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MATURE RPG


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.

Mar 30, 2019 - Some know I have had a fairly significant family emergency. I apologize for being away the last month. Hope to get going again in next couple weeks. Any of my characters can be skipped still in threads. Thanks for understanding. ~ZEPH

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St. Patrick's Cathedral Vaults and Catacombs

2-14-22

3am

 

 

That tiny little thing on those whistles… the plastic… those leather half circles with the tiny piece of metal and a tambour of plastic that you could put on your tongue like a wafer and press to your palate.  The high pitched whistle they could squeal was piercing, penetrating through your sinuses like a fire alarm, itching the center of your brain like whipping rain against a window of tissue paper until it popped.  It was all he could think, hear, see, feel- that vicious searing sound crescendo through his every sense.

 

Gasp was immediate, the uncontrolled reaction unusual as the world that had spiraled to a pinpoint of focus was broken by some shred of consciousness from somewhere.

 

His hand was on fire, and the dirt floor room was vibrating, fist closing to stave the blood.  He snapped the towel from around his neck and swathed it over the flames to extinguish them and muffle the blood that had almost just created something catastrophic.  Breath seethed through his teeth at the first look of the split knuckles, then the ancient load bearing beam he’d been hitting.  Wood was also spattered with his blood, quickly wiped off as well.  His blood was like gasoline.  Once he bled, his spark could ignite a firestorm.

 

When his consciousness this time had fallen into seizure and errored, he’d no idea.  Meditation was not new to him, physical training and focus were not new to him. Together, was most definitely not new; it was what gave him the intense control he had.  This crack was getting bigger, and he was starting to lose longer moments of time.

 

Under recent intense reflection, he had pinpointed it just to before the binding, before he walked into enemy territory of his own free will.  His consciousness had bucked even the strongest of cuffs, and ever since then there had been a tiny leak in his brain.  Enough to drip over years, testing his patience, his sanity… breaking open a crack that was swiftly destabilizing an already volatile mix of skills and magic.  He could see his past so clearly before the Resonance.  His hell after.  Then numbness as he was a machine, and now.  Now was this person he didn’t recognize.  He was calculating, and angry.  An angel on one shoulder, and a devil on the other.  The angel he knew and still loathed, but this devil was seductive and unknown.

 

Now as this person in the deep bowels of the cathedral where even the Vicar didn’t go, he was training again. Why?  A deeply thought out plan.  Physical training was at the forefront, his specialty was quiet and slick death.  He needed to inflict more damage, be able to take more damage.  The more damage he took, the crack would split further apart.  The more he focused on it, the angrier he became, the angrier he became the more darkness flashed in his field of vision.  Somewhere else, something else, and he couldn’t hit hard enough to make it either go away- or find the white rabbit.

 

In the wane electric light of old brick, dirt floors and cement tombs, he just kept hitting, letting the fire flush up from his feet and over his form as his hands fell to his sides and chest heaved before it extinguished.  Growl preceded the heels of his hands smacking together and palms thrust forward, the fierce blade of flame from his hands turning almost white as it scorched a brick wall, extinguishing as quickly as his temper tantrum had started.  Knees hit the floor and he fell to sit, pushing himself back against the wall with the heels of his Tims.  Elbows rested on his knees as he tried to knead the tension out of his skull.

 

It felt like he was splitting apart, and all he wanted was another throat to cut.

 

Or a world to burn.

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He'd not lost his penchant for silence, it had been beaten into his core by the Vatican, but even before the world fell apart he'd been quiet and kind.  Unassuming.  Cups didn't make a noise as he moved them, coffee poured without a splash.  He'd heard the Vicar several moments ago making his way to the small kitchen to get his breakfast.  The old man's movements had changed over the last six months, gate had slowed, breath was more labored.  The assassin studied things most people didn't, and he knew the Vicar was either getting significantly weaker, or something was wrong.  The old man wouldn't hear of it though, and the thought of losing the only one who believed in him even after he found out he was essentially the devil broke the magus' heart.

 

Rhome was by far the youngest in the building, the aging half-dozen that lived there with him had clustered together after the Resonance destroyed their own buildings.  Strength in numbers he supposed.  He was their caretaker now, and of the building by proxy.  Errands.  Repairs.  Even laundry on some occasions.  The building was equipped to withstand so much, and it mostly had.  He'd almost finished rebuilding the side courtyard that had been destroyed by the Resonance.  He'd also replaced the eaves on the alley after he'd melted them to rain molten metal down on several aggressive idiots bent on harassing a fellow fugitive.

 

There was a protective streak a mile wide buried in him, but it was a compass without a north.  Those within his immediate daily life were easy to know, those outside... he never knew who to trust, so they all were enemies.

 

The Vicar was carrying something, hooking it on the top of the door as he came in.

 

Rhome reached up to button his shirt collar, the formal dress donned in favor of the clothes he wore outside and under the cathedral the night before.  Inside, here in the sacred space, he was seen a priest.  He could pretend he was a good man.

 

*npc* Paper collar too, the seated Vicar said quietly as Rhome placed coffee on the small table in front of him.

 

Blink was quiet from the gray eyes up at the hanging coat.  It was a cassock.  He'd given up his vows, but the Vicar kept insisting.  Lips opened to protest, again, but the older man's finger came up to stop him.

 

*npc* Argue with me after I've had my coffee.  In the meantime, collar, and that.

 

Older man nodded toward the clothing.  Rhome paused.  He hadn't worn a cassock since the Vatican.

 

*npc* I know it will fit, you have no excuse.

 

The Vicar sighed softly after a long drink of coffee.

 

*npc* You're just worried if you wear it the girls won't be able to tell us apart.

 

Smile was slight, he was fiddling with his paper collar, "it's just..."

 

*npc*  Just nothing.  You are here, you are family, I will not treat you like an outsider.

 

Older man put the newspaper down on the table he'd brought with him.  It was from yesterday.  Rhome could only make out part of the headline because it was folded, but it was a story about the magus murders.  He reached up and pulled the cassock from the hanger, sliding it onto his shoulders and beginning the buttons. 

 

*npc* I will tell you this until you believe it, you are still a priest because I say so.  I can forgive sin, remember?  You also need to stop working so hard in the courtyard.  Healing knuckles hurt.

 

He swallowed softly, yah those were hard to explain.... smoothing the front of the cassock before flexing the brazen knuckles.  Moving toward the sink, the long coat swished, resulting sound jolting electricity up his spine.  There was an honest to god flinch, vaulting him into another place and another time.  Making that noise would have gotten him beaten at the Vatican.  Assassins made no noise.  Turn back after dropping off a spoon had found the footing drilled into his muscles.  His movement now was eerily silent again.

 

He didn't like this thing, irritation squashed because it made the Vicar happy.

 

"I'm bringing votive candles up from storage today.  We don't have many left, I have to find somewhere that has more.  I'll clean the shelves too."

 

The Vicar nodded, taking another sip of coffee as he opened up the paper.  He caught the headline as he left the kitchen to retrieve the votives from storage downstairs.

 

It was his doing.  The paper.  That headline.

 

One more Order magus had been assassinated.  This one had fought fiercely, but a well placed double strike into the spleen and then between the ribs had been simple.  The pattern from his Order signet ring burned into the man's flesh had been just an extra.

 

A message, to those that would listen.

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Ryan parked his car on the street to the front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  Polished onyx paint, dark leather interior, matte black accents, the 2010 Dodge Challenger was something of a rarity these days.  It was the last year the muscle car was produced before the first Resonance.  5.7 Liter V-8 engine, race track suspension, the machine wasn’t the fastest on the street, but she could certainly hold her own.  There were no plates on the car, no vin, no identifying marks on any kind.  It was one of several vehicles Harker used for work, but this was his favorite.    

 

The sable clad operative emerged from Challenger’s driver side, adjusting his coat before gently closing the car door.  Harker was armed with his usual weaponry; Sig 226, portable wards, enchanted blades, and extra magazines of enchanted munitions.  He wasn’t looking for a fight today, but considering the type of creature he intended to confront… he was certainly ready for one.

 

Ryan paused for a moment to breathe in the fresh morning air.  Then he made his way toward the church.  His coat swayed as me strode calmly through the church’s courtyard.  His head swiveled as he assessed the environment.  The stone around him felt tired, it had seen better days.  When he reached the entrance doors, he gripped the handles with worn leather gloves and pulled them open. 

 

The ARMA agent stepped into the chapel’s main hall and allowed the doors to slam shut behind him.  The bang of metal and wood echoed throughout the corridor.  Ryan stood motionless for a short time.  An ominous figure standing in the church door’s shadow, he invited the stares that fell upon him.  It was not his intent to be hidden.  He wanted them to feel his looming presence, he wanted them to be afraid.  He was here to send a message.

 

Harker walked purposefully down the church’s center aisle.  He had nearly made it to the alter before one of the priests mounted the courage to approach him.  “Can I help you my son?” inquired the old cleric, a hint of apprehension in his voice. 

 

“I’m here to see father Del Santo,” Ryan’s eyes were piercing and his tone cold. “I need to make a confession.” 

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Sometimes being a priest, was harder.

 

He’d gone through the entirety of the storage room.  Starting on one side to find more votives, then finding something else, that led to something else, then something else, six hours later the entire storage room was reorganized and mentally catalogued.  He dusted off his cassock, lifting both boxes, glass clinking in them quietly.  Some of the votive glass cylinders needed replacing as well and he’d found beautiful new ones, the top box full of votive candles being balanced by his chin.

 

Steps were nimble, each foot placed carefully.  Worn steps, long cassock, double boxes, chin balancing one, somewhere in-between he heard the doors boom shut in the building above, making a mental note on the never-ending checklist of to-do’s to keep the place running.  Seems fixing the tension on the hinges had been on there already.  Damn.

 

It was his name spoken that drew the busy list making to a fine pinpoint.

 

He didn’t have to look to see everything, or listen to know exactly how many were in the vast building.  It just flicked on, like some damnable curse that couldn’t be purged no matter what he did; training beaten over and over into a shattered mind that would think for him.

 

Stepping through a small side door, the balancing continued, using his heel to quietly close the door behind him and continue his path down the shadowed side to the vestibule under the old choir loft.  Despite the imposing stature of the new occupant, the world didn’t cease turning and he had to get these boxes to their destination before he dropped them. 

 

“Father del Santo does not hold confessions until the evening,” he said quietly, answering the need with calm. Silver eyes flicked to the older Vicar emerging from the small transept chapel. 

 

He knew the Vicar was intending to work his charm on the newcomer, but the magus had cut him off at the pass. With all the times the man had hidden him from the world, it made him wonder if he really was the old priest he claimed to be and not someone like him before the world came to an end.  Such was life, and the magus was actually more approachable than the boogeyman ARMA made him out to be.  He took orders from no one. Not anymore. People just couldn't seem to leave him alone.

 

Vanguard.  Order.  The unseen threat.  They knew he was here, it had been ages since he'd heard a whisper from any of them.  Why now?

 

“But maybe I can help you,” the quivering of the glass was urgent and he lifted his chin, balancing to set them carefully on the floor next to the shelf of flickering candles.  He began to carefully collect the empty ones off the shelf, moving the flickering lit ones toward the back and opening the top box.  A small hand towel was pulled out, and he began to wipe the soot from each empty votive glass.  One by one.

 

This was going to take forever. 

 

He had the patience.

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“Father del Santo does not hold confession until the evenings.” Another priest had entered the hall through a side passage.  This one was much younger, and he carried stacked boxes of votive candles in his arms.  Ryan recognized him from the picture in his file.  Rhome Del Santo, rogue assassin of the First Order.

 

“But maybe I can help you.” Del Santo seemed genuinely unbothered by Harker’s appearance at the church.  The magus kneeled before the church altar, presenting his back to the Cloak operative.  Then, as if in a therapeutic trance, the priest began cleaning the vigil candles.  One by one.

 

Ryan could end the rogue’s life before anyone else in the room had a chance to act.  His draw from the holster was without match, and at this distance even a novice could aim true.  He wondered if Rhome welcomed death, or if he just falsely believed Harker wouldn’t kill him in a house of the Lord.  Perhaps the priest was a fanatic.  Believing himself an instrument of God, and thus protected from the unrighteous.  Or, maybe he was just that arrogant.

 

          The ARMA agent glanced back to the elder Vicar.  His hand glided along the edge of his coat, sweeping back the garment to reveal the pistol holstered on his right thigh.  “Please leave us father, I would like to speak to the priest alone.”

 

          Ryan walked forward and seated himself in the pew directly behind the church caretaker.  There was an audible “click” as he drew back the hammer on his double action pistol.  He rest the weapon on his lap, it’s barrel pointed at the priest, his finger pressed to the now featherlight trigger.  The operative spoke calmly, “I’m not from the Order.”  He smirked at his own triteness, “and as cliché as it sounds, if I wanted to kill you, you’d already be dead.”

 

A conversation between two professional killers was about ensue.  Such discussions were usually quite civilized… until the killing started. 

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(Note for future reference- the NPC priests in the church are fearless.)

 

If he'd heard the man, he didn't indicate it, reaching again to the top of the shelves to retrieve empty small glass cylinders. The tin discs on the bottom contained a smidge of wax and the charred remnants of a wick, clinking as he pulled them out.  

 

Guns didn't concern him. They were a weak man's weapon. Gauche. Crass. Worthless really.

 

What he was concerned with was completely the opposite; the miniscule expression that flickered across the Vicar's face. He'd been impatient with the Italian before, but this was different. On the surface, the old man was kind, nodding to the visitor even though the ruler of this castle had every right to throw him out on his ass. He would probably call the cops after he left the two and returned to the small chapel. One didn't walk into a cathedral, especially now, and flash a weapon. That was enough to cause a catastrophic press nightmare.

 

Not the Order? Really?

 

By the time the visitor stated the obvious, the Italian was miles ahead.

 

Of course he wasn't the Order. Never. They would never risk this, they had an elegance, as evil as it was. Vanguard, almost as careful. The unseen threat, had already tried and failed. They were very quiet at the moment.

 

Hired. Or ARMA, though to be so brash was uncharacteristic of the group. They still had some semblance of public decorum, perhaps not.

 

"Please, I have this," the Italian said to the older man as he knealt to retrieve candles from the smaller box.  "It's fine."

 

The older man didn't move.  The Italian looked at the floor a moment, sigh soft, then pushed up and approached. It was immediately evident how tall the magus was, and how frail the Vicar stood.  Hands rested on his shoulders gently.

 

"Non erit finis. Perfici istam sermone aliqua proponamus," the magus said.

(I'll be fine.  Finish your sermon.)

 

"Nihil."

(No.)

 

"Est finis. Mihi crede," he insisted.

(It's fine. Trust me.)

 

The Vicar's lips pressed into a thin line, and he finally nodded, reaching up to put his palms on Rhome's cheeks.

 

"Dominus vobiscum."

 

There was a flicker of a smile in the Italian's eyes, melancholy.

 

The Vicar's eyes were kind, but intent virulent as they slid to the visitor.  He nodded to the Italian again and returned to his work in the small side chapel.

 

The magus returned to his work, how many moments ticked by he didn't count.  It was irrelevant.  The world didn't give him enough credit.  The man had threatened the only person he held dear, the fact his flesh was still attached to his bones was out of pure courtesy.  It didn't matter how brash, armed, or whatever -whoever- he was. The magus was unique.  Death from his hand, could come from anywhere in the most sadistic of ways. That's what the Order had exploited, and they were going to sugger for that and all the atrocities they'd done.  He was planning on bringing down the Order.  Suicidal?  Definitely.

 

"What can I do for you."

 

His voice, was everything most didn't expect it to be. Calm, quiet, kind.  Intelligent. Unafraid.

 

It was the first time the mercurial silver looked at the man, if only briefly, then back to his polishing.

 

The first row was complete.

He took a moment, striking a match and lighting the first one, the flame to which the rest would be lit. A fire magus that used matches, the world was a strange place. Glass clinked softly as he continued cleaning one by one. 

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Harker had pinned Del Santo into a no-win situation.  The public venue provided some protection from overt actions from the Order and from ARMA.  However, the magus was still a wanted fugitive as far the Order and law enforcement were concerned.  His only safeguard had been ARMA, and he had turned his back on them.  If a confrontation took place between the two assassins, it would likely end badly for Del Santo. 

 

If Harker killed the fugitive cleanly, he would be a hero ARMA agent.  If the altercation ended with civilian casualties, there was nothing to connect the agent to ARMA.  The rogue magus would be fighting another unknown killer in a cathedral, and the loss of life would be his fault.  If Del Santo killed Harker, it would be a hero agent killed by a ruthless fugitive.  Harker might not win, but no matter what Del Santo lost.  Harker had the upper hand, at least for now.   

 

          The advantage came at an immense risk; as it often did for Cloak operatives.  No back up, no support, just a single agent in the field.  Frequently ARMA covert agents had to gamble with their own lives in order accomplish their missions.  There was a reason Cloak had such consistent casualty rates when compared to ARMA’s other divisions.  The bet Ryan had placed now was that he could duel the rogue assassin and win.  Because if Del Santo killed the agent quietly, as he was known to do, no one would even come looking for the body. 

 

Harker watched the Vicar leave out of the corner of his eye.  A brave old man, he had to give him that.  The magus bid the clergyman farewell, casting a glare to Harker before returning to his work at the altar.  The chapel had cleared out, the two men were alone.  Ryan mildly surprised at the man’s calm when he spoke.  “What can I do for you?”

 

“You have a grievance with the Order of the First Light, and I can appreciate that.”  Ryan’s tone was different from Rhome’s.  Both were calm, but Rhome’s words felt calculated, controlled.  Ryan spoke casually as if addressing a friend at work.  “Truth be told, I can’t stand the hypocritical extremists any more than you.”

 

“I’ve killed more than my fair share of them.”  Harker said with a smirk.  “You’re on a warpath, but there is a time, a place, and a way to accomplish your mission.”  Ryan shook his head in disapproval but kept his eyes on the priest.  “You’re trying to send a message, but you’re going about it the wrong way.”

 

          “I can help you,” Harker’s offer was sincere.  “but my help comes with conditions.”

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The man was thinking as he sat smug with his weapon.

 

That was definitely different than he’d experienced before. Everyone else that tried to corner him thought they could win by gutting in directly for the kill. That had proved fatal for them in most cases. Weapons, fist fights, it didn’t matter. The former assassin always had ways to produce the most pain, with the least effort.  He may die, but the other would regret they’d lived for the rest of their lives, if they even survived at all. Fire, brought pain. His conditioning was indeed sadistic to an epic level, and that was what burned at him as he fought alone to find himself.

 

Someone actually attempting to speak to him was unusual. Was the firearm a precaution to get his attention that the man was only here to talk?

 

Perhaps, but doubtful. Perhaps he thought it would be effective.

 

“You have a grievance with the Order of the First Light, and I can appreciate that.” 

 

He’d yet to identify himself, and the comment didn’t make any more sense than most people’s belief that every Catholic priest was a part of the Vatican- therefore an Order boogeyman. Nowadays they were all thought to be evil magicians that were bent on taking over the world. The majority of Catholic priests were just priests. The simple fact that this man knew his name, knew he was Order, and wasn’t trying to stab him in the face and slit his throat to bleed him dry left only one choice to his affiliation.  ARMA.

 

The last people he wanted to deal with were ARMA. He would have rather they been anyone else. His relationship with ARMA was complicated. Hopelessly complicated.

 

“Truth be told, I can’t stand the hypocritical extremists any more than you.”

 

Forehead wrinkled slightly, a brow quirking briefly as he cast him a disinterested glance and continued his work.  Three rows done, clean glass, replaced where needed and new candles. The man worked quickly, especially when he was focusing on the world around him. Everything else came more sharply into view when there was a mundane distraction, meditation of sorts.

 

They weren’t hypocritical extremists; they were the most dangerous cancer in the world at the moment.

 

“I’ve killed more than my fair share of them. You’re on a warpath, but there is a time, a place, and a way to accomplish your mission.”

 

He knew nothing of his mission.

 

“You’re trying to send a message, but you’re going about it the wrong way.”

 

This man also knew nothing of anarchy.

 

“I can help you, but my help comes with conditions.”

 

He was met with silence. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence; the priest just was comfortable with thought before action. Long silences made some uneasy. He simply didn’t know how much this man knew about him, and he wasn’t about to offer information.

 

“I asked what I could do for you, not the other way around.”

 

It was deadpan as he continued to work. If he wanted help, he would have sought it out. Whatever this man was offering was obviously to his own benefit, and the priest would not be the sacrificial lamb again. ARMA was shaping up to be no better than the Order, willing to sacrifice and use those it deemed trash. ARMA only had better PR.

 

The box was empty now, and he silently collapsed it flat and placed it on a pew to be used for something of need later. The bottom box was also partially empty, and he left it where it was for a moment, sitting on the same pew as Harker at the end next to where he’d been working. He didn’t face him, just sat quietly with his eyes wandering over the front of the cathedral, completely disinterested in the fact there was still a gun pointed at him. Pretty sure the answer to his statement would either be sarcastic, a trigger pull, or maybe nothing at all, he took a slow breath and let it out.

 

He wasn’t armed, but it didn’t matter, the magus was the worst of the worst. At this distance, in a drafty stone cathedral the fact he naturally emanated heat could be felt. It was like an aura, always there. His hair trigger, ready to pull in less than a heartbeat. He was beginning to hate that power, hate himself, just simply hate.

 

“In the interest of full disclosure, that gun won’t save you. There is a reason I’m not armed. You shouldn’t have come.”

 

In contemplating his own horrific ability, his expression followed suit. He was an abomination, and he knew it, the stoic sadness in his features evident as his eyes found light trickling through one of the stained glass windows.

 

“ARMA doesn’t have the information to have warned you, so either you are incredibly stupid, or arrogant, a rogue, exceedingly desperate, or tremendously brave. But, as long as you’re not here to harm anyone, you are welcome to stay as long as you need.”

 

Conversation over.

 

He stood, leaning down to pick up the box and set it down where he was just seated, reaching to pick up the empty one. Fingers tapped on it a moment. This should have been where the conversation ended.

 

Against his better judgement, he looked at the man.

 

“I don’t need help. I need you to stay out of my way. The fact you’re here, talking to me now is bad for you, and ARMA, and people in ARMA. You can’t be seen here.”

 

Cass. Namely Cass. Her brother, was an unfortunate loss. The commander hated his guts, but the priest respected him anyway. Cass didn’t need his troubles adding to the mix. He could care less what she thought anymore, but he cared what happened to her, and he would not allow anyone to bring harm down around her... even a fuck-up of this magnitude. To his credit, the guy was trying to help. In helping, he’d also screwed up. He simply should not be seen here. To be seen here would implicate him as an accomplice in the former assassin’s activities. ARMA didn’t need that, they had something to lose. He had nothing to lose.

 

Flattened box was placed on top of the other as he prepared to take it downstairs. His voice lowered to an almost inaudible level, hands calmly on top of the box.

 

“I will take over the Order,” eyes narrowed slightly. “And I will burn it to the ground. There will be nothing left. There will be no one left. Every atrocity they’ve committed will be burned to ash. You have no idea the depth to which this goes, the torture they've caused. The things they've done. This is beyond war, beyond pain, beyond grief."

 

He picked up the box to deliver it back downstairs. The man was calm on the outside, but a raging inferno just beneath his skin was boiling. There was hell suppressed in a tortured man, and he had it focused on the Order. He was going to self destruct, and take the thing with him. The magus could have brought the information to another group, could have taught them all the Order's secrets... none of it deserved to be remembered. Or used, or survive to hurt another person. He himself, would cease to exist too.

 

“I will burn the Order to the ground. That’s my message.”

 

He pulled in another long breath and let it out calmly, blinking as if to put the chains back on his anger, and nodding once to him.

 

"You're welcome to stay as long as you like."

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“I asked what I could do for you, not the other way around.”

 

 

          The priest appeared to have finished his work at the altar.  His movements methodical and deliberate, as he packed away the empty box and seated himself on the pew beside Harker.  The magus was powerful.  Mana radiated from the man with such potency that it could be felt even by those without arcane gifts.  The sensation of warmth pressed against Ryan’s skin, as if he were sitting by an open camp fire.  The ARMA agent kept his weapon trained on Del Santo’s head, his left hand hidden in the satchel on his left hip; fingers wrapped around a dispelling ward.

 

“You could listen to reason and accept my help.”  Ryan said calmly.  His eyes were sharp.  They continuously scanned the rogue magus, assessing for even the slightest indication of a threat.  A futile effort perhaps, but years of training had engrained the response into his subconscious.

 

“In the interest of full disclosure, that gun won’t save you.  There is a reason I’m not armed.”  Del Santo made the statement as he gazed upon the altar before him, no doubt admiring a task complete.  “You shouldn’t have come here.”

 

“Oh this?”  Ryan replied with an amused smirk.  There was a subtle wave of the pistol’s barrel.  “This isn’t to save me, its to kill you… should the need arise.”

 

“ARMA doesn’t have the information to have warned you, so either you are incredibly stupid, or arrogant, a rogue, exceedingly desperate, or tremendously brave.”

 

          The magus was arrogant.  They all were.  Most of them had been nothing before the Resonance.  Sheep meandering through their dull and insignificant lives.  Relying on warriors like Harker to protect them from the wolves of the world.  Suddenly these little people were blessed with powers and they believed themselves above those without such gifts.  The fact Del Santo had so greatly underestimated the ARMA operative was proof of his arrogance.  Ryan knew the man had training.  The man was a killer, and a good one.  However, he knew nothing of being a warrior.

 

          In the fire magus’ defense, there were probably very few that could defeat him on open ground.  Ryan was an operative that specialized in killing magus.  The combination of his unique abilities, training, and ARMA weaponry made him very efficient at the task.  If the rogue mage were to try and use his magic to inflict harm upon Harker, his sixth sense would alert him.  Then his enhanced reflexes would play their part.  Harker would activate the dispelling ward in his hand before the spell could manifest, neutralizing all magic in the area for a few precious seconds.  Then he would shoot the magus in the head.  There was a reason he was one of ARMA’s best anti-magus.

 

          “For all you know I could be all of the things you just listed.”  Harker answered darkly, his friendly demeanor having all but vanished.

 

          “As long as you’re not here to harm anyone, you are welcome to stay as long as you need.”  The priest stood from his seat and began collecting his things.

 

          “You should accept my help.”  Ryan warned as he rose to his feet.  “Maybe then your death won’t be in vain.”

 

          Del Santo paused for a moment.  Tapping his fingers against the box he held as he contemplated his response.  He looked Harker in the eyes for the first time since the agent had entered the church.  “I don’t need help. I need you to stay out of my way. The fact you’re here, talking to me now is bad for you, and ARMA, and people in ARMA. You can’t be seen here.”

 

          “ARMA isn’t here today,” Ryan said firmly.  “No more than God is in this church.”  The agent gave a sarcastic glance around the chapel.  “There is nothing to see, just a man with a gun talking to a priest. As far as the world is concerned, I represent nothing and no one.”

 

          The priest resumed collecting his boxes.  Harker spoke again, “Your tactics have proven effective, but your strategy is flawed.  You’ll never take down the Order if you keep targeting their foot Soldiers.”

 

          “I will take over the Order,” The magus interrupted.  Staring distantly at the boxes placed on the pew before him, the man seemed vexed by his own thoughts.  “And I will burn it to the ground. There will be nothing left. There will be no one left. Every atrocity they’ve committed will be burned to ash. You have no idea the depth to which this goes, the torture they've caused. The things they've done. This is beyond war, beyond pain, beyond grief."

 

          “Nothing is beyond war.”  Harker corrected the distraught rogue.  “This is war, and that’s exactly the message you just sent to the most powerful collective of magi on Earth.”

 

          The priest picked up his boxes and turned to leave.  “I will burn the Order to the ground.  That’s my message.”  He nodded to the ARMA agent as he walked away.  “You’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”

 

          “Do you care about these people at all?”  There was an edge to Ryan’s words, but the question wasn’t rhetorical.  He truly wondered if the rogue assassin cared for anything, or if he was a legitimate psychopath.  Just a rabid dog that needed to be put down.  “Or are these priests just pawns in your scheme to take down the Order?”

 

Harker lowered his weapon to his side, but he remained vigilant.  “If you keep waging war so recklessly, there will be collateral damage.  You will get these priests killed, their congregation killed, and yourself killed.  You will fail and the Order will remain in power.”

 

Harker jabbed his Sig Sauer in the magus’ direction, “Is that what you want Del Santo?”  There was a hint of anger in the agent’s voice, “Are you really that self-absorbed?  A narcissist on a suicidal tirade, and what?  Just let the pieces fall where they may?”

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