Note: this is the last segment of Ancient Fire. Thank you for joining me (and Lottie 🙂 ) on this adventure!

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

(Previously: After returning the kidnapped president, Lottie reunited with her mother, who was eager to hear her story, and Lottie in turn was anxious to hear what had befallen her father)

In reality, it took a lot longer than just over dinner to tell the whole story and catch up on the lost years. Sometime after sunset, odd in itself when Elad didn’t transform into a wolf as Lottie had just gotten used to, they had finished and most of the years filled in. It was then that her mother explained about her father.

“He was working at Hoppin’ Robins bar and grill, same as always. I still remember when I got the call…” Tears filled her eyes, but she went on resolutely. “It was a little more than three years ago. A nasty looking man came into the bar. You know how customers have a nose for trouble; well, everyone says that this man reeked of it. They began to leave. But then he started going red zone with one of the other workers, a girl. He threatened her. She was scared but didn’t know what to do. He was already full sheets to the wind, and then things went bad all too quickly.”

She paused, and her eyes misted. “You know; the sort of man your father was… he saw it coming just a second before it happened. The man pulled a gun and tried to shoot the girl, but your father had already leapt at him. He took the bullet instead, and wrestled the man to the ground. The girl picked up his gun and pointed it at him, and then the police came and took him away. But your father… he didn’t make it. I wish I understand why the best of us are taken while we have to go on without them. But then, that’s just what your father was like – a good man.”

She trailed off, and they sat quietly together. Lottie was remembering her father and wishing she could have seen him again.

As if she’d read her thoughts, her mother said, “I wish your father were here to see you home, all safe and sound. Though what we’re going to do I’m sure I don’t know. But never mind that now. The future can look after itself for a while.”

And so it could. Because now, they were a family again, and they always would be.

There were decisions to be made, goodbyes to be said, lives to be changed. Where would they go? What would they do now? What would the future bring?

The future could look after itself. They would find out in time. Eight years before, Lottie’s life had been forced in a new direction. Now, it was finding a new direction again, but this time, it was her choice.

She was free. She had a real mother again. And she had a friend.

Life was good.

 

Epilogue

The leaves lay thick around Khent, golden and ruby, crackling beneath Lottie’s booted feet. Three times the leaves had fallen since the Witch’s death. Even in that short time, the news had spread like wildfire, and the kingdoms of men that had fled from her shadow had been trickling back, first slowly and then with greater speed. The land was cultivated and alive, cheerful like it once was. It felt lived in, like a cozy cabin. Lottie was something like a hero among them.

The Khentians, the king in particular, somehow managed to completely forget that there had ever been any animosity directed at Elad. To hear some of them talk, a stranger might believe that no one was more distressed at his lycanthropy than the king, and no one pursued his cure with more vigor than him and his kingdom. Lottie felt indignant about this, but Elad laughed it off.

“It’s not like I care,” he said. “It doesn’t matter, and it’s not like it makes a difference to our arrangements.”

Lottie kicked her way through the delicious piles of leaves all the way to the little cottage just outside the main city of old Khent. On the bench outside, a man in a black robe sat waiting impatiently.

“Charlotte!” he said briskly, standing as she approached. His look of relief and welcome quickly melted into a disapproving frown. He held up a thin sheaf of papers, clearly frustrated by them. “All you had to do was finish this last exam. That’s it, and then you’d be done for good. You’re smart, I know that, so please explain to me why you couldn’t just answer the questions. Quick, before I die of brain seizure from dealing with you.”

Lottie laughed and flicked at the papers in his hand. “Relax, Aman. Do you ever think of anything but lessons? We both know I know it, so we can just forget about the stupid tests?”

She tried to slip by him into the cottage, but he stopped her. “I need you to actually do this test, Charlotte. For official reasons. Answers like,” he glanced at the page for drama, “’Who cares’, ‘you tell me’, and a detailed description of how I can solve an algebra problem rather than actually doing it yourself… these are not passable. Come on, Charlotte, cooperate, one last time.”

Lottie snatched the papers from him and scribbled for a few seconds with a pencil from her pocket. “There now, professor, are you happy?” She tossed them in his direction and he narrowed his eyes at her. Scanning the pages, he shook his head.

“I really don’t know why you put me through this. I really don’t know why. If it’s this easy for you to ace the test, why bother dragging your feet?”

“Because it bothers you so much.” She laughed and slapped his shoulder. “Oh come on, you know I don’t mean it. And just think; now you won’t have to deal with me anymore. See you around!”

As she moved to enter the cottage, Aman muttered, “I might just die of relief.” Sighing, he smiled a little and raised his hand in farewell. He had other students to visit and work to do.

Opening the door, Lottie stepped into her mother’s warm smile.

“Back already?” she asked, puffing stray curls out of her face. “I thought you two rogues wouldn’t be back for another few days.”

Lottie ginned and filched one of her mother’s priceless fresh rolls. “It was quicker than we expected. In and out kind of deal. Those ruffians were more than eager to give their stolen treasure back. They were practically groveling. Elad’s finishing his report to the king and getting instructions for a new assignment.”

“Already?” Her mother sighed, sweeping away the traces of flour from the table. “I swear the king never gives you a break. Don’t be afraid to put your foot down sometimes, Lottie.”

Lottie laughed. “It’s because it’s autumn, mom. He’s cramming in all his last-minute delegations before winter to decrease the risk of attack in the spring. And he likes sending us because the other kingdoms are a little in awe of Elad and me. He says he can practically name his terms with us as the emissaries.”

“If you ever want to slow down then just tell him so,” she said firmly. “Don’t let anyone push you around, not even kings. Especially kings. Your life is your own, Lottie.”

“In a sense,” Lottie mumbled around a bite of roll. “But I know what you mean. You should come with us again, mom. We do have some thrilling adventures.”

“Every once in a while, I will.” She giggled and tweaked Lottie’s cheek. “I just don’t have the adventurer’s heart that you do. But it’s not a problem,” she added. “Adventure away, my heroine.”

“Thanks, mom,” Lottie said, hugging her. “I’m so glad I have you back.”

“Me too. And we’re never going to lose each other again.”

“Nope, never!” Lottie said. “Never in a hundred years.”

The End

Note: Blah, blah, blah… all the legalish stuff I put at the end of every post that you already know and you probably skip anyway (I would!). I’ll put it in one last time though, for tradition, and to make it match the others. 🙂 “Please do not reprint this or any portion of it without direct permission from me (you can submit a reprinting request at morethanivebeen@outlook.com). Please DO feel free to spread the word, link to morethanivebeen.wordpress.com, or reblog it with a link to More Than I’ve Been. Thank you for your respect!”

(“Ooh, ooh, Batman back in again. I forgot to *drop the mic*” – Lego Batman movie trailer)

Stay tuned! I have lots of plans (a little preoccupied with Camp NaNo right now, so sorry for the silence on the blog!), including posting The Dragon Pendant (my last NaNo story). Also, I hope to get to some adventures of the twin fairy rascals, Tinsel and Prick (fire and ice, night and day; complete opposites who complement each other well). However, Ancient Fire is closed. I have no plans for any sequels. Thanks for coming along, and I hope to see you in the stories to come!

May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks!

~ Kat

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