Montclaires don't Hide

12th October - Montclaire Estate, Highholm - Morning

Diana Montclaire felt like the same person she’d always been; perhaps a bit less inclined to blindly trust in strangers and at present unenthusiastic about leaving the house or even her room, but she’d always had a touch of the gloom and doom to her. It was kind of her thing. But for the third morning in a row, she opened her eyes and didn’t quite recognize herself. She was safely behind the imposing walls of Highholm, back in her familiar room, but it didn't feel like home. Her twin wasn't in the next room and Diana was afraid Serenity wouldn't recognize her even had she been.

She sat up in bed and ran fingers over the matching puncture wounds at her waistline along the left and right of her pelvis. Those were new, courtesy of the tests she’d undergone. She tried her best to think of them in terms of tests and exams, but that's not really what they had been. They were intrusive experiments that she was convinced left her altered inside and out. The entire ordeal was beginning to blur in her mind and she was reticent to do anything to focus that mental obscurity. She knew there were other girls who had been rescued and she planned to make contact with them; that much she knew. But there were others who had not survived long enough to see that rescue and it was unfair those should be the faces that she saw clearly in her mind. More clearly than she could recall her own sister.

She rolled out of bed and stood before her mirror, determined that today would be the day she took in her new reflection and did not recoil or look away in anguish. Her face was mostly as she remembered, though more angular; the tips of her toes were a little further from her eyes and her torso was longer in the midriff, but it was the size of her new bosom that she found most unsettling. Because she could not explain their sudden development. There was a woman’s bosom where three days prior had been only two small mounds. There was no scarring and anyway she had been awake and miserable the entire time so she knew there was no surgical procedure to which she could attribute the change.

She yanked the sheet from her bed and threw it over the mirror to put an end to the reflective rumination. It was bad enough she’d have to finally leave the sanctuary of her room for a session with her father downstairs, she didn’t need to make it worse by dwelling on it. She dressed quickly and huffed a bit at the new fit of her unaltered clothes then met her nanny out in the hall and after a quiet exchange was led down to her father’s study directly, skipping breakfast for the moment. A nanny might not have been the most accurate term for Nit, but that’s the position she first held under the Montclaire roof and she didn’t seem to mind the title even if the job description had changed drastically over the years.

When Diana stepped into the study her father was behind his large desk, as usual, looking over whatever it was he spent his time looking over. She had honestly never involved herself in his work any longer than it took to get under his skin and trigger his default response when handling the twins; give them money to shut them up and send them off to spend it somewhere. It had worked for Diana this long so she’d start with that approach. She moved across the rug and was about to lean in on the desk when a massive dog jumped up from the floor beside Benjamin Montclaire’s chair and sprung around the desk.

“No!” Benjamin called out and the dog stopped in its tracks, alert as could be, but holding its ground. The three of them were locked in silent scrutiny of the other. Benjamin stared at his daughter much changed and realized what Nanny Nit had been trying to tell him all along. His little girl was still in there; he could see her in the eyes and the mannerisms, but the body was to some extent foreign and there was something unseemly about it all. Perhaps it was that he’d lost one daughter and been deprived of years from the other. Perhaps he was not prepared to think of her as his girl and see her as a woman.

Diana and the dog were glaring at one another, neither willing to look away but for different reasons. This was no puppy and had clearly been the recipient of physical and behavioural training. Diana couldn’t know it, but the animal was pushing 90 pounds of pure muscle. She however did not see any such beast of burden or brutality. She saw a short haired brown dog wearing a full leather harness with a pair of brass goggles on its head. The orange tinted lenses helped with his sensitive eyes, but she wouldn’t learn that until later. She was in love straight away, but knew enough not to stick her hand out. Whether the dog reciprocated those affections was yet to be seen.

After an awkward delay Benjamin rose from behind his desk and came around to stand nearer his daughter. He reached out to lay a hand on her shoulder, but she shied away slightly and he thought better of it. His voice was gentle when he spoke, “I see now your Nit spoke truly. I’m sorry I did not believe her or I would have brought in a doctor….”

Diana cut him off, “No. Please, no doctors. No more poking and prodding.” She sat down at one of the high-backed chairs and fiddled with the coiled leash that had lay in the seat.

Her father let that go for now, but it was plain to see he intended to pursue it sooner rather than later. “Alright, no doctors for the time being. Do you need anything? New clothes?” He wasn’t sure how to skirt around the obvious.

“I will make the clothes I have work. That’s hardly the biggest concern on my mind.”

“None of my children make due when they need something more.” He lifted the lid to a small box on his desk and pulled out a modest stack of currency.

“What about Serenity? What are you doing to help her?” Diana couldn’t keep the accusation out of her tone, but she smiled as she held her hand out to accept the money. From what she’d been told there had been nothing her father could have done to prevent things playing out the way they had and she was disappointed to face her true thoughts on the matter, that she wished it had been Tate who had been taken instead of her sister. But Serenity had volunteered so perhaps that would count for something and steer the Regent towards leniency after an initial show of force. “Are your men out looking for her?”

“There's no need. The regent was quite clear where she was being taken. Your brother and I are working on a deal…”

“A deal?! Why not a rescue?” Diana had her hand hanging over the arm of the chair and was surprised when she felt the dog licking at her fingers. “Is he trained, father?”

“Naturally. I'm not sending you out there with a wild beast. I bought him months ago and have been working with his handler to get him ready. He was meant to be a gift to you and your sister. But now… Your brother agrees with you. Says we should go in guns blazing to retrieve her. But this we cannot do. It’s exactly what the Regent would be prepared for. All our lives would be endangered by such recklessness. So a deal between myself and the Regent is our best option, but deals take time to broker and I must once more establish myself in the Regent’s good graces before she’d consider any offer I extend. You must give it some time, Diana. I know it’s difficult, but time is our ally right now.”

“I just want her back, father. I’ve never been without her and to think of the terrible things she must be going through alone…”

“I know, child. But your sister is strong, she will hang in there until we get her back. And you are strong as well. You will make it through all of this, I promise. Do you wish to speak to me about any of it? I’m a good listener.”

“You’re a terrible listener, but a good father. No I don’t want to talk about it. Not just yet.” Diana’s mood was slightly lifted by the news that something was being done to bring her sister home. She tried not to imagine how long such a something might take, but she knew Serenity would do whatever it took to stay safe and with a smile to boot most likely.

“Perhaps it is just so. Since you are not allowed to hide your beautiful smile behind your bedroom door all the time, I’m expecting you to wander outside for a bit. You can stay here in Highholm if you wish, but you may find it more informative to go down into the city. You cannot be afraid of people or life, little one. People and Life are all around us, we must befriend it and encourage it to befriend us or our endeavors will never pan out. May I suggest you stop in at the Art Gallery, show your face and let the healing begin. But before you do that, I want you to visit the shops, buy yourself something new. What are you doing?” He was looking at the dog licking her fingers, not a particularly frightening sight.

“What? He likes my fingers and I don’t mind.” Diana scratched the dog behind the ears and the tension between them lessened even further.

“It will be difficult for Major to deter would-be assailants if he’s busy licking fingers, Diana.”

“Major?! That’s a terrible name for a dog. I’m changing it.”

“Don't do that, Diana. He's already learned his name and besides, he’s meant to be a menacing guardian. Major implies authority and … christ you've got his tail wagging.”

“What about a compromise?” She jostled the leash and the dog became excited. "What about Major Boogie?”

Benjamin Montclaire considered the name and shrugged. “If you must. I for one will still call him Major. Since you’ve taken a liking to one another, I want you to bring him with you today. In fact, from now on you aren't to leave this house without either Major or a hired guard at your side. Before you object, this is for your safety. They aren't intended to hamper your movements or report on your activities. Only to keep you safe.”

“I’ll take the dog, thank you. I don’t need one of your men following me around the city and I’m quite sure a grown man has better things to do than watch me window shopping.”

"Grown men will do sillier things than that, Diana, especially for what I’m paying them. I’ll trust you for now with just the dog, but don’t make me regret this. Or I will have to insist on a human chaperone. Please dear, do be careful, but have some fun or else what’s the point of being a Montclaire at all?”

Before she left the house she was given the name and address of Major’s previous handler with instructions to seek him out for guidance on proper handling and commands. That sounded more like a chore than fun, but Diana promised to do so before anything else and soon she was outside among the beautiful homes of the rich and powerful, beneath the horrid green Maelstrom that overshadowed everything and unseen further above, the floating city of Elesium that looked down upon them all.

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