Note: This is my first story to begin posting here. I’m writing it as I go, so this is raw raw raw material. Also, as with most of my stories, while it is not exclusively for children, it is written with them in mind, for their enjoyment as well as any adult who wants to read it.

DOUBLE NOTE: Please do not reprint this or any portion of it without direct permission from me (you can submit a reprinting request at morethanivebeen@outlook.com). Please DO feel free to spread the word, link to morethanivebeen.wordpress.com, or reblog it with a link to More Than I’ve Been. Thank you for your respect!

~ Kat

(for a full list of the parts to Ancient Fire, click here)

Prologue

The night was dark. Stars pricked the sky with light, but no moon was visible. A heavy stillness draped the world. Peace, or tension? Even had there been any awake to wonder, no one could know the answer. Through it cut a shape, round, disc-like, frighteningly swift and silent. It froze in midair, hovering like a vulture over a small house set back off a tiny side street on the edge of a single-stoplight town.

A long green ameba of light oozed from its underbelly, reaching through the wall of house as if it simply weren’t there. The snaky amebic fingers twined about the sleeping figure of a child. Lifting the body gently, the light retracted, pulling the still sleeping child back through the wall, up in the night. It drew the body up into the belly of the shape as if it were some carnivorous beast making its meal. The stars dimmed as the shape shot off, grimly silent, into the night.

The stillness reigned on. The sky was empty again, but the world was one child shorter.

Chapter 1

“If two cups equal a pint, and there are two pints in a quart and four quarts in a gallon, how many people can be served from a six-gallon punch bowl? Assuming, of course, that each person has one cup only.”

“Who would only have one cup of punch? And where would you get such a gigantic punch bowl?” The girl inquired of asked skeptically. “Who cares, anyway?”

The old frazzle-haired man blew out his breath in a whoosh of exasperation. “Charlotte, this is your math lesson. You don’t ask why on your math lesson. Just do the problem.”

“But it’s stupid, Aman,” she declared. “It’s not like I’d have to do anything that wacked or complicated outside of my ‘math lesson‘, so why now?”

“Charlotte.” The man called Aman ran his fingers through his sparse gray hair, perhaps explaining its frazzled state. “You’ve spent the last four hours working five problems with me that I know you are capable of doing in minutes. What has gotten into you?”

Charlotte flushed, refusing to meet his eyes. “I don’t want to do math today,” she mumbled.

“Since when do you want to do math?” Aman asked. He rubbed his forehead. “You’re a million headaches in one, Lottie. You tell me what’s made cheese of your brain, and this can be the last problem. I think I’ll need to take a tonic and lie down.”

“She’s coming tonight,” Charlotte said suddenly. “Ninety-six.” Before anything more could be said, she had left.

Aman dropped his head to the tabletop and let out a low moan. “Lottie, you’ll be the death of me.” He hesitated. “She? Oh, no. There goes the tonic.” He glanced nervously to the window. The sun was red, low on the horizon. “I need to get out of here!”

He leapt to his feet, dithered about the room for a moment, and dashed out the door, black robe flapping.

 

Lottie tiptoed through the winding corridors of the castle she called home, dodging soldiers prowling the halls with dark strained expressions. Finally, on the first level at the back left-hand side of the castle, she reached her own room. Shutting the door stealthily behind her, she drew in a long breath. The tightrope was being strung. Over death, the line of her life had been tightened, and she was to walk it in… Her eyes flickered to the small window, trying to gauge time by the sun. Less than an hour. When sunglow was all that remained of the day, the Mistress would descend on the castle. When that happened, Lottie’s place would be in the courtyard, waiting to assume her position – one pace behind the Mistress wherever she went, doing whatever the Mistress bid her. But first, she had to make herself presentable.

Struggling out of her black scholar’s robe she wore during her schooling, she chose a long dress made of a lightweight green material. The Mistress always required her to “look like a leader”, the meaning of which Lottie was not sure she knew. But she did know that her long tunics were not a popular choice in the eyes of her Mistress.

Checking herself in the round mirror over her washstand, Lottie caught her breath. Her composition from the afternoon, or rather its ink, was spattered on her hands and some her face as well, showing up even over her toffee skin. Frantically, she bent over the basin and scrubbed. Passably satisfied, she pulled on sandals and twisted her hair hastily into a braid. The loose tan pants she wore under her tunics showed around her ankles, but there was no time to change or take them off. She was already running late.

Lottie hurried through the halls, out the main door into the courtyard, where she stopped, standing rigid. The sun was gone, but its red flame still scorched the sky. A dark shadow swirled between the western horizon and the castle. It disappeared, and then reappeared, much larger and close to the castle. Lottie braced herself, every nerve itching to be somewhere else, to run as fast and as far as she could. Instead, she stood tall, waiting for what she knew was coming. Keeping in line and lying low was her best chance now.

The guards at the gate and the main door stomped to attention, eyes ahead, spears at the salute. A bestial roar rent the dusk. The ground shuddered. High on the outer wall over the gate, an enormous dragon perched. Earth and stone and men trembled before it.

The Mistress had arrived.

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