Ch. 30 - Friends

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The camp had changed because of Lacey? It was a strange thought as she and Arley walked back the next morning. She had only ever noticed the changes in herself. She was far more bat than she had been before coming to the Wish Wood. Her teeth, the thin covering of coarse black hairs everywhere except her face, hands, and feet, the tightness of her sleeves from the wing membranes—even her senses had grown since she had started living with the Wished. Yet, she was going back to them.

The forest was curling with mist, making the world indistinct, except for the road, extending like a long tunnel ahead of them. Lacey tucked her hands under her arms to keep the chill from her fingers. Setting out on the Explorer’s Trail when fall was poised to give way to winter was a dumb idea--she had to admit. Meemu seemed just as happy at her change of heart, as he had been to set out with her in the first place. Possibly more happy. Lacey thought she detected a bit of an “I-told-you-so” air about him. Though he had told her nothing of the sort.

She wasn’t convinced going back to the Wished camp was any wiser than setting her feet to the Explorer’s Trail without thought or preparation, but she realized something in the darkest hours of the night, when all she could do was listen to the fire crack and wonder if Arley was as wide awake as she was. She had spent her entire life either running or fighting when things got difficult—skulking in the shadows where people couldn’t see her bat ears, or lashing out at anyone who called her a monster.

Mama was partly right. This was animal behavior. But she was wrong to say Lacey was not an animal. The full webbing of wing membrane tucked up in the sleeves of her shirt was evidence, if anything was, that part of her was an animal. Mama had refused to acknowledge it—and refused to let Lacey do so either. But, as scary as it was, it was the truth.

Animal instincts drove her to run away or fight whenever backed into a corner. What if those instincts made her like Goeden and his cats? What if they made her evil? Was she supposed to fight her instincts?

Arley bent down and scooped up a long branch. She snapped off a few twigs and tested its firmness, then stepped back into pace with Lacey, pleased with her new walking stick. Lacey smiled at her and the lynx-girl smiled back. Maybe she had been wrong to think of the cats as evil.

They did as Goeden told them. They did terrible things, but only because they were afraid to take a chance on a different way—because they didn’t know any other way to survive. The camp had been around for longer than most of the Wished had been there. Who were they to argue the way things had always been?

Lacey tried to remember what it had been like to be newly Wished. It had been so long ago. And she’d had the benefit of being raised by humans since—spoiled, just like Goeden said, with a life none of the other Wished had ever known. Her instincts were still strong--pulling one way, then another, always driving her to “survive.” The camp was a beacon of survival to those who had never known a human life. Goeden’s ways were the only thing keeping them alive.

But Lacey knew better than they did—just like Goeden and Ezerelle knew better. She had to show them there was a different way to survive, one that didn’t involve running or fighting.

She still wasn’t sure how she was going to do it, but not trying would make her as bad as Ezerelle. Ezerelle, who had never killed, stolen, or ordered anyone to kill and steal, but who had allowed Goeden to teach helpless creatures that this was the only way to survive—sitting by while he turned them into killers was it’s own kind of evil.

“Oh look, your favorite pet has come to greet you,” Arley said, with a teasing grin.

Lacey hadn’t realized they had come so far. The trees bordering the road were the dark, familiar pines of the Wish Wood and the mist had cleared away.

Blayd loped toward them, putting on a burst of speed as he saw them. He skidded to a stop in front of her. Meemu bounded up onto a stump to keep from being trampled under the giant wolf paw-hands dancing in the dirt.

Finally, he stood up and lifted Lacey off her feet into a hug. She squeaked in surprise and then hugged him back, taking comfort for a moment in his warm furriness. When he let her feet touch the ground again, she smoothed the shaggy fur on his neck and looked into his eyes.

“I am so sorry I left without saying goodbye. I was afraid—I was wrong. But I’m back now,” she said.

His eyes bored into her, like he was hunting for the truth of her words in her soul.

Lacey caught a whiff of the wet dog smell on his fur, which was damp with morning dew and sweat. She sniffed her shirt. “Ack, you got your stench all over my clothes, not to mention your fur.”

Arley laughed, and Blayd let his tongue loll out in his wolfish version of laughter, his shoulders relaxing. Meemu pawed his nose in agreement with her. Lacey shrugged and hugged Blayd again. They all walked back to camp together, Blayd going down onto all fours again. Lacey kept one arm draped over his shoulders, an unspoken promise that she would never leave her friend again.

A/N: I hope you liked this chapter. It was short, but that was all there was to say here I think. I will post another soon. I am wondering if the contemplation is maybe too much or too long. So if you have any thoughts on that please say them in the comments. It will be vry helpful to know if I did good or not and where you think I could fix things.

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