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Blood and Ink
Thalia’s studio lay in the heart of Arbatskaya, its rent – and in such a prime location, it must have cost a small fortune – covered by an anonymous patron. It was far better than her previous; the lighting was fantastic, thanks to its perfect placement of north facing windows slanting up to the pitched ceiling. Cabinets containing paint and other equipment didn’t compromise the room for a generous easel and desk arrangement; she’d never had so much space. Canvasses, a mixture of primed and stretched as well as finished pieces, lined in neat piles. None of them decorated the walls, which were plain. Books lay in odd corners, some splayed open with faint rainbow fingerprints thumbed at the corners. Other pages had been torn out completely and pinned to a board against one wall. There were photos on there too, both people and landscapes; postcards, printed quotes and brief sections of prose. A thousand memories, thoughts and ideas, layered so deeply the board itself was utterly lost beneath the clutter. When she had need of references, she generally used a screen, else projected an image from her Wallet, but she liked the chaotic tumult of all those pieces of paper.

Her main project of the moment, though it was still in its earliest stages of colour and line, dominated her workspace. Its size and scope was massive, its colours vibrant and powerful, though in her mind it tasted like shadows and smoke and change. She still had no idea what it was going to turn into, but it nonetheless curled persistent little hooks in her thoughts, like the image was desperate to resolve itself in blood, sweat and acrylic faster than her mortal fingers could work. And maybe at the expense of a little sanity. Thalia didn’t work on it now; if she did she was liable to become immersed and never hear her Wallet beep. She’d sent a message to Rune, detailing the studio’s address or offering to meet her somewhere of her choosing. Whichever was more convenient. So for now she waited, Rune’s artwork in a folder beside her on the couch, legs tucked up underneath her while she doodled faces in an old sketchpad and refused to look at the behemoth in the corner of her vision.
"Rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
[Image: thal-banner-scaled.jpg]
 | Sothis Lethe Alethea | Miraseia |
Rune shoved a fist up under her sunglasses and rubbed tight eyes. She'd been out all night keeping the world safe and doing her job. At the moment she was high on energy drinks and uppers just to make it to Thalia's studio on time. She also might have fallen asleep on the metro train. She'd been way out east on the yellow line only a few hours ago. Then she overshot Thal's station by three stops and had to backtrack. It explains why she was almost an hour late.

Her Wallet beeped when she got to the right building in the neat and tidy old arbatskaya neighborhood. She hefted a rucksack up on one shoulder, the bag that held her weapons and spent magazines was lighter than when she'd set out the evening before. She'd lost two hunting knives last night. One of which had been her favorite so that sucked.

She climbed the stairs and while putting in the code Thalia sent to let her in the building, she noticed a wad of tried sludge on the inside of her wrist that smeared up the inner side of her jacket sleeve. She'd washed up in the train station bathrooms but the people banging on the door she'd locked for privacy had sped her up and she must have missed it.


She tried to pick it off, but all it accomplished was shoving goo up under her fingernails. The rough brick of the doorjam was the lucky recipient of the rest, but it was far from perfect. It even smelled like guts. Gross. But at least her hair was a perfectly bright rainbow of cheerfulness.

She knocked.
Time didn't mean so much to Thalia; she barely noticed Rune was so late, nor much cared anyway: one of the perks of working for yourself. Pencil in hand and plenty of fresh paper to scribble on, she could idle hours away and only realise when the light cast shadows across her page how much time had passed. One fist resting her chin, sketchpad balanced on her lap, that's what she did to fill the drifting minutes. By the time the knock came, it was debatable whether she even realised how much time had passed. She flipped shut her current sketch, tucked the pencil behind her ear, and headed over to answer. The building employed top-notch security, but Thal was lax; today, the studio door was unlocked.

A smile greeted Rune as the door swung open, and of course her eyes tugged first to the woman's new multi-hued hair. The colours blended like a rainbow; Thal never even noticed the less tasteful embellishment. "Hi. Come in." Her hand waved vaguely over the interior, which while clearly a place of work had a somewhat dishevelled, lived in look to it. Thalia herself was similarly informal, in a pair of old worn jeans, bare feet and loose vest. "Love the new hair. Your stuff is in the folder on the couch. Excited?" She might not have noticed hint of gut, but she did realise at a glance the other woman looked a little drawn. Well, a lot actually. "Take a seat. Would you like a cuppa while we go over the designs?"
"Rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
[Image: thal-banner-scaled.jpg]
 | Sothis Lethe Alethea | Miraseia |
Rune's fatigue washed away a little when Thalia opened the door. Dealing with 'regular folk' always seemed to wrench Rune out of the dark hole that was her life no matter how worn she was at the time. It was like being doused with cold water. It shook her out of the funk.

Her smile was genuinely happy to see Thal, but behind the smaller girl's shoulder Rune took in the ruffles of the room. It was pasted with sheets and sheets of paper. She saw tufts of it stuck everywhere. Where there wasn't paper there was canvas. Or the boards to stretch canvas. Or pots and jars of paint and pottery. It smelled like culture. Like sundrenched culture. Rune barely knew what to do with herself. She'd never seen anything so pretty stuffed into one airy room like this.

She felt smaller entering into the realm. Like the first time she remembered seeing the mountains. It felt like Uncle Seth drove for days and the peaks never got any closer. Then all of a sudden she woke up one morning, looked through the windshield, and suddenly they dwarfed high overhead.

"Thanks!" she beamed in reaction to the hair about the time she caught a glimpse of herself in the window. The flop of hair that folded far from one side of her head had come loose of some of its hair spray and a cherry-red tendril kept looping down in front of her eyes. Long enough to brush her nose, but not long enough to keep tucked behind the other ear. So she stuffed it back there anyway.

Rune dropped her bag by the door, planted her hans on her hips and turned in a circle. "This is where you live?" She asked breathily, undistinguishing work space from living space. It was a feat all in and of itself to have a permanent place to come back to every day anyway. That someone needed two spaces for both halves of their lives, Rune couldn't even fathom.

She plopped on the couch, and the folder in question popped at the sudden drop of weight on the cushion. But reflexes quick as a lizard's tongue grabbed the folder before it crashed to the floor. She had it open on her lap a second later, thumbing through the sketches.

She'd already plucked out two that caught her eye, and tucked the corner of one page between the pronges of her teeth when Thal asked about a drink. She mumbled an answer back, "Umm got any Fizz or Buzz or Burn or Vault? Anything like that?" She could already feel her last energy drink wearing off. Crappy Moscow knockoffs. She missed the good ole US of A sometimes.
Contrary to Thalia’s impression that Rune looked tired, she was like a whirlwind upon entrance, a ferocious charge of energy and attitude and, well, very American. Thalia was a smooth mirror of water compared to that tumultuousness, but she buoyed on the waves of Rune’s persuasively chirpy nature. She closed the door, and followed in the wake of the path the other woman took. Rune veritably buzzed at the edges as she flopped on the couch.

“Live? Nah. I live out near Filevsky Park.” Her gaze wandered their surroundings with new interest, trying to piece together how it appeared to fresh eyes. Messy, probably. But a home? There wasn’t even a bed, and though she sometimes crashed on the sofa when it was really too late to take the metro home, that was never more than a couple of nights a week - depending on the projects she had going at the time, and how insistently they demanded an outlet.

The list of drinks to mumble out of Rune’s mouth were initially met with utter incomprehension, until she figured it was probably why Rune was even more animated than the last time they had met. “Um.” She laughed, good-natured and unadulterated. “Coffee do?” She had nothing else remotely caffeinated, and it was only packet stuff, but she’d downed the bitter sludge Alek served so Thal figured it'd be alright.

She tilted her head a little to see which image dangled from Rune's mouth, but otherwise let her rummage to her heart's content. Most artists were happy to mail out design work like this, and Thalia could have done, but she preferred the personal touch. Pixels on a screen could never compete with the feel and look of proper paper. “Had a rough night?” It might be considered rude to ask of a customer, but her tone was purely conversational. She tended to extend the familiarity of friendship without ever considering how some found it invasive.
"Rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
[Image: thal-banner-scaled.jpg]
 | Sothis Lethe Alethea | Miraseia |
Thalia was right. There wasn't going to be much room on her arm to hold a big picture, but Rune was kind of toying with the idea of getting a half sleeve or maybe even a whole sleeve someday. Just don't tell Uncle Seth. So she wanted the edges of this tattoo to be able to be integrated smoothly into more.

"Oh what? Oh!" She suddenly realized Thal had been talking to her. A corner of her knew it but as soon as Thal started saying weird Ruskie words, Fire sky park? Rune had dazed over. She wasn't totally oblivious, but these drawings were really pretty. There was a shade of purple highlighted in the violets that would have been a perfect match for a shade of eyeshadow she'd been wearing last night. It was waterproof, so it didn't sweat off when Rune was running her ass off, but it wasn't smear-proof unfortunately. And believe it, when a girl gets a facefull of sludge, she wipes it on her sleeve the first chance she gets.

She plucked a half dozen pieces of paper, including the two she'd held between her teeth, and set them apart from the rest of the sketches. There were elements on each one she liked. "Coffee would totally work. Yeah thanks. It was a rough night alright. I was down by the ... docks there was this.. Frog infestation. Little blobby bastards hopping everywhere. Every time you pop one, they blow up like sludge filled pinatas. And there ain't no candy inside." She curled her nose up just thinking about the suckers. Wish they'd been frogs.
There was no kitchen as such, just a counter in the corner with a sink, fridge and kettle. At affirmation of coffee, Thalia headed over to flip the kettle’s switch, then turned to lean back on the countertop. Her fingers drummed a tuneless rhythm along its edge. “Frogs, huh. Weird.” There was no doubt in her tone, just mild amusement at the thought of Rune running about popping frogs. She wrinkled her nose as she swivelled back round to dig out two mugs and upend the contents of two instant sachets into each. Exploding frogs.

She returned with the two steaming cups, and offered one out. Rune had covered the couch with various sketches from the folder, so Thal perched on the arm rest. She was content to give Rune as long as she wanted to dig through the designs, so she said little to interrupt, just blew on the surface of her coffee and contemplated the main canvas centring her studio.
"Rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
[Image: thal-banner-scaled.jpg]
 | Sothis Lethe Alethea | Miraseia |
Of course Reggie passed him off to lower management. Old coot thought way too highly of himself. Still, Reggie's boys knew what they were doing for the most part. Even though their field skills made Seth's dad look dangerous--and he's been dead going on thirty years
--they made up for it on the tech front. Almost.

In spite of Seth's best efforts, the Atharim decided to saddle him with a few of their 'experienced' hunters. He didn't know if that was some kind of a joke, but he doubted they'd survive a choop hunt--let alone a God.

Interrupting Seth's teeth-grinding, Fridjof chimed in on Seth's earpiece. "She is two flights above you--third door on the right."
As far as Seth was concerned, the Swedish kid was the smartest one he'd met on this side of the ocean. Only one he'd picked.

No matter how determined he was to look down on Europe's worker bee Atharim, he couldn't fault their tech guys. After they'd outfitted his sunglasses with Land Warrior projectors and comm gear he was hooked. If only he could take the computer guy and ditch the rest. Too bad I can't use this thing without letting them track me.

He held down a button on the frame. "Okay Fridge. Just keep your friends from doin' anything too stupid."

There was a pause before he got a response. "I will do my best."

At least they'd followed orders so far--if he hadn't shut them down they'd have burst into the room in suits looking like CIA or something and dragged her off. For an organization that relied so much on luck to conceal its existence, they really pushed it hard. He still thought the tattoos were dumb.

As it was, he just walked right in the front door wearing his hat and a coat--like a normal person. With Fridge's help he even looked like he knew where he was going. Apparently the building's security was tight, but he didn't get too many looks. Nobody even met his eyes for long. Just to be safe he'd left his weapons behind.

The place wasn't pretentious, but it wasn't falling apart either. And by the time he reached the door, he'd spotted a couple ways to dispose of the body if there was a guy in there. Seth wasn't overbearing or nothing, he just liked to keep all options on the table.

After switching off the Land Warriors, he finally turned the knob, a little disappointed to find it unlocked. I really hope Europe ain't rubbing off on her.
Because he'd kill it if it did that. The first thing he heard was her voice--for the first time in months.

--"there was this... frog infestation. Little blobby bastards hopping everywhere. Every time you pop one, they blow up like sludge filled pinatas. And there ain't no candy inside." He'd give her a few points for creativity.

There was a bit of a pause in the conversation before he heard a young-sounding British woman answer. "Huh. Weird."

He figured that it was past time to say hi. She'd probably hit him for waiting this long. Or for coming at all. He didn't really have the whole space thing worked out--one of the perks of raising a kid as your monster-hunting partner in a secret society completely disconnected from the rest of the world. Sometimes he felt more like Bruce Wayne than John Wayne.

He stood in the doorway. "Frogs, huh?"
Then he noticed her hair. "Aw, Runey. Not again."

Edited by Seth Marx, Nov 24 2013, 11:52 PM.
Thalia was not chatty kind of girl, was she? Well Rune didnt hold it against her. She was British after all, but weren't they suppose to be talkers? She shrugged. Didn't matter, Rune could talk enough for the both of them. Lord knew she'd carried on enough conversations with herself (and any spirits floating around, but they dont talk back too often) to get good at it.

Ok. So this tattoo she wanted to curl up her forearm and hopefully reach her shoulder (or more someday) was going to consist of a tree with a looped snake maybe around the trunk and a garden of violet blossoms around the base like grass. Or some other combination of that. Like she wouldn't be opposed to the violets dripping from the branches. Or of the tree itself being just a branch. Or the snake/ouroboros asleep in the shade, or whatever. How it all came together was going to be up to Thalia, she was the drawer.

Rune chewed on her lip and picked out three sketches of trees to show Thal. The first was a whimsical tree that looked more like a drooping mushroom at the top and its branches were dripping braids off a girl's hair. The second was a more traditional shaped tree, but built of all curves and bare, curly branches. The third was twisted and ancient looking with its top swirled together like clouds. She liked all three for the style that Thalia drew in, but each were whimsical in their own way. Rune was probably most drawn to the first one. It was fun, but also forlorn.

She picked out a couple sketches of violet blossoms that she liked. They looked most like African Violets rather than other varieties. They were very simple round flowers with simple scalloped petals and a dot of yellow in the center. They were lovely and unassuming. An honest flower and uncomplicated. That was what reminded Rune of how she imagined her mom to have been.

The ouroboros was the hardest. Only one of the traditional round shapes appealed to her, and that was because it was more curly and wound around itself, but it was also kind of tribal, and Rune wanted the opposite of that. Which is how she ended up picking out all the versions that were basically cartoons of other animals than the usual snake. The snake was cool and all, but it was actually kind of scary to think about. Rune had enough fright in her life, she didn't want it etched into her skin. There was a rat with a long tail arched up over its body and ending by its mouth. There was a smiling little snake. Then there was her favorite. It looked like some sort of mythological combination of an eel and a unicorn, with fluffs winging from its head and a little horn perched between tilted, round eyes.

Satisfied, Rune was about to show the papers to Thalia when the door creaked open and someone popped inside. Now usually, Rune would have been all kinds of curious as to who the visitor was, but the serenity of the quiet moment, focus on which drawings she liked, warmth of the morning-lit studio, and all-nighter left Rune's nerves bared.

"Frogs, huh?"

She flinched instinctively toward the bag at her feet, but she froze before pulling out any sort of defense.

Her jaw dropped wide as the Grand Canyon, and raw eyes burnt with suspicion that this was not real. The Atharim only had rumors about dopplegangers, and she'd never seen one before, but... but.

"Aw, Runey. Not again."

She didn't even hear his disappointment. In seconds, she was a little girl, so happy to see a familiar face after being lost in the big bad city all alone. A giant smile brightened her otherwise drawn face, good as any drug (which Rune had never tried drugs, nope), and she sprinted and slammed into Uncle Seth, delivering a very happy hug. She was really, really homesick for normal people, and he was the most normal person she'd ever known.
She'd drifted off a little, content with the silence broken only by the shuffle of papers, but the sound of the door opening drew her attention. She twisted round, eyes wide. What the-?! Her chest pounded loud in her ears, erupting a brief flash of fear. The building her studio was housed in employed decent security, but it all counted for shit when you forgot to lock your own door. Or perhaps Thal was just too trusting; a hard trait to preserve in the heart of Moscow. Nothing was an innocent as it seemed.

Old, forgotten memories scudded the surface of her mind, bringing a light tingle to her skin. That scared her more than the man bursting through her doorway, but fortunately Rune broke the tension by barrelling into the guy's arms. They had the same twang to their voices. Clearly they knew one another. A strange sense of relief washed out the spike of uncertainty. Thalia blinked a few times, clearing the sudden dullness from her eyes. Otherwise she took it in stride.

"You couldn't have knocked?" A half smile pricked her lips, though she didn't mask the good-natured scold to her tone. Rune had gripped on so tight she doubted either was apt to pay her much attention anyway; it had the look of a reunion. Curious now her heart was on the descent and her brief touch with the unnatural unknown was already half buried, she took a sip of coffee. Was that a cowboy hat?
"Rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
[Image: thal-banner-scaled.jpg]
 | Sothis Lethe Alethea | Miraseia |

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