Chapter Six Part 1: The Clandestine in the Room
Matt leaned back into the two pillows propping up his back with a long sigh. If he stayed still, the bandages all across his chest and his arms felt comforting, instead of a too-close reminder of the pain. His eyes were closed as he hovered somewhere between being in too much pain to want to be awake and being in too much pain to actually fall asleep, but he was determined to enjoy the moment of isolated stillness. He'd learned to appreciate the quiet moments, no matter how brief they were.
There was a knock on the door. His eyes shot open.
Apparently, it was going to be a very brief moment.
"Matt?" he heard Clandestine's voice ask through the door. "Can I come in?"
Matt looked to the door in confusion. Clandestine had a knife in her leg only an hour ago. She shouldn't be on her feet.
That, and he didn't really want her to come in and see the numerous scars still visible despite the extensive bandaging. He figured if he kept his back to the wall and stayed leaning on the pillows, he could hopefully avoid prying questions, but he wasn't sure if Clandestine would be as politely quiet about it as Kaleb had been.
But Matt wouldn't refuse her coming in. So he said "Sure," watching as the door was pushed open slowly first with Clandestine's shoulder, and then the leg of a pair of crutches. He could see her wounded leg dragging across the floor as she hobbled forward, with the pant leg rolled up above the bandages wrapped around the stab wound.
Clandestine looked up at him with a smile, but he could tell she was in pain just walking over.
"Mind if I, uh, sit on the end of the bed?" she asked.
"No, that's fine," Matt said with a small nod. As Clandestine eased herself onto the bed he could feel the shift in weight on the mattress. She leaned her crutches on the side of the bed and hissed through her teeth, though it was obvious she was trying to hide it. He watched her gaze as she looked up at him, scanning him and his injuries.
"We sure got lucky havin' people who were kind enough to patch us up after," she commented, laughing a pained little laugh. "I uh. I talked to 'em and uh, they said they're just happy the worms're gone so they can hopefully work on restoring the land and workin' it more again. And! Laura's uh, hah," she looked away, brushing a loose hair from her ponytail behind her ear. "She's insisted we stay here until we're mostly fully recovered. I figure though, of course, once we're well enough to walk around again, we can help out on the farm how we can and stuff! To pay them back for their kindness!"
"That's very kind of them," Matt agreed. "Soon as it goes down from 'fire is scorching my skin' level pain to 'stinging itchy healing' pain, I'll make sure to do everything I can to make it up to them for opening up their home to us."
"And Laura's medical expertise. Don't forget that," Clandestine pointed at him with a smile.
Matt grinned. "Yes. Of course."
Clandestine looked away again, her smile slowly fading. She brushed a (now non-existent) hair behind her ear again. Matt was already used to her sort of anxious excitement as a part of her charm, but this seemed a different breed of anxiety he was reading off her. It only took him a second of thought to realize what it was about. There was a prolonged silence as both of them seemed to be searching for words, and just as Clandestine started to hesitantly open her mouth, Matt cleared his throat.
"So I just want you to know," he started, keeping his voice low, just above a whisper. "I ... I don't care that you have magic, and whether you use it or not. I'd never take it to the authorities. You're secret's safe with me. I'd never throw you to the wolves like that."
"Oh - uh!" Clandestine's eyes widened and her face fell into a momentary look of horror before she seemed to realize what he was saying. Her eyes flickered over to him nervously, only to look away again. She forced herself to stop fidgeting with her hands and held them together in her lap, staring at them.
"Th-thanks, that's, uh, yeah. I was going to ask about that, 'cause! Well, I mean, you know. I just - I couldn't with them around and all. Y-yeah," she said quickly, words almost running together.
Matt tilted his head to the side, trying to send her a smile or something else to indicate that he meant her no harm, or just something to relieve her of her anxiety. He knew any mage had every reason to be worried. Mage hunters aggressively policed the use of magic, and anyone who got put on their watch list was never seen again. But Clandestine kept her gaze fixed on her lap.
"It's alright," he said. "No worries."
Another pause. He was trying to leave space for her, but she didn't take it. So he took it upon himself to clear the air and carry the conversation.
"How long have you known you've had it?"
Clandestine looked up at him in surprise. "My magic?"
Matt laughed a little but stopped. Laughing didn't feel great. "Yes, your magic."
"Oh!" Clandestine smiled in what looked like relief and joined in with her own brief (if awkward) laughter. "Uh, I mean, I've had it since I woke up."
Clandestine met his eyes with her smile until she saw his blank lack of a reaction. Matt blinked.
"Woke up?" Matt asked with some delay. "As in, like, when you were born, right?"
Clandestine stared at him, and her whole face flushed. "Uh," she started, before falling into a mess of stutters and sounds, blowing raspberries and making small gestures with her hands in the air as if physically trying to search for an explanation. She strained a sort-of smile with her eyebrows raised. "I guess I kiiiiiiiind of don't really know how I got it exactly?"
Matt raised his brows. "I uh, I really ain't sure what you mean by got it. Aren't people just born with it and then they discover it when they're young?"
Clandestine laughed another awkward laugh, smile waning as her eyebrows drew together. "Uh... yeah. Most normal people are. I mean, even though magic isn't, I guess, considered normal now. Or uh, legal. Still normal, I guess, in ways. Since people still have it and just don't use it or hide it or are killed because of it - uh. Well, I guess that's not uh-"
"Clandestine," Matt interrupted. "That's - that's common knowledge. It's okay. I'm just confused is all."
She laughed again. Talking about her magic must not have been normal for her. At all.
"Well, I guess it's kind of complicated. Or really complicated. It's mostly 'cuz of Silva-" she looked up at him, realizing she was going to have to do more explaining. He was pretty sure he looked as clueless as he felt.
"Silva was my mentor," Clandestine went on. "She taught me everything I know about monster hunting, apart from what I've learned through experience. She was strict, but she was the closest thing to family I ever had and..." she trailed off, rubbing one thumb over the other as she clasped her hands together again. She bit her lip as she stared down at the floor with a sad, wistful gaze. He couldn't tell if she was caught in the thought of a memory or if she was just afraid to go on.
"You don't have to share," he said quietly. "If you don't want to."
"I want to," she said, so quickly that he wasn't sure if he believed her, but he wasn't going to stop her. "Things were pretty normal at the guild, but then one day Silva took me aside. She was... worried or something. She... she drugged me and locked me up in a coffin. I fell asleep and woke up - haha!" she laughed, but this wasn't a laugh like the others. This one was bitter and sad. "I woke up with my coffin washing up on the bank of a river, and a man found me and was kind enough to nurse me back to health. It wasn't long before I found out I'd woken up 100 years later to a world with guns and... all these messed up laws about magic, and I found out I had my own magic, and just, everything was... confusing." She let out a frustrated huff, finally looking over at Matt again, searching his face for a reaction.
But that was the thing. He didn't have one. At least, not outwardly. Because dragons above... what in the world was she talking about? The guilds? They hadn't been around for 100 years after the first wave of mage hunts. Did that make her over 100 years old? How was she asleep for 100 years? What kind of magic did Silva use to lock a little girl up as a human time capsule, and in the gods' names, why? Matt stared at her, for the first time in a long time, completely devoid of any act or any mask. He really didn't know what to say. Two opposing sides of him contested with one another; the cynic, and the believer, both making it impossible for him to reconcile what he'd just heard. Any rational human being would tell her she was crazy. But most rational human beings would turn her in as well.
Clandestine grew visibly nervous again in the silence and picked slightly at the bandage on her leg.
"That probably makes me sound crazy, doesn't it?" she asked in a whisper, voice devoid of her usual lively spark.
Matt's heart was tugged. He closed his eyes, and he sighed.
"A little, maybe," he said honestly. As he opened his eyes again he saw her shrink into herself - like a withering flower.
"But I believe you."
Her head slowly lifted up.
"Even though I don't fully understand."
Clandestine met his eyes with her big green ones, an innocent hope shining behind them. "Really?" she asked.
Matt snuffed in amusement, smiling. If Clandestine was lying, she was either the best or the worst liar in the world to come up with such a bizarre story. He knew what lying looked like. She was completely genuine.