Monday, February 27, 2017

Maywitch Chapter 32: Jekyll Island

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Thirty minutes of pointless questions later, Holly’s interrogation was finally over, and the senior mage questioning her finally explained why she had been brought in. The details flew right past her. All she heard was: “Director Gardner got Nadia and Kay to run off with the Grimoire. We don’t know where they went.”

She nodded at appropriate times and pledged her support to the recovery effort, but as soon as she stepped out of the interrogation room, she burst into tears. The confusion and anger in her heart almost felt melodramatic - why was she so furious at all three of them, when it was really all Gardner’s fault? - but once she calmed down a little, she realized it was justified. Nadia leaving was one thing. Kay, on the other hand, was her own half-sister. There was no reason for her to have left Holly without looping her in. Was there less trust there than Holly had thought?


No matter, Holly thought as she headed back to her room. She would calculate her next moves as more information arrived. It had only been two hours since the traitors had escaped, and since Gardner herself hadn’t fled, she might let some information slip over time.

Ultimately, though, there would probably be little Holly could do. George probably wouldn’t trust her with much.

As she reached the stairwell, she spotted Wojtec gingerly making his way down the steps. “Wojtec, are you okay?” she asked. “I heard the short version of what happened, but…”

He shrugged, his eyes glimmering with a hint of a smile. “I’m okay, thanks. I’m still trying to make sense of everything. Appreciate you checking on me.”

“You weren’t badly hurt, right?”

“It appears Gardner just hexed me. She’s skilled enough that knockout spells are no problem, if she has time to prepare. Dunno how I’m still this sore, though,” he said, a smile finally appearing at the corners of his lips. “Guess I’m getting old, huh?”

“Take it easy, and let me know if I can help with anything,” Holly said firmly.

He nodded, and for a moment, Holly couldn’t read his expression. “Thanks. I’ll let you know,” he said as he turned toward George’s office. “I might come by your room and bounce something off of you later today, okay?”

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Kay was so distracted that she forgot to tell Nadia Gardner’s password until they were already over two hours down the road. Nadia didn’t seem to mind, though, as she continued to barrel down the highway. After they stopped for gas, she returned to her place behind the wheel, insisting that she was no longer sore despite her fall the day before. Kay didn’t believe her, but knew that the control freak side of Nadia was a force to be reckoned with.

Despite the bevy of topics for them to talk about, Nadia was eerily quiet for most of the ride to the safehouse. Kay tried to make conversation from time to time, but Nadia’s answers were always short, vague, and pointless.

It was discouraging, but Kay couldn’t blame her. As the more senior of the pair, Nadia implicitly bore much of the responsibility for whatever happened next. If they screwed up and the Grimoire fell into the wrong hands, it would reflect more on Nadia than it would on Kay, the undertrained rookie. Even though Gardner would bear official responsibility in Maywitch’s eyes, there was no way that Tierra, Holly and the others would forgive Nadia if things went to hell.

Then again, they probably wouldn’t forgive Kay either - but she tried not to think about that.
“Do you think Gardner will send us backup when possible?” Kay asked at one point.

“I sure as hell hope so,” Nadia murmured as she squinted at a road sign ahead of them. “We’re almost there. After this, there’s just one more turn, and then we’ll be where we’re supposed to park.”

Kay nodded, and they lapsed into silence again. The southern Georgia scenery around them had begun to morph from cornfields and two-lane roads to small towns and traffic lights, and soon enough, she thought she could see the glimmering ocean through the trees. A sign next to the road said “Welcome to Jekyll Island,” but there wasn’t much welcoming about the area. Massive trees lined each side of the road, and Kay couldn’t help but wonder what their escape route would be if everything went to hell.

Nadia glanced at her, seeming to notice her unease. “I don’t think Gardner would send us out to the middle of nowhere. Surely there’s enough of a tourist presence around that Maywitch will have to watch their step if they come after us.”

Sure enough, a few minutes later, Nadia turned onto a road lined with stores and hotels, and parked the car in the first open spot on the street. “Let’s go,” she said as she glanced at her sheet of directions and grabbed the folder from the glove box. “It’s less than a half-mile up the road.”

“Is the car gonna be okay here?” Kay asked as she reached for her backpack.

“Worst-case scenario, it gets towed, and that’s still better than having it parked in our driveway for all to see.”

Kay couldn’t argue with that. Nadia tucked the directions into the pocket of her pants, locked the car doors, and began her walk up the road.

The sun beat down on them, despite it almost being fall. It was reminiscent of Houston, Kay thought as she glanced out at the beachfront gated communities and resorts. Within minutes, she was sweating buckets, and wondered if they would even stand a chance if Maywitch caught them right then and there.

Nadia glanced over her shoulder every twenty feet or so, and Kay knew she wasn’t just keeping an eye out for wayward rental cars full of tourists. Eventually, Nadia stopped at a long, barely-marked driveway just before a sharp turn in the road. “This is it,” she said softly as she squinted at the mailbox. “Act like we belong here.”

She walked up the driveway without looking over her shoulder again, and Kay followed carefully. “You don’t think there’s a chance they beat us here by helicopter, do you?” Kay said.

The idea seemed to give Nadia pause, and she slowed before reaching for something in her pocket. “There’s a chance, yeah.”

A tiny, wood-walled house came into view behind a row of trees, and Kay felt her heart rate increase. There was something off about the place. The building was clearly forty or fifty years old, but the storm door looked brand-new, and a bright white security camera perched on the outside wall near the southeast corner of the house.

“This is her grandma’s place?” Kay murmured.

Nadia didn’t reply. She glanced over her shoulder toward the ocean before pulling keys from her pocket and approaching the front door. She opened the storm door, fumbled with the keys for a moment, and slowly unlocked the door.

Kay wished she would hurry up. Something about all the trees nearby made her nervous.
Nadia stepped into the house with one hand held out, but quickly lowered it. “Looks like things are just where Gardner left them,” she said as she pulled a piece of paper from the folder under her arm. “Remote controls for the TV and security feed… Security camera instructions on the table… Pen clipped on top of the instructions at a forty-five degree angle…”

Kay stepped inside and closed the door behind her, taking care to lock both the bottom knob and the deadbolt. “Gardner made sure we would know if someone else had been here, huh?”

“Unless that someone was very, very careful to leave things exactly as they found them,” Nadia said as she crossed the room and squinted at the papers on the table. “I think we can relax, though. She would’ve told us if someone else at Maywitch knew about this place.”

Kay nodded, but she still wasn’t convinced. There was a door ajar to her left, and she tiptoed toward it before peeking into a tiny, white-walled bedroom with a bathroom attached. Another bathroom sat next to the combined kitchen, living room and dining room space.

“Gardner has an emergency contact in town who we can go find if absolutely necessary. Nonperishables in the basement. She says to help ourselves to whatever we need,” Nadia said as she set her backpack down and flipped through the instructions on the table. “Then for security, there are four bracelets…”

“These?” Kay asked, pointing to a black cuff bracelet on the kitchen counter.

Nadia nodded. “I guess so. Once I turn on the system, the bracelets will vibrate if there’s movement at the edges of the property, or someone tries to open a door or window. Gardner’s notes don’t really specify, but I guess that’s designed to be more useful than an audio alarm in case a silence spell is cast. One of us should be awake and on guard at all times, though, just in case it fails. Sleep in shifts. Sound good?”

Kay picked up the bracelet and examined it before putting it on. “Sounds good to me. But we’re sure no one else at Maywitch knows about this place? This is pretty sophisticated, and if Gardner managed to hide this from her own colleagues…”

“The property is probably still in a relative’s name, if I had to guess. I’m sure she wouldn’t have sent us here if she didn’t think we could hide for at least a few days.” Nadia closed her eyes as she sat down hard on the couch. “Damn, that woman keeps a lot of secrets.”

“What do you want me to do with the Grimoire?” Kay asked softly, as if afraid of being overheard.

“Basement. The further underground we can keep it, the better. That sheath isn’t foolproof.”
“What if we need to leave in a hurry?”

“Honestly, if that situation arises, we’re probably screwed anyway,” Nadia murmured as she ran a hand through her sweaty hair. “Tuck it away somewhere safe and let me know where you put it. I’ll keep watch up top and work on the security system.”

Kay pulled the cloth sheath out of her backpack before tiptoeing toward the closed door across from the bedroom. Sure enough, it led to a dark stairwell, and she fumbled for the lightswitch before beginning her descent.

The basement smelled damp and musty, but the shelves full of food and wine to her right appeared intact and usable. As she reached up to tuck the Grimoire up behind a row of wine bottles, she felt her hand tingle slightly. Was that from the Grimoire - or something else?

After a moment, though, the feeling faded and was replaced by a sense of dread. She shuddered as she ran back up the stairs, and caught herself hoping that one way or another, their ordeal would end sooner rather than later.

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An hour later, they had gotten situated and each taken a shower. Nadia had gone to the basement and brought up several cans of tuna and green beans, which she opened and began to turn into some kind of salad. “Since there’s no olive oil, I’ll just have to get creative with salt and spices,” she murmured as she pulled a bowl from the cabinet. “Gonna get a little sick of tuna, but we’re lucky there’s a week’s worth of food down there. We’re gonna get hungry after that.”

“We’ll see if we make it that long without being caught.”

Nadia smiled sadly. “That cynicism doesn’t sound like you.”

Kay glanced away. Something about Nadia’s demeanor was making her nervous. Was it because Nadia was being nicer than usual?

“At any rate, once we eat something, I’m gonna take a nap. We need to decide shifts. Do you want first night shift, or second?” Nadia asked.

“I don’t really care. What’s first shift, nine or so until… three?”

“And then second shift is the next six hours, and we can nap as needed during the day.” Nadia frowned and stared up at the ceiling. “It’ll be rough, and we can adjust as needed, but let’s keep it simple for now. I’ll nap now and then take first shift?”

“Sounds good.”

“Since there’s wine down there, I think I’ll have a glass to calm my nerves. There’s no sense in being so jittery we can’t sleep,” Nadia murmured as she stretched. “You should do the same later, but don’t get tipsy.”

Kay would’ve smiled if the situation wasn’t so dire. It was an odd situation to be in: straight-laced Nadia was proposing they self-medicate with alcohol while Maywitch was probably hunting for them. “You’re not worried about someone finding us and having to fight them?”

“If someone does find us, there’s a slim chance of it being anybody other than Maywitch. And if it’s Maywitch, our only option is to run.” Nadia shrugged, as if having to run from their employer was just another run-of-the-mill assignment.

“Fair enough.”

Nadia busied herself with finishing the salad and pouring a glass of wine while Kay checked the security monitor. They ate in silence, aside from Nadia’s blunt commentary on the sub-par quality of her culinary skills. Kay didn’t argue, but offered reassurances that the mediocre food was more due to the limited ingredients than Nadia’s skills.

The sound of the crashing waves outside filtered through the walls and windows much like the city sounds of Houston used to filter through their childhood apartment windows; like how classroom whispers would fade into audible range when the room was quiet enough; like how peace and pleasant nostalgia seeped in when the strain of working for Maywitch wasn’t too strong. It would have been idyllic if it weren’t for the threat of attack and imprisonment - or worse - hanging over their heads.

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Nadia tossed and turned on the tiny twin-size bed until it was her turn to keep watch. At 9:15, after several hours of bored monitor-watching, Kay went to bed, leaving the bedroom door slightly ajar in case Nadia needed something.

She slept fitfully; the sweat clinging to her only amplified her discomfort on the dusty sheets and stiff mattress. Every time she woke up, though, the moonlight outside had grown brighter as it filtered through the blinds, and it was oddly comforting. If they did get attacked, she would at least have an upper hand over any mages who drew more power from the sun than the moon.

Then, just as she had fallen asleep for the fourth time, there was a sudden and echoing crash. She bolted out of bed, then wondered if she should stay still and conceal herself for as long as possible.

There were footsteps outside the door a split second before it creaked open. She raised an arm, pulse pounding in her ears, and began to whisper a fire spell.

“Kay, it’s me! It’s just me!”

The only part of Kay that moved was her shaking fingers. As she squinted in the darkness, she could see Nadia’s petite frame in the doorway.

“Password?” Kay said, struggling to force the word through her dry throat.

“Lux pacifica. I dropped a glass.”

Kay relaxed, and Nadia let out an audible sigh of relief. “Sorry,” Nadia murmured. “That was bound to happen eventually.”

“Yeah, ‘cause you’re such a clutz.”

The words left Kay’s mouth before she could stop herself, but instead of being angry, Nadia burst into laughter. “Guilty as charged!” Nadia said as she leaned against the doorframe. “Shit. I’m sorry, though.”

“You’re the brains of this operation. You’re allowed to knock things over from time to time,” Kay said as she slumped back in bed.

“That’s part of the reason why I proposed we have a glass of wine from time to time. Take the edge off without making us stupid.”

“I dunno if that’s actually gonna do much for me.”

Nadia sighed, but a smile played at the edges of her lips. “That’s fair.”

“What time is it?”

“Sometime after 1:30. I can’t even see the clock anymore.”

“Do you wanna get some rest? I’m wide awake now.”

“So am I, though!”

Kay couldn’t help but laugh. Something about her fatigue and the absurdity of the situation kept her from taking anything seriously.

“Look, try to sleep another hour and a half, okay? Then you can take over,” Nadia said as she laid a hand on the doorknob. “I’ll close this, okay? I’ll be fine. Good night.”

She closed the door before Kay could even argue. There was no way Kay was getting back to sleep now, but she smiled as she stared up at the slate-shadowed ceiling.

She kinda liked it when Nadia was stubborn. Somehow, at a time when everything else was horribly unpredictable, her stubbornness was comforting.
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