Into the Darkest Depths we Go

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Michelle Montoya
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Into the Darkest Depths we Go

Post by Michelle Montoya » Thu May 23, 2019 5:29 pm

"Great attention gets paid to rainforests because of the diversity of life there. Diversity in the oceans is even greater." — Sylvia Earle, Oceanographer

May 20th, 2019
Tower of Water

“I ‘ope she be more friendly than that last Keeper.”

“Xanth was well enough, he wanted to be left alone and he left us alone.”

“If she be a landlubber dat canna swim Imma gonna be choked.”

“Shlllleep sssshllooop shlep shloap shleep shlipp shelp shell.”

“She won by challenge. That means she has some magical aptitude.”

The assorted denizens were in the bottommost chamber of the Tower. It had already begun to shift and change as soon as the key was handed over, although the changes were intermittent and sometimes slow - indicating she must sometimes be in a realm even further than Rhy’din. Those changes would accelerate the moment she came back to the Isle. Everyone was completely submerged in this room and the tower walls flowed up from the bottom of the sea-floor towards the more solid structure above the surface. It had a perfect underwater view of the surrounding bay and all the vibrant life. On rare occasions, you could even see Beroan swimming around lazily.

Floating around a game-board with conch’s and shells as pieces were Andrina - a pink-haired mermaid, Kohlos - a triton with a bit of a paunch belly, Sargasso - the old pirate captain who taught Keeper Bailey how to swim and Shlop a giant cuttlefish.

“So who are ye going to be sending this time Kohlos?”

“As a guide? I haven’t decided yet. Usually, I can sense through the key who will be the best fit, but she seems to spend so much time in this other … plane that I can’t get a good reading.”

“Arr. It’s-a bin three days! When d’ya think she’s comin’?”

The cuttlefish moved one of the empty shell pieces on the board and Andrina squealed “Ah! I’ve got ye now!”

“Shlup shlop.”

“I suspect we will see her soo- ah, speak of that, she must be in Rhy’din now.”

The other three, along with many other denizens, turned to face Kohloss - faces, gills, tentacles, slits for eyes filled with anticipation. The triton took his sharp spear and looked out into the swirling, bubbling mass. “Coci. You and I will go together and great this new Keeper.” From the mass of fins and suckers swam a red octopus with blue suction cups. Both eyes blinked once in acknowledgment before the two started swimming towards the circular wall.


“Shlop is right! What aboot our game Kohlos!?”

“She is coming Sargasso, besides, Andrina is clever enough to beat you both without me.”

With a playful wink the triton followed the coconut octopus into the wall and began swimming upward with the current towards the Tower proper.
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Michelle Montoya
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Sand to Sandstone

Post by Michelle Montoya » Tue May 28, 2019 9:12 am

"Every time we walk along a beach some ancient urge disturbs us so that we find ourselves shedding shoes and garments or scavenging among seaweed and whitened timbers like the homesick refugees of a long war." — Loren Eiseley, Writer

May 20th, 2019
Tower of Water

A gentle breeze lifted Michelle’s loose brown hair as she stepped onto Twilight Isle. The permanent sunset was always stunning, but it didn’t compare with the true twilight view from her windows in the manor. Streaks of red, orange and pink provided a colourful backdrop to the Tower of Water which rose sixty or more feet towards the sky out of the lagoon. Michelle didn’t remember what the Tower had looked like under Xanth’s stewardship but she immediately noticed the changes. It looked more… mountainous. A small smile appeared on her pale pink lips. The Tower knew her and knew what she loved. Feeling the need to remove her shoes she undid the straps of her boots and walked barefoot along the pristine beach, noticing the distinct lack of a wrack line, natural debris or other important features which provide a natural habitat for seaside creatures. Twilight Isle was truly a fabricated realm, and yet the Tower knew she preferred something a little more rustic.

The closer she got to the Tower the rockier the beach became. In fact, it gradually shifted from the pristine beach to a coastal sand dune and then to a rocky shoreline with tide-pools providing habitats for a diverse ecosystem. Intuitively she knew the tide was rising and that it would be a key feature of her stewardship. Ridges of shale and quartz rose out of the rocky beach and into the lagoon forming an imperfect, broken semi-circle around the Tower.

The Tower itself seemed to grow from the same rocky foundation covered in barnacles, seaweed, and a gallery of caves. The sedimentary rock gave way to white sandstone walls, simple but elegant architecture, and waterfalls that cascaded from the various arched windows.

Historically the Tower had been accessible by a pier which stretched out from the beach towards the arching double doors. As Michelle approached she noted there was no such pier anymore. Walking on the rough sandstone out towards the water she intuitively knew where a silt sandbar - visible and available only at low-tide - would be waiting for her. Despite the rising tide Michelle walked out and the water parted around her feet, allowing her access to the double doors curtained by a large waterfall. Instead of parting the curtain, she walked through, allowing herself to be drenched in its salty embrace.

The doors, originally made of coral, now reflected the diverse new ecosystem. Various forms of plants and kelp clung to the walls and doors at the rocky base of the tower, flourishing in the wet environment created by the roaring waterfall. Michelle retrieved the key from the pocket of her wetsuit and, with slight surprise, noted that it was no longer coral but rather sandstone with the same aquamarine stone in the centre. Her brown eyes scanned for a keyhole of some sort but found none. Feeling a little foolish she placed her hand on one of the doors - discernible only by a perfectly straight crack that rose roughly nine feet up from the basalt ground. The sudden sound of rushing water, more powerful than the waterfall behind her, made her duck briefly before she realized it was just an effect of the massive doors swinging outwards.

Standing before her in the open vestibule was a large octopus and a man with webbed feet.

((OOC: The changes to the Tower of Water are based off a beautiful and diverse ecosystem on the coast of Vancouver Island, specifically Botanical Beach. You can find more information here and here and here.))
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Michelle Montoya
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Eyes to See

Post by Michelle Montoya » Sun Jun 02, 2019 9:52 pm

May 29th, 2019
Tower of Water

Twilight Isle rarely, if ever, had a measure of time - but now the tides in the bay showed that time was not stagnant, even here. It was Wednesday afternoon and the water had been receding for a couple of hours, revealing a shoal of silt and sand between the tidal pools of the beach and the Tower of Water. Michelle, now almost perpetually wearing a wetsuit, sat on a large rock with her feet buried in the sand. She examined the key for a moment before tucking it back into the snug outer pocket. On the beach was a brand new sign made of sturdy driftwood indicating the times for low and high tide over the next month.

Thud, thud, thud. Stony steps that echoed across the dunes signaled Mallory’s approach, and soon after she came into view, sitting on the shoulder of a stone golem the size of a small house. In spite of Michelle’s message, it did not appear that she had brought her bag, her books, or any other items with her besides the clothes she wore -- denim shorts, a tank top, a swimsuit underneath, and flip flops she would not mind getting wet. She waved at Michelle, then climbed down the golem’s arm as he extended it to the beach.

“Hope I haven’t kept you waiting long,” she called out as she began making her way across the shoal towards the Keeper of Water and her Tower. “Things have been pretty hectic lately.”

Michelle waited until Mallory was close enough to preserve her voice from yelling. “I’ve only been sitting for a few minutes. I’ve spent the better part of the day meeting the various residents of the Tower and surrounding area. I hope I haven’t torn you away from anything too important?”

The witch shook her head. “I’ve been busy, but it’s okay. I’ve made time for this. Besides -- we made a deal.” She lifted her chin at her, then her expression broke into a grin as she continued sloshing along until she reached the Keeper’s perch.

The stone golem, meanwhile, busied itself chasing fiddler crabs up and down the beach.

A water elemental burbled up near Mallory and sprayed her lightly before diving back down. Michelle through her hands up in the air a bit. “I’m sorry. They are… mischevious. And I don’t have the heart to force them to act against their nature.”

Mallory stood there, sputtering a bit as wet hair hung over her horns and dripped into the water. It took her a moment to recover before she replied, with a good-natured grin, “I came prepared.” She tugged on an exposed part of her swimsuit. “I brought the books, but they’re... elsewhere. I’ll be able to call on them once we get settled.”

“That’s very practical of you. This place isn’t exactly… tame anymore.” As if to emphasize the point a surge of water swelled up and crashed against the Tower’s base. “I think it’s getting used to this whole tides and waves concept. I’ve always remembered the lagoon as being peaceful and calm.” Michelle shrugged, “I wonder what that says about me.” Once Mallory had closed the distance the Keeper of Water led the way through the drenching curtain waterfall to the large double doors at the base of the tower. With the key in her palm she pressed her hand to the doors which opened with the loud roaring of rushing water. Beyond the doors the floor of the vestibule was a soft silty sand and the inner walls resembled translucent sandstone rock. Upon closer inspection the walls held flowing water with sections alternating between upward and downward streams.

Mallory looked over at the new Keeper and told her directly, “It says that you’re a very interesting person, Michelle.” She looked around the watery chamber, let out a low whistle... and began pacing around the sandy floor. Eventually she found the largest patch of dry sand, and asked her, “Can we work here?”

“Well, I was actually thinking we could have a more permanent place. This is the entryway of sorts and the Tower, apparently, has a variety of studies and libraries. Or so Kohloss and Sargasso have told me. Unfortunately it has sealed a number of its doors, so I only have access to one.”

She opened her mouth to say something else, but quickly changed her words, “it’s quite large and very dry.” Michelle led the way through doors, up various sets of stairs and navigated the multitude of hallways - only stopping once or twice to ponder her directions - before settling on a large circular room at the top of the smallest tower. If not for her current fitness routine she would have been winded.

“Kohloss says the circular platforms we passed are like elevators, he calls them lifts, but I’ve been too nervous to try them yet. They are powered by water or steam, I can’t remember.”

“Well, I’m definitely trying one of them before our lessons are done,” Mallory said. She drew her left ring finger through the air in a half-circle, a sharp line, then another; her fingernail grew into a thin black claw that she used to pierce her palm. She tipped her hand one way as she murmured in Koine, fingertips twitching, and a spilling blood drop formed into a faceless crimson specter. Michelle observed quietly, standing near an open window where she could feel the gentle breeze and silently hoped she wouldn’t have to use her own blood.

Mallory tipped her hand the other way, and the next drop of blood summoned a stack of a dozen different spellbooks, all of them dropping into the specter’s waiting arms. She smiled at Michelle, her eyes eerily bright, seemingly unbothered by the wound, and asked her: “What would you like to learn?”

“I want to learn healing magic, but I also want to learn how to make and maintain portals. One of my first priorities is to create a semi-permanent portal from the Tower to my manor in Atrebla - one I can dismiss when I am no longer the Keeper. I also want to know how to maintain and evaluate the health of the portals throughout the valley.”

“Healing magic...” Mallory flexed her hand as she looked at Michelle thoughtfully. “Everything I can do to restore a body -- my own, or someone else’s -- comes with a price in blood. Is that something you’re willing to learn? There are other, and better, practitioners of healing magic.”

To her credit Michelle avoided looking overly squeamish. “I would prefer to avoid that particular technique. If you have recommendations for other practitioners of healing arts I will look into those.”

“Mist comes to mind. I don’t know how well you know him, but I can tell him that I vouch for you.” By this time, the wound in the witch’s hand had vanished, and as she relaxed her fingers, the blood dissipated into a little puff of steam. “Portal magic... that I can do. I’d call it a specialty. Have you ever seen magic before? The threads that form it -- the tears in reality that reshape the world around them?”

Michelle leaned against the tower walls and shook her head. “No. I have very rudimentary skills. I’m a bit of an impostor Keeper.” Her mouth curled in a wry grin. “Don’t let anyone know.”

Mallory chuckled at that, but shook her head. “You won it, fair and square. You clearly have the instincts to use what magic can provide -- you just have to work your way through the fundamentals. And I can guide you through them.” She paused to consider what this would involve, before deciding, “In the space of... thirty, perhaps forty hours, I can teach you two introductory spells that will help you understand the shape of magic, demonstrate teleportation magic, help you build a lasting portal, and teach you two advanced spells that will put you on the road to building portals of your own one day... without any assistance, even from these,” she added, tapping a fingertip against the Key of Earth.

“That sounds fantastic. I know your time is valuable, I promise I’m a good study and work hard. But if there’s anything more you need from me or to support your efforts with the school just let me know.”

“First things first. Show me what you use to cast,” Mallory said. She bit down on the edge of one finger and passed it slowly across her eyes, and her gaze turned blood-red with Sight.

Michelle walked over to the lone cupboard in the room and opened it revealing a rudimentary collection of books, focuses, and spell components. She selected a small crystal ball that fit easily into the palm of her hand or the pocket of a cloak and offered it to Mallory.

“I found this in my father’s old study, it’s what I’ve been using so far in the duels. There is a book with a series of sigils. When I hold the focus I can draw the sigils in the air, they appear blue, and from the sigil emanates the spell. Sometimes I can cast the spells without the sigil, but it takes more energy to do it that way. Outside of the dueling spells I can do basic things such as summon brief gusts of wind, conjure flames and put them out, or foretell the weather. I have found that with plants I can use my magic to encourage growth where it is needed and determine if something is poisonous or diseased. Perhaps the most advanced arts I know are creating a space of silence where no sound travels and removing diseases from plants, trees and flowers.”

Mallory examined the crystal ball while Michelle spoke, then offered it back to her. “Show me the weather,” she said, blood-colored eyes blinking slowly at her.

With the crystal ball in her left-hand Michelle uttered a single word “tempestatum” while marking out a blue sigil with her right hand. The ball glowed slightly and inside it showed a twilight sky with a few minor, fluffy clouds. “It’s always like that here.”

The witch tilted her horned head, and her eyes narrowed slowly. “...You’ve always had a special connection to the valley, haven’t you.” She opened her left hand and pulled at something initially unseen, until a curved and knobby blackthorn wand emerged, untouched by the blood it had seemingly passed through. “You might find this more to your liking... but keep your senses and your soul open when you’re in Atrebla. Something even better suited to your magic might call to you.” She held out the wand for her to take.

“Go on. Show me wind and fire.”

Michelle took the wand, handling it with the care. The wood felt smooth and familiar, not as cold as the crystal but warm and inviting. “Caeli.” She used the wand to summon a dancing breeze which lifted her brown locks before flowing over to Mallory then out the window. For her final demonstration she pulled out a candle from the cupboard, and with another simple word - ignium - a flame danced on the wick.

“How does that feel?” Mallory asked Michelle as she gave her another slow blink, assessing her closely.

“More natural. The wand feels more like an extension of… myself. Every other focus has always felt awkward, I thought that was just because I was so new at this.” Michelle picked up the crystal orb and held it in her other hand, comparing the two focuses. “Yes,” she set the orb back down in the cupboard, “the wand is much better.”

The witch nodded, considering for another moment... before deciding to move on from that particular subject for now. “Use the tip of the wand to draw a circle in the sand -- then an equilateral triangle -- then another, inverted.”

Michelle took the wand and followed Mallory’s instructions precisely, while the witch moved to opposite sides of the circle, drawing a symbol in each -- a heart, and a tree. Mallory knelt before the heart, and gestured for Michelle to do the same by tree, smiling as the Keeper settled in for her lessons.

“Let’s begin.”

* * * * *

Hours later, when Michelle could finally See the shape of magic through her own eyes, Mallory traced a symbol in the sand, hissed a word -- and the lines that connected them twisted and inverted. In a flash, the two Keepers traded places, each kneeling now where the other had been a moment before.

“Now you’ve seen, truly Seen how a portal can work. Next time, bring a sturdy branch from Atrebla. I’ll teach you how to draw a warding circle -- then I’ll build you a lasting doorway to your home.”

((Co-written with Mallory))
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Michelle Montoya
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Inner Vessel

Post by Michelle Montoya » Tue Jun 25, 2019 11:58 am

the ocean
can calm itself,
so can you.
are both
salt water
mixed with

― Nayyirah Waheed

June 25th, 2019
The Tower of Water

It was like sitting at the base of a large aquarium. Ocean life swam around the circular room, visible through the transparent walls. At least, she called them walls. It was really crystal clear water that gently flowed up and down the tower, a form of transportation for denizens such as Coci, Kohloss and Saragasso. Since spending more and more time in the tower over the past month she had started to notice changes. Not only had two more chambers revealed themselves to her but changes in her own person. The brown hair she enjoyed styling was now constantly damp and was often left hanging limp or pulled back in a pony-tail. She found herself drawn to the waterfalls of Atrebla, or to the lake in the valley and most often to this place below the water-line of the Tower. If she closed her eyes and focused on the feeling of the sand beneath her feet and the key in her fingers she could hear the life of the ocean. The call of a whale, the sound of a school of fish passing by, or the soft movement of a squid. Sometimes she could sit there for over an hour, just listening.

You’re an imposter.

Michelle squeezed her eyes tight and shook her head slightly. “I’m not.”

You are. How did you even make it here? Your magic is so simple and unrefined. Even the tower begrudges you access.

“That’s not true,” she whispered softly.

Your magic is weak and pitiful. Weak magic comes from weak will.

“I’m just learning. That’s okay, isn’t it?”

Still? After all these years? You’ll never be good enough.

Her eyes started to water and her heart beat slightly faster. “I’ve come through so much, I can do this.”

You’ve barely come through anything. It was Derrick who made the difference all those years. And now he’s gone.

“No, he’s at home.”

But not the same.

“That’s okay,” she sniffed, tears running down her cheeks. “He promised that things will work out.”

Him, comforting you, again? You’ve tried to be strong, but you aren’t. You’ve tried to learn to heal him, but you can’t. Accept your weakness.

Her next breath came in three, rapid short bursts as she used the hem of her cloak to dab at her face. “If I just, if I can just get to the Celestial Tower, maybe..”

It’s not the answer. Never has been. You know that. Even if you could win - which you won’t - it would never solve your problems.

Michelle sobbed and buried her head in her arms, tears and snot dripping onto the sandy floor between her knees.

It would be better if you just gave up now. You’ll never get stronger and you’ll never get better.

She trembled, feeling the ache that ran from her heart to her stomach. “You’re just tired. You’re just saying these things because you’re tired and need to sleep,” her voice softened “it’s all lies.”

Kohloss walked through one of the walls, and paused, listening to his Mistress' last words. “Keeper, who are you speaking with?”

Raising her head slightly, a sad, forlorn smile on her face Michelle simply said, “no one important.”
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Michelle Montoya
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Driven by the Sea

Post by Michelle Montoya » Thu Jun 27, 2019 3:01 am

"Wiping out is an under appreciated skill." - Laird Hamilton

The old triton sat down beside his Keeper, looking at the swirling waters and feeling the rhythms of tides and oceans across the planes. The sound of crashing waves on distant beaches filled the room as the Keeper fiddled with a bracelet in her hands, occasionally wiping away salt-water tears. The calluses on his hand brushed against her soft human flesh as he gently, with an unspoken request, implored a look at the trinket. She wordlessly handed him the golden accessory, allowing Kohlos to examine the aquamarine stone placed inside.

“Fitting.” His voice sounded like salt water washing onto a sandy beach. Had it always been like that? Gently she took it back and rubbed the stone, “how so?” The cool aquamarine reminded her of floating in the water and she often held the gift from Beltane in her hands.

“It’s the treasure of mermaids and lucky charm of sailors. But more importantly, it has the power to calm, soothe, cleanse, inspire truth…,” Kohlos paused a beat, “and fosters both trust and the ability to let go.”

A self-pitying pout formed on her face, “it doesn’t work for me.” Michelle stared at the stone, wondering if the Beltane Spirits had abandoned her, if the gift had worn off, or if she was just unworthy of those blessings in the first place. The spiral she had started down picked up in intensity like a swirling vortex funneling her to the bottom of the darkest parts of the ocean.

Kohlos fixed his green eyes on her, watching her sink deeper into her isolated pain and threw a proverbial life-line. “It’s just a stone, Keeper. Magic doesn’t really come from a rock, book, wand, or key.”

“Tell that to all the mages I know.” Yes, she was whining. Someone in her thirties could still whine couldn’t they? A part of her knew she was being petulant, like her own children when life seemed unfair - but the adult problems she faced really did seem unfair. And yet she knew others fared far worse than an ill spouse or feelings of incompetence.

Her newest friend, now a confidante, looked back out into the ocean surrounding them. “Water doesn’t come from a river, ocean, lake or underground aquifer. It’s all around you. In the air, the sky, in the plants that grow along the beach, and in the tears you cry. It moves through all things in a perfect, harmonious cycle. You can find it anywhere you look. And there are a multitude of ways to extract and use that water for either it’s life giving or powerfully destructive force.”

Michelle’s fingers traced in the sand while she listened to his salt-water voice, nodding slowly in agreement. “The water within me is in chaos Kohlos. Sometimes the ocean within me breaks through the barriers I’ve made and overflows in ways I can’t predict or control.”

A blue, callused hand reached over to take hers, holding it and the aquamarine stone with a small squeeze. “My Keeper, you were never meant to hold back an ocean, but to ride the waves.”

Michelle squeezed back a bit, chuckling, “I’m a terrible surfer.”

The triton tilted his head from side to side a bit, lips turned down slightly in faux consideration, “well, if Sargasso can teach Bailey to swim I’m sure we can at least give you the basics.”
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The Ocean

Post by Michelle Montoya » Thu Jun 27, 2019 11:30 pm

The Ocean has its silent caves,
Deep, quiet, and alone;
Though there be fury on the waves,
Beneath them there is none.

The awful spirits of the deep
Hold their communion there;
And there are those for whom we weep,
The young, the bright, the fair.

Calmly the wearied seamen rest
Beneath their own blue sea.
The ocean solitudes are blest,
For there is purity.

The earth has guilt, the earth has care,
Unquiet are its graves;
But peaceful sleep is ever there,
Beneath the dark blue waves.

- Nathaniel Hawthorne

June 27th
The Tower of Water

An archway of water appeared in the lower viewing aquarium, the swish of fabric heard by no one as Michelle stepped through the portal in the long, elegant black dress from her challenge. The blue makeup on her face was smudged from the two brief matches with the Archmage. Coci waved at her languidly with one of it’s tentacles as it flowed through the water walls. She raised a hand in weak response, holding the wand loosely in her other hand as she stared out into blue water. She wasn’t surprised by tonight's results, nor was she surprised by the torrent of self-deprecating and anxiety driven thoughts crashing around her brain like angry waves on a defenseless beach. Her bare feet smudged across the sand as she stepped closer to the boundary between tower and ocean, looking for a glimpse of Beroan.

The air around her ears moved with the lightest wind and she turned to see red messenger moths. Mallory’s voice carried in that tiniest of breezes,"Michelle, it's Mallory. Are you okay?"

Okay. What a … useless word. No, that was unkind. Her friend was asking. Michelle struggled to find the words which were both honest but dignified. “No. I'll pull it together for the Tower of Air."

There was a pause as the moths floated in the air near her face. “If you need anything, anything at all -- ask."

“The best way to stop being sad, is to find someone else who is worse off than you and help them.”

Michelle smiled weakly at the memory of her mother’s oft repeated advice. "Help Bailey. He needs it more than I do."

The moths disappeared up the circular shaft of the hydraulic lift Michelle had recently learned to use. With a wrestle in her heart she turned to look back out into the ocean. It didn’t take long for Kohlos to find her, he was dripping wet from the water of the lagoon and floated through the walls to stand nearby.

Without accusation or condescension he softly spoke the truth the two of them knew, “you gave up.”

She nodded slowly, her eyes finally finding Beroan’s scales in the water. “Not the first match, but yes, maybe the second. It was... amazing, and terrifying, to fight on Olympus.”

“Why did you give up?”

His words beat on her heart and mind like the pounding of a torrential storm. Or maybe that was just her own set of insecurities.

“Because I can’t surf the waves Kohlos. I get anxious, and sick to my stomach and it took all I could not to forfeit after that first match.” She turned to face this aged, supportive, kind yet firm Triton. “I can deal with troubled children, affairs of state, managing a business and even being brutally attacked after a respectful, honourable challenge. But being in a challenge? Everyday I wake up surprised that I even won this Tower from Xanth.”

The old, blue-skinned Triton looked down at the Keeper for a moment, weighing his thoughts carefully. “Don’t doubt yourself. It doesn’t become you. Undermining your accomplishments is a useless practice. And self-pity doesn’t fit a woman of your esteem either. You lost. Keepers and Archmages lose all the time. I have seen dozens of them win and lose towers. Failure is when you choose to give up because you have lost.”

Michelle swallowed her pride and retort before quietly admitting, “like I did tonight.”

“Yes.” The wrinkled face softened slightly. “We are honoured - I am honoured - to have you as our Keeper still. You will continue to learn, and we will continue to help you.”

((Mallory’s contribution used with permission.))
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Michelle Montoya
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The Trenches

Post by Michelle Montoya » Tue Oct 08, 2019 10:37 pm

“I honestly wish I could believe that things will end perfectly with one big bright happy ending. But these last few days have taught me that life isn't made up of shiny moments. Life is hard; it's gritty. One day you are filled with joy and the next, you are crawling through the muddy trenches with no inkling of when you might be able to climb your way back up again."
~Willow Mosby (Exposing ELE)

September 21st
The Tower of Water

The sand felt gritty under her feet. Two weeks ago it had been soft, but Michelle was quickly realizing the Tower changed in subtle ways to match her moods and state of mind. The book Gloria had given her was inside the water-proof satchel. The satchel itself belonged to the Tower and held more than looks implied. She walked across the vestibule to the large, rocky door on the far end. This room had opened up recently, after a break-through session with Mallory. It held tomes, tablets, books and parchments which helped further her study. The more Michelle reviewed the knowledge inside this small antechamber the more she was confident in asking Gren for help. Mallory’s experience was invaluable, but the approach was bloody. Gren's affinity for nature and his background as a ranger was hopefully more compatible, not to mention his own list of accomplishments on the Isle.

Michelle took out the book from her satchel, her Father's notes on water magic, and set it down on the reading table. Then she turned to the shelves and started to look through the manuscripts on healing magic - specifically searching for anything on genetic illness.

Over the next few hours, she poured over every resource in the library. Nothing. Nothing that Mist or Mallory didn’t already know, and nothing that would help her husband. She scoffed in displeasure - Derrick called it the Montoya grunt, he said only the women did it. Which was an easy enough claim since he had never met her father. Michelle rolled her neck from side to side, popping the tension away and leaving a burning sensation in her left shoulder. Just as she was about to do another search, Coci ‘walked’ into the room. The large coconut octopus blinked up at Michelle, beckoning.

“Very well, I could use a break.”

She followed the octopus to the circular platform near the centre of the vestibule. Beneath their feet and tentacles, intricate designs of coral and fish seemed to come to life as the hydraulic system dropped beneath the main entrance. Coci was normally very chatty but they seemed to be pensive for some unfathomable reason. The instruction to follow them was very clear, but despite Michelle’s gentle prodding, the cephalopod had nothing else to say.

When they passed the entrance to the Denizens Drowning - a name most residents gave their private lounge away from the Keeper - Michelle turned a curious eye to her companion. “I didn’t know the lift went this far down…” she turned to look at the clear walls, somewhat surprised at this deep, dark shaft beneath the lagoon surface. “I… where are we going?” Her stomach started to clench, her jaw began to tighten and the beat of her heart started racing towards some claustrophobic doom. When they finally stopped before a swirling, black-water door Michelle didn’t even question the idea of walking through it. Anything was better than this oppressive darkness.

((Vapor play with Mallory used with permission.))
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Post by Michelle Montoya » Fri Oct 11, 2019 8:15 pm

“My research continues to weave down interesting and long-forgotten paths. Night after night I find myself drawn into esoteric tomes, convinced, perhaps foolishly, that one will yield the kernel I need.” -Thelyron’s Diary*

September 21st
Tower of Water

Silence sealed the room like a stone slab over an ancient tomb. Michelle’s sudden gasp felt muffled in the small, vaulted chamber. The ink-black door behind her swirled slowly clockwise, but Coci stayed behind. She inhaled through her nose; and exhaled slowly through her mouth to calm her racing heart, and the anxiety building in her chest. After a few more slow, deep breaths, she took in her surroundings. Small purple orbs floated benignly along the walls, illuminating the circular chamber in an eerie glow. A clean, curved workbench on the far wall was meticulously organized. The walls served as bookshelves, with an archway nestled between two of them on her left. The flagstone floor felt cold under her bare feet.

“Xanth,” she whispered. She felt his aura in the air, the same way you smell someone’s lingering body odour.

Her first instinct was to turn back, the silly part of her which said her soul was in danger. The other more rational part, told her Coci led her here for a reason. With another soft, slow breath, she began walking around the room. The archway on her left swallowed the ambient purple light, a dark abyss leading somewhere terrifying. Across from the purple egress was an empty wall, which was strange considering the rest of the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Perhaps, this was where Xanth hung his cloak? There was no hook.

The curved desk had a solid, black marble top affixed to sturdy wood supports. Neatly arranged in some fashion were: an old key, with broken teeth; a one-inch cube, each side painted a different colour; a leather-bound journal, written in an unfamiliar tongue; and a glass orb, with purple swirling smoke inside. An alchemy kit was kept separate from all the other trinkets. Michelle left the assorted drawers and cupboards for another day. Her sights fell on a collection of old, red books. The six manuals were titled “Book of the Immaculates” Volumes I-VI*. Intrigued, she pulled down the first volume and skimmed through it.

The first volume contained a detailed account of someone called The White Lady who saved a town from a fatal disease using a form of Blood Magic.

“Today, we Immaculates continue to promote universal balance and the sacrifice of lesser creatures for the good of all.”

Michelle was familiar with animal sacrifice, several cultures practiced it often, usually in a religious context. She pulled down the next volume.

“Once an initiate understands the Enlightened way, he or she is ready to begin receiving energy through blood. … The initiate is honored as an Immaculate - one cleansed by blood made holy by its transfer to a higher being.”

A sense of foreboding sat in her stomach as she reached for the next volume, skimming through it with terrifying anticipation.

“Once the Immaculate has practiced bringing energy to higher beings through the ritual, he or she begins to wonder: Can one Immaculate deserve the energy of another? One must tread light as a feather when considering this question. Some aspects of sacrifice are simple: The life of a chicken, a rabbit, a pig is worth less than that of a man - this much we know. A human has every right to the blood of that creature if that blood may heal or sustain him. Might it not follow, then, that a man can be chicken-like, rabbit-like, pig-like enough that a higher being deserves his blood?”

Michelle slammed the book shut, and put it away, leaving the other three untouched. She ran her tongue over her dry lips, looking around desperately for a drink of water. Despite the horrific trajectory of the books, she couldn’t help but wonder. Mallory used blood magic to heal others; might it not be possible for Michelle to sustain her husband with her blood force?

((Xanth referenced with player permission.))
*Books quoted from Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition
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The Darkening

Post by Michelle Montoya » Tue Nov 05, 2019 11:58 pm

November 5th
Twilight Isle

For those that paid attention to such things, the lagoon surrounding the Tower of Water turned a few shades darker. And the residents of the Tower did indeed pay attention to such things.

“Kohloss, what’s happening?” Andrina, and a few others, had gathered in the Denizens Drowning to gaze into the waters.

“She is back,” he said somberly.

“Aye, shouln’t dat be a good thing? I mean, she’s da Keeper! It got’ta be a good thing, yar?” Sargasso slapped the old Triton on the back. “We spent all that effort tryin’ ta get ‘er back, no?”

The triton watched the shift of the tide, he felt the subtle drop in temperature. Even Beroan had woken from his slumber, gliding uneasily outside the submerged chamber the Denizens called home. “She has brought a Darkening with her.”

There was a nervous murmur behind the old, paunch-bellied leader as water elementals, fish, cephalopods, molluscs, sahuagin and merfolk spoke in rapid Aquan to one another. “Hear me!” Kohloss floated up above the crowd. “She is still our Keeper! Whatever she has brought with her, we have sworn an oath to whoever holds the stewardship of this Tower! We will abide. And when she returns, we will help her cast out the Darkness.”

Coci shouted back in Aquan, and the rest of the gathering nodded anxiously in agreement.

“If that should happen, Coci, then we will turn to the other Keepers and the Stewards of the Isle. We are not an Island unto ourselves, no matter how it looks from the outside.”
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Dark Waters

Post by Michelle Montoya » Mon Nov 25, 2019 7:21 pm

November 22nd
Twilight Isle

Long, slimy tentacles caressed her face, her lips, her jaw. Scaled claws squeezed around her torso. The knife stung as it pressed more deeply into her chest. Michelle's mouth opened, but instead of blood, a black-red ichor dribbled down her lips. Dark-star eyes loomed over her, drinking in every last bit of hope.

Michelle gasped, throwing up the remains of her breakfast. She rolled over, in front of the portal, as goblins rushed forward to help.

"Keeper Michelle! Keeper Michelle!" Biddle ran forward with some water while another - Yotel - wiped her sweaty brow.

"Uh, Keeper Michelle, you're slimy! You need a bath, Keeper."

Slowly, dizzyingly, Michelle shifted to a sitting position and drank the offered water. "Thanks." The coral-encrusted Key around her neck glowed, dimmed, glowed and dimmed like a heartbeat. Sections of white began to deepen with colour, but not the typical pinks, oranges and reds of a coral beach. The Key developed a dark blue and green hue with bits of gold flecking. Michelle held it in one hand, turning it over, transfixed by the ongoing transformation. When it was finished, she silently tucked the Key into her blouse and faced the beach.

"Wha…" a small gasp escaped her lips. The waters of the lagoon were no longer bright blue, like a refreshing and pristine beach. They were as dark as a dangerous lake on a stormy night. It was a strange contrast to the twilight sky. She cast her eyes to the center of the water, where the rocky, tide-pool beach connected to the sandbar. The sandbar, at low-tide, led to the Tower. A series of waterfalls poured from the windows and down into the lagoon. They were also dark, but at least the Tower itself was unchanged.

Coming out of those dark waters was a sombre, but friendly face.

"Kohloss!" Michelle handed her empty cup to the goblin and ran towards the paunch-bellied Triton. "Kohloss, I am overjoyed to see you!" She wrapped him up in a hug, smelling the salt on his skin and the faint odour of seaweed in his hair.

"And I, you, Keeper." The old man returned her embrace, his fingers lingered for a moment on her slimy hair as they stepped apart. "I only wish we could have brought you home sooner."

"It's okay," she smiled tightly "what matters is that I'm back." They walked together, back to the shoreline, then into the waters. "This place looks different, Kohloss. Why has the water changed?"

"Don't you know?" He asked, as they dipped below the surface and swam towards the entrance.

"No, I don't." Michelle's answer was short, almost defiant.

"Hmm," was the only sound Kohloss made in reply. As they stepped under the roaring waterfall, Michelle noticed a decline in the growing vegetation. Or perhaps, a shift in the diversity. There were more slimy tubers, and stringy clumps of seaweed. Once through the large double doors, Michelle noted even more differences inside the Tower of Water. Instead of pale silt-sand, the ground was a more delicate black sandy. The inner walls were made of volcanic rock instead of the original sandstone.

"As you may remember, Keeper, the Tower reflects you more than it does us." Kohloss paused and stared at her openly. "Only time will tell what other changes you might bring."

The Keeper shifted uncomfortably, before heading to the centre geyser lift. She stood in the middle of the platform and finally looked back at the old Triton. "I wish I could stay longer, but I have business elsewhere. I promise not to be gone so long this time."

Coci slipped through one of the upward flowing water-walls and walked over to stand by Kohloss. The two companions watched Michelle as she gripped the Key, uttered a simple word, and rose up to the second-highest spire. There, a semi-permanent translucent portal would take her to the high mountains of Atrebla.

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Pact Magic

Post by Michelle Montoya » Mon Dec 02, 2019 4:08 pm

December 1st
Twilight Isle

Michelle, and the dark tendrils of energy surrounding her, spilled out onto the beach of Twilight Isle. The few lingering goblins gave her a wide berth, some of them scampering away towards their village. She sobbed and heaved, throwing up a mixture of bile, cheese and stuffing. Her solid black eyes opened, and she saw the world as if through a filmy shadow. Twilight Isle looked like it was coated in gray gloom. The goblins were undefined shadows, and the rings looked like vague circles inscribed on black sand. Michelle’s heart raced, and she looked up at the Tower. It was the only thing with defined lines and structure, but she saw two Towers, one image superimposed on another. There was a shadowy image of the Tower as she had come to know it - tall and elegant with flowing waterfalls. The sharp, crisp image on top was far darker. The waterfalls were gone, and rocks jutted out at awkward angles creating a dangerous approach for any ship or swimmer. Tall spires pierced the air as water flowed out of the main entrance along an eroded rock face. No flora or fauna grew on the obsidian surface. Standing beside her was a tall, humanoid figure wearing a porcelain mask and sea-green robes.

“Inglui hagwahn tagnaui. Inglui hagwahn tagnaui. Inglui hagwahn tagnaui.”

An exasperated and terrified scream left Michelle’s lips as she turned to stare at her companion. “Glghuni! Why did you have to attack Pharlen like that? What did you do to her?!”

The star spawn just held out a book, a grimoire with carvings of obscene geometry on it.

“I don’t want it. I don’t need you. And I will find a way to get rid of you!”

Michelle turned, and her vision was suddenly clear. The Isle, the Tower, everything was back to normal. Except for the goblins. They stared at her with the most incredulous and terrified faces. She sighed, ignored them, and walked towards the Tower of Water. Every step left a line of slime, green and oozy. Her boots squelched so much that she finally gave up and took them off. In some ways, she wasn’t surprised to see that her feet and grown webbing between the toes. Just another part of the change.

Her sigh was heavy with resignation. “It’s better than putting on flippers anyway.” She tossed the shoes in a garbage can on the beach, throwing her slime-soaked jacket in there as well.

The dark waters disturbed her, they reminded her of R’lyeh, but she wasn’t going to admit defeat. Not yet. The dark green-black colours on the key gave her hope that this was the Tower’s doing. Maybe if she spent more time there, it would go away. And since the Tower only opened to the Keeper and to those she permitted, perhaps her ‘shadow’ would be forced to leave her alone.

Kohloss and Coci were waiting for her under the waterfall - which no longer flowed clear, but had the same slimy quality as her hair and skin. “Keeper.” Kohloss tone was short and tense.

“Hello Kohloss,” she pressed the key to the doors, which opened wide to allow them passage.

“Keeper. We are concerned. The Tower is changing daily, and not in a pleasant way. Most of the denizens have left for purer waters.” The aged, paunched belly Triton followed behind as Coci slap-walked with its tentacles.

Michelle’s face was full of concern and frustration. “Fine. Let them leave. It’s probably safer that way.” She hesitated, looking back at him, “will you leave also?”

“No. Myself, Sargasso, Coci and Andrina will remain here. We will help you find a solution.” They followed her to the lift, which would lead past the Denizens Drowning to the Lich’s Chamber below. “Before we proceed further, would you mind telling me about our guest?” Kohloss gestured to his left, where he could only see the shadowy outline of a humanoid figure. Michelle, on the other hand, clearly recognized the porcelain mask. It never left for long.

“If I knew what to call them, I would tell you. They are not welcome here.” The Keeper stared down the robed figure, who once again offered the grimoire. Her teeth ground in frustration. The first appearance had been frightening, the second had created anxiety, the now constant presence was just irritating. Kohloss and Coci stiffened - an unwelcome guest? Those were few and far between, and for good reason. Michelle didn’t wait for their commentary but proceeded to the lift, which filled with water and dropped suddenly and quickly to the dark catacombs of the Tower of Water.

Michelle had spent the entire night in the Lich’s vault, looking for any knowledge about pacts, blood magic, or Eldritch Gods. Mallory would have had more information - perhaps even helped her find it - in the demi-plane where her eternal heart pumped blood through the streets. But then she’d have to explain. Explain about this unwanted guest, about the dreams, about Pharlen, and about that night on the altar. It was a lot of explaining. And Michelle felt embarrassed. Mallory, Gloria, Jewell and others had rescued her- and what happened? She had brought something back. It was still a part of her. And she, It, was causing uncontrollable havoc. Michelle was also afraid. Afraid of what would happen. Mallory would have every right to banish her back to R’lyeh. Or maybe ‘It,’ would take total control. And why should this be Mallory’s problem? Or anyone else's?

“I will not be a burden. I will not let my fear overcome me.”

The Keeper leafed through another tome on Xanth’s shelf. It was full of disturbing ways to preserve a corpse for later experimentation. “Ugh, Xanth. You’re like a smarter, cleverer, Victor Frankenstein.” Nothing. Nothing on It.

The masked figure sat nearby, watching Michelle. It had watched her the entire night, sometimes repeating its injunction, and holding out the book in tentacled limbs. Michelle stopped and stared as they offered the grimoire once more.

“I will not make a pact with you.”

“Rel’whguni fhtalni’gyw ungi.”

“What do you mean, I already have?”

It stood up and approached her, she shuffled back as fast as possible. “Get away from me!” Michelle tripped, her slimy webbed feet skidding underneath her. It leaned down and reached a tentacle from within the robes to touch her heart. Suddenly, she was back in the altar room, but she was to the side, watching herself sobbing on the altar. The obsidian knife poised in her doubles hand over the left breast. Michelle turned away as the knife was plunged into her heart, unable to watch it happen again.

“Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn. Inglui hag’wahn tagnaui.”

Michelle opened her eyes, black from the vision, and pulled up her knees into a sitting position. “Is there no way out?”

The porcelain mask moved it’s head once from side to side. Then offered her the grimoire and the knife - the knife she had buried under a loose plank in her bedroom. Reluctantly, as if pulled by a string and she the marionette, Michelle reached out a hand. The robed figure twisted the knife, and swiftly carved a mark into Michelle’s wrist. Before she had time to scream, it wrapped another tentacle around her arm and pressed the bleeding wound to the first page of the grimoire - leaving a bloody print on the page.

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Post by Michelle Montoya » Fri Dec 06, 2019 8:24 pm

December 3rd, Late
Twilight Isle

Michelle was pacing. Her slime-streaked feet left webbed footprints in the sand. How did one get to the Tower of Air? She looked up, it seemed... intangible. Normally, she would turn into a bird. But given her unpredictable magic that was not her first preference. Finally she just pulled out they key, wrapped her hands around it and pulled water from the sky. Clouds were water, not air, after all. The slime-touched water fell on the Tower. A slime-storm. Maybe that would get his attention? Better than shouting at any rate.

"Theeeereeee's soooomeeeething wroooong, Maaaaster Xaaaaanth." One of the Air Elementals wafted into one of Xanth's libraries, where Xanth was busy studying an obscure tome on Illusionary magic, and in its breathy voice gave him the warning. Aw, what the hell now? Xanth growled, and looked up from his tome. "Sliiiime, Maaaaaster Xaaaanth, Sliiiime faaaalling on the Tooooweeeeer." Xanth looked up, as if he could see through the roof, then with a string of curses stormed from the library, marching through the Tower to the front door, which he opened, his black hood and ruby gaze visible as he glared around to see who was responsible for the disturbance.

"Xanth! You are a terribly difficult lich to get a hold of." Michelle marched up to the door, which was apparently more solid than anticipated. Her hair was dripping with slime - which reminded her to end the slime-storm above. "I want to trade." She didn't need an arcane tome to tell her that asking for 'help' was the wrong approach.

I am difficult to get a hold of for a reason. His ruby gaze bore imaginary holes into Michelle as he thought about what she was saying to him. A trade? You rained slime down on my Tower because you want a trade? Whatever this is, it had better be good. I am in the middle of important research right now.

"I'll knock next time, or use whatever method you prefer." She stood a few steps below him, a pool of slime collecting where she stood. Michelle matched his gaze with a fearless, black stare of her own. "Tell me, what interest do you have in the ancient Eldritch Gods?"

Something about the term "Eldritch Gods" piqued his interest. He fully appeared in the doorway, crossing his arms and looking down at Michelle. That depends. If it is them meddling in my affairs, I have no interest in that. If it is about a tome, talisman, or magical item of theirs being offered in this so-called trade . . . . I might be more receptive.

"I'm certain that can be arranged." Michelle reached for her belt, and removed the obsidian dagger, holding it out hilt first to Xanth. "This dagger came straight from R'lyeh. It holds the markings of an Eldritch God, whose name I dare not speak out loud. It has been a key element in a number of... rituals." She suspected, and hoped, that she wouldn't need the blade again. It was unique, in many ways, but especially because it was the dagger used to forge her own pact. Perhaps Porcelain would give her another.

Hmmmmm. The name R'lyeh certainly got his attention. He wiggles his fingers in the air as he scrutinizes the dagger before him. That perhaps explains your current . . . condition. You seem as slimy as R'lyeh is. But no matter. A ritual dagger. My interest is suitably sparked. What do you wish in return for it?

She ignored the jab at her condition. Others were saying much worse. "I want your best tome on pact magic, especially if you have one on ... Eldritch Pacts. And your word as a fellow Keeper that you won't mention this to anyone else. Especially Mallory." Michelle held the dagger just out of reach.

Xanth ceases his finger-wiggling and leans back, giving Michelle a steady look. Eldritch Pacts. Hmmm. A rather steep price. But one I can afford. Do not worry, I have no time for the other Keepers, I will not speak about this. Wait here. With an emphatic point of his finger towards the ground, he disappears back into the Tower. A minute goes by. Then two. Finally he returns to the doorway, holding a black leather volume with the pages seeming blood red. He hands the book out to her. We have an agreement then. The cover has evil looking letters that say "Sistria's Warlock Compendium / Volume 17 / On Eldritch Gods and their Pacts".

Michelle's fingers nearly burned with anticipation. She extended the dagger out with her left hand, hilt to him, and reached out for the heavy tome with her right. "I'll try to leave you undisturbed - " for the next century? until my Eldritch God demands your head along with everyone else's? " - for at least a few cycles."

Xanth scoffs. I sincerely doubt that, but be that as it may. His black gloved hand wraps around the hilt of the dagger, and he peruses it as she takes the book from him.

Michelle didn't wait to see what he did with it, or if he could detect her blood - her heart - on it. She took the tome and hurried away to the Tower of Water. Porcelain, her shadow and echo, could be back at any moment.
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A Second Darkness

Post by Michelle Montoya » Sun Dec 08, 2019 7:01 pm

Sometime on December 8th the Tower of Water underwent a major shift causing massive waves to pour over the beach, as craggy rocks spurred up from the dark lagoon. Once a bright beacon, the Tower of Water has now become a foreboding shadow on the rocky shores.

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Blood & Water

Post by Michelle Montoya » Mon Dec 09, 2019 9:57 pm

December 9th, 10:30 PM ET
The Tower of Water

The voice in Michelle’s head was becoming unbearable. Guttural whispers mixed with instructions in the common tongue, interspersed with dark abyssal speech. Was it just one voice? Maybe it was many. She shook her head, trying to clear the nonsense. Sistria’s Warlock Compendium / Volume 17 / On Eldritch Gods and their Pacts was flipped open to the second chapter, but her eyes had skimmed the pages four or five times without taking anything in. With a heavy sigh, she stood up - massaging her temples and trying to reduce the confusion. The past week was a blur, and it was hard to tell what was her doing and what was… not. Michelle glanced at the tall mirror. The image flickered, first it was her in the reflection, then it was Porcelain, and then back to her.

“I hope Mallory comes soon,” she whispered.

The voice(s) rose in a grand crescendo, like a wave peaking in the ocean. “Inglui hagwahn tagnaui! Inglui hagwahn tagnaui! Inglui hagwahn tagnaui!”

Michelle covered her ears, pressing her forehead to the mirror. “Stop, please stop!”

Mallory had come to the Tower of Water alone, stepping into the heart of the domain of its Keeper — a woman who had either buried her own heart in R’lyeh, or lost it to corruption forever.

She would find out soon enough.

“Michelle?” the witch called from the entrance to her Tower. She had no bag of tricks, no weapon on her, and none of her own elementals with her — only two of Michelle’s, looming behind her as their dark and viscous waters rippled and glopped.

The double doors opened to reveal a weathered triton, his face drawn in concern. “Keeper Mallory. Please, follow me.” His steps in the black sand were quick. The inner dimensions of the Tower had changed substantially since Mallory’s last visit, with winding staircases and dark shafts dropping into the depths of the vast waters below. As he led her down into the innermost recesses of the Tower, Kohloss murmured quietly to the blood-witch. “She is not herself. Her unwanted guest, her shadow, takes control. Nestor said she is losing the battle, and he is right. The Keeper fights for her mind and soul, but fear grips her heart.” From the chamber below, an anguished scream was followed by the sound of shattered glass.

Mallory’s expression was carefully schooled until she appeared cold and impassive, not rushing to help her friend at the sound of distress. She merely observed, sensed, and Saw[ as her eyes rolled back and turned bloody red. “This is a pivotal moment, Kohloss. You were right to bring me to her. Thank you,” she said, and from the entrance to her chamber, cast a slight smile at the triton: a dismissal.

With a brief bow, the old triton left Mallory at the entrance to Xanth’s former study. Inside, behind the door, things had gone quiet.

The witch paused to listen, but not for an invitation. She pressed her arms to the door and pushed her way into the chamber, ignoring the creeping tendrils of madness that lashed through the air that her Sight revealed. “Michelle,” she stated imperiously.

At the opposite end of the circular room stood a robed figure, who flipped casually through a massive tome on the table. It turned, a white porcelain mask covering the hooded face. “Mallory,” the voice was that of the Keeper and Overlord, but with a watery echo. “I assume Kohloss has let you in?”

“My presence was requested.” Mallory opened her hands, blood glistening like tears around her eyes. “And I can see why. You are changing.”

“Tch,” Michelle replied. “That is not why I ca--” the voice choked momentarily. There was a brief moment as the Keeper cleared her throat. “That is not why I called you here. I wish to inquire about your loyalty.”

Mallory raised her eyebrows. “Have I... not made that clear?” she asked as she took three slow steps forward. “My friend is Changing; I am Changed. I want to stand at your side, walk with you through the final steps, as my friends did.”

A soft whisper, fast and hurried, came from behind the mask. “No. Don’t.” It was quickly covered with a cough, the robed and masked Michelle held up a hand before Mallory could step any further. “You took me from R’lyeh,” the watery voice began, “and I was at first afraid and confused. Since that time, I have decided to take the power granted me and help usher in a New Age. Will you fight the Eldritch Gods? Or will you truly walk beside me?”

“I will not just walk...” Mallory frowned, shaking her head. “I will fight for you. You... were lost to me in R’lyeh. I was afraid for your fate... but I should have known that you would see the opportunity before you, and begin to master the power in that place. But you aren’t done,” she added, and took another step, her left hand held out to her, palm up. “Trust me... I’d know.”

The robed figure immediately stretched out a hand to take it, then there was a pause - hesitant and considering. “It is hard to know who to trust these days. So many false platitudes of faith.” Behind the robed figure, a small shadow, an echo of an echo, hung in the background.

Mallory let her hand stretch out between them, within Michelle’s reach should she choose to take it; then she curled her fingers, drawing one lengthening nail across her palm. Blood blossomed from the wound, full of sweet promise. “Would a faithless friend open her immortal heart to you?”

“A generous gift indeed,” Michelle reached for the hand while the shadow seemed to flicker in and out of Sight.

Mallory closed her bloody hand around Michelle’s — her eyes narrowed — and in a coppery crimson flash, the witch and the shadow, all that remained of the friend she had known, vanished.

* * * * *

The pair of them hurtled through the hot river of blood that surrounded the witch’s domain — a horned queen with her naked flesh covered in symbols, the mark of forty trials and triumphs; and a warm soul nestled in the palm of her hand, green and earthy yet more vibrant with the promise of life than far brighter stars. Hooves thundered alongside them as they forded the river, pearl-coated unicorns with golden manes tossing their heads as their horns pierced and obliterated the amorphous shadows that sought to follow them through.

The hoofbeats faded, the deafening drumbeat of an immortal heart sounded around them—

—and then they were through, standing in the midst of a humble, cozy library, its bone-white shelves piled high with a thousand tomes on life and nature. A fire crackled in the hearth, casting long shadows from the plush red armchairs and illuminating the elaborate traces of a protective circle in the floor, forty layers deep.

The witch appeared now as she ever had, clad in the same clothes she had worn to the Tower, her throat marred by the scars of Charon; while Michelle was somewhat changed.

It took a few moments for the soul to solidify in this realm of blood and life. It rippled as if she were a body of water, and something was dripping droplets from high above. There was a thinness to her, not of ill health but of being incomplete. Michelle looked around in a puzzled manner, lost and confused. “Mallory.” Her eyes focused on the witch before here. “Mallory! How could you bring me here? It’s not safe! No, no, no… it will find me! And you! And your heart… oh, no!” Michelle’s panic rolled out like a shockwave.

Mallory stepped up to hold her by the shoulders. “Focus — the shadow isn’t with you anymore. What it couldn’t corrupt, you, your beautiful soul, is here. Safe. Do you trust me?” she whispered.

“Trust? You… you said the same thing to… It. Or to me. To… the darker part of me. How do I know this isn’t some ploy to give it -her what she wanted?” Michelle stepped back away from Mallory, confusion and terror playing over her facial features.

“Because you’re here. Not It. And It will not come here, unless we both allow it.” The witch lifted her chin. “I will do anything to save my friends... including walking into that Tower and telling It every evil thing it hoped it would hear from me.”

The broken soul that was Michelle paced the library in Mallory’s sanctum. “If you are willing to do anything, you must kill me - her - whatever you have left behind.” She turned to face her friend. “You have to do it, Mallory. You must destroy me, all of me, with absolute finality.”

“Anything to save you,” Mallory smiled as she emphasized that part, though the expression was not unkind. It was almost overflowing with warmth, and she opened an arm to her. “We can do it... but I need your help, Michelle. Desperately. I don’t know what we’re facing... and I don’t know what It did to drive you to this point... but only you can tell me... and then we’ll find a way through this, together.”

Michelle stepped in for a hug, and embracing her friend tightly. “I will try and remember as much as I can, and I’ll tell you everything I know. But I fear it won’t do any good. The tethers are too strong, Mallory. And now… now you’ve given it free rein. I won’t be able to hold it back from here. There will be so much death, and suffering.”

“Sacrifices must be made... but the sacrifices we choose for ourselves, not the ones so-called gods choose for us,” Mallory asserted with grim defiance as she took a step back. “From here... you can see things so much more clearly, and we can use that and everything you’ve learned to fight back,” and she produced a crystal ball to offer to her friend. There was a crimson fire that sparked in its depths, but threads of vibrant green ran through the glass.

Michelle took the orb and handled it gently. “Alright,” her voice was grim. “I can’t promise that the answer still isn’t to kill whatever is left of me. But maybe an outside perspective will help.”

“We’ll figure it out.” Mallory let her hands slip away, then looked at the blood-colored horizon outside, at something unseen... “I have to go back to the Tower. But I’ll be back soon. Call for Malleus, my avatar, if you need anything at all.”

The flickering soul of Michelle nodded, holding the crystal ball close. “Mallory?” She called out before the witch could leave. “Thank you. For trying to help.”

It was the same simple answer that Mallory had given Michelle when she had wondered why someone would go into R’lyeh for her: “You’re my friend.” Then she stepped through the doorway of the small archive, and vanished from the realm.

* * * * *

As soon as the witch reappeared in Xanth’s study, Michelle -- the dark part of her that she had left here -- was ready. Tendrils of chaotic, green energy erupted from space surrounding Mallory, wrapping the witch in tight, sturdy cords. The porcelain masked, robed figure extended the rod speckled with flecks of green and gold attempt to sap the every-living well of life from blood mage.

The witch let out a terrible scream of anguish as the dark wave washed over her, tearing her skin where the tendrils gripped the tightest, blood hissing out in great streams across the chamber. She clenched her teeth over the sound, working through the pain to steady herself so she could stare at the terrible thing that possessed her friend.

“I have... something I must tell you...”

With the rod held out in one hand, Porcelain used the other to lift off the mask. The face was Michelle’s in every way, not a single feature differed. It tightened the hold of R’lyeh on Mallory, squeezing out every possible drop of blood. “Oh?”

Something hissed through Mallory’s teeth, a single word: “Break.”

The stone floor erupted with deep fractures, spraying debris high into the air; cracks ran up the walls with sounds like thunder, dark water spraying in jets across the chamber; and boulder-sized chunks of the ceiling came crashing down, as the destructive hex severed the eldritch tendrils and dropped the bloody witch to the floor.

Porcelain, or Michelle as she would soon be known, staggered at the impact. Gracefully she righted herself as water began to fill the chamber.

Mallory wiped an arm across her bloody lips, and found that her tattered flesh had only made it worse. Then she bared her teeth at Porcelain: “Consider this my change in alignment... Overbitch.” The moment she lowered her arm, she disappeared from the flooding study in a crimson flash, leaving no trace of her blood, only vanishing mist.

((Co-written with Mallory))
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Michelle Montoya
Seasoned Adventurer
Seasoned Adventurer
Posts: 395
Joined: Fri Apr 02, 2004 10:50 pm
Location: Al-Ibra, South Cadentia

Passing of Time

Post by Michelle Montoya » Tue Dec 17, 2019 10:42 pm

December 17th
The Tower of Water

Kohloss stood with the others in Denizens Drowning, waiting. They did not go to watch their Keeper defend. She had taken tomes with her, a staff she had crafted, and a ring. Michelle was prepared for defeat, but she did not seem anxious, like in the previous challenges or tournaments. 'Something wicked this way comes' was an appropriate adage.

When the exterior and upper levels of the Tower began to crumble, there was a collective sigh of relief. The passing of Keepers was often just seen as a passing of time, but in this case, Sargasso, Andrina and many others were happy to see Michelle leave. Only Kohloss felt a pang of sorrow that he was unable to purify her tainted waters.
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