Running Toward Destiny

Chapter 2

Fire in the Night

Shouts outside his house quickly snapped Camrin awake.  It was still very early in the morning.  He sprang out of bed and nearly flew to his window in order to find out what was the problem, but knew as soon as he arrived at the window that there was great trouble outside.  The Choel bandits had come at last.  They were the one problem this and many of the other small towns and villages nearby shared.  They came every so often demanding things, and the only way to make them go away was to give in and supply them with their every want.  Maybe some time ago we could have stood up to them, but now they had grown too strong, and the people of Sharent too weak.  Camrin rushed over to his supplies, slung his backpack over one shoulder, and grabbed the extra knife and a stout rod he had.  He would have to buckle the knife on later.  Right now, he had to get out of the house.  If the bandits noticed that path, they would immediately begin to travel down it, thinking there was a great treasure at its end.

Camrin rushed down the stairs to the kitchen.  As he passed by the living room, he saw the orange glow of fire outside.  Oh no!  They had already begun lighting peoples' houses on fire.  He could do nothing about that though, and had to continue with what he was doing.  He quickly packed a few food spells, enough to last perhaps two days.  This will have to do.  Camrin moved out the back door, silent so as not to alert them to his presence.

When he had made it to the fringe of the forest, he stopped and looked back at his house.  The house was completely made of brick, a mere difference in the darkness.  He heard a crash, and then a light in one of the windows.  He saw movement through one of the lower windows and feared the worst.  They had gotten in.  His only hope was that his mother was all right.  She would probably be better off if he wasn't there.  It was he that they were after, for supplies.  His mother had nothing that they wanted, and so would leave her alone.  He turned his head toward where the path was and avoided thinking about what was going on.  He crept around behind the houses, always staying in the shadows.

He made it to the far end of the inn before stopping to catch his breath.  The inn was a large white three-story building, and it had been built long before Camrin's time.  Made completely out of wood, it stood out ominously in the moonlight.  He moved out to the edge of the inn and peered out.  There was no one there, but the voices were getting closer again.  He would have to make it farther into the village before he tried to cross the cart-path.  He continued on creeping behind the houses, staying out of any light.

He stopped at the edge of town before moving out toward the road.  They hadn't reached this point yet, so he figured it would be safe to cross.  When he looked, he wasn't that far away from the path.  He now had a straight shot at getting there, as long as no one noticed him.  If there was a better time to move, it was not coming soon.  Crouching down, Camrin made his way across the main road.  He looked at the town while crossing.  There were houses on both sides of the road, though there were only a few on the side he was heading for.  The inn was close to the center of everything.  There was a smithy at the far end of the castle, but it couldn't be seen now.  Waving torches made it look as though a dance were going on in the streets, but now was not a merry time.  This town would probably never be the same again, and it was only the bandits' faults.  Camrin was going to have to be careful if he ever made it to Choel again.  They were growing in number, and it would be almost impossible to make it through the city without an incident with them.  It would be harder to make it out alive after that.  Camrin turned his attention back to slinking across the road.

He was almost to the path when a torch's light flared up almost in his face.  "Who are you!" a voice called out.  Camrin gave it no thought before punching the man in the face.  The man fell to the ground unconscious.  Surprised only for a second, he quickly looked once more at his house, and then he moved onto the path and out of civilization.

Camrin had no problem walking on the path, for as long as he remained on it, it was clearly visible.  His only wish was that nobody else would discover the path and travel down it, for then he would be discovered, and that he did not want.

After traveling a safe distance from the village, Camrin began to feel sleepy again.  The nervousness of last night was wearing off, and he really hadn't gotten much sleep.  He sat down on the path and began to fall asleep almost instantly.  He hoped that nothing would come, but there was really nothing to be done about that.  If something came, it came, and he would have to defend himself.  He fell asleep again just as the sun's rays began to filter through the trees.

Camrin was up and walking a short time later, much refreshed and, overall, feeling better.  He tried as much as he could to forget the events of last night, but no matter what he did, it just wouldn't happen.  He briefly considered going back to see if his mother was all right, but decided against it with reluctance.  The bandits could still be there, and if they were, he would end up worse than the rest of the town, and they would suffer more.

He had managed to get all his supplies into a sort of order, mostly by putting things he had into his pack.  The food spells were contained in a small pouch that hung at his side, his spare knife was buckled to his left leg near the foot, and the metal rod he was using as a walking stick, pushing aside branches occasionally with it.  It was easy enough to carry it all, and he was free to maneuver if need be.

Camrin walked down the path picking berries where he could find some that weren't poisonous, and after walking the path for a while he still hadn't run into anything even remotely dangerous.  Camrin couldn't let himself believe that it was going to be that way the entire length of the path though, wherever it led.  That was a good feeling to have, and it was usually rewarded.  In these forests, almost anything was possible.  There are many, many breeds of animals in the forest, and not many of them were friendly.  A person could easily end up in the nest of a predatory flier, or in a Corpan's lair, in which case that person would become their next meal.  There were also other hazards that weren't animals, and they could be even worse.  There were the Darkness Fogs, which engulf you in a darkness so absolute you could sleep within it without even closing your eyes.  They were not common anywhere in the world, but they were there, and they were almost impossible to get out once you are in.  Camrin had a vast knowledge of the world of Zenuor, and he still could not be sure that he wouldn't fall into any traps.  Sometimes the subtlest things turned out to be the deadliest.

After about another hour there still appeared to be nothing that could harm Camrin, and he was forced to believe that this was an enchanted path, but enchanted paths are clearly visible and don't glow.  It could just be a ploy to make the person lower his guard, at which time something horrible would attack.  Camrin turned around sharply as a sound behind him roused him out of admiration for the surroundings.  A large, solid wall of shrubbery had blocked the way.  It was then that he realized that this was a one-way path.  He looked at the sun through the thick cover of trees.  The sun was about halfway toward its zenith.  Now, even if Camrin had wanted to return to the village, it would be much harder.  Camrin studied the shrubbery.  It appeared to be wild magic rose.  He moved his hand toward a hole in the bush.  The bushes moved to cover the hole before his hand was even halfway to it.  He had to jerk his hand back to keep from getting hurt, but his first finger brushed a thorn.  He immediately put the cut finger in his mouth to stop the blood that was already issuing forth.  That was the other thing about magic rose.  The thorns were painfully sharp.  The only easy way to go now was to follow the path, and hope that it lead somewhere, though a path that appeared overnight should lead somewhere.  Whether or not Camrin wanted to be in that place was another matter though.

Another noise halted Camrin, this one in front of him.  The sound had been one like that of a real dragon.  They were one of the more rare animals in Zenuor, and they were probably the most dangerous.  He walked on the path slowly and cautiously, heading directly toward the sound.

When he knew he was close, he stopped.  A couple overhanging branches obscured his view of what was ahead, and the sound was close.  Camrin could feel it.  He pushed the branch away slowly and looked at what was behind it.  It was only a plant imitating a dragon.  Some of the plants in this forest could mimic sounds, but that also meant that it had heard one before.  It would be for the better if it had been a long time ago.  Camrin stepped lightly around the plant and resumed walking down the path.  A real dragon would have been quite a challenge to get past.

As the sun began to disappear below the tops of the tall trees, Camrin wondered whether the path had a destination.  It didn't seem to.  "It had better," he said aloud.  "I don't want to go back."  This walk was slowly becoming less interesting.  Something just has to happen soon, he thought.

The sun sank below the horizon.  His patience had finally been rewarded as the castle came into view.  The castle was old, by the first glance.  A closer look revealed that it should have been in ruins, a pile of stone and mortar.  He walked up to the edge of the moat.  Noticing that the drawbridge was down, and seeing no animal of any sort in the moat, Camrin carefully planted a foot on the rotting boards of the bridge.  The boards creaked and groaned, but they held.  Walking carefully to avoid falling in the holes where the boards had rotted away, Camrin made it across in very little time.  It was then that he noticed the portcullis.  It didn't look very sturdy, more like it would crash down the minute anyone stepped through it.  Camrin backed away from the portcullis a little and then ran through the opening.  He had no idea whether or not he was going to fall in a pit while he was running, or if the portcullis wasn't going to come down and he was just running for nothing.  He ran through the portcullis and heard it smash to the floor, right before he stopped just short of hitting a solid wall of stone.  He put his hands out and stopped himself on the wall.  Then Camrin dug carefully through his bag and found a lantern.  He lit it carefully and sat down on the cold hard floor to rest.  The hall only went in one direction, and he couldn't escape the castle now, so exploring the castle appeared to be his only choice.