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Interlude II (Estonia)
Music hummed softly to Thalia’s tuneless accompaniment. Her head tilted, and she squinted at the array of images tacked haphazardly in a great patchwork on the hotel wall. She’d had to perch on precarious tiptoe from the plastic desk chair in order to squish them all in, some sheets now torn into smaller pieces as she’d tried to group them in some semblance of… something. Her entire life these kinds of sketches had been nothing but an exorcism, forgotten as soon as they bled from her fingertips. She’d never even looked back at them until recently, when a break-in and that small glow of discovered power changed her life. Well, ruined it at the time.

Over the last few months a slow curiosity had begun to burn, though; wary to start, uncertain of what monsters might lurk in the hidden depths (because literal; actual, literal monsters lurked in the depths). Even back in Moscow she’d known there were truths here; faces that belonged to living breathing people, places she suspected were real places -- with enough whimsical conviction that she’d dropped all the threads of her life to begin a journey with no clear destination in order to find out.

She’d long suspected (and denied) something prescient when need ripped the images from her whether she wished it or not. But she’d never imagined there were stories buried in the rest, or at least had never admitted the possibility to herself. Nothing ever fled her pencil chronologically, or she did not think so anyway -- usually images were discarded the moment the picture felt finished, and she doodled in margins when she ran out of clean paper, or on receipts or napkins or her own skin. It happened frequently enough that a morning’s work might end up spread like a dandelion’s seeds blown in the wind, so it didn’t make the attempt at rearrangement now very easy. That, and she drew so much

Hence the currently strewn chaos.

For the last few minutes Thalia had reached to add annotations with the stub of a pencil, squeezing the cramped writing around the drawings wherever she may with what scant information she had.

Il Palazzo Apostolico di Castel Gandolfo. 
River in Viljandi, Estonia. 
Tuuru. Of the outrageous spoken things. Awoken from slumber.
The guarded column.
The crystal shard, given and gone?

It left volumes of unknown, though. The black pillar that in some scenes twisted into the shadow of a scowling man, and the isolated cottage with the red door she had first drawn on the train; the ethereal woman perfected at Koit and Eha’s breakfast table before Koit plucked the pencil from the pinch of her throbbing hand. So much water; rivers and lakes and glaciers, the foamy crash of waves, the burble of a spring’s mouth. The mournful girl whom Aylin had claimed to be a patient before Thalia left Moscow, never investigated at the time. A man with bright golden eyes, and an old and grizzled wolf the size of a bear with his teeth bared in a snarl. Small sooty creatures that were sometimes curled like contented cats, and sometimes bristled into terrifying concoctions of teeth and claws and eyes. A man with a burning gaze, and a boy who cowered away terrified and shared the same features.

And it was all real?

A whole other life. Thalia stared up at the strange tapestry, and felt herself overwhelmed; not, this time, with fear -- but with wonder.

She flopped back on the bed with a sigh. Her nature was not solitary, though she was used to being alone. Fact was, she’d spent most of her adult life avoiding the sort of attachments that made new friends and acquaintances appear unbidden during the ritual of her morning sketches. There was just Aylin to spill her soul to, and Thalia did, for they’d always been close despite their (very) different natures. But she knew she couldn’t share any of this. Her sister wouldn’t understand, for one -- though she did always try her very best -- but worse than that it would only pierce her with the kind of worry that made Thalia feel a little shy of sane.

Nox was actually the first real friend she’d had in a long time, and she knew he would understand this strange and rather wonderful world she found herself perched on the threshold of (or at least he wouldn’t call her crazy), but he had his own worries and she’d already splurged all her anxieties on him once of late. And of course the person she wanted to speak to was his high holiness of the sharp smirk (Patricius I, originally born Philip Patrick Sullivan, though neither of those names really fit). Maybe he would not entertain the furious flurry of her curious nature, but he was the only one she knew who strode the same distant world -- and more, saw the things she saw.

Unfortunately, aside from the fact Mass had gone on quite forever -- and Father Ando, after that, a veritable eternity -- it was by now the twinkling early hours of the morning. Nor was it like she had any way to contact him.

She fiddled with her phone for a while, tried to slip into the realm of a book, but found herself drawn back to watching the display of sketches. Shadows curled their edges, smudging them into something otherworldly, and for the first time she was compelled to the heart of such a mystery. To want to understand. In some places her eye wandered like the contours of a map -- or a timeline, akin to the flickering pages of a flip book. But it was all theoretical. From the things he had said, Noctua clearly remembered this other world and its happenings when he awoke, but nothing stirred for Thalia. Feelings, maybe; a sense of familiarity that she had always assumed was because the art originated from within her. In some places, the more she stared the more she had a sense of some intangible connection, but like deja vu it slipped to nothing but the remnant of stirred emotions. 

Strangely, it mostly filled her with a sense of loss.

It was too late (early) to call anyone, even Aylin just to hear her sister’s voice, but she could not settle either. In the end she did summon up Nox’s contact, but only fired off a message to sate the pang of disconnect sitting in her chest.

@"Nox"  You will NEVER guess who I met today

Then, on a whim.

@"Sage"  Hi :) 

She let the wallet fall away, and sat up cross-legged amongst the blankets of the bed, restless. A faint breeze stirred through the window, and soft music continued to fill the loud silence. Thalia leaned to pluck the burn box from the nightstand, where it had been perched alongside the twig Noctua had given her at the church. He probably had not meant it as a gift, yet she was unable to let it go. “And you,” she said, twisting the ornament lifted from inside the box into her grip. It sparked dull in the moonlight, but only in a natural way; it did not shine as she knew it could. “What on earth are you?”

She did not think of the symbol burnt into her hand, or the warnings Noctua issued; that she meddled in things she ought not. That the theft would have consequences.

Her eyes were beginning to burn tired, yet she felt strange about sleeping, knowing now that her soul would fly somewhere unknown; that the images likely to spill forth tomorrow were not the workings of an idle mind, or simple dreams she never remembered nor cared to, but evidence of an entire other existence.

Thalia woke sprawled atop the blankets, still fully clothed. Blinking with grogginess she rubbed a palm over her face -- and winced at the pain, because of course it was the wrong hand -- and then pushed herself up. The curtains were still thrust wide from last night’s moonlit vigil, and brightness streamed in now, which right then seemed mostly an affront to all her senses. She rolled, reached wide for the bag that was somewhere on the floor, but ended up shuffling off the bed into a heap beside it. She pushed the messy curls from her face as she pulled the sketchbook into her lap. The new, creamy paper slipped like silk beneath her fingers, and she began to sketch. It took her a while to wake up properly, the motions automatic to begin, but once she did it was probably the first time she had ever really taken the care to consider what she drew while she was engaged in the creation. No urgency pushed her to haste, and she remained bundled on the floor, the book balanced on her knees. Morning light peered in bright over her shoulders as the imagery took shape. 

A naked woman’s torso was first, wrapped in delicate scales that made sharp patterns on her skin. There was strength to her limbs, a wild sort of beauty that was also compellingly alien. Thick tentacles swarmed from her lower half, both elegant and powerful, and her shifting stance had a sense of guardianship -- in fact there was a spear held tight in her very human hand. But oh, her face. Thalia’s pencil lingered in particular over the emotion, and it filled several pages The pucker of snarling lips. The flash of fierce eyes, searching. Tendrils floated like seaweed around her angled cheekbones, framing a moment of gut-wrenching distress.

It reminded her of the ijiraq queen’s anguish; such loss, or the fear of it.

A landscape unfurled next. Land curving around water in a distinct semi-circle, the waves cupped within perfectly clear as though made of glass. Thalia stared a long time at that, pulse rushing funny in her veins, then flipped back to the creature’s face. Nox warned her against naivety when she’d laughed about the faerie doors in her nana’s stories and her childhood fancy to travel through one. And he’d assured her of the ijiraq’s nature despite that Thalia had only seen pain in the twist of her features. Thalia believed him: Nox’s own fear of the creature and its feeding had been a palpable thing. Yet it didn’t dislodge the knot of empathy in her chest. He carried the weight of the world on his shoulders; had told her he was in the business of killing only the threats to humanity. But how did you tell the difference?

With a brief frown she tore the drawing from the book, despite the intention she’d had to keep everything in a neater order from now on, then folded it carefully and stuffed the square into her jean’s pocket. There was a restless itch in her now, but the drip of images had not yet done. 

More followed, though of a different mood. Bubbles zipping from a grinning mouth, seen deep underwater. Shoulders wrapped with tribal markings she recognised from previous drawings. The eyes, too, smudged with warpaint like he was touched ancient. Then hands on skin, before Thalia felt a flutter of amused understanding. It wasn’t the first time her work strayed into more sensual territory, though it by no means happened often. She’d shared glimpses with Aylin before, of others, much to her sister’s furious blushes (admittedly it entertained Thalia at the time). Her breathing deepened a little, like the feeling evoked still lingered in her body. Or maybe it was just the new understanding that this was as real as everything else, not some plucked fancy from the recesses of imagination. It flushed her very warm, though not with embarrassment. Curious to think that somewhere out there, this man woke up and would remember, and she did not.

It was late morning by the time she showered and stepped out from the hotel lobby. Her hand cramped sore beneath the fresh bandages, but she didn’t know how to ignore the flood of morning drawing beyond taking it as methodical and slow as she had this morning -- really looking at each image before she moved on to the next, trying to coax some futile understanding from the lines and shape. Some spilled forth in detail, like the water woman’s features, while others remained faster impressions. They weren’t prescient, they didn’t have that feel, but they lingered in a way that kept dragging her attention down to the symbol on her palm. After a while she stopped trying to untangle the emotion. It was not like she could ask Noctua for a translation this time. 

Speaking of, she didn’t know how long Patricius I would stay now that he had found her, and she was not willing to be the one to abandon whatever wriggling tributaries of fate had brought them together. Whimsy stole her attention in myriad directions, including the new lake, but she headed first back to the church.

Thalia took a meandering route through Tartu. She’d been in the city a number of days now, but the inquisitive pull of her nature did not dissipate with familiarity. Small things captured her attention, unmoved by the push and pull of busy weekend traffic thickened by summer tourists. She moved against the tide, caught in her own oblivious current. Noctua pricked the last bubble of fear she’d been protecting herself with, and in this newly awoken world she drifted. She thought about the flood he’d told her he’d seen before the tsunami broke headlines, then of the fire and ashes rolling like smoke through her work, and the way it shuddered her with horror. The images on the cottage walls; great animals, and the snare of vines feeding into a caged heart. It should have been terrifying. It had been terrifying. Yet it no longer scared her in the same way.

Her stride paused abruptly on the cobbled stones of the city’s centre, bumped a little from behind for the suddenness of her stop in the street, though she barely noticed. Fingers reached out to the small green shoot that stole her attention, little more than a weed squeezed through the gaps in brick in the building’s outer wall. She touched one of the fragile leaves, felt herself splinter into a thousand pieces for an epiphany she could not quite grasp beyond a sense of feeling. That of tentative hope. Something too thin to hold on to yet, though.

As she finally arrived at the church, a trio of children jostled passed in a flurry of laughs and taunts, and she twisted to briefly follow their exuberant path as she headed into the grounds. Another child had been left behind in the playset, sat in the sandbox by which Noctua had led her yesterday. Thalia glanced around as she wandered in, as though expecting to find the Pope still wearing deep tracks into the circular path around the church’s garden. Rather than ascend the steps inside, as had been her intention, she diverted to plonk herself down on the swing. Her heels dug into the dirt as she pushed herself lazily back and forth, hands curled light around the chains. “Hi.”

The boy scrubbed a vicious hand across his cheek as his head snapped up. He was probably no more than seven or eight, with wispy blonde hair peeking beneath a cap shading the sun from his eyes. He glared at her as she grinned. Or maybe it was only squinting, for he now slid a pair of thick glasses back up his nose. His pale skin blotched pink beneath the tears; he might have been cast from pale marble. “My name’s Thalia.”

He sniffed and mumbled something lost beneath the creaking of the swing set.

Thalia had been the odd child once, grown into what most would consider an odd woman, and she recognised the kinship -- though she didn’t have much in the way of comfort or advice for she supposed she had never really tried to swim in the same currents as everyone else. She wasn’t sure what he would do with pity anyway; it would only serve as a bandage for a moment, and it would not heal the wound. “Were you at mass yesterday? I couldn’t understand the Latin, but it sounded grand. I don’t really know anyone here, so I hope you don’t mind my company. I’ve been studying at the university. Folklore, mostly. Stories are important, don’t you think?”

“I’m Rasmus,” he said, a little tremulously it had to be said. His eyes didn’t trust behind the thick screen of his glasses, and he seemed quite intent on hiding the evidence of his crying, even if the wrack of it still punctuated his chest beneath the creak of Thalia’s lazy back and forth on the swing.

“Rasmus.” She nodded. “You know, Rasmus, I read once that the earth was born from an egg, and it grew up around the great pillar of a tree. The skies above us are nailed to the North Star, and the Milky Way is but the reach of a branch across infinity. Can you imagine that? A very important tree.”

He blinked, looking at her a little confused (understandable). The hitch of his breath began to calm though, if he still looked rather sad. And very alone. He dug his fists a little into the sand, clearly uncertain of what to make of her company -- she was a stranger after all. Idly Thalia wondered where his parents were, though likely if he was of the neighbourhood kids Father Ando would be able to see him safely home if he needed it. She dug her heels in, coming to a stop. A smile played mischief on her lips as an idea blossomed. “Do you think you can keep a secret safe for me?”

Without waiting for an answer she grinned impishly, finger pressed to her lips as she slipped down from the swing. She sat cross-legged in the dirt opposite, coils of hair curled into the crook of her elbows. He blinked curiously back at her from the sandbox.

“A secret?”

“Absolutely. You can’t tell anyone, though, okay? Because it might get me in trouble. But you’ll have to give me a minute. I’m not very good at this yet.” Which was possibly an understatement given the very basic grasp Emily had taught her back in Moscow. She cast a quick glance over at the church building, recalling Nox’s warnings, but it was unlikely anyone was paying attention. And children couldn’t be Atharim, right? “Sometimes people don’t understand different, and we can be cruel to the things we don’t understand. Which is why I have to keep it secret. It’s scary, and it can scare others too.” She leaned to whisper the words, cupping her hands and abruptly realising the dual task of talking and reaching for the light was not quite so easy as she expected. “Seeing the good in the scary? That’s a choice though. It can be lonely, until you find the right people -- the ones who see the world like you do. Sometimes they are not who you expect at all.” She grinned, given the strange rush of the past few days, and the entire reason she was sitting on church grounds at all. Then she quietened for a moment, watching her own waiting hands, letting herself fall like a river rolling in its banks. A breath left when it blossomed, and the threads began to criss-cross like an artist’s pen. Bubbles erupted from her palm, alight with whimsical colour as they took up on the wind. “But Rasmus,” she added, smiling with delight as her gaze followed their path before falling back down to the boy, “even then, we have to be prepared to help ourselves first. That part’s important.”
"Rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
[Image: thal-banner-scaled.jpg]
 | Sothis Lethe Alethea | Miraseia |
Philip was unmoved from the bedside for a great deal of time. There were no clocks in the room: he banished them before occupying the space. Father Ando ignored them anyway, and Patricus woke to his own internal rhythm. He frequently cited a loathing of time zones as a reason to avoid travel. It was a long, convoluted conversation to be had with his lord, and time was irrelevant. If his knees ached, he spoke more fiercely. If his neck strained with the constant crane upward, his eyes squeezed shut. Such were the habits of the priest that talked with God on a regular basis. The difference these past few days was apparent only to the outward observer. He waited on something. Whether it was a conclusion to the conversation continually deferred or if it was a call to an action with which he disagreed, all that was known was that the Pope remained in solitude, emerging from the room only to pace outside, view the children, and return to his previous state.

What none but himself knew, and himself only barely acknowledged, was the turmoil twisting within.

Finally, with a great and burdened sigh, his arms sank to his sides and his head bowed. The strike of a cross across his chest signaled the closure of negotiations, and he rose to his feet, expression taut.

Such was when he acknowledged the priest waiting on him.
“Holy Father, I did not want to disturb you,” he said quietly.

Philip grimaced, “And yet you do anyway,” he retorted.

The priest explained that the young woman of favored consequence was in the yard.

Philip crossed swiftly to the window, pulling back the curtains. The stream of sudden sunlight pinched his eyes, but below was indeed Thalia, swinging idly alongside a child.

When he came outside, it was while donning the Capello, the wide-brimmed hat of the same scarlet hue as a cape strewn across his shoulders. It wasn’t without consequence that the additional layers covered his physical body. If it was to meet any other soul, he would have obscured his face with a veil on a day like today. When he beheld the wide eyes of a child suddenly realizing who approached, his chin tilted with stern presentation. The innocence of a child always unmasked what man meant to hide.

Between them, bubbles floated on windless air, an unnatural plume.
[Image: hiclipart.com_-e1597513863757.png]
Man is like God: he never changes. 
After a few glorious moments of shared and silent awe, Rasmus’s gaze drew up and away from the spectacle, his eyes wide behind the thick panes of his glasses. Thalia lifted hers to follow the line of his sight and thus discovered the new spectacle in shades of brilliant scarlet as he approached. The shield of Noctua’s stern expression did not dampen the warm welcome of hers, which was genuinely gladdened to see him. Though after a moment she noted something tense beneath it that only yesterday she might have presumed for anger. It was not what she perceived today.

As her mastery of the power faltered and faded, the bubbles were robbed of their glowing colours and fell like sudden rain into her open hands. The water soaked into the bandage, which she was probably not supposed to get wet. Undeterred, she wiped both hands over the caps of her knees. She seemed in no great hurry to unfurl from the ground, though the boy opposite looked somewhere between flight, fear, and awe.

“This is Rasmus,” she said, mostly to soothe the boy. “He’s been keeping me company.”
"Rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
[Image: thal-banner-scaled.jpg]
 | Sothis Lethe Alethea | Miraseia |
The direction of his gaze did not leave Thalia, though it was to the child he spoke. “Rasmus, recite the Nicene Creed.”

The boy was understandably speechless, though the boy-child Philip could perform the creed even younger.

His brows rose, a stern taskmaster, though not harsh. “Father Ando will teach it to you. Go, go.” He smirked quietly to himself as the boy gathered his belongings and dashed to the door. Revane would be irritated to be assigned such a task more fitting someone junior. It would be a good use of his time today.

With the child’s absence, privacy fell like a dove. Philip exhaled a long moment, staring into the tangled branches of beyond larch trees, but the silence was enormously loud. Truth cannot contradict truth, the Church said. The Pope spoke as the voice of the Holy Spirit, and thus what parted his lips was truth. Therefore, he could not contradict himself. Such knowns penetrated every word he said with a heavy burden, though he did not usually worry about breeching his own instinct. 

When he spoke again, it was breathless and careful. “You must not do that,” was all he said.

She was not Catholic, and so there was nothing with which he could impose to separate her from a church she did not belong. Yet, for all the wrong it was to be what she was, it was within himself that the schism wrenched deep.

“I depart Tartu tomorrow. Heed my advice, Thalia. On this as before.”

For a moment, the schism was bridged as his gaze fell to her bag, knowing what it contained. The warmth with which he held this girl tickled the back of his mind, and a sort of sad smile briefly ghosted his expression. He presumed to never see her again, although he was certain to encounter another version at some point.

”This will be our farewell. Unless you have something new to share first.” His brows lifted as though the sentence was posed as a question toward which he was willing to seek answers.
[Image: hiclipart.com_-e1597513863757.png]
Man is like God: he never changes. 
[[ This happens before From Ashes ]]

It was early morning when Nox pulled out of Raffe's embrace. He looked worriedly down at his ... his what? he didn't know but it felt all that more conflicting. Raffe was more than a friend, and more than just another lover. But that want to label what it was terrified Nox. So he didn't. His last girlfriend he broke her heart. He didn't want to hurt Raffe. He still waited for Raffe to figure out himself. They both avoided the inevitable.

Nox checked his messages and found an excited message from Thalia. He smiled as he grabbed a towel and headed off to a larger area so he could do some yoga. There was a lot on his mind, and yoga helped calm him. Juls had been a big help in finding the right routine that worked with his currently missing arm. But that would change later that day. Though the bandage still bled Nox wasn't sure about it.

I don't know... The pope." Nox chuckled as he hit send. Was it all that far fetched though? He'd met the Ascendancy out in a Siberian snow covered mountain.
He dismissed the boy, though not unkindly, and quiet descended in its wake. Thalia waited patiently, though it seemed an eternity before he finally looked at her. She did not attempt to unravel the silence, though she felt the heavy weight of it keenly. The words that finally bridged the distance left her blinking softly though, perhaps because she had already forgotten the power-wrought bubbles shared to soothe a child’s loneliness. She had no true memories of Noctua, and yet now that she accepted the truth of their acquaintance in a world denied her, the familiarity she felt was welcomed with an open earnestness. She trusted him. Simply because it felt right to trust him.

The warning stung. Disapproval had not occurred to her. Not from him anyway, and that in spite of Nox’s revelation about the Vatican.

In fact the rejection hurt, for such she perceived it as initially, and it flashed briefly into her unguarded expression. The abruptness of his leavetaking she accepted quietly, finally picking herself off the floor and pulling her bag back up on her shoulder. After a moment longer she nodded, the words finding more peaceful purchase in her soul once she separated the Noctua she saw with her eyes from the one she simply understood. She’d said to Rasmus herself that such gifts were to be kept hidden, and she knew why. Clearly he did too.

In the wake of the second warning, Thalia pointedly did not look down at her bandaged hand -- the whole reason he had sought her out. Both sets were understood, though, with the stern care with which she knew they were meant. She would be careful. But neither could she stop.

A small smile finally surfaced, though it was one tempered by a sense of loss she did not care to explain or prod at. She suspected any dreaming of his own had offered more than hers had, which perhaps shaded her expression with a tad more mischief. Some small part of her was amused to wonder what he might make of a flick through this morning’s sketches, though she knew he would likely disapprove. Of all of it, actually, if he would even believe the truth of the tentacled woman. Though surely it was not so far-fetched as a tree-man.

Her expression now held genuine warmth; an inkling of kinship she suddenly realised mattered a great deal to her, and which felt like a wrench to lose after so short a time. 

After a moment she pulled the folded sheet from her pocket, and smoothed it out. "No, only old things," she said, offering the sketch of the lake's edge for him to see. Water clear as glass kissed the rocky shore, a waterscape much like any he had seen the last time he had perused her work. “I believe in fate, or whatever you want to call it,” she added. “But not that we’re bystanders to it.” She thought of that small weed poking out of the bricks, and the tenuousness it filled her with. The burden of knowledge was heavy enough without the responsibility of action -- but what if that’s why they were given the knowledge? Her head tilted with the consideration. “I think you will know where to find me, should you need to." Or, the other her anyway. And he did need it, she thought. The knowing was lonely, and he saw the threads of the future far clearer than she did.

A pause, then. “Will you tell me what’s wrong?”
"Rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
[Image: thal-banner-scaled.jpg]
 | Sothis Lethe Alethea | Miraseia |
He did not like the flippancy with which fate was exchanged for their Maker, or whatever. Not because he was so prickled by the heresy, but because he did not seek reminders of their distant stations. The collar about his neck was white, and he was not one to dangle temptations to lost sheep, rarely so when the collar was a darker hue, but the snugness of the fit was purposefully designed, as was the weight of the burden he bore on his shoulders. The comment irritated him, but not because it came from Thalia, but because it echoed a reminder he preferred to ignore.

“I call it the complex and unfathomable architecture that is faith,” he bit back, but rather than hurry away, he remained rooted in place. If he was truly offended, he would have departed. He was simply an irritable, moody man in an irritable mood. Those around him would guffaw and leave in a huff to be treated so poorly, or they would stay. Such was exactly the lack of attachment to mankind that protected him from the vulnerability of from mortal wounds as thoroughly as the cape and Capello cloaked him with plate and mail.

A grumble rattled his chest for her question. It prickled memories of the shared dream, another act he preferred to repress. He journaled the experience. Tracked the girl that concerned him to action. His behavior shifted dramatically after a lifetime of similar experiences. He did not appreciate the reminder. “You know what is so beautiful about questions? It is that we don’t have the answers.”  In the dream, he grasped the same hand that was within arm's reach and placed the fullness of his faith into the demand for need, but Noctua was not Philip was not Patricus I. He would never touch another so informally. It was a miracle he even dreamed the act.

He was studying the glassy surface of the lake-scape when in that moment, some sunlight filtered the trees. The light shone a beam upon the pectoral cross nestled at his chest, flicking it into his eyes. With a turn, he tilted his chin to the light a moment, drenching himself in the heavenly beam, lids lowered until a whiteness filled all his vision. He stood in such a posture for some moments until suddenly tilting back into to the shade of the cap. The heat of an infernal summer would soon break.
[Image: hiclipart.com_-e1597513863757.png]
Man is like God: he never changes. 
Thalia felt no great guilt for her irreverence despite the sharp bite of his correction. She was careful not to let that amusement touch too much of her expression though, lest it rile his mood only further. “I’m glad we agree,” she said instead, with perfect amiability. His irritability ran like water from duck feathers. She wondered whether he was departing to return to Rome, or whether something new required his attention. Her understanding of their shared dream was patchy at best, more a thing of feeling than understanding.

“Sometimes we walk in circles for so long it is supremely uncomfortable to discover ourselves suddenly shoved onto a new path. Especially when we are walking alone.” She sounded thoughtful, not as though she was giving advice. A pensive gaze turned to peer at the drawing he studied; the roadmap for some new fancy. Currently upside down, not that it made any difference, for she had no idea where it was. She’d spent years in the same rut, pointedly ignoring all the small indications that her life was not quite ordinary. This new world left her quite anchorless.

“No, not everything needs an answer.” She laughed, then, tickled by something she could not quite put a finger to. He knew full well she had been expressing concern, but she did not press further. Thalia knew well the weight of an ill feeling with no discernible cause. She watched him a moment as the sun glared his eyes, and wondered if it might be so human a thing as that the gulf of their station made a friendship nigh on impossible. Not supposing that it was what he wanted. But needed, maybe. He was surrounded by people, but he was very alone. And that without the added anomaly of insight.

“I will be careful,” she said eventually.
"Rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
[Image: thal-banner-scaled.jpg]
 | Sothis Lethe Alethea | Miraseia |
It was a strange sort of déjà vu that prickled the back of his neck. Was he being schooled by a girl half his age? Was he offended? Nimeda treated him much the same, he recalled without offense. None spoke to him in such a way. None would dare. Although he was absolutely certain their thoughts channeled coarser words. One long stare into his deep blue eyes and they cowed – every time – and they kept their mouths appropriately shut. The face of Christ did not allow for pride.

It was with a turn of the head that he decided he was indeed not offended. Although he could not forgive the carelessness of the previous irreverence.

“Are you dispensing wisdom? I thought I was Noctua,” he said coolly but for the hint of a smile. He began to walk, but it was a slow thing. The tips of his red shoes barely peeked from beneath the cassock, so small were the steps. His hands remained folded at his waist. Grass crunched as they walked.

They would circle the yard for another hour. Himself, the Pope simply listening to her speak about whatever topic flit across her mind. At other times, Philip seemed to ignore her, standing still with his eyes closed and face tilted in the shade of his cap. He was fully aware of the eyes watching from lead windows, but his bite did not allow any to nose their way nearby. Privacy remained, although there was nothing to hide.

Eventually, he stopped near where the garden met the street. He kept his back to the street, studying the aged walls of the church more than Thalia, and while he did not speak, the quietude of the moment was preserved. He chose to ignore those gathered beyond the fence, tip-toed and stretching as though privy to exhibition denied.

He considered all the things the Holy Father would say to one who was indifferent toward him while any member of the distant crowd yearned to merely brush the hem of his cape. Thalia was nearer to God than they dreamed. He hated such awkward moments. Partings were always sullen. Did he promise warm thoughts? Did he repeat what had already transpired in some sort of insincere summary? Bless her with luck over a career out of commissions and dreamscapes? Would she discard the sketches of himself as carelessly as the landscapes crumpled in her pocket? Maybe none of this meant as much to her as it did to him, and he was a fool for thinking himself more than a symbol of the cloth. He did not abide lessons in humility well.

A clearing of his throat rumbled the garden as he turned ever so slightly aside and stretched out his hand, ring apparent. It was the only appropriate thing to do. After a moment of standing in such a pose, his brows rose expectantly. She wasn’t Catholic. Did she know what to do? Did he tell her?
[Image: hiclipart.com_-e1597513863757.png]
Man is like God: he never changes. 
It took her a moment of wondering what he meant before belated comprehension drew a smile, and by that time he had already begun to walk away. She made no great pretension to the possession of wisdom, though she might have teased him about where he came about the name in the first place. As it was she only fell into an easy step beside him, buoyed by that simple act of acceptance welcoming her company for a time longer. 

She spoke about everything and nothing as they walked, unconcerned by his quietness -- or at least unconcerned that she was the cause, even when he appeared not to be listening. She told him more of the city’s river market and the people she had met there; the folklore she had learned from locals, personal stories as much as the things to be found in books; the sorts of insights he would never be privy to on the pedestal of his station. Though perhaps he did not care to know such things. In any case, her mind flooded out in strange ways, pulling up the oddest treasures from ordinary life. There was an earnest simplicity to the way she approached life, though not a shallow one.

It was clear Thalia did not much care for labels. Fate or kismet or faith; such mysteries did not need an explanation, at least not for her. She felt things deeply, and found wonder as often in the small places as the important ones. Neither did she care much for formality, though she suspected he would not appreciate anything less from her. She sensed a frigid awkwardness when they finally stopped, as though the oddity of their match made a discomfort of ritual that he felt keenly. It warmed her in a strange way, the peek at that fragile uncertainty.

“We have an audience,” she observed quietly. Though her flippancy would have found no hesitation had they been alone, she had no wish to embarrass him either. His brows rose a question for the clueless way she looked at him. “Am I supposed to kiss that like you’re a king?” she whispered, the puzzlement genuinely meant. With the vibrancy of his scarlet cassock it was not like she could forget the shell of who he was, yet it was clearly not what she saw. She reached out to squeeze the hand he offered in warm friendship, despite suspecting it may be considered scandalous. His teeth were sharp, but she discovered she was not much afraid of them. Should appearances require the deference, she would acquiesce, but clearly she did not understand the necessity.
"Rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
[Image: thal-banner-scaled.jpg]
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