There was no headshot in its normal place on the list, but I recognized his name right away. Croatoan. I had expected him to end up somewhere on my hit list after he broke me out of prison, but even killing three Cleavers wouldn't put him ahead of most of the criminals I was sent after... And why was his last name listed, but without a picture? I skimmed through the rest of the little book, and noticed his picture without a face appearing much further down.
Instinctively I walked to Rosa's desk; although she was technically a general secretary, since day one she had really only worked for me- I suppose I did give her enough paperwork to keep her busy, so nobody else had ever asked her to do anything for them. Whenever I needed something explained- or needed anything involving paper at all, really- I went to her.
Except instead of Rosa, the desk was occupied by a girl with the longest hair I had ever seen. It was straight and raven-black, and her eyes were a bright, piercing blue. For a moment I just stared, unsure of whether or not I should approach not-Rosa, but she saw me right away and immediately stood and offered me her hand.
"You're Aretha Tesla, right?" I nodded and shook her hand. "I'm Samantha Bliss. No relation to Mr. Bliss, I just liked the name." She added quickly, answering the question that had barely started to form in my eyes. She probably heard it a lot; a combination of her eyes and her name, I assumed. Also, the way she held herself- even though she had a boring desk job and had probably been sitting there filing papers since hours earlier in the morning, she sat perfectly straight, and had an air about her that was somehow unassuming and aloof all at once.
"It's a pleasure to meet you." I said with a smile. She immediately shook her head.
"No, the pleasure's all mine. I've heard a lot about you, and I really admire what you do. And after everything you've been through in this war especially, it's a miracle you're still fighting at all." Her eyes shone with respect and sincerity. She seemed polite and well disciplined- I couldn't help but wonder if she had also been a ballerina.
"Oh- thank you," I responded somewhat awkwardly- the last thing I expected to hear from anyone regarding my actions in the war was praise. I suppose it was just a different perspective.
Don't blame yourself...
I quickly shoved Niccolo's dying words out of my head. "So, you're the new secretary?" I continued, reminded of why I had come in the first place.
"Yes," She explained, "Technically, I am another general secretary, just as I'm told Rosa Evergreen was, but I was also told that I would most likely be working very closely with you, and not at all with anyone else. Apparently they already have a few general secretaries for others, should they happen to need something. So you can give me any task you would've given Miss Evergreen."
"Alright then." I indicated my understanding with a slight nod. "Can you tell me what this means, or why it's here?" I asked, showing her that one mysterious word that made up my current most wanted target.
"I was hoping you would ask me about that." She began. "Twice in a row now, the same strange event has occurred. A city- any random, everyday city- will be going about their average routine. Night falls, and when the next morning comes, everyone has disappeared. There's not a single trace left behind, other than that word carved into whichever mass of standing wood is closest to the city's center; Croatoan. We're assuming that this is some sort of calling card for the person behind the disappearances."
I nodded calmly, taking it all in, but inside my heart was racing. What on Earth was happening? And how long had I been alseep? I concluded it must've been at least two days. And I still had one more question for her. "Thank you- now I understand. But I still have to ask... Why were you hoping I would ask you?"
She smiled- a mere twitch of her lips- and replied, "I was hoping you'd take me with you."
Author's note: Just for reference, this is what Samantha Bliss looks like: