Saturday, October 8, 2016

Maywitch Chapter 15: Silence

Previous Chapter: Demons
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The noise of the kitchen staff always woke Gardner by 6 a.m. There was no avoiding it; her tiny room was situated above the kitchen, and no one had figured out a silence spell that didn't also risk muting her phone or keeping the cooks from communicating with each other.
The night of her team's escape from Renaya's clutches was harrowing, and though Gardner wasn't there, the thought of their brush with death had kept her awake for hours.  When Lysander had relayed to her that they had been safely retrieved after a direct confrontation, she could barely believe her ears. There had been so many unknowns, but all three of the young women had performed their duties well - so well, in fact, that it scared Gardner just a little.
So it didn't surprise her when she woke later than usual the next morning, just a few minutes before her 7 am backup alarm was scheduled to go off. What did surprise her, though, was the resounding silence from the kitchen below.
Maybe someone was out sick and they were short-staffed. That likely meant breakfast would be simpler than usual; no breakfast burritos or custom omelettes. The cooks did like to show off when given a chance.
She checked her phone and stared at it for a long moment when she saw that she had no service. There was equipment in place to keep that from happening. She reached over and picked up the hard-wired phone on her nightstand, and heard nothing but dead air.

Her heart lurched into her throat. Immediately, she kicked off the covers and rolled out of bed, her normally stoic expression tensing as she gritted her teeth. If it was a simple systems issue, someone would have knocked on her door by now to wake her. The clock on her nightstand was still glowing its usual eerie red, so a power outage was out of the question.
She grabbed her belt from its hook by the door and pulled it around her waist, not even bothering to put her pants on first. For a minute, she considered pulling on shoes, but decided there was no time. She ran a hand over the capsules attached to the belt, making sure her herbs and supplies were securely attached, and drew her gun.
She hadn't used a shield spell in so long that she stumbled over the words as the incantation left her lips. When she could feel the shield's faint warmth enveloping her, she took a deep breath and opened her bedroom door.
Or tried to, at least. It was locked. It was always supposed to open without hassle from the inside. The electronic locking system was only supposed to be activated in an emergency, and that would have also set off alarms across the base.
That settled it, she thought. There was no way this was some accidental, minor issue. The security systems must have been overridden - or hexed, maybe. 
She gritted her teeth and pulled a vial of lumericite from her belt. It would likely burn her belongings to a crisp, but she didn't care. She dropped four tiny beads in front of the door and lit a fire in one hand.
When she waved her hand, the lumericite exploded with a bang and a blinding flash. Her shield protected her from the damage of the blast, but the fire rushed around her, and the sprinklers above her turned on within seconds. The door was bent open less than halfway, but she was able to ram it with her shoulder and knock it fully open.
It was dark except for the dim glow of flames behind her. She glanced behind her and considered extinguishing the flames with magic, but the sprinklers were already beginning to work.
When she turned around again, something lunged at her from the shadows, and she reacted far too late to stop it.

Nadia woke with a start as an unfamiliar banging noise reached her ears. It took her several seconds to realize it was the sound of someone knocking on the rickety bedroom door.
Beside her, Holly made a faint noise of concern, but Nadia hushed her and crept to the door, nearly tripping over something in the faint pre-dawn light. "Nadia, wake up. We got a problem," Lysander's voice said after a moment.
"What's up?" she asked.
"Can't get ahold of base and Holly’s missing."
"She's right here," she said as she reached for a shirt. "And why are you trying to get ahold of base this early?"
There was a sigh on the other side of the door. "Letty was supposed to check in this morning and she hasn't. I can't get ahold of anyone. Main comms, Gardner, nobody."
Nadia stopped halfway through pulling on the shirt. "Main comms?"
"Yeah."
She swore and turned around. Holly was sitting up in bed, her hair sticking out at odd angles as she rubbed her eyes. "Trouble?" she asked.
"We gotta move." Nadia tossed her a shirt. "Ly, what's Kay's status?"
"I'm knocking on her door next. Tried calling but she didn't pick up."
If only psychic abilities were more common, Nadia mused as she pulled on a pair of jeans. "Go. Make sure she's there."
"On it."
In the silence that followed, Nadia could almost hear her stomach doing somersaults. "We have to get back," she said, to no one in particular.
There was a shuffling noise behind her. "Yeah," Holly said.
As she finished getting dressed, Nadia turned around to try to offer words of reassurance, but stopped as she saw that Holly wasn't even halfway dressed. "Hol, what's up?" she asked, her voice coming out more harshly than she meant. 
"I can't find my bra." Holly's voice was sullen, but a hint of mirth laced the last word.
Nadia wanted to laugh, but couldn't. "I think it was near the foot of the bed. Hurry up."

Kay was dressed, packed, and downstairs barely five minutes after Lysander woke her up. He joined her a few minutes later, followed by Holly and Nadia, whose faces had also changed back to normal overnight.
"Akani confirmed that the communication issues are with the base, and not us,” he said, nodding to the others as he pulled car keys from his pocket.  “We can communicate fine with the other remote staff in the region, who are all also cut off from base. He said his standing orders have been to stay here no matter what, and it sounds like the other remote staff are in the same boat. Eastern Region is sending a team, but they won't get here for another six hours. So it's just the four of us. Let's go."
Kay bit her lip. If the base had somehow been compromised, what were four young mages supposed to be able to do about it?
She tried to push that thought away as Nadia took the keys from Lysander. Holly threw her bag over her shoulder and followed Nadia to the car.
The sun was just coming up as they climbed in, and as Kay got comfortable in the backseat, she had to fight the urge to lean against the window and fall asleep. Nadia was barking orders - requests, really, since she had no authority over them - and put Holly on protective detail and Lysander in charge of calling various people at the base.
Once Lysander had left voicemails for everyone from Meilan to the cooks to the single accountant working for Maywitch, the car fell into tense silence. Holly was rubbing her hands together nervously as she maintained a shield around the car. Lysander offered to take over for her, since it was draining to keep a shield up for extended lengths of time, but she declined and said she would be fine for a while longer.
It didn't take long for Kay to fall asleep against the window, but she slept fitfully, running through the halls of the base in her grayscale dreams.

They took turns napping over the next few hours, with Nadia even allowing Lysander to drive for a while so she could get some rest. Nadia explained that between the face-change magic and the trauma of the previous day, they were going to be more exhausted than usual, and should use every chance they had to recharge. When they were twenty minutes away from the base, she ordered them all awake, though she still looked exhausted herself.
Kay didn’t have a single reason to argue with anything Nadia was saying. Though her trust in Nadia was almost nonexistent, Kay had no idea what to expect or what to do when they charged into the base. When they had left a few days prior, she hadn’t even learned the names of everyone at base, let alone the protocols for handling emergencies.
She stared out the window at the still-unfamiliar trees and mountains, her heart thudding against her ribcage. Beside her, Lysander shifted restlessly, his hand clutching several vials of herbs and a quartz. Nadia and Holly were silent as well, staring out at the road ahead with stony gazes.
Nadia reached the gate across the road and punched in her passcode. The massive gunmetal-gray gate didn't move, and she swore loudly.
"Try mine," Holly said, before reciting a short string of numbers.
Nadia tried again, but the gate remained closed. "Shit," she said. "Get out. This could be an ambush."
Lysander and Holly bolted from the car without any hesitation. Kay grabbed her bag and did the same, fingers locked on her vial of wormwood. Nadia maneuvered herself between the car door and the keypad mounted near the gate, turning west and facing the nearby woods.
"Back way. Through the tunnels," she said, barely looking at the others before wading into the knee-high grass. "Shields up. Kay, if you see one of those goddamn demon things, help me with it."
Holly only nodded in response, and Kay assumed it was better to keep the talking to the minimum. More than anything, she wanted to ask what they were supposed to do when they got in there. Maybe Nadia had a plan. Maybe she didn't. But then again, Kay mused, Nadia had been there longer than any of the other three mages now wading through cobwebbed grass. If anyone could figure it out, it was probably her.
They reached a locked gate in the barbed-wire fence not too far from the main road. Nadia hexed her way through it when it didn't respond to her passcode. Kay guessed that it was a last resort - whatever was going on inside the base, it was possible that their security systems would pick up on the incursion.
Several yards ahead was a shallow ravine, littered with flowers and puddles from the recent rainfall. Nadia waved them toward it and began to slide down the walls of the ravine, nearly losing her footing as the ground became steeper. Kay and the others followed, though much more slowly.
A squeak beneath Kay's feet startled her, and as she whipped her palms up, she lost her balance and fell backward. Holly gasped, and Nadia immediately turned around, left arm held out to destroy whatever threat she thought she detected.
Kay's heart lurched into her throat as her eyes met Nadia's. After a tense moment, the others seemed to realize there was no threat, and turned back toward the direction of the base as if nothing had happened. Kay scrambled to her feet and followed, rubbing her aching back. She must have slipped on the wet grass - and she was lucky Nadia wasn't too trigger-happy.
As they made their way up the next embankment, the rising sun reflected off of a metal panel in the side of the hill. It was barely large enough for Holly, let alone some of the larger mages around. Nadia pressed her hand against a smooth, round stone in the middle of the panel, and something glowed softly as the panel began to move to the right.
Holly shot a look of amazement to Lysander, who shrugged. Kay assumed that this back entrance was disclosed only to truly trusted veterans - and with Nadia's recent missions, she could likely fall into that category.
A narrow tunnel appeared, its blue-tinged shadows oddly menacing in the early morning sun. Nadia swept her bangs out of her face before crawling inside. “Come on,” she whispered over her shoulder.
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