I hitch a ride into the city on an apple cart, pulling my red and orange robes closer around me. They are warm for my body, but the cold air threatens to turn my ears to frostbite. Not for the first time, I wish I was allowed to wear a hat, or at least to grow my hair for the journey. The icy wind gusts over my bald head again and I shiver while I try to meditate, thinking warm thoughts.
Through the gates of the city, I thank the apple farmer and lean on my walking staff, waiting for the feeling to return to my numb feet. As the youngest avowed member of the monastery, this task is mine, mostly because some of the older monks would not survive a journey like this through the winter forest and back again. At least the city is a little less cold, thanks to the walls blocking the wind.
I breathe deep and feel for the spirit line through the streets, as the old monks have taught me. In my mind, a yellow thread unrolls, rounds a corner and wanders off between the buildings. Perhaps it is coming easily to me because of his nearness, or perhaps I am imagining things again. The only way to know is to follow the invisible thread.
The neat, even cobblestones near the gate gradually change to mismatched and recycled ones as my sandalled feet take me into the poorer sections of the city. Where the streets are dirt tracks between wooden hovels, I stop to look around. The spirit trail has grown faint, but nearby there is an obvious glow coming from a tavern. The new Guardian of Fire is clearly inside, and he will not want to come with me. They never do.
I enter the tavern as quietly as I can, but all eyes turn to me as soon as I step through the door to the relative warmth. The patrons are huddled around the only light in the room, and the warmth coming from it is obvious, even from this distance. I stand, waiting, and nobody seems certain what to do. Several avoid my gaze, but soon they part at some unseen signal in their midst.
There on the floor sits the Guardian of Fire, dressed in cheap, simple clothes. His eyes narrow as he sizes me up, and my feet reflexively take a defensive stance, echoing years of training. The Guardian stands in one fluid motion and flicks his dark black locks out of his eyes.
"You must come with me," I say. "To the temple, where you are needed."
In response, he aims a swift kick at my midriff, parried by my staff, and follows it up with an elbow that knocks me out into the street. My lungs struggle to take in air, and I see the snow begin to fall down into my eyes, which I blink away. Down past my feet I hear the snow hiss as the Guardian takes off on hot bare feet, down the street. When I can stand again, I will follow him. The balance of the world depends on it.
Mokalus of Borg
PS - There's obviously a bigger world behind this one.
PPS - But I'm not sure what its shape is yet.