Saturday, October 1, 2016

Maywitch Chapter 14: Demons

Previous Chapter: Cellar
The demon bellowed, making Kay clasp her hands over her ears. Holly rolled to the right and scrambled under the table as Nadia raised her hands.
“Kay, back me up!” Nadia yelled.
Kay uncovered her ears just as Holly yelled: “It’s immune to fire! We’ll have to try something else!"
That explained the scorch marks on the wall and ceiling, Kay thought, glancing at Nadia.
“Shit,” Nadia muttered. She cast a shield, and Holly crawled out from under the table to hide behind the fragile-looking spell. “Kay, go check the closet in the hall for lavender and wolfsbane.”
The demon lunged at them, and Nadia dove left while Kay stumbled backward out the kitchen door. “We can hold them off for a few seconds. Go check the closet in the hall,” Nadia said.
Kay didn’t have to be told twice. She sprinted the five meters down the hall and yanked the closet door open; after several seconds, she found both herbs in neatly labeled plastic containers.
A scream echoed out from the kitchen, followed by a bang. Kay ran back and stuck her head in just as Nadia and Holly were running out.
“I only stunned it. Let’s go,” Nadia said as she darted for the front door.

“To where?” Kay asked.
“To grab one of the cars — just follow me!”
Nadia’s tone was icy, and Kay realized it was probably best not to argue. Her head hurt horribly, and it was difficult to process any thoughts more strategic than “run” and “fight.”
Nadia paused by the front door to rummage through some jackets left on hooks. A few seconds later, she yelled with delight, keys in hand. But her enthusiasm was short-lived: a low growl rumbled in the kitchen behind them. “Okay, we’re taking the Hummer,” she said as she opened the front door. “Get out and keep moving.”
She sprinted outside, and Holly and Kay struggled to keep up as she headed for a black SUV. There was a muffled bang somewhere in the house. “Holly, where the fuck did that thing come from?” Nadia asked as she gasped for breath.
“I don’t know! I mean, it looked like it broke through the window right before I woke up, but…” Holly shook her head.
Nadia remotely unlocked the car and pulled the driver’s door open. Holly opened one of the rear doors and ushered Kay inside before jumping in after her. “Whatever the case may be, there’s probably a demon-summoner nearby,” Nadia said. She swore under her breath as she started the car. “Or maybe someone activated some kind of trap that let that thing out. You two, be on guard.”
Holly rummaged in her pocket for a moment before murmuring a spell. A second later, a faint green haze surrounded the car. “We’re not so worried about being seen by non-mages right now, are we?” she asked.
“No. We’re taking the back roads, anyway.” Nadia hit the gas, and the car sped down the gravel driveway.
For nearly ten minutes after that, the only sound in the car was the sound of rain tapping against the windshield and roof. Nadia’s knuckles were white as she gripped the steering wheel, struggling to maintain control on the slippery roads.
Holly removed her cotton jacket and gave it to Kay, who soaked it in rainwater to cool her face. “We’ll get you a poultice when we get there, Kay,” Nadia said, her voice hoarse. “Just hang in there, okay?”
Kay didn’t respond. She still wasn’t totally convinced that she was still alive. Was she dreaming? Was she passed out in the cellar, never to awake again?
She pulled the damp shirt away from her face and ran her fingers over it. It was wet and soft, even with the congealed blood staining parts of it. Maybe she was still alive after all. She reached over to pinch her arm with her right hand, but her hand hurt too badly. Renaya must have bruised it at some point.
Holly seemed to notice Kay’s discomfort. “Nadia, do you want me to drive a bit so you can heal Kay?” she asked.
“I’m fine,” Kay protested.
Nadia didn’t respond for a moment. “There’s a little town up here,” she said. “I think it’s safe to pull over. I’ll try to call the safehouse, but if they don’t pick up, we keep driving.”
Two minutes later, she pulled over at a gas station. The three of them jumped out, Nadia making a beeline for the pay phone, and Holly and Kay heading for the restrooms.
Kay kept her head low to hide her bruises while she used the restroom, but couldn’t keep from noticing her face in the mirror. She still had the unfamiliar, false face they had given her at Maywitch. It made her feel even worse, and she wanted to get rid of it the minute they made it back.
Suddenly, more than anything, she wanted to talk to her mother. Even if Renaya tracked Kay down and killed her tomorrow, she at least wanted to be able to tell her mother everything that had happened. Maybe she would come back from her assignment, or at least take Kay along on it, if she knew how much her daughter had suffered.
“Kay,” Holly’s voice said softly behind her.
Kay looked at her half-sister in the mirror, but didn’t turn around. “I’m okay,” she said. “I’m not as sore as I was.”
“Okay. C’mon, the sooner we go, the sooner we can get back to the base,” Holly whispered, stepping toward the bathroom door.
When they climbed back into the car, Kay curled up in a ball with her knees to her chest, not wanting to let the others see her cry.

Twenty minutes later, Nadia abruptly pulled off the road again. Kay looked up to see bushes and branches all around. “We have to ditch this car and get picked up,” Nadia said over her shoulder. “Kay, you good?”
They hurried out of the car, and within thirty seconds, a black sedan had stopped at the side of the road. The passenger-side window rolled down, revealing a pale, tawny-haired young man with a pistol in his hand.
He aimed it at Nadia. “Password?”
“Lux aeterna,” she replied. “And yours?”
He smiled as he flipped the safety switch. “Pax aeterna,” he said. “Get in.”
The three women squeezed into the backseat, and the driver accelerated as soon as the door was closed. “Long time no see,” the man in the passenger seat said, turning toward Nadia. “Glad you’re alive.”
“Renaya’s dead,” Nadia said. “You relayed to base that there’s a demon on the loose, right?”
“I did. They were a little surprised you didn’t kill it,” he said, his voice gentle. “I told them you had an injured teammate, though, so they'll monitor it via satellite and send in a team as soon as necessary.
He trailed off, and he turned further to look at Kay and Holly. “I’m Lysander Reynolds,” he said, nodding. “The maniac driving us is Akani Wright. Kay, you need anything right away?”
Kay shook her head. “Thanks,” she murmured. She knew she shouldn’t be surprised that he knew her name.
Nadia resumed filling him in on the rest of their mission. She had skipped introductions and other niceties, Kay noted. A professional, through and through.
Eventually, the car pulled up outside a small brick house, and they went inside as quickly as they could. “Akani and I will stay on guard,” Lysander said. “Get some rest. I might need someone to take over for one of us a little later, though.”
Kay stood in the sparsely-decorated living room for a long moment, pondering her options. She was exhausted, but she had no desire to sleep. She wanted to be back at the base as soon as possible.
“When do we get to go back to the base?” she said softly.
Lysander offered her a wan smile. “Tomorrow morning, first thing. We just can’t risk driving back right away. Too far of a distance to cover without any time to plan precautions.”
She nodded as Nadia appeared at her side, herbs in hand. “What hurts?” Nadia asked.
“Really, I’m fine,” Kay said. “Is there a room where I can lay down?”
“Pick a bedroom upstairs, and just holler if you need anything,” Lysander said, waving a hand toward the stairwell. “Akani and I are sleeping on the couches down here tonight. Get some rest.”
Her legs ached as she struggled up the stairs. She wandered to the only open door, which was at the end of the hallway, and stood with her filthy toes in the carpet for several surreal seconds before realizing she needed to shower. Instinctively, she went to set a backpack or suitcase next to the bed, but realized she had nothing but the clothes on her back.
She found the bathroom, threw her filthy clothes aside, and showered for as long as her aching body would let her. When she finished, she wrapped herself in a towel, walked back to her room, and slept for nearly four hours.

There was a soft knock at the door, and she bolted upright. “What?” she asked hoarsely.
“It’s me,” Holly’s voice said. “I brought you some fresh clothes.”
Kay fumbled around for her towel, wrapped herself in it again, and opened the bedroom door a few inches. “Thanks,” she said as Holly handed her a shirt and pants.
“No problem. Your other clothes are in the washer, and this is all we got for now…”
Though Kay couldn’t see her entire face, Holly had clearly been crying. “Are you okay?” Kay asked.
Holly nodded. “Yeah. I was just freaking out for a little bit. I’m fine now.”
Kay couldn’t help but smile. “Same. Hold on a minute, okay?”
She closed the door and threw on the t-shirt and pants. “Are these Lysander’s?” she asked.
“Yeah. Sorry, he apparently didn’t plan to have three girls show up here,” Holly’s voice replied.
“No money for underwear in Maywitch’s budget, huh?” Kay said without thinking.
Holly burst into giggles. Kay opened the door again, smiling sheepishly. “Sorry, I think I’m still half-asleep,” she murmured.
“I don’t care,” Holly said, shaking her head. “Are you feeling any better? Do you need Nadia?”
Kay leaned against the doorframe and avoided her eyes for a moment. “I do feel better,” she said. “I mean, I’m still sore, but…”
Holly’s eyes were wide and searching. Kay shook her head and smiled, unsure of how to proceed. “I guess I feel alive, a little,” she said. “I guess I’m still homesick, but it feels less miserable than it did a few hours ago.”
“Yeah,” Holly said, nodding enthusiastically. “I’ll feel even better when we’re back at the base.”
Down the hall, footsteps echoed up the stairwell, and Lysander appeared with a tray of food. “Oh, I was about to bring her down,” Holly said.
“No worries. Kay, you can eat up here if you want, or the rest of us are downstairs,” he said.
Kay’s smile widened. “Thank you,” she said. “I’ll eat downstairs. Sorry you just bothered to bring it up.”
As they headed downstairs, she didn’t even feel soreness in her legs. She ate quietly while Akani and Lysander argued about something related to sports, and Holly and Nadia sat in the living room, writing out their draft reports for Gardner.
It felt strangely home-like to Kay. Then again, maybe anything felt like home after the twisted, cult-like hell she had just been through.
Lysander handed her a capsule, and explained that it would change her face back to normal. The change back would be less painful than before, but she grabbed some ibuprofen from the cabinet just in case. No sense in bothering Nadia for a pain poultice when there were modern alternatives at hand, Kay thought as she downed both capsules.
When she went to bed a few hours later, she hovered by the hallway window for a little bit, admiring the scenery in the moonlight. The house had a fenced-in patio in the backyard, though the fence was hardly needed, with the distance between the surrounding houses.
She was looking down at the patio, half-wishing that she had taken some time to enjoy it, when she spotted two shadowy figures at one of the tables. Her heart dropped, but a second later, she recognized the figures as Holly and Nadia.
She half-smiled, chiding herself for being paranoid, but her heart dropped again as she saw the figures lean very, very close to each other.
She looked away, her face flushing. Since when were Nadia and Holly actually involved with each other? Was that the result of them posing as a couple on the assignment?
She glanced back down, and saw that their faces were touching. They were being so cavalier about it, she thought as she went to her room. Maybe it was already an open secret.
She sat down hard on her bed, her mind reeling from the revelation. It was none of her business, she knew, but there was something about the thought of Holly with Nadia that made her stomach hurt.
She sighed aloud as she realized what it was. Despite making it through the assignment alive, she still didn’t trust Nadia - that was all. And it didn’t surprise her much at all.
She curled up under the covers, but she laid awake for a long time, unable to lull her anxious mind to sleep.

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