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The Great Hunt (Oslo, Norway)
#1
Yggdrasill shivers,
the ash, as it stands.
The old tree groans,
and the giant slips free.
- The Poetic Edda



Grand Hotel
Oslo, Norway




To Rowan, it seemed as if years had passed since their little group had ventured forth from Siberia into the west – when in fact it had been less than a week. They had started out on foot, assuming that their target was less than a day’s walk from that clearing. The frustration was palpable after their twelfth hour of aimless wanderings. West. They had to go west; that was all they knew. The Eyes saw, as they always had and always would.

It had been Armande that had pushed Rowan and her sister deeper into the visions – urging them to seek out the finer details, urging them to give him something to work with. They had struggled to move past the pillar and the lightning, moving out behind the vision of Rowan and into the west.

After the third day and the seventh vision, they found it. Keeping Armande and the Holy Father out of the trance had been key. Vale and Rowan had to slip away from the men. They had to find a safe space where neither could hear or see them. After the men had fallen asleep, the two had slipped away and into the endless forest. They used their Eyes to find it, that small pond under the bower of aspen trees. It was there that they had stripped down and waded into the shallow depths. The world seemed to freeze as they embraced, not even the swollen Moon interrupted them with her diaphanous light.

 
The Eyes saw.

The pillar filled their vision, but they were quickly pulled through Rowan and into the western skies. They soared above the continent and through the clouds before descending slowly down onto a familiar peninsula west of the CCD. They fell upon the back of a raven and soared with it as a wooden longship sailed below in an ice-covered sea. The bird went up as the peninsula’s coast drew close, soaring higher and faster before descending once more upon a frost-covered forest.

A hole seemed to grow from the center of the forest; its border widening with every flap of the raven’s wings. A gigantic ash tree shot up from the hole and unfurled beneath the star-spattered night sky. The tree seemed to breathe as its form swelled a hundred-fold. The raven landed on the topmost branch and looked down.

A dead man with one eye missing swung from a noose tied beneath the raven’s claws. In his hand, he held a key. The raven swung down to take hold of the key, but as its beak touched the dead man’s fingers, the key slipped from his grasp and shot down into the deep darkness that surrounded the tree. The raven shot down and gave chase, but as it went into the shadows below, the Eyes were pulled from its back and up into the sky. They arced back towards the night sky, the peninsula retreating from their vision until the clouds smothered them.

With a slam, they were forced back into their bodies still entwined in the small, secret pond.

 
They told Armande and the Holy Father of this, of course, and it was by sheer luck that they had found their way into a small town the next morning. The place was not so remote that they could not make arrangements to be taken to Bratsk. From there they had been able to charter a plane to Zurich and then on to Oslo. Rowan had run the risk of discovery when she drew money from her personal account to fund the entire expedition, and so she had taken out a small fortune in cash before they departed for Zurich.

Rowan had been convinced that the peninsula in the vision had been the Nordic countries; the imagery of Odin and Yggdrasil only further cementing this logic. None in the group had protested when she had put this forward, indeed, it seemed to be the only option. The problem was that they had not known what forest in the Nordic countries that they had to go to. Starting their search in Norway had only been chosen because Rowan and Vale had been thrown so far west in their trance.

And so, they had chosen the capital of Norway. Rowan had poured over maps of the area during their twenty-nine hours in transit – straining to remember the space in the visions that she had been thrown from as the raven found the darkness. Oslo seemed to be close enough, in so far as she could tell. No one wanted to fight her on this point either.

A bit of the old Rowan had come back to the surface as they checked into the Grand Hotel; accommodations that strove to live up to their name. The place was grand, and its luxe décor invoked images of the Bottom of the Cup Café in Rowan’s mind. Strangely enough, she did not miss it as much as she had anticipated. Too much had changed for her to go back now. Perhaps in the future, but not today nor tomorrow. Now was the time of revelations. Now was the time for change.

Their group had been placed into one of the finer suites and Rowan had paid in cash, making them all the harder to track. She did not know what she would do if Gareth had shown up. It had been unfortunate that Aiden had crossed her path. It would have been so much simpler if they could have just forgotten about her entirely.

Rowan sat in the parlor of the suite, her maps laid out across the breakfast table. A burner wallet was clasped in her left hand as she went through a list of the forests that surrounded Oslo, marking them all out on the map of the area. The Eyes would see again in a few short hours, just as the moon reached its apex in the sky. If it had gone like the last one, Rowan would simply have to figure out which direction the raven pulled them towards and then compare it to the map she was now making.

The plan wasn’t as solid as she had liked – there were too many qualifiers in the equation. Part of her was worried that things would not unfold as easily as she had planned, but where else were they to start?

“Seven nature reserves,” Rowan murmured to herself as she plotted the last mark on Grytdalen, “Seven again. Can’t be a coincidence.”

Telemarkskanalen, Hardangervidda, Ostensjovannet Lake, Lillomarka, Haldenkanalen, and Fronsvollen had also been plotted on the map. Rowan set the wallet down and felt her stomach turn. Few of the plotted points were small areas to cover. Even if the raven showed them the proper direction within their visions, how were they to know where the site was once they figured out which park it was in? The visions would be the only way and that would probably take days.

“I fear we will have to pack enough resources for a week if tonight is a success,” Rowan announced in a resigned tone.

"The power Voodoo. Hoodoo? You do! Do what!?"
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#2
The night was cold on the balcony. His breath fogged in front of him into the dark and then disappeared into nothing. The sounds of the streets below drifted up but barely impinged in to his consciousness. His memory of Norway was distant enough- the last trip short and not memorable, for all the momentary sweat and blood of a good hunt- he felt a first time visitor. Nothing in this place called to him. No exhibit to experience, no museum artifact to study, no library to search.

Being in a new place was something he'd done enough that even that should have felt normal and comfortable. And yet, he could not shake the disquiet or unease that had grown during the last week. He'd been silent through most of the week, aside from his agreement with Rowan that this seemed the correct direction to go. He'd stood back as Rowan had taken the lead in their preparations.

Something felt off. Only now, by himself on the balcony of their room did he let himself give solidity to his disquieting thoughts. The muffled voices of Rowan and Valeriya in the other room were part of the problem, he knew. Not them, exactly. Not all of them together. That was normal and felt like his natural home for all of the fact that it was a new thing.

No, it was something more. And less. Oh, the sting of having been left out of the last viewing was still there. How could it not? They were the Eyes, weren't they? But were not Eyes part of a larger whole? He had thought it was the three of them together that were the hand of God walking the earth. And yet the naked demonstration that they alone could see clearly only when he wasn't there- especially after he had pushed them to find the next step in their journey- had been a brutal revelation.

Of course, he accepted it. Facts were not disputable. Reality did not care about your feelings. They simply were. And he had made peace with it. Of course he had.

Still, the unease was there. It didn't help that for all his training and knowledge, he felt blind. Rowan's vision sounded correct. Of course it did. One eyed Odin and the great tree were well known, now, though the Marvelized version of the story had cemented itself in the general consciousness. Sacrifice for divine knowledge was a constant theme in human myth, from Eve to Prometheus to Ganesh. No price was too high for understanding.

And Rowan had paid the price. The loose skin over the hollow of her eye socket was an undeniable testimony of that. The thousand scars on Valeriya's back were her own payment too. And Armande? His body was covered in scars that bore witness to hundreds of battles and hunts in pursuit of knowledge. His devotion to his creeds had left still deeper wounds than anything physical could, the memory of a pair of green eyes having never lost their power to cut him to his soul.

What more could be asked of him? He had died and had been reborn countless times. Armande to Athari to Regus to Father Rasputin. until finally, he had found his place. The Heart of the Khylsty with the Eye Valeriya and the Eye Rowan. The pattern of the universe had finally revealed his role and who he was. Forged and shaped by his experiences and knowledge acquired, he was on the path, his battle with Apollyon at the very end of the road.

And yet they couldn't see with me there. The thought was a splinter deep in the finger, small and slight, and yet not ignorable. And surprisingly painful for all of that. Of his disquiet he said nothing. Of his disappointment he did not speak. Of his unsurety, he dared not utter a word, not even to himself.

But for the first time in as long as he could remember, he felt wrong. The vision was not his. The clues to follow not of his discovery. The direction not his to give. The loss of control was something he had not experienced in what felt like lifetimes.

And he did not like it. It was a loss he had trouble fathoming.

But what was he to do? Whining was weakness. Lashing out, seizing control would merely be a manifestation of impotence. None of that was him. He breathed deeply, the icy cold cutting his lungs, his first breath in what felt like a lifetime.

Patience. There was a plan. Or at least a Pattern. His life up to this point was proof of that. His connection to Nikolai Brandon, their mirrored life, their ascent in parallel, was proof of that. He had a role. He would watch and see. He had enough faith for that, at least.

He stood, preparing himself before turning to rejoin them. Faith. He must have faith. I have faith! Help me out where I need faith! He smiled weakly at the quote. It was something, at least.
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#3
A decade in Vatican City and the Holy Father rarely left the borders of his city-state. Then the last few weeks he’d visited no less than five rural dioceses all around eastern Europe. His visits were the same at each. He showed up without announcement, attracted a lot of attention from the surrounding community, spoke with the faithful, gave mass then left. The only other common thread among these surprise visits was that they were in dying corners of the world where the church’s reach, money and parishioners ran thin.

Norway was not known for their large Catholic population. Less than one or two percent of the population was affiliated with a diocese. Since the revelation of channeling, people seeking answers in the arms of religion gave church attendance a small bump, but the Bishops in Oslo were concerned (they all were). Philip never gave much attention to the flight of the faithful. So many within the media were curious about his new behaviors, and to Philip’s annoyance, attributed them as some sort of response to the CCD.

Therefore, his arrival in Oslo was noted as a stop through to another location yet even the Pope must sleep. He preferred a priest’s dormitory in St. Olav’s cathedral, but he was assured that the rooms were in an uninhabitable state of construction following disruption of the internal piping.

He ended up forced to sleep in a hotel in order to continue his journey to the more rural prelature that was his destination. 

Of course, there was no missing his arrival.
[Image: hiclipart.com_-e1597513863757.png]
Man is like God: he never changes. 
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#4
How would the following days be characterized? Fruitful? Only if eliminating possibilities was bearing fruit. Useful? Only if the days haunting museums and libraries served the purpose of cementing how well the three worked together. Pointless? Yes. Pointless. That was how he characterized it as he trudged along the path, heedless of the knife cold wind that sliced across his face.

Rowan and Valeriya's vision had brought them here....and now it seemed to dry up. It lost its life. Rowan had repeated what she had seen so many times Armande could recite it by heart. It had passed from a visceral real memory of hers to a rote and established one, with all the false certainty that came with that. Repeat a memory enough times and it becomes unquestioned truth, despite it being manufactured and cemented by the retelling.

This was sacred history. This was the gospels. This was holy writ. Unquestioned and unquestionable. Memory no longer played a role. Recitation replaced reality.

It was the danger of myth, the trap of dogma.

For a moment, as he walked along the river's edge, this thought grabbed at him, demanded attention. The danger of belief over memory. He was unsure why.

He held the idea in his head for a moment, examining it from every angle, trying to see why it had seized him so forcefully. The source, his recognition that Rowan's vision, absent revelation from a new source, was now as living and as dead as the sacred words of the Bible or the Vedas or the Popul Vuh. Being uttered and expressed in concrete form- and more importantly, being repeated over and over again- had stripped then of any breathing vitality and connection to their source.

It was an obvious- indeed, basic- observation. And yet its profound clarity in this instance filled him with unease. It was as if the world had shifted under his feet. Foundations he stood upon seemed quicksand for a moment.

But cast about as he might, he could not find the source of the disquiet 

Stomping off the snow on his boots, he entered their residence and made his way to their room. They were stuck. They needed more. 

Perhaps this time more than just they two. Not that it needed just him. He wasn't thinking he was key. This wasn't insecurity. No.

But Patricus was here. Perhaps with the four of them, something new would be revealed. He'd have to send word, arrange a meeting. Communion in one of the small and holy hovels his Holiness seemed to gravitate to. 

He itched, was all he knew. They were stuck and they needed to do something.
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#5
Six nights had come and gone. The Eyes saw, as they always did – although each time it had been the same vision. Rowan’s earlier assumption had proven wrong. The land in the vision seemed to be one lost to time. Industry and the unmistakable mark of humanity had guaranteed that. With no landmarks for reference, Rowan had been unable to distinguish just how far west or north the bird had carried them. There would be no other way forward but to visit the seven forests and see if any more monsters jumped out at them.

Armande had been uncharacteristically withdrawn. He had barely touched either Vale or her since the initial vision. A pain seized her heart with every denied advance on her part. The only thing he seemed to care about was the vision – and rightfully so. This was no pleasure trip they had taken.

Rowan had tried to illicit new results before opening her Eye. She had called to the Loa, entered into drunken stupors, laid out spreads of tarot and crystals; but nothing seemed to make a difference. Each time it was the same. Frustration began to creep up on her and an edge had sharpened her voice on more than one occasion. The first key had been too easy to find. How long would it take to find this next one? Would the others take even longer than the second?

It was hard not to get discouraged.

The Holy Father had only arrived earlier that day, and so Rowan found herself praying to the Loa that he was the missing ingredient in their struggle to find a more straightforward path. He would not be sharing the suite with them, of course. The man still had to keep up appearances. It all would have been so much easier if he was not a man of such high profile. Rowan had been deflated when he had departed their little rag-tag group of anti-heroes.

Rowan was curled up in an over-stuffed leather chair, pouring over a story of the Norns when the door to the suite opened to admit Armande. Stray snowflakes fell from his hair and down to the carpet as he looked from Vale to Rowan. She offered him a warm smile and slid the heavy book down onto the side table on her right. She opened herself to the Light and wove a delicate flow of Air, splitting it into three and directing it to the wet bar near the window. Unseen hands poured steaming coffee and a healthy splash of whiskey into a mug.

“Darling, you look as if you need a little warming,” Rowan said to him in greeting before sending the mug towards him and settling it onto the darkly varnished credenza to his left. She released the Light and stood from her chair, smoothing the soft woolen skirts of her dress. A half-filled glass of red wine was quickly taken up in her right hand before she went on, “I didn’t think any place in the world could experience such temperatures as Siberia – but then here we are. Have you spoken with the Holy Father? I had hoped he would come to call…”

The fact that he had returned on the seventh day was not lost on Rowan. She had plotted out seven forests – she was sure one of those would prove to be fruitful – and so the vision that they would conjure as the moon’s light came upon them on the seventh night would have to give them something more.
If it was nothing more but the same, then they would just have to pick one at random and move down the list until they found the second key.

Rowan downed the rest of her glass at the thought.

"The power Voodoo. Hoodoo? You do! Do what!?"
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#6
After the biting brisk cold of the Norway evening, the warmth of the suite was stifling. The heavy pea green wool he wore felt leaden, smothering him. He struggled to get it off, pulling at the toggles with more force than he realized. A short dark rod, small twisted broken lace of leather still sticking out of it, was clenched in his fist, jacket forgotton in his other hand. He stared at the stained piece of wood, suddenly feeling a pressure all around him.

For a moment, facing the door, he squeezed his eyes shut, trying to banish the headache the threatened to come up. No. No. He forced his breath slower, letting his mind drift, seeking the stillness of the Chong Rann. It came- barely. But it was enough. There, inside that void, he could see the threads of pressure around him, like tight coils of razor wire, slicing at the edges.

He focused, enough at least to push them off. They wouldn't go away, of course. That would have been too easy. Lines of pressure could not be ignored. That let them fester and grow. He could lock them behind a closed door, but they would only get worse.

The pain of reality must be faced. To do otherwise was cowardice. Everyone had their moments, of course. Things they'd rather not see. He had. But had faced it, finally. Pain had to be lived with.

This....this was different. Not pain. Frustration. Uncertainty. It felt like an earthquake underneath his feet. The razor threads closed in again and he relaxed. He had to face it....once he knew what it was. What this was. Until them, calm was what he needed.

The jacket off, he lifted it and hung it on the coat hook, putting the torn toggle in the pocket. He turned to see the women in the room. Valeriya's green eyes peered into him, curious. But other than that, she was still. Rowan's single piercing blue eye looked at him and, he assumed, saw his ruddy cheeks, by the way she commiserated over him.

Another time- or rather- in another way, he would have been comforted by her ministrations. His breath caught as he saw the bottle move of its own accord, the splashing dark liquid into the steaming mug of coffee. The cup floated before him and his stomach roiled, as if facing a viper- except he had faced vipers and all other manner of creature- without this feeling.

Pride stiffened his spine, rooting his legs to the ground, and he deliberately took the cup, watching her the whole time. They had shared intimacies...all of them had together. And in that bliss, it was easy to forget what she was. Or at least to subsume that in his knowledge that the three of then constituted something beyond- the hand of God, the will of the pattern, an expression of the Tao, the Way, in the earth.

But at this moment, he realized he still was not truly open with Rowen. He was wary of her, of her power. A lifetime of teaching and training was not casually dismissed so easily. Not when the price he had paid for it was so high.

Another pair of green eyes floated across his vision and this time, he did feel pain. Did they appear accusatory? Were there tears in them?

Despite his resolve, he did shove them away now, pushed them into the corners of his mind, hiding from them. He was weak. He was not ready for this.

The heat from the mug stung his palm and he savored the distraction, in fact drank deeply, feeling the slow burning down his throat, relishing the pain.

The peace that had been the Chong Rann had been shattered at the site of those ghostly eyes. And yet another duller sense of peace fuzzed his mind. A trade off, he supposed, and not one he normally liked. And yet this time, any peace was a port in the storm of his mind.

Pushing his disquiet off to the side, he took another drink- smaller and more measured. The slack skin over Rowan's empty socket was unavoidable...and yet not hideous. No, strangely, it was somehow...he couldn't find the word. The feeling it prompted was not disgust, though. Not at all.

He looked from her to Valeriya and back. Twins for all their obvious differences. He had seen Valeriya's green eyes hot with anger and rage, passion and life. She was honest to her core, lacking guile. In many ways it was childlike, though he would not add the word innocence to it.

And Rowan, her twin, he realized she was the same. Her emotion and feeling was worn on the skin. He'd spent decades reading between the lines, playing games, hiding nuance and messages in glances and seemingly meaningless words.

It was a lesson. Do not get lost in the details and so miss what is obvious. 

So what was obvious here.? That was the problem. He couldn't see it. All he knew was that it seemed to be part of what gnawed at him 

"Thank you, my dear." His next words were deliberately casual. "I will send a message to Patricus. If.... He couldn't help the bit of concern that tinged his voice. " No luck yet?"
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#7
Valeriya originally parted from the members of the Khylsty with clear instructions to their survival. Armande promised they would be safe, and part of that meant relocating their group to somewhere more protected environment.

Vale had never considered the Underground as protected because it was an actual living hell. They were uprooted and plopped in a new place with new rules and new dangers. Vale knew most of them struggled with talking with the Above, and everyone was so enthralled with sky and trees and wind that they could miss the snake at their feet.

Vale made sure to leave strict instructions to do what Armande’s people said. Either they would follow them and live or they would fail and die. The power of controlling their fates was in their hands.

She happily continued to accompany Armande and Rowan upon their journey afar. She often passed entire days just staring out the window and marveling at the sheer vastness of the world. Maps were shown to her of the distance, and she could not fathom that this was only but a small corner of the planet. Boredom was not known to her. She asked after names of villages and the structure of mountains and devoured the information like water dripping on clay.

Eventually, they came upon a water that was called the North Sea. It wasn’t blue like the lake in Siberia. It was grey and cold and unforgiving. She simply stood there and stared without comprehension. She admired the beauty of it. How the line of it stretched to the horizon and beyond. She stared at enormous vessels that seemed to touch the sky. Then there was the cool wind flowing over her skin and tugging her hair. The way the water kissed at her feet.  She loved every single drop of water that filled the sea, but she was also afraid of it, and did not want the the water to catch her as it run fast at her toes. She backed up swiftly to watch how the lapping waves hit more water, change course and divert an altogether different direction. From the safety of shore, she left shoes behind and let her feet sink into the sand and sharp pebbles.

If she had no idea so much color existed Above, she could not know how much water there was also. Only when she tried to taste it did she spit the water back out with a gag. It was horrid, and she was comforted that sometimes beautiful things were deadly. It made her appreciate the sea all the more.

When she was shown a map that said the North Sea was small compared to the great oceans, she shook her head and turned away. Such a thing was impossible and she swore not to believe such absurdities.

Oslo was a new village to her perched on the edge of the North Sea. It was cold in a way that tingled Valeriya with delight. The frozen water that fell from the sky was a playground for Vale, and she frequently had to be reminded to come away or her limbs might freeze and break off.

It was on one such time when Vale was wrapped in blankets having spent too much time out of doors that Armande returned. Her beloveds were distraught, but Vale’s optimism was infectious. And speaking of infectious, Vale found that her nose had swelled up and dripped constantly. When it was explained that she likely had a cold, Vale angrily disagreed and said she was perfectly warm. Despite that, there was a fuzz that filled her head.
“I’ve been cursed,” she would mutter to herself frequently. She’d given Armande a list of ingredients that she needed to counter the spell. But she had no idea where they’d encountered a witch that had cause to curse her.

Other than the curse, Vale’s optimism would not be discharged. She waited lifetime for the arrival of her Beloved and they were downcast by waiting a few days for a sign.
“That’s not how visions work,” Vale tried to explain once. “Force it and it will fight you. Let the vision come when its ready. She is a shy flower.”

Finally, Armande returned but she did not see any of the ingredient's she'd sought. Did he want Vale to suffer with this curse?! She frowned from within the folds of her blanket. And to her ire, she suddenly shivered.
The Eye of the Khylsty
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#8
The room was garishly decorated. That was saying something for the sovereign of Vatican City. Despite what the tourists viewed, the inside of the Papal Palace was quite sparse. The details were altered from Pope to Pope, but Patricus I was quite renown for his dedication to minimalism. He wasn’t so absurd as to threaten to replace centuries old curtains and incite an uproar among the historians, but he did remove the last ten Papal gifts from heads of state to sell for the poor.

He dropped the Saturno hat on a side table and untied the long cape from his shoulders. Together they created a shield that he draped around himself when moving in public. It dropped behind him as he walked to a window to draw the drapes. He wanted no accidental photographs taken of his dealings within his own private space. After he was satisfied with the security, he sank into a chair and rubbed his temple.

He hated these travels. The reason for the journey was only slightly more tolerated. Inevitably, his gaze fell to a box positioned nearby. He made no move toward it, but he had no need to open it to remember what waited within. Instead, he went to the other room to strip for a shower.
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Man is like God: he never changes. 
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