© S. Bradley Stoner
The Wynan Witch
The Wynan Range seened to grow as Katlil approached it during those final two days on the Plain of Woe. He had a single encounter with a Gardon on the next to last day. It had approached him, stiff legged and menacing, in broad daylight. Unusual for a nocturnal beast. Katlil could feel the pain in the diseased animal’s brain, sense it’s confused thoughts. When he balanced the lance, it’s gleaming, razor sharp cosmetal tip aimed stratight at the tormented creature, the Gardon had neither flinched nor turned away. Katlil’s aim was true, the sharp point of the lance driving through each of the brute’s two hearts, dropping it where it stood. It was a mercy. Katlil retrieved the lance, rubbed the tip and shaft in the dry grit of the desert floor to remove the blood. Ordinarily he would have stopped to butcher the animal, for food was a scarce commodity here, but he left the animal for the scavengers, and doubted that even they would touch it.
Far above, the eyes of the sky eagle conveyed to Katlil that no more Gardons were near. The threat over, he resumed the journey. Already he could see the rusted gray boulders of the Wynans and, beyond them, caught a glimpse of the Black Glass Peaks reflecting and rainbowing the rays of the early suns’ rising. He would not take the paths of past Trek Warriors’ maps. They had all proved fruitless in penetrating the Wynan and, although they indicated the Black Glass Peaks that lay far beyond the Wynan, they remained an unattained goal. Even the Great Bouran had failed to find a passable passage. All, however, had recorded that the gentle rise of the range was deceptive, for when the apex was reached, the far side ended in a precipitous drop to a bottomless abyss with no apparent way down. It was as if a giant blade had riven the back of the range, leaving shear, smooth cliffs as evidence of its butchery. Now, only a half a day from the foot of the range, Katlil used the eagle to seek a new path.
The sky eagle soared far above, it’s keen eyes scanning the ground, feeding the images to his telepath. Katlil’s brain quickly processed the information without ever losing its focus on the terrain surrounding him. There was still danger lurking and he dare not lose awareness while the search of the Wynans progressed. Finally, Katlil spotted a possible passage through the eagle’s eyes and commanded the bird to follow it. The narrow gorge eventually opened to reveal a broad valley unlike any Katlil had ever seen. This was very possibly the fabled route through the range. Katlil recalled the sky eagle and angled his path to intercept the opening to the narrow gorge. It cost him an extra half day to reach it, but just as the suns fell, he made his camp just inside the walls of the gorge, gathering the last of the fire stones he would see for the remainder of his journey. Only the Plain of Woe held those magical rocks, and it was impractical to carry them with him.
With the suns gone, the night temperature plunged and there was a dampness to the gorge that Katlil had not felt in the rest of the arid world he had traveled. There were new sounds and new scents that had to be sorted in his mind. Were they benign or dangerous? He knew not, for none had been recorded in the journals. This was, indeed, a new path not trod by any Trek Warrior heretofore. It took all of Katlil’s will to suppress the sense of excitement he felt. In his heart, he knew this obscure opening in the Wynan Range would lead him eventually to the Glass Peaks. And, as he settled in for the night, he allowed himself to imagine what might be found there and beyond. His last thought before sleep was of the Book Asan. Could it be atop one of those foreboding mountains?
The old crone sensed his coming from the cave near the middle of the gorge. She sensed the danger he represented, should he pass through the portals she had guarded for more than two centuries. She would send the lap lizards to scout his progress in the morning, hearing through their ears, seeing through their eyes. At one time, she would not have needed them, but her powers were waning as she approached the end of her span. Oh, she could still cast the spells, but even they lacked the strength to linger long. Once she had been the most powerful witch in the Wynans, but no more. She glanced at the beguiling figure of her novitiate and recalled in the murky depths of her mind when she had been the beguiler, silky of skin, lithe of body, sharp of mind. Now all those things faded. Her once beautiful skin now sagged in unsightly folds. Her once full golden mane now hung white and stringy. He eyes once clear and piercing blue, now were milky from too many days in the harshness of the twin suns. Once tall, proud, and shapely, she was now bent and flacid. Her days were coming to an end.
It had taken too long for the people to choose a novitiate to replace the one she had spent years training. The one who had ventured beyond the mouth of the gorge against the old crone’s warnings. The one whose spell had failed to stop the attack of the Gardon pack. The one who had squandered her life and all of the years of training. And now, the old witch could not be certain she would have the novitiate ready when the wraiths came for her at the end of her days. So, she kept vigil and cast learning spells to dance in the mind of the young beauty while she slept. Had she been even a hundred years younger, she would have envied the firmness of they young one’s breasts, the roundness of her hips, the gentle oval of her face, and the magnificent mane of golden hair. But now, the old one was beyond envy... beyond tired, yearning for the great rest that she dare not take until the girl was ready to protect the secrets of the valley.
As the suns rose, the old woman got her first glance of the intruder. He was as if chiseled from the stone of the gorge, steely eyed, fluid of motion. Her mind screamed, “DANGER!” Could it be? Could this mountain of a man be one of the fabled Trek Warriors from beyond the Plain? In an instant, she saw the upraised hand and issued a mental warning to the old lap lizard, but it was too late. She felt the sharp stab of the dart and the vision went black. Her piercing scream woke the novitiate, who sprang to her feet and rushed to the old woman.
Katlil retrieved the lizard and removed the dart. In short order he was enjoying the first real food he’d had in days. He rolled the succulent meat over his tongue, savoring the smoky flavor of roast lizard, contemplating the next leg of his journey.
To be continued... after another brief hiatus while I continue to work on a non-fiction book.