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Gavin de Luc

Blasphemy and Sacrilege

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November 8th, 2020.

Upper West Side, New York City.

1330hrs.

 

 

Fucking hell.

 

This was suicidal and stupid, even he knew that. But he did it anyway, because he had become weak. His stockpile of alcohol at the house did not last for nearly as long as he thought it would, which forced him outside in the frigid cold to get more. Smashing the window of the liquor store was probably not the best decision the man had ever made, but what the hell else was he supposed to do?

 

The beer was frozen and had destroyed their containers, and the liquor was already looted before from the other end of the store. He did eventually manage to find some rum stashed away behind the counter that was untouched, but it wasted valuable time that could end up damning him.

 

The soldier had many layers of clothing on, but that only got him so far. A thick parka was his outer layer, which his heavily gloved hands tried desperately to find some small bit of warmth inside. A layer or two in he had a snub nosed revolver and his karambit knives, but they weren’t exactly accessible in his current state. The gloves that covered his hands were too thick for any real dexterity, even if they weren’t completely numb from the cold.

 

He had never bothered to get any of his extremely thick winter coats enchanted, because he never had the occasion to really use them since he had joined ARMA. He always stubbornly wore his leather jacket or something lighter and just wore layers, but very little of his silver thread clothing was actually very warm by itself. It wasn’t like his chances of being shot at today were very high, and if anyone wanted to try and stab him through this many layers of clothing they were welcome to try.

 

The far more immediate threat, of course, was the damned cold. He had assumed it was too far back to his house before some severe frostbite kicked in, and the bike that he tried to steal to expedite the process was frozen to the point of the pedals breaking off when he tried to get moving on the damn thing. That wouldn’t work, so he needed to find something else.

 

He needed to force a way inside of a building, but if he guessed wrong and there was no heating he may just be fucked. He needed something with lights, because if they still had power it meant that they probably had heat. Maybe a store or something, because there might still be blankets left and if he was really lucky maybe a heating unit. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any stores outside of a bike store and a bunch of restaurants nearby… and none of the restaurants seemed to exactly be open.

 

There was another option, the churches, and Gavin would not try that particular option unless he was desperate… and he was just desperate enough to do it. The nearest one was a Jewish synagogue, with big wooden doors and lights that were still on. No doubt there were people inside, and even if there wasn’t they had power and likely some material inside that the soldier could use to get warm again. The single bottle of rum that he downed earlier would hold him over, at least for now, so at least he wasn’t shaking at the present. Boots stomped against the snow coating the ground on the way, and hands desperately trying not to shake from the cold tried the door.

 

Locked, predictably.

 

The windows on the doors were opaque, and had the Cross of David prominently displayed on them. Gavin couldn’t see whether there was light inside of the door, which meant he had an interesting choice. He could break down the door with his powers, but if the heating was not on or able to turned on inside he would just freeze to death slightly slower due to letting all the cold air in. He could also try teleporting inside, but if there was not a connecting shadow that ran underneath that door…

 

He wasn’t exactly sure what would happen, because he had never wanted to change materializing inside of solid material like a door before. The likely result would be instant death, but when the alternative was slow and withering death for the crime of wanting a damned drink it didn’t sound so bad. Since the light outside was still on, this was his best shot at not freezing to death. Steel gray eyes locked on to the door, and the man breathed deeply before letting the shadow over the door take him. If he was going to die, he wouldn’t close his eyes for it.

 

A second later, he was just past the door no worse for wear. It was noticeably warmer inside, and the soldier immediately threw off his thick gloves and started rubbing them together furiously to try and get some feeling back in them. Upper West side was an affluent part of town, of course its infrastructure still worked. Thank God for the small victories.

 

A cold, calculating gaze surveyed the entrance area… but it didn’t seem like anyone was home. After a few minutes, the man lost the parka to have easier access to the revolver in the jacket underneath it. If there was anyone in here, he doubted it was the actual men and women who came to this holy place. In an area like this, all the locals were safely in their homes and away from the danger of the outside. Unless they were goddamn alcoholics with no self-control, that is.

 

Fucking hell. He hoped it didn’t come to that, killing people in a goddamned church. If he had to do it, he would… but despite the awful things he had done to survive in the past, something about even the thought of killing someone in the house of God revolted him. With any luck, he would just be alone with his paranoia and nobody else would show up. What were the chances, anyway?

 

Looking around, with the scattered lights still on… he determined the chances were too damned high and activated both cloak and noise dampening. Pulling out his revolver from the pocket of his second jacket, he held out the firearm in front of him and started moving to search the building, starting with whatever room was directly in front of him. He would not be taken by surprise and killed like this, feeling naked without the protection of his silver thread armor. Trespassing on a church, lightly armed with the stench of alcohol over his body from the residue from the liquor store... no, not like this. Not here.

 

If there was anyone inside of this place, he would know before they ever caught a whiff of him. No regular human, or even most altered, could detect him like this. If they did somehow manage to gain awareness of him, he knew damn well they weren’t human and could react accordingly. He would get them first, before they got him.

 

Killing a monster in the house of God wasn’t sacrilege, was it?

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Tired.

 

The word didn't begin to describe the weariness in his bones.  Hunkered down and vigilant, those within their walls had circled closer and closer to the interior rooms of the building.  A goliath host of sanctity slowly freezing to the core- and he along with it.  For such a vicious and deadly being, it was inconceivable something so simple could bring him down.  Cold, time, and someone with the patience to wait him out, was his only weakness.

 

He struggled daily to light the candles, keep as much normalcy as possible, but nobody was coming anymore and he was beginning to think that when the frigid blanket lifted, the aftermath of the great freeze may just be as devastating as ten years prior.  The church was dark, except the very inner rooms, and quiet as a tomb while everyone conserved energy waiting for this to pass- if ever.

 

*npc* "Rhome," voice was soft, fragile in his old age.

 

The Vicar desperately needed something.  Rhome knew he'd been standing in the doorway for some time, watching the tired magus seek the warm confines of the few rooms that were left heated by the fireplaces and the steam radiators.  The boiler was struggling, and he'd just beat it into submission.  It left him exhausted.  Heating himself, and jumpstarting the boiler.... It was taking its toll.

 

The Vicar was weighing the fatigue of the "sleeping" magus, his premature silver plinked hair resting on the back of the chair, form as close to the fireplace as the others were comfortable with.  Some still had not settled with the fact he was indeed, human combustion.  Chair was warm, blankets were warm, he was finally warm after delving into the bowels of the building to force the boiler to keep firing- but very much awake despite his appearance.

 

Eyes opened quietly at the elderly man, who cleared his throat.  Something was wrong.

 

*npc* "I have no right to ask this of you."

 

A brow quirked over dark grey eyes, closing the book that was dormant in his lap.

 

*npc* "Avi, I lost contact with him yesterday.  Again, today... nothing.   Shabbat, and I am deathly worried.  He's... deeply traditional.  I'm afraid, something has happened.  I cannot make it there."

 

It was the Vicar's oldest companion, an odd couple.  Synagogue, upper west side.  If the man had gotten sick yesterday, or was unable to light a fireplace, the Vicar was concerned even in the emergency he wouldn't do so today.

 

The magus stood, nodding, not a second thought to what he had to do.  He could tell the Vicar felt guilty, but... It was the right thing to do, if he didn't freeze first.

 

+++

 

Breath was finally returning to normal, between the over a mile hike and getting into the locked building using an old particular set of skills, searching the place to find the old friend, and quietly controlling his own shivering before he'd gotten the nod to save the man's life....  he'd almost frozen to death himself.

 

A call to the Vicar to communicate all was well, after several attempts, was finally able to get through.

 

Now he sat, much like less than 24 hours before, Avi in the chair across from him, wrapped in blankets by the fire, he almost back to feeling somewhat normal, room flooded in firelight.  He would stay with Avi in the Synagogue until he was certain the man was okay, and he himself could make it back.  Not many words had passed between them, there was no need- simply content to rest and read in silence.  A priest in black with his collar, a Rabbi next to him.  The Vicar's friendship with Avi had peaked his curiosity, but it wasn't the time to discuss.

 

Soft snores indicated the older man was comfortable in his sleep.  The magus' eyes almost closed to his own nap when they opened again.  He could see the door to the comfortable, older style office just beyond Avi's chair.  It was closed to keep in the heat.

 

He never ignored his gut, lashes lowering as the warmth from the fire continued to press against his skin.  The world was alive, even beyond what mortal eyes could see.  Killers, hunters, predators... knew it could speak without magic.  A gut feeling, a world moving beyond what normal people paid attention to, because they were trained to notice it.

 

Too many years of being a predator.  Eyes closed again, conserving energy.

 

They were not alone.

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Thank God there were no dogs.

 

Gavin’s power set allowed him to hide from discerning eyes and ears, but not from those with noses strong enough to identify specific smells… normally the alcohol. For now, though, it looked like he was in the clear. He went methodically through each room, much faster than he would be able to without his powers due to not needing to worry about the noise factor of his own movements due to his noise dampening. He would have to either accidentally kick a metal pipe or literally run into someone to be heard at this point, which allowed some liberties to be taken.

 

As he progressed through the building, his patience to methodically search each room waned quickly. If someone was hiding in a closet or deep underneath a couch or bed… he would deal with them later if he had to. If anyone put that much effort into hiding, it was very likely that they weren’t exactly a threat to him at the present. It was the ones who took no efforts to hide that were the dangerous ones, especially when one was unlawfully trespassing. The police would not pursue a charge with current conditions, but there would be no shortage of individuals ready to kill trespassers regardless of extenuating circumstances. The doors that were unlocked were opened and the rooms searched, but when a door was both closed and then locked the shadow caster did not bother breaking that lock. It was lazy, sure, but something made him uneasy about picking locks in a holy building.

 

As he made his way throughout the building, however, he became more and more sure that there was nobody inside. By the time he opened perhaps the one occupied door in the establishment, he had gotten sloppier. The door was opened a tad more quickly than usual to save time, and while the noise of the door opening was absent due to magic the second it took for the soldier to register that people were inside of the room meant that the door opened several inches wider than was strictly necessary.

 

Luckily, it seemed like both of the men inside were asleep. There was an older man audibly snoring, and a younger one built like a tank that also had his eyes closed. This was the major source of warmth in the building it seemed like, because the two men inside were maintaining it. For now, Gavin was content to just shut the door and continue on his way. The warmth from the room would be nice, but avoiding an unnecessary confrontation was more important at the present. The rest of the building was free from the bone chilling winds, and while he could not stalk these halls forever… he also did not have to deal with that confrontation right this second.

 

If he could find the source of the heating in the first place, he could also loiter beside it and ensure that a confrontation was never necessary. Sulking next to a radiator or a boiler was not exactly dignified or respectable, but it was a sight better than making a rabbi panic in their own house of worship or freezing to death besides. In years past he might have relied upon his charisma to just walk in, but for now he was just happy that neither of them were awake enough to notice the door being opened.

 

For now, the goal was to finish searching the rooms so he knew generally what he was going to be dealing with in here and then find the heating system to camp out next to. It was still early enough in the day where he could get back to his place of residence as long as he warmed up completely first, and that was likely going to be the plan of action. If he could not locate the heating system, or it proved insufficient to actually fully warm him up… well, he would be stuck here for the night to avoid a large risk of freezing to death.

 

And if the heating system completely died...

 

Well, hopefully it wouldn't come to that.

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Nostrils inhaled slowly.  The temperature suddenly leaking through a slivered open door was shocking, brittle, needling at the sensitivity of a man consumed by fire. To some, cold, to him it felt like electricity being breathed in; the discipline of the Order’s favorite weapon keeping his internal core from firing up to stop the shivering that was going to come after.  Calm and sleeping, but hairtriggered on all cylinders.  He wasn’t supposed to be making waves.  He was supposed to be playing nice in his own sandbox while the “adults” decided how much they were going to hate each other… and decide his fate by proxy.  The fire magus was getting tired of waiting, thoughts had been drifting lately… Snap.  He was ready to just snap.

 

Eyes flicked open the moment the door was closed and the wicked cold stopped bleeding into his sanctuary.  Likely someone waiting out the cold?  How did they get in?  He knew how he’d gotten in, the Vicar’s key.  He’d locked up everything.  Broken in or already here? Not likely already here, which opened a whole other mess of options.  Form rolled up silently, pausing when the older man’s snores sputtered a bit then returned to normal.

 

Door opened quietly and he stepped out, softly closing it behind him and locking it.  No need to hide, but no need to call out either.  The cold was like a punch to his gut, pulling his dark coat closer around him as gray eyes cast long glances in both directions, intent on checking doors and windows.  They would avoid him, or confront him.  Either way he would find out what was going on.

 

Front door first.  Locked.  Eyes wandered over the door, arm extending a palm toward a floor vent at the sputter of heat that was barely oozing from it.  The boiler was still kicking, but it was sparse.  Barely above freezing.

 

Windows.  Perimeter slowly “paced” under the guise of “checking” all the heater vents for some kid of drifting heat.  He’d become keenly aware of the sounds from the old pipes in the building. Clicks, pops, echoing rhythmic clangs like a distant bell were voices in a symphony of an almost century old building that was wheezing to keep breathing its heat.  It was fighting, but the fading sounds signaled it was losing again.  The pilot lights were either going out or the pumps were dying.  This favor was going to kill him.

 

Silent footsteps moved their way downward, the service hall claustrophobic with an almost dirt-like floor,.  Old, shallow and abandoned coal pits to either side.

 

Pumps whirred, it was the flame.  Pilot lights were going out again, best to light them manually until he knew who or what he was dealing with.

 

Lovely.

 

A dying boiler, an intruder… and trying to figure out how to light a pilot light by hand again.  This was the set up for a bad joke.

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Fucking hell.

 

Tank woke up to the cold and was suspicious, which left Gavin in a position of few good choices available to him. He could just strike from the shadows and assassinate the guy, but aside from being rude would also not fix the bigger issue of being in danger of freezing to death. He could simply go back into the warmer room with the elderly man, but that would mean an immediate confrontation when tank got back into the room since there was no way to appear nonthreatening in that situation.

 

He could just remain hidden, but the need to stay completely conscious the entire time would make time go excruciatingly slow. He had very little outside assistance possible with that route, too. If he had anybody that would come out and try and get him, he would have called them already. Maybe Aingeal, but that idiot would be just as likely to get herself killed in the attempt as to actually be helpful.

 

So to aid in the decision, he just slipped back and observed the tank of a man as he went along trying to find the intruder. Maybe it was the paranoia talking, but the guy moved eerily similar to someone who was combat trained. There was very little wasted movement, and his posture was all wrong for a civilian. Far too upright and measured, when most people would be spooked into terror at a bump in the dark in a situation like this. He was far too calm, which meant that it was likely Gavin drew the short straw here considering he couldn't exactly exit the building at this point without killing both himself and everyone else inside by letting the cold in.

 

Wait a minute, that's genius.

 

Mutually assured destruction, that was how he was going to do this. That was going to be how he avoided killing everyone before freezing to death in the House of God. As they walked down the service hall stairs, the soldier made a point to put his revolver out of sight by slipping it into the folds of clothing and waited until they were both at the bottom of the stairs before dropping the cloak and noise dampening all at once.

 

"Dead man's switch on the door, I lose consciousness and we all freeze to death. I got no interest in fighting on holy ground or dying right at this second, so I'd appreciate it if you didn't either." he started in a conversational tone, his blended Irish and American Southern grating even to his ears because he knew how recognizable it was in case this jackass was a member of a faction who hated ARMA. Dude looked like he could easily be an outlaw or a Vanguard, that was for sure.

 

"I can't get out right now, but neither can you or you would have done it already. Can you fix the boiler, or would you like assistance so all three of us don't become popsicles by the end of the night?"

 

He came off almost bored, and that was largely because he had damn near perfected the apathetic facade over the years, much to the chagrin of his supervisors. He stretched his arms out slowly with his palms open and facing the man to show that he had nothing in his hands and let the tank act as he would in response.

 

He was more than ready to cut the man down in an instant if this attempt at peace didn't work, but hopefully a bluff was all it took to prevent going that particular route.

 

...hopefully.

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The cloak dropped.

 

Bingo.  Gray eyes finding the intruder’s without hesitation.  All his senses were still serving him, maybe even better since he’d been looking over his shoulder lately.  Paranoia wasn’t paranoia if people were really out to kill you in horrible ways.

 

He supposed he should have feigned fear, or at least looked surprised, but it wasn’t in him to play along in that way.  The magus was calm, always calm in the face of anything, except when he wasn’t.  This man had done nothing to trip that switch.  The switch was quick lately, cracks in his self-control; allowing a viciousness that ran so deep it would send ripples around the world.  He was still fighting to keep it down.

 

Blink was soft, his mind had been wandering while the man spoke, attention still keen on everything that was around him though.  Training was training, engrained until you died… or were killed.  In his mind there was a difference.  Dead man’s switch?  Wasn’t there the last time he’d come down, but that had been hours ago. Realistically the man could have been telling the truth, didn’t take long for someone who knew exactly what they were doing to create something like that.  But why?  Could he have been down there before?  Doubtful, the guy would have seen a definitely "not mortal" priest lighting pilots with his abilities.  He was giving no indication he’d seen him light up the boiler with magic.  Or, he was down here before and got confirmation he was dangerous- this could be just one huge bluff to get him in the basement to kill his ass.

 

Hm.  Instincts.

 

Mage.  Waiting out the cold.  Had sensed something about the fire magus that led him to believe he was dangerous.  Pulled a bluff, or maybe not, but didn’t recognize the Order assassin from a hole in the wall.  Couldn’t be ARMA, his face was plastered everywhere until a year ago when he broke his shackles.  New ARMA?  Rogue? Order? Definitely not Order, he’d have engaged him already.

 

"I can't get out right now, but neither can you or you would have done it already. Can you fix the boiler, or would you like assistance so all three of us don't become popsicles by the end of the night?"

 

Blink again was soft, hands coming up quietly to show that he too… had nothing in them.  Fingers touched the paper collar and returned calmly to his sides.

 

“Came out from a church down the street to check on the Rabbi and make sure his heat was on. I can fix the boiler.”

 

Half of it was true.  Down the street… he wouldn’t give up that he’d come from across town.  He knew better.

 

“Food also in the pantry upstairs, help yourself to it.  You can huddle here until you need to leave, or you can get some food and join us by the fireplace upstairs.  We don’t talk much.”

 

Aka… he wanted the guy where he could see him- not wandering around the building.  With a cloak like that however, it would be a hard sell.

 

Voice was low, quiet with a dark hum and an accent that couldn’t be placed.  French, Italian… Spanish. Something laced his words in such a subtle fashion it was hard to pick out.  The collar, the suit, accent, the calm.  He screamed Catholic to those that didn’t know otherwise.

 

“Or we can stand here and freeze to death.”

 

He waited quietly for the man’s next move.  He could simply just fry the room.  Dead man's switch was doubtful.  He also knew ways to keep someone conscious and completely incapacitate them within seconds in case he'd made the wrong call.  He was armed... but he didn't do firearms.  He didn't need them; the knife on the underside of his forearm all he needed to do catastrophic damage without invoking any of his abilities.

 

This man though might belong to somebody, and might be missed.

 

So he played the priest, for now.

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Cold gray eyes watched the tank of a man turn around and every fiber of Gavin's body tensed up for just a second as he prepared himself to unleash every shadow in his range at the first hint of magic. Now that he was face to face with the man and was actually looking at him rather than at his movements for the first time, the soldier realized that the man's face looked familiar for some reason.

 

Why it was familiar didn't exactly matter in this moment, because the man's alcohol ravaged memory couldn't conjure why exactly it would matter in the first place. He had a terrible habit these past few years of flat out ignoring things like training, the news, and other sources of information that most people used to stay aware of their surroundings. He had been far too busy imploding for any of that to really matter, and it was occasions like this that made that a disadvantage.

 

The tank of a man didn't even flinch when he dropped the cloak, which was another thing that the American didn't like. If the guy was actually a priest, he would have been shitting himself knowing a potentially hostile magic user with visual and noise cloaking abilities was inside of the building. The man just calmly adjusted his collar… and he wasn't even holding anything. No firearm and this confident was a bad combination, but at the same time he wasn't openly hostile and certainly didn't immediately lash out like Gavin would have in a situation like this.

 

The accent was weird, too. He had never heard anything like it before, which put him even more on edge. Not Vanguard with an accent like that, and exceedingly calm in the face of someone who he could only assume to be a magus. This guy was either Order or a very powerful non-human. Or insane to the point of being in delusion of their own abilities, if he was extremely lucky today… which he wasn’t, because he was locked in a church trying not to freeze to death.

 

Wait a minute. If it talked like a vague European, dressed like a Catholic, and was super calm when faced with magic it had to be an Order magus. Gavin rolled his neck to crack it as the tank finished speaking, and waited a couple seconds before replying.

 

"All else being equal, I'd prefer us both not stand here like morons until us and the old guy upstairs freezes to death. I also think it would be fucking pointless to fight and die like an animal underground when we could just agree as mages to hold off at least until we're off of holy ground." he conceded, voice measured and neutral. He was carefully watching for the reaction when he called the other man a mage, hoping to see confirmation. Gavin certainly wasn't a mage, but Empowered Human just didn't flow off the tongue nearly as well.

 

"What I don't understand, though," he continued in the same neutral tone as he worked out what his attack strategy would be if the guy went fucking berserk on him, "Is I thought you fucks worked in threes."

 

It was why ARMA had to beef up their usual patrols, because the Order liked to have trios running around that were admittedly a giant pain in the ass to deal with at times. Gavin spent most of his career in SHIELD, so he didn't exactly enter combat against the Order of Light very much but it was one of the few things that he did remember from training. The smart thing to do would be to just placate the guy and fuck off with cloak before a reassessment or just waiting the guy out and leaving in the morning. That was what a man who valued his life above all else would do, because it was smart and extremely sensible when you had an acute sense of self-preservation.

 

But color him curious, and at this point in Gavin's life he was willing to sacrifice a bit of safety to sate spur of the moment curiosity. Worst case scenario was they both died in combat, which was a lot better than liver failure or a car accident in terms of ways to go out.

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The man’s brain was ticking, and whatever he’d thought he’d figured out, or actually figured out was probably not in the priest’s best interest.  It never was.

 

"All else being equal, I'd prefer us both not stand here like morons until us and the old guy upstairs freezes to death. I also think it would be fucking pointless to fight and die like an animal underground when we could just agree as mages to hold off at least until we're off of holy ground."

 

An eyebrow had lifted faintly at the calm tirade, hands at his sides.  He’d killed a lot of people on holy ground, there were no safe spaces in his mind… but the guy didn’t need to know that.  There was really no urge to draw anything from the air around him to charge up for an impending conflict.  People who were paranoid usually popped off at the first sign of mana movement, so he didn't bother.  That’s why he was so effective; he didn’t need his magic to kill.  There was also no reason to even consider it unless the guy proved himself to be a threat.

 

"What I don't understand, though, Is I thought you fucks worked in threes."

 

Or maybe reconsider.

 

“I wouldn’t know.” was all he said for a moment, voice calm.  Neither confirming, nor denying, he’d at least acknowledged he understood the reference.  He knew he could raise hackles, his ability to stand still and look indifferent for ridiculous amounts of time was particularly off-putting. Mix that with his an unshakably pleasant demeanor, he’d set off this guy’s radar.  Of course he had, because this was the perfect night of all nights, of all times in the world to be fucked with by someone…  Long breath was drawn in to stop the aggressive spiral of thoughts.  The cold was getting to him, he could mana up and keep himself warm, but it didn’t seem prudent.  Expressive brows pursed down a moment, then relaxed.

 

“I’m going to light the pilots,” he was quiet, expression warm.  “You’re still conscious, so I should be good.  Then I’m going to make myself coffee.”

 

Tone though, seemed to not be pleased he was mistaken for Order thugs.  He did remember somewhat the outer workings of the scuttle, but he was so tucked into fold after fold of secrecy he never interacted with any of them.  Nobody got to pet the prize pet, and he never got to talk to them in return.  Never was in a place long enough to even attempt it. Regardless, he was undaunted, turning quietly and pushing open the old door he’d been through several hours back. The magus didn't need prep, if something blew... he'd react. 

 

The room where the boiler was located was and honest to goodness packed dirt floor.  The first time he’d come down, there’d been an inkling of old memories. It reminded him of the small dirt packed caves he’d scuttled through as a kid in a never ending game of hide and seek.  This time though, the guy's presence dashed any fond connection now that could have been made, fingers reaching up to flick a vent above the burner.

 

Chilly air drifted down.  This part sucked.  Pilot out, he couldn’t restart it if there was a buildup of gas.  He’d blow them both up.  He might survive, the other guy… probably not.  After a few moments, he closed it, picking up a dusty box that was sitting on one of the concrete supports.

 

He actually had to strike a match.  To make fire.

 

It seemed, ironic.

 

“Had one too many encounters with the Order I gather,” half because he was interested, half because the guy talking would give him his position as he pulled off the access panel and turned off the gas, peering in to find the pilot.

 

He really didn’t want to blow shit up on accident, or maybe he would just do it on purpose to get rid of this whole conversation.  Then he would have to deal with a dead body.  He actually pondered which was more work…

 

Light the boiler.

 

Strike a match and hold down the pilot light button.  At the same time?  This was… irritating.  He snapped the match to life and placed it in ever so gently. It started, then sputtered out.  Seethe was audible, adjusting the knob again for gas flow.  Jaw twitched slightly as it clenched, he was cold.  When he was cold, he was irritated.  He didn’t have to be cold… but this fucker seemed ready to snap at the first quiver of mana in the air.

 

“You’re still alive… either they’re not effective or you’re better at terminating the threat.”

 

Again, sputtered out.  Eyes narrowed.  Tried again, catching.  He kept holding the button to make sure it opened up everything, releasing and stepping back. If it didn’t spring to life and start warming up the place, he was going to have to do it himself the "nose-twitch" way.

 

“Or you’re running…” he left the comment open ended.  Or Vanguard. Or ARMA. Or those bastard fucks he was just waiting for so he could melt the skin from their bones after what they tried to do to him.

 

Small talk as he watched the beast fight to fire up.  He really didn’t want to have to kill anybody, but dealing with this guy was like having a hornet sitting on the back of your hand.  Not a threat, if you didn’t move.

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Alright, this was getting frustrating.

 

Almost anyone would have made some sort of move by now, some sort of shift in demeanor or body to indicate what was going to happen. Not this guy, not at all. Now Gavin had no idea what the fuck to expect and no idea whether he actually needed to be this tense or not. For all he knew, the guy across from him was a no name shithead with laughable combat capabilities… or maybe it was the other way around, some of those gifted with the use of mana got disproportionately more control and access to the stuff than most others. Hell, there were some magic users that even had power sets that made them completely fucking invulnerable to exactly the type of physical harm that was the shadowcaster's entire power set.

 

The Order reference was a reach, designed to inspire a reaction to move the encounter along to a conclusion before the American got too antsy himself. Instead, the tank of a man met the question with a noncommittal answer and an indifference that was getting increasingly frustrating as time went on. The soldier's own facial expression didn't change, being carefully neutral, but there were little changes that a perceptive individual could see. The momentary jaw clench, the tenseness of the shoulders, and the fact that the minor physical shifts that did happen if anything caused his posture to be more rigid and done with more aggressiveness than before. Instead of a measured step to readjust posture, it was a quick one with more effort expended than strictly necessary.

 

The other man finally made a move, since Gavin had been so far unwilling to move from his stance of a split second away from unleashing everything for so long. The tank said he was going to light the pilots, and turned around with a nonchalance that caused the shoulder to crack his neck to one side when he knew the guy couldn't see him just to get out an ounce of that frustration. The man's tone finally changed, one of irritation more than anything. Not enough information to do anything with, but it was something.

 

Even with his paranoia as high as it was, once the man turned around the soldier eased up just a hair. It did neither of them any good to blow up the boiler, and Gavin had to assume that the priest upstairs was important to the guy in some way -- otherwise they would not have been in the room together and doing anything weird to the boiler would doom the priest as well. Not the best assurance, but mutually assured destruction was as good a safety net as anything in situations like this.

 

The guy finally started talking when he was fucking with the actual boiler, which made any verbal attempts to get a rise out of the man needlessly risky at best. For a brief moment, the soldier considered putting up some defenses but dismissed that thought immediately. It would waste a tremendous amount of energy and would more than likely tweak the other guy into attacking even if he wasn't already planning on it. For now, Gavin just remained silent and let the wheels turn in the tank's mind for a bit.

The man had sauntered over for a slightly better look at the boiler work being done, and while the American couldn't see the process very well with the giant fucking thing blocking the way it certainly didn't sound like it was going anywhere. That was unfortunate, because if it was unsalvageable things would get desperate before the end of the night as the supernatural cold from the outside made its inevitable way inside as the night went on.

 

The tank kept talking, though, doing his own best to solicit a reaction to get more information. While the soldier could just be as noncommittal as the other man had been, that would only escalate tensions and probably lead to a conflict when someone twitched the wrong way and the other let loose -- probably Gavin. Something in the situation needed to change in order for that not to happen, and seeing as though leaving the area would just be delaying the inevitable confrontation and set the guy into a frenzy more likely than not…

 

That change in situation may as well come from him. "Well, looks like we're both wrong for first guesses. I've been lucky enough to avoid the Order for the most part, being part of a bigger organization like the Silver Winged certainly helped. Dragon extermination wasn't ever exactly their top priority, so they left us alone for the most part."

 

There it was. An organization he was affiliated with that very few people outright hated, and a much safer bet than outright saying ARMA. Sure, the fact that the Silver Winged merged with ARMA was public information but this was a much more… inoffensive way of implying he was part of the same. It gave him ample backpedal room in case of a negative reaction, but it also solidified that he was not part of the Order either which just might be enough to avoid bloodshed here today.

 

Or at least expedite the process of it so that the two of them weren't sitting there stone-faced at each other making noncommittal, bullshit answers to simple fucking questions for an hour before they killed each other. Whichever.

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Why.

 

Why was the world always provoking him.

 

He didn’t know which way his psyche went anymore.  Calm, was when he was truly most deadly.  Calm, he was deflective and heartless.  Agitated, he was catastrophic; a new feeling for him. Anger.  Hate. He’d finally been able to focus it on something, and oddly enough it was the hand that used to feed him.  It was a precarious balance, one that he kept balanced with quiet… and focus.  Fixing something was focus, caring for someone was focus. 

 

This situation was not.

 

To this point, he’d gleaned all the information he needed to know. Conversation, was just that.  Keep someone talking, keep them guessing, flip tactics every few moments to keep another off balance.  Keep them thinking the priest was still trying to figure the world out, trying to find something to use to gain the upper hand.  He had everything the second the man had dropped whatever it was he was using to keep out of the assassin’s sight.  The magus was a hunter, spending his entire end of the world hell being a ghost.  He understood killers, and he understood bullshitters.  This man was a lost fish trying to get out of the cold, and he’d walked right into the Italian’s barrel.

 

"Well, looks like we're both wrong for first guesses.”

 

Focus on the task at hand kept him quiet.  He was never wrong, not about killing anyway.  There were no more wheels turning at this point, this was second nature, a script.

 

“I've been lucky enough to avoid the Order for the most part, being part of a bigger organization like the Silver Winged certainly helped. Dragon extermination wasn't ever exactly their top priority, so they left us alone for the most part."

 

Dragon extermination.  ARMA.

 

Eyes blinked slowly, moving to look at the man quietly a moment in calculated contemplation, the mercurial silver deep in his black pupils catching the light of the pilot briefly before attention went back to the task at hand.  If the man wanted to confirm the priest was definitely a threat now, it was fairly obvious.

 

Dragon extermination. 

 

He'd figured the guy was something and not a rogue, it didn’t really matter to him who he was attached to, but the extra bit was enough to make him wonder if this wasn’t by chance.  ARMA had been quiet with him for a long time. The fact he was being harbored in a relative “safe house” didn’t hurt, but it was highly unlikely this was a purposeful encounter given the frigid shitstorm outside.  But… dragons.  If they wanted to take him out, that expertise was definitely the most useful skill set.

 

Again… doubtful it was on purpose.  Maybe though, they were asking questions in all the religious places in the city.  He couldn't figure out why he was on their radar again though if that was the case, loose end perhaps, there was no other explanation.  There was no other explanation he would let himself believe.  Nobody wanted to see him alive.  The thought rocked his psyche slightly, he'd convinced himself a long time ago of the "nobody" part, it was too painful otherwise. Much easier to hate everyone.

 

“I’m not going to kill you, if that’s what you’re trying to figure out,” he peered inside the pilot port again, eyes squinting slightly.  There were two pilots.  Of course there were two, because that was his shit luck of the evening. There had to be another access panel.  Fingers were getting cold.  “The 'fuck' you're talking to didn’t work in threes. I worked alone.”

 

Voice was quiet, -didn't- being the key word.  Past tense.

 

The invisible heat that fed off his skin slowly billowed down his form like molten metal, coating the magus in the warmth that was always there unless he consciously turned it off.  He was tired of being cold, and there was no need to fly under the radar anymore.  The easy, delicate control of the mana pool around him without so much as a muscle twitch squashed any lingering doubts he wasn't just a threat, but a formidable magus.  Hiding in plain sight.  Fixing a damn boiler by hand.  The man either recognized him by now, or had no idea who he was.  Either way the guy would make the connection eventually… here, or back at ARMA headquarters.  It was inconsequential at the moment, he would deal with the fallout later.  Fingers pried at the second access panel, the metal groaning at being prodded to move.

 

“Never met a Silver before,” panel popped off and he set it aside, peering into the port and striking another match.

 

Lie.

 

He’d killed one before.

 

The guy didn’t need to know that… this encounter starting to feel like the Christmas Truce of world wars' past.

 

"Long way from dragon territory."

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Well, this was progress.

 

Not the progress he wanted, but progress nonetheless. While Gavin never held the deep-rooted hatred of the Order, that blood feud ran deep and if the situation wasn’t this unique he had no doubt they’d be killing each other this very second. Or, more likely, the soldier would be dead the second he dropped his cloak. The way the tank talked, he was completely secure with no need to show off anything. Which meant he was either very powerful or very delusional, and the soldier was not curious enough to find out at that particular moment.

 

”Thanks, I enjoy breathing.” the man responded, drily. He chose not to respond to the working alone bit, because death by needlessly picking at someone is an awful way to go. This proved to be a good decision, because when the tank activated his magic it was clear he had a control over it that was far beyond most that Gavin encountered. With people like this, the only shot he had of surviving an encounter with them was attacking from stealth. With both of them in plain sight, the best case scenario was two fatalities and that would be completely pointless.

 

The fact of the matter was, despite the fact that he had this lingering feeling he should remember… he had no idea who this guy was. A magus with that much power would be part of some threat briefing, but he must have just gotten lost among the rest of the list of all the dangerous people lurking about. Either that, or the tank was like him and one rung below what most organizations would consider briefing worthy for one reason or another.

 

Either way, it wasn’t like it mattered. He would either make it out of here, or not. That was mostly out of his hands at this point, so he just had to roll with the situation as it came. When the tank mentioned Gavin was the first Silver he had met, the man shrugged his shoulders and started to lean slightly against the wall beside him as he watched the progress being made on the boiler.

 

”All the good ones are either dead or chained to desk work now.” he responded flatly, both because it was true and it served his purposes to back down a bit and try to de-escalate the situation for the moment. It also suited his purposes to keep the conversation going, because if they were going to be stuck here for a long period of time it may as well not be a completely miserable experience.

 

”The blizzard caught me when I was visiting family and I thought it would be an adventure to go wander around for a bit.” was the response he gave for being in the city. It was true, in the most technical sense of the word. There was a slight pause, where Gavin realized that since he was going to be staying here for hours it gave up nothing to say the next part, ”And the booze, since my stockpile wasn’t exactly prepared for this.”

 

Before it was safe to go out, he was going to start shaking and suffer withdrawal symptoms. It was the truth, but only truth that would have been found out anyway. Which suited him just fine for now, because it was better that when that started happening the dangerous magus in the room knew that it was ‘just’ alcohol withdrawals.

 

Fucking hell, these next few hours were going to suck.

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”Thanks, I enjoy breathing.”

 

Brow cocked slightly at the response.  Smartass; not a surprise given the responses thus far.  There were far more thoughts tickling the back of the Italian’s brain however, plans that were unfolding even as they bantered back and forth- the multi-tasking giving him a moment to think.  A thick tension wasn’t just lingering in the air, it was palpable and real even after he’d told the man he wasn’t going to be aggressive. Lack of trust, which was predictable and expected.  It seemed though that his identity was still ticking in the man’s conscious or subconscious thought.  If he put two and two together, this encounter could still go sideways very quickly.  He debated just getting it out of the way, but was more interested at the moment in seeing how far from everyone's thoughts he had fallen.

 

On the other front, cold was creeping inward.  He wasn’t concerned about his friend upstairs, the fireplace and inner room would protect him until he solved this situation.  In here?  There was nothing except a boiler that refused to fire.  Pilots were lit, still nothing.  Gaze moved around the room, bucket next to a slop sink. Did it not get turned on at all before this?  Or, turned on without prepping... which made a lot of sense given the lack of help all the religious institutions now seemed to have.  The Vicar at St. Patrick's was one of a mere few left to take care of the place.  This also obviously seemed to be the case here.

   

”All the good ones are either dead or chained to desk work now.”

 

“Shame,”  his tone echoed his companion’s.  Was this guy now a desk jockey, or not good at his job…?  Gut said neither.

 

”The blizzard caught me when I was visiting family and I thought it would be an adventure to go wander around for a bit.”

 

He placed the panel back on the now lit beast, the clinking from the pipes confirming his suspicions.  The pilots had gone out because the thing wasn't running properly.  No water to boil, threw everything out of whack.  He turned several valves and made his way to the slop sink.  Knobs were frozen, so was the spigot.  He could fix that... if the pipes hadn’t burst yet.

 

”And the booze, since my stockpile wasn’t exactly prepared for this.”

 

Fantastic.  One more problem.  St. Patrick's wouldn't have been an issue... wine everywhere.  Here, he wasn't sure.

 

“Nobody was prepared for this,” he agreed quietly. 

 

Matches weren’t going to solve this issue unfortunately, the opening of his fingers eliciting a low burn of pale orange flame that he hovered underneath the knobs on the sink. His companion would just have to deal, there was no more time to tiptoe around their suspicions of each other.  One knob started to drip water, it had been leaking.  That was a positive thing, it might not be frozen long enough and far in enough to have burst any plumbing.  He set to work on the spigot.

 

“While I have your ear, Arma...” he started, glancing over at him before going back to the task at hand, noting there was no exchange of names to this point.  “...coming back later to harass Avi about my whereabouts isn’t a good idea.  This is a favor for a friend and I don’t live here.  I get this place warmed up and I ghost.”

 

Success. He turned the knob slowly and the water started to drip first, then stream slightly from the spigot. Bucket retrieved, he began to fill it. This was going to take a while.  Arms crossed and he leaned on the wall.

 

“I have a message I’m hoping you can deliver to the ivory towers though...” he started, watching the water a moment before turning his attention back to Arma.  “Nobody seems to want to listen; they’re too busy trying to kill me.  They won’t believe you at first, but they will when more magus start disappearing.”

 

It was ominous, and unquestionably delivered with the impression he wasn’t responsible for the “disappearances”.

 

“That’s only if you want to hear it.  I'd rather talk business than stand here and bullshit while you decide whether or not to try and shoot me in the face.”

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The cold was starting to seep into the man’s bones at this point even through all of the layers of clothing. His steel grey gaze remained trained on the magus in front of him, but it was more that there was absolutely nothing else to look at than any sense of urgency at this point. His main advantage in combat was always surprise, and seeing as though that was both completely gone and he was essentially trapped in a tiny space with someone who could likely destroy him in an instant there was no reason to pretend like he had any control over the situation at this point.

 

On the bright side, it looked like he at least pretended to know what he was doing when it came to the boiler. Since there was no real incentive for him to fake it, that meant that maybe they wouldn’t freeze to death down here just yet. When the magus materialized flame, the continued lack of recognition was probably clear due to the fact that there was absolutely no outward response to the use of mana.

 

This lack of outward response continued as the Order mage laid out what was likely his main concern in leaving Gavin alive. He kept his facial expression and tone as carefully neutral as he could as he responded matter-of-factly, ”I got better things to do than harass the elderly and go ghost hunting. I also have better ideas than admitting to my employer that I got stuck on an alcohol run and broke into a church. If it’s all the same to you, I was at home like a sane and reasonable person for all of today.”

 

The mage got the water working, at least. There was even steam coming out of the damn thing, which was a great sign. The guy crossed his arms and leaned into the wall, which meant that he was at least giving the appearance of relaxing a bit. Gavin, for his part, was starting to regret throwing his gloves off at the door as he tried to rub some feeling back into his hands.

 

The soldier’s ears perked up when the mage said something about relaying a message. Grey eyes snapped back into full focus as he silently waited to see what the hell this could be about. When the topic of mages disappearing was brought up, the soldier’s eyes narrowed for a second before he caught himself. The dry air suddenly felt a lot more suffocating than it was just a few moments ago. Why did this sort of weird shit always happen to him?

 

”If I wanted violence, I would have never dropped the visual cloak and attacked. It would make no sense for me to give up my biggest advantage in surprise only to attack you first from a point of disadvantage later on.” he responded flatly. ”If you want to deliver a message, that’s fine. Just be aware that I wasn’t lying when I said my job is dragon hunting, and I have no idea who you are at this point. If you have info on any sort of disappearances, though, I’m all ears. If you have any sort of proof, all the better and I’ll go out of my way to make sure it gets to people who can do something about it.”

 

He would deliver the message regardless, of course, simply because he said he would. If Gavin thought there was any substance behind it, though, he would definitely try to make sure something actually got done with his admittedly limited power to influence any kind of decision maker.

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He was used to stillness, to ease when discomfort was the more normal response.  The magus was conditioned to be calm in the face of conflict or anger; it was that conditioning he was starting to buck.  Question.  Once compressed and focused like the point of a knife, the magus didn’t know where he stood now.  Cutting ties with the Order left him with a freedom to wield his power as he wished.  He wasn’t sure yet if that would be his downfall, or theirs. With small shreds of odd unpredictable personality starting to break through cracks of calm, it could very well be both.

 

The magus blinked away his quiet thoughts, glancing toward the spigot and reaching to turn it up as it began to allow more water to flow.

 

”I got better things to do than harass the elderly and go ghost hunting. I also have better ideas than admitting to my employer that I got stuck on an alcohol run and broke into a church. If it’s all the same to you, I was at home like a sane and reasonable person for all of today.”

 

There was a soft smile dusting across his features for a brief moment.  He was rarely amused, and this situation would seem so.  What wasn’t funny, was that the 'intruder' truly was freezing.  Contemplating for a second on the irony of it he knelt quietly, not missing the focused gaze after he tossed out the need to share information.

 

Nobody would listen to him.  They never gave him a chance, the 'shoot first and ask questions later' always applied to him.

 

Fingertips touched the floor.

 

At first glance, he thought it’d been packed dirt.  It was a mixture of cement, packed dirt, and years of debris smashed firm into a hard floor.  He would have preferred dirt.

 

”If I wanted violence, I would have never dropped the visual cloak and attacked. It would make no sense for me to give up my biggest advantage in surprise only to attack you first from a point of disadvantage later on.”

 

Eyes were fixed on the floor as the man spoke.

 

“If you want to deliver a message, that’s fine. Just be aware that I wasn’t lying when I said my job is dragon hunting, and I have no idea who you are at this point. If you have info on any sort of disappearances, though, I’m all ears. If you have any sort of proof, all the better and I’ll go out of my way to make sure it gets to people who can do something about it.”

 

Silence followed except the trickle of water into the bucket.  He was listening intently, even if it didn't seem like it.  The frightening sudden onslaught of frozen weather had penetrated even the foundation, but he was patient.  The cold of the floor was deep; it didn’t want to give up the ghost.

 

“I’m very rarely surprised,” there was no malice or chest-puffery behind it, just a quiet fact. 

 

After a few moments, the floor began to radiate heat and the room warmed considerably to a balmy, tolerable temperature.  It would do no good to send a message through a man that was going to freeze to death first, and he didn't feel like focusing on keeping everybody warm when he was fixing things.  Floor radiant heat would do the job.  He stood and turned the spigot back to a drip, picking up the bucket to move to the boiler.  Clinks were quiet as he worked, the dust on tools left on a ledge betraying the reason the thing was fubar-d in the first place- nobody was taking care of it.  He could fix things.  Stoves.  Fridges.  Radiators.  Boilers… a hint to the life he had before he became this.

 

“Your boss is missing,” there was no love lost between the two men, and though he understood the stormcaller’s rabid insistence on his obliteration there was still a respect there.  “Related to the recent disappearances most likely.”

 

Brow came down as he tried to break the corrosion on a bolt, finally popping it loose.

 

“Order and Arma have been quiet about it.  The Vanguard is also involved, though each faction will definitely deny it.”

 

He was about to paint another target on his back.  The Order didn’t like their secrets being spilled.  He didn’t give a fuck anymore.  The more pain he could inflict, the more he would throw off their business as usual.

 

“Humans, are practicing magic using the blood of mages… and other humans.  Sorcery, arcane magic. The factions are trying to snap up relics as quickly as possible to keep them out of their hands.  So the humans turned to magus, and that’s why they’re disappearing. They can’t have the toys they need, so they’re taking our blood.  Everyone, every last magic-slinger is in danger.”

 

Water went in and he began to fill the valves.  Water was flowing now, things were moving forward quickly.

 

“I’m not killing Arma. I didn’t kill your boss.  I know it’s too much to ask, but they need to trust me.  I’m not on Arma’s side, but I will find who’s responsible.  What I know, I will share… but not if Arma keeps me backed in a corner.”

 

That was it.

 

Knobs were turned and he opened the pilots again to light, middle finger flicking against his thumb like a match to produce a focused flame.

 

He should have stopped talking, but the new need to piss off his former employer was deep.  Spilling secrets.  He would spill them to anyone that would listen.  It was time.

 

“The Order can go fuck itself,”  he wasn’t a very good priest.  “I’m Rhome Del Santo.  The Order will deny I exist, New York Arma has orders to kill me on sight after I went off grid from their dog collar.  I was trained at the Vatican to kill any identified Arma target.  I've killed hundreds.  Everything Arma believes, alleges against the Order… is true.”

 

The boiler hissed to life and he tapped the pressure gauges. 

 

Success.

 

“Tell Arma this recent surge is not me. I’m not killing them anymore, and I'm not in contact with the Order other than to break their fucking teeth in.  As for proof?”

 

The bucket was returned to the slop sink.  A building this big, there were certainly more boilers and they seemed to be working at the moment.  He would check them later.  Reaching up, he tugged at the paper collar and unbuttoned  his neck enough to pull the shirt to the side.  Healed, yet a cherry red line still stretched from the center of his throat around under his ear.  An inch higher and it would have been his jugular.  Fingers flicked at the paper collar before he buttoned back up and replaced it.

 

“Definitely a human wielding some kind of shadow manipulation with a garrote.  They’d built a ritual floor altar and tried to drag me onto it to bleed out.  I will find them myself and melt the skin off their bones.”

 

The "so far" calm priest’s demeanor was unsettling against the sudden proclamation of brutal violence.

 

“But I’m not the one killing Arma.”

 

He left the spigot at a drip, moving toward the door to head back upstairs, leaving the weight of the confession where it lay.

 

“Food?”

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