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Evie tapped her fingers against her lips, gazing out at the crowd in the Red Square, dwarfed by the monument. The mood in the hotel room was somewhat tense. When the diplomatic party had set out from DC, their goal was fairly straightforward. The US had a vested interest in ensuring that the CCD didn’t create an army of channelers. (Internally, Evelyn always felt a little giddy at the fact that her term had caught on so well.) They’d carefully gone through the legalese of the various nuclear non-proliferation treaties drafted between their countries over the past century, and created something that read nearly identically, except with individuals rather than missiles.

However, not even an hour into their flight news broke that Ascendancy had somehow suppressed a nuclear bomb, even at great personal cost. That threw a wrench into their plans, to say the least. All the various non-proliferation treaties were based on the presumption of mutually assured destruction. The fact that one side had the power and knowledge to nullify their greatest weapons was… unnerving to say the least. And the fact that Ascendancy had miraculously healed from his grievous wounds in a matter of hours only made things more incredible. Already she had heard whispers from their own aides that the man was a God.

Evelyn had no doubts that Brandon was as mortal as she. His blasphemous declarations of godhood irked her, but Evie had to admit that it also helped her standing tremendously. In her conversation with Nick Trano, she’d told him that a group of unpowered diplomats, no matter how experienced, would have a hard time negotiating with a man who had god-like powers. She’d been proven correct. Ever since news of Ascendancy’s feat broke, they’d been looking at her differently. She doubted that she’d be capable of stopping a nuclear weapon, but the rest of them didn’t know that. The Secretary of State had even admitted to her that he was grateful he had ‘one of them’ on his side. Evelyn had no doubts now that she’d be heavily involved in any negotiations. None of the other diplomats would dare meeting with Brandon face-to-face without her, if only out of fear for the man’s Power.

Evie looked to her right, where her best ally sat. Sofia Castilla was the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, and also a Democrat. Congress being split between three major parties made things like committee makeup very interesting. Democrats had a hard time getting legislation passed because the Libertarian and Republican Parties tended to vote more similarly. However, Democrats still controlled a plurality of both chambers, and thus were far from powerless. Sofia wasn’t exactly pro-annexation, but she wasn’t an anti-CCD Republican hawk either. Their opinions on foreign policy matched almost perfectly, and even better, Castilla had made it clear to Evie that she was happy to defer to her judgement on matters of the Power.

Arnold Francis was another story. Getting Secretaries of State past congress was a delicate process for a Republican President. While Libertarians tended to vote with Republicans, foreign relations was one area on which the two Parties diverged. The Libertarian Party was almost isolationist, and so they wouldn’t approve an overly-hawkish appointment. Democrats of course ranged from explicitly pro-CCD to wanting positive relations at the least. Together, Libertarians and Democrats controlled a majority of seats, and could prevent a “bomb them before they bomb us” kind of Republican from taking office. Even so, that didn’t mean that Francis was an ally. He was vehemently opposed to Ascendancy (that was something that the Libertarians and Republicans agreed on), but he wasn’t likely to start a war at the very least. And, Francis had a healthy fear of power. He’d been shaken enough by the thought of Brandon having nuclear-level capabilities that he’d be willing to listen to Evelyn’s advice more often than not.

So in summary, Francis was off balance, and unlikely to seriously oppose any peaceful resolutions Evie could suggest, and Castilla was fully on her side. Evelyn had spent a lot of time strategizing with Castilla, trying to figure out their objectives. Neither woman was naïve enough to really believe that either side would seriously uphold any agreement to curb the use of Power in warfare, but it was the motions that mattered. The US wasn’t strong enough to seriously oppose the CCD, regardless of what Trano thought. It was important for them to find common ground, to create a record of peaceful agreement and coexistence. Her goal was more to open up a path for diplomacy, while staying firm enough to earn Ascendancy’s respect, if not his fear.

Their attention snapped towards the door as a knock sounded. An aide peeked through. “Ah, Sirs and Madams, his Honor the Ascendancy is ready to see you now, if you will follow me please.”

A sense of excitement and trepidation jolted through her, although she ruthlessly allowed none of it to show on her face. This was the moment that Evelyn had been preparing for her entire life. She’d been Chosen for a great purpose, of that she was sure. Whatever plans God had for her, this was where they all began.
The past few days blurred for Nikolai. It was surreal. Since he was hailed as this savior of the city in self-sacrifice, everyone saw him differently. People, staffers and aids, general people he usually laughed with or shared a quick conversation tred gently around him all of a sudden. Half were worried that his healing was false and he was still near death for all his vitality. The rest were clearly in awe of him, as though he was some holy artifact they dare not disturb. The culture in the Kremlin was always formal, that was certain. It was a culture Nikolai embraced, on a professional and personal level, but it was a culture that went beyond dress codes. With the revelation of a god in their midst, reverence followed him where he went. At one point, a staffer took his hand and kissed it, thanking him for saving the city. His grandchildren had been in St. Basil's that day, touring the basilica when the bomb may have detonated, and they were alive because of him. Nikolai only smiled and said he was glad the children were safe also, and that he would always do what was right by Moscow. But he could tell similar sentiments were everywhere.

Now, he was preparing to greet an American delegation. This was the first that the Americans had sent in years. Relations with the USA were poor to start with, and part of his intent when he visited last year was to show the everyday people who he really was, and tell them himself what he could do for them. With what happened in Dayton, and how close he came to discovery, suffice to say, he had zero plans to return any time soon. That wasn't to say he wouldn't welcome a delegation brought before him.

He was reading over the docket outside of the throne room when he was told they were waiting. All the official ceremony of the coming together of countries was also waiting in one of the grand halls of the Kremlin, a room set up with a media platform and a staging area for the initial talks. However, the conversation soon to be had would primarily take place behind closed doors, where individuals could speak frankly. But all that, even the staged reception, was only for show. It was for the world to see amiable negotiations between two world powers, assuming the USA could still be called that.

The real greeting was going to take place in the throne room. Nikolai was done playing games. He was ready to rule the CCD as himself, and this meeting was the first opportunity to truly show another country exactly what he was. That the title he selected for himself all those years ago meant so much more than anyone ever dreamed.

As he read over the list of names and notable points about the individuals he was meeting today, including the Secretary of State, one name stood out. He paused for a moment before remembering where he heard the name before. It was when Viktor spoke of a speech given by a young Senator where she described the use of their power as channeling.

He stared at the name and photo that went alongside. So there were women that could use the same power he did. He assumed there had to be, but he had never seen it in person. A few swipes summoned the very speech in question and he watched casually as she summoned proof of her power. He hid a small smile for her demonstration. So the USA was sending a channeler to meet a channeler.

Well, maybe this meeting wasn't going to be boring after all.

He left the docket behind, tugged the sleeves of his immaculate suit smooth, and ascended the steps that led to the throne of the Russian tsars where he stood before it, hands clasped patiently, and peered down the long hall. Light flooded the space, glinting on the ornate gold and marble. It flared briefly when he summoned the power into his grasp, darkening his aura, and intensifying his gaze. At the far end of the hall, two ropes of power, Aether, pulled the massive doors open before him.

Behind him the double-crescent of the Ascendancy was suspended over the throne. The flags of the Custody, of DI, and of the Ascendancy decorated the hall. But it was the man himself that all this revolved around that commanded attention. "Welcome to Moscow,"
he spoke on more threads spun with Aether and Essence, carrying his voice unnaturally to their ears as they entered.

Evelyn felt her heart beating rapidly as the doors to the hall opened as if by themselves. Obviously it was due to Ascendancy's use of the Power, but Evie was as blind to it as the diplomats beside her. She had assumed that she'd feel something, or see the threads the way that she could when she weaved her own magic, and finding out otherwise was...disconcerting, to say the least.

If Brandon's goal was to intimidate them, he most certainly succeeded. Next to her, Francis visibly shivered as the dictator's unnatural greeting reached them. Evelyn steeled herself, and sent a quick prayer heavenward. She was confident that it was God's will that brought her to this room, and she had faith that He would guide her well. Her colleagues' unease worked in her favor, after all. They wouldn't protest her taking the lead. With that though, the young Congresswoman strode forward confidently, ensuring that she showed no outward signs of her nerves.

Very intentionally, she did not grab hold of God's Power herself. Ideally she would match his show of strength with one of her own. She had enough fancy tricks that could compare to doors swinging open. However, she knew that if Brandon escalated things, then she couldn't match him. She hoped that as long as he didn't know the extent of her abilities, that he would be forced to treat her as if he were his equal.

As the brunet strode confidently towards the front of the room-her colleagues a half step behind her-Evelyn couldn't help but feel... excited. She had seen many pictures of Ascendancy, of course, and knew that the man was quite handsome. However, being in his presence was another matter entirely. He had an aura about him, a sort of presence and weight to his gaze that made her understand how he could rule over most of the world. Perhaps it should have made her afraid, but she'd never been afraid of power.

She couldn't control the small grin that her traitorous lips twitched into. Her heart was racing, but now it wasn't from nerves. It was no coincidence that a girl from the South Dakota suburbs had ended up meeting the most powerful man in the world, before even her thirtieth birthday. This was Providence. Never in her life had Evelyn been more certain of God's will. She could not fear Brandon, for their mutual ally was far stronger than either of them.

The Congresswoman strode forward, and extended a hand, meeting the man's eyes with a small, confident smile. "Hello, Ascendancy. My name is Congresswoman Evelyn Avalon. It's a pleasure to meet you."
She was going against protocol. She was the least ranking member of their delegation, and by all accounts she had no right to speak over the Secretary of State. And yet, everyone present knew exactly where the Power lay in this room.

((Feel free to mod the other two introducing themselves as well, or whatnot.))
The woman strode forward, confidently surpassing men that far outranked her. Surprise pricked the exterior of his universe like a light flashing on the edge of his vision. Perhaps he should have anticipated the Representative to abandon tradition for practicality. The video of her speech indicated as much to her personality, but still, when entombed within the Imperial Throne Room, standing in the presence of the Ascendancy, many a bold man found themselves silenced.

She was bold as she approached, a quaint smile touching the edges of her lips. The expression was girlish, but also coy, like she had a secret she was taunting him to guess. He descended the steps, soft footfalls little more than whispers to his power-enhanced hearing. "Miss Avalon,"
he replied, capturing her hand in his, "the pleasure is mine."

So young, he thought. She had to be thirty? If that. He knew he looked near to the same age, at first glance, but there was a youthfulness behind her eyes that was absent from his. Although, perhaps he was mistaking idealism for youth. Although they're likely one in the same.

"Welcome to my home,"
he released her hand, somewhat reluctantly, but swept his gaze at just the last moment to include the remainder of the party in the sentiment. Why did President Dawson send Evelyn among their group? How much of the power could she command? He was eager to speak with her about it and discover the extent of her knowledge, but not now. It would need to be broached strategically.

They continued with the remainder of the introductions. He took a moment with each individual member of the party, warmly shaking their hand and welcoming each personally. He inquired after their health and their fatigue. Had they had time to rest from the journey? Ironic, given whom among them was closest to death of late. He was a gracious host, of course. Charm went farther than brutality.

"Thank you for coming to Moscow. I am intrigued by the topic of discussion you propose, although unclear of the details. If you will all join me to pose for the press in the next hall, we can sit and speak with some privacy afterward."

They did just that. The press happily visualized the meeting of the two nations. The Ascendancy's flag predominated the background of the lavish hall they entered, followed by the great flag of the CCD, and finally, smaller images of DI. Opposing them, however, was the American flag, although his gaze slid over it without a hint of nostalgia.

He flashed a smile when the time was right. Image was everything, after all.
Evelyn couldn't describe the feeling that coursed through her as Ascendancy took her hand. She'd had many crushes, and even passionate love affairs in her life, and so she knew exactly what it felt like to be enamored by someone. And yet, what she experienced as she looked into Nikolai Brandon's eyes was unlike anything she'd ever known. Only a fool would deny that the man was objectively attractive, but the pull she felt towards him was far more complicated than that. Oh, there was certainly a part of her that was swooning like a schoolgirl, but the sensation was also quite similar to that which she felt on the night of her first debate when running for Congress. As she stared into his eyes, Evie certainly saw why people mistook him for a God, but she also saw a man... a man who was a challenge and an obstacle and a riddle all in one. And she thrilled at the thought of proving herself to be his equal.

Although the moment seemed to stretch on forever, only a bare few heartbeats passed before they moved onto other formalities. Brandon ushered them into the press room, and here Evie was in her element. Her appearance had been carefully crafted to portray a sense of professionalism, but also warmth and youth. After the traditional group photo, Evelyn adopted the smile that had won her a million social media followers and turned towards the microphone.

"Myself and my fellows on the American delegation are honored to be welcomed here by Ascendancy and the CCD. It has always been vital for our countries to work together to overcome challenges that face humanity, and the revelation of the existence of Channelers doesn't change that fact. Together, we can work to use our Power to better humanity. I'm sure that both parties will walk away from these meetings with a concrete resolution to use our gifts productively, for peace rather than for war."

Evelyn left it at that. This was a photo-op, not a press conference, and so she didn't have to answer too many questions. It was a good thing too, because so much had happened in the past few days that they could spend all day appeasing the masses. After that, there were a few more formalities before they were shown to the negotiating table, so to speak. As expected, the room was both opulent and foreboding. It all seemed crafted to humble and unnerve visitors, and it seemed to work on her companions who were already off guard. To Evelyn though... it all just made her more excited.

"We are very pleased to be here with you. I hope that these accords can be beneficial to both our nations. As I'm sure you know, our countries have a variety of treaties and agreements, from nuclear nonproliferation to the Geneva convention. Obviously the recent reveal of channelers somewhat...complicates these. Our aims today are to continue peaceful cooperation on this matter and ensure that the human rights of all our citizens, channelers and otherwise, are respected."
Evelyn probably shouldn't have stated her own goals as if they were the same as the United States', but well, she was already in deep, and so she decided to continue pressing her luck.

((Hey! This is probably a bit rapid for diplomatic meetings, but eh we can chalk it up to Evie's inexperience and lack of desire to schmooze.))
Women in politics were, and call him old fashioned, but they were usually cut from the same cloth. That being a red pants-suit, maybe sporting houndstooth print for the fashion-forward ones, sort of cloth. To say they were professional was putting it optimistically. They were boring.

Evelyn continued to surprise him. By the end of their posing for the press, he found himself looking around the shoulder of the Secretary of State and watching her profile. She was down right bubbly. The girlishness of it usually annoyed him, honestly. Maybe that was perhaps it was usually emanating from women of a less serious profession. To maintain his image, it was important that he meet regularly with prominent members of the public. The Ascendancy met musicians at concerts, he attended Moscow movie premieres on occasion, movies that went on to record-breaking ticket sales. He encountered women that threw themselves at him. Insanely beautiful, incredibly talented women, whom sometimes he was receptive. At a private party of one of his Privileges, he had been drawn to a woman that to this day he found oddly familiar.

None of them, even her, whom he found intriguing for reasons he couldn't explain, were his equal. He was not sure such a woman existed, or if she did, that he would care to find her, nor did he imagine Evelyn to be such a character. However, she was interesting in all the ways he had never encountered before. She was like President Barbie, gorgeous and charming. But was there any brilliance beneath the beauty? Or was it all plastic and charade? Why did he care? He had to shake it off. Focus. The Americans wanted to coax promises out of him today that he was not sure he was comfortable to make. Maybe that was part of the President's strategy? Sending Evelyn as a distraction? He was getting desperate, if so.

Heavy doors swung shut at the push of invisible Aether. The flows retracted back into himself once completed, and he watched Evelyn's face carefully for signs of reaction. How much did she know? What could she see? He assumed she saw it all, just as when Nikolai watched Michael, Marcus, Jensen or Ivan.

He sat, flicking apart the buttons of his suit coat as he did, folding himself into the seat like it was his throne. Alone, they sat in a semi-circle around an actual table. True to tradition, the room was unmonitored, secure and secret. Any information to leave this room today would be their responsibility.

Again, surprisingly, Evelyn spoke first. How much authority did she have here? Perhaps as a channeler, President Dawson gave her more than customary. He would need to be careful with his phrasing. Especially if he was going to be negotiating with her.

If there was anything to even negotiate.

"I am not here to better humanity, Congresswoman. My responsibility is the souls of my country, not the entire world."
He began, addressing her notion that they were here to better all of humanity. "What humanitarianism have you conducted lately? I hear there has been a savage war in Sierra Leone? Did you take them water and medicine? Or better yet, rebuild after the destruction of bombs and battle, using your power of course."

It was sarcastic of him, knowing the answer. He lifted a hand to cut short any rebuttal, having probably struck a nerve. "I only phrase it such a way so that we all have realistic expectations here. I have repeatedly offered to aid all of humanity, and am consistently rejected, especially by the United States. But that is a talk for another time."
He smiled.

Then he addressed the others, opening both arms as he spoke, "I am not interested in war, either. Not of conventional sorts or in using this power. You can be assured of that. I was born what I am, and had I any interest in using my powers in acts of war, I would have done so long before now."

"Rather than discussing our intent or lack thereof for war, we should be discussing the United States' plan for addressing these powerusers, or channelers, as you called them Congresswoman, to prohibit acts of terrorism. I do not want a demagogue thinking it would be wise to have some sort of demonstration of power in the middle of my capitals."

"Tell me how you plan to contain such a threat."

Evelyn couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at the implications that Ascendancy spoke of. She could easily counter his list with one of her own, but their countries had been arguing about their moral superiority for the last century. She wouldn't be baited into such a useless line of conversation. His question at the end was especially surprising. For one, it was addressed directly to her, which was convenient because it gave her an excuse to speak out of turn. As for the greater reason that it was unexpected...

"How do we intend to prevent... demonstrations, did you say? In the middle of your capitals? Well, I assure you that I for one will not condone any direct acts of warfare upon the CCD, nor do I imagine that the President would either. Other than that, I leave the matter to your no doubt capable hands with regards to preserving the peace and security of your citizens."
Evie smiled at him disarmingly, although she imagined that she may look unimpressed (despite her best efforts at neutrality). What, did the man expect her to take responsibility for any terrorist attack upon the CCD? She carefully decided not to mention the various terrorist attacks that he had failed to prevent, the ones that forced him to reveal his own Power to the public.

"That said, I must return to my earlier topic. You misunderstand me, Ascendancy."
She leaned forward slightly, feeling her pulse beat faster, excited at the prospect of the world's most powerful man paying her his undivided attention. "This delegation is very pleased to hear that war is not your intention. Nor, as I mentioned earlier, is it ours. However, you simply cannot deny the potential for our power to be used for destructive purposes. And not all statesmen or countries will be as... restrained as ours."

Evelyn's expression sobered. "If China or Mexico were to conscript a battalion of channelers, I suspect neither the CCD nor the USA could afford to ignore it. There would be many within our governments that would seek to arm themselves similarly. However, unlike nuclear bombs, channelers are human beings, citizens of our respective nations. And since there are so few of us, I doubt that the recruitment process would be entirely voluntary."
The congresswoman tactfully didn't mention the fact that Ascendancy's government was already collecting information on his channeling citizens online, through a voluntary registration process.

"What I propose,"
she said, stretching propriety somewhat in the use of her singular pronoun, "would serve both our purposes. If we were to stand together in opposition to any country or organization weaponizing channelers, then the world would take notice."

The easiest solution, and one she would certainly be pushing for in Congress, would be joint military action in order to eliminate any individual or group breaking their agreement. Unfortunately, Evelyn was far from able to promise that. "If your goal is to avoid acts of terrorism- state-sponsored or otherwise- in your borders, then certainly the first step is to prevent channelers from being conscripted into organizations that will use their power against you."
He liked her proposal. If only because of the way she proposed it. He tried to withhold a smile, but the amusement leaked onto his lips like smoke through a crack.

Nodding, "Certainly, Congresswoman. I oppose national organizations that weaponize channelers. That would be far too dangerous. A nuclear arms race with the participation of the entire world. This cannot be permitted."
Of course, he'd already begun such a gathering in his own military. Commander Vellas was almost a world wide name now. Their ascendants would someday join his fame, but not yet. They were a secret weapon, to so state.

But he would be foolish to assume other nations were not on track to forming the same organizations. It was the Geneva Convention all over again. Everyone would treat each other civilly, and abide by Rules of War, unless they were caught circumventing that most ethical of decrees. In which case, the government involved disavowed all knowledge of the clandestine activities or inhumane practices. Channelers were likely to be the same all over again. This time, however, Nikolai intended to be on the cutting edge. To win the war by preventing it from ever starting. For there would be no war with himself.

"Think of a world Miss Avalon that comes to agree that warfare is not necessary. Imagine a world where borders are unnecessary, because Earth itself is its own nation. This is the rule of my law we see across two continents. It could exist over the whole of the world. If the United States joined the Custody, everyone else would follow. What use do we have then for war?"
Evelyn quirked an eyebrow with a small grin. Next to her, the Secretary of State was almost sputtering at Ascendancy's audacity. It took a certain sort of arrogance to suggest annexing your biggest global rival as a means of peacekeeping. The Congresswoman was impressed that she'd made it so far in this conversation without being interrupted or overruled by her superiors. However, there was something powerful about Ascendancy's regard. He made her want to rise to his challenge. Furthermore, the way he acknowledged her while ignoring her companions shaped the dynamics in the room. Even a diplomat as experienced as the Secretary of State would have a hard time interjecting when Brandon clearly had no interest.

the brunet mused. "Let us ignore the fact that there is little interest in my country for annexation, and ponder the scenario. I'm surprised to hear you assume that a global Dominion would lead to an era free of war. Civil War and rebellion are important parts of both our histories."
She could leave it at that, but Evelyn couldn't resist poking the beast. "Plus, I wouldn't think that I'd have to tell you that every Empire in history has met the same fate."
She was smarter than this. Evelyn didn't normally speak so boldly or candidly. And yet, now that she was finally sitting in front of the most powerful man in the world, she couldn't help but want to get a reaction from him.

Before Ascendancy could respond to her jibe, Evelyn continued on. "Besides, only a few minutes ago you were telling me that you have no desire to be responsible for those outside your Domain. Now you speak of a global nation to rule over. So you are interested in world peace, but only if the world bows down to you first?"
Evie leaned forward in her seat, tapping her fingers to her lips. Hopefully it drew his attention to her smile and the red of her lipstick. "Some people are calling you a God. I'm curious; do you think that of yourself?"
she asked with faux levity. Did the man recognize his place as God's instrument, or did he fancy himself a deity? It was important to know whether or not she was dealing with a false prophet.

Edited by Evelyn, Feb 3 2017, 06:43 PM.
The rise his insinuations elicited were exactly what he hoped. The Secretary, whom clearly wielded no power - literally or metaphorically - flat scoffed. The others darkened with offense. And the Congresswoman, Evelyn, was quick to point out the flaws in his logic. Empires fell. War was inevitable.

She was right. Nikolai was more aware than most when it came to the fates of those in power. He studied the histories closely, pondered their downfall. The 18th century scholar, Gibbons, outlined eight causes for the fall of a superpower:

Declining morals undermined the institution of rule. Political corruption ate away at the foundations of a government. Declines in public health, employment and urban infrastructure breed revolt. Inflation and the diversion of funds into disproportionate defense spending rather than reinvestment in technologies and capitalism did not sow an environment worthy of cultural progress.

Of the eight jaws that ripped apart superpowers, the CCD was immune. The Ascendancy saw to it by the strength of his will and foresight of his wisdom. Perhaps others would call it genius, but he called it common sense. Sheep do not follow the sheepdogs, he once penned.

"I will care for the people in my custody as I care for my own children. They are my priority."
His answer was flat, lifeless compared to the vigor with which Evelyn accused him of arrogance. She framed it in the form of a question, but the accusation was plain.

Nikolai smiled.

"What else do they say about me?"

Garrett Ravhid had been the first one to call him a god. To this day, he could still hear the shake in his voice when he said it.

You're a god.

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