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

(Previously: Lottie and Elad discovered that the Deathbrand pirates had stolen Fyre. They returned to the entrance of Death’s Deep to begin tracking them as soon as the sun set, and while they waited, Lottie was haunted by dreams… or nightmares)

Lottie crawled out of the cave. Elad was sprawled on top of the rock, sucking on a strand of grass and gazing at the horizon where the sun still peeked over the edge, waiting to drop.

“Not long now,” he said, rolling over and leaping down.

She held out her bag. “I’ve already eaten. If you’re coming along, I’m not making you starve.”

“Thanks. I could always hunt something up, though.” Lottie shuddered. “To cook,” he added, grinning a little. She narrowed her eyes at him.

“I thought we had to track at night, not go hunting.”

“We’ll see how much progress we make. We might come to tricky bits that’ll require our eyes more than noses.”

“Possible,” Lottie reflected. “But the Cloak Girl said to travel at night whenever possible, and I’d like to do just that. But I suppose there might be a time when we won’t have a choice.” She pondered this, envisioning long wearisome days with little progress and less food. She shrugged, a little resignedly. “I guess I won’t complain when we’re out of food, as long as you don’t bring me anything gross, like dead monkey, and expect me to cook or eat it.”

Elad tossed away the core of his apple and placed his hand solemnly over his heart. “I swear I will never bring a dead monkey to you or expect you to eat it, on my honor as a Werewolf.”

Lottie laughed, and the man was gone, replaced by the now familiar large gray wolf.

“Do you ever get used to that?” she asked. She was surprised at how used to it she had already become. Elad wagged his head back and forth, paused, and then nodded it up and down.

“Yeah, I kind of figured so,” Lottie said, smiling despite herself. “Lead the way, Tracker. Fast as you like – I’ll let you know if I can’t keep up.”

The wolf slid Lottie what she could have sworn was a sly look, and bent his nose to the ground. After a few minutes, he set off, leading the way farther east. Her whole journey, according to her map and Elad’s reckoning, had brought her something like seventeen leagues overall from the west, and a full league and a half to the north. Squinting at the bouncing map as she trotted after Elad, she could make out the coast in relation to Death’s Deep. It didn’t look that far, if, of course, the Deathbrands had made a straight line of it. Twenty miles, maybe more. But the nearest stretch of coastline was also awfully close to Khent, the last stronghold of men that lingered on the Witch’s shores. The pirates would probably have given them a bit of a berth – no sense risking having the Deathbrand sent to the sea’s bottom while they hunted for Fyre.

She stuffed the map back in her bag and burst into a run to catch up with Elad. He was maintaining a steady pace, weaving back and forth across the landscape a little, tracing the scent, making sure the pirates hadn’t split off a decoy force. But then, the pirates hadn’t expected a Werewolf to be on their tail. It wasn’t exactly the sort of thing one could foresee.

Lottie, trotting briskly and running in spurts, was reminded of her first frantic run when she had fled the castle and left the Mistress and her old life behind. Voices were echoing from her past, jabbing at her, prodding her to an end she was resisting. The Cloak Girl’s, Nimrod’s… the Witch’s… Mere chance, is it? Greater powers at work… You must stand against the evil. My sword is yours to take up… the last blood of Nimrod shall be trampled beneath me… never again shall I fear the abyss! She shivered at the sudden memory of the Witch’s words. She hadn’t understood them then, hadn’t known who Nimrod was, much less the last of his blood. Now she did. The Witch was bent on trampling her beneath her feet, like grapes in a winepress. She would open the way to her old world with Lottie’s blood, and with her death would come the death of the hope of ever stopping the Witch. Nimrod’s heir – the only one who could wield Fyre – would be gone forever, his line quenched.

Lottie knew she couldn’t let that happen. But there was no way she could face the Witch.

Just – no. You can’t and you know it. Just like you told the Cloak Girl.

But you do kind of have to.

Okay, well, just shut up until I get the sword. We can’t talk about anything until that’s done.

Okay…

Elad steadily increased the pace, and soon she had no energy to spare for thinking or debating with herself. It was just run, run, run. Forever.

She stumbled as the ground grew rockier, and the stars paled above her.

“I can’t – keep going like this,” she gasped, half falling, half flinging herself down. Her breath spurted in spasms, lungs overflowing and emptying as she tried to catch her wind up with her feet. Elad loped back and looked down at her, then up at the horizon. He dropped into a crouch, giving a low threatening rumble that throbbed through her, and pounced at nothing. He repeated the gesture and turned to her, grinning wolfishly.

“What? You’re going to hunt?” she asked, trying to sit up and sinking back as the blood surged to her head. Elad bobbed his head, grinning still wider.

“Just no dead monkey, remember. Or anything like it,” she added on second thought.

 

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