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Fallen Joy

The Witching Hour [Dark Forest]

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It was dead of the night. Dead in the sense that light had given its finals breaths and refused to revive. Dead because the last phase of the moon collapsed on itself within the caliginosity and as the stars mourned, they covered themselves in ebony masses of clouds. Tears still leaked through, sprinkling cold and dismal rain upon Black Range of mountains. Through their sorrow, a great avian with violaceous feathers glissaded through the darkness. Droplets slid off the sleek folds of her feathers, barely visual within such an evening. Then suddenly, with a booming crackle, tendrils of lightning burst and flashed upon the landscape, causing the night to hiss like demons before the energy lurked back into the crevasses of her feathers. Altuiri di Kepesk, the grand eagle of storm and lightning, had this effect when she flew.

Luna wished the night to be this way. For the sky to be so black that it seemed on the verge of swallowing the earth. She needed them to be ready for the task ahead. The place they traveled towards was far worse than the stormy night of a new moon.

“My sisters,” Luna said to them back in confines of the orc fortress. “The place I send you to is what the land calls the Dark Forest. It is a woodland cursed with darkness that is not to be dismissed. The darkness is not a mere absence of light, but a strengthening affliction of shadow. It is thick enough to breath and impenetrable to light of many forms including magic. Even in my long years of the craft, my spells can barely influence it.

“But I ask you to enter this hostile forest because there is legend of a rod within. This legend furthered by rumors of a man procuring and returning it to the forest in the recent years. This rod harnesses a great enough potential to cause an admirable amount of the darkness. We need this potential if we are to continue with our plans. It is no pleasure of mine to ask you to risk your lives, but this is for our family. It may take days to find the rod, but once it is procured, exiting the forest should be less arduous. Lastly, there is a flower the grows within the forest, allowing the those that consume it to see clearly within. Use it for your benefits, but also harvest any that you find. Both flowers and seeds. It will make great use in the future.      

“Please be careful my sisters, for I fear what lurks in the darkness more than the forest itself. Remember, so long as you possess the powers of the Coven’s Soul, you will never be truly alone.”

The black clouds split, thrown by the winds of the great bird’s wings. She descended from her glide above the palisade of the mountains and reached the horizontal bush of the forest. In that moment, the world somehow managed to become darker. The duskiness became heavy, weighing not only on the shoulders, but the soul. It was as if magic itself lost its sight to the purloin of light. The thinner trunks swayed like ghosts and the blades of grass bowed deep as she hovered low. Her saber sized talons pierced the earth as she landed at the brim of the Dark Forest.

Immediately two black figures leaped from the back of the bird. One landed on their feet, while one immediately collapsed on their knees, spilling disgusting chunks of vomit from its stomach. Mostly digested meat and bile. Nigel instantly decided that he hated flying, and those thoughts steeled as his chiseled stomach convulsed and burned. He closed his crimson eyes and placed a gargantuan hand upon his mostly bald head, clawing through the bristles of his mohawk and wishing he could rip the wretched nausea away. Countless times he wanted to plunge his axe into the head of that bird, behead it by the neck and end his misery. Misery...that was a word he visited often, ever since the takeover of the witches.

The sound of slurping caused him to open his eyes, noting a hot tongue raining in viscous drool lapping at the chewed up meat. The tongue extended from nearly two feet away, belonging to the second figure that leaped off the bird, a three headed lupine with eyes as red as its owner’s. A quick fist grabbed the tongue and gripped it hard.

“Disgusting beast,” he grumbled and he threw it back into the canine’s center face. It yelped as the thickness of its own muscle knocked its head and plopped to the ground, but it quickly shook it off with snarl and eventual sway of its tail. Knowing the tongue was potent with flesh eating bacteria, Nigel immediately rubbed the slob onto his fur drape. The unusual thickness of his specific breed’s hide made him mostly impermeable to the bacteria, but lingering drool still burned after an hour. The orc retook to his feet, feeling better already, and looked back to the bird. He waited for those he was supposed to protect in this forsaken wood to disembark.

Darkness was never a problem for his species, they lived in the bowels of light starved mountain tunnels for generations and their crimson eyes showed for it. They could see perfectly through natural darkness and their hounds were capable of both seeing and tracking. While the flight there was less than pleasant, he was glad to be on the field again. Natasha, Smung, and the three brothers got to face a dragon, and the bodyguard of the Matriarch got to go damn near everywhere. Now it was his turn to leave the hell hole and wreck havoc. It was his first assignment with the witches, and he longed to stick his axe into something once more. Those that did well got to leave the hole more. 

He looked to the brim of the wood. So this was the infamous Dark Forest.

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While some were carried on the backs of a beautiful living storm, another came to the fringes of the Dark Forest in a more conventional manner.

Far from the sharp tang of brine and murmuring roar of waves, Una Tal found solace in the raindrops darkening her hair and tumbling down planes of her bronzed skin. Her face was sculpted by Melancholy, formed with soft severity and off-set with angular eyes. Though only clad in cloak the color of sage and a loosely draped diaphanous gown, the chill did not strike her. There was sea foam in her eyes and ocean depths untouched by light in her veins. She rode atop a tall mare, a creature that appeared as though she was carved from the nebulous clouds that were preventing starlight from illuminating the Wilds. The daughter of the South Sea traveled in silence as they followed the trail winding between thick black pillars of trees.

Quiet wonder dashed across her lips. The trunks appeared to be living shadows solidified and the canopy blended in with the blackness of the night sky. Painterly strokes of dusk were all that hinted of the outstretched branches above. Without the gentle light of the mother moon, the darkness was unnerving. Whispers of night settled in Una’s lungs and tugged at her bones. It begged for caution, for fear...and she was at such a distance from home. Drawing on the familial comfort of the Sisterhood’s Coven Soul, she urged her horse on in search of Nigel.

She found him in the company of a beast with three heads and the fading scent of vomit. For a moment, her nose wrinkled in distaste, though her low voice was devoid of any trace of disgust.

“Are you alright?”

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The sacred space of the new moon was known to Stellestria. As she continued to fly upon the great thunderbird that Luna had called for them, Stellestria's mind wandered through the stars. Though she could not perceive the stars in the pitch cloak of night with her eyes, she always knew their location with a little divination and a general sense of reverence and joyful faith; and though the forest was of little comfort for the fledgling witch, she stood as proudly as possible, a sense of hopeful adventure lighting up her otherwise determined eyes. 

 Her tether to the sisterhood was blossoming ever-so-steadily. It was as though her magic was maturing at a profound rate with each experience tied to her fellow sisters, a sturdy, delicate ribbon of fate weaving through the souls of each member. Though she knew her powers were not as refined, Luna had put a great deal of belief in her abilities. Her gentle confidence was contagious, radiating from the gentle symbol on her brow in the shape of a moon. The muted light of her tattoo coupled with her energetic affirmations served as a gentle reminder to the coven that the moon's  presence was very much among them. As a sister, she would have to summon the strength of spirit within herself to better support the whole of those on this mission; further still, Stellestria would need to demonstrate receptivity toward the Coven’s Soul in order to prove her merit. 

Stellestria's method of travel was between the blackness of the night itself, via way of a strange, amorphous, tentacled creature; the place between the stars, with a benevolent creature she had met as a child. To many, this phasewalking was a straight destination of fear. The darkness was a source of terror, true, but for those who felt the comfort of sweet grandmother night, it was a damn fast way to cover distance, especially with the assistance of creatures native to that plane. Yag'solth was such a grandmotherly energy for the unafraid witch. The tendrils of the creature of space and stars carried her, passing her body through the void to phase back into the edge of the wood, curls of pitch flowing off of her otherwise pale form as she landed toward where the bird had touched, toward the edge of the dark wood. She came with a cold gust as the black tentacles of an aberrant, benevolent creature of the stars released her onto her feet before it began to fade back betwixt the seen and unseen. "Many Thanks, Yag'solth." She cooed to the creature as its final wispy tentacle left the palm of her hand entirely. 

Stellestria  Dressed in grays and blacks, the only thing that really stood out on her person was her moonlit eyes and forehead tattoo, faintly glowing beneath the cover of her black hair. Her features were youthful and bright, almost girlish and somewhat immature. Stellestria was a strange porcelain girl indeed. She hurried to meet Una, Niel, and the hellish hound, waving at them with enthusiasm. It was an uncomfortable thing to witness such a cheerful girl emerge from the company of such a hideous creature, but then again, most witches were a little odd.

"Sister! And...allies," She began, regarding the orc man and his hound with a slight feeling of unease before continuing, "I wanted to share...There was once such a flower I have seen in my travels prior. A discovery of legend, truly, and I never forget the face of a flower." She reassured, pulling out her alchemy grimoire, its pages frayed and full of plant matter, stains, and well-worn love. Stellestria thumbed through the pages expertly before stopping on a passage she had once written with a small diagram of a stout, rooted flower at the base of a gnarled tree, nestled within the curl of a burl. "Though what my eyes saw were not of this wood before, perhaps its features would correlate with the blossoms we seek?" Stellestria's pale eyes were alight with possibility as she continued reading what she had composed to the coven, "No vision is a blunder, but with a bloom of silver-white, petals do my teeth sunder, to pierce the veil of night...I hope that will help in identifying possible features."
Still...Stellestria knew that the main focus of their visit to the dark forest was to obtain the rod. Flowers and their helpfulness aside, she wondered what kind of dangers she should expect within the wood. "I've brought some salves and potions, in case we turn out to need them...I wish us all good health on this journey, so that we may use these poultices another day." 

Edited by SoulfulMoth

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Leondrys was quite enjoying the ride atop the massive bird, regardless of being able to fly himself. He was on an area of the bird by himself, waiting for the bird to land. The ethereal blue glow from his eyes lit up the area of the bird that he stood upon. Leo shook his wings and readjusted his beak before he realized how compromising he was being. Sure, they weren't expecting enemies and light may be helpful better it was better to be safe than sorry. He consciously dimmed the light emanating from himself.

Soon enough they landed and Leo's euphoric feeling faded away. He continued to sit alone until everyone else was off and then he proceeded to use his wings to float off of the side of the bird. Luna had already spoken by the time Leo got off, but Stellestria was starting a speech of some kind. Leo listened intently, and took in all the information that he had already been briefed about. Get the rod, wherever it may be hiding in the forest and bring it back to the protection of the sisterhood. But the flower was news to him, and he guessed he'd better look out for it along the way.

Leondrys nodded at the end of Stellestria's tid bit and then spoke to the group mentally, as it was his only form of coherent communication. "So, how are we doing this?" Spoke his creepily youthful voice. "Shall we stay together? Split up into groups and easily be picked off by the dangers of the forest? I would prefer some instruction."  Anyone that wished to respond could simply do so by thinking of what they want to say, or speaking of course because Leo wasn't deaf.

Upon waiting for some kind of reply from either Luna or Stellestria, Leo started looking into the dense forest. They weren't even in the place and it was already darker here than it was a few meters away. On top of that it seemed to emanate a dark aura, not evil or monstrous, just dark. It was as if a permanent shadow was cast upon the forest, blocking out all light; even the glow from Leo's eyes was dimmed when he was around the forest. Leo wasn't all for this plan as much as he was before hopping on the bird, but nonetheless he would carry it out to the best of his ability. Now he hoped for a reply stating that they would travel as one group. But the decision was someone else's, so he simply had to do nothing until he was told.

Leondrys began observing the other members of the group and, would have frowned with his beak if he could, at the sight of the vomit on the ground. He looked at the orc and then to the three headed beast, and back at the orc. While maintaining his stare at the orc, he used his large talons to dig up a chunk of earth and toss it onto the pool of vomit. He returned his gaze to the three headed canine type creature. Leo thought it was far too savage, and primal for his liking, but then again he tears enemies to shreds with nothing but his talons, so it could be commended. Regardless, Leo was not looking forward to working with the mut, but he would try his absolute best to get along with it.

The last thing that Leo noted was how much death lurked in this place. Not that it made it more haunting or anything, but it would be a benefit to Leo, as he connected with spirits often. Speaking with the dead was his greatest asset, because he could also will them to do what he wished. If Leo wanted someone to feel like they were drowning, he was only a few incantations away. There were enough spirits in here to last him thousands of requests, but it would certainly disturb the flow of the forest. Leo wouldn't do anything with the dead...not until he needed to. He wasn't going to disappoint his masters.

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“Are you alright?”

Nigel’s corded sinews tensed at the sound of her voice. The words of a witch, riding through thickness of his flesh and penetrating the void that his soul once occupied, always held the weight of a thousand piling and binding chains. He shifted his bloodied optics to her. Una Tal’s presence seduced the darkness around her in a mystifying manner, manipulated it into powerful billows that exhaled onto crashes upon an invisible shoreline. Una departed the ocean, but took its gravitating puissance with her. The very moisture of the light rain seemed capable of drowning him when he looked at her.  She melted into his awareness upon a celestial steed and the possession of the sea; Nigel forced his discomfort to settle. Always in the background, he’d never been this close to a witch. His insides rattled and clanked with a disturbed awareness that she could order him to behead himself, and he’s have no choice but to obey.

His language was limited, yet through the mysteries of his arcane obligation, he still understood her. He grunted loudly at her and turned his eyes back on the oddly less imposing shadows of the forest.

“Fine,” he said in his deep husk and grated voice. He rolled his shoulders, audible pops freeing themselves from his tension and he continued to wait. There was still one more.

Stellestria melted from the shadows themselves, making an unnerving incorporeal substance suddenly alive and dangerous. It slithered and adorned twinkling lights, as celestial as the steed. It was graceful and frightening like a specter. When Nigel realized it was a creature, he startled into a crouched and coiled spring ready to slaughter. His large hand grasped the leather wrapped handle of his axe and his eyes excited with blood lust. Then a witch came from its embrace. Pacification forced itself upon him, tore him. He was once more penetrated within that soulless void and thus time drugged him into ease—he hated it. Yet despite how much his mind favored bloody entropy, his muscles melted into pliant folds and he exhaled the remaining bits of his calamity. He looked to the forest again, once more finding it more settling.

There he stood, motionless and inattentive as the witches exchanged greetings and information, and waited to enter the forest. His eyes shifted down when Leondrys covered his vomit, near his feet and so close that he could lift his foot and step on him, and then looked back at the forest. Violent thoughts were just part of his normal imagination. The hound padded excitedly the roots of the trees, sniffing the essence of the forest as a normal canine would. While two of the heads favored scenting, the third head had its eyes on Stellestria. It appeared transfixed and its viscous drool accumulated and leaked between its fangs to the ground. A low whine rumbled in its throat.

When their conversations ended, the Nigel grunted again.

“We go?” he voiced.

No matter how much his feet ached to move, he couldn’t until they did.

Penetrating the tree line of the forest was like entering a new world. The heaviness of the shadows shrouded them like a sheet, laying the outside of the skin with enough lightness for movements, but still a constant awareness of imprisonment. The branches crushed and crumbled under the orc's large feet, as he walked. The pikes and webbing of the surrounding trees were so eerie and opaque that Nigel swore at times their claws were actually reaching for him. It didn’t take long from him to permanently remove the axe form its chained root on his back and carry it freely within his hand. He felt more comfortable on an offensive guard.

The beginnings of the journey were uneventful, dangers always thickening towards the heart of such places. The hound bounded between them, its coal fur blending in the darkness and thus only its almond shaped carmine hues penetrating.  It scratched, marked, and rubbed against the trees, providing a map for their navigation and ensuring circles were never done. Occasionally that third head would whine, and the beast would bound near Stellestria, padding quietly at her heels and nosing at her ebony adornments. If she turned to touch the canine, it would immediate withdraw, leaping away from her attention. The orc ignored it for a time until its long tongue dared to slither from its mouth, reaching three feet away to attempt and taste the swaying fingers of her hand. The orc snarled and the action was ceased.

There were times where the forest lightened and the gnarled designs of the trees flaunted their intricacy and strange flora unraveled from the shadows. None held the description of Luna’s fancied flower though.

Then suddenly, a near hour into their journey, light abandoned them entirely. Like a cloud passing over the sun, the darkness thickened and swallowed the contours of forest. Even a hand before the face held no merit of vision. This forced the orc to stop walking, unnerved. His glowing red eyes dimmed to a haze of suffocating red, like flames dying under the smother of its own smog breath. The hound whined next to him and Nigel got an idea.

“Make torch,” he said. His wasn’t completely bind, the natural part of the darkness still weak to his eyes. He made his way to a tree and a loud snap was heard. An unusually wet snap in his opinion, but it was raining not too long ago so he dismissed it. This was followed by the tearing of cloth and a wrapping sound.

“Come beast.” The hound padded towards him, and the immediate sound of gagging rippled as if the orc was shoving something in its mouth. Followed the click of rocks, and then a burst of flames.

Sunset colors bled into the environment, casting a weak light onto everything. The large orc stood there with a makeshift torch in his hand, the hound at his feet lapping continuously at its lips to regain the moisture in its mouth. The hound’s drool and breath were highly flammable, and was the fuel to the torches that lit the dark mountain tunnels back at the orc stronghold. The fire’s aura of light was more limited than usual, but at least it saved them from complete darkness.  Nigel made sure both the witches were present. He cast the torch at one witch…Then at the second witch…Then at the third witch...Now where was that glowy familiar?

Wait..Third witch?

A gangly woman stood amongst the trees five feet from behind and to the east of Una. Her limps were so emaciated and distorted that they could have been branches themselves. They cast out long from her torso and ended in black claws that twisted up and speared her torso and head in several places, anchoring her arms still as spreading wildly into web like splits on the other side. Her skin was patched in pieces of waterlogged grey, necrotic black, and ghostly white flesh. A torn, dilapidated, and ecru ensemble draped past her feet, but revealed vile windows of insect infested flesh that crawled amongst the garb.  As if some of her nails forked within her skull, the black spears also exited her empty black eye sockets and the back of her skull, continuing to branch above her. She eerily resembled an undead tree.

The orc doubled-taked, turning the torch back on the unsightly female, but she was suddenly gone.

Well that was just damn creepy.

Ba-dum.

Nigel blinked, a sound penetrating the forest and echoing all around them.

Ba-dum.

Was that a heartbeat?

Ba-dum….. Ba-dum… Ba-dum.. Ba-dum.

The hound furs shot into a bristle, hunches raised and lips flared into spread of white fanged teeth. Nigel's hand felt warm and wet, he thought he was nervously sweating at first, but then realized it was one hand. He looked at the torch and widened his eyes at the sight of blood steaming around his grip, all exiting the gnarls of the branch. From the severed end, it practically rained crimson. Though tempted, he didn't drop the torch, but instead gripped his axe tighter in his other hand.

The sound got louder. It was also getting faster. Something was getting excited. Or angry.

Ba-dum.. Ba-dum.. Ba-dum—Ba-dum–Ba-dum­Ba-dumBa-dumBa-dum.

 

Offtopic: Fill that hour with whatever you want. I just wanted to get us deeper into the forest. Hope everyone was okay with that.

Edited by Fallen Joy

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Weeks had passed since the entry of those witches within the forest. Time drifted slow and silently, and at first without weight upon the coven’s shoulders. However, though at first each second was a minuscule grain of an hourglass, by the third phase of the moon the granules were heavy and laden upon Luna’s thoughts. The absence of her sisters had been too long. Her confidence was rarely rattled by their abilities, but now it was helplessly buried in that piling sand and suffocating so painfully that she could no longer relay on faith.

Thus she traveled from the igneous rock of orcs and now stood in the outskirts of the Dark Forest. Wind rushed around her in a fury, lifting both her emerald tresses and fallal dress as a great avian creature rose into the skies behind her. She cups her wild strains back to glance up and watch it disappear into the clouds, lightning and clamorous roars echoing in its wake. Thanks to Altuiri di Kepesk, travel was shift.

Her mauve eyes moved from the skies to the earth, feeling for the energy of the flora. What she sensed generated a small frown. The grass was a perfect night shade green of shade but permeated with misery. Nature’s Energy seemed starved of its strength, whipped and beaten moment by moment by the same iniquitous signature Luna normally felt from the dark arts. She closed her eyes, breathed out softly, and rancorously acknowledged she would receive little strength channeling from this wretched place. In fact, it might poison her.

The culprit was the aphotic world itself. She glanced up to the darkness snickering behind the bark. It was practically tangible, it was so thick. What should have been nothing but willowwacks like most dead forests was potent with tainted life. Nature had rejected this place because of its aura, or perhaps had given up all together under the weight. She felt that enslavement threaten her as well. The shadows literally wanted to reach out and molest her skin. Her nerves hissed at the ominous presence. It would be a cold day in Hell before a damned anything could steal her spiritual connection. With her sisters in possible danger, everything forth dealt with the most unfathomable power in existence. If it meant saving them, she’d purge and purify this entire accursed land.

But there was something that brought a smile to her face despite the dismal situation. She was not alone. Two of her sisters had decided to accompany her, and it was the most comfort one could ask for.

“Are you ready?” she asked them.

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Emma looked up at Luna, an empty can of marking paint in one hand and a sextant in the other, then back down to inspect the magic circle she had been drawing on the grass. "Just about..." she said, biting her lower lip as her eyes danced over the arcane symbols. "I just have to double check my angles."

Emma peered through her sextant into the night sky, charting the relative positions of various tiny lights and the horizon, then comparing the results to the eldritch design beneath her. 

"Ok. Let's do this."

Emma took a deep breath, then moved to the center of the circle, facing east. She spread her arms, and her voice dropped two octaves from childlike to solemn.

"Mercury rise,

Bless our eyes!

As Mars descends,

Uncloud our lens!

The Leo's flame,

Shall light our claim!

Our sisters lost;

no matter cost,

we raise our gaze,

and pierce this haze!"

Emma tipped her head back, her eyes half-lidded as warm, white light poured like water from her outstretched fingertips, empowering the designs at her feet with celestial energy. Her breath quickened, and the energy of the spell rose from the ground like an unnatural mist. As it passed eye level for each witch, it would vanish, though everyone could see it's remnants in the form of a slight white glow in their companions' pupils.

The woman released a deep sigh, and dropped her arms; the symbols on the ground were already fading, and by morning there would be no trace of them left. "That should do it," Emma nodded, "For the next twelve hours, roughly, although it's actually the amount of time it takes the moon to move six degrees and cross from Leo into Virgo, where I'll have to come up with a different spell if we still need it, so a little less than twelve hours, but that should be fine. What was I saying? Oh, right, for the next twelve hours... roughly... we'll be able to see inside the forest as if we were under a full moon in an open field. Well also be able to see astral forms, auras, the residual energies of recent travellers, and we should have some bit of danger sense, although that may have been a mistake because mine is just going off constantly at the moment."

She hooked the sextant back onto her belt, nestling it neatly amongst the dozen or so leather scroll cases she had attached to the accoutrement by way of special rings sewn into the material. 

"So, yeah. What was your question? Oh, right. Yes, I'm ready!"

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Serra giggled softly at Emma's long-winded explanation of her little ritual. She was so damned cute! Overcomplicated as hell, but super cute!

"Thanks sugar!" Serra stepped lithely past the archivist, blowing her a thank-you kiss and letting her hips sway a little extra as she passed. Every step Serra took was like a miniature dance, and not even a single weed was bent by her footsteps as she moved to stand next to Luna. She blinked her newly-enhanced eyes and looked into the forest, as her hands rested on the hilts of two long knives sheathed on her nearly weightless cloth belt. It was the only equipment she'd brought, as compared to the stacks of scrolls and pounds of metal implements carted around by her blonde sister; even Serra's clothes were gossamer, light, and barely concealing. Her body was her wand and weapon, and she trusted it as much as the others trusted their runes and staves.

"Do we have any idea what's waiting for us in there?" she asked, pacing a little at the edge of the treeline. An errant gust of wind from within the wood tousled her long black hair, and to Serra it felt like the cold breath of something big and dangerous. She wondered if a night time exploration was the best idea; her combat magic was strongest in the daylight, and under the moon she would be forced to either support her comrades with illusions and charms, or else put her faith in the cold iron blades, edged with silver leaf. Then again, if what they fought was a spiritual plague, she might yet have a more active role to play than she anticipated. 

Oh well. Either way, sisters were lost, and needed to be helped, and she wouldn't shy away just 'cuz she didn't know how to best approach the problem. Leap first, find the ground later!

"I take it back; it doesn't matter. I'm ready. Lead the way, boss-lady!"

Cuz Serra could watch Luna walk away from her all night long

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The cadence of the Emma’s spell caressed the curves of Luna’s spine long before its luminescent ribbons blessed the air. It seduced her into a turn with eyes observing the grandeur. Her sister’s celestial magic manifested like exquisite art, pouring arcane paint from her fingertips and bringing beauty into the ugly and dismal atmosphere. Luna’s fabric and locks whisked to the strides of her current as if it were a bouquet of a siren. She softened her mauve eyes as the charm cast its effects.

Originally such blessings were incapable of enchanting Luna due to the signature of her rejecting aura, but with the coven’s soul creating exceptions to her sisters, it melted within her just fine. It was a bittersweet reminder of her sheer vulnerability, but unconditional trust for her coven. Love, she supposed it was. She couldn’t defend against her sisters even if she truly desired to. In the end, they could do give her the most compassionate embrace or the most lethal strike.

“Thanks sugar!”

The jubilant voice of Serra broke her from deep thought. She shifted her now glowing eyes to a quite different form of art. The art of this witch traced through the curvaceous curves of her body and entwined with the very rhythm of her motion. Serra’s exposed skin was mesmerizing in both its creamy synchronous flow and unique aura of magic, the very oscillations in her demeanor were like sweet music. Serra could be a graceful and soft as a pedal, but her high energy and whimsical persona announced her underline sharp quip like the shiny edge of a wet throne.

A rose, Luna thought to herself pleasantly, that was she was.

She laughed cheerfully at Serra’s gestures and turned the end of her cheer to Emma.

“Yes thank you, Sister.”

She then quirked a brow at Serra before taking a second look at the forest. It suddenly looked a hair more pleasant, be it the enchantment or the rise in her mood.  She canted her head left and then right, emerald hair shifted just the same.

“I imagine it’s going to be as bloody dodgy as it looks, deary,” she said with her accent. “But they say ignorance is bliss, no use getting ourselves in a tizzy over something we haven’t gotten much gen over.”

"I take it back; it doesn't matter. I'm ready. Lead the way, boss-lady!"

“There you go, love. Let us explore this dark beast with our peckers up. So long as we stick together, nothing can be too dangerous.”

Nodding to them both, Luna took the first step into the shadows raining from the low boroughs. Eerily, she disappeared as soon as she did as if the darkness was instead a black curtain.

When they followed, they would see why. While the darkness of the night seemed to be the primary cause of the aphotic world, the presence of the sun or even a thousand suns would have no assistance in this curse. The black was heavy­, it felt like sand pouring the shoulders and burying you alive into nothing but very room to breathe.

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Luna rose her hand and observed it silently, her fingers were heavy obscured, but slowly gained visibility as the seconds drifted. Color was lost, Luna pondered if it even existed here. Her honey tinted hand was now a charcoal gray. She sighed long, felt the presence of her sisters behind her, and then continue to walk forward. The sounds of crunching dead leaves and twigs were underneath her, and in the echoing distance the sounds of unidentified animals. Her enchanted eyes glared like a cat through the night; the trees and their gnarls were visible, as were the boulders, bushes, and thickets, but the distant world was blind. The idea of not being able to see anything charging, diving, or creeping until they were within five feet of their personas was unnerving. However, she kept walking forward.

“Keep your eyes aware, if you catch any sign or signature of our sisters…” she trailed off, her frown deep. Like a worrisome mother, Luna couldn’t help but wonder the fate of their lost family. She glanced up into the air at the tangles of branches that look like broken disfigured limbs and then down into a spidery roots of their bases. She wondered if one of her sisters were trapped or suspended within such things. Refusing to let her imagination get the best of her and remain a pillar of strength, she only pressed on.

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Emma frowned and blushed at Serra's blown kiss, and hustled with her small, ungraceful stride to catch up to her sisters. She was keenly aware of the metallic clinking noises of her instruments, useless now that she was under the thick canopy of the trees. 

"Wow this is dark. I can't imagine trying to navigate in here by torchlight! Although I'm curious as to how many lumens it would take to project a usable light source. Maybe I should light a torch and take some notes? Well, except I didn't bring one. Or anything to take notes with. Drat it! We have to schedule a research trip once we've rescued the others. This place is fascinating! And scary. But fascinating!" 

She stumbled as her foot caught on an exposed root, and was instantly, furiously jealous of Serra and Luna's confident, effortless steps. Emma didn't get out in the field much, and it showed. 

"We know how we're getting back out, right? I mean, it doesn't look like there are any real paths or anything. Should I set a beacon? What am I saying, I should absolutely set a beacon. Better safe than sorry. Don't leave me behind!"

She turned back towards the edge of the forest and unfurled one of the scrolls from her belt. She laid it as flat as possible on the rough ground, and her eyes glowed white as she scanned the diagrams, channeling her power into the vellum. A pillar of light, about six feet tall and appearing as if it were made of a thousand tiny stars, grew from the center of the scroll, marking the place where they had entered. It wasn't half as bright as she'd hoped it would be, but it was better than nothing.

"There. That should at least give us something to look for on the way back. You should also be able to hone in on it astrally, if you need a safe spot to teleport to-- hey! Wait up!"

Emma scrambled to get back into easy eyesight of her companions, narrowly avoiding the perils of roots and branches, and occasionally casting a backwards glance at the quickly retreating beacon on light. 

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Roots? What roots? 

Serra stepped lightly and smartly around every obstacle, as if they didn't even exist. Her bare feet always landed perfectly, and her arms never even so much as grazed a branch or leaf. While Emma might end the night looking like she'd gotten into a fight with a seven-foot-tall cheese grater, Serra was unlikely to even have a sticky spot of pine sap. 

Her heightened spiritual senses were keen to Emma's jealousy, tho, and it made her feel bad for the girl. Not everyone was good at all the same things. Jealous people usually were the people who undervalued their own gifts. For example, creating a lasting spiritual effect with a physical manifestation in a specific spot even though all the environmental conditions were set against it. Serra couldn't have done that, day or night; her affinity required her effects to be constantly moving, either with her or on their own. Even her magic was too hyperactive to stand in one place for very long.

While Emma was marking their way back, Serra set her sights on finding their way forward. Finding a relatively level spot on the ground, she rose up on her toes and did a quick twirl, ending up facing the same direction she started, with one leg out behind her. Her arms swooped in a complex weave, crossing in front of her eyes and opening again to set her up for another spin. The spiritual energy around her seemed to condense on her bare skin, and her movements channeled it into a broad wave, casting it out in a widening arc into the forest ahead of them. She paused, embracing a moment of stillness, waiting... and a faint bit of the mist returned to her.

Serra repeated the sequence again, and another wave of spiritual power radiated out from her, and again a faint fragment of it returned, like a spiritual sonar, pinging off the pure, connected souls of her sisters somewhere in the forest. 

"I've got a bead on them," she whispered to Luna. They're alive, but they're either far away, or their souls are not well anchored to their bodies. That could either mean they're near death, or they're astrally projected somehow. I can't be sure from here." 

She started off in a slightly different direction from the one they'd been taking, trying to pick a path that would be easy for the others to follow. "This way."

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One clumsy and analytical, one graceful and carefree, Luna quietly observed them be themselves with a charmed smile on her face. She was generally calm until she had something important to say. Being over five centuries old, she found most things were better discovered with closed lips and opened eyes.

The beacon was set with a brilliance practically a blemish on the area and manifested color to what it touched. Luna paused and looked over her shoulder, paint spilling upon her visage. She immediately felt the disturbance of the forest. The air practically hissed and the trees rustled angrily ( or perhaps the creatures living within them did). The old witch had learned that most magical illuminations didn’t last under the weight of the Dark Forest. Much like Nature’s Energy, it perhaps were whipped and pounded on until time sank it into the earth. Luna would see how long it would last, if the rumors were true, but in the mean time she smiled.

“Spiff thinking, love. Would be quite unfortunate to be stuck here.”

Next her other sister came into action, waving that beautiful body into a dancing twirl that practically sung to the forest. The forest vibrated from seduction as it traveled. Luna waited and her eyes lit up at something answered back. She stepped near Serra as the second wave was sent and another returned, catching traces of its feeling. What she sensed was definitely a signature of her sisters, but Serra was right…there was something off about it.

“I hope whatever it is, we can save them from it.”

Before she could take step in the direction indicated, something else followed that return of energy. Luna froze on the spot a moment beforehand, a cold creep going down her spine. Then a sound swept upon them loud and hard, filled with a high pitch screech. It was horribly piercing, like a screaming maiden or bird. It hit so hard that Luna clapped her hands to her ears and scrunched her countenance. Her skin crawled, the hair on her arms raised and she saw the immediate branches around them ring with sadistic laughter. In a few seconds it was over. At the end of its breath, Luna could have sworn she heard the deep pound of a heart.

Ba-Dum.

Perhaps it was her own ringing in her ears. It felt strangely deep, but still  outside of her. Luna was rarely frazzled, but this sensation slithered along her nerves. She looked around at the darkness, half expecting something to suddenly appear, half wanting something too. Her hand gripped tighter on the rod and her eyes glowed mildly brighter as it preparing for it. But nothing came. She relaxed her shoulders.

“…We should press on. It’s possible something else caught onto your wave, sister. We should not be here when it follows it back to this point. Lead the way.”

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At Luna's warning, Emma looked around sharply. What kind of things could be out here? What kind of things could live in this dark, depressing place? She couldn't imagine, and didn't want to know... except that she did want to know. She really, really wanted to know. But she didn't want to know. It was confusing. Maybe she just didn't want to know first-hand. 

Clinking and thudding and stumbling, she made her way along the non-existent path with a bit more hustle in her step than previously, following Serra's lead and trying to keep her eyes on her surroundings rather than on the dancer's swaying hips and round bottom. That was easier tonight than it might have been under other circumstances, but still not entirely perfectly easy.

As they walked, she uncapped one of her scroll cases, so that the paper inside was easy to access at need, and also drew a tiny knife from her belt. It was mostly for drawing her own blood for rituals, and was probably entirely unsuited for combat purposes, but it made her feel a touch safer anyway. If they were attacked by an evil zombie shrew, well, she would be prepared! She might also be prepared to trip over something and stab herself in the throat with it, but she frowned and resolved not to think about that. 

"Are we supposed to be quiet? Or should we be calling out for our sisters to let them know we're here? On the one hand, they could be on the verge of giving up all hope and hearing our voices could rouse them to action! On the other hand, maybe we shouldn't be drawing attention to ourselves? Oh, I can't decide! In the stories, it's all so easy! I wish this was a story. I need to make a spell that can turn things into stories. Well, maybe not. Maybe only the stories that have happy endings and everyone survives. That would be a tough spell, though. I'm just going to pretend I didn't say that, it was a stupid idea. Just a brainstorm. Am I drawing too much attention? I'm drawing too much attention. I'm sorry. I'll be good now."

Emma shut up, and resolved to focus quietly on trying to detect any danger before it detected them.

Emma's mind kept thinking Serra's rear must be some kind of danger. That was annoying. Focus, woman! 

Noise from the bushes drew her attention, and she whipped around to face it, her skin going even paler in the moonlit sight of her sisters. "What was that?" she whispered, brandishing her knife towards the dark vegetation. 

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Serra was really careful to avoid disturbing any unnecessary brush or leaving any unnecessary trace of her passing as she picked her way through the forest. Her position at point was for the best, since her spiritual senses were heightened while the moon remained in the sky. There were very few natural animals here, which made it very easy to detect the spiritual disturbances of oncoming dangers.

She looked over her shoulder and blew a kiss at Emma; her senses couldn't detect anything in the bushes, but that didn't mean there weren't things out here with souls too foreign for her to read. "Prolly the wind, sugar, but keep moving just in case. If you stand still, you're easy. An easy target, I mean. Besides, if we stop to investigate every rattle and snap, we'll be out here for ages. Deep breath, beautiful, we got this."

Her easy words hid her state of tense high-alertness, tho. The forest was super creepy!

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When neither Emma nor Serra heard the air-shattering scream, Luna wondered if it only haunted her mind. Perhaps it was something that her insides were trying to reach and warn her about; something that they feared or dreaded. This disturbed her even more.

“Calm yourself, Emma.” Luna said with a voice gentle but mildly stern. Her edge and lingering feeling of ache within her ears made her slightly less lenient. “This place is not one to be panicked in, the dark magic likely feeds on fear. Stay focused, we are here for each other.”

Upon these words, Luna turned to approach the shivering shrubbery in question and approached. She listened to Serra but still cast her own feelers towards it. The witch was right, she felt nothing as well. Moving on was a good idea, but she also did not want to exactly walk with their backs to a lurker either. Getting close, she intrepidly prodded the copse with the tip of her metallic staff.

“Nothing. Let’s move—”

 Another scream pierced the forest, cutting off Luna’s words and making her flinch in pain again. It was as if she were standing in the heart of bell, the thousands of horrific vibrations filling her body with a dread and fear that she couldn’t explain. Nausea and a whirling sensation come upon her and suddenly she was swept into the past by a memory. A hundred years ago...She saw herself walking upon the sight of her sisters broken and unconscious within the grasps of a demented warlock.

Luna’s breath elevated, the dreaded memory pounding her thoughts. Those stream of emotions, inspiring vulnerability and panic, normally only happened when her sisters were in pain. When the guilt became a sword through her mid section and bled out her power and will. Why did this screaming inspire such things?

She was desperately trying to figure  this out when suddenly the aphotic canopy broke open and a creature descended towards her.

In some legends, it was an ancient maiden spirit who wails were only heard by the minds of their victims. In others, it was the beacon of death in households, broken soliders, and great generals. It was also known as the old hag of the mist, wailing in the white shadows like broken widow. Most simplistically though...it was a banshee.

Luna’s advanced processing skills often made the world's movement slow, down to a crawl when her life was in danger. She looked up as the branches broke apart and took in the imagery of the banshee diving down upon her like a hawk. The banshee had wild tresses bleached white, riding around the currents of her body, and her pale skin was covered in dirt and moss. Her bony fingers led into elongated blackened claws that were once possible fine nails. Her attire was disheveled and blood stained with the creatures she'd slain, if not her own. But her face…Luna's eyes widened. That expression laced with so much pain and anger held a beauty that was all too familiar.

“...I wish us all good health on this journey, so that we may use these poultices another day.”   

 

The voice behind the scream was even clear to Luna.  Suddenly she realized those weren’t screams she heard, but the wailing…keening of someone they held most dear. The banshee was literally a foot from her body with silver hues shining like galaxies. She'd never forget those.

“...Stellestria?” she barely managed to whisper, all her defenses tumbling to her ankles at the shock before the banshee swept her from the ground.

The banshee's hands grasped her shoulder with great strength, claws sinking deep into the flesh and making Luna cry out from the pain. The banshee (Stellestria?) screamed bloody murder into her face, agonizing her mind, and then threw her into the trunk of one of the trees. The bark moaned wildly and dead leaves rained down as Luna fell to the ground with a groan. Her emerald hair spilled over her bloodied shoulders and tears were already on her cheeks. 

The banshee circled under the canopy upon and dove again towards the witch. Luna didn’t seem to respond to it.

(Thread Ended due to lack of activity, continued here)

Edited by Fallen Joy

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