Chapter 374: The Archangel of the Moon, Sariel
On the second day, martial law was lifted. They had to be cautious about remaining in that state for too long, lest panic set in among the people. However, it was all just appearances. The Inquisition was as busy as ever, searching every nook and cranny for their lost Archangel.
Lan Jue stood before the window of his hotel room. He stood there, with a small grin on his face, watching the Cathedral from afar.
“What’s the next step?” Zhou Qianlin stood at his shoulder and followed his eyes to the seat of the Pontiff’s power. They hadn’t stepped foot outside all day, and had only eaten from the hotel’s cafeteria. Lan Jue had spent most of that time silently staring out of the window.
“We’re in no rush,” Lan Jue said. “They’re the ones with their hair on fire for the moment. They’re waiting to hear from us. So that’s what we’re going to do.”
Half an hour later, a paper slip was being delivered to Metatron.
The words on it were simple: If you want Raphael back, go to the Dark Citadel.
It was only one sentence, but the implication made Metatron furious. Clearly, this was their enemy fermenting mischief. The Pontiff’s Citadel and Satan’s coterie were long-standing enemies, but they maintained a tentative cease-fire. The West kept the peace by refusing to allow Adepts from either side to visit the other. The Citadels had their own safeguards as well. In Reims, for instance, there was specialized equipment for detecting dark-aligned Disciplines. In fact, the Pontiff’s own Astrum was very sensitive to the presence of darkness. He’d have felt someone immediately. The situation was undoubtedly similar in Hell – the side of the planet that the Dark Citadel controlled.
They’d learned something about the attackers from their investigation in to the tailor’s shop. One of them possessed a Discipline of black and white power. The other manipulated electricity. As far as they were able to tell, it was the woman who used the lightning. Neither of them appeared to possess a dark Discipline.
Metatron looked over the slip again, and felt disgust at his taunters. He discarded the paper, and it burst in to flames in midair. Not even ash reached the floor. His eyes stared off as he pondered upon something.
“Metatron is almost certainly spitting blood by this point.” Lan Jue smirked with self-satisfaction as he stared at the distant Cathedral.
Qianlin, puzzled, furrowed her brow. “If you knew they wouldn’t believe your message then why did you send it?”
“To keep them on their toes,” Lan Jue explained.
She still didn’t understand, but he didn’t seem in the mood to explain. She dropped the topic. Lan Jue, meanwhile, watched the Cathedral intently. A faintly discernible change had come over him.
“We’re ready for phase two.”
Qianlin looked back to the opulent building, but could see nothing different. It all looked normal to her. When she looked back at Lan Jue, the look on his face said he had a plan.
They hanged clothes – the clothes they’d bought from the day before – and Lan Jue perched those frameless glasses on his nose. Now, looking for all the world like two average tourists, Qianlin and Lan Jue set out for the Cathedral.
When they arrived, the two of them meandered among the famed walks as any visitor would. Lan Jue even managed to keep a pious expression on his features. Qianlin, however, was fraught with nerves. They’d just kidnapped one of this organization’s most cherished soldiers, and here they were waltzing right in to the belly of the beast. They were certainly being recorded, and destroying that equipment was infinitely more difficult than their quick work at the tailor’s shop. At the slightest sign of trouble, with the Citadel as tightly wound as it was, things could turn sour. The Pontiff himself, a Paragon, was a shout away. If he showed up, it would spell the end for them.
She kept these concerns to herself, however. Coiling her arm around Lan Jue’s, she followed him in to the center of the Citadel’s power. They followed a coiling corridor, pushed along by the crowd toward the Cathedral interior.
All visitors to the Cathedral of Reims were accompanied by the church’s clergy. Tourists and pilgrims alike were herded along at a brisk pace to keep things moving in a quick and organized fashion. However, Lan Jue wasn’t interested in a tour – when he saw a small path before the Cathedral entrance, he pulled Qianlin with him out of the crowds.
They were met immediately with a clergyman. However, instead of stopping them, he produced two white robes and silently waited for them to pull them on. From the back, at least, they would look like any other Cathedral staff. Qianlin was even more unsettled, and not a little surprised by the situation. However, she said nothing, and simply followed Lan Jue with her hand in his.
They followed the silent clergyman through a series of curving, roundabout pathways that lead to a building. Once inside, they stopped to assess their surroundings.
The room was extravagantly decorated in former era European fashion. It’s vaulted ceiling soared overhead, and the dome interior had been painted with stunning frescos. The carpeting was a wine red with interwoven golden fiber, and the furniture upon it were amalgamations of white and gold.
The soundless priest left without uttering a word. Alone, Lan Jue lead Qianlin to a nearby sofa and took a seat. He sat with the ease of a casual visitor, but Qianlin’s small hands had begun to sweat from fear.
“Relax, everything is fine,” Lan Jue assured with a disarming smile. She looked back and nodded her head, but said nothing. She didn’t want to disturb his focus.
After a few moments the door opened and another figure entered from outside. Like the clergyman from before, this stranger was dressed in a white robe. Where they differed that that this newcomer was wearing a cloak that completely concealed their face.
Lan Jue sat, unmoving. Zhou Qianlin tightened her grip on his hand.
“You can relax, this is my meditation room. Once holy light fills it, the outside world is locked away.” Their voice was pleasing, almost musical, but bore a cold indifference. A pair of hands reached out from the flowing white robes to pull the hood back.
A shock of golden hair tumbled from within the hood like a wave. Her skin was impossible fair, pale as moonlight. Her namesake – a half-moon – was imprinted on her forehead. A pair of big, baby blue eyes shone like windows to the soul. Just her presence left an undeniable sensation, like they were in the presence of divinity.
Lan Jue rose to his feet and approached. He extended his right hand. “It’s very nice to meet you.”
“I’m sorry,” she replied, her voice detached and unfriendly, “we aren’t… accustomed to shaking hands here.”
Lan Jue laughed it off and retracted his hand. “I understand.” And he did – she didn’t want to have any more contact with him than was necessary.
The girl continued, her voice soft and dispassionate. “She’s being held in the Tribunal, under control of the Inquisition. The whole place is blanketed in security. The Empress has already been tried and found guilty – the punishment will be to start anew. At the Pontiff’s command they’ll strip her of everything, and create a new Morning Star. The process of sealing away her process began a week ago. They’ll need forty-nine days in total to completely remove her Discipline.
Lan Jue was serious, down to business. “I’ll need a map – the more detailed, the better. Best would be a whole layout, including electrical lines.”
“You seem confident,” the young woman said.
“Not absolute confidence,” he confessed. “With the Pontiff here, our chances are… less optimistic.”
Her voice dropped low. “What you’re looking for… I can bring to you. But the Pontiff has already sealed her Discipline. Escape will not be easy. In a week Metatron will be leaving. He’ll be taking the Cherub and the Angel of Visions with him to the Adept competition in the North. They’re bringing someone else as well, some young newcomer. That would be the wisest time to strike.”
Lan Jue shook his head. “Metatron is smart – always thinking one step ahead. There’s no doubt that the Pontiff will increase security once the Lord Archangel and the others leave. No, the earlier the better. Just bring the package, that’s all you have to worry about – I’ll figure it out from there.”
“Very well,” she said. “Tomorrow I’ll have someone deliver the package to the designation place. One more thing – be careful to avoid the High Inquisitor, Constantine. He’s a powerful one, and bears an artifact that makes him stronger. If his Discipline were purer, he’d be greater than Metatron himself.“
Lan Jue nodded in appreciation. “Thank you for the advice.”
“Five minutes after I leave someone will be along to lead you back,” she stated.
Lan Jue smiled. “Alright.”
She replaced her hood and left without uttering another word. Zhou Qianlin looked at him, and opened her mouth to speak but was silenced by a gesture.
“We’ll talk about it later,” Lan Jue promised.
As the woman had said, five minutes later the same priest who’d lead them here returned. They took the same route back that they’d used before. Qianlin paid careful attention, and noticed the distinct lack of surveillance equipment.
The walk back to the hotel was uneventful. At last, Qianlin asked her questions.
“You have a contact in the Pontiff’s Citadel? And not a grunt, by the looks of her. That woman’s aura felt very powerful.”
He smirked. “Are you familiar with the term bff?1”
“Of course,” Qianlin said, a little surprised.
“That was Sariel, Archangel of the Moon,” Lan Jue explained. “She and the Moonfiend Empress were practically sisters. Little Yue had told me about their relationship once, that she would be the only one willing to help in a jam. The only reason I took Raphael was to create this opportunity, and let her know I’m here for the Empress.”
Qianlin folded her arms across her chest. “So should we keep waiting?”
He nodded. “For news.”
“Are you sure we can trust her?” Zhou Qianlin looked up at Lan Jue. “What if…”
- Translation note: the term in Chinese means specifically ‘a very close female friend’, but I couldn’t think of an exact equivalent. Hit me up in the comments if you have something better. ↩