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[[Continued from Birth]]

Armande stepped into the room. It was quiet. The moisture in the air had all but dissipated. The strong scent of soap and shampoo still lingered, though. He felt a stirring at that. He wanted to be clean. But first Valeriya.

She was curled up on the floor of the room in a corner, wrapped in a warm blanket. He quirked a smile at that. She had foregone the bed. Her deep even breathing said she was lost in sleep. Almost he woke her, to help her into the bed. But instead he stayed his hand. The pallets of the Khylsty were harder than the carpeted floor of this room. And she looked so peaceful in her slumber. He walked over to her and squatted down, studying her quiet repose in the shadows.

Her sharp and beautiful features were softened, bathed in darkness. Her hair appeared damp and it took him a moment to realize she had removed the carved ornaments. He smiled. She was no half hearted person. He felt a sense of protectiveness wash over him. He did not fight it. He did not reject it. He peacefully accepted it as part of him. He would not be half hearted either.

It was an indication of how tired she was that she did not stir when he leaned down and gently kissed her cheek and then made sure the blankets covered her adequately. He did not want to disturb her.

He closed the door of the adjacent bathroom quietly and then flipped on the light fan for the white noise. Carefully he peeled off his layers of clothing until he stood naked before the mirror. Scars and slashes, some decades old, others fresh, criss crossed his still muscled shoulders and chest, arms and torso. A sharp puckered trio of slashes ran down the left side of his ribs. The drainaka had been fast, part of a group. No man faced four of them without some injury. His armor had split at one point and the claw had ripped through, nearly putting paid to him.

Not fatal. Not yet. He still wore burns from the fire on one side of his neck and trapezius. The medication and treatment had helped, but the body took time to heal.

But his forearm....that was what hurt. Not physically. Not just physically. His orobouros, taken into his flesh decades ago was now torn and broken. The rock and rebar had scrapedhis flesh as Apollyon had dragged him in front of him. Barovsky....he smiled. His oldest friend, when his friends were more work partners than anything else. The man's last shot, before the traitor Aria killed him, had put the Destroyer down.

What a cost. But worth it. So worth it. Still, it hurt to see the once whole serpent now broken and torn. Sacrifice. Everything had its cost.

He looked at the counter and saw the carvings from Valeriya's hair, strands still gripping them. It must have hurt but she likely laughed as she tore them free. He smiled. Always a price. Still, after a moment, he scooped up the pile and wrapped them in tissue paper. He was not one for sentimentality. But somehow he didn't want to get rid of them. They went into his pouch for another time.

He got into the shower and felt the dirt and grime and smoke wash off him. An entire lifetime. He felt cleansed, reborn. When he emerged he was only wearing a towel. He got some spare travelling clothes.

He needed some sleep. He was tempted to curl up next to Valeriya but thought better of it. Not now. That would complicate things, especially if she woke. He exited the room and found a spare cot. Illarion appeared to still be awake because his head moved when he came out. He nodded at the boy and found a spare cot. Just before he went to sleep he did one more thing. He used encrypted communucation to get in touch with Theiss. The man responded only briefly. First and foremost, he told Regus to use anti-surveillance protocols. He understood. The death of Apollyon was not the end. It was possible his face was known. The man arranged for the supplies he wanted. The innoculations, antibiotics, first aid supplies. He also needed weapons. He still had what was in his pack, but that wpuld not be enough. Tjere was no telling what they might need. Travel supplies. Above all, he needed information. Strangely, Theiss was unforthcoming. Alarms went off in his mind.

He gave himself three hours. It would be around mid afternoon when he woke.

The time came and he was up. A few of the Khylsty had awakened. Briefly, he showed them the food, how it was to be eaten.

Finally, Armande told them he'd be back with instructions to stay inside. The three he'd taken to training nodded. They would keep everyone inside.

Slipping out the door, he took various roads and alleys to get to the rendezvous point. The old man wasn't there. But his aide was. Andrez. The truck he was in was small and old but everything fit in the bed, disguised as construction supplies. Just a contractor going to work.

Andrez too seemed reticent. "What is the problem, Andrez?" The man refused to meet his eye and Armande's suspicion grew. It was too public a place to kill him....maybe. Had Theiss betrayed him? White hot rage filled him at this thought

The man must have seen the death in his eyes. "No, sir! No! But have you....." He trailed off. He swallowed. "Have you watched the feeds?" He nooded at Armande's wallet. No. He hadn't. In hindsight, he should have. But he had been in a cocoon, from the night of the fire, up to and including his slipping out the door moments ago. Or perhaps a chrysalis. Foolish, in any event. He had been foolish.

He pulled his wallet, unsure what to look for. Andrez's voice was weak. "Search Ascendancy..."

Armande did so. And it seemed as if acid were burning his forearm. Anger boiled inside him. His voice was death. "Not a word. To anyone. Tell Theiss too."

He needed to think. For the first time he could remember in years, he was at a loss.
Valeriya ate the little morsels of food greedily. They were slimey on her fingers but the oil wiped off easily enough on her clothing. Once she was satisfied, she learned that Regus had left them alone to seek something outside. Val glanced longingly at the door, not so much in yearning for her departed beloved, but to venture outside herself to see what he saw.

Illarion was not blind to the target of her attention. He slipped in beside her, murmuring "he told us to stay here,"
and Val frowned in response.

"Since when do you listen to what he says?"
She asked. He looked wounded, but rather than retaliate, he held up bandaged hand. Oh no, Val thought, "what happened?"

"I do not lose a sister, but I gain a brother."
was his cryptic response. Val's frown did not lessen. Whatever passed between them, she didn't care. So long as he did not interfere with her connection with her beloved.

She picked herself up, hands grappling at skirts that weren't there, only for her to huff and stalk to the door.
"He warned us to stay here," she heard voices call behind her. But she didn't care. Just go outside. Just to the open space where she saw the sky. "I won't go far."
she responded. "Illarion, come with me,"
she beckoned.

She opened the slab as she witnessed Regus do at sunrise. When fresh air smacked her face, she drew a deep, desperate breath and stepped outside.

The air was sharp, the sky was bright blue. The color of her dreams washed over her. She lifted her face and turned in a circle, arms lifting toward the sky like she could snatch it for herself.

Illarion gasped beside her. The hood of his cloak fell back to his shoulders. The whiteness of his face was drenched in sunlight. His eyes were slits in the painful brightness, but where he put a hand to shield his eyes, Valeriya would not even blink even if she went blind.

She began to realize others congregated around the twins. One by one, other voices gasped. She heard questions bounce back and forth.

"It's called sky,"
she told them. The wonders of the Above would never end, she thought, and her heart begged her to discover more.

Her green eyes fell from the sky and the path before her called. She did not even try to stop herself from taking it.

Several minutes later, the Khylsty undertook an Exodus they did not intend to start. Val led those curious and brave enough to follow along the black path. Some remained behind, but four or five of them ventured on. Herself at the helm, Illarion a step behind, and three others followed. She was the only one dressed in the attire of the Above. The others pulled their robes close and their hoods low to their eyes. She did not have a knife with her this time, not having planned to leave the shelter at all. However, Illarion was armed beneath his robe, as were the others likely to be. Any beast they encountered would not stop them. As for other people of the Above, a sly smile awaited to greet any of them.

The Eye of the Khylsty
The cracks in the windshield were carefully placed, as was the peeling strips of tinting. Placed to appear casual. Neither would be enough to warrant notice by police. They did not appear to hinder a driver's visibility of the road. But between that and his own minimal disguise- and it was minimal- he would be unnoticeable to traffic cams and the like. Anything too ostentatious in either direction- too invisible or completely open- would draw the search algorithms to the beat-up truck and the driver that now drove the quiet streets of Moscow. Balance was the key.

Balance, Armande thought bitterly as he drove. Balance indeed. The sun was bright over head but he did not see it as he drove, aimlessly? He needed to get back to Valeriya and the Khylsty. He knew she would be up soon. Would she listen and stay inside? His bitterness relaxed only enough to make him smirk. Probably not. She was like him. Self willed, especially when given the responsibility. Just as likely to do the opposite from what was told simply to prove he was no one's to command.

And that was the real problem, wasn't it? He had always been willful. He'd been obedient to his trainers and to those in charge, true. It was part of growing up, being groomed for command. Learning what was necessary. But also learning to trust your instincts. When he became Atharim, when he became the Regus, Vicar of Iscariot, it was on his shoulders, now. And he had never, not once shirked his responsibilities. He had never shied away from any sacrifice, no matter how great.

And it had been great. Too great. He shied away from one memory. Culminating in the attack on On Nikolai Brandon. Self styled Ascendancy. The words burned in his mind but he refused to shrink from it. Brandon. It had been worth it. The Atharim were outed in an era where governments and organizations really had the ability to track them down, if they dug deep enough. They were scattered to the wind now.

The propaganda ministers had done their work. Already, he could feel the Atharim tearing apart. He had thought to clear the weak, the dead and the chaff, to leave them strong. But they had done their work well. He wondered how many would register.

Still, it had been worth it. He realized where he was and paused, looking at the hulking pile of rock and stone and timber, the smell of smoke still in the air. Baccarat, all the treasures beneath, everything he had brought with him, gone. But it had been worth it.

Apollyon was dead. There was always a price to pay. And so it had been worth the cost.

But't dead. The sacrifice had been for nothing. All of them. The Atharim scattered and broken, for nothing. Priceless artifacts and scrolls and tablets from antiquity destroyed or plundered, for nothing. His orobouros, torn like the people he directed. Those he loved, torn from him.

For nothing.

Rage continued to grow, as he drove, now realizing where he was going. Not too close. But close enough. Not for nothing. There in the distance stood the Arch. The testament of a false god. Powerful and unbroken.

Not for nothing. No. The opposite. To prove that Brandon was invincible. He could be burned and scarred and shot and dying- for all the world to see- and then appear hale and whole, worshiped and adored by millions. (Something tickled at his mind, something about that, but he pushed it away. Not now. Not now. He was tired.)

He had been played. All the sacrifices had been to humiliate him. He had been manipulated. He had been made a fool of.

He tasted ashes in his mouth.

And suddenly he felt tired. So. Very. Tired. The engine clicked as he shifted into gear again, heading back to the safe house. He had nowhere to go. There was as good a place as any. Even the thought of Valeriya did not lighten his heart. She couldn't understand. It was as if his life of meaning had been a giant and colossal joke and only now did he see he was the punchline.

And he despised that more than anything in all the universe.

Lost in dark thoughts, he made his way back...and frowned. There in the distance, he saw them. Walking along the road clad in their robes, toward him, though most of them were looking up at the sky, at the wonders of roads and buildings and trees, the great and glorious miracles of the above. He shook his head and realized he wore a smile, though it held no mirth.

He rolled down his window as he pulled alongside them. To their credit, most did not shy away in fear. He knew Valeriya wouldn't. He wouldn't waste time with recriminations. He could hardly have expected them to wait, for her to wait. A lifetime of waiting for visions to come was easy to be caught up in the fulfillment. He knew this all too well. To easy to believe in the hype. "Follow me. I have what we need and I need help unloading it all."

Hopefully, there weren't people about to wonder if there was some new cult in town. The city was thick underfoot with them. Times like these always drew out the doomsdayers. (Again, something tickled his mind, but he pushed it away.)

The truck stopped in front of the building and he got out and opened the bed. It had been only a few hundred feet and by they time they joined him, he had the door open and the first few boxes unloaded and inside. Very quickly they made fast work of the rest of them. He was very careful to check those with the weapons and make sure they were locked at least. Telling them to leave them alone wasn't going to work, he realized.

Finally, he began unpacking those with the inoculations and antibiotics. Responsibility lay like a burden on his shoulders. They had known sicknesses below, so the idea could not be foreign to them. "In the Above, there are new sicknesses you have not faced. But these medicines will protect you." He took thme, himself, to demonstrate. It wouldn't hurt. A slap of the vial and then a prick. A few tabs to swallow with water. That was it. "You may get tired or feel warm for a little while. But that will pass." He gestured for them to come to him.

He wasn't surprised it was Valeriya who went first. Despite his mood, he smiled at her through tired eyes. An unspoken longing came to unburden himself to her but he pushed it away. The failure was his. The joke was him. The shame was his. He did what he needed to, but at this point, he was unsure why. Well, they would die, for one. Or get arrested. Or something else.

Faces and names passed by as he gave them what they needed. And then it was done. And he wanted to be alone. He wanted to tell them to stay inside. He wanted to. "It is dangerous outside. I will take you out shortly. But please stay for a little while. I must meditate." He looked at Valeriya. He would ask her to help him in this....but the words didn't come to his lips. He wasn't in control. That was the joke. Of anything. They would stay or they would go.

He turned and went to the room Valeriya had slept in, shut the door. It was silent. And he stood there, feeling the weight across his shoulders. The weight of the world, of mankind, laying there, on him. And then, he fell to his knees. He realized there was moisture at his eyes and growled in anger. No! He would not bow.

His heart pounded and he assumed the Chong Rann, tried to go to his meditative study beneath the Vatican...he wondered how long Petricus would hold out. They were too involved. Then again, the Church had not survived without contingencies and plausible deniability. Another avenue potentially closed off.

Again, part of the problem. And now the place wouldn't coalesce for him no matter how often he tried to form it. Instead, he kept finding himself in front of a large mountain dominating a massive plain. After the third time, he stopped fighting. He recognized this place. He had been here many times. Gabal Musa. Horeb. Mt. Sinai. He'd visited St. Catherine's Monestary there, where Tischendorf had discovered what was now called the Sinaitius Manuscript in a pile of garbage ready to be burned, one of the oldest extant texts of the Old and New Testaments to have ever been found until the Dead Sea Scrolls came to light a hundred years later. He'd visited the Mosque there, as well as the Orthodox Chapel. Everyone claimed this mountain.

So why was he here? He looked up, tired of the games. Show me, or not, was all he thought. And as if in answer, he saw a flash of light on the side of the mount. He nodded. Fair enough.

Without realizing how, he found himself at that point. There had been a path, long and treacherous. It was high up enough that the entire plain was visible to him. He could almost imagine the Israelites scattered across the plain like ants, along with the vast mixed company of Egyptians who'd accompanied them in the Exodus. Of course, if any of that happened.

But that wasn't the story he was experiencing. Because he was in front of a cave that led deep into the mountain. Far into the caverns- like the ones the Khylsty lived in, he realized- he saw a faint glow. He followed the twisting turns until he saw the back of a man in robes, on his knees, heard the deep rumbling of words. What are you doing here, Elijah. Yes. Elijah. Facing down Ahab and the Baal priests, the test of God-hood on Mt. Carmel.

A single threat from Jezebel and suddenly the man is overwhelmed with sorrow and fear and depression and flees hundreds of miles to the south, to this mountain, to hide. And God calls him out on it.

Is that what I am doing? He stepped forward and Elijah faded. He faced the voice. No. He was not running away. On his shoulders was the yoke of the world. On his back was the salvation of mankind, from the death the gods would bring.

In defiant act, he lifted the yoke off his shoulders and cast it to the ground, watched it roll and split. "What am I doing here? I am doing nothing!" He spit on the ground, at the yoke. Rage filled him to the core, acid spilled from his veins. Every sacrifice, every loss, every death...all for nothing. Even his daughter. Lissandra.

For nothing. Meaningless. "For decades I have fought for mankind, to save them. I am done. No more. They are your people. Your responsibility! If you want them to be saved, you save them. Or let them be destroyed! But I will not be your fool anymore!!!"

He stood there on his feet, defiant. Daring whoever it was that thought to use him like a fool to do his worst. He was done.

In his room, tears streamed down his cheeks as he sat, rage contorted his face, his head and shoulders bowed, unable to carry this any longer.
They were all ushed into this great metal beast that coughed and sputtered its way back to the shelter. Valeriya held tight to its back. The others walked back to the shelter, but only after she directly told them to do so. It seemed Regus's trip had been fruitful, for he returned with many trunks. It reminded her of the bag of belongings that Illarion bore out of the Khylsty's caverns on their ascent to the Above. She would need to rummage through the items soon, for she wasn't entirely sure what all she grabbed before it was too late.

The prick on her skin felt like a scratch. Despite the sting, she didn't wince. In fact, Valeriya studied the tube with great fascination. The liquid within was colorless, yet somehow it was infused with magical properties to ward off illness. The Above was truly wonderous. She clutched her crystals at her neck and uttered a quiet chant to enhance its potency.

Armande's declaration was specific to her this time. She was to remain in place. She groaned about it, hands knotting into fists, but she agreed. "Very well, beloved. I will do as you say. For now."
She added and left him to his energies.

Besides, she had energies of her own to explore.

"Illarion, bring me the satchel that you carried from Below."
She called and her twin hurried to obey. She was peering into one of her crystals, eyes squinting like she may see something buried deep within the facets, but broke the trance when Illarion plopped the bag before her.

She bid him and all the others away. She didn't want them to know what belongings she possessed. Some of their relics were holy, to be touched by Rasputin himself. But she was the Eye. She was the consort of Rasputin reborn. She could touch what she wanted. But she demanded solitude while doing so.

The first item retrieved was a metal coin. It had a face stamped on one side and numbers on the other. She recognized the symbol for it was born on other items as well. She laid it aside.

The next was a vial not unlike the one she thrust into the Pits that catalyzed their exodus. She put the cork to her nostrils and tried to smell the contents, but unsure of its use, she also placed it aside.

A bottle with a scroll rolled up within she held to the light. But given she could not discern the symbols on it anyway, it was also laid down.

A ring bearing some sort of seal. There was a cross on it that reminded her of Illarion's branding. Otherwise, she found it ugly and it was too large for any of her fingers anyway. She cast it aside. Several other rocks, stones and jewels came up with her next grasp, but none were the one she hoped to see. There was only one item left, and when her hand closed around it, she held out hope.

She smiled when she saw it. It was a red jewel the color of blood in the shape of a tear drop. This belonged to the Eye before her, and the Eye before that. Other than the crystals around her neck, it was the most important tool she had for the visions. She curled it close to her chest and decided it was time to show to Armande.

"Armande, I found the bloodstone,"
she said as she entered. He sat, head low. "Armande?"
she called, worried that some fit or spasm had taken him.

Confused, she stood in place. "Look,"
she demanded that he see it. This was her most prized possession and she almost hadn't brought it Above. But even as her gaze fixed on Armande, a flicker called to her from the depths of the stone.

She froze and pulled the jewel close, peering deep into its depths.
The Eye of the Khylsty
The cave stared back silently at him, pitiless. Uncaring. Somehow, if it was possible., failure turned to....there was no word. Not one word, at least. An angry voice came to him, echoing down the stone corridors of this cave. You are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.

God, he despised Puritanical preachers, Jonathan Edwards first and foremost. He stood, looking at into the darkness. He should have expected no less.

Very well. Another smile formed. Evil. Angry. Smug. A word came to his lips. Crude. Vulgar. Common. And perfect. So very perfect. Strange how a single syllabic utterance, so simple-fricative+vowel+voiceless velar plosive- could be so deeply satisfying. Surely there were papers on the subject, studies on the relief certain words brought to the brain, the release of building pressures. Those suffering from Tourrettes knew how...freeing such things could be...



"FUCK.YOU.TOO!" He was done

He spun, the cave, the mountain, the entire universe flicked to mist that swirled around him, into nothingness.

It was all nothing.

He saw he was on his knees...felt wetness on his cheeks and disgust filled him. In that moment, Valeriya was there, with him. His eyed burned with rage.

He lept to his feet to....he wasn't sure what. Not be on his knees, that was definite. He scrubbed weakness from his cheeks.

She seemed not to see. She was staring at a blood red jewel.

And he felt nothing. Feeling was gone. Caring was gone. It was a picture, a painting. A photograph. Not real. Not real. A life that existed, once upon a time. When stories mattered.

When they were real.
Regus jumped to his feet. The jump broke her focus with the bloodstone and she gasped. Regus was furious. It wafted off him like heat from a fire. What had she done? Was he mad that she went outside? He better not be! She was finally Above! She couldn't just sit inside four dark walls and wait!

But then the fury left him. Only a shell remained. A ghost. Valeriya gasped and stepped backward. She'd seen him strike and kill with ease. She was afraid. She had nothing to defend herself either. Nothing but the bloodstone. She gripped it tight until the edges dug into her palm.

She forced herself to speak. Whatever happened to him, she would not shirk away in fear. "Beloved,"
she started, her own voice wary. "Where ever you have gone, you can return. So long as we live, there is hope. The hardest part is over. We have come together. I have waited my whole life for you; as you have waited your whole life for me. Neither of our lives really began until the moment we met. You and I will not be stopped now."

He was cold as death, but the anger and fear that warped his face was fresh in her mind. "Remember the map. The towers of green that touch the sky. The clearing. You have to reach that place. Remember the crown I saw you take? I am the Eye. The Eye knows!"

She stood up to him. Whether he strike her down or not. She would hold her ground.

The Eye of the Khylsty
She stood, green eyes blazing fearlessly and he felt her words pass through him. For a moment, one single moment, he paused. Not her words. He didn't hear them. No, that wasn't it. He hadn't understood. They were muffled and indistinct, as though he were under water. And as he thought it, she seemed to shimmer.

His blue eyes latched on to her green, a lifeline. Tenderness. Concern. Love. Fearlessness. They shone in her face. He pulled forward, toward that face, toward the surface, anchoring himself in what he did know- and suddenly, with one final lurch, he felt a pop! the bursting of a bubble.

Her words played through his mind. She hadn't meantt it. He knew that. She'd only meant good. But he felt stabbed through all the same. She was his and he was hers, that was true. But he'd had a life. More than that. Far more. And Armande felt a thread of fear lance through him. How could he ever tell her what he'd done, what he HAD to do? Bitterness ate at him. What he thought he had to do. The possibility of her turning away in disgust would seal his fate

And then her words burned him. He felt no spark at the visions. No, he was a liar. He did! And if had felt rage before it was a candle as to an inferno.

He gently (always so gently. He never wants to hurt her) reaches out, to feel the stone in her hand. The bloodstone, she calls it. Her hand is clasped around it, tightly, protectively. For it or for herself? She is never in danger.

Gently, tenderly he pries open her hand, carefully. And then his hand is in her tiny hand, his fingers holding the stone. He pulls it to him, holds it up, sees the play of light through it, sees her form, warped and shadowy through its surface.

And he knows what this is. He knows a talisman for focusing. And her visions are ringing in his ear and his anger builds.

It is not a stone. It is a hook, dangling there, twitching and shaking, calling to him.

His voice is tired. Rage is tiring. "This is just bait. A way to string me along. A hook through my nose. To play me for a fool. I have pursued visions my whole life. I want to be free."

He grips the stone tightly, so tight his tendons and the muscles of his hand stand out from tension. His arm draws back, anterior shoulder muscle taut, a spring pulled tight, arms iron bars, hand shaking. The stone is at his ear singing to him a sweet song and has to destroy it.

Destroy the bait. Cut the hook. Watch the shattered stone spatter against the wall, embedding shards in the surface.

Set himself free.

Why can't he do it? Why wont't he let it fly?

Edited by Regus, Dec 29 2017, 05:20 PM.
"You want to be free of what?"
Valeriya crossed her arms when he stole the Bloodstone. A frown downturned the corners of her lips. He was gripping the Bloodstone like he wanted to throw it. The jewel was hard as any rock, but she doubted it would survive the strength of his arm.

((sorry I didnt really know what else to say))
The Eye of the Khylsty
It was if her words were a needle, a pin prick, and suddenly the balloon was pierced and the air hissed out, deflatiled. His arm dropped, his grip loosened and the stone fell to the carpeted floor with a thud.

Her arms-she!- was closed to him, frowning. He'd looked, hoped....for what, he wasn't sure

She couldn't know. He turned, scrubbing a hand through his hair as he looked around. The room was spare. Just a cot, slightly wider than normal. His bags. A few pillows and her blankets from earlier a pile in the corner.

She was a child in a universe older than she could know. He pulled his wallet from his pocket and sat down. He stared through the wallet, at nothing really, speaking into the air.

"You have called me Regus, without knowing what that means. You have accepted my authority without knowing of what." He frowned, the next part torn from him. "You call me "beloved' , never asking who brought us together."

It was quiet for a time as he sought first one path then another. Nothing seemed to jump out. This wasn't a speech. This wasn't oratory. There were no tricks or flourishes here. Just a man and a woman. A man trying to commmunicate with a woman.

"Rasputin took you down below 130 years ago. More than five or six generations. My people, the Atharim, have been protecting mankind for more than 10,000 years. 450 generations. From creatures like those in the tunnels. Wefuke. Wolfkin. Drainaka. Harpies. Quetzals. Bainak. And so many more, more dangerous than most people realize. But above all else, we defended people against the return of the gods."

He did not know Khylsty lore. Surely they had tales. Even monotheistic religions had Nephilim and Anakim, demons and archangels, giants of old. Others had tales of gods against gods, demigods, monsters. "I do not know your stories. But long ago, mankind was enslaved by these beings called gods. They killed and took at will. Their wars against each other brought suffering and devastation across the land. Their abilities made them arrogant and selfish, inhuman. Until the Ancient Atharim, from even longer ago, rose up, led humanity in a fight for freedom. It was long and bloody across the world but eventually we won. Humanity was free."

The catechism flowed easily from his lips. He looked up, tried to see the expression on her face. "For thousands of years, we protected humanity from the monsters. The leader of the Atharim was called the Regus. But our charge was only half complete. The gods would come again. And so we watched for any sign, determined to snuff it out before it became strong."

He looked at her, blue eyes fiery. "That day is now. They have revealed themselves."

He knew it was much to believe. He flipped his wallet to holo projection mode, played the videos of Vellas at DV. The pure destruction and terrible majesty. He played the video of Volodin in the marketplace. Of Andlain's followers. "Above all, prophecy warned of the coming Apollyon, at whose steps weeds would spring up. Who would wield death and destruction as a sword to break the world. We have beem vigilant. We have done what must be done, no matter how painful"- his voice faltered for a moment but he forced himself to go one, voice hard "-to protect the world. But Apollyon came. He rules. He is worshipped as a god, around the world."

The video played. Brandon before the sea of people. The mausoleum dissolving into a thousand strands, to be replaced with the Arch. "I snuck into the tunnels to him, before he brought the destruction. I followed the leadings of prophecy and fate smiled on us. Apollyon was killed. It cost us everything. The Atharim are scattered and broken after millenia. But we had prevailed." He couldn't keep the joy and optimism he'd felt at that certainty. The video of a dead Brandon stood frozen in the air.

He stopped, staring at it. It brought so much joy to see. He continued the play. There Brandon stood, just a day or two later, healed and completely intact.

"I have followed the visions my whole life, made decisions at their leading." He could hear the strains of a violin in a Roma camp and he shook his head, to dispel it. "I have done the unthinkable and the unforgivable to safeguard for mankind a world I do not deserve to live in, because of visions."

He dropped the wallet to the floor. "They were lies, designed to lead us along. To lead me along. And in the end, we have only made him stronger. He is now more worshipped than ever before."

Bitterly he chuckled. "Dying and being resurrected tend to cement one's position as a god."

He looked at her, studied her eyes, searching for her thoughts. "Visions have led me as a slave for decades, us for millenia. All to the glory and power of the returnered gods."

Edited by Regus, Dec 30 2017, 02:51 AM.

Of all the Khylstys, Valeriya was keeper of their tales. The responsibility fell to her to pass on their heritage. First and foremost to that end was the tale of Rasputin, their savior, who preserved them underground while the world above burned. When the time was right, he would return to bring them Above.

Before Rasputin, while the Khylstys were still Above. Their own tale stretched back Valeriya did not know how far. Their lore told of spectres, ghosts and necromancy. Mystics, prophets, diviners were the basis of their faith. Everything that Armande claimed to denounce.

Central to it all, however, was one doctrine. The dogma that bound every single one of them together. It was the reason that Illarion had branding marks on his face. It was the reason Valeriya whipped herself bloody. It was the reason people severed tongues or castrated themselves.

Salvation could be attained only by total repentance and that this became far more achievable for one who had truly transgressed. Sin in order that you may obtain forgiveness. Fall so that you may rise. For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, But the wicked stumble in time of calamity.

Armande was going to tell her the tale of his life. He spoke of devastation, torment, pillage and plunder. War. Oppressed under the thumb of the gods, all suffered. Valeriya could have sneered at such a pathetic complaint, but she suppressed the urge and let him go on.

He summoned his magick visions again. For one who declared freedom from visions, then he sure relied on them a lot. Valeriya calmly watched the moving visions.

Large spheres of fire. Sweeping arms of death. Towers toppled. The skies turned red. People screamed and ran from the vorticies of ruin.

Then one last vision. Armande's voice deepened as though his chest shook with fury. She had never heard tones of such hate before. Not even from Matvei.

Armande called him Apollyon, but he had other names too. Abaddon. Destroyer. Angel of death.

Val watched the vision of a black building melting and reforming into something new. Her eyes grew wide and fear clawed at her heart.

Armande killed a god. He killed the angel of death itself. Valeriya could have smiled proudly. But then she frowned again when the vision showed the broken and bloody angel whole and pristine again. The Atharim were broken and scattered. Only a few remained. Nothing but a remnant remained.

The visions fell aside and Armande ranted about their uselessness. No, about their distortion.

She didn't know what to say. Armande was a defeated man. The Regus she met below was a gray ghost of himself. He didn't know how to win this war, but he looked to her for answer. Well, she thought for a moment and asked a single question.

"The Ancient Atharim rose up and eventually defeated the gods. How?"
She thought for a moment longer. "When I was a girl, my mother, The Eye took me to the tunnels to kill my first beast. I would have been devoured if I hadn't chosen the correct weapon. The Eye did not tell me what weapon to use. I had to figure it out for myself. Do you see, Armande? You need the right weapon and you need to practice killing beasts with it."
The Eye of the Khylsty

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