Aligned with the oncoming cold season, the moon hung exactly twenty-five degrees from the north eastern horizon, its light a pale azure. That was behind them. They stood upon the upward drifts of sand that hugged the ancient Phoreigh Mountains, a scraggly and vicious terrain that rose steeply from the ground at its northern boundaries. Even in the daylight, the rising cliffs were white as the sun, unsustainable to any plant life, and only the hardiest of wildlife lived here. They were long gone, though. Phaethon's army had begun their march the instant the last rays of the sun disappeared to the west, the rumble of their steps making known to any beating heart of their oncoming presence.
General Paros stood beside their King Phaethon at the front of the battalion. And to his other side, stood the fabled and derided man, the puppeteer that made their king dance, Geryon. All their eyes had lain upon him before, but tonight, this night would prove the credulity of this maneuver. Prove whether or not this man had the power and skill to wield a mythical lore only whispered of by their great grandmothers. Phaethon must know something they did not, their king was not a man easily swayed by words. Only actions prodded such a direct response. This mysterious Geryon would be a fool if he dared toy with Phaethon and his honor.
They could not hear the words spoken between the king and Geryon, but after a moment of ear-to-ear discussion, Geryon stepped forward. Too oddly, a strange gust of wind came from the north, forcing the soldiers and livestock to hold their feet firmly to the ground. Geryon's cloak billowed crimson in the pale moonlight, and he walked toward the mountainside unperturbed. The king made no movement, and they remained at attention, ten thousand pairs of eyes following the suspicious and self-proclaimed wizard.
The cliffs were a hundred feet in front of Geryon, and he stopped at the top of a small drift. The cliff face was grey in the light of the full moon, rising up almost two hundred feet into the air at a perfect ninety degree angle.
"Will he lift the mountains, along with the river that runs through it?" Paros leaned towards Phaethon.
"Faith," Phaethon replied.
Geryon lifted his hands to the starlit sky, his hood fell back, exposing a receding hairline. He began to speak, quietly at first, the soldiers trying their best to decipher the words that were emitted. Geryon's voice became louder, and Phaethon was the first to glance at Paros. Indecipherable words, a harsh and erratic sound, throaty and wispy. And now the soldiers heard it, looking at each other in trepidation.
Another northern gust of wind blew. Chills ran down their spine. Another gust, and then another. The wind collided with the cliff's face in a roaring and angry crash, sand blew in their faces, and a sudden icy cold descended upon them.
With his arm covering his eyes to protect himself from the biting dust that swirled around him, Phaethon peered at Geryon who hadn't moved at all. And he was still chanting that eerie cant. And amid the flying sand, he heard a rumble. Small rocks and pebbles began to shake loose from the wall, crumbling into the sand below, and just at that moment, he spied a small black mark near the bottom of the grey mass.
The black circle began to widen from the center out. It widened even more, fast now. The bottom touched the earth, and it began to spread outward.
The gusts lessened.
Phaethon lowered his arm, his eyes still fastened to the black hole whose outward reaches were slowing now.
And as soon as it started, the canting stopped. Geryon lowered his arms to his sides. He stood there for a moment, pondering the outcome of his work.
The blackness stopped its spreading.
All eyes gaped.
Phaethon stepped forward quickly, Paros catching up to him a moment later.
"It is done," Geryon exclaimed before the king reached his side.
Phaethon looked at the blackness, so flat and opaque, that it almost appeared like paint upon the rocks. He turned to Geryon.
"What is this?"
"A portal," Geryon replied. "It will take you to the gates of Morra before the moon has reached its full height in the night sky."
"This very night, my king."
Phaethon glanced at Paros.
"Would you try it?" Geryon tilted his head, a strange but weary expression on his face.
Phaethon frowned. "What is inside?"
"A path, nothing more."
He turned back to face the portal.
"My lord!" Paros cried out, but Phaethon's steps were swift. Paros dashed after him. "My lord," he huffed. "You know not what lies within!"
"It is a path, and nothing more." Phaethon's voice was smooth and determined.
"I would go in first," Paros urged. "I would go where my king has not yet tread, if only to test its soil."
"It is unnecessary, my faithful Paros."
They were near to the cliff face now, and indeed, it appeared as black paint upon the rocks. It did not reflect the moonlight, and its depth could not be perceived.
Phaethon began towards it. Paros followed him in silence to the open maw of the portal. They both stopped, and while Paros looked on, Phaethon went to stand within a foot of it. The soldiers behind them craned their necks, all trying to observe this inexplicable marvel that just happened before their very eyes.
Phaethon took one step, the blackness enveloped half his frame; two steps, and his form disappeared entirely.
Paros stood unmoving, his eyes fastened to where his king had vanished.
The soldiers held their breath.
Geryon collapsed into a sitting position, the sand eddying up around him.
And first a hand, and the king's whole frame stepped out into the moonlight.
"My lord," Paros bowed deeply.
Despite their discipline, the soldiers sounded their relief.
"Never mind," Phaethon waved his hand at them and faced Paros. "It is indeed a path, a tunnel, wide enough for ten men to walk abreast of each other. Where it leads," he leaned his head to look at Geryon. "I could not know, but the wizard has led us this far. I would not doubt his words."
"The gates of Morra?"
"It should be without question." He leaned close to Paros. "I cannot explain it, portal or not. There is a peculiar air inside."
Phaethon frowned. "If he is true, then it is good he is on our side. Would he tear down a wall from Morra, they would fall to their knees begging for mercy."
"I like it not."
Phaethon laughed, clapped a hand on Paros' shoulder. "The wizard could crush a city with a single hand, he could pull an airship from the sky, and yet you would still dislike it!"
"I trust the steel of my blade. I trust fire and the things I see with my eyes. This, I saw, but I cannot put my faith in."
Phaethon gripped the man's shoulder tight. "I sincerely pray you have faith in me, Paros. I assure you, if the powers of this eccentric wizard are proved more than we have seen here, we will soon be seeing the world from the clouds, an entire fleet of steel with us, able cross the oceans but more importantly, to cross that pass and gather what truly needs to be gathered. The entire world would be ours. Think of it!" He gave Paros' shoulder another shake.
The general said nothing.