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Welcome to the end, where your new life begins

Posted on Sat Dec 16th, 2023 @ 12:33 by Almaz Awate & Sarah Bright

Chapter: Winter's Crest Festival
Location: Near the front gate
3475 words - 7 OF Standard Post Measure

A quiet winter's day, a mild breeze freezing cold on the skin. Only those with purpose were outside, the cozy warm interior of the castle a far more attractive place to be. Though some did brave the cold. Including the driver of a large BMW saloon car, black with tinted windows, that came roaring up to the castle gate. There it pulled over, tires squeeling as the driver slammed the brakes. A black man in a suit got out of the driver's seat, looking rather angry as he jerked open the rear door on the expensive car, reached in and forcibly pulled out a crying teenage girl, all but throwing her at the gate. As she tried to recover from getting the air knocked out of her by the impact, he threw her a sports bag as well, shouting at her in a strange, exotic language. "ከምኡ ውን ዳግማይ ኣይትራኸበኒ ኣንታ ፍሪክ!" - The words cut the girl to the bone, it seemed. And all she could do when he got back into his car and peeled away with a roaring engine was stare at the leaving car, shivering.

Sarah, Avalon's librarian, was one of the few outside in the winter cold with a purpose.Though it wasn't a terribly important purpose, mind you. She rode her bicycle The basket on the front of her bicycle was loaded up with a mixture of winter greens, acorns, and holly branches laden with festive red berries. there was also a tote dangling from one handlebar that contained much of the same. Sarah wasn't super into Christmas, but she had fond memories of helping her grandmother create holiday arrangements, and she thought some small table decorations and a wreath or two would be a nice touch for the library. Some, if not many of the students would be going home for the holidays, but Sarah knew that there were going to be more than a few who either had no family to speak of, or were no longer welcome home with the family they had. Not everybody celebrated Christmas, of course, but a few decorations never hurt, right?

With that in mind, Sarah was surprised to find herself almost run off the road by a car speeding away from the institute as soon as she pulled off one of the side trails leading to the woods. None of the teachers drove like that, even the ones with the sports cars. Sarah would admit that she was a fast driver, but this was too fast. She tried to read the car's license plate after it had passed, but it seemed like before her eyes could focus the car was already speeding out of range. Two letters and a number were all she got. Shaking her head, she straightened her bike out and resumed pedaling, and it was then that she noticed the student standing there by the gate.

Sarah picked up the pace, sensing something amiss by the person's stance and overall body language. And as she got closer, her mutant powers confirmed this. She couldn't tell what the young girl was thinking, but she could feel her heart racing, tears flowing, chest aching, and whole body shivering from the cold. This was not a girl who wanted to be there.

"Are you okay.?" Sarah asked with concern, feeling sort of stupid as soon as the words left her mouth. Of course she wasn't. The librarian got off her bike and kicked down the kickstand, but it immediately fell over the other side due to Sarah terribly misjudging the road quality and slight incline. She forgot about it and turned her attention to the girl.

"What's your name?" She added, names seemed like a good place to start. While she asked the question she unshouldered her messenger bag and took off her woolen pea coat, setting it around the girl's shoulders. Sarah wouldn't need it, not with the castle in sight and the fact that she could barely feel the cold anyway. She then reached into her messenger bag and pulled out a thermos half full of still-warm coffee. Before the girl could reply she had a cap cup of something warm and sweet to sip on pressed into her hands.

The girl recoiled as Sarah moved too close. "Don't touch me!" She called out, of fear. Though not fear of Sarah, but fear for Sarah. For what might happen to her if she did come too close. She was a teen, that much was obvious, though exactly how old was a little bit more difficult to guess. Dark skin, her long black hair in numerous thin braids, she was wearing dark sunglasses and rubber gloves, along with the regular clothes teens wore in the early 90s.

She did calm down a bit though, still the streaks of tears on her cheeks, and let Sarah put the coat on her. "Sorry, I just - don't want to hurt you," she admitted, her voice still carrying the signs of having cried. "My name is Almaz. Almaz Awate. And no, I'm not alr - thank you," as she accepted the drink, taking a sip with shaking hands. "I'm not alright. I'm scared. My family, they - "

Sarah had hesitated for a moment after the girl's outburst, but then slowed her movements, and made clear with gestures, that she was just offering her coat and something warm to drink, and would not touch her. Afterwards she gave Almaz some space for a moment while she stepped back and picked up her bike and tidied up her collection of winter greens.

"It's nice to meet you, Almaz. I'm Sarah..." The librarian hesitated for a moment, still not quite into the habit of properly introducing herself as 'Miss Bright.' But she told herself that first names were better for building trust, and thought no more of it. From what she gathered in a few meetings the school's faculty were forming protocols for this sort of scenario, but she wasn't really involved in that yet, so she was just going to have to wing this and hope for the best.

"Were those your parents in that car?" Sarah added, having missed Almaz's rough arrival. "This is the Avalon Institute. You don't have to be scared about being here." After gathering her bike and greens Sarah seemed content to stay there and chat, and did not seem to be in any rush to invite her inside. That would've instantly brought her guard up, having a stranger trying, however kindly, to quickly usher her inside an equally strange place... even if it was only to get her out of the cold.

"That was my father," the girl had a slight African accent to her words. It was subtle, but it was there. She held on to the cup of warm coffee, wrapping her hands around it and holding it close to her, as if it were a beacon, something to hold on to - and to her, in this moment, it was. "He's very - ... anti-mutant. When Avalon was on the news he - ... cheered." A slight pause as she looked down and added under her breath "ኣነ ድማ ዕልል ኢለ", 'and I cheered', in her native tongue of Tigrinya. It sounded almost Arabic, or almost Yiddish, but not quite either.

Another sip of the coffee. She was slowly starting to calm down, but that only meant that her fear was giving way to simple despair and a sense of being completely forlorn. Lost. "But then, a few days ago, I - " Almaz trailed off, before reaching up with a trembling, gloved hand to take off her dark sunglasses. Her eyes shone with an unnatural light, crackling like lightning, the once-dark pupils now no longer visible. "I killed the family's dog. It was an accident! I went to play with him and - ... and my hands, electricity came out, and - "

Sarah would've been lying if she said she didn't feel fear at the sight of Almaz's glowing eyes, and upon hearing the story she told. How could she not? But maybe she'd been desensitized so such things during her time at Avalon. She would certainly not be alone in having elemental-based powers, that was for sure. Whatever the case, her sense of empathy won out over her fear as she heard the pain and despair in the girl's voice.

"I'm so sorry..." The librarian said with genuine sympathy. She didn't make judgements... didn't confirm it was an accident, or say that it wasn't the girl's fault, even if she truly believed that it wasn't. She imagined that was what Almaz wanted to hear, but also figured that the girl probably wouldn't believe her. Sarah wouldn't have. Growing up, she'd hurt a lot of people with her abilities before she realized that they were tied to her emotions. Wouldn't she have learned that sooner if she hadn't been in denial? In some ways Sarah was still in denial. But she had learned at least to take responsibility... and to try to do better.

"There are people here--students and faculty--who can do similar things. They... we can help you make sure something like that doesn't happen again." Sarah's change in pronouns was subtle but almost reflexive. Not long ago she would've been content as an intermediary, letting the other faculty members do the talking, but now, like it or not, she was a part of Avalon. Though she wasn't exactly what her part was anymore. Claire had given her the same talk not long ago. She was a paid faculty member, but in some ways she might also been seen as a student.

"Would you like to come inside?" Sarah offered, stepping forward and gently kicking open the gate. It wasn't locked. That might soon change, given the way things were going, but for now Avalon was not quite the exclusive, gated community a lot of people made it out to be.

The whole situation was a roller coaster of emotions. Sarah's fear at seeing Almaz's eyes made the girl feel guilty again and so she quickly put her glasses back on to hide her eyes. A moment spent staring at her gloved hand, a simple rubber glove to cover her digits, looking quite out of place and like a makeshift solution. And now it served only to confront her at all times of what she'd done. What she'd become.

"What will happen to me now?" Almaz asked, her voice small and quiet, and even with the sunglasses on Sarah could easily see that she wasn't looking at her but at the ground. She held on to the coffee cup with both hands again now, holding it almost in a death grip, not wanting to let go of that one small gesture of kindness that she'd been given, that she needed now more than ever.

Sarah paused for a moment, to really think about the question. It demanded more than a simple, casually offered reply. Almaz's situation was hardly unique at Avalon, and the more she heard about the other student's an faculty member's experiences, the more she realized how fortunate she'd been to have a family that at least tolerated her differences, if not fully accepted them. What would she have done if she had been kicked out of her home as a child? Where would she have ended up? Given how much of a punk she'd back then? Jail, probably. Or worse.

"I don't know. But you're welcome to stay here." Sarah said, gently placing a comforting hand on the girl's shoulder, over where her jacket rested. "There are other kids your age here, some who also have families that don't know how to deal with their differences. It may not be like what you're used to at home, but you won't be alone. And it may not be easy learning to control your power, but you won't be alone in that either. And its also equally possible that you'll like it here, or that it will be easier for you."

Sarah's brow furrowed as another thought came to mind. Clearly, she was trying to find the best words to convey it.

"Almaz, I don't know your father. And I don't exactly approve of what he did, leaving you here the way he did. I can't guarantee that things will go back to the way they were. But I know your father loves you. He doesn't hate you. If he did, he wouldn't have brought you all the way out here." Part of Sarah regretted saying the words as soon as they left her mouth. She was neither a counselor nor a proper educator. She hadn't been trained for this...helping kids. She couldn't help but imagine every other teacher there wanting to push her aside and step in, to correct the damage she'd already done in trying to help this girl.

The girl startled a bit at the touch to her shoulder, almost dropping the now nearly empty coffee cup. She allowed it though after the instinctual reaction, eyes still cast down. Sarah's promise of being welcome all but instantly forgotten with the rest of her words. "No!" She drew back. "My father doesn't love f - !" read the room, Almaz. Such words, such thoughts and beliefs were probably not appropriate here. This thought sobered her. She'd always believed in those words, having been raised like that. But now? It suddenly just felt wrong to her. She felt stupid. You'd think of all people she, with her dark skin and her immigrant background, would understand this. But it just had never clicked for her.

"My family doesn't love mutants," she added after a moments introspective thought, gaze still cast down, gripping the coffee cup even tighter in trembling hands. Were they even her family anymore? After the things they said, after abandoning her here like this? "Am I going to be hurt?" Perhaps this mistrust, these wrongful beliefs, ran deeper than one would think at first glance.

Sarah inwardly winced as the girl lashed out at her poor attempt at consolation. Feeling her fears justified, Sarah almost wished one of the teachers would come by and take charge of the situation. Sarah just wasn't cut out for it. She was rarely fully aware about how naive she was, so with that in mind she cut back on the wishful thinking, and stuck with what she knew with certainty.

"No one here would ever hurt you. Or allow you to be hurt." Sarah said with conviction. Even she, one of the least badass grown-ups there, had been ready to kill or be killed to protect the school and its students.

Almaz saw, and more importantly, heard, the honesty and conviction in Sarah's words. She seemed to calm down a bit, shoulders slumping some. She even loosened the grip on the coffee cup somewhat. After a moment of silence she nodded, speaking in a tired, defeated tone. "Alright. I - ... would like to go inside now, if that's alright. Out of this cold," beat. ".. and then you can have your jacket back, too."

"Okay." Sarah said with a warm smile as she motioned forward and began walking her bike up the driveway. "We can go to the cafeteria if you'd like to join me for lunch? We have a great co-- er, many great cooks." She added, not quite adequately preparing Almaz for the sight of several cooks that all looked identical. The librarian was torn on deciding where to bring Almaz first, as the girl had admitted that she could be a danger to others, but in her mind the cafeteria sounded like the best place to start. Aside from the obvious perk of a nice , warm meal, the cafeteria was one of the larger rooms, and she reasoned the open space might make Almaz feel more at ease... as opposed to feeling trapped and ganged up on in a small office. Claire and some of the other faculty members would no doubt want to talk with her, and she'd get to see them coming while Sarah offered introductions. Plus she might get to see some of the other students from a safe distance, and get a sense of the normalcy they enjoyed, despite whatever picture of the school the outside world was painting.

Almaz hesitated. She was less than comfortable with the idea of going in to a large, potentially crowded room where the crowd were all or many of them mutants. But then, she realized that no other space would really feel comfortable either - a small office she might feel locked in, so she simply nodded in silence and followed along. "I ... could use a bite to eat, yes." she added as they approached the building.

Sarah talked most of the way from the gate up to the school proper. It wasn't mindless chatter, she was actually offering tidbits of useful information about the school, but it still reeked of a distraction technique, if unintentional. Her chatter was mostly to mask her own ignorance of the proper procedures for this kind of situation. It was entirely possible she'd get in trouble for bringing Almaz to the cafeteria first, but she'd promised food in a proper environment and she tried to be a woman of her word.

As they entered the building Sarah held the door for her guest, and beckoned the first student she saw with a wave of her hand. Theo, one of the younger students, was not exactly a reliable lad when it came to following instructions, but he wasn't purposefully defiant or mischievous. Just a normal boy with mutant powers who was easily distracted. She introduced them, then asked him to please report to the office that there was a new potential student who was interested in a tour, and that Head Teacher Cavendish could find them in the cafeteria. Theo had scratched his head, clearly more interested in doing just about anything else, but he did appear to move off with an air of compliance at least. She hoped Almaz wouldn't be put off by her choice of words. She didn't want to outright say that there was a new student. She wanted to let the girl know that she had a say in the matter--a choice--even if she felt differently.

"Chef's mac & cheese is pretty good." Sarah said as they walked into the cafeteria, gesturing to one of the lunch offerings as they moved up to the serving counter. The cafeteria wasn't a far walk at all from the main entrance, unlike the library, which was buried deep at the far end. "Ooh, and meatball grinders for dinner." She added as she pointed to the meal bulletin board. There were several other offerings, but Sarah usually gravitated toward the popular comfort food options.

Comfort food sounded about right to Almaz now. Though with the large open space, all sorts of new people - some with and some without visual cues betraying their mutant nature - she felt entirely self conscious and even scared. She drew closer to Sarah, almost reaching out with a gloved hand, but stopping herself when she realized that she barely knew Sarah either and didn't know if she could trust her to begin with. At the mention of being 'interested in a tour' she looked alarmed - a tour was the last thing on her mind right now, first and foremost being a desire to disappear into a safe corner and hide away from the world.

Still, it wouldn't help her case at all to antagonize someone who at least outwardly seemed to want to help her, and so the girl went along with Sarah to the cafeteria, electing to try some of the mac and cheese. A simple food. Comfort food, indeed. She sat down where indicated and quietly started to eat. Small bites, while trying to seem small and inconsequential, looking around as she ate and being acutely aware of the stares she was receiving - whether real or imagined.

Sarah would've liked to claim that she was at last able to read the room, but it was actually the bowl of mac and cheese that finally made her shut up, giving Almaz the peace and quiet she'd likely been searching for. As she ate she was of course mulling over a whole list of friendly questions to ask the new arrival to pass the time once their silverware had been set down, but for now, it seemed they were both content to simply enjoy the silence.

Almaz seemed to very slowly relax as she ate a bit, though she never felt at ease. All these people, judging her - she was sure - she wanted to hide away. But she knew that was not a thing she could do now.


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