In which we learn of Ghost’s reaction to the Barghest and Ghost and Jägerson begin to hike through the Dark Realm.
Jägerson was happy. He was happy that the scary-sounding, scary-looking barghest could be slain with a single thrown sword. He was happy that Ghost had the presence of mind to throw it. He was happy to know the name of the goblin who had his ungues. Things were looking up.
Ghost was not happy. The rosesee Ghost’s Shadow she had killed accidentally, and that while the fey mindset was still strong and grief could not last. The beaverssee Curious Ghost she had killed in a mindless rage. But the Barghest she had decided to kill calmly. It wasn’t exactly murder, for she did believe it would have caused trouble had it been allowed to escape; but it wasn’t exactly self defense either. She had thrown the blade because she thought it would be simpler to have a dead Barghest than one on the loose and because she rather wondered if she could hit it.
Emotions other than happiness filled Ghost’s body. There was excitement, a sort of energized thrill from the sudden release of tension. There was regret, a disconcerting angst at the thought that she had destroyed a life that could never return. There was pride in a quick reaction and an accurate throw; pride in having the power to slay a monster of destruction with a single blow; pride in being so thoroughly severed from her tree that such an action could come from her.
Overriding all these emotions was a sense of disappointment. Ghost was disappointed in herself. She was disappointed that she had so quickly lost the kindness and gentle foresight and innocence of her dryad life. Her body had been a kind, wise tree for all its hideousness, and here she was actually glad she had become so callous and harsh.
Jägerson kept cutting in on her reflections. Could they eat Barghest meat? Would the teeth or claws be worth anything in a market? Would wearing the Barghest’s hide help present the right image? What did she know of this Garzdook character? Would knowing his name make it easier to find him? What should they do next?
Eventually, Ghost pulled herself together and decided to begin walking in a direction selected more-or-less at random. It was a characteristic of the fey lands, both light and dark, that they wanted to be seen as wild, but they wanted to be seen. Ghost was pretty sure that as long as they didn’t actively fight the land they would wander through intimidating and abandoned wilderness for a few hours and then stumble across a settlement or moot or magic glade or some such scene of interest. Ghost had no desire to meet the pack of the Barghest she had just killed so she picked a direction that was not on line with either the Barghest’s entry or exit trajectories and she and Jägerson began to walk.
At first Jägerson was happy to follow her lead, but after a few hours he asked “Are you sure this is the right way?”
“You will find out soon enough,” she replied shortly. She knew it was the goal of the landscape to make her feel alone and depressed and hopelessly lost. She could feel it trying to tell her she was going in circles even though she knew with absolute certainty that she was not. She knew that the sense of being lost was a lie, but she was still weighed down by the sense of being lost. It was not a familiar sensation for a dryad.
“You don’t know where we’re going, do you?” asked Jägerson. “You did say you had been here before, didn’t you?”
“I was here last month,” replied Ghost.
“‘Here’ here, or just ‘in this realm’ here?”
“How could you not know?”
“Did we speak about the value of indirection?” asked Ghost. She was feeling annoyed and just wanted Jägerson to stop talking.
Jägerson paused to consider this, then said “perhaps you’d demonstrate how it might be applied to this topic.”
A clever play. If she didn’t answer she would have asked him to do something she herself was unwilling to do; if she did answer she would get the answer to a question she didn’t want to answer. She looked at him was a new-found respect. At last she said “How many recall details of experiences from before their souls inhabited their current bodies?”
Jägerson nodded his acceptance of this reply. “Should all hunters trust their guides?” he asked.
“Some say the sense of being lost builds ever higher right up until the moment they realize they were never lost at all.” She smiled encouragingly at him, or at least tried; she could feel the energy of the blade at her side turning it into a rather more frightening smile than she intended. “Not all that say that are unwise,” she added.
Jägerson shrugged and turned to face the road again. “The poet Lockswinter,” he muttered under his breath.
Ghost had never heard of the poet Lockswinter, nor indeed of any particular poet. She looked at Jägerson quizzically in hopes he might clarify, but he just laughed at her expression.
“Just a poet,” he said. “Just some poet.”
Ghost shrugged and turned to face the trail again. The feeling of being lost hadn’t reached it’s pinnacle yet; they still had miles to go before they reached wherever they were going.