End this madness.
A single command governed their body as she sprang from wall to wall down twisting corridors, hounding the sound of panicked voices and rapid footfalls. Her boot came down on the floor, rubber sole skidding across the luxurious hardwood. The Servant slid to stop, turning a single eye on the group down the hall from them. A single green eye, alight with the fire of violence, fell on Otto von Habsburg. Already she moved to draw their weapon from their side, black steel appearing from under her coat. A red circle jumped to Otto's chest, a crimson hologram dancing between still beating life and the all consuming tempest of the marksman's eye.
Just in time, the roof shattered above them. The splintering of the upper stories offered only an instant of warning before the hallway was filled with azure lights, the sound of hammering artillery falling to the earth. Explosion after explosion, a hail of awe inspiring firepower. Noise was done away with, replaced with a simple concussive feeling in her skull as she flickered backwards. Arrowheads pierced the Assassin's weapon, wrenching it from their hands as she chose survival over taking their shot. Debris filled the air, dust muffling the blinding lights and hiding the whistling shapes of lethal fragmentation. Shock from the repeated blasts tossed them backwards, the Servant's form flung through drywall as if it were rice paper, and trailing blood where she landed.
The building shook beneath them. The sounds of collapse played around her, the familiar noises of a building bombed into submission. Plaster dust fell from the ceiling. The lights flickered. This amount of collateral damage... before they were even out of the building. Just what kind of resolve did the Master have, commanding an attack so close to himself? She rolled backwards over their shoulders, rising to hands and knees from under a falling ceiling panel. The mansion's lifespan was best measured in seconds after such a thorough carpet bombing. What had they been targeting, to strike nearly every part of the building? The idea of an intentionally controlled demolition sprang to mind.
Wars were won by those willing to lose the most. Otto von Habsburg had the mind to sacrifice even his trump card, this atelier in the countryside. He needed to die.
The wraith stood straight as the world around them came crashing down. The building breathed its last: a caustic cloud of eddying gray and black pouring from its many openings as the top floor plummeted one layer after another down to the basement. Windows exploded outwards as the internal shockwaves compounded. The skeleton of supporting beams not severed by the Archer shed its body, holding up tiny fragments of the building while the rest simply sloughed away into a ruined pile.
A single soldier still walked the barren ground. Rubble settled with a gravelly rumble as a slab of flooring was pushed over. A slender specter rose from the ashes, a long black coat frayed to pieces and flapping around them in the swirling air currents. A hollow stared out at the world from one eye socket, empty and dark and bereft of its cover. Beside it the light still shined, verdant spite glowing from their working sight. She stood over the gardens on what was assuredly a burial mound, staring into the duo of Master and Servant as they carefully navigated their way to safety at the other end of the expansive compound. Magical energy still flowed from the dismantled building, currents of siphoned power escaping back into the environment as the dying structure took with it many of the mystic codes lying around such a workshop. "I can't give you any more, I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."
Words rang in their head as they reached for a weapon that never came. The tether snapped, the shared pain that came with it easing away. The wraith turned away, casting their good eye over their shoulder for a final glance at opportunity slipping away, and strode back into the ruins.
Discordant Starting Bell/Clear
The Habsburg Ruin
June 29th, 2021
Gemstone Ash Collection
The Winter Palace could truly cruise once it was free of the Boston interior, guided by the skilled hands of a Rider Servant into the somber New England countryside. Even after the lunch rush, the sun hung up in the summer sky, bearing a sultry sort of coastal heat down on the land. Haze rose from the roads, creatures sheltered in the shade, and once you were past the tourists creeping back to hotels it was a world of normal suburbs. The estate identified by the newspaper ad was a scant few hours and a map search away, a distance and time perhaps reduced by just how much determination and purpose the food truck was imbued with.
Little changed besides the slight shifting of the sun as they rode on. A rest stop passed by. A man quietly walked his Labrador, stretching tired legs for the final stretch of a journey from the west coast. Two girls sat in the back of an opened up gray van, one staring across the road and holding the second while she wept. A trucker watched the food truck pass idly, nursing an iced tea in the sweltering cockpit of his ride. The last picket before richfolk land, it too faded into the urban haze of Boston behind them.
Woods surrounded the estate, barring sight of the compound from the highway. Even as the food truck mounted the hillside roads, the truth of the estate's state would remain a mystery until they pulled free of the forest, to the final open stretch to the estate's ruined front gates.
The smoked out remains of a gray van stood where an entrance once was, wrapped in the wrought iron corpse of the gate. The fence on both sides had been eviscerated, broad holes punched in the spikes and survivors leaning where heat stress had deformed the trestles. The cabin of the van still flickered with flames, the scent of a gasoline fire on the breeze as the upholstery was sanitized. Behind it only half of the building's front face remained, holes punched in the massive glass windows overlooking the driveway. The rest had simply crumbled away into a nondescript gray heap, splashes of color in the form of hardwoods and tapestries peaking out to hint at the luxury the building once contained. The lack of a gas fire was as good a sign as any, and no hint remained of any electric life in the perimeter lights.
A closer approach would reveal the shells of the front doors, frames still standing even when the doors themselves had been stripped from their hinges. The hollowed out lobby, tables coated in dust or toppled entirely, promised nothing beyond. A trail of blood stretched from beside the car, droplets flung out over the lawn to a deeper crimson smudge, and an obvious drag path back to the charitably untouched gatehouse.
For what little it was worth, the congregation was also taken by surprise as someone actually opened the door. Some of the remaining tourists scratched their head at the attire of their would-be host, someone passing an idle remark about a detective before smartly deciding to walk away from the scene.
The tour guide, of course, was undeterred. An uncertain smile flashed at Giuseppe underneath impish, mischievous eyes. Something sinister indeed flashed beneath those bifocals. As her lips curved they prepared to speak, readying the honeyed words that would see her group inside at any cost-"Is that a fucking cougar?"
Someone else spoke first.
The light inside the building was dim. All their widening eyes saw in the dark was a giant cat taking the noire looking fellow who answered the door in its enormous paws and flooring him. That was sort of enough, and the tourists turned and ran without ever really crossing the threshold into the building. A few shrieking people going loudly into central Boston was an abnormality... but not the strangest thing that could be happening in the midday. The jaguar released the doorman and lunged towards the door, straight for her.
The guide took a swift step forward, shoulders dropping to one side as they cocked a hand back and thrust her gloved palm up at the creature's jaw. White silk sunk into the flesh, fingers hooked in... and scratched affectionately at the enormous cat. She turned, redirecting the creature and tossing the cat playfully to the floor. The door quietly closed behind the guide as she knelt down, drumming on the docile predator's belly with an open palm. It rolled and thrashed in place, tail swinging noisily from one wall to the other in the narrow entranceway. Slowly the tour guide looked up, past Giuseppe for the first time to the interior of the building. A brief flicker from left to right left them sighing with relief, contented that the building was still mostly in one piece. "I agree wholeheartedly. It's a dark thing to forget one's history, and darker yet to be led astray by it... I suppose it's for the best that my guests have left early."
They stood up from the jaguar's side, shuffling awkwardly as claws held onto their sock to offer a hand down to the dapper man previously 'mauled' by the predatory cat. "Because I also suppose that you are exactly the person I need to speak to. The enterprising fellow leading history astray. Putting it to work for you, so to speak. Closing a public building to siphon a leyline, to put it another way."
Blue eyes burned behind their lenses, striking with a non sequitur innocence to their bladed words.