The forest was hot, the smell of rotting leaves nearly over powering. A lone man struggled through it, his resolve wavering slightly. He was tired, unused to such exertion, and beginning to regret talking down to the wizard. He paused and wiped the sweat from his face then pulled the pack from his back and let it fall to the ground with a thud.
"At this rate," he muttered, taking the pyramid out of his pocket again and studying it. "I might reach the summit in a year or three." He sank down to the ground beside his pack and sat there, breathing heavily, listening to the forest around him. "I wonder where he sent everyone else?" he thought, thinking back to the very crowded room he had occupied just moments before he found himself alone on the beach. "Thirty men do not just vanish into thin air," he mused then shook his head. "Well no help for it now, this thing won't take me home unless I find him first." He put the pyramid back in his pocket, stood and picked his backpack up again with some difficulty. "I swear this thing has gotten heavier," he grumbled, struggling to get the straps over his shoulders again. "Probably materialized a load of bricks in the bottom for good measure." He got the backpack in place at last, straightened it and set out once more through the forest. High above the mountain peaks seemed to laugh at him, and he felt a slight shiver run up his spine.
Night found him collapsed on the ground beside an ancient stump, fainted from exhaustion and the heat of the day. His mind was in a turmoil, his dreams chaotic and frightening, his emotions badly frayed. He woke with a start and stared at the lights which whirled around his head in hypnotic patterns then blanched. Tales his nurse had told him when he was just a boy rose in his mind and became terrifyingly real. He whispered the first words of an ancient chant then stilled, unable to speak as the lights drew apart and the forest began to glow softly.
"Mortal man," the words sighed on the breeze as the glow swirled, then solidified into a tall, dangerously beautiful woman.
"Driven it seems," a second woman appeared beside her, glowing in shades of rose.
"The forest is not safe for one such as you," the first woman intoned, her voice echoing faintly through the woods around him.
"He is alone," a third woman observed as she stepped into view. "Leave him be," the second woman said, watching the man who was staring at them.
"He would be interesting to enjoy," the first woman remarked, a wicked smile playing about her lips.
"He follows the others," the third woman stated.
"He is a human," the second woman chided the first. "You would tire of him rapidly."
"What shall we do with him?" the third woman asked the first two. "He trespasses."
The man watched them in fascinated horror. The urge to flee tugged at him but his legs refused to move. His mind raced, remembering stories he had always laughed at, of talking trees, and spirits that lived within them. Of creatures born in legend and song. He swallowed and tried to speak, but found his voice fled beyond his control.
The three women looked at him then the second laughed, her voice echoing through the forest.
"I am amused," she declared,.