Operation Mortem Ostium, Part 8 This being all the warning he would receive, Carolus began possessing him. Samuel had time to curse before his body was brought entirely under her control, her will overriding his. “Pah. Simple,” he uttered, looking over himself. “Ooh. Husky. Rough, but expressive. I like it. Do you sing, Samuel? You must. A voice with this range… it’d be a waste not to. And these muscles...” A sigh. “Must be painful, knowing that you’ve trained yourself physically for this day when you should have been training yourself mentally.” Discarding his rifle, Carolus instead searched for his sidearm, locating the psi amp hanging at his belt instead. “... this is not a pistol,” she noted, disappointed. With a sigh, she settled for drawing his shotgun. With satisfaction, she noticed that Umbra had not manifested. “Unfortunate that you had such a glaring weakness in the face of my will. Without your mind in control, you have no defense against me. And once again, I prove stronger than-” She stopped, spotting Azazel standing a few meters away with his arms folded. Are you quite finished? he asked. It was with that that Umbra expelled Carolus from its master’s body. Like an immune system recognizing a prior infection, it locked her out of Samuel’s mind. The Russian made a choking noise, as if spitting her out, before shaking his head. “... I can’t believe that worked,” he muttered to himself. “Holy shit… I love being right.” The Arbiter, meanwhile, was mentally reeling. I don’t understand! I had him under control, Umbra shouldn’t have been able to manifest! That would be true if it was a simple being. Evidently it is not. She scowled. Very well. We will do this the standard way. While Samuel gathered himself, she returned to her body, finding it had toppled sideways in her absence. The Arbiter rose, a dull pain throbbing through her skull. She ignored it. What was the alternative, wait until it subsided while that heretic tainted this place with his presence? No. Unacceptable. And so it was she stepped out from behind the statue of the reptilian alien, and leaned against it with her arms folded. “Turn, heretic,” Carolus commanded, her voice echoing in the crypt. If it weren’t for the tactical disadvantage it would have brought, Nemesis would have conducted the rest of the exchange with his back to her to spite her. Despite this, he obeyed. “Yes?” The Arbiter was a both a far cry from and nearly identical to the haughty, regal Elder she’d once been. Her Avatar was clearly designed with vanity in mind - beneath her dark bodysuit was ‘concealed’ a healthy, curvaceous female figure, which in any other situation would likely have pleased him greatly just to behold. The only interruptions to this rather bare outfit were the alloyed violet and white gauntlets adorning her hands, and a cape-like item of clothing fastened around her neck, also violet and white. Her facemask, whilst still the standard featureless fare, was rimmed by thin gold lines. The facemask itself took on a royal purple hue as she faced down her opponent. “How did you throw my override off?” Samuel chuckled. “What, you think I’d willingly walk down here alone when I knew for a fact you had that in your arsenal?” He pointed over his shoulder as Umbra formed a more coherent shape behind him. “Something I noticed when you left Ordero to the wolves got me thinking. She tried to mind control me a second time after you left, and for a moment it worked… and then failed. Turns out Umbra isn’t just physical defense after all.” If someone who previously afflicted its master with a negative mental effect, whatever that was, tries again, it recognizes the foreign influence and forces it out. The sound of Azrael’s voice caused Samuel to scowl. “Which reminds me. Where’s Albina?” Carolus scoffed. “Dead. I had no choice, honestly. An Inquisitor is not meant to raise a hand against their Arbiter, and she not only did that but also defended an enemy of the Path. The Mandate demanded her blood.” The ghost of Azazel noticeably wavered. … thought I was ready for that, he said shakily. Outwardly, the Arbiter showed no change in emotion. Beneath her mask, however, a grin had started to spread like a disease wiping out a small country. “I made certain it was painful,” she continued. “Gave her a chance to defend herself… though without any kind of weapon she never stood a chance against me. I broke her back while leaving her alive, then made her watch as I assumed my new form.” Samuel glanced sideways at his ethereal companion, his expression hardening. “Can you see him?” he demanded, interrupting Carolus’ gloating. She did not respond, save for a barely audible ‘hmph’. “I asked you a question, Carolus!” “And then… I instructed Azrael to kill her.” The Russian’s face paled, though beneath his helmet this sign of weakness was not betrayed. “You -” Azazel had heard enough. Umbra! Do as you were created to do! Destroy her! The Reflection briefly turned its head, as if in surprise at hearing its old master’s command, before lashing forward. The alien snake’s statue was within its reach, after all - it would be a simple matter to crush the Arbiter against- The sound of steel ringing against air emanated across the courtyard, predicting the gold-trimmed scythe that struck back at Umbra. The Reflection recoiled, twisting away and retreating as Samuel backed himself away. Carolus began laughing, evidently finding the spectacle amusing in some form. “And then,” she finished, “Azrael transferred himself to me!” From the disembodied hands holding the scythe Azrael formed, his appearance too being drastically different from what he had once been. Gone was the humble brown shawl that had once covered the angel, replaced by a white and gold one with red threads running along the rims. The shadow previously covering his face had been dispelled, revealing a human visage that would have been unremarkable were it not for the bandages running across his eyes, serving as a blindfold. The bottom of the blindfold was tinted red, an indication that blood had been present there at some point. Large feathery wings, previously tucked away, were now one of his most prominent features. But most striking to Samuel were the shackles around the reaper’s wrists, the chains of which faded away into seeming nothingness a few links down. He scowled. “You mean you enslaved him!” the Aerotrooper accused. “Corrupted him!” I cannot defy my master’s will, Azrael stated, taking position directly in front of Carolus. No matter how I might wish to. “One of the conditions of being a Reflection, I assume,” the Arbiter stated, shrugging. “Oh, don’t act so… what’s the phrase… ‘high and mighty’. You did exactly the same thing to Umbra.” “I didn’t-” Nemesis growled. “That was different. We are in sync, we have the same goals!” “We’ll see about that,” Carolus said, pushing herself off her support and standing straight. “Now then. Are we going to begin, or are you content to just stand there spouting your heresy all day?” Samuel’s shotgun answered for him. At this range, he wasn’t expecting a hit, but it served to pressure his opponent into withdrawing behind some cover, namely the same statue from which she’d appeared. Azrael blocked any stray pellets, covering his new mistress for her retreat. The Aerotrooper was not concerned - the entire purpose of his attack was to allow him time to retrieve his rifle from where Carolus had discarded it. As he did so, his mind raced, trying to determine an optimal strategy. I could wear her down, he thought as he scrambled for his own cover, the tall podium on which the statue of a human knelt. I don’t think she has biokinesis, and Azrael definitely doesn’t. Any damage I do to her will be permanent. The problem is dealing that damage. We stand ready to help you, Azazel noted. It doesn’t matter whether Carolus is capable of seeing us. It benefits her none.