Haven

Haven

Postby CherryStatic » Wed Aug 16, 2017 8:23 am

Her bare feet whispered across the bed of leaves that blanketed the forest floor like a carpet, the soft moss and the cool earth yielding ever so slightly beneath her toes. The tattered hem of her gown trailed lazily at her heels, slithering like a serpent through the foliage, catching on twigs and little rocks as she went, contributing to the frayed state of her garment. The wind, colder than it had been in days, blustered listlessly through the stalwart trunks of the mighty trees on all side, like a glimpse of the frigid winter that was still months away, pulling her curtain of raven-colored hair this way and that across cheeks as white as snow.

From one of the sleeves that hung like drapes at her slender wrists emerged a pale hand clutching the handle of a lantern that swung gently with each step. Unlit, it provided nothing but a rusted creak with each step she took, indicating the lack of care it had been shown over the years. Like herself, there were bits and pieces of it missing, having been stripped away by the passage of time: sections of the dust-coated panes of glass that housed the wick were divided by cracks, viciously angled shards absent in some places, tiny broken chunks shifting and rattling in the lantern's belly. The once beetle-black coat of paint the glinted dully in the light of the moon had been chipped away in places, revealing gritty brown flesh beneath the dark armor. Despite its scars, it had survived, remaining in one piece, awaiting the day it would find its way into her hands once more.

The boy on her left side clung tightly to her other hand, his knuckles white. He stared pointedly ahead into the night, refusing to look at her, the tears on his cheeks having long since dried. He was angry and terrified, forcing himself to match the woman's pace with his shorter legs, as much an act of defiance as it was to ensure that he wasn't left behind in the shadows of the trees. He knew that somewhere out there, hidden from view but always close, was the thing that had taken him from his sister, the terrible black beast that had seemed to him like all the nightmares in the world rolled into one creature. It had brought him to the woman like a dog would fetch a stick, tossing him to the ground at her feet like a prize, and she had stared silently down at him with those strange golden eyes while he climbed shakily to his feet, struggling with the decision to fight, flee, or lose himself in that arresting gaze. He was still deciding an hour later.

It felt to him as though they had walked for an entire night. His feet were tired, the dampness of the leaves finally making headway in their attempt to thoroughly soak his worn shoes. The woman did not appear to share in his troubles, her calm, barefoot stride unhindered by the moisture-slicked ground underfoot. She spared him a fleeting glance from time to time, as if recurrently remembering that he was there beside her. Her grasp was loose compared to his, more an offering on her part than an attempt to control him. She did not seem even the slightest bit concerned that he would slip free and break for the perceived safety of his home. Not when her beast skulked nearby.

"Stop." The word came gently, a whisper he almost didn't hear. He halted on command, shivering as he surveyed the clearing they had entered. There was nothing of interest that leapt out and grabbed his attention, just tufts of grass that reached his knees and a rocky outcropping that formed a wall three times his height and roughly twenty feet long directly across from where they stood. Failing to understand why she had chosen this place to pause, he risked peering up at her face out of the corner of his eye, and found her scanning the area with her own. She released his hand and stepped forward uncertainly, her steps faltering as she attempted to suss out...something. He hung back and watched as she inched forward to the left, then drifted a few feet to right, golden irises flicking back and forth in the darkness and reminding him of dying embers in the simple stone fireplace his mother would tend on cold nights like this one.

Her attention seemed to catch on a dead tree a few paces from the stone wall. She turned her head towards where he stood and extended a hand in his direction, waiting patiently. The boy stole a glance at the shadows of the forest behind him and could swear that he saw something move in the corner of his vision. Something large, hateful and barely restrained. He took two or three involuntary steps towards the woman, realizing as he did so that she was almost certainly just as dangerous as the monster she called upon. Despite that, the disarming gentleness she displayed was more appealing in nearly every way, no matter the reasons behind it. He joined her beneath the gnarled, claw-like tree as she hung the lantern she carried from one of the branches near eye-level and gingerly opened the hinged panel on one side.

"Why did you bring me here?" he asked quietly, still scared but admittedly curious. There was something about her calm manner that was infectious after a while, a soothing air that set him at ease in some small way. Standing there as she pulled a thin length of steel and a modest shard of flint from some hidden fold in her gown, he watched silently as she struck them together repeatedly, his question hanging in the air, unanswered. After a moment, the wick caught and a small flame blossomed within the belly of the lantern. The tools vanished beneath the material of her inky garment and she shut the lantern's window with a click. Stepping back from it, she turned to stare at the face of the outcropping with an unreadable expression. He followed her gaze out of curiosity.

The panel of the lantern facing the wall had an unusual geometric design, one that was unique but unremarkable at a glance. A worn iron frame boxed in the pane of glass, while a vertical bar of the same material divided the shape neatly in two, creating symmetrical rectangles. A small horizontal bar, a short two inches long, rested crosswise in the center of the longer one. While perhaps abstract in form, the shadows the lantern cast against the stone several feet away were immediately recognizable: a pair of doors. Their hazy outlines flickered as the flame behind the glass danced, but they never strayed far enough to warp the image as a whole, one that looked extremely out of place in the middle of the forest.

He nearly leapt from his skin when the woman's cool fingers touched his shoulder. He whirled to face her, meeting her tepid gaze as she knelt on the ground in front of him, lowering tall, willowy frame so that they were eye-to-eye. Her fingers traveled slowly, gently down the length of his arm to take his hand in her own, the oddly maternal quality of her actions contradicting the chill of her touch. She searched his face for a long moment before speaking.

"What is your name?" she asked quietly.

He hesitated before clearing his throat. "Kellan."

A ghost of a smile crossed her lips, half of her features hidden behind a fall of dark hair that reached her waist. "Kellan. That suits you. My name is Mische."

He could feel the tension of the situation dissolving ever so slowly, but he had still been spirited away to the middle of the clearing by a living nightmare and its mistress. He frowned at her, wondering if he should pull his hand away. He repeated his earlier question: "Why did you bring me here?"

She considered him, maintaining the tired smile. "Kellan, I need you to listen very closely to what I am about to say. It is extremely important that you understand what I tell you." She brushed a lock of his hair back from his forehead, tucking it behind his ear. "I promise that nothing bad is going to happen to you tonight if you help me."

The unspoken implications of the phrasing were lost to him. He looked at her with round eyes, wanting to trust her, but ruled by his instincts. "You kidnapped me." he murmured, afraid to accuse her of the wrongdoing in anything louder than a whisper.

"Yes." she admitted without hesitation, running her thumb over the back of his hand. "Sometimes in life, we have to do bad things in order to do something good. It can be very difficult at times, almost impossible at others, but what matters at the end of the day is the good we do. Do you understand?"

He nodded mutely, and her smile widened just a bit in relief. She continued softly.

"Kellan, what happens tonight will save the lives of many, many people. But I cannot do it alone." She let the gravity of the statement sink in before she turned her face a fraction, indicating the shadowy door on the face of the stone wall near them. "This is a special door, the only one of its kind in the world. It's a secret that I have kept for a very long time, and in order to save anyone, it needs to be opened."

"Then why am I here?"

"Because I cannot touch it. The door will only open for a certain kind of person. I have tried before and--" she stopped short, rethinking the wording. "I couldn't do anything in the end, and I've had to wait a very long time before I was able to try again."

"Then...you want me to do it?"

She inclined her head slowly in affirmation. "Yes. All you need to do is push. And once it is open, I will take you home."

"Really?" he perked up.

"I promise."

He looked between her and the door once, then again, before he made his decision. "Ok. If this will help people, I'll do it."

She squeezed his hand in thanks, then rose fluidly to observe as he moved towards the door, his tiny body obscuring the lower half of the shapes. He sized up the stone in front of him for a second before poking it with a finger. When the rock continued to be a rock, he confidently placed the palms of both hands flat against the surface, one on each door. He grunted as her put the weight of his body behind the first push, the door refusing to give as his little feet scraped the ground. The woman experienced a fleeting moment of panic, afraid that it wouldn't work.

A sharp thunk echoed throughout the clearing, freezing them both in place. The vertical shadow between the rectangles widened the slightest bit, the planes of the stone just barely angling inward towards it. She almost gasped, her breath catching.

"Harder, Kellan." she breathed. "It's working."

He strained, pushing his shoulder up against the dividing line, his effort accompanied by a low grating sound that scraped against her bones. The dark space separating the doors grew slowly more pronounced, bleeding out across the grass at the boy's feet, wispy trails of shadow leaking from the within the space that logic dictated should be solid rock. The flow of the dark mist grew heavier with each inch the doors opened further, unbeknownst to the child whose eyes were squeezed tightly shut from the physical exertion of his task.

Finally, after almost two crawling minutes, the doors were forced open as wide as he could manage, and he slid to the ground, panting, his back to one of the perfectly angled slabs. His face was red and dripping with sweat as caught his breath. His shoulders ached. His knees burned. But oddly enough, his hands, which should have been sore, weren't. He glanced down at them and blinked uncomprehendingly.

From the tips of his fingers to the base of his wrists, the pigment had been draining from his skin, leaving behind skin the color of fresh parchment. They were not sore. They were not anything. He touched his palms together. He felt nothing.

"What happened to me?" he whimpered, face crumpling as he tried to hold back his tears. His father had always said that he cried too much when he was younger. "Why can't I feel anything?"

The woman's facade of kindness had fled the clearing, and before him stood the silent, almost ethereal figure he had been so afraid of initially. Her golden eyes stared down at him, unblinking, as the shadows of the night coalesced into a monstrous shape behind her, whispering madly at nothing and everything.

"Thank you, Kellan." she said without emotion. "You have done a very good thing tonight."

The lantern went out just as the first of his tears slid down his cheek.
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Re: Haven

Postby wadz » Wed Aug 16, 2017 3:03 pm

The morning air of the forest weighed down in a heavy fog upon the lake, containing its bubbled atmosphere for those wrapped in the embrace of the ancient oaks. Between the mist and the dewey grass sat a figure draped in faded sapphire robes. Silent and still, he was folded in meditation letting the morning calm flow through him like a filter. He knew the mind thought best when it was serene, and as of that moment he was anything but calm. Sorting through mental perplexities like a scholar digging through an archive, the short man lowered his hood and let the brisk air massage his neck and the back of his throbbing head as he looked outward to the lake.

The first thing he clearly remembered from yesterday made itself known to him once again. The magic of this realm rippled, much like a fish slapping the surface of the mirror-like water before him. Hedlun happened to be gifted in understanding the complexities of the arcane; it was often second-nature to him. Every problem that entered his mind had a logical and efficient solution, every spell a line of numbers to be calculated. This is why he was here. There was an error in the perfect equation of magic, a ripple. It needed to be corrected, and who else but him would?

His entrance led something to be desired, however. These ripples made his access to this place uncertain. Much like a crate of precious, fragile items on a bumpy wagon ride, things were shaken, and some found themselves beyond repair. He reached into his knapsack to grab at a piece of branch, splintered right down the middle. The etched runic marks on the sides would have hinted it to be a wand, but its shattered state gave Hedlun the clear identification that it was now merely a piece of broken wood drained of its arcane powers. Unfortunately, these happened to be the kind of powers that would have allowed him to return home swiftly and effectively with a simple wave of his hand, and would take too long to properly repair. Now it was a broken stick. Frustrated at miscalculations not his own, he threw the rod across the water before him as it made a muffled splash and sank into the reflective pool. He was in need of a new way home.

More importantly, however, was his need to find this ripple. It brought him from out of his hermitage and incidentally ruined his chances of going back any time soon. Like all equations, Hedlun would see it solved. Finally clear-headed and rising to his feet, he brushed the damp robes he sat on of wet grass and dirt. The branches above him hung low, to where most men were unable to comfortably sit or stand. As a gnome he was able to fit underneath the growth perfectly, standing barely at four feet in height, almost indistinguishably childlike were it not for his firm, sharp features and scruffy side-burns. From the tree which he sat beneath leaned a wooden staff much taller than himself. Swiping it up in a fist he fastened his bag across his shoulder and started away from his resting spot. It was time to go to work.

Hedlun was a man who enjoyed his work. Manipulating the strings of mana in the air to command as he saw fit was as satisfying as one would find crocheting together a piece of clothing. Knowing the source of the ripple came through these woods, he knew the best way to start was to extend his vision. A simple divination rune would allow him to scry across the many nooks and crannies of the woods. Unsheathing a knife from his belt, he dug the blade into the tree, carving a circle with a line down the middle. An enchantment this basic he had memorized in the back of his mind, leaving his book of spells and conjurations in his bag. Focusing on the etching, he murmured in an ancient tongue as the rune began to flare, breathing life into the grooves of the oak before dimming out. The spell had worked. Now as soon as he was able to set up a perimeter in this area of the woods, he would...

Then he turned to see the impossibly endless sea of trees before him. The forest went on for miles. He wasn't even sure where civilization was located on this realm. He didn't even know where to begin. He was alone on this mission, and not sure of what actual change could be made by himself. A cloudy sigh escaped his lips as he decided his griping would get him nowhere but delayed. He begrudgingly trudged on, setting off for the next tree. If he could at least get a ring of runes going around the lake by sundown, perhaps he might be able to find his start.
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