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Just after Dark

February 11, 2021

Alley near the old Western Union building




Blood was hot.


So was his breath.


As it quivered in and out of his chest, in came the frigid air… out came the anger of a devil.  A thousand devils.  Cerberus.  Hell, Satan himself; in every tradition, in every faith, every level of purgatory and hell tangled tightly into a frayed knot that was breaking free.  He was a ghost whose presence would reverberate across the globe, the building pressure finally bubbling to a volcanic tirade, one small droplet of blood from his finger splashing on the broken asphalt.  Thera.  Santarini.  Vesuvius, the tales from his childhood, his home and corner of the world.  A man that had played as a boy in what was left of dormant volcanic caves a harbinger of what would inevitably come when the world broke apart and skinned the callus from a man that had been made into something unthinkable.


A man that needed to cleanse the world of the evil that created him.


He finally blinked, lifting a palm to look at the red peppering his fingers that everyone always assumed was so bright. It wasn’t.  Hot, sticky… leaving yellowish smears as it ran from skin and dried.  The assassin was always so clean, meticulous, humane.  This was just, just brutal.


Hand was shaking.


He’d never stayed, never longer than to whisper a gentle last rite over those that had been marked and he’d taken without question.  That was a lifetime ago, a life that required of him total conformity and discretion.  Now, one last cough from his target curdled stringy blood from the man’s lips, then crackled wheezing as he watched him die.  It had been ragged, vicious, unrefined and effectively violent.  Water magus unprepared for a magus that didn't need his power to kill.  The same bloody fingers curled tightly into a fist, a signet ring so fragile against his burgeoning heat on cue threatening to cave entirely molten as he pressed it against the side of the man’s throat… leaving the brand of the Order in a scalded bubble of flesh.  A conundrum for the law that would find the murdered Order magus; the third in as many weeks.  Credentials were always left scattered over the magus' chest.  The Order signet branded into skin above a throat so deeply cut it was almost severed to the spine.  Starting with the "army", the foot soldiers, to flush the generals out of their offices and onto the streets.  Out of the Long Lines and into his fire.


For a moment, his soul felt at peace until the vitriolic rush of native tongue hissed forth...


È la fonte della mia energia e il mio legame con tutti coloro che così toccato


Noise woke his senses from the rush of justice, the ghost in the gray hoodie moving suddenly with the agility of a gymnast to kick off a dumpster and catch the bottom of a fire escape- the vertical leap almost impossible, but made with the ease of a trained killer.  Up the fire escape, to disappear onto the rooftops and into the urban tangle that was New York.  This was only the beginning...


((Translation/Italian- the third line of the Oath of the Order of Light; "It is the source of my power, and my bond to all those so touched."))

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The next morning




“These ones,” his smile was easy, calm.  Choosing fresh bread and produce was always something he enjoyed.  Weirdly simple.


The older woman behind the counter returned the smile and nodded.


He truly was a peaceful soul.  If he’d had a choice, the small café in the south of Italy would have been his home for life.  Nothing but familiar faces and happy tourists, a small place, a few employees.  Cooking.  Coffee.


He shivered slightly as he stepped out onto the sidewalk to go grab a coffee across the street and wait for the small grocery store to pack up his things.


And no winter.


Matera got cold, but not like this.  This was hell.  Some feared fire and brimstone; then there was salt, the scent of brackish car exhaust against dirty slush and frigid air to hammer it against his skin.  His hell.  Torture to another level.  Hood was pulled closer to his features as he trotted across the street to make the already blinking crossing light, ducking into the bustling coffee corner to sigh softly at the line.  Seems everyone else had the same idea at the exact same time.  Hands slid into his hoodie pockets and patience took him through the wait, not ignoring the prickle on the back of his neck that had begun the second he stepped out of the grocery and onto the street.


He was being watched.


It was always a concern. The odd stalemate between the two giants quiet for some time, his recent bloody extracurricular activities had made him certain they wouldn’t leave anything a stalemate for long. He was systematically killing Order members.  Their rekindled aggression toward each other wasn't his intention, but they would probably start blaming each other soon… or looking for the bastardized scuttle that had been haunting them from some other corner of the world; the ones that had almost drained him within a drop of his life.  They had been quiet as well.


Order checking in on him perhaps, or maybe they already knew what he was doing and were trying to confirm.


Order and Vanguard knew where he was, at least the top of the food chain did.  They would come knocking on his door sooner or later, he wanted them to.  This, wasn’t that.  It was an observer, someone that was actively following.  Quietly.  At a distance.


He smiled and thanked the guy at the counter, but eyes had already scanned the crowd- a familiar face catching his attention, not sure of from where.  Nothing recent.  Had he drawn them out of their high tower already?  It was a memory from a different place, from mind bound in another time… enough familiarity to be uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable put him on alert.


Cup clicked softly on the counter, the magus picking up few napkins and a coffee stirrer, popping the top off to stir in something that had never been put into his black coffee in the first place; a moment to pay attention to everything around him while doing a useless task.  Heat rifled up his skin the second he placed the face, top clicked back on the cup as he tossed the stirrer, making eye contact over the cup as he took a first drink of the scalding liquid.  Back hit the door to push it open on the way out, cup held up over a shorter woman as she entered and he ghosted out into the street.


It could have been a foot chase, then a showdown, but he wasn’t a brawler.  Everyone made that assumption because his job was to kill.  Coffee tossed into a trashcan as he turned the corner, the zip of his hoodie tie snapped from the hood and was wound around his hand in oiled precision.  Hood was pulled up.  He didn’t like being pursued, and it never ended well.  Street was crossed, making a quiet beeline for the subway drop.  Someone was closing the distance.


Trotting down the steps, he vaulted over the railing at the bottom and stepped aside almost underneath, watching the passengers board a train and it whoosh away.  His pursuer slowed toward the bottom of the steps, the magus still to the side of the stairs.  The guy might just leave, thinking he was on the departing train…


“Rhome Del Santo.”


Before the entire phrase had been uttered, the cord was around the man’s neck.  The large magus was ruthlessly agile, torquing his pursuer over the railing and effectively slamming him face down onto the ground to the side of the stairs. 


He had moments before the next train, the garrote pulled so tight it had cut off air and was drawing blood.  This wasn’t his terms.  Choke the man to unconsciousness… or kill him….


...he pulled harder, hearing the next train less than a minute out, the weight of his entire body focused pushing his knee into the middle of the man's spine.  He was a fighter, the guy still trying to reach behind him to grab hold of something to make him let go.


This wasn't on his terms...

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Heat surged over his skin. Not his terms… his brain didn’t want to do this, but his gut did.  He needed it.  The restraint he’d shown for over a decade was screaming from his subconscious to break the chains, tightening from his psyche like snapping cables.  He had to remove himself from the situation before he couldn’t turn back. 


…but he didn’t know the guy, but the guy knew him.  He didn’t know if this was the same people that had tried to kill him before. Or someone else entirely…  It was unlike him to have been on someone this long; torturing them while strangling to death.  Christ.


“All you need to know about me is that I left you alive... follow me again and I'll kill you.”


One last jerk made his point, whipping the cord from its mark in such a way it would draw blood, sting and disorient the person that their throat had been cut- long enough a diversion for him to disappear.  He was a ghost.  For his size, he could move, gracefully, blending in to a group just exiting the train.  Stairs were taken multiple at a time, hands stuffed in his pockets, hood pulled closer around his features and he was up and out.


He had to breathe.


He had to breathe.


The air too cold, breath to fast.


Alley and he would disappear.


The guy was fast after him, faster than he should have been, running up the steps and picking up speed.  Following him.  This was a hit of some kind, or a forced confrontation.  Somehow the bastard could follow him, like he could smell him?  Muscles were twitching, the cold, the frustration, the need to power up like a blast furnace and get the hell out of there.


But he didn’t.


He did the worst thing imaginable.  He turned a corner and stopped, back on the wall.  Waiting, the cold wind funneling through the alley, where the fuck his mind was churning he had no idea.  It was violent.  It was chilling, and the second the man turned the corner he was thrown back against a dumpster by the force of the magus’ fist.  Blood, was everywhere.  The punch, so uncharacteristic- he didn’t know he could even be so gauche.  He had always been an elegant killing machine.  This, was just rage.  The man’s nose was broken, still… the magus pulled him up by the shoulders of his coat and slammed his forehead into the metal of the dumpster, taking the frustration out on someone he hadn’t even determined was a threat.  Logic seemed incontestable.  He was following him.  He knew his name.  He was a threat.


Kicked onto his back, the Italian wrapped both hands around his throat and pushed.  Skin was slippery.  Blood everywhere.  There was so much.  On him.  On the ground.  On the dumpster.


It’d never been like this… the blood almost, egging him on.


He was going to choke the life from him and snap his neck… he wanted to.  He HAD to.

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