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

(Previously: Elad tracked Lottie down and compared stories. Lottie finally makes up her mind that she can’t deny her task to face the Witch anymore, and the two set off to inform the Cloak Girl of the new development. Lottie feels she almost remembered a lost memory that had something to do with sand)

Lottie nodded vaguely and trailed after him. She was still chasing the shadow of memory in her mind. She glared at it. And then, for a brief moment, she had the odd sensation of shaping her own mind, and that was when she glimpsed the memory.

She was playing in a box of sand in a yard. Sand was in her clothes and shoes, in her hair and stuck to her face. She got sand in her mouth, and that was nasty. She spat it out and started to cry. Arms lifted her free of the sand and carried her towards a house. She put her arms around the neck of the person carrying her, and she looked up. And that was when she saw her father’s face.

He looked like her. And like another man she had seen… where was it? In the Witch’s mirror, that was it! When she had seen the truth behind the lie the Witch had told her about her past. And yet, he also reminded her of the other man she had seen, both in the mirror and her dream – Nimrod. But he wasn’t that man, he was her father, and on a deep, ancient level she knew him without being told.

Vague images danced in her mind, crowding in on her, urging to be remembered. But what was crystal clear in the forefront of her mind, quickly eclipsing even the image of her father’s face, was the moment she had first seen the Witch. The moment her memories had been stolen in the first place.

Everything was absolutely clear.

Lying helpless on a stone table, waking up far from the warm bed she expected, and staring into the cold, pitiless black depths of the Mistress’ eyes. The cruel, ironic smile as she looked down at her.

“You are not yet old enough to be of use to me,” her cold voice echoed in Lottie’s mind. She was struggling to get up and get away, but she was restrained.

“I don’t know what you want with me, kidnapper!” she yelled. “But I won’t give you anything you want! I’ll fight you, monster!”

The Mistress’ laugh, ringing like chimes and humorless, tinkled in her mind. “You will be mine, daughter of Nimrod. You will serve me.”

“Never!” Lottie screamed.

“You won’t know any better. You will be my daughter. Hold still!” She raised her staff.

“No!” Lottie shrieked. She bucked and writhed. Pain seared her mind, radiating throughout her body. She clawed at the pain, digging at her brain to uproot to burning hot iron that had been imbedded there, grabbing at her own face and eyes to get at it. Flailing, thrashing, trying to escape or make it stop, Lottie fought, knowing with an overwhelming sense of panic and hopelessness that she was losing. It was so vivid; she was living it. It was just like it was then.

“No!”

“Hey, hey, sister, calm down!” Someone was pulling her arms away from her face. “Stop it; you’re going to hurt yourself!”

Lottie blinked blearily. The image, so real, was gone. The sky was bright with early sun. She was lying in an odd, crumpled position on sand, hair in her mouth and tears still drying on her cheeks. Her breath was ragged and heavy. The Witch was nowhere to be seen. In her place, a man dressed in black crouched beside her, holding her wrists in a steely grip. She winced and tried to break free.

“What, what’s happening? Where’s the Witch? Who are you?” She tried to focus on him again, but her eyes refused. The man bent closer, studying her face. For some strange reason, he looked concerned.

“What in the world…? Are you alright?” he asked at last.

“No, of course not! The Witch just stole my memories, why do you think I’d be alright? Let me go.” She twisted her wrists again, and this time he released them. Shakily, she tried to push herself up. Her muscles ignored her efforts. The man in black pulled her up to a sitting position and gave her another intent, worried look. She could tell something was seriously bothering him, but she couldn’t figure out what, or why he cared.

He gripped her shoulders, forcing her to look at him. “Lottie, look at me. Do you know who I am?”

“Why should I?” she said, a little irritably. “Who do you think you are?” He gave a sharp intake of breath and released her. He seemed utterly at a loss, and she had to wonder why in the world he thought she should know him.

Then she looked at him again. Her eyes were behaving better now, and she was able to focus on his face. There was something familiar about him… Light like a breaking wave burst over her, and remembrance of everything, from her life in the castle to nearly drowning, came back to her. But the moments of ignorance, no longer her reality, now shook her deeply.

“I’m alright now, really, Elad,” she said, taking a deep breath and trying to reassure herself. She forced an unsteady smile and met his eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m back.”

Elad sank back on the sand, the worry fading but not leaving his face. “What happened? What do you mean by ‘you’re back’? I’ve never in my life seen anything like that before.”

“I mean what just happened… it’s over now…” Lottie took another shuddering breath and gathered the hair back from her face. Her stomach felt light inside her, as if it was threatening to leave her. “I… I had this flash. A memory from my past. I told you the Cloak Girl told me the Witch had blocked off my memories? Well, I’ve been getting snatches back, what with the Witch’s mirror and… my dreams. But this…” she trailed off, shivering. It still felt like she had just re-experienced it. She swallowed and changed tack. “What happened?”

Elad shrugged. “I’m not exactly sure. One minute you were following me, and the next you started screaming like someone was murdering you, shouting ‘no, no!’ over and over. I thought you were going to pluck your eyes out. Then you didn’t recognize me, and I didn’t know what to think.”

Lottie’s mouth was dry. The whole thing would have been embarrassing were it any less terrifying. As it was, all she felt was something like panic and fear.

“I thought I was living a memory. Of when the Witch locked off my memories from me.” She swallowed again, trying in vain to make talking easier. “It was all so real, it was like I was living it all over again. And then when it went away, I was confused. I could only remember what had just happened – nothing else.” She shuddered, trying to shake off the horror of it, and managed to get to her feet. She laughed unsteadily. “I’m sorry.”

“No, no, it’s fine.” Elad got up too and put an arm about her shoulders. “You’re alright now, and that’s what matters. We’ll figure this out, you know, and get those memories back for you. Let’s just hope this is the worst of it,” he added, almost to himself.

 

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