Introducing Ghost, a dryad without a tree.
In the great old forests of the fey-touched lands the mighty oaks have souls mobile. Hamadryads they are called, beautiful nymphine maidens they appear, and devoted to their forests they unquestionably are.
In the fey-touched groves near Eastfork Minor lived only one dryadic tree, a massive, gnarled, ugly oak that had survived many a blight and storm before it attained the age and experience necessary to spawn a dryad. Out from its warped bowels sprung the transcendent maiden-form, laughing in delight at the beauty of the wood and frolicking in brook and field. But when this hamadryad returned to her trunk and saw its warped, unsightly form, the sight chilled her blood and stilled all her merriment.
The next day the dryad attempted to delight in beauty as before. The flowers were as lovely, the brook as clear, the forest as majestic, and she soon forgot the fright that was her tree. But as evening drew nigh and she returned to her home she felt the repulsion of its hideousness more strongly than before. No daytime beauty could make up for such an awful vision! And to think this tree had somehow given rise to herself… it was more than she could stomach.
As time drew on the oppressive repulsion of her warped wooden shell grew more and more heavy on her mind. Farther afield she wandered, longer from her base she stayed, and less aimless were her frolics. One objective grew to overpower all others, and that was her need to be freed from the repugnant oak. Many a sage and master of the Seely fey she consulted, but alike the wise and powerful crushed her hopes, advising her to “see the majesty in the tree” and that “dryads are the souls of trees, and cannot live without them.”
Eventually convinced that none of the benevolent wizards and sprites of light would help her, the dryad sought out darker councils. Boggarts and shellycoats she found easily, and from them was introduced by degrees through barghests, witch-hags, and wirry-cows until she found out the location of a meeting of the Unseely Court itself.
As a dryad she was an innate lover of beauty, and the scene she surveyed was one of profound ugliness. Even the most lovely of the Unseely was warped and frightening, as only the most evil magics could make one. But if this multitudinous but lesser ugliness could save her from the never-ending surpassing blight of her tree… a moment of courting ugliness was worth escaping that curse.
She was not permitted to enter the court itself, nor would she have wanted to had she been given the chance. A single goblin, small as a child and wizened as a centenarian, was in conference with her, a delegate from the court it seemed. She had no need to tell it her desire, for such is the magic of the great fey that they know what we most desire without our ever telling them. The first price it had suggested for freeing her was her soul, but she knew better than to accept such and offer and held out for something better.
After much bargaining, the goblin proposed a trade the dryad could accept. All it required, it said, was that she enter his service, performing small tasks of no great danger from time to time as asked. The dryad added a condition that, if ever one of these tasks proved “more detrimental to health and happiness than a night in the tree” then she would be freed from this service. The goblin agreed, and the deal was made.
The goblin then gave the dryad a blade of pure shadow and instructed her to plunge this blade into her tree at midnight, promising this would sever the link and kill the tree, leaving the dryad free.
The next night the hamadryad performed the ritual slaying as instructed, severing with the night-black blade the connection between herself and the tree. Elated by the rush of dark power and freedom, she hacked the tree to pieces, heaping them into a bonfire that lit the night with flame.
As the flames burned low and her curse was finally behind her, the dryad resolved never more to be called by the name of her parent tree. “I am a spirit without a body,” said she; “from now on I shall be called Ghost.” And, with this resolution fixed in her mind, Ghost turned her back on the flames and marched into the world, free at last.