The Secret in the Swamp

  • The swamp was enormous. For miles there were black, stagnant, fragrant pools and dark, green overgrowths. Birds were sparse, and the humid air muffled any tweets to be heard.

    In the distance, a deer appeared; it was a surprising sight. This buck was magnificent and lively. Its muscles rippled with every step under its glossy, tan coat. The beady eyes scanned for danger, and its big head swung to and fro. Content, it dipped its elegant head down for a filthy drink, lapping up liquified rot and mosquito eggs.

    The mosquitos here formed horrendous, erratic clouds. They hive-minded like bees, the goal, however, being to feed, not to maintain a hive; whatever they set their vicious eyes on was soon to be dead.

    The hive-mind noticed the deer, and this spelled its doom. The swarm flew toward its prey like a plague. Ignorant of the silent danger, the deer continued to drink. The mosquitos began to land on the deer and soon enveloped it. Realizing its mistake, the buck tried to run away, but by that point thousands of mosquitos were already draining its lifeforce. The deer threw itself on the boggy ground and rolled, squishing plenty of bugs and creating a mess on its back, but this was a futile effort, for more of the bloodsuckers came to replace the ones that had been killed, and there would always be more replacements. Soon, the deer would be an empty, dry husk.

        A small, warm purple light glowed in my hand and I conjured a flame atronach, willing the atronach over to the struggling deer. The demon burned the assailing black cloud out of the air. The deer, nearly dead itself, was also extinguished by the atronach. I hurried over toward the deer’s corpse and threw it across my shoulders, feeling a pang of hunger. My feet squelched as I carried it back to the cabin.

        My cabin was dug halfway into the ground and was covered in mosses and other green things to hide it from anyone who might see it. My door was from a closed wagon that I found abandoned here in the swamp. I crawled inside my home and pulled the deer in after me.

        My earthy home was small and simple, with a low ceiling and a dirt floor. All the things that made up my one-roomed cabin were made of wood, except the straw mattress, my candles, and my leather-bound books. I walked over to one book in particular, one bound in Argonian flesh. I flipped through its eldritch contents, making sure every page was there, just as I had left it. They were all there. My eyes scanned the words and it electrified me. These words, written in a language known to few, held incredible knowledge, powerful knowledge. And it was all mine.

        I remembered the deer on my shoulders, hesitantly and gently I closed the book, and I dumped the deer onto another table with a thud. I searched my belt for a knife, and I found one suitable for the task at hand. The blade drew close to its tan coat, but my hand was stopped by a strange sight. The deer was swelling up like a balloon.

    I sat there fixedly, wondering if my sight had gone wonky, and, without warning, the deer popped. The blast propelled a foul-smelling semi-liquid all over me. I cleared my eyes of the gooey, black muck, and everything was coated in it. It was like somebody had thrown buckets of raw sewage with chunks of decomposing animal parts all over the inside of my house. The smell was deeply pungent, and my body rejected it.

        I looked around; on my bed lay the beast’s intestines, and on my tomes were the animal’s brains. I looked up at the ceiling, and my eye began to burn and spasm because I looked up just in time for a drop to fall in my eye. It caused a strange transformation within me, for I began to dance hideously. Of what happened next, I am not sure if any of it happened, but I will relate my experience regardless. Out of the corner of my nose I began to smell peppermint, while glistening candy frogs appeared at my feet and began to leap from the floor to the wall and to the ceiling, ignoring gravity.

    I was moving like a possessed man. My dancing became more vigorous as reality slipped further away. I did the Skeever Shuffle, and I did the Nordic Jig. I even did the Draugr Drip, and more than once my head felt as if it had gone 360 degrees around my increasingly beautifying home. Yes, my filthy cabin was morphing into an insane neon landscape. The walls and floor disappeared into bright neon red hills and a beautiful cyan sky with pink suns. This phantasmagoric dreamland was not static, and it began to evolve. The crimson hills sprouted unnaturally orange bushes and violet trees, growing fields full of bright yellow flowers stretching into the maws of the endless horizon. In the sky appeared brilliant rainbows full of colors no mortal had ever seen before.

    In the distance, I heard elves (the short kind) singing, “la la la,” like children of angels. I saw them cresting the red hills in their green outfits. Candy frogs hopped all around my feet, and I grabbed one mid-hop. It was warm and soft to the touch. It didn’t move as I bit into its gummy flesh, and a gush of green, sugary yet sour fluid burst out, shocking my tongue and running down my face. Up above, a glowing griffon shrieked and swooped down, right at me. The claws dug into my eyes and I fell onto the ground with a splash.

        The smell of peppermint faded, and I was greeted to a brown and grim reality with a horrible smell of sewage and rotting animals, the taste of the acrid muck which had somehow gotten into my mouth, a terrific pain in my eye, and shouting. An furry tailed intruder was talking to himself, leaning over my tomes. “This one can hardly stand it in here. Gods!” He slammed the cover on the book and stormed out with it and a few more of my books. I couldn’t get up however hard I tried; my muscles were unnaturally tired. How long had I been out, I wondered. Disoriented, I looked around and didn’t see anything else out of the ordinary; everything was as shocking vile as I had left it. My eye was still suffering, and I instinctively put my hand over it. What I found was the hilt of a dagger. I pulled my hand back and it was covered in blood.

    I heard a screech from outside, and not a moment later the Khajiit dashed in, eyes wild, and sword brandished. “Bear!” He stomped over to me and pulled me up to my feet. “Khajiit knows your secrets! This one read your spellbooks. Help me with the bear. Conjure a spell. Do it!”

    Right then, a huge bear crashed through my front door, breaking down the wall with it. It opened its mouth and let out a roar, spit flying and shaking the cabin. Panicking, the Khajiit grabbed my arm and, trembling, pointed it at the bear. “Abra cadabra!”

    Seeing no effect, he threw down my arm and swung his sword in the direction of the creature. The bear tilted its head. Then it advanced, arrogantly.

    It knew the Khajiit was a weakling. It knew the Khajiit was barely an adult. It knew the Khajiit was weak from starvation. So agonizingly it padded over.

    The Khajiit had nowhere to go. Every second, the bear moved closer. I was worried, for one, since the Khajiit was recklessly swiping his sword near my head. I looked at my hand. It began to shimmer, and a small purple ball began glowing in my palm. I went to cast a spell, but the desperate Khajiit, unknowing of my attempt to save us, jammed his sword into my heart, sending blood spraying, and then rolled me over to the bear.

        At the bear’s massive feet, I looked up and expected death, but instead I something saw something that horrified my very soul. It was not the bear’s head that I saw sticking out from its shaggy neck, it was a grotesque mass of writhing black tentacles. A gurgling, ethereal voice penetrated my mind, and I heard these words, “Mortal, you have something of mine.”

        The bear-thing stepped over me, and over to the Khajiit, who trembled, “I don’t want to die. Mom!” The beast hit the Khajiit with a bone-crunching paw swipe, and the cat crumpled onto the ground. The beast turned around, and, to my confusion, the bear’s head was back to normal. The ground shook as it lumbered out of the cabin, stepping on me on the way out, sending a gush of blood out of my chest. I started coughing blood, my stomach ached, and my head was dizzy from the blood loss. Even then I was still scanning around for my special, Argonian leather tome. It was not by the dead, broken Khajiit, and not by the door. Not anywhere.

        I accepted my death, but I wished, naively, that I had seen that book one last time. Death would’ve been much better than what I was cruelly fated to endure, for as I lay there dying, I heard a gurgling, ethereal voice from beyond time whisper, “I... have plans for you.”