Saturday, July 9, 2016

Maywitch Chapter 2: The Magical World

Previous Chapter: Summons
Kay turned around just as something massive and scarlet appeared over the top of the car. It was easily fifteen feet tall, with inch-wide scales covering the shining mass that seemed to be its chest. Tan-flecked arms - at least, that’s what Kay thought they were - emerged from at least four points on the sides of its torso.
Even with part of its bulk obscured by the car, it was a formidable foe, and unlike anything Kay had seen or heard of. She heard Juan yell something behind her, but her racing thoughts seemed to be crowding out all ability to sort through silly things like directions.
Something grabbed her arm and dragged her to the right, and at the same time, some kind of bright green light erupted in front of her. “That’s definitely it,” Juan said somewhere to her right. “Marcus, shield her. Kay, I need fire from you, too, until I get in the line of fire.”
Kay tore her eyes from the creature before them and stared at Juan, who was clutching several vials in his hand. “Got it?” he said as he handed another vial to her.
“Launch a bunch of fireballs until you’re in the way. Got it,” she said. “What are you—”
He was gone before she could finish her sentence. As the green light before them faded, she fumbled with the vial’s cap and muttered the shortest fire incantation she knew.
The vial in her hand began to grow hot. She hadn’t gotten rusty like she had feared. Tendrils of flame curled around her fingers, and she hastily stuck her palms outward, away from her body.
The creature had begun to climb over the top of the van, but Juan hit it with some sort of spell, and it stumbled back several feet. Marcus moved around the left side of the car, and green translucent appeared in front of him and Kay.  She followed, her eyes darting between the creature and the fire beginning to grow in her hands.
She could see Juan far to her right, crouching and trying to do something with the dirt and grass at his feet. He was probably trying to draw a magic circle, she knew, but why wouldn’t he have one already on his person somewhere - a pendant, a tattoo, or even just a piece of paper? Maybe this was the ‘trap’ he had been referring to.
The creature lurched toward him, and Kay panicked, unleashing the full might of her flames.
The sky flashed as bright as the noontime sun. Fire sprinted forth from her palms, seeming to paint the air in front of her with opaque yellow waves, and Marcus’ shield suddenly disappeared. The crab-like creature recoiled as flames spread over every spindly limb, and another wild shriek pierced the air.
Something glowed green to Kay’s right, and she could see Juan casting some kind of spell. Darkness danced before her eyes in inky spots, but before she could fully realize what was happening, she had fallen to her knees, gasping for breath.
Her head pounded miserably. The creature’s shrieks were the only thing her senses could process. Other noises boomed around her, but she couldn’t make out what they were. Her heart seemed to bang against her ribcage, chopping her breaths into shallow gasps.
She could feel someone - something - draw near her, to her left, and she pulled away. The creature’s cries were fading, but she sensed some other danger.
Her vision finally faded, and she blacked out, falling sideways into the dirt.

The chatter around Felicity Gardner had grown obnoxiously loud, and had she been any more sleep-deprived, she probably would’ve barked at her colleagues to shut up. The tiny communications room at Maywitch’s Salt Lake City base was busier than usual. The morning’s chaos had drawn many mages from their bunks in a hurry, and there were people in the room whom Gardner knew didn’t really need to be there.
Someone’s cup of coffee clattered to the floor, its fall apparently unimpaired by any last-ditch spells to catch it. That was the last straw. “Listen up!” Gardner barked.
The twenty or so mages all stopped what they were doing and looked at her. “All non-essential personnel need to leave. I don’t care if you think this is relevant to your side project or whatever. You can get your updates via phone or email, like everyone else,” she said.
Immediately, almost a dozen people headed for the door behind her, and she didn’t hear a single muttered complaint from any of them. Most of those who stayed were seated at computers, phones or ancient tomes of witch history, doing research or checking in on various Maywitch employees.
The only two still standing were Gardner and a petite, dark-haired mage standing quietly to her right. “You did want to see me, right?” the young woman said.
Gardner smiled half-heartedly. “Yes. Thanks, Nadia. Any updates?”
“They texted about five minutes ago. Said there haven’t been quakes in town.”
“Good.” Gardner held back a sigh of relief and let her smile grow. Nadia’s charges were far too important to lose sight or sound of, especially in the current situation. “They’re not leaving the safe house, right?”
Nadia nodded. Gardner noticed that the younger woman hadn’t returned her smile. “I can keep checking on them every half-hour, if you want,” Nadia said.
“Please do. Thanks. I’m sure it’s been hard doing double-duty like this…”
Nadia shook her head, still not offering a smile or any other hint of emotion. Gardner had to suppress a grimace. The girl was like a robot. “Go get some rest in your bunk, but keep doing those thirty-minute checks,” Gardner said, waving a hand to dismiss her.
One of the communications staff handed her a phone, and she took it as Nadia left. The work was never done, Gardner thought. Hopefully, the new girl, Kay Adamis, would survive her ordeal and manage to make herself useful.

Kay’s entire body felt hot, and she tried to shed the sheets on top of her, but couldn’t find the strength. She slowly opened her eyes and stared out at the white room in front of her. It took her a long moment to realize that she had no idea where she was.
A petite woman in a gray uniform was wiping down a countertop nearby. Kay tried to get her attention, but could only manage a hoarse grunt.
The woman turned around and grinned. “Oh, good!” she said. “You weren’t even out that long. How are you?”
Kay coughed in response. The woman - a nurse, Kay assumed, based on her uniform - sighed and busied herself with something nearby before bringing a cup of water to Kay’s bedside. “Let’s get you upright,” she said.
Kay tried to wriggle upright on her own, but found to her chagrin that she needed the woman’s help. Cool water slipped into her mouth and spilled out onto the sheets, but Kay couldn’t have cared less.
“Your vitals are better, but you should stay here a bit longer and then go straight to bed,” the woman said. “Does anything hurt?”
The back of Kay’s head hurt, but not like it was bruised - more like she was severely dehydrated and her brain was about to fry. She gulped the last of her water and shook her head. “Head hurts a little, but I’m guessing water helps,” she said. “Where am I?”
“You’re at Maywitch’s Salt Lake City base. I’m Meilan Wang. I’m the head nurse here, so let me know if you need anything else,” the woman said as she refilled the cup.
“Is Juan okay? And Marcus?”
Meilan nodded as she handed back the water. “Yup. You all made it out just fine. Juan said you bought him enough time to destroy it—”
A hydraulic hiss to Kay’s left startled her. Meilan turned toward the noise and nodded politely at something out of Kay’s range of view, behind some kind of tan curtain.
“She’s awake,” Meilan said. “Take it easy, though; she’s exhausted.”
A young woman came into view from behind the curtain. She looked eerily like Kay - the same sloping eyebrows and long, dark lashes framing gentle eyes. This woman’s skin was darker, though, and she had thick, curly black hair pulled back into a bun. She clasped her hands in front of her and offered a shaky smile.
“Kay?” she asked.
Kay nodded, and the woman continued: “I’m Holly. Well - I don’t know if you’ve been told about me, but I’m your half-sister. Mark Grayes was my father.”
Kay’s hands seemed to lose their strength, and her cup slipped into her lap, sending water soaking into her pants. She quickly set the cup on the table beside her bed. “Wait, what?” she said, turning to Meilan.
Meilan nodded and smiled, but her eyes betrayed her, revealing tense concern. “Based on our records, anyway,” she said.
“I’m eighteen,” Holly said quickly, “and I’ve lived in Carson City my whole life. My mom’s too frail to fight, but I can stand my own…” She trailed off, seeming to notice that Kay wasn’t looking at her. “Um, when dad was about to pass on, he told me to keep an eye out for you. He said you could use magic, too. So I’m glad I get to meet you, even in these circumstances.”
Kay didn’t respond. Her mother had told her some three years prior that her father had died from injuries sustained in an accident. She hadn’t heard much at all before then - certainly not enough to know if he’d had another daughter after leaving Kay two months after her birth. If Holly was 18, he must’ve moved pretty fast, she thought sullenly.
“I see,” Kay said, faking a smile. “Nice to meet you. This is quite a surprise.”
“We figured we should clear that up as soon as possible if you two are going to be working together,” Meilan said. “You two are about the same age and have similar abilities. You’ll probably be fighting and training together.”
“I have possession abilities, though,” Holly added. “Gardner already told me a bit about you, and it sounds like you’re a firecaster, and I can do a little—”
Kay held a hand up, more forcefully than she intended to, and Holly fell quiet. “Wait, who’s Gardner?” Kay said. “Sorry, I just woke up here.”
“Sorry! Felicity Gardner is the Field Director for Maywitch’s Western U.S. Region,” Holly said. “She’s in charge of this base. She’s our boss. I guess you haven’t met her yet. I should let you rest before you get everything explained…”
“Kay should be mentally fine,” Meilan said. “Give her an overview of things, will you, Holly? Juan said his little info session got interrupted.”
Holly took a deep breath. “I’ve been here for six months. Volunteered in place of my mom since she’s not well. We don’t really know what’s going on, other than earthquakes where there shouldn’t really be earthquakes. That thing you and Juan fought, though, was something we hadn’t seen before. We thought demon-summoners were involved, and had prepared for that possibility, but we didn’t have confirmation.”
Kay felt her blood start to chill as she remembered their fight with the demon. Her adrenaline had been running full-force then, but now, as she stared out past Holly’s thin frame, she somehow felt more vulnerable than she ever had in her life.
“So this is what I’ve been roped into?” she said.
Holly smiled, but the expression didn’t seem to reach her eyes. “We thought demon-summoners were extinct, so it throws a wrench in things. I thought I was only signing up for accidents and the occasional rogue nutjob. There’s been a lot of crazy stuff happening, though. That explosion in Illinois - you know the one?”
Kay nodded, and Holly continued: “That was just the start of it. And we still haven’t gotten to the bottom of it all, even with some of Maywitch’s top folks around. I hope there’s time to train you a little better. I know it helped me a lot.”
Somewhere near Meilan, something beeped loudly, and she sighed and pulled a phone from her front pocket. “Alright, the Director wants you to get some rest before you make your decision,” Meilan said. “If you want to go home tomorrow morning, you can.”
Holly frowned. “Decision? Aren’t you officially in?”
“Not yet.” Kay stretched and turned to swing her legs out of bed, hoping to convince the others that she was well enough to be left alone. She had no visible wounds, though her pajamas were slightly singed. Either they had done an incredible job healing her, or she had escaped harm thanks to whatever Juan and Marcus had done. She felt like she had a serious hangover, but she suspected that was just dehydration.
More importantly, though, she wanted to figure out what happened to her mother, and not be homeless. If Maywitch took away her financial aid, she was basically fucked. “Where’s Juan? I have a few more questions for him,” she said.
“He’s in meetings and doing damage control, probably for the rest of the day. Get some rest and you can talk to him tomorrow,” Meilan said. “Holly, take her to her room, will you? I think Juan already dropped her stuff off.”
“Sure. I was told she’s in Claire’s old room?”
Kay decided against asking who Claire was. Her knees and shoulders creaked in protest as she slowly stood and nodded to Holly. “Ready.”
Meilan thrust a canvas tote bag into her hands. “Work phone, keys, and ibuprofen. The rest of your stuff is in your room.”
“Thanks for your help,” Kay said.
Holly traipsed toward the sliding door, and it opened with a hydraulic hiss, revealing a brightly-lit hallway. Kay followed her as she turned right, then left, then left again - Kay knew this would take some getting used to - and walked quickly down a long, narrow hall. Holly waved cheerfully to a man talking on his phone, who shot Kay a concerned glance.
“That’s George,” Holly said softly. “He’s not usually here. He’s in charge of the North Carolina base for the Eastern U.S. Region. We have six bases in North America, plus smaller outposts.”
Kay feigned interest, but she wasn’t really listening as Holly rambled on about Maywitch. “First of all, just so you know, we’re pretty well-hidden in these woods outside of Salt Lake City, so don’t worry about us ever being found. We’re solidly underground, and any regular folks who stumble upon this place are told it’s government property. It’s pretty cool. Anyway, these guys are at the cutting edge of everything. Juan is one of the best at socio-emotional spells, and has a weird knack for these demon-trapping spells we’re developing. Gardner is the only hydrokinetic in the country. I’ve already gotten some great pointers on possession and firecasting—”
Firecasting - of course, Kay thought to herself. Their father had been incredible at it. Holly’s possession skills must have come from her mother’s side, though.
“And there’s this really incredible healer named Nadia - I don’t know where she gets it from, but I saw her at work in the long-term wing and—”
It took Kay’s mind a moment to react. “Wait,” she said, “Nadia? What’s her last name?”
Holly glanced up at the ceiling and frowned. “I don’t remember,” she said. “I’ve barely worked with her. Why? You know her?”
“Dunno,” Kay said, shrugging. It actually sounded very familiar - too familiar - but she didn’t want to explain that to this girl she had just met.
Holly shrugged and went on listing off a bunch of names that Kay knew she would never remember. They rounded another corner, and as Holly started to explain whatever wing of the base they had just entered, she suddenly stopped. A woman stood in the hallway ahead, her dark hair falling in front of her face as she fiddled with a keypad on the wall.
“Oh, Nadia,” Holly said, “the new girl’s awake. This is Kay.”
The woman looked up, and as her long hair fell away from her eyes, Kay feigned a smile. It was her, alright - exactly who Kay didn’t want to be working with in an unfamiliar place on a potentially dangerous assignment. They had been well-acquainted throughout middle school, though things had grown complicated, to say the least.
To Kay’s surprise, Nadia made no indication of recognizing her, and casually extended a hand. “Nadia Abendroth. Good to have you on board, though I’m sorry it was so sudden,” she said. “And it sounds like you had a pretty harrowing first day.”
Kay felt the urge to grimace as she shook Nadia’s hand. They hadn’t seen each other in three years - no, four years - but she felt almost insulted by Nadia’s coldness. Then again, she mused, she really didn’t want to explain to Holly how they already knew each other.
As Holly started chatting away again, Kay stretched, wincing as something popped in her shoulder. “You must be exhausted,” Nadia said. “One of us can bring you some dinner in a bit.”
“I’m fine, thanks. I feel like I could sleep for days.” And, Kay thought sullenly, she didn’t want help from Nadia.
Holly’s lips tightened into a pout. “You’ll wake up feeling worse if you don’t eat…”
“I’m fine. I still feel a bit nauseous, though,” Kay lied.
“Fine. Give me your work phone, though, so I can put my number in it.”
Kay handed over her phone, and as Holly typed her number in, Nadia turned back to the keypad on the wall. “Gardner needs me to grab something, so I gotta go,” Nadia said. “Take it easy, okay?”
“Sure,” Kay said.
Holly seemed to notice her furrowed brow as Nadia disappeared. “Nadia’s the best healer we got, and she’s a pretty good brain to pick if you need something” Holly said as she handed the smartphone back to Kay. “Anyway, you share a bathroom with me. There are some clothes in the closet, but we can get you some better ones tomorrow. Call if you need anything.”
“Thanks,” Kay said. “This is all a little messy, but I appreciate your help.”
“Yeah. It’s always like this. New people don’t always get attacked on their first day, though.”
Kay smiled weakly as she turned the key in the knob. She felt ready to collapse with exhaustion as she dropped her bag on the floor inside. “Night,” she said over her shoulder.
“Night. And… welcome.”                                

The orange moon stared down at Kay, giving the entire world a warm glow as it cut through the air. She glanced around, suddenly unsure of where she was.
Then she looked down. She was shorter, thinner, and wearing her old school uniform in hues of blue.
Shit, she thought. What am I doing here?
Somewhere to her right, someone laughed, and someone else responded in a low whisper. Kay turned and saw two figures, their shadows sharp in the darkness.
One of them was Nadia, though she was younger and slightly shorter, with long hair pulled back into a ponytail. The other, taller figure looked eerily like Nadia, but with shorter hair and glittering light brown eyes.
Kay wanted to run.
The tall one waved, and the moonlight glinted off of something on her hand. “Kay, come here,” she said. “I told you, I’m getting you a present!”
But Kay already knew what it was. She turned to run, but her dress shoes slipped in the mud - the cemetery mud, she knew, though she couldn’t even see the headstones in the darkness - and she fell hard.
The tall girl was on her in a heartbeat, pulling her to her feet. “This isn’t optional. I fucking need you,” the girl hissed, her grip tight on Kay’s wrist.
Kay wanted to say something, but her lips moved in vain, the sound swept away by wind, or magic, or both. She turned to Nadia, who stood stone-faced in the moonlight, eyes reflecting yellow fire.
She knew she was being dragged into serious trouble. She remembered it all too well - the attempted necromancy on the grave of Kay’s grandmother, and the hex that had been placed on Kay in an indiscriminate rage, all while Nadia watched.
It had been Nadia’s sister doing the hexing, after all, so of course the bitch had stood by and watched.

Kay woke up drenched in sweat and laid awake for a long time. Four years ago, that incident caused her to flee the magical world, and now, she was faced with the prospect of having to work with Nadia. The girl had no morals and would probably end up being a threat to Kay’s safety, in one way or another. Plus, Maywitch itself seemed disorganized at best, if they were throwing nineteen-year-olds into the fray before they had even agreed to join.
And worst of all, she wouldn’t even have a home to return to if she refused to join. She found herself thinking back to something else Nadia’s sister had said that night: “Fate dealt you a shitty hand of cards this time, huh?”
So be it, Kay thought. The choice was clear and indisputable. Joining Maywitch was still better than being homeless, motherless, and powerless.

Next Chapter: Contracts

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