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Paradise of Pleasure
#1
The August air was warm and the sun bright. Armande almost eschewed his full sleeve dark purple exercise shirt in favor of something more...open. But somehow it just felt...odd. The fabric did well enough, wicking away any moisture so that he felt cool.

He had forgotten when clean air tasted and smelled like this. Between Rome and Moscow, the last few years had kept him in metropolitan environs.

But now, the nearly endless blue before him, the clean majesty of the lake, the fresh air seemingly born in the surrounding trees...Armande felt young. Truth be told, he did not yet feel his age. Aside from an occasional ache, he woke each morning vigorous.

Valeriya, standing by his side, could attest to that. Not that he would say anything out loud. At least to others. She knew, though, that with her he felt young again. A man in his prime. Not simply because she was his consort. Some sort of arm candy to show off. The thought made him shake his head in horrified laughter. No. She was a lioness. His equal. Viscious and tender at the same time in confusing ways.

Ways he was happy to enjoy. In terms of number, he was only half done with his life.

To his other side was Rowan. Another mystery. What she and Vale shared was something he couldn't fathom. But against all logical thought, together, they formed twinned sets of eyes. Despite what she was, he found himself intrigued at her esoteric knowledge. She was no fool.

She and Vale represented traditions outside of the Occidental. He knew his blind spots. A western oriented education sometimes made one oblivious to the larger world, despite his efforts

And Armande hated not knowing. It made him itch, as if someone was sneaking up behind him. Not just wisdom. Fate. But for the first time, he had Eyes that saw into the dark unknown. Showed him the way.

And he had found his peace. Rowan was not his to destroy. She was a tool. And an ear. And an eye. And she brought joy to his beloved. For that alone, he was content to leave be. He was not God or Fate. That realization had somehow.. set him free. He would do what he must. But knowing there was a larger force at work was curiously liberating.

So here they stood at the shoreline, having left the village of Listvyanka only a short time ago. He marvelled. The plates underneath continued to move in opposite direction, creating a rift that only grew deeper and deeper.

In truth, that had been the key. There, back in Moscow, he had read the Cyrillic phonetic characters and Vale had recognized them, Evenki words. Enough of the writing on the skin. The "Naval of the World" and the "rivers four that become one". What they sought, he did not know. The map was evasive. Or maybe some of the words elusive, unknown. The "destroyer" stood out. But what was the "swapping"? And the "birthplace"?

"Tree of knowledge" was certainly recognizable, but also generic. The Tree granting the "key of change" less so.

But all the same, Armande felt a pull eastward. They all did.

And once he pieced together the clues, the starting point, Lake Baikal, there was nothing holding them back. Khylsty safely housed with devoted Atharim- minus the now dead Matvei- they had struck out to find what Rasputin had thought so important to vouchesafe all these years.

To find what the future had waiting for them.
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#2
Rowan stood before a lake, Armande was to her right; Vale, her sister, was to the other side of Armande. A gentle breeze picked up from the North, pulling and tugging the white silk of her dress. The fabric billowed and danced in the wind. She didn’t bother fussing with it. White was the only color she had worn since leaving the compound. It was not prescribed, but Rowan had always been one for showmanship. She was now the ‘White Eye,’ why should she not embrace the title?

                The dress in question was plainly cut, although form fitting around the torso, the bottom half was full and excessive; it had thin straps and nothing in terms of ornamentation. The silk that it had been made with was light and breezy – not like satin, such vile fabric. Rowan stood barefoot, which she had taken to since leaving civilization. A white, long fringed shawl of the same silk sat loose in the crooks of her elbows. Rowan wore no jewlery, save for the Opal.

                Ah. The Opal. That had certainly been a spur of the moment decision. On the road, Rowan had insisted on stopping to purchase a new wardrobe. Armande resisted her for a time, but she had ultimately won out, if only thanks to Vale. It was some little city – Rowan couldn’t even remember the name – that they happened to have passed through. It was no great metropolitan locale, but it was populated enough to have a decent little strip of shops. There were more than enough boutiques to supply Rowan with a respectable trunk of clothing. (Yes, she had bought a trunk.)

                Armande reluctantly agreed to foot the bill, but Rowan wasn’t one for charity. With a few well-placed phone calls, she had access to her… ‘offshore accounts’… Really, skipping out on taxes was abhorrent, but Father insisted she have a little cash stashed away for a rainy day. Thank the Goddess she had listened to him. Using the money from those trust funds, she was all but untraceable; her main holdings would have to languish on the vine for now.

                What should have been a pit stop, quickly turned into a ‘day with the girls.’ Vale was exciteable when it came to life ‘above ground,’ so it was not hard to get her into the spirit of things. The pair had ended up dragging Armande up and down the little strip of society, visiting cafes, bookstores, and boutiques. Rowan had bought an entirely new wardrobe, all in pure white, and had even supplied her sister with an equally impressive array of clothing. They had ended that day in a jeweler’s shop. No surprise there. While drifting among the shop’s many glass cases, Rowan had come across an opal that had been cut into the shape of a perfect sphere. It wasn’t large. In fact, it was about the size of an eyeball.

                That had been Rowan’s final purchase of the day – that opal. Once the trio had gotten back on the road, Rowan had used her magics to place the opal into her empty eye socket. Vale seemed to take it in stride, but Armande had expressed at least some surprise when all was said and done. Rowan had acted like it was the natural thing to do, so why should either one of them question her? Her reasons were her own. This stone represented so much in the way of her new path. It was fate that she had found the opal.

                Such a perfect gemstone, the opal, it was known as the prism within the aura. It brought the full spectrum of Light energy into the body’s etheric energy system, soothing and clearing the emotional body, boosting the will to live and the joy of one’s physical existence. Its gleaming surface enhanced the cosmic consciousness inherent in all, bringing about flashes of intuition and insight. The opal was protective and enhanced work with the shadow self. Too perfect. Its arcane energy seemed to pulse as Rowan first laid her eye upon it, calling out to her very soul.

                Even though the Power helped her insert the opal into her eye socket, it could not replicate the ability to see. It was better that way – oh there were medical advancements that could restore her vision, but that was going against her sacrifice. This opal was meant to represent the White Eye that she had become since that ritual with her sister. It was not a pretty sight, gazing upon the lifeless stone inside of her cranium, but that was partly the point. This way, Rowan could not hide who she was. This way, Rowan could wear her new title as a badge of honor. Dressed in white, and having a literal white eye, all would know what she was.

                The water lapped upon the shoreline. Rowan moved away from her partners and inched closer to the water, letting her toes wiggle around in the warm liquid. They had been standing there for a long while, staring out across the horizon, in silence. The feeling of the lake on her toes helped to ground her mind. The present resettled itself in her third eye, chasing away all fleeting thoughts of dresses and gemstones. They were at Lake Baikal, in Siberia. Rowan had never heard of the place, although she had done some light research on the location since Armande had decided that this was their destination. This lake was said to be the world’s largest and deepest. Whatever they were searching for would probably be sunken at the bottom. That’s how life worked, right? No doubt, they’d have her using magic to descend into the deep.

                Rowan would gladly do so if that was what had been required of her.

                The heat was starting to get to Rowan, despite her light gown. She tied the thing up around her thighs, no matter how ungraceful it made her appear, before kneeling upon the shoreline. She stuck her hands in the water and cupped them together, splashing some of the water upon her face to cool down. It was beyond refreshing. A long sigh escaped her lips as she wetted her face a second time.

                “Sister, come, you must cool yourself,” Rowan called cheerfully over her shoulder.

                She reached out a third time, not bothering to see if Vale did as Rowan bid, splashing the water upon her own face again.

                The world went black.

"The power Voodoo. Hoodoo? You do! Do what!?"
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#3
                Before Rowan stood a large, bronze monolith; in the distance, sat a familiar cage of vines (now broken open.) The mammoth edifice possessed four faces, and three other people stood around its perimeter; Vale, Armande, and a man dressed in a white gown – he almost looked like the Pope, at least his clothing did. Strange writing covered the monolith, in a language she did not recognize. Vale stood to the right of Rowan, wearing a long, black dress, and a large, black veil. Armande stood to Rowan’s other side, looking dapper in a gray suit. The holy man stood opposite Rowan.

                Rowan felt her limbs moving of their own accord, reaching up and touching the monolith. Vale did the same. Their hands reached the pillar at the same moment and the large, bronze edifice lit up like a firecracker. The mysterious symbols covering the monolith, brightening with an azure light. The blue glow swelled and reached out from the monolith, consuming the four of them until the only thing that existed was the light. Rowan felt herself screaming silently as the purifying radiance reached into her very bones, pulling out something that resided deep within her.

                The light winked out and the bronze edifice was all that remained.

                Rowan held two items, glass-like and slender, in both of her hands. She looked at both, not recognizing what they were. She found her face moving up, finding that she was not alone. She was looking to Vale, and saw that she too held identical items. The holy man, who was dressed like the Pope, came around to Rowan and held out his hand. She extended her left hand and handed him one of the glassy objects. He took hold of it and disappeared. Rowan turned to look to her sister but found that Vale and Armande had disappeared as well.

                The other glass-like object remained in Rowan’s right hand. She looked down at it and heard an Eagle screeching. The animalistic scream echoed in her mind and the world went black once more.

 
 
                Rowan found herself kneeling in the water, arms outstretched and head staring up towards the heavens. Her breathing was labored and sweat beaded her brow. The waters of Lake Baikal slowly being absorbed into the fine silk of her dress. She lowered her arms and let her head drop. Another vision. Had she screamed out loud this time? Or was it silence? Had Vale shared in it? Judging by the intensity, Vale had to have seen the same thing. Rowan turned her head about quickly, searching for her sister.

"The power Voodoo. Hoodoo? You do! Do what!?"
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#4
A very strange, unusual, and downright concerning behavior animated Valeriya these past few days. She found herself laughing, smiling, and leaping from moment to moment. With her great love, the seed of Rasputin, and her sisterly companion, they embarked upon a journey that astonished and bewildered her. Finally, one day, clairvoyance identified this bizarre affliction: she was happy.

She was happy darting in and out of little dwellings. The greenery of the Above infused cloth and trinkets with which Valeriya happily decorated her body. Armande approved, but it was the glee in Rowan’s enthusiasm that spurred the virgin shopper to claim any and every beautiful thing she desired. Like the flowers of the soil, she plucked jewelry and dresses and hair ornaments from shelf, rod, hook and display. Some lady with a strange accent just fawned over Vale’s beauty, which apparently was valued quite a lot in the Above. It was a stupid idea. Beauty did not feed hungry bellies or stop a gushing wound. Either way, she fawned and Vale from then on found herself rather fond of greens and blues, the foremost brilliant colors of the Above world. And like Rowan, she was drawn to feminine styles. The gowns of the former Tsarina were ragged and torn by the time the Eye of the Khylsty inherited them, but she wore them as proudly as if they were hand-spun.

After they smoothed her hair into a black fur softer than an Oni’s downy belly, Vale really was striking a queenly pose these days. On the day they were going to visit a lake (which is a like a really big puddle), she wore a long dress of blue silk. The sleeves were a sheer overlay that dangled far from her wrists into a point. The material crossed beneath her breasts, which were pushed plump and nearly spilling out the scooped neckline. Gold armbands were snug around her upper arms and a similar jeweled belt wrapped about her hips. Sparkling earrings dangled from her earlobes and another gold chain was woven through her hair.

Finally, on the banks of the lake, she stood still as a statue. Water dazzled as far as she could see. So far she couldn’t see land on the other side although Armande assured her it was there. The sun sparkled like diamonds on the surface. “I didn’t know there was all this water in the whole Above. The whole of everything. Let alone in one spot.” Tears streamed down her face. Tears of joy and wonderment.

Rowan beckoned her to come, and Valeriya could wait not a moment longer. She waited her entire life! She stripped of her pretty gown down to her skin, excluding the aforementioned jewelry. Naked and skin gleaming in the warm sun, she cautiously dipped a toe into the water. It felt like licking scuttle-bugs. She giggled despite herself and plunged into the water. The bottom was slippery beneath her feet, but her toes clung to the crags and stones without problem. Her skin was thick as Oni hide on the bottom of her feet. The only reason she wore shoes were because they were pretty.

The water was cool. It tickled her thighs and prickled her nipples to sharp points. She giggled and scooped the water to her palms. Gleaming jewels trickled between her fingers. Emotion welled up within her again. There was a time when she cried for water, yearned for a lick of it, but the smallest taste was denied when the shortages came. Just for good measure, she drank freely of the lake water until her throat cooled with satisfaction. She smiled then suddenly the blue water, Rowan, and her beloved disappeared, and the Eye opened.

Rowan was beautiful. A gold tower of stone glowed beautifully. The Eye saw the writings as it had seen others, and she knew their words. The Eye moved closer. Rowan was entranced by it. Armande was a statue. Valeriya gasped and her arms moved without control. She grasped something in each hand. Rowan screamed and the Eye roamed. She fixated upon someone else. He glowed like the sun, and a pain wracked her body unlike anything she knew in the awakening. She bared her teeth, pointed to shards, and raised fingers that curled into hideous claws. A lion if ever one existed, Valeriya was a lion. Before she could jump, the Eye closed and everyone was gone.

Valeriya gasped for air only to swallow a mouthful of water. Choking and sputtering, she pushed through the surface and found familiar arms pulling her upward. “The Eye saw,” she said to whoever listened. “A weapon waits for us. Armande, Rowan, me and him. He had to be there. All in white with the glow of angels above his head. If he’s not there, the weapon won’t show itself.  Four weapons, four people. Who is he? I hate him. I hate him.”
The Eye of the Khylsty
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#5
[Image: 5bc0b63e15e9f92e180132c8.jpg]

Despite himself, Armande smiled at Rowan's energy as she hurried to the lake's edge. He looked at Valeriya and his smile widened. The two were a pair, he admitted. Not dressed in the slightest as if they were on a trek to find some sort of lost treasure. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Royals ready to command their subjects was more like it.

No, these two had dragged him from shop to shop, oogling and giggling like school girls, trying on dresses and baubles, chains and rings. The energy was...infectious, he admitted. Not that he wasn't bored after the 4th shop. Somehow, it seemed time slowed to a halt around 1pm. Each minute that passed seemed to take twice as long. He was never so exhausted in his life when he and Valeriya retired to their hired room for the evening. Or rather, he did. She stayed up with Rowan, doing whatever women did with clothing and jewels and hair.

Though he had to admit, when they finally came down to break their fast, it was if two queens appeared before him, Rowan in shades of white, Opaline eye making her seem other worldly and shining. Though six inches shorter, Valeriya was statuesque in emerald green, bedecked with jewels, eyes flashing, sharp teeth showing under luscious full lips. He couldn't help the smile even as he sighed to himself.

This was going to be a long trip. For some reason, his reaction felt forced.

And now, standing on a small beach of sand, rock overlook watching over them, the sky a brilliant blue, the azure lake rippling placidly under light breeze, extending far into the distance, there they all were.

Rowan's lifting of her dress drew his eye- not for the flash of ivory flesh, he hastened to add, but for the childlike innocence of it. She wanted to wade into the water, was all. And so she did. He looked at Vale and there was awe in her voice and tears in her eyes and his heart felt to bursting. He took her hand, squeezed lovingly. He was constantly seeing the world through new eyes, with her.

The naval of the world had called them to it and both seemed overwhelmed. The was no careful tying up of Valeriya's dress. Not at all. She doffed it and her jewelry quickly and Armande couldn't help but stare as her curved taut form ran across the grass and sand, naked as the day she was born, without a hint of self consciousness.

He felt a poweful carnal desire for her in that moment, enough that he wondered whether he should join her. She lived so freely and unapologetically. Courageous and uncaring of anything. It was a curious blend of battle hardened experience and childlike naivete. In bed, she often switched from one to the other, quicksilver, claws ready to rip out a throat, complete submission in that singular moment he lived for.

Idly he toyed with the top button of his cream linen shirt. It would be something to feel her next to him, naked and skin wet and silky smooth, as he taught her to swim.

His reverie was broken as both women seemed to convulse, both speaking at once. Yet again, he was presented with a vision that seemed to swallow him up. It was as if they, together, became windows, Eyes through which he could see beyond.

His heart froze and he stood transfixed at the pillar, at the faces. He knew them in an instant. Ezekiel 2 called them cherubs, winged creatures with four faces each, a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle, all standing alongside massive wheels within wheels, covered in eyes. Revelation 4 did not name them cherubs, but four living creatures, each having only one face, that of the lion, the eagle, the oxen and the man. These living creatures stood just below the throne of God surrounded by an emerald rainbow.

Early church fathers had linked each creature to one of the four gospel writers, imagining some quality of each reflected something of the face.

But the reality made such descriptions pale, a cartoon in the face of the truth. He felt fear shoot through his heart- fear and joy, as he recognized the people standing around the pillar, each in possession of some sort of object.

Valeriya. Rowan. Himself. And a fourth. A man he had not seen in nearly a year. Phillip. The Pope. He didn't understand.

And then both were screaming, Rowan flopping to her knees, Valeriya losing herself and slipping beneath the surface. He ran to her, walked right into he water, heedless of the wetness seeping through his clothes. He grabbed her, lifted her into the air without thought, and took her, choking and sputtering and trying to speak to lay her down in the grass.

Safe for the moment, he went to Rowan and lifted her to her feet, letting her lean against him until he too could set her down gently next to Valeriya. Then to the mobile home to get a a few towels and a blanket. The accomodations were rather nice and cozy. They would be cold.

Valeriya's words echoed in his mind but he banished them away. That was for later. Rowan was mostly dry but shaken up. Valeriya was naked and shivering and filled with hatred. For Phillip? It made no sense. Later, he told himself. Later.

He gently helped dry Valeriya, trying to calm her ferocious rage. He did alternate between looking at her and Rowan, unsure of what to make of it all. In a moment, he would go and retrieve something warmer and more comfortable for both of them. At least for the time being.
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#6
Rowan had felt more shaken up than the last vision. Detached was a better word for it. She barely remembered Armande dragging her out of the water and then laying her down next to Vale. He tended to them both, but mostly Vale. Rowan didn’t mind, she hadn’t actually gone under. Instead, she lay there, quiet, staring up, mind blank.

                Suddenly, flashes of the vision streaked across her waking mind, and she was taken back to the present. What did it mean? Vale had called out something, but Rowan hadn’t processed it. She sat up and felt the cold, wet clothing clinging to her skin. Armande was still toweling off Vale.

                “Was that the Pope?” She asked Armande and then to Vale, “Are you okay, sister? Are you in need of Healing?”

                Rowan calmed herself, picturing the bud of a lily in her mind’s eye. The light of Saidar came upon her, shinning down on that lily. She was the lily. She opened herself to Saidar and embraced the One Power.

                Channeling a flow of Water, she used Saidar to lift the moisture from her dress, drying herself. An orb of water formed from the excess moisture and floated above her legs. Rowan redirected the flow and lifted the rest of the water from Vale’s body and hair, adding it to the floating orb. Once finished, she worked the flows and cast the orb of water back into the lake.

                “And what in the world were those glass spike things?” She asked them both.

"The power Voodoo. Hoodoo? You do! Do what!?"
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#7
The shivering subsided. She wasn’t a weak woman of the Above, but she was grateful for the arms to help her climb from a possible watery grave. Soon, the water was pulled off her very skin and slicked from her hair into a big floating blob. The magic of Rasputin flowed through Rowan like majesty, and Valeriya’s resolution was reaffirmed. She grasped the hand of Armande on one side and the hand of Rowan on the other, and laid herself back on the ground, resting all four on her belly. The blue of the sky Above was endless. How many years she saw it from Below, yearned to taste the air on her tongue.

“I do not need the magic of healing, love.” She’d probably have to be bleeding out to take healing. Not because she abhorred the magical practices, but because she would never admit herself that weak. The heat of the previous anger dampened, but it was never directed at Rowan. A word curled nasty on her tongue, sour as a salt lick. Pope. She didn’t know what that was. Or who he was. She didn’t know what those spike things were either. They were jagged like teeth. It wasn’t something the Eye of the Khylsty would tolerate. Her hands squeezed tight upon those of her two mortal loves.

Soon, she regathered her discarded clothing. She did not like not understanding the things seen by the Eye.
The Eye of the Khylsty
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#8
The concern for Valeriya in Rowan's eyes- or eye, rather- was unmistakable. Despite his iron control, the image of her standing next to his beloved, red streaks streaming down her face, empty socket drawing his eye, the cheek and eyelid angry and puffy and already blackening, turned his stomach.

He was no stranger to gore. He had washed himself of blood and viscera more times than he could remember. He had willingly taken wounds in battle. And he knew how powerful hallucinogens could be.

And yet, just imagining taking his fingers and jamming then into his socket to rip his eyeball out, the trail of nerves and muscle fibres dangling there...

Armande had sacrificed more than most could fathom. Of his own heart. He would never forget that price.

And yet, he wondered in what universe he would be willing to do that to himself. A worm of...weakness slithered in him. Shame. But something rebelled violently. No. He was wrong! He was seeing it wrong. He had to be. No one could have given as much as he.

No. Valeriya represented something beyond this world. An incarnation, perhaps. Vishnu had his tenth and final one, according to some Hindu legend. Kalki riding on his white horse sword protruding from his lips.

There was enough evidence that something sat behind the fabric of space and time. The fact that he and Apollyon were born literally one day apart was proof of that. That he found his way to a people waiting for him, his face cragged onto a rock wall, was proof. That he found, for truly the first time, a person to stand by his side and be, not just his equal, but even his teacher, was proof of that.

In the face of all that, the unmistakable and undeniable evidence before him, there could be only one conclusion. Rowan was not a reborn god. She was something more. She, like Valeriya, was the Eye. The Hindus believed that the true nature of reality was that all living things were part of the Oversoul, the Brahman. But that energy, when expressed in their four dimensional world, seemed fragmented. A hand, fingers passed through a plane, looked like five separate entities, when in fact they were all part of the whole.

Maya was before him, the fate and the universe, as one. Valeriya and Rowan.

And he was not afraid.

He was not disgusted.

He merely assented, small smile and a sense of peace on his lips.

When did I become a man of faith? he wondered?

He was no pacifist. He had killed before and would kill again. Apollyon the destroyer walked the earth. Whatever it took, he must die. But Maya had come to him, in the form of these two women.

And so as Maya, in one of her incarnations as Rowan, used her abilities to remove the water from herself and Valeriya, he felt none of the normal jealousy and anger. His rough hand held Valeriya's, resting against her now cooling naked skin, an inch from Vale's other hand, fingers twined through Rowan's fingers.

He looked up at the waning light, the darkness approaching on the eastern side of the lake a valley, destiny calling them.

All of them. Somehow, the Pope was involved. He broke the silence, though not without effort. It felt a lifetime since he had spoken. And the urgency was gone despite what he had to imagine was gooseflesh across Valeriya's naked body. She certainly seemed content between them both. And somehow, that felt right.

His voice was quiet. "Yes, that was Pope Patricus I. Somehow he is part of this." Despite himself, an eyebrow raised. Valeriya's hatred was palpable. A part of him was curious.

Part of him didn't want their idyl to end.

But Maya was in charge. A weapon beckoned.

After a moment, "Come Valeriya," as he stood hand helping her. His other he extended to Rowan, kind smile on his face. "Come Rowan. Let me get you something warm."
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#9
Rowan did nothing to hide her shock at the revelation. Armande was so nonchalant about the Pope’s involvement in – whatever they were doing. Rowan still wasn’t entirely sure. Armande had been extremely vague about the whole endeavor, but then again, so had Vale. That map from Rasputin, it held the secret to the location of some weapon, or some secret, that would aid them in saving the world. There had been talk of a tool, but Rowan couldn’t remember what was said. She wasn’t even sure she was remembering it correctly.

                All of this was right, though. She hadn’t had a vision to confirm that notion, nor had Vale, but it just felt right – this whole excursion halfway across the country.
The other thing that had felt right was Rowan’s hand in Vale’s. They sat there for a while, in silence, in each other’s presence. It all felt right. Even Armande.
 


                After, what seemed like Ages, Armande rose from his space to the other side of Vale. He held his hands out to them both and bid them to follow. Rowan blushed despite herself. This man was finally starting to lower his guard around her. Ever since that initial meeting, he gave off this aura that said ‘I-don’t-really-care-for-you.’ Although, over the course of their time on the road together that had melted. He was downright amicable now.


                Oh, Armande had definitely preferred Vale, but then again, this was not a competition. True, Rowan wanted to be wanted and she liked to be looked at, but that was not why she had signed up for this. That was owed entirely to her vision of the multiple paths the future might take. So long as she stuck the course, the future would play out in the most favorable – for her at least – which was to say that she survived in this ‘timeline.’


                Everything else was a means to an end.


                Vale though? Vale was different. When Rowan had met her, it was like finding the piece that fit into that weird hole in your soul. They had come from vastly different backgrounds, but they had just ‘clicked.’ There was an unspoken understanding there that neither had acknowledged, but it was something that even Armande had taken note of. It was all so mysterious and etheric. It was eternal. It felt deeper than what Rowan had with Aiden – and that was saying something. That was something to pay attention to.


                There was this movie that Aiden had shown her, years ago, that dealt with that - finding one’s ‘other half’ – that was what Vale was – Rowan’s other half. Which was all well and good, but Vale was with Armande.


                In the stories, one’s other half was meant for them and them alone. Armande proved the wild card in that equation. Where did he fit in to all of this? Clearly, Vale was Rowan’s and Rowan was Vale’s, but still, Vale held to her ties to Armande. What was Rowan to make of him? Considering everything else, she was to follow him; that required a certain degree of deference. That didn’t mean she was his slave – not by any means. She was perhaps just beholden to him. Her visions said as much, if she was to survive, she was to follow his command. That thought alone had not sat well with her initially, but her view was rapidly changing.


                In the weeks since they had taken to the road, Armande had proved to be a real live man. Regardless of mythical prophecies, he had a past, a present, and a future. Armande had favored foods and hobbies just like any other person. He had hopes and dreams like she did. That endeared him to her. He was more than the sum of his parts. Rowan could live with not having Vale to herself, so long as things kept progressing smoothly with Armande. Time would tell.
 


                Vale went up and then Rowan followed suit, accepting Armande’s support. Even his touch felt different. It was not eager – per se – but close enough. Perhaps something had shifted inside of him. Rowan sprung up from the green ground with renewed vigor – that’s when a large splash echoed throughout the air.

                As soon as Rowan was up, she was down.

                Pain shot through her leg. Rowan’s hands shot down to her thigh and they came back bloodied. She found herself frantically looking from side to side. More splashing. Rowan felt the urge to move. Without thinking, she spun on the ground, off to the left. A long, imposing spear was standing point down at the exact spot Rowan had just moved from. Wet, hot blood trickled down to her toes.

                She whipped her head towards the lake and saw the water roiling. The torso of – what appeared to be – a woman rose from shimmering surface. Her skin was green and covered in harsh lines of red and black. A crown of spikes all but erupted from the thing’s skull, and innumerable tentacles flared out behind the spikes. A clawed, spindly hand rose from the water, clutching another one of those thick shafted spears.

                In seconds, the spear was sailing through the air, directly at Vale. Rowan did not think. Rowan did not speak. She embraced the Power and wove Air.

                A large, thick wall of Air sprung up at the lakeshore, shooting high into the heavens. The spear collided with it unceremoniously, the weapon clanging against the weave and then falling back into the water. The thing shrieked and went back beneath the surface of the water, coming back up not a minute later, throwing another spear at the trio.

                Rowan looked to the other two, “Are you both okay?” She asked frantically, clinging to Saidar.



[Image: tumblr_mbt6xveoUa1qhttpto3_540.jpg]


"The power Voodoo. Hoodoo? You do! Do what!?"
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#10
{{OOC: Such a cool post Rowan!! Regus can go next unless you want to wait for me but it might be a few days!}}
The Eye of the Khylsty
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