Chapter 10 can be read below the cut.
“I see how that’s a concern,” said Nadia.
Veitlen stared down at the table, avoiding her gaze. “Yeah,” he said.
Nadia smiled, but it looked fake. “Tell them they don’t have anything to worry about!” she said. “We’ve been out here all our lives and we’ve been fine.”
“Mom, Morgaine didn’t move, did she?” Nymue interrupted.
Nadia looked confused. “Morgaine? Yeah, she’s still in the same house. Why?”
“I just wanted to talk to her about a few things,” said Nymue. “I didn’t get a chance to finish up everything I was supposed to do before I left.”
It was Veitlen’s turn to feel confused. “What do you mean?” he asked.
“I was working for her, and left really abruptly,” said Nymue.
“Nym! Seriously?” said Nadia. She looked disappointed. “I raised you better than that. You need to apologize.”
Nymue sighed. “I know, I-”
Nadia pointed toward the door. “Go now,” she said. “She’s at her house. You can’t possibly miss her.”
“Seriously?” said Nymue. “I just got here and you-”
“Now, Nymue,” said Nadia.
Veitlen looks from Nadia to Nymue. The two of them were staring at each other intensely, like they’d forgotten he was here. “Um,” he said, and both of them sharply looked at him. “I want to go talk to Morgaine, too. I’ll go with Nym.”
Nadia’s expression softened. “Both of you go do that, then,” she said.
Veitlen glanced at the house as he and Nymue walked away from it. “You did all that on purpose,” he said. “You really don’t want to talk to your mom, do you?”
“Mm,” was Nymue’s response. She pointed toward the outskirts of the village. “Morgaine still lives over there. You remember where her house is, right?” she said.
“Of course I do,” Veitlen scoffed.
Morgaine’s cabin was much closer to the village than Veitlen remembered. He frowned. “Did she always live so close to everyone else?” he asked.
“No, a couple of houses were built in the past few years,” said Nymue. She walked right up to the front door and knocked, then turned back to talk to him. “A lot of trees were taken out, too. Morgaine wasn’t too happy about that.”
Both of them stared at the door. Morgaine should have answered it by now. “Your mom said she was here,” said Veitlen.
“I know,” said Nymue. “She must have stepped out for a moment. Let’s go in anyway.”
She opened the door and walked in. Veitlen froze. “Is that really okay?” he asked.
Nymue looked back at him and grinned. “You, hesitating? That’s not like you at all.”
Veitlen stood in the doorway, rubbing his hands together and looking very unsure of himself. “It’s rude, isn’t it? Even I realize that,” he said.
There was stuff strewn all over the table – primarily plants, books, and sheets of paper. Nymue had pulled out one of the chairs and was leaning over the table. “Weren’t you the one who wanted to come in here all those years ago?” she said. “And you barged in without a care in the world?”
“I don’t remember anything about that,” said Veitlen. “Seriously, Nym, I don’t have a good feeling about this.”
Nymue put her hand up to her mouth and coughed. It looked like she was trying to hide a smile. Veitlen narrowed his eyes. “Why are you looking at me like that?” he said.
“Behind you,” said Nymue with another cough.
Veitlen looked around to see Morgaine standing there and looking at him quizzically. “You’re right here,” he said flatly.
Morgaine raised an eyebrow. “Indeed I am. Now get out of the doorway and sit down,” she said.
Veitlen took a seat in the chair opposite Nymue. Morgaine shoved some of the books and papers out of the way. “I step out to check my garden, and suddenly Nymue and this unfamiliar man show up,” she said. “You are Veitlen Tyvokala, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” said Veitlen.
Morgaine gave him a skeptical look as she stepped toward the stove. “I don’t remember you being like this. What happened?” she asked.
“I grew up,” said Veitlen curtly.
Morgaine poured two cups of tea and brought them to the table before she sat down. Veitlen took a sip of his tea. It was vaguely familiar, so he must have had it before. “This is unexpected. Why are you two here? Why didn’t you send a letter? Is there an emergency?” she asked.
“A demon talked to me a week ago,” said Nymue.
Veitlen inhaled some of his tea, and tried as best he could to stifle his coughs. It didn’t work. Morgaine and Nymue ignored him.
“I’m going to need you to explain further, Nymue,” said Morgaine. “That doesn’t sound particularly strange.”
“It called me a witch,” said Nymue.
Veitlen continued coughing. Morgaine sighed. “Nymue, this really is something you should have written me about immediately,” she said.
“How was I supposed to know that when you deliberately went out of your way to not tell me what a witch is!?” Nymue demanded. “And it’s not like I kept this from you. I came here to tell you as soon as I could.”
“You-” Morgaine started.
Veitlen finally managed to stop coughing, even though his eyes were watering and he still felt miserable. “A demon talked to you?” he said hoarsely. He wiped his eyes and pointed at Nymue. “This is about you and you alone! It has absolutely nothing to do with me! Why did you even make me come here with you?”
“I didn’t make you do anything. You chose to come here,” said Nymue. “Remember how I said Morgaine might be able to help you with your magic?”
“Yeah?” said Veitlen irritably. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Morgaine staring intently at him. “Uh, why are you looking at me like that?”
Morgaine clasped her hands together under her chin. “You’re having problems with your magic?” she said. “Tell me about it, in as much detail as possible.”
Veitlen frowned, then sighed. “Ugh, fine. It started in the middle of August. I realized that whenever I tried to manipulate dark magic, it would go too far and get out of control in the blink of an eye. It’s still like that,” he said. “Is that descriptive enough?”
Morgaine smiled wildly. “Now I see why Nymue brought you here. I think I know what’s wrong with your magic.”
“Seriously?” said Veitlen in surprise.
Morgaine stood up, her hands flat on the tabletop. “Let’s go outside for a few minutes,” she said.
She led them outside and through the trees into a small clearing in the forest. There were piles of dark magic lying everywhere, as if Morgaine had raked them like leaves. “You see all this magic here?” she said.
“Yes,” said Nymue.
“Why is it here?” Veitlen asked. “Shouldn’t you have cleaned it up since it’s so close to the village?”
He saw a flash of annoyance come over her face. “That’s not what you need to be paying attention to, Veitlen,” she said. “Just watch me.”
Morgaine reached toward the magic. “Nymue, I know you’ve been wondering why I never told you what a witch is,” she said as she brought her hand up. “Well, you’re going to learn right now.”
The magic arced around her. “Most people who can manipulate magic aren’t capable of doing something like this. Those of us who can are called witches.”
Nymue frowned. “I can’t do that. Why’d the demon call me a witch, then?”
“A witch is someone who is born with a great amount of power over magic,” said Morgaine. “My magic is dark-aligned, which is why I’m able to do this.” She curled the fingers of one hand, and the magic spiked toward her. “Look familiar, Veitlen?”
Veitlen stared at her, wide-eyed with his mouth hanging open. “Yeah,” he said shakily when he found his voice again. “That’s exactly what happens when I try to manipulate magic.”
She let her hand fall back to her side, and the magic fell toward the ground. “You’ll be able to gain control of it eventually, but it’ll be a long and slow process.” Morgaine’s expression became more serious, and she pointed at Veitlen. “But you need to be careful. You could end up killing not just demons, but humans as well.”
Veitlen grimaced. “I could end up killing humans? Have you done that before, Morgaine?”
Evidently he’d said the last sentence too softly for Morgaine to hear him, since she was already moving toward Nymue. “Nymue,” said Morgaine. “Your turn.”
Nymue raised an eyebrow. “Are you finally going to tell me how and why I’m a witch?” she asked.
“Have you rejoined any ghosts yet?” Morgaine asked.
“Yes,” said Nymue, frowning slightly.
“What happened when you did that?” said Morgaine.
“It was effortless. There was a lot of light,” said Nymue. “Like…it almost seemed like it might be difficult at first, but then it felt like something clicked and it became easy.” She frowned deeper. “That’s really what makes me a witch?”
“Yes,” answered Morgaine.
“Is it harmful like dark magic? Can I kill people?” Nymue asked, still frowning.
“No. No matter what you do, you won’t be able to hurt a human with light magic,” said Morgaine. She grinned. “You might be able to hurt a demon a little bit, if you really try.”
Nymue looked relieved. “That’s good to know. But if the demon knew that, why didn’t it try to kill me right there? I wouldn’t have been able to do anything.”
“Demons can automatically tell who is and isn’t a witch, but they don’t automatically know what sort of magic a person has,” said Morgaine. “Also, demons are attracted to witches. That’s why there have always been so many around here.” She beckoned for the two of them to follow her. “There’s something else I want to show you. It’s in my cabin.”
Veitlen followed her in a daze, still thinking over what Morgaine had said. He almost bumped into Nymue when she stepped to the side to close the door of Morgaine’s cabin. It was only when Morgaine addressed him that he snapped back into reality.
“I should have specified,” said Morgaine. “Veitlen, this is only relevant to you.”
“To me?” Veitlen echoed.
Morgaine reached for a rifle that was leaning against a bookshelf. “I found this rifle when I was on a hunting trip a couple of weeks ago. Recognize it?”
Veitlen frowned. “No? Why would I?”
Morgaine went to another shelf and pulled something off of it, then held it up for him to see – a bayonet. She kept talking as she fastened it on the rifle. “It has been a while, hasn’t it? I guess expecting you to recognize a rifle on its own is ridiculous.” She held it up. “Do you recognize it now?”
He absolutely did. “That’s my father’s,” said Veitlen breathlessly, his eyes wide. “W-why do you have it?”
“I thought it was odd to find a rifle with a bayonet,” said Morgaine. “It was when I was cleaning it up when I realized it belong to Torrekou.” She pointed to a series of criss-crossing lines on the stock. “Aside from the name on the other side, it was this that tipped me off.”
“Did you find anything else?” Veitlen asked.
“No,” said Morgaine. Suddenly, she smiled. “You’re going to take it with you, right?”
“I-WHAT?” Veitlen squawked.
Morgaine held out the rifle and raised an eyebrow. “It’s yours,” she said. “There’s no one else for me to give it to.”
“I know there’s no one else!” said Veitlen indignantly. “But I can’t take it.”
“Excuse me? You can’t?” said Morgaine. “Explain, boy.”
“My aunt and uncle aren’t going to like it if I suddenly bring home a rifle,” said Veitlen. “I’m not even allowed to own one with my level of training in the Academy-”
“Just sneak it in and keep it hidden,” interrupted Morgaine. “But if you really don’t want it, I guess I’ll just keep it.”
Veitlen rubbed his face. “Okay, okay! I’ll take it. I’ll keep it hidden and I won’t use it, but I’ll take it with me,” he said.
Morgaine held the rifle out toward him. “I’m sure you’ll manage to make some use of it.”
Veitlen waved goodbye to Nadia before hopping back in the truck. He awkwardly set the butt of the rifle on the floor and let it lean against his knee. The bayonet was in his travel bag with the rest of his things.
“How do you plan on hiding that?” Nymue asked as she started the truck.
“I’ll wrap it in my tunic or something. That’ll probably do until I can hide it in my closet,” said Veitlen. He looked over at Nymue. “You’re going to drop me off in front of my house, right?”
“Yeah,” said Nymue.
“Good,” said Veitlen. He leaned his head against the back of the seat and looked out of the window as Nymue drove onto the dirt road that would lead them down to Emira. As she drove, he tried not to think about the questions he’d been too afraid to ask Morgaine, or the places around the village he hadn’t wanted to visit.