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A Chance Meeting
Things had gotten interesting since she'd gotten to Moscow, Aria had barely any time to herself. Everything was mostly a blur.

Today was the first day she had a moment to think much less get out to see the city itself. Aria made what precautions she could before heading out into the streets of the city she called home now. She sighed at the loss of the gloves she'd had when it had all started. It would be a good day to find a new pair.

The weather for Russia was warm and long sleeves were out of the question. Aria disliked the idea of that much skin out for touching, clothes always blocked most people's emotions when brushing against her, she could only do what she could to avoid them, wearing anything more than the black short sleeve shirt was out of the question.

It would be a good time to see about finding some way to replace her sword. All she needed was a good blade. A black smith would be better but those were hard to find. But it was the challenge that made the search that much more fun.

Aria left the Atharim headquarters and headed for the Izmailovsky Market. It was the largest open air market, or so she had been told by another local Atharim. She should be able to find most of what she was looking for. Or at least hear about some place, she could only hope.

Aria was getting rather good at following the rail system and learning the schedule. But every once and a while she'd miss her stop. Today wasn't one of those days thankfully. She got off at the appropriate stop and was astounded by the flood of people already milling about the market. It wasn't early, but still, that was a lot of people.

The crowd wound up and down the isle of covered 'shops' and it was a mass of confusion. Aria took a deep breath and started walking into the crowd. It wasn't long before Aria found a leather worker who had gloves on display. Nothing extravagant, Aria could only hope to find something suitable - thin but yet a good grip and durable.

There were several types but none seemed to perfect. Aria pulled on a pair to feel their comfort. It was too bad she had left her guns and the remaining sword at headquarters. The feel was too thick for her liking, but with out a grip to test it was still very difficult to tell.

Aria pulled off the gloves and set them down where she had found them and moved around the table to try on another potential pair of gloves.
Michael was unsure how much time had passed since he resolved to hunt down his hunters. The days blurred together into one continuous search.

He had found no trace of any organized cult. The symbol of the Ouroboros could be linked with any number of ideologies, however, Michael could not find any that would hunt people with mysterious powers.

That he did not uncover a mass conspiracy did not bode well. It meant that these people were organized and dedicated. They were likely more than a degenerate cult. Nobody would take such pains to conceal the existence of a cult unless they were extremely serious.

That they were concealing themselves, Michael had no doubt. They had chased him for over two years and attempted to end his life on dozens of occasions, and they persisted even though he was sure they knew what he could do to them.

He needed a break from the frustration of the fruitless search, knowing that at any moment he could find a group of armed assassins striking from the shadows, to disappear as fluidly as they had appeared. So it was he found himself strolling through the Izmailovsky Market. It was supposed to be summer, and most people went about their business in loose clothing but Michael could not stand the cold without a singlet under his long-sleeved black and blue shirt.

He chose the bustling shopping district carefully. If they were as good as he thought they were, the assassins would know he was searching for them. He doubted he was important enough to warrant constant surveillance - but he did not not think he was important enough to warrant assassination either, so he would not take any chances.

They had two options if they wished to strike at him here. The first was a long range sniper assassination. So far, they had been careful not to involve others, so he doubted they would chance a shot at him in the middle of a crowd and if they did, there was not much he could do about it.

The second was a more dangerous prospect. They could use the crowd to their advantage and strike up close and escape into the confusion. Very dangerous indeed, but Michael had prepared for the possibility, and he would not be caught unaware. He had discovered something particularly useful while experimenting with the Power - Tony frowned on the risks, but he had been conspicuously scarce since he had resolved to make something of his life.

No. He would not be so easy to take down now.

His heightened senses were a disadvantage in the bustle of the markets. The tumultuous din harassed his ears, the stink of countless bodies packed in the streets, his nose.

However, his sight proved useful. If it had not been sharpened, he doubted he would have spotted the tiny woman standing in what seemed to be a leather work shop.

The last - the only - time they had met was in the Undercity, and it had been brief, but Michael felt comforted to see a familiar face. She had not betrayed his secret, and her reaction to it had been a welcome surprise. He did not know why, but he felt he could trust her.

Michael made his way towards the shop but stopped dead as he watched her peel off her gloves to try a pair from the store.

The Ouroboros.

His mind ticked over as he spun a net of his newly discovered talent. It would alert him of any hostile activity. He was not exactly sure how it worked, but he knew it would give him enough time to prepare if there was an ambush set.

It seemed too convenient that he would find one of them now, and her at that. It made a kind of sense now that he thought about it. If these people were hunting him and those with his power, it stood to reason they would hunt things like the monsters they encountered.

If it was a trap, they would not find him easy prey.

He approached with a cautious eye, his net spread precisely. She did not notice him as he approached and spun threads of Air and Fire if she made a move. Those around them would think she had merely fainted.

He held his fury in check. She had shown him a kindness down in the Undercity so he would give her a chance. He stopped behind the tiny woman - leaving enough distance between them in case she had one of those blades hidden on her -and spoke in a low voice. "I did not think we would ever meet again."

He waited until she had registered his presence before continuing. "I have questions for you. I have been hunted like a rabid dog by people with that mark."
He gestured at the tattoo on her arm. "I want to know why. Come with me and I will not harm you."
Most of the gloves at this shop were too bulky for her taste. She had to move on, but before she could actually do so she nearly jumped out of her skin when her rougarou savior spoke behind her, "I did not think we would ever meet again." That was her thought as well. A big city like this, to run into the same strange man again, out of the blue?

"I have questions for you." Aria turned around to gaze up at him. She hated being short, but it was life. "I have been hunted like a rabid dog by people with that mark." Aria wondered how he had made the connection. It was highly unlikely every Atharim had the same exact tattoo. It was a personal choice. Hers was more Celtic knot than circular serpent, but yet he had. "I want to know why. Come with me and I will not harm you."

Aria smiled up at him, she wanted to laugh. It could end very messily if either of them tried anything. Granted from his complete lack of emotional output Aria assumed she was in far more danger than he was in from her. She was unarmed, and she could hardly be packing anything. The black shirt clung to her body nearly a second skin, there was no room to hide anything, even at the small of her back. Her jeans were as close fitting, her pant legs tucked neatly into the black military issue boots she wore out. Her wallet tucked tightly into her back pocket was the only concealed thing she held. Her training was all she had, he was bigger and stronger and he had the use of some unknown power that from his tone was probably directed right at her.

"I won't go anywhere with you as long as you smell of nothing but being a man." Aria knew he didn't know what she meant, "That bubble of emotions needs to pop open before I go anywhere. I don't like threats or demands. I give you my word I won't try anything. If they are hunting you, you did something I don't want to know about. So let me feel what you have bottled up and I'll go with you. And I'll answer what I can if you answer some of my own questions."

It was a fair trade in her opinion. She didn't want to hurt him, he had saved her. But more importantly she didn't like the idea of being flung through the air with nothing but a thought.

Edited by Aria, Sep 13 2013, 11:09 AM.
The anger at her refusal gave way to curiosity as the woman continued, smiling at him. Michael admired her control. She knew what he could do and did not waver.

Her words, however, confused him. Smelling? Bubble? Emotion?

It didn't make sense, and Michael took a silent moment in thought, the power raging inside him, ready to snap.

Michael frowned at the woman after a moment.

He could not think of anything else it could be. He was taught to empty his mind and seize the power, creating a void of calm.

He hesitated to comply. If he released the power, he would be all but defenceless and she would have no trouble incapacitating him - if his observations were correct, she was a trained warrior. Michael had been with the army of course, but he was a strategist, not a warrior. Not without the power that flowed through his veins.

However, she seemed sincere, even eager to ask her own questions. She knew what he was talking about - she showed no sign of confusion that he could see - and he would rather not resort to violence. If his fury consumed him again, he did not know what would happen...

"Very well,"
he said, finally, releasing the power. His face remained grave and he kept a tight reign on his emotions. "You want to know what I feel?"
He wasn't sure if she did, or just wanted him to release the power. "Tired."

Now that he had let go of the power, he felt the toll his hunt had taken on his mind and body. He was exhausted, but he could not stop yet. He would need all his wits about him if this turned out to be a trap.

"Now, if you would follow me?"
he nodded to the door. "I know somewhere we can speak in private."
He was not going to take her back to his own house, it was far too dangerous. Remembering the reactions he had faced from those he had encountered before - the revulsion, the fear and hatred in their eyes - he added, "A place safe for the both of us."

Edited by Michael Vellas, Sep 13 2013, 12:08 PM.
Aria saw the moment of hesitation. If Aria's assumption had been correct he feared her family and friends. But he complied and Aria blinked. A torrent of emotions flooded from what had once been nothing but the calm of emptiness. Rage so hot, she almost felt like she would burn up. He was frustrated, confused and afraid, all three pounding through Aria's own shields. She wavered slightly. It was not often that she focused on one person and their emotions so intensely. She smiled wanly as the wash of his thin veil of self-assurance washed over her. He was trying hard to cover what he really felt.

"Now, if you would follow me?" Aria nodded, not trusting her voice. At this very moment she could follow him anywhere in the world, his emotions would pin point the direction no matter how far away he got from her. Aria looked around cautiously, she would hate to bring down the Atharim on him. He had saved her, surely there were things they had not been told. He didn't appear evil. He wasn't the kind of person she had read about. He was not some man flaunting his powers and trying to pretend he was a god. He was just a man.

Aria followed him through the crowd. 5'9" wasn't huge by any standards, but she could easily follow through the mass of people even if she had to wander farther away than he probably would have liked. There was no need to bump into people when she was so stung up on his emotions. Another one could topple her to the ground. It had probably been a mistake to make him do that, but what was done is done.

They walked in silence. The crowds thinned immensely and Aria found that he was probably not going to like what she knew at this very moment. Aria wanted to reach out and stop him. He was going to walk right past the Baccarat Mansion with out a care in the world. If he was being hunted, he would not want to do that, bring himself this close to them.

But if she touched him she would surely fall victim to anything he was successfully hiding from her. Aria stopped several yards before. "Um. Yeah, I don't think you want to go that way." She steeled herself and grabbed his arm anyway. "Trust me, let's go back the way we came. There was a private little garden back there." Aria swayed, nearly falling over from the extreme rush of emotions. She caught herself and let go. "Don't go that way."
Michael nearly seized the power as she seized his arm but the look on her face and the way she swayed with a sickly cast to her features stopped him.

He listened in silence, staring at her, concern working it's way into his mind even though she was potentially an enemy who would try to kill him. He cast a quick glance back along the crowded street but saw nothing to indicate danger. Whatever the reason, as long as she was willing to talk, he would not argue.

After retracing his steps, he found he garden - a rare piece of nature in a quiet corner sheltered by towering trees from the packed streets of Moscow. It was the perfect setting for a trap, however, Michael found he did not care. He had hidden for far too long, if they wanted to attack him now, let them test themselves against the skill and power he had developed.

He kept an eye on their surroundings and the woman, his mind working through numerous strategies for battle. He was certainly strung tight to be thinking about it. He would have called it paranoia, but he had good reason to suspect, and although he despised the fact, he had become a tactician heart and soul. He was grateful he had only commanded small scale operations, but a small part of him yearned for the challenge of a real battle.

Putting thoughts of battle aside for the moment, he found a bench beneath a huge tree - he didn't know what they were called, the trees were far different here than back home - and sat down.

He fixed the woman with an impassive gaze, concern fading. She seemed to be much better now. Was it revulsion at touching someone - some creature - like him?

"Who are you people? What do you know about the...powers...I possess, and why do you hunt me?"
his voice was steel. He would waste no more time now that he had one of them in his grasp.
Aria followed him again, she was careful with every step. Every step brought them both closer to answers; she was eager and yet frightened. She was glad he chose to stay in the garden. She could feel the wariness around him. He took a seat on a bench and Aria smiled as she sat on the grass and lay back and stared up at the sky. It wasn't underwater, but something about nature was very soothing for Aria.

"Who are you people? What do you know about the...powers...I possess, and why do you hunt me?" His question came out like cold and calculated. There was no doubt he wanted answers. But the answers weren't easy to explain nor did she know how much to actually tell him. There were secrets no Atharim told another outside of their society. Yet here she was pondering on just what facts would ease his soul, and which would be kept secret. Just talking to him was against protocol.

Aria watched the bird flitter through the trees and smile at it's blissful freedom. "We are called the Atharim. We hunt monsters." She turned her head to watch his reaction. She doubted he enjoyed being called that. Aria tried to block out his emotions, it wasn't very fair to know exactly what he was feeling. But it was harder than answering forbidden questions. "We hunt in secret. You don't even know they exist in most cases." He was an exception. "Why are they hunting you I don't know for sure." She gave a small laugh, it wasn't funny, "But you had to do something with your power to bring attention to yourself." Aria sat up and turned towards him. "We can't find you like other monsters." She frowned. "You are new to the current hunter. We don't know how to track you yet. It's probably why you made it to Moscow in one piece."

Aria paused a moment. "But you aren't a monster. You look human." She stood up, "You act human." She smiled. "You saved me. Monster's don't save people. I know little about what you do. Only snippets of books I've read. Gods smiting their followers with unknown powers. The Atharim hunting them down and nearly destroying themselves. What you do I know nothing of other than that I've seen it with my own two eyes. You make everything I ever learned about people like you and about the monsters we hunt put to question. You confuse my life by even existing."
Michael listened closely to all she said. She looked up for a reaction to being branded a monster, and it did raise some ire, but for the most part he did not care what they thought of him.

The rest of the explanation was interesting, if not exactly enlightening. It was what he had expected, the name - Atharim, he would have to search for the word later - gave him nothing, and their purpose was not exactly a mystery.

However, he wasn't ungrateful. No doubt she was under strict orders to keep the organization's secrets, and he was the last person they her to chat to, if their goal was to hunt people like him.

The lack of information regarding his powers was both a disappointment and a relief. On the one hand, he was no closer to understanding what exactly was happening, but on the other, neither were they.

He did gain some useful information. These Atharim hunted down 'Gods'? He had not heard of a war between Gods and mortals in the tomes of history, but the ancient stories took on a new meaning. Could he perhaps learn something from mythology? It was a long shot, but he would take anything he could get.

Thoughts of later research aside, her words hit home in a more direct manner. These Atharim; they hunted people like him as if they were monsters. His latent rage flared anew at the thought. He mercilessly thwarted the slivers of doubt that coiled around his heart. He had brought them down on him...

"So you hunt us because of stories that are thousands of years old?"
he demanded in a dangerously quiet voice. He would not succumb to anger, not yet. "Yet you have no idea what we do, or how?"

He let the question linger for a moment before continuing, eyes intent. "Tell me. Tell me everything."

Edited by Michael Vellas, Sep 15 2013, 09:47 AM.
"So you hunt us because of stories that are thousands of years old? Yet you have no idea what we do, or how?" Aria could feel the edge of his anger. Aria wasn't sure she would be able to continue if he actually got angry. His entire being wrapped up in anger. Aria felt that if he got angry it could very well possibly be the last thing she felt. Blessing or curse, she wasn't sure. Burning out or death could bring peace to her tortured soul. It wasn't natural to feel what others felt, yet she did as if they were her own.

"Tell me. Tell me everything." She sighed. Everything was a lot. There was a lot in her mind. Her schooling was not like the normal kinds. A living encyclopedia of monsters was a better analogy for what she was. She knew monsters, even the monsters she wasn't supposed to know about. These so called gods, were only a small smattering of things that she wasn't supposed to know about. Few Atharim knew their purpose ultimately. But few even knew men like her savior even existed, much less that they claimed to be gods before.

Aria didn't believe they were gods. There was only one God, and he did not come to earth to flaunt his powers and seek to destroy humanity as these so called gods did thousands upon thousands of years ago. Aria couldn't tell him things she didn't know. How, why? She could only tell him things that would upset him. And it all came back to his anger. She could feel it building underneath his quiet and calm exterior. He was trying, but trying wasn't enough. Aria didn't want to be there when he got angry.

How could she take her mind off of him, and still answer his questions. His emotions were paying a toll on Aria, she could feel the weakness in her stomach, the pain at the edge of the very fragile bubble of her own emotions.

Aria started pacing. She had to do something, she from one end of the garden to the other before she could find any answers for him. "We hunt you because you are dangerous." She stopped and turned to him. "You had to do something, kill someone, cause a freak accident, something for us to find you in the first place." Aria sighed, "While killing you is probably the wrong action, it is the only action the Atharim hierarchy knows."

Walking helped but not enough. Aria's head started to throb through the tiny bubble. She started to rub her temples as she walked. "I believe, in my heart, that you were given a gift from God. You can use that gift to do what you please. But surely it's not evil unless you make it so. There are no gods. There were only men who became so full of themselves and their power that they believed themselves invincible. Where are they now?" She nearly spat the last words out. "They are dead because they made poor choices. None of what I say is what Atharim believe.

"How can the foundation of our society bent on maintaining the balance believe that all things are evil. The rougarou were once human. We know for A FACT that they were born human, raised in homes like normal children. It is not until later that they become cannibals. Until they turn to killing." She smiled. "Yet some, they find the ability to survive in our world. They maintain their sanity. They still hunger for human flesh, but they find a way to not kill and to survive."

"Wolfkin survive the world and they live and die human with out anyone including us finding out. The invention of colored contact lenses changed so many things for them. It is only the rogue, those that choose to become wolf that you ever hunt and have to kill. Why is there a death sentence on people like you, and while people like me get a free pass and work freely with them. I do not know, tradition." Aria sighed, "Things need to change."

Edited by Aria, Sep 16 2013, 10:22 AM.
The rage in his heart ebbed as the woman spoke. It was obvious she could not give him the answers he needed, but he was grateful. The information she did provide gave him more than he had learned in 3 years.

His eyes narrowed as he watched her pace. He saw something like pain on her face, unease at least. Similar to when she had grabbed his arm before, but she had seemed to recover quickly enough. Did these cultists use drugs or other unsavoury...methods to control their people?

When she had finished, he took a moment to take in all that she had said. He was surprised that she questioned their cause so easily when the others he had come across had thrown themselves at him with reckless disregard for their own lives. Two years ago he had been attacked by two of the assassins in his temporary home. He had thrown a ball of fire - it was all he could do, all he knew at the time - that had melted the leading killer's face. The second did not even flinch as he charged Michael with a blade - poisoned, as he later found out.

He was not surprised to learn the reasons they hunted. In fact, he was a little disappointed. He thought perhaps they knew something more...substantial. As it was, it sounded much like an ordinary cult.

However, it troubled him. Cult as it may be, there was some substance to it, which made it the most dangerous kind of cult possible.

"I killed someone."
he said in a cool voice, providing an answer. "When I first encountered this power. Unintentional, but he is still dead."

He watched her closely for a reaction, although he had come to trust her, odd as it was. Her words were genuine and she showed an awareness of the inconsistencies in the cult that he respected. Killing was a simple thing, but to kill with the knowledge that you may not be justified, yet believe that it is for the best belied strength.

Or perhaps it was simply because she did not want to kill him. Michael was not sure, but he found himself agreeing with her.

"Your people are right in one respect,"

he continued. "The power makes us extremely dangerous. I could kill you in an instant."
There was no threat in his voice, if anything, it was weary. He was very good with that particular talent, but it brought nothing but disappointment or regret. "But there is so much more to the power than death. T-...Someone...with the power can learn to heal. A fatal wound can be healed in moments, not even leaving a scar."
It was rare that he spoke with such excitment, but he wanted -needed- for this woman to know that death was not the only thing the power could bring.

To prove I am not a monster...

"Your's is not the first cult to claim moral superiority. It is a dangerous thing. I am grateful to you that you are willing to question, but these...Atharim are the monsters. Merciless killers."
He raised a hand in case she wanted to object before he had finished. "I know well, killing is sometimes the only way - but we are not evil. I have no sympathy for indiscriminate killing."
His voice went cold. "I have no sympathy for the dozens of Atharim I killed when they hunted me."

He sighed, suddenly extremely weary. "I don't make idle threats. I am saying this so you understand why. I may have the power to be dangerous, but it was the Atharim who forced me to fight back. I don't know why I or those like me have this power, but we are not evil, and we learn."
His voice took on a dangerous edge, although it was not directed at the woman. "If your people do not change, we will learn enough to fight back. Down that road lies war."
The prospect terrified him. Not because he feared to fight, but because deep in his heart the possibility thrilled him. "And you will lose."

He paused a moment. He did not want to repay her with threats. He softened his tone and smiled at her, although he was not used to smiling. "But you have given me some measure of hope. Thank you for your honesty. You said you had questions. I will do my best to answer in return."

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