Saturday, September 3, 2016

Maywitch Chapter 10: The Reader

Previous Chapter: Auras
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Kay only had an hour to finish getting ready before being driven to Grand Junction. Gardner sent her off with a backpack full of clothing and a few supplies, as well as a few documents to be memorized on the way over.
“Get in the black sedan. Your driver will refer to you as ‘Lisa’ to help you get used to it,” Gardner said. Her voice held no concern, as if she had completely forgotten about the aura change ordeal. “You’ll have to leave the documents with him when you’re dropped off, too. Prepaid phone and a bottle of lumericite is in the backpack. Good luck.”
The garage was a warehouse-like space tucked into the north end of the base, and Kay’s sandals echoed eerily on the concrete as she walked. The black sedan looked menacing, at best. As she climbed inside, the driver glanced back at her, eyes wary. “Welcome, Lisa,” he said. “Let me know if you’d like some music on or the air conditioning turned up, okay?”
Kay nodded. She realized with a pang that something felt off - foreign, almost - and it wasn’t just the new name, or the pain lingering in her head and neck. The magic flowing through her fingers tingled in a strange way. The obsidian pendant against her neck, now wrapped in silver instead of gold, felt colder. She would just have to get used to it, she thought as she looked out the window. This was apparently what it felt like to have an aura changed.
As the car pulled toward the exit to the outside world, Kay spotted Holly and Nadia, now with dramatically different hair and faces, climbing into a nearby car. She hadn’t gotten to say goodbye to them, but perhaps it was better that way. She couldn’t stand the thought of talking to Nadia right now.
She pulled out the papers Gardner had given her and began to read them, fighting the urge to sleep as the car pulled into the early evening shadows.

When the driver dropped Kay off two blocks from her destination, she had barely memorized her backstory and personal details. What a potential clusterfuck, she thought as she looked around to catch her bearings. Maywitch sure could be reckless. Gardner had emphasized to them that these were desperate times, but she hadn’t really articulated why. If times were less desperate, would Kay have gotten another day to prepare, or just a few more hours? She had no idea what “less desperate” looked like for Maywitch.
She pushed that thought aside as she headed toward the karaoke bar. She’d have plenty of time to seek answers later.
A few wrong turns later, she found herself in front of a neon sign with a bright blue cat in the middle. She slid into the noisy bar and flashed her fake ID at the bouncer, who ignored her. The crowd inside was mostly male. Her briefing materials had warned her it was a gay bar, but she suddenly worried that she stood out in the crowd.
Then she noticed a few middle-aged women huddled around a table in the corner, and she relaxed. She ordered a drink at the bar and looked around for Dustin Reyes.
A few minutes later, he came into view on the other side of the room. He looked completely healed from his injuries, other than a shiny mark on his right forearm. He was chatting animatedly with another man, and as they finished their drinks and wandered back toward the bar, Kay wondered if they were about to leave together. Gardner and the others had said that he didn’t seem to go out much, and he would probably try to make the most of his Saturday night.
To her relief, the other man left, but Dustin loitered at the bar ten feet away from Kay. She glanced down at her drink before pretending to study the table full of women nearby.
When she turned back around, he had ordered another drink, but was glancing nervously around. He looked toward her, and she lowered her eyes a moment too late. She could feel his gaze intensify into a glare - or, at least, that was what it felt like. She struggled to keep calm as she sipped her beer.
One of the women from the nearby table came over and struck up a conversation with Kay, who let her ramble on for nearly ten minutes. The woman had no detectable aura, so Kay smiled and nodded politely between occasional glances at Dustin.
Dustin meandered back over to the other side of the room, where the volume of the karaoke had increased. The woman noticed Kay’s gaze and nudged her shoulder. “Are you gonna do a song? You should!”
Kay grimaced. “I’m terrible. You should, though.”
The woman laughed, nearly spilling her drink on her dress as she waved her hand. “I’ll get the girls to do it! You have to watch, though!”
Great, Kay thought as the woman darted back to her table. One more potential distraction.
As the karaoke became more rowdy, Dustin appeared to grow visibly tired, and he inched toward the door while dodging attempts at conversation. Kay wiped her sweaty palms on her pants and reached to finish her beer. When it was gone, she grabbed her backpack and casually headed for the door.
Once outside, she loitered for a long moment, fishing around in her backpack for the tiny bottle of lumericite. Dustin came outside a minute later and headed east on foot. Her heart thudded in her throat as she put the bottle in her pocket.
He turned south and walked out of sight, and she followed, trying to mentally practice her story one last time. The cool night air brought up goosebumps on her bare arms as she walked.
When he reached a stoplight, Dustin stopped and turned around. “What do you want?”
Kay smiled and held up her hands. “Easy, there. You from around here?”
“I went to college here.” His eyes narrowed, and Kay’s heart leapt into her throat. “What do you want?”
“I sensed something weird about you. You know what I’m talking about?” She was trying to use the vague hints and word games mages used when trying to search each other out, though she had never gotten much practice with them.
His expression relaxed slightly. “Blessed be,” he said, smiling.
“You were brought up Wiccan?”
“Sorta. It’s a long story. But yes, I think we’re on the same page now.”
Kay smiled back. The game had worked.  “But beyond the basics of who you are, I sense there’s something else going on. There’s something funny happening in this city, isn’t there?”
He shrugged. “What are you getting at?”
“Something darker than usual. Especially in Denver, where I’m from. I’m sensing strange things - well, stranger than our kind usually is - and I’m sensing something strange about you too.”
“I’m gay, y’know.”
Kay chuckled. “That’s not what I’m talking about. My name’s Lisa. You know what this is?” She grabbed the bottle from her pocket and pulled it into the light.
He squinted at it, and she noticed his mouth twitch ever so slightly. “Weed?”
“It’s lumericite. You know what that is?”
“And who gave you that?”
“Made it myself. You want some?”
He stared at her for a long while, and for a terrifying moment, Kay thought he was about to turn and walk away. Then he sighed, scratched his head and looked away. “Lumericite, huh?” he murmured. “You’re nothing to fuck with, that’s for sure. What do you want?”
“I want power. Whatever power’s brewing in this city, I want it.”
“Don’t we all.”
Kay tensed. She was finding this persona hard to maintain, and her charisma would only hold for so long before her nervousness started to show. “There’s only one thing I still care about in this whole world,” she said, her voice low, “and that’s making sure someone ends up dead. Someone who deserves to die. And I’ll take whatever collateral damage comes with it. Whatever you’re into, I sense it, and I want in. It’s a little immature, but…”
He smiled, and she stared down at the ground, feeling fear creep into her for the first time. “Lisa, was it?” he said. “Who is it you’re after?”
“This bitch I went to school with. It’s a long story.”
He raised an eyebrow. “You hate her so much you want her dead? I figured it had to be an ex or something.”
“Never had any quite that bad.”
Before she could react, he suddenly waved a hand in front of his face, and something fell in bright, white sparkles. He was performing a spell. She flinched, but stopped herself from lashing out, knowing that it wasn’t necessarily a combat spell.
He closed his eyes. “I’m not sensing real resolve from you, though.”
She reached to uncork the lumericite bottle, but he opened his eyes again and smiled. “I sense some really strong malice from you. Mistrust, too. But not resolve. You’re angry at the world. You want to do harm to someone, but you have no idea how you’ll accomplish it.”
Kay’s jaw dropped. He was a Reader - not quite a psychic, but he could sense emotions and intent, and determine if someone was lying. Somehow, though, her feelings about her mission and Maywitch were cloudy and complicated enough to make her story believable to him. Maybe he wasn’t even that good of a Reader, she thought.
Or maybe she really had that much pent-up anger. Maybe her aura change had fucked her up more than she thought.
“I guess I can’t argue with that,” she murmured.
“Don’t look so surprised. You’re not a Reader yourself? How else did you know what my deal was?”
“I can’t Read the way you can, but your aura reminds me of someone, so I thought I’d take the chance. What’s the worst that could happen, you know?” She smiled. “Worst case scenario, you look at me like I’m some kind of nutcase, and I run off.”
“Fair enough,” he said, turning south again. “But once you follow me, you can’t back out. We won’t hesitate to kill you if we think you’ll snitch.”
She hesitated, searching for the words to make her attitude more believable. “Is it that bad?” she asked. “I mean, I still want in on whatever it is, but…”
“It’s not bad, per se. Just… has the potential to get messy.” He looked over his shoulder and smiled sadly. “If you got other goals in life, just walk away and pretend we never met, ‘cause this’ll get in the way of those.”
She smiled back and tugged on her backpack strap. “See this? I got nothing, as of this week. Let me in on it.”
He watched her for a long moment, seeming to search her expression - or perhaps her intentions, if his magic was still active. “Good. Let’s go. But I’ll warn you one last time: once you follow me, you’re ours.”
He headed south, and she followed, trying to ignore the shaking in her legs. “What’s your name, anyway?” she asked.
“I don’t feel comfortable telling you that yet.”
“Oh.” She laughed nervously. “Fair enough, I guess.”

Dustin was quiet for most of their half-mile walk, and had focused most of his attention to text messages on his phone. Once he was within sight of a small, weathered apartment building next to a railyard, he turned and asked Kay: “Hey, you hungry? I’m not really a good cook, but there are places that deliver this late.”
“I’m fine. Thanks, though,” she said. She was too nervous to even think about food. Her legs had stopped shaking, but she could feel fear eating away at her insides.
“Before we go inside, I need your cell phone.”
She frowned. Gardner had given her three different phone numbers to memorize in case of trouble, but Kay hadn’t anticipated having her phone taken so soon. “Seriously?”
“You can have it back once you’re vetted.”
He shot her a wary glance, and she sighed. “I can’t believe I’m going someplace with a stranger in the middle of the night and giving up my phone,” she said as she handed him the burner phone.
He unlocked the front door of one of the apartments and led her inside. It was tiny, but neatly kept, to the point that it barely looked lived-in. She had to wonder how often he traveled for whatever mission he was on. “You live here all through college?” she asked.
“Nah, lived in the dorms my first year.” He locked the door and went into the kitchen. Kay heard him rummage around for a moment before he returned with a locked metal box. “Lumericite. Show me how you make it.”
He motioned to the couch, and she sat. “What are your powers, other than Reading?” she asked.
“Not gonna tell you that yet. Show me this, and then I’ll vet you more.”
She nodded as he set small bags of rock salt and charcoal on the coffee table. “How much do you know about the process?” she asked.
“I know it’s pretty easy, if you’re wired the right way. Tell me what you know.”
“That same bitch I wanna kill taught me about it,” she said, the lie coming out more easily than expected.
He shot her a sympathetic glance as he sat down in the rocking chair to her left. “I hope you weren’t ever on the receiving end of this stuff.”
“Sure wasn’t.”
“Isn’t there some chemistry involved?”
“Something about… the sodium in the salt, and the charcoal, and then the fire magic does something,” she said, shrugging.
He waved a hand at the coffee table. “Go ahead, then.”
“One question. What are you gonna use this stuff for?”
There was a long silence as he stared up at the ceiling. She couldn’t tell whether he was annoyed, or simply pondering his answer. “Look,” he said, “I get that you want to help, but you know I have to vet you first, right? Otherwise I’ll get my ass kicked.”
“At least reassure me you won’t be using this on innocent people. I’m fine with not-so-innocent people getting hit, but…” She forced herself to smile. “Please?”
“Believe me, we have no interest in hurting more than necessary.” His eyes narrowed. “Why didn’t you bring that up sooner?”
“I didn’t want to ask it in the middle of the street.”
“Fair enough. Again, I hope you understand that we’ll kill you if you try to leave from here on out.”
“Easy,” she said, raising a hand. “I’m in, okay? I’m just surprised we’re already discussing this. I sensed something was up, but I didn’t expect it to get this serious so soon…”
He nodded, his expression relaxing from concern to sheepish acceptance. “You’ll have to do something about your lack of resolve,” he said. “I’m not gonna be the only one who senses it. I have a boss, you know.”
She tried to feign surprise. “Oh? Is he, like, around?”
She,” he said, smiling, “is gonna be pissed that I let you in this soon. We need you, but not so badly that we can’t properly vet you. So show me what you got, okay? For both of our sakes.”
That had to be Renaya, she thought, trying to keep her expression level as she opened the bags of salt and charcoal. She broke the charcoal sticks into dime-size pieces and arranged them in a circle with the chunks of salt. “If you want smaller pieces, I’m gonna need something to crush them with,” she said.
“No, those are fine,” he said. “Continue.”
Her hands had begun to shake, and she struggled to combine the ingredients properly and arrange them in a circle. “Okay,” she said, smiling as she began to recite the spell in German.
The air above the circle glowed softly, and a faint smell of smoke filled the air. As she reached the end of the incantation, the white pieces of salt turned a pale, sickly yellow. She nodded to Dustin, who smiled and picked up a piece. “This looks good to me,” he said. “Let’s go test it out.”
He held up his free hand and snapped his fingers. She heard soft, rapid footsteps approach down the hallway next to the kitchen, and her heart leapt into her throat.
Three German Shepherds appeared, their tails still and their faces calm. Dustin stood and motioned to the door. “Don’t worry; I’ll cast a silence spell so no one will hear the explosion. Let’s go.”
She nodded and followed him outside. The dogs followed behind her, as if their job was to keep her from escaping.
She had made the lumericite exactly as instructed - because while she didn’t want to play a role in any terrorist plots, Gardner had warned her that her first batch would likely be tested right away. But Kay had almost no practice making it, and there was a chance, however small, that she had made a mistake. She wiped her sweaty palms on her shorts as they walked toward the train tracks.
“What are you gonna do?” she asked.
“Don’t worry, I’m not gonna use it on anything.” He smiled. “This isn’t enough to be much more than a firework, right?”
“Right.” She stopped as he set the lumericite on the ground, whispered the words to a silence spell, and took several steps back.
A moment later, his lips moved, but Kay couldn’t hear the words. A flash of flame burst out of the ground where he had set the lumericite, but the explosion was silent. The yellow-white light burned for less than a second before going out, leaving gray smoke visible in the moonlight.
He waved his hand across his chest, breaking the silence spell. “Well,” he said, a toothy grin spreading across his face, “Nice job. You pass. Let’s go make some more.”

Kay stayed awake until 4 a.m. making more lumericite, taking care to make each batch as weak as possible. Dustin watched her work indifferently. He seemed not to notice that her ratios of salt and charcoal were not the same as before, and that the words of her spell were slightly altered. The color of the lumericite became a lighter shade of yellow, but if he asked about it, she could just blame it on inconsistencies in the charcoal sticks and the size of the chunks of salt.
Eventually, he yawned and waved at the couch. “Get some rest. I’m gonna take the dogs out and go to sleep.”
She nodded and stood. “Let me clean up a bit first?”
“Sure.”
As she washed her hands in the bathroom, she couldn’t help but stare at her reflection in the mirror. She still didn’t recognize herself.
What would happen if she was killed? If her body was ever found, would civil authorities even be able to identify her? Her real drivers’ license was back at Maywitch, and any law enforcement worth a damn would eventually discover that her current IDs were fraudulent.
She hoped desperately that she would get to go back to Maywitch sooner rather than later. Surely there was only so much intel she could collect before the risk of getting found out grew too high. Plus, as soon as they attempted to use the useless lumericite, they probably wouldn’t bother asking for answers - they would want her dead.
She would have to keep her ears peeled for any planning they were doing. As soon as they hinted at using the lumericite, she would have to run, or she would risk dying before being seeing her mother again.
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