The Fountain and The Flame: Chapter 1

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 FOUNTAIN AND THE FLAME: CHAPTER ONE

Kaia had never considered death by dragon fire an honor, but her mother’s friend Malpensia disagreed.

“Oh yes.” Malpensia leaned over the railing of the channel bridge and dipped a bladed net into the frigid waters of Val Glasa, Talania’s northernmost sea. She cut a swath through a sparse crop of lux flowers growing beneath the surface. “Our benevolent masters rarely spend their precious breath, even in rage. Mage Asteran and his family will be famous.”

“Mage Asteran and his family are dead,” countered Kaia’s mother. She held open a burlap sack to catch the red blossoms as her friend emptied the net. “Don’t be a child, Malpensia. The dragons do not suffer offenses lightly. By now, Asterlan’s entire bloodline has been put to the sword.” As she spoke, a gust of wind caught two of the blooms. “Oops! Kaia, catch them!”

The blooms landed in the water and spun in tandem, carried by the current around Kaia’s net and under the bridge. She had been too busy picturing Asterlan’s roasted form to notice them.

“Kaia! Pay attention, girl.” Her mother slapped the bridge rail and pointed. “Go after them!”

“Right. Sorry.” Kai jumped up and ran to the other rail, hoping the flowers would reappear. And they did, twenty feet down the bridge, sailing away. She chased after them.

From behind, she heard Malpensia continue with her morning gossip. “Of course, mages are not quite so mortal as the rest of us. Last night in the market square, Pellion the Baker told me that Asterlan—”

Distance and a gust of wind masked the rest. Ahead, Kaia watched the flowers bobbing in the turbulent water where the rocky shore jutted out to a point, and then spin onward toward the next channel over. “No!” she called. “Come back!”

The flowers did not listen.

Every lux flower mattered. The people of the Frost Islands could not grow wheat or beans like the southland farmers. They had only what the ice and the cold sea provided. The blooms of the lux were their grain, and the leaves their greens. Channels cut for the growing season crisscrossed every shore, but they belonged to the dragon Vath’s most favored nobles. By a decree of dubious generosity, the fishwives were only given access to the channels during the final week of autumn, when the waters had already begun to freeze.

If Kaia let those blooms go, she would never hear the end of it.

A wall barred her path, a barrier at the island point dividing one noble’s land from another’s. The escaping flowers would not leave her time to take the path inland to the gate and treat with the guard. She would lose them for sure. Instead, she risked a climb across the frozen rocks of the point. The sea splashed and grabbed for her, wetting her bearskin boots, but Kaia did not slip. She had skirted plenty of walls in her time.

Crawling under the bridge support on the other side, Kaia laid her body flat on the rocks and stretched out with her net, silver-blue hair brushing the water’s surface. “That’s right,” she said, watching the blooms approach. “You can’t escape me.”

A shadow darkened the water. Something squawked above. And an instant later, a portly, flapping raven landed on Kaia’s pole. The net dipped. The flowers floated past.

Drawn by Ashton Corbett

Kaia shook her net. “Look what you’ve done. Get off!”

But the raven only squawked and hung on, using its wings for balance—an impressive skill for a bird. It used only one foot. With the other, it clutched a scroll.

Abandoning her efforts to shake the creature, Kaia pulled in the net and sat up beneath the bridge. The raven fluttered to the rocks with its scroll.

Curiosity helped her forget the lost blooms. “So, you’re a messenger bird.”

The raven gave her the slightest bow. It understood her.

She glanced left and right, leaning closer. “Are you . . . a talking bird?”

This time, the raven looked down at the scroll and back up at Kaia as if she were a complete imbecile. She couldn’t argue. The dragons had wiped out all the talking animals ages ago. Malpensia often said they never really existed in the first place. Kaia did not like Malpensia much. She scrunched up her nose. “Right. Silly question. But I’m afraid you have the wrong person. I do not belong to the nobles that own this channel.”

The bird merely stared at her.

Reason had failed. She tried flicking a mitten at the thing, instead. “Shoo! Go on, now. Deliver your scroll.”

That didn’t work either. The bird dodged the mitten with an easy hop. Kaia dropped her hands to her lap. “Look. No one sends messages to fishwives. I told you. I’m not the one you’re looking for.”

The raven cocked its head, looking at her hard with one eye.

“I am the one you’re looking for?”

It nodded. Clearly the cold had driven this particular raven insane.

“Fine. If you insist, show me the scroll.” Perhaps Kaia could get some coin from the local noble for delivering the message herself. Her father had taught her to read the common tongue years ago, before Vath had sent him away with the other fishermen to chase the sea wraiths.

The raven brightened and unfurled the message with its beak, standing on the base of the scroll to hold it steady in the breeze. Kaia squinted at the flowing letters.

Instead of a signature, the scroll bore only a star symbol. What noble would expect such a message? The lords of the islands had no chains to throw off. “Are you certain this is for me?”

The raven frowned, as if it had grown tired of being asked the same questions.

“All right.” Kaia scanned the message once more. “Then . . . what? I’m to head south to the fortress at Ras Telesar on the word of this Star person?” She had never left her island. Common folk could not travel without cause or the right papers. “That is a great risk. And what if I don’t know the way?”

The raven puffed out its chest and pecked at the feathers there.

“You’ll guide me?”

Another nod.

Kaia sighed. Was she really considering this? She couldn’t run off to the south at some strange invitation. Her mother needed her. “I’m sorry. I can’t.”

The raven gave her that one-eyed stare, then released the scroll, letting it roll up under its talons, and pecked insistently at the parchment.

“You don’t give up, do you?”

Another puff of its chest.

“I don’t know . . .”

Watch-keepers, what should Kaia do? Should she:

  1. Follow the raven south?
  2. Share the message with her mother and ask for advice?
  3. Take the message to the local noble and attempt to get some silver in payment?
Ashton Corbett draws Kaia’s raven friend in time-lapse

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