Andromeda found the opulence of the city surprising, even after several months of living here. The size and intricacy of the buildings made for breathtaking views. People came and went at all times of the day with little concern for their health or safety. Compared to the island slums of Oceania or Süden she was used to, it seemed like a fantasy world that should not exist.
She strolled down the street, keeping the wide canal on her left side. The click clack of her knee high boots giving her something to focus on other than the people around her. Verona was a city raised out of the bay. Hundreds of small man made islands were connected together by bridges and waterways. Even in the modern age with personal air travel increasing, navigating the extensive canal system or walking were still the most common forms of transportation in the city.
She refused to use air travel for personal reasons. Thinking of soaring up high always brought back painful memories. The phantom pains searing her back at the thought, begged for a different one. She concentrated on where she was heading and the plan she and the guys had created. The farther west she went the less foot traffic she encountered. Of course. The people who live here would never exert themselves unless they needed too.
She ground her teeth at the thought of the Academy Alchemists. That’ll change. Soon. She let the images and memories of the last seven years rush to the forefront of her thoughts. The guys had been working towards their goal before they had rescued her. And since that day, she had struggled to repay them and achieve the goal. The end was in sight now, and she felt the glow of victory. They would hit the alchemists of the Academy, and show the world how depraved the entire organization had become. They would make the world better.
She came to a bridge and stopped in the middle and looked out over the canal at the setting sun. The water rippled in the gentle gusts of wind, disrupting the city’s reflection. To her left she could see the massive super towers of Verona. The buildings housed thousands of people, some of whom had never set foot on the ground.
In front of her, rising out of the ocean, defying logic and sense, backlit by the setting sun, was a pillar of purple-red crystalline fire. It rose higher than the buildings of Verona. The Academy stood taller than any other structure ever constructed or conceived. No one could look at the pillar of flame without being awed by what it represented. Even the sacerdos of the church looked up in awe at the tower. Made of what looked like crystal, yet resilient to everything, it stood as a testament to alchemy’s power. For her, it was just another reminder that alchemists had no respect for the natural order of things, or for the people who just wanted to go about their lives.
She became so focused on the tower that she did not feel the man walk up until he was a few feet away. She resisted the urge to turn, and closed her eyes, focusing on the ball of emotions behind her. Lust. A desire for praise, and the belief that praise was deserved. Definitely an alchemist. Too full of himself to get anywhere. Wants validation. Pathetic. She took a breath, waiting until he felt ready to speak to turn around. As she turned, his prepared speech faltered at his lips.
Wow. Pointed ears. Never seen a half breed in person before. That could be hot – In a disgusting way. A little on the skinny side for me. What is she, anorexic? And what’s with the blue hair? And a tattoo? On her face? What a locum. She picked his thoughts out as she made her own mental checklist of him. Purple robes with a red cloak. So, a dominus alchemist. Great, even worse than a regular one. He was maybe average height, which meant that with her boots on, she was a bit taller than him. His greased black hair had no gray in it, but that meant nothing. Alchemists lived a long time and if careful age did not show.
“Good evening miss. I could not help but notice that your jacket appears too light for this chilly winter evening. Perhaps I could offer you my cloak?” He asked. She just stared. Pathetic. She felt embarrassment begin to creep up in him.
“Oh, excuse me. Where are my manners? My name is Darius Laquatus, dominus alchemist of the Academy. I am a rather important man. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?” He asked. He wanted her to have heard of him so bad she thought of saying yes just to see his reaction. He would probably do a dance for joy. She continued to stare at him. He began fidgeting, never looking her in the eyes. He was used to a lot of reactions from women, but not hers.
“No? I guess that’s not surprising. When one walks the circles I’m in, commoners never get the chance to hear of me.” He said, hoping some mystique would help. As with his previous attempts, she just stared. She felt his anger rise. No one should ignore me. Especially not some locum. He took several steps closer to her, some type of cheap alcohol on his breath. Wonderful. A drunk dominus, what next?
“Okay. I get it. You like to play hard to get. Well, let me tell you. You won’t regret it. Trust me. I’m a dominus.” He put his hand on her shoulder and tried to pull her closer. She reached up and grabbed his hand.
“Hey! What are you doing?” He demanded. She ignored his sniveling and twisted his hand. It took several seconds before she heard the snap. He let out a scream and tried to rip his hand away, only causing himself more pain. She blocked out the pain and fear she felt from him, trying not to enjoy his writhing too much. When she let go, he fell onto the ground, sheltering his broken wrist. Once he got himself under control, rage and embarrassment were at the forefront of his mind.
“You filthy half-breed locum! How dare you lay hands on me! I am a dominus! I’ll teach you how to behave around your betters!” She could not see the streams of alchemy, but could feel him focus on them. She just stood her ground and stared.
“Is there a problem here?” A voice said behind her.
She yelped, unable to stop herself. She spun around to see another man standing there. Her boots made them roughly an equal height. His red brown hair fell not quite to his shoulders, and his pale blue eyes analyzed her. His outfit was done up in black, except for a red scarf, and reminded her of a uniform she had seen somewhere. All along the clothes, and even on his boots were blood red symbols. The scarf contained the same symbols, only done in black. She assumed they related to alchemy. Several belts crisscrossed his waist and three chains hung in long loops from the right side of the belts. There were key cards and regular keys hanging from them. His long jacket was high collared and reminded her of an Academy Sentinel’s uniform. As she stared, she realized that he also seemed to be covered in a thin layer of dust, and what had looked like pressed clothes revealed burn marks and scuffs. In fact, one of his shoes boots looked ready to fall off it was so worn.
What is going on here? Why did I not feel him come up? Even distracted by the idiot, I should have felt something. As she thought about it, she realized she still could not feel the man. She tried to focus, but it did not help. He was a void. She had only ever met one other person who she could not feel, but she never thought Daemon as a void or abnormal, just special. Not feeling him seemed to fit. This new man, however, did not rate the same in her book. Before she could contemplate it further, the idiot opened his mouth.
“Stay out of this Alighieri! It has nothing to do with you!”
“Do I know you?” The man, Alighieri asked. He cocked his head to the side to look over at Laquatus. Alighieri! Of all the people to run into. And tonight of all nights!
“Of course you know me. I am a dominus! This is a matter between me and this little locum. Stay out of it!” Laquatus yelled. Alighieri looked back to her and shrugged.
“Aren’t you cold?” He asked her. The question caught her off guard so much that she answered it.
“Well, that jacket must be better than it looks.” He said.
She found herself looking down at the jacket. It was done in the style of a bolero and never buttoned up, though there were buttons. It had been with her for a long time and she never thought of it as strange.
“It is.” She said adjusting the jacket a bit. She needed to do something to take her mind away from the void that was Alighieri.
“I told you to leave Alighieri! This whole situation has nothing to do with you!” Laquatus said. The black clad man cocked his head and shrugged at the idiot.
“You’re still here? You can leave now.” Alighieri said, making a shooing gesture with his hands. She felt the idiot’s anger and embarrassment rise.
“Don’t make me -” Laquatus started.
“Do what? I hear a scream and come over here wanting to help, only to find you sniveling like a canis, attempting to use alchemy on a non-alchemist. Now you don’t want to be here, so find someplace else to be.” Alighieri pointed towards the direction Laquatus had come from, electricity dancing across his fingers. She rolled her eyes. Why do they always insist on showing off? It gets them nowhere. The idiot stood up as straight as the pain in his hand would allow, sniffed and tried to talk.
“This is not the end of this Alighieri. Mark my -” his speech was cut short as a small bolt of electricity soared through the air and into him. He yelped, cursed and began moving away.
“And that, is how you take care of a sniveling little canis.” Alighieri said putting his hands into his pockets.
“Well, thank-you for the demonstration. Next time, I’ll send lightening at the canis. Oh wait, we normal people have to stick with mundane things, like breaking bones.” She said turning back and leaning over the rail. The sun had almost set – the horizon a blaze of deep orange fading to purple-black. At least the sunsets around here are decent. If only that damn tower didn’t mar the view, it would be perfect.
“Could I pay for your thoughts?” Alighieri asked. He had moved to lean against the rail beside her. He didn’t look at her but out at the sunset. She thought how to answer, if she even should.
He chuckled then fell silent. Glow spheres, which floated along the walkways at convenient intervals began brightening to life, casting a pleasant blue-green glow over everything as the sun inched closer to sleep. A flutter of movement caught her attention. A butterfly, larger and colored like none she had ever seen before seemed to be hovering just out of her reach. As if it were looking at her. It was nearly all black, except for the tips of the wings, which seemed to be a deep rich purple color which almost glowed.
“We call them Imperators. They are the only known insect to have a natural ability to interact with alchemy. They use a form of psychic alchemy to convince predators to stay away.” Alighieri said. She looked over at him and saw a small smile on his face. If she did not know better, she would have said the smile was sad. She sniffed and looked back at the imperator.
“Sounds a lot like you Academy punks. It even has the same coloring. I doubt that is a coincidence.” She said. Alighieri chuckled.
“There may be something to that. But saying that would be akin to me calling you an alchemist soldier because of the tattoo on your face. It’s just not true.” He responded. She saw him move just a bit to look at her. She kept her focus forward.
“Hmm.” She said, not sure how to respond to that. Of course he knows about the tattoo. He had been in the military with the others. But he decided to abandon them for that stupid tower.
“You don’t talk much.” Alighieri said. She noticed some movement from him and assumed he was making a face at her.
“And you talk too much.” She responded. She looked over at him and flicked her dark blue bangs out of her eyes.
“You’re the first person to ever tell me that. Can I ask a question?”
“Why that particular tattoo?” He asked pointing to the left side of her face. She had five blood-red teardrops along the bottom curve of her left eye. Like the jacket, she rarely thought of it. She supposed it was an odd thing to see, especially coupled with her not quite human heritage. Halflings were a rare sight in this part of the world. Even here in Verona, the last almost tolerant city on the continent Halflings were not welcomed. A Halfling with a facial tattoo was unheard of.
Andromeda considered her answer carefully. She did not wish to give too much away. But a lie could cause problems. Alighieri knew more than most about what the tattoo meant to those who had fought and died in Süden. She decided on a very lean version of the truth.
“It reminds me.”
“Reminds you of what?” He asked.
“Of the things worth fighting for.” She answered. He fell silent, his blue eyes seeming to search her for answers. She shivered. The look reminded her so much of Daemon, that she almost reached out to touch his face. He nodded and took a step back, touching his scarf. She thought he tightened it, but pushed the thought away as he spoke.
“Well, I guess that is as good a reason as any. I would be careful though. That design means different things to different people. Some might not take kindly to the memories.” He said.
“I think I can handle myself.” She responded wondering at the warning. Part of her felt glad he had cared enough to warn her. Another part felt insulted at the insinuation she might not be able to take care of herself.
“Well then, I guess I will bid you a good night.” He said. He tilted his head just a bit and walked away, the opposite direction from where the idiot went. He must be going to the public dock. That’s odd. I would have figured Alighieri lived in the Dominos District. She took out her comm and consulted the time. If everything went smoothly, it would take about a half-hour to get to the target. She took a deep breath and began to walk, pushing thoughts of Alighieri out of her mind.
Julian sipped the wine he rarely indulged in. These dinners were a delicacy he did his best to enjoy to the fullest. He looked across the table at his companion who dined like this every day and nodded. Nicholai Ndroskey enjoyed a seat on the Academy’s Dominos Council, and was regarded as one of the leading alchemists in the world.
“How goes things on your end? I trust you’re keeping busy?” Julian asked, setting his glass down.
“As well as it can. Though, I will admit, we shall miss Dominus Octavian. I hope he enjoys his retirement.” Nicholai responded through a mouthful of steak.
“If anyone deserves it, it’s that relic.” Julian said raising his glass in salute. Even the Church stepped lightly around Octavian. Excelsum Dominos were not to be trifled with.
“Agreed.” Ndroskey mirrored Julian’s salute, taking his wine in a gulp rather than a sip. Wastrel. Perhaps it is time to push for a better position. One with more benefits.
“How about you my friend, how is the preaching business now days?” Nicholai asked setting his drink down.
“Oh, about the same as usual. A lot of people want help, and we try to accommodate them. Others just want to be told they’re going to heaven, and we try to not disappoint in our services.” Julian smiled and began cutting his last small piece of steak.
“You should sell aer ceritate. You would make more money.”
“Yes, but not the satisfaction.” Julian replied. This elicited a chuckle from Nicholai which Julian echoed. He sipped on his excellent wine, enjoying the taste.
“Well, speaking of satisfaction, I have news from our southern endeavors.” Ndroskey said. Julian looked back at the purple clad man who was suddenly a sober dominus, not a drunk friend. I need to be careful. He set his glass down and motioned for the man to continue.
“Everything is on schedule and should be completed by the end of the year.” Nicholai said using his fork to gesticulate.
“Good. I’m sick of my name, even obliquely, being attached to this project. The faster it’s shut down, the better off we’ll all be.” Julian leaned forward and rested one of his elbows on the table.
“Do we know when stage two will be complete?” Julian asked, fiddling with his collar.
“No. I have not been informed. And, as you know, questions are dangerous.” Nicholai raised an eyebrow at him.
“You honestly believe that?” Julian asked.
“I know all of the players. You only know a few. Trust me, stop asking questions.” This was punctuated with a finger.
“I understand.” Julian felt the room getting hot. He fanned himself, regretting his choice of traditional sacerdos garb.
“I hope so.” Nicholai went back to his last piece of steak.
“I don’t poke my nose into other people’s business.”
“Says the man who takes daily confessions.” Ndroskey leaned back in his chair. He adjusted the golden sash he wore across his body and grinned at Julian.
“It’s just a job. Nothing more.” Julian said, a false grin on his face.
“Of course.” Nicholai nodded in understanding.
Julian fell silent, contemplating the conversation. Perhaps it would be wise to lay low for the rest of the year. He nodded to his companion and stood up.
“Leaving so soon?” Nicholai asked.
“It’s getting late, and I am not as spry as I used to be. Morning will arrive too fast. Have a good evening Nicholai.” Julian said with a bow.
He turned and showed himself out of the mansion. One thing could be said of the Academy; it treated valued members correctly. He pressed the button on his wrist comm to alert his driver. He had many things to think about, not the least of which was a sermon in need of delivering in the morning.
As he exited the house, an aer celeritate landed in the drive. Julian walked up and got in. He nodded to the driver and the thing took off. He leaned his head back and stared out at the flickering rainbow of lights below. The airborne view of Verona was the only decent thing the city had to offer.
“So much to do and none of it enjoyable. Sometimes, I believe the Lord just laughs at us.”
The door shut gently behind her. After a beat she sighed. She might get out of this without being skinned. She tip-toed towards the stairs. Her world ended inches from the first step.
“Ellsie! Get in here now!” Her mother screeched. Why does she do that? Why can’t she raise her voice without waking the dead? She turned around and stomped towards the living room. She entered the room and tensed, hopes falling. Her father sat in his chair, arms crossed over his growing belly. Great. Both at once. What next?
She did not look forward to this conversation. Especially after an enjoyable night on the town. Her friends and she were really starting to get the hang of alchemy. They also had managed to get noticed. People were asking them to do work. Work that did not involve Church, Academy, Military or State.
“I’m glad you decided to make an appearance.” Her mother said. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”
“Just after eleven.” Ellsie said. She tried to look unconcerned and uninterested about the late hour.
“Exactly. You were supposed to be home two hours ago. What excuse do you have this time?” Her mother placed her hands on her hips. Ellsie barely managed to avoid rolling her eyes. Could she be any more comical and cliché?
“I was hanging out with my friends. It’s not a school night, so, why are you screaming and berating me? I’m home aren’t I?” Ellsie pouted, crossing her arms.
“Late. And without telling us. We are here worried to death about you. And you’re out gallivanting with a bunch of hoodlums.” Her mother continued. Ellsie could not stop her eyes from rolling this time.
“My friends are not hoodlums.” Ellsie said, hoping her voice did not sound as shrill as it felt. I don’t need to sound like her too.
“Yes they are. They are breaking the rules set down by the Lord of the Heavens, and I will no longer tolerate them.” Her mother said. Ellsie knew better than to argue this point. No amount of pleading, or screaming had ever brought her parents around to accepting alchemy.
“There is nothing wrong with them mother.” Ellsie said.
“Stop talking back to your mother.” Her father said. Ellsie rolled her eyes again.
“And don’t talk back to me either!” He father responded leaning forward. Ellsie felt herself straighten up before she answered him.
“Now, go to your room and get to sleep. We have services in the morning, followed by a meeting with Father Medici.” Her father ordered.
“What?” Ellsie spat.
“We’ve decided to enroll you in the clerici. Someone needs to teach you how to use this, this, gift, for the betterment of others.”
“I don’t want to be a priest. It’s tauru-”
“Watch your mouth young lady.” Her mother screeched out.
“No! It’s tauru! Don’t I get a say?” She wanted to scream. Her mother grabbed her arm and pushed her towards the stairs.
“It is commanded by the Lord, so no, you don’t. Now, get to bed.” Her mother screeched.
Ellsie stomped upstairs to her room, holding back tears. She managed to not slam the door, though the sound made her jump. She felt like screaming. Instead she grabbed the nearest object and hurled it at the wall.
She threw more of her things. Then threw more when none of them broke. A thought struck her. What would they all think of me right now? Throwing a temper tantrum is no way for an alchemist to act. She took a breath and sat down on her bed.
Sitting on her bed, she focused on the sounds that were always in the background of her head. They were the sounds of the different types of alchemy. She still had trouble separating all of them but there were several that she had gotten a handle on.
She picked out one of the notes she heard, separating it from the rest. Then she focused on moving it. She opened her eyes and placed the sound over her comb, and watched the comb float towards her. She plucked it out of the air and smiled. At least there’s one thing I can control.
She played around with the different sounds for a while. She could move things with what she had come to find out was air alchemy. She also could make spheres of water using water alchemy and fireballs with fire alchemy. The last trick she practiced was one none of her friends had been able to replicate. She concentrated and after what seemed like an eternity, managed to produce a ball of bright white light between her hands, letting it rise to the ceiling.
Then she used air to switch the room light off and was left bathed in the light she had created. Then, the light went out as she lost touch with the sound. In the dark she lay back, rubbing her pounding head. Maybe that was too much.
She decided to call it a night and got herself ready for bed. She stared up into the darkness. She did not want to be a sacerdos. She wanted to go to the Academy. There were no strict rules. It would be so much better than being a sacerdos. Her life would be over if she had to do that forever.
She rolled over and tried not to think about it. She would have to find some way to get out of this, but she could not do it tonight.
Trina walked into the house and heard glass shatter. She sighed and leaned back against the door. Why can he never be sober on the nights when I just want to sleep? Why?
She took a moment to gather her resolve. She found her father in his study, kneeling in a puddle of amber liquid and clutching his hand. The remains of the bottle glittered in the light around him.
She stayed looking at him for several moments. Is the tantrum over? She knelt down and looked at his face.
“Hey, dad, what’s wrong?”
“Stupri show off, always getting into other people’s business.”
“What?” She asked.
“The epigrammata. Always showing people up. Even his betters. Someone needs to teach the little coges manners.” Her father went on. She tuned it out and looked him over. It did not take long to find the broken wrist.
“Dad! How did you do this, and more importantly, why have you not taken care of it?” Trina asked him.
“Hey, don’t talk to me like that. I’m your father.”
“Then don’t act like a child.” Trina said
“Girl, watch your mouth with me. I’ll still give you a good beating.” Her father spat. She just nodded and began focusing on his wrist. She watched as her hands began to glow. She searched for the feeling of blissful calm. She touched that feeling and then extended it out and into her father. The swelling in his wrist slowly went away and it moved back to the correct shape.
“Well, at least you can do something right.” Her father sneered trying to stand up. He lost his balance and ended in a pile on the floor.
“Come on dad, let’s get you to bed.” She sighed and moved to help him up.
“I can do this all night.”
“I know. But tonight you want to sleep.”
“You just wanna get rid of me.” He said as she helped him up. She nodded and agreed with him. It did no good to do anything else. It took her a while, but she managed to get her father into bed.
“Good night dad.” She said switching the light off.
“Hey.” He said before she made it out of the room. She sighed and turned around.
“You need to get your asina in gear. You may be a sentinel, but you need to get better than that coges. I won’t have a daughter second best to that filii canis.”
“And which coges are we talking about this time dad?”
“Alighieri.” He said. She watched as he continued to repeat the name. She swallowed and left the room, closing the door behind her. Yeah. I’ll get right on being better than the youngest dominus ever. Like that could ever happen. She headed to her room and removed her saber, the symbol of sentinels, before she collapsed on her bed. She tried not to think about the impossibility of her father’s demand. Or the fantasies of it she lived with every day.
Smoke hung in the air of Nicholai’s study. He enjoyed retreating here, with his immense collection of historical objects, books and paintings. Coupled with a decent cigar and delicious dinner, his muscles loosened. Mardox’s chatter had been the only downside to the evening
He exhaled a column of blue-gray smoke and looked up at the map on the wall. It showed the entire city in meticulous detail. It had taken years to create, but thanks to his skill, anytime a new building was built the map changed. If he wanted he could display the location of every alchemist in the city.
He got up and went over to it, exhaling thick gray smoke. He sent a small stream of spirit into the map concentrating on the person he wanted. The whole map glowed faint blue, a bright red spot appearing on it. Another stream of spirit enlarged the picture, bringing the red dot to the forefront. He looked and felt his stomach drop.
“That’s a pretty interesting map you got there. Must come in handy for finding people.” A voice said from behind him. Nicholai managed to turn and stare at the man standing behind him without jumping.
The man known as Seven stood just over six feet tall. He kept his black hair slicked back with way too much gel. He wore his usual combat fatigues as well as a heavy duty armored vest, which he generally kept open to reveal a chiseled frame.
“Seven. How are you this evening?” Nicholai asked. Why does the man insist on doing that? And why can’t I ever sense him? He’s an alchemist. I should be able to tell that from a hundred yards.
“I’m doing well. Better than well really. Now that the plans are moving forward.” Seven rolled his shoulders and walked over to the map.
“It’s good to hear that. I had not realized you were going to be an integral part of this.” Nicholai took a step back from the man. He was not so much afraid of Seven himself, as he was cautious of whatever experiment the man might be currently trying to conduct.
“Really? I thought you would have managed to snivel out all of the pertinent details.” Seven sneered.
“Planning this part, was as you know not my area.”
“Of course not. And your contribution is much appreciated. Now I need something else from you.” Seven said walking over to stare out the windows. Nicholai walked over to his table and stubbed the cigar out, never taking his eyes off the man. The smoke in the room seemed heavier than it should. Stop thinking like that, he’s just a man. No need to get paranoid.
“I’ve done my part, and pushed the limits while doing it. So, as long as your toy does its part, everything will go smoothly” Nicholai said walking away from the map.
“Perhaps. But we might have a potential hurdle in our way. And while trying to figure it out, I realize you are just the man we need.” Seven turned to face Nicholai and grinned. Nicholai inclined his head trying to not stare at Seven’s deranged eyes.
“What do you want?” Nicholai asked.
“We need you to begin running interference with the council. You generally know what’s about to happen. You are to pick the people who will solve the problem.” Seven walked back over to Nicholai and stared down at him.
“Really? I know that wasn’t part of the plan. And why bother? The need for interference seems long past by now.” Nicholai shrugged and tried to see what the other man might be after.
“Loose threads are being cut.” Seven made a snipping motion with his hands.
“I know. That was part of the plan.”
“It’s changed slightly. We are going to try and pin it on someone, instead of letting it all stay open ended.” Seven said. The man turned and looked back at the map, directing spirit alchemy into it.
“That is a very valuable item. I would appreciate it if you did not touch.” Nicholai waved a hand, directing his own streams of spirit, cutting apart what Seven had been trying to do. He might be a dominus of psychic alchemy, but no one can match me with spirit.
“You are too paranoid Nine.” Seven said, still looking at the map.
“And you are too confident. What is it you want?” Nicholai said walking over to the other man.
“I need you to assign some investigators. Ones that can be led like dogs.” Seven said turning his humorless grin back to Nicholai.
“I also assume you don’t want it to trace back to us?” Nicholai rolled his eyes at the other man. Seven was a useful dog, but at times Nicholai struggled to see the value in a rabid one.
“This is why I like you Ndroskey. You have your sterecore together. Get the plans prepared now. Don’t start anything until morning. We don’t want it to look too suspicious.” Seven handed him a piece of paper. “I advise you not to get caught.”
Seven walked out of the room and Nicholai opened up the paper. His palms began to sweat while reading. He had suspected these two would be on the list. It made sense. But they would need to be very careful. If they did not play the cards right, Three would have them on a platter.
He walked over to his desk comm and began searching. He thought of all the people who could be trusted to follow orders. This could actually work out for the best. Two birds, one stone. He set the order up to be sent at dawn.
“Well, it doesn’t get much easier than that.” He said to himself. After finalizing everything, he relit his cigar. As the smoke began to surround him, he contemplated what was about to happen. Tough luck. Sorry, but I guess you two should have been more discrete in how you handled your information.
Andromeda arrived at the house and stared. It was one of the larger buildings in the area, but by no means was it a mansion. A large, wrought iron fence surrounded the yard, which stretched out behind it down to a private dock connecting the house to the waterways. Large willow trees drooped over swaths of the yard, providing plenty of shade and cover. She had visited the place many times in the past months, familiarizing herself with it.
There was nothing specific she found discomforting. She had researched both of its inhabitant’s thoroughly. They helped perpetrate some of the most horrific experiments imaginable. They took people against their will and tore them apart to see what would happen. But the house held a warm feeling. The grounds emanated a feeling of peace and comfort. To think that anyone could commit such atrocities and still create an atmosphere of bliss made her sick.
She contemplated the house and the people in it. Her hand reached up, brushing the choker around her neck. It was made of razor wire that somehow never broke her skin. A small glass orb with an hourglass shaped, red-purple stone embedded in it, hung down to the hollow of her neck. Touching the stone relaxed her tense shoulders, letting her concentrate. The necklace was her lifeline when going up against hornets such as these two dominus alchemists.
She took another minute to gather herself, and then sprinted forward, jumping. A light tap and a flip later and she was crouched on the other side of the fence. She made her way to the back yard. Sticking out past the porch was a balcony. She ran towards it and jumped again, grabbing hold and pulling herself up in a flip, where she ended up sitting on the balcony rail. She slid off the rail and glided to the large glass door, which slid open without a sound. Nice to know people rarely change their routines.
She had spent several trips finding out all of the ins and outs of these two. She had shook her head upon finding out they never locked this door. Where she came from, all doors were locked. She felt almost insulted about how easy this was. They would pay a heavy price for their arrogance.
“Hello dear! Please come on out. We know you are in there.” A female voice said. Andromeda froze. She stopped and concentrated on feeling out the house. There were only two others in the house. They were both on the other side of the door. One male, one female. The female was looking forward to meeting the infiltrator. The male felt bored. How do they know I’m here? They should not have been able to sense me coming. What the inferno is going on?
“Please don’t make us wait. You’ve been caught. No shame in it. Just accept it and move on. Now please, come on out into the hallway.” The sincere sounding voice contrasted the feelings behind it.
Andromeda took a second to think through everything. Her necklace had always worked before, so there was no reason to think it had stopped working. They must have something I missed. Oh well, too late to dwell on it now. She opened the door leading out into the hallway.
Stepping out, she looked to her right. Both of her targets were down the hall. The woman stood in front and to the side of the man. She was short, slender and the only sign of age came from her graying hair. The man next to her was also on the short side, and had lost most of his hair.
Andromeda tried to gauge how they would react if she charged them. The man had a penchant for healing and earth alchemy, while the woman used fire alchemy whenever possible. That worried her, since the fire itself would not hurt her, but the heated air it created could. The limits of her necklace grated at times. I need to take the woman out first.
“Well dearie, I hope your night went well.” The woman said. Andromeda chose not to answer. She picked up the woman’s thoughts, which were incredulous. What is this? Some half breed locum breaks into my house at night? Whoever arranged this will pay dearly for that insult alone.
“Not much of a talker are you? I guess that is a good quality for an assassin. Though you must be rather new to get caught so quickly.” The woman continued. At least she believes what she is saying.
“Do you have a point?” Andromeda asked, pretending to play with the sleeves of her jacket.
“You have a lot to learn before joining the big leagues dear. Now, who sent you? It’s a simple question, one you should have no problem answering.” The woman used her hands to gesticulate while speaking.
“Why would I answer that question?” Andromeda raised her eyebrow at the woman.
“Because we’ll hurt you if you don’t.” The man said. He wanted this charade over before his eyes shut and he fell asleep.
“Be nice. She’s new at this, I think. Besides, I suspect she is freezing. Dear, you could have gotten a warmer jacket. I’m sure your employer would not have minded. Give me his name and I’ll tell you how he would react to such a request.”
Why this sudden fascination with my jacket? It’s a good jacket.
Andromeda reached behind her and took hold of the rod she kept securely fastened to a sheath on the back end of her belt. It seemed to be made of glass and had faint cyan swirls along it. In the correct light, she could only see the swirls, the glass disappearing.
“What’s that?” The woman asked
Andromeda did not answer. Instead, she focused on the rod. She funneled her purpose for being here into it. The rod warmed and began to grow. It took less than three seconds and she held a five foot long scythe. The entire thing was still made of the glass-like material only now it held red-purple swirls that seemed to be more akin to alchemical symbols than random blotches of color. Even the blade contained them.
“That’s interesting.” The woman said. Desire and intrigue emanated from her. She trembled at the ramifications of the display. Andromeda was not well versed on the mechanics of alchemy, but knew enough to know the scythe should not have been able to do what it just did.
“It was just a trick our old, tired eyes were not able to catch. And a useless one. You can’t swing that weapon in these halls. Come on girl, you’ve insulted us enough. Tell us what we want to know?” The man said.
Andromeda crouched and prepared to sprint. They thought themselves invulnerable. That was in her favor. She took a second to go over everything these two had done to others. The experiments and twisted caricatures of life.
The man stepped in front of the woman, hands coming out in front of him. Andromeda rushed forward. On her second step, the floor twisted. She adjusted herself without thinking, her balance flawless. Several more strides and she reached the man, his jaw hanging open, eyes widening in shock. She stopped and brought the scythe around. It melted into the wall and then back out as she aimed the blade for the man’s neck. It slid through his neck, leaving no mark and she saw everything go white, voices bombarding her.
Oh Deus! What’s happening? You did it, about time. Deus this sucks, when will it be over? Worthless! What a fine time that was. Come on, let’s go. I need this. What’s happening? It’s dinner time, what a failure, will walk again damn creatures they need to die
Then it all snapped apart. Everything that had been disappeared. Then it rushed back. She panted, eyes twitching to the beat of her pounding head, and watched the man drop to the floor, unmarked, but clearly dead. She felt nothing from the slab of meat on the floor.
What? What’s going on?
Her eyes snapped into focus as she felt heat surround her. She stood up, still panting and looked through the fire. She looked through the flame at the woman, registering her screams for the first time. She darted forward bringing the scythe back up. The woman had no time to scream before it carved into her.
You’ll pay for that! Harlot! It’s the rain and winter. I hate it. So messy. Why isn’t it working? Work damn it. Ha, another success. Let’s see the upstart get out of this one. Oh, dear, that’s so sweet. I love you. I hate you. Gah, why is this happening, what is this? We’ll name her Jean. Why!
That feeling echoed around in Andromeda’s head, bouncing back and forth, reverberating into itself, taking over all thought.
It took several moments before she could look up. Her breathing was labored and her vision swam. What the irrumabo was that? In all of the years I’ve been doing this, not once have I had a reaction like this. What the irrumabo? She managed to look up. It took her a moment to recall stumbling down the hallway. She looked at the bodies, now empty, containing nothing. Then she looked down at the scythe in her hands. Be honest, you’ve never used this thing before either. It’s one of Daemon’s new toys. Did he know this would happen?
Don’t think like that.
She swallowed, running a hand over her face, surprised by the stream of sweat covering her. I need to talk to Daemon about this. I wonder if he knew how it would work. She shook her head. Think about it later. Get out now. She pushed herself up onto her feet and walked back down the hallway, keeping a hand on the wall, still unsure of her footing.
She went out the way she entered, and followed the yard down to the canal. Halfway there, she stopped and took a breath of fresh night air. She looked up through the canopy of willow branches to see the blankness of the sky. Even out of the main city, the lights never allowed for star viewing. I could really use a decent sight right now. Reaching into her pocket, she took out a small cloth patch. She had taken it off of a wannabe gang member earlier in the evening. She dropped it. Just in case.
She continued to the canal. Once there she turned and started following it north. You’ll pay for that! Oh God, what’s happening? Why, why, why? What is going on? You need to stop this. How? Her hands would not stop shaking. The noise in her head kept bouncing around. It was so distracting, she almost missed the small bundle of trees and shrubs near the canal. She stopped and forced her trembling hands to work, uncovering the small aqua celeritate she had hidden away.
She got in and started it up. She put the aqua celeritate on auto and let her eyes rest, hoping Daemon did not pull one of his usual stunts and move the rest of the plan up.