Chapter 11 - Raining fire
Chapter 11 – Raining fire
Chip and Gadget descended in silence behind a group of berry bushes near the inquisitors campsite. Dale and Foxglove were already waiting there; Monty and Zipper arrived shortly after. Tammy was just some fifteen yards away from them, locked in a cage and guarded by soldiers. The ranger and the scout decided to make a quick stealthily reconnaissance.
The campsite was well illuminated with fires all around, as our heroes quickly noticed. Fortunately, there were still a few blind spots to sneak in. Once inside the campsite, they found themselves in a dire situation. Although there were some tents here and there, none of the soldiers were resting. Every one of them was busy patrolling the area and keeping guard on Tammy's cage. A pair of soldiers were trying to fix the broken wheel with sounding hammer blows, with another one at their side hurrying them up visibly nervous and pale. Chip recognized him as part of the squad who witnessed Gadget's apparition back at the cemetery. Being so, he really had motives to be edgy. However, paying closer attention, all the soldiers looked very tense and apprehensive: marching slowly and whispering; glancing at the night sky rather than at their surroundings; pointing their shaking spears at the smallest sound or shadow. These soldiers were completely terrified, was the conclusion of Chip and Zipper.
At the center of the camp stood an elegant tent with inquisitorial crests guarded by a pair of soldiers. Thanks to the bonfire inside, the shadow of a mouse in robes was clearly visible, walking back and forth flipping through the pages of a large book. His body gestures suggested that he was either exasperated or frustrated with the contents, as he almost threw the tome away violently, only to refrain at the last moment.
Chip and Zipper were hidden nearby, leaning against another tent. "What could he be reading?" whispered Chip puzzled by the strange behavior of the inquisitor.
"Well..." answered Zipper tapping his chin. "Monty mentioned Julien stole a cooking book from the inn"
"Huh?" Chip glanced quizzically at his new friend. "Elizabeth's cooking book? Are you joking?" Zipper just shrugged sheepishly. "Well, now that's weird" the ranger admitted. He wants to forbid coffee, perhaps?
On their way back, they passed close to the cage where Tammy was imprisoned. Chip stopped and analyzed the situation: two soldiers keeping guard; two more soldiers trying to fix the broken wheel; another frightened soldier at their side. Nearby, a pair of soldiers patrolling. On top of that, the pain on his ribs was killing him. Still, when he distinguished the sad and hopeless figure of the girl behind the bars, he took his decision. He stepped forth.
Alarmed, Zipper pulled him back immediately. "Chip wait! What are you doing? It's not safe yet!" he whispered to the chipmunk. "They will kill you on sight!"
"But I... I... " the ranger stuttered and finally let out a sigh of frustration. "You are right Zipper, I need a better plan"
The fly patted his friend's shoulder. "Come on, we'll think on something once we reunite with the others"
The ranger and the scout managed to pass through the guards and campfires unnoticed. Some minutes later they safely reached their friends at the other side of the bushes. Monterey, Dale and Gadget were waiting eagerly for them.
"Where is Foxglove?" asked Chip glancing all around.
"Up here!" answered the pink bat landing next to her friends. "I was keeping an eye on you two from the sky, just in case. I felt the heartbeats of these soldiers, boy they are a frightened bunch!"
Chip turned around to see the encampment on the distance. "Sure they are" he confirmed. "They just discovered that witches and ghosts are real. Although these ghosts were just illusions, but the effect was the same"
Gadget rubbed the back of her head ashamed. "I hope I didn't cause any permanent psychological trauma to them... They should know that not all ghosts are evil, most of them are actually very friendly... oh!"
"Anyway" continued Chip. "Come here team, this is the new plan. Gadget, can you...?" The ranger addressed his female friend, but she was apart, watching attentively at the sky. "Gadget?" repeated Chip walking close to her.
The witch didn't answer. She kept staring at the blue with an apprehensive look. Her friends joined her in silence, unsure of what was the cause for her anxiety. Up there, the same old August sky was surrounding them, filled with stars and clouds. The waxing moon was already on its zenith indicating midnight. Just as yesterday and the day before.
Suddenly, a glint on the dark side of the moon caught everyone's curiosity. One second later, a small silhouette crossed through the bright side at high speed and disappeared again in the darkness. Chip glanced at Gadget and discovered her trembling in fear. He glanced back at the sky, just in time to spot the silhouette getting closer to them.
Dale was the first to ask the question. "What's that?"
"It's a... bird?" tried to answer Monterey, not very convinced.
Zipper didn't believe that, either. "No, not a bird. I can't see its wings"
"Also, it doesn't sound like a bird" commented Foxglove. "More like..." She turned to Gadget's broom and her eyes widened.
"It can't be!" exclaimed Gadget awestruck. "Why is she here!?"
Chip ran to help her. "Gadget, calm down! Who are you talking about?"
Before Gadget could explain, the flying figure launched a gigantic, blazing fire ball at the inquisitor camp. The soldiers were taken completely by surprise. The resulting explosion was so intense that shattered the earth, causing our heroes to be thrown back stunned to the ground. "Iiiiiaaaaaaggghhh!"
Dale opened his eyes. Everything around him was just smoke and ashes. The air was hot and difficult to breathe. Next to him was Foxglove, coughing and trying to get back on her feet. Chip appeared stumbling behind her, grabbing his wounded ribs and guiding Gadget, who was staring vacantly at where the campsite was supposed to be.
"Chip!" said Dale helping Foxglove to stand up. "Thank goodness you are right! What just happened?"
Monterey arrived to them covered in dust. Zipper was right behind him. "That's what I'd like to know, guys! Did a barrel with gunpowder exploded?"
"My sister is here..." whispered Gadget to herself, and then she raised her voice. "My twin sister Lawhinie attacked the inquisitors!"
"Twin sister?" exclaimed everyone shocked.
"Wait!" interrupted Foxglove. "Everyone, hide!"
At once, the friends hid beneath the grass, just in time to behold the female mouse mounted in a broom who passed slowly through the smoke.
It was a witch, Lawhinie Hackwrench, Gadget's twin sister. She had the same white slender body, the same blue eyes, the same long orange hair and the same pink nose. Still, there were also some minor differences: Lawhinie was wearing dark blue eye shadows; her hair was bright and flossy; her nails long and stylized. But above all, the main difference was her gaze. This witch had an evil twisted look on her face, bordering in a leer. The complete opposite of Gadget's absent and beatific look.
Also, Lawhinie had the air of a rich spoiled girl. She was dressed with an elegant and expensive gown length black and green dress with cross lacing on its cut down bodice, sheer sleeves slashed were meeting at the cuffs. A pair of rings adorned her paws. Unlike Gadget, she was wearing a typical pointy witch hat. However, this hat was bent and adorned with black feathers. oddly enough, Lawhinie was wearing a red tropical flower over her left ear.
The malevolent witch glanced coldly all around, apparently looking for someone. For a moment she stared at the point where Chip and his friends were hiding, but some yells of pain sounded on the distance and made her turn around. Sneering, she hovered away and soon was covered again by the smoke.
By now everybody was pale and shaking in fear. "Chip?" whispered Dale. "Did you see her? What are we gonna do?"
Foxglove shook her head and covered her ears. "Oh my god! The air is filled with cries of pain! There are many injured soldiers there! We have to…"
"We have to help them!" completed Monty standing up. "Heroes don't turn their backs on injured people, even if they are enemies!"
Zipper noted that someone was missing. "Hey, where is Gadget?"
"I'm here!" the witch reappeared floating in her broom with a haunted look on her face. "I have to try to stop my sister, before she kills someone!"
Chip stood up shaking, but he was able to disguise the fact he was as scared as everyone else. "Everyone, calm down!" he ordered. "New plan! Dale, Foxglove, go and free Tammy from the cage! Then you run back to Saint Pierre as fast as you can!"
"What?" exclaimed Dale shocked. "I'm not leaving you here with a evil fire-throwing witch!"
"Dale, it's an order!" Chip yelled, causing Dale to cringe. Ashamed, the ranger ran to his friend and hugged him tightly. "Brother, please understand! You know you have to take care of Foxglove and Tammy from now on, will you do it?"
Dale was so touched that tears started to well up in his eyes. "I.. yes Chip, I'll do it! But please, promise you won't die here!" the bard hugged back his friend with all his strength.
"No one is going to die!" declared Gadget forthright. "I will talk with Lawhinie and… " She stopped at mid-sentence, because deep inside she knew she was just lying to herself. "… I have to go!" she finally said, and took off the ground to search for her twin sister.
"Gadget, wait!" begged Chip, but the witch was already flying away. "Damn! Monterey, Zipper, follow me! We will help the wounded soldiers! Dale, Foxglove, go save Tammy and get out of here!"
"At once!" exclaimed Monterey and Zipper together.
Foxglove grabbed the paw of her hesitant boyfriend on her own. "Come on darling! Tammy needs us!"
"Right, let's go" answered Dale downhearted, watching his friend running towards the smoke cloud.
From the air, Gadget realized the true magnitude of the disaster. The fireball launched recklessly by her sister had ignited the dry branches and leaves around the camp. The fire was spreading to the grassland, and soon the whole field would be engulfed by flames. The heat and the smoke were hurting her eyes, but still she was able to distinguish her sister on the distance, hovering in circles around a young injured soldier. One could say she was enjoying the fear on his face.
"Oh little soldier, are you afraid of me?" the evil witch asked mockingly.
The musketeer was trembling in fear, trying desperate to load his crossbow. "Please, Leave me alone!" the soldier begged. He was shaking so much that he dropped the bolt off his weapon. Lawhinie gave the soldier a wolfish grin.
"Oh yes, I knew it! You are completely terrified of me! And of course you should! I'm about to turn you into dust, mwa ha ha ha!"
Lawhinie closed her eyes and started to wave his paws in a strange pattern. A dark aura wrapped her as she recited the words of his spell. "Ashes to ashes..."
The evil witch interrupted her enchantment and turned around surprised. "Sister? is that you?". The poor soldier used that moment to run away from her. Lawhinie glanced at him a last time but decided to let him go. There were more important issues at that moment. Both sisters landed and jumped off her brooms at the same time.
Lawhinie greeted her sister with open arms. "Gadget! What are you doing here? Did you change your mind and decided to join me?"
Gadget shook her head. "No, not really... I was nearby and... its a long story. Lawhinie, why are you attacking this people?"
"And why not?" replied the evil witch with disdain. "These are inquisition soldiers! They don't deserve any mercy from me... Also, I'm looking for a book" she finished the sentence looking at the ruins of the main tent with curiosity. Yes! it should be nearby
Gadget stared at her sister quizzically. "A book? It might be burned down by now! I mean, look around, you set the whole camp on fire!"
Lawhinie smiled mischievously. "Nonsense! This book is very special... I'm talking about the grimoire of Bethany Lombardi, the famous archmage. A bit of fire won't ruin it"
Gadget gasped astonished. "The archmage's grimoire? Are you serious?"
"Totally! And look, I think I just found it!" Lawhinie pointed to a lonely figure covered in ashes that was pitifully crawling away from the fire, holding a large book tightly. "Come sister, let's get that book" Lawhinie mounted on her broom and charged towards the survivor.
"Lawhinie, wait!" Gadget didn't have other choice than to follow her sister.
The lone and injured figure was none other than Julien Montblanc, the leader of the inquisitors, trying to understand what had just happened. Everything was on fire, his fur and robes were burnt, his lungs hurting every time he tried to breath the hot air. On the distance, His soldiers were crying for help, but he didn't care. The book was far more important than some replaceable pawns. He had a deal to keep. To deliver that book to his master and then...
"Hello Julien" a female voice sounded behind him. A voice he knew very well.
"La… Lawhinie?" the red eyed mouse couldn't believe it. "What are you doing here?"
"I came for the grimoire" the evil witch answered coldly.
The priest refused and gripped the book harder. "Wait! I can still deliver it! I don't need your help!" But then, he realized the truth. "Wait... it was you... you witch! You attacked us! Why?"
Lawhinie smirked wickedly. "It's pretty obvious, don't you think?"
Julien hissed at the realization. "Impossible! You want the grimoire for yourself? You are betraying us! You are breaking your contract!
"Oh shut up!" blurted out Lawhinie taking him by his collar. "Now, give me that book already!"
Nearby, Chip and his friends were helping the injured soldiers to escape the flames. The explosion had left them unconscious and burnt, but they were not fatally wounded. Not yet. The fire was consuming the grassland around and the air was too hot and almost unbreathable. It was then when the ranger heard the sound of people arguing loudly. Narrowing his eyes, he found a bizarre scene in front of him: the evil witch with the bent hat and Julien Montblanc were fighting over a cooking book, trying to pull it off the other's paws, whilst Gadget was trying to mediate and calm them down.
"Let go the grimoire, fanatical monk!"
"Never, witch! Mephisto will know of this!"
"Stop both of you! I'm sure there is a better way to solve this!"
Chip grumbled at the irony of what he was about to do. "Monterey, Zipper!" His friends turned to him and then to the place he pointed. "We have to help Julien!"
The big mouse ran his paw over his forehead out of surprise. "Crikey! That witch found my ex-boss!"
"Emm... What about if we return for them later?" suggested Zipper.
"There is no later!" hurried up Chip. "The fire is going to kill us all if we stay here any longer, we must take Julien and Gadget out of here, now!"
"You are right, mate!" Monterey punched his palm defiantly. "Ain't afraid of no witch! Let's beat her!"
Meanwhile, Lawhinie finally was able to steal the grimoire out of the inquisitor's paws. "Yes! Mine at last! You really were stubborn, priest!" She then kicked Julien away from her.
"Oww! Give it back to me!" Julien was ready to pounce on her, but the witch surprised him by placing her paw on his forehead. A cold shiver ran through the inquisitor's body. "What... what are you going to do? to kill me?"
"Ha!" the witch smirked. "You think I'm stupid?. If I kill you then you would run straight to our master to tell everything! I can't allow that!"
Julien gulped in fear. "T-Then?"
Lawhinie looked away thoughfully. "I think... Rouen's cathedral could use a new statue". The paw over the priest's forehead started to glow with a purple light, as the witch whispered some unintelligible words.
"Sister?" asked Gadget distressed. "What are you…"
"Flesh. To. Stone!"
"Noooo!" the inquisitor screamed watching his legs and robes turning into solid rock. He jumped and tried to grab Lawhinie's sleeve but it was too late. Even his fur was now heavy. He fell again on his knees adopting a supplicant pose. Soon, he wasn't able to scream anymore. Before his red eyes turned to stone, the last thing he contemplated was Lawhinie's twisted leer on him.
Gadget stepped back aghast by her sister's actions. "Lawhinie, what have you done? How did you learn that spell?"
"Let's just say I'm our overconfident master's favorite, he he he!"
Suddenly, a voice sounded behind of them. "Turn him back to normal, now!" Both witches turned around surprised. "What? Who is there? Show yourself!" ordered Lawhinie annoyed.
A breeze dispersed the smoke for a moment and three heroes appeared in front of the witch. Chip, Monterey and Zipper. The trio unsheathed and pointed their blades at Lawhinie, who just chuckled and wrapped her arms scorning them unimpressed. Chip glanced from one sister to the other. "Gosh, they are so alike!" he mused. "But how could this witch be Gadget's sister? Their eyes are the same, but there is no tenderness on them, only anger and hate!"
The evil witch gave them an appraising look. "What do we have here? A party of heroes just like in the fairy tales! How… convenient" "Some idiots to blame for this incident" she plotted mentally. "So, band of fools, who is your leader?"
No one talked, but Monterey and Zipper turned their eyes to Chip. The ranger stepped forward and lowered his knife. "My name is Chip Maplewood, and we don't want to fight" he assured the witch. "Just turn Julien back to normal and we will leave" Chip wanted to avoid the fight, a fight almost impossible to win. He considered, with reason, that Gadget would be hesitant to fight her own sister, and he would never think on force her to choose between them and Lawhinie. Or between he and Lawhinie, for that matter. Fortunately, he had another plan. An ace under his sleeve, but he had to keep it secret up to the last second.
Lawhinie arched her brow disgruntled. "You don't want to fight? What a pity, because I do want to fight! I really enjoy turning do-gooders to ashes!"
"Ha!" Monterey bragged loudly. "I want to see you try, lady witch! Look at this!" he showed off his amulet to Lawhinie. "A black quartz from... emm... that lake! I'm completely immune to your tricks!"
Lawhinie stared silently at the amulet for a moment. Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, she extended her arm and cast a flashing lightning bolt that destroyed the necklace. The quartz fell to the ground in tiny sparkling pieces. It took Monterey a full second to notice that the girlie amulet in his paw didn't exist anymore. "Crikey!" He yelled, rubbing his burned fingers.
"You were saying?" The evil witch mocked him.
Chip watched in awe how the melted pieces of the amulet were scattered by the wind, along with his plan. He was also struck by the way Lawhinie conjured the lighting bolt, in less than one second and without telling any magical word at all. This witch was awfully powerful. Chip grimly realized that no one, not even Gadget, could stand against her.