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Arrows and bombs
The terrain was unstable. Aïdōneús chose his steps carefully. He twisted an ankle one time as a child. He could still hear the pop that cut short a runner’s exercise. He took up swimming later that season at the behest of the country club’s trainer. Turned out he had a knack for the sport despite a natural detest for the water. But once submerged, flying weightless, it was rather exhilarating. Besides, the exercise kept him fit.

The air was thin here also. It reminded him of Siberia, cutting wind included. He put a hand to his eyes, gauging the remaining distance. A sunless sky blinked from above, blinding him momentarily as his heart sank low.

Aïdōneús gathered the wool close, warm, but annoyingly scratchy. He preferred fur, a nice skein dyed black as night. Why was he here, he thought as slate scattered loose beneath his boots. Grumbling, he carried forward despite the unease growing in his belly - not from the menacing caverns stretching far below. 

His swimmer’s lungs - so accustomed to stretches between breaths - burned in the thin air. The darkness of a cave opened temptingly nearby, but with a sigh, he turned his back to the cold air. The hand went to his brow again, eyes piercing the sky with the same biting blue that snapped back at him. Then he saw it. A black speck at first. A frown deepened the lines on his face. It soared straight as a missile - a what? he thought. He stretched outward, trying to capture the demon with his very eyes.

The arc of its trajectory turned downward. It was then that he knew that something terrible was going to happen. When it touched the horizon, the mountain trembled and the resulting fires touched the heavens. Horror wrapped him tight as the shroud knotted his neck. Dozens of the demons darkened the skies sharper than arrows and mightier than bombs.

Power swelled his bones, but he spit out the taste of doom that silvered his throat. With his furious steps, the earth trembled. He’d not see everything he built cast down like this! The mountain bowed with his departure. Aïdōneús roared defiantly, and their aim was drawn toward himself.

He knew what had to be done.

The earth opened beneath his feet. When the maw closed, the fires were swallowed to its depths, and the darkness trapped them all.

Nikolai’s own cry of alarm woke him up, and the darkness sure to have been real, was banished to the four corners of his room by a swift flick of the power’s light.

He was drenched in sweat. Bad dreams plagued him like the ijiraq made good on her promise with nightly dedication. That had to be the origin of these nightly screenplays - or so his therapist suggested. A frown, and he got up. 3:15 AM was early, even for the Ascendancy.

He called Evelyn.

She was radiant, answering almost instantly. Her expression changed after the initial moment of gleeful surprise.

“Nik, it’s the middle of the night there. Whats wrong?”

He couldn’t help but look at the scene behind her shoulder. Daylight streamed into her office. No bombs blanketed the horizon. No hellish pits swallowed them all.

“You had another one,” she deduced.

“I just wanted to see that you were safe. You’re important to me.”

She chuckled at his austere gesture of affection. “Oh Nik, I love it when you talk like that.” She winked and some sort of spell was discharged. His shoulders relaxed, and his own face dropped the tension.

“What’s on your agenda today?” He asked, but Evelyn knew exactly what he really wanted. She filled the following minutes with the sing-song sound of her voice. He didn’t really listen to the details, but soon, he was laying his head back down, and had no idea when the call ended.
Nikolai sipped from his morning drink as he listened to a pair of advisors providing an update on geopolitical developments in Africa.

Nikolai did not read reports. He listened to updates from people. People who could think and answer questions in the moment. People had opinions and expertise he did not. It was by surrounding himself with quality people that he acquired as much power as he had. One man couldn’t know everything about everything, but he could lead others who did.

Of all the regions, the majority of their conversation centered on Egypt as the base of Al Janyar’s power. The man who led the group was killed by one of his own, it seemed. “That’s good news,” Nikolai said, expecting agreement. However, the two advisors – one military and the other intelligence – glanced at each other.

The General thoughtfully replied. “It is now apparent that a channeler has taken his place. We are still working to accurately identify him.”
The man from intelligence followed up, “Ibrahim Bubak is not confirmed to be dead,” the officer began, “but we strongly believe that to be the case.”

Nikolai considered this channeler. He would need to be powerful enough to control the native channelers. “What about the Legion? How are they faring?”

They’ve allied with the local forces against Al Janyar.”

“The Legion-embedded rod of dominion should be able to withstand their channeler forces one on one,” Nikolai said confidently.

The general shook his head, “Perhaps, but the Rod isn’t with the Legion.”

Nikolai blinked in surprise. The Patron’s granddaughter failed to uphold her promise. He’d deal with that later. For now, he gestured that the report continue.

“In particular, there has been a significant local support by people inhabiting the northeast coast. As a result, Al Janyar has pulled back into Sudan. Eritrea and Dijoubti largely drove them out on their own, with our – the Legion’s – assistance of course.” A heat map showed the fluidity of the region over the last few weeks. This was an important development. Al Janyar was creeping closer and closer to gaining power in Dominance V. They had to be contained. Nikolai wouldn’t allow another uprising in an already unstable region.

“Alright. Instruct Danjou to continue the efforts. I want Al Janyar out of Egypt and pushed west,” Nikolai said.

The two departed shortly after.

Nikolai then made arrangements to speak with Edward Northbrook later that day.

@"Natalie Grey"
@"Giovanni Cavelli"
@"Jay Carpenter"
Several days later, 
5 AM, Kremlin

The shower was a refreshing return to his typical morning routine. His back was already sore simply reaching up to rinse his hair. It had been months since a good workout given his private space was destroyed by the infiltration of the Regus and attack by his Ijiraq horde. Construction in the heart of the fortress’ basement wasn’t an easy undertaking when every single element was so heavily scrutinized for security. Naturally, Nikolai demanded some upgrades since the opportunity was upon them.

Next to nobody had access to his personal retreat. The few allowed to pierce the veil of his privacy rarely justified the intrusion. Such, as he cinched a bathrobe around his waist, the notification of a message caught his attention flickering along the wall tiles. The power swept aside the humidity hovering the room as he skimmed it.

The mirror caught a momentary flicker of his smile. He played the feed as he finished getting dressed. By the time he emerged, his deputy chief of staff was awake, nursing a coffee and waiting for orders. Nikolai had plenty as they made the journey to the Executive offices. The Kremlin was mostly empty at this time of the morning. Many offices wouldn’t open for another hour. Staff, military, and security presence remained ever vigilant.

“I want a reaction in hand within the hour. The Ascendancy will publicly respond to this news at 8 AM live.”  

Texas announced their departure from the United States at almost the exact same time Evelyn’s legislation to join the Custody hit the floor.

Bombs weren't dropping on Washington, but the capitol must be in uproar.
The Ascendancy departed the platform to the call of questions from the media team. They wanted to know what he would do next, but obviously he wasn’t about to announce the plan to a gaggle of reporters. He primarily spoke about historical past precedent, the desire to avoid conflict between the Texans and the federal government, and the potential for future alliances. Instead, the first thing he did was call Scion Marveet. The man was in Texas, wrangling the Amenguals into delivering the power, money, and arms to support Jessika Thrice’s plan. Of course, clearly, it never was her plan.

The grizzled face of Scion illuminated the holo screen. He bowed his head with sincere deference, “Ascendancy,” he said. “All is proceeding according to plan.” Scion swiped a few files into Nikolai’s field of view. Outcomes from the meetings he was holding with North American steel processing opened; the official reason Scion Marveet was in Texas.

“And Amengual?” Nikolai said. He counted on the drug lord’s ambition to proceed his actions. Scion was a statue, and Nikolai instinctively seized the power, reading the definition displayed on the holo before him. “Tell me what has happened this moment, Scion.” The grizzled Russian took a breath, clearly disturbed.
“He’s momentarily unaccounted for,” he said.

Rage seared outside the threshold of his power. Scion continued, “and the factory is destroyed.” The factory where they made the serum that sedated channelers was a key element to Amengual’s control of Texan civilians.

“How?” Nikolai replied as Scion swiped another report, this one heavily encrypted. The video was dismal.

Nikolai accounted for a lot of deviant outcomes, but this one was considered unlikely.
“I’ll know within a day.”

Nikolai shook his head, “You have six hours.”
“Ascendancy, there’s a call from Quito,” an aide said. Nikolai looked up from his thoughts, curiosity illuminating his expression.
“Ecuador?” he asked. The subsequent nod made him smile.

The smile was gone by the time the image of the speaker rippled to life. Nikolai rested his hands against the edge of the desk, “Secretary General Tasis, if I recall, you once swore to never speak to me again. To what do I owe the honor that you break your own word?” he asked.

The Secretary General was looking worn. The gray that snaked his shoulder-length locks was thicker than years ago. The jab at his pride was deserved, and there was a momentary flicker of embarrassment.
“Ascendancy,” he bowed his head. Nikolai wasn’t sure if this was a gesture of defeat or one of pride. “My behavior the last we spoke was regrettable. I apologize,” he said.

Nikolai blinked. This wasn’t the reaction he expected. Then again, he knew this day would come.

“What can I do for the Union of South American Nations?”

The Secretary General took a breath. He was clearly shaken. “With honor, we are submitting a formal petition for entry to the CCD,” he said.

He knew it.

“I look forward to reading it,” he said. There would be negotiations, of course, but the process was begun.
As had negotiations with the European Union birthed the seventh Dominance, the eighth followed in similar fashion. Borders were effectively dissolved, with previous national capitals transformed into district resources. A new Dominance capital was to be established in São Paulo and it was a Brazilian businessman established as the first Patron. All those who previously held flimsy power were swept aside. A new regime was built overnight from the ashes of those thinking to retain their own. The pattern worked in the elder Dominances. Wipe the slate clean and start again. Those who rose in the new aristocracy would owe their livelihood and wealth to Ascendancy. Economies would turn almost overnight as the flood of Custody resources washed into what was barren wasteland. Everything from the cost of petrol and plastics, to the near elimination of taxes, and erosion of all the previous barriers to trade almost instantly improved the general economy. Within a few weeks, everyone began to feel the benefit. Nikolai planned a triumphant tour of the largest cities, bringing gifts and wealth wherever he went – just as he had every other time, and he was still loved for it. It wasn’t long before Panama and the independent nations of the Caribbean sensed the improvement in their neighbors. Nikolai assumed it was a matter of weeks before the remaining Central American nations joined their Southern brethren. It all happened before.

He spent the last night in Quito, the final city before his tour returned him home. He didn’t even meet with the former Secretary General, Tasis, whom was the one to submit the consented petition in the first place. Displaced from a dissolved union that was no longer needed, Tasis was sent to live out a nice, quiet life in Easter Island as some form of modern banishment. No need to sympathize with the man’s fate. He could do worse than retirement on a beach.

The trip from Quito should have born the Ascendancy on a northeasterly route returning him to Moscow in about twelve hours. Instead, he opted to fly east, stopping in Tokyo for a surprise visit to the fourth Dominance. The trip should have taken the same amount of time, except for a divergence from the straightest path. The official reason was that storms rerouted the plane on a wide trajectory southwesterly, carrying them along the islands of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, not that far from Australia (comparatively speaking).

It had been decades since he last drew upon the threads that bought him half of the world. Of course, back then, there were no other channelers to sense what may happen. If possible, another walking the lands beneath the plane may feel the short burst of warning, but they were too far from dense enough populations to definitively prove what was about to happen. Had the Ijiraq that attacked him in Moscow been present, he may have drawn on enough power to be felt a continent away. Alone, on his own, however, was terrifyingly effective as it was.

By the time he landed in Tokyo, the news would rock the world. It was the most devastating earthquake to rock the Pacific Ring of Fire in a century. In 2004, a 9.5 magnitude megathrust quake triggered a tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people, mostly inhabiting the island nations. It was a terrible tragedy, that unfortunately, was tragically surpassed by the 2046 event.

Nikolai watched the news with grim distaste. He derived no pleasure from this outcome, but simultaneously, he had offered for years to protect this vulnerable part of the world and was continuously rejected. Now, gripped in the throes of collapse, horror, and devastation, the remaining south Pacific would likely beg for his help within hours.
Normally, Nikolai was a worker or endless energy. Following a whirlwind tour through South America, the shifting of numerous time zones, and the flexing of power in a way unwielded in twenty-five years, he was gladly stretched upon a bed in his jet. His stay in Tokyo was cut short, supposedly by the ramifications of the earthquake, but in reality, he couldn’t sustain the public eye without rest. When his appearance was commented upon by a member of the media corps, Leonid called an end to the interviews and Nikolai was promptly swept from the spotlight. It couldn’t become known that the Ascendancy was struggling.

Stretched on his back with hands behind his head, he was staring at the ceiling. The weight of his body sank into the mattress, but despite the fatigue, he wasn’t sleepy. Information about the tsunamis rushed his mind. Drowned souls were swept away with almost no notice in a part of the world where the blare of alarms could not save them.

He let his lids fall to calm quiet. The million deaths weren’t inflicted by Nikolai’s hands. The tsunami did that. The reckless lives on literal sand was a poor foundation of safety. He didn’t tell people to build huts on sand. He didn’t tell countries to not invest in emergency procedure systems. He didn’t sweep the waves through their lives. They did that on their own. They jumped into their own watery grave; a sacrifice to be sure. He wasn’t oblivious to reality, but he could rest well. A tragedy, but it wasn’t his fault. So many more would be saved. Sleep drifted…

Then a jolt awake. He only accepted the call because it was from Evelyn.

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