Cail descended into the cave, with Laney following closely behind him. The stairs were made of firm, sturdy stone, and the walls and ceiling were composed of bricks matching the staircase. Cail illuminated small torches that were posted on both of the walls as they walked down the seemingly endless staircase. After several minutes of trekking downward, they finally arrived at a platform made of dry, hardened dirt. Cail could see one last torch sitting on top of a post in the ground a few arm lengths in front of him. He walked toward the post and lit the torch. Then flames slithered down a path of powder that went along the sides of the post. The fire followed the powder which bifurcated exponentially throughout the entire room.
The illumination from the fire revealed a ladder descending down into an intricate labyrinth made of stone walls. The powder had been set on top of the walls of the maze and the entire room glowed with warm, flickering light, but the labyrinth was so vast that they could see no end to it.
“I’m not sure about this, Cail,” Laney said, menaced by the monstrosity of the maze. “We may never see the end of this cave.”
“I know,” Cail acknowledged. He sat on the edge of the platform, his feet dangling over the puzzle that lay before him. “‘A place of hand, thick or thin,’ that’s the next line of the riddle,” Cail said as Laney sat beside him, pondering over what they could possibly do to overcome this obstacle. “I wish that you wouldn’t have come with me, Laney. We could die down here.”
“We won’t die,” Laney said, trying to reassure Cail. “If we can make a giant rock disappear then we can maneuver our way through a maze.” Cail chuckled at her confidence. “Besides, you’re my best friend. You’re not going anywhere I can’t go.”
“If we do make it back alive, your parents are going to kill me,” Cail said while laughing. “When we were in the forest earlier you started talking about Kadir. Why didn’t you want him to come?”
“Kadir is a great friend and I love him as I would a brother, but he needs to lighten his heart. He worries so much about how people view him and maintaining his image. You have the same problem, although not quite to his extent. I think that’s why I came with you; because I love seeing you chase after what your heart desires.”
“Well if I wanted anyone to come with me on this adventure, it’d be you,” Cail said, smiling brightly toward Laney. They sat together, enjoying each other’s company, forgetting the stress of their current situation. “As much as it pains me to say this, I think it’s time to venture into the maze,” Cail said, rising to his feet. Laney agreed and they descended down the rickety, wooden ladder. The walls of the maze stood twice as tall as Cail and were made of crimson stone with mildew and fungus growing on it.
Cail and Laney began to jog through the corridors of the maze, weaving in and out and quickly spinning around when they discovered a dead end. Every path they took seemed homogenous, as though there was a curse bound to the maze, trapping them in their frantic state of searching. After hours of running around the labyrinth, Laney halted and yelled out, “Stop!”
Cail froze in his tracks and looked back to Laney who was bent over her knees. “I can’t run anymore,” she said in between her heavy breaths. “My legs feel like they’re going to fall off.”
“I’m sorry,” Cail said, feeling remorse for pushing Laney to the edge of exhaustion. Once she had finally caught her breath, she walked over to the wall of the corridor and leaned her back against it. Drops of sweat were rolling down her jaws, making her face glisten. Then Cail looked into her hazel eyes and saw something different, something he hadn’t seen before. He always looked at Laney as a friend and had a close relationship with her since they were children, but now he was starting to feel a new affection toward her, a new attachment. In the same way, Laney looked into Cail’s eyes, but then her eyes focused on something beyond Cail. “Move,” she said, staring at the wall right behind Cail.
“What?” Cail asked, taken back by her command.
“Are you deaf? I told you to move! There’s something in the wall!” She exclaimed, pushing Cail out of her way. Laney ran up to the wall and focused her gaze on a brick that was level with her eyes. Cail could see that there were five small grooves in the brick that she was examining, forming a small arc. Laney then took her right hand, inserted all of her fingers into the grooves and pushed on the brick. It shifted back into the wall and clicked, then there was silence. Cail and Laney anxiously awaited to see what her new discovery would divulge. After moments of tense silence there was a low rumble in the distance, then it approached them, causing the ground to quake. Finally, the wall that Laney had pressed on descended into the dirt, revealing a newly created corridor for them to venture into. Laney turned to Cail and with a smirk on her face, she said, “A place of hand, thick or thin.”
“Genius!” Cail exclaimed, impressed that Laney solved that segment of the riddle.
They trudged down the hallway together, exhausted from all the energy that they had expended from running around the maze. The corridor was long as it took several minutes of walking for the end to come into sight. It led into a small doorway made of dirt, not much wider than Cail’s shoulders. Cail and Laney had to crouch in order to pass through it. Even though Laney’s lantern was still emblazed, they didn’t need it for the new room was already illuminated. They stood on soft, green grass which led up to a narrow, stone bridge without rails, which was barely wide enough for one person to walk on. On the other side of the bridge was another door, similar to the one they just entered. Beneath the bridge was the ocean of clouds, a sure death for a faulty step.
Mustering up all the valor that he could, Cail took his first step toward the bridge. Laney quickly snatched his arm and said, “You don’t know when this bridge was built! It could collapse on your first step!”
“I must cross it, Laney,” Cail said, looking back to her. “We’re so close to having all my questions answered. We can’t stop now.”
Then Cail took his right foot and stomped on the bridge, testing its sturdiness. To Cail’s relief, the bridge didn’t budge. Then he looked to the door on the other side of the bridge and saw something he didn’t expect. He saw the cloaked man from the forest. The man stood there, indiscernibly whispering to Cail. “Who are you?” Cail yelled to the man, who then started to cackle. Cail took a step backward in fear, not knowing what he could do to overcome this opposition.
Laney put a hand on Cail’s shoulder and said, “Cail, who are you talking to?”
“You don’t see him?” Cail asked, turning around to look at Laney.
“Who? No one’s there.”
Cail turned back around and saw that the man was gone. Shock shot through Cail’s spine as he began to question his own sanity. “I know he was−” Cail stopped midsentence not knowing how to explain what he just saw. “Never mind. Let’s keep moving.”
Once again, Cail began his trek across the bridge. He kept his knees bent and his eyes focused on the door that stood in the distance. Gusts began to menacingly breathe on Cail and Laney, making their task even more onerous. The wind shoved and prodded at them, but to no avail as they maintained their footing. Laney glanced down to the clouds beneath their feet, which stirred her head and unsettled her balance.
Not able to fortify her body from the wind, she tumbled off the bridge. At the last second her right hand grasped onto the edge of the stone. She screamed for Cail’s aid as she hung on with all her strength. Then Cail spun around and saw Laney’s life straying on the edge of a knife. He swiftly darted to her and clutched her wrist with both of his hands. Then he slowly managed to hoist her up to the bridge again, grunting from using all his might and strength.
Adrenaline pulsed through both of their bodies, knowing they would meet their doom if they didn’t cross the bridge quickly. Once they successfully traversed onto solid land, they both collapsed onto the grass, alleviating their stress from the close encounter with death. Cail lied on his back, looking at the dirt ceiling above him. Laney then crawled over to Cail and rested her head on his chest and said, “Thank you.”
Cail looked at her and said with a smile, “I’m not going anywhere that you can’t.”
Laney smiled back at Cail and asked, “Are you ready? We really need to keep moving.” Cail nodded and they crouched through the next door.
The room that they walked into was pitch black, illuminated only by the lantern that Laney held in her hand. Cail noticed a torch mounted on the wall next to the door. He snatched the lantern from Laney’s grasp and ignited the beacon. Just like the maze, there were streams of powder causing the flames to snake around the room. The light from the fire revealed a large chamber, in the shape of a dome, where the walls were made of dirt and plants. Extending from the patch of land that Cail and Laney stood on was a narrow path of grass, creating another bridge. The bridge led to a small isle, just big enough for one person. On the isle was a stone slab, in the shape of a triangular prism and a thick, wooden staff was emplaced into the top vertex of the prism.
“This is it,” Cail said in a whisper. After all the toils and hardship that he and Laney had endured all night, he was frozen in a state of incredulity. Ever since Lydia revealed the riddle to him, he fixated all of his mental capacity on finding what the forest had to offer to him.
“Are you sure?” Laney asked. “What was the last line of the riddle?”
“Accept your fate, taken by the wind,’” Cail recited.
“Cail, we’re in a closed chamber. There will be no wind in here. I think this is a trap,” Laney said, grabbing Cail’s arm out of concern for her friend.
“We’ve come this far. I must find out,” Cail said, looking back at Laney. She nodded and relinquished her grasp upon his arm. Cail began to walk across the bridge. On either side of the narrow, grassy walkway was darkness, an empty void. It was impossible to tell exactly how far down Cail would fall should he lose his balance.
Cail looked at the staff ahead of him, trying to remain focused on the task at hand. The staff began to grow taller and wider, then leaves started to sprout from the staff. Cail rubbed his eyes, not believing what he was seeing because the staff had turned into the tree from his dream. He gradually took heavy steps toward the tree, fearing that it might ignite into flames again. Once he was in front of the tree, he noticed that the bridge behind him had disappeared. Cail spun around to see that there was nothing but darkness around him, he couldn’t even see Laney. Then he heard the cackling of the cloaked man, although Cail couldn’t see him. Fear and terror shot through Cail’s spine. Cail yelled out, “Where are you? What do you want?” The cackling carried on for a moment longer and then dwindled into the darkness.
Cail, who was dazed and confused by all that had occurred, turned back toward the tree. It stood firm and proud, like a statue made of stone. Cail cautiously reached his hand out to touch the tree. The bark felt rigid and immutable, but he could feel its life, he could feel the tree’s happiness. Cail closed his eyes, allowing glee to fill his body, forgetting all that troubled his mind. He felt unified with the tree and a robust peace insulated his heart.
Then Cail could feel the tree begin to shrink and he heard a low rumble. He opened his eyes and saw that the leaves and branches were beginning to crawl back into the trunk of the tree. Cail tried to remove his hand, afraid of killing the tree, but his palm remained glued to the trunk. He tugged and pulled with all his might, but to no avail. The tree compressed until it was only as tall as Cail’s chest. It was morphing back into the staff again. Cail’s hand grasped the staff, which was still embedded in the stone slab. The staff was smooth and made of oak. Grooves writhed down the staff, creating a spiral indentation.
Cail lifted the staff out of the stone, exerting a great deal force. At first, it didn’t budge, but after several arduous attempts, it slowly ascended until it was free in Cail’s hand. The staff made Cail feel weightless, unbound to the land beneath him. Cail felt as light as a feather, he felt like he could fly.
The darkness that surrounded him faded and the chamber began to illuminate once more. He could see the chamber walls, the bridge that he had traversed, and Laney, who was still standing by the door, relieved to see Cail once again. With the staff in his hand, Cail began to walk back toward Laney, but the ground beneath him began to rumble. Cail could hear the reverberation coming from beneath his feet. From out of the darkness sprung a tornado, engulfing Cail in its powerful squalls. Even with the strength of the wind, Cail’s feet remained cemented to the ground. He felt control over his body, control over the wind.
The staff began to ascend into the air, moving against Cail’s will, escaping his grasp. It hovered in the air above his head. Then the staff slowly began to descend back into Cail’s right hand, but when the bottom of the staff touched his palm, it continued to descend, somehow blending into his hand. Cail could feel the power of the staff in his arm, and as the staff vanished into his hand, the tornado surrounding him calmed and he felt a tranquil energy flowing through him.
Cail looked to Laney, who was terrified by what she just witnessed. “What happened?” Laney exclaimed, awestruck to see Cail still alive.
Cail explained everything that had transpired to the best of his ability. Then Laney said, “I saw you walking toward the staff, then you just disappeared, vanished. I was so worried, I didn’t know what to do.” Cail comforted Laney, seeing that she was distressed.
“I really don’t know what to make of any of this,” Cail said. “I need to see Lydia, she’s the only one who can help me piece things together.”
“By the way, how are we going to get out of here?” Laney inquired.
“I have an idea, follow me.” The two friends crouched back through the door they entered. Cail walked over to the bridge that hung over the clouds, retrieved Emey’s whistle from his bag, and blew into it, causing a soft tone to travel through the air. After a couple brief moments of waiting, Cail heard the flaps of Emey’s wings in the distance. He had never been more relieved to see her in his entire life. Once she landed, Cail sprinted up to Emey and hugged her around her thick neck. He stroked Emey’s feathers for a few moments, to her delight, then looked back to Laney and said, “Are you ready?”
“Have you ever flown on her before?” Laney asked.
“There’s a first time for everything,” Cail said as he tied their bags around Emey’s ankles.
“Cail, I really don’t know about this, we could die.”
“Would you rather get lost in the forest again?” Cail asked. Memories of the sinister forest convinced Laney to climb onto Emey’s back with her arms strapped tightly around Cail’s thin chest. Once they were both safely straddled on Emey, she bent her legs and propelled herself into the air. Emey descended at first due to the additional weight, then she began to flap her wings more vigorously and they ascended into the air. Cail was so encompassed by the beauty of the ocean of clouds surrounding him that he didn’t even notice that it was still nighttime. Emey, who had adjusted herself to the weight of Cail and Laney, glided through the cool, night sky. Cail sat up tall, closed his eyes and spread his arms out wide, focusing on the breeze that massaged his body.
Once Emey began to grow weary of carrying two full grown humans on her back, she drifted back toward Elona and made her way to Cail’s house. Laney quickly jumped off Emey’s back, relieved that her feet were on solid ground again. Cail climbed down shortly after, feeling disappointed that he was no longer in the air. After he untied their bags from Emey’s ankles he patted her on the neck once more and said, “I don’t know what we would’ve done without you, Em.”
“How long do you think we were in the forest?” Laney asked, looking at Cail.
“It’s hard to tell with it still being dark outside,” Cail replied. “I’m going to try to get as much rest as I can. I’m sure my dad is going to have plenty to say to me tomorrow.”
“Yes. I need to hurry home before my parents wake up.” Then Laney firmly hugged Cail and ran home. Cail snuck into his house, silently climbing up the stairs, and collapsed onto his bed, exhausted from his exasperating venture into the forest.
This is only a small portion of Cail's adventure! If you would like to read about the entire tale, click on the image below to purchase the book!