There was little speech that evening. Everyone retired to an early bed. The night was with out incident and the dawn rose and went. They crossed the Beren the second time in the same place as before and made a sharp right turn. They started up a tall ridge south that led to the ring of mountains around the Layam. The going was rough and they found no trail to follow. Old gnarled trees of twisted firs and endless thickets of brambles were the only things that grew there. The air was dark and no breeze blew. Indeed the land seemed strangely quiet. Towards the afternoon, the brambles became less. Later they ceased altogether and the trees grew further apart, enabling them to see quite a ways into the forest. They spent the day following old animal trails that circumvented the Layam. That evening they thought they could catch a glimmer of light from Brontes cave but were never too sure. Atma promised Malchius that he would show him how to make Moglat howls. Around the campfire Atma made good on his word.
“Watch closely to what I do now,” said Atma. Malchius watched as the little guide cupped his hands to his mouth. For the next fifteen minutes he gave a series of long, how whistles. At the end of each whistle he made a sort of hoot-hoot-hoots. They watched and waited. Five minutes, ten minutes. Nothing. Atma then had Malchius try. Malchius tried for five minutes or so and again they waited. Still nothing.
“Ha, ha, ha Aidin laughed. “A rum lot you fellows are. Try again tomorrow night, Perhaps you’ll hoot one in.”
“I don’t understand” Atma said.
“Usually they respond when I call.”
“Perhaps they sleeping,” muttered Myridon who was lying down. “And I think its time we all got some sleep too.”
They took his advice and spent a quiet night. The next day was spent in much the same as before. Walking along narrow paths that overlooked the Layam. Nothing extraordinary happened that day nor the next. The night of their third day from Danyabad, however, was different. Jorlath was on watch and heard a snuffing sort of sound just outside the edge of camp. He grabbed a burning brand from the campfire and walked over the investigate.
“Who’s there!,” he said in a loud voice.
Slowly he extended the torch above his head to see better. A pair of golden eyes stared at him from behind a stone. Jorlath pick up a stick and threw it at the eyes.
“Ha! Take that. Come out from there whatever you are.”
The eyes disappeared and at the same time his torch went out. Quickly now, he went over to wake the others. Atma was the last to get up but when he rose he laughed and said,
“What’s the matter, Jor? Moglats got you on the edge?”
“Moglat or not, what I saw was evil-looking.”
The company each took a flaming brand and walked around the camp but nothing could be seen.
“Nothing here exclaimed Malchius. The others agreed and promptly went back to sleep. All except Atma who took over Jorlaths’s watch. Just as the sun was breaking over the horizon Myridon was helping Atma search for tracks. None were found, but Atma found a few tufts of long grey hair stuck in a bush near the spot where Jorlath saw the eyes. He walked triumphantly into camp as the others were eating breakfast.
“Look here!” he cried.
“Moglat fur or I’m a fool,”
“Ah, then I did see something last night,” said Jorlath
“Yes, probably a solitary moglat though. Myridon is still out searching.....hey, here he comes now.”
The wizard strolled in and reported nothing. He looked at the few tufts of grey hair. Atma brought in.
“This certainly is Moglat fur. Let’s just hope it’s the only one we see.”
He turned toward Atma. “And no more calling tonight. Understand?”
The group finished up and resumed their path towards path. Malchius saw Atma and Jorlath, who were out in front, stoop down and picked up something. They immediately walked back to Malchius and showed him a partially ripped food sac one of theirs. The wizard and Aidin, following last came up and looked at it.
“Well, seems your friend was a bit hungry, eh Atma.”
They continued on. That night a ring of torches was erected around the camp. The next two nights they did this every so often yellow eyes peered at them but they quickly left when someone thrust a torch their direction. Once a long howl was heard and after that no more eyes were seen for the rest of the night. Malchius questioned Atma about the howl who said it was only a wolf. This startled Malchius, but Myridon wasn’t so sure.
On their sixth day after leaving the Beren river they saw the Gates of Layam from afar. They halted for the rest of the afternoon, for the heat of the sun had already exhausted them. The night was cold and cheerless and none of them got much sleep.
Their seventh day from Danyabad began as the previous six. Atma cooked breakfast Aidin and Jorlath packed the supplies. Myridon and Malchius scouted out the land to see if any type of danger was lurking about.
“The plan for the day,” began Myridon, “is to make for the plateau of Girishad. There is, or was, a bridge that crossed the Girishad Trench that led to the plateau. Somewhere, according to Atma, you could descend into the plateau into a sort of hidden pathway at the bottom. There we’ll be safe from any prying eyes which could see anyone from afar if they were on top. After all, I’m not quite ready to have the world see me. Not that I mind meeting new people you see. But I’d prefer to meet them on my own terms. Exactly where the entrance to the hidden pathway is located is not certain, however, it is believed to be across a small river ten to fifteen miles further away. We’ll stop and make camp on the side of the bridge where it is still forested. We’ll stop and make camp on this side of the bridge where it is still forested.”
The travelers walked the trail at a leisurely pace. Except for one small hill, the ground sloped downhill at a gentle angle. Their path was covered with small mosses that dampened the sound of their feet. It also had a cushioning effect. Myridon said it felt like walking on a carpet such as a king or wealthy landowner might own. The flowers began to get more numerous as they descended. To Malchius it seemed a strange sight after having spent the past week looking at a cold cheerless land of rocks and little plant life. Scattered boulders scattered everywhere gave a slight feeling of apprehension to all. Malchius could almost picture a dragon or a giant hiding behind them. A great mound of turf had been dug up appeared in front of them. Jorlath questioned Atma about it.
“Ah,” he said. “In the winter, great beasts migrate here to feed. The mounds you see are the signs of the great wooly mumlak. They are a mysterious creature rarely seen nowadays. My fathers would hunt them for food and for their skin. They would come to the pools by the hundreds, it is said. Now to see one from afar is considered lucky.”
“What do they look like?”
“Hmm, well I’ve only seen two in my lifetime and they were far away. If we make it back to Velusia I will show you. We have artisans who can paint their likeness so that they appear almost lifelike. As to their description, they are huge. They are as big as a house and covered with long dark fur. The males have two long white teeth with which they fight one another. Their ears are enormous too. Perhaps that is why they are rarely seen. They have excellent hearing.”
“They seem more terrible than dragons,” replied Malchius. “What do they eat?”
Atma pointed to a few scraggly trees dotting the rocky mountainside.
“Mostly these. Although when hungry they will eat almost anything that grows. These great mounds of turf you see here are the remains of mamluks digging for food.”
They continued on down the mountain trail at a good pace. Aidin saw something rather strange about one particular boulder. It looked almost as if the top of it moved. He paused and took a second look. He saw it again. Something was moving on top of the rock. He grasped Atma by the arm and pointed. Atma looked and said to the others in a low voice,
“Caution friends. Perhaps my eyes deceive me, but I believe I see a gargoyle on that large boulder resting. If it is, we shan’t be in much danger for they sleep during the day and are more or less blind when the sun is out.”
“More or less?” asked Myridon. “What tell me exactly do you mean by that?”
“They’re nocturnal creatures. They sleep in the sun to warm themselves and hunt by night. It’s rather far away and could perhaps be a large moglat.”
“If it’s a moglat, it’s by far the largest we’ve seen thus far,” said Jorlath. “And this creature has no hair and scaly skin.”
“Wait here,” said Atma. “I’ll return shortly.”
“Wait,” said Myridon. “I’m coming with you. I’d like to have a closer look at this ‘hairless moglat’ of yours.”
The wizard and the Velusian tiptoed stealthily from boulder to boulder. Soon they were out of site. The others waited. Five minutes, ten minutes, and hour went by.
“Do you suppose they woke up that creature?” asked Malchius.
“I hope not,” replied Aidin. “Blind or no. I’d rather let it alone. That thing gives me the creeps.”
Jorlath looked at the creature for long whiles in silence. He felt as if the sleeping creature knew of their presence and was dreaming of how to catch them once night set upon the land. Presently Atma and Myridon returned. Their report wasn’t encouraging either.
“So,” said Malchius. “Did you find out anything?”
“Yes and no,” replied the guide. “Yes it is certainly a gargoyle and it appears to be alone. This is strange. Usually they congregate together for protection. I don’t know why this particular one was solitary but it appears to be an old gargoyle. Very old for their race.”
“It has a crest on it’s head, much like some of the birds found in Khirons palace. That is also strange. Maybe the others chased it out of the tribe,” said Myridon.
“Did you find any clues that suggest more in the vicinity?” asked Aidin.
“I cannot say for certain,” replied Atma. “They are even more mysterious than the mamluk or even moglats. Very little is known about their habits. Except what I told you earlier, not much else is known.”
“One more thing,” Myridon added in a low voice. “It is said that they only eat living flesh. The sun will set in only a few hours, but fortunately there is a full moon tonight. Let us make for the bridge in all haste. It wouldn’t be wise to be found walking in the open once that old gargoyle wakes.”
“The bridge crossing the canyon to the plain of Girishad was built five hundred years ago,” said Atma. “It was built as a shortcut to the mountains. Traders would hunt the mamluk and other large creatures in the mountains and sell their skins to traders. The bridge was a link from the mountains to Palo-Enlil. Nowadays only dwarves use it on their long journeys from Dangmar to South Girishad.”
The bridge was only a few minutes walk away when the party caught their first glimpse of the canyon. Evening was approaching so they hurried on, wanting to cross the bridge before the sun set. The minutes passed. Atma grew increasingly agitated. “The bridge should be visible now,” he thought. “Surely they weren’t lost. There is only one path leading from the bridge to the mountains.”
As they came to the edge of the canyon no bridge was seen, only two great pillars stood. Here and there the ground was strewn with bones. Most appeared to have been gnawed by some ravenous creatures.
“Well this is a fine one,” quipped Aidin. “How will we get across now?”
“Hopeless,” muttered his brother. “If we only had wings like that old gargoyle.”
Atma crouched to the ground. With a stick he carefully prodded and poked at one of the longest bones.
“Well, Atma? What happened to these creatures. It looks as if we’ve come to a feeding place for lions or something.”
“Lions don’t leave the bones of their prey half uneaten like what you see here. No creature that walks on four legs would do such a thing?”
“Well? What caused this?”
"Do you remember that gargoyle we passed earlier?”
“And do you recall that strange wailing sound last night?”
“How could I forget.”
“This is a gargoyle circle. And that is bad, very bad. Even worse than dragons gargoyles are.”
“This news is not encouraging friend. Perhaps we should turn back.”
“Is there any way to cross it”
“None that I can see.”
“Well, we certainly can’t go back, unless of course you want to ask the kind ole’ Mr. Gargoyle to fly you across.”
“No. I’d rather not, thank you. Perhaps there’s another way across.”
“No, there isn’t. At least not for twenty miles. And by that time the gargoyles will be awake.”
“So this is it , huh.... Pretty poor way to die if you ask me.”
“No come on everyone. Think. I don’t know about you but I’m not ready to die just yet.”
Atma walked over to the lip of the canyons looked down. It was a sheer drop five hundred feet if not more and twice that to the other side. He sat down and studied the cliff walls closely, Noting it’s jagged edges and cracks. One crack seemed darker than the others. He peered closer and stared. Something about the crack just wasn’t normal. He picked up a rock pebble and dropped it onto a small ledge jutting out from the crack. The rock hit and bounced back off. He watched it plummet to the ground. It seemed to take forever to hit the bottom. 3....4....5.....seconds he counted. He picked up another rock and dropped it on the ledge a second time. This time the stone hit the ledge and bounced into the crack.
“Why I do declare. I believe that’s some sort of cave.” he said and then to the others.
“Myridon!, Malchius!, Jorlath!, Aidin!” come here. Take a look at this.”
Michael, the first to arrive , got down on his hands and knees and peered over. Atma pointed to the dark hollow cavity fifty feet below. Atma’s bringing in the mountains made it easier to find a way down.
He envisioned a route down to the cave. A line of rocks were protruding from the cliff face just above it. They could spend the night in the cave if they could somehow make it down, for surely the gargoyle wouldn’t climb down there. It was going to be exceedingly dangerous at best and simple foolish at worst.
The Rodamine brothers and Myridon saw Atma plan it once and began to look for every spare piece of rope in the peaks. Minutes later they returned with about two hundred and fifty feet links. Atma and Malchius were just discussing the best route down when a loud piercing howl was heard. The five cowered to the ground.
“Was that the gargoyle?” asked Malchius
“Can’t be” replied the Wizard. “They don’t stir during daylight. It’s probably a moglat wailing from loneliness.
“Well it sure sounded like the one we heard last night.”
“I think this time Myridon is wrong,” said Atma slowly.
The wizard glowered at him.
“Just exactly what do you mean?” He said.
“I mean,” continued Atma
“That before they stir at night, if they’re extremely hungry or angry, they’ll wait and moan just exactly like. . .”
The wailing began again, only this time at another place. Moments later another sounded
“There’s more than one. . .they’re signaling one another.”
The Wizard looked at Atma.
“Now why, pray tell me, would gargoyles be signaling one another now--an hour before sunset? That is, even if they are gargoyles.”
“Something has disturbed them. Something very powerful. I can feel it in my bones. It’s strange though. I can’t seem to sense what the thing is. Just something very powerful.”
A chill went up Malchius’ spine at Atma words. For at times, he too sensed, or thought he sensed, a great presence in the lands. Something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Myridon interrupted his thought by saying. “You fellows are spooked. And spooked, quite well. I still say they’re moglats. Yet, I do agree we’d have a safer night down below. So let’s get going. The quicker we get down to that hole, the safer we’ll be.”
After Myridon, Atma, and Jorlath turned to get the bags Atma looked at Malchius and rolled his eyes.
“He hates it when he’s wrong. Did you notice how he started blinking his eyes when I told him about the gargoyles wailing? He didn’t expect that. It’s just like a wizard you know.”
“Yes, your right. He’s very wise nonetheless.”
“The best solution,” said Atma minutes later, “is to climb down is to tie the two ropes together and wrap one end around a tree overlooking the cliff.”
”And when we got down? Asked Myridon.”
Atma looked at him puzzled and replied. “Why we’d be down of course.”
“Yes we would. We’d also leave a nice little calling card to any gargoyles that might come slinking about. We might as well say Hello Mr. Gargoyle, down here, yes that’s the way. Have you any idea on how to bring down the rope after we get there?”
“Well, not really.” said Atma.
“There’s only one way left,” said Malchius. The wizard and Atma looked at him. “Only one way, and that’s to climb down without the rope.”
“Rather dangerous don’t you think? With the possible exception of Myridon, that night was one of the longest nights any of them had ever experienced. All night long they shivered and shook. Several times the gargoyles shadows could be seen moving on the rock face as they soared in the moonlit night. Their thin crackling voices echoed strangely in the cool night air. At one point a voice was heard saying that they had simply vanished and the search was in vain. This uplifted the company’s hopes but they were soon dashed when moments later they heard another voice saying.
“Lorcan, you fool, don’t be such a coward. They’re around here somewhere and we must find them. Don’t you want fresh meat tonight or are you still hankering for some old fare?”
All night long the creatures searched but fortunately they never found the five in their cave. Dawn eventually came and the gargoyles left. Myridon was the first to stick his head out to take a view. Slowly, he scanned the horizon. He looked in the bright morning sky, above to see if the way up was safe. He was a bit amazed to see how steep the way down was. He pulled his head back in after a few more minutes.
“Could you see anything?”
“Nothing for miles around not even any birds. What’s up top where we would’ve camped-I can’t say. Well have to climb up and take a look.”
“Did you hear anything?”
“No. Nothing except the wind of course. You’ve welcome to look for yourself.”
“Malchius stuck his head out and almost instantly became woozy. The bottom of the mountain was perhaps a mile away. Malchius bit his lip and held his breath. Malchius, who was uneasy climbing trees, could hardly fathom the position he was now in. Knowing that he had to climb up to the top without rope didn’t made him feel any easier either. Down below, wisps of clouds flitted past. He could just barely make out a small stream snaking its way to the north. Not long after he struck his head back in.
“Back so soon?” asked Aidin.
“Ah, er, yes,” he said in a somewhat shaky voice.
Aidin grinned and looked out. He let out a long whistle and said.
“I didn’t realize how high up we were last night. Those white things we saw must have been the fog rising up form that stream.”
“We at any rate we’ve got to get back to the top, and the sooner the better.”
Malchius didn’t much like this proposition but he couldn’t stay here for the rest of his life. Aidin and Jorlath made ready for the climb back up. Malchius, who had just recent acquired a mysterious stomach ache laid down at the back of the cave. Myridon sat looking on the ledge, thinking.
Aidin led the way. Fearlessly he stepped onto the ledge and looked up at the rocky wall. For a long while he stood there until at last he said,
“I’m ready now. I see a line that looks safe. I’ll begin Myridon will follow. Young Michael, you had better stay with Atma and Jorlath until we reach the top. When we do, we’ll let down a rope. That should help a little anyway.”
Aidin and Myridon began their climb to the top. From the ledge Malchius watched their progress which seemed painfully slow. He wondered how long it would take him to climb to the top. They still had twenty miles to walk to reach the pass. What the gargoyles would do to them if they didn’t make it in time, Malchius didn’t want to think.
It took Aidin and Myridon an hour and a half to reach the top. They quickly tied one end of the rope to a sturdy looking fir tree and led down the rope. Atma caught hold of it and pulled the rope tight. He turned to Malchius,
“Well my friend, are you ready?”
“As soon as I’ll ever be,” Malchius replied.
“Good. Still nervous?”
“Even better. Nervousness makes for better climbing. It makes you strong when you are weak.”
Aidin tied the rope around his waist and almost effortlessly started climbing. In only half an hours time he reached the top. He threw down the rope which landed with a loud ? To Malchius’ ears. Jorlath picked up the rope and placed his hand on Malchius’ shoulder.
“It’s time. Come, for we must hurry, already it is two hours after dawn.”
Malchius stood on the ledge and grasped the rope.
“You’ll have to help me with the knot, I’m afraid.”
Jorlath tied the knot tight around Malchius’ waist. Carefully then, Malchius started up.
“Be sure to test the rocks first, then grasp the rocks firmly with your fingers when you put your full weight on them.”
Malchius made no reply, only nodded his head. Carefully his tested each rocky hold with his hand as Jorlath said. Halfway to the top he paused. It wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be he thought. Only about thirty feet to go and I’ll be done. Slowly he began climbing again.
“Now only fifteen more feet. He felt much more relaxed now. Atma, Aidin and Myridon were looking at him from above. Now only ten more feet to go. He placed his left hand over a dark colored rock and pulled his body up. The rock crumbled in this hand. With no time to yell, he felt his body come away from the wall and he fell. He closed his eyes and clenched his teeth but he stopped. Aidin and Atma caught the rope in time. Malchius, now dangling in mid-air, caught a glimpse of the bottom. The wooziness came on him again but soon passed.
“Get back to the wall!” called Aidins voice from above.
Malchius swung on the rope haplessly for another moment, then swung himself to the wall. He made it to the top about fifteen minutes later. Aidin and Atma reached down and pulled his weary body above the lip of the canyon and there he lay, exhausted. Aidin let down the rope for the last time. Jorlath climbed up fairly easily. They ate a hurried meal while ???
Now the five were safe at the top. Atma filled the water skins. Then they were off for the pass. The time was mid-morning and they needed to get there before night. The travelers made only one brief halt in the afternoon. An hour before dusk they saw the pass in the distance a mere three miles away.
Hardly daring to pause for more than a few moments they started jogging towards it. They arrived just as dusk was approaching. Atma gazed uneasily in the sky. Their camp last night could not be seen but dark clouds hovered in the sky from that direction. He squinted his eyes and thought he saw something flying in the air but he wasn’t sure. He felt an uneasiness in his heart but told not the others what he thought he had saw. He did feel the need for haste though and said,
“Quickly now. We must cross the river before night comes.”
The others agreed and they hurried down the long sloping hillsides of the pass to the river. Atma led the way through the river just as the thin red crescent of the sun dipped below the horizon. A large thicket of rhododendron lay before them. Atma felt it wise to spend the night there and so they tramped on for another fifteen minutes through the dark shrubs. Together they plopped to the ground and went to sleep. Jorlath on first watch saw and heard nothing of the gargoyles. Indeed he heard nothing but the cool nighttime breeze. At midnight he roused Malchius.
Early the next morning Malchius looked up. They were actually in the plateau now. The gargoyles couldn’t get down to them or even see them. The walls of the canyon sloped inward as they reached the surface. A narrow sliver of light from the top diffused so that it seemed to be perpetual evening in the rocky labyrinth. The path was wide enough for two horses to walk abreast.
“We should arrive at the Gates of Layam tonight if all goes well,” said Atma. “No gargoyles can get through the top--even in the night.”
“Let’s make this a quick trip,” said Jorlath. “I’ll feel much safer.”
The hidden path was smooth and fairly level. No great obstacles were lying in their path. Water was found in plenty from the sides of the walls. The little waterfalls, found every few hundred feet, were the homes of great ferns. Mist would rise from the ferns giving them a dream-like quality. Malchius noted how much they resembled the Sephirotic Tree. One closer inspection he found that they had no fruit. He plucked one of the fronds and began chewing it. Quickly he spat it out. It would be days before he got the nasty taste out of his mouth. Sometime in the afternoon they came to the end of the path. The familiar sands of the Layam Desert came to view again. The last few hundred feet of the path grew brighter and brighter as the top gradually separated. Soon, the five travelers found themselves blinking in the bright sun on the edge of the desert. The Gates of Layam were clearly discernible in the distance.
“We’ll rest here for a spell and fill our water skins with water,” said Myridon. “We’ll have to hurry quickly to the Gates now that we know that dragons are about.”
“Wither our plans once we venture back to Velusia?” asked Aidin.
“Nay, this time I think we’ll bypass the city entirely,” replied Myridon. “Atma will lead us back to the outskirts on the far side of Velusia by lesser known paths. Khiron has perhaps forgotten us now, yet if wind of our journey gets to his ears he may try to confiscate the Sephirotic leaves. Atma can return to his home if he likes.”
“Yes. It would be good for me to return. I miss my family very much. I should like to go to the Aeldorland soon if all goes well. I want to see this fair land of yours.”
“You may get your wish sooner than you think,” said Myridon as he stretched himself out and closed his eyes.
One hour later found them stepping on the hot desert sands. Their eyes were peeled to the horizon looking out for any great beasts lurking about. Fortunately, none were in sight. The Gates loomed larger and larger as they drew nearer. Small scrubby plants began to appear now, then a small stream. They were only a half-mile distant from their goal when Myridon pointed to the sky. Dozens of great vulture-like birds were soaring overhead.
“I wonder what lies yonder?” said Malchius. “Some great beast must lie ahead.”
“And not quite dead if the vultures are still aloft,” said Jorlath softly. “Caution friends. Keep a sharp lookout everyone. We’re not home free just yet.”
* * *
Return to the Gates of Layam (Palo-Enlil)