Monday, February 27, 2017

Maywitch Chapter 35: Divided

Previous chapter: House of Cards
For a second, Kay was afraid that whatever had attacked them would kill her before she even had a chance to fight back. Her breathing came in shallow gasps for several seconds until she caught her bearings again. She pulled herself to a half-sitting position just as another sharp yell of pain reached her ears.

“Where is it?” asked a low, rasping voice.

Twenty feet in front of her, Wyvern faced east, his claw-tipped wings spread and a massive spear in his right hand. Kay couldn’t see who he was talking to at first, but soon saw a short-haired woman pinned to a tree some ten feet away.

Tierra struggled against the giant barbs that had skewered her left arm to the massive oak tree behind her. Her shredded backpack lay on the ground in front of her, its minimal contents strewn about. She grimaced as blood gushed from her forearm, but spoke loudly in response: “Where’s what?”

“The Grimoire. It’s somewhere near you, it seems,” Wyvern said as he took a step closer to her.

Kay’s heart dropped. The Grimoire was in Nadia’s backpack, but she willed herself to not turn around and see where it - and Nadia - were. Tierra stayed calm, raising an eyebrow and shrugging her uninjured right shoulder. “What makes you think that?”

“There’s something strange about your aura.”

Tierra’s eyes narrowed. “What?”

“I can’t place it.” Wyvern stretched out his left hand, and Kay watched in horror as a dark gray barb protruded from his palm. “Did you have it changed? It’s either that, or--”

Tierra’s lips moved just before something dark shot out from the woods, impaling Wyvern’s right arm. He grunted in pain and tried to pull free of it, but couldn’t. It was one of Tierra’s vines - and it was clearly attached to something in the woods to the east, where they had just come from.

She grinned at him. “You’re pretty sharp. My aura changed a bit after I transitioned,” she said with a harsh laugh. “And I don’t even care that you know that I’m trans, ‘cause you’re about to die!”

He snarled as he finally tore the vine apart. Another vine rocketed out of the woods, even faster than the previous one, and Kay wondered how Tierra managed to cast such strong spells when she had no ingredients in her hands and her pockets looked empty.

She heard Holly chuckle nearby. “See those flower barrettes of hers? They contain petrified sage,” Holly said weakly as she wiped dirt from her face. “She designed them herself after getting caught without sage in a battle a couple months ago. Whatever just happened, I’m sure she prepared that vine trap even before she confronted us. She was ready for this. Let’s go.”

Kay didn’t have time to marvel at the technical feat, but she smiled as she struggled to her feet. She glanced over her shoulder and breathed a sigh of relief as she saw Nadia’s prone but relatively uninjured form. Her ribs twinged, and she felt dizzy as she straightened up, but she knew she could stand another round. “Cover Nadia and try to wake her up if she’s out,” she said.

Holly nodded. “She’s definitely out, but possession works a little like smelling salts. I’ll try that first.”

“Good,” Kay said, casting a shield as Wyvern turned toward them again.

Tierra was still launching vines at him, but he had gotten better at predicting their aim, and he was dodging them with relative ease. He rushed at Kay, and Tierra yelled: “I can’t keep attacking if you’re in the way!”

“I know, but I have to cover the others!” Kay yelled back.

Wyvern collided with her shield, and she dug her heels in to keep from being pushed backward. Behind her, she heard Nadia sit up with a grunt. “Give me a minute,” Holly said from her own body.

“Thanks for that,” Nadia replied, her voice just above a whisper. “Where’s Tierra?”

“Pinned to a tree about twenty feet in front of me! Focus on healing yourself and Holly first!” Kay said over her shoulder. “And hurry!”

She strained to keep her shield strong, leaning into it with her shoulder as Wyvern delivered another blow. The shield magic could only withstand so much physical strength, and it relied partly on the strength of the user to keep from being pushed around.

Just as she felt as if her shoulder would shatter under the pressure, Wyvern lurched backward and skittered away. The earth in front of Kay shot upward in a solid spike of rocks and dirt, and she stumbled backward as well, nearly falling into Holly and Nadia.

“We got your six!” a familiar voice yelled behind her.

She didn’t dare take her eyes off of Wyvern, who had already scrambled to his feet and turned his attention to Tierra. “Wojtec!” Holly yelled. “Kay, we got backup!”

“And trouble,” Nadia murmured. “Watch out. I see George back there too.”

Maywitch’s presence wasn’t much of a relief, but better imprisoned or fired than dead, Kay thought as Tierra finally freed herself from the tree. Wyvern raised an arm, but before he could attack again, the earth began to tremble.

Kay whirled around, but Nadia was sitting motionless, her energy clearly focused on healing herself and Holly.

Something bright orange shot up in the trees to the west, sending branches and debris flying through the air. The shaking intensified, and Kay caught sight of a massive dark silhouette in the eerie shadows among the trees.

Two human figures emerged barely one hundred feet away, just in front of the silhouette. They showed no desire to hide themselves, and instead charged toward Kay and the others, leaping over bushes and shrubs with little effort.

It took Kay less than a second to recognize the woman on the left. She glanced over her shoulder at Nadia, who met her gaze and grimaced. “Goddammit,” Nadia murmured, rising to a crouching position. “Cover me, Kay, until we can figure out what to do with the Grimoire.”

“Is that…” Holly trailed off before clamoring to her feet. “I’m covering Tierra.”

“Do that,” Kay said as she cast a shield.

Behind her, Wojtec yelled something, and the whirring of helicopter blades became audible again. Kay wanted to tell them to run away and leave the new enemy to her, but she also wondered if she would be outmatched again.

Thirty feet ahead, Nina Abendroth wore the same nonplussed expression she had when she had invaded and destroyed the Salt Lake City base. Her long, confident strides were the same, and judging by the monstrous silhouette in the woods behind her, her powers remained just as strong.

But the circular mark on her raised right hand was new. Kay caught a glimpse of a black snowflake-like pattern before it was drowned out by light and the trees surrounding them began to glow gold.
Nadia started to yell something to Holly, but before she could finish the first few words, the earth beneath them rocked forward and knocked them to the ground. Kay scrambled to her knees and looked up, searching for falling trees, helicopters, Wyvern, or any other sign of immediate danger.

An ear-splitting crack resounded through the woods, and Kay looked to her right to see a giant fissure appearing in the earth. She darted away from it, knowing that magic would be powerless against falling into such a massive chasm. Further to her right, trees began to tumble down in a shower of leaves, sending the few remaining birds skittering away.

A worm-like shadow emerged from the fissure, but Kay only caught a glimpse of it before something moved to her left, diverting her attention.

Wyvern had charged at her, raising his glimmering spear to her eye level. She barely had time to move her shield before the iron tip of the spear crashed into it, knocking her back a few inches. Behind her, Nadia struggled to her feet and began to murmured words to a spell.

Flames lit up the trees to Kay’s left, where Nina had once been, and she glanced over to see Holly and Tierra’s figures silhouetted against the fiery glow. She couldn’t stare for long, though, as Wyvern’s spear was pressing ever-harder against her shield and threatening to force her off-balance. He was horribly strong, and for once, she found herself regretting neglecting her physical fitness.

Wyvern glanced past her and darted backward, zigzagging among the trees until he was nearly fifty feet away. Two scarlet beams of light shot out from behind her, nearly missing Wyvern’s outstretched wings. In the same instant, a burst of wind howled from behind her, knocking her forward a few feet but sending Wyvern hurtling into a tree behind him. She could only guess that someone from the Maywitch contingent behind them had attempted to take him out from a distance.

She heard Nadia let out a satisfied sigh behind her, but the moment of calm ended when the earth lurched beneath their feet again. “We have to go toward Nina,” Kay yelled as she took several steps to the east. “The ground will be more stable there.”

“Let’s go,” Nadia said, rushing past her. “We have to keep an eye on Kyle, too--”

She stared at something over Kay’s shoulder and opened her mouth to yell, but Kay reacted faster than her, whirling around to face whatever was approaching. Wyvern had turned his attention back toward them, charging at an inhuman speed with some help from his massive wings.

Kay uttered the words to bring up her shield again, and was nearly too late. Wyvern collided with the emerald green aura and knocked her several feet backward. She fell hard, feeling the wind rush from her lungs as she hit the ground again. As he spread his claw-tipped wings, Nadia scrambled backward as she prepared a spell of her own.

“Go!” Kay yelled. “Go after Nina! If anyone can hold her off, it’s you!”

Nadia froze, her arms still held out toward Kay as she conjured a shield. “But you need me to cover you if you’re going to--”

“Go! I have a plan. I’ll catch up - please, just go!”

The last word seemed to echo through the trees as Nadia bit her lip and darted away. Kay grinned as she turned to Wyvern, who stepped closer and looked her up and down with a snarl.

For a moment, she felt her smile waver as she wondered if Nadia was really up to the task. She had no idea where Tierra and Holly had gone, which left her wondering if they were even still alive.

With no one else around, though, Kay could go all-out against her opponent - and burn down half the damn island if she had to.
Next chapter coming soon!

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