Smoke and Mirrors
LeBits crouched behind a tree in Needwood Forest and looked back in the direction he had come. Thirst tormented his throat and his tongue hung panting from his mouth. He had kept up a rapid pace to throw Alabaster off the scent, but so far every effort to lose his pursuer had failed.
“Alistair, do you see him?” he asked of the tiny human clinging to the scruff of his neck.
Alistair climbed onto LeBits’s head and peered through the trees. He saw nothing at first, but then a flash of white popped out from behind a large stone and Alistair spotted icy blue eyes set within a flat feline face.
“I see him!” he squeaked.
“Where?” asked LeBits, his heartbeat pounding in his ears.
“Right in front us about twenty yards or so. Look for the big stone. He’s near it.”
LeBits squinted as he scanned the trees, silently cursing his myopia. Few humans knew that cats, even Felim, possess poor distance vision. Seeing at night? No problem. Seeing far off things in detail during the day? Good luck.
“I don’t—ah, there he is! I see him now,” said LeBits. “Savvy are you still there?”
Throughout the journey, LeBits had maintained mental contact with Savvy. She in turn had remained seated in Fiona’s rocker with her attention focused on the images coming through the Felim’s eyes.
“Yes, I’m here, and I see him too,” echoed Savvy’s voice in LeBits’s head. “Can’t you lose him?”
“I haven’t been able to so far. A stretch of water would help, but there’s no stream or ponds between here and the cottage. Cats aren’t bloodhounds, but our sense of smell is good enough for tracking if your prey is close.”
Believing himself unobserved, Alabaster now emerged fully from behind the rock outcropping. He took a few steps forward and then dropped out of sight into a hollow.
“He’s coming again,” squeaked Alistair.
“Alright. Savvy you need to get ready,” said LeBits. “Alabaster is going to track us right to you and that means Lilith will be sure to follow. We’re all in great danger.”
“I understand and don’t worry,” said Savvy. “I have a plan for dealing with Lilith. Just get back here as fast as you can.”
LeBits turned from his perch and loped into a stand of rhododendrons. Then he sprinted over the hummocks, pausing every so often to catch his breath.
“Phew. We cats aren’t built for this kind of extended race,” he panted. “I can run like the wind for short distances, but over long spaces I’m no good.”
“That means Alabaster is no good at it either,” said Alistair. “I’ll bet he’s even worse at it than you because you’re out in the world all the time. Alabaster lays around Lilith’s tower all day. He’s a sluggard.”
LeBits chuckled at Alistair’s comment and set off once again. Jogging for another thirty minutes, he reached a broad clearing where the trees gave way to tall grass roasting in the sun. Here he came to a halt.
“What’s the matter? Why are we stopping?” asked Alistair.
“Something doesn’t feel right.”
“You mean there’s danger?”
LeBits sniffed the air. “Yes. Someone, or more likely something, has eyes on this clearing.”
“Should we go around it, then?”
“No. I have an idea that may help us with Alabaster. Birds of prey keep areas like this under observation. It’s easier for them to spot small animals from above than it is in the forest. When Alabaster enters this field his white fur will stand out against the grass. If there’s a hawk watching, and something in my gut says there is, it’ll see Alabaster and go after him.”
“But won’t the hawk come after you as well?”
“Prrrr. Possibly, but my color is better camouflage. There’s a chance the hawk may not spot me, if I’m careful.”
“Well, by all means then be careful!” exclaimed Alistair.
“Alright, hold on. Here we go.”
Alistair felt the cat’s muscles tense as he crept into the grass. Seeking dark spaces where stalks had bunched up or fallen over, LeBits made his way through the field. The vegetation loomed tree-like over Alistair’s head and he ducked out of fear that a stem or grass blade would knock him to the ground. They made it halfway across the open field, but in his abundance of caution LeBits had moved too slowly, giving Alabaster time to close the gap between them.
Alistair spotted the threat, crying, “LeBits, Alabaster is right behind us!”
LeBits spun to face his rival and backed up against a tall stand of grass.
“Alistair, get down and stay behind me,” he commanded, allowing the boy to slide to the ground.
“Traitor! You can’t run from me now,” said Alabaster.
“I don’t intend to run from you,” growled LeBits. “I intend to bloody your nose again, like I did back in Lilith’s tower. Come ahead, if you dare!”
Alabaster hissed and stepped forward as a shadow passed over his back. LeBits saw it and grinned. His plan seemed to be working.
“You won’t be laughing when I’m done with you,” snarled Alabaster, misinterpreting the smile on LeBits’s face.
The shadow loomed larger this time and LeBits looked up to see a diving hawk crash full into Alabaster. Flung sideways by the blow, Alabaster rabbit-kicked as the hawk shrieked above him. Clumps of white fur and brown feathers filled the air, along with droplets of blood slashed from the cat by the hawk’s sharp talons. LeBits watched the melee and then turned to snatch Alistair off of the ground. Carrying the boy in his mouth, he sprinted into the trees at the far side of the clearing. Then, when he had reached the safety of the woods, he placed Alistair in the shade and laid down for the boy to climb onto his back.
“I can’t believe it worked,” said Alistair.
“Me either. Someone is watching out for us.”
“Will the hawk kill Alabaster?”
“I doubt it. He’s too fat to lift off the ground and too mean to go down without a fight. I think all we’ve managed to do is buy some time.”
Alistair held fast as LeBits took off into the woods. Soon, the ground began climbing upward and Alistair felt the cat’s pace slowing down.
“We’re … nearly … there,” panted LeBits. “Thank the Sphinx’s whiskers!”
A short time later they arrived at the bed of withered flowers. LeBits pushed through the stalks and onto the debris covered lawn as Savvy threw open the cottage door. She ran to her two friends and scooped LeBits into her arms.
“Oh, you courageous cat! I could kiss you all over!” she cooed, planting her lips on LeBits’s forehead.
LeBits basked in the gratitude as Alistair climbed onto Savvy’s arm like a praying mantis. Savvy spotted her shrunken friend and put down the cat to pluck Alistair from her sleeve. Placing Alistair in the palm of her hand, LeBits commenced cleaning himself.
“Oh, Alistair, I’ve missed you!” grinned Savvy.
“I’ve missed you, too, Savvy. LeBits was brilliant!”
“That he was,” replied Savvy, stooping to scratch the brave Felim’s head.
“Do you know how long I’ve been away?”
“It’s been almost a month since Lilith captured you. What were you thinking trying to cast a bottling spell on her?”
Alistair shrugged. “I wanted to help. I hadn’t heard from you in a long time and people in Needwood were so sad after the massacre of the hunting party that I felt I had to do something. It seemed like it was working too. I could feel Lilith being pulled into the bottle. I almost had her and then suddenly it was me in the bottle instead of her. I don’t know what happened.”
“The spell failed because you broke the protective circle of salt. That gave Lilith the chance to reverse it on you.”
Alistair slapped his palm against his forehead. “Oh man! I must have kicked the hole with my foot when I reached for the spell book. What a fool I am!”
“You sure were, but we don’t have time to talk about that right now. I need to get you back to normal size before Lilith comes.”
Savvy carried Alistair into the cottage and set him on the kitchen table with LeBits. Then she closed the cottage door and returned to the cabinet where Fiona kept her stockpile of dried herbs.
Alistair looked around from his perch on the table.
“Where’s Lady Fiona?” he asked.
Savvy paused in her search for the burdock root. “Lady Fiona is dead, Alistair. Lilith killed her yesterday.”
“So what Alabaster said in the tower is true. I thought he was lying to hurt LeBits.”
“Yes, it’s true. I don’t know exactly how Lilith did it, but when LeBits and I got here early this morning we found Lady Fiona’s bloodstained dress outside in a pile of golden dust.”
“Golden dust? What’s that?”
“Fiona told me in a dream that she had returned to the form from which we come. You know, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and all that.”
“Prrrr, you’ve spoken to Fiona since I went to Lilith’s tower?” asked LeBits.
“I have. Well, I think I have, if you believe people can come to us in dreams. I fell asleep after you left, LeBits, and while I was sleeping I dreamed that Lady Fiona came to me on a mountaintop. She told me that she had died. She also told me where to find the spell that will return Alistair to normal size. If it works then I guess you could say I really did speak to Fiona. Now, I need to get back to that spell. If I could just find that darned root.”
Savvy sorted through small boxes of herbs, reading the labels that Fiona had written on them. She put them aside one after another until finally she located the right one.
“Here it is! Alistair, lie down on the table. LeBits, you go to the window and keep watch for Alabaster.”
The cat nodded and went to the front window while Alistair reclined on the tabletop. Savvy opened the tiny box and drew out a pinch of the root dust. Then she closed her eyes, spoke the magic phrase three times, and sprinkled the dust on Alistair from head to toe.
“Hey, it’s working!” he squeaked.
Looking down at his body, Alistair watched the enchantment ripple through him. First his feet popped larger and then his legs. Finally, his abdomen and chest expanded until he lay there fully formed on the table.
“Savvy, you did it!” he shouted, pushing himself up.
Savvy threw her arms around her friend, but then she wrinkled her nose and shrank back.
“What’s the matter?”
“It’s the smell of you,” Savvy blanched. “You stink!”
“I guess I do. I’ve been trapped in a bottle for weeks and Lilith never gave me a chance to bathe.”
“That’s obvious,” replied Savvy, covering her nose. “We’ll need to get you cleaned up, but not now. Lilith will be here soon.”
Alabaster crested the plateau opposite Fiona’s cottage as the words left Savvy’s lips. Peering over the lawn in the twilight, he informed Lilith of his arrival.
“Prrrr. Mistress … I … am … here,” he wheezed.
Blood from multiple scratches covered Alabaster’s fur and one of his eyes had swelled shut from an injury sustained during his battle with the hawk. He limped on an injured paw and the tip of his tail had been nipped off. Lilith peered through Alabaster’s one good eye and winced in pain, for she too felt the sting of her Felim’s wounds.
“That’s very good, my loyal Alabaster,” she purred. “As I’d suspected, they’ve taken refuge in my dead sister’s cottage. Rest easy now. I will be there momentarily.”
Lilith broke the mental connection with Alabaster and turned to gaze at herself in a full-length mirror.
“Today this drama comes to an end,” she said, smoothing her gown. “After I am finished with Savilla and her friends, I will destroy Needwood Village and once again New Eden will be mine.”
Back at Fiona’s cottage, LeBits spied something white at the edge of the snapdragons. He squinted at it and saw a single eye peering back at him.
“He’s here! Alabaster is here!”
Savvy and Alistair scrambled to the window.
“Where?” asked Savvy.
“Over there, to the left. Look through the snapdragons.”
Savvy followed the cat’s gaze, but could not see Alabaster. Then Alistair spotted him and pointed. “There, Savvy! He’s right there!”
“Ah, I see him now. He looks injured.”
“Prrrr. I’ll bet the hawk gave him a proper thrashing,” chuckled LeBits.
“That may be, but now you two need to hide. Follow me!” commanded Savvy.
Hurrying to the back of the cottage, Savvy stopped at the stone wall with Alistair close behind her.
“What are you doing? We can’t hide here!” he said.
“Oh, no? Watch!”
Tracing a rectangle on the stones, Savvy spoke the passphrase that Fiona had taught her. Alistair and LeBits marveled as the shape of a door burst into sparks. Savvy pushed open the door and a gust of cold wind flew at them from the blackness.
“I don’t like the look of this place,” said Alistair. “It smells like a crypt.”
“You’ll get used to it,” said Savvy.
She drew the glowstone from her pocket and gave the command for it to light. The crystal flared to life, casting a white glow on the steps.
“In you go,” she said to Alistair.
“But nothing. Get down those stairs and hurry!”
“Alright, alright, I’m going.”
LeBits followed hard on Alistair’s heels with Savvy close behind him. They descended the long staircase to the bottom and a driving wind rose around them. When Savvy stepped off the last stair, the wind blew into a tempest and Alistair felt it sucking the air from his lungs.
“Ack! Savvy, I … can’t … breathe. What’s … happening?” he choked.
“Sileo!” cried Savvy, bringing the wind to a stop.
“My goodness,” gasped Alistair. “What was that?”
“I’ll tell you later,” Savvy waved. “You two find a place to hide. I’ll light the room for you to see, but after you’ve chosen a spot, I’m going to let it go dark again. For a time you’ll be down here alone. I promise it won’t be for long, though, so don’t be afraid, understand?”
Alistair and LeBits nodded in agreement.
“Good. Lumino!” said Savvy.
Seams of quartz in the ceiling glowed to life, illuminating the small cavern. Alistair and LeBits gazed around at the shelves of strange objects, cabinets, and pieces of unusual furniture.
“Wow! What is this place?” asked Alistair, reaching out to touch a globe of orange crystal.
“It’s Fiona’s secret vault. She told me that many of the things here are extremely dangerous so you are to touch nothing! Do you hear me, Alistair? TOUCH NOTHING!”
“Y-yes, ma’am, I won’t touch a thing,” stammered the boy, who quickly drew back his hand.
“Good. Now hide yourselves. When I get back to the top of the stairs I’m going to shut off the light, so be quick about it.”
Alistair and LeBits looked around before scrambling behind a bookcase. Savvy nodded with approval and climbed the stairs to the top. There she paused for a moment before crying “obscurum!” to darken the room. Then she shut off her crystal and went to the window at the front of the cottage, leaving the door to the secret chamber open behind her.
The minutes crawled by and Savvy found herself listening to the sound of her own breathing. She went to chew the end of her ponytail, but thought better of it.
“That’s a childish habit,” she said to herself. “I won’t do it again.”
The lawn remained still in the twilight. Then a sudden flash of light revealed Lilith in all her terrible glory. An evil grin on her lips, the Sirachim glared at the stone cottage. Savvy shrank back from the window toward the rear hallway and hugged the wall there. Her heart pounded in her chest and she muttered a prayer for strength, the words “remember the tarot card” echoing in her head.
“Come out, Savilla!” called Lilith. “I know you’re in there—you and your friend Alistair and that treacherous Felim, LeBits. Alistair, can you hear me? I enjoyed keeping you as my pet. Wouldn’t you like to return to your bottle?”
“They’re not here!” Savvy shouted back. “I sent them away so you couldn’t harm them.”
“Is that so?” replied Lilith. “There’s no rear exit from that cottage and my Felim has been here watching the door ever since he arrived. I hadn’t taken you for a liar, Savilla. Perhaps there is some hope for you yet, clever girl.”
“Hope for what?”
“Hope that you will join me in my tower and become my apprentice. Now that Fiona is dead you have no one to train you. Learning our ways is long and difficult. I can make it easier for you.”
“I’ll never join you!” cried Savvy. “You’re a monster. Sirachim are supposed to use their power to foster life and nature, not to destroy it. You’ve strayed from our ways and become an evil witch without love or compassion!”
“Love? Don’t make me laugh! Look what love got your mother—an early death and a brat of a daughter.”
Savvy’s cheeks grew red with anger. “I’ve heard enough of your rubbish, Lilith. Why not come inside and get me. I shall not be coming outside to you.”
“As you wish,” said Lilith, and raising her hands she loosed a bolt of lightning at the cottage door that shattered it into a thousand pieces. Savvy crouched to avoid the debris that pattered around her and then looked up to see Lilith approaching. The evil Sirachim crossed the threshold and stepped inside the cottage amidst the cloud of dust.
“Where are you, my precious niece?” she growled.
“I’m here!” shouted Savvy, before letting fly two balls of enchanted charcoal that she had held clenched in her fist. The balls struck the floor at Lilith’s feet and burst into clouds of smoke that quickly filled the room.
Lilith coughed and waved her hands to clear the air. “Parlor tricks, Savilla? Is that how you intend to escape your doom?”
Savvy retreated down the hall as Lilith began stirring up a wind. The cyclone grew before her, sucking the smoke from the house. As it cleared, she spied Savvy at the far end of the hallway.
“I see you,” she lilted.
“Lumino!” cried Savvy, setting her glowstone alight, and slowly she backed down the stairs to Fiona’s secret chamber.
“Don’t go too fast,” she whispered to herself. “Must get Lilith to follow.”
Taking the bait, Lilith swept into the room and down the hall.
“A hidden passage!” she exclaimed. “Fiona never revealed this to me. Where are you going, Savilla? Do you wish to play a different game?”
Lilith pursued Savvy down the steps and into the cavern. There she found the girl standing beside a tall object with a canvas sheet thrown over it. In one hand Savvy grasped her glowstone. In the other she held the back of the sheet that covered The Vessel. Lilith stepped off the bottom stair and grinned triumphantly at her cornered prey before looking at her surroundings.
“What is this place?” she wondered aloud.
“Look closely and I’ll show you,” Savvy snapped. “Lumino!”
The ceiling crystals sprang to life, bathing the room in light, and Lilith gazed around the cavern with astonishment on her face.
“These things—these objects, I know some of them,” she said. “They are items of great power, but what are they doing here?”
“These are things that Lady Fiona collected to keep them safe from you,” replied Savvy. “She knew you would use them for evil so she stored them here where you would never find them.”
“Ah, but now you have revealed them to me!” said Lilith, her eyes growing dark with power lust.
“Not all of them. I saved this one especially for you,” cried Savvy as she yanked the sheet from The Vessel.
Lilith stared directly into glass, beholding her reflection as if it were an ordinary mirror. Then a look of horror spread across her face when she realized what Savvy had done to her.
“NO!” she howled. “You’ve tricked me!”
Lilith turned to flee up the stairs, but not quickly enough, for the mirror’s pull had already begun to work. She fell to the floor and shrieked as The Vessel drew her toward it, her fingernails scratching long trails in the dust.
“Help me!” she cried, the lust in her eyes replaced by terror.
Yet no power on earth could rescue Lilith from her fate. First her legs slipped into The Vessel, then her body, and then her head until only her fingers remained clutching at the mirror’s sides. Savvy reached around the back of the mirror and pried loose Lilith’s grasp until only one finger remained clinging to the wooden frame. Then Savvy plucked that off as well, sending Lilith screaming into The Vessel for all time.
Throwing the sheet back over the mirror, Savvy called for her friends to come out. Alistair emerged from behind the bookshelf with LeBits in his arms.
“Is she gone?” he asked.
“She is, Alistair, and she’s gone for good too,” nodded Savvy. “Lilith will never threaten us or Needwood Village ever again.”
Returning to the cottage above, Savvy and Alistair set about cleaning and repairing what they could. After they had piled the debris from the door outside, they hung a heavy curtain over the portal to keep out the bugs. It would need to do until they could arrange something more permanent. Then Alistair bathed himself in Fiona’s copper tub, attended by buckets that Savvy had animated to pour hot water over his head. His awful singing echoed through the house, causing LeBits to shake his head and mutter about scalded cats. The Felim groomed himself on the window sill and kept watch for Alabaster in case he still lurked about, but the white cat had also departed. Feeling Lilith disappear from the earth had at first filled Alabaster with alarm, but soon it gave him a new sense of freedom. With Lilith no longer dominating his life, he could go wherever he pleased.
Savvy, meanwhile, made Lady Fiona’s bed and set her private chamber in order. She opened the window to let in the night air and went to Fiona’s closet. Pulling open the door, she stepped inside and lit her glowstone. Racks of gowns met her eyes and Savvy ran her hands through them. She heard Fiona’s voice in her head telling her how a Sirachim should dress. When last they had discussed the issue, Savvy resisted any suggestion that she should change her clothing, but now that Fiona was gone Savvy gave it another thought. So much had happened to her since the day of their talk that Savvy felt like an entirely different person.
“I’m not an ordinary girl any more. Should I not look the part of what I’ve become?” she wondered aloud. “It can’t hurt to at least try on one of Fiona’s dresses.”
Savvy chewed her lip as she sorted through the racks until a dress of green and gold caught her eye. She took down the gown and stepped into it after slipping out of her trousers and shirt. The gossamer settled on Savvy’s hips and she ran her hands down her sides, feeling the silk under her fingers.
“This material is comfortable,” she admitted, and spinning around, Savvy lifted the hemline into the air. “It looks nice too. Maybe Lady Fiona was right. Maybe I should wear it.”
Savvy made her way to Fiona’s vanity and regarded herself in the mirror. Tossing her head this way and that, she noted her ponytail bouncing behind her head.
“Perhaps I should let this down too,” she mused, and pulling off the ribbon, she used her fingers to shake her hair free.
The fiery tresses cascaded down around Savvy’s face, pleasing her far more than she had expected and a wide grin formed on her lips.
“I am the Sirachim, Savilla Morgan,” she declared into the mirror. “And I alone am the lady of Needwood Forest.”
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, aross247Write a Review