And, what is it about having a deadline and a goal all laid out that completely gives me writer's block?
I knew I shouldn't have done any plotting for NaNo. I plowed through the first 10,000 words like they were nothing. But as we've already covered, I'm super verbose anyway. 10,000 words is nothing. Now I'm stuck. Insert audio of grinding gearbox and compression breaks.
On the bright side! Being stuck on NaNo has unstuck me for Becca's story! Yay! Apparently I only have the mental capacity to have writer's block on one thing. I must refine this technique and use it to my advantage. Maybe it's some sort of reverse psychology.
So, here's the next bit. I was right; Kevin and Becca needed a break. So, presto! add some more characters and a plot twist and there we go. Back on track and chugging along. Right about the time I need to be working on my NaNo novel. Whatever. Don't question inspiration, I guess.
To recap: Becca and Kevin just arrived in the South somewhere to meet with a few of Kevin's 'friends.' They have explained their situation. Plot twists: begin!
Chapters so far:
Malcolm frowned at me for a few moments. “Not a meta-healer?”
“No.” Kevin said shortly. He was still seething. I felt bad, but I couldn’t work up the energy to care about some guy I’d never heard of before, even if he was murdered.
Malcolm flicked his fingers. “It’s obvious, isn’t it?”
Kevin shifted. “What do you mean?”
“She was cursed somehow, as the nature-spirit said. Strenton was there. He must have done something to try to stop it. Get him to take the counter-curse off.”
“There’s a few problems with that,” Kevin began.
“Like Strenton is gone. We’ve been looking for him,” Kevin eyed me sideways and went on. “Also, the price is too high. One life for one life. The power is out of balance.”
Malcolm put the tips of his fingers together. “And?”
“And she can be hurt. But the more force the attack, the more protection she has.”
“A classic shield,” Malcolm said. “Strenton’s doing, I’m sure.”
Kevin grunted and plowed on. “But the power is still out of balance. And we don’t know how she was cursed in the first place. And…” he hesitated, uneasy. I shivered, knowing he was thinking of Jeff’s old magic school. “And we’ve found some…disturbing things.”
Malcolm’s eyebrows went up. Kevin explained. Malcolm’s jolly sort of face went cold and deadly in an instant.
“Alva!” he bellowed.
She hurried in, glancing between us quickly. “Yes, Malcolm?”
“Get a group together.” He ordered. “Kevin found Bridge’s.”
Alva went white, her hand at her throat. “You’re sure?” she asked Kevin.
Kevin nodded. “I’m sure.”
Alva shuddered. “Give me a moment.”
“Good girl,” Malcolm said. He smiled at her and she went out. “Any idea who?”
Kevin shook his head. “No marks at all.”
Malcolm flicked his eyes over me. “Strenton?”
I bristled, but Kevin only shrugged. “I don’t think so.”
“He’s more than a few enemies,” Malcolm muttered. He sighed. “So, cursed to die, shielded, and no idea what or why or how.”
“Basically,” Kevin said. “Any help…”
Malcolm peered at me over his interlaced fingers. “I will think on it. You will help us?”
Kevin nodded. “I sealed the entry-way. I’ll have to come to open it for you.”
Malcolm was still looking at me. “You went inside the house? Both of you?”
Malcolm hummed thoughtfully, tilting his head back to stare up at the ceiling. He shook himself out of his revere. “You must be hungry.”
“Also,” Kevin said as he stood to follow Malcolm from the room. “After we got back to the road, I was attacked. Scavengers, they said. I thought they were after the Well-”
“You found a Well?” Malcolm said, turning to face us in surprise.
Kevin grimaced. “A trap, laid for Strenton, I think. They attacked me after I had destroyed it. They were looking for him.”
Malcolm only nodded. “Come. Alva will have food in the kitchen.”
“Let me come with you,” I pleaded in a whisper. Kevin was eating mechanically, staring over my head. I glanced around the empty kitchen, checking Malcolm or Alva or anyone else was not in hearing range. “Please, Kevin.”
“No,” he said shortly. “It’s too dangerous.”
I waited as he drank down a glass, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand impatiently. “Please. I don’t want to stay here alone.”
“You’re safe here.” He said. He stood, sending his dishes to the sink with a gruff flick of his hand. “I’ll be back soon.”
Torn between anxiety about him leaving and fear as seven obviously magic men and women had arrived, I hovered by the doorway from the kitchen to the entry way. Kevin was greeted with faint surprise. The few handclasps he was offered where quick and not very warm.
“Heard about Carlisle?” one of the newly arrived men asked. I watched him warily. He was pale and wild-eyed, shifting constantly and restlessly.
Kevin’s face was blank. “Yes.”
The twitchy man grunted and turned away.
“Ready?” Malcolm asked, coming down the stairs with Alva at his heels.
They rumbled assent. My skin itched being in the same room with them. I didn’t know how the house could hold so much magic all at once; they seemed to press against the walls, barely contained.
Malcolm turned to Alva, leaning down to kiss the shorter woman on the cheek. “Be back soon,” he said.
She scowled, looking much more like a plump mom as she herded them to the door, admonishing them to be careful, flapping her hands and scolding.
“And keep a sharp eye,” she said to Kevin, the last out the door.
“I will,” he promised. He looked up, over her shoulder and met my eyes. He hesitated, his hand on the heavy bronze door handle. Then he turned and went out. Alva locked the door behind. It was such a normal gesture, throwing a deadbolt.
Alva sighed and turned back to me. “Betty?”
“Becca,” I corrected. Was I that hard to remember? “Rebecca Beckons.”
She nodded. “Did you eat?”
“No,” I admitted. I had been too busy worrying about Kevin.
“Come,” she said, waving imperiously at me. She led me back into the kitchen, moving to the cupboards. “I’m afraid we don’t often have Outsiders at the school.”
I heard the capital ‘o’ and knew she was puzzled by Kevin’s interest in my problem. The searching look she gave me as she set a plate on the table told me she was going to find out why he was helping me and that she felt she wouldn’t like the answers.
I took a hearty bite of sandwich to delay her asking questions. I wasn’t certain I wanted to know the answers, either.
She sat, a steaming mug of tea before her. I hoped it was tea and not some potion she was going to make me drink. “How old are you, Becca?”
I swallowed mightily. “Eighteen.”
“And when were you cursed?”
I shrugged. “No one knows. I found out when I just before I turned twelve.”
She tapped her fingernails against the wood table. “And what was the curse?”
“That I was to die after my eighteenth summer.”
“Which was last summer.” Alva said.
I nodded. “And now everything is going to die.”
She frowned, leaning forward. “How do you know this?” Her hand closed around my wrist, scalding hot like Kevin was.
I tried not to tremble as her eyes bored into mine. “I h-have dreams. And Jeff said…”
“Jeffery Strenton?” she asked.
“Yes. He…well he didn’t say it, but I think he figured it out. He was trying to warn my dad.”
“Your father?” Alva repeated, confused.
“My dad is a commercial farmer. He grows wheat.”
Alva released my wrist. I surreptitiously slid it in my lap and gingerly rubbed where she had clenched. My skin was cold, none of her heat transferring to me.
I went on, knowing I was rambling, but not caring overmuch. “Dr. Mule didn’t agree either, but he put the Quest on me so I could go find out.”
“He’s a researcher at the Center for Magical Research. Kevin was there.”
Alva smiled thinly. “Yes. He wrote often about it, after he left.”
I glanced around the kitchen. “So, this is a school? For magic people?”
Alva sipped from her mug. “Of a sort. We focus on a certain type of practitioner.”
I nibbled at a carrot. “What do you mean?”
She tilted her head over. “How much experience have you had with people of magic?”
I shrugged. “Just the doctors at the CMR. And Kevin. I didn’t know Jeff was magic until this spring.”
She frowned at me. “No others?”
I shook my head. “No one at my school tested positive.”
To my surprise, she snorted derisively. “At least, not that they told you.” She said, chuckling darkly. I scowled and she explained with a smile that was half rueful and half scornful. “Likely, any of your classmates who tested positive ‘moved away.’” She made mocking quote signs in the air as she spoke. “Most children who develop late have already done some magic and repressed it, through fear or resentment. They require special direction to reach their potential.” She sighed. “If they don’t burn themselves up, first.”
My dislike of magic in general was being confirmed with every word she spoke.
“What we do here,” she went on, “Is provide a safe environment for the more powerful practitioners to reach their full potential. Usually they come to us as children, like Kevin did. He only spent a few years here before moving on, but he always was extraordinary.” Alva smiled fondly, her eyes far away remembering. “Though, I do wish he had more time to be a child. He was always so serious.”
I had run out of vegetables and was sitting staring at her with my hands in my lap.
She roused after a moment, blinking away her memories. “Get enough to eat?”
I nodded. My throat was suddenly too tight to speak. She cast a critical eye over me.
“You look like you could use a wash and a nap.”
I nodded again, handing her my plate. Her face softened a little.
“Don’t worry,” she said gently. “You’re safe here. Come on.”
I followed her up through the house, which, despite what it looked like on the outside, had several floors filled with rooms.
“We don’t have any empty rooms right now,” she said. I shivered, as the house was funeral silent. If there were children here, where were they? “But you can take Kevin’s old room.”
She opened a door at the end of a long hall.
“He still has a room here?” I asked.
Alva shrugged. “Call me sentimental, I suppose. And…” she hesitated, no doubt weighing what she wanted to say. “And technically, he never left. He always came back, at least a few weeks a year. Until…”
I sat on the edge of the twin bed, carefully made with the blankets tucked in lovingly. “Until that thing with Carlisle? What happened?”
Alva grimaced. “Malcolm will say differently, but I think it was just two teenage boys fighting. Boys do, anyway. Add Kevin’s power and Anton’s narcissism into the mix…” She shook her head. “He hasn’t been back since.”
“Pending official investigation,” I parroted.
Alva eyed me narrowly. “Which there won’t be, if Kev has learned to control his temper.” Abruptly changing the subject, she turned away. “Bathroom is the white door down the hall. Try to get some sleep. They won’t be back for hours, maybe until tomorrow.”
I weighed being clean against immediate unconsciousness and kicked off my shoes. The bed was springing and comfortable and I was asleep in an instant.
I was awoken by the door crashing open and a high pitched shriek. A woman rushed across the room, bellowing at me.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming back?”
I blinked blearily at her, scowling and rubbing my eyes. “What?”
She stopped short of throwing her arms around me. “Who are you?” she demanded. “Where’s Kevin?”
“Montana,” I told her. She stared at me as if I had two heads.
“What?” she said shrilly. Luckily Alva appeared just then and rescued me from having to form a coherent thought.
“Elsie,” the woman chided. This Elsie whirled on the older woman.
“They said Kevin came back,” she accused. “Where is he?”
“He went with Malcolm and the others,” Alva said. Elsie’s shoulders sagged.
“Is he coming back?” she asked.
Alva’s gaze moved to me. “Yes.”
Elsie twisted to frown at me. “Who are you?” she asked again.
“This is Rebecca,” Alva introduced. “She is traveling with Kevin.”
“She is?” I colored at the incredulity in her tone. “But she’s-”
Alva cut in sharply. “Mind your tongue, Elsie.”
Elsie’s eyes flared, nearly purple, they were so deeply blue. “Sorry,” she said at once. “I didn’t mean to offend you. But you’re not a practitioner, are you?”
I shook my head, wondering how terrible I looked. I felt drab and worn out and knew my own eyes were a muddy, boring sort of brown. An unfamiliar prickling sensation swept over me, churning hot in my chest. “No.” I snapped. “I’m normal.”
Her impossible eyes widened. She opened her mouth, no doubt to retort hotly, but Alva stepped in once again.
“Becca,” she said in a no-nonsense tone. “Why don’t you take a long, hot shower? I’ll have your clothes clean in a moment. Then we’ll see about some dinner. Yes?”
I nodded, knowing I smelled. I was sticky with sweat from my hike through the mountains and then the jungle. And my skin still felt hot, smarting in the cool air of the room. “Thank you.”
The bathroom was large, taken up mostly with a large tub/shower. I double checked the lock on the door, telling myself I was a fool. What good were locks when everyone else for likely ten miles could just open it with magic? I checked it a third time and stripped out of my dirty clothing. I bypassed the mirror, knowing I looked terrible. I didn’t need it to remind me.
I actually made mud in the bottom of the tub as I scrubbed under the stream of scalding water. My hair was tangled and I finger-combed it carefully.
When I stepped out wrapped in a huge towel, my clothes were waiting folded in a neat pile on the counter. My backpack sat by the door. Sighing, I rubbed at my hair, then dressed.
The mirror was fogged up and squeaked as I wiped it clear. I scowled at my reflection.
After looking at Kevin and the others, I looked…drab. My features, which I had once though nice enough, were plain. My eyes were not only brown, they were muddy and dull. My hair hung limp to my shoulders and the few freckles I had picked up under the Montana sun made the rest of my skin look sallow.
I brushed my teeth with my gaze fixed firmly on the white porcelain sink.
Feeling better about life in general, I gathered up my things and took them back to Kevin’s room. I walked back to the stairs, hardly breathing as I listened for any sound from the rooms around me. There was nothing.
Shivering, I hurried down to the kitchen where at least I could hear Alva talking.
“Hello,” she greeted, smiling at me. I nodded and slipped into a seat at the table. Elsie was there as well, talking a mile a minute. She whirled on me.
“You’re on a Quest?” she asked, her eyebrows up.
I nodded, determined not to let her rile me again. “I am. I trying to save the world.”
She snorted, but her smile died as she looked at my face. “Seriously? From what?”
I shrugged. “A curse.”
“What curse? I haven’t heard of any curse.” She looked accusingly at Alva. “What’s going on?”
Alva’s face was bland as she stirred a large pot. “You’ll have to ask Kevin,” she said.
Elsie sniffed and went to the cupboard to pull out some bowls. “When will they be back?”
Alva shrugged. “When it’s finished.”
“You found it?” Elsie shot at me. “That school?”
I nodded, uneasy even talking about it. “We went inside and…”
Elsie’s face softened. “Yes, I know. I…I helped release someone, once.” She shivered.
We ate in silence, Alva serving us steaming bowls of stew and crusty rolls. There were even cookies afterward. She had made some coffee and was chatting with Elsie when they both froze, their heads going up.
“They’re back!” Elsie cried. She was on her feet and running for the door as she said it. I followed, wondering why I didn’t want to.
She flung the front door open and raced across the lawn. The people who had gone with Malcolm were trudging up the slope to the house.
“Kevin!” she called. He looked up, frowning.
“Elsie?” he asked.
Her answer was to throw her arms around him, sending him staggering back. He hugged her tightly and grinned at her, his teeth white in his tanned face.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he asked, laughing.
Malcolm stepped onto the porch. “It’s taken care of,” he said heavily to Alva. She sighed, going to him and touching his arm gently.
He nodded. “The whole school. Mostly children.”
I shivered as he looked to me. “I don’t know how you two made it out,” he said. “Not with that many of them.”
“I almost didn’t,” I admitted.
His gaze was measuring. “I would like to speak with you more, Becca,” he said slowly. “This evening. You are staying the night?”
“I don’t know.” I said. “Kevin…” I turned, looking for him. Just in time for Elsie to give a shout of laughter, throw her arms around Kevin once more and kiss him full on the mouth.