But after this scene, I'm kind of stumped. I'll keep at it, but any suggestions would be helpful. I think it is time in the story for a Becca-Kevin break. Maybe have Becca dream of Strenton and what he's doing. Or get captured by someone. They need some breathing room.
Enjoy and let me know what you think! E.T.
Links to previous chapters:
Chapters Two and Three
I woke the next morning exhausted. The sun was up and the birds were making a thunderous racket. They chirped all around me, their shadows flitting across the tent walls as they swooped about, rejoicing. I groaned and wiggled out of my sleeping bag.
Kevin was already up, sitting by the fire and sipping what smelled like coffee. I stumbled over to him and sank down. He glanced at me, but didn’t say anything, just grunted and pushed a steaming plate in my direction.
I scraped it clean and was contemplating licking it when Kevin finally spoke.
“I need to know what it is you’re looking for.”
I set the plate on the sparse grass. “What do you mean?”
He stared intently at the flames. “I should have asked you before, but…” He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. His hand that had been burned. A faint mark still crossed it, but it looked much better. How had he healed it so fast?
He ignored me. “What are you looking for? Do you know?”
“I need to find a way to stop everything from dying.” I knew that to the bottom of my soul.
“So you have any idea, any theory how to do that?”
“No.” I answered honestly. “But I will find a way.”
“Even if you have to die?”
I shivered. No wonder he wouldn’t look at me. “Yes.”
He didn’t answer, just stood and waved a hand to extinguish the fire. “Let’s go.”
But to where? I helped pack up, mostly getting in the way. Once I pulled on clean clothes and brushed my teeth, he simply spoke sharply to our camping supplies and they folded themselves neatly and stowed in our packs.
“Handy, that,” I said, trying to lighten the mood.
He made a sort of half smile and I breathed easier. I adjusted my backpack straps and looked to him for direction.
He cleared his throat. “Any, er, Questing feelings?”
I shook my head. “Nothing.”
He grimaced. “If you don’t mind, I would like to go to some…friends I have. Ask some questions.”
“Whatever you think is best.”
The twist of his mouth didn’t ease. “They aren’t like you. They’re magic.”
“I figured as much.”
“They won’t like you.”
I frowned up at him. “Why not?”
“Well, you’re cursed, for one.” He said bluntly. “And you’re non-magic. And you have dealings with Strenton.”
I braced my fist on my hips. “What is it with you and him, anyway?” I held up a hand to stop his retort. “And no more half-answers. I want the truth. You say he hated it at the CMR. Why? What did he do? What did he do to you?”
Kevin’s mouth was closed now, his lips compressed. Dad looked like that when he wanted to swear and Mom was in the room. I eyed him narrowly.
“Why do you hate Jeff?”
“I don’t hate Strenton.” Kevin spat.
“Well, you sure as heck aren’t best friends, now are you?”
Kevin did swear then, long and harshly. I actually blushed, shocked.
He grunted. “Sorry.”
“So, you do hate him.”
“I dare anyone not to hate Strenton.” Kevin growled. I blushed again, but he didn’t notice. He went one. “Look, he’s an arrogant, self-centered pig who got everything handed to him because of how powerful he is.”
I examined Kevin’s face. He stared back, his eyes hard, like glass.
“Sorry,” he said again.
“I know you and he are friends.”
I hesitated. “Not really,” I hedged.
Kevin turned away. “Then what?”
“He worked for my dad.”
“And he was there when I was cursed.”
I scowled. “And that’s it.”
I had a flash of understanding and wanted to hide my burning face in my hands. Kevin was jealous of Jeff because of me. I banished that egomaniac thought at once. It had started way before, I was sure. Something at CMR, something between them. But what?
I looked at Kevin’s angry profile. The magic I had seen him do was more than anything I had before in my life, including Mule and Zuagardi. Stuff that he treated as casual, everyday sort of magic.
“Who’s stronger, you or Strenton?”
Kevin started, turning to eye me. “What?”
“Who is more powerful, you or Jeff?”
“Why?” Kevin asked warily. That was answer enough.
Of course they hated each other, always competing to be the best. I knew Jeff was insular and commanding, something I’m sure Kevin would have resented. Two boys, close enough in age, mentally at least, to be equals, equal in power, both alpha-male types. They even looked somewhat similar. No wonder they didn’t get along.
I sighed. “Look,” I began, working up the courage. “There’s nothing between me and Jeff. I’ve met him like four times in my whole life. And considering I’m trying to stop the end of the world, and might have to find a way to kill myself to do it, I am not looking for a boyfriend. I don’t know why this Quest thing took us to his school and house and all that, but there has to be a reason.”
Kevin was looking distinctly uncomfortable. “I didn’t mean-”
“I don’t know if he has anything to do with this. He’s the one who told me something was going to happen. If he knows something, we have to find out what so I can stop it.” I jerked on my shoulder straps. “So let’s get moving.”
Kevin opened his mouth and, after a moment, closed it. “Okay.”
I grunted, taking refuge in looking at the ground.
“So, my friends,” he said after the longest ten seconds of my life.
“They might have heard something.”
“Take my hand.”
I did, trying not to flinch as his fingers closed around mine. He was hot again, too hot to be possible. Was it the magic in him, burning in his cells, all his power stored away?
“And if you don’t mind…”
He was frowning down at me.
“Mind what?” I asked.
“It will go better if I look like…uh, like I should.”
“What do you mean?”
For answer, the air shimmered between us. I blinked and stared at him.
Nothing had changed about him, that I could see. But…I eased away, uneasy. There was something, not only his strange eyes, but in his face. Something…not right. His features too sharp, too..slippery. It was hard to look at him.
He gripped my hand. “Hold tight.”
The clearing wavered, tilted and wiped away in a streak of color. My knees buckled as we arrived and I jerked away, holding my stomach as it churned. I gasped, squeezing my eyes shut as my balance lurched drunkly, trying to find its center.
Kevin held my shoulders as I shuddered, trying not to throw up.
“Give it a minute and you’ll feel better.” He said.
“Where are we?” I asked. I had gotten an impression of dark foliage all around before I shut it out.
“I can’t tell you. America, still.”
I grunted, chancing another peek. My vision was steadier so I opened both my eyes and looked around.
We were in a woods again, but very different ones. Lush and tangled with ivy and undergrowth. It was hot, too. The South somewhere, I guessed.
“This way.” Kevin said, waving for me to follow.
I minced after him, thinking of all the nasty things that lived in southern swamps. Alligators. Or was it Crocodiles? Giant bugs. Giant lizards. Uber-poisonous snakes. I shuddered and kept close behind Kevin.
He strode forward easily. The bushes bent out of his way, snapping back into place after he passed. I was nearly smacked several times, slowed down by having to climb over a log or wiggle between two moss covered tree trunks.
“Here,” he said, turning abruptly. I skidded in the mud, sweat dripping down my face. After the crisp, clarity of Montana, this swamp was miserable.
I blinked, actually rubbing my eyes as a sapling obligingly shifted for us. The swamp-woods ended in a clean line of mowed grass. The lawn rose gently to a large house, painted a refreshing white with a large wrap around porch. The South for sure.
I shivered as I stepped onto the grass. A tingle ran through me, from my head to my toes.
“What was that?” I asked, trotting to keep up with Kevin’s longer strides.
“Security,” he said tersely. His hand closed around my arm. “Don’t talk unless I tell you, okay?”
He slowed as he climbed the wide steps leading up to a set of double doors. I watched him nervously as he scanned the exterior of the house, his eyes narrowed. He was wary, almost, which didn’t inspire me with confidence for these ‘friends’ of his.
He paused at the door, his hand on the handle. With a sudden movement, he turned it and pushed it open.
I let out a breath. Inside was just a house. A nice house, with gleaming wood floors and elegant furniture. But just a house.
“Who is it?” A woman’s voice called from down the hall. Kevin didn’t answer, just stood by the door looking, if anything, awkward. If it was possible for man radiating power to be awkward.
“Hello?” the woman called. “Just a moment!”
She emerged shortly after this call, wiping her hands on a towel. She looked up and stopped dead.
“Kevin?” she breathed, her eyes wide.
He shifted and cleared his throat. “Uh, hello Alva.”
I had to jump back as the woman rushed forward and swept Kevin into a hug. She was about my height, meaning her head reached to Kevin’s chin. She had frizzy, graying red hair and smelled of muffins.
Kevin still looked uncomfortable, despite this warm greeting. The woman pushed back finally, looking up at him.
“What are you doing here?” She asked. My uneasiness went up a notch.
Kevin grimaced. “I have…well, a problem.”
The woman frowned. Then looked at me. I swallowed under her eyes, bright and shining just like Kevin’s. In the guise of a comfortably plump soccer mom, her magic was doubly disconcerting.
“Who is this?” Alva asked.
“Rebecca Beckons,” Kevin supplied. His hand touched my lower back, a small bit of support I was grateful for. “She is on a Quest.”
Alva frowned between us. “She is?”
I couldn’t help my own scowl.
“Yes.” Kevin said firmly. “I can explain-”
Heavy steps cut off his words. His hand closed around my arm once more.
Alva looked over her shoulder and shooed us into a living room. “Wait here.” She instructed. “I’ll talk to him.”
“No.” Kevin countered sharply.
“Kevin,” Alva warned, again glancing between us and the steps coming closer.
Kevin pushed me down to a chair and stood next to me, arms crossed over his chest. Alva sighed.
“Very well. Don’t break anything, would you? I just cleaned in here.” She slipped away.
Dread filled me. Who, or what, was coming down the hall? I cringed down and shifted to hide as much as possible behind Kevin.
“Malcolm,” Alva’s voice sang out. “You are needed in the front room.”
The steps came closer and a man rounded the doorway. He stopped short just as Alva had done, actually rocking back on his heels.
“Kevin?” he demanded.
Kevin, jerked a nod. “Sir.”
The man scowled. “You’ve got a lot of nerve coming back here, boy.”
Kevin shrugged. “I told you I had nothing to do-”
“That’s not what Carlisle said.”
“And you believed him.” Kevin said simply, but also with a hint of bitterness. Malcolm’s face softened from his glare.
“Kevin,” he said again, cajoling. There was a long silence, then Malcolm closed the space between them and hugged Kevin as well, thumping his back. “Missed you, my boy,” he said gruffly.
Kevin smiled a little as the older man drew away and cleared his throat. “I missed you, too.”
“Always thought Carlisle a sniveling brown-noser.”
Kevin chuckled. “Likewise.”
Malcolm eyed me. “Who is this?”
“Rebecca Beckons.” Kevin said again. “She’s on a Quest.”
Malcolm peered at me. “She’s not magic.”
“What’s the Quest for then?”
Kevin flicked a glance at me. “We’re not sure.”
Malcolm’s mouth dropped open. “You mean, you’re helping her?”
Fed up with them talking about me over my head, I answered before Kevin could.
“Yes, he is.”
Malcolm grunted. “Why?”
Kevin’s glance this time made me blush. Malcolm saw and grinned a little. I glared at him.
“I see.” He said.
“She thinks the world is going to end,” Kevin said bitingly.
“Oh?” That got his interest. He sat, waving Kevin to do that same. “How? When? Why?”
Kevin explained, more concisely than I could and using magical terms that made no sense.
Malcolm was staring at me again, but not quite so rudely. More intrigued.
“And you were supposed to die and you didn’t.” He mused. “That I can see having a cost, but the whole world?”
“Everything,” I insisted. “Everything, except me.”
Malcolm made a grumbling sort of noise and looked at the ceiling for a long moment. Then, “Strenton, you said?”
“Jeffery Strenton. You’ve heard of him.”
“Yes, yes,” Malcolm said absently. “Who hasn’t? Very powerful, quite gifted.”
Kevin’s lip curled but the other man didn’t see. I did and added it to my mental file labeled ‘Why Kevin and Jeff Hate Each Other.’
“You say you worked with him, out west?” Malcolm asked.
“I did.” Kevin admitted. “A little.”
Malcolm proved himself an astute sort of man. He looked at Kevin for a moment, then chuckled. Kevin’s cheeks went red.
“That’s how it is, then,” Malcolm said. He snorted. “You always knew how to get into trouble, Kev.”
Kevin changed the subject. “May we stay here?”
Malcolm nodded, looking thoughtful. “Of course. You aren’t officially barred.”
“Pending official investigation,” Kevin added in a hollow sort of voice. “Is Carlisle here now?”
Malcolm sighed. “Anton is dead, Kev.”
Kevin stiffened. “What? When?”
“Last winter,” Malcolm said, his voice heavy. “He was found up in New York by some Blue-Fields.”
Kevin let out a breath. “How? Why?”
Malcolm looked at his fingernails. “You don’t know?”
It took Kevin a second for the implication to sink in. He jerked to his feet, his fists clenched.
“You dare accuse me of murdering Carlisle?” he hissed.
Malcolm seemed to consider this, looking up at Kevin for a moment. “No,” he said finally. “No, I don’t believe you killed him.”
Kevin sank back to the couch, his teeth gritted. Glancing between them, I watched as Kevin took a slow breath and relaxed. And so did Malcolm.
I blinked, surprised. Malcolm was scared of Kevin. There was a definite watchfulness in Malcolm’s demeanor as Kevin ran a hand through his hair, growling curses under his breath.
“Why?” Kevin asked again.
Malcolm shook his head. “We don’t know. He wasn’t robbed. He had a minor Well and that relic of Intiqua he always carted around. Both valuable items, but they were left on him. We figured it must have been someone powerful enough they didn’t need them.”
“So naturally you assumed it was me,” Kevin snarled, not ready to forgive the older man.
Malcolm shrugged. “You’re one of the few in the country. And you two had a history.”
Kevin sneered and the room fell silent. I cleared my throat.
Malcolm looked at me, surprised. “Yes, Miss…er?”
“Becca,” I supplied. “So, what are we going to do about my curse?”