And very bad news
It was a few days from the turning of the year and the sun had set hours ago. Annabelle shivered but kept up her steady pace. She was used to walking home in the darkness. He shift had ended and she was glad to be finally headed home for some warm soup.
Somebody coming out of a side street bumped into her and she was about to berate them when she saw that it was a child, wearing the initiates robes of the Brotherhood of Gorn, with the royal crest on one side and the symbol of the Brotherhood on the other. Her mother had impressed on her, when she was younger, just how important the Brotherhood of Gorn was. One of the Sisters of Gorn had saved her life when the birth of the twins had proved difficult.
Annabelle held her hand out. "I'm sorry."
"I'm fine." The girl brushed her robe off, then blinked. "Annabelle?"
Annabelle looked more closely at the girl's face. "Amber. Are you...how's being an apprentice midwife?"
Amber frowned. "When I get to work with the Sisters, it isn't so bad, but with the war...the Brothers have co-opted more and move of us to pass on bad news."
"Oh," was all Annabelle could think to say. Everyone knew the sort of bad news that the Brothers of Gorn delivered. Gorn was the God of Death as much as he was God of Birth. She swallowed. "I should..." She gestured down the street.
"Of course," Amber said. "I'm going that way as well. Is is it alright if I..."
"Sure," Annabelle said, though her stomach dropped. She stepped to the side before she began to move again, leaving a spot for Amber to step in beside her. It wasn't her fault that she had to deliver bad news.
After a few minutes of awkward silence, Amber asked, "How is factory life treating you?" When they had been children, getting to the age where most children left school, Amber's family had made the choice to send her off to apprentice with the Brotherhood so that there was one less mouth to feed, while Annabelle's family had sent her to work in the factory so there was enough money coming in to the household to make ends meet.
Annabelle took a moment to think about it. As miserable as all the hard work was, she had grown used to it, and there was some measure of satisfaction in bringing money into the household. "It's not bad. No worse than anyone else's, and better than some." Annabelle's grandmother might disagree, as she had been opposed to her daughter marrying a factory worker, but running the store didn't make her grandfather more money than her father and siblings combined.
Annabelle grew more and more nervous as they came close to her building and Amber didn't peel away. Finally, they reached Annabelle's building and Amber's eyes grew wide. "Of all the tenements in Optilocus..."
Annabelle wanted to shake her, wanted to scream at her for bringing bad news to her neighbors. Instead, she wrenched the door open and said, "You go in first."
"Annabelle," Amber said, struggling to find the right words.
"In!" Annabelle snapped, and Amber made her way inside, stumbling slightly on the hem of her robe. Annabelle slammed the door behind her, then immediately felt guilty for doing it. She took three deep breaths and then entered the building herself. She kept catching glances of Amber ahead of her in the narrow hallways and then on the stairs, but she kept her distance, until she heard a chocked sob. Her heart caught in her throat, because she recognized the voice. She had to be sure though.
Annabelle barreled down the hallway, meeting Amber coming back the other way. She shoved Amber roughly aside. Amber hit the wall, but Annabelle ignored her, not stopping until she was just in front of her own door, where here Aunt Maire-Claudette was sagging against the door frame, tears streaming down her cheeks. Annabelle turned to scream at Amber, at Gorn, at the King for starting the war, at everyone and anyone, but the hallway was empty. Her neighbors had all retreated when they saw a single Initiate of Gorn coming and prayed that the news wasn't for them. So Annabelle stifled here scream into something halfway between a whine and a groan and took the last few steps to the door, just as her mother carefully pulled her Aunt out of the hallway.
Annabelle closed the door and sank to the floor in front of it. There were candles sitting on the table, and the tiny apartment smelled like cooking soup, with her siblings and her mother all gathered around her aunt, but it might as well have been cold and empty.