When faced with the murky water, Isaiah seemed to simply accept it as another obstacle to overcome. Impressive. He carried me across the water first because the other two seemed to have temporarily lost their nerve. After I made it across, though, the other two followed. Along the way, the creature under the water attacked, but it was beaten back. I am very grateful to be travelling with people more physically able than myself – particularly in my current condition.
After crossing the river, we arrived at yet another fork. The silver path went only north, so we followed it into a strange old-fashioned room with a now-familiar blocked archway leading onward. It was like a hospital might have been long ago. After some unhelpful monkeying around with the gurney, I decided to assume that the room was supposed to be used for its intended purpose. In retrospect, that may not have been the best idea, but the fact that I was in substantial pain may have contributed to the decision. In any event, I lay down on the gurney and Jonus injected me with the IV.
I woke up in the well that I had climbed into… so long ago? No, that was just today, wasn’t it? But it felt like years ago. I got out, dry as dust. The silver path lay ahead of me, leading between the two dark walls. What else could I do but follow it? I walked along it, guided by cards flying overhead which shielded me from the sun so I could see the silver. One night I was continuing my endless walk when there came a sudden blow to my side. I looked around and saw Skuld with a wicked grin on her face. “Just checking!” she said – and before I could respond she scampered off. I tried to call out to her not to leave the path, but my words were lost amid the iridescent trees. So I walked on.
Massive gates rose high ahead of me, covered in every gem and pearl. But the maze still led on – no matter which path I took, I always turned away from it in the end. Years? I spent circling the gates. Then I left the path, certain it had condemned me simply to torment. The earth recoiled against my audacity, and it threw me like a wriggling snake. My head smashed against the walls – and I broke through. No more were they an obstacle! Towards the gates – through the brush, through the walls, I crawled and wiggled and jumped. Nothing could stop me – no crashing earth, no bleeding wounds.
No gates could compare; they were higher than cards could soar, deeper than the cracks in the betraying earth. The land recoiled against me, foisting dark shadows at the edges of vision – but the gates were pure silver and white, allowing no blemish or thought of failure. I tried to push them apart, but before I could touch them, they bent before me. “Hail”, the voices shouted – and I turned to see Murphey, and the young boy and his mother, and so many others. Amid their voices came a melodious chorus. “Arcadia thanks you.” I turned once more to see endless ranks of the most beautiful creatures to ever leave the fey-blessed earth. The earth rejoiced and its chasms dissolved into green beauty. From all around they came – the homeless and wounded and lonely returning to their appointed city.
Then it was gone. An icy stabbing, a throbbing pain, and I was back. Back in the room – how long had I been gone? Had we still not made it out of the room? Of course not… None of these youngsters have the vision to see something through. I guess it’s up to the cripple to save the day.
I tried to solve the puzzle using the same twisted, nonsensical fae logic that had led us so far. But the room proved unwilling to compromise. None of us had any ideas… then the silver faded. Had it sensed my ambition? Was it too much? My thoughts were still slow and confused. How could the silver path fade? How little I actually knew of these surroundings.
Then the troll simply opened up the hedge. In the moment I was too confused – and worried – to worry too much about it. But… why didn’t he do that earlier?