The Eldritch Servant (Formerly Lost in Time & Space)

Tales from the Atreblan Valley

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JewellRavenlock
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Drowning in the Deep Part I

Post by JewellRavenlock » Mon Mar 02, 2020 9:56 am

January 11, 2020
Seaside Beach


The temple ruins of Seaside Beach were surrounded by sky-flung monoliths dripping with green ooze and sinister with latent horror. Most magical lights did not work beyond the far-reaching structures. The beach and surrounding area were filled with a chaotic sensation that was a voice but not a voice, a fanciful transmutation of sound and despair. Another ring of pillars covered in twisted hieroglyphics surrounded the Seaside meteorite. Instead of pulsing red, it throbbed a deep green with black veins pulsating at irregular intervals. Just past this remnant of a dark star was a black and green soapstone altar. The longer one looked at the glyphs, monoliths or altar, the more the world shifted, tilting until everything was upside down, and you became lost.

It felt as if the world of RhyDin was standing on a precipice, slight enough that many would only feel unsettled or a sense of wrongness. Others knew it to be more than that —a something in the air which was frightfully suggestive of old and unhallowed cycles of life.

The light of the stars went out one by one, and even the full moon was hidden by an unnatural cloud covering. The flow of the waters along Seaside Beach reversed and began to slowly circle counter-clockwise as a chanting from within the ring of pillars and monoliths echoed ominously against the cliffs. Sickly green and off-colour dark gold lights flickered in an oblong around the central altar. Dozens of giant translucent-skinned and lidless-eyed spawn kept watch along the outer ring of monoliths.

Jewell was close, possibly too close. She watched the stars go out from her spot overlooking Seaside Beach and listened to the chanting. Somehow she remained untilted, anchoring herself to Faerie perhaps in an attempt to keep her sanity. Standing beside Jewell, Derrick felt the dark wind on his skin and the chanting in his ears. He was armed with a well-loved sword, and the newly-gifted sight allowed him to see the burgeoning chaos below. A grim expression marred his face along with a scar to match. Hope stepped out on the beach not far from Jewell and finished drawing an elaborate circle in the sand. She held a book in one hand and a stick in the other with IceDancer at its center.

A whirlwind kicked up the sand on Seaside Beach, scattering a growing web of lines that furrowed deeper and deeper until they began to bleed. There was a crimson gleam as the last channel filled in, and the whirlwind suddenly imploded, twisting into wraith-like shadows that completely enveloped the circle. They spun and spun until they tore themselves apart, leaving Mallory standing there about halfway between the faerie on the cliffs and the madness that was forcing its way into RhyDin. Her horns were a sharply pointed double spiral, and her eyes were a solid, bloody red that dripped down the corners. Her clothes were fitted and practical, with plenty of pockets -- and a backpack laden with supplies over her shoulders, with her elemental sword Meliai strapped over it.

She looked over her shoulder, rolled her head to one side, then the other to pop it... then began to walk towards one of the star spawn. She balled her clawed left hand into a fist, tearing open her flesh, leaving it bleeding freely as she drew her sword with her right. Behind her, the circle continued to glow and hum. The hulking elder-spawn watched the gathering resistance with lidless eyes. They bore no fear, no emotion. Chaos emanated from their minds and bodies. From the center, the chanting turned into a discordant song.

"Guess it's time to go," Jewell mumbled aside to Derrick as Mallory approached one of the star spawn. Ishmerai was nearby, but the rest of her Wayward Court was elsewhere this evening, protecting what they had sworn themselves to. "You going to read them a bedtime story?" she asked Hope before she started down slick, treacherous stone steps to the beach below, not withdrawing either blade from her side. She would fight with her hands for now.

The blue opal illuminated with a bright blue hum, lighting up the inscription before it faded. Hope scooped up the rock and turned to Jewell. "No. Whatever this is," she gestured about the area as her skin began to bruise over, "I don't handle it well." Memories of old battles and scars began to show before she pocketed IceDancer. "Stop her. But don't kill her."

Jewell gave a thumbs up to Hope, "That's been the goal all along, Captain. Get yourself to Little Elfhame, it's safe there."

Hope watched the gusts smooth the sand over from the inscription and soon it was like she wasn't even there. "She's got to come back." She made her way off the beach and didn't look back at the insanity unfolding.
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Drowning in the Deep Part II

Post by Pharlen » Mon Mar 02, 2020 8:50 pm

---

Drowning in the Deep Part II

Governor Pharlen steamed out of the docks like a dream of law, order, and big sticks. “Anchors Aweigh, my boys... “ The BB-15 hove out across the harbor with a small white madwoman at the helm, and a crew who'd long ago lost their marbles on the open seas. They knew their Lady and they knew their engagement. The great white battleship Georgia pulled into position, head on towards the beach. Her guns raised, rank by rank. But they were not aimed at the beach, no. Not firing, yet. They were waiting. Her anchors did not drop.

Mist stepped forward, his face dead white. He stood on board the USS Georgia, and stopped aforedeck, under the guns. He reached out, gripping his staff from the aether and then, was still. Waiting as the others. There must be a tipping point.

From its moorings along the Old Temple side of the river, Ebon launched his boat, guiding it out towards the ocean. Beside him, Doran stood looking up at the blackened skies above, a look of horror on his face. "It's happening now. Hurry!" Hearing that, Ebon kicked the engines into full speed, the boat's wake splashing along the riverside as it headed out and onwards towards Seaside Beach.

On the beach, the ominous and maddening chant from the cultists becomes more explicit: "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn." A familiar figure in sleeveless robes and wearing obsidian knives on each hip stood upon the altar, arms stretched out towards the sea. The waters near Pharlen's ship began to form a vortex, threatening to suck the vessel downward. Green lightning streaked across the sky, revealing shadows of limbs, tentacles, eye-stalks, and claws within the sickening waters.

One of the hulking spawn squared off with Mallory, grinning with a lipless mouth. "Thlui'ngh Phla'tnwhi!" It challenged her with raised, muscular limbs. The witch grinned toothily at the star spawn. Her stride built up speed, and twirling her blade with one hand, she closed the distance, ducking under its swinging limbs and heaving the blade through its flesh with precise and powerful strikes.

"Michelle!" she screamed towards the monoliths as she lunged, sliced, ducked and countered.

Ichor bled from the hulk, but it swung its large arms around to bludgeon her with brute force. Two others on either side sent out waves of dissonant fear and chaos to the minds of those approaching. The limbs came down towards Mallory... into her braced sword held with both hands, flaring with protective shadows that writhed out of her self-inflicted wound. She could sense the fear and chaos rippling towards and past her from her flanks, and let out a flesh-rending shriek to disrupt their waves of eldritch power. Her quarry sported numerous deep splits across its body before falling to the sandy, ichor-stained beach.

On the Georgia, Mist's piercing gaze fell to Mallory, then a strange and laughing grin crossed his features. He began to take aim, snapping off short and sharp missiles of fire, spinning those from his hands. He focussed his fire around Mallory, trying to give her breathing space and cover alike. A lumbering and approaching hulk of star shot by Mist’s missiles lost one its large arms in a huge spray of ichor.

The Empress’ aura flared, glamour pushing back on that wave of fear as she picked up speed to provide Mallory some backup, targeting a different spawn nearby. She stopped short of it, hands raised in front of her as she quickly seized control of the ichor within its physical form, grunting as she attempted to lift it up off the ground. With effort on the faerie’s part, it was helplessly into the air, crying out in psychic waves. The Empress grinned, clearly enjoying this battle despite the deep horror that beat against her psyche. In some ways, she embraced it and let it make her wild. Once she had the star spawn in the air, she concentrated and tore the ichor from its body, out its orifices, emptying its hulking form of all liquid.

Appearing on the beach at Seaside, Eregor drew a pair of slim scimitars, their edges keen and deadly, newly re-forged by the Smith God. He leapt at one of the star spawn, blades slicing at its side, then jumped back. With slices along its side, one of the remaining ten hulks swung itself bodily at Eregor. The mind of a greater being powered it onward, sending forth the chaos of another universe towards the Time Lord.

From the ocean vortex, Nightgaunts flew up from the portal to R'lyeh and charged towards the approaching sea vessels. "Doran, take the helm! Keep us away from that maelstrom!" Ebon stepped away from the wheel, letting his son take control while his bracers shifted to form a pair of blades, and then he rose into the sky towards the approaching nightgaunts, slicing and cutting at them without mercy.

"I love the smell of Sushi in the morning," Pharlen noted, her eyes wide and pale pink. "Come to me, Fluffy! Rise, my Precious! Rise! Unto the Vortex and Flotsam And Jetsam!" She had not in fact gone sea-witch: she was merely calling the port's pet Kraken, Fluffy. Fluffy came rolling out of the deep caverns and sewers cut under the city, raising in a froth to grapple with the shadowing beasts flavoring the kraken's hunting grounds. "M'lads look sharp, bring out the gaffes, don't let those things on our ship!" There the crew moved, many of the sailors grabbing up glaives and gaffes to deal with the flailing of tentacles.

---
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Michelle Montoya
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Drowning in the Deep Part III

Post by Michelle Montoya » Tue Mar 03, 2020 8:57 am

Meanwhile, at Kaiju Lake--

Dillon had arrived early with the Orc and Ork revelers, to join in the great tailgating Orc game of 'Gothrak-Morc.' Which was played in a pairing, where both sportspeople drank a large mug of what was hopefully alcohol then headbutt the other when done. Winner was the last one conscious. Dillon was 11 - 0, but had lost 33 IQ points. So he was around... ish.

And thankfully while Dillon was kind of there, his 'employees' (robot slaves) were pretty on the ball. But it could be exceptionally difficult to move metal from one place to another with his technology. Thankfully, there was a workaround. Moving metal from one reality to another was easy-peasy, if a little alarming.

A two dimensional portal opened up horizontally at one spot in the Kaiju lake in a terrible swirl of blacks, reds, and indescribable colors. It was a portal to the infernal, and the first things to fall from it were a mess of machines: robots, with horns and spikes that someone had welded on without much care.

After came great chains of metal that fell into the waters. The machines grabbed these and pulled as one, abd from the portal came a madman's design of a spiked metal orb. It was rather large. And after it was pulled free from the efforts of the 'demon' robots, the entire mass fell into the water with a terrible BOOM — though not one ripple could be seen from the water.

A small Protectron-model robot wandered out from the insanity from somewhere with a pen and a clipboard. "Some-One Needs To Si-gn For This," it called in broken robot English as it waddled around on unwieldy tube legs.

No sooner had Dillon's delivery splashed down than hooded and tusked figures were racing through the shallows, clambering up to the spiked metal orb to wrench it apart. Several more were chanting in Orcish as they held thick ropes over their shoulders, pulling a massive patchwork iron-spiked barge up to the others.

"Si-gn? Si-gn?" The poor Protectron did its best as the hooded figures flowed by and went to work. The other robots just stood there. Metal. In both senses of the word. For now, the real story was the one of pluck and luck. Will this Protectron get it's signature? Don't mind all that other insanity. "Aww-www." Robot 'head' dipped down. And it went back to wading around and trying.

One of the more familiar of the hooded and tusked figures held up the Protectron's clipboard and headbutted it through it. There was no more accurate way to get her signature, after all.

The barge was fully loaded. She was the last orc aboard.
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Drowning in the Deep Part IV

Post by Eregor » Tue Mar 03, 2020 9:34 pm

Back on the beach, the bloodwitch continued to press forward, targeting a cluster of star spawn intended to just catch the edge of the one going after Eregor -- she sucked in a deep breath, then blew through her own blood, and an empowered crimson bead raced towards them before exploding in a blood-colored fireball that reeked of copper. Eregor, having borne witness to the whole of time and space when he was a child of only eight years, could withstand the chaos spewed by the star spawn. He grit his teeth against the onslaught of madness to strike again, stabbing both blades into the beast's gut.

Jewell drew up the ichor staining the sands and the sea water beyond, forming multiple "arms" for herself that cut through and threw creatures high into the sky before impaling them with another arm. With these appendages, she made her way to Mallory to watch her back. Seeing what the tiny fae had done to its kin, another seemingly mindless hulk hesitated before charging in with a silent but deafening mental roar. It and two more were slaughtered by the blood magic.

Meanwhile, Ishmerai stayed up on the cliffs with Derrick for the moment, ensuring that no creatures left the sand to terrorize the nearby villas. A few chittering creatures tried to get past the pair. Derrick turned to the fanged and lipless Grue, raising his sword to cut them down with skill, despite his thin frame. The fae knight fought back to back with Michelle's husband, their enemies piling around their feet.

What appeared to be a perverse mountain began to emerge from the Seaside waters. It had a vaguely anthropoid outline and octopus-like head with a face of mass feelers, a scaly, rubbery looking body and prodigious claws on hind and forefeet. Long, narrow wings stretched back towards the sky. The figure standing on the altar, removed one of the obsidian daggers and lay down on the soapstone. As the chanting rose in tempo, a few cultists broke away and ran madly towards the sea and their death. From his position at the yacht's helm, Doran saw the great bulk emerging from the water, and in his mind he could once more hear the chaotic screams of spirits that had died to feed its hunger. "No...."

Nightgaunts circled around the vast form of mountainous limbs, claws and feelers diving at sailors, Ebon and Pharlen. A wave began to form at the centre of the vortex, gaining height and speed as it spread outward towards the ships. Mist's attention was forced upwards towards the incoming gaunts. He sucked in his breath and waved an arm, then cast a wide abrading of spell: a wide sheeting of St. Elmos fire lit up in vivid green, burning across the incoming brutes.

"Eregor, have you lost your noodles!?" Pharlen hollered helpfully. Oddly, she hadn't even brought up the Gatlings. But now she was. Two teams of four sailors brought the big brass repeating rifles to fasten in place. Though they were fun as hell to fire, Pharlen simply waved an arm. That was what her crew was trained to do, and they did it well: 50 caliber bullets began to spray off the bow of the Georgia. Not a modern spray of bullets, these were hand cranked antiques that still held plenty of bite. The flying nightmares fell to the waters under the heavy fire of Pharlen's crew and Mist’s vivid green sheeting.

Meanwhile, at Kaiju Lake, —

The orcs on the barge dropped their hoods, wielded their axes (B.C. Rich Warlock guitars, specifically), and began to play. Doom doom doom doom doom doom, the orcish death metal thudded off of their barge at the mouth of the RhyDin River and into the darkest depths of Kaiju Lake…

"Alright. Enough joking around." Spoken as he rubbed a spot on the back of the penguin. It seemed the penguin liked this. The music had started after all, what better time. Then both man and machine were gone. Suddenly a number of the manglers, grue, and even one of the hulks turned to ash and crumbled to nothingness. It didn't happen too fast, but it happened all over. A general thinning of numbers. Besides, it was a bonding time for a man and his penguin.

If someone looked over the play by play later, they might see two obvious paths that followed the sudden turning of flesh into ash. Some exploded. Some were sliced in half, or worse, multiple pieces. A few just had parts of them torn off as they clawed at something invisible there. And perhaps, in the season of giving, Dillon gave something to the Cthuli. After all, it was easy to learn fear when something invisible was holding you down and tearing an arm off of you. But it wasn't dramatic, and wouldn't play too deep into the story. But when did he get to wear Armor in Rhydin anymore?
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Drowning in the Deep Part V

Post by Mallory » Tue Mar 03, 2020 10:00 pm

Seemingly from within the monoliths came crawling faceless creatures that chittered and chuttered in a small-bodied swarm towards Mallory. The witch saw the swarm of R’lyehian horrors coming towards her and stretched out her left arm with something clenched in her hand, letting them tear at and deepen the wounds in her flesh--

"Tsukuyomi, please," she whispered, willing her blood into the breaking phial of moonlight in her hand. It burst out of the gaps of her fingers, burning away the swarm tearing at her. As they dissipated, the moon began to burn through the clouds, shining light down on a sixty-foot radius where she stood bleeding profusely to empower and sustain it. Here, it was not cold but cool and comforting: the chaos and madness of the Great Dreamer withered here, having less or no affect on any allies that stood within it.

The lipless crawlers surrounding Mallory withered under the light surrounding her, their screams only for those with psychic connections. With a half dozen star hulks remaining, they withdrew more tightly to form a ring around the inner pillars and the circle of cultists — those who hadn't fled into the waters at the horror surrounding them.

So much had she embraced the madness, that Jewell met the spawn heading for her with a brilliant laugh, leaping into the air to come down upon it with all the blood arms she had created for herself, impaling it over and over again until it stopped resisting her. "Here! The light stops the madness! Push in with me!" Mallory did her best to be heard over the din as she took slow steps forward, keeping most of her focus on the warding moonlight emanating from the blood streaming from her hand. Jewell checked herself, reigning in her bloodlust and her fey mood to join Mallory in the push forward. In the light, her aura flared once more, strong and bright and pure. Derrick pushed through the assault Grue and Manglers and finally leaped down, running to join Mallory and Jewell towards his wife. Ebon paused momentarily in his aerial battle to stare at the great shape rising from the waters, then turned with renewed determination, diving towards the temple. Dropping to the ground beside Mallory, within the circle of moonlight, Ebon grinned at the witch and took up a defensive position, moving with her.

The Elder God’s massive body emerged behind a head of feelers, it’s narrow wings stretching out over the waters that cascaded away like a tsunami. The great wave spread from the epicentre which was Cthulhu towards the ships, threatening to overturn and break them. Fluffy hauled herself out of the waters onto the bow of the Georgia, the Kraken was beaten and bleeding ichor. Mist tore light out of his soul place and let it open, vivid blue and brilliant, raising like aura borealis over the ship, and harbor. Pharlen moved forward to heal the creature. And then... Did she hear Music? The sound of music grew louder and louder on its way down the RhyDin River, accompanied by THUDS and ROARS that almost seemed too loud for Orcish Death Metal, if such a thing was possible… Pharlen stepped back and barked orders. The twelve three pound guns shifted and rotated, taking aim. Pharlen’s cannons were not aiming for the Big Boi. They were aiming for the bridges. To make sure they were clear once the Orc and Warbarges got through.

"119," Dillon intoned in thought over to Talos, somehow managing a hint of arrogance even in his toneless voice. The reply that came back was a singular... "Wenk." A poor monster was booted so hard into a tree both wood and body exploded into ash. The Armored man stopped then, disbelieving. "You have to be cheating. Also, style counts," he asserted as an invisible Armored hand reached out to grab a passing Cthuli that didn't even notice him, then slammed his head down so hard on a nearby rock that the body shattered into ash. Ash was just the after affect. The weapon was the man. And Talos, for now. But if you are breaking rules under the radar, you might as well bring a buddy.

The monstrous mountain emerging from the sea lifted its great arms up to the sky causing a darkness to blanket most of the planet, a flickering of image saw the world shift like a staticky channel to a more chaotic, R'lyehian version. It did not last, but it was there, at a precipice. The churning waves off the coast spat forth columns of water, unnaturally solid, that flexed and weaved like tendrils, curling around nightgaunts to crush them into nothing or spearing grues to the sands. Eregor looked up as the sky flickered in darkness, and snarled in defiance. Having taken his boat to dock at Overlord Island, Doran looked out at the battle with growing anticipation... but his attention kept turning towards the city, and the river mouth. "I have a bad feeling about this."

Eri was emerging from the portal some thirty feet behind Mallory, having been kept behind for a time to see to the last minute details of Kabuki Street security. Here she was now though, advancing forward with the witch and the rest. Eri did not emerge from the portal alone. A gray-skinned daolani, a saber-twirling half-elf, and other alternately grinning and grim-faced warlocks moved to flank her, flashes of crimson power augmenting their attacks as they moved to join the melee.

Hearing the distant roars and thuds, Mallory admitted, "I may have done something -- incredibly stupid!" Still stomping forward as if under a great weight, protective and cleansing moonlight continuing to burst from her hand in waves.

"Like invite a band to join the battle?" Jewell asked, bewildered at the increasing noise coming their way.

"Is that what I'm hearing?" Slash. Stab. Slice. "Sounds like Fistmelda and the crew." Ebon grinned. "This just makes you a hero, Mallory."

"A band is one half of the equation!" Mallory cried as the barge cleared the first bridge and started to make its way under the second.

"Theme music for our exit from this life," The Empress laughed, pushing forward.

"I have no intention to die again so soon, Empress," replied Eregor as he joined the group within the moonlight circle. "Especially not due to the efforts of such as that," and he pointed to the monstrous form in the water.
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Drowning in the Deep Part VI

Post by Michelle Montoya » Tue Mar 03, 2020 10:01 pm

Derrick came up panting alongside Mallory and Jewell, and watched the ring of five hulks surrounding the pillars and his wife. Desperation and determination mixed on his face. Lying on the altar, Michelle raised her obsidian dagger as if to strike at her heart in one last sacrifice to release Cthulhu from its binding to R'yleh, murmuring the words of a long and forgotten ritual.

"STOP!" Pharlen bellowed, though over the waves and madness, could anyone hear her? She threw out her hand - sending a spinning ball of Null-Time - a stasis ball - towards Michelle but, unfortunately, a gru flew cleanly into it. But, the ship displaced as the guns began to fire. Three pounds of ordinance thumping into bridges to make sure the rivers were clear.

Derrick cleaved another mangler in half, and looked helplessly past the Hulks. "Mallory!"

"Babe! Those hulks?!" Mallory suggested to Eri, pointing out the five hulking beasts surrounding the pillars and Michelle. Eri nodded, hobnail soles striking the ground as she began her charge. A heavy club with bands of steel hammered and riveted to it was raised, and the half oni was really swinging for the fences as she approached the hulks.

“Let's gut the bastards!" Jewell yelled the cry of a battle-fae. Trusting Mallory had things in hand, she joined Eri and the warlocks in attacking those defending the altar. She condensed the blood around her hands and actually started punching at one again and again, leaving gaping holes behind each blow. The hulks fought with grit and determination against Jewell and Eri, but were woefully unmatched against a blood bending fae and half-oni.

The sounds of bridges falling into the river echoed along with the horrendous anticipation-filled keening of the Elder God. Lighting extended from its clawed fingers, striking towards the orcs on the barges, sailors on boats, and if those fighting on the beach. Much too long since Mist had been on a fighting craft. He lost his footing, staggering into the lightning. He slapped back into the steel casing of the gunnery array, dragging the lightning with him. He hit the deck, his staff falling from his grip. The staff's stone shattered when it smacked to the steel. All of the light released at it broke. The sky lit up a shimmering blue for several moments.

Shimmering columns of water rose around the defenders on land, catching and redirecting most of the eldritch lightning blasts harmlessly into the sand. Jewell cut the head off a hulk and was raising her hands to pull apart another when lighting struck. She stumbled and almost fell, calling on the blood around her and forming a shield around her friends to catch the blasts that Eregor had not caught. Using the full strength of his will, Ebon grabbed one of the hulks and slammed it bodily into another, then lifted it from the ground and ripped it in half, sending ichor everywhere.

Ichor from the creatures Ebon had just destroyed rained down on her as she took a knee in the sand, panting, hair on end from that lighting strike and blood coming from her ears, compounded by that howl of rage. There were still enemies afoot though, and Jewell pulled the matching blades from her side to deal with them. The Empress Overlady was a flurry of metal, hacking and slashing at anything that moved near her with the intent to do harm. A powerful burrower with an elongated worm body emerged from the sand near Jewell trying to throw her up into the air and swallow her whole. The faerie shouted in surprise as she went flying, losing one of her daggers as the burrower's attack succeeded and she ended up inside of it. Sadly for the large worm, the faerie was not quite edible (despite what was written on the bathroom walls of the RDI) and the worm suffered from some severe digestive issues when the Empress burst free from inside it with worm-juice bending! Pieces of it flew across the beach and she fell forward, covered in slime and grossness.

Taking advantage of the creatures' writhing distraction due to pain, Ebon joined Jewell in a flurry of death-dealing. He charged into the swarm, blades flashing left and right while his mind lashed out, spinning the beach into a miniature sandstorm that scoured the flesh from the beasts' bones.

The hulks were distracted. This was the opening they needed. Mallory reached out her bloody hand to Derrick, the man whose Fate she knew, and looked him in the eye and said, "Trust me!" Cultists tightened in around the altar, their own obsidian daggers raised outward. —Derrick looked down at Mallory, nodded, and gripped her hand tightly.
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Drowning in the Deep Part VII

Post by Mallory » Tue Mar 03, 2020 10:03 pm

The witch grasped his hand and they vanished in a crimson flash -- the moonlight flickering out, then bursting against the shadows within the ring of monoliths, fighting and clawing and tearing their way out through the eldritch influence, as the witch stood there by the eldritch altar with Michelle's husband. She repeated the word she had started the fight with, seeking the woman's eyes: "Michelle."

Cultists immediately turned to attack Mallory and Derrick. Michelle looked up to lock eyes with Mallory, obsidian dagger poised. Derrick slid his hand quickly under Michelle's left. The dagger plunged down —

—at the last moment Michelle redirected the dagger to her Eldritch Symbol on the inner left wrist, uttering a perverse reversal of the chant the cultists were singing. A wave of gold and red energy spread out from the altar towards the cultists interrupting their chant and disorienting them. The monstrous beast emerging from the waters let out a cacophonous howl that rang in the air and in the minds of everyone nearby. The witch gave Michelle a bloody grin as she cut through the mark -- then, with a wraith-like shriek, she turned on the disoriented cultists to try and create some space for Michelle and Derrick. Slicing, invoking rend hexes, sending shadowy tendrils out to strangle and bind and tear.

As Michelle’s wave of red and gold extended the lone remaining hulk, manglers, grue, and cthonians writhed in temporary pain. Derrick gasped, keening, and fell off the altar as his wife finished defacing the pact-mark.

The witch was covered in more wounds now than those she'd inflicted on herself, and those she'd allowed the swarm to inflict on her. She staggered away from the altar, away from a dying cultist who'd just blasted her with arcana and left a dagger in her shoulder; she wrenched the blade free with an arcing stream of blood and tried to find her focus again. With no more hulks in front of her and her club, Eri had time to observe Mallory getting into trouble with some of the cultists, and reversed her charge, stampeding toward the staggering witch, or more particularly toward any that were advancing toward her. Mallory pushed herself up to her knees just in time to note an advancing cultist with a blade raised, crackling with shadowy power, get side-tackled and sent flying into a monolith by her wife. He wasn't getting back up. She gave Eri a bloody grin and looked for anything else left to kill.

Soaked by the guts of the worm she had been ingested by, Jewell stumbled into a cultist, used the liquid to impale it and then use its body as a shield against the next attacker as she coughed and hacked, trying to expel the slime from her mouth. No more hulks remained, and only a handful of nightgaunts, manglers and grue survived the litany of attacks. One of the die-hards came at Jewell, scoring a shallow cut across her ribs before she reached out, invading her mind with her glamour and making her scream in horror as she saw her god fall to pieces. Jewell left her screeching on the beach as she went to wrestle with one of the remaining nightgaunts. It got her on her back as they ripped and tore at each other before suddenly its weight was gone and Ishmerai was standing there, staring down at her. The nightgaunt was in two behind him. "Hey."

One of the cultists grabbed Mallory by the wrist, sending pulses of dark power through her flesh -- Mallory grabbed her right back, right over her face, and uttered, "Break." This cultist was not getting back up, either. At least half a dozen cultists dropped their daggers and fled, confusion and despair on their faces. Only a few more remained that seemed to have any loyalty to the cause. With those cultists joining in, Eri was kept busy enough, running at another one with the club swung down in a tremendous overhead chop.
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Drowning in the Deep Part VIII

Post by Pharlen » Wed Mar 04, 2020 9:46 pm

Drowning in the Deep Part VIII

Electricity crackled off of Warlock guitars, making the music all the more discordant -- and the orcs playing it all the more excited. As their barge began to drift clear of the river mouth, the rudder turning hard to suddenly take them away from Seaside towards the south --

Something huge, something terrible, brought its foot down in the mouth of the river as it stepped into the sea. Every bit as tall as Cthulhu, the beast that had been sleeping peacefully at the bottom of the lake until Orcish Death Metal had interrupted it reared up to its scaly height, lashing its spike-studded tail restlessly as it surveyed the scene.

From his vantage point on Overlord Island, Doran had an excellent view of the lake kaiju as it entered the scene. "Lady Above... is that what's been in the lake this whole time?"

Pharlen was just saying a lot of bad words at this point. The Georgia went awash and she yelled to the crew get the damn craft under control before returning to shooting. Fluffy slogged back into the fray as a pal she hadn't seen in millennia showed up. Not having a Kraken on the overswept bow of the battleship helped a lot.

"Neat." Dill stopped in his killing to take a picture, with a camera, for some reason. The poor beast he was holding on to was more confused than worried for a moment and tried to bat at the air. It hit something. Then the arm came off a moment before the body was sliced apart. Then suddenly there was nine feet of reeking high technology standing there. Human, or at least Humanoid. If a human had made love to a tank. And if anyone could think of someone who would do that, well, who else but Dillon? A thin blade was held in a grip, sliced to the side to rid of the metal of any ichor left on it. A bit aways, suddenly, a penguin. But now Talos was wearing a Rambo bandana. Thus, he meant business. Both man and machine watched the two titans wake up. 'Wenk'. Went the penguin. The helmet of the Armor, stylized in the ancient Oni masks of Asia, looked down that way. "That was beautiful. Who was that, Churchill?" The last remaining hulk lumbered up and began charging towards Dillon, followed by a swarm of grue and manglers.

'Wenk.' Went the penguin, and the helmet turned the way of the charging horde. There was a small electronic growl before both man and penguin went into combat once again. Not even a step, Dillon's armor just moved. Guided by tiny thrusters firing off atoms of ionized helium. His charge was his attack, like Calvary of old. The armor just smashed through the hulk, as if it was a bullet its self. Ichor and flesh became ash. And when the armor landed and began to move with a blade through the horde, everything became ash. And in it all, that helmet of metal opened his mouth full of fangs and roared. Everything became ash.

In a very short amount of time, there was nothing left. But the mentioned ash. Lotta ash. "I was watching the big fight." The last one got it the worst, as he Dillon picked it up, like one would a small helpless thing and idly tossed it in the air. To slice it in half. Well, there was one left. It was prone, and the small form of Talos was on it's chest and rapidly slapping it's 'face' with both flippers. It looked mad. It had lines above the eyebrows and everything. Dill watched this with a million sensors for a moment, then let the penguin have his fun and turned his full attention on the fight of the titans.

---
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Drop by for a cuppa odd.
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Eregor
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Drowning in the Deep Part IX

Post by Eregor » Thu Mar 05, 2020 9:05 pm

The Elder God did not retreat. It turned, half embodied in the R'lyeh through the watery portal, the other half striving for freedom. It looked at the monster of Kaiju Lake, its feelers turning up in a grotesque expression. The kaiju bared its pointed, flame-sparking teeth at Cthulhu's grotesque expression... then let out a terrific roar as it went stamping through the water towards it, whirling as if it intended to slash its claws at the eldritch creature and slam it with its tail. Instead, it stopped its whirl abruptly to bring one spike-studded leg up to knee Cthulhu between the legs.

Cthulhu sank slightly into the vortex of water, then gripped the Kaiju's head with both claws searing it with an acrid and blinding tear of light, a venomous seething dripping from its claws. The kaiju reeled and thrashed under the attack. The kaiju was, however, pretty old-school as evidenced by kicking the Old One right in the crotch. It moved as if to pull back from its gasp, then surged forward to give Cthulhu a headbutt that burst into a fireball through its teeth.

Pharlen gestured to her first mate. She randomly quit the front deck. It wasn't really all that random, it was that her crew was capable of using the short range weapons against the enemy. So, once more, the hail of bullets and small projectiles began to sing from the craft. Several moments later... A large-ish white dragon lept into the wilding sky and came skimming around the Battle of the Big Bois. It's very sad when the dragon wasn't the biggest baddest thing in a battle. But Pharlen wasn't a real dragon. Probably. Big enough to come up onto the beach, landing in a spray of sand, and abruptly hosing fire over the cultists and spirits knew what. The dragon fought like a goose. Spirits help them all.

Michelle's left arm hung useless as she stood up once more on the altar. Using the rod she defaced the inscriptions and glyphs that remained and shouted out to Eregor. "EREGOR! Use the KEY! Send it BACK!" Derrick struggled up, and parried an attack by a cultist directed at him, then another that was for his wife.

Hearing Michelle's voice--her true voice--Eregor grinned and sheathed his blades, then reached within his tunic to draw forth the coral Key on its chain. Summoning the power of the Tower of Water, a power that had once been tied to Cthulhu itself, and to R'lyeh, he reopened the swirling vortex of waves from whence the Great Old One had emerged. "Back to your sunken city, Cthulhu! Back to your sleep forevermore!"

"Pull all of the threads, Eregor! This reality cannot support him!" Pharlen yelled, lashing her tail.

The Elder God reared back, sending out a psychic wave of pain, transferring what it felt to those around it —enemy and ally— then wrapped the Kaiju's head in a mighty and powerful arm. Its wings beat once, twice, and a third time as it began to lift up above the water towards the white dragon while still gripping the Kaiju. The kaiju kicked its massive legs as it rose up into the air by the beast strangling it, then swung its tail almost all the way forward before whipping it BACK, aiming to send its venomous spikes into Cthulhu's back. The Elder God dropped the Kaiju, bleeding venomous ichor of green and black. The kaiju had been dropped, but it wasn't willing to let Cthulhu go, not after a move like that! It shrieked something that may have meant "This is my playground! Find your own, squidhead!" and leapt up to grab the Old One by the wings and send it crashing back down into the sea.

Ebon concentrated on the watery portal, increasing its pull upon Cthulhu and its creatures.A cachinnating chorus pierced through the minds of all but the strongest. It lifted up a bit more, seeking to escape the vortex Eregor had summoned, seeking to escape its binding prison.

The witch stumbled as a psychic wave washed over her from Cthulhu's shriek. She bowed her head as she dropped her sword, then spat blood from her mouth that joined the splatter from the cultist Eri had just squashed. Michelle fell to her knees, keening and gripping her head as Cthulhu's laughter pierced her mind. Derrick grit his teeth in matching agony. The R'lyheian creatures closest to the water were pulled to the vortex, succumbing to Eregors banishment.

Ishmerai offered a hand down, helping Jewell bounce back to her feet and not counting her numerous injuries. "He might need your help," the knight nodded to Eregor. Both fae winced at the psychic wave, but Jewell grit her teeth and pushed forward to Eregor's side. She may not have the Key, but she could bend the water better than she could bend blood, hands up and out as she worked to increase the pull of the vortex in the sea.

Out on the island, Doran felt that psychic shriek in his mind, and glared, reaching out across the whole city with his empathy, drawing on the hopes and faith of everyone he could and channelling that defiance back at Cthulhu. Then he collapsed, utterly spent, onto the boat's deck.

The Elder God crashed with a mighty force sending a powerful wave of water out that would possibly threaten or destroy parts of Seaside, Dockside, and Overlord Isle that were closest to the water. While keeping the portal open, Eregor reached out with a facet of his attention to ease the threatening waves. The kaiju wasn't done. It staggered back to its feet, went at a bounding run at Cthulhu and launched itself feet-first in a kick at its chest.

The witch collected her sword with a trembling hand as she pushed slowly back to her feet at Eri's side. "I brought a kaiju to a Cthulhu fight, you dumb fuckers," spitting blood into the sand as she watched the mad god get dunked. Those waves probably weren't great, though -- though Eregor lessening them helped.

"Shit." Nevermind. Eregor could handle the vortex, right? Jewell raised her arms to try and subdue that wave, sending much of the water up into the air to fall down as snow instead across the city. Pharlen snarled as she faced the water. It was a hell of a distraction, that was for sure. Then, she sang: A sound like the roaring of waves dragged back to sea bellowed from her throat. Go Back. Go Back. A reversal of not time, but intent. With any luck, that'd pull much of the waters back to sea.

Michelle blinked her watering eyes to see unconscious cultists, dead bodies, and torn monstrosities laying on the ground. Her world spun. She lifted the rod to join with Eregor and the others. "The pact is fulfilled. Redeo" The rod split in two, an arc of green energy pushing the Elder God just a bit further into the vortex.

She hit the bloody, snow covered sand after that move, watching in awe as the two big guys fought in the sea. "You're insane," she laughed to Mallory. Mallory just laughed madly at Jewell's words, which probably didn't help that perception.

"Knock it through, Spike!" Ebon had no idea if the kaiju could understand or even hear him, but he couldn't help himself. Cthulhu, the Elder God, fell backwards into the vortex. Pushed and pulled by the Kaiju and the powers of so many others. The waves of R'lyeh drew it in, swallowing IT and all R'lyehian creatures in a swirling mess of green and black waters
A final wave of despair, fury and chaos echoed from the vortex, one last reminder that this would not be the end!
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Michelle Montoya
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Drowning in the Deep Part X

Post by Michelle Montoya » Thu Mar 05, 2020 10:07 pm

Jewell watched it end on her knees, knuckles digging into the snow to keep her somewhat upright. She was tapped out, finding it difficult to fight back against that final wave of despair that had the ability to dredge up all sorts of old fears until Ishmerai's hand fell on her shoulder again, steadying her in his presence. Jewell looked up and back at Ishmerai, "I got eaten by a worm."

"Yes.. yes you did."

"Get me up," she commanded Ishmerai, who hoisted her up by her arm and then had to steady her when she almost fell over immediately.

Snarling, the dragon Pharlen marched in closer, the watersong turning in her throat to a lulling roaring. "With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound, he pulls the spitting high tension wires down." let's hear those bass drums, orcs. "Helpless people on subway trains scream 'my god!' as he looks in on them."

Around this time, the kaiju was starting to look for the next thing to fight, so the suggestion of a next song for the battered and beaten and soaked (but still intact!) orcish war barge was timely. They struck up an orcish death metal lullabye version of Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla;" and the kaiju, henceforth known as Spike, blinked its eyes heavily, blearily as it began to feel tired. With plodding steps, it turned back towards the river, and the lake beyond.

"Dillon, I know you can hear me," The dragovener yelled. "Tap into the city communications and get the usual clean up teams activated, please!"

"I can not confirm or deny that I am here and politely doing that." Came the reply from where ever it was the Armored man and dangerous penguin was hanging out. But he did indeed do that, that was a good idea. Plus the usual medical and biohazard people. The full Rhydin house, as they called it. Just everyone come.

"Thank you." Excellent. Though, since most people had cheerfully watched the 'Warbarge Parade', it shouldn't be too bad. But the bridges were most definitely out until they could be rebuilt. "Is everyone alive? Anyone need healing or rezzing?" Pharlen inquired, sitting like an overlarge dog, tail flicking.

With the Great Old One and its creatures banished, Eregor closed the portal to R'lyeh hard, then dropped to his knees, panting. "Well, at least it wasn't the Crawling Chaos." Looking out towards Overlord Isle, Ebon frowned. "Excuse me, I have to go check on someone." Then he rose up into the air and out over the waves.

The witch groaned as the chaos washed over her, knees buckling, and slapped a hand against one of the monoliths to push herself back up. However dark the despair imposed on her -- her wife was standing next to her, alive, and that was more than hope enough. "Yeah, we hear you, squidhead," she managed to retort to Cthulhu's defiant parting shot when she recovered. Eri was stumbling around a bit, unable to coordinate her movements or direct her steps with precision with the wave of despair energy that rolled over them. She dropped her club so that it struck sparks on the ground from the steel bands and fell forward on her face in the muck. The witch took a knee beside Eri to roll her over. She dropped her sword and reached into her backpack for a water bottle to help her wash her face and wake her back up. "Babe -- babe, it's me. I'm with you. It's over."

"Hm? I'm fine. I don't think I'm hurt. Just came over funny for a minute there" Eri said as she was rolled over, giving Mallory a grateful look. Soon she was able to get to her feet again with some effort.

"Good... yeah, attacks like that are weird," Mallory nodded to Eri, joining her wife as she got back up.

By the altar, the remnants of Eldritch pact magic faded to mere whispers. Derrick reached out for his wife's hands, then her face to look in her eyes. He breathed deeply. "I love you." Michelle looked back with dead eyes. "I..." she lowered her voice to a soft whisper. “How do I live in this world without you?”

He reached up to pull her close, placing a soft tender kiss on her lips. “The same way you do all hard things.” Her salty tears stained his chest as he reclined against the hard stone. Derrick lifted their clasped hands and pressed them to his heart, “When I see you in the Land of Eternal Light, we will talk of all the adventures I watched you have.” Michelle’s quiet tears spilled into a choked sobs as Derrick's breathing slowed to an irregular pace, and his hands turned cold.
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JewellRavenlock
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Drowning in the Deep Part XI

Post by JewellRavenlock » Fri Mar 06, 2020 8:35 am

Ebon looked over at Michelle and Derrick and smiled, but the smile faded as he heard her sobs and the change in Derrick's breathing. "Oh, no." Ebon set down on the deck of his ship, where Doran still lay, exhausted but breathing, the effort of his channelling having drained him.

"Doran?" Seeing his son was still living, he breathed a sigh of relief.

Doran opened his eyes and looked up at Ebon with pain in his face. "She hurts."

The sound of Michelle's sobbing drew Mallory’s gaze to her and Derrick. There was no surprise on her features, only a sad and solemn expression. She reached for Eri's hand to grasp tightly as Michelle reached out to close his now lifeless eyes, and used part of her sleeveless robe to wipe his face clean. Eri looked sad when she saw what had become of poor Derrick, reaching over with a grimy hand to grasp Mallory's back.

Jewell sighed heavily as she saw Michelle close Derrick's eyes, leaning against Ishmerai instead of trying to stand on her own any longer.

"I need to get the Georgia back to dock. This is your last chance to abuse either my govern-ly powers or the powers of a silver dragon." Pharlen called. Mallory's wounds were healing on her own, an effect of the lingering power of her resurrection that was only now beginning to fade. Her horns did not seem quite so long or pointy, and the claws had vanished from her fingers. She looked over her shoulder at Pharlen--

--and simply shook her head, sadly.

Eregor, too, shook his head. "Some losses cannot heal so easily."

Michelle just wept, holding her husbands hand, unable to move. It went from sobs to a deep, keening. "And some wins exact a heavy price." Jewell looked to Mallory, hesitating to move towards Michelle right away.

Mallory squeezed Eri's hand once more before releasing it, giving her a bloody kiss on the cheek, and stepped over to Michelle. She knelt down and put a hand on her shoulder. Jewell moved to step away from Ishmerai, her leg buckled, but then she waved him off. She was okay, even if she was covered in worm guts and blood. She approached Michelle and Mallory slowly. Mallory looked over her shoulder at Jewell and a brief smile flickered, a slight nod, welcoming.

Michelle's left arm hung limp and useless, the former pact-symbol a blackened mark that extended all the way from her wrist to her elbow, fading into a sickly green up to her shoulder. She hiccuped and let go of her husbands hand, stood, and turned to face the waters. One faltering step was taken in that direction.

Jewell took up position on the other side of Michelle from Mallory, reaching out to touch her briefly but doing nothing to keep her from stepping away towards the water. Mallory’s hand slipped off of Michelle's shoulder, and she stood to watch her. Michelle lurched towards the water, her bare feet stepping in one at a time. She took the remaining obsidian dagger on her hip and gripped the handle of the blade tightly. Her eyes looked at it, considering in despair and agony.

"Michelle." Mallory spoke her name, simply, once more. Names had power, she'd been reminded tonight.

"Come back, Michelle." Jewell called, the tug and warmth of her glamour in her voice.

Michelle looked over once at Mallory, then at Jewell. She hesitated. Then threw the obsidian knife with all her might into the ocean. She watched it land among the waves. Then she looked to her haggard warlocks, the few that remained -- most had quit the field with wounds or to tend to the wounded. The witch looked over at them, sharing a solemn nod, and they began the task of moving the dead. Michelle tried to speak, tried to get the words out, but nothing felt good enough for these people. The baker retreated within herself and just stood there, eyes cast down to the ichor stained sand.

Despite being 110% tapped out, Jewell still radiated that warmth and light that was her glamour and her nature, and it was there when she took a few difficult steps forward to wrap Michelle up in a tight hug. Mallory stepped up to join them, hugging Jewell and Michelle from the side, horned head tipped forward against theirs.

"We're your friends. And we'll be with you every step of this," Mallory murmured, and squeezed them.

"Every step.." Jewell agreed.

"With your permission... I can move him, look after him until he's ready to return home," the witch offered quietly.

Michelle nodded once within their arms. "I... I don't think they'll even let me come home."

"If they love you, they will."
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Michelle Montoya
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Epilogue

Post by Michelle Montoya » Fri Mar 06, 2020 12:01 pm

“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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