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Spilled drinks
He met Annalise at the market at ten o'clock. The open air spectacle operated twenty-four hours a day, especially during tourist season. With the influx of tourists to see the Ascendancy's archway, the market capitalized on the flood of people. Dane was standing in front of a booth that sold nesting dolls when Annalise found him. Neither of them were from Moscow, and he thought it would be a rather enticing date to walk around the market together. They spent the next half hour examining the goods for sale. At a booth that sold women's accessories, Dane paused, pulled a purple scarf from a hook and snaked it around her neck. He smiled down at her as he did. "It's a good color on you."
He did up a little knot and sinched it at her throat. She coughed and pulled it looser with a finger. "Too tight?"
She laughed, nodded and fixed it the way she liked it. He happily paid for the scarf and asked if she was ready to eat.

They walked side-by-side away from the bustle of the market. It was a good six blocks to the restaurant he chose. At the pace they strolled, it was after eleven by the time they arrived. The restaurant kept a minimal kitchen offering after ten, but neither of them cared. A dark bar took up the entirety of the shotgun style restaurant. There were only eight tables in total lining the opposite wall. With most people huddled around the bar top, they had their choice of tables. Dane chose the one closest to the front door and guided her to a seat.

Annalise ordered a cocktail, and he copied her selection, complimenting her on the choice. Their conversation was much the same as it had been in the library, although it was no longer tempered by hushed voices of the former atmosphere. He offered a toast to new friends when their drinks arrived, but while she sampled the libation, he only put the rim of the glass to his lips. Then he joined her in complimenting the drink.

When she asked where he grew up, he went into great detail about the place he called home. "My great grandfather was a Duke. Although the CCD abolished the peerage, our titles exist only in tradition. My grandfather holds the esteemed title of Duke. My father that of mere courtesy titles and with the recent passing of my brother, I have inherited the right to the title of Baron."
She seemed to have no clue what he was trying to say. His voice sharpened suddenly, "It means I should be addressed as Lord Gregory."

Of course, the bite with which he substantiated his explanation was quickly retracted. "Please, I am sorry. With my brother's sudden demise, a terrible, terrible accident, I know that I will inherit only the shame of former glory. It is a melancholy title that I do not lightly use."

When Annalise softened, she put her hand on his and while he restrained himself from recoiling at the sudden touch, he forced his fingers to close around hers, knowing that victory was at hand.

"I'm so sorry, Dane. My heart goes out to you. You have a kind and loving heart. I see now why you were in the library."

He rimmed the glass with a finger, avoiding her gaze like the vulnerability was too painful.

She shifted in her seat to switch from sitting across from him to sitting alongside him. While she slid the seat near, his gaze flicked to the other inhabitants in the room, in case anyone was watching, but smiled softly when she met his eyes.

A touch on his arm, a hand laid across his shoulder. He stopped himself from recoiling every time. She finished her cocktail while his seemed untouched. After ordering a second, she excused herself to use the restroom. Dane shifted in his seat, meanwhile, and padded the pocket of his sportscoat, ensuring that the vial within remained hidden.

Until a waiter delivered her new drink. He stared at it, glistening there, a pool of pale blue cupped atop a slender stem. His heart began to race as he slipped the vial into his palm.

Concealed, he picked up his own drink, took a small sip, then dropped it as he set it down. He sprung up to contain the mess of liquid from pouring into his lap. The noise of the drop summoned a waiter, but he retrieved her glass from the ensuing flood of sticky liquid. Just before placing it on a nearby table, he turned, obscuring the cup with the form of his body, and poured the vial's contents into her drink.

He smiled to himself and made himself comfortable at the next table while the wait staff cleared the mess.

Edited by Dane Gregory, Nov 23 2017, 10:36 PM.
The rest of the week had been filled with meetings- always more meetings. The consulate was still new enough and he was still relatively unknown- other than his name and position- to most people, that so much hands on was required. What he expected, his leadership style, tolerance of initiative, all were things that they did not know. In truth, he himself would very likely change over the next year as he got to know his team, their strengths and weaknesses, initiative and complacency. He would weed out the bad, shore up the good, and create a team that truly anticipated his will, a fluid and living thing, with him at the head.

It was what Ascendancy had done- all great leaders did it- those who truly intended on being effective. Fear had its uses. Of all people he knew that. But fear only motivated as long as the threat of discovery was imminent. Obedience and devotion due to a shared ideal- that was the sort of loyalty that functioned at peak efficiency.

The fact that the vision he presented to them might not be completely honest was completely beside the point.

In any event, the evening had wound down enough that he was finally able to break away early. He felt energy stirring inside him- excitement. The beginning of the week still sat foremost in his mind. Dr. Zayed and the promise of her work. It had felt thrilling to expose a bit of himself to her. Not even Ascendancy had seen- or shown any interest- in his work. Synergy being what it was, he was very optimistic about what they might discover. While he played the dilettante, he had no intention of not being part of what she worked on. Knowledge was power. Which was true enough about Jensen. Sanjay would begin to lay the ground work there.

And there were others in the registry that excited him. Some of whom he was surprised had exposed themselves and their particular abilities so fearlessly. Yes, excitement coursed through him.

But it was time to let himself go. Malik could smell the energy in the air. It was intoxicating. A shark smelling blood. Marcus could imagine this was what a virgin bride might feel on her wedding night, after months or even years of anticipation.

After some research, he'd opted for a rather simplistic form of disguise. Computer Vision Dazzle specifically broke up facial features using make up and hair (usually as a wig or extensions), obscuring the symmetries and facial markers that Facial Recognition algorithms depended on. For actual live humans, he also had a bit more help. Context mattered, for one. No one would expect the Consul Marcus DuBois to be out and about where he was heading. Then too, other than to those in the right position, his face was still not very well known.

He felt more than a little foolish, applying the silver makeup to one of his cheeks. The wig containing the the white streaked with purple fit snugly on his scalp, the one extension dropping down just off-center of his face, cutting across one eye and partially obscuring his nose bridge. The rest of his clothes where also of asymmetrical cuts and angles, colors and material, complete with black jeans and combat boots that went all the way up the calf. He was thankful there was still a bit of chill in the air as the thermal layering undergarments were also necessary to obscure any thermal imaging readers. It had taken some shopping in some of the more eclectic shops to put everything together.

And he'd rented a rather cheap hotel room- the kinda that was still cash oriented and pay by the hour- briefly using his Force disguise. Much easier to leave a place like that garbed as he was without eliciting notice than his Kremlin apartments.

Perhaps it seemed like overkill. But as the saying went, care and long life went together. After this, he was going to have to really focus on his Tau Algebra. A way to adjust his weaves so that no one could see them now seemed more important than ever. And not just for his hunts. That complex conjugate....that was the key. He just needed his own Mobius function to convert his knot equations Dowker notation using Jones' polynomials to clean complex numbers.

But not today. Not now anyway.

Checking himself out one more time, Malik smiled. Not so outlandish as to completely standout here in the largest city in the world, filled with people from every country and part of every culture and tradition and ethnic group and social affiliation. But it was enough. More than enough. The hair across the eyes would take some getting used to, but that was ok.

His heart now beat quickly, in anticipation of the hunt. The streets were quiet as he exited his room. The smell of trash and wet streets filled the air. Spring in the slums. Not his final destination. Merely the starting point. Where Fate took him was anybody's guess. He walked quickly to the nearest subway station and made his way down into the bowels, feeling the chill slip away as exhaust and internal heat fought the elements. A few homeless people skittered here and there but he ignored them. They were never his prey. Not deserving enough, not by a long shot.

No, he wanted something special. Probably he would never find someone like the man they called the Butcher. That had been sweet and for a moment a reverie came over him, the smells and sounds filling his senses as the man begged for what he had denied so many others.

No, nothing so sweet, he thought sadly. Still, prey was prey. And who knew what the night held. For a while he sat on the train, filled with the Force so his senses extended out into his surroundings, quietly observing the passengers. Any number of prospects presented themselves. An old woman sat quietly, sickly sweet perfume or body spray emanating from her like a cloud. It wasn't the smell that peaked his attention. Well, not just that. Beneath the cloying smell was the odor of soiled garments. That could have just been an accident, of course. Her clothes were threadbare and worn. What caught his attention, though, was the bruising on her face, caked on makeup attempting to hide it. Old people were prone to accident, it was true. But perhaps there was more. Perhaps an abusive caretaker.

She left and he watched as others got on or got off. A mother with her child. A man and his girlfriend. He kept waiting for that thing, that something that would jump out at him, call to him. The lure to bring the Angel of Justice out and into their lives.

Nothing. Gradually, as the night wound down, Malik began to seethe with frustration. Nothing called to him. He was finally free, in the open, out on the hunt, and yet it was all so banal. The frustration began to morph into rage, the caged animal free and demanding satisfaction.

He needed someone now. The thought of settling sickened him, but the need could not be denied. There. Three men his age, sitting and joking, occasionally bumping other passengers. In his mind, he saw maliciousness. Jocks. Punks. He imagined slights. The bullying they perpetrated. The arrogance and entitlement. The date rapes they laughed about as notches on their belts. Their entire lives stood before him, imagined and whole, and he had decided.

Almost. He would follow them at least. Let the hunger build.

He stepped off the train when they did, though keeping a distance. He'd been in the back and the shadows on the train, ignored for the most part. They shouldn't notice.

At one point, they turned into some restaurant with bar attached to it. His mouth turned down. It was not a dive. Not a place for fights and form boorish behavior. Still, he would follow. He dropped the Force. He didn't want to alert anyone to his presence. As he knew from the registries, there were too many Ascendents about.

At the bar, he sat, back to them but watching through the mirror. The various tables vied for his attention and he sampled their conversations one at a time, each one a different flavor on the tongue.

One did catch his attention. Carefully his shifted his gaze. An elegant manicured man sat with an attractive woman. The man dripped with arrogance as he claimed some now meaningless title. Interesting. The whole system of lordships and hereditary positions had been abolished decades ago. Did he think to impress her? Might as well claim to be the Raj of India. But in a moment, the condescension dried up, as if he knew how he sounded.

Thoughts of the young men vanished as Malik watched., fascinated. There was an artifice to this man. He recognized it. It was his own, after all. They continued their interaction until the man clumsily dropped his drink and commotion ensued. Malik's eyes narrowed. The man's body was between the woman and her drink. And Malik saw the delivery, so practiced and quick.

A slow smile spread across his lips. He ordered a drink to sip- rum. He had his target. He wanted to be fresh. And to take his time watching his prey.
All Dane needed to do now was sit back in his seat and wait. Annalise returned from the restroom to find they had switched tables while the remnants of the spill were mopped up. "It slipped through my fingers,"
he explained. She nodded, freshly glossed lips smiling.

"Let's eat."
He added and went about ordering a few finger foods. For one thing, he was hungry by then. And food in her belly would slow the absorption of the drug. Dane smiled in return as they toasted a cheer. He even took another sip of his own drink. He found cheap alcohol distasteful, preferring a deep French burgandy wine to anything based on liqueurs, but the anticipation of the impending evening electrified his senses. A couple of sips were warranted, but not too much. He needed to stay sharp. There was more than one way to be caught still. Being the last person seen in the company of a woman about to disappear did not bode well. He still needed to give himself an alibi, something yet to come.

They dined on simple finger foods of the sort to be found in any establishment. The changes in Annalise's behavior were subtle, the drug was fairly slow acting after all. Quite unlike the drug that once coursed Dane's own body. He barely remembered the event, even now, after all these years attempting to dissect the course of events. All he recalled was dining at a hotel lounge in the company of other travelers. Everything was clear until the second glass of wine, a bright chardonnay, and then things fell fuzzy. He found himself outside, alone, cold, in the dark. People were there. Hands ripped at his coat, yanking his Wallet, his money, his cufflinks. He remembered being deathly afraid. Hands transforming into fists. Then falling, hitting his head, the cold flushing his body. He'd curled into a ball, but it didn't help. They gripped his hair. Held down his arms. He was too weak to fight back. Too afraid to move. Overpowered. Shocked. So much touching, inescapable.

Of all the fuzzy memories, one became clear as day. The moment the power filled him with strength. In that moment he cast aside weakness and found the strength to fight back. They whimpered with fear afterward. A robbery turned attempted sexual assault transformed him. Dane was never afraid after that night. With this powerful weapon inside, nothing could intimidate him again. He became the predator instead of the prey. It took days to escape the full effects of the drug that rendered him an easy target. Quick to numb, slow to metabolize. But that was a long time ago. So different from the drugs of today. It would take more than an hour for the drug to dull Annalise's inhibitions. Of course, alcohol exacerbated the effects.

Dane checked the time and admitted he needed to depart. He paid the bill, but the drinks did their work and Annalise was going to use the restroom again. Dane bid her farewell and he walked out the front door in search of a subway station. The closest one was near the Market, but once outside in the darkness, he crossed the street and waited. At the very least, they didn't leave together. It was enough to cast reasonable doubt should a case ever be brought against him. Not that he intended on being anything more than a person of interest in these types of cases. It didn't happen, yet, but Annalise would be missed. Normally his prey were people like that whore in Mexico, nobody would investigate their absence. But a college girl had professors and friends at the very least, if not a family that would notice her sudden departure.

He followed her when she left the restaurant. She wrapped herself in a coat, the night air was a little chilly for a girl in a dress this time of year. By now her memory would begin to fade. In fact, out on the street, she looked both ways in search of the correct direction, only to fumble with her own Wallet as she progressed along the sidewalk, raising the map feature.

Hands in his pockets, collar upturned, Dane waited until she crossed a subway vent. From the immense grates wafted steam and exhaust. He smiled at himself, seized the power, and flicked at the Wallet with a couple licks of Air. She mistook the wobbly Wallet as her own fumbling. But when she dropped it, breaking the pieces on the iron grates, Dane's smile faded. Annalise was truly alone now. Nobody cared about her situation. In fact, someone cursed at the girl knelt down on the grate picking at the pieces of her Wallet, apparently in their way.

She rubbed her head, and Dane knew she was struggling to understand what happened, let alone how to get home. She searched, turning in a circle, frustration outlined on her face. She picked a random direction and Dane could not have chosen any better. There were other wolves around, Dane was aware. Other predators. Other men, or worse, sick and twisted of mind that could swoop in and take his hard-earned prize. He stayed close enough to intervene on any other wolves thinking to sniff around, but not so close as to alert her. Not that she would notice much in her state.

Twenty minutes later, Annalise was completely and utterly lost. She'd never been in this part of the city. That was exactly why he chose the Market as the site of their date so that she would get lost trying to find her way back. Indeed, that's exactly what happened. Sidewalks turned to fences surrounding abandoned buildings, and her mind slipped into pure motor function. She was a dead girl walking.

Only then did Dane rescue her. "Come with me Annalise,"
he spoke softly, cradling an arm around her shoulders. She looked up at him with empty eyes.

The power was an easy cutting tool through a barbed-wire fence. It was also an easy welding gun, and he resealed the links behind him once they were inside. Lots of little melted blobs along the fence showed that this was not his first venture through it. Indeed, he knew exactly where they were.

The abandoned building appeared to once be some kind of grocery store. Wide windows at the front of the building the used to display fruits and vegetables were now boarded up. A rusty old cart was upturned in the dirt. Lettering hung broken above the entrance.

Annalise tripped on her own heels, only for Dane to literally catch her. She sunk into his arms, and he hefted her weight up with a grunt. She rested her head against his chest, and the scents of her shampoo wafted up. Her hair was soft against his chin. Her cheek rested lightly against his throat. She was utterly his. Or would be soon.

He carried her around the side of the building where a steel door was also welded shut. He had to put her body down in order to wedge it open, both with hands of the power and his own bare palms.

She lost consciousness then, but rather than drag her along, he used arms of the power this time to flat out carry her inside. He didn't want her getting dirty.

Work done, he twitched with anticipation.

Aria's efforts to find Regus in the tunnels had gone no where. He was gone or dead and Aria didn't think she was so lucky as to have him dead. Hunting a ghost was difficult. Aria only wished she had tracked him before so she could divine where he was with her ability. But there was always others she could track. But Aria knew where he was. She always knew where he was.

It didn't take much to find Dane. She could follow him anywhere. And she did. They hadn't done anything that they had said. Nox was busy doing whatever it was he was doing with Dorian Vega. But now he was hunted, Aria had to stay away. Not that it didn't matter, Aria didn't want to kill Nox. And saying no to Dane was too hard. Being around him was intoxicating. His touch...

Aria had to push the thoughts away as she followed the path he'd taken. He wasn't alone, Aria didn't know who it was. Aria didn't care. The only thing she cared about was Dane. It was the only thought when she needed a break.

Aria found him with a woman in a restaurant and circled the block several times waiting and feeling Dane's calm at the edge of her radar. When he moved away from the cafe Aria followed him. The girl with him was fuzzy, her emotions were blurred. Her hair was dark. And slight.

The building was defunct. And Aria stayed far enough away until he was inside. Then she circled the block feeling Dane's emotion. He was a normally a ball of calm now he was excited or as excited Dane got. Aria's emotions hummed with his. Whatever he was planning Aria wasn't sure she could stay at bay long. But she did for now.
The liquid burned going down Malik's throat. Just a sip. He needed his full wits. Still, he savored the slow crawl as it made its way down, felt the warmth grow in the pit his stomach. One eye was covered with a swath of hair from his wig, the light ends brushing his cheek. The air felt warm, only cut through by sharp tendrils of the chill spring night when the door of the establishment opened. The hum of conversation or the clink of silverware created a background of white noise as he watched the reflection of the room from the bar mirror.

In a word, it was pure fleshy earthy sensation, his hands and mind and tongue caressing the reality of this night.

It was perfect in every sense of the word. Prey had presented itself. A would be predator was very much the lamb, tonight. The very delicious irony mixed lightly and he felt the butterflies in his stomach. Malik was free.

He watched, pretending to be distracted with his wallet as the man and the woman ate, watched carefully for signs of what the man had put in her drink. Would she become giddy and amorous, losing inhibition and restraint? One kind of prey would do that. But no, he saw no of sign of that, at least not from here. Her body language had not become more inviting.

Something else then. The excitement in the pit of his stomach grew. Another kind of prey. Far darker. He felt darkness swirl about him, could almost feel wings unfurling, demonic cobalt shapes that would burn the night if they could be seen.

He felt the Force call to him, begging him, pleading to be allowed to part of this. And he felt the hunger inside him. This would be night to remember. He wanted to feel it, wanted to taste it. He wanted his cloak, craved the majesty of power. Suddenly the disguise he wore felt weak and pathetic. It would not do.

Still watching- they were eating but it looked like things were wrapping up. Malik laid his bills on the bar and flowed out into the night. The cool air tugged at his ears and moved his hair- such an odd sensation, to feel the length of hair on his scalp, feel it move across his face. He headed around the corner and found an alley. It was just for a moment, but it was enough.

He seized the force, squeezed its neck and climbed onto the great lumbering beast, mastered it. The night lit up as his senses exploded. Everything snapped into focus as his ears were assaulted with a barrage of sound, his skin registering the sensation of every swirl and eddy of the air, every temperature gradient, the fibers of his clothing. A moment and then he mastered himself, inhaling the torrent of information pouring through him. It took seconds, and then he wove the Force into the pattern he sought. Darkness swirled around him, as if he were cloaked in shadow. He could imagine how he looked and smiled. A dark angel. He did not bother with glowing eyes. That would come later, when face to face. He pulled the wig off and stuffed it into his pockets. The illusion looked solid, but the chill air felt pure against his scalp.

He slipped back out and positioned himself in the distant shadows where he could see the entrance. There was an exit- and a possibility they might take that- but he wanted the chance, wanted the uncertainty, the thrill, to see if the universe would unfold itself before him to present him with her gift.

The man emerged, alone, and Malik frowned. Dark rage began to build. He miscalculated? A scream wanted to rip from him. NO! He wanted this hunt. he needed it. But the man's movements gave him pause. There was something very calculated about it. The man walked to another vantage point and also appeared to watch the door. Calm seemed to settle down around his shoulders. He was not wrong.

The door opened soon after and the woman came out. Whatever she had been given had begun its work. Her movements were hesitant and clumsy by turns. She began to walk even as she fumbled with her wallet and Malik nearly hissed as he saw thread of force flick out at it. His eyes narrowed even as his smile deepened. Another Ascendant was out and interested in hunting.

There was no solidarity. The man was preying on a woman, even resorting to drugs. Pathetic.

From a distance he watched as the man toyed with the woman as a cat with a mouse. Wallet destroyed, she was utterly helpless, ignored by passersby. He followed the man as he followed the woman. She clearly didn't know where she was going, back tracking down one road after going up another. Malik felt the disgust grow, even as did his anticipated pleasure. He let his mind wander as he tried to imagine all the things he might do.

And then, in a moment, the man pounced. Her startlement was hindered only by the drug that had taken over. He carefully guided her, now their direction specific and unerring.

It wasn't long before the man was in front of an abandoned stored, high chain link fence closing it off to outsiders. From a distance, the light of a thread of fire sliced the fence and then they made their way through. Another slash of fire and the fence was whole once more.

Malik waited for a while as they disappeared around the side of building. He studied it, windows boarded up and boards across some of the entrances. It was a fairly large building. The anticipation began to grow. He wanted to catch him in the act. And he wanted to understand him first. Explore.

Once he was certain he would not surprise the man, he followed their path. The fence was still warm even as his own slices opened and closed the way. Carefully, he followed their trail, watching carefully as he peeked around the corner. A large steel door stood a ways down. He looked around for any cameras- the butcher had had them- before he moved forward. The ground around the door was disturbed, as though it had opened. There was no handle and even if there were, it would do no use. The door had been welded shut. The back of his hand could feel the radiant heat from the metal.

He smiled more deeply as he took a breath and then channeled the force at the door. He wove solid threads of air to muffle the sound before he pulled the door open. The smell was musty. He could taste the tang of iron and of rot, thought they were not overpowering. He shut the door, not bothering to wield it shut, and then waited as his eyes adjusted to the dark.

In moments, he would begin to examine this man's lair.

Edited by Marcus DuBois, Dec 20 2017, 10:19 PM.
Dane grunted under the weight of his burden. He might have put her down and retrieved her form with arms of power, but doing so would dirty her clothes and muss her hair. He preferred she remain pristine and beautiful as she was now.

He spun wires of light into a lantern that led his way. The light kept all darkness at bay, but with every step, the long tier of his shadow was cast behind him. Tall shelves, empty but for an overturned box or discarded can, lined his path like morbid sentinels. None entered this building since his occupancy claimed its unofficial lease from among the homeless. Even the rodents long ago confiscated the remaining dry goods that might be their next meal.

At the back of the store, long glass cases lay empty. The lantern cast sparks of light across stainless steel counters behind them. A butchery, Dane thought as he cradled the warm body in his arms. The space held no interest for him, despite the poetic symbolism encased within. Those tiled walls may have well been a coffin, but they were not his destination. Arms burning, he hurried his pace.

Two doors swung on free hinges with the touch of his hip. They swung closed behind him with loud squeaks, disturbing the rodents in the sudden brightness. He thought he saw a cat dart hastily from sight.

Panting, he carried Annalise to an abandoned desk and laid her out upon it. She groaned, but turned her head aside and returned to slumber. He dropped into a creaky chair and let his arms fall to his lap. Another reason to select a woman sleight of form and lean of fat. He couldn't carry anyone much heavier than her, not without using power anyway.

He switched on a battery powered light and let the latern snuff out, then hauled himself off to what was probably the manager's office to discard his coat and retrieve a bottle of water. The building was cold, the water was rereshing. When he returned to Annalise, she had rolled and curled up upon herself. Annoyed, Dane pulled her arms and legs flat again, arranged her hair, and straightened her clothes. Her skin was ice-cold, so he tossed a blanket across her stomach while she slept it off.

He waited another half-hour for the drug's effect to wane. Meanwhile, he paced back and forth from the office, looked through the other belongings he'd stocked there. Finally, he tossed a prized possession aside with a clatter and pulled up a movie on his Wallet to keep himself distracted. When she groaned, put a hand to her temple, and stirred, he hurried from his seat and came to her side. "Annalise, can you hear me?"
He asked, voice soft, accent smooth.

"Yes. Whats going on? Am I sick?"
Her eyelids fluttered in the harsh LED light. Dane stroked the hair from her forehead.

His teeth clenched. "No. You're not sick. You were drugged during our date."
He leaned close and touched his cheek to hers, taking a long whiff of her shampoo, but the scent was clouded by alcohol and exhaust fumes.

She asked as memory stirred her mind. She recognized his voice. This was a good sign.

"Yes Annalise?"
He pushed his palm down her body. The cloth of her dress slipped under his hand. She weakly tried to lift herself, but Dane easily held her still. His other hand snaked toward a handle previously laid alongside.

"Where am I?"
She continued. She was starting to question her surroundings. Clarity was returning. With it, came the tremble to her voice.

Dane's voice trembled as well. He squeezed his eyes shut, heart pounding, gut turning. Warmth spread through his body. She yelped at the grip of his hand. When she yanked her wrist away, excitement turned to fury, and Dane snatched it back and slammed her arm to the desk. His eyes flashed with the promise of death, his jaw set, he locked onto her gaze. "You are in the place where you will die."
Her eyes flared with recognition. She saw the blade in his hands. She was utterly alone. She screamed for help.

In a flash, he jumped the table and straddled her waist. With the swing of his arms, the edge of a blade plunged into her stomach. The screaming gurgled. Her hands grabbed the blade but slipped on the blood, cutting deep lines into her palms. He held the sword's hilt, a cheap replica, but perfectly functioning, until the blade came to stillness. The kicking stopped.

Dane had not known when he took hold of the power. It flowed through him. He was more alive in this moment than ever before. He savored it, wishing time would stop so he could preserve this moment forever. Preserve it like he did the others laid nearby, waiting.

He licked his lips as he looked down upon his prize. Her arms hung limp. Her stomach, neck and chest were bloodied. The sword puckered a hole, tight with the edges of her dress, down into her stomach.

He hurried to remove his pants while the body was still warm. When he pulled the body close to the edge, he shook violently all over upon that first touch to the thigh. Heat prickled his every hair. He gasped painfully. When the moment of ecstasy came, he closed his eyes, looked upward and cried a single name.


The darkness resolved itself into shadowed light. The force flowed through Malik and he sent tendrils of air down in front of him, trip wires, seeking the slightest vibration of air from movement or words. Nothing. The man was not near.

He let his feelers spread our like a web as he floated down the hall, the shadows still cloaking him and billowing around him. He saw artifacts of a grocery store, boxes and pallets and moveable shelving, the occasional empty box. No rotting food to indicate the source of the hint of rot he smelled.

Carefully he continued in what must have been the warehouse until he found the front area. The mess was more pronounced and now his tendrils picked up movememt and the scratching of claws on old tile and concrete and metal shelving. The only light seemed to come from the high windows but bybthis time his rods and cones were drinking in every photon of light they could collect. The amplification of the force might as well have been floodlights. Up one aisle and down the other he walked. He knew the man was not here. But he wanted to know every knook and cranny of this place, every possible resident that might present itself to him this most sacred of nights.

The methodical search pattern was complete and he now stood near the back of the store. Specialty counters. He flicked an eye at one but the other was his destination. He was a bloodhound and the trail had led him here.

He slipped around the counter toward the back. He heart had been beating im excitement. Now it raced. He knew this smell. Memories of tunnels and another room came to him and for a moment he paused, the orgiastic pleasure of the experience overwhelming him. Justice in its purest form had visited that night. Every act, every degradation, every humiliation had been fed back perfectly. In slow realization, the man had turned from brutalizer to mewling victim. Mkst importantly, he knew it. That was key. Merely killing, even painfully, was not the point They had to confess. They had to beg forgiveness. They had to pleas for absolution. They had tonacknowledgr their sin. Only then could he find release.

And he had. His groin was tight with anticipation. Malik hungered for his revenge. He would cleanse the earth, one at a time. Defile and then purge them from the ranks of the living. Of all humans on thid planet, he had earned this right.

He snapped from his reverie. Only seconds had passed. He stifled his giddyness and anticipation and pushed through the plastic dividers. It was darker back here. He paused, trying to resolve everything.

He could see the outline of a door. He reached out and his gloved hand felt solid metal. A handle. Carefully he pulled it and the door swung open. The smell hit him. Disgust and joy vied for ascendancy. He turned and watched the door, his tendrils snaking out. Nothing. Carefully he wove a single thread of fire, just a spark. He didnt want the blindness. Just enough light.

Before him hung five bodies. All were women in their mid to late 20s. All petitie. All brunette. Like the woman in the restaurant. Textbook. The brutality varied. Some wore bruising around the throats that looked like fingers. Others what might have be cords or scarves. All of them were ripped open in the abdomen.

Something else. The blood seemed to have flown downward. Their thighs were covered with it. He wasnt sure what that meant. He needed to study this.

Gently he began to probe with tendrils of the power.
Dane disappeared inside the building. Both from sight and her senses. Aria disliked when he did that. Disliked the loss of his calm when he was near. She finished her circle of the perimeter and found the door had opened. It had been welded at one point from the looks of it, but now it slid open a fraction which was probably why it had been weilded shut, the locking mechanism didn't work. But Dane wasn't careless...

Aria extended her senses further and found no one else she hadn't felt before, No one save the girl with Dane. She was a guiding beacon, where she was, Dane was. And that was all Aria wanted. She wanted to see him, know he was there. It had become her norm since leading the Regus to his death. The attempted failed but he might as well be. The Atharim were scattered. Still doing their job. Nox... Aria pushed away the thoughts, Nox was a known god know. And Aria had no problem giving him the title god, he was no godling. Not new to his power, he knew what he was doing. He killed with his power - he was dangerous. Dane was dangerous and Aria had let them both live...

Aria felt the girl wake up, her mind still foggy. It grew fearful quickly. And then there was pain. And then nothing. Shit! The girl was dead. A small smile slid across her lips. A memory. The Darkness shifting in.

She continued in the same direction she'd been going. As she neared the room Aria heard her name from Dane's lips. Aria hurried and threw open the door and found him lying on top of the brunette half clothed in the throws of pleasure. Her name had not been a plea for help, or a call, it was more...

Aria took a few steps inside and saw nothing but Dane and the girl. She had dark hair, her frame... Aria wished she she could feel Dane in the moment. She whispered softly so not to startle a godling wielding the power, "Dane?"
Pain and rapture coursed his body tense. He stood basking in all his glory while it lasted when a voice pierced the deathly silence.

He spun, eyes flashing with murderous intent, only to behold a mirage. It was as if she was summoned from the night air by sheer desire. He drank in the sight of her, the vision of his every waking hour. She haunted him like a ghost. Life and death enveloped her body like the wings of a dark angel.

Any other moment in time and he might have stayed his hand. He would have retreated or forced her to come to him instead. But in this moment, Dane stood upon the pinnacle of all his might. Control pulsed his body rather than blood. Domination swirled behind his eyes. He yanked the sword from the body on the desk and walked straight to the angel of death.

Hand gripped tight upon the sword, he held it like he grappled for air to breathe. Only he wasn't breathing. There was no man within his skin any longer. Only a monster remained, and he realized as he whisked Aria into his arms, that he did indeed know love.

He released the power, inviting her into the darkness. Only then would their souls meld into one black shadow.

He kissed her fiercely, painfully. He pulled at her hair, those glorious black strands tangled in his fists. The cheap sword was a part of both of them, and it hugged her body as though it was an arm of affectionate embrace. When he began to rip at her clothes, he was uncertain whether it was to feel her skin upon his or to murder her where she stood.

Aria watched as Dane yanked the sword from the body. He was covered in blood. The memories of their first time raced through her mind. The darkness evolved since then. Her life had changed and she'd thought never to see Dane again like this.

The power drained away from Dane and his calmness returned and Aria felt the conflict boiling inside. The decision he was playing with churned with his dark emotions. His lips pressed to hers and she felt nothing but him. Nothing but the darkness. The last dredges of her existences faded away. The plight for the Regus gone on wings of bliss. Her friends and colleagues who were scattered to the winds upon his demise shunned by the masses and exonerated by others. All of it gone with one hard kiss by the first man to touch her - to make her his and want it.

Coiled in her hair his hands pulled and she moved with him. His hands torn at her clothes. They were soft against her skin, the contrast to his action. The leather on the hilt of the sword rubbed against her shoulder and Dane ripped through the clothes.

Aria was lost in Dane. Lost to the power he had over her and the darkness that swelled up inside. It encompassed her and she shared the passion with Dane, the darkness and the love mingled as their hands found skin. Aria didn't know where one person ended and the other began.

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