Click here to read Part One and here to read Part Two.
The exhausted horse stumbled up to the gates of Cliffhaven just as the first of the two moons began to rise over the huge cliff that made up half of the city’s wall. The boy nudged the girl, who had drifted off to sleep and was leaning on his shoulder. She slowly opened her eyes and sat up. “Where are we?” she asked.
“Cliffhaven,” the boy answered, nodding towards the large wooden gate before them. “We’re approaching the gate guards.”
“That wall isn’t going to hold the ice army back for more than a few seconds,” the girl mumbled, running her hand over the supplies to make sure her bow was still where she'd left it.
“I know,” the boy answered quietly, scanning the huge structure. “We’ll come up with something.”
“I sure hope so.” The girl turned and examined the forest behind them. No ice in sight. Thank the stars for that, she thought.
As the horses hooves clopped onto the wooden drawbridge, a gruff voice called “Halt!”
The boy continued to the end of the bridge and stopped. A man holding a sword and a lantern hurried out of the small gatehouse. “What's your business?”
“We bear news for the King of Cliffhaven and his army,” the boy answered. “Your lands are about to be invaded.”
The guard laughed. “Invaded you say? Why are you two children here instead of a royal courier?”
“Our entire city has been destroyed,” the boy answered. “We were the only survivors.”
“And why should I believe you?”
“Hand me your lantern,” the girl said.
The guard raised an eyebrow, but did as she asked. Realizing what she was doing, the boy handed her one of the ice arrows. A few seconds later, an inquisitive moth fluttered up to the lantern. The girl touched it with the arrow tip, and it crumbled into ice, hundreds of tiny pieces drifting to the ground.
The guard cursed and leapt backwards. “What was that?”
“That,” the girl answered, “is what is about to happen to everything and everyone in this city.”
He didn't respond, just turned and unlocked the huge gate. As he pushed it open, he called another man out of the gatehouse. “Escort them to the king immediately.”
The man nodded and hurried through the gate. The boy nudged the horse and it followed.
Cliffhaven Palace was grand, with jeweled statues and golden chandeliers lining the walls. The boy stared in awe at the grandeur as they walked down the hallways. He'd never seen anything but the outside of the palace in his hometown. He glanced over at the girl, but she didn't seem particularly interested in the finery. He added it to the list of her abnormal characteristics.
“This way,” the man said, stopping in front of a huge double-doored archway. The two guards standing on either side pushed the doors open, and the boy entered, followed closely by his companion.
At the far end of the huge room, a middle aged man with a gold crown on his head sat on a large throne. His face was neutral; he looked neither kind nor cruel. The boy frowned. Is wasn't necessarily a bad sign, but sometimes the cruelest men hid behind the plainest faces.
“Who are these children?” the king asked, his voice as uninterpretable as his face.
The man who had escorted them stepped forward. “They are—”
“We know how to speak,” the girl cut in, scowling. “We are from a small kingdom north of here, and we come with important news.”
“Which kingdom?” the king asked. “There are only seventeen in this land, and I know them all.”
“That is unimportant,” the girl answered. The boy and the king both gave her quizzical looks, but remained silent. “Your city will be invaded in approximately two days time by an army wielding weapons which turn anything they touch into ice.”
The king considered for a few seconds, and then waved his hand. “Escort them to an inn and make an inquiry as to where their parents are. I don't have time to—”
The king stopped, his eyes widening. The boy had snatched a spear from the guard, touched the tip of one of the ice arrows to it, and tossed it into the air. It exploded into ice, which then rained down onto the palace floor.
“Unless you want your entire kingdom to end up looking like this,” the boy said, pointing to the ice shards on the floor, “I suggest you pay attention.”
The king nodded slowly.
Several hours later, the boy and the girl emerged from the king’s private conference room.
“That went better than I'd expected,” the boy said. “Especially considering his first reaction.”
“There's still no way we’re going to stop them,” the girl answered.
“The fire idea might work. We still don't know how powerful the ice power actually is.”
“Whoever is commanding this army knows what he's doing. You don't make an attack this large without careful planning.” The girl kicked a stray jewel which appeared to have fallen off one of the wall displays. “We’re not going to win.”
The boy stopped and grabbed her shoulders. “Look at me.” The girl reluctantly raised her eyes to meet his. “The future is never certain. All we can do is hope. That's the only thing that ever keeps anyone going. Hope.”
The girl sighed. “Maybe. But we have to be realistic.”
Taking his hands off the girl the boy turned and began walking again. “What do you say we go visit the library?”
She shrugged and followed him.
As they continued down the hall, the boy withdrew into his own thoughts. They weren't at Stormport, but he was still determined to get the girl out of harm’s way. Maybe someone can take her down to one of the southern ports. If we fail to stop the ice army here, thousands will flee to the mainland. It's a dangerous voyage, but is better than certain death.
The trouble is she won't go. No matter how hopeless she is, she still won't leave. What can I do to change that?
After stopping to ask directions from half a dozen different people, all the while wondering why anyone was awake at such a late hour, they finally found themselves before an old stone building. The girl stepped forward and tried the handle. Unlocked. They slowly stepped in, and saw a single lantern burning on a desk to their left.
“Welcome,” said a soft voice, coming from the direction of the light. The two made their way towards it. “What can I do for you?”
As they came into the lantern’s circle of light, the man who had been speaking picked it up. It lit his face, revealing wrinkles and a long gray beard.
“We’re looking for books on… supernatural occurrences,” the boy answered.
“Ah,” the man said. “You're the second ones just tonight. I should add on to that section, it seems as though it's becoming quite popular.”
The boy and the girl glanced at each other. “Is the other one still here?” the girl asked.
“Yes,” the man answered. “He, however, seems to be fairly knowledgeable in the subject already. Maybe he could offer you some guidance.”
They exchanged another glance. “Lead on,” the boy said.
“Oh no,” the man answered. “I don't climb the stairs. That's what assistants are for. You'll have to find it yourself.” He lit another lamp and handed it to the boy. “Third floor, eighth row, somewhere in the middle. Watch out for the sharpteeth.”
The boy nodded and turned around. The girl followed as he started towards the back of the building. It took them a full two minutes to find the staircase, and then another three to climb to the third floor. Once they arrived, however, they had no trouble spotting the section the man had pointed them towards. A faint light flowed several rows down.
They slowly approached it, and stopped just before they turned the corner. “We need to be careful,” the boy whispered. “I'll keep the arrows handy.” They had left two with the king, but still had four.
The girl nodded, and they stepped into the light. A tall, thin man stood leaning against the shelf, a large book resting in one hand. He glanced up.
“Who are you?” he asked, his voice smooth and cunning.
No trick figuring out what he's like, the boy thought. He tightened his grip on the arrows.
The girl took a step forward. “That's not important. We're here to learn about supernatural power. We need to know how to use it.”
“Not the kind of subject I thought children were interested in,” the man answered, closing the book.
“The man downstairs told us you knew a lot,” the girl said. “Will you teach us?”
The man laughed. Not an amused laugh. A cruel, condescending laugh. He set the book down, and his face hardened. “No. You two had better run along before you stick your heads in something too big for you.”
“I guess we'll have to do it again, then,” the boy said. He removed a book from the opposite shelf and glanced at the title, which read, The Chomping of the Skonk. Doesn't look too important.
He touched the arrow to it, tossed it in the air, and ice fell. The man stood still, staring at the pile of ice. Without warning, he lunged for the arrow, his hand narrowly missing the shaft. The boy jerked it out of reach.
“Give that to me!” the man said, taking a threatening step forward.
The boy pointed the arrow at him. “Not until you teach us.”
“Done,” the man said as soon as the words left the boy’s mouth. “Eight hours of lessons, then you hand over those arrows.”
“Only two of them,” the boy answered.
The girl looked at the boy in shock. “What do you think you're doing?”
“Saving the world,” the boy answered.
“That's not how—”
“Let’s begin,” the man said, interrupting. The girl scowled as he picked up his book. This is not going to end well.
Written by Elia Tyson
Edited by The Flabbits
Copyright © 2018 by The Flabbit Room