Freebie Mondays: You Wouldn’t Believe (Story 17 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Freebie Mondays: You Wouldn’t Believe (Story 17 of 22 Stories in 2022)

Since I write roughly 22 stories every year, I thought it might be fun to do a project for 2022.

In 2022, the 22 shorts I write for my blog will be taken from prompts related to the 31 stories in 31 days project from January of 2022. Each will relate to the multiverse that all of my stories take place in, and I will try to keep the main characters that appear on my blog to the background (unless I get a super cool idea).

I’ve written each of these stories on stream. If you want to witness this installment as it was crafted, the VOD is on youtube!

The prompt for this one was: “you wouldn’t believe how my day started!”

This prompt ties in with the Aruvalia Chronicles and features two of the side characters (Rilan and Valia) that don’t get a lot of air time. (One of the main reasons I started this project in the first place!)
. . .

Snowflakes drifted past the windows of the Queen’s Division Headquarters in downtown Silvergarden as Rilan sank into his chair. A glance at the clock warned that he was close to ten minutes late for the official start of his duty shift but, since his partner hadn’t yet arrived, he didn’t think anyone would notice.

Another glance out the window reminded him of one of the reasons it had been so difficult to reach the office. If the snow kept falling at this rate, it wouldn’t take long to generously coat the roads and walkways. The main thoroughfares bore minor enchantments that would melt most of the snowfall as it settled, but the smaller streets needed to wait for mundane assistance. It meant that tempers were already running high as commutes took longer than usual, and it seemed as though people had forgotten how winter worked since last year.

Rilan inhaled deeply and released the air slowly, trying not to sigh. The soft click of the office door opening startled him, however, and most of his breath escaped in a rush. He spun and found Valia standing in the doorway, a soft smile on her lips and a pair of coffee cups grasped in her hands. She set one on her side of their shared office space, then passed the other to Rilan.

The charms from their favorite coffee shop always kept the liquid hot even under the direst of circumstances, so the first sip he swallowed was as steamy as if it were freshly brewed. He savored the liquid, even sipping again from the cup before he flashed his partner  a grateful grin.

“You have no idea how grateful I am for this,” he admitted as he set the enchanted cup aside. “You won’t believe how my day started.”

Valia quirked an eyebrow. Something about the twinkle of her eyes suggested she wanted to challenge this claim. Queen’s Division agents encountered strange things all the time. Between the two of them, they could tell a fair number of stories and not run thin on entertainment. But it seemed she decided not to counter his claim – at least not for the moment.

“Want to tell me about it?” she said instead, settling back into her chair and lifting her coffee cup to sip from it.

They were between assignments at the moment, which meant most of their day would be devoted to paperwork and reports on their last mission. Usually, they were Rilan’s least favorite kinds of days. But with snow choking the ground outside, it would be nice to stay comfortable and warm and not have to think too hard about what awaited him tomorrow or the next day.

Did he ever want to relate the tale of his morning! But where to start?

“I was expecting today to be typical and boring,” he admitted with a snort.

Valia laughed. “That was probably your first mistake.”

“Yeah,” Rilan agreed with a shake of his head. “I should probably have learned by now.”

The snow had only just begun to drift in lazy flurries from the sky when he stepped out his door that morning. Queen’s Division agents working day shift tended to rise early, though he wasn’t quite as early a riser as Domerin, who tended to run before he arrived for duty, but Rilan liked to give himself at least an hour to reach the office.

He lived on the outskirts of the city, one of the districts that had been tacked on at some point in the distant past. The size and relative isolation of his family home meant he had to drive a fair distance before the hustle and bustle of the city swallowed him.

Most mornings, he used that time to clear his head, to organize whatever tasks he needed to take care of for the day or to shake off any lingering feelings about his most recent missions. But today he hadn’t gone far beyond his driveway before his car sputtered and lurched to a halt.

Rilan didn’t consider himself a particularly vain or materialistic person, despite having inherited a mansion when his parents passed, but his car was the one thing he poured pride into.

“Julie quit on me today,” he admitted. He could tell Valia wanted to make a comment about the fact that he named his car, but she thankfully refrained. “And it’s weird because I just had her serviced a month ago and the mechanic told me everything was fine.”

“Maybe one of the wires in that fancy computer got crossed.”

“Could be,” Rilan agreed with a shrug. He didn’t know the ins and outs of his car’s mechanics. Which might make him a bad car owner, but he didn’t so much care. He didn’t have the time to devote to learning what was under his hood because his day job kept him so busy.

“You have roadside assistance though, surely?” Valia pressed, perhaps impatient to reach the spectacular part of the tail.

“Of course, and they towed me pretty fast. I guess maybe they’re all already out in force today because they expect accidents to happen during the first major snowfall of the year. No, it wasn’t until we reached the garage that things got weird.”

“Did they try to tell you that Julie was having an identity crisis?” Valia teased, evidently enjoying her own joke enough that she added a wicked chuckle to the end.

“No, they told me to wait while they ran a diagnostic, so I wandered outside. They took me a lot farther downtown than I expected, so I thought I might wander somewhere I could get some breakfast. It probably would have been better if I just drank the cheep garage coffee and waited inside.”

“Did someone try to carry you into the shadows?” Valia sounded halfway between teasing and confused now. It was clear she expected this story to be all fun and games – and Rilan wished he could treat it that way.

“Nothing like that. But there was some kind of protest happening.” He still wasn’t sure what the original protest was supposed to be about. The signs had been a mishmash of messages that didn’t entirely make sense. The procession had been slow moving and the chant disorganized, but the crowd seemed never-the-less determined. “As near as I can tell, a group of mercenaries did something to upset people, and instead of looking up some information or contacting the guild, they decided to make a spectacle of it. But there were a lot of nonsensical signs mixed in, so I think some people just like to show up and shout angrily.”

“Wouldn’t surprise me.” Valia sighed. “You don’t think it had something to do with Limegate, do you?”

“Gods, I hope not. That was over a year ago! Anyway, as soon as I noticed the crowd, I tried to give them a wide berth. Protestors don’t like uniforms, and I didn’t want to make the city guard’s job any harder than it was already bound to be. But I didn’t scoot out of the way quickly enough, because the fringes took notice. And as soon as they saw me, the entire crowd abandoned their original trajectory so that they could swarm me.”

“They didn’t!” Valia protested, her voice now choked with concern.

“I mean, they didn’t assault me.” Rilan was still obviously in one piece, without a scratch or bruise on him, so that much should be obvious. And even if he’d seen a Healer before coming to work, he’d be dragging his ass a lot harder from the fatigue than he was. “But it wasn’t pleasant. I didn’t know what they were going to do and I was alone at the time.”

He’d been armed. Queen’s Division agents almost always were, even off duty. But his weapons had been concealed – which he thought might have kept the crowd tame. “I guess they just wanted to chant at me because they formed a circle, waved their signs in my face and finally managed to get off a few coordinated rounds of their cry.”

At first, Rilan had merely stared at them, unable to comprehend the words they spoke or the slogans on their signs. He had dealt with enough angry crowds to keep calm and not feel overwhelmed, but he hadn’t enjoyed being surrounded on all sides by potential hostiles.

“After a few minutes of silence, one of the people who I guess might have been a leader took a step forward and demanded to know what I was going to do about the situation.”

Valia barked a laugh. “Did they think you could carry a message to the queen?”

“Hells if I know.” Rilan flicked a wrist, then paused a moment to sip from his coffee cup. “I have no idea how they expected me to react, but I just very calmly told her that I don’t have any jurisdiction over mercenaries, that they’re not my department and I was the wrong person to speak to.”

“How did that go?” Valia eyed him suspiciously, perhaps checking again for any signs of trouble he may have endured.

“I think I disappointed them.” Rilan actually chuckled. It was far more amusing looking back on it than it felt at the time. “A bunch of them lowered their signs and a few people pouted. But then the situation got weirder still because one of the people in the back pointed over a pair of shoulders and yelled, “I’ve seen him hanging out with Domerin Lorcasf!””

“Domerin hasn’t been a mercenary in years,” Valia roared, offended by the idea that people were still associating him with the guild.

“I know. And I was so stunned and confused that I blurted, “He’s the Captain of the Royal Guard, what does he have to do with anything?” Which again seemed to disappoint the crowd, like I was somehow outsmarting them without realizing I was playing a game. At that point, I really just wanted to go back to the garage and pray my car was ready to leave. I think I might have even experienced some secondary embarrassment over how things were going for the protestors.

“The trouble was, no one moved. I was afraid to move toward the crowd because that could have been misconstrued as aggression, and they didn’t seem to want to admit they’d made a mistake. So we all just kind of stood there for a few minutes, shuffling our feet and waiting for someone else to do something. I heard some muttering, but I don’t think anyone could really decide on a next course of action. I’m pretty sure I’d still be standing there, gathering snow on my head and shoulders, if the weirdest thing of all hadn’t happened.”

Valia’s eyebrows shot upward. “I’m starting to have a hard time believing it could get weirder than this.”

“Me too,” Rilan admitted. But he had lived it. “So we’re all just kind of standing there trying to pretend it’s not the most awkward situation we’ve ever experienced since high school, and then this other group comes running from a side street shouting at the protestors. But it wasn’t until they reached the edge of the circle that I realized several of them were dressed like Domerin.”

“They were dressed like Domerin?” Valia sounded skeptical.

“Yeah, I know. It didn’t make sense to me at first either. Because they weren’t wearing fake uniforms, but they had obviously put on wigs and drawn scars on their faces. But wouldn’t you know it, they marched right up to the protestors and started making a path toward me. I wasn’t about to look that gift horse in the mouth, so I scuttled through the gap and made good my escape, though not before I paused to thank one of the fake Domerins for the assist. Because I mean, really, if he had been there, he’d have done the same.”

“Sure, but why does he suddenly have a gang of doppelgangers running around?”

“Well, I don’t know for sure, but I have some theories. Because by the time I got back in my car and drove out of the garage – it was a blessedly quick fix apparently – they were still hanging around. Except they were acting out scenes from that really bad movie that speculated about how Domerin killed the dragon in Ebonhollow… have you seen that one?”

“Yeah,” Valia admitted, speaking in an undertone, “but I’m pretty sure Domerin doesn’t know about it.”

“Probably best to keep it that way,” Rilan agreed. “Anyway, I figured they were probably dressed up so they could re-enact the movie and just decided to entertain the crowd as a distraction. I’m eternally grateful, really, but I don’t think they realized I actually know him. And I think this kind of stuff actually happens fairly often, though I’m not usually aware of it. They call themselves cause-players I think?” That made the most sense to him based on his morning’s experience.

Valia chuckled, then flashed him a knowing smile. “They’re called cosplayers, Ri. And actually that explains a lot because you wouldn’t believe how my day started.”

Rilan arched an eyebrow, refusing to be upstaged. “Is that so?” he demanded, fixing his partner with an expectant – if somewhat playful – look.

She laughed. “Yeah, I got to the bottom floor of my apartment building and was promptly greeted by some little green men. Big bulging yellow eyes, tiny mouths.”

Rilan scrunched his face into an expression of confusion. “You expect me to believe you had an alien encounter on the way to work this morning?”

Valia threw her head back and laughed. “Well, I did,” she insisted, though her eyes twinkled with mischief again. “They were masks, of course. Though until I heard your story, I couldn’t fathom why. There must be some kind of convention in town. It’s the right kind of year for it.”

She might have said more, but the soft clearing of a throat drew both their attention. The tiny hairs on the back of Rilan’s neck stood on end when he realized they were so engrossed in their conversation that someone managed to sneak up on them, but he realized when he realized it was only Gregory Barrow.

The grizzled old soldier narrowed his eyes as he glanced between the two of them, then he grumbled, “My day started with getting five kids out the door in time for classes, but you don’t see me complaining about it. Are the two of you about ready to go?” He sounded annoyed, but Rilan knew him well enough now to know most of it was feigned.

“Sure thing, Barrow,” Valia replied without hesitation. “Just give us two minutes and we’ll be with you.” She waited until Greg backed out of the office before she flashed Rilan a look and playfully rolled her eyes.

Then she lifted her coffee cup to her lips, downed the rest of it and tossed the cup into the bin beside her desk before leaping to her feet.

Rilan followed more slowly, bringing his cup with him as he exited the office, savoring one more sip before he threw himself back into the fray.

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