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Into the Darkness
[[ @"Allan" @"Ascendancy" @"Marcus DuBois" @"Jay Carpenter" no rush, but a thread to start the tunnels hunt off ]]

Nox was still smiling when he rolled the door upon the storage unit he kept all his extra hunting gear in. He had lost a lot when the warehouse blew up.  But Dorian had helped his resupply.  Nox really should make amends. Dorian lost more than his friendship because of what he did.  And it was mostly Nox's fault. But Dorian had done what he did to protect his family.  That's what stung the most, he wasn't part of that equation.  He had nothing when Dorian took him in.  Now Nox had Raffe and the others at Kallisti and he was about to ruin it all by dying in the tunnels.  The darkness pulled on him.  The shadows of his mind tried to pull him in.  It latched on to his depression and pulled so hard.  So deep.  It ached to have him in their grasp, but Nox intended to deny them that.  Deny them the power he gave the hoard.

The memories of the night shared with Raffe kept him smiling.  Kept him from falling into the darkness.  And the morning's farewell had been much longer than had been planned.  Not that Nox regretted it.  He wasn't on a timetable -- not really.

But it was those memories that kept Nox afloat amidst the darkness.  He held Raffe in his heart and mind as he gathered all the things he needed for the hunt.

He only had so many preprogrammed land warriors, but Nox checked them all before stuffing them on top of the gear in his bag.  Salvation and Damnation lay at the bottom, ready to be equipped once inside the tunnels.  The gun and survival knife were there only in case of an emergency.  Nox had no intentions of actually brandishing a weapon in the tunnels.  At least not a gun that could bounce bullets everywhere.  His crossbow lay in the bag, and Nox thought how cool would it be to have it attached to his arm like some sort of mechanical superhero.  But then he'd lose the use of a hand and that wasn't optimal either.  There were only so many bolts, and not good for a hoard.  But best for hitting an Oni in the eye.  At least that was the shot it was mostly used for.  

The most helpful things in the bag were his vials of items strapped to an old ammo sling.  Each vial contained various elements to aid in destroying creatures.  Several vials were filled with homemade napalm that when thrown would splatter and with the use of his ability to create a near-unstoppable fire.  Other things like pellets, and broken glass, and even a few vials of baby powder.  The tools meant to enhance his ability and prolong his fighting in the tunnels. They each had a use, and each one he'd field-tested before in the tunnels.  Granted he'd never been accompanied before while using them.  They too might cause too much issue with too many people coming.

His bag was packed, Nox checked that the software on his wallet was working and up to date.  All the maps loaded and hooked into his own land warriors which sat happily on the bridge of his nose taking in all the data.  Nox wished Sage was around for tech back up but it was what it was.  He hadn't heard from him in a while.  It was starting to worry him.  But he was with Aiden, they both had to be okay.

The last thing Nox packed in the bag were half a dozen repeaters.  They wouldn't cover the whole length of what Nox hopped to travel, but as he went deeper he intended to provide as much internet for as long as he possibly could.  That way if they got lost or needed help someone could get a call out for help.  Even if it was too late.

Now the only thing Nox had to worry about was how long he was going to survive in the tunnels with an untrained group of monster hunters...

[[ Not sure if you wanted to have a meeting beforehand, or jump right into the fun...  and no rush, just setting up for the thread when ya'll are ready ]]
Jay put a hand to his eyes, shielding the glare of the sun’s sting. For a moment, he wondered about finding a new Stetson, but the idea churned his stomach sour before he realized what he was pondering. Ranching was a life lost now. Strange missing it since he was so miserable at the time.

He wore the Ascendancy’s uniform openly in the street. All gray and black, the chains draped softly against his chest, and the power-formed pendant was fastened in place. He felt eyes slice him up and down as he waited for a cab. Most everyone in view wore business clothes of some degree. None were military, unless the suits were spooks, and given their proximity to the Kremlin, he assumed at least a few were. There was no taking the time to study gait and posture, though. He slipped into the shadow of a cab and issued instructions without further preamble.

The driver was finishing the remnants of a pastry. The smell permeated the otherwise plain vehicle, and only reminded him that he already ate a hearty breakfast. Yet while the driver pulled at a tumbler of coffee, Jay did likewise with a flask. The warmth was almost as good as – what did Nox call it? – the power of the gods.

He might have smirked if it weren’t for the tight set to his jaw. Gods. Maybe Nox. Maybe Ascendancy. But Jay was no god. He barely earned the title of human.

The cab let him off at the described location, and it was only a short walk to find the meet up. He hid the flask in his pocket after one last drink and strolled into view. He had no idea what to expect, other than what the orders relayed.

Show up.

So Jay came.
Only darkness shows you the light.

Between the book and his meetings with Ascendancy Allan was almost reluctant to go. He was still worried about going into the bowels of the earth with a former Atharim who's sole purpose in his prior life was to kill men like him. Granted Nox was also one of them, but still you didn't unlearn your training. But he was eager to see the abominations for himself. These so-called monsters.

The meeting place was just outside a sewer entrance. Couldn't they meet in a more desirable place? Allan had not attended the meeting with Nox and the Ascendancy about the things. Allan only came with himself. He wore his uniform only to show that he supported the Ascendancy. He had doubts about this whole thing.

Allan wasn't the first one there. But not by much as it seemed. Nox stood outside an open grate into the sewers and Jay was approaching. Allan saw the smirk and happy smile on his face as Jay showed up. Allan remembered they had spoken at the gala. Nox spoke. "Hey, Jay. Glad you could make it."

He looked past the other man and gave Allan a nod. "I expected you to be here with Ascendancy?"

Allan frowned. "I can manage arrangements on my own. Do you know who all is coming?" Allan asked Nox, but he shook his head. "Not so all-knowing as you pretend to be."

The man frowned. "I'm not all-knowing, never claimed to be." There was a growl in his voice and Allan could have sworn he felt the ominous presence of their power for a split second before it was gone. But the good-natured smile was back on his face as Nox turned his attention back to Jay. "I'm glad trouble didn't keep you back home."
A nod was Jay’s greeting in return. He always liked Allan, who welcomed the newcomer to the group of Dominions. Allan had zero idea what the past few weeks were like. Natalie knew. Mostly. She guessed the rest, but even she couldn’t see inside his head. Although sometimes it felt like she stirred around in there for all of the woman’s mind-reading.

Nox waited like a commander for his team to present themselves. He wasn’t military, but he had more enough of a spine to be in the hottest of fields. Their quick banter was enough to prick Jay from his own thoughts, if only for a moment. Name-dropping Ascendancy did that. He glanced behind him momentarily, expecting the man to whom Jay swore his loyalty manifest himself like some godly specter. Why had he done it? For the promise of channeling? For the promise of blood and battle? Suppose he got his wish. He’d seen enough blood for two lifetimes.

Nox looked good, he thought upon first inspection. He looked strong and eager, though the flicker of darkness was not lost upon one to whom the darkness was an old friend. Naturally, he studied the false arm.
“No amputations today, got it?” he spoke sternly, but buried in the accusation was humor, morbid though it was.

It was the first they’d seen one another since before. The day he half-fucked Anna Marie at the casino hotel, it was Nox that he reached out to. Jay wasn’t bringing it up now.

But he wasn’t the same person as before.

Neither of them were.
Only darkness shows you the light.

Allan was rubbing him the wrong way. The darkness didn't like him. He'd gone from overly eager to almost hateful. Nox wondered what the switch was. What he'd done to make things different. Probably nothing, though it didn't bode will for their trip down into the darkness. Nox was grateful that Jay was able to come, even if he looked to have been ordered -- uniform and all. He looked tired.

Nox smirked at Jay's comment. "I won't promise anything. I value my life above limb. Except maybe one..."

Nox wanted to give Jay a hug, but opted instead to offer his good hand in hello. "I guess we await our glorious leader, and whoever else he thinks is necessary to control these things."

The bag Nox had brought lay at his feet, he kicked it open. "Should be a pair of land warriors for everyone. Not exactly standard issue, so you'll want to use these as they are already calibrated with my system." Nox tapped his own pair hanging from his neck like a pair of unused sunglasses. Their hud was connected to his wallet, and the mapping software. Aurora had done a good job tweaking the land warrior software and with Sage and Cruz's help the tools only got better.
“Ascendancy, sir, with all due respect, that’s what you’re wearing?”  al’Shaidis said. The unofficial leader of the Nine Rods of Dominion was flown into Moscow hours previously, pulled from another assignment to coordinate the ground level response of the other Dominions. Nikolai was confident one would be unnecessary, but he did not ascend so far in life on assumptions. His backup plans had backup plans. When those failed, another contingency was activated. So on and so forth.

He had just finished confirming their primary strategy when Karim al’Shaidis commented on Nikolai’s attire.

He glanced at himself. Everything seemed in order. His suit was without blemish and fit his lean frame well. Despite propaganda portraits, Nikolai was not particularly muscular beneath his clothes, but he was lean from busyness, the daily swim, and the exertion of wielding his immense powers.

Despite that, today he was well-rested, eager even, given the extra bounce in his step. In all regards, he was fine.

“What do you mean?” He asked, holding back a retort that might have sprung upon Karim for the questioning.

With that, Karim tapped his own chest, right over the heart, “Perhaps something more tactical, sir.”

Nikolai laughed, but shook off Karim’s worry with a good-natured shake of the head. Of all his attire, the only thing altered from his everyday appearance was his shoes. Rather than sleek loafers, he wore the modern equivalent of steel-toe boots. They were laced snug around his ankles, and while light as a feather were tough as steel and waterproof. Nox had mentioned something about tunnels, and for some reason, tunnels were always wet.

“I’ll be fine. You keep your men ready. You don’t know what we’re up against. I don’t really know what we’re up against either, but at least I have the imagination to conjure up the possibilities.” He briefly brushed the side of his arm where old scars remained, then departed to meet Marcus.

They were late to arrive, but not long. Of course the Ascendancy had to be whisked out of the Kremlin without drawing attention, but such antics were old hat by now.  They arrived without much fanfare. For his part, the party was to be kept small and made up of only channelers he trusted. If Vellas wasn’t on an urgent state mission, he would have been present. The man certainly had a way with killing.

There were many others stationed at key strategic places, but from the perspective of the present party, were completely unseen.

He and Marcus joined Nox, Jay and Allan, but it was the darkness beyond the men that called to Nikolai. The entrance sang in a way that made him feel like he was on the verge of going home.

He nodded and greeted the men with a shake of the hand, hovering and speaking a few words with each  before proceeding to the next. With Nox, he was formal and inquisitive about his overall readiness. Nox was assigned with leadership, which suited Nikolai fine for now.

With Jay, he searched the man’s expression for signs of life, and wondered if Adrian had revived him yet. It did not seem to have been done, but that probably made Jay all the better soldier in return.

With Allan, he judged the emotion waiting beneath the surface: fear, excitement, or that perfect blend of both.

“Gentleman, before we proceed, I want to say that it is perfectly natural to be nervous. Courage is fear that has said its prayers, after all. Our objective is to eliminate if possible, contain at least, the threat ahead. These creatures cannot be allowed to unleash upon civilians. It will be catastrophic if it does. No matter the cost, remember our objective.”
There was an energy building at the Consulate. It was only beginning of course. But already, a momentum was building, an inertia of growth and expansion that seemed like it would last for a long time. His schedule was nothing but meetings- with bureaucrats and lawyers, law enforcement and retired military, researchers and developers, accountants and human resources. Add to that the other Consulates as well as every and any group- small or large- that his Consulate would touch was now in his purview.

It was exhilarating, the potential power all of this meant.

It was exhausting, the amount of responsibility he carried.

He was not a fool. Delegation to those he could trust was key. "Trust" was an interesting word. Some, he trusted because they felt a loyalty to him. Others were loyal to the work. Still others were merely loyal to the empire. By far, the majority were loyal to their own self-interest. In a way, that was easiest, as counter-intuitive as that might seem. People whose self-interest was foremost were easier to control and predict. Ascendancy had been right to create a ruthlessly capitalistic paradise, rewarding those who did best in that regard.

Selfishness was a baseline and predictor. As long as they could prosper doing his work- and as long as the price for betrayal or ineptitude was harsh- the majority would hew the line. Those others, those more idealistic, could be trusted with more responsibility. But with that dependability came a line in the sand. He had to keep track of where everyone's was, to make sure those who were more beholding to scruples faced lesser challenges to their faith.

Hard work, to be sure. Sometimes he came home exited and unable to sleep. Other days, he barely ate.

All of which was to say that when the Ascendancy's message came to him, he more than jumped at the chance. An opportunity to use the Force in combat appealed to him beyond words. The part of himself he had thought of as Malik still craved, still needed to satiate his hunger- for justice, for violence, for...power in its rawest form.

And so dressed in black relaxed cargo pants and a dark long sleeve shirt under a black canvas coat, he accompanied him. His lightsaber was clipped to his belt. He itched to pull it out and use it, to see the blade come to life of its own accord with a single touch of the power.

When the car stopped, he exited with Ascendancy and listened to the speech. The threat to the city was real and worth doing. But even if it hadn't, he would have been here. Sanctioned destruction and mayhem was not something he normally had, unlike Vellas, he thought sourly. Then again, Vellas did not have an ocean of information flowing through him either. It was only slight compensation, though, at the moment.

After a moment, he let himself shift into hunter mode, what he had always thought of as Malik. Giving him free reign- or rather, giving himself permission to be what he wanted to be- he was ready. He looked over the group. Allan he knew from his few visits to the facility. And Nox had come into his sphere a few times as well. Ascendancy deigned to allow the man leadership, which was fine. Only a fool did not recognize the need to follow those with more experience. It would not always be the case, but for now, in this instance, it was fine. Carpenter, one of the Rods, looked rough. Not necessarily physically. But there was a tiredness to the eyes. It could be useful to know why.

He nodded when Ascendancy finished his little speech, ready to go. He found his lightsaber in his hand and a smile touched the corners of his mouth.

Yes, this definitely beat sitting in meetings.
Jay snagged the LWs with a swipe of the power. When the display grid was revealed, he took a few minute to orient himself with the navigation software and controls. They were better than what he had in the Legion, and it had been enough years that he’d served in the marines, that what they used back then was outdated now.
“Good stuff,” he nudged Nox and gave him a stern, brow-quirking pose.
“How do I look?” He asked, serious as a stone except for the twinge at the corner of his mouth. Hollywood may be a little ragged, but he was still hot as fuck.

Maybe this was going to be more fun than he thought.

Ascendancy and Marcus DuBois’ arrival plucked the comedy from the air, though. He saluted the great man that was Ascendancy, having not seen him this close since his return from the US.

Naturally, there’d been some time waiting around – on the flight, in the car, while placaso tortured him – and one’s thoughts strayed from subject to subject. Eventually, he thought about Ascendancy. How did he learn this power on his own? How did he master it without a teacher? At least Jay had Jared’s instructions and Nox’s guidance. Seeing him again stirred at the questions Jay was unlikely to ever ask.

Maybe he was a god. Mortal or not, it didn’t matter to Jay. He was ready to follow him into the darkness.

Should be fun. If they didn't all die today. Hell, if they made it out without amputation, Jay would call it a success. Sure as shit he wasn't going to be hacking off anything today.
Only darkness shows you the light.

Allan watched the exchange between the two men -- they seemed old friends. It might behoove him to keep an eye on both of them then. What did he really know about Carpenter short of the fact that he was American, discharged from his own countries military and that he was now of of the Nine with him. They both wore the uniform though Jay had been gone for some time now -- personal business. There was a twinge of jealousy in that -- he'd been allotted time out of the barracks without a mission. Not that he was jealous long -- though Allan was wishing for a swig of the bottle with the pent up emotions.

The former Atharim kicked open a bag full of gear. Land Warriors? Were does someone like him get Land Warriors. Probably stolen. Allan wished to know more about the man's former allegiance. And he wondered how far he'd go to regain their favor. Would killing the Ascendancy, the Consul and two of the nine rods be beneficial to the Atharim? It would surely gain the former criminal organization some peace if they truly hunted men like them -- even if he was one of them.

Allan cautiously took a pair from the bag. How illegal was all this?

Like Carpenter he was impressed with the set up. The HUD was enlightening. The map was detailed. "Where did you get these maps? They are more detailed than what's in the archives."

The man smirked. "I don't sit on my ass all day doing nothing. I've wandered and mapped the tunnels."

But before he could respond, the Ascendancy and the Consul showed up. The Ascendancy came dressed to the nines to go underground. There was a bit of pride in that -- looking at the former Atharim wearing worn jeans and hoodie. He was the least well dressed of them all. But Allan had to wonder if the stains on his clothes were blood -- or something more gruesome.

The Ascendancy gave a little speech. Inspiring... Allan reached into the bag and grabbed two more land warriors and handed a pair each to the new arrivals. The bag itself was not empty. "What's with the rest of the gear?"
Jay looked good as always. But Nox just smirked at the question making sure he gave him an approving once over. Nox's thoughts drifted to what would be considered bad form having a boyfriend and all. It wasn't like he'd ever cared before. Now he did and was thankful that the Ascendancy and Marcus Dubois arrived when they did. Even Allan's disapproval was a distraction from the thoughts Nox didn't need to be having on a hunt. Raffe was safe. And he'd stay that way as long as things went as planned.

Allan gave the new arrivals land warriors and Nox reiterated the fact that they were tied to his Wallet with the mapping software and Atharim data on beasties if they needed it. The Ascendancy gave the inspirational speech. The we'll do anything to keep people safe speech, as if that was any doubt. But it made Nox wonder what the Ascendancy would do with him once he found out fully what Nox was capable of with the horde. Nox intended to use it fully to his advantage to eradicate all monsters in the tunnels, and he'd already started. Even if just to distract the horde.

Nox answered Allan's question. "Emergency kit, a few days rations and water for all, and things I didn't want to carry in broad daylight." Nox pulled out the ammo sling that contained his supply of pebbles, glass and homemade napalm and slung it over his shoulder and attached the ends to the belt he'd attached for his crossbow and gun to hang in easy reach, sheathed his knife at the small of his back before slinging the backpack over his shoulders.

"A few things to keep in mind before we head into the tunnels. One. If you get bitten by one of these unknown creatures or a Chupacabra head or center mass I will personally put a bullet in your head. There is no cure, no recovery. Amputation is the only deterrent if bitten on a limb, and even that has to be done in time. And I don't recommend you get scratched either. Nox didn't really care if it was the Ascendancy or not. This thing would not escape the tunnels on his watch.

"Two. High velocity projectile weapons should be use as last resort, we don't want to get hit by our own bullets."

Nox turned to survey the darkness beyond the mouth of the open grate. "And lastly -- People live down there. We need to keep the horde from finding the population." It was a major win they hadn't been threatened yet. Nox could only hope.

He took a deep breath and let the darkness inside find the horde. "Unless there is anything else, the horde awaits."

Nox stepped into the opening and started walking. The first portion of the tunnels were man made, you could tell from the tiles on the wall, and the electricity scattered throughout from unbroken lights. But eventually the tunnel lead into stone walls carved by something not necessarily man made -- though it could be years upon years ago. But Nox was not a geologist. Nox reached through the sludge on the Power and grasped the power to light his way through the tunnels. The only sound was the beating of his own heart in his ears. The horded called and Nox answered Come to me. Most of the horde was deep with in the tunnels, but the small batch he'd been feeling since he got bit was close. The sounds of their approach could be heard in the echo between heart beats.

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