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A note from elmwynn

[Chapter Mood Theme / Werner's Mood Theme]

Re-cap:

Gilbert, Nico, Captain Weingartner, and the rest of Werner's unit are accused of treason and of working with the Augen against Capricorn. As they wait at the top of the execution tower for their deaths, Lieutenant Werner Waltz—who has no awareness of the other five True Conductors to whom he is connected to—steps in as one of the executioners.


[21] Werner Waltz


 

Die Hauptstadt, Capricorn

 

It still wasn’t clear to Werner what made him do it.

Was it his reminiscing of his subordinates standing at attention before him in that dirty clinic in the Twin Cities as he asked them for their trust? That went both ways. Was it Ludwig’s words—“Trust your instincts”? Was it Major General von Spiel’s morose expression and cryptic words? Was it the Kaiser’s steadfast, fiery proclamations? Or was it the incongruency of everything he’d experienced since awakening?

Perhaps it was the fact that he wanted to know the face of the one-handed man kneeling before him. Werner knew it was not Emilia Bergmann whose sharp-shooting he’d helped to perfect a month ago. It wasn’t Otto Vogt who had taught him about flora either. Was it Derik Stein whom he’d once challenged to a shooting match to get him in line? Was it Alwin Brandt whose tall tales and fables he’d secretly eavesdropped on whenever there was a lull in the trenches? Was it Klaus Kleine who’d frequented his side recently and rattle about books and strange theories? Was it Nico who appeared paradoxically worried, yet serene whenever he visited? Or… was it Gilbert—

No. Werner didn’t want to imagine if it was Gilbert.

The thoughts were prospective, reminiscing, and very unlike himself. Werner knew he had no reason to be thinking about these things. Despite knowing this fact and knowing that he was merely following through with his duty and responsibility as a Capricornian, he—

hesitated.

He could see Fischer at the opposite end of the line-up do the same—the man’s hands barely brushing the rifle at his side. But that did not apply to the other officers in the lineup whose fingers were already resting on the trigger of their weapons. Among those faces was Vash Edelstein, an old classmate of his from the academy. From his conversation with Vash earlier, Werner had learned that Vash had taken the capital position that he had given up years ago. Now that Werner thought on it, however, he couldn’t quite recall why he had chosen to transfer from the capital to the Border Force. Was it to escape nepotism? Was it to prove himself on his own merit? No—what was it?

Werner berated himself internally for his distraction.

“Present arms!” the head executioner called from the center of the line-up at the back wall.

Werner swung his rifle forward and pointed it at the head of the man kneeling before him in unison with the other military officers. In the tense silence that followed, the tick-toking of his pocket watch became especially pronounced over his chest. It rattled around there, making him feel as if his chest was hollow.

As his fingers drifted towards the trigger, a blur of black feathers drew his attention away from the back of his subordinate’s head to the window. In that moment, as he studied the fall of the feathers from behind the rosy glass pane, a singular thought rang through his mind: Protect.

The head executioner’s voice boomed, “Fir—”

Without quite thinking—almost on instinct—Werner whipped his rifle to the left and fired. The military police officer who’d been standing there stumbled back as his rifle exploded in his hand and his hand exploded in crimson. The man crashed right into the officer standing behind him before hitting the ground with a blood-curdling screech. Everyone who was kneeling ducked forward immediately.

As Werner watched the scene unfold, his ears rang and the reality of what he’d just done settled in. But there was no room to question or hesitate. Once a decision was made, it needed to be followed through with.

He quickly ducked low, firing off additional rounds at the military officers who were standing at attention along the back wall as they reached for their holsters. Seven out of fifteen of them hit the ground. Not good enough. He was too slow.

Kicking down the masked subordinate he’d been planning on executing only one second prior, Werner exchanged his rifle for the handgun holstered at his waist before darting forward and grabbing the body of the injured, the still screeching officer.

Said officer, cradling his bleeding hand, shouted, “Don’t shoot—”

But the other officers immediately began to open fire.

Using the man as a shield, Werner shot at the stained windows to his left. The glass shattered with a high-pitch screech and rained down in large fragments all around the room. While the military police ducked from the debris, his subordinates floundered around blindly in the blue moonlight drowning the room.

Werner took the opportunity to dart to the side of the bound to his left and shot through the chains shackling his hands and legs. The man, in turn, immediately ripped the sack from his head and whipped around heaving.

It was Derik Stein, whose expression of pure rage melted to surprise upon registering Werner’s face. Werner silently handed him a combat knife and a gun from the belt of the dead officer acting as his shield. Stein accepted them, not even bothering to check for bullets, before he launched himself at the next closest officer who yelped in alarm.

Werner clicked his tongue and shook his head but continued forward, discarding the body of the officer for the one Derik had torn through with his combat knife. He continued forward, shooting over the corpse’s shoulder, until he reached another shackled subordinate and freed him the same way.

Once said man freed his head from the sack over his head, Werner was met with a head of curls.

“Nico.” Relief.

Nico blinked at him and tried hopefully, almost as if in disbelief: “Werner…?”

“Free the others,” Werner ordered, handing Nico his combat knife and the other gun strapped to his leg. “Quickly. Be careful. I’ll cover you.”

Nico opened his mouth, closed it, then nodded firmly before darting off to one of the others laying on their side. Werner caught sight of an officer aiming a rifle at Nico, but he quickly disposed of the woman with a steady shot straight through the head.

Aim. Shoot. Kill.

Aim. Shoot. Kill.

The air was tightened by the sound of bullets and clouded by moonlight-stained gun smoke.

It was like clockwork. No different from the field—save for the fact that he was now firing on fellow Capricornians and that they were not as combat-familiar as those he’d faced before. Treason—but this was not the time for such thoughts.

Werner spotted Fischer pressed back against the wall, gripping his rifle tightly, eyes darting from left to right. Indecisiveness. Ignoring him, Werner aimed his gun at an officer who was picking himself off the ground: Vash, who turned and locked eyes with him. And then Werner froze on the spot, a sense of cold dread spilling out from his chest into his limbs where it froze them in place. He couldn’t even lift a finger.

“What are you doing, Lieutenant Waltz?” Vash pressed, facing him fully. He didn’t have a long-range weapon on him—only a combat knife that he was holding precariously. A bullet whizzed past his ear, but he didn’t flinch. You’re committing treason.”

Werner couldn’t understand it. Vash had only a melee weapon, while he himself had a gun. He had the advantage here, and yet he was nailed to the spot.

A loud bang! resounded from Werner’s left, followed by a burst of red at Vash’s throat. Vash covered the area with his hand and began to gurgle as blood spilled from his mouth. Werner turned slightly and found Nico on the ground beside Kleine who was pulling off the sack from his head. The gun in Nico’s hands was steady and poised.

Still, Vash stepped forward, reaching, and—

Bang!

This time the red blossomed squarely at the center of Vash’s forehead, and he fell flat on his back dead. As soon as Vash’s gaze left him, Werner felt sensation return to his arms. When he turned around, he found Gilbert standing just behind him, his one hand wielding a gun that was still billowing out smoke.

Werner realized that he had almost executed Gilbert.

Again: not the time.

Refocusing his attention, Werner lifted his gun and shot two officers who were scrambling along the back wall—one in the head, and the other in the chest. The latter stumbled away before toppling right out of the shattered window down to the streets below.

Then came silence. No more officers remained standing. Bodies littered the floor in-between the blood and glass—

“Die, die, die, die!”

Werner turned to find Stein straddling the mutilated corpse of the head executioner and driving the conducting blade in his hands into the man’s chest over and over again.

“Stein, enough,” Werner ordered. “You need to preserve your energy. More military police will be coming up here soon.”

Stein halted immediately and panted heavily, hair and uniform soaked in blood, as he pulled himself off what remained of the officer. “Bastard made fun of my mom and stole this—” He held up his free hand, revealing his fingers curled around what appeared to be a gold badge.

“You’re crazier than ever…” Gilbert grimaced.

“Stein, take point at the entrance,” Werner ordered, ignoring Gilbert’s remark.

Once Stein complied and stationed himself there, Werner assessed the others. Nico was helping Kleine—who was sporting a gash on his upper arm—up to his feet. Brandt was reloading a pistol while searching an officer’s body for weapons. Fischer was pressed up against the opposite wall, still motionless and tense. Heimler—was kneeling in front of Captain Weingartner whose chest was soaked in red. A glass shard painted in the same color rested beside his leg. A misstep.

“Nico! Brandt!” Werner shouted, approaching the older men.

Nico was at Weingartner’s side immediately, sinking down and pressing his hands against the wound. Brandt was at his side a moment later with a piece of fabric he’d ripped off from one of the officer’s uniforms. He pressed against the wound with the cloth and grimaced.

Werner reloaded his gun and nodded at Kleine who approached from behind. “Search the bodies for conducting gloves, conductors, and weapons. If you find transmutation conductors first, give them to Brandt and Nico. If you find conducting-gloves for yourself first, conjure some conductors for them.”

“Y-Yes, sir!” Kleine responded gravely but somehow enthusiastically as he took off to search the bodies.

“Surprise it didn’t take a knock on your head to remember everything,” Gilbert said, wiping his forehead with the back of his head. His cheeks were flushed. “I thought we were goners for a second there.”

So there was something else going on beneath the surface. This fact put Werner somewhat more at ease with what he had just done. Still, he felt like he was walking on unstable ground. Treason...

Kleine returned a moment later, sporting conducting gloves over his hands and carrying two pairs of conducting gloves under his arm. He quickly threw them to Nico and Brandt, who both put them on quickly before moving to transmute the wound over the captain’s abdomen.

“Whatever you’re saying I should remember, I don’t,” Werner said calmly, glancing briefly again at Gilbert’s missing hand, then at Weingartner. “I’ve been told that I was manipulated by the Augen and that you were working alongside them.”

Kleine and Heimler looked up at him at this, causing him to tense inwardly. He felt overexposed—not something he was unfamiliar with, but it was especially pronounced now.

“But you…” Gilbert trailed off.

“Which is why I’ll need you all to brief me quickly on what’s really happening on here.” Werner knelt on a knee as Brandt and Nico finished their work. “How is the captain?

“We’re lucky it wasn’t a conductor this time and that it didn’t hit any vitals, unlike...” Nico trailed off.

“I’m good to travel, Werner.” Weingartner coughed and whipped the blood from his mouth before signaling Brandt to help him up to a sit. “You’re a good man.”

But not a good soldier.

Werner nodded, before surveying the room again. “We need to escape quickly before they bring more reinforcements.” He caught sight of Fischer still pressed up against the wall.

Stein snarled from his position, “I say we execute that bastard for—”

“Stein, stay focused.” Werner regarded Fischer for a moment as he weighed his options. Fischer had not opened fire against them and had clearly been hesitating at the execution orders. Eliminating Fischer here had no benefit as their escape would be known regardless of whether Fischer informed the coming military police officers of it. In addition, Fischer was still his subordinate.

Sentiment.

“Let’s leave quickly,” Werner said, turning away from him, “before the reinforcements increase beyond what we can handle.”

 

* * *

 

Fortunately—Werner realized—they had the advantage of being uphill from the military police officers who were ascending the stairs up to them. With Stein and himself at the front of the unit and sniping away with their newly conjured conducting rifles at everything that moved below them, they quickly made their way to the bottom floor. All the while, Kleine briefed him on their side of the events.

It all seemed beyond the realm of imagination. Even ludicrous. True Conductors, Fritz von Spiel, ELPIS, saint candidates, and the Kaiser’s machinations. Thinking about it somehow felt even more treasonous than his current actions.

As they continued to return fire, they pulled past numerous jail cells and a small Monadic prayer room before exiting the building and taking cover in an alleyway just across the street. They remained there to recuperate as Werner spied back on the execution tower building which stood tall, square, and rigid. A dozen or so military police officers were beginning to filter into the building from the road. They needed to move quickly again, Werner realized. But just as he was about to suggest departure, a burst of pale-tangerine light from the black stain on the alleyway wall behind him cut him off short.

Werner took a step away from the light as a familiar figure spilled out from it: a young man with dirty-blonde hair wearing a dark maroon turtleneck. His conductor-gloved hand was pressed against the glowing light on the wall.

Werner vaguely recognized encountering this man once in the Twin Cities. It was Francis Foxman who was—according to Gilbert and the others—an ally, despite the white tattoo gracing the right side of his face.

“Well, this is fortunate,” Foxman said without skipping a beat as he looked them over. “It seems as if you’ve made the right choice, Herr Waltz.” He extended his free, ungloved hand. “Let’s depart quickly.”

Werner tensed, his own hand resting on the rifle swung on his back. There were too many uncertainties already—

“Would ya stop overthinkin’ things already and get in here?” came a voice from inside the glowing light. A pale, thin hand reached out from it and wrapped around Werner’s wrist. “Come on, Lieutenant.”

A surge of electricity shot up Werner’s arm at the contact before it blitzed right to his head. He barely had the time to comprehend it before he was pulled into the glowing light.

 

* * *

 

(    )

 

As soon as Werner stepped across the threshold from the capital into what he now recognized as Francis’s exitless room, everything became clear to him: aiding Olive in his escape from the Watch, taking Cadence’s place when she’d been tortured by Donato’s underlings, Maria’s reckless overrides, his cavern conversation with Atienna, and aiding Jericho through both his encounter with Omega and his earlier struggle.

The hollow ticking of Werner’s pocket watch above his chest suddenly felt filling.

“Morello,” Werner realized, instantly recognizing the young woman who stood before him still gripping his wrist. Cadence.

He could see and feel the others outside of Cadence at their distant locations: Jericho and Maria, on top of a building with Marionette Engel bound at their feet; and Atienna and Olive, stowed away in an alleyway with Sefu. Although they were far from him, they were here—their images transposed right in front of him. It was admittedly… a comfort.

“This is wonderful!” Maria leapt in the air. “We are all together again! This is refreshing, no?”

Jericho offered a thumbs-up.

I’m glad you’re alright, came Atienna’s greeting. We were very worried about you.

Olive remained silent beside her, but his relief, desperation, and contentedness bled through. It almost seemed as if the boy wanted to embrace him, but as soon as Werner thought that, Olive pulled away and merely thought—Glad you’re okay.

“You can relax, Lieutenant,” Cadence said, releasing his wrist. “This is what ya would call a military vantage station point thing, right?”

Behind Werner, the rest of his unit and his captain were filtering into the room from the gate. Quiet relief came at the sight of them followed by affirmation that he had indeed made the correct decision. But paired with this came a foreign fear over the fact that he’d almost lost them at his own hands. Werner regarded them for a moment as they marveled at the room before he took his time to survey it despite knowing the layout from Cadence.

Allen was lounging on the sofa on the back wall, while Carl was standing tense with a grimace. All of the children in the room were cowering behind him and throwing fearful looks at Stein who was now sneering at them. In-between Cadence and those two men stood—

“Emilia…?” Kleine whispered in disbelief as he darted over to her. “You’re okay—you’re alive!”

Faint images of Emilia being impaled by Iota’s mediums flashed through Werner’s mind.

“Thanks to the Ariesian prince’s medical Conductors,” Bergmann replied, sharing a momentary embrace with him before she faced Werner and saluted. “Lieutenant, I’m ready for the next orders.”

Controlling his relief, Werner nodded at her. “I—”

“Who the hell are these mooks, Francis?!” Carl snapped. “They’re scarin’ the damn kids—” He did a double-take, squinting past Werner. “Nico?”

Nico, sharing Weingartner’s weight with Brandt, stepped forward and stared. “Allen, Carl…?” He ogled Cadence. “Cadence…”

“We don’t have time for reunions right now,” Werner interjected, gesturing to the unoccupied sofa on the opposite side of the room. “May our captain use this place temporarily to recuperate?”

Allen nodded.

With Francis’s help, Brandt and Nico moved Weingartner to the sofa there. While Brandt remained by the captain’s side, Nico detached himself and made his way back over to them. He sent a tentative glance in Cadence’s direction, but they exchanged no words.

Not the time, like ya said, Cadence reasoned.

Carl jerked his chin out at Werner. “Who’s this guy?”

“This is Herr Waltz,” Francis explained as he joined them. “We did business with him a couple months ago. He was with the Capricornian representative for…”

“You mean the guy from back when everything went downhill financially?” Allen inquired, taking a drag from his v-cig. “Do your business, then leave—”

Werner! Cadence’s alarm and worry struck Werner so suddenly that he almost mistook it for his own. Your face—

Werner stared down at her in confusion, before he suddenly found himself looking at himself through her eyes. And it was through those eyes that he could see it: slowly crawling up his face from his collarbone to his cheek was a dark blue-inked tattoo of a scorpion. Everyone around him, aside from Gilbert, Nico, and Cadence, immediately took a step back.

“How peculiar,” Francis muttered, coming to less than a centimeter away from him and studying his face. He pulled away. “It seems as if rather than Scorpio’s spore being obliterated, someone has merely cut it away from its connections…”

“Whaddya mean?” Cadence looked at him worriedly. “I mean, Scorpio’s outta him, right? That’s how we’re talkin’. I mean, I can feel him.”

Francis nodded. “I believe… you can think of it as a puppet with its strings cut or a sheep without its shepherd—wandering without direction. It’s not a danger. Just a blemish. The records state that it’s happened a couple times before. Perhaps it could be transmuted off, although it would be more difficult since it would probably be a more delicate procedure…”

Nico reached for his face. Werner caught the man’s hand before it finished its course, however, and turned to face him. He held Nico’s hand there briefly as he met the man’s gaze before slowly releasing them both.

“It’s all right, Nico. I appreciate your concern. But as Francis said, it’s equivalent to a scar”—one that couldn’t be concealed by gloves—“Your work was as good as it always is.”

Nico looked doubtful but nodded regardless before glancing again at Cadence. This time, they held each other’s gaze.

“Although that issue is no longer pertinent,” Francis continued, “I do have questions regarding what exactly Scorpio brought to the surface in your mind since his infection was of you and not the others. You were with him for a very long time…”

“The last thing I recall is being cut by the infected Augen member,” Werner said, noting how Heimler grimaced at this. “But I understand your concern about the situation.”

Still, he thought on it. He certainly did feel different, but it was difficult to pinpoint why. Something had shifted within him. But it did not give him a sense of unease or alarm. What was it…? He thought back the moment he’d decided to turn his rifle away from Gilbert’s head. Was it possibly… protect?

Cadence looked to Werner in surprise before stepping forward and patting Francis on the shoulder. “It’s a private kinda thing, Francis. Ya just don’t askin’ people about it. It’s fine though. Ya got nothin’ ta worry about.”

Francis nodded, seemingly convinced.

Werner looked away from the Twin Cities residents and faced his subordinates. At his attention, they stood at attention. He studied each one of them, going over their accomplishments, successes, sacrifices, demeanor, his memories with them, and their loyalty in his mind. If there was such a thing as luck, he supposed then that he was lucky to have them as his subordinates.

After ruminating, he finally said, “I am honored and grateful that you all chose to assist me during my absence. I apologize for bringing you into this situation without disclosure. The secrecy regarding my status as a True Conductor, at the time, seemed warranted and necessary for—”

“Just give the orders, Lieutenant,” Stein said, wiping the blood from his face with the back of his hand. “No questions asked here.”

“Be respectful, Stein,” Bergmann hissed, before lifting her head. “We’re with you, Lieutenant.”

“It’s not like they have any other choice, Werner,” came Gilbert’s response. He was leaning against the right wall in between two bookcases now. “As for me, I’m stuck with you, so—” When he noticed Werner’s stare, he arched a brow. “What?”

Werner approached Gilbert, reached for the man’s empty sleeve, and held it in his hand. He curled his fingers around the fabric as the realization settled in. It really was gone. The hand Werner had always secretly imagined boasting a ring matching Greta’s was gone.

“Hey… Better to lose my hand than end up half-crazy like Stein over there.”

“This is nothing to joke about, Gilbert,” Werner murmured. His stolid facade broke for a moment, and he grimaced as guilt wracked his chest. It had happened in his absence.

Maria’s apparition appeared beside him then, peering into his face with a rare frown. “I am… sorry, Werner. It seemed like the best solution… no?”

You did what you thought was necessary, Maria. Thank you. Werner glanced at her, then at the others through his connection with them. My words were not only to my subordinates but to you too—for handling the situation while you were in the override to the best of your abilities. If ‘lucky’ described his relationship with his subordinates, Werner supposed a ‘miracle’ would describe his relationship with the other five.

Aw shucks, lieutenant. Cadence’s eyes twinkled from across the room despite her casual expression. We gotta return dues, don’t we? What’s with the sudden sap? It ain’t like ya...

Sentiment.

Protect.

“Second Lieutenant Wolff is injured,” Werner said aloud. “He and Captain Weingartner will stay here while we carry out the next operation.” Feeling Cadence’s stare, he then nodded at Nico. “Fabrizzio, you should stay with him.”

Nico frowned and tensed. “Hey… Werner—”

Before Nico could finish, Werner found himself abruptly met with a slap to the face. It took him a moment to realize that it was delivered by Gilbert.

Werner didn’t move to touch his stinging cheek. He merely frowned. “Gil—”

“Your head’s obviously still not on straight, Werner,” Gilbert seethed, fisting Werner’s shirt. “There’s barely enough of us here as it is. You’re gonna need every single man you can get unless you’re planning on sending these kids out there to fight instead.”

Francis’s eyes narrowed.

Gilbert spat, voice-cracking, “I-I’m still fucking useful, Werner—I—”

Protect.

Werner placed a hand on the man’s shoulder, cutting him off short. “This is not because you no longer have both your hands available. This is because you have a fever and you still haven’t recovered from your injury. You’ll always be more than useful to me, Gilbert.”

Gilbert’s anger melded into confusion and then into worry that paled his face. He looked him up and down. “Shit, Werner, you sure you’re okay…?”

“Again. This isn’t time for jokes,” Werner continued, “But as you’ve said. I can’t choose favorites. I can’t let you decide that you’re fit for combat even though you’re clearly not just because…” He considered this for a moment, thinking about how Gilbert had remained steadfastly at his side regardless of circumstance. This wasn’t a superior-subordinate relationship. This was—“... just because you’re my friend.”

“Holy shit.” Now, Gilbert looked afraid. “I’m not joking Werner. You’re head—”

Werner moved his hand from Gilbert’s shoulder to the man’s chest and then formed his hand into a fist. “I still need you, Gilbert, so I will need you to stay alive and recover for me. Is that clear? I need you... alive.”

Gilbert stiffened at this before his eyes narrowed and he returned the gesture hard. “Fine, but I say take Nic with you. Leave Brandt here. No offense to Brandt, but I feel like Nic has a better chance of snapping you to your senses sometimes.”

Werner felt Cadence tense inwardly. He could see her glancing at Nico, and through her eyes, he saw Nico nod.

There was a beat of silence.

“Werner…” Atienna’s image stepped forward after the moment passed. “To make things… smoother after this is taken care of, I was thinking of perhaps gaining the favor of the two generals who weren’t turned into Scorpio’s offshoots.”

Werner nodded. I see. That’s a good idea. I suggest you find Von Spiel and inform him of your plan. He’s managed to still keep his influential position. From my conversation with him, he is still very much against the Kaiser. He’ll be a necessary component.

Cadence sank to a crouch and sighed as a child ran over to her and started pulling on her hair. “Aw, hell, I’m glad ta see ya, Lieutenant, but this is gettin’ worse and worse by the minute—”

Nico approached her and extended his hand. She arched a brow at him before sighing and accepting the gesture.

“So what’s the plan, Lieutenant?” Cadence asked, tapping her temple. “Any good strategies ya got stored in there? Ya know we’re all in.”

I believe this will require everyone’s assistance to succeed. Werner nodded in gratitude. But everyone aside from Cadence and Maria should try their best to keep their distance and keep their identities hidden. Our identities as True Conductors might be known to these... saint candidates, but not to the public eye. We still need to maintain appearances, so the situation doesn’t escalate further outside of Capricorn—

“Francis.” Werner turned to the man. “Since our connection has been restored, we would be able to use each other’s conducting-types freely, correct?”

Francis nodded. “I would caution against using it too much. You know what conductors really do.”

In the silence that followed, Stein cracked his knuckles. “So are we going to finally fuck this Scorpio up?”

Talk about bein’ unnecessarily gung-ho. Cadence arched a brow. But at least he’s charmin’.

“No, Scorpio is beyond our capabilities right now,” Werner said, placing a hand over his mouth in thought. “Our target is Scorpio’s final tower, so we can rid Capricorn’s forces of the saint candidate.”

Silence passed as the reality of what that meant sank in.

“The Kaiser will most likely be preparing to leave the chancellery building and going into hiding after hearing about what happened at the execution tower,” Werner continued. “We need to intercept the Kaiser and remove Scorpio’s spore before then.”

“So we’re really going against Capricorn…” Bergmann murmured.

“We’re still in service to Capricorn,” Werner stated clearly. “You can select your pown erspective, but I am not in service to the Kaiser, to glory, to honor, nor to any similar ideals. I am—” He thought. “—here to serve the people. And to protect them.”

And right now the Kaiser was the enemy of the Capricornian people and his people.

 

* * *

 

Die Hauptstadt, Capricorn

 

Werner was let out of one of Francis’s gates located in an alleyway just across from the main chancellery building alongside Klaus, Stein, Nico, Heimler, and Brandt. Their faces were concealed with nylon fabric which was also wrapped around their arms and legs. It was the best precautionary measure against being infected in close quarters combat. Pushing aside his concern about the progress Atienna and Olive were making in finding the two generals, Werner reached out to Olive:

We’re in position. Now.

The building just across the chancellery building erupted into verdigris flames—Olive’s flames transmuted in color by Cadence’s vitae and propagated through one of Francis’s portals from a distant location. It wasn’t perfect, sporting occasional glimpses of crimson that cracked through Cadence’s thin illusions, but it was acceptable for the small time frame they had.

A handful of military police officers immediately rushed out the chancellery building in alarm and darted forward to douse the flames with conducted water either from their own vitae or from the puddles scattered around the street—which took care of one group of Elementalists. As they fought against the flames, illusory Augen members spilled out from the alleyways around that burning building. The water Elementalists and other officers stumbled back in alarm at their sudden appearance before quickly shifting their attention to combat them. Hidden among the illusions was Maria whose laughter rang through the courtyard as she hacked and slashed away. She was soon joined by Jericho who did the same, albeit with his suitcase.

Cadence, Werner thought. Signal Bergmann for me.

Aye, aye, Lieutenant.

Werner could faintly hear Cadence conversing with Bergmann from within Francis’s room and then—

—the ground began to shake below the feet of the military police officers in the courtyard. From the street beneath them sprouted a wall of earth that divided and then surrounded them, trapping them in an earthen enclosure. Another larger, taller wall rose around the buildings surrounding the chancellery, including the alleyway Werner was hiding in with his men and the building that was in flames. The wall encased the area in a circle with not a crack to be seen: a large cage with the chancellery at its center.

Everything was being executed as planned.

As more and more military police officers spilled out from the chancellery building in panicked confusion, Werner pressed forward and slipped into said building alongside his subordinates. The halls and office areas within were empty which merely caused Werner to signal for his men to tread forward even more carefully.

As they rounded the corner towards the hall leading to the Kaiser’s office, chattering reached his ears. He pulled his fist up, signaling everyone behind him to halt. Upon peering around the corner, his eyes narrowed.

There were ten military police officers still standing in the hall in front of the doors to the Kaiser’s office. There were most likely even more officers inside. This needed to be handled quickly, silently, efficiently. Covert.

While reaching out to Cadence, Werner signaled his men to stand down and then snapped his conductor-ringed fingers as he unhooked the conducting blade clipped to his waist. The blade sparked indigo in his hands before a shimmer rode over it like a wave, causing it to disappear from sight.

Maria and Atienna. Quietly.

Werner did not enjoy overrides and he disliked the lack of control that came with them, but this was the fastest, most direct course of action. That and he felt a sense of trust.

A wave of drowsiness overcame Werner as he temporarily blinked out of consciousness. When he came back to himself, he was standing at the end of the hall above the quietly groaning and still bodies of all the officers. Snapping his fingers again to dispel the illusion of invisibility, he wiped the smile from his face, signaled his men forward, and approached the large mahogany doors leading into the Kaiser’s office. Once they had all gathered in a crouch in front of the doors, he ordered them to activate the proto-conducting rings that Kleine had conjured for them that were filled with Cadence’s vitae. They obeyed, disappearing from his sight. He snapped his fingers to activate the illusion again himself.

“Do not shoot the Kaiser,” he said. “Leave him to me. Like I said earlier, some of these officers are being manipulated. They are still Capricornian citizens, so try your best to shoot to maim. But if you must, choose your life over theirs.”

“Yes, sir,” came the whispers.

On the count of three, Werner pushed open the door alongside Stein and—

“What do you think you’re doing, Werner?”

There it was again: the cold sensation gripping his chest, holding him tight and refusing to let him go or move.

Werner—someone reached out for him, but he couldn’t tell who—he can’t reach you anymore.

Yes, Werner knew that, but that did not stop his heart from hammering wildly in his chest. Before he realized what he was doing, he was signaling his men to hold fire with two raps of his knuckle against the ground.

Werner…” Nico whispered in his ear.

Reclining leisurely at the Kaiser’s desk was Talib Al-Jarrah, who was smiling as he curled a lock of dark hair around his finger. Stationed around the walls of the room were twenty military police officers—statute and unmoving. The Kaiser was nowhere in sight.

“The man you’re looking for is escaping out the back door as we speak,” Scorpio said. He laughed. What? Were you planning to pull that Lita out from a gate and use her eyes to cut me out with my partner’s vitae just like that? Then what? Removing me from the Kaiser won’t change anything.” He addressed a shadowed figure standing in the far corner of the room. “The people are already too impassioned by themselves—wouldn’t you say? Nothing will stop them now.”

Tucked away in that corner and bound and gagged was—

Alice. Jericho’s outrage throttled through Werner abruptly, causing his head to spin but also giving him a sense of clarity.

A hostage. A bargaining chip. To prolong this as long as possible.

Scorpio rose from the desk and walked over to Alice’s side, reaching out for her chin.

“My dear, Ali—”

Alice abruptly ducked low and then surged forward, effectively uppercutting Scorpio with her head. As the man stumbled back in alarm, Alice darted forward and dove for them across the central table. Werner caught her awkwardly before handing her back to the others.

Scorpio straightened and rubbed his jaw as he glowered in their general direction. “Struggle, struggle, struggle—but what for what? I admire your passion, but don’t you see you’re going against everything you stand for? It’s going to happen regardless of whether you fight against it, so why do you do it?”

With Alice tucked away behind them, the next decision was to—

“Open fire!” Werner ordered immediately, grabbing at the twin doors and pulling them half backwards to act as a partial barricade just as the military police officers opened fire blindly on them.

He returned fire with his subordinates and shot two of the officers within. He also caught sight of Scorpio, who was standing undisturbed in the middle of all the flying bullets and vitae-rays.

A hand on his shoulder drew his attention away. It was Nico. “Werner… the Kaiser.”

Werner nodded. “Everyone, continue fire but start the retreat. Our target is not Scorpio. I’m going after the Kaiser.”

“Yes, sir!” came the shouts.

Werner darted up the stairs at the end of the hall and burst onto the third floor. After checking the floor for enemies and finding none, he went from window to window, peering into the courtyards behind and in front of the building until—there.

Down in the courtyard below at the back of the building away from the chaos of the inflamed building and being guarded by a plethora of military police officers was Kaiser Kafke Netzche. Despite the resounding booms of gunfire all around him, the man was calm and grim in the blue moonlight.

It appeared as if now they were relying on the last resort.

Pulling off his protective mask and dispelling Cadence’s vitae, Werner reached out to Olive and waited for the prince’s faint memory of his earlier encounter with Leona and Flannery to trickle down:

“By the way, I get the feeling’ y’might get a little antsy so let me just give ya a hint in case ya get ballsy and get ta it first.” Flannery had crossed her fingers over her chest directly above her heart. “Aim for the bullseye.”

A memory that highlighted their lack of control of the situation, yes. But also—intuition: a place to aim. A small window. A risk. But—protect.

Werner switched out his conducting rifle for the sniping rifle hanging on his back and then propped the conductor against the ledge of the window frame. Peering through the scope, he lined up his crosshairs with the Kaiser’s heart.

Jericho. Werner reached for the man.

Jericho’s image appeared beside him. Faintly, Werner could see him swinging his suitcase left and right at the military police officers outside.

Stay focused. I only need your vitae.

Still, Jericho tensed and stared into him. The man could not find the words to describe the sensation, but Werner understood. He was afraid of returning to the way he had been when he’d been in ELPIS.

“I trust your intuition, Jericho, so trust me in return,” Werner said calmly. “I won’t take a life with your conducting ability unless absolutely necessary. I understand how you feel.”

Jericho’s brows knitted together before he relaxed slightly and nodded. Trust. His ghostly hand moved over Werner’s. The insulation tubes of the sniping rifle burned a bright off-white.

Suddenly the earth around the Kaiser rose up and encircled the man and his guards in a sphere-like barricade, leaving only a narrow gap for sight. The earthly barricade crunched forward along the ground as the Kaiser’s group advanced. It gouged up the street as it did so, causing puddles nearby to trickle and pool around the protective dome.

An earth Elementalist was with the Kaiser, Werner realized. A Conductor like that could easily dismantle Bergmann’s earth barricade. It was something Werner had considered when he’d planned this operation. However, such an advantage for the Kaiser was one that he didn’t have enough resources to account for and one that he’d hoped the Kaiser didn’t have.

Damn.

This was what happened when all parameters were not fully accounted and planned for. An error.

It’s okay. Not like we had time for that.

Werner contemplated shooting through and disintegrating the barricade but then considered the possibility of the Elementalist being trained enough to pull up another barricade quickly before he’d be able to lock onto the Kaiser. If that was the case, then his location, methodology for attack, and presence would be known to the Kaiser’s guards. The Kaiser’s other guards also needed to be considered. Therefore—

Maria can hold her own, Werner thought. Jericho, can you draw the Kaiser’s guards’ attention? Disguise yourself.

Okay.

Werner watched through their connection as Jericho peeled away from Maria’s tango with the military officers. The peacekeeper headed around the chancellery building and towards the earthen sphere that was rolling forward. With Cadence’s assistance, he transmuted over himself the appearance of a large group of Augen members. Werner provided Jericho with his vitae; and in turn, Jericho began to rapidly fire on the earthen tomb with the rifle conductor Kleine had conjured for him earlier. As the side of the dome Jericho was firing at began to chip away, the Elementalist—as expected—shifted more of the earth towards the onslaught, leaving the Kaiser’s back exposed.

Unfortunately, the exposure was on the opposite side of Werner’s sight. He could just barely see the top of the Kaiser’s head over the barricade. The vantage point was not good either. After quickly flipping through the different gates Francis had placed around the area in mind, he frowned. None of them would provide a better vantage point. Even the closest one on ground level was not directly facing the Kaiser’s back.

Werner berated himself for not being clearer about his expectations—wait. The water that was surrounding the barricade had flooded inwards towards the Kaiser’s and the guards’ feet and was now reflecting them in full. Captured in that watery reflection was the Kaiser himself and the conducting-blade-wielding Projector right at the man’s side.

Werner hated relying on chance and luck, but it seemed as if that was all that was available to him at the moment. Two shots were required, he decided then. A feint to distract the Projector. And a direct hit to the Kaiser.

The issue remained about the vantage point—

Olive, Gabrielle, and I found the generals, came a quiet voice. Now let me help, Werner.

Atienna. Werner hesitated for a moment as he considered her political position in all of this, before he inclined his head and reached out to her. He found her leaping through one of Francis’s gates and exiting out of the ground-level gate that he had been considering only a second earlier. In her hands was a proto-conducting blade that was filled with Jericho’s vitae. Werner saw the protective earthen shield around the Kaiser through her eyes and felt her arch her arm backwards in preparation to throw the blade.

Understood.

Atienna didn’t aim for the Kaiser and instead threw the blade with all her might directly towards the alleyway across from her.

Werner saw with his own eyes as the proto-conductor blade hurtled across the courtyard, past the Kaiser’s back—

Wind. Temperature. Humidity.

Werner glanced briefly at the puddle beneath the Kaiser’s feet, while chasing the proto-conducting blade with his scope, and then pulled the trigger twice.

Perfect. Everything: crystal clear.

The first off-white ray of vitae zipped through the air, thinning as it hurtled forwards. It hit the tip of the sailing proto-conducting blade and ricocheted off of it towards behind the cover of the earthen sphere. From the reflection of the puddle, Werner could see the Kaiser’s Projector immediately bring his conducting blade up to meet the vitae-ray, causing both to shatter into dust upon contact.

The second off-white ray of vitae hit the hurtling proto-conducting blade just a second after at a different angle. Instead of hurtling towards the Projector, it instead cometed towards the Kaiser and pierced through the man’s chest.

Werner continued to watch tensely through his scope via the reflection of the water.

The Kaiser fell forward onto his knees, but did not shatter into dust. He merely collapsed onto the ground, unmoving, as did the earth Elementalist who was holding the barricade and two of his guards. The guards who were still standing looked around in confusion as the earth wall crumbled away. Jericho quickly charged forward and disposed of them with quick cracks of his suitcase before moving to assess the Kaiser—still breathing. He then turned in Werner’s direction and gave a thumbs up.

Werner nodded.

The commotion from below Werner quieted as well. He peeled away from the window, snapping his fingers and pulling Cadence’s transmutation over himself again as he descended the stairs. Jericho’s presence lingered strongly beside him all the way down. When he slipped back into the hall, he found Alice still pressed against the hall’s wall. His subordinates were still hidden from his view, but he could see the bodies of officers littering the floor inside the Kaiser’s office. Scorpio was poised untouched before the Kaiser’s desk with his head buried in his hand. The window behind the man had shattered, causing the light from the moon to bathe the room in an even harsher hue.

“I thought I told you that you wouldn’t change anything.” Scorpio lifted his head, staring straight through Werner like an arrow. “How many times do I have to tell you that…”

For a moment, Werner thought Scorpio could somehow see him through Cadence’s transmutation, but then the sound of click-clacking footsteps reached his ears.

“Flannery…” Alice whispered, staring past Werner over his shoulders.

Upon turning, Werner spied Flannery Caertas, the Saint of the Scales, coming on towards him up the hall with a knife lined in dark pink vitae in her left and a gun in her right. She stared right at him, seeming to see through Cadence’s transmutation. He tensed at this, but she slipped right past him and then past his men and Alice too.

“Deus ex machina, hm? Well, I suppose it’s time for me to exit stage left,” Scorpio said calmly, before abruptly throwing himself out of the broken window. He didn’t make it past the ledge, however, and was thrown back into the room by an unseen force. He hit the meeting table and slid across it, coming to a stop where Flannery was waiting at the end.

Smiling still, he began to dig into his pockets, fisting a handful of origami paper. Before he could pull it out, however, a golden blade of vitae flew in from the window and effectively severed both his hand from his arms. As the appendages toppled to the ground, Flannery placed the knife at his neck and stared into his eyes.

Leona stepped into the room from the window and rounded the table. As the blood from Scorpio’s severed hand began to glow a dark blue and moved to reattach themselves to his arms, Leona slapped conducting cuffs over the man’s wrists. And then another cuff. And another. And another. And another. By the time his hands had reattached themselves, they cluttered his arms like sleeves of a shirt.

“Well, that was enjoyable while it lasted,” Scorpio said calmly. “A task well done. Reservoirs restored. I wonder what next time will bring—assuming that you’re going to return me to the reservoir now.”

Werner felt Jericho tense.

Flannery glanced back over her shoulder towards Alice who met her gaze evenly. When she faced Scorpio again, she spoke calmly: “Due to the previous precedent set with Dämon Forstchritt and after observin’ the interactions of the opposin’ factions in the country, I’ve determined that yer involvement has merely accelerated what was bound t’happen in this country t’begin with. By the free will clause when we first started this, this won’t be considered as a rule-breakin’ intervention.” She lowered her knife. “Yer free t’continue as ya are as long as y’dont pull anythin’ like this again.”

The syzygy is approaching and you need all hands on board, right?” Scorpio smiled thinly, words sluggish, as he shrugged. “Whatever you choose to do, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Or is your mercy because of something else? His smile fell slightly as his eyes lost some of their light, and he looked to the side, something akin to guilt glinting in his eyes. “Sorry for the mess, Flannery.”

Leona looked away from him before slowly sauntering out of the room and into the hall. She stopped by the threshold of the door, scanning the area. “You did well handling Scorpio and the Kaiser. It would be Lieutenant Waltz, am I correct? You don’t need to hide any longer.”

After momentary hesitation, Werner snapped his fingers, dispelling Cadence’s vitae. He signaled his subordinates to remain hidden but motioned for them to draw near to him silently. A beat of silence passed.

Leona chuckled mirthlessly. “If you wish to keep the people under you hidden, that’s fine with me. It’s noble.”

A hand pressed against his arm— “It’s… over, right?” It was Nico.

Werner shook his head subtly. It was far from over.

But. Bullseye, Jericho thought.

Werner found his gaze lingering on Scorpio. Bullseye, he agreed.

 

* * *

 

Following this, Werner requested the other five to pull back and keep their distance from further developments. They all agreed to varying degrees of resistance. Atienna and Olive handed over the two generals to Major General Von Spiel whom they’d found with Werner’s direction, while Maria, Jericho, and Cadence handed Marionette Engel over to Leona when approached by her. No words were exchanged in the latter event—not even from Maria, which in itself was something approximate to a miracle.

At 0300 hours, Werner rendezvoused with Alice, Leona, Flannery, and Major General von Spiel in the abandoned convention dome. They each had a person of interest under their watch. For him, it was the Kaiser. For Flannery, it was Scorpio. For Major General von Spiel, it was the two generals. And for Leona, it was Marionette Engel who was bound with normal cuffs and now fully conscious. While Werner had opted to leave his men and Nico behind in Francis’s room, Von Spiel had brought his remaining two subordinates. Flannery and Leona meanwhile came unattended. In tense silence, they stood beneath the broken glass roof of the dome and basked in the full moon. In the distance, peppering gunfire and muted thuds could be heard still—the conflict continuing.

The other five were peering in through him—Werner could feel them. There were times where he preferred his privacy and to be left alone, but now was not one of them.

“I apologize for Scorpio’s behavior,” Leona started first, folding her hands in front of her, “and for the distress that his interference in your country has caused you. “

“He’s caused damage beyond repair,” Von Spiel muttered darkly. “I don’t care if he’s a peacekeeping agent or a saint candidate. He needs to face trial on Capricornian soil.”

“A death sentence wouldn’t be doing him justice,” one of Von Spiel’s two subordinates—a woman with pale blonde hair tied up into a tight bun—muttered.

“You can try to kill him, but you won’t be able to. It would be a waste of your energy,” Leona replied slowly, somehow looking down on the man despite being shorter than him. “You’re very arrogant to think that you can even attempt to do that, despite needing our help to handle him.”

They could barely handle him… came Olive with a grimace.

Flannery sighed. “I understand yer frustrations, Herr von Spiel, but we can’t make our judgements based on emotion. The only reason Scorpio’s still alive right now is because—as I’ve said—his intervention merely accelerated what was already goin’ t’happen.”

“You’re saying this is all our fault?” Von Spiel asked incredulously. “You—”

Alice held up a hand. “Herr von Spiel, I believe it would be best if this situation wasn’t agitated.” She turned her gaze on Flannery and Scorpio. “I’m very well aware of how deep your reach goes, but I evaluated the Augen members. While their reasoning for supporting the Augen made sense with their backgrounds, this revolution is not—”

“There you go again, Alice.” Scorpio sighed. “Always assuming that you’re right and that you know everything. You think that keeping a far distance from everything gives you an outsider’s perspective and the big picture? You’re wrong. You can’t even see the small details—”

Werner felt Atienna frown.

“Scorpio.” Flannery sighed again. “Would y’be quiet?”

Scorpio glanced at her then at Alice, before he looked away as his smile dipped.

“Herr von Spiel—You’re the father of Fritz, aren’t you?” Leona drew suddenly. “Fritz von Spiel’s death was an unfortunate disappointment. He was very valuable to us. If we had only known he was a True Conductor back then, we would have protected him from ELPIS. I hope you can see from this that we are on your side.”

“On our side?” Von Spiel scoffed. “You’ve caused my subordinates so much grief in just a couple of hours. I haven’t lost this many since back in the days of the Reservoir War. Vitae conversion—”

“And yet you bring your subordinates before me again,” Scorpio sang, nodding at the man and the woman who stood stiffly behind Von Spiel. “You change your tune all the time, Martin, but you remain unchanged. You sell out your allies—

“I merely protected my subordinates by denying involvement with Volker. That’s what comes with command. I can’t pull them into dangerous situations without consent. They’re not puppets—”

“Like I said, you’ve brought them both before me again. If I I recall correctly, you were very gung-ho about sending them down to fight all the Augen members at the dome not too long ago… ” Scorpio shifted from foot to foot, the numerous suppression cuffs on his arms clinking loudly. “I also do remember you making a fuss about not wanting to join the ‘revolution’ because you didn’t want to risk your subordinates… so why are they here?” He nodded at Werner causing him to stiffen. “Dear Werner here chose not to bring his along. Would that make you or him the poor commander?”

“They wanted to see you grovel,” Von Spiel replied plainly.

“But the only person here groveling is you.”

“Scorpio, be quiet,” Flannery muttered.

“People aren’t black and white, Talib,” Alice added coolly.

Scorpio glanced at her, lips thinning.

Werner felt Atienna reach for him, and he found himself saying, “We should discuss the best way for this to turn out for all of us.” He received a glare from Von Spiel’s subordinates and an arched brow from Von Spiel. “We know about saint candidates, and you know about us. From what I understand, we all want to keep everything… functioning properly not only for ourselves but for the people we care about.”

“The advisor?” Scorpio glanced at Flannery. “She reminds me a lot of you, Libra.”

Seeming to ignore him, Leona placed a hand to her chin as a smile of amusement crawled up her face. “Of course, given the advisor’s deal with me, your safety and… satisfaction is a high priority. I admire her as someone who knows her place. The mechanics do need to be worked out. Let’s see.” She blinked slowly. “I’ll make a suggestion, so things run easier for you: Since this all started with the Verbundene Augen movement—”

“This started with the Kaiser and chancellery cabinet,” Marionette objected from behind Leona, eyes wide. Her hair was tousled and her signature scarf was fraying at the edges and stained thoroughly with blood, smoke, and dirt. She glowered at the Kaiser. “After everything you’ve done—knowingly using the people—”

The Kaiser remained silent, head lifted high.

“As if your actions these past few days are any different, Marionette.” Scorpio chuckled. “You complain about being used until you have to use people yourself.”

“The question isn’t ‘who started it,’ but who is the most important,” Leona said calmly. “You Capricornians are forward-thinking, are you not? What will happen to your country if it loses the Kaiser versus losing Marionette? Do—”

“The country will fall into even more disarray if things are pinned on the Kaiser with less than half the cabinet remaining,” one general interjected from behind Von Spiel. “If the Kaiser is removed, we have to consider who will take his place.” He nodded at Von Spiel. “You’re an honorable leader on the battlefield, Martin. But you do not have what it takes to run a country. No one in this room besides the Kaiser does.”

Von Spiel recoiled. “So you’re agreeing that we should give back the position to the man? How can you say that when the Kaiser manipulated half of the chancellery? You would have been dead if it weren’t for us. If we go to the public about this—”

“I’m just saying this is how things are—not how they’re wrong or right,” the general said, glancing at the saint candidates with a frown. “You don’t understand the situation, Von Spiel.”

“I agree. You seem to misunderstand the situation, Von Spiel,” Leona said, voice thin. “‘Go to the public’? There will be no such thing. If this gets out through your tongue, you may not die—but only because I believe you’re still quite useful and you can still contribute things to your country. On the other hand, your family—your wife who is still weeping over Fritz in that cottage in Volkmarkt—will not be so lucky.” She glanced at Alice. “What do you think happened to Wtorek Izsak? We allow you to walk, make decisions, and commit folly on this continent, but if you overstep your bounds you will be punished. Wtorek is not the first, and he will not be the last. I recommend you not to follow in his footsteps.”

Alice paled then tensed, while Von Spiel bristled.

Leona’s gaze lingered on Werner. “This punishment applies to everyone who knows about this truth whether it be the people in this room right now or the people in hiding who know of it—which is why I highly recommend they come out of hiding unless they’re ready to prepare for a very long funeral when they return.”

Alarm, frustration, fear, and desperation wracked Werner’s chest, butcalm down. I can’t think. The feelings tightened and pulled away.

“If Scorpio can do this to an entire country, what do you think we can do to your lives? We are clearly on different tiers.” Leona closed her eyes for a moment. “We’re giving you different options to cover up what happened here so you don’t have a slip of the tongue and lose things that are important to you…. It’s quite unfortunate that you’ve come across this knowledge. I do pity you.”

Blackmail. Hostages. Like puppets on strings.

“Libra?” Leona inquired. “Your thoughts?”

“It’s not m’place t’decide,” Flannery said evenly. “I even think yer pushin’ yer bounds right now, Leo.”

Scorpio’s eyes narrowed. “Are you seriously using that ‘it’s not my place’ excuse to not get involved again, Libra? So you’re folding back into your slovenliness and apathy after you’ve lifted your hand just a tiny bit? You—”

“It is quite a troublesome situation,” Leona continued, ignoring him. “And as I’ve said, I’m trying to help you, so I ask that no one interrupts me again.” After she allowed a moment of silence to pass, she continued: “My suggestion is this. The Kaiser will reclaim his title and request for Ophiuchus’s intervention of the Augen. The current story that the Augen has been working with ELPIS to manipulate the populace at wide will remain in place. This will allow Augen members to step down if they wish to and conceal their involvement, while also pardoning the manipulated.” She glanced at Flannery. “And it doesn’t push against our agreement.”

Hm, Leona is not very nice right now, is she… no?

Man, another damn cover-up. They’re a cens a dozen these days.

Werner found his awareness of this lack of control unpleasant : blindly following and agreeing with a path set ahead—although he supposed he was no stranger to it. This outcome was more favorable than other possibilities Leona was insinuating.

Von Spiel remained silent.

“You’re just going to let this happen, Werner, Martin?” Marionette half-whispered, half-hissed. “Don’t you care for your country? Don’t you have any pride as a Capricornian? Everything that we worked for… the people who I represent—our ideas—to be turned into scapegoats—”

“Take her away, Charlotte, Roderich,” Von Spiel ordered his subordinates, before his expression smoothed into one of sympathy. “Save what little dignity she has left...”

The man and woman saluted at the order and dragged Marionette out of the building.

“You shouldn’t take it too much to heart, dear Marionette,” Scorpio called over his shoulder to her. “You’re not the first, and you won’t be the last.” He faced forward as the doors to the building swung closed, locking eyes with Werner. “Don’t you think so, honey?”

His gaze made Werner’s head spin.

“Now that we have that settled,” Leona continued, turning to him, “we should decide exactly what to do with you, Lieutenant Waltz, and your involved subordinat—”

The doors to the dome burst open abruptly and a singular figure stormed into the room: Marionette Engel. Behind her came Von Spiel’s male subordinate who lunged at Marionette only to be tackled to the ground by Von Spiel’s other subordinate before he could reach her.

“Major General!” the male subordinate shouted as he was pinned by the other. “Charlotte freed Marionette! She’s—”

She’s with the Augen, Werner realized. Right under Von Spiel’s eyes

Then he saw the small pistol in Marionette’s hand.

“I refuse…” Marionette hissed, tears streaming from her eyes, her tattered scarf billowing back like wings, as she steadied her gun-wielding hand. “I won’t let you use my country as a puppet!”

Werner darted for the Kaiser. “Get down—”

But the shot rang out before he could make it to the man’s side. The Kaiser stumbled backwards with the force of the bullet, Leona barely managing to catch him before he hit the ground. Werner had to stop himself from calling Nico’s name as he ran to the Kaiser’s side.

Von Spiel meanwhile tackled Marionette to the floor as the woman continued to heave and shout.

Scorpio fell to the ground too, cuffs clinking along with him, as his deep, tear-filled laughter rumbled through the air.

Werner felt his heart skip a beat as he came close enough to the Kaiser to see the single bullet hole running directly through the man’s head. The man’s glassy eyes reflected back the full moon burning down into the dome.

Without affection—as if nothing in her life changed at all with the occurrence—Leona simply stated: “The Kaiser is dead.”

 

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About the author

elmwynn

Bio: Hobbyist writer, epidemiology graduate student, case investigator, retired weeb. I don’t have flashbacks; I have cringebacks. And the person who rings me up the most is Spam Likely ♡
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(If you’re reading this, have a great day!)

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