Tomb Raider © Square Enix Ltd.
BLOOD LIKE ICE
Ravensbrück, Northern Germany - December 1944
Clearly the experiment had not gone well.
Joachim placed a hand on the glass cocoon, his palm warmed even through the leather of his glove, and stared in silence at the creature suspended inside. It faced him with blind, half-dead eyes that darted slowly around as if struggling to focus. It was a disfigured mess, body parts and features nowhere they should be, like someone had torn the body apart and put it back together blindfolded. As he watched, the creature spasmed once, the mouth moving in silent screams, before the heart rate monitor dwindled to a single tone.
Joachim pounded a fist on the glass and whipped around to face the team of scientists behind him. Each was busy scribbling their own rapid notes regarding the experiment, all looking the part of one who is avoiding being noticed at all costs. They were worried, perhaps even afraid. They had good cause to be.
And behind them all stood Luther Rouzic, uniform impeccable and standing as stock-straight as ever. His one good eye met Joachim's, and to Rouzic's credit, he didn't flinch away from his gaze.
"All of you, out. Rouzic, to me."
Without any hesitation his team filtered towards the exits, clearly trying to maintain a pretense of calm. Soon he was left alone with Rouzic, who made his way calmly to Joachim's side and stood with hands clasped behind his back and face impassive.
"You told me this attempt would work," Joachim murmured, "and yet I find this dead monster before me. Is this how you show thanks for the gifts I have given you?"
"Of course not, my lord, I wish only to serve you well. Unfortunately, the scope of these experiments is clearly not part of the skillset that these sorry excuses for scientists claim to possess."
"Clearly." Despite his distaste for the outright cruelty displayed by many of the Nazi men and women under his command, their horrific acts overshadowed the many experiments he undertook in their midst and gave him a place to stay beneath the radar of the Lux Veritatis. They were the perfect decoy. Still, every day he was amazed at what they were willing to perform in the name of science, and how little they ultimately accomplished with their efforts. The genocide hit far closer to home than he was comfortable with.
"Explain what happened," Joachim instructed Rouzic, rounding the cocoon to examine the creature from another angle. Rouzic retrieved one of the abandoned clipboards nearby, scanned it quickly, and then cleared his throat.
"In every experiment we have attempted thus far, the Watcher's DNA has begun to decompose the moment it is removed from the host." He flipped a few pages back in the log. "Apparently the Proto-Nephilim was incompatible from the start with the decaying sample of DNA we introduced, and this caused numerous genetic defects. Soon after it went through a period of growth and death simultaneously- almost a cancer, if you will. The eyes were blind, the heart growing in the pelvic cavity, so on and so forth." He set the clipboard down. "In other words, even without the defects it likely would have been brain-dead once taken out of stasis."
Joachim took a step back from the cocoon and again fixed his aide with a glare. "How many attempts has it been now, Rouzic?"
"Several, my lord, but this one was close. It possesses tangible Nephilic characteristics despite it's deformity; the wing bones here-" He gestured vaguely somewhere near the hips. "-and the epidermal runes that you can see here, on the neck."
"Close is not enough, Rouzic, and I'm fast running out of patience." He eyed the specimen with disgust. "This is unacceptable. They think they are the most brilliant minds of these past centuries, and yet humans still perform like simpleton apes. I require solutions, not failures."
Rouzic hesitated. "I have…one theory, my lord." Joachim was silent, and Rouzic took it as a sign to continue. "Think back to your own origins. The union of the Grigori with humans- a union that introduced the next step in evolution for an inferior race. Nothing ill came of this union, not a single defective offspring. The Nephilim are perfect."
"Where is this going?" Joachim asked, eyes narrowing.
"All of our experiments thus far have been attempts at manufacturing a hybrid, to force that natural evolution on a creature we have constructed. What if we gave nature a chance instead?"
Realizing the implication of Rouzic's words, Joachim smiled. "In utero."
"Precisely, my lord."
"How do you propose it be done, if the DNA decays the moment it is removed from the Grigori?"
Rouzic launched into a detailed explanation of his proposed theory. Most of it did not interest Joachim, and he found his mind wandering. The Watcher they held in stasis was deteriorating fast, a combination of the stress the experiments had placed it under and imperfection taking its toll. Soon it would be of no more use than any other mortal human. Once that happened, he would need to secure another specimen.
"One other thing, my lord. Our Cabal agents in the field have finally reported back with news on the order of the Lux Veritatis."
Drawn out of his reverie, Joachim looked intently at Rouzic. "And?"
"We've managed to track down a large settlement of them. They have an outpost in a run down castle in the South- Kriegler, I believe was the name. From all reports, I have reason to suspect this is where they have chosen to hold the Black Alchemist captive."
It was only a matter of time until I found him. "How serendipitous. If your theory results in a viable Proto-Nephilim, we'll have two pieces of the puzzle in our grasp."
Rouzic looked pleased with himself. "With your permission, my lord, I can have our agents infiltrate the castle and-"
"No," Joachim said immediately. "That will lead the order directly to my doorstep and Eckhardt along with them. Neither party must know who I am nor where I am. Do you understand, Rouzic?"
From the look on his face, Rouzic did not. He seemed unable to comprehend why his illustrious master would prefer to stay hidden. Still, he nodded.
"We're in the midst of a war," Joachim continued, "so it would not go amiss were German bombers to target an Allied outpost that we've discovered in the South, would it?"
Realization blossomed in Rouzic's good eye. He smiled, his face twisted by the scars that cut across it. "Of course, my lord. I shall see it is done."
Joachim smoothed a hand across his blonde hair and placed his SS officer's cap back on. "One final thing. I will need a team- our own Cabal agents, not Nazi –to take with me to Turkey." Rouzic opened his mouth to question, but Joachim silenced him with a gesture. "Reconnaissance, nothing more. It will be clear in due time."
"And Eckhardt?" Rouzic asked, tentatively.
"Do not interfere with him. He will likely attempt to seize control of the Cabal once more, but he must be allowed to play his part or we will gain nothing from him." He took a step closer to Rouzic, eyeing the two long scars down his cheek- scars that Joachim had inflicted as a lesson to him. "But if you forget for even a moment who you answer to, I will strip you of everything I have given and leave you to rot."
Rouzic nodded. Rather than fear, his gaze held only reverence. It looked to Joachim a bit like a dumb animal, unaware of being led to the slaughter. "It shall be done, my lord," Rouzic murmured, the excitement in his voice barely contained.
Once Rouzic was gone, Joachim relaxed and allowed his appearance to waver for a moment, to lose the perfect façade he upheld in every waking moment of his life. Ridges and scars appeared on his jaw, markings of his lineage intertwined with the large wounds that cut a path through his mouth and black eyes, still painful even centuries later. Joachim shook his head, not allowing the memories to come unbidden, and in that brief second he returned to Herr Richard Karel and the vision of Aryan purity that these Nazis around him valued so deeply.
And then he laughed.