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

(Previously: Lottie met the Cloak Girl, who gave her the ability to shape minds. From the Cloak Girl, she learned the story of the Witch and Nimrod, and the truth that she was the last of Nimrod’s line)

“I can’t face her again,” Lottie said with a shudder. “I’m sorry, I just can’t. Not after everything…” She trailed off, her mind filled with images seen and imagined.

“But you must,” the Cloak Girl urged. “Don’t you see? It isn’t about what you can and cannot do, it’s about what you must do whether you can or not. I don’t like the idea of a young girl like you doing it either, especially one who has spent so long under the influence of the Witch. Who knows what damage she might have done to your mind? But –”

“Excuse me?” Lottie retorted indignantly. “It might have been dreadful, I’ll give you that, but I am most certainly mentally sound. You should know from poking in my mind or whatever you did. Damaged mind indeed!”

“Easy now, I meant no offence. And you are right; at least, I perceived no signs of permanent or severe damage in your mind. But you should know that I think, I cannot say for sure, but I think your early memories were hidden, locked away by a wall in your mind that was put there, if you understand me.”

“Put there? By the Witch you mean?” Lottie asked.

“Yes. I cannot break through it for you. Only you can do that. If you wish to remember what you lost, who you were and where you came from, you will have to break through. But that isn’t the point. If you refuse to stand against the Witch, this whole world will be devoured in her rage and search for you, and will be sacrificed on the altar of her return to that Other Place, to Earth. If you stand… it is our only hope.

Who can say? Perhaps you were brought here for this very purpose. Perhaps it is part of the All-Maker’s design. Mere chance, is it, that brings to me in the same year the last resting place of Fyre, and the only girl who could touch it borne on the winds before the storm? Mere chance, in this, the last and darkest hour before the Witch’s power waxes and there can no longer be hope? No, there are greater powers at work than you or I, Lottie, greater powers than that of the Witch herself.”

“But I – I… can’t.” Lottie stammered miserably. “You’d understand if you’d been me.”

The Cloak Girl sighed and rested her chin in her hands. “Now what?” she asked, not particularly seeming to address Lottie. “It can’t be over already, can it? There must be a way, but how?”

Suddenly, and not exactly sure why she did, Lottie said, “I’ll find the sword and bring it back to you, but that’s all. Deal?”

The Cloak Girl raised her eyes. “That’s all we’ll discuss now, and that’s a deal. I’ll give you some provisions and a map. I’m afraid I won’t be able to accompany you since I am not on good terms with the Witch as you know, and even the men are trapped somewhere between in awe and fear of me. I must stay in hiding for now. You should travel by night and hide in the day; dragon eyes see far.”

“Alright,” Lottie said, straining her mind to hold on to every word. Her heart was racing, and she felt very unsure about her search. But at least it wasn’t as crazy hair-brained an idea as facing the Witch in battle. She shivered again.

The Cloak Girl stood up and Lottie followed her example. “One more thing. Fyre, this ancient sword you seek, no one has ever seen or touched before. You have no idea of its power. Only the blood of Nimrod, it is said, is able to wield it. It is hidden in Death’s Deep, of which even you have heard tales, no doubt. Guard your step in there.”

The moon, a thin sliver of its proper self, was riding high in the sky, ghosted by clouds, as Lottie looked back one last time. The woods were now just a smudge in the darkness. She was leaving the Cloak Girl behind and setting off on some crazy venture, but somehow it seemed better to Lottie than any day at the castle. Dull lessons that chased themselves in circles with Aman, the fear of the Witch like a cloud over her life, the stress of trying to be Proper and Dignified… Now she was setting out on her own, the truth, however hard, plain in her mind, and now she even knew where she was going, not merely making a frantic dash from death. The night air was sharp in her lungs, the bag on her shoulder didn’t seem so heavy, and the future was ripe with possibility. She hummed a little to herself as she went.

The moon sank lower. Lottie felt weariness begin to creep over her. The messenger bag felt like it was dragging her into the ground. She sat down with her back against a stone for a rest. The night is so peaceful out here under the stars, Lottie thought. She sighed, relaxing a little. Somewhere, so loud it sounded like it was right next to her, a wolf howled.

 

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