Ch. 37 - Stuck

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Nothing existed but the well. Reaching it was everything. Wishing was everything.

A shriek of terror broke the spell. Lacey stopped in her tracks, shaking her head. Ahead, the others had stopped too. She pushed through the people milling around, some of them were already murmuring about finding the well again. But this time she ignored them.

She came to a cliff on the edge of a ravine. Whimpers came from below. Tiny Tee held onto a tree root, out of reach down the side of the cliff. Her hands were slipping.

“Tee!” Lacey spun, grabbing the person next to her. It was Riley. “Help me.”

He shook his head, startled, and then looked down. He leapt into action, taking the rope from around his shoulder and knotting a loop in it. He lowered the loop down to the frightened mouse-girl. Thankfully, the light of the full Night Mother shone through the gap in the trees, and they had just enough light to guide the rope to her.

“Put the loop around your waist, girl!” Riley shouted.

Tiny Tee did as she was told. The near white hair of her friend glowed in the moonlight, as they slowly raised her back up. Could it be that the Night Mother was full again? Had it really been an entire month since she first met Blayd that night she got lost in the Wood?

Once the crisis was over, Lacey took turns with her other friends, hugging Tiny Tee.

But now they had another problem. The ravine stretched out on either side, a few of the hunters had already jogged along the edge and back again, to report that it continued in both directions without an easy way across. Everyone was a little hazy from the effects of the well still, but they slowly began to realize they were stuck.

“What do we do?” Riley asked.

“I have a trapline near here,” said Star. “The best way across would be to head north along the ravine. I think, from where we are, it’s the shortest route.”

“You think?” Mama said, her voice rising. “My daughter’s life is at stake.”

Riley looked from Star to Lacey and back again. “How long will it take?”

Star shrugged; she avoided eye contact with Mama. “Maybe another hour to get to the other side, then a little more to the well.”

Lacey’s heart skipped a beat. She said in unison with her mother, “Another hour!?”

It was almost like the well wasted their time on purpose. If they hadn’t been caught up in its spell they could have taken the correct path around in the first place, and been on the other side already!

The ravine was a jagged gash in the forest floor, at least fifteen feet across. The bottom was shrouded with fog that was slowly climbing the walls toward them. Far below she could hear the trickle of water.

It was too far to jump across, and a long way down. None of the trees had branches close enough to the ground to attach a rope to and swing across.

“Golden-Eyes?” Lacey said. She had never addressed him directly before and it felt odd saying his name out loud. “Could you dig under a tree in less than an hour? Make us a bridge?”

The cat bowed his head. She knew the last time he had dug under a tree to bring it down was when Niva died. Part of her felt bad about reminding him of the terrible things he had done, the other part was glad to rub salt in the wound. He did not get forget what he did or pretend it didn’t happen, even if he regretted it.

The look on Star’s face said she agreed, and she wanted to do a lot more than rub salt in his wound.

Arley stepped in between Star and her mate, sensing the tension. Lacey thought it was a good move; for a minute, it seemed Star was about to push Golden-Eyes over the cliff.

Arley looked at him, and he shook his head.  “No,” said Arley. “He can’t do it any faster than it would take to walk around.”

Lacey wasn’t sure her sister had that much time, and she wasn’t sure she could keep the group together that long either--with the old hurts, and the well interfering. Who knows how many of them would even make it to the well, let alone in time to stop Geoden and save Ella.

As if in answer, the well whispered in her heart again, tugging, and a far away look come over a few of the faces around her. The well was calling them all again.

Lacey paced at the edge of the ravine--she had to get across. If only she really was a bat, she could just—she stopped.

She knew what she had to do.

Those who weren’t looking wistfully across the ravine toward the well were looking at her, waiting for her to make a decision. She blushed, as she fumbled at her shirt collar. Lives were at stake. She had no time for pride. She ripped her shirt off. Everyone, except her, gasped as the chill of winter struck her naked flesh. She gritted her teeth, ignoring the cold and Mama’s exclamations.

Lacey motioned for everyone to get back and clear a path. She walked back as far as she thought she might need to. There was no telling how much of a running start she needed.

“Lacey you can’t be serious. It is much too far to jump.” Riley said, quickly realizing what she was doing, though his look of confusion said he still didn’t know what taking her shirt off had to do with it.

“Jump? No!” Mama said. “Lacey I forbid it. We’ll take the long way around.”

“Riley, it’s up to you to keep them together. I will meet you on the other side,” Lacey said, stretching her legs. The fog had reached the top of the ravine now and was crawling out onto the forest floor. In a few minutes, she wouldn’t be able to see the other side. It was now or never.

“No!” Mama screamed, as Lacey took off running for the edge.

Her heart pounded and all she could think about was what it would feel like to fall hundreds of feet in the fog. When she got to the edge she flung her arms out wide and jumped. For a moment she was in freefall through the fog, and it felt exactly the way she imagined it would. There was a loud snap and her body jerked like she had hit a wall, as her wings unfurled and caught the wind. The force of it yanked her arms back so hard she thought they would break.

Then she was gliding. She felt the thrill of flying through the air for about a half a second, until it occurred to her she didn’t know how to control it. The other edge was coming up far too quickly, and she realized she was going to fall short. She almost flapped her arms to try to gain more altitude, but she wasn’t sure if her wings worked that way.

There was an outcropping, if she could steer toward it she might make it. She leaned hard to the right, hoping she would turn the way she leaned. It worked. The outcropping was coming up fast, and still she was going to be too short to land with her feet. At the last minute she folded her arms in and reached forward to grab the rocky edge. As soon as she did, she plummeted. Only her momentum kept her from falling straight down. It carried her forward, slamming her into the rock. Pain shot through her fingers as she clawed for something to hang onto.

Someone was screaming, and she realized it was her. She was going to fall. She didn’t think her wings could save her from a drop that far. Then, an enormous clawed hand clamped around her wrist.

Blayd! He hauled her up with one arm, and held her dangling in front of him. The angry look on his face told her he was considering tossing her back over the cliff for her stupidity. But he set her gently on the ground instead.

Lacey had never been so glad to be rescued by him. She had lost count of how many times it was now. She ignored his fuming and threw her arms around him in the tightest hug ever. Her wings draped around him.

When she pulled away from his warmth, the cold hit her hard and her teeth started chattering. He realized she was naked from the waist up and looked away, suddenly bashful. He offered her the cloak from around his shoulders and she took it, without even wrinkling her nose at the musky dog smell of it. It was his smell and she didn’t mind.

“Lacey?” Mama’s terrified shout echoed oddly, bouncing between the ravine and the thickening fog. Lacey could barely see the others on the other side. Judging by the dark holes in the middle of their faces, all of them had their mouths gaping open in shock.

“I’m fine Mama. Blayd caught me.” Lacey hugged the cloak around her. “You go north. I will get to the well with Blayd and save Ella. I promise.”

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