“How long until we get out of here?!” The angry voice of one of the agents called out. It was the woman in the black dress, walking around with arms crossed, clear agitation on her face.
Mr. Q didn’t even bother to answer her. He was busy tapping away at his laptop, only looking up every once in a while to check on Mildred with worry in his eyes.
The young witch threw him an encouraging smile every time their eyes met before returning her concentration back to her barrier, making sure that it was closed and didn’t have any leaks. She had realized earlier that they were in danger and had reacted without really thinking about it. Only knowing that she had to do something. And now here they were.
Mildred was the one keeping everyone save by keeping her magic up and stopping the gas from poisoning every single one of them. It had been a full hour since she erected it and honestly, she was starting to get worried. She didn’t know how long it would take until they would be out of here and Mildred knew she had to hold out, but this spell was on a level she wasn’t supposed to be able to do until at least next year. It was one way above her head, yet she had learned it anyway. Even though she knew she could do it, she knew that her magic hadn’t fully developed yet and she didn’t know how long she would be able to keep this spell up. She only hoped Mr. Q and the others would be able to get them out of here in time.
The young witch felt herself getting weaker slowly but surely. And even though she could still hold out, she felt her knees weakening and slowly starting to tremble. In the end she decided to sit down. While she slowly lowered herself onto the ground, her knees decided to finally give out and with a ‘plop’ she fell onto the ground. It surprised her and she almost lost her concentration on the spell. Yet at the last moment she caught herself and strengthened her hold on it, thus keeping her barrier intact.
“Mildred!” Mr. Q called out. Her fall was louder than she thought and drew in the attention of the whole room, interrupting their work.
“I’m alright! I’m fine!” Mildred reassured everyone and forced herself to smile at them. The quartermaster did not look happy and stared at her worriedly, but after a small nod from her, he barked orders to the rest of the department and they all continued what they did before.
“You alright?” A deep voice asked her and Mildred turned to the side and stared at the male agent she had seen scrutinising her earlier. She gave him a smile, hoping that it would not be strained. Yet, when she saw him frowning, she realised that she had obviously failed. The man lowered himself and sat down next to her, still watching her in worry.
“It’s okay. I can still do it,” Mildred said, more to herself than to anyone else.
“Yet you don’t look so good.” The female agent said and sat down to her on the other side.
“It’s fine. My magic is not that weak that it’s going to fall away.” Mildred retorted, letting her arms drop in exhaustion, hoping that her will would be enough. It was silent for a while.
The male finally said: “So you’re a witch, huh? Explains a lot actually.” Before Mildred could ask further, he explained: “Everyone has heard how you somehow saved 006. Only no one knew how and why. There seemed to be only a few and they seemed to be under orders not to tell anybody. Guess we know now why.” He smiled wryly at her. “A witch would be big news and quite a few would be after you. That would make you a bigger target.”
“Yet it seems that you can take care of yourself. Making it at the same time harder.” The female agent added.
Mildred stared at them and after a few seconds just shook her head. “I’m not that good a witch. I’m still a student and only in my second year. The only reason I can do this spell is because I know dad is worried about me and I wanted to ease his mind a bit. Otherwise I would be learning this spell next year. It’s actually a few levels ahead of what I’m supposed to know.”
The man chuckled. “Yet you can do it already. Sounds impressive to me.” Mildred smiled at the compliment.
“I haven’t introduced myself. Excuse my rudeness,” he continued, giving her a warm smile. “I’m Jack, also known as 004. And this lovely lady here is my colleague, 005.”
“A pleasure to meet you. Call me Vera.” The female said and Mildred smiled at both of them.
“I’m Mildred. Nice to meet you.” Mildred introduced herself and took a deep breath. It was getting harder.
“You look pale.” The male agent – Jack – observed, but the young witch just shook her head.
“It’s fine. I’m fine.” She replied, breathing in a stuttering breath. She felt herself getting weaker, yet she refused to let herself ease up. With a sad ‘meow’ her familiar came up to her and rubbed his head against her leg. Mildred smiled at him and patted his head. Tabby then proceeded to sit in her lap, curling into himself and closing his eyes. Mildred’s eyes widened when she felt a surge of energy coursing through her. She pet him across the head and smiled warmly at him.
“Thank you,” She whispered, breathing a little easier.
“What’s wrong?” Vera asked, noting that a little colour had returned to her cheeks. The witch shook her head.
“Tabby, my cat here, is magical. He’s my familiar, you know? And he’s currently sharing his magic with me so I’m not completely overwhelmed.” She explained, getting confused nods from the both of them.
Yet, even though Tabby shared his magic with her, she knew she wouldn’t hold out forever. She was still determined however to hold out until they would be save.
In the next hour her answers ceased, too exhausted to give more than short ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers. She had barely the energy to keep her head up and thus let it hang, not caring how it might look like. The two agents had realized that she was starting to get weaker and thus stopped asking her and kept idle small talk where she only had to listen.
Every once in a while one of them was able to find water or snacks, telling her that she would need to keep her energy up and forcing her to eat. The longer it took however, the less responsive she got, so in the end they had to practically shove the biscuits and fruits and water into her mouth to get her to eat.
Mildred got weaker by the minute and it was now almost three hours into her raising the barrier. In the background she could hear people arguing and screaming, yet her head was so fuzzy that she couldn’t really make out what they were saying.
“Shit! You’re trembling!” Jack suddenly said and grabbing her fingers. “Girl, you’re freezing!”
Mildred somehow was able to understand him through the fog in her head. “I’m cold,” she whispered, throat croaking and dry like she hadn’t talked for days. She started to really realize how cold she was. It was like ice in her veins, crawling into her bloodstream and hurting more with every second. She could feel Tabby in her lap, unresponsive and yet warm. The only thing she could really connect to. She felt how her familiar was pumping his magic to her body, how he was also getting weaker, yet refusing to let his dear mistress alone and suffering with her. She could feel his magic being slowly drained from his small body, his warmth slowly fading, just like hers.
She felt something being draped over her shoulders. When she was able to get inside her head for a second, she realized that it was Jack’s jacket. Mildred was too weak to say anything, yet she heard how the two agents were screaming in the background, demanding more jackets and sweaters and every item of clothing lying around. She felt all the fabric being draped over her, around her, under her, in an attempt to keep her warm. She felt the agents hugging her and snuggling up to her, trying to share body warmth with her. She heard them hiss when they made contact with her skin, yet only hugging her harder.
There was a commotion in the background. Mildred couldn’t understand what exactly what was going on, yet she had a feeling that it was a sign of triumph, as short lived as it was.
Mildred got more tired by the second. She felt weaker and weaker and started to lose her concentration. She knew that she had to keep this up, that she could not lose unconsciousness yet. So many people depended on her.
But she started to wonder. Why did she have to keep this up? What was going on? Why was she so fuzzy? And why were they depending on her? What exactly had she to do? Why couldn’t she just go to sleep? Why did she have to continue this when it made her so drowsy? What was it even she did?
Mildred was so tired. So, so tired. It would be so easy to just let go and fall asleep. So easy to just close her eyes completely and let go. She couldn’t understand what she was even doing. Yet, something inside her ordered her to not give up. To just keep doing this.
Suddenly something was shoved into her ear.
“Mildred? Mildred! Mildred?! Answer me!”
That was strange. She knew that voice. She knew that voice very well. Yet for the life of her she couldn’t remember from where? Who was this?
“Mildred! Please! Say something!”
It clicked. The voice drew her out of her cloudy headspace, making her focus again. Pressed against her ear was a phone. And on the other end was –
“Dad?” Mildred croaked out, her voice dry as the dessert. She could hear him sighing in relief on the other side.
“Mildred! How are you?” He asked and the girl could hear the clear worry in his voice.
Mildred wanted to answer, wanted to reassure him that she was still there. That she was still fighting and doing her best. Yet when she opened her mouth to answer, only a dry cough came out.
“Mildred!” Her father called her in worry. “Listen myshko. You’re doing amazing. Q was able to re-establish the connection to the rest of MI6 and we’re now working on both sides to get you out of here. Q said he’s almost through. So you just have to keep this up for a little bit. Only a bit more and you’re out of there. Okay? Everything will be fine.”
Mildred wanted to nod, yet couldn’t muster the energy up for it. She was starting to see white on the edges of her sight and she felt herself slipping back into the fuzzy headspace. But her father continued talking to her, thus somehow keeping her conscious enough to her surroundings.
Her father tried to keep her with him, telling her funny stories and funny mishaps from missions, to keep her focused. In the background she could hear James, adding his occasionally comment. Through all this he sounded calm, thus being able to calm her down.
Mildred forced herself to keep going, it didn’t matter how tired she got, she couldn’t stop. So many people were depending on her and she knew Mr. Q would get them out of here. She just had to trust that it would happen sooner rather than later.
On both of her sides the two agents soothed her by touching her back and her arms, keeping her grounded as best as they could.
Mildred was beginning to breathe harder. It was not easy to do it, yet she forced every breath inside her lungs. It felt like she had run a marathon with additional hurdles without once stopping for breath.
Finally a triumphant cheer broke out and Mildred could hear the doors opening with a loud ‘swoosh’. She could hear everyone evacuating, everyone finally leaving the room. They were finally save.
Then she felt arms around her. Warmth and comfort. She was surrounded by a smell she knew all too well, a smell that reminded her of home. Of safety. It settled around her like a blanket and lulled her in the feeling that she would finally be safe.
She felt him walking with her in his arms. She felt that they were getting further away from the magic she had casted and it was harder for her to keep it up. Why were they walking away? Didn’t they know that it would be harder for her the further away she went? She wanted to call out, tell him that she couldn’t protect everyone if they were so far away, yet she just couldn’t muster the energy for it.
“It’s okay,” she felt warm, familiar lips on her forehead. “You’re save now Mildred. Everyone is save and the room is closed. You don’t have to keep it up anymore. You can let go now.”
Mildred didn’t really understand what was going on, but she knew that voice and she trusted it. If it said that she could finally let go now, she would.
With a final twitch of her hand she dropped her magic and she felt relief coursing through her body. She could finally breathe easier now.
“That was amazing, kotyonok. You were amazing. You saved everyone. I’m so proud of you.” The voice told her and Mildred felt warmth spreading inside her chest.
“It’s fine now. Everything’s fine. Sleep now. Rest, kotyonok.”
And with those words Mildred finally allowed herself to fall into unconsciousness.