Continued… (for a full list of the parts to Ancient Fire, click here)
(Previously: Lottie agreed to bring back Fyre from Death’s Deep but no more. As she settled down for some rest after trekking across the open ground, she heard a wolf’s howl)
The peace of the night was shattered. Lottie sat up straight, shivers prickling up her spine. She scanned the surrounding area, heart pounding, expecting to see loping gray shapes or a wolf’s grinning teeth at her elbow. The swaying grass was as innocent as before. The sky was paling with dawn. Wolves shouldn’t be abroad. Had it been her imagination?
A faint guttural sound like a growl throbbed through her, right beside her, or was it… up? Lottie twisted, and found herself staring straight into the glittering eyes of a large gray wolf.
She shrieked, covering her head with her arms.
Don’t eat me! I can’t just die like this! Back off, Mr. Wolf, please! Just go away or something. No teeth chomped on her. No heavy snarling body crashed into her. All was quiet. Slowly, Lottie slit open on eye and then the other. She was face to face with the wolf. He stood perfectly still, watching her. Lottie held herself perfectly still, watching the wolf. She didn’t know what to do. The wolf stiffened a little, and Lottie instinctively did too. He sniffed towards the east, and Lottie’s glance strayed in the same direction. The sunrise. Gray dawn was in the sky. The first shaft of light stabbed the earth around her, and Lottie blinked. She heard a soft noise and swung quickly back around. The wolf was gone, but she wasn’t alone. A tall man, pale skinned with hair as dark as her own that stuck out wildly from his head. He was dressed entirely in a dark gray that was almost black, even to his gauntleted hands and booted feet.
“I never intended to eat you, miss,” he said. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Elad de Capola, though some call me Elad the Fallen or Elad the Changeling, on account of my lycanthropy. You can just call Elad.”
Lottie stared dumbly at him. I’m dreaming; I have to be! She knew from her lessons with Aman that “lycanthropy” was something to do with being a Werewolf. And he had said “I never intended to eat you”.
“Are… are you saying, you’re… uh, a, well…”
“Werewolf?” he smiled and gave a little bow. “Have been for ten years now. I forget what a shock it is to humans. But I assure you, I mean you no harm. I smelled young blood in the wild, and had to find out what it could mean.”
“I’m Charlotte, second of the – well, actually not, I’m from the line of Nimrod or something like that.” She scrambled up and perched on the stone, still eying Elad a little warily. “I’m looking for something as a favor to someone, that’s what it means. But,” she added quickly, hurrying to move away from the subject of her mission, “you said you’ve been a Werewolf for ten years. How does that work? I mean, is that possible? I thought you were born with it.”
Elad laughed and flopped down in the newly risen sunshine. “No. I was a great swordsman once, champion of every festival and solo destroyer of brigands. I got cocky, messed with a witch, and that was that. I quickly learned folly’s price, but too late. Tada! The end.”
Lottie laughed despite herself. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I can’t imagine what that must be like. I mean, to lose everything you had. At least, I’m assuming your people are as suspicious and terrified of Werewolves as… the people I knew.”
“Vehemently so. Kicked me out the minute they found out. I’ve roamed the wild ever since. There are more of us than you might think – humans who messed with the wrong people and got sentenced to the dark side, cursed with disreputable and unbred twistings. I know a goblin who was once a pretty nice chap, if a bit pig-headed. And there are too many half-ghosts to count; those who are not dead and yet have no body, who can shapeshift but not manipulate anything in this world, who can speak like humans but can only be heard as an echo in the mind.” He sighed. “Most of them weren’t too bad in their own way. Many of them were heroes who tried to stand against evil and were cursed when they were defeated.”
“You’re saying I could be turned into a Werewolf, or worse?” Lottie asked in horror.
“Only if you plan on tangling with the Witch, or any other sorcerer you can dig up,” Elad said. “Which I wouldn’t recommend, not even to a warrior.”
“This just got way worse,” Lottie muttered to herself. “What on earth possessed me to agree to this?”
“What’s the matter?” Elad twisted and squinted up at her. “You were planning on marching straight to the Witch’s castle and challenging her to single combat?”
“Oh no!” Lottie shuddered at the thought.
“So, what’s the problem? As long as you keep your head down and out of her way, you’ll be as safe as an ant.”
Lottie narrowed her eyes and looked at him. Can I trust him? Can I really, really trust him? With everything?
“Whoa, it’s happening again.” Elad said suddenly, with a startled and confused expression. “I could almost hear what you were thinking, just like at the beginning. I was sure I could hear you begging me to go away and not to eat you, only in was all in my head. And now I could swear you’re trying to decide whether to trust me with something or not.”
Lottie caught her breath. “This is the first time?” she asked, an almost unsettling feeling creeping around in her stomach.
“Never happened before. Do you understand it?”
Lottie wasn’t sure. She remembered what the Cloak Girl had said. Shaping minds…you’ll do it without even thinking… “Maybe. You were hearing my thoughts because I was in your mind, in a sense. At least, I think so. It’s the first time I’ve ever done it. Do you… mind if I try and look in again?” She wriggled inwardly at the awkwardness of it all.
Elad laughed and then hesitated. “You’re trying to decide whether to trust me? Well I don’t see that I care. Ge ahead – do whatever it is you do.”
Lottie took a breath and then suddenly stopped. Why did she need to tell him, though? She could just… give him a vague answer and part ways. What did it matter? It had nothing to do with him.
But some inner instinct, some inexplicable intuition, told her that she should. That it didn’t matter what reason or logic whispered right now. The future would explain the need, but now was the time to act. Senseless or no, she needed to tell Elad – as long as she could trust him.
The next few minutes were both hard and easy. It did come naturally in a sense as the Cloak Girl had predicted, but Lottie could not see and parse each memory and thought and everything that made Elad Elad like the Cloak Girl could with her. She was slogging through a vague fog, following the thread of her question can I trust him? and searching for anything that might make the answer be no.
When at last she drew her breath and reopened her eyes, somehow she didn’t remember anything particular that had passed her in her investigation. All she was certain of was that she could trust him.
“Okay, here goes hoping,” she said.
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