Sub-genre(s): slice-of-life, comedy
Taking the State Conductor’s Exam is only part of the challenge of obtaining a State Conducting License or so Olive soon finds out.
Side-story taking place after part 2 and featuring the main six.
Cadence hadn’t stopped howling for over half an hour. Every time her cackles would die down, she would take a peek at him, heave, and then burst out into another fit of laughter. At the moment, her image was rolling around at his feet on the Cancer-bound train’s floor.
Olive had been face-flushed embarrassed at her reaction at first, but now he was just sick of it.
Unfortunately, the lack of reaction from the other four was even worse than Cadence’s. Atienna’s image sat beside him wearing a sympathetic and understanding expression. Maria and Jericho shared twin looks of confusion from where they were respectively perched on the seat across from him and leaning against the train window to his left. Werner’s expression was utterly unreadable from where his image stood—hands folded behind back—beside Jericho.
No more. Olive couldn’t take this embarrassment any longer.
Atienna cleared her throat. “Well… It has a charming and… natural look, don’t you think?”
Maria tapped her chin and peered down into the object held in Olive’s hands—the object that held all of their attention. “I… do not understand the issue? It looks like you, no?”
Cadence cackled. “Yeah—if he spent the night at a bad bar and was tossed over sideways by the bouncer. That’s actually really damn impressive. How did ya even manage that? That’s real talent right there!” More cackling.
Olive stared down at the newly printed license resting in his hands. He’d received it in the mail earlier that morning just as he was about to depart his hotel with Trystan. At the time, he had been embarrassingly excited, tearing open the official envelope sealed with paraffin wax in the shape of Ophiuchus’s symbol with glee. However, as soon as he laid eyes on his license within, he’d immediately shoved it aside and hid it away. In fact, he’d even considered just lighting it on fire then and there, but thought better of it after he thought of his sister. He’d at least hoped to fly under the radar of the other five during their subsequent synchronization meeting, but his license had been one of the first topics brought up.
And so now here Olive sat staring at his license and trying to focus on the key details of it—name, age, conducting-type—instead of his ID photograph that was capturing everyone else’s attention.
“It’s okay, Olivier,” Jericho said after a beat. “Intuition. The photographer was not experienced. Not a professional. Not your fault. You are not ugly.”
Olive scowled as Cadence howled out into another fit of laughter.
“It does look unprofessional,” Werner agreed. He placed a hand over his mouth and inspected the photo further. “If someone requests to see your license and they see the photograph, you could end up leaving a poor impression on your royal family.”
Olive grimaced at the thought and scowled deeper as he side-glanced at Werner. “Maybe you should be a license inspector instead of an officer then since you’re so opinionated.” At least then the man wouldn’t constantly be out there in all of that fighting and bloodshed. But Olive knew Werner would say something about ‘responsibility’ and ‘duty’ if he even mentioned that, so he shoved the thought down and mumbled, “I don’t see you waving your license around.”
Werner met his gaze causing him to look away.
“Actually, I kinda wanna see it too,” Cadence noted, picking herself up off the ground and drawing nearer to them all. “How about it, Lieutenant? A memory of it ain’t good enough.”
Werner hesitated for a moment before he reached into his back pocket and pulled out a slender leather cardholder chained to his belt.
Werner’s stern and stolid face was captured in the photo. He looked slightly younger, his hair still in an updo but styled slightly to the side. The Capricornian symbol was watermarked in black behind the text:
Werner Waltz / — / M
License Special Class Military: Capricornian Border Force / Rank: First Lieutenant
Conducting Type Projector / Intraneous User
Most used c.a. Conducting Rifle (äußerer Blitz 43 rifle)
Conducting No 1-20-9-14-13-1-14
Issued Year 1938 / Expires Year 1942
“They didn’t say ‘smile,’ Lieutenant?” Cadence arched a brow.
Werner frowned in response.
“I’m jokin’. I’m jokin’.” Cadence held her hands up in placation with a half-grin, before nodding at Jericho. “How about you, detective? Saw yours a bit back in the city, but gotta have the full picture, right?”
Jericho wordlessly pulled his own license out from his pocket and held it out for them to see. His Ophiuchian badge glinted above a portrait photo of him forcing a painful smile that was all teeth.
He looked somewhat psychotic, Olive thought.
Jericho’s face fell slightly as he looked down at his picture with furrowed brows. ‘Psychotic’?
Olive startled, rubbing the back of his neck. “I… didn’t mean it like that—”
“Eh, not as bad as the kid’s,” Cadence reassured Jericho with a pat on the shoulder.
Olive glared at her cheeky smile before returning his attention to Jericho’s license. The details were—
Jericho [ ] / — / M
License Special Class Ophiuchian Peacekeeping Agent
Conducting Type Specialist / Intraneous User
Most used c.a. Conducting Whip (Specialized Balance Sells X50 Model)
Conducting No 14-5-23-8-15-16-5
Issued Year 1940 / Expires Year 1944
Olive was rather surprised at how recently it had been issued.
“Well, if we’re all gonna flash our licenses,” Cadence drew, digging into her suit jacket pocket, “I might as well show mine too, right?”
Olive stared in disbelief. There was no way Cadence had a conducting license—
And yet Cadence flipped one out from her back pocket for them all to see. The worn monochrome photo in the corner of it captured a cheeky but charming smile accented with a wink. The Geminian symbol was watermarked in the background, while the actual license read:
Cadence Morello / — / F
License Special Class N/A
Conducting Type Transmutationist / Intraneous User
Most used c.a. Conducting Rings (Luminescenza Band Brand)
Conducting No 3-8-1-19-9-14-7-4-18-5-1-13-19
Issued Year 1940 / Expires Year 1944
Jericho reached forward and wrapped his hands around Cadence’s wrist. He pulled her closer to him to inspect the license before he blinked. “Fake. This is a forgery. It’s illegal. Cadence—no.”
“Technically it ain’t a forgery if it ain’t printed on real paper,” she remarked in turn, wringing her hand. In a flash of blinding copper, her license returned to its original form—a ticket to the Casa De Bambolle.
Jericho stared for a moment before releasing his grip. “Cadence. You should get a license. Conducting without a license is illegal. I… want you to… be legal.”
“She still needs to improve her reading ability before she can take that step,” Werner replied. “And she’s already behind on that.”
Cadenced winced. “Well, this ain’t about me is it?” She nodded at Olive. “It’s about Olive, ya know?”
Olive narrowed his eyes at her. Trying to divert attention away again—
“Oh, oh!” Maria interjected, throwing a hand in the air. “Do me! Make a license for me, yes? I want to see, Cadence! Maybe I should become a Conductor too then?”
“Ya got it, sunshine.” Cadence chortled, shaking her ringed hand once more. Copper light poured out from her conductors onto the ticket and consumed it in an instant. When the vitae shattered, the ticket had taken upon the appearance of another license.
Maria’s grinning portrait was captured in the photo area while the Leonian symbol was imprinted behind the information details.
Maria Gloria-Fernandez / — / F
License Special Class Golden Beast
Conducting Type Specialist Probably / Both Extraneous and Intraneous User?
Color Gold or Silver or Something or Maybe Diamond if that’s a thing?
Most used c.a. Sword (Probably Stolen From Somewhere)
Conducting No 20-18-21-5-3-1-14-4-9-4-1-20-5
Issued Year 1441 / Expires Year Never
Maria laughed as she read it over. “It is amazing, my dear Cadence! It’s funny how these licenses work, no? You need one just to use something—a conductor? What is the point? Why can you not just use a conductor? This is just a paper, no?”
“Rules and regulations,” Werner replied evenly. “It’s necessary to maintain order in Signum.”
“It’s… also a manner of reassurance,” Atienna drew slowly. “Conductors are quite dangerous things, don’t you think? Having a sort of control over who can use them is…”
“Necessary,” Werner finished. “These are not items you should operate without full knowledge of how to use them.”
“Talib thinks they use licenses as a plan to track all Conductors in Signum,” Jericho said seriously. “They: The Organization. He says it’s the Organization’s plan.”
“Well, wouldn’t that Organization technically be Ophiuchus then… or their Licensing Department?” Cadence arched a brow, scratching her head. “An Organization—ya know—that good ol’ Detective Number Two works for?”
“He says he is undercover,” Jericho replied.
“Quite a cover.” Cadence hummed at this before glancing at Atienna and winking. She shook the card one more time and it shimmered copper once more. Once the light faded, Maria’s photo became replaced by Atienna’s. The Virgoan’s expression in the photograph was calm and smiling, although the corners of her eyes were crinkled with mischief. Above the faint imprint of the Virgoan symbol were the following details—
Atienna Imamu / — / F
License Special Class Diplomat
Conducting Type Elementalist (Earth) Vibes / Extraneous User?
Color My Mind Says Green
Most used c.a. Fists & Words?
Conducting No 9-14-1-4-18-5-1-13
Issued Year -2000000000 / Expires Year 200000000
Atienna chuckled, covering her mouth. “Well, seeing it now makes me wonder if I should try for an actual license myself. And… a diplomat, you say? Well, that’s quite a promotion…” For some reason, she didn’t sound too happy about it.
“Enough jokes, Morello.”
“Aw, come on, Lieutenant. It’s all fun and games.”
Olive arched an eyebrow at Cadence before suddenly finding himself wondering what Lavi’s license would look like if she were ever to get one.
Cadence’s smile dropped for a moment before she swung herself down into the seat beside him. “I’m remembering this from you and Jericho, so I might be misremembering here… but don’t ya get the chance ta look at your license photo right after ya take it, so you can retake it then and there if ya want?”
“Yeah, but I… didn’t think about it,” Olive admitted. “After everything that happened with Jin and…” He glanced at her and Jericho. “… Francis… I just wanted to leave as fast as possible.”
“And that’s the issue,” Werner responded coolly. “You didn’t think.”
Atienna hummed. “Well… this isn’t an issue that requires that much reprimanding, don’t you think, Werner? It’s a very small thing.”
After a pause, Werner nodded in agreement. “This is a simple problem, Chance. If you dislike the photograph that much, you can return to Ophiuchus and have it taken again.”
Olive grimaced. The thought of returning to the Serpens Establishment after his encounter with Jin paired with the thought of possibly encountering Leona there too made him apprehensive. But—no. He had to stop running away… even if it were just so he could retake a terrible photo for his license.
“I will be here, Olivier,” Jericho said. “No worrying.”
Olive met Jericho’s gaze. Thanks.
Jericho offered him a thumbs-up as he pocketed his license.
Cadence abruptly hopped up to a stand and stretched out her arms. “Well, I’m gonna try ta de-synchronize for a bit. Allen and Carl asked me ta look after the kids around noon today—”
“You’re fifteen minutes late,” Werner noted.
“I know.” Cadence sighed, sinking to a crouch. “But the kids are like monsters I tell ya! Monsters! All this is tellin’ me is that I’ll never become a parent. Hell no ta that. I mean—I thought the prince was a brat. But those damn tiny terrors are a whole ‘nother story.”
Olive narrowed his eyes.
Cadence chortled in response and reached a hand for his head. “I’m just messin’ with ya, kid. Picture looks fine too. Like the lieutenant said, ya can always change it if ya want. Really made my day though.”
Olive swatted her hand away, just managing to catch sight of her half-smile before she disappeared from his sights. A quick look around the compartment told him that Jericho’s and Maria’s synchronization levels were lower now too because he could no longer see their images either. Of course, those two would leave without announcing goodbyes first.
Now there was just Atienna and Werner. Whether they lingered by choice or because they hadn’t been able to lower their synchronization levels yet was something Olive didn’t really want to think about.
“What’s wrong, Olive?” Atienna asked suddenly, sinking down closer beside him. “I… You seem a bit troubled.” The corners of her lips turned up slightly. “And not just because of the photo.”
Olive still didn’t like the feeling of them all being able to see deep inside of him. These were private thoughts and feelings he wanted to keep just to himself. But at least Atienna was pretending that she didn’t know what the issue was even though she probably did.
“I don’t like it…” Olive finally admitted after a beat. “It feels like it was just handed to me.”
“You’re referring to the fact that Leona bypassed the practical exam to approve of your license,” Werner stated.
“Her intentions are strange, don’t you think, Werner?” Atienna murmured, slowly glancing up at the man. “First with Maria and now with Olive…”
Werner met Atienna’s gaze and nodded. “We should be cautious. Something is developing here beyond our knowledge. Saint candidates and ELPIS appear to be at the center of it.” He paused, ruminating. “There’s also the concern regarding Jericho’s recent acceptance into the ELPIS Investigations Department. While that proves as a point of advantage for us in one regard, we must consider the opposite scenario. This has a possibility of being a double-edged sword.”
“Jericho was a bit less excited than I thought he’d be,” Atienna murmured. “I wonder if that’s due to Francis and Theta…”
“He is still too easily carried away,” Werner amended after a pause. He glanced back down to Olive and said, “If you wish, Chance, you could wait for your license to expire instead of renewing it at the end of 1945. Afterwards, you can take the entire exam again. I would advise against this since it’s a poor use of time.”
It was always efficiency with Werner, Olive thought.
“Your score on the written portion was the second-highest of your cohort,” Werner continued. “Your dedication points to the effort you’ve made to change. That is something to be commended in itself. And although theory and application are two different things, given your unique conducting ability, I’m sure you would have passed with an acceptable score if given the opportunity.” He paused in thought. “All things considered, what you’ve achieved is something…”
“… it’s something you should take pride in,” Atienna finished.
When Olive looked up to both Werner and Atienna in surprise, both were gone, their synchronization thinned to low levels. Olive was secretly relieved at this because he didn’t want them to fully feel the relief and reassurance he felt at their words. It was embarrassing—especially considering what Cadence had said to him earlier during their previous fight.
Stupid, one-sided family complex, Olive berated himself. Sad—
The door to the train compartment suddenly opened and Trystan stepped inside carrying with him two platters of strawberry cheesecake. When the royal guard approached the booth, he noticed the license sitting on his seat. After setting the two cakes on the table, he picked the license up and handed it over to Olive.
“What now?” Trystan asked as he seated himself.
Olive arched a brow at him. “You make it sound like you’re not going to head back to Aries now. I thought your contract was just until I got my license.”
“It’s… my duty to protect you,” Trystan answered, folding his hands on his lap. “That is, at least until I’m no longer fit to protect you.” He cleared his throat. “…and I’m eager to see what you will do from now on. I have high hopes for whatever you set out to achieve.”
“When you put it like that, it’s creepy. But a paycheck is a paycheck…” Olive shrugged. “Still… thanks, I guess.”
Trystan merely dipped his head. Olive studied him for a moment before wrapping his fingers around the slim piece of paper that could possibly act as the key to solving his sister’s condition.
“Now, I continue learning,” Olive finally answered.
Trystan looked up, met his gaze, and then nodded.
But Olive decided he was still definitely going to have his photo retaken.