Chapter 8: The Gordavien Path
The first part of their journey dragged by without incident, and it was six hours later that they entered the commonplace structure of the Mill.
Half an hour later, appetites quenched by the unexpected hospitality given them, they were back on the road, Mountains of Death looming above the trees about an hour away. They would be in those unfamiliar heights by nightfall.
Neither of them had set foot in the mountains before, they’d only ever been near them. During their brief stay in the Mill, they had spoken to one of the workers who had answered their questions of the mountains.
According to him, there was only one path through the mountains, called the Gordavien Path. He also warned them about the secrets the path held - which he most definitely believed. There were three gates on the path: one at the path’s entrance into the mountains; another that blocked the path that curved up and around the Sazare Peak - this particular part of the path was called Fool’s Pass, for the witch there could turn this fairly simple stretch of stone into a complicated maze you might never find your way out of; the third gate was different from the others, for it was really two gates guarding the passage across the river, one before the crossing and one after it, to keep people from entering the mountains from the south as well.
Each gate was protected by a witch. It is said that they performed a curse wrong and it turned on them, condemning them to guard the path for eternity. Furthermore, they don’t take their job lightly. For a millennium, they had not allowed one person amidst the dusty grayness of their mountain path. To gain entry, one had to simply kill the witch that guarded the gate. They would soon find out that this would prove to be a not-so-easy task.
They had all this in mind as they stood at the odd, abrupt ending of the forest. Before them was the even more abrupt rise of the Mountains of Death angled at a pitch impossible to climb. The large wooden gate, wooden spikes pointing skyward atop its eighteen-foot walls, stood a mere ten yards away, placed ominously between the only break in these odd-shaped mountains on the only possible way through their heights.
Not a sound could be heard around them.
“You ready Draden?” queried Kladspir gleefully, hand clenching and unclenching his wand in anticipation. “This won’t be easy...” He smiled. Draden nodded in confirmation. Kladspir continued, “...but I like it that way.” He charged forward to the gate, wand extending forward in his right hand. The bulky man stopped before it and began banging on it with his fist. “Come out, witch! So we may fight and––”
“Kladspir!” cried Draden, still in the disguising shadows of the trees. The witch had appeared behind Kladspir in a flash of green light. With a flash of light, Kladspir was struck to the ground. She began chanting words of magic, one final spell to finish Kladspir, but Draden had already acted.
He hurled a bubbling sphere of magma at the witch, and she barely reacted in time to throw up her arm, a bright green shield made of glowing leaves appearing. The fireball slammed into it, rebounding backward in a flickering orange haze. Globs of lava splashed over the shield, searing the witch’s bare arm.
She ignored the pain and stepped over Kladspir’s body, lying facedown on the ground. “Jintari,” the witch growled. She threw her hands up to the sky, the ground beneath Draden suddenly rising.
It shot swiftly upward, sending Draden into the air and down next to Kladspir in a flurry of leaves.
He was grabbed by the back of his shirt and roughly lifted up. The witch was strong and she easily dragged him over and slammed him into the hard bark of a tree, where he collapsed into a sitting position.
“Trastelday,” the witch shrieked, and the branches of the tree came alive, wrapping themselves around Draden and squeezing the breath out of him. Luckily, he was facing outward, so he could see the witch’s movements. However, what he couldn’t see was a branch behind him split itself in half then shoot forward, each part spinning like an arrow. He felt an incredible stabbing pain in each shoulder, and he screamed as a burst of blood shot from each side of him, the branches tearing completely through his shoulders.
His eyes were watering with the pain, and the branches continued to slide through his shoulders, intertwining before him to make one deadly spike, turned towards his heart.
“No!” he screamed. ‘I won’t let this happen. Not after all I’ve been through,’ he thought furiously.
“Grangnir!” he shouted, tears turning into drops of lava. He felt flame course through his body and toward his shoulders, burning away the branches.
The tree spike before him made one last lunge toward his chest, but fell short and instead dropped between his legs where it burned into ash.
Before him the witch screamed angrily, “What!? You can use magic too? You!? A farmboy! Impossible! Unless….unless you are the one. Yes…yes! That must be it. But then––” She looked at Draden, seeing the fire still burning in his eyes. “No––no!” the witch screamed, turning to run.
She was too late.
Draden sent two streams of lava, one from each hand, gurgling at the witch. The woman crashed into the ground, writhing as the lava burned her flesh away. She stopped moving and the fire disappeared, allowing quiet to reclaim the area. Black streaks where the lava had landed were smudged across the burned grass, the only remnants of the witch’s body.
Draden breathed a deep sigh, then gasped as the pain in his shoulders returned to his mind with full force. Cringing deeply, he placed a hand on each bloody hole, then said through gritted teeth, “Ditiri.” A shock of pain erupted in his arms as the muscle and skin reformed.
After a minute of accelerated and enhanced regeneration, Draden collapsed onto his hands and knees, thoroughly exhausted from the expended adrenaline and using so much magic at once. Neither Flagprim nor Kladspir had warned him that magic sapped physical strength, only mental strength. But then again, it was quite obvious: without the toll of physical exhaustion, there would be no stopping a magic user. He needed to hear more about this, but Kladspir still lay on the ground, and Flagprim had disappeared after the Battle of Perdfale.
He kneeled down next to Kladspir to see that the man was still breathing, merely unconscious. Draden looked up to examine the Gordavien Path, noticing in surprise that the wooden gate had completely vanished altogether. ‘So, in some way, the witches are tied to the gates by their life-force,’ Draden concluded to himself.
The wind picked up and it reminded him of his encounter with the Gorginoth, and he knew they had no time to waste in reaching Cradof.
He shook Kladspir roughly, the man remaining resolute. “Fine!” Draden grumbled agitatedly. He turned Kladspir over, then placed his hands above the man’s head, blurting, “Wotiran.” Water splashed onto the man’s dirtied face, his eyes snapping open on contact with the chill water.
He coughed deeply, as some of the liquid had been inhaled with his sudden arousal.
“Glodita! What was that for?!” the man cursed, lifting himself up on an elbow and standing up.
“Well, you wouldn’t wake up, and I thought we should get moving, and-”
“It’s okay, boy, I’m not mad at you!” Kladspir laughed. His eyes quickly scanned the area, briefly stopping on the steaming outline of the witch, then rising to the mountains to verify the path was open. “Hmm. You did much while I was…out. Was the witch hard to kill? She seemed pretty strong…”
The fact that Kladspir would even admit this showed he was trying to be a friend. ‘I don’t need friends!’ Draden thought bitterly. “She was…quite the pushover,” he lied, shoulders still sore and shirt probably bloodied. Kladspir would easily see right through this. “No,” he murmured as Kladspir had begun to walk to the Gordavien Path, “actually, she almost killed us both.” ’Okay, so I do need some friends,’ he admitted to himself.
Kladspir nodded, “I know.” Then he continued toward the crevice, but stopped suddenly and added, “From now on we stick together, back each other up.”
“Agreed,” Draden conceded.
Both of them entered into the slightly breezy, narrow trail, the passageway rising steadily upward and curving out of sight. There was no green aside from a few leaves pulled in from the wind, and on both sides of the path were sheer walls of different, swirling shades of gray. It was a lifeless and unforgiving world of sharp, solid rock. Soon, even the path below them receded from dirt to more of the gray stone.
Draden could feel how unusually smooth the rock was beneath his feet, the sense heightened by the soreness of walking for such an extended period of time. He had a definite feeling that this path had been formed with magic. Come to think of it, the whole world could have been created by magic. This just seemed…different somehow; out of place in the sharp peaks of the mountains.
Above them, elongated shadows from the setting sun increased the darkness in the crevice, and the wind picked up, battering the two silent travelers.
Another hour of walking and they had ascended quite high in the mountains, yet the peaks seemed to be as far above them as before. White caps of snow glimmered in the dim moonlight on the crests above them, but the light was soon blocked out by vast billows of condensation.
Snow began to fall and the temperature dropped steadily. Draden shivered fiercely, wishing to himself they would stop soon. As if reading his mind, Kladspir yelled back, voice carried by the wind, “There’s a cave up ahead. We can find shelter there. It may not be safe once we’re inside, but at least the wind and cold won’t harm us.”
Draden nodded, teeth chattering. Kladspir seemed to be fine with the cold, so this must just be for Draden’s benefit. He blinked through the snow and saw a dark outline of a cave ahead of them. The path led directly up to it, then continued immediately to the left. The odds of this being a trap––or something similar––were very likely. But, it was either suffer out here in the cold, or wait in there and formulate a plan. He favored the latter.
The two of them entered into the dark cave, oblivious to anything that could possibly be lurking in its depths.
It was later that night before they began deciding on their next course of action. They sat a good twenty yards away from the entrance, sitting across from each other, backs to the wall, at a more narrow part of the cave. There being no possible means of starting fire––unless igniting stone was possible––Kladspir had created light of his own.
By using the spell “Ligrano,” he had formed a pulsating golden orb that now hung in the three feet between them, casting a somewhat bright hue on the cave walls and giving off an odd euphoria of heat. It was like your own portable fire.
Now, Draden was repeating to Kladspir the plans that had been laid before them, just to make sure he understood correctly.
“So, we’ll rest until the storm passes, and if dawn comes but the snow has not abated, we will explore this cave’s depths to see if we might find something–and if not, at least to pass the time. Did I forget anything?”
Kladspir responded dryly, “There wasn’t a great deal to remember in the first place; there’s no way you could have forgotten anything.” Then he laughed. “I’m just joking.”
Draden laughed uneasily. This man’s sense of humor was quite odd. Then, something occurred to him. “Are we going to keep watch at all during the night?”
Kladspir answered quickly, “We are not. I will stay up while you sleep, and awake you when the time is ready.” Seeing Draden’s objecting expression, he added, “I have no need of sleep right now…there is–much I need to think over at the moment. So, sleep without worry. The time will soon come for the need of that…”
Exhaustion overcoming him, too tired to question what Kladspir meant, he lay down on the cold stone floor and instantly fell asleep.
Some time later, he awoke briefly, still in a dream state. He heard Kladspir talking to himself, too quiet to fully interpret. At moments of Draden’s brief arousal, Kladspir’s voice rose enough for him to catch, “…smarter than I thought-”, “…can’t let him see–”, and “…can be turned.”
Yet, in the morning, when he would awake, none of this would be remembered.
A cold breeze chilled his skin and Draden awoke with a shiver. Groggily sitting up, he looked around the cave. Kladspir was absent in the blank gray landscape, and outside, snow still cascaded heavily downward, oddly not sticking to the ground. The light that managed to glow through the snow storm was pale and cold, so he assumed it was early morning.
He stood up and walked into the inky blackness of the cave’s soul, determined to find where Kladspir had gone.