Ghost instructs Jägerson in the ways of the Dark Realm.
Ghost had a very selective memory. She recognized this fairly often, and each time it was a revelation because the fact that her memory was selective was not one of the things it selected to remember. Take the current instance. She had remembered that the dark realms were dark, and that they were unpleasant but not as unpleasant as her tree, but she had not remembered any actual details about them. As she surveyed the scene now, she knew that it was not unlike what she had seen before, but it was all new to her nonetheless.
“So,” said Jägerson, standing close beside her with his sword held point-upward in front of him as though it were some sort of ward against the scene beyond, “we went to sleep in the fey and woke up in the dark.” He paused for a moment and then asked “What’s a buggane, exactly?”
Ghost understood fear. She understood the rational fear of a present, threatening danger. She had been afraid, for example, that Jägerson would do something stupid last night and cause the dark realm not to reach out to them. Mentioning bugganes had been part of her way of mitigating that fear, which fear has since left her. But Jägerson clearly had generous helpings of miscellaneous fear sloshing about in his blood, and somehow Ghost was certain that telling him what a buggane was would not help him act more sanely.
“It’s just part of the local fauna,” she said. “Look, you know how in the fey realms I kept my blade hidden?”
“No, I mean, you are aware that I kept it hidden because it didn’t fit in, it made everything look nastier?”
“Well, it might be wise to keep that blade you are holding now hidden while we are in the dark realms for similar reasons.”
Jägerson looked at his sword. “But it doesn’t look nasty, does it?”
“That’s the point, isn’t it?” Ghost could tell Jägerson wasn’t getting this. How could she explain? “Nasty is the beauty of the dark realms. Look, just sheath the sword, OK?”
Despite his fear, Jägerson did so. The little circle of kindness that the sword had radiated vanished, letting the meanness close around them. “This is better?” he asked nervously.
“Look, ‘there is a reason they call them the Unseely. They’re not like demons or humans or whatever; they are still elfin in their core, and that means aesthetics, beauty, even dancing. Look around you! This isn’t just some mundane scene of uncaring ugliness: every toadstool, every gnarl, every sump and nettle and wart and scar is placed carefully, is striving with intelligent care to create a scene that exudes nastiness. We are standing in a master portrait of the dark! This isn’t a land for moping about depressed and hopeless; it’s a land for stalking dramatically around in black velvet robes or dancing about in wild jerking motions, shrieking and howling in carefully tattered clothes artistically splattered with mud.’ It’s bad enough that I’m a dryad; we really don’t need some star-bright elfblade shining niceness across the landscape.”
Something about that monologue did not sound to Jägerson like the Ghost he thought he knew. Still, as he looked around the scene he could see what she meant. It was the kind of nastiness you would see hanging in a gilt frame on the wall of a wealthy merchant’s house. Turning back, he saw Ghost was ripping the hem off her dress; but it didn’t rip like cloth does, along the weave; it ripped in a random jagged line like an artist’s drawing of a tattered hem.
“Who were you quoting just now?” asked Jägerson.
Ghost was surprised. She hadn’t realized she was quoting someone, but when asked she could almost remember another voice saying the same words to her on her last visit. Or had it been her first visit? How many times had she been here?
“Just someone I had show me around here once,” she said. “Here,” she added, handing him the ripped-off hem of her outer dress, “wrap this around the hilt of the sword. It’s a bit too pretty to fit in here.”
Jägerson began to carefully weave the impossibly-torn fabric through the filigree to obscured the artistry while still leaving the sword fully usable. Meanwhile Ghost splattered herself with mud from a nearby bog and then used an inky-black mushroom to add heavy lines around her eyes. As a finishing touch she summoned her sword and tied it to her waist with the torn hem of her underdress. The net effect, Jägerson noticed, was compelling: she had gone from an unaccountably dour nymph of the wood to a striking, deadly-looking siren of the night.
Her makeover complete, Ghost looked over Jägerson and smiled with the unalloyed happiness he had not seen since their first evening together. “You do fit in much better here than you did upstairs,” she said. “It’s all the leather, I think, plus the way you carry yourself like you are about to kill or be killed. It’s nice.”
“You had no trouble finding a look to fit in either,” replied Jägerson. He wasn’t usually one for compliments, but that influence of that smile made it hard to resist the urge.
“I’ve had some practice,” replied Ghost. “I think,” she added. “I’m not really sure what I remember, so if you have any good ideas don’t hesitate to share. But remember: words have power here and most things here are happy to take that power and use it to your hurt. It’s best not to say secrets outright nor to state what you will or won’t do or do or don’t want.”
“How do I share ideas without sharing things you don’t know or stating intentions?”
“Indirection sometimes helps,” replied Ghost. “Riddles are generally good too. I tend to find that adding qualifiers like ‘I tend to find’ and ambiguous words like ‘one’ can reduce one’s chances of giving one’s word where said word might not have been meant to be given. Even bad grammar can, as it were, good.”
Jägerson took a moment to process this. “Is there a suggestion that perhaps not being, um, like ‘um’, can bind some to some or something?”
Ghost grinned at this. “Quick learners sometimes do OK,” she replied.
As she spoke, Jägerson notices a bulky shadow detach itself from the general gloom behind her and start moving toward them. His instinct was to point or say something direct, and he could think of no potential harm coming from either of those moves, but he guessed that practicing defensive indirection couldn’t hurt.
“Did I just notice you glance backwards?” he asked. To his satisfaction, Ghost immediately glanced behind her.
“Have you heard of the Barghest?” she asked, turning slowly so she was fully facing the advancing shape. “Some say they are like large, intelligent, and angry dogs. Information might precede danger on a good day.”
So she wants to parlay with it first, translated Jägerson, but suspects we’ll end up in a fight. To his surprise, the anticipation of combat caused his fears and worries to drain away and a confident calm to replace them. Killing goblin-kin was what he did, after all; there were none better at it than him. Perhaps this trip wouldn’t be so bad after all.