Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Maywitch Chapter 22: Infiltration

Previous Chapter: Know Thine Enemy
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Despite being a fugitive, Nina Abendroth hadn’t bothered to change her face or aura. It was too much work for the current moment.
She paced the worn, dimly-lit room, the floorboards creaking under her feet. Renaya was supposed to have called three hours ago. Local news in Denver was reporting heavy police activity in Rocky Mountain National Park. Surely her delay in calling was no coincidence.
Maybe Dustin should’ve gone with Renaya after all, Nina thought as she stopped pacing. “Will you calm down, Boris?” she said over her shoulder. “If you don’t stop looking so freaky, I’ll have Dustin put you back in the basement.”
In the corner of the room sat a balding, red-faced man. Nina had tied him to his chair with rope instead of magic, and he seemed to be straining at his bonds. Sweat had broken out on his forehead, and his eyes were wide and moist.
“What, did we tie you too tight or something?” Nina said.
He couldn’t reply, since she had gagged him with a piece of cloth.
She reached into her pocket and pulled out her buzzing phone. She read the message on the screen and snarled. “Dustin!” she yelled. “Get down here!”
There was a pattering of footsteps overhead, and a few seconds later, Dustin appeared at the bottom of a nearby staircase. “What’s up?”
“The body Renaya was possessing was killed, but Maywitch is proceeding as if she may have escaped back into her stone,” she said, shoving her phone back into her pocket.
He hesitated for a moment as he glanced at the man in the corner. “You should be careful what you say in front of Boris…” Dustin murmured.
“What? It doesn’t matter if he knows we have a mole, because he’s not leaving here without us wiping his memories,” she replied.
“I guess that’s fair, though I’d argue it doesn’t hurt to be careful. Do we know who killed her yet?”
“It sounds like Maywitch killed her. I told her it wouldn’t be that easy to pick them off one by one, but she just wouldn't listen…”
He sighed. “What are we going to do about her, though? Should we try to get her stone back if our contact confirms that Maywitch has it?”
She turned on her heel and strode toward the window. Night had just fallen, and she hadn’t gotten used to how intensely dark it got at their new cabin on cloudy nights. She reached over to turn on a lamp, but stopped as her fingers brushed the amber-colored beads on the lampshade.
“Actually, I think our plans just got even easier,” she said, running her index finger over the smooth beads. “We’ll see how long it takes for things to fall into place.”

Sometime the next morning, Kay’s Maywitch-issued phone began buzzing incessantly, and she rolled over and answered it. Gardner wanted Kay to answer a full array of questions as soon as possible. Though she had slept a grand total of four hours, Kay complied, knowing that she would probably be considered suspicious if she refused.
Two middle-aged mages escorted her from her room to an unfamiliar, white-walled interrogation room. She answered her questions to the best of her ability, providing a description of the demon, the camper Renaya had possessed, and the murdered detective. They peppered her with follow-up questions until her head pounded. It felt like they suspected her of something, she thought as she blearily rubbed her eyes.
Eventually, though, they let her go. She took breakfast back to her room and ate there, keeping a close eye on her phone in case someone needed anything else.
Wojtec came by her room with a fresh batch of assignments, and she accepted them gratefully. It felt a little like college, she thought - though if she didn’t study hard here, she would end up dead, instead of merely unemployed. She told him she wanted to work on sensing auras next, and he agreed to work it in as soon as possible.
“Am I back on standby, more or less? Or is there something specific I’ll be doing soon?” Kay asked.
Wojtec shrugged. “I heard you all will be meeting with Gardner briefly tomorrow morning, but I don’t have a time yet. Nothing else for you to do before then, unless an emergency comes up. Get some rest, yeah?”
As he waved and walked away, Kay sent a text to Holly: Have you visited Nadia today? Maybe we should go see her and reassure her we’re alive.
The response was swift: Already tried. They’re questioning her about what happened last night.
Kay scowled at her phone as she typed: Why? She wasn’t there. She had nothing to do with it. She wouldn’t even know anything about the demon side of things because she didn’t know she was a summoner before!
Several minutes passed, and as Kay sat down to study, her phone finally buzzed with a response: I know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re talking to her just as a formality. She’s one of our brightest, so maybe Gardner is using this as a way to pick her brain for ideas. Let’s go see her this evening? Maybe after dinner?
That was optimistic of Holly, Kay thought as she set her phone aside and got to studying. There was no guarantee that Maywitch wasn’t treating Nadia like a total pariah. Even if Nadia and Holly were dating, as Kay suspected, Nadia could hide how poorly Maywitch was treating her in an attempt to keep Holly from worrying.
Kay paused and looked up from her studying. She was more concerned about Nadia than she had ever been before, she realized as she stared at the wall in front of her.
She stared back down at her assignments again, struggling to focus, but eventually gave up. The blank wall in front of her desk was irritating her. In her apartment in Houston, she’d had photos of herself and her mother on the wall, in addition to the handful of photos she had of herself and her high-school friends. Those photos had made it more bearable to muddle through studying after a long day at her part-time job.
Now, though, she was at yet another home away from home. It was foreign and unfamiliar, like a hotel room, but she knew she couldn’t return to her apartment anytime soon. Gardner and Juan had assured her that they wouldn’t terminate the lease, and would give her the option of returning there as soon as she finished her duties, but it was starting to look like she wouldn’t be finished anytime soon.
Maybe it was time to make this room a little more home-like, she thought as she reached for her phone again. Yeah, let’s meet at 6 at the dining hall, eat dinner, and then go over, she typed.
Holly replied almost instantly: Cool! Sounds like a plan!

Just before 6 p.m., Kay strolled up to the cafeteria, and Holly met her a few minutes later. They ate quietly, not bothering to discuss the events of the previous day.
“Should we invite Tierra to come see Nadia?” Kay asked as they finished eating.
Holly shot her a look of dismay. “I dunno if that’s a good idea,” she murmured, shaking her head. “I mean, to be honest, it seems like… Maybe she…”
She trailed off, hesitating, and Kay jumped in: “I mean, if in doubt, let’s just hold off for now.”
“Yeah. Every time I even mentioned Nadia, Tierra looked at me funny. Whatever her deal is, she’s not very poker-faced,” Holly said, frowning.
“I hear ya.” Kay stood and stretched. “Let’s go.”
The hall leading to the infirmary ward was lit in dulcet orange hues, and Kay felt her mind begin to calm as they walked. As they approached the hallway leading to Nadia’s room, though, they stopped short. Nadia herself had appeared in the hall, carrying a cardboard box of her possessions.
“Oh - you didn’t have to come and help!” she said, laughing. “I got it, I promise.”
Kay raised an eyebrow. “Huh? What’s going on?”
Nadia looked from Kay to Holly, her smile fading. “Nobody told you?” she said quietly. “I’m moving into your room, Kay. I mean, I guess they don’t want to leave me unattended outside of medical. It sounds like everyone will have a roommate at some point, but for now, I’m highest priority…”
She trailed off, and Kay and Holly looked at each other for a long moment. Holly’s expression was unreadable, but her worried brow line showed she might be disappointed. “Well, I’m glad you’re getting out of quarantine! Took them long enough!” Holly said, not bothering to keep her voice down.
Nadia smiled, and for the first time in a long while, Kay saw her eyes glimmer with happiness. “Sure did,” Nadia said, shrugging. “Oh well. Listen, let me take this box to my new room, and then we can catch up, okay?”
“Surely you have more boxes than that.” Holly walked past Nadia, toward the room that the healer had been staying in. “Let me get one.”
“No, it’s fine—”
“If you end up overexerting yourself, Kay’s gonna end up moving the rest of your stuff!”
Kay smiled sheepishly, waving a hand. “I mean, don’t worry about me. I’m happy to help,” she said. “Let us help, Nadia.”
Nadia opened her mouth to protest, but stopped, letting a smile reclaim her face. “Fine, but I got the bulk of it,” she said. “Most of my stuff didn’t even survive the fires and stuff at the old base.”
Kay’s heart sank. Nadia’s words were nonchalant, as if she was making a remark about the quality of their breakfast that morning. Her life had been completely, truly torn apart; the loss of her material possessions had to be trivial compared to the death of many of her colleagues, her sister’s betrayal, and her imprisonment in an unfamiliar base far from home.
“Is Maywitch—” Kay stopped and glanced around, concerned that her words could be viewed as suspicious. “Is Maywitch going to let you out more? Because we might kinda need you, y’know.”
Nadia’s laugh was sarcastic yet stifled, as if she had tried to suppress it at the last second. “No matter what you all need me for, I’m sure I’m too much of a liability to make it worth your while,” she said, shrugging.
Holly’s face fell, and Kay decided to change the topic. “Well, if you’ll be in our room a lot, keep it down, okay? I’m studying a lot, trying to be less clueless,” Kay said.
Nadia snorted. “Good luck. You’re probably years behind the rest of us.”
“Hey! You don’t have to phrase it like that!” Holly said.
Kay laughed, shaking her head. It was true. She would probably end up asking Nadia some really stupid questions over the course of her studies. There was definitely a silver lining to having Nadia as a roommate, she thought as they went to grab the rest of Nadia’s things.
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