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Following the White Rabbit
They got to the back door before Raffe suggested that he change.  And he did, nothing he owned was not 'rich' looking, but Cruz opted to wear the least brand name things he could find.  He even donned a Methos t-shirt he'd bought when he went to see the concert with Nox.  That was a hell of a night.  He also some how had one of Nox's shirts he pulled over his arms, it wasn't particularly well made, and it was a bit too small for his shoulders, but he wasn't planning on buttoning it up.  Jeans and combat boots he borrowed from Sage long ago completed his outfit.  

And when he was ready they took the train.  How else does one get to the the underworld? Definitely not by a car that spoke to the money Cruz possessed.  Maybe he should dress more like Sage.  He wasn't asked to change so he didn't stand out.  Maybe it was the disheveled hair and the general attitude he projected.  Cruz knew that Sage didn't wear anything from the local 'x'mart stores.  But he didn't give off the money airs either -- he was a hacker.  He knew how to blend in.  Or not, as Sage zoned in and out of the conversational small talk that waxed and waned between the three friends.

They got off the train when Raffe said they were near, and they followed along.  Cruz felt a strange excitement building in his gut.  He'd never done anything like this.  Nox had started his decent down the darker paths -- nothing overly wrong he was still a good guy at heart.  But breaking and entering, sneaking out, there was a moral gray line for him and it wasn't near where most peoples were.  And Sage he did nothing to improve his ascent to becoming a CEO of Jivana.  He only pulled Cruz down further into the darkness.  And now Cruz found his own hold.  This coin wasn't much of anything, but it was a mystery and into the underworld.  His own find.  His own rebellion -- not one brought upon by his gift and the friends his father had thrust upon him.

This was his own folly to make or hinder.  He was his own m an and this was his story.

"So this guy?  Anything I should know about him before I'm shaking hands?"
They were soon on their way. Anxiety lingered in the back of Raffe’s mind, but it was the impatient kind, counting down the minutes until the end of Nox’s debrief. Sage was an unusual companion, bouncing into the conversation sometimes, and looking completely zoned out of life the next moment, but Raffe gathered that was normal behaviour for him so he paid it little mind. Cruz just seemed eager to unravel the mystery of his find, an enthusiasm that might have been endearing if Raffe could shake the feeling Cruz might be jumping from his pampered life into something a little out of his depth.

“He’s connected. He must be. People in the undercity go to him for favours, and the coin’s your ticket. Rumour says he’ll hear out anyone out who asks, though. It’s just that sometimes what you think you ask for isn’t exactly what you get. That’s what I’ve heard anyway,” Raffe said in answer to Cruz’s question. After a moment he added, “I don’t know him, really. But he’s been hanging around the club a little lately, usually when Oriena’s there. That seems a fair reason for caution. Just be careful, is all.”

After the train it would be a short walk to the church where those displaced from the underground upheaval had gathered. A soup kitchen and make-shift shelter had been set up amongst the dilapidated church facilities, and people milled around or sat in clusters much as they had when Raffe was last here. A gas leak seemed to be the accepted reason for evacuation judging by snippets of conversation caught in passing. If anyone suspected differently they weren’t saying, but there was a quiet undercurrent of unrest too. No one spoke Ascendancy’s name outright. No one judged aloud. But it was there in the margins. That he had caused it. That his neglect had allowed it to happen.

There was a name spoken amongst the people here, though; one in hushed and reverently thankful tones. And that name was Ezekiel’s.
Sage followed along, listening and following. He kept tabs on Nox's journey through the tunnels, and his location after exiting. He'd been in one place for a long time. Red tape and bueracracy were likely chaffing him. Sage didn't try to use Nox's wallet to hack into the nearby cameras or systems. He could, but that would tarnish Nox's reputation -- and he had some pretty big connections Sage didn't dare burn. Who the fuck has personal conversations with the King of the Known world?

Sage caught some of what Raffe told Cruz about Ezekiel. There was little he could find on the man, he couldn't offer up much. But that didn't stop Sage from digging deeper. Just because you were underground didn't mean you didn't leave a footprint. Even Nox with his good connections left a trail -- though at present his footprint grew everyday he was no longer Atharim. He didn't care to hide. But when you know the Ascendancy why would you?

"I still find it hard to believe Nox works at a club like Kallisti."

Cruz rolled his eyes. "Not surprising in the least."

Cruz was showing his aristocracy and Sage didn't call him on it. Things like that might get him hurt here though. But Cruz had one thing most people didn't -- he could weild the power of the gods and had been trained by Nox. And Nox prided himself on being deadly -- even if he preached otherwise.

"Just watch your manners in here." Sage advised his friend. Sage moved closer to Raffe and leaned in to whisper. "I checked the cameras where the camp used to be -- the fires have died down and Nox says the tunnels are monster free. Killed every last beastie. You can tell whoever might care. I can show the feeds if you need."

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Sage was strange. He whispered to Raffe and Cruz looked around. He felt out of place and uncomfortable. Lost in a world he'd never knew existed. Homelessness was something you didn't see on many CCD streets. They kept to the shadows and out of the neighborhoods Cruz usually frequented. Despite his change in attire, he still felt well out of place in the confines of the old shabby church.

Snippets of conversations overheard all mentioned a single name. Praises to him like maybe he was some sort of god. Maybe he was. Cruz leaned one thing above all else while learning with Nox. The power enhanced the senses. He reached into the darkness and pulled on the light. It raged through his body and he held it by the horns and just held on as he the world grew clearer. The sounds more clear. The smells stung his nose in a way they hadn't before -- stronger, fouler. He tried not to gag. But he felt safer, warmer with the dark light pulsing through him.

Cruz pulled the coin from his pocket and clasped it tight in his fist. He tapped a woman on the shoulder. "I'm looking for Ezkiel. Can you point me in the right direction?" Cruz didn't mind following Raffe, but he wanted it to be known that he was the seeker. And that Sage wasn't here to make trouble -- he could make trouble with a wrong word about what he did for a living -- even here among the down trodden. Stalkers probably weren't well liked.
Raffe nodded to the whisper. “I trust you,” he answered. He didn’t need to see the proof. Nox trusted Sage, and that was enough for Raffe.

Cruz looked a little out of his element in this new environment, but compensated well enough with the kind of confidence often afforded by the insurance of wealth. Or maybe it was buoyed by something else. Menace twisted Raffe’s stomach in knots and seeped sudden tension into his muscles as they wandered the hallowed shadows of the old church. He swiped a hand over the back of his clammy neck, and shifted uncomfortably. He wasn’t sure he’d ever get used to that feeling emanating off another.

News of strangers in the church would probably ripple naturally amongst its current denizens. Cruz didn’t stick out too badly after changing his clothes, but he was looking at everything like it was another world. If Ekeziel was still here, he would know soon enough that something disturbed his sanctuary.

Meanwhile the woman Cruz tapped on the shoulder flinched in surprise as she turned, and Raffe winced a little for the wide discomfort in her eyes to behold three strange men. He wasn’t sure of her name, but he offered a friendly smile to soften the assertive demand. It made no difference. She murmured something and pulled away from them.

“Don’t take it personal,” Raffe said as she fled. He pat Cruz’s arm. It wasn’t like the man had done anything wrong, things were just different here. 

He was about to say more, but was interrupted by soft fingertips walking a line along his shoulder. You came back,” said a voice, as deep and rich as fresh honey. Shadows had a way of clinging to Ezekiel, or maybe that was just the remnants of the fever talking. As Raffe turned in surprise, all he could think about was the skull he had seen in the clouds during last night’s storms. But the face that emerged was desert sunkissed not macabre white. Soft curls framed sharp features. Raffe caught a glint of large amber eyes as Ezekiel continued his sweep around them, the touch retreating as he came to stand among them. He glanced first at Sage, and then settled upon Cruz.

"And you brought friends.”
[[ I know it's not my turn but better if Cruz goes last ]]

Sage watched as the fingers walked across Raffe's shoulder. This had to be the man they were looking for and now Sage had a face to go with the name and that was all he required to send his algorithms into overdrive looking for any thing and everything about this man -- even if he had to scour ever video camera in Moscow, it would know more about Ezekiel by days end.

But in that moment of pause Sage smiled and offered his hand. "You must be him." Sage nodded around to everyone watching them but not watching. He smirked and leaned in to whisper to the pair.

Cruz put his hand on Sage's shoulder. "Sage, don't.

Sage looked back at his friend. "It's fine." Sage replied to Cruz and returned to Raffe and his friend. "The fires have died down and I have it on good authority that all the beasties down there are gone. At least temporarily -- monsters like to find the dark places so they'll be more later. But those new ones they are all gone. Except a few topside that didn't heed the call."

"Sage." Cruz drew out his name like he was doing something bad.

"What! He should know." Sage returned his attention to the men. "They can go home if they like." Not that it was much of a home, but it was better than feeling displaced. Even the confines of his bedroom where his parents locked him up to experiment on him was better than not being home. Now home was with Aidan. At least for now. Before it had been with Nox and Cruz in the basement... next time it might be in a cave somewhere. Who knew.

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Cruz shook his head. Sage was going to make a mess of everything. Last thing he needed was to be thrown out because Nox did some horrible thing to these people in an attept to save the world like he was prone to do and Sage goes out and pretty much tells the world he's stalking everyone. He didn't put it past the hacker to have already started finding dirt on the man they were here to meet.

Cruz held out his hand and smile "He's a strange one. Don't mind him." Sage was staring off into the void again probably processing some thing or another or maybe even talking with Nox. Who the fuck knew what he did when he zoned out like that.

He held up the coin he'd found wedge in a crack in the men's bathroom of Manifesto. "My name is Cruz. I found this. Raffe tells me its one of yours. " It felt dissatisfying finding the owner with such ease -- but maybe that was fate, or destiny.
Oh that feeling. It drew him through the camp like the offering of a bloody altar, curious and irritated in equal measure. It was a trespass after all.

Ezekiel followed them a while, watching and testing the boundaries of his mercurial mood, until he finally pierced their social bubble with a march of his fingers across Raffe’s shoulder. His gaze fell upon one companion in particular but it was the other who spoke first, not the man who walked into his church like a fucking lit bomb, and Ekeziel’s attention shifted from study to geniality in the blink of an eye. The emphasis he took as a compliment, enjoyed with a roguish grin and faint tilt of the head like a question. It was a question he did not ask though. Insead the slash of his grin widened, and his tattooed hands spread out for a short, amused bow at the waist. Notoriety deserved some theatrics. The man seemed too certain for a game of prevarication, which was interesting of itself, even in Raffe’s knowing company.

"Back into the darkness, you mean, Sage-who-has-it-on-good-authority." If there was revelation in Ezekiel’s reaction it did not show. His hands slunk in his pockets, and his tone remained pleasant but for the slight twist of sharpness on good. "To be gnawed upon like forgotten bones, until the next time the horrors that lurk below grow hungry for a more wholesome feast. How very kind of you to let me know."

The man drifted behind the eyes, and Ezekiel watched the tell of addiction a moment longer, ignoring for a moment the other man’s excuse and introduction.

"Did he now,” he said eventually, glancing briefly at Raffe, who was watching proceedings with great solemnity. "You seem to have come an awful long way from home to return it, Cruz. Were you hopeful of a reward?”

He held his palm open for the coin, and waited.
[Image: zekesig2-1.jpg]
The only thing that sells better than pleasure, is fear.
Zahir | Pazuzu Ezekiel 
Cruz watched Sage drift into his zone ignorant of what the man had implied by his meaning. "He doesn't mean you should go back into the darkness. He likes having people on the grid -- the more the merrier." Cruz said. "His good authority can clear the monsters if you are being bothered by them. Raffe knows how to get ahold of him. He's one man. Can't be everywhere at once. And he doesn't even charge the good folks a fee. Can't beat that." Cruz said sarcastically.

But the attention turned to the coin and Cruz felt more inclined to talk about its mystery than about what Nox could do to thwart the monsters in the underground. "It's not worth much. Can't imagine there is much of a reward. It was a mystery to solve which just took my friends knowing the right people to find the right place. It wasn't just lying on the ground where I found it. Someone stuffed it in a high crevice in the men's bathroom of Manifesto. Hardly a place to stash the unimportant. It has all the marks of a calling card -- a mystery to be solved." Cruz placed it on the palm of the man's hand with a smile. "Mystery solved. If unsatisfactorily. I imagine not many of my kind find your trinkets. But then not many of my kind have friends who slink around in the tunnels killing monsters as their so-called calling in life." For as much as this man thought he was looked down upon by the rich and prosperous, Cruz felt the same thing like this man was looking down on him because he had it handed to him. Cruz tried not to let the conversation turn towards that, tried to reign his father's and grandfather's worlds into the reality of things. "I'm not here to cause problems. Curiosity killed the cat. And let's say I was curious why someone might stuff an ancient yet not ancient looking coin in a hole in the wall waiting for someone to pluck it from it's confines. There's no message. And in manifesto, maybe it's a joke, or a track to lure the unsuspecting to rob and pilfer their corpses." Cruz looked around and smiled. "I may not be my friend, but I'm not completely defenseless."
“Your friend flushed us out with fire and blood, Cruz. It is not the monsters down there that bother me.”

Ezekiel sounded casual enough, but there was a spark in his eyes like dry tinder. Raffe hadn’t exactly anticipated that Cruz would be the match. His gaze swept the milling groups of people, most of them dutifully paying no attention to the conversation, and he swayed with unease. Cruz’s protection of Nox’s integrity was admirable, but it was shame Raffe felt in his stomach then. Semantics on how and why these people were here was irrelevant. They were here, and they were suffering. He glanced at Sage for support, but after sprinkling a merry trail of gasoline, the man might as well have been a million miles away judging by the look on his face.

“That’s not what he means,” Raffe said quietly, stepping closer. He didn’t want to drop Nox’s name, and he hoped Cruz wasn’t so bullheaded as to not understand without him having to say it. It was the Custody itself that held Ezekiel’s scorn. No one cared about the undercity’s problems until they threatened to spill topside. No one cared that people were forced to live there at all. He was vaguely surprised at Cruz’s reaction, but then Raffe always was surprised when others missed the heart and humanity of things. “He just wants a better life for those of us society chooses to forget. We all do.”

He held Cruz’s gaze, but he wasn’t sure how much would sink in. Raffe’s clothes were old and worn even on a good day. He lived paycheck to paycheck, and a hefty amount on Carmen’s goodwill. His slashed throat might rob him of even that if he wasn’t careful – because what use was a bartender who couldn’t speak up over the club’s music? It’d only take a small fall for Raffe to end up back in the undercity, and it had taken all of his strength to get out in the first place.

“Maybe we should just go,” he added. The colour had blanched out of his face. He felt suddenly tired, wondering if Cruz’s ire and disappointment would burn him too.

But Cruz had already handed over the coin.

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