Zechin is not a planet for the weak, and when one imagines Zechin, “peaceful” is a word furthest from mind. Yet, there was a small village there that was relatively peaceful. If one were to use a scale ranging from barbaric to civilized, this village would fall somewhere in the center, perhaps similar to Omeda’s Ying Mei Cartel; dangerous people constrained by a strict set of rules with severe consequences that laid a foundation of peace.
On this particular night, the village elder was to tell a story. This story was not unfamiliar, as it was told once a year as a reminder to the young. The story was not a happy one for it conveyed a message of helplessness and despair that cannot be avoided – that life does not always distribute justice evenly. It was about a swamp not far from the village. It contained a tale about how the swamp was not always a disease ridden, melancholy area filled with putrid scents that could strike down those weak of heart, but of how a beautiful, flourishing forest that was well tended had deteriorated into the infamous Drowned Forest.
The village members set up a large bonfire to keep themselves warm and to set a mood that would aid the elder in impressing the fear and caution concerning the Drowned Forest into the younger villagers. Once everyone found a place to sit, the elder stood, glanced around at the group, and a wicked grin slowly grew upon his face. It was time to pass down this tale of despair.
“There was once a forest, famous for its beauty, the plentiful fruits, and the majestic creatures that lived within. A spirit who lived there cared for this forest like every animal, every leaf upon the trees, and every stone strewn along the many paths were its own child. This spirit turned what was a forest of average value into something that was a unique treasure in our world. The spirit was a kind, thoughtful spirit that aided our village when we were nothing but a few tents with a handful of men and women. She provided us with luscious fruits that were sweeter than any other, and with meat that was the heartiest many had ever seen. The spirit and our village created a bond where we defended her forest from predators and other threats in thanks for the nutrition, for the life, that she provided. However!” The elder stressed this last word loudly, and the smaller children slightly fell back. “As you all know, in our world, our Zechin, peace never lasts and beauty always fades away…”
The flames from the bonfire spat a foreboding shadow across the elder’s face, showing only his rotten teeth and his horrible grin, larger than it was before. “As you now know, the spirit of the Drowned Forest in not the only spirit that inhabits our land. There are many, all with their own purpose, but the one that enters our tale today is known as The Fey – the spirit obsessed with her work of sowing death and cultivating new life. The Fey did not come with malicious intent, for destruction and regrowth is the only cycle she knows. Nonetheless, The Fey’s path led her to this beautiful forest. While we will never know what occupied The Fey’s thoughts at the time, she decided that the forest, our oasis amid grief, needed a bit of her own personal touch. The spirit of the Drowned Forest wailed her opposition, the cries could be heard from this very village, but The Fey was unwavering in her desire. The Fey used her powers to create vines to pull the treasured fruit trees from the ground, sunk holes in the meticulously evened earth, and made paths for water from nearby rivers to flow and submerge the forest.” The elder chose that moment to down a small cup of water that was place beside him.
The elder wiped his mouth with his arm in a savage manner, as though he had just fed upon a fresh kill. He continued, “The spirit of the forest went quiet. The atmosphere became eerily silent, void of any life that had inhabited it hours prior. Only once the bodies of the drowned creatures started to surface from beneath the water did the spirit make its presence known again. The water turned into a dark brown sludge, a vivid contrast with pure, clear state it came as. The animal corpses began to deteriorate, matching the image that the spirit saw when she viewed her sanctuary in this state. The spirit of the forest was broken. In an instant, she was no longer the kindhearted, merciful presence that the village respected, but a malevolent, raging spirit. I can only imagine the pain she felt, watching what she cared so dearly for be washed away before her. Sadly, we will never know her true feelings, for if we were to approach that land submerged in despair, the spirit would surely drag us down into those depths alongside her. Remember this children, men, women, or any who take pity upon this spirit: we are not to enter The Drowned Forest. We are no longer welcome, and the spirit that was once a great ally drowned that day, just like all her children had.” With that, the elder stood, clapped his hands, and a few men poured buckets of water upon the bonfire.
As the villagers started to return to their homes, many of the children swearing they will never near the swamp or wondering how The Fey could do such a heartless thing, one young woman stared at the damp ashes. She looked as though it had been her own heart that was trampled upon by The Fey’s actions. The spirit of The Drowned Forest must be in so much pain, so much heartache, and yet no one was willing to try to help? The young woman knew she was too kind for Zechin, many people told her that on a daily basis, but she was sure that if she extended a helping hand to the spirit, she would be accepted and the devastated swamp could return to its former glory. The girl, holding back tears of frustration, quietly slipped away from the village, leaving behind only footprints heading towards the forbidden swamp.
The young woman came upon the edges of the swamp and took in the sight. It was as off putting as many had said, but in the night, with the light from the few moons in the sky bathing the swamp in its purity, one could almost see the beauty that had been stolen away. The young woman found her nose slightly burning from the stench around her and feared that if she went any further, the gases may do more than just cause a slight irritation. Instead, she chose to call out for the spirit and offer her aid.
“Oh, spirit! I am sure you must still be here, for you long for your children to return. I am sorry that my people left you to this fate, but I am sure you understand there was not much we could do against an entity such as The Fey. Nevertheless, I apologize for the past and I come to help you. My people say I am too soft, but I will show them the strength that can be born from kindness. I want to help you return this area void of beauty back to that which brought envy throughout Zechin. Please…please come forth and say you will accept my aid.”
Many minutes of silence past, but the young woman held her determination. She was sure that the spirit would come. She was correct. She heard a cold whisper that rode the slight breeze, and it said words too low to hear. Slowly it grew louder, and every time she heard the whisper she grasped small bits of what was being said. Finally, she was able to put it all together and understand the complete idea. “Oh, you foolish girl. You will aid me. I will allow that, just not in the way you expected. I require not your aid, but you. You are to be mine. I will use your body as a tool to exact my revenge!” The young woman’s eyes opened wide once she comprehended the message and turn to ran. She took only a few steps before she felt her soul being savagely torn from her body. She took a long, last breath that was followed by a devilish voice coming from her own lips, “Thank you for your assistance. It is as they said. You are too soft for a place such as Zechin.”
Months passed as Morigesh became accustomed to her new body. Unsure of the required daily maintenance of a body, besides the annoying need for eating and drinking, her body became dirt ridden and filthy, matching the aesthetic of the swamp around her. The image of the young woman who had first inhibited this shell faded, giving way to a more angry visage obsessed with a single goal. Her body, covered in clay and painted with symbols that were a necessity for her rituals. Her hair, slowly wound together in clumps of dried mud and crawling with bugs. However, her eyes were two pristine gems full of flaming rage.
Morigesh focused on increasing her power so she could grasp the revenge she desired so intensely. The Drowned Forest soon became riddled with straw dolls, all of which were different shapes and sizes, slowly being experimented with to find which doll was most efficient for her purposes. She performed rituals day and night, with mysterious lights scaring the villagers nearby. As her power grew, so did her infamy. People became aware that a new threat had awoken in the hellish swamp and were far more hesitant to approach it than before. Some villagers spread whispers that even a glance at the forest could damn your soul for eternity. Such rumors of this fearsome power spread far beyond this simple village, even reaching camps in faraway mountains and tribes littering the plains located days away.
The tales of this new phenomenon fell upon the ears of a cheerful traveling ogre who was en route to the village on the outskirts of the Drowned Forest. He was requested by that town to come and perform for them to help raise moral, and he suspected this news was the reason his services were required. Narbash was intrigued by the image of a lone witch. It sounded like she could use some cheer and his drums were the perfect instrument for that. Rather than head straight for the village, perhaps he would make a detour, he decided. After all, if he could cure both the village and its tormentor of unhappiness, what better choice did he have? Narbash tightened his drum straps to his large shoulders and set off to the Drowned Forest determined to bring happiness to such an unfortunate place.
The Drowned Forest came into view as Narbash slowly waddled his way along the overgrown path he walked. He saw no strange lights, heard no terrifying screams, yet he could feel the odd presence that permeated through the trees. Slowly he stepped into the swamp, lifting the base of his drums for he did not want them dirtied, and he smiled with each step he took in the death-ridden water. All he could think about was what song he would play for this mysterious witch. Would a song with a faster tempo fit her mood? Would she be put off by a long song, or would a short one fail to capture her interest? Eh, as long as he played what he felt was right at the moment, he was sure the witch would enjoy the show. Narbash slowly beat his drums to keep occupied as he pushed through the dreary swamp. He saw few animals, but was surprised by the amount of bugs riddling the area. Some areas had a few frogs, which was only natural since their main food source thrived here. Narbash laughed as he saw frogs jumping around, trying to catch bugs and failing, falling straight into the murky water. One frog he caught mid-jump and decided to hold onto it for company. It was only a few minutes later that he came upon a patch of dolls hanging from the trees around him.
Narbash raised an eyebrow. Dolls? So, it seems that rumor was true. Why dolls? Was this witch actually much younger than he had imagined? He raised a hand, pushed some of the strange ornamentation out of his way, and continued through the curtain of eerie dolls. Narbash laughed, as it reminded him of stage curtains that he pushed aside when started a performance. He has stepped onto his stage and he was ready to please the audience. He heard a few grunts from further on in the swamp, followed by some strange language and recitations of a sort. It could only be the cute little witch! Maybe she will make a doll of me if I ask her, he thought. Narbash began to play a slow beat as he closed in on Morigesh. Morigesh’s head popped up, abruptly turned towards Narbash, and she bellowed in a loud, garbled voice.
Narbash stopped, stunned at both the reaction and the shattered image of the swamp witch. She isn’t the cute witch I thought she was, but she still has a primal sense of beauty about her. He waved, the frog he caught earlier sitting on his shoulder, and widely grinned as though he saw a close friend he had not seen in years. No reaction. The witch just snarled, slowly raising a curved knife in his direction. Maybe she wants to play the drums with me? he happily thought. Narbash strode forth in a carefree manner, his belly bouncing from laughing all the while.
“Hey there, you pretty witch, you! The name’s Narbash. I heard about you and thought you could use some cheerin’ up! Let me play some music for you and see if we can’t sort out your troubles, hm?” Narbash cheerfully suggested as he slowly started a song. Morigesh, sensing no danger, lowered her dagger, but her eyes were still nothing more than slits as she glared at the ogre before her.
“Play me a song that reminds me of nature, of the beauty that can be seen in a well tended grove. Do this before I kill you, stranger, for stepping into my domain.”
“‘Aight. Let me just think of a beat that fits that request.” Narbash thought for a moment before he started to strike his drums, releasing a sound that was reminiscent of animals running through a dense forest, of ripe fruits falling to the ground ready to be eaten, and of a strong, flowing river full of life. Morigesh’s mouth still formed a snarl, but her eyes slowly closed, the music slowly absorbing her. Narbash smiled as he saw her enjoyment. He slowed down the beat as the song came to a close. “Was it good? You looked like you enjoyed it! What name might the queen of the Drowned Forest have?”
Morigesh looked torn, like she wanted to converse, but at the same time hated herself for doing so. She slowly opened her mouth and spewed, “You may call me Morigesh. As for your question…yes. It was sufficient. Reminded me of good times, my past. Released me from my torment, my present.”
“Isn’t there anyone here with you, Morg? If you are alone, no wonder you are unhappy.” Narbash angled his head to the right, showing concern for this woman. “Surrounding yourself by friends and their laughter, the sounds of their voices, is the best medicine for a bad day.”
Morigesh looked away, casting a dark shadow over a pile of lifeless dolls before her. “No. Revenge. That is all I desire. Revenge for my world, stolen from me. I will take the life of the spirit who defiled my paradise.” Her fists clenched as she stared at the dolls.
“Want me to stay with you for a bit? I have to perform somewhere else soon, but I can keep you company for a while longer if you’d like. I like to make others happy, and you sure could use a dose of that.” Narbash happily juggled with the frog he brought, tossing it in the air, chuckling, and catching it gingerly again. He tossed the frog from behind his back, over his shoulder, and onto his drum. He bounced the frog a few times, enjoying this as much as the frog seemed to be.
Morigesh’s face went from being full of anger to only slightly agitated, which was a win in Narbash’s opinion. Better to be slightly annoyed rather than feeling vengeful, as that was a bit closer to happiness on an emotional scale. She faced Narbash with a deadpan stare and calmly stated, “I was going to kill you for interrupting my work. However, since you helped me remember my children and do not seem intent on bringing harm to my home, I will let you leave this swamp unharmed. Do not think that I had not noticed the smells of the swamp did not sway you. That alone has proved a sense of your worth to me. Do not come back though. I only wish for silence and time to perfect my rituals. Now, go, before my knife decides to try piercing something other than straw dolls.”
Narbash shrugged. “Well, I tried. You seem happier, or at least less angry, than you were before I arrived. I mean, at least you aren’t screeching anymore, right? I still think you need a friend though. I am gonna leave this little guy here for you. I think he would be a good partner for you.” Narbash lifted the frog from the top of his drum and placed it on the ground between he and Morigesh. “Well, I hope I do see you around again, Morg. Maybe you can come to a performance. While I love giving personal shows, a full on crowd with a stage can’t be beat.” Narbash smiled, readjusted his drums on his stomach, and turned away, waddling through the thick swamp muck. He slowly beat his drums and sung to himself as he headed towards the edge of the swamp. His voice faded long before the pounding of the drums had. Once it was silent again, Morigesh returned to her work.
As Morigesh examined her dolls, the frog cautiously hopped towards her. Its big, beady eyes stared up at her and she, at it. Morigesh reached into her hair and snagged a crawling critter, pulled it out, and slowly gave it to the frog. It jumped into her hand and fed on the helpless bug. Morigesh’s mouth slightly curved up at the touch of another living thing, even it was just a small frog. She thought back to her children, how much she loved them. She grasped the frog firmly and began to pet it, wishing all her children were still with them, wanting for all the past that is no longer in the present, hoping for the death of The Fey, and felt a murderous desire slowly crawl back into her mind.
Without realizing it, Morigesh had slipped back into that mindset obsessed with only dealing pain. Her powers had unleashed and had been focused into the frog. Morigesh’s eyes open slightly in shock as she saw the frog’s front legs had started to swell, muscles starting to bulge and develop far more than what is natural. Her rage had infused into the poor animal, creating a monster that she knew well. She dropped the frog, tears welling up in her eyes, angry that she had now cursed another to live with an inferno of anger inside them, damned to slowly burning away from that insatiable flame.
Morigesh screamed loud and long, a sound filled with utter anguish. She continued this horrific wail as the frog slowly escaped into the swamp, every hop being followed by a new muscle popping up through its skin. Small trees were felled as the frog rampaged its way through the swamp. Morigesh needed to recenter herself. She breathed deep, organizing her thoughts. She needed to see what really mattered. No frog will help her. No music. No damned ogre will be able to give her what she wanted. Only her dolls, her knife, her bugs, and her willpower will really reap what she desired. Morigesh ferociously grabbed at the pile of slim dolls. She lifted a femininely shaped figure above her and mercilessly drew her knife. The doll’s head flung through the air and landed on a wilted flower. Morigesh’s face became overcast with a melancholy shadow. She will show her – that damned spirit – that sometimes death is not always followed by new life.