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The Garden [closed]
[[with Ascendancy]]
[Image: images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQjC8l6abaEholjOc-zJsQ...I&usqp=CAU]
Ivan wasn't really nervous. Not really. It was like the first day of the Academy. The beginning of something new. He'd learned a lot over the last few months. Come a long way. But aside from that one brief meeting with the Ascendancy, as well as some coaching from Nox, he was mostly self taught.

Which bothered him. He hated feeling like he was just scratching the surface. Like there was so much more going on but that he only used what was easy and obvious. From what he had seen- stuff Ascendancy had done, or Nox or Jensen- Jesus, that had been nothing less than miraculous!- from all of that, he knew that the power wasn't a brute force thing.

Sure, he'd done a lot with it. A hell of a lot. But that was how he used it, just expressions of force. There was no... finesse, no nuance, no thought, no design to it. That was what was missing, he had begun to feel. Like the model steam engine he'd build, which sat on a desk at his apartment. Yeah, fire and water were pretty basic- boiling water, steam and all that. But from that simple every day process, the flow of energy created was harnessed to do something. And There had been a need for a deep understanding of what was going on with the water and fire and the metal housing- its temperature and tolerances and so forth. There was definitely an artistic aspect to it, for sure. But it was created for a purpose.

That was what was missing. There was no engineering with what he did with the power. His instinctual usage of it was crude and blunt. What Jensen did, that...that was something else entirely. It was surgery and exploratory scans and medicine and chemistry and who the hell knew what else, all in one. It was mind boggling.

He didn't expect to learn that. No. No more than he expected to pick up a guitar and be Page or Morello or Ito. Sure, he could (and had) learned the strings and even the chords. He knew how to read music and play. But it was not innate and subconscious. It was not natural in the way it was for them. That's what Jensen was- a prodigy. No, he knew his own limitations.

But Ascendancy had sent a message and said he could learn at the "Gardens"- whatever that was. His work in Domovoi was steady and interesting. But it was also routine. Well, not that. He felt like he was missing something. That he had more capabilities and wasn’t using it. He didn't want to leave Danya and Zara. In truth, he would have said no, had things not changed. He wasn’t sure how Ascendancy would have responded, but his family needed to be safe. Yun Kao was dead, though. Thank God.

The word on the streets was the restructuring going on among the families. The Yakuza had moved in in a large way and were making trouble. Which was bad. The OC unit was going to be busy. The one positive- and it was a bit selfish but he was honest with himself- was that the Syndicate was in a state of flux. Very likely, Ivan's family would be safe.

So a kiss for Zara and a deeper kiss for Danya, and he was off to...

“The Garden”. Which evidently was a training camp. Barracks and the like. Which made sense. He supposed using the power- more like training and practicing with it- should be done away from civilization. He didn't plan on living there or staying there a long time. Where he stayed was really not important. Not that the orientation the previous night had been filled with details. Not at all.

But he was there to learn. So that morning, he presented himself at the Officer Entrants building to report for training.

[Image: Nikolai_Helicopter-cropped.jpg]
Commander Vellas had been running the channeler operations out of a base codenamed The Garden. While it was about an hour outside of the metro, by helicopter, it was a much shorter ride. However, for Nikolai, whose fear of heights made him resort to the air only on dire need, the commute was very short indeed…. but not short enough. He was grim when he exited the helicopter cab and hurried beneath the chopping blades for the nearest building.

Following the normal rounds, inspections, and reports, he emerged onto the open grounds flanked by military personnel. Among them, Nikolai stood out. He was not dressed tactically in any sense of the word, excepting his usual micro-armor-threaded shirt. He wore his typical business suit, black today with a dark blue tie that he tucked inside the jacket once the wind kicked up.

He hadn’t seen Ivan in a long time. “Thank you for coming, Detective,” he began with a handshake. “I believe I owe you some long-overdue time.”

[Image: images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQjC8l6abaEholjOc-zJsQ...I&usqp=CAU]
The wind the propellers kicked up whipped hot and dry at his face. He squinted as he watched the Ascendancy come closer, military guards clearly visible. It was a reminder. As powerful as you were, you could still get killed. And so could those you loved. His mom and pops. His brother and sister. Danya and Zara. The thought of something happening to them tore at him. And he felt a primal fire. Not again. Not ever.

Yun Kao was dead. And he really did think the Syndicate had more to worry about. But it was stupid to bet Zara's life on it. Or Danya's. So...what did he want to learn here? Ways to destroy his enemies? Ways to crush things?

He supposed. He had done it before. In the tunnels. At the Almaz. Power was important. But somehow it felt like there was something missing.

He took Ascendancy's hand, shaking it briefly. "Hello, sir. Thank you for bringing me." The blades slowed and the wind calmed and the noise lessened. The quiet was nearly deafening. He looked at the man, wondering if he had the answers.

He'd grown up looking up to this man. His entire life, Ascendancy was dependable and just, well, he was just....there. His "faith" had been shattered a while back. Slowly, Ivan had to figure out his place in the world. He had figured out Ascendancy's place in his life.

All of which to say was he didn't hate the man. Not anymore. He still respected him. And the stability he brought. Whether Ascendancy could do more, could give him a way to keep his family safe, that was another question. For another time. In truth, it was Ivan’s responsibility.

"I appreciate this opportunity. So..." faltering, he tried to figure out what to say. Finally, "What is it I am here to learn?"

[Image: Nikolai_Helicopter-cropped.jpg]
Looking over Ivan, memories of the ball were near to his mind. That was definitively the last time he’d seen Ivan so close. He was around. A channeler of his power and training would not be released far from government reach, but there hadn’t been an opportunity to interact one on one since then.

Nik reviewed an executive summary of Ivan while in the air. Not only was it a way to distract himself from the fact he was in a metal ball hurling across the sky, but he wanted to formulate a plan for the best use of their time today. Ivan’s work for CDPS was there: commendable, brave, dutiful, tactful, and dependable. He was a good cop and a deliberate detective, but that information was as good as public. CDPS was Custody police, after all, and the entire police force funneled to the Commissioner-General, who was the one that submitted the report in the first place. More to the point, Ivan was a member of the Domovoi task force. He held greater awareness of the real state of the city than most.

These were all well and good pieces of information, but they were part of Ivan’s story. The means by which Nikolai won loyalty of the highest levels of Russian government, power, mafia and politicians all those decades ago was through other means. He wielded appreciation for the real story of his people’s lives. Ivan had a girlfriend, and he was a father. Insight into what people cared about most, but still, it was nothing that couldn’t be discerned by a little searching on basic social media.

The real story came from a ZARS agent. One who was tasked with a very specific job at the highest levels of organized crime in Moscow. Ryker provided a great deal of information about all the players he walked among. It was all building to something, a pyramid of schemes that Nikolai was determined to sit at the top, but tangled up in all of it was the young Ivan Sarkozy, and he was unhappy. When positioned between what one cared about and what one must do, particularly when the government was at your back and you were powerless to regain control, resentment built. Nikolai respected that power more than most politicians. It was the basis of that original thesis on the unsustainability of dictatorships that he wrote at a mere nineteen years old. Ironically, it was Ryker that ended up in prison following the events of the street fair. Ivan was there too.

He gestured that they walk. The helicopter engine was quiet by then, but Nikolai had no specific destination in mind other than to inspect their surroundings as they strolled. The base was surrounded by hills. Their shadowy outline made for a jagged horizon that reminded him somewhat of the isolated Siberian landscape in which he spent so many years.

“I know that you were targeted by an ijiraq. It’s a horrible experience. I’m glad you are okay,” He didn’t offer any other sign of sympathy. No patting of the shoulder or sad expression from Nikolai, but he was truthful in that last statement. The set of his jaw was firm, though. He did desire to remember the fear and pain of the moment, yet he forced himself to do so anyway.

“I think about them often. Not only for the danger but to contemplate what they are. It seemed to absorb my power like sunshine on rocks, which then leads me to contemplate about the nature of the power itself. They don’t wield it like us, yet they seem to experience the same animation of spirit as I feel when I use it. Was it the same experience for you?” he asked. The tone of his inquiry was the sort of self-reflection of one who spent years barely speaking a word to another soul but through meditation and the shared song of chanting. Still, he looked at the horizon without glancing at Ivan. The mountains called to him, and in that moment, he reached into the universe and pulled its power into his being. Threads of Firmament flowed through him along the ground like an opaque river that stretched as far as his physical eyes could sense before they plunged beneath the surface. What he sensed in the soil bade him take a deep breath.

[Image: images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQjC8l6abaEholjOc-zJsQ...I&usqp=CAU]
Ascendancy's words made him pause. The ijiraq. He shuddered. The feeling had been unlike anything he had every felt. Like he was being fed on. Or rather, as if the power were the thing and he was the conduit. Never mind that that much power flowing scoured his mind- a flood blasting through a narrow canyon, ripping away any loose scrub or rocks of himself until nothing would remain.

Shuddered at what might have happened. "I remember....I barely held on. Da-“ He changed what he was going to say. He didn't know what Ascendancy knew. But keeping Danya and Zara's name out of the conversation felt.. like he was protecting them. Keeping them out of the dangerous world he lived in. "My family's faces were what I held on to. They anchored me. Saved me."

To know Ascendancy had the same experience- admitted to the same fear and weakness- it was heartening. There were things he wanted to ask. Not ask for, necessarily. Maybe. The man stood for law and order. And yet his empire was one where crime and disorder thrived- especially in the hands of the powerful. Maybe it was a simple limitation of governance. He could almost accept that. Almost.

But he held back. The man might be exposing a bit of weakness. But he was still the Ascendancy. Ivan had things he needed to learn. Things that might set him free. Things that might show him what this power was for. A rant- no matter how justified- would close this opportunity.

As if on cue, Ivan felt the familiar dread- only if before it had been a drop, now it was an ocean. As much of the power as he had channeled at the ball. Threads of power emanated out into the earth, reminding him of a hand moving under the surface.

He stared in wonder, mesmerized, the resonance of the power calling to him. He didn’t reach out and take it. Merely feeling it call to him was enough. Finally, "What is it for? Why us?" Not the real question. Or at least, the one he really wanted answers to. "What are we supposed to do with it?"

[Image: Nikolai_Helicopter-cropped.jpg]

“Family is important. I’m glad you have them, and that they have you,” he replied genuinely but not from experience. He had parents once upon a time. His father, dead by suicide. His mother expired during his years at the Datsan. He didn’t even know about her death until years later when a random search revealed the outcome. It wasn’t the faces of beloved people that sustained Nikolai through the Ijiraq’s drainage. It was purpose.

Ironic then that Ivan asked about the exact same thing.

He continued to look into the distance. Sunglasses obscured his eyes, but they were narrowed thoughtfully behind the lenses. Then, Nikolai folded his hands behind his back and murmured a series of sounds: “Om Mani Padme Hum.” It was an often recited Buddhist chant to purify the mind in preparation for compassion and wisdom to flow within. It was during those years that Nikolai was taught the most important purpose in life was to develop the qualities in oneself to achieve enlightenment.

A twitch of the mouth belied a smirk. At the time, he chanted those sacred six syllables with all the devotion of one seeking nirvana, but Nikolai was using the mantra for an entirely different purpose. Of course, he knew the chant was going to strike Ivan as strange. He glanced aside, smiling a little then. “Did you know I lived for almost ten years in a Buddhist datsan? Let me show you what I was doing.” A small shake of the head followed. Few knew but those he told directly.

He removed the sunglasses and tucked them in the pocket of his jacket, intending to wear them for the return journey to Moscow. Afterward, he drew a deep breath, almost as if the exchange of air in his lungs was symbolic for the exchange of place and time and that they both transplanted decades in the past, but even the breath was part of the original ritual.

While he repeated the phrase for the second time, he was focused in a very different way. For each syllable he uttered, one of the elements flowed through him.

He released the power afterward.

“The Buddhists would say this power is given to us to alleviate suffering and make the world a better place. Surely you agree with that? As for why you? Well, maybe you were a good person in a past life and this is your karma’s reward.”

An absurd thought, but he didn't laugh out loud. Instead, he waited curious to hear Ivan's response.

[Image: images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQjC8l6abaEholjOc-zJsQ...I&usqp=CAU]
Ivan was surprised that Ascendancy was sharing something so...private with him. He knew it was private. How, he couldn't put into words, exactly. He'd never really had any problems getting a read on people. It had served him well in the past- especially as a beat cop and then when he made detective. Just a feeling. Maybe it was the way he spoke. The burst of words followed by moments of silence. The removal of glasses. His breathing. It didn't seem like performance.

Ivan was Russian Orthodox. He was a believer, of sorts. Not to any extreme degree. But he knew the quiet of the confessional, the ritual of penance and the blessing of absolution. The intonations of prayers and chants echoing in the high stone ceilings brought him peace. He knew the repose of meditation when lighting the candles and offering his prayers to the icons of the saints and the Holy Mother.

All of which was to say that he recognized the ritual Ascendancy performed now. An act of humility, this taking time from this world and its demands to open ones’ self to the divine.

And so as Ascendancy spoke his mantra, Ivan too paused, allowing the peace to engulf him, breathed in the air that gave him life. He felt the man weaving the power and this time, Ivan did seize the power. The struggle was there, as normal, but somehow it felt less...violent. He watched as he wove single threads of power.

He didn't know what he was doing. And his words took most of his attention. "Reward for past lives? I don't know. Seems like this life is enough." He laughed weakly. "I kind of wish I would be wiser if I had lived more than once. Maybe then I wouldn't have made the mistakes I have."

But despite, his words, he found himself wondering.

[Image: Nikolai_Helicopter-cropped.jpg]
A show of Nikolai’s trust in Ivan to allow him to wield the power of the universe in his presence. He watched the results with a conflicting sense of pride and wariness. The sensation of another’s power was still strange to him and far from pleasant. Then there was the nostalgia of days not long past when he was the only one of his kind. The wariness came from feeling territorial. That this power was his first and others were only borrowing it. It was an illogical sentiment born from emotion that he already decided wouldn’t consume him, but the whisper remained none the less.

And in as equally a strange way, he was proud of Ivan and all the others. They survived just like Nikolai, finding their way alone. If reincarnation indeed existed as the Buddhists believed, all these survivors, Ivan included, must have been formidable gods of the past to possess such raw talent.

“Joking aside,” a small smirk crossed his expression, “if you could do anything with this power, how would you use it? You must daydream of the possibilities.” There was no wrong answer. Nik was genuinely curious in Ivan’s response.

[Image: images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQjC8l6abaEholjOc-zJsQ...I&usqp=CAU]
Ascendancy's question gave Ivan pause. It was exactly his own question. He looked at the man. He genuinely seemed relaxed. He could be honest.

Trouble was, Ivan wasn't sure how to ask, wasn't sure how to communicate his gut feeling. After a moment, though, he plunged in, vague ideas coalescing. "Honestly, Ascendancy, that's why I'm here. I don't know what to do with this power. Beyond punching things, anyway. Pushing them. Making things explode." He remembered his time in the tunnels. Punching. Walls. Fire. "Just brute force stuff. Force. Impact. Heat. It just feels so....basic."

As he spoke, his spirit grew more energetic. As if the conversation was a way to think, a verbal processing happening in real time. "I just feel like there is so much we are missing. how we take basic principles of heat and water and turn that into pressure that drives movement. How we can take rotational movement from something like an electric motor- driven by simple electromagnetic switching on and off- and add a slider linkage or a scotch yoke to turn it into single action movement.” He felt himself sink into the place when he worked on engines, arms and hands covered in grease and grime. Names poured from his mouth now. ”Bevel gear and offset gears. Rack and Pinon. Cam shaft, worm gear, U joint, Schmidt couplings." He caught himself. Refocused.

"Basic machines using simple principles and yet putting then together we have engines and pumps and everything else. And I just..." He trailed off, his frustration growing. "I just feel like I am just scratching the surface. Like a caveman who burns something with fire. Or who uses a stick to beat a wall. There's no...I feel like we are missing it. This power gives us this energy and these types of...things. Earth. Fire. Air. And we can weave them together. But I feel stupid using it. Like there are things we can do with it if we only treated it- studied it- like how we did when we made machines."

He pointed at Ascendancy. "Like you did when you made the monuments. Or even more, like Jensen James did when he healed you. That was it. That was using this power like a....tool. A machine. Complex beyond anything imaginable..."

He was nearly done. His fire having shone bright. ”That's what I want. Not to heal. Well, maybe. I don't know. But to DO something with the power. I don't even know what is possible.  I don't know how to even begin to answer.”

He looked at Ascendancy. "Can you teach me how to use it?"

[Image: Nikolai_Helicopter-cropped.jpg]
Honestly, Ivan’s point about specialized use of this power was well taken. The charge of the Custody on Channeler Regulation was not only to monitor channeler skills, policy and law, but also to strategize the novel usage of this power.

“We must have been asking the same questions during the industrial revolution. A hundred and fifty years ago when wide-scale machinery was first used, there was some creative engineer wondering the same about the future. Never might they have imagined but in their wildest dreams about the existence of modern electronics. So the same goes for us, now.”

The difference was since the emergence of gods, mankind had gone through the industrial, biological, and computer revolutions. Lessons were learned and experimentation could be developed. The Custody’s work in such regard was classified even above the level of Ivan’s proximity to the Ascendancy this very moment, but laboratories and Custodies were asking those same questions. Dr. Zayed, for instance, was evaluating the usage of this power in the context of particle physics and quantum mechanics. Marcus was evaluating the embedding the power in objects. There were similar ventures investigating medicine, warfare and material engineering. The limiting step wasn’t the lack of questions, it was a lack of skilled gods to participate.

“This very compound is asking some of those questions, Ivan, which is one reason why I brought you here - freedom to experiment. Mr.  James has a very specialized set of skills. So also does Marcus and a few of the Dominions. Let’s find out what you can do.”

They had walked toward an open area of the base. Buildings were on the perimeter and base personnel carried on with their usual business.

“Experimenting is dangerous, so stay focused. Start with exploring. Try the different elements across our surroundings and see what resonates. As far as we know, the resonance is different for everyone. The first time I felt it, this is what I was doing..” as his voice trailed, the power of the universe returned to his grasp. He waited a moment for Ivan to do likewise so he could watch.

Flows of Firmament issued forth. It brushed the steel building first followed by a military vehicle. He shook his head as if there was nothing special about the resulting sensation. Then the flows arced upward and plunged vertically into the dirt about twenty meters ahead of where they currently stood.

“There,” he said and out scooped a sort of rod of earth like oil surveyors extracted a core sample. How to describe the sensation, though?

“It’s like listening to a song that sinks into your soul and you could listen all day to the melody. I can feel everything under our feet. Thousands of feet downward if I wanted. Like I can brush the core of the planet itself. Do I feel the metal of the buildings or the mechanics of that vehicle? Maybe, but it doesn’t compare, and that’s just the element of Firmament.”

The flows faded afterward and he gestured to Ivan. “Give it a try. Tell me what you feel.”

[Image: images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQjC8l6abaEholjOc-zJsQ...I&usqp=CAU]
As he had spoken, finally giving form to the nebulous feelings that had been bothering him, his frustration and sense of helplessness had grown until, by the end, he had felt trapped by the situation- the lack of knowledge, or understanding of this power they had that ate at him.

It was something that he was vaguely aware of about himself. He craved understanding. He wasn't particularly inclined towards science or research. He did well enough in school with academic subjects. But he never got lost in the minutia or the theory.

For him, it was about utility. How did it work. How could it be used. What went wrong. How can it be fixed. He wasn't particularly creative. He was practical.

And that was where his frustration came from. This much power cried for use beyond the meat-head approach that seemed to be normal. It was so inefficient and wasteful.

So when Ascendancy spoke about research and experimentation, something inside him flashed. I want this! The desire was primal, as if he had found some piece of himself.

"Yes, sir. I want to be part of this. I want to learn. I want to study. More than anything."

The excitement and relief he felt was all the more powerful for the despair and frustration that had weighed upon him. The small trickle of power grew as he pulled it into him. Carefully, he wove a single thread, straight, and sent it soaring into the earth in the same spot Ascendency's had gone. He kept his sense open, feeling what the thread brushed. Slight differences in densities. There were flavors that varied, though he was unsure of what it meant.

Curious, he thought for a moment and then adjusted his single thread so that it curled into eyelets the entire length. It was still one piece, but now the eyelet loops gave it a bit of thickness. Then he sent another of air to twine around that of earth, threading in and out of the eyelets as it followed the earth down. He wasn't sure why he did this or why he chose this form. But immediately, it felt as if the feeling of the ground had changed. The density differences were sharper, the flavors enhanced and at least one of them had a "tang" that reminded him of iron- or at least the blood taste.

He couldn't help the smile on his face. "I feel the ground. I think I can sense rock and even metals. I wonder if..." He adjusted the thread of air so that it looped in the same places the earth did. Then, he sent water to loop through air eyelets.

Nothing. Not that it didn't change. Literally nothing. Like the entire weave was broken. Curious, he made them thread through the earth loops as well and-

There it was! The same feeling only things felt...sharper. Not that he could see. More like he could feel more detail. The difference between feeling something with his palms and then fingertips.

The was also something new. A slight change that he seemed to associate with Temperature. It was small but it seemed a gradient, consistent in its growth as he went down....he wasn't sure how deep.

He thought about adding more but held. Ascendancy had said experimenting could be dangerous. He was all for learning and experimenting. But it had to be done carefully and methodological.

He let the weave unravel. "It was....amazing. I want this, sir. I want to learn as much as I can. Help figure it out." He paused. Danya and Zara waited at home. "I have family. I can't be away from long. I appreciate what you can teach me, here. Is there a way I can learn and still be near my family? I have to take care of them and protect them."

Yun Kao was dead. And he thought he was safe. But he couldn't take any chances.

[Image: Nikolai_Helicopter-cropped.jpg]
The power that Ivan coaxed was more delicate than he anticipated. Alric couldn’t create what Ivan just did. Michael’s power was very different. Even Jensen, with all his miraculous web of creations, was very different. Nikolai nodded with pride and approval.

“Practice here as much as you desire whenever you desire. You have clearance to come to the Garden. The Dominions come here sometimes, but everyone has different abilities. You will have to practice.”[/color]

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