Continued… (for a full list of the parts to Ancient Fire, click here)
(Previously: Elad pointed out to Lottie that at least one of her parents must be dead, if she is really the only descendent of Nimrod – a stark realization for her. Ulaf finished reforging Fyre and they met with the king, explained everything, and he at last agreed to help them.)
They were back in the Practice Room, having one last practice session with the reforged Fyre before they set out for the real thing. Their plan was laid, preparations were underway, and there was little more to do until they set out.
“There’s just one problem,” Lottie said as they paused for a drink and a rest. “I only just realized; the Witch doesn’t use a sword. Her weapon is her magic, the bulk of which is in her staff.”
“All the better,” Elad pointed out. “Then if you can manage to get in a blow to sheer her staff in half, she’ll be crippled.”
“Except I want to keep the staff intact. If I want to go back through the Portal, I’ll need the staff to open it.”
“That does complicate matters. You’ll have to try and disarm her without damaging the staff.” He hesitated and then went on. “Of course… it may come to a choice of having to choose between staying alive and finishing the fight or keeping the staff intact but losing the fight and dying – maybe even getting turned into a Werewolf or something.”
“Then I’d make matchwood of the staff. But only if I have to. I hate after all this… you know. I’d like to be able to go back and find my parents. Or at least find out if they’re alive or not. You know?”
“Yeah.” Elad slapped his knee and stood up. “Well, no use getting ahead of ourselves. It may not come to that after all. Ready?”
Lottie sighed and picked up Fyre. “Ready.”
A servant poked his head in the door. “Excuse me, but I was sent to inform you that the king and his troop of warriors are ready to march, and they await only your presence.”
Lottie sheathed Fyre and gave a nervous attempt at a smile. “Here goes. Let’s just hope I can do this.”
Lottie didn’t know exactly how to screen people. She tried different thoughts and mental pictures, until she thought something felt right. Either that or she was just sick of trying and her brain was making excuses. Led by the king and mounted on horses, the troop set out after Lottie and Elad, who were also riding as a welcome relief after so much foot travel. The warriors rode just a little slower so that as they crossed the miles to the Witch’s castle, the distance between them gradually increased.
They rode hard, trying to cover the distance before sunset. It was their hope and plan to pretend that Elad had done as the Witch demanded and brought Lottie to her, and this was the seventh and final day. If they could move the fight at least within the castle walls, it would give Lottie a significant advantage. Nooks and crannies to hide behind, protecting overhangs to make blasts of magic difficult or impossible, and all of it more than familiar territory to her. A fight in the open would only be favorable to the Witch.
They were racing the sun.
It was low in the west when they came within sight of castle. Lottie signaled to the men far behind her that they should go no further until the fight was over – and not at all if she lost, but she didn’t need to signal that part. Then she and Elad rode as close as they dared before abandoning the horses and sending them back, approaching the walls on foot. The sun was setting.
In the shadow of the gate, Lottie stopped Elad before he could knock. She gripped his arm, searching for words. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. We might either of us… not make it. So I want to tell you now while I can. Thank you – for everything. For helping me and being there for me and just –” she battled off the awkwardness in her. “Just being a friend. Thank you. So much.”
“Technically I should thank you. Ten years is a long time; I’d forgotten what having a friend was like.” He gave her a quick half hug. “If we’re going to die, then let’s make it worth it. Now let’s go kill a Witch!”
He pounded on the gate. “Hail, Mistress, Queen of the world! I fulfill your orders and bring you the girl Charlotte, as you asked.” “Or ordered,” he muttered under his breath.
Nothing happened for several long minutes. Lottie was just taking a breath to ask what they should do now, when three things happened at once.
The sun dipped behind the horizon. Elad’s human form vanished, replaced by a wolf, who withdrew into the shadow of the wall. And slowly, ominously, painfully, the gates began to creak open.
Lottie knew what she had to do. Twisting sideways, she sprang through the narrow gap, diving for the wall top stairs and ducking into their shelter. She peeked out. The Witch stood at the gate, seemingly still trying to register what had just happened. The gate was still working on opening. She was exactly as Lottie had always known her; tall, regally beautiful, deadly as a serpent, clad in dragon green, walnut staff in hand.
The Witch turned, gazing in the direction Lottie had gone, seeking her. As it was, there was no good cover she could break for. She would have to wait for the Witch to come closer and then… her heart chilled at the thought of actually attacking her, demon woman or not demon woman. The Witch raised her staff.
A snarling gray wolf leapt through the now open gate, broadsiding her and snatching the staff. With it clenched in his jaws, he was off like a flash into the shadow maze of the courtyard and castle.
The Witch screamed a terrifying bloodcurdling cry of anger and loss.
“You are in league with the daughter of Nimrod, black whelp?” she snarled. “Then watch her die as I killed the Cloak Girl. You have taken my staff, but still one magic is left to me!”
She raised her arms like a choir director. Eerie green light pulsed about her, enveloping her as it grew stronger, thickening into scales and she became the dragon she was. Her huge form took up much of the open space in the courtyard.
She raised her scale-shagged head and let out a roar of anger and triumph. “This is the night! Chérie, you die tonight!”
All at once, in a blinding flash so quick it couldn’t have taken more than a fraction of a second, the memory of the last time she’d heard those words leapt to mind: echoing from her mirror as she fled down the hall, haunted by the vision of the Witch killing her to use the power of her blood, the blood of Nimrod who of old sealed the Portal against her, to open it once more. And it had been her birthday. Today. Her fifteenth. And if she failed… if she died and the Witch did not, then not only did it mean that the Witch would never be stopped, but it meant that her old world would be laid open and exposed to her vengeance and rule forever. Lottie knew she couldn’t fail.
All-Maker, help me! Don’t let me fail, for the sake of the worlds. Give me the strength and courage to do this. Show me how.
Trying to shield herself from the Witch’s detection, still not sure she was getting it right, Lottie sped out from her shelter and raced up the stairs to the wall top. Not a moment too soon. Gathering herself, the Witch poured a blazing apocalypse of fire all where Lottie had been, extending it to the surrounding area for good measure.
Lottie had no idea how to kill a scale-armored dragon. But she did realize there was at least one vulnerable spot. She would try something insane.
Lottie leapt. She landed hard on the dragon’s neck, just behind her horns, which she grasped with all the might of her free hand. With an angry roar, the Witch realized what had happened. Thrashing, she struggled to breathe fire backwards onto her head. Lottie clung on, breathing a prayer that she wouldn’t fall.
Beating her massive wings, the Witch rose into the air. She clawed at her head, high above the ground, but her stokes were feeble by the time they got close to Lottie. Fyre still clutched in her right hand, she swung it with rapid efficient strokes just like she’d practiced, combating the Witch’s talons with her sword. Whenever Fyre touched her scales, the Witch let out a shriek of pain. It obviously was burning her and causing her a great amount of discomfort but, Lottie realized with a sinking feeling, wasn’t really doing any real damage at all.
The Witch dived. Lottie gasped and hung on tighter. The dragon flipped in the air in an unexpectedly agile feat, and Lottie’s fingers slid. Too close to the ground, the Witch switched direction and began climbing higher, even as Lottie slipped and only just managed to keep from falling by grabbing a handful of scales by the Witch’s eye. It glared viciously at her.
“Tell me, ma chérie, can you kill your own mother?”
“You are not my mother!” Lottie grunted, struggling to not lose hold. “You’ve lied to me all these years. You kidnapped me and stole my memories; You turned Elad into a Werewolf and killed the Cloak Girl. But no more! The age of your evil is at its end. I’ll never let you use my life for your own ends.”
The dragon roared a guttural laugh that nearly flung Lottie off. “You cannot escape me. You can declare your wishes; that is fine by me. But my will shall triumph in the end. Look, do you not see your own death in my eyes?”
Lottie did more than look. Switching her grip on the sword with a twist, she swung her sword arm around, slamming it point first into the horrible eye.
The dragon screamed in inexpressible pain as Fyre seared her eye, her brain. Her wings faltered, and she fell. Lottie dropped the sword and clung on as the huge dragon tumbled from the sky.
The Witch’s enormous limp body crashed into the ground, raising a tower of dust about Lottie. She coughed, sliding down off of her perch on the dead dragon’s neck. The dust settled slowly, and through her sweat-filled eyes she saw a strange thing. Spreading out from the dragon’s pierced eye, running low but with lightning speed, fire was creeping. It was as though it wasn’t fire burning on the Witch’s body as much her body consuming itself in fire. In just a few seconds, only a skeleton was left of what had been the terrifying Witch Queen. A few moments more, and she was nothing but ash and bad memory.
Lottie looked down at the sword lying in the dust beside where the Witch had fallen. It looked to be forged of golden light like fire, burning, consuming itself just like the Witch’s body had, but this felt cleaner. The sword turned to smoke and ashes, the hilt lingering a little longer than the rest. Then it was gone. Its work was complete.
“Yet I am glad, gentlemen, that the foul Witch took to her serpent form at the last. It would not have suited well either with my heart or with my honor to have slain a woman.” – The Silver Chair, by C. S. Lewis
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