Running Toward Destiny

Chapter 7

Across the World

Agnes had awakened long before Camrin and already had breakfast ready by the time he was ready to go.  Breakfast consisted of eggs, some kind of dark bread, and fruit.  He was very thankful of the hospitality she had shown, and all throughout breakfast thought about ways of repaying Agnes.  He was trying to express his ideas when she held up her hand.

"Your company alone is worth the meals and board.  I haven't seen anyone in almost five years now."  Camrin was still trying to speak, but the look from Agnes silenced him.  He stood and walked toward the door, but she touched his shoulder.  Camrin turned around.  "Here, take this.  If you are in trouble, use it.  I don't know what it is or what it does, but I know that it won't hurt you," and with that she gave Camrin a small bluish vial with a cork stopper on it.  He tucked the spell quickly into his backpack and opened the door.

"Thank you again for all that you've given me."  Camrin grabbed the staff that he'd left by the door the previous night and left the cottage, waving once before shutting the door behind him.

Rather than going the long way he'd come from, he simply walked over to the bridge and stepped onto it.  Walking in the right direction, he proceeded to make it back to the surface and the other side of the lake.

When he reached the surface, he looked around as if something was different.  Everything was as it had been before.  Camrin walked around the lake, out the door, and into the hallway.  He grabbed his bar and let the gate slam to the floor.  He moved down the hall farther.

The glint of steel was what Camrin saw in one of the rooms, and that was what made him stop.  Looking closer at what had caused it, he noticed that there were three swords on a small wooden rack, two of them in sheaths, and the other bare.  He scanned the room.  Eight columns went from floor to ceiling, all exactly the same shape and size.  Looking as far as he could, he didn't see anyone or anything in the room, but he was still wary.  All of these rooms had had things in them that were threatening or malicious.  Why should this room be any different?  Still those were swords, a much better weapon than a staff.  Looking in the room once more, Camrin put the bar in the edge of the doorway as he walked cautiously into the room.  The gate came down, but nothing else happened.  He edged towards the swords, first looking one way, then the other.  It was as though they were there just for the taking.

Camrin finally reached the swords without any incident.  Buckling one of the sheathed swords on his belt next to his dagger, he took the bare one in his hand and turned it so that he could examine it.  It had a nice heft, and the hilt was ordinary, not coated with jewels that could slip in one's grasp.  The blade was long and sharp, and as Camrin ran a finger lightly alongside it, it came back bleeding with no pain.  He set his staff up against the wall and drew the other sword from its sheath at his side.  The same as the first one, they made an identical match that seemed strange in some way.  He put down both swords, grabbed the third one off the rack, and buckled that one on as well.  If he was to do any traveling, it was better to be prepared.  They didn't seem to add any weight to him at all, and they did give him a better chance at winning a battle, though he was proficient at the staff.

He picked up the two swords on the floor and looked at them again.  A sudden rustle and Camrin turned around.  He faced a gaunt looking man in a long flowing robe that hid everything but his face.  He spoke softly but with authority.

"Why are you here?"

Camrin held the two blades crossed out in front of him.  "I don't know exactly why I'm here, but I could ask you the same question."

"I'm here because I want to be here, but more importantly because I wanted to know who you were and what you're doing in an ancient castle such as this."

"I'm here because I have nowhere else to be now.  I don't belong anywhere, nor do I know if my family's still alive.  I'm here because I want to be, because I'm not too scared to turn back in fear.  That is why I'm here."

"You shall not be here much longer than.  I don't know where you've come from, but you don't belong here, nor shall you stay."  He brushed his robes away, already holding a sword in his right hand.  "Prepare to defend yourself, for I am not afraid either."  The man ran at Camrin, holding his sword out at arm's length.  Camrin had to do something.  He met the blade aimed at his face with both of his and neatly deflected it.  But the man was quick.  Almost before the man's sword left Camrin's, the man had moved and swung his sword to the right and down.  Camrin turned his right hand down to parry and swung his left hand down at the man's sword to try to make him lose it, but by the time his sword got there it encountered only air as the man jumped back.

"You're much better than I thought you would be.  I'll have to give you credit for that.  But even your skill won't help you in the end.  I have more experience than you could possibly have.  Are you ready to try again?"

"Come on, do your best."  Camrin hoped to draw the man off guard, make the man make a mistake, slip up somehow so that he could finish this.  It didn't appear to be happening though.  "If I might, what is your name?  I'll need to know whom I've defeated."  A small smile formed on Camrin's face, but the man didn't move a muscle.  He was a stone figure, poised to strike.

"Not that you need to know, nor will you be here to remember, but it is Tarone.  Your sharp tongue will be the death of you."  It was Camrin's turn to run, both swords by his side and pointed toward Tarone.  He moved neatly aside and pushed Camrin's right sword away with his own.  Camrin swung around and barely missed Tarone's chest, but only before Tarone delivered a powerful two-handed down-stoke that Camrin was forced to block with his left sword.  It was wrenched out of his hands in the process and clattered to the floor.  Rather than draw his other sword, he held on to his one with both hands.  It gave him more power if not more range.  Tarone came after him again, this time moving more cautiously.  Camrin moved a little away from him, and then they began to move around in a circle staring at each other, neither blinking.  Then they moved, swords clashing, again, again, still again.  They moved to unseen steps, danced to an unheard rhythm.  The only sound was that of steel on cold hard steel.  Many times the sharp edges of the blades came within inches of skin, but neither could touch the other.

Sweat appeared on their skin as they continued to move back and forth, sometimes toward the enemy, sometimes to escape unblocked blades.  Camrin ducked as a sword, meant for his head, instead crashed into a column.  Tarone moved around the pillar as Camrin made a thrust for Tarone's chest, then rolled back as Tarone rounded the stone with his sword moving down.  Camrin was back on his feet to parry another attack by Tarone, and then turned.  Dropping to one knee, Camrin turned back and swung in a large arc.  Tarone's sword passed above Camrin's head as his sword cut through Tarone's clothing.  Blood began to issue forth, but it didn't seem to slow him down.  He appeared as though he didn't even notice it.  Tarone slammed down his sword again, and it was Camrin's sword or his life.  As he held up the sword, he knew that it was impossible to stop the attack.  It was all he could do to roll out of the way before the sword crashed to the floor.  Now Camrin only had one sword, but still he didn't draw it.  Instead, he went for his staff.  Now Tarone began to back off a little.  He was wounded, and the odds were turning against him.  Camrin noticed this, but he wasn't intent on killing him, instead he only wanted to escape with his life.  Camrin ran toward him with the staff, but at the last minute, turned and ran toward the door.  As he ran through it, he kicked the bar so that he could not follow.  Camrin collapsed to the floor gasping for breath, and Tarone came to the gate.

"I will see you again, and I will not forget what you have done to me.  Remember my words."  Camrin turned around to look at him, but he wasn't there.  Where had he gone?  It wasn't that important though.  He still had to find something useful in this castle, before it killed him.  He stood with the aid of his staff and set out to find another, hopefully more useful, room.

Soon thereafter, he came to another room that caught his attention.  Considering my luck, this gate is as good as any, and can't possibly be any worse than the others Camrin said to himself as he walked in and jammed the bar in the corner.  The gate hit the bar and knocked it over.  Camrin tripped and fell to the floor, and instead of the tines hitting his head, they sunk into his foot.  He let out a howl of agony.  The pain was intense, greater than anything that he'd ever felt.  His nerves screamed from his foot to his head, and he had an instant headache.  No blood was coming yet, but he was sure that anything he did would cause it to come.  He undid the laces on his boots without moving his foot, and then grabbed the staff he'd dropped.  Slipping it under the gate, he heaved up on it with strength he shouldn't have had after his recent battle.  The gate moved up only a couple of inches, but that was enough for Camrin to wrench his foot off the tine.  Another howl of agony and Camrin dropped the bar.  The gate smashed back to the ground and the bar with it, right onto his left arm.  The sound of bone crunching and renewed pain was overwhelming.  Camrin lapsed into unconsciousness.

When Camrin awoke, he found himself still on the cold floor of the castle, with his staff pressing down on his left arm.  Freeing his arm, he pulled on the staff and was amazed when it slipped free of the gate.  He looked down at his foot.  There was no blood, only a hole in his boot.  He pulled it off and looked closer at his foot.  There was nothing there, not even a scar.  Am I dreaming?  I must find out.  His arm no longer was broken, though the pain remained, as with his foot.  Camrin looked around.  He was in a copse of trees with many different varieties, some that he recognized and some that he didn't.  There were flowers on the ground all over, dotting the landscape wherever there wasn't the brown or black color of bark.  A small path ran deeper into the room, winding its way through the trees haphazardly.  Camrin decided that since the gate was down it was pretty much his only option.  Putting on his boot, he moved down the path.

It was only a short time before lethargy set over Camrin.  He shouldn't have been tired for all the sleep he'd gotten, but it was happening, and he didn't know why.  It took him only a short time to deduct what was causing it.  "No, there can't be a sleep spell in here.  There just can't!"  But in his mind, he knew that there was, and now he had to find a way out soon, before he gave in to the spell.  Thinking about the time he'd been there, he wondered why he hadn't found out earlier.  He began to run down the path, barely looking where he was going.

A short time later, he fell to his hands and knees.  This room had sapped out all the energy left in him, and he didn't have the strength to run anymore.  There had to be another way out of the room other than the gate.  He pulled his backpack off his shoulders and set it down in front of him.  Is there anything in here that I can use?  His hands found the vial that Agnes had given him.  She had said that it was to be used only in emergencies, and now Camrin was getting desperate.  He pulled on the cork, but it wouldn't come out.  He pulled harder, and even though it was a stubborn cork, he managed to free it.  Smoke issued forth and surrounded Camrin, then sank into him through his skin.  He felt subtly different, as though the spell had contained another spell, a talent of some sort.  He tried to invoke whatever it was, willing it to work.  A portal opened up in front of him.  It worked.  Camrin replaced his pack on his shoulders and started to crawl toward it, knowing that it was his only way out.  Where will this thing take me?  He thought to himself.  But it was too late to turn around now; these were one way, no turning back.  To do so meant instant death.  He waited….

Selenia arose from the rest she'd had to find the man almost gone into the trees.  She quickly moved to follow him.  He sure hadn't made much noise trying to get his staff out of the door.  She would have to help him when he became snared by the lethargy spell in this forest, but how she was supposed to get him all the way back to the doorway and out of the room was beyond her.  She had to stop him soon, before he got too far.

The next time she saw him, he was almost through a gateway, crawling on his hands and knees.  She ran at the portal.  She had to make it.  She had no idea where the portal went, and she would have no way of getting to the man if it closed.  She had no trace on him.  She jumped through the portal, feeling it shut behind her.

Camrin's hands and feet found purchase again on soft grass, not unlike what he'd left.  The surroundings hadn't changed much at all.  Except for now, there wasn't any spells or castle walls.  I've been getting very lucky lately.  Selenia nearly flew through the portal, did a small summersault, and came back into a half-standing position with nary a sound.  She turned and saw Camrin still on hands and knees, inches away from the portal that suddenly winked out of existence.  She knew this place as the glade that she lived in.  It was far from any signs of civilization, and it had its dangers.  They were lucky to have come here.  Moving deftly, she extracted a voice-amplification spell that she hoped would cancel out at least the silence part of the spell, and her voice would be heard.  It was the best that she had.  Uncorking the vial, nothing appeared to happen.  But maybe it would work.  He stood, brushing himself off, and then started walking down a little trail that was there.  "This is a peaceful scene, even better than the castle," he said, as he looked toward the treetops and the sun which cast it's golden rays through the leaves.

"Yes, it is," Selenia said from behind him.  He turned, amazed at a voice coming from out here.  There didn't seem to be anyone there.  "Don't worry.  You can't see me.  I have an invisibility spell that I'm using.  It was given to me so that I could follow you unobserved, but I was told that I should reveal myself to you sometime.  I felt that now was a good time.  I also want to tell you this - the last person to have been through this clearing put a spell on it.  I don't know what the spell is, but it seems that if a person goes through whom I'm not accompanying, they usually have strange mishaps.  I feel that it's because I've known this place for so long."

Camrin, uneasy about a voice that he couldn't put a face to, said, "Do you know when your invisibility spell will wear off?"

"This spell won't wear off.  It's much too powerful for that.  I'll have to get a counterspell."

"Do you have one?"

"No, unfortunately."

"How long have you been following me?"  Camrin was wondering about this woman.  Who is she, and what was she doing chasing after me?

"Ever since you'd arrived at the castle.  It was I that healed your foot and arm, and you're lucky that I had simple healing spells at all, considering they're not that easy to come by anymore.  You should still be feeling the pain, but there are no physical wounds anymore.  You'll have to be more careful in the future because I may not be able to heal you as readily before."

"I am in your debt then.  Are you going to stay with me?"

"Only until you get t... t... to..."and she cut off.

"What is it?"  Camrin looked around.  It was only when he turned that he found out what she'd seen.  He stared at the biggest monster he'd had ever observed in Zenuor.  It stood at least twice as tall and four times as long as he did.  It had two massive pairs of legs, and a tail as thick as his body.  It was staring back at him, and its eyes had a glint of death in them.  Camrin jumped back as a claw swept toward him.  It caught him anyway and he felt its power as he was slammed to the ground.  Then he felt a jolting sensation as he lost all sense.