To say Nightwood was a far off land wasn't an overstatement, at least for those whom hailed from Charrpoint kingdom. For the Ezvel elf clan the forest was just over the hills. Considering that the Ezvel claimed the woodland as part of their territory that would only make sense. After all, every elf clan needed ritual grounds. Of course it had to be complicated, there were rules, one elf clan to a woodland area. Naturally Chrigel (the leader of the Ezvel) marrked the place—sealing it off with many high-level enchantments that insured no other clan could use it, not without granted access. It was Sharon's first time in the Ezvel territory—in any elf territory to be most honest. She had heard much lore of elven forests being places of splendor and otherworldly beauty. Beauty so other worldly it was rare even to Messze a Világ, a planet known for its enchanting lands. Pine trees with leaves that glowed at the tips and trunks adorned with emeralds were quite a site to see, epically on summer nights when the soft glow attracted an entourage of fireflies and an occasional pyxi. The average person, upon turning his or her head, would then come upon crystal stalagmites (mostly in shades of bright and olive green) jutting from the ground. And plunging downward into a nearby pond cascaded the water of Sirenfond creek—a lovely body of water branching from Crescentwayne ocean (just off the coast of Moonlight Hills).
It was here that Sharon attended her first elf clan ritual. It would be the first of many to come. The woman was a special type of human to say the least. Every few centuries would come a human with the physical and mental tolerance to attain the abilities of any species of their choice…a human with a pliable genetic makeup. It all sounded wonderful to Sharon at first—to be a creature that could change from one species to the next—but such was not the case. No. Sharon had to choose one species and stick with it; the only genuine advantage to being a Mystic-Gifted was having the ability to choose what creature she wanted to be. And God forbid if she chose something dastardly she wouldn't be able to take it back and re-pick. And so it was that she had to journey across Messze a Világ getting a taste of all the cultures. And her first taste of would be Teacht Earraigh—a coming of spring ritual.
Chrigel passed her a bowl of mashed raspberries. She dipped her pointers in the mushy, sweet smelling substance. Half tempted to lick it off her fingers—to see if it tasted as sweet it smelled—she drew with her finger a red line of berry from the corners of her eyes to the tip of her chin. She jabbed her finger into the mesh once more and dotted her cheek bone and jawline. And one final time to draw a star on her lips and a flower on her head. She then passed the bowl of mashed fruit to the next elf. Sharon stared into the roaring fire before her and began to wonder what point this berry mess served…what it symbolized. Chrigel pulled her from her musings upon lighting a wax candle, one that he promptly stuck into the berry mas (that had been passed back to him prior). He lifted the bowl to the sky, the scent of raspberries intensifying.
"I lift this bowl Loreena, Mother Messze, Queen of nature—in hopes of a season of prosperity and a safe returning of spring." He raised the bowl higher. "Mother Earth we ask you, please, oh oracle of the wood, gibe us rain and let our crops flourish. Renew once more, the Great Pine of Nightwood. Permit its beauty to reign high above all else. Please great spirit of Messze, of spring, of seasons. Let spring come gently and breathe life into the nature claimed by the ice queen's blanket of white and cold—of despair and of hopelessness."
"Let the elemental spirits descend and make a wholesome season." Sharon murmured along with the other elves. She watched white wax drip down the candlestick and sizzle in the fruit jam.
"Loreena, natures guardian…" Chrigel began again.
Sharon didn't mean any disrespect, but it was upon hearing those words that Chrigel's chant fell into more of an utterance, words blurring together in a monotonous slur. Sharon didn't hate these rituals or anything, but they weren't of any particular interest to her either. To be quite honest, she didn't even believe in praying—in a manner of speaking—to Mother Messze or the elemental spirits. Of course she believed in their existence, just not in ritualizing them…worshiping them.
"Sharon." Came the hoarse whisper of Chrigel's wife, Anne. "Take the candle."
"Right. Sorry." Sharon mumbled softly and took hold of the candle. She didn't exactly know what to do with it so she just passed it over to the next elf, Meri Tadic. She was a brown haired elf with coal-dark eyes that always seemed to glow with a degree of disdain.
After each elf had the candle, Chrigel spoke up again. "Mother nature, great spirit of the seasons, we thank you for all you have put into each season and for your care of us lesser beings."
"Mèsi, mèsi Ms. Mckennitt." Sharon bowed with the elves.
Chrigel blew out the candle. "Now take the Gywdle* bark." He pointed to a wicker basket full of darkly colored, spiny wood. Sharon watched as each elf chose a chunk of wood from the basket, dipped it into the raspberry jam, and waked over to a seemingly random tree where they proceeded to paint on many different elven symbols Sharon could not even begin to decipher.
Sharon bit her lip and tried to mimic the elves to no avail. Everyone seemed to be drawing different symbols and at different trees, all she could do was stand there wishing that Chrigel prepped her more.
Patrick gave her a light tap on the shoulder. "Need help with the sketching milady?"
"That would be nice." Sharon answered.
Patrick glanced around at the other trees. "Oh good, no one drew this one yet." Glancing back at Sharon he continued. "This one is the easiest to draw." He picked up his own piece of Gywdle and lightly etched a double ringed circle with a dot in the center and two triangles—one on top and one on bottom.
"Thanks Patrick." She whispered as began painting her own symbol over it. When she was done, she placed the bark back into the basket and sat down next to the other elves that had finished their drawings.
Sharon began thinking to herself once again; she pondered upon what she would do the next morning. Should she harvest ildish berries or practice her horseback riding?
"What are you thinking about?" Anna questioned.
"Nothing much. Just my schedule for tomorrow."
"Will you be doing much?" The elf's questionnaire continued.
"No, I don't suppose so. Why do you ask?" Sharon responded.
"Well, if it isn't any trouble, there is a chance for us to partake in something rare and special. If spring awakens tomorrow with rain clouds—and there's a very high chance of it, our clan will hold a magical celebration. Rainwater gathered on the first day of spring is supposed to have particularly special properties." Anne explained. "The wood witches love using it for potions." She added.
"And how do you know it will rain?" Sharon asked in an attempt to buy time as she contemplated her answer.
"Ivo Henzi." Anna smiled. "He's really good with reading the Autramawrs.* He smelled rain in the air earlier this evening. And he's hardly ever wrong."
Sharon lifted an eyebrow. "And say the day was to be sunny. What do the Autramawrs smell like then? As far as I've heard, only woodland fey can smell the Autramawrs."
Anna considered. "I don't know, I guess Ivo's just got a gift." She paused. "And sunny days. Those are his favorite. He says they smell distinctly of lilacs."
Sharon shrugged. "I suppose I could go, it couldn't hurt any. I just hope it does rain."
"Oh. Don't you worry. It will rain." Anna assured her.
"Now everyone, find the symbol that most accurately depicts your problems and pray to mother nature's tree imp that is acquainted with your current conundrum." Chrigel announced.
"You'll have to excuse me." Anna remarked before stalking of towards a tree depicting a deer and a snowflake. Now that was a symbol Sharon recognized. A while back, during some folktale telling, Sharon had come to learn that such a symbol marked the loss of a child on a winter's eve. A sudden cloud of grief washed over Sharon as she watched a possible new friend kneel before the tree, eyes glistening with tears yet to be shed.
"Just what are you doing here if you aren't even going to participate?" Meri huffed. "Do you even believe in the tree imps?"
"Of course I believe in them!" Sharon nearly shouted. "I just don't worship them."
Meri made a face akin to sucking on the most sour of lemons. "Then by all means, you shouldn't be here."
"I'm here mostly for duty's sake. But I am trying…" Sharon began, only for the other elf to cut her off.
"No one goes to elven rituals 'for duty's sake'. How rude is that? Disrespecting our beliefs…shall I just waltz into one of your fancy human churches and…"
This time it was Sharon who cut the other off. "And how did I disrespect your faith? I'm sorry for having absolutely no idea how this ritual is run."
"I say Patrick draw that rune for you" Meri scoffed. "Humans are dreadful beings. Just above the vampires. I've always hated them."
Sharon opened her mouth to protest once more, but the elf had already stormed off to join her boyfriend, Merlin, by one of the pines. "What a perfectly pompous elf."
"Pompous elf?" Chrigel appeared next to her. "Which one of us. Certainly not me." He added with a half-smile.
"Meri." Sharon spat.
"Oh, pay no mind to her. She's very touchy about our rituals and ceremonies. I'm not saying that that's a bad thing…" He trailed off. "She isn't used to outsiders…believes that if they don't adapt to our idealisms than they should go home and practice their own.
"Well, your wife invited me to your rain celebration tomorrow. I'm sure Meri will be thrilled." Sharon looked in her direction. "Should I decline the invitation?"
Chrigel snorted. "Well that's up to you, my human friend.
"Oi, Chrigel! It's time for the closing statement." Merlin called.
"I hope to see you there." Chrigel waved.
"Perhaps." Sharon muttered before sitting back down on a log. She stared into the smoke, spark, and ash rising up and popping amid the trees. She heard a pack of mountain trolls grunting triumphantly in the distance—probably just finished clubbing their unfortunate pray until its last breath was drawn. The beasts would feast well tonight.
"Thank you Mother Messze, mistress of the Nightwood and all other nature surrounding, for listening to our wishes, dreams, desires, and despairs." Chrigel bowed his head. The other elves following closely, Sharon taking their lead. "You may proceed back to your homes."
Sharon got up, set on leaving.
"Hey, thanks for coming tonight. Chrigel and I enjoyed having you." Anne said as she unhooked her lantern from the tree and ran off to catch up with her husband.
"It was indeed a pleasure." Merlin shook her hand.
"Night Sharon." Patrick waved. The two of them grabbed their own lanterns and set off down the path before them. They would walk together for a good while but would eventually split off a little ways down the path.
"Hurry, hurry Madame. The scent of mandrizies* is and rain hang strong in the air tonight." Ivo cautioned.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Sharon asked.
"A storm is a brew. I'd make hast if I were you."
"Come on Ivo! We have no time." Meri grunted as she grabbed his arm and tugged him off.
Sharon was now standing alone in the clearing, in what little light was still emitting from the remaining lanterns and dying fire.
Normally Sharon wouldn't have minded some alone time out in the forest-especially one with such a splendid view. But the idea of being alone with a storm in the forecast and the night already closed in, well that wasn't quite as appealing to say the very least. And even less so was the thought of facing whatever beings made up the forest's nightlife.
Just as that thought crept in came a snap of a twig from somewhere in the black of the forest. Somewhere behind her.
Sharon whipped her head in that direction.
"Sorry to startle you." Rafael emerged with his hands up.
Sharon released the breath she'd been holding. "It's alright, don't worry about it."
"Do you need someone to walk you home?" Rafael asked.
"That would be amazing, but I don't want you to go out of your way..." Sharon trailed off.
"I'm sure it won't be much of an inconvenience. I live over in Moonlilly Hills." He pointed to the east.
"It would seem that we're going in opposite directions. Charrpoint Kingdom is to the west. I really don't want to trouble you, I think I can make it alone." Sharon half lied. Truth be told she didn't want to go alone at all, but the last thing she wanted to do was drag a stranger all the way over to Charrpoint and then force him to walk alone in the woods twice the distance she would have.
"You sure? I don't mind." He smiled.
"Yeah, I'll be fine. Don't worry about me." She answered as she unhooked her lantern.
"If that's what you wish." Rafael replied. "It's been a pleasure."
"Yes, good night to you Rafael." Sharon waved. And with those simple words Sharon was alone in the clearing once more. Before she left she pulled a wooden bucket-filled with water from its place on the tree and poured it over the kindling fire. Apparently the last person to leave had to douse the flames.
With that she took her first step into the forest. The entirety of her surroundings were consumed by shadow...by darkness. The only light spilled from the lantern bobbing in Sharon's grip and the tiny green gems throbbing softly from within the confines of the tree bark.
She continued down the mossy path trying not to think about anything at all. Pretty much anything she thought of at the moment would spiral into the shadows, unleashing a whole world of paranoia. A world Sharon had no desire to visit anytime soon.
Naturally though, Sharon found herself thinking of the night creatures. These thought had her looking twice over behind her back and to each side.
Trees of both pine and oak swayed lazily in the breeze. A slight motion that had her lantern casting eerie, slowly dancing shadows in every direction. And sudden the trees seemed to close in on Sharon as she continued her stride. Her pace quickened.
She'd never ventured this far out in the nighttime before. In fact, her mother had cautioned her long before, that a nighttime journey through the forest was about as safe as picking a quarrel with a dragon...unarmed.
Sharon, breathing rather haphazardly, lowered her pace one more. Panic wouldn't help any. She came to a complete stop, took a deep breath, set her lantern on a nearby rock, and attempt to rationalize her thoughts. I'm nearly home, the kingdom wasn't that far and there haven't been any reported wolf attacks in months among those thoughts. Of course but you can't report an encounter if it killed you wormed it way into her train of thought. She pushed it out with a some traveler would have found the body.
She picked up her lantern once more and continued her walk. As if to shove her thoughts back in her face came howls of all sorts off in the distance; mostly that of the wolves and the ogres...and probably a few werewolves.
Their howls sending chills down her spine.
Even more unnerving were the sounds that seemed to come from much closer. An owl. An occasional wail from a raven or crow. Crickets, toads, all making their contributions to the eerie choir of the night. Sharon tried to focus instead on the tiny fireflies, blinking rhythmically within the trees. Occasionally she'd see a flash of blue or pink amid the yellow, indicating that a cheerful imp or pyxi was mixed within the dancing swarm of bugs. Sharon reached out to grasp one of the tiny insects, but they all zipped away in different directions as if she had been doused in insect repellent. Goodness, even the bugs wanted her to be alone in this God forsaken forest!
Sharon bypassed a shrub, her dress catching on one of its thorny brambles. With a huff she pulled it free causing the whole plant to shake. At the disturbance a spray of angry pyxies and other insects evacuated the bush. One of them flying right up in her face to let her know exactly what it thought of her. "Flipped off by a pyxi..." Sharon muttered to herself. So this is the forest's nightlife...
As if fueled by her irritation, the wind seemed to pick up. Sharon drew her olive green colored cloak over her head.
But not before feeling the droplet of rain hit her cheek.
Sharon bit her lip. "Maybe Ivo can smell the Autramawrs." She spoke aloud. Imagine that. It was a thought more of awe than of annoyance. Sharon walked on. Another raindrop hit her arm sententiously as the wind blew her hood off. She quickly pulled it back up and held it in place with her free hand. Another drop fell, followed by two more, and then it started coming down in sheets.
Silently cursing she quickened her pace again. Her lantern wasn't going to last much longer. As the rain began falling harder she noticed the imps, pyxies, and an occasional fairy couple seeking shelter within the holes of nearby trees.
Her lantern give a wild swung back and fourth distorting the shadows around her. A final motion before sputtering out. Now her only source of light came from what little moon filtered though the dense leaves and the tiny green blinks from the trees-but even those seemed to dim with the weather.
And suddenly Sharon didn't recognize the forest at all. "I should'be let Rafael walk me home." Sharon pouted to herself.
Over the rainsound, Sharon heard the crack of a branch, the sound of scuffling on leaves. She looked frantically every which way. God. What was she expecting to see. It was all to dark, especially between the trees.
By now her strides quickened to an all out run. A sprint so fast that she failed to notice the low hanging branch until it collided with her face. She fell backwards to the ground, a large shatter cut through the night. Sharon couldn't tell if the shatter came from the broken lantern, or her hope for the future.
"Not good, not good, not good." Sharon hissed as she pulled herself to her feet.
She tried looking around again-an action that served her no purpose, it'd probably be a few more moments until her eyes adjusted.
From somewhere...somewhere nearby, Sharon could swear she could hear the soft chatter of voices.
Silently...inwardly, she prayed that it was just one of the dwarf clans returning home form their shift in the gem caverns, and not the Nightwood Walkers.* She heard that they were rather nasty beings.
The disembodied, ominous chatter grew closer.
She turned her head in all directions, not a soul (dead or living) to be seen.
*Nightwood Walkers are the ghosts of those who died brutally in the forest.
In this chapter we'll get some new characters; Cadaveria of Cadaveria. Tuomas Holopainen of Nightwish. Sonya Scarlett of Theatres Des Vampires (OMG I wonder what creature she'll be!1! :D :D :D). Morgan Lacroix from Mandragora Scream. And Manuella Kraller from Xandria. And mentioned but not appearing is Zuberoa Aznárez from Diabulus in Musica.
Louder and louder still, the chatter grew in volume. And then Sharon saw them; she first only caught the faint glow of their lanterns peeking through the dense trees and thickets.
Sharon released a sigh of relief. Lanterns meant humans. Humans meant not Nightwood Walkers. The relief was short lived when Sharon recalled lore of spirits carrying ghost lanterns. She really had to stop thinking so much.
To Sharon's fortune, they seemed to be headed in the opposite direction...down a different path.
Hiding amid the tightly packed trees, Sharon maneuvered closer to get a better look. Silently thanking Loreena of all people for the absence of her own lantern. With the dark as her advantage she peered through the trees.
The group consisted of one witch, a warlock, and two vampires-one with long raven hair and coal black eyes the other with red-streaked black hair and blue eyes. If she were to take a guess, she'd say that the black-eyed vampire was calling the shots.
It took quite a lot of will power not to ask them for directions. They may be vicious night creatures, but at least it looked like they knew where they were going.
"So madame Scarlet." The witch began. :To what do we own the pleasure of taking this night journey."
"I'm looking for the blood of a pyxi. A Nightwood pyxi to make the obvious clear. A witch down in IllLake Village, Zuberoa or something like that, was willing to pay a good sum and a vial of expensive blood for me to go retrieve these little pests for her. Wants to make some kind of potion." Madame Scarlet paused. "And we might as well gain the trust of the IllLake witches before the rift...should work on aligning with the wolves too."
"Great, what's that got to do with me. I'm no vampire and I never got along with the IllLake witches, never cared to start either." The warlock spoke up.
Madame Scarlet raised a studded gloved hand. "Did I ask for you thoughts?"
"My apologies Madame Scarlet." The warlock backed down.
"Yes, I would imagine that you are." She muttered.
Sharon, from her hiding place, felt herself growing anxious. Any hope she once had of them being a group of Moon Pact* night creatures diminishing at the mention of the name Madame Scarlet.
"Well would you look at that. Came right to us." The other vampire pointed to a pyxi.
Sharon turned away, cringing at the sound of a soft pop. Turning back to the scene revealed that Madame Scarlet had indeed snapped the creature's neck.
"Like all bugs, they travel in swams. Tuomas, find the others." Madame Scarlet hissed.
"As you wish." He muttered.
"Manuella, retrieve the human hiding in the bushes." Madame Scarlet commanded with a cruel smirk cast in Sharon's direction. "Cadaveria, you just stand and await my next order."
Sharon went pale. I really should've just take Rafel's offer. Before she could muster a second thought she stood nose-close to Manuella. It was then that she recognized the group-Hell's Quartet. The most vicious and feared of the night creatures.
Manuella shoved Sharon out into the openness of the path.
"Oh would you look at that. We have a human." Madam Scarlet smirked. "Put a binding spell on her."
Cadaveria nodded. Her next words were a slur of incoherent chanting.
Sharon dared not say a word, even as she felt her muscles tighten and bones lock. And if that wasn't enough, she couldn't even wipe away the raindrops that slipped into her eyes.
"What are we going to do with her?" Manuella questioned.
Sonya shot Sharon a wicked grin.
Of all the options she had, becoming a vampire or a werewolf were two that never crossed her mind. In fact those were the first two spices she crossed off her list. As it would seem, she had about two choices right now; re-write 'vampire' at the very top of her list, or get sucked dry of her blood. Neither seemed all that compelling.
Madame Scarlet leaned forward. "Type O Negative. My lucky day."
"Great new guys. I found a pyxi nest!" Tuomas emerged from the trees looking way more than just proud of himself. He held out the nest.
"That's great Tuomas, luckily for you. I found something better." Madam Scarlet brushed him off.
"I'll take the nest." Manuella whispered to him.
Madame Scarlet leaned back in, this time readying her fangs.
*Vampires, witches, werewolves etc. whom had made a pact with the creatures of the light to fight along them rather than the dark vampires/wolves/witches.
Sharon's whole body tensed at the exposure of the woman's sharpened canines drawing closer and closer yet.
"It's about time you return to the Hell from which you were spawned." Scowled a voice from somewhere within the trees.
Madame Scarlet snapped her head in the direction of the voice with a hiss. Her fangs jutting out even further. Further than Sharon thought possible.
A bolt of purple electricity sailed between the trees-it's sender leaping out right alongside it. Her long silvery hair blowing about wildly in the wind.
"Morgan Lacroix..." Madame Scarlet muttered. It was a the kind of murmur you'd give to only your archest foe. "What incentive have you in stealing my drink and interfering with my business transaction?"
"What incentive have I?" Morgan repeated the question. "The only one that really matters. Making sure the lands know that not all night creatures are out to kill."
Madame Scarlet gave an enthused snort.
"It is your fault that witches are executed, werewolves are hunted, and vampires are burned." Morgan continued.
"Hurtful..." Sonya hovered a hand over her mouth to cover a forced and dramatic yawn.
"You've got centuries of age, Sonya, act like it and drop dead." Morgan hissed.
"As amazingly hilarious this snark-off is, I'd really like to be removed from the line of fire." Sharon declared. The regret of drawing attention to herself was immediate.
Sonya bared her fangs again and like the drop of a mask mid-masquerade; the whites of her eyes blackened simultaneous with a reddening of her pupils and a scarlet set of lines spiderwebbing up and down her entire body. These lines seemed to pulse like veins. Veins that all connected to her mouth, caking it with crusting blood. Centuries of blood.
Morgan muttered a rather soft incantation. Green sparks tingled at her fingertips-the same green sparkling around Sharon's body.
"Don't waste your time. Get out of here." Morgan shouted.
Sharon didn't need a second telling. Ignoring the protests of her still tense muscles she got to her feet and took off. The woman hadn't even the remotest idea of where she was going, or where she even started for that matter. She just had to get away from the vampire. Away from Sonya.
"Where do you thing you're going?" Tuomas stepped in front of her.
Sharon bit her lip. "I'm...going to find a pyxi to suck dry. Didn't Son...Madame Scarlet tell you? I'm a vampire now."
"Oh. Sweet. Welcome to the clan. Well, I'm not in the clan but..." Tuomas started.
Sharon shoved past. A look to the left and to the right revealed what Sharon already knew...nothing familiar.
When Sharon felt like she put enough distance between herself and the night creatures she perched herself upon a log-she did her best to find a spot without a large patch of moss or mushrooms.
And with a frustrated groan she buried her face in her hands. Looked like she'd be sleeping under the stars-or lack of them-in the rain.
The next thing Sharon knew, she had another companion. This one seemed to have come out of nowhere and flounced down next to her.
"You alright?" The woman asked.
"I will be if you could give me a hand...rather a sense of direction." Sharon replied. "Who are you?"
"Just a troll huntress." The woman shrugged.