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May, 2010... Fantasy became reality. Worlds overlay for the briefest moment. Outworlders became stranded on earth as more than half the human populace vanished. Our World, our universe, was transformed.

Fiction is now reality. Humans and those now bound to this world will either learn to coexist, or battle for supremecy.

JUNE 13, 2019 - Family emergency  took a bad turn so had to stay away but now things are finally calming down. Hope to get going again shortly. Thanks for understanding. ~ZEPH

Ryan Harker

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115 One of Our All Stars

About Ryan Harker

  • Rank
    Nicely Seasoned


    Jeremy Renner
  • AGE
  • RACE
    Human (Altered)
  • JOB
    ARMA Cloak Operative
    New York
    Height: 5’10
    Weight: 195 lbs
    Build: Lean and Muscular
    Hair Color: Brown (short)
    Eye Color: Blue
    Attire: Harker’s attire while working usually consists of a long, black leather coat, a black leather under vest, a white or black shirt, black tactical pants and black boots. The ARMA operative’s clothes are well worn, giving them a rugged, less uniform appearance.
    Tattoos: Ryan has a series of mystic tattoos and symbols scrolled across his upper body. These enchanted markings were branded on him by powerful ARMA magus. Their purpose is to conceal him from detection spells and to protect him from sorcery that might affect his mind.
    Ryan has always seen himself as the good guy. Despite regularly committing acts of violence against others, he lives by a code. Always place the mission first, never accept defeat, never quit, never leave a fallen comrade, and above all… protect the innocent. Harker believes all life has an intrinsic value. When he ends a life, it is never without good reason.
    Ryan is an intelligent guy, but he lacks a formal education. As such, sarcasm is a staple of his personality. The operative has more than a decade of warfighting experience. As a Soldier he has killed and witnessed firsthand the atrocities of war. He has mourned the loss of his brothers and cried for the senseless death of the innocent. Over time, he has become jaded by his past. Harker’s mood though usually positive, can vary from day to day.

    Harker is confident and clever. When interacting with others he can certainly be perceived as arrogant, but he is always keenly aware of his own limitations. Perhaps the agent’s greatest weakness would be a damsel in distress. Ryan’s intuition is usually able to detect a wolf in sheep’s clothing. However, if a genuine innocent was used to bait him, he would still be inclined to save them; even if he knew full well it was a trap.

    There is a great deal of secrecy surrounding ARMA’s covert Cloak Division, most are now even aware of its existence. Over the past couple years, Ryan Harker has still managed to establish a reputation within the supernatural community as a kind of “boogie man.” Thus, when people ask for his name he will typically reply, “you can call me John.”
    After becoming an operative for ARMA’s covert Cloak Division, Harker gained nearly unlimited access to the organization’s armory. When he is working and often when he isn’t, Ryan is a walking armory of modern and arcane weaponry. Ryan has full access to ARMA’s reproducible armory. NOTE: He does NOT have access to the unique and dangerous artifacts ARMA safeguards.

    Harker typically favors a Sig Saur P226 TACOPS, 9mm pistol as the foundation of his loadout. Though he is not opposed to carrying any variety of weaponry, depending on the mission needs. Listed below is some of the equipment he usually carries:

    Enchanted Apparel (Special Issue): An aged, heavy weight cloak and matching garments. The apparel is unique, from a time before the modern world. Enchanted with numerous protective spells, the attire is flame resistant and impervious to small arms munitions. The clothing’s defensive capabilities are like ARMA Silver Thread, but to a greater extent. NOTE: While the enchantments prevent physical penetration of projectiles, the apparel only minimally absorbs the kinetic energy. Meaning bullets will still inflict harm and a .50 caliber rifle round could potentially kill Harker with its kinetic impact alone.

    Portable Wards: Standard issue ARMA wards, though as a Cloak operative Harker carries considerably more than a regular agent. While on mission Harker typically carries two dispelling wards, two repulsion wards, and one obscuring ward. These wards are carried in a tactical pouch specifically designed for that purpose. Portable wards are single use only and must be recharged or replaced after use.

    Enchanted Blades (Special Issue): A pair of 8-inch, fixed blade tactical knives. Crafted from silver and perfectly balanced, these blades have been enchanted so as to harm most supernatural beings, albeit with varying degrees of success. The blades will never dull, are extremely strong, and are resistant to most common forms of magic.

    Enchanted Munitions: Forged from silver these munitions have been enchanted so as to harm most supernatural beings, albeit with varying degrees of success. Ryan carries two magazines of silver enchanted rounds, and one magazine of wood enchanted rounds. This loadout changes frequently depending on the mission.

    Enchanted Handcuffs: A single set of handcuffs specifically designed to detain magus and other supernatural beings. The restraints are enchanted to disrupt the flow of mana within the subject wearing them, preventing them from being able to cast any spells or activate their magic based abilities. Exceptionally skilled magus will find it difficult, but certainly not impossible to break free. The handcuffs are extremely durable and can withstand the physical strength of all but the strongest supernatural creatures. Once activated the handcuffs will only retain their power for approximately 24 hours.

    Wrist Mounted Ward (Special Issue): A unique and experimental item within ARMA’s inventory. The wrist mounted ward resembles a bulky metal watch, but it’s face has no dial or hands. The ward holds a single charge, capable of projecting a magic shield to the front of the bearer. The shield deflects incoming physical and magical attacks from the front but allows projectiles to pass through from the rear. The ward can be activated instantly by flexing the wrist and the user willing the spell to commence. The shield only lasts for approximately 3 seconds, though it can dissipate much faster depending on the damage taken. The ward can recharge itself once a month by channeling the full moon’s energy.
    Sixth Sense:
    Ryan can sense danger to himself or those around him, a moment before it occurs. Frequently, he will react instinctively to protect himself or to avoid the danger all together. This “sixth sense” does not allow him to see into the future but does offer a strong inclination of what he needs to do in order to evade the threat.

    Enhanced Reflexes:
    The average human takes more than .25 seconds to perceive a threat or an action, another .25 seconds to decide on a course of action to address the threat, and then finally .25 - .5 seconds to execute the action. This delay can be shortened with training, or if a decision has been made prior to the threat being posed. The opposite is also true. This reaction time can be increased to nearly 2 seconds by stress, intoxicants, or sleep deprivation.
    Ryan’s ability to perceive, decide, and react is instantaneous. In moments of heightened stress, he frequently sees the world as standing still. While this may not seem like an extraordinary ability, it allows him to constantly stay almost a second ahead of his adversaries in combat. Imagine having an extra second to react to every punch, every kick, even every step in a fight. The ability is by its very nature, supernatural.
    NOTE: Ryan doesn’t have super speed. Although he is extremely fast by human standards, he is still limited by the physiological bounds of a mere human.

    Dexterity and Aptitude for Weaponry:
    Ryan’s balance and coordination push the bounds of humanly possible. Parkour, acrobatics, tightropes, and rock climbing are all well within his repertoire. Furthermore, this dexterity extends into an innate ability to use most primitive weapons and firearms with skillful mastery.

    Tattoo Wards:
    Ryan’s tattoos were seared across his flesh by some of the most powerful magus within ARMA. The symbols weave intricately across his chest and back; the black ink almost embossing from his skin. Some of the wards protect him from mind control, illusions and possession. Others serve to conceal his mana and life force from nearly any means of detection. Those who can sense mana will not feel or see anything when looking at Harker. NOTE: Spells that detect motion or other physical movement will be effective against Ryan, but locator spells and mana sensory spells will not.
    Martial Arts Training: Ryan has an extensive background in Hapkido, Kick-Boxing, Ju-Jitsu, and street fighting.

    *Army Trainings Completed*
    (In order of Completion)
    - Basic Combat Training
    - Advanced Infantry Training
    - Airborne Training
    - Air Assault Training
    - Ranger Special Operations Training

    Vanguard H-RAT Course

    New York Police Academy

    *ARMA Trainings Completed*
    (In order of Completion)
    - ARMA Operative Training
    - ARMA Arcane Science School
    - ARMA Advanced Combatives Course
    - ARMA Cloak Operative Training
    1988-2005 – Ryan Harker was born and raised in the Inland Empire of Southern California. Having grown up in a poor city with a dysfunctional family; Ryan was a troubled youth. Even as a boy, Ryan hated his station in life and knew he was destined for more. Ryan rebelled at every opportunity he could. Fortunately, his father enrolled him into martial arts at an early age. The discipline he learned there would prove just enough to keep him alive and out of prison. At 17 years old, Ryan forged his parents’ signatures and enlisted into United States Army.

    2005-2010 – The Army gave Ryan a sense of purpose. Something he had been deeply lacking up until this point in his life. Harker embraced the military culture and gave himself to it completely. His recruitment contract had given him a chance to become Ranger, and he seized it. After basic training and infantry school, Harker went on to complete selection, airborne and ranger school. Succeeding where countless others had failed, Ryan joined the ranks of the 75th Ranger Regiment. Assigned to the 1st Ranger Battalion Harker deployed to Iraq twice before the Resonance event.

    2010 – Shortly after Harker returned from his second deployment, the First Resonance event took place. The Nevus was revealed… and world plummeted into chaos. The 75th Ranger Regiment deployed to combat the virus outbreaks taking place in the United States and abroad. The Regiment sustained significant casualties during the initial conflict. With the world’s governments in disarray and the Order of the First Light grabbing for power, what remained of the Regiment was eventually absorbed into the Vanguard of Humanity.

    2011-2014 – Harker’s training and experience made him an instant candidate for the Vanguard’s High-Risk Assault Team (H-RAT). For several years Harker actively hunted and killed the supernatural. The infected, lycanthropes, vampires, magi… Ryan had learned how to kill virtually any non-human creature that posed a threat to humanity. H-RAT went so far as to engage in open warfare with a society of inhuman criminals attempting to resist the Vanguard. The sewers and subways beneath the City of New York ran red with blood. Eventually, the Vanguard eventually declared a victory over the criminal syndicate. The organization known simply as “The Underground” was broken, but its remnants were far too elusive to eradicate completely.

    Ryan began to question the Vanguard’s ideals after a time. Their mission seemed to have deteriorated from protecting human kind to the prejudicial eradication of all things inhuman. This became all to clear on January 7th, 2014. A peaceful group known as the “Grace Foundation” was holding a rally to support the collaboration of altered-humans and humans for a better future. The rally would be the target of a terrorist bombing. Dozens of innocents were killed. The bodies of humans and the supernatural alike littered the street. The rally had been peaceful. There had been women and children in the crowd. It was later determined by unofficial means that the Vanguard for Humanity had been responsible for the attack. Harker had joined the Vanguard to save the World, to slay evil and protect the innocent… so he turned his back on the organization.

    2015-2016 – Ryan graduated from the NYPD Police Academy in early 2015. He wanted to fight evil, he wanted to protect the innocent, and not just the human ones. It didn’t take him long to realize just how woefully incapable the NYPD was at combatting the serious dangers to the public. Renegade Magi and the Order of Light did as they pleased. The NYPD lacked the firepower and resources of the Vanguard, and they didn’t have the Order’s proficiency in the realm of magic. The Police Departments inadequacy frustrated and demoralized Harker to no end.

    2016-2018 – When ARMA broke away from the Order, they offered to train even unaltered humans in the arcane science of magic. Harker knew with all his talent, training, and experience, if he was just be given the right tools… he could kill anything. Ryan left the NYPD and was welcomed into ARMA. He possessed no magical aptitude, nor did he comprehend even the fundamentals of magic. Despite this fact, ARMA trained him. Ryan learned the nuances of magic. Lacking any ability to cast spells of his own, he was trained to use the enchantments and talismans forged by others. Coupled with his previous military and martial arts training, Ryan developed a deadly and effective style of close quarter combat.

    2018-2020 – The war between ARMA and the Order had been going for nearly two years when the Second Resonance event occurred. By that time, Harker had used all manner of wards, hexes, amulets, spells, and enchanted equipment to slay well over a dozen Order magus. Ryan had gained an immense amount of experience and proven his worth on the field of battle. When his own abilities emerged on account of the Second Resonance, it brought him to the forefront of the ARMA’s attention. Very few amongst faction’s ranks possessed his talent for killing magus, human or otherwise.

    ARMA approached Harker and offered him a position as an operative within their newly formed Cloak Division. He was told operatives would have considerable autonomy, nearly unlimited access to magical resources, and would report only to the Division Captain. Ryan leapt at the opportunity.

    Present – Despite the intense secrecy revolving ARMA’s Cloak Division, Harker has still managed to develop a reputation amongst the supernatural community as a kind of “boogie man.” Before the disappearance of ARMA’s leadership, Harker was used as a specialized asset. Rather than being posted on the front line in their war against the Order, he was tasked with eliminating specific targets that threatened ARMA. Powerful adversaries, potent First Order magus, and double agents were his specialty. Harker was and continues to be a very effective weapon for ARMA.

    With the leaders of ARMA missing in action, many of its agents have been left to their own devices. This is especially true for the Cloak Division operatives like Ryan, who report directly to ARMA leadership. Though lacking direction, Harker is not without purpose. He fights on with ARMA’s mission in mind; still an ever-vigilant protector of innocent, and still waging war against the supernatural threats to mankind.

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  • Role Play Sample
    (This is intended to be my first post in the "Clash of Titans" thread.)

    The Satyr Stadium was unlike anything else in New York. Harker had been in awe the first time he had visited the venue. The sheer size of the of the arena, the intricate spells woven into its structure, the security measures emplaced; it took a lot of clout to establish something of this magnitude in one of the most prominent cities in the world. Of course, the stadium was owned and operated as a “legitimate” business by the Bakkos criminal syndicate; which made its existence even more impressive. The Satyr Stadium represented a Bakkos foothold in the city, ground that Law Enforcement agencies would likely never take back.

    Harker strode calmly through the crowd on the pavilions second level. He was draped by a long, black leather coat. Its material swayed naturally with every casual step, but concealed beneath it was an arsenal of weapons designed to combat the supernatural. The ARMA operative’s attire was aged, giving his black undervest, pants, and tactical boots a rugged, less uniform appearance. Before the Resonance such an outfit might have drawn attention, but these days such an ensemble was not uncommon amongst magus, marauders, and the like.

    Ryan’s blue eyes surveyed the rotunda as he seated himself at a table near the bar. He had no interest in the fight. He was here for work, or that’s what he told himself at least. It had been some time since he had received any specific orders from ARMA leadership. Without a defined task, he was forced to find his own way to contribute to cause. This was a recon mission. The stadium was hosting a hi-profile event. Several of Bakkos’ key players were in attendance. ARMA intelligence also suggested the venue was a likely target for terrorist attack from multiple extremist groups. Harker was at the stadium to see how all the players interacted, and to see which groups might show to reconnoiter the event for their own purposes.

    Harker leaned back in his seat. A hand donned with a fingerless glove casually rubbed the brown scruff on his chin. He watched as two Bakkos gangsters descended from their VIP lounge to walk amongst the commoners beneath them. One was Matteo Carducci, Bakkos “baby boss” and owner of the Satyr Stadium. He was joined by Thomas Gallo, Bakkos fight champion and owner of another one of the syndicates “legitimate” business fronts. Both gangsters were dangerous men. ARMA was aware of their criminal activity. However, the organization the Bakkos established within the criminal underworld actually reduced crime in New York. So long as they continued to serve that purpose, and didn’t stray too far from the path, they would be safe from ARMA.

    Out of the corner of his eye Ryan saw a woman who appeared to be assessing the venues security. A ball cap hid her face, but the jacket and jeans she wore did little to hide her slender figure. She was an attractive woman. She tried to look inconspicuous, but she loitered near doors and entrances, seemingly to check if they were secure. She wasn’t Bakkos security. Her casual dress was far too relaxed for their “professional” standards. When Ryan finally caught a peek from under the brim of her hat, her face seemed familiar. After a moment he recognized her as an NYPD officer, maybe from the 10th precinct but he wasn’t certain. The Arma operative had seen her around more than once, back when he worked for the department.

    A man came through one of the pavilion doors quite suddenly, nearly knocking the poor girl down. Harker ginned lightly. Words were exchanged between the two and the man walked away. At first Harker thought nothing of it. There was nothing extraordinary about the man initially. However, as he pressed through the crowd he moved with a purpose. The man made a straight line for the bar, his eyes trained on the bartender standing behind it. Again, this by itself was nothing extraordinary. The man glided across a balcony full of cheering fans, without slowing down, and without so much as brushing into another person. To a trained observer like Harker, that was extraordinary.

    This appeared to catch the attention of the cop as well. Because after a moment she moved to join the man at the bar. Purple shirt, gray slacks, the man looked like he belonged in the VIP lounge. Ryan doubted the peace officer knew what the man was, or even the danger she might be in… but he did. The operative couldn’t identify the exact kind of creature that sat beside her, but he had hunted enough to know supernatural when he saw it.

    Harker glanced back at Carducci. The Bakkos baby was chatting up another girl at the bar. Based on their body language, he quickly determined the engagement was not work related. Sharp eyes did another sweep of the balcony. Finding nothing of note, Harker rose slowly to his feet and made his way to the bar as well.

    Ryan took the seat beside Raeden, opposite from Kai. As he gripped the barstool he became acutely aware of the woman’s gaze. She interested him, but he always got nervous when talking to beautiful women. He had seen the horrors of war, fought countless battles, faced unspeakable evils, and even now he was surrounded by a thousand threats that could kill him. Yet, in that moment, the little Asian woman sitting beside him, she was the scariest thing in the entire coliseum.

    “I’ll have what she’s having,” Ryan said as he sat down. He looked down at Raeden’s coffee and gave a lighthearted frown. “Working huh?” His ocean blue eyes met hers and he smiled. All the while he remained keenly aware of both were-creatures joining them at the bar.


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  1. Ryan Harker

    Taking Inventory

    *npc* “If my girl trusts you, then I'll hear you out. What do you want to know?” Ryan’s eyes never left the man, “From what I understand, now that Remy is out of the picture, Rorye is the primary contact for selling expensive and exotic occults goods.” Chris nodded in silent agreement with the statement, so Ryan continued. “If someone wanted to sell something in the region, but didn’t want to come to Rorye, where would they go?” *npc* “We were actually just talkin about that. Best bet is probably the ‘crossroads’ down south.” “Who runs the crossroads?” Harker asked, leaning back in his chair slightly. The man cast a glance toward Rorye, *npc* “She can probably tell you better than I can. You want to fill him in?” The agent’s hands fell to his lap as he leaned back in his chair. Fingers sliding casually closer to the weapon at the small of his back, before sparing a look in Rorye’s direction. Both men waited for her reply. Once the shop owner had said her peace, Harker returned his attention to the man sitting across from him. “Do you recognize any of these men?” The operative asked, holding out his phone so Chris could see the images on the screen. *npc* “Na, never seen any of those guys before.” “What about these men?” Ryan asked, after opening a different folder in his phone. *npc* “Nope, never seen them before either.” The relic hunter gave Rorye a puzzled look, “Why is he showing me pictures of a bunch of dead guys?” “Focus,” Harker said firmly, demanding the man’s attention. “What about this man?” A picture of Thomas Hanes, the businessman who had approached Rorye’s shop in search of magus blood was shown. *npc* “No.” “This man?” Image displayed was of the “Avenue” nightclub owner, Daniel Aguiar. *npc* “No.” “What about this man?” Ryan asked again. Frustration flicked at the edge of his words. The man’s lack of useful information was beginning to wear his patience. This time a picture had been shown of Steven Ramirez, Arch Magus of the Order of the First Light’s New York Division. Chris seemed to sense the agent’s growing disappointment. *npc* “No. Look, I only do face to face interactions with people I trust. Like Rorye, big players, known quantities ya know? I don’t get into the street level stuff; I have guys for that. I don’t know any of these people.” “Fine,” Harker growled. Phone was shoved back into his pant pocket. “Have you heard anything about requests for magus blood? Or anything similar?” *npc* “Magus blood ain’t really my thing, I deal mostly with artifacts and such,” Chris replied. Seeing the expression on Ryan’s face, the man quickly added, “I’ve heard rumors about some new guys on the market though. Serious players with deep pockets.” The mage hunter cocked an intrigued eyebrow, “go on.” *npc* “I don’t know much about these guys. They are pretty secretive. They hire a lot of local mobsters for deals, and hi-end mercenaries for muscle. Nobody knows who runs them, but they have been looking for relics that can supposedly be activated by magus blood.” “You know anything specific about what they’re asking for?” Ryan pressed him further. Finally, he was on the verge of obtaining useful information. Chris leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms once more. *npc* “I didn’t want anything to do with that shit… but the money was good. I heard a guy in Europe found it though. The contract came off the market, but I hear the drop point is a port somewhere in New York.” “Where in New York?” The Cloak operative inquired, attempting squeeze the last drops of intelligence from the man. *npc* “Hell, I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine,” came Chris’ matter-of-fact reply. Pistol was drawn smoothly from behind Harker’s back. The Sig Sauer model P226, chambered in 9mm with a matte black finish, was an intimidating weapon to have aimed in your direction. The agent placed the handgun on the table in front of him, but held his grasp on the pistol’s grip. Thumb cocked the weapon’s hammer back. When Harker spoke next, his tone conveyed a deathly seriousness. “Think harder.” *npc* “Shit man, calm down! That’s all I know!” Chris eyes darted from the gun to Rorye, “Common Rorye, tell him.” Ryan kept his eyes fixed on the relic hunter, but out of the corner of his mouth asked, “What do you think, you believe him?”
  2. Ryan Harker

    Taking Inventory

    *npc* “Yah, same fucking question to you,” the stranger snapped. “Quiet you, the adults are talking,” Ryan said with distinct condescension. “Look, I get we’re all on edge right now, we’re all off our schedules,” Rorye spoke nonchalantly as she started a fresh pot of coffee. Her tone was casual, as if having a man at gunpoint in her kitchen was an everyday activity. “Chris, how do we know you weren’t responsible for the shit at Remy’s? Maybe he should put a bullet in your ass. Did you sell Remy out?” Ryan cocked an eyebrow at the man, arm extending to level his handgun’s sights on the stranger’s head. The Soldier’s expression was stoic, absent any indication he might hesitate in taking the man’s life. *npc* “Whoah, wait! I didn’t do shit,” the man threw his hands up submissively. “Who is this?” Harker’s weapon remained pointed at the man’s head throughout Rorye’s introduction. The agent was surprised at the amount of authentic information she was offering her colleague. She really wanted this newcomer to believe her story. Details added credibility to the lie, but also increased the risk of uncovering the deception. *npc* “Can he handle it?” Rorye gave the brigand a disapproving glare, “did you seriously just ask me that?” “A funny question coming from someone who already found himself at the wrong end of my gun,” Ryan quipped, though his features remained apathetic. *npc* “I hate him,” the stranger admitted while staring the agent in the eyes. “That’s great, you hate everyone. John, this is Chris,” Rorye swapped the man’s bag for another while conducting introductions. The exchange had been somewhat discrete, but it hadn’t gone unnoticed. “Chris is the guy you’ve heard about. He’s the best.” “I certainly hope not,” Ryan responded quickly. Hammer on his Sig Sauer was de-cocked slowly, and finally the weapon was lowered. Rorye gave him an apologetic look, then a slight eyeroll begged him to participate in her ruse. She poured both men a cup of coffee. Once Chris had been served, she approached Harker with a mug in hand. “I got this if you want to go,” she whispered. She placed a hand on his chest, almond eyes gazing into his, “or you could join us? Ask some questions. He won’t be here long and I don’t know when he’ll be back.” Ryan was surprised she willingly displayed the intimacy of their relationship in front of her colleague. Soft spoken words, closeness, gentle touch, the signs of affection were subtle. Subtle cues, however, never went unnoticed amongst people from realms of subversion and subterfuge. If this ‘Chris’ guy was as good as she said, then he would have noticed. Which meant, she wanted him to know. Interesting. “Let me go put some clothes on,” Ryan replied quietly. Eyes found hers, softening for the first time since he had entered the room. “It’s a bit chilly in here,” he smirked. His stare flicked down for a moment, looking to the goosebumps that had blossomed on his skin beneath her fingertips. “I’ll be right back.” The agent gave a glance of warning to Chris, then turned and exited the room. About a minute later he returned, wearing a form fitting white T-shirt, blue jeans, and a pair of worn hiking boots. Helping himself to the coffee Rorye had poured him earlier, he took a seat at the table across from Chris. Their hostess would likely have noticed the pistol grip budding from the waistband at his lower back. Though he was careful in ensuring the weapon couldn’t be seen by their unexpected guest. Harker took a long, deliberate sip from his coffee, then placed the cup down on the table. An intense stare crossed the table toward the larger man. Leaning forward slightly he said, “Chris, you asked who I am, so I will tell you. Rorye has enlisted my service because I am the best at what I do. I am not a tomb raider, an explorer, or a dealer. No, I am the man they call to clean up messes. I am the man that hurts people… the man that kills people… I am the man you never want to meet… and I assure you I am not someone you want to lie to.” Ryan’s eyes remained locked with those of the relic hunter as he continued. “I am telling you this because we are going to ask you some questions, and I want you to understand there will be consequences if I feel you are being dishonest in your answers. Answer truthfully, and you will leave with your normal fee plus a little extra. Do we have an understanding?” Regardless of Rorye’s relationship with the man, Ryan wanted him to comprehend the severity of his involvement. For now, he would play the heavy hand. Rorye could always calm things down if she wished. The present tactic set the stage for him to be the bad guy, and for her to Chris’s prevailing ally. He wasn’t sure if Rorye had expected the strategy, but he trusted she find a way to use it to her advantage.
  3. Ryan Harker

    Taking Inventory

    “You can’t hesitate, no matter what.” Rorye whispered. “I know,” was Ryan’s solemn reply before swiftly changing the subject. *** “You’ll be asleep by the time I bring you up something to eat,” she teased. “No, I won’t,” he countered, voice betraying a playful grin. “Let me rephrase that… you should be asleep by the time I bring up some things. I’ll get your stitches when you wake up.” “I’ll wait you,” was the last thing Ryan said, before giving her a kiss on the cheek and proceeding upstairs. *** *npc* “For right now... Right now doesn't sound like you'll be here long. Does she know that... John?” A glare caught Nina from the corner of the mage hunter’s eye. “Right now,” meant hopefully, someday, Rorye would have more in her life than the likes of him. “Right now,” meant he understood the risk associated with the fight ahead, and the significant chance he wouldn’t survive the conflict’s conclusion. “Right now,” acknowledged the possibility his involvement with Rorye might be temporary. However, it didn’t mean he wanted it to be. Jaw clenched a moment, then relaxed. Ryan said his peace and walked away without engaging the shopkeeper any further. *** Harker had undressed quickly, leaving his clothes in organized piles around the small studio apartment. Bathroom mirrors had fogged almost instantly. The showers scalding hot water had burned his skin, but also soothed aching knots of muscle and tendon. Blood rinsed from his hands far more easily than it had stained them. A heavy sigh escaping the man as he braced himself against the wall beneath the showerhead. Fingers poked and rubbed the canal of his left ear. The ringing was louder than usual this morning. Flaring tinnitus, a side effect caused by any number of grievances; loud noises, explosions, illness, changes in altitude, to name a few. The cause this morning had been a forceful blow taken to the side of the head last night. Water was shut off and Ryan stepped out of the shower. Mouth opened wide in an only half feigned yawn as he attempted to pop his ear drums. Often a could yawn could subside an acute episode of the incessant tone. This time it worked, and Ryan’s hearing resumed its normal function. This was just in time to hear a distant knocking sound resonating from somewhere near the back of the shop. Curiosity peaked, the mage hunter dried himself quickly and made his way out of the bathroom. Beyond his bedroom a door could be heard closing softly. A deep, masculine voice spoke impatiently, followed by hushed whispers the hunter presumed belonged to Rorye. The exact words could not be discerned, but Harker sensed his girl had been surprised by an unexpected guest. Especially considering the occults shop didn’t open for another hour. A clean pair of boxers had been pulled on hastily, then Sig Sauer was removed silently from its holster. Soundless footsteps brought the agent to the door of his room. There he paused a moment, weapon at the ready while he listened to the voices on the other side. Something in the next room crashed against the wood floor with a hefty “clunk.” Reason enough to investigate further. Ryan pushed noiselessly into the adjacent walkway and then to the doorway of Rorye’s room. A large man was seated at her kitchen table, coffee mug in hand. Graying hair, unshaven stubble, ragged clothes, everything about the stranger indicated he could handle himself. Rorye leaned casually against the counter in the kitchen, but Ryan could see the anxiety in her posture. “Because you’re not supposed to be here right now. You're going to have a gun pointed at your head in less than a minute...” Harker made his presence known with the metallic “click” of his pistol’s hammer cocking back. Given the circumstances, he wouldn’t ordinarily have pointed his weapon at the unknown man. If Rorye was going to make a threat however, he had no qualms with backing her play. If she wanted a gun to the stranger’s head, he could oblige. The Soldier stood in doorway wearing only his underwear. Hair was damp from the shower and moisture still glistened in places on his skin. Tattoos and scars were on full display, though perhaps the most obvious was the newer mark on his left leg. The healing wound was stitched and ugly, still holding a bright red coloration. “If you don’t already,” Rorye finished awkwardly as both she and the stranger turned their heads toward Ryan. Ryan’s stare narrowed on the new arrival. Weariness showed in the depth of the wrinkles at the edges of his eyes. Yet, eyes themselves were sharp with lethality. Brilliant blue hues glared intensely at the man, catching Rorye in their peripherals. Despite the operative’s lengthy night, it was obvious he was prepared to kill. Perhaps the only thing he appeared too tired to do… was put up with bullshit. “Stay in the chair, keep your hands on the table, and we’ll be just fine,” Harker stated calmly. Weapon rest nonchalantly at the agent’s hip, but muzzle remained aimed at the stranger’s head. After waiting a moment for the man’s compliance, he then looked to Rorye. “I wasn’t aware we were expecting company, who’s this?”
  4. Ryan Harker

    Licking Wounds

    Time felt as though it was standing still. Ryan’s abilities hadn’t activated, but with as long as it took Rorye to answer him, they might as well have. He wasn’t usually one to share his feelings. Not that he was excelling at communicating them now. Still, the only emotion he ever freely shared was anger, or some variation therein. This made him feel uncomfortable… vulnerable. “I don’t want to leave here... this... and that scares me,” she answered finally. “I know,” Ryan agreed. Subconsciously allowing the ambiguity in the reply. Had he been acknowledging her fears, or admitting he felt the same way. Even he wasn’t certain. To his relief, she said, “Ryan I’m not angry at you. Just, know that.” Rorye unpacked her things and changed back into the dry clothes he had provided. Then she guided him back into the kitchen. Fresh coffee was poured, and the couple sat down to review the contents of Remy’s satchel. Ryan was glad to have the morning back on track, but couldn’t quite shake the embarrassment of his confession. “Alright, so what prizes did we get?” The Soldiers asked, attempting to drive through the awkwardness he felt. Unsure if Rorye could sense his unease. She unpacked the messenger bag one pocket at a time, laying everything out for Harker to review as well. Enchanted key, notes, and other items were discussed without significantly peeking the agent’s interest. When she unveiled the “lure” however, he became extremely engaged. “Holy shit,” the operative gaped as he picked up the artifact to examine for himself. If the relic was capable of syphoning mana within a large radius, it could be used as a powerful weapon against any of the major magus factions; including ARMA. An item of this nature also fit perfectly within Harker’s occupation, skill set, and expertise. Combined with the element of surprise, the “lure” could provide advantage enough for him to take down the Order’s entire New York chapter. In any case, the magical object was too potent to leave in black market circulation. Rorye gave him a concerned glance as he scrutinized the artifact. She didn’t yet know his abilities, the details of his professional assignment, or his past… but if she did, she might understand his enthusiasm for the “lure.” Ryan had become ARMA’s most elite mage hunter by utilizing temporary wards capable of neutralizing magic in a small radius. The implications of a lasting and widespread magic dampener, given his skill set, meant he could reasonably engage even a platoon of magus in open combat. The hunter placed the lure back in the case, then looked to the woman across from him. Rorye gazed apprehensively into the leather satchel. “What is it?” he asked, taking another quick sip from his coffee.
  5. Ryan Harker

    Taking Inventory

    “Hard day at the office?” She asked as she examined his knuckles. “It was for somebody,” Ryan quipped with a smirk. The Soldier hadn’t taken any pleasure in the task, but it had needed to be done. He wanted to keep the conversation moving, “She doesn’t like me, does she?” “What makes you think that?” she smiled with a soft shake of her head. “Call it a hunch,” came his jovial reply. “What’s making me upset is that you’re this tired …and that you’re not getting that hand wrapped. I need to pin you down today and take your stitches out too, though I think I could do that while you were sleeping and you’d never notice.” “Well, I definitely like the sound of you pinning me down,” Ryan pulled her slightly closer, allowing his hips to brush against hers. Mischievous grin on full display, “But, I won’t be able to enjoy that, or anything else until I know what’s going on with you.” Rorye leaned into his embrace, forehead touching his, hands sliding up to hang lightly around his neck. He was exhausted, but he loved it nonetheless. Her leaning on him, hanging on him… needing him. The sense purpose was rewarding. Ryan was a protector to his core. Unfortunately, when constantly enthralled in grim conflict, it was easy to become disassociated from those he was fighting to protect. At times, the “world” seemed a distant ideal, rather than innocent people deserving of his service. Somedays, this made it difficult to remember what exactly he was fighting for to begin with. It was soothing to have something to ground him. Recently, Rorye had given him that, and he was thankful. “Nina trusts me to run this business the way it needs to be run. She is immensely protective of me though in my personal life, you being here put her on point. Then I opened the door to the basement this morning and she lost it,” emotions behind the words were powerful, but cryptic. Decision was made not to pry any further on the subject. She had shared as much as she could for now. The agent listened quietly to Rorye’s presentation of her chamber of secrets. He followed her into the vault, and she gave him brief tour of the small depository. As an ARMA operative regularly dealing with the supernatural, Harker supposed he should have been immensely intrigued. Instead, he found himself largely disinterested in the basement’s contents. He was at the “Book of Kells” to combat the Order of the Light, and for Rorye. Importance of the treasures was known, but personally, none of this mattered to him. After a moment, Rorye exited the vault. She had moved impatiently, as if she couldn’t stand to be in there any longer. Ryan followed after her, not bothering to examine anything for longer than a quick gander. He had heard the explanation of her current predicament. Though it still surprised him when she asked the question. “Can you do this for me?” The request was soft, almost fearful of his reply. Ryan didn’t want the responsibility anymore than she wanted to burden him with it. He imagined this is how she must have felt when he asked her to “place the mission first.” This was her most coveted secret. The trust required to share such a secret wasn’t lost on him. Ryan approached Rorye from behind, arms wrapping snuggly around her middle. Chin was allowed to rest on her shoulder. Lips pecked lightly at her cheek before he said, “Yes, for you, I will.” “Now, I’m going to go upstairs and take a quick shower,” somber tone transitioning to cheerful tenor. “Then, I think you mentioning something about pinning me down? I think I’ll take you up on that offer. You, sex, food, rest… in that order.” Another kiss on the cheek and he started toward the staircase. When the agent emerged at the top of the stairs, he noticed Nina was still lingering in the library. No doubt, she had been eavesdropping on the couple’s conversation. Harker strode calmly toward the door without addressing her at all. He had meant to leave the room, but he found himself halted in the doorway. “I know you think I’m a bad guy,” he spoke without looking in the storekeeper’s direction. “But there are some really bad people coming for her…” voice was only loud enough to be heard by the older woman, “I am here to protect her, and I will do whatever it takes to keep her safe.” Ryan started to leave again, but hesitated once more, “You might not want me in her life, but there aren’t exactly a bunch of heroes lining up to take this fight. So right now, I’m all she’s got.” The same was true for him. He couldn’t even count on ARMA to support him in their current endeavor. Rorye was the only person he had in his corner. This wasn’t something he felt particularly like sharing, so he concluded by simply saying, “Just take it easy on her.” The darkly clad agent left the room without another word. A shower and some fresh clothes were in order. He was determined to spend a little “alone” time with Rorye before she became occupied by the shop’s business. Cleansing himself of the dirt, blood, and grime, would be the first step toward accomplishing that goal.
  6. Ryan Harker

    Cold night in hell...

    The girl went limp in Harker’s grasp, barely staying on her feet. The fight had left her, and it felt as though she might collapse at any moment. Magic glow in her eyes dimmed, replaced by overflowing tears of defeat. She was silent for a time before she spoke, “You’re all the same. None of you care about the damage you do so long as you get what you want.” “What the fuck are you talking about?” The agent was genuinely perplexed by her response. It hadn’t addressed his questions at all. Clearly, she was going through her own shit. A familiar chill crawled down the length of Ryan’s neck and time slowed. To his surprise, instincts told him the threat was emanating from the fragile girl before him. Then he saw it, she was reaching toward her waistline behind her back. She was reaching for her gun. The kick to the groin had been unexpected. He had been focused on her hand movement and when he noticed the incoming strike, his body was simply too exhausted to react in time. The tiny woman’s foot caught him squarely between the legs. Despite the relatively weak blow, the sensitive area elicited an understandable response. Harker heaved forward slightly, the pain forcing some of the air from his lungs. The recoil set in motion a cascading wave of agony throughout his body; ribs, back and mangled arm all protested the movement. The collateral suffering afflicted by the attack far outweighing the damage cause by the actual kick. He suspected he had broken than his arm. The operative remained focused on the girl’s hand. Her diversion had succeeded in delaying his response, but not enough to permit an actual attempt on his life. As she drew the firearm from the small of her back the agent snatched her wrist. Using her arms upward momentum, he slammed her hand against the shelving behind her. Action was swift, and he ensured the weapon remained pointed in her direction throughout the effort. Gun was pointed at her own temple when he heard the sound. “Click, click, click.” “Jesus Christ,” Ryan cursed in disbelief. Then he twisted her wrist sharply, forcing the pistol from her hand. The weapon clattered uselessly to the floor and a moment later, the sobbing child did the same. “What the fuck is the matter with you?” The hunter scolded, kicking the weapon out of arms reach. Hand vanished under his coat, then remerged with holding an item. There was a flash of steel as he slapped a handcuff onto her wrist. Ratcheting metal echoed in the deathly quiet warehouse, then again as he secured the other end to a steel beam supporting the industrial shelves. “Those cuffs are enchanted,” he explained as he turned to walk away. This was probably unnecessary, as by now she could likely feel the effects. “They are designed to disrupt any magical abilities of the wearer.” The ARMA agent had taken another several steps before he mentioned over his shoulder, “Also, they’re pretty much unbreakable and unpickable. So just sit tight, I’ll be back.” Ryan reached into a pocket and withdrew a small tactical flashlight. Night-vision goggles had been lost sometime during his fight with the vampire, so he would have to do without. Beam of light scanned the darkness within the forsaken warehouse. Revealed was a ghastly portrayal of the vampire’s deeds, bringing life to the sickly smell of dead flesh that filled Ryan’s nostrils. Corpses littered the warehouse. A dozen at least, probably more. Automatic rifles and pistols lay discarded by the fallen bodies; little good they had done them. There wasn’t as much blood at the scene as Harker had expected. Most of the demon’s victims appeared to have been slain by feats of strength in hand to hand combat. Snapped necks, caved skulls, collapsed rib cages, and broken spines had been the results yielded from the vampire’s methods. Had the agent not encountered the creature at the warehouse himself, ARMA investigators would have little to work with. Harker strode casually through the carnage, turning heads with his boot to inspect the men’s faces. He recognized most of them, they all worked for the criminal organization he had been investigating. The same organization that had approached Rorye at her shop in search of magus blood. The same syndicate that had killed Remy and raided his bunker. The same group that he suspected was working for a Mr. Steven Ramirez, an Arch Magus for the Order of the First Light. Amidst the chaos there was single chair placed in the center of the warehouse. Tied to the chair was another corpse, clad in an expensive gray suit. Hands and feet were bound, crimson stains speckled the front his otherwise neat clothing. Of all the dead, this man alone had been tortured prior to meeting his untimely end. Long blonde bangs covered the man’s bearded face, but Ryan suspected he already knew who he would find beneath. The ARMA operative held his breath in apprehension as he lifted the man’s head and shined a light in his face. “GOD DAMN IT!” He bellowed in a fit of untamed anger. Of course, the mutilated corpse belonged to none other than Arch Magus, Steven Ramirez. That had been Ryan’s connection to the higher echelons of leadership within this “unknown threat.” The agent had hoped Ramirez would lead him to a Hi-Arch Magus of the Order. If a link between the Vatican and the “unknown” faction could be established, ARMA could bring their entire force to bare against the Order. They would dismantle the traitorous organization and assimilate those who believed in ARMA’s cause. With Ramirez dead, Harker had nothing. The mage hunter bit down on the end of is flashlight, freeing his functioning hand to pull out his cell phone and check for service. No signal. An anticipated inconvenience. The jammer outside would need to be deactivated before he could make any calls. Phone was shoved aggressively back into an available pocket. Light was removed from his mouth before he muttered angrily, “Fucking perfect.” Agitated and in pain, Ryan limped toward the buildings nearest exit. Before long he made it to an emergency door. Wind howled violently against the frame and its metal push-bar was ice cold to the touch. Hand braced against the bar, the operative allowed his head to hang for a moment, shaking it slowly from side to side. Murphy’s law was in full effect tonight. The series of unfortunate events was almost comical. “Could this night get any worse?” he thought to himself. Answer to this question was always “yes.” Still, he couldn’t help begging the question anyway. A moment was taken to regain his composure. A deep breath, then he pushed open the door and stepped out into the night’s unsympathetic chill.
  7. Ryan Harker

    Taking Inventory

    “Just, tension and the lack of a good available punching bag. It’s fine, I’ll talk to her. You’re exhausted,” She was trying to avoid the subject by shifting the focus to him. “I’m fine,” Ryan countered quickly. The statement was mostly true, but so was her observation. “Talk to her about what?” The ARMA operative was well aware Nina disliked his presence at the shop. Given their line of work, it made sense she would be apprehensive about the sudden appearance of a dangerous stranger. Especially considering said stranger was reclusive, rarely spoke to her, and skulked in and out of the establishment at all hours of the night. Harker had been distant from Rorye’s staff to protect them. He knew she cared for them, and the less they knew, the safer they would be. “She doesn’t like me, does she?” he asked with broad grin. Eyes still beholden to the woman before him. “Head upstairs, I’ll be up in a minute and bring you something from the coffee shop. I’ll clean this up later,” Rorye said dismissively, before bracing herself against the steel at her back and rising to her feet. In their short time together, Ryan had figured out neither of them were complainers. They had gotten into a rhythm though, based on mutual trust. If asked, they would both insist they were okay. However, if their partner felt there was something that needed to be addressed, they would tactfully pry until it the truth was revealed. Ironically, trust was at the foundation of their relationship. Despite all the secrets, omissions, and even lies, they trusted one another to be honest when it mattered. “Uh-uh.” Ryan said with a short wag of his finger. “I’m not letting you off the hook that easy.” Hands were placed lightly on her hips. “Rorye, I know it takes a whole lot more than just ‘tension’ to make you this upset,” his head titled sideways a bit, blue eyes still staring into her almond hues. “So, why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”
  8. Ryan Harker

    Licking Wounds

    Ryan had expected Rorye to argue, but he hadn’t expected what came next. The woman stood to her full height; chin raised with brazen opposition. Arms were locked rigidly at her sides and fists were clenched so tightly her knuckles glowed white. Her auburn eyes burned with a rage so passionate, he thought she might physically strike him. It was in that moment, that Ryan knew he had fucked up. “Then there is no deal. I will not agree to anything that forfeits anyone’s life for mine. I have never, and will never leave anyone behind.” He had expected her to yell. Instead, her words sharp and definitive. Their message was one the Soldier could appreciate, as “I will never leave a fallen comrade” was literally part of the warrior ethos. “You have no idea what I’ve faced. I’m not this naïve delicate flower that will let someone sacrifice themselves when I can stop it.” Her tongue lashed at him, cutting deep enough he would have probably preferred she’d just punched him instead. Two for two, Ryan didn’t know her past in its entirety. However, he did know people. His trade demanded the skill, and he had frequently staked his life on judgements made of others. Regardless of the guilt Rorye felt for past transgressions, he knew she was a good person. Through and through. Harker’s arms had crossed over his chest, head dipped low as she chastised him. When she walked away and began snatching up her belongings, he remained frozen in place. Silent. Deliberating how best to respond to the situation. He didn’t want her to leave, not like this. Angry footfalls paced rapidly across his apartments wood flooring as she started for the bathroom. “Rorye,” her name was muttered softly, eyes trailing after the heated woman. She pivoted on the ball of her foot and turned suddenly to face him. “You think I would waste my time with someone that didn’t matter? If you weren’t important, I wouldn’t be here. I would have told you to go fuck yourself last night at the shop,” iron hot words lashed out at him again. Ryan’s lips pursed tightly, as if grimacing from an expected pain. Expression similar to one someone might make when getting a shot at the doctor’s office. “Rorye,” he repeated her name again, but made no attempt to shout over her. The agent was beginning to realize there was more at play than merely his own damaged psyche. “If you are so comfortable with your death, then why do you fight so hard?” The question was posed as a statement, but it still caught the warrior by surprise. At some point every Soldier acknowledges their own mortality. They convince themselves they are fighting for a cause more valuable than their own lives. God, country, family, freedom. Of course, they take immense pride in being part of a select few capable of effecting change within such a cause. As such an instrument, Ryan valued his life immensely. He believed Soldiers won wars not by dying for their cause, but for making the other son of a bitch die for his. However, he also believed if a Soldier must die for a cause, then they should take solace in knowing it was in contribution to something greater than themselves. These contemplations are rarely stagnant in a Soldier’s mind. In the lulls between battles, they are frequently reassessed and revalued. A mental process that repeats itself again and again. Until the Soldier is no longer able, or no longer willing to serve. In this way, when compared to the civilian populace, all Soldiers are damaged. How else could you convince a man to travel half-way around the world, jump out of a plane, and then charge headlong into enemy gunfire? This was a difficult concept to explain. Especially, because it’s a concept most Soldiers barely understood themselves. Ryan didn’t know how to put the idea into words. So, he just stood there dumbly. “Our dying world doesn’t need any more martyrs, it needs people that can lead. It needs you.” Rorye spat, before spinning on her heel and storming off toward the bathroom. Harker didn’t go after her immediately. Part of him considered simply letting her be angry at him. Perhaps, some distance between them would make easier for them to focus on the mission at hand. Of course, hurt feelings could also have the opposite effect. Suddenly, an epiphany struck the man like a two-by-four between the eyes. How many times had she made him promise not to die in the last 24 hours? She needed reassurance, not him telling her it was ok to let him die… He felt like a fool. Ryan had never really been an “emotionally sensitive” guy, but this one had been obvious. Finally, Harker pried himself from where he stood in the kitchen and followed Rorye into the bathroom. “Rorye please!” he walked right into her. Hands gripped her shoulders gently, pulling her away from wet clothes so he could see her eyes. “Look, I’ve never done this before.” The agent paused as he struggled to find the words, “I don’t know what this connection is between us, but I do know I haven’t felt anything like this since before this entire God damn world went to shit.” “Now, I promised you I wouldn’t die,” he risked sliding a hand to her cheek. “And I have no intention of breaking that promise,” words were left to settle in the air. “What I should have said, is this mission we are taking on, its real,” his voice lowered slightly. “It’s bigger than either of us, and it literally effects this entire ‘dying world.’ Like it or not, the reality is keeping you alive and away from these people must be a mission objective. I will keep my promise, but I need you to promise me if it comes down to me or the mission, I need you to trust me to keep my promise. We have to place the mission first.” “I promise I have no intention of being a martyr,” he stepped away from her. An attempt to give her space to think. “If you’re mad at me, I understand. If you want to leave, I will take you home.” Head lowered slightly and gaze fell to the floor, “but I hope you will stay…” Ryan aqua blue eyes flitted back up to Rorye, “at least until we finish our coffee, and figure out what we got from Remy’s.”
  9. Ryan Harker

    Licking Wounds

    Ryan gaped in awe at his Scottish Valkyrie. She was handling the situation extremely well. Smiling even, as she commented about them being reinforcements for one another. “That’s because she already knew, and she’s playing you for information,” whispered a pessimistic demon from somewhere in his mind. Ryan pushed the thought away as soon as it had formed. The cynical line of thinking made little sense. He had gone to her shop, he had trailed the gangsters seeking magus blood, he had suggested they go to Remy’s hideout, he had brought her to his safehouse. Besides, as illogical as it might have been, his gut told him he could trust her. “We’ll win this. There is no other option. So it’s a deal then, good thing I just finished renovating the guest apartment,” she said, getting up from his lap and trotting away. Ryan grinned, “Just one day together and you’re already asking me to move in.” He chuckled lightly as he picked up his fork, “I suppose tomorrow I’ll have to propose.” A couple seconds later, Rorye returned with last night’s bourbon glasses in hand. “It’s five o’clock somewhere,” she quipped, placing them on the table and then taking a seat beside him. The man bowed his head in silent agreement. Mouth was busy chewing, but that didn’t stop him from adding some of the liquor to his morning coffee. A short time passed in quiet. Obviously, they were both digesting more than breakfast. Finally, Rorye broke the silence, “Remy may have been an asshole, but he was a friend in his own way. I had nobody else but my shop life and him. Lost my husband, my family, lost Ali. Now Remy’s gone. It’s my shop crew and me, and you. I’m done losing.” Discussion about losing family and friends had caught the veteran off-guard. Thoughts flashed to the picture frame he had held in his hand earlier that morning. There was still so much he hadn’t told her. Somehow, it was easier to share life-threatening secrets of the present, than it was to share the pain of the past. Those memories, those beautiful and torturous remembrances, were his and his alone. At least for now. “Take your plate?” Ryan offered without really acknowledging her statement. Though it was evident he had spoken without looking at her dish. Already his plate was bare, except for a few crumbs and his used utensils. Her plate however, still held most of her uneaten breakfast. Mind had been distracted and he had eaten his food far too quickly. He grinned awkwardly, “Just kidding, take your time.” The Soldier enjoyed a gulp of his coffee and then made his way to the sink with his dishes. He listened as Rorye presented her theory about the Order attempting to gather artifacts capable of wielding magus mana on command. It made sense. Once his plate was rinsed, he rejoined her at the table. Special attention was taken when she mentioned possessing the very conduit the Order might be seeking. “You have your runes, I have this,” she flashed the same ring he’d seen the night before. He listened intently as she continued, “… Seems particularly affected by your tattoos, pissed off even.” “Hmm…” Ryan rubbed the scruff of his chin thoughtfully. “My wards were specifically designed to prevent possession from a foreign energy like yours. Maybe that’s why it reacts to them,” the suggestion came with a flippant roll of the of the wrist. “We’ll have to experiment a bit.” “They’re not going to kill me,” Her voice was somber. “They’re going to use me to find relics. They’re going to poke at me until they can figure out why something ritual lasted this long in a non-mage… in a spell book of all things. It’s a spark they’re looking for.” Though not usually an optimist, Harker found a silver lining in her theory. Assuming it was correct, if she was ever captured, there would be an opportunity to mount a rescue mission. It seemed poor taste to mention, so he kept the thought to himself. “So no, we don’t need a cavalry. If shit goes sideways I have a bargaining chip that will save both of us and buy us time because they would still have to crack it. It would be a last resort, and by that point it would be all or nothing anyway...” She paused for a moment, looking him in the eyes. He could sense her doubt even as finished with, “We'll win this." Ryan nodded in agreement, then placed a hand on her knee. “Listen Rorye,” there was a calm seriousness to his words. “You’re the only person maintaining some semblance of morality within New York’s arcane black market. By keeping working relationships with ARMA, the Pharos, and by just using good judgement within your network, you are literally making the world a safer place.” The ARMA agent wasn’t attempting to flatter her, he was speaking plainly. “You play an important role in our world, and the magical conduit you represent, is also something we can’t let fall into these people’s hands.” He pointed a finger at himself, “Now me. I am just one Soldier. A relic from wars ended years ago. If I disappear tomorrow, there will be no void to fill. I will not be missed, and if another war comes, another Soldier will step up to take my place.” Harker’s brow furrowed. He hadn’t meant to sound solemn, but he needed her to hear what he was saying. “If things do go sideways,” past experience told him they inevitably would, “and you’re captured. You bargain, and you lie, and you give them just enough breadcrumbs to stay alive. I promise I will come for you.” He stared hard into her eyes, “But if it comes down to me and you. You don’t bargain, you don’t put any of that at risk… You just let me go.” “I said there would be conditions,” he added, hinting back to the fact he had already agreed to her plan. “And this one isn’t up for debate.” After a second, Ryan rose to his feet and smiled. “Now that we’ve settled that, what do you say we take a look at the goodies we got from Remy’s last night?”
  10. Ryan Harker

    Taking Inventory

    Ryan hauled himself wearily into the “Book of Kells” through one of its discrete passages. Dark circles swelled beneath his eyes, contrasting greatly with their brilliant blue hue. Shoulders sagged from exhaustion, his boots trudging slowly as walked through the back of the occults shop. Knuckles on his hand were bruised and bloody, as he grasped the door handle leading into his small loft upstairs. Another long night pursuing the criminal syndicate owned by the Order of the First Light. Cages had been rattled, bones broken, and blood spilled. Harker was sinking the ship around them. Now, he need only wait for the rats to go to ground. It would take a couple days, but they would lead him toward the upper echelons of the organization. Finally, the agent might have a few days of rest since this all began. Ryan had been about to open the door, when he heard banging from somewhere downstairs. He had been a guest at Rorye’s place for almost two weeks, and by now he was familiar with the establishment’s usual sounds. The sounds of disheveled boxes and pounding metal weren’t typical of the occults shop, not at any time of day. The operative was a blurred shadow as he swept swiftly through the shop and into the library downstairs. Nina, the stores shopkeeper, was exiting a door normally hidden behind a bookcase running the length of the wall. The older woman’s eyes flitted to him, before glancing back into the darkness beyond the secret doorway. Harker stood in the center of the room for a moment; gun in one hand, knife in the other. Nina gave him a disapproving glare. The agent’s eyes narrowed, unsure how to interpret the scenario presented. A flash of movement, and he had pushed past the woman blocking his path. An appalled gasp came from somewhere behind him as he descended into the basement below. The mage hunter landed in crouch at the base of the stairs. Black coat flaring outward for an instant before enveloping him once more. Dim lighting silhouetted the hunter as he rose slowly to his feet, outlining the Sig in his hand and glinting off the enchanted steel he grasped in the other. A survey of the room discovered a chaotic mess. Broken crates and accompanying store items littered the floor. Eventually, his gaze found Rorye huddled against the large vault door. Knees were curled tight to her chest, and hands were still wiping at tearful eyes. Ryan’s stare softened and his poise relaxed. Seeing Rorye in such a saddened state had immediately disarmed him. Pistol was holstered, blade was sheathed. Hardened warfighter melting into a concerned lover as he approached her slowly. An inspection of her appearance showed no obvious injury. Though, he suspected she had been the one responsible for vandalizing the basement. The man lowered into a crouch before his companion. Feet were directly in front of hers, knees paralleling her on either side. They were intimately close, yet his body made no contact with hers. Reaching out with a hand, he gently caressed her cheek. “Hey gorgeous,” He whispered through a light smile. “What’s wrong?”
  11. Ryan Harker

    Licking Wounds

    “Just hear me out,” she pleaded. Ryan didn’t want to listen, but for her, he did. The course of action she offered still placed her at immense risk. Reward for such risk might have seemed selfish to some, but he could tell her motives were well intentioned. The burden she was taking on was far greater than she owed anyone. Arms folded over his chest in silent protest as listened to Rorye’s proposal. She did have a point. The “threat” they faced would most likely blame him for the assault at Remy’s hideout, not her. Harker had intentionally presented himself as an adversary to buy her time. Though, they were still gambling these people hadn’t seen through the deception. If she continued business as usual, she might have some time before they came to collect. Which meant he might have time to go on the offensive. “After that, yes… they will probably try to kill me,” she said leaning forward. “I won’t let that happen…” Ryan’s voice was low, but the words carried immense weight. He had spoken impulsively. The tone portraying his affection for Rorye more than he had intended. They had only really known one another for a day. Still, his inflection held a promise. The Soldier looked away from her, almost embarrassed by the vow. “Last night I said I needed full disclosure from you so I would know what information to give you. I can’t return that favor with just conversation… you have to learn it, see faces and what they buy. How they talk. Who they are. I can't do that from off-site.” She walked around the table to stand behind him. Soft hands were placed on his shoulders first, then slid slowly toward the back of his neck. Despite the medication he had taken earlier, Ryan’s muscles were still tense and knotted. Her touch felt amazing as she massaged him gently. He could sense she was using the contact to lower his guard. An effective manipulation… one he willingly allowed. “I need to show you how it works, how it all works. Stay with me, above the shop, as long as you need to. I have rooms… separate entrances. Come and go as you please without anyone seeing you… I’m going to show you everything.” Ryan remained still for a moment. He didn’t breathe, speak, or move, as he contemplated her offer. As a covert operative he could appreciate the gesture. Rorye intended to show him the internal workings of her operation. A coveted secret, one that would leave her totally vulnerable to him. He had made a similar gesture by bringing her to his safehouse the night prior, but not nearly to the extent she proposed now. She leaned in close, arms wrapping around his chest, her temple brushing lightly against his. Then she whispered behind his ear, “I’m trusting my life on your word that you’re the best at what you do.” Tremble in her voice was steady, but somehow Ryan could sense the fear veiled within her words. She was a strong woman; of that he had no doubt. Thus far, she had proven she wasn’t easily shaken. He couldn’t help but wonder, was she afraid of this unknown enemy, or was she was afraid to rely on him? Rorye’s words fell upon Harker’s shoulders like a heavy weight. He didn’t like her plan. The hunter’s every instinct cautioned him against the course of action. The strategy left her exposed and directly in the enemy’s line of fire. Ryan worried not for himself, but that he wouldn’t be able to keep her safe and pursue their enemy at the same time. If they remained on the defensive, it would be only a matter of time before they were felled. Furthermore, he feared this “unseen threat” was more dangerous than Rorye realized. However, if she was correct in assuming the enemy hadn’t connected her to the attack on Remy’s bunker, then it made sense they would wait to raid her coffers. Harker would have an opportunity to strike first and force them onto the defensive. An entity of this scale would not be placed on the backfoot easily; it would take a hellish attack to shift their focus from Rorye to self-preservation. Harker knew he could mount such an assault. The offensive would require him to be cunning, violent, and relentless. He would seize every advantage, ambush them at every turn, and exhaust every lead. Of course, the untiring advance posed a double-edged sword. The enemy wouldn’t have time to react, but he wouldn’t have time to plan thoroughly either. Chances of making a mistake would increase, as would his vulnerability to counterattack. If only he could call in reinforcements from ARMA. Alas, he could not. The moment he involved ARMA the Order would be informed of the operation. Considering the Order was likely the faction behind the “unseen threat,” alerting them would result only in disaster. Harker’s investigation would be exposed, the Order would cover their trail, and Rorye’s life would be forfeit. “Please say yes… or at least think about it for a bit because I’m starving and so are you.” Rorye cooed softly behind his ear. Ryan still hated her plan, but he knew she wouldn’t be dissuaded from following it through. He knew the risks involved. Risks he would gladly accept, for her, and for a chance to take down the Order. Still she needed to know the truth, there was no cavalry coming. They were on their own. Harker took Rorye by the hand and guided her around the chair to face him. A gentle, but firm pull brought her into his lap. He kissed the hand he held and then looked her in the eyes. “Fine,” he conceded with a reluctant sigh. “But there will be conditions, and I will most definitely need more convincing.” A slight nudge of his hips and sultry smirk indicated to the kind of “convincing” he was referring. “There is something I have to tell you first…” There was a pause as he considered his words, not sure exactly how she would react to the information presented. Simultaneously, he contemplated how much information to divulge. “You already know I am an ARMA agent, and you have probably guessed I am part of the Cloak Division… but what you don’t know, is that I hold a position within the Division that allows me substantial autonomy in conducting my own investigations.” For now, he would leave out how he attained the position during the ARMA – OFL war, and what duties the positioned originally entailed. “For some time, I have been following the ‘unknown threat’ targeting magus within the major factions. Based on the information I’ve collected; I have a strong suspicion the Order of the First Light is responsible for this powerful new faction.” Absent-mindedly, he caressed her hand as he spoke. His thumb rubbing gently over her knuckles. “I don’t think it’s an idea spread throughout the organization, but an isolated cell within their highest levels of leadership. Their goal isn’t entirely known, but I wager they are trying to pit the major factions against each other. Weaponizing magus blood in order to build an army capable of challenging those maintaining peace.” Ryan still held her hand, but his gaze had shifted. As if staring distantly at something across the room. Attention returned to her as he continued, “Of course, this investigation is a top priority within ARMA. The only problem is that the majority of ARMA has fully embraced peace with the Order. They are sharing information in a joint effort to stop the new threat. However, several of my leads dried up as soon as the information was shared with the Order. So, I have been conducting my own…” head swayed side to side as he considered his phrasing, “somewhat unsanctioned investigation into the threat. Focusing primarily on the Order.” A heavy sighed escaped the agent as he leaned back in his chair. Relieved in finally being able to share his secret, but also stressed stating his situation aloud. Blue eyes flicked to Rorye’s, “So if I am right, and I call in ARMA to help us. They will inform the Order of most the pertinent details before I can prove enough to keep them quiet. Once the Order discovers the investigation and pieces together the key players… They will cover their tracks, and neither of us will survive the night.” “Before I can inform ARMA of my findings, I literally have to have my entire case to present. If I take it directly to the top, they will hear me out and take action accordingly.” Ryan considered adding some bourbon to his coffee as he eyed the cup on the table. He could use a drink. “I say all this to say, if we go into this fight. There isn’t any cavalry coming. It’s just you and me. At least until I can come up with enough proof to convince ARMA the Order is behind the attacks.” Ryan kissed her hand once more, looking up at her as he said, “If you really plan to show me your world, then I thought you should know a little more about mine.”
  12. Ryan Harker

    Licking Wounds

    “You do that again and I really hope your counters are as strong as they look.” God damn. Ryan hadn’t expected her to fire back, but he had half a mind to push the envelope. Another time, perhaps. --- “It’s almost like… I do this for a living, but you have to be awful special to get sole attention from the boss…” She was enjoying herself, good. Ryan could feel their banter was different now, but in a good way. When they had first met, there was a dangerous edge to her words. Now, she was just as witty, but her tone was softer and more amiable. Good. “I guess that makes me awfully special,” he replied smartly. Allowing himself to be distracted by the food long enough for her to reclaim her mug. “Go ahead, I just need to finish up,” she offered. Fresh coffee was placed beside his breakfast plate. Bacon, eggs, toast, the works. It was a perfect little breakfast. “Thank you,” Ryan said quietly. The comment was made almost impulsively, but it lacked any of his typical humor. His appreciation for her effort was sincere. Taking the coffee from the table, he leaned back in his chair and sipped from it deliberately. The eating habits he had learned in the military were atrocious. “Shove it down and taste it later,” had been a common philosophy back then, regardless of the quality of the food. If he started eating while she was still working in the kitchen, there would be nothing left on his plate by the time she was finished. If they were going to enjoy breakfast together, he would wait for her to join him at the table. Hopefully, she wouldn’t notice when he tried to eat intentionally slow. “I’m going back to my shop,” she said without looking at him. Rorye already knew he wasn’t going to agree with the idea. Probably because she already knew it was a bad idea. “That’s a bad idea,” Ryan said aloud, matching the emptiness of her tone. An argument was brewing, and he wasn’t going to be the one to start it. Another taste from his coffee cup. Neither spoke for a moment. “I don’t run,” she said finally. Arms were crossed defiantly over her chest as she turned to face him. Either she was genuinely unafraid, or she was putting on an impressive show. In either instance, she was acting foolish. “No one is asking you to run,” Harker started, but was cut off before he could finish. Evidently, she had more to say. “My contacts have been called, they’ve been given the plan. The shop is fine, I called them already.” Rorye sat down across the table from him, still refusing to look him in the eyes. She was being naïve. “Your shop isn’t fine, it’s just not under siege at the moment.” Ryan’s words became more pointed as they approached their prospective “lines in the sand.” Azure hues stared intently at her, even as she refused to return his gaze. “They’re watching your shop, they’re watching your people, and they are waiting for you. If you go back now, you will be putting everyone in danger.” “There is too much in that shop for me to not be there,” her almond eyes looked to him. Then she continued, “I won’t have them do to my people what they did to Remy. I’m not leaving them. If I run, it’s not business as usual. There is an order to things, a flow built on trust. A major player drops off the map and clients get nervous, try to purge their stock to stay off the radar. It becomes a buyer’s market- to anyone. Whatever you hoped you could keep them from getting their hands on, will be out in the open to get taken.” “The only thing I am trying to keep them from getting their hands on is you,” Ryan replied quickly. Not unusually, his words carried more than one meaning. “If they get to you, they will take everything you have. They will torture you until you break,” there was genuine concern in his eyes. “And then you will give them everything, just like they did to Remy.” There was a pause as Rorye sipped from her coffee. Silence thick with the tension of unspoken words. Then she said, “I’ve told them to send it to me to hold. Nobody is taking on or selling to any new clients until I tell them. Anything they’re questionable about, they’re sending to me. It’s all funneling to my shop now.” “Are you fucking kidding me?” Harker’s expression was one of disbelief, head shaking slightly. Frustration made even more apparent by the fact he hadn’t touched his food. Hand rubbed his chin thoughtfully, then he set it down on the table. “You’ve got a sniper trying to put a bullet in you, and instead of taking cover, you’ve just painted a bullseye on your ass, and now you want to step out into a known killzone?” Ryan leaned away from the table, hands sliding from thighs to just below his hips. He sighed, shaking his head again lightly. “Give me time,” he said softer than before. “I will take the fight to them. I will tear through their organization so hard and so fast; they will be forced to go on the defensive.” He leaned forward, resting his arms on the tabletop. Eyes were pleading, “I just need you to stay off the grid for a couple days. Manage your business from my place, a hotel, a trusted friends place, anywhere but actually at the damn shop.” Ryan wanted to reach out and take her hand, but he didn’t. She hadn’t offered it, and he wasn’t sure how she felt about his reply. He hadn’t yelled. Still, his tongue had lashed out more than a few unsavory curses. His eyes met hers, “I told you before, I am the best at what I do. Give me a chance to do it... Please.” The warrior had wanted to enjoy breakfast with the beautiful woman sitting across from him. Now, it looked as though that ship may have sailed.
  13. Ryan Harker

    Licking Wounds

    Ryan had overheard most of Rorye’s phone conversation. He had not intended to eavesdrop, but when he heard whispered words, surveillance habits took over almost instinctively. He wasn’t sure what kind of relationship would exist between them moving forward, but he was certain he didn’t want it to include lies, deception, and counter surveillance. As soon as he be consciously aware of his intelligence gathering, he pushed himself into the living room and made his presence known. “Running a business is never a vacation,” Rorye answered. The statement was undeniably vague, but not a mistruth. “Coffee, it’s on the house?” “Why thank you,” Ryan replied with a chuckle. He had caught her throwback to the previous night as well. Funnier now that it was his coffee she offered. “You’re so generous.” “I let you sleep, you needed it.” She said turning back to the stove. She was making breakfast; that earned her an extra point. “After last night, I definitely needed it.” He replied with mischievous grin, allowing the double meaning to linger in ambiguity. Hands rest on his hips as the scanned the apartment. Several items were still out of place, but it was significantly cleaner than they had left it the night before. Another point. “Looks like you’ve been busy this morning.” Harker’s professional side wanted to move straight into business. Assess the items recovered from the hideout, inquire about the business calls, and develop a plan of action. However, this side of him was handedly overpowered by the human side of him. The part of the ARMA agent that made him “Ryan” beneath everything else. Rorye was a sight to behold, as she stood nonchalantly in the kitchen. Ryan ogled her without any attempt to veil his scrutiny. Casually, he walked up behind her. Muscled arms slid around her slender frame, and his chest pressed gently against her back. Nose brushed the back of her neck as he breathed in her scent. God, how he loved that smell. Lips rose to the back of her ear, tickling her gently as he whispered, “Do you have any idea how sexy you look right now?” “I didn’t know what you liked, so I made a little of everything.” She said, he could feel her smile, even without seeing her face. “Oh, you know exactly what I like.” Ryan said with a playful nibble at her earlobe. He was pouring the sensual cheese on thick, but clearly enjoying every flirtatious second. He plucked the morsel of bacon she’d been munching, then reached over her shoulder to grab the coffee cup she’d been drinking from. There were two coffee cups on the counter, but he intentionally avoided the fresh cup sitting right beside hers. Harker walked to the kitchen table and took a seat. Satisfied grin as he gazed back at Rorye. Bacon bit was tossed into his mouth and washed down with a warm gulp of coffee. “Breakfast smells amazing,” he said honestly. A mental picture of her was taken in that moment; one he would recall fondly for years to come. Ryan would have enjoyed nothing more, than to take the day and explore the growing connection him and Rorye. Unfortunately, the couple faced grave danger and powerful enemies. Addressing these issues could only be avoided for so long. Begrudgingly, he began to shift the conversation. “So, after we eat, I’m thinking we should sit down and inventory the items collected from the warehouse.” Another sip of coffee before he continued, “After we see what we’ve got, I will go and check on your shop. I can grab you some clothes from your place, while you research Remy’s artifacts and warn your contacts. When I get back, we can come up with a game plan. What do you think?”
  14. Ryan Harker

    Cold night in hell...

    “Why?...... What?” The girl stammered as she stumbled backward away from him. She nearly fell but managed to catch herself on the wall of shelving behind her. Panic still streaked her features and she gasped desperately for air. Frightened and alone, she reminded Harker of a cornered animal. People and animals were alike in that sense; when backed into a corner, they could often be dangerous and unpredictable. Of course, he hadn’t forgotten she still had a handgun at the small of her back. “What are you doing here Ashley?” Ryan repeated himself calmly. Though it was difficult to maintain his composure. Adrenaline was subsiding and the pain of his injuries was gradually becoming more difficult to manage. Quivering fingers of his left hand reached for his broken arm, pausing as they gingerly touched his jacket sleeve. Instinct told him to do something, anything to ease the pain. Reason prevailed over the impulse, knowing full well moving the injured limb would cause only further pain. “You’re… You’re not with them?” The girl stammered awkwardly. She was still backing away from him, but at least she was talking. “No, I’m not with them.” He answered quietly, an occasional labored breath as he spoke. “This is going to sound made up, but I promise it’s the truth.” he continued, realizing how outlandish the explanation would sound when spoken aloud. “I am an agent with ARMA. I am on a mission to recover a very dangerous item, from some very dangerous people.” “Now Ashley, I need you to tell me how you got mixed up into all this?” Harker’s patience was growing thinner by the second. Frustration not toward the girl, but at the situation. The more he analyzed the circumstances, the more he was beginning to feel like the entire event had been a carefully orchestrated trap. Then it dawned on him… For weeks he had been hunting down leads pertaining to this “unknown threat.” The trail had led him from the “Book of Kells,” to the St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and then to several other locations throughout New York. People had been killed, others badly hurt, but eventually the bloody path had led him to this warehouse. A warehouse being leased by a shell corporation. A shell corporation with a majority shareholder who also happened to be a ranking magus within the Order of the First Light. A magus who by all accounts had been attempting acquire an immensely valuable artifact, which was set to be delivered to this port, on this night. All the evidence had eventually led the operative to this specific place, at this specific time. These people had known Harker was pursuing them. Hell, he had warned them he was coming. While they may not have known his name or who he represented, they knew someone was coming for them. Based on the havoc left in his wake, it wouldn’t have taken them long to discern he was a motivated individual with a distinct skill set. The Order, the “unseen threat,” whoever was calling the shots had been following his progress from a distance. Harker had been getting close to answers, and when he started getting too close, they went to extraordinary lengths to ensure he reached a dead end. Literally. The circumstances surrounding his current predicament had fallen into place far too conveniently. As if someone had been making calculated moves in a game of chess. Harker’s talents had been measured, his operating procedures assessed, and they had used them against him. They had locked him in a cage with the most lethal of foes, and worse still, the trap had been of his own design. Harker had been the one to sabotage the power transformers providing electricity to the warehouse. He had emplaced the signal jammer to prevent any communications in or out of the facility. He had even disabled the vehicles outside to prevent any realistic chance of escape. Now, the agent found himself caught in a trap of his own making. Wounded, confused, alone, and unable to call for assistance. Fucking perfect. Having reevaluated his current situation, new questions pricked at his brain. Had this all been a ruse to lure him here? Did these people really possess the influence to set such a trap? Were they willing to sacrifice so much, just to eliminate a single threat? The questions he feared more than any of the above… how much of this had been real? And, how much of his investigation had been corrupted by orchestrated deception? Ryan’s eyes darted back and forth as the repercussions of his conclusions began sink in. “No, no, no…” he muttered to himself. He had to confirm his new theory before any further action could be taken. An aggressive step was taken toward the girl, cutting off her path of escape. A finger from his unhindered arm was jabbed just inches from her face, “How did you know to be here?” A furious rage tainted the words as he spoke. She didn’t answer. He shoved Ashley hard against the shelving behind her. A firm hand grasping her shoulder and pinning her in place. Fractured arm hadn’t been used, but the residual movement brought renewed agony to the injury, nonetheless. He ignored it. Anger triumphed over any notion of heroic chivalry and he repeated the question. This time bellowing with venomous menace, “WHO TOLD YOU TO BE HERE?!”
  15. Ryan Harker

    Licking Wounds

    “Poured,” Ryan heard the words over his shoulder. Seemingly unsurprised, he calmly turned to face her. Azure hues beholding every inch of her body. He made no attempt to conceal his mischievous stare. She was beautiful. “Wait a minute,” she said, closing the gap between. Rorye removed his towel and tossed it aside without a second thought. Her eyes scanned his chest before glancing back up at him. He gave a permissive nod, but said nothing as she explored his body. When her fingers began to trace his scars, he felt slightly self-conscious. Of course, he was proud of most of them. Each had been earned through righteous battle, and he had lived to tell the tale. On the other hand, scars often weren’t as clean and sexy as portrayed on television. Especially not the newer ones. Those blemishes were typically still red and angry, despite having been healed for several months. Ryan had scars both new and old. When she leaned in and kissed him, all insecurity melted away. Her hands glided across his chest and smoothly over his shoulders. A sheepish smile came to her lips and eyes batted lightly as she gazed up at him. She was breathing quickly, as if she had been holding her breath. Ryan’s heart had skipped a beat, but now pounded rapidly against his chest. Fucking game on. Ryan acted on desires he had previously denied himself. Strong hands gripped her firmly at the waist and pulled her close. Lips were pressed to hers gently at first, but then more forcefully as the passion between them mounted. She leaned into his embrace with equal measure, and the evening’s direction became abundantly clear. Ryan’s hands slid down the back of her thighs and he lifted her from the ground in an effortless motion. Wrapping her legs around his middle, he pinned her to the wall across the hall from the bathroom. He hadn’t slammed her against its surface, but he hadn’t been gentle either. Rorye’s heel clipped his leg just above his stitches, and he hissed at the unexpected pain. Concern flashed across her features, but before she could muster any words, he silenced her with another zealous kiss. Yes, his stitches seared angrily at the abuse. And yes, the muscles along his back protested at their exertion. He didn’t care. The pain brought them both closer to satisfaction… which meant it only added to his pleasure. Ryan pried her from the wall and made his way toward the bedroom. The couple pinballed down the hallway, stopping several times along the way. Her fingers combing through his hair and clawing recklessly at his back. While his lips nibbled ravenously at her neck, searching for all the little places that might make her squeal. Their breathing was heavy, both were panting before they had even crossed room’s threshold. Ryan kicked the door shut behind them and wasted no time getting Rorye into his bed. ------ The Next Morning ------ Ryan remembered laying down with Rorye in his arms, and nothing else until he woke the next morning. Dreams had been peaceful, if he’d had any at all. A refreshing change from the scenes that typically haunted him at night. Despite the rigorous tasks of the previous day, he woke feeling rested. The scent of fresh coffee teased at his nose, stirring him from his sleep. Arms stretched wide across the bed. Back arched slightly and the mornings growl escaped him with a heavy sigh. Eyes blinked away the darkness, then looked around the room. Realization he hadn’t gone to bed alone finally settled. The soft patter of a woman’s footsteps could be heard somewhere down the hall. Ryan slid another of his pistols back into its rightful place beneath his pillow. Not surprisingly, it had found its way into his hand whilst he slept. Sitting up slowly, the agent swung his legs over the side of the bed. Opening the top drawer of his nightstand, he reached inside and grasped several half-empty prescription bottles. Ibuprofen, muscle relaxers, and anti-biotics were swallowed without any chaser; part of a regularly practiced ritual. Bottles were thrown carelessly back into the drawer. Harker had been ready to slam the drawer shut, when his eyes caught a glimpse of familiar faces staring back at him. Hand lowered into the drawer for a second time, this time withdrawing a simple black picture frame. Pained smile tugged at his lips as he gazed fondly at the old photograph. Rational thought told him enough time had passed. Told him it was okay to move on. Still, he couldn’t help feeling somewhat guilty for the moment of happiness Rorye had brought him the night before. Picture was placed carefully back into the drawer, and he closed the compartment. After a moment of searching, Ryan found his boxers and slid them on. Pulling a shirt over his head, he walked to his closet mirror and gave himself a quick once over. No crusted drool, no unsightly boogers, or anything of the like were found. He ran a hand quickly through his hair and then proceeded into the living room. A glance at his watch told him it was already almost 1000 hours. A late start to the day, but the rest had been well deserved. When he found Rorye, he looked to her with warm smile, “Good morning, gorgeous.”


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