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What Happens Next
Ascendancy informed her she would be going to a secure facility in Moscow, well at least she got a free trip home once it was said and done with. He stood up with a pause. Aria watched as he left, there was nothing left to do. The effects of the man she'd manipulated were slowly wearing off he was standing again, and Aria could see the fear floating away, but she grinned at him and he balked. Aria smirked. She remained seated with her hands folded.

Another of the guards came in and put the cuffs back on her and she remained where she was. There was no point to trying anything. They were all probably under orders to shoot to kill if she tried anything.

The trip to Moscow was uneventful in and of itself. They landed, she was kept in the dark the whole way. At least it wasn't the classic black bag over the head. But it felt the same regardless. Aria let her senses fly wide, but she couldn't get any real indication of where she was, other than back in Moscow.

Once they'd got to the destination, through corridors that smelled clean and sanitary like a hospital she was eventually dumped into another windowless room. Time became meaningless, no sun, no clocks, it was just emptiness. Except Aria could feel others around her, she felt people disappearing from her senses on and off again throughout the hours. Aria laid on the provided cot and stared at the ceiling pondering the holes in it. Her mind wandering and drifting into oblivion, not sleep, but meditation.

A woman in white came in with a mask and latex gloves and several vials of and a needle. Aria smiled to herself, Nox would hate that. She rolled up her left sleeve and let the woman draw blood. She didn't flinch at the tattoo of the ouroboros and dragons inked there, it made Aria wonder how many people under Ascendancy's employ actually knew about the Atharim.

There was nothing really to do again once the woman left taking other samples as well. Aria lay again on the cot - waiting. Death was still a possibility, but she felt slightly better about her survival at the moment. In an attempt to forgo boredom Aria got up and removed her combat boots, they were still damp from the snow covered walked done only a short time ago. Aria started performing a daily kata routine to keep active and keep from dying of boredom.
Michael was not pleased. He knew Nikolai had little time to himself and could not meet the demands of all of the Custody's concerns but to suddenly spring some mysterious "there is someone I want you to meet," on him was as annoying as it was vague.

Michael stalked the halls of the Facility behind his nervous white-coated guide like a caged tiger. The past six weeks had given him a new layer of experience to coat himself with. With that experience came confidence - and wariness. His time with the other Ascendants inured him to the surprise and uncertainty of facing another with his abilities. With that also came the realisation of how dangerous the Ascendant's could become. For all the familiarity he had gained, the vast unknowns of the Ascendant Power were felt all the more keenly.

His own ability was put in perspective. The weakest of his students would sometimes achieve things that even he could not. His province was combat, and provided a suitable enough buffer, but his weaknesses felt like glaring holes that - try as he might - he could not fill. Who knew what other Ascendants out there could do that no amount of practise could counter?

It was a troublesome question, but one he was comfortable in accepting.

The sterile hallway he was led down seemed unending and his escort had clear checkpoints several times already. Michael had taken it as evident that he did not have access to the full scale of the Facility, but this little stroll put his mind to work. Just exactly how big was the place? Could it span the entire city, or perhaps even branch out into the countryside? Probably not that big, but the possibility of other areas dedicated to all kinds of secret testing was...unnerving.

Eventually he was led to what he knew would be his destination. It did not take a strategist to understand the significance of an armed guard in the middle of a secured underground complex. Perhaps they did not intend to be seen as 'guards' but their presence screamed it.

He could hardly tell one area of the Facility from another. It all seemed the same to him. Stark, sterile and steely. As unpleasant as ever.

Michael ignored the exchanges between his escort and the others. He had learned that procedure did not endear itself to him. If his attention was needed, he no doubt find out.

Clearances were sorted and finally he was led to a solitary room that seemed to be the focus of the security. Michael did not need to be told this was where he was expected, and was in no mood to waste time.

"Thank you, do you have any further instructions from the Ascendancy?"
he asked.

"Not at this time. Please enter."
was the reply.

Michael nodded and waited as the door was unlocked for him. The guards backed away from the entrance as it swung open. Michael entered.

A brief glimpse of the room was all he saw, a monotonous cell that was a disturbing cross between prison and hospital. The small woman who occupied it pushed all distractions from his mind.

was his flat statement. It contained recognition, but nothing else. Even without the Ascendant power he felt cocooned by the bubble that usually accompanied it. He had learned it could be utilized without having to actually grasp the seductive power.

This is what Nikolai wanted to show him? It could only mean one thing. "You actually tried to kill him?"
Michael asked, deadpan. There was no need to clarify who 'him' was.

He had not thought of the Atharim for a long time, and found his bitter hatred lurking beneath the surface rise. It was not enough however. He was far too weary to muster anger at this point, having spent so much time in this cursed place. His hands clenched under the black fabric he wore to stave off the cold underground.

"I don't know what happened, but I can't help you now. I doubt the Ascendancy would listen even if I tried."

"However, it seems Ascendancy has something in mind, summoning me to meet you. You might as well tell me what is going on."

Aria didn't know the amount of time that passed when the door opened. She finished the last move as a familiar yet flat voice called out to her. Aria smirked before turning around to greet the man who'd once saved her life. He asked if she tried to kill Ascendancy, clearly he didn't understand the Atharim. If she had tried, she would not be standing her now. It was do or die, there was really no in between in this case.

Aria shook her head, "I did not try. Circumstances brought me to the Ascendancy's so-called doorstep. Do you think I would stand here if I had tried to kill him?"

Aria sat down on the cot and put her combat boots back on. "I don't think I need your assistance for my life just yet."
She looked up from tying her left boot lace, "Ascendancy has seen it fit I live for at least the time being. I'm to be another useful tool in his arsenal of useful tools."
She grinned up at him before looking down to tie the remaining boot. Michael Vellas maybe Commander of some army but he was still a tool to be used. Aria didn't see the Ascendancy with any personal investment in people. He had no wife, no children, everything was business, everything was a tool.

Aria sat up and folded her hands in her lap, "It was either death or work for Ascendancy, which do you think I chose? Sounds familiar?"

For someone trapped in a cell by the man she was sent to kill Aria certainly seemed cheerful. Even if she hadn't tried to kill Nikolai, he must have known her intentions.

Her glib attitude only served to puzzle him further. What was the purpose of this 'meeting'? It did not seem like she requested it. No doubt she had been made to reveal her associations, which included him. So then, what did Nikolai want from him?

"You make a poor Atharim,"
Michael said to the last. She sought to compare their situations, to taunt him? Inspire friendship? Whatever the case, it fell short. Not for any faith in Nikolai's good will. He had no illusions about the man's priorities. "Do they know of your betrayal?"

"What of your 'friends' who share the same views? Has the Ascendancy made contact?"
If Aria's circumstances came to light, her friends might be at risk. Who knew what the consequences of an Atharim turning to their sworn enemy would do to the order? Would they purge any sign of traitors as ruthlessly as they did with people like him?

There was so much he didn't know of the situation. How on earth had Aria stumbled into Nikolai's hands. She wasn't stupid enough to risk detection unless she was forced to. Yet she said she did not attempt the assassination.

Coincidence? Luck? If so, it was extremely poor.

"Damn... I have been away too long."
He muttered, careful not to expose the nature of his work.

He thought about the Atharim data he kept. If potential allies within the Atharim were unreachable there was no reason to delay. Another problem.

"This changes many things,"
he frowned. "At least your death sentence has been lifted for the time being."

Perhaps it could be used as an incentive to encourage uncertainty among the Atharim. If he recalled correctly, the Sigma Marcus worked in that vein. He doubted the Atharim would see anything but a dog breaking free of it's leash, but the man was talented. Could he produce results?

Lost in his attempt to sift through the situation in his head, Michael had forgotten one important question. He looked up into Aria's eyes. "Or are you still loyal to your former masters?"

Edited by Michael Vellas, Jun 8 2015, 10:54 AM.
Aria almost took offense at his words, but the only part of the doctrine that she failed at was the worst one - killing gods for no other reason than because that god exists. Yes, the Atharim believed it was to save humanity, but are they not human? They are not gods, the church under which the Atharim fly their banner, surely doesn't believe they are gods. There is only one God. How the hypocrisy of her own life falls down under the scrutiny of such things. To reigning beliefs, both true in their own rights, yet both so drastically different. But Aria believed either which way - there was a God, and the Atharim were good despite their dogma. There were evils to fight, she just didn't believe gods were one.

"I only fail at killing your kind."
Aria wanted to make a smart snippy comment, but she reigned in her mouth, Nox was having a very bad effect on her. Thankfully she didn't say everything that sprang into her head.

"I will answer your last question first. I am loyal to the Atharim, in so much as I believe in most of what they do. So long as I'm not asked to hunt a so-called god my alignment with them is not in danger. I can do the bidding of both, and when the time comes for a choice to be made I will choose the correct path for me. I am loyal to my survival and the survival of my friends."
Aria almost said which included him, but they were hardly friends by any terms other than that he saved her once upon a time. That seemed eons ago now.

"Ascendancy has made contact in a manner of speaking to my so-called friends, only one to which is an actual friend. He was with me when we came upon Ascendancy, it was his ability that said that another like the two of you were in our vicinity. He was in awe of the power he saw. I assume he's laying low and minding his manners. He treasures his life as I do my own. So I do not believe the Atharim know yet what has happened. We weren't scheduled to be back until Monday or Tuesday after we met Ascendancy - three days from the day we found Ascendancy. And since he won't fly without me, I doubt they will be in Moscow anytime soon."

Aria leaned back against the wall, "I assume since you seem surprised to see me you know very little more than I do. Which means Ascendancy is likely watching us to see what vile things we say."

Michael suppressed the errant irritation that rose outside the bubble of calm surrounding him. Aria was awfully vague in her answers. There was so much he needed to know!

The temptation to grasp the Ascendant power and shake the information from the Atharim woman throbbed like a dull pain at the back of his mind. Of course, it would be foolish to even attempt it here. Aria was right, Nikolai was most likely watching their little reunion from the shadows like a spider weaving a web to catch its prey.

Michael hated spiders as much as he hated their webs. Even when you ripped through them, the residues clung on with irritating strength. It was one thing he did not miss about his home, the damn spiders. It seemed they had much more sense than he, avoiding the equally loathsome cold of Moscow.

"Best assume he hears everything you say from now on,"
Michael commented, without really addressing any of Aria's questions. He was consumed with the possibilities that lay ahead now that they had a hold of an Atharim who would not blindly follow orders.

Who was this friend she spoke of? Did Nikolai give him any instruction? By the sound of Aria's response, it seemed the others had been cut loose. A grave mistake, if that was the case. The man's actions would determine what would happen next.

Michael frowned. Now he thought of it, Nikolai had dismissed discussion of the Atharim for another day, and he had never had a chance to share his plans.

Aria seemed reluctant to discuss it. Could it be she had not told him? She said the man that was let go was a real friend. Perhaps she wanted to protect him? As an Ascendant he would surely be subject to Nikolai's scrutiny if his affiliation was revealed.

"How much did you tell the Ascendancy of our affiliation?"
he would not condemn the man, whoever he was, but he needed to know. "It is clear he knows by this meeting, and I never had the chance to reveal it. Does he know of our plan regarding the Atharim like yourself?"

Edited by Michael Vellas, Jun 12 2015, 08:29 AM.
Aria could feel Michael's distrust and was grateful he was not seething with anger like most prior times they'd met. While she was in this place she knew Ascendancy would watch her and Nox and Lucas already had eyes and ears on them or would when they returned home.

But Michael was more concerned with their plans, whatever that was, really, to meet with others like her. "I don't think Ascendancy was overly concerned in the frozen tundra about what we were up to, why we were forming an alliance of sorts."

"I am sure Nox would love to meet you. He is already known by Ascendancy. There are others but their names I won't drop for their own safety. "
Aria laughed to herself, "Though I'm sure you'd not be fond of him. Most people aren't. But I'm sure he could learn a thing or two from you."
Nox could probably show Michael a few tricks too, but she wouldn't tell that to the man who could destroy everything with just a wave of his hand. "It is far easier to arrange that meeting than it is for me to get someone else to trust you won't fry their brains the moment you see them. He trusts me, and he's more than eager to meet others like him who have more skill and power."

Aria looked around and sighed, "Though I don't think that's why you are here. And I don't think you know either. A test of some sort perhaps. "I offered Ascendancy information on the Atharim, he didn't care for it. But you might find it useful, know they enemy and all that. Ask and I'll tell you. I have nothing more to hide from Ascendancy, thus nothing from you. I won't reveal my friends though."

The pattern started to unravel as Aria continued, and he found himself holding the woman in much higher esteem. She may be a hound yearning to break free from the chains that bound her, but Aria was not without a brand of honour he respected.

"If only the other Atharim were as you are,"
he muttered, loud enough for her to here.

He was eager to take her up on the offer of knowledge but her musing on Nikolai held him for the moment. A test? Now that he thought on it, it did seem very much like a test.

Well, he could oblige, but not at the cost of mixing this Nox and the other Atharim renegades - for lack of a better name - in the tangled web Nikolai sought to weave. If he knew anything about the Ascendancy, the web would be deadly for everyone involved.

"I have duties to attend to, I can't say when, but I would like to meet this Nox."
he said. "Unfortunately, it is not for me to ultimately decide. You said that the Ascendancy was not interested in information. What are you here for?"
Aria quirked a smile at his comment, she wished for more Atharim like her, even more like Nox, it would rattle the sanctum of the Atharim if they knew a god walked among them. Nox provided he came back to Moscow though she didn't doubt it any, he like his warehouse home. He'd spend months making it so, she doubted he'd leave anytime soon. But Nox changed his mind nearly as often as his sister did.

But Michael turned the topic to the matter at hand, something to be thought about later. She would gladly arrange the meeting and Nox would seeth with eagerness to meet THE Commander under Ascendancy. He'd seen the videos, he'd wished to see how the weaves were done. Not that he couldn't figure out a means himself, he had that knack for blowing things up.

Aria leaned forward. "A tool as I told you. We've shared before what I am, what you are. My abilities, however, are not what I had thought those early days in Moscow. I could tell you I was Furia, but that means nothing to you. I could tell you it was a lie told to me by my mentor to hide my true identity. Something far more dangerous, and really even the Atharim are pretty stupid. I sat under their noses for 29 years before someone knew for sure. I am Sentient. Means little to those outside the world. An empath - the Ascendancy wishes to use my talents to his designs. A tool."

Aria smiled, "I don't think Ascendancy was overly fond of my demonstration. Though I am not dead so I gather he thinks it's useful. The ability to read another's emotions, the ability to manipulate it, and use it to do my bidding - his bidding. It can do other things too, things I'd rather not demonstrate to anyone again."
She'd killed once with her ability, she'd almost done it a second time with Dane. That was not a day she enjoyed remembering and pushed it far from her, the darkness could not creep in, her life could depend on it.
Something far more dangerous...

He could speak those very same words himself. He had learned that being an Ascendant - an Atharim God- was more complex than a stray with an unknown power.

He had been able to hold his own, just barely, against the hunters that came before but if they still chose to hunt him now, they would find a very different God to the others.

"A...Sentient, you say?"
His question was uttered under his breath.

Disappointing. He could see how Aria would likely be used, just as she had been used by the Atharim. It was a waste. No matter what powers she possessed her co-operation and knowledge was the most potent weapon.

Yet, Nikolai had said he had little interest in the Atharim before. It seemed that wasn't a front, that he truly didn't care.

Too grandiose.

The snake would eventually rear its head to strike. What if it had a far deadlier venom than they thought? Aria - her skills - was proof enough that they were more than a cult of manic hunters.

He was glad that they had never sent someone like her after him in the beginning. He might not be alive if they had.

"You can control emotion?"
this time the question was real. There were too many questions left unanswered for the time being, Michael decided to focus on the more immediate.

A familiar sensation rose from the depths of his heart; a distant and lonely spark of the lighthouse shining at midnight.

Had she used it on him before? He had to know.

"Can you show me?"
his breath was measured but the spark grew stronger. "I wish to experience it myself."

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