“I know you’re awake, you stopped snoring a few minutes ago.”
The gig was up. Nan was on her way to see the Grim Reaper. Or Saint Luke. Saint Luke was the one that acted as border security for Pearly Gates, right? No, probably not, Nan never paid much attention in church, the pastor’s voice just had a way of lulling her to sleep. Saint Luke, however, wouldn’t sound like a female schoolteacher with a permanent honey-dripping smile etched onto her face.
Nan opened her eyes.
The woman hovering above her couldn’t have been past her mid-thirties. Orange hair, freckles, green eyes. Classic ginger. Completely normal. Not a saint or a devil, but…
“You have cat ears.”
Her left ear, as orange as her hair, flicked twice upon mention, as if bracing itself for some moronic barrage of questions. Nan would have obliged, had she not felt so bleary.
The woman smiled. “Their closer to bat ears, actually.”
Nan blinked. “Whua?”
“I have a tail, too. And wings.” The bed creaked as she stood, revealing a thin tail with a tuft of fur on its end. Her dress had a black sleeved mantle that spanned from shoulder to sternum. From there, it split into a shin-length draping of fuzzy cyan material.
“I’m Izusa Keme, Soother and named Mystic.”
Something itched at the back of her senses with the last word, like a breeze felt with a new body part. It was more than language, verbal information delivered by sound. The sensation cried out under a sheet of sand that she was too lethargic to shift through. Nan pushed the thought away.
“Nan Beauchamp, College Student?” She reached out her hand.
Izusa did the same, though haltingly. She wavered between looking at Nan and her offer like she wasn’t sure if she should take her hand or not. She ended up pressing lightly against her palm and letting go. Weirdest handshake of the century.
“By far, you’re the calmest arrival I’ve had this year. Are you feeling alright? No wooziness?”
“Only a bit. My eyes are a little blurry though.” It was like some smeared all but the center of her vision with murky water. The girl found herself blinking rapidly, then moving her eyes around in an attempt to clear them up.
Vaguely familiar splotches of brown and white surrounded her. A simple cube-ish thing sat aside the bed, a drawer or a desk of some kind. The thing snaking up from its center was decidedly not a wood eating super-worm with a glowing blue eye, but a curly lamp.
“That’s normal, just tell me if it worsens or doesn’t pass in a cycle, okay?”
“Okay.” Nan sighed. An entire day? Did they take her under the knife or something?
Izusa gave a light hum of approval. “I have to do a quick spot check, then we can roll you out of here for something to eat.”
Nan let herself fade along with her crawling suspicions. She was fine. She lifted her arms when asked, only flinching slightly at the cold touch of something that at least looked like a stethoscope. The room was warm and smelled faintly of cinnamon. She felt safe, but a bit sluggish, a bit confused. Why was she stuck in a hospital? Where were her things?
“I don’t have any money on me, do you need to call my parents?” Nan grimaced, if this was going to be like any of the other times she checked in at the hospital, quiet would be at a premium. Ma and Pa doted on her entirely too much, confinement to a bed meant no escape from their affections.
“Don’t worry about that, even if you came with coins, we couldn’t take them.” Izusa yawned, hiding her mouth with a hand. “Repeat your ABCs, please.”
That was worthy of a raised eyebrow, but Nan did as told. She was probably just testing her for a concussion or something similar. Her memory was kind of hazy, the last thing Nan remembered was walking her way home from Mona’s ice cream place. Pavement to hospital building was quite the transition.
“Hyulic…” That was not a letter. Another foreign sounding bit of gibberish danced at the tip of her tongue, though she opted to look up at Izusa rather than let it spill out.
“I guess you ran out of native letters. Just go with what feels right and don’t think about the translation spell too hard until you can re-do it yourself, it’ll cost me an hour and you a headache.”
“Gin and… Pylt?”
“Yup.” Izusa clapped her hands together, “That’s all of them. I need you to sit really still for a second, okay, Nan?”
Nan held up her palm, halting Izusa’s approach. “You messed with my brain?”
“No no no no. I wouldn’t poke around with a kid’s brain, I messed with your soul.”
“My what?!” With a burst of fright, Nan managed to bolt upwards and swing her legs off the bed. Bare feet met the wooden floor, and promptly gave out as soon as she stood. She teetered, but found little control over the motion. She tried to realign herself on the frame of the bed, only to barrel forward. Her muscles coiled and uncoiled almost uncontrollably. ‘this is wrong,’ she thought. Every impulse she sent through her lower body returned more motion than asked for, like a joystick on a high sensitivity setting.
The most that Nan could do was shift the path of her fall into Izusa’s arms.
“What’s wrong with me?! What happened?! Where’s my mom an- “
“Hush.” Nan found her head gently buried into the space between Izusa’s shoulder and neck. The mantle of her dress was as soft as it looked. A hand stroked idly at the top of her head. A faint warmth that was a bit too much for skin accompanied the same something she felt earlier for an instant.
Like a cool breeze, the panic washed over and around her, leaving a drowsy feeling in its wake. After a while, Izusa detangled herself and gently helped Nan back into a seated position.
She felt better. Fully aware of just how peculiar the sudden shift in emotion was, but unable to care about it overly much. Much more pertinent was erasing the image of herself blubbering like a child in front of a stranger. She considered kicking her legs nervously, but common sense murdered the idea immediately.
“Are you calm?”
Izusa kept a steady grip on her shoulders. Nan preferred it that way. She didn’t trust herself to not fall again.
“Are you certain?”
“Alright, Nan. I’m going to dispel your whym restraints. Stay still, okay?”
A collection of golden cogs and turning rods jutted out in a bell-shaped mass. Nan felt it. An intangible breeze. The unplaceable something waxed beyond her ability to glance over. The scent of cinnamon grew with it, rushing to press itself into her.
On impulse, Nan’s breeze— Nan’s whym accepted. A reserve space swelled, now a full breath of air where a pitiful wheeze in the depths of her being once stood. Her entire body tingled, it was like stretching out after a cramped tram ride.
“Did it work?”
Nan, nodded. The least, and most she could manage at the moment.
“Hah! That makes twenty-six without a knock out!” Izusa’s hands trembled slightly, Nan failed to notice her words, or her letting go. She was too absorbed in sensing the whym signatures around her. The blue curly lamp thingy, her own, Izusa’s, and the gusts and tiny drafts past the door to her far right.
“Do you think you can channel?”
Nan shook her head, drawing her attention from the network of whym surrounding her. She wondered if what she felt was similar to someone getting their first pair of hearing aids. There was just so much that she failed to notice before.
“Like this.” Izusa held out her palm. This time, she could feel a tiny piece of Izusa’s whym separate, like a tornado of sorts splitting itself. The piece fell into her palm with a flash of light, revealing a single slow turning cog.
“Oh, that. I can try.” Nan copied Izusa’s gesture, squinted, and let out a breath. She imagined a cog appearing in her hand just like the other. Nothing. She frowned, looking inwards like one of the corny Japanese tv shows her brother was addicted to.
Her palm flickered, a bright purple splotch that refused to settle into a coherent form rested just above her skin. Nan felt for the current of her whym. Imagined it rushing outwards into the splotch.
Purple flames danced above Nan’s palm, three of them, circling lazily around a much larger fourth. With every few seconds, Nan felt more whym flow out of her and into the flames. Each grew a bit larger, orbited a bit faster. In a few heartbeats the little burning solar system dwarfed Nan’s hand. The smaller bits spun themselves into a blur.
“This is wicked!” Nonchalant, chill Nan, let out a rather uncharacteristic shriek. One could call it girly even. At this point Nan didn’t care about the weird nagging sensation that nestled in the back of her head. Here in her hand were freaking purple orbital fireballs created with minimum effort.
“Okay, good, now stop.”
“Stop?” The flames went from a circular path to a more pronounced elliptical one. Nan lifted her chin, the air around her took on the pleasant chill of peppermint. “How do I stop?”
One flame escaped its orbit, then the others. They burst against the ground, the wall and Izusa’s face, each with a sharp crack that made Nan cringe.
She shut her eyes. Izusa was dead. After being shown nothing but kindness, she burned her to a crisp, she didn’t even have time to scream. The fire would spread, it would kill her, and probably a lot of people in the building, too. In what twisted circle of hell was it okay to let a kid experiment with magic? Why did she let herself do it? ‘Nan, what have you done?!’
A hand, surprisingly uncharred, found its way to Nan’s shoulder.
“Well, that could have gone better. You’ll gain more control over your whym as you work with it.”
Nan’s lips felt like gelatin. “B-b-but, the fire! It was everywhere! I hit you in face!”
“You were going to commit arson and manslaughter with your invocation sigil?”
“You can’t do anything by just expelling whym, silly!” Izusa patted Nan’s head.
Izusa had one of those snortling laughs, just like Gina. It was annoying and endearing at the same time. When was the last time she saw Gina? Right before she woke up?
Odd. Gina was the forgetful one, not her. In fact, the last thing she could remember doing with her was pushing her out of the way of an oncoming semi when she tried to go for some pinned insects that fell on the road.
Her leg muscles twitched only to invite the sensation of broken bones sliding against one another.
She couldn’t see. Couldn’t let out anything more than a wordless gurgle. Not in pain, but in sheer incomprehension.
It was her blood! Her own blood soaking through her clothes! Choking her! Shattered ribs flailed against the ruins of her chest cavity!
“Are you with us?” Izusa pawed at Nan’s cheek. Her voice retained its chipper tone, but she furrowed her eyebrows in concern.
“Yes, you died.”