The Fountain and the Flame Chapter 6


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.


After much debate, the Watch-keepers decided Kaia should take Luco’s liege rune.

Read on to see how it goes.

Chapter 6

Kaia sat cross-legged on the cave floor and held out her forearm, rune up. “I’ll do it.”

Her skin already bore the blue mark of House Advor, a house that might even now be looking for her thanks to the magistrate who took her mother. Attempting to hide the mark with a cloth wrapping would put all three of them in danger at every outpost, crossing, and town. At least with the silver mark of House Fulcor on top, she could pass gates and checkpoints in relative freedom, so long as Luco did not abandon her.

He reached for her wrist, but Kaia pulled back. “For Nisa, not for you.”

Luco nodded. “For Nisa.”

He took her wrist and laid her forearm across her knee, then soaked the corner of his tunic with his flask and scrubbed at the grime covering the original rune. He scrubbed too gently.

“You’ll take all day at that rate. Are you afraid to soil your fine clothes?” Kaia yanked the wet cloth from his grasp. “Let me.” She scrubbed hard, until her arm shone pink and raw. “There. Now do your worst.”

“Um . . . I wouldn’t say . . . Never mind.” Luco placed the quill on a stone so that its black tip rested in a tongue of flame. The remnant of ink from its previous use began to smolder away. While the quill heated, he rolled the ink vial between his palms.

Nisa removed a small porcelain jar from the box and dabbed Kaia’s rune with red cream. “This will ease the pain. The salve is—”

Kaia nodded. “An extract of shalnesh—tranquility leaf. Yes, I know.”

Luco stopped rolling the ink vail. “You know your herbs.”

“I know shalnesh, because it lies in the order of herbs between misarech and vailetavarro.”

The siblings exchanged a look. Luco narrowed his eyes. “What?”

Kaia dipped a finger in Nisa’s jar and rubbed another dab of cream into her arm. “My mother taught me to read, but the lords of the Frost Islands don’t exactly keep a library for the fishwives. Mother scrounged every parchment and scrap of old text she could lay her hands on, including a portion of an old sailor’s order of herbs. The entries began with misarech—stinkweed—and ended with vailetavarro—path root. I’ve read those pages more times than I care to count.”

The ink in Luco’s vial, once dull gold, was now glossy silver. Kaia guessed the solution held dust from both metals. Once he finished the rune, her forearm would be her most valuable possession.

Luco left the ink vial to warm on the same stone as the quill and lifted his chin. “All right. Let’s see. Which root might a sailor use to stay awake for the night watch?”


“Correct. Annd . . .” He leaned back and squinted at the rocks jutting down from the ceiling, and Kaia hoped he’d reached the end of his herbal knowledge. No such luck. “What needles should I stew in water to relieve a belly ache?”

She stared at him.

“You don’t know? I did give you a clue. Needles.” He grinned. “But I suppose the answer is not between misarech and vailetavarro, is it?” When she still did not answer, he shifted his gaze to the pines outside the cave. “The needles of the kachel tree, the blue foxtail.”

Raz perked up.

Kaia shot the fox a frown, then turned the frown on Luco. “Will we be playing this game often?”

“It is entertaining.”

“I’d rather let you carve a rune into my arm with a searing hot quill.”

“Right. Sorry.” He lifted the quill. The tip glowed bright orange. “Here we go.”

If Nisa’s salve truly dulled the pain, Kaia could not tell. Without it, she imagined she might have passed out, as Luco had to complete hundreds of tiny stabs to set the ink. And the shaking of his hand did not inspire confidence. Kaia fought the urge to jerk her arm away as he made each tiny jab. “I thought all lords learned to use the iron quill from a young age.”

“You are his first,” Nisa said, watching with her nose a little too close for Kaia’s comfort. “His parchments are pretty, but he’s never drawn on a live subject. Our uncle had the butcher shave a street cat for him once, but even then—”

“Nisa.” Luco’s sharp tone quieted his sister. He grimaced. “That poor cat. He looked so cold.”

The completed rune did not look anything like Kaia had imagined—more of a red, puffy wound than a house mark. “Well done,” she said with a flat expression.

“It will heal, and then the ink will show.” Luco cut a strip from his tunic, the same piece Kaia had accused him of not wanting to soil. He rinsed it with water, covered it with salve, and wrapped her arm. “This will speed the process.”

The pain and itch of Luco’s work could not prevent Kaia from sleeping. All three and the fox slept well into midday, until the fire had burned to cinders. Kaia awoke to the sound of Nisa humming, the same melody she’d been singing when the two first met.

Kaia waited until they were on the road south and hung back with the little girl while Luco walked ahead with Raz. “Nisa, what was the song you were humming in the cave?”

“The Song of the Sleeper. Our mother used to sing it to me.”

“Mine as well. But I’m struggling to remember. Could you sing a few bars to help me.”

The little girl beamed at the suggestion. She hummed the melody first, velvet shoes pressing into the dirt in time with the rhythm.

“The Sleeper wakes from a waking dream,

On path of gold, ‘neath silver gleam.

Of stars in a midnight sky.”

A slow twirl brought Nisa in front of Kaia, pacing backward with utter faith in her steps. The song had drawn Raz away from Luco. The snow fox walked between the girls, tail swishing, ears at their full height.

“Child beckons, follow me

To mountaintop by crystal sea.

Take my hand, and we shall fly.

And the sleeper wonders, where are all the dragons.”

Luco spun on his heels, stopping the other two. “Have you gone mad?” He focused his ire on Kaia. “Don’t bid her sing those words in the open.”

Nisa stopped dancing and looked down at her toes, cowed. Luco had clearly growled at her for the song before. Her shoulders trembled.

Kaia gave him a hard look. “Calm down. You’re frightening her.”

“Good. She should be frightened. The Sleeper’s Song is dangerous.”

“It’s a nursery rhyme.”

 “It is a call to war.” Luco balled his fists, grit his teeth, and then relaxed. “I can see you don’t understand, so allow me to explain.”

He started walking again, forcing Kaia to double-step to catch up, while Nisa trailed behind with Raz. Luco glanced warily at the trees. “The Sleeper’s Song is drawn directly from the Sacred Word, inscribed into the fabric of time by the Maker himself. The words, the melody—they pulsate with his power. There are dark creatures in the wilds far worse than frost goblins or iron orcs. They can feel that power. Some will flee. Others will come hunting for the singer.”

He said nothing more for a long while, and since Kaia had no inclination to speak to him, she kept silent. Despite his warning, nothing terrifying came barreling out of the woods. No dark arrows or dragon fire fell from the sky. Their road remained peaceful, climbing and descending over endless hills covered in ash and pine.

But the peace could not last.

“Can you fight?”

The question came without explanation or preamble. Perhaps Luco had started the conversation in his head and forgotten to include her. Kaia only blinked.

“You handled yourself well with the orcs, but have you any training? Do you know anything?”

Do you know anything? What Kaia heard was You know nothing. She bit back an angry retort and lifted her chin. “I can shoot. I can pick a fish out of the sea with an arrow at twenty yards.”

“A fish.”

“Yes. A fish. At twenty yards.” She didn’t like the disappointment in his tone. He was supposed to be impressed. “The sea toys with archers. Shooting fish is no easy feat.”

“So you’re an archer.”

She might have been stretching the truth to grant herself such a title. “Yes.”

“And yet you carry no bow.”

“It . . . sank.”

“Into the sea?”


“Because the sea toys with archers?”

She did not turn to meet his gaze, but she could feel his smirk.

They passed between a matched pair of hills, and Luco came to a halt on the other side. He leaned his staff against his shoulder and unfastened the buckle at his waist.

Kaia took a step back. “What are you doing?”

“You need a weapon. And from what you’ve told me, you have a sharp aim. Sadly, I have no bow.” He slid a dagger nested in an ivory sheath from his belt and held it out to her. “This blade will serve. Keep it under your cloak.”

When Kaia did not accept the dagger, he waggled it before her. “What’s wrong? Take it?”

She did, and slowly drew the blade from the sheath. The smith had worked three or four different alloys into the steel and swirled them into a pattern of tears. The hilt was a silver falcon, wings spread wide to form the cross guard. Kaia drew a breath at its beauty, then felt her cheeks flush with rage. “No.”


“You heard me. From one moment to the next, you’re telling me what to do and who to be. Hide your hair. Go to this cave. Wear my rune. Carry my dagger.” She let the sheath fall at her feet. “No more. I’ll do what I like, wear what I like, and carry what I like, thank you very much.” With that, Kaia hurled the dagger at the trees. She meant to cast it into the underbrush and make him search the rest of the afternoon as punishment for his arrogance. But the dagger stuck, hilt quivering, into the trunk of an ash.

Illustration by Ashton Corbett
(see video for time lapse)

Luco stared after it open-mouthed. By the look in his eyes, she might well have stuck the blade into his chest.

She had stung him. Good. He needed to understand he was not her lord.

Luco let out a breath, and she braced herself for shouting match, but he merely turned and pointed up the road. “See the fork? The smaller road leads southwest to the marsh town of Lemoth Keras. We need supplies, and with the Maker’s favor my uncle will have sent no men to those muddy streets in search of us. His mind would not conceive of his noble nephew traveling there, rebellious or not.” Luco wrinkled his nose. “A forever-stench hangs over the marsh.”

“So it stinks.”


“And what if I don’t want to go to this stinky marsh?”

“Then for once, we are agreed.” He nodded at her bandage. “Your rune has not healed, and the binding will draw undue attention. If it should please your blue-haired highness, continue on this road, and Nisa and I will meet you at the crossroads to the south.” He turned from her and made for the fork.

“Perhaps I will.”


“And perhaps I won’t.”

“Even better.”

Nisa did not follow. She called after her brother. “I’ll stay with Kaia.”

He stopped and bowed his head, then set off again. “Of course you will.”

Raz barked.

Luco raised his staff in the air. “And you, Fox. Everyone do as they like. As long as it’s clear that I’m not in charge.” He took the fork, descending quickly, and disappeared behind the next hill.

Kaia watched the empty fork, expecting him to come back. She hadn’t meant to be quite so harsh. “Wait! What about your dagger?”

He shouted back to her, voice fading. “Not my dagger! Yours! Is this not the whole concept of a gift?”

A gift. Luco hadn’t commanded her to carry his blade. He’d offered her the blade as a gift. How did she not see that?

Luco said nothing more. He wasn’t coming back. Kaia snapped out of her stupor and found Nisa had picked up the sheath. The little girl wiped the dust from the ivory and offered it to Kaia. “Please, don’t leave Aethia behind.”


“Aethia. The dagger. If you leave her in the woods, Luco will be so sad.”

Kaia had a sense that abandoning the dagger would make Nisa sad as well. She scrunched up her face. “Then why didn’t he take . . . um . . . her back.”

“He can’t.” Nisa took Kaia’s hand and led her to the tree. “In House Fulcor, a gifted blade can never return to the giver.” She looked up at the falcon hilt. “Carry her, or give her away. But please don’t leave Aethia behind. She belonged to our mother.”

Kaia wanted to crumble into the road—vanish into dust. “Your mother?” She laughed at her own foolishness. Perhaps it was the sting of her new rune or the exhaustion of her road thus far, but she had been so ready to fight another order from Luco that she missed a gift placed right into her hands, beautiful in so many ways. “How about this,” she said kneeling to put her face even with Nisa’s. “I will carry Aethia for a while, and in time I will gift her to you. Do the rules of House Fulcor allow this?”

“They do.” Nisa gave her a solemn nod, a smile behind her eyes.

“Then it’s settled.”

Removing the dagger from the ash tree proved harder than Kaia anticipated. She yanked and pulled, but the blade would not budge. She pulled so hard it, in fact, that it seemed the ground shook beneath her feet.

Then, between tugs, the ground shook again. A massive thump came from deep in the forest.

“Kaia . . .” Nisa stared at the trees, eyes wide.

“I heard.” Kaia tried the dagger. It wiggled. Progress. Again, the ground shook, and then again. Wood cracked in the distance. Kaia leaned to look past the ash tree. The shadows of the forest beyond seemed to move as one.

“Hurry,” Nisa said, backing into the road.

Kaia was not going to leave the dagger behind. Not after what she’d learned. She filled her lungs, clenched her teeth and gave a final, mighty tug. Aethia came free, and Kaia fell stumbling back onto her seat next to Nisa and the fox.

The three watched the forest. Whole groves seemed sway in time with a slow, steady pound. Raz growled. What had Luco told them? There are dark creatures in the wilds far worse than frost goblins or iron orcs. They can feel that power. Some will flee. Others will come hunting for the singer.

The singer. Nisa. Something had come hunting for her.

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

A. Take Nisa and run for it along the main road.

B. Take Nisa and race down the smaller road to catch up with Luco.

Or . . .

C. Stand her ground with her silver dagger and face whatever may come out of the forest.

The Fountain and the Flame Chapter 4

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.

Read Chapter 3 Here

The watch-keepers decided Kaia should continue south without Luthelan.


Kaia fought the urge to follow Luthelan down the western path.

The mage was right. Her road lay south, but the fear of going it alone tore at her insides. “So, what then? Am I to follow these bricks all the way to Ras Telesar?”

“The bricks for a time, yes. And then the river.” With each step, Luthelan’s form became harder to perceive—his voice as well. “But the river is swift. Take care you do not fall in . . . unless you know how to fly.”

Drawn by Ashton Cobett

Raz, who had been content up to that moment to ride along in Kaia’s oversize coat, dropped to the ground and shook the dampness from his fur.

She bent down to scratch his ears. “Unless I know how to fly? Shouldn’t he have said swim?”

The fox swished his tail, as if he had no clue, and trotted off toward the southern road.

“Right,” she said, following. “He is a mage. They always speak in riddles.”

Within a few hundred paces, the merchant stalls along the road dwindled, giving way to snow-laden pines. The pictures Kaia had seen in her mother’s books did not do the trees justice. She drifted to the edge of the bricks and touched a bough. Snow rained down in a miniature storm. Raz spun beneath it.

Watching him brought a smile to her face. She pulled a pinecone twice the size of her fist from the next branch up. The pinecone snapped free, and the branch launched its white burden high over them both. Kaia twirled in the glittering snowfall, until something strange caught her eye. A ray of moonlight streaked down to the forest from the two bright moons, Chara and Irene. Molunos would be up there as well, dark and unseen. He only revealed his red form once a year.

“Where do you think it ends?” she asked the fox, staring up at the moon ray.

Raz dove into the forest to find out.

“Raz, come back! I didn’t mean . . .” Too late. He was gone.

What had Luthelan told Kaia about goblins in this region? They were kin to cave mushrooms, and mushrooms loved the dark. What if such goblins roamed the forest at night? She pushed into the trees. “Raz!”

The pine boughs, so pleasant before, clawed at her and dumped snow upon her head. She blinked the cold flakes from her eyelids. “Raz?” Her foot landed on a rotting log, and it gave beneath her. Kaia stumbled out into the open, skidding to a stop with her toes at the brink of a rock ledge. Chunks of snow fell into a rushing river. Kaia held her breath, straightened, and stepped back. “That was close.”

The brick path lay not far away, though it turned to gravel where it bent to follow the river. Raz waited there, panting. The moment he saw her, he set off again, racing across open snow.

“Raz, wait!” Kaia ran after him, and what she saw when she finally caught up took her breath away. Raz had led her to a sheer cliff, high above a valley where a river passed on either side of a walled city. To the west, the river beside the road poured itself out into space as a frothing waterfall, and Kaia understood Luthelan’s riddle about needing to fly if she had fallen in. To the east, the cliff stretched away for miles as a natural dam that held back the shimmering waters of Val Glasa, the northern sea. Silver mist poured from other great waterfalls in the cliff face, falling far below to join the valley river.

Drawn by Ashton Corbett

Dizzy from the height, Kaia turned away from the cliff and saw that Raz had brought her to the end of the moon ray. She laughed. It was more a source than an end—a fireglass.

At the top of a stone tower, a polished copper bowl gathered the moonlight and reflected it back into the sky through a crystal lens. The Frost Islands had similar devices, signal stations for the elite Dragon Corps. The lens and bowl normally projected the light of a fire. The moonlight had been caught by happenstance.


Raz seemed to sense something more about the tower. Even after the moonlight faded from the lens, he kept watching, cocking his head so that his ears flopped to one side.

“What is it, boy?”

Kaia had hardly finished the question when a figure leaped from the tower window and crashed into the pines below. A moment later, a boy about her own age came sprinting out of the trees, looking over his shoulder.

Kaia held out her hands. “Hey! Watch out!”

He ran right into her. The two tumbled into the snow together as gold coins spilled about them. Without the faintest apology, the boy gathered the stray coins into a satchel heavy with many more, and scrambled to his feet.

“Stop! Thief!” A man in a blue and green tunic burst out through the tower door. To Kaia’s horror, two creatures like overgrown gargoyles rushed out behind him. They stopped, necks grinding as their stone eyes searched the night. Cracks and rust showed on their faces and arms—any surface not covered by their scant armor. The man pointed at Kaia and the boy. “There, you brainless beasts! There are two of them! What are you waiting for?”

A churning orange glow grew behind the creatures’ eyes and within the cracks in their skin. They raised black curved swords and let out guttural shrieks.

“Yeah . . .” The boy looked down at Kaia, brown hair falling over one eye. “You should probably run too.”

He took off ahead of her, making for the road that descended the cliff face.

Raz went next, with Kaia at the tip of his tail and the creatures lumbering behind. But when Kaia and the fox made the turn at the cliff road’s first switchback, the boy was nowhere to be seen—only slick gravel passing behind thundering falls.

She kept running, but once they passed the falls, Raz stopped.

Kaia turned to see the creatures still coming, one by one. The fox held his ground and growled.

“What are you doing?”

Only Raz knew. As the first creature moved beneath the waterfall, Raz sprang forward, dodged a sweep of its sword, and ran between its legs, weaving back and forth about its ankles. The creature slashed and stabbed, and every failed strike brought it shuffling backward toward the edge. Mud and rock crumbled beneath its heel. With a shriek of surprise, it fell back into the pounding falls and disappeared into the mist.

The remaining creature spread its arms and roared, molten fire in its eyes and joints blazing bright with anger. Raz retreated to Kaia’s side. Running was of no use. She balled up her fists and roared back instead. “Come on then! Come and get us!”

The creature gripped its sword with a crackling hand and advanced. As it reached the shadowed space behind the falls, an ivory staff tipped with a steel bear’s head shot out from a crevice and smashed into its gargoyle chin, sending it toppling into the water to follow its friend.

“How?” asked Kaia.

The boy with the gold coins climbed out from the crevice. She had missed him when she ran past. He walked between them, motioning with the bear’s head. “Follow me. This isn’t over.”

Kaia hesitated. Did she want to get involved with a thief? But Raz whimpered at her heel, and she sighed. “Yes. I know. We’re all thieves. You’re a fish thief. I’m a boat thief. Who are we to judge? Fine. Let’s go.”

Girl and fox rounded the bend together and found the boy seated on a log in a grassy depression, rubbing a black remnant of the creature from the head of his staff. Kaia sat down beside him, unsure of what to say. “So . . . What were those things?”

“Their kind is called Wyngorloth in the Elder Tongue, monsters formed from the ores of various metals. Most folks call them orcs, as in ore creatures.” He glanced her way. “How is it you do not know this?”

“We do not have orcs where I come from, and I am glad of it. Those two were horrifying.”

The boy chuckled. “Not really. Those were iron orcs—big, rusty, and dumb. The nasty ones are the quicksilver orcs.” He continued his work on the ivory staff, polishing a spiral of steel that ran from the bear’s head to the spiked tip. “I am Luco. And you are?”

What did she care if he knew her name? “I am Kaia. That is a rich weapon you carry. . . for a common thief.”

“The gold belongs to my family, stored in secret over three generations for the sake of throwing off the yoke. I am no thief.” He ceased his work and frowned. “Nor am I common.”

“You are a nobleman.” The ivory staff. His clothes. How had Kaia not seen it before? Luco wore the same blue and green as the man who had chased him from the tower. A boy like this could have her locked up with a snap of his fingers. Kaia gave Raz a look that asked What have you gotten us into?

The fox buried his nose under his paws.

Then something Luco had said returned to her. Kaia swallowed, choosing her next words carefully. “What . . . was it you said about a yoke?”

With a grunt, Luco shouldered the satchel, then planted the staff in the dirt and stood. “It is from a prophecy—from a faith my parents held in secret until my uncle found them out.” He narrowed his eyes at Kaia as she stood. “Why? What do you know of it?”

She didn’t answer.

The poem. Throw off the yoke. Throw off the chains. Of dragon lies and mortal shame.

Drawn by Ashton Corbett

Luco raised his chin, giving her a wary look. “The raven came to you as well.”

“The raven?” Her eyes widened. It had not occurred to Kaia that anyone of noble birth would need to throw off a yoke or chains. The idea seemed absurd

“Don’t deny it, I can see it on your face. This is good. The Maker has seen fit to contrive our meeting. Now we will travel south together.”

Kaia’s shock turned to annoyance. Noble or not, who was this boy to declare what she would do next. What if she didn’t want to travel with him?

Luco ignored the frustration in her eyes and pointed with his staff at the city below. “But first we must break into my uncle’s house. I didn’t expect him to find me out so quickly, so I did not bring everything with me that I should have.”

What Kaia saw beneath the bear’s head was not a house. It was a castle, at the center of a fortified city. She snorted. “What did you leave behind, nobleman, your favorite silk handkerchief?”

Luco’s jaw tightened. “No. I left my younger sister, Nisa. And by now, thanks to my foolishness, my uncle will have set a guard on her room.” The command in his voice that had so annoyed her softened into a plea. “I will travel south with you, Kaia. But first will you help me get Nisa out?”

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

A. Help Luco rescue his sister from his uncle’s castle?

B. Head south now, leaving this rich boy to deal with his own problems?

Ashton Corbett draws Kaia and Raz overlooking the falls in time-lapse

The Fountain and The Flame Chapter 3

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.

Read Chapter 2 Here

The watch-keepers decided Kaia should steal the skiff.


Kaia pressed herself close to the village wall, keeping an eye on the stone dock to be sure the watchman would not return.

The nightly ferry would not be along for a while, making its stops at the other northern islands. That gave her some time to slip away in one of the unguarded boats. She felt a mild pang of guilt at the idea of stealing, but pushed it aside. What did the laws of lords and dragons matter to her?

Fresh snow fell on the path to the dock, softening the crunch of her steps as she hurried to the first of the boats. Kaia tossed her bow and quiver inside, and Raz the fox happily followed. He had no qualms about stealing. The two had met when her father caught him snatching a fish from their drying line. Kaia had named him Razodbesh—bandit in the Elder Tongue. And when Vash had sent her father away, Raz had become Kaia’s only friend.

The raven seemed less comfortable with taking the skiff. He perched himself on a weathered post and squawked at Kaia’s every move.

She shot him a glare as she untied the moorings. “Quiet! Someone will hear.”

Climbing in, Kaia set the oars in the water and took her first pull, coasting out into the channel. She beckoned to the bird with a toss of her head, but still he would not come. “Stay, then. See if I care. I’ll find my own way to Ras Telesar.”

The raven looked away.

The channel gave way to the bay, and the bay gave way to the open sea of Val Glasa. Kaia knew enough to hold her southerly course by keeping the faint red glow of Ras Pyras off her stern—the forever flame pouring from the central tower of the Great Red Dragon’s fortress. Keeping it in sight grew easier as gray twilight turned to a black snowy night. The rowing, however, grew less easy. Hours passed. Her arms ached, and the waves tossed her little boat. “How wide can Val Glasa be?” she asked the fox.

Raz laid his chin on his paws and whimpered.

“How about a fire then?”

Most Frost Island boats had fire pots. The skiff was no different. Kaia had never used one, but she had struck a flint and steel a thousand times to light her mother’s hearth, and soon had the coals burning. She let the skiff drift for a spell and warmed her hands. “See?” she said to the fox. “We’re going to be all right.”

Raz inched backward toward the bench, away from the pot, and whimpered again.

The fire pot had a sort of domed half lid, and Kaia realized too late what it was for—a wind block. Before she could move the lid into the correct position, a gust lifted an ember from the coals and dropped it onto a stack of burlap bags. In seconds the whole stern was ablaze.

Raz leaped to his feet and barked. Kaia pulled off her father’s coat to smother the fire. The sea, for its part, helped douse the flames as well, but once invited in, the water would not leave. Planks groaned. Waves splashed over the rails. And the skiff broke in two beneath her. The sea took her boat, her bow and quiver, and even Raz. Kaia could hear his bark, but the waves masked everything beyond the reach of her arm. “Raz? Raz!”

The bark faded.

Kaia draped herself over a wooden plank. Earlier that day, after the magistrate and his goblins had taken her mother away, she had known she would spend the rest of her life alone. She had not realized how short a time that would be. The thought and the freezing sea left her mind and body numb. Kaia did not even shiver. She simply closed her eyes.

“Oi! You there!”

Kaia’s eyes fluttered open. Had she heard the voice or dreamed it? Fighting the paralyzing cold, she looked up and saw lanterns illuminating two tall masts. The silhouettes of men leaned over solid wood rails.

“She’s moving. Fish her out of there! Girl like that must be worth something to someone.”

No, I’m not, thought Kaia, but she caught hold of the net the men threw over the side and held on with a frozen claw grip as they pulled her out of the waves.

A burly sailor lifted her like a sack of frost flowers and set her down on a barrel.

“Th-thank you,” she stammered.

The man walked off without reply, replaced by a shorter but well-groomed fellow in a snow-dusted coat and broad-brimmed hat. The ferryman.

“Speak, girl. We saw your fire. What possessed you to take a boat like that out on seas like this?”

“I’m t-traveling.” The shivering Kaia had missed before set in with a vengeance. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the men pull her father’s coat out of the water with a hook and line. They dropped it onto the deck beside the barrel. Kaia watched a mass of wet fur that might have been a fox tail whip out of sight beneath it. Raz.

“Running away, more like,” said the ferryman. “I’ll wager your master will cough up a coin or two for your return.”

Kaia couldn’t have that. “N-no. I h-have a t-t-travel marker.” With a shaking hand, she drew a sopping parchment from her coat. “Uncle’s b-boat. J-just trying to save the fare.”

“And how’d that go for you, hmm?” The ferryman snatched the marker from her fingers and inspected the script. He frowned. “Looks aw’right. What about payment?”

She dug out the coin purse and offered him a silver talon, etched with the claw of a dragon.

He took it, along with another, and then another. “An extra coin for taking me out of my way, and one more for fishing your carcass out of the briny sea.” He glanced down at the puddle growing at their feet. “Thanks for bringing so much of it with you.” The sailors around him laughed.

A pair of frost goblins watched the exchange, snickering, but did not interfere. Kaia lifted her father’s coat, with the water-logged fox hiding inside, and tried to gain a place beside one of the boat’s four fire pots. With each attempt to get close enough to feel the warmth, other passengers shouldered her out, until finally she settled by the last fire—a bit smaller, but with only one patron. He sat hunched and cloaked under a broad hood. Kaia sat down across from him and pushed her hands close to coals.

“Careful child. From what I’ve seen, you and fire pots do not blend. Perhaps you should sit somewhere else.”

She wouldn’t be chased away so easily. “There isnowhere else.” Beside her, Raz poked a nose out from under her father’s coat. The hood turned that way, as if the man had caught the movement, and Kaia coughed to keep his attention. “Um . . . How far to the other side?”

“Not far. But Far Cry Harbor is narrow, and dark without the ferryman’s call these days. On your chosen course, you would have surely crashed into the rocks if you hadn’t so wisely set your boat on fire first. How odd that this uncle of yours did not warn you.”

There was an accusation in his tone. He knew she had stolen the boat, and Kaia felt an irresistible need to justify her actions. “I had to do it,” she said, lowering her voice. “My mother was hauled off to Ras Pyras. If I had boarded the ferry, the goblins might have taken me too.”

“And yet here you are.” The hood shifted as the man glanced toward the creatures. No matter the angle or the flare of the fire, Kaia could not see past the shadow to the face behind. His hands looked old, but that might have been the burns that covered his knuckles. “Choices are often hard in a broken world,” he said. “But choosing an unjust path only breaks it more. The owner of that boat will wake tomorrow to find his livelihood stolen. Is that just?”

“I was only thinking of getting south. My mother told . . . and someone else”—Kaia did not say a raven—“told me to run to Ras Telesar.” She looked down at her hands. “I wasn’t thinking about the person who owned the boat.”

“Mmm. I understand. We all have trouble seeing beyond ourselves sometimes.” He let out a rueful chuckle. “Until recent days, I myself rarely bothered to try.”

The admission surprised her. Kaia looked up again. “What changed?”

He leaned closer to the pot, and for the first time, the firelight breached the shadow of the hood. “Everything.”

A thick scar ran from the right corner of the man’s forehead to the left side of his chin.

Kaia gasped.

He took no notice. “Ras Telesar. Ras Pyras. The Fountain and the Flame. Strange that an intersection of those polar opposites should set you on this road.” He sat back again, looking toward the south. “And yet not so strange, if the prophecy holds.”

The prophecy again. Before Kaia could ask what he meant, the ferryman shouted. A single light appeared ahead, close. They were approaching Far Cry. The two frost goblins ambled past her, retreating to the stern. One looked sickly. The other laughed at its companion, until its own leg buckled and it collapsed to the deck. Kaia thought she could see the pale green of its twisted calf muscles unraveling into cords. “Eww. What’s happening to them?”

“This is the limit of their range,” said the man—not as old as Kaia had previously thought. The dark gristle surrounding the scar at his chin spoke of one who had not yet reached middle age. “The servants of the dragons are soulless animations. Dragons cannot create. They can only corrupt. Frost goblins are formed and animated from the lichen of the northern caves, and lichen will not survive south of Val Glasa. In Far Cry, you will see spotted cave goblins instead.”

“Lichen,” said Kaia to herself. “Spotted cave goblins.” She glanced at the man and almost laughed—almost. “Mushrooms. Northern goblins are formed of lichen. In the south they are made of cave mushrooms. Goblins are animated fungus.” The idea took some of the terror out of the two creatures suffering in the stern.

The man held Kaia with a long gaze. “You are a quick study. Perhaps that is why you were called to the fight.” The ship bumped into the largest of the port’s docks and the sailors set about their work with earnest. The man stood and began walking toward the plank.

“What call,” asked Kaia, taking up the coat with the fox inside and struggling. “What fight?”

He didn’t answer. The man spoke not a word until they had left the boat and entered the darkened square of the town. No lanterns were lit, as if the whole place were under curfew. A signpost at the southern end pointed in three directions toward brick pathways heading east, south, and west. The man took the western road. When Kaia followed, he turned, scowling. “Do you always follow strangers you meet on boats?”

She glanced around at the unfamiliar port. Kaia had never left the Frost Islands. And despite what she had said to the raven, she felt lost without a guide. “I . . . I don’t know where to go.”

“South. That is the road to the Fountain and to the one I hope you will find there.”

Hope? What hope did she have? Who was this man who knew so much after their short meeting? Kaia had an inkling, but she was afraid to speak his name out loud, not after what had happened to her mother. “What about you? Won’t you come south with me?”

Regret, and perhaps a little fear creased his brow. “That is not my path. The Maker is about to answer the prayers of his creations, and the world must know. I will play the role of herald.”

Kaia took another step. Raz poked his head out from the coat and growled. “You’re him, aren’t you.” She did not know whether to be grateful or angry. A mere rumor of this man had cost her everything. “You survived Vath’s flame. You are Mage Asterlan.”

The mage shook his head. “No longer. That is a prideful name, a dragon name—Born of Stars—and I have set it aside. If we meet again, you may call me Luthelan. For I, like all men, was born of the dust.” With that he turned and walked away, leaving Kaia to stand by the signpost alone.

Watch-keepers, what should Kaia do? Should she

A. Follow Luthelan even though he told her not to? After all, without the raven, she needs a guide.

B. Follow the southern road and hope that whoever sent her the poem intended for all this to happen

C. Get a room for the night at Far Cry Inn and see who else might appear?

Ashton Corbett draws the ship tossed on the seas in time-lapse

The Fountain and The Flame Chapter 2

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.

Read Chapter One HERE!

The watch-keepers decided Kaia should ask her mother’s advice.


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.

“Passage markers.”

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?”

Drawn by Ashton Cobett

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?

The Fountain and the Flame Chapter 5

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.

Read Chapter 4 Here

The watch-keepers decided Kaia should stay and help Luco.


The river ran wide and fast beneath the bridge to Luco’s home city, Emen Yod, faster than it had appeared from the cliff trail above. Though, what had Kaia expected, with all those waterfalls to feed it?

“That fox of yours will draw unwanted attention once we’re inside the gate,” muttered Luco, casting a dark eye at Raz, who walked beside her. “Mark my words. He’ll be a nuisance.”

Why did he have to talk so much like a lord—so high and mighty? Already, Kaia began to regret her decision to help this rich boy rescue his sister. “I didn’t see you complaining when Raz tripped that orc and sent him flying over the ledge.”

“You’re only proving my point.” Luco nodded toward a set of three uneven towers, high on Emen Yod’s central hill, nearly touching the two bright moons. “He’ll be underfoot if our time in my uncle’s manor goes ill.”

Luco called it a manor. Kaia would have called it a castle. The boy’s gaze dropped to settle on a cluttered garden of timber huts and shanties outside the city wall. “I don’t expect opposition in the wharf district, but hide that blue hair of yours just in case. The only Frost Islanders we see here are the icemongers, and you are not brawny enough to pass for one of those.”

That blue hair of yours—as if the color of her hair were a mark against her. Kaia raised her hood, anyway. The wind whipping across the bridge was chilling her ears. “My mother says mine is more silver than blue.”  

House Advor Liege Rune

Luco did not seem to hear. Her bare forearm caught his eye as she lifted the hood. “And cover up your liege rune as well. We don’t need any unwanted questions.”

That earned him a glare. Kaia yanked her sleeve down to hide the triangular blue brand of House Advor. “I have no liege. Not anymore.”

“Try telling that to the city guards.”

The denizens of the wharf district offered no challenge. They lived by the code of Kaia’s class. Make no trouble, and receive none for yourself. The guards at the city gatehouse, however, had trouble to spare. They checked every face in the cue of city entrants, tipping hoods back with the points of their halberds.

“They’re looking for me,” said Luco, watching with Kaia from the corner of a locked shanty that stank of salted fish. “We’ll never get past them.”  

“Aren’t there other gates we can try?”

“At this late hour? Don’t be absurd.”

She had grown tired of his condescension. “Well there must be something.” Kaia looked to Raz for support in her argument, but the fox no longer stood beside her. She glanced back in time to see him vanish down a muddy alley. “Raz!” she hissed, and ran after him.

The fox led Kaia and a grumbling Luco on a chase between shacks and shanties and over mud and gravel to a channel cutting inward from the river. There, he turned toward the main city, bounded over nets and barrels, raced along a line of overturned carts, and dove into the water. He reappeared a moment later, riding in the wooden bucket of a waterwheel that split the city wall.

Drawn by Ashton Cobett

“You were right,” said Kaia, panting as Luco ran up beside her. “Raz is a nuisance.”

“No. I was wrong. He’s brilliant. Raz has found us a way in.”

Luco jumped into the water first, catching the wheel with the bear’s head of his staff to pull himself over. But Kaia hesitated. He slapped the water. “What are you waiting for? Can’t you swim?”

Kaia rolled her eyes and made the plunge. The moment the hem of her coat came within the reach of Luco’s arm, he caught it and dragged her to him. He wrapped an arm around her waist, trying to hold her up. She kicked away. “Every Frost Islander knows how to swim, you imbecilic.” A bucket broke the surface beside her, and she caught it, rising out of the water. “But we usually have enough sense to stay dry on a cold and windy night.”

Locks, waterways, and barrel lines crisscrossed the city and poured through its many walls. “My great grandfather built these channels to take advantage of the waters surrounding Emen Yan,” Luco told Kaia as the two rode a pair of buckets through a brick arch, entering the uppermost circle. “He oversaw the placement of every rope, chain, and wheel.” Luco gave her a not-so-bashful smile. “I have a similar mind for contraptions.”

The buckets dumped them into a slowly-filling lock. Kaia climbed out onto a wooden platform to sit, dripping, beside Raz. She raised an eyebrow. “And yet a fox thought of using this one first.”

Luco needed no help finding a way past the men guarding his uncle’s gate. He led Kaia through a door behind an overgrown hedge and up a short stair to the lower court yard. “Nisa is up there,” he said pointing with his staff at the highest of the three towers. “My uncle banished us to the upper rooms after my parents’ death. He’ll have guards watching the stairs, but we can get past them using the kitchen.”

He made it sound so easy.

Kaia had never entered a nobleman’s manor. To her, it seemed as large inside as the whole of her island, with terrain far more strange and varied.

Their journey to the fourth floor involved an old oak growing from the courtyard stones, a creaking window, one room set aside for dresses only and another set aside for spears and swords, ending with a secret stair left them crawling out from behind a tapestry into a curved hall lit with flaming sconces.

“Why is the air so cold up here?” asked Kaia, shivering despite her northern heritage.

“Ice chamber.” Luco tapped an iron door across the hall with the head of his staff. Frost covered its surface “Filled with ice blocks to keep the meat fresh.”

Before Kaia could make a comment about the foolishness of rich men bringing the cold inside, Raz whined. The fox cocked his head, listening.

Kaia heard it as well. Footsteps. “Someone’s coming.”

“Some-thing, more likely. Sounds like one of my uncle’s orcs.” Luco started in the opposite direction. “This way. The kitchen is at the end of the hall.”

“No, wait. I have another idea.” Kaia let the frosted iron on the handle bite into her hands as she jerked open the ice chamber door. “We’ll hide in here.”

Luco protested, but Kaia pulled him inside. When he tried to close the door behind them, she slapped his hand away.

“Are you mad?” he asked, holding the smarting hand.

“Perhaps.” Kaia took his arm and backed in among the hanging carcasses of pigs and cows until she could see her own breath. “Let’s find out.”

Raz pressed himself tight to her ankles. Luco faced the door, staff ready. The footsteps ceased. The door opened wider, and a massive gargoyle head peeked in. The instant the orc saw them, molten fire burned behind its eyes and in the cracks in its skin. It charged.

“Scatter!” yelled Kaia.

The orc’s black sword sliced through the carcass between them as the two teens split. It stood, confused, for a few seconds, and then its eyes settled on Kaia and Raz. The orange orbs still burned, but dimmer than before. Frost had started to form on its armor.

The orc took a step toward her, slower than its earlier charge, and Luco smashed it in the back of its head with his staff. The creature roared and tried to turn, but its legs would not move. Bewildered, it looked down at its frozen feet.

It never managed to look up again.

The creature’s final roar began as a guttural rumble, and ended in a piteous squeak. The fire in its eyes went out.

“How?” asked Luco, approaching with caution.

“We don’t have these creatures in the Frost Islands,” said Kaia. “And now we know why. Their molten innards can’t handle the cold.”

Luco looked at her with admiration, and for the first time, Kaia noticed his eyes—green, flecked with gold. When they weren’t haughty or smug, they were kind of nice. He chuckled to himself and poked at the creature with his staff.

“Don’t!” said Kaia.

Too late. The orc teetered back and crashed to the floor, snapping off an arm and its gargoyle head. Kaia sighed. “Someone will have heard that. We have to go.”

“Right. To the kitchen.”

Oh, what Kaia’s mother could have done with that kitchen. The pots. The whisks. The ovens. Kaia knew enough of the world to recognize the copper washbasin and the butter churns but not the strange cabinet Luco opened at the far end.

He clutched a rope beside it and tilted his head. “Hop in.”

“What? Why?”

“This is another of my great grandfather’s contraptions. He called it the Lunch Lift. Climb inside. I’ll hoist you up to our rooms in the third tower where Nisa is waiting. Grab her, and then I’ll lower you both down again. The guards on the tower steps will never know.”

Kaia hated the way he never asked her to do things. He issued commands instead.

“Why don’t you go? You think I’m not strong enough to work the rope?”

“I don’t fit. And you’re wasting time.” Luco pounded the box with his fist. “Now come on!”

She did as he asked—or rather, as he ordered—but only for Nisa’s sake.

The box creaked and groaned with each of Luco’s pulls in the long ascent. If an orc or a guard interrupted him, Kaia might be trapped half-way—or worse, plummet to the bottom. As the box rose higher, though, the strains of a song reached her ears and pushed her worries aside. The voice was young and sweet, and the melody seemed so familiar. Unbidden, the image of Kaia’s mother, clutching her hands through the bars of the magistrate’s cage, returned to her.

Remember the lullaby I sang to you as a child.

The box bumped the upper reaches of its track. Kaia threw open the door to find a shocked little blonde girl, clutching a dolly to her chest. The two locked eyes.

“Don’t stop,” pleaded Kaia. “Sing it again.”

The box shook as Luco jiggled the rope to hurry them on. The song would have to wait. Kaia held out a hand. “I’m a friend of Luco’s. Quickly. Grab your cloak and come with me.”

The ride down went faster than the ride up—a little too fast for Kaia’s comfort. At the bottom, Luco lifted his sister out of the cabinet. “I heard screaming in the hall. A maid found the orc. The guards are on their way.” He set Nisa down and used his staff to pry a floor grate loose. Mold and grime caked the stone around it.

“What is that?” asked Kaia, climbing out of the cabinet.

“What’s it look like? A drain. And our way out.”

Raz gave the mold a sniff, wrinkled his nose, and then jumped in.

If the fox could do it, so could Kaia. She sat down with her feet dangling in the hole, set Nisa in her lap, and wrapped her father’s coat around them both. While she worked, Luco rummaged through pots and utensils on a cluttered shelf.

“What are you looking for?”

“Go,” he said. “I’ll be right behind you.”

She shot him a frown and dropped.

The fall did not last long before the drain curved to catch her, then spiraled into a wide turn. A few heartbeats later, Kaia and Nisa splashed down into another of the city’s channels. A film of slime rested on the surface.

Luco splashed down behind them, and Kaia punched him in the shoulder the moment he surfaced. “We’re all wet again, thanks to you. And now we stink.”

Nisa laughed.

A dawn escape through the city water system left them soaked, but at least it washed the smell away. Luco led them to a cave in the forest hills to the south and lit a fire to warm them. Raz curled up beside him, watching with interest as the boy fiddled with an ivory box.

“Did you steal that from your uncle’s house?” asked Kaia.

“It is not theft if something is yours. By rights, I should have taken much more. But doing so would only lend truth to the lies my uncle will tell in my absence.” He tilted the box, allowing her to see the metal quill and vial of golden ink nested inside. “This, I took for you.”

“For me?”

Luco nodded. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. He took a breath, then tried again. “I . . . I cannot pretend to know the weight or hurt of what I am about to ask, but I believe it is necessary.” The haughtiness had vanished from those green eyes, as it had in the ice chamber. But this time, what remained stole the warmth from the fire.

Kaia swallowed hard. “I don’t understand.”

“I think you do. You’ve seen these instruments before. I’m talking about your liege rune. It will only cause us heartache on the road.” Luco lifted an amber medallion from beneath his shirt, showing her the silver, hawk-shaped symbol within. “However, if you were to take mine . . .”

House Fulcor Liege Rune

“You want to brand me?” She jumped to her feet in disbelief. Luco wanted to carve his family’s mark into her arm, joining it to the one she had been given as an infant—a common practice when one noble purchased another’s thrall. The new family added their house mark to the old. Before her birth, Kaia’s father had been bought and sold so often that he wore an entire mural of runes on his arm. “No! You can’t!”

“Please try to understand. Any guard in any town or city can check your mark against my medallion. By taking the liege rune of House Fulcor, you’ll ease our travels. I’m not trying to own you, Kaia.” He glanced over at his sister and lowered his voice. “I’m trying to keep all of us safe.”

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

A. Stand up for herself and her class by refusing to take another liege rune?

B. Accept Luco’s family mark to ease their passage south?

Ashton Corbett draws Raz in the bucket in time-lapse

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.


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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