Saturday, October 29, 2016

Maywitch Chapter 18: Another Home

Previous Chapter: Sanctum
Kay could smell something burning. It was similar to the stench that enveloped the room when Lysander was killed: bitter, acrid, and nauseating. Something dark darted in front of her eyes from left to right, and as she turned to track it, Renaya lunged at her from the shadows.
Though she couldn't speak, a blast of fire shot out from Kay's hands, slamming into Renaya’s face. There was a shriek and a horrible crackling sound as Renaya began to disintegrate. Kay knew she was dreaming, but as she fought to wake up, her eyelids stayed tightly shut.
An unfamiliar voice rumbled nearby, and she finally woke up as a sharp pain stung her arm. Blurred, dazzling sunlight was streaming through the window to her left. A tall figure stood to her right, and seemed to be attaching something to Kay’s arm. It wasn’t who Kay was looking for, though, and she ignored it. A few seconds later, the figure said something in hushed tones before scurrying out the door to Kay’s right.
Two nurses soon appeared, peppering Kay with questions about how she was feeling. She felt fine, and she told them as much, but they interrogated her further, asking her to move her arms and legs. She complied, and when they finally seemed to finish prodding her, someone else came through the door.

It was Gardner, though she was barely recognizable. Her face had gone from fair to bone-white, and judging by the bandages on her head, she had fared little better than Kay.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
Kay just stared at her for a long moment. Her memories were vague, at best: she remembered the base being in trouble, and Lysander being killed by whatever that monster was. Then they had run around in the dark for a while, and —
It all came rushing back to her. Meilan was dead. Nina had shown up. Nadia had done something wrong, but the details were blurry in Kay’s mind.
“I’m okay,” she mumbled. “Where am I?”
A thin smile crossed Gardner’s face. “South Carolina, in the long-term medical ward of the U.S. Eastern Region Base. You seem to be pretty awake, I guess.”
Kay tried to sit up, but one of the nurses stopped her just as a stabbing pain shot across her shoulders. “Where did Nina go? And what happened to everyone else?” she asked hoarsely.
“We don’t know. We know little other than that the child your mother is watching is Nina’s. It all adds up, since we know Nina and Nadia are both summoners, and we’ve always suspected that it was genetic.”
Kay stared at Gardner, struggling to process. She remembered the circle drawn in blood, and the black, serpentine thing appearing out of nowhere. The pieces of the puzzle fit together - sort of, anyway. “Where’s Nadia?” she asked.
“She’s fine. She’s quarantined, for now. It’s unprecedented to have one of our mages also turn out to be a summoner, so…” Gardner trailed off, her brow furrowed. “I’m doing everything I can for her, okay? Please trust me on this. It also looks like Nadia had no idea, either, because Nina hid her own summoning abilities.”
“But…” Kay thought for a moment. “Didn’t Nadia summon that snake thing? How did she do that if she had no idea?”
“She says Nina taught her that hex when they were younger, but Nina had said it was a hex for suffocating animals and humans. Nadia intended to use it on the demon Nina had summoned.”
Kay nodded. She had no reason not to believe that. It seemed like exactly the kind of manipulative thing Nina would do: hide Nadia’s abilities from her, but make sure that Nadia still had the ability to defend herself, albeit in the worst way possible, in a truly life-or-death situation.
Somehow, though, the revelation that Nadia was a summoner didn’t bother Kay that much. Maybe that was just because the news was unimportant compared to Nina’s reappearance, she thought with a shudder.
“What about Renaya? Is she alive?” she asked.
“We’re not totally sure what’s going on there. We suspect she somehow possessed Kyle, based on what I saw, as well as statements from Nadia and Holly.”
Kay’s heart sank. “How’s Holly?”
“She’s fine. You can probably see her soon, in fact. Your mother was here until about fifteen minutes ago,” Gardner said. “I’m sorry you missed her. Everything is a little crazy right now, and we urgently needed her back in the field.”
Kay didn’t meet her eyes. Once again, she wanted nothing more than to tell her mother everything that had happened - and once again, she had no way to. “I can write to her, though, right?” she whispered.
“Yes. And she actually left a note,” Gardner said, reaching for something on Kay’s nightstand. “There are a few other possessions of yours in the drawer. We recovered your pendant and a few other valuables, but a lot of clothes and the textbook you had were damaged beyond repair.”
Kay’s eyes widened. “My pendant? Can I have it back?”
Gardner smiled and opened the drawer. “Yes. I’d help put it on you, but I don’t think my back and arms will let me,” she said as she set the necklace in Kay’s bandaged hand.
Kay clumsily ran her fingers over the gold and obsidian amulet before taking the note from Gardner. She unfolded the lined paper and squinted at the messy handwriting.
I’m so proud of you. I just wish I could stay long enough to tell you that in person.
Tears blurred her vision, and Kay set the note down on her lap. “Where is she now?” she asked.
“Same assignment as before; different place. And yes, in case you didn’t guess, she’s watching Nina’s child,” Gardner said.
“Did Nadia even know the baby was Nina’s?”
“No, she had no idea, because none of us even knew.” Gardner sighed. “We had our suspicions at first, based on circumstantial evidence, but then the rest of the evidence pointed elsewhere. We thought Nina was overseas, just like Nadia did, it seems.”
Kay wiped her eyes and skimmed the rest of the note, but it was mostly words of encouragement - words that meant little to her, by that point. The last lines of the note, though, stood out to her:
I guess I never understood what happened with you, Nina and Nadia when you were younger. Will you tell me sometime? You weren’t still mad at Nadia when you came to Maywitch, were you?
Write me back soon. I made Felicity promise to deliver notes.
- Bailey
She turned the note over, pretending to study the runes drawn in pencil on the back. She had never told her mother how abusive Nina had been. When her mother had asked, Kay had dismissed the dispute as a “fight” between herself and Nadia. Surely, though, her mother knew by now that more had happened.
“I’ll write her back soon,” Kay said. “I just need some time to process all this.”

Two days passed. No one else was allowed in Kay’s room except Gardner, nurses and healers until the third day, when Holly barged into Kay’s room with a bouquet of bright carnations.
She almost cried at the sight of Kay’s bandages. “I haven’t gotten to see anyone with serious injuries yet,” Holly said. “It’s been a nightmare, Kay. I’m glad you’re okay. How are you feeling?”
“I’m feeling fine. And I’m glad you’re okay, too,” Kay said. “Have you seen Nadia yet?”
Holly tensed. “Did… how much did Gardner tell you?” she said, seeming to choose her words carefully.
Kay frowned at her. “Good question. What’s going on?”
“Nadia elected to be sterilized.” Holly was staring at her lap, lips pursed. “I mean, she never wanted kids anyway, so that’s not even-”
“Wait, what?” Kay said. “Did Maywitch pressure her into it? Because they don’t want demon-summoners to exist?”
“Yes, and since it seems to be a purely genetic trait, they basically gave Nadia the option to be sterilized or be locked up,” Holly murmured.
Kay slumped back against the bed. “What the hell?”
“Even when she is released, it’ll be with strict conditions, especially now that Nina is involved,” Holly said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she never sees combat again.”
After a long moment, Kay sighed and stretched. “If she’s feeling up to it, I should pay her a visit, either way,” she said. “She basically kept us from getting killed back there.”
Holly nodded, a smile slipping over her lips. “Yeah. I was turned away earlier, but maybe she’ll be up for it, since it’s been a few hours. I’ll go check, okay?”
“Take your time. You’re probably…” Kay hesitated. “You’re probably a more comforting presence than me, y’know?”
Holly laughed as she stood. “I mean, you’re not wrong, but it’s not your fault,” she said, turning toward the door.
Once she left, Kay closed her eyes, trying to figure out if she was dreaming or not. It was surreal. Nadia was a demon-summoner and had never known it. Nina, the bane of Kay’s existence as a high schooler, had turned out to be one too. None of the chaos that had occurred in the Sanctum was a fluke - it all just ran in the Abendroth family.
“Screw this,” Kay muttered, to no one but herself.

An hour later, Holly returned and offered to wheel Kay down to Nadia’s room, but Kay declined. With the help of a nurse, she shakily stood, detached her IV lines, and staggered down the hall. She didn’t even need an IV anymore. A rookie mage from the North Carolina base had periodically slipped in to heal Kay as much as possible, but his attention had mostly been focused on more critically-injured mages.
Nadia was only allowed one visitor at a time, so Holly waited in the hall as Kay entered. At first glance, Nadia appeared mostly unharmed. Her face was no longer bloodied, but it was much more pale than usual, Kay thought as she stepped closer to the bed.
“How are you feeling?” Kay asked. “Sorry, I didn’t have time to grab flowers yet.”
“I have enough of those, believe me. I guess I feel better than expected,” Nadia said, waving a hand dismissively. “Thanks for coming down here. I asked Holly to bring you, but I didn’t expect you to come if you weren’t feeling up to it.”
Kay shook her head. “Of course I came. Everything is…”
She trailed off, and Nadia nodded. “Yeah. Holly told me she brought you up to speed, so I guess that’s that,” Nadia said.
They were quiet for a long moment. The window to Nadia’s left seemed to flicker, as if someone had walked right past it, and she turned to look outside. “Do you forgive me for everything that happened way back then - when we were kids? Because it seems like you haven’t,” she murmured.
Kay stared at her, dumbfounded. “What?”
“You heard me, right? Have you forgiven me?”
Nadia turned to face her again, and Kay avoided her gaze, staring at the tile floor instead.
“You’re right,” Kay said dryly. “I haven’t. You hadn’t earned my trust yet—”
“Your trust? What, did you think I was one of Renaya’s freaks?”
Kay sighed, and she paused in an attempt to calm her racing heart. “Let’s not talk about this right now. I know you’re tired—”
“Don’t pull that patronizing shit with me,” Nadia snapped, sitting further upright. “I’m fine.”
“Okay, fine, then!” Kay took a deep breath. “I was pretty sure you were on our side, after we escaped her cabin in the woods, anyway.”
“Then what the fuck do you mean by trust, Kay?”
“I just don’t trust you to always do the right thing!” Kay crossed her arms, and her left shoulder twinged in protest. “How do you just expect me to trust you and act like we’re friends again? You used to be a real coward sometimes, ‘cause you - you would let Nina do whatever she wanted, even to your own best friend!”
The last two words seemed to hang in the air, suffocating them both. Nadia’s eyes filled with tears. “Forget it,” Kay mumbled, turning toward the door. “I guess it’s not fair to bring that up right now. You’ve been through a lot—”
“Wait, I brought it up for a reason,” Nadia said.
“Don’t.” Kay barely breathed the word as she raised a bandaged hand to the doorknob. She was too exhausted to fight about it - and somehow, her feelings about the whole matter were more conflicted than ever.
“I’ve wanted to apologize for a really long time, but do you - do you at least understand what I went through? Do you really think she treated me any better than she treated you? I lived in constant fear of her!”
Kay’s hand dropped to her side. She turned around and opened her mouth to reply, but stopped as she saw Nadia’s quaking shoulders. For a moment, the only sounds in the room were dry, angry sobs.
“Because goddammit, I’m sorry. I really am. But I’m not just gonna let you think I wanted all that to happen!” Nadia wiped her eyes, nearly dislodging the IV in her hand. “She was a goddamn sociopath! You know that! And with how powerful she was—”
The door inched open behind Kay, and a nurse appeared. “Nadia, what happened?” the nurse said, scurrying toward the bed.
Kay stepped closer, but the nurse shook her head. “Nadia needs to rest,” the nurse said, “so you need to—”
“I’m fine!” Nadia said, shaking her head. “I’m fine, let her stay!”
“I’m sorry, too,” Kay whispered. “I’m sorry you had to deal with Nina for so long.”
Nadia looked up. Her eyes shone with tears of rage, and she shook her head furiously. “Are you? Or are you just saying that—”
“Nadia,” the nurse said, laying a hand on her arm. “Please, this isn’t—”
“I’m sorry I didn’t even try to give you the benefit of the doubt.” The words tumbled out of Kay’s mouth. “I mean, bringing it up sooner probably would’ve been better than letting things sit like this. I wasn’t wrong to not trust you, but…”
“It would’ve been ugly, but it would’ve been worth it to talk about it. I mean, it’s partly my own fault for not bringing it up myself,” Nadia said. “But I never stopped liking you, y’know? So I guess I just didn’t realize how mad you were about it. I tried to start fresh, partly because I didn’t want to explain things to Holly, and that turned out to be stupid, too.”
“It’s okay, Nadia.” Kay shook her head. She was almost unnerved by how calm she felt, but the pieces were finally adding up in her mind. Nina had never actually hurt her sister in front of Kay, but it didn’t surprise Kay at all that Nadia felt threatened.
And somehow, the thought of Nina hurting Nadia was more painful than the idea of Nadia being a terrible, traitorous friend.
“I feel like, given just how awful she’s turned out to be, and how much you’ve done to fight Nina now…” Kay paused, her eyes stinging with tears as she searched for the right words. “You deserve the benefit of the doubt. I mean, I’d like to think I would’ve made up with you even without the whole demon-summoner thing, but since you fought so hard…”
She trailed off as the nurse waved at her again. “Okay, you’re both done. My patient needs to rest,” the nurse said.
“Night, Nadia. Rest easy, okay?” Kay, said, turning back to the door.
Nadia was silent for a moment. “You know what’s ironic?” she said, barely audible over the hum of the air conditioning. “I probably was strong enough to stand up to her. I just didn’t know. I could’ve wiped her off the face of the earth, if I had known that I could summon.”
Kay stopped with her hand on the doorknob again. “But that could’ve made everything so much worse,” she murmured. “Aren’t you glad you made it this long without knowing?”
She heard Nadia sniffle, but she didn’t turn around. “I guess you’re right,” Nadia said. “I would’ve been so pissed if I didn’t even get to fight as part of Maywitch for a little bit. ‘Cause something tells me this is so much bigger than Nina, and I guess I’m glad I got to help.”
The nurse put her hand on Kay’s shoulder, and Kay opened the door and stepped outside, smiling at Nadia before allowing herself to be led down the hall.
But I never stopped liking you, y’know? The words echoed in Kay’s head, making her numb to her surroundings as she walked back to her new room in her new home.
Next chapter coming soon!

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