Drawing your weapon once more, your feet fall on the long-forgotten path. Edging deeper into the indomitable forest, you settle into an uneasy pace. The deafening quiet wraps around you like a wet blanket as the sun fades lower into the trees.
A twig snaps beneath your boot, sending your heart plummeting through your gut. You scream like a snared rabbit, jumping back, sword ready. As your pulse returns to normal, a nervous laugh bubbles up from the back of your throat. You shake your head, chuckling, ever thankful that no one is present to witness your blunders. How would you be able to convince the locals back home of your daring and strength after a display like that?
Sheathing your sword, you continue your walk, just as a swirl of wind whips through the surrounding trees. Laughter bounces around you like a playful child. Not the echo of your own laugh but the laughter of someone, something, else.
Your feet are moving before the rest of your body has time to react. Crashing through the trees, you try to escape the ethereal giggling. Branches scrape your face and “ting” against your armour. First, giant spiders, now this?
You break through the wall of trees and stumble into an open glade. Soft grass, tinted blue by the moonlight, cushions your footfalls. Whipping around you draw your sword, pointing the blade at the dark forest surrounding the meadow but nothing emerges behind you. No person, no monster, not even a tiny giggle. The silence has returned, and all you can hear is the blood rushing through your own eardrums in time with your frantic heart.
You don’t notice it right away, you’re too busy taking deep, gulping breathes of cool night air, but low mist begins to drift in from the forest, licking up the grass as it surrounds the edge of the meadow. It creeps along the ground, and by the time you take note, the mist is only a few feet away. Instinctively, you step back, but the same curiosity that brought you here in the first place takes root.
Inching closer, you lower your sword toward the ground, intending to cut through the mist with the blade. As the phantom breath swallows the tip of your weapon, there’s a metallic whine. You pull your sword up, taking several steps back at the same time, to find the blade grotesquely rusted.
This is no ordinary mist.
Adrenaline courses through you like fire in your veins. You twist around, scanning the clearing for a way out but the mist has crept in from the forest on all sides, creating a perfect circle around the glade.
That’s when a twinkle catches your eye. Toward the centre of the meadow, you see the glinting hilt of a sword sticking out of a grassy knoll. The way it shimmers in the moonlight, you know it must be a magic sword because everyone knows that’s how magic works. You run toward it, eyes fixed on the prize. Are those rubies encrusting the hilt? Maybe your luck is about to change.
Then, you promptly take a nose dive, tripping over some unseen roadblock. Rolling over to take stock of what caused you to fall you see an ancient stone placed at what could only be the centre of the clearing. Covered in vines and grass, it blends in with the terrain.
Taking a closer look reveals that the stone has words carved deep into its face.
With gauntlet laden fingers you rip away at the overgrowth and read a cryptic warning:
The wine is sweet, the paying bitter.
What do you do?
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