Continued… (for a full list of the parts to Ancient Fire, click here)

(Previously: The Mistress promised Lottie an answer to the question that devoured her, and sent her men through the Portal on a task)

Chapter 2

Lottie’s room felt like a cage now, with the Mistress there. The pressure of being perfect, of measuring up to the Mistress’s demanding requirements, made the walls press in around Lottie, suffocating her. She wanted to scream and run to the farthest corner of the castle. Instead, she spread a bright smile and hid the strain.

“Come now, ma chérie, the question that tickles your mind; it churns the surface like the sea and ripples into all matters. You are asking questions, and I have granted you the chance to an answer. Go on, and ask it. I have not forever to spend in wait for you nor the patience and will to do so. Ask, then, before I regret my boon and take my leave.”

Lottie sucked in her breath, heart pounding like a marching drum against her ribs. The question, the one she had never dared to raise, that must be what the Mistress was after. Dare I? she asked herself. I don’t dare not to dare.

“Who am I?” she blurted.

The Mistress let out her bubbling laugh. “Such a small question that disturbs all matters before you, ma chérie? No, I will not try to answer. The question, it is bigger than your simple words. Come here.” Her face was suddenly serious, and the hand that gripped Lottie’s shoulder, drawing her to the mirror, was steel – restrained. Lottie swallowed.

“There. You see yourself in this mirror. Your skin is unlike mine, unlike any within the castle, and yet you are called my protégé. How could you have come to be where you are, the future Queen of the world? I am not your mother, so who is? From whence did you come, and how did you earn such a place? Why were you chosen, and not someone else? Look, and see what the mirror shows.”

The Mistress raised her staff and blew gently upon the mirror’s surface. Her breath, green with her magic, ghosted across it, swirling about the edge. Lottie watched as her reflection faded and images began to form and spin.

A room. A dim room, and a priest with a bowl of water, and a mother with a bundle in her arms. A christening. Lottie gasped as blood flashed, washing out the picture. Slowly it shifted, and a girl, barely four years old, was running, chased by a fiery sword. Then she was fleeing a man, who seemed filled with the strength of the earth and the passion of fire. Then a dragon was carrying her off, to a castle somewhere quite different. She was asleep, or unconscious, Lottie couldn’t be sure. The dragon became a beautiful woman – the Mistress, as Lottie had known, and she was bending over the body, staff raised, speaking something that Lottie couldn’t hear. The girl’s eyes opened, blinking in confusion at the ceiling and the Mistress. The Mistress smiled brilliantly.

Lottie, for she knew it was herself she was seeing, was bent over a tablet, working out sums, and Aman was fidgeting beside her. She drew back from the mirror, sighing deeply.

“And so you came here, as I have in this mirror shown you as words could not have told,” the Mistress said, her voice almost patronizing. “I brought you here because all those in the world capable of hate pursued you. And why they pursued you is why I desired you. The blood in you is strong, your ancestors were mighty, and your destiny is therefore great. With such a lineage as yours, with such spirit as yours, much may be accomplished.”

Lottie hesitated, filled now with more questions than ever. Should she voice them? Now? Before she could speak, though, the Mistress stiffened slightly. For a horrified moment, Lottie thought she’d had one of her sudden glimpses into her mind.

“I sense a disturbance in my realm,” she remarked, darkening a little. “I must leave, little chérie, but I will return when my men do.”

Turning, she left without another word. Lottie followed her into the courtyard and watched from the doorway. The Mistress raised her staff. A green light glowed around her, wrapping about her, growing stronger. It thickened into scales and the massive form of the dragon. Its wings lifted, and Lottie staggered with their downbeat draft. It circled once, and flew off into the gloom without a backward glance. She was alone. Her thoughts strayed to her mirror, still twined with the Mistress’s magic. If she was lucky, perhaps it might be able to answer the questions she hadn’t asked the Mistress.

With a slight twinge of nervousness, Lottie turned back toward her room. She had to try. It might well be her only chance.


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