The girl was eager to leave. Far too eager, many thought. The mysterious ship had arrived a month earlier, bringing harsh news from lands the Moalians had never even heard of. The pale men from this ship had brought gifts for the islanders, and many more for the girl. She was the Key, they said, although none of the Moalians understood what lock she was supposed to open. They never questioned how a young girl could be a key, for they were used such fantasies from their own gods. There were misgivings, of course, loads of them. For one thing, the men were far too fair-skinned to be sailors. And the girl was so young... She had resisted along with her parents until the man had come in. A strange cloaked man from the ship, although before that day no one had seen him all month long. The man had somehow convinced the girl that she had to follow him. And now the girl wanted to leave everything she knew, her parents, her friends, her whole world, just to be the Key for people she hadn't known existed thirty days ago...
"Daddy, why is the sky blue?"
The wiry man winked down at his daughter. Kolli's eyes were dancing like underwater emeralds, in a slightly dryer version.
"There are two answers to that question, just like for any question", answered the man. "The answer of the poet, and the answer of the scholar. Which one would you like to hear, Coal-face?"
She wrinkled her nose and bumped her father with her shoulder. "I'm not Coal-face! My name is Kolli!" she shouted laughingly. "Now just answer me. Why is the sky blue? And don't pretend you might give me the scholar's answer. You never do."
Did the man know? His soft grey eyes took on a sad tint when he heard her words. How he loved the way she could predict his every word... Even while he remained unpredictable. But he felt that this was not to last. (He would have been right in any case, of course: childhood doesn't last forever. When adolescence rolls around, any sort of understanding between parents and children is broken at least temporarily. But that is beside the point.)
"Kolli, the sky is blue because long ago, the gods decided to pull the plug that was holding the oceans inside the world. Great terror was unleashed upon the lands, and life as it existed then was swept away by the fierce, churning waves. The ocean was made blue after that tragedy, to commemorate the awful sadness of those days. When the clouds rose to the sky, they told the story of the great tragedy. The sky wept, but sunrise caught it as it was weeping. Red bled into the horizon, and the color blue was fixed permanently into the sky. That, my love, is why the sky is blue to this day." His gaze was no longer on his girl. It looked through her into the unreachable depths of time.
"That is a sad story. I don't like it." She frowned. "This time, I should have asked Mom or Teacher for the scholar's answer."
Rammte shook his head, his brown locks brushing his shoulders.
"One day you will understand that stories are never completely happy. Unfortunately, that is probably the day you will forget what the stories mean."
The young girl jumped up then, ending the conversation that was becoming too deep for her (and more importantly, too long). The sea was plainly visible, as was the main Moalian harbor. And a ship was just becoming visible over the horizon, too big to be an ordinary canoe. "Daddy, let's go see the ship!"
Hand in hand, they walked down to the harbor (well, he tried to walk as she ran dragging him). Kolli waved to some of her friends who had also come to see the incoming vessel. After a few moments, she broke away from her father and started to play a version of tag with the other children. When the ship finally pulled in, the sun was beginning to set, clothing the horizon in pinks and oranges. Kolli ran around the docks and the merchandise that was being unloaded, returning to her father occasionally to ask a random question. When the men descended from the ship, she stared. They were so pale they almost looked dead... "TAG!" shouted a boy, knocking her forward, realizing several seconds too late the calm that had settled over the docks. The men from the ship carried a strange awe-inducing aura.
"Who are they?" she whispered. As Rammte shook his head, one of the strangers spoke up, as if in response to Kolli's query.
"Greetings, people of Moal. We are in Moal, correct? Good. I am Gantsh Wellareth. From Nalgeneth, capital of Elmenland. Well then, do you have a leader? A man or woman of influence? I need someone who's in charge." His brisk, matter-of-fact tone was utterly unexpected. It was contrary to his aura, which was made of calm, power, and something foreboding. His voice made you expect to see him rub his hands together, while his aura made you want to bow solemnly.
Before Kolli had a chance to ask where Elmenland was and what was wrong with this man, her father pulled her away. He retreated steadily inland toward Stym and the forest. From the corner of her eye, Kolli saw many others doing the same.