Saturday, January 7, 2017

Maywitch Chapter 26: Quarantine

Previous Chapter: Recovery
Kay finished her breakfast and headed down the hall toward the conference room, dreading her next round of training. As she rounded a corner, she almost collided with two people standing close to one wall. "Sorry!" she said, raising a hand in apology.
It was Wojtec and another, younger mage. They both looked at her in alarm, saying nothing for a moment. Kay hurried off, unsure of the reason for their silence, and not wanting to stop and chat if something was going on. As she rounded another corner, she glanced over her shoulder to see them still talking in hushed tones. Her heart sank. Were they talking about her? Had she done something wrong?
As she reached the conference room, she heard Wojtec's voice behind her: "Kay, something came up, so we'll have to postpone."

She turned around. His expression was stormy, and he barely slowed down as he passed her. "Sure, no problem," she said. "Can I help? Is something wrong?"
"No, just a scheduling snafu."
His tone was tight and strained, and she wasn't sure she believed him. After he ducked into an office down the hall, she turned and went back toward her room, her frown deepening as she realized her he had never canceled on her before.
Several seconds later, her phone buzzed, and she pulled it out to read:
She stopped cold, mind racing as she re-read the message. Gardner's security briefing a few weeks prior had gone over the lockdown types; this one meant no one could enter or leave the base, and lower-level staff were supposed to stay in their rooms. What the hell was happening?
She jogged down the hall, not wanting to get in the way of whatever was going on. As she veered into the next hallway, she heard voices coming from the front security station:
"Sorry, but no one can go out right now. I know you got orders earlier, but once that notification goes out, we have to enforce it."
She slowed as she reached the short hallway leading to the security checkpoint. The checkpoint was the last vetting point for anyone coming in or out of the base, which was built into and underneath an old mansion. The bulk of the base's security was at the front gates, nearly a mile away from the base itself, but the lockdown had prompted the front desk to immediately double its staff from two to four. Most of them were recognizable to Kay as mages, but they all carried guns to add to their protection.
In the middle of the group of security guards stood Tierra, who sighed dramatically as she knelt and unshouldered her backpack. "I guess I'll have to call someone for special permission, huh?" she said.
"Yeah, you can do that," one of the guards said, "One of the Directors can override—"
In less than a second, the guard had stopped speaking and collapsed as blood gushed from his throat. The other guards reacted quickly, pulling out their guns, but Tierra leapt behind the security desk as she threw a knife at a second guard.
Kay didn't move as one of the guards cast a shield to protect his wounded colleagues before slamming an emergency switch on the wall. Metal blast doors slammed down over the door to the outside world. "This is Entry Three; we've got an attack from the inside!" the remaining guard yelled into a walkie-talkie. "We need-"
He stopped as Tierra bolted from behind the desk and headed down the hall toward Kay. Kay muttered the spell to summon a shield, and Tierra stopped and summoned her own.
"Tierra, what the hell is this?" Kay snapped, her voice shaking.
"Move," Tierra replied. "You don't stand a chance against me and you know it."
One of the guards behind Tierra aimed his gun at her, but she sensed his movement and pivoted her shield to deflect any bullets. She kept one hand toward Kay, making it clear that she would drop her shield and cast a spell if Kay tried to move. "I'm pretty sure he won't fire if there's a chance of him hitting you, so you're on your own, honey," Tierra said, a sinister grin sliding over her face.
Kay struggled to weigh her options. Dropping her shield to cast a spell would result in Tierra either striking back or moving her shield between herself and Kay. She could theoretically try to ram her shield against Tierra's to push her backwards and hope the guards could take care of the rest, but Tierra could also drop her shield and attack Kay from up close, since shields couldn't block living things.
It was clear that Kay's combat training hadn't been enough to prepare her for this. Two-on-one or three-on-one battles were one thing, but the guards behind Tierra were likely a lower combat class, and Kay had no idea how they could hold up in a fight. One-on-one with Tierra Martinez, of all people, could only end badly. Kay didn't see any option but to stall until stronger mages arrived.
"Remember what you said to me on the plane? You took this shit so seriously. What changed?" she yelled as a siren began to blare.
"Stop talking and fucking move! This is your last warning!" Tierra yelled back.
Something was off. If Tierra wanted to, she could likely take out the remaining guards and blast her way through the doors with earth magic. She was stalling, too, Kay realized. Was she waiting on her own backup to arrive - or worse?
Kay began to murmur the words to a fire spell, even though she knew it would cause her shield to fade within seconds. Tierra's eyes narrowed, and her lips began to move, as if she knew this was her last chance to beat Kay's defenses before being on the receiving end of a fiery onslaught.
Just as Kay finished reciting her spell, Tierra stumbled backward, her eyes widening. "Wait," she said as her shield faded away. "Wait, Kay--"
Kay, though, was determined to never fall for anything Tierra said ever again. She could hear her blood pounding in her ears as her fingers grew hot.
Behind Tierra, one of the guards raised a hand, eyes growing wide. Kay couldn't fully read his expression, but she knew something was deeply wrong.
Tierra still hadn't launched an attack, so Kay decided to launch a surprise of her own. She lunged toward her, feet pounding against the hard carpet, and tackled her.
There was a cry of alarm and a thunk as Tierra fell backward. Kay scrambled upright and pinned her to the ground, knees pressed into Tierra's arms.
"Hey, that's enough!" one of the guards yelled. "Holly got her!"
Kay stared at him, puzzled, before looking back down at Tierra. Her face had calmed, though she was clearly in pain. "Wait, what?" Kay said.
The guard rushed forward and waved for Kay to move away. She complied, but kept one shaking hand in front of her, fully prepared to incinerate Tierra if anything else happened.
Tierra, though, remained calm, and offered her hands to the guard. "Handcuffs, at a minimum. Tie me up if you can. I suspect that the body was possessed by Renaya and wasn't in Tierra's control, but there's no way to know for sure," she said quickly.
There was a commotion behind Kay, and she turned to see Holly's limp body being tended to by Wojtec. She glanced back at Tierra, who was now safely handcuffed, and leaned back on her hands.
"Oh. That's what happened?" she murmured. "Shit. That was close."
Nadia and another mage charged past them toward the injured guards, and another half-dozen mages came to escort Tierra away. "Holly, you can come back," Wojtec said. "We got it now."
Tierra nodded, and a second later, Holly regained consciousness. Tierra's expression barely changed as she was hoisted to her feet and led away into the base. "Holly, thank you!" she yelled over her shoulder. "You did good!"
Holly's mouth was hanging open, as if she was just as confused as Kay. "So I either guessed right, or Tierra is a really good actress," she said after a moment. "Sorry I didn't warn you I was hiding around the corner, Kay. I just couldn't risk tipping her off that I was here, and I didn't have time to plan out my next move at all."
Kay shook her head. "You did just fine, as far as I can tell. You kept things from getting any uglier. Thank you."
The last two words sounded foreign, and Holly's eyes widened for a moment, her gentle brown orbs glimmering with relief. "But... can you explain to me what just happened?" Kay continued, smiling sheepishly.
Holly smiled back. "When Wojtec and I were on the way down, we got word that Tierra had stabbed one of the guards. That didn't sound like her usual tactics, and it occurred to me that Renaya or somebody else could be possessing her. Normally, if a possessed body is taken over by another possessor, then the original possessor is just booted back to their own body. But if your own body is dead, possessing another body comes with a risk: another possessor can boot you from that body and kill you instantly, if you don't have sufficient warning to move back into your possession stone. That's the theory, anyway."
Kay frowned, trying to compute her explanation. "So, the whole reason why Renaya was able to re-possess her stone before being killed in the woods in Denver... was that she had a few seconds' warning before the body she had possessed actually died, right? And this time, you got the jump on her?"
"Right. Here, I was able to basically boot her soul into oblivion. Good riddance," Holly said dryly. "Wojtec confirmed to me that Renaya's possession stone disappeared from quarantine this morning, so I'd be surprised if I'm wrong, at this point."
That must have been why Wojtec needed to cancel their training, Kay thought. As the chatter around them increased, she seized the excuse not to respond. Despite how much she hated Renaya, the thought of her being killed in such a sudden, irreversible manner was unsettling.
Wojtec emerged from the crowd and escorted the two of them to Gardner's office, and Kay was grateful to get away from the panic and stench of blood.
Next Chapter: Grimoire

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