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Waves in the crowd
The guys at Tony's house spoke of nothing else except the Ascendany's announcement. Of course none of them were registering. They feared how the information will be used. Neither was the group in need of protection. Elias was less worried about government conspiracies but he valued his privacy.

Yet he remained quiet when asked his opinion. Instead, he mulled over his memories of Sickness and the manifestation of his power. Those first few months, he had always been near the ocean when the strongest effects were unleashed. For that, and for the vitality he felt, he yearned to return to New Zealand. In Moscow, he was withering again. Much as he had in Utah.

The Ascendancy was like him. Powerful and private. For those reasons, Elias empathized the instinct to hold secrets close. However, now that the cat was out of the bag, rather than retreat to shadows, the urge to proclaim himself twitched his skin with defiance.

Crowds gathered in the Red Square. People demanding to see the Ascendancy. Protestors and adoring public alike. The CCD did not take kindly to protesting. For while the economy was the freest of all free markets, liberty was quite limited. Kremlin police watched close, shadows of armed guards paced the top of the Kremlin walls.

He left Tony's without saying where he was going. A shard of blackness billowing through the crowd, Elias elbowed his way closer to the gates of the Kremlin.

The plan with Aria and the Atharim was set. In a matter of hours, the Regus and his Second would be dead and Aria would remake the Atharim in an imagine crafted by Nikolai. Their silent war would be ended, and he could turn his attention to pacifying a world suddenly turned to chaos.

As always, he walked with company. The moment he emerged on ground level, he was joined by Viktor Stepanovich, deputy-consul chief of staff. Security was his utmost concern, the market's reaction secondary, and reports on both were never ending. Victor was still reeling from the earlier press conference.

"I still don't understand why you told the world about these Atharim and didn't tell me! Any of us! What made you give away that kind of secret without verification?"

Nikolai felt his jaw tense. He had nothing in the way of a good answer. In the moment, under the heat of the lights, his voice carried on without second thought as though it was the most natural thing in the world. That he was almost sick with regret was beside the point, he had to own it. Victor, despite his trustworthiness, had to believe it was the Ascendancy's chosen strategy. That it might result in the Regus's death was luck.

He was formulating an explanation when noise filtered through the fortress walls. They paused at a window, but the view of the Red Square was obstructed by the high Kremlin walls. "What is going on out there?"

Victor pulled a security feed, "the consequences of your actions."

Nikolai's gaze shifted sharply to the deputy-consul, "enough, Viktor. I have noted your disagreement with my strategy. Move on and keep doing your job. Together, we keep the CCD strong. Now tell me, are the crowds benevolent? Benign? Or hostile?"

Viktor's tone softened, "it seems to be a mix of all three, Ascendancy."

He felt the pull to go outside. To address the crowd. Even if only to show his face and feel the beating heart of their urgency on the air. But was this temptation of his own making? Or like when he spoke of the Atharim, and submission to a foreign and dangerous whim?
He walked from the Consulate across the park to the Palace. He could hear the protests from here. What a mess. He tried running through all the possible advantages to the announcement and kept coming up blank. Yes these Atharim- and he was going to find out as much about them as possible, now. The history alone fascinated him. And of course there was the little matter of them wanting him and men like him dead- were now made public. There was that advantage, he supposed.

But the trade off was now their secret was out. People feared what they didn't understand. They behaved irrationally, unpredictable. As long as the government took no official position, there were always those who could deny, could explain, could minimize. Now, there was only one public course. Still, not everything was lost. With society thrown into an uproar, perhaps it could be nudged in a specific direction. How could they do that?

He was oblivious to his surroundings, now, his mind calculating the possibilities, the potential futures. But they rapidly branched out into infinities almost immediately, a truly chaotic system with an unknowable number of variables and feedback loops.

An unexpectedly sharp cold wind cut into him and drew him out of his reverie. Weather. Another chaotic system. Models using differential calculus of the highest order were still only the crudest approximations. Prediction still could only boast a week or two- at most- of accuracy before the possibilities became truly unknowable.

It was the wrong angle to look at things. The models needed to work backwards first, to predict what had happened before they could work in the other direction. And there was something else too. Chaotic systems sometimes developed into emergent systems, displaying, at times, the appearance of intelligence or order.

And there was his clue. Because history was another such system, concomitant with its own variables and differentials and feedback loops. And there were definite historical trends that sometimes appeared almost intelligent. And if existence was all a single mathematical program running inside some universal computer, as Tegmark- and he believed, then that only served to make this more true.

So what was his goal? Why had he latched onto Ascendancy, if not for the fact they they shared a goal? True order. An end to the chaos. So....let's look at it from the other end. We have a goal, the program has an end state. The elimination of chaos. Work backward. How does today's announcement help us to that goal? What are the intermediate steps? As he thought, he began to smile as he walked through the guarded entrance of the palace.

He wore a latee colored thick wool suit, forest green shirt, iridescent indigo tie, and purple Sigma pin on his lapel. His questions quickly sent him in the proper direction until he at last approached the windowed hall Ascendancy was in. The man was with one of his aides.

Marcus inclined his head in respect but waited for the man to finish with his aide and begin.
Crowds were not fun. Asha swayed slightly, buffeted from all sides by bodies and emotions both. And so strong. The dichotomy threatened to pull her into the depths and drown her, and every moment lingered on the monstrosity of so many people crammed in such short space was like a mouthful of water in her lungs. Once this would have been beyond her, but she'd grown more confidant since the city became her home. She anchored her way, avoiding the anger where she could. It sparked off in blazes when it touched her, her hands clenched in tight fists, teeth grinding, until she found a better host and slipped away.

The effort paled her skin, and she could feel the sweat beading on her brow. Spring had taken the chill but it was hardly warm. An azure sweater looped off one shoulder, and she still wore the bright patterned scarf from the day her car had been stolen along with all her things. She tugged at it now, her own misery for a moment cresting before the emotion shivered and died amongst all the others. The fabric twisted in her fingers.

She could have watched from any number of news streams, tucked away safe in Aria's apartment, but this was history; this was the revelation she had spent years of her life chasing, unpicking secret by secret for her blog. She'd be exhausted by the time she crept home. But she couldn't stay away.

The crowd jostled and she moved with it, until abruptly her consciousness alighted on an energy she recognised. Asha twisted almost full circle, stumbled over her own feet, then surged forward, almost crashing into the back of him. His back was to her. He was still pushing himself forward, through the throngs of people


Severe and dark but calm in a way she had found dependable the first day she'd met him. She said his name like a gulp of fresh air to bursting lungs. She grasped his elbow, mostly but not entirely to steady her balance, and took shelter in his solemnity.
It was a rare day that Nikolai demoted the Deputy-Consul from the forefront of his attention in exchange for a Sigma, who were little more than interns. Marcus was more than that, though, as Nikolai reminded himself when the young man approached. Marcus had an imposing presence about him that had nothing to do with physical appearance. It was a trait Nikolai shared and respected. Far more, he was a force of power that Nik intended to wield in a very specific direction. To use in a role Viktor absolutely could not fill.

"Thank you, Viktor. Keep me informed as always."
The older Russian exchanged glances with Marcus, his expression neutral, but tight.

"Of course, Ascendancy," he spoke and departed.

Nikolai greeted the Sigma, taking him into his confidence. "You're undoubtedly aware of what I said. There has been a development, and you're going to help me."
He showed Marcus through a passage way, the opening to which was blended into the gilded wallpaper of the palace walls. As they disappeared into the narrow corridor, the Barrier Preator agents that followed signaled their central controller, informing them of a transfer of protection. At the other end of the passageway, a second set of Barrier Preator agents opened the portal and they emerged into the shadow of a wall tower of the great fortress. Nikolai gestured and they strode along the battlement, invisible to the outside world yet hovering above the crowds.

"But first we are going to address the crowd. They need reminded of their loyalty to their leader."
He was in an unusually optimistic mood, and the slender ghost of a smile confirmed it. "Come on," he led them to the center wall tower, where once they emerged, would be positioned above Lenin's Mausoleum and able to hail the inhabitants filling the Red Square.

Although the decision was rather spontaneous, Nikolai was realistic. While Barrier agents worked with Kremlin police to ensure security before revealing himself to the public, he turned to Marcus. "How would you address them?"
He anticipated the answer, but still, it was his duty to mentor the Sigma.

The roars and chants of the crowds gradually changed as they walked through passageways and ascended elevators, muting and changing direction at first until, finally, from their concealed position on the battlement tower overlooking the square, it howled loudly. Not enough to hamper conversation, but enough to make its power felt.

And Malik felt something stir inside him, a hunger, a craving. The roaring of the crowds. Whether in adulation or anger, that raw power roiled below, chaotic and pure, waited, seethed, craved domination and control and channeling. Just like the Force. Exactly like the Force, that energy that he and Ascendancy controlled every day through sheer power of will.

And he hungered to dominate it, to feel the adulation himself. He ached for it, craved it. To reach out and touch that power, just a sliver, just a thread; to seize it and wrestle it into submission, to channel and focus it, to accomplish whatever his will. And he felt envy for the man before him, envy to his core. But that was the Sith way, the Rule of Two. One to embody the power in all its glory; the other to covet it. But oh, the power, it called to him, sang to him. In all his studies, in all his planning, in everything he had done, his interactions with others, manipulations of them, this was one thing he somehow had missed, had not factored in, hadn't imagine for himself. This power begging to be harnessed and broken, bent to his will and ridden. It was a taste he savored even if it was not his yet.

Marcus got possession of himself in seconds and smiled at Ascendancy's question. What had been an exercise before, a possibility calculated from a backwards projection, was now an opportunity. It was bold, daring even. And very dangerous. It would change the landscape in unpredictable ways, if done. And yet....and yet the potential...

He smiled cooly. "You called yourself The Ascendancy. You said there were none like you. You were the first and the oldest."
He looked out at where the crowds were. "These people crave order. They want the world to make sense. You have given that to them already in this empire you've created. Even those who hate or fear you or us, they all hunger for order."

He stepped forward, allowing himself to show the fervor he felt in what he was about to say. "Embrace your power over them. It is but one single step more than you have already taken. You have governed them for decades. You are the embodiment of the empire, you personally."
Fire now, passion. "Be a GOD to them. Give them something more to believe in, someone to believe in. Someone real."

He waved his hands airily at the sky, embodying all the foolish supernatural childishness that even now so many people trusted in, some man in the sky. "Not this. This isn't power. Show them power, real power. Show them God-on-Earth- not in words, but in fact. Those who love you will adore you. Those who hate you will fear you. Those who aren't sure how they feel will be swept along by the crowds. It's no accident that rulers have been worshiped for millenia. The Pharoahs, the Caesars, the Emperors of Japan and China."

He paused, to make his point clear. "But you can be what they never could. You can be real, you can show that you are their protector."

He paused, then thought to add. "It might even be prudent mention that in your wisdom, you have already taken steps to deal with any rogue power users who threaten your people. Domovoi. Vellas' little group. Your people will not be sheep for people like Andlain."

It was out. Dangerous. So very dangerous. But the people were 90% there already. Primed. Enemies would show themselves, more than ever. But people hadn't changed just because they had technology. The human psyche and its hungers and passions hadn't suddenly morphed. People were not any smarter or more in control then before. People were drawn to strength, to power, to order. And if they had followed Ascendancy before, when it was not known what he was, when it was just his charisma and organizational ability, then what about now? When he could demonstrate his sheer might and power; when he could prove his ability to defend and shepherd his people. Of all peoples, the ones here, at the heart of the CCD, were primed to follow. First Putin and then Ascendancy. They were already ready.

This was merely the next step.
There was a pulse to the crowd. Like a heart beat throbbing within the boundaries of the Red Square. Elias pushed his way between the bodies such that it required actual force to open up the paths. Beneath the bulk of hair and clothes drenching him with weight, his body was actually quite lean and frail, comparatively. Yet stern glares met faces that resisted him, and he was permitted passage. Step by step. Shoulder against shoulder. Until he was within reasonable distance of the gates to the Kremlin.

A tug wrenched his arm, and he braced for retaliation. He spun, ready to wring power into his clutches, only to stop short prematurely. The face before him was familiar. Seeking. Pleasant. Even a tad relieved. Had she been looking for him? Or was it coincidence? Had to be the latter.

"Asha. What are you doing here? You know this might be dangerous."

What? Why did he warn her of something so obvious? Who was he to be responsible for her welfare?

Their circumstances pressed him closer, fully sharing personal space that made him uncomfortable. But he broadened his stance as best he could as some sort of shelter against the waves of emotion rippling over the crowd. Chants of protests and adoration were in competition with one another. Like the beating of his heart with the sharpness of his mind: one would eventually win out.
"I know,"
she croaked. The furore dulled a bit when she focused on him; it was a bit like donning armour. It gave her room to breathe; made it easier to maintain her sense of self amongst the interloping emotions. The crowd could turn nasty. Or the emotion might choke her. Her uncle had always been there before, to drag her out of situations that threatened to overwhelm her senses, but he'd also taught her to protect herself. She was more afraid of losing control than getting hurt should things turn violent.

Instinctively her touch dropped to clutch Elias' hand instead; she didn't want to lose hold of him. "But this is history! Do you think he'll speak?"
Surely he didn't have a choice, with such a horde baying on his doorstep.
Anger touched Jensen's brow. Rare anger. It wasn't a sin. Emotion was never a sin. Even the hottest of lust wasn't a sin. Acting upon those emotions, placing them ahead of love, choosing a dark path: they were the sins.

So he told himself, surrounded by hundreds of people packed into the Red Square like sardines.

Anger brought him to the protests today. The Ascendancy said magic was real. He called it magic; Jensen originally called it a Curse, now, a Gift. All these years suffering alone, but he hadn't been alone. The Gift had been given first to the Ascendancy before Jensen left Dallas...before he abandoned his family...probably before he was ever born.

If I had known. Would I still have left?

He knew the answer. It hadn't been magical Gifts from God that shamed him. It had been his choices. His lies. His hypocrisy.

Jaw set, eyes sparkling forward, beating against the red bricks of the Kremlin wall, he stood with the rest of Moscow. Waiting for answers.

Waiting for something, anyway.

'Elias', a woman yelled. Instinctively, Jensen looked over. Searching her for a need he could provide. She exchanged greeting with a young man with thick black hair, and Jensen tried to step aside to give them greater space.

When he bumped into a much larger, much older Russian.

"Watch it!" The man yelled and raised his arm. Jensen flinched too late. His face exploded with pain, eyes watered heavy tears, his nose flared hot, aching. His shoulder slammed into the ground and tall bodies like trees loomed over head.

He was so shocked, he couldn't move.

Asha seemed claustrophobic. Like the walls of people were pressing in upon her. Elias was not entirely unsympathetic. There were almost as many bodies present as there were in the whole of Kenab, Utah. He preferred privacy and solitary when offered them, but like Asha said, this was history. Elias was drawn to it as sure as Asha. Although for probably very different reasons.

She grabbed his hand. He wasn't wearing gloves today, so her palm sat fully inside his. It sparked emotion that simultaneously made him want to withdraw at the same time as finding the gesture perfectly normal.

"He would be a fool not to."

Look at all these people. Pockets of supporters formed amid the sea of protestors. At their edges, where the two emotions clashed, tensions were right. Yet there was no one clearly identifiable cause to protest or support. Elias wondered how many others like himself were among them. If a fight broke, what kinds of spectacles would be unleashed.

He saw the swing of an arm in mid strike, but was too slow to act on it. A nearby man fell to the ground, and Elias yanked Asha out of the way, cradling her against his side.

Power erupted into his grasp, but he waited to judge their next movements before unleashing it. Not one to intervene in other men's battles without good reason.

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