The Endless Horizon

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

Chapter 8 (v.1) - Mountain Requiem

Submitted: June 18, 2019

Reads: 122

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Submitted: June 18, 2019

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A A A

-8-

Mountain Requiem

 

 

In the crisp outside air, the sun still hung ever high. Although I didn't dare say it, I felt that Samson had failed to let us on to all that he knew. It was inexplicable, but there was a sense that we had agreed to an impossible task. All of this aside, we had finally found ourselves a goal no matter how vague; finally, I'd been provided a better vision of what my future held.

Fully aware that it would be an uphill battle, we took the initiative of preparing accordingly. Food was a given, but my gear was in a sorry kind of state, a bloody residue still encrusted the deepest folds of my clothing. Cordella likewise desired cloaks of a denser yarn to better shelter her from the elements whilst retaining flexibility. We split to find shops that would better tailor to our fancy.

Walking betwixt the many buildings was a far more pleasurable affair now that the village was much enlivened by the disappearance of the wyverns. When finally I came upon a suitable armorer for my cause, I walked into the building and dug my hand into my pockets, now brimming with newly acquired coins. Entering this foreign land with currency now of no use to us, we found ourselves funds, but Samson was more than happy to put us on our feet. “Affluence serves no purpose in the form of loose change,” he reasoned as he handed us the small sacks, plump with coins.

I ambled through the many armor stands without even the faintest idea of where to start. Several sets of polished iron passed under my eye but the first that stood out was a gleaming piece made entirely of layered steel. From the detailed etchings in the metal surface to the intricate crooks and bends made to allow for a full range of motion, the craftsmanship was superb. For minutes I must have blankly stared at what may have been the most exquisite piece of equipment the world round.

What next I laid my eyes upon was the price-tag. Though I didn't fully grasp the value of Chengleian currency I was fairly certain there needn't be that many zeros. I swallowed hard and swiftly pulled my hand away from the spectacle. The metal in my pocket alone wouldn't make up even half of the cost of such exorbitantly priced merchandise. When I felt the watchful eye and the hot breath of the shop owner over my shoulder I nearly reached for my weapon.

“Do ye fancy this set?” he asked with an eager grin and a glint in his eye. He'd surely taken notice of my interest in what was likely his most expensive product.

“It's certainly an attractive piece, just a shame that asking price.”

“Oh but no price can be put on protection!” he retorted.

I'd be inclined to agree, but there was indeed a price to be paid, and it was far steeper than I could afford. After a disapproving head shake, he vanished into wherever he had been prior. That man I'm sure would haunt my dreams in the coming nights.

Putting quite some distance between me and the accursed armor I found another set, this time a thin chain-mail. While it was no sheet of metal, it would still provide for more defense than what my current garments offered. Moreover, it was light enough that I could still maneuver to my fullest ability. As appealing as this was, it was the gambeson to be worn over it that truly struck me. A deep navy with golden embroidery along the seams made for a handsome amalgam while the thick straps that adorned its entirety only added to the aesthetic. The thick material would help shut out the bitter air as well. Along with all of these qualities, it resembled armor that the elites would wear back in Abdera, an idea I found most fitting.

I left that stand with much less money and a large leather sack hanging over my shoulder. It hadn't been long when I spotted Cordella dodging in and out of boutiques and outlets alike. With her new garb draped across her person, I nearly ran into her without notice.

“So you got yourself something as well?” she asked when she noticed me, pointing to what was draped from my shoulders. Then she stepped back and flourished her own buy. “Does this look as brilliant as I suspect it might?” She said, brimming with positivity. It was a deep indigo cloak with blue accents all about it. It was quite regal until she pulled the large cowl over her head. In mentioning this, the grin was wiped from her face, as was the hood from her head. “Why, is it misshapen?”

“Of course not, but why hide your face?” My attempt at flattery left a warm blush upon her cheeks.

She ran her hand once across the length of the material once more and then left it to hang at her nape, nothing else was said of the matter.

“You saw my cloak, what did you fancy for yourself?”

“You’ll have to find out for yourself,” I chuckled, “Though we need to get back to my horse, poor thing must be frozen stiff.” Today had been quite the day, and amongst the chaos, I had all but forgotten that my steed was stabled in town. we hurried out of the bustling market area.

During the return trip we were both in pleasant moods and took to conversation for the first time since our arrival.

“Is this truly a feat we’re capable of? I’ve never taken Samson for a betting man, but he seems to have quite literally put his money on impossible odds.”

The answer was one that had alluded me just the same, but I replied regardless of the fact. “You’d know better than I. If nothing else, it’s a path for us to follow.” Her silence spoke of her own skepticism, prompting me to continue, “Nothing he told us would suggest the impossible. We don't even know that we'll find anything; there’s always the possibility that we could arrive to an empty cavern. Should things turn for the worse, we do what we must to survive.”

“That’s what has me most worried. When it comes down to it, what ensures that we'd be able to work well together? We’ve known one another for fewer days than I can’t count on two hands.”

“We’ll just have to start getting to know each other as best we can, right?” The difficult part would be where to start.

Eventually we ended up in the same place that our day had started. My horse whinnied with content upon our return. “So where do we go from here?” Cordella mused.

“I hadn’t thought that far ahead, though a night’s rest would be a place to start. Much of the day has already passed us by.” It wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep insulated from the horrible cold come night time. “If we leave early enough in the morning, we should have no trouble reaching the summit tomorrow, he told us that this specific mountain wasn’t far from here.”

After finding a more suitable stable so that our mount wouldn’t freeze through the night, we put a sliver of the remaining funds towards an inn that would keep ourselves thawed.

~~~

The morning sky was red with scattered and fractured morning sunlight. Before leaving my rented room behind I slipped on the newly purchased tunic and mail. For once I was unable to feel the draft against my torso, something I had only noticed when equipping it for the first time. The metal chain against my skin was cool but not uncomfortable in the least. I was glad to have the extra protection.

“Mighty gallant apparel Kaiser!” Cordella called out as she caught me leaving the tavern, she was kicked back in a chair across from the hearth.

I drew my lips into a bashful smile, glad that someone else had shared my opinion. “Are you ready to head out?”

She hastily stood and rushed over. “Let’s get moving.” We left the establishment as one, united against whatever peril that would dare slow our roll. The quality of sleep from that night was one unseen in numerous weeks prior, adding to our high spirits. Our horse had seemingly slept well too, and would help to ensure us fast passage.

Everything was going perfectly according to uncoordinated plans until we heard a shriek, halting our exit from town. I was quick to locate the source, a woman standing and pointing towards the sky. I arced my head back and spotted a broad, winged shape glide across the sky. At first glance I'd assumed it to be a wyvern, but my mind was put at ease when I found that it was a griffin: something I had already had experience with was far preferable to the scaled alternative.

From the horse's side I dropped and knocked my bow, an arrow pointed at the hybrid creature. It was now perched atop a building, squawking at and harassing the frantic civilians who passed beneath. A split-second after the arrow had left the string, lightning speared the air and passed just left of the avian head.

A swear slid off of my tongue and I turned my head in alarm. Electricity rippled and arced between her outstretched arms, a sharp focus drilled into her countenance for just another second. When I returned my sight to the griffin it had taken to the sky in fear for its life. With furrowed brows I retook the reigns and we were back on our way.

We galloped to the high tune of a brisk wind for several minutes before the silence was broken by Cordella, “Why the sudden quietude? Are you irked that I took the first shot?” she said in jest and mocking, likely not even expectant of an answer.

“I don’t see the need to use magic so haphazardly, not when we haven't the need for it.”

“Dammit, enough with this protective front!” The rebuttal was warranted given my poor choice of words, but it still ripped any further sentiments from my throat. “This is why I’m worried for us. Not because of our abilities, but because you won’t accept my aid!” She was right, in having tried to keep her on the sideline, I had not considered her own desire to help.

“I’m sorry. It wasn't my intention to turn away your help or make you seemed like you needed protection, I just- didn’t want you to risk your life if it wasn’t crucial.”

“Your worry is unwarranted. I’m no apprentice; if I fall from the use of meager spells like that then I’ve made a horrendous decision somewhere along the line.” The way she phrased it made it seem as though the spell she used was entry level when it was in fact leagues above anything I'd been taught. “I’ll no longer be forbade from the use of my spells, and that’s the end of the matter.”

I expelled a breath through clenched teeth, “Just use your best judgement, don’t be overzealous.”

Her heated exasperation quickly cooled into complacency. “Would you expect any less of me?”

If she hadn’t been sitting directly behind me she would’ve seen the sardonic look upon my face. It pained me to admit where I had been in the wrong, especially when it was so clear in hindsight. I was, after all, the one who suggested that we learn to work better as a team. How were we to do that if I wouldn't let us work as a team to begin with.

When the mountains crawled into view there was a gradual but apparent increase in altitude. A shrill ringing filled the inside of my ears while a gelid breath numbed my lungs from within. The curvature grew ever more sharp with the passage time, and we knew that we'd soon have to continue the last leg of the trek on foot, likely for the best in regards to our mounts well-being. Once the angularity grew too great I slowed us to a stop and slid onto my feet with a jolt.

“It won’t be long,” I said softly, stroking his mane. Cordella dropped soon after I did and supplied a thick knit blanket. Conditions were rough, but he was tethered underneath a dense enough tree to stop any snowfall that may come in our absence.

Thankfully, our way forward would be of relative ease after having been given directions by Samson. He told us that the path would be well marked with signage so to prevent miners getting lost if, by chance, the weather grew dire. A short way up we heard a familiar piercing screech echo off of the rocky terrain. I cautioned Cordella and took a knee, scanning the air around us. My footing was nearly lost when the griffin landed only a little further down the path. It was the same one as before; it had stalked us after ever since our first encounter.

Without hesitation I grabbed my bow and flung an arrow in its general direction, doing little to fine tune my aim. My ruse had the intended effect: the griffin pulled away from us to avoid the unforeseen threat, giving us greater room for comfort. Unlike trow, griffin’s were notoriously smart, capable of both intricate planning and lasting rancor.

“This one’s all yours.”

“While I appreciate your newfound confidence in me, I wouldn't mind a hand,” she said with a grave look about her.

I grinned as I exchanged my bow for my saber. This time when I felt the surrounding air grow warm I didn’t stop her from preparing her spell. I wanted to show her that I saw her as my equal, and the only way to do that was to let her fight alongside me. Meanwhile, the vulturous beast watched us intently from afar. When we didn’t act it dashed towards us with powerful leonine legs. Before it reached us Cordella released the flaming onslaught, cloaking its body in the warping plasma. A great beat of its wings simultaneously sent the griffin overhead and instantly snuffed the fire.

It circled closely overhead as an insect would around its disturbed hive. I sneered and put my palm to my weapon, letting an ember form between my skin and the metal. When flames erupted from the end of the blade I retracted my hand and wrapped it back around the handle. Meanwhile, Cordella entered a state of intense focus, both arms out to her side. The griffin dove towards her with vicious talons but I kept it at bay with my makeshift torch. After she gestured to me I stepped to the side to spectate.

Both palms facing outwards, she laid one behind the other and in another swift motion, she slid them apart to release an aqueous deluge. The torrent of water hit the monster square, effectively drenching its wings. No longer able to bend the wind to its will, it thrashed as it fell out of the sky. It struck the earth with tremendous force, landing in a crumpled heap.

The pathetic squawks signified defeat. I approached the struggling mass, sword in hand. It had collapsed, but it was very much alive. I had my blade raised to deliver a fatal blow, but as I pointed it downwards I saw Cordella and froze. When I looked back down at the griffin all of my strength had vanished and in its place was a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Intense pangs of guilt began to stab at my conscience, causing my grip to become unsteady. Leaving it there to suffer and struggle so fruitlessly would be a monstrous deed, but I was no longer sure I that could finish the job.

“Kaiser,” Cordella said softly from beside me.

My eyes shut tightly as I drove the instrument through the chest of the poor creature. One final cry and the sound let me know that I'd struck true. When I opened my eyes they met the lifeless glare of the slain beast. As I pulled the white-hot blade out of the wound, the blood turned a gruesome sable, forever searing it to the brand. Not wishing to look at the grisly scene any more than I had to, I returned to the path with my accomplice falling further and further into my wake. My pace didn't slow much for her to catch up.

As we climbed onward still, the temperature sunk like a stone in a pool of water. Almost reflecting the solemn look that we had tried to conceal, the sky rained down delicate flakes of ice that dusted our heads. Cordella held an ember between her hands for warmth, or perhaps solace. Doleful were our faces, our eyes similarly downcast. This wasn't the first of the griffins that had fallen to my sword, but it was the first that had been slain in another's presence. Something about the way she watched in a mix of horror and disgust as I ended the feud made me keenly aware of how vile it really was.

Though this epiphany stung my eyes, I thought it confounding. How perplexing, the sorrows we felt regarding an animal born to another flesh. Not long ago I nearly killed a man without the bat of an eye, with only the slightest tinge of regret, but putting an animal out of its misery made me feel as though the devil walked the earth in my shoes? It transcended logic how our emotions were so heavily dictated by a moment's rationale, or how something so seemingly trivial could bring us to our knees. The answer to such an enigma lay forever just out of reach.

My sentiments were cast to the wind when outside words clanged against the walls of my introspective barricade.

“It's clear you're struggling with what happened, I'm so sorry.”

“It shouldn’t have been so difficult,” I breathed, “This is nothing new for me, but I couldn't bring myself to-”

“Why shouldn't it be difficult? Is it wrong to hesitate? I don't see how being desensitized is preferable to feeling a shred of compassion.” Her words didn't poke at my ethics, rather, they kept me from jabbing at them myself. “I'd never think less of you for holding onto your humanity, it makes me respect you more.”

A brittle smile had hoisted itself onto my lips. It was unusual to be able to confide in another soul, and selfish as it seemed, it was comforting to have someone voice their concern in my oft disregarded struggles. In both life and death the griffin had contributed much to the growth of us as a team, and in knowing this I was content. Here we advanced to what may well be our fate, and we've a stride that's already been broken and since repaired. This was but the beginning of an unraveling tapestry, into which our journey was stitched.

Layer after layer a sandy blanket of white was draped across the surroundings. My once dry pant legs moistened and stuck to my legs with icy condensation. Our path ended abruptly at an unsuspecting snowdrift, a muted dune in the paradoxical desert. The only indicator that we had arrived was the wooden sign just barely reaching out from under the snow. The dull shine within Cordella's hands grew to a brilliant blaze nearly ten times the size, the intense flare of energy was telling of what power she'd kept reserved until now. Steam heavied the air in mass volumes, and upon settling revealed the opening of an expansive chasm.

“Impressed?” she quipped.

“Constantly” I replied, flashing a smirk.

Before a moment's disinclination plead otherwise, I descended into the abyss that stretched out before me. I'd seemingly plunged into the void, only lacking death's outreached hand to greet me as I accepted my fate.
 


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