In the Forest of the High Stones
There are trees in the Forest of the High Stones, but that’s not the reason for its name. The trees are mostly isolated, twisted things, jutting from the rock face, or opportunists blocking the less used paths or stairways. The forest itself is the stones– a tight crowd of monolithic giants, standing in the mists rising from a deep canyon at the north end of the Long Valley. If you want to travel from North Edge to the valley meadows, there are only two ways; do what most do and take the safe route along the western ridge and then down through the Sunrise Woodland, or make your way through the Forest Of The High Stones. This is not for the feint hearted. There is a path, but it is old and winding and made up of stone walkways, rope bridges and stairways carved into sides of the High Stones themselves. The mists are thick enough that you can never see more than ten yards, and often far less. It is a treacherous route to walk, and that is before one even considers the things that live there, hiding in the fog.
Given the choice, Bernt would have taken the Western Ridge, but when you quit the high guard, your life choices become a lot more limited. The Ridge road is heavily patrolled, and while Bern bears no great affection for his erstwhile colleagues, fighting with them isn’t high on his list of fun things he’d like to do. So here he is, carefully picking his way around the top of a high stone, hoping dearly that the path ahead is not leading to a dead end or a dead drop– or worse, to some bloody magic thing hiding the most. Bernt hates magic. It’s unpredictable.
The top of this particular stone is a flat plane, unpleasantly smooth with a slight curve to it, and slick with moisture from the ever present mists– making it necessary for Bernt to walk slowly and deliberately, feeling out the placement of his foot with each step before shifting his weight. One slip and he could find himself falling over the side, to whatever it is that waits on the Forest floor. If there is a floor. Some people say it goes down forever, that the High Stones float on nothing. Bernt doesn’t like to think about that, though it’s a hard thought to shake right now for some reason.
And then there is a breeze, a short cool gust, and Bernt sinks to all fours, grasping the stone for dear life. He utters a short prayer to as many gods as he can think of. Then he raises his head and slowly opens his eyes again, and he sees it.
The view before him is unlike anything he has ever seen before. It looks like the Long Valley, but without the ridges at its sides, and there is something astonishing stretching over where the meadows should be.
It is, he realises, a city; the largest he has ever seen. The buildings are squarer than any he has seen in The Valley, and appear to be carved partly from some kind of crystal. Many of the larger ones seem to be made entirely of this. The whole thing glints and glistens in the sunlight, like a river bed full of diamonds.
And then there is another breeze, and the mists close up again, before parting once more to reveal the mouth of a covered wooden bridge. Bernt breathes again for the first time in what feels like hours, before rising to his feet and making his way forward.