Determined to investigate the mysterious lights shimmering across Claybottom Lake, Seris resolved to investigate without the burden of her constant companionship.
The Shimmerglens themselves quickly grew tangled and densely packed once Seris traveled out of sight of the swamp’s edge. As she meandered throughout the swamplands, drawn inexorably on the lure of ghostly luminescence, the silence was broken by a tiny, chattering voice.
A diminutive pixie appeared out of the darkness, and plaintively approached Seris.
“My mistress, she is…ill. Very ill. Death would have been a kindness. The land sickens with her heart, and it cannot be cleansed until her memory is purged. I cannot do this myself. Please, you must help her! You are friends with her human lover, yes? He wouldn’t want her left like this! I can take you to her—maybe you can do something. I have tried everything to cure her forlorn heart, but to no avail. She wails and moans in Whitewillow, and the trees and plants and nixies and frogs and everything are dying or worse! I can take you there! Please!”
Twisted black trees rose wretchedly from shallow pools, seeming to have lurched from the land, their arthritic branches curled into miserable tortured claws. A cold, dark mist loomed within the canopy of bone-bare branches above. Evil murmurs rode an unnatural wind that flowed forth from the glens, and shadows danced in the dark mists within.
The trees of the swampy region of Whitewillow, once beautiful and mystic with drooping boughs of sparkling ivory leaves, were dark and twisted with Myriana’s torment. Now, they shifted and moved when they should not. Shadows played cruel tricks on the sharpest eyes, and sanity shredding whispers caused even the canniest woodsman to lose his way. As Yap lead Seris deeper into the depths of Whitewillow, the degree of corruption seemed to grow. Spiders, languid and fat with poison, hung from trees. Dying birds twitched in the shallows. Slithering things with too many eyes squirted away through the water.
As she meandered on, Seris first glimpsed tall, dark-robed figures in her peripheral vision. Nothing but chill silence surrounded her, and as she focused more on the figures in the distance, enlarged skeletal claws extended from their outstretching hands as if reaching for her. When she blinked, the hands appeared as no more than the gnarled branches of twisted black trees. Seris shook off the feeling of dread that seeped into her heart, too resolute and too curious to figure out who this Myriana might be.
She spied a natural pool of water created by runoff from the hulking dark trees standing in a clearing ahead of her. Seris noted no algae or larval insects dwelling in the pool, which she reasoned could mean it was poisoned. As she gazed into the pool, the gentle ripples distorting her reflection in uneven pulses, a sense of wrongness began to creep
up in the back of Seris’ mind. She froze, a spell springing to the tip of her tongue and prepared to fight or flee. Yet after several tense minutes with Yap’s persistent urgings the only sound, Seris shrugged the feeling off and pressed on deeper into the woods.
About fifteen minues of walking later, all around Seris ghostly translucent forms emerged from the trees. Fey of all sorts—spectral satyrs, ghostly grigs, phantom nixies, and sprightly spirits floated gently from the swamp around her, followed by a parade of phantom animals. The fey cavorted and frolicked as they marched, eventually washing over her. They caressed, danced through, and embraced her before passing. Seris found herself in the ghostly party’s path, riveted by the otherwordly spectacle, and was burned by their lingering malevolent energy. As quickly as they materialized, they disappeared.
Mystified, she continued through the gnarled woods. Deep in the swamp, she suddenly stumbled across a derelict ship, inexplicably located hundreds of miles from the Varisian shore. The vessel was badly worn and covered in thick dark green moss, but was completely intact and was obviously of a seagoing model. The ship was deserted, but in his quarters belowdecks, the long-dead captain sat at a moldering darkwood harpsichord carved with demons battling angels. Still dressed in his rotten uniform, he clutched in one hand nautical charts that seemed complete alien to Seris, and a silver goblet inlaid with opals in the other. A book of sheet music bearing several lyrical masterpieces sat on the harpsichord. Seris was delighted to discover the wondrous music contained within could be played to enrapture a group of listeners. When she emerged from belowdecks, a white dog sat on deck watching her with milky blind eyes. The dog stared but did nothing else, eventually wandering off into the swamp and leaving no trace it was ever actually there.
Seris then happened upon the mangled corpse of a beautiful dryad half-protruding from a tree whose limbs had been smashed from the trunk by massive clubs. As she walked closer to get a better look, she heard soft feminine whispers in her ears—”She should not have fallen in love—her heart brought this upon us—why won’t she let us go?” Seris suddenly found herself filled with regret, but also with an increased resolve to lift the curse that vexed the swamp.
The tangled swamp gave way to a relatively large clearing, a calm pool of unnaturally still water ringed by twisted, decayed willow trees. Wind blew, but the trees did not sway. It was as if the very land had died. Yap quailed at the edge of the clearing, “We’re here…my lady waits for you within. I dare not go any closer…” he said before stepping back to cower beneath a gnarled tree. A luminescent being emerged from the gnarled tree.
Clearly once soul-shakingly beautiful, the nymph was now a haggard, ghostly horror. her disembodied arms floated at her sides, exposed bone and sinew stretching toward her torso but ever too far out of her reach. Her lower torso faded away to smoke, savaged too cruelly by the ogres for even her insane ghost to retain. But her most terrifying feature was her eyes: wells of hellish horror, crying out silently in an agony beyond anything a mortal creature could ever know. She was beauty undone, and torment incarnate.
As she entered the twisted glade, the ghostly nymph rose with a howl from the waters. Her blinding beauty nearly robbed Seris of her sight as the creature came into view. In a shrieking, hate-filled voice, she lashed out at Seris.
“You have failed Lamatar! You have failed to protect Fort Rannick. YOU have allowed the Kreeg to take him! High into the mountains, he languishes!”
With a word, Seris winked out of sight and danced a few steps out of the feral spirit’s trajectory.
“Let me stop you there,” Seris scoffed, while also attempting to keep her location vague. “I’ve actually done quite a lot to make the Kreegs extinct I’ll have you know.”Myriana spits at the mention of the Kreeg, angrily glaring off into the distance. For a moment, she seems lost in thought, but then her attentions snap back to Seris.
“Why are you here?! Why have you come? Do you have news of Lamatar?”
“Honestly? I’m not really sure why I’m here. If pressed, I suppose I’d have to say curiosity,” Seris replied, trying to keep her voice even. “Well, that and your damn persistent pixie.”
“Ah. Yap. He means well, and without him, you may never have found me. May never have arrived to help my dear Lamatar.” She pauses, suddenly irate. “You are here to help, are you not?!”
Seris considered that for a moment. She hadn’t been lying when she said she wasn’t sure why she’d followed Yap into such a dangerous place. In the middle of the night. Alone.
_“Damn it Seris, you fool of a sylph, you’ve gone and got yourself in the frying pan again. I suppose helping her is your only way out of this place alive, and you can always just lie to her. It doesn’t seem like she leaves these woods often.
But she seems to be in so much pain, and not only that, but a pain we’re all too familiar with. Do you really mean to leave her to her desperation? Have you really grown that callous?”_
With a shake of her head, Seris replied to the ghost, “Help, yes of course that’s why I’m here.”
“Oh, truly?” Her face softened suddenly. “I know in my heart he is now dead, but when I tried to reincarnate him, foul magic prevented his soul from returning to his new body.”
She stared at Seris. “Find his remains and return them to me—I need not the entire body. A lock of hair or a single finger will do.”
“If you do this, I will grant you with the gift of my inspiration. I know this to be valuable.”
“Your inspiration, huh? Well, my fellow adventurers and I are headed further into the mountains, so I will keep an eye out for Lamatar, or his remains.”