Title: In the Name of Power
By: S. Arallion
Based loosely on the anime series "Trinity Blood" (originally crafted as a novel by Yoshida Sunao, character design by THORES Shibamoto; turned into manga by Kiyo Kuujou and most recently developed into an anime series produced by GONZO)
Acknowledgments: Thanks to all my reviewers for your support and encouragement in continuing this, and to Lael Adair for reading the draft and catching a few oddities.
Disclaimer: All characters in this story are owned by their respective copyright holders and authorized licensors —namely, not myself. Anything you don't recognize is my fault. I make absolutely no profit from my use of these characters. -- Arallion
Part 7: En Passant
The café shrank after dark.
It sounded strange, but it was true. During daylight hours, the café in the Palazzo Sparta took up a huge amount of space in the square, extending wire-framed tables with brightly colored umbrellas out into what would normally be considered walking space. Passersby wove their way through the maze-like seating area, smelling the aroma of rich coffee and savory food, and more often than not would stop in for a break.
At night, however, most of the external tables were tucked into corners and closed down, leaving only a few available around the café entrance. Glimmering lamplight illuminated each umbrella with a firefly ambience; even inside, the lights were relatively dim and mellow. It was a perfect place for late night contemplation or the occasional surreptitious romance.
It was also a perfect place for what Wordsworth liked to term "covert ops".
The Professor had taken a seat at a table in a quiet corner near the edge of the roped-off section outside. It was slightly colder out than he preferred, but he'd brought a book and some papers to work on – he did still teach at the University of Rome, despite being in absentia more often than not. Thesis papers would occasionally sneak up on him, clamoring to be critiqued and torn apart with copious amounts of red ink. And, truth be told, he found it somewhat cathartic these days to set aside The Enemy of the World in favor of his students' theories on harmonic analysis or the like.
The other reason, of course, was that he only needed to devote a tiny amount of attention to the papers. While looking busy as could be, he could scrutinize all who traversed the square or entered the café.
Nearly an hour and a half had passed since Vespers. He'd slipped into the Basilica at the last moment, standing in the back although his rank and title would allow him to stand closer to the front if he wished. From this vantage, however, he'd been able to keep an eye on all the strange pieces of this puzzle – Francesco, appearing curiously jittery and impatient with the proceedings; Petros, impassive and pious as always; Paula, shooting her superior odd glances when she felt he wasn't looking; Caterina and Tres, well-disguised. Very well-disguised, in fact – he'd only known they were there because Sister Kate had whispered in his ear before he entered the Basilica. Notably absent had been von Kämpfer, but then, he supposed that Francesco's use for a Methuselah didn't extend to inviting one to services.
Wordsworth came out of his musings with a start. At last, he recognized a face from the ceremony entering the café; a young man with a round face and curly dark brown hair, wearing the badge of the Ministry of Sacred Doctrine on the breast of his surplice. The acolyte trotted up the steps, a bit out of breath, and paused to wave at someone inside before crossing into the interior of the café, out of the Professor's direct line of sight. There was a brief commotion as greetings were exchanged – he heard a female voice added to the acolyte's reedy tenor while drinks were procured – and then things settled down. Curiosity piqued, Wordsworth set his pipe down, tucked the red pen into the folds of paperwork and casually walked inside with his half-drained coffee cup.
The slow pace he set allowed him a moment to take in the scene. The acolyte was sitting with his back to Wordsworth, talking to his female companion in an animated manner that suggested he was either quite nervous or quite excited about something. Considering the lateness of the hour, he'd likely been involved in the meeting di Medici had requested. Perhaps he was so enthused by what had happened there that he simply couldn't keep his mouth shut?
Of course, it was equally possible that the boy simply had a horrible case of puppy love, and was gushing on about nothing of interest whatsoever. While that would be unfortunate, Wordsworth silently acknowledged that he certainly couldn't blame him. The girl's sunny blonde hair bounced in smooth waves about her shoulders and neck as she listened with a smile, dark eyes sparkling. Attentive and vivacious, fresh-faced and luminous in her blue novice's habit; the Professor found himself reminded wistfully of Sister Kate, before her tragic accident.
"Ah, madam – another coffee if you would? My cup's gone regrettably cold," he told the woman behind the counter with a winning smile. She was dark-haired and olive-complexioned and knew him as a regular late-night coffee-drinker; she was luckily also one of his best informants when he needed one. Meanwhile, his ears strained to distill the soft voices from the other clinks and rattles that permeated the air.
"...didn't believe it would work, and still don't… His Eminence really made a statement though…. should see it, it's quite impressive… deflection… supposed to come from right out of the cross in the Square…"
The Professor nodded and smiled politely as the counter attendant handed him a fresh cup of steaming coffee, pushing a few more dinars than were required across the counter. The woman looked at him, then at the seated couple, and nodded faintly. With a slight bow, Wordsworth began to carry the cup back out to his seat, taking another opportunity to glance at his quarry.
A murmur of concern came from the novice, her eyes wide and dark in the glow of lamplight.
"No no, it's all right!" From this angle, the sound of the acolyte's protest bounced off the polished wood paneling of the back wall and carried quite nicely. "I was told I could leave… By the Chief Inquisitor himself! It was only high-ranking officials there anyway… I just hope he doesn't erase the disc by accident, Cardinal Francesco would be so peeved…"
Wordsworth forced himself to continue walking with an effort. If that boy was saying what he thought he was saying… that seed he'd planted could have borne fruit more quickly than he'd expected. And that made him incredibly nervous. He didn't really want to get the Chief Inquisitor in over his head; odd as that sounded it was accurate, because subtlety was not exactly something Petros was known to excel at.
Sitting back down at the table, Wordsworth scowled faintly at his book and the pile of un-graded papers.
Abel watched in dumbstruck horror, his vision tunneling down to Sister Paula's slender, gloved fingers slowly flipping a switch and then moving inexorably to a slider on the panel. The motions couldn't possibly be as slow as they appeared, yet the suspicion of what was coming made everything feel as if it were dragging through cold molasses.
"Please…" he whispered again, although he knew she couldn't hear.
Instead of a gradual ramp-up, this time he was forcibly transformed within a fraction of a second, the sonic frequencies a deadly threnody running through his cringing veins. It gave him only a tiny bit of vicious pleasure to see the Vice-Chief step back in dismay from the window as his features changed in the grip of the nanomachines; he was too busy staggering backwards himself as the wings billowed forth, pulling him off-balance. At least this time he wasn't hitting the far walls, close as he was to the edge of the room.
Stumbling a bit, Abel pulled himself upright again, choking back an agonized cry as the Crusnik nanomachines seized up and resisted the motion. He forced one taloned hand to reach out and scrabble frantically for the curve of the wall, latching on and digging into the pliable surface so that he could drag himself back. His wavering gaze caught a glimpse of Sister Paula's pale face staring down at him with a hint of fear, but he could not bear to look further and ducked his head away, closing his red-tinged eyes.
Closing his eyes did not help, unfortunately. The resonance – and the sensation of his form shifting irregularly under its influence – appeared to be disrupting his equilibrium. Without visual confirmation, he could barely tell that he was still standing upright… A queasy feeling crept up his spine, and he felt a sudden chill as sweat he hadn't known was there began to evaporate in the controlled atmosphere.
Abel fought off unconsciousness with a panicky determination. He was now lodged securely against the wall under the observation window, clinging with both hands; above him the great wings shattered and reformed, shattered and reformed, while the furious blue-white ball of electricity created by the Crusnik roared near the apex of the ceiling. The sound seemed to be intensifying. It was hard to maintain any sort of coherent thought, although he knew that he must – but everything was beginning to center around the pain of the fibrillating nanomachines in his cells. White flashes and dull red afterimages floated in his vision, and he shook his head sharply, only to dig his talons into the wall harder as a wave of nausea hit him from the motion.
It felt as if his entire body were spinning apart.
Gasping, he stared desperately at the wall in hopes that the bland, rubberized surface would anchor his mind as well as his body. He could almost feel the tenuous strands of his sanity fraying and unraveling. Images flickered through his mind unbidden – memories disjointed; fractured and reflecting into themselves like glass falling from a mirror…
A child's face, garnet-colored eyes far wiser than when they had first met… turning to him with wary excitement as a neatly creased sheet of parchment wavered in slender fingers…
"Father Nightroad. It's from my grandmother – she's asking me to return to the Empire. I'm sure it won't be for too long, just briefly to check in…" The tone was hesitant, questioning; still, Ion Fortuna, the Earl of Memphis, had an expression of hope on his pale features that Abel hadn't seen for months. He couldn't say no… there was an odd corner of his own heart that was homesick as well. Although how the people of the Ministry of Holy Affairs had come to occupy that barren wasteland, he hadn't a clue…
"Father Nightroad, are you certain you won't accept my offer of employment? I asked Her Eminence, Lady Caterina, and she maintained that it would be up to you…"
The soft voice belied the regal bearing of Albion's new Queen; the girl he'd known was still there, uncertain and wistful beneath the heavy gold-embroidered brocades and silks and sparkling jeweled crown.
As always, he noted that the riches paled in comparison to her natural beauty, the fire of her hair, the glimmering sapphire of her eyes. He could feel Ion at his side practically quivering with excitement.
"Your Majesty –"
"Queen Esther," Abel partially corrected himself with a quirk of a smile. "I'm sorry, we can't." The stab of pain he felt as her hopeful face fell was not entirely unexpected… yet sharper than he'd wanted to believe it might be. He intentionally did not look at Ion, although he could feel the Methuselah's dismayed glance burning into the side of his head.
"He'll be coming here, though. You realize that, don't you? Now that the Ghetto has been opened, he'll be coming!" Hope sprang eternal – her eyes were fierce, her tone urgent as she battled to convince him.
He sighed. "It's highly unlikely he'll return. I destroyed what he was interested in acquiring. There's nothing else he wants, here."
"He wants you," she pointed out archly, setting white-gloved hands on her hips in a distinct challenge. The spark in her eyes flared brighter, knowing that she'd scored a point.
Unfortunately for her, it merely emphasized why he couldn't remain. Raising his hands in a fair approximation of the oblivious, awkward persona she'd once known, he remarked lightly, "Well, then I suppose I'm in luck, my Lady. After all, no matter where I go, there I am!" The look he directed at Esther over his round spectacles was intentionally daft. His young companion and the Queen exchanged glances, and Esther rolled her eyes with familiar exasperation.
No, he couldn't expose either of them to that sort of danger. Enough that Fortuna was following him around…
"You can't protect us all, you know."
The Duchess of Kiev's amber eyes with their catlike pupils bored into his with an intensely serious expression as her words echoed like a death-knell in his head.
But I have to, his mind shrieked. Desperate. Ragged, like he'd swallowed broken glass. Was it possible for a thought to bleed? I made a promise. There was something wrong – something felt very wrong, but he couldn't tell – exactly – what. Was it fear? Probably, he admitted to himself. Still, he'd often been afraid for those who worked at his side; those who were dear to him. Something had changed, something fundamental…
He stared at the Methuselah blankly for so long that her fine brows quirked in worry and she grabbed his shoulders. Instinctively, he pulled away, slipping from beneath her hands and catching her wrists in long fingers. With a hiss of surprise, Astharoshe twisted in his inhumanly strong grip to free herself, her eyes wide with confusion before they narrowed purposefully and he found himself on the receiving end of a furious glare.
"Nightroad!" Abel jumped and let go of her wrists, jolted back to reality. Asta's bellow was not something to be taken lightly. "Knock it off!"
He'd not even realized… he'd been so careful in the past, too. What would she be thinking now? "Asta –" he began awkwardly. The nickname was quite deliberate – if anything would distract the easily-irritated Methuselah from his unfortunate slip, he thought that might. She didn't even blink.
"I know what you're trying to do, and it won't work. You've been acting strangely ever since you returned. And the whole 'I was supposed to be dead' excuse is getting old. Explain."
He blinked in genuine surprise, and a little nervousness. Where were the questions that should have been raised by his behavior just now? At least those he had answers for. "Asta, I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about. I'm fine – you just startled me, that's all."
The Methuselah continued her fierce stare for a moment longer, then sighed, her shoulders drooping. "All right, you don't have to tell me... but if you think that I believe that excuse for a second, you're sadly mistaken, tovarisch." Her use of the Methuselah term for 'partner' felt like salt in a raw wound, but he managed to keep his expression smooth.
"Yes, well… I couldn't get your tiger to let go of my pants last time either," he mumbled with a slight grin, remembering his last encounter with the Tigress of Kiev's prized companions. She swatted him on the shoulder and he winced. "Ow."
"Tell me you didn't deserve that," sniffed Astharoshe disdainfully; her eyes, however, glinted with humor.
"Oh no, I can't afford the time in confessional," he admitted with a chuckle.
Condemn me, Father, for I have sinned… it has been ten days since my last confession, and in that time I watched an entire city die, and a person most dear to me die with it…
The soft question carried across the stone paving of St. Peter's Square. The voice reminded him of bells.
He didn't want to think about bells.
He couldn't speak; he could barely summon the courage to stand before her. It was strange. Caterina had always been the symbol of the humanity he would fight to save, to protect. Her shining golden hair, once a riot of untamable curls, was now a carefully tended mane of perfectly coiled locks. Her clear blue gaze, once alight with mischief – that he more often than not gave in to – had sharpened into the contemplative and calculating eyes of a strategist. She'd grown up, and he'd noticed, but only in passing; as the changes took place he merely shifted more and more into the role of the Fool as appropriate to her position of authority. Her changes were simply the embodiment of humanity's greatest gift.
There was a familiar air about her these days, however, that he found himself shying away from, skittish like a beaten horse. He felt the stress rolling off of her in waves, the hope-beyond-all-reason that somehow they might find a bloodless way to resolve the ultimate feud of blood between human and Methuselah. He remembered a pale, perfect face, held aloft by a white glove clutching sleek red hair, another woman who sacrificed everything to try and end this war that was now being resurrected.
He held out his weapon belt, pistol secured in the holster, and his identification card – and Caterina stared at him with blank incomprehension, just for a moment. Then the action registered and he saw the pain enter her eyes, a cloud of shadow polluting her irises. Her lips twisted, her jaw clenched, her hands closed tightly in the folds of her scarlet chasuble.
"Abel… is this really what you want?"
She was talking, pleading yet not pleading, and it was good because he didn't want her to beg. Something inside him had been ripped apart in that hollow, desecrated skeleton of a church in Barcelona. A wound he'd never noticed healing was torn wide once more; it may not have been physical, but he felt it so keenly that he could barely walk. It still unnerved him a little that he wasn't coughing up pints of blood onto the pavement. He hadn't slept in days, for fear of losing himself to the phantom screams that echoed through his mind from a dying city…
I will protect the humans.
You can't protect anyone, can you?
He set the items on the ground before her, and tears spilled forth unbidden behind his spectacles. Yet another in a long, long list of failures. But – if this failure would keep her alive – if his absence would keep them all safe… He had to do this.
"Abel!" she called out as he walked away across the rain-soaked stones. "If it's the killing you regret, then remember: I have killed too!" Her voice was not quite breaking, not quite desperate. He pretended not to hear.
"Stop thinking those horrible thoughts, Abel."
He turned from glowering out the expanse of glassteel viewport to glower instead at the speaker, a woman with long, intricately pinned hair the color of fire. He loved her hair – truth be told, he loved everything about her – but he could never say as much to her face. In comparison to this swan, he was but a gangly, awkward, ugly duckling. "How do you know I'm thinking anything at all, Lilith?"
She smiled. "You're always thinking something, Abel dear. And with that expression, I'm surprised there isn't a hole burnt through the window."
He blushed faintly, and then quickly turned back to the window in a vain attempt to hide it. "Fine."
"It hurts you to see them killing each other, doesn't it."
Abel jumped, startled, as the words jolted him like an electrical current. "I do not care. They can do what they like."
"You do care, and that's why you sit up here day after day, getting more sullen and bitter. Abel, just admit it. No matter what you say, you don't really want them to die."
"I do." He turned back, eyes flashing venomously, but Lilith's cool green gaze met his without blinking. He pressed on regardless, carried away with his own fervor. "They're a waste of energy. They killed each other over nothing! They created us and then they just left us up there to die! Expendable goods, Lilith, that's all we were to them! Why should they be any more to us?"
Lilith let the echoes of his tirade die, watching him solemnly. "Abel. These people are not the same ones who created us. Their participation in this is as involuntary as ours was. Should the sins of their forefathers condemn them?" She sighed, tilting her head faintly. The motion was elegant, he noticed wistfully. All of her motions were so. "I know you feel this, even though you deride them at every opportunity."
He blinked, and processed her phrasing. Lilith's vocabulary had always been impressive; the right words seemed to flow from her tongue like quicksilver. "I do not!"
"And contradict every nice thing I say at every opportunity." She was laughing at him now; the tiny quirk of her lips and mirthful sparkle in her eyes gave it away.
"I do not – ugh. Lilith –"
"Abel," she parroted, but there was no malice in the tone.
Abel sighed, allowing his posture to give away the fact that she'd derailed his sulking quite handily. "I don't care about them." It was a parting shot, just to make sure his intentions were still clear; whether meant for Lilith or for himself, he couldn't quite tell.
"Well… do you care about me, then?"
His eyes, half-lidded with irritation, shot open. "Of course!"
"And I care about them. So perhaps you can care about them, through me."
"What?" Abel nearly laughed. "Lilith, that doesn't make any sense."
Her emerald gaze pinned him to the spot for a long, silent moment. Abel almost forgot to breathe, his heart – normally such a cold, quiet thing – lurching into heavy thuds that echoed through his narrow ribcage and rang in his ears. It doesn't make sense. It doesn't even matter, he tried to say.
But it did matter. And the words stuck in his throat. He was not accustomed to lying… at least, not on purpose.
"I'm with you, Abel. No matter what happens. If you want to keep hating them, that fact won't change. But I wish you'd stop hurting yourself like this." She was earnest, sincere, sad. She was a gentle goddess, and he felt unworthy to be the recipient of her care.
"Why?" he whispered, tears prickling at his eyes…
"Do you have to ask, really?"
He gazed sadly at the red-haired girl – for despite her actions, she was still little more than a girl. She stared back at him in confusion, barely able to shake her head. All the fierce bravado she'd displayed earlier in the church, defending that which she'd thought most important, had drained away, leaving a hollow, broken shell.
That too, was the price of revenge.
"It's because… I am your friend."
The blank, stunned expression he received at once saddened and chilled him. It was like gazing into a mirror… except their positions were reversed. Could he actually keep this child from going down the path he'd chosen then?
She was silent long enough that his heart sank – perhaps it was too late. And then her face shifted, the eyes that had been dull and weary suddenly gaining a spark of understanding. "Father Nightroad…"
So close… I was so close to sleeping for eternity. Who woke me? I heard Tres' voice… "Mission accomplished." What had he done?
I want to sleep again. I can't join her, of course… but oblivion itself would be a nice change…
Why did you wake me?
A female voice, ragged and raw. I don't recognize it. Or… perhaps I do… a name bubbles to the surface…
My heart remembers this girl. But… my heart is gone, destroyed. My brother took it. Like he took -
"Now then, Abel." That voice…
I don't want to care anymore. Caring hurts.
I'm so tired…
They promise me that they can destroy him, and if it costs me my existence, it is worth it.
…one hundred percent –
He thought he might have screamed the denial, but the nanomachines' anguish had frozen his larynx and it was unlikely that he could make any sound beyond a relatively dismal squeak. Still, the jolt of fear that the last memory had provoked brought him back to reality before his tortured body could muster a physical response and actually try to force his powers beyond the limit they were being raised to. Gasping for air, he focused on the curve of the wall again, but it was fuzzy, phasing between the blue before his nose and a pale memory of sterile ecru and ivory.
Abel shook his head sharply in an attempt to clear it, but the motion only sent jolts of pain crashing through his skull. The room spun in a whirl of blue and green, and he gagged, doubling over to put his head between his knees before the nausea overwhelmed him.
Sister Paula Sokołowska was not happy.
She'd not risen to the position of power she held in the Vatican, as the Inquisition's second in command and essentially the main administrative officer, by being squeamish. However, she'd not been prepared for the radical change triggered by her activation of the sound system, either. Nightroad was usually such a docile, harmless-looking man – but this… this was a nightmare come to flesh.
She supposed that he was still uncannily passive, considering the circumstances. Now that her initial horror and revulsion had passed, Paula felt easier about stepping close to the observation window, looking down on the shuddering form of her prisoner with a more clinical eye.
It looked more like a demon, really. Blue-grey skin; gleaming red eyes; long, sharp talons and fangs; that horrendous gore-twisted scythe; and the sickeningly shifting wings – not to mention the sheet of lightning that roared out from between those wings. If it hadn't been for the AX uniform the priest still wore, she would have found it difficult to recognize him in this shape. And if she'd met something like this on the field… well, either she or it would be dead now. If it were even possible to kill a thing like this…
Briefly, she wondered what the Cardinal di Medici had thought of Caterina's monster. She knew that he and Petros had been down here earlier in the day, to prove to Caterina how unfit Nightroad was to walk free.
A part of her wished that Francesco had not asked her to ensure this night's regimen was carried out. But it was clear they had limited time to work with, and their superior had concerns about how quickly Caterina had found out what had happened to her agent. They'd expected to have at least a day, if not more, before word got out, but somehow the canny Minister of Holy Affairs had gotten wind of it within the hour.
Francesco had not exactly kept his suspicions as to the origin of the leak private, either.
Paula sighed to herself, tugging absently at the collar of her Inquisitorial cassock. She'd done what she could to deflect the Cardinal's pointed questions. There were only so many opportunities to confront a person in the Vatican proper with any degree of privacy, after all. It was quite possible that Petros had ended up arresting Nightroad right inside the Palazzo Sparta, where anyone looking out the windows might have seen the situation.
Brother Petros had been, as usual, patently oblivious to the thinly veiled questions. He'd been so thoroughly dense today, in fact, that she was beginning to get concerned. She stared down at the shivering Crusnik without really seeing it, drumming the fingers of one hand on the ledge of the window.
Petros, what were you thinking?
At times like this, she really wished it were possible to just knock the Knight of Destruction out and hide him in a closet for a week, until the events that were guaranteed to offend his sensibilities blew over. Working around him in this manner was nearly impossible. She scowled and shook her head in irritation – then caught her breath in a gasp as her eyes focused on the inside of the chamber.
The electrical lightshow had diminished, and the Crusnik was now doubled over, retching violently, twitching as if he were in the throes of a seizure. More than just his wings seemed to be shifting and dematerializing now – she could swear she was looking right through his body. And was that blood he was choking on?
"No!" Paula hissed in dismay, frozen in place as a dozen thoughts collided in her head at once. What if he died? Where did that leave the plan? Was it the vampire's doing – that so-called 'refugee' from Albion's Ghetto? Could this have been a trap all along?
Or had she done something wrong when setting up the routine – something that caused this? And if that were the case, what would happen to her?
Instinctively, her hand darted to her communication earpiece. "Brother Petros! Emergency in the secured ward!"
The click of the return connection was followed by Petros' stern, but oddly calming voice. "Vice-Chief, report. What's going on?"
She took a deep breath, vaguely dismayed at what she'd done, but it was too late now to change things. "Nightroad is not well, sir – I think something's gone wrong with the sonic generator."
There was a startled silence. Then, "Did you turn it off, Sister?"
Paula blinked. "R-right. Doing that now, sir." Now she felt dense. And angry, because she'd let her unease get the best of her.
"Slowly please – don't shock his system too much."
"Right." She cringed internally, and started pulling down the sliders, far more slowly than she'd turned them up. It seemed that the misty, see-through effect was going away, but the priest-turned-monster was still looking awful.
"When you've done that, open the security door to the left and go down the stairs. At the base of the stairs should be another window, and a drawer that will open out into the chamber. There's also a cooler unit on the wall in front of you. Open the cooler and take out two – no, make it three of the vials you find there. Open the vials and place them in the holders in the drawer, then push the green button you find to the left of the counter to send the drawer through." The instructions were rattled off with brisk precision, broken only by a faint huff and echoing clatter that she presumed was the Chief Inquisitor launching himself down a flight of stairs and being forced to catch himself without the aid of his armor.
"Sister? Did you catch all that?"
"Yes, sir." She shook her head to clear it, frowning, and quickly began to follow his instructions, swiping her identification card to open the door to the left of the room and skidding down the curved stairs. She opened the cooler unit and stopped in surprise. "It's blood?"
"Methuselah blood, yes."
Paula blanched white and gingerly extended a hand to pull out the vials one at a time, removing the stoppers and placing them in the circular holders built into the pass-through drawer. She hit the green button and watched as a panel slid into place between the contents of the drawer and her side of the room, and then as the drawer was pushed out into the main chamber. "All right, it's – "
Almost instantly, the Crusnik's sharp features turned towards her – toward the contents of the drawer, she reminded herself, fighting the urge to press backwards into the wall. But whereas earlier she'd seen human expression in the creature's face, this time there was nothing – nothing but blank hunger. It was almost like looking at a completely different being.
She thought that perhaps she liked the other one better…
The air in the chamber seemed to be filling with a fine sooty fog, and it was becoming hard to see the Crusnik's form. What was going on in there?
"Vice-Chief? Sister Paula. Are you all right?"
"I'm fine – it's done – but something else is wrong now." She couldn't quite keep the frustration out of her tone. This was supposed to have been a quick, uncomplicated procedure… "There's some kind of… gas… in the chamber. It's clouding the windows and I can't see what's happening with Nightroad. I don't think he's able to move in order to get to the vials."
"That's why I had you open them, Vice-Chief." Petros' voice sounded clipped, but relieved. She couldn't imagine why. "Don't worry about the cloudy windows; everything should be fine in a moment. Let me know what you see when it clears. I'll join you shortly."
The communication shut off with another click, and Paula stared at the darkening window in disbelief.
Note: For those unfamiliar, 'En Passant' (from the French for 'in passing') is used in chess to denote the occasion when a pawn uses the two-square first move and brings itself parallel with an opposing pawn, in essence moving through a threatened space. On the next turn, the opponent may choose to capture the intrepid pawn if so desired. It is the only occasion in chess where a piece may capture but not move to the square of the captured piece. The right to capture is forfeit should the opponent not capture immediately.