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A Mountain of Information
Nox woke in pain.  But Dorian's people had been in and left instructions - a lot of them.  But most importantly they'd left drugs.  Nox looked at the bottle and frowned at it before setting it back on the table still closed.  Maybe later.  

Nox knew he could find Raffe for help.  He knew he could ask and the other man would ask, but Nox didn't like asking.  He knew if Raffe helped him they wouldn't be getting done anytime soon.  Sharing a bed had been platonic, but it had only been exhaustion keeping Nox from more.  He was afraid of the things he might have implied in their conversation as he set the lotus plant in the window so it could get the light.  It looked better than it hand.  Nox smiled happily at it.  It was permancney.  He was home.  It wasn't a mansion, and it wasn't even a house, but this room was his - and Raffe was here.  That meant home more than anything else.  

He sighed as he used the power to help himself get dressed. Alone in his room it seemed stupid that he hadn't thought of it earlier.  The power was his other hand now.  The pain and the darkness drifted on the edge of the power.  It was empty once he had reached past the sludge.  Nothing affected him.  But this was no way to live.  Aria had lived like this - in the void of nothingness and she had gone crazy.

Nox dropped the power and the pain and hunger flooded his system.  It was good Raffe was not there as Nox left.  But he did take the time to drawl out a simple note to Raffe and leave it tented on his bed.

Quote:I'm off to meet with the Ascendancy's people. Then to the Vega estate to visit Christian and Ana then to the park via all the public paths and maybe I'll get to see the hunter who tried to kill us.  I have a card he won't be expecting.  I hope to be home before you start working maybe with a bite to eat.  Heart Nox

Nox didn't take the public route to the Kremlin.  He didn't want the Atharim to find him before he'd had time to speak with the Ascendancy.  He kept to the shadows and the places Sage knew where there were no cameras or limited ones so no one really could get a good visual of who he was.  It was something he'd done before growing up.  But with Sage's information on his wallet it was so much easier.  Sometimes it was good to have a stalker hacker for a friend - other times not so good.

Jay had sent a response back

Double or nothing my shit is worse than your shit.

Nox laughed and spoke out his own reply, since typing it out with one hand wasn't going to work.  

We'll have to compare notes when you get back to Moscow. One of us is going to be shit face b the end of I'm sure. @"Jay Carpenter"

It would only be a competition with Jay.  His smile took him into the Kremlin.  He looked around at everyone in the dress suits and he should have felt out of place with his jeans and t-shirt.  He'd left the tattered hoodie at home on his bed, the comfort of it needed but the button-down shirt hung around his shoulders in its place was at least in better condition - if not exactly presentable.  Nox stopped at a desk, he absently rubbed the bandage around his arm through the shirt that hung loose and formless in place of the arm that was there.  Nox told himself it hurt more but it was partially an embarrassed move he just didn't want to admit his failure to himself.  "My name is Nox Durante, I'm supposed to meet with someone about an important matter."  Nox pulled out his wallet ready to show the text in case he needed proof.
There wasn’t a long delay before the security cleared Nox at the front. He was administered a holo-badge that would admit him through the secure Kremlin interior with far greater privileges than a tourist, press officer, or civilian. However, there would be no need to wander far off the beaten path. Directions were given to the offices of the Consul of Channeler Affairs, a rather new division that displaced another group to off-site government buildings. Before Nox could arrive, one of the Nine crossed his path. Sanjay Ramanujan was dressed in the uniform that was issued to him some time ago. His dark hair was brushed neatly to one side. He clearly wasn’t working in the field, today anyway. He’d been squirreled away in the offices of the Consul, but he was more than satisfied with the placement.

He bowed his head a fraction before a smile lit his face. “So you’re Nox Durante. Pleasure to meet you. I’m Sanjay. Number five,” he laughed at the joke and offered a hand to shake in friendly greeting. Sanjay was probably the best liked of the entire Nine as he was the least controversial. He went along with whatever, but whatever it was, he poured his whole heart into the job at hand.

“I’ve heard a lot about you,” he said, though Sanjay did not describe from whom the hearing originated. “You’re actually kind of famous in some circles: the atharim channeler. Maybe I can get an autograph later?” He chuckled good-naturedly even as he raised a brow at the missing hand. He gestured in another direction, and soon the offices of the Kremlin evolved into gaudy interior décor. Those they passed seemed to take only passing glances, but there were some along the way that noted the presence of power and stepped warily out of their path.
The directions were pretty clear about where he was going but he was greeted by a man who he'd probably seen at the gala if the uniform were anything to say. Jay had been wearing an identical one and that meant he was one of the Nine Rods of Dominion. The nickname that seemed to pass between people made Nox bit his lips, pulling them in to keep from snickering out loud at the crude comments he'd heard from his friends. Fondy calling them the Rods in private was one thing but to anyone other than Jay it was likely not going to go over well. He offered him his hand and Nox shook firmly. "I am Nox. But god I don't know who's talking about me. And by famous I think you mean infamous, the Atharim have tried to kill me twice now, so let's not tell them I'm here too. Last thing the Ascendancy needs is another attack in his home."

Nox did, however, blush a little at the autograph, but he just shrugged it off. "Yeah I can sign whatever if you were serious if not I'll still sign whatever and then you can send it to Jay and say 'hey look what I got. Better than that what you got'. And let him figure out if I told you. or make him wonder what else you might mean." Nox laughed.

The directions had been clear. And Nox pointed in the direction he was supposed to go when Sanjay kept walking in another direction. "I think I was supposed to go that way."

Sanjay smiled. "I was sent to take you this way."

Uh, okay. Marcus DuBois was who he thought he might go see, but now where was he going. That was always a bit of a concern here. Ascendancy had threatened his life twice in the past, now he was working for him, but still that didn't mean he didn't want him dead. There was a long list of people trying to kill him so what was one more. The darkness started to rise and Nox took a deep breath and calmed himself with memories of falling asleep with Raffe's heart beating in his ear. "Okay, so who's talking about me? It's not like I make statues out of buildings or anything."
Sanjay wasn’t in on the joke, but he chuckled along with the commentary anyway. He’d heard stories about the night the Atharim attacked straight out. Between that and the Ijiraq, they had their work cut out for them. “You’d find a place with us. We are down a man,” he added since Jay was brought up. “I assume he’s on a mission for the Ascendancy and not dead somewhere. I did like that guy, as much as I knew about him.” He shrugged as they came to a threshold that required security clearance. Despite Nox’s advanced privileges, Sanjay had to access the system on both of their behalf.

As far as who was talking about him, Sanjay just smiled mysteriously. Their destination was imminent. The Ascendancy’s double crescent was displayed prominently along glass walls. The modern décor was woven aesthetically with antique woodwork. He paused to speak with one of the administrators, but it was obvious that they were expected. The assistant keyed a few commands into a portal then waited by the doorway for Nox to join her.

Sanjay bowed his head. He could feel the power rolling in the office beyond. Ascendancy was channeling something in there. To this day, the power still awed him. “This is where I leave you, Nox. Maybe I’ll get that autograph next time,” he smiled and left him to his company.

The assistant gestured at the door. “If you’re ready, sir.”
Nox chuckled at Jay's status, mostly because he'd been worried there for a while. "Jay was alive and in good humor yesterday." They had joked but he wasn't sure he was alright anymore than he himself was alright, but he was alive and that was important, what he was doing was another question.

He didn't get an answer to his question, though they scenery changed into something more important. He wasn't going to meet with just anybody - but the Ascendancy himself. Not that it surprised him really. Who do you trust with Atharim secrets anyway? He was glad it was the Ascendancy. He might not know the man well, but he knew the Atharim. Knew the problem and their potential, and he knew what life Nox lead. Anyone else was just going to see the morally grey of his life and assume he was a bad apple. That's how it always went.

Nox dug his hand into his pocket and pulled out the data stuck he'd been keeping safe so that he'd not have to reach into any hidden parts of his clothing. While Ascendancy might be okay with him, Nox still hadn't forgotten the numerous threats on his life made by the man himself.

Nox found himself chuckling again to himself. Autographs and now sir. Nox smiled at the woman at the door. "And if I said I wasn't ready?" He winked at the woman. "I'm sure no one keeps the man waiting." Nox felt the power even before he had walked into the room where the Ascendancy waited.

The sheer power of it was intoxicating, and the darkness inside stirred. It wanted power. It wanted out. It... Nox sighed as he closed his eyes and took a deep breath, maybe the man would think he was just steeling himself for his awe-inspiring presence. Nox had never really deferred to the man - that was probably part of their initial problems. But he wasn't about to start now either. "I wasn't expecting to meet with you personally, though it makes things easier on my part." Nox opened his eyes with a final deep breath. "I have a lot of things to say, and I hate to presume to ask favors, but could you drop the power for now? It's making part of what I have to tell you difficult." Despite the calming, Nox probably should have had a much larger breakfast - or feed the other hunger before attempting to meet with the most powerful man on the planet. But then again, he hadn't known the darkness wanted power. It sought power. Just like it sought more, and food. And he had been there to give them power, and now their darkness was part of him.

Nox growled to himself and took a seat without invitation. It was better than being mobile. "I know you expect deference, but right now being an ass is going to be better than what it wants."
Nikolai stood when Nox entered the room. Instinct kept him wary of the other man’s presence, but only because he was a channeler and a skilled Atharim hunter. He would never forgive himself the fear stricken in his own heart when the sanctuary of the Datsan was interrupted by such a force. He took it out on the boy, that was obvious, but again, to this day, Nikolai believed the hesitation was more than deserved. He threatened to kill Nox over it, but only because the Atharim tried so diligently to kill him first.

“Nox,” he said and extended a hand to shake. A smile accompanied the greeting, slim and contained as it was. The younger man was the charmer, and Nikolai was more than capable of smoozing the most tense of powerful people, but that wasn’t the intent in the moment. He was being genuinely polite. It was probably going to come as a shock. Few people saw the hand of gentility from Nikolai Brandon.

Nox didn’t need to pose his request before the flicker of wrongness flashed Nik’s expression. Something was off that he could not determine, and it had nothing to do with an obvious wound sustained. “Are you okay?” he asked. It was several more moments before he granted Nox’s request in releasing the power of the universe.

“Your work with Domovoi is noticed, Nox. I want you to know that. I was not Atharim for very long, but what I saw was enough to instill the requisite respect for what lurks in the dark. When your message was reported, I could not allow it to pass without further inspection. None but one who has been initiated can truly appreciate the danger, which meant it had to be me who debriefed you. Tell me what happened. I have a people to protect, since it seems the Atharim wanes following Armande’s death. Whatever the man was, he was an effective Regus. I see that now. I'd kill him in a heart beat, but I see it.” 

For some reason, his tongue loosened unlike it hadn’t before. Nox was some sort of comrade simply by his heritage, something that had nothing to do with western culture. Nik was truly attracted to the Atharim once upon a time. He truly believed in their cause, and once upon a time, was terrified by the potential. In the end, he wasn’t a warrior. Not in the same way that Nox was. He was destined for something greater, obviously. Nox would never defer, but Nik recognized the stubborn American blood. He’d not hold it against him. The boy saved his life. Twice.
Nox took the offered hand and shook as he would any other man. Well maybe not any other man, this wasn't someone he'd flirt with. And when the Ascendancy spoke he had hoped the other man would feel the same way. Telling anyone else that monsters lurked under the city like none he'd ever seen and no one else would believe him, but the Ascendancy might.

The former Regus, Nox would like him dead too, and the Ascendancy brought up one of the reasons he had taken a seat. But first, he'd answer the first question. "I'm alive. I can't say that I'm monster free but I'm alive. But there are two separate topics I came to talk to you about. One is why I'm missing an arm, and what that could mean, and the second has to do with the man that has ordered your death on countless occasions."

With the power gone Nox felt much better. He took a deep breath and smiled. "One is more about protecting the people, the other personal. Both equally valid reasons. But I'll let you choose which to hear first."
If it wasn’t for the serious undertone lurking behind Nox’s insinuations, Nikolai might have chuckled for the intrigue hinted. Instead, he simply nodded slowly. After Nox sat down, Nikolai joined him, but he avoided the corporate arrangement of involving desks. There were sofas for this very purpose. The opulence of the Tsars once decorated these walls, but the magnificence was duly stripped by the communist regime that followed. A hundred years later, a blend of both emerged in the place that Nikolai worked many days. His personal preferences were strong, but in the end, these workplaces were about image. Only in the depths of his personal sanctuary was his style perfected. 

The couch upon which he sat was comfortable, but cut with a modern, albeit expensive design. He lounged comfortably, legs crossed and arm draped along the cushions: a king content in the state of his present kingdom.
“As the man you reference is himself quite dead, let’s hear your tale. Being a god is futile if there are no people to worship you,” he said. 

A hint of humor was implied, off-setting whether or not he was serious. Knowing Nikolai, though, he had no intention of undermining the authority of his empire now. Not while the trajectory of its might was finally growing again.
Nox smirked at the comment. And he had a feeling that the man himself meant it. He didn't necessarily believe he was a god like THE almight God. But Zeus or Odin or one of the other main figures - men who could weild the powers - yes, Nox could see the Ascendancy riding those currents along with the men and women of those times - the ones they hunted. This was the most powerful man on the planet and he was once again growing his power if the news had anything right. And he was pretty sure they did. His home land was in turmoil and he was sitting in the lap of the reason behind it. Nox held no loyalty to America though. He was an American. But patriotism didn't run in his blood. He fought for humanity, and his choice told Nox more about the Ascendancy than just the power hungry god worshiping power he wanted. He had all of that already. But he at least cared about his people.

So Nox started the tale. "The day I met Aria, I was in the tunnels with two of my friends. We were playing with the power and Aria was hunting monsters. I didn't remember who I was, or what I was. Only that I was a man with a strange power and a knack for blowing things up." Nox went on to tell the Ascendnacy about his first encounter with the monsters. How he and Aria along with Bas and Pytor killed a hoard of those things, barely getting away with their lives thanks to a carefully placed wall of ground in the earth.

"Aria and I started roaming the tunnels instead of the streets, trying to kill as many of these things as we could. That's how I got the maps I." Nox held up the data stick in his hand and set it on the table close to him. "But Domovoi isn't equpipped to fight them. My last encounger with Ivan and Lih resulted in several things. " Nox took a deep breath as he went out of order with this tale, but it was relavant now. " We found out that this thing can make the dead walk. But I think it's the same reason why I can control the litte beasties to some degree now. I can weild the power of the gods. The man who Dorian is one thousand percent sure he shot three times in the head - and who had channeled at him when he was walking and talking and not being all zombie lie - was Alistair Pavlo - a missing Scientist from Vaia Plus. And the reason I was in the tunnels. He coudln't channel, Hell he couldn't die. Bullets didn't stop him. Fire did. But the rookie with us decided to jump into the foray, and into the mass of things to try to take down Pavlo. I managed to save my life. But in the process left an opening for one of the beasties to attack me up close and personal. The first one Nova got at the cost of his own life, but a second one followed. It bit my arm." Nox lifted his arm to show the result of the bit.

"These things are too numerous and too regenerating to not be linked to the chupacara in some way. In another prior tunnel visit we ran into a man dragging a chup. He was wearing a white scientist lab coat and had a Vaia Plus security card on it." Nox didn't mention who he was with or what happened to the body. That wasn't the point of this whole thing. "So my reasoning is if you cut it off like you can with a chup bite you might survive. I was dead one way or the other, so I'd rather go out with at least trying to save my life. Ivan cut it off with the power, cauterising it so I wouldn't bleed out."

Nox knew he wasn't going in any semblence of order but it was how it was and how it was all coming out. "I woke up in the hospital missing an arm finding out that someone drew blood - blood now potentially contaiminated with the parasite or venom or whichever way this thing is commuicated to other beings to turn them into monsters that they are. And now it's gone missing." Someone stole it. Someone who knew what they were looking at or hopefully more protecting the masses than self serving but it was probably the later. "But that' isn't the scarest fact about this all yet."

"I got angry as I'm prone to do, but I think it had a little more to do with being in a regular hospital instead of an Atharim infirmary that had me on edge. No one there knew how to handle me correctly. And they sure as fuck shouldn't have just let me walk out without being cleared, but what can humans do really when they don't know that monsters exist. They thought I was crazy. And I'm not. I'm still me except for this sludge that now exists between me and my power. And a very growing hunger - both in the terms of actually needing to eat and the need to for a lack of a better word procreate. And since my tasts have shifted slightin those tastes aren't going to result in biolocial procreation but the desire doesn't seem to care, or differentiate. I'm sure it could if I were like them, but I'm not. But the scarest thing is that I think I'm connected to them now. When we were escapeing an Atharim came after me - following my cousin to me beause I was longing for family and found it on the internet. But she is real, but the Atharim used her to find me. They attacked. We ran. Into the tunnels. And once again, the hoard was there. So close to the surface. They were in a frenzy and they didn't attack. This time Nova was with them and I didn't know it yet. I called Nova and Nova came towards me. The hoard came too - like eager little puppies waiting to be pet. I yelled for them to go away and they did. They fled at my command - I sent them after an Oni nest I hadn't cleared out. I feel them. I could over run the city with them. I think in a way during the fight they were coming to me to help me agains the Atharim. I need to contact the Atharim. The man who came after me can weild the power of the gods. I don't think he knows it. I am going to use that against him - I'll help him survive if he promises my safety and lets me talk to someone who might know more - Someone in the Atharim has to know more about the fucking monsters than us grunts." Nox growled and knew that his anger wasn't all his own. It was the darkness. The trechery reaching to them welling up inside. Nox leaned forward and hung his head. Each breath in he kept for a count of three before releasing with the same count. "This is the scariest part about it all. The whole fucking desire to rip someone's throat out, or to fuck them until we are both done and over. I won't become one of them." There was fear in his voice. Fear he couldn't do it in the end - fear he'd become one of the monsters. He didn't have Aria to put him down, not anymore - he did that already - did his job. He took a deep breath and looked up at the Ascendnacy. "But if I do I will fix the problem. I owe myself that much." Nox knew he was stronger than his own beleifs - he'd killed Aria when it mattered. When she'd become the monster.
The tale that unraveled slowly came into focus. Nox was scattered, frantic with the emotion with which it was relayed. What happened to him struck the core of his being; and it was clear that Atharim was not his identity. The Atharim was a vehicle to a life’s purpose. Nikolai was not so ignorant as to assume altruism drove Nox into the fight. There were many reasons a man may devote himself to one cause, but Nik didn’t care to dig to depths only a psychiatrist dared plunge. Nox was a protector through and through. No matter what he else, Nikolai could trust that proclamation.

The map was astoundingly detailed. He did not think even the Custody had a comparable record. The history of the tunnels beneath Moscow was riddled in infamy. The first worm holes were excavated almost a millennium ago, when the battles against the Tartars spilled native blood that spawned a glorious regime. The data was loaded to their system along with an order to interweave it among their own intelligence archives. Together, a complete picture of what was known may emerge. Some said there were fully unmapped layers to the undercity, and that none really knew how far into the earth they delved. Nikolai was morbidly fascinated with the undercity, but he’d skim the information later.

The story seemed to wax and wane, skipping chronologic sense and explanations of identities: Nova? Chup? That last one was Chupacabra, he finally discerned the slang for himself. He didn’t remember much detail other than word associations: desert, dog, blood. Vaia Plus was also vaguely known to him. They were a powerful industry in Moscow and throughout the Custody, but nothing unusual prickled his memory in a way that may lace their involvement in monsters, tunnels, blood and demise.

As the story concluded, Nox withdrew into himself. Nikolai was respectfully wary, poised on the verge of seizing the power in order to contain what may erupt, but nothing happened. Nox regained control of what warred within, and Nik’s jaw tensed at the darkness.

“You did the right thing coming here. What you describe has the potential to massacre millions of unsuspecting people. It’s a matter of time before happened to you happens to someone else. We can’t let that come to pass,” he said.

Nox wanted to consult the Atharim, the very people who continued to send assassins to kill him. Nikolai understood the dilemma. “The Atharim aren’t going to help you. They would have done so by now. You say Domovoi is inadequately experienced, and you’re ready to plunge in guns blazing again. I respect that, but we need more weapons than the gun at the hip of a cowboy.”

He turned to summon images of the Facility. The laboratories were greater than what Nox previously experienced the last he visited it. One doctor in particular was summoned. She was in her thirties, with light brown hair tied back into a neat bun. She had the air of military training pressed to thin lips despite the white coat.
“This is Doctor Weston. She’s been doing research on channeler genetics,” he said and swiped to the image of another woman. She was about the same age, but her dark hair and big eyes gave off an aura of drama and intelligence. “And this is Doctor Zayed. She is doing channeling detection research, trying to understand the energy of this power we use. We have science at our fingertips. A few simple tests may unlock the key to understanding what it is that’s happened to you. We need to understand how this infection that’s gripped you is transmitted, how to stop it other than amputation, and how to cure it. Things the Atharim should have been doing, but they have poured their resources into killing innocent children when they should be eradicating monsters,” he said, detest in his tone.

He thought Nox would submit to a few tests. Perhaps Doctor Weston could design some sort of anecdote that could curb the cravings Nox described. It would at least give him some comfort in the meantime.

Now, what to do about the creatures themselves. Nox was right. Domovoi was not prepared for such a massive mission. After a moment’s thought, he slipped the suit jacket from his shoulders, draping it gently atop the sofa. Then he carefully unbuttoned the cuff of the accompanying white shirt, showing Nox the arm beneath. Something pulled him into the fog of a past he rarely discussed. Perhaps it was because nobody understood the gravity of what he showed. None except another Atharim. Armande would have, had he taken such a gesture. Instead, he shared it with Nox.

The ouroboros tattoo was barely discernable. It was once a simple design. Nikolai did not enjoy the act of being tattooed and wanted it over as quickly as possible. The skin was obscured by four puckered lines that once split the skin down to the bone. The claws avoided the radial artery, knowing exactly where to slice to avoid instant death of its victim. They liked the blood warm.

“A dreyken did this. He drew his fingernails of his other hand along the scars, reliving the motion. ”The tattoo was so new, it still hurt. He called me a baby Atharim when he sucked the blood from his fingers. It was my first and last hunt,” his gaze lifted to Nox’s. Nikolai still looked young, and for a brief moment, a flash of boyhood seemed to show itself behind the blue eyes peering through his hair. He was handsome in a way that inspired instant trust, and it was determination that replaced the momentary vulnerability. He smiled with a sort of triumph only a hunter may appreciate. Nox would appreciate. “That night was the first time the power came to me,” he spoke like they shared a secret. They did. “I never yearned for a second hunt. My destiny carried me to a seat greater than the Atharim,” he spoke gently, locking Nox with the sort of gaze that promised something unspoken. The idea was very intriguing, though. The tunnels called him home.

He began to reroll the sleeve. “I’m going to see to it that you get a prosthetic. The advancements are so cutting edge, even the 3d printed skin has touch receptors that interface with neural networks. Unless you want a silver arm like someone out of a comic book,” he smiled, teasing.

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