She quickened her pace and made her way over the rough ground toward me until she was standing over me. I stared up at her warily and saw that her eyes were nearly twice as dark as her hair, and piercing. It gave me an uncomfortable feeling. “Who are you?” I asked cautiously, than repeated it in the only other language I knew: Hashti, the most common language spoken in the world.
She laughed when I did this, but quickly replied in my language. “My name is Ariol. And no, I’m not from another country, though I appear like that.” “But…” I began, but she quickly cut me off. “We can talk later. It is almost daylight,” she said, pointing toward the horizon, “and we are in a dangerous place. If you do not wish to be a mid-morning snack for predators that live here, then you cannot stay. I have a safe place up the hill a little ways where you can stay for the time being. You can ride my horse.” Though the “hill” she was referring to was closer to a small mountain, I quickly and stubbornly replied, “I’ll walk.” I still felt nervous about her. She shrugged in a have-it-your-way manner. I grabbed onto the rock that was behind me and pulled myself into a standing position. Once Ariol saw that I was ready, she swiftly and easily led us forward, going up the steepest side of the “hill” on an old, overgrown foot path. The farther we got up, the more twisting and narrow the path became. Finally, she was leading us through a small meadow with no path at all. My previous wariness sprang up again and I began wondering if she was leading me into some sort of trap. Soon though, we came to a small cave with a door that was obviously man-made.
By now it was almost noon; the sun was well on its way to being overhead. The birds twittered and scolded in the trees surrounding the clearing. Yet behind their noise was an eerie stillness, mixed with the sound of the whistling and moaning of the wind that you only get on a mountaintop. This and other things made me edgy when Ariol ushered me into the cave and onto an extra sleeping mat. I flopped down onto it, and as I did so all the exhaustion from the previous night came rushing onto me, and before I could fight it, sleep claimed me.
I shivered as a cold wind swirled around me, breaking through my heavy layers. I looked around, hoping to see a clump of trees or even a lone rock near me. Every other terrain I had met with had always had some sort of shelter in it. But now, on this cold, bare, silent plateau, there was nothing to hide me. From where I was standing, I could see for miles around me. Any predators for miles around could also see me. This thought reminded me of how isolated I was from the normal world and the normal life. I quickly pushed that into the back of my mind. If I didn’t keep moving I wouldn’t be able to make across this malicious land before dark, and I didn’t know what I’d do if that happened. Slowly, resolutely, I put one foot in front of the other, all the while fighting the feeling of being pulled in the opposite direction from where I was going. The mountains loomed overhead, closer than ever, looking as if they were leering at my attempts to cross into a place no one had ever gotten out of alive. I gritted my teeth and leaned forward as a sudden blast of wind nearly knocked me backwards. When would this nightmare be over?
I woke up feeling tight and stiff. My teeth were clenched and my body was tense, as if I was expecting a real gust of wind to blow me away. I sighed and sat up, not feeling very refreshed. By now the sun was setting, and a gentle but chilly breeze made me shiver as I walked out the doorway so that I could get a good look at my surroundings. Behind me a small forest of trees blocked my view in that direction. On my right was the almost imaginary footpath that I had followed Ariol up that morning. Straight in front, however, was a completely open view. I walked cautiously forward, then after about 50 feet I quickly jerked back. A few small rocks slid down the precipice I was standing not more than 2 inches away from. I stepped back two steps before looking around. We were at the very peak of a small mountain, and all around as far as I could see until the dark mountains were flat open valleys. Here and there were the hazy outlines of clumps of trees that were just big enough to poke their dark forms through the evening fog. The closer the valleys were to the mountains, the more like wastelands they seemed. I stared off in that direction; trying to get a picture of what the land was like before it had become barren. “It’s sad isn’t it?” I jumped and turned, but then relaxed when I saw that it was only Ariol. I had finally decided that I could trust her. She continued speaking. “I remember when this place was green, perfect. Then one day many evil things came, too many different kinds to be able to list out. Little by little they destroyed the flowers, the grass, everything that was good. Everything that is, except me. I will fight with all my being to destroy them. I, Ariol III, will defeat them if it’s on my death bed.” As she spoke, it seemed that she grew taller, and on her face was a fierce, terrifying expression. Then she finished and seemed to shrink back to the Ariol I knew. The silence remained unbroken for a few more minutes until she spoke again. “Come, I have a few things to show you.” With that, she led me in the opposite direction; straight into the trees. As we went further in, the trees got deeper and deeper. Soon, I could barely see my hand in front of me because of how thickly the trees grew. As we walked, I began to notice a faint dripping sound. We were getting closer to it. It soon became a constant, slow beat that got into my head until I felt like I would go crazy from it. Finally, I saw the sun in front of us as we entered a small clearing. I was about to heave a sigh and relax until I saw it: A small, dark cave entrance. It was from there that the dripping came from. I have never been very fond of natural caves, and I don’t think I ever will be. This one was the worse I had ever seen.
I stumbled to a halt, half in surprise and half in fright at the cold, dank, reeking entrance to the underground tunnel which Ariol had led me to. Water dripped off the roof in slow, dark droplets, making a puddle on the hard, rock floor. I thought she was my friend and now she leads to this wretched place! I should have never come. How did I even get here? These thoughts raced through my mind as I listened to Ariol tell me about this tunnel, and what it led to. I must confess I didn’t hear very much of it, except the last part. “No one has ever tried to go through this tunnel. I wish I could go through, but they know about me too well for me to be able to go in secretly, and I would most likely do more harm than good. This is a very hard thing to ask, but would you be willing to go?”