This was not the first time Jericho had heard a cry for help resound from within his mind. Echoes of the past were always present—so much so that sometimes he thought they were more than just phantoms. It was during these times that Doctor Kingsley advised him to focus on a physical object he knew was real but—
SOMEONE HELP ME.
But this was the first time that Jericho had heard a cry that resounded so loudly even as he focused on the ground beneath his feet. It was a cry that drilled out from his temple and circled around him.
He had to go. He couldn’t not go.
He started forward and—
Something wrapped around his wrist and stopped him from pursuing the echo any further. A hand. Talib’s hand. The man was panting heavily and wiped the sweat from his brow as he doubled over.
“There’s something going on inside the warehouse.”
Talib straightened and adjusted his hat. His eyes narrowed as he seemed to strain his ears. “So it seems.”
Jericho turned back to the warehouse. His head pounded. “We should go investigate.”
Talib held up a hand. “Wait. Let’s not go rushing into things without knowing what we’re rushing into. This may not be within the jurisdiction of our investigation.”
Jericho frowned. So this was the type of person Talib was. “It may involve Leona,” he said. A lie with no ground. He was not very good at lying or so he’d been told.
“And how would that be so?”
Talib raised a brow. “I’m not suggesting we leave it be. We’re peacekeepers by profession, Mr. Jericho. Peace requires patience and planning. We don’t want to accidentally kick-start an incident.”
Talib winked and tapped his nose. “I trust your intuition. From what I’ve seen, you seem to be blessed with a very good one. That or you’re psychic.” Before Jericho could even question the odd theory, Talib cleared his throat loudly with hands on hips. “But you are too forward. But you’re my partner. And so, acting on our contract—”
“Will you allow me to first survey the area before you enter?”
The earnesty of the question seemed both suiting and unfitting for Talib. Jericho was so taken aback that he couldn’t help but nod.
With a nod of content, Talib reached into his trench-coat pocket and pulled out two items. The first was the stack of colorful, square papers from before which he placed on the ground. The second was a penknife. The pen was silver and had an empty hollow glass center. It looked like it was out of ink.
Flourishing his hands out dramatically and kneeling to the ground, Talib raised the point of the pen in the air and lightly tapped it onto the top sheet of paper which was plain white. The tip pierced through the sheet like butter. And then dark blue light began to spill into the ink container of the pen. The light trickled down the sides of the container and dribbled down to the pen’s point before bleeding out onto the white paper. From there, it coated the sheet in a translucent haze of dark blue.
Talib lifted his pen away. His eyes were glazed, seemingly focused on some distant point on the sheet. The sheet trembled beneath his gaze before its corners began to draw up towards each other as if guided by an unseen hand. After the corners met, it was creased and folded and creased and folded again and again.
The finished product was a bird. No. A crane. An origami crane with paper wings that lifted it into flight just above Talib’s head.
Talib pressed his pen—his conductor—onto the next square of paper which was an orange-yellow color. After absorbing the vitae from his conductor, the paper folded itself into a similar crane and floated up beside its white companion.
Talib repeated this pattern three more times with his eyes becoming more and more glassy with each conduction. When he finished, a rainbow of five paper cranes flapped around his head.
“I’ve never seen a manipulator manipulate more than two objects before.”
Talib didn’t respond.
The origami cranes departed from their circular route around his head and headed towards the warehouse. They slipped in through the cracks between the wooden walls and disappeared from sight.
Soon, Talib grimaced. “There’s a confrontation going on inside…. they… one of the groups look like children… I…”
“What about the other group?”
“They’re saying that they’re…” Talib hesitated, brows furrowing. His unfocused eyes widened. “ELPIS.”
That was all Jericho needed to hear. In an instant, he was in front of the warehouse doors. Delivering a swift kick, he blew them open. A gust of wind whistled through the chaos unfolding within. None of the participants of the chaos acknowledged him. Some of them couldn’t.
Nothing within the warehouse was without motion. Not the barrels of trash fire rolling along the ground nor the fragments of wooden crates being blasted through the air. Not the screaming children and adolescents who darted left and right—some in flight, some in fight. Not the figures who were dressed in white cloaks that were slowly beginning to become stained with red.
Snip by snip. Snapshot by snapshot. It was almost the same. The only thing missing was the sand and the beat of the sun—
No, something else was missing. That feeling wasn’t there.
A sudden animalistic roar resounded to his left, and Jericho turned just in time to see a cloaked figure swinging at him with an axe that had a blade-bit made of yellow light. Dodging the swing with a swift step backwards, Jericho swung his suitcase up and cracked it against the figure’s temple. There was a splatter of red. The figure slumped to the ground with their conductor still flickering yellow in their hand.
Jericho stared at the conductor.
So, that was what it was. It wasn’t the same after all—
Jericho snapped his head to the right. Just a couple of meters away lay the corpse of an adolescent. Half of their face was missing. Most likely shot through by an externalist conducting gun of some type. Dead upon impact.
Jericho did not linger on this sight long. Something else drew his attention away. Not a shout or a scream. Not a flash of light or a blur of a makeshift weapon. No. A feeling. That string again.
He made his way around the chaos while dodging children who swung wooden planks and steel crowbars blindly and while tucking beneath rays and blades of psychedelic light. It was not hard to maneuver around the chaos. No one present appeared to be a professional Conductor.
He was dodging the swing of a bat while simultaneously ducking under a ray of vitae when he saw it.
There— just behind the hull of a torn down ship. A young girl was dragging along another much younger girl by the arm. The elder was small and slender with curly chestnut hair and gap teeth. Despite having never seen this girl before in his life, Jericho knew that she was a fourteen-year-old orphan who often did odd jobs around the city.
But that was just who the girl appeared to be. Appearances were deceiving.
His gaze flicked to behind the two girls where a figure in a white cloak was swinging at them with what appeared to be a conducted blade. A male externalist. The elder girl shoved the younger to the side behind some crates. The white figure hesitated for a moment before continuing after the elder girl.
The elder girl became agitated at this and whipped her head around to gauge the distance between her and her pursuer. A mistake on her part. She didn’t see the steel beam that jutted up from the floor in front of her and tripped right over it. She rolled forward before scrambling to her knees. She turned her head.
The white-cloaked figure was already at her feet and raising his weapon in the air.
Jericho was in-between them in an instant, kicking the figure’s weapon-wielding hand up in the air and swinging his suitcase right in the figure’s gut. There was a squelching sound as the corner of the case dug into the man’s flesh but the sound was drowned out by his yelp as he flew back into a pile of wooden crates.
Jericho did not check to see if his swing left the white figure immobilized. Instead—
Jericho stared down at the girl. And the girl stared up at Jericho.
Jericho’s head buzzed.
But the ever-present dull headache that had been invading his mind since he had woken up from the Medical Conductor’s room in Ophiuchus began to ebb away. His head felt clearer than it ever had before. A clarity that reminded him of his childhood days before the War’s end. Like a splash of cool water washing away the sand that had made home in the cracks of his dry skin. Yes. It was a refreshing, nostalgic sensation just like that.
—water. That too was the manner in which the girl’s face peeled away, revealing an entirely different face underneath. A shimmering splash, a wash, of yellow-orange light. Vitae. Revealed beneath the light was a boyish freckled face, a pair of caramel brown eyes, and hair as wild and red as fire. But this was not a boy nor was it a girl. It was a young woman.
“Jericho,” the young woman said his name despite him not having given it.
“Cadence,” Jericho returned. He tilted his head. “How do I know your name?”
She quirked a brow and then asked in Geminian: “How am I supposed to know tha—” Her eyes widened and she shouted in common: “Look out!”
Jericho turned his head and brought his suitcase up just in time to catch the swing of a steel, spiked bat in the handle of his suitcase. The assailant let out a gasp of surprise which was then followed by a shout of alarm as Jericho jerked the assailant’s weapon up in the air with a jerk of his suitcase. He plucked it midair and drove it up his attacker’s chin. There was a splash of red as his attacker flew through the air and a resounding thud as they collapsed to the ground a foot or so away.
Jericho turned his eyes away from the fallen figure and back to the young woman. Cadence.
“You just killed that man,” Cadence said as she met his gaze.
“I believe I merely incapacitated him.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. You incapacitated him.” Cadence hopped to her feet and circled him. He followed her path with his eyes and blinked when she came to a stop in front of him. “And he attacked you.”
“Which means he saw you.”
“Which means you’re real.”
“I believe I am.”
“But you’re like the rest of ‘em, aren’t you…?”
Jericho paused and thought on this. He had been too focused on his objective and the possible ties his objective had with ELPIS to pay any of it enough mind but—
“I think I am.”
Cadence looked him up and down incredulously before slowly, hesitantly reaching forward with her hand. She pressed her hand against his chest.
Electricity surged through his entire body at the contact. Cadence must have felt it too—he knew that she did—because she let out a surprised yelp and pulled away. He did not allow her to pull away any further, however, and reached out for her arm and tugged her to his chest—which allowed her to just barely skirt a bright ray of purple vitae that seemed to come from nowhere. Instead of hitting her square in the chest, as was its original destination, it burrowed its way through a stack of metal beams that had been behind her.
Cadence chuckled at the sight of the singed metal. “Always heard ELPIS members were violently crazy, but this is a whole ‘nother level.” Amusement or fear—Jericho couldn’t tell which one the young woman was chuckling with. On the surface at least. But somehow, deep down, he knew exactly what sort of emotion was behind the statement. As if the feeling were his own.
“They are not ELPIS.”
Cadence quirked a brow. “Not to hark on my savior or anything, but these folks literally burst through the doors and said ‘We are ELPIS’.”
“They were lying.” Jericho swung his suitcase at another white-cloaked figure who charged at them before he pulled Cadence by the scruff out of the line of fire of a conjured gun. “Appearances are deceiving.”
Cadence, still dangling from the collar of her shirt, raised a brow. “So I’m assumin’ you’re not the one who is all ‘appearances are everything’ then.”
Jericho glanced down at her. “No… that wasn’t me.”
“But you know what I’m talkin’ about then.” Cadence hummed. “And I thought so. You don’t seem like the type.” Then she quirked a brow. “If they ain’t ELPIS then—”
Jericho dropped her in favor of catching the wooden swing of a child’s bat. He jerked it out of the child’s hands, paused as he felt Cadence’s stare, and then tossed the bat to the side. He stepped forward which sent the child stumbling back. He paused as a faint, static-filled memory scratched at the edge of his mind. But before the memory could fully form, Cadence stepped in between the two and gave the child a toothy smile and jerked her thumb backwards.
“Ya better skedaddle, kid. The guy you just swung at? Take a good look at that sash on his arm.”
The child’s eyes flicked to Jericho’s arm. To the band on Jericho’s arm. The child must not have noticed it in all the chaos but beneath the overhead v-lights that shone brightly down on them, the sash now glowed. The child’s eyes visibly widened.
Cadence grinned. “The Ophiuchians are here now.”
With trembling lips, the child scrambled backwards and darted away without throwing a look back. Cadence cackled at this before quirking a brow. “It sure is nice to have friends who gotta bitta international pull, right?”
Friends? Was that what they were? Doctor Kingsley had always told him that creating a supportive social circle was one of the best ways to facilitate reintegration. It was something that Kingsley had always chastised him for not putting more effort into. And here this individual was offering friendship. Kingsley would let him be if he told her this, correct?
Unsure of how to respond, Jericho replied with a “Thank you”.
Cadence raised a brow. “You’re really savin’ my ass here, so I should be thankin’ you.”
He stared at her. And then somehow abruptly he came to a realization. “You work with Don Romano and the Foxmans.”
There was no change in her expression. “And you work with Ophiuchus.” Before he could pursue the matter any further, she held up both hands and shook her head. “Is now really the time ta be talkin’ about this?” She gestured to his suitcase. “And isn’t there a better weapon inside there that’s more effective than swinging it around?” She paused and gave a lopsided grin. “And I ain’t talkin’ about the stuffed animal.”
He did not ask how she knew about the stuffed animal because he already knew for fact that she knew.
Jericho put his hands around his case and drew it to his chest. “My conductor is only used for dealing with true members of ELPIS.”
Cadence quirked a brow. “And is that your choice or your higher up’s choice?”
“Ya really gonna go and follow whatever your higher up’s tell ya even if it don’t make sense?”
The clarity that had splashed upon Jericho began to drip away. Replaced by the murkiness that had been present from even before he fell down those stairs. The particles of the past that clung to him tightly clouding his mind.
Cadence seemed to notice this change because she started, held her head, and then frowned. “Hey, I—”
It was then that the doors to the warehouse flew open once more. Jericho tensed and whipped his head in the direction before he brought up his suitcase offensively.
The threshold was once again crowded by an army of silhouettes with conductors in hand. The sensation of deja vu was dizzying but Jericho remained focused. As he lifted his suitcase in preparation, a hand was abruptly placed on his shoulder.
Cadence quirked a brow. “Call me a bit proud, but I doubt an old suitcase could hurt our heavy guns, ya know?”
‘Our heavy guns’?
Jericho returned his attention to the doorway. All those who stood there were in suits. After one of them gave a shout in what sounded like Geminian, they all charged forward. Anyone who wasn’t in a suit was their enemy, it seemed. Without hesitation, they swung their conductors.Unlike the white-cloaked figures, these individuals seemed like they were trained Conductors.
“Wonder how they got here,” Cadence said as she watched the tide of battle change as if for sport. She glanced at him. “Not ta be rude but ya don’t seem like the type ta plan ahead for things like these.”
As if to answer her question, one of the suited men came to a skidding halt in front of them just after firing a pistol conductor at one of the cloaked figures.
“You alright, Morello?” The man asked in Geminian. Not lifting his gaze from the battle scene, he reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a slip of heavily creased paper. It was square, white, and had a tear at the center. There was a message scrawled in blue ink: warehouse 13—possible internal family-related incident. “Some manipulator sent this to us. Ophiucian apparently.” The man paused, seeming to finally realize Jericho’s presence. He eyed the armband and then gave an awkward salute. “W-We’re glad to accept your assistance, sir.” His common was very accented.
Jericho lowered his case. “There is no assistance. This incident does not fall within our jurisdiction.”
Both Cadence and the man exchanged looks.
“But then…” the suited man began. For some reason, Jericho knew that this man’s name was Donatello.
“This appears to be an internal situation. It does not seem to involve our case. These are not truly ELPIS members.”
“How do you—”
Cadence held her hand up to silence Donatello and tipped her hat. “Well, regardless, thanks for comin’ here to save me even though I ain’t in your jurisdiction.” She extended a hand. “Cadence Morello.”
Jericho stared at the hand for a long moment as he listened to the battle raging on in the background. It didn’t seem like the appropriate place to be doing this exchange.
“It’s never an appropriate time or place unless you make it one yourself.”
Jericho thought on this for a minute before he ceded. “Jericho.” He accepted the gesture.
The brushing of their fingertips sparked electricity again but left their palms warm.
Donatello who still fisted the white piece of paper glanced between them in confusion.
The situation was dealt with swiftly.
It was a very efficient execution.
The white-cloaked individuals were herded together into an inescapable corner by a team of suited men.
One of the cloaked figures broke away from the group scrambled to their knees and begged to be spared.
Cadence who had been hanging on the outskirts of the scene frowned and said, “Wait—”
But the man who headed the raid—the man who looked as if he’d just come from a funeral—raised his hand and brought it down swiftly. Alongside his fist came a rain of vitae rays. The flashing lights that pelted down were dizzyingly nostalgic. If Jericho closed his eyes, he was certain he’d slip into the past. Instead of doing that, Jericho glanced at Cadence.
She seemed pale. In the flashing light, she looked almost sick.
Which didn’t make much sense to Jericho. This was her profession, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it common to see things like this?
Abruptly, blurs of faint sceneries and sensations flitted past his mind’s eye. Blurred, cracked, incomplete. A crooked smile as a man scrambled to his knees on the ground. Someone clinging to his legs and pleading to be spared. Cold, hard rain seeping into his bones. Bony hands dancing across the white teeth of a piano.
Memories? He was used to them coming at him from nowhere at inopportune times. But these memories seemed foreign to him. The unfamiliarity made him think for a moment that these were forgotten memories, but he quickly tossed this theory aside.
He never forgot. He never would.
He glanced back at Cadence. There was color in her cheeks again, and she was wearing a crooked smile. All in order.
He was curious about her, but his objective came first.
And so he turned to leave. As Jericho pulled away from the scene, however, another thought came to him like lightning—
The children escaped.
Before he could comprehend the thought, a sudden dull pain shot through his arm, and he stared down at in confusion. Nothing out of the ordinary. No injury visible.
He glanced back at Cadence. She was still smiling but she was gripping her arm. But there was no injury visible there. The only thing out of the ordinary was a faint trail of scarlet that ended a couple of meters away from her. But the floor was painted in red. It was difficult to tell the source of the trail.
He rubbed his arm absentmindedly.
It had been a while since he noticed pain.