In Search of Fate
Chapter 1: The Monastery
Even at near midday, his pupils needed time to dilate from the lack of light. His sense of direction was guided by the obvious distinction of up from down. He was climbing now. Even if he was unable to retrace his steps, he could steer himself downwards. In due course he would either encounter the Monastery or intersect the road leading up to the Monastery somewhere in its winding path around the mountain. Recklessly, he pushed forward through the underbrush. The overhanging canopy not only shielded him from the light; it also provided cover for the dark premonitions that crawled below the surface of his consciousness. What he was about to encounter could be more than he was prepared to handle. Ralph never did things halfway. Obviously, he had Questor followed; he likely still had somebody watching and perhaps waiting. Questor had no idea what mission might be given to a potential tracker or what would happen if he was unexpectedly encountered in this forest. He only knew that he had rather confront him than not. It would be better to meet his suspicions in the flesh than allow them to haunt him indefinitely. Blindly, he pushed forward and upwards, generally in the direction from which he thought he saw the flash.
After about half an hour, he admitted to himself his mistake in taking on this venture without a plan. He was more than just lost in an unfamiliar environment. His very mind was in chaos. Should he trust his suspicions or any of the actions he had taken in the last two days? John’s death began to play in his mind. Images of John fitting his coffin lid and then doping himself with a hypodermic needle paralyzed Questor. He fell to the ground and started to cry. Slowly, he rolled onto his back and let his eyes fix on the flickering light seeping through the ceiling of leaves. Their mild wavering in the passing breeze seemed to promise a brief exposure to sunlight. But the promise was unfulfilled. The covering canopy was too thick and unyielding. Questor felt himself sinking into a kind of oblivion. He knew he was not capable of following John’s chosen path? Would he ever be that sure of a course of action that even the surety of his own death would not stand in the way?
A face suddenly appeared in his line of vision. Somebody was bending over him. Questor jumped to his feet. He felt the heat of blood rushing to his head and adrenaline energizing every nerve in his body. When his mind finally caught up with his animal reactions, he found himself facing a strange apparition. Those eyes he could not fail to recognize. They had fixed him yesterday morning in front of the chapel. What had otherwise left only a hazy impression the previous day was now the very corporeal presence of a man of the mountains. He was wearing a monk’s habit, but it was ragged and dirty. His face was almost indistinguishable within the unruly beard that enclosed it. Only his eyes demanded someone’s attention. They seemed grounded in eternity.
“You are Adam Questor, I presume? Are you lost?”
Questor stumbled for words. He was shocked by the hermit’s manner of speech as much as he was mystified by his seeming apparition. “Yes, I suppose I am . . . lost, I mean. That fact is easily presumed, but how could you possibly know who I am?”
“I overheard your name in a conversation, and I know something about why you’re here.”