Cassandra began her hike up Acre Hill the second day after the rain stopped. The ground was still muddy and she slipped down the path more than once, but she was making good progress up, resting each day at noon when it was too hot to climb.
She arrived at the cave’s entrance on the third day of her journey, when the afternoon was slowly turning into evening. She set up her bed roll and built a fire nearby, and collected enough wood to keep it burning for several hours. Then she studied the cave’s entrance.
The day was still light, but the light didn’t make it past the cave’s mouth. No light ever did. Travellers would tell stories of fire being extinguished inside, of groping around for days before finding their way out.
It was marked on maps as the Cave of Knowledge, but to those nearby it was simply called the cave. A spirit was known to live inside who would gift humans certain abilities or knowledge in exchange for offerings.
Not everyone visited it, and those who had were not always happy with what they had asked for, but Cassandra thought it would be her best shot for what she wanted.
Her roll unfurled and her fire lit, Cassandra pulled out three balls of her grandmother’s yarn and tied the end of one to a bush near the cave. Then, taking a deep breath to steady herself, walked into the cave, letting the wool unravel behind her.
The darkness inside pressed against her eyes, covering her like a second cloak. She walked and she walked, time and distance becoming meaningless in the all-encompassing darkness, but it was when she was nearing the end of her third ball that she heard the voice.
“And what,” said the voice, its whisper surrounding her like a cobweb, “have you come to offer me?”
Cassandra trembled, and fought to keep her voice steady as she answered. “I offer you my name.”
“And which name would that be?” asked the voice. “You go by several names.”
“The name given to me by my parents,” Cassandra replied.
“And what do you ask for in return?”
“That you will come to me in a time of need.”
There was an inaudible whisper at the edge of Cassandra’s hearing; was the spirit thinking the trade over? Then she felt a wind stir around her, softly at first but quickly growing stronger, tugging at her clothes, her hair, pulling the warmth from her skin, faster, faster, before dropping as quick as it had started. She slumped against the wall dizzy and disorientated, feeling as though there was something missing, a gap in her mind.
She felt something drop into the pocket of her cloak. “Take this,” said the voice. “You may use it once if you have need of me.”
The only sounds left was the occasional drip of water and her own breathing. Turning, Cassandra slowly made her way out of the cave, using the yarn as her guide.
Upon exiting the cave, she studied the object in her pocket. It was a glass ornament, small and delicate, and filled with a swirling mist. Cassandra carefully stowed it away in her bag before settling down in her roll. The ornament might prove useful, or it might not, and though she was glad to have it, it wasn’t the reason for her journey.
She stared up at the darkening sky and thought about her future with a smile. With her birth name now gone, her family would have no choice but to call her Cassandra.