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Claire sat on the floor, legs crossed and in the center of a Circle. She always carried erasable chalk with her, as well as the trinkets that made for a crude altar. The pentagram was large enough to seat herself inside and was mirrored by other symbols June and the others had taught her.

Tony's floor was cold, and she didn't envy him sleeping on a cold slab. She'd searched for a while for in-floor heating elements, but gave up after so long. By his breathing, Tony didn't seem too bothered if he was cold.

She sat there for a long time before he woke up. She began the usual way, with her chanting and rituals, but soon switched to saying the words in her mind rather than out loud. Much to her surprise, the forces of the world stayed with her. She smiled to herself; and wondered again where it was this force originated.

She wasn't worshipping, although it might be said that she could worship the force itself. She felt like a Jedi, one who loved the sensation itself and reveled at all the possibilities that came with it. Tony had said there were five elements. Wind, Clare knew well. With it, she fanned the flames of votives circled around her, the light flickered at the breeze. Wetness dripped through her mind, as she toyed with the most liquid of the five elements. Aether was like touching liquid mercury. It shone and slithered, always rolling, always beautiful among the other forces. But those were only three? What were the other two? Why were they so difficult to find?

The sound of Tony's arousal broke her train of thought, and Claire calmly opened her eyes. As she did, the life pulse onto which she'd been working numbed to something just out of sight. The room was itself again, but dull in comparison to what it was while she was working the elements.

She started to speak, but Tony anticipated her question. He certainly looked better, and a certain vibrancy had returned to his voice. Although he looked like a man who'd been sleeping on the floor, he had a decent composure to him. Like he was used to far worser arrangements. So Claire accepted his answer. Before pushing herself to stand, she leaned around and blew out the votive candles that surrounded the Circle.

She followed him to the kitchen. The remnants of her earlier snack were still in the sink. Somewhere in the cabinetry was probably a dish cleaner, but she hadn't wanted to fidget with contraptions that were beyond what she was used to working. Sinks, though, she understood the concept well.

While he made himself breakfast, Claire leaned over the counter across from him and perched her chin on her hands to watch.

It is a dangerous power, she agreed mentally, and pictured urine dripping to the floor beneath a man's feet. Healing, however, was something she had not considered possible. June spoke of stories of such miracles, witches so powerful they could reverse the damage done to the human body. "My God,"
Claire uttered breathlessly. Tony had known one, and had attempted to have the healing done upon him.

"Of course I want your help. I'd be a fool to refuse it,"
but her voice trailed off soundlessly as suddenly the pot boiled of its own accord. She fixed him with a questioning look that doubted it was the result of some high-grade conduction element beneath the pot.

She suddenly felt very young and childlike. Sure, she was the novice here, but the newness of her naivety grated frustration.

She glanced briefly behind her. The scent of the quickly cooking broth tingled her nose. "Tony, while you were sleeping, I searched the forces for the last two elements, but I cannot sense them. I know the movement of the wind, the wetness of liquid, and the aether."
She turned back to him and stood more upright, fingers drumming the counter thoughtfully. "Can you describe the other two? Perhaps that will help if I know what I am seeking."
Admitting her power's shortcomings to a master likewise struck a chord, but there was only one way to learn, and Claire was determined to fearlessly forge ahead.

Edited by Claire, Jan 25 2014, 08:06 AM.
Until now he did not realise how much taking the role of mentor satisfied him. He had thought the pressure and nerves had been purely an effect of the coup he was planning, but it seemed otherwise.

Michael's independence stuck in his mind. It was not that the man had mastered all Tony could teach - far from it! - his aptitude just differed far too much. Not to mention the bastard's indomitable impetus.

To teach Claire - as much as his limited capacity allowed - seemed to invigorate his enthusiasm, intensified by the challenge and not in the least by the fire in the woman's eyes. It was so different from the lazy complacence or arrogance he had known as a child and the dead, hard gazes he grew to know in the Undercity.

He did not know what it was exactly Claire hoped to do, but the allure of that refreshing drive made him smile - a smile not tinged with bitterness or irony.

He was not surprised that she had taken the initiative while he was unconscious. It was dangerous, but he secretly approved. After all, he was daring in his own plans, was he not?

he mused, then nodded. "That is a good description of it. The other two are akin to the elements of Wind and Water. It seems you already know something about the intricacies. While these elements are basic in pure form - they are in no way confined by this role. Water can be threaded with Aether or Air to create something entirely abstract from all three."
He waved a hand in apology. "But I'm getting ahead of myself and not answering the question."

As the broth boiled satisfactorily, he released the weave and produced a ball of fire floating above his outstretched palm. "The first of the other two is of course Fire. The essence of creation and destruction. It is a wild element, I have found. Others find it easy to coax, but again, a story for later."

He stared into the ball of Fire - woven with Air to contain and maintain it's form. "It is a primal force. A double edged blade. It consumes, devours. But it also sparks life."
He shook his head, not sure if it was of any use to the woman at all, but continued. "Fire can be shaped into many things, but above all it requires weariness and understanding. A firm control but not strangled lest it rages free."

"The final element is that of Earth,"
he said, releasing the globe of heat. "It is not something that can be as easily shown as Fire or Water. Earth is the soil, the roots of the planet. Steady, unyielding. Some have a natural affinity to it, the rest of us have to learn the hard way. Earth is not something that can be used on a whim. As well try to lift a boulder with one finger. Treat yourself as an extension of the Earth - an arm to guide it's path, not a bulldozer, and it may come easier."

Of course, the Power did not exactly work like that. With practice, it would come easier, but understanding the fundamental nature of each thread was as important as understanding the power itself.

His lecture over, he poured himself a bowl of broth, savouring the familiar warmth as it filled his empty stomach. "The only way to truly understand is to attempt it yourself. I have given you a hint, but the rest is up to you."

He returned to his lounge, inspecting the preparations Claire had made that allowed her to use the power. Tedious and dangerously time-consuming, but there was little he could do for the moment, so he simply waited and watched.
Tony's enthusiasm bled over onto Claire's mood. Where before she was pensive and focused, now she was flirting with the possibility of a broad future.

Her lips parted in awe at the ease in which Tony spun a ball of fire. Above one palm, it looked so simple. She felt like she could watch it flicker and churn all day. It was soothing in a way, but Claire found his description of its wild nature to be surprising. There was nothing about the power in her senses that could ever be described as wild. In fact, the more she pictured it as such, the less she knew she'd be able to manipulate it.

Fire, she spoke the word to herself, but was suddenly shifted to an imagination of the final element. Earth. It made perfect sense, and she cursed herself for not having thought of them before. All four plus the aether together constituted what was known as the primal forces guiding the world in the pagan sense. Something deep within her gathered that there was something far more literal that guided what was, what is, and what will yet be.

She nodded that she understood. "Thank you. You've given me much to consider,"
and she bit her lower lip in the way she did when she was thoughtful and didn't realize it. Perhaps now she knew what she was seeking, when next she sat in the Circle's meditative state, she'd find them.

The scent of broth warmed her stomach, but she didn't help herself. Not because she was too timid to try, but rather because she had other things on her mind besides food. She followed Tony to the lounge. When he sat, she joined him, and curled her feet up beneath her like she'd been invited.

She noticed his inspection of the circle. "I think I've tried every religion out there, but none felt like they were for me."
She shrugged, "What about you? Are you religious?"
He paused and lowered his spoon as Claire sat down and spoke.

Religion? He had not thought about the subject in almost a decade. Such a simple question struck a discordant note in his heart. Jensen had sought answers through his God, Claire searched the depths of paganism. What had he done? The thought of his complacency chilled him. He had learned so much of the power, but he had never questioned it's source.

"I...I don't know,"
he replied finally, lost in thought. "My family's creed was greed; money their religion. After I gained the power...It was all I could do to stay alive."

Tony shook himself out of his melancholic lapse, turning his head towards Claire as he used the power to send his bowl into the kitchen. It was not designed to impress - although he didn't mind if it did - it had become second nature. "What does this circle represent? Michael would probably know, but I haven't had much experience with religion."
His mouth moved in a sardonic smile at that.

Strange. He had no idea why, but he had the urge to know, to understand the woman. He did not think it was infatuation, but it was more than just idle curiosity or courtesy. Could it be the challenge she represented with the power? No, that look in her eyes intrigued him. The look of one who demanded answers, no matter the cost. "What is it about the circle that gives you power?"
Despite the melancholia, Tony's answer made Claire snort laughter: a dry, bitter laughter. "It sounds like your family and my family should meet sometime, only my family would be likely to try and swindle yours out of every last dollar."
But his attentiveness made her follow suit, and her eyes ended up drinking in the lines and symbols of the circle.

Her brows furrowed thoughtfully. June and the others believed so strongly in the power of the circle. It was a sacred temple. Stepping into an unbroken circle was to step into the space between worlds.

"It provides a sacred and purified space. Nothing negative can enter. It offers a reservoir of concentrated power and acts as a doorway to the world of the gods... Within the circle it becomes possible to transcend the boundary between flesh and power, to open the mind to deeper and higher levels of consciousness."
Claire's voice trailed off as though she was looking into the eons of time and had lost all words to describe the significance.

She shook off the contemplation, tossing her bangs aside as she did and cast an easier smile. "Who's Michael?"
She asked.
As Claire laughed, Tony merely smiled. She was probably right, although he had forgotten how his parents would react. He had forgotten so much about them, possessing only the barest image of them, a few stark moments of clarity between years of misty memory.

It did not cut as it would have done in the past. He had a goal to achieve to redeem himself and see that their deaths would not be in vain.

Fortunately, the topic was replaced with one he was much more familiar with - well, not the circle, but the use of power.

Claire's description held hints of reverence, but her frown belied the inconsistencies she had been confronted with. Tony said nothing on the matter. It was not his place to deny the existence of higher powers. Perhaps he was the one who overstepped the bounds of power. His methods were certainly more effective in use - but the thought of religion and the mystery of the source of the power subdued his confidence.

Fortune smiled on him once more as Claire's mood lightened. This time Tony did laugh. "Michael..."
he said the name with fondness that comes from a master speaking of a past student. "He saved my life, I suppose,"
his face turned dark in mock sternness,"but never tell him that! He was a shit student who often learned the hard way. But I trust him with my life - literally, in far too many circumstances."
Tony shook his head with a smile. "He's also far too arrogant for his own good and far more volatile than he realises. Still, he is a good person, if a little too intense."

Edited by Tony Soloyov, Feb 2 2014, 06:25 AM.
June always said that if bad news walked within a block of Claire, she'd turn on her heel and walk straight toward him. She had a point. Claire didn't particularly look for them, but she ended up on the darker side of dating life anyway, then sat back and acted surprised when they turned out to be assholes.

Tony was about the opposite of every sort of guy she'd ever spent more than five minutes with - excluding bartenders or the random man that sat next to her on the subway. His smile was infectious, but as soon as he started describing Michael, thoughts of his smile filled her imagination. More like a sneer? Or does he smile at all? By Tony's account, Michael didn't sound like the type to waste time grinning like a fool.

"He sounds charming."
A crooked smile hung on her lips. What kind of life had they led to need saved more than once? Dare and danger skittered in Tony's shadows; she could only imagine what followed in Michael's.

She looked to the door, then to the place where her coat and bag were piled up. She had her feet tucked beneath her, snug and comfortable on the couch, but something twinged in her legs, like maybe she'd overstayed her welcome.

She snatched Tony's eye. The light caught the tilted planes of her face, blanketing her eyes with smokey shadow. "Should I go?"
She asked.
"Should I go?"

The question came as a surprise, although he did not know what to expect now that he put his mind to it. He had be consumed in the discoveries and possibilities, time had little meaning to him.

Perhaps it was a telling sign of his estranged relationship with normal life. When you were in hiding and hunted by fuck-knows who trying to kill you such niceties were rendered obsolete. Michael had sheltered him for so long and money was no problem he would extend the same courtesy to others.

Besides, did he really want her to leave?

He fell back on the memory of his days in the elite of Moscow, spreading his hands with a hint of a careless shrug. "If you wish, it is up to you. You are quite welcome to stay, however."

A frown touched his face after a moment, unsatisfied with his reply. He looked into Claire's eyes. He was sure she would have no problem braving the streets of Moscow, and would probably scoff at the suggestion of protection, but something in his words rang hollow and Tony could not shake the ripples of dissatisfaction spreading through his mind.

This time his tone and posture was far more serious. "Fuck that, I am done with the hollow words of the rich. Stay. I have little doubt you can handle yourself, but I have taken a liking to you,"
this with a hint of self-depreciation and mocking. "I am not exactly sure who - Michael knows something, but I have not seen him lately - but somebody wants people like us dead. It is no offer borne of pity or charity, but practicality and interest. If you need a safe place to stay; stay. I expect nothing and you can do as you wish, only continue to learn about your power. It may very well be the difference between life and death."

Bah, his father would have been horrified and ashamed, but Tony cared little. Still, bitterness crept into his expression. His reaction made his situation plain. If he had ever thought he could live a normal life, he would be bitterly disappointed. Time and circumstance had not been kind.
Claire kept a flat expression. She'd doled out as many blunt rejections of interest as she'd received in her time. Basically since the days of kindergarten sandbox flights of fancy. One would think she would be an expert by now, but alas, she sat anxious to know what was running through Tony's mind.

His first answer was polite enough. Claire knew what it meant, too. So she reconciled herself to getting her stuff together to leave, but he looked into her eyes and something ominous crossed his expression. Knowing the power at his fingertips, a flicker of fear rose, but only until he spoke again.

She was soon grinning. She liked his bluntness. Playing word games and juggling social norms was eye-rollingly annoying. Her mood was cut short, though, when the topic changed subjects. Claire knew exactly what he was talking about, and her mind shot straight back to Brooklyn. She was suppose to be dead just like Tony, and also just like him, she had no intention of actually dying

"I'll take you up on your offer."
It was a relief to say. Not just because motel money was running low. But Tony cut this dangerous edge, like studs on a leather coat. He was cool, but prickly and dangerous, but underneath actually quite warm and practical. She liked the combination, and the Moscow accent was hella sexy. "I think I know exactly what you're talking about. You know that story I showed you about home? The man who broke in was there to kill us, and he said there were 'suppose to only be three of us,' and was surprised to see me there. He was sent, but I don't know by who."
There was a defensive glint in her eye. He wasn't going after anyone else any more.
When Claire accepted his offer he felt his muscles relax. Relief? Why on earth -?

It was inexplicable. Had he truly been nervous? He had changed much more than he had thought. The Tony Soloyov of old was immune to such things and the drunk Tony Soloyov too numb. felt less unpleasant than he expected. Less artificial.

Of course, the topic that ensued dampened the mood somewhat. Even he felt a chill thinking of the tattooed hunters that hounded Michael like wolves.

He nodded in understanding, allowing himself to relax the veil of fixed courtesy in favour of a more honest tone - less precise and polished, but warmer. "Apparently they are all over the world. As I said, Michael knows more, but he is...away...All I know is that they wear the mark of a snake eating it's own tail as a tattoo."

He laughed suddenly, to ease the mood more than anything. "Luckily the did not seem to know about you, and I am already dead. I would say we have a head start, at least, would you not?"

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