Finality Among One's Brethen

Within the Church of Este

The dark-haired priest stands in silence, half-swathed in gently pulsing shade, but still very much human in form, unlike that of the slim woman as she practically erupts from the altar. The soft thud of the pastor’s impromptu landing reaches his ears just a fraction of a second before the ‘splat’ of the man’s jowls, anointing him with ash. One less thing to worry about.

Count your blessings, however few.

The younger Lasombra’s flashy and destructive entrance is met with stoic silence and a gaze to match. Her ultimatum goes unacknowledged, her confident strut down the Nave’s empty aisle unchecked. Neither does he move as the last standing projection of his enemy’s soul drags the templar to the floor. Only as his steel blue sights come to rest on the templar’s fallen form does his expression soften. Bloodied as it is, her dress crumpled and covered in a mix of damp ash and holy water, fear and betrayal flickering undisguised across her features. Reading her worry-creased face, Alexi shakes his head a slight but definite ‘no’.

It was all falling in to place, now. The serpent form hanging from the rafters beside him, poised as if the strike – a cobra yes, just like the others of her blood, but the green was unnatural. A sign of weakness. Perhaps even of impure faith. Setites took their faith quite seriously. Quite literally. Tahih-ra? Tahih-ra Ariana Jezebel Nerati. Oh, yes, he’d heard that name before. Near to every Kindred in Irae was familiar with that name, and knew it as that of an outcast. My, but the little snake had puffed up big…

No ominous chuckle issues forth from the priest, no knowing grin curves his lips. “Hello, Corinthe.” he offers, just the slightest bowing of his head accompanying that murmured introduction, plagued by none of the sarcastic undertones seen in her gesture toward him.

The snake slides lower and nearer the man, it’s powerful body poised to strike, a soft instinct-driven hiss issuing forth just before that flash of greenish brown is seen flying toward him with three inch fangs bared. They only graze his cheek before the huge serpentine form is hoisted in to the rafters by any number of still unseen ebon projections. Brushing a hand against his tattered cheek, Alexi licks idly at crimson-stained fingers. “Corinthe, Corinthe, Corinthe… sweet…

“You ought know better.” he whispers, the mercurial cast of umbra about his form drawing nearer, caressing him in a farcical imitation of love or lust as he pulls yet again on the surrounding gloom.

Now, the young Lasombra – Corinthe, it would seem her name was – had chosen a particularly fetching and tight outfit for the evening, the better to show off her slim but curvaceous build. The issue, as it would happen, is that combined with the rather large cross she wore in ironic defiance, it created a sizeable patch of shade on her chest. Which the good Cardinal did focus on.

Yet another arm presents itself, coiling thrice about the young woman’s thrat with a silent, silken slowness. “Now, release your hold on my companion.” Alexi continues, his tone one normally reserved for talking down potential jumpers from the sides of bridges. “She’s not so helpless as you think.” There’s certainly a hint of warning there, though not the sort one might initially expect.

The snake is as of yet unaccounted for, still lost to the deeper shadows of the rafters, though if still held by abyssal projections or escaped and brooding, the priest could not say, so much of him was focused on his fellow Lasombra and her captive.

“Make your choice, Corinthe, dear. What’s a touch more ash on the tiles, strewn as they are?”

Long moments pass, only the soft sounds of the pastor’s persistent snoring and Katherina’s own breath disturbing the pall of otherwise perfect silence that descends. The first drifts of ash float toward the tiled floor like bits of downy gray snow, settling in an extremely delicate layer over the better part of the little chapel’s interior. Beeswax candles set in each window gutter pitifully, throwing off the occasional spark under this feather-soft assault from above.

“And lo,
they shall fall as if from a great height,
and their ashes spread across the land,
returning to it, nurturing it,
and so the worthy shall spring forth
and all memory of them lost and forgotten,
such is the fate of he who rises up
and doth prove guilty of hubris”

Alexi whispers, either a great show of faith, or a carefully orchestrated mockery. His expression remains neutral all in all, though the hint of a smile at the corners of his mouth as the verse is completed does far less to comfort than cultivate a curious sort of devilish aspect.

It becomes all the more clear something has shifted as the dark-haired and shadow-swathed figure takes a step forward… and the shapely Lasombra, her amber eyes still locked with the steel blue of his own, falters, finding one black-booted foot behind the other. “What have we taught you of sin, Corinthe? Of blood, and battle, and the darkness in your beautiful little soul? Not enough, it would seem.” croons the priest, reaching out to stroke her cheek with thin, ashen fingers.

The young woman hangs her head then, apparently unwilling to meet Alexi’s eyes any longer. “There there.” he croons. Slow in coming, a trio of crimson tears fall to the tiles, intermixing with the water and ash, the pattern curious and complex, like the swirls of creamer in coffee, every extension a mirror of its parent, expanding without any true progress. Without change.

The shadows tighten about the woman’s throat. There is no sound – she has not been breathing for quite some time. She crumples to the floor, ash even before she reaches the mosaic, the remnants of her form erasing any sign of her tears.

Alexi turns then to the templar, released only a moment before from the umbra’s grip. Gloom recedes even now from his form, the abyss draining away, back in to the corners and the cracks, the forgotten places and recesses of the soul. He looks… almost normal, really, if slightly drained, as he settles before Katherina. “Consider the strength of your conviction, Miss Murnau. Would you wish to take your savior’s head?” he queries, tone betraying a weariness far greater than that seen in his posture. Steel blue meets the flint of her own eyes unflinching, and while he does not smile the man is far from radiating malice, much less bearing teeth. conclusion

“Now, release your hold on my companion.”

It was the only sentence significant of clarity that rings through Katherina’s ears; the voice of Alexi Reznikoff far yet near, like the pure ringing of the altar bell in a church a long time ago in her memories. His command was followed obediently though and the vice-like grip upon her blade-cut arm is released in an instant, her captor abandoning her and all sight of her, turning her back against the templar and moving in the direction of the Cardinal.

Having being dragged a distance along the tiled mosaics of the chapel’s nave created a crust of numbness around the templar and it takes a tiresome length of time before her mind belatedly pieces together a haphazard cognizance of all the horror she had witnessed in the past few hours. Before her rheumy vision, something hazy seems to fall, in bland, tenuous drifts and she lifts her good arm up, spreading her fingers, palm facing upwards to receive this strange offering from the escalating vaulted ceiling, the ash scattering down in erratic fashion, drawing capricious designs across her hand as if to line her palm and tell Katherina her fortune.

The gold-haired woman brings down her hand, the falling ash from the ceiling coming to just infrequent showers, and now finally feeling the sting of the cut alongside her other arm, the sides of the wound flayed open, angry reddened flesh revealed and stained in globules of congealed blood and a consistent and substantially constant flow of fresh blood in supine spurts wash satin-like down the pale skin of her arm, the torn sleeve of her dress glued in several places to her arm as well, the wetness of the blood acting like an adhesive. She winces and attempts to a quite useless ministration of her wound and finally figured that the gash will be better soothed back in the Sacred Heart – if she ever does get back there by morning.

And so intent is Katherina in trying to stop the flow of blood from her cut; she does not realize that the Cardinal has, apparently, without much effort, disposed of the remaining perpertrator, only peering upwards now that the tentative shadows of his form bestrides her. The granitic resolve in her eyes seems cracked; as the Cardinal descends unto a knee before the templar, the caliginous folds of his garments reflecting the darkening cavities within Katherina’s stone-driven gaze; her eyes revealing sufficient quantities of disbelief, shock, bewilderedness and a mote of accusation in them.

She shifts in the position she is in, drawing up splayed legs and tucking them towards her, her injured arm placed in a resting position across her lap though the blood trailing down the wound is plainly visible, soaking into the crumpled and dirtied fabric of her skirts, widening into crimson webs. The agony is obvious – yet there is no complaint issued from the woman’s thin, ashen lips as she suffers the pain while staring at the Cardinal

“Consider the strength of your conviction, Miss Murnau. Would you wish to take your savior’s head?”

The Cardinal had asked of her very plainly, his expression stoic, unsmiling and flat, his eyes like iron mirrors watching her; and now that the name of her half-lineage is mentioned, Katherina’s whole being enters a state of arrested distress.

He knows. How did he know? How could you be so careless?

The voice of her reminiscence returns, the stately nature of it tossed and it drums angrily in her head, thundering in its anger and lashing out at Katherina for being belligerent. And it continues, driven, persuasive, deafening and encompassing almost the entirety of her inner being.

//He is defenseless, he is weak now! Weak! Watch him, you know it.

Take your sword and be done with him and none will know.

You will be graced in the eyes of the Lord!

He will /accept/ you, Katherina Sforza.//

The sword. Where was it? Katherina ceases to answer Alexi, her head swaying, away, tresses of gold grime-stricken and dusted with ash, flying in mad asunder about her shoulders. There, behind the Cardinal, perhaps twenty or thirty foot steps away. She has no way of practically reaching it in her state but with the voice clamoring in her mind like a zealot gone wild, the templar moves not exactly of her own accord, puppeted like a marionette on invisible strings by the voice in her mind.

She rises ungainly but the bulk of her unmovable arm topples her motion and Katherina stumbles forward, falling into a crumpling heap inches before from the dark-haired priest, brought unexpectedly to a kneeling, acquiescent position, ironically now unable to stir, the damaged arm folded beneath her bent form, her fingers curled outwards in anguish.

A trickle of wet sanguine trails down those fingers lax and deadened with nerve-stopping pain; droplet after droplet spilling onto the mosaic flooring, painting the ground with discs of dark blood.

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