I looked down and shivered, breathing into my palms. I could see my breath as I brought them close, rubbing my hands furiously to warm myself up.You wander through the woods and find an overgrown ruin that feels truly ancient and mystical. A crystal sits on a mossy pedestal, softly glowing with an inner light. What do you do?
The sun was still low on the horizon as heavy mist crawled across the forest floor, shadowed by tall trees that dimmed everything below with unending twilight. The autumn air smelt like rain and damp leaves.
"Off the beaten path they said."
I reached down, moving leaves and debris as I searched.
"You'll see, they said."
I found what I was looking for, covered in green moss and dirt from the fall. A groan of disappointment after wiping away the moss from the worn wood frame revealed two new scratches.
"See what? The only thing here is forest. Forest forest forest, and more forest. I've been wandering for hours."
I shook my head, turning to look back. Dim forest.
"Off the beaten path. I can't get back? Why?"
I grasped the instrument, my fingers instinctively on the strings. I started again through the mist.
"I'm lost. I see no footpath. I can't backtrack. It's all moss. That's why."
One foot, step, other foot, step. One in front the other, damp leaves smushing against snug boots. The pattern being rhythm for soft, slow notes that echoed through the forest. My mind was blank as I strung, absorbed completely in the forest and surroundings.
I walked in an unfocused daze. It was hard to tell the time, the tall trees made it hard to see the sky.
The rhythm stopped.
I looked around again.
"That can't be right."
My hands tightened, old wood creaking slightly as my eyes darted around. I mentally cursed myself for not realizing hours earlier. The morning mist was up to my ankles.
Thin streaks of sunlight darted passed the forest roof, steeply angled. I examined closer with unease, looking up at the tiny gaps on the forest canopy that rays streamed through and back down again. I didn't need my survivalist training to tell me the obvious.
"It's still morning. It should be noon by now."
I surveyed my surroundings again with a new since of anxiety. It was all the same. The mist and dense trees blocked seeing a meaningful distance. Chirps and chitters echoed from far unknown, echoed and muffled. The air was still crisp and cold. The trees were impossible to climb, no reachable branches and canopy too high. I knew I had to do something.
My feet started moving, the rhythm slow and cautious.
"Need to keep moving."
Notes played, echoed like the birdsong above. My feet echoed, my breathing echoed. Everything echoed, reverberating like an empty music hall. The forest was empty. Nothing changed. I could hear the wildlife chirping, but not once have I seen a single animal.
"Tree. Trees. Trees trees trees. All you see are trees. 'Off the beaten path and you'll see?' Well this is what I see."
The forest was empty. Nothing changed. My feet were aching. How long has it been? Since I tripped, nothing was right.
"How long ago was that?"
I looked at the light. The sun was still.
"I don't know."
I continued. Strumming. Strumming. Strumming. The tune was directionless, echoing off the trees, the only thing keeping me company, the only thing changing. Strumming. Strumming. Strumming. I could feel my mind go blank. I had to stop. I rubbed my eyes.
"Moving... I need... -to keep moving."
The tune played. It continued with unknown rhythm, echoing through the forest.
I froze. I stared at my hand, the hand still inches from my eyes and away from the lute.
The music played. Soft strings that echoed. A mystical tune that went nowhere. A tune not from me.
I sprang around, looking frantically for the source. There was none. It echoed all around me. Quiet, distant, but there. Something different.
"Hey! Hey anyone there?! Answer me!"
The trees were the only response, reflecting my voice back.
"Please!" I tried again. "Someone help me! I can't get back!"
Again, the trees. The music continued to play. I turned, twisting around as I searched. I began running.
I tripped. My head whipped back as my body continued forward, smashing into mud. I groaned in pain as I regained my senses, putting my hands and knees beneath me as I rose. I looked down at what tripped me.
It was a slab. A flat, rock slab. I blinked in surprise.
Looking up, I saw more. Columns surrounded me, half crumbled with age. Near me the ground was paved with more slabs that led somewhere.
I got up, checking my lute again for damage. It was covered in mud that was quickly wiped away; a sharp breath stopped me as I stared in shock. The two scratches from before, gone.
My mouth felt dry.
"No, no that can't be right." I checked again, brining the instrument close as I examined. The wood was perfect.
"What the..." I looked up, surveying my surroundings. I was standing in the middle of a circle of columns, the path of slabs lead somewhere I couldn't see from my position. I decided to follow.
The path was flanked by more columns, all varying states of decay.
"Where the hell am I? Is this what they meant?"
I continued, still not able to see more than a dozen feet in front. The path was windy, twisting around ancient trees more vibrant than the dead columns, which themselves had moss growing all over.
After a minute I reached the end. I looked up at where the path led me, a large construct of stone three stories tall. There were carvings in the stone, deep geometric etchings that moss grew in like green ink.
I went up the stairs or ramp, it was so worn I couldn't tell what it used to be. My hand traced the carving as I walked, looking around the ancient structure.
That's when I saw it. In the middle of the room was a... crystal of some kind. It was levitating above a carved podium, slowly twisting. A dim light emanated from it like sunlight. I was dazed by its beauty.
Slowly I got closer, checking for traps, secret switches, anything like I'd heard in stories of ancient temples. There was none. I approached the crystal, stepping over a small incline.
That's when I heard it. The crystal was vibrating and making sound. It was music, my music.
Slowly, carefully, I lifted a gloved finger.
I touched it.
Everything slowed. I flinched away from the crystal, it's light brighter than before. I felt suddenly hot like with fever. Outside the temple, light flicked. On and off, on and off. It took me a second to realize what it was. It was the day night cycle. Trees turned orange, then the leaves fell. I felt chill as snow began to fall, only to melt seconds later. The trees grew their leaves back, turning bright green. Rain poured, the temperature rose. The process repeated. Realizing my mistake, I raced towards the crystal, reaching out in a vain attempt to make it stop. My hand slowed the closer it got, pushing harder and harder like swimming through tar, only to stop mere millimeters from the crystal. I screamed.
Then, like a rubberband, I was snapped back against the wall.
I awoke with a massive headache and my face in the mud. My vision was fussy as I got up, my memory coming back in bits and pieces. I was crouched in a clearing, my foot caught in a tree root. I quickly unstuck myself and got up, fearing what I remembered.
The morning fog permeated the forest floor. The air was crisp and chill, slightly damp with forest mildew. I glanced down were I fell, and saw something a few feet away. I stepped over to it.
It was a trail.