Trudging through the dense thicket, Annie, Rose, and Theo ventured deeper into the woods, delving into the heart of wilderness. Their footfalls were cautious, reverberating through the undergrowth as they stumbled upon an shadowy figure perched upon a fallen tree. The man exuded an aura of mystery, his rugged visage framed by a wild beard that housed a multitude of critters, a living testament to his symbiotic connection with the natural world.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” the man’s voice resonated, an unexpected blend of youth and wisdom. His shoulder bore a blue bunting, its gentle flutter mirroring the man’s subtle movements.

As Rose scrutinized the scene, unease gnawed at her. The sight of creatures nesting within the man’s beard sent shivers down her spine, a primal discomfort she couldn’t shake.

Unperturbed by the eerie companionship, Annie’s demeanor remained steady. “Did the Organization call you?” she inquired, her voice laced with a knowing tone.

The dirty man chuckled, his response laden with amusement. “No, my dear. you’ve been stomping through the forest for the past half hour,” he nodded to his feathered friend on his shoulder, “everything knows you’re here…” and with that the man set off, beckoning the trio to follow, his steps leading them deeper into the embrace of the trees.

Annie, Rose, and Theo trailed cautiously behind the man of the forest, a subdued quietness enveloping them as they journeyed onward. Their nimble guide led them to an astonishing sight, a small opening in the canopy allowed a few beams to illuminate a small landing that begot a seemingly ordinary hole in the ground, yet upon closer inspection, one could see a world teeming with life bursting forth from every crevice. Animals of all sorts crawled, frolicked and roamed, coexisting in a delicate balance more benevolent than nature’s design.

Inside the tree man’s den a sumptuous feast awaited them, a table laden with the bounty of the forest. Fruits, vegetables, and mostly edible delicacies adorned the spread, an offering that emanated harmony and respect for the creatures that called this realm home. Animals thrived here, untouched by harm, a testament to the stewardship that governed this place.

The silence between them bore the weight of understanding, questions left unspoken as they partook in the feast. It was Annie who eventually shattered the hush, her words cutting through the air like a blade.

“You know why we’re here,” she addressed the man, her gaze unwavering.

“I know my reason,” he replied with an air of calm certainty.

With a knowing glance, Rose interjected having shined the prophecy, “When the serpent leads the lamb astray…”

The man finished the prophetic statement, “the Hand of God shall emerge.”

Rose’s brow furrowed, grappling with the meaningless words.

The woodsman took the lead once again, his voice weaving a tapestry of truths and mysteries. “This place, this hole… is not just a hole. It’s a gate, a passage to another realm — same place, different space.” He stood up and grabbed his gnarled staff that had been leaned against the wall. “We can manipulate our body’s material frequency, just slightly, and alter when our atoms condense into solids, thus rendering out us out of phase from our current standing.”

“That’s what they meant by phase shift,” Annie muttered, piecing the puzzle together.

“Yes, ‘phase shift’ – exactly,” the druid confirmed, a glimmer of admiration in his eye.

With a knowing smile, he beckoned them into a small corridor. “This way,” he said, his voice resonating like the wind through leaves.

The three friends exchanged puzzled glances but decided to follow the druid’s instructions. They were led around a short bend and into small chamber.

“Oh!” The druid erupted, “I almost forgot the most important part,” he turned and exited the room “I’ll only be a moment,” he said as he left and shut the door behind him.

The three companions stood in the cramped room for a uncomfortable amount of time and their close proximity caused the air temperature to rise.

Then, without warning, the chamber door cracked open. They were startled, and as they looked out around the bend they realized something had changed. The once-laden table was now barren, covered in cobwebs and thick dust, as if it had not been touched for centuries.

The woodsman was nowhere to be seen, and the forest outside was markedly different. The vibrant life they had witnessed upon their arrival had vanished. The forest floor was mundane, and the colors of autumn leaves had faded to dull shades of brown. It was as if they had stepped into a different dimension.

“We’re there,” Annie said after a moments pause.

“Where,” Theodore asked.

“You’ll see…” Annie said as she started to lead them back out of the woods.