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Sisters of the Moon
#1
Armande was silent the entire way to the truck, purposefully ignoring any conversation that might have occured between Valeriya and the girl. He had no interest in following their budding sisterhood.

And inside the cab it was a tight fit. Thankfully, it was Valeriya's hip and leg touching his. Still, he had to breath slowly and carefully so as to keep from retching, sharing the air with a godling in such a cloistered space.

"The war, not the battle," he had to repeat to himself.

For a second they passed under a streetlight and he caught part of Vale's face in his peripheral vision. Even then, it was swallowed in shadow.

And his heart clenched. He felt as if he were losing her. It had only been a few months...but he had come to depend on her. A confidant. A friend. A counselor. A support.

They were bound by destiny and purpose.

And he loved her.

And yet he felt as if he were losing her. Losing her to this dark goddess.

Rage flickered at the edges of his soul. He craved a secure connection. The message had gone out. How long for the Khylsty to assemble he did not know.

The breaks squeeled as he pulled up to the house. The surrounding vacant lot, empty buildings and fenced spaces were dead. He palmed the door and bid them wait.

He did not expect Matvei to attack but caution was his nature. Reassured, he called them in. "Make preparations. Call me if you have need, " he said to Valeriya. She could play host if she wanted to. The thought turned his stomach. A godling in his home.

Finally, in front of a secure terminal, he felt control return.
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#2
Vale was excited the entire drive back to the Khylsty. A hungry grin continually hovered on her lips, and every time she looked at Rowan, she offered a gentle kiss on the cheek. She tried to explain the ritual along the way, but it had to be seen to be understood. Then there were the necessary preparations. Vale lacked all of her former poultices and oils once burned to induce the trances.

Sometimes the Khylsty needed help to fulfill their own awakening. She did not like the idea of holding Rowan down, but a sister would do what was needed for the greater good.

Illarion and Matvei greeted them upon their arrival. Her twin brother was pale as the moon in cheek and eye, all but the ugly brown scars crossed over his face from self-branding. Matvei’s awakening occurred when Valeriya was too young to remember, but it was understood to be more brutal than most. The two khylsty bowed for the return of their leader and the Eye. Valeriya made introductions.

“My twin brother, Illarion, and Matvei, hand of the Khylsty.” She touched Illarion on the lips with the pads of her fingers, “This is Rowan, Voodoo Queen of Greater Moscow.” She said in their shared tongue. Illarion was not yet proficient in modern Russian.

Illarion bowed his eyes before the Queen of voodoo, cuffed his hands beneath the long folds of his sleeves, and backed away to allow them entrance.

The house was plain inside, but clean and stately. Others of the Khylsty were about, and word soon spread of the impending ritual. Finally, when offered the opportunity, Valeriya touched Regus on the arm. “I have no poultices. No oils. No bile of the Oni. From what do I make our smokes and fires?”
The Eye of the Khylsty
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#3
Rowan wasn’t sure what to feel during the ride. Armande’s body language hadn’t changed much since their introduction. She had begun to suspect that he didn’t quite approve of this- or perhaps Rowan herself. Did he have something against those that touched Magic? He could not have been Atharim if anything she had heard was to be believed, otherwise, she probably would have died on the way to Vale’s abode. No. Perhaps he was jealous? Clearly, he was smitten with the dark woman. The secret looks he had stolen was plain enough for Rowan to read… And then there was the Tarot reading… The man had a heavy future to deal with… But what was his future? Oh, the cards could be notoriously vague at times.

                Then there was Vale. Sweet, adoring Vale. Rowan had found a kindred spirit in the woman. They had shared something back in the Café. Something that she had been desperately seeking to share with another. The vision. She could relate to this woman and she could understand Rowan. There were those in New Orleans that could divine the future and read the cards, but no one there was as intimate with the Arcana as she. Even the High Priestess that had personally tutored her could not relate to Rowan on that level. When Rowan came to Moscow, she was searching for her brother, Aiden, but was she really? Perhaps she was only seeking him out because she needed someone to connect to, someone that could accept her and listen to her… But he didn’t want anything to do with her.

                And then Vale came along.

                Rowan accepted the gentle kisses upon her cheek from the raven-haired woman and returned them in kind. She did not say much on the ride, mind racing as the vehicle sped along empty roads. Before long they came upon a house and two people greeted them as the trio got out of the car. Armande spoke of preparations and Vale spoke to the two new people in a strange tongue. One of them, he was damn near albino and covered in scars, bowed his eyes to Rowan and moved away to admit them into a clean house. The surroundings were not nearly as opulent as Rowan was used to, but not everyone shared her taste in the loud décor of the Bayou.

                Vale turned to Armande and spoke of oils and poultices. Rowan’s ears immediately perked up.

                “Oh? What shall we need? I am proficient in the use of herbs, oils, and candles… I have never heard of… Oni? Isn’t that Japanese? Demon I think…” Rowan’s brow furrowed, “But perhaps I can suggest a suitable substitute? What is it used for? Adam and Eve root is terrific for protection and making sexual tonics. Boneset Compositae is ideal for ritually cleansing the body. Wormwood calls up spirits. Mugwort aids in Spiritualism. Comfrey juice is used in salves for healing… I’m just talking out of my ass at this point, though. What do you normally use besides Oni bile?”

"The power Voodoo. Hoodoo? You do! Do what!?"
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#4
Armande had been lost in thought, scouring the dark web. His time was diminishing, the moment to strike- before he lost Valeriya- dwindling. No thing and no one would be sacrosanct. And not simply because he loved her.

She was his Eye, his key to victory. Had she not seen it in her vision? Brandon, kneeling before him in a garden. A crown amidst the grass. He stifled the stir of covetous emotion at the very last part of the vision. Temptation. It squirmed and wriggled. He knew the truth. He was not immune to the lure. To wear the crown upon his head.

No. Not what was important.

He had sacrificed everything to the struggle. Up to and including the life of his daughter. He would not lose his other half. And so he searched, combing through the veiled postings and advertised services. A lesson. A teacher, was what he sought.

The touch to his arm brought him out of his reverie. Valeriya stood before him. He gazed at her for a moment. He remembered the joy on her face, happiness in her eyes, when he had shown her the sunrise for the first time. The rapture in Gorky park amid the flowers and trees and fragrances. The fierce pride as he claimed his right as her consort before the Khlysty body. The fiery passion on her face and in her voice as they were bound soul to soul, body to body.

He had loved in his life. His mother, curled around him protectively on a friend's couch, doing what must be done for the sake of her son. Gregorio, his sweet smile and kind eyes still bringing a stab of joy to his heart. Jova of the fiery eyes and fierce soul, huntress of the night, the brush of her lips on his as she slipped out of the tent into the cobalt night. Lissandra, sweet Lisssandra, of childish faith and steel sharpened determination to not simply prosper, but to be the best.

Not one of his loves had made him weaker. No. He was far stronger for the experiences, for the affection and friendships, for the companionship and lovers, for the questions and challenges.

Valeriya did not make him less. Loving her did not make him vulnerable. On the contrary. He was far stronger for it. Her visions only made it clearer that they were bound by the universe in this fight. By God himself.

And anyone-and everyone!, he thought violently, who thought to steal her heart from him and their destiny would burn.

He cast his mind back to her question and a quiet smile played at the edges of his lips. Seek, and ye shall find. A whisper in the back of his mind. It could work. It could. It still did not negate the need for a teacher. But one thing at a time.

When Rowan spoke, it was like a knife twisting his gut. Only self control kept his face from showing the anger at her display of knowledge. It made things much more difficult. But the path to salvation was not traveled easily.

He spoke, modulating his tone. It would sound phony to speak enthusiastically of the woman's suggestions now, after their evening. But still..."Rowan's suggestions would be in line with my own. Let me know what you two decide and I will have one my people pick it up." He calmed. And with fate on his side, it would be enough.

He returned to his searches, checking his cached message queues scattered across the dark web.

He breathed sharply, his heart racing. Not in fear. A feral smile appeared on his lips. Unexpected. And yet....so very fitting. It would take verification, of course; security protocols; VPN switching; multiple layers of encryption. And even then, the time limit would have to set before hand.

But if it panned out....Armande Nicodemus, Regus of the Atharim, laughed heartily. To meet Nikolai Brandon, Apollyon the Destroyer, to speak with him 'face to face'...

Fate was with him.
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#5
As Rowan did not understand her needs, likewise Valeriya did not understand her suggestions. Strings of words she already struggled to understand, but those she did were foreign. They both looked to her for a decision, but the Eye was quiet. The Awakening ritual was not the same as Radenyi. “Maybe the one for spiritualism,” was Valeriya’s best guess. The word sounded like mud root, but it was otherwise unknown to her.

Armande graciously offered his help to attain the mud root. “I hope it does not summon ghosts.” She shivered as though seriously worried about the prospect. “We do not want evil spirits during the Awakening. You will summon them into yourself and become like them. The spirit is vulnerable during Awakening.” She often wondered if one slipped into Matvei during his.
The Eye of the Khylsty
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#6
Armande was absorbed in his computer. Not once did any emotion betray what he might have been thinking or feeling, besides one very small hint of a smile that threatened to show itself. What was he searching for? Rowan would have just looked over his shoulder, but she could not help the feeling that this man did not like her. She would do nothing more to instigate any feelings of enmity on his part, nor would she do something to violate the trust that he and Vale had placed in her when they brought her to this sterile abode. Vale and she were to take part in a ritual and that called for complete trust in one another, no matter what the ritual might be. That was a basic tenant of any practitioner of the Arcane Arts. Acting suspicious of one of her hosts would only prove that she might feel less than trustworthy of these two…

                She trusted Vale, but she had decided to keep her guard up around this Armande; especially while she was on unfamiliar ground. Leaving the sanctity of the Café was a huge risk on her part, especially after two of her previous guests had harped on her at what a risk she was at as a Channeler. What was life without risk, however?

                The untrusting man did, however, agree with Rowan’s assessment on what herbs might be useful in this ritual, Vale clearly had no concept of what she had spoken of… What was this woman’s history? She had seemed foreign, but not to know the words for mugwort or wormwood? Had Rowan used the wrong translations? She had had difficulty with Russian in the past, but she had overcome those difficulties after a year in the country. Immersion really did work wonders on the tongue.

                “Ghosts? Never… There are other herbs that help in conjuring, but nothing I suggested would do that,” Rowan spoke thoughtfully. Not even the Loa of Voodoo would show themselves with just a few offerings of herbs. There needed to be proper offerings of rum, cigars, feasts, and willing vessels. Perhaps one day, Rowan would be able to teach Vale about the Loa and their gifts, but tonight was not that night. She went on, “Mugwort is common enough, I doubt your people, Armande, would have any issues procuring it. Although they won’t be able to find it at a supermarket… Boneset and the Adam & Eve Root would probably be best, as well, if you’re concerned about purity, Valeriya. The herbs themselves can be burned, made into a powder, or worked into a salve if need be… What exactly do we need them for? I’m anxious about this ritual- an excited. I think excited more than anything. You have no idea how long I’ve searched for the correct path on which to walk… Sister.”

"The power Voodoo. Hoodoo? You do! Do what!?"
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#7
Armande forwarded the encrypted message to Theiss, a frisson of excitement worming its way into his stomach. His people would do the verification and security check. If it panned out, a VR set would be delivered along with the secure connection so that he could make the meeting at the mandated time.

And yet, a snake still slithered in their lair, venom already seeping from honeyed tongue. The thought soured the warmth in his stomach. This ceremony could provide opportunity for him. He sat back and thought.

He had seen the physical scars in the others. He knew what frenzy looked like, chaos incarnate, drug fueled, hormone driven. The lizard brain set free. Memories would be distorted and hazy, emotions and mood dragged to the highest highs and the lowest lows. A well timed dose or prick of a poisoned needle would be all that was necessary. Any death that occurred- especially the one he sought- could be ascribed to the wrong concoction, or even her own unworthiness.

And he was the only Atharim who would be in the ceremony. It could only be him.

But for any of that to happen he would have to be there, keeping his own wits long enough to get it done. His meditation would give some protection, at least at the beginning. But he was still human, not immune to mind altering substances. Timing would be critical.

And now, fate was tying his hands. Forcing a single choice. His message was returned. The meeting was authentic, the headset and secure connection already in transit. He added the additional items Rowan had asked for.

Brandon's schedule was tight, regulated down to the minute, he knew. This was a one time offer and was not to come again. So...An opportunity to kill this woman, removing her threat, at the expense this meeting? Or forego this opportunity to eliminate her to look his enemy in the eye and come to truly know him?

He could not do both.

Looking at his Eye, Armande made his choice, trusting to the universe.

He took Valeriya's hand and led her into the other room. He looked at her for a moment, then spoke, his voice low but intense. "Apollyon the Destroyer has contacted me. He has asked for a meeting." He clarified. "Not in person. At least not face to face. He will have no power over me, nor I over him. I will actually not leave this building. This is my only chance to truly know my enemy, to gauge him by the way he speaks and reacts. To stare into his eyes. I cannot pass it up."

He looked back at Rowan in the other room before looking back at her, his voice dropping. She wouldn't understand- not yet- but he had to try. "I know you feel a kinship with her, my Great Love. But be careful. None of us is immune to the temptation of power. Especially the power that belongs to God alone." He leaned down and kissed her on the lips gently.
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#8
While Valeriya summoned choice Khylsty to the front, Armande approached with a message. She nodded and accepted the kiss with carnal flashes ripping her eyes. “You will conquer, Great One. The Eye has seen it.” As he departed, three others took his place. All three men, they were draped with monk’s robes, their hands folded in wide sleeves and hoods drawn to shade the eyes. The first, Illarion, stood with quiet reverence. Rowan already met him. The second, Matvei, the Hand of the Khylsty, watched with deadly interest. The third, a brother Khylsty some years older than even Matvei. He was one of the oldest among them: maybe fifty years old.

While a Sister Khylsty prepared and fire, others closed the clothes across windows and lit the room with candles. Valeriya drew Rowan by the hand to the center of the room and knelt before her on a rug.

Others came to circle around them. “I will explain all. We are the Khylsty, Rowan. Persecuted in the Old Days, before the fall of the Tsar and Tsarina. We were a church. The Great One, Gregori Rasputin, is our father. My father.”

“He saved us when the Empire fell and the war that followed by preparing a way. He burrowed into the earth and there we stayed until the Great One returned to lift us from perdition.” She glanced in the direction Armande had gone. She previously introduced him as the Great One.

“Rasputin was the Eye of the Khylsty. That was how he knew to save us. His offspring and the line since him have passed the Eye. I am the current Eye.” That time, when Valeriya glanced, the Khylsty surrounding them bowed as though to their queen. Even Matvei recognized the power of the Eye.

“The Eye showed me all of this long ago.” Her hands raised as the odd words she came to treasure in her heart rolled forth: sun, sky, trees, plants, light..” A covetous smile contorted her lip. She would never relinquish these priceless treasures again.

“The two most sacred rituals are Radenyi and the Awakening.” Rowan may not know the meaning of Radenyi – it was a very old word. Nor did it apply to them today. Perhaps in the future if the Eye willed it.

“Awakening can only occur when we realize that we are dead in sin, and rise from our own tombs, summoned as though beckoned by the necromancers of old. But we cannot awaken if we have not known sin. Therefore, we honor our sins for they allow us to awaken. Finally, you are open to the great spirit. To awaken, I will explain.”

She glanced as a hooded figure laid a satchel near them. Bound together, the contents within were hidden. The herb that Rowan suggested was soon burned. Its aroma filling her head with pleasant cotton. They were offered drinks that numbed the fingers and tongue; numbed the senses. Singing began to rise around them, and Valeriya rocked gentle sways where she sat. It was womb-like, this cocoon of khylsts.

Once the spirit was open, she concluded the story. “Poison drives out poison.”
She pulled the satchel to her lap.
“Sin drives out sin.”
Opened the cords, and unfurled the bindings.
“Pain drives out pain.”

An array of tools tumbled forth.

She summoned the elder. He opened his mouth and revealed the stump of a tongue. Matvei held a hand, one finger missing from the left. Illarion pushed back the hood, the branding of a cross prominent across his forehead.

Valeriya pulled her sleeves from her shoulders, worming from the top until she was completely bared from the waist up. Candlelight flickered on the curves of her body as she twisted around to show off a carnage of scars from self-flagellation, barbed whips that clawed their way across her skin. Armande often commented on them when they laid together. They were quite prominent.

She turned back and offered Rowan the tools of her choosing.
“It is your choice,” Valeriya whispered. “Let the Eye show you what to do.”

She offered Rowan more to drink as the chanting rose.
The Eye of the Khylsty
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#9
Rowan did not fail to notice the Armande glancing at her from the other room as he spoke with Vale in hushed whispers. Yes. She would have to be wary of that one. Really, she should have been wary of this entire scenario, but that vision… She had never had one like it before. Ever. In her heart of hearts, Rowan knew it was because of Vale. There was a synergy between the two of them. Would she only have such visions when she was with Vale or would they come on their own now? It had awakened a lust within her that she could not ignore. Sex, drugs, food, and all manners of opulence were all well and good, but they didn’t come close to the pure ecstasy she had felt when her third eye had opened unto something Otherworldly. No matter what she had to do, or who she had to tie herself to, Rowan Finnegan vowed that she would master this ability. She very much believed in Fate and it was clear that this is where it was leading her.

                The older man departed and Vale drew Rowan into the room. Other members of her tribe entered then, dressed in what appeared to be religious garb. Nothing fanciful, but the meaning was clear. Rowan knelt opposite her newfound sister on the carpet. Vale immediately began recounting sacred lore to her.

                So it beginsRowan thought to herself wryly.

                Rowan lapped it all up, committing everything to memory with a rapt expression on her face. She immediately noticed Vale’s use of the term ‘Great One’ when talking about Gregori Rasputin, a well-known mystic from Russian folklore. Her sister had used the same term when referring to Armande earlier in the night.

                So he has reincarnated? Does Armande know all of this? Surely he knows the old stories of the man, Rowan thought to herself as Vale went on, I knew the man could Channel… Why did he not say anything when I stated the obvious? Is he hiding this fact? What is that man’s game?

                Rowan’s suspicions were confirmed as Vale went on. This seemed to be some mystery cult that Vale followed- or had been born into it seemed. She took everything her sister said at face value. It made all too much sense. Vale’s Russian had a strange accent to it and she clearly spoke another language that Rowan could not understand; all of that also explained her surroundings and the monk-like people that were now forming a circle around them.

                Vale spoke reverently about the Eye showing her something…

                “Sun, sky, trees, plants, light…”

                It was evocative of the sights contained within Rowan’s first vision. Goosebumps rose across her arms as Vale spoke the words and Rowan saw flashes of that vision in her mind’s eye once more. Further confirmation this was meant to be.

                The rest almost seemed to be like a spell as Vale went on.

                “Poison drives out poison. Sin drives out sin. Pain drives out pain.”

                Rowan had sinned greatly in her time on this planet. It was almost encouraged when one grew up around New Orleans, but after that horrid experience at the hospital after her miscarriage… Death begot death. She had killed dozens upon dozens of innocents with nothing more than a scream. She hadn’t meant to, but she had still done it. Taking a life was the most grievous of sins. Rowan had sinned more than she had cared to admit. Perhaps there was something to this ritual… Perhaps she could finally absolve herself of the weight she had carried all these years…

                Vale and the others in attendance showed off various wounds. The implication there was that they were all self-inflicted… Presumably, during the ritual she was taking part it. Confirmation settled in once Vale offered up various ‘tools’ to her. Hooks, barbs, whips, knives, they were all there…

                Rowan gulped audibly.

                “It is your choice. Let the Eye show you what to do,” Vale intoned as she handed Rowan something to drink.

                Rowan accepted the glass and downed the liquid in one gulp. Despite being a guest, she held the glass out for a refill, and with little surprise on her part, she was humored. With a shaky hand, she reached out to the tools, touching each of them; caressing one after the other, hoping for a vision to come again. She sighed quietly. Nothing did come.

                Until she removed her hand from the last item; a rusty looking blade with a black handle. Her body convulsed, the drink slopping on her wrist. It came and went within seconds, leaving her jaw hanging open and breath raggedly coming from her body. Her eyes rose to meet Vale’s. She knew what she had to do. She did not want to do it, such an act was unthinkable- something she could never, ever undo… But she knew. This was the way.

                Rowan downed the second glass and took three deep breaths. She dragged her right index finger through the air, tracing out the Veves for Papa Legba and then Chango, muttering chants in Creole under her breath. Threads of air started to warp and writhe, trailing behind her finger.

                Do it. Don’t be a fucking chicken, Rowan. Do it. Fucking do it, she thought to herself.

                Rowan pointed to her left eye quickly and then whipped her hand back, palm outstretched before her, almost closing the space between Vale and her.

                The threads of Air conjoined into a thick, barbed braid and dove into her left eye. The barbs traveled along the flow, surging into her eye socket and latching onto the white orb. With a sickening popping sound and a horrendous shriek, the element of Air ripped Rowan’s left eye from her skull. It floated out and over to her outstretched palm, viscera trailing behind, blood staining her white dress. The Air dissipated and her eye dropped into her palm with a splash; blood pouring from Rowan’s empty eye socket.

                Rowan felt the magick flee from her body as she struggled to remain upright, her breath coming out rapidly. Tears began to pour from her remaining eye as she offered the unblinking orb to Vale.

                “For you, Sister,” Rowan gasped out as another glass was filled for her. She used her free hand to down it, signaling for another afterward.

"The power Voodoo. Hoodoo? You do! Do what!?"
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#10
Their spirits opened. Valeriya swayed to the chanting songs. Smoke wormed around them like a cherufe seeking a warm body. It tickled Valeriya’s bare back, and the cotton in her head stuffed out her ears. They were close. The Eye roamed.

Illarion joined his voice in song, but the knife in his eyes cut through the room with wary introspection. This woman that his sister brought was different than the oblivious Abovians, but Regus dismissed her and sequestered himself apart from the ceremony. He claimed rights as Khylsty, but abandoned them during their most sacred ritual. They all Awoke, Regus included. Why depart now? What could be more important?

Matvei choked on his own voice. The whole ritual was laughable. The waif of the girl, Valeriya, was already a reflection of the Above and less of their Khylsts. She claimed they all needed to adapt, but Matvei refused to forget their sacred identity. If she wanted to be Above more than Below, then she could keep the surface for herself. Now she brought lost ones to their home, attempting to convert Surface Dwellers. It was despicable. As soon as the Dweller failed, they would kill her and Valeriya would be humiliated before them all, at last.

They were one in that moment. The spirits moved. The Eye could almost see them. All of their glowing, bright souls beckoning the dead one at their center to rise from its grave. Come on, Rowan. You can do it.

Rowan moved, tracing shapes with one hand. The Eye roamed near, fixated as though maybe it saw something Valeriya did not comprehend. Vale’s true eyes pierced through the haze fogging her world and glimpsed Rowan’s shadowy rims one last time.

Then a scream.

Valeriya gasped and backed away in reflex. Blood spewed forth like the slit throat of an oni. Entrails dangled wet from Rowan’s palm. Water and blood mixed sickening rivers down her face, dripping from her jaw. The slimey orb offered.

She reached out to accept the gift of her newly awoken sister. Love radiated like blankets to envelop her brave, brave sister. The moment their hands touched, and Valeriya’s palm grasped the warm, wet eyeball, and pulled it to her chest lovingly.

True blankets were laid across Rowan’s shoulders. The woman was going into shock. They poured drink and smoke into her system to calm the disturbance of a body freshly Awoke. The risen spirit took a toll on the body, but they were prepared. Some of Regus’ medicines of the above were applied and offered. Valeriya herself gave the eye to the Elder Khylsty, who himself went about the task of its preservation. The Khylsty kept the bulging phallus of Rapsutin in a jar for 150 years. He would tend to the eternal keeping of Rowan’s eye. Their Eye.

Soon, Rowan would be comfortable. Valeriya herself tended to her wound and cleansing her face and chest while she rested. Her hands brushed the sweaty hair from her forehead before offering a gentle kiss to chase away the fears that plagued her infantile spirit.
The Eye of the Khylsty
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