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The ride from the Kremlin was a mere five or so minutes. The vehicle pulled to the front unhindered just as it had rolled unimpeded by traffic from the adjoining Kremlin district. Such diversions were a common sight in the government district. When central police barricaded a road, it only meant one thing: that the black limousine bearing the flags of the Double Crescent was soon to pass.

The restaurant Turandot was opened on Tverskaya Boulevard in December 2031, immediately becoming fashionable as one of the main gastronomic and architectural attractions of Moscow. Turandot was as culturally popular as the Kremlin, the Bolshoi Theatre and St. Basil’s Cathedral. 

The large, two-storied building, hiding behind the walls of a mansion was constructed over six years to a cost of 20 million dollars. It was built on the fantasy of the luxurious dining hall of medieval European palaces and upon its opening, became one of the most gorgeous restaurants in Moscow, and by extension, the world.

Turandot was a feather in the cap of the prestigious and powerful Stoya family, one of Moscow’s great mafia families. Their ownership never hindered the restaurant’s popularity, but in fact might have bolstered its infamy. It was a common place to glimpse oligarchs and bureaucrats, for instance.

Nikolai emerged with Barrier Preator Agents already waiting for his arrival. He trusted others were inside and more surrounded unseen. He hadn’t actually glimpsed Alric today, but the man was always close when Nikolai left the confines of his fortress home. As soon as he did, he paused to greet the pedestrians held back from his passage. There were gasps and excited angling of Wallets. Video rolled and people waved him over. He stopped for a few selfies under the watchful eyes of the Barriers, shook hands and smiled.

Soon he entered Turandot, mood lifted as sure as if the people hefted him upon their shoulders. This was Myshelov’s favorite restaurant, and from time to time, Nikolai agreed to meet the Patron of Moscow there. Not only was it good to be seen out and about, but the Stoya’s benefited as well. Sure to that, Mr. Stoya himself greeted him with a handshake and shared words of appreciation for his return. Nikolai’s presence only extended his favoring of the family, which quietly suggested that they remained in his, and the government’s, good graces. They would continue to exert their power and keep their domain under control in the city, and so round and around the relationship went. As it did with all the families of the new aristocracy.

The main hall was two stories high, and there were round tables in the lower atrium surrounded by several luxury booths for privacy. It was beautifully furnished with magnificent crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling of the dome, making the environment even more romantic and otherworldly.

He passed through the restaurant to many a turning head, nodding face, or smiling woman. Myshelov was already waiting at his preferred table: second level beneath the rotunda, center to the back. The entire floor was vacant of restauranteurs, for respect of the privacy of their conversation but also for reasons of practicality. Barrier Preator agents took up guardianship at the exits. More were in the kitchen, overseeing the preparation of the meal to come.

“Myshelov.” He greeted the aging man with a handshake.

“Ascendancy. You look well. Then again, you always do.” He bowed his head with a smirk as they both sat.

A server poured their drinks and presented menus, which were given proper attention. Myshelov ordered the same thing as always. Nikolai rarely indulged in alcohol, but Myshelov was one of the special few with whom he imbibed. He never acquired the taste for straight vodka, having at least preferred to mix it with tonic, but there was an unspoken understanding between him and the people of the world he came to dominate. The first time he met the man was over vodka in Minsk, and the tradition was maintained these decades later. He sipped the drink out of respect for that tradition but was grateful that behind the scenes the high-proof was secretly been diluted.

They toasted to the clinking sound of crystal glasses and got to business.

“How fares Moscow?” He asked as he folded the napkin across his lap.

“Your city is well, Nikolai.” Myshelov began. He always called it that, a description that Nikolai long endorsed, and they both understood. “How fares the world?” He asked in sly response. 

Nik suppressed what he truly thought but shared as much in a glance. Myshelov was aware of more than most, and he could read between the headlines.

Nikolai redirected. “Your son? Well I hope. I see he makes as many headlines as ever.” He liked to keep abreast of the personal lives of those in his employ, whether they be the staffers of the Executive Office of the Ascendancy or the offspring of the Custody’s patrons. It wasn’t with overwhelming warmth that he inquired, but he knew such things were important to those around him. It was with such personal touches that his benevolence grew to near cult-like allegiance by nearly all who met him.

They spent the first course discussing much of the administrative updates that Myshelov would have otherwise shared more traditionally, but what Nikolai could not discern from official reports, he gleaned from the man’s opinion via the animated expressions with which he shared them. Finally, by the time the main course was served, Myshelov had some disappointing news to share.

“There was an incident you should know about.” Myshelov was rarely grim, but there was weight to his words. Nikolai nodded that he continue, knowing their surroundings were secure. “Mr. James revealed himself.”

“To whom?” Nikolai asked, calmly taking a sip of his coffee.

“Two of Konstantin Vasilev’s children and Scion Marveet’s oldest.”

He wasn’t sure which was the more disappointing. Konstantin, who had no marks against him, was loyal and effective, or Scion, whose offspring already proved to be the opposite. Regardless, Myshelov would know the score. It was the Patron who brokered Jensen's dalliance with the city's powerful. “Wasn’t there a man assigned to Mr. James? Tasked to make sure that did not happen? To keep him safe?”

“He’s been handled.” The explanation was enough, Nik waved away details he didn't care to hear.

“And what is your recommendation? Can we trust them to discretion?” Nikolai leaned back in his seat, contemplating the situation.

“With the right leverage, but there are some things only the Ascendancy can manage.” Myshelov wiped his mouth down, holding his gaze as courageously as ever. He was astonishingly effective at what he did, including the oversight of the oligarchs and crime lords of the Dominance, but he was right.

There was a time when Nikolai first won the Presidency that it took a great deal more effort than simply walking around to effect leverage. Many years of dedicated work led to this day. “When?”

“Konstantin and Edita are throwing their anniversary party. Your attendance will shore up the family a great deal, and with all your efforts focused on claiming new Dominances, walking among your own people will be a good reminder of who exactly rules in Moscow.” Myshelov fixed him with a sly look that Nikolai was never quite sure if it was humor or pride.

“It’s advice I will take, Myshelov. We’ll make sure Mr. James attends as well. We don’t know if the children revealed this secret to their parents, but I’ll speak with Scion and Konstantin if I must. I’d rather it not come to that, but I want them to know that they are being watched, and that my eye can be a blessing or a curse. I think they will agree which is the better for us all. You’ll be there as well, I assume? Please make sure to bring your son, also.”

Their dinner concluded soon after, but Nikolai, with Myshelov at his back, tarried a while to meander through the restaurant, shaking hands and greeting familiar faces as they passed.

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