Authors: Katie Cash
and the Rise of the Wardens
and the Rise of the Wardens
Book One of the Mapkeeper series
Copyright © 2015 Katie Cash
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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system.
Published by Katie Cash, 2015.
Cover design by Diana Buidoso
Table of Contents
Morning came too soon.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
Lucy’s alarm increased in volume the longer she ignored it. She was not a morning person. Squinting, she rolled over and silenced it with a slap.
, she thought, flopping back into the shallow rut in the mattress that her body had formed over the years.
Get up and get dressed
. She rolled out of bed, her brain foggy and her body on auto-pilot. Stumbling into the bathroom, she brushed her teeth, combed her hair, and washed her face. That always woke her up a bit. Today was Monday—the start of a new week.
Her brothers were stirring as Lucy threw on jeans and a t-shirt behind her L-shaped curtain. After tugging on a pair of wool socks, she picked her way through piles of Mack’s and Luke’s clothing and ambled toward the kitchen. She started the coffee pot for Mack and put the kettle on for herself. She was a tea-drinker. She shuffled to the cupboard and poured a bowl of her favorite sugar-laminated cereal. Like a sleepwalker on auto-pilot, she gazed absently out the kitchen window as she ate. Snow. The base layer had increased two-fold overnight.
It must be twenty inches
, she thought.
The Barnes family lived a short distance from Frostbite High, where Mack was a senior, Lucy a junior, and Luke a freshman. Lucy and her brothers walked the ten minutes to school together each morning, sometimes tossing snowballs and other times walking in silence, absorbed in a sleep-induced morning lethargy. Their father left before sunrise each morning to prepare fishing boats for the morning catch at his marine mechanic shop, so they were on their own in the mornings.
Luke trudged into the kitchen, eyes half open, not bothering to say good morning. They shared an understanding that none of them were expected to act like civilized humans in the morning. He pulled a couple of pieces of bread out of their bag and stuffed them into the toaster, setting the timer for “extra light.” Luke preferred his toast just warmed. Dad called it “Luke’s hot bread.”
Lucy poured boiling water over a tea bag as Mack lumbered into the room. He grabbed a box of cereal and poured so much into a bowl that it spilled over onto the counter and floor.
“Oops.” He bent to sweep peanut-butter flavored pebbles into his cupped hands and tossed them into the sink.
“Way to go,” she smirked. Her older brother ignored her.
Luke’s tepid toast popped out of the toaster and he smeared a thick layer of peanut butter on each slice. Lucy savored her last bite of cereal, rinsed the dish, and went to the closet to retrieve her purple puffer jacket.
“I just finished
last night,” she called over her shoulder to Luke and grinning to herself at the memory of the book. “It was so good I couldn’t put it down! You should read it before I return it to the library.”
“Mmk,” she heard Luke burble through a mouthful of food. She and her younger brother devoured books so quickly that they’d almost read through all the books Frostbite High Library had to offer. She knew he would enjoy
as much as she had.
The walk to school was gorgeous and still. The gentlest snowfall drifted from the gray sky, dusting last night’s snowfall with a fresh final layer of fluff. The padding of snow muffled the cozy sounds of the small town coming to life.
To Lucy’s surprise, there was a large crowd of townspeople gathered around Frostbite High. They spilled into the parking lot, crammed shoulder-to-shoulder against one another, trying to get a glimpse of something at the center of the school’s outdoor courtyard. Lucy’s curiosity was piqued—nothing interesting ever happened at Frostbite!
“What’s going on?” Luke asked.
“I don’t know… I don’t remember any of the teachers saying there would be an event on Monday,” Mack replied.
The Barnes siblings quickened their pace.
Crunch crunch crunch
. Their rubber boots bit into the fresh packed snow. The low murmur of excited voices emanated from the crowd and people pointed toward the center of the courtyard, standing on tip-toes to get a better view. An inexplicable apprehension formed somewhere deep within Lucy’s stomach. She shook off an unwelcome chill that slithered its way up her spine.
The siblings weaved through several parked snow mobiles and reached the edge of the crowd in the parking lot, where they shouldered their way in until they had a clear view of the courtyard. A small group of people were seated in high-backed chairs on stage, but Lucy couldn’t make out their faces.
“Who are they?” Mack asked a man who was squeezed up against him.
“It’s Mr. Quincy and his staff!” the gray-bearded man muttered. “He’s supposed to make some special announcement, just for us here in Algid.” The man’s eyes darkened with mistrust.
Lucy’s heart constricted. She feared the worst. Mack shot an anxious glance at his sister and began to shift his weight from one foot to the other, clenching and unclenching his fists. The fact that the Representative of the People, the highest authority in the entire country of Apocrypham, was visiting their little town of Algid had to mean that something was amiss.
An unsettled hush fell over the crowd as Mr. Quincy stood with majestic grace from his chair at center-stage. He was shorter than Lucy expected—a thin, petite man—and wore his typical dark suit and white collared shirt with a tie, the same type of clothing he always wore when he was interviewed on Commune TV. His dark skin and thick-brimmed glasses made it impossible to discern his expression from a distance.
“Good people of Algid, Frostbite High, and Principal Mungsworth. Thank you for your kind reception. I must admit, I was not expecting such warmth from the chilly town of Algid,” he joked.
A smattering of forced laughter rippled through the crowd. Mr. Quincy’s microphone squeaked in protest, filling the silence following his brief pause. “It is wonderful to be back in the north, as I have a particular fondness for this region. It is so beautiful, especially following a fresh snowfall.” He held his hands out, catching sporadic snowflakes in his spindly brown hands.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank you all in person for the wonderful work you do day in and day out in support of Apocrypham. You are all truly indispensable. I must apologize for flying in unannounced, but this was an unexpected trip. Still, I see word does indeed fly in a small town.” He flashed his sparkling set of too-white teeth. Lucy shot Mack a discreet, incredulous look—Mr. Quincy had
what life was like in a small town. Mack rolled his eyes in agreement.
“My friends, I have wonderful news to share with you. As you know, Commune representatives are always on the hunt for outstanding citizens who would excel working with us in the Capital. Well, my friends, one of your very own has been hand-selected to join us as a member of my personal staff in a position that has recently become available!” Mr. Quincy paused and smiled at one of the enormous black-suited body guards flanking him. The guard chuckled, his massive round belly bobbing up and down.
Get on with it
, Lucy thought with a flash of irritation.
“Now that it’s past seven o’clock, am I correct to assume that all the high schoolers should be present, Principal?” Principal Mungsworth jumped out of her seat and nodded in frantic agreement. She was a petite woman with bizarrely plump arms. Mr. Quincy seemed pleased with her reaction. “Good. In that case, will Miss Lucy Barnes please come forward?”
Lucy’s stomach dropped. She couldn’t believe her ears.
Did he just say my name?
she wondered as the reverberating silence enveloped her, seeming to press in on her.
“Is Ms. Barnes here?” Mr. Quincy and his entourage scanned the crowd of students and onlookers. The people surrounding Lucy gawked at her, open-mouthed. She glanced at her brothers, but they appeared to be as dumbstruck as she was. Most of the people around Lucy knew who she was—after all, it was a small town. They began to edge away from her, forming a pathway leading to the courtyard stage.
This is not happening
, she told herself as her ears began to ring.
What could the Commune possibly want with me?
She glanced at her brothers, pleading with her eyes for one of them to tell her it wasn’t real. Mack shrugged and gestured toward the stage, encouraging her to move. She hated being the center of attention, and yet here she was being summoned on stage in front of the entire town!
“All right Lucy!”
Her classmates and the townspeople began to cheer her on as she felt her feet begin to move. But she saw the hollowness in their eyes as they clapped. They shared her mistrust of the Commune. Her stomach performed several acrobatic flips deep inside her abdomen as she realized that everyone was looking at her.
“Way to go, Lucy!”
People fist-pumped the air and clapped as the throng parted, making way for their champion. Nausea twisted her stomach, threatening to rise in her throat. She couldn’t process what was happening, though her feet were moving. The crowd was a blur of clapping people, but Mr. Quincy was crystal-clear on the stage, smiling with crossed arms as he watched her draw nearer. His large, pointy nose poked out between the lenses of his black glasses as if reaching toward her.
“Ah, there she is. Come on up, Ms. Barnes,” he boomed into his microphone.
Why is he talking so loudly?
Lucy’s feet somehow carried her through the crowd all the way to the stage. The clapping of the crowd died and people began to quiet, anticipating Mr. Quincy’s next move.
Lucy’s autonomous legs climbed the steps to the stage and one of Mr. Quincy’s bodyguards offered her a ham-like arm. She took it with one hand, allowing him to lead her to center stage, where Mr. Quincy stood with one hand outstretched for a handshake. She shook it and watched him grin as he assessed her. A chill shot down her spine and she tore her gaze away. She did not trust this man.
“Ladies and gentlemen, today is a proud day indeed for Algid! After careful consideration of many individuals across the country, Ms. Barnes has been hand-selected by Commune officials to serve in the Capital on my personal staff. Let this day be remembered always, and may each of you bear in mind that you too can accomplish great things! Be your best at all times, for you never know who is watching!” He winked and grinned, but the people of Algid did not return his smile.
Lucy gazed out at the crowd, numb with shock. She found her brothers among the throng. They both wore deep frowns, their apprehension written on their faces. The sight of the crowd made her knees go weak—she feared they might buckle at any moment.
Don’t pass out
, she willed herself.
Mr. Quincy eyed Lucy over the tops of his glasses. “Well, Ms. Barnes, we have much to discuss. I don’t think Principal Mungsworth will mind if I borrow you for the morning to sort matters out.” He winked at Principal Mungsworth, who sprang to her feet once again, wringing her hands at the mention of her name.
Mr. Quincy gave a shallow bow and gestured toward his private helicopter, which was parked on the back side of the large stage. Lucy gulped, realizing she had no choice but to go with him.
His four beefy body guards flanked her and together, the small group stepped up to the helicopter. Lucy looked over her shoulder and found her brothers’ faces once again. Her stomach sank as she wondered when she would see them again.
Behind her, Mr. Quincy faced the crowd and raised his hands, proclaiming, “Thank you for tolerating my visit, good people of Algid! Fear not, we will return Ms. Barnes to you very soon!” He shot a stony glance at Mack and Luke before hopping into the spinning helicopter.