Author’s Note: In the city of Skymoore, as you are likely aware, there is a neighborhood or perhaps a sub-city called The Mish Mash. In the neighborhood or perhaps the sub-city called The Mish Mash, as you likely are not aware, there is a sub-neighborhood or perhaps a regular neighborhood called Easel Street. As you are likely aware at least in part if not in entirety, there is a once-abandoned art museum in the sub-neighborhood or perhaps regular neighborhood called Easel Street. This once-abandoned museum is now occupied by Teyla Eastwind, and as you likely do not know, there is a secret basement in this museum which contains a portal to the Infinite Hells. Specifically the slice of those Infinite Hells reserved for Teyla.
This is all to say, when in the ensuing scene Teyla walks into the basement and something strange happens to the geometry of the museum, that the strange geometry is not the work of the museum’s builder or previous tenants, who are all perfectly fine people who have never created portals to the Infinite Hells. (Not that no perfectly fine person has ever made a portal to the Infinite Hells. Things happen, and life takes all of us to unexpected places.)
Teyla Eastwind was frustrated, afraid, and paranoid. That is true both in the moment in which this story begins, and in the many moments and days and weeks prior. The sources of these emotions are varied and complex and would take many hour-long sessions with a licensed mental health professional to unearth and address, but Teyla did not think it was complicated, as we often do not.
As far as Teyla was concerned, the catalyst for her recent emotional state was her defeat at the hands of Karessa Plunderton and the gnome Nestor Pinkly. Teyla tried to send the people of the Mish Mash to mother, to save them, and Karessa stopped them because she is wicked and stupid, just like she always had been. This defeat left her frustrated (because she had been bested), afraid (because of what Mother would do when she found out), and paranoid (because Karessa had not come after Teyla despite apparently knowing where she lived).
Now, if Teyla were thinking rationally and strategically, she might have solved this last problem by simply leaving. But Teyla did not always think rationally, and certainly not where this museum was concerned. It was the only thing that brought her peace of mind.
The museum was constantly arranged in a gallery exhibit of Teyla’s own making. A tribute to the last gathering of the Allwinds, the larger extended family to which Teyla belonged. Statues of Peryn, Karid, Lorn, and Maryn – the Southwind, Northwind, Eastwind, and Westwind clan founders, respectively – were positioned at their appropriate wall. A diorama of the last great Allwind Race through the Alabaster Gorge in southern Penscarop topped the table in the center. Paintings of the clans, the scenery, the food, the feelings, every last subjective and objective detail was documented here.
However, on some days, and these days were increasing in number, Teyla was not content simply to remember what it was like to be present at this gathering, to live through one of her last good days. Observing and indulging in simulacra ceased to satiate.
On such occasions, Teyla ventured to the wooden door in the back of the gallery. The branches that composed it were merged seamlessly into the wall, as though some druid or elf had sung it into form. It felt pleasant to look upon, and more pleasant to stand near. It felt like nostalgia and home and belonging, all but the first of which Teyla had not come across in some time. To stand in the same room as that door and not pass through it was an act of constant disciplined abstinence.
In the moment we are presently observing Teyla, she is giving into her urges as she has been more and more often of late. She is opening the door which does not belong here, and she is stepping through it, and she is entering the Southern Cliffs where the Allwinds had their final gathering, and she is overlooking the Alabaster Gorge which is sparkling in the afternoon sun, which is hot in the way that makes you feel energized but not quite hot enough to cause significant discomfort. In other words, it is perfect.
On the rims of the gorge there are picnic tables and paper decorations and balloons and weightless rocks tethered to the ground as children wonder at their impossible majesty. Cousins whose names Teyla could not recall dance and laugh and throw frisbees and shoot arrows and do tricks. An uncle whose name she does not remember plays his magic piano, which replicates the sounds of an entire band, and he plays the song of the first Allwinds, and he plays it without flaw.
In other words, it is perfect.
On the edges of the sky there are red and black tendrils which frame this vision and there is cracked green stone which form the walls of this particular space of the Infinite Hells, and if you look wide enough you can see them and if you listen closely enough you can hear the souls of the failed devils who suffer for eternity so that Teyla could relive this memory, but Teyla does not look wide enough and she does not listen closely enough so she does not see or hear that which she would rather forget. In other words, it is perfect.
Standing on the edge of the Alabaster Gorge is a young avayla, only four years old, looking down with wonder. On days as bright as this, the river which flows through it, The Old One’s Vein, is the only visible color other than that brilliant white, which hurts the eyes but gives the fascinating appearance that the river is the only thing there. The girl feels like she is about to fall, but the sudden emergence of the racers in her periphery dispels the illusion and she is grounded once more.
She wonders at them, marvels at them, leans toward them. She wants to see them as close as possible. The way they glide and glitter and whip by her like a fish swimming through a stream. She wonders when she will learn to fly and if she will ever be as good as them. She wasn’t as strong or smart as her siblings, and all Teyla really wanted was to be the best at something. Perhaps this could be it. Yes, she thought. She was sure of it. But she has to be patient, because no avayla is going to fly at age four. Maybe in a year or two.
Then the racers are gone and everything is white and Teyla is leaning too close to the edge now. Equilibrium is lost once more and she tumbles forward, into the gorge. A brother whose name Teyla cannot recall gasps and reaches out for her but she is gone, she’s falling.
The world around her is a pure and solid whiteness, inscrutable and blinding, and she doesn’t know how long she will live before she hits the bottom. She shrieks and flaps and calls for help, and help would have come, but it wasn’t necessary. Her flapping steadies when she realizes she is falling no longer. She is flying! Or, she’s falling slower! But that’s almost like flying! Her kin watch in adoration and awe as Teyla flounders just a bit more, finds her footing (so to speak), and then rises. Teyla beams.
Then the world pulses, and everything goes red. The Teyla watching from the ledge feels a churning in her stomach, but she stays. The next part is the best part, but – no, she sees the borders of the stone chamber now. She resists the urge to look straight up and see the horrors that await her there.
Another pulse, an angrier pulse, a longer pulse.
Teyla gasped for air as she stepped back into the gallery, though she had not realized she was holding her breath. She ran as fast as her feeble legs would carry her up the stairs to the attic, her chest hoarse and raw by the time she arrived.
Across the room, hanging above the desk where she did her rituals and her studies, a mirror with a red-gold frame hung ominously without need of nail nor string nor any natural means of fastening. In her reflection, Teyla saw that some of her feathers had gone black, which should have concerned her, but there were other things which concerned her more.
“I’m sorry, mother,” she heaved.
Teyla’s gaunt, blackened reflection faded and The Scarlet Someone’s visage took its place. She sat on a massive throne of a chair, but their surroundings were otherwise unobservable. Mother had never revealed her location, despite Teyla’s repeated questions.
“Your dependence on that realm displeases me,” The Scarlet Someone said.
“I’m sorry, mother,” Teyla repeated.
“Do you want me to take it away?”
“Then focus. Do you have the components I asked for?”
Teyla unfurled a burlap sack on her desk, revealing vials of powders, liquids, small stones, and a recently deceased lizard. “Of course.”
“Good. Though you failed, and failure is unacceptable, your initiative in creating that portal in the Mish Mash fills me with pride, my daughter.”
“I-” Teyla did not know whether to thank the Scarlet Someone or to apologize. “Yes, mother.”
“Now, I’ll walk you through this ritual once more, and this time you are not to fail me, do you understand? Give the mayor what he wants, and he’ll give you what you want, and you’ll give me what I want. Is that right?”
“If you have to kill the minotaur in the process, you have my permission to do so, dear. Hers would be a…disappointing loss, but the mission matters above all else. If Linda Arterford turns her blade against you, just do what we discussed, and you will be fine.”
“To work, then. By Winter’s end, we’ll have brought Skymoore and their intolerable Cabal to its knees.”