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Wanderlust (Olkhon Island | Baikal Lake, Siberia)
[[continued from A Solivagant Soul]]

Several days of impromptu travel later, and Thalia finally found herself on a ferry to the largest island on the lake, leaning on the railing as she absorbed it all with wide-eyed awe. Curls tickled about her face in the breeze, unnoticed except for when they looped over her vision. Her apartment in Moscow bordered Filevsky, a park filled to abundance with ancient trees and the rush of the Moskva River; chosen specifically for its remote seeming beauty in the middle of a city. Here water glittered almost as far as the eye could see, shrouded mountains looming distant against a pale sky. Her heart pounded in her chest as she beheld the clear depths below, as though she expected to see the twist of something deep beneath. There was nothing, of course, though it didn’t stop her looking, until another passenger pressed a tentative hand on her shoulder like they feared she might slip right over the edge.

When she departed she discovered Khuzhir to be a small, dusty settlement spilling from the port. Quaintly painted wooden houses lined wide dirt tracks, with no road or pavement in sight. Her eye caught on the intricate patterns framing the windows in bright colours as she passed, while beyond the world was composed of craggy mountain, boreal forest, and great swathes of steppe like nature herself swallowed the world of man. Thalia was a city-girl born, and navigated that chaos with ease, but something of the wild places had always tugged at her. She had ever been the muddy, knee-skinned child ill-content with relegating her fantasy worlds to life frozen on the page, at least until she grew older and the world squeezed her into presenting a neater package. Fairies were not real. Her imagination was too vast. Just be less odd, Thalia.

This was the most remote place she had ever been, though. And perhaps it was the cocoon of the vast waters, or the reading she had voraciously inhaled about the island's mythos during the long journey back east, but there was a touch of reverence to her wonderment.

She must have looked like the worst kind of tourist.

[Image: khuzhir-village-olkhon-island-baikal.jpg]

By some small coincidence, the homestay she had chosen turned out to be owned by a married pair of Moscovites escaped from the clutches of big city life, and who had converted the top floors of their own home to welcome guests. It was comfortingly rustic within. Gardens spilled below, and a pen containing goats which Thalia offered to tend as part of her lodging. They were spirited and amusing creatures, for the most part, though one in particular was a curmudgeonly soul who privately she called Philip. It may have been her favourite.

Though impatience itched her to explore, she spent the first evening acclimatising to her hosts, sharing food and stories that enraptured her long into the night. Anastasia spoke at length on the places to visit, including the Shaman Rock Thalia knew was in the drawing from her dream. The research lit her passion on the long journey over, and Aylin had been a less than enthused recipient of the esoteric facts she had collected, and more interested in the question of why her sister was not returning home. So it was nice not only to find a welcome for all that overspilled delight, but a mirror for it. It wasn't until the old german shepherd dog who had claimed her knee for a chinrest got up and shook his bones, seeking somewhere more comfortable to curl up, and Anastasia herself then stifled a yawn into the back of her hand, that Thalia finally realised the time and padded her way to bed.

She slept hard, utterly exhausted.

[Image: khuzhir-homestay-Edited.jpg]

The next afternoon, she pushed through dirt inclines and narrow passes framed by giant larch and pine trees. Thick forests gave way to empty steppes, the long grasses sometimes tall enough to tickle under her outstretched palms. The trail was easy enough to follow north and Thalia lingered over the journey, entranced by the sheer isolation. Anastasia said wild horses called the island home, though she did not see any. Plenty of dogs wandered though, intent on their own forages or trotting along behind her for some of the way. The first ribbon-tied totem shooting high and proud above her head stole her attention for long moments before she moved on, and she passed several such sentinels during the journey. It tied little ribbons in her own heart, some sense of something beyond herself.

Eventually a steep descent led to the basin of water below. Thalia recognised the rock jutting from the waves, and it quieted something in her to behold it in person. Emotions shifted through her chest, and she did not recoil from them, though neither could she say what they really meant. It was still a way down, so she pulled herself onto an outcropping and let her feet dangle for a moment of rest. A hand swiped the back of her sticky neck, her hair roped into an inelegant knot on the top of her head. It was only pleasantly warm, but she had been walking a long time, and she was glad of the brief respite.

Bright grey eyes took in the scenery below. The tranquil expanse of blue was beautiful, but it was not that which captivated her; or not only. She pressed her fingers to her chest, but did not try to unpick the knot of her thoughts any more than she tried to understand the churn of feeling inside, instead letting herself think of other things.

[Image: iStock471952853_Lake_Baikal_800c2400_new.jpg]

Anastasia had told her one of the local folk tales (and there were several about this place): of a girl whispered stories from circling gulls of a man she grew infatuated by and wished to marry, and of the father who denied her and locked her away, until she later escaped with the help of her brothers. Amidst her father’s violent anger, a storm shook sky and earth, and when a fork of lightning split the nearby mountain he picked it up and threw it at her to block her flight. But he was too late. The daughter was too close already to her lover, who swept her into his arms for them to remain inseparable since.

The rock marked the boundary between the lake and the river Angara, so named for the girl in the story. It was the only river to leave the lake, like the girl running to the arms of her beloved. The locals said her spirit still dwelt in the stone. Only a fraction thrust visible from the pale blue waters, and caves sunk below the surface. A spiritual place, so it was said.

Eventually Thalia eased herself down to follow the path to the shingled shore and the creeping rhythm of the tide. A few other people mingled about, though it was not busy either. Too many to push her into the lake's embrace with an abandon that might have overwhelmed had there been no eyes to observe the mischief. She didn't have anything to swim in; so drawn by the meandering of her own whim, it had not even occurred to her until now. She pulled the boots from her feet and left them on the stones alongside her bag, wading into the silky waters. Her skin prickled cool as she stared out across it, a swell of deep sadness catching her off guard and pulling her further than she intended until the cold crept up the hem of her shorts. This was not like the river at Viljandi, where she could dive to the bottom herself, trusting recklessly to instincts she did not understand. But it left her at a strange loss. She retreated a little, then sat, the waters lapping up cold and curious as kisses at her feet.
"A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
Roderick Haig-Brown
[Image: nimthallethe.jpg]
[[a diversion to the mainland, at Liars]]
"A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
Roderick Haig-Brown
[Image: nimthallethe.jpg]
[Image: aylin-and-thalia-av.png]
Aylin & Thalia

She made the last ferry by the skin of her teeth.

It was still afternoon by the time Thalia stepped foot back on the island. She paused to feed the goats milling plaintively about the yard before she headed up to her room, calling a breezy greeting through to Anastacia as she did so. A confluence of loose sketches were strewn like a small hurricane blew through in her absence, precisely as she had left it. She’d refrained from tacking them up on the walls, given it was not her house, but they drifted across practically every other surface. Tentacles and scales, mostly. The glitter of clear waters. Strange symbols.

She ought to shower and sort the knots bound to have snarled up in her damp hair, but she perched on the bed instead, wallet in hand, and began to sort travel arrangements for tomorrow. Whether or not Kemala chose to contact her, Thalia would still go. She didn’t know what else to do.

The phone began to ring while it was still in her hands. Her chest tightened with unusual reluctance; she never avoided her sister’s calls, not on purpose, but their last conversation had been unpleasant. I have a commission from the Church had soothed troubled waters for a while, bringing some promise of normalcy to her abrupt flight from Moscow. But Thalia couldn’t lie, and certainly not to Aylin. I met the Pope and he came all the way from Rome to save my soul had resulted in stony silence on the line, no matter how Thalia had tried to explain it in a way that made sense -- or at least to frame it in a way Aylin could accept. Inevitably she’d found herself drifting away from the parts that sounded craziest. It left a chasm between them; one there had never been before.

“Hey Aylin.”

They spoke pleasantries for a while. Thalia drew her legs up on the bed, watching the bright tops of roofs she could see from the window, and the smudge of blue beyond. Her sister had always been firm ground to Thalia’s flighty indulgences, and inevitably the net that caught her when she fell. For most of Thalia’s adult life it had just been the two of them. So the words, when they came, didn’t surprise:

“Please just come home.”

A sigh upended from her lungs. Thalia had no compelling reason to stay, beyond a bunch of drawings and a feeling. Nothing had happened when she went to the lakeside. Or nothing she could articulate, anyway. She pressed a hand over her head as Aylin continued into the silence.

“Sometimes I don’t think you remember how worried mum and dad were about you when we were growing up. The things you’d come out with, Thally. The things you insisted you saw!” 

Thalia squeezed her eyes tight. Didn’t think about it.

“I’m not saying there isn’t something strange going on,” Aylin added softly. “I know that sometimes your drawings are…” The words faded into discomfort. 

"Like Yana,” Thalia supplied.

"Like Yana," Aylin agreed. “And you’re a channeler. That’s real enough. But think about your behaviour, Thalia. It isn’t normal to pack a bag in the middle of the afternoon and end up in Estonia. Less than a month ago you had an utter break--”

“-- you think I need to go back on the meds?”

The static said all it needed to, and Thalia felt her heart sink.

“I’m just worried. Do you even remember what happened the day you first came to Moscow? You draw strange things, but that doesn’t mean you have to go off and chase them down. Let me make the arrangements. We can talk about this better in person.”

Even Nox had cautioned her decision to go alone. The Pope’s words stung a reminder too; that she was dabbling in things beyond her. That she was resolutely walking into danger. She’d told him she didn’t need saving, surprised more than anything.

She could go home.

She should go home.

The thing was, Thalia needed to know if it was real.

When the call ended she stared a moment at the phone. Did not glance at the artwork all around. There was still plenty of light. She slung her bag on her back, and headed out the door for the trail.
"A river is water in its loveliest form; rivers have life and sound and movement and infinity of variation, rivers are veins of the earth through which the lifeblood returns to the heart."
Roderick Haig-Brown
[Image: nimthallethe.jpg]

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