You hear a rustle in the woods behind you as a pair of luminous eyes appear. You quickly walk to the right, your decision being that, as old and lonely as the stone pathway might look, being alone right now sounds rather good.
The path is shoulder-length wide with cracks along it. The sun drops from the sky and the night heavens show speckled light with a partially hidden moon and stars here and there. You go slowly, trying to not turn your head back to look at the caverns, but sensing their presence behind you. You wish it were darker as then you couldn’t be seen by others, a lone figure traversing the wide chasm between two distant mountain peaks.
You walk for what seems like days, and finally decide to sit down for a bit, facing toward the way you came so you can see anything that might approach from that direction. The wind is picking up, tousling your hair and leaving you more chilled. You are afraid to fall asleep as you may wake up falling in reality not just a dream. You cannot start a fire and the heavy pack you leave on your back as you do not want to wrestle with it in fear you would not be able to see it properly and drop it. You spend the night sitting, fearful, hearing distant sounds from the caverns, trying to make little noise and blend in with the pathway and scenery around you.
When day finally arrives, you get up and begin your journey again, exhausted without sleep. You try to stride a bit more quickly, hoping to catch a glimpse of when the path will end or even to see the other mountain to where it leads. Unfortunately, all you can see is the path leading onwards, curling in a sinuous and upwards grade far ahead of you. Suddenly, you hear a sound above you as you stop in your tracks. The noise is a familiar-sounding flapping of wings. Lagi flies down from overhead and lands on the walkway in front of you. “Malefactor, Keeper joins journey to watch relics.”
Relieved to have some companionship, you smile, a smile that hasn’t been seen for several days. “Lagi, I am pleased to see you. I do not, however, have the relics to watch them.” Then you notice the bird had placed a cloth wrapping in front of him as he landed.
The Keeper opens the cloth, and touches each of the relics to check them. You look at them and approach gingerly. “I have an already full load, lagi, I am not certain I can carry anything more…”
Looking at you sharply, the avian chides, “Keeper carry relics if lazy boy will not.”
Shifting in your spot, you decide it is easier to bear the burden of the extra items than to argue with the bird. “One moment.” You take down your pack gingerly, careful to use slow motions so that you do not drop anything or fall over yourself. You open the pack and re-bundle the relics in the wrapping, barely looking at them, although you do briefly wonder why some of these devices are sacred. You ask the Keeper, “Why does a paperweight have import as a relic?”
The Keeper lets out a small grunt and swings back into the air. “Relics sacred: Must be protected.”
You nod your head and re-close the pack. You have never been in a high location and have thus far avoided looking down, but you do now accidentally as you are placing the bundle back onto your back. Getting dizzy, you kneel down again, querying the bird above you, “Would you be able to scout the path ahead? This way I might know how long until we reach sure land as I cannot rest in this spot.”
Lagi squeaks in acceptance, “Keeper check path distance. Will return soon.” He flies off, and you watch him go until he becomes a speck in the distance. Getting up, you trudge along again, hoping soon will not be long to come.
As the mid-morning sun fades into afternoon, lagi has still not returned. The sky grows darker and darker as the sun charts its progress across the sky, sinking to the west in a late evening color display of purple, magenta, rose, orange and other muted tones. Your fatigue weighs more on you each hour, and you cannot envision spending another night on the pathway without sleep. You finally stop to get your bearings and think what course you should follow. This time you take the pack off, investigating its contents for any clues to spark an idea in your weary mind.
You see the rope, and an idea does formulate. You have brought along a hammer, nails, rope and some fixative. Looking at the cracks beneath your feet, you jam the rope into the space, then take a nail with a large head and hammer it slowly into the rope, pouring fixative into the crack. You wait for a good pause to give the fixative time to bind, then check the rope’s strength in holding fast. It appears to be set and should hold you and the bag’s weight.
Tying the very end of the rope to your belt, you place gloves on your hands, and then begin to hoist yourself onto the rope, looping your right hand loosely above the other in the rope. You slowly begin the descent. The moon comes out as you journey down, big and full tonight with thousands of stars overhead. You see the familiar constellations and use their names to calm you, to take your mind off the height and arduous descent.
The rope’s length slowly becomes shorter. Afraid, as you may still be a great distance from ground, you avoid glancing beneath you at this stage. Dozing for a second, you jump and realize you are still clinging to the rope. You edge down one more hand, then see that the rope goes no further. Now, you do look down, your heart beating loudly in your chest. Below, the mist is swirling, and you cannot tell how much further to solid ground. You stare upwards to glance at the rope stretching a long ways above you. The rope shifts at once and you are a little further down, sickened realizing it is not going to hold up much longer for you. “I guess I am at the end of my rope,” you bemusedly quip. Sighing, a commonplace sound from you lately, you are at a loss on how to proceed.
Which path will you choose?