
It wasn’t right, she had thought. She didn’t understand it at all. And as she continued to think about it, she began to recall Francis’s bravery and Giustizia gallantry.
She would take it upon herself, she decided. A powerful, brave woman of justice. And so that night she snuck out of her father’s estate and somehow made it to the city’s main police office.
Vincente greeted her as warmly as she entered the brick stone building, smiling with even his eyes as he sat her down at his desk.
Only a second after she began to explain her tale, however, did the very same man she had come to report enter Vincente’s office. Mr. Enzo. He strolled in casually, not even glancing at Fortuna as he walked up to the police officer.
“I made a bit of a mess last night,” Enzo said, reaching into his pocket and holding out a roll of Gemini Cens to the man. “Clean it up for me, will you?”
Pocketing the rolls of cens with a charming smile, Vincente said, “Thank you, Mr. Enzo. Don’t worry about a thing.” After Enzo left, the police officer turned back to her and brightened. “What were you saying, Miss Fortuna? I’d be happy to help. Did your father send you?”
It was like a slap to the face. The filth, the corruption, the false faces and her at the center of it all. Fortuna felt unsafe. Powerless. Small. It was an unbalanced dichotomy from the start. Her craving for justice while despising powerlessness. Unachievable. The only thing that had changed since she was known only as “Trash” was that she now had a full belly. Still relying on other people—for food scraps on the streets and for a place of comfort and rescue in her father’s care. Without her father, what was she? Not Fortuna. Just “Trash.” Was this just going to be her pattern of living from now on? Floundering around with some illusion of strength?
No, she thought to herself as she had stared wide-eyed at the corrupt policeman. Even if she was going to be bent out of shape while doing it, she was no longer going to allow herself to be like this anymore.
Thus, her third title was one she chose herself. Inheritor of the Romano Family. She wasn’t quite sure when she decided on the title. Maybe it was when she had volunteered to take notes during her father’s meetings so that she could sit in on them. Perhaps it was when she had proposed networking with countries outside of Signum to provide conductors. Either way, it was a title she would not let slip from her grasp. Always waiting for an opportunity. It was never enough.
Finally, a golden opportunity came with Ambrose Campana.
Fortuna had heard of the Campana head’s son in passing conversation but had never gone so far as to come across the man herself. It was on a sunny Saturday morning that she had encountered him at a musical instrument storefront based in the grey, neutral zone that separated the east and the west of the Twin Cities.
She had been wearing a hat decorated with expensive feathers from an exotic bird native to Virgo that matched the Capricornian-made pocket watch that dangled out from her satin blue dress pocket. With annoyance, she had flipped open that pocket watch while cursing Cadence’s tardiness under her breath. That was when she saw him reflected in the glass of the watch.
Fair hair. Deep brown eyes and a prominent nose. He was very attractive. And it seemed as if he knew he was because he said to her as he fell into step beside her— “What’s a lovely bird like you doing here?”
She had thought of him as no more than an annoyingly flirtatious stranger at the time so she had dismissed him a wave of her hand. “This bird is named Fortuna Romano, and I’m waiting for someone.”
Usually, her surname alone made people skirt from her but—
“Well, Fortuna Romano, I am Ambrose Campana.”
Fortuna had startled, stepping away from him in an instant.
“I’m actually here on waiting for a date too but it appears as if they’ve stood me up,” Ambrose said, extending a hand out politely. “Would you mind mending my wounded ego?”
“Do you realize what you’re asking me?”
He’d merely smiled. “We shouldn’t let the issues of the previous generation affect the current generation, right? I certainly don’t hate cinnamon just because my father hates it.” He still did not lower his extended hand.
It was on a whim of curiosity that she had accepted his invitation to accompany him to a nearby cafe. Something about his words and the way he held himself intrigued her. Although he was what people would call ‘charming,’ she could see that his niceties were artificial. Like plastic. She wondered if he’d melt if held to flame.
They took a booth by the window and were brought a pair of beautifully decorated sponge cakes. Ambrose got to work immediately and somehow managed to carry the conversation on his own in between mouthfuls of cake. He was the one to bring up their family affairs first and had started off with a complaint—of all things—about how he was still kept in the dark about certain affairs despite his contributions.
It was rather pathetic, really.
As Fortuna listened to him rant, she stared out the window of the cafe and pondered to herself. If Ambrose were truly a bumbling friendly fool like this then she could use him, couldn’t she?
“You must be thinking ‘this is a great opportunity,’ aren’t you?”
Fortuna’s heart skipped a beat, and when she turned back to Ambrose, she found that he was grinning devilishly. The lightheartedness was gone from his eyes.
What a bastard.
“Well, I’m thinking the same thing. I don’t know what your end goal for your family is but I’m sure you’re thinking that something good could come out of this fateful meeting,” Ambrose had said as he cut into the delicate cake with his knife and fork. “Change is necessary in order to stay at the top, and although things are going well for both of our families at the moment, neither of our families have changed very much since they’ve found their niches. I believe both our families contain weaknesses that the other family can compensate for. If the weaknesses are not compensated, then they will be exploited.”
Her eyes narrowed.
Was he really proposing what she thought he was proposing? Ridiculous. She could see right through him. Like plastic. His complaints paired with this suggestion. Obviously, this was a maneuver for power in his family. How relatable.
“I don’t want to associate myself with someone who believes in something like fate,” Fortuna replied, stabbing her fork into her cake. “And I don’t want to associate with someone who makes a business proposal one hour after meeting someone.” She popped a piece into her mouth. “But I do understand the need for adaptation.”
It really was like looking into a mirror.
“Fantastic.” Ambrose beamed. “When should we have our next date?”
Together, they carefully wove a tale of romance and companionship convincing enough to beguile executives of both families.
But all of Fortuna’s efforts came crumbling down in one night, and all it took was a sorry knife to the back. As she sat in Doctor Fabrizzio’s lobby on the night of her father’s attack, she could not even keep her head straight. Instead of thinking about the next step, all she could do was pace back and forth hoping for the doctor to bring her good news. Powerlessness.
“We should postpone our engagement,” she had when she had met up with Ambrose two days after the stabbing incident. They had met up in a small bar at the center of the Twin Cities, both taking care to ensure that none of their bodyguards had followed them.
Ambrose had smiled back wanly at her. “That does seem like the correct route. Of course, in the meantime I’m launching a full investigation on what happened that night, so I may not be in touch as often. We need to get to the bottom of what happened to our fathers, right? No matter who the perpetrator is.”
“Of course. It’s only natural,” Fortuna had returned.
Sitting at her father’s desk as she mulled over all of these things of the past and present, Fortuna began to bite her thumb. She had contacted Agape two days prior but the woman had yet to return her calls. Cavallo was out dealing with the police force, and Benedetto had his hands full with managing the properties her father usually managed. Donato was flat out ignoring her requests for him. This had never happened with her father.
What was it? Were they planning something against her? Scrambling for more power while her father was hospitalized. Just like her. She was alone in this, wasn’t she? Of course, she was—
Fortuna grimaced as a thought came at her from nowhere.
Why hadn’t she thought of it sooner? What if one of the Romano executives had hired out the Specialist that had most likely attacked her father? For a grab at power? It could have been one of the lower-tier executives. She couldn’t trust anyone.
A fly of soft pinks and blues caught the corner of her eye.
The flowers she’d received from the Foxmans. She knew that the three would never lay a hand on her father, but if she had not ordered Cadence to investigate them too then her actions would be viewed as favoritism. Weak to affections. Not fit to head the Romanos. Powerless.
Still, despite everything she’d done, would they…?
At the very thought of requesting their assistance, she bit down harder and drew blood.
Damn. Completely powerless. A cycle.
“Fortuna? What in saint’s name are you doin’ here?!”
Looking up from the Sognare’s dismal menu, Fortuna was greeted by such a bewildered shout. When she lifted her gaze, she found three figures crowding the doorway. One stocky, one thin, one short. One missing.
“Cadence.” The thin figure turned to the short figure. “You said you had a lead on someone involved in Francis’s stabbing.”
Cadence shrugged. “I said I had a lead. Didn’t say what kinda lead.”
Carl as always stormed forward without a thought. “So what’s the deal, Fortuna? Can’t send out a normal invitation?” He side glanced at the empty bar. “At least invite us to a place that’s actually staffed. Where’s the bartender?”
“I sent him away.” Fortuna sighed and put down the menu. “Where’s Francis? I need two voices of reason here. Not just one.”
“Francis was feelin’ a bit under the weather,” Carl explained, seating himself across from her, “so he’s sleepin’ it off.”
Allen seated himself beside Carl and folded his hands. “What is this, Fortuna?”
Fortuna didn’t quite know what it was herself. What did she want from them? Assistance? She had only a vague idea of her desire when she had ordered Cadence to bring them here. So what was it?
“I just wanted to ensure that the Romano Family and the Foxman Family are still on amicable terms,” she said. “We haven’t reached out to you due to our current circumstances, but—”
“Of course we are,” Carl stated as if it was obvious. “But we’re busy ourselves so sorry if we ain’t offering a hand with the old man’s case.”
“What’s the real issue here, Fortuna? Can’t trust Cavallo or Agape?” Allen probed, lighting a v-cigarette from his pocket. “Not Donato?”
A stab at her pride.
Fortuna frowned and thrummed her fingers on the table. “What a ridiculous implication.” She glanced to the side and frowned deeper when she saw Cadence leaning back against the table across from them. “For goodness sake, Morello, get a chair.”
“Nah, I’d rather stand,” Cadence said with a shrug. “I’m honestly just waitin’ for ya to give me the all clear so I can —” She stopped short, face suddenly drained of color, expression unsettling.
Fortuna didn’t think she’d ever seen Cadence wear such an expression before in her life, and she was startled into silence in herself. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Carl and Allen assessing Cadence too.
“What’s the matter with you, Cadence?” Carl muttered, arching an eyebrow at the redhead. “What’s with that look? You look ready to kill someo—”
And then there was a familiar and chilling updraft of wind that seemed to whistle upwards from the floorboards.
Following this was a blinding flash of tangerine light that erupted beneath all of their feet, and suddenly Fortuna was sent into free fall in a white void. And then there was black.
“—hate, hate, hate, hate people like you!”
Fortuna was awoken by such nonsensical shouting in Common. It took her a moment to get her bearings, and the shouting did not stop all the while.
“You people are the absolute dirt of this earth! Absolute filth! Admit it! You know what you are! I want you to say it! Spell it out for me!”
Fortuna found herself sitting on a wooden chair with her hands bound behind her and her ankles tied to the legs of the chair. The knot in her back and neck informed her that she had been sitting in this position for a while.
Across from her was a stretch of black wooden bookcases that ate up the entire wall. The spines of the books shifted from colorless to colorful, unreadable to readable. A result of the flickering light that emanated from the wax candles which acted as the sole light sources in the room. In front of one of the bookcases was a makeshift table with a board game propped up at its center. A woman wearing a blue polka dot dress with a bow in her hair sat there staring at the board pensively.
Fortuna’s gaze flicked across the room.
There was no door or window in sight. Impossible. There had to be one. An escape route. Hidden. Behind the bookcase maybe.
“‘Bout time you woke up,” came a grumble to her right.
She glanced in the direction. It was Carl, bound on a chair just as she was. On his other side sat Allen who was similarly bound. Down the line were vaguely familiar faces: the businessman they had just instated as head of the city’s main bank, one of the mayor candidates—Depa Amaril—and a couple of lower-tier executives of the Family. They all looked worse for wear and were trying to crane their necks to see the one who was shouting at them from behind. Cadence was nowhere to be seen.
She glanced to her left. There was only one person there. A woman wearing librianesque glasses with bright red lipstick. Agape Rosario. The woman’s head was drooped down indicating that she was unconscious.
Grimacing, Fortuna wiggled her foot forward as much as she could and tapped Agape’s leg. It took a moment but eventually the woman stirred.
After blinking dazedly, Agape stared at Fortuna long and hard before grimacing. “So they’ve got you too, Miss Fortuna.” And then Agape stared past her at Allen and Carl. Her eyes widened. “What are you two doing here…? Why—”
“Agape,” Fortuna interjected with a whisper, “how long have you been here?”
The woman grimaced. “I’m not sure. It was Wednesday the last time I checked.”
“It’s Friday now,” Fortuna returned.
Agape understandably paled.
“Black market capitalism! Weapons trafficking! Money laundering! Human beings! Despicable!” The ranting continued on in the background.
Bubbling laughter suddenly blossomed in the cold air, and Fortuna stared past Agape to find a cluster of children darting around the towers of books dotting that side of the room.
“They’re Matilda’s workers from what I understand,” Agape whispered. “Rather, they used to be.”
What…? So this was Matilda’s work? The delivery girl? No. The girl wasn’t gutsy enough to do something like that, especially since she’d been elevated in society due to the work they’d given her.
Keeping this in mind, Fortuna continued to assess her surroundings.
Other than the children running around the far end of the room, the one who was shouting irately behind her to her left, and the polka-dot-dressed woman, there were three other hostiles present that she could see. The three sat together clustered at a table and were dressed in identical drab, grey uniforms. Police officer uniforms.
The police? What was this?
The dots connected when the man who was shouting irately from behind them came to continue his ranting in front of them.
Police Commissario Vincente Giustizia. The commissario was nearly frothing at the mouth as he yelled on and on. It was a startling sight-seeing Vincente like that. Nothing like the calm and collected man from her memory.
“You’ve been given positions of power in this city, but you abuse it! What are you, huh? Animals?” Vincente walked up the row, wagging his finger in the faces of those he passed. He stopped to glare at her and then Agape. “Despicable! How many people are there ten feet beneath the ground because of people like you? Using words like ‘family’ to brand and to romanticize yourself! As if you’re some good Samaritans working together for the greater good—but whose greater good? Your own! Sure, some of you lot might not be the worst people in existence. Sure, some of you might do charity but you know who else does charity? Politicians!”
“How dare you!” one of the lower tier executives shouted in Geminian, face red from down the line. “We can put you five feet under—”
“Shut up!” Vincente snapped back in Common. He stormed back to the man and leaned in close so he was nose-to-nose with the executive. “What are you doing, huh? Willing to confess to even more crimes now?!” Vincente pulled back. “Wait. So you are making a confession then?” He gestured to one of the police officers sitting behind him. “Are you getting this?”
The officer stared at him befuddled.
“He’s been ranting like this every couple of hours,” Agape informed Fortuna quietly. “There’s something wrong with that man’s head.” She then added even more quietly: “He’s the only one besides that woman in the dress over there that I’ve seen come here repeatedly.” Her gaze flicked to Carl and Allen. “And there’s also—”
“What are you doing here if you’re not writing this down? We need records! Records!” Vincente slapped his hands together with each syllable. “How are we supposed to move forward if we don’t have records!”
“Chief—” the police officer started.
But Vincente had already turned his attention away from the officer and now stalked up the line to Agape. “Miss Agape Rosario, do you know what justice is? No, do you know what morals are? Obviously, you must not have even an inkling of what it is since your host club and strip joints serve as money laundering fronts for your crime organization! Despicable! Absolutely despicable! The fact that people like you can—” A sudden cough, a heave. “—advantage of other people is just—” Another coughing fit and a heave. Panting. “—absolutely hate people like you!” More coughing and heaving.
The sole female police officer scrambled over to Vincente’s side with a glass of water in tow. He accepted it, downed it in two big gulps, before handing it back to her. The officer retreated back to her table with the other two officers a second later.
Fortuna grimaced. “I can’t even understand what you’re saying. I’d heard from the broker that you were losing your touch but to think you’ve fallen to this extent—”
“Fallen? Me?” Vincente snapped, nearly frothing again.
“Was the money not enough, Commissario?” Fortuna returned. “If you were patient, Cavallo would have made arrangements for you to make up for lost pay due to my father’s condition. Now though—”
“Money?” Vincente barked a laugh and pushed his glasses up his nose. “The nerve you people have! Just because you’re the type to bend over backwards for something people put value to centuries ago doesn’t mean others are just like you. Do you think someone like me would start putting investing in something like a slip of paper just because some punk told me to? No! I’m not a fool!”
He looked like a fool, Fortuna thought but she kept her lips sealed. And he most definitely was the type of person to do that.
Vincente continued on, seemingly following a completely different line of thought: “If something in the system is broken, you fix it! You don’t use it to your advantage! People like you tread over the hope people have in humanity! Street thugs like you—”
A clap resounding from behind Fortuna cut him off short, and a woman stepped into the candlelight between her and Agape. The woman had dark skin and was dressed in a loose suit. Her features were cat-like, and the hair that cascaded down her back was bleached white. “Your filibusters are entertaining as always, Tau.”
Fortuna tried to crane her neck back. Where had the woman come from? An exit. There had to be one.
Vincente scowled, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose again. “It wasn’t a filibuster, Omega!” He let out a sigh, pushed back his hair, and said, “I was citing points to prepare my counter-argument.”
“Your counter-argument?” the woman addressed as Omega pressed, smiling thinly.
“Yes, about why we shouldn’t keep these people here,” Vincente said, gesturing widely at their row. “This is all a bad idea. Too soon—”
“And yet you listed over ten points for why they should be here,” Omega hummed.
“Exactly!” interjected the polka-dot dress-wearing woman from where she sat at the board game table. She sent Fortuna a look that was so razor-sharp and full of pure-hatred that Fortuna physically startled despite herself. “I don’t understand the hesitation, Tau. These people are filthy. Using conductors is one thing, but making them and selling them? It boils my damn blood!” She slammed her hand onto the game board. “It’s taking everything in me to chain myself to the floor and not rip their damn spines out of their bodies! Disgusting!”
“If we all thought and acted like you, Iota,” Vincente rebutted, “there would be no hope for the human race.”
“What did you say?”
Omega slowly flipped her long white hair with a heavy sigh.
Fortuna’s eyes widened as the bare skin at the back of Omega’s neck became illuminated for the briefest second by the candlelight. There had been something there. Something. Fortuna saw it clearly, but. What was that? It couldn’t be.
“Let’s all get along,” Omega hummed, crossing her arms. “There’s no way to win an argument against a fool, right? I mean, you guys do argue the most out of all of us.” The corner of her lips drew upwards as Vincente scowled and as Iota pursed her lips. Omega flipped her hair lazily once more.
There. There it was again. There was no mistaking it. It was clear to Fortuna now. That tattoo.
Cold dread swept down to Fortuna’s toes, and she suddenly felt lightheaded. She felt the same squirming in her stomach that she’d felt when Bianchi had brought her to the Casa de Bambolle all those years ago. The same tension in her body that she’d felt when Vincente had accepted the cens from Mr. Enzo. This feeling. Fear. Powerlessness.
“I’m only kidding of course,” Omega amended with a chuckle.
“Saints, shut up already!” Carl snapped from beside her. “You bastards are as good as dead once—”
“Shut up,” Fortuna whispered.
Carl turned to her incredulously. “Wha—”
“I said shut up,” Fortuna snapped through gritted teeth. If she did not bite down as hard as she could, she was sure that they would be able to hear her teeth chattering.
Omega stared down at her and twirled a lock of hair around her index finger. A vague smile passed over her lips as if she’d just achieved some satisfying victory. Instead of addressing Fortuna, however, she addressed Vincente and Iota: “Well, now that they’ve both made their point, what appears to be the verdict?”
The three turned their heads into the far corner of the room.
One of the children pulled away from the playgroup and plucked one of the candlesticks off of the floor. She brought it slowly over to the corner of the room, coming to a stop in front of a stack of books.
There was someone sitting there, Fortuna realized, beside the books. Another person.
The light from the candle was not enough to illuminate the individual’s face, but Fortuna could tell that it was a man. The black turtleneck would have made him appear one with the darkness behind him if it were not for the white of his hands and the white pages of the book those hands held open.
“I’ve heard enough,” the man said. “There’s no denying it now.”
Vincente and Iota straightened. Allen and Carl visibly stiffened. Fortuna merely bit down harder. Her teeth felt like they were about to shatter beneath the force.
The girl brought the candlestick up a bit higher, and the flame peeled away the shadows veiling the man’s face.
As he slowly closed his book, Francis Foxman lifted his head to meet Fortuna’s gaze and said: “You need to take responsibility for everything you’ve done.”
“Why are you asking me if I think Miss Fortuna will be able to properly manage the Romano Family in her father’s place? I think her actions speak for herself, don’t they?”Francis Foxman, executive of the Romano Family