Where is it? Where is it? were his only thoughts. His breath came in short pants as he ran, and sweat ran down his face and into his eyes, making his vision blurry. The tiny rivers of molten rock were everywhere, threatening him at every step. Even a single mistake would be fatal. He jumped over a puddle and stopped to listen.
The sounds of battle could be heard even at this distance. He could hear the screams of the dying and clash of metal against metal. His companions were apparently more than a match for the thugs that tried to stop them.
Enough, he told himself and concentrated on the matter at hand. The volcano was sleeping, but magma still surfaced from time to time. In front of him was a high ridge created by the solidified rock melts, and he hurried to it. The old man had said "over the ridge, under the bridge", and there was no other ridge here. Behind him, he could hear footsteps on the flimsy wooden drawbridge. Got to hurry. He quickened his pace and ran up the ridge, slipping and sliding as he took several missteps. He was shocked when the hollow rock cracked underneath his foot and his leg sank into it up to his thigh.
"The kid went this way! Stop him!" shouted a gruff voice as several bodies were silhouetted against the fiery night sky. This particular fire mountain may have been sleeping, but the ones surrounding it were not. He worried about his companions. If these brutes had gotten so far something must have happened to his friends. He shook his head and wiped his face with the remains of his ripped sleeve. He tried pulling his leg out of the hole, but it was stuck. He pulled and pulled, hearing the footsteps get ever closer. "Got you!"
Hearing that, he went for one final heave, putting his entire weight behind it. The rock around his leg gave way and broke, nearly throwing him down the ridge again. Wasting no time, he hurled himself forward into a sprint, clearing the edge of the hill. Looking down, he saw that the part of the volcano he had just traversed wasn't even part of the crater. Down on the other side of the slope he could see a large pool of magma bubbling and seething. He looked behind him. Two of the brutes weren't even a yard behind him. Panic took over.
Without thinking, he threw himself down the slope, rolling downwards. The volcanic rock was softer than the regular kind, but not by much, and a few jagged edges here and there cut at his arms and legs. Some places, the rock broke and he almost tumbled into the dark tunnels below, but he narrowly avoided the pitfalls. He felt something pierce his leather armour's back and dig into his flesh. The already unbearable heat was getting worse, he noticed. He felt an odd sensation in his head, the air pressure in the crater was so different.
He eventually rolled to a stop, barely two feet away from the edge of the lava pool. He had no time to think further about it as the two brutes were coming down as well, also opting to take the fast route, though their heavier bodies made it much more dangerous. He sprung to his feet right away, looking around quickly for the so-called bridge the old man had spoken of. There was none. Down in the crater, it was just him, the lava pool and the towering walls of solidified magma…and the two tumbling thugs hell-bent on taking him.
The pool was at least thirty feet across, and he ran over to the other side to put some distance between himself and the thugs. He drew his dagger and prepared himself. Had he been less focused on the two enemies, he would have worried about how he was going to get out of the crater. There were no ladders, no improvised stairways, only smooth lava rock.
The two thugs had rolled to their stops now, bare inches away from falling into the melted rock. They seemed unnerved for a minute before they noticed him and seemed to remember what they were there for.
"You take the left, I'll take the right," one of them said to the other, who nodded. How anyone could tell the difference between them was beyond the fourteen year-old, their faces were all bumps and bruises, and their bodies looked more like logs than humans'. One of them carried large two-handed sword, and the other had a small flail. "There's no way he can get outta here."
"Er…how do we get out of here?" asked the other, at last showing some tiny sliver of intelligence.
The first looked around and growled at his companion. "It doesn't matter. Let's just kill 'im and worry 'bout that later!"
The other nodded and they both set to approaching him from each side, moving slowly, presumably to frighten him as much as possible. He looked around desperately. This was usually one of those moments where one of his guardians would throw themselves into the fray, protecting him with all they had.
One of the brutes seemed to read his thoughts, and laughed. "They're not coming for you, lad, they're all dead." He laughed again, his voice taking on a unique mixture of darkness and mirth.
All hope would be lost if they were to die here. The land would forever be in darkness, and the hordes of evil would race across the plains to wipe out every last shred of light left in the world. They're not coming…he thought. A rage began to build up inside of him, culminating in an angry and sorrowful roar. The two brutes paid no notice and ran toward him, sword and flail at the ready. The boy lashed out, his swipes like lightning as he made the brutes take a step back. If they were waiting for an opening, he was not going to give it to them. He whirled around like he had seen the monk do several times, giving the brutes absolutely no window to attack.
One of the brutes smirked and kicked out, planting his foot squarely on the child's chest, sending him into – and through – the rock wall behind him. The rock cracked apart and exploded inwards, taking the youth into the depths of the volcanic mountain.
All was a blur to him as he tumbled and fell down the old tunnels dug by the surging rock below. He could feel the sharp edges biting into him once again, his weak armour being torn to pieces. He lost his grip on the dagger, sending it clanging into some crevice. He hit a particularly hard piece of rock and felt something in his chest crack, an intense pain searing through his body. He coughed and felt something wet and hot well up in his mouth. Suddenly, it stopped. He landed with a crash on fine gravel, his crumpled form blasted by heat from all sides.
He opened his eyes and had to close them right away as the bright light blinded him. He opened them again as they gradually got used to it. He was standing in a cavernous room with a high ceiling. A river of magma divided it and disappeared over an edge. He followed the river slowly, the injuries he'd sustained on the way down protesting against every little motion. It was getting harder to breathe. He was sure he had cracked a rib. The floor on both sides of the river sloped downwards, almost making him fall several times. The room seemed to lengthen for each step he took, and the edge was no closer than it had been when he was on the other side. He looked behind him to see if the thugs were following him, but all he saw was the source of the magma river: a large crack in the wall. The heat was stifling. He reached for the water skin on his belt, but realised he had dropped it during his first tumble.
He plodded on, getting closer now – to his relief. Reaching the edge, he saw that the river terminated in a bad imitation of a waterfall, the molten rock falling hundreds of feet into a gigantic lake of the stuff. He looked around and realised that the "crater" he had been trapped in was nothing like it at all. The walls towered higher than any of the other volcanoes in the mountain range, several miles tall. The fiery lake was easily ten miles across, spreading from one end of the crater to the other. Small islands littered it, remnants of an ancient temple.
The constant bubbling and hissing sounds were interrupted by a pair of crashes and grunts. He looked behind him and saw the two thugs in a heap by the opening he'd fallen through. They had tried to climb on the searing hot rock judging by their bloody and blistered hands and feet. Their boots were gone. He looked back to the fiery lake and saw a balcony-like piece of rock jutting out from directly underneath the opening where he stood. He lowered a foot down to it, testing it with his weight. This was real rock, nothing like the porous melted mass that had solidified.
He climbed down on it, aware that the thugs were slowly getting up. They were cursing at each other, one blaming the other for getting them into trouble. He had no time to listen to them. He saw that there was some kind of walkway connected to the balcony that sloped down to one of the islands in the lake. It looked flimsy and weak, but it too was made of real rock. He ran down it, praying that it wouldn't break under his weight.
If the heat up in the river room had been killing, then the heat down in the centre of the volcano was downright murderous. He had to take off his shirt now; it was so soaked in his sweat that it grew too heavy to wear.
What'd I do? What'd I do? he screamed in his mind. He wanted to cry, but couldn't. The old man had promised that this was here it would end, that this would decide the fate of the entire world, but when he couldn't even find the summoning point…
"There he is!" shouted one of the thugs.
He looked up and saw the pair making their way down the walkway. They were too heavy. The walkway snapped in half just as the pair was halfway across, dropping it into the fire lake. One of them screamed in agony as his legs disappeared underneath the molten rock. It increased in pitch and volume as his torso joined them, and was finally silenced when the rest of the body followed.
He let out a sigh of relief, glad that at least he wasn't being pursued anymore. He was wrong.
"You little bastard!" shouted the remaining thug. He had managed to hold on to the falling walkway and was running across its length, rushing to jump onto the little island before it sank under. He made it. He jumped across the small gap. He stood up and grinned. "I'll get you back for killing my brother."
"I didn't—"was all he could say before the thug took off running towards him with his sword out, ready to chop him in half if he got the chance.
He ducked, just in the nick of time as the thug roared and swung the blade. The thug overbalanced and skidded across the rough gravel of the island. The boy wasted no time in running as far away as he could, even wondering if he should take the chance on jumping over to the next island. Panic took over once again as the thug rose and dropped his sword and drew a shorter blade instead - his blade. A smile spread across his face. "Come to papa."
The boy jumped. He took a running start and jumped across the gap between the two islands, gulping as he saw several pebbles rolling into the magma. He saw that the islands from there on out were all connected by rope attached to poles stuck deep into the gravel. The rope was old and flimsy and far too dangerous to climb on, but he saw that the distance between the islands wasn't too far and decided to jump the remaining way. He managed to jump to three more before his legs gave out beneath him and caused him to fall. His chest stung, and his rib was definitely broken, he knew. Something was digging into his lungs.
The thug was having a bit more trouble working up the courage to jump across the lake to the islands. His frame was much bulkier and heavier, and his short legs couldn't possibly get him over. He decided to try it anyway. The thug heaved himself across, avoiding dropping into the magma just barely.
The boy stopped for a second and looked in amusement as his attacker struggled and looked for the next island. His legs shook as he stood, but he willed it away before clearing the gap. What he saw next made him stop. In the distance, not even a tenth of a mile away, he could see an old stone structure. It had the shape of a giant bridge and underneath…a large statue of the Father. The summoning spot!
His pursuer saw it too apparently, for he redoubled his efforts in alternatively hurling his bulky frame over to the islands and crying in fear.
It was an odd caricature of a cat-and-mouse situation they had, and the mouse clearly had the advantage now. He sped over the islands, the pain and exhaustion forgotten, the Father getting ever closer. He stopped on the island before the summoning spot. The distance between them was longer here. He did not hesitate for a second. He made sure to get a good bit of running distance and jumped. He soared over the red, bubbling lake and landed on the other side, close to the Father. He felt an intense pain in his feet and saw to his horror that the toes of his boots were touching the lake. He jerked them out of it and wrenched them off. His feet were already blistering from the intense heat. He thanked the gods for not letting the boots melt. His pursuer was now far behind him, struggling to keep up. He smiled and stood up on his feet.
Walking was pure pain on the volcanic rock, but he approached the marble circle underneath the Father determinatively. To his surprise, the marble felt cool as soon as he stepped on it, as if it wasn't in the middle of a volcanic crater. He supposed it was because of the supernatural aura of the statue. The father stood imposingly over the marble, clad in his cloak and wielding his scythe. His face was hidden by his hood, but he could feel the love emanating from the statue. He fell to his knees in the five-pointed star in the middle of the marble circle and touched his forehead to the floor.
He whispered the carefully prepared and memorised prayer he had been taught since he was little. The strange language flowed from his lips like water. After he'd finished, he added one of his own. "Father, please, I throw myself before you and the pantheon, begging for forgiveness for the destruction I and my kind have brought upon this land. But an even greater threat exists now, one that will affect our world forever. Please, Father, give me the power to defeat these enemies. Give it to me, and I shall forever submit myself to you."
He waited. He waited for something – anything – to happen. Something was wrong. He'd been told that whispering the ancient prayer would surely wake the gods, but now…
"Father?" he whispered. "Father?" he said again, louder. "Father, please!" Anguish so raw and bitter filled his heart, and tears flowed down his face. It had all been for naught. So many friends and companions dead, so much innocent blood spilled, all for absolutely nothing apart from a miserable fourteen year-old summoner sitting there, bloodied and filthy before the statue of the Traitor.
He rose to sit on his knees and looked up at the unmoving statue. He heard a high-pitched squeal and the rustling of gravel as well as a loud plop. The thug had fallen into the lake, but he couldn't have cared less. The gods weren't waking, and the land was lost. He drew a deep breath.
Something thudded into his back. He looked down at his chest. A blade was poking out from it, covered in blood, slowly dripping down onto the marble. He touched it gingerly and gasped as his finger came away with a small cut. It was his blade, so skilfully sharpened it could cut through almost everything. He felt around his back for the hilt and pulled it out, eliciting a groan from himself. He looked behind him and saw the last of the thug's remains slide out into the lake, the arm that had thrown the blade vanishing last. The boy was surprised the brute had been able to throw the blade at such a distance. He spat out blood that had been pooling in his mouth and watched as the drops splattered on the marble inside the star.
He felt drowsy and fell onto his side, staring up at the Father statue, his eyes still leaking tears. All fell silent as darkness edged into his vision. He prepared himself, knowing that death was not far away. The pain in his chest was gone now, as was it from his other wounds as well. His eyes felt heavy and it wouldn't be long until they would close forever.
Suddenly, light flooded from the Father's eyes. The hands moved the scythe to a striking position before the statue struck the marble circle hard, inches away from the boy's head. Light began to glow along the circle. A mirrored circle began to form in front of the statue, shining down on the dying boy. The centre of the circle in front of the statue became a blinding white, and dark shapes moved within. One figure in particular seemed particularly prominent.
The shape came closer to the circle. A sandaled foot shot out from it and stepped onto the marble. The powerful frame followed after, the body completely flawless. The head was covered in long, white hair and a flowing beard. The eyes were clear-blue, and the mouth was curled in a brilliant smile.
The boy raised his head to look at the magnificent figure of the god above all gods. "…you…came…" he coughed up blood and rested his head against the cool floor.
Son of the Traitor Father, do not be afraid.
The god, so much taller and stronger than him, picked him up in his arms. He smiled down at the bloody boy.
Do not be afraid.
The god looked upwards at the night sky. It was filled with brilliant fireballs and explosions, a sign of the final battle.
This world is lost.
The god looked back to the shining portal and then to the boy. He smiled again and walked to the portal.
"Where…are…we…going?" asked the boy, his final question. His head slumped for the final time against the god's chest. The god frowned at the dead boy before smiling again. He took a step inside the portal.
Right, this was a little hobby-project of mine. I'm thinking about expanding it into a full story, though I should probably finish my other ones first, eh? Anyway, please read and review if you found the story interesting. Reviews are my lifeblood, good or bad, and they are the things that inspire me to continue writing. PS: thanks to Vermone for pointing out several quite embarrassing mistakes. I believe I've rectified them satisfactory for now. Thanks again.