A Journey

The road upon which you walk comes up against another road, which runs perpendicular to it. You could say the road has ended, or you could say that it has split, compelling you to walk one of two ways.

To the left, further down the road, is a dense forest.

To the right, in the distance, a city rises above the hills.

Which way do you wish to go?

⯇: Toward the forest.

⯈: Toward the city.

▼: Back the way you came.

The road to the forest is long, but fairly straight, with only only slight curves which serve more to accentuate the beauty of the countryside, rather than giving you the feeling that your journey has been elongated. The sun rises as you walk, a burning ember hovering high in the sky.

From outside, the orange-yellow light of the sun lights the leaves of the forest, a mix of deciduous and evergreen trees all mingled together. The glow gives it a warm, pleasant aura which draws you closer. You feel you can almost smell the sunlight.

At the edge of the forest, you realize that the boughs of the trees grow dense and close together, weaving amongst each other as though conspiring to block out all light. Within the forest, though the road continues through it, all is dark beneath the leaves.

Which way do you wish to go?

⯈: Back, toward the city.

⯇⬤: Through the forest.

⯇⬟: Around the forest.

The path toward the city travels through farmland, where it turns often at hard angles, in a way which makes it feel like the one who planned it made it intentionally more difficult to traverse. The city draws closer, with time, but there are periods along the way that it sees to hover, frozen, at the same distance.

Night has fallen by the time you reach the city’s borders, but the city has a luminescence of its own, streaming from innumerable lights along the streets and within the buildings.

Brightest of all is the city’s gate, which is set into a wall that surrounds the entire city. It is a low wall, and from the distance, you could not even see it. It seems to exist purely to make a statement — “we don’t want you here” — for it appears that someone determined enough could easily climb it.

What do you wish to do?

⯇: Turn back and head to the forest.

⯈⬤: Knock at the gate.

⯈⬟: Climb over the wall.

⯇⬤

The smell of wood and earth and fallen leaves is strong within the forest. Though it seemed dark from outside, once you are within, you can see the light. It streams in ribbons down through the canopy, thin, yet strong. They create glowing pools upon the forest floor, where some of them pierce all the way through the limbs and the undergrowth to reach the mossy ground.

In the center of the forest, off of the path yet clearly visible from it, stands a stone. It radiates the strength of something very old, which has borne witness to the passage of centuries. Even the trees stand back from it as though intimidated by its experiences.

The light falls upon the stone, stronger here than anywhere else within the forest. Its brightness, in the dark shadow of the forest, seems to rival the sun itself.

What do you wish to do?

⯇⬤⬢: Leave the path to sit upon the stone.

⯇⬤■: Leave the stone, and follow the path.

⯈⬤

Your knuckles rap against the unpleasant surface of the gate, which is built of rough wood held together by crooked bands of iron. You knock once to no avail. The second time you knock, you cut your finger on a jagged piece of wood. You take a stone from the ground nearby to knock a third time, and this time, the sound echoes through the night.

The gate unlocks with a metallic clank. You find that, if you press against the gate with your hand, it opens easily despite its size and weight. You see nobody within who might have unlocked the gate.

There is a street which runs around the edge of the city next to the wall. Though it is as well-illumined as the rest of the city, it is devoid of people. Another street presses forward into the city, heading straight out from the door. There, the lights glow in a mix of warm colors, and you can see the movement of people.

Which way would you like to go?

⯈⬤⬢: Around the outside of the city.

⯈⬤■: Toward the glow of the city center.

⯇⬟

There is no foot-trodden path that leads around the forest, no road carved through the wild grass and flowers which surround the tall, powerful trees. You must make your own way, using that which you have avoided as your only guide.
The grasses grow high and close, clumping between your feet and making each step unsteady. Some, though not all, are sharp, enough so that they cut your exposed skin in places. The smell of the wildflowers, though pleasant, is not often enough to offset the pain.

A third of the way around the forest, you realize that you may have chosen the more difficult path. What do you wish to do?

⯇⬟■: Continue along your chosen path, avoiding the forest.

⯇⬟⬤: Turn around, and head back toward the forest path.

⯈⬟

Though the top edge of the wall is only just out of reach of your hands, if you stretch them high over your head, you find that is is not as easy to scale as you had previously imagined. The stones are slick, yielding, at best, a tenuous grasp.

You make a first attempt, and realize that, wearing your shoes, you have no hope to ascend. You remove them. Your toes find better purchase, though the stone brings an aching chill to them and to your fingers. Only a few feet into the climb, the muscles in your hand and feet begin to ache as well, and to cramp into twisted knots.

The discomfort gives you the illusion that the wall has expanded upward as you climb. After what seems like impossibly long climb, you reach the top. When you look down, the illusion of increased height is magnified. The ground below you is distant and unyielding.

You straddle the wall, one leg on either side. Its thickness brings you a temporary sense of security. To your dismay, the inside of the wall is as slick and smooth as glass. There is no chance of climbing down it. What do you wish to do?

⯈⬟⬢: Jump down onto the city street.

⯈⬟■: Climb back down the exterior wall.

⯇⬤⬢

The stone is warm beneath you, and curiously comfortable, despite its hardness. It has the ease of something that has borns centuries worth of weight, and the familiarity of something you have sat on before, and upon which hundreds if not thousands of others have rested their bodies and their minds.

You have discovered a place of peace and rest, and you realize that, before you’ve even had time to consider a decision, your journey has come to an end.

⯈⬤⬢

The city wall wraps tight around the buildings, making the outer road seem narrow and, though the night is warm, cold. The lamps that hang over the street give out a white light that competes with that of the moon and stars, drowning them out and giving you a sense of isolation.

As you walk on, the cobbles beneath your feet seem to leech the warmth from your body. The night air, cooling now past what you would have believed possible only a short time before, works its way into your body.

You rub your hands together in an attempt to warm them, for you have no gloves to wear, and your clothes are unsuited to cool weather. Then you rub your eyes, fearing that your vision has deceived you, for the street, always narrow, has grown thinner yet around you.

The wall has crept closer and closer, until it presses against your shoulder on one side, with the side of a house, built of rounded stones, pressed against the other. Both are colder yet than the night air, and they leech all warmth from your body, leaving only a longing somnolence.

Your muscles go slack. You fall into something like slumber. You have reach an end to your journey.

⯈⬟⬢

You bring both legs to one side of the wall, facing the lights of the city and the buildings which are crowded together within its limits. You take a deep breath, inhaling the scents of that city for the first time: dirt, sewage, mold, mortar, urine, and — faintly, and nearly obscured entirely by the other smells — spices, and fresh baked bread, and something frying in oil.

A sense of vertigo swirls through your head when you look down, but you know that the drop is not that far, because you could almost, almost reach the top of the wall when standing at its base. You have jumped further than this before, when you were a child, and even after.

You do not jump so much as you relinquish your grip upon the wall, sliding off of it. You are ready to bed your knees when you strike the ground, to send some of the force of the impact away, but in the dark the ground comes sooner than you expect. There is a jolt as your knees, rather than bending, instead lock and then give way, bending backward, broken. Each warps back and out in kinship with the other.

With nothing to support you, your torso falls forward, and your hands meet the ground at an angle that does not lend itself to strength. They, too, give way. Your head rushes forth to meet the paving stones of the road. It strikes with surprisingly little pain, considering the searing pain of your knees and wrists and elbows.

Something like slumber overtakes you, alongside the realization that your journey has met an end.

⯇⬤■

The path pierces straight through the forest, moving straighter than it did through the fields without, as though it has somewhere to be, and has no time to waste taking its business elsewhere. Nowhere else in these woods does the light come down quite as thoroughly as it did at the stone, though it still dapples the ground with its energy in a few forgotten places.

Yet, despite the sense of urgency inspired by the path’s directness, you find that, on the other end of the forest, it fades away, becoming one with the rolling hills that spread out before it. The hills are pleasant, yet blank and devoid of features. There is nowhere left to go from here. Your journey has come to an end.

⯈⬤■

The further you travel into the city, the more people crowd the streets. Though the moon has risen high in the sky and the night air has taken on a chill, the breath and the body heat of those gathered brings you warmth.

Lanterns in a myriad of colors hand on ropes strung across the city’s center, a wide, circular park where vendors have set up stalls selling every sort of food and trinket imaginable. The moon is full, and, though it hangs high above, it seems to pull upon those gathered, bringing them closer both to it and to each other. The colors of the city reach up to it in turn, splash its face like watercolor across silvery-white paper.

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The joy of the festival enters you with every breath you take, and though energy fills the air, you feel a sense of peace and contentment. The people, with their smiles and good humor, draw you in. Here, you have found an end to your journey.

⯇⬟■

Each step you take grows more difficult. The grass becomes no sharper, but every time it cuts you, your old wounds burn anew as though reopened. Your flesh transforms into a lattice of red wounds, crossing over one another, with the fresher ones shining brighter than the older, and none of them able to heal.

The footing becomes no more difficult, but your ankles grow weak and weary. You fall more than once as they roll beneath you on loose stones and heads of grass. Each fall brings a new bruise, and new cuts from the sharp grasses.

Eventually, you reach the other side of the forest. You know this only because you see the path once more, where it ends at the edge of the forest; by this time, you’ve lost all track of time and distance, distracted as you are by the pain and frustration of your wounds.

The path does not continue on, however. It ends at the forest’s edge. An expanse of tall grasses, like those through which you have just forced your way, extends out in front of you, with nowhere in sight toward which you can set a goal.

You slump to the ground, tired and defeated. Your journey has come to an end.

⯈⬟■

You bring both legs to one side of the wall, facing out away from the city, filling your field of view with the farmland and the bending road which you took to get here. You have conceived of this as the safer, easier option, but as you lower yourself down, hands gripping the wall in fear that you’ll fall, you question whether your assessment was correct.

The cramps in your hands and feet had no time to vanish, and they scream at you anew as you descend. You do not climb down so much as you slide, occasionally grasping, fleetingly, at a stone just enough to slow your fall.

You find yourself back upon the ground, next to the entrance to the city. What do you wish to do?

▲: Head away from the city, to the forest.

⯈⬤: Knock at the gate.

⯇⬟⬤

The trials of each step you take are familiar, since you’ve trodden them all once before. On the way back toward the path that leads into the forest, you know where to step to avoid areas of rough footing. The grass still cuts at your skin, but you avoid the worst of it.

Once you’ve returned to the path, and the entrance of the forest, you realize you have two choices.

⯈: Head back, toward the city.

▲⬤: Pass through the forest along the path.

There is nothing left behind you. In the wake of your passage, it has faded away into nothingness. This is both a result of you having left it, and the reason you left it behind. You have no choice but to press onward to a new destination.
⯇: Go toward the forest.

⯈: Go toward the city.

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