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Beto sat at the bar nursing his drink, a Moscow Mule. Appropriate, he supposed. Irritation roiled in him. That, in itself, bothered him immensely. This was his first night out in days, the last few having been spent trying to regain his balance or composure. For his entire life, he had been a tight rope walker, balance pole shifting right, then left. One never got used to the tight rope, with its endless drop into oblivion always threatening. There were no nets here. But he had gotten used to it.

He had to, after all.

But now, it felt as if the rope had gotten thinner, the balance pole shorter. And there was a breeze. No. A gale. All of which was to say it had turned into a real struggle. A surprise, after 39 years of equilibrium.

Leviathans of the deep slowly but inexorably undulated upward from the depths, large miasmic bubbles of air already starting to break the surface. He could feel it. That walk was getting harder.

His eyes scanned the mirror at the bar, searching for someone. He wasn't sure what. He couldn't get Ana's face out of his mind. That day in the tattoo shop was unlike anything he had ever experienced. Not simply because he had been a virgin up until that point. Something had happened to him, something glorious and dangerous. He had been unlocked. He had seen the face of God.

Even now, despite the smells of smoke and alcohol, he could smell her, a heady cloud fogging his brain, could taste her on his tongue, sweeter still despite the vodka. Images of that day replayed in his mind, its violence and lust, dripping sweat stinging eyes, salty sweet nectar, bites to draw cries of pain, ecstasy and warmth and softness, hands and fingers gripping, squeezing tightly, muscles corded, gasps and wet humid breath commingled, tongues and teeth and lips, until he was simply unable to contain the entirety any longer. He had exploded. And for a moment time itself stopped.

He was in the void, outside himself and the universe. And God stood there, a presence he could only sense, there and not there, revealed in all its glory. And Beto wept in awe, smelling colors he could not imagine, tasting sounds beyond comprehension, an orgy of synesthesia that enveloped and embraced him filling him with meaning and understanding and purpose...

...that left him empty and lost, a dried out husk devoid of life when it stopped.

He hungered for it again. The craving gnawed at his mind, pushing and pulling him to this and that side of his rope.

Ana had disappeared. He had never even gotten her number. Sergei had not been forthcoming despite his best efforts. So far. He was getting desperate.

There were other girls, though. It had taken only a few tries before he found himself once again with a woman. But the experience was insipid, washed out. Dull. By the end he found himself fighting just to keep his interest going. Not that she had noticed. He had been in a frenzy by the end, chasing the sensation, the memory of Ana and God keeping him awake. Barely.

That happened two more times. He found himself lost, now, unsure of what had changed. Emotions and desires he had never before felt hounded him mercilessly.

It was a gaping mouth, an infinite pit of need. For 39 years, God had hidden from him. Beto couldn't let him hide again.
  “Yes, that’s far enough, Gaston,” Meera murmured as the large oalf wheeled her up to the bar. He was a handsome, strapping man, but had cow dung for brains. Her wheelchair almost collided with the bar itself before she said something. The large French man only grunted, scooping her up from the chair and setting her down gently atop a stool. The Atharim were not extravagant, but they had seen fit to ration out a man-servant for her needs… At least when she was not on the job. Gaston was quiet and easy to look at. That was all Meera cared for.

                “Yes, thank you. Do wait over in the corner, out of the way, Gaston. I shall call you when I am ready to depart,” she said testily. He nodded, folding down her wheelchair and wandering into some dark, smoky alcove off to the right. Meera hated using the man, but one did not discard a tool that was useful. She could have gotten by on her own just fine, but there was a certain ease that came with the Frankenstein-like servant. She signaled the barkeep, “Moscow Mule, please.”

                Sure, it was cliché to be drinking such a thing in Russia, but the taste of Ginger and vodka was too palpable to ignore. The barkeep whipped the drink up in record time, sliding it over to her. Meera took a long drag, throwing her head back, sighing in blessed relief as she set the glass back down on the bar. Reaching into her clutch, Meera drew out a gold plated cigarette case and had the barkeep light her Virginia slim. This was living. Far away from the worries and stresses of everyday life, no thoughts of her duties as the Mirror of God, no comprehension of the Atharim. Meera often wondered how much of her life was her own, but such thoughts were foolish. She had been placed here for a purpose, and she would fulfill that purpose… But she was also entitled to a little release. Sure, there was no blood or viscera insight, but who said such things were the only way to achieve a high?

                Her head swam with the chemicals infusing themselves into her bloodstream. Yes. This was good. A lithe, well-dressed man sat to her right, hands running through his hair. He wasn’t unattractive. Quite the opposite. In fact, he looked like just the type of man she preferred to break in. Oh, her legs might not have worked, but the other parts were intact. He was well dressed and clean cut. Most men that looked like that usually wanted a dominatrix or something domineering. Yes. Just the type Meera got along with. A shame such men had to hide their urges, obscuring their true reflections from the world, but such was life… And as the Mirror of God… Well, Meera’s duty was to expose such deprivations.

                The dapper man held a copper cup in his hands, much like the one Meera held before her. She held up a finger for the barkeep, “One more.”

                Another Moscow Mule was presented to her and she slid the copper cup to her right, eyeing the man, “Penny for your thoughts?”

                Tonight was meant to be a way to unwind. Oh, she loved the blood and the gore, but she needed a different kind of high tonight. She would unwind. She’d find a way to do so, even if, in the end, it involved slicing up an unsuspecting mortal.

"She had tortured hundreds, maybe thousands, in the name of understanding and reason. Torture made sense. You truly saw what a person was made of, in more ways than one, when you began to slice into them. That was a phrase she'd used on numerous occasions. It usually made her smile." 
- The Wheel of Time, The Gathering Storm, Chapter 22, Robert Jordan
Beto's head felt foggy. Had he been looking in the mirror at the women? The men? His heart ached an aguished squeak. God!!! Where are you? He ground his teeth, feeling a hotness behind his eyes. The taste had been real. And now...

Loss. He couldn't imagine it. The last time....frustration had built, clouding his mind, anger. Rejection. It overwhelmed him. His jaw hurt. His hands hurt around the copper cup.

He realized they were tight and tensed, a fist. For a moment he felt the tension of a throat in them. He breathed sharply, a memory stabbing him. The last girl. He had started strong, dripping and hard and dominating, piercing. The stallion that mounts the world. A god. And then triumph and power and hunger turned to shame as sweat poured off his face, dripped and he wilted, bored, unsatisfied. So bored. He tried everything, fighting to keep going.

Corded throat muscle and cartiledge resistant against his grip, fighting, face red, nostrils flared, and he raged to life. When he came it was fire...

But he felt laughter. Mocking laughter. A joke.

The veil remained unparted. He wanted to tear at the fabric of the world, to rip away the facade until God couldn't hide from him.

The night had been silent, the only proof of his presence and existence the bruises on her neck, the spilled seed inside her and on her. And he didn't care. Her breathing was ragged and sharp and she was strong. It had been the closest he'd come, though.

But....the veil laughed and taunted him. Never to be broken.

A voice cut into his thoughts. Soft and lilting. Black eyes piercing.

He turned, realizing a woman sat next to him. He wasn't thinking. "I wish God would stop hiding from me." He breathed, realizing how stupid it sounded. He smiled weakly, picking up the drink, toasting. "Sorry. Fighting demons tonight."
The man to Meera’s right was certainly going through… something; he said as much. Under normal circumstances, she’d have slid him her business card but now was not the time. She was off the clock. That meant no mental resuscitation for anyone but Meera.

                Had he noticed her legs?

                She didn’t think so. She hoped not. Men were like clay, but it seemed harder to work them when they noticed the… imperfection first… but they could still be worked. True. It took a little more effort, but Meera had always found a way. The look on all of those faces once they realized just what she could do…

                “God can be found in the most unlikely places,” she answered, casting her gaze in his direction with a playful smirk, “I too have fought my share of demons, something only the strong can live through.”

                It took a great effort not to laugh at her own comments. She was being completely serious, but he would never know. How easy it was to speak one’s mind so long as proper care was taken with inflection and expression. Meera had learned at a young age how to hide her sacred mission in plain sight.

                They never did notice in time.

                Pushing lightly off the polished wood of the countertop, Meera angled her stool so that she sat angled in the mystery man’s direction. She took another gulp of the sweet, tangy liquid; her cigarette following shortly after.

                “You just need to find the pleasure in it, my dear,” Meera reached out to lightly, ever so lightly, stroke his hand. She withdrew quickly, bringing her hand to her lap with grace, “I’m sure you know how to use those.”

                Human contact helped elicit the proper feelings in men. Just another part of the hunt. Don't lay it on too thickly or the prey might get frightened and escape. No. A gentle touch was best here, and perhaps a few choice words.

                Meera pulled herself away from the man, facing forward again. She made the motion as smoothly as humanly possible, trying to hide the imperfection. The copper mug was at her lips instantly, the cigarette replacing the cup after.

                Smoke leaked from her lips. A haze coalesced above their heads, casting a hazy atmosphere softly around the pair.

                “Oh, and, you may call me Meera. Whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with?”

                She drank from the mug again, her cigarette following suit.

"She had tortured hundreds, maybe thousands, in the name of understanding and reason. Torture made sense. You truly saw what a person was made of, in more ways than one, when you began to slice into them. That was a phrase she'd used on numerous occasions. It usually made her smile." 
- The Wheel of Time, The Gathering Storm, Chapter 22, Robert Jordan
Her accented voice was cultured. From the way she spoke, he could tell that each word was chosen with precision. It was something he understood all too well. His blue eyes rose to meet her black, lips playful against the copper as she sipped, dark purple lipstick staining the white of her cigarette. Smoke curled around her and for a moment he could imagine her a creature of hell, a succubus writhing hypnotically. He laughed to himself, remembering the woodcuts and paintings when he was in seminary. For some reason he thought of Heironymous Bosch and his lush paintings of hellish landscapes and tortures, distended lips and widened eyes, disgorging mouths and prancing demons.

Her brief touch lingered on his skin and he flexed his hands, feeling the power and strength in them. He yearned to feel warm flesh between them.

He laughed lightly, though there was no joy in it. Only ashes. "Pleasure in the fighting of demons, huh?" By this time she had turned to face forward. He regarded her profile for a moment. There was something....different about her. A coldness, certainly, despite the heat that laced her voice. But there was something else, too, something in how she moved. Whatever it was eluded him.

He took another long pull on his drink, feeling the cloud spread in his mind, sharpening the edge of his emotion. "We are merely playthings of God, flailing about pathetically for his amusement." A memory of his youth came to him. "A child, pulling the leg off of an insect and throwing it to the ants to watch it struggle." The grasshopper had twitched desperately with its single leg as the red ants swarmed it, sharp pincers cutting through the exoskeleton and into the soft body inside. Beto had watched, unmoving, fascinated at the deft deconstruction. Soon, it was a mass of parts carried triumphantly down into the hill.

He turned to look at her, his face frank as it swept over her features again. An image came to mind. She was missing a leg and squirming, covered in honey, dark eyes looking up at him, her face filled with emotion- though what it was, he did not know. Recognition of them was a blindspot he diligently worked to overcome. He froze. It had come out of nowhere. And he was very aroused, he realized.

Something had happened. Somewhere something had changed that day with Ana. That bridge was smaller and his balance harder to hold.

He was hungry. It was the eyes. Not her eyes. God's eyes. His equal. He had to find him.

He put on affability, hand extending in greeting. "I am Beto." He paused, thinking. "You have a lovely accent. Where are you from?"
Like a fly to cow shit, Meera mentally mused to herself as Beto found new life.

                “Quite the imagination you have there, Beto,” Meera laughed lightly, not looking in his direction, “You have no idea just how correct you are on that. Though there are some of us out there that are privileged enough to do the pulling for God.”

                Visions of crimson tides washing over supple flesh began to fill Meera’s head. She could still smell the sweet scent of moss and fur on that ragged little wolf-pup she had played with earlier. Such a shame she had to send him on his way, but there was no getting around that. She had extracted what she had needed from the fellow and the Atharim were pleased enough to close the case file on the Jap. No killing. Such a bore they were sometimes. She’d have gladly traded in her wages earned for just one more -final -lick at the dog. Glee and lust boiled up in her loins as she pictured all the ways she could have broken him. Just one night in her lab…

                The light of God shone behind Meera’s shoulder as she found herself losing focus, dwelling on the thought of her prey. So fragile a thing. So easy to break. Beto was right. Just playthings.

                Meera did not reach out for the light. She had no need of it here, and exposing herself in such a sloppy manner would spell utter disaster for her future. No. She let it hover, just out of the corner of her eye. It would be there if she had a desperate need of it.

                Things would have been so much easier if no one knew it even existed.

                She turned back to Beto, taking his proffered hand and shook it with care and poise. Another lilted laugh followed his comment.

                “My dear, I am from the mysterious and ancient Cairo. And let me tell you, I do miss it. The climate here does nothing for my constitution, but I make due. Are you a local boy, Beto?”

                My, he is dashing, Meera thought to herself, I wonder what his opinion is on bondage?

"She had tortured hundreds, maybe thousands, in the name of understanding and reason. Torture made sense. You truly saw what a person was made of, in more ways than one, when you began to slice into them. That was a phrase she'd used on numerous occasions. It usually made her smile." 
- The Wheel of Time, The Gathering Storm, Chapter 22, Robert Jordan
Growing up as he had, a Puerto Riqueno with a large extended family- the hundreds of cousins and nieces and nephews- family gatherings, those exhausting things that they were, always featured dancing.

And he knew them all. Had learned them all as he built up his facade, the persona to hide the truth of what he was. There always came that point where your body and mind divorced, muscle memory and rhythm taking over one while the other could focus on other things. No matter how intricate the steps, how fast or quick the moves, no thought was required beyond the occasional decision. Dip here. Spin there.

In those moments, he was able to relax- as much as was possible in a public setting. His partner never noticed, which was always curious to him. He'd spy the sheen of perspiration on her face. The faint thrum of the carotid artery in her neck. The way her body felt against his. No, it was not lust he felt. He had never felt lust before Ana.

No. It was control. Pure and complete. In those moments he owned them. In totality. As if they had switched off their brains and were completely driven by base instinct. He a god among mortals, driving them as easily as thought.

It was the same when he was in an interview room, defendant or their attorney on the other side of the table. In the courtroom, the witness on the stand. The jury in their box. Even the judge on the bench.

Given enough time and enough practice, the body took over and the mind divorced, as if he had ascended to another plane. It was so easy to manipulate emotions despite the fact that he truly had a hard time understanding what feeling them meant.

He was god.

Ana had taught him something. For the first time in his life, he had felt it. He'd glimpsed something beyond him. Beyond the pure raw sexual collision of flesh to flesh, writhing in pleasure and pain, release. Beyond that. He had experienced something that....humbled him. Left him weeping in awe.

And he craved it, hungered for it. Those moments of pleasure, the eyes of God before him, were beyond anything he could have envisioned. And now...

Meera sat before him, playing her game. Idly, he wondered if she was any different. He doubted it. He'd quietly put feelers out to find Ana again. She was the drug he craved, now.

Still, the dance continued.

"Hah! Not a local boy. From New York." he said in cool measured tones, the kind that bespoke quiet confidence. "I came her to help a family member who is being treated at the Guardian. And..." The next was calculated. "To see of God was to be found here."

Some women were intrigued by spiritual journeys, by men seeking the divine. Very often, those that were thought they knew something. As of yet, none had any clue. But he fell into the pattern easily enough.

He took a sip, enjoyed the scent of her smoke mix with the alcohol on his tongue, and looked at her with gently probing eyes. "And you, what is it that brings you Cairo?"
“I’ve been to New York once or twice. You are a very… brash people, if you do not mind my saying. I find it quite invigorating,” Meera purred as she took another slow drag from her cigarette. She stole a few calculated side-long glances. She did not need to be a mind reader to know that she had caught this strapping mortal’s attention. Now she had to shape that focus into something useful.

                As it turned out, Beto had been right under her nose this whole time. Perhaps if she had spent more time out of her office, the two of them would have crossed paths. Then again, if she had met him at the Guardian, things would be going in a completely different direction; although the end game would be the same. The ethereal light behind her shoulder seemed to pulse as she thought of the possibilities.

                Meera turned slightly to face him, gently cocking an eyebrow.

                “Oh? As a matter of fact, I am currently working at the Guardian. Perhaps I have tended to your relative. I know I’ve never seen you there before. I would remember that,” She flashed a hungry smile, “I lived in Cairo my whole life. After a few years working in my field, I craved more of the world. What better place to come than Mother Russia? It is the new center of the World, after all.”

                What was this man’s obsession with God? She had not heard one speak of Her so frequently, at least not since arriving in the CCD. It was almost cute in a way, but oh so naive. Those that wanted to know God were often disappointed when they came face to face with true religious ecstasy. People frequently assumed that it would be nothing but sunshine and rainbows. How wrong they were. The leading faiths of the world, the Abrahamic branches, all clearly spell it out. To know God is to know pain. Hell, even the more Earth-based faiths acknowledged that sacrifice was the path to true enlightenment. Then again, perhaps he knew all of this.

                She would find out soon enough. It was her sacred duty as the Mirror.

                Meera signaled for another drink after quickly finishing the one in her hand.

                “God… Why are you so eager to find Her? You don’t strike me as the faithful type.”

"She had tortured hundreds, maybe thousands, in the name of understanding and reason. Torture made sense. You truly saw what a person was made of, in more ways than one, when you began to slice into them. That was a phrase she'd used on numerous occasions. It usually made her smile." 
- The Wheel of Time, The Gathering Storm, Chapter 22, Robert Jordan
He smiled as he peered into his drink, a pleasant warm sensation filling his head. He never drank. "No offense taken. You are right, in the main." Mostly. No one ever called him brash. It wasn't his nature.

Though the way his head swung to her at her words was certainly not measured, his eyes wide, voice intense. It seemed fate was intervening. Again. Ana and now her. "You work at the guardian? Sòng. @"Daiyu" Sòng. A cousin of a cousin. She is being held and I've not been able to see her or find out why or how to get her discharged. Do you know her?"

Unease at the divine manifestation warred with excitement and he shifted his body slightly away from her to hide what had formed. He took her in again. Could she be another chance? Was she like Ana in that respect? Certainly not in temperament. Ana was brash in every sense of the word, fearless and uninhibited. He firmed harder at the thought and his pulse quickened as he remembered.

Her question seemed to get to the point and he tried to quash the excitement that tried to take control of him, unaware that his eyes were dilated and his nostrils flared. He relaxed, hoping his physical interest was not noticeable. Desperation was no way to elicit a response. But inside he howled, a trapped beast rattling the cage of its imprisonment, hungering and thirsting for its prey. It was not her it craved.

Voice intense, eyes focused, he answered. "Look around. You are right. This is the center of the world, now. Men and women walk the earth who can touch the power of God. They are most concentrated here. Why wouldn't God be here too?"

He knew it sounded foolish. It wasn't that these individuals actually had some sort of pipeline to the universe. But something was going on here. Clearly. Channelers walked the streets. An ancient organization. He knew he need to track down some of them. And Ana. With whom he had felt the divine, for the first time in his 39 years. When he finally had proof that he wasn't the only truly real being in existence.

He stopped himself, an unfamiliar discomfort. It wasn't his way to be enthusiastic. The vodka had gotten to him it seemed. She filled his vision, her neck seeming to glow like polished wood, warm and inviting and his hands itched to reach out, trace her collarbone, to feel the hollow, to feel it between his fingers. He carefully crossed his ankles, dropping hand to his lap, not wanting to give himself away.

He needed to change the subject. Or return the one, rather. Daiyu. 'What do at the Guardian?"
Meera puckered her lips ever so slightly, just enough to plump them up a touch. The resulting effect would give her an air of naughty innocence, at least that’s how most men seemed to perceive it. The dashingly handsome Beto provided the name of his relative and Meera responded with a slight shake of the head, gold earings catching the bar light as they swayed with the motion.

“I have not had the” Meera gave a slight pause, “pleasure.” That pucker of lips was replaced with a knowing smirk. “The Guardian is not always known for their caring nature. That is why I am there. At least I like to think so. With a few well-placed words I should be able to get you in to see her by week’s end.”

                Beto seemed to shift slightly in his seat, drinking her in with those piercing eyes. She shivered slightly, elongating her spine and rolling her head around as if to loosen up the muscles. Hormones seemed to choke the air out of the room as the pair continued this mating ritual.

                There was a sick satisfaction brewing in Meera’s mind, reminding her that Beto did not yet know that she lacked the use of her own two legs. Were that he did, she would have been able to do so many other things to ensnare this modern-day Odysseus. Instead, she would have to continue to resort to the curving and rolling of her upper body to incense his desires. It was working well enough so far, and really, she didn’t need her legs to do what needed to be done.

                Nostrils flared and pupils grew wide as Beto began to speak once more, his voice wrought with intensity. The ethereal light pulsed hard as he mentioned the other Channelers in the city. Oh, if he only knew.

                He would eventually.

                “They are calling themselves Gods,” Meera spat, “Have you ever heard anything more pompous? Oh, they may work wonders, but it is an affront to the Divine to claim such titles.”

                They were no Gods, those Channelers, Meera knew; she was one herself and the Eye of God. Lies and more lies. The whole thing stunk to high heaven of Sin. She would bring each and every one of them to their knees. They would see their errors as she brought down her righteous fury and burned their very souls with her cosmic fire. Cleansed. They would all be cleansed. The world would be cleansed with their passing.

                I am coming for you too, @"Ascendancy" , Meera thought to herself. Heat spread through her loins as she pictured the man mounted on a rack in her basement laboratory, strips of flesh peeled from his taught chest, screams echoing in a cacophony throughout her home, his eyeballs-

                “What do you do at the Guardian?” Beto asked, interrupting her fantasy.

                “Oh, a little of this, a little of that,” she replied with a wave of her hand, “Officially I have been brought in as a Nurse, operating out of the Psychiatric Ward. I have designs to climb the proverbial ladder, however. By year’s end, I should have a nice promotion lined up.”

                She turned to face him completely, deliberately placing her hand on his thigh, clutching the supple flesh, “And what of you? What kind of career do you have that lets you galavant off to the CCD to find God?”

"She had tortured hundreds, maybe thousands, in the name of understanding and reason. Torture made sense. You truly saw what a person was made of, in more ways than one, when you began to slice into them. That was a phrase she'd used on numerous occasions. It usually made her smile." 
- The Wheel of Time, The Gathering Storm, Chapter 22, Robert Jordan

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