Continued… (for a full list of the parts to Ancient Fire, click here)
(Previously: Lottie’s long desperate run brought her to a wood, where she was discovered by a mysterious cloaked woman who offered to help her)
Lottie perched on the back of a fallen tree, watching as the woman emerged from a cave shadowed by ferns. She was carrying something in her arms, which turned out to be a tray containing bread, dried meat and a flask of water, and a hefty tome.
“Here’s something to eat,” she said. “I’m afraid it’s not much.”
“Who are you?” Lottie asked, taking the tray gratefully.
“I am the Cloak Girl. I have spent many long uncounted years doing what I can to protect the people that remain so close under the shadow of the Witch. Understand, though, that I do not directly involve myself if at all possible. To do so would mean not only my own death, but because of it the death of many others.
“I see you are confused. You never left the castle, did you? I can read it in your face. I daresay you never learned history – real history – or how things lie in this world. Do you know anything of your own world, either?”
“How do you know all this about me?” Lottie demanded, shock and fear mingling in her. “I didn’t know I came from another world until this evening, and you already know.” She shrank away a little from the very small, very still, very mysterious woman.
“I have been granted the ability to shape minds – to see into them and, in the cases of those of less strong mind and will, change them. Because I mean you no harm and wish you to believe such, I have not touched yours, but only read what you have shown on your face. But I would ask your leave for something.”
“What is it?” Lottie asked, half curious, half scared.
“You do not fully understand your danger, or what you must do. I would learn more of who you are by glimpsing your mind’s secrets, and at the same time gift you with the same gift I have – that of shaping minds. You won’t be able to do as much as I can with it, but you will be able to screen yourself from all but the keenest searching, and perhaps shape the minds of the wild things.”
“But… but…” Lottie struggled with comprehension and indecision. What could such a deal entail? What secret tricks might result? What invaluable protection and aid might it bring?
Before she could open her mouth, the Cloak Girl pushed her to the ground against the tree. Lottie tried to resist but she was strong.
“Be still!” she hissed, and Lottie lay still, terrified. The cloak Girl crouched over her, her cloak blotting out all vision, drawing a curtain between Lottie and the world. What was happening? Then she heard it. The harsh ruffling flap of wings, enormous ones. The ground shook with a roar and Lottie was sure she could make out words.
“Chérie! You cannot hide from my eyes. The power of your Year-day will be mine, and I shall return to earth and crush it. You will die!”
The Cloak Girl’s eyes were shut tight and she was breathing hard. The wingbeats faded. Lottie discovered her nails had dug into her palms so hard that some had drawn blood. The Cloak Girl sighed with relief.
“I cannot shield you forever,” she said abruptly. “The Witch has sought to snuff my candle for time unmeasured. I am too great a threat to her. She does not realize that I cannot do her any harm, sadly, but only protect her enemies. So she seeks me still, and together we risk more chance of dicovery.”
Lottie nodded. “Go ahead. Do whatever it was you were asking to do. But you’ll have explain to me how to shield myself and shape minds and all that.”
“You will do it without even thinking.” The Cloak Girl looked at her and was suddenly very still. Lottie had the startling sensation like finding someone standing at your shoulder when you were quite certain you were alone.
“Very good. Your mind is strong. But,” her face became more serious than ever, “you are of the blood of Nimrod, the last of his line. It is then on you truly that our hope lies.”
“I come from another world. How could I have anything to do with the trouble here?” Lottie asked.
“Ah.” The Cloak Girl grabbed her tome and in intense focus flipped through it. “The other world – you know nothing but we know a little. Long ago, the All-Maker created earth, and also this world. But man messed up earth and the All-Maker sent a flaming sword to protect the perfect from the imperfect, the mortal from the immortal. Years passed and the sword, along with the haven it guarded, was lost.”
She turned a chunk of pages, hunting for something. “Oh yes, the Witch.” She looked up at Lottie. “Are you with me?”
“I think so.” Lottie felt disoriented, and the makes-sense-like-two-and-two solidity she clung to seemed left behind in the castle.
“Well, things aren’t getting easier to hold onto. Just get what you can. We don’t have much time. On earth, a child was born, half human, half demon.”
“Wait, what?” Lottie looked at her in shocked alarm. “But, but… how…?”
“Don’t ask. You probably don’t want to know. It just happened. The point is, she seemed human, could walk in the human world, but was mistress of demonic powers. That’s the Witch. Nimrod was a mighty hero who served the All-Maker. He faced her in a great battle to stop her from destroying earth, which she was well on her way to doing, according to this book. He had been given the sword I told you about, Fyre, and with it had sent many of her demons to the Abyss. He planned to use it to cut her demon soul free and send her to join her servants, but she when saw she was losing, she opened a Portal to our world and escaped, though Nimrod sealed the Portal behind her that she might never return, though apparently her henchmen can still pass through.
“Now, they say Nimrod threw Fyre in after her that we could use it to destroy her, but it shattered and was lost forever. But I’m almost certain it still exists, and where it lies. But we could not touch even so. It was gifted to Nimrod’s blood, and only Nimrod’s blood can wield it.”
“Wait, what are you saying?” Lottie asked, panic fluttering in her stomach, swiftly quenching her former curiosity.
The Cloak Girl closed the book. “Lottie, you are the last of Nimrod’s line. So I have heard and so your blood cries from its veins. You alone can wield the ancient sword and stand against the Witch. You alone can defeat her forever.”
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