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The Light in the Woods
Rivain is not known for much at all. It is not known for its food, or its literature, or even for its people. There are few cities and no highways to connect them. Instead one must rely on country or coastal roads. It comes as no surprise then that most prefer to sail around the peninsula, and avoid the picturesque nuisance of a caravan trip. Rivain, for many of us in Tevinter, is so far from the troubles of the world that we consider it somewhat of a backwater; a place to idle in the pleasant sun and fragrant flowers. One would be forgiven for presupposing a passive existence in Rivain, but let this be testament to the inverted reality I have experienced.
I was a poet seeking inspiration. Yet now that I have a source, my quill hesitates to put ink to parchment. I have avoided writing this account for an age, and indeed I would much prefer it would stay unwritten. It was only at the behest of you, my dear, that I divulge my nightmares. Then again, perhaps my better judgement is no match for the vanity of a good story. Forgive my aside, I shall return to the circumstances of that cursed night.
I had acquired transport from a caravan that was to make the journey to Dairsmuid from Seere; I had acquired passage in a trading vessel previously so as to not risk the Arlathan Forest, for one hears all sorts of foul rumours from that wood. I believed that, by taking the slower land route to the Rialto Bay, I might draw inspiration from the mountains and fields that remain so primeval in their appearance. I remember supposing that Rivain was how Thedas must have appeared before our ancestors arrived, and dawdled in that fantasy for a pleasing amount of time. The caravan driver concurred, which I remember being surprised by. He told me how every time he drove through that country he would become addicted to the calmness of it all, how far away he felt from everything. I understood exactly what he meant.
The innocence with which I regarded this land betrayed me, in the end, but I was not to know then what I have since come to realise. If I had not succumbed to the peacefulness of it all, my fate may have been avoided. I was entranced by it all; the supreme bliss of isolation. All that existed was the caravan and the road ahead.
One evening, as we were setting up for our evening meal, I took it upon myself to venture ahead a little to be with my thoughts, that I may find some inspiration away from the braying horses and crackling tinder. I came upon the base of a hill, which I walked up, and found at the top a charming tree with its boughs twisted low and close. The positioning was such that I could appreciate the whole landscape before me. The mountain range that runs the spine of the Rivaini peninsular was imposing to be sure, but the time of day permitted the peaks to be hemmed in a golden light that spilled out onto the grasslands below. A long line of trees obscured the mountain base, with a green so deep that not even the finest dyes of Qarinus could compare. I regarded the caravan with the fondness of a friend, accompanied as it was by a thinning forest and the distant laughter of my comrades. A little further back, and I could see the road we had taken, winding and narrowing until it became indistinguishable from the horizon. As my eyes followed it I found myself recalling each stage of my journey, and suddenly realised just how far I was from my bed. The thought made me dizzy, and I had to sit down for a moment to gather myself again. The air was cool, and a slight breeze blew across my face. It was so easy to fall asleep on that hill, with moss as my pillow and the last few rays of light warming me gently.
Indeed I slipped into a doze, for what cannot have been more than an hour or two, woken as I was by the cold air once the sun had finally disappeared behind the mountains. But the dreams I had as I lay there! A girl in a white dress, fields of flowers, rivers of gold; and as i rubbed the sleep from my eyes and remembered where I was I hoped to spot the same campfire I had seen earlier, as the night had come on fast.
Faster than expected, I remember thinking. The mountains cast a long shadow which loomed over the lowland. I scanned the area to reorient myself, and spotted the wisps of a dying fire a little distance away. I hastened back, unwilling to be acquainted with the wilder Rivaini beasts, but upon my return I found the fire unattended, and the door to the caravan smashed inwards.
My love, I would not dream to tell you of the following events without fair warning, since I could not forgive myself if I caused you undue worry. These nightmares should be mine alone, and was I a man of stronger will it would remain that way until the day I die, but your incessant questioning has prevailed. Beware my love, for there is no happy ending to this tale.
I hesitated momentarily, my mind aflame with dreadful explanations, before I peeked between the door splinters. By now darkness had consumed any light, and the caravan was repressive to examine. The interior was an impenetrable pitch. I saw nothing. Despairing, I stepped away, when I felt a sticky substance on my shoe. Unable to see, fear finally overcame me. My mind swirled with the image of ogres, of demons from the road come to claim the living. I must confess, I sank to the ground and wept quietly. I waited for an eternity for the demons to claim me too, cursing my demise for the pursuit of poetry. Poetry! I had naught but a quill to defend myself! So I waited to die, certain I would join my companions soon.
But after a while, as if I had become impatient with the midnight ghouls, I opened my eyes ever so slightly. I spotted a light appeared in the forest, faint and far-off. I saw my salvation, and began to relax. I began to turn over onto my stomach. I began to rise ever so slightly, and I began to bend my legs. Then I began to run. My love, in that moment I ran faster than the wind, like a man chased by wolves, running blindly into the thickening forest. I had to reach the light. I cared not for its source. Be it evil or benign, I had to reach the light. Invisible branches tore at my shirt and unseen roots tripped me incessantly, yet I had to reach the light. I smacked into trees and cut my face, yet I had to reach the light. As my legs screamed in pain and my chest heaved with the force of an archdemon, all I could think was I have to reach the light.
Suddenly the forest opened up, and I found myself in a long, wide glade. The light, a sphere, was strong, and I could see now it was floating perfectly in the air, just above the treeline. I could hear laughing ahead, and what could have been the caravan driver’s singing. I edged closer, straining to see the figures before me, blinded slightly by the burning whiteness on my shadowed eyes. Yet presently I spotted them: my companions laughing and dancing under the light, hand in hand with creatures I struggled to comprehend. I have searched obsessively, travelling to every library in the Imperium to find what I could about those white figures, but my searching was in vain. All evidence to their existence is in my memories, distorted by fear and age as they are. It frightens me to recall them. Yet for your sake, my dear, I will do my best to define them. Let this be the last time I return to that forest.
The brilliant white creatures stood tall, head and shoulders above even the caravan driver, and their legs were bent backwards like a stag. They had curled horns not dissimilar to the mythical greymen, their beards twisted to a point, and their fur was thick. One was playing a drum, another a flute, and another conducted the dance from the centre. I listened and waited, terrified of what would become of my friends, when my legs began to move on their own. I was compelled forward, caught up in the miasmic music, my fears compounding with each helpless step. As I approached I observed an altar of sorts, fashioned from the wide stump and gnarled roots of a long-gone elder tree. I grew even closer, now fully illuminated by the light and watched by the music-players, their sweet song moving faster and faster. The dancers moved faster too, twirling around eachother and clapping their hands, yet whilst my poor friends laughed and spun, the creatures eyed me with quiet malice. The circle opened up and I passed inside unhindered. The light became blinding, but I could not close my eyes. The circle closed behind me. The music rose to a furious pace. The creatures stopped dancing, yet the men danced on. Then the conductor turned to me, vapour escaping from his nose. I stopped perilously close, his full frame looming over my sorry self. I was unable to scream. I was unable to move. My friends continued to laugh. The music carried on. I saw the creatures close around me. One took hold of my hand and led me to the altar. My body laid down without protest. They began to gather around me. I couldn’t look away. My friends were crying. The conductor held a cruelly curved knife in his hand. It’s eyes remained locked on mine as he brought it t down slow. Bodies fell. The creatures remained unmoved. The dance reached its crescendo, where the laughs died with the flute and drum. Finally I was pierced, but I found I could not scream. The pain was perversely euphoric. That is the last of what I remember.
In my nightmares I see them as they were that night. I see their placid faces watching me. I feel the knife enter my chest. I hear the laughter die on those poor men’s lips. It was day when I awoke by the caravan, and they were nowhere to be found. I realised I alone remained, though to this day I fail to comprehend how or why. Panicking I checked my chest, ripping off my shirt to more quickly assess the damage, and finding nothing. Not a scratch. Not even a blemish. I began to question my own sanity; had I in fact stayed curled up all night? Had those miserable events been all a fantasy, conjured by a terrified mind in night’s maw? Perhaps they were simply taken by animals, chased off into the wood. Yes, that would account for the door: a bear could certainly break it open if sufficiently incensed. But where were the prints, signs of a scuffle? I was not fully convinced of it. Unfortunately I had much time to replay the events of that night in my mind as I waited for rescue. It came in the form of a horse and cart on the third day, and I was taken to the nearest village to rest and recover. During my stay at the inn my stories were written off as the ravings of a foreigner, a man starved and dehydrated, or gone loony from the isolation of Rivaini roads. Nobody had ever heard music on the road, nor heard laughter, nor seen a great hovering light, save the moon itself. Clearly shaken, they let me rest until I was recovered enough to leave for home, eager as I was. On the journey back new thoughts occupied my mind: thoughts of you my love, thoughts of us in our cottage. No more did I dream of grand epics, more the simple saga of you and me, and the thought carried me evermore swiftly to your embrace.
I cannot claim to have been brave, for I was not. I cannot claim to have been strong, for I still suffer today. Little of the person I thought I was still remains. I had avoided writing this account down so that others may not share my anxieties, wonderings on the unexplained. I do not believe it was a demon or other malignant spirit. From all my investigations none have led me to conclude it was due to their influence, and I am left with the horrifying realisation that I had suffered that which no one has before. Every night I return to dancing with the other-men around that grotesque, translucent light.
My dear, my love, if you would grant me one request, heed it here. Rivain is a land of many terrible secrets, hidden from even the Rivaini themselves. Never speak of this to anyone, nor let your inquisitiveness supercede common sense. You must not talk of the dancing creatures, or they will haunt you as they do me. The memory of them chases me obsessively, as it will until I expire. I pray to all the gods that the same does not happen to you.
Forget them. Forget this. Burn it utterly. Write to me when you have.
Found among the property of Aggripina Juturnus, deceased.