In 1806, settler Elijah Brown became lost for two days in what would later be named the Stillwood Forest, a deceptively-small wooded area southwest of Ichor Falls proper. When he returned to the town, Brown was gaunt, dehydrated and starving to the point of near death, and insisted that he was lost not for two days but nine. He also had carefully kept journal entries with the rise and set of the sun, and indeed he had made nine of them. Exhaustion and confusion clearly played a factor in augmenting Brown’s story — and of course, after a hard winter, there’s no record of how dehydrated and starved Brown may have been before getting lost.
Later expeditions into the Stillwood showed that the forest floor is incredibly thick with vegetation, with tall, rail-thin trees making most passage exceedingly difficult. Add to this three similarly-curving creeks and streams flowing off the Erytheia, the natural sound-dampening of the trees, and foliage sometimes so thick that it blocks the sky, and you have a recipe for losing one’s way quite easily.
However, the Stillwood still carries the stigma of being invisibly endless. The legend of the Stillwood King started, interestingly enough, almost immediately after Brown’s return.
Contrary to popular belief, it was not Brown’s story that evolved him into the spooky figure of legend as time passed, but his experience probably did inspire it. Historians believe either teachers at a schoolhouse bordering the Stillwood, or parents of the attending children, cooked up the legend to keep kids from wandering into the dangerous woods and getting lost.
The legend says that Brown was not the first person to get lost in the Stillwood, but another man entered its wooded labyrinth hundreds of years before. Time doesn’t work in the Stillwood the same way it does outside of it, and the longer you’re trapped, the longer it seems, even if you’ve only been gone a few days in the real world.
That first victim became a permanent part of the Stillwood. He never found his way back home and should have starved to death, but the Stillwood wouldn’t let its King die — so it slowed his heart to a crawl along with the rest of him. They say it beats once per day, and that he can’t move more than a foot in an hour.
When he’s alone, that is.
His clothes are ragged and torn, and he looks more like a bone-white cadaver than a man. He screams and cries for help, but no one outside can hear him, and over the centuries, his screams have become silent. And as he stalks among the dead leaves in exhaustion, praying for death to come, the Stillwood becomes a little more a part of him. His blood is creek-water and moss, and his skin is the color of mushroom caps.
They say if you ever find yourself in the Stillwood, you have to be careful where you look. You see, the fact that no one sees him is what disconnected the Stillwood King from the normal passage of time. He is as slow and silent as the Stillwood itself — that is, until your eyes fall upon him.
You may catch a sliver of white through a stand of trees, thinking it to be a crop of mushrooms growing up the side of an old oak. But if it’s the King, you’ll see that white shape spin around instantly, revealing two sunken black eyes and a saw-edged mouth locked in a scream. Now you will hear him.
And now, now he will be quick, and loud, and all the things he can’t be when no one else is there. He has been waiting for this for a long time, and while you are looking at him, he’ll move with all the pent-up time the Stillwood has stolen from him, has saved for him, and he will be upon you almost faster than you can blink.
Almost, the legend says. So if you see what looks like a crop of mushrooms as tall as a man in the distance, don’t stop to think, don’t run, do nothing except shut your eyes. The Stillwood King already knows you’re there, and the forest is no obstacle to him when he’s fast. He may now be only inches from you — but if you’ve shut your eyes in time, that’s where he’ll stay. Turn completely around, with your eyes still shut tight, and pray that he wasn’t fast enough to run behind you in that blink.
Now. Feel your way through the forest, around the thin, close, brittle trees, and over the dead leaves, which will seem oddly quiet. In case he has positioned himself for you to come to him, change direction just once. Don’t open your eyes until you’ve gone at least the same distance as the King was from you, when you first saw him.
With luck, you’ll leave him trapped again, his heart beating once a day, his movement only a foot an hour.
But if, with your eyes shut, you slowly press against a wet, shambling thing that smells like moss and creek-water, and feels like mushroom caps, open your eyes.
So it will be quick.