This forum uses cookies
This forum makes use of cookies to store your login information if you are registered, and your last visit if you are not. Cookies are small text documents stored on your computer; the cookies set by this forum can only be used on this website and pose no security risk. Cookies on this forum also track the specific topics you have read and when you last read them. Please confirm whether you accept or reject these cookies being set.

A cookie will be stored in your browser regardless of choice to prevent you being asked this question again. You will be able to change your cookie settings at any time using the link in the footer.

A Quiet Crossroads (Lake Baikal, Siberia)
The unanticipated convergence of fate’s roads left Sören pensive.

The hostel he chose for his second night in the area was only a short walk from the lake, tucked up away from the road in a spit of grass and trees. A set of rustic log buildings comprised a mixture of private rooms and dorms around communal kitchen areas, and it was serviceable enough -- in fact recommended from several local’s lips when he asked, though it was not the only reason he’d picked it. Sören ascended to the lofty heights of the rich and elite when it suited him, but he did not ever shun humble living. Often he actually preferred both the anonymity and vagrancy of more simple means, especially when on the road. He travelled light, nothing of value sequestered in his single bag of luggage, though wards would protect from prying hands on matter of habit and principle, should anyone think to take a rummage.

It was not where the thieving artist was staying anyway. The island Thalia had meandered to upon first arrival was too small for the distance he preferred to keep between them for now. The whimsy of her travel made no sense to him, and the forced blindness of his self-imposed quest to follow irked his preference for control. So too did the stranger’s advice back in Moscow linger -- an unusual affliction, though he would not call it conscience. He had not confronted Nimeda in the dream; a pointless endeavour. Neither had he yet approached her waking counterpart. She would fear a spectre risen from her sketchbooks, and he did not intend to scare her unless he divined providence in it. For now he only brooded on the decision left to be made.

That, and the additional complication. Or intrigue, perhaps, since he did not believe in coincidence.

For it seemed Elias Donavan’s water monster was also here.

The banya was a small but welcome addition to the hostel’s limited services. The benches were currently empty, with only the sizzle of steam for company. Heat loosened muscles tight from travel, a pleasant indulgence to balance the intensity of his deliberation. A towel wrapped Sören’s waist. He leaned his forearms on his knees where he sat, ignoring the faint tremor of pain in his temple. Ephraim’s interference was never far from consideration, but he’d grown used to the faint gnaw. His eyes were closed, breathing deep to shuck spirit from flesh. Perhaps there would be answers in the dream.
Kemala’s opinions of bathrooms evolved since departing Bali. Any modesty she may have had was obliterated by living beneath the volcano in the domain of the Nagaraja. Dripping streams became a shower and rocky puddles were baths. Bathing was a holy act, and Kemala treated the cleansing with reverence. As soon as her journey across Asia began, she was quickly oriented to strange customs.

Thus, when she exited the hostel’s female bathroom, towel wrapped tight around her shoulders, she quizzically noted the extra doorway leading to a steam room. While she looked forward to the hot springs with Thalia, sitting in humid-filled closet with strangers was a terrible idea.

She started to walk away from the door when a swat fell across her backside. With a gasp, she turned to find an older male with a big gut and loosely tied towel around his waist. “Move on or get out of the way,” he bumbled in a thick accent. Skin still throbbing from the smack, she struck like a snake, grabbed his wrist and twisted the flabby arm.

She tip-toed his bodyweight against him across the hall before releasing him. “Next time, say 'excuse me',” she said, sweeping an arm at the empty space behind her. He swore under his breath as he rubbed his wrist like she’d permanently hurt him. With a sniff, Kemala departed to get dressed. This was why she hated hostels.
∞ Kemala ∞ Oyá ∞ Dewi Ratih ∞ Kekura ∞

He’d spent years honing this skill, slipping the cage of flesh without completely relinquishing his hold. But the conflicts of his waking mind blurred the efficiency of discovery in the dream. When a ruckus from outside echoed within, he abandoned the effort. A man shouldered his way in shortly after, scowling deeply as he massaged his wrist, and muttering under his breath. He complained loudly about the woman outside, offering various insults and assumptions of her character that he apparently presumed Sören to agree with. Not that Sören disabused the notion. In fact he barely listened.

Some short time later he finally rid himself from the plague of company by stepping outside into the fresh air. It was customary to return to the steam several times, but he had little wish to rot his ears further, and he’d heard all he needed to by then. Blandly watching the wooded scenery that surrounded the hostel, he chanced access to the tech in his eye. Relief loosened his jaw when it did only as bid, and he spent several moments disseminating information before the cold began to bite rather than cool the sweat from his skin. After, he headed back in to dress.

Sören was not usually indecisive. He began to consider now the possibility of connections rather than the disparity of events that had brought him here. All crossroads had an intersection, after all. When he made his decision, it was one of patience.

His clothes were nondescript, as much of his appearance was beyond height and width of shoulder, and that in itself curtailed by his general leanness. The hub of the kitchen was not busy when he emerged, but neither empty at this time of day. He joined a table of travellers talking amongst themselves, slipping into the conversation with easily wielded charm. Habitually his interest in others served purpose, but the transience of such places lightened the burden, and he had a fondness for stories. Sören's injury was not overly noticeable at first glance. The eye itself blended well, the scars around it pale against his skin, but it was something people usually noticed eventually. Amongst the open curiosity of strangers swapping stories, someone usually asked about it. Though Sören occasionally changed details, such as the lake’s location and Declan’s identity, it amused him to tell the truth like it were some fantastical and embellished story. Usually to incredulity, disbelief, and laughter. So when it was asked now, a small smirk touched his lips, and he began.
Kemala did not slip unseen into common rooms. She hovered on the threshold to the larger room where the edge of conversation tickled her ears. She grazed through the tables, blue batik skirt sweeping as she walked. A rumble fluttered her stomach and she unconsciously fingered the knot of her shirt twisted against her abdomen. The top was cut in a sweetheart neckline and decorated with a flower and butterfly print. Her hair was twisted into a tight bun, but it was only lightly wet at the back of her neck. She avoided washing it when necessary, and the showers in the hostel were bizarre.

Clearly, she was a traveler. She felt eyes follow her as she surveyed the meal offerings. That everyone else were also plucked from far-away places, there was no mistrust among strangers. However, nobody else was dressed so lightly. She ended up with a bowl of warm fish soup, a wedge of bread, and mint tea, all of which were enjoyed near the fireplace.

Naturally, she listened to the story being relayed at the adjacent table, but when the tale came to its climax, she was likewise enthralled as the others.
∞ Kemala ∞ Oyá ∞ Dewi Ratih ∞ Kekura ∞

As the story grew to its culmination, so too did the audience hanging on his words. His voice was low and musical as poetry, pulling at the tribal heart. Stories were the fabric of reality, and like most things that captured Sören’s interest, he mastered them well. For a while his simple ladder-backed chair was a throne, and his gaze travelled amongst those gathered like perhaps he spoke to them each alone. The dining area, slanted with warm bars of summer’s glow, receded to icy tundra and the chill of peril. He told of the sharp crack of ice as slabs of it hurled from the frozen lake; of the creature’s elegant neck and curving jaw glimpsed through the vicious storm, and how the snow erupted into sharp jets when the ice hit the ground. He recalled bitterly the burn of the acid in the socket of his eye, as a writhing tentacle had caught his face, and the way he’d packed snow into the wound. How the wind howled away his screams and sharpened his resolve.

Finally he spoke with solemnity of how the beast fell. Not the mindless victory of heroism for its own sake, but the honour of inevitable death: his, or the beast’s.

Then quiet descended.

A small smirk curled his lips, but did not stay. He knew they would be looking at his scars, and wondering what had really happened to cause them. The amulet was absent from the story as it was from his neck, and nor did he speak of the steps Declan had glimpsed down into the drained lake, nor what lay beyond. He did reach for something hidden beneath the collar of his shirt, though, pulling the thong entirely off his head to lay on the table for them to see. Bound into the criss-cross of leather was a scale, iridescent blue and green and amber, its curvature hard as adamantine and plucked free from beneath the creature’s own eye.
An eventual hush befell the story teller’s captive audience. Kemala previously completed her fish stew and nursed a second cup of mint tea when visitors streamed away.

She made no effort to hide the fact that she studied the northern man. His face was certainly scarred in the manner described, but it was the trinket plucked from the depths of his collar that glittered like gold to Kemala’s eyes.

She waited behind, hardly sleepy. Despite the slow advancement around the globe, Kemala’s rhythm remained set to Bali. She desired to view the spoils of war on closer inspection, but she was comfortable in her place, eventually drawing her legs up under her.

She waited until he caught her eye, but she sipped her tea rather than leap at the opportunity to converse with someone so bold. Seemingly bored, Kemala finally spoke in lilted accent, “An exciting tale. Too bad it is complete bullshit,” she smirked, casting out a line into the waters to see what may bite.
∞ Kemala ∞ Oyá ∞ Dewi Ratih ∞ Kekura ∞

Curious fingers poked and prodded the scale, and Sören watched idly. He did not care for the trinket; it was little more than a relic, and it was not like he needed the reminder. Most took the story in the spirit of entertainment, presuming its falsehood while revelling in its brief magic. Some promised an attempt to eke the real story out of him another night as they parted. It was one of the reasons he usually told so much of the truth; the self-satisfaction of knowing they were wrong. But it also served a test. In a world where channelers existed as accepted phenomena, those enamoured of similar mystery sometimes revealed themselves to the lure. Usually, they were the ones who lingered.

Eventually the gathering dispersed, yet a woman remained curled in her chair. He knew from description alone that she was the one the man from the banya had found so distasteful. The same one who spoke with the artist at the lakeside, and for whom he had decided upon staying in this particular hostel. He cast the bones to fate beyond that, and would not have approached her. But providence spoke. And she had an acid tongue.

She studied the scars, and Sören studied her in turn. He caught the scale between two fingers, clicking it against the tabletop like a count to his thoughts. A lazy smirk toyed the words she thrust in his direction. The hint of his own smile flickered and vanished. “Was there a particular part beyond your comprehension?”
She knew he would eventually seek her out. Someone who drank of the draft of attention couldn’t withstand the fact that their authority was undermined. Kemala had been honest when she said the tale was exciting. Her culture and religion were infused with nothing but what an outside would call the fantastical.

There was an irreverence in the way he treated the scale. Either he knew the material to be indestructible, or he derived a sick sense of pleasure in defacing the corpse of the conquered. He may as well wear a necklace of bones and swipe war paint across his cheeks.

Therefore, when he queried her comprehension, she was not offended. Instead, she thought a moment as though dissecting the entire retelling, string by string, in order to reweave it in an image she found acceptable.

“That the creature as magnificent as the beast you describe may be slain by one as ordinary as you.” She waved him up and down. Perhaps there was jest in her tone, but if so, it was difficult to tease from anything else.
∞ Kemala ∞ Oyá ∞ Dewi Ratih ∞ Kekura ∞

This time he did smile, though it was sour. He was not concerned by the aspersion; ordinary was the camouflage Sören chose for much of his life in order to move between the different spheres he traversed for his work. Even now the finds unearthed at the new dig around the Roopkund discovery were attributed to Declan’s name alone, as per Sören’s own orchestration. That the woman saw ordinary only meant she saw what she was supposed to see, along with everyone else.

It did not mean it was what Sören was.

“You are remiss,” he said bluntly, “to judge a man by appearance alone.” His gaze roamed her tip to toe, as though he might wield the same weapon in kind, but did not speak of his perceptions. She was small enough to presume frailty, but he had not dismissed the complaints made of her venom. His companion in the banya had made them loudly enough.

“Though,” he added slyly, gesturing with the scale, which he then looped back over his head to hang against his chest, “you are correct that you did not hear the whole story.”
The flatness of his mask told her all she desired to know. She wasn’t one to judge. Well, she wasn’t one to judge and mull long on it.

He seemed to tease with the promise of more details, but Kemala wasn’t a kitten chasing the string. The story was enticing, which was precisely why Kemala did not leave. Besides, she was likely awake for another six hours before growing sleepy.

“If I cannot see with my present eyes, then give me divine ones that I may behold all your mystic opulence,” she said with a brow raised.

She tipped a shoulder, awaiting to be stunned by the revelation of truth and knowledge so surely to be revealed.
∞ Kemala ∞ Oyá ∞ Dewi Ratih ∞ Kekura ∞


Forum Jump:

Users browsing this thread: 3 Guest(s)