"I must be out of my mind." I pressed my hands against the side of the hill – more like a cliff face, if you ask me – and tried to keep making my slow, careful way along the path without tripping on unseen debris and taking a painfully quick trip back down the hill. "It’s pitch black out and I’m going mountain climbing! This is crazy!"
Well, it may have been crazy, but that apparently wasn’t enough to keep me from continuing to put my life on the line.
I had absolutely no idea why I was doing this. For one thing, I didn’t have a clue if this was what the message meant. And for another, it was written in cheap blue ink on a sheet of note paper that had been dropped onto my textbook during English class. Not exactly a credible source.
But, there I was.
The rocky face hit a sharp turn under my hand, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I made it! Given the circumstances, I felt that was quite the accomplishment. I’d made it to a small cave at the top of a steep hill even though it was midnight and pitch dark out. My craziness hadn’t killed me.
I still didn’t see anything gold, though. There were, as Duo had pointed out, a number of shadowed little corners and hiding places, but I didn’t notice a chest of treasure or any hidden gold objects. Of course, there was the possibility that, if the note wasn’t a joke of some kind, whatever I was looking for was buried somewhere around in there.
I had this funny feeling, though… Like I wasn’t actually looking for something – I was waiting for something. It was strange.
"Great." I sighed, trying to shrug off that uneasy feeling. "Well, I’m here, like the note said. Now what?"
I probably shouldn’t have asked. If fate were an actual person, I could swear that those two words, ‘now what’, were some kind of cue they constantly listened for – a challenge, perhaps. Once you asked the question, something had to take pains to give the answer, and usually in the most dramatic way possible.
That feeling of unease started to get worse as I stood there, apprehensively looking around. There was a slight breeze in the air – nothing astonishing in itself. But it almost seemed to be coming from the back of the cave – which made no sense, since there was only a blank wall there, no passage for wind to pass through.
Right in front of my eyes, the shadows on that rocky face seemed to deepen and become more full, giving the impression of a tunnel. A dark tunnel. With steady footsteps echoing down it, from somewhere on the other side.
Seeker, a voice seemed to hiss in my ear – though it could’ve been the wind. I had the sinking feeling that this – all of this – was very real. Seeeeeeeeeeker…
My heart hammered in my chest, but I couldn’t move away. There was something about this… something right. Like this was something that was supposed to happen, and I, for whatever reason, had to witness it. A huge gust of wind blew right in my face, and I had to raise my arms to shield my eyes from the dust that flew up. When I looked again, there was a shadowy figure slowly emerging from the shadows to step into the light of what moon was out.
My eyes felt like they were going to expand and take over my whole face.
He was tall, and gave off the impression of strength somehow without needing to be overly muscled. He walked slowly, but purposefully, eyes fixed on me without surprise. His face, or what I could see of it behind a thick curtain of bangs hanging over one side, was a virtual wall – expressionless. And his eyes… I couldn’t turn away from them; they held me in place securely as their owner stepped forward. The intensity in that steady gaze was enough to make me shiver.
As he got closer, I noticed two things. One, his eyes were the most brilliant dark green I’d ever seen, like something one would picture for a forest in a fairy-tale. And two, there was a wall behind him once again.
My breath caught sharply. "Who… are you?"
He stopped, directly in front of me, not relenting with the captivating gaze. "You can call me Trowa Barton." Even his voice was without expression in it.
"But…" I couldn’t seem to figure out which one of my questions I wanted answered first – must have been shock. "What… where… how…?"
The faintest ghost of a smile seemed to form on his lips. "I have something for you," he said, instead of answering my jumbled stuttering. One of his hands extended toward me, fingers opening to reveal a strangely-decorated gold key.
I was starting to make a few connections. A gold key. Like the note said… " ‘Gold at the stone on the mountain high’?" This was too weird…
Trowa nodded. "You know the prophecy."
I shook my head weakly. "Prophecy?"
"You just quoted a line from a prediction made several hundred years ago," he explained, watching me. "One dealing with seven particularly important keys."
"I… didn’t know it was a prophecy." I had absolutely no idea what was going on, but the only thing I could think of to do at the moment was act polite and go along with whatever happened. "I’ve never heard of it before."
"You just quoted it."
"It… It was on a note someone gave me in class." I shook my head, not sure if I was still in shock or if it was starting to wear off. I felt just slightly light-headed… "I don’t know about a prophecy."
"Then I’ll have to tell you." Trowa took up my hand and put the key into it firmly. "This is yours. There are six more, each with instructions on how to find it. It’s your job to find them."
"My job to find some keys?"
"They aren’t just ordinary keys."
I let that sink in for a moment. "I really don’t understand what’s going on, but I’ll play along." I sucked in a breath. "You’re saying I’m supposed to find some not-so-ordinary keys, because a prophecy said that’s what has to be done, right?"
"Why me? You don’t even know who I am."
"You’re a part of the prophecy as well," Trowa answered, still in that even tone. "You’re called the Seeker, and it describes you quite well. At the moment, there is a war going on where I come from. The prophecy is intended to end that war if it is followed exactly."
I frowned, and looked down at the gold key in my hand. "I just watched you walk through a wall," I said, managing some semblance of a smile, "so I’m going to have to assume that you know what you’re talking about – and that you don’t mean another country when you say ‘where I come from’. Where do you come from?"
"From a country called the Sanc Kingdom," he replied. "That’s enough for now. I’ll be staying here only until you’ve found the keys, and then we can go back."
I felt another sinking feeling around the vicinity of my stomach. "We?"
Another brief smile. "You’re needed, Seeker." Something in me responded to that name, and I knew that I’d end up going along with this, whether I liked the idea or not.
"Quatre," I corrected him, almost instinctively. "My name is Quatre Rebarba Winner. And I suppose, if you really do need me…" I let the sentence trail off and sighed. If I were watching someone else in this same position, I’d think they were crazy. "But how do I know I can trust you?"
Trowa shrugged. "You don’t."
I studied him for a moment, in silence. Why on earth, I had to wonder, was I so calm? It hadn’t even been five minutes since the wall of the cave I happened to be standing in turned into a tunnel, a mysterious stranger came strolling in, and I was told that I had to find some keys and go join a war in another world. Shouldn’t I be in deep shock, or at least babbling or something? That’s what one would normally expect from someone in my situation. And yet… This almost felt right, for some reason. Trowa felt right; I just had this insistent urge to trust him. I didn’t even know him, or anything about him, but every instinct told me to listen to what he was staying and go along with it.
His green eyes studied me right back, unblinking. I felt a shiver go down my spine, almost like a premonition. Not a bad one, though… Trowa Barton. A friend, I decided, and let my instincts tell me what to do.
I smiled. "My place is near the bottom of this hill." My eyes met his, and I think we almost understood each other perfectly right then. "I hope you don’t mind sleeping on the couch."
Trowa shook his head, and that small smile crept back onto his face. "That will be fine. Quatre."
I wasn’t quite sure why, but I liked the sound of my name on his lips. Quatre. Soft, almost sensual…
I led the way out of the cave.