This chapter features the moment that inspired this entire story. Sorry in advance.
The first day after the ceasefire, Micali spent damn-near all of it resting. No meeting with her fellows, no leaving her room. Between the wounds she sustained during the battle for Flumen Petram and her nearly week-long journey beforehand, she was just about done with Aridus. She sat in her afforded quarters, picking at the bits of skin that peeled away from harsh sunburn. They had asked her if she could stay for some sort of formalities, and she replied she could not.
She had to get home, had to apologize to Rosa, had to set things right. She had been granted clarity on her journey - no dressed-up revenge was worth losing what she held dear. It only took her spanning a third of Araevis to realize it. The room was nice enough, and she was grateful to spend some nights under something other than the freezing temperatures of the dunes of Aridus.
Without hesitation, her favorite part of the new arrangement was the ability to take a long, hot shower. She let her hair out of the messy, greasy bun it had been stuck in for far too long. The water picked away at most of the dead skin, leaving only a slight pink tinge to the already tan woman. Once out and finally clean, she let her hair down for the first time in weeks.
When she was summoned to meet with the prince the next day, she wasn’t sure what to expect. She and Laermont both were leaving early, though it did hollow her heart somewhat to leave Gwen behind, the strangely motherly role she’d taken not lost on her in all of her single-mindedness. However, the prince was more than accommodating. Both the sniper and the demvir were being given a free ride back to Elata Spiritus, as well as sincere thanks from the empire. It was enough at the moment for Micali, though they did say to contact them when they could, that there were more rewards still to be given. She thought it a bit overboard, but was grateful nonetheless.
She had never ridden an airship before, and she wished someone had warned her about how disorienting it was to have the sensation of nothing beneath your feet, like a moving elevator at all times. Over time, she got used to it, but the disorientation was still there, just dimmed. The airship was lonely. She thought a few times to talk with Laermont, but for most of the flight, the man seemed lost in his own thoughts. Micali knew better than most that time alone was necessary, so she found discussion elsewhere.
An older velen man with wrinkles cropping up around the visible flesh behind his dull-purple scales, he stood tall in uniform, though his demeanor betrayed any semblance of professionalism, the man cracking jokes throughout the four-day travel time. Captain Olan Vetes, she learned to call him. They discussed much about the war and he expressed gratitude that it was seemingly over, at long last. At one time, he asked what made her leave early, and she confessed that she had someone back home to get to. He gave a knowing smile, and announced they were close to Terminus.
Sure enough, the visage outside had shifted from sparkling seawater to mountain ranges, and in the far-off distance, the Specula Sorcere, reaching high to the sky. Shorter, but still towering over the rest of the Grand Metropolis, was the Sapientia Coetus. The thought of the tower only brought Rosa to Micali’s mind, and it felt nice not to push the thought down.
When they landed at Elata Spiritus, Laermont exited first. Micali watched him go, and meant to walk out, too, but her feet failed her. She needed to get home to Rosa, but her body bade her to avoid the consequences of her actions, to take her time getting home to someone she hurt and had to look in the eye and apologize to. Her hands busied themselves in taking her loose hair and tying it up into a braid, the harshly cold air of Hiemis unfamiliar after some time away.
“Cold feet, eh?”
She turned on her heel to face Olan, the man’s gruff voice sounding out across the open and extended landing pad of the airship. The laicar tried to think of something clever or funny, but found only air to breathe in, then out.
The captain merely walked up and stood alongside her, watching Laermont leave the airship docks - and the war - behind. They simply stayed there for some time, the man offering her his presence as assurance.
Then, the words came. “Things didn’t leave off well. I said awful things.”
He clasped her shoulder, and she was surprised at the lack of an urge to squirm away. “Life comes at you, Micali. You make mistakes, you learn from them, and you hope to be better in the future. My missus was never one to come around easy, but trust me - whoever you got waiting for ya will come around. Besides, you’re coming home a war veteran, you can always play up the sympathy with that.” He gave a good natured chuckle, and moved to walk back deeper into the airship. “Now go! You’re wasting precious fuel,” he called back with a heavy laugh.
Micali chuckled back, and finally found the ability to move. She only had to hope that Olan was right, that Rosa would be able to forgive her.
As her feet found solid ground, she felt more sure of her course than she had in a long time.
Passing through Terminus’s streets, she ended up in the Ruby Jewel, looking for proper equipment for travel. She had enough exa to afford it, though it was cutting it close. A part of her suddenly wished that instead of a thank you, the empire had given her some pocket change. Maybe that was why she needed to contact them later. The stores were all linked together, the entire district nearly one large, interconnected building comprised of countless shops. It was disorienting in contrast to Lucrus. Her first time through Terminus, she’d just passed through as quickly as possible to make it to Avelyn, and even then barely made it in time. Now, she had a moment to take in the scenery more, though she suppressed the tinge of guilt that she was supposed to visit Terminus for the first time with Rosa. Shaking the worries, she found her way to a familiarly named store. Industria Travels. The one that Rosa’s dad, Viktor Industria, owned. She supposed this was the Terminus branch. Inside, it was cool and collected, with a few patrons looking through for various supplies. Micali was greeted by an employee, and returned a short smile before looking through the products.
Eventually, she came across a full pack of travel supplies, within her price range, just barely. It had a sleeping bag, a small tent, a lighter, and various other supplies to make the trek across the mountains to Lucrus. It also contained bandages. Bandages, Micali’s eyes scanned, provided by and in partnership with Pluralis Medical. Pluralis Medical. The company that Terra Flux worked security for, that raider she had killed in Aridus on her way to the lab. They worked with Industria Travels?
The questions piled on, and as Micali went to make her purchase from the cashier, she asked quickly, “do you know who owns Pluralis Medical?”
The cashier gave an enthused shake of the head, as if assuming Micali had the answer. After a few moments of silence, they sputtered. “Oh- I’m not sure, but you could ask at their branch! It’s in the Diamond Jewel, smaller building with green lettering on the front, it’s hard to miss!”
The laicar nodded gratefully, and left the building.
Pluralis Medical was about as described, but Micali hadn’t been prepared for the Diamond Jewel to be...what it was. Describing it as rich-seeming was the biggest understatement Micali had ever considered. She’d never seen a city be so surgically spotless, so fancy, so unabashedly pristine. Matching the perfect decor were exorbitant prices, which made the sniper question why Pluralis Medical would partner with Industria Travels. Either way, she pushed open the door to the building, and was greeted by a shockingly familiar face.
Not looking at her, the dark-haired laicar murmured, “did you have an appointment?”
The sniper nearly recoiled in shock at the sight of Livisca, former waitress at Dom’s before she left and Rosa was hired. Micali had known that she was hired to some medical research company, but the brunette felt a bit flabbergasted at how large this conspiracy was turning out to be.
Livisca raised an eyebrow and looked at Micali incredulously. “...Is there a specific reason why you’re visiting, or…?”
The words frothed out, “I had heard about Pluralis Medical, was just checking it out. Do you know who owns it?”
Livisca leaned back in her office chair - the secretary, as Micali realized, and the job likely paid well based on the locale. No wonder she moved from Lucrus for the opportunity. “Oh. You don’t know? Auctoria Geminos.”
Micali felt her blood drop to her feet then shoot back up to her brain as the puzzle pieces came together. Auctoria Geminos - and by extension, possibly Viktor Industria - had dealings with Armac Elantur. The form she saw in that large pod, the body… “what kind of research do you do here? Like what’s Pluralis Medical all about?”
Livisca’s eyebrows shot down, her gaze now piercing. The sniper had clearly not been cautious enough in her line of questioning. Even still, the woman shrugged. “It’s public knowledge. Lots of genetic experimentation, seeing about cures for incurable diseases, things like that. We also do appointments for very high-class clientele - the doctors on-hand here are top of the line.”
Micali nodded slowly. Whatever thing she saw in Armac Elantur’s lab was likely an instance of such genetic experimentation. The notes she swiped after killing Elantur were probably going to explain a lot more of this. That being said, the notes date back to 393PT. They denote Colomba Fallitur, but Elantur had asked Micali if Colomba had sent her. So was Colomba a demvir, to be alive so long? Elantur also mentioned had a daughter. Had their genetic experimentation truly come so far? How did Talrigori fit into all this, after being part of the Seven Devils? “Thanks, Livisca. I’m headed back to Lucrus, want me to tell Dom anything?”
Livisca smiled at that. “Tell him he was a great boss, that I’m thankful for the opportunities he gave me, and that I hope he’s doing well.” The sudden change in tone was a bit of whiplash to Micali, but she recalled that Livisca had been there when Perdita had passed, when Dom hit his lowest. On top of all that, Dom was one of the best people Micali had ever met, so it was no wonder why even someone as frosty as Livisca felt good about him.
Micali smiled and nodded, and exited the building, now holding many more puzzle pieces, but only just figuring out the outside. The corners were always the easiest part.
From there, Micali decided to hike her way back to Lucrus, just as she had on her way to Avelyn in the first place. Even if she wanted proper transport, she didn’t have the funds for it, and trade caravans between Lucrus and Terminus didn’t tend to take kindly to unscheduled passengers, too wary for theft of whatever good they were ferrying.
So, she walked. And thought. The first night of travelling on the roadside, using the supplies she’d bought on her way back through Terminus, she sifted through the dossier of notes she’d taken from Armac Elantur’s secret lab, north of Flumen Petram. Some light reading was in order, and if she wanted to know what exactly Talrigori was playing at in sabotaging Viktor and Auctoria’s business dealings, she needed to understand what was really happening here. Talrigori had said that she was working to save the city, maybe all of Araevis. So why was she so specific as to request Micali only kill Elantur and get out? She said that Micali learning of the truth would jeopardize her operation. Micali could empathize, but her curiosity was getting the better of her.
Most of the notes were medical and scientific nonsense that Micali couldn’t decipher if she tried. Until she found one sorted six years after the original entry she read.
Sol 3rd, 399PT
A breakthrough, at last. Fallitur has proven invaluable these past years, but this is truly an evolution for modern science. When spliced with human cells, the tenebritium’s regenerative powers can seek to rebuild the source just from the small DNA sample. While it’s clear that this will require years - decades - of fine tuning, it’s a start.
399PT. Six years after the former entry that mentioned Fallitur, and it seemed that the person recording the notes did indeed have time to spend, as they discuss decades as though they were nothing. Micali sheltered a naive hope that Elantur had a demvir mentor who handed these notes down. What was tenebritium? Nothing she’d ever heard of. Exhausted by her journey and the mental taxation of trying to decipher the notes of a mad scientist, she called it a night, and decided to read the rest of the notes on the rest of her journey.
Ortus 11th, 407PT
We’ve created the first successful splice of genetics and tenebritium. Its vitals were stable for a third of a second, but that means it’s possible. It can be done. We had our doubts, after all these years, but there is hope yet.
Maius 1st, 425PT
This one lasted a month, a new record. Fallitur was displeased with the results, but she fails to see all the progress we’ve made. It’s so much more than a return to the first step; it’s the next step for modern medicine, modern science, and modern warfare.
I’ve decided to classify these creations as the replicari.
Micali’s eyes traced the paper as she walked along the mountain path while reading the notes. Not incredibly safe, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away from them. This was now thirty years after the first entry she read. There’s no note of authors changing. The replicari? Was the thing in the pod in Elantur’s lab one such creation?
Her eyes then shot open, when she got to a notable entry.
Maius 13th, 474PT
Results inconclusive. I shall begin again. Colomba has set up a secondary lab, which means I may never have to see her again, should fate be so merciful. I will continue to supply her with tenebritium - it seems that Malum has seen her as a more useful business partner than me. She did help us with our bigger breakthroughs, but she overreaches. If I were to increase the tenebritium percentages in her personal doses, it may be enough to get Malum to see her for what she is.
Fifty years. No notable changes in person. The fourth day of travel may have worn on Micali’s tired state, but her mind made no mistake in its reading. Malum. Editus Malum. She knew he had popped up in the entry from 393PT, but for him to continue working alongside this...the puzzle kept getting larger. She kept finding border pieces. Whatever tenebritium was, it was something the scientists in question were taking. By Micali’s best guess, it was to extend their lifespans. Not to be outdone, though, it appeared Elantur turned on Fallitur. Was Talrigori working with Fallitur then, to sabotage Viktor Industria and Auctoria Geminos?
There were mentions of two branches of laboratory - the guards outside the lab had said such a thing. The other was destroyed at some point. Perhaps Talrigori had something to do with that, which betrayed any idea of her working with Fallitur. So what was she doing? Only one laboratory left means that killing Elantur halts their operations indefinitely. Maybe that’s why he was so important as to warrant her receiving all the Seven Devils’ locations in exchange for his life. Not that it mattered now, Micali felt entirely dedicated to hanging up her revenge spree.
She read on as time passed.
Sol 22nd, 482PT
I’ve done it. By the Vis, I’ve finally done it.
Colomba’s daughter came to me, and seeks a separate supply in exchange for information on her mother’s plans. I’ve no idea what young Ilori is planning, but if it means a chance to tear Colomba down to size, I shall have to take it.
Ilori…? Whoever Colomba Fallitur is, she has a daughter. Micali knew that from the original entry, but the name was new. It seemed that time did nothing to wear down the rivalry between Fallitur and Elantur.
Somnus 4th, 494PT
Malum and Colomba continue their plotting. They need a replicari of some girl in Lucrus. Some backdoor dealings of some sort with a council member. If they think I’ll accept a fourth into this business, they’re sorely mistaken. I’m already taking time from my own agenda to help them. They need me. The world needs me, needs the replicari, the order and safety that an army can bring.
Some girl in Lucrus? Talrigori? The council members in 494 were...not anyone Micali knew, barring Editus Malum. She would need to research who the council members were to get a better grip on that line. It seemed Elantur got pretty egotistical as time went on. Micali recalled the original entry mentioning battling back the naga. Had Elantur been in it for the good of everyone, all along?
Arctos 15th, 500PT
Malum is dead.
That line sent chills up Micali’s spine. As events got closer to the present day, she felt unsure of just how comfortable she was with all this knowledge. Maybe Talrigori had been right to suggest she not read it. It was the sixth day, now, and she was only a day or so away from being home. Part of her wondered whether knowing this would even matter, what she would even do with the information.
On the seventh day, the mountains turned to grass and Micali reached the outskirts of Lucrus when she reached the final entry.
Juventas 29th, 504PT
Columba informed me that she’d maintain this business so long as I should desire. She seemed...unwell. Perhaps the dosage increase all those years ago was too much - I hadn’t seen her in some time. She’s coming undone. I still need her - the replicari will help the world-over. I simply need to focus on the bigger picture. She left our meeting prematurely - needed to oversee the reconstruction of her lab. Perhaps not on holy grounds this time.
This entry was written only two days before Micali killed him. Fallitur had been there, that recently? Talrigori must not be working with Fallitur then, to wipe out Elantur. Micali felt dizzy from the different aspects at play, like the conspiracy was far too busy for her liking. It appeared, at least, that Elantur did end up regretting their rivalry, but he never got a chance to make good on it. Micali saw to that, though she felt a sudden pang of regret, as though she’d bonded with the...very old man over the course of reading these notes.
As the city of Lucrus came into view over the last hill before the landscape evened out into the sprawling fields outside the city’s walls, Micali recalled what Talrigori had requested of her. She was supposed to notify Talrigori when she was close to Lucrus, to Dom’s. She was more than close, she was maybe twenty minutes out, but she’d already disappointed Talrigori, so she doubted she’d be more mad than she already was.
She retrieved the vox, pressed it into her ear, then clicked it on with her finger, listening to the hum of its activation. “Hey, Tal? I’m right outside the city, should be at Dom’s in about twenty minutes.”
Talrigori’s voice filtered back through immediately, rushed. “What do you mean? You were supposed to notify me when you were close, not when you were already here.”
Micali was surprised by the near-panic in Talrigori’s voice. “Is it that big of a deal? Honestly, don’t even bother giving me the names, I don’t want them. Don’t need the temptation.”
The white enlil didn’t respond to that, and Micali surmised that the conversation was done, but left the vox on in case that changed.
As she reached the city’s gates, she was met by a sight she’d never seen before.
There were no keepers guarding the city. This was completely unheard of - never in her life had the gates been unguarded. If they had, the Insidiis would’ve had a much easier job. As she peeked her head past the gate and entered the city, she was met with an even more eerie sight - the streets were empty. Like a shell of the lively city she left behind, Micali walked toward Dom’s, though carefully so.
Something was very wrong.
About halfway down the Lucrum Marginibus, she heard a voice come through the vox.
“...M-Micali…?” The voice was Rosa’s, though something sounded wrong, off.
“...Rosa? What’s going on?”
Suddenly, the voice of Talrigori came through, “I am sorry Micali. You did this.”
The voices cut out, and outside of the vox, Micali heard gunshots.
Coming from the direction of Dom’s.
She broke into a sprint immediately, knowing she was only a few minutes away. Once she reached the usual turn off the main street, the gunshots stopped in the rapidly approaching distance. She felt the burn of her legs and lungs, but pushed through, though her mind ran through a million worst-case scenarios yet failed to form a coherent thought all at once.
Once she turned onto the street Dom’s sat on, she froze.
Afternoon sun glittered through broken glass, and as Micali slowly walked up to the bar, she registered that two of the windows were nearly completely shattered, bullet holes shot through the walls that remained standing, though weathered by whatever had just taken place here.
Pulling her pistol from its holster, her feet crunched over the broken glass and splintered wood as she pulled open the barely-standing door, nothing audible to hear save the thumping of her heart in her ears. She raised her pistol as she entered, ready for a fight.
It was a horror scene.
Blood pooled on the floor in front of the bar, tables upturned and littered with bullet holes, mugs and steins broken over and around the bar. She spared an instant’s glance at a shattered crystal wine glass. Her eyes shot down to the blood, and she failed to form a full thought. There were no bodies. She could tell herself they were okay.
They all had to be okay.
She rounded the bar, suddenly hurried again as she checked the kitchen and bathroom - both untouched. It seemed whatever happened had mostly taken place in the bar. With all of them gone, it was most likely that they got away.
But she wanted to check upstairs, in case any of them were still here. Careful not to give herself away, she stepped over the creaky floorboard, and up the stairs. Immediately, she checked her own room on the left, to no avail - nothing out of place. Dom’s across the hall from her - also untouched.
She moved down the hall cautiously, footsteps near-silent on the floor as she moved at a mixed pace of hurried and careful. She moved to check Rosa’s room on the right - clear as the others, and Micali felt confident now. Across the hall, her heartbeat paced around in her ears, but the twins’ room was also normal. They were okay. They were safe. Her body relaxed, and she took a deep breath in and out. As her senses came down from the place of pure adrenaline, a new sound caught her ear.
Creaking, and the soft pattering of liquid drip, drip, dripping.
Pistol raised again, she moved back into the hall, hoping to find where the noise came from. The pipes were probably busted up by the amounts of gunfire. Instead, as she moved toward the stairs, the sound of the creak and drip sounded out again - from behind her.
Eyes widening in horror, she turned and stared at the end of the hall.
The door was slightly ajar, and Micali felt prepared for anything when she slowly, slowly crept down the hall to see whatever it was making that noise.
As she pushed the door open, she didn’t realize how wrong she was.
She didn’t feel relief.
Her heartbeat stopped shouting in her ears.
The drip of blood wet the floor, and the creak groaned out again as the hanging body swung idly, the window open and a breeze causing it to move ever-so-slightly.
On the wall, behind the body, written in blood.
T E R M I N U S
Micali dropped to her knees, and her pistol fell from her hand.
She stared up at Rosa’s hanging body, and felt herself, too, fall from reality.