You roll and draw the ruby-encrusted blade from the earth. Pulling it free is easy enough but just as the tip exits the ground, a whisper ruffles through the trees like the sound of a thousand birds taking flight at once. Gooseflesh ripples down your arm, right to your fingertips which you find wrapped tightly around the hilt of your new sword.
Wind whips through the mist and pushes it dangerously close before the curls of white gather into what looks like a pillar. No, not a pillar; through the ever-shifting cloud, you see the head and shoulders of a ghostly body.
Panic pumps through your veins like adrenaline’s skittish cousin.
The silhouette in front of you rises into the air, high over the canopy of trees, then plummets back toward the ground. Your heartbeat stops as the shape pushes through the clearing, greedy tendrils of fog reaching to consume you. At the last possible moment, the white vapour pierces the grassy mound of earth beside your boots instead of your heart.
There is a rumble, low and resonant, that vibrates through the ground. It shakes through the glen and into the forest like a monstrous bear waking from the sleep of deep winter. The grass beneath your feet begins to rip apart and large swaths of earth are cracked open, crumbling away like discarded egg shells. You back up. With no mist to trap you here, your courage flies from the open meadow and you follow it as quickly as your feet can carry you.
The sounds of roots ripping and earth groaning echo behind you but looking over your shoulder to see the horrors rising from the ground would only slow you down. At this point, your only hope is to stumble back through the forest and find the path. Giant spiders aside, you’re almost sure there is more safety on the marked road than in this haunted wood.
Clumsy in your adventuring gear, you trip over a root almost at the edge of the clearing. No, not trip, you are grabbed by your boot and yanked back toward the centre. Landing on the ground, you chin slams into the grass, the pain shivers its way through your jaw and into your skull. The taste of blood wets the back of your throat as you twist, trying to kick off whatever grabbed you.
Rolling onto your back, you wriggle like a fish on a hook.
“No!” you yell, tears streaking your grimy face, “No, no, no! I will not die. Not here, not like this!”
“That’s when the sword began to glow, red hot as a forge. I angled the blade and with a mighty arc through the air, cut through the vicious plant in one powerful blow,” you elaborate, helping yourself to another swig of mediocre, slightly warm ale.
“I stood and saw what had been born of the central mound, a hulking behemoth of roots and rotted wood. I found myself face to face with an undead forest spirit of some design! As it would have been, the stone from which I pulled my sword was not just an ominous marker but a tombstone.”
“Well, I hadn’t come all this way for nothing, so I squared my shoulders and thought that if it would not let me leave the forest in peace, that I would cut it down, once and for all.”
“And that I did. You don’t believe me? I have the sword to prove it but go and see it for yourself. Be my guest, I guarantee you won’t get past the spiders, so it’s my word against yours, now isn’t it?”