— to Eli.

ρ r oo q υ ε


Petit Palais, Paris
10:10 P.M.


He stumbles through a vaulted entry of the grand museum's underground passageways, eying with a narcotic gaze the eerie frames of art nailed to the charcoal walls. The archaic Delacroix is the last painting on his list, as well as the hardest to find. The wounded bandit calculates; the traps he had installed upstairs would only stall pursuers for four minutes, five at best.

Muttering curses under uneasy exhalation, the male pressures his leg with a moist handkerchief, and continues to stagger on with a cold bloodstained hand yearning for support from the walls. It's growing colder and dimmer, blurring the thief's vision as well as consciousness. But soon, as if the sinner's prayers were answered, the masterpiece emerges. He feels his eyes flicker awake upon seeing the phenomena hanging before him and nearly forgets to breath.

"My sanctuary."

After retrieving a pair of gloves and screwdriver from his pocket, his trembling fingers remove the Delacroix piece from its imprisonment on the wall, wasting not a second before touching the work's wondrous texture and colors. He loses himself in admiration for a second too long. Nearby, a metal gate is destroyed, allowing full entrance to the black chamber. In chilling response, the marmoreal floor echoes, and a few miles off, an alarm is triggered.

"Good evening." The curator makes no effort to mask his sharp footsteps. "Nuumi," he murmurs, "is one of your many pseudonyms, is it not?"

The pilferer neither acknowledges the greeting nor the question concerning his infamous codename, and remains with his back facing his accompaniment. Concluding that the voice is approximately twenty feet away, he positions his screwdriver's hidden mirror at a precise angle, and scowls when only a palimpsestic silhouette is reflected. The man inwardly reminds himself to devise a better gadget after his escape tonight, and then expertly flips out a rusted dagger with dreadful silence.

"Oh, I wouldn't do that if I were you."

The painting falls to the floor. He whips his head around and stares intently. His opponent looks uselessly frail, but tall and smirking. Foolish arrogance at its best. With a sad smile, Nuumi lunges forward.

"I warned you."

A man presses into the other.

"Did you not hear correctly?"

Nuumi feels a surge of adrenaline, and smiles once more, though at a loss of vital breath.

"You should've run while you still had the chance."

Blood drips.

"But then again, I would've caught up either way."

The shadow levels his pistol as the withering man collapses to the floor. Gloved fingers grip the attacker's thin arm, refusing to admit defeat. "Thank you." A glint in the phantom's eyes flickers as he watches the sleeve's fabric rip. "Your traps were fun."

The marmoreal echoes a final time.