Disclaimer: I do not own Gunslinger Girl or its characters, which were taken from the manga series of the same name, all of which are the property of their creator, Yu Aida. The characters Caterina, Celestina, Pio, and Lino are my creations. Any similarities to actual people, places, and events are purely coincidental.
Chapter 1: Usurper
I was named for the Heavens; the sun, the moon, and the stars. All of it. The diminutive apparitional girl of ten years stood in a fluid white silk nightgown, contemplating her name and existence. Surrounded by anemones, asters, and gladiolus, her flowing blond hair fell to her waist and was endowed with a silver sheen from the moon. Her azure eyes glowed like a blue flame lit by the pinpoints of stars in the sky. Her light, fair skin seemed to glow in the pale darkness, making her a beacon of dull light shaped like a lean gymnast. But what right does a devil have to name his child for the Heavens?
"Celestina," a voice called to the girl softly, "You know Father gets upset when you stand outside in the middle of the night. And in Mother's flower garden no less."
The voice, crystalline, clear, and harmonious, its owner, and even the owner's clothing were an exact duplicate of Celestina's. However, not only was there a mole on the back of Celestina's neck that allowed people to differentiate between the two, there were subtle physical differences as well. Unlike the timid, unassuming Celestina, the second girl stood with a manner of arrogance, her hip thrown sideways, a hand placed thereon, and her head tilted slightly. Her small, pointed, beautiful elf-like features were twisted and shaped by mischief, with her eyes narrowed slightly, as if to constantly taunt everyone they gazed upon.
"Caterina…" Celestina said absentmindedly.
Caterina held out her hand to her twin sister. "Here," she said soothingly, "Let's go back to bed."
Celestina took her sister's hand and, stepping tenderly across the small field of flowers, allowed herself to be guided across the moonlit courtyard of their family's impressive manor, dotted with high arches, columns and buttresses. It was a dark, foreboding estate, especially in the obscurity of the night and by simply stepping through its colossal doors, one gets the feeling of being imprisoned. The twins lived this feeling as a reality.
They made their way through a series of tall, ornately decorated, unlit corridors. The moonlight streamed through the windows and threw up stretching, menacing shadows. The sound of footsteps bounced up and down the walls hollowly.
Both twins walked in perfect unison, side-by-side, and hand-in-hand. "Caterina…" Celestina's question trailed off doubtfully.
"Hmm?" the second responded.
"Will we grow… to do what Father does?"
"Most likely, Celestina, but that won't be for a while. After all, Father seems to want to hold on to the Cosca for some time to come."
Celestina did not say anything to this, but made a thoughtless, doubtful mumble.
Sensing her sister's uncertainty, Caterina added, "And besides, Father is young yet, and with people like Lino protecting him, it is not likely that we will have to become involved in the Cosca for some time."
"I do not trust Lino," Celestina said quietly, "And I am not concerned with the time between then and now. I don't ever want to be involved in the Cosca. That is not the kind of life I would wish my children to become involved in."
Caterina squeezed her sister's hand and said reassuringly, "I know, Celestina, I know, but there is nothing that can be done. We were born to control the Cosca and repeat Father's sins, but it is such a long distance away that I cannot at all feel concerned with it."
The twins came upon a door in the corridor underneath which light leaked out. The darkness of everything else made it seem that the room was daylit on the inside. As they approached the door, the girls released each others hands. Caterina grasped the handle, opened the large, heavy, oak door, and bowed in a slightly cheeky manner, motioning for her sister to enter first.
Inside, the room was lit by candlelight, as most of the rooms in the manner were. Only the bathrooms, library, and entertainment rooms contained fluorescent lights. A group of men gathered around a desk behind which another man, slightly aged, graying, but otherwise still strong and healthy, sat. The twins stopped in their tracks when one of the standing men began yelling.
"We can't let anyone, especially not a small-time band of street rats, get away with disrespecting our territory!" Lino yelled. He was a tall, imposing, monster of a man in a black expensive silk suit with broad shoulders and thick arms and legs. His short black hair was slicked back and his harsh, Neanderthal-like features were contorted in rage.
The tired-looking, gray-haired man behind the desk replied, "Lino, we cannot afford to kill every trespasser and vandal that crosses our path. Not only do we have much more important matters to handle (for example, I seem to recall asking you to check into the background of our new 'shepherd' yet I haven't received any sort of report), but we also must accept the fact that these 'street rats' are much more than we think they are."
"That," Lino seethed, "Is because you do not regulate them as you should."
"'Regulate'?" the man behind the desk said skeptically, "I don't see how that's possible, unless you want me to parade our men across the streets like some kind of police force."
"My point is that you're going far too easy on these people. If you're not careful they will begin to organize and pose a real threat to us."
"It's just a protected business, Lino, there's no need to-"
"That 'protected business' was burned to the ground Pio! If the people begin to doubt our ability to protect them, then they won't see any need to keep paying us for our services!"
Pio, the man behind the desk, sighed and said with a wave of his hand, "Enough, Lino, it is getting late and we all need our rest."
Lino was stunned. "Do not dismiss me like th-"
"I said enough," Pio recapitulated firmly and with a commanding gaze.
Lino ground his teeth, turned toward the door with his men, and marched out with them, hardly giving Caterina and Celestina enough time to scramble out of their way.
"Father," Caterina asked worriedly, "What's wrong with Lino."
"Nothing, darling," Pio said wearily, "He has overworked himself lately, that is all."
The twins walked around opposite sides of their father's desk and kissed him simultaneously on his cheeks. "Buonanotte, Babbo," they said concurrently, "Good night, Daddy."
Pio stood, patting his daughters lightly on their heads and guided them out the door and down the hall. As they walked, Celestina said, "Daddy, I'm afraid of Lino."
"Oh, nonsense, tesoro," Pio said, playfully ruffling her hair, "Lino is our friend and he is to be trusted."
"But he has been losing his temper a lot lately," Caterina added.
"And the things he says when he thinks nobody can hear him are scary," Celestina said.
Pio became suddenly serious, "Now girls, Lino has worked for our family for years now. He protects us and helps us. We would not be where we are now if it was not for his help. There is a reason I appointed him as my right hand."
"Is he loyal to you, Babbo?" Celestina asked her father.
"What a strange question," Pio said smiling at his daughters, "Of course he is. He just needs to blow off some steam. Now stop worrying and go to bed."
Despite this reassurance, however, Celestina felt doubtful and consequentially, Caterina did as well. After all, Lino's men were loyal to him as well...
They awoke simultaneously to a strange sound, a repeating dull thud! that was barely audible to them through the thick door and walls of their room. The twins paused sleepily to contemplate this sound, unsure of whether or not it was a figment of interrupted slumber or their dreams. Finally, as the sound became more insistent, they realized that it was a knocking at their bedroom door.
Both stood and shuffled tiredly across their dark bedroom to answer the knock. Celestina unlocked and unbolted the door and instantly the knocking stopped and was replaced by incoherent whispering on the other side. For unknown reasons, the twins felt apprehensive and hesitated, but decided to open the door anyway.
They were instantly seized and stuck repeatedly by strong hands, whisked away down the unlit, ornate halls of their home. A place once so familiar and ordinary to them had suddenly become a twisted, nightmarish copy.
The twins struggled futilely and were rewarded with cruel blows to their heads, their faces, and their torsos. They didn't try to scream. They knew only the halls would hear them.
Their captors took the two sisters downstairs from the pitch black hallways to the brightly lit grand hall, where they were thrown onto the hard stone floor and pinned there. They lay next to one another and could only see each other's faces, which were mere inches apart, as they weren't able to turn their heads. However, they could clearly hear their father yelling unintelligibly, with only a few words such as "release," "daughters," "murderer," and a large list of profanities that could be understood. The twins heard him struggling against unseen bonds and heard him struck by a blunt, probably metallic object.
A familiar voice sighed menacingly nearby. It was Lino. "I'm tired," he said in that hiss that he used to speak of treacherous things behind Pio's back, "Of trying to reason with you, old man." The twins could hear him pacing back and forth, most likely in front of their father who had fallen silent and was panting in pain. Lino continued, "If you don't want to protect this Cosca, then I will."
"Lino," Pio struggled to choke the words out, "You traitorous bastard. I don't care what you do with me, but please, for the love of God… let my daughters go."
Lino laughed cruelly and said, "But those two are part of the plan. I'm going to make you pay for holding us back for so long, and since I had to kill your beloved wife already, I'll just have to settle for killing your daughters before your very eyes."
The twins gasped and their father sobbed mournfully. "You should've kept her from drawing that gun under your pillow, Padre," Lino taunted Pio scornfully.
"Now," he said mischievously as the footsteps came closer to the girls, "Choose." The twins heard a clicking noise as Lino took his pistol from his holster and loaded it, aiming from one girl to the other, back and forth repeatedly.
Pio wailed pitifully, "No! I-I can't! I won't!"
"I said choose, old man, or we'll do much more than kill them." At this, Lino's henchmen laughed and Pio sobbed.
"Daddy!" both trembling twins called out in fear with teary eyes.
"Better hurry," Lino said tauntingly.
Pio shook his head and tried to think, but he knew he didn't have the time. He picked without any kind of consideration. "Caterina," he howled, devastated, "I love-"
However, before he could finish his goodbye, there was a gunshot. Celestina gasped and went limp as she saw her sister's eyes go blank and roll up, dark like two marbles embedded in her beautiful elfin face. Blood dripped from the corner of her mouth. Celestina saw this without so much as a word, or a sob. There was the feeling that half of her had just disappeared, like part of her mind had just went dark in an instant.
Pio swore vehemently and grunted like an animal as he fought against his restraints. His struggles were clearly audible and obviously violent, but this worked only to make Lino laugh mockingly at his former employer's helplessness.
"Do you want me to stop?" he asked rhetorically, smirking.
"Yes," Pio cried, hardly understandable.
"Do you want it to end?"
"Yes, please, just… just…"
"Well then, Padrone… just for you."
Celestina heard the gunshot but felt nothing, saw nothing as her mind went dark and she went to sleep…