Have you ever tried one of those choose your own adventure books and been disappointed at how, no matter how clever you think you are, there isn’t really a way to figure out how to get to the ‘good’ ending? It just seems like a long process of elimination, tallying up the grueling deaths (or otherwise unpleasant endings) until you happen to hit the one good path. Do you remember the times when, despite thinking you chose a reasonable course of action, the character you’re controlling interprets your request in a completely arbitrary manner? I have a solution:
Choose Your Own Fantasy: Transparent Edition
Click on the links to hop around the page, and backspace to go back (if you want to do that kind of thing). Or just scroll, it’s really up to you.
You gain consciousness in the middle of a clearing. After ascertaining that you are indeed yourself, you look around and see that you are at a crossroads. There are signs labeling paths to the north, south, east and west, although nothing really sets one apart from the others.
What were you doing here in the first place? You think back and the last thing you remember is a desire to do something different. Maybe go on an adventure? Well, it looks like you might be able to find one here.
The question is which path are you going to take?
You take the northern road. It probably leads to some sort of helpful wizard. (2)
You go south, knowing you can bring reform to the country of the tyrant king. (9)
You walk resolutely east, beginning your dramatic quest for the ultimate sword. (20)
You casually meander over to the western mountains, deciding it’s time to mine for gold. (36)
You hear an eldritch song and follow it whimsically through dense foliage. (46)
The northern road is long and winding, but soon signs start appearing on the roadside, indicating the way to the wizard. Thinking this is a great stroke of luck, you follow them for a few hours until you find a little hut in the middle of an herb garden. Breathing a sigh of relief (and perhaps exhaustion, if you’re not used to walking), you knock on the door.
The sound of clanking pots and pans fills the hut and soon the door opens, revealing a tall, thin man wearing robes. And a pointy hat. He would be the perfect image of a wizard if his beard weren’t lime-green, or he didn’t have eyes that darted around like those of a chameleon. You decide to be polite anyway, he was probably an important wizard.
‘Aaaaaah you have come, Person of Destiny! I have been awaiting your arrival! But first, you must tell me… Do you have the Magical Bracelet of Resounding Victory?’
If you possess this BRACELET, you pull it out of your pocket. I’m not sure how you possess it, given that you’ve never been given one. (4)
You have no idea what this BRACELET is and would rather be honest, to your own detriment. (3)
‘NOOO!’ the green-bearded wizard cries, spraying you with spit, which you notice is tinged with green.
‘No! There is no more time. We… We have failed. All these years, all this preparation… You have been chosen by the gods! Did you not hear me call you the Person of Destiny? Were you not consumed by the desire to be adventurous when you entered this realm? Do you not remember the message the Elders’ Council sent you, on the eve of your tenth birthday, when you came of age? You saw yourself finding the Magical Bracelet of Resounding Victory, which only you could hold. Only you, with your pure heart!’
The wizard stops to recover his breath. You try to break eye contact, but he’s determined to stare you down.
‘I see. I’m sorry, my child, it wasn’t your fault, it was ours. It seems this destiny was not intended for you. You could not have carried out the deeds necessary to slay Th’Ahdur-agh’on. Alas, alas… But how, such a mistake?’
The wizard continues muttering to himself, sometimes more maniacally that you would hope. You eventually sit down, bored of his antics, not feeling the least bit adventurous anymore.
Instead, you dream of what you could have done differently… (1)
‘Of course I have the Magical Bracelet of Resounding Victory!’ you say, somehow producing it out of your pocket.
‘Aaaaaah the Magical Bracelet of Resounding Victory. Let me see…’ the wizard takes the bracelet from you, inspecting it carefully with a small magnifying glass. ‘Yes, this is it. Come inside, Child of Destiny. We have much to discuss.’
And much you discuss, over a warm, relaxing cup of tea. The wizard explains that you are pure of heart and have an adventurous spirit, so you were sent a vision of where this bracelet might be; this must be what allowed you to pull it out of your pocket. Whether this explanation makes sense given who you are or not, you are probably enjoying the attention. The wizard continues his speech while you help yourself to some biscuits.
‘And you shall use the Magical Bracelet of Resounding Victory to score a Resounding Victory against Th’Ahdur-agh’on,’ he says while nodding matter-of-factly, so vigorously that his hat almost falls off.
You picture this Th’Ahdur-agh’on in your mind…
It is, of course, a dragon. You cry inside at the lack of originality. (5)
It could be some sort of evil elf. With a green beard? (6)
It could be a defenseless unicorn, for all you know. That would be an easy, but hollow, victory. (7)
To prove the point, the wizard brings out a tattered old leather book and shows you a picture of this Th’Ahdur-agh’on. It’s every bit as scaly and fire-breathing as you had imagined. Or perhaps more so.
‘Alright, let’s get this over with,’ you say as you get up and don the Bracelet, ready to face this dragon. The wizard insists that while the bracelet is all you need, you could be better prepared, and hands you some mythical chainmail, a sword and scabbard and a feathery hat. You wear all of the above, possibly a bit reluctantly, and set out with the wizard (who finally tells you his name).
You soon arrive at a clearing, where you can see a black dragon nesting on a large pile of gold. Almost as if predestined to do so, you and the dragon have an amazingly choreographed fight where you get to show off skills you never knew you had, and you possibly will not remember ever again.
Less than five minutes later, the dragon lies in a heap, next to his pile of coins. The wizard casts a spell to return the coins to their original place, the Kingdom of Pross’pher-ty. Which you now, incidentally, rule.
‘Yes, Th’Ahdur-agh’on, my evil elven twin brother,’ the wizard says sadly, covering his face in a theatrical gesture. You look at him again, noticing a distinct lack of pointy ears. ‘Ahem. My half-brother. Anyway, he has taken over the throne of Pross’pher-ty through a combination of bribes, extortions and common sense. He is a menace to all the good people of this land, and must be eliminated.’
‘Here,’ he continues, giving you no time to react, ‘use the bracelet against him. And this emblem will be useful in getting into the castle.’ You put on the bracelet and look at the emblem, wrought in the image of a green leaf. You can tell the wizard wants you to ask him why he has such an emblem, but you decide it’s quicker not to.
‘Now go, Child of Destiny. Do not ask any questions. You will know what to do when the time comes.’
That is, indeed, the case. Before you know it, the deed is done. (8)
The wizard points out of his hut window. You see a small silver unicorn prancing around some lavender bushes. You look back at the wizard, who somberly nods and hands you back the Bracelet, along with a black dagger.
At this point you might hesitate, thinking that there’s some kind of innate purity to such creatures, and it might be better not to rid the world of one.
If you ask the wizard about it, he’ll say one of three things randomly:
-That Th’Ahdur-agh’on is merely taking on the form of a unicorn (which would be a lie).
-That Th’Ahdur-agh’on may be a unicorn, but its powers make it a menace to all living creatures in the land (which is also a lie).
-That Th’Ahdur-agh’on wishes to be slain, and you are doing it a service (even more lies).
What he doesn’t tell you is that he’s tired of Th’Ahdur-agh’on eating his basil and rosemary, but killing such a pure creature will cast a curse on the soul of the murderer. Of course, you don’t know this, so you proceed to the garden.
With Th’Ahdur-agh’on slain, a great feast was held in your honor. You sit on your new throne as the servants rush back and forth, asking you if your Highness would like more mead, or perhaps another wild boar. As the drinking and merriment continue, emissaries from other lands extend their thanks, congratulations and assorted gifts. The wizard, now your official Court Wizard, sits next to you, telling all who will listen about the brave deeds you have carried out.
The night disappears in a blur, as you sit on your throne and eat to your heart’s content, receiving praise and jewels in equal parts.
Although, a small part of you thinks that this was too easy. You wonder what things might have been like if you had chosen to do something else. (1)
Following the southern road, you soon reach the borders of Core’apt. They appear to have guards checking the documentation of everyone who wants to enter their land. You check your pockets on the off-chance you might have appeared here with the appropriate papers, but you are not so lucky.
You spend a few minutes watching the guard house. There are only two guards on duty at the moment; they don’t look particularly experienced or well-armed. You could probably pretend to be a harmless tourist for long enough to get within reach of their weapons and incapacitate them.
Alternatively, you could find a way around. It’s not like the surrounding area is walled off, there’s only a fence blocking your way.
You decide to knock out the guards. There’s no need to take roundabout methods. (10)
You leave the guards alone and start walking around. (11)
As you approach the guard house, you are stopped and asked for your papers. The two men on duty have a little badge pinned on their armor, declaring the taller one to be A. Guardsson and the shorter one A. Guardsson’s aide.
Before they have time to react, you grab a nearby spear and spin it cinematically, catching the back of both of their heads, knocking them unconscious. An urge to rifle through their pockets overtakes you and you soon find yourself the owner of ten gold coins of an unknown denomination, as well as a small gem you gauge to be worth twelve more coins. You’re not quite sure how you know this, but don’t question it.
With the money secure in your pocket, you take the spear with you and walk out into Core’apt. The king’s castle is immediately visible; it will probably only take you a few hours to get there.
You obtain a SPEAR!
Walk resolutely to the castle. (12)
After walking for a few minutes you come across a gap in the already hole-ridden fence, large enough for you to cross without a problem. You think the guards probably know about it and don’t repair it – the fewer people going through the checkpoint, the less work they have to do. In that case, you’re doing them a favor.
As you cross the fence, you notice a few spare guard uniforms. You get an irresistible urge to try one on, replacing your standard traveler’s fare with some comfortable leather armor, dyed red just like a nearby flag of Core’apt. It’s as if you were born to wear this particular set of armor.
You obtain a UNIFORM!
You make your way to the castle feeling as if you’re finally back where you belong. (12)
Contrary to what you might have thought, the castle isn’t very well guarded. You only see the cleaning staff, busy pretending not to see you, a few guards dozing off, and a handful of cats prancing around. You guess that the king will be in the most luxurious chamber, and set off to find it, searching every room that looks like a strong candidate.
After interrupting various courtiers’ sleep and sometimes affairs, you finally reach the king. You shake him awake and try to ask him why he is so evidently leading his kingdom astray, but he doesn’t seem intent on answering your questions.
‘Youuuu!’ the king exclaims, pointing an accusatory finger at you. His already unpleasant features become even more unsightly as he stares at you. ‘You have returned, to claim what is not rightfully yours!’
‘I have?’ you ask. You were unsure why you were here, other than the desire to go on an adventure, and a desire to find a less evil ruler for Core’apt. Judging by his face, the land would be better off without him.
‘You have come to murder me!’ he insists, ‘Well, I will not stand for this. I will not let someone like you take the throne!’
The king lunges, trying to reach the door. Your quick reaction speed means you get there before him and, standing between him and the door, you…
Have to execute him. He clearly deserves it. (14)
Decide to spare him, and instead knock him out and tie him up. (17)
My first memory of a choose-your-own-adventure book was from Goosebumps, Welcome to the Wicked Wax Museum. I was around eight or nine, and hadn’t really discovered videogames yet, so this was an eye-opening interactive experience.
I recently bought the book for research, along with a few geared towards an older audience (I would recommend Life’s Lottery, if you have the time).
The decision to make the choices transparent (or more transparent, at least) came from the frustration of wanting your avatar to do something, but realizing that they had interpreted your choice differently than you, often leading to a gruesome death. Of course, most of the time the choices are simple enough not to cause confusion, such as ‘go up the stairs’ or ‘turn left’, but then you’re just choosing arbitrarily, and that’s no fun either.
With a disgruntled cry, the late king falls to the ground. You nod to yourself, knowing this was not a pleasant task, but it was the right thing to do. Out of respect, you carry him to his bed before calling for the servants.
They look into the room, horrified but somewhat relieved. Eventually, various people of importance are woken up and led to the king’s chambers. They all stare at you as if they know you, and possibly as if you should know them. Eventually, one of them dares to address you.
‘Glory to our new ruler! You have returned, oh true heir to the throne! Even after all those years, none of us doubted you would return and cleanse the land of Core’apt!’
The man, possibly some kind of chancellor, nodded to the other old men congregated in the king’s chamber, who nodded back.
‘Wait!’ one of the servants says, pointing at you. You look at yourself, slightly confused.
If you are wearing the UNIFORM, you start to worry that they’ll think you’re a soldier who committed treason. (15)
If you’re still wearing traveler’s clothes, you look back at the servant and shrug. (16)
‘You think he’s the heir to the throne, but look at the uniform he’s wearing! He’s clearly just a guard, who decided to kill the king for his own nefarious reasons! This person doesn’t deserve to be crowned!’ the servant says, still pointing at you.
‘The commoner has spoken!’ says the chancellor who had been so accommodating before.
‘Execution is the price for treason!’ another old man says.
‘Yes, indeed,’ a third one chimes in.
There is a general murmur of assent, and before you know it real guards have materialized and are attempting to take you to the execution chambers. You struggle and take a handful down, but there are too many for you to handle.
Before you pass out, you can see the old men smiling at you.
This isn’t what you wanted, was it? What you wanted was… (1)
‘Royal garb is necessary for this occasion!’ the servant says.
‘Of course! Even the commoners can see that our future ruler needs an appropriate wardrobe. You must be exhausted, why don’t you have a nap, and then come to your throne in the morning? We shall remove the late king’s body first, of course,’ the chancellor adds as he motions to someone under his station to carry out the unpleasant task.
As the congregation walks off, you relax and lay on the bed.
You wake up a few hours later, with the sun shining over the land of Core’upt, your land, and stretch lazily. Now wearing appropriate robes, you have a luxurious breakfast in your castle’s dining room, then make your way to the throne.
The group of old men is waiting for you. It looks like they didn’t get much sleep; they were probably scheming while you slept.
‘Ah, the ruler of Core’upt. You seem to have slept well! We have a few matters to discuss with you.’ The chancellor didn’t wait for you to respond before continuing. ‘Now, as you must know, being the heir to the throne and having murdered the late king, in Core’upt everything is determined by those who hold power. The late king was growing weak in his old age, so we decided to take some… measures,’ he said with a silky voice, ‘in order to make sure you rose to the throne. If you saw any incompetent guards, that was our doing, and we hope you appreciate it.’
‘Now, on to more pressing matters. We must evict some peasants, who haven’t been able to pay their taxes, and we have some convicts in the torture chamber that need seeing to. With your consent, we can take care of these things for you…’
If this is the outcome you wanted, congratulations, you’re now the ruler of Core’upt! If not, you’re probably dreaming about the kind of life you might have had, if only you had chosen another path… (1)
With the king bound and gagged, you call for some servants, who quickly take the king to the dungeons below the castle. Some old men, who look like advisors to the king, congratulate you for exposing the previous king’s corruption. They assure you that he will be dealt with severely, and that you are now the new ruler of Core’upt. You look a bit confused.
‘Why are you confused?’ one of the advisors asks. ‘You are the true heir to the throne! The current king only rose to power because you could not be found! The land of Core’upt must rejoice, now that it has someone with pure blood on its throne!’
The other men nod sagely and bow at you in turn.
‘Now, you must be exhausted from your righteous incarceration. Please, use the king’s chambers to sleep, and find something more comfortable to wear.’
You’re still a bit unsure about this turn of events, but weariness takes over, and you motion for them to leave. Exhausted, you collapse on the bed and start dozing off.
You wake up a few hours later, as the sun starts rising. You try to go back to sleep, but you have the feeling that someone’s watching you.
All of a sudden, you see the king, with his nightdress torn and bleeding out of various cuts, running at you with a huge hammer bearing the insignia of Core’upt.
If you have a SPEAR, you reach for it. But you might regret it. (19)
If you don’t have one, you try to dodge the blow. (18)
You expertly roll off the bed and, with one motion, incapacitate the king. You insist on not killing him, but this blow would leave him unable to attack you for at least a few months.
The commotion wakes up the sleeping guards, who carry him back to the dungeons, hopefully retaining him there for longer this time. You tell them that you’re fine, and if you’re going to be the ruler of Core’upt, you’ll have to deal with things like these every day. You decide you could still get a few more hours of sleep, so you toss the hammer out of your room and go to bed.
You wake up a few hours later, with the sun shining over the land of Core’upt, your land, and stretch lazily. Now wearing appropriate robes, you have a luxurious breakfast in your castle’s dining room, then make your way to the throne.
The group of old men is waiting for you. It looks like they didn’t get much sleep; they were probably scheming while you slept.
‘Ah, the ruler of Core’upt. You seem to have slept well! We have a few matters to discuss with you.’ The chancellor didn’t wait for you to respond before continuing. ‘Now, as you must know, being the heir to the throne, and having incapacitated the previous king, in Core’upt everything is determined by those who hold power. The king was growing weak in his old age, so we decided to take some… measures’, he said with a silky voice,’ in order to make sure you rose to the throne. If you saw any convenient uniforms laying around, that was our doing, and we hope you appreciate it.’
‘Now, on to pressing matters. We must evict some peasants, who haven’t been able to pay their taxes, and we have some convicts in the torture chamber that need seeing to. With your consent, we can see to these things for you…’
If this is the outcome you wanted, congratulations, you’re now the ruler of Core’upt! If not, you’re probably dreaming about the kind of life you might have had, if only you had chosen another path… (1)
You try to reach your spear, but find yourself too tired to move properly. The hammer hits your right leg, making you scream in pain. You try to move out of the way, but your left leg doesn’t seem to want to carry your weight. The seconds it takes the king to finish you off stretch out, as your brain works in overtime.
Why didn’t you just kill the king? You chose to attack the guards, after all, showing that you have a disregard for other people’s feelings. What did you think was going to happen? That you would be celebrated as a benevolent ruler?
There’s no chance of that now, you think as you remember the time you set out on this adventure… (1)
You follow the eastern road. It’s a very pleasant walk; the path is adorned with colorful flowers, sometimes frequented by small squirrels and singing birds. There are signposts every hour or so, letting you know that you are forty, thirty-eight, then thirty-six miles from “your destination”. At thirty-four miles, you find a wooden sword leaning against the signpost, and a leather vest nestled on a nearby patch of grass. You nod sagely to yourself – the quest to acquire the ultimate sword would be perilous, as you need to prove yourself worthy. You take the sword, don the armor and continue walking.
At thirty-two miles, you hear the muffled noise of goblins trying to hide behind very small bushes. Their glee is evident in their cackling, muffled laughter, as if they expect this ambush to be successful.
You take a deep breath. Within seconds the trio of goblins runs at you with clubs which are barely more than tree branches. You change from a nonchalant walk to a battle stance and, before they have time to react, you knock the goblins out in a suitably cinematic fashion.
‘You seem to have all the makings of a hero,’ a voice says. It sound like the voice could belong to…
A young woman dressed in brown and green, carrying a wooden bow. (21)
A young man wearing silver armor, carrying a large shield and long spear. (24)
The woman starts walking over to you, her long blonde hair trailing behind her. You note that Charlie is holding a fine BOW.
‘You might even be the hero I was looking for. Tell me, how long have you been fighting goblins?’
‘This is the first time I’ve seen any’, you reply. She seems a bit incredulous at first, but your honest expression is enough to convince her.
‘Then you are a natural. Are you on your way to the home of the Ultimate Sword?’
You nod, as does she, and pushes you along the path before you can ask her if she’s coming with you.
‘By the way, my name is Charlotte Trueshot, but you can call me Charlie. I was trained as a hunter by my late father. He used to tell me tales of the day when a True Hero would come and claim the Ultimate Sword, using it to vanquish the Great Evil that is plaguing this land. There were rumors about the True Hero being from a distant land, so I decided to wait between the Teleport Area and the road leading to the Ultimate Sword.’
‘Oh, is that what that place was,’ you say mostly to yourself.
‘Anyway, we’re almost at the thirty mark, and I can see a pair of glowing eyes that probably belong to an ogre,’ Charlie says. ‘What would you like to do?’
You would like her to prove that is worthy of being your companion, and deal with this herself (you jerk). (22)
Tell her the only reasonable option is for you to draw its attention, and her to start drawing her bow. (23)
‘I’ll do my best, Hero’, she says. The ogre, not very adept at hiding, gives her a clear shot to his weak point – a glowing jewel on the back of his head. She expertly lines a shot and her arrow pierces the crystal, which shatters into tiny fragments with a loud, tinkling sound. The ogre starts to bellow in agony, but the light soon leaves his eyes and he falls to the ground.
‘That was amazing,’ you say as you walk over to the ogre, then correct yourself. ‘I mean, for a hunter. Who knows what would have happened if he didn’t have such an obvious weak point?’
Charlie, still rooted to the spot where she fired her arrow, looks at you without saying a word. You ignore a feeling that you’re digging your own grave and continue talking.
‘Anyway, we should get going. It’ll be night-time soon, we should find a resting place before then.’ You yank the arrow out of the ogre and walk over to her. ‘You don’t look like you have that many arrows, you should hold on to this one.’
Charlie shoves the arrow into her quiver and starts walking. You don’t talk to each other on the way, but you’re too distracted thinking of the Ultimate Sword. At twenty-four miles you find a convenient tent waiting to be put up, as the sun begins to set. Charlie says she’ll look for food while you work on the tent, which you eventually agree to.
All of a sudden, you get the feeling that someone’s watching you and turn around, expecting more badly-hidden goblins. You turn and see nothing but grass and trees. Your instinct tells you to scan the area just in case, and your eyes eventually find those of Charlie, arrow trained on you.
You don’t have time to react – the arrow flies across the path and you close your eyes, as if that would make the blow more bearable.
In those split seconds you have time to regret your choices, and think about what you could have done differently. (1)
Charlie nods and draws her bow, while you walk towards the ogre and shout at him, sword drawn.
‘Hey you! Yes, you, the ogre that doesn’t know how to hide! If you’re going to attack me, you may as well do it now!’
Whether he understood you and decided you were easy and stupid prey, or he didn’t know your language and decided to charge, is unclear. What is clear is that you dodged a punch from the brute and, as he tried to unstick his fist from the soft earth, Charlie’s arrow found its mark and lodged on the back of his head.
‘Good shot,’ you say as you inspect the ogre, looking for some spoils of battle. You quickly decide that it’s not worth rifling through its loincloth.
‘Thanks. I couldn’t have done it without you,’ Charlie says, and you both continue following the road. After a few hours of amicable chatting, the sun starts to set, but you spot the sign for twenty-four miles, and a convenient tent. Together you set up the tent, and Charlie informs you that she has some travelling rations, which you eat together.
Feeling content with your day, you slowly fall asleep… (27)
The man walks over to you, moving faster than you would expect from someone carrying so much armor. You notice he has a shining silver SHIELD.
‘I think you might be the hero I’ve been looking for. How many goblins have you killed before?’
‘This is the first time I’ve seen any,’ you reply. He smiles at you and slaps you on the back.
‘Then you are a natural! Are you on your way to the home of the Ultimate Sword?’
You nod, an action which he mirrors vigorously. With his hand still on your back, he pushes you along the path before you can complain about not needing the help.
‘The name’s Charles Silver, but everyone calls me Charlie. My late father taught me the ways of the Armor, and I’ve been out adventuring ever since. Lately I heard rumors of a True Hero that will come and claim the Ultimate Sword, using it to vanquish the Great Evil that is plaguing this land. I had a wander around the crossroads and there you were, a goblin-slayer with a wooden sword!’
You let him talk until you’re within view of the thirty-mile signpost, at which point you see some horrible grey-skinned, huge creature trying to hide behind a small clump of trees. It looks like it’s about to charge, so you quickly shout to Charlie:
‘You go left, I’ll go right, we’ll attack simultaneously!’ without really thinking. (25)
‘You stop his attacks, I’ll hit him from behind!’ which might not sound chivalrous but you know is the more sound tactic. (26)
Charlie doesn’t have time to come up with an alternative strategy, so he nods and moves to the left, as you indicated. You soon circle around the ogre, setting him between you and Charlie, and give him the signal.
Charlie thrusts his spear at the ogre’s side while you dart in and slash at his arm. You hear simultaneous chink noises as your weapons fail to pierce or leave any kind of mark on the ogre’s skin. You wouldn’t have guessed from looking at it, but its skin was made of small, fine scales.
‘What do we do now, Hero?’ Charlie asks. You might be a bit annoyed at his lack of planning, but you’re fighting for survival, so try to focus your mind on the problem at hand.
Everything has to have a weak point.
You walk in circles around the ogre, trying to take as much information in as you can considering how tense the situation is. His brown loincloth probably wasn’t hiding a vital point, so the most they could do is stun him with an appropriately-placed hit. It would be hard to reach his eyes, even with Charlie’s long spear, since his arms were so long.
You notice as you sidle behind him that there’s a red gem, or perhaps some kind of pustule, glowing in the nape of his neck. Hoping the ogre is sufficiently focused on your ally, you take aim and lunge at him, feeling victorious when your sword connects and shatters the red target.
As the ogre falls to the ground, you see that Charlie is looking tired from weathering a myriad of blows.
‘Maybe next time you could let me in on your plan,’ he grumbles as he tries to un-dent his shield.
As you watch Charlie at work, you think to yourself… Why not just go on my own? Maybe part of my Hero’s quest is to be self-sufficient. I’m the one who is going to claim the Ultimate Sword, after all.
‘You know, you look tired,’ you tell your soon-to-be-ex-companion. ‘Let me go look for some water while you fix your shield and take a break.’
‘Oh, thanks,’ he says, looking relieved.
You run along the road while he’s not looking. Not the best choice. (30)
You walk into the wilderness in the same general direction as the path. More or less the same choice. (30)
‘That’s what I’m best at,’ Charlie says as he walks towards the ogre, shouting insults at him loudly.
You take advantage of the distraction to walk around to his back, hoping there will be a convenient place to attack him. Fortunately for you, there seems to be a red glowing thing on the back of his neck, and before he has a chance to notice you, you pierce the red crystal on his back and watch him slump over. You can see Charlie beam at you.
‘That was great! He barely had time to lumber over to me. I have to hand it to you, you’re the Hero alright!’
You nod humbly and continue following the road, Charlie energetically chatting with you all the way to the twenty-four mile mark. At this point the sun starts to set, so you decide to camp under a conveniently placed tent. You set up the tent while Charlie procures a few slices of bread and cheese for you to eat, along with some hearty ale (which you should deny if you’re underage).
You soon drift off to sleep… (27)
You wake up and dismantle the tent with Charlie’s help. Assuming there will be another one along the road, you decide to leave it there for the next adventurer who needs it.
The day is relatively uneventful. You spot some more goblins and what might have been an orc, but they know to leave the pair of you alone, and you don’t go chasing them down. You take a short break around noon and have some lunch, then continue walking until you approach the six mile mark.
Part of you wants to just continue on, since there’s not long left to go now, and the sun has only just started to set. However, as you get closer you notice that a tent has already been set up, and you can hear noises coming from within.
You peek your head into the tent and see…
An old man wearing white robes (28)
An old woman wearing black robes (29)
The old man slowly gets up and shakes your hand.
‘Why hello! You must be the Hero I have been waiting for all these years. I’m Frederich Chartreuse, but everyone calls me the Great Chartreuse.’
You’re a bit confused, but Charlie seems to know who this old man is, and bows reverently. ‘It wasn’t just my hunch then, you really are the True Hero.’
‘Of course!’ the old man says. ‘Look at that face. Could it belong to anyone other than a True Hero? Anyway, you should rest. I know you want the Ultimate Sword as soon as possible, but there is a terrible battle ahead, and you must be ready.
Charlie sits down, getting ready for a good night’s sleep, but you’re still curious.
‘What terrible battle? Should we be making other preparations, or come up with a plan?’ you ask. Maybe you’re a bit worried now that the battle itself is descending upon you, or maybe you just like to be prepared. The old man just laughs at your question.
‘It wouldn’t be a great battle if you didn’t go into it outnumbered and ignorant of the dangers you’re facing,’ he says, way too enthusiastically. ‘But I can tell you,’ he adds as he sees the look you give him, ‘that I will be there to provide support. If you’re wounded during the battle, I should be able to heal you with my salves and potions.’
He motions towards a pile of bags and pouches in the corner, as if they were self-explanatory. You make a mental note that the Great Chartreuse carries various kinds of MEDICINE.
‘And now, go to sleep,’ he says as he finds himself a blanket.
Sleep… Then the big battle. (31)
The old woman sniggers to herself and stands up.
‘So, the Hero has finally arrived! I’ve been waiting for you to stop by this tent for days!’
You’re not entirely sure what to say, so you let her continue.
‘Anyway, I’m Annabel Chartreuse, but you two can call me the Great Chartreuse. Everyone else does.’
While it doesn’t mean much to you, Charlie looks at the woman in awe. ‘You must be the True Hero then, if the Great Chartreuse has been waiting for you.’
‘Not that this is the face of a Hero,’ she says, scrutinizing you, ‘but I think it’ll do for now. As a True Hero, I bet you’re ready to go for the Ultimate Sword as soon as possible, am I right? Well, I think you should rest first. No sense going into the final battle when you’re tired.’
Charlie nods as if this is the most sage advice that could possibly be given, and starts getting ready to sleep. You, on the other hand, want to know more.
‘Final battle? Should we be coming up with strategies, talking about the enemies’ weaknesses?’ Maybe it’s the proximity to this so-called final battle that puts you on edge. That, or being bossed around by an old woman.
‘Oh, please. As a True Hero, you should be able to overcome any adversity! What does it matter if the enemy army numbers a thousand, or if they’re equipped with flaming ballistae? A True Hero will always win in the end. Although…’ she adds, ‘I will be there to provide a little bit of support. Just a spell or two, you know, to scare them away. A couple of fireballs and a few stone golems, that kind of thing.’
You make a mental note that the Great Chartreuse can use MAGIC. And that it might be a good idea not to get on her bad side. You opt to sleep rather than continue chatting, just in case.
‘I’m the hero,’ you whisper to yourself as you put enough distance between you and Charlie. ‘I don’t need companions. I can probably make good time if I walk a bit faster. Even if I have to stop to sleep, I should make it to the Ultimate Sword soon. …My Ultimate Sword.’
As you get caught up in daydreams of what the Ultimate Sword looks like, you fail to notice a group of travelling bandits hoping to prey on you. As around a dozen bandits approach you, you realize that, Hero or not, you’re only carrying a wooden sword, and scream for help.
You’re probably too far for Charlie to hear you, but it’s hard to be sure. Either way, it’s not a pleasant afternoon, what with all the dismembering.
If only you had chosen differently… (1)
With determination, you, Charlie and the Great Chartreuse continue along the road (a bit slower than normal, due to the elderly among you), but you arrive at the home of the Ultimate Sword within a few hours.
‘We’re finally here’, Charlie says.
‘Let’s get our Hero the Ultimate Sword,’ the Great Chartreuse adds.
You approach a monument in the center of the clearing. It resembles a person with one hand held high, holding a gently glowing sword.
There’s no question in anyone’s mind. This is the Sword you came for.
As you get within reach of the statue, the sword glows even more invitingly. You take it and marvel at its seeming lack of weight, the aerodynamic curves it traces on the sky as you try a few swings with it. Charlie and the Great Chartreuse look at you admiringly.
Before you can point out that there didn’t seem to be a dramatic battle, you notice a group of flying creatures closing in on you. Now is the time for the final battle. The others see them and look at you questioningly; it seems they want the Hero to choose a course of action.
Do you tell Charlie to ready her BOW, and Chartreuse to get out his MEDICINE? If so, you might be the only one weathering hits… Which could be bad. (32)
Will you ask Charlie to stand forward with his SHIELD while Chartreuse prepares her MAGICAL fireball? As long as she doesn’t hit Charlie, you might be alright… Maybe. (33)
Could the arrows fired by Charlie’s BOW be enhanced by Chartreuse’s MAGIC? That sounds like it could defeat most of the enemies before they reach you. (34)
Or do you ask Chartreuse to get his MEDICINE ready, standing behind Charlie and his SHIELD? The old man has so many salves that they should be able to last while you attack the enemies. (35)
You know that Charlie and Chartreuse can’t afford to be hit by the gargoyle-like creatures, so you get ready to defend them. However, there are way too many of them for you to be able to fend them off. Charlie is downing them fast, but more keep coming.
The Great Chartreuse tries to walk towards you, but you stop him, saying you won’t be able to protect him if he gets close. He decides the best he can do is throw potions at you, so that you might receive their healing effects without Chartreuse getting too close.
The plan works… for a few minutes. Chartreuse’s stocks aren’t infinite, and soon they run out, leaving you alone to face the gargoyles.
‘Run,’ you finally say.
‘But you’re too busy defending to be able to hit them,’ Charlie protests. ‘If I leave, then you won’t be able to—’
‘I have the Ultimate Sword now, so my quest is over. More importantly, I have friends, and I’ll make sure they make it out alive.’
Charlie shoots another few arrows before the Great Chartreuse drags her away from the battlefield.
‘We shall tell tales of your bravery and kindness,’ the old man says.
‘I won’t forget you!’ Charlie says. A few stray arrows continue downing enemies as she departs, but soon she’s too far to be able to help.
You smile, knowing you did what was right.
But, perhaps, not what was best. (1)
The first fireball hits the flying gargoyles, evaporating them and clearing the skies. However, scores more replace them, and soon they’re surrounding Charlie. You run to stop the Great Chartreuse, to tell her she should use smaller spells, but she seems convinced that she won’t hit Charlie.
‘Keep them coming!’ Charlie says. ‘I could take their attacks all day!’
Chartreuse indulges him; two more spheres of flaming power decimate a dozen gargoyles. She shows no signs of tiring – on the contrary, the magic appears to be invigorating her.
But you do notice that, with every additional spell, the explosion radius gets bigger.
‘Get out of there Charlie! You’re going to get hit!’
‘Nah, I’m fine! Besides, my silver shield is magical.’
You stand there, unsure of what to do. The gargoyles are now being destroyed before they even come within your reach.
As you debate whether your Ultimate Sword would be able to attack from a distance somehow, another score of gargoyles sneaks up behind you, with a silence not before shown by others of their kind. They’re heading straight for Chartreuse.
‘Aaaaaaaaaaggghfirebaaaaaaall!’ you hear her shout, and duck for cover.
But it’s too late. The spell finds its target inches from Chartreuse, and just a few feet from you and Charlie. The explosion takes you all.
If only things had gone differently… (1)
The Great Chartreuse gets ready to perform some complicated spell when both you and Charlie motion for her to stop.
‘Why don’t we work together?’ Charlie says. ‘My father used to know a wizard who was able to enchant his arrows. If you do the same, we should be able to attack them from a safe distance.’
The old woman nods, looking slightly crestfallen – perhaps she wanted to show off with some powerful magic. Instead, she says a few words and passes her hands over Charlie’s quiver, giving the arrows a blue glow. Charlie, aware that the gargoyles are getting closer every second, wastes no time and starts firing at the creatures.
For every arrow that hits its mark (all arrows; Charlie’s a good shot), a creature explodes in sharp spikes of ice, as if a giant snowflake were fighting its way out. As giant ice formations topple the gargoyles, their ranks thin. You worry that Charlie’s going to run out of arrows, but she seems to be holding some sort of magical quiver that replaces any lost arrows. Chartreuse doesn’t even have to re-cast her spell, she just watches the explosions approvingly.
While it’s a bit strange that your final battle has nothing to do with you, your two companions assure you that events wouldn’t have been the same without you, and therefore you made a difference to the battle. You’re just happy to have the sword at this point, and enjoy slicing a few of the remaining ice spikes just for the fun of it.
You take a few minutes to enjoy your victory before Charlie suggests that you go back to the tent for some well-earned rest. There would be time to announce to the world that you are the True Hero later.
But for now, you rest, and wonder how things could have gone so much worse, if you hadn’t chosen this path… (1)
Charlie takes a defensive position, protecting himself and the Great Chartreuse behind him. With your powerful new blade and your heroic speed, you dart between the gargoyles, cutting off their wings or beheading them in quick strokes. When you need a few seconds to breathe, you hide behind Charlie, and if any gargoyles have managed to land a blow, Chartreuse is ready to apply some salve, his arms moving in a fast, practiced blur.
It’s not a quick battle, but eventually you manage to defeat all the gargoyles. Charlie thinks there were about two hundred, but from where you stand, exhausted, it looks like the piles house many more than that.
‘Haha… ha… We really did it. We got the sword, and we defeated that whole squadron of gargoyles!’ Charlie says, panting heavily, and looking like taking his armor off is a strong consideration at the moment.
‘Just a squadron?’ you say. You are either excited at the prospect of defeating more squadrons of the creatures, or a bit exasperated.
However you feel, Chartreuse pulls you and Charlie away and leads you to the tent. By the time you get there, you’re all exhausted, and decide to have a quick nap. After all, there would be time to announce to the world that you are the True Hero later.
But for now, you rest, and wonder how things could have gone so much worse, if you hadn’t chosen this path… (1)
While this isn’t a desire you often express, you find a deep satisfaction in contemplating the beauty of precious minerals and glittering jewels. You don’t want to use them in any way. Money – that you can spend. Bills and faded coins you can part with. But these riches, they were rewards in and of themselves.
You’re not quite sure why your mind is telling you that the western mountains are the ideal mining place, but you decide to trust your instincts. Luckily for you, you soon find a sign that says ‘To the Dwarf Colony’. If anyone would know where to find gold, it would be the dwarves.
The problem is… Would they part with it? If they have even a fraction of your love for minerals, and history makes you assume it’ll be a large fraction, they might not welcome you. So I suppose you have two options:
Hope that they’re friendly and welcome another helping hand, in exchange for some of their riches. (37)
Decide that you’re probably stealthy enough that stealing won’t be so hard. (42)
Apart from jealously guarding their gold, dwarves are also known for being jovial, right? You’re not sure if you remember correctly, but it’s worth a try. You don’t think you’re very stealthy, anyway.
You follow the signs and walk to the entrance of their underground fortress. An armored dwarf blocks your way, and asks you why you’re here.
‘I was wondering if you would accept me into your brotherhood of mineral appreciation,’ you say with a sincere smile on your face. The dwarf looks you up and down.
‘Where’s your shovel and pickaxe? And your chainmail?’
‘Um,’ you stall as you rack your brain for ideas. ‘I’ve lost my way, and some bandits stole my things. When I regained consciousness I was in the middle of a large four-way. As soon as I saw the mountains, I knew they were the place to be.’
The dwarf nods slowly in a knowing fashion.
‘Happens to the best of us. If we didn’t help poor stranded dwarves, where would we be?’
You may find this statement funny, especially if you’re over four feet tall, but you manage to keep your thoughts to yourself. You do want that gold, after all.
‘Right, let’s get you set up. Here, have a standard issue pickaxe and size two shovel. I think this chainmail will fit you as well,’ he says, while handing you all of the above. You put the chainmail on and hold the pickaxe as if it was meant to be wielded by you.
‘Always brings a tear to my eye, seeing new faces eager to mine,’ the dwarf says, and you indeed see a tear in the corner of his right eye. ‘Follow the path and you’ll soon get to the barracks. From there, they should be able to direct you to some of the recent veins of silver we’ve found.’
You obediently follow the path, possibly while stooping, and are greeted by a few more kind dwarves who point you in the right direction. You take a second to marvel at the glittering beauty of a silver vein, just a few minutes from the barracks.
But is silver enough for you?
Yes. You use the pickaxe to remove the surrounding stone and get to the vein, relishing in the manual labor. (38)
No, I want more! You start exploring the tunnels for signs of something more valuable. (43)
It’s mining time!
Find a die. Roll it; the number you get is your current score. Continue rolling, adding up the die value to your score until you reach 20 or more. Make sure to write down how many times you had to roll! If you find this too complicated, just fill out the chart below and stop once you hit 20.
The number of times you had to roll represents how many hours you spent mining. Hitting a score of 20 or more means you successfully mine the silver.
If you needed more than ten rolls, you should just go back to the crossroads and give up on your dreams of endless gold, you don’t deserve any riches. (1)
Once you hit 20, you carefully remove the silver ore and place it on a nearby cart, which whizzes off on its own towards the dwarf city. Tired from all that work, you follow the cart’s trail until you reach the barracks again.
You are greeted like one of their own, and invited to have a meal with them. You enjoy a light course of hog roast, potatoes and sprouts, finished by an ale-quaffing contest. By this point, you might be feeling tired, quite full, and wanting nothing more than to rest. However, the dwarves have made it very clear that you won’t be accepted as an honorary dwarf if you can’t even down your ale properly.
So, you give it a shot. How well you actually do depends on how long you were out mining…
If you were out for less than four hours through some mining miracle (or the use of an eight-, ten-, twelve- or twenty-sided die), you weren’t very hungry in the first place, and have now eaten a large meal, so you have no room for the ale. You might pretend to drink and tip it onto a nearby… No, there’s nothing around. Good luck. (39)
If you were out for four to eight hours, you were pretty hungry, but not so hungry that you didn’t leave room for the obligatory pints of ale. Good for you. (40)
If you were out for nine or ten hours, you were so famished that you ate everything you could, and are now so tired that you’re dozing off. You’ll probably spill it all over the place, but that might be the dwarven way. (41)
You take the giant pitcher and give it a try. Your stomach, feeling like it’s going to burst, complains at the addition of drink to its already overfull interior. You try to look for somewhere you could dispose of it discretely as you might have done when you were younger. The dwarves are all distracted trying to chug their drinks faster than everyone else, but there’s nowhere to put your drink; no convenient vases or younger siblings’ pitchers.
You spend thirty seconds panicking and looking around frantically, by which time the first wave of drinkers is finished. You hastily start sipping the pitcher, trying to look as if you were drinking this whole time, but they know better. When the rest of them are done with their drinks about ten seconds later, they wordlessly lead you out of the barracks and to the guard who admitted you.
With a look of sad resignation, he takes your pickaxe and shovel, and motions for you to take off your chainmail.
‘I knew non-dwarves couldn’t live among dwarves,’ he mutters to himself, shaking his head.
You leave, already missing that feeling of joy and fulfillment, and head to the crossroads, hoping for better luck. (1)
You smile, trying to reorganize the contents of your stomach so you might come in first. You don’t succeed, but your average speed still amazes the bona fide dwarves, even if it disappoints you. You vow to come in first next time.
You go to sleep, mine some more silver, have food, drink again. You repeat this process for approximately two months (although it’s hard to tell the time when you’re underground). When you finally win the ale-quaffing contest, you are presented with the winner’s helmet, which you wear proudly.
From that day on, you are as one of them.
Although, sometimes, you look back and think about what things could have been like, had you chosen to be something other than a pseudo-dwarf… (1)
You decide that everyone is spilling their drink anyway, so you may as well pretend that you’re drinking while you splash it all over your face. While it was fairly obvious that you didn’t drink most of it, the dwarves encourage your enthusiasm and slap you on the back, urging you to try again the next day, although maybe you could hold back on the potatoes.
You go to sleep, and the next day mine some more silver. When dinner time comes you make sure to leave enough space for the ale, and manage to drink it all, even if it takes you a few minutes longer than everyone else. After about two months of training, you find yourself becoming shorter, stockier and infinitely better at mining. The dwarves accept you as one of their own, giving you such privileges as being on guard duty once a month and learning the secrets of ale, which you are then asked to brew with them. All in all, life is good.
Except for the part where you miss food that isn’t thoroughly roasted in fat, drinks that aren’t alcoholic and drunk gallons at a time, and being able to stand up straight.
Maybe this wasn’t the best idea after all… (1)
After all, dwarves aren’t known for their keen eyes, sense of hearing and ability to remain unnoticed. Or so you tell yourself as you find another way in.
There’s a cave that might connect with the dwarf mining area. You’re not entirely sure why you think so, but your instincts have been right so far, so why not trust them?
You walk into the cave, and quickly reach a fork in the road. Your instincts scream at you to go left, but there is also a right path.
Go left! Sure, your instincts might lead you to a trap… But it’ll be a trap full of gold. (43)
Maybe right? You think that’s where the dwarves are. (45)
You walk the tunnels for a few hours before you stop to rest. The path is straight, quiet and with no signs of life. Your eyes quickly accustom to the darkness, and you’re disappointed to see no signs of ores or precious gems.
I should go in deeper, you think to yourself. The dwarves have probably mined all of the surrounding area.
It takes you a few more hours, but you reach what looks like a cave. As soon as you walk in, you’re blinded by a golden stream of light.
There is some sort of phosphorescent moss lining the inside of the cave. The glow is reflected by a huge pile of gold sitting right in the middle of the smooth floor.
You can’t help yourself – you run towards it with a greedy look in your eyes. Before you’re close enough to dive into the pile, a giant cat with a human face walks towards you. A sphinx?
She has shining golden eyes, beautiful blonde hair and her body is covered in golden fur.
‘Greetings, human. You wish to swim in my piles of gold, perhaps affectionately cradling each individual coin in turn?’
You nod, transfixed.
‘Then answer my riddle,’ she says as she curls up, knowing that you’ll need some time to come up with the answer. ‘What is quicker to hide than a jackalope, longer-living than a phoenix and as carefree as a satyr?’
You take a bit of time to think… then hazard a guess.
Feelings? (really, that’s your guess?) (44)
A fairy? (that’s not any better) (44)
Oh, I know this one, a dryad? (You clearly haven’t met any dryads yet) (44)
‘Wrong,’ she says as she uncoils and gets ready to pounce on you.
‘Wait, wait,’ you add desperately. ‘Can you at least tell me what the right answer is, for the next time?’
‘There won’t be a next time,’ she purrs. With a quick jump she pins you to the ground and looks ready to begin her feast.
‘And I never said I knew what the right answer was.’
Great… That’s just great. I should have taken another path… (1)
You walk for a short while until you see a small stream of light, accompanied by the sounds of busy people going about their daily business. A few inches closer and you can make out individual people.
You observe them for a few hours and, finally, your patience pays off. You see that their dining area is full of bustle as food is being carried, and dwarves sit down wherever there is space. You dart in and do you best to blend in.
A beautifully roasted hog is laid on the table, accompanied by huge potatoes (and also copious amounts of sprouts, but there had to be something you didn’t like). You eat your fill, perhaps a bit more, until the plates are carried away. In their place, large tankards of ale are brought in, and everyone looks ready to enjoy the daily ale-quaffing contest.
You don’t have much choice but to give it a try. (41)
The voices singing are as clear as crystal bells. You make your way through the forest, trying to imagine what kind of creature could possibly make such a beautiful sound.
Unfortunately, the song stops abruptly, and you’re left stranded in the middle of a thick grove of trees. Since you left the path behind some time ago, there isn’t anything to follow. You can’t even make out any distinguishing features in the nearby terrain – all the trees look the same, every blade of grass looks identical to you.
After a few minutes of rising despair, you decide that running around aimlessly would just be suicide. Instead, you opt for shouting desperately at the top of your lungs. You sound something like this:
‘Hello! Anyone? Anyone?! Heeeeeeelp!’ which sounds desperate but could be useful. (47)
‘Lalalala listen to me, singing voices, I’m lost, please rescue meeee,’ hoping they’ll hear you. They did seem to be leading you on, after all. (52)
‘Oh guardian spirits of the forest, please come and rescue me, I’m sure there’s some of you out there,’ and by “you’re sure”, you mean you have a hunch. (49)
‘Roooooooooar!’ which might actually attract a nice creature, for all you know. (51)
You can’t help yourself; as panic threatens to take over you shout for help. It’s as if your life depended on it, which it might.
You stop shouting eventually, as your voice starts to get sore, but you hear shuffling among the nearby bushes. Feeling like you’ll be relieved no matter who or what you find, you run towards the sounds and soon find yourself face-to-face with a very normal-looking man.
You think he could be in his thirties or forties. He’s wearing a light brown tunic over tan colored trousers, with a khaki sash around his waist. His straw-colored hair is relatively short, and his amber eyes stare at you in a relaxed manner. You’re glad you found him in a forest – if you had been in a desert, you might not even have noticed him.
‘Lost, are we?’ he asked unconcernedly. Not knowing what the best thing to say is, you silently nod.
‘Well then, we should get going.’
You follow the man as he leads the way to a nearby town. It’s about as boring as you might expect. There’s a town square where the two lone paths (they’re not really roads) of the town cross, home to one small food stall which is currently unmanned. You see a handful of small houses and think you can see one or two people walking around.
‘So, what is it that you do?’ the man asks. ‘Josef the baker is out of town, visiting his daughter who is with child, it would be nice to have someone take over for the next few weeks. Geoffrey is always wishing there was someone else to help with the crops and cows. And I could always use a hand out on the forest, collecting herbs and hunting animals.’
You feel like, now that you’re here, there’s nothing to do but be sucked into the inertia of living in a slow-paced town. It’s just a matter of how you live.
‘I’m sure manual labor won’t be hard to pick up.’ (48)
The days turn into weeks, then into months. Not only do you learn the trade faster than you expected, but you find that you settle into the little town’s habits without realizing it. In Crossroads, everyone wakes up at dawn, works until one of the young locals (of which there are two) bring them lunch, then work again until the sun threatens to set. That marks the time for returning home, having something to eat while partaking in that evening’s entertainment. Sometimes it’s Throw the Dice, sometimes Tell Each Other Stories, and if you’re lucky Gossip About that Traveler that Just Entered Crossroads.
You’re not unhappy, exactly. Your day-to-day life is enjoyable, and sometimes interesting things happen to set the days apart, like preparing for the Harvest Festival or Witch Effigy Burning. But, somewhere deep inside, you remember that spark of excitement at the prospect of adventure.
You can continue this way if you’d like. Or you could go back into that forest, and hope something else finds you this time.
If you want to stay, read this chapter again.
If you want to leave, grab your things and get going before anyone notices your change in attitude, and try to follow the voices once more. (46)
A woman turns up, seemingly out of nowhere.
‘Are you a guardian spirit of the forest?’ you venture, although she looks like a human to you.
‘No, I just came because you sounded lost,’ she says as she looks you up and down. ‘You’re certainly not equipped for the forest.’
‘Oh, I just heard some voices and decided to follow them,’ you say, realizing with every passing word how silly you sound. Thinking it might help, you add, ‘they were beautiful voices.’
‘Oh, well, I could let you continue your blind stumbling across the forest. I’m sure the dryads would eventually hear your shouts and let you join them.’
You are about to agree when you notice her smile, and deduce that she is being sarcastic. You ask her if she could help you, guardian spirit or not, and she agrees to see you out of the forest, at least. It doesn’t take very long.
‘Well, here we are,’ she says. You realize that you’re on a dirt path outside of a small hut. ‘The road leads back to the crossroads you came from.’
‘Thanks for your help,’ you say as you happily set off. (1)
‘Actually, I was kind of hoping I could stay with you…’ you trail off. You wouldn’t mind being stuck with her forever. (50)
‘Oh,’ she says, looking slightly surprised. ‘You want to learn how to use magic?’
‘Sure,’ you say, not wanting to back off now. You probably didn’t think she was a witch because she lacked all the things you associate with witches: black clothes, a pointy hat, robes or at least a cape, a broom and a cat. But when you look at her again, you wonder how you could have thought she wasn’t a witch. It was all in her eyes; dark, piercing, inscribed with purple pentagrams.
She leads you to her small hut which appears to be inhabited by a few colonies of squirrels. Not the usual familiars, but they seemed to be tidying up for her.
‘I hope you’re sure about this, I’m not going to go easy on you just because you’re the only student I’ve ever had.’
You nod silently, unable or unwilling to leave. What follows is an arduous apprenticeship lasting a few years. The joys of learning the arcane arts outweigh the amount of work you have to put in, and eventually you start learning new things yourself, and teaching her as well.
You watch over the nearby forest area for an indefinite amount of time. The magic in the forest sustains you, since you make sure to keep the forest safe. Some people would say that you have attained enlightenment through your conviviality with the natural world.
But some people would say you should have chosen to do something more interesting. (1)
You’re not quite sure what you’re going for with your cry, but after a few minutes you stop to catch your breath and think of what to do next.
You’re not that far from the crossroads. Sure, everywhere looks the same, but if you have an idea of the general direction you came from, you could probably retrace your steps. After a few minutes of nothing happening, you start walking, hoping to reach the crossroads.
Hours pass. It only took you a few minutes to get this deep in the forest, so now you’re clearly lost. You have been repeating your strange roar every now and again, but with no results. Maybe it’s driving things away, rather than towards you.
As it becomes dark, you sit down on a spot that looks like any other and start crying. They’re tears of frustration that you can’t seem to stop.
All of a sudden, you see the shadow of a creature flying above you. The shadow is huge, and you feel a surge of dread as it lands next to you. Its yellow leonine eyes fix on your own, its hooves tapping the ground rhythmically as its snake tail coils and uncoils.
You’re going to get eaten by a chimera. Great.
Your blend of despair and frustration cause a few more tears slide down your cheeks. The chimera, instead of taking that opportunity to eat you head-first, starts nuzzling you, making a comforting purring noise. Instinctively you start stroking its mane, and he decides to give you a ride to his lair.
The chimera lives next to a stream, and seems willing to give you food periodically. You learn to communicate with it, and it seems to enjoy the entertainment your stories provide. He is also extremely interested in human society, having eaten a few humans himself, and takes to asking you insightful questions such as ‘Mraaawr mrrr baaaaaa?’ and ‘hisssss Mreowr?’
You start to make up new stories, stories involving chimeras and other creatures. You tend to forget little things about your previous everyday life, such as the reason you need doorknobs or napkins. You seem to enjoy raw meat more and more.
You like being a surrogate chimera. Life is fun.
Although sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night, huddled next to the chimera, wondering if you could find that crossroad again… (1)
To your relief, you hear the vibrant notes again, and continue to follow them.
Even though you’re practically running through the forest, the voices seem to always be the same distance ahead of you. After about an hour you have to stop and rest your legs, but you continue the melodic back-and-forth until you can run again.
You repeat the process until you reach an area rendered almost impassable by the large number of trees. You turn in place, feeling like the song is coming from all around you at once.
As soon as you realize this, a few humanoid forms emerge from the trees. Or perhaps from in front of the trees; they look so bark-like that it’s easy to see why you could have missed them. As they step closer to you, their features become more like those of a human – green leaves become hair, rigid branches soften and look like arms. The most beautiful among them addresses you, with the same singing tone, but in your language.
‘Why have you sought us out? You should leave, human.’
‘I have come here to hear you sing, and assist you in any way I can.’
The creatures sing among themselves, then a different one steps forward and addresses you. ‘You can stay with us. We will hold a feast in honor of you following us all this way.’
Smiling excitedly at this turn of events, you enjoy watching them go about their business, or closing your eyes and letting the voices wash over you.
‘Open your eyes,’ one of them says an indeterminate amount of time later. ‘We would like you to partake in our merriment, but were unsure as to what you would enjoy. Please, take what you will.’
You see three small piles of food in front of you. On the left is a salad; you can smell parsley and coriander over a large amount of what looks like dandelion leaves. On the middle there’s a variety of ripe (almost over-ripe) fruit, in various shades of red and orange. On the right you find a few dead lizards. They look at you expectantly; you have to try something.
You take the healthy and vegetarian option, salad. Despite the fact that they’re probably vegetables themselves… (53)
You don’t like the look of the fruit, but decide that it’s the least offensive choice, so you reach for a round, red, squishy thing. (54)
You go for the thing that looks the least like them, the lizards. You might need to ask them for some fire to cook the reptiles though. (55)
You greedily forget about etiquette and grab a bit of everything. They probably give you horrified looks. (56)
As you start to chew, you can see all the creatures looking at you. You try not to show your disgust with the dandelion leaves, and nod encouragingly.
‘You have just eaten Willow’s “hair”, and Burdock’s “toenails”,’ one of them says. You shrug, and wait for them to pass their verdict.
‘While that’s a foul practice, we do need someone to help us replanting the young and gathering news from other dryad groves. We would be willing to let you live off of us in exchange for your help.’
You kind of wish you had gone for another dish, given the quality of their various spare parts, but you’re alright with this role.
And so, you spend most of your time running from grove to grove, delivering messages or seeds in exchange for a tuft of “hair”. It’s not a hard job, but you do sometimes long for a life where you’re doing something for yourself.
You sometimes dream about it at night… (1)
The fruit is overly sweet and melts in your mouth, but not in a pleasant way. But at least it’s definitely edible, and the creatures seem happy with your choice. You eat a few more and, when you’re done, they start singing again.
It takes some time, but the creatures, who call themselves dryads, teach you the secrets of their Voice. It’s hard for your vocal chords to adjust, but with a bit of magic, you become more similar to them, and can produce those inspiring notes yourself.
You adjust to their way of life, and learn to enjoy the brightness of the sun and the feeling of water at your feet. Of course, you’re still mostly human, so you do ask them politely if they would mind offering you the fruit that has just fallen from their branches, and they usually don’t mind.
However, in the night, when the dryads are silent, you remember that you can never truly be one of them. It’s now the season of seed exchange and fertilization and you are left looking from the sidelines, knowing that Mahogany will never look at you that way, and Cedar mocks you behind your back.
Maybe… maybe you could have done things a bit differently. (1)
‘I do eat lizards,’ you say convincingly, ‘but they’re a lot more palatable when they’re cooked.’
Somehow, you did not anticipate their astonished reactions.
‘Fire? Fire is what kills dryads! There will be no fire in this forest!’
‘Um,’ you start, and know that your answer might well determine your fate. ‘I don’t use fire. I usually either dry the meat under the sun for a few days, or boil them if there’s a nearby hot spring or geyser.’
It sounds ridiculous to you, but maybe…
‘We’re sorry, your ways are too different from ours. Please return to your land. We will lead you there,’ one of the creatures says, and voices start singing in the direction you came from. You’re saddened by this turn of events, but know that there is nothing you could have done. At least they didn’t think you were using fire; that could have been a catastrophe.
You walk away, dragging your feet, hoping the next adventure is better. (1)
You’re so hungry that everything looks appetizing, from the bitter leaves to the raw lizard legs. It’s a different story once they’re in your mouth, but you’re committed at this point, and quickly chew and swallow. Your stomach, however, seems perfectly happy, and you continue eating the food in front of you.
You only look up when you finish, and you see the creatures staring at you as if you had just murdered their children. You hoped you hadn’t, at least.
‘Never did we expect such barbarity from you, human,’ the tallest creature says. ‘You simultaneously ate the hair of our kind, the seeds of our children and the creatures that plague us. We should be wary of you eating us while we hibernate!’
‘Show him what it’s like, being at the mercy of others,’ another creature sings.
‘Wait, but you can walk around,’ you say, trying to logically invalidate their argument. ‘You’re not really at the mercy of others—’
‘But we are,’ a third creature replies. ‘We only turn into our humanoid forms once every year. And now, for at least a year, you shall join us!’
You watch, transfixed, as they form a circle around you and, joining hands, begin singing again. In only a few seconds you find that you’ve become a tree, as have they, and that is the beginning of your Year of Atonement.
It passes by quite quickly, at least in your tree-like mind, with the most worrying event being a group of squirrels gnawing off some of your branches (thankfully when you’re back to your human form, you have all your limbs).
This experience was either extremely humbling to you, in which case the dryads allow you to become one of them from then on.
Or it was hell, and you decide to go back to the crossroads and enjoy a real adventure. (1)
Hope you enjoyed the adventure(s)! Feel free to comment if you loved/hated any path. Also, feel free to email if there’s any problems (broken links, etc).
Word count: Approx 13K
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