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

(Previously: Lottie and Elad journeyed with a troop of the king’s men to the Witch’s castle, where she and Elad went on alone. Just before the confrontation with Lottie and the Witch began, Elad in wolf form snatched her staff and ran away into the castle, seriously hampering the Witch. Lottie then battled and defeated the dragon, after which both sword and dragon were consumed by fire)

She knelt where she had fallen on her hands and knees, looking about her, not a little bewildered. She was utterly exhausted, even more than she had ever been in the days wandering about the wilds with Elad. And now it was all over.

Elad! Where was he? He had taken off with the Witch’s staff… Where had he gone?

Groaning a little as her muscles rebelled, unwilling to stand up and move as she told them to, Lottie reentered the castle courtyard. The main door itself was locked; he couldn’t have gotten into the castle, at least not that way.

Lottie wandered about the courtyard, whose walls had been the walls of her world for so many years. It seemed an eternity since that life here. There was her favorite oak tree, once towering and majestic, a refuge for a scared and lonely little girl. Now it was a burned husk.

Lottie wandered deeper.

In the shade of the wall, beneath a second wall top stair, almost hidden in the darkness, lay the body of a large gray wolf. Beneath him lay the Witch’s staff, safe and sound. Lottie didn’t notice. Her heart faltered a beat, and for a moment she knew she couldn’t bear to look or go any closer, fearing the truth. No, no! Please, not Elad too! It can’t end like this! Not like this! Please, no!

With hesitant steps and then a dive, she moved toward him. Hardly daring to hope or to fear, she rested one hand on his gray flank. Did she imagine it, or was there the faintest stirring of life beneath her hand? Could he really still be breathing? He looked so… she didn’t let her mind fill in the last word. “Elad” and “dead” didn’t belong in the same sentence.

As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she noticed that here, under the shelter of the walls and stairs, it wasn’t truly dark. Not as dark as it ought to be. Gradually but growing stronger and clearer by the second, a green light that flickered like flames emanated from the wolf’s body.

Lottie felt tears spring to her eyes and force their way out. She had seen this twice already, in the Witch and the sword. The inevitable consuming into nothing. Then he was truly gone. And she could do nothing to bring him back.

She remembered when she first met Elad, and she had accused him of viewing death as just an interesting side effect of battling the Witch. But she knew better now. He, like the Cloak Girl, had been willing to risk everything, including life, to stop the Witch. Both had paid. And what rankled as beyond unfair in Lottie’s heart was that she had lived. And it was because of her that they had not. Why?? she cried in her heart. Why this way?

The burning green light was now overpoweringly bright, and she shrank away from it, squinting her eyes against its now-brilliant glow.

“First guess. I win.”

Lottie let out something between a gasp and a shriek at the sudden voice from the green fire. The light faded, retreating and self-extinguishing. There, shaking his head as if to clear it and looking a little paler than usual but otherwise no worse for wear, stood Elad. The sky was dark, but he was human in form.

He grinned at Lottie. “Hey there, little sister. I was right. Killing her did break the spell.”

“You’re… you’re alright?” Lottie managed, still unable to believe her eyes. “You didn’t… you know, burn up?”

Elad made a show of checking himself over. “Yep, just fine. Not singed, not permanently turned green, pulse still beating like normal. You?”

“Well of course I’m fine. I wasn’t just engulfed in green flames. I just thought… well, it was like that with the Witch and the sword, so…” She shrugged it away and burst into a smile. “Well, let’s just say I’m glad you’re alright.” She got to her feet and gave him a friendly punch in the ribs. “No more crazy night and day traveling stuff though. I’m done.”

“Alright, fine. Can’t say I’ll miss it either. Now, let’s go find those warriors. I don’t suppose the Witch’s soldiers decided to vaporize themselves as a gesture of goodwill to us.”

Lottie laughed and picking up the Witch’s staff, she led the way to the main gate. “No. I seriously doubt they did. Though I must say it appears so.”

It was past midnight when they finally got back to the castle, warriors in tow. The men had required a full story of the battle, which Elad too was eager to hear, and then they had all had ten billion questions for her to answer before they would consent to heading to the castle.

The courtyard and walls were empty, and those rooms that could be seen through the windows appeared to be empty too.

“Maybe they haven’t come back from their mission yet,” Lottie mused frowning. “Though I’ve never heard of one to take this long. It was supposed to be a hit-and-run deal.”

They broke down the door, and still no one appeared. After a thorough searching of the castle with no better luck, Lottie told the king to bring his men down to the deep cell where the Portal was. They followed her down the many stairs to the place Lottie had only been once. Well, technically twice. She just couldn’t see the first time, since she was inside the ship.

She could see the faint outline of where the Portal would open. She gripped the staff. It tingled with strange power, but that power felt like a child’s toy beside the power she had felt coursing through her with Fyre. Still, this felt no eviler than that had. Without the Witch to corrupt it to evil use, the magic was simply magic.

Raising the staff, Lottie pictured the open Portal, trying to direct and control the magic. Then she brought the staff down on the stone floor with a shivering crack, exactly as she had seen the Witch do a dozen other times.

A burst of green flames exploded where the Portal was and licked up towards the ceiling, hollowing out to form the enormous ring of fire that was the Portal.

 

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