Chapter 373: Without a Trace
Metatron nodded his head. “This isn’t something we’ll be able to sweep under the rug. I’ll return to the Cathedral and ask the Pontiff for further instructions. From this point forward, you aren’t to leave each others’ sight. If you encounter the enemy, report it immediately. If what the tailor said is true, then they weren’t just here for Raphael.”
Uriel nodded in agreement.
They soon discovered that Uriel’s predictions were right; the equipment had been destroyed and there was no way they could recover the day’s footage. They did manage to find the shop where the masks had been sold, but the owner was no help. He noticed the masks were gone, and the money for them was in the till – and yet, he couldn’t for the life of him remember anyone coming in to purchase them.
Gabriel sent for someone to come examine the money in the hopes of finding fingerprints. They did – several hundred, in fact. The money they’d used was too well worn to even hold complete prints, so most were fragments anyhow.
Their only lead had been cut. Uriel anticipated the results of the hotel sweep to be a bust as well. These terrorists knew what they were doing, as evident by the complete lack of clues.
The whole atmosphere of the Holy City reacted. A thick anxiety hung over the city like a fog. Inquisitors swept through every street and lane. Every hotel was scoured and their logs confiscated. Everyone couple was stopped, especially the young ones, as the search ramped up.
Lan Jue had, of course, come prepared. Fake IDs had been used to book their rooms, which claimed they were from some large company here on business. When the Inquisition eventually knocked on their door, Lan Jue met them with an easy smile. He was even so haughty as to drop hints, but they never caught on.
It looks like they don’t know anything. What’s next? After the Inquisition left, Qianlin spoke with Lan Jue through the Soul Caller gem.
Lan Jue smiled. “Nothing. Sleep. I’m not impatient.” As he spoke, Lan Jue nonchalantly wandered to the bed and took a seat. It was already dark out.
“Hey,” Qianlin protested. “If you’re on the bed, where am I sleeping?”
Lan Jue laid back with a grunt, and patted the mattress beside him. “Right here. It isn’t any closer than when we were traveling on the airship. Plus, I’m about the safest man for you to have in this situation. If anything should start to happen, you’ll just melt right in to me. And then –“
Woosh! Lan Jue didn’t see the whirling sofa cushion until it smacked him. In the end, Lan Jue found himself sleeping on the sofa. They were only separated by a thin wall between the bedroom and the sitting room, but it felt like different worlds.
Lying in bed, Zhou Qianlin could feel her heart beating. A confused flurry of emotion filled her eyes as they stared at the ceiling. Still, she felt… secure. She knew it was because he was right outside.
Lying on the sofa, Lan Jue could hear Qianlin’s gradually easing breath from the other side of the thin wall. He had sunken in to a quietude himself. In his pondering, though, he couldn’t help but recognize that things were changing. The more time he spent with Zhou Qianlin, the more he mistook her for Hera. Whenever that happened his defenses dropped.
Wait, he thought. Sleep? We should be training!
Lan Jue’s mouth curled in to a frown. What was he thinking? Clearly his emotions were clouding his judging. So be it, sleep it was. They’ll continue with cultivating tomorrow. With no recourse, Lan Jue closed his eyes. Soon he was asleep.
While Lan Jue and Qianlin slept easy in their hotel beds, things were very different in the Citadel. Martial law had been imposed, and the word had been spread that the hunt was on for blasphemers. It was a frightening prospect for many, and although the West maintained it’s government here everyone knew the Pontiff’s Citadel was the real power on Eurmania. However, while they enjoyed a powerful position in the West, things weren’t decided by a single Adept organization. The Citadel’s complete control only extended to the borders of Reims.
The Pontiff had yet to show himself. However, the Citadel had since lapsed in to a reverent stillness. One of the six great Archangels had been stolen away. Their beloved Angel of Healing, captured. It was a deep, burning disgrace for this holy order.
In truth, they didn’t even know whether or not the attackers and Raphael were still in the Holy City. It had all happened so quickly, by the time the Citadel had caught wind the assailants must have had ample time to escape. The more time stretched on, the more difficult their search would become.
If they got out of the Pontiff’s sphere of influence, things might get messy. Powerful adepts though they were, could they hope to contend with a government? With a galactic fleet? Of course not, so they would need to play by the rules.
They could also approach the government for help. Aside from the West’s raw military power, they also stood to benefit from sweeping something as humiliating as this under the rug. Remember that half of this planet was lost to hell. The Dark Citadel was only too anxious to abuse any opportunity the Pontiff gave to degrade them.
One full day and night of searching had produced nothing. With satellites spells and manpower, not a trace was revealed. Although the satellites were precise, it was a long shot. In a crowded city like Reims, picking two suspects out from hundreds of thousands was almost impossible.
Within the Grand Cathedral of Reims.
Six men were situated around a large, circular table. Although they all looked different, each were garbed in opulent garb – and wore a dark scowl.
Metatron was seated farthest from the door, head of the table. To his left was the Angel of War, Michael 1. He looked mostly recovered from his conflict with Lan Jue all those months ago. However, of all those seated here, his expression held the deepest fury. He and Raphael were close friends.
The next two positions of import were occupied by Gabriel and Uriel.
Metatron and five Archangels. This was the highest court the Citadel possessed, with the exception of the Pontiff himself. Constantine had been appointed Inquisitor General and was hunting his prey.
“Not a trace.” Metatron growled. “The attackers must certainly have prepared beforehand, and specifically to target us. Why, however, we don’t yet know. If anyone has any thoughts, now is the time to share them.”
Uriel spoke first. “The simplest answer is to wait for their next move. Like you said, we don’t know their aim – but they have Raphael, and he plays a part in it. Otherwise, they’d have killed him already. We wait for our opportunity, then sweep in before they know we’re close.”
Ramiel, seated across from the Cherub, scowled at the table top. “So you suggest we tuck tail, lick our wounds and let them hit us again?”
Gabriel shot his fellow Archangel a glance. “Of course not. Uriel is advocating caution. We mustn’t be rash.”
Ramiel laughed dismissively. “Rash? Your clever little trap from before wasn’t rash? Michael almost died because of it, and the news that our Angel of War was so severely beaten is still making the rounds in the bars. Now the enemy is at the gates – is this what you’re ‘advocating’, Uriel?”
“Watch your tone, Ramiel,” Uriel growled.
The Archangel of Visions laughed off his compatriot’s threat. “Metatron asked us to share our thoughts. I’m simply expressing my opinion. If you disagree with it, then keep your mouth shut.”
“What’s the meaning of this,” Gabriel interjected. His voice was thick with anger.
The Six Archangels were close, but stress had them on edge. The Pontiff’s Citadel had always sought to return to he glory of the old days. Canonically, there should be seven Archangels, for example. The Moonfiend Empress was that seventh, the Morning Star. Now they were down two.
The Empress, before leaving, had held a close relationship to both Ramiel and Sariel. Michael, the strongest of them, paid no mind to these cliques and games. The others, however, did.
“That’s enough, back to business,” Metatron said, knocking his knuckles against the table. For emphasis, the power of his aura began to thicken in the air around them.
Gabriel looked back to the Lord of the Archangels. “I agree with Uriel. Right now, our best option is to see what comes next. We mustn’t act blindly. That will only make things easier for our opponent. According to Raphael’s tailor, they are strong. We also don’t know if they have backup – it could be a whole coterie. Lord Metatron, did His Majesty have any instructions?”
“The Pontiff has commanded that we bring Raphael back as soon as possible, Metatron said. “His Majesty’s cultivation process prevents him from acting directly. Michael, what are your thoughts on all this?”
Although Metatron was stronger than Michael, the Angel of War was first among his Archangels. He specialized in combat, and with his experience Metatron often relied on his suggestions.
After a moment, Michael deep, rumbling voice replied. “I also believe Uriel is correct. We stay the course. Constantine and the Inquisition are already scouring the city. Our actions must be measured, and careful. From now on no one goes out alone.”
Metatron heaved a sigh, and a hard light flashed across his eyes. “This is an absolute embarrassment for our Citadel. Nothing short of a slap in the face. When I catch those vermin, I’ll hear their confessions after they’ve been nailed to a cross.”
Ramiel sat back in his chair, with a mocking expression pointed at the table. The only female among the Archangels – Sariel – remained expressionless like none of this mattered to her at all.
- Here is an explanation of Chinese seating arrangements in terms of respect. In reality it isn’t this strict, in most cases, but the left-hand side is the seat most coveted, equivalent to the ‘right-hand man’ ↩
- TJSS did his homework. Interestingly, Ramiel is also called the ‘Thunder of God’, and TJSS used the character for thunder – 雷 – to write his name (in pinyin it’s Lei Mi Er, so if this is intentional it’s a really clever little detail that fits perfectly with Chinese naming practices). Pretty cool. ↩
- Here. ↩