The Endless Horizon

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 6 (v.3) - The Bulwark

Submitted: June 23, 2019

Reads: 128

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Submitted: June 23, 2019

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-6-

The Bulwark

 

 

After some deliberation, we'd decided that rather than go to Kelworth as originally planned, we'd opted to head to Chenglei, an eastern nation without allegiances to Abdera.

During many of the coming days, time was spent conversing about our lives up until this point. Seeing as it was my refrain from telling the truth that had gotten us in this situation, I was more than happy to lead the discussion. I'd first tried to recount tales of my youth, but I found that when scouring for memories, there were precious few to relate. I told her all I could recall, starting with how Israfel has raised me.

When I thought about it clearly, it was apparent that everything I had today was thanks to him: my knowledge of weapon infusion, my home, even my lost occupation. For the longest time I thought him to be my grandfather, as seemed logical to my young mind; however, he had scolded me for vocalizing this belief. When asked why he told me that my parents had left me to his care for reasons unknown to him. Only years past my reaching adolescence he disappeared from Abdera without so much as a goodbye, leaving me to make a living for myself. It wasn't abnormal for him to be gone for weeks at a time, but never more than that.


After this, I went on to describe my encounter with the Duke, and of course my extensive years of scouting. In all of my rambling about the vermin I disposed of and criminals I apprehended, only one thing stood out to Cordella.

“What was it like?” she asked one night from across the campfire.

“In reference to what?”

“The wyvern of course. What could have gone through your mind, happening across such a phenomenal beast?”

“I didn't have the luxury to look at it but a few seconds, but it was stunning from what I saw, born of wings and breath of flame, it was something out of pure legend. As for what went through my head, all I recall is the sense of dread it had instilled.”

“Don't think me a madwoman but I hope to see it for myself one of these days, under the right circumstances of course. Not for a lack of belief, but I'm interested in to see how such a creature could have remained undiscovered for so many years.”

I blurted. “I’m a stranger to you, a criminal no less, and you’d believe my claim with so little to back it.”

“You may have been the first, but since then wyrm sightings have spawned in the dozens, and that's just from what I've heard in that cramped tent.” She used a spindly branch to stoke the fire as it threatened to die. “Those are not the only rumors either,” she continued, “They've theorized that something must have driven them north.”

“What could possibly cause them to scramble? No other monster could rival their size or strength.”

She shook her head. “We have no way of knowing right now. It could all be groundless speculation just the same.”

Although the thought of the unknown made me uneasy, it also filled me with a morbid curiosity. When next the fire grew dim, I didn't disturb the coals. We only had a few nights left before we made it into Chenglei, and we were both eager to get a full night’s rest. My eyes were only half open when I heard Cordella rummaging through her things. I sat up to see that she had pulled out a leather-bound book that seemed much too large for the small pouch it was found in.

“Here, just in case we see something new out here, it may be a good idea to take a look at this. What with the way you speak of your encounters with monsters, I figured you'd find this interesting nonetheless.” She tossed it onto the grass in front of me and laid back down. “Goodnight,” she said quietly, as did I in response.

I picked up the hefty tome, feeling the weight of it in my hands. I had intended on sleeping, but this gave me a chance to discover what had woken me the previous night. Compendium of the Wicked, the front cover read blatantly. Although it reeked of aged paper and dust, the inside looked to be in a good enough condition.

Thumbing through the yellowed pages, I stopped on the page regarding the wraith, an ethereal creature praying on the fear of others. That certainly sounded like what had woken me that night, but rather than be satisfied with that, I continued to read about all manners of beast. It was enthralling, seeing the sheer number of creatures that I had yet to encounter and what I hadn't even known existed. For example, the Scytalis, a writhing serpent born of rainbow scales so stunning it could halt the approach of any warrior, or the kitsune, a cunning mythical fox that would trick the gullible into their demise.

Towards the back of the volume was a comprehensive list of known wyverns. Picture-perfect illustrations of reptiles of every shape and size, though none resembled what I’d seen weeks prior. Out of all of them, only one description caught my eye.


The fire drake, a wingless dragon able to manipulate it’s natural energies and manifest it as a flame, the only documented species with such an ability. If that was indeed the case, then it confirmed that what I had sighted was indeed a previously undiscovered species.

By this point I had read every entry under the classification for wyvern, but there were yet more pages to be read. Up until now I was able to flip through the text with little effort, but the remaining pages began to stick to one another. When finally I was able to separate one of them my eyes widened at the depiction, then darted to the caption reading Undocumented Wyverns.

Each page from then on was even more alarming than the last, containing images of beasts the likes of which dwarfed anything I had ever seen, including the wyvern from my expedition. Suddenly overwhelmed I shut the compendium and nervously eyed Cordella who had long since fallen asleep. Who exactly had I been traveling with, and how had they procured such an artifact as this?

Somewhere amidst my worrying, I slipped into a restless sleep.

[The Next Morning]

As the new day dawned and I roused from slumber, I could feel the strain that was put on my eyes. I had been enraptured by the book into the early hours of the morning. Cordella had just awoken and begun donning her various trinkets when she noticed my sorry state.

“Are you alright?” She asked with concern. I held up my hand to gesture to her to say that I was fine. After I had gotten my own equipment together I found that she had already mounted the horse, taking the reins in her hands. “Just rest up for now, I can't have you faint if we get ourselves into trouble.” I didn't protest, and took the back of the saddle, keeping my eyes clamped. I didn't believe that I would ever be able to fall asleep on horseback, but in no time I was dozing.

When the horse bucked I nearly flew off into the ground. I raised myself into a sitting position to see what had caused us to stop. “Get up, I'll need your help with this.” She told me when she saw me stir. We had arrived at a mountain pass, steep cliff-sides to either side of us. The only way onward was straight, but a hulking pile of rocks was lodged in the passage.
I dismounted as Cordella had done and eyed the gigantic boulder beneath the pile with doubt. “I really don't see either of us being able to move that with our strength alone.”

“We can't be sure without trying, circumnavigating the entire mountain would add more time to our journey than we can afford.”

I was slow in reaching the rocky mass as I was still groggy from rest. While Cordella climbed the pile I noticed something peculiar regarding the placement of the rocks: these were the only roadblocks. Not a single stray rock was strewn anywhere but the mound itself. I called out to her when I realized what the formation was, “Get down! Now!”

My suspicions were confirmed when the rocks shifted together as one. She slid off the rocks hitting the ground with a hard thud, she was shaken but otherwise unharmed. What luck that the bestiary had already come in handy. Golems were a curious sort, for as unassuming as it appeared to be, it was very much sentient. Their body consisted entirely of earth and aura, void of any flesh. I couldn't tell if this was for better or worse, for at the very least, the hazard was now able to move itself.

“I'll handle this,” I said before turning to see that my ally had her eyes closed and her arms outstretched in front of her. She had upon her face a look of intense focus. Quickly I realized what she was doing. With a flash of light, the golem erupted into a roaring inferno as spell after spell was detonated atop it.

“Stop!” I yelled upon seeing her prepare another attack. To use such powerful acts of magic so haphazardly was a sure death sentence, and I couldn't stand idly by. Whereas the variety of magic and its applications was almost limitless, the human body would inevitably run dry of its reserves.

My plea had no effect, for still she continued her unrelenting barrage. Above the golem rose a plume of smoke and scattered debris, but the stone behemoth stood firm. When I decided I would watch no longer, I snatched her hands from the air.

Her eyes darted to me as she yanked them free. "Why have you stopped me?" she asked me with an icy glare.

I gave her no answer, for as soon as she had stopped, I unsheathed my still pristine sword. Without wasting any time I burst forth into a sprint, closing the distance between me and the foe. Its reflexes were still slowed from the spells, so it could only raise its arms in a bulwark after several swipes, each sending a hailstorm of sparks in every which direction. With a powerful leap I was able to get to its blind spot, diving blade first.

A sharp twang rang in my ears and through my arms as metal met stone. After seeing that normal attacks were ineffective, I knew we’d have to find another way to defeat the golem, and by taking advantage of its slow speed I was able to continuously circle around its perimeter. Each time it attempted to return my attack I easily evaded and continued to search for a weak point.

Eventually, I spotted what must have been the result of Cordella’s efforts: a shallow crack that spread throughout the main body of the lumbering monolith. And so I drove my blade into the opening, wedging it deeper with every bit of my strength. Next, I poured energy into the embedded blade causing an icy piton to bear into the rocks and subsequently burst forth from every crevice.

Pulling the weapon free, I reeled back. It wasn't enough, the magic-bound boulders separated only briefly before returning to their prior position. The overall structure had shifted but didn't show any signs of collapse. I'd expended a great deal of energy and all I had to show for the onslaught was the wear on my saber.

“That's enough! This isn't going anywhere Kaiser, just fall back.”

My breaths were labored and shallow from expending so much energy, and my movements had slowed as a result. I wanted nothing more than to prove myself to my new comrade, but I was near spent from my attack. If I was to finish this, I had one more chance. I speared my sword into the ground and waited for the golem to stumble over to where I knelt. Once it had caught up to me it raised a rocky arm over its head.

“What are you doing? Get away from it!” I heard her exclaim from her distant vantage point.

Narrowly sidestepping the attack, I ran up its shoulder and fell to the ground behind it. Tearing an arrow from my quiver and drawing my bow, I spotted where the ice had left a split in its body. With one last burst of speed, I distanced myself from the creature and let the final arrow crack the sky. Not but a second later it exploded into a cloud of craggy debris, for just before letting my hand off the string, I'd put forth the same technique I had accidentally employed in Abdera.

This time when the dirt would clear only a simple heap of rocks would remain, as they had all been sundered at once.
Retrieving my straight sword from where it had pierced earth, I staggered back to where Cordella stood. “We can't always afford to waste that kind of time,” she said with a mocking grin in response to the personal satisfaction that reflected off of my facial expression. Whatever words that followed were droned out by the low drumming in my ears. After a few more steps I tumbled to the ground with exhaustion.
~~~

Sometime later I came to my senses, draped across the back of the horse like cheap cargo. Scrambling to a less harrowing position I noticed the residual ringing in my ears, only this time it was from the altitude. In my time unconscious the air had grown even colder due to the land's gradual upward curving. The once lush earthen floor had become desolate of flora, instead, it was littered with shallow snow piles. It wouldn't be much longer until we reached Chenglei.

“Are we almost there?” I asked, still collecting myself and recalling details from what had happened before I passed out.

Silently I had begun to wonder about the true nature of my companion. In our battle, she had cast countless spells, yet it was ultimately I who had fallen victim to exhaustion after only two weapon infusions. With training, it wasn’t impossible to grow your reserves of spare magic; however, her frivolous sorcery would kill even the most experienced.

Another couple of minutes past before I gave way to my still-burning curiosity. “Why didn't you tell me that you could use magic? And with such ferocity no less?”

She answered with shame in her voice. “If you knew, I didn't think you would agree to my terms.”

“You would instead withhold information and risk my leaving? I shared my own truth, the least you can do is show me the same courtesy.”

Even unable to see her face I could tell she was hesitant to answer. “I'm traveling in order to learn more about the wyverns. I knew that should it happen that I come face to face with one, I'd never be able to walk away on my merit alone. Thus I sought help. If in knowing this you want to walk away, I really can't make you do otherwise.”

So that’s what she was angling at: not for her to follow me, but just the opposite.

“Consider us even then.” Ultimately it made little difference what she needed me for. It had been weeks since last I had an agenda to fulfill, and what's more, we desired answers to the same questions. I'd be outright foolish to reject the help of someone as skilled as she was. “Our agreement still stands; however, it seems both of us could stand to be more forthright with each other from this day forward.”

Throughout the remainder of our journey Cordella detailed the events of her upbringing with even more scrupulousness than I. Much like the way Israfel had raised me, she had been raised mostly by the efforts of her Aunt. Also recounted was her affinity for magic from a young age, and how her aunt’s teachings helped to foster even greater ability. Born with an innate curiosity, she had spent much her childhood with her nose in books. It was this curiosity that eventually led her to search for information pertaining to the wyverns.

It seemed to me that her aunt had filled a role similar to that which Israfel had filled in my own life, and in that connection, I felt a strange sense of kinship with my new ally. Though I knew not where our journey would take us, I took pleasure in knowing I was not alone in it.


© Copyright 2020 Ignis Vulpes. All rights reserved.

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