Saturday, September 17, 2016

Maywitch Chapter 12: Lumericite

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Kay spent the rest of the day creating batch after batch of lumericite. By dinnertime, she had worn herself out physically and mentally. She wondered if she could fool them into believing her magic was exhausted, and possibly delay their attack.
“Damn, I haven’t used that much magic in a while,” she said, stretching as she finished cleaning off the kitchen table. “Can I go shower? I’m kinda sore.”
“Please shower. You’re a mess,” Dustin said over his shoulder as he put something in the oven. “Come join me for a beer afterward. You’ve earned it.”
She frowned and wiped a hand across her face. Her freshly-washed fingers were suddenly stained with gray. “Yikes. Will do.”
As she walked down the hallway to the bathroom, someone emerged from a side room. Kay intuitively reached out a hand to introduce herself, then hesitated. It was Nadia - no, Dawn, she corrected herself.

“Oh, h-hi there,” Kay said, stumbling over her words. “Are you new? I’m Lisa.”
Nadia stared at her groggily. Kay wondered if she had been given the same sleeping potion as herself. “Hi, I’m Dawn. Sorry, just woke back up,” Nadia said, shaking Kay’s hand. “Where’s the bathroom?”
“That door,” Kay said, pointing to a half-open door.
“Thanks,” Nadia muttered.
As Kay waited outside, she glanced at the door Nadia had just come from, and wondered if Holly was awake. There was something eerie about being in the same place as two colleagues and forcing herself to act like she didn’t know either of them.
Then again, she thought, she and Nadia had done just fine pretending not to know each other at Maywitch. Maybe this wouldn’t be so hard after all.
When Nadia was done, Kay showered quickly. There was something eerily vulnerable about being naked in such an unfamiliar place - especially a place where she was being held against her will. She re-dressed and went back to the kitchen, where Dustin immediately offered her a beer.
“C’mon, let’s go sit on the balcony,” he said. “You been out here yet?”
She shook her head and took the bottle from him. “Nope. Thanks.”
He strode out to the balcony, where four folding chairs sat around a tiny card table. “It isn’t much, but it’s nice when you don’t get to go out often,” he said.
The sun was setting behind the massive fir trees to the west, and the sky over the cabin was turning darker every passing minute. Kay tried to enjoy the scenery, but couldn’t.
“Rest assured, Lisa, you are earning our trust,” Dustin said a few minutes later. “I can tell you’re perturbed by how you were brought into the fold, but it’s what you wanted, right? And you’ll see the benefits soon enough. I promise, you’re fitting in just fine. I’m glad you decided to reach out to me on a whim.”
She realized that she had played right into his hands by following him back to his house. Even if she had turned out to be useless or a fraud, he would’ve found a way to make her useful - even if it meant killing her. His words were suave and calming, but they didn’t mask the fact that he never had trusted her, and never would.
But she smiled - not at him, but at the realization that she had figured out his game. He was skilled both at Reading and at manipulating people, but those skills wouldn’t protect him from her flames in the end. She would still win. “I appreciate hearing that,” she said.
His face darkened slightly, and she realized that he had sensed her murderous intentions. “The sooner you really let me at ‘em, though, the sooner I can accomplish what I came for,” she said.
“Even after you accomplish that, though, we can’t just let you go,” he said. “But we’ll give you incentives to stay. Don’t worry too much about that.”
“I’m sure you will.” She searched his expression, but it was hard to read as he raised his bottle to his lips again. “Why do you do this, though? What brought you here?”
He smiled. “You only have one person you’re pissed at, Lisa? Or is it many?”
“I mean, it’s mostly just the one.”
“But think of how many people shaped that one person. Think of how many people allowed that person to become who they are.” He drained the last of his beer without meeting her eyes.
She stared out over the landscape for a long moment. “Sure,” she said slowly, “there’s a lot of people—”
“People responsible for her doing whatever she did,” he said, “whether directly or indirectly, right?”
Her heart sank. She knew where he was going with his statement. “I guess there’s a lot of people responsible, at least a little bit. People who saw the trouble she was causing and said nothing.”
“I want the world to start anew,” he said, barely audible over the rustle of the wind in the trees. “I want to recreate everything. Like Noah’s flood. I want the sinners washed away, and only the truly good to stay alive. Those who stand up for what’s right. Those who actually protect the weak instead of turning the other way.”
“Do you think that’s really what’s going to happen?”
He stood up and dusted off his pants. “There will be some collateral damage, right? Just like with your goal,” he said softly. “I was scared at first, but I’ve kinda grown into this.”
A cold, fleeting wave of fear rushed over her, and he walked away without giving her a chance to respond. Then, at the door to the cabin, he turned around again as glimmering white powder fell before him.
“You need to toughen up, Lisa. I’m sensing that lack of resolve again.”
Her head began to swim as he walked back to the building. There was no way he wasn’t onto her. She had said too much.

As she went to bed, she caught glimpses of Holly and Nadia hovering just outside the kitchen. She said nothing, though, knowing it would look suspicious if she went out of her way to greet them. If Dustin was keeping a close eye on her, he would surely make a note of who she associated with.
She read the miscellaneous books in her room for a long time before finally growing tired, but even then, she slept horribly. She made mental plans for how she would address Dustin in the morning. There had to be a way to make sure that he believed in her - or at least trusted her enough to let her live.
She had been asleep for barely three hours when she was awoken by shouting in the hallway. She sat upright, fumbling for the lamp on her nightstand. Maybe something bad had happened. Maybe she was about to die. As she managed to turn her light on, she reached for the pendant around her neck, as she had done barely a week ago when Juan had knocked on her door.
Then Renaya burst into the room, a knife in her hand and fury in her eyes. “You have about five seconds to explain what was wrong with that fucking lumericite,” she snarled as she walked toward the bed.
Kay raised both her hands and shook her head. “Wait, wait,” she said. “What happened? It should work just fine—”
“It had the explosive power of a fucking car backfiring!” Renaya yelled. She rammed a knee into Kay’s stomach and knocked the lamp from the nightstand.
As Kay’s head hit the wall behind her, she heard Dustin’s voice in the hallway. “Ren, don’t kill her just yet,” he said. “She might not even know what went wrong. She could just be incompetent.”
“And if that’s the case, you’re fucking dead,” Renaya said over her shoulder. “And get the fuck in here.”
Kay barely noticed the pain in her head and neck as she calculated her next move. Renaya knew Kay was a firecaster, but seemed unaware that her close proximity put her in mortal danger. Then again, Kay thought, attempting to burn Renaya from this range would probably spell her own death as well. The cabin around her and the bedding beneath her were certainly more flammable than the church they had fought in previously.
“Fucking spill,” Renaya said.
“I don’t know,” Kay gasped, squirming under the weight of Renaya’s knee. “Let me take a look at the batch, okay?”
There were more voices in the hallway. Renaya seemed to hesitate for a moment before waving the knife in front of Kay’s face. “I really don’t want to kill you,” Renaya said, “but you’re either incompetent or some kind of sneak, as far as I can tell. If you give me a good reason, though, I can spare you for now, while also reserving the right to possess you and throw you off the balcony later—”
“Wait!”
Renaya turned halfway. Holly - no, Billie, Kay reminded herself - stood in the doorway, her face shining with sweat. Kay’s mouth went dry as Renaya straightened up, keeping her eyes fixed on the tiny girl. “This better be good,” Renaya said.
“Kyle told me what happened,” Holly said, her voice barely above a whisper. “It - it’s probably not L-Lisa’s fault. I did some batches last night, and I hadn’t realized my cycle had started, and - and that can throw it off, so I went back through—”
“What are you blubbering about?” Renaya snapped as she stepped closer to Holly.
“I tried to take out the batches that I had done, but I might’ve done it wrong. I was tainted! Being on your period can taint lumericite; it’s that sensitive!” Holly said. “I’m sorry! I - maybe I grabbed the wrong ones and the bad ones were left in the box!”
Kay slowly struggled to sit up. Holly was right, but the lumericite was their father’s talent. Had he known about menstruation throwing off auras that subtly, or had Holly learned that somewhere else? It wasn’t a problem for most spellwork.
Whatever the case may be, Holly might have just saved the day, Kay mused as Renaya turned back to her. “Is that true? Your period can even fuck up lumericite?” Renaya said.
“Yeah. I’m always careful about it. My cycle’s not for another week, though,” Kay said, shrugging.
“And mine started really suddenly. You can ask N- Kia,” Holly said. Kay saw her face twitch and knew that she had come very close to using the wrong name.
Renaya’s face contorted in disgust. “No, thanks, I’d rather not.”
Dustin snickered, and Holly flushed deeper red. “No, I meant - I bled through my pants,” she muttered. “And that’s when I realized it had started. I’m sorry. I caused so much trouble.”
“I didn’t even know we had two lumericite-makers, though.” Renaya stepped closer to Holly again, and the room grew eerily silent. “I don’t think Kyle told me that.”
Kay shuddered. The statistical likelihood of two lumericite-makers joining such a small team at almost the same time was miniscule - and Holly couldn’t come up with an excuse for that.
“It’s great, isn’t it?” Holly smiled.
“I wonder how likely that is, though. Fire abilities are rare -  less than ten percent of the mage population, I’ve been told. And you have both that and possession?”
Holly’s smile twisted into a wide, sinister grin, and Kay shuddered again. “How did Lisa end up here? Maybe there’s something about us fire-starters that kinda draws us here,” Holly said softly. “I mean, since most mages don’t really… appreciate our talents.”
For a moment, Renaya’s expression was hidden from view as she lowered her head. Then Kay heard a low chuckle, and when Renaya raised her head again, she looked much less concerned than before. “I guess that’s possible,” she said. “Hell, maybe there’s a psychological side of things that’s bringing us together. Kyle did say you and Dawn were starting trouble when he found you.”
As Kay realized she had been holding her breath, she turned away from the others to hide her relief. Renaya was unstable, but perhaps she wasn’t totally irrational.
“At any rate, you’re both off of lumericite duty for today,” Renaya said, her voice much softer than before. “We lost our opportunity to hit our target. We have another two people moving back in tomorrow. Billie, clean the cellar and the stairwell. Lisa, clean the first floor.”
“Sure thing. Sorry about all the trouble,” Holly said, her voice back to its usual volume. Her eyes met Kay’s, and she nodded. “Sorry, Lisa. I caused a lot of panic for you—”
“Enough,” Renaya said, waving Holly away. “Go back to bed. Breakfast isn’t for another two hours.”

Sure enough, Kay spent the day scrubbing and vacuuming every inch of the first floor. It was unnecessarily punitive, but better than being dead, she thought as she finished wiping down the bathroom mirror. She owed Holly at least a few beers when they got back, regardless of them both being underage.
As she finished putting cleaning supplies away at the end of the day, Nadia caught her eye in the hallway, and scratched her nose. That was the signal that they should start looking for a way out. Kay rubbed her eyes in response, to show that she had received the message.
She knew that their chances of escaping were slim, though. Their cabin was in the middle of the woods, and if none of the three of them could determine their location, their chances of making it to the nearest major road, let alone actual safety, were slim.
They would probably have to steal whatever vehicle they could, Kay thought as she stretched and headed to dinner. It would probably take a few more days for Renaya to calm down again, after Kay and Holly had lost her trust in such dramatic fashion. After that, though, they might be able to make their move.
At dinner, Dustin, Kyle and Renaya were uncharacteristically quiet. The people who usually visited for dinner - mages that had come to pick up supplies, or meet with Renaya about something - were absent. Holly and Nadia mostly kept to themselves, but occasionally voiced a question or idea.
“What will I be helping with tomorrow?” Holly asked at one point.
Dustin shrugged, and Renaya ignored the question entirely. “Hard to say,” he said. “We’re waiting on some more updates from someone tonight before we plan our next move. Don’t worry; things will get interesting again soon.”
Holly mustered a smile. “Cool.”
Nadia stared down at her plate, and Kay looked away, not wanting to seem too interested in her compatriots. She picked at her food for a long while before Renaya, Nadia and Holly wandered off, leaving herself, Dustin and Kyle to clean up.
As they finished washing dishes and putting leftovers away, Dustin spent several minutes typing on his phone. “Any updates?” Kyle said softly.
Dustin shook his head, his expression unreadable. “Lisa, let’s grab a beer,” he said. “It’s a nice night. Go on outside; I’ll be out in a minute.”
“Sure,” Kay said, trying to sound enthusiastic. Her heart sank as she stepped outside and closed the screen door behind her. She doubted he was grabbing her for another camaraderie-building chat.
The variegated sky before her calmed her nerves slightly. She sat down on the same wooden chair she had sat in before, and placed her shaking hands in her lap. The strain of the past few days had finally begun to wear on her. She felt as if she would burst into tears.
Then again, she tried to tell herself, maybe he had some good news for her. There was no way she would get to go home - at this point, she was essentially a victim of human trafficking, she realized with a jolt - but maybe he had talked Renaya down from the rage that had consumed her that morning. Maybe if they trusted Kay with a new assignment, a chance to escape would present itself.
Dustin emerged with a bottle of beer in each hand. “You had a long day, huh?” he said as he gave her one.
She took it. “Yeah. Thanks for this.”
“No problem. Hey, don’t worry too much about the lumericite craziness. We know how particular that stuff can be.” He smiled at her, but the emotion didn’t reach his eyes. Even in the dim lighting of the woods at sunset, his face was clearly strained. “We used to have someone else who could make it, but we needed to send her somewhere to scout out something else.”
“Gotcha. No worries.” She smiled and took a sip of her beer. “How much more will you need?”
“A lot. Got big plans.”
She hesitated for a long moment. She knew she had to press him for information, though she was unlikely to get it. “Will you tell me who you’re going after? I know you guys gotta be careful about who you trust, but…”
“Patience, Lisa.” He took a swig of his beer, and when he spoke again, he didn’t meet her eyes. “You’ve got some time to kill before you find that out.”
“Look, can you at least try to make sure I accomplish what I came here for? Sooner rather than later,” she said. She could feel her face growing hot, and she knew her temper was rising.
He glanced over at her, his expression unchanged. “That won’t be happening. Sorry.”
Her chest grew tight - and as she struggled to process his ominous words, a wave of dizziness rushed over her. The beer bottle slipped from her fingers. The last thing she heard was the dull thunk of heavy glass on the patio deck.

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