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You turn to your new-found friend and explain that you don't feel safe walking through the forest, and you ask where the nearest war-tunnel entrance is. Her face turns even paler than before when you say this. Nevertheless, she motions you to follow her, turns, and walks back into the castle. You walk swiftly and try to stay as quiet as possible. After following the woman through several long corridors and down what seemed like an endless staircase full of must and rats, you come to a door. It stands nearly 10 feet in height, and is wider than both you and your friend combined. She turns to you: "The door can only be opened by one who has no fear. They say the spirits and ghosts inside have powers to leap into a man, or to torture him.."

Again you see the expression in her eyes change; the beautiful spheres that had been so calm are now full or complete terror. You realize that she will have to depend on you if you open the door, and her fate will rest in your hands alone. Gently, you put an arm around her waste, "Please, don't worry," you begin, "I promise you, no matter what we encounter behind this door, I will stay with you." Your words of comfort have no effect on her panic-stricken face. Confused, you ask: "What's the matter? Is there something I don't know?"

"Yes," she answers, "a long time ago, when I was only a small child, my brother and I were playing. We discovered the staircase to this door while chasing our kitten," She points to the cat to indicate it is the same one in her story. "My brother was always so full of curiosity, he just had to know where the steps led. I followed him, and when we got to the door he told me to wait, he was going to see what was behind it. I tried to convince him to wait, and let Father go with him, but he always wanted to prove to everyone that he was a 'real man' and he couldn't be dissuaded. He opened the door easily. It was more like the door opened itself, and drew him in. As he disappeared into the tunnel, he looked back at me and gave me a wink, 'Don't worry, I'll be back in a little while and then we can tell everyone about our adventure.' That was the last time I ever saw him. I can still remember his eyes. They were a deep blue, full of brilliance and life. Every night I see his wink, and hear his words echoing in my head. You see, my brother… was never seen again after opening that door and going into the tunnel."

With these last words she broke down completely, and begain to sob uncontrollably. You had never seen someone cry so hard before, she was choking herself with cries of pain. Not physical pain, but the deep, unescapable emotional pain that comes from losing someone you love. You take her lovingly in your arms, and wipe her tears with the soft sleeve of your shirt. "Hush now," you whisper quietly in her ear, on the verge of tears yourself. How could you have imagined killing this lady? It was Shal'Kari, he was the one...and if she is not dead he will know, and he will send another to kill her and you both. You have signed your own death warrant. But you bring yourself back to reality and assure her once more that you will not leave her alone, and together you will survive. What pain had she endured that could make the mere sight of this door strike up such fear in her?

She went on to explain to you that her parents and community had blamed her for the loss of their son and friend. They had all known about the tunnels, but kept them a secret from the children. They hoped that the door would eventually be forgotten, and melt away with the sands of time passed into oblivion. Some of the older people even remembered the war the tunnels were used for, and the horrors of battle and its morbid atrocities were still so vivid in their minds that they believed just to open the door was certain death. Rumors flew from household to household, some even said the girl was filled with a spirit from the tunnels, and anyone who tried to help or show love to her would be cursed. Soon, everyone, even the woman's family believed the rumors, and they all decided to move far away, and put the evils they had seen in their former home to rest forever. The woman-just a little girl at the time-had been left behind along with her kitten, which was also believed to be possessed.

Now, as you reached out to grip the cold steel handle of the door, you began to feel fear, and even mistrust of your companion. After all, she could be lying, she could actually be an advocate of the dead. But the feelings you had felt before? How could they have been wrong? Could you have been aching for a friend so badly that you allowed yourself to overreact to a gorgeous woman? Your hand was sweating now as it gripped the handle. You felt as if you were standing at the edge of a deep chasm, the point of no return. You could face your fears, and place your trust in the hands of a woman you had just met a few short hours earlier, and jump into the abyss or you could turn and run, live to fight another day.


By: James Dean
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