Hello dear readers!Here at last is Chapter 9 of The War of Wind and Moon – I’m quite excited about this one because it is the end of Act One of both Season One and Mia’s life!
Before you read it, though, I have some exciting news! You can now pre-order The War of Wind and Moon, Season One over at Inkshares publishing. It’s a crowdfunded publishing site so every pre-order adds to the possibility that it will be published so, if you’re enjoying the story, I would be so very grateful if you could pop over and pre-order (and/or tell your friends who like Young Adult Fantasy, too!)
As you can see below, it’s getting some incredibly generous support from Inkshares readers, staff and authors, too, so you’ll be in great company!
And now, the story continues… I hope you enjoy it!
The War of Wind and Moon, Chapter 9
Mia squeezed her eyes closed but pain and swelling forced them open. Instead, she focused on the bloody towel she was holding to her nose, counted to three, then raised her gaze to the ceiling again. The glimmering creature was still there, staring down at her with its lidless eyes atop its beach ball belly, occasionally switching its gaze to her mother on the bed below, but quickly returning it to Mia still lying on the floor. It looked so real. It wasn’t solid, she could see the roof meeting the top of the wall through its body, but still… She closed her eyes again, gently this time, and willed away the sense of its presence. Sane people did not see imaginary monsters.
“Mia?” Her mother’s voice. Too close. She opened her eyes to find Patricia kneeling in front of her, reaching for the towel. Mia recoiled. “Don’t be childish, Mia. I need to see if your nose is broken.”
But Mia was more concerned about her eyes. She blinked. Twice. Still, her view of her mother’s face was distorted by thousands of tiny yellow flashes of light, dancing in the air between them. Patricia reached toward Mia’s face again. Again, Mia flinched. “Don’t!” Mia’s voice was muffled by the towel over her face but her mother had heard her.
Patricia’s eyes widened. The lights dancing in Mia’s vision became orange, then red. Fear swelled in Mia’s chest. Time seemed to slow. Each heart beat an explosion juddering her ribcage. The flickering of the red lights, too, slowed. Behind them Patricia’s lips parted, her chest expanded, drawing a breath to speak. Her fingers curled into the palms of her hands, tightening into fists.
“Leave me alone!” Half whimper, half shriek, the words bypassed Mia’s brain, her lips and vocal chords driven by fear. “Please! Just leave me alone!”
Whatever Patricia had planned to say, she swallowed it. Her fists dropped to her sides and her fingers softened, as did her expression. Where there had been rage, now there was confusion. Frowning, she looked into Mia’s eyes for a long moment then nodded, got to her feet and left the room.
And then the flat.
At least, it had sounded like she’d left the flat. Her footsteps had padded away from Mia’s bedroom, then the front door had opened and closed and now there was silence.
A knock at the window made her jump. Time snapped back, accelerating her heart into a violent frenzy.
“Mia?” Tak’s voice through the glass. “Mia? Are you okay?”
She began to raise her head but remembered the state of her face and kept it down.
“I’m fine, Tak!”
“I don’t think you are. Let me in.”
“I said I’m fine!”
“I can see the blood, Mia. Your mum just wandered out of the driveway in her pyjamas. If you don’t let me in I’m calling the police.”
That was the last thing she needed. Not until she’d worked out what she wanted to do. She nodded and his shadow disappeared from the window.
It was only then that she realized the red lights had cleared from her eyes. And the creature was gone! Relief surged through her chest. She caught her breath and her heart beat began to slow. The familiar exhaustion that set in after a panic attack began. Was that all it was? The lights, the creature? Hallucinations brought on by a panic attack?
Tak was already banging on the front door. She had to handle him and then work out what to do when her mother returned. Still breathing hard, she leaned against the wall to push herself to her feet. As she made her way to the front door, she risked pulling the towel from her nose and was relieved to find the bleeding had stopped. The pain wasn’t so bad anymore, either. If Tak hadn’t seen her mother hit her, perhaps he’d believe she’d just had a nose bleed.
“Mia?!” Tak called again, thumping the door.
She opened it.
Tak gaped at her. “Oh my god, Mia. Did your mum do that?”
Mia could only gape back but she wasn’t looking at Tak. Hovering in the air behind him, jostling for position, were hundreds of pairs of glittering, lidless eyes atop shrivelled, dangling bodies with tiny hands reaching for her. They swarmed through the door, surrounding Mia, hissing and sighing as their bodies began to inflate. Mia blacked out.
Tak lunged over the doorstep and caught Mia against his chest as her knees buckled.
No response. He adjusted his arms and tightened them to stop her determined slide toward the floor.
“Mia!” He tried again, louder this time but still there was no response.
Her breathing was ragged through her bloodied nose so he didn’t have to check for that or perform CPR. Just handle the unconsciousness. What did the St. John’s ambos say about unconsciousness? Come on, Tak – think! Every year he did the first aid class that was the only reason his mother allowed him to take ninjitsu at the community centre and the one time he needed it- Recovery position! That was next. After breathing, recovery position.
With one foot either side of her legs, he bent over and walked into her flat, lowering her beneath him, careful not to let her head drop at the last moment.
“Mia?” he called again as he stepped over her and rolled her onto her side, tucking one hand under her head and bending her upper leg to balance her in place.
She was still out. He was pretty sure unconsciousness wasn’t supposed to last more than a few seconds unless some superhero needed you not to notice him changing personas.
Getting on to his knees beside her, he patted her cheeks and shook her shoulders. “Come on, Mia, please wake up!”
At last, her eyes fluttered open.
“Hey,” he said gently. “Can you hear me? Do you know where you are?”
She frowned and nodded at his knees.
“You were unconscious for a while, I think I should call an ambulance.”
She shook her head, and tried to get up, rolling on to her back.
Then she screamed.
And she kept screaming. Flailing at the air, her eyes focused on something he couldn’t see about a foot from her face.
He grabbed at her wrists but she twisted them out of his grip, still screaming. He managed to catch her wrists again, and held them tighter this time and leaned over her, hoping to get between her and whatever was frightening her.
She stopped fighting. Her eyes focused on him and she gulped for air. He smiled in a way he hoped was soothing.
“It’s okay. Just look at me. You’re safe.”
She shook her head. “They’re everywhere.”
“There’s nothing there, Mia. It’s just me. Your mum’s gone. You’re safe.”
She grabbed two handfuls of his school jumper and pulled him closer, hissing, “They’re all over you.”
Tak resisted changing his expression and nodded. “I know,” he said – that’s what you did with delusional people, right? Pretend you believe them and make sure they don’t hurt themselves? “I’m going to stay right here so they stay on me and can’t get to you. Okay?”
She nodded but she was still clearly terrified. Tak wasn’t exactly in his comfort zone, either. He had no idea how to help her. She was either suffering a severe head injury, or some kind of mental breakdown. She needed a doctor. For the first time since primary school, he actually wished for the sound of his mother’s car pulling into the driveway. Her shift had ended twenty minutes ago, so she could drive in at any moment, but she rarely got away from the hospital on time.
Mia yelped, startling him, then went limp beneath him, passing out again. Almost relieved, Tak pulled out his phone and called triple 0.
Exhausted and heart-sore, Ryosuke made his way to the changing room near the entrance to the Hall of Shadows – thirteen hours witnessing a mother physically and emotionally torture her daughter, year after year, would do that to you. Inside the wood-panelled locker room, he removed his traditional ceremonial clothing, carefully hanging his montsuki with its five family crests in its place of honour, then sat heavily on the wooden bench. He pushed his hands through his hair, gripped a handful in each fist and pulled at the roots. After so many hours with his consciousness outside of his body, sometimes a little pain was the only thing that reassured him he was whole again.
A gentle knock on the door panel and Akiko’s voice prompted him to pull on his suit pants and slide the door open for her.
“That bad?” his sister asked.
Ryosuke nodded and stepped to one side, inviting her in with a wave of his hand. She left her jikatabi boots at the door and padded into the room in her split-toe socks, taking a seat on the bench while Ryosuke put on his shirt.
“Are you okay?” It was an invitation to talk rather than a genuine question. As super-vigilants, Ryosuke and Akiko could read the state of each other’s emotions from the colour and strength of the energy field that danced around every living being. Reading that field was a large part of the training Ryosuke’s recruits went through. Not that you’d need to be super-vigilant, or even particularly empathetic to spot Ryosuke’s disturbed mood. Akiko said nothing, allowing him to speak when he was ready.
“Have you heard,” he began as he looped his tie around his neck and began to work it into a full Windsor, “of the diet method of throwing up every night before you go to bed because food left in your stomach while you sleep turns to fat?”
“I’ve heard of bulimia,” Akiko said.
“Oh no, no. It’s not bulimia, you see, because with bulimia you throw up everything so you end up completely malnourished. This is just throwing up at night. Strategically. It’s science apparently.”
“Is that what Mia does?”
“It’s what Mia is made to do. Every night. After her mother weighs her and records it in a notebook.”
Akiko sighed. “And if she refuses to throw up, she’s beaten?”
“Oh no. Nothing so… honest. If Mia refuses to ‘empty her stomach’ as the mother puts it, she’s marched to a mirror and poked and pinched and berated for being fat until she agrees.”
“She’s not fat!”
Ryosuke frowned at his sister. “That would make it alright, would it?”
“Of course not! You know that’s not what I meant.”
He did know that. “Sorry.” He took a moment to calm down. “If Mia still refuses, the woman forces her own two fingers down her daughter’s throat, instead.”
Akiko sucked in a breath and held it, shaking her head. “For real, soul-destroying, emotional torture you’ve got to hand it to mothers.”
Ryosuke sighed and nodded at the wall. “Yup. And that’s not the half of it. She doesn’t seem to actually hit her that often but the rages and the humiliation and tearing down…”
“Why all those NFAs in her file, then?” Akiko asked.
“I don’t know. It doesn’t make any sense,” Ryosuke said. “Every moment of that girl’s life has been spent attuned to that woman’s temper. She’s been text book hyper-vigilant since the Gossip was bound her. She was three. Three years old and hyper-vigilant and we’ve left her there for fourteen years.”
“Ryo-kun,” Akiko began in her most soothing tone, “I know you hate to be told this but your staff aren’t actually looking for kids who need help – they’re looking for kids who meet certain criteria-”
“She met them!” Ryosuke leaped to his feet, clutching at his hair again.
“So recruit her now,” Akiko said.
“It’s too late! She’s too old to train.”
“To attain super-vigilance, yes, but hyper-vigilance alone is an advantage in all sorts of areas. The Supernatural Division isn’t the only division that prizes deep empathy or quick-reflexes.”
Another knock on the changing room door interrupted them.
“Come!” Akiko called.
The panel slid open, revealing Grace Tripodi, a girl Ryosuke had recruited – from Melbourne, too, come to think of it – almost a decade ago. Twenty-five, now and super-vigilant, she’d been too damaged for the violence Ryosuke’s field-work so often required, so she’d become one of Akiko’s most valued Gossip wranglers.
Grace bowed low to Ryosuke, then to Akiko. “Kazemoto-sama, the Delaney girl’s Gossip has just reported in again.”
Ryosuke’s heart fell. “Already?”
“What’s wrong, Grace-chan?” Akiko asked. She’d spotted what Ryosuke had been too self-absorbed to notice. Grace’s training kept her expression and body language still but emotional field shuddered with anxiety.
“I witnessed the memory as the Gossip reported to the Vault, just now.” She stopped, gulped and continued. “I didn’t know it was possible but her mother was attacking her and…” Again, she stopped.
“What?” Akiko pressed.
“I think – no, I’m sure. Mia Delaney’s attained super-vigilance.”