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A Window to the Past
#1
Michael had been kicked out of his own house.

Tony had told him not to come back until he 'was rid of that pretty scowl' .
The man's questionable eyesight aside, Michael had to admit that the man was right. He had let the hunters anger him far too much. He needed to be calm, he needed to think.

So it was he found himself wandering the ancient Nikolskaya Street. He knew relatively little about Moscow beyond what they taught him back home, but even he knew about the Place of Enlightenment.

The allure of the past drew him to the famous street. He felt at home among the antique shop-fronts - their signs still in old Russian. It exuded an aura of calming wisdom; a humble tenacity that bespoke endurance.
There were so many places he didn't know where to start, so he chose at random. A modest establishment with a display of dusty looking books inside the aged wood display window.

His entrance was marked by the faint tinkling of a door-chime. The old woman at the counter looked up from whatever she was doing, her head wrapped in the traditional Russian...style. He wasn't exactly sure what it was called.

His bulky indigo coat earned him a slightly raised eyebrow. He was used to it, and he didn't care. It was too cold to bother with social niceties. Besides, he was fond of it; it was the first coat he had bought after arriving in Moscow.

"Can I help you?" The old woman said, her accent heavy.

"Do you sell historical texts?"
It seemed like a silly question, but he wasn't sure how else to ask.

"Second and third aisles,"was the reply.

The store was bigger than Michael had anticipated. Six aisles of bookcases filled to the ceiling ran at least 20 metres deep. There was also an alcove set aside for reading in the far left corner.

Anger dimmed, Michael made his way towards the shelves to immerse himself in the glories of the distant past.


Edited by Michael Vellas, Jul 31 2013, 09:52 AM.
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#2
Nikolskaya Street; a book lover’s haven. The knowledge to be found here was obscure and Thalia liked that; like a winding river of unknown, so much hidden and lost. Lost beneath the waves. Of course anything she specifically wanted she bought online, like most people, but she was also fond of browsing – particularly when her interests were vague, or she wasn’t entirely sure what she was looking for. Like now.

Thal dipped in and out of most of the bookstores here with semi-regularity, though she had her favourites (not that she actually even knew their names, since they were all in Russian; she just remembered them by sight). Already she’d wandered through perhaps half a dozen, meandering thoughtfully amidst the dusty shelves without much care for time; one of the perks of being her own boss.

A couple of newly purchased books weighed down the satchel slung over one shoulder – none of them actually pertaining to the whim that had driven her to Nikolskaya, but that was hardly unusual; her apartment was crammed with such impulse buys. Getting them to the apartment, though; that was the trick. With her sketchbook and other essentials in there, the buckles on her bag wouldn’t actually pull closed. One more shop, just one more.

She’d been saying that for the past three.

Pleasant chimes marked her entrance. The proprietor glanced up, then squinted, until eventually her brows rose in indifferent recognition, which was about as much a hello as Thalia could expect. She smiled a greeting anyway – those kind of manners cost nothing – and half leant on the counter, mostly to ease her shoulder of its burden for a moment.

"Looking for?"

The smile deepened to an impish sort of grin, because there was such a flat look on the old woman’s face - she almost looked resigned. "Norse today. Specifically Jörmungandr. A bit of Yggdrasil."

"Hmph." After a moment of thought, the woman just waved her on, which usually meant that yes, there was something useful somewhere, but occasionally meant that actually she had no idea. Thalia supposed there were a lot of books; so many in fact, that some of them had probably been here years.

"Thanks."

She knew the store well enough to find her own way to the right shelf, though upon arriving discovered that she didn't have the place to herself. And the guy looked; well, he looked like the sort of person who would be displeased by interruption. Severity cast a heavy shadow on his profile, though perhaps he was just focussed on the books. And the coat. It was so thick, and bulky as though he'd crammed layers underneath as well. Too clean looking to be a vagrant, though - and especially not in the middle of the reputed Nikolskaya street. Tourist then? Someone used to warmer climes, apparently. A low laugh hummed from her throat.

"You know it's summer, right?" Thal wore a jacket over a girlish blouse, but it was only light. Moscow was not exactly known for its baking heat, but then neither was England; she supposed she was accustom to it - and at least it wasn't raining. When he looked up - if he even did - he'd find her grinning, though the tease was evident in her voice anyway. If such banter was completely inappropriate with a stranger she showed not an ounce of self-consciousness. "Sorry, just want to squeeze passed. And I didn't exactly want to risk knocking you head-first into a shelf." She indicated the bag jutting out from where it hung beside her thigh. The aisles were wide enough for two people to pass comfortably enough without it, and even with it she probably wouldn't have pushed into him, but it wouldn've involved some awkward shuffling.
"A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
Roderick Haig-Brown
[Image: nimedathalialethebanner.jpg]
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#3
"Of Pallas Athena, guardian of the city, I begin to sing. Dread is she, and with Ares she loves the deeds of war, the sack of cities and the shouting and the battle. It is she who saves the people as they go to war and come back. Hail, goddess, and give us good fortune and happiness!"

He had read the words before but they always drew him back. Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, War and Craft. What was it about this non-existent being that kindled such emotion - emotions that he could not comprehend?

All of the ancient myth filled him with a kind of nostalgia but never as strong as the Greek and Roman. He was fascinated by the deeds of the Gods among mortals, their heroics and malevolence. The -

"You know it's summer, right?" a voice said beside him. "Sorry, just want to squeeze passed. And I didn't exactly want to risk knocking you head-first into a shelf."

It took him by surprise. How could he not have noticed someone right in front of him!?

Michael looked up slowly, anger bubbling up - at what, he could not say.

The rage ebbed, the woman's grin was refreshing. Men twice his size had avoided him as if he were a viper about to strike. To see this delicate woman smiling - even if she was making fun of him - was welcome - and for some reason, he wasn't surprised.

"Whatever they call it here, I call it cold,"
he said, pressing himself against the bookcase to let her through, although it looked like there was enough space to get by in the first place.

He looked down at the bag she had indicated at her side, which seemed like it was full of books. "You read history?"
Michael tried adopt a more affable calm, but the assassination attempt still stung. "Forgive me if I sound surprised, I don't mean anything by it. It's just that I have found people in the CCD tend to be so focused on moving forward, they don't realise that many answers may be found in the past."










(Source for the hymn: The Homeric Hymns - Greek Epic C8th-4th B.C.)


Edited by Michael Vellas, Jul 31 2013, 10:01 AM.
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#4
A scowl; she wouldn’t have been surprised by a scowl. Maybe a slight huff, or an annoyed purse of the lips - even being totally ignored. As far as reactions went, any of those would have been pretty normal, and Thalia was accustomed to strangers finding her affable nature presumptuous. But for an ominous moment, the guy didn’t look simply irritated; he looked angry. It rose and fell in a second, deepening back to his stone cold expression of severity almost as quickly as she could blink, but she saw it. And he didn’t smile.

"Cold is the heart of winter. Moscow gets a ton of snow, though I have to admit the novelty of it wore off after the first Christmas I spent here. Still, you should see the army of snowmen that get put up in Old Arbat Street!" She smiled thanks, then, once passed, dumped the bag by her feet and scanned her eyes up the height of the bookcase. Her gaze was drawn to colour and shape more than title, despite that she was looking specifically for Norse mythology, and already she began slipping books out of their places, flicking through, and then replacing them. She loved the smell of old vellum.

Since he didn’t seem the type for idle conversation, and she wasn't quite sure if she had offended him with the coat comment, she was surprised by the question. Her first impulse was to shrug; she read lots, really - whatever whim happened to capture her attention at the time. But she had a soft-spot for myth, and it resounded in most of her paintings - if it was that very same connection which made it something of a delicate subject.

So rather than think about that, she chose to note that he said in the CCD, which meant that not only was he definitely not local (as if the coat itself hadn’t made that obvious), but that he was from beyond the Dominances altogether. What he said was true enough, though; her own parents had always been slightly exasperated with her esoteric interests. So she nodded with an understanding grin. "Uh huh. I studied history at MSU, for a while anyway. The academia didn’t agree with me, but I’ve always loved this stuff." At which point she chose to take an interest in the book in his hands, of which she could only see part of the cover. "Greek?"
"A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
Roderick Haig-Brown
[Image: nimedathalialethebanner.jpg]
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#5
Once he had said it, he thought it sounded silly. Waxing philosophic with a total stranger? He really must be on edge. But it didn't seem to bother her, in fact, she seemed to understand.

"Uh huh. I studied history at MSU, for a while anyway. The academia didn’t agree with me, but I’ve always loved this stuff."

He accent was vaguely reminiscent of his parents'. Was she from England? He supposed it didn't really matter. Of all people, he knew that strange circumstances saw people travel around the world, and it seemed evident enough why she was here in Moscow.

"Greek?"

It took him a moment to realise she was talking about the book he held.

"Yes. I have always been drawn to Greek and Roman mythology. I never got the chance to study it,"
- he repressed a grimace at the memory of his life at the academy - "but it has always been a passion of mine."


He paused, not sure why he was talking to the woman, but it felt good to talk about something he loved with someone else. "I'm not sure why, though. It is as if I am remembering a peaceful childhood after years of war."


He felt foolish, the words sounded needlessly grandiose, but he was unsure how to explain it, if he could at all.

He decided to change the subject."Are you looking for anything in particular?"



Edited by Michael Vellas, Jul 30 2013, 03:48 PM.
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#6
He was very serious, from his mannerisms to the way he spoke, and it was at relative odds with how young he looked; something in the region of her own age, give or take a few years in either direction, would be her guess. Certainly not old enough to justify such a heaviness to his countenance, which probably meant he had an interesting story. He’d come to the CCD, after all, and one only had to look at something like Vulpesnet to see that not all those outside the Dominances viewed it favourably. Those who chose to relocate usually had reasons beyond whim.

“Well, formal education is overrated anyway.” She shrugged, pulled another book and lingered over this one; or, more specifically, the glossy pictures at its centre. Though her gaze was pulled down, her expression focussed in contemplation of the artwork, she of course latched onto the oddity in his explanation; it was a downright bizarre thing to say, though it cemented her notion that he had not simply chosen to come to the CCD, but fled to it. Years of war?

“That’s very poetic.” She might have pressed further, but instinct held her back; he’d diverted her attention on purpose, she was pretty sure, and in any case she was happy to be diverted. And reminded that actually, yes, she was looking for something in particular. She snapped the book shut, and returned it in an approximation of where it had come from. “Norse mythology,” she said, almost as if to confirm it to herself, and leaned in to scan the shelf intently. “I have this commission – for a design with a serpent and a tree. Which makes me think of Jörmungandr and Yggdrasil.”
"A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
Roderick Haig-Brown
[Image: nimedathalialethebanner.jpg]
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#7
He was glad she decided to ignore his comment. He didn't really know what had come over him, it was not like him at -

Now that he thought of it, he couldn't remember the last time he relaxed and laughed. Ever since the...Sickness... he had grown colder. Perhaps it was him after all.

Michael repressed a shiver. He didn't even know himself any more.

“I have this commission – for a design with a serpent and a tree. Which makes me think of Jörmungandr and Yggdrasil.”

The words struck him. He was careful not to show any physical reaction, but he sharpened his senses.

He had not really been paying attention. He was glad for the conversation, and he wasn't ignoring the woman, but he didn't pay attention to detail, lost in his own troubled thoughts.

He surveyed her like he would a map of a battlefield. Of course, he would never actually admit it, anyone would likely be offended, but it was not a sign of disrespect to his mind, just a way of analysing a person.

She seemed open and honest. He could not detect any guile in her expression but he doubted she was oblivious to his mood.

He would have to be careful, and he hated the need for it. He wished he could take a genuine interest in what someone else was doing - even if it was just a stranger who shared a similar passion - but he could not let his guard slip.

"Jörmungandr... I'm afraid my Norse mythology is a little rusty. The World Serpent, was it? It seems that the ancients were fond of snakes. Gilgamesh, the Bible... In fact, I recall Greeks had a similar notion. The Ouroboros, Tail Devourer. I have always wondered what the fascination with the snake was about."


He paused, and located the book he had noticed earlier with Jörmungandr on it's spine. "I think this may help."
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#8
"Yup, that’s right."

She was beginning to note that this man’s severity was not just a matter of expression or manner; it ran deep, like his centre was coiled tight as a spring eternally denied release. There was intensity to his words, every single one of them, as though he weighed each before he spoke. Thalia glanced up from the shelves, head tilted in contemplation; whatever his eccentricities, and regardless of that grave edge, she chose to answer seriously.

"It’s just one of those motifs, I suppose. But do you really wonder about the image? It’s eternity, rebirth – how can humanity not seek comfort of those things?" She’d always felt affinity for such notions; she was not religious, nor had she been brought up to be, and she certainly didn’t believe in reincarnation or any of that rubbish. But it soothed her anyway, the cyclic nature of it. "Yggdrasil’s a similar thing - the world tree, interconnectivity of life and all that. Though the Greeks don't acknowledge that particular image." Which was why she looked for the Midgard Serpent and not the Ouroboros. Admittedly, she didn't need any of it for Rune's tattoo, but it satisfied the meandering whims of her own mind to explore the diversions it threw up.

"Ah! Thanks." She took the book with a grateful smile, and began to thumb through the pages. "I'm Thalia, by the way."
"A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
Roderick Haig-Brown
[Image: nimedathalialethebanner.jpg]
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#9
Eternity and rebirth.

She was right, of course. People had found comfort through religion like that for as long as history was recorded. Unfortunately, it didn't get him anywhere.

A religious cult? Perhaps, but there were thousands, and hunting people with strange powers was not exactly uncommon. People feared the unknown, he could attest to that.

In a way, he felt relieved. He wanted to find the people that hunted him... but he wasn't sure what he would do when he did. What if they had good reason for wanting him dead? His powers were certainly dangerous. Could he be putting lives at risk simply by living?

It wasn't a thought he was ready to entertain. For now, he would learn control. A blade was only as dangerous as the one who wielded it. He would control it.

"Ah! Thanks. I'm Thalia, by the way."

So self-absorbed I didn't even ask her name...

He felt a sting of shame, although only for a brief moment. His life was at stake, after all.

Still, for some strange reason he felt his troubles soothed - even if he could not forget them - from the simple conversation. He owed her basic courtesy at the very least.

"Pleased to meet you, Thalia. My name is Michael Vellas."
Years of military nonsense had drilled the greeting into him. He was pleased he did not try to give her his rank and commanding officer. The thought was accompanied by a resurgent wave of resentment that he squashed immediately.

"And thank you,"
he added, essaying a tight smile. She probably had no idea why he was thanking her, he hardly knew himself, only that she had somehow helped regain his equilibrium.


Edited by Michael Vellas, Aug 1 2013, 05:18 AM.
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#10
There were some black and white pictures in the book, and she lingered on those as she scanned its contents. Her eyes popped back up when he spoke, though. Even after so short a time in his company, the formality didn’t surprise her. But the smile did. It was the poorest approximation of one she thought she’d ever seen; a bare hitch of the lips as clipped and controlled as the way he spoke, but it was offered after a pretty endearing fashion considering his stiffness. She laughed; not in a mean way, but neither in a way that hid the fact it was him she found amusing.

“Well, Michael Vellas, you’re very welcome.” For what? She had no idea, but a little detail like that didn’t perturb the confidence of her tone, as if she knew exactly what he was talking about. Still, strange man. Thalia bent to heave her satchel back on her shoulder, tucking the book under one arm while she squeezed her hand into her jeans pocket for her wallet. The cash for the book she folded in half and placed in her mouth as she worked out a card, which she then offered to Michael. It detailed the name of a gallery on Tverskaya Street housing a small collection of her paintings over the summer, as well as her name and website. That done, she stuffed the wallet back in her pocket and took the cash out of her mouth.

“If you like art at all. I take a lot of influence from myth.” She smiled, adjusted the strap of her bag, and slipped back passed, headed for the woman behind the till. “Nice to meet you too, Michael.”
"A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
Roderick Haig-Brown
[Image: nimedathalialethebanner.jpg]
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