Saturday, November 19, 2016

Maywitch Chapter 21: Know Thine Enemy

Previous Chapter: The Woods
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The creature before them was humanoid, but as it reared its head, Kay saw that its face was gray and wrinkled. Dark brown hair twisted downward from its scalp, meeting a thin red scar across its collarbone.
But most disturbing of all were the deep brown wings, wide and bat-like, that sprouted from its back. It stood, revealing its full height, and Kay was suddenly conflicted: was it truly a demon, or was it human? It was one of the smallest demons she had ever seen, if it was one.
Tierra hurriedly cast a spell, the last syllables coming out as a low hiss, and vines surged toward the winged creature. It flapped its wings and shot into the sky, barely escaping the vines, and it flew low over the trees to the east.
Kay had almost finished reciting her own spell when Tierra held up a hand. “Don’t,” Tierra said. “It’s not worth risking exposing us. Fire will attract too much attention.”
Holly began to run toward the woman on the ground before them. “Wait! I think it’s Renaya,” Tierra said, reaching out a hand.
“What? Why?” Kay said.
Tierra stared toward the campsite that Holly and Kay had come from. “It would explain why her magic was so weak. That branch over there—” She pointed to her right, where a massive tree limb lay on the ground. “— was her idea of a trap. I’ll explain more later. I’m calling Gardner for quarantine. If it is Renaya, and she could potentially possess one of us, we have to keep people away from her.”
Kay glanced toward the half-dead body. The woman’s face was turned away from them; without line of sight, she couldn’t possess any of them. “Should we try to divert the cops if they come this way?” Kay whispered.
“Yes. Go back maybe fifty meters, and if they come this way, tell them you saw a bleeding woman run that way,” Tierra said, pointing west. “I’ll stay here.”
Holly cast a long, hesitant glance at the woman on the ground before turning to follow Kay. They walked about eighty feet through the trees before stopping, ears perked for any wayward snaps of twigs or rustles of leaves. Further away, the police cars’ lights still flashed in the early evening light.
“Do you really think that was Renaya?” Kay whispered. “And if so, what the hell was that thing?”
Holly flinched as a bird fluttered overhead. “I’m afraid Tierra’s right,” she said. “That stone around her neck looked like a possession stone. I didn’t even know people could still make them, but it would explain a lot…”
Kay frowned. “A what?”
“Possession stones. They’re really hard to make, but the idea is that a possessor’s soul could remain in the stone instead of a body for a really long time,” Holly said. “Renaya wore a necklace all the time when we were at her base, but I never got to see what kind of pendant it was. The girl back there was wearing an amber pendant. Amber is the best kind of material to make possession stones with. I’m surprised Tierra picked up on it before I did.”
Kay opened her mouth to respond, but Holly continued: “I mean, it could be anything, and we could be completely wrong. But if that woman attacked Tierra, then that stone could still contain Renaya’s soul, if Renaya reacted quickly enough when that demon attacked her new body.”
“I gotcha. So that’s why we’re calling for Maywitch to try to quarantine? Can we actually do that?”
“We can try,” Holly murmured. “We’ll see if our folks or the Feds make it before the cops do.”
“And—” Kay whirled around, staring at Tierra’s distant form. “Renaya didn’t possess her, right? Why not?”
“Possession requires lavender unless it’s being done to and from a possession stone. In other words, if she was short on lavender, Renaya only could’ve escaped to the possession stone. Normally, a possession stone has to be touching a person in order to jump into their body, so if we keep our distance—”
Holly stopped as a police officer stepped into the woods a short distance ahead of them. “You two! This area is off-limits. Stay on the trails,” he shouted.
Holly waved and nodded. “Shit,” she muttered under her breath, glancing over her shoulder at Tierra. “Let’s comply and hope for the best.”
Kay opened her mouth to reply, but was interrupted by a buzz from her satellite phone. Holly’s had apparently vibrated simultaneously, and they both stared at the text message they had received.
Report to front of campground immediately for extraction.
Behind them, Tierra rushed forward, waving at them. “You saw it. Let’s go,” she said.
“But - don’t we have to worry about someone getting possessed?” Kay said. “And what about the demon?”
“Maywitch has already contacted the FBI. They’ll take care of quarantine. Nothing we can do about the demon right now; that thing was too damn fast.”
Kay nodded and followed Tierra without arguing further. At least Maywitch was being smart about the whole matter, she thought as they charged toward the main road. They must have thought through contingency plans for different scenarios - but then again, they probably hadn’t expected anything quite like this.
Twenty minutes later, they were at the front of the campground, exhausted and out of breath. “I’m assuming someone else will get our tent and stuff, right?” Holly whispered.
“Yeah. Right now, their priority is to keep us away from the local LEOs,” Tierra said as her eyes darted around the scene. “This investigation is officially out of our hands. Freaky drowning incidents are one thing. A visibly murdered body, though… Someone way above us is gonna have to step in on this one.”
They waited silently for another ten minutes, casting wary glances at every camper and police officer that passed by them. Eventually, the black sedan pulled up again and flashed its lights at them.
The three women wasted no time in piling into the back seat. Once the door was closed, the driver said: “Well, y’all are back much sooner than I expected.”
Tierra cracked a smile - the first one Kay had seen in their entire time together. “Can’t complain,” she said, running a hand through her messy hair. “Get to shower sooner than expected.”
The sedan barreled down the road, and Kay could only assume they were headed toward the entrance of the park. The road looked completely unfamiliar in the daylight.
“Let me text Gardner to confirm we’re en route,” Tierra said, leaning back in her seat. “Good work, you two. Thanks for backing me up. That could’ve gotten ugly.”
Holly smiled, but she didn’t seem to relax the same way Tierra did. Instead, she stared out the window, craning her neck to see the woods they had just passed.
“I kinda wish it had gotten ugly, though,” she murmured, barely audible to Kay.
“What happened, though?” Kay asked.
“I found a sunburned, blond-haired man murdered in the women’s latrine,” Tierra said calmly. “It looked like it could have been your detective friend, Kay. I left, called you, and then saw that camper high-tailing it out of there. Followed her for a second. Then she figured out she was onto me and tried to activate a magic circle. I moved out of the way just in time, and then she tried to hit me with some kind of falling tree limb she’d set up as a trap.”
Holly let out a low whistle. “You just stumbled onto the murder scene at the right time, then.”
“Damn right. Like I said, thanks for backing me up. I was caught in a weird spot, potentially, especially if that demon had come after us next…” Tierra shook her head, her eyes wide as if she was in awe of her luck. “I’m glad Gardner had briefed the rest of us on Renaya and the others, eh?”
Kay nodded, feeling her sympathies toward Tierra increase slightly. If that woman was Renaya, then her own powers were probably only mitigated by the fact that she was possessing another body. Facing an unknown opponent alone had to be nerve-wracking.

They arrived at the airport just as Maywitch confirmed a return flight for them. Luckily, they had made it out with their wallets, so boarding the airplane was no problem. They had nothing else other than the clothes on their back, though, so security gave them some odd looks as they passed. Kay was shocked that they weren’t stopped entirely, but she also realized that their tickets could be flagged to avoid additional scrutiny. Since they boarded their charter flight without their possessions, she knew they would be bored on the way back.
Kay picked a seat close to the front of the plane, and Holly sat across the aisle from her. “I’m gonna try to sleep, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to,” Holly said with a thin smile.
“Same. Night,” Kay said, addressing both Holly and Tierra.
“Night,” Tierra said as she walked past.
Instead of sleeping, though, Kay stared out the window for nearly four hours, her mind racing. If Renaya could possess anyone from that little pendant, was anyone worth trusting? Holly had seemed largely unperturbed by the revelation that Renaya could be using a possession stone, but maybe that calmness was unwarranted.
Plus, what exactly had happened between Tierra and Renaya? What had tipped Tierra off that Renaya was the one who was responsible for the blonde detective’s death? Tierra’s timing and ability to follow Renaya seemed far too lucky for it to have been a complete coincidence.
Or maybe Kay’s concern was verging on paranoia, she thought as her eyes began to droop shut. Tierra had acted on a hunch - that was all. The girl’s magical powers were probably better than Kay’s own. If anything, maybe Kay needed some more training and practice, she admitted. She made a mental note to seek out more training on auras and sensory magic when she saw Wojtec again.

Less than two hours after their flight landed, they were back at the base, and Kay collapsed into bed as soon as she could. Her sleep was disturbed by visions of the winged demon; his gray face appeared only briefly before flying off, dodging her flames as she tried to take him down.
Holly and Tierra were never in her dreams, though, she realized as she awoke for the fourth time that night. Only Nadia appeared in brief flashes, fleeing from the scene of battle as if abandoning Kay.
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