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Evelyn's sleep was restless, unsurprisingly. She dreamed of hawks swooping from the air, nipping at her. Not to mention that it took ages to fall to sleep anyway. She'd always prided herself on her ability to sleep any where and any time. Perhaps if she had someone to stroke her hair or hum softly, she may have lulled away quicker. Alas, her mind swam with a thousand thoughts. There were so many things to do. So many people to consider. Then, deep down, something nagged her heart, but unable to decipher the message, she ignored it.

FIrst and foremost, she was going to have to watch every nuance to her behavior, every flash of her eyes, and every word she said around Ascendancy. Nobody else could be allowed to know of their relationship. If it was revealed, it would undermine all her work. She would be dismissed as a silly girl, something she already battled being the youngest Congresswoman in history, and all her hard-earned authority would be wasted.

She rubbed the tired from her eyes, dressed and composed herself for their state breakfast. Sofia had already sent her a message asking what time they would meet to walk down together. Evie replied with a time, and inquired as to whether the Secretary of State would join them. No. He's already down there. She thought it odd, but if Sofia said nothing more on the matter, Evie wouldn't read any further into it until it was called for.

She and Sofia Castilla had a great relationship. The chairwoman of the committee, and ranking member as well, was a fellow democrat and threw the weight of her support behind Evelyn's appointment to this otherwise prestigious and hard-earned committee spot. They spent a great deal of time strategizing together over the specific deals they sought to reach with Ascendancy. Some of them were quite practical, but most were efforts in name only. Evie wasn't so girlish and innocent as to think the CCD hadn't utilized power in foreign affairs. For one thing, that blasted video of Commander Vellas in Dominance V proved her exact theory, but neither was she foolish enough to believe US covert operations were completely free of powers. But if the two countries to put to paper (figuratively) their mutual agreement to withhold channelers from combat operations, it would be a start. One of the problems brought up by Evelyn to accomplishing this altruistic goal was that just because the US and CCD agreed to withhold channelers from military operations, other nations were not so easily agreeable. Africa, for one, was rumored to harbor channelers in battle. Nothing so large as to attract large-scale media attentions, but the rumors existed. Similar word drifted out of Mexico as well. Even though she forewarned Sofia, the Secretary of State, and even Secretary Trano of these dangers, she also admitted that as the world's two largest super powers, the CCD and USA could set the example and even demand that worldly authorities follow in their stead. Enforcement would be difficult, true, but they had to try.

Thoughts of Africa certainly conjured memories of the night before. Ascendancy promised a ball to benefit the continent in her honor. He'd taken her hands and begged her to keep him to his word so that every dollar could aid the needy. Evie blushed momentarily, then frowned and dabbed extra powder to her cheeks to cover the rosy hue. Using the power for the greater good would be the more worthy calling for both nations. Two or three skilled channelers could replace heavy, dangerous labor, which would cut costs and save on insurance premiums. Teachers could identify children before they became sick and died from the channeling sickness. So on and so forth.

Of course, this was all a moot point if the USA joined the Custody. Maybe it really was inevitable. There was an entire faction of democrats who thought just as much. They claimed that the US and other countries were living in antiquity, clinging to individual currencies and flags when the clear, economic, and social benefit was derived from one world government, one world currency, and one world leader. Would war not cease to exist if the boundaries of nations dissolved and all were one? In fact, except for one minor uprising last year, an unprecedented time of peace overtook the middle east. Evelyn practically gawked at the transformation in that part of the world. Criminal powers in the Asian subcontinent were rooted out. The lack of competition between nations made trade all the freer. It did make sense. Ascendancy ruled for more than twenty years and had certainly proven himself time and time again. Yes, there were allegations of some human rights violations and abuse of power, but Evelyn would not pin those on Nikolai himself. Maybe somewhere in the middling levels of government where oversight was thinned the allegations may be true. But no where was perfect. Such controversies were rampant throughout DC as well. Evelyn was not involved in any personally, but she had eyes and ears. Things went unspoken. It just meant there was an area to improve.

Her mind was more settled by the time she sent Sofia her message that she was ready. The Senator knocked on her door a few minutes later.
"Good morning, Sofia,"
Evelyn began. Her voice trailed off when Sofia entered her room, closed the door behind her, and turned with one penetrating accusation.


Evelyn blinked, speechless.

Edited by Evelyn, Jan 1 2018, 09:41 PM.
The night passed all too quickly.

With this new, powerful ally at his side, the hours were devoted to outlining a plan. The original documents were pulled for a side-by-side comparison, and he meticulously detailed the steps needing to be undertaken. The plan hinged on two people. The risk was enormous. Extraneous flaws, emotions, and unpredictability came into play now. From now on, the game would oscillate between himself, Evelyn and Jacques. Each formed a pyramid under which were a huge expansion of powers at play. Jacques had his causes, honor, and men influencing his decisions. Evelyn had her reputation, friendships, and love to shape her. While Nikolai himself, true to his self-analytical ways, was shaped by his own ambitions, hunger, and prejudices. He had to be careful that they were not getting the best of him. Each step from here on out had to be calculated, cool, and careful.

Dressed and showered, Nikolai was cut as cleanly as possible when he began his day. Alric walked alongside him as they proceeded to the EoA offices. His most trusted bodyguard, Alric was the first channeler he found beyond himself. Nikolai personally saved the man's life by teaching him to control and master the power before it killed him. Alric was unique in that regard. All the others were trained by Michael for good reason. Nikolai kept Alric's channeling a secret. The body guard was his personal shadow, yes, but not even the other Barrier Preator agents knew of his abilities. Neither did Marcus, as a matter of fact. It was a sort of fail-safe that after Regus attacked Nikolai would never be without. While Nikolai resided in the Kremlin, Alric did take off-duty hours, such as during the previous evening. It was deemed after the Regus' attack that the Kremlin was impenetrable now, and thus, Nikolai should be safest here. Public appearances, however, and trips beyond the red walls would mean Alric's presence. Besides, the two were something of friends.

"Some rumors are circling around the Kremlin that you and a certain woman had a rendezvous last night."
He remarked off-hand.

Nikolai hadn't thought about it, although now that he recalled, the general nighttime Kremlin staff had filtered in and out of his presence last evening. Such persons employed within so prestigious a place, whether they cleaned the toilets or delivered public broadcasts, were carefully screened. Upholding the Ascendancy's privacy was one of their foremost charges.

Anticipating Nikolai's ire, Alric went on. "I am sure they mean nothing by it, Excellency. Tales of your love life is something of a rarity. It's pure curiosity."

Nik frowned, but he nodded. Alric's argument made some sense. He wouldn't retaliate, but the message should be reinforced that his private life was off-limits for discussion. Gone were the days he was able to reside in the privacy of the President's Mansion out in the Golden Ring. He missed it.

"I want you and every other Barrier Preator agent to know that Evelyn Avalon is to be your second priority after myself. She is more valuable to me than all the Consuls, all the Privileges, and all the pillars of dominion combined."
He commanded.

"It will be as you say, Excellency."
He acknowledged with a slim smile. The beautiful American was the one featured in the rumors as having Ascendancy's attentions, nay, his passions the previous night. "She will be second. Is this to be the order for the duration of her stay?"

Nikolai nodded. As he already predicted, she would need to return to US soil eventually. There, he could not protect her as easily. Nor would he part with Alric to give him the task. Michael would have to do, but then again, after all the considerations throughout the night, Nikolai had an alternate task for Michael. The question became, assign Michael to Evelyn or task him to work with Jacques? Thus came the factor of unpredictability. Jacques' agreement to the plan would shape such a decision.

He had other news to update Alric. "I am hosting a ball on Saturday as a benefit. I have allowed openings for three-hundred guests. Of course, with each ticket purchased in advance, every individual must be screened and any suspicious patterns will eliminate their spot. Surveillance will be all the extra busy these next few days conducting their searches. I don't want a terrorist channeler to slip in among the crowd. The Atharim don't use channelers as weapons, so I do not anticipate a problem with them. It would be a rogue acting independently, or perhaps sent as covert operations from the States. In addition to yourself, Michael and his team of Ascendants will all be on duty. As will Marcus."

"And what about Evelyn?"
Alric added.

"What about her?"
Nik asked.

"She's a channeler too. She can play a role."

He suppressed the instinct to snap, and actually gave Alric's question some thought. His immediate ire quickly faded. She could channel. Though now that Nikolai considered it, he had no understanding of her potential abilities. So far she demonstrated minor uses, and Nikolai flat out sensed nothing from her. "This is a problem, in that when I am around Evelyn, I sense nothing of her powers. A woman that could channel may be among us at any moment and we potentially would not know until it's too late. I will speak with Marcus and task him to research it. I want to know if there is a way to track them as we track each other. Meanwhile, I will discuss the idea with her. I need to learn more about what the women can do compared to us."
At the very least, she could act as a sensor, a warning for any impending female channelers in their presence, but he refused to put her in danger to do so.

They reached one of the state rooms where an antique dining table was formally set. Nikolai followed Alric inside, and two additional Barrier guards joined them. The Secretary of State was already waiting. Arnold Francis stood from his cup of coffee. "Thank you for joining me early this morning, Secretary."
Nikolai greeted him with a firm handshake. He took a cup of espresso for himself.

The Secretary nodded, "Of course, Ascendancy. What did you wish to speak about?"

Nik gestured that they both sit. "Out of respect, I wanted to tell you something first and in person, before it was announced publically. I have been inspired to hold a fundraiser to benefit infrastructure and medical needs in Africa. It will be hosted this Saturday. I calculate a three-billion dollar benefit. It would be my honor if you and your delegation would attend as my guests."

Arnold coughed on his coffee, and blinked, speechless. Nik waited patiently for the Secretary to gather his words. He knew it came as a surprise. As a general rule, the Ascendancy lauded philanthrophy, and even participated himself, but it was done privately, without push from the government. That he was intervening in charitable causes was unprecedented. Finally, he nodded, "that's quite generous of you, Ascendancy. We will be honored to attend."

Nik smiled, "very good."
Evelyn circled slowly around to pour a glass of water. She let Sofia carry on while she sipped the water. She sunk all her thoughts into the glass, and refused to allow herself to become flustered. Sofia, meanwhile, was truly enraged like Evelyn had offended her personally.

"I saw you with my own eyes, Evelyn. Do you deny it?"
Sofia snapped. A storm brewed behind her eyes. It would be foolish to deny what Sofia clearly saw for herself. The story was too preposterous to simply invent. Besides, it was true. It took all her will power to keep herself from blushing, let alone lose her composure. She took another sip of water and sat down like they were having a friendly chat.

"No, I don't deny what you saw. We kissed, but nothing else happened."
At least, nothing happened physically. She pushed the memory of his heat against hers away, and banished the image of his silhouette in the glowing lights from her mind. Evelyn grit her teeth and forced her voice to ice. "What I do deny is being a traitor, and I am deeply offended that you should accuse me of something so heinous after we have worked together so long."

Sofia scoffed that Evelyn could possibly attempt an accusatory tone herself. "If you're not a traitor then you're either a besotted girl or you're seducing him, in which case, you'd still be a silly girl. I thought more of you, Evelyn."
She crossed her arms defensively.

A moment of panic tried to overtake her mind. She had no excuse for what Sofia saw other than pure lust. Their chemistry had been electric. She barely slept with the thrill on the edge of her mind. This looked very, very bad. Either she was a silly girl or she was a traitor. There was no other explanation. She could claim to be neither. To do so would ruin her.

Then a moment of anger crept in. Evelyn was a Congresswoman. To levy these kinds of charges were criminal. When Sofia was Evelyn's age, she had barely graduated college and still worked as an unpaid Washington intern. Evelyn's story made history. She had addressed both Houses of Congress, the President, and the American People at a junior rank. She wielded the powers of God. She was his chosen servant. And Nikolai Brandon was in love with her. She earned more respect.

Her voice sharpened. "Who are you to charge me with treason, Sofia? You want to know what happened between us? He opened up to me about channeling, just as I said he would. He saw me as an equal when he sees the rest of Washington as beneath him."
She lifted a brow and stood calmly. "We are adults. Adults attracted to one another. That was all. You understand the difference between mere infatuation and simple passion. He's attractive and when he kissed me, I kissed him back. Don't tell me you wouldn't do otherwise?"
The hint of a smile touched her frosty lips as the two women silently gauged one another. Evelyn did not break her gaze. She refused to yield her ground. There was another choice. She was neither a besotted silly girl nor was she a traitor. She was an adult capable of choosing her lovers like any other.

Finally, Sofia's hardened heart fractured just a little bit. Evelyn saw the crack and poured herself into it. "I am still a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. I still want to leave this city with an agreement in hand that states he will not weaponize channelers. I am still an American."
She lifted her chin and waited expectantly.

Edited by Evelyn, Jan 8 2018, 11:10 PM.
Days after Michael's Ascendants had successfully brought down the terrorist group, after Michael had found the residual effects of battle against the Atharim, he was called upon by the Acendancy himself.

He would have preferred more time to investigate the peculiarities such as Aria's blade and the how the hell an Ijiraq had managed to infiltrate the Kremlin, but it was too dangerous to do so at this time.

The fact that he was not told of such an event, that he and his men were sent to deal with a lesser enemy proved troubling. Michael and his Ascendants could have subdued the attack with ease. The only conclusion to be reached was that Nikolai did not trust him. That spelled danger.

Nonetheless, Michael heeded the summons. Flanked by Rykovi and al'Shaddis, the two most loyal and powerful members, he approached the meeting room.

"Good day,"
he said to the Ascendancy's guards in a cool tone. "I have been summoned by the Ascendancy. Tell him Commander Vellas has arrived."
After a few more minutes speaking with the Secretary, breakfast began to be served. Evelyn and Senator Castilla should have arrived by then. Nikolai glanced at Alric, but having anticipated the Ascendancy's worry, he circled to update him. Alric leaned close to speak softly, and while the Secretary pretended to give them privacy, there was no guarantee he would not overhear. Just in case, he wove a net of silence first.
"She's safe. She's in her room. And Commander Vellas is here."
Alric returned to his post after that.

There was nothing to do about Evelyn's tardiness but wait. Annoyed by the inconvenience and the worry he forced himself to dismiss, he focused on Michael's arrival. He nodded that the Commander enter.

He hadn't seen Michael since before Regus' attack. He had sent Michael and the other Ascendants to deal with Theo Andlain and his annoying little uprising. The man died demanding that channelers be acknowledged. If the foolish boy had merely waited. Instead, he started killing people and making a spectacle of himself. Michael dealt with him and his followers cleanly, but more importantly, they were removed from the Kremlin during the time Regus was set to arrive. True, he didn't trust Michael, but it wasn't that he expected betrayal. In fact, he expected the opposite. Michael would have killed Regus if Nik didn't. That was simply a victory he could not steal. Of course, Nik had no idea that Regus chained an Ijiraq to his cause. How he had done that was completely unknown. He barely even knew what an ijiraq was. He knew now.

He rose when Michael entered, gaze shifting momentarily to Rykovi and al'Shaddis. The three of them were together incredibly strong in the power. They were forces to reckon, Michael most of all. The Secretary rose a moment after Ascendancy.

"Secretary, allow me to introduce Commander Michael Vellas and his two ascendants,"
and as the Secretary moved to greet them, "Secretary of State Arnold Francis."

"Please join us for breakfast."
He gestured at the seat across from him. The table was set for only Michael, but staff swiftly set places for two additional members of their party. "We should be joined soon by the others of the delegation. I trust all is well?"
He glanced at the Secretary questioningly.

"Michael, I just informed the Secretary of the ball. He happily accepted our invitation to attend. After the threat I contained last week, it will be imperative that security is ensured for all our guests."

Michael was as he always was, but the two Ascendants in his company were relative strangers to Nikolai. Michael had conducted all their training, all but when Nikolai was involved at the very beginning. The Secretary of State was now seated at the same table with four channelers, two of whom strong enough to be gods, and one actual god. He didn't know it, but a fifth was in the room. He could be crushed by any of their whims. To his credit, he kept his composure rather well.

Nikolai continued to mediate the conversation. "The Americans are proposing a mutual agreement that the great world powers will not weaponize channelers for foreign defense or aggression."
He explained the situation for Michael, awaiting any kind of reaction. He would note the absence of China, the only other "power" that could potentailly be described as such these days. Thus, these discussions were only preliminary. Michael would find the idea amusing, likely. If he found anything amusing. The Secretary likely knew exactly who Michael was.

"What do you think of that idea, Commander?"
Nikolai inquired and took a bite of breakfast.

The man that seemed to follow Nikolai everywhere ushered Michael and his two students into the room. Surprisingly it was furnished for a meal and a variety of breakfast foods were presented on the elegant table.

All three of the Ascendants were dressed in black. Michael's coat was a heavy shroud as usual and it seemed like his Ascendants had taken to his choice of clothing as some kind of symbol. Michael allowed it. A uniform brought soldiers together and fostered a sense of camaraderie.

"A pleasure,"
Michael said as he was introduced to some important bureaucrat or another. He had had enough of their ilk for three lifetimes. Not that he would be rude. He would do his job, and do it well. Michael simply did not care for their politicking.

Taking his seat, he listened to Nikolai spin his stories. Rykovi and al'Shaddis seemed to take their inclusion in stride, although they were impressed. That was good. There would be no time to hesitate on a battlefield, no matter their opponent. This...Trano was nearly as famous as Nikolai himself. He would not have his men pause in awe for the man.

As Nikolai directed his attention to Michael, he nodded shortly. "My students took care of Andlain's followers. Some are still recovering, but they have seen combat against Ascendant beings. Rykovi and al'Shaddis here are the most talented for such tasks and the most loyal. There are others who are powerful but they lack discipline. They shall remain until they learn their place. I assure you those that will be present will be most capable. Nothing shall break our defences, particularly if I am present,"
Michael did not boast, he stated simple fact. "Unless half a dozen Ijiraq attack, I am confident in my ability."

His brow rose when Nikolai told him of his plans for the American Ascendants. "Am I to train these Americans as well? It is a fine idea in theory, but presents trouble. Many who are new to their powers become corrupted by the allure. I would suggest a slow integration. Screen potential Ascendants in an initial recruitment stage and assess their psychological fitness. They could then be trained here. When they are suitably proficient, they could be sent out to scout others. Those with the talent can train others."

Michael's gaze swept across Nikolai's face, searching for any reaction. "Ascendants are powerful resources, but dangerous. Just like Andlain. I advise caution before unleashing the Ascendants upon the world without restraint."

Edited by Michael Vellas, Jan 11 2018, 11:38 AM.
The Secretary grew increasingly more agitated the longer Michael spoke. Judging by the clenched jaw, shifting in his seat and beady stare upon Michael, Arnold likely was fuming inside, but he maintained a rather admirable amount of composure otherwise.

Nikolai watched their interaction casually, eating now and then. He hadn't the time to take his morning swim what with how occupied the night had been, so he wasn't as hungry as usual. The newcomers were served by then. Rykovi and al'Shaddis exchanged looks, and Rykovi outright looked at Ascendancy. Nik nodded with a slim smile that he partake.The two were clearly uncomfortable. Understandably so.

It was the Secretary who responded, his voice tight. "That is exactly why no channelers should be unleashed." He emphasized the final word with such poison that Nikolai almost wondered if he would rather them be leashed. "There will be no need for training from the likes of you, although I appreciate the offer. If you recall, we have our own channelers in leadership. Secretary Trano is as capable as yourself. Not to mention Representative Avalon." A sense of pride touched his voice. Trano and Arnold were likely allies, Nikolai had reasoned. But when the Secretary spoke Evelyn's name, he fixed Nik with a hard glance that Nik had difficulty interpreting.

There were several veiled phrases that did not go unnoticed by Nikolai. Although Secretary Francis likely had no idea of their significance. Half a dozen attacking ijiraq would be terrifying, for one thing. Nikolai could have shuddered at the thought. However, Michael's claim that defenses could not be penetrated in his presence was spoken specifically for the Ascendancy.

The revelation was almost startling. Michael didn't know Regus was allowed to enter. They would need to speak privately later. Not to mention that he needed to discuss his plans for Danjou's Legion.

"No, Commander. None are suggesting you are to train Americans as well. In fact, I doubt they would even let you if we wanted to try."
He could practically feel Trano twitching at the very suggestion. "They are suggesting we harness all channelers and not allow them to have military or defense positions at all. Seems rather illogical, especially given that there are rogues out there who will use their powers for their own gain. There are rumors of wild channelers attacking towns in Sudan, for instance."

"An agreement for an active demilitarization is on the table. A cease-arms, so to say."
Memories of the cold war stirred in his mind. Michael was too young to have lived it, but Nikolai was not. The 80's were firm in his memory. The day the cold war ended and nuclear arms race was halted, the world breathed a sigh of relief. For one thing, Evelyn was right. A powerful channeler could do almost as much damage as a warhead. Amassing them was akin to hoarding nuclear weapons. Unfortunately for the United States, the CCD was winning this race, and Nikolai had little interest in losing.

Michael listened to the puffed up Secretary with a stoic calm. The man's attitude was almost as bad as an Atharim's, but so long as Nikolai wanted him alive, Michael hid his disdain.

He almost laughed at the suggestion that the Trano fellow and this Avalon woman were enough to keep a nation full of Ascendants in check. By all accounts Trano was an idealist. Not the kind of man that would do what needed to be done.

It was true, Michael wished for more freedom for the Ascendants, but he was not fool enough to think that their power did not corrupt. Fellows like Andlain and his ilk would sprout like weeds, and no amount of good will would save the innocent civilians from their destructive force.

Fortunately, Nikolai spoke before he had to answer the foolish American diplomat, but his words were almost as unbelievable. It was in that moment that Michael realised he was doing the right thing. Nikolai might be a loathsome man with delusions of grandeur, but for once Michael agreed wholeheartedly. This...demilitarisation was foolish in the extreme. Who would protect the citizens when roving bands of Ascendants decided to set fire to cities?

His rage controlled with glacial calm, Michael said nothing. He doubted Nikolai would agree to such terms. For all his faults, he was far too practical. "I see,"
he said in a deliberate tone. "I have been a supporter, as you know, Ascendancy, of using the Ascendant Power for humanitarian purposes. Healing, building along with that which we no doubt will discover."

'Advocate' was one word for it at least. Michael had no talent in any of those areas, but one of his conditions for training the Ascendants *was* that they were not solely war machines.

"I will defer to the Ascendancy and the Custody in whatever decision they make. However, I must agree with the Ascendancy. I would not suggest military powers,"
he lied. He damn well would suggest it, for the good of all of them against the Atharim and monsters like the Ijiraq. "Yet it would be prudent to have a policing force which can apprehend rouge Ascendants so they do not cause any harm."

Michael shrugged, sinking into his black coat as he glanced at the people gathered around the room. "But that is not my place to decide. I promise that this meeting will be secured with my Ascendants. You will all be safe to decide whatever you wish."
Sofia was silent for a while, but Evelyn held her gaze with determination of her own. The splinters in the Senator's facade were growing, though. The angry crimp to her eyes softened in consideration and she wrung her hands like deliberations were ongoing. Evelyn refused to let Sofia see the desperation swirling her own mind.

Finally, Sofia dropped into a seat and tossed her hands, "That is a dangerous game you play, Evelyn. If the wrong person found out--"

Evelyn cut her off with the lift of a finger, "First of all, this is no game."
Her voice was hard as granite. She did not play around. "Second, you will have to respect my decision regardless of who finds out. Did you tell Arnold what you saw?"
The accusation in her voice was carefully tempered, like a mother waiting for a child's confession.

Sofia swallowed nervously, "Well, we were together at the time. He was there too."

Evelyn's lips pursed angrily. Now the Secretary of State already didn't like her. He argued against her inclusion on this trip. He was Dawson's appointment, after all. The President was a far right conservative and staunchly anti-CCD. His Secretary of State was more neutral, otherwise Congress would have never approved the appointment, but he was still Dawson's pick. Evelyn would have to think of a way to handle him now.

"They've waited on us long enough. Let's go down to breakfast. I don't want to see a moment of hesitation or wariness on your part when you see Ascendancy. He cannot be aware that there are any fractures in our relationships. We must be unified. It is going to be difficult to leave here with a signature on his document at all, but as you pointed out, I have his ear. You'll need to defer to me even further now, and somehow we have to communicate as much to Arnold as well."

Sofia, feeling like she was caught in a trap of her own making, nodded. The two women composed themselves and descended to the breakfast room shortly after.

Evelyn was all smiles when she entered the room. Her eyes roamed first to Ascendancy, naturally, then to Arnold. He didn't seem pleased. Finally, she lifted a perfectly curved brow upon meeting eye to eye with the three men in black. She herself wore a navy blue suit with a lavendar silk shirt.

All eyes shifted to her. She smiled beautifully. "Good morning,"
she said.

Nikolai supported the more altruistic uses of the power. In fact, he constructed an entire Consulate out of thin air just to orchestrate the channeler oversight the Michael described. Surprisingly, Michael made one important distinction that Nik would not have predicted. The man had a brilliant mind for battle but less so when it came to matters of governance.

"A police force?"
Nikolai's gaze swung to the Secretary. Saying so now reminded him that he personally knew of one such channeler in the police system. He had not heard of Ivan in some time, but the boy would be a good addition to security at the ball. He made a note to contact him later. For now, agreeing seemed to be reasonably logical. "Criminals come in all shapes and sizes. That the United States have not had huge sprees in crime spurred by channeling criminals is remarkable, but it's a matter of time. What is your plan for such a police force? Surely protecting your own people is more important than designing treaties with me we all know have no intention of being enforced?"
A slim smile touched his lips, but any deadly curve to the emotion quickly disappeared.

The Secretary parried the bait with a hand wave. However much he was riled by Michael and Nikolai, he hid his emotion behind tight eyes. Eyes that flared with recognition when Evelyn and Sofia arrived moments later.

Nikolai dipped a nod of respect for the two women, and gestured at the remaining open seats that they join them. His gaze lingered only a moment on Evelyn. Her beauty was refreshing in the light of day that he had not truly appreciated before.

He discarded the memory and forced himself to focus on more important matters at hand. "Commander Vellas. This is Representative Evelyn Avalon and Senator Sofia Castilla, both of the United States Congress."
He watched Michael closely when he laid eyes upon Evelyn. He was far closer in age to her than himself, and Michael had a presence to him that while Nikolai found it difficult to be seen as attractive, he supposed some women may disagree.

After the ladies were seated, he continued for their benefit. "We were discussing the need for a police force that can apprehend criminals that can channel while other organizations could provide humanitarian relief."

The Secretary let the introductions ensue, but then a curious flicker of emotion crossed his features. He turned to Michael. "Why do you call them 'your ascendants'?"
He asked, eyes roaming to the two men in black.

The mirth drained from Nik's expression. He swung his gaze slowly back to Michael to see how he would react. The commander deftly deferred to the Ascendancy when necessary, but this was personal. Michael had a stake in training these men, but he was not their owner.

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