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Of Monsters and Magic
[[Continued from Waves in the crowd]]

By the time the crowd finally thinned out to ordinary traffic, the anchor Elias offered was no longer necessary. The peripheral distractions peeled off in layers until they receded to what Asha considered normal interference. She didn't let him go, though, less from need and more from want. The connection was pleasant.

They meandered a route, which Asha guided back on course every now and then with a faint tug or nudge. The quiet was comfortable. The natural ebb and flow of his emotions was like floating in a calm sea. She was happy to drift.

"I work in the bookshop sometimes, though it's purely cash in hand until I can get my papers sorted out. All my ID was in the car,"
she said, fumbling about for her keys. "It's going to take forever to save up for a new one. I miss the road."
Which was not to say she had not found a way to be content with her circumstances. She adored travelling; missed haring down a highway with the windows down and the music loud. But Moscow was not such a bad city to find oneself stranded in.

She found the keys. Paused. Glanced up at him. Her smile was open, a window to her own emotions. Shyness tinged it now. Exhaustion was nipping at her toes, and she longed to curl up and sleep until her body recovered. It warred with the part of her that was reluctant to let Elias go. He would drift out of her life again without much resistance, she imagined. And she did have his number. But she didn't want to relinquish the new found connection so soon; the peaceful company of someone who knew what she was, and didn't seem to care. Not something she'd ever thought she'd find. "You coming in?"
"You plan on leaving then? Once you buy a car?"
She didn't need one if she was staying. The metro was too useful for public transportation. Elias never enjoyed driving either, not like a teenager should. Coasting over land at breakneck speed made him sick. When in a car he preferred to look down at a a screen or sleep. Asha was the opposite. Big shocker.

He wasn't pleased by the prospect. Why was curious. He knew he liked this girl. He wasn't dense on that account. But whatever he was thinking, he wasn't going to act on it. He was used to rejection. Expected it. Built walls so to not deal with it.

He almost turned to go, until she asked if he would come in. Eyeliner darkened eyes blinking, surprise was quickly replaced by acceptance. And he shrugged.


He followed behind.
Obvious as the question probably was, it gave Asha pause. "I...I've never considered otherwise, I guess."
She tipped her shoulder into a half shrug, uncertain. "I've never had a proper home. We always travelled. Well, apart from when I was really small - we spent three years at the monastery in Leh. I think my uncle meant to leave me there actually. Though he didn't manage to shake me off for another ten years."
The pain banked abruptly into her expression; not because she minded talking about it, but because it still cut deeply. He hadn't even said a proper goodbye.

She turned the key in the lock, distracting herself. Elias's emotions were close and twisting; they washed through her, but without context were not interpretable. She felt the sliver of surprise, though; a brief spike that quickly gave way to his usual equilibrium. "And I can't stay here living on charity forever. I think Aria only gave me something to do so I wouldn't feel guilty."

The apartment was vastly unchanged from the way Aria had left it; Asha hadn't touched or moved anything that had been left behind, and disturbed things minimally with her daily routine. There were only two additions; a vibrant patchwork throw hung over the back of the sofa - a thrift store bargain - and a bright bunch of flowers sat in a pint glass on the window sill. The latter was a complete novelty. The soft floral scent reminded her of being outdoors.

The monster manual - as she so affectionately called it - lay open on the coffee table. Various florescent paper markers dotted the other pages. A desk held the computer equipment and a neat pile of the journals Aria had given her to work on. Everything was efficiently organised; she was used to making do with cramped spaces, and sharing with another besides. Her gaze flickered over it all for only a moment. Aria had warned at the content, but not said she could not share it, and Elias was as much Atharim prey as she was. She didn't think it would matter.

"That's what I do to earn my keep."
Her hand fluttered over it briefly, before turning to unwind the scarf from her neck. She hung it behind the door, alongside her coat. "Are you hungry. I have plenty of food."
Her apartment was laid out like he remembered. Blessedly empty of bodies taking up the short amount of space. Over all, tidy and functional. He approved.

His stomach was hollow, his cheeks gaunt. Food would be welcome. He plucked a slip of dissolvable paper out of a case stowed in his pocket and popped it on his tongue first. His abdomen would ache later if he didn't.

"Food is good. Anything you have, but the blander the better."

The couch called to him, having been standing and walking all day. He unbuttoned and discarded the long coat over the side, revealing a t shirt beneath, his arms lean and pale.

He sank into the cushions and stretched. It felt great despite its age. While he waited, he gathered his hair into a pony tail, tied it behind his neck. It felt good to rest.

Finally, the book caught his eye. He'd only casually glanced at it before, but now he flipped the pages, intrigued by what he spied.
When they stayed in the smaller towns and villages, it was usually with the families who called the rākṣasa's services. Being female, Ashavari inevitably ended up amongst the women of the household, swept up like a cog in the wheel of the kitchen's heart. Those women had often felt the need to mother her, but Asha welcomed the care and enjoyed the novelty of the lessons. The humdrum was pleasant. The predictable flow of emotion. The focus.

It meant she cooked to excess without meaning to, still adjusting to both static and single living. The freezer was full of leftovers. Of course, when she had said she had plenty of food, it was perhaps not the sort of food an American would expect stocking the cupboards. There was a covered dal in the fridge; a quick, easy and cheap meal. Mentally she tried to calculate exactly what seasoning she'd put in it. Garlic, onion. Turmeric. Cumin. A little ginger. She wouldn't call it bland, but it was not spicy either. It'd have to do. She could boil rice. Fry some chapatis. He wouldn't starve.

Taking out the dishes and balancing them on the side, she flicked on a radio on the counter top, switched the volume down to a low background murmur. She could feel Elias relax behind her as she washed her hands in the sink. It settled into her bones like an embrace, not as rejuvenating as curling up in bed, but a pleasant lethargy that warmed contentment into her limbs. The pressure behind her eyes didn't ease; she'd pushed herself too hard for that. But for now it was easily enough ignored.

The kitchenette was tiny and lacked enough utensils that Asha doubted Aria had used it much. But it was luxury compared to the camping stove she'd grown up tinkering with. While the water boiled she set down mats on the coffee table, alongside bowls and cutlery. Afterwards a jug of water and glasses. Elias was flickering through the bestiary; his curiosity tickled her senses, but she left him to it. He looked different with his hair tied back, and she made a surreptitious study of his face as she laid everything out. Without the thick leather coat she could see he was reed thin, his arms long and pale; it somewhat reminded her of a turtle having shucked its shell.

While the dal warmed through and the rice simmered, she kneaded out the dough and heated oil in a pan. When the rest of the food was ready, she cooked them in rough circles, towered them on a plate with a layer of kitchen roll between each one. There were no serving dishes, so the food was ladled into ordinary bowls with ordinary spoons dug into their centres, and placed on the mats on the coffee table. A moment later the piping hot chapatis joined the mini feast, laid out on a plate. He was welcome to serve himself. "It's lentils and chickpeas and spinach. The cubes are sweet potato. There are some spices. It's not hot though. You can stick to the rice and chapatis if you'd rather."

She popped off her shoes, stacked them neatly to the side, before she finally sank into the sofa. Her legs curled underneath her, and she peered over his shoulder curiously. "Have you ever seen anything like the things in there?"

The book was bizarre. Elias turned each page studiously, brow furrowed thoughtfully. He had an image in his mind, but none of the pages matched it.

Asha was gone a while and as the minutes rolled on, scents wafted thicker and thicker. Some turned his stomach, but the overall aroma was enticing. The length of time she was absent, he looked through most of the book. Nothing resembled the river. Nothing explained his uncle's death or corroborated the story from the Guardian.

When she did return, Elias blinked through his surprise at the variety of dishes. Lentils and chickpeas? Not common in Kenab. Sweet potato and rice was more familiar and he took a serving of each.

The first bite filled him with warmth. She was right, it was flavorful but not exotic. Three or four spoonfuls though and he pushed the bowl aside.

"I've seen some weird stuff, but nothing like what's in that book."

The mist that spoke to him came to mind. "I'm looking for one, actually. It's the reason I'm still in this god forsaken land. That book have anything to say about river guardians?"

Now that she was ensconced in the sofa's cushions, she was too tired to put the effort into leaning forward to get some food for herself, let alone the chore of working her jaws to chew it. She pulled a cushion onto her lap, hugged it against her stomach. The lethargy hummed almost pleasant. It would be easy to fall asleep, but also extremely rude, and Asha had been brought up better than that. She tugged the threads of Elias' curiosity around her shoulders like a blanket, relegating her own fatigue to the back of her mind. It wasn't something she had tried before, but it seemed to adjust her focus well enough.

"I haven't read the whole thing,"
she admitted. "I use it to cross reference when I don't understand something in the journals. I haven't finished working through those either. I can't think of anything the Atharim would consider a guardian, though. You should ask Nox."
Not that the two had gotten on particularly well before, but she knew better than to suggest he go to Aria. "You came to Moscow looking for a monster? I remember you said you're studying marine biology."
He didn't say he came to Mpscow looking for a monster. Maybe if turned out that way, but he never said it.

"I came to Moscow looking for a man."

The correction was blunt. Asking Nox about it was not going to happen. He'd be desperate to deal with that lunatic again.

Thirsty, he exchanged food for a drink of water, gulping down the glass all at once.

"I found him at the asylum. An old professor locked up for fifty years. He was crazy, that's for sure. But it doesn't mean he was lying."

Asha was tired. He didn't need super powers to tell. She curled up on the couch like a cat. He was acutely aware of how close she sat, but he didn't move or do anything about it.

"Only I call it a guardian. The thing I was looking for. We saw it in the river out in the country. But I couldn't catch it. I tried. It has something I want."

What that was, Elias didn't know, but he had to have it. At all costs.

If he closed his eyes he could almost imagine it.
Nox was still reeling from the power the Ascendancy showed and he missed the show. That was probably the most disappointing thing of it all. The Ascendancy had woven this great feat and he didn't see it. He felt the power. To be there....

Nox had barely remembered to pick up new doorknobs on his way. He'd had to detour out of the Enlightened district to find a hardware store, thankfully one was near Lucas' shop. He wondered how that was going. He might have to stop in and see how it went - even if it was still open. Nox sighed. Poor Aria. Lucas was a good man. He actually missed him too.

But he had other things to attend to, Nox dropped the power as they neared the old bookshop Aria used to live above, that now kept another Sentient. He smiled at Cain. "Dane isn't after Asha. Aria use to live here. Aria gave him a key. I don't want there to be mistakes because Aria was stupid and gave Dane a key to her apartment. She may have a death wish but I'm certain Asha doesn't."
Nox grinned. "And on that note, unless completely necessary don't use your power around Asha. The disappearing act is disorienting."
He knew it would cause questions but he'd explain later. Right now he to change the locks. It wouldn't keep Dane out completely but it would at least mean that he'd have to break in and that was at least a cause to press charges. But that would also mean that Asha would likely be hurt. And that Nox didn't really have the stomach for. He'd protect who he could. He'd probably have to stop by more often now that Dane was back...

Nox opened the shop door instead of hitting the alley. He nodded towards the elder book store keeper and he smiled back. "Been a while."

Nox only nodded as he took the back stairs up to Aria's old apartment and knocked on the door. He saw the repairs looked good from when Giordano had broken in. Nox wondered if Aria had killed him. So many questions to ask Aria... He hoped Asha was home, if not he'd have to break in himself to change the locks. He wasn't leaving till he did.

Edited by Nox, Aug 16 2016, 04:41 PM.
Dane sat on the window escape outside the building. The metal was rusted in places, and would collapse from the exterior with a few threads of power if one desired. But as Dane was currently camped out there, and had been since midnight, such would be a bad idea at the moment. Every once in a while he looked through the bathroom window in case Aria came home to take her regular soak in the tub.

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