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Seeking Solace
The past few months had been trying to say the least. The first few days were nothing but a blurred memory. And the days after weren't much better. To say Aria's faith had been shaken was not a misnomer, she wasn't sure the direction of her life was going to take. The business of the city was something Aria still wasn't completely used to. Her little apartment above the old book shop was barely adequate enough to get a good night sleep.

The couple upstairs was constantly fighting, their anger seeped into Aria's dreams and would wake her with a pounding heart and fury nearly as bad, the only solution was to drown herself into the solace of a water covered grave. Or so it felt at times. She really didn't want to kill herself, but the pain of it all was getting to her. The solitude of the Vatican city's Historical society buildings were something Aria never thought she would ever miss. She never even contemplated the need for that basement room shielded from the world, and now she longed for a quiet night.

But even worse was what they did when they weren't fighting. Their passion (and their noisy love making) was louder than their anger. It woke Aria in a flush and embarrassed by the things that entered her mind. But worse was that she could never touch another like that even if she did so in her dreams. The one fleeting moment of the possibility with a man raged through her body. One little kiss and Aria felt the mental barrier shatter and all she felt was him. Aria had collapsed from that one touch, and the boy had never returned her affection again. Though Aria suspected it was no fault of his, Father Dimitri strictness increased after that, that was when even he stopped touching Aria and use the confounded stick he had sent with her.

Aria sighed. The couple above had started their fighting again, early. She slipped out the door and started walking. It was cold. Snow falling from the sky as it did in the winter months. Aria thought it was a bit early to see the snow fall, at least in the Vatican City, but she was not there any longer. The solace of the churches near by were plagued with the same emotions of her apartment. She walked for hours until she saw Novodevichy Monastery. The river side view and the historical impact of the place drew her to it.

The buildings themselves told stories but that was not the final draw, once upon the grounds Aria felt at peace, as if she had been seeking the holy land the whole time. It was not quiet per-say, but the emotions surrounding her were the most pleasant she had had in the last few months.

The graveyard was one of the finest attractions the monastery had, and it was also one of the quietest places Aria knew. The dead don't feel anything - she hoped. Aria slowly walked through the rows, glancing at each marker and studying it. What had the person been like? Why had they died? Questions she couldn't answer and their emotions did not reveal. It was pleasant.

Edited by Aria, Jan 17 2014, 01:23 PM.
As the days grew closer to Christmas, the church sanctified itself in preparation for recognizing the birth of Christ. When midnight came again and Dane's boredom settled like darkness around his mind, he toured the streets of Moscow from the warmth of a town car backseat. In the end, the colorful domes of the monastery became a beacon.

"Pull over,"
he told the driver and the car rolled to a gentle pause. Dane adjusted his cap, a warm oxford so it slanted across his forehead and stepped out.

"It's not safe at this time of night, sir." The driver warned, but Dane smirked bitter in his correction. "I'm not afraid."

He shivered against the sudden rush of cold, but once he knotted his scarf to his throat and tucked both hands in his pockets, he was comfortable enough. A bell gonged in the distance, and he twisted toward the sound's origin, but all he saw was the dim reflection of the car's hood back on the street.

He hummed to himself as he walked, little puffs of fog wafted from his lips every few moments. The tune was only a few of his favorite stanzas from one of Chopin's nocturnes, but the notes touched his mind as though the entire sonata performed for the first time at his behest.

The majority of the grounds were closed for the evening. It seemed he'd arrived too late for the end of midnight mass, but he strolled as spiritedly as if it were noon. In fact, in his mind, noon wasn't far off.

Whomever was buried in Moscow's best preserved monastery must have been important indeed. The tombs of Russian politicians, authors, musicians, playwrights and poets sprawled the necropolis. Rather than a field of headstones, as soon as he entered, he was engulfed in trees shrouded by night. The guardians of the dead, they would watch over the graves until the monuments finally crumbled to dust. He was surrounded by art, and in it, finally, Dane found a connection usually denied to him. Like the last drag for a man in withdrawal, it would suffice for now.

Then, as soon as he was content with the finding, he found he was not alone after all.


The cemetery was unlike most Aria had frequented, most were dark damp and full of headstones and crosses. Perfect breeding grounds for goblins and ghouls. Aria thought of the humor of vampires rising from the ground in those old black and white flicks. How wrong things could be and yet how close they came to hitting the truths.

The night air was cold and harsh against her skin despite the layers she had donned before leaving the house. The trench coat hiding her swords at her waist and the guns at her back. Hardly easy to get at, but it made for walking around with weapons much easier. Once never knew what one would find walking alone in the darkness. If only humans were the biggest threat.

It wasn't long before the solitude of the graveyard gave way to another sole walking the land of the dead. Aria could only pray that it was the care taker and that he would leave her alone.

Aria moved to to the next grave, wondering what the person had been famous for and why they merits such a monument. It was hard to sneak up on Aria, but the words from the man behind her made Aria jump despite the knowledge.

She didn't turn around. "Hi. Didn't think I'd meet anyone out here this late."
Aria ran hands down the front of the coat nervously. It was one thing to be brave alone in the dark, but with an unknown stranger in the mix. Aria could see many scenarios where this ended badly. She sighed and stuck her hands in her pockets and turned around.

Aria glanced behind her and took note of his position and his demeanor. She smiled softly under the thoughtful guise of being friendly. Aria tried not to feel anything from them, she had after all come here to be free of everyone else's baggage. She clamped her shields tighter and only focused on his voice and the monument in front of her. "Any idea why this one is here?"

It was only idle conversation. Aria really wanted to be alone, but if he was going to be here she could at least attempt to make him useful to her.

Edited by Aria, Jan 31 2014, 01:49 PM.
The girl was all the more comely and diminished by her ill-fitting outerwear. She fidgeted before turning to greet him by running her palms along herself. Perhaps she was cold. The air seeped through the fibers of Dane's coat.

"I am not sure why you would think that."
He replied in regards to her expectation of solitude. They were in a public park, after all.

The social norm was to look one another in the eye and maintain some sort of mutually agreed upon safe-distance of personal space, but Dane came to stand alongside her regardless of what most people considered normal human behavior. Although Dane himself was of moderate height and slender framed, the girl seemed but a child in his shadow.

He leaned close to the monument, reading the name of who was beneath their feet. "Hmm. Because it's dead."
No sense of humor lightened his assessment. In fact, he was being quite helpful, coming up with the answer to her question as he had. Why was this one here, indeed. "That's the thing about death. It waits for us all."

Then he tucked his hands behind him and put steady, contemplative voice to the words of the famous English poet of the Victorian age. What a marvelous time to have lived.

"Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid."

"William Ernest Henley."

Dane finally twisted to look upon the face of the one who sought answers from him. "My name is Dane,"
he revealed, gentlemen's accent strong, but was quite content to not offer a handshake, nor stand any closer to her than he already did.
This one was one odd duck. He didn't feel of much only a minor hit of confusion, but he didn't speak as if he were confused. His comments threw Aria off just as much as his emotions.

The fact that they were in a cemetery on a cold snowy night at midnight didn't seem to phase him one bit. It's not like this was a hallmark social setting. Much more like the old 1980's horror flicks with men in hockey masks chasing you with chain saws.

Aria could feel her own fears of dark nights sinking into her bones, and then the poem, Aria could feel doom and gloom crashing in. It wasn't his and it wasn't hers, or at least that's what she thought. Perhaps the dead could feel after all.

She never really had liked cemeteries.

Aria was thankful he had stopped where he had and that he didn't offer her his hand with his introduction. She looked up at Dane. She couldn't make out the color of his eyes, the darkness was too thick. She spoke softly, "Aria."
She kept her hands in her pockets and tried not to fiddle with the lint in her left pocket that seemed to be gnawing an agonizing pit into her hand.

Her name was out of her mouth before she could have thought to offer something else. It seemed the stresses of this emotional world was taking its toll on her more than she had thought. But at least he was not loud with emotion and it was tolerable for now. Conversation wasn't a bad thing.

"I liked Invictus when we were doing our English literature unit."
Aria frowned, "Sadly it was a small unit and didn't cover much."
For the most part it had only been a few weeks work of cramming a subject into her head for a test to say she'd done the so called home school she'd been forced upon. Literature was not her thing, well at least not that type. Aria enjoyed thumbing through and reading the ancient texts written by the Atharim. Their journals and texts held much detail and also forsake so much.

Aria turned back to the head stone she didn't dare bring up the topic of the histories of people for fear he'd state the obvious again. A turn of conversation then. "What brings you to the darkness of midnight in this artful cemetery?"

Edited by Aria, Jan 31 2014, 01:50 PM.
Had the breeze gusted just then, Aria's reply would have been brushed from all hearing the girl spoke so softly. Dane was generally soft spoken as well, but he had never dampened his voice so profoundly since boyhood.

Invictus summoned a rise in the pitch of her voice. As well it would. The very title itself levied the power to invoke the steerage of destiny. Or so it did for Dane, whose chin elevated upon a stiffened, proud back. His demeanor was usually this calm, but usually painted with a sweeter coating. Perhaps it was the night air lending him confidence. Perhaps it was simply the atmosphere.

She returned his lob with a question of her own. He could ask the same of her, but then again, he cared not to bore himself through her answer. He was, however, interested in reciting more poetry. This cemetery was artful, indeed. An accurate assessment.

If she were a student, she might recognize Lord Byron's words. They were sufficient to fulfill both their motives.

"So, we'll go no more a roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon."

He had turned in a circle during the performance, hands folded upon one another behind his back. As he finished, he smiled a sticky, sweet smile, dripping honey and molasses.

He hummed a throaty murmuring, thoughtful and amused. Around them he saw gardens transformed by the light of the moon. "Novodevichy Monastery,"
his accent teased the distinctly Russian word like feathers whispering across naked skin, "is the third most popular tourist destination in all of Moscow."

He gestured with the flat of one palm down the path as though inviting her to accompany him. "By your voice, Aria, I surmise you are likewise far from your homeland. Far and quite alone by the looks of things?"
His voice raised a trifle at the last, curiously studying the emptiness around them.

Far and quite alone. He smiled again, broad and peering so that the expression touched his eyes as well. "Except for me, of course."
A quaint laugh. Again, he offered the obvious.
This Dane was a character. Aria giggled in her head at his performance, it was not that it was funny, nor the somber poem that delightful, but the fact he nearly danced his way through it made Aria smile, which she did show. Aria began to wonder whether or not this man had a fascination with death, or just poetry itself. The only things she could quote from memory was the Atharim initiation ceremony. She remembered having to practice for months with Father Dimitri. His mere memory brought disgust to her mind. She quickly pushed it away and turned her attentions outward. Brooding inward was never any good, particularly not with delightful company, however odd he was.

"By your voice, Aria, I surmise you are likewise far from your homeland. Far and quite alone by the looks of things?"

Aria tried not to laugh but she failed. She was never alone, not even here. At the edge of everything Aria knew that people were there but not close enough to focus on any one thing or to feel the full brunt of their emotions. But he was correct she was alone in the sense of company. Though that was hardly any of his business. Not that she had any friends back in Vatican City either, but here she was definitely out on her own. She smiled at his statement, he really did enjoy stating the obvious. She'd have called him out on it, if something on the headstone had not caught her eye.

Aria reached out with her left hand towards the attraction. Her coat sleeve sliding down her forearm showing the entwined snake of her mark of the Atharim. She ran her bare hands over the coarse stone and found a simple snake eat its own tail. Aria glanced at the name on the headstone, but nothing jumped out at her. This person, was not someone she had read about. What had he done to get into such a prestigious cemetery?

Forgetting the fact she'd probably get a silly simple answer she could have divined for herself, she spoke anyway, "I wonder why he's here in this graveyard."
Aria turned with a smile, "Short of his being dead and all." Aria wanted to stick her tongue out at him in that childish way kids do when they ruin someone else's fun. "I've never heard of him."
As if she'd heard of everyone else in the graveyard. But an Atharim who was this powerful should have been known to her and to every other Atharim out there.

Edited by Aria, Jan 31 2014, 01:52 PM.
Why had his question elicited laughter? Dane's reflection was brief. Not often was he interested in someone enough to bother with scraping more than just the surface. Besides, there were better ways to make those kinds of connections.

Another marker along the wall drew the girl's attention, and Dane followed if only to check the name. He wouldn't mind reciting a few lines of Chekhov's to the man's corpse, but he had to find the grave first.

From within the voluminous sleeve of her outrageous coat thrust a woman's tiny wrist. Her fingers bent skeletal as though to scratch at the stone, and it was with passing interest that Dane noticed her tattoo. As tattooing itself is suppose to be a rather uncomfortable process, logically one would think the more one displayed, the greater their tolerance for pain ought to be. Interestingly, in his experience, the opposite appeared to be true.

"He must have been a notable man,"
Dane offered some explanation. He was growing weary of what seemed to be a repeat of the previous line of questions. While studying it, one symbol in particular caught his eye. One with whom he'd just observed.

He stood back and studied Aria curiously. Coincidence seemed the most likely explanation, but the embers of curiosity were stoked. "Will you ask for the same symbol to be carved into your headstone as well?"
One hand creaked within its leathery glove as he pointed out the shape, then trailed the finger accusingly at her sleeve. Dane cocked a nimble smile. "It must mean something to you. To etch it forever in your skin. Your gravestone will last much longer, after all."

He was being facetious, of course, and smiled wrinkles of smile toward his feet as he turned from her eye.

Movement, reflected on the marble slab, caught the corner of his eye. He glanced up, and casually looked behind him. Between graves, skinny trees pierced upward from the ground like spikes in a moat. Their limbs were bare, spindles reaching out for one another's touch, but found only cold, empty air. Which was as much as Dane saw. In the distance the domes of the church loomed from the monastery across the way. Perhaps a glow had caught one of those golden arcs, and shot light at just the right angle.

He shrugged it off, and instead took the path forward once more. The next site was shaped in a circle, the ground of which was littered with a carpet of carnations. At the back was a man-sized statue shaped to be sitting on a cloak-draped bench. A hound laid its head on his paws at the man's feet.

"Today was this one's birthday."
He pointed at the flowers and beckoned Aria closer. He plucked a pristine white one from the bunch, then took a great seizure of the power and offered her the present. "Come see,"
he spoke quietly.

Enhanced by the power, the eyes of a night born bird witnessed every detail about her. From the way she moved to the curls of her fingers and the furrow of her expression. How lovely she would be with that dark hair laid back on a carpet of red - formerly white - flowers.

His smile was broad and naive of what lurked in the darkness behind him. A howl, like wind, was his only warning, and what felt like the weight of the Kremlin itself fell on his shoulders. He grunted, but the howl grew in his mind, and when he fell to his knees, then his hands, he writhed as though to fling off whatever pounced on him, but the great, breathless leech clung.

He struck mindlessly toward the Power, but found to his shock, he was unable to do anything with it. "Get it off!"
He gasped.
Dane was confusing and frustrating for Aria, his complete sense of the obvious was a little grating. Of course he was a man of note, Alexei Sholokhov, born died and buried in a prestigious cemetery with the orobous etched into stone. Aria sighed. However his question did bring her out of her annoyance at the man.

"My headstone."
She laughed. "I doubt I'll have any say what goes on mine. I'll be dead after all."
Again she felt like sticking her tongue at the man, but she refrained. It was hardly polite to be so childlike when he thought he was being helpful. At least he felt like he was being helpful. He was still a mass of confusion when relating to Aria.

It wasn't long before he moved on to another stone and Aria started to feel another presence off in the trees. She couldn't find it, but she knew it was there. It felt hungry and it was stalking it's prey. Aria reached into her coat and made sure the sheathe to her new sword was clear and free. She wanted to be ready for anything. Hunger like that wasn't normal for any human being - ever.

Aria didn't like being beckoned but they were sight seeing in each other's company so she might as well. In all of the emotions of the prior moments, there was nothing. Aria shivered, she remember all too well the emotionless state of someone reaching out for the so-called power of the gods. Does everyone know how to do that? It was sarcasm in her own mind. She wasn't about to voice the proclamation that this man was probably a so-called god reborn. He didn't seem like a man of great evil. But he wasn't right either.

As Aria turned to join him a large barely visible creature pounced up on his back. His knees buckled and he fell into the snow below. Aria barely registered the type of monster, Ijiraq. A creature that had not been seen since the God wars so the books said. And here one was. Aria had no idea how to kill one. But the best chance she had was beheading.

It wasn't far to where Dane fell there wasn't much time or room but Aria pulled out the new sword from it's sheathe. The ring of the blade releasing from it's home made Aria skin shiver. It was death made real. Two steps and the blade was out and Aria was in mid swing by the time she reached the monster and Dane. The monster looked up with mist filled eyes that seemed to glow with power. A moment before Aria's blade reached it's target it was gone and Aria's blade sang over Dane's head with in inches of it. The momentum carried Aria around. The force had been enough to slice through a spinal column which no longer was present.

Aria nearly lost her balance, but was ready to counter with in a moment. Nothing came at her. The cemetery was empty again except for them. Aria's heart pounded but the thrill of battle was left unquenched. She sighed then offered Dane a hand. "You okay?"
She could feel what he was feeling again. But she wasn't sure what to believe. Surely more emotion for being attached was necessary? Aria knew her own emotions were a whirlwind of things. Anger, fear, anticipation were only the most present but surely he had to feel more than confusion and irritation.

Edited by Aria, Jan 31 2014, 01:53 PM.
It was like gasping for air under water. Dane's chest burnt and although he heaved with all his might, he barely moved an inch. Whatever had descended upon him, it was sapping his strength of will. Never would he be servant to any will but his own! He grew more and more willful, and he looked to Aria for the help already requested.

A flash of moonlight on steel, and a gust of cold breeze whipped above his face. He gasped despite himself. A sword was far from the sort of help he expected. It did something, however. He wasn't doused in spilled blood, unfortunately, but the weight lifted and the full brunt of his straining slammed hard upon his mind.

He sprang to his feet, whipping around in search of a target to hurl the power that clenched his fists hard. But there was nothing but trees and the cold graves of the dead.

And Aria.

He turned to her, face drawn with a fury that quickly receded into mere irritation.

He relinquished his grasp on the well of power flowing through him before his body was ripped apart, but did not fully release it so to keep a sharp eye in the dark. It seemed the specter had chased away the very birds. His breathing returned to normal, and he studied the area one final time before addressing Aria.

"If I were a superstitious man, I might suspect we are unwelcome among the dead. Thankfully you had that ridiculous sword."
He carried on to brush himself off. Bits of rock had stuck to his pants, and when wind rustled his hair, he realized his hat had been whisked away as well.

"Care to venture a guess as to what just happened?"

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