After enjoying breakfast and breaking up camp, it took a surprising amount to time to actually find the next magical wildlife crossing. They kept to the rocky edge of the island and, after walking for a few hours, felt as if they had circled around. Finally they found one, however, nestled away in between a gathering of giant mushrooms in such a way that it was almost completely hidden from sight. Hermione had to admit that she would have completely missed it if Bellatrix hadn't felt it when drawing near. Indeed, pure-bloods weren't inherently better at casting or mastering magic, but it seemed that at least Bellatrix was far more attuned to magic than she was.
"Well, about time," smiled Bellatrix while regarding the shimmering portal. "I'm about ready to leave this soggy wet swamp behind."
"Unless we find a more inhospitable place," Hermione grimaced. "Remember, if we end up in the arctic or ocean biome, we head right back to where we came from. Just a few pictures, nothing more."
"Yes, yes," Bellatrix rolled her eyes.
"I mean it, Trix," Hermione narrowed her eyes.
"Fine, fine," Bellatrix sighed. "Miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime."
"It'll be the last opportunity of our very short lifetimes if we freeze to death or get eaten by a giant sea monster," said Hermione. "There's nothing wrong with prudence."
"Shall we just step through and see where it leads before we get gloomy about it?" Bellatrix smirked.
They did just that. The usual sensation of magical transportation overcame Hermione and she was soon deposited on a whole new floating island. After spending a long time in a state of near permanent evening gloom, it took a while for her eyes to adjust to the relative brightness. But when she could see again, Hermione paused.
Though this floating island was definitely brighter than the marshland one, it had a rather distinct lack of colour. The sky above was one of dark grey and looked as if it was permanently just about to rain. Ahead of them was a thick fog, bordering on the edge of white and grey, while the ground and whatever flora ahead were on different aspect of a grey-scale definition. For a moment, Hermione thought there was something wrong with her eyes, feeling as if she was looking at some sort of old-style black and white film. However, when she raised her hands and saw the colour of her beige skin and the brown colours of her jacket's sleeves, she quickly concluded that it was the world itself and not her eyes.
"Ah, it's the fog one," Bellatrix was stood next to her, adjusting her camera to take a few shots of their surroundings. "We should probably not venture too deeply into this one."
"Whatever happened to 'opportunity of a lifetime'?" Hermione asked.
"That was when I was thinking of the Arctic or Ocean," Bellatrix pursed her lips. "This one is worse. Far worse."
Indeed, this particular biome looked to be far from pleasant. The fog make looking too far ahead quite impossible as everything beyond ten meters away blended and disappeared into a thick, grey foggy soup. What they did see, however, was a completely dead and colourless world which might at one point have been a forest. Dead trees were sticking out of the ground haphazardly likes knives sticking out of someone's back. Hermione paused again: what an odd way to describe something. How did her mind just come up that?
"Why do you say that?" asked Hermione. "Why is it worse?"
"Don't you feel it? The wrongness of this place?" Bellatrix muttered. "Lack of colour, the fact that Zipper is exceedingly agitated, the poor visibility? You know how when you're engrossed in a scary story you're reading, and you see the protagonist about to do something completely bloody stupid? Then you start screaming that they're bloody idiots and should get out there immediately because they're about to FUCKING DIE?! Yeah… that's us now!"
Indeed, this biome seemed less than savoury. And judging by the way the wasp was nervously buzzing around, he was indeed agitated. Hermione... grimaced. "It's... it's hard to think," Hermione started rubbing her temples when she stepped back and almost fell over. After having steaded herself, she saw that she had almost tripped over a ripped-off limb belonging to one of the beaked-horses. The rest of the borse was lying in a heap a few meters away, sporting massive claw-like gashes all over its poor body.
"Oh, god," Hermione folded her hands over her mouth as she regarded the poor thing, lying in a pool of blood. Oddly enough, the blood was a dark shade of red, almost black in some spots. On the whole, it looked darker than it should be.
Bellatrix stood next to her, grimacing. "Look at it!" she hissed. "Nothing of the corpse seems eaten. It was killed purely because it was here... or for the fun of it."
Hermione's breath caught her throat as she caught movement from the corner of her eye. She twisted herself around, peering into the fog. Until one of the needle-like trees... moved towards them. Her lip trembled as she raised her finger. "B-b-b-b-b..." she couldn't keep her hands from shaking.
Bellatrix spun around and swore loudly. The creature came into the sight. It was long, thin and lanky with a skin as thick as an elephant's hide resembling the bark of a tree. It had long, gangly limbs ending in three-fingered claws. It was moving towards them with an unnatural, janky gait. Worst of all, the creatures had no discernible facial features and simply resembled a walking tree trunk with claws. Yet, it was certainly apparent that they knew exactly where Hermione and Bellatrix were by the were approaching.
Oh god, there were two... three!
Hermione was frozen in fear and turned to run back towards the wildlife crossing, only to be yanked back by the arm by Bellatrix. "Stop, you idiot!" Bellatrix shrieked in her ear. "Look, there's another one!"
Indeed, a fourth one had appeared and was effectively blocking their escape route. By now the creatures were close enough to see just how tall they were: at least seven foot tall and, judging by the length of their limbs, they were nearly close enough to attack. God, looking at what they did to the poor borse, one swipe could potentially take her head clean off her body!
"Trix! We have to run! We have to flee! We have too..."
"Move!" Bellatrix yelled. "MOVE!"
The curly-haired witch grabbed the girl by the arm and dragged her in the only clear direction they could run to: deeper into the fog. Hermione cried and yelped when branches whipped across her face and body as they ran as fast as they could muster. The fog became thicker and thicker to a point it was getting dangerous to run. More than once, Hermione bumped her shoulder into a tree trunk or a sharp piece of rock.
And the screams, the screams of the creatures giving chase. Unnatural, guttural bellows, almost siren-like. It cut into her very soul, making her break out in cold sweat. She felt her hands tremble as Bellatrix held her by the arm and pulled her forwards... if it wasn't for Bellatrix, Hermione would have surrendered to her fear already.
"OVER HERE!" Bellatrix yelled and yanked her to one side, dragging her into a cave. Seeing the dark maw in the rock before her filled Hermione with even more fear. She started to drag her heels until Bellatrix swore and practically threw her into the cave. Hermione tripped and fell onto her stomach, having the wind knocked out of her while her relatively heavy pack kept her prone. Behind her Bellatrix jumped through and, judging from the sound of frenzied buzzing, their wasp friend had managed to keep up with them.
Bellatrix drew her wand and yelled a few arcane words. A barrier was erected covering the entire mouth of the cave. And not a moment too soon, because the lanky tree-creatures pounced upon the magical shield with vigour. All four of them started wailing upon the shield with powerful swipes. Again and again, they struck the magic barrier and its colour started to change from clear blue to angry red. Bellatrix snarled and raised her wand, trying to push more of her magical energy into the shield in a desperate attempt to keep it up.
"Hermione!" Bellatrix shouted, grunting as she flicked her wand to shift magical energy to the areas of the shield where she figured the creatures would hit it the hardest. "HERMIONE!"
Hermione, meanwhile, lay in a fetal position and covered her ears with her hands when the creatures' unnatural cries echoed through the cave. "STOP IT! STOP IT!" Hermione shouted. "PLEASE, MAKE IT STOP!"
"Hermie!" Bellatrix all but snarled. "STOP BEING SO FUCKING USELESS AND HELP ME!"
"I can't! I CAN'T!"
"WE ARE GOING TO DIE!" Bellatrix shrieked while fighting a losing battle keeping a thin barrier of magic up. "I refuse to die here because you are an inept coward!"
Miraculously, Hermione managed to steel herself enough to lend her strength to Bellatrix. In trembling hands, she pointed her wand towards the barrier and let her magical energy flow into it. Bellatrix, now able to focus purely on mitigating the impacts on the shields rather than doing both upkeep and mitigation at the same time, could thwart the creatures' attempts to break the shield much more easily.
A few more swipes followed, but when they noticed they weren't making any headway, the creatures started to lose interest. First one turned away. Then the second one. And then the other two sauntered off into the fog beyond the mouth of the cave. It was over.
For now, at least.
Bellatrix let out a sigh and let her pack slide off her back. She plopped down next to Hermione and leaned her back against the cold stone of the cave.
Eerie, oppressing silence.
Funny. That scared Hermione even more. She felt her lip tremble a little more as she tried to listen for anything which might be deeper into the cave.
"Well," Bellatrix muttered. "This is a piece of piss."
"What... what were those things?!" Hermione shuddered.
"How the fuck should I know?!" Bellatrix yelled at her while fishing the compass from her pocket and opening it up. "Fuck, shit, fuck! Compass isn't working. Probably iron in these rocks. There's no way to tell where were came from and where we need to go."
"W-wait?!" Hermione took in a few deep breaths. "Are you saying... we... we're lost?!"
"Well, we're certainly not found!" Bellatrix snarled. "Fuck me, I never had a chance to place a conch near our entry point. I have no idea where we came from or what direction we need to go in! And good luck finding it through that misty soup out there."
"Trix," she grabbed her girlfriend by the sleeve. "We need to leave! We can't stay here!"
"Not yet," said Bellatrix. "Those things are still too near. It's safer to wait a bit."
Hermione shook her head. "No. No. What if... what if something lives deeper in this cave? What... what if... that is ever worse than..."
A sharp pain shot through the side of her face and Hermione fell to the ground. It took her a bit to realize that Bellatrix had just rather violently backhanded her. "Oh, stop your simpering already and grow a bloody spine!" Bellatrix snarled, looking down upon her with furious gaze. "SNAP OUT OF IT BEFORE I BASH YOUR HEAD IN WITH A ROCK!"
Hermione burst into tears, cowering in fear while rolling herself into a ball. "W-why?" she cried softly. "Why?!"
Apparently realizing what she had just done, Bellatrix' expression changed to one of shock and shame. Immediately, she sank to her knees and helped Hermione to sit up. The young witch looked upon her with wide open brown eyes before allowing herself to be embraced. Hermione returned the embrace. "I'm so sorry," Bellatrix whispered in her ear. "It's… it's this place. It's doing something to us."
Hermione nodded. "I'm so scared. My heart is pounding in my chest, but... but I feel I shouldn't be. Everything makes me jump, but... I don't know why."
Bellatrix released her and they sat next to each other. "I'm... so angry. At everything. I... this isn't normal, Hermie. I..."
For the first time, Hermione noticed something: the colour had been draining from Bellatrix. It was subtle at first, but now that she had some more time to look closely, she could see that the colour of her skin had turned far more porcelain and her hair had turned far more black. She held up her own hand and saw that her beige-tan skin now had an ashen-grey quality to it.
Yes, this biome was doing something to them and it was not to their benefit.
"I... I love you.." Bellatrix started to whisper. "I love you..."
Hermione realized that this wasn't a profession of love, but rather Bellatrix reminding herself that she loved her to try to contain and control her anger. "I love you too... I love you..." Hermione whispered back. It did help her keep her fear under control somewhat. She shouldn't fear Trix... they only had each other to rely upon right now. They couldn't let this place split them apart. Not now.
The wasp sought comfort as well, and Hermione gave it in the form of a cuddle. She gently took the wasp in her arms and clutched it to her chest as if it was a puppy or a kitten. Oddly enough, it gave her the same amount of comfort and the wasp was grateful for the affection: apparently the warp now named Zipper was feeling the same effect this biome was having on them. Together, the three of them sat huddled together in the cave for a time which seemed to be agonizingly long.
If she had been fully rational, Hermione would have known that waiting for a while before attempting to leave the cave would give them a better chance as the creatures would have had likely moved away further. But Hermione was not fully rational in the moment. In fact, she was as far away from fully rational as she had ever been. The first ten minutes were somewhat bearable. The next ten minutes were increasingly difficult. The ten minutes after that were starting to get agonizing.
Fear was only mounting. She was not calming down and her heart never stopped pounding in her chest. In fact, the way this was going she greatly worried that her heart would give out. Great… as if she needed to have yet more things to fear.
The two of them sat in the cave in silence, but it was obvious that Bellatrix was similarly having problems. The curly-haired witch fought to keep her breathing under control and most of the time said nothing… but Hermione could easily tell that she was struggling from the way she kept clenching her jaw and narrowing her eyes.
Every so often, Bellatrix did lose control. It was then that Hermione could see wild, wide-open eyes staring at her with burning, seething hatred. Expressions the older Bellatrix showed often and which looked distinctively out of place on her younger self. Hermione couldn't help but cower whenever Bellatrix was on the verge of losing control, fearing that she might fly off the handle and attack her at any moment.
But she never did. Bellatrix did whatever she had to do to keep the storm at bay. Hermione often hear her counting out loud. A surprise came when Bellatrix actually started to sing to herself.
"Brille, brille petite étoile
Dans la nuit qui se dévoile
Tout là-haut au firmament
Tu scintilles comme un diamant
Brille, brille petite étoile
Veille sur ceux qui dorment en bas"
A lullaby. Hermione recognized 'Twinkle, twinkle little star' by the melody: likely Bellatrix' mother had sung it to her when she'd been a little girl. But what startled her the most was just how strained her voice sounded. It was clear that Bellatrix was fighting a losing battle… and that frightened Hermione even more.
Hermione held up her hand and let out a croak: her skin had lost all its colour now. Once beige-tan skin had turned into light grey. In contrast, Bella's skin was stark white while her eyes shone a dangerous black. She was glad Hermione had no access to a mirror right now, because she feared seeing her own countenance would give her a terrible fright… just like about everything right now could give her a terrible fright.
"We have to get out of here," Hermione whimpered. "We have to keep moving. We have to go. WE HAVE TO GO!"
"Shut… up…" Bellatrix snarled angrily at her, though still straining herself to hold back. "I don't want to hear the sound of your stupid, cowardly voice…"
It took all the willpower Hermione had to keep herself from running out of the cave and into the fog in a blind panic. The only thing stopping her was the thought that going out alone out there in the state she was in would likely lead to her death and, per extension, that of Bellatrix. In a way, despite the states they were in, they kept each other somewhat grounded.
The wasp wasn't doing any better. Sprawled on the ground as he was, Zipper looked completely legless, depressed and lacking of any and all energy.
Bellatrix took a few deep breaths. "You're right," she hissed. "We can't stay here..."
"We need to get back to the crossing..."
"Any crossing would do," Bellatrix replied through strained voice. "We have no idea what direction we came from."
"That only helps WHEN YOU KNOW WHAT DIRECTION YOU CAME FROM IN THE FIRST PLACE!" Bellatrix snarled at the cowering Hermione, but managed to calm herself somewhat. "Which we don't."
"So... so what's the plan?"
"Follow the compass needle," muttered Bellatrix. "Go in a straight line. We move swiftly and quietly. We'll hit the edge eventually. From there, we start looking for a wildlife crossing to another island. Any other island."
"B-but... if we want to go back, we'll have to pass through this island again!"
"Then we move forward and hope we can find our way back to the island we started from," said Bellatrix.
Hermione nodded. The thought of going out there terrified her to no end, but it was their only option. She grimly squared her jaw and strapped her pack to her back. Her hands were trembling as she stared at the shimmering shield... all the protection between her and the monsters in the fog.
Behind her, Bellatrix scooped up the wasp and, perhaps a bit more roughly than she should have, stuffed him in her pack which she then strapped to her back. Bellatrix took her wand out and took a few deep breaths. The wasp poked his head from Bellatrix' pack to see what was going on... even so, the wasp looked about as well as Hermione felt.
"Ready?" Bellatrix asked.
"No," Hermione whimpered.
"Well, GET READY!" Bellatrix hissed, causing Hermione to cringe. "We are going!"
A shudder went through Hermione's body when the shield shimmered and then faded, allowing tendrils of fog to penetrate the interior of the cave once more. Hermione closed her eyes and whimpered while a frustrated Bellatrix held out the compass in one hand and grabbed Hermione by the arm with the other. Eyes still closed, Hermione found herself being roughly yanked forward into the fog and into the dead forest beyond.
Hermione had never felt this scared before in her entire life. When she dared to open her eyes, she jumped at shadows everywhere... every tree was a monster, every rock an obstruction, every wisp of fog a place for certain death to hide. She couldn't concentrate, she couldn't focus. In the distance, she could hear the unnatural cries of the monsters and, though far ahead, could only imagine how fast they could travel towards her to tear her living flesh to pieces.
Bellatrix, thankfully, was more determined. Her anger gave her the focus Hermione lacked and, though she feared it greatly, refused to leave her behind all alone. Hermione had no sense how long they had travelled, how far they had come or even in what direction they were headed: she whipped her head around at every little noise, movement or shadow while Bellatrix dragged her along.
Suddenly, Hermione found herself yanked sharply to one side and pushed into the surrounding dead underbrush. Trix kept her firmly in place. Though Hermione had been hypersensitive to her surroundings, Bellatrix had managed to spot an approaching monster long before she had. It lumbered into sight from the fog and stood mere meters away. It simply... stood there... twitching: its long clawlike limbs swaying the breeze as it scanned its surroundings with non-existent eyes.
Incredibly, it had not noticed them and Hermione soon realized why: by now, the colour had been completely drained from all of them in such a way that they perfectly blended within the grey soup which were their surroundings. Though acutely aware that this biome had drained more from them than just colour, it was a bit of a relief to know that it did make them harder to find to the denizens of this hellscape.
"I'm not dying here because of your pathetic mewing..." was softly whispered spitefully in her ear. It almost made Hermione sob.
There was movement in the shadows. Something else was coming. Something big... and fast. Hermione gasped when that something exploded out of the fog and approached the monster from behind. The lanky creature let out an even more unnerving guttural cry as it was skewered by a massive horn and was roughly shaken about it.
The black unicorn!
Hermione tensed up in agonized fear as, judging from the markings both old and new on the hulking creature's body, it was the same one they had encountered earlier. How did it survive its fall?!
The black unicorn shook his head wildly to inflict more damage and finally threw its dying prey on the ground. The lanky monster cried out before a massive maw filled with jagged teeth silenced it forever.
Hermione felt a hand clamp over her mouth, fingers digging into her cheeks "Make even one sound," a soft whisper sounded through clenched teeth. "And I swear I'll fucking kill you and feed your corpse to that thing!"
Being utterly terrified was a boon in this case: she was too afraid to even move. Tears started streaming over her cheeks while Hermione bit her own lip to the point of drawing blood. The black unicorn tore into the flesh of the body, ripping the lanky monster to pieces with minimal effort.
This up close, she got a good look at the beast: huge and muscular, twice, maybe three times the size or a regular horse. Its blood red mane whipped around at it shook its head. Blue glowing eyes without pupils and those teeth. Way too many teeth. Shaped liked daggers.
'Please go away,' she mentally commanded as she felt about ready to piss herself. 'Please go away. Just go away...'
The creature, having had its fill of flesh, slowly trotted off into the fog, leaving only carrion behind. As it left sight, all both girls could hear was a distorted whinny in the distance. It took a while before Bellatrix even considered releasing the grip her mouth.
"Don't scream," she whispered angrily. "Promise me you won't fucking scream or I swear..."
Hermione felt hot tears run over her cheeks as she nodded. She didn't scream when she was released, though it was too close too call for a moment. After making sure that the creature was truly gone, Bellatrix dragged Hermione to her feet. "Come on," she hissed. "We have to move!"
That was a bit louder than Hermione would have liked. "What is that thing doing here? How did it even survive?"
"How the hell should I know that!?" Bellatrix snapped back. "But... it's a recent arrival. It had all its colour. His mane was fully red still. Judging how fast the colour drained from us, he can't have been here very long."
"Is it... stalking us?!" Hermione gulped, the thought alone made her absolutely terrified to the point of fainting.
"Do I look like a unicorn-whisperer to you?!" Bellatrix hissed and checked her compass. "It went over there to the south, we are headed north and I'm perfectly fine with that."
A more hurried run through the fog followed, with Bellatrix still dragging an increasingly whimpering and sobbing Hermione along for what seemed to be an endless run through the fog. Branches whipped against her body and she almost tripped over rocks more than once, but despite the odds she finally found her footing. Her heart was still pounding in her throat, more from fear than from running, when they finally emerged from the fog: the edge of the island came up a bit more quickly than expected and it was by the breadth of a hair that the two of them didn't topple off to fall into the void. Sure, the black unicorn might have survived it somehow, but that didn't mean the two witches were eager to experiment.
Hermione for one, was happy to see some semblance of light again and regarded the other floating islands with longing: safety was so close and yet so far away. They now had to traverse the rocky ring around the floating island in search for another wildlife crossing. Unfortunately, now that they were out of the fog they stood out more despite colour still not returning to their skin or clothes. Hermione could already hear the cries of monsters nearby.
"ENOUGH!" Bellatrix suddenly shrieked. "YOU WANT A PIECE OF ME?! DO YOU?! COME AND GET ME, YOU GORMLESS TWATS! I'LL TEAR YOU LIMB FROM USELESS LIMB!"
Oh god. It happened. Bellatrix had lost control and just... snapped. She stood there, wand at the ready, preparing for a fight to the death. It was now up to Hermione to help Bellatrix survive. With trembling hand, she grabbed the Bellatrix' pack and started pulling her backwards along the rocky island ring, desperately looking for another shimmering portal.
One monster appeared. And yet another. Bellatrix let out a snarl and sent the first fire-balls hurtling towards it: she wasn't playing around either, but was going for the kill. One fire-ball exploded against a monster's chest, turning the lanky creature into a living torch. It shrieked and shrieked at it ran and promptly fell into the void. A bolt of lightning hit the other one, sending it flying. Bolts of power shot forth in all directions as more and more of the creatures appeared.
"I'LL KILL YOU! I'LL KILL ALL OF YOU!" Bellatrix shrieked at the top of her lungs. "Suffer! SUFFER!"
Hermione was becoming increasingly desperate as all this shouting and noise was doing was attracting more monsters. Though Bellatrix knew plenty of destructive spells, Hermione was intimately aware that she had bitten off more than she could chew: the creatures had sheer numbers on their side, after all.
Finally, she saw it. A shimmering portal. Her heart jumped with elation as their release from this hell was near. Judging from her surroundings, it certainly wasn't the one they had emerged from, but at this point she wasn't complaining.
"TRIX!" Hermione shouted. "We have to go!"
"NOT UNTIL I TEACH THESE WANKERS THAT MESSING WITH A PURE-BLOOD WITCH ENDS WITH BROKEN LIMBS!" Bellatrix shot back, with a tone and volume that would rival her possible future self.
God. She wasn't coming. Hermione's have to drag her through.
With terror in her throat, she would do just that. "COME ON!" Hermione shouted, tears now running over her cheeks against as she yanked Bellatrix back and threw her startled girlfriend into the wildlife crossing. One of the creatures took a swipe at her, and Hermione could barely make it to the crossing in time to avoid it.
The sensation of magical travel overcame her and, a few moments later, she was roughly deposited into warm sand. The brightness of the sun above was overwhelming and blinding, but utterly welcome. Her unnatural fear melted away almost instantly and her heart-rate finally slowed down. Tired. Hermione was so completely and crushingly tired as she lay face down in the sand, her pack weighing down upon her. Next to her, Bellatrix was in a similar state, panting heavily.
"Hermie?" she asked with a tired voice.
"Here, Trix," Hermione sighed.
Bellatrix said nothing, but let out a relieved sigh. Hermione noticed that colour was returning to their skin. They'd made it. They'd escaped.
That dream was roughly shattered when one of the lanky, treelike monsters came lumbering through the gate. Hermione didn't have the energy to even move, but the moment the creature met the light of the sun, it exploded into flame and burned to ash before her very eyes. She closed her eyes: they were safe now.
So very tired.
They were here, on a lovely sandy beach with the calming sounds of the ocean waves beyond.
With her last bit of energy, she reached out her arm to grab Bellatrix' hand. Trix replied in kind, their fingers brushing and interlocking before sleep became too powerful to fight.