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The Sacred
Armande awoke, the cool of the rock pressing into his cheek. His whole body felt afire, the stench of burned hair and cloth and skin filling his nostrils. His vision was cloudy and the unstoppable cough that tore from his chest sent him into new heights of agony.

A sickly orange flickering cast dancing shadows on the walls of the tunnel. He swallowed painfully and tried to rise, pushing himself up with his hands. His knees digging into the rock floor screamed and his blistered hands protested with vehemence and he collapsed. He was so tired. His entire body was an avalanche of agony.

From within, another fire burned. Anger. Rage. They had burned his home. They had sent his people scattering. They had violated his sanctuary. That fire roared, hotter and hotter, a growl coming into his chest.

He would lay down no longer. Not one minute more. He assumed the Chong Rann and sealed the pain away. He stood, feeling the cool fresh air in his lungs even as he coughed. In those moments, stabs of pain still broke through, but he ignored them and stumbled down the tunnels.

The slope indicated that he was going down. To where, he did not know. Deeper and deeper he went, passing encampments, abandoned subway stations and lines, deeper into the bowels of the earth. It fit. Let everyone think he was dead. Let them relax their guard. Let them know peace. The calm before the storm.

The storm was coming.

Edited by Regus, Nov 12 2016, 02:00 PM.
One of Valeriya's hands pressed against the stone wall as the other fell to her thigh. The blocks were loose, and in places, crumbled into dust beneath the slightest pressure. The scent in this part of the labyrinth wrinkled her nose, and she should be glad of the dim light so to avoid seeing what was underfoot. However, she didn't need full torchlight to know, the crunch under her steps spoke of bones. It was when the crunching stopped and she stepped in something soft that she cringed.

The light was dim by normal standards. Only one small torch was shared between the three people, and it was wrapped with blubber oil that burned low and hot, a deep blue much like the expanse of emptiness she sometimes saw with The Eye of the world Above. The blue torchlight made finding their way forward more of a tactile challenge than visual, but Valeriya knew these passageways. Her first kill had been nearby. That was twenty years ago. It was the first time she had ever been Up so high. She wondered how much further it was to reach the Above.

So the light was low by normal standards, but she could see plenty, and she avoided looking at her feet anyway. The passage way narrowed ahead so they would need to duck for a while. The nest was nearby, this pit was a shallow bowl of a 'room', but it was the best way to sneak up onto the nest, from behind, for the surprise. Her silvery pale gaze narrowed at a sound, then. More than the soft creaking of the party's leather pants, including her own. Her hand pulled the stiletto from its sheathe, her fingers wringing the handle like she was wringing a neck. A second stiletto went to her other hand, and she nodded.

Her heart pounded, but she willed her breath to steady in the approach. Silence. Silent as the grave. The crunching underfoot softened. The creaking of leather lessened. She moved so slow, finding her way carefully. So close. She could hear the grizzly snorts of a beast eating. It dumped a bone aside, snatched a new piece with a wet, tearing sound, and snarled, sniffed and snorted its way through its meat. Hopefully whatever the oni was eating was enough to salvage.

Edited by Valeriya, Oct 18 2016, 09:31 PM.
The Eye of the Khylsty
The drip drip of water in the distance was the only sound as Armande put his pack between his head and the wall, a makeshift pillow. The weight of his body against the rough rocky surface made breathing hard. His arms and legs and neck were on fire. He had peeled off his shirt- felt the painful tearing away of skin where the fabric had melted into the flesh- and did his best to clean it with the first aid kit he'd stolen. Even without the burns, however, he had reached his limits. His body was insistent. It needed rest. He was no longer 30 years old and vigorously celebrating with Jova after killing a nest of D'Jinn. He ached everywhere, the sealed away pain now something he could no longer ignore. He needed sleep.

He'd spent what he had to guess were hours following the tunnels. He made a map in his mind as he walked and more than once saw a branching upward that he knew would take him to the surface. But he didn't want to go there, not yet. He'd been reviewing the facts in his mind even as he carefully walked through the darkness, keeping to the edges. They had worn their anti-surveillance gear for the entire mission. He knew the fire couldn't have been the CCD. It was too soon for the government gears to have moved that quickly even if they had been identified. But the traitors within the Atharim, they would have wanted to take advantage of his absence. No. He did not want to return yet. He just needed somewhere to go for now.

More than once he'd seen what looked to be homeless encampments. After sneaking close enough to take some water bottles, energy bars and a first aid kit, he avoided them. The deeper he went, the more he encountered, as if a city existed down here. Even as he walked, he felt he weight of the ceiling above press down upon him. The air felt compressed and stale, processed and fetid. And it was too warm.

Once, he saw what he guessed were a nest of Naga. It had been from a distance and he was hidden by the mouth of one of the tunnels, but the way they moved almost screamed inhuman. He felt disgust churn is his gut. Vile inhuman creatures. It had been a mistake to let that one live his last time in the tunnels. He was in no shape to take on a whole nest of them now, though.

On and on he had walked, felt himself going deeper into the earth until at last, he was too tired to move on. After finding a hidden recess in which to sleep, he, at last, had been able to dress his wounds. Sleep finally closed off his mind and he at last found some peace.

He awoke hours later, trying to hold on to the images he'd seen. It was fleeting, leaving emotion rather than anything concrete. The feel of riding a horse at full gallop, taut muscles playing under the skin, felt through legs and hands, two creatures now one. The sheer power of it coursed through him and his heart thundered in his chest. But what was the image? What had he seen? All he remembered was...gone. It was gone.

The quiet pressed in around him, only cut by the drips in the distance. The air felt warm on his skin. He drank half of one of the bottles and ate some of the bar. It was enough, for now. He tried to rise and his entire body protested. He ignored it, and slowly got to his feet. He bent down, pushing aside the protest of his back and arms and lifted the pack and settled it on him, back and neck screaming as the rough fabric brushed against his wounds.

He continued down, using his flashlight, descending from level to level. He wasn't sure why he pressed on. Perhaps curiosity. Perhaps need. The reason kept skittering away from him even as his feet bore him onward. He passed abandoned subway stations from more than a hundred years ago, debris and dust and cobwebs covering rails and balustrades and even paintings left hanging. The light played across ornate columns and hand rails. The dust he kicked up made the edges of the light sharp and defined.

Another time he might have explored to learn more. Instead he continued on. He heard the scratching and harsh guttural grunts of creatures and carefully avoided their lairs even as he mentally marked where they were for later. Down. Down.

Soon, the heat had become almost unbearable and sweat drenched him, the salty perspiration stinging his wounds. The pain from his back and shoulders warred with that in his right forearm. He was sure he looked a like a denizen of the underworld, hair charred and shriveled, dust and ash caking his face, cut by lines of sweat. It didn't matter.

He continued for what seemed hours when suddenly, another smell added itself to the melange he had come to expect. It was the smell of decay and putrefaction, the tang of iron from blood sharp. It had come upon him almost too quickly and he found himself at the edge of a large depressed bowl, scattered bones and carcasses everywhere. An Oni was crouched down, feeding on something, its eyes shining in the light from his flashlight.

Almost without thinking it roared and begin to rush at him. Desperately, he threw his pack down even as he grabbed at his retracted blade, flicking it out, the blade growing to full length. He switched the light to lantern-mode just in time, dropping it, to face the creature as it came.
A pause, then a sniff in the air. Valeriya's heart beat like drums in her chest. The oni must smell them. She glanced at the Khylsty at her side. The hunting monk was ready to strike as he raised his hatchet. The wide bell of his sleeve slid down to the elbow when he raised it.

A growl rumbled and then a thud, shuffle and sprint. Valeriya dug in her heels, ready to throw the beast off its charge, but her brows furrowed low when she realized the creature sprinted away from them.

She felt her two brothers looking at one another in confusion. "We follow it,"
her whisper was barely audible. She barely heard it herself, but they did, and together, the three moved as one.

It didn't sprint far. The howl of a charging attack echoed in the chamber, and the three Khylsty quickened their pace, uncaring of the noise. Valeriya gripped her two stilettos, ready to hack her way forward like she wielded twin fangs. Now! While it's distracted! She hissed and the three emerged from their hiding place. The torch was dropped, plunging the blue light low, but a lantern lit their path forward. The oni was a massive black shadow, clear to Valeriya's silvery eyes.

"Kill it!"
She roared and the three charged forward.

The Eye of the Khylsty
The tip of his blade scored across the Oni's chest barely making a mark. It did, however, turn the Oni slightly so he was slammed by its shoulder into the wall rather than its head. The blow dazed him for a moment even as pain blossomed everywhere.

He shook his head to clear his mind, ignoring everything superficial. Fighting creatures larger and stronger than himself required intelligence and cunning. The oni were like bulls, large and strong and fast, but still stupid beasts. He had only to be picador until he wore it down. His blade was sharp enough, especially the tip.

He just had to be fast enough. The creature roared and rushed toward him and Armande flicked his blade up so the tip scored along its neck, forward momentum driving it deep. The wound was still superficial, but it had gotten through. It would enrage the beast. Even as he did so, he spun to the side, ripping it free, ready for another charge.

He felt confident. He had done this before and would do it again.

His body was weak. He felt a pang of worry. Never before had he faced an oni alone as injured and weak as he was. But determination was like a fire in his belly. He would force himself. He had survived too much this day, to die and become food for a lesser creature.

Strike, spin. Strike spin. It was only seconds- had to be- since their first contact and yet it felt like hours. He was slower and the creature had hammered him into the walls more than once. But he ground his teeth and forced himself on.

And then he was suddenly aware of another sound, a woman's powerful voice, piercing the empty void he fought in. "убей это!!" Kill it!!!
And in that moment, others descended on the creature.
Valeriya quickened her pace, rushing into the charge. Hefting the two knives, they flashed in the lantern light like spikes. The three Khylsty fanned and surrounded the creature. Male voices roared their death song, and a brief thrill flooded her veins. The beast was a massive black shadow that easily towered over her.

It's paws swiped, but claws ripped through the space her face occupied moments before. Ducked, she stabbed at its legs, missing the mark as it jumped back. Her brother monks flanked, and the shuffling of feet, chant of the kill song and grunts of human effort made a song that fumed ecstasy in her mind. There was no time to drink it in, though. The oni's snarled turned to a squeal as a weapon chunked into its shoulder. A hatchet followed with a flash of robe. The monk's hood had fallen back, and a gleam of shaved head bounced the low light.

Valeriya hopped to her toes, rushed herself into the beast as it reared back in pain. It's paws slapped at its back, then flailed at all of them, pushing the three out of striking distance once more.

The Eye of the Khylsty
Suddenly, the oni turned, and for a moment, Armande only saw its broad leather hide, shadowed for standing in front of the lantern as it lurched and twisted. The light from the lantern could have been from a roaring fireplace for all the flickering shadows that suddenly lit up the room. For a moment, Armande didn't know what was going in.

He heard the roars and chants of men singing, deep and sonorous. The language was Russian, but old. He didn't have time to pay too much attention to it. The oni was slashing at the arrivals as they darted in and out, slashing at legs and torso, then another and then another, dancing about it as if this were game.

Armande had seen pack hunts before. He had seen dances before. He had done both. What he saw was something he would not have expected, outside of an Atharim team with years of working together. One robe clad man came into view, wicked hatchet flashing, hood falling back to reveal a bald white shaved head.

He wasted no time trying to figure out what was going on, beyond the obvious. He felt himself soaking in the sound of their chants and singing, echoing off the walls, combining with the roars of the oni, as if it were strength and life and energy. With a roar he rushed forward, suffused with power, renewed as if he'd slept for a week, the tip of his blade flashing as it struck at the creature from behind. He went for the softer spots- behind the knee, under the arm, behind its tusks. No one strike was enough immediately to bring it down, but now, between the strikes of his new companions and his own blade, blood fanned from a dozen places.

The creature did not know where to concentrate, though its claws and powerful limbs swung around wildly. Where they caught the flash of a robe or cowl, immediately one of the others struck to draw its attention away.

And through it all, he saw a demon, death made flesh. A woman who moved with grace and ferocity, at the forefront. If they were the sword, she was the point. And he felt a sense of elation. It had been a long time since he'd been part of a group hunt. Aside from earlier this day- or perhaps it was yesterday now- everything he'd done over the last few years had been alone. He'd not participated in this in years. And he felt the years melt away.

He did not know that the renewed energy he felt translated into movement, as he became a whirling dervish, reliving all those years in the deserts, hunting and killing the enemies of mankind. Muscle memory made every flick and slash and parry like the darting of a serpent, quick and deadly.

The creature slowed, bleeding from scores of places. At one point it fell to a knee, bellowing a roar of pain and agony at its many wounds and its helplessness, the back of its head to him, presenting himself to the others.

Without thinking he began a downward stroke, all his strength and weight behind the blow, intending to at last deliver a killing blow.

A pity. He wanted the shot at the eye.
There was another man among them! The oni hadn't caught the scent of prey. It caught the scent of a man!

He darted among the three Khylsty like he was one of them. He wielded some kind of club, although he swung it like a sword but she couldn't tell in the low light. Just in case, Valeriya kept out of his reach should he decide to turn it against them. The three - no - four of them circled the beast, piercing it, stabbing it, slashing at its limbs, hacking at its sinew like they were four heads of one snake. She looked to her brother monk, Illarion, whose cowl had slipped from his head revealing the great brown cross mark on his nose, but the pale man was focused on killing the beast. The rage of death danced in his pale eyes, his jaw was tight with a growl.

The unknown man burst forth, slamming his club into the beast, nearly severing its head. The creature fell to the ground with a loud thud and gurgled, dying whimpers. Valeriya lifted her chin, panting now that it was over, and pointed at Illarion. At the command, he nodded and the two monks went to stand over the beast. Illarion slipped his hood back over his head, covering the sinful bowl of his bared skull. With a great rearing of his arm, and along with the chanting of the brother at his side, he brought down the hatchet with great force and severed the animal's head from its body. The splatter gushed across his sleeves, but he stood and smoothed the cuffs low to the finger tips.

The chanting stopped. He nodded in satisfaction and wiped the hatchet on the fur of the beast. Valeriya stepped in, speaking in their mother tongue: "You will cleanse the beast when we return. I will use the fur for my dress. The skin will go to the drums. The rest of the fur to the weavers. The fat to the oilers. The meat to the cookers."

Illarion bowed to her, "It will be as you say, Eye."

The third member in their group, Marat, grunted, having picked up the blue torch and held it up to reveal the stranger among them. Valeriya looked at Illarion to translate, since she could never understand what he meant. He severed his own tongue in the Awakening, having used it for much sin and purged it from his body.

Illarion read her mind, answering for him. The monk gripped the hatchet in one hand and pointed at the stranger. "He is an Outsider. He must die,"
but Illarion waited for the Eye to command the death song.

Valeriya was ready to wave the permission, but something about the stranger caught her eye. She tilted her head and a thick mass of black hair and braids fell across her shoulder. Her pale gaze narrowed and she curled her fingers toward her. "Come before me. I shall examine you,"
she sheathed the two stilettos back to her thighs, crossed her arms, and waited for him to come forward so she could better look upon his face.

Edited by Valeriya, Oct 21 2016, 02:12 PM.
The Eye of the Khylsty
The shaved man, his ghostly pale skin draped in the shadows cast by the light on the ground, brought his hatchet down and removed the oni's head, completing the strike of his sword and arterial blood sprayed out in black jets.

And then the only thing that could be heard was the sound of their breathing. Armande too was winded after his exertions- more than he cared to admit, after the last two days- strength and the rush of the fight leeching from his body, draining away as the blood drained from the now dead oni's neck. The woman spoke quickly, her oddly accented Russian firm and in command. The light from his flashlight lantern put odd shadows on her face as well and she seemed to be crowned with a mass of long dark hair. But that was not what had his attention.

He listened in fascination as she spoke. Her Russian was archaic. Not зверь, beast. Not животное свирепый, fierce creature. Индрик-зверь, the mythical indrik beast. But the over tones of the word had changed. There was no sense of fear to the word, the hushed trepidation that had accompanied it when the outlandish tales were told. The oni was merely a resource to them, here, deep in the tunnels.

His eyes narrowed, remembering the hushed whispers of those above speaking of something or someone dangerous deep in the tunnels. There was something on the bald man's face, not completely visible in the light. He and the others moved in obedience to the woman's command while a third grunted. Then, a finger was pointed at him, accusation and sentencing all in one swift move, the other hand holding the still dripping hatchet menacingly. All sense of camaraderie vanished as quickly as it had come.

Armande smiled darkly, his eyes ice, feeling the light grip on his carbon steel sword, firm and perfectly balanced, a weapon that would dance when he swung it, an extension of his arm forged from decades of use. Despite his exhaustion, he prepared himself. Four heads would just as easily drop to the floor as one.

The girl crooked a finger at him in command, her gaze firm, demanding he come before her. A contemptuous sneer pulled at his lips as he stepped into a position just next to his lantern so they were all in front of him. His eyes glittered blue fire, the hard hilt of his sword gripped and ready. He was no supplicant, begging for his life. His voice, hard and sonorous, filled the room, "I do not come when beckoned, girl" One of the men hissed, but he ignored him, fixing her with his cold blue stare.

Edited by Regus, Oct 21 2016, 05:21 PM.
Illarion swept between them. "You stand before Глаз Христы (Eye of the Khylsty)!"
He clenched the hatchet, ready to strike at the old man before him, but Valeriya put a hand on his shoulder and pulled him away. "Brother,"
she said, voice unsteady, but her arm was sure. He turned to look at her through the folds of his hood, but did as she said and retreated.

A snap and wave of her fingers bade Marat carry the blue flame torch near. She stepped forward, angling the light toward his face.

Then she gasped.

She saw the eyes first. Blue as the torch, blue as the Above, but they were flanked by swathes of burnt flesh. The left side of his cheek and face bubbled and oozed as she had only seen a few times before. His hair was matted against his forehead. What she thought was gray with age was also singed black by soot. Ash and dirt smeared his cheeks, but only made the blue of his eyes all the brighter as they peered out of the darkness. She had the distinct sensation of peering into an abyss, only to have it peer back into her.

Elation. Joy. Salvation! Hope. It was him in flesh. The face poised before The Eye within. She'd seen his face a thousand times. It taunted her from the flicker of a flame, from behind the ripple of water. She saw it danced in the facets of crystal. She wasn't wearing the phallus, but if she had, she might have gripped it like a lucky charm.

At Valeriya's slightest movement, Illarion was poised to strike from her side. When she dropped to her knees, slipping slightly on the blood, he jerked in response, but stopped when he realized his sister bowed on purpose.

"The Eye has seen!"
She yelled, uncaring about the echo of her voice giving away their position. She gripped his ankles as though afraid he might run away. He was grievously injured. She could smell the ash on his legs.

Illarion snatched the torch from Marat, holding it high to see for himself. When Valeriya uttered the name to follow, both men gasped as well, pulled their hoods low and bowed.


Their father had returned, the one foreseen by every Eye since his death. The Khylsty would go Above. She would see the blue horizon for herself. The Eye never failed.

The Eye of the Khylsty

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