Running Toward Destiny

Chapter 4

Challenges and Traps

Camrin jumped up suddenly aroused from his rest.  He must've fallen asleep after the portcullis had come down.  He looked toward the noise he'd heard, but could see nothing because of the darkness.  Camrin stood slowly, shaking off the last remnants of sleep, and walked toward the sound.  His feet suddenly found nothing there, and he fell.  His right hand barely snagged the edge of the floor he'd fallen off.  There he hung, his hand growing numb from the freezing cold floor stone, evaluating his situation.  Reaching up with his other hand, he got a better grip, easing the pain somewhat from his right arm.  He swung his legs up and managed to pull himself back onto the floor.  That was close, he thought.  This castle just wasn't in good condition at all.  In the dim light of Camrin's lantern there appeared to be no other side.  It was almost pointless to attempt to go around the pit by the sides, but any idea was better than no idea at all.  Camrin went to the right side of the pit.  Reaching his foot across while holding on the wall found nothing to step to; the left side was the same way.  Picking up a small stone from the floor, Camrin threw it hard across the pit.  It hit the other side after a small lapse of time.  Holding the lantern out over the pit revealed no bottom that Camrin could see.  There might have been one, but Camrin didn't want to find out where it was.  Camrin took out a strong but thin length of rope, and looked at it closely, trying to figure out how to get it to the other side.  There had to be something over there that the rope could reach.  There had to be some way into this castle, as the pit was obviously here for more of a reason than to baffle a person trying to get in.  Camrin tied a medium-sized rock to the end of the rope and threw it.  It managed to land on the other side, but when he pulled on the rope, the rock just slid along the age worn floor into the depths of the pit.  Camrin pulled it back and studied it again.  That wasn't going to work.

After a few minutes of thinking, Camrin pulled out his belt knife.  That was sharper and might stick into the floor, or wedge itself in a crack.  He untied the rock and then tied the rope to the hilt of the knife.  When he threw the knife across the void, it stuck in between two rocks.  He pulled on it, and it did not come back.  A final, hard tug on it brought it careening back toward him.  He barely caught it.  There had to be some other way.  He held his lantern as far over the hole as was safe and peered into the darkness, looking at all the walls and the ceiling.  He could just make out a small handle of some sort there, stuck into the ceiling near middle of the pit.  There had probably been something attached to that handle a long time ago, but most everything not composed of stone was rotted away.  All he had to do now was manage to get the rope around it, and he'd have a way across.  He threw the knife toward the opening of the hole, the rope trailing behind it.  It struck the handle, but did not go through.  He repeated the procedure until the knife finally went through and the hilt snagged on the rope again.  Camrin grabbed his backpack, blew out the lantern, and was across the pit before any amount of time had passed.  He snapped the rope a couple of times, and the dagger unwound itself.  Gathering up the rope, Camrin put it back into his backpack, and put the dagger back in its sheath.  Then he lit the lantern anew and continued down the hallway.

It wasn't long before something else showed up in the dank hallway.  There were two gates, and then a sign.  Not knowing what this contraption was supposed to do, Camrin swung open the gate and went through into the room between.  An axe came down that was tied to a metal rod.  Camrin jumped back, partly in surprise and partly in terror, and closed the door behind with a sharp tug.  Even so, the end of his shirt became snagged on the axe and was sliced clean off.  The axe touched the other wall, stopped, swung back the other way, and disappeared in a hole in the wall.  Camrin was still surprised and looked around for something to stop the axes.  There had to be a magical ambience in the room, and whenever that was disturbed, the axes fell.  After some quick searching, the only thing that had come up was a small latch by the hinge of the gate.  When he pulled it out slowly and the gate fell to the floor.  He adjusted it up to what he thought was a good position, pushed the latch back in, and swung the gate open again.  The gate bar caused the axe to come this time.  The axe hit the gate and wedged itself deep into the metal.  Camrin nudged his way around the gate, careful not to cut himself on the axe.  He knew what had happened to his shirt and didn't want the same to happen to him.  He walked to the other gate and immediately moved the gate to stop the axe.  When that was done, he walked over to the sign.  It was blank.  I wonder why someone would put up a blank sign.  Oh well.  He moved on, continuing down the hallway.

Only moments later Camrin approached a seemingly endless hallway full of gates that were all open.  I wonder what gate I should go in first.  He looked in his bag for something to mark his advancement through the corridor.  He had nothing.  He was just going to have to walk into any door that he wanted to.  He went through the first door on the left.  The gate abruptly went down.  There was no time at all as Camrin had to move into the room.  The gate fell to the floor too fast.  Camrin turned around.  "No, now I can't get out," he said aloud to himself.  He moved farther into the room.

The room was not very large, and it was as dank as the rest of the castle.  Numerous square stone pillars rose from the shadows, making the place even more ominous.  A long narrow corridor continued at the other end of the passageway.  Camrin looked at the corridor in curiosity, wondering what lay in its depths.  Easing himself along the columns, he moved toward the passageway.  This castle was proving to be quite the mystery.  Stopping at the entranceway, Camrin looked around for something wrong with the choice to go into the depths before him.  It was then that he noticed the writing etched into the granite wall.  The writing was almost worn smooth, time taking its toll on everything in this ancient relic of someone's past.  It was still readable though, and Camrin put his best effort forward to understand what it said.  Bending forward to see it better he read:

Left and left and right and right,

Then you have to take a flight.

Open your senses and really peer,

Only then will the path be clear.

One and four, three and two,

Pick the way that's right for you.

A destiny waits behind each one,

You choose a path - what's done is done.

You must be bound then, mind heart and soul,

To complete your quest - that is your goal.

Camrin straightened back up after finishing the poem.  Do I go forward and perhaps set in motion a fate that will take me where it wants, or do I step backward and continue to rule my own life? He pondered.  The first step was the hardest as Camrin walked onto an even dustier floor.  The steps afterward became easier.  Camrin glanced back, seeing in his mind the life he was leaving behind him.  He arrived at the first junction almost immediately.  He took a left as the text had said.  Cobwebs were everywhere, and it led Camrin to believe that this place had not been visited in a very long time, perhaps not even since this castle was built.  The small scratching noises on the floor told of a number of small animals that inhabited this place also, always staying just out of his lantern light, which was now becoming dim as it ran slowly out of fuel.

At the last turn, Camrin suddenly had a thought, What if I go left instead of right?  There must be something down that pathway also, but what would it be?  He turned toward the left pathway and was just about to take a step when another thought hit him.  What would I do if the path were a trap, one that could lead to my destruction?  He turned back toward the right path, the path he was supposed to take, and continued to walk down it.

At the end of that corridor was a large room with pillars that were lost out of sight.  As Camrin walked into the almost pitch black room he lit the torch that was hanging from the wall.  The room flared to life immediately, many torches lighting up by some unseen force.  The room became as bright as the outside had been.  Stepping cautiously into the large room, he wondered how all of this had been created.  It certainly didn't seem possible.  This room had to be underground, but for it to be this large, it had to be extremely deep down.  He didn't like this.  There was no one that could make something like this, at least no body living.  He proceeded anyway.

Walking down the middle of the grand hall, Camrin looked upward and spied great statues of birds perched on giant stone pillars.  They were magnificent.  They appeared to be made of solid gold, but he knew that they were only stone.  One of the birds' heads lay on the ground off to one side, apparently broken by something long ago.  Spider's webs now decorated the lifeless head.  He moved on, staring in awe at the huge statues that seemed to be watching over the entire room.

If there was one thing that would halt the progress of any traveler, Camrin came up against it almost immediately.  A huge chasm, probably a hundred paces across or more and the other side towered perhaps fifty feet above the side he was presently on.  It had to be the second line of the poem.  Camrin peered around the room, looking for anything that would allow him flight across the horrible depth that ended in only blackness.  If only those birds were real, then there wouldn't be any problem.  I'm sure one of them would give me a ride across the gap.  But they weren't going to move, not by themselves.  "There has to be a way to get across this!"  Camrin suddenly yelled.  His words bounced off the walls and echoed back to him.

"Who awakens me?" an unknown voice boomed out from somewhere.

"My name is Camrin, and I have to get across this chasm, but I do not have the means to cross.  Can you help me?"

"Indeed I could help, if I so chose.  You must prove yourself though."

"How can I do that?"

"You must fight one of the birds."  Camrin now could tell that the voice was coming from somewhere on the other side of the chasm.

"Fight one of the birds?"  I yelled across the chasm.  "How could I do that?"

"You must walk up to one of the stone pillars that the birds are on, and then touch it.  The bird on that pillar will challenge you, and you must defeat it.  It cannot be defeated by brute strength alone though, you will have to use your mind to conquer the beast."  Oh great, intelligent birds that have to be beaten at their own games, this is bound to be a rough next few minutes.

Camrin slowly walked toward the pillar nearest him, a bird that looked like a hawk, but was larger.  He grudgingly touched the pillar as soon as he arrived at it, and then looked up.  A magnificent squawk filled the air as the stone magically turned to flesh and feathers.  The bird looked down and gazed at Camrin with one eye, apparently considering him to be its next meal.  He had to jump out of the way of the bird's swooping path.  Had that bird gotten bigger?  It seemed to Camrin that it had when he dove out of the way again.  The bird reoriented itself and attacked again.  He was completely defenseless save for his two small daggers, and that would be no match against the power of the large bird.  There had to be something that he could use to defend himself, and he looked around as he again avoided the swift claws of the avian.  Those claws were coming dangerously close, and they would snatch him before too long.  He spied a long metal staff that could be used, and he ran over to grab it.

The staff it turned out was unnaturally light, and as the bird came, Camrin smashed it into the bird's left claw.  The avian shied off from the attack, squawking loudly in pain.  The staff was also strong, and it would be helpful in ridding himself of the monster facing him now.  The monster wheeled about and came after him again, and Camrin did the same thing as last time.  This time the monster still came after him though, and raked his arm.  Camrin flinched and dropped to the ground.  Blood began welling out of the wound, and it hurt terribly, but he retained the staff.  Why hadn't it hurt it this time?  Then he remembered that it couldn't be defeated by brute force, and it had to be beaten intelligently.  This creature had to have a weakness, and the objective was to discover that weakness before the bird landed one of those powerful talons on him again.  Fighting off the pain of his right arm, Camrin moved silently away, hoping to hide from the bird long enough to figure out a plan.  It didn't work.  The bird immediately saw what was happening and swooped down again, claws outstretched.  This bird had to be defeated in order to get across the chasm.  Or did it?  Camrin came up with an idea.  He held the staff in both hands and held it above his head.  As the bird came within inches of him, he dropped to the ground still holding the staff up.  The bird, ready to clutch anything that came within grasp, didn't notice that he now held on to a staff instead of a person.  The bird circled around and flew toward the chasm, getting its bearings straight.  Camrin took this chance to react.  He held on to the staff with one hand while he grabbed at his belt knife with the other.  Pulling his belt knife out of its sheath, he plunged it into the giant bird's nearest talon.  He swung hard as the bird let go of the staff, surprised at the pain.  The momentum of the bird and swing brought Camrin back to the ground, on the side of the cliff that he'd been aiming for, with both staff and dagger in hand.

"Well done," the voice sounded again.  "You have navigated this challenge and have been granted passage across the cliffs by me.  Farewell, and safe travels."

"But who are you?"  Camrin asked the sound with no source.

"I am the bird, all of them exactly.  I was once a man, but was transformed many years ago into the creatures you now see.  I can only control one of the birds at a time, and they must stay near each other.  Thus, I am confined to this cavern.  I hope this answers your question."

"It does.  Thank you."  And with that, he walked through a small door into another room.

Once inside the room, Camrin knelt down and tried to stop his still bleeding arm.  For some reason it just wouldn't stop bleeding.  He took off his pack and looked through it.  He found a narrow piece of cloth that was used for just such an occasion.  He quickly began wrapping it around his arm, trying to get it as tight as possible.

When he managed to get the whole thing around his arm, he made it so that it wouldn't come apart and then moved his arm experimentally.  It still hurt a little, but the pain was not as great as before.  If only he had some herbs, he could have made a poultice so it would heal better.  Such things were not found inside deep underground caves however, so Camrin was just going to have to suffer until it healed itself enough.  He stood back up again, shrugged the pack over his shoulder, and looked at the staff he still had.  It was a useful weapon, much better either the daggers he had or the bar that was holding the door open.  An amazing quarterstaff, pure metal and extremely light, but it was extremely tough to anyone on the receiving end of a blow Camrin walked further into the corridor, ready to explore deeper into this castle.

The passage wound left and right, leading to who knew where before it abruptly ended.  There was no way to go.  Camrin realized that this was probably the next challenge.  He remembered the next line of the message.  Open your senses and really peer, only then will the path be clear.  So, open my senses, I can do that.  Camrin concentrated on everything around him, trying to determine his next choice.  Camrin heard the dripping of water leaking through the ceiling somewhere to the left of him.  He walked that way, and discovered that the wall wasn't there - it was an illusion.  The pathway continued now, again turning this way and that.

Camrin rounded a corner not five minutes later and stared into the eyes of a grotesque boar that was blocking his advancement down the hall.  The boar just stared at Camrin, not making any move whatsoever, but if Camrin moved into the room the boar was sure to act.  So, Camrin concentrated again.  A nice breeze blew down from behind the boar, coming from somewhere unknown, and probably going to another unknown place.  It was a nice breeze, smelling of fresh air.  There was no scent of the boar at all.  Camrin took a step forward, an idea in mind.  The boar charged him.  He just stood there.  The boar touched him, and disappeared.  Another Illusion!  He continued on, feeling better about the passageway, since everything seemed to just be illusion to scare off the cowardly.

Camrin rounded another corner, and saw that the hallway now went straight on into the depths.  He lit a torch on the wall with the flint from his lantern and held it out.  Why should this room be dark when all the other ones were light?  It didn't make sense.  Camrin grabbed the torch and walked down the hallway.

It wasn't too long before Camrin heard something.  It was a low rumbling sound, like something big moving along on the floor.  It was steadily getting louder.  Suddenly the passage grew bright, and a huge rock could be seen rolling ever faster toward him.  Another illusion he thought, and just stood there.  Then he had a second thought.  Camrin suddenly jumped into a small alcove and out of the way of the huge boulder as it thundered by.  That rock had been real, and Camrin had barely realized it before getting smashed to the ground by it.  It had been too complex, too real to be considered illusion.  That was close.  This time the passageway had tricked him, making him think that it was an illusion.  Only quick thinking had saved Camrin.  He was going to have to be more careful of his surroundings.  He stepped out of the alcove and back into the dark hall.  His torch he had dropped, and now was probably smashed anyway.  Camrin put his hands out, and realized that he could feel both walls.  He walked in the direction that he'd been facing earlier, towards the unknown.

After a few more minutes of walking, and some scrapes from falling on broken stone blocks, Camrin noticed a dim light ahead.  Camrin hurried toward it, and almost fell on another block.  He stumbled forward, avoiding falling, and turned the corner.  The hall opened up into another room, with four doorways.  What was beyond the doorways could not be seen, for there was a veil across each one.  Now, what was the next line?  'One and four, three and two, pick the one that's right for you'.  A destiny waits behind each one, you choose a path - what's done is done.  Camrin sat down and stared at the four doorways, uncertain where to continue.  It seemed as though his journey was turning into something more, and fate was controlling it, not him.  Well, Camrin was going to pick his destiny.  Standing up easily, Camrin walked toward the second door.  There really was no reason why - it was just like the others, but Camrin seemed to have a vague impression that it was the most important door to travel through.  Whatever the reason, Camrin reached it and pulled open the veil.  There was nothing inside but another lighted hallway.  Traveling down more hallways was most definitely better than going back to what he'd faced before this though.  He stepped through the doorway and let the curtain fall behind him.

Now that Camrin felt as if he was contained in a small room, he moved all the way back into the hallway.  The hallway had wound around a few times to come to what was in front of him; a small, dark room that made Camrin claustrophobic.  The sensation was horrible.  It wasn't so much that the room was extremely small; it was that it was dark and small.  Camrin brought out his lantern again, which had already almost exhausted its light supply, and re-lit it.  It provided a very dim, almost nonexistent glow, but any glow was better than nothing at all was.  Camrin held it out, and the room became clearer.  It wasn't really a room, but an alcove of sorts, a dead end to the passage.  Was that Camrin's destiny, a dead end?  No.  Camrin refused to accept that fate.  There had to be something more to this, something unseen.  He walked into the niche and looked around.  There was really nothing out of the ordinary‚Ķ wait, there was something.  There were two small circular indents on either side of the wall.  He pressed one in and nothing happened, so he pushed in the other one.  Still there was nothing.  Then Camrin pushed in both at the same time.  He got a feeling of nausea when he was spun around quickly to face the other way.  So, the door had been a secret passage.  Camrin shook his head to clear out the remnants of the nausea, and then looked around the room.  He was almost blinded by something that lay in front of him, but the thing wasn't a light source.  He blew out the lantern and returned it to his bag, and then moved warily towards the light, shielding his eyes with his left hand, the hand that held onto Camrin's newly acquired staff.

As he arrived at the object lying on a tall pedestal, he reached out his right hand to quickly grab it, knowing that it had to be his destiny, or at least part of it.  When Camrin's hand closed upon the object, heat enveloped him, began coursing throughout his body.  He flinched slightly at it, but remained his hold on the object.  The heat filled his entire body, and then was suddenly gone.  The object turned a dead cold, still glowing faintly through his hand.  It was then that Camrin opened his hand.  It appeared to be some sort of crystal, a rare one if it was glowing.  The crystal flared brilliantly, and Camrin slumped to the floor, unconscious.