I have never really shared Aoibheann’s suspicions about the mists that surround the village, much less her assertions that time flows differently therein. I may have to rethink my opinions now, for I have been into the mists, and I have lost time, or at least, time passed differently for me than the rest of the village. I do not know, save that the time that had elapsed by the time I found my way back to the village was not in accord with my experience, so far as I can remember. I know I should have been more careful, and perhaps I should have obeyed Maric and taken at least one guard with me. I did not, and I foolishly assumed that the mists would behave just as they always had before. Maric had mentioned a lake, a huge sea-monster, and some strange compulsion to go there, and I had promised I would investigate. And so I did.
I set out, the evening before Aoibheann’s ill-advised tea-party, intending it to be a short reconnoitre to see what was amiss. As I said, I went alone, not wishing the complication or risk of taking a guard. I should have realised that something was wrong as soon as I stepped outside the boundaries of the village. The mist was there, as before, but somehow much thicker than I ever remembered it. I paid that little heed though, thinking I knew my way well enough, even in thick fog.
I was wrong. I had only gone what seemed to me to be a few yards down what I thought was the path before I realised I could barely see anything, and what I could see seemed unfamiliar. It did not help that I was walking close to where the battle had been the hardest, and the ground was slick with the remains of dead sluagh. Clealy Nemaine had not been browsing this part of the hill yet. I do not know how long I wandered, being careful to keep to those parts of the hillside that were less steep, but I am sure I must have gone in circles several times. I could see no familiar landmarks to guide me, nor could I hear any sounds, save my own, unfamiliar still, breathing. It was a strange and very disconcerting feeling, being so disoriented and felt strangely akin to being drunk, though I had not touched a drop since the previous evening.
By and by, I came to the foot of the hill, and emerged once more from the mists, finding myself not too far from the track that led down to the bridge and beyond to the Unseelie lands. As I got closer, I could hear strange noises ahead, but that was nothing compared to the voiceless call inside my head. No words, no voice, but somehow, a cry for help that rose and fell in waves, and with it, a strange compulsion to get closer. I settled myself before continuing, remembering the training I had received back in London on how to deal with telepathic communications and influences. This did not feel like any of those I had been trained on, but I thought it would not be a bad idea to try that sort of resistance anyway. I took a few moments to centre myself, trying to remember how to put up my shields, and that seemed to work, at least in part. Even so, I could still feel it crashing against my defences like the sea upon a beach.
I came to the bridge, and found a very different landscape from the one I knew beyond it. In fact, it was the absence of land that seemed to be the key factor in how it was different. This new lake covered much of the area I had known, but so far as I could see, it had not gotten as far as Val’s den. The edges of the lake seemed ragged, as though great chunks of the land had been ripped away, and as I came closer, I could see activity at the lake’s edge. I crept closer, keeping to cover as much as I could, until I could see clearly. There were the tree folk, at the edge of the lake, fighting something horrendous. We sailors are a superstitious lot, and we have many tales of monsters of the deep but this one was unlike any in the stories I have heard told. It was huge, and covered in red, glowing eyes, and it had far too many fangs to be entirely comfortable. The fangs were being put to good use, since the creature seemed to be intent on enlarging the lake by biting chunks out of the shore. This, presumably, was the sea-monster that both Maric and Orie had mentioned. I got as close as I dared, while remaining in cover. I was not inclined to engage with the creature, whatever it was. There were several of the tree folk already engaged, and they looked as if their hands were full, just keeping it at bay. If those powerful beings could only barely keep it contained, I would have no hope.
I observed for a while, speculating on how one might defeat such a creature, but I could not concentrate. The ebb and flow of the silent siren song in my head was like the wailing of a child, setting my teeth on edge, throbbing like a toothache that filled my entire head. A cry for help that I could not locate, much less answer, and answer I would have done, if I had known how or where. It echoed within my skull until I could no longer think rationally and I knew I had to leave this benighted place. Perhaps, back at the village, away from that soundless crying, I could think, form ideas, and work out what, if anything, I could do. I retreated from the shore as carefully as I had approached, not once looking back, for fear I would be drawn in again.
I was so pre-occupied with what I had experienced at the lake that I paid no thought to my homeward journey until I found myself once again mired in the mists. It is strange what the mind does when the senses are deprived of stimuli. I have been at sea many times when we were surrounded by fog, but this was different. At sea, I still had the relative solidity and reality of the ship. Here, there was only the ground beneath my feet and the occasional shrub or tree. Otherwise, sensation was all, somehow, monochromatic – the greyness of the mist itself, the uniform chill and dampness, the general miasma of damp ground that somehow even subsumed the stench of sluagh remains, and the distant quality of the sounds. Perception became distorted – I walked for what seemed like ages, yet seemed to have travelled but a short distance, or perhaps it was my perception of duration that was distorted. With no reference, I had no way of telling. All I know is that I slowly groped my way around, almost blindly, until at last I found myself by the gate and back in the village.
After all my strange travels, I should be used to the non-constancy of time, but it was a shock to return to the village and find that I had been gone two days, for a visit that should only have taken me a couple of hours. How this could be, I do not know. Is Aoibheann right in her beliefs about the mists distorting time, or did that strange siren voice by the lake do something more to my head than I realised. I cannot know for sure, but I will find out. When I get the chance, I shall go again, and this time I shall be prepared.