Freebie Mondays: Meet the Lost One

Freebie Mondays: Meet the Lost One

Not all who wander are lost…
Every traveler knows to be wary when passing through Quequena, especially in winter. Though the forest grows thick and lush during the summer months, and rains fall gentle during spring and fall, snow makes the pathways treacherous. And when they fall into their long months of hibernation, the trees produce thick brambles and sharp thorns to protect their cores while they sleep.

If one must traverse the great expanse during the winter months, it is highly recommended to travel by day. For only the bright light of the sun allows a traveler to spot the dangers in time to avoid them. Night leads to bindings by snares, deep scratches and sometimes wounds that cannot again be mended. For there is magic in Quequena that never sleeps even when the vegetation withers.

Most who attempt to travel the Quequena by winter live not to speak of the tale. Often the remains of their wagons and skeletons are discovered during the spring thaw and the sad tragedy of their end is left to speculation.

But I tell you true that I made the horrific crossing one night by light of full moon. And though the tale is harrowing, it is not one I may ever forget, even if I should live to see a thousand winters more.

The forest was not silent as I expected. It creaked and groaned like rotting floorboards shifted by the wind. The branches of the trees appeared like gnarled fingers, raking the grey sky with hints of wrath. Though I listened carefully for hint of bird or insect, the only sounds were sinister, as if I had wandered into an old and haunted house rather than down a winding road well traveled.

My wagon wheels scraped the icy earth as they dragged past, and I tried to allow the sound to grant me heart. For so long as I remained on the path, I believed no harm could come to me. Special blades had been affixed to my wheels and wagon bottom to clear the path of brambles, and I knew better than to set foot beyond the well beaten road, for I had heard all of the stories.

Whatever possessed me to make such a crossing, I hear you ask? Well, it was bright day when I started out upon the journey, and urgent sickness called me to the other side with all speed. Having made the Quequena crossing many times by summer, I believed I could easily clear its choking hazards by the time the sun set. But alas, I was not prepared for the tricks of winter.

Several diversions delayed me so that when the sun sank below the horizon, I still had one third of my journey to be accomplished. And no one is fool enough to camp in the Quequena, not even with a sturdy wagon to huddle within.

So I pressed ahead with lanterns blazing and eyes keen. But not two hours past the full falling of night, my eyes began to play tricks on me. Dazzling lights danced through the trees, sparkling and glimmering, seeming to call me away from my toil. I knew better than to think of rest, yet the lights were mesmerizing and it was all I could do to focus my eyes on the road in front of me.

Often I found my gaze drifting in the direction of the strange fae lights, wondering if it would be so terrible to give them but a moment of my consideration. Then my wagon would jerk over a rock or dip, and my focus would be jolted back to the task at hand.

Eventually the source of the lights grew sick of me – or perhaps I passed the point at which it lingered within the forest – and the dancing lights grew dim. No sooner had I breathed a sigh of relief to find my plight past than did a great jolt shake my wagon, nearly jostling me from the seat.

It took several moments to regain my bearings and, when I did, I realized that I had encountered a blockage in the road. Like several of my other delays, it came in the form of a fallen branch. Twice before, I hacked the bits of detritus to small enough pieces that they could be shifted from my path. But this was large and thick, and the effort required to carve my way through a sizable chunk would have been more than remained within my poor constitution.

Cursing the cruel fate that brought me to this point of my path in the dead of night, I never-the-less backed my wagon away from the debris and guided it back the way I had come. I would have to choose an offshoot of the path, though this seemed dangerous beyond reason, for I could not hope to fully retrace my path back to the wood’s edge before exhaustion claimed me.

Already, I had begun to accept my fate, for it seemed at any moment a long shadow would melt out of the trees and drag me screaming to my thorny doom. No traders waited on the far side of my crossing for a shipment, and the only one aware of my delayed arrival was too ill to take action. Nor did it seem plausible that even those who lived along the outskirts of the Quequena would be willing to come to my aid at such a dangerous hour.

Yet still, I searched the path, hoping against hope that I had missed some sign of salvation.

I came to a widening of the track, a place where two paths might meet in summer. The ground was chokes with vines and dusted with a light coating of snow, but the moon shone bright on the small patch of ground, serving as a welcoming beacon.

What little comfort I derived from the presence of the light was soon diminished, however, as the shadow I dreaded appeared along the edge of the tree line. It was long and thin, just as I expected, as though a skeleton had wandered from the depths of the grave and cloaked itself with darkest night.

My heart leapt into my throat and I shrunk from the figure as it stepped more fully into the light. No features could I make out upon the shadowed face, nor even could I tell if the figure clothed in the dark, tattered cloak was man or woman.

From the folds of fabric that concealed this slight figure extended a bony finger. For a moment, it seemed as long and jagged as the tree branches waving in the bitter winds, and I wondered if perhaps my sleep-addled brain conjured the entire image from a smattering of oddly shifting branches.

For a long moment, I stood frozen in fear, and breath failed to move into or out of my lungs. I was certain the next act of the odd creature would be to close the distance between us in the mere blink of an eye. Then it would surely close its hands around my throat and slowly drain the life from my form.

But instead, the finger shook insistently, making an exaggerated gesture. When I finally managed to shift my head and glance in the direction indicated, I saw beyond a slight incline a passage hidden by the precarious lean of a nearby tree trunk.

With a gasp, I turned to the figure to thank my mysterious benefactor for the information that might save me from my plight, but already they had gone. Vanished into the night just as they had emerged.

Shocked, I stood shivering for several long moments, trying to come to terms with what had just happened and what seemed a near brush with death. But quickly I realized that my next encounter might not be so kind, and I went to work shifting my wagon down the sharp incline onto the safety of the new path.

The work was difficult, but I felt as though some force hovered near my shoulder, gently guiding me to the right adjustments so that each step forward was easily discovered. Within shockingly few minutes, my wagon moved along the new path, and I breathed a soft sigh.

One hour carried me to a break in the woods, and I soon found myself on an unfamiliar road. I hesitated, uncertain if I had been caught in one of Quequena’s traps. But then I saw lights hovering on the horizon. Not the dancing lights of the fae creatures from the forest, but the steady burning lights of lanterns.

Five minutes more carried me to the outskirts of a village where quickly an old marm met me and guided me to the inn.

I was so cold and frightened, I could barely speak, and I slept many long hours before I was able to recount the events that brought me to the out of the way village that proved my rescue. The day was late when next I roused, and already I had decided to skirt the remains of the forest rather than venture within. But the decision was reinforced when I learned that a storm raked through Quequena shortly after my arrival at the inn – hence the speed with which I had been hustled indoors – and the path I had been traveling was drenched with so much snow, it would surely have become impassable.

Had the figure not guided me to the safety and shelter of that inn, I should have been buried beneath the snowfall and frozen solid within the hour.

And so do I say a prayer each time I set foot onto another road that the strange figure might walk beside me. For despite their frightening countenance, the Lost One is kind and gentle, and their advice well followed never leads astray.

Meet the Lost One!

Nameless, faceless and formless, the Lost one is a mysterious being about which little is known. It is said they can take any form – possibly every form. Some have reported encountering the Lost One in the form of a child. Some encounter a human, others an elf. Avian forms have been described as well as mer-forms.

It would be easy to assume that one always sees the Lost One in the form of their native species, but historical and mythological accounts suggest otherwise. It is possible the Lost One appears in the form best suited to their task, for certainly they do not always take the shape most comfortable or familiar to the subject they have chosen to guide.

It seems instead, the Lost One assumes whatever shape it has chosen – and the reason for that choice is often unclear. It is certain the Lost One has no specific species or gender. Some report seeing a young knight. Others see a motherly figure, and still others describe the Lost one as a child. In fact, the child figure is particularly popular, though it’s hard to say if the Lost One favors such a form or if unrelated stories of lost children have come to be associated with the deity.

Whatever form the Lost One takes when encountered, they always offer a helping hand. The Lost One is said to be a Healer – perhaps the original – and often grants the ability to Heal and restore health to the sick and wounded. Sometimes this is a one-time gift, granted in a moment of desperate need. Sometimes the gift awakens latent talents that prove to be quite strong.

Variations of Lost One myths abound. The Lost One appears on a snowy night to lead a lost traveler to safety. The Lost one sits at the bedside of a sick child until morning, or leads a mother to a child they have lost. The Lost One helps the desperate locate a long lost item or a long lost friend. Sometimes, the Lost One even helps lost souls discover unexpected opportunities. Ironically enough, the Lost One never leads those it encounters to vast or grand treasures – though they do sometimes reward their loyal followers with fantastic discoveries. It seems that the Lost One is not a means to gaining wealth, but a guide through life’s roughest patches.

Some say the Lost One is a remnant of the Reaper who wanders the world trying to undo the harm caused by their original godly form, despite the fact that recorded Lost One encounters predate the Reaper’s demise. Others believe the Lost One is an aspect of the Celestial Mother, born from her love of her creations and a desire to be close to them. This might explain why the Lost One guides others and keeps them safe.

The Lost One doesn’t appear to be associated with the other members of the divine council, though their popularity places them among the core of the pantheon. For instance, there are no stories about the Lost One participating in the war between gods, and the Lost One is never mentioned during discussions of Agos’s transgression. It is possible the Lost One regards all other beings with equal esteem. Or the Lost One my simply have been occupied with their helpful tasks while the other gods were distracted.

Some speculate that the Lost One is an alien being that briefly wandered the wrong plane or became trapped between two realms, unable to return to their original home. If the Lost One originated in another universe, they have evidently decided to stay. Other accounts of the Lost One’s origins suggest they might be a shared hallucination in the minds of the dying, a being that appears only in dreams, or even a misremembered face.

Whatever the case, most followers of the Lost One are drawn to their worship through some form of encounter. In the wake of the experience, they devote themselves to helping those in need, healing the sick or locating lost or stolen objects.

Since the Lost One has no set form, they are often depicted as a shadowy creature or empty cloak. They are often described as a presence, and their worshipers represent them using the symbol of an open-handed palm surrounded by a halo of light.

So if you ever find yourself wandering a dark and lonely road or fighting through a heavy fever, don’t ignore the helpful figure that points the way. You never know when the Lost One might wander near – though you will likely never forget if they do.

. . .
This is part of a new series developing lore for my Tales of Cryptonia homebrew D&D campaign. (Which you can learn more about here.) This is the last of the gods in the pantheon, so I’ll be taking a brief break from Cryptonia lore for now, and we’ll return in a few weeks with character introductions!

Incidentally, I streamed the creation of this post in case you want to watch it come together!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.