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A New Page Turned
#1
The light hit the water like smooth glass, the drifting current sluggish as a dream. Proximity to such tangible beauty in the city's heart was half the reason she'd bought the apartment at Bazhenov Square. Ancient trees clustered across seven-hundred acres, and grass chased the glorious curve of the Moskva river over five kilometres, her most cherished place in Moscow.  

A cacophony of detritus surrounded her. Haphazard piles of books weighted down the edges of the blanket, interspersed with pencils and curled sketch paper. Distractions came upon her easy. Bare feet sank into the grass beyond, toes pressed into dirt still faintly moist from last night's rain. Her brows drew low over the book across her thighs, hair alight in the breeze like some fey wild thing.

Beside her Aylin stared out over the water, face drawn. Shadows whispered beneath her eyes, the cap of her dark hair pulled back severe. One of Thalia's sketchbooks lay splayed on her lap, crammed with pencil drawings of wolves, a regular interloper to her obsessive scribblings since Calvin. 

"Where do you even find this stuff, Thal?" 

"You mean the books?" She tipped a shoulder, aware but unrepentant for the archaic comforts of vellum and dust. It had been strange to step back into her apartment after all this time in order to liberate this small sample, like entering into the cool halls of a mausoleum, but stranger still to discover nothing stirred in her chest. It seemed the fear washed out with the understanding of what she was; a wrinkle smoothed out, a new page turned.  

"I mean the..." Aylin sighed, abandoned the words.

"It's near the end."

Aylin dutifully flipped through, wolves running across the paper like something alive, until the marks became disjointed and jagged; great swathes of angry black. Compulsive need blooded out the image, snapping the lead in several pencils while the grip of mania burned enough to feel like a starburst in her chest, right until the last line faded. The figure's robes whispered ethereal, the ghostly tendrils of her hair floating about a face carved in pain. 

Thalia waited for the silence to thicken, skipping through the pages of her own book in distraction before she admitted, a little too blithely.  "Drawing that felt like it did with Yana."

Grey eyes belied the casual confession by bouncing up to meet her sister's pinched gaze almost immediately. This was a history they had never spoken of, not really, though it had saved Thalia's life. An anomalous blip in the path of ordinary, but at the time too ugly a thing to confront. She'd shied back every time it had happened since; faces etched by her frantic hand confronting her on the street, flesh and blood and impossibly living. Like the face of the woman who purged the Sickness from her blood, made eternal in the lines of ink on her back. 

Aylin's faint frown connected the dots. "But this isn't a person." 

Thalia's brows rose. Her head tilted, spilling hair all over the pages of her book. "Well yes, that's kind of the point." Her toes dug a little harder into the earth, like she could root herself there. A queasy feeling floated in her stomach, as if her insides were tangled by riverweed, though despite herself there was a glow of curiosity too, like she had found an unlocked door and was finally ready to explore what puzzles lay beyond. 

Aylin's eyes only closed, palms at her cheeks, massaging her temples. Her fingers raked hard over her head. Thalia was well acquainted with the snare of nightmare, though neither of them understood what had cracked Aylin so terribly, or so thoroughly. Days had passed since she'd last been able to force herself into work (and she wasn't the only one), the nights so full of terror the sheets soaked and twisted to ruin each morning.

Perhaps Thalia's continued oddness was a weight too heavy for her stoical sister. Perhaps the suggestion of more curious other in a world that had previously been all neat, straight lines was a burden too far. Though who else was Thalia supposed to share it with? She blinked down at the image in her lap; a small grizzled creature poised on the chest of a sleeping woman, arms splayed as though in death. Something tugged her attention before the thought sped along with the current, though she lifted the book anyway, propping it under her chin to display the morbid picture. Her gaze sparked mischief. 

"It's called a nightmare."

A weary laugh spilled despite the paleness of Aylin's face. "Don't be silly. Gosh, Thalia, that's horrible!" 

She grinned. "So apparently these days I'm magical, Lin. If you can believe that, why can't you believe in gangly little creatures that perch on your chest while you sleep?" She was mostly joking, but Aylin's face only blanched at the poor taste, and her gaze snapped back out to the river like she might find solace amongst its waves. Something protective curled in Thalia's chest, the book falling back to her lap. The impish creature stared right out of the page before she snapped it shut.

[[Precursor to Distinendae]]
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