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When darkness meets light
The water rolled over the back of his neck and washed down shoulders slowly releasing their stresses from the morning. Taking a breath every three strokes was the extent of concentration needed to reach the end of another lap. Breathe. Stretch. Glide. The weightlessness of water rendered the image of one soaring through open sky.

A thousand stresses delegated to a thousand people flickered in his mind like lightning. Another stroke, another wash of water rinsed them away. Another lap gone, another minute worn. But what was time to a man whose decades were as other men's years? Sixty-one years old and he appeared thirty, if that. What were minutes, even decades, to the immortal? Nikolai was unwilling to test the theory of murder, but even the ancient gods could be killed. The Atharim knew as much, but for the patient, time immeasureable was his gift. He began with molding the world into a new map, but the memory of the ruin on which he built his power faded in mortal minds. New calamities were needed to draw the remaining nations beneath his banner, but the decay of economic ruin was slower to be felt than that of earthquakes. There was no hurry for Nikolai.

One last deep breath and the surface of the pool moved on smooth ripples as he dived for the turning of a lap. He stretched, eyes closed, and flew far through the water when the loom of a distant power caused his form to break. His arms and legs bent, slowing him. The water suddenly grew too heavy and he raced for the surface, sputtering and coughing as he found air.

He was in the middle of the pool. Humidity filled his lungs even as his throat burnt from swallowing water forcefully. He was alone, but a menace bred of pure darkness crept along the walls, threatening to smother him with its presence. Solitary and darkness were his domain. His. He focused on steady breaths, and alarm subsided into demand.

"What's happening!"
He spoke to the rocky ceiling. The Ascendancy was never truly alone. A Barrier Preator agent hurried in. The entireity of his focus fell upon the Ascendancy in the center of the water. "Sir?"
He asked, but Nikolai knew the pursuit of answers from such as he was useless. "Alric! Now."
He ordered for the presence of the former GSG9 and a god in his direct employ.

Going to the edge, he pushed himself from the water and wrapped a towel tight around his waist. "And track down Commander Vellas. I want to know exactly where he is."
His voice hissed of anger. Michael was the only one Nikolai was aware that was capable of power of this magnitude, but if he were responsible for summoning it so near the Kremlin, he better have a damned good explanation.

He left the pool accompanied by two Barrier agents flanking a step behind like dual columns of shadow. That menace of presence stalked them through underground passageways beneath the Kremlin's grand palace. Stalked Nikolai at least. In defense, power raged through him, darkening his countenance and giving speed to his steps. Upon reaching the entrance to his home, the set of rooms in which he actually slept, worked and meditated, the door threw itself open by his invisible hand. The two agents posted themselves outside and he entered alone.

"Internet. News. Moscow,"
he ordered of the vacancy. Responding to his voice, the seeming stone wall flashed into electric life from floor to ceiling, brushing its electric hue across his body. His eyes darted across the images, "What's happening in the Central District of Moscow?"
he asked and the screens shifted to answer.

His eyes grew wide. A dozen views of a cyclone wrapped in fire tore through the city. He recognized the location immediately, barely a mile from where he now stood. His throat grew dry. The presence that hovered in this very room was from that feat of power. A fist tightened on the knot holding his towel. He felt every drip coarse down his legs. The scent of salt water filled flared nostrils.

A voice called from the door. "Excellency."

He turned, ready to sear the skin off the assailant, but it was Alric. He recognized the voice, but this outrage threatened his control. He took a breath. Alric looked back without flinching at his near death.

"I trust you sense this!"
Nik said. Alric couldn't deny it. He took up a patient posture.

"You requested to know Commander Vellas' location. He isn't in the city sir. It's not him."
Alric said.

He released his own hold on the power, and with it, fury flowed away. The god responsible for this was someone to respect, a force that made Baldir appear tame, as this one was in control of his faculties. Barely a year since he learned he wasn't the sole god on the planet. The greatest, yes, but not alone. Whomever caused this was strong enough to allow doubt to creep into his mind. A question to choke to death rather than answer. The emotion quickly smothered itself beneath steely focus.

There was more to power than raw strength, he told himself. He could wield feats for twenty years that left the others panting in awe. A hundred tasks flickered across his mind as he mentally organized a plan. If Michael's group was ready, they would be the first to deploy in response, but according to Michael they weren't ready. Not to face a demon like this. Michael himself certainly, but not these students of his. Their first priority was to neutralize the man responsible. That meant a briefing with Captain Aleksandrov and others of the Collective.

First. He had to dress. Quickly.


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