A man wandered down a long winding road, city behind him he was headed westward. The hard-compact dirt slowly become loose as he ventured the way less travelled. Constantly raising a hand to the thick bushes that tried to seize the path as their own. Snapping his way through the next gathering he turned as he got through the end.
“A whole plain, a whole region. A whole planet for you to grow and you pick the one point where I need to walk. Your lucky my flint and tinder are packed away deep, otherwise you would be ash.”
The man yelled as he pulled thorns from his skin and twigs from his hair. Patting himself down he continued his venture, only stopping to eat on one occasion. Pulling half a loaf of bread and some cheese from his pack he found himself a quiet spot beneath some trees to take rest. Squeezing his sore feet out of his shoes he rubbed the raw skin with an ointment and let them sit in the cooling breeze. Flexing his back he felt muscles pull and bone crack, creating an involuntary sigh of relief. With food in him he looked down to his feet and decided that he needed to move on. Squeezing his feet back into his shoes he winced as some exposed skin dragged against the rough leather.
“The one perk of stopping on a journey is the fact that my pack always feels lighter, almost weightless for the next part of my blah blah blah. We are talking to ourselves again… And I guess we still are.”
The man muttered to himself for a few hours, running his words in circles before adding new ones. But all in one instance his words stopped, his eyes squinted and looked out over the land as he crested a hill.
“A town? But…”
He pulled his map from the side of his pack and started to look over it furiously. Checking landmarks he confirmed that this town was not mapped. Flipping the map over he cursed.
“How did I fail to see this when purchasing it? Well looks like it is my fault I am stuck with an outdated map.” He said to himself as he put the map away.
On the back of the map was a date nearly two years older than the current one.
“Better to be with than without, aint that right Specie?” He asked rhetorically to the sky. A small silver coin appeared in mid air and dropped into the man’s hands. He looked up to the sky, kissing the coin and holding it as high as he could.
“With your fortune my lord I am sure we are to bleed this town dry.”
With a skip in his step he made his way down the hill, stepping merrily as he hummed. As he got closer he made point to take note of everything, absorbing the new environment around him. As the path winded down the hill the dirt road soon became mud, adding irritants to the mans feet as it seeped into his shoes. Begrudgingly he stepped onwards, the favour of his god held firmly between his thumb and finger. He rubbed it and muttered prayers under his breath as he entered the town.
Nearly everything was mud covered, anything that wasn’t was simply tall enough to escape the mud. Everyone wadded ankle deep through it, a strange mix of soils and hay clung to everyone. He looked around as everyone eyed him strangely as they whispered to one another. He spied a few well-armed men and woman in official garb.
“If the guard is here looks like I won’t have to worry about being mugged too much. I might even be able to sleep here, providing I can find a mud free bed.” His mutterings getting louder to compensate against the sounds of his feet leaving the mud with a grotesque suction sound.
The ground beneath his feet eventually started to firm as he found himself approaching a dry raised section of earth in the middle of the town. He took off his backpack and rest it next to him before scrapping as much mud as he could manage from his legs. Heaping handfuls back into the muck that resided outside of his current resting place. The sounds of the mud slapping drew attention of several nearby people who decided to approach the man. He noticed, wiped his hands clean, stood straight, and cleared his throat.
“Welcome all, or should it be you saying welcome to me? I jest, but I am a newcomer to your… quaint little town here. My name is Seppi, I have come with goods for sale, and a story to tell.”
He paused for a moment to look at the reactions of his meagre crowd. They all looked at one another with concern in their eyes as the covered their mouths to speak.
“Do not worry, I know I have many scars but not all of my stories contain death and danger. I’ll tell you what, let me tell you of a time I entered a Druids grove not far from here.”
Seppi’s eyes narrowed as he began to run stories through his mind. Watching as the word Druid drew the last few people in town to him.
“I see I must have all of your attention. Gather round and pay attention for this is a story where you cannot miss a word. For if you do, and you find yourself in the Druids grove. You may never return.”
Despite the theatrics and stage performance people did not seem to be engaged. They were tentative, but their eyes seemed empty and unamused. Merely watching because there was nothing else to do.
“Your going to die” Said a voice from the crowd.
“No fear not, I have left the grove. I have come to you all safe and sound.”
“No I meant…” Before the crowd member could finish, they were interrupted abruptly.
“No, no curse, hex, or other negative aura surrounds me. I took the necessary precautions.”
The person nearly called out a third time, instead they caught themselves and dismissed their thought with a shrug.
“My story begins a mere few days ago I believe. But you can never tell when you are in a Druids grove. They have powerful magics. Magics I had to defy with my charms and defensive spells”
Seppi waved his hand and a shimmer of white light surrounded him for a moment before fading. Those in the crowd let loose a look of horror, and a few gasped stepping backwards. Seppi finally felt like he was drawing in the crowd.
“A defensive ward and the mention of a Druid is all it took. This is a town of simpletons no wonder there is only a half dozen living here, anyone with half a though wouldn’t settle here.”
Seppi thought to himself, letting the crowd settle a little before continuing, He stepped forwards and brushed his arm through the air.
“I had to push my way through thick brush and vine, but before long the plants started to change. Where there was once a coarse vine, now sharp thorns.”
Seppi raised his arm to reveal small puncture wounds from the bush he had stumbled through earlier that day. People leaned in to get a closer look but Seppi flourished his arm away.
“I will not make you look upon the grotesques for too long, but I need you to be aware they are there. Now I don’t think I was ever in any real danger.”
“No real danger? A druid can shape shift into animals, do you really think you would be safe against a bear, or an enormous snake?”
“Oh yes that is right, draw the knuckle draggers in with an easy bit of conflict.” He thought.
Jumping back he watched as everyone stepped back in fear.
“You think a simple bear or snake could stop me? No I am far to nimble, and cunning.”
“Cunning?” A voice screamed from a ways behind the crowd.
“A late comer, do join. We are yet to…”
“Do you want to die? Because if you do stay right where you are.” The woman yelled as she stormed towards Seppi.
“My dear you are not capable of hurting someone like me. Just because I have lived a life…”
“Seriously did no one stop hi… Has he cast magic?”
The crowds face started to lower and finally Seppi looked down. Where his bag once was a mound of mulch and fungus grew. Seppi was confused, looking to his feet he watched as strange growths climbed around the invisible ward he cast earlier. By the time Seppi noticed they were already knee height.
“What in the heavens?”
“Well get off it you moron.”
“But my bag.”
“I assume that mound is your bag. Consider it dirt and get off.”
Seppi ran into the mud and watched as it killed off the growths on his ward. Sizzling them like they had been placed on a hot stone. Seppi turned back to look where he once stood but fell face first into the mud and cheers of laughter surrounded him.
By the time Seppi stood the crowd had already started to move on, he felt the clap of a hand as one collided with the back of his head.
“Cancel your ward you idiot. Is that not clear yet?”
Seppi peeled the caked mud from his eyes. Flicking one hand outwards the shimmer of his ward faded. His head perked up a little as he noticed the end of a slow rumble.
“What was that rumbling?”
“That was your bag and everything inside it being consumed.”
Seppi finally cleared his face from muck, looking over at the small island he watched as the last indication of his bag sunk until the dirt mound was once again smooth and curved.
“What is that?” Seppi asked, turning to the woman who stood staring down at him with suspicion in her eye.
“First you tell me your name. My name is Alme, yours is?”
“Seppi, before you say anything I am a wondering story teller and trader. Not interested in robbing your little town.”
Alme chuckled and slapped Seppi on his back.
“Town, who would build a town like this? No this is a research camp.”
“A research camp, what are you researching?”
Alme pointed to the smooth dirt pile.
“By the way.” Alme said turning to Seppi. “You need to get better at lying, there are no druids around here.”
Scratching the back of his head he laughed a little. Embarrassed about being called out.
“Look I thought this was a small town full of backwater brains. Thinking they were as adaptive as a Cappy or something.”
“sadly not, quite the opposite actually.”
“So why all the mud, why not build above it?”
“Because of that. Anything too complex and it becomes fungus and dirt. Really likes magic. I am surprised you are still alive to be honest.”
“Why, what does it do to living things?”
“Well the first, and last person to cast magic in its presence. Until you. Woke up the next day… Actually he didn’t wake up, he was dirt and fungus.”
“Well glad I managed to escape that fate.”
Alme turned, facing Seppi in the eye.
“You did hear the part where I said woke up right? That is because he went to bed later in the day and never got to woke up.”
The moment sunk in and Seppi looked all around.
“Was their signs, did he have a fever, should I run, what should I do if I want to live?”
Alme seemed to smile and flick her head towards the edge of their town. Seppi looked over to see the gate heading East. Looking back to Alme with fear in his eyes.
“You better run. Maybe if you are lucky it won’t catch up to you.”
“What won’t catch up to me?”
“Times passing, run Seppi.”
Seppi looked up to the sky, watching as the sun crested past midday. Looking back at Alme for a moment he contemplated asking more questions but just ended up sputtering before turning tail. Stomping through the mud he ran with desperation. Clawing at the mud whenever he fell until he was finally free. Out from the mud he ran as the last remnants of it clung to his clothes. No plan in his mind he ran as fast as he could.
Alme looked to the others as they peeked their heads out of their homes. They giggled and looked to Alme.
“Come on y’all, we have another chance at seeing what comes from the mound. Get the horses, we’re going hunting.”