end of the road
“Most people don’t come out this way you know.” the old wagon driver grumbled as he stroked his snow-flecked beard. “Bad place they say.” He snapped the reins, urging the horses onward and spat to one side. Hooves clopped on ancient cobblestone covered in a messy layer of mud. The carriage creaked and groaned and it’s canvas cover whipped in the chilling wind.
Maralyn Rayne sat in the back of the wagon, wedged between a barrel of rotting vegetables and a burlap sack spilling over with grains of corn. She shifted, trying to find a comfortable position, but to no avail. All she could do was pull her hooded cloak tighter.
“Who exactly are they?” she asked, her voice noble and refined, if a little cracked in the cold.
The driver muttered something and jerked the reins. Snorting, the horses came to a sudden halt causing Rayne to hit her head on the barrel and the bag of corn to spill all over the floor.
“Fayr,” Rayne swore, righting herself and pushing her rectangular spectacles up on the bridge of her nose.
“End of the road, miss.”
“Finally.” Rayne shook her head and grabbed her backpack. She hopped out of the wagon and dropped into frozen mud that crunched beneath her boots. Pulling her hood low she made her way to the front of the cart.
“That’ll be fifty salts.” The old man reached out a hand, his yellow teeth bared in a crooked smile.
“I only have it in bells.” Rayne reached down to her belt and unclipped a leather money cord.
“Bah.” The driver scowled, drawing his hand back. “And what’s a northerner like you doing in the Broken World?”
“Hardly your concern,” she said, tossing him some silver bells. As she did a gust of wind blew back the hood of her cloak and there she was, a fourteen-year-old girl with dark plum colored hair, and silver eyes. Her skin was fair, her nose and cheeks rosy from the cold. She wore a maroon ribbon over her hair and tied it behind her ear. Beneath the cloak she was wearing a windbreaker and gray cargo pants that tapered into tall leather boots.
“Ah, by the Breaking,” the man swore with a sniff. “You’re just a girl, and judging by those clothes you stopped by one of them Modern Islands, eh? So, tell me girl, what are you doing on a Remnant Island like Volthum?”
“Like I said.” Rayne snapped. “It’s none of your business.” She pulled her hood down, and her silver eyes glared from the shadows. “You’ve been paid, our deal is done. Go back to the castle.”
The man eyed her for a long moment. Then he reared back and laughed. His cackling echoed across the cold rolling plains.
“You know what’s out there, don’t you?” He sneered and cast a sidelong glance at the horses who began to snort and stomp nervously in place. “That’s where it happened. That’s where the world was broken. Where the lost city used to stand.”
“It better be.” Rayne spun on her heels and marched away leaving the road and the wagon behind.
“Better watch out little girl!” the man called after her. “Ain’t nothin out there ‘cept the beast!”
The man’s voice blew away in the wind as Rayne hiked up a steady incline boots crunching through the sickly yellow grass. Puddles of muddy snow were scattered across the hills, and the sky above was gray, the sun just a white blur beyond the clouds.
Cresting the top of the hill, Rayne had to weave through large tears in the dirt, deep cuts like ancient wounds refusing to heal. Amid the gaping rivets were century old gravestones capped white with snow. At first there were just a few, but then there were hundreds, and then thousands spread out as far as she could see.
In the midst of them all was a large obelisk. It was twice her height and made out of smooth black stone. Words had been carved into the stone and then filled with copper, which had turned green with age. Moss grew up the stone, and even now, so many years later there were a few dying flowers at its base.
Rayne’s breath poured out of her lips in a fog as she reached out to touch the aged words. The writing was different than she was used to, but it was still the common language.
Here Alkania used to stand.
Here the world was broken.
Here we will hope.
It was a memorial stone to the lost city, but on the side, someone had carved a pair of initials in a heart shape. Rayne grimaced. The memorial didn’t seem to offer much hope.
She passed the stone, and behind it was the Valley of Wyte.
It wasn’t so much a valley as it was a massive crater. In the center of that crater was Rayne’s destination, a small, lonely, snow-covered mountain rising above the valley walls. She couldn’t help but smile.
After dropping her pack, she fished inside the first pocket and pulled out an old, weathered journal. She tore one glove off with her teeth and flipped to the right page.
“It’s the same.” Rayne held the book up, and the sketch inside was the very same. The view, the angle, everything. He had stood here, her grandfather.
She was on the right path. She was getting closer.
The only problem was what came next.
Rayne approached the edge. Looking down, she swallowed. The cliff was steep and covered in ice. This was something she’d anticipated . . . sort of. She unstrapped a coil of rope from the side of her pack, along with an ice pick and some metal stakes.
Using the pick like a hammer she drove a stake into the frozen ground and tied one end of the rope to it. She gave it a quick test tug, then tossed the coil over the edge, a sinking suspicion gnawing at her stomach.
The rope fell short. A good thirty feet or so.
“Fayr.” Rayne swallowed again. She looked in her pack, searching for anything that might help, but she knew there was nothing. Just some granola bars, a medical kit, extra socks and a couple of matches, among other things.
She could make it, right? Rayne leaned over the edge, and the sight made her stomach lurch. The ground was long way down, and at the base of the cliff were large boulders.
“Come on Rayne, you have to do this,” she hissed through gritted teeth. “You have to do this.”
Rayne swung the pack onto her back and took a steadying breath. I can do this.
As she gripped the rope and scooted toward the edge, something moved in the distance. She adjusted her glasses and eyed the mountain with suspicion. Pulling out a small spyglass, she extended it and zeroed in on the snowy peak.
At first, she didn’t see anything. Then it moved.
It spread its wings and shuddered, shaking snow from its body like a dog after a bath. It’s white scales were saw-toothed and spiky on its back, and it had a glacial blue underbelly. It’s body was short and stocky as far as dragons went, but it was still huge. Atop it’s head were the two spiraling horns of a frost dragon.
Rayne had heard the stories. She was banking on the legends, and there one was, right before her very eyes. Just like the sketch in her journal, it was another good sign. It was also a dangerous sign. The Valley of Wyte was a wasteland, little to nothing lived there, and anything out of the ordinary would be easily noticed.
The dragon flexed its wings. They stretched out and retracted, then pulled down without warning. The creature shot into the sky like an arrow from a bow. Snow exploded from beneath the dragon as it’s wings blasted air across the mountain top.
Rayne dropped the spyglass as the dragon went up, and up, into the sky. It roared as it flew, and the sound from on high was so loud, it was as if the creature was right beside her. The sound reverberated in her bones. She shivered, and it wasn’t from the cold.
Then it was gone, lost amid the ceiling of clouds.
Rayne smiled. This was it; this was her chance. The dragon was gone, and the valley was hers, if only she could get down the cliff. . . In truth, there were only two options: climb, or go home. And she wasn’t going home.
The Broken World
Coming Soon 2023