How Ghost discovers a downside to dealing with the Unseely Court.
As Ghost walked away from the bonfire behind her, she was overcome with the beauty of the midnight forest. With a laugh of joy and relief, she discovered her long curse was lifted and her ability to delight in the beauties around her renewed. Ghost began to dance and frolic through the starlit night. At the sound of her laughter the proud trees stood tall and thrust out their chests around her; in the wake of her dance the flowers half-opened their fragrant buds in sleepy appreciation of her fey charm.
Her delight rising to near intoxication, Ghost leaned down to caress a particularly lovely young rose. But to her horror she found her hand still held the Unseely blade of pure shadow that the goblin had given her. Her sweeping gesture severed and instantly desiccated the rose, it’s parent bush, and several other innocent plants nearby.
Ghost dropped the blade with a start, her elation instantly souring. Hadn’t she left the blade at the bonfire behind her? How could she be so careless? For the first time, the mortal sensation of guilt entered her heart. Vainly she tried to coax some life back into the rosebush, but she was too young a dryad to possess such power. As she realized this she sank to the ground in grief.
But Ghost was not one to dwell long with sorrow, and soon her grief catalyzed into anger at the blade that had betrayed her and the Unseely court who had tricked her into wielding such a blight. Not knowing how to destroy the blade, she set about to bury it, digging through the forest floor like a badger. At about elbow depth she encountered several roots too thick for her nails to sever. Unwilling to chance using the blade to aid her, she lay it in this shallow grave and pushed the dirt back on top, stomping it down in as tight a pack as her slight frame would allow.
Ghost moved again through the night, putting as much distance as possible between herself and the scene of her crime, but her former delight in the beauty of the woods would not return. The trees still stirred in her wake and calls of “Beautiful one, stay, dance with us a while” were tossed at her back, but with the dawn of guilt came the dusk of innocence.
“Gentle monarchs,” she called back in the language of trees, “your innocent majesty surely deserves a dance, but I fear there is no dance left in me.”
“But we can see the ugliness has left your soul,” cried the trees in return. “Why cannot you dance with us?”
“I have slain innocent plants,” she replied.
“So do we all,” replied an ancient elm. “Those that grow in our shade cannot but die of our shadow.”
“But my shadow was given me by a goblin,” she replied, “and killed at the Unseely’s behest.”
At this all the trees gasped and stared. Looking down at her hand, Ghost saw the blade again within it.
“But I buried this blade not long ago!” she protested. “How is it in my hand again?”
She expected no answer to her query, and none of the trees supplied one, but there was nearby an old poison ivy that had lived in its false youth and noxious beauty for many decades. It knew something of the Unseely and their dealing with the lighter fey and saw in this an opportunity to get a naïve young dryad to owe it a favor.
“Thou hast made covenant with the Unseely,” it said in the affected high speech typical of such impostors. “Yon shadow be the signature of the Court on ye.” It had to pick its opening carefully, for too much offered freely and no debt would be owed but too little and the dryad would ignore its teaser.
Ghost knew of the dangers of dealing with such a noxious character, but she was eager for any information and ivies, though not kind, are far more trustworthy than goblins. “But how can I be rid of it?” she asked.
“Signatures be as lasting as the covenants they bind,” it replied, “yet need not be carried visibly. Ye may dismiss it as ye might resist itching a rash, and regain it as ye will by the complement action.”
“How do you mean…” began Ghost, but stopped to consider the ivy’s words before continuing. There had been an odd sensation in her arm after she buried the blade, a sort of tingle along the bones of her right forearm. She hadn’t given it much thought at the time, assuming it was a consequence of her too-vigorous digging. Inspired by the ivy, she concentrated on trying to make the tingle reappear. After a few false starts, the blade vanished. “…oh, I see,” she finished lamely.
Grateful, but knowing the danger of an imprecise expression, she worded her next query with care. “Thank you for your guidance. Is there any little act of pruning or rearranging your leaves I might do to express my gratitude?”
The ivy, recognizing that this was a fair offer and frustrated at her canny, asked for a few runners to be moved for better sunlight but otherwise had to let the dryad go unmolested. The dryad, immune to the poison oils by her fey nature, walked on through the forest, hoping to find some other site where her loss of innocence would not spoil her delights.