Needwood: A New World Fairy Tale

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LeBits to the Rescue

Savvy rushed downstairs to tell her father that she must leave. Edward protested that Savvy had promised to stay through the end of the week, but after she explained the situation he agreed she should go, even though night had already fallen. Now they stood on the front porch of the house saying farewell by candlelight.

“I don’t like the idea of you being alone in the forest,” scowled Edward, “but after what you just went through, I reckon nothing out there could frighten you.”

Savvy gave a smile and stretched upward to peck her father on the cheek. “I won’t be alone, Papa. LeBits will be with me.”

“That cat? He won’t be able to defend you from wolves or a mountain lion.”

“Pay him no mind, LeBits,” said Savvy. “He doesn’t know what you can do. Papa, you don’t need to worry about me. I can take care of myself, thanks to Fiona’s training.”

Edward dropped to one knee and grasped Savvy by the shoulders, his eyes moist with tears. “Your mother would be proud of you, Savilla. Now, travel safely and good luck.”

“I will, Papa,” nodded Savvy, and with that she embraced her father one last time before digging out her glowstone.

“Lumino!” she commanded.

The gem glowed to life and with LeBits at her heels, Savvy began her journey back to Fiona’s cottage. The two friends walked in silence at first, their thoughts full of worry. That Fiona had gone quiet was highly unusual. Even when she had slept for those three days, Savvy had seen Fiona in her dreams. She knew the Sirachim watched over her. Now, though, Fiona’s absence felt like a hole in Savvy’s heart and she began to lose hope.

“Don’t go there, Savilla,” she said to herself and she forced her thoughts in a different direction.

Much had happened since the battle in Needwood Village; a little too much for Savvy’s liking. For even though Michael had healed her wound, the fight against the Krytten also left Savvy exhausted. She returned home to rest, but found her peace repeatedly disturbed by Needwooders who came to thank her for saving their lives and their homes. As a result, bunches of flowers adorned Savvy’s bedroom and the sitting room downstairs. People had brought so many flowers, in fact, that Missus Higgins had taken to placing them in drinking glasses filled with water.

Savvy found the attention uncomfortable. For as long as she could remember most Needwooders had avoided speaking to her. She had always been the strange girl who wore boy’s clothes. Now they approached her as if they had always been friends. True friends did not stare at each other the way Needwooders gawked at Savvy, however. Every time Missus Higgins opened the door to let in a new set of well-wishers they gaped at Savvy as if she was some kind of circus freak. Such was the way with people, Missus Higgins would sigh after she had shown out another group. This situation persisted until at last Savvy had endured enough and she asked Missus Higgins to not let anyone in again.

The only people for whom she made an exception were Alistair’s parents. After watching the battle with the Krytten from the window of their store, they thought Savvy had been hurt, but Savvy told them she was well and asked if their shop had been damaged.

“Everything’s intact, thank goodness,” said Robert McCad, who added how lucky they were. “Those little devils vandalized a lot of our neighbors’ houses. If you and Fiona hadn’t come along the entire place would be in ashes. We owe you a tremendous debt, Savvy.”

Savvy’s cheeks flushed pink with embarrassment and she gave them an awkward smile.

Robert did most of the talking, but when he was finished Constance told Savvy that she regretted scolding her in the street.

“Our poor boy has been missing for so long that I’m at my wit’s end,” explained Constance with visible chagrin.

Savvy appreciated the apology and offered Constance her condolences. Concern about Alistair kept her awake at night too, but so much had happened in so brief a time that she could do nothing about finding him. That would change soon, though, Savvy promised. Once she was ready, she would bring Alistair back safely.

“The question is how,” mumbled Savvy aloud to herself after replaying the conversation in her mind.

“Prrrr, what’s that?” asked LeBits.

“I’m sorry, my friend, it’s nothing. I was just thinking about Alistair. I have no idea how we’re going to rescue him from Lilith.”

“Lady Fiona will know,” said LeBits confidently.

“I hope you’re right, little Felim. I really do,” nodded Savvy and they walked on.

Hours later, the two friends crested the wooded plateau where Fiona’s cottage stood. Sunrise graced the eastern sky behind them, casting a salmon-colored glow about the place. Approaching the wall of snapdragons, Savvy went to pass through them when she pulled up short.

“What’s wrong?” asked the cat.

“These flowers are all dead, LeBits. Fiona would never let them perish like this.”

Taking a stem in her hand, Savvy crushed the petals into dust and let it fall to the ground. Then she waded through the withered stalks to the lawn. LeBits came through the flower bed behind her and shook dust from his coat once he too had stepped onto the grass. They proceeded to the cottage door and called Fiona’s name, but received no reply. Savvy peered through the dark front window and noted the silence of the place.

“Something’s not right here, LeBits. Where do you think Fiona could be?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” shrugged the cat. “But look here. What’s this?”

LeBits stood near the stone bench sniffing a blue gown that lay in the grass amidst a thick pile of golden dust.

“That’s Fiona’s dress,” remarked Savvy as she lifted the garment from the ground.

LeBits sniffed at the dust.

“This stuff smells like Lady Fiona too,” he said before leaping onto the bench.

Savvy shook the dust from the gown, sending it glittering to the ground. Then she turned the dress around.

“My goodness, there’s a blood stain here!”

LeBits shook his head. “I don’t know what to think, Savvy. Fiona is missing and her blood-stained gown is here in this strange dust. I’m not wise like a Sirachim, but it looks like foul play to me.”

“I can’t say I disagree with you,” nodded Savvy. “There’s the garden to consider too. Why is it all dead?”

Savvy scanned the lawn for more clues. Leaves and cracked branches lay around and patches of grass that showed signs of scorching. Fragments of a heavy stone pot also lay scattered about. Savvy picked one of these from the grass and scrutinized it before noticing Fiona’s shawl. Dropping the potsherd, she went to the shawl and examined it closely. Singe marks discolored sections of the cloth and one spot bore a large hole burned clear through.

“This is all very strange,” muttered Savvy. “Come on, LeBits. Let’s go inside the cottage and look around. Maybe we can find out what happened.”

Savvy pushed open the door and stepped inside to find nothing out of place. Fiona’s rocker sat empty by the hearth and the implements she used for cooking lay atop the kitchen table.

Going to the fireplace, she held her hand over the ashes. “These are cold. From the look of things Fiona hasn’t been here in days.”

“How can that be, prrrr? Lady Fiona said she was coming home to rest and you told me yourself that she appeared to you in dreams. Was she here when you saw her?”

Savvy searched her memory for the last time she had dreamed of her aunt.

“I saw her in the garden,” she said at last. “Fiona was smiling at me from her bench.”

“Well, that means she was home then, doesn’t it?” asked the cat.

“Maybe, LeBits. Probably. Oh, I don’t know. Why don’t we check Fiona’s bedroom and see if there are any clues.”

Proceeding to the back of the house, Savvy pushed open the door. The blankets on Fiona’s bed lay rumpled as if she had slept in them.

“Fiona’s clearly been here,” observed Savvy. “The question is where she went.”

Returning to the kitchen, Savvy sat on a tall stool and folded her arms to lay her head on the table.

“I’m so sleepy,” she yawned.

“Me too,” echoed LeBits, who leapt onto the table beside her. “But we can’t rest. Even though Fiona’s whereabouts are a mystery, Alistair still needs our help.”

“I agree. What do you suppose we should do?” asked Savvy.

“I think we should go and rescue him.”

“Without Lady Fiona? That’s impossible. Lilith is too powerful for me to fight alone.”

“That’s true, prrrr, but what if I went to Lilith’s tower by myself?”

“You’re a brave, foolish cat,” Savvy grinned, scratching LeBits behind the ear. “I can’t let you do that. It’s too dangerous.”

“It’s not as dangerous as you might think. I know a secret way into Lilith’s tower. I could sneak in, find Alistair, and bring him here.”

Savvy considered LeBits’s proposal for a moment.

“You know, there might be something to your idea,” she said. “Alistair is trapped in a bottle. That means he’s been shrunken to a small size. He could ride on your back as you make your way through the forest. You’re also small and can be very quiet. It might be safer for you to go alone after all.”

“I know Lilith’s tower too, remember? I grew up there and explored every nook and cranny as a kitten.”

“Right, I remember that now, but do you know where Lilith keeps Alistair’s bottle?”

“I think so, prrrr. The living rooms are on the second level beside the summoning chamber. I’m sure she’d put the bottle there so that she could keep an eye on it.”

“Well, you know best and I can’t think of a better plan,” nodded Savvy. “Just be sure to open your mind to me you so that I can watch while you’re in the tower.”

“Will do, Savvy!”

The cat jumped down to the floor and went to the open door of the cottage. He paused there, however, with a thoughtful expression on his tiny face.

“Savvy, there’s one thing we haven’t considered,” he said.

“What’s that, LeBits?”

“We’ll need a plan to deal with Lilith after I rescue Alistair. When she finds the empty bottle she’ll be furious. She’ll suspect Fiona helped us and will come here, but what are we going to do if Fiona hasn’t returned by then?”

“That’s a good point, LeBits. Let me think on that a minute.”

Savvy’s brow furrowed as she considered their options. Weariness slowed her thinking, but then an idea hit her and she went to join the cat at the doorway.

“LeBits, I know what to do,” she said, “and if it works we’ll never need to worry about Lilith again. Now good luck,. I’ll get ready here and wait to hear from you when you’ve arrived at Lilith’s tower.”

LeBits nodded and after wishing Savvy well he set off across the lawn. Hesitating at the edge of the garden, he took one last look back before disappearing into the mass of withered flowers.

Savvy watched him go and stepped outside to peer down at the scattering of golden dust.

“Lady Fiona, I don’t know where you are,” she sighed, “but if you can hear me I need your guidance now more than ever. Help me find the spell I need to restore Alistair to his true size and give me the courage to face Lilith when the time comes.”

Savvy listened for her aunt’s voice in her head, but she heard nothing so she went back inside to Fiona’s bedroom. The velvet blankets covering the plush bed looked so inviting that Savvy thought to lay down on them.

“I’ll get just a few minutes’ rest,” she mumbled and she let her body relax. Her eyelids grew heavy and soon she was fast asleep.

The visions began almost immediately. At first, Savvy felt herself moving through a swirling gray mist, but soon she broke free of it and spied a distant mountaintop. Snow covered the mountain’s rounded peak and thick stands of pine trees dotted its lower slopes. The massif looked far off, but in the strange way that dreams distort time and space, she suddenly found herself standing on the mountain’s summit. Snow lay under her feet and Savvy bent down to touch it. Strangely, however, it did not feel cold. Savvy gazed down at it until a long shadow appeared at her feet. Looking up, she saw Fiona moving toward her in a halo of white. Savvy’s heart leapt with joy and she ran to embrace her aunt.

“Lady Fiona, it’s so good to see you!” she cried.

“I am pleased to see you as well,” said Fiona, her voice echoing dreamily in Savvy’s head.

Pushing away from her aunt, Savvy held Fiona at arm’s length. “My lady, where have you been? I’ve been worried about you.”

“I have passed through the veil, child. The world in which you live is no longer the one I inhabit.”

“The veil? Do you mean—are you—dead?”

Fiona gave a hearty laugh, her blue eyes sparkling. “Dead? No, I am not dead. None of us ever really dies. We simply take on a new form after we are freed from our earthly bodies.”

“I don’t understand,” frowned Savvy.

“The concept is simple, Savilla. In your world I am no longer alive. I have passed on, but, as you can see, I am by no means dead. There is life more wondrous than you can imagine beyond the boundaries of the material world.”

“I see,” replied Savvy, feeling herself growing sad. “But if you’re dead, where is your body?”

“It has returned to its original state. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, remember? Do not despair for me.”

“I’m not, I guess. I’m sad for myself and for my friends. What will we do without you?”

“Why, you will live, child, and love and prosper.”

“But how can that be? Lilith means to destroy me. How can I stop her?”

“You already know what you must do,” smiled Fiona. “Now, there is something I wish you to have. It will help you to locate that which you seek. Look for a chest in my earthly home. Inside of it you will find my spell book. It will provide you with all the information you require to restore Alistair to his normal size.”

“A chest? Alright, I’ll look for it,” nodded Savvy.

“Good girl. Now, it is time for me to leave. Be well, Savilla, and remember to always have faith in yourself. Elohim has given you the power to do anything. Use it wisely.”

Fiona faded away before Savvy’s eyes, leaving her alone atop the mountain. Then the mountain itself disappeared and Savvy had the sensation of falling. Landing with a soft thump back in Fiona’s bed, she opened her eyes.

“I’ve been dreaming and I saw Lady Fiona!” Savvy gasped. “Now what was it she told me? I should look for a box, or a small chest.”

Peering around the room, Savvy spied a small coffer sitting atop a table near Fiona’s bed.

“There it is!”

“Please be unlocked,” she said after approaching the chest, and placing her hands against the rounded top, she gave it a push.

The coffer swung open easily, revealing two books tucked inside. Savvy drew out the smaller volume and opened the cover to find her aunt’s handwriting covering the pages.

“This is Fiona’s diary,” Savvy whispered.

Scanning the dates that her aunt had written, Savvy thumbed to the final entry and read it aloud.

“Savilla performed admirably yesterday against a fearful opponent. Lilith had summoned a demon to destroy the village of Needwood, but Savilla defended it with her life. She failed to recall the invocation for the Talisman of the Four Winds, but that was understandable as blood loss from a wound had addled her brain. In the main, I could not be happier with her performance. She will be a worthy successor one day and a brilliant Sirachim.”

Looking up from the book, Savvy wiped tears from her eyes.

“I’ll read through the rest of this later,” she sniffed, setting aside the diary. “For now, let’s see if this big book says anything about how I can help Alistair.”

Lifting the heavy tome from the chest, Savvy opened the cover and read the words inscribed on the first page.

Wisdom of the Sirachim: Spells and Collected Magick.

“It’s Fiona’s spell book, exactly where she said it would be.”

Carrying the book to the kitchen table, Savvy flipped through the pages. At first she had trouble deciphering the strange script, but soon she grew accustomed to the lettering and abbreviations. Here and there, she also spied notes that Fiona had scrawled in the margins. Savvy pored through the book until she located a spell in a chapter titled, “Things Big and Small.”

“Restoring shrunken items,” she read aloud. “Sprinkle crushed root of the burdock plant on the item to be enlarged and repeat the following phrase three times. Ad normalis magnitudine. That sounds easy enough. I’ll memorize this phrase and—LeBits!”

Savvy heard the Felim’s voice in her head as LeBits completed the connection between them. The vision of a square stone tower appeared in her mind.

Sliding from the stool, Savvy made her way to Fiona’s rocker. She took a seat there and relaxed to focus on the images sent by the cat.

“LeBits, I can hear you,” she said.

“Prrrr, good, I can hear you too. I’m about to enter the tower.”

“Be careful!”

LeBits broke free of the bush under which he had crouched and sped across the grass toward the stone wall. Slinking around a corner, he stopped by a square hole two-feet long and one foot high.

“This used to be covered with wood,” explained LeBits to Savvy. “It leads to a small room that was once an ash pit. The door, however, has rotted away.”

He peered into the dark space to make sure it was clear before creeping in. A ramp on the far side of the pit climbed up into the blackness.

“This leads to the hearth on the first floor,” he commented so that Savvy would understand where he was.

Mounting the base of the ramp, the cat dug in his claws and scaled the angled surface to the top. He pushed aside a metal cover plate there and peered out at the kitchen which, thankfully, stood empty. Creeping from the hearth, LeBits shook ashes from his coat before proceeding to the spiral steps that led up to the second floor. He paused to listen for Lilith’s voice, or for any other sound that might signal danger, and then climbed the steps to the doorway, where he crouched in the shadows. Lilith’s sofa stood empty in the center of the room beside the gold filigree table and decanter of blue liquid.

“It’s over there, LeBits, I see the bottle!” rang Savvy’s voice in his head.

“Where? I don’t see what you mean.”

“The bottle is on the small table by that couch. Do you see it? Alistair is sitting inside of it.”

LeBits directed his gaze to the table and spotted the bottle.

“I see it now,” he said.

Slinking low on the floor, LeBits approached the table and reared up on his hind legs to reach the bottle. Alistair, meanwhile, had seen him coming and he climbed to his feet.

“LeBits!” he cried, his hands and face pressed against the glass.

“Alistair, I’m here to rescue you. Lay down on the bottom of the bottle and hold on as best you can while I tip it over,” instructed the cat.

Alistair nodded and did as he was told. The cat then batted at the top of the bottle until it tipped over and crashed onto the table. Fortunately for Alistair, the glass did not shatter. The jolt did throw him onto his face, however.

“Alistair, get out! Hurry!” whispered LeBits.

Alistair crawled to the stopper and pushed it from the bottle’s mouth.

“Boy, am I glad to see you!” he said as he stepped onto the table, his voice no louder than the squeak of a mouse.

“Me too!” echoed the cat. “And Savvy too.”

Alistair stared into LeBits’s huge green eyes. “Is Savvy watching?”

“Yes, she is.”

“What about Lady Fiona? Where is she?”

“There’s no time to explain, Alistair. Climb onto—”

A hiss interrupted LeBits in mid-sentence and he turned to find Alabaster creeping toward him across the carpet.

“Traitor!” spat the white Felim. “You are here for the morsel, I see. Well, you cannot have him. He is mine, as promised by the mistress.”

“Alistair is no one’s morsel,” growled LeBits. “He is my friend and I’ve come to free him.”

Alabaster circled slowly toward LeBits, the fur on his hackles standing stiff. “Why do you care about the tiny human? Unless—no, the other Sirachim could not have sent you. The mistress did away with her yesterday.”

“Lilith killed Lady Fiona?” gasped LeBits.

“You did not know? Indeed, the mistress did away with your protector and she will do the same with you when she finds that you have returned.”

“That’s not going to happen. Climb onto my back, Alistair, and hold on as tightly as you can,” instructed LeBits.

Alistair leapt from the table onto the cat’s shoulder and grabbed two fists full of fur.

“I’m ready,” he squeaked.

“Good. Hang on!”

Backing away from Alabaster, LeBits growled, warning the white cat to keep his distance. Alabaster refused to be intimidated, however, and with a shriek he leapt across the carpet. LeBits dodged Alabaster’s clumsy attack and swatted at him with extended claws. The rapid succession of blows bloodied Alabaster’s nose and the white cat rolled away on the floor as LeBits fled around the sofa. Emerging at the far side, LeBits spotted Alabaster streaking toward him out of the corner of his left eye. He pulled up short to avoid a collision and nearly tossed Alistair over his head in the process. The white cat flew past LeBits’s face and skidded across the stone floor as he tried to stop his momentum with his claws. LeBits made quickly for the staircase and the doorway loomed before him when Lilith suddenly emerged from the summoning chamber.

“Alabaster, what’s all this noise?” she demanded.

“Mistress, its him! The traitor is here to steal the morsel!”

Lilith turned to see LeBits by the stairway.

“YOU!” she shrieked.

“Don’t stop!” screamed Savvy’s voice in the cat’s head.

Lilith pointed at LeBits, her eyes turning dark.

“Treacherous feline scum, I’ll wring your neck myself!” she screamed, sending a bolt of electricity streaking at him from her fingers.

LeBits dodged the bolt, but the next one fired by Lilith singed the tip of his tail.

“Yeowww!” howled LeBits and he sped off down the stairs.

“Alabaster, go after him!” bellowed Lilith.

LeBits ran to the hearth in the kitchen and told Alistair to hold on. Then he slipped down the ramp as Alabaster entered the room behind him. Alabaster saw the tip of LeBits’s tail disappear into the hole and he went to the fireplace to sniff at the ashes. The sound of LeBits’s claws scratching on stone echoed from the hole and Alabaster peered in to see his adversary exit the far end of the ramp.

“Oh, I hate dirt!” complained the white cat, but fearing Lilith’s fury even more than soiled fur he took a deep breath and slipped into the shaft.

LeBits, meanwhile, had emerged at the base of the tower and fled into the trees. Alabaster crawled from the hole after him and felt Lilith’s presence in his mind.

“Track him,” she commanded. “He’s going back to Savilla, I am sure of it. Let the traitor lead us to her. Then I will destroy them all.”

“Yes, Mistress Lilith,” replied Alabaster and lowering his nose to the ground he picked up LeBits’s scent before speeding off into the trees.

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