Chapter 5 - The illusionist
Chapter 5 – The illusionist
The sun finally hid beyond the horizon, leaving behind a trail of orange clouds that were soon engulfed by the darkness that came from the opposite side of the sky. A cold, cloudy night fell over Normandy.
Chip arrived at the cemetery at the exact moment when the last ray of light vanished in the horizon. Everything around him was soon absorbed by shadows. Uneasy, the chipmunk continued to walk and finally stopped at the entrance of the old, dusty and cobwebbed chapel. Up in the sky, the clouds finally moved aside to allow the moon to shine with its silver light. To Chip's amazement, the shrine became eerily illuminated for some minutes, with the moonlight entering through its many crevices. Only then the ranger was able to notice the footprint stamped on the floor.
"A footprint?" whispered Chip with suspicion, "Patrick's?"
On a closer inspection, Chip realized that the shape of the footprint was a mouse's, and oddly enough, there were some ashes around it. "Ashes? Where did they come from?". Looking around, the ranger discovered more footprints, along with another mystery.
Chip's footprints were clearly printed over the dusty road, all the way from the cemetery fence to the chapel steps and its entrance. The mouse's footprints, however, started at the middle of the last step, just in front of the chapel's door. There were no previous footprints. The mouse stepped into the chapel, retreated, turned to its right and walked away, limping.
"That mouse got burned with something" whispered Chip to himself. "he must be still nearby, I better go help him…" But first, Chip glanced back for a moment to try to spot captain Lefevre. He was nowhere. The ranger proceeded then to follow the footprints, which took him further into the cemetery. After some minutes of wandering across the tombstones, Chip's ears caught a whispering voice in the air. An anguished female voice.
Behind a tombstone, Chip found her. It was a young female white mouse, sitting against a tombstone with a broom leaning next to her. At first glance, she looked like nobility, as she was wearing an elegant and expensive black silk long robe, along with a loose purple waist sash and rhinestone buckle. A somewhat oversized black cloak with hood was covering her robes and part of her face. Orange mistreated hair locks were overhanging out the hood. The girl was busy inspecting her left foot, which looked a bit burned. She was so busy, actually, that she didn't notice that the ranger was walking towards her.
As Chip got closer, he noticed that the girl was by no means in angst. She was more like vexed, gnashing her teeth and whispering fast unintelligible words as she rubbed her hurt, burned foot. She was either so concentrated or so absent that Chip was able to kneel in front of her without the girl noticing.
"Hello!" greeted Chip politely. "Can I help…"
"Golly!" yelled the orange-haired mouse, and immediately hit Chip on the face with her broom. "Get away from me!"
"Ouchhh!" Chip tried to cover himself, while he was clubbed again and again by the girl.
"Eat this, you thief!" exclaimed the young mouse, leaning on one foot.
"Wait, wait!" pleaded Chip. "I'm not a thief! I'm the ranger of this town! Please, stop hitting me!"
"A ranger?" asked the girl with suspicion, pointing the broom to Chip's neck. "Good try thief, but I'm quite sure rangers wear green cloaks all the time"
"Yes, you are right!" admitted Chip. "But mine is dirty and smelly, so I left it at home! Emm… I have the guild medallion in my pocket, does that helps?"
"Sure" nodded the hooded mouse. "Show it to me, slowly"
Chip reached his inner pocket, slowly… and took out his shiny ranger's guild medallion: A blue-red circle, crossed by a yellow lightning bolt. Gasping, the mouse immediately took off her hood, realizing with stupor she had just beaten a law-enforcer with her broom.
"Golly! I'm so sorry, sir!" she apologized, trying to explain herself. "I thought you were a common thief! You know, you walked on me so silently, and you are carrying that knife on your waist so I believed…"
But Chip wasn't paying attention. He stopped at the moment the young mouse took off her hood and showed her face. She was… gorgeous. Her blue eyes were pure and innocent; her long, mistreated, waist-length orange hair weaved playfully with the night breeze. She wasn't wearing any makeup, but it wasn't needed at all; her beauty was completely natural. Indeed, the most attractive girl Chip had ever seen in his whole life.
And she was quite the talker.
"… so, in conclusion" said the girl. "you shouldn't had sneaked on me like that, although it was partly my fault for being so concentrated on stop the pain of my left foot and not noticing you until it was very late, so let's say we are both guilty of your beating, what do you say?"
"uh-huh…" answered Chip vacant, still distracted by the girl's blue eyes.
"Great!" exclaimed the young mouse relieved. "Now let's put this incident behind, shall we? Oh yes… what was your name again?"
"My name?" mumbled Chip, coming back to his senses and standing up. "Oh I'm Chip, Chip Maplewood! And what is your name?"
"My name is Gadget Hackwrench!" answered the girl jovially. "So, nice to meet you, Chip".
"Nice to meet you, Gadget!" said the ranger with a blush, leaning forward to shake her hand. The mouse did the same, but when she absently stepped on her left foot, a pain burst made her stumble.
"Gadget!" exclaimed Chip grabbing her paw and helping her to sit. "Please, stay there and let me help you…" The ranger took out some bandages from his belt pockets and proceeded to dress the wound.
Gadget just looked at him with curiosity. "You are too kind, Chip… thanks!"
"Please, think nothing of it!" answered Chip sheepishly. "May I ask… how did you got burned?"
"Oh… I…" Gadget stammered nervously. "…was trying something… and failed. But don't worry about me, I just need to stop walking for some days, I guess…"
Chip let out a sigh. "I wish I could offer you a place to stay but right now I have a slight… misunderstanding with the inquisition. I don't want to put you in trouble".
Gadget smiled radiantly. "Oh what a coincidence! I have a slight misunderstanding with them, too!" Then, she covered her mouth, realizing she had said too much.
"Huh? How is that?" asked Chip, baffled.
"Well…I…" her mind was creating a good excuse to tell, but suddenly stopped upon hearing what was undoubtedly the sounds of boots approaching. Chip's ears caught the sounds too, and turned back just in time to notice the black musketeer walking towards him.
"Ranger Maplewood!" exclaimed the purple lizard with a fake smile. "There you are! I have been looking for you! What are you doing here alone, in the middle of the cemetery?"
"Alone?" Chip turned towards the tombstone where some seconds ago he was talking with that beautiful mouse. There was no trace of her. Nothing. Nothing but the tombstone and the cold night breeze. Chip immediately realized what had happened and couldn't help to fall on his knees.
"No…" He whispered with tearful eyes. "Not again… please, no..."
"Again?" asked Patrick, confused. "What are you… well, it doesn't matter. We still have some business to solve, do you remember?"
Chip turned his eyes to him, still unable to say a word. So Patrick decided to continue. "Right…" the lizard said with an evil grin. "Let's finish this!" On his signal, six musketeers appeared from the shadows and surrounded Chip, bows ready to shoot. Chip was caught completely off-guard, his only option was to stand up slowly, holding up his paws and gulping with dread.
"What… what's the meaning of this?" the ranger asked with trembling voice.
"Actually, there are many reasons" Patrick explained shaking his head. "But short story is… Julien ordered us to kill you, and that's it… so, say your prayers, chipmunk!"
Zipper, the scout fly, stepped forward. "Umm captain… I really don't want to participate on this anymore"
"Oh? And why is that, scout?" asked Patrick with disdain.
"My job is to find people, not kill them…" replied Zipper, folding his arms. "I have nothing to do here anymore… can I go back to town?"
"All right, then" answered the captain, rolling his eyes. "I see you don't have the stomach for this, little fly… go back with Julien, he may need you at the inn" The lizard waved his paw to dismiss him.
"The inn?" exclaimed Chip alarmed. "What are you planning to do there?"
"find some witches, of course…" answered the captain crossing her arms, watching at Zipper hovering away. "Or fake them, as usual!" he concluded, bursting out laughing.
"You are…" muttered Chip, gnashing his teeth. "You are monsters!" He was about to jump at Patrick, but a pair of musketeers quickly grabbed his arms. The rest of the soldiers aimed their bows to him.
"Enough!" exclaimed the lizard, losing his patience. "Archers, prepare to shoot at my command!"
"So… this is it…" thought Chip sighing and closing his eyes. "Well, at least I had a nice hallucination before dying… Gadget, I…"
"Leave him alone, you bullies!" The order, spoken by a female voice, came from the sky. At once, everyone looked up, and then gasped terrified. An orange-haired witch, riding a broomstick, was flying above their heads looking back at them with fierce blue eyes.
Captain Patrick was the first to express the general astonishment. "A witch! A real witch!" he exclaimed in shock.
Chip was the only one who wasn't afraid at all. He simply could tell apart reality from dreams anymore. "Gadget is a witch?" he asked, perplexed. "And you… you can see her too?"
Obviously Patrick and his soldiers could see her perfectly, since they aimed their bows at her. "Shoot her!" ordered the captain. "Shoot that witch down!"
The arrows flew towards the mouse, but she, in a glimpse of one second, made some gestures with her fingers and muttered something. The arrows reached her… and bounced back.
"Impossible…" whispered Patrick.
At some distance from them, at the chapel steps, Zipper was flying back to town when by chance he looked back. And by chance he spotted the silhouette of the witch flying against the moon.
"What the heck is that!?" exclaimed astonished. He decided to fly back to his comrades at full speed, fearful of what will he find there.
"So…" said Gadget to the soldiers, grinning wolfishly. "You enjoy firing arrows at innocent rangers and witches… why don't you try to shoot at… them!" Gadget closed her eyes, made some hand gestures and pronounced some intelligible words. Then the terror began.
All around the horrified musketeers, hordes of ghosts rose from the depths of their tombs. Howling, shrieking and moaning. All the soldiers screamed at once.
"G-g-ghosts! They are gonna take us! Run for your lives!"
The soldiers let go Chip and ran for their lives towards the cemetery exit, dropping their weapons without looking back. Patrick had disappeared as well.
Chip ended crouching on the floor, covering his eyes from the visions. Gadget flew down to him on her broomstick, concerned about his friend. "Chip? Are you ok? You can open your eyes now"
Chip opened his eyes for a moment, but quickly closed them again when he spotted the ghosts floating around him, still groaning and howling. "And what about these ghosts!?" he asked pointing at them with lidded eyes.
"Oh they are not ghosts…" explained the witch softly. "They are only illusions. See?" Gadget snapped her fingers, and the ghosts vanished in the air. "They are gone now".
Chip looked all around before he got convinced. Then he stood up still frightened, and grabbed one of Gadget's hands making her blush. "And you…" he stuttered. "You are real? You aren't an hallucination of mine?" he chuckled. "No… You are really real!" Chip was now so happy that he didn't know what was saying anymore.
"Of course I'm real, you silly! Answered Gadget half-jokingly. "Didn't you know? You can't apply bandages to a hallucination" she pointed at her left foot, wrapped on bandages.
Chip looked at her in silence, his brain finally was understanding the whole situation. "So then… you are a witch?"
Gadget's smile disappeared from her face. Looking down, she pulled back her paw and started to float on her broomstick away from him. "That's right… I'm a witch…" she said with a regretful tone, wrapping her arms around herself. "So I suppose you are going to run away now, huh? Well ok…" she sighed and pointed to his left. "The cemetery exit is on that way"
Chip didn't answer with words. Reaching her, he gave her a warm hug. Gadget was astonished.
"Thanks for saving me, Gadget!" said the ranger with tearful eyes. "For a moment I thought…"
"Ohh you are welcome, Chip…" answered the witch, returning the hug. It had been so long since someone hugged her that she had already forgotten how did it felt. One second later, they found themselves looking to each other, and upon discovering his reflection on these blue eyes, Chip smiled. Gadget blushed, but she didn't look away. She found her reflection on these smiling black eyes. Soon they began to feel each other's heartbeats, resounding in complete harmony. Gadget realized she had found someone special. Just what Chip was realizing, too. They could have stayed like that for the whole night, if it weren't for the hissing voice that sounded behind them.
"You… witch!" exclaimed Captain Patrick with rage, coming from behind a tombstone and drawing his sword. "And you, Maplewood! You are her accomplice… her familiar! I should have known better! You demons… prepare to die! "
Patrick ran and jumped against them with his innate agility, breaking their embrace. Chip jumped back drawing his knife, and on the opposite side Gadget prepared to fight mounted on her broom and fidgeting her fingers in strange patterns. Patrick stood between them, hissing and glancing furiously from one to another. Finally, his mad gaze got fixed on Gadget.
"Patrick!" exclaimed Chip, aware of the lizard's intention. "Leave her alone! You were ordered to kill me, remember!"
"Sorry chipmunk" Patrick whispered at him with a devilish grin. "Priorities first!" With lightning speed, he threw himself against Gadget, who managed to avoid him by rising into the air on the last second. Unfortunately, Patrick had foreseen that, and propelling on the tombstone, he jumped high, directly towards the surprised witch.
"Nooo!" yelled Chip when he saw the lizard stabbing his friend.
To their astonishment, Patrick cut through the witch like if she was made of air. And indeed she was. The image of the witch disappeared, and a dumbfounded Patrick fell to the floor head-first.
Except that he didn't reach the floor. On the last second he was saved by Gadget, the real Gadget, who grabbed him by the tail and made him land on his back.
"Hold!" said the witch, weaving her fingers at him.
"Grr!" exclaimed Patrick, recovering and standing up again. "You shouldn't have done that, witch!". Chip quickly positioned himself in front of Gadget, ready to take on the lizard.
It was not necessary. To Patrick's horror, his legs stopped to respond, then his arms, then his neck and face. He just stood there, unable to speak, immobile like a statue, pointing his sword at the witch and her familiar. "mmmnnnggg…. Nnggg!" muttered with anger.
Gadget hovered on her broom towards him, and apologized humbly. "I'm so sorry, Captain… I swear I conjured this 'hold animal' spell in self-defense. But don't worry, it will only last until sunrise, then you will be back to normal."
"mmggg" was the Captain's response.
"Wow!" exclaimed Chip, sheathing his knife. "Gadget, that was impressive!"
"You think so?" asked back the witch. "You know, there are more powerful and visually amazing spells than mine… but I prefer to use these harmless illusion and restraining spells… I don't like to hurt people" she finished shaking her head, like remembering something unpleasant.
"So, if you are a witch…" Chip was thinking out loud. "That means you made… you know…"
"What? A pact?" answered the young mouse, folding her arms and raising her brow. "Well… tell me first, have you ever done something you regret the following day?"
"Sure! Many times!"
"So I have!" exclaimed the witch with a guilty grin.
Chip couldn't help but chuckle. "The important thing is that you regret it"
"I do it every day, believe me..." she replied, staring thoughtfully at the crescent moon.
For a brief moment, they kept silence. Chip had already read enough witch tales to understand his new friend's words. Also, she looked very pretty on the moonlight. Finally, Gadget turned and smiled sheepishly at him. For another brief moment, Chip imagined the rest of his life with her, but that dream broke in pieces when his sense of duty whispered his current mission: to save Tammy; to save her parents.
"Gadget, I'm afraid I have to go now" Chip tried to explain. "I have to save my friends back in Saint Pierre. It's full of inquisition soldiers, it's not a safe place for you… I don't want you to get hurt"
"Me?" answered Gadget concerned. "What about you? I don't want you to get hurt! If you are going to fight again, I want to be there to help you!"
This time, it was Chip who blushed red. "You want to go there with me? Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure! Our paths run together now… I feel like it's my destiny to be at your side, that is… if you desire so…"
Chip knew she was right. Their roads were not only running together, they were intertwined now. Destiny. "Yes!" he nodded with joy. "I desire it!" He took Gadget's paw on his own. "And I'll always protect you, be sure of that!"
The young witch giggled and tilted her head, squeezing the ranger's paw. "And I will protect you always! Be sure of that!".
A thought flashed on Chip's mind. "Now that I think about it, how will Tammy react when she meets Gadget?"
"Tammy?" Exclaimed Gadget, pulling out her hand.
"Huh? Do you know her?" asked Chip startled. "Can she read minds, too?"
"No…" negated Gadget with an anxious look on her eyes. "You know her… and so I knew her for a moment and… she is in a cage! She had been arrested!"
"What? Oh no!" exclaimed Chip, looking back at the town of Saint Pierre. "It has already happened? We have to save her!"
"Yes, indeed! Climb up!"
Without further explanation, Gadget grabbed Chip by his collar and sat him behind her on the broomstick. They both rose on the night sky swiftly.
"Ahhh! I'm gonna fall down!" yelled Chip, closing his eyes and wrapping his arms tightly around Gadget's waist.
"Just relax! I'm a very good pilot!"
"A very good what?"
The witch and her new friend flew at full speed to Saint Pierre, leaving behind the cemetery. Once they were off sight, Zipper left his hideout and flapped toward the motionless captain Patrick Lefevre. He poked the lizard a couple of times with a playful grin and then looked up at the night sky.
"Ha!" the fly grinned with sarcasm. "I can't wait to tell this to Monty and inquisitor Montblanc, they won't believe it! Well, maybe Montblanc will… these inquisitors believe anything!"
Waving goodbye to Patrick, Zipper put on his black hood and flew back to Saint Pierre, as fast as he could.