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

(Previously: Lottie miraculously escaped drowning and was washed ashore… utterly alone)

Warm tears mingled with the gritty sand on her face. Loneliness like an icy claw was wrapped around her heart, driving out even the overwhelming sense of defeat. Haunting around the edges of her mind was the thought not like this! From somewhere, echoing eerily around her, a wolf’s howl rang.

Fear and hope shot through her. Could it be Elad? But if it wasn’t, she was doomed.

Aman’s voice, from some long ago lesson, dinned in her head. Some people who have near death experiences go into shock afterward. A state of shock can cause many things, such as hallucinations, a condition that causes the person to imagine they see or hear things, particularly things they either especially wish for or especially fear.

I’m just imagining it. I’m in shock. It’ll pass… I think. Can I die of shock? She couldn’t remember. She hadn’t cared then.

Something was breathing near her. Terrified, Lottie couldn’t move. She wanted to look around and see what it was, but she couldn’t. A paw, damp and sandy, pawed gently at her head. Lottie gave a little whimper that was meant to be a scream and twisted away. Rolling over, she found herself looking into familiar solemn brown eyes of a large gray wolf. He nudged her with his muzzle, growling and half-barking like he always did when he wanted to talk but couldn’t.

“I’m alright, you can stop that.” Lottie sat up, already feeling worlds better at the sight of him. She smiled weakly. “How did you find me?”

Elad gave her a withering look as if to say I do have a nose, you know.

Her smile widened. “Right. Well, I’m beyond glad you did…” She trailed off, unable to find a way to express everything she felt and that had happened. Then she remembered what she held. She opened her mouth to speak, but the gray wolf stilled, and instantly both their eyes went to the east, marked by the paleness of predawn. Sunlight glowed around them, and Lottie looked back, already knowing what she would see.

“Well that wasn’t a second too late,” Elad said, eying the horizon like it was an enemy that had tried to betray him.

Lottie opened her hand and held it out. “Elad, look.”

He looked closely at it and gave a low whistle. “Is that…?”

“Fyre’s tip. I stole it from the pirates. But the rest of it is lost forever now. Their ship burned and went to the bottom. I was lucky to escape with this.”

“I know,” he began, then stopped short. “You were on board when the ship burned?”

“Uh, yeah. How did you know?” Lottie drew her knees up and hugged them to her chest, trying to ward away the awfulness of the night before.

“I was on board too. I woke up when you did your little mind thing and called me. I tracked you to the ship, but you had the satchel and were in the clear, so I thought I’d just burn the ship. I was still down in the hold when the put out to sea; I’m not used to starting fires as a wolf.” He grinned, dropping down in a cross-legged position in the sand. “By the time I got it going, they had gone a fair enough distance. But they thankfully didn’t notice until it was too engulfed to quench, and I jumped over and swam to shore. The Deathbrand went down, alright. How did you get to be still on board?”

Lottie was mystified. She hadn’t seen Elad come on board when she was escaping with the satchel. “I actually didn’t call you. Not on purpose, at least. I did think of you and how I wished you were there to help…” she paused, shaking her head. “That’s just creepy. I didn’t know that was possible.”

“Might be something to be careful of in future,” Elad reflected.

“Yeah.” She swallowed the acid of nervousness in her throat and in quick words told him about her capture, shaping the mind of Captain Hawk so that he wouldn’t search her and would make her walk the plank, and her attempt to swim to land and nearly drowning herself. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was luck, or a series of really fortunate coincidences. But the Cloak Girl said there were greater powers at work here, greater even than the Witch herself. And now…” her voice faded to scarcely more than a whisper, “now I know she’s right. I mean, him passing off the satchel and then the prisoners escaping? Or when I all but drowned and was washed ashore – just like that? No… there’s something bigger here. I believe that now.”

Elad gave her a long, contemplative look. “So what are you going to do now?” he asked. “About your deal and the Witch and everything.”

Lottie bit the inside of her lip. “I’m scared as heck. But that doesn’t change the truth. I know I have to face the Witch. None of this is an accident, and I’m the only one who can. So, hello destiny, here I come… scared spitless,” she added in an undertone. Elad laughed and stood up.

“I thought you might say something like that. Now all we need to do is get that sword tip turned into something that can fight, and you turned into someone who can use it.”

Lottie’s eyes widened in sudden horror. “Oh gosh, I didn’t think about that. I’ve never touched a sword. I’ll never be able to stand against the Witch!”

Elad grinned mischievously. “First part truth, second part falsehood. If none of this is an accident, then I’m not a swordsman for nothing.”

“You can teach me?” she asked, scrambling to her feet and brushing off what sand and salt she could. “How long would that take?”

“Ten years,” Elad said carelessly.

Lottie looked doubtful, stretching the kinks out of her muscles as she tried to imagine staying hidden – and alive – for that long.

“But seeing as we don’t have ten years to spare, we’ll just have to see how much we can condense it.”

“And you’re sure you haven’t lost anything? I mean, it has been ten years…” Lottie couldn’t imagine trying to remember something ten years ago… or could she? Something on the edge of her mind skittered away as she tried to focus on it. Something to do with sand.

“Not a problem,” Elad was saying. “I might be a little rusty but not that much. And it’ll come back. Now let’s go find this Cloak Girl of yours and tell her the new plan.”


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