Exierunt ut Vinceret

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Act II: Exierunt ut Vinceret | In Memoria, Adytum

Exierunt ut Vinceret

Geun Jiwoo breathed quietly into his mask, trying to find the internal balance to match the external calm he was trying desperately to maintain. Long slow breaths, in and out, a practice in meditation and control, just as his Master had taught him. They had been training and planning this operation for years, and it was finally time.

He wasn't really sure what would become of him after this. Fourteen years of his life had been dedicated to completing this one task, with no real provision for what would happen after. Every member of his small team knew that this very well could be a suicide mission, but they'd signed up anyway. All of the Geomeunpi Aideul, Children of the Black Blood, had given themselves heart and soul to Master Ban, and if he asked them to walk naked into a burning house, they'd go.

He checked the straps on his harness again for what seemed like the thousandth time and glanced over at the still figure perched on the top of the building beside him. She, at least Jiwoo thought of her in female pronouns, was the very picture of the calm that he was trying to radiate. He didn't know her, none of them did. She'd showed up at the compound in Mott Haven one day and casually assumed the place in the Plan that Master Ban had prepared them for. In the simulations here and in back home, he'd been the only one capable of filling that role, but he'd always told them that he was just standing in for someone else.

Now she was here, and his small strike team was perched with her atop one of the buildings in Midtown East Manhattan, looking out across at the UN Building. He didn't know all the specifics of the Great Plan aside from his own small part in it, but he knew that this step was crucial to the success of the ones that followed after.

"Hilltop, this is Gradient. Cygnet is on the move. I repeat: Cygnet is on the move. ETA, 6 minutes." The radio whispered quietly in his ear, and he quickly glanced across at the unmoving figure beside him. She gave him a slow nod and he keyed his own transmitter.

"Heard, Gradient. Confirmation is a go, Hilltop is alight and ready." The radio buzzed once more in silent confirmation of message received and he settled once more back on his haunches as he signaled the rest of his team.

The four of them had been training together for as long as he could remember. He was born into the Aideul, just as they had been. From the day he took his first breath, he'd already been blessed with knowledge passed to him in his blood. He recognized Master Ban from memories that weren't his own, memories given to him in the womb by a mother he would never know. He'd never second-guessed that knowledge, even after he'd learned that "normal" babies weren't born with the memories and knowledge of their parents.

He was Chosen. He was a Child of the Black Blood. It wasn't his place to question such things, so he never had. He grew up quickly, smoothly integrating himself into the rest of the family, and he'd risen rapidly through the ranks. He'd killed his first target by the time he was twelve, masquerading as a schoolboy in one of the Haeundae District schools in Busan. The target had been a businessman, one of the many faceless salarymen at a factory his "class" had been touring.

Jiwoo had shaken his hand, and that had been enough. The sweat glands in his palms had been adjusted to secrete a powerful, but slow-acting neurotoxin. Three days later, that salaryman had died in agony, and Jiwoo was already back in the family compound in Gangbuk-gu.

He never knew why the salaryman had needed to die, nor did he particularly care. The job had been smooth, easy. And it was the job that set him on the path to where he was now, crouched beside a figure out of myth, waiting for another target. This one had a face, many faces in fact. She switched them out as easily as any of the High Blood could change theirs.

The room was still, quiet as the hooded figure walked into it. Jiwoo stood next to the door and bowed as the figure entered and took their place at the head of the room. He'd known that this day was coming, and he'd assembled his entire team as instructed months before when he first arrived in New York. They'd made him proud in the weeks since, integrating smoothly with the local Triads and other Kkangpae families operating in this festering melting pot of a city.

Getting set up in Mott Haven had also gone smoothly, and the Black Lodge operative that had handed him the keys had even offered to provide additional external security at no cost. Master Ban had prepared the way, in his meticulous and careful fashion, and everything they needed to complete their mission was already in place within the compound.

"Thank you all for being prompt. I don't like to wait when I don't have to." The figure pulled back her hood, revealing an unremarkable and easily forgettable face. Her light brown hair was pulled back and tied in a neat bun, hiding nothing. He noticed a few faint freckles on the side of her neck, which could indicate some time spent in the sun, or could mean that the Karcist had wanted him to think that. She had to be a Karcist, Master Ban would never have handed this plan over to anyone other than one of the High Blood.

"You may call me Saarn. I realize that you have all been trained to call your Karcist 'Master', and that's fine. I need no other titles than the one given to me by our Lord, so Saarn will be sufficient."

She dropped that into the room as if it were nothing. She wasn't just another Karcist. She was a Klavigar. One of the Four that had stood by Holy Ion's side in Adytum. One of the legendary figures of the past, and she was casually standing in front of them as if she somehow wasn't a myth come to life.

Jiwoo just barely caught himself before he drew in a sharp breath. Some of the others weren't so careful, and one of the Travel team actually slid out of his chair and halfway to prostration before she stopped him.

"None of that. Get back in your chair. We don't have time to wait around while you figure out whether to do what you're told or fall on your face and worship. You've all been meticulously trained for this, and if you can't follow your training, you will be replaced. Is that clear?"

She looked across the room, the silence broken only by the unfortunate driver ruefully climbing back into his chair. No one looked at him or acknowledged his mistake. That was good.

"Right. Our target is a heretic, a traitor to the cause. In 1926, Karcist Diletta Clelia Fiore immigrated to the United States, where she promptly disappeared. Several years later, she re-emerged as an Under-Secretary of the Société des Nations, where she has remained ever since. In 1944, as part of the Société's restructuring into the United Nations, she assumed the role of Under-Secretary General of the United Nations using the name D.C. al Fine."

Several of the team members had begun taking notes, and the Klavigar calmly waited as they caught up.

"Now, let's talk specifics."

The wind rushed over the smooth contours of his mask as he dropped silently from the top of the building. He picked up speed as he fell, and he subtly shifted his body in the air, letting the updrafts from the street below angle him towards the road and the convoy of black vehicles on it.

He impacted the lead vehicle with a crash, the hardened soles of his boots crushing the bonnet of the black SUV like it was paper. With a grunt of effort, he shoved himself back from the impact point, leaping clear from the wreckage with the practiced and superhuman ease granted to a member of the Chosen. He landed gracefully to the side, his knives already in his hands.

Without a second breath, he glided into the wreckage, glancing quickly about to see that all three of his teammates had landed squarely, each stopping another of the four-car convoy. The lead vehicle was his responsibility, and he leapt to it with gusto. With muscles strengthened by a touch from the Klavigar, he tore the door free of the mangled vehicle and quickly slid the razor edge of his right knife across the throat of the still-stunned driver before yanking him out of the vehicle, still strapped to the seat, and flung it free.

Methodically he worked his way through the vehicle, only once having to briefly block an ineffectual attack from a dazed guard. In moments, his target was secured, and he sank the poisoned tip of his left blade into the heart of the woman that looked like Under-Secretary General D.C. al Fine.

His target wasn't the real Under-Secretary then, and he extricated himself from the vehicle in time to see one of the side doors of the second vehicle go crashing into the glass storefront of one of the buildings that lined the road. A slim figure dressed in a tattered gray suit stepped calmly free of the vehicle, dragging the limp form of one of his teammates free with her. She casually ripped him in half and tossed him to the side as she turned to face him. He knew he wasn't nearly a match for this target, but he crouched in readiness none the less. He had to give the Klavigar the time she—

His thoughts cut off mid-stream as a twisting black form fell from the sky onto the rogue Karcist. A thing of teeth and shadow seemed to envelop her for only a moment, but it was just long enough for several thin lines of blood to appear along her arms and shoulders as more of her torn suit was ripped away.

"Fuck you, Saarn. I knew you'd come eventually." The woman spat to the side as she tore the remaining left sleeve free. She dropped it as she reached down and drove taught fingers into the steaming entrails of his un-moving colleague. "I've waited for years for this, you wont get me this easily."

Dark power raced up her arms as al Fine consumed and absorbed the life essence of someone he'd known literally since birth. Jiwoo's blood ran cold and a quiet rage blossomed in him. He hurled both knives at the Karcist in quick succession, each blade blurring as they were propelled forward by his carnomantically-enhanced strength.

She laughed as she easily dodged the first and snatched the other out of the air. She made to throw it back at him, but the third and fourth blades he'd drawn and thrown caught her low in the abdomen. She screamed inhumanly as the neurotoxin coating the blades invaded her body. It was the same poison that he'd used his whole life, crafted lovingly from his own blood, honed, refined since he first used it on that salaryman so long ago. It was strong enough to stop an onrushing water buffalo, but it didn't even slow the enraged Karcist down.

He dove to the right, barely missing the blade she threw as it hurtled past his head. Explosions of pain blossomed in his right thigh and upper torso. She'd done the same thing he'd done, distracting him with the first throw while she'd thrown… He looked up into her cold, dead eyes. She hadn't thrown anything, she was just that fast. Impossibly, she had covered the ground between them and impaled him on two sinuous bone spikes emerging from either side of her lower ribs. She raised her left hand, and he steeled himself for the crushing blow that never came.

Her entire hand disappeared in a cloud of gore moments before she was ripped bodily from the ground. The bone spikes pulled free of his body as she was torn away from him, eliciting a short shriek from between clenched teeth as he impacted the ground. Through vision made blurry by tears he couldn't control, he looked across the pavement to see the Karcist battling the Klavigar.

He couldn't follow it. Even with years of training, there was no way he could have even come close to matching the ancient Karcist's speed. And Saarn was even faster. She moved like a striking serpent, dodging al Fine's blows effortlessly, only to strike back with unmatched speed and ferocity.

The younger Sarkic was forced to retreat, moving so fast that he could barely make out her movements. It was beautiful, he supposed. His blood was pouring from him in great gouts, and there wasn't anything he could do but lay there and watch as gods battled in the streets of Manhattan.

Saarn grimaced as she stamped down hard on the unrecognizable face of her opponent. Diletta had been quick, quicker that she'd anticipated, and she'd clearly been prepared for this fight. The Klavigar was very probably the most deadly assassin this world had ever known, with skills and instinct honed by over three millennia of murder and battle.

But the last few weeks of the Plan had tired her, and she hadn't had time to sleep in days. Without consuming the unfortunate Child up on that rooftop, this battle could have had a very different outcome. That, and the poison that Geun Jiwoo had been able to get into Diletta with that lucky throw.

She glanced over at where he lay crumpled on the ground not far away, eyes staring blankly in her direction. She shook her head with regret and prepared to leap into the air. She paused for just a moment, then stepped over to gather the still-warm corpse of the fallen operative.

He'd been useful. Talented, even. Maybe there was use for him yet. With a snarl, she lept into the air, shadows gathering about her as she willed herself into flight. Within moments, she was gone, leaving behind the shattered wreckage of four armored SUVs, and one very dead D.C. al Fine.

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