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Idle Chit Chat
Meeting the Atharim channeler had been exciting and lackluster once Allan got past his initial reaction.  Much of polish had worn off when the Ascendancy had questioned his motives for wanting to join them in the tunnels.  And doubts crept in. But the awe of the world unknown still pulled at Allan.  He eagerly awaited the meeting with his leader later that evening.

Still in uniform Allan made his way to the Ascendancy's private chambers. No time had been given and Allan would wait as long as necessary for the man to allow him entrance into his private affairs. There were rumors of his relationship with the US Congresswoman, and now that they were separated by oceans those rumors had not ceased only changed in directions.  Allan held no stock in those rumors anymore than he had with others around the compound.  But he had listened none-the-less.

Allan wondered about the book or knowledge on offer.  Where did the Ascendancy get it?  How did he know about the Atharim? Why did he put so much stock in the boy who could channel, when he could obviously end the man's life with just as much ease.  Trust was not something to be given lightly.  He was a proclaimed enemy of channelers -- yet he was one.  The dichotomy was deafening in Allan's ears.  How could he do both?  Be both?

Allan knocked on the entryway door and waited for his mentor to answer.  There might be just a handing over of the book or a long night full of conversation.  With the Ascendancy, Allan never knew.  But no matter what it was a joy to spend the time with the man.  So much better than his own father.
Perhaps it was talk of the pending book discussion, but Nikolai was inspired. He was a voracious reader throughout his youth. To this day he prided himself on staying current with relevant literature. Current minds reflected culture, after all. As the pending leader of the entire globe, insight into shifting cultures were mandatory. Presently, he was reading a hardback book by a Brazilian author about the religious and tribal undertones of South America. The book began with a reflection on historical events, and the present chapter discussed the shifting landscape that was the 1990’s. In so many ways, the world was poised on the edge of modern advancements come the turn of the millennium, and in so many others, clung doggedly to outdated principles. Democracy. Nik shook his head derisively. In retrospect, the democratic state was declining during the decade, although none at the time realized it. Nikolai himself eventually caught on. Such was the earthquake that shattered the world, and he knew where to plant the epicenter…

… Moscow.

He had pre-arranged permissions for Allan to gain entrance to this section of the Grand Kremlin Palace. The building was the Imperial residence of Tsar Nicholas I, commissioned two-hundred years ago. The upper most level was designated as the former Royal Apartments. Seven suites all linked by a central corridor that since transformed into the private residence of the Ascendancy. The previous tastes were abhorrent to Nikolai, no offense to his Tsar predecessor. Gold and baby blues, plush pinks and alabaster, they turned his stomach like some puffery of some Parisian king. No. Following the destruction of his previous, subterranean residence, a new commission was made. The interior décor was darkened. Black marble, obsidian stone, and rich jewels enveloped him. The furniture was tasteful and plush, balanced between light and dark. Gold and riches remained, but the aesthetic was significantly darker.

When the time for Allan’s arrival was imminent, Nikolai noted the alert that flagged his line of sight. He left the book – a real book rather than an electronic version – behind on the table. The library was dim, lit by a fireplace crackling and popping, and cloaked in evening shadow. Something about the darkness was soothing. After living a life in the light all day, to recede to the stillness of a dim room was relaxing.

He wore a black robe and matching lounge pants. Both were neatly tied and gleaming with the sheen of the luxurious fabric. He’d already showered, though his hair was mostly dry. It was an immense rarity to behold the Ascendancy so casual, almost as if he was a human after all, but even the gods had to rest from time to time.

Nikolai stood in the threshold of the reception room on the far side from the double doors. With a surge of the power, the power wedged a spindle through keyholes in a protective shield that held the doors with iron might. Once it was released, twin ropes pulled on the handles and they opened on one smooth motion.

The reception room was wide but held only a few narrow seats and benches to make any forced to wait there slightly uncomfortable with the passage of time. A grand piano took up one corner, but it was currently cloaked with shadow.

“Allan,” Nikolai called from across the space, waving him in. “Shut the door behind you and come in,” he said. While he did, he retreated into the main living area beyond. Visitors were rare inside these doors. All of them were overwhelmed, if not by the architecture and décor, then by the man that called it home.
The whole place was decidant a bit over the top for living arrangements but when you are the most powerful man on earth you can pretty much do whatever you wanted. It was grand and opulent and sometimes Allan didn't know where to look, he felt like if he touched anything he would never be able to replace it so he touched nothing, didn't even look for fear it might fall while he gazed upon it.

The doors swung open and Allan walked in with the Ascendancy dressed comfortably and now Allan felt over dressed. But then this was the Ascendancy, not one of his brothers in arms. Their talks prior had always been in the Ascendancy's office, this was new. And it would make the others jealous. The power made the whole situation more ominous. The menacing presence adding to the feel of the whole place. Allan did as he was bit, shutting the large doors. But even the small act felt like he should flee. But this was the same man as before. Yes, he was leader of half the known world, but it wasn't their first conversation.

Allan took a deep breath before he followed the Ascendancy into the living space. More firsts. Allan wondered how many people ever saw the inside of this place. He wouldn't ask, but he wondered. "I'd say nice place you got here, but I'm pretty sure you already know how it makes people feel." He chuckled softly to himself as he tried not to look around in awe.
Nikolai waited in the center of the living area for Allan to catch up. The lamps were lit, but it was the ominous presence of the power that touched a deeper nerve. The nervous way in which Allan proceeded through the space was not unnoticed, but there was nothing present that Nikolai was particularly attached to losing.
“You should have seen it before,” he said with a wink.

“What I’m going to show you is through here,” he said and waved Allan to follow.

They next entered into a room that resembled a library more than a study. The previous décor flowed naturally, but there was more stimulation of color than before. There was a spacious desk off which Nikolai liked to think, although the technology built into the structure was powered down at the moment. They may well have walked backward in time as into an adjacent room.

The book Nik was previously reading waited on a table alongside a plush chair. He didn’t pick it up as he passed. A fire was popping, but a net of gleaming threads pushed the heat elsewhere to avoid overly warming the room. Nikolai liked the ambiance but did not desire to sit in a summer furnace.

Many of the books in his collection were from current authors and represented a global cache of diversity. However, the ones on proudest display were antique editions of famous works. His own pieces, published over the years, were positioned on its own shelf.

There was a liquor cabinet off to one side. Nik gestured at it as he walked behind the desk. “Help yourself to a drink, Allan.” There was no vodka to be found in here, rather an array of warm bodied spirits. Nikolai rarely indulged in alcohol, but when he did, it was to savor the tannins of a bold, Italian merlot.

Meanwhile, he turned to a wall behind the desk and opened a hidden panel to unlock a safe.
Allan followed the man into yet another interior room and he had to stop and take it all in. Not one was it goregeos, and all the books, but there were weaves of the power flowing through the room. Allan never thought about how the power could be used for such a simple task. He'd been taught to be a weapon, the simple things were not taught except to move on to bigger things once control was formed. They were stepping stones.

The books linking the walls drew his eye. They were immaculately arranged, and he missed the Ascendancy's nod towards the bar. Though it was the first thing he had seen when he walked in. "I shouldn't have a drink. Been sober since I got here, wouldn't want to ruin the track record." Surely the man knew his past. And right now was not the time to fall down the deep dark pit of despair drink lead him down. He didn't need to mourn. He wanted to learn. To have good conversation. To follow the man's footsteps in front of him. His aspirations were changing. He didn't want to rule the world, but to have that power, and that knowledge -- a long life. A lonely life. "All this space, it must get lonely." Allan spoke without thinking as his eyes roamed the spines of the books.

The safe held a book... was this book dangerous? Allan's eyes fell on the man's back and he wondered what exactly they were about to share.
Allan’s refusal of the drink wasn’t overlooked. While his back was turned, Nikolai’s lips flickered a proud smile, but when next he glanced, his expression was impassive. “There’s sparkling water if you prefer,” he offered as an alternative. There was no ice to be found, for if the chill was desired, a channeler had the means to create it. The offer of alcohol was a natural habit, knowing that the alcoholic present would find themselves vulnerably uncomfortable. It was an edge over others that Nikolai barely realized when he did it. In this case, Allan would likely glance at the table all night. However, ruining one of his valuable Rods of Dominion would only hurt the Custody. Nobody wanted to waste a valuable asset, but sometimes the tools had to be sharpened to be useful. Nikolai could say the same of Jay Carpenter. The boy went through hell, according to Scion anyway, but what a masterpiece that emerged.

Meanwhile, Nik paused the series of commands that would open the safe in order to consider Allan’s comment. Loneliness wasn’t an emotion Nikolai bothered to contemplate. He was always private, even as a young man. Bunking with Garret Rahvid for a university flatmate had been the first such inclusion into his personal life. Only Armande Nicodemus knew how that turned out.

“Not at all. I am surrounded by the world every moment of every day. Sometimes a little peace and quiet is refreshing,” he said just as the vacuum seal of the safe released its pressure. “Ahh, here it is,” he said, lifting a cloth-wrapped tome. If there were other items inside the safe, they were quickly sealed away once more.
Allan could understand that. Allan poured himself a sparkling water and glanced at the other drinks. Despair and depression were not something he wanted right now. The fury of the power inside was glorious now that he knew he could control it. But the despair of it all would creep in. And that wasn't something he wanted. Focus on the book. On knowledge -- that's what she would have wanted. Not him drowning in a bottle.

Allan turned to see the Ascendancy with a cloth covered tome -- obviously old and unused in many years. "What's that?" Allan asked. He wondered if it was some ancient bible, or wood covered book with fragile pages inside the intricately carved covers. Speculation was better. He would rather drown in the knowledge being offered. But this didn't look the sort of book you took out of this room. Which had it's own grandoise thoughts. Allan enjoed the Ascendancy's company -- a father he never had so to speak. So much better than the one he did have.
He could feel the intrigue in Allan’s voice. Surprisingly, a dash of thrill flushed through Nikolai. Should he put it back? Allow Allan a glimpse of the forbidden and lock it away again? It would torment him, remind him of the vast chasm differentiating even a powerful channeler from the Ascendancy.

As Nik turned, he laid the book, still wrapped in its bindings, upon the desk like a prize between them. Finally, he gestured for Allan to do the honors and himself stepped aside. The binding was a regular cloth, worn over time but not from frequent handling. Beneath lay a heavy book, similarly old but infrequently handled. The cover was bound in carefully aged red leather. Straps on a closure system were made from alligator leather. Planted in the center was a pentagram surrounded by the ouroboros.

Nikolai waited patiently for revelation to sweep across Allan’s face.

"You may open it," he said.
The book was old. Allan could smell the age on its pages even before he got close. It wasn't a bad smell, quite the opposite. Old books contained knowledge potentially lost to others -- only to be found by someone else. Someone like him.

The Ascendancy stepped away allowing Allan space, instructing him to open the ancient tome. Allan stood in front of the red leather with gold embossing. The snake biting its tail. That was more important than the pentagram in the middle. It was a distraction. "The snake. I've seen it before." Allan turned his attention to the Ascendancy, "When the images of the attack happened here in the bowles of the Kremlin. The leak. This image." Allan tapped the top of the book gently. "It was littered through the images that were shown."

"This is their mark." He said to himself as he undid each buckle carefully. "Seems a careless thing to do, marking yourself as some cultist. Nox didn't have the mark anywhere visible." Allan said casually. No he hadn't been checking the other man out after he removed his shirt. But he had just revealed he had looked at the man more closely than he should have. Maybe it would go unnoticed. Maybe not, but it didn't matter. "Do all Atharim carry the mark? Why aren't we hunting them all down and locking them up?"

Atharim were dangerous. They had attacked the Ascendancy twice that he knew of. But they had knowledge of monsters and the underground worlds and the occult.

But he let the distraction fade as he lifted the leather cover to reveal the first page. "Should I be using gloves or anything?" He looked to the Ascendancy for guidance.
Allan recognized the symbol. It circulated the media like a modern-day urban myth, unproven but hyped. The question that followed was unexpected, but for now, Nik did not elaborate. He wanted to see Allan’s reaction to the book’s contents in a pure, unbiased way.

“No gloves necessary. There’s a stain on one page from an espresso that got away from me. There’s blood somewhere. Don’t mind it,” he waved a hand and circled around to one chair. Late nights at the café in Bologna, studying at the bar with a ready explanation about a mythology course.

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