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A Solivagant Soul (Tartu, Estonia)
[[continued from Interlude II]]

[Image: avatar_83.jpg?dateline=1582301482] [Image: thm-200x300-1.jpg]
(written with Nox)

The itch to leave Tartu had grown strong, despite not knowing to where the wanderlust pulled. Much in the same spirit as she had found herself urged to Estonia in the first place, no great anxiety swelled in that strange unknown; she felt no concern for where she was going or how she would actually get there, just a satisfaction that she would, somehow. But for now, there were things she wanted to accomplish before she left. Patricius I would leave tomorrow, and though their parting had been a thing of awkward ceremony (at least, she suspected, for him), upon leaving the church an idea had sprouted like a weed in a well tended flowerbed.

She had no supplies with her, of course, but such things were not difficult to come by in the heart of a city. Thalia wandered her own goodbye amongst the streets. Sunlight streamed pleasant between the shops, and once she had made her purchases she naturally gravitated back towards the rush of the river. She tucked the paints and canvas besides her as she flopped down on a bench, and finally remembered to check her phone. Nox's message parted her lips in surprise, followed swiftly by a frustrated laugh. Of all the possible guesses in the world, he just had to pick that one, didn't he. She dialled without thinking, and spoke the moment the line connected.

“You know,” she said, grinning (not that he could see that). “It’s quite mannerless to guess right on a first try. You could have at least pretended to let me surprise you!”

Nox laughed, "You met the Pope. Seriously? I guess it's no different than me telling you I had met the Ascendancy. Did you get to talk to him?" Lots of people met the pope, not many get to talk to him.  Nox was pretty sure that Thalia had actually met the pope and talked to him.  Otherwise why start with that.

"Oh. You were joking. God dammit. Can we start again? Nox, you'll never guess who I met!" Her voice rolled into laughter, nose wrinkling at the fact he had not known at all. He sounded in good enough spirits, and she was glad to hear it given the acclimation he must be going through adjusting to his missing hand. Though she presumed The Boy was helping somewhat with that.

"I did! You remember I told you about the priests looking for me in Viljandi? He was the one who sent them. Strange, right? And he's not a bit like you'd expect. Turns out he was in my sketches and we met while I was dreaming. He came all the way from Rome." To save her soul, he alleged. She glanced down at the mark on her hand. A little wonderment held her tone, like she wasn't entirely sure she believed it herself, though it wasn't that. "He's a prophet, Nox. He saw the tsunami before it happened. But I think that's a secret. The prescience, not the tsunami, obviously." Then, "Wait, are you telling me you met the Ascendancy? Nikolai Brandon, that Ascendancy?"

Nox smiled brightly.  It might be a strange friendship but Thalia always made him smile.  His life had definitely changed since leaving the Atharim.  He had a boyfriend, sorta... still that word sounded different, not that he didn't like it. And a very good friend in Thalia - someone to share things with - in a different sort of way than Jay.  Nox nodded along as she spoke and was glad that the priests hadn't turned out to be Atharim. "I'm glad that it wasn't dangerous that they contacted you. You definitely get around in that dream world." She had seen his dreams and he was nothing, but Nox wondered if Thalia's other self was drawn to the darkness, and why she might be seeking the Pope's dreams.  He try to figure it out later, last thing he wanted was to let Thalia get hurt.

Her quick change of the topic brought Nox to a laugh again. "I've meet the Ascendancy several times.  Once in a monastery in Siberia.  Once underground in a hidden facility where he tasked me with killing my own friend - not that it's wasn't already on my agenda.  A third time at the fancy gala I went with Cruz to.  And the final time when he sorta hired me to work with the police for him as a consultant cause I know what monsters are."

“You make it sound like I’m some sort of dream hussy.” Thalia laughed, amused rather than offended by the notion. She hadn’t thought much about this morning’s images, beyond the pull of the lakescape and the creature’s expression -- which curled a knot of emotion in her chest, now, that she knew she would answer. Somehow. But the rest were a somewhat more literal interpretation, hence the way it tickled at her sense of humour. Though even that had been strange as far as apparent sex dreams went; the art enchanting and darkly beautiful. Black eyes and the sinuous crawl of strange symbols on his skin.

Thinking of such brands brought her back to contemplation of her hand, and she considered whether to tell Nox of the warning imparted. Branded like the pirates of old, was how the Pope had put it. But it might only make him worry, and she was miles away. Instead she said, "By the way, do you happen to know of any creatures that are part plant, part man, part tree?"

Then, “And you’re just telling me this now? I know you said you were doing Custody work, but you really managed to miss that bit out.” Her mind skipped over the part about being ordered to kill a friend, not because she did not wish to pry, but because she assumed it must have had good reason, and that the story was unlikely to be a pleasant one. Nox didn’t have an ordinary life. She didn’t expect it to be filled with ordinary things.

“And how is the stump doing? And The Boy?”

"I didn't say that." He grinned. But he was glad she hadn't taken it wrong. Even though her words implied it. He knew it was in good humor she laughed now.

Her description of the creature he didn't know. "I don't know. I'm not a walking encyclopedia like Aria or even my sister. I could look at my data, but if it's as old as it sounds, then I probably don't have an information. Your new friend, The Pope, could get you that information. He knows the Atharim." It was a joke but it was also the truth. Nox didn't expect her to ask the Pope to look for information on a tree man monster from ancient days.

She chided him about not telling her. Nox sighed. "I'd say it never came up. But how many people are going to believe you when you say the Asecendany wants to kill you. Because up until the third time, that was the only impression I got from the man. Remember he's a god, and I'm Atharim."

She called Raffe the boy, it was cute. "His name is Raffe, but before I say more the arm is fine. I'm going in for a new arm today, I'm on my way now. I don't know what they are going to do it's not like it's healed."

And Nox knew if he tried to hide more about Raffe Thalia would say something. Nox blurted out before she could ask, "Raffe save my life by using the power of the gods. And he has touched the power before - been sick, and he hasn't tried to learn again. It's his life. I'm there. I'm here. I just I'm afraid. He's not like anyone else I've tried to help. I'm not going to be able to help him. And, I'm afraid of what that means." Nox heard his fear. He wished he could have hidden it, but then again he didn't really want to. With Thalia he could be real (like with Raffe) unlike with Jay, there was a certain amount of bravado that went with that friendship. They could endure. But this his was feelings and not something he and Jay would ever have talked about - at least not sober.

“Oh, I’m sure he would have said if he knew what it was. And I would believe you,” she corrected, with a laugh.

It wasn’t like him not to take the opportunity to gush about his beau, and she noted it but at first swept along distracted by what he did say. “A new arm? Like a cyborg arm? Because that sounds really cool, and I definitely want pictures. With poses! More sensible than a chainsaw I guess. Though, you know, you shouldn’t rule that out.”

Then came the flood, and Thalia blinked. The words swirled at first in a cacophony from which she only picked out the sound of his fear, and something instinctively protective rose in her chest, like she might step across 500 miles just to give him a hug by force of will alone. The power wasn’t something she knew a great deal about, and certainly she had nothing approaching practical advice, but then she didn’t think that was what he really needed.

“Gosh, you really like him, huh.” He would hear the fond smile in her voice. Kindness blossomed forth, the soothe of calm waters. “Nox, you know the most powerful channeler in the entire world, who’s probably been channeling for longer than we’ve even been alive. Can’t you ask for his help? He must know other ways to learn if your methods won’t work. Maybe Raffe’s just scared. I was TERRIFIED. And if you guys are… well, maybe it’s better if someone else does the teaching anyway. Less pressure on both of you, you know?”

He was used to being the hero; he was used to being in the position of being able to save people. But she wondered if there was more to it. Nox was resourceful; she didn’t think he couldn’t have easily thought of her suggestion on his own. Even if his relationship with Ascendancy had had tumultuous beginnings (understatement, apparently; he’d wanted him dead?), Nox worked for the Custody now. Or did consultancy at least. It was worth the ask, and if the answer was no (and she didn’t truly believe it would be) then they would just go back to the drawing board. Her resolve was fearless.

“Is that the only thing you’re worried about though? I mean, that’s a pretty huge deal, do not get me wrong, but you guys are okay otherwise, yes? It sounds like maybe it's more serious than it was?”

Thalia had spent most of her life keeping her relationships both casual and at a careful distance, and while that was for completely different reasons, she did understand the risk of liking someone too much when you were used to having to perpetually let go, or be let go. Nox’s life was riddled with loss. He'd been hounded by that impermanence, until he’d found Kallisti, and she suspected he had found something there he hadn’t been looking for. Life was like that sometimes.

Nox laughed at her enthusiasm.  "Maybe not metal looking, though I wouldn't mind that for hunting.  The Ascendancy is footing the bill so I am getting whatever he is offering."  Now he sounded like a coddle rich boy.

But she was right about Raffe being terrified.  It's not like Nox didn't tell him enough to scare the shit out of him.  "I'm sure he is terrified.  I've not made it seem glamourous."  But telling the Ascendancy about Raffe was not something he wanted to do. "There is another Atharim, who learned differently. I don't trust him, but he's out - an Atharim and a channeled.  He even has a TV ad about it." Nox laughed, who woulda thunk Li Tan was a fucking Atharim.  Much less a godling.  But there it was.  "He has a dojo of mystical arts, I think I'm checking it out and going to bring Raffe with me."

But the bigger fear Thalia sorta nailed on the head. "It was more serious before we had sex, not because of it, if that's what you mean. I have sorta in a round about way told him how I felt. I fell hard and fast for this boy. And losing him when I can help him, but only if he wants my help. It's killing me.  And there there is this whole fucking dark bit I can't even get into right now. Hopefully now with the new arm I'll be able to fix that."

Nox laughed. "Why is it everytime you call me I end up comiserating you all my woes? Not that I mind. It's just you called with enthusiasm and I'm such a downer."

“Then it will be faaancy,” she laughed a tease, knowing that would probably irk him, and knowing too that he deserved to have the best even if he felt guilty for it.

“Oh, I’ve seen those ads! That’s the Ninja Turtle guy. I had such a crush when I was a teenager. But it sounds like a perfect plan -- you’ll let me know how it goes?” So she had been right, and he’d even already considered practical alternatives. It was the deep end of panic Nox was caught in, floundering with the veracity of his emotions, and feeling helpless for it. She couldn't fix that for him, but she could at least listen. “And no, that isn’t what I meant. You’ve sounded completely besotted for a while, my friend. But sometimes we’re the last ones to realise it in ourselves.” She chuckled, mostly to herself, since she’d been erring on the subtle in case he really hadn’t been aware how it sounded. It made her feel warm inside to hear him speaking that way, knowing at least something of the rough time he’d been through. Everyone had a right to that kind of happiness, and usually those who felt like they deserved it least earned it twice over.

“Things don’t always need labels, so long as you’re the same page anyway, you know? Maybe you need to trust him. That he wants to save himself too, I mean. For you as well as for himself. Because you can show him the path, but he’s got to do the rest.” She grinned. “And don’t sigh at me, because I know you know that, and knowing doesn’t make it any easier.”

“Far be it from me to give advice on matters of the heart though. My last date stood me up, and that was months ago.” Laughter spilled, unselfconscious of the aspersion. Thalia’s life was at once dismally solitary, and yet filled with transient connection. She knew lots of people, and until as recently as Nox’s friendship had never been more than a flitting butterfly amongst her acquaintances. Her soul was of the wild places, and a flame lit her heels for self-discovery now. She didn’t need the tangle of those kinds of deep roots. Nox was a safe place to land from time to time, though. Whether he realised it or not, he was a touchstone for her.

“Yes, I am so very sad at this pity party, which I’m fairly sure means you owe me a dance when I get back to Moscow.” Amusement flowed as she joked, since as far as she remembered it, the last time she’d called she had been the one mired in panic and grasping for a port in a storm. She trusted him for that as much as she hoped he trusted her in turn. And she knew he didn’t need an excuse for a night out. She wanted to meet The Boy too.

Nox laughed. "Hopefully not too fancy or I'll feel a bit bad if I mess it up hunting."

"Besotted? I've sounded besotted." Nox blushed a little. "I guess that's just a testament to how much I trust you if I let you know before I knew." Nox laughed. "I'm not exactly great at this either so you can help me stumble."

He was nearing the Kremlin, his walk was almost over. "And as usual, I do have to let you go. But when you get back, We will definitely have to go dancing. I might be able to talk Raffe into taking a night off." Nox grinned but he knew she couldn't really see it. "Before I go though did you need anything else? Or did you just call to name drop." He chuckled. But he didn't want to leave if she needed help or to vent or anything.

"Well, only a little," she assured, if the way she tailed off into a hum of stifled laughter suggested a tease. The trust made her glow though, and it lit a brilliant smile to her face that surprised even her with its sincerity. "You know you can call me any time. I like hearing about your life, woes and all." It was a simple and earnest statement; uncomplicated. His life was strange. Hers was too, in its own way. But nothing he ever told her was likely to phase her. She accepted who he was.

Thalia would have chatted longer; aimlessly, probably, meandering to whatever topics flitted to mind. It was warm where she was sitting, a faint breeze washing in from the river, and it might have lulled an entire afternoon from her in pleasant distraction. Although, upon realising that, she popped to her feet at the news he needed to go, propping the wallet between shoulder and ear as she began to gather her things. She laughed. "Oh, it was totally just to name drop. I'll have to find something better to impress you with next time. Not sure how I'm going to top the bloody Pope though. Good luck with the arm. Don't forget the pictures!"


Back in the hotel room, Thalia stared up at her collage wall, then slowly began plucking the images down and bundling them into some semblance of order. She lingered for a moment over a pair of golden eyes and the dark warpaint that surrounded them before placing it with the rest. The new piles were sandwiched between the covers of the new sketchbook, then stuffed in her bag, ready for travel. She'd make some attempt at identifying the cove of water -- it looked like it might be distinct enough, with its jutting rock at one end -- but if that didn't work, she'd just head to the station and let her instincts guide her, so she wanted to be ready to leave on a whim.

She blinked when her wallet suddenly buzzed, as though for a moment she imagined it might be someone else's. Then her heart dipped a little, wondering if it might be Aylin wanting to know when she would be heading back to Moscow. She'd have to tell her sister the commission had not been a commission at all, and she had no idea how she was going to explain the Pope's interest in her in a way that wouldn't freak Aylin out. She'd probably just tell the truth, of course, but she didn't expect it would be swallowed smoothly.

But it wasn't Aylin.

It was Sage.

She'd mostly forgotten last night's pang of loneliness and the message she'd sent to Nox's friend. The emergency friend, should she need help and not be able to get in contact with Nox, and someone she'd never even spoken to in person, just seen briefly when she'd plucked Nox from amidst his company at the cabaret.

[Image: avatar_93.jpg?dateline=1582300505] [Image: thm-200x300-1.jpg]
(written with Sage)

> Nox said you might text me. Hi, back.

Aw, he warned you? I thought I might get a chance at creeping the creeper. Which you should in no way take as an insult. Who knew there were good and bad kinds of creepers? ;) Nox said you might help if I was in trouble and couldn't get hold of him. But this is not that. This is a courtesy introduction!

She hit send as she flopped back on the bed. Then, after a moment’s thought, added.

I don't suppose you need me to tell you my name. But it's Thalia.

The reply returned almost immediately.

> Did he give you my name? Or my handle? (And it's nice to meet a friend of Nox's who willingly contacts me knowing Nox warned you about my habits. BTW I like some of your paintings.)

He did, Sage the non-famous one. Uh, what's a handle? Is that like a codename? You'll find my life dreary I'm sure, I've seen the company you keep remember! Though speaking of paintings, there is something you might be able to help me with? I'm sure I could find it on my own if you're busy, but maybe you would be able to find the answer faster.

The idea came suddenly. And maybe it was rude, since it wasn’t exactly what Nox had given out the number for. But the worst he could say was no, right? From what she understood, Sage dealt in information, and while she was (tenuously) confidant she would be able to identify the drawing eventually, it would be a hell of a short cut. She shifted cross-legged, half expecting a delay while he considered the audacity of a stranger begging a favour, but the answer was immediate.

>Ho Boy. What's a handle? Sage will work. I'll help any friend of Nox's, send me a picture.

Thalia grinned, delighted with the permission (and casually dismissing his obvious amusement at her ignorance. Or maybe it was exasperation). She shifted to reach a hand into her pocket, and pulled out the folded paper, smoothing it out on the bedsheets. For a moment she only stared at it herself, lured by waters so clear she imagined she might be able to see all the way to its very bottom. Then she snapped a picture and hit send, alongside the message:

Can you find out where this is?

> Give me a little while, it'll take my software a little while to find something based on a drawing.

He made it sound easy. And he sounded confidant. Thalia scooted off the bed, and in the meantime began sorting through the supplies she had purchased in the city. The canvas was only a small one; she wasn't going to have time to do something extravagant. But she was sure Father Ando would send it on care of, if Patricius I had already departed by the time she was done. She pulled her hair up on top of her head, and began organising a makeshift workspace. The lack of an easel didn't make it that practical, but with the canvas wedged on the desk she could make do. A few loose sketches on paper tested composition, and after a moment she shifted back through her bag to pluck free a few relevant images. Her wallet screen hovered a number of other references as she lost herself in the work, barely noticing the persistent throb of her hand.

When the wallet eventually beeped, some hour later, Thalia jumped. She blinked a little before she remembered Sage, and then her heart began to pound. She shoved the paintbrush between her teeth, scrubbing her paint-flecked hands over her thighs before she grabbed for the phone.

> After some tweaking to the software the drawing is of the Shaman Rock on Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal. How do you draw something you don't know what it is?

Her chest fluttered as she read the message, though the location meant little to her. She flicked at the dancing holoscreens already projecting from her wallet to search it up, scanning the information and swiping through photos. The smile grew suddenly, swelled by that very bizarre sense of deja vu making her feel quite odd but also zipping her through with a numinous thrill.

Siberia? Huh. And thank you! That might have taken me forever to find! And ha, well, that's a question. How long do you have??

> As long as you need. You are only a thought away.

A blink. Only a thought away? She smirked, amused at what she presumed to be a harmless and quite clumsy flirtation. Sage had been on Aiden Finnegan's arm though, and it wasn't like Nox hadn't warned her. She laughed.

Psst, I think your creep is showing a little there Sage. Only a thought away?? XD

> :) If you only knew - Duckling (I think that's Nox's word) Let me know if you need anything else. Literally a thought away.

So cryptic! I will, you're stuck with me now ;)

> Not really, but maybe I'll get to tell you all about it in person - it's not a text conversation. Stay safe so far from home. I'll be watching. If you need immediate assistance I installed an app on your wallet that when you click the green S on your screen it'll signal your GPS and I will be alerted and can send appropriate response your way.

She paused to check for the app, brows aloft to discover it exactly where he promised it would be. She had no idea how. For a moment her wide gaze bounced around the walls like she took the watching as literal. She wondered if she ought wave.

Okay, deal! And maybe at the same time I can tell you how I draw places when I don't know where they are. Safe is my middle name! I won't ask how that's even possible. I'll call it my bat-signal app. Sage-signal, lol.

> Deal! No wonder Nox likes you.

I am definitely taking that in the spirit of a compliment. And I promise not to abuse my new power, batsage. Sageman? I'll think on that one. Right now I have a painting to finish!

[[continued at Wanderlust]]
"Rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
[Image: thal-banner-scaled.jpg]
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