Chapter 9: Fall of a Friend
Somewhere in the darkness was a constant and slow drip-drip-drip, seeming close by but always staying ahead of him.
Draden had created his own orb of light that now darted back and forth in the tunnel before him. He had soon discovered that the light could be directed by voice (maybe even thought) commands, and he had told it to stay near him. He was greatly amused by its energetic character, and more than once he found himself thinking–even hoping–that it was an intelligent being. The golden sphere offered the only company he had in this dark passageway.
He had, of course, in curiosity tried to touch the orb (he had been too embarrassed to reveal this naïveté in Kladspir’s presence), but it was as if the orb and his skin were polar opposites, the sphere always being repelled just out of reach.
So now, boredom overtaking him, he sufficed to count each drop of water heard from that annoyingly persistent spring–or whatever it was. He was now on the two-hundred and seventy-seventh drop.
Just when he was beginning to think nothing of interest was in this oddly long cave, he entered into a huge cavern, stalactites hanging ominously from the ceiling. The broken rubble of fallen stalactites littered the floor, and he wondered what would happen if he were to be caught underneath one when it fell.
He was pulled out of his morbid thoughts by a splash of liquid. He had found that pesky source of water!
He heard a scratch in the tunnel behind him and turned quickly to face it. Nothing moved in the darkness, but he sent the orb in anyway. As the light left him and darkness returned, something-somethings-moved in the cavern he now had his back to.
Kladspir walked back toward the cave. He had left while Draden was still sleeping, going to relieve the pressure in his bladder. He noticed the peculiar way the snow refused to stick to the stone, and stopped to examine this.
He bent down and watched as the particles of snow landed on the gray path and melted into tiny, miniscule puddles.
Then he placed his palm on the ground to discover that a good deal of heat emanated from the stone. Also very odd.
“Maybe there’s an underground spring or lava duct under this mountain?” he wondered aloud. He gazed at the smooth cliff walls on either side of him, the flat, perfectly shaped path. Then it hit him, full force: there was indeed a lava duct somewhere underneath the mountain. And, somewhere near the top was a vent, which released excess lava to spill down this path - hence the smooth sides. They needed to get moving…now!
He sprinted back to the cave, but stopped before entering. His eyes followed the trail as it curved upward, past the mountain’s entrance. The path instantly became rough, stones jutting out from the floor and sides.
“J’herdit, the cave is the vent!” he shouted in shock.
The mountain rumbled, knocking him to the ground. He stumbled back up and fell into the cave as the mountain gave another great lurch. He quickly scanned the cave.
Draden was gone, headed into the heart of the volcano.
The glowing orb revealed nothing to Draden except the unchanging gray walls as it entered into the tunnel in search of the source of the scratching noise. Upon Draden’s call, it backtracked through the tunnel, emerging into the cavern.
However, it never reached its master. One of the “somethings” that had previously been unseen behind Draden shot out from a large crack in the stone floor next to the tunnel opening. It intercepted the sphere, snuffing out its tiny existence.
The chamber was by no means cast into darkness. Sharp, warm light emanated from the crack, and the creature itself was made of molten lava. Globs of the superheated liquid splashed onto the floor from its limbs, sizzling with intense ferocity.
The air around Draden grew ever hotter, and bright light cast his shadow in front of him causing him to turn around. Three more of the creatures stood at the edge of a newly formed fissure.
They had the same bodily features as humans: arms and legs made of glowing red-and-orange lava. It seemed their whole body was made of lava, and it was a wonder that they could assume any definitive form.
Draden turned his eyes to one of the creatures’ faces, noticing bright yellow indents where its eyes and mouth would be.
A loud plop made him turn on his heels to see that more of the things were crawling out of the fissure next to the tunnel. The tunnel itself was blocked by three of the fiery forms.
Too shocked to do anything, Draden stammered, “Wh-what are you?!”
The creature in the middle of the trio, the very same one who had destroyed the light orb, threw its molten head back and cackled, spews of lava spurting from its mouth.
“We,” it spoke in a rough, somewhat feminine voice, “are the Fire Children.”
The now seventeen-and still increasing-Fire Children joined together in a chorus of evil laughter.
’This is the end…” Draden thought in despair.
Kladspir charged down the tunnel, feeling the air as it rose and washed over his skin in a wave of sweat-inducing heat. He had decided to do away with a light orb-they were too fragile-and instead used the same spell to make his eyes more light sensitive. Therefore, to him, it was almost as if the earthen tunnel was lit by the sun.
Any second now, it would feel just as hot.
‘Where did that boy go?!’ he thought angrily.
He noticed subconsciously that the light was increasing up ahead, and he quickly ended the spell as he emerged into a cavern so bright it blinded him for a moment.
Draden stood in the middle of a peninsula of stone, three sides of which were a sudden drop into an expanding river of lava. There was also a thin path posing as the only way to the platform.
Moreover, five creatures made of lava were on it, creeping towards Draden.
Draden panted, trying to force super-heated air into his lungs. ‘I can’t pass out!’ he thought desperately. ‘If I do, I could fall into the lava.’ At this he laughed harshly, as it was difficult to breathe. Always thinking of the worst.
The Fire Child who had spoken advanced towards him, and Draden knew that its touch would be lethal. There truly was no way out.
Or, so he thought.
A wave of tan sand burst onto the creature from behind, splashing over it and showering Draden with such force it stung like thousands of needles. The Fire Child fell forward, its back a blackened, hardened chunk.
Through the distorting haze of heat, Draden saw Kladspir’s blurred image. There was hope!
Kladspir took out the other two creatures in explosions of sand, bringing their liquid bodies to the ground in solid thunks.
“Draden, duck!” he yelled, and Draden complied. A second later there was a jet stream of sand above his head, followed by a staccato scream and-a few more seconds later-a quiet splash in the rising magma below.
Kladspir ran to stand next to him, helping him up. “Thanks Kladspir,” Draden shuddered, “That was horri-”
He was interrupted by a loud cracking sound, and he looked over in time to see the only path off this platform break into pieces from the heat and tumble into the lava, leaving no trace behind except dust.
“What now?!” blurted Draden. “It’s too far to jump! Can we fly across?” He looked at Kladspir with hope.
Kladspir just laughed, “Are you joking? We can’t fly! That’s stupid.”
“Well then, what do we do?” snapped Draden.
All of a sudden, a great gust of wind burst through the cavern, emitting from a tunnel higher up on the wall and exiting through the one they had used to get here.
“What’s this mean?” shouted Draden over the rush of air.
“It means that this cavern will soon be filled with molten rock,” replied Kladspir calmly.
In tribute to this answer, bright red lava burst from the tunnel like a gushing wound. It spurted toward the two intruders, a deadly stream of fiery liquid.
Kladspir threw up his hands, and a bright yellow shield appeared in front of them, bending inwards and out to the side. The liquid slammed into it with the force of water from a breached dam.
It splashed down to unite with the lava below.
“We have to get out of here!” Draden yelled.
“I’ve noticed,” Kladspir retorted. “Draden, I’m going to need you to do something, and it’s going to require a great deal of concentration.”
“Yes, what?!” Draden urged.
“I need you to make a shield to bridge the gap so we can walk across and get out of here. Okay? You must not let this shield drop or get distracted until we are across, got it?”
“Okay, then get to it!” said Kladspir impatiently.
Draden, jumping to the task, walked over to the edge and gazed across to the other side. ‘A shield… a shield… okay… I’m ready.’
He placed his hands over the expanse and murmured, “Fractiniliium.” A cyan haze appeared and stretched to bridge the gap, solidifying to a transparent deep blue.
“O- okay,” he stammered, focusing on keeping it there.
“Go across!” Kladspir ordered, body shaking with the effort of halting the lava’s flow.
Draden began across, glancing down at the bubbling liquid below. He ran to the other side and turned to see Kladspir backing up slowly onto the blue shield.
It seemed like an hour before they stood next to each other on the ledge in front of the exit, but finally they were, and-as Kladspir released his shield- they charged into the tunnel away from the heart of the volcano.
A little ways down, the wind picking up and rushing past them, Kladspir shouted, “Did you release your shield?”
Eyes going wide, Draden exclaimed, “No!” ‘So, I involuntarily made a path that the lava could take directly down this tunnel. Instead of giving us time to escape, I’ve limited our time alive. Just great.’
“Well, it’s too late now,” muttered Kladspir. “Let’s just get out of this accursed mountain.”
They continued to run down the winding, dreary tunnel, the light behind them growing ever brighter.
Finally, they stopped.
“What, what is it?” asked Draden quickly.
Kladspir sighed. “We aren’t going to make it out of here in time. I’ll stay here and keep the lava at bay. It’s more important that you stay alive.” Draden opened his mouth to argue, but Kladspir continued, “Don’t! Go on. If I don’t make it out of here, you need to continue on to Cradof. There are people there who can help you. Now hurry!”
Draden consented and ran down the tunnel.
Kladspir stood there silently, knowing that his time was close to the end. “I can’t give up yet!” he encouraged himself. ‘I have to give Draden time. Otherwise there is no hope.’ With a grunt he threw up a flickering yellow shield blocking the tunnel in front of him.
A second later, the lava slammed into it, the pressure building as the lava filled the tunnel.
He was already weak; he couldn’t hold it for long.
Draden charged out of the cave, holding both of their packs he had snatched on his way out.
He made a sharp turn right, up into the jagged and rough path through the mountain. He ran up to the next bend, then stopped and turned around.
A moment later, the red liquid burst from the cave’s mouth and splashed down the path with intense ferocity.
There was no sign of Kladspir.