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, and Lino are my creations. Any similarities to actual people, places, and events are purely coincidental.
Chapter 1: Nell'oscuritá
The pretty little bronze-skinned, blonde marched slowly down the long, dimly lit hall. Running along the length of the hall, a series of tall, arched windows let in the pale light from the full moon. The girl stepped out of a pillar of shadow and into the light, revealing for a second a bloodied lip before she walked once again into the darkness. When she briefly entered the light again, one could see that her left eye was almost swollen shut. Another short illumination of her face revealed a cut above her right eyebrow. She suddenly felt as if she were marching to her death. She hesitated. The thin points of several gun barrels at her back shoved her along. She ran her tongue along the back of her teeth, tasting metallic blood. She spat defiantly to the side, inviting a blow to the back of the head from the butt of one of her captor's weapons. The girl stumbled and fell to her knees. She looked up and glared at her escorts with her good eye, glowing with a cold blue flame in the moonlight while her radiant golden hair fell across her face.
She stood again. Continued to march. Out of the darkness. Out of the light. One step after another, the girl marched onward despite her cuts and bruises, despite the fact that her head was still spinning from the latest blow. Still she felt that the end was coming, that the door at the end of the hall would open up to reveal Death in all His dark grace. When she reached the door, when the door opened, she could have sworn that the silhouette standing in front of a giant stained-glass window was that of a black, winged figure.
But no. This silhouette was that of a man. A very mortal man. His mortality would soon be demonstrated. The girl had forgotten this. She must have faith. And so with this reminder, she stepped into the grand study.
One wall was covered with books of all shapes, sizes and subject matters. The other was almost identical, except at the base of the wall where the line of books broke and made way for a fireplace in which a warm orange flame crackled as the only source of light in the room. The light played dully upon two parlor chairs and a table, danced through a decanter of scotch, and crept up the only window in the room. Upon closer inspection, the girl realized that the window depicted the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, their stained glass armor and weapons glowing brilliantly in the darkness, fighting at the head of the Roman army at the Battle of Lake Regillus. It was a beautiful, elegant piece of art. A shame, really.
The girl approached a large desk, behind which the silhouette stood facing away from the new arrivals. One of her captors shoved her along sharply toward a chair. She sat and stared at the back of the silhouette for a few moments. Then it spoke.
"Who are you?" it asked without turning to face its guest, "And why have you been looking for me?"
The girl cleared her throat, swallowed some blood, and answered with a smile, "My name is Triela. I want to ask you about an associate of yours. And after that…I'm going to kill you."
The moon shone brilliantly that night, lighting up every inch of the estate and turning it into a beautiful monochrome backdrop for a terrible Renaissance Era film. Grass grew, obsessively trimmed, around the entirety of the pillared mansion; rosebushes traced the inside edge of the grass and hedges surrounded the outside edge, pressed against the tall iron fence topped with cruel iron spears. The moon illuminated every single petal on every single rose; look close enough and one could even count the thorns. The naked eye could discern the rust on the fence and the patches of peeling paint on the walls of the estate. In short, there was nowhere for a shadow to hide.
Then, a large thick cloud passed over the pale face of the moon, draping the scene in darkness. Immediately, two fleet shadows clad in kevlar and wearing ballistic face masks approached, vaulted over the fence and disappeared into the hedges, just as two armed sentries rounded the corner. The sentries laughed and conversed idly, their speech punctuated by puffs from their cigarettes. Their rifles were slung across their backs. They passed the hedge in which the two shadows lay waiting.
The shadows, wielding silver, burst from their hiding place and charged the unsuspecting sentries. One lost first a hand, then his head, having not the time to cry out in pain; the throat of the other was slashed and his torso torn open. In an instant both men fell, dead and mutilated, upon the grass. Their bodies and the severed limbs were thrown unceremoniously into the rosebushes.
The two shadows cleaned and sheathed their blades, one large and menacing, the other small, curved and malicious. They examined the wall of the mansion carefully, considering for a moment its height. They conversed silently before moving on, approaching the back of the mansion. When they reached the corner of the building, they stopped and the shadow on point peeked around.
On the veranda, five more guards were drinking, joking and listening to music on a radio. Judging by the number of bottles on the tables, none of the guards had been drinking in excess. Each had their weapons within arm's reach. Above, the cloud that had previously obscured the moon passed and the estate was illuminated once more.
The shadows exchanged a glance. One shrugged. They debated for a moment before they slowly and surreptitiously rounded the corner, keeping themselves low and pressed against the wall. They managed to reach the veranda, concealed by the platform on which the guards socialized. They listened for a moment, mentally preparing themselves as they drew their blades once more.
They counted to three, their legs tensed, ready to spring up and over the platform into a bloody melee. Suddenly, an enraged voice called out from within the mansion and the shadows stopped themselves from initiating their attack at the last second.
"What the hell is this?" the angry voice shouted. At its call, the sounds of chairs being pushed out and men standing at attention could be heard. "You're supposed to be watching the perimeter!"
One of the guards, audibly intimidated, attempted an excuse. "We're sorry, Comandante, but, uh…it's just such a beautiful night out and – ow!" The guard's comrades had hit him, apparently, to shut him up.
"Idioti!" the Commander spat in disgust, "Either you get back to your rounds or I will break your legs! And even then I would still make you do them!" The sound of angry boots receded into the mansion. The guards sighed loudly and mumbled quietly as they turned their radio off and collected their weapons. Then they went their separate ways, dejected and humiliated.
The shadows waited patiently for the area to fall silent before peeking over the veranda. Seeing that it was clear, they jumped up onto the platform and climbed nimbly up the pillars and onto the veranda's roof. Then, they unwound the ropes wrapped around their bodies. Large metal hooks were tied at the end of the ropes. The shadows tossed these up and over the roof, testing the rope when the hooks caught. Finally satisfied, the shadows began their ascent.
Triela withstood another assault from one of the armed guards, wincing in pain as he struck her with the butt of his rifle. The chair she was sitting in almost fell over as she recoiled. Afterwards and despite the punishment she had just received, she managed to speak jokingly, "When do I get to ask my questions, Pasquale? It's no fun when you hog the conversation all to yourself."
The guard raised his rifle again, preparing to send it back into the impudent girl's abdomen, but stopped when the silhouette – now revealed to be one Cosimo Pasquale – raised his hand. "You are on the wrong side of the gun to be questioning me," he said, "Now answer: what does the Social Welfare Agency know of me?"
Triela sat upright again, regained her composure and answered, "We know you're a little man with big guards." Another strike. Triela doubled over in agony, but otherwise would have been doubled over in laughter. One of her trainees had suggested she say that.
Pasquale leaned in close to examine Triela's damaged face. Under the swollen bruises and half-congealed cuts he discerned a fierce beauty. He pinched her chin between thumb and forefinger and inspected her as one would a dog.
"If you provide me no answers," Pasquale whispered menacingly, "I will provide you no mercy."
Triela locked eyes with her target. The mischievous defiance had gone from her own, replaced now by defiance alone. Her good eye shone again as it burned coldly. She saw the moment when the ruthless confidence in Pasquale's eyes disappeared, his flame having been defeated by Triela's hellfire. Now, in its place, the man looked only doubtful, frightened. Triela smiled triumphantly.
Pasquale released his prisoner's chin with a push of disgust to mask his moment of fear. He went over to the table in front of the fireplace to pour himself some scotch, but when he brought the glass to his lips he was surprised to find his hand shaking. Enraged, he flung the glass into the fireplace and stormed over to Triela, grabbing her by the throat.
"Tell me what I want to know and I won't torture you to your last breath!" Pasquale commanded, shouting at the top of his lungs, his eyes wide and teeth gnashing in rage.
Triela did not react to this sudden outburst. In fact, she appeared absolutely serene next to this display of madness. "You forget which one of us is the assassin," she responded coolly, looking at her target from the corner of her eye.
In an instant she struck Pasquale's wrist, breaking his grasp, delivered her elbow into the bridge of his nose, then took his arm and twisted him onto the floor where she covered his head with her body. "Now!" she yelled. The miniscule listening device in her collar picked up the noise and transmitted it to two receivers waiting outside.
Before the guards could take aim and execute Triela, the impressive stained glass window exploded inward as two twin figures rappelled through it from the roof. They were clad all in black, even their faces obscured by terrifyingly blank masks. The black figures assaulted the guards as they fell, shards of glass of all colors and sizes raining down around them. One swept a small machine pistol wildly across the room, the other aimed and fired with perfect precision. Pasquale's guards stood no chance from within this storm of death and destruction and the room was clear even before the figures hit the floor.
As soon as their boots touched land, the figures cut their ropes out of their harnesses and continued to engage the hostiles that poured into the room. They had been alerted to the attack by the crashing of glass and the sound of gunfire, but as they shuffled into the grand study they had no idea that they were willingly walking into death's embrace.
After several minutes of what amounted to a human-sized shooting gallery, the fighting ceased and all became still again. The two figures turned to Triela, with Pasquale struggling to get out from underneath her. As they approached, Triela released her target, who sat up and stared at the black figures in helpless terror.
The figures tore off their face masks. Underneath they shared the same pixie features: large, mischievous blue eyes, small pointed noses and chins, frowning mouths with thin, flesh-colored lips. They removed their black caps and immediately waterfalls of golden locks fell down their backs, tied up in ponytails to keep them out of the way during fights. They turned to Triela, who had taken her seat again but sat casually backwards in the chair.
"Are you okay?" Caterina asked in professional concern when she saw the condition of her handler's face.
"Don't worry about me," Triela answered smilingly, "I've had it worse."
"Did you say that thing I told you to say?" Celestina asked.
"Yup!" Triela chuckled, "He didn't take it very well. Imbecille. Now hurry and get this over with. We can't stay here all night."
The Alvise Twins turned to Cosimo Pasquale and smiled menacingly as the look of dread crept up his face once he recognized them. They approached.
"Uncle Cosimo," Celestina said in a sweet near-whisper, "It's been such a long time. You look well."
Pasquale crawled backwards until he pressed himself against a bookshelf. With nowhere else to go, he watched as the ghosts from his past drew ever nearer.
The Twins stopped before him and crouched down so that they were all at eye level. "No need to be so frightened, Uncle," Celestina continued in the same tone, sounding all at once welcoming and murderous.
"That's right," Caterina said reassuringly, "We just want to ask you one question."
"Wh-what do you want to kn-know?" Pasquale stammered weakly.
Celestina drew her small, claw-like karambit. Caterina drew her large, terrible kukri. They both answered at once, the pretense of reassurance had disappeared and been replaced by grave hostility. "Where," they asked, voices becoming one, "Is Lino?"