The great gate jerked slowly upwards, step by step. The sound of slow, clunking gears echoed out towards the Stormguard gates. The aurc stood, clad in sleeveless furs , a rucksack upon his back, and an axe in one hand, an envelope in the other.
He took a deep breath, and watched as the slow rise of the gate finally halted. A dark tunnel loomed before, hewn into the rock of the mountain.
Hork ambled over, hunched and leaning on his cane. “Well, son, ye’ve earned it. The Gate is yours.”
Matuk sighed. “I wish my friend was here to see it.”
Hork furrowed his brow. “Aye. It’s a shame, but I think it meant a lot to him. I see why he left.”
“I still do not understand,” Matuk said, “the Old Ways state only one may go, so that Stormguard does not lose too much when the gate is opened. But you have already lost him. Why should he and I not go together?”
Hork scratched an eyebrow, considering his response. “Aye, well, up until now lad, there’s not really been anyone else. Only people that cared about the mountain were us. This is how it’s always been done.”
Matuk nodded. He still did not understand, but there was little point in debating it now. “And if I do not return, but he does, will he be granted his passage?”
“Oh. Oh I don’t know, son. We’ll have to see.” Hork wasn’t used to people questioning him.
Matuk turned and held the envelope out to Hork. “If he returns, and I have not, please give this to him. We did not spend much time together, but he has been very important to me for a long time. Since before I met him. These are the things I would have liked to say.”
Looking up, Hork thought he could see glistening under the aurc’s eye. Perhaps it was just the sun.
“I…I did not expect to best him. I have spent years of my life training to do so, but…” He pressed the letter into Hork’s hand, letting the sentence trail off.
“Aye, son. I’ll make sure it gets te him,” the dwarf said, clapping him on the knee. He smiled. “Best of luck, son. We’re all rooting for ye.”
“Thank you, Hork. It has been an honour to know you.”
Matuk began to walk forward, slowly at first, but gradually striding with more purpose. He passed under the raised gate, and into the darkness beyond, and once again heard the slow, rhythmic clanks of the mechanism lowering the slab of stone and metal back down.
For the first time, Matuk was afraid. He wished he did not have to go alone.