The Wrong Path
They called it the Pathfinder.
Or at least, most people did. Like most things shrouded in myth, it had no single name. Some called it the Ghoul of the Forest. Or The Seeker's Last Lucky Break.
Most called it the Pathfinder.
Maybe it would be more appropriate to refer to it as her. According to every account from the few Seekers that had seen her and come out of the forest, it always took the shape of a young girl made of stone, but moving like a person. The people of Town do not want to think of her as living. So she was an it.
She would appear from between the trees, if you were too (un)lucky, and lead you astray. She would do nothing but talk to you. Of anything that could make you lose yourself. Eventually she would begin to talk about things she shouldn't have known. Things no one knew but you.
And you would follow her, in anger, hope, or desperation. And then you would be lost.
Of course, almost everyone who wandered into the Forest of Infinite Paths would be lost from the beginning. The forest, made of rock and utterly uninhabited, was what lay between us and paradise.
Or so the legends go.
I live in the Town. It's a huge settlement, closed off from the rest of the world--if there even is such a thing. The Forest stands in the way of glory. There is nothing around us, nothing beyond the horizon, but the forest. Those brave enough to transverse the forest and attempt to reach glory are called Seekers.
As its name would indicate, the forest floor is covered with twisting paths, thousands at a time. No two paths are the same, and they change perpetually: You could be observing the forest for hours, but as soon as you turn away for even a second, the paths will shift.
Most paths lead you back to town, but some don't. According to the Seekers, there are some paths that lead directly to paradise.
And it's these paths that the Pathfinder targets. They call her the Pathfinder because if you see her, it means you have found the right path to glory. All you have to do is continue walking. But she's also called the Pathfinder because she will always find every potentially successful path and lead its traveler astray.
At least, that is what I heard from a Seeker one day while I was in the tavern. He and his brother had taken parallel paths in the forest (no two people can take the same path), and set out for the other side. "It was mostly just boring" he'd said.
Then she came.
His brother was in a "good"; path. She led him away. And he was lost.
I heard that Seeker went back into the forest. I never saw him again.
I'm writing this from just outside the forest. I am about to enter it myself.
I know I can do it.
If I don't, I have nothing.
I look at the ground before me. The rock trunks of the trees loom all around my field of vision. Snaking around them are the well-tread paths. No two alike.
No turning back.
The Seeker was right. It really is mostly boring.
There's nothing alive in this forest. I sometimes spot other Seekers in their paths, but it's very rarely. They don't pay any attention to me, though. I'm marked, and they can see that plainly.
I keep walking for what seem to be hours. The forest always looks the same. Even at nighttime, the forest is bright and blank, eerie in its uneven uniformity.
I'm not tired. Or hungry. Or thirsty.
The forest seems to negate every basic human need. It's as if the ones who travel this phantom realm start becoming rock themselves: no needs, no desires, just pure undemanding existence. It's mind-numbing.
And then it happens.
And I see her, for the first time.
She's not after me. A Seeker on a path several yards away from mine exclaims loudly when he sees her.
He's on the right path.
But he isn't, for long. She begins to talk. I can't understand what she says, even though I can register her words clearly. I am hearing her, but cannot listen.
The Seeker turns and runs. He runs until he's out of my sight. Whatever she did, worked.
And then she herself turns, and I am able to see her clearly for the first time.
She's beautiful, and graceful, and wonderful. I can't explain it, but when I saw her, every weight dropped from my shoulders. Her sole image was comforting and welcoming. I'm about to call out to her.
But then she's gone, just like that.
A path will supposedly disappear if you step off it, once you stop looking at it. It will shift and never come back.
But I was still looking.
And I knew it was the right path.
I ran. I hit the path and kept running.
I ran from the Ghoul of the Forest. I ran from the society that had rejected the poor and maimed orphan that I had been so many years ago. I ran from the nameless slave I had been. I ran from the scar that marked my face, denoting me as property only. I ran from the ghosts of all those I knew that were lost in this cursed forest. I ran along he only path that could somehow lead to my freedom.
But then I saw her.
I had taken the right path. And now she was there to take me way.
She spoke only one word. A name.
A name I'd never heard, but knew to be mine.
It was all it took.
I stepped off the path, knowing that I would never see it again. Knowing I would never see paradise.
She turned away.
Procrastinating writing this down was probably a bad choice?
Edited by dotcom, Oct 22 2012 - 09:30 PM.