Lost in Time and Space

Tales from the Atreblan Valley

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Michelle Montoya
Seasoned Adventurer
Seasoned Adventurer
Posts: 325
Joined: Fri Apr 02, 2004 11:50 pm
Location: Atrebla Manor

Fear Reskinned

Post by Michelle Montoya » Thu Jan 16, 2020 10:43 am

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” ― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Sunday, January 12th

Mallory was up early on Sunday morning, given all that she had been through; but after five days bound to the demiplane of her heart, seeing and sensing but unable to speak to anyone but her own avatar, seeing her wife only through dreams—

She was filled with a joy and hunger for life that seemed completely at odds with the madness that had nearly forced itself into RhyDin, and the tragedy that had struck. If anything, they made her all the hungrier to experience life, and to live it with her friends and loved ones.

She made breakfast, a rare event in the Maeda household, and with good reason — she burned the bacon, and the eggs were a little overdone. She ate with Eri, and spent much of the time that they weren’t speaking quietly just watching her. Her expressions, her mannerisms.

As they put their dishes away and Eri yawned mightily, giving every indication she was about to return to bed, Mallory considered the thousand little things Michelle must have been missing about Derrick.

Mid-morning found her on her way to Little Elfhame, after sending a message that she was on her way. Avoiding both the bridges and wherever the Baron of Old Market had decided to move his sellswords, she took the Lyceum door to reach her destination. The streets were buzzing with gossip, neighbours stepping out to the curb to share what they had witnessed and what rumours they had gathered about the previous evening. The witch idly enjoyed the unique, fleeting togetherness of the aftermath of a calamity as she passed them by.

Eventually, she reached the townhouse where Michelle was staying. She was familiar enough to the Wayward Court to walk past any knights, right up to the door to knock.

---*---

Michelle stood solemnly in front of the bay windows as the pale sun peaked through the mountains. The only warmth she felt was the chipped mug of herbal tea Gloria had forced into her hands. Everything else felt cold, heavy, and distressingly still. Her friend and mentor sat quietly in the overstuffed chair, pretending to read a book from the Celestial Tower. They both waited for Tatyana and Ann to bring the children over around noon. For now, they sat quietly with a problematic task looming in the frigid air. Years of exhaustion weighed on Michelle’s shoulders with a grief that felt higher than the mountain peaks. Insurmountable.

A small set of wooden taps echoed in her mind, interrupting the still silence. “The door,” she said simply.

“I didn’t hear anyone, Michelle.” Gloria closed the book, eyebrows knit in concern.

“The other door.”

The Archmage nodded silently, “I’ll go see who it is.” Gloria left the sitting room and found her way to an old linen closet on the upper floor.

---*---

The witch was patient, checking her messages while she waited. Iara, one of her warlocks, had done his best to answer on her behalf while she was “away,” but she had still been playing catch-up as of last night — and the problem had only worsened since then. Thumbs tapped nimbly at the thin glass holoscreen as she leaned her shoulder against the doorframe, frowning at what she read.

When she opened the door to the old brownstone townhouse, Gloria wasn’t surprised to see Mallory there. “Come in,” she said, gesturing with a worn and blackened hand. The older woman’s smile was kind, if a bit sad, with laugh lines reaching up to the long shadows under her eyes.

The witch’s smile was much like Gloria’s, though she did her best to radiate comforting warmth in her expression and in the steady pulse of the blood magic that always radiated from her. “Glad you’re alright,” she told her as she followed her inside.

Despite the messy winter weather, the entrance was spotless. In fact, the entire townhouse had a distinctly vacant feel. The heat was turned down, and the kitchen looked unused. Gloria led them up a single set of red oak stairs. “I’ve spent most of my time protecting and defending Atrebla, both the valley and its inhabitants. There was a confrontation early Saturday morning. I am pleased to report that we had no fatalities.”

There were a lot of questions Mallory could have asked, but the one she arrived at was, “Was Michelle witnessed there?”

“Yes,” the finality of the answer spoke volumes of the consequences. Gloria opened a door to a small linen closet. The ripples of the portal, invisible to the naked eye, had a fae-touch to them and the signs of Gloria’s practiced hand. Before stepping through, Gloria turned back to look sadly at Mallory. “The Lady at Arms has betrayed her people. That is how most of them see it.”

“People know what they think they know,” the Seeker of Secrets mused thoughtfully. There were ways to reveal knowledge that could turn a hostile crowd, but these considerations depended on her friend’s wishes first and foremost. She stepped through the portal and into Michelle’s home realm.

There was little warmth to be found in the manor. The pictures of happy children over two generations, of couples standing close together, and of families gathered in the orchard spoke of a legacy of love and permanence. At the far end of the hall hung a portrait of Dexter Montoya in the training dojo surrounded by his three daughters, all holding different weapons. Gloria paused to smile at her old, deceased friend before taking Mallory down the stairs. “Ann and I will see to the funeral arrangements. When you’re done, you and I can discuss the details.” She gestured down the hall to the open concept sitting room. “She’s in there.”

The witch nodded her horned head to Gloria, then proceeded down the corridor to where Michelle waited, tall boots creaking along the floorboards, and the sword on her back rattling quietly. Much like the first time she visited the realm, Mallory cut a chivalrous figure that most paladins would find ironic, if not blasphemous. Her mid-length riding coat was worn open, and her Baronial ring dangled from a necklace revealed by the deep neck of her collared blouse.

“Michelle.” She said the name softly, fondly, to get her friend’s attention, once the first moment of aching heartbreak at the sight of her had passed.

Facing into the light of the sun reflected on the glistening snow, Michelle tried to force a smile on her face. She had no idea if it was successful to any degree when she turned around to face Mallory. “Morning, Mallory.” An awkward pause threatened to hang between them, so Michelle found the teapot and gestured to it. “Tea?”

“I don’t take tea without a hug first,” the witch warned her gently as she approached the cluster of chairs, then added, “if you’re up for it.” She knew how sensitive a thing physical contact could be.

There was a moment of hesitation, the kind you get when you know you should do something, but you're stubborn or afraid. The new widow nodded, then stepped in to hug her unofficial knight. Even though Mallory had a small frame, Michelle felt like she was being wrapped up in a much larger hug.

The witch wrapped both arms around her, embracing her for a long moment before ending it with a squeeze. “I’m glad you’re here.” Bright green eyes danced over Michelle’s as she watched her.

“In all honesty, that makes one of us.” She sat down in the overstuffed chair Gloria had abdicated and set her cold, unused teacup on the low wooden coffee table.

The witch looked at her out of the corner of her eye as she unbuckled her sword to lean against her chair; then she sat down beside Michelle, stretching to pour herself a cup. “Survival isn’t the outcome of a single event. It’s a process... and that’s okay. You have friends who have survived... and we’ll be there to help you on the road ahead.” Her gaze ticked over to Michelle again as she cradled the cup in her hands.

“I can’t even begin to process what’s happened, even from what happened during Orktoberfest. I feel like I’m remembering things from two different people, but they are both me. I feel guilt, and shock, and pain, and anger. But most of the time, I just feel confused.” She rubbed her fingers against the old fabric, remembering when it was brand new and how her father read stories to her, and how she read to Derrick.

“I feel stronger and more broken all at the same time. And I don’t know how to tell my children that their father is gone. I’ve practiced the words with Gloria, I can say them, but … I don’t know how to do it. They are just as angry and confused as I am, I think.” Michelle rubbed her eyes, which were red from exhaustion and irritation.

“Then none of you are alone.” Mallory hadn’t sipped her tea, either, letting her skin feel too hot through the ceramic before adjusting the cup again. “But they need to know that.” She finally took a small drink and set the cup down. Rings clicked as she folded her hands together, leaning forward as she faced Michelle. “Did you want to practice with me?”

“Yes,” she curled up in the large red chair. Michelle didn’t look at Mallory but out the bright window to the orchard beyond. Her eyes followed the curve of the trees and the mountain peaks. An old memory came to the forefront of her mind. “Did I ever tell you how we met?” Without pausing for an answer, Michelle continued. “We were travelling down an old cobblestone road. Both of us bound as prisoners of war.”

She never did end up practicing the words her children would hear. But until they came, Michelle cried and laughed as she told winding snippets of her history with Derrick, and the fifteen year journey they’d shared.

((Co-written with the talented Mallory. Gloria's character used with permission.))
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