Chapter 9 can be read below the cut.
Nymue sat at a table in the National Library, books strewn all around her. About half of them had to do with the folklores and mythologies of Tsurennupaiva. She’d skimmed through most of them, adding sticky notes here and there as a reminder to come back and read through those sections more thoroughly. She’d also scribbled down her own notes in a fresh notebook.
She sighed. So much knowledge right in front of her, and she hadn’t gotten anywhere. She’d found fairy tales about witches (most of which she’d heard before, or read in fairy tale books) and old news clippings of people being called witches (why that had been newsworthy wasn’t even noted in the most of the articles, so she assumed there had been several slow news days) and had even read that “witch” was a deprecated insult (which she’d already known).
None of that helped her. Nymue let her forehead rest against the table. She’d considered several times that the demon may have just been insulting her, but that didn’t quite make sense. Why would a demon insult her and then walk away? Demons only approached people to attack or eat them. She’d experienced attacks firsthand when she’d been part of the hunting teams back in Senna.
This wasn’t even the first time she’d come across the word in an unusual usage. Two years ago, she’d questioned Morgaine and learned absolutely nothing.
“But why don’t I need to know?” she asked, frowning.
Morgaine sat at the table in her house, flipping through a book with her left hand and writing down notes with her right. “It’s not relevant,” she said.
“Relevant? Why not?” Nymue asked.
“It’s complex,” Morgaine answered.
Nymue scowled. “So what if it’s complex? I’m not so ignorant that I won’t understand a mildly difficult combination of words!”
Morgaine stopped writing and looked up at her. “Of course you aren’t,” she said. “I don’t mean that you’ll have trouble understanding the words.” She stood up, her palms flat on the table. “You lack life experience.”
“Are…are you serious?” said Nymue incredulously.
Morgaine picked up one of her books. “Yes. You haven’t gained the ability to use magic. You haven’t even manifested a spirit weapon. You might know now that you’ll develop those abilities in the next few years, but that doesn’t make up for the lack of their presence. And joining the hunting parties doesn’t teach you much, either.”
She stepped toward the door and beckoned for Nymue to follow her. “Telling you what a witch really is would be useless at this point, so I will not do it,” she said. “Come on. We’re going out.”
Nymue shut the door behind her. “Are you ever going to answer my question?” she asked.
“Once you’ve gained the experience to understand what I tell you,” said Morgaine. “Unfortunately, I don’t know how long that will take.”
Nymue straightened up and rubbed her chin. Maybe if she went to visit Morgaine now, she’d finally get her answer. After all, she’d had a spirit weapon for a while. And she wasn’t doing anything this weekend, either.
That settled it. Nymue would go to Senna over the weekend, find Morgaine, and make the old woman tell her what a witch was. There was absolutely no reason for the answer to be “no”.
“Trying to get some extra studying in?”
Nymue jumped in her chair. Her knee hit the underside of the table. Ariana stood next to her, looking quizzical. “Ari?” Nymue asked, rubbing her knee.
Ariana looked down at the books on the table. “Fairy tales? Why are you researching fairy tales?” she asked.
“I’m not,” said Nymue. She looked around to see if anyone else was in earshot before looking back up at Ariana. “If I tell you what I’m doing, will you promise not to tell anyone else?” she asked in a quiet tone.
Ariana frowned. “I won’t. What’s wrong?”
Nymue gestured for Ariana to sit down in the other chair. Once she did that, Nymue clasped her hands together in front of her mouth. “Last week, a demon called me a witch. I’ve been trying to figure out what it meant,” she said.
Ariana stared at her, wide-eyed and gaping. “When we were in Fyrda!?” she hissed. “There was a demon there!?”
“Yes,” said Nymue.
Ariana leaned in closer. “Why didn’t you tell anyone!? That could have ended up really bad!”
Nymue looked around before responding. “It literally walked up to me, called me a witch, and left. I didn’t have time to do anything.”
“But you didn’t tell anyone,” said Ariana. “Even though it could have come back and killed someone.”
Nymue pressed her palms to her temples and screwed her eyes shut. “Ari, I was frozen with fear! Even though I summoned my spirit weapon, I couldn’t do anything with it when the demon was standing in front of me. It took all of my strength just to move after it left.” She opened her eyes and looked down at the table. “I don’t know why it knew Rennukat or why it called me a witch. I thought it might mean something, so…here I am.”
Ariana frowned. “Don’t you think it was just insulting you?”
“That was my initial thought,” said Nymue. “But I remembered some things I heard years ago, so no. Not anymore.”
“Are you going to report the demon?” said Ariana.
No point in doing that now,” said Nymue. “There’s no way it’s stayed in the same area if it showed itself to a person. Demons don’t do that.”
Veitlen was leaving his last class, minding his own business and not paying attention to anything other than where he was walking when he suddenly felt someone grab his shoulder. He looked backward, startled, then let his shoulders slump again when he saw it was just Nymue.
“Can you like…say my name next time or something?” he asked. “Don’t just suddenly grab me like that.”
They were in the middle of a hallway, and now that neither of them were walking, other people had to swerve around them. Veitlen was sure he saw a few understandably nasty looks.
“I’ve got something to ask you,” said Nymue.
“Right in the middle of the hallway?” Veitlen asked. “In everyone’s way?”
Nymue rolled her eyes and pushed Veitlen forward to round the corner into a side hall. “I’m going to visit my parents over the weekend. Want to come with me?” she asked.
“To visit your parents?” Veitlen questioned.
“Not specifically to see my parents!” said Nymue. “I was just wondering if you’d also like to go to Senna, since you haven’t been there in either years.”
“Um,” said Veitlen. He bit his lip and looked away. “I don’t know why I would go back? It’s not like there’s anything for me to do over there. I don’t see how this could benefit me in any way.”
“Do you have anything planned for the weekend?” Nymue asked. “I know you don’t work weekends.”
“No, but that doesn’t mean I want to go back to Senna!” said Veitlen indignantly.
Nymue sighed. “You know, there is another thing,” she said. “Morgaine still lives there.”
Veitlen frowned. “What would I need to see Morgaine for?”
“Maybe she could help you with your magic?” Nymue suggested. “Hers is dark-aligned. I’m sure she could give you a few pointers.”
Veitlen stayed silent for a few moments, staring at her. “Okay,” he said.
“Really!?” said Nymue, brightening up. “You’re serious?”
Veitlen was sure he looked confused. “Yes? Why wouldn’t I be?”
“I thought you might be joking,” said Nymue.
“I’m not…?” Veitlen responded.
“Good,” said Nymue. She looked relieved.
Veitlen tried to sneak away quietly that Saturday morning, but he wasn’t successful. Ellis was already at the kitchen table when he got to the foot of the stairs, and stared at him in confusion until Veitlen explained what was going on. Then Asha tapped his shoulder, and he had to explain to her, too. He finally made it to the front door fifteen minutes later.
“Tell Nymue to drive safely,” said Ellis.
“I’m sure she’s fine at driving,” said Veitlen.
“Veitlen, sweetie, do it anyway,” said Asha.
Veitlen rolled his eyes and shifted the strap of his travel bag. “Fine, fine.” He pushed open the door and looked forward to see Nymue standing at the edge of the gate. “She’s here already?” he said before he could stop himself.
“You be safe too!” said Ellis.
“I’ll be back tomorrow night! I’ll be fine!” said Veitlen before he shut the door. He looked around, and saw a truck parked on the corner of the street. “Are you not bringing anything, Nymue?”
Nymue raised an eyebrow. “Everything’s already in the car.”
Veitlen dropped his travel bag into the truck bed and then climbed into the passenger seat. “I haven’t been in any sort of car in years,” he said.
Nymue started up the truck, and Veitlen flinched at the sound. Nymue gave him a weird look. “That’s definitely a sound I haven’t heard in a long time,” he said.
Most people in Tivadshy didn’t own cars, instead relying on public transit. Since it was early morning on a weekend, there were few people out on the streets. It didn’t take long to leave the city and get into the more rural areas of the Central District.
“So,” Veitlen started. He’d made himself comfortable with his feet up on the dashboard and his arm against the windowsill. “Are you going to tell me the real reason you wanted me to come with you to Senna?”
“After we get there,” said Nymue.
Veitlen rubbed his cheek. “Are you being honest?” he asked.
Nymue kept her eyes on the road. “I don’t know why you’d assume I’m lying,” she said.
Veitlen side-eyed her. “You’ve become a lot more crafty than I remember,” he said. “What prompted that, I wonder?”
It took an hour to reach the bridge that connected the Central District with Emira. Nymue stopped there to refill the truck even though it wasn’t necessary, and Veitlen used the opportunity to buy a few snacks at the corner store. After another half an hour of driving, they finally reached Senna.
Veitlen stepped out of the car and stretched. “I really thought the road would have been paved by now,” he said.
Nymue pulled her travel bag out of the truck bed. “Nope,” she said. “The village truck only gets used about once a week, so there isn’t much a use for one. Though I’m pretty sure if the Regional Government came out and offered to pave a road, no one would say no.”
Veitlen looked around as they walked into the village. There were a couple of unfamiliar houses, and it looked like some of the older ones had been partially rebuilt or repainted. The tree stumps by the firepit were still there. “Looks like there haven’t been too many changes,” he said.
“You’re pretty much right,” said Nymue.
They walked up to her parents’ house, which looked essentially the same as Veitlen remembered it except for some new flowers in the front and a couple of solar panels on the roof. Veitlen kept looking around as she knocked on the door. “Is there reliable electricity now?” he asked.
“Mm,” said Nymue.
“Is that a yes or a no?” said Veitlen.
“Yes,” Nymue responded. She gestured up at the roof. “A lot of people got jobs in the city and did a lot of extra farming for a couple of years so we could buy solar panels for the whole village.”
Nadia Rozenbarr opened the door and immediately broke into a smile. “Nym! I’m so glad to see you after all these months!” She grabbed Nymue’s upper arms and stepped closer. “You haven’t written or called enough! Are you eating well? Are you cleaning up after yourself? Have you gotten a job? Made many friends?”
“Um,” Nymue started. She looked like she didn’t know how to respond.
Nadia looked up and frowned. “Veitlen?” she said. “Is that you?”
She looked older than Veitlen remembered, with a few streaks of gray in her curly hair and more lines on her face. “Yeah,” said Veitlen. “Hi, Auntie Nadia.”
Nadia let go of Nymue’s shoulders and walked forward to stand in front of Veitlen. “You’ve gotten so tall!” she said.
“I know,” said Veitlen.
Nadia turned around and gestured at the two of them to follow. “The both of you have to tell me how things are going!” she said.
“Mm-hmm,” said Nymue.
Nadia pulled out a couple of chairs at the dining table. “Did you have anything in mind you wanted to do here, Nymue?” she asked. “Your father’s out at work, by the way.”
Nymue sat down with a huff and dropped her bag by her chair. Veitlen carefully set his down near the dining table, and sat there awkwardly with his hands in his lap. “And Veitlen!” said Nadia, turning her attention to him. “I’m so sorry I haven’t asked yet. How are you?”
“I’m good,” said Veitlen automatically.
“Good?” Nadia questioned.
There was a lot to explain, he realized. “I’ve been good these past few years!” he said. “I…uh…where do you want me to start?”
It took about an hour for Veitlen to summarize what his life had been like for the past eight years. Nadia was incredibly engrossed, asking questions about essentially everything. Nymue managed to look uniformly bored.
“So, yeah. That’s what’s been going on,” Veitlen finished.
“And how are Asha and Ellis doing?” asked Nadia. “You haven’t said much about them.”
Asha was her sister, and Veitlen was pretty sure they hadn’t seen each other in person in over ten years. He’d gotten the feeling over the years that Asha never wanted to return to the Northern District, even to visit. She and Ellis had left for Tivadshy when Veitlen had been about five years old and she’d spoken very rarely about her time spent growing up here.
“I haven’t?” he said. “Well, they’re pretty absorbed in their careers. They’re really busy and not around that much, so I’m alone a lot of the time.” He frowned. “They also spend a lot of time praying that you don’t suddenly turn up dead.”
“Oh,” said Nadia. She looked away from him and rubbed her neck. “I see.”