Saturday, January 7, 2017

Maywitch Chapter 27: Grimoire

Previous Chapter: Quarantine
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The medical wing was chaos as nurses prepared to receive the two gravely injured guards. At the far end of the hallway, Gardner emerged from a room with her cell phone between her ear and her shoulder.
"Did we confirm Xavier's whereabouts?" she growled as she pulled the phone away from her ear.
"Negative," Wojtec replied. "It looks like he probably fled right before lockdown."
Gardner's brow furrowed, and she turned away to continue the conversation on her phone. Holly and Kay looked at each other, and after a moment, Holly asked: "Wait, Xavier?"

"Yeah, that's part of why we need to talk to you two. We didn't figure out he was the one who took Renaya's stone out of quarantine until right after we secured Tierra," Wojtec said, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. "Bloody hell."
Kay's mind reeled as she stared at the floor. "But yesterday, he..."
"We didn't see him for a while, did we?" Holly murmured.
"Is he..." Kay paused, struggling to piece together words that made sense - that didn't undermine her faith in Maywitch further. "Did he betray us, too?"
Holly didn't respond. Gardner ended her phone call and turned to face the other three, her face more grim than Kay had ever seen it. "Sure enough, they found Renaya's pendant around Tierra's neck," she said. "I can't believe this."
Wojtec opened his mouth to say something, but Gardner continued: "I know we already talked to you two about what you saw yesterday, but now we need some specifics on everything you saw Xavier say or do. Wojtec, you and Dan need to get detailed answers from them and report anything significant to me as soon as possible."
He nodded, and she headed down the hallway without any further remarks. He nudged the two of them into a spare room, and when one of his colleagues joined them a few minutes later, Kay and Holly began recounting everything Xavier had done the day before.
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Nearly half an hour later, Wojtec seemed satisfied with their answers, and he released them to go back to their rooms. "We're still on lockdown, for the time being, but we'll hopefully lift it soon," he said. "Don't talk to anyone else on your way back, unless it's Gardner or George DeMason."
Kay and Holly knew better than to argue. They were silent on the walk back, their minds still struggling to compute everything that had happened in the past day. Kay felt a sick, sinking feeling settle into her stomach as she realized that if someone as senior as Xavier could betray them, anyone could.
She tried to push that thought aside as she arrived back in her room. Nadia was standing in the middle of the room, covered in blood for the second time in less than twenty-four hours.
"We lost both of them," she whispered.
Kay closed the door behind her and leaned against it. "Goddamn Renaya," she said, the words coming out barely louder than a hiss. "I'm sorry, Nadia."
"I did the best I could." There was a long pause. "God, Tierra's gonna be torn up."
"You do believe that it was Renaya's doing, right?"
"Yeah. Tierra doesn't know how to throw knives like that," Nadia said, a ghost of a smile flitting across her lips. "Tried to learn once. She was terrible, even with the help of wind magic. Almost took Wojtec's ear off."
Kay tried to smile, but couldn't. "If you wanna shower, I'll go soak your clothes."
"We're still on lockdown, remember? I'll just have to use this sink," Nadia said as she headed toward the bathroom.
"Wait—" Kay stopped, struggling to choose her words carefully. "Did they tell you about Xavier? They're gonna wanna talk to you soon."
Nadia sighed. "I got the short version. Thanks for the heads up. I'll make this quick."
She closed the bathroom door behind her, and Kay sank onto her bed, fighting back tears. With Xavier's betrayal, the list of people she could afford to trust was running short. She could feel her old unease creeping back, almost as if she was brand-new to Maywitch again, and she wondered how much more she could take.
As Nadia finished showering, Wojtec came by the room to take her away for questioning. Kay sat alone for nearly an hour, watching her phone for updates. She wanted to text Holly, but had no idea what to say.
Her phone eventually buzzed with a message:
MW EASTERN LOCKDOWN LEVEL 1
Relieved, she sighed and sent a message to Holly: Level 1 means we can move around the base, at least, right?
Before she could hit send, though, there was a knock at the door. "Hey, Gardner needs to see you again," Wojtec's voice said.
Kay stuck her head into the hall, where Holly and Wojtec were waiting with grim expressions. "Sure," she said, closing the door behind her.
They walked down the halls in silence, ignoring the nervous glances of passers-by. When they reached Gardner's office, the door opened before Wojtec could even knock.
"Come in," Gardner said as she typed at her desk.
In front of the desk, Nadia shifted nervously, her hands fidgeting. As she walked up to the desk, Kay nodded to Gardner. "I'll make this brief," Gardner said. "The short version is, we know what Xavier and Renaya's plan was - at least, the basics of it. They were trying to smuggle out the Grimoire. We're assuming their plan was to deliver it to Nina."
Holly sucked in a breath. It took Kay several seconds to remember where she had heard the word 'Grimoire' before. "You mean the thing in the basement of the Salt Lake City base?" she asked.
"Yes. It's a powerful magical tome - that's the basic explanation, anyway; the others can fill you in more later." Gardner sighed. "We're still piecing together the chain of events, but based on what Tierra told us, it appears that Xavier used his high security clearance to slip into quarantine, take Renaya's possession stone, and tie it around Tierra's door handle. When Tierra went to leave her room in the morning, she inadvertently touched the stone's chain, which was enough for Renaya to possess her. You know the rest."
"Hold on," Nadia said. "If Xavier or Nina or whoever wanted it so badly, why didn't he try to take it sooner? Like, when he was on errands or something?"
"The Grimoire is incredibly unstable, and can react to certain spells and herbs if not properly shielded. If it would've reacted to something and exposed itself while he was trying to sneak it out, he wouldn't have stood a chance against more than one of our stronger mages. Though he can use possession and has tons of tactical and strategic knowledge, he's barely Combat Class D." Gardner took a deep breath, and the fury on her face became more pronounced. "Renaya, Nina, or whoever the hell is behind this had probably been waiting for a better opportunity to smuggle it out. Xavier may have intended to provide Renaya with backup if she got caught, but it sounds like he slipped out early for unknown reasons. They may have had their reasons for having Renaya smuggle it instead of him, though, and that worries me."
"And we unwittingly gave Renaya her chance by bringing that amulet in." Nadia sighed. "Damn, that was way too close. Good work, Holly."
Holly only nodded in response. There was still an icy chill between the two of them, Kay thought as Nadia continued: "Anything else we should know?"
"No. You're clear to go, and if we find out anything else we think you should know, we'll let you know," Gardner said. "The full team will get a more thorough briefing later, but if you have any more ideas on Xavier's behavior, or any other potential moles, reach out to myself or Wojtec."
"Of course." Nadia nodded and turned to leave, and Holly and Kay followed.
As they reached the door, though, Kay stopped short, her heart leaping into her throat. "Wait," she said, turning around.
Gardner looked up at her. "Something wrong?"
"Did we ever... did we ever figure out why Perry turned on us?"
She heard Holly's breath catch, and Gardner shook her head. "No, we didn't," Gardner murmured. "Why?"
"You said Xavier's a possessor. Where was he when everything was going down in Denver?"
Gardner stared down at her desk. Kay could hear soft footsteps behind her, and she assumed Nadia and Holly had stepped back into the room. "We'll see if we can't investigate that," Gardner said. "Because if I recall correctly, we kept him out of the field to handle an administrative role for that mission, but he fell ill shortly before Perry was sent out."
"Wouldn't there be medical records we can refer to?"
"Xavier may have only possessed her for a total of two, maybe three hours before turning her against us and getting her killed, and the medical staff could've written that off as him taking a nap," Nadia said, her voice barely above a whisper. "If he killed Juan and then got her killed, I'll fucking kill him."
"Not if I beat you to it," Kay murmured. Her hands had begun to shake, and she folded then together tightly.
"Xavier was a very unskilled possessor, and I don't think he would've been capable of holding a body for that long," Gardner said. "But we'll look into it. Thanks for bringing that up."
Nadia left, almost stumbling as she entered the hallway. Kay jogged after her, and when they were clear of Gardner's office, she whispered: "Xavier could've faked being bad at possession, right?"
"To keep that trump card up his sleeve, sure," Nadia murmured. "I can't even think about it right now, though. My brain's fried."
"Yeah. No sense in speculating, I guess."
"I'm gonna go down to the supply room and see if I can order some new clothes," Nadia said as she rubbed her eyes. "I really don't want to wear the ones that..."
Kay nodded in support. She couldn't remember the last time she had seen Nadia so visibly exhausted. "I got you," she said. "I might go get some food."
Nadia offered a wan smile before heading for the stairs, and Kay stopped to wait for Holly to catch up. "If you want to go get food, I'm game," Kay said. "I'm not very hungry, but we should try to eat something."
"Yeah. I feel like shit, and it's probably because I didn't get breakfast," Holly replied. "Let's go—"
There was a loud, sickening thump in the stairwell, and Kay's heart plummeted. "What the hell?" she groaned as she jogged toward the stairs. "Nadia, what—"
She stopped as she peered over the railing and saw Nadia's dark-haired form sprawled out at the bottom of the stairs. "Call a medic over!" she yelled to Holly before darting down the stairs.
Nadia's eyes were closed, and as Kay fumbled for a pulse, she silently prayed that it wasn't as bad as it looked.
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Next Chapter: Senses

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