Lacey ran all the way back to the Wished camp. She collapsed, panting, onto the pebble shore of the lake; nobody had followed her except the ever-present Meemu. He butted against her knee and curled into her lap, as if he knew she needed comfort.
Lacey rested her hand on his back; she could feel the vibrations of his purring. It was gentle and steady and soon her breathing and her heartbeat returned to normal.
“What am I going to do Meemu?” She rested her cheek on the top of his head and he pushed up, rubbing his brow along her jaw. She laughed and scratched his face. He didn’t really care about her; he just wanted his scratches. But she was ok with that. “Maybe I should just leave. I can’t go back to the village, and I can’t stay here. Being out there on my own is what I always wanted.”
“We would miss you.”
Lacey started. She hadn’t heard the light-footed deer-woman approach. “I—I just don’t think it is a good idea that I stay.”
Meemu tilted his head up at Ezerelle and purred louder, giving a soft chirp of greeting. Lacey wondered for a moment what kind of judge of character the patchwork cat was. He seemed to like Ezerelle. Did that mean Lacey could trust her?
Lacey decided to just lay it all out there. “I overheard you and Goeden the other night. It sounded like you were collaborating.”
Ezerelle stiffened and Meemu stopped purring. There was a long silence.
“I can’t stay here if I don’t know who anyone is—who I can trust. I don’t feel safe.”
Ezerelle sighed. “It was never supposed to be like this. I can’t—I am restricted in what I can say--in so many things. But then I have broken many many restrictions already. Some have been engineered to never be broken, though. All any of us ever wanted was freedom. Even Goeden, as twisted as his methods have become.”
“What does any of that mean?” Lacey stood up, spilling Meemu out of her lap. “How does that tell me to trust you? How do I know you are not just as twisted as Goeden?”
Ezerelle sat there, like a curved statue. Finally, she said, “Goeden and I were colleagues from long ago. But other than keep some of his secrets, as he does mine, I am not in league with him. I don’t know what his plans are, or if he was responsible for Niva’s death. Though I think it is unlikely that he plotted her death. I think perhaps that was just an unfortunate accident.”
“You don’t have to be in league with him if you just sit back and watch him hurt people.” More than Niva, more than her human friends, he was hurting the Wished. He held them captive with fear, and kept them from ever finding peace with the humans. It had to stop.
But nobody wanted to stop him except her. If she left for the Explorer’s Trail nobody ever would. She wanted to leave so badly. It was the easy escape. How could she do anything if nobody would listen to her? And why did it have to be her?
She picked up a rock and threw it hard into the lake. The waters rippled, and Ezerelle’s face became a blur. Before she could throw another rock, Lacey made a sudden connection. The blurred image of the Founders on the screens at school—the dark hollow of Ezerelle’s eyes, angle of her cheekbones. She sat down again in shock.
“You’re a Founder? Colleagues? Goeden—”
The sharp intake of breath was all Lacey needed to tell her that she had guessed correctly. Ezerelle and Goeden were Founders. She gaped at the deer-woman. Obviously the Founders had never been part animal. They were supposed to be the creators of everything—the trees, the animals, the people. “How did this happen to you?”
Lacey stared at Ezerelle, trying to imagine her flying between the stars, living for 10,000 years. Her brown doe-eyes revealed nothing.
Lacey nodded and stood back up. “Well, if you can’t trust me, I don’t know why I should trust you.” She walked the path to Cooper’s hut to collect her things and go. This was not her problem. The Founders were the caretakers of Eridan. She would leave things in their capable hands.
She looked back at the lake one last time, where Ezerelle still sat frozen in place, looking so small and helpless. Lacey felt a flicker of concern, but pushed it away. Instead, she looked over Ezerelle’s head, at the mirror surface of the lake and wondered if anyone had named it yet.
A/N: Sorry it is so short. But ooh what a discovery, huh? What do you think wil happen next? Will Lacey leave? Will Goeden make his move? Who will save the Wished?
YOU ARE READING
Lacey is a bat girl. Seven years ago, her mother wished at the well in the heart of the Wish Wood, transforming a young bat-ling into a human girl--mostly human. But Lacey is growing up, Mama has a real daughter now, the kids in town tug on her poin...