The Fae Forest.

[author's note: This was written for a Halloween session. The party followed clues into the forest outside of town, and found themselves....beset by fears, by memories.]

Around them, the forest grew cold.

Gaspar stopped in his tracks, eyes darting across the path, twisting to look back behind them. His nerves had run high since those screams back at James’-- his heart hadn’t stopped racing, and he thought – he’d thought, moments ago, the night air was fine. Better than being cooped up, better than waiting. He’d wanted to get away from the noise, and the light, and the glazed-over eyes, the magic saturating the village. Barrelling into the woods, putting this to rest, it would be better.

He was wrong.

His skin was crawling, now, and the sounds of everything – Wyr’asa’s clothes, Bone Dog’s paws, Isaac’s grumbling – felt too loud, too close, too dangerous. His own breath, which he held down upon realizing it – would draw anything towards them, and within seconds of stepping into that fog – no, not even seconds – they weren’t alone.

He froze. He hadn’t even taken a step, but his body tensed further, he held himself stiller, and as the others walked ahead, unaware, he opened his mouth to call them back, and the words died in his throat, clamming up with fear – not fear. He wasn’t frightened, he was being careful. If they wanted to make noise, get themselves killed, then – then he couldn’t stop them.

They weren’t alone. Shapes danced on the edges of his vision, but they were only shadows. It didn’t matter. He knew they were there. Rustling. Steps. They were idiots. He swore, silently, again and again, as the others drew further and further away, unthinking, unhearing.

He couldn’t keep holding his breath, and the mist swirled around his nostrils, more like smoke, a fucking signal to anyone who’d come looking, and when he finally, finally peeled one foot off the ground, the dense fog shifted, clinging damp to his skin and clothes but leaving a tell-tale wake roiling behind. There was no way out.

Whispers began to fall. From a distance, the edge of the woods, then coupled with the rustling of leaves and branches, heavy weight of bodies who didn’t care to be stealthy. Not far. Not here, not on him, not yet, but soon. Inevitable.

“DeSaul, yeah, he came this way. Can’t hide those fuckin’ tracks.” Rough, blunt, drawling and familiar.

“You’ll spot him, un-fuckin’-mistakeable.” Soft hiss, punctuated consonants, no footsteps to match; uncannily silent.

“You think he knows where we left his ‘friend’? Come looking?” High, curious, playful rasp, loudest boots of all.

“As if he’ll be able to move a muscle. Like a rabbit, y’know. Just freezes. Rabbits aren’t near seven foot and orange, though, are they?” Sneering, slow, gait loping and uneven. He knew them all.

Isaac and Wyr’asa were almost distant enough to be lost in the trees, and it was a few seconds of staring after the shapes they left in the fog that he realized it. A few seconds later, they were lost, and so was he, forest and fog swallowing him up.

He could run after them. Try to keep them safe, try to outrun – them, who should be anywhere but here. They should be in Herringbone, or on the road, or– dead. Were they dead? He thought -and it was his fault – but he couldn’t be sure, and he couldn’t move. He’d bring them down on him, the second he moved, spoke, breathed.

There were more. All swarming, just out of sight. He knew them all. He knew they were there. No more voices, nothing but rustling, but footsteps and breathing and patterns he knew a million times over. Just beyond that tree, just ducked down behind the bushes, someone crouching in the leaf litter. Some waiting, some circling, some still searching.

He could draw his stolen glaive; he could drink a vial and tear into them, kill them- he wasn’t helpless. He patted at his coat, quietly, trembling.. He had his things, he hadn’t…dropped them, or forgotten them. But he couldn’t use them. All of it would just draw more. He didn’t know how many more. Anyone. Everyone. There wouldn’t be an end, not when there were too many with reason – and too many without. Just a glimpse was all they needed to make up their minds, to decide on their quarry.

It was always him, and he knew why; and they all would, too, even strangers, people he’d passed once on the street, shopkeepers he’d traded coin with, city guardsmen and farmers. Word spread fast, and where word didn’t spread, they’d see it plain on his face, make up their minds, remember him, chase him, find him.

He was crouching, and he didn’t know when he’d done that, hoping the fog would provide some cover; the mud seeping between his talons, coat dragging, heart itself betraying him to every soul in these woods with how loud it beat at his chest, almost tearing free entirely, when he looked up, and met directly a pair of blue glassy eyes on a face pallid and slack, heard wordless whispers of derision and rage. His name cutting through the murmur, and –

“Gaspar? Wyr’asa? What’d….what happened, did you guys see something?”

They were back, beside him. He was standing upright. Whispering died back, only to nag in the quietest corner of his mind.

The forest was still cold.


[author's note: I can't give context because it's been a while. sorry. I hope this is enjoyable anyway? ]

It always took him a while to…shake off whatever thoughts crept in during the night, and a few hours spent in the early morning to write things down, to confine them into a box - helped. Or made it worse, by bringing it fully into the world of reality, but he hoped it helped. It was better than letting them nag at his thoughts, half-remembered.

Dreams, nightmares, especially of late, they’d all seemed to blur more with reality. His imagination, hopefully; stress and the strangely upsetting comfort of withdrawing into those dreams where everything bad might happen but at least he knew what to expect –

And not, he hoped, a sign of anything fucking with reality quite to that extent. As planes tore open around them, it wasn’t an altogether idiotic worry, at least for someone who’s knowledge of the planes about comprised of his browsing Omara’s scribbled notes and the little firsthand experience – as incredible as that was, it didn’t do much for his grasp of the cosmology; of the theory.

Gaspar liked theory all right. Reading wasn’t something he was especially quick to have picked up, nor keen on in lieu of other options, but he liked delving into the theoretical, into the … equations and complexities that couldn’t really be seen or tested by the naked eye. Those evenings spent scratching on parchment while trying to grasp everything their grizzled friend droned on about – he wasn’t a bad teacher, but Gaspar hadn’t quite figured out how to sit still and center his full attention – they had been both mind-numbing and fucking fascinating at once.

However, he had mushrooms now from two separate planes of existence, and that, as far as he was concerned, mattered far more. It was almost a shame the spore-walker’s….. Er, gift had been burnt away by the heart of that…witch. Ghoul. Ghast? Hag. He didn’t really know. It was a relief not to have to hack at his neck every so often, he didn’t fancy the idea of becoming so overgrown as to be good for little more than a hearty, healthy meal (though maybe that was better than being immortalized in stone).

But it was a physical connection to a place he didn’t think he’d ever return to. And he’d miss it. He didn’t even know if that world – marshy and the most pleasant wilderness he’d ever stepped foot in – had a name. Well, it probably did, but he didn’t know if anyone on this plane knew it. It was somewhere he’d like to show Quincey, but at least he’d kept the, er, the fleshrooms, as disgusting, he was sure, as Quincey, Wyr’asa, Isaac, Gabriel if he were here, would be so keen to remind him it was.

He didn’t know about Bone Dog’s sensibilities.

At any rate, the idea of making contact–not just contact, but change, material, concrete change, was exhilarating and carried enough fascinating curiosities to hold most of his worries at bay. They were other worlds, but they were worlds just like his. Except different. In every imaginable way.

It was a bit sad, really. Or maybe it wasn’t. He didn’t know how he felt about it – the fact that there’d always be more, that there was so much he knew he’d never see or experience. It was incredible, but a frantic kind of incredible that made him want to pack up and hurl himself into another plane with reckless abandon.

His notebook wasn’t really a journal, today. It was a sketchbook, with his scribbled renditions of those hags they’d dispatched in the woods, and the image of those snakes–burned into his retinas for a split second before going stiff, body locking and his senses dying.

It wasn’t as awful as he’d imagined.

Well, it was worse looking back on it, but that was how it always was, right? Death was nothing until you’d come back. At least, so he hoped. Being stone certainly felt that way. He didn’t remember anything but the fraction of a hair of a second before, presumably, the process was complete. And then Isaac, mouthing off about what a goddamn powerful spell he’d just wasted – Gaspar barely even realized what on earth he’d meant until a few seconds later.

Still, he’d rather it not happen again. Maybe he ought to write out a will. If petrified, please pulverize. Something like that. Worse than an early grave was a goddamn picture-perfect memorial, but at least the middle of the woods wouldn’t have been the worst place for it. Bit of a warning, maybe. He’d rather not be a cautionary tale.

His doodling had turned reptilian – well, more reptilian than the snakes – well, equally reptilian, but –

He scratched it out. Didn’t need any of that. His thoughts were still overcrowded and confusing – the witch, the hags, the planes; like waves hitting the beach while thunder crashed overhead, conveniently displacing just enough focus to keep him distracted.

Until they stopped, and his pen began to scratch out a Q - U - I - N - C - E.

A growl came from his throat, and it hardly felt like his own. He couldn’t write another letter now, not without getting all bogged down in worries he couldn’t deal with. Couldn’t write one to Gabriel, either, or he’d feel like shit for cherrypicking. No more writing. They’d be leaving, soon, anyway. To Farsend, gods fucking willing. His fingers did reach up for the miniature scythe that hung under his shirt, rubbing over each gem-cut blade. Not that she’d have any sway over his wellbeing. Not that he necessarily wanted her to, given the circumstances.

But he’d never found much connection in anything divine, and there was something desperately comforting about making it now, just like there had been speaking with Ameline, poring over the Old Strathsain. Comforting, but selfish. Ridiculous. And he dropped the amulet back under his shirt. It offered him some practical protection; he’d looted it, and that was the end of it.