Continued… (for a full list of the parts to Ancient Fire, click here)
(Previously: After the Witch’s death, Elad’s Werewolf curse was broken. Lottie, Elad, and the king and his men returned to the castle to find the Witch’s men and so Lottie could open the Portal to Earth with the Witch’s staff)
Scarcely ten seconds later, the ship shot through, gliding to a stop in the center of the cell. All the men caught their breath at the sight. A hatch in the side opposite them opened and boots could be seen descending.
“If I may be so bold, Mistress, but you kept us waiting an eternity! We had a dozen close calls! Perhaps I can suggest that next time –” The protester, a bulky sergeant, broke off as he took in the occupants of the cell. “What on…” he began, but the king cut him off.
“Silence! Lay down your weapons at once and surrender! There is no way out; you are trapped. Surrender and find what mercy we have to offer.”
The Witch’s men gathered in a tight knot, peering at the Khentian troops. Then, to a man, they threw their weapons away from themselves and surrendered. They weren’t exactly cowards, but they knew when the odds were too much to handle.
The king nodded to his men, who moved forward to make sure they were thoroughly unarmed and escort them from the premises. Lottie ran forward and ducked into the ship.
A man, dressed in an exceedingly expensive-looking business suit, sat tied up in a corner. A sack was over his head. She racked her brain and finally remembered the name of the man the Witch had sent the men after. She stepped forward and took the bag from his head.
“Joseph Sheldon? Don’t panic; I’m a friend. I’m here to help you.”
The man blinked at her and narrowed his eyes. “I was just abducted. You don’t look like an alien. Are you part of a plot to get rid of me, or is this just blackmail?”
Lottie shook her head, biting her lip and trying not to laugh. “I’m going to take you back to Earth. The Witch’s men – the guys who kidnapped you, I mean – have been dealt with. I’m going to Earth anyway, so I’ll see you there safely. Who exactly are you?”
The man looked surprised. “You know my name, but you don’t know who I am? Is this a trick?”
Lottie was getting impatient. “No. It’s not a trick. You’re safe and it’s going to be alright, but if I’m to help you get back, I need to know who to call. So who are you?”
“I am Joseph Sheldon, President of the United States of America. Are you an alien then? This certainly looks like an alien craft, and it was all very like an abduction.”
Lottie sighed. “No. Just magic and another world. No, don’t argue; what matters is you’re going home, right? Now follow me.”
Deftly she undid the ropes that tied him and helped him find his feet.
“You don’t think you’re going without me, do you?” She turned to see Elad standing in the doorway, one eyebrow raised.
“Not especially. But Earth is… very different from here. It might not be the easiest thing to get used to, and I was intending to come back. You’re sure you want to come?”
Elad turned and walked down the steps and towards the Portal. “What do you think?” he called back over his shoulder.
“Alright, Mr. President, let’s get you home. And I don’t know what number to call for you, so you’ll have to take care of that. Come to think of it, I don’t have the cash to pay for a public telephone.”
If you could swim in electrically charged water without dying, Lottie decided that it was the closest thing to feeling like stepping through the Portal. Blinking in the sudden broad daylight, she saw they were just on the outskirts of a small town whose sign named it “San Puablo, New Mexico”.
“Area 51,” Lottie muttered under her breath. “Should’ve seen that coming.”
After Lottie closed the Portal, they walked into town, the President’s nice black dress shoes getting horribly dusty, but they found a public telephone. The President’s cell phone had been unable to get cell service.
It seemed like less than an hour, though Lottie felt sure it had to be longer than that, but the government could apparently work quickly when it had a mind to. In whatever amount of time it was, the President had snapped his fingers, figuratively speaking, and was on his way to Washington DC while Lottie and Elad were in a government limo being chauffeured to the location where the powers that be had named as the home of the Samaras.
She bounced on the edge of her seat, unable to sit still. Soon, she would know the truth. Soon, she would be meeting her mother. She tried to ignore the part where the man had said that, according to his records and research, her father was dead. She would wait and get the truth from her mother.
The limo stopped outside a small house set back down a narrow side street at one end of the single-stoplight town that Lottie had called home for seven years. The house was perhaps a little sadder, and the swing set and sandbox were gone from the backyard. But it still was the home she had grown up in.
A strange feeling ran down her spine. She felt as though she was looking at an old photograph, something that had been her but was no longer. This was the past. It had been home. Now it wasn’t. It was just an old tired house.
Lottie thanked the driver and flew up the steps, Elad on her heels. She knocked on the door and waited breathlessly. It opened, and a woman, older than she was in Lottie’s memories but just as beautiful, stood there. Her hair curled back from her face and loose strands waved in the vagrant breeze. Looking into her deep brown eyes, filled with a startled almost hungry expression, Lottie knew that this was home. Not the empty shell of a house. These eyes, brimming with tears that coursed freely down her cheeks, this mother, whose heart had ached and cried out for her child through the years and had never stopped loving her, these arms around her neck, this voice whispering her name. This was home.
“Charlotte! Can it really be you? You’re safe and you’re home. This… this is too wonderful!” Her mother stepped back and held her out at arm’s length, smiling as she took her in. “You’re so grown up. I can’t believe it.” She wiped the tears away and drew Lottie in. “Do come in and, oh, who’s this?”
Lottie turned in the entry. “Oh, mother, that’s Elad. He’s a friend of mine from… well, never mind now. Elad, this is my mother, of course.”
“Well then, I’m pleased to meet you,” her mother said with a welcoming smile. “Do come in too, won’t you? I’d like to hear my daughter’s story, and you’re welcome to stay for as long as you like. My house – our house – is open to you.”
“Thank you, madam,” Elad said, bowing to her. “The hospitality and kindness in this world is far better than I am used to.”
“No, that’s just my mom,” Lottie told him. “You haven’t seen Americans yet. But mom doesn’t know about… you know…”
“I’d love to hear it, though,” her mother called as she hurried to the kitchen. “Just let me turn the soup down, and you can tell me your story over dinner.”
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