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Painted Dreams
Getting out of the estate with Nova had been difficult.  Nox imagined it would have been that hard to walk away from Aurora or even his father, but he had to do it.  Dorian was no better than the Atharim.  Using him for the the things he could bring to the table and not actually caring what happened to him.   They'd been happy when his gift saved the world, as long as they didn't know how he'd survived things sometimes.  But Nox didn't really care.  Fuck them!  Fuck all of them.

He could still hunt monsters.  But Nox wasn't going to step foot into the tunnels until he figured out what was going on with the phantom memories, and reliving the pain from the ijiraq every time he seized the power to wield.  Nox had lain awake on the bed in the hostel he'd found after he'd stopped walking thinking about his next move.  Nova was welcome and that was a big thing for him.  The dog had curled up at the foot of his bed until Nox had invited him to lay next to him.  It was warm and comforting.

Nox had flipped through his texts and always landed back on the image Jay had sent him.  It reminded him that his life might not be great, but he had friends.  Selfies had never been his thing but life was shit.  Nox snapped a picture curled up around Nova whose head was resting on his chest sleeping.

Along with the picture Nox sent Jay a text.  EVEN WHEN HELL RISES UP I STILL HAVE A CUTE BED MATE.  NOT NEARLY AS FUN THO. [[ @"Jay Carpenter" ]]

Morning had come but not without the nightmares. Nox was grateful he was meeting Thalia for coffee (and cake - maybe). The coffee in the hostel was crap. But at least it was hot and caffeine filled. His first stop had been a park where Nova could run around and he could get a short workout in. He had a few gawkers pass by several times before he had finished. An alarm rang on his wallet and Nox called, "Nova, come on let's go." The dog trotted over and Nox clipped the leash on before he headed to the Old Arabat. He didn't like being that close to the Kremlin.

But that was such a price to pay for coffee and food. That was another thing he'd noticed when he checked his balance - there was more money than he'd expected. And when he asked Sage about it in a text the hacker just smiled. Nox didn't like that Sage was giving him money. But there was a long explanation in a new file in an email that Sage explained where the money came from. And it was a long convoluted story and Nox was not 100% that Sage hadn't made it up. But that was for later.

Thankfully the Artskaf had outdoor seating and it wasn't overly cold out anymore. Moscow had warmed up nicely. Nox sat down and waited for her to show up, he ordered a coffee while he waited, Nova sat on the sidewalk side of the chair and watched the people. The pup stood guard. Nox wasn't exactly sure where he'd learned the behavior, but as long as he didn't bite anyone he was welcome to sit there and act menacing. People walked wide and that was a good thing at the moment.

[[ @"Thalia" ]]
She was late. It wasn't the most unusual thing in the world, though today it did have less to do with the usual reasons. Aylin's meeting with HR to discuss her return to work was scheduled for mid morning. Anticipating a sense of loss had preceded Thalia's whim to contact Nox; she'd grown used to her sister's company. What she hadn't anticipated was the streak of anxiety to well up and fountain from her eternally stoic sibling moments before her feet were due to pass the threshold.


She was here now. Old Arbat was familiar territory, yet not somewhere Thalia had ventured for a while. Months had passed since she'd used her studio, and her home was on the fringes of Moscow. Her work made the city's heart a necessity, but her own heart beat easiest by the waterside. At this time of year, especially, Filevsky park was beautiful.

She spied Nox outside, ensconced in the plush and eccentric seating that spilled out almost into the street entertainment, with just about the most cutest pup Thalia had ever laid her eyes on. Her smile beamed bright and careless as she approached, wild hair spiralling frizzy waves under a loose knit cap. A pile of sketchbooks cradled in her arms, and her cheeks were flushed, from the warm weather or the burden (or the rush).

“Hi Nox. Hi pup. He is cute!” For a moment his grey-tinged fur reminded her of the wolves in her drawings, gold eyes as knowing and human as Calvin's. She awkwardly set the books down. “And you are too, of course,” she added, grinning.

“I'm glad you get to be a real boy today. I was half expecting you to tell me you were knee deep in demon entrails and maybe we could do this another time. A sound excuse, though for future reference I don't want to hear about entrails, demon or otherwise.”
Thalia walked up with a smile and he was pretty sure it was for Nova. Her compliment had Nox grinning from ear to ear at how casually she said it. Nox stood to help help Thalia but she was already dumping her books on the table. "I could have come to you, we didn't have to meet out here." But she was already here so there was really no need now. "That's Nova." I grinned at her. "Say hi Nova." The pup yipped and stood up wagging his tail and pushed his head against Thalia's chair for a good rub. "He's a bit of a drama queen."

Nox was glad he got to be a real boy too. This was better than sitting someplace spiralling into darkness. He needed to figure this shit out and that was doing to be difficult since he had to deal with the fact that could channel and it hurt on top of it all. Thalia rambled on about demon entrails and Nox laughed. "I will keep that in mind next time I'm knee deep in visera." He didn't admit he hadn't been hunting in a while. Though he needed to, he was feeling that need, and that was probably why part of this was hard.

The books all looked used and smudged and his coffee arrived with the waitress. "May I?" This was going to be a good distraction. Even Nova agreed. He missed Lasher and Sage probably Aiden too. But they needed to do this - away from everyone. It was good.
He actually tried to get up to help with the sketchbooks, which was all kinds of adorable, but Thalia was like a rush of river and had already dumped them on the table. She deposited herself down as well afterwards, into an overstuffed armchair with fraying edges. As if it were even possible her smile blossomed brighter when the pup yipped on cue. She bent to fuss him. ”Why hello there, Nova. Aren't you just the most beautiful wigglebum.”

She brushed aside Nox's concern, not unkindly. The journey was no issue. “Oh don't be silly, I have a studio nearby. And Alek makes good coffee. I used to wait tables here before my paintings started selling.” She grinned, ruffling Nova's chest. He had the most amazing ears. “Drama, huh. They do say dogs take after their owners. You still seem to have all your limbs at least. I'll count that as a win after what you told me last time.” Her brows rose, not because she was making light (in all honesty, it had been pretty horrible) but in simple irreverence. He had a tough life; the sort of life that would break most people. But he also had a sense of humour.

“Of course!” She laughed at the politeness, nudging the stack with a hand quickly recaptured with petting the dog. She'd never been precious about her work, though it was probably the first time anyone other than Aylin or her patron had been given free reign to peruse. Life had changed though, and Thalia changed with it.

The waitress interrupted with Nox's coffee. “I'll take the same. And can we have a selection of cakes as well?” Her grin grew impish. She'd probably share. Probably. ”Oh, and will you ask if Alek has anything for the dog?”
Nova was in heaven.  He loved attention and Thalia's quip about him being a drama queen made him smile wider despite the topic of losing limbs was broached.  He supposed he was a drama queen - his father certainly thought so.  The darkness threatened to descend upon him at the thought of his father but he pushed it away and focused on the chipper woman in front of him.

Her order mimicked his own with the addition of the potentially shareable cakes - and something for Nova.  Nova would have been happy with a cake.  The growing pup ate everything in sight including things he shouldn't.  The waitress left and Nox smiled.  "I bet the customers loved you here."  

The assorted array of sketchbooks were in disarray and Nox picked one and pulled it closer.  Each picture he looked at with awe.  The skill she possessed was amazing.  "And your stuff just started selling?"  He found it unbelievable.  Everything looked fantastical, like someone who was illustrating a story book, but he knew Thal saw things that were real.

A man with 'golden' eyes and wolves stood with dark shadows in the background.  Nox recognized the arch that the Ascendancy built weeks ago.  Of course the Ijiraq was among them.  Pictures of things Nox didn't even know what they were.  Nox flipped each page with care and diligence.  Each one had details Nox could only imagine could come from horrid dreams or things out of fantasy.  But he lived a horror show himself so not as far fetched as what others might believe.  

Each page pulled him deeper and deeper into the drawings, his coffee forgotten. 

Nox flipped the page.  His heart beat faster, he couldn't breathe.  The world stopped, there was nothing but image staring back at him.  A man with a flaming sword facing off against three unnatural dogs.  Three corpses on the ground, a ghostly shadow of a girl dripping blood. His nightmare stared him in the face.  Nox muttered one word, "How?"  

His mind tumbled with questions, but his body was frozen in fear, in anguish.  How could she see his nightmares?
“Well, maybe when I got their orders right.” She laughed, eyes crinkling at the edges. Distractions came upon her easily enough; she wasn’t oblivious to her own flaws. She had been a terrible waitress. “Not really just. It wasn’t over night or anything. I have a patron now, though. He buys a lot of it.”

She occupied herself with Nova’s attentions while he flipped through the pages. It should have filled her with anxiety, letting go of that window straight into the recesses of her brain; images and creatures and people even she couldn’t explain. It wasn't quite trust (she barely knew him after all) but something simpler, like catching the edge of your own reflection.

“How…?” The word elongated, waiting for the rest of the question. Her eyes blinked up instead to the silence. It took a moment to fully absorb the look on his face coupled with the way he’d said the word. For a moment something like panic fizzled; a knee-jerk regret for the honesty. Thalia knew she drew strange stuff, but Nox was the most capable person she’d ever met when it came to weird. She bit her lip, torn; on the edge of flight.

Through her racing heart Nova’s wet nose bumped her hand, seeking an answer to why she had stopped fussing. It steadied her somewhat. She reached the other across the table to touch Nox’s wrist. Concern drew her expression unusually sombre. “Okay, seriously, don’t do that. Are you okay? No, no, wait, I can see you're not. Nox, what's wrong?”
Her touch made him look up to meet her concerned gaze. Nox shook his head in disbelief. "How do you see my nightmares?" Nox looked down and stared at the picture, the flaming sword happened once, and only once. The dream hadn't behaved like it did. And until this moment he'd forgotten it. Forgotten the woman in it.

Nox looked up again troubled. Memories mixed with dream. Flashes of forgotten conversations mingled with more images. It was hard to tell what was real and what wasn't. His father beating the living shit out of him for kissing a guy. Though he hadn't remembered how his father knew. Unless ....

The memory was still in pieces. But they'd flooded together when he'd drank with Jay. Now they all fit together, but the images of the flaming sword didn't fit anything. Aurora and his father, and mother lying dead side by side. Aria in ghostly form waiting to die. And now she was dead. His mind swirled with guilt and failure and he felt lost. Everything he hated most stared back at him in the drawing. His failures, his nightmares, the things that made him shake. And she'd seen them. He knew she'd been the woman. But he hadn't remembered her. Now she sat before him like she didn't know him. Nox knew about dream walkers, but you really couldn't know for certain, which is why Nox and Aurora had never taken a case like that after their father passed. He might have, but they didn't know. Killing a person.... Nox wasn't sure he'd ever be able to do that except in self defense. There were right ways and wrong ways to do things.

Nox reached for his cup of coffee and frowned when he found the contents cold. He seized the power inside and let the pain ride along with the fear. There was nothing more to do than just let it be anyway, he couldn't stop using the power. it was addictive and even the pain wasn't a deterant. Nox warmed his cup - probably a bit too much as it scalded his tongue as he gulped the first sip down. But the pain was welcome it burnt away the fear. "You are a dream walker, I knew that much." Nox sighed, "I just didn't expect to see my nightmares in your sketchbook."
“Your nightmares?

He'd mentioned them in passing before, kind of offhand. She shifted to pull the sketchbook away, though only as much as was needed for her to see the image that had affected him. A man with a flaming sword. The shadow of dogs. A bleeding girl. Sure there was a resemblance, but the dark silhouette could have been anyone. It didn’t explain his visceral reaction, though.

Looking at him now made Thalia realise how young he really was. She hated to be the conduit to that pain, opened like a floodgate by a few lines on a page. Too late to unsee now, though. She didn’t even remember drawing it.

“I know some of the people in there are real. I’ve always kind of avoided it.” (oh, understatement) “So if I’d known… Well, I wouldn’t have brought that book.” Her brows knit into a soft frown. The confusion was evident. “I don't even know what that is. I don’t dream.” Her thoughts tripped over something Calvin had said, but she didn’t pause to really think. She didn't even really press for answers, like the whole thing pressed against some old wound. Instead she watched him take a weary sip of coffee. “Do you want me to get rid of it?” Thalia wasn’t precious about the work, that was clear. It was a compulsion, not a hobby, and if it made him feel any better she was earnest in the offer. 

She offered a small smile. “Though if this is the part where you tell me I’m some kind of demon you're supposed to, uh, you know, can I at least have my cake first?"
Nox shook his head. It wasn't her fault. He just didn't know how, or why but it didn't matter, there were always going to be things he didn't understand. He'd leave that to Cruz and Sage and whoever else the fuck wanted to ask questions. "It's fine. I wasn't expecting it." Nox closed the sketchbook and pulled another one closer and hoped he didn't find anything else he remembered in them. But it wasn't Thalia's fault.

Even in a sprial Thalia had a way of making him smile. Totally taking him off guard again, the smile blooming over the bad memories. "I don't make a habit of ruining a good cake eating session." He turned his hand to hold hers and squeezed before letting go. "Your secret is safe with me."

Nox added. "Besides it's not like I'm part of their cult anymore. I'm probably number one or two on their list of must die now people." Considering he knew all about them, and their organization and was a trecherous reborn god. But Nox didn't care. The same things that kept him hidden from the world would keep him hidden from the Atharim and Yun. And if anyone was tracking his wallet Sage would know and alert him, or even send him a new one. Nox wasn't worried about getting caught now that he was on the move again. He'd lived too long like a vagabond to be bothered by it. Though a good bed and a great shower were going to be luxuries, same with a good kitchen to cook in. But Nox would make due.

"Do you have any interpretations of your images?" Nox smiled. "Like what they might mean?" Nox pointed at a few that he got some of the images. "This is a wolfkin, like the painting on the wall in there. That's your's too isn't it?" Nox was glad to change the topic. He didn't want to talk about him. So much easier to talk about someone else.
Nox recovered quickly enough. She sensed something reserved in his reaction; something that shied away from the nightmare and whatever it meant to him. He closed the book. As much as she wanted to ask questions, she did not. At least not now. Instead she grinned when he squeezed her hand. “I think that’s generally a good rule to live by.”

The waitress interrupted. A little pink flushed her cheeks as she leaned to set down Thalia’s coffee. A plate of cake and fresh pastries followed. Then the young girl coughed, clearly uncomfortable. Her eyes skirted away from contact. “Alek says he’s not a fucking pet store, Thalia. He said that I should say it exactly. Sorry.”

Thalia laughed as the girl scurried away. “Tell him I miss him too!”

She shoved the plate towards Nox with an elaborate sigh, though a smile peeked at the corners of her mouth. “Oh, go on then. You get first pick.” She felt like she’d accidentally read his bloody diary.

She nodded, surprised, twisting to spy the painting he meant, a parting gift long since forgotten. It was a connection she hadn’t paused to make. The golden coins of her eyes were the same, though Thalia had no idea who she really was, or if she was simply an exaggerated figment of imagination. Questions tumbled like a burst dam, then, hurriedly stemmed. Her spine tingled like the tattoo there squirmed. “Not really. I thought you might, since you knew about the ijiraq. I don’t look at any of this stuff twice, not once it’s out of my head. You think they all mean something?” She wasn’t sure how she felt about that. Something to think about later.

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