Saturday, September 24, 2016

Maywitch Chapter 13 - Cellar

Previous Chapter: Lumericite
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Kay could taste blood in her mouth. As she slowly regained her senses, the taste of iron threatened to overwhelm everything else. Her sight was blurry and dim, but she wasn’t sure why.
“Sorry you got a shit hand this round,” Renaya’s voice said somewhere nearby.
Kay couldn’t hold back the wave of panic gnawing at her chest, and she struggled feebly against her bonds. Something cut into her neck, wrists, legs, back - she was restrained at nearly every joint. The more she tried to move, the weaker she seemed to become.
“This game we’re playing is like a poker game, isn’t it?” Renaya’s voice was suddenly very close.
It was hard to breathe in the damp, hot air of the cell. Kay struggled to open her eyes, and closed them again when she saw that Renaya’s face was inches from her own.
“You thought you could bluff. You didn’t think I would check the other batches after that?”

Kay was struggling to breathe, let alone talk, and she realized after a long moment that there was a poultice taped over her mouth. It smelled like the sleeping poultices her mother had for herself when the stress of single parenthood had been too much.
“By the way, we did some more digging and found a hole in your story. Your little ‘Lisa’ character isn’t in the local government records she should be in. I’m guessing you’re with Maywitch, right? You really wanna make up rules for other mages to follow? You really wanna be limited in what you can and can’t do?” Renaya bent down, frowning as she met Kay’s gaze. “We’re trying to make the world better, y’know. It’s a little messy right now, but if you’d just stay out of our way…”
For a minute, Renaya’s gaze was sympathetic - almost concerned - and Kay found herself wanting to know more. Could some silver lining be lurking beneath the earthquakes and the demons? What could possibly be Renaya’s justification for whatever mayhem she was plotting?
Something hard collided with the edge of Kay’s jaw beside the poultice still taped to her mouth. She grunted in pain and recoiled, tugging hard at her bonds. The taste of iron clouded her senses again. For a moment, she felt disoriented and nauseous, and worried that she could end up choking on her own vomit if Renaya didn’t remove the poultice.
“You’re getting me in some trouble with my boss, you know,” Renaya said as she stood back up. “You’ll fuckin’ pay for that. Too bad we need you alive right now.”
She walked away, and as Kay felt her nausea fade, she tried to sense the limits of her magic in her current state. She was almost powerless. Apparently, there was little to no wormwood residue or other ingredients on her person. Renaya and the others had probably checked her well.
Kay glanced around at her surroundings, and her heart dropped when she realized she was likely underground. The stone walls around her had no windows. It was likely the “cellar” that Renaya had asked Holly to clean the previous day, she thought.
But what had even happened to Holly? Had she been locked up somewhere as well? Had Nadia been found out?
She felt fatigue begin to set in again, and she closed her eyes. She had no strength to fight anything, even sleep, and she felt her thoughts turn to jumbled nonsense as she fell asleep again.

Nadia would have been pacing frantically, if Kyle and Dustin didn’t have her at gunpoint. She had been held in her room for nearly two hours. Holly had been hauled off by Renaya and another woman to someplace else inside the cabin; Nadia only knew that because she could occasionally hear Renaya yelling.
“Look, if you’re telling the truth and Billie didn’t do anything wrong,” Dustin said, “then Renaya will sort it out and return her soon, okay? Shit’s just a little weird right now.”
Nadia sighed. She had been voicing objections to her and Billie’s treatment for the past hour and a half, and it was clearly going nowhere. Dustin was still eyeing her with the same passive, cold stare he had when he had first entered. “I’m gonna have to pee in about ten minutes, you know,” she said.
“Fine. I’ll walk you to the bathroom whenever you want.”
As Nadia stood, though, there were footsteps in the hallway. Dustin glanced over his shoulder, though his gun didn’t move.
“She’s clean,” Renaya’s voice said. “Kyle, Dustin, go downstairs and watch over Lisa. She’s been in and out of sleep for the past hour.”
Nadia’s heart plummeted. As Kyle and Dustin disappeared into the hallway, Holly reentered the bedroom, her eyes cast to the floor. “Everything on you and your girlfriend here checks out,” Renaya said as her face appeared in the doorway. “Sorry. We had to triple-check everything ‘cause it turned out Lisa’s a fuckin’ snake.”
“What?” Nadia said, trying her hardest to feign surprise. “What happened? Is that why the lumericite didn’t work?”
“Good guess,” Renaya said. “We’re doing damage control. If you saw or heard Lisa do anything suspicious, or have any clue as to her real name, let me know now.”
Her eyes narrowed. Nadia’s thoughts raced as she tried to piece together a believable response. “I mean, we didn’t really talk,” she said. “Like, at all. I can’t think of anything right now…”
Renaya shrugged and turned away. “We’ll make you two useful later today, but for now, sit tight,” she said as she left the room.
Holly waited for a moment before crossing to the door and closing it. Her eyes were wide with fear, and the minute the door was latched, she sank to the floor.
“Holly—” Nadia hissed, then caught herself. The walls could damn well have ears, she thought. “Billie, what happened? Are you okay?”
Holly shook her head, and Nadia climbed out of bed and went to her. “Are you okay?” Nadia repeated.
“I’m fine, but—” Holly paused, seeming to realize her proximity to the door was dangerous. “Give me a minute.”
Nadia embraced her, and they sat by the door for several minutes. Holly’s skin was sweaty and cold, and Nadia could feel her rapid heart rate slow only slightly over a few minutes. “They had a mage there who could detect lies, they said,” Holly whispered. “They told me that, and—”
She stopped again and nodded toward the window. Nadia helped her to her feet and walked over to the bed, where Holly immediately sat down again. “They must have been bluffing, though,” Holly whispered, “to see if I would try to make a break for it, or something.”
Nadia frowned. If the mage had really been able to detect lies, Renaya and the others probably would have figured out Holly was with Maywitch. They had apparently been betting on Holly revealing herself - attempting to break out, or refusing to talk, or something like that.
Or, she thought, perhaps the mage’s powers were real, and they were simply trying to lull Holly and Nadia into a false sense of security before killing them.
“So you just acted innocent as possible?” Nadia said.
“Yeah. I figured… I mean, I knew I wasn’t going to be strong enough to beat all three of them. Plus, I assumed they still had you at gunpoint.” Holly rubbed her eyes. “God, I can’t believe that didn’t end worse.”
Nadia pulled her close and kissed her on the forehead. “What did they tell you about Kay?” she whispered.
“Not much. Just that she had apparently tainted the lumericite on purpose, and that they’re holding her somewhere. Did they tell you anything? And did they ask you anything?”
“Not really…” Nadia frowned. “I wonder why they were so aggressive toward you, though, and not me.”
“I think they were checking out our backgrounds, too. Maybe there was a minor inconsistency with mine. Or maybe they just thought I would break more easily under pressure.” Holly smiled thinly.
“You did good,” Nadia said, kissing her forehead again. “Now we have to look for a chance to break Kay out or reach out to the outside world.”
Holly nodded, but Nadia knew they were both thinking the same thing: they might only have a few hours before Kay outlived her usefulness.

Two hours later, after Holly and Nadia had showered and taken naps, Kyle summoned them to the kitchen. He waved to the table as they entered. “Sit,” he said. “I’ll have something for you to work on in a minute.”
Nadia watched as he set a styrofoam box on the table and took off the lid. He went to the fridge and pulled out a test tube rack with tiny, sealed vials in it. She didn’t have to look close to see that there was blood in the vials.
She tried to keep her expression neutral. Blood was only used for hexes - truly powerful, awful spells.
Holly’s face had turned a pale, tawny shade. Nadia tilted her head in concern, and as Kyle went to get something else from the fridge, Holly pointed a shaking finger at the vials.
“Kay,” she mouthed. “It’s Kay.”
She lowered her hand as Kyle turned back around. Kyle said something to them, but Nadia couldn’t hear anything over her furious, panicked thoughts. Holly was too freaked out for there to be any doubt. She must have sensed her half-sister’s aura coming from the blood.
As Kyle opened his mouth to say something else, Nadia slipped two fingers into her back pocket and pulled out a poultice of sage and sea salt. Holly tensed.
The wind spell left Nadia’s mouth with more venom than usual, and it seemed to react to the potency of the poultice as well as the blood pounding in her ears. Kyle thudded against the fridge behind him, crying out only briefly before falling to the floor. The vials on the table rattled in their holders. Holly flinched, but Nadia barely noticed.
With shaking hands, Nadia shoved the poultice back into her pocket and stared at Kyle’s limp body for a moment. “We better move quickly,” she said.
“You should’ve interrogated him first,” Holly muttered. “Because Kay might be in the basement, but if she’s not…”
Nadia smiled. “I have a better idea, actually.”

Kay’s eyes fluttered open again, and she stared at the ceiling for several minutes as she tried to catch her bearings. She had no idea how long she had been unconscious. To her right, Renaya’s form came into view, looming overhead in distorted, blurry angles. “Glad you’re awake again,” she said. “Let’s talk before you’re in too much pain.”
Kay’s arms ached, though she wasn’t sure whether that was because of her invisible bonds or something else. She craned her neck as much as she could, hoping to see as much of the room as possible. Renaya seemed to notice her efforts and leaned down.
“Thanks for all this blood,” she said, holding a red-filled vial in front of Kay’s face. “See? I knew you would end up useful somehow. When we take people in, we know that even if they end up being snakes, we can make something useful out of them.”
The poultice over Kay’s mouth was damp, and for a minute, she had to fight the urge to gag. Sweat beaded on her neck and forehead. She suspected that she had lost too much blood to be able to escape, even if the bonds on her arms and legs were suddenly weakened.
Renaya suddenly kicked Kay hard in the head. “You fuckin’ hear me? Listen up,” she yelled. “I’m not letting you live. I’m letting you die slowly.”
Kay grunted in pain and closed her eyes, bracing herself for another blow, but it never came. There was a soft whisper somewhere in the hallway leading to the cell. She heard footsteps move away from her, and she opened her eyes to see Renaya walking away.
“Hey, you might want to take it easy on her. We’ll need more blood than this,” said a male voice.
“Fine. Get in here and do it,” Renaya replied. “What’s she doing here, though?”
“Thought I should bring her in case we needed her. We can’t be killing her too soon.” Kyle stepped into view, with Nadia right behind him.
Kay’s heart sank. What was going on? Was Nadia being coerced - or was she about to show her true colors?
Then again, she thought, if Nadia had been brought to heal Kay, that probably couldn’t hurt. Kyle, though, glared down menacingly, his eyes narrowed.
“Wait, did you bring the equipment down?” Renaya said.
He stiffened. “Shit, I forgot,” he said. “Kia, make sure she doesn’t die—”
“Wait.” Renaya’s eyes narrowed. “Where is everyone else?”
Nadia’s eyes darted between the other three. Kyle frowned and tilted his head. “I mean, Billie is upstairs cleaning,” he said, shrugging. “I don’t know exactly where Dustin is—”
Before Renaya could even react, Nadia had lunged at her, a kitchen knife in her right hand. Kyle projected a shield in front of himself and Kay.
“You—” Renaya dodged Nadia's thrust and began speaking Latin.
“Move!” Kyle yelled, and Nadia dove back behind his shield.
An instant later, hurricane-strength wind surged forth from Renaya’s hands, shattering the windows high on the cellar walls. Kay watched, bewildered, as Nadia said something to Kyle before handing her knife to him.
“Kay,” Nadia said, kneeling next to her. “I’ll have you free in a minute. Just hold still. I expect you’ll faint if we move you too quick in the state you’re in.”
Kay felt something poke her right arm, and she fought the urge to pull away, though she wouldn’t have gotten far anyway. A few moments later, she heard Nadia muttering under her breath, and Kay’s bonds loosened.
“Is Kyle… Is that Holly?” Kay asked.
“Sure is.”
“Hey, I can’t hold this much longer!” Kyle - or rather, Holly - suddenly yelled. Shield magic arched from his palms in bright green rays, reflecting sharply off the sweat on his face.
“Need two minutes,” Nadia replied.
Kay slowly sat up, rubbing her aching legs with her free arm. She already felt noticeably better, though she still felt as if she had a massive hangover. “What do you have on you?”
“I got salt, wormwood and a couple other herbs, plus an amethyst I swiped. But hold still so I can heal you—”
Kay shook her head as Nadia prepared a second syringe of something - likely blood with some kind of magic done to it, she thought. “I need a little blood. When you finish with that one, let it bleed a little,” Kay said.
Nadia nearly dropped the needle, and she fixed Kay with a stony gaze. “What are you going to do?”
“Getting a little revenge. Just look the other way.”
Nadia smiled, but it was a pained, sympathetic expression. “I don’t blame you at all,” she murmured as she slowly injected the syringe.
Kyle yelled something just as Renaya charged through the shield, seeming oblivious to the knife in his hand. He swung wildly, and the knife dug a shallow cut into her fist as she swung at him.
In a heart-wrenching instant, Kay realized that Holly was effectively defenseless: she could use almost none of Kyle’s powers, nor her own, while she was possessing him. The use of possession magic took up too much of her own energy to use more than a shield or weak wind spell.
Nadia whirled around and lunged at Renaya with the bloody syringe. Startled, Renaya stumbled back, but Kay could see her lips moving as she prepared another attack.
Kay said the Latin words to a hex as quickly as she could while fumbling with the various herbs in Nadia’s pack. Her hands glowed as they became painfully hot.
“Move!” she yelled as her fingers grasped a vial of wormwood.
Nadia and Kyle dove out of the way without even turning around. Renaya’s lips were moving rapidly, but it was too late. With just a few more words, Kay had lunged forward and unleashed the full fury of her hex.
Blinding orange light shot forward from Kay’s hands. Unlike her regular fire spells, this one chased human flesh with relentless speed, like a lion chasing its prey. It wouldn’t stop until there was nothing left to burn. It was forbidden precisely because it was impossible to call off.
Renaya didn’t even scream as her clothes and hair ignited first, followed by her skin, sending jet-black smoke toward the ceiling. The pungent smell of burning flesh made Kay recoil as it reached her.
It took less than a minute for Renaya’s body to burn to a shriveled crisp. Kay could feel the adrenaline beginning to wear off as she lowered her shaking hands. Kyle stood motionless for a moment before dropping his shield and vomiting on the stone floor.
Nadia, however, seemed completely calm, but her fingers shook as she rested them on Kay’s arm. “You okay?” she asked. “And who the fuck taught you that?”
Kay shrugged. “I live alone and work weird hours. Gotta teach myself some things to keep safe.”
“That’s a little more than necessary for ‘keeping safe.’”
Kay ignored her as she turned to Kyle. “Holly, you good?”
Kyle wiped his mouth. “Yeah,” he said faintly. “We gotta move. Let’s go.”
He turned to head back the way they had came, and Kay followed, feeling intense relief at finally being freed from her bonds. “You should go back to your body,” Kay said.
“No,” Kyle said, “I’m staying with you guys until—”
“Holly, go back upstairs,” Nadia said. “Seriously.”
Kyle cast an annoyed glance over his shoulder. “I’m not leaving you two alone with Kyle, though. Let me lock myself in there and then I’ll go up. Hurry up.”
Nadia nodded and started to run down the hall. Kay followed, unsure of where they were going or what had transpired before they came to rescue her, but assuming it was better to ask later.
They heard the clang of the cellar door, and five seconds later, a muffled thump echoed down the hall. Then, as Nadia and Kay reached the stairwell, there was a shriek somewhere upstairs.
Nadia swore and bolted up the stairs. “Shields up!” she said as she reached the first landing.
Kay’s legs burned as her feet pounded the steps. At the first floor, Nadia dashed down the hallway before bursting into the kitchen. As Kay ran into the room, her senses were assaulted by a putrid, decaying smell mixed with the lingering scent of smoke.
Then she saw the shadowy creature looming above Holly, and as it turned to greet its visitors, it let out a bone-rattling roar.
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Next Chapter: Demons

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