No one had been here for hundreds of years. The narrow mountain road that had once wound its way up to the top of the peak now had wide and unstable gaps. He had taken the path as far as he could, but to get to the entrance of the ancient castle, the only way up was a grueling climb. The doorway he was trying to reach was still some distance upward, and he’d barely made it to the ledge he was on. His muscles were weak, and he was cold and incredibly hungry. The final leg of his climb would have to wait for morning.
He had no idea what would be waiting for him inside the structure once he got to it. The people who had once lived here were mysterious and reclusive. Rumors swirled about the strange powers and abilities they were said to have possessed. The greatest mystery was what had become of them. What would he find once he made his way inside? And could he manage to get the answers he sought without sharing their fate?
He had an uneasy night. Despite the fact that no one could have followed his from below without making a terrific racket in the dark, and that the path ahead seemed even more treacherous, he could not get past the sensation that he was being watched.
When morning dawned, he was bone weary having not managed more than two hours sleep in the night. But the castle lay before him, and it would take most of the day to make the gate. He did not want to spend another night outside the walls!
The first hour was a torturous climb using what ever hand holds he could manage. The next three were even more difficult as there were few places to grip or to affix rope. But by three in the afternoon, bloody fingered and with bruised knees, he stood before a wicket gate.
Bronze, he mused. The main gates were a milky green, and yet the wicket still held some vestiges of a copper sheen. Were they some other material? Or have they been maintained and used more recently than the others? He inwardly hoped for the former, though he feared the latter.
There was a large ring on the wicket, which he attempted to turn. It twisted just a little too easily, and there was a metallic click as the mechanism engaged, and he could feel the door release pressure. He pushed gently and it began to open inwards.
He stepped into a paved passageway. Above him he could see corroded bronze hatches which were intended to pour death down upon any would be invaders. They did not open, however, and he cautiously exited the passageway into a paved courtyard.
He stopped suddenly. The stones. What is it about the stones? then it occurred to him. Most all of the courtyard had a thick covering of moss and lichen. But there were two distinct pathways in which the stonework was bare apparently from recent wear.
He stepped onto the clear path on his left, and as nonchalantly as possible loosened his dagger in its sheath. He proceeded along the path and stopped again before his progress would expose him to a window which overlooked the worn trail. It slowly drew his dagger and stooped down to slowly duck walk under the aperture, so that he might not be observed by anyone who might be within.
Just as he began to stand again on the far side, he heard a clear voice from a rampart overhead.
“That was a very clever move, I ‘m impressed,” a man of about sixty observed. “I am glad you’ve come, and I am even happier you have a dagger. My tin opener broke last August, and I waste so much food trying to crack cans open with rocks. I am Owen, buy the way, are you hungry? If you lend me your dagger we can have hash. The warehouses her are still full of stuff. Yes, its a century or more old, but really quite tasty.”
The adventurer just stood in amazement.
“Oh don’t worry, the ‘Old Ones,’ abandoned the castle after an earthquake collapsed the road,” the old man said. My great great grandparents, grandparents, or something like that were left behind to care for the place until the others return. Seems they’re a little late.”