YOU Choose the Story!
The Creator of All Things has opened a window to another world—a portal. We cannot step through this portal, but we may reach through with our minds. Concentrating, we see a young woman, Kaia, seated on a bridge of stone and ice, feet dangling over cobalt blue waters.
The Creator has invited us to act as Watch-keepers over Kaia and the friends she will meet along a dangerous path that lies ahead. The Watch-keepers must work together to help Kaia make good choices. These choices will not always be easy, and Kaia may not always do as we ask, for she is strong-willed. Will you accept this challenge with us? If you desire to take on the mantle of Watch-keeper, please use the comments section to answer the question posed at the end of each chapter of Kaia’s story.
The watch-keepers decided Kaia should ask her mother’s advice.
THE FOUNTAIN AND THE FLAME: CHAPTER TWO
Kaia tucked the scroll under her coat. She needed wiser counsel than a fat raven could provide. But when she returned to the footbridge, her mother and Malpensia had left.
“Where did everybody go?”
The raven had no answer.
Perhaps they had taken their ice flowers to the port market.
By the time Kaia reached the market gate, a crowd had gathered, so thick she could not get through. Instead, she made her way along the outside to the back of the furrier’s. A short climb and a leap from the market wall got her up to the rooftop, and what she saw as she pulled her eyes above its peak made her gasp.
“Mother?” It came out as a squeal.
Many eyes turned Kaia’s way, some of them cold and soulless. She ducked down. The raven cawed and flapped above to cover for her, and Kaia waited until he settled down before peeking again. What was happening?
Her mother and Malpensia stood with Pellion the Baker before a man dressed in the red robes of a magistrate serving Vath the Dragon Queen—one of the Nine. Two frost goblins, white-haired and green-skinned with teeth and claws like the grimy ice at the edge of the road, held the prisoners. A dozen more formed a blockade to keep the villagers back from their master’s wagons.
“Speak!” shouted the magistrate, standing well back from his prisoners. “Who is spreading this slanderous tale of Mage Asterlan’s survival? Which of you dares to mock the flame of our glorious Vath?”
Pellion shook and shivered, wary of the goblin blade at his throat, but said nothing.
Malpensia clutched her shawl and bowed her head. She said something Kaia couldn’t hear.
The magistrate stepped closer. “You have something to say, fishwife? Speak up!”
To Kaia’s horror, Malpensia pointed a finger directly at her mother. “It was Kassia Evanbar. She told us these lies. And she spoke of the prophecy!”
It took all of Kaia’s control to keep from shouting the word. Malpensia had been the one to tell them about Asterlan, and hadn’t she said something about Pellion as well?
The mention of a prophecy brought a new darkness to the magistrate’s eyes. He snapped his fingers at the goblins.
“Take them. All three. And search the island. Bring me anyone harboring tokens of the old faith.”
Kaia watched, helpless as the goblins threw Pellion and Malpensia into a barred wagon and her mother into another behind it—the last wagon in the magistrate’s train. Its rear door lay only a few feet from the very shop she had climbed.
As soon as the creatures ambled off, she slid down the rooftop and dropped to the stones, scrambling backward into the shadow of the furrier’s awning. Her mother’s shoulders rested against the wagon bars, a hand’s breadth beyond the reach of her fingers.
Her mother turned, looking left and right. “What are you doing, Kaia? Get out of here. You need to run!”
“Not without you.”
“Yes. Without me, my sweet one. Our world is changing, in ways you cannot yet understand. If you love me,
you will run before the goblins return. Head south to Ras Telesar.”
Ras Telesar. The scroll.
Kaia looked around for the raven and found him perched on the next wagon over, keeping a sharp watch on the square. How strange that her mother would send her to the same ancient place as the bird’s poem.
“Mother, please, there must be a way.”
“And yet there isn’t. Some things are beyond our control. Now listen. I have a store of coins hidden above the hearth, it should be enough to buy you passage across the water.”
Tears brimmed. “But where will they take you?” Kaia already knew the answer. Ras Pyras,the Hill of the Flame, where the Great Red Dragon sat in his fortress surrounded by the circular palaces of his nine Primarem; Queen Vath among them. If her mother entered those circles, Kaia could not follow.
Her mother confirmed her fear with a glance to the north. The sky there glowed red.
Kaia felt as if her legs would crumble. She pushed what strength she had into them and rushed out of hiding. She jerked at the cage’s iron lock. “No. They can’t!”
The raven raised a curled foot to his beak and made something between a cough and a caw. There were voices at the forward wagons, high-pitched and gravely.
“The goblins are coming.” Kaia’s mother grabbed her hands through the bars to stop her from rattling the lock. “Go. Quickly.” She glanced over her shoulder. “Remember the lullaby I sang to you as a child.”
Kaia didn’t understand. “What lullaby?”
The voices grew louder. The raven flapped away, and the wagon groaned as its wheels began to turn. Her mother pushed Kaia’s hands back from the bars, tears staining her cheeks.
“Run, Kaia! Now!”
She escaped through the narrow alley between the furrier’s and the fishmonger’s, crying all the way back to her family’s hovel. Her father had carved it out of the rocks beside one of Lord Advor’s ice channels. The same Lord Advor had sent him away to die at sea, and now Kaia’s mother was a prisoner of the dragons. Her home would be empty forever.
The raven flew in between the rags they used as curtains and landed on the rim of her mother’s best cooking pot.
“Shouldn’t you be keeping watch?” she asked the bird, sniffling as she ran a hand along the stones above the hearth. Her mother’s coins must be hidden behind one of them.
“If the frost goblins find me here, they’ll know whose daughter I am. They’ll take me as well. Perhaps they should.”
The raven raised its beak and hopped from one foot to the other as if to say, Quit your whimpering and hurry up.
As he hopped, one of the stones beneath Kaia’s hands shifted. She returned her attention to the hearth and pried it loose. A bag of coins fell to the floor, spilling its contents. The coins were not the only treasure in the nook. Two scraps of parchment fell out with them, inked with Lord Advor’s seal. They floated down to rest in Kaia’s open palm. She held them out to the raven.
She handled the parchments as if they were gold leaf. They were just as valuable, which meant her mother could not have purchased them. Perhaps her father had tucked them away years before, unused remnants of some errand that had taken him across the water. Kaia had no time to wonder. There was a scratching at the door.
She wheeled, tucking the parchments behind her back, but she saw no one. “Hello?”
A snow fox poked his head into view between the curtains, ears twitching. He licked his snout.
Kaia let out her breath. “Raz. Not now. I don’t have any fish for you.”
The fox took no heed. He invited himself in and sniffed around the coins while she gathered them into the bag.
The raven squawked and pecked the air with disapproval.
“Leave him alone,” said Kaia, slipping the markers into a coat pocket. “Raz is an old fishing friend. You’re the one who’s new here.”
But she had no time for old friends. She lifted her bow and quiver from their hooks, checked for goblins outside, and ducked through the door.
“I’m sorry, Raz. I have to leave.”
Raz was not so easily abandoned. As Kaia and the raven hurried along the channel, she heard a snuffling and snarling from behind. She looked back to see Raz tugging her father’s old coat out of the hovel.
“Where did you find that?”
The fox stopped and looked up at her, tongue lolling out of his mouth.
It didn’t matter. “That coat is too big for me. And I don’t need it. I’m going south. You should clear out. Goblins are coming. They’ll happily skin you alive to make a hat.”
She turned to go.
The snuffling and snarling resumed.
Raz had not listened. He was dragging that absurd coat down the path to follow. Kaia sighed.
In the end, she put on the coat to satisfy the fox and let him follow at a distance as she made her way back to the port. To her surprise, the stone docks were empty. The workers had made themselves scarce for fear of Vath’s goblins, even the dock’s watchman. Several boats bobbed at their moorings with no one to guard them. That gave Kaia an idea.
She stopped a good distance away and chewed her lip. She had a long road ahead, and stealing a boat would save her the ferryman’s price as well as a valuable travel marker. And if Raz was so eager to follow her in this journey, he could ride along. If she wanted to take advantage of the watchman’s cowardice, though, she would have to move quickly.
Watch-keepers, what should Kaia do? Should she:
A. Wait for the nightly ferry, pay the ferryman’s price and use a travel marker?
B. Steal a skiff and row herself across the water?