Saturday, October 15, 2016

Maywitch Chapter 16: Blood in the Water

Previous Chapter: Silence

Content Note: Gore and character death in this chapter.
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Holly felt like her lungs were caving in on themselves. The hot, humid air of the tunnel was starting to make her dizzy, and it didn't help that she felt claustrophobic as hell stuck between Nadia and Kay.
She tried to keep her mind on the mission at hand. Gardner and the others would surely be holed up somewhere, under siege - instead of dead. There was no way they could be dead.
Nadia suddenly slowed. Holly peeked around her and caught a glimpse of some kind of metal panel in the dim light of Nadia's spell.
She turned around and caught a glimpse of Kay's nonplussed expression, then took a deep breath as she turned back around. She could do this. They could do this.
There was a loud click up ahead, and Nadia scrambled forward, no doubt anticipating unfriendlies in whatever space lay ahead. Holly ran a finger over the charcoal on her cheeks, checking that it was still there before scrambling forward.
Nadia had climbed out into a hallway illuminated only by emergency lights. Holly shuddered as she crawled out and surveyed the eerie scene. Her home for the past six months was unrecognizable. Ghostly piles of debris littered the dark tile floor, and a large light fixture had fallen from the ceiling a little ways away. The hallway extended thirty feet to their right before ending in a shadowy, cave-like room.
They had arrived in the end of the base closest to the comms room. As Kay and Lysander emerged from the tunnel behind them, Holly got Nadia's attention and pointed toward the comms room.
There was a moment's hesitation before Nadia shook her head. Holly's stomach lurched, and she pointed again, not wanting to believe that Nadia wouldn't want to check on their colleagues.
Nadia bit her lip and glanced over her shoulder before waving them toward the shadowy space at the end of the hallway, which led to the comms room. Holly nodded firmly and reached for her bracelet. She didn't even need it yet - she just wanted to be certain that it was there.
The four of them crept along the hallway, choosing to rely on the dim emergency lights instead of drawing attention to themselves with a light spell. When they arrived at the intersection of another hallway, Nadia and Holly scanned their surroundings to the best of their abilities before waving the others through.
They reached the room and tiptoed inside. Holly felt her skin crawl as she realized that the room smelled faintly of fresh meat, and was warmer than the outside hallway.
Nadia's foot crunched on a piece of debris beneath her. The others froze.
Then there was a strangled, clipped scream, almost as if someone had turned off a movie halfway through a fight scene. Holly whirled around, and felt something hot and wet collide with her face.
Beside her, Kay cried out. When Holly looked up again, she could see white reflections on a red, alien face just above her eye level - and just above Lysander's decapitated body.
The thing grabbed Lysander with steely, narrow claws and leapt backward, howling in triumph as it went. One down, three to go, it seemed to say.
Holly couldn't process the cries of despair that seemed to ricochet off the walls. She didn't think they were hers. She looked down at her hands, where deep red blood and mangled flesh had covered her bracelet.
She didn't feel pain, though. The blood wasn't hers.
Spells began to light up around her. She looked up, trying to decide what to do, but couldn't process anything other than the smell of death and Lysander's body before her.
Nadia appeared in front of her, yelling something. Holly ignored her. Kay was pushing the red beast backward, but it lashed out with a tail that seemed to come out of nowhere, and she had to hurriedly raise a shield to deflect it.
Holly strode past Nadia, raised her bracelet, and let words of forbidden spells spill out of her mouth. The blood and skin stuck to her arms glowed orange, as if dawn was about to break grotesquely on her body.
The monster snarled and sank one set of claws deeper into Lysander's mangled body. Kay turned halfway and screamed something at Holly.
Holly wasn't listening. Fire erupted from her arms, soared across the few feet between herself and the beast, and crashed into its sweaty chest with the force of a runaway train.
Both the creature and the body in its clutches burst into flame, and a piercing shriek rattled Holly's eardrums. She ignored the flaming debris falling from the ceiling and fired another salvo, knocking the beast backward into the hall. Something stuck her cheek, leaving a stinging burn, but the pain seemed to dissipate before it could even reach her brain. The sprinklers overhead went off, sending droplets of water pouring over the scene.
The demon finally fell backward, its smoldering body convulsing and curling into a ball. Lysander's charred corpse lay on the floor a few feet in front of it.
Kay grabbed Holly's arm and pulled her down the next hallway, away from the comms room. Holly looked over her shoulder and, through the haze of smoke and water, saw Nadia cast a pitying glance at Lysander's body before following Kay.
Then, they went around the corner, and Holly let the water wash the blood from her body as she walked.

Nadia insisted on taking them toward the clinic, where she thought there could be a few holdouts trying to treat the injured. She led the way around shadowed corners, offering half-baked reassurances as they walked. She said that the sprinklers would put out the fire and that their best bet at safety would be to seek out the others, but Kay wasn't convinced that they stood a chance anymore.
Kay watched Holly closely, unsure of what to do. Holly's deep brown eyes held none of their usual light. She didn't even look like she was about to cry - she looked like she wanted to incinerate the next thing that got in her way.
For a fleeting moment, Kay wondered where the hell her half-sister had learned that particular fire spell; it was the same one Kay herself had used several days prior in the church in Denver. Had it come from their father, or had Holly taught herself?
She didn't have long to think about it, though. Nadia suddenly came to a halt just steps from the clinic, and Holly and Kay nearly tripped over her. A hollow, rasping cough could be heard behind the half-closed door of the clinic, and as Nadia glanced at the other two mages behind her, there was a low rumble beneath their feet.
Nadia fumbled with the door for a moment before successfully yanking it open. It was dark inside the clinic, except for a single beam of light. A thin form lay in the shadows, barely visible except for her white sneakers stained with red.
"Mei," Nadia said, rushing forward.
The nurse was prone in a pool of her own blood. Nadia rolled her over and immediately began healing magic. "Mei, talk to me," she said. "Meilan!"
Kay and Holly swept the room for signs of danger before kneeling down next to Nadia. Meilan's chest and shoulders had several deep gashes. Several vials of herbs lay next to her on the floor.
"She just wore herself out trying to heal herself," Nadia said, her voice tight. "Mei!"
Meilan's eyes fluttered halfway open. She coughed heavily, and Kay could have sworn she heard a gurgle in her throat.
"Holly, get me some of the poultices in a red bag in the second cabinet," Nadia said. "Mei, you're okay! Hang in there!"
Meilan's eyes opened wider, and as her gaze met Nadia's, she smiled. "Nad, I don't believe it," she whispered. "I don't. There's no way you're--"
She coughed again, and as Holly scrambled back with the poultice, Nadia turned her attention to the wounds on Meilan's chest. "Don't try to talk, okay?" Nadia said. "We got you, but you need to save your strength--"
"You can't be," Meilan said. "You saw her, right?"
Nadia opened her mouth to speak, but stopped. "Saw who?" Kay asked softly.
Blood seeped from Meilan’s mouth, and her eyes slid closed. "Mei, don't!" Nadia said. "Holly, get another poultice!"
Holly complied, and as Nadia scrambled to heal the worst of Meilan's injuries, Kay turned away. Meilan had gone completely pale. She was clearly dying. "I'll watch your back," Kay said. "Do whatever it takes--"
"Goddammit," Nadia said, "Holly, hurry up!"
Kay ran two bloodstained fingers over her collarbone, where her pendant usually rested. Who - or what - had Meilan seen? And how had it done this to her?
As Holly brought another poultice, the room grew silent. Kay closed her eyes. She heard Nadia take a deep breath behind her, and several seconds later, Holly muttered: "Nadia, you tried."
"She's not dead yet," Nadia said, her voice choked with tears. "She's not."
Kay didn't open her eyes. She wanted to be anywhere but here. She couldn't stand the stench of blood and smoke; the darkness of the destroyed room; the sound of Nadia's shocked, ragged breathing.
There was a rustling sound behind her. She opened her eyes and turned around, but it was only Nadia adjusting a poultice. "Mei, wake up. You can do this. I can't save everyone alone," Nadia sobbed.
Her hands fell to her sides, and Holly pulled her into an embrace. "Fuck, I'm sorry. I'm sorry," Holly said. "We have to go, Nad. There could be others."
"Feel for a pulse. I can't find one, but that doesn't mean…"
Holly reached for Mei's neck, and came away with her fingers coated in blood. "She's gone. Nad, we have to try to help the others."
After a long moment, Nadia wiped her hands on her jeans and stood up. "Kay, you got room in your backpack for poultices?" she asked, her voice shaking.
“Yeah,” Kay said. “Second cabinet, right?"
"Red bag has the ones for stopping blood loss. Get as many of those are left, and grab a few from the bag next to it, too."
Kay nodded, but Nadia didn't meet her eyes. “If the enemy made it this far, they’re likely headed for the Sanctum next,” Nadia said. “Keep quiet. I’ll lead the way.”
As Kay shoved the poultices into her backpack, Nadia took a few hesitant steps toward the door. Holly joined her shortly after, and Kay followed, stealing one last glance at Meilan before heading back into the hall.
“Holly, shield our backs,” Nadia said. “Kay, be prepared to blast anything that moves, unless I say otherwise.”

They didn’t speak for a long time, allowing their wet footsteps and the gentle sound of dripping water to fill the silence. An eerie, damp scent filled the air, and Kay realized that some of the water lines had to have burst. Nadia held the flashlight under her shirt, allowing the dim glow to illuminate a few feet in front of them without broadcasting their location to potential enemies.
She stopped suddenly and turned her head a few degrees to the right. “Did you hear that?” she whispered.
Holly and Kay waited for several seconds, ears straining to hear the slighted noise. “Hear what?” Holly said.
“That groaning noise? You don’t hear it?”
Holly looked at Kay, who shook her head. “Let’s keep moving,” Kay whispered.
Beads of sweat had broken out on Nadia’s forehead. She hesitated for a long moment before tiptoeing ahead, her hand shaking as she fought to maintain her shield spell.
A minute later, they arrived at a fork in the hallway. Nadia stared down the left fork, her whole body motionless except for her trembling fingers. She pivoted and headed to the right, and the other two followed.
A metal door blocked the hall a few feet ahead. Nadia tiptoed toward it, adjusting the flashlight under her shirt to give her more light. “I’m not sure it’ll let me in, but if it does, be prepared for anything,” she whispered over her shoulder.
Kay nodded, and Nadia turned her attention to a thumb scanner next to the door. She held her thumb up to it, and it glowed for a moment. Several seconds passed, but the door remained closed.
A sudden, muffled boom could be heard beyond the door, and the three women stiffened, words of spells frozen on their lips. “Kay, I might need you to blast this open,” Nadia said, stepping backward.
Kay raised a hand and began to murmur words in German, but just as she reached the end of the spell, the door slid open on its own. The florescent lights inside the cavernous room ahead were mostly dark, but a few remained lit, though they were spitting sparks all over the room.
She could see the shadowy outline of a woman, standing in front of a glowing yellow orb the size of a small child. The strange orb didn’t concern Kay nearly as much as the woman did, though.
“Well!” the woman exclaimed, waving a hand toward Kay. “Long time no see. I thought I killed you already, but I must’ve mistaken someone else for you in all the chaos.”
Kay didn’t respond. Short black hair, tall, and a high, raspy voice - she didn’t even need to see the woman’s face to know who it was.
After all, it was the voice of her nightmares.
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Next Chapter: Sanctum

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