New Ram City, Aries
“Run and hide.” That was what Werner said right after admitting he knew of the secret Capricornian organization behind Olive’s assassination attempt. Ten out of ten. Still, there had been regret in the man’s eyes and guilt too. And…
It was weird feeling concern coming from that man. A Capricornian soldier who executed people without a second thought.
No. Olive knew the situation wasn’t as black and white as that. It had just been easier for Olive to think of people that way. It made rejecting people easier, which made it easier for people to keep their distance. No loss for either party. But Olive wouldn’t be able to do that now. He wouldn’t be able to reject and run away. Not with this connection. Not with the others.
He still felt raw and exposed from his earlier outburst, and part of him just wanted to bury his head beneath the ground. The embarrassment was almost too much. Sleeping forever and forgetting all about this—it’d be easier if he just did that. Even better if he just disappeare—
Olive stopped the thought before it fully formed. He focused on the road ahead. It was a dusty, dirt road reaching from the mansion gates to the royal palace. As he glanced between the iron bars to the palace that was no bigger than his fist in the distance, he realized how isolated it truly was. The only people who travelled this path were maids, butlers, and guards coming and leaving work. Occasionally a merchant cart would roll by selling goods, and Olive could see one approaching them on the road now. Nowadays, merchant carts visited the mansion more often than his aunt and uncle. So, in reality, this place had been home for Olive alone. A fact he hadn’t noticed before.
Olive turned his head and glanced at Samuel beside him. The guard was conversing with the other guards posted at the gate. They were marveling at the v-ehicle they had pulled in from the palace. Olive had to resist rolling his eyes.
Fifteen minutes earlier, Olive had informed Samuel he had found a lead on the assassination plot. But Samuel didn’t seem alarmed by his information. Samuel’s casualness was most likely linked to Olive’s past unreliability. Even still, the guards were so casual about the entire affair that for a moment Olive felt he’d been overreacting about the entire thing. Werner did seem the type to over-worry anyway. It was ridiculous—Werner worrying about this when the man had just barely made it out of a battle alive. Really—
Before Olive even finished the thought, an arrow whizzed right past his head and ricocheted off of the iron bars behind him. Olive turned his head in confusion and found a familiar arrow resting on the ground at his feet.
He looked up. The traveling cart that he’d seen only a moment before was parked right across the road. A man dressed in a chef’s uniform and wielding a conducting bow peered out from behind the cart. A handful of people Olive recognized from his days spent wandering the Ariesian markets were beside him. Shop owners. Customers. Beggars. All holding conductors.
“Forward! Forward! Forward!” They spoke Capricornian.
There was a flash of periwinkle light.
Samuel rushed at him.
There was a burst of blue, and they both flew backward to the ground. The world spun. Olive’s ears rang.
Shaking off his stupor, Olive lifted his head. The blast had sent him back onto mansion grounds. The gates were now twisted and bent out of shape. He scanned the area around him and froze. Samuel was beside him. Unmoving.
No. Not again.
Olive stumbled to Samuel’s side but was abruptly jerked backward by a hand around his wrist. His heart leapt to his throat before he realized who it was. Cadence. Even though he knew she wasn’t actually there, he could feel her fingernails digging into his wrist.
“Hey, your highness, their job is ta put down their lives for ya, yeah?” Cadence pressed. “Don’t go wastin’ their efforts.”
“Those guys are here for you, kid! If ya wanna play hero, then ya should be gettin’ as far away from them as possible!”
She was right.
He started toward the gate but stumbled back when he saw a cluster of the Watch blocking his path. Inside was the only way. But there were non-Conductors within the mansion. He needed to warn them.
Olive sprinted into the mansion and was met with perplexed looks from workers and guards alike. “Intruders!” He snapped. “Run! All of you!”
The mansion guards rushed to the door without hesitation, while maids and butlers scrambled away. A guard shoved Olive back and ordered him to climb the stairs.
Before Olive could argue, a ray of vitae blasted through the window next to the door and sent out fragments of wood and glass.
Olive’s ears rang.
Olive clambered to his feet and darted up the stairwell behind him.
He could hear them following. The stomp, stomp, stomp of their steady footsteps. Their panting breaths. Their shouts in Capricornian. He just barely managed to duck as a bullet ricocheted off the wall behind him. As he reached the last step, his foot caught on the rug beneath him. He face-planted on the floor before scrambling to his knees. He lifted his head and turned to a Capricornian pointing a rifle at his face.
“Pathetic,” came the accented Common.
Olive scoffed despite the fear. “I may be pathetic, but wouldn’t that make you—the person who’s trying to kill someone as pathetic as me—even more pathetic?”
A grimace. “Die, prince.”
Atienna appeared before Olive and guided his hand up to grab the Capricornian’s wrist. The man froze in confusion and Atienna used the opportunity to make Olive flip the man backwards and kick him in the face. The gun clattered to Olive’s side before the man tumbled down the stairwell. A handful of the Capricornians rushing up the stairs stepped to the side as the man fell, while others further went down to assess the damage.
“Keep going, Olive!” Atienna said before flickering out from his vision.
Olive grabbed the gun and ran down the hall. He ducked as a bright green ray of vitae whistled just above his head. He stumbled again and rolled, scrambling around a corner. He remained there for half a second to catch his breath, only to be startled as a vitae bolt barely missed the top of his head and gouged a hole in the wall above. Plaster rained down onto his hair and into his eyes. Taking a deep breath and gagging on the dust that clouded the air, Olive wiped his eyes and peered around the corner.
The Ariesian guards were holding off the Watch. Both sides were struggling. Projectors taking advantage of Conjurers on both ends. Elementalists blasting through them. Their numbers appeared even.
But Capricornians are more combat-ready. That is fact. Even after War’s end, they’ve been heavily trained. Many have seen real battle at the southern border with Argo.
As if to highlight this, a Capricornian Projector’s vitae bolt shot through the shoulder of an Ariesian flame Elementalist who had just gained the upper hand against a Capricornian Conjurer.
Olive bit his lip, heart hammering. He had to help. Somehow. He couldn’t be useless.
Werner appeared then, synchronizing in front of him with absolute clarity.
“Chance, calm down,” came Werner’s voice. He crouched down to Olive’s eye level. The man’s eyes were cold. Calm. He wrapped his hand around Olive’s own, which wielded the gun. “May I?”
Werner moved to cover Olive’s eyes with his other hand.
There was a silence in the darkness, then a handful of cracks. Shots fired.
The hand was removed from Olive’s eyes. A number of Capricornians were now on the floor cradling their legs. Confused Ariesian guards stood over them.
“One centimeter off,” Werner clicked his tongue. He turned to Olive. “I merely incapacitated them. I won’t kill another Capricornian. I’m only aiding you because your death will harm Capricorn.”
“But I apologize that I didn’t inform you of this sooner. I have put you and Capricorn in unnecessary harm.” After a moment of staring, he said, “What are you doing? Run.”
Olive swallowed, nodded, ran. He stumbled down the hall and clambered up the next staircase before reaching the top floor. It was simply attic space, containing a handful of crates and valuables and a large open window at the end.
This had been a terrible idea.
Abruptly Maria appeared before him. Olive startled in surprise.
“Ollie, you are afraid, yes?” Maria asked. “I think I understand.”
“This really isn’t the time to be realizing your character development,” Olive snapped, whipping his head around toward the staircase. He could hear them coming up now. How many of them were there? Werner had listed some large number earlier, but Olive was in no state of mind to recall it.
“Do you trust me, Olive?”
Olive turned his head back to Maria.
Trust. That was a strong word. But…
Without warning, Maria took his and guided him—
—right out the window.
As the open sky rushed past Olive, his only thought was that he should have expected this from someone like Maria. The earth mocked him as he hurtled down toward it.
Olive squeezed his eyes shut and braced for impact but was abruptly jerked backward by a hand around the arm. At first, he thought it was one of the others, but then realized that would be impossible. Olive opened his eyes. The ground danced only inches below his dangling feet. Mocking again. He looked up. A hand was wrapped around his wrist. A familiar hand.
It was Claire. No, Haneul. Floating in midair on a staff. Wind sparkling with sapphire specs of light whistled out from the holes beneath the center of the staff.
“Y-You! Haneul!” Olive stammered as he dangled from Haneul’s grip. “You are a Conductor! What else have you lied about?!”
“That’s what you want to talk about?!” Haneul exclaimed. “And it’s still Claire!” With that, he pulled Olive up onto the staff. “Why do I always find you in situations where you’re running from something—”
He was cut off as a ray of vitae hurtled toward them from the window. He grabbed ahold of Olive’s shirt and blasted them out of the ray’s trajectory and up into the sky with a gust of wind. They whistled forward like an arrow, and the city flitted past them in smears of reds and browns. The wind whipped at Olive’s face, stinging his cheeks and his eyes, and the city blurred further with his involuntary tears.
“We have to get help! The royal palace!” Olive shouted. “Samuel and the other guard—”
“They’ll be waiting for you! Disguised! I need to keep you away from them! Trust me!”
“You haven’t exactly proven yourself to be trustworthy!”
“Yes, yes, I get it,” Claire sighed. “I’m actually a prince. I lied. I’m sorry. Seriously, I am. But honestly, I didn’t just approach you just because you were the Ariesian Prince. You’re actually a pretty okay person to hang out with.” He glanced at Olive. His eyes were remorseful but determined—although Olive wasn’t sure how much of either of those emotions were true. “Still, I would do it again. For my country.”
“And you said that I didn’t seem like a prince…”
“Well, I’m nothing special. There’s a prince or princess for each clan in Sagittarius. It’s actually pretty complicate—”
“Where are we going?” Olive asked as he realized their trajectory. They were heading to the city walls. “You’re going in the opposite direction of the royal palace! We have to—”
Claire remained silent before leaning forward and dipping the nose of the staff down. The air rushing them lessened and became almost pleasant as they descended. Eventually, their descent led them to an area along the city’s wall undergoing construction. There was a deep hole there in the wall—an unhealed scar from the War—and a wooden platform strung up by a rope alongside it for construction. Waiting for them on the platform were Claire’s masked vassals. Olive tensed as he saw them and recalled the night he had first met Claire.
“My lord!” the white mask exclaimed as they hovered on the conductor beside the platform. “What is going on? Why are you not at the royal palace—”
“The assassins have come,” Claire said. “I’m taking Olive away from the city. I want you and Felix to go to the royal palace and inform them that I have the prince in my custody.”
So this was another political ploy then.
At least he’s helping ya, kid.
“But, my lord,” the wooden-mask—Felix—objected. “Shouldn’t one of us come with you? What if they have an air Elementalist Conductor among them?”
“It’d be too heavy to carry someone else,” Claire sighed. “Besides, Capricornian Elementalist Conductors are rare.”
“Yeah, if you ignore the one who fired the flaming arrow,” Olive scoffed.
“The insolence!” Abruptly, Felix stepped forward threateningly. “My Lord, allow me to cut out his tongue!”
“A good way to kickstart an international incident,” Olive said with disinterest.
“Yeah, don’t do that.” Claire waved Felix off.
The man immediately stiffened. “B-But—”
“We’re going now. Be swift,” Claire ordered with an air of finality. The light and easygoing tone he had been using earlier had dissipated. His dark eyes were sharp and harsh—almost like Werner’s.
Felix tensed and then bowed his head.
With that, Claire kicked them back up to the sky. They ascended in a blur and burst above the clouds. The city was barely visible from this height, and the sun’s already unbearable rays whipped out mercilessly without the cover of the clouds. “I’m going to exit on the opposite side of the wall to throw off the Watch,” Claire continued as he moved them forward.
Olive frowned and watched as the city streamed underneath them. “Hey… even if there’s a second motive for why you’re helping me… thank you.”
Claire glanced back at him and smiled.
“I’m not talking to you,” Olive clarified.
Claire arched a brow before shook his head and chuckled. “Hold on to me.”
“What?” Olive frowned, peeling away. “Why?”
“In case you pass out,” Claire supplied. “The air is thinner up here. I’m used to it but—”
He was cut off as an arrow whistled out from below and knocked him right off the staff. Olive barely had time to discern where the arrow had come from before they were both in free fall.
“Claire!” Olive shouted as they tumbled through the open sky. He reached for the Sagittarian and just barely grabbed a hold of him.
The wind whipped at his eyes, but Olive blinked the tears away as he searched the skyline for Claire’s conductor. There. Only a centimeter away from his hand. How lucky. He grabbed it and fought the wind to bring it to Claire’s chest. “Claire!”
Claire’s eyes fluttered open and widened. He wrapped his fingers around his conductor and sent a burst of air out of it just as they were about to hit the ground of the bazaar below. But they were still too low. They crashed through a fruit stall in the marketplace before tumbling across the pavement.
Screams filled the air. Olive ignored them, wiped off the fruit juices that had splattered onto his face, and turned to Claire who lay beside him. The Sagittarian’s brows were furrowed in pain, and he gripped his shoulder where the arrow protruded. The arrow was still surrounded in flame-like vitae.
“The vitae’s spreading,” Olive realized in horror. “We need to get you to a Transmutationist.”
The guards ringed around them.
“Isn’t that the prince…?” one of them whispered uncertainly.
“Assassins!” Olive snapped for the fifth time that day. “We’re under attack! Evacuate the civilians!”
The guards barely had the time to exchange looks before a deep green vitae bolt exploded the flower stall next to them. Splinters shot out, petals fluttered, bystanders shouted and scattered.
Across the street, four Capricornians emerged from a dark alleyway. Two ducked behind the fallen stalls and pulled out long-ranged conductors: three rifles, one bow. The other two charged the Ariesian guards who had also drawn out their conductors amidst the chaos. There was a pause as the guards and the assassins locked eyes, then a flurry of dizzying light.
Four guards. Four Capricornians.
Another flurry of light.
A pottery stall imploded just feet away, sending shards of clay and ceramic cracking against the walls of nearby buildings.
Two guards. Three Capricornians.
Another flurry of light—
A dark green vitae bolt tore through the extended brick roof of a bakery, and a rain of blasted brick cometed the dusty square. The debris floated down into a soup shop just below it and knocked a steel pot right off of its nesting place above a fire. Its contents spilled across the ground and lapped at the feet of the two Conductors remaining.
One Ariesian guard. One Capricornian assassin.
The Capricornian who remained was the bow wielder. As the guards closed in around him, the assassin abandoned his bow for a melee conductor hanging at his hip. He ignited the weapon and produced a blade of vitae flames. The remaining Ariesian guard, a Conjurer, produced a haphazard sword that locked with the Capricornian’s blade. But the Capricornian’s sword was blazing, and the Ariesian’s began to melt against the heat. Globules of molten metal dribbled from the point of contact onto the ground.
Just as the Ariesian was about to collapse beneath the weight of the other’s sword, a bang rang out from the alley. A gunshot. The Capricornian fell to the ground. Relief spread over the Ariesian guard’s face as he squinted into the shadows of the alleyway. A figure stepped out.
A monochrome uniform and a white sash. It was—
“Mr. Wtorek…!” Olive sighed in relief. He turned to Claire who was still tense beside him. “It’s okay. He’s Gabrielle’s partner. Gabrielle’s the one who was in the throne room.”
The Ariesian guard approached Izsak while clutching his conjured blade like it was a lifeline. “Sir, I don’t know how many are left but they appear to be Capri—” The guard was cut off as Izsak brought up his gloved hand to the man’s mouth. “Sir—”
There was a bright flash of light at the base of Izsak’s glove conductor followed by a squelching sound that Olive found vaguely familiar. It was a sound that echoed within Werner’s and Jericho’s memories. A terrible sound.
The Ariesian guard stiffened, then went limp. Izsak released the man from his grip, and the man hit the ground spluttering. Protruding from the guard’s mouth was a mass of barbed wire.
Get away from him.
Olive wasn’t quite sure which of the others had shouted it, and he couldn’t see any of them either. He wished he could. This didn’t make any sense.
Izsak coolly stepped over his victim before flicking his wrist. There was another flash of light, and a circular shape formed at his palm. But Olive was entranced by something else.
White. It was white.
It was a pure white.
It didn’t make any sense. How—
Damn, Jericho was right, came Cadence’s thought. Everything really is ELPIS. But isn’t this guy your peacekeepin’ pal? Why would he—
Werner’s thought sharply cut through Olive’s horror. Izsak casually dropped the conjured grenade and watched as it rolled to a stop a few feet away from Olive’s foot.
Olive grabbed Claire by the scruff and threw him backward before leaping away himself. It was a pretty useless and pathetic attempt. It probably wouldn’t have mattered whether he had made the escape attempt or not. But screw it, he thought. After all of the efforts the others had made to ensure his survival, he figured it would be even more pathetic if he didn’t try anything.
The grenade detonated, sending both Claire and Olive flying through the air.
Olive was thrown back into another stall. In the dazed confusion that followed, it took him a second to comprehend the colors that surrounded him: the flash of a blue bed sheet, the cotton plush from a mattress, and the red silk of a carefully woven blanket. By some means of ridiculous luck, he had been sent crashing into a stall that sold bedroom furniture.
A large tarp fell over his head from behind, and he fought against it for a panicked minute before he broke through the surface. Feathers from imploded pillows fluttered down around him obscuring the skyline. He stumbled over a bundle of silken pillowcases before tripping over a body. Claire. Olive darted to the Sagittarian’s side and shook him hard. Claire only groaned.
Olive opened his mouth to snap at him only to get a mouthful of feathers. He spat and gagged and spat again.
Olive froze and looked up.
Out from the storm of fluttering white stepped Izsak Wtorek. His glasses were gone. And without them, he looked unnatural as he stood before the backdrop of raining feathers. In the man’s left hand was another grenade and in his right was a conjured pistol which he pointed in Olive’s direction.
“M-Mr. Wtorek, w-what—”
The man’s finger pressed down on the trigger of the gun.
Olive kicked up the thin blue mattress lying at his feet. He wasn’t quite sure if he had done it on instinct or if one of the others had overridden him to do it. Regardless, he was grateful for the mattress that exploded in place of his head.
Olive stumbled to his feet, grabbed Claire by the arm, and pulled him out of the mound of blankets, pillows, and mattresses. He tripped and stumbled and cursed with every step. Claire’s added weight paired with the sweltering Ariesian sun made the fatigue building in his legs almost unbearable.
“You’re so. Heavy,” Olive panted as he dragged the Sagittarian to the corner of the street. He was half-tempted to just leave Claire there. He was a two-faced bastard, after all. But Olive knew he wouldn’t be able to live with himself, so he continued pulling and panting.
Olive barely managed to drag Claire to the mouth of the alleyway before another grenade casually rolled to a stop an inch away from his foot. Without thinking, Olive kicked the thing as hard as he could. It flew a couple feet in the air before it erupted into flames and smoke.
The blast wave sent Olive into and through another stall that featured mechanical parts and accessories. There was no mattress to break his fall this time around. And Olive began to feel knob-like bruises pulsating at his rib cage where he had landed awkwardly on a small generator conductor. His ears rang, his body ached. His hands were sticky with a black substance.
Get up, Chance. Get up.
No. He couldn’t. It hurt.
Get up, Olive!
Olive bit his lip and pushed himself up. He stumbled over the remnants of the stall in front of him and assessed his surroundings. A canister filled with a black substance to his left. A couple of stray metal parts, an insulating tube, and a kick-starter were scattered hazardously across the ground.
But where was Claire?
There—only a couple feet away. And only a couple inches from Claire: Izsak. Izsak who was approaching Claire with his conjured pistol.
Olive desperately scanned the area for anything he could use.
This didn’t make sense.
The pieces didn’t fit. His thoughts didn’t either. Blurs of the past and the present. Heat from an unstoppable fire in his mind’s eye—heat from the sun whipping down from above his head. A memory. A reality.
And the reality was that Olive couldn’t let Claire die. Not when Claire had risked his life for him. Even if Claire was a dirty politician, even if Claire was just like the feudal lords who had whispered things behind his back after the Tragedy.
Olive knew that even with everything the other five had told him just that morning, he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if Claire died. But he couldn’t let himself die either.
There was only one way. He didn’t know how to control it, but he would have to.
Olive reached down for the canister filled with the black substance and threw its contents onto the peacekeeper. Izsak lifted his hand in surprise as a strip of oil painted him half black.
Sorry Izsak. Sorry Izsak. Sorry Izsak.
Olive repeated the endless mantra in his head as nausea and terror built up in his stomach.
Control it. Small.
Olive extended his hand out, and sparks erupted at his fingertips. Izsak’s eyes widened just as a stream of fire raced right toward him. The fire ate up the oil trail leading up to the man and consumed him in an instant. Smoke clouded the air.
Stop, Chance. You’ll exhaust your vitae reserves!
It was too late. The flames at his fingers died.
Olive’s head spun, and he felt faint. He staggered to the ground, squinting up past the smoke as it peeled away with a breeze that drifted through. The acrid smell still made him sick. But not as sick as he felt when he realized what he’d just done. Hot bile climbed up his throat, and he heaved onto the floor before wiping his mouth.
Kid, ya had to.
He rejected this thought and forced himself to look up.
Standing in the place Izsak had been was a large metal shield singed at its center. Out from behind that shield stepped Izsak, coated in the oil but perfectly unharmed.
Olive felt both relief and horror. The relief faded as Izsak’s gaze focused on him. The man approached Olive with purpose. There was no light in his eyes, and Olive knew from Cadence and Werner’s end that there was an intent to kill glistening there.
No. He couldn’t die. Not when all of their lives were tied to his. Not when Lavi was—
Olive scrambled backward desperately.
Izsak came to a stop a foot away from him.
“M-Mr. Wtorek…” Olive stammered wide-eyed. “Why…?”
Izsak stared holes into him. “What you did just proves it. You really are one of them.” He reached forward—and for a stupid moment, Olive thought that the man was going to offer him a cuff on the shoulder and shout ‘just kidding!’ Instead, the man wrapped his glove conductor around Olive’s throat.
Tears pricked Olive’s eyes as he scratched at the Izsak’s hand. He couldn’t breathe. Suffocating. Throat-crushing. A pressure. Just like that time six years ago.
“A saint candidate—no. You’re one of the connected. A True Conductor.” Izsak’s eyes seemed to glow white as his grip tightened. “You can’t be allowed to live… The Tragedy of Aries. You should have died then.”
Something inside Olive’s chest crumpled at the words and he felt tears prick his eyes. Olive wasn’t sure whether the tears were from the man’s words or from the fact that he was on his last breath.
“If the syzygy happens, then—”
—and from nowhere a black suitcase cracked against Izsak’s head, sending the man stumbling away. Olive fell to the ground and gasped for air. He rubbed his throat and looked up. Standing in Izsak’s place was Jericho, suitcase and all.
Olive felt the fear gripping his stomach release. “How—”
“I regained consciousness,” Jericho explained. “Doctor Fabrizzio Senior’s treatment.”
“I can see that…”
“The ELPIS initiates in the cargo warehouse are in custody. They informed me that the ELPIS leader went to Aries. Capital city. Intuition.”
Olive nodded slowly.
“Atienna convinced… me to abandon the ELPIS initiates. To come to you. Talib is at the port in Gemini to pick up Leona. Now I’m here.” He paused in thought. “Without jurisdiction. Off mission. Doctor Kingsley will yell at me.” Jericho clicked open his suitcase and turned toward Izsak, who was just rising to his feet.
A familiar, nightmarish-looking stuffed animal popped out from Jericho’s suitcase first and fell to the ground. Izsak stared at it for a moment before returning his attention to Jericho, who had pulled out a slim, cylindrical conductor from his briefcase.
“Wtorek Izsak,” Jericho said, activating his conductor with a flick of his wrist. “I’m apprehending you for involvement with ELPIS.” He glanced at Olive and Claire. “For making an attempt on the lives of the Ariesian and Sagittarian princes.”
Light spilled out from Jericho conductor’s tip forming the shape of a whip. The color. Pure white. It was blinding just looking at it.
“So you’re the traitor that Omicron was talking about,” Izsak said as he observed the conductor. “The traitor she met in Gemini.” He glanced at Olive. “The fact that you knew to come here means that you’re connected to him. You are a True Conductor too.”
Olive could barely grasp what was happening.
Why was Izsak…? Why was Jericho’s vitae color…?
Jericho’s past was hazy to Olive, but he had seen flashes of it. Memories of rolling sandy dunes, of a person in a white cloak extending a hand, of the very same hand offering a pat on the head as Jericho pulled the trigger on a trembling young Conductor.
You were indoctrinated into ELPIS when you were young… came Atienna’s realization that was filled with a wave of sympathy.
“Yes,” Jericho affirmed. “But I am here now to eliminate them.”
Jericho swung his conductor, and it hurtled out toward Izsak’s side. Izsak quickly conjured a thick pipe to block it. The whip wound around the pipe’s body. Izsak glanced at it with disinterest. Disinterest quickly morphed into surprise as white cracks appeared along the steel. Izsak released the pipe just as it crumbled to dust.
“You’re a Specialist,” Izsak realized.
“Stay back,” Jericho said as he threw Olive a look over his shoulder. “I am able to break apart vitae particles with my conductor.”
“You could’ve told me that before you swung that thing!” Olive snapped as he struggled to a stand. “Something isn’t right. You know Izsak… This is…”
Jericho’s glowing white whip straightened into a blade and Jericho quickly thrust it in Izsak’s direction. Izsak barely managed to dodge the jab, but he did not make it out untouched. The blade caught onto his Ophiuchian band which disintegrated in an instant. In a split second, the white blade of the sword splintered and shot out in all directions.
Rather than a whip or a sword, it seemed formless.
One of the splinters pierced Izsak’s leg, but the man quickly ripped himself away from it.
Not in long enough, came Jericho’s thought. He then recalled the splinters of light back with a flick of his conductor. The next moment he was charging at a crouching Izsak who was nursing his leg. Jericho transformed his vitae into a blade and raised it high.
Wait! This doesn’t make sense. Mr. Wtorek is—
Izsak took the opportunity to roll out from beneath him. He rose to his feet and glowered at them. “I’m outmatched,” he confirmed. “But I can’t allow you to live. Your existence is unnatural.” With that he brought up his hand and conjured an object.
A conducting grenade. A whole handful of them.
A great wave of heat exploded out from the alleyway and a torrent of magenta flames enveloped Izsak’s hand. The man let out a yelp before ripping off his glove conductors that were beginning to melt in the oil-fueled heat. Before he or Olive or Jericho could react, Gabrielle burst out from the alley and tackled Izsak to the ground. The two Ophiuchians tousled around, throwing punches and kicks and snarls. Eventually, Gabrielle managed to deliver a well-aimed crack to Izsak’s jaw which dazed him. Grimacing, she hoisted herself up on top of the man and pinned his hands behind his back with an unreadable expression.
“Stay down, Wtorek,” she whispered.
Izsak struggled a bit more before going limp.
“We were just informed of the Watch by the Capricornian military. It’s a special-ops group of theirs that’s been given orders by a dissenting officer,” Gabrielle panted as she studied Izsak’s face. “Half of the royal guards have been dispatched around the city and are cleaning them out. The order from the Kaiser has been sent out for Watch members to ceasefire.”
As if on cue, the square became flooded with Ariesian guards. Some rushed to the fallen guards while others rushed to aid Gabrielle, civilians, Olive. Medical Conductors and palace guards surrounded him and barraged him with a flurry of questions.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Olive snapped, waving them away. “The others need more help than me. Samuel at the mansion and…” Claire.
Claire was attended by several Ariesian guards and had been joined by his vassals, who were frantically shouting at the Ariesians in Sagittarian. Claire appeared more amused at the situation than anything else.
Their eyes met. Claire cracked him a grin and gave him a thumbs up. Olive glared and looked away. Jericho was still standing beside him, staring holes into Izsak.
“You okay?” Olive eyed Jericho’s conductor which he had deactivated as soon as Gabrielle had burst through the alley.
Jericho blinked at him. “Yes.”
They stared at each other for a long while before Olive bent down to pick up the fallen stuffed animal off the floor. He stared at Izsak for a beat, felt something crumple in his chest, before he handed the plush to Jericho.
They stood in awkward silence.
Jericho asked, “Hug. Would that be customary?”
Saints. Jericho was weird.
What a terrible week.