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2/21/2019

OFL New York HQ

Former AT&T Long Lines Building, New York City

 

Alistair was no stranger to bad decisions.

 

After all, he'd started out his life in the new world by charging off into a fight against demons that were crossing the veil, armed with only a handgun and a vague idea that he'd been given some kind of powers, but little idea of exactly how to use them. After that, he'd signed up with the first group that had offered to show him how to use those, and claimed to be interested in using his talents to help people. Well, the training had been a decent idea, but the whole 'I pledge my loyalty' thing had ended up being decidedly more questionable.

 

His entire career, really, was a series of bad or at least questionable choices backed up with a talent for getting his ass out of the fire and a healthy dose of what he stubbornly referred to as luck, despite the mages who liked to tell him he clearly should have been offering the credit to fate or the subtle will of magic, or some other bullshit that he'd never believed in. Alistair might have been a magus, but that didn't make him a mystic. Magic was a fundamental force of the universe, and just because it happened to bend the rules of the other four forces, and responded to the thoughts and willpower of certain humans, that didn't mean the world was any less bound by certain rules. It didn't mean he had to believe in shit like Fate any more than he ever had.

 

Anyway - the point was, walking into the Long Lines building, which his dear former employers had recently taken for their own, by himself, that just HAD to qualify for the Bad Idea portion of his CV. Which was, of course, why he hadn't gone out of his way to tell anyone else about it. He'd made some arrangements so that they'd know where he'd gone if he didn't come back, sure, but this wasn't something he cared to go over with anyone. Not even Aura, even if she had taken over the majority of the day to day operations. She was a fantastic strategist, and a damn scary lady, but ARMA was still his. They were still his people, the ones he'd led into danger time and again, after breaking their bonds with the organization that trained him. He was responsible for them. But he knew his place better than that - it was out here. Making bad calls, diving into the danger, and clawing out some kind of success. He couldn't do that from behind a desk.

 

But considering he did feel a duty to protect his people all the same... Well he certainly needed to have a few words with the Order, now that they were making their new venture into the City. The government hadn't put up much of a stink yet, and Alistair understood why. Too risky, getting between him and the Vatican. They'd already shown just how much of the city they could ruin with their war. Bad politics, now, to come down too hard on either side... but they weren't the only ones with say.

 

Alistair didn't go to the main entrance - he didn't want to be mistaken for the public. He went for the side instead, and felt the wards probing his aura... not the same as another magic user reaching out, but inquisitive all the same, in the way all dumb spells were. But he had the key - a ward pass, taken from an Inquisitor that had made an attempt on the life of one of his lieutenants. Dead now, surely, but not in a way that had left any evidence. Alia tended not to leave things like that behind when she worked... the niece of one of the Vatican's great overlords had come down on the anti-OFL side harder than most, not unlike a religious convert often worked to out-zeal those who had been part of a particular faith since the start. Alistair smiled faintly as he felt the spells part, and he opened the door with a sweeping motion, stepping in.

 

Now, they should really know that he was here. Ward pass or not, he'd be almost disappointed if they had gotten sloppy. After all, once upon a time, he and Minerva had a lot of input into the best way to layer magical and technological defenses... surely some of that had been taken to heart, even in his absence. Though the first person Alistair ran into didn't seem to have been expecting him. The man stopped, stunned still when his eyes caught the figure of one of OFL's Most Wanted, looking like he'd stepped out of the story - long black coat and all.

 

The traitor flashed a smile, holding his hands out at his sides. [alistair]Morning. Don't suppose you could tell me where to find your leader, now could you? This is a big building, might take me forever otherwise.[/alistair]

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The woman in white stood at the center of the expansive office, hip thrust out, head crooked to one side, arms folded across her chest. She was scrutinizing the position of a painting, a large canvas of a dark sea shore aglow by the torchlight of an invading force. There were other smaller pieces of dark and morbid hues, all of similar depictions, some blatant, some metaphorically.

As she shifted the angle of her head, the woman lightly pushed back the slipping silver tress lightly trickling down her porcelain cheek. Hands fell into the pockets of her jacket, the mid-length skirt flowing with her curvaceous form as she shifted her weight to the other leg. She was terribly at this. She really needed another eye. Someone who understood the subtleties of strategic decor. Perhaps that someone would be along soon?

The pale reflection of her tall frame danced in the highly polished black marble floor as she gracefully strode to her desk. Oval shaped and comprised of frosted glass, it floated like a moonlit cloud in a night sky. A sky sadly denied. How she longed for a window. Twenty nine floors above street level with no view of New York’s spectacular night skyline.

Depressing.

She pressed the silent flashing blue button radiating from the phone on her desk.

[dacia]Yes?[/dacia] She answered.

[npc]Excuse me Overseer Setgrave but we have a situation down here.[/npc]

Touching a flashing icon on one of the two slender monitors on her desk the image enlarge into to a live video feed of none other than the infamous leader of ARMA.

[npc]He used this to bypass the wards.[/npc] The guard explained holding up the ‘inquisitor’s talisman’, [npc]But he tripped the sensors.[/npc]

Dacia didn’t seem all too surprised as a sleek white nailed finger pulled a piece of artistic weight paper across the desk's smooth pale surface. She compared the likeness of the sketch upon it to the image on her screen and smiled. A perfect match. She had chosen wisely in making her personal advisor. The Overseer didn’t hold much stock in the dependability of precognition, it was so subjective, but the seer’s vision had indeed proved accurate in this instant.

[dacia]Please, show our guest up.[/dacia] She requested.

[npc]Overseer?[/npc] The guard questioned, not sure he was completely understanding her bidding.

[dacia]Release him. Return his weapons. Show him to the elevator then return to your duties. Is that clear?[/dacia] She repeated herself, the annoyance evident in her tone.

[npc]Yes, Overseer.[/npc] The magus nervously responded. [npc]Right this way… sir.[/npc] The guard requested of their ‘public enemy number one’, reluctantly holstering his side arm. The orders of the new Overseer completely went against everything that they had been trained for. ARMA was the enemy and not only was she allowing their leader to walk freely through their halls but gain access to the twenty-ninth floor armed and without an escort! This new Overseer was not instilling the magus with confidence but her actions were not to be judged by his like. The guard knew only to obey his leader’s orders and that’s precisely what he did. He ushered Alistair down a long, low lit corridor where midway down was an elevator, one used only by members of the Order. He stepped inside, before so waving his signet ring at the entrance and muttering a magical phrase under his breath. The guard then placed his hand on a security pad granting access to the elevator’s control panel. He pressed the button for the twenty-ninth floor, stepped out and bid the ARMA Commander enter with an apathetic jerk of his head.

[npc]The elevator will take you directly to the 29th floor. Once the doors open head to your right. The Overseer’s office is at the end of that corridor.[/npc] The guard bitterly informed, trying to be forceful but he was only kidding himself. Alistair Greene was hardly intimidated by a lowly magus such as himself.

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The scene that ensued was, from the right perspective, kind of funny. Alistair didn't think the Order's people were poorly trained, certainly not (he'd been one) but there was an unavoidable level of consternation that came from Public Enemy Number One showing up in the middle of your base. He'd never been in a position to deliver that sort of chaos before, not all by himself, and watching them line up, weapons drawn, acting like he was some kind of bear that they needed to worry about tearing their heads off was somehow gratifying. Granted, he was a dangerous person, certainly. But given the commonplace nature of magic these days, he was rarely treated like it. Not to this degree, anyway.

He didn't put up a fight all the same, letting them swarm about. He handed them his knife, which turned out to be the only weapon on him - not that they didn't spend an uncomfortable amount of time patting him down and digging into his pockets looking for more. They did take his watch, and the shielded case that held his phone - he frowned a bit at the watch. [alistair]Hey now, that was a gift, I'm gonna want that back.[/alistair] he pointed out, though otherwise he stayed quiet, looking downright bemused at the entire affair.

That much done, they shackled him and brought him into some sort of security office, where he tried to just lean against the wall, but was instead shoved into a chair, while he shrugged, waving them off as he leaned back. [alistair]Your fly is down.[/alistair] he said, pointing at one of the guards, with both hands since they were locked together. The manacles were dampening, Alistair knew - so he spent most of the time probing the dampening, looking for weaknesses. It was a good mental exercise, and he was curious as to how these had been evolving since ARMA and OFL's research had diverged. [alistair]I'm serious, someone else, tell him. Don't take my word for it.[/alistair] They all kept their focus - and weapons - on him though, and the magus shrugged. [alistair]Just trying to help. Hey this is a cool building, though - it's like being in a cave, but above ground.[/alistair]

One of them got on the phone then, while the other finally glanced down and zipped himself up (Alistair shot him an exaggerated wink at this). The one on the phone was clearly nonplussed by the news he got, and almost as fast as he'd been brought in, they were letting Alistair go. Alistair took the few items back, buckling the watch on first before slipping his pocketknife and phone away as well, making a click sound as he pointed at the confused guards he left behind, following the designated escort to the elevator.

[alistair]Thanks, Jeeves. Make sure your boss tips you, huh? I didn't bring my wallet, didn't want anyone rifling through it.[/alistair] he said, stepping into the elevator with a flash of a smile before the doors closed. Well, things were going about how he expected... that was good so far. When the elevator pinged and opened its doors after the long travel, Alistair stepped out, following the obvious path to Dacia's reception area and pushing the doors open in mid-stride.

[alistair]Dacia! How long has it been? Six, seven years? This is a nice building, and this office - amazing view, really top notch.[/alistair] Despite how he talked, it wasn't as though they were old friends. but Alistair had been in Europe for some time after they'd stopped the initial catastrophes in New York, for training at the time, and 'team building' of a sort with the other groups of the Order. Fat lot of good that had all done, in the end of it. Their indoctrination had gotten better as the years went on, he was sure... or at least their vetting. It was the initial recruits like him that seemed most likely to defect. They hadn't the years of family history, like Dacia or Alia, or the years of propaganda that had been developed later. No, Alistair, Jocelyn and their like, they'd been scooped up in the rush as the world fell apart. Recruits selected for their strength and will alone - loyalty had, necessarily, been tertiary.

Alistair wondered, sometimes, if any of the Order's leadership regretted the decisions of that early time now. But of course, that brought him back to the present... New day, new Overseer. Order was going to make another go at good PR in New York. Bit of an odd choice, that being the case. After all, like him, Dacia had a reputation. Their reputations were, however, more than a little bit different.
 

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Dacia stood behind her desk, frozen in an idyllic pose as her cool gaze followed the man brazenly strolling into the office. He was just as she remembered, only a little more haggard, maybe a little louder. Probably just her nerves in regards to the noise level, she granted. She’d been on edge of late, getting used to a new position and these dreadful surroundings. All she could do was roll her eyes and gasp in agreement as her sworn enemy rubbed it in.

[dacia]I can’t believe I gave up Italy for this crypt.[/dacia] She grumbled, gesturing about with a flamboyant wave of her delicate hand, [dacia]But we do what we must.[/dacia] And she did nothing without knowing the gains. New York was a powerful chess piece.

Silver and white high heeled shoes clicked across the floor as she strode toward a sitting area; a white leather couch and four matching chairs positioned round a circular glass coffee table. Upon it, at it’s center, an exquisite glass chess board, the pieces sculpted from crystal and obsidian stone. The furniture was arranged in the opposite corner of the room, adjacent to a grand oval shaped twelve place table.

Dacia took a chair, one silky leg folding over the other. [dacia]Could you make me a Manhattan, luv?[/dacia] She requested, gesturing to a fully stocked wet bar tucked in the corner, [dacia]And fix yourself something as well. I dare say I’ve been developing a passion for them.[/dacia]

Her tone was scandalous and playful, but she was neither. Dacia did not expect Alistair to be so easily put off guard, she merely saw no reason not be civil to one another. She respected the man for living up to his convictions and still being able to lark about, however, he was and always would be regarded a traitor in the eyes of the Order. Of course she knew the reason for the uprising, the tactless methods of the Inquisitors but of course it all went even deeper. ARMA had dealt a vicious blow, exposing the darkness with the ‘Light’, marring their reputation from which many chapters were still recovering. The magus before her was responsible for all that, but the thing about deep revelations was that they could be covered up. Years had passed since the rebellion and people were starting to forget. A recent poll had revealed that a growing number of New Yorkers believed that ARMA was just an extension of the Order of the Light.

It was time to, as the American’s said, ‘Clean house’. Dacia had spent the last few years assisting in the restructuring of the Vatican, making sure that they got as much exposure possible providing charitable services. It was working, but so long as ARMA remained it would forever remain a scar reminding the public of their hidden claws.

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No, Alistair probably wasn't any louder - he'd never been the world's most quiet individual, though he might admit to some level of shock in the first year or so after the first Event. Everyone had been numbed to some degree - well, those of them who did more than hide from it, at least. He had always been the opposite. Probably a foolish, act, but he had charged in hard, right from the start, and tried to fight it. Like battling the tide.

He'd been apt to go for the needle then too, of course. He could hardly see her in this windowless hole and not make a comment about it. [alistair]I thought you had a post in Venice a few years ago. I mean, what with the sea creature infestation it was something of a risky vacation destination, sure, but I imagine you managed to sort that out at some point. Pretty though, once it got cleaned out, I'm sure. How on earth did you end up here?[/alistair] She was keeping the charade up, and he was more than willing to do the same. In fact, it was a bit funny - they were playing his favorite game at the time, whether or not she knew it. No, he was hardly going to be put off his guard by her deliberately playing casual - refusing to take the situation seriously was his specialty.

[alistair]A Manhattan? In New York? You tourist...[/alistair] Clucking lightly, he chuckled all the same and walked over to the bar, considering the ingredients for a time before he began selecting bottles. [alistair]There's talk of an expedition to Kentucky, not sure if you heard. Southern states tried an incursion last year to get at the Jack Daniels facility, but they got their asses handed to them. Particularly nasty crop of uglies out that way, it seems. Sooner or later though, someone's going to get through to all that bourbon and whiskey in there. All of it aged about ten yers longer than they intended... should be a good day.[/alistair]

He mixed while he told the story - he was no bartender, but he'd been a cook once... and everyone played a little bartender in college, he figured. Instead of the usual cherry and orange though, he cut a lime wedge, and held his hand up to it - there was the flash and pop of an arc, cooking the lime just slightly before he added it, and the magus walked to the sitting area with a pair of the drinks. One he set in front of her, and he kept the other as he took a seat himself.

[alistair]So, I suppose you're here for a bit of image rehabilitation? Thinking that since our little rebellion is a few years old now, people might be more amenable? There may be people bored with my talk of human rights atrocities and the like, but I think you'll find plenty remember quite vividly your bosses trying to assassinate me in the streets more than once. Not to mention the strikes that went after my other people. [/alistair]

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Politely smiling a thank you she plucked up the glass and put it to her glossy lips, nodding quizzically at the preparation of the lime wedge. He definitely had a certain flare to him, charismatic, she could see why ARMA was inspired by his leadership.

[dacia]I was not aware that the state of Kentucky had slipped through the fingers of the Southern Coalition.[/dacia] She admitted, somewhat pleased to share in the American interest of the state’s treasury of bourbon. Other than that, her priorities at the moment did not concern their southern neighbour, though one could never turn a blind eye to the Vanguard controlled nation.

She quietly listened to the man’s supposition, it was hardly uncertain, the intentions of the Order being highly public. The ad campaign was well underway, a new catch phrase circulating through the Eastern Alliance, ‘Light the shadows, seek Order.’ A tactic building upon the fear of the uncertainty of security. Always a concern in their time. North America was not unlike Europe. Vast expanses of anarchic territories, the fringes of established settlements the front line of the ever encroaching ‘unnatural menaces’ of the new world. Threats which by necessity were ever downplayed in order to maintain the illusion of stability. Not that the blanket of ARMA didn’t offer the public that warm and fuzzy feeling, nor did the Vanguard lack in a firm hand either. The Alliance actually boasted some of the best ratings in the Tri-Americas when it came to quality of life, a testament to the training of the Order from which flowed the magus of ARMA.

[dacia]To plainly answer your question concerning my current placement, Alistair, I needed a clean break. Your rebellion rippled through the entire Order, there were set backs, policies were changed, old laws re-written. It was a bureaucratic nightmare and yours truly was at the center of it. Would have still been, had I not accepted this appointment.[/dacia] She lightly tapped her finger upon the crystalline lance of a knight chess piece, [dacia]And after years of dealing with ARMA’s poison, I saw no difference of being so near it’s fangs.[/dacia]

[dacia]Image is so subjective, don’t you think? Tastes and opinions change,[/dacia] She gestured to her drink which was once wine to illustrate, [dacia]sometimes for the better, sometimes the worst. People are fickle things. Heroes rise, they fall, we all know the stories. The truth is that all ARMA is, comes from us, the Order. You are as much a Child of Light as I, and it was on one picturesque evening looking out across those crystal blue Mediterranean waters that it occurred to me. Why destroy you? Why crush the ideals of ARMA? The only thing you North Americans love more than heroes, are martyrs. You glorify them and so immortalizing you as a saint would afford the Order nothing. This is why I convinced the High Archs to offer you a truce. The bounty on your head has been lifted and you and all your fellow magi are welcome to return to the Order with no loss of rank, with the exception of your own of course. Should you choose to remain in New York you will be granted the position of Chancellor.[/dacia]

The offer made, Dacia calmly sipped her drink awaiting the man’s response. She knew how outrageous the offer might seem, after all, the Order was still the Order and ARMA, still ARMA. Irreconcilable differences, one might put it, but to the new Overseer of New York forcing magus to serve one banner was, among many things, medieval. Alistair and his sect had proven just as responsible and diligent in guiding potential magus even if they weren’t adhering the ‘old ways’. It had been difficult to convince the High Arch’s to make an exception but in the end, the prospect of assimilation offered a far more potential of success than their harsh methods of the past.

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Alistair snorted. [alistair]Oh, officially they claim it within their borders. But as you well know, having laid a claim to something is no guarantee of actual control. Things sometimes... get away from people.[/alistair] He gestured airily with his glass as he said that, leaving it for her to decide if he was talking in that moment about the good old southern boys, or her bosses back in Europe. It turned out, the bit of parable was, one could say, equally applicable.

Perhaps uncharacteristically, Alistair sat back and sipped at his drink while Dacia explained her position, and then went on to make her grand pitch. There was a brief lift of his eyebrows - a moment of surprise, perhaps, as she made her offer of a truce. After the years of literally violent animosity, the idea that they might come extending an olive branch had only occurred to him in moments, a thought quickly dismissed. Certainly, it was a move that would make sense, if one wasn't a sociopathic plutocrat, but considering that was how he viewed the majority of his former masters, it was a degree of reasonability he really hadn't thought them capable of.

It turned out fighting off assassins, and finding they'd sent one after your sister too, tended to give someone a rather dim view of the capacity of the other party for reasonable discussion.

[alistair]I see.[/alistair] Alistair murmured finally, setting the glass down on the table beside the chessboard. He hadn't missed the piece she touched - the knight. That was always what he'd gotten painted as, wasn't it? Wizard or no, they thought of him as the paladin. It was a long running joke, after all - The White Knight of New York, a paper had called him once, and it had stuck. The Arch back in those days had loved it, what better publicity could there be than that? It didn't matter that the reality was he'd nearly gotten himself killed a dozen times, that he'd let himself be complicit in the attempted genocide of New York's vampires. It was all easy to justify those days - humans were being killed. Whatever killed them, humans or no, died.

It was the cold logic of the early days - society was falling apart, and if you wanted to preserve what remained, your methods couldn't have limits. Didn't matter that the Infected had been people before, that they had been as normal as he was, or that they still might be reasoning beings in some lucid moments. Greater good. Civilians came before killers. Whatever stalked the streets and killed had to be purged, with magic and fire. That wasn't the Order's fault. It wasn't as though he'd needed much convincing after seeing his first apartment building, inhabitants slaughtered... But he'd done it under their banner. When that photo hit the papers, him standing between the fleeing civilians with the undead horrors bearing down on him, mana scorching the air, it had been a hit. Not least, he imagined, because it was so damn hard to capture magic on film (impossible with a digital camera, much of the time), but it had turned him into some kind of symbol. And oh, the Order had been thrilled to use that. He'd been happy to let them. They'd been doing the Right Thing.

Well... No one fell harder from faith than the true believers. Behind every mission to save the world from itself, every pacification of a city, every safe zone set up to let people get back to their lives, it had been about control. Not because the world needed it - because they wanted it, and they'd do whatever it took. The experimentation, not just on his sister - his sister - but who even knew how many others, trying to make better soldiers for when the governments fought back.

But sure, they had warm fuzzy intentions now, she said. Come back home, where we'll take care of you and everyone else. Right. Until they went back to form.

[alistair]That takes... some serious gall.[/alistair] Alistair said finally, and for the first time he didn't entirely conceal the venom in his tone. He took a breath afterward though, cooling his blood, and continued. [alistair]I'm ever so grateful of course, for the lifting of the bounty, that's just saintly of you guys, really. And you want a truce, that's fine. I'm not as eager as the Archs to spill blood in the streets, I think you know that or you'd not be here. But you also have to know I will never trust your bosses again. Because no matter what bullshit you want to spin to the public, or absurdly long-shot deals you want to offer me, I know the endgame. All I'll be doing is smoothing the way for the eventual Magocracy, and you know perfectly well I do not hold to that. The ends do not always justify the means. We're going to keep this city safe, from whatever the threat, no matter how nice a face it tries to put on the situation. Order included.[/alistair]

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Pondering the ever changing dynamics of ‘The Americas’ she knew that Alistair’s opinion of ownership rang true for the whole of the new world. Centuries old borders were shifting, new realms developing and to survive, to maintain the grip of their mystical hand, they required unity. Magus of their caliber were a rarity and pitting themselves against one another’s throats weakened the entire Order more than she cared to mention.

Delicate fingers flowed across the decorative board’s pale army like a menacing omen while the noble horseman considered her most generous offer. His words, fiery at first, turned tepid as he quickly, and admirably, regained his composure. She had always admired the man’s strength of character. A pity those white eyes were so blinded by such an altruist sense of justice.

She sipped her drink, unphased by the response. Dare she say it was expected but she was not one to ever dismiss on such as Alistair to be predictable. Some reactions were simply more apparent in the light of righteousness. The Order had grown so dark, enshrouded in the shadows of their plans. An unfortunate necessity.

[dacia]How far we have strayed.[/dacia] There was genuine despair to her voice, [dacia]That the luminance of our ‘Light’ is now only to blind people from the truth of our way. A path we are now as much a slave to as you are of yours. You know this better than most.[/dacia]

Her cold gaze probed his stark white stare, focusing on the hints of shade that outlined them.

[dacia]Oh, but you must feel I’m patronizing you.[/dacia] She stated, the trill of soft laughter resonating through the spacious room as she gracefully tossed back her silky locks. [dacia]I would not think to insult you by being so petty my dear, Alistair. You and I are two sides of a coin. We both want the same thing but our views of society are at opposite ends of the spectrum. How I wish I could change your mind but I’m not sure I could stand tarnishing that spotless armour of yours in the process.[/dacia] She playfully taunted.

[dacia]They told me you would never bend. I wanted to see it for myself.[/dacia] Of which she was not disappointed. [dacia]None-the-less, the truce still stands for what I am truly proposing is a collaboration of sorts. A partnership in the face of a new enemy.[/dacia]

She deliberately paused, studying the man’s face for a hint of recognition to her admission. Surely he was aware of the subtle assassinations of their kind. Magus had always been a target but until recently they had been able to deal with the danger. Now, a new menace lurked in the shadows, not only hunting members of the Order, but those of the Vanguard as well. It was happening in Europe and North America, the signs pointing to the same group of killers. So far scrying had been futile. Whoever they were, they possessed the skills to cloak themselves from seers and guard the secrets of their passing from sensitives. It was a serious threat. The Order needed to rule out ARMA as a suspect but more importantly, they needed their help to combat these silent assassins and uncover their motives.

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Alistair half wanted to sneer at her comment - he considered them blinded themselves by more than a few things, actually, but the actual meaning of her comment didn't pass him unnoticed, and he let out a breath instead, nodding slowly in acknowledgement of her point. [alistair]There's a lot to be said for momentum.[/alistair] he said - a simplified version, but true all the same.

The Order was not going to be dissuaded from their path, nor their belief that they were the right ones to rule the world, whatever the cost. No more than he refused to believe that the ends of that particular ideology justified the means, nor came anywhere close to doing so. Despite everything, a faint grin appeared when she came around to the notion of patronizing. [alistair]It is something of the order's MO, after all. The idea that anyone who disagrees is simply poorly informed is a persuasive one. Popular in pre-Resonance politics, I recall. Thankfully I am not so easily offended.[/alistair]

Well. That was both true and false. There was plenty she could do to offend him, after all. Already had, on one level. But the patronizing... oh that was hardly new.

Her comment of the 'spotless armor' drew a humorless smile - he hardly thought she believed that story any more than he did. Perhaps he was an idealist, but his armor had been long since tarnished, no matter what anyone said. He'd done that to himself, in the Order's service. And other ways, since, he had no illusions. He had as much blood on his hands as any of them. That he'd only ever meant well while he spilled it was... at best a mitigating circumstance.

[alistair]I hate to disappoint.[/alistair] he allowed, taking another sip of his drink, though this seemed to be building to something, and he lifted a brow as he waited for her to get to it. Which she did, after all. Alistair couldn't help frowning, setting the drink aside and leaning forward a bit, putting his hands together.

[alistair]Ahh... we come to the point of it.[/alistair] he murmured, turning his eyes back up to hers. What to do, in that case... [alistair]I had been thinking, it would make my life... simpler, if not easier, were it rogue Inquisitors. But then, if what I've heard rumors of is true, the targets have been somewhat less discriminate than I'd expect from them. Few names I recognize in the lists, on your side. People who wouldn't be easy to kill.[/alistair]

He was quiet for the moment about their own losses. ARMA was a smaller group, and more importantly spread over a much smaller territory. His people were easier to keep track of from his perspective, and New York remained a fairly dense population - but beyond, he knew those who ranged in the 'wilderness' of the world, be it concrete or literal jungle had far less support and oversight.

[alistair]I don't suppose you have any thoughts on the subject of what exactly you're hunting?[/alistair]

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She had hoped that he might have known more but she was just as relieved that Alistair was aware of this ‘unseen enemy’ killing off members of the Order, and the Vanguard. Many were still in denial that the threat even existed, a few even going so far as to suggest it to be an underhanded plot devised by the ‘grey guard’. Dacia doubted the accusations from the start. The Vanguard were many things, but systematically sacrificing their fellow legionnaires in such ghastly manners was too unscrupulous, even for them. The slayings were often brutal, bearing no similarities to another so they were never connected. Spanning two years they might have just been written off as random occurrences if not for the collaborative effort of their own Salvatore Avara and a one Deputy Director Rezanov. To name a few. There were others that had long suspected the conspiracy as well, the chilling suggestion that both factions had been infiltrated by a yet unknown adversary.

Dacia was unable to conceal her surprise of Alistair’s classified knowledge before shaking her head in response to his final query. The frustration was evident in her beautifully etched features. She hated feeling so powerless and even more so having to turn to rebels for assistance, for that was the real truth behind her motives. So convinced that this hidden enemy lurked within their ranks like a slow-moving poison she had pushed the council to resolve their differences with ARMA. They needed a strong ally that wasn’t yet compromised and whom better than their own former magus.

[dacia]Of course we’ll share all our intelligence with you.[/dacia] She promised, not seeing a point to concealing the information. The better equipped ARMA was, the better it would be for the Order. [dacia]As for me personally, I honestly don’t know what we’re up against, Alistair. We’ve employed every form of spell known to the Order and still haven’t been able to detect a single trace of ‘sleepers’ among us. But I know they’re there and it frightens me to think how powerful they must be to remain hidden among magus for so long.[/dacia]

Delicate fingers traced lightly along the worried lines of her forehead. [dacia]What about your ranks?[/dacia] She inquired, [dacia]Have you taken note of anything unusual among your people?[/dacia]

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Alistair mostly concealed his amusement at her surprise, though a corner of his mouth did turn up at her slightly widened eyes. It was good to remind the other side once in a while that ARMA might have seemed like a ragtag band of upstarts, but they did have a few things going for them. After all, New York had been the Order's largest outpost for the better part of ten years. They had their ways...

In truth, he was partly but not entirely fishing. His reports had definitely indicated that a few Order combat magi had gone dark, and while it wouldn't exactly be new to have that happen, it had happened with... strange silence. They relied on various supernatural methods and a handful of human defectors (and some slightly more underhanded methods he REALLY wanted to keep under wraps), and generally if someone had just been reassigned, or promoted into something like the Inquisition, there was some kind of sign.

These people had just... gone. And after all his time in the organization, Alistair had something of a sense for when the leadership was staying mum because they didn't want their underlings to know anything was going on. Which concerned him... ARMA's methods and the Order's had certainly diverged, especially with the dragon lady coordinating these days, but they both relied on certain truths about magic. Everything left some kind of trace. He'd investigated dozens of supernatural murders, and there was always an echo, something to follow.

Dacia wouldn't be here if it had been like that this time around.

He nodded a bit at her offer. There were going to be plenty who would suggest letting the Order deal with the problem themselves, but Alistair was worried this wasn't going to stay concealed to the Order. Anyone who could hide from them could most certainly hide from ARMA, and if it WASN'T the Vanguard...

[alistair]Wonderful.[/alistair] he added as she confirmed his suspicions. [alistair]Are we sure we're dealing with a power here? So far it's always been true that the most powerful among us - or the fae - tend to leave the strongest impressions on the world as we pass. I'd suggest someone with no powers would be better able to move unseen, but then, someone without powers couldn't get past your defenses, could they? It's an interesting problem...[/alistair] He left unsaid that if he'd known how to do it, he probably would have, at some point in the currently cold war.

[alistair]There are some detached parties that we haven't heard back from in too long. Rangers and the like. In New York proper... well it would only be unusual if nothing unusual was going on. The Undercity elements have been fairly quiet, but I think that's more a function of the Mayor's office cracking down. We haven't been involved in any of that for a while, since we got our hands on that enchanter of theirs. And it's not as though their influence reaches much beyond New York, anyway. Are there any new players in Europe?[/alistair]
 

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Her porcelain visage remained still at the suggestion of the Fae-folk but a graceful brow arched curiously at the mention of those who ‘lacked’ their particular talents. That such individuals may indeed be able to move among them undetected, but therein lied the conundrum as one considered that their defences could not be bypassed by such individuals. She saluted his insight with a warm nod, the bold line of her jaw rising to the inquiry of any European threats.

[dacia]Perhaps.[/dacia] The reply slowly fell from her lips with uncertainty, prompting her to lean forward and reach under the table. She rose with a rectangular object her hand and as she unwrapped the black, embroidered cloth any Magus would immediately recognize it as a grimoire. An old book of incantations written in the dwindling hours of magic’s light.

[dacia]In recent months we have observed practices existing outside of the realm of the empowered.[/dacia] She explained, laying the book before him.

It was a black leather bound copy of ‘The Grand Grimoire’, also known as the ‘Red Dragon’ or ‘Gospel of Satan’. As Magus studied the history of these ancient texts, most would be aware of it’s origin dating back to 1520 AD, this particular copy appearing to be one of the many reproductions produced in 1775 AD. Such books were useless in the hands of the ‘unpowered’, only a skilled Magus or the like could extrapolate incantations from the writings or so they had always believed.

[dacia]Flip to the back of the book.[/dacia] She told him, directing Alistair to the collection of hand written notes of mystical symbols and directions; plainly the recent decipherings of a Magus. Unremarkable to another, but it was Dacia’s statement concerning the anticipation of this conclusion that was truly astounding. [dacia]Those were not written by a Magus, nor Fae, nor any being of magical nature. We found the book in the possession of a woman in Hamburg.[/dacia] Hence explaining why the notes were written in German, [dacia] We were called in regards to a disturbance, the accused apparently employing the use of a spell to manipulate the victim. It seemed a routine investigation, we were prepared to apprehend the offending Magus, only there was no Magus. The woman in question was by all rights purely ‘Human’ and yet she had been able to extract and cast a spell utilizing this arcane text.[/dacia]

Ritual magic. It was not unheard of but from Human lips was extremely limited, thus why the Order gave it little concern. Grand rituals often involved sacrifices and laborious preparation, and with such a low rate of success were very discouraging. Regulation of these often ‘murderous’ spells could often be conducted by normal law enforcement so Magus were not often required. This particular spell, however, was previously thought beyond the skill’s of an unempowered individual. To Dacia it was further proof that ‘magic’ was evolving, that the power produced by components was becoming more potent. It meant that what they termed as ‘regular Humans’ could be utilizing spells comparable to their own.

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Alistair rubbed at the back of his neck a bit, considering the situation. This was a pain in the ass... Dacia was a bit more tolerable than the majority of the OFL types he'd run into in the last months. He chalked that up to her having been a field magus, same way he had. Not unlike the corporate world where he'd been making his money before the Event, there was often a huge difference between the people actually producing and the ones who just gave the orders... particularly when the job that had to be done frequently sucked and was dangerous as all hell.

Ha... There was an amusing thought. What would you call the magical variant of an MBA?

His brow went up a bit when he saw what she was bringing over, though there was a moment of hesitation when she offered the book. She would probably understand why - it couldn't just be New York that had seen its share of exceptionally dangerous books since magic had returned to the world. A grimoire was a fantastic and powerful thing. On its own, some of them could grant an ordinary person the powers of a magus, but like all such artifacts, there was often a price to be paid. For Alistair's part, after seeing a few of those in action, he had a certain hesitation where ancient books bound in what looked like leather were concerned, after that.

As he looked it over, though... this wasn't one of those. He didn't sense anything from it, which meant it was probably a reproduction - no telling what the original might have been capable of, but this one was at least safe enough, which was presumably why she had it in her office and not sealed under at least a Level Three containment.

He nodded, flipping the pages until he got to the notes in the margins, and frowned a bit. Recognizable as code, but... [alistair]These other symbols, you don't see these in most of the books. It's... Power sources. Ways to start a car with no battery.[/alistair] he murmured, then he glanced back up to her, frown only deepening at her explanation.

[alistair]Great.[/alistair] was his eventual, deadpan reply. He spoke a bit of German, so he kept reading the notes for a few moments before he pushed the book away in disgust. [alistair]Exactly what we need, someone deciding to go back to the ways of the Mayans. Going to be great, going back to the ol' blood sacrifice days. Used to be all these people would end up doing is pricking their finger and making enough of a tear in the Veil for a minor demon to get through. If someone's figuring out how to make complex spells work, though... we've just lost our monopoly.[/alistair]

Dacia obviously knew as well as he did what Bad News that could mean. A great deal of the security of their two organizations - OFL especially, since they lacked the paramilitary wing Aura's people had brought to ARMA - was heavily reliant on the idea that there just wasn't anyone else with sophisticated magical abilities to contend with. Granted, their little civil war had gone a long way toward closing those loopholes, which might be one of the only things that saved them, but they still had many similar tricks in their security. That was how Alistair had got in, anyway.

But if they could not only get through the wards, but didn't have enough aura about them for the sensing spells to track... [alistair]We've been counting for too long on the fact that this stuff is so complex and easy to screw up. Years of coming to the sites of the rituals to see it gone wrong... Do you really think after all this time, people are getting it right?[/alistair]

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Dacia didn’t comment too much on Alistair’s diatribe against the archaic ways of the occult. Ritualistic sacrifices were sometimes the most potent means to an end but she knew the younger magus was not so naive. He realized as well as she that true magic went far beyond their personalized spells. Beyond their wards and charms, but this was not an art for the amateur, as Alistair had pointed out in his own colourful manner.

[dacia]We realized in the beginning that our control was finite. That one day the manipulation of magic would no longer be exclusive to our kind. Time, however, has a habit of accelerating when you rely on it the most.[/dacia] She admitted.

[dacia]My dear Alistair, I fear they’ve been ‘getting it right’ for some time now. Fortunately, we can yet take comfort that the potency of their spell-casting remains reserved for those Humans with a predisposition for the craft. The cases we’ve discovered have always possessed the lineage and aptitude providing the means necessary to decipher and cast incantations. They’re out there. Make no mistake. It is these rare individuals whom I suspect have been able to infiltrate our ranks. While they may lack strength by comparison, their knowledge of magic seems to parallel our own. We have to be vigilant, especially against those who deal in the trinkets, bobbles and weeds that these practitioners require to produce the mana necessary for the casting.[/dacia]

Dacia was of course referring to shop-keepers who sold components and other paraphernalia required to generate magic. These people were fast becoming the front line in a new war.

The ‘power sources’ Alistair had referred to were the levels of mana necessary to produce the spell. They translated to the amount of each component required. Precise calculations that would have put their own savants to the test.

‘How did it come to this so soon?’

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[alistair]Sure. Always pretend otherwise where the public can hear you though, right?[/alistair] Alistair replied - maybe it was a touch bitter, obviously he was referring to the preferred tactics of the Order, but more than that he sounded tired. Or, more accurately, pre-emptively worn down by the shitstorm he was worried he could see coming.

As she spoke the next bit though, he nodded a moment, considering for a few seconds just what she meant by that. As luck would have it, he knew exactly the sort of person she was talking about. Rorye had always dabbled in stuff that was on the edge of dangerous, but if people were making real, true ritual magic work, some of that supposedly harmless, fun cursed shit that moved through the back room might end up hurting someone in truth. Badly.

[alistair]Back to the days of alchemy, then. Magic as a science. We've been playing at it, but we're the elite athletes in the metaphor. We can get by with sloppy technique now and then and muscle the spell in the direction we want. Them on the other hand... they have to be perfect, or they look like idiots. Big enough ritual, though, and they could fuck up a city every bit as well as an untrained rogue magus.[/alistair] Shit. There was none of this he liked. Not one bit.

[alistair]Can't go criminalizing all of it. For one, most of it is too damn common. But you're right. That's the first place to look. I've got some contacts, I'll reach out and see if anything interesting comes out of it.[/alistair] Time to have an uncomfortable talk with the girlfriend. And... [alistair]And one of us, or maybe both of us, should have a chat with Pharos.[/alistair] he added, hesitating a moment. The group tended not to antagonize, and Alistair was glad enough to have them keeping certain items out of the public grasp.

[alistair]Because I'm hazarding a guess that they have in their possession a number of things that people of the sort we're discussing would find very, very interesting... and no vault stays impregnable for long.[/alistair]

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~ fin ~


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