Ch. 35 - The enemy of my enemy is my friend

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It took longer to leave for the well than Lacey expected. Proper, though brief, introductions were made between Wished and humans, supplies were gathered and organized, a few quick explanations were rattled off, so the humans understood what they would be facing at the heart of the Wish Wood.

Everyone was apprehensive about the well and it’s power, but Lacey didn’t think any of them really understood what they were about to face. For the Wished, it was possible annihilation. Should she tell them? Knowing wouldn’t change anything. Even if they all stayed behind to hide in the camp, if Ella wished what Goeden wanted, it would still reach them.

The humans were about to face one of their Founders. Lacey didn’t even consider telling them. Ezerelle had told her something else. Human’s were “designed” to listen to Founders. If Goeden told them all to go jump in a lake, part of them would feel the urge to do so. But they could still resist. It might help if they only saw Goeden as the rat he was, rather than the awesome and powerful Founder.

There was something else Ezerelle had told her, which was both potentially helpful, and a source of anxiety for Lacey.

“You already influence them more than you know,” Ezerelle said, as Lacey sat pensively beside her bed. “You are part Founder. They will listen to you too.”

This was exhilarating and yet confusing. Part of her relished the idea that people would listen to her—that she could command them and they would feel the need to follow her orders. But she was only part Founder, and nobody had listened to her before—she had practically begged the Wished to stop listening to Goeden, and it wasn’t until he was gone from the camp that they had even considered it. If they were caught between Lacey and Goeden again, would they listen to her? And the worst part about all of this was that it meant she was the only thing standing between Goeden and the annihilation of the Wished.

Blayd tried to stay by her side but, despite her earlier resolution to never leave him again, she found an excuse to send him away on some petty errand. Sending him away wasn’t the same as leaving him, she told herself.

She couldn’t bear to have his silent and faithful eyes on her. It was an unbearable reminder of everything that rested on her shoulders. If Lacey couldn’t stop Goeden, none of the Wished would exist by the end of the day. His puppy dog eyes made her think of what would happen if she weren’t able to stop Goeden. It made her feel like she had already failed.

Somewhere in all the chaos Devan had slipped away. But Lacey couldn’t worry about that now. If he wanted to sulk instead of going to the well—the very thing he always wanted—that was his problem.

There was one person who did not leave her side. Mama stayed with Lacey, caught between regretting leaving Lacey alone in the Wood all this time, and terrified over losing Ella. She sat on the dirt floor beside Lacey, stroking Meemu who, uncharacteristically, curled in her lap.

Things were awkward between Lacey and Mama. Mama noticed the changes in Lacey and cried over the coarse black hairs visible on her hands and her longer fangs and ears. Lacey tugged her sleeves down on her wrists, hoping Mama would not see the wing membranes, which seemed to be fully developed now. She couldn’t help but remember Mama’s words in that last argument, “You are not an animal!”

When Riley entered the hut at last to say they were ready to leave, Mama jumped up, dumping Meemu from her lap, and grabbed the stout stick she had used in the fight earlier. Meemu stretched, watching Riley with alert eyes, ready for the hunt.

“We’re ready to go Lacey, are you sure you and your mother don’t want to stay behind? This may be dangerous.” Riley had taken charge of the Wished hunters as well as his own, the cats were lost without a leader. He decided to leave behind the humans and Wished who didn’t have woodcraft skills. Some people were better suited to being warriors than others, though none of them really understood what it meant to go into battle.

Lacey shook her head; she had to go. All the hunters and weapons in the world were not going to help if Goeden used his Founder influence on them. Besides, the mood between the human hunters and Wished hunters was not exactly peaceful and smooth. Riley and Golden Eyes shot dagger glances at each other’s backs. The battle between the cats and the hunters at the road wasn’t very long ago and Riley sported a nasty scar from the encounter. Lacey was glad he was willing to lead the cats on this mission. But all was not forgiven between the two groups yet. Not all the human hunters from Pine Ridge were here, and the haunted looks in the eyes of her human friends told her there had been losses from that day. That realization brought back a flood of grief.

It was time to set aside her feelings and go with them, if only to try to keep the peace. She would have made Mama stay, but the way Mama clutched her arm at Riley’s words told her there was no point. All the Founders commands in the world could not make Mama stay behind.

Lacey looked for Blayd among the hunters gathered. He wasn’t with them. He was gone, along with Devan.

A wave of sickness made her glad she hadn’t eaten much today. She wasn’t sure if she could do this. There were a lot of people in their party, including people she counted as friends: Riley, Fergin, Petrina, Tiny Tee, Berellan, Arley, Tissy, even Star—her eyes were still red-rimmed but her shoulders were squared and she looked ready to bring Goeden down all by herself. But Lacey couldn’t help feeling alone.

A/N: Ok so this chapter still needs some work. I think I need to seek and destroy more of the passive past tense stuff. But I was getting way too hung up on it and we need to move on so I can finish the story alread :D So I am posting it as is. PLease feel free to seek and destroy all of the flaws for me and post about it in the comments. I could use the help!

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