Sonya dropped the match with a curse and sucked at her burned finger. The cave went black as ink, but she kept moving, feeling the wall with her left hand.
She was sure she had heard footsteps behind her, or were they in front?
Why had she taken off in the middle of the night like that? Rule Number One echoed in her mind: no one goes farther than shouting distance alone. ThatÕs why sheÕd waited until everyone in her campsite had fallen asleep.
The moon shone brightly, lighting the path. All day long the mountains had beckoned to her. She just couldnÕt resist them any longer.
"Better do something about that willpower . . . or lack thereof," she thought derisively.
Her breath came in gasps as she moved along the wall, wondering where the path would take her and wondering how her life had gotten so mixed up so fast. Something about nature, hiking, camping, even fishing . . . it all pulled at her so stubbornly. She just couldnÕt ignore it anymore.
She dreamed of riding her little pinto pony as fast as he could run, up the highest mountain she could find. But around home, it was so impractical.
"And probably illegal," she thought. "I wonder what Thoreau would think about Rule Number One."
Just then, she heard the footstep again. She turned towards the sound, but saw only blackness. Suddenly the wall ended, then the ground. She slid, reaching behind her frantically as she fell.
SonyaÕs face screwed up with anger, fear, and a feeble attempt at courage. She braced herself, expecting to be stopped abruptly by stone at any second.
But the fall seemed everlasting and she cursed aloud at her stupidity. First, she snuck away from the campsite, climbing so high that her toes froze painfully. Then, she found this cave and let her imagination run away with tales of fortunes just because the walls sparkled. "A cave, with a 'Keep Out' sign, and I get excited over sparkling walls, as if it could be gold or something."
Her thoughts and her descent stopped abruptly in a splash of icy water swirling around her. SonyaÕs heart raced as she kicked and flailed her arms, trying to rise to the top. But something pulled her down, and soon she could hold her breath no longer.
Sonya woke abruptly, her stomach tight. She lay in bed. She sighed. It was only a dream.
ÒThank God,Ó she whispered.
ÒWho is god, and for what reason does tey merit your thanks?Ó
Sonya sat up and looked for the owner of the deep, soft voice. The down-filled tick gave way under her elbows, and the thick bedclothes creaked from her movements.
They were in a large, sunny room; a warm but refreshing breeze came through the open window. Hot embers crackled in the fireplace.
Sonya stared in disbelief at the man who spoke. He could have come out of an old book or movie.
He had a long, black beard; he wore a white outfit of baggy pants and a wrap top resembling a martial artistÕs gi that was tied with a belt encrusted with sparkling stones. His feet were wrapped in a moccasin-like fabric and tied on with twine. A headband that matched the belt completed the outfit and held his flowing black hair in check.
The fire glowed behind him.
ÒWho are you? Where am I? Where did I get these clothes? And what on earth is Ôtey?ÕÓ
ÒOne so young who knows not the meaning of Òtey?Ó Interesting. If you do not know where your clothes are, there is no way for me to know. I am Tagor, and this is my home.Ó
He watched her.
She waited for him to continue, but he only stared back at her.
ÒCan I at least have my shoes? Then I can get out of here, anyway.Ó
He smiled and nodded, but made no attempt to move.
Sonya got scared. ÒListen, mister, IÕm not as helpless as I look. IÕm perfectly capable of defending myself if I have to. And I donÕt intend to stay here. So get my stuff, and youÕd better move it!Ó
He laughed, raising an eyebrow at her overemphasis of Òmove it.Ó
At that moment a woman walked into the room.
Sonya watched as the woman moved towards the bed with a natural, flowing energy.
Her hair hung near her waist, thick and shiny-black with just the slightest wave at the shoulders. Her features were sharp and pronounced. When she smiled, every inch of her face responded. Her skin was dark and almost brown, with a vivacious sheen. She wore an outfit similar to TagorÕs, but tailored to fit and show the curve and shape of her body. Instead of a headband, she wore a colorful bandanna, keeping her hair out of the way but flowing freely behind. The only jewelry she wore was a medallion that seemed to change shape and size and color whenever it moved.
Sonya couldnÕt keep her eyes off of it, except to stare at the womanÕs eyes. They were wide and dark and deep and trying to laugh from far beneath the tiny glimmer the world could see.
The gleam jumped out at Sonya and leapt into her mind. She suddenly found herself thinking of the various lies and dishonesties of her life, including that she had snuck away from camp, leading her right into this predicament. Sonya couldnÕt look at those eyes for long.
The woman put a bundle at the foot of the bed and stood smiling for a moment.
ÒI am Zorena. I trust my brother has been kind enough to answer your many questions? Though it is unlikely. He is not one for long or involved discourses.Ó
She nodded to Tagor who bowed and left the room.
Sonya almost laughed. He actually bowed! But she held her tongue.