IN THE BLACK, IN THE BLIND
“Jesus fuckin’ Chri---” Volker groaned, pulling his coat collar tight over his nose. “God…!”
The narrow overhead lights blinked into life. Just as quickly, Julia moved her hand from the light switch and back over her mouth. Everyone gave a brief glance in her direction before continuing their so-far fruitless searching.
Despite the fact every polished surface of the mounted fillet benches and ice bins were cleaned and gleaming, the stench of rotted marine life was thick in the air. It was hard to resist heaving, letting alone find a cue so small as the one they were rummaging through the deserted warehouse for. As if the hand over his face were enough, Rudo maintained his vigilance easily in comparison.
Only moments after arriving, Volker called it quits, leaning against a wall and pulling a small pack of cigarettes from his jacket.
“Why here, of all places…?” Julia speculated aloud.
Across the room, where the sharp click of four-inch high heels echoed across the long and narrow space, Remy approached a large, stainless steel meat locker. “This is about as far off of the radar as you can get.”
Pulling at the lever handle, thick frost resisted against her intrusion. With a forceful heave, the executive assistant flung the door wide open. Everyone’s eyes snapped to Remy, who had her hand set below her hip near the pentacle cross clipped to her high heel cuff. Light cleared away the shadows within and, after a moment, the edge lighting inside cut on.
"I checked county records," she sighed, pushing away, chilled air spilling out onto the processing floor. "He's kept his name off the books. And he's got the paperwork for the leasing agreement on this place covered in red tape." The door closed shut behind her with a rubbery thud. "It'll be another year or so before they figure it out, though."
"And, probably just as quick," Volker muttered aloud, smoke filtering past his pronounced canines. "Whoever comes sniffin’ around---”
"---Will get snuffed out," Julia finished.
Her cousin squinted at her, then. "Don't…Don't do that."
Suddenly, a metallic clattering rattled out from the far end of the room. All eyes snapped in that direction. At that wall, a portion of the floor sloped down to one of the loading bays sitting on the western port's edge. Gravitated to the opened trailer door at the bottom, they glimpsed Rudo just as he disappeared around the corner, skirting the edges of the narrow inlet.
Stepping past the man's executive assistant and Volker, Julia descaled the slope and cast an eye about the relatively empty substructure. She followed the dull footfalls echoing out from her left, finding Rudo moving down a long and dimly-lit hall edging that side of the building. At the end, an inconspicuous doorway awaited.
Giving a passing glance at Remy and Volker, who strode by with just as much nonchalance as the Sonia executive ahead of them, Julia squinted at a white object---a thirty-foot vessel---bobbing on the distant oceanic horizon.
Standing in front of the door, Rudo took one hand out of his jacket pocket and reached for the door handle. Gripping it, he paused, as if something were amiss.
“I’m surprised I didn’t notice it before,” Remy said, drawing his and Volker’s eyes.
Just as his brown eyes swiveled about, a bright mote of blue floated over his shoulder, the woman’s long and slender arm reaching toward the surface. Then, in what seemed to be a defiance of reality itself, her hand became immersed inside an imperceivable field that rippled like water out from her dark skin. Flashing across that invincible plane were all colors of the spectrum, each rolling and disappearing like passing reflections against a mirror.
Then, everything crumbled.
Falling apart before his eyes, matter itself seemed to lose form and scatter into flecks of blue light, each particle soon fading from view itself. The mirage before him was replaced by a broader and higher segmentation of the hall that carried for a few meters, capped by a set of equally vast and unadorned metal doors.
“What the f---” Volker let slip, raising a quizzical brow.
Remy dropped her hand to her side, shaking her head and frowning. “Yeah…”
“Well, they definitely know we’re here now…”
Julia stepped ahead of Rudo, who put a hand at her shoulder. Turning back to him, she heeded the suspicious look on his face. As if having read his expression through the back of his head, Remy positioned herself at his other flank. Only by happenstance did Volker find himself already where he needed to be, still sipping the cigarette in hand.
Slowly, Rudo removed his left hand from his left pocket, the five-point pentacle dangling readily at his side.
The large double doors shuddered.
The sound ripped through the hallway, and a thin streak of light permeated the gap to their side. Volker threw the cigarette aside and, all at once, the placidity evaporated from his expression, quickly substituted by an intent sharpening of the eyes. Both women stood straight, aligning their shoulders and adopting a somewhat similar level of alertness.
Achingly slow was the venue beyond the egress revealed them; a massive, subterranean space that stretched fully five stories high and wide. A massive obelisk, flat on all four sides, was erected in the center of the simplistic labyrinth. Ahead of them and to either side were alcoves bathed in darkness, though, the faint silhouette of a deep hall could be made out further in each. High above, a single level segmented with several pillars that made it appear more like a series of smaller niches, the depths of which were unreadable; the bright lights on the tiered ceiling skimmed clear past them all.
Every surface shone with the familiar and dull flare of soul-synthesized silver. With an eerie knock, the doors stopped. Without delayed, Rudo walked forward.
Volker beamed, sinisterly. “Scary…”
In a casual amble forward, Rudo observed his surroundings, peering into every dark corner of the underground chamber for something. Someone. His unforgiving facade was maintained, even in the precarious silence around him, save for the careful footsteps of his cadre behind him. Squinting on the stand-alone pillar, he could make out thousands of engraved characters all along its broad surface. Some of them were scribed in languages he could at least identify. Some of them in the three languages he was fluent in.
They were, all of them, names. Surnames.
“Well, at least the smell’s gone,” Volker quipped to himself, craning his head back to bring the vast obelisk in full view. “What is this, the… sign-in sheet?”
Remy shook her head at him as she moved past, eliciting a sharp scoff. “…Joking.”
There was a look of wonder on Julia’s expression as her fingers traced the fine rifts in the polished metal. Rudo looked to her as her brow began to furrow, as if laboriously attempting to recollect something. Volker eyed the sculpture for another moment before shrugging and wandering off.
“I remember her saying something about…” She spoke aloud, though, not necessarily to Rudo at first. “Something like this…” Belatedly, he gathered who ‘she’ was. Roaming nearby, his long-legged vixen of an assistant was drawn to her ponderous words. “This is, like... incredibly old. Old, as in, more than a couple hundred years old. The temple itself might be even older but, this right here, is... one of just a couple dozen that were made by a handful of families that brought together all of their retainers.
“If I’m right…” Julia paused, contemplating the countless seals and sigils before her and those on the other three sides. “Each one of these came directly from the individual…”
Rudo swiveled his head to his assistant, her eyes already there to meet his. Having arrived at the same hypothesis, in spite of his limited education in the deep and despairing history of their people, it was Remy who spoke the words aloud which gathered all eyes other than Volker’s in the chamber toward him:
“Hey!” the blonde hollered, the flash of crimson across every silvery surface of the pit accompanying his shout. “Are any of you paying attention?!”
All three of them instantly snapped toward him.
Rudo locked onto the rippling energies of his manifested Heilig Bogen, witnessing its construction and the capacity of its wielder for the first time. In a vivid blink, it was there, at the ready and brimming with destructive reishi. Rudo clenched his jaw, ripped from his own egomania by the simmering glare in Volker’s blue eyes as he beamed upward. Behind his pitch-tinted shades, both brown eyes flashed open in realization.
The glow of blue light was reflected against all surfaces of the sanctuary as bright flecks rushed around and past him; Remy, and Julia reacted immediately, bows called forth before Rudo had even looked up. There, he found a dozen shadowy silhouettes perched like ominous raven waiting above carrion about the veranda near the temple’s luminous dome.
Perhaps because of the disparity in numbers, none of them appeared to be armed or particularly anxious.
“Tch…!” Julia spat under her breath.
Rudo pivoted his head only slightly toward her, never letting the men above out of his sight. Remy growled silently. Without laying eyes on either of them, Rudo could feel the change in their expression, their stances becoming more guarded and tense, cued by something lost on him.
“We’re closed for the day,” a voice echoed from above, certainly feminine. Which of the thirteen, each clad in different layers of the same deep grey and white, spoke first was unclear. “But I’m sure you knew that already…”
“That’s a shame…!” Volker returned, his smile cracked just wide enough to reveal his naturally-pronounced canines. “Read some good reviews about this place, heard some of the best sushi in town comes straight outta here!”
The unknown speaker paused just a moment before responding, “I doubt you’ve heard anything about us…Volker von Eisler.”
There was a distinct lack of surprise or shuddering from the interlopers down below. Only one of them smiled at that.
“You know, when most people do that,” the firebrand blonde grinned, standing tall and removing one hand from his bow. “I’m pretty sure they expect most to shit their pants and run off with their tails between their legs.” He threw his shoulders down defiantly, shedding any modicum of anxiety. “You’ll have to excuse me for not defecating in the face of your ‘supreme’ intelligence, sweetheart.”
Behind the slender silhouette of the hooded enigma up above, an intrigued smile emerged. As if sensing her amusement, Volker’s widened even more.
Her riposte came in the form of a booming quake. The expansive atrium shook, and was filled with a strong spiritual pressure. Julia cringed slightly. Rudo and Remy stood their ground, easily. Chin to his chest, Volker licked his chops as he felt his flesh squeeze around his bones, yielding every so slightly to the spiritual particles swimming in the air. His free hand was lifted high, as if the stagnant air in the room was rushing between his fingers.
Finally raising his head, his challengers witnessed a man galvanized by the fleeting moments of calm before the onslaught. Eyes closed, Volker seemed almost intoxicated. Subconsciously drawing from that unabashed hubris, Rudo let loose the restraints of his own spiritual energy.
Near the crest of the pillar, there was an emphatic and bridle crack as the metal split.
“He has no message for you…”
“Goddamnit…!” Julia groaned, pivoting on heel.
She was behind them now.
Turning his chin to his shoulder, Rudo scrutinized the rather diminutive figure just meters away from him and Remy. The hood was gone, but the shawl remained. It was a two-toned piece: smooth ash with a frost white on the underneath side. Beneath that, she wore a black tank top with no bra, to boot. Her faded, sea green trousers were held up by classic red suspenders with the hems of her baggy trousers tucked inside worn brown boots with steel toes.
Her attire, however, could not be counted among her inimitable features.
Hair shorn nearly to the scalp, to call her a woman would not be as much misleading as dubious. Those piercing grey eyes surrounded by heavy eye shadow seemed like large diamonds floating untarnished in pits of tar. Tattoos covered her every inch below the chin, the most distinct of which was a red cross centered on her back. The top segment streamed from there, up the back of her neck and head to curl down to a stylized point on her forehead. The horizontal segmented snaked underneath her armpits, ending just above each nipple.
“He didn’t say much of anything before he left for Cologne three days ago,” she continued, pulling the shawl down, revealing all of her slim physique. “Not much else other than ‘All trespassers---’”
A fiery bolt of scarlet ripped across Rudo’s field of vision, disappearing from existence just as quickly like a mirage. There was a fleeting moment as he witnessed the woman’s eyes shoot open in surprise. Speckles of blood sprayed her clothes, showering down to the ground.
Volker chuckled once to himself. “Sorry, what was that?” Her form froze---and then. “You didn’t get a chance to fin---”
As if phasing out of existence, the girl’s entire form shimmered, the edges of her silhouette blurred and shifting. Almost seeming to lose all but one dimension in form, Volker stuttered in disbelief as that petrified expression glimmered, fractured, and then shattered into disintegrating shards of spiritual energy.
“Move, you idiot!” Remy hollered.
Rudo spun to where she was only a millisecond ago to find nothing. Several meters at his flank, the executive spotted the almost ghostly apparition of the mysterious woman---her bow drawn and thrumming. Remy fired three shots, each violet bolt cutting through the air like lightning. In a display of unbelievable agility, all three were dodged.
In the wake of the impact, Volker’s blood-curdling cough echoed out. Dropping to a knee, the blonde smothered the gaping hole in his abdomen. Blood saturated all layers of his clothing, pooled into his gloved palm and spilled out between his fingers to the ground.
“Stupid bitch…!” he forced out.
She grinned, insidiously. “Was expecting a ‘thank you’ but, you know, I guess that’d be asking a bit much.” Julia growled, leveling her bow on the speedy Quincy. “I could’ve taken your head off, but a slow and painful death isn’t exactly all that benign of me.”
Appearing from a God Step, Julia stood poised to deliver her reprisal.
“Don’t take it personal,” the woman spoke aloud, though clearly the initial words were meant for Volker’s cousin. “I’m here to do a job. Nothing more, nothing less. I have no allegiance to your father.
Rudo looked on her, intently.
“Only to the money…”
A cacophony of noises echoed down from on high: swords sliding clean from sheaths, spiritual energies gathering and pulsating. Twelve shadows swam across the silvery grade beneath his leather boots as Rudo traced their enemy’s spiraling descents.
In a blink, Gedicht Grimm was there in his hand, his spiritual pressure intense and suffocating as if the Yamato Basin itself had given way to fill the chamber in its glacial waters.
Then, surprising even Remy herself, Rudo cracked a shallow smile.