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The Above
Armande awoke in peace, something that was alien to him. In truth, it had been almost two decades since he'd awakened this way. He often had to meditate in the evenings just to quiet his mind enough to sleep. His only respite from the never ending onslought came from days where his physical activities sapped him of all his strength, from a hunt or from training.

And every morning his eyes would open and so would the floodgates, inundating him.

Today, was different. The warm softness of Valeriya's bare skin against his, the silky smoothness, the firm roundnesses, the smell of her hair against his neck, the perfect fit of their bodies together. It had been an elixer to make any man fall asleep in tranquility.

His mind had gently ascended from the depths of his unconsciousness, a deep and soothing ocean of lapping waves, rose until it imperceptibly crested the surface, one moment asleep, the next awake.

He sighed contentedly, the feel of humanity restored to him. Gradually he became aware of sensations on his back, slight pain, and he smiled to himself. Valeriya and her nails. She had been an animal. It had been raw and consuming, a fire, an inferno that had engulfed them.

And he was content. It had begun.

Awake, however, he wasn't one to lie abed lazily. While the temptation to wake her in a manner that they might continue their play was certainly there-
as was his readiness- there was too much to do. For the Khlysty. For the Atharim. For Valeriya herself.

He found himself looking forward to being out and about again. He rolled on his side to peer at her, her mass of dark hair laying about the pillow and on her face in disarray. Her eyelids were closed, hiding those green eyes that captivated him so. Her mouth was relaxed and slightly open, showing a hint of her front teeth, no smile or frown to alter its shape. He just watched her, wondered at what images and visions played in her mind.

More than that, though, he tried to imagine her reaction to the surface, what she called the Above, when they left the safehouse today. Part of him was content to let her sleep peacefully. To stay in this cocoon as long as possible. But the other part knew that was impossible. And he did want to show her everything. That surprised him. He laughed to himself at how foolish he was, behaving as some schoolboy might. There was a war on. Still, he did watch her slumber for a minute more.

Gently he shook her bare shoulder. Softly, "Valeriya, wake. It is time. We go outside today." He couldn't help adding that last part.

There was more to tell her, more to plan. And he did mean to keep his promise to her, to include her in those plans. That was his intention anyway, though he knew that habits were hard to overcome. Sharing had not been his nature for a very long time.

But she needed to wake first.

Edited by Regus, Jan 22 2018, 06:50 PM.
As a girl, she huddled against Illarion when they slept. The two were twins, after all, birthed and lived as one. Yet never had she felt so connected to someone before. Valeriya nuzzled Armande most of the time they slept. His warmth was welcoming, and she fell asleep with her fingers curled around his neck.

His declaration chased away any stupor that lingered from the rest. She hoped the Above would not make her soft, accustomed to soft pallets and lazy sleeps.

She shook off their bed coverings, erupting to life. Today was the day her life began. Perhaps it was she who had been sleeping, and only now was she truly awake. The sky beckoned. The green and blue called. She dressed herself in the attire that Armande provided and was ready to depart at the first sign of readiness.

When the time came, she squeezed his hand, left the others behind, and boldly entered the world of the Above.

Edited by Valeriya, Jan 23 2018, 07:24 PM.
The Eye of the Khylsty
When Armande was four years old, his mother had been living with a few of the women she worked with in the brothel in Syracuse. While there was certainly drama among some of the girls, in general there existed a very supportive atmosphere. Many had children and, on nights his mother might have to work, he would be watched by one of those women, would play with the kids his age.

One older boy that he often followed around in the hopes he would be accepted had a toy car. It had had to be wound up to run. Batteries were expensive, so toys that depended on them were generally avoided.

It was always amusing to watch the car get wound, tighter and tighter until the key wouldn't turn anymore, and then be set free on the kitchen linoleum floor. The car screamed and ran from one wall to the other, bouncing about, yet somehow staying upright, to ricochet off yet another wall and so on. It seemed to run at full speed forever, bouncing endlessly.

Armande smiled to himself. From the moment Valeriya had awakened, she was that car. She bounced out of the bed, chattering excitedly, as she hurried to prepare herself, chivvying him to move faster, shave faster, dress faster. At one point he had to stop and laugh, which of course prompted more pushing.

Which meant that it was only a short time from when she'd awakened to their leaving, her hand tightly in his, leaving the safehouse. He'd taken a moment to leave behind instructions and assignments. They would only be gone a few hours. This was her first foray after all. The others would get bored though, left alone. But he had plans for them.

While she had dressed, he had messaged Thiess, this time telling him to come himself to meet. Armande had wrapped himself in a shemagh he had put thermal reflectors in. He also wore light scattering sunglasses.

When they stepped out of the safehouse, he couldn't help but see things differently. He'd been underground for weeks and even though he knew the sun was weak for this time of year, it felt bright. Almost too bright. After a moment, he removed his glasses and gave them to her. He would quickly readapt. She had only every known the pale yellow blue light of tallow and oni oil. "It will help keep the sun from hurting your eyes until you get used to it."

The shemagh would do until he could stop and buy another pair. While the safehouse had all manner of things, sunglasses probably had never crossed anyone's mind. But there had been money.

He opened the truck door and motioned for her to get in. He also fastened the seat belt, explaining its purpose. Now that they were outside, she seemed to absorb everything she could see and hear.

He started the truck and they drove. At the nearest fuel depot, they got out- the trick of the buckle something he almost forgot to explain. Then, they went into the convenience store. Standard quick food sat out, some soups or stews hot and steaming, other items, cabbage rolls, wraps and everything else in the chiller. "Food," he explained, though only purchased drinks and another pair of glasses. The brackish water of the under ground and the fermented algae-like sludge that served as alcohol had been the only drinks he knew they had. Fresh bottled water would taste sweet.

He explained everything to her, using modern Russian names for concepts or things they had no words for. His glasses back, he felt more secure. He did not know if his face was truly known but the cameras were everywhere. They drove from the Red Light District, onto the Golden Circle and from their spiralled inward.

At one point they drove along the Moskva River and in the distance was The Kremlin and St. Basillica's. Perversely, part of him wanted to go there, to stand in front of Brandon's obscene monument. To show he was not gone. If Brandon had survived and come back to life....well, so had Armande Nicodemus.

But for now, he was content to point them out to Valeriya, explaining what they were. And that was where he had attacked Apollyon, had nearly (or maybe definitely) killed him. Another time.

They drove until they were near Park Kultury Metro station. He found a spot and parked. Just across the way was Gorky Park. Until 30 years ago, it had been filled with amusement park rides and numerous shops and cafes, a reflection of the new energy the fall of the Soviet Union had brought. Prior to that, it had been austere, somehow reflecting the age of the Iron Curtain. But then, 30 years ago, all but a few of the rides were removed, hundreds of acres of grass and gardens and trees were put in or cultivated. A large ice rink was installed. In a short period of time, Gorky Park came to be the equal of any park in the world.

Grudgingly, he admitted, the CCD continued the care, expanding the park, until it was not equal, but superior to any other park anywhere.

Little shops and cafes dotted it, but there was an elegance and beauty to it all. The shashlik cafes served skewered meats in the styles of the Turks, the Russians, Morocco, Iran, India and many other places. He took Valeriya to one as they waited for Theiss and he ordered, letting her sample it all. They walked from shop to shop and examined all the wares, knick knacks, jewelry, artwork, garments, glassware, and all other manner of items.

They walked through the gardens and trees. Most of the beds were dormant of their most vibrant colored flowers, but there were still bright oranges and yellows and purples greens and red of the perenniels, especially in their leaves and vines.

It was enjoyable to watch it all through her eyes. But the idyl could not last forever. His wallet beeped. "It's time to go meet Theiss, Valeriya."

They walked to the agreed upon bench and soon the older man was wheeling himself down the path in his chair. Armande had given her his wallet and put on a translation app. It wasnt perfect, but the language AI still provided a fair approximation to Russian. With headphones, she could listen and know what was going on.

He only glanced at the man and then proceeded to gaze ahead, studying the other park visitors. He wasn't suspicious, not of Theiss, but others might have followed. In any case, it wasn't a habit he'd break now.

"I was heartened to hear you had survived,"
the man said in a still strong voice, though pitched low. "Fear has seized many. Especially after....."

Armande nodded. He understood. "Our enemy is the Destroyer. He will not be killed so easily as we had thought. But our war is not done." He nodded to Valeriya. "This is Valeriya. She is an ally. She leads a small group that descended from the Atharim long ago. They are fierce and will strengthen our number."

In truth, that was the smallest thing the Khylsty would do. Valeriya herself, along the belongings they had safeguarded were the real treasure. She more than them, especially to him personally. But that was for him to know.

Theiss was silent for a while."As to that.....well, Rome has been silent since you disappeared. It is only recently that my digging has finally indicated why."
Again he paused, this time so long Armande was going to snap at him. "The revelation of our existence has placed the Church and the Holy Father himself in a difficult position. He cannot afford to turn his back on us completely, though I wouldn't be surprised at all if he wanted to. And he cannot afford to force Brandon to begin to take more direct control in Vatican affairs. As you know, the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church has long resented the apparant autonomy of his counterpart in Rome."

Armande knew all to well. It took regular intervention of Atharim Orthodox priests to keep the tension from doing more than slowly simmer. A sickening feeling filled his stomach. He had a feeling he knew where Theiss was going. The feeling was betrayal and it threatened to become anger quickly.

"The Pope has appointed a new Regus." he said quietly, glancing at Valeriya. Theiss nodded, unsurprised. Armande was silent, mulling. Curiously, though his anger leached away. He remembered the idol of the Regus. His sin. He was Armande. Regus was just a position.

The man was reality. He smiled tightly, feeling a perverse sort of pleasure. He was not angry, no. He was motivated. More than that, excited. To do what he needed he still had to be Regus. But.....The Holy Father and the new "Regus" would learn.

His voice was deadly, quiet steel being drawn. "If they thought I was intimidating as the Regus, the Holy Father and his new puppet will soon learn the Khylsty Armande is terrifying."

Edited by Regus, Jan 23 2018, 10:25 PM.
Overwhelmed. Valeriya was so overwhelmed she couldn't speak.

For much of the day (day being a new word), her eyes burned with pain until Armande gave black rocks to wear across her eyes. Lenses, like glass, he said, but thinner and lighter. She spent a good five minutes lifting and lowering the lenses off and on her face, studying the shift between darkness and brightness they imbued upon the world.

Towers loomed so tall over head that Valeriya had to crane her neck as far back as she could flex just to see the tops. At one point, her hair flew hard away from her head. She just stood there, marveling in the feel of wind against her face. She rubbed her palms across the prickle on her cheeks and smiled at Armande.

Armande's head wrapping was something to get used to seeing, and Valeriya briefly missed the decorations in her hair. Soon enough she realized there were as many ways to dress oneself as there were people.

At the store, she stared at a woman in a long sparkly gown of silver and gold. She had a long veil strung from her hair and gold rings through her ears. There was a child with her.

She laid her chin on the frame of the truck as they drove, staring out into the world as it passed by so swiftly. In the distance she saw the peaks of a palace, and she shivered to herself knowing it was the place of Rasputin's last home and the start of the war that sent the Khylsty into hiding.

When they stopped, Valeriya followed Armande at a slow pace. Until she stopped altogether and just stared. She pulled the black lenses from her eyes and forced herself to view the sight with her own, unfiltered eyes.

"So much green," she said in awe. Tall brown towers with millions of spikes branching off the trunk surrounded them. Buds of green were stuck to every single one like nails on fingers. She laid her hand on the bark of a tree, felt the ridges beneath her palm. Then she ran her fingers through the bouncy leaves of a hedge. Children ran past, racing toward a giant water pond spewing forth a font of white capped water. The fountain hissed like the waterfall from the Below. When she knelt low and put her face into the cup of a flower, she savored the silkiness of its petals on her cheeks, and when she looked up at Armande, tears flooded her eyes.

He led her away from the flowers and trees and leaves and bid her sit on a bench. The iron bars beneath her legs felt like a jail. Only her immense love for Armande kept her there, but her patience would not last long. She didn't want to listen to talking. She wanted to RUN.

Armande thrust something into her ears and through the device a harsh voice translated what was said into something she half-comprehended. While she followed most of the words that were spoken, her brow curled low with frustration, as understanding was fleeting. Rome, Fathers, Church, Pope and Regus. She tried to put the picture together. Armande had enemies. She wasn't surprised. Every capable leader drew enemies.
The Eye of the Khylsty
Armande paused, mulling over the situation. The sound of children in the distance, the spray of the fountain distant but still audible, birds flitting about, singing their mating calls. All things he had always ignored as distractions. Yet now they impinged on his concentration.

Even so, he focused. Danger existed. When did it not? But potential as well. He had a new vision. Her words had burned themselves into his brain, words he'd mulled over again and again since they were uttered. "You need the right weapon."
At the time, he had thought that simply the physical weapons the ancient Atharim had used in the god-wars. And those would play a part, as would the new weapons. But there was so much more he had foolishly ignored. Far more powerful, for all that they weren't physical at all. Weapons of an entirely different nature.

It meant a new role for him. Something beyond Regus. And he needed to reestablish control over the Atharim. A trip to Rome was in order. And there was her map, her vision.

And Valeriya had a role. What that was, he didn't now. Her place was not merely a support to him, a source of knowledge, a confidant, as much as he appreciate those things. She had a purpose too. That much he was sure of. He had gotten glimpses of it. Together, together, they would be far greater than what they could accomplish alone.

Theiss was content to wait in the silence. Armande turned and looked at Valeriya. What Theiss thought of this, he was wise to keep to himself. She seemed uncomfortable on the bench, he realized. There was an energy to the way she held herself on the metal, an impatience to her face as her eyes seemed to jump between watching them and trying see everything.

Despite himself- the gravity of everything before them- he smiled. He had noticed her reactions to all that she had experienced so far. It reminded him of his first visit to University, the overwhelming allure of having everything he had every wanted to know- at least for the fields and questions he knew enough to ask about- available so casually before him and in such abundance, as if they were nothing.

Too much to do....but there was some time. There were a lot of moving parts to line up. He needed to talk to Valeriya. He would need her help. "Give me a moment." he said to Theiss and then reached for Valeriya's hand to lead her off the bench and away a distance. He looked down at her. The Khylsty needed to be taken care of before they left. And as much as he was their prophesied leader, she was the one they knew. And trusted. Most of them. This was a new world for them. Which meant new opportunities for the ambitious.

And that was another reason.

His voice low, "The Khylsty and Atharim need to merge. Our people can't stay in the bunker forever. Matvei may be subdued now, but it is only a matter of time before he starts trying to gain followers again. And you and I have places to go. More importantly, destiny to fulfill." He smiled at her, raising an eyebrow. "Places every bit as beautiful as this. People to speak to. Things to do. We cannot do that and serve as caretakers as well.

"I will have Theiss recruit Atharim from outside the city to take the Khylsty in. Divide them up into smaller groups, help them to assimilate into The Above. Learn the language and the customs. Dilute anything Matvei might try. Above all, our work."
He paused. Remembered. Together, we are more than we are alone. He did believe that. Still...this was not something he was used to. "Help me, my Beloved." Saying that was far harder than he expected.

He studied her green eyes. He was fairly certain she would agree. Her hunger to devour this life in all its visceral experience was palpable. It wafted from here, from her, that appetite, that desire. Their frenzied animal passion of night before; the joys of her experiences this morning, even in the smallest things. The image of her smile- pure, radiant, joyful- at the simple feel of a flower petal on her cheek brought him more pleasure than he would ever have thought possible. She had to know there was so much more for her. For them. "Then, we will travel. We will get supplies, clothing, other things. And then our quest starts in earnest. We will fulfill our destiny."

He looked around, gesturing, a smile of promise. "I will give you the world."

Edited by Regus, Feb 9 2018, 11:47 PM.

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