Felix has always been fascinated by the world around him and unafraid to try new things. Ever since he read about the rise and fall of the Elementals, however, he hasn’t been able to think about anything else.
After Filion makes a significant announcement, Felix and Zia hatch a plan to get some answers about Felix’s vision and Zia’s family.
The lingering mist in the early morning light saturates my clothes. Dad and I toss Filion’s two bags in the handcart on top of all the market wares. “Filion didn’t pack very much for ten years at Baress.” I hope I sound sick; the plan only works if Mom and Dad think I’m sick.
Dad laughs. “No, but when he starts at the school they’ll make sure he has everything he needs. He’ll be living better there than he did here.”
I groan, leaning against the cart. “We don’t live too bad here, though.”
“True, but by the time he’s done at Baress he’ll be able to do something better than work in a market.” Dad fiddles with the straps, looking away from me. “Maybe he’ll even come back to Haven and make things more fair for everyone.”
I climb onto the edge of the cart, watching Dad tie everything down. “You and Mom always have such great stories, though. All those people in the Federal District don’t know what they’re missing down here.” The breeze picks up, and I cough at the rotting stench in the air. It stinks worse than usual.
“Felix, if you saw how people lived in the Federal District you wouldn’t be saying that.” Dad picks me up off the cart and sets me down. “Are you sure you don’t want to see your brother off at the caravans?”
“I really don’t feel well, Dad. I wish I could.”
Dad nods and pats me on the back. “Well, say goodbye to him and go back to bed. The sooner you’re feeling better, the sooner you can start helping us at the market.”
“Really?” I’m more surprised than anything else. “You’ve never asked us to help before.”
“Having Filion there this past week improved business tremendously. You’ll get a lot out of it.” Dad turns back to the straps. “Rest up. We’ll see you when you get back.”
I run back inside just as Filion and Mom are coming down the stairs. I run at Fil and wrap my arms around him in a hug. “You’ll come back soon, right?” I ask.
Fil returns my embrace. “I don’t know. We’ll see how everything goes.” He ruffles my hair. “I’ll see what I can learn about that, um, stuff we saw the other night. Baress does have the biggest library of the eastern cities, after all. When I find anything, I’ll write to you.”
“Filion, we should go.” Mom gives me a hug. “We’ll be back before lunch, Felix. If you’re feeling better when we get back, you can spend some time with Zia.”
I let go of my brother, rubbing my eyes as if wiping away tears. “Okay.”
Filion tussles my hair. “Love you, Felix. I’ll write as soon as I can.”
“Love you, too.” I head up the stairs as Mom and Filion shut the door. I run my hands along the wall, wondering what Mom and Dad will think when they find my note on the table. I had already written it the night before. All it said was:
Something happened to me last week. I’m not hurt or in danger, but I need answers, and I won’t find them here in Haven. I’ll come home when I figure it out. I love you both.
Zia helped write the letter yesterday. She’s much better with words than I am, and it sounds a lot like what you’d find in stories. Hopefully it will be enough.
I wrap my dark cloak around my shoulders, grab my bag and the note from the foot of my bed and race down the stairs. I only carry a change of clothes, some food, and our copy of The Hermit’s Knight. I drop the note on the table and dash to the front door. As I place my hand on the doorknob, I take one last look around at the wooden table, the bookshelves, and the metal stove. “It’ll only be a few weeks, then I’ll be back,” I whisper to myself, brushing my eyes. I’m actually crying a bit now. I guess I could fool my family, but not myself.
I jump at the knock on the door. Are they home already? They haven’t been gone that long. I crack the door open a bit and meet familiar blue eyes. “Are you ready?” Zia asks. “You family left fifteen minutes ago, and my dad’s still out cold.”
I wipe my eyes one last time, shutting the door behind me. “Yeah, I was just about to leave.”
Zia pats me on the shoulder. “Don’t be upset. At least you have a family to come back to.”
“What about your Dad?” I ask.
Zia wraps her cloak around her, shivering. “I don’t think he’ll miss me. Come on. The caravans leave in a couple hours.” She hitches her bag and dashes to the alleyway across the street. I follow her, stumbling on the uneven street.
“I don’t see Fil or my parents out there,” I say, gazing out over the white wagons and the people loading them. Rich or poor, everyone uses the same covered wagons with several notorious watchmen assigned to them during the trip. Without looking inside or asking someone it’s impossible to know who’s inside or where they’re going.
Zia tears her cloak off, revealing a sleeveless tunic and rolled up pants. “Keep an eye on my bag,” she says, stuffing her cloak into it, “I’m going to talk to that watchman.” She scrambles off the ledge we’re standing at. I duck below, dropping my bag and taking my cloak off. I had already started to sweat through it. Haven always grows warm incredibly fast after sunrise. I watch Zia amble up to a wiry man in brown leather armor, spear and sword strapped to his back. She tugs at his arm, and he glances down at her. These men are rumored to do unspeakable things to anyone they perceive as a threat. Mom and Dad rarely talk about them, even when Filion and I ask.
Zia’s glances up my way. Is something wrong? Did she get hurt? She looks up at me, direct eye contact, and the glint in her eye is all I need to see. I drop the packs over the ledge then throw myself over. I hit the ground hard and fall on my shoulder. Grunting, I pull myself to my knees. A few people turn to look at me wearing quizzical expressions. Zia’s at my side, helping me up by my elbow. “Felix, did you fall over again?” She laughs. “You’re always doing that. Come on,” she says, grabbing her bag, “We’ve got a caravan to catch.”
“How did you find out? You spoke with the watchman for barely a minute.” I put my bag on my right shoulder, massaging my left.
“I told him my mommy was going to Baress, and I had to find her before she left.” Zia runs past the throng of people to a wagon being loaded with crates and burlap sacks by two large watchmen. “This one is going there.”
I’m glad Zia’s dad used to be a watchman. She’d hear all these great stories when he’d finish an assignment. They memorize which caravans are going where, if there are any important travelers, all sorts of things. As soon as they load the supply wagons, they all do a final check on the passengers before taking off. The two watchmen pull the flaps down on the back of the wagon and run to another one. “Now’s our chance. Hurry!” Zia grabs my hand, and we dash to the wagon. She pulls on one of the flaps, and I clamber in, tossing my pack into the wagon. It smells of all sorts of things I can’t place. Zia jumps in behind me, smiling. “I’m going to see my family again! And you’ll-”
I shove my hand against her mouth. The wagon rocks gently near the back, and a man says in a gruff voice, “You sure you don’t want to be back in your mansion, milady?”
A woman laughs. “You’re quite handsome yourself.” Her voice is almost playful, not what I expected from a member of an elite division of warriors. “I’ve done this route before. Bandits never go after the supplies to Baress. It’s always the passengers they go after.”
Zia’s smile widens. I can’t imagine why. Before I decide to get off, the wagon lurches forward. As much as I want answers to my vision and the mystery surrounding the fire girl, I can’t stop thinking about what the watchmen sitting at the back of the wagon will do when they find two stowaways on board.