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Sunlight streamed unadulterated on the newspaper sheeted across Morven's lap, a styrofoam coffee cup balanced on the bench slat next to her, half cradled in the grip of one hand. Air tickled the edges of the paper, barely touching the perspiration on her bare legs. Summers never clung so tight and sticky back home.

The latest figures reported staggering numbers of registrations. She was surprised at how many so willingly offered their identities, not least when Ascendancy spoke in the same breath of a society that would, she'd bet, give anything to get their claws into such a list. How would the government even begin to offer protection against a threat like that (she didn't even like to think of the possibilities) - but, more to the point, why should they? In fashioning himself a god, Nikolai Brandon cast the same glow upon all others who shared in his gift. Made them something more. Made them hateable. A target. Competitors.

Why would he want to protect them?

This morning the tabloids had splashed old photos of the Tower Bridge explosions, drawing new questions at the lack of incendiaries ever discovered at the scene. Hairline cracks multiplied into what might easily become deep fissures. The fear was a seed cautiously watered, uncertain of an enemy but determined to find blame for the sudden instability. Questions burst like a dandelion blown into the wind, the hedged answers little more than questions themselves.

Even the broadsheets were not much more circumspect in their rampant speculation. What can these people do?

But of Ascendancy himself, they spoke no ill.

The man was the talk of the moment. Articles of his life and rise, old news, dusted off and polished with new shine. She'd passed a dozen newsagents displaying glossy celebrity magazines sporting his severe, immaculate face. The secret to youth at 62! they sang. The newsfeeds replayed the footage a hundred times, imprinted with different commentators, new angles, rehashed analysis. Everyone wanted to put voice to such an historic event, to memorialise themselves within it. Even street vendors already hawked plastic replicas of Moscow's Triumphant Arch.

She folded the paper next to her on the bench, took a sip of bitter coffee, and settled to watch the rivers of people flowing endlessly in both directions; glad, for once, to be free of the current. Her eyes half lidded. It was nice to do nothing. Until she noticed the disturbance shift uneasily amongst the crowds.

Two men, hunched in heated conversation.

Averted eyes swept clear of the budding confrontation; a natural hollow surrounded them, left them standing in a bubble. Morven lifted the sunglasses from her face, perched them on top of her head. If looks could kill. Suddenly one of the men slammed back. Even through the forest of people she could see not a finger had been laid on him.

You're fucking kidding me. Instinct urged her to her feet. A bubble of anger at the sheer stupidity. Morven shoved her way close, frowning, and caught the aggressor's wrist in her hand. "Enough."

He scowled, surprised at the intrusion, and snatched his arm away. Something akin to fear flashed in his eyes before he turned and ran, shifting into the crowd headed for Kensington South.

she muttered.
A cluster of bystanders hovered uncertainly by the man on the ground, until someone finally bent to offer him a hand to his feet. A few cast uneasy glances in Morven's direction, seeing, she supposed, a young woman in a flimsy summer dress who'd had the balls to step into the middle of a fight. What gives you the confidence? those stares wondered, suspicious. Irritation bristled her spine at the suggested aspersion; she seriously considered telling them to fuck off and mind their own business, but dampened the urge. It was the godling who'd stoked her temper, for the sheer stupidity of chucking gasoline on an open flame. She didn't care what these people thought.

In fact she almost gave them something to stare at. Almost.

Instead she dumped her empty coffee cup in the nearest bin, and meandered her way through a curtain of tourists.

In the coming days the curt tones of Edward Northbrook dominated the airwaves, urging affected citizens to register themselves promptly. He spoke of calm and order and patience; and for some, the assurance was enough. But crowds still gathered daily in Parilament Square, questioning the safety of the general populace. It seemed clear the Ascendancy had not seen fit to prepare his Patrons; there were no answers. How did one know if another was one of them? How did the government even ascertain that registrations were genuine? There had been a number of supposed hoaxes already. Not to mention, of course, those like Morven who chose not to register at all. At least until she could observe the repurcussions.

The temperature had cooled, and a cluster of swollen clouds hovered above Westminster, casting a grey haze over the petitioners gathered on the green. It was still early, and only those tenacious enough to set up camp dotted the grass with their placards. Curiosity had urged Morven to follow her friends despite the threat of a downpour.

"It changes everything."
Faye bent over in the grass over her sign, marker-pen in hand. Her hair fluttered a golden river in the faint breeze. Brows pinched with concentration. "Take the Tower Bridge Terrorist. How do you punish someone like that? No prison would hold them, not if they can all do even a fraction of what the Ascendancy can."

"Maybe that cult already put a bullet between his eyes. Or her. They're still men and women."

Faye sat back on her heels. "Murder isn't the answer either."

Morven shrugged, gesturing a hand at the imposing government building. "Nae answers that I can see. You think they're listening?"

Faye frowned, and bent back to her task.

Her wallet vibrated in her pocket; Morven fished it out distractedly, glanced at the ID, and paused at the flash of Unknown. The emotion slipped from her face, replaced with irritation. She stood and threaded her way through the crowd, pressing the wallet to her ear.

"It's not convenient, Sören."
She couldn't help the barbs she curled into his name. The name he had hidden from her for years.

"Where are you?"

"London. Enjoying the remainder of my summer."
A few spots of rain shivered on her outstretched palm.

Silence crackled on the line. "I need you in Moscow."

"Aye, and I just told you where I am. I don't leave for another few weeks. If you want me, Sören, you find me here."

Another pause.

"I am injured."
His voice cracked with static. The plaintive tone of his reply irritated her. She rolled her eyes. Keep the heid. "And?"

"The tickets will be arranged. Accommodation if you need it. You will meet me there."


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