#26.1

There is a towering tree standing before you.
It is immersed in a deep fog, gently rolling around its trunk and through its lush canopy.
Water droplets drip from the leaftips above, creating a steady, yet gentle patter of droplets upon the leaflittered floor.

The forest expands for an infinity around you, dense and foreboding.
In the darkness, you can hear the faint, far off sound of a deer calling, or perhaps its a horn…
Crickets and frogs abundant, the ground is sodden yet firm, coated in a furry green moss carpet, patches of shrubs and mushrooms dotted among the solitary boulders and rocky outcrops beneath the forest’s heights.

A man appears from behind the tree.
Draped in dark, shapeless robes, brown perhaps, they are piled upon his shoulders, ensconcing his form as if to provide shelter from the isolative landscape in which he lives.
His belt asway with trinkets and tools, dangling on little golden strings of woven cord.
Amongst them all, you notice his left hip carries some kind of looking-glass.
It’s lens reflects into your eye, and you are instantly blinded.
It burns into your vision, and you suddenly fall to the ground in shock, only to continue falling.

As you approach the ground, the earth beneath you begins to cave into itself piece by piece, each falling sod revealing more of a faint orange glow that emanates from within the ever growing hole.

“The earth demands it” The man utters, standing idly by as your final foot falls out of sight into the deepness below.

You gaze up as you fall to see the earth realign itself, refilling the hole as if by some magical levitation spell cast by the man above.
Despite plummeting downward into the unknown, you are overwhelmed by a foul, bitter smell surrounding you and filling your nostrils.
The smell of burning, melting and charring mixed with metallic twinges and pulverized rock.

As you turn to face the eventual bottom of your plunge, you notice a light far away on the distant floor of the cavern.
There are no other details around you, diving through an abyssal cavern of pitch darkness with only a single reference. The orange light.

Minute by minute, the light becomes stronger, its form taking shape around its twinkling area of effect.
Its a building. A palace perhaps, or a castle? It seems only as a hulking stone form from above.
Within seconds of identifying the light’s source, you collide with the ground at full force, pulverizing the stones below and displacing the dirt out of a 2ft crater around you.
You open your eyes and touch your head in shock, only to realize you are completely unscathed by the fall.

Dumbfounded, you stand, brushing yourself of dust and debris, and begin walking directly for the castle before you. Just as you do, the man from above appears in front of you, dissolving into existence out of thin air.
He approaches you slowly, hobbling as if carrying a great weight upon his back, and hands you a small scroll.
“You must read this. It is only for you” He states slowly, clearly gazing into your eyes.

You peel off the red ribbon around it, and unravel the scroll to reveal a single sentence, hastily scrawled in what appears to be blood.

“I told you not to take the blue pill”

The scrolls combusts in your hand, and suddenly your legs are sucked into the cracked dirt as if by quicksand, hardening around you at the knee.
The man, expressionless and devoid slowly drones out a sentence. “Now, you must wait.”
He turns, and gradually walks within the castle gates, lowering them behind him.
The orange light begins to dim from within, and eventually, despite repeated waverings of intensity, goes out.

Darkness surrounds you.
You stand silently, listening for a sound from within the cave.
Nothing.
Not a drip of water, nor touch of stone.
Complete silence fills the enveloping blackness.
You close your eyes.

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