I stormed off through the trees, not looking back for a long time. I kept up my marching pace for hours, until dawn began to creep over the tops off the trees. I sank to my knees on the slightly damp ground, looking at the forest waking up around me. Small creatures scampered over the ground and the trees, collecting food for the day's breakfast. I pulled something out of my pack to eat as I watched.
After a short break and breakfast, I began to press on again. I needed to find the stone. But of course, I had no idea where I was. I kept walking, perhaps I'd find a marker or something that would tell me if I was getting close. Not a sign or anything, but maybe a symbol carved into a rock, or a tree. Maybe a word in an ancient language. Maybe I'd just feel a pull.
My sleepless night was catching up to me now, my steps were getting slower, I was kicking things and tripping over roots. Stumbling through the forest like an idiot. I stopped. My palms were stinging and the knees of my pants were grass-stained. I sat down on a tree stump and rested again, though I must have dozed off sometime during that because when I came to, it was nearly dark again, and a fire had been lit in front of me, and across the fire, was a strange old man.
I jumped, standing and reaching for my sword, but it had been removed. I looked and saw it had been placed next to the tree stump I'd been sitting on. I grabbed it and yanked it out of its sheath, pointing it at the man.
"Who are you!" I accused. "How did you find me?"
The old man just smiled. "You dont need to know the answer to either to listen to what I have to say."
"Do you work for Sethos?" I did not move my blade from its position level with the mans nose, but there was no fear on the mans face.
"Sethos is a small man, with small ideas." He said. "You are too, Prince."
I didnt move. "And you have bigger ideas, then, old man?"
"I have very few ideas these days." He said with a sigh, relaxing further and stirring the flames of the fire. "I just give advice to those who need it. "
"What sort of, advice." I couldnt help the question, my curiosity was piqued.
"Advice of many kinds, Prince. First of all, the thing you should be seeking currently is not the Stone of Sanfadier."
"What?" That was the entire purpose of this quest. That was why I was here, in the forest, alone. "That is my top priority. I must find the Stone."
"The others can find the Stone." The old man said. "One of them already has." I frowned at that, but let the old man continue. "What you should seek has been before your eyes your entire life."
I lowered my sword and sat down. "And what is that, old man?"
The man laughed. "I should think that was obvious." He stirred the flames and the smoke billowed up in the shape of a human female figure. "Doesnt it pain you to see your friends interacting, falling in love, while you sit and have nothing?"
"It doesnt bother me." I lied, swallowing the uncomfortable lump that had risen in my throat. "I have more important things to worry about."
The man laughed again. "Ah, Prince, there is nothing more important than a lifelong companion. The Stone can wait a while longer, it is well hidden. But your companion will not wait for much longer, you must realize this before its too late." The smoky figure danced in front of my eyes, and when I looked back at where the man had been sitting, he was gone. In his place, was a single object. A hard object wrapped in paper. I unwrapped the paper to reveal a small, carved stone box, not more than two inches on either side, and a note.
"Give this to your lifelong companion." It said.
I opened the box to reveal a beautiful silver ring, it looked like several silver bands had been intricately woven together, and they came together in a setting for what looked like a tiny star, it was a diamond so well cut. I closed the box and put it in my pocket. Lifelong companion... Was that really more important than the Stone?