Chapter 26 Part I

239K 7K 995

Despite the harsh night winds, the wood hut proved sturdy, and Sam slept undisturbed until Tristan woke them at first dawn. She scarcely had time to process she was awake before she was on her horse and en route to Luca.

They drove their horses deeper into the mountain, pausing only to remove a small stone from one of the horse’s hooves. After a few hours of riding, the gray, crystalline granite shifted to an orange-reddish sandstone, peppered with tiny holes like a honeycomb. Vertical columns of rock rose from the ground, twisting upwards into the heavens.

Their path narrowed and the steep sides of the mountain drew together, forming a winding canyon with smooth walls rounded by the wear of water. “Luca is through here,” Tristan said.

The canyon ended, exposing a long, flat ridge that extended as far as the eye could see. Human hands had carved cylindrical columns topped with acanthus leaves and an ornately designed lintel  into the face of the cliff, framing a large rectangular opening.

“How did they build that?” Sam asked wonderingly.

Tristan shrugged. “Nobody knows. It’s been here for millennia.” He nudged his horse forward, disappearing into the rectangular doorway. Sam and Braeden followed him in, plunged into total darkness until they emerged on the other side. They found themselves on a high ledge overlooking a chasm so deep they couldn’t see the bottom, only a hazy carpet of white where cloud met sky. A simple suspension bridge decked with wooden planks was anchored on either side of the chasm, swaying in the wind.

Sam swallowed a lump in her throat. She wasn’t particularly afraid of heights, but this was pushing it. “Are we crossing over that?”

“I’m afraid so,” said Tristan. “You can see why the Uriel established their base here. It’s damned near impossible to attack, at least by human enemies.”

Sam eyed the rickety bridge warily. “If I lived in Luca, I’d never leave. I can’t imagine crossing that thing regularly.”

“You’d get used to it,” Tristan said. “Besides, there are other ways in and out of Luca.”

Sam glared at Tristan. “Then why in the name of the gods are we going this way?”

“It’s fastest,” said Tristan. “Stop dallying, and let’s cross already.”

They made their way across the bridge slowly and carefully, Sam’s heart in her mouth every time her horse took a slight misstep. But they made it without harm.

Sam was so distracted by the bridge that she hadn’t noticed the tall, manmade wall in front of them, much like the city walls back east apart from the rose-red color of the stone. Green vines hung against the wall in gnarled ropes, almost completely hiding the open archway into the city. “Welcome to Luca,” Tristan said.

Though it was all but silent outside the city walls, once they stepped through the archway, the city was as loud and bustling as Haywood during the Grand Fair. The streets were so crowded that it was hard to tell where the road stopped and began. People brushed past them, a lightness in their step and laughter in their throats. Some were on horses, plodding along slowly but purposefully, while others clumped together in huddles, rapt in conversation. A few men on horseback patrolled the edges of the crowd, unhurried but watchful. Only they took note of the newcomers as Tristan, Sam and Braeden pushed into the traffic. The men were Uriel, Sam guessed.

Luca had been built to accommodate the sloping incline of the mountain beneath it, square, turreted buildings stacked together unevenly like a giant staircase. At the center of the city stood a gleaming white octagonal structure capped with an onion-shaped dome and a tall spire. It was unlike any castle – if it could be called that – Sam had ever seen.

PaladinRead this story for FREE!