Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Maywitch Chapter 29: Cueste lo que Cueste

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Kay yawned as she emerged from the bathroom and set her toiletries on her desk. Nadia was nowhere to be found, but Kay guessed she had ducked out for food or ibuprofen for her arm. Her wheelchair was still by the door, but that was likely just another testament to how stubborn and prideful she was.
Kay paused by her nightstand and glanced down at her phone, which had a voicemail and a text message from Gardner:
Report to my office as soon as you get this, and keep it quiet.

Her heart thudded to the floor. If it was an emergency, the whole base would have been alerted. What could possibly be so urgent that it required Kay's attention and no one else's in the middle of the night?
There was only one way to find out, Kay thought as she swore and plucked her phone from the charger.
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When Kay arrived barely five minutes later, Gardner's office was crowded with people. The presence of Wojtec and Gardner herself didn't surprise Kay, but a gray-haired, tall man with glasses stood in the corner behind Gardner's desk, a cell phone clutched to his ear.
It took Kay a moment to recognize him as George DeMason, the Director of the Eastern U.S. Regional Base. He ignored her as she entered, so she directed her attention to Gardner instead. "Nadia got a call from her sister. Nina kidnapped your mother, her assistant and the baby. We're trying to figure out her exact demands now, but it appears she wants the Grimoire that Renaya and Xavier were trying to take," Gardner said, her brow furrowing.
Kay froze. It took several seconds for Gardner's curt words to sink in. "The... what?" she said, glancing from Gardner to Wojtec and back again. "She what?"
"You heard me. That's literally all we know at this time, partly because the voicemail was full of static at the end." Gardner closed her eyes, her hair falling in her face as she took a deep breath. "We're informing the rest of the base on a need-to-know basis, but since you're Bailey's emergency contact, we're obligated to tell you."
"She revised her contract with us after the events at the Salt Lake base," Wojtec said gently. "But we need to ask you to keep this to yourself."
One of the chairs in front of Gardner's desk moved suddenly, turning halfway to reveal Nadia. She stared off into space to Kay's right, her eyes narrow and dim as if her mind was somewhere else. For a moment, her mouth opened, but she closed it again and returned to her previous, dazed state.
"What happened? How did Nina manage to get to them?" Kay said, half to Nadia and half to Gardner.
"We moved them after Xavier's betrayal, but it may have been too late. He could have tailed them without us realizing it," Gardner said. "Our protocol for handling leaks can only do so much."
Once again, Kay thought, Maywitch was unprepared to handle betrayal - and protect its assets in the aftermath. She gritted her teeth and tried to stop herself from passing judgement right away. Maybe Nina and her team were exceptionally skilled, instead of exceptionally lucky.
"Okay," Kay said. "One question: how the hell did Nina manage to contact--"
"That was probably thanks to Xavier as well," Nadia said, finally meeting Kay's eyes with a hardened glare. "Security changes after a breach take time, you know. Our phone numbers were lower priority than all the other high-level shit Xavier had access to."
Kay felt her face redden, and she forced herself to nod. Nadia's gaze was furious - though it was possible she was more angry at the situation than at anyone in Maywitch, Kay thought as she offered a thin smile. "I got you. That makes sense."
Nadia's expression remained tense as Gardner sighed and whipped out her phone. "Go back to your room and get some rest," Gardner said as she put the phone to her ear. This is officially way above your pay grades. Nadia's phone stays with us as we figure this out, so Kay, stay close to her in case I need to contact her. We don't have any secured spare phones right now."
"Got it," Nadia said, standing with a slight wobble. "We'll check in first thing in the morning."
Kay reached toward Nadia and offered her an arm, and Nadia hesitated for a long moment before accepting it. "I aggravated whatever muscle I pulled in my ribs," Nadia said quietly before nodding to Gardner. "I'm assuming Kay and I are the only junior staff who know so far?"
Gardner, who was now in the middle of a phone call, turned away. "Yes. Keep it that way," Wojtec said. "Tierra was scheduled to be released from quarantine tomorrow morning, but that may change if new information comes up. We will let you know if we loop Holly or any of the others in."
"Roger. We'll be in our room." Nadia looked up at Kay and tugged lightly on her arm.
With sweating palms and a thudding heartbeat, Kay led Nadia out the door and into the dimly-lit hall. "Sorry," Kay said as the door closed behind her. "I didn't mean to sound like I was accusing--"
"I know," Nadia said. She took a deep, shuddering breath, and for an instant, Kay wondered if she was about to cry. "I'm scared, too. Let's talk about this after we're back in the room, though."
"Right," Kay murmured. As she searched Nadia's face for a long moment, her phone buzzed again, and she glanced down at it to see a one-line message from Gardner:
Keep an eye on her.
She gritted her teeth and shoved her phone back in her pocket. There was no way Nadia was actually involved in any of this - not after they had just begun to rebuild their friendship.
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When they got back to their room, Nadia immediately sat down on her bed and grabbed her notepad from her nightstand. "I'm at a loss for what to do, but I guess this really is above our pay grade, huh? A hostage situation is different than our normal fights," she said as she ran her good hand through her hair. "I don't know why Gardner isn't trying to move people out sooner. Surely they can trace that call, right?
"I'm okay with them taking it a little slow. If anyone can handle this situation, it's my stubborn mother," Kay said.
Nadia's eyes widened, and for a moment, only the quiet growl of the air conditioning filled the air. "I mean, you're not wrong," she murmured. "I wish we would go after her right away, but Bailey can probably keep herself and the others alive for a bit. She can negotiate, that's for sure."
"The thing about the baby confuses me, though," Kay said as she sat down across from Nadia. "I thought Nina wanted her back? Why is she letting her be a bargaining chip now?"
"There's something else going on here. Maybe she's pregnant again already. Or maybe there's a reason she actually doesn't mind us getting the baby back."
"Any ideas?"
"Nina's ruthless enough that she would totally throw out a baby with a disability."
Kay cringed. Nadia wasn't exaggerating. "Okay, it could be that. How sure are we that the baby is a demon-summoner?"
Nadia's eyes grew wide. "You think it might not be? The evidence after the explosion in Illinois was pretty solid."
"How solid? And how many other times has demon-summoning resulted in an explosion instead of an earthquake?"
"The baby was found at the center, completely unharmed," Nadia said, shaking her head. "The research team's analysis ruled out everything else."
"But what if it's something we've never seen before?"
Nadia turned and walked toward the far wall. "I mean, that's always possible," she said, beginning to pace. "And based on the bits of intel that have still been shared with me, we still haven't determined a likely father."
"Not to be crass, but..." Kay glanced away. "How likely is it that it's biologically hers? Maybe she didn't actually, y'know..."
"Have sex with someone? Please." Nadia rolled her eyes.
"What?"
"I mean, I don't judge people for how much sex they have, so I won't comment on that. But she's really, really straight."
Kay grinned sheepishly. "Okay. So it wouldn't have been hard for her to get knocked up, and it could've been with another mage."
"You think it could've been Dustin or another crony?"
"Dustin was gay."
"Kyle, too."
"There could've been others, though."
Nadia only sighed in response. Kay sank onto her own bed and exhaled with a heavy sigh. "Nadia, there's no way we would actually give her the Grimoire, right? So why would Nina even ask for it?"
"And that's another fair question. She could be attempting to aim high and then negotiate down to something else, for all I know, but I don't think that's her style." She stared down at the floor, her oily hair falling in front of her eyes. "Shit. I feel like I should be able to read her like a book by now."
"What? Why?"
"I mean, there's something obvious I'm missing here, right? It's not adding up!"
Kay shook her head. "I think there's something we're both missing here, and the folks above our pay grade might know what it is. Let's give them a few hours to figure it out."
For a long moment, Nadia sat eerily still. The hair falling in her face seemed frozen in place. Her back rose and fell such a tiny distance that Kay had to squint to be sure that her roommate was still breathing.
Then Nadia's fingers, already entwined in her lap, drew closer together - as if tightening around an invisible neck. Kay sighed and crossed to the lightswitch at the front of the room. "Let's get some sleep, okay?" she said, watching Nadia for acknowledgement. "At least lay down and rest for a bit."
"Cueste lo que cueste," Nadia murmured.
Kay paused and tilted her head. "What?"
"Cueste lo que cueste - no matter what the cost," Nadia said. She raised her head but kept her hard gaze fixed on the wall in front of her. "Mom said it a lot. Nina started saying it a lot after Mom died, and I..."
She trailed off, and Kay nodded, hoping it would encourage her to continue. "Mom was relentless. Unfortunately, I think Nina inherited that side of her just as much as I did," Nadia said softly. "So ever since that day at the Salt Lake base, when Nina showed up and revealed herself as our enemy, I... I haven't just been trying to protect Maywitch and other mages, you know. I think we have to protect everyone now. The stakes went up. She has no moral qualms about exposing us to the world, and now, if she's making such a desperate play for the Grimoire..."
The groan of the air conditioner ceased, and they were left in near-perfect silence. Nadia began to crawl into bed, and thought her movements were much less stiff than they had been earlier, Kay couldn't help but watch nervously.
"Okay. Let's try to sleep," Nadia murmured as she pulled the covers up to her chin. "I got a sleeping poultice under my pillow already, so I'll be okay, I think. Your phone's on, right?"
"Sure is." Kay hit the lightswitch and crossed to her bed with the light of her phone as a guide. In the soft blue glow, Nadia's eyes shone gray before disappearing beneath her dark eyelashes.
"Night, Kay."
Kay paused at the sound of her name. "Night," she whispered before crawling into bed.
She grabbed a sleeping poultice from her nightstand and held it near her face as she rolled onto her side. Despite the enchanted herbal cocktail's effects, though, her thoughts raced for a long time before finally calming down.
When she fell asleep, she saw her mother, Dustin, and the ruined hallways of the Salt Lake City base.
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The glass of wine on Nina's nightstand shimmered with ripples, but she ignored the vibrations nearby as she stared at her phone. It was only a matter of time until Kyle bothered her again with some useless update about her captives.
To her surprise, a yell reverberated across the house, followed by a dull thunk. This time, she looked up at her glass of wine, her eyes narrowing as she recognized the source of the noise.
Bailey - Kay's mother. How the hell had the strong, reckless woman managed to raise such a useless daughter? It had taken six of Nina's crew to restrain Bailey. Kay had been less than half the hassle the last time Nina had encountered her.
But that was a question for another day, Nina thought as she scrolled through her contacts, hit a few buttons, and held the phone to her ear. After several rings, the recipient picked up, and an unfamiliar growl reverberated in Nina's ears.
"Oh?" she murmured, her lips turning upward into a sneer. "This wasn't who I expected to hear. Is this George?"  
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