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  • Ashes and Rising Ruin

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    (Yes, I'm aware it's posting three times. Unable to solve at this time.)


    Wood groaned. Slowly, rhythmically, sound muffled across a packed dirt floor.


    A mixture or orange and golden light flickered around corners and oozed into shadows, bringing with it stifling heat radiating from steam pipes that laced through the building. The iron behemoth was the heart of the building, producing its volcanic temperature beneath the stone and marble of the cathedral above.


    The creak of wood and rope mingled with the taps and pings of angry steam guided through pipes. Exhale matched the cadence. Rope around his wrist was tied to a rafter, other hand behind his back, ankles crossed to create a controlled, lean line as he pulled himself up repeatedly. Lips formed words, methodically counting each time the cords in his arm strained to complete a pull up and lower himself back to a measured position. Entire body tensed as he squeezed on the last count, dropping to the floor when he let go and his hand slipped from the loop.


    Stretch to the arm was long and languid, shrugging both shoulders several times before grabbing a towel and wiping down his arms and his neck. There was a sheen to his skin from the intense heat of the room. The fire magus did sweat with exertion; it just took a hell of a lot. He’d turned the boiler room into his own space specifically for that, filling it with rudimentary strengthening basics to push himself past the point of being a weapon. He’d surpassed that, and come to terms with his conscience, and choices. He was violent, he was built for it; to kill without guilt, complete actions that could change the course of the world. The difference was now… he made those calls.


    Cracking the seal on his water bottle, it was tipped up, drinking the entire bottle. Watch was picked up off the tiny table in the far corner from the boiler, checking the time. Both were set down, fingers wandering over the athame in its sheath on the table. Head lifted to look over his shoulder before he heard the first tap. Smile slid over his features and he put on his watch and athame, sliding on his hoodie and stuffing the empty water bottle in his pocket. Stairs upward were taken two at a time to meet his morning delivery. Paper, caffallatte and fette biscotti from his favorite café before a shower, a change and beginning his morning duties at seven am sharp.

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    • Rhome Del Santo changed the title to Ashes and Rising Ruin
    • 3 months later...

    Pale mercurial eyes glinted a twinkle of gold reflection, face eye level with the top of the small desk. The tips of his thumbs and middle fingers brushed every so often as they hovered above the mounted signet ring. Changing its spots was no easy feat. The ones he’d taken from members of the Order had their own challenges in his scheme, his own was proving to be near impossible to bend the enchantments that made it what it was. Rings were supposed to be an honor, a symbol of acceptance, of family, love, remembrance. A point of pride, a personal choice. These were chains to him. Promises broken and lies. Symbols of ownership and subservience. He was going to use the same tools against those that had tortured him.


    Lashes lowered in concentration as the chain of thought seemed to make his signet become even more defiant of his new enchantments. Hands closed completely and he stood, drawing a deep breath. The heaviness of smothering heat hovered around the gold ring he’d worn on his finger since the Order had taken his freedom. He was breaking its back.


    He brushed his fingers through the fresh short haircut still damp from his shower, pulling on a dark olive tee shirt and a zip-up black hoodie over it. Tamed scruff was smoothed, sunglasses hooked on the collar his tee shirt as he left his modest room. Hand opened, palm facing the door as a flash of darkness shadowed his eyes and the air seemed to quiver. The weight of the enchantment thrummed an ominous vibration once and fell silent, swizzles of animated script appearing for a moment in a complex gyroscope where his room was the center of its existence. The place where he was plotting his revolution was a shadow, emptiness, a black hole of consciousness causing the magical eye to glance off when focused on the anomaly. Hiding in plain sight. The thing out of the corner of one's eye.


    Hood pulled up and he was on his way, trotting down the stairs on the back side of the cathedral toward the Citadel. Hands slipped into his pockets, melting into the streets of normality.

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    • 6 months later...

    He wasn’t trying to hide, it just happened. Like breathing… blinking, or his heartbeat. The tall magus moved within the public, walked the sidewalks, crossed the streets, did everything alongside others but wasn’t cast a second glance until he stopped moving and lingered. Even then, he seemed a background character in a giant street play; existing without attention or purpose except to be a presence. Ambiance. It’s what he was trained to be, and even now he couldn’t seem to turn it off.


    Buying a paper, he crossed the last street in a small bustle of walkers to stop at his favorite café. The sun had a golden hue this early in the morning. It lifted through the height of buildings, twinkling through windows and reflecting off glass to light up the hub of streets with energizing ambiance. Sliding on his aviators, he found a seat near the edge of the outdoor patio. Hoodie was zipped a little closer up around his neck, eyes looking up to make sure as the sun moved it would be on his face. The balmy air was warmer with a lingering cool that was embedded in the ground. When the sun went down, the chill would creep over the city again. For now, in the sun it was quite comfortable.


    Paper snapped open, his regular coffee placed in front of him as he smiled up at the new waitress.


    “May I also get a rustico, mozzarella please?”


    “Absolutely,” her response was amiable.


    The small café wasn’t incredibly busy, it looked like she was the only one working the breakfast rush. An extra generous tip was in order.


    He always read the paper front to back, even the classifieds. Many times they had more information about what was going on in the city than the actual news. Every so often he would glance over the top of the paper at the building down the street. From his vantage point, he could see the Citadel.


    Exceptionally quiet. Quiet for a while now.


    He could feel it, like a rock standing against the world, silent, formidable. A void in space, yet not. If asked to explain the changes he felt coming from it he wasn’t sure he could. Metaphorically maybe, a rock face, with a trickle of tiny waterfalls starting to spill from the top and bleed down the ‘mountain’. Carving indentations and paths as the water disappeared at the foot. Eroding.


    Interesting, and dangerous.


    He went back to his paper, robberies. Socials had made quite a comeback. Paper flipped down when the waitress returned and set down his breakfast.


    “Thank you,” he smiled and picked it up.


    One ankle crossed over his knee, the paper spread out and balancing on his knee as he ate with his other hand. Chewing slowly, he read an article again. Skirmishes on the north border of the city. Not a lot of information yet. It seemed outer concerns were starting to press inward, or at least draw deeper, sharper borders. His attention wandered again to the building. Impatience was a relatively new sensation for him.


    He needed something from it.


    He knew what was in that building, more so than he ever let on to anyone. It was, after all, their building before more recently being taken and “refurbished” for another purpose. No matter what was done to it, the core of the Order’s tinkering was in it… and he needed one of those tinkerings.


    A key.


    Not a physical key of course, but it worked much the same. Reworked or fiddled with by ARMA for their needs, it was still Order magic and had been built for Order purposes. The position he formerly held had a level of magic that wasn’t common or even uncommon knowledge. He could rework it. He needed that key to finish his work.


    Of course, he could just ask.


    He didn’t want to ask. If he asked, he would have to explain. Then probably show what he was up to at the cathedral, and the signets he had in stasis while actively breaking their magic programming. He’d have to explain what his ultimate goal was, the one place at the Vatican that could solve everyone’s problems.


    He wasn’t going to ask, he would just keep coming every day to watch, to “feel” the building. He knew where it was, or where it was before ARMA had taken the building. He just needed to find a way to get to it.


    But... he was getting impatient, paper flipping back up as he continued his reading.

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    • 7 months later...

    They were all like a whisper, the breeze felt from passing bustle of life, the sensations one gets used to from simply being. They used it, exploited it to become a presence that simply slipped past normal life. Strange dark entities in a twisted alumnus family, sensing each other before a storm.


    His paper dipped slightly, the well dressed woman had appeared like a ghost at his table. She'd already caught the attention of the waitress to bring her some coffee. Settling in, dark brown wavy hair was pulled up into an elegant ponytail quickly and she checked her cell phone. 


    "I don't have a lot of time before I have to head back to the office," she said, the shadowed natural eyeliner of her olive skin made her eyes twinkle as if she'd spent hours in a make-up chair. "Plus... I value my neck. I don't want to be seen with you."


    "That's fine, I'll be quick," he responded in kind to her Spanish.


    It was exceptionally rare that two were ever seen in one place simultaneously. Especially now, his reputation as a death bringer to any walking and talking members of the Order was like the stories parents told unruly kids to snap them in line.


    "I need a lead on Eli," he said quietly, drinking his coffee. The cups looked small in their hands. Great coffee always came in cups that did. The paper folded and sat on his lap.


    Her forehead crinkled slightly, smiling up with a pale expression of thanks when her coffee arrived. He scared her. Even with all her training, all her connections, he terrified her. Unpredictable, introverted, it was impossible to tell what he was thinking. Her fingers gripped the cup for a moment, soaking in the warmth. Looking back at him, her eyes were knowing. Deep sadness dwelled in the depths, regret, hate, things unrequited.


    "Philadelphia," she cast a long gaze around the cafe. "Or what's left of it.'


    Pale mercurial eyes watched her a moment, nodding once.


    "When is it my turn?" her voice was quiet.


    His eyes didn't waver, hers did. He didn't answer her at first.


    "We shouldn't be chewing off our own legs, we should be rebuilding. Making something new," she said.


    Paper was placed on the table and he finished his coffee.


    "Rebuilding is not an option. It has to die."


    Her expression darkened, "who are you to decide who lives or dies here... what survives and what doesn't?"


    The cup was placed into the saucer with a small clink. Hers was still gripped in her hands. The gaze that was sliding over the cafe finally settled on her, and she felt it. The weight, the unpredictability of a tiger that still had a paw caught in a trap. She didn't really know what terrified her but she could feel it in her bones. Then they softened, and she relaxed slightly.


    "I'm the only one who gets to decide," in English, the answer was brief. "This is happening, and you can either help, or be in my way. There is no middle ground."


    Her lips pressed together, and she finished her coffee. "Don't expect me to save you if this goes down in flames."


    He paid for everything, leaving the waitress a generous tip.


    "And your Spanish still sucks," she dug, checking her phone and getting up to leave.


    Was it a hint of an amused smile she saw?


    "Valencia," he said quietly.


    She paused, hands tight on her bag strap.


    "There is no neutral," he finally said. "It all burns."


    She nodded, and wove through the tables. Looking back briefly, he was already gone.


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    • RESONANCE - 18+ 3/3/3

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