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

(Previously: The Mistress’s magic made Lottie’s mirror show her a strange vision in answer to her greatest question she had never asked – who am I? The Mistress departed, and Lottie, with still unanswered questions burning inside her, thought of the still-enchanted mirror as a possible source for the answers she hungered for)

Lottie’s ankles caught on her skirt as she ran through the halls. There was little reason to run, little reason to expect anyone to come for hours at least, but fear… She was pretty sure, though she tried not to let herself think or realize, that the Mistress would be very angry at her for what she was doing. For was this not, after all, a manifestation of doubt, of incomplete trust in the Mistress? Was this not what she had always been told never to do, because it was the “path of folly and disrepute”? She ought to be satisfied with what she had been given by the Mistress. It ought to be good enough. Why was she still asking questions, a habit the Mistress loathed? Why was she pursuing further answers, exactly what the Mistress had always told her she need never and ought never to seek of her?

“I shall end in folly and disrepute,” Lottie said aloud as she tripped and caught herself. “Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it!”

She was standing in the door of her room. Deliberately, she turned her back on the mirror. Feeling a small pang of guilt for what the Mistress might think if she were here, she changed back into her everyday gray tunic. A bit bland, she thought. Oh well, it’s not like I care. Her hand went up to her hair. Her dark curls were struggling free of her hasty braid, and the strands were tickling her already. She would pin it up. That would help.

Pulling out the remains of her braid, she turned to her washstand for the pins. The mirror above it caught her eye. Like a fisherman teasing in a fish, it reeled her in. Her own small angular face, briefly reflected, quickly vanished. The vision was not as smooth this time. The images were not the same.

A queer house of some kind, on the outskirts of a village dotted with strange artifacts, poles and ropes and odd painted shields. Nighttime. The ship. Lottie knew the ship; she had seen it before, running with the Mistress’s magic. It was hovering in the air over the house now, and magic like the Mistress’s was pulling a the sleeping body of a child from it. The ship was speeding through the Portal, the giant ring of green flames she had seen opened only once before. The Mistress was standing over her, chanting or reciting something. Her staff was raised. Lottie cringed, almost feeling the force of the words though she could not hear them, as if they were again ripping through her mind. Again?

But the vision was moving on, too quickly for real thought. It seemed to have jumped back in time, and a woman, dark-skinned just like Lottie, was holding a baby in her arms and singing. A man reached out and the woman handed him the baby, but as he took the bundle it grew into a girl, very young, barely three years old. Dark curls bobbed on her head as the man swung her up onto his shoulders and she clung on. Lottie’s heart reached out, aching, longing to leap into the picture and become a part of it. Or she was a part of it. She wanted to hold on, catch it forever. But the image was vague, distant, and was now a different man, tall and broad, standing before an angry dragon. Something shifted, she couldn’t see well enough anymore to say what, and an invisible force rent the image, the dragon shrunk, collapsing into nothingness, and just the man was left. Then even that image faded and Lottie was staring at her own reflection, seeing fright and horror in her own eyes. It flickered, stuttering, and she dropped her head into her arms.

“Mistress,” she whispered, her voice taut. “You kidnapped me? I don’t belong here! You lied to me my whole life! You stole my mind, my memories, so I wouldn’t know or remember? How could you? I’ll never bless your magic again, never, ever, ever! How could I have been so blind, such an idiot to trust you? How could you deceive me? How could you do this to me? How could you? Oh, how could you?”

She burst into tears, sobbing wildly. It was like someone had ripped open a wound in her heart she had never known was there but had always ached inside her. And now there was nothing to soothe it. None of the Mistress’s commands to act like a Queen or not to ask unnecessary questions or unexpected answers that turned out to be lies. Nothing. It was all empty and fake. All a deceit.

Raising her head, she looked at the mirror again. The Mistress must have commanded it somehow to show Lottie something else than the truth. Could she herself force it to show her the future, what she must do now? She didn’t think so. She didn’t know how one would. But the mirror was already struggling to show more of the vision, and there was no telling what she might have missed.

It must be her birthday in the mirror. She was wearing a wreath of lilies, the only birthday tradition the Mistress had ever let her observe. But something was wrong. She was asleep, lying in the deep cell under castle where the Mistress kept the ship and placed the Portal. This time, though the image was grainy and flickering, she could catch words and occasional phrases. The Mistress was standing over her, speaking to people she couldn’t see.

“Nimrod’s heir” she caught, though she had no clue who Nimrod was, and “return to Earth”, “darkness”, and “I shall rule them once more”. Then she heard a full sentence, though the picture gave out for a minute. “Only Nimrod’s blood stopped me before, and that incompletely, banishing me to this forsaken place as you know, but his blood, though in another’s veins, shall fuel my return in full!” “Death” came through clear enough, and “Charlotte, last of Nimrod – ” something or other Lottie couldn’t hear.

She didn’t want to look. Fear was screaming in her head, telling her to run, as fast and as far as possible, and then still further. She was on her feet and obeying before she knew it. Fear throbbed in her, vibrating through her whole body, but not as loudly as the last words that rolled through her mind like drums of doom. “Chérie, you die tonight!”


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