Chapter 24

The River of Fire

A great sense of excitement swept over the group that morning. Their anxiety had built up. They were approaching resolution: they would be leaving Ionia today, a feat none had been able to do in its history.

They continued west through the plains and ahead in their view grew the Great Cliff. The cliff rose about three hundred feet high. Yet among these miles of flat land, it seemed to loom out like a giant.

So they came to the Great Wall, the barrier before the River of Fire, which separated Ionia from the rest of the unknown world.

"Well, we're here," Keirian said, straining his head as he looked straight up.

"The end of the world as we know it," Baran added dramatically.

"Or the beginning, if you think about it another way," Locke said unexpectedly, "It is believed that this chasm behind here is where the first peoples of Ionia emerged after the Great Disaster. They took refuge in the ground underneath for many long years until the ground split."

"And no man since has passed beyond in the thousand years since," Tirius added.

Carson brought up a more practical point. "Well, regardless of where we are; now that we're here, how do we get up there?"
They all looked up at the great height of the shelf.

Sanchen was the most agile of the group, and being an Enzan hunter gave him and edge on rock climbing, so he agreed to scale the wall. He gradually worked his way from the grassy bottom to the rocky top. Keirian and Carson couldn't help but be reminded of when they watched him climb the Spearhead hill during his second of the Tuzxan tasks. During that effort he lost his hold and fell halfway down the hill. They hoped this time would not be the same.

Sanchen was worried about the same possibility which Keirian and Carson were, but he kept himself focused as he continually found holds for his hands and feet, crawling straight upwards. He became smaller and smaller in the view of the others, until he seemed to disappear completely. After a while, they saw a rope slowly being let down. They had come well prepared with long ropes made for them by the craftsmen of Guardia, knowing that the Great Wall would have to be breached somehow. They had come equipped with six of these ropes, which were able to span the full height of the cliff. Sanchen was now letting down the rope so that the others could be hauled up.

"Alright, we will need to haul up the Bridgemaker as well. Any ideas Levine?" Baran mentioned.

"Despite its size, I worked hard to make it very light. I would say that if we have eight people up there to pull it up and four down here to ensure that it is secured, as well as one person to ride up on it, we can get it there."

So they sent the strongest of the group up to the top, except for Gram who stayed down because of his good skills of knot-tying. Nessa took his place. Baran was the first to follow Sanchen up the rope. Keirian volunteered to go next. The excitement of being seeing the top of the Great Wall was overwhelming him.

Keirian found himself extremely nervous as he climbed the rope. He was secured to the rope by clamping onto it with a special belt, also designed in Guardia. However, that didn't seem to be much assurance the higher he got. He could see Nessa climbing below him.

His arms were becoming extremely sore by the time he reached the end of the rope. Finally he could reach out and grab Sanchen's hand, which was waiting for him at the top. Sanchen pulled him over, and he just lay on the rocky ground for a while to catch his breath.

"I'll help every one up," Sanchen said, "You should go to the other side and have a look."

Keirian got up and looked around. He looked back east. He could see straight over the plains. He could see Guardia in the distance. The Silver Mountains rose up to his right, and he could even see the tops of the Northern Peaks to his far left. He could even see a patch of green straight out which he knew was the Ti jungle.

Keirian could hear a rumbling behind him. He looked back. The shelf he was on was about thirty feet wide, and very rocky. He slowly wandered to the other side to see what sat at the borders of Ionia.

So Keirian came to Zorgun, the River of Fire. It was nothing like he imagined, and he stood there speechless at what he saw before him.

He stood out looking upon a great chasm, which was quite a lot wider than Sojourn. On the other side a great, rocky cliff, much like the one he was now standing on, stared across at him. Above the cliffs were the Black Teeth. They were the tallest mountains Keirian had ever seen. They rose high with their jagged, dark peaks. Yet the other side of the River of Fire was not quite as impressive as the River itself.

Far below him, Keirian could hardly believe what he saw. The name River of Fire lived up to its expectations. A great flow of lava ran across the bottom of the deep chasm. It was roaring with a sound Keirian had never heard before. The red, hot liquid splashed up against the sides of the cliffs with great force, sending large sprays of lava, which broke out into red flame. The lava bubbled and boiled. Even though it was still a far ways down from where he stood, Keirian could feel the immense heat.

The sheer force and power of Zorgun left Keirian stunned. The sight before him was both wondrous and terrifying. He could feel his nerves shake. It took him a while to realize that Nessa had now joined him and was standing beside him. They both shared the same excitement, and the same gripping fear. Nessa reached for Keirian's hand and gripped it tight. There they stood together, terrified and amazed, standing in silence above the River of Fire.

Tirius came after Nessa, followed by Carson, Bale and Sallamach. Each of them was amazed by what they saw. Zorgun surpassed their expectations. They were amazed at the grand scope of this strange place. However, they had to put their awe aside for a while as they worked to bring up the rest of the company.

They found four steady rocks which they bound the ropes to. Baran made certain that the ropes were secured. They then sent to ropes down the cliff to the others on the bottom.
Levine told Gram and Locke where to tie the ropes so that the Bridgemaker could be lifted up with the least effort. Once they had it tied and secured, they tugged hard on the ropes to signal to the others that they were ready.

"Alright, two people to a rope. Lets pull it up steady, don't rush," Baran said when he saw the signal.

So Keirian pulled behind Baran, Nessa behind Tirius, Sanchen behind Salla, and Carson and Bale took the fourth rope. Kai-Thalia, who was the lightest one of the group, rode up on the Bridgemaker to ensure that nothing went wrong as they went up, such as getting caught on an out-jutting ledge. But they managed to bring up the craft without incident. The pull had drained them of energy, however. They let down the rope to allow the other three up, and then decided to take a rest before they attempted the crossing.

"It is said that far south, on the other side, is a land of many volcanoes," Locke was explaining as they rested near the end of the cliff, looking down into the flowing lava below, "And that the lava from those mountains are emptied here, into this chasm."

"It's still a marvel," Levine responded, "I never expected anything like this."

"I don't think any of us did," Keirian said slowly.

"Does this change any of our plans to get across?" Gram wondered.

"I don't see why it should," said Baran, "Will it Levine?"

She looked back at the others, breaking her gaze from the river. "What? No, no. We are high up enough it should be fine. We will be able to clear the distance of the gorge."

"Well, no point in sitting around any longer then," Tirius said, standing up, "It is time to cross."

The Bridgemaker was rolled close to the edge of the wall. They took painstaking care to tie and spike it down to the ground. The craft was chained using Guardia's strongest steel, and held by large spikes which they drove as deep down as they could into the rocky surface.

Levine instructed the others on how to load the front part of the craft. Two long, thick ropes, longer and thicker than the ones they used to climb up the wall, were coiled inside the machine. At the end of each of them was a large claw-like hook. It looked extremely bulky and heavy, but as they went to lift them into position, they found that they were quite light. "Light-weight, but extremely durable," Levine commented, "Exactly what we need."

Now they were ready. Most of them didn't know what to expect from this craft of Levine's, while some were figuring it out in their heads. On each end of the ropes and hooks were two large, wooden levers. The hooks were pointed at an upwards angle, with one of them slightly higher than the other. We have done many calculations," Levine assured them. She then wound a crank at the back of the craft, building up pressure behind the hooks.

A sense of tension was again in the air. What if the machine didn't work? How then would they cross? Levine seemed to be the most nervous of them all. What if she were to let them all down?
Finally it was time to test her innovation. Baran and Tirius stood by both of the levers. She told Baran to pull on his, which sent loose one of the hooks. The pressure was released and the hook flew in the air. They were amazed at how high and far it went. They watched as it made the distance of the gorge. They could hear the sound of a high clang echo across the cliff walls. There was an immediate jerk on the Bridgemaker, but it stayed steadily attached to the ground. The hook had caught the other side and gripped the cliff.

Levine sighed a huge sigh of relief. She then cranked on another lever, which drew the rope taut. "Now you Tirius," she said. Tirius pulled down his lever, and the second hook did the same as the first, and clamped into the side of the wall, giving the Bridgemaker another hard pull and making another echoing sound.

So now across the River of Fire, two ropes could be seen going across. One sat about two feet above the other. This was to be their bridge. They would grip one rope, and walk on the other. It was not a bridge of much assurance.

Levine gave them each a special belt, which they were able to clamp to the top rope. "Don't worry, if you loose your footing, you will not fall," Levine said.

"But will the ropes stay?" Bale asked, "Will they hold us? Who will go first?"
"I will lead the way," Baran bravely volunteered.

"No," Levine said suddenly, surprising everyone, "I will go first. If any of you were to fall because of my device, I could not live with that. I must go first."

"Levine, we are all in this together, from this point on," Baran told her, "It is okay. I will go first." But she looked at his with a desperate look. Finally Tirius spoke. "It is her machine which will bring us over the River of Fire. She has the right to be the first one to cross, if she so wishes. Levine, it is your choice. But you must know that any one of us would gladly be the first to cross it for you."

"I know that, but I must do it myself."

Since she seemed resolved in this, they let her go. She clamped her belt onto the first rope, gripped it hard with her hands, and stepped down on the thick lower rope. She slowly started edging across. The others watched in horror as she made her way down the bridge, with the lava bubbling and curling underneath her. Time seemed to stop as she continued, but finally she had come to the other side. And so Levine of Guardia became the first Ionian to set foot beyond Zorgun, the River of Fire.

Tirius was the next to cross. He went out about half way beyond the river, when he was followed by Sallamach. Gram was to go next, followed by Carson. Gram, who was shorter and heavier than the rest, went very slowly, but eventually made it across, helped over the other side by Tirius.

Before Carson took up the rope, he looked over to the south. There he could swear he saw an owl perched on a rock overlooking the cliff. Keirian saw it too. It was the same one which followed them from Guardia, but now it stopped at Zorgun and would go no further.

Carson was mixed with overwhelming pride as he crossed, yet also with overwhelming fear. He looked down into the fiery abyss below him and quickly looked back up, deciding he would not look down again until he was across.

Kai-Thalia followed Carson. She moved very quickly, as this simplistic two-rope bridge was very similar to the bridges they used in the jungle. She also moved quickly to keep her mind off of what she was loosely standing over.

Locke went next. Bale followed, and Sanchen came behind him. The others watched as the three were spaced out across the rope, suspended over the burning river. Locke had reached the other side, and Bale was getting closer. Sanchen was coming up behind them. Nessa had clamped her belt to her rope and was soon to make it across. Keirian helped her. "Good luck," he said.

But just then something happened. Baran, the only other one left on the other side with Keirian and Nessa, let out a shout.

Nessa was startled, and her feet slipped from the rope. "Nessa!" Keirian shouted and reached out his hand to her. Baran came running towards them.

"Gors! They've climbed the wall!"

But Keirian couldn't worry about that right now. He had to pull Nessa back. He gripped her palm, and quickly brought her back. They turned back and saw Baran sword fighting with none other than one of the Gors from the battle the day before. Suddenly, two more sprung out behind them. Nessa screamed as Keirian pulled her back. They both drew their swords.

The two Gors jumped onto the Bridgemaker. They both had their battle axes out and were now trying to cut loose the ropes. Keirian and Nessa ran for them, but they were blocked by two more Gors. One of them was Axe, their leader.

"So, we meet again," he said with a cruel tone, as he pushed Keirian back. Keirian didn't answer as he lunged at Axe, trying to get by, but Axe wouldn't let him. "Baran, the ropes!" he called. Baran saw what Keirian was yelling about. He made a quick thrust into the belly of the Gor next to him, and tossed him over the eastern side of the wall, then turned towards the axe-wielding Gors.

Nessa was desperately fighting with the Gor holding her back, and finally was able to land a kill-blow to his chest. She ran with Baran towards the Bridgemaker.

They were almost too late however, as the Gors had managed to chop their way through the top rope. It suddenly sprang loose, as Baran and Nessa watched in horror. Sanchen felt himself suddenly falling from where he was. He didn't scream, but was looked with wide-eyed fear. He grasped the rope as quickly as he could, and saw himself swinging towards the cliff on the other side. Bale, who was closer to the end, also held on tight.

Bale slammed into the rocky wall. Sanchen, far below him, did the same but with much more force. Sanchen yelled in pain as his shoulder collided with the cliff-face, as he lost his grip and started falling. He suddenly realized he was falling and quickly grabbed the rope again.

Bale!" Thalia screamed as she leapt to help him. However, she lost her footing, and in her mad panic, slipped over the edge.

The others called after her, and ran to the edge as well. It was lucky that Bale saw her fall, because he reached out his hand and caught her by the wrist. The pain in his wounded shoulder was unbearable, but he held on anyways. He gripped tight as she swung above Zorgun. Sanchen hung there too, further down. He could feel the immense heat below him. The end of the cut rope was even dipping into the lava, and was soon ablaze with flame.

Back at the other side, Baran and Nessa made their way to the Gors and stopped them from destroying the second rope as well. Baran leapt up at the first one, stabbing him in the throat. Nessa attacked the second one, and they both fell from the other side of the Bridgemaker. Keirian was still fighting madly with Axe. Axe was driving him to the eastern edge of the wall, where they looked back down on the plains of Sparsen.

"Why are you after us?!" Keirian shouted.

"You're mission cannot succeed!" Axe yelled at him, "We will not let it, at whatever cost!"

"Why? Why do you care?" Keirian was now pushed to the ground, with Axe standing over him.

Axe knelt down and held his sword to Keirian's throat. Keirian's own sword was in between, fending off Axe's blade. "We have our Prophesies too," Axe said, "The time of the Gors approaches, when we shall once again come to power. There is only one thing standing in our way. We will not the twelve to ruin our plans."

Keirian looked at axe with a puzzled look. He didn't understand how the company had anything to do with the Gors. But he did understand that Axe was determined to see them fail. Keirian pushed back on Axe's blade with all his might. Then suddenly he heard an arrow and Axe leapt back in pain. Baran had shot him in the shoulder. Axe jumped up and wrenched the arrow from his back. He ran to Baran and their swords met.

Carson was the first one to reach the high end of the fallen rope. "Bale, pull Thalia up to me!"

Bale did his best to pull Thalia up. Finally Thalia could grip the rope for herself. She grabbed for Carson's hand, and he and Gram pulled her up.

Tirius saw the fighting on the other side. He drew his bow, but he did not think he could reach the other side, and even if he could he could not be sure to hit one of the Gors and not one of their friends. Meanwhile, Bale was also pulled up. Now they had to save Sanchen.

"Sanchen!" Carson called loudly, as his voice echoed, "Hold on! We're going to pull you up!" They all grabbed the rope and started to pull it up the wall, moving Sanchen further away from the rumbling fire below.

Tirius kept looking to the other side. "I have to go back for them," he said as he made his way back to the rope. Locke tried to stop him. "Tirius, don't! It's too risky, you won't make it back there in time, not on only one rope."

Tirius looked back painfully.

Baran and Axe fought furiously near the edge of the Great Wall. Keirian saw Nessa surrounded by three Gors, which looked to be the last three there were. Keirian ran to help her. He jumped onto the back of the closest one. The Gor stumbled and fell off the side of the cliff. Keirian looked down as he saw the Gor get swallowed by the River of Fire.

Nessa fought with the other two, and Keirian soon helped out. He threw his sword from his hands, and it spun blade first into the face of one of the Gors. The other Gor looked over at his fallen ally. Nessa used this distraction to stick the other one with her sword.

Sanchen tried to climb the rope as best he could while the others up top hauled it up. Sanchen could always hear Carson's voice urging him on. Finally he saw their faces clearly, as he reached the top. He reached up as Carson grabbed his hand. He was helped up by all of them together, and collapsed on the ground. "Thanks," he said weakly.

Tirius knelt down beside him and felt his head. "He'll be okay." Then he looked back across. "I'm going after hem," he said determinedly now. He made his way to the rope.

"Tirius wait!" Salla called after him, "Look!" He pointed across the fire where they saw Baran fighting with the only Gor left.

Axe swung many blows at Baran, who blocked each one of them with Shar-Del, the sword of Masedelo. "Brannock will fall, soldier," Axe said with spite, "You cannot keep down the Gors!"

"No Gor shall step foot in my city!" Baran shouted back, "And none shall stop this journey!" He then made a quick move which caught Axe on the wrist, sending his crooked blade into the air. With a quick thrust, Baran rammed his sword into Axe's chest. Baran backed him over to the edge of the cliff, and pulled out his sword. Axe screamed in pain as he fell to the depths below.

Keirian, Nessa and Baran stood around the now battle-scarred Bridgemaker. "Well, we have to get across," Baran said. Nessa clamped onto the remaining rope, and gripped with her hands. She wrapped her feet around the rope also, and slid herself across. Keirian proceeded to do the same. Baran followed.

Keirian felt extremely nervous as he pulled himself across. The lava below was alive as it sprayed up and poured across the surface. He tried hard to concentrate, despite the aching of his muscles. He could also feel the rope getting looser, which could only mean that the Bridgemaker was giving out. They would have to hurry.

As they came closer to the other side, they could hear a creaking. The others called to them, urging them onwards. Keirian saw Nessa make it to land. He scrambled as fast as he could. Finally he came to the end of the rope, and was pulled up to land by Carson. Baran came after him, and hurried as the creaking got louder. They pulled him up too, and in just enough time. For not too long after they all made it across, the Bridgemaker was pulled out of the ground. It toppled over the edge and they watched it plummet into the fire below.

A silence had fallen over the company, and a huge sense of relief. All twelve of them had made it across the River of Fire, safe and sound. They gathered together their gear, and their nerves. Before them were the Black Teeth, and beyond them were unknown lands. They were leaving Ionia behind them now.

The Prophesy had proven true. All twelve of them stood there now, on the western cliff of the River of Fire, each of them from each of the twelve cities of Ionia. They had accomplished what none before them had done. Now would begin the exploration of strange lands, uncharted countries. They did not know what they would find. They did not know how long they would be away from their homes. Their entire journey was now full of uncertainty. Yet their accomplishment was certain. Zorgun had now been crossed. A world of possibilities was now opened to all in Ionia.

Keirian gripped his sister's necklace in his hand. Nessa stood beside him, holding his other. On his other side stood Carson, his long time companion, and now most trusted friend.

And so the journey, which had begun as a young man, full of adventure, who wandered from his forest home, had reached its great goal. The story of the twelve companions and their quest to cross the River of Fire would become Ionian legend, and would be forgotten by none.