Deus Ex Human Revolution is the property of Eidos/Square Enix
Mass Effect is the property of Bioware and Electronic Arts
Mass Effect: Human Revolution:
Interlude 3: Echoes
Alexander Skarsgård as Romeo Guildenstern
Stana Katic as Müllenkamp
Jo Wyatt as Knight-Sergeant Kenway
Author's Note: Brace yourself, dear reader. For we are taking a trip into the past, before Mass Effect.
~[Shadow of the Colossus OST - Prologue]~
"The body is but a vessel for the soul,
A puppet which bends to the soul's tyranny.
And lo, the body is not eternal,
For it must feed on the flesh of others,
Lest it return to the dust whence it came.
Therefore must the soul
Deceive, despise and murder men."
Leá Monde, 2130
Here, there were dragons.
Those were the words that resounded inside Knight-Lieutenant Romeo Guildenstern's head when he crossed the city gates of Leá Monde, as the unseen, subtle force that kept wanderers from discovering her in this forgotten part of southern France washed away from him. Though crumbling and overtaken by vines and flowers, the stone hybrids of Romanesque and Gothic architecture were surprisingly well preserved. So well preserved, in fact, to the point that Romeo felt like he had just stepped through a portal through time, and had been taken to the Middle Ages. The midlight's bright sunshine was reflected back on the building's tan stones and bricks, contrasting nicely with the blue sky on this hot summer day.
In the distance, to the center of the town, stood a cathedral, and upon its tallest tower was fixed a cross, though not a catholic one: An X, set upon an I, with each point looking the tip of a scorpion's tail.
Leá Monde, the forgotten city, had been founded a millennium and a half ago by Müllenkamp, Dancer-Priestess of the cult called the Light of Kiltia, as a refuge for her followers. The Kildean Islands, where the cult had been born, had gone the way of Atlantis, and its members had strayed all over Europe and western Asia for centuries before Müllenkamp somehow called the hundreds of thousands of wanderers to this very place. It was written that she had made a fortune working as an assassin, and used the coin to fund the building of the entire city.
And she would have a lot of coin: if Adam Weishaupt's journal entries on her were accurate, she had had a long and very successful career ending of lives of many a noble, using her beauty and skill at the arts of the dance to approach her targets, before slicing them apart. And according to the journals, not only was she skilled in using blades, but that she also had a wand that could spit fire and thunder at her command.
Said wand was, of course, a gun.
Many such advanced artifacts, alien to the times, had been gathered here by Müllenkamp's disciples, for Leá Monde was more than just a refuge from the influence of the Catholic Church. It was, first of all, a center of research, the true birthplace of alchemy, and where the first organization that would eventually be succeeded by the Illuminati had been founded. Much of the knowledge that had been lost to the Dark Ages had been rediscovered here, and jealously guarded.
Romeo, flanked by two fellow Crimson Blades in their standard Crusader power armour, walked through the main street towards the main Cathedral, where the search was currently focused. He saw some scribes sorting through ancient remains and artifacts. Some of them had been put on tables, and Romeo was pleased to see more than a few MP-40s and Mauser C96s being pulled away from piles of Kildean arms.
Long ago — though not that long, really — Hitler had assembled a special task force of Waffen-SS to find the fabled Spear of Destiny. The search, of course, took them to Leá Monde, and over 2000 elite German soldiers had stormed the city. Seeing as Hitler never got his hands on the Spear, it was obvious that they had lost to the city's defenders, but it seemed that the SS had had the last laugh: everyone in Leá Monde had died around the same time, if the scribe's examination of the Kildean and German corpses was anything to go by.
"My lord Guildenstern," said a veteran scribe, bowing. "I am honoured to be in your presence."
"I am no Lord," said Romeo, bowing in return. Though that would change very soon, he thought. He had plans for the Crimson Blades, plans that required supreme authority over them. Saman had assured him that the current head of the order would be retiring very soon. "What has been found thus far?"
"It seems the denizens of this city were quite in love with science and the arts. The city is full of workshops, laboratories and studios. We've found some interesting metallurgic samples as well as some intriguing formulae for potent medicines, such as one that uses micro-organisms to repair trauma."
Romeo nodded. This expedition had already proven worth the effort... but that was not what he had come here for. "And what of the Egg? Any news?"
"The Master Scribe is still combing the Cathedral with a fine comb, ser. Still no news, however."
Romeo peered into the scribe's eyes, and the Gift whispered secrets to him. "But you believe he is wasting his time, yes?"
"...It... it is not my place to say."
Gently, Romeo gave a subtle mental push to the Scribe, making him a bit more talkative. "Come now! The success of our mission should supersede such protocols, yes?"
"...I suppose you are right. May I take a moment of your time?"
The scribe guided Romeo to an artist's studio, and showed him a pencil sketch of the Egg, set onto an altar of ancient Kildean design. He then went on to explain that the light seen in the sketches was coming from straight above, as if that explained everything, somehow.
"And?" asked Romeo, controlling his impatience.
"The higher chambers of the cathedral have no lightbulb mounts, and no skylights capable of providing the necessary illumination depicted here. Assuming the artist was allowed entry into the chamber where the Egg is kept, and taking the light into account, then what we're looking for is in the city itself... or deep in the catacombs, or even beyond."
"You speak of that place with dread, Scribe."
"There have been reports of strange creatures down below. I certainly hope that the Egg is in the city, but it is not likely."
Romeo agreed. "The catacombs would be safer and more secure for such a prize, yes. I shall prepare several squads to explore the Undercity. If anything, we might find even more Kildean artifacts of value."
Here, there are goblins.
In the Wine Cellars, Romeo and his two escorts — Goodwin and Sackheim — had encountered the first of what remained of Leá Monde's people. Ten generations of inbreeding, bad diet, and lack of sunlight had produced a race of savage, deformed dwarfs too stupid for language, but more than clever enough to lay traps and vicious enough to wield weapons against God's own soldiers. Fortunately, their bowguns, knives and wooden spike traps proved futile against Templar armour and assault rifles.
Their boulder traps, however, had proven quite dangerous. Still, the Templar fireteams found these goblins' dens, and under the orders of Guildenstern had eradicated them all. Men, women, and even the children... as such corruption of the blood of Man could not be allowed to exist.
With the wine cellars secured, the Templar squads proceeded to explore the catacombs, and there they encountered, of all things, lizardmen. These creatures proved much stronger foes, as their tridents made of tarnished silvery steel proved quite capable of defeating Templar armour, and were quick enough to enter close-quarters. For the other Templars, trained in basic hand-to-hand and heavily dependent on ranged weapons, this proved to be a problem. For Romeo Guildenstern, who trained himself in the art of fencing, these creatures proved no problem at all: his High-Frequency rapier flickered in the dark, its edge biting into scaly necks and its point piercing thick skin on its way to mutated hearts.
I must remedy this, thought Romeo as the last of the creatures died. The Crimson Blades will earn their name. Peerless masters of both gun and blade we shall become, as Müllenkamp herself was.
No... we shall become better.
The fight over, Romeo took the time to observe one of the fallen creatures. It had, conveniently enough, been cut from throat to crotch, revealing much of its insides. The placement of the organs was surprisingly human.
"If Leá Monde seeks to test our mettle," bragged Sackheim, "then it is not doing a very good job."
But Goodwin seemed far more concerned about the fact that they had just fought creatures straight from a work of fiction. "What manner of magicks could have spawned such... such abominations?!"
"Not magicks, Goodwin," reassured Romeo, even as he poked and prodded at the corpse. "T'is the work of science before us, the very sort our order seeks to stop. Men, corrupted into beasts."
And enhanced, thought Romeo. I would know what sort of mutagens could make a man so strong... and perhaps become stronger than them.
"Be they the products of Magicks or science," said Sackheim, "the codex demand that they be destroyed, and die to our guns they will."
"Aye, but I would have you tag their corpses all the same," ordered Romeo. "The Scribes shall examine them, so that we can better understand how to kill them."
The catacombs secured, Romeo and his two escorts proceeded down to the Sanctum.
Here, there are ghouls.
"THE DEAD WALK!"screamed Goodwin, as he gunned down the Nazi soldier that pointed an MP-40 at him. Its brethren, risen from the dead, were undaunted by the loss, and attempted to overwhelm the Templar.
Sackheim swung his machete, muttering litanies against evil all the while, praying to God to protect them even as heads rolled. "T'is the End of Days!"
If Romeo hadn't been so busy fighting for his life, he would have rolled his eyes. "Calm yourselves!" he barked, for he knew better. Silvery discs, inlaid with gold, were set into the faces of their rotting attackers, and Romeo noted that silvery stalks were dug deep into the eyes and mouth, animating the flesh. One of these robotic parasites, upon the destruction of its host, crawled away on its stalks like some water strider, seeking a more intact vessel.
A few bullets from Romeo's Beowulf pistol into the silver shell put an end to that.
"Ignore the bodies!" Romeo screamed, "Destroy the discs!"
Minutes later, after a single EMP grenade was tossed into the horde, the battle was won, and over a hundred had perished to three.
"My God!" Goodwin couldn't quite fathom what had just happened. "Did the inhabitants of this place have such callous disregard for their own dead that they would corrupt them just to delay us?"
"Delay us?" Sackheim shook his head in disbelief. "They meant to KILL us, and they would have, too!"
"Aye, they would have, were it not..." Goodwin turned to Romeo and bowed in respect. "Baphomet, Father of Understanding, guided you, ser."
"Aye," agreed Sackheim. "Were it not for you, we would have been eventually overwhelmed."
"Enough flattery," ordered Romeo. "What was the cost of our victory?"
"I still have two boxes of ammunition," said Goodwin, replacing the large magazine on his LMG. "Three hundred in total, ser."
"I've wasted two grenades," said Sackheim, "but there's plenty more where that came from." He tapped the box on his shoulder meaningfully.
And I have spent two magazines for my Beowulf, thought Romeo. "Rest and double-check your wargear while I warn the others about this," he ordered, as he tapped his headset. The warning sent, he decided to briefly indulge his interest in archaeology and ancient architecture.
While the wine cellars and catacombs had been little else than mazes dug into the rock beneath the city, supported by thick beams of wood, the Sanctum's walls were made of finely cut dark stone bricks. Its Gothic arches supported its vast, tall chambers. Crystals were suspended from the fan vaulted ceiling by iron chains, and from the center of each tear-shaped piece of glass there was faint light, blue-cyan in color, that cast a depressing chiaroscuro shading upon everything and everyone here.
The Sanctum, it seemed, had been used as a refuge by the city's populace from the Nazi attack, although it was quite obvious that had simply not worked. Judging by the placement of the bodies and the thousands of bullet casings — 9x19mm Parabellum, to be exact — it seemed that the stormtroopers had made it this far, and killed everyone they could find.
Something echoed in the Dark, and Romeo could hear the cries of a thousand dead.
"My God," muttered Goodwin. "They murdered everyone..."
"To kill a heathen is not murder," reminded Sackheim, "It is the path to Heaven."
"These men did not come to do God's work," countered Goodwin. "I dare say they came for whatever Diablerie lies here, to empower a madman... or just themselves."
Deeper and deeper they stepped into the Sanctum, and the deeper they went, the more fallen stormtroopers they saw. Judging by the marks on their bones, it seemed that they had fallen to both blades and bullets—
The stormtrooper watched in horror as the dancer, clad in little else than dark silks and bronze jewellery, came out of the shadows and sliced the Führer's elite soldiers apart with a scimitar.
"Kill her!" commanded the Sturmbannführer. "She is only one woman!"
But it was too late, she had already retreated back into the shadows, and would be waiting for them at her next killing ground.
Romeo shook his head, chasing the vision away. How is this possible? he thought. Scrying into the present, let alone the past... An ability that was not part of the Gift, when it awoke in me!
...This place. This place is changing me, I can feel it.
The 'Golem', shattered by a few high-explosive rounds and shoulder mounted missiles, crumbled into a pile of rocks. Romeo knelt besides its remains, and examined it in detail.
"What diablerie was this?!" shouted Goodwin.
"Calm yourself!" admonished Sackheim. "T'was but a Wanzer, wrapped in stone!"
"There is no pilot!"
"Sackheim has the right of it," said Romeo. "Look here, inside the chest. Machinery."
"I see it," said Goodwin as he peered into the exposed chest cavity. "But... from whence did this construct draw its strength to move? I see neither cogs, nor pistons..."
Romeo reached into the machine, and pulled out something that had caught his eye. It was a shard of silvery metal that glowed brightly in the dark, and as he peered into it he understood what it was.
Zeroth! The miraculous material that the Lunarians had squandered in their futile war against all of Earth! And such a bounty of it... Where did it come from? The Kildean Isles? Perhaps we should look into funding an expedition there, if the situation on Mars isn't resolved.
"What is it, ser?" asked Goodwin.
Romeo eyed the shard for a moment, then smiled. "The future, Goodwin. The future."
Romeo took his team deeper into the Sanctum to follow the trail of dead Nazis, certain that they had come for the same thing that he did. Just as he was about to unlock another one of those damned locked sigil doors, something caught his eye. He picked up the bullet casing on the ground, and followed a trail of similar pieces of brass until he found the weapon it belonged to. Said weapon had met with a lizardman's axe, and paid the price for it.
"Another artifact, ser?" asked Goodwin.
"Aye," replied Romeo.
"From these Nazis?"
"No." He then chuckled, realizing a certain irony in Goodwin's mistake. "Quite the opposite in fact. This one is from Israel, I believe, circa 1995. A Mark XIX Desert Eagle," he said, as he pulled the magazine out. "Chambered for .50 Action Express rounds."
"Much like our Beowulf handguns," commented Sackheim, patting his holster.
"Yes," confirmed Romeo, "but forget any notion of scavenging this for spare ammo. The powder in these shots is old, and the rims won't match."
"Someone else was here, more recently," said Goodwin, echoing what Romeo had already realized. Guildenstern's heart sank. He hoped that whoever this gun belonged to had perished here, and that the prize he sought was still right where it should be...
As they followed the trail of dead Nazis, wary of any of them rising, Goodwin stopped. "Do you hear that?" he asked.
"Hear what?" asked Sackheim.
"Someone is singing... a woman... a lullaby..." he shook his head, and remembered that he had a mission to accomplish. "My apologies, t'was only my imagination."
They came cross a vast, circular chamber — a mausoleum built with European, Middle-Eastern, and Asian influences in the mind of the architect, with dozens of life-size statues of dancers set into alcoves. Each statue were of similar dress and build, overlooking a floor dominated by the bas-relief of a great tree with thousands of branches.
"Müllenkamp, I presume?" Romeo said to himself. He approached the first statue, and it indeed matched the description in Weishaupt's journals and various other Illuminati documents the most. It was a tall curvaceous figure that balanced a scimitar on its head, its pale granite failing to capture the blackness of the original's eyes, her long flowing hair, and the olive of her skin, though it did an admirable job of capturing her lovely face with its high cheekbones and small chin. Below, on the statue's podium, her name had been carved, and below that name were two numbers: 31, and 552. Assuming those were years, not only had Müllenkamp been the founder of this city, but she had lived a very, VERY long time.
The second statue was very similar in appearance to the first, save that it wielded a bow instead of a sword. This one had another name, scratched out, above 'Müllenkamp', and below the dates read 551-790.
The pattern repeated: different arms, different dates, different races, different women. An unbroken line of daughters, succeeding their mothers in bearing the mantle of the Dancer-Priestess. With each generation, their lifespans grew shorter and shorter, and the successors grew more numerous through the years. The last one, whose name could actually clearly be read — Talia — had been born in 1901, and her date of death had not been carved into stone.
1944, thought Romeo. He noted that 'Talia' had some interesting weapons, or most specifically, blades springing from a pair of armlets. There was something about them, something he had seen in the archives before... yes, he remembered...
...Adam Jensen, seen here in a rare display of lethal force against asset Narhari Kahn (see attached video), is executing a move recognized by our experts — name redacted — and — name redacted— as part of Form II of the Illuminati assassination disciplines, which require the use of two arm mounted blades capable of emerging from the wrists and the elbows (see attached diagram), and perfected during the Third Crusade (1187 - 1192).
According to them, Jensen is using a self-taught version of Form II (mixed with CQC and Muay Thai), and they've highlighted several flaws in his technique that only proper training could have prevented. This raises the question of how Jensen could have had access to knowledge of Form II. David Sarif is a potential provider, as he has displayed quite an interest in Illuminati history. Further investigation is required.
Recommend assets Fedorova and Namir receive Form III training through Praxis kits...
The tips of the blades, like chisels: That had been the link between the statue and the memory, Guildenstern realized, and then he promptly dismissed this realization from his thoughts. Many had received training in the Forms. In fact, the Templar's own Hunters had received training in a modern imitation of Form I, which included techniques for a much wider range of melee weapons, not to mention some impressive acrobatics.
"Do you hear that?" asked Sackheim. "I hear the wailing of a woman."
Goodwin's eyes widened. "You too? Then I have not gone mad!" He sighed in relief.
"Perhaps we are mad together," added Romeo, "for I hear her as well."
"Then you hear her wailing for her child?"
"Yes." And something else, he thought. Something more recent. He touched the statue of the last of the Müllenkamps, and closed his eyes, focusing on the sound...
And he was immediately assaulted by visions of a chase and duel that seemed to last for hours. The dancer-priestess was elusive, but the Sturmbannführer was relentless. One called the other a traitor, the other called one a hypocrite; that had been the only clear sentence Romeo could make out. He caught glimpses of a laboratory, a great big vault which had a door made out of a starry night sky, a final duel, a hissing of cold gas...
And then the visions stopped, and Romeo was somewhere else, somewhere deeper still in the depths of the city. Sackheim and Goodwin were still with him, giving him curious glances, for he had guided them to this place without so much as a word.
This place, Romeo realized, was Müllenkamp's own personal laboratory. Many a document had been ruined by gunfire and the occasional grenade from thefight, but a quick examination revealed that the last three dancer-priestesses had been looking into theoretical and applied physics, and tracking quite a few royal bloodlines — the Merovingians, the Romanovs, the Savoys, and many, many more — long after they had been deposed. At the end of each family tree was an X written in red. Whatever they were looking for in these bloodlines, the descendants had been found wanting.
A journal was set next to the genealogies, and one of the last entries proved interesting:
"The mission at the Priory has been successful: The leadership of the Order is gone, dead by our hands. Their base is abandoned, and the products of their breeding plan have been euthanized.
The lame creatures haunt my dreams still: malformed, stupid things with less intelligence than apes, and yet the members of the Grail looked upon these products of generations of incest with reverence and awe, for they believed that they were of the blood of the son of God. They even plotted to lay the groundwork for the rise of a new Messiah, a leader that would unite the world in a time of great crisis, crisis that they would cause through deception and corruption.
We had trusted the Order with the genealogies of the Merovingians, and they have failed us so thoroughly. How? I can only hazard a guess: The theory is that they began to recruit from faithful Christians some three centuries ago, and as these recruits rose to positions of power faith took precedence over reason. Important texts had been marked as heresy and destroyed. And then, corruption set in, and ambition set a new course for the sect.
...The line of Müllenkamp — my line — is all that is left of the Blood of the First. Restoring it will be impossible, unless we start looking beyond kings and queens and into the very blood of all humankind. For we too, have strayed, too easily impressed by the ostentatiousness of royalty... for they were born simply of very rich bandits.
There are rumours that the diamond merchant is looking into excavating the corpse of the First. Perhaps that would be a better alternative... although I must admit his association with this Hitler troubles me. He has contacted us for more insights, and what we have given him does not satisfy him.
He wants more."
Romeo left the texts and diagrams for later, as many were hidden by cipher. The real prize of the laboratory awaited him further down, down a spiral staircase.
This was where the duel had ended, this spherical chamber that was made of steel, divided in two by a walkway on which rested three frosted corpses. Romeo saw his breath hang in the air; whatever massive refrigeration system that kept the room at nearly minus five centigrade was still working, if the mist that emanated from the many steel tubes connected to the ring was any indication.
The first corpse belonged to a woman of no consequence. A nursemaid, by the look of her.
The second corpse, frozen in impotent rage in front of a control console and with its forearms shattered, belonged to Sturmbannführer Johann Liebert, Enlightened of the Illuminati Order... and Romeo Guildenstern's honoured ancestor.
The third corpse, with the Hessian cavalry sabre stuck in the back of her throat, was none other than the last of the Müllenkamps.
When Romeo approached them, he could feel a discordant cacophony of shouts, of screams... the thunder of steel striking steel, the screams of a babe, the hiss of a machine built to create a hole in reality itself... and loudest of all he heard Müllenkamps last defiant shout:
"MY CHILD WILL NEVER BE YOURS! HE WILL LEAD US INTO THE DAY, WHILE YOU WILL LINGER IN THE SHADOWS FOREVER!"
The noises and cries intensified to the point where Romeo could not bear them, and he chased them away from his mind. His senses fully his own again, he investigated the elements in the room further, and the largest piece — the ring set in the far side of the chamber — called for his attention the most. To his amazement, the ring was composed of hundreds of small cores made out of the same material that had powered the Golem. Zeroth, it was believed, had properties that allowed for the warping of reality. Had Müllenkamp attempted to open a gate to another world? The configuration of the cores into a ring suggested as such... but if that was the case, what had she sent through?
Was it the egg? No, it couldn't be... in all of the glimpses into the past the Gift granted him, the ones that had brought him here, the Egg had not been in any of them.
And yet, he still felt the need to put his hand through the empty threshold of the ring, and the closer his fingers came to it, the louder the whispers in the shadow of his mind became...
A woman's voice came through his ear piece, snapping him out of his trance: "This is Knight-Sergeant Kenway to Knight-Lieutenant Guildenstern, please respond?"
"Guildenstern to Kenway," responded Romeo as he approached the console that his ancestor had been silently raging against for the past two centuries. "Have your Hunters found something?"
"They have, though we are not certain of the relevance quite yet. We've managed to carve a path deep under the city, past catacombs and mazes, but our path is barred by a giant, circular door. Our attempts at unlocking it have failed, and I have called upon a group of scribes to study it."
Set into the steel pedestal was a key, made out of a plastic that felt like ivory to Romeo's touch as he removed it from the machine. As he did so, a faint blue-green glow flickered in the gems set into the key's arms, and pulsed along invisible circuits. Below, on the metal grating of the walkway, was another key, made of gold and silver, only broken and devoid of power.
"Let me hazard a guess about that door," said Romeo. "At the center is an indentation, in the shape of the crucifixes seen throughout the city?"
"...Yes," came Kenway's hesitant reply. "How did you know?"
Romeo smiled. "I believe I have found the key you need. Send me your coordinates, as I shall be with you shortly. Also, divert the scribes to my current location, for there are bodies here to preserve, and machinery in need of disassembly and thorough study."
"As you command, ser."
Romeo ordered Sackheim and Goodwin to keep this place secure, and as he left the chamber he felt relief, for there had been a moment there when he had thought that all his recent struggles had been for naught. But there was still hope that he would get what he wanted.
Little did he know, he would get a whole lot more.
Here, there were ghosts...
Knight-Sergeant Kenway was a dark haired athletic woman of above average height, clad in light armour augmented by a light powered harness that enhanced her speed, strength and agility. Hers was quite a military pedigree: several of her ancestors had served in both the British SAS and the Israeli Defense Force, and it showed: hers was a military bearing, propped up by an air of nobility that commanded respect and would suffer no fools. She was also, in Romeo's estimation, one of the finest, most capable Templars he had ever met, and upon seeing her he knew she would the first to become a part of his new order.
For she had the Gift — or the Sight to be more exact — though she did not quite understand it just yet. For how else had she survived the deathtraps of Leá Monde while so many perished?
Upon opening the locked door and crossing its threshold, Romeo had expected the dark depths of the city to test him and his men as it always had, by challenging their mettle. He was surprised then, as the moving platforms and pillars seemed designed specifically to challenge his agility and acrobatics. Fortunately, Kenway was more than up to the task of defeating these acrobatic challenges, and unlocked safer ways for Romeo and the other Templars in heavier wargear to walk.
Hours they spent like this, with Kenway as their pathfinder, before they encountered the maze, and began to feel a force stronger than the one that had confused so many in the Snowfly Forest. Here the true test began, the test of Will...
Because here, there were ghosts. And these ghosts bypassed all defences and reached deep within the soul to attack the mind. Long buried secrets were unearthed, regrets were remembered, vendettas were imagined. It was not long before Templar killed Templar, either by rage or despair. Some simply lost themselves in the maze, never to be seen again.
And Romeo... was not entirely immune. The Dark has no hold on me, he muttered as part of a litany meant to protect his soul, but he knew that was not entirely true.
My will is strong, for I am the one that killed the Beast. I killed Denton! I can defeat these echoes in the Dark!
Did you really? taunted one of the voices in the Dark. Did you challenge him to a duel, or did you simply wait until the Merchant assaulted his mind and the Priestess attacked his spirit from the safety of their stronghold?
It needed to be done! Even crippled, he was dangerous!
And they commanded you to do the dirty work, and you obeyed. You're nothing but a thug to them, that is all that you will ever be...
Even as half of the voices taunted him, others whispered to him encouragement, and the means by which he could conquer this challenge. He knew he could resist this force, he knew how to focus his will to resist it, and how to grant that resistance to others.
All he had to do was let the Dark in...
Thirty men. Thirty men out of a hundred. That was all he could save from the torment. He had paid close attention to Kenway, at first because he had great plans for her, and then because she was the only one he could lean on, lest he fall over from exhaustion.
They came upon a vast room, and the far wall — made of bones — was an ossuary, easily ten meters high, and upon its center was a double door. Romeo knew that the Egg was just beyond them.
"...Can it be?" muttered Kenway, tired beyond belief. "Is this the prize... finally?"
"Aye, it is..." confirmed Romeo. Behind him some of the men were falling on their knees, praising God, while others puked in their own helmets.
"Come on, then... just a few more steps!"
"No! No... there could be more dangers inside, and we are all exhausted." He pulled free from her grasp, eager to recover some dignity in front of the men before commanding them to rest, while a handful set up some floodlights to illuminate the great stone room. Rations were consumed, stimpacks were injected, and the Templars were well on their way to recovering their lost strength.
Kenway, feeling more restless than tired, killed some time by looting a nearby corpse, one of dozens strewn about. This one was obviously several thousand years old, judging by how the flesh had completely rotted away from the bones. The only thing of value on it was an arm-guard made of red cloth and sculpted plates of bone, which were finely detailed with masterfully carved floral patterns. She tried it on, and much to her surprise a blade of bone sprang from the wrist, and then receded. It took a few more tries before she realized that it responded to her will, not the movements of her hand.
"Interesting," she said to herself.
"Indeed," Romeo said from behind her. "It seems it was made just for you."
"Ser!" she turned to face him, standing at attention.
"At ease, Sergeant. I came to speak to you on a personal matter."
"...What matter would that be?" asked Kenway, growing more tense.
"How long has it been since the Gift manifested in you?"
"...I'm not sure what you—"
"There is no need to lie to me. You solved many of the maze's puzzles, and the clues were hidden to all save for you. I know this, because I too am Gifted, and felt it when you tapped from the Dark to See."
Kenway said nothing.
"Fear not," whispered Romeo, as he leaned in close and put a hand on her shoulder. "I have no love for the Inquisitors. I just want to share with you a vision of the world... are you ready? Close your eyes."
"It is a world... ruled by US."
"...The Gifted?" she asked.
"The strong," Romeo corrected, as he pulled away from her and made his way towards the double doors.
"It's getting stronger," said Kenway. "The Gift, I mean..."
"I know," smiled Romeo, his hands caressing the skulls embedded in the doors. "Beyond that door lies a prize that will make us powerful beyond belief..." Unable to wait any longer, he pushed them open, and through the widening gap he could make out his prize, the Egg, set upon an altar, illuminated from above surrounded by an arsenal of weapons.
And then, suddenly, the doors shut, and would not yield to anything.
"I was almost tempted to let you take it," said a voice in the shadows. The floodlights flickered, and the Templars began to panic. "Let it corrupt you, drive you all insane, and laugh as you murder each other. But I cannot forswear my duty. The Gaian artifacts will never leave this place..."
A phantom made of green and gold lights flickered to life amidst the Templars, and spoke: "...and neither will you."
Romeo looked upon the phantom and recognized the dress, the veil, the face with a mixture of Slavic, Mediterranean and Asian features."Müllenkamp," he hissed.
And then all hell broke loose when Müllenkamp opened her attack with the most terrible weapon of all: she spoke the truth.
Romeo was, for all intents and purposes, a mutant, the very kind the Templars were sworn to destroy. Then, she played to their superstition: for how else could he have resisted the evil of the maze, if he was not party to it?
Half of the Templars believed her words, and the other half denied them, believing that Romeo's faith had carried them through. It came to blows, then gunfire. Kenway had tipped the balance in Romeo's favour, opening the reprisal with an impressive use of her new weapon, which was quite capable of piercing the helmet of a Crusader Power Armour. When the skirmish was done, the traitors were all dead, and those loyal to Romeo numbered at seven.
And the last of the Dancer-Priestesses just stood there, among corpses both old and new.
"You've played your last trick!" screamed Romeo victoriously. "You have no power over us!"
"Power is such a fickle thing. Look at you, and your panoplies... you have so much power..."
That was when one of Romeo's men drew his machete and attempted to cut him down. Romeo deflected the blow with his rapier, a difficult display of swordsmanship, as his own strength was not augmented by servo motors.
"My lord! Help me!" screamed Romeo's attacker even as he tried to beheadhim. "T'is not me doing this!" His protests died when Romeo stabbed him in the throat, but the attacks did not cease.
"But the more power you think you have..." Müllenkamp's voice echoed through the dead man's vocalizer. Kenway jumped on the dead Templar's back and buried her hidden blade deep in his Crusader's power pack, and the attacker fell. Then, another Templar swung at Kenway, and Müllenkamp spoke again through his helmet: "...the easier it is for me to take it from you!"
With a better grasp of what the Crusader power armour could do and its weaknesses, the possessing phantom became an even more formidable foe. While the rest were busy fighting for their survival, Romeo frantically tried to figure out how to stop Müllenkamp once and for all.
There's no such thing as ghosts! Psychic echoes, yes, but there's nothing on Earth that can take over machines! No, technology is at work! I can hear the hum of machines... but where are they?! Inside the walls?
Romeo's thoughts then turned to Kenway, and her keen sight. Lend it to me, he commanded silently, as he tapped deeper into the Dark to enhance his own power. Show me the world as you see it!
The lights seemed to fade away, all the better to contrast with the glowing figures moving around him. There was Kenway, and the last three Templars, glowing gold, their souls bright with their faith and their hate. There was the ghost, glowing green with flecks of gold, with tendrils of light connecting her to three floating machines in the shape of candlesticks.
They were cloaked all along! Romeo fired his Beowulf pistol at the floating machines. Sturdier than expected, he had to empty a whole clip to take down one. In time, he destroyed all three, but by then only Kenway was left. No matter, for the day was won.
Or so he believed, before Kenway's eyes flared green.
"No!" he screamed. "Damn you to hell! She was going to be the first!" His weapon empty, Romeo engaged the possessed Kenway in a sword fight. "Don't think you'll be able to take my mind over as easily once I vanquish you! My will is of steel!"
"But your body is flesh."With Kenway's body, Müllenkamp was at her finest. Many of Romeo's sword strikes hit nothing but air, leaving him open to a counterstrike. Unable to pierce his chestplate, she focused on undoing its straps. Before long, Romeo's torso was bare. "And flesh can be cut!"
But the Templar was no untrained fool. His opening attack had neatly sliced her gun in two, denying her a quick victory, and his aggressive strikes, while they often backfired, kept her from picking up another gun.
Romeo could hear a hundred footsteps, and he smiled, for he believed reinforcements had arrived.
He was correct, though they did not come to aid him. The Templars that came through the open doorway had these damnable silver disks covering their faces, and Romeo nearly lost all hope of survival when the shambling, corrupted Templars surrounded him, then attacked.
No! I refuse to perish here! I've come too far!
Romeo's saving grace was that the disks were controlled by programs barely smarter than animals, and had not been able to overcome the somewhat complicated security system built in every Templar gun. As such, the LMGs in their puppets' hands were little more than clubs, and they used them as such. His other advantages? The Crusaders were fighting the movements of the puppets, making them slow, and the disks were easy targets for his rapier.
"WHERE ARE YOU?!" raged Romeo as he brought his fifth Corrupted Templar down. The Possessed Kenway was hidden amidst the crowd of shambling puppets; Romeo caught glimpses of her form between them, but blurry ones. "Kenway? Are you still awake in there?!"
Another Templar corpse was put to rest. "I know you are! Müllenkamp's control over you is not absolute! Fight her!"
"My lord...!" Kenway groaned in warning, and Romeo had barely enough time to deflect her incoming strike. She retreated back into the forest of undead, and waited for another chance to strike.
Eventually, one of the Templars got the better of him: he blocked when he should have deflected, and his sword finally broke. He was clubbed in the chest, and as he fell on his back he could hear the clatter of something small and metallic hitting the ground. Unwilling to give up, Romeo scrambled to find a weapon, anything that he could use to try and kill one last traitor...
Romeo saw the shard he had recovered from the golem, long and gleaming and sharp, and he took it in his hand. Just as he rose, Kenway was in the air with her hidden blade up, ready to be brought down on his throat. Time froze as secrets were once more whispered in his mind, only to resume as his rage and desperation could be contained no longer. The shard glowed, and from that light emerged a burst of Dark Energy that sent Kenway flying into the ossuary's wall.
Romeo took a moment to look upon the aura that surrounded his body: blue flames, that spat out hundreds of bright red embers that swirled about him like moths around a light. That moment didn't last long, as the Corrupted Templars renewed their attacks. Their makeshift clubs struck walls of energy, and bounced off Romeo's body.
Romeo laughed cruelly as he swung his arm and swatted away a score of his enemies. With this reprieve, he telekinetically pulled a high-frequency machete into his free hand. Thus armed, he began to cut apart the Corrupted that had figured out how to use their guns, by pulling them within range. Others had been thrown into the air, and been promptly brought down into the ground.
"Enough of this," Romeo said, as gravity seemed to cease functioning and the Corrupted Templars floated helplessly in the air. A bolt of blue energy flew out and struck one of the animated armours in the chest, and it seemed as though it had been turned into a magnet that attracted other living suits to it. Before long, a spherical mass of bodies had come together above Romeo, and with cracking and groaning the sphere became smaller and more perfect, until finally it could become no smaller, and all of the Corrupted had been crushed.
"So... this is the true power of Element Zero," Romeo said to himself. All of the floodlights the Templars had set up were destroyed, and his aura became the sole source of illumination in the entire area. "Mass Effect, bound to the will of a Man... as it should be, yes."
The Possessed Kenway, who had managed to hold on to dear life while all else had been sucked in by the Singularity, was now sprawled on the ground, trying to get up, even as her hold on her host was obviously failing.
"How right you were..." said Romeo as he approached her, sheathing his machete. "Power is so easily taken away..."
'Kenway' tried to attack him, only to be knocked down by an invisible force over, and over again until finally Romeo tore off her helmet, grabbed her by the hair, and lifted her up. "Case in point," he snarled, holding up the shard for her to see, "it wasn't smart to leave such POWER laying around for the TAKING!"
To his surprise, she merely laughed. "Yes, the Gaians gave you such power, but do you think they will let you keep it? That is not their way... you will fight to keep it with every waking moment."
"Whoever these Gaians are, I shall defeat them, as I defeated you."
"So certain, are you? Go on, sow the seed of their return, but in the end all you will reap is DEATH."
"I tire of this!" Romeo's eyes glowed red, and he became as sunlight, and all of what remained of Müllenkamp's spirit was burned away.
He dropped Kenway's body, and checked for a pulse... "I am so sorry about this, Kenway," he said, as he recovered a nearby pistol and checked its magazine. "But if it is any consolation, you have proven your worth this day..."
The double doors beckoned him, and he approached them, his aura flaring bright. He tried to open them with his hands, but they would not yield to them, so with a single motion an invisible force tore them wide open.
"Finally... finally," he said, as the exertion finally took its toll on his body, and his breath became ragged. As if to taunt him, what had been a doorway suddenly became an endless corridor of bones and skulls, assembling before his very eyes... but he pressed on, even as the spirits of countless dead wailed all around him. He pressed on, for there was a light at the end of this swirling tunnel... that's where the Egg was.
"Half way there... just a little more," he groaned, stumbling.
"You so sure about that?" said the soldier wearing half a red mask. "I mean, how the fuck can you even tell?"
Romeo ignored him.
"See, this is fucking new!" said the Warrior, reappearing nearby in a puff of black smoke. "I mean, you wear a CROSS, for fuck's sake! I mean," he laughed, for reasons known only to him. "I mean, that's some ironic shit, right there!"
Romeo kept walking as the man vanished.
"It makes sense, actually... so much death, so much killing in His name. Each and every time, the same thing..."
He was getting close, now, so close he could almost—
The animated skeletal remains — that of some marauder that had once, long ago, been lured into Leá Monde by the Egg — leapt out of cover from behind a pillar of skulls. Blinded by the light, Romeo could not react as the skeleton loosed a quarrel from its bowgun.
Romeo screamed, as the rusty bolt buried itself in his lung, and he fell on his knees.
"AND HE'S DOWN!" shouted the Warrior in celebration. "One! Two! Three!..."
The pistol roared, again and again, as Romeo stepped towards this last obstacle and perforated its skull.
"I! WILL! NOT! DIE! TODAY!" Each word was punctuated with a shot, and when the skeleton fell the light it was guarding became brighter and brighter, engulfing everything.
"Welcome to the club," said the Warrior, smiling...
...but Romeo could neither hear nor see him.
Romeo stumbled and fell face first into the dusty floor of the ossuary. He struggled for every breath as he tried to rise, and upon seeing his surroundings he realized that he had only walked maybe twenty steps in reality. He winced, and put his hand on the open wound in his torso, though the bolt that caused it was not there. His hand, and the shard it held on to, were now covered in blood.
Were it not for his wounds, Romeo would have marvelled at the treasures within the chamber of bones, itself bathed in the golden light emanating from a globe of light set on the ceiling by the wax of a great insect. All kinds of arms had been gathered here, the relics of war that had ended millions of years ago, yet its echoes could be felt even now. Swords and axes, staves and flails, spears and halberds, rods and maces, even bows and guns... all kinds were stored here. The centrepiece of this arsenal was a beautiful saber made out of carved ivory and obsidian, planted into the ground in front of a pedestal sculpted from stone.
The Kildean details and letters matched the drawing the Scribe had showed him earlier. Upon that pedestal sat a sphere that seemed to be made of porcelain. And sure enough, because he had earlier fired his gun at a ghost, the Egg was cracked and partially damaged.
"No..." he despaired, "NO! To have come so far and..."
"SUCH DESPAIR, BUT YOU NEED NOT WORRY."
From the cracks of the Egg emerged eyes, and they stared intently at the exhausted Templar. In turn, the arms of the arsenal opened their own eyes.
"WOUNDS MEND, AND THE SCARS MAKE US STRONGER." The voices were legion, but the one that addressed him was loudest of all. "ROMEO GUILDENSTERN, YOU HAVE COME ALL THIS WAY, AND FACED OUR POWER... AND AT SUCH STRENGTH OF WILL WE CAN ONLY ASK A QUESTION, AND YOU MUST ANSWER, AND ANSWER HONESTLY."
"Ask it!" shouted Romeo.
"WHAT DO YOU WANT?"
Some would take time to ponder the philosophical implication of that question, but not Romeo, for his mind was made up: "Power!"
The voices laughed. "ALL MEN DESIRE POWER," said one.
"WHY NOT GATHER WEALTH?" asked another. "YOU CAN BUY POWER WITH IT!"
"WHY NOT INSPIRE IDOLATRY?" asked a third. "POWER WILL BE GIVEN TO YOU THEN!"
"Wealth?! Idolatry?!" screamed Romeo furiously. "I want nothing to do with either! Mankind SUPPURATES with profiteers! Fawning politicians lick the boots of merchants and priests, who do nothing and blame others for their failures! One steals our dreams while the other twists them into nightmares!"
Romeo was standing now, his exhaustion and blood loss utterly ignored. "My answer remains the same! I want power! Power to bring about a fresh wind that will fan the flames of a human revolution!"
"Flames?" asked a voice, as if waking from a deep slumber.
"Fire!" confirmed another, with joy.
"Fire to cleanse this corruption!" continued Romeo. "Power to bring about unwavering justice so that it can never rise again! Power to conjure fear to enforce that justice!"
"Fire! Fire! Fire!" the voices cheered, and Romeo smiled.
"Give me the power, the purest power there is!"
"WE DO NOT MERELY GIVE POWER. THAT IS NOT OUR WAY, THE GAIAN WAY. IF YOU DESIRE POWER, THEN YOU MUST EARN IT!"
"I have passed your tests!"
"AND YOU RECEIVED MUCH FOR THEM. BUT WORRY NOT, FOR WE TOO DESIRE TO CHANGE THE WORLD, AND YOU WILL HELP US TO DO IT. WE WILL GIVE YOU THE CHANCE TO TAKE MORE POWER... AND TO DO THAT, WE ASK BUT FOR TWO THINGS..."
Romeo chuckled, bitterly. "Name your price, then!"
"FIRST, A SAMPLE OF YOUR BLOOD..."
"SECOND, A PIECE OF A DEAD GOD, A PIECE OF..."
The voice spoke a word, which was many words: Nethicite, Materia, Starfire, Metatron...
The shard! Romeo realized as he stared down at the bloodied piece of glowing metal."This was once part of a god...?"
"EVEN A DEAD GOD CAN DREAM, AND THEIR DREAMS ARE POWER."
"I... I understand. And what will happen when I give you my blood and the shard?"
"THEN YOU SHALL HAVE THE MEANS TO SOW THE SEEDS OF OUR RESURRECTION. TO SOW THE SEEDS OF WAR, AND FEAR, AND FIRE... AND REAP ALL THE POWER YOU WANT... OR PERHAPS, WE SHALL BE THE ONES TO REAP YOU."
"...And if I refuse?"
"THEN WALK AWAY FROM HERE, WITH NOTHING TO SHOW FOR IT! THESE ARE OUR CONDITIONS, AND YOU ARE IN NO POSITION TO NEGOTIATE, FOR WE CAN SIMPLY CALL ON ANOTHER! WHAT SAY YOU?!"
Romeo considered his options as he stared down at the shard. His descent into the depths of Leá Monde had made him stronger, he knew it. He could walk away from this place, with more strength than he had when he first entered it, and the Scribes up above were unlocking such secrets...
He entertained the thought of simply taking the weapons, too, but he knew in his heart that they would not obey him, for these things had wills of their own, and would not suffer a traitor to their beliefs.
He squeezed the shard tightly. Such a small price... A tiny price to pay, for the chance at even more power. For he knew that for all that he had earned, it was not enough to dislodge the Merchant and the Priestess from their seats of power. He imagined himself going after them personally, and the dream ended with him being cut down by Alexander.
Alexander... The Merovingian, as he likes to call himself. Romeo shut his eyes, choking on his own frustration. I must become stronger than he.
He opened his eyes, his course was set.
"THEN STEP FORTH."
The cracks in the egg widened to reveal a darkness, from which streams of blood flowed straight down, down the pedestal, forming puddles on the ground. Romeo stepped forth, and put the bloodied metal shard inside of the widening crack, around which eyes looked on in anticipation.
Romeo let go, and the wound on the shell sealed itself up. Then there came a rumbling, and a wailing, and screaming. For the Egg transformed itself into a woman of stone. Her belly swelled and swelled, until she had no choice but to lay her back upon the pedestal. Then her belly became nearly twice her size, and her colourless face contorted in agony.
"THIS CHILD WILL CARRY IN HER THE LEGACY OF THE GAIANS: A LEGACY OF DRAGONS, OF GODS, OF DEMONS... SHE WILL BE AS BEAUTIFUL AS THE ANGELS, AS STRONG AS THE TITANS, AND AS POWERFUL AS THE SUN."
The stone belly cracked. And stone arms flailed to reach the sword set into the ground. Romeo knew what he had to do when he took it, and struck.
"THIS IS OUR GIFT TO YOU, GUILDENSTERN. AN EXAMPLE OF ALL THAT YOU CAN BECOME. USE HER WELL!"
Blood splashed on Romeo's face, and his reaction was simply to smile, and spread out his arms to welcome a new creature into the world.
And then the Egg broke apart, and a sea of blood flooded the chamber.
Kenway woke up when she felt something wet on her face, though consciousness took a moment to take hold once again. She shot up when she realized it was blood, or tried to, but strength had not quite returned to her arms. She reactivated her powered frame, and that allowed her to finally rise.
The floor was covered with the red liquid, flowing from a pair of vast double doors that had been torn open by what could only have been a giant.
"Kenway to... to anyone. Is anyone out there?"
No reply came through her headset, though cries echoed out the doorway of fractured bones.
"Knight-Lieutenant?" she called out, approaching the doorway, fear in her laboured steps.
"Come closer," said Romeo, "for I have something to show you."
Despite herself, Kenway obeyed, and stepped through. Sitting at the center of the room, surrounded by blood and arms of bone with his chest bare, was Romeo Guildenstern, cradling a baby in his arms.
"What is it, ser?"
Romeo smiled, and looked down upon the child with his red eyes.
"The future," he replied.
And thus was born the first true biotic.
Not in a lab,
nor by accident,
but through a pact with antediluvian powers...
Interlude: Ice and Fire
Emilia Clarke as Subject Zero
Gaspard Ulliel as Alexandre
Iain Glen as Ursus
There will be untranslated French in this chapter. Yes, it's intentional.
I know, you hate me. :)
In a dark chamber full of medical machines, on a bed of steel and plastic, lay a pale woman with even paler blonde hair, and inside her belly a monster was growing. Litres of chemicals were pumped into her blood, to keep her sedate, to make sure the monster would grow strong and healthy.
But even as her body slept, her mind was quite awake, and in that mind there was the ability to see without eyes and hear without ears and strangle without hands. And she could feel the Monster grow inside of her, and try as she might to reach out and kill it, its mind — its will — proved itself to be so much stronger.
But there was something else growing inside of her, she knew. All that the Monster did not want for itself grew out into a deformed mass, that would be removed and discarded into the garbage later on. But the woman had other plans, and so she breathed a bit of her spirit into it.
Not through sorcery, that would be silly. No, she simply spoke to it.
I wonder if you can understand me, but you probably can't. I wish I could make you understand the rage I am feeling, but it's too much for you. I don't want to mess this up.
A name? I have none to give you, for my father never saw fit to give me one. He said I had to earn one, and I believed him. The doctors called me Subject Zero, for I was the first biotic they had ever poked and prodded with their tools. Grandfather — Oh, where is he? I do so miss his garden — gave me one... but I wanted my father's name most of all, and I forgot it...
While I still have time, I want to tell you a story, my story, so that you can understand what I'm about to ask of you.
That's right! That's right! Reach out, reach into my spirit, open it like a book, and see...
Old Paris, Le Marais, 2149
It began here, in a coffee shop, of all places.
The woman in white tapped her fingers against the glass of her table, waiting patiently for her order. The table's hologram showed her a stream from the BBC, which had caught her attention.
"Could your child be a mutant?" asked the reporter to her audience. "It's been five years to the day since the Singapore incident, and almost one since the Vancouver disaster. Worries of the mutagenic effects of Element Zero exposure were recently confirmed by World Health Organization research teams. Thousands have been diagnosed with both benign and malignant tumours already, and have been quarantined for their safety. According to their reports, infants are the most likely affected."
"If you were present at both incidents," said her co-host, "and were pregnant at the time, and you wish to have you and your child examined, please contact..."
The woman snickered as she dismissed the holo.
"Quelque chose the drôle?" asked the waiter, smiling, as he brought the woman her order: a croissant with pear filling, and a cup of hot coffee mixed with chocolate. She didn't reply, save to say 'Thank you' when he was done putting the items on her table and left.
The waiter gave her another smile, as he looked back. When she was done with the croissant and sipped her drink he returned to her table, but instead of giving her the bill, he gave her an appraising, questioning look for a moment.
"On s'est déjà rencontrés, non?" he asked. "J'ai l'impression que je vous ai croisé quelque part..."
The young woman merely looked at the waiter, who looked away for a moment, embarrassed. He was tall, and a bit lanky, but she could make out an athletic build under his black button shirt and his dark blue apron. His head, somewhat narrow and gaunt, but with a very chiseled jawline, was topped with a mess of short black hair. His voice had the pitch of a young man in his late teens, but with a gravelly edge to it.
"Est-ce que vous vivez dans le 17ième? Je vous ai peut-être apercue dans le quartier?"
The young woman sipped her coffee, and made a point of ignoring the boy. Unfortunately, she was smiling and that seemed to encourage him to stick around and pester her some more.
He chuckled. "Pas très bavarde!" He paced a little, nervous, thinking about what to say next. "Je sais pas, mais... Il me semble que je vous ai déjà vue. Vous avez l'air mystique, comme femme."
The woman rolled her eyes.
"Non, vraiment, il y a un truc très spécial qui se dégage de vous," he said, before audaciously sitting down in front of her. "Tu crois aux esprits? Moi, si! Et je me dis qu'on aurait pu se connaitre dans un autre temps, ou une autre époque..."
As he was talking, she took out a pack from her short raincoat and took out a cigarette from it. "Du feu?" she asked, her accent heavy.
"Ah, bien sur!" the waiter happily took out his lighter, an old thing of silver and steel that was engraved with a cross within an arch ( wiki/Gelasian_Sacramentary), each finely detailed with beasts, fishes, and vines. He got her to lean in close for her to light up the cigarette in her mouth, and he took the time to admire her gorgeous, smooth face, then looked down into the table's glass to see her long, smooth, bare legs. Meanwhile, the woman took note of his generous mouth and his indigo eyes...
"C'est vraiment étrange, et étonnant, parce que dès que je vous ai vue, J'ai soudainment eu le besoin the vous parler, et..." he sighed. "Je me suis dit que, si je ne te parlais pas avant que tu disparaisse, bien, j'allais passer quelque chose de... de special. Et que je le regretterai pour toujours."
The woman stared right into the indigo eyes, breathed in from her cigarette, and slowly let out the smoke from her lungs, right in the boy's face. She had expected him to have a fit of coughing right then and there, but instead he merely stared back, his expression amused. The woman thought then that maybe this young man was worth her time, at least one night's worth, maybe...
...Before the owner of the coffee shop barked at his waiter from the counter. "Alexandre!"
The waiter coughed, startled. "Patron!"
"Arrête de déranger la jeune dame et mets-toi au travail, fainéant!"
The waiter scrambled away from his seat. At that moment, a large lightly tanned muscular man in the middle of his thirties, carrying a long suitcase, walked in. He was wearing a long brown suede coat with celtic patterns sewn into the fabric, and a bronze torc around his neck.
His round spectacles couldn't hide his sad grey eyes.
The woman waved him over, and he took a seat in front of her.
"Ursus," she greeted.
"My lady," he nodded.
"I know. Will you punish me, my lady?" He asked this, sounding almost hopeful.
Ah, Ursus. My father gave him to me on my eighteenth birthday. Look at him! His body is a tower of muscle, but instead of a being a dumb barbarian, his body was host to the soul of a slave. He loved pain, and hoped that his occasional outbursts of brutal honesty and slights would make me hurt him. But I learned how to be cruel to him when I wanted to.
"No," she said tersely, and at this Ursus cast his eyes down, sadly.
But there was almost nothing he wouldn't do for me, especially after that night, when I took him to my bed and scratched him, and bit him, and punched him... He would follow me to hell, and I would gladly have taken him there.
The waiter came by to serve Ursus, and the Templar, polite as ever, ordered a cup of espresso. "Was he bothering you, my lady?" he asked, when the waiter left to pick up his order.
"Maybe. I think he was hitting on me."
"I didn't understand a bloody word. He said a lot of things that aren't in my phrase book."
"Shall I have him chained to your bed later tonight?"
"No," she said, but she pondered the idea a bit more. "Well, maybe. After we're done with whatever business awaits."
"Of course. Your father has need of you..."
Then, there wasn't a phrase in the world I could possibly love more. How rapidly things change...
Ursus handed the woman a small electronic chip filled with encoded data. She quickly slotted it in her smartphone.
"Finally! I was going insane with boredom!" Her father had sent her to Paris with instructions to lay low and stay out of trouble until called upon to assist in the Templar's covert affairs in Europe. This wasn't new to her: at 16 she had already participated in a few operations in the Algerian Wastelands to destroy those sects that rebelled against the Order's control. It was one of the first missions undertaken by the reformed Crimson Blades, too.
At first her assignment to Paris had been enjoyable, but she could only have bought so many shoes and scarves and dresses and other fine clothes and eat rich, tasty food for so long before getting bored.
I needed gunfire. I needed explosions. I needed to cut people down. You've got my blood in you, you'll need the same things, too.
"Anything you can tell me here?" she asked.
"Not much," said Ursus as the waiter brought him his espresso. "... save that your father's other employees were indisposed... so the job may require a bit a more delicate touch."
"Is that so?"
"The competition has been nasty, of late."
'Competition' meant the agents of the Merchant and the Priestess, the woman in white knew. Though the Triumvirate were part of the same organization, the truth of the matter was that they were frequently at odds with one another, looking for any advantage against the other two.
"Then perhaps we should get to it right away," she said, downing her coffee.
"As you wish," said Ursus, doing the same. "I've already arranged for some transportation as well as some assistance."
They had to pay at the counter, as the waiter was nowhere to be found.
"What's in the suitcase?" asked the woman as they made their way to a large gray van.
"A present from your grandfather," replied Ursus.
Inside the van, the woman was completely naked, with the contents of a couple of open suitcases displayed before her, ready to be worn. She left her smartphone on a counter, and let the briefing play as she put on her equipment.
She caught Ursus taking a few quick glances at her with the rear view mirror, and smiled.
"My child." The face speaking on the tiny OLED screen was pale, gaunt but harsh, and decorated with a dark goatee and topped with short dirty blonde hair parted on the side. This was the face of her father, Romeo Guildenstern, Lord General of the Templar elite known as the Crimson Blades. The woman knew him as Father. "Almost all of my operatives in Paris have either gone to ground or been killed. You and Ursus are the only ones left, and I have a mission of paramount importance for you..."
Father had arranged for her to receive the Obsidian, a prototype of something called a 'hard-suit'. It was for all intents and purposes a full suit of armour, and she hated it. With Ursus' help, she cut the whole thing down to a waist high black corset that left her navel exposed. Its primary component, a shield generator in the shape of a ring, was plugged into the small of her back. Why? She had her reasons.
An image of an old scholarly man appeared on-screen. "This is Jacques Saunière, a curator at the Louvre. He has been doing valuable research for us for the past decade, and he recently made an intriguing discovery, written on a scroll of parchment. My enemies discovered his activities, however, and are sequestering him in his workplace, trying to decipher his work. Your primary objectives will be to recover the scroll and bring it back to the nearest Crimson Blade outpost in France. As for Saunière, who should be located in the top floor of the Richelieu wing, extract him if he has proven himself loyal. If not, kill him."
It would not do to walk around Paris bare-chested, so she put on a white dress over the corset. 'Dress' was a generous word for it, considering it looked more like a few wide bands of cloth sewn together to leave the impression of a dress. She put on matching sleeves trimmed with black fur and a pair of long socks. As a final touch, she tied a black ribbon into her long hair. The woman in white loved to be fashionable, even on a mission.
Especially on a mission.
It was too bad she would have to wear a short raincoat over the outfit, though.
The faces vanished, and three-dimensional map of the Louvre loaded. "You will need to be discreet. The Louvre is vast and the guards are the best the SSC has to offer. It will be best if you enter during the day: Kenway's training will serve you well in the crowds of tourists, as far as the low security areas are concerned. The upper floor will have better security, and no civilian crowd to blend into. Be stealthy. If you must kill, do so quietly."
After she put her warpaint on (which involved lip gloss and mascara), she opened the case Ursus had brought her and smiled at the contents. On the top of the lid, wedged inside foam, was an Algol lever-action carbinewith its stock removed and its barrel shortened, and thirty-six .357 Magnum hand-loaded rounds in silver casings. Inside the case proper, however, was a heavy sabre made of fine white ivory and obsidian. She completely forgot about the Beowulf pistol and high-frequency machete Ursus had prepared for her for this mission, knowing that these would fare much, much better.
Guildenstern's face reappeared on-screen. "You do not have much time, and little resources to work with. Review the attached data, and then destroy it. Do not fail me, girl."
The Louvre had seen worse days: during the Collapse, the place had been bombed, then its ruined husk became the stronghold of the largest gang of thugs in the city. When civilization was restored and the museum was nearly restored, the place was once again bombed by radicals who thought the new government should have spent its money elsewhere... which led to even more money being wasted when it was rebuilt once again. They had spared no expense in making sure that the details, from the glass pyramid right down to the size of the bricks, matched the surviving pictures of the museum from before the Collapse.
Sadly, not many of the works of art stored there had survived the decades of bombings: the portrait of the Mona Lisa, for example, was little more than a charred piece of wood preserved in a glass case. To the woman in white, it seemed a little odd that the French simply did not replace it with something more beautiful. But then again, that's all she understood about art. Beautiful things, meant to be seen in all their glory.
Her steps were those of a runway model. Her high heels clapped loudly against the stone of the plaza as she made her way to the Louvre's main entrance, her smartphone in hand. She was currently in a text chat session with Worm, a hacker Ursus had contracted to provide her with electronics support on this mission.
Worm: I'm in.
Worm: I can delay both the SSC and the Police's response if things get out of hand. I can do more, if you can plug your smartphone into a security node.
The two SSC guards, in their white uniforms with black stripes and orange pips and emblems, nodded at her politely and let her through. Getting in the lobby was the easy part. After all, she was a just a lovely young woman in a short raincoat, buying her ticket in. The guards gave her no trouble, though some of them paid close attention to her long legs. It was when she went through the weapon detector that things got a little interesting.
"Mademoiselle, votre malette?" said one of the guards as they approached to surround her, once the alarm klaxon had gone off. Their stance was non-threatening, but they kept their hands close to their weapons. The woman in white felt flashes of anxiety from them all, but they kept it under control.
"I..." she winced exaggeratedly, her manner that of a slightly ditzy teenager. "I'm sorry, I don't speak French!"
The guard rolled his eyes. "Your suitcase," he said, his accent thick. "We must examine its contents."
"Oh, do you really have to? My boss will be so mad!"
The guards put their hands on their weapons.
"Okay, okay!" she pretended to relent, and followed them to a nearby security desk. There, another guard, this one a Sergeant, opened the case and whistled at the sight of the weapons, and seemed to relax a bit when he saw that the gun wasn't loaded.
"What are these?" he asked.
"The gun is a... what's the word?" The woman rubbed the back of her head. "A relic?"
"From before the Collapse?"
"Oh yeah! That's what my boss said."
"And the sword?"
"It's art, can't you tell?"
The guard examined the piece of carved ivory, and its blade of black glass. It looked far too fragile, and so he dismissed it as a weapon. The gun, on the other hand... well, it was possible the Louvre liked to put antiques on display, he actually wasn't all that certain, but his instincts told him that wasn't the case.
"It's a delivery," insisted the woman in white. "Somebody paid my boss handsomely for these. Maybe you know the guy? He works here."
"What's his name?"
"Jacques Saunière. Can you bring him here?"
The guards tensed. "We know who he is, we'll deliver these to him ourselves."
"No no no!" The woman in white pretended to panic. "I have to deliver these personally! My boss will kill me if he finds out I didn't see this through the end!"
It was at that point that the Sergeant had more than enough. This was far too suspicious, so he ordered both her and the case of weapons brought to the detention cell while they verified her story with Saunière... which might take a while, since the man was quite absorbed with his work and his personal security — a bunch of men in black — were not the cooperative sort.
The woman in white had to admit she didn't have much of a plan. Still, she knew that talking her way into being brought deeper into the Louvre into an area that would no doubt have a security node would have definitely been a part of it. They didn't even put her in handcuffs or anything, since she looked so fragile and exposed.
They would regret that, soon enough.
On her way to the security station with the holding cell, she heard two SSC guards chatting. Thankfully, they spoke English.
"Say, have you read the latest on Modern Weapons?"
"They say that this 'mass effect' can be applied on guns."
"Makes the bullet lighter or something, so that it goes faster."
"...Wait, that makes no sense! Shouldn't the lower mass mean less punch?"
"I don't know, but according to the article, we could be seeing cheaper railguns within the next five years, and smaller ones within the next ten."
"Pistols, man. Pistols."
At the security station, in which nine special response SSC agents in full gear were stationed, the woman in white had been scanned, and frisked, and then she had been fondled. Normally she wouldn't mind, but the mission came first, and the guard's arm was easily broken in two.
Things escalated very quickly from there.
Once she had killed everyone inside the security station with her bare hands, she plugged her smart-phone into a security console, and within a minute Worm had disabled much of the security on the level, cameras and alarms included.
Worm: All of the doors on the first floor are now unlocked. Also, as far as this level is concerned, you were never here.
Not quite, she typed in response on her phone. Hold on.
The sergeant came back with two heavily armed guards, and she killed them too. Her raincoat was covered in blood, and so she had to remove it, revealing her pristine outfit.
Can you print me an access card, or even a pass? she typed.
Worm: I would have to use your biometrics for either, and the way to the high security area upstairs is locked with a retinal scanner and watched over by a pair of guards.
Nevermind, then, she typed. I suppose I'll have to improvise.
Improvising, of course, had involved an explosion, though a really small one. Putting a can of air freshener on an open flame in a trash can had made a very loud bang, which drew away a pair of guards from the stairwell they were blocking. The stairwell to the upper floors of the Richelieu wing led her to a pair of locked sliding doors, with a retinal scanner on their left, as expected. She tore out a panel and plugged her phone into the wires.
Worm: Whoa...that's some pretty strong ICE
Worm: I can unlock this, in like
Worm: An hour, at least. Maybe there's another way in? An air vent, maybe?
No need, replied the woman. Just kill the alarm.
Worm: But how are you going to open the door?
She hadn't read the message, as she had already taken out the sword from the case and wedged the blade between the sliding doors, widening the gap far enough to reach in with her fingers and pry them open. It took a little while, as she had to fight the door's hydraulics. Once the gap was wide enough for her to get in, she kicked the case with the gun inside through it, and took a quick step in as the doors shut behind her.
Instead of hallways of marble walls decorated with art, she found herself in an airlock of silver and bronze coloured metals. Scanners, mounted on rails, activated and slid down slowly to scan her. She destroyed them before their light could even touch one of her hairs, and that was when the chamber was flooded with green gas.
Once the light was green, indicating that the neurotoxin had been flushed out, the two guards moved in. They were not SSC: they wore neither uniform nor armour, just two-piece black business suits, ensembles complete with a white shirt, a black tie, and shades. Their skin was a sickly grey.
"Is she dead?" asked the man in black standing behind the thick polarized glass through the intercom
"She's dead," said the woman in black, who checked her pulse. It was as if her throat was made of metal, by the way her voice sounded.
"How did she get in?" asked the man in black who was keeping his .50 handgun pointed at the intruder's head.
"She forced the door open with her bare hands. She is definitely augmented."
"One of ours?"
"Not likely," said the woman in black, who wanted to sneer, but couldn't. "She's not that pale, and her clothes are not regulation. And her eyes..."
The woman in black grabbed the girl's face, and looked into her cold, dead blue eyes. Then, they blinked, and became red. There was a flash of light and the woman in black's face met the glass at Mach 1, cracking it.
It was hard for the agent manning the security checkpoint to get a clear picture of the situation, as the blood and chips of bone obscured his vision, but judging by the gunfire, grunts, cackling, and screams, it didn't sound very good. Just as he was about to press the alarm button, the polarized glass exploded into a hundred shards as his fellow agent was tossed through it, and the resulting, inevitable impact rendered unconscious for exactly 5 seconds.
When he awoke, he could feel his fellow agent melt over him, and see the woman in white looming over them both with a smart-phone in hand, grinning as she took a picture.
She stabbed the last man in black in the throat, and called Ursus. His head, topped with short dirty-blonde hair, appeared on the small screen.
"It's me. I'm in the secure area, and I just encountered a trio of guards. Not SSC. Too strong, too tough, and their skin tone is... well, they're paler than I am. Also, they melted and went up in clouds of toxic gas, so I'm sending pictures."
"Hold a moment... Hm, interesting."
"Know who or what these freaks are?"
"...Did they have metallic voices?"
"Now that you mention it, they did."
"Then these are the product of Physiopharmaceutical augmentation."
"Right, what does that mean in the Queen's English?"
"It means that they have undergone lengthy chemical treatments to enhance their physical strength and stamina."
"Not only that, I tried to extract some information out of the last one as he died. He kept repeating a mantra over and over inside his head. It... it kept me out."
"Conditioning against the Gift, an expensive enhancement treatment, and a built-in self-termination system can only mean one thing: They work for one of your father's enemies."
"Well, we already knew that they took over this place," she said dismissively, as she loaded her gun.
"I mean DIRECTLY for your father's enemies. Saunière seems to have gotten their full attention. Be discreet, or leave none alive, my lady. If the rest of the Triumvirate discover your existence they'll..." Ursus became silent, and his face was full of worry.
"They'll what, Ursus?"
"You are the most powerful non-augmented being on Earth, and strong in the Gift. What exactly do you think they'll do to you if they catch you?" The implication was clear. She would be imprisoned, experimented on, and then disposed of when no longer of any use.
"Ah, but first, they must catch me. Give me a few minutes while I hunt down these mutants. I need the sport."
The woman in white stalked the Men in Black, and killed them one by one. There had been many of them — maybe fifty in total — patrolling the many halls and sterile chambers of this place. Hiding had been difficult, since the walls were painted white and the lights were bright, but she had an advantage over them all.
She could see them.
Kenway had trained the woman in white in the use of the Sight, so that she could track down her prey and know where to go and when, but one day she understood how much more powerful than Kenway she was when she realized she could see people behind walls.
The men in black, while their minds made strange, boring noises, their spirits still shone bright to those with the Gift. It allowed the woman in white to see their nervous and circulatory systems in bright orange spectres of light.
She had made a game out of the many ways this allowed her to kill them. Sometimes she stabbed one through a wall, other times she hanged from an air vent on the ceiling and grabbed them from above and snapped their necks. It was clean, quick, and efficient, and it got boring really quickly. It was the blood of her prey: it was white, and smelled too clean. Synthetic, lacking much of the colour and flavour the woman in white loved.
While she crawled in an air vent, she overheard two people talking, and peered out of the vent below her. The room was filled with papers and scrolls, as well as various pieces of electronic equipment. The two people chatting were wearing white robes, with blue stripes. The colours of the Order. The woman was actually a bit too far away to hear them speak clearly, but their thoughts about what they were about to say came through loudly. Still, she had some trouble filtering echoes from their pasts away: the first time they had their souls 'scanned', their eager pursuit of the higher levels to become part of the Order's clergy...
The indoctrination process, that they thought they had forgotten, but didn't.
She couldn't comprehend much about what they were saying, as she wasn't much of an academic. Something about deciphering a scroll, and figuring out how to activate something called a 'Relay'.
"Can you imagine, sister?" said one of them. "A gateway to the stars!"
"I can, brother," said the other. "A gift from God, truly! I am glad that Saunière has seen the light, and decided to work with us to unlock it."
Hm... interesting, thought the woman. She fought off the urge to come out of her hiding place to kill them both, and called Ursus.
"There are two members of the Order here," she said, her tone hushed. "Archaeologists by trade, judging from their thoughts."
"The Priestess, then?"
"Hm... I think she might be working with the Merchant on this. The place has got some very fancy and expensive security. The guards have Mako Ballistics handguns, and Worm said their ICE is tough."
"Troubling. It's one thing for your father to take on one or the other... but both?"
"Fear not for my father. I'm sure it's all part of his plan. Speaking of which, looks like I'll have to kill Saunière after all."
"Is that so?"
"The Order monks said he 'saw the light'. Sounds like cooperation to me."
Ursus snorted. "I would not take what Order monks claim to be 'cooperation' at face value. The concept of free will is somewhat lost to them."
"Hm, true enough. Ursus? Have you ever heard of a Relay— or, um, a gateway to the stars?"
"Are you talking about the new faster than light engines that are being developed?"
"No, I mean—"
"Do you hear that, brother?" said one of the archaeologists.
"I... I think there's something above us..." said the other.
"Is it rats?"
"Rats don't speak!"
The woman in white stood still, but unfortunately for her the air duct she was in was never rated for a grown person to travel in, and the vent broke under her weight and she fell on her back on a table There were screams, and men in black burst in.
Well, at least things were a bit more exciting, now.
In a large chamber on the fourth floor, in one of the Richelieu wing's towers, there was a squad of Illuminati Elite troopers. Two of them were wearing the original Obsidian power suit, complete with clawed hands and rebreather helmets, and armed with two 7.62mm machine guns and rocket launchers, one on each arm. The rest wore grey uniforms over their body armour, and were armed with the latest in small arms technology: fully automatic gauss rifles loaded with flechettes two millimetres wide, and with scopes linked to their goggles.
All had received the latest in physiopharmaceutical augmentation, based on material collected from JC Denton himself. It made them stronger, faster, and smarter than their predecessors.
"I lost contact with everyone in the lower floors," said the leader.
"Are they dead?"
"But there's no alarm! The Merovingian said—"
"The Merovingian was wrong!" the leader snapped.
It was then that they all heard something hit the thick, metal double doors hard, and the floor rumbled beneath them. They quickly took firing positions, ready to fire as soon as the doors were breached. They exploded open with a flash of blue light, and the soldiers were confused at the sight before them. Standing in the arch of the broken door was a young woman — easily one of the most beautiful they had ever seen — in a white dress stained in red. With her blade resting on her shoulder, her gun held at her side, she stepped through the doorway, her steps casual and graceful.
"I don't suppose any of you got a napkin?" she asked, licking blood off her lips. "I'm afraid I made a mess of the Order monks that, you know..." she smirked. "...you were supposed to protect?"
"Kill the bitch!" the leader barked. "Protect Saunière at all costs!"
Normal men would have hesitated, but Illuminati Elite Troopers' mental conditioning removed all doubt removed from their minds, and there was only the smallest of moments between the order they received and the roar of their guns.
In that tiny moment, however, the woman's eyes flared red and she was surrounded in a burning aura of red light, and the bullets stopped just short of her soft, pale, and very exposed skin.
It was part of the reason she didn't wear armour: when her enemies' bullets failed to perforate and kill a fragile looking girl, their minds became confused, and confusion made way for absolute terror as they realized that all of their power — their guns, their grenades, even their muscles — were completely worthless.
To their credit, the squad of Illuminati Elite did not break immediately, and the two soldiers in the Obsidian power suits fired their rockets at the intruder while the rest of the squad reloaded their guns. It was then that they remembered what fear was, when the rockets froze in mid-air, failing to explode, and slowly turned around. "For me?" the woman gasped in mock surprise. "Oh, you shouldn't have!"
One of the power suits exploded into a hundred pieces, while the other still had the presence of mind to dodge.
"Team one!" barked the leader. "Engage in melee!" On his order, a third of the squad drew their high-frequency machetes and attacked the woman in white.
She laughed, "Oh, that's more like it!" She shot a couple of them in the knees, mostly because it made her laugh a little, and engaged the rest in a sword fight. They were well trained, and far more agile than expected, and not bound by honour to fight like gentlemen — one even managed to grab her by her incredibly long hair! — But the woman in white was far, far better than they were, and far more brutal. In less than a minute she had carved through the lot of them like a cake. The last one, in his Obsidian armour, had been a welcome challenge, with his superior strength and his power claws. The woman had been disappointed when he died, perforated by bullets fired by his comrades, meant for her.
"HEY!" she screamed in frustration. "HE WAS MINE!"
They had spread out through the room, intent on drawing this out as long as possible, no doubt hoping to exhaust her. In truth, it was a move that would have worked: her Barrier had limits, and maintaining it too long would have exhausted her.
It would have been simple to simply shoot them, but she simply decided to make a game of simply evading their fire, while getting close enough to slice each of them apart. She disappeared and reappeared all over, teleporting short distances erratically, leaving glowing ripples and red embers behind. Scraps of torn papers and chips of wood flew as bullets impacted and pierced books, scrolls, and tables.
It wasn't long before it was down to the last man: the leader, in fact. He was defiant to the last, neither begging for his life nor asking for quarter. All he had left was his pistol, and he fired her at her head. Laughing with joy, she sidestepped the bullet with the grace of a dancer, and every bullet that followed. The last one, she evaded with a spin, that was quickly followed with a spin kick to the leader's head. A kick so powerful, he was sent to a nearby window.
Outside, the owner of a food cart thought he heard something hit glass above and behind him. He turned around and looked up at one of the Louvre's towers. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, he shrugged, and got back to reading TinTin.
The pale, chemically augmented soldier bounced off the thick, reinforced window. To the woman's surprise, the impact hadn't killed him, though it had certainly crippled him.
"...Who... are... you?" he coughed.
"...The future," said the woman looming over him. "You'll be seeing a lot more like me in the future. Well, YOU won't. Your friends, though...?" She stabbed him in the heart, and as he died she felt the Dark rush into her, and with it came glimpses of memories, though the images were confused. Snapshots of the trooper's training, conditioning and augmentation appeared in her mind suddenly, and vanished quickly. She tried to focus on more recent events to locate Saunière, and as it turned out he was in the next room over. Then, with no prompting from her whatsoever, she received the intense image of a dark figure with glowing eyes, and the woman in white was awoken from her trance.
"The Merovingian... will... kill... you...!" the trooper cursed her with his last breath, and then he dissolved into a cloud of poison gas.
"Saunière?" the woman in white called out, her voice echoing in the large chamber. But no answer came.
Saunière's laboratory, a perfect replica of Renaissance architecture filled with furniture and bookcases from the same era, had been arranged into a small museum filled with artifacts brought to him from far and wide across the world. Ever the curator, Saunière had arranged them to tell some sort of story, though the woman could not piece it together. Still, the pieces of art were pretty, and she took the time to look at them.
The first was a painted mural, of all things, cut away by laser from the wall of a temple in Asia. It detailed an impending battle, the two sides snarling at each other over a prize in the middle of the mural — a planet, which looked a lot like Earth.
On the left, was an army of soldiers clad in white and blue armour and ordered into well organized ranks. Angels flew over their side, and behind them there was an idol made of silver.
On the right, there was a mob of warriors clad in various garbs of red and black, and dragons flew over their heads. At the front of that horde there was a man, naked save for a red mask twisted into the shape of flames.
There was an audio recorder nearby, and the woman pressed play.
"Ceci est la première guerre..." said the voice of Saunière.
"Shit," cursed the woman. She called Ursus on her phone, and sent him the audio file for him to translate. The recording said:
This is the first war. It took place an eternity ago, and has repeated itself in some form or another throughout time and space since the very beginning of time, but this is the first, and all wars that came after it paled in comparison. None had as many heroes, none had as many turning points, and none lasted as long. The cause? A disagreement, as always. Over what? The shape of things to come, the manner through which all civilizations should be shaped. Through constant conflict, or perfect obedience.
Always, do the wars come to a standstill, neither side getting an advantage over the other for long. Always, does it fall upon one person to shift the balance of power between the two. One person, caught in between angels and demons...
The woman in white squinted, and true to Saunière's word there was indeed a solitary figure standing between the two armies, right under the planet. Honestly she found it all to be a bit silly: what does one life matter against such powers?
She came across the drawing of some kind of pentagram: five blades set around a ring. Saunière had a log on that too, along with notes on the origins of this drawing, apparently, this came from a place called 'Leá Monde', and the name immediately struck a cord with her.
I thought this was some kind of diagram, but upon closer examination, I noticed that this was in fact a map! This is the place where everything began, and everything will end... only to begin again.
There was something about that map, the configuration... the shape... and she recalled the Lunar Tear her grandfather was cultivating in his garden.
On a table there were paintings and statuettes of dragons and creatures both magnificent and terrifying, and on a separate table there were robots and angels and mighty war machines. For a moment the woman thought this was actually Saunière's collection for some tabletop game. But there was log for those, too.
The Gaians. The Messians. They are all long dead. And yet, they manage to come back. How?
I let myself get caught up in the idea that they were both races, or nations, or religions. Organizations that left artifacts behind for their eventual resurrection... but what if they were born, quite simply, of an IDEA, and that all that was needed for this idea to come about was for the world to stay... exactly as it is? Torn between order and disorder... the benefits of neither, the disadvantages of both...
It's no wonder this keeps happening.
She examined the white dragon figurine, and decided to put it in her black legpack strapped to her left thigh before moving on.
There was a set of three paintings of a dark figure reaching out for an altar. One altar was made of bone, and covered in blood, while another was made of steel and bathed in a blue light. The altar between the two looked like it was carved from wood, with green circuitry printed into the bark.
Red, green or blue. Saunière laughed. A man once told me the definition of insanity... it's doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Countless times, someone made the choice, but in the end it was all for naught, and the cycle began anew.
They all hoped for a better result.
They all hoped for a better ending.
But it will never end.
"This is quite fascinating, my lady," said Ursus.
"And kind of ominous," the woman added. "Saunière isn't here, though there's a spiral staircase leading up."
Ursus' reply became broken up by static, and the Smartphone complained about bad reception. No matter, the woman thought. This mission is almost over, and there are none left here who can stop me.
She saw him at his desk, his back turned to her, the large window letting the light of a grey sky into the room. He was, interestingly enough, dressed like some French fop, complete with a ridiculous white wig.
"Saunière... my father is so very disappointed in you..." she said in a sing-song voice. She approached him slowly, and made her high heels clatter against the marble floor. The plan formed inside her head: extract the location of the scroll from Saunière, kill him, secure the scroll, and leave.
"Saunière?" She was right behind him, now, and still he wasn't moving. There was a hole in the back of his purple coat, but it couldn't be a wound, as there was no blood.
"Saunière!" Frustrated, she grabbed him by the shoulder, and the Dark showed him his last moments.
He was meditating on scrolls from Leà Monde, trying to decipher the text into English. At the center of the table was a drawing of some kind of machine— a gigantic gyroscope. Every detail, every ounce of knowledge Saunière had gleaned from these texts were on the verge of coming together... moments before he felt something sharp enter his back and burst from his chest.
There's no blood why is there no blood
The woman in white gasped and recoiled from Saunière's corpse, and she looked utterly confused at the sight for a moment before she heard someone say: "Please, don't move."
She quickly aimed her pistol at where she heard the sound, and saw nothing save for a red velvet couch.
"Oh, zut!" cursed the voice, and there was a shimmering as a man in a dark blue coat decloaked. He was sitting on the couch, casually leaning back as he held his hands up, forming a picture frame with his fingers. "There was a moment there," he said, his french accent thick, "in your confusion, when you looked so completely lost, and the anger was gone from your face... and the way your hair and your fair skin catch the light from the window... you looked beautiful beyond compare. It is too bad I did not take a picture, yes?"
There was a weapon on his lap, and the woman in white at first thought it was a railgun, since it was built in the boxy, industrial aesthetics favoured by Tokugawa Industries... but there was no pistol grip or even a stock. The man got up, and the weapon retreated into his long coat on its own, making a distinctive, mechanical whirring sound all the while. He adjusted his sunglasses, unbothered by the fact that the woman had a very powerful and very well crafted gun pointed at his head. Despite having his eyes obscured, the woman recognized him immediately.
Alexandre smiled. "Not the most impressive of my names, of which there are many. Would you like to know another?"
The woman's smartphone vibrated, and as she examined her screen a few lines of text appeared and made her blood run cold.
Worm has changed his name to Merovingian
Merovingian: Do you know what your sin is?
"It's Sloth," he said. Then, he added: "The failure to do something you should have. For example, you really should have left your smartphone's wireless switch off when a stranger approached you."
As the lady in white leaned in close for him to light her cigarette, Alexandre discreetly locked on to her Smartphone's signal and uploaded a trojan without triggering its ICE.
He clicked his tongue twice, and wagged his finger at her. "If you had done that, I wouldn't have known about your impending attack."
"I don't understand," said the woman, as she made a display of her strength by crushing her compromised phone that left Alexandre unimpressed. "If you had me made, why did you help me?"
"Well, technically, I did not: the SSC had little security set up on the main floor, and I left it on... but you didn't trigger it. As for the alarm at the retinal scanner, well... there was no alarm to disable. The man in the airlock was the security measure, and you got caught."
"That didn't stop me."
"No, it really didn't," he adjusted his sunglasses again. "You know, I actually expected you to ignore your father's advice and assault this place with your friend in full gear. I even warned the SSC to be on the lookout for a woman carrying a machete and a Beowulf pistol and concealing a full suit of armour under her clothes... instead, you come in wearing his lovely, lovely dress and armed with a pair of antiques, and you killed nearly everyone silently." He looked at her, and smiled. "I'm usually very good at reading people, but you're a difficult one to read, aren't you?"
"Or maybe you're just not that competent."
"Perhaps. It's true. If I had been a little better, then I wouldn't have had to kill Saunière. And he was so close to figuring this out..." he withdrew a scroll from his coat, "...I take it you know what this is?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Give it to me," she commanded.
"You'll have to come and take it," he taunted, as he put the scroll back into his coat.
She fired her gun at his head, and was surprised when he moved it out of the way. Before she could fire the second shot, the railgun came out of the coat... only it wasn't a railgun. It was a scabbard, and from it he drew a black steel katana with an edge that was a bright, thin ray of blue light. She emptied her gun at him, and he blocked every shot with the flat of his blade.
He swung for her head, and she blocked the blow with her white sabre, its edge of gleaming darkness spitting sparks when it came into contact with the glowing one. Their blades were locked, and they stared daggers at each other.
That was the beginning of the end for me. That was the day when my world came crashing down.
That was the day I met your father.
Time slowed down as the light from the outside became obscured, and the woman in white saw a Vulture gunship lower itself into view. It fired its rockets, and time resumed its proper pace when Alexandre shoved her into the window, and it exploded.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Author's notes: What Romeo and Subject Zero refer to as the Dark is actually the same thing Scholar refers to as Anima.
No, the Merovingian is NOT a Matrix reference. If you haven't figured out who Alexandre is, then I guess you'll have to wait until the next chapter to know who he is. Still, I left you plenty of clues to figure it out. It's in his names, and his choice of melee weapon.