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Sisters of the Moon
#21
She was Khylsty.

                Rowan still did not completely comprehend what that had meant. Foolish on her part, very foolish. What kind of twat inducted herself into a cult without understanding what that had meant? That vision, right before the plucking of her eye…

                But then… It didn’t matter what she was now, none of it did if there was the promise of destruction. Rowan’s sister cried out, eyes swirling about her skull, proclaiming to the ethers that she would not be buried again. What did that mean? Had she been locked up in this compound her whole life? That would explain the strange form of Russian that she spoke. Rowan could comprehend it, but there were words and phrases that seemed positively archaic.

                So many questions.

                Armande led the two of them by the hand deeper into the compound, coming into a modest room. He sat on the ground and Vale pulled her down onto a pallet. Rowan adjusted her white skirts, plucking at a smudge of dirt along the hem. Long blonde hair hung over her face, obscuring her one good eye. Armande went on, denying his role as a Destroyer. That was good. Oh, he could have been lying, but she would never know… Only time would verify such a claim. The only thing she could do was trust in the man and trust in the path that she had set out upon. For now, at least.

                Throwing her hair back, Rowan looked up at Armande, “Good… Then that means someone will always remember. There was another vision, but it left me,” she shook her head and looked down, fingers lacing together atop her lap, “Armande, I do not know if this vision will come to pass. True, I have practiced Divination, but always with the cards. It was not until you and my sweet Valeriya came into the Café did I experience anything so intense. The cards were always right, but they were always murky in their meanings…”

                “Did they ever come upon you this powerfully, sister?” Rowan asked Vale as she turned to look at her, “Have you ever had a vision come to pass?”

                Blinding white light. Ashes and bones. A cage of vines. The Ascended.

                Rowan addressed Armande again, “It looked like a nuke. Have you ever watched footage of one going off? Lop Nor. Nevada. Algeria. Western Australia. Hiroshima…” She shivered visibly, “Fucking terrifying. If not a nuke, then what was it? Channeling is the only other thing that comes to mind, but I don’t think there is a person alive that can wield that much power. There are those that fear Channeling, that fear what that power could do in the wrong hands and maybe they aren’t wrong to be afraid… but what about weapons of mass destruction? What about guns and nukes and biological warfare? You have to be born with the talent to Channel. You have to learn how to wield it or you die… But these weapons born of Science? Anyone with a finger can press a button and destroy it all.”

                Rowan exhaled loudly, shaking her head, running her fingers through her hair. Visions of the hospital ran through her mind, of dead bodies lying haphazardly everywhere she turned. Channeling could kill; quickly and effectively. She had done it before without even realizing what she was doing. What if that vision was a portent of the same type of incident? What if there was someone on this planet that could recreate the effects of a nuclear bomb using only the five flows of the Elements? What if they did it all in a fit of rage or grief? Those people were right to be afraid.

                Still. There were a million wonders made possible through Channeling, just as there were a million atrocities that could be committed with it.

                Two sides to every coin.

                “I’m sorry. I’m getting chatty… Sometimes my tongue just runs off on its own… I don’t know, Armande. I really don’t know what it was. I don’t even know if that was guaranteed. If you’re not here to destroy, then that can only mean the Ascendancy is the threat, the one that will end it all. We need to stop him… And I think I need another drink.”

"The power Voodoo. Hoodoo? You do! Do what!?"
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#22
Armande looked at his Vale with tenderness. He felt protective of her. What she had seen had rocked her to her core, her hand gripping his fiercely. Tears streamed from just one of her eyes. It seemed like something was wrong with the other. It was the same eye that Rowen has lost. Only more confirmation. They were connected.

Gently he wiped away the tears from her cheek, kissed her hand and pulled her to him in an embrace, the scent of her and her hair, the feel of her against him, a comfort. "You are the strongest person I know, my love, he said quietly. "We will both do what must be done to protect this world from evil." He released her though not without tucking a strand of her hair behind her ear as he looked down out her. Lovely. So very lovely.

His gaze turned to Rowen, smile remaining. He was at peace. For most of his life, the weight of the world lay heavy on his broad shoulders, a mountain of duty and obligation. That mountain had grown heavier as the years ground by. The Chong Rann gave him some sense of clarity and relief. But the mountain always remained.

But together, these two had somehow given him the key. He saw the end clearly, now.

Once before, he had railed at God or fate or whatever force was in charge, refusing to be a tool. Apollyon had been hurt but not killed, Armande's actions only increasing the man's influence and power. Rage had filled him, fury at having been made a fool, at increasing the river of prestige and adulation that flowed toward him. And yet, only later did things become clearer. The Revelator, John of Patmos, had explained.

One of the beast's heads appeared to have sustained a mortal wound, but its fatal wound was healed. Filled with adoration, the whole world followed the beast.

Now, once again, clarity had come to him, this time from the lips of these women. The endgame. His destiny. And it was enough. Serenity suffused him, peace and acceptance at his fate. Something was in control. The fight would continue. Humanity would be saved.

He answered Rowan. "What it is....I do not know. And whether it means actual destruction, I do not know." His look hardened, though not at her. "But you do see the danger." He looked at Vale again. "The power of the gods is a tool. But its power corrupts...."

Despite the feeling of peace, pain stabbed his heart. His voice dropped to a whisper as he looked at Valeriya, looked through her. "Anyone can fall to it. Anyone..." His breath was slow as he tried to remain calm, to keep from letting the feelings overwhelm him. It wasn't Vale's eyes he was seeing now. It was another pair of green eyes. Carefully- so very carefully- he let it out of its cage. Quietly. "My own daughter...many years ago..." His eyes focused on her. "The power of the gods touched her, consumed her soul, left a demon its place. A changeling spawn that I had to..."

He trailed off, shuddering, not willing to say the words, the feel of the resistance to his sword, to the hot wet spurting on his hand, to the cry of the thing that still wore Lissandra's face, that still pleaded with him in her voice, the power it held over him, even now, more than 20 years later, to tear at his heart, that held him in its thrall, bound by its own perverse magic.

He closed his eyes, trying to escape the images, hoping to find the serenity he had felt just moments before., peace at the knowledge of his end, his death. He saw himself and Brandon within the cage, burning to death together, felt the flames lick about him, each cool and comforting, a respite from the unending fires in his mind, from the endless torments of his past. Each moment burning in those flames a purgatory, cleansing him, scouring him, bringing the bliss of eternal destruction, the nirvana of non-existence. Freedom from those eyes. An end to it all, his destiny fulfilled.

Duty was a mountain. Death was lighter than a feather. And a welcome friend. Deserved.

One day. In the future. He still had his work to do. And for now, Rowan was necessary. For now. But she would not escape her destiny either, even if it did not come at his hand.
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#23
((continued from Finding Rowan))




                “We’re pulling up now, Boss,” Cooper called over his shoulder as Aiden’s eyes fluttered open.

                Sage had been the perfect gentleman and had not moved a muscle during Aiden’s nap. There was even a wet patch on Sage’s shoulder, no doubt caused by the spittle that had been drooling from Aiden’s open mouth. He grabbed a tissue and began blotting at the spot.

                “Oh, God, sorry babe,” Aiden fussed, biting at his bottom lip.

                The sun was well below the horizon now and the small little building loomed ahead of them. It looked even tinier in person. There was now little doubt that the shed was simply a front for the entrance to a larger building…

                Either that or this really was a tool shed and they just hid Rowan’s body here…

                Neither thought brought much comfort to Aiden. He fussed at Sage’s shirt, suddenly doubting his inclination to be here. Really, what were the odds that they would make it out alive?

                For God’s sake, keep a grip on yourself, Aiden, he thought to himself, you can control the winds and ride with the lightning.

                True, there could be people in there with weapons or other Channelers that could-

                Aiden shook himself, chasing that line of thought away. He finished with Sage’s shirt and looked up at him, smiling uneasily. The limo came to a halt halfway down the street that lead to an empty lot containing the tiny shack ahead. The dilapidated buildings towered over them, no doubt once meant to house countless businesses and office workers. Now they just looked like big, brick ghosts; invisible faces staring from behind the shattered window panes above and around. Goosebumps covered Aiden and he turned from Sage, looking out the front window, his brow furrowed heavily

                “…Babe? Do you know if anyone else is in that tiny shack thing beside my sister… and maybe the evil queen and her scramble-faced beau?”


                He wasn't sure what they would do now. They couldn't just knock... Could they?

Russian Dolls and Broken Gods, a new Fantasy novel by best-selling author, Aiden Finnegan, out this December! Preorder online and instore today!
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#24
A look passed Armande’s face before he took Vale into his arms. Rowan looked to her Sister’s face, quizzically.

                Ah. Of course, Rowan thought to herself as she noticed the one-sided tears. Were she not so sure of their bond, Rowan would have assumed it was sympathetic magic… of a sort.

                Armande released her and turned his smile on Rowan. He looked at ease. It was strange. This man normally projected an air of authority and ruthlessness, but it all seemed to melt away after he felt Vale’s touch. There was love between them. Real love. Not just the apparent physical attraction. He was not a bad looking man, but Rowan couldn’t help but to wonder if he was the type that liked getting- rough- when he took a lady to the sheets.

                It was a long moment before the man spoke again, this time in answer to Rowan’s own musings. Armande did hold prejudice against Channelers and Witches, not without reason of course. But what was this of a changeling? Surely… He could not honestly believe that touching the magic swaped out one’s soul for that of a Fae… Right?

                Rowan had opened her mouth to correct his statement but thought the better of it. She didn’t really understand any of this much better than he had; and her own notions were very clearly colored by her own spiritual beliefs and upbringing. Let the man believe what he wanted, so long as he didn’t try to kill her because of it. Rowan was not eager to return to the Burning Times- not that she had lived it.

                Death at the hands of Armande was still a very real possibility. She had seen it right before the initiation into this cult. It was a sure thing if she did not go through with the rites. There was no guarantee it still wasn’t a possibility, she was just certain that it was not imminent any longer. At least now she could keep an eye on him, now she had time to plan for the worst. Rowan had no desire to kill again, especially not the man her sworn sister was so dearly devoted to; but if it came down to him or her… Well, the answer to that was easy. She was no martyr.

                “He’s not wrong, Sister,” Rowan said with a sigh, “Even I am susceptible to corruption… A long time ago- it seems as if it were a lifetime- I killed with this force. I killed a lot. I didn’t mean to.”

                The car crash replayed vividly in her mind’s eye. Blood and glass everywhere. Screams and smoke. Blackness.

                “Once, I had a man of my own… And I was swollen to bursting with his- our- child. We were in a horrible accident. I don’t remember much, but I was out for a few days. Eventually I came to in a hospital and he was dead… As was our child. They had to pull her out of me.”

                Rowan hadn’t even been able to see the child. They had already carted her off to the funeral home. Daddy’s doing, but how were they to know that Rowan would have woken so soon? Not even a picture of the little dumpling.

                “I was so overcome with the grief of love departed that I lost control.”

                A scream that pierced the veil, pulling the souls up from the living around her. Bodies dropping at once all throughout the hospital. A gas leak, the authorities had said.

                “It was never in my intentions to… But… It can happen. I don’t agree with these Atharim that I’ve heard so much about, not by any means. I do think that these gifts are just that. Gifts. We can help uplift humanity with them, but there's so much we don’t know yet. It’s like fire. Sure, it has the aptitude to destroy, but it also can help advance us in ways we have yet to dream about. I think that we just have to learn more about it, develop safe ways to apply our gifts, and above all be careful… We are like babes.”

                Rowan suddenly shook all over. Briefly, but noticeably.

                Aiden was suddenly in her head. She saw him sitting in the back of a limo, holding on to a tall, lithe man; young looking with dark features. Cooper was there too, behind the wheel, and just in the distance, Rowan saw the tiny little shack that lead down to the compound they were currently in.

                The vision was gone. Rowan’s mouth hung open, she looked to Armande agape, yet not looking at him.

                “Aiden…” she murmured to herself.

                Of course.

                Now he would come looking for her.

                Great.

                Just fucking great.

"The power Voodoo. Hoodoo? You do! Do what!?"
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#25
Sage had been content to just work while Aiden slept. And Cooper the driver was more than willing as well. Lasher he was still Lasher. They probably should have left him somewhere, but things had happened very suddenly. First Nox and Dorian's fight and then Rowan going missing. The odds... Another thing to calculate. Oh and the girl that was looking for a Chad Durante or some other name, but the connections were boundless.

So many things. So so many things Sage had missed and Aiden let him wander and for that he was grateful. Even when his boyfriend started dabbing at his shirt. As if a little spit bothered him. Far worse things could be splattered over his shirt that were far more embarassing, but he let it go.

Sage did look through a few days worth of security footage. "There are others there. I don't know the numbers, but few have entered in the past few days." Sage didn't wait for Aiden to ask for who they were he was already running scans, for if he needed. He missed the work. His work. He had a lot of rebuilding to do. His life had been in Alexandria, now it was here in Moscow. He felt home here. As if his own life had started when he got here, and had to start a new thanks to a faulty motherboard and a power seeking friend. Phaser was gone. And The Wicked Truth was born. It made Sage smile. "No one has left since they entered." But what systems Sage could find were protected and at present he wasn't about to hack into their systems. He could. But he wouldn't - not yet anyway. Sage grinned at Aiden. "At least you have that fairy fire and hands of air to protect us." He was grateful for Nox's help with Aiden. It had been an unexpected favor specially after what had happened between them. It really was no wonder Nox had been avoiding them most of the time they'd been together. Tho that parting kiss left hope. But that was another thing. Work now Sage chided himself. Play can come later.
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#26
What is a nuke? Surely it was something of the Above, a powerful curse conjured by only the rarest of sorcerers. It terrified Rowan, and therefore, it terrified Valeriya as well. Armande fixated upon her own face, but it was a ghosts’ that he perceived. The shell of a girl took form in her own mind, but the Eye did not see this dead child. It was only the eye of her inborn imagination. Valeriya did not swoon or faint weakly. She squeezed his hand, “there is no shame. We culled the Khylsty when necessary, but we survived. It is known.” She’d never known Regus to shudder, but where he was vulnerable, she was strong.

When Rowan’s story followed, Valeriya’s heart was not softened. Babes of the Above were thick as blood, but the caves of the Khylsty were suffocating. Too many of their numbers would endanger the whole. Coupling was carefully allowed, but on occasion, others hid their shameful deeds and the result removed.

Something drew Rowan’s gaze aside, and Vale frowned in follow. The echo of an echo flooded her mind, but it was dirty and smudged.

“Someone’s here,” she seethed with danger.
The Eye of the Khylsty
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#27
"It is known." The words were a knife, cutting away the cords of feeling. His jaw clenched, unsure how he felt. Her hand squeezed and it was as if his heart were compressed.

Unshed tears formed in his eyes, hot and full, and for the moment nothing existed but him and her. He wanted her to know his daughter. Lissandra. God, but she was an Atharim to make the Atharim tremble. To make the world shake! She was his successor, his heir. Power incarnate. He was so proud.

Of course the enemy- there was an enemy- a force, an adversary- he battled against. Of course, it would take his beloved. Stole his dear daughter. Stole the future.

But he wanted his love Valeriya to know his daughter. His teeth clenched and his hand squeezed back. He did not resent Rowan. She had a role to play. No. But role or not, Lissandra was his to share with only Valeriya. He wasn't sure why. Or maybe he was. Her womb was the holy field. Fecund. The Eye. And he was the one who took her as consort.

It was his duty to fill her with his seed and give her a child. And he had done the former. He had filled her. Often. But it was dead. Lifeless. He had seen to that. Long ago. An operation to make sure no possibility existed.

The truth she didn't know.

He felt no guilt. He did what was necessary.

And yet he knew she hungered to continue to Eye. And he couldn't deny the Eye. He didn't know if he was Rasputin reborn. It made sense. Or at least it was flattering to think so. And he couldn't deny the resemblance or the tunnel drawings. He'd had a purpose.

And for the first time, Armande felt torn. He had spawned a god. He carried something in him. But...he also was clearly something foretold. As was his seed. And the consort given to him was the Eye, a visionary of the beyond. Bonded to him through some sort of destiny. If he failed to give her a child, mankind lost a weapon and tool to aid their fight after he died killing Apollyon. Their death was only the first part of the war, he now understood.

And strangely, he wanted to give this to her. His destiny. His seed.

He looked at Rowan. Her role was less clear. Still, she was brought here for a reason. Valeriya and Rowan were sisters. He had more than ample proof. As revolting as it might be, his seed might have to be spread through her as well. Not something he contemplated with joy. And yet, two Eyes....when he was gone mankind would need every possible advantage. Did he have the courage?

A moot point at this moment. With him and his operation. Was it something he needed to undo? He would need to think on it.

The shift in air pressure, the slight change in scents presaged the words of Valeriya. Someone was here.

No one should know. Had someone betrayed them? Matvei? His eyes went deadly black, hands to his weapons. He turned, nostrils inhaling the changes. "Be careful. Follow me." The two small women were relegated to his back and he strode cautiously, telescoping blade in his hand, as he peered around the door and headed out.
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#28
Rowan was not surprised when Vale sensed Aiden or picked up on the vision, or whatever had happened. They had shared such powerful visions, why not the fleeting ones?

                The darker woman was almost hissing when she announced Aiden’s arrival. How had he found her? She had told no one where she was going, hell, she didn’t even know where she was going when she had left the Bottom of the Cup. Had Aiden also developed the Sight? He had had strange dreams before the coma, but nothing after… That thought didn’t feel right. She herself had not experienced such a powerful awakening until Vale. If Aiden shared this talent, would it not make sense that they would have awoken together? They were twins after all. No. It couldn’t be that.

                How?

                Had he traced her through her Wallet? Another silly thought. The only thing he knew about technology was how to use his many art-related programs and the use of an internet browser. No hacking or spying or any of that advanced techno-crap. A private investigator then? No. Another silly thought. She had only been gone a day or two- at most- even the most dedicated investigator could not track her that quickly.

                Brows furrowing, Rowan rose from her place on the pallet and smoothed her skirts. Armande bid them to follow him, urging caution. He took the lead and she fell in line with her sister. Was this what life would be like from now on? Following just a step or two behind this man- this mystery? The idea did not sit too well with Rowan. She had always been independent and strong-willed. It was a practice in patience for her not to push back the taller man, rushing through the compound to her brother.

                Focus on your breathing, girl, Rowan thought to herself.

                She did just that. In and out, in and out. Calmness quickly descended upon her, although that was getting harder to maintain once Armande whipped his arm out in a flourish. A blade emerged from his palm in the blink of an eye. Had he been concealing it up his sleeve? Where had the thing come from? It appeared to be made of steel, so he had not conjured it with magick.

                Light streamed from behind Rowan’s back, just out of sight. She took hold of it and let the sweet rush fill her. If he had a weapon, then so would she. Threads of Air began to swirl around the atmosphere as the trio moved through the compound. Rowan took hold of them and wove them into a spell. Just before finishing the thing, she stopped the process and just held the weave in place. One more thread and it would be complete. An insurance policy. She would use it if she needed it once they had come face to face with her twin.

                They marched along in silence. No other Khylsty seemed to be roaming the corridors, but there was an itching sensation at Rowan’s back. They were all hiding and watching. They had to have been. After what seemed to be an eternity, the trio emerged out of the shack that was the entrance to the compound. True to the vision, Cooper’s stretch limo was parked a ways down. Armande stopped a few steps from the shack, Vale and she followed suit.

                Aiden stepped out of the limo and Rowan finished her spell.

"The power Voodoo. Hoodoo? You do! Do what!?"
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#29
Aiden felt better at Sage’s words, not entirely confident, but better. He grabbed his boyfriend’s hand and clasped it tightly. They sat there in silence for a few minutes while Aiden collected himself. It was hard to reach the Void- that strange inner sense of peace- but he need to if he was going to Channel. It had come so much more easy in the days past, but this whole situation had thrown him off. Just when he had relaxed on the issue of Rowan, this happened.

                The light sprung up behind his shoulder and Aiden grasped at it, taking ahold of that torrential energy. A hurricane seemed to tear at his insides, but oh dear lord was it addicting. Threads of Fire seemed to spring into his unoccupied left hand with little effort. Familiar orbs of Fairy Fire popped into existence, in place of the threads. This particular Weave had always seemed to come naturally for Aiden. Little wonder.

                Aiden turned to smile at Sage, “Right you are, babe. Shall-“

                “Uh, Aiden,” Cooper interrupted, calling imperatively over his shoulder, “You might want to look out the windshield.”

                Aiden’s head snapped in Cooper’s direction, eyes darting forward.

                Rowan was stepping out of the shed.

                A tall, older man was leading her out, along with that other, strange, vampiric looking woman. Rowan did not look distressed, but she didn’t look happy either. Goosebumps broke out all over his body at the sight of his twin sister.

                She was okay.

                Aiden leapt out of the car, abandoning all thoughts and notions of his own safety; after all, he did have Fire on his side. The blue flames leapt from his hand and into the air above his head. He wove more fireballs, adding them to the others. He strode to the front of the limo and halted.

                What to say?

                It had been a few years since Aiden had seen his twin sister. It was he who had been avoiding her, but he couldn’t seem to remember why. Ever since she had been reported missing, he had done nothing but worry for her safety. He had expected the worse, yet her she was. There were no handcuffs, no ropes or gags. For all intents and purposes, it seemed that she was here on her own volition.

                Aiden wanted to run up to his sister and hug her.

                That didn’t seem to be an option though. The older man had a sword… of all things. Had Rowan been kidnapped?

                “Who are your friends, Sis?” Aiden called out across the cracked pavement.

Russian Dolls and Broken Gods, a new Fantasy novel by best-selling author, Aiden Finnegan, out this December! Preorder online and instore today!
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#30
Aiden got out of the car with the fire still in his grasp and around him. Lasher bound out after him and Sage tried to grab the pouch, but he was already bounding outside. He looked at the Cooper and gave a long sigh.

Sage climbed out reluctantly and had pulled up a distress signal that would go to the police and to Nox and Dorian. He'd have to remember to change that last one, but it would right now and more help couldn't be too far away. It was set on a timer, so if he didn't reset it, it would go out immediately and send their location and his message. If he lost consciousness they'd be at least safer with someone on the way.

He didn't like this, staring at the people, Aiden's sister among them . The man's face he saw clearly now and he started processing the facial recognition. It wouldn't be as accurate using his eyes as a digital recording or something, but it was the only clear image he had ever gotten of the man.

Sage stayed behind Aiden but never took his eyes off the stranger. He'd compile whatever rendering he could, but it wasn't easy to replicate from his eye sight. Those weren't easy signals to process. He had to remember his ray tracing techniques and things he'd automated over the years. It was not a simple process, but as long as Aiden kept them talking this mystery would be solved.
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