The First Age

Full Version: The Sacred
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The anger from her companion was palpable, the hunger to cut him down something he could almost taste. The moment seemed to stretch, time seemed to slow. Armande swallowed, felt the bead of sweat slowly dribble from his temple down his cheek. His fingers flexed on his hilt, his eyes focused out and in, drawn to the girl, then pulling back to use his peripherals to see her companions, to fix their positions in his mind, readying himself. His single breath seemed to take hours.

His focus again drew to the girl, her face shadowed in the light, the tilt of her head inquisitive. A snap of her hands and another moved to bring her a fallen torch that burned blue fire, adding new dancing shadows.

The blue fire reflected in her eyes as she drew closer, danced over the silvery greenish azure of her eyes. But what he was there was questioning. Searching. Hunger.

She stepped closer, the light from her lantern filling his eyes. Part of him wanted to draw back, to keep the low-light vision he had. He readied himself for a stealth attack, a knife to the ribs, despite the lightweight armor he wore.

Her silver eyes widened in shock and she dropped to her knees, declaiming words he both understood and did not comprehend. He felt stunned and then the feel of her hands around his ankles, gripping tightly as she bent herself double. He immediately held his sword at the ready for the rush of the others.

They stood still, frozen, as if in shock at her actions. And then she said a name that electrified him. "Rasputin."
He knew the name. Of course he did. What educated person didn't. Even more, he knew the true histories. The stories. The legends. His eyes narrowed. Until now, they were discounted by most as legends. Or the work of a man more mad than sane, no matter his ability.

Could this...? No. The feel of her hands around his ankles were like weights holding on to him, gripping him as if stone, iron bands. He felt rooted in the floor and only wanted to run away from whatever this was.

And yet....and yet...his heart was now racing, the same powerful thunder, the same gallop from the dream, the taste of....something, the memory of something unknowable behind his mind. More than his desire to leave, his determination to get away from whatever he faced for reasons that he was unable to discern even in himself, deeper than all of that was the hunger that was the core of his existence.

Hunger. And the desire to control. To see the uncertainty flee before him, burned to nothingness in the fire of his eyes. Beyond any fear, any desire, there was this one thing, the driving purpose of his soul.

To bring order to the chaos. To banish and and destroy and eliminate the unknowable. And to do that, he needed every tool at his disposal.

He looked down at the girl, the mass of dark hair both braided and loose a halo around her head and neck, looked over the others now on their knees. And felt the galloping of horses, the snort and sinewy muscle taut beneath his legs...he felt life and power course through him, from his forehead to his groin to his toes, felt taught with possibility and potential.

And he felt alive. He felt fire and energy fill him. "Rise. I am Armande Nicodemus. The Regus of the Atharim. The Vicar of Iscariot." Words, he knew, that would mean nothing to them. But they were who he was. Who he had always been.

And what? Now what did he ask? What did he do? Where did he begin? He cast about, seeking inspiration in the void, searching the histories, the myths for something appropriate. He quested into the nothingness...and the darkness seemed to respond, a memory drifted forward, offering itself in obeisance.

A smile. Armande Nicodemus himself smiled, his first smile since Lissandra- a terrifying smile. "I am home."

Edited by Regus, Oct 23 2016, 02:07 AM.
He was wounded, but his voice was clear as gongs. It was as Valeriya always imagined he would sound. His voice was deep as the earth, powerful as the foundations of the world. He would lead them Above. He would save her! At his side, Valeriya would rule all of the Unawakened, or they would perish in the fires of blue eyes.

His wounds were also noticed by Illarion. Her brother monk ushered close, offering an arm. The wide bell of his sleeve drooped around his wrist as he returned the torch to Marat.

It was Valeriya that pushed him away, however, slithering to her feet. The men would bear the burden of the kill, and she would have the honor of escort.

"Your name is long and worthy of power in this life, glorious one. What do we call you in this form?"
She offered her arm and led them back to their sacred dwelling, the pits of the Khylsty, hollowed ground carved from the belly of the world.

She wondered if he was Awakened yet, if he knew who he really was. It was possible he did not, but his injuries were festering and he may yet approach the abysmal emptiness of death. If he turned from the emptiness, cast aside his sins, and returned whole then he would Awaken, and come into his prophetic rites. If not, they were all lost, forever.

Armande studied the three prostrate forms, Among the Atharim, such honor and respect was not shown this way. It was adoration he neither craved nor hungered for. But he would not cast aside the honored intent behind it, not until he understood it.

The readiness to attempt to snuff out his life with no more concern than for a bug had metamorphosed. Now they wanted to escort him with honor, a triumph. The girl appeared to be in charge. The eye the other had called her. The name was an Oracular reference, no doubt. Given the reference to Rasputin, his purported abilities and their reverence for him, it would seem that his legacy had been carried on by these people.

These people...who were they? There was something strangely familiar about it all. When he tried to trace the familiarity it melted away from him like a wax thread in a flame, fleeing the heat. He already had a people. Many, if not most, were devoted to their cause. His broom had already begun its sweeping. And he had been ready to begin a new search- a purge. His people, they were corrupted, the leaven permeating the mass of dough, worming its way into every nook and cranny. But where corruption could weaken and infect the healthiest of hosts, so too could fortification, the straw in the mud clay, to erect a structure that would last.

The girl arose and he studied her, his blue eyes examining every aspect of her and her companions. Her eyes were silvery rings tinged with green and blue. Behind them burned ardor and adoration. She was young, maybe in her 20s and her face and form were lithe with the energy of youth. Their clothing appeared to be leather, aside from the cowls the men wore. Given their hunt of the oni, the usage, it was obvious where the leather came from. The torch burned a tallow rendered from the fat, black smoke leaving a sickly odor in the air.

She offered her arm as she asked her question. Without looking, he thumbed the button on the sword and it withdrew up into itself, after which he clipped it to his waist. He needed it within easy reach. He bent down and picked up the lantern, his back and legs protesting, now that the moment had passed and adrenaline had begun to leave. In its place, the sharp acid of pain seemed to seep into his veins, traveling through out his body, demanding his attention.

But he would not take her arm. He could not display weakness or need before her or anyone. And...he did not trust them, not after just meeting them. His arms needed to be clear. Still, he did nod at her graciously, patting her forearm briefly. Then, he picked up and shouldered the pack he had cast aside in the melee, ignoring new the fresh sensation of agony. "You may call me Regus," he said as he nodded to her to lead the way. Introductions appeared to be in order. "I have told you who I am. You appear to have been expecting me...Tell me why? Who are you?"

Two of the other men lifted the oni together while the third raised his torch and she led the way. He walked beside her, his steps measured and slow, and they descended into the cave tunnels. The blueish flame of the fire gave light to dry and wet places on the walls, the evidence of picks and axes visible in certain spots. The system was almost certainly natural but it had been expanded upon, widened. It was a rabbit's warren that twisted and turned, went down and up and sideways, forks and branches appearing and spawning with regularity. He kept part of his attention on the journey. He would need to know the way back, eventually. His ascent into the land of the living.

The imagery- the mythological underpinnings were not lost on him. Indeed, he found some amusement at the path he had taken. The slaying of the great enemy and now, the descent into hell, only to return at some future time. It could play very well, a story that could be expanded on and mythologized.

But the fact that there people here, people who seemed to know him- or at least thought they did- that, he did not understand. The girl- he could not call her The Eye, not even in his mind, not until he knew what that meant- had called him Glorious One. The hunger for answers, for knowledge, the knowledge to know and control, gnawed at him. The nothingness of chaos nipped at his feet, he felt it washing away where he stood. He wanted to know everything.

Edited by Regus, Oct 23 2016, 07:40 PM.
Soon, the tunnels, passageways and pits evolved. Stone and timber, pebbles, dirt and bone gave way to smooth rock walls and slick paths. Scents of decay and death were left behind, to be replaced with humidity and stale air. Two worlds blended as they sank deeper, leaving the Up behind. Man made tunnels, burrowed like fingers dug into the earth, began to bend like gnarled knuckles on the old. Caves, more ancient than the tunnels of the Above, were their home. They smelled familiar, like safety, and like home. Except in a few more steps, they would need to protect their faces.

"Cover your mouth and squint your eyes,"

she told the man at her side. He'd discarded her arm, and that burnt her soul. She was the Awakened and he the sinner, it should be her that refused him, but the Eye was forgiving. He did not know what offense he had cast.

As she spoke, Illarion and Marat dug deep within the robes and pulled a black cloth, like a scarf, up to their eyeballs, obscuring their mouths and noses. Valeriya did likewise, although her scarf had been tied around her waist.

A few more steps and a narrow slit broke the smooth wall alongside. From it wafted a horrid scent that burned her eyes. The drummers were down there, with their boiling cauldrons and burning pits of acid. The skins of the oni would be taken to them once it was cut away from the flesh. Valeriya had never been down there, as only a few of the Khylsty were allowed, even among the Eyes. But neither did she have the desire to see the foul work for herself. Whatever slime leaked such rotten, putrid scents, she had no desire to see.

Once they were past the slit, the three Khylsty pulled their scarves from their faces. The churning in her stomach lessened and she found the time to answer their lord's question. A smile stretched across her lips as she answered, her shoulders straightened.

"I am Valeriya, Eye of the Khylsty,"

and a swell of pride straightened her shoulders. "That is Illarion and that is Marat, brother monks of the Khylsty."
She didn't explain that Illarion was her twin. It was an evil thing for one woman to bear two offspring, but as they were of the line of the Eyes, it was an unclear offense. Neither acknowledged Regus at that time. They were busy hefting the weighty beast.

"You are Ree-ggg-us"

she answered in turn, testing the name on her tongue. It was a word she'd never heard before like the words that made up the rest of his name.

"You, Regus. I have seen your face all my life. As have the other Eyes before me. Come, you will soon see."

Soon, the caves began to widen. Lights from torches stretched closer. Air began to circulate, and a warmth began to creep through the leather of her attire.

"This is home. The Sacred dwelling of the last of the Khylsty."

She smiled, so much so, she almost sinned.

The air had continued to grow warmer as they worked their way down the tunnel. The sweat stung his burns. The quick cleaning and salve had done its job, as had the pain reliever, but he would need to dress his wounds more thoroughly. He felt a traitorous weakness wash over him for a moment but he refused to give in. Nor did he reach out to take the girl's arm. He was no Peter to fall asleep in the garden, however tired he was. His flesh would never weaken him.

The man-made tunnels gradually gave way to a deeper natural cave system. At one point, it had been necessary to cover his face using a part of his sleeve. It only partly hid the stench, though. Rot and putrefaction mixed with the strong scents of sulphor and lye wafted from a slit in the wall and his stomach wanted to turn.

The tunnels widened into long halls and trickling water, some fanning down the sides, shiny and reflecting the light from their torch. The hall twisted and they finally reached a branch where light spilled out. The shadows of three men stretched towards them, their cowls peering out into the darkness, faces hidden in their depths, waiting.

Immediately they broke from the entrance and went to the men carrying the oni's body. He touched his sword, ready. But they slowed and then touched hands to lips and then heart before relieving them of the carcass. The one who hadn't spoken earlier held out the bag in which he put the head of the beast and they took it as well before heading back into the tunnels. He moved his hand away from the blade.

The girl turned to him, the mane of hair a dark halo, smiling, her pride evident in her stance, her eyes aflame with silvery green light. Finally, she spoke, her voice clear and strong, answering the question he'd asked. And he did not move, did not show the slightest response.

Because what she said surprised him. Not the fact of their existence- though, in fact, he had not expected to find them. He had known of the ancient Khylsty, a group of Atharim from Siberia who had gradually developed into a cult that pursued spiritual purification as assiduously as it hunted creatures that should not be. No. It was more than the mere revelation of their existence that shocked him. There was something strange going on in the universe. A manifestation of intelligence and planning, of powerful hands at work. Too much to be coincidence. Apollyon; his own ascension as Regus; the return of the gods; the unlocking of the Voynich Manuscript; the curse tablet and the ijiraq; the reemergence of Di Inferi. And now the Khylsti. Yes, powerful- unknowable- forces were at work.

And Armande felt a frisson of fear like a trickle of ice down his back. No! He quashed the feeling ruthlessly. Not fear. Discomfort. Chaos gnawed at him, a rat to nibble away at his body, at the world, and it made him want to lash out. He craved order, predictability. He hungered to hold the reigns in his hands, to mold the world, to rid it of the rampant disharmony and unpredictability that sounded a cacophony of discordant instruments in his head.

How could he predict what he did not know? How could he control if there was another in charge? And what the girl- Valeriya, the Eye- in what she said there lay something. He teased out her words, savored them in his mouth. He looked into her fiery eyes. The Eye.

And he smiled at her invitation. "I would like to see," he said simply. So many meanings possible in those words.

His spirit rode the beast of his body, the hurts and tiredness forgotten, as he followed her out into a vast chamber, its vaulting ceiling high above shadowed despite the candles that cast their light up and outward. Through an opening at the far end, he could see another room in which cascaded a waterfall, the roaring of its falling waters echoing off the sides of the walls, casting up a mist of spray. There was also a pool covered in steam.

Despite being in the other room, the air here was at once warm and then cool by turns, heated air mixing with the mist coming off the water. The effect was hypnotic, a swaying back and forth of gentle caresses.

But none of that held his attention long. For along the wall, carved into the rock, were images. Words and pictures. Valeriya's strong voice came over the noise in the room, echoing.

"This is home. The Sacred dwelling of the last of the Khylsty,"
her wide smile showing her teeth. He looked at her and then back to the wall, stepped closer so he could see more clearly.

And looked directly into his own face.

That frisson remained and he did not quash it this time. Because this time, it was accompanied with a thrill of excitement. The universe. It had a plan. But he was part of it. And more than that. A window had presented itself. Opportunity.

He turned to her. "Tell me your story, Valeriya." He suspected he could piece it together. But he was content to be audience, now. What would happen would happen. There was no hurry to rush things along.

Edited by Regus, Oct 27 2016, 11:15 AM.
Fascinated to watch him study his likeness, Valeriya stepped forward to relay the tale of each Eye from the beginning of the Descent from Above to now. However, before she could begin, they were interrupted by a pair of monks.

She turned, keeping her chin elevated and her eyes square. Her hands were clear of the stilettos strapped to her thighs, but her posture was guarded anyway.

They were both garbed with long brown robes with dingy ropes tied at the waist. From the fraying ends dangled teeth and claws that swayed around their knees with each bold stride. The echo of the waterfall from a distant chamber, the temple, which she had yet to show to Regus, silenced their speech until they were nearer. This was the throne room, and she considered leaving Regus's side to place herself upon the worn and weathered chair. She remained in place, instead.

The hoods of both robes were pulled above each man's head, but if they were pushed away, then the short sheen of fuzzed scalps would be seen. It was a sin for men to have long hair, luckily, the women were exempt. Valeriya's was currently a tangle of black straw, and like the robes of her brother monks, decorated with bits of bone, claw, and teeth throughout.

The first man was older, and his face was etched with deep lines around the mouth and eyes. The second man was younger, an apprentice someday to take his place, but with an affect just as stern as his master's.

"The Eye sees,"
the first beckoned with a deep bow of the head before her. Valeriya responded, "the Eyes knows,"
automatically, but she kept her wits sharp. These two were almost as dangerous as the oni.

"Brother Illarion told us to come immediately, but would not say why. Marat held his tongue,"
the man leered sickly. It had been his knife that severed Marat's tongue from his head. Voluntarily of course. Marat had tried to accomplish it himself in the Awakening, but the severing was too difficult. He needed assistance.

When the monk pointed at Regus, the scrutiny in his eyes was not hid by the depths of his cowl. He saw the burns, ash and singed hair, but by the look on his face that was all he saw. Unlike Valeriya, he did not see the sloping cheekbones or bright blue eyes.

"None of the Above are allowed in the Sacred. The Eye should know this. We were wrong to elevate you, as I have always said."

Valeriya's lips pursed tight. There was a poison in his words, and given his knowledge, Valeriya would not be surprised if he dipped his fingers in poison to feed to her. She was safe, however. She rounded the pair, going to the distant wall, the area carved by the first Eye.

She touched a face carved into the wall. He was long and thin, wearing robes and a rope around his waist. His hair was thick tangle, his eyes penetrating. "The Great One, Grigori Rasputin, saved us by preparing a sacred dwelling before the great battles of Above. When our Glorious Father perished, his children became the Eye, and we awaited his return."
She touched the faces carved by the generations of Eyes to follow. Until she circled back to them and ended at her own. The two monks watched, but did not interrupt the sacred words. They'd heard all this before.

"When he does, he will see us Above and all will be saved or all will perish. They will Awaken or they will die."
She lovingly touched the cheeks of the carving, staring into his eyes like the rock knew she was its mother.

Finally, she turned, and pointed at Regus. "That time has come. I present to you, Regus, the Great One. Our Glorious Father. Rasputin, returned. The Eye has seen. The Eye knows."

The older monk stepped forward, eyes wide with surprise, as he examined the carving and compared it to the living face before him. Finally, he and his apprentice knelt before Regus and bowed their heads. They chanted sacred words and kissed the ground in front of his feet. Valeriya watched with satisfaction, arms folded across her chest.

The elder monk finally rose, "You are wounded Great One. I can treat you."
He offered his hands to point the way to his chamber where they would find some of the only cushions in the Dwelling. It was where each of them went to either live or die during the Awakening. Valeriya rounded on Regus, "Go with him, Regus. He will not harm you,"
she gestured at his hands. They were blackened, gnarled and scarred. The nails were empty beds from kneading slime that eroded them away. The skin was dyed and burnt by mixing acids and smearing salves. The apprentice was nursing his hands as well, and had not yet shown any of them their current state.

"I must remove my attire, it is a sin."
She told him, sweeping a hand along her leather-clad body. "We will present you to the rest of the Khylsty in the temple afterward."

Edited by Valeriya, Oct 26 2016, 08:37 PM.
Armande watched the interplay between the old man and Valeriya. The sound of the waterfall in the other chamber seemed punctuated by their declarations, the man's voice dour and tired sounding, a pity she had not measured up. The tension was palpable, and he could almost reach out and caress the currents. Human nature, of course. Over time, no matter the devotion of its followers, politics and power always became paramount.

It was not a game he had played, at least not consciously. He had not campaigned or curried favor to achieve his elevation as the Regus of the Atharii. Yet it seemed he had risen in the ranks consistently, noticed by those above as someone of potential. More than that, he could inspire fear or loyalty, especially in minds weaker than himself. That was, perhaps, one of the greatest and most terrible of his gifts. He knew few true equals in this life.

Valeriya, to her credit, did not cower before the older man or display weakness by being defensive. The man was clearly someone of note, to hold such power in their group.

His eyes flicked over the carvings, alighting from one image to the next. These people had not devolved. They had merely been in waiting. And somehow, it was him they were waiting for. The Atharim histories spoke of visionaries. There were ancient Atharim prophetic works. But that ability had not manifested itself, to his knowledge, in millenia.

He turned back to watch the girl carefully. He wondered what visions danced behind those eyes. The sound of the cascade faded into the background as she spoke and her words were rhythmic. What had she seen? Aside from his coming. Not as Rasputin reborn, certainly. He could not believe that. Still something wormed its way into him. Curiosity as to what he shared with Rasputin, to be cast as his return. Their lives had not been parallel, though there were a few points of convergence. Only a few, though. Rasputin's reputation was drenched in far more carnality than his own.

Still, he was suspicious. This could all turn out badly. He would be no lamb, to be feted and celebrated only to be sacrificed on some altar. And was hard to believe that Fate had drawn him- made his coming known ahead of time- merely to meet that end.

The two men went to their knees in obeisance. Armande's mouth tightened. Leader he was and leader he would be. But worship did not appeal to him. "Rise. I do not need nor desire your worship." The older man's mouth tightened. He understood. Meeting their Messiah always caused discomfort for people of power.

Valeriya indicated that he go with them, to treat his wounds. And the need for herself to change. More than that: 'sin'. What sin? Her clothing was not overly tight, though they did reveal a curved and lithe young woman's body that was not unattractive. The Khylsty had been preoccupied with sin. Asceticism often produced a strange blend of the most rigid of moral strictures with sometimes violent and hedonistic sensual group release. A pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other. And yet such a flow of energy was capable of producing incredible power, if it could be harnessed. He could almost hear the primal drums in his mind, feel the galloping hooves.

He nodded to the girl, then turned to the man. "Please lead the way." The journey wasn't long. Soon he was in a large room lit by torches that cast that same bluish white light over everything. There were chests along the walls supporting what looked like apothecary's instruments. The man must have been what passed for their healer- part doctor, part shaman. No wonder there was tension between him and the Eye. Both were positions of prestige.

Items hung from the ceiling by straps or woven cord. There were what looked to be shaped obsidian and stone, carved bone and horn in a myriad of shapes, from containers and cups to knives, axes, needles and utensils. Some of those containers contain fetid liquids that burned his nostrils. There were also large hollowed out sections of the floor along the back, creating the bowls in which still other liquids stood. Woven mats made of what seemed to be leather covered other parts of the floor and walls, some displaying artistic patterns made with dyes. Chairs made of bone and leather also were scattered around the room. And over in the corner were two mats that were probably for sleeping.

The man's voice no longer seemed pitying, though it was still reedy. "I am called Matvei, Father...Regus. I am the Hand of the Khylsty. This is my apprentice Timur."
He broke into a thick and phlegmy cough. Obviously, handling these liquids had done damage to more than the man's hands. "You are hurt. Please allow us to treat your wounds."

Armande was skeptical that their treatments would leave him anything but septic and infected- and dead. Still, he had no desire to offend them, not if he would use them. Not if they were his people. He heaved his pack to the unused chests and pulled out some of the supplies he'd stolen from the homeless camps above, including a few bottles of water. In particular, he selected the first aid kit that had been provided by social groups to meet their needs. "I have tools here for that- gifts- that can only be used by myself at the moment. But I will teach you to use them."

The men's eyes looked skeptically as he removed its sealed contents. Bottles of liquid, bandages and packets of pills and ointments, second skin adhesives and tablets, and so much more. Rasputin returned he might be- to them- but what he did could be seen as a threat to their position. Armande was not a fool to believe he could physically take on an entire underground colony. Nor did he have any such desire. He would use the proper tool of the proper job.

"Watch and I will teach you."

Edited by Regus, Oct 27 2016, 04:27 PM.
(this sux, lol, first posts back always sux tho.)

Valeriya dug through the piles of cloth until she found her most ceremonial dress. Most of the gowns were tattered and aged, mere shadows of their former luxury. It was a strange contrast to the austere robes of the Khylsty monks, but the Eye was different, she was set apart. Valeriya wore the robes as a girl, like the others before her had, dirty fingers itching to caress the cloth of the Eye, her mother. It had been the first thing she did when the previous Eye met her death. To this day she could still sense the first time she put velvet to her cheek.

Black lace and velvet draped her body now. Little bones, canines, and carved rocks were set into the bodice, some of which added by Valeriya's own hand, collected from her various kills.

Her hair cascaded in a tangle down her back, but she took the time to braid some of it around her face and fix the ends with finger bones and claws so that they clattered when she walked.

The temple was dark when she arrived, only the sound of the cascading waterfall echoing within emerged. Fire was a coveted thing, and oil was a precious resource. She sent monks running through the cave to gather all the Khylsty to the temple for their great reveal. There was no surprise, she kept nothing hidden. Rasputin had come to them again as promised.

While they gathered, she stood in the darkness, closed her eyes and moved forward into the vast empty space. Soon, mist from the waterfall touched her face and humidity swirled in her nostrils. She stood alone before the waterfall until the first monks arrived with torches glowing blue and green, burning the precious fluids of kills. Blue from oni and green from Naga.
[It was a good post]
Armande stretched out his arm, shifting his fists up and down, forearms tightening and loosening, and felt the taut pull of the second skin, its thin flesh-colored covering pulling where it adhered to his natural skin. He shrugged his shoulders back and forth, feeling his trapezius muscle flex and relax, bent his neck from one side to the other until he heard a pop. The air felt cool against his washed chest and legs as he continued to stretch, continued to test out his body now that it was finally clean and treated, arms and torso, quadriceps and back each getting their turn.

The pain pills had done their work, enough that he no longer bothered to separate that part from his consciousness. Curiously, after so long muting his body's physical demands, he luxuriated in the absence of pain and instead marveled at the play of warm and cold that seemed to alternate in the air over his damp skin. Indeed, a wave of sensuality washed over him as he at last felt restored to his former self- at least to a point. The scars on his left cheek and down his neck would remain even after they healed, though no longer the travestied twisting of melted flesh and mottled skin that used to be the fate of burn victims. His hair he had razored short to near stubble and his face was washed and cleansed though he had no doubt there were bags of exhaustion under his eyes. He could sleep later, though.

Matvei and Timur had watched assiduously as he showed them what he did and had helped when he had needed it, particularly the peeling off of his burnt clothing. Thankfully, his mesh armor was still intact and had provided some shielding from the heat. It was the extremities that had borne the brunt of the burns.

Matvei spoke at length through the process while Timur was silent. The man was careful with his words, though. "Father Regus, "
- his voice no longer hitched over the term though he suspected that was a calculated choice on his part- "five generations we have waited. Five generations it was that your then dreaming self led us down here and prepared us to wait. We have waited faithfully. We have purged ourselves clean of filth and impurity."
The irony was not lost on Armande, given the dirt and grim however they tried to be clean. He was speaking of the metaphysical.

Indeed, he gestured at Timur and the man- more a youth, really- opened his robe and lifted his girdled cloth to reveal a naked torso covered in matted hair. For a moment, Armande tried to understand what he was being shown until he noticed what was absent. Noticed because it was crudely displayed. The youth's scrotum and member had been cut away. A wonder the boy hadn't died of infection. He eyed the vats of liquids. Perhaps they did have some skill.

Even so, he felt disgust well up into his throat though he allowed his face to show nothing. Mortification of the flesh was a necessary though limited tool for growth. Mortification of the spirit was far more painful, in the long run, and yielded far better results. "Each of us was Awakened, purging ourselves of that which weakened us."
For a moment, the man's eyes seemed sharp, as if probing, watching for his reaction. It was a test. Disgust turned to contempt. He'd seen butchery before. His own hand had been been glued to the handle of his sword by the gore and dried blood and fat of those he'd killed many times.

He fixed Matvei with an icy stare. The man wanted an outburst of a sort. Some chink in the armor of his....well it wasn't his claim. His imputed position. No. The man had not wanted to see his own prophecy fulfilled. Better to be the messenger and spokesman for their silent god than to have that god actually speak for himself.

"The flesh is but a vessel, Matvei. A tool we ride in this life. I am not a slave to my body. It is my servant." He stretched his arms again, making the second skin clear. During the entire process, he'd made not a single noise of protest in pain. The man's eyes followed the movements for a moment. Perhaps he understood. Perhaps not. It did not matter.

"Tell me of your relationship to the Eye. Two powerful positions. The Hand acts only after the Eye sees." He allowed the insult to linger for a moment before flipping it. "It is the Hand that acts, while the Eye merely sees." His lips quirked in a smile and he nodded respectfully.

Matvei's rheumy eyes narrowed. Slowly his reedy voice began. "Before your sleep, you fathered sons and daughters, both literal and spiritual. We are your children. But some of us are of the Blood- your Blood. Your gifts run in our veins. The Eye- the current Eye, Valeriya- is my grand-niece. Her mother was Eye before. I myself was found to be the Hand of the Khylsty when her mother was only newly blooded and my mother was the Eye."
There was, perhaps, a touch of venom, at the end. Armande smiled inwardly. Undercurrents indeed. Blood only made the feuding that much more deadly.

Timur handed him a long shaggy robe of fur and he looked at it for a moment, seeing a smooth lining of skin on the inside. It had been cured properly and, though not soft, would not be leathery and chafing. Despite his willingness to suffer pains as part of his work, he was no Archbishop Becket to wear a hair shirt in penance underneath his clothing, an admission of unrelenting and daily weakness. He slipped it on and tied the sash about his waist. It was strangely cool to his skin and not at all without pleasure.

There it was again. Curious. From one extreme to the other. A pendulum swinging. One moment, divorced from his body so as to keep moving and fighting and surviving, his mind riding it like a beast. The next, now reunited with it, as if he had slipped into a fresh set of cool linens and could again know what it was to feel. He felt the familiar contempt of weakness and banished the sensations that came to him, rose above himself. And yet for a moment, he smelled the salt mixed with sand and that of old parchments and a faint perfume.

The memories dispelled as if fog. Matvei opened his mouth to say more when there were footsteps at the entrance of his room. The hooded pointedly bowed low to Armande and then stepped to one side. He looked at Matvei expectantly. The man took a moment to respond, as if he were considering what he was about to say. "It is time for Revelation."
открытие, discovery. Armande could guess what was going on.

He turned abruptly and headed to the robed man, his shorn head and clean face clear in the flickering firelight. He would not cover himself. The man led the way and he strode confidently through warren of passages until he entered the source of the sound of cascading water he heard earlier, the chamber that had been adjacent to the one with the wall carvings. The waterfall cast sprays of misty water in the air while the pool on the ground bubbled with hot water. The air seemed to quiver, alive as the currents of air swirled, hot with cold, differentials that produced breezes. Against his now near naked scalp and neck it felt...curious.

Lights blue and green glowing from torches held by men cast eerie shadows on the walls. The room was filled with robed people, their shadowed forms and height indicating men, women and children. They all faced him quietly, expectantly. But a figure in black, back to him, stood in front of the waterfall, near to the water itself. Droplets seems to shimmer in the strands her long braided hair, glittering with the blue and green light. There appeared to be other things knotted into it too. Strangely, she also wore a what seemed to be a dress, though the shadows only hinted rather than made clear what it was made of. Not leather, not with the way the mist seemed to cling to it so airily, reflecting the torch light.

He looked around and none of the men spoke. Matvei and Timur had followed behind, but remained silent, though not without a frown spoiling Matvei's face. The cascade of the fall seemed to get louder in the silence and Armande had had enough.

His strong sonorous voice boomed as it filled the room. "I am Armande Nicodemus. Regus of the Atharim." He would not claim to be more than that. He would accept honor and power from this people if they chose to give it. But he would not deign to pretend that he needed to be more than he was to receive it.

Edited by Regus, Nov 9 2016, 08:21 AM.
The lights grew the longer she stood before the waterfall. Around her, dancing on the edge of her vision, blue and green flickered. The waterfall was bathed in their light just as the mist cloaked her skin with a cool sheen. She licked her lips for a moment. The water was acidic, but the burn tingled gently on her tongue. It was not a pleasant taste, but few things were. It was satisfying, though. She drank her fill after returning with the kill. So thirst wasn't the drive to lick her lips again, not thirst of the flesh, anyway. Thirst of the soul, that was unquenched. The longing to go Above grew in her belly the longer she waited. Grigori Rasputin, their glorious and great father, returned. Not just after all this time, but returned to her. She felt her fists clench as her jaw tightened. She could hardly wait to begin the rest of her life. The things the Eye saw would soon be before her in the flesh!

As her imagination drifted, a presence came up beside her. She did not need to turn to know it was Illarion. The monk would still be in the robes he wore during the kill. He would still have his hood pulled low. The brown markings on his nose and forehead would still be the shadow of a cross. More than recognizing the pace of his steps or the scent of his skin, Illarion was her twin brother. Children were a sin in the Khylsty. Understandable given the strain every person has on their isolated resources. That was why all children had to be conceived during The Ritual, under very governed and strict circumstances. Rules that the Eye oversaw and enacted. She watched but could not partake, not until the appointed time, which was different for every Eye. Propogation of the line of Eyes was imperative to their existence so Valeriya accepted that someday she would participate, but the partner was unknown. She always assumed it would be Illarion. Her twin brother was part of her already, their souls entwined since the womb. Why not entwine the flesh as well? She could not fathom partnering with any of the other monks. Although Matvei, her uncle, would pine at the chance. Illarion would overrule him though, Hand of the Khylsty or not. More brothers would join with Illarion than Matvei, it was known. Matvei was necessary, though. Until Timur, one of their removed cousins, could take his place, Matvei must be endured. Even Illarion knew this.

Now all that she assumed about her future was eroded, slipping away like water between her fingers. The Great One was returned. Rasputin reborn. Named Regus in this life. There was a virility in his body that made Valeriya quiver with anticipation. To be the Eye and his partner in Radenyi.... she licked her lips again. Illarion would be disappointed, she thought. To be displaced by Regus. Her children by Regus would be dangerous, probably the most potent of any Eyes since the Great One himself. She would have to watch them carefully or else suffer the fate that Valeriya's own mother did, to be slain by her child.

"We are assembled, Eye,"
Illarion's voice leaned in, whispering in her ear like the mist of the waterfall falling gently on her face. He slid away then, but did not go far.

She nodded but did not turn to address the Sacred Khylsty. She listened, lids low, and turned her mind upon the Eye within. She could see him coming, walking in robes, back straight and eyes blue torches. His voice made the walls tremble with their echoes, but she smiled to herself where none could see. Only to smooth her features to granite, her eyes sparkled in the green light. She finally turned, holding her hands high.

She spoke to the ceiling, as though to the Above itself, like they would hear her.
"The Eye has seen!"
She bellowed and the khylsty answered in one voice.

<strong>"THE EYE HAS SEEN."</strong>

"Our Great Father Rasputin has returned,"
she cried.

"GREAT ONE," they echoed.

"In this life, he calls himself Armande Nicodemus, Regus of the Atharim."
A strange and exotic name she thought briefly. "To us he is the Father of the Khylsty."


She lowered her gaze from the lofty ceiling, so high above the torches did not tickle the heights. The chamber was that vast. She found she stood opposite Regus and the brother monks had formed a circle around them. The waterfall was at her back. She licked her lips again and forced her heart to stillness. In the robes of a kill, he seemed wild and untamed. Shadows touched his eyes, sinking them to pits. Much as they did in the portraits of great Rasputin himself. A portrait none but the Eyes had viewed, just as none but the Eyes could touch a sacred symbol. Her hand unconsciously went to the phallus around her neck, dangling against her chest.

A smile darted briefly across her lips as she bowed to the Regus, but where Valeriya bowed with a mere bend of her head, the monks of the khylsty, obscured by the low cowls of their hoods, fell to their knees.

In that silence, she moved. Around the dangerous edge of the pool, where a slender bridge sloped to the farthest wall. The lowermost hem of her lacey dress dangled over the edges of the rocky bridge, it was so narrow. A young monk once fell in this water, but was lost beneath the churning of the angry falls, never to be seen again. She took her steps carefully.

Once she left, Illarion took up a guarding stance at the foot of the rocky bridge. He held out a blue glowing torch for Regus to take and follow the Eye into the darkness.

"Follow the Eye into the darkness, Great One, and behold the bowels of the Sacred. The holiest of holies that none but the Eyes have seen, until now, great Father."
There was a grit of his teeth as he spoke, and a sparkle of eyes behind the cowl of his robe. Illarion was a sentinel, but a jealous one. He did not like the idea of the Regus alone with the Eye, but she was more dangerous than anyone truly knew. Even the rest of the Khylsty. For he knew her mind, and it was a violent place.

Valeriya had disappeared in the darkness, and her sight of the footing below slowly faded as torches grew dimmer and dimmer. The waterfall was a loud echo in her ears, almost painful. She could no longer hear voices, nor even her own should she scream. She allowed the Eye to show her the way, feeling along the bridge carefully until the waterfall became muffled all of a sudden.

She passed behind the waterfall and entered a tunnel, far more safer than the previous path. But for its comparative safety, dangers flanked on either side, lurking, ready to strike. She could sense their presence, but she remained out of range. The darkness swallowed her. This was the heart of the temple. In here were Rasputin's sacred belongings, including the only piece of his flesh that remained.

In there, she waited for the Regus to join her and collect what belonged to him. He would carry light to her, and for the first time, Valeriya would behold the chamber with the eyes of her flesh, not just the Eye alone. He would bring light as was foretold.

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