Zero (7/7)

Jericho, peacekeeper

“If I were in charge, I would have you relieved of duty.”

He blinked at the woman who sat across from him. He had heard many stories about her from his coworkers. About how her square-rimmed glasses did nothing to hide her ice-blue eyes “that could rip out your soul”. About how the tapping of her perfectly manicured nails “could drive even the strongest-willed Conductor insane”. About how her Librish accented voice “could shake down the very walls of Taurus’s renown fortress of a capital city”.

Alice Kingsley. The Ice Gate of Ophiuchus.

And now that he’d had the opportunity to sit before her twenty-five times now, he could confirm the stories as true.

“I think you’re too dangerous. Too unstable.” She continued evenly. Her Librish lilt resounded around the white walls of the office and made the room seem much larger than it already was. “But I doubt you even care about what I think.”

“I do care,” he responded automatically. “I care a lot. About what you think.”

“Spare me the facade. We’ve been through this many times already, Jericho.” Alice waved her hand as she rifled through the papers in front of her. “I study people for a living. And I see you for who you are.” She paused, lowered her papers, peered over them. Her eyes bore into him, digging, searching.

It almost felt as if she could hear his thoughts.

“But I doubt you even care about that either.” She returned her attention to her papers flipped through several more of them before she stacked them neatly on the table in front of her. “You’ve passed the psych evaluation the bureau has provided, and there’s nothing I can do about what’s been written.”


“So, you’ll be dispatched to the Saggitarian-Aquarian border. There’s been word of an ongoing dispute around Gradstal which is a town that connects the two countries. You’ll receive a debriefing on the train ride there.”

Jericho blinked. “I thought…”

“You would be dispatched to handle the ELPIS issue?” Alice gave one dry, chuckle. “As much as Ophiuchus values the both of us, they also know how to play us well.”

There was a long stretch of silence. But she did not speak.

“Jericho, you can leave now.” Her voice came out gently for once. It startled him out of his stiffness.

“Yes, ma’am.” Jericho nodded. With that he rose to a stand and walked toward the glass door behind him. Before he reached it, however, it swung open wife. There in the doorway stood a woman with blindingly red curls. She had on cat-eyed glasses and wore a blue dress with a loose red, fur-lined jacket thrown over it.

Not in standard uniform.

In her hand was a cane which she tapped against his foot with a smirk — but was it a smirk or was it a friendly smile? He always had trouble reading expressions.

He had seen this woman a couple of times before during his visits to Kingsley’s office. She was the first person he’d seen in Ophiuchius who wasn’t an overseer or there to take their State Conducting Exam. Kingsley and the woman were friends, apparently. Up until that point, Jericho hadn’t realized that it was possible to make friends.

He blinked.

Friends outside of Ophiuchus, that was.

The red-haired woman was blind, maybe. But it wouldn’t be appropriate to point that out, he reminded himself. He didn’t want a repeat of that last incident. The one that had caused the other agents to team up and lock him in the closet for three hours straight. Uncomfortable and awkward.

“Excuse me, and goodbye.” He flashed a quick smile and proceeded down the hall.

The hall itself was littered with Ophiucan agents streamlining back and forth between the rooms dotting the walls. All in monochrome. Just as he was.

There had been a large number of cases opened these past few months. So many that closing one case meant immediately opening another. This past month he’d handled four cases himself. And here was another one. Not the one that he wanted.

Posted on the wall of the main lobby was a large map of the continent of Signum. It was almost perfectly circular with Aries to the north, Virgo to the east, Capricorn to the south, and Scorpio to the east. At the very center of the ring of twelve countries was the city-state of Ophiuchus. Vitae reservoirs were marked on the map with a blue star while locations of EPIS attacks were marked with an X.


He bit the inside of his lip before turned down the hall, made several more turns, and pressed out the entrance of the building. Sunlight met his eyes. As did the light from the vitae reservoir that glowed several miles away. Even from this distance with an entire strip of buildings and a mile of desert between them, he could feel the warmth of it in his skin. Warmer than the sun. It painted the long marble staircase just below him in a blinding white.

His stomach churned, and he placed a hand over his belly. He turned his eyes away from the light, and his stomach settled. When he closed his eyes, and he felt right again. He paused and thought. Would it be unreasonable to walk down the stairs with his eyes shut like this? He had done a handful of times before. He’d always made it down with success. The only downfall was that the other agents would always give him looks for some reason when he did it. Drawing attention to himself was not something he wanted to do.

Then again, it seemed as if lately everyone was too busy to pay anyone else much mind.

A breath of air suddenly tickled the back of his neck and drew him away from his thoughts. The breath came with a whisper: “Traitor.”

Something pressed against his back. No, something pushed against his back.

His eyes snapped open in time to see the third marble step from the top come rushing towards him.

The momentum was too great. He could not right himself.

His head cracked down on the step first. Then came the rest of his body. Down he rolled — each crack of limb against marble signaling another tumble forward.

It seemed as if he’d been rolling for hours before he finally hit the bottom. He immediately tried to right himself, but his limbs wouldn’t allow it. His arms were broken, it seemed.

He threw a furtive glance up at the top of the staircase just in time to see a shadow recede back into the building. Then, he was alone.

He would not succumb to this, he knew. He thought this to himself as he clenched his fists tightly in the red that pooled around him. Not until he’d done it. Not until then. He would not let go.

Then again, what was this?

Was this—

Zero (6/7)

Atienna Imamu, Virgoan Daughter of Sixth House Chieftain

They were arguing again. 

She watched them as they slammed their fists against the tablecloth and pointed their utensils at each other’s throats.  Despite their raised voices, they did not draw the eyes of those seated around them. It was difficult to hear anyone in this large dining hall, after all. The clay walls that rose around them ended in an arch above their heads. It was an arch that threw back their voices at them tenfold. A whisper became a shout. A pleasant comment, a booming exclamation.

Needless to say, with the ten families lining the long white table to her left and another ten families to her right, the entire room was filled with an almost headache-inducing cacophony. Paired alongside the idle words of conversation were the clicks and clacks of spoons against porcelain bowls and knives against clay plates.

Atienna glanced back down at the book she’d hidden under the cloth. It rested on her lap open, alluringly beckoning her to delve into its pages once more. One more page, it said. If not that, one more paragraph. Or one more sentence.

It was a bit difficult to read in this dimly hall. The only light present came from the parallel streams of vitae that ran along the floors of the hall beside the wall. At the bank of the rivers of light grew vibrant star-shaped flowers and twisting vines.  Atienna knew that these rivers ran out from the building to a large vitae pool just around the back. The streams would continue out from this pool and stretch out into a river that reached all the way to their neighboring country of Gemini.

Legend had it that their Ancestor had purposefully built the dining hall around the vitae streams. For what reason? Atienna wondered about it quite often. Perhaps it was in order to not disturb the natural balance of things. Or perhaps it was for something else.

“What do we look like now that we’ve chosen to do nothing?!”

Atienna slowly lifted her gaze up to the one who sat across from her. Despite the brightly woven and beautifully patterned yellow and green formal robes her brother wore, he looked anything but elegant and courtly.  His eyes were wide and irate, his dark skin glistening with sweat.

“The Sagittarians have aided us whenever we were in need! How can you agree with the Council’s decision to deny their request for aid!”

“We never asked them for assistance!” The young woman beside him snapped, shaking her head so hard that her high, cone-shaped headdress nearly fell straight off her head. “And you can’t compare sending a handful of volunteers to help with wildlife restoration to assisting a war effort!”

“It’s not a war effort!” came the aggravated sigh. “They’re defending their lands from those skirmishes between Capricorn and Aquarius. They only seek peace and to protect their people.”

“So, you would have us risk our own people for theirs?” 

A pause. And then a spit. “You have no heart, Safiyah!”

“You have no head, Bachiru.” 

And then the young Safiyah laid eyes on her. And then her brother laid eyes on her.

Oh, bother.

Atienna shut her book and awaited the full brunt of their words. The storm of breathless shouts. The demands. And come the words did.

“Atienna, talk some sense into your brother! He’s been hanging around Usian for far too long. That man has clouded your brother’s empty head with foolishness!” Safiyah pressed, swinging her fork in Bachiru’s direction.

“Atienna,” Bachiru retorted, fending her fork off with a fork of his own.  “Talk some sense into your friend! She knows nothing of empathy or sympathy! She has sold her heart to some devil!”

Atienna glanced in-between them and waited a beat. In the lull in conversation that hung there, she could hear their heavy panting.

“Bachiru,” she addressed her brother first. “If you feel so strongly about this, why don’t you take it to the Council instead of wearing yourself out here? Our father is a chieftain on the Council, isn’t he? Is it not better to speak to him about these things?”

Bachiru opened his mouth to retort, and Safiyah did as well. Their faces were creased with confusion. She could read their thoughts like the pages from her book— whose side was she on?

“Safiyah,” she addressed her friend next. “The Council has already made their decision, and it’s a decision that coincides with your beliefs.  And you and I both know that Bachiru is too stubborn to ever change his opinion.” She smiled gently, almost sheepishly. “Forgive me, but I’m having a hard time understanding exactly why this argument is happening to begin with. You’ve disagreed about this subject with members from other tribes, but I’ve never seen you reach this level of anger.” After a pause, her smile turned impish. “Unless there’s another reason for this…”

Their brows furrowed with confusion and then rose with realization. They tried a glance in each other’s direction but paused halfway and instead settled back into their chairs and began to busily shove their mouths with the spiced rice.

Offering an even more impish smile, Atienna gently opened her book on her lap again and thanked the server as he came over to refill her glass cup with wine. She lifted the glass up to her lips and took a sip as she turned the page. The next chapter. Finally.

She blinked.

That was odd.

The words were a bit hard to read. Fuzzy. Out of focus. 


Now that she thought about it, everything seemed out of focus. The noise around her. The movements of her brother and friend across the table. Her own movements. 

The wine glass slipped from her fingertips and shattered onto the floor in a great explosion of red and translucent petals. She followed it to the ground not so long after. As she lay cold on her back, she blinked up at the archways in confusion and studied the intricate designs that had been carved there centuries ago. The archways, in turn, echoed back the shouts of alarm from those seated around her.

Dark faces ringed around her like a halo. The lights cast by the streams of vitae twisted strange shadows across those faces in a way that made them look foreign, strange. 

Beside her, the wine bled out onto the tablecloth and into the pages of her book. 

Was this—

Zero (4/7)

Werner Waltz, Capricornian First Lieutenant

He could see them from where he lay flat against the gravel of the overpass that stretched above the area that was enclosed by walls of rock. The men trudged on below him as rain pelted down into their cloaks that were embroidered with Aquarian violet. Below their stomping feet, the ground had become sludge.

There were precisely thirty-two of them altogether. Their numbers had been halved since the earlier skirmish. It was evident that the battle had worn them out considerably. Despite their stiff fatigue, they still inched slowly towards the enclosement. Too tired to even cast a glance up at the shrubbery that shrouded the overpass. Too exhausted to even suspect. 

There had only been less than a one percent chance that the Aquarians would pass this location by. A chance that he had been considering when devising this plan. It was foolish not to consider these chances. Even the smallest percentages counted. No matter how small the chances, an error was an error. This was why he sent another group of men down the path earlier. They were waiting in the brushes that dotted the pathway further down.

 The Aquarians began to set up camp in the enclosement. Make-shift tents were gradually propped up beside the walls, and a handful of them stole away into the cover the tents provided.

One of the Aquarians below Werner settled down beside a slab of rock and then pulled down the hood of his cloak.

Werner peered at the man through the scope of his conducting rifle. The Aquarian’s cheeks were round, his fingers thin and shaking. His dark blonde hair clung to his face as rainwater trickled down his chin. He was more of a boy than a man, Werner realized, but that did not matter because wrapped loosely around the boy’s arm was a sash emblazoned with a red cross and gracing the shoulderpads of his uniform were a pair of golden insignias in the shape of two waves stacked on top of one another. A medical officer.

Beside him, Werner felt one of his men tense.   

“Do not hesitate.” He stated under his breath. “Hit your mark.”

The pitter-patter of the rain swallowed up his words. But there were no words that truly needed to be exchanged. They already knew their purpose. Their duty. The fact that Werner had to speak such words indicated that the man beside him was still struggling to take on the appearance of a soldier. A foolish mistep. Appearances were everything. 

Lining the mouth of his conductor up with the young medical officer’s head, Werner looked at the boy one last time through his scope and pulled the trigger. 

A brilliant ray of pure blue light cracked through the rainy gray haze and pierced the center of the boy’s head straight on. The force of the ray sent him flying backwards to the ground. The sludge ate up the red that pooled out from the gaping hole in his skull.

The Aquarians who had been setting up tents nearby let out shouts of alarm. Some scrambled for cover, others ran to their fallen comrade’s side, while a majority made to grab the conductors they had cast aside beside them.

But it was too late.

Down came a ray shower of lights. Navy blue. Sky blue. Blue-violet. A blinding storm of color bulleted the clearing and tore up rock and body without bias. In the calculated chaos, the sound of rain was swallowed up by cries and explosions. 

Werner followed an Aquarian who was scrambling towards a stray conductor buried beneath debris with his scope. This one was even younger than the other.  Bright blue eyes that almost glowed in the dark.

Aim. Shoot. Fire.

Another one was ducking for cover behind a large stone slab that jutted out from the rock wall.

Aim. Shoot fire.

Thirty-two men became halved to sixteen. Sixteen became halved to eight. Then four. Then two. Zero.

Werner held up his hand in a fist.

The bombardment of light stopped. Smoke and steam rose up from the clearing as an unnatural silence fell upon them. The tapping of the rain and the heavy panting of the men lined up beside him were the only sounds that reached Werner’s ears.

Peering into his scope once more, he surveyed the ground below. The smoke was too heavy to see through. They would have to wait. They couldn’t risk an Aquarian escaping. If they did, all of their planning would have been for nothing. Perfectionism at this point was key. Error, unacceptable.

The crunch of gravel beside him drew his attention away from the smoke. When Werner turned his eyes from the scope and to his left, he found that one of his men was standing, shaking, hugging his conducting rifle tightly to his chest.

“Get down.” Werner stated.

The soldier shook his head and took a step backwards.

“I said get down.” Werner ordered louder.

Once again, the soldier shook his head. “Soldier”? No, Werner realized, this was no soldier. No soldier would disobey orders like this. This was just a man. No, a boy.

“You didn’t use your conductor.” Werner realized and regarded the boy with contempt.

“I―” Another step backwards.

Werner frowned and reached for the boy’s arm. “I said get―”

Werner should’ve known what was to happen next, but it still alarmed him when he saw a hurtling bolt of violet light burst out from the haze of smoke. There had only been less than a one percent chance that one of the Aquarians could’ve survived. But a chance was still a chance. An error was still an error. And errors were fatal.

The ray of light tore through his shoulder and sent him flying backwards.


The boy was at his side now as were the rest of the men. He was crying now ― the boy. Werner could see the tear droplets intermingling with the rain.


“Mark the clearing.” He stated calmly as he gripped his shoulder tightly. It was numb ― from the cold or the pain, he didn’t know. It didn’t matter.


“I said mark the clearing, private.”

He didn’t have much energy to say much else and fell back. The cold rain seeped through the fabric of his uniform, seeped deep into his skin, and reached the core of his body where it slowly stole away his movement and sight.

Briefly, he wondered what he appeared like to his men as he was laying out bleeding out like this. And, what was this, exactly?

Was this—

Zero (2/7)

Olivier Chance, Ariesian Prince

What is the color of a person’s soul?

“Well, that’s an easy question to answer.”

Olive couldn’t help but eye Professor Morgan with annoyance. Morgan was one of the younger professors flexing his theories and methods at the university. Rumor had it that he was, in fact, only two years out from obtaining his conducting license. Rumor had it that he’d even obtained the highest score on the State Conducting Exam out of his entire year. But Olive didn’t really care about those rumors. He didn’t even care about the fact that Morgan was so young. What Olive cared about was the fact the Morgan himself cared about these rumors and that this fact was reflected in his teaching style. Morgan was so desperate to please, so desperate to be liked that he’d even ask a simple question like this.

“The answer can be found in looking at a person’s vitae.” Morgan said with a charming smile that almost seemed to say, please tell me you’re enjoying this lecture. “And while we have known how to harness and channel vitae in different forms and ways for several centuries now, we have still yet to fully understand it. Which is ridiculous to think about since that is the basis of the founding of the thirteen countries of this continent of Signum and how we power our countries via the vitae reservoirs found throughout it. And even more ridiculous when you realize we’ve fought a war over these thingsAnd who were vitae reservoirs discovered by?” He paused for dramatic effect. “By our Ancestors, the nomads! The ones we’ve named our ancestors after!”

Well, Olive supposed, as boring as it was to hear a rehash of basics it was much better than having to slog through new topics.

“Quick question—what was one major result of this afformentioned war?”

A hand shot up, and before Morgan even had the chance to acknowledge the hand, the hand’s owner answered matter-of-factually, “Well, the peacekeeping city-state of Ophiuchus was founded, professor.”

“And what purpose–“

“To mediate positive, peaceful relations between all the countries, professor. And, of course, to handle the terrorist group EPIS.”

“Great, Hannah. Perfect!” The professor clasped his hands. “Now, Would you mind giving the others a chance to answer my next question?” He gestured to all of them. “Back to the matter at hand–vitae. How can we visualize a person’s vitae?”

A dozen hopeful hands flew high at the question. Olive dodged one that nearly shot up into his face. The glare he sent the girl sitting beside him went unnoticed. So much enthusiasm to answer a question that the questioner would answer himself. The offense wasn’t worth the effort of confrontation, however, so Olive settled on glaring at the window across the classroom. From his desk he could just barely make out the cityscape beyond the rising brick walls of the school.

“Well, Chance, what do you think?”

Professor Morgan’s shadow passed over him.

“How do you think we can visualize a person’s vitae? I’ll give you a hint. It’s through the same type of device we use to power our country!”

Olive turned. The professor was standing in front of him now with kind eyes and with a smile that was even more desperate to please than before. The pause of silence that followed was long, painful.

Olive thought for a moment. The answer to the question was obvious. A child could have answered it without a second thought. But that was why Morgan was asking it. An easy question, an easy answer, a feeling of fulfillment as teacher and student. All Olive had to do was say, you can see a person’s vitae color by having them use a conductor, and then he’d fulfill whatever childhood dream his professor was holding onto.

But instead, he shrugged and turned his attention to the window again.

“Oh, come on, Chance,” Morgan chuckled. “Just give it a try. Surely, the royal tutors have taught you much more than what we have here. What do you think? I’ll give you another hint. The people who are trained to use these kinds of things are called similarly–Conductors with a capital C.”

Olive thought again. Not about the question, but about the fact that it was probably around noon which meant that the guards were probably switching rotation right at the moment. That, in turn, would mean that the annoyingly dutiful Alexander would be going to lunch and the blase Derek would be taking his place outside the classroom doors.

Olive stood abruptly as he reached his conclusion and paid no attention when Morgan stepped back in surprise. He approached the wide window and swung his legs over the ledge.


And he leapt.

A blur of green and brown rushed up to meet him as rustling and snapping echoed in his ears. After a couple beats he landed on all fours in a bed of red flowers. He fisted the petals in his palm as he shook off his disorientation.

Glancing upwards, he found the colorful faces of Morgan and several of his classmates staring back down at him two stories up. No time nor care to read their expressions.

He dusted himself off and made his way out of the floral display and onto the stone path just beyond. The floral display he had fallen onto was one of the many that lined the walkway, and the window he had fallen out of was one of the many that dotted the building that the walkway lined. Sun sprinkled through the leaves of the trees over his head and through the archways that connected the building to his right to the one to his left. The golden droplets of light dappled the flags swaying on the walls. In the brightness, they glowed red.

Olive gave the flags a pointed glare before he took off down the path in a dash. Behind him he could hear shouts of alarm and stampeding footsteps filter out from the classroom window. Eventually the sounds faded away behind him and were replaced by the serene chirping of birds.

He slowed to a stop as the open pathway ended and led into a roofed hallway. Sunlight spilled into the corridor from open windows and painted the black doors tucked between them a blinding white. Olive supposed that the architect of the place wanted to create an educational establishment that didn’t make the students feel trapped by the endless words and numbers that came with every lecture.

The architect failed his purpose.

Just as he was about to duck into the hall, one of the doors closest to the mouth swung open. Without thinking, Olive flung himself into the nearest floral display and scrambled up the tree. Wrapping his arms around the highest tree branch, Olive held his breath.

Below him came a pair of guards wrapped in red.

“Ollie, you can’t keep doing this. Professor Morgan is going to have a stress-induced heart-attack one day. He really cares about you, y’know.” Came a whisper above him.

There she was again. Her wisps of dark hair curled around her round face as she spied at him from a branch above. The sunlight streaming in through the trees caught her hair in such a way that it looked ablaze.

“You’re too naïve.” He said. He wanted to sigh but even that was too much effort.

“You’re too negative.” She returned with a pout. “Pessimistic.”

“Pessimistic implies that I care.” He returned. “Which I don’t.”

He stared past her over the roof of the hall to the city that lay beyond. The sun beat down on the city traffic like a whip.  They looked like dots from here — the people. Tiny dots weaving around each other and sputtering v-ehicles in single-file. Almost like ants. But if anyone was an ant, Olive reasoned, it was him.


He looked back up at her and returned with a roll off his eyes: “It’s just a figure of speech.”

He turned back to the view just in time to see a glinting spec on the horizon. A glinting spec that was hurtling right towards him. Closer, closer, closer.

An arrow. It was an arrow. An arrow shrouded in orange-red, flame-like vitae. An Ariesian must have been the archer.

Closer, closer.

He couldn’t dodge it in time.

But what he could do was activate his vitae and pull up his defenses. That arrow would be incinerated in an instant. But—

He blinked.

The arrow pierced his flesh and knocked him right out of the tree.

A shout from one of the guards below.

But he felt no pain.

The air was no longer thin and dry but heavy and cold. The sun was dimming. The guards still shouting. The flowerbed on the ground coming closer and closer to him.  Rather, he was coming closer to it. It met him warmly as did she as she knelt down beside him to touch his shoulder.

Her dark hair fell like a canopy over his face as true darkness began to creep in at the corners of his vision.

Was this—

Zero (0/7)

What is the color of a soul? Does it come in a gray-scale — a gradient from white to black? Is it red for a person who is passionate? Green for someone who’s lived a life full of envy? Blue for a wistful dreamer? Does the color change depending on one’s mood, depending on whoever is around oneself?

The woman glides across the bodies strewn across the dirt ground as she turns over these thoughts in her mind. To her, the cracks of bones beneath her leather boots are like the crunch of dry grass on a hot summer day. To her, the groans of the men and women around her are like the cries of cicadas. To her, the iron that hangs heavy in the air is like humidity that comes after rain.

A man crawls across her feet and gives her a look. Not a look of desperation. Not a look of fear. A look of pure hatred. She wonders, as she studies the man’s twisted expression, if his soul is red with anger.

“How pitiful.”

She lifts the blade she holds in her hand to the man’s throat.

“For a cockroach to glare at a human. Really, it’s pitiful.”

With a flick of her wrist, she sends golden light shimmering down out from the hilt of her blade to its tip.

“For someone who serves under the name of peace to only grasp for war, like this. Really, it’s pitiful.”

With another flick of her wrist, she ends the man’s life with a stroke of red.

As she cleans her blade of his blood, she hums and wonders if her soul is the color of gold.