Adjusting his armor uncomfortably, the soldier waited for permission to speak.
This was not exactly an official meeting but he was still in the presence of a superior officer. In fact, he was in the presence of an officer so far above his station, he was unsure of the protocol. He should not even be talking to an Arachnos Prefect at all; this was extremely unusual.
Then again, so was his assignment. The one he'd just failed...
"Sir!" The soldier stood at attention before speaking. "The subject of the operation is unavailable, sir."
Even without being able to see the Wolf Spider Prefect's face behind the black chrome visors all higher ranking officers wore, the soldier could tell he was unimpressed with the answer. "Unavailable? Is that an odd way of saying he is dead?"
"No, sir. The subject was not at the designated target site. I was unable to complete the assignment, sir."
The prefect rested his arms on the table, touching the tips of each finger together and looking up at him over them. "I see. And the weapon you were provided? I assume then it was not used?" As he spoke, the prefect gestured to the black enameled desk top in front of him.
The soldier got the intimation immediately and unholstered the strange handgun at his side, laying it down gently. "Yes, sir. It has not been fired, sir." After a long, completely silent pause, he cleared his throat and shifted on his feet. "Sir? Permission to speak?"
The prefect did not bother to look back up at the soldier, even as he started to wipe the wet red that suddenly sprayed onto his visor. In front of his desk, the soldier twitched and fell, a long silver blade retracting from his chest. Behind him, a woman in a black bodysuit pulled her arm away from the dead man's back, crimson droplets running down over the red web-lines embroidered into her uniform.
"Permission denied," she whispered down at the corpse, a hint of amusement in her nearly emotionless voice.
"Isn't that my job, Blood Widow?" the Prefect asked after cleaning his mask.
"My apologies. Did you want to kill him instead?"
"No, but now we'll need a new cat's paw. I can't have any of my soldiers on this task and I certainly can't do it myself."
The woman stalked over to the desk after pulling a holster belt off the cooling body of the man at her feet. Strapping it on, she climbed up onto the glittering black desktop, sheathing the odd handgun with one hand and running two fingertips down the Prefect's chest with the other. "Why don't you let me handle it?"
The Prefect leaned back in his chair, not completely out of reach but far enough back that the woman had to stretch to keep touching him. Watching her arch, seeing her masked face come so achingly close to his own, it was all enough to make his black leather uniform very uncomfortable. "And just... what else... do you wish to handle?"
Behind a cowl of dark silk, she smiled and descended. "I thought you'd never ask."
He wasn't uncomfortable long...
Sometime later, the Prefect returned to his seat and made certain at least the top half of his uniform looked presentable. The bottom half... didn't matter. He reached out and activated his comm, punching in an untraceable code. Over the desktop, a holographic screen appeared.
At first it was blank but, after a few moments of static and light, it resolved into an image of atomic particles, dancing incandescently over a field of black and silver. The silence was broken by an obviously electronically masked voice.
"It is done?"
"Unfortunately not. The target is no longer stationary. We are having trouble locating him."
"I see. I am afraid I am going to have trouble paying you then."
The Prefect glared at the monitor, a wasted expression even if he hadn't been wearing his concealing helm. "Do not be so hasty. I have another operative willing to pick up the assignment. I am only contacting you because the target may have gone to Paragon City. If he has, my operative will need clearance to do the same."
There was a long pause before the answer came. "Fine. I will leave all relevant materials with our usual broker. Have your agent use your access code to pick them up."
The Prefect nodded. "Excellent. It will be done."
"It had better be. I am not a patient man and this has already taken too long."
"I agree. You have nothing to worry about."
"I want results, not reassurances. Do not contact me again until he's dead."
The screen went black instantly, leaving the Prefect fuming quietly in the dark. The day had started so well, too...
She stretched as she walked, her lithe body shifting under the silken body stocking in so many wonderful ways. Such a good day...
...and now for the the unpleasant part. She had to report in and that meant going into the depths of the Fort. Blood Widow worked her fingers over a hidden control panel, using a passkey known only to the Lady's personal attendants. Moving through the momentarily open secret passage, she slipped into the narrow passage beyond and climbed down through the tangled superstructure of the complex.
Eventually, she found her way into the inner chambers, seeking out her mistress' room with long-practiced ease. There was no light here; there did not need to be. Blood Widow could see in the dark naturally and she had been here so often the hallway could have been filled with smoke and she still would have gotten here quickly.
One tap on the door was all she needed to do. She had been felt coming quite some time ago; the tap was just a formality. Surprising a psychic, especially one that had bound herself to your mind years ago, just did not happen.
The door slip open, revealing the room beyond in all its spartan glory. There was little here; Blood Widow's mistress needed very little in the way of furniture. Just a round chair in the middle of the small chamber and a computer console in the corner. Beyond that, all the room held was the lady herself. Kalinda.
"Yes?" Her voice was calm as always.
"I am sorry for disturbing you," Blood Widow's voice was equally calm, tinged only with respect and admiration. "I bring news you must hear."
Kalinda was sitting in the deep shadows of the room, clad in her scarlet robe but without her tall, mirrored helmet. That was the only part of these meetings Blood Widow did not find pleasant. She always averted her eyes when she came here. She preferred the woman in her dreams to what rested behind that silver mask.
"Do you want me to put it back on?"
Blood Widow blinked, blushing suddenly behind her cowl. "N-no... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to..."
Kalinda waved her hand, dismissing the moment. "It is all right. Please." In the next moment, her face was concealed as her helmet settled into place with a silken sigh. "Continue. What brings you here, dear?"
The blush deepened. For the last few days, Lady Kalinda had been in such an affectionate mood. It was hard to tell for anyone else but for those few that Kalinda had been close to, the change was an obvious one. Aside from a bit of foolish, irrational jealousy, she was honestly glad to see the change. Even if it might have come from the arms of another, she hoped this mood continued. Kalinda had been so sad... for so long...
"Sweet? What brings you here?"
That only made her blush worse. "Oh... sorry. I was just... Forgive me. I wanted to tell you of a plot against your Destinae. One of the Prefects is working with someone on the mainland to have him assassinated."
Kalinda nodded, folding her hands in her lap. "And you have been given the task of doing it."
"Yes, mistress. Your orders?"
There was a long pause, long enough that the black-and-crimson stalker started to shift uncomfortably. "Mistress?"
"Your position within the circle of the Prefects is very valuable to me. I want you to do what you do best, Celeste."
As fond as she was of hearing her real name on the lady;s lips, those words brought only confusion. "Mistress? You want... me to complete the assignment? But..." She looked at Kalinda, trying to understand why the lady would give such an order.
The next sound she heard was a bewildering one. In her long years of service to the Fortunata, Celeste had never been a witness to the lady's laughter. It was almost heartbreakingly beautiful, though brief.
"No, sweet Celeste. But I do want you to make it look like you've tried."
If Blood Widow had blushed any harder, she would have passed out. "Oh... of course. I'm sorry. I should have known that was what you meant. I..."
In her mind, Celeste suddenly felt a calming caress. The lady's thoughts were soothing her, stroking her soul with warm hands and a whisper of a kiss along her cheek. The contact instantly eased her, relaxing her completely. She fell into the thought-embrace, letting go all of her apprehensions and worry.
The day had started so well... but the night was purest bliss.