The First Age

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His voice reverberating against the rock walls of the large chamber was greeted by a silence only broken by the crashing of the water from the fall. In the silence a worm of trepidation burrowed. His blue eyed gaze swept over the crowd with suspicion. For a moment he sensed the shadow of danger and he cursed himself for foolish weakness. Hubris, as they say. Violence always hovered at the edges of zealotry, the shadow made darker by the fiery light. Especially toward the source of devotion.

He studied the crowd again- at Valeriya's black clad form still only showing her back, communing with the falling water- and adjusted his stance. Very likely he would not walk out of here alive. But his soul would be dear. They would know what it was to invite an object of worship into their realm, only to turn him into sacrifice.

Valeriya turned, her green eyes glowing brightly in the turquoise glow of the firelight. For a moment- just a moment- recognition tugged at his memory. The ghost of a young voice arose from somewhere deep within. And again his emotions surged, a whipsaw back to something beyond any pain he'd known over the previous day- or every. The carefully laid walls quivered and behind the hidden door in his mind he saw a flash of light. His breath caught as the demon even now- Not now, not after so long!, he pleaded- tugged the hooks, the last gasp of her power.

He did not like this place. It was the air or the mist. Something was reaching its ghostly dead hand into his deepest places twisting and turning, opening. He breathed and blanked his mind, asserting the power of his will over himself, as he had with his physical pain earlier. Within a moment, calm had replaced whatever had been there before.

Now, it was just a crowd of expectant people. There seemed not malice. Indeed, they seemed to lean toward him. Their collective breath seemed to hold at once, as if waiting...waiting...waiting-

-and then Valeriya spoke, her voice piercing the silence, a knife cast out into the darkness. The crowd responded in antiphonal chant, the words formal and yet laden with hope and something else he could not put his finger on. His eyes were glued to hers across the chamber and he tore them away with more effort than he was comfortable admitting. He studied the rest, looked at their faces, sought their eyes. In some, as among the Atharim, he saw suspicion and fear. And in some, like Matvei, the cold embers of ambition smoldered. Others, though, in others he saw the fires burn. Hunger. Even Barovsky's zeal had been tempered with experience. Here, though, cloistered and indoctrinated without the distraction of the life above, here fanaticism could reach its peak.

It would be a deadly walk, the beast difficult to control. But there were forces at work. It was not accident that brought him here, even if they- if she- were wrong about who he was.

She turned and through the fabric he saw flashes of light. Cloth. Lace even. From somewhere she had found a dress. Her hair tinkled as ornamentation clicked together.

And then she was headed around the side of the pool the water poured into, onto a ledge that seemed to stretch back into the darkness. Suddenly she was gone. One of the men- he moved stiffly- beckoned to him, holding out the torch that burned its bluish flame. The flames lit his eyes, even as the rancid smell of fat told him where the fuel came from.

He could follow into their holiest place to find her. The Eye. She who saw. What had she seen? Surely not just his face. What was his purpose here? More to the point, who was behind it?

Oracular vision had never been the province of the gods of old, as far as he knew. The stories of old- the histories he had- proved the gods as blind and as helpless to future as most others. But there, in that secret cavern Dr. Daniat had uncovered, had lain the curse tablet, now safely tucked into his bag. Alongside it had been an ancient copper scroll that, as best as he could read, had been from his Atharim brethren across the millenia. Somehow, they had known of his need- of the world's need- and it had been placed in safekeeping until finally, it was his hand that held it, his voice that had awakened the Ijiraq. His will that had finally killed Apollyon.

What further knowledge was out there? The hunger to know burned inside him, gnawed at him. And deeper than that. The need to use that knowledge. The love of learning was tempered by what he could do with it, even as he reveled in the mental gymnastics themselves.

Now he had a place for answers. The memory of those green eyes came to him. Someone with answers. That was what was important. Settled, he was willing to proceed. He took the torch from the hooded man and followed, the shadowy light playing across the surface of the whirling pool. The rock path was narrow but he was sure footed. Still, the opening was not easy to find, nor, once he was inside, was it a straight path. smokey or steam from rents in the side of the walls mixed with water that must have come from above, from the source of the waterfall, running along side.

His instincts came to him and he slowed even as his heart began to beat faster. Valeriya. His hand went to his blade, ready. Cherufe would thrive in an environment like this. He could almost see the flash of the thin leathery form as it razor teethed jaws snapped at her legs, rending the white flesh until blood ran freely. She would be gone. All would be for not.

He moved faster even as he carefully stuck to the middle of the way, wary for any movement, wishing he had his flash-lamp instead of the flickering light casting moving shadows that could hide an attack.

And then he broke into a room, his blue light penetrating deep into the bowels of the chamber. And their she was, watching him, eyes shining in the light. For a moment, he stared. She appeared primal, her hair decorated clearly now, with bone and rocks and teeth. She was the queen mother of this group. Grendel's Mother. The deadliest of foes. And he was in her lair.

What did she want of him? His eyes ran over the rest of the room and took in chests and boxes, the dust that plainly covered them indicating great age.

And then it occurred to him? How had she seen to get here? How had she known the path, eluded the dangers? The green eyes recalled green eyes, but he suppressed the pain that tried to come with it. For a moment, suspicion cut through him. Was she a god? Or did her Oracular vision translate to this?

He would be wary. There did not appear another way out, though perhaps the shadows hid some narrow path. If it should be necessary, he would need a way out that would preferably avoid the waiting throng outside.

And yet, what he saw in her eyes did not seem to indicate fear or protectiveness. That curiosity warred with his concern.

"What is it you want of me? What is this place that you bring me here?"
When the torchlight entered the cave, Valeriya looked around in wonder. The Eye had seen it before, but it was different to behold with her own eyes. She turned in a slow circle, looking upon the out-cropping of rock that formed an altar in the back. A glass jar was nestled in a crook of the rock and a preserved organ float within.

When she turned back to behold the literal man of her dreams, she found him wary. Perhaps it was reasonable, she thought. Rasputin would not know his rebirth. The Khylsty believed that God took on the flesh of mankind frequently, not just as was told in the tale of the man in Nazareth, where ever that was. Maybe even God didn't know he was God.

Valeriya wondered who she was in her past life. The Eye did not tell her, for she often sought the answer. Maybe it was a sin to think so deeply upon herself, she finally accepted. The visions were not easily controlled. If they were, she would have foreseen this day when all her dreams were going to come true. Such a blessing she laid at the feet of the man before her.

He appeared tired, but strong. What had he endured to come to them? It seemed as though he walked through walls of fire to find them. She would ask sometime, but not now.

Now was his turn to ask questions.

"These are your belongings,"
she gestured at the dusty boxes around them. "You bid us to preserve their contents for your return, and we have kept our vows. It is said we carried them from Above in carts and by the blood and sweat of hooves. We broke our backs to bear them. When one of us fell, another took the burden. They are precious. As you also required, they have been untouched all this time. Only the Eye is allowed in this room. But not even the Eye may touch. They are sacred. This room is the Sacred."

She hungered to know the contents. What was so important to Rasputin that he made the Khylsty save them.

"Rasputin knew blood was to be shed in the Above. That is why he made the Khylsty come Below, to hide us for when we were needed again. You swore that you would return to us, lead us Above, and we would together make war upon the world, cleanse it of sin, and Awaken the unclean. We would purge the world of all sin and filth. We are the Khylsty, your holy weapons. I am the Eye, who sees what I need to see. I am your daughter, the child of the child of the child of Rasputin. His blood runs in me, thus do I have the Eye."

That last was recited as though it was something secret she shared. "The Eyes were to be kept pure and clear for you. Our blood is pure. I am untouched by Radenyi still."
She smiled a secret, proud smile and came to stand before him, peering up into his eyes.

"Take me Above, please. I am your servant."

She pulled his hand to her lips and kissed the knuckles reverently.

Her green eyes flashed as she spoke and for a moment, a tempest threatened his soul. Emerald green, a hint of secret knowing and even playfulness peeking out with her words. So familiar. The dagger of pain that was usually just a dull ache stabbed sharply. So familiar. Lissandra. The succubus who had stolen his daughter had hidden behind those eyes. Love and hatred warred inside him, a battle he had tamped down decades ago now threatening to engulf his soul.

He was off balance. The supports and beliefs that held him and his world together were gone. The magnitude of the loss above- the loss of his study, his anonymity, his home- not immaterial things but the tools that let him operate in the shadows- added their own shading of flavor. He was stripped down to nothing.

But it was when he was down to nothing that he was the most deadly. The softwood burned away until the iron heart remained. He reined in his emotions, seeking the solace of the chong rann until only quiet remained. The peace and stillness that found resonance in this hidden chamber.

And he saw the girl anew. Young but not childish. Hopeful but not naive. Devoted. Worshipful even. A worm of...something slithered inside him. Careful. He could not allow the allure of worship to ensnare him. He knew his own pride. He could not let it weaken him.

Her hands were not the smooth and soft hands of the pampered and spoiled. But her lips were cool against his hands, the dampness it left cool against his skin.

He studied her. Radenyi. Of course. Ritualized community. Ecstasy. He had little doubt where that ended. So she was preserved. A virgin. For him? That was the question, really. Was he a cynic? Was he a charlatan? Would he use these people out of utility? Or did he believe?

He wasn't sure what the answer was. Clearly, there were forces at work, something larger than himself. That too disturbed him. But here he was. Somehow the waited for leader of these people.

Perhaps this was what he needed. He would go slowly. The unknown was dangerous.

His blue eyes gazed down at her, letting her see his study of her. If nothing else, this was unexpected. It was nothing he'd even have imagined.

Not that he believed he was Rasputin. And bringing a war to the Above? Perhaps, though not in the manner they thought. Time enough to deal with that later. Still..."The Above will come, Valeriya." He smiled to soften the blow. He needed to be careful.

He stepped back and surveyed the room. The chests held promise. What would Rasputin have though important enough to squirrel down here? The jar on the outcrop was given a cursory look. He knew what it was. Despite himself, he found himself smiling on the inside. It was humorous on its face. Of course they would preserve his member. Sex always rested at the root of power, however dressed in the clothing of ritual.

"Let us see what was charged to the Khylsty," he said, inviting her to join him. The uncertainty was still there, that feeling of not having control. But he would not let himself fail.
((ooc - this is really short cuz i couldnt think of much else to do. ^-^ ))

He was quiet for so long that Valeriya grew nervous. Had she spoken out of turn? Had she offended him? He was displeased. She saw it in his eyes. A shiver tickled her spine, but she held her head high, chin out, and eyes sharp. She wouldn't cow, but if she sinned, she would accept the punishment without wincing.

Instead, Regus affirmed her wish with a promise. She believed him with all of her being, and a sly smile split her face, displacing the former defiance.

He turned their attention to the boxes and crates. Her fingers waggled at her side, itching to explore the contents. She joined him at the first crate, and aided in lifting the lid. It was ancient and heavy, sealed by long spikey nails that split the wood as it lifted.

For some strange reason, he felt a sense of pleasure at her smile. There was something knowing and content in it. Trust. It was curious. Most people's obedience to him came from their being intimidated by him, either physically or intellectually. He was used to commanding a room by his very presence, hearing the talk fade to near silence as they waited for him to speak. Fear, intimidation, force of will. Very useful tools.

From almost none did it come from trust. Nor did it need to.
He understood. Very rarely did he show all his cards or explain more than was absolutely necessary, all of which was a requisite to that kind of obedience. So this was a new experience for him. And this girl left him wondering, now.

He filed the thought away and focused on the task at hand. What had Rasputin stored down here? Why? And why bring the Khylsty here too? More importantly, what was his purpose here? Above it all, who was the purposer?

The chest nearest to them drew his attention. It seemed to place in the center of the chamber, as if it were the more important. Very well. He would start with that one. The lid was old and dusty, the wood dry and slightly curved, recessed metal straps running down the side. No lock kept the lid closed and yet it resisted being opened. They brute forced it, the nails squeeling as they were forced out of their channel and the ancient wood splitting in some places at it opened.

The light from lantern mode lit up the contents and on the top sat a folded hide, grey brown fur mottled on white. He looked at her for a moment, blue eyes taking in green, before cautiously reaching out and taking it. Not that expected there to be danger. But expecting and finding did not always go hand in hand. The fur was soft and it unfolded easily as he drew it out. It had been cured properly so there was no stiffness. Strange. The fur was luxurious even. Not the sort of thing he expected. His eyes flicked over the other chests. Did they merely contain treasures? Why the secrecy then?

There had to be more too this. Perhaps it was padding or protection for what was underneath. He handed her one corner and then held it out to let it fall open to its full length. Then he switched hands so the skin faced out.

The light played over faded markings on the skin side. Lines twisted and undulated, meeting and separating. Faded characters- Cyrillic by the look of them, though oddly formed- appeared at branchings and endings. It was a map. And yet when he tried to read them, they made no sense. He knew what they were supposed to be phonetically, but it wasn't Russian. Nor was it any other Slavic language, for that matter. There were no recognizable roots or endings.

Softly, he sounded out words chosen at random. "Agi-tki. Singilgen-duli. Lang-ngachin." The words were meaningless to him. He looked at her, the question plain in his eyes. More than that, a hint of a smile played over his lips. A mystery.
Valeriya had never felt such fur before. It was silky like wet clay when she swiped her hand along the fibers, but it mottled and pricked her skin when she ran her palm the other direction. Her head cocked sideways, eyes lit with curiosity. The markings were odd to her, shapes that depicted no scene. Nothing that resembled the drawings like in the throne room. These were just strange scratches. Rows and rows of them.

Vale blinked at the sudden break in the silence when Regus spoke. He spoke the drawings on the fur. It took her a moment to realize that was what was happening. There were legends that people could draw the sounds. That must be what the fur showed them: drawn sounds.

What he said pricked her ears, too. The words were familiar. She repeated what he said, tasting the words on her tongue. The flow and rhythm of the words seemed off to her.
"Agi-tki. Singilgen-duli. Lang-ngachin."

And it came to her. Something deep in her memories. It was fuzzy and obtruse, like she wasn't sure if the memory was of her own real life or if it was the memory of a forgotten Vision.

but she didn't know what it meant, but even as the word echoed in their ears, images of green flashed across the sight of the Eye.

The dank air and crashing sound of the falls in the distance was all but forgotten as he studied the map. There was nothing recognizable in any of it. And it was, the first thing a person would find in a chest that seemed purposely positioned to grab attention.

He felt a familiar prickle in his nose, the memory of the dust that would fill his nostrils as he carefully, reverently, opened long worn out and unused tomes, their lost and ancient knowledge seen for the first time in centuries, the loving caress, the feel of velum and parchment smooth against his palms and finger tips. And the flicker of excitement at the prospect of a something new to discover.

Another feeling washed over him, as if in reaction to that surge of excitement. Tiredness. Fatigue. For a moment, he was surprised. For that to break through the wall he had erected meant that he was nearing his limit. The chong rann gave him the ability to ignore his body's demands, but only to a point. At the end of the day, the animal that was his flesh would exact its toll. He had been up for over three days with only an hour of sleep. The interrogation of the sentient, the summoning of the Ijiraq, the attack on Apollyon, the fire and his injuries, the tortuous path down into the tunnels, the fight with the Oni, the Khylsty- finally, his body was demanding what it required. It was a side of himself he kept others from seeing. When the shut-down came, it was a switch that happened quickly.

He looked over at her tiredly, her green eyes glittering in the lamp light, as she studied the images. And then she spoke. "Tingyuan,"
the word slow and- hesitant? He did not recognized it. He scanned the writing, looking for but nothing jumped out at him. Finding one phonetic word in a sea of characters was never simple.

"Can you read it?" The phantom itch of dust returned, the feel of smooth velum. And the hint of excitement. Through his exhaustion, he felt a sense of peace and contentment seep in. He studied her face. She was interesting. These people were interesting. And he had a purpose here. He knew that.

"Call the others to take these things out of here." He paused, deciding how much to trust. How much weakness to reveal. It was the eyes that decided it. Familiar. Dangerous. But alive. And devoted. "I require rest."

Edited by Regus, Jan 4 2017, 11:31 PM.
The words barely left his lips before Valeriya kicked into action. She gathered any items from the trunk that Regus requested and made her way back to the watery entrance to the crevice.

With light to guide her, she was for the first time aware of her surroundings as she passed the treachery looming on either side. The Eye had always guided her footsteps before, leading her safely to the Sanctuary. Now that light flooded her vision, she found herself afraid.

She was glad to reach the main floor of the Temple room and the remainder of the Khylsty awaiting their return. Rasputin required rest, she told them, as his body was drawn by his journey to them. The others gathered him among them to lead him someplace where he could lay down, a bed of sorts, but was really more of a pallet and furry blankets.

Valeriya spent the next few hours guiding steady feet and strong hands across the bridge, granting them access to the Sanctuary. They removed all the belongings and set them up along the edges of the temple room, but safely away from the mist of the waterfall and pool so they wouln't get too wet. Nobody opened any of the other trunks, but Vale was eager to explore the contents for herself.
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