Saints. It hurt.
Even after the medical Conductors had come and gone saying that all was in order, it still hurt. Even after they had informed Olive of what had occurred—that he had fainted in the bathroom, that Trystan had been called in for questioning after carrying Olive to his room, that he had been unconscious for several hours. Even after he bit his tongue and kicked all the doctors out of his room, it still hurt. But that didn’t matter.
As soon as Olive was alone, he ran to the door to make sure it was shut tightly and slid to the ground.
It hurt. But—
But that wasn’t what was important. What was important was….
Olive scrambled to his feet and spun around the room.
“Enough already.” He glared at the ceiling. “I don’t care if you wanna mess up my life. It’s already a mess, anyways. If you’re not real, fine. I already know I’ve got screws loose. But if you’re real…” He glowered at the corners of his room, fists balled. “Don’t you dare… give me hope.”
Silence answered him. Deafening.
“Well, fine.” He turned away and faced the door. “It doesn’t matter anyway.” He paced to the door but stopped short with his hand on the knob. His grip on it tightened, and he bit down on the inside of his mouth. “No, you know what? No.” He turned away and walked forward, arms crossed. “Enough already. You’re all going to listen to me. Here. Now.”
His voice echoed around the corners of the room. When the echo of his voice died, another sound came to take its place. There was no word to describe it. The sound of something breaking? Something cracking apart? Clapping? Whatever it was, it unfurled from all directions, into all directions. His surroundings reverberated with the noise, then splintered and fragmented. Different colors and sensations. Hot and cold. Blue and green. Gold and orange. White and black.
And then as everything melted together, five figures appeared before him.
There was the woman in the window—Atienna—sitting at the foot of his bed surrounded by flowers that Olive knew were not really there. Sitting on his windowsill a little ways away from her was a boyish, red-haired young woman who had cards in her hands and a smile on her face—a smile that slid down into a gawk. Her gaze fell away from her cards and toward a man who stood opposite her beside Olive’s closet: a dark man with square glasses and dark eyes. Standing just a few feet away from him was the green-eyed, pipe-swinging woman. Even as their eyes met, her smile remained unfazed. It may have even grown brighter.
“What is this?” the blonde man—the soldier with ice blue eyes that Olive had seen aiming a conductor at an unarmed man on that moonlit night—who stood at the corner of the room whispered as he rubbed his temple. As the man appeared to realize his situation, his expression became horrified and then reserved. Without another word, he brushed past Olive and headed toward the door. He tried it. It did not budge. Pausing there with his gloved hand pressed against the frame of the door, he stated, “This is a hallucination.”
Atienna stared at the man and reached out for him when an exclamation cut her off short—
Atienna looked back at the red-haired woman who called her name, and her eyes widened. “Cadence?”
“Spirits!” the green-eyed woman boomed as she jumped up onto Oliver’s bed with widespread arms. She looked down at all of them with a blinding smile. “Why is it that you have summoned me here?”
Atienna, now halfway off of the bed and no longer surrounded by her garden, blinked up at her with a dissonant smile. “Maria…? You know I’ve said that we’re not spirits.”
Maria blinked down at her and scratched her head. “You are Atienna, yes? But if you are not a spirit then…”
“I ask that none of you move.” The man with the glasses spoke with an air of authority that did not match his blank expression. He extended his hand out to no one in particular. “I’m Agent Jericho of Ophiuchus. Currently, I’m investigating—”
“Wait,” Cadence interjected as she studied the man, “aren’t you—”
“Huh?” Maria tilted her head at Jericho before she crouched to his eye level. “Hey, I know your voice!”
“Can someone tell me what is goin’ on here?” Cadence snapped, leaping from the windowsill, throwing down her cards. “Even this is gettin’ a bit too much for me. Where am I?”
“This is not real,” the soldier, eyes closed, chanted from his corner. “I am suffering from a head injury. A concussion. This is not real. I need to inform a medical Conductor of my hallucinations. This is not real.”
“Uh, Werner, right?” Cadence pulled back and peered at the man. “Are ya all right?”
The soldier continued to mumble. Cadence continued to stare. The green-eyed woman and the agent continued to speak over one another. And Atienna continued to observe them all with an expression that was either one of curiosity or amusement.
Olive observed the chaos unfolding in front of him for a few minutes before he felt something thin and brittle inside snap in two.
“Oh, my saints, just shut up already!” He yelled so loudly he thought he’d torn his vocal chords.
Surprisingly, they obeyed and ogled.
“Look, I don’t get what’s going on, and normally I wouldn’t care.” He crossed his arms. “But…” He pointed at Atienna. “You saw her. You could see her. You could see Lavi.” He took a step forward. “Right?”
Atienna lifted her head and opened her mouth to respond, but—
“Wait a minute, aren’t you that prince? The Ariesian one!” Cadence said, jabbing a finger in Olive’s direction. “Yeah, I recognize ya! From the newspapers!”
The soldier stiffened. “Ariesian prince…?”
Cadence stepped forward and eyed Olive up and down. “The tabloids were sayin’ that you were in ‘hopeless, irrecoverable condition,’ but you’re lookin’ pretty good, kid.” She offered up a smile that reminded Olive of the feudal lords in court.
“That’s not the point—”
“Prince?” Maria jumped down from the bed and came to a stand right in front of him. She was tall and had to stoop to peer into his face. He could see all the flecks of green in her irises now. They looked almost inhuman. “I’ve never seen a prince before—wait a moment. You are the boy! From that night! The grumpy, short one!”
“I—what?” Olive recoiled before he glowered. “I don’t want to be talked down to by someone who—”
“Who said anything about talking down to?”
“Is it customary to shout when meeting a large amount of people like this?” Jericho interjected.
Everyone stared at him for a beat.
Atienna took the opportune moment of silence to step forward with raised hands. “Everyone, please calm down.” Her voice was gentle, deep, and quiet, reminding Olive of the sound of owls hooting in the quiet of a dead night. “This is the first time we’ve been able to talk all together like this so we should try to understand what’s going on, don’t you think?” She glanced at Olive and flashed him a sympathetic smile. “After we get at least a little bit of an idea about what’s happening, we can then move on to our individual issues. If that’s all right with everyone?”
“Yes. A good idea.” Jericho gave a thumbs-up from his corner. “This could aid in my investigation.” He gave another thumbs-up with his other hand.
Well, he was definitely weird. Olive resisted grimacing. Well, whatever.
“Whatever you say, doll.” Cadence tilted her hat with a charming smile.
Olive nodded in agreement, then found his gaze drifting over to the corner of the room. Atienna and then Cadence followed his gaze and locked eyes with the soldier who stood there still stiff as stone.
Cadence called back to him, “You gonna join us, good sir?”
There was an uncertain pause of silence in which the soldier appraised them with scrutiny. His eyes were sharp, cold, calculating. He seemed to have recovered from whatever meltdown he’d been going through earlier.
“I mean,” Cadence hummed, “if we’re all goin’ crazy, we should at least try to understand it, right?”
“If this is how this situation is going to be handled,” the soldier said finally, unravelling himself from his corner of the room and falling in place beside the peacekeeper, “I will partake. I believe that we should start with introductions first.”
“Call this a wild guess, I feel like we all sort vaguely know each other’s names already.” Cadence said pointedly.
“Things should not be left to assumption,” the soldier replied.
He was weird too.
“Right, right.” Cadence nodded as she hopped off the windowsill. She tilted her hat at them. “The name’s Cadence Morello. I’ll be open with ya, so I hope all of ya will be open with me. Born in Aries, raised in Gemini. Currently working in the Twin Cities. Nice ta meet ya.”
Something about the way Cadence spoke made Olive want to befriend her. Which was curious because he never wanted to befriend anyone.
“Twin Cities?” Maria exclaimed before she chuckled. “I was just there a couple of days ago! Such a fun place.”
“Were ya now—”
“We should stay on task,” the soldier advised, raising his hand to stop the conversation from derailing any further. “I am Werner Waltz, First Lieutenant serving in the Capricornian Army, 212th Division of the Border Force.”
Capricornian Army. Border Force. Olive felt a chill run down his spine, as he recalled staring into the whites of that young soldier’s eyes the night he’d somehow found himself in Werner’s presence. Olive had felt it then. The intent to kill. The lack of hesitation. To somehow reach that point—it made Olive’s stomach churn.
The green-eyed woman clapped her hands and rose to a stand above the bed. Olive was jarred out of his thoughts. Cadence and Werner gave her odd looks. Atienna, however, had an expression that betrayed curiosity. Jericho showed no reaction at all.
Taking a deep bow, the green-eyed woman introduced herself with a grin, “Captain Maria Gloria-Fernandez of Gloria’s Grail—here at your service! I am excited to discover more things about you all!”
“Atienna Imamu.” Atienna gestured to herself, tucking a stray dark curl behind her ear with downcast eyes. “I… am the daughter of the current chieftain of the Imamu Tribe in Virgo.”
The peacekeeper’s introduction came next, and he stepped forward with a hand extended in greeting: “Agent Jericho of Ophiuchus. I’m in the Twin Cities of Gemini. Investigating the disappearance of a fellow agent. ELPIS may be involved.”
“Olivier Chance,” Olive provided.
There was a long stretch of silence.
“So we got the ‘who’s,’” Cadence drew. “Now we need to know the ‘what’s’ and ‘why’s,’ right?”
“That would be the next logical step,” Werner affirmed and nodded at them. “If this is indeed real, what exactly is this and why is it happening?”
“Oh, it’s real all right.” Cadence leaned forward, nodding at Jericho. “I met him in the flesh just the other day. Saved my ass too.” She winked at him. “Owe ya one.”
“Just because you two have claimed to have met beyond this,” Werner interjected, gesturing to the space between them, “doesn’t mean it is real.”
“Got ya, got ya.” Cadence leaned back. “Y’know, you make a lotta sense when you’re not mumblin’ to yourself in some corner.” She flashed a sly grin.
Werner didn’t react with a cold snap nor a gaze of disapproval as Olive had expected. Rather, Werner appeared startled: “That was inappropriate of me.” He cleared his throat. “Regardless, I need confirmation from you all on what you’re seeing right now. At the moment, I’m standing in the communications cabin at my camp. This is fact. However,” he paused, glancing around Olive’s room, “there is an image superimposed on my surroundings.”
“Yeah, it’s my room,” Olive said.
“I see.” Werner glanced around the room again, gaze lingering on Olive’s unmade bed. “Then, is it the same case for all of you?”
Cadence nodded, bending down to pick up the cards off the floor. “I’m sittin’ in my apartment right now, but I…” She stood and ran a finger along the frame of the windowsill. “Yeah. This is weird.”
“So, it appears as if somehow we’ve synchronized with Prince Chance’s location, although we aren’t actually present,” Werner concluded. “And this is not the first time it has happened, correct?”
“For me at least, this synchronization has happened quite a few times,” Atienna replied with a thoughtful expression. “I believe it’s happened between us, Werner, at least once.”
Werner seemed caught off guard by the comment and studied Atienna with a frown.
“Synchronization?” Maria repeated falling back onto Olive’s bed. “Is that what this is called?”
“You’re going to get my bed dirty jumping all over it.”
“We need to stay on topic. Referring to incidents like these as ‘synchronization’ will aid our communication,” Werner interjected. He frowned and then suddenly looked tentative, cautious. “But I believe there are levels of synchronization.”
“The way we’re speaking to each other right now will be labeled as eighty percent synchronization,” Werner stated concisely.
“Why not one hundred?” Cadence asked to which Werner responded with a frown.
“If that’s the case,” Atienna murmured, “then would thirty percent appropriately describe when our thoughts cross, and perhaps sixty percent when both thoughts and feelings cross?” She glanced around timidly. “That’s… if I’m correct in assuming we’ve all experienced those things?”
Werner stared before nodding. “Yes, that’s acceptable.”
Atienna held her chin in thought as she observed them. “It’s interesting how our brains are interpreting this, isn’t it? It really is almost like astral projection.”
“Okay, got it. Numbers. Synchro.” Cadence clapped her hands. “Now, I was hopin’ for some reassurance that you’re also all seen some weird stuff. Like vision weird. I mean, as much as I’d like to be psychic, I’d rather not see some weird bird man on fire when I’m mindin’ my own business.”
Olive felt his heart skip a beat. How—she saw? The nightmare that kept Olive from sleeping every night. That memory that had become twisted over the eight years since the incident.
“Oh, I saw that too!” Maria exclaimed. “What was that?”
She saw too? All of them? Of course, they saw. Synchronization. But memories? Dreams? What else could they see and feel? Could they feel the panic seizing his chest right now? The fear? No. Get out.
“It’s all right, Olive,” Atienna murmured, voice gentle. “Let’s not delve into it too much.”
He looked up from the ground. They were all looking at him. Maria with a bit of curiosity. Jericho with a blank stare. Atienna with the same sympathy in her eyes as always. And Werner with furrowed brows.
The soldier studied Olive for a moment before he nodded. “This is good information. Now we know that memories may also factor into the equation.”
“I have an idea.”
All heads turned to Jericho.
“You nearly died with the assassination attempt, correct, Olive Chance? Around four or five days ago,” Jericho recalled matter-of-factly.
Olive shrugged and nodded, grateful for the deviation, although he was unnerved at the bluntness. He could feel Atienna shoot him a look of concern and could even feel the emotion, which unnerved him even more.
“And you’re Atienna Imamu. You were poisoned around that time too.”
Atienna covered her mouth. “Oh, I’m sorry you had to experience something like that. I wasn’t aware our synchronization was happening that early.”
“It wasn’t because of synchronization. Ophiuchus keeps tabs on every country in Signum. Even the ones in extreme isolation,” Jericho said bluntly.
Atienna lowered her hand and clasped it over her other. “I see… that’s how peace is kept outside, is it?”
“I fell down the stairs four days ago too,” Jericho continued. “I was in critical condition.”
“Must’ve been a long flight of stairs,” Cadence whistled.
“It was. In fact, it holds the record of being the longest staircase in Signum.”
There was a pause. Olive resisted rolling his eyes.
“Right…” Cadence raised a brow. “Anyways, I was caught up in an incident around that time too. Saints must be on my side with how I survived that one.”
“I was also injured four days ago by a Projector,” Werner affirmed. “I don’t believe in miracles, but if I were to speak in such terms, I would call it something like that.”
Everyone turned to Maria, who blinked back at them perplexed.
“Well, I can’t really recall ever doing something like nearly dying,” she hummed. “I mean, I will never die.” Her tone was matter of fact.
Olive could feel that she really did believe she’d never die, which was a concept Olive found hard to wrap his head around. This woman had more screws loose than he did.
“But I did fall into the ocean four days ago. It was a nice swim.”
“So, that settles it. It happened because we all nearly kicked the bucket.” Cadence hummed, “Now we have the ‘how’—”
“We have a timetable of when it happened,” Werner corrected. “And we only have half of the ‘how.’ Our near-death experiences may serve as the points of connection, but the line isn’t drawn.”
Cadence chuckled. “Right, right. I’m gettin’ too eager. Ya got smarts, Lieutenant. And ya speak like a poet. I like that in a guy.”
Werner’s frown deepened.
“I’ve been putting a lot of thought into this,” Atienna murmured, placing a hand beneath her chin. “I’ve spoken about this before, but in Virgo, there’s a common belief that vitae is more than just a source of life energy. The belief is that it also has the capability of storing memories.”
“Yes, I’m familiar with that theory. You’re referring to the one that goes along with the P.D. Oran school of thought, am I correct?” Werner ascertained. “The belief that there’s an imperceptible part of vitae that is actually representative of the soul. The Anima-Vitae Hypothesis. It hasn’t been proven, but it’s often taught that way to the general public to help them understand what vitae actually is.”
“Oh, do you not believe that, Werner?”
“Although P.D. Oran has published a number of widely accepted works, she has a number of disproven and even redacted papers,” Werner responded. “When that theory is proven completely, I will believe it. Until then, vitae is energy. Nothing more. But please continue.”
An inquisitive smile graced Atienna’s lips. Tucking another lock of hair behind her ear, she continued, “Well, it goes against the widely accepted belief that vitae burns up after being used by a conductor or when someone dies or when something is destroyed. In this theory, vitae gets released and returns to the world in a cycle. And since this theory also says that vitae contains memories, that would mean that memories are released through vitae upon death. If a person is resuscitated, their vitae would return to them and they would most likely say that their ‘life flashed before their eyes’. But what if two people died close to one another and were resuscitated at the same time? What if during the time period where their vitae were returning to their bodies, there was a crossing over of their vitae?”
“Wait, wait, I barely understand what vitae is. My attention span is only so long.” Cadence swatted her hand above her head as if the action would somehow do away with her confusion.
“Sorry, I tend to ramble when I’m excited,” Atienna mumbled, flushing.
“No, no, I got ya’ now, I think,” Cadence reassured her. “So, you’re sayin’ when we nearly died, our souls—vitae or whatever—crossed over during the ride back and that’s why this is happenin’?”
“That’s my theory,” Atienna concluded.
“Wow!” Maria beamed. “You know everything!”
Atienna flushed. “I don’t really. I wish I did.”
“Even if the Anima-Vitae hypothesis is true, that still wouldn’t make for a concrete explanation. We were nowhere near each other during our near-death experiences,” Werner supplied after considering this.
“What about you, your highness? What d’ya think?” Cadence interjected, nodding at Olive. “Ya got access to all sortsa education, right? Ya must be pretty smart?”
Olive ignored her.
He’d skipped too many lessons in the past to really have a grip on the conversation. Usually, he didn’t care if people knew this, but he didn’t want these people to know.
“Oh, I see,” came Cadence’s light response.
“I’m surprised you don’t know about vitae,” Jericho said, locking eyes with Cadence. “You wouldn’t be able to take the State Conducting Exam without this knowledge.” He pointed to Cadence’s ringed fingers. “You are a Conductor. You must have a license. May I see it—”
“Wait, I have a question!” Maria shouted, snapping up in the bed. Cadence gave her a grateful look. “I think I get this synchronization stuff, but does that have anything to do with me being able to speak with people from your places? I mean, I was on my ship, but I was still able to speak with them when I was ‘synchronized’ with you all.”
There was another pause of silence as realization settled in.
“So it was you!” Cadence snapped, rising to a stand. “With Verga! You…!” She glared at Maria before her shoulders relaxed and she held up her hands. “I got a lot on my hands now ’cause of that, y’know?”
“Ah, were you talking about the sad man?” Maria asked, before she offered yet another smile. “I just told him my thoughts. Was that not what you were thinking too?”
Cadence opened her mouth to retort but seemed to think better of it.
Werner stepped forward and addressed Maria: “Captain Gloria-Fernandez, was it you who dealt with the Aquarian prisoners?”
“Oh, yes!” Maria mused. “Were they Aquarians? Such an interesting group! They had very interesting accents.”
“What did you do with the Aquarian Captain?”
Maria peered at him. “You do not remember?”
“This is serious. I was ordered to—” Werner caught himself. “I was ordered to handle the Aquarian Captain by my superior.”
“Oh. Well, I let her go.”
Werner’s expression betrayed nothing. “You let her go?”
Maria shrugged. “Yes, I felt like it. It’s not so bad, is it?”
Werner’s expression yet again betrayed nothing. “It’s unacceptable.”
Maria did not appear fazed. “What about it is unacceptable?”
Cadence took the opportunity to pop up between them. She raised her hands and faced Werner with an easy smile. “Look, I get it. I’m in the same boat. But ya gotta make do with the cards you’re dealt.” She glanced back at Maria. “Besides, gettin’ along at this point is what matters, right? Understandin’ one another?”
Werner’s gaze was frigid, causing Cadence to raise her hands higher. But then he shook his head as if pained and conceded, “I’m aware of that, Ms. Morello.”
“So there can be an override of will.” Atienna looked thoughtful.
That was when Olive realized it. No, he felt it. While the others had brought in pieces of their surroundings with their arrival, Jericho had come with nothing. There was a gaping blackness behind Jericho. A hollow space. A void.
Olive’s thoughts must have bled outward—or maybe it was someone else’s thoughts bleeding in—because everyone slowly turned toward the peacekeeper.
“Is there something on my face?” Jericho asked slowly.
“Jericho,” Atienna tried gently, “where exactly are you right now?”
Jericho stared. “I don’t know. I’m unconscious.”
“Yes, I was injured. Ambushed by—”
There was a flare of red-hot rage that nearly winded Olive. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Werner holding his head with a grimace. Atienna was frowning deeply, and Cadence looked nauseous. Maria, of course, looked unfazed.
“—ELPIS.” Jericho gestured to his shoulder and his abdomen. “I’m in critical condition.”
No one said anything. No words needed to be said. A mutual understanding had dawned on all of them.
“What…?” Cadence was smiling, but her fear and nervousness bled into the room, causing Olive’s stomach to do flips. “Are ya sayin’ that whenever one of us goes through somethin’ like that, we all feel it?”
“Are you feeling all right right now, Jericho?” Atienna asked with concern.
“I feel no pain because I’m unconscious,” Jericho replied. He studied his hand, fisting it and unfisting it. “This feels like a dream. It’s hard to hold on.”
Cadence swore under her breath and ran her hand through her hair. She paused halfway through the motion as a thought struck her. A thought that radiated outwards—
What would happen if one of them died?
“If anything, all of this information highlights our need to break off this connection,” Werner finally said after a long stretch of silence.
“Break it off?” Atienna repeated.
“We are a liability to each other like this,” Werner responded. “Politically, this is a disaster waiting to happen. A prince of Aries, a person involved in the Virgoan political sphere, and an Ophiuchian agent. If something happens between one of your countries, then your confidentiality is compromised. Additionally, Jericho and I are constantly in combat due to our professions. This—” He paused, gesturing to the man. “—is a risk that is accepted in such professions.”
“Well, when ya put it like that…”
“What is this about cutting off a connection?” Maria shot up abruptly from the bed. “This seems to be an interesting occurrence, no? Are we not lucky to be experiencing something as unique as this? Why would you want to stop something that can lead to so many possibilities?”
“Lucky?” Olive asked flatly.
“Of course!” Maria sang, launching herself off his bed and landing right in front of him. She took a step forward and he took one backward before she spun on her heels and faced the others with widespread arms. “I was already blessed with such an expansive world made just for me to explore and discover, but now?” She grinned. “Now I can see everything through your eyes!”
Her energy was ridiculously infectious, and it took all of Olive’s willpower to keep his head straight. He mumbled, “It must be nice to be an idiot…”
Even Cadence looked befuddled by her enthusiasm.
Still, the lightness leaked out from her into the air. And for a moment, everything felt like it might turn out all right. And then—
Suddenly, she appeared right before Olive, landing gently on her feet, hair softly cascading down onto her shoulders as if she had just floated down from the ceiling.
Olive’s eyes widened. “Lavi—”
Cadence yelped and leapt back. Maria leaned forward with interest while Atienna covered her mouth in surprise. Werner’s hand reached for his side automatically. Before any further action could be taken, Olive stumbled forward, putting himself between his sister and them.
“You can see her.” Olive felt weak at the knees. “You can see her.”
“Your sister?” Werner said slowly, his expression becoming distant and strange. He eyed Olive. “Is this… a memory?”
Before Olive could respond, Lavi pushed him aside and stood in front of Werner with crossed arms and puffed cheeks. “That’s rude! Of course I’m real!”
“Wait, so there’s seven of us?” Cadence wondered. She looked Lavi up and down. “What’s your name, doll?”
“Lavender Chance,” his sister answered, chin raised.
“Well, that’s a pretty name,” Cadence complimented. She smiled, but she thought to herself that the name sounded sort of familiar and in a bad way.
“Her name sounds familiar because she was one of the royal Ariesian family members who died in the Tragedy of Aries,” Werner offered, studying Lavi and then Olive. “Am I correct, Prince Chance?”
Olive wasn’t sure if he responded.
“I’m dead?” Lavi huffed. “I’m standing right here, you know?”
As soon as those words left her mouth, she disappeared. All traces of her gone in an instant. Listening distantly to the commotion following her sudden exit, Olive explained, “She comes and goes. But she always comes back.”
No matter what. Eight years of this mirage. It was probably some form of punishment.
There was a long stretch of silence.
“Okay, okay, okay, as exciting as this has been, this is gettin’ a little too much for me,” Cadence sighed, looking around wearily. “No more sudden surprises, right?”
Olive’s head was still buzzing. They could see her. They could see her. And if they were real and they could see her that meant that she was—
Was that a good thing? A bad thing? What exactly—
“I don’t really understand what’s going on,” Maria said as she met Olive’s eyes, “but things are real if you think they are real, and things are good if you believe they are good, no?”
Olive stared at her, unsure if she was crazy or if she was an idiot or if he was crazy or if he was the idiot.
Jericho broke through the silence with an out of place statement: “ELPIS may be involved with our current condition.”
“You think ELPIS may be involved?” Werner pressed, ripping his gaze away from Olive. “What makes you think that?”
“Intuition?” Werner frowned. “That’s not enough grounds to draw a conclusion.”
Jericho digested this before responding: “ELPIS may be behind the prince’s assassination. It may be behind Atienna’s incident. It most likely was behind mine.”
“Okay, Jericho, you’re a nice guy and all,” Cadence said, walking over to the man and placing a hand on his shoulder, “but it sounds to me like you’re seein’ ELPIS everywhere. I mean—oh.” She released him.
A memory—her memory—bled into Olive’s mind and jarred him out of his daze.
It was a blurry barrage of feelings and images, but Olive got the gist of it. Some old man named Verga was being paid by ELPIS to ship something. Olive shook his head to shake off the memory and saw the others doing the same. They must have seen it too then.
Olive peered at Cadence. So that was the kind of work she did. It made sense.
“Saints, you might be onto something’ actually,” Cadence muttered, glancing at Olive for half a second before focusing her attention back on Jericho. “Well, Agent Jericho—”
“Yes, I’ll look into it. But right now.” He stared down at his hands. “I can’t.”
Cadence cracked a grin again. “Don’t sweat it, partner.”
“Not because of my injuries. Most information about ELPIS is restricted to the ELPIS Division. I’m not in it yet.”
Cadence’s grin fell somewhat, but still she said, “Don’t sweat it, partner.”
“I hope by completing this missing agent case I’ll be promoted to the division,” Jericho concluded with a nod.
“All right, before this gets anymore out of hand, perhaps we should get on common ground,” Atienna gently said, clasping her hands together. “We all have things going on at the moment, right? And we have no idea how to stop whatever this is. Perhaps we could help each other out. I’m not talking about getting involved in national affairs or anything, but it would be reassuring if we all guaranteed each other’s safety for the time being, don’t you think—seeing how much we affect one another? And, of course, this is so that we ensure we also don’t interfere with one another without the other’s permission, right? And work together to look into what this is? I’m sure each of us has access to information the other doesn’t have. It’s much better than ignoring one another and coming across unexpected problems because of it, don’t you agree?” She let out a breathy sigh before flushing. “Sorry… rambling.”
Werner frowned, glancing at Olive. Then he nodded. “That is acceptable, so long as everyone agrees to those conditions.” He directed his gaze at Maria.
Cadence cracked a grin from where she sat. “Well, sounds good enough to me. Let’s get along and look after one another, shall we?”
“So we are all going to be around one another from now on then?” Maria brimmed with a radiant joy that was almost blinding. “How exciting!”
Olive rubbed his eyes and sighed. “Whatever happens, happens.”
“I accept,” Jericho said.
Atienna let out a sigh of relief that filled the room with an odd sort of serenity.
“So, to summarize this meeting’s conclusion—” Werner cleared his throat. “—we will be working with one another strictly to ensure our survival. We will mutually research what exactly this occurrence is, and we will investigate the possibility of ELPIS involvement. I don’t believe we will be able to get much on that front until Agent Jericho has recovered and joined the ELPIS Division.”
“Seems about right,” Cadence affirmed. She nodded at Jericho. “I’m assumin’ you’re still in the Twin Cities. I’ll try sendin’ ya some help.”
They stood for a moment staring at each other.
“So…” Cadence tapped her foot. “Now what?”
They stared at Olive.
“Well, ya are the one who synchronized us here. Ya gonna cut it off?”
“I have duties that I need to attend to,” Werner agreed. “I can’t do them in this state.”
Olive scowled. “I don’t even know how I brought you here! How do you expect me to send you away? You must think highly of yourself to think I want your company.”
Cadence whistled. “Okay, kid.”
“Perhaps emotional state is a factor,” Atienna murmured in thought. “Distress, anger—it seems as if synchronization increases with these things. I’ve injured myself several times within the time window of this connection, but I don’t think any of you have felt it.” She peered at Jericho. “So maybe the reason why we felt Jericho’s pain is…”
“So we gotta wait until everyone is all calm-like?”
Maria sprung up. “This is great, yes? Now we can get to know each other!”
“I will refrain,” Werner stated.
“Same,” Olive agreed.
Cadence shrugged her shoulders. “I got some time ta kill.”
And so they waited. And waited. And waited.
Olive felt the anxiety and tension that had consumed his entire body begin to slowly ebb away as Cadence and Atienna entertained Maria’s odd conversational topics. Golden beasts. Conductors. Money. Currency. Philosophy.
As the minutes ticked on, slowly, one by one, they began to fade from his vision until he was all alone.
His room was quiet. His windowsill unoccupied, his bed empty, the floor graced with feathers strewn loosely about, having fallen from the cage. But he could feel them distantly in his mind’s eye. Clearer than before. The noise, the colors, the sensations buzzed around in his mind. They were there. And Lavi—she was there.
What was it? Thirty percent synchronization? Ten?
Olive walked over to his bed and fell face-first into it.
What a bother.