Three On A Match
⁂ Third on a match. Meaning: bad luck.


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Mid-Summer

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Be thy intents wicked or charitable
Newton 


Evening
Streets of Newton
#1
Theo Crowhurst Offline
Cursed Human
Dolor
Outfit

It wasn't quite warm yet, but spring had chased away most of the wintry chill. The day had been overcast, the sun peeking through when it could, and Theo had spent most of it busy with one matter or another that required his attention. There was a flood watch for Thursday, but the high winds were enough to contend with that day. The way the towering skyscrapers of Newton had got built made the streets beneath veritable wind tunnels, snapping the edges of Theo's coat and ruffling his hair. Any attempt to arrange his hair that morning was lost to the gusting winds.

Theo was standing outside a Caffé Nero, behind a creaking windbreak, one hand tucked in a pocket while the other held a cardboard coffee cup with the blue logo of the coffee franchise. As he stood straight and steady, he squinted down the street, expecting someone, slowly sipping his drink. He'd much rather have a cigarette in his hand, the urge returning each time something went ass over tits at the office, but he was staving it off with caffeine instead. It was a bad habit he’d worked hard to kick, and he wanted to keep it that way, for the most part.

This was, unfortunately, what passed for Theo's lunch break for the day. Far too late, but it couldn't be helped. He'd only been able to grab the opportunity when Eldridge had called, going on about having something to give Theo. Private, the Englishman assumed, if the man was bypassing the front desk like he'd told the man. Theo had given the man an address and told him to meet him there, slipping away from the busy office with a ready-made excuse and a promise to bring back food for those settling in to the night shift.

Lifting his cup for another warm sip of coffee, Theo slid his eyes along the street–single lane, one way. There was a T stop nearby, a slow trickle of pedestrians going to and fro. It wasn't a busy street, so Theo had a clear overview of the passersby. No one was too interesting to him so far, most of them disappearing down the steps to the subway.

Theo knew the Newton subway system beneath his feet was a crisscross of tunnels and tracks. A bit more complicated than the older tunnels in the other neighbourhoods, adapting to old tracks and adding new ones. All clean and polished, of course, just bloody awful to slog through if you had a particular platform to get to. Some parts were still under construction, a wrong turn leading you to a blocked off section. Easthaven's own version of the Big Dig, to a degree.
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#2
Markus Eldridge Offline
Arcanist Human
Circlebreaker
Outfit
Markus kept his head down as he walked to the address he had been given. It wasn't a cold day, not the same winter cold that they had been dealing with, but it was windy and as always wind from the coast brought with it its own cool air. Markus kept his long coat wrapped around him and fidgeted with his pack as he moved.

He had reached out to the Inquisitor following his conversation with Max. He knew the other man had been correct. Markus had been too passive in coming months. He had taken a break, going to Europe on his wild, wanderlust-filled bender. Now, he had to refocus. He had been going to the Sewing Circle reguraly, even worked on a couple of rituals. He wasn't sure if what he had would be of any actual use to the Exchange, but he knew it was useless to him at this point.

The two journals he had been given by Sunako were entirely different from one another. One, the older of the two, was a research journal, dedicated to cataloging and practice. It held no personal information or notes and went into excruciating details about some of Victoria's earliest rituals from years ago. None of the rituals crossed into any of the work she must have learned from the cults, and the magic she practiced seemed entirely different from what Markus himself studied. He hoped, if nothing else, the Exchange might be able to see patterns in the work. The second journal was even more useless in his opinion. It was written very shortly before her death and detailed her regrets. Still, even in her newest 'diary,' she had been secretive and gave no information about who the mysterious cult she got entangled in was, only referring to the group as 'them.'

Markus looked up as he approached Caffe Nero, glancing through the evening crowd, which was pretty light. Seeing the man standing alone in front of the establishment, Markus made a beeline in his direction.

“Crowhurst, thanks for meeting me.” He said offering his hand the other man.
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#3
Theo Crowhurst Offline
Cursed Human
Dolor
In the process of scanning the street, it was easy to spot Eldridge's approach through the thin crowd. The man was dressed like many other of the salarymen making their way home, although from their last meeting Theo could guess that the price tag might be somewhat higher than for your average salaryman.

Standing out in the open as he was, Theo felt no compulsion to raise his hand and flag the man down, content to be spotted when he was spotted. He simply watched the approach, the man walking with his head down like many other absent minded pedestrians, but once he lifted his head, it did not take long for Eldridge to spot Theo.

As the man approached, a greeting on his lips and an outstretched hand offered, the Englishman lowered his coffee cup. As a greeting, Theo gave the man a nod and a handshake, short but firm.

“Eldridge,” Theo returned in a simple greeting, mouth tipping into a smirk as he continued. “This better be worth my time.” The smirk and his relaxed countenance would reveal it as a joke with a little bit of bite, but that was Theo's standard.

The coffee cup was lifted again, Theo taking a sip as he waited for the man to elaborate or move them away, if it was as private as the impromptu meeting implied.
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#4
Markus Eldridge Offline
Arcanist Human
Circlebreaker
After the short handshake, Markus would look around briefly, taking in the sights. He had never been here before, and though no one seemed to be paying them much attention, he still had trouble talking about murderous cults so openly.

As the Inquisitor spoke, Markus watched his smirk and heard his reply. The redhead gave a short chuckle, not one hundred percent certain if the other man was joking but assuming he was.

“Perhaps we should go inside? or at least talk somewhere more private and less chilly,” Markus offered, nodding towards the door. Though he didn't expect this to take long, he mostly wanted to pass along the journals and what little information he had discovered. He thought back to what Max had said, hoping he could use this time to ask the Inquisitor some questions.
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#5
Theo Crowhurst Offline
Cursed Human
Dolor
As Markus invited them to move, Theo shook his head at the offer to go inside. There were places where one could sit and not be concerned about who might be listening in, the Honey & Ivy for one, but those were rare, and usually concentrated around Balmoral. The Caffe Nero was a bad location for it.

“We'll have to endure the chill, I'm afraid,” Theo asserted, stepping out from the cover of the windbreak and gesturing down the street with his cup of coffee. At this time of evening, there weren't too many people around, and there rarely were among the polished glass exteriors of Newton if it wasn't a shopping street. “Walk and talk, Eldridge, come on.”

Theo began walking as he said it, stepping along the pedestrian path and reminding himself which street he was on. There were some side streets less prone to the wind-tunnel effect and were far more pleasant to walk along on days like this.
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#6
Markus Eldridge Offline
Arcanist Human
Circlebreaker
Markus shrugged when the Inquisitor spoke up. He hadn't been dead set on going inside; he just wanted to make sure they wouldn't have to worry about being overheard. If the other man thought it was best to walk and talk, Markus wasn't going to question it.

“Walk and talk it is,” Markus said, falling in step with the Inquisitor. Taking a deep breath, he would start with what he had. “I have been visiting some of Victoria's old haunts and her place of work.” As Markus began, he reached into his bag and pulled out the journals.

“...speaking with people who knew her. Trying to learn more about her world, what she did here, and, of course, get any information.” Markus said, keeping his voice neutral. He didn't know how the Inquisitor would respond to the knowledge, hopefully favorably, if Markus had anything worthwhile.
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#7
Theo Crowhurst Offline
Cursed Human
Dolor
For the umpteenth time, Theo wanted a cigarette. Something to warm beyond just a tepid cup of coffee as they walked. The coffee in his hand was empty, anyway, and the Englishman discarded the cardboard into a garbage can as Eldridge began speaking.

Theo looked at the books the man pulled out. Notebooks of some kind, somewhat similar to the others the man had handed over. More of the same that he'd dug out? Books he'd not handed in for whatever reason? The Englishman raised an eyebrow, letting out a noncommittal hum at the news that Eldridge had not left it alone. The man wasn't dead, so Theo refrained from pointing out what kind of people his sister had been dealing with when she'd been killed.

“And did you?” Theo asked, his tone casual as he tucked his hand into his pocket.

As they walked, he turned them down a more sheltered street. The wind died down some, less intent on nipping at their coats. Once they reached the end, Theo knew they'd find yet another coffee shop of some franchise, this area lousy with them to keep all the white collar workers caffeinated.
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#8
Markus Eldridge Offline
Arcanist Human
Circlebreaker
Markus nodded, though he let out a sign of frustration in response to the man's question. He usually liked challenges, and in the past, he was never one to balk at the 'mission.' This time, however, he felt like a small wave crashing over and over against a bluff. The more he searched, the less he felt he knew.

He had much to inform the Inquisitor about. Her journals, her interest in curses, and new names, Malcolm and Serafina. Though he would be surprised if the Exchange didn't already know it, the fact that she used to focus on Divination. He decided to start with the journals; they were tangible, evidence, and less prone to the whims of memories.

“Yeah, I found some more of her work,” Markus said, handing over two journals. “These are hers, journals she kept at Arcana rather than at her home or ritual space.” He explained, pointing at the newer one. “This one was her most recent; its last entry seems to be dated shortly before her death.” He took a breath; it felt strange to no longer have possession of the books, to have put so much into them. “The other one is much older, from early on in her craft. It is more a research journal than a diary.”

Keeping in step, he would ignore where they were going; not knowing the area well, he would let the Inquisitor lead. Instead, he focused on the people and the environment. Understanding their surroundings and searching the shadows, he was not entirely certain they were safe if his previous experience was any indicator.
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#9
Theo Crowhurst Offline
Cursed Human
Dolor
As the notebooks got handed over, Theo pulled his hands out of his coat pockets to accept them, giving Eldridge an arch look as the man spoke. The twist to his lips was wry, but not irritated, just the way his face was. He flipped open one of them, taking in the usual scribbles of a ritualist, before he snapped it shut.

“Thank you. I'll see if we can get anything useful from them,” Theo offered, but wondering if it wasn't another dead end. It was clear Ms. Eldridge hadn't been a central figure in the cult. If she had, Theo wasn't so sure they would've found her body at all. Nonetheless, he tucked the notebooks into his coat pocket, both small enough to fit.
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#10
Markus Eldridge Offline
Arcanist Human
Circlebreaker
Markus nodded when the Inquisitor took the journals. “Of course, I hope they help.” He said, though, he wasn't sure if they contained any helpful information. Especially not about the cult but perhaps about her, her habits, and her magic. Only they would know if any of that would be of aid, however.

“There's a bit more. Sadly, nothing about the killers I don't think...” Markus paused, realizing that if he talked about Mac, then it might be closing a door to a potential ally. He continued carefully. “There is an arcanist, Malcolm, Mac, Mike, he uses a lot of names, anyways, they worked together, I am certain Mac wasn't in the know about the cult; he tried to bring a collective of Arcanists together in response to Victoria's death, protection or something like that,” Markus explained, before getting to his point.

“But, he loaned Victoria a book, the 'Armstrong Study Guide,' which seemed to relate to curses and the occult, something of a questionable magic primer. Supposedly, it was with her research materials and is probably in your hands. I am not sure if it's related, but if it was something she was studying when she was killed, it might be.”

Frankly, it was another scenario in which Markus thought the information might be useless. Victoria seemed to search for any and all information, and this might just be another avenue of study entirely. However, if Markus confirmed the Exchange had the book and that it wasn't dangerous or connected to the cult, perhaps the book could be included when they released her items after the investigations.
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#11
Theo Crowhurst Offline
Cursed Human
Dolor
The name rang a bell, but he couldn't be sure if it was the same man. A ritualist with some strange connections. Criminals with high ideals to cover for their dirty deeds, by the reports from New York. The man himself got on the radar with some hacks naming themselves 'House Hex,' throwing parties in Boston, in Easthaven. Theo had later realised he'd had a strange run in with the man years ago. The psychopath had taken a photo while Theo was in the middle of dealing with a siren.

If they had the book, this 'study guide,' it was likely filed somewhere. Possibly discarded in the archives, or disposed of, depending on what they'd found. Or not found, in this case. There was no use in keeping books with elementary magic in them, and they weren't of the habit of letting how-to's float free if they found them. Strange of Eldridge to even mention the man as a suspect, or to rule the man out, but Theo knew the cult's pattern by now. The Hex guy didn't have their hallmarks.

“Is this the House Hex Malcom-Mac-Mike?” Theo wondered out loud, keeping an even pace down the side-street, heading for the next street over. He was assuming Eldridge would know something like that, if he'd been involved with the man enough to know about the man trying to start a private circle for himself. Theo wasn't certain about the shifting loyalties there, but it wasn't relevant to him until someone got themselves blown up like the reckless, bloody idiots they were.
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#12
Markus Eldridge Offline
Arcanist Human
Circlebreaker
Markus considered what the inquisitor said. Thinking back to the conversations he had with Mac, whether or not the man ever mentioned a 'House Hex.' To the best of the red-heads knowledge, such a name was never used. Mac had been careful to only refer to his 'associates' as such, with the exception of his connection to Byte. It was one of the reasons Markus was so unwilling to completely trust the other man, while he understood people had secrets, he never liked not being in the know.

“I am not sure. He always referred to who he worked for or with as 'associates' or 'we.' It was one of the reasons I never really trusted him, and why I mention him now... just in case...” Markus answered, really considering the question. “...however, they were absolutely a magical group of some kind. And he, or they, were associated with Byte, the media corporation.” Markus added, unsure if that connection would fill in the gaps of information.
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#13
Theo Crowhurst Offline
Cursed Human
Dolor
Theo let out a short “Hm,” at the revelation that the man had never outright shared his allegiances. Having the reports from New York on the developments there meant Theo had insight Eldridge did not. The association with the media company was puzzling, but that wasn't a mystery that needed solving today.

He couldn't make a positive ID of the man as one of the House Hex fops, but he trusted his gut. The secrecy only reinforced that gut feeling. Eldridge seemed convinced the man wasn't connected to the cult and the string of murders, but the secrecy made the optics look rather... rotten.

“I'd say you were right not to trust the man.” Theo shook his head, thinking about the secrecy. Secrecy was reserved for the mundies, rather than the community. Secret societies involving magic rarely ended well. “If he wasn't upfront, he probably knew you wouldn't like it. Watch out, if the devil comes for his due.”

Theo turned his head to look at Eldridge, expression rather relaxed despite the warning in his words. It was the reality of dealing with the supernatural. In his line of work, if someone wouldn't admit which group they were attached to—when it was only natural to share—it was time for Theo to pay attention. A few had strange ideas about the Exchange, so admittedly Theo dealt with a fair few who simply didn't know better. However, Eldridge wasn't Exchange. The lack of forthright conversation was even more suspicious then.
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#14
Markus Eldridge Offline
Arcanist Human
Circlebreaker
Markus nodded as the Inquisitor spoke up again, voicing his apporoval of Markus's unwillingness to commit to Mac and his group. He agreed secrets were kept for a reason, and rarely was it to the benefit of the one who was left out of the know. As the Inquisitor looked at him, Markus noticed his expression was relaxed, almost unconcerned. He wondered if the man really didn't worry or if it was just because he was so used to such things.

“I understand, and I happen to agree. I am too... curious... to appreciate being left in the dark, especially when the relationship is one of convenience,” Markus said, realizing the irony of the statement, seeing as his curiosity was one of the reasons he was here. “Actually, I was hoping to ask you about some things.”

He thought back to what Max had told him and the advice Markus had been given. He needed to learn more, he only hoped the Inquisitor was willing to provide the answers he sought.
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#15
Theo Crowhurst Offline
Cursed Human
Dolor
Theo allowed his lips to curl into a smirk as Eldridge confessed to being 'too curious.' That could mean a great many things, a polite way of saying the man stuck his nose into others' business, but it wasn't the best trait for a ritualist in the Inquisitor's mind. Unchecked curiosity got people exploded into bits, but he wouldn't speculate on what Markus may or may not be getting up to.

The man's question drew Theo away from any speculating, leaving Theo to idly wonder what sort of questions the man had. More prying into the case related to his sister? Something more pedestrian? For Theo, at least. There were a great many things one could ask of an Exchange agent.

“Well,” Theo started, wondering if the questions were the primary reason for the meeting, rather than the journals. “Ask away.”
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#16
Markus Eldridge Offline
Arcanist Human
Circlebreaker
Markus mostly paid attention to the happenings around them as they talked, occasionally looking at a pedestrian or something else that caught his interest while keeping the majority of his attention on the Inquisitor.

When the Inquisitor gave Markus the go-ahead to ask his question, the redhead took a small breath before speaking. “Frankly, I have realized I am out of my wheelhouse, and way in over my head. The more I learn, the less I feel like I know.” He started, realizing just how sobering of a thought that was, as someone used to being in the know. “I was hoping to learn more about the city, an... acquaintance... reminded me that only so much can be learned from books, when there are people like you who have their feet on the ground.”

Markus glanced at the Inquisitor, unsure how he would take being asked such an open-ended question. Markus hoped the man didn't think it was a waste of time. “I was hoping you would have some advice on what to watch out for, places to avoid, things like that.”
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#17
Theo Crowhurst Offline
Cursed Human
Dolor
Theo inclined his head slightly at Eldridge's question but wasn't sure he could answer satisfactorily. Much of dealing with the supernatural was common sense, respect for warnings passed on through folklore, and an eye for figuring out the signs of something dangerous lurking around. Very little of it was specific to Easthaven, beyond the known haunted locations and the abandoned spots where he knew creatures might begin to nest simply because no humans wandered around.

“It's all common sense, in truth. Don't go poking around abandoned properties, keep out of the deep woods, don't walk down dark alleyways,” Theo said, slightly shrugging his shoulders, certain that Eldridge already knew some of it, even if he might frame it more for mundane dangers, but it was worth reiterating. Awareness of one's surroundings was the key to avoiding, or identifying, the presence of something supernatural. “As for the city itself, keep an ear out for rumours and tall tales. If a building is known to be haunted, even if mundies echo it like a joke, it probably is. Off the top of my head, the lighthouse and the fort have the most activity. Chock-a-block with all sorts of spirits and phantoms. The cemetery and the harbourside at night can be dangerous, so I'd advise caution if you're struck with the urge to take a scenic walk.”

Theo lifted a hand to scrub at his chin, looking upwards and to the left as he considered what else might be useful to the man, and added, “And avoid the trolls under the Old Town harbour bridge. They don't like being bothered.”
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