Chapter 381: Crafty Satan
The haunted house version of the Dark Citadel was renowned for it’s fear-inducing hallways. The creators took pains to ensure that everything was real; if one encountered a vampire in the dark rooms of the mansion, then that vampire was real and likely thinking of sampling your blood. The werewolves, even the corpses, were not props. There were periodic areas for visitors to escape if they so chose, but of course they’d forfeit the cost of their ticket.
This was why in the West, there was a saying: A man’s true bravery is tested at the Dark Citadel. They even gave a medal of bravery to anyone who completed it.
The house was a series of macabre scenes, including a ‘sea of blood’ and a morgue, according to the introductory material. The advertisements alone were enough to make Qianlin’s face pale.
“Don’t worry, we’re not really going to walk through the whole thing. We just need a ticket to get passed the door. It certainly seems like a suitable place to hide something.”
A few minutes later, with tickets in hand, Lan Jue and Zhou Qianlin walked into the haunted mansion. If the exterior was somber, the dark confines of the mansion were bleak. They could only see the patches of what small flashlights in their hands revealed. Progress was slow.
Feral sounds, guttural and monstrous, swept by them as they passed. It sent shivers down Qianlin’s spine. The temperature was cold and dropping the further in to the building they went. A stuffy blackness surrounded them, a cocoon of darkness where monsters lurked.
Lan Jue was unfazed, but Qianlin gripped his hand tight. Luckily, she didn’t have to suffer long. A few turns from the entrance, Lan Jue placed his hand against the smooth metal surface of the wall. There was a crackle of electricity, and the pair was gone.
So long as it conducted electricity, Lan Jue could use it to travel. He didn’t have a map, but that didn’t matter. Their destination was up.
In a flash, they reappeared in the highest room of the Dark Citadel attraction. It was bathed in red, with every inch painted crimson. Organs had been pinned to the walls like artwork, stretched across canvases of dried human skin. A desiccated corpse was the largest ‘piece’ on display.
Qianlin wasn’t ready for the sudden and grotesque change in scenery. Her eyes popped wide once she registered where they were. Then, bending at the waist, she began to retch.
“Kiss me!” She squeezed her eyes shut and raised her head toward him.
Lan Jue looked at her. The room didn’t bother him, but there was horror written on his face now. “You… you’re not going to vomit in my mouth, are you?”
Before he could even finish, Qianlin swung around and wrapped him in a tight hug. She pressed her mouth to his.
Lan Jue only felt a hint of her ice-cold lips before she vanished. He was really beginning to dislike this place! Looking around, he was also set on edge by the gruesome decor. Still, it was better to share than to do it alone – maybe the Pope would like a look.
Perhaps because of the stomach-turning cost of the ticket, for the time being they were alone – no visitors or employees were within earshot. After a moment’s examination, Lan Jue determined that this was an interlude between scenes and not a scene itself. What was the point, he wondered, when the breaks were more unsettling than the attraction. The corpse hanging from the wall looked like it’d been placed and prepared years ago.
Lan Jue began to film the scene from his communicator. He waved his free hand, and two bodies appeared on either side of the pinned-up cadaver. Uriel and Raphael looked like corpses themselves, and Lan Jue gave each a close-up so the Pontiff’s Citadel could appreciate the artistry.
Lan Jue finished his small movie, but of course he would not be sending it directly to the Pontiff. He shot it off to the Accountant so he could work his particular brand of magic.
“Goddamn Jewelry Master. Sending me this stuff so early in the morning… aren’t you afraid it will influence my development?” Came the Accountant’s reply.
“Alright, stop screwing around,” Lan Jue said with a note of irritation in his voice. “Send the video to the Pontiff’s Citadel through encrypted channels in two hours.”
The Accountant sounded shocked. “What the hell is going on? Is this some sort of joke? What the hell did you do to the Citadel? Why wasn’t I invited to the fun, I thought we were brothers?!”
“Fun?” Lan Jue said. “Well if you think facing down a pissed-off Pontiff is fun, by all means fly over. I won’t stop you. Bring the Gourmet and his people while you’re at it, you guys will be coming to the North for the grand tournament anyway.”
“I heard about this,” the Accountant whined. “But I wasn’t invited! The Gourmet said I was too weak and didn’t allow me to participate. I guess my Discipline is no good in a fight, either.”
Lan Jue laughed. “Alright, don’t get your panties in a knot – I can help you there. You won’t be in a fight, but I can make you one of the entourage. I’ll let the Gourmet know, you just get the details from him.”
The Accountant snickered. “Two hours. Got it, they’ll get your message.”
“Do not let them discover where the video came from,” Lan Jue urged.
“You think I don’t know this simple shit?” The Accountant snarled. “You’ll see – they have screens all over Reims, and that’s where this message will pop up. Hah! So what’s the deal, are we going to kill the Pontiff?! Man, Grandpa would get me something good for that!”
“Go ask him then!” Lan Jue sighed.
Immediately, the Accountant’s voice grew soft and timid. “Never mind. Grandpa and the Bookworm have been fiddling with something. No one’s seen them for days. I need to get out of here before those two madmen accidentally blow up the Avenue.”
The Jewelry Master chuckled. “Well expect it. And don’t forget that thing! When it’s all done let me know.”
Once his conversation with the Accountant had concluded, Lan Jue sned a short message to the Gourmet. The young guy wasn’t the most reliable, but when it came to high-tech gadgetry, he was the one to go to. He also had the benefit of being backed by the Keeper and the Bookworm both. Bringing him along would help him avoid all manner of troubles. He had a mind like a super computer.
Lan Jue made it back to the public air hangar via taxi. When he got there, he found an abandoned corner to release Qianlin and have her change her clothes. When she was ready, they boarded the next ride out of Gomorroah.
“I don’t know how much longer I can support this lifestyle,” the Jewelry Master complained. “In the last few days we’ve gone through several sets of clothing.”
Even now, Qianlin’s face was still pale and drawn. “When have you ever supported me? All these lost clothes belonged to me, thank you very much. You only ever got me the stuff from Reims.”
Lan Jue looked at the uncomfortable mecha research student. “Are you still scared? I thought you had guts…”
Qianlin pouted at him. “No scared. That was just… disgusting.”
Lan Jue laughed. “We should have gone through the whole thing.”
Zhou Qianlin looked at him discouragingly. “I’d have to strangle you to death.”
Their pleasant exchange was punctuated by the tell-tale rumble of lift off. They left the bleak landscapes behind.
The Dark Citadel.
“Your Majesty!” Lucifer’s face bore a strange and unsettling expression and he burst in to the Dark Citadel’s daunting audience chamber. Satan sat upon his throne, meditating. This was also where he cultivated his powers.
“What.” The leader of these terrible beasts opened his eyes. Traces of scarlet red undulated beneath his eyes.
Lucifer motioned with his hand, and a pair of guards entered. They were dragging another two people behind them. “We found them in the haunted house,” he said with a sneer.
Satan dropped his eyes to the unconscious pair on the ground. Upon seeing who they were, he couldn’t keep his face from betraying shock.
“Do we know who brought them?” Satan demanded.
Lucifer shook his head. “Visitors, maybe. But we have no way of tracking the origins of the tourists. I’ve already dispatched men to take a look but they came back empty handed. This is no small matter! They could be enemies of the Pontiff’s Citadel, no? I heard from my source in the government that things haven’t been going well in the Holy City either. They’ve closed the city off twice within a few days. The Pontiff himself shuffled out, hunting for someone. It’s more than likely these two play a part in it.”
Satan’s eyes narrowed, thick with murderous evil. “So you suspect someone had captured the Angel of Healing and the Cherubim, and delivered them to us. Do they intend to place them blame on us, or do they have other motives?”
“I think they’re trying to set us up,” Lucifer said. “But it’s one hell of a gift. The loss of two Archangels in no small blow to the Pontiff. I looked them over and they’ve been cut off by some strange power. These ignorant subordinates don’t know how to remove it.”
Satan’s figure shimmered like a nightmare and, in a flash of crimson, he was beside Lucifer. The area around him begin to swirl and warp, hanging over the room.After a time a cold smirk split Satan’s lips.
“They have been sealed. By protogenic energy, it seems, and pure. The adept is probably equal to yourself in strength, but he’s had some experience in the world of pure energy. Only a Paragon could unravel this knot. If it remains, though, it will consume the Adept of his Discipline. Eventually they would die.
“How should we handle this,” Lucifer asked.
“Someone wants us to shoulder the blame,” Satan said. “But that doesn’t mean there have to be consequences. Put these two somewhere safe until the Pontiff’s men come to collect. Ask for an s-ranked power gem for each of them.”
Lucifer nodded. “Of course, My Lord. And the seal?”
Satan’s response was dismissive. “We found them this way. Just the fact that we aren’t killing them should earn praise from that idiot Pontiff. When he brings them back and looks over them himself, he’ll see that it wasn’t our doing. If they’ve been hurt, it has nothing to do with us. We’re making a bargain, and that’ll give the zealot face.”
Lucifer’s eyes lit up as he came to understand. “My Lord is wise. I’ll handle this myself immediately. We’ll wait for the Pontiff’s Citadel to take the initiative.”