DarkWood. Chapter One – All.

The patch of grass all four people had fallen on was thick and coarse, the little blades pricking their exposed skin. All around them dark wood could be seen in every direction, the canopy of leaves completely blocking out the sky. An owl hooted in the distance, startling the young man into consciousness. He sat up quickly, his green eyes wide with shock.

“What is this place?” he asked aloud, rubbing his palms together to get rid of the prickly grass feeling and getting to his feet. As Seraphim turned slowly for a full scope of his new surroundings, the three young women began to stir; Athena coughed and rolled over, Elina groaned and sat up clutching her stomach, and Jezebel groaned and shook her head.

Elina was the first of the women to speak, still holding her stomach. “I don’t ever want to travel anywhere like that again. Ugh.” Seraphim came to sit by her side as Athena and Jezebel sat up and scooted closer. “Jezebel! Athena! Seraphim darling! How did you–Wait, did you all hear the creepy accordion sound, too?”

Seraphim nodded as Jezebel spoke up. “You mean to tell me that we all got dragged to this place by a sound? That we all heard?”

“Well,” Athena began, “it isn’t highly unlikely, so I would say it’s very possible…”

Elina noticed Seraphim’s questioning stare as he took in the sight of both Athena and Jezebel, and dragged her palm down her face. “Seraphim darling, the pale-skinned blue-haired one is Jezebel, and the dark-haired coffee-toned one is Athena. I’ve mentioned them both to you before, during our studies. They’re both Gemini.” She nodded to the women in turn, then pointed at Seraphim. “And he, ladies, is Seraphim, one of my Guardians in physical form. I’ve also told the two of you about him, more specifically how pretty his eyes are–”

“Hey!” Seraphim laughed, nudging her arm.

Elina shrugged. “It’s the truth. Between that and how strong your accent is…” She turned her attention back to Jezebel and Athena. “And he’s a Sagittarius.”

They exchanged their greetings and waved their hands at one another, then grew quiet. Seraphim pointed at the grass in which they sat. “Those are very sharp for just being grass…” The others nodded.

“So, how did you guys get here?” Athena asked. “I was drawing when I heard it. I thought it was Nemi, but when he didn’t show himself, I got worried. Then I heard it two more times, and this shadow was poised on the ceiling like it was waiting. Then it came at me and the next thing I knew, I was here.”

Seraphim leaned his elbows on his knees, thinking. “You can draw, too? Like Eli can?”

Jezebel laughed, surprising him and bringing a smile to Elina’s face. “Seraphim, we ALL draw.”

The young man shook his head. “I can’t. I can write pretty good, though. Like, I was on the phone with Eli before the shadows took her, I guess; she was giving me another Craft lesson. I started to worry and pace around my room until I heard the sound. I was looking for the source of it, and was going through the papers on my desk when I heard the sound two more times. Then it felt like someone was watching me, so I turned around and was swallowed by a huge shadow.”

Athena and Jezebel tried to keep their faces straight while he had told them his account, but when he finished, they began to giggle. “Oh wow! She wasn’t kidding about your accent being that strong!” Jezebel said between giggles.

“I understood it all, thanks to my family background, but jeez!” Athena smiled.

Seraphim laughed a little, too, as Elina shook her head with a frown. “My bad. Sometimes I talk really fast when I’m explaining something, or if I’m excited about something.”

Jezebel pointed a finger at Elina. “She does that, too! Sometimes we have to tell her to stop and calm down before she continues saying whatever it is she’s telling us.” Athena nodded in agreement.

Elina rolled her eyes. “Whatever, man. Anywho, I was playing Solitaire on my laptop and teaching Seraphim over the phone when I first heard the accordion. I got really paranoid because of the shadow movement lately, so I double-checked my room and asked Seraphim if he had heard what I heard–which, at the time, he hadn’t. After the third time it played, I checked all the corners again and a shadow swooped down on me.” She shivered, feeling unnerved and on edge.

“Well, you guys’ accounts sound much more intriguing than mine,” Jezebel stated. “I was dying this to my hair–” she pointed to her two-toned blue hair for emphasis, “–when I heard the accordion playing. I called out, but got no answer. Then it played again; that’s also when I realized that Paco wasn’t barking. At all. I listened for it again to try and find it, but after the third time, I still couldn’t find the sound’s source. Then, just like you guys, I was engulfed, I suppose, by a shadow and brought here. By the way, does anyone happen to know exactly where or what here is?” They all shook their heads no.

Elina looked up from the blade of grass she was toying with to find Athena staring intently at her. “What?” Athena pointed at her forehead.

“You have some kind of symbol in bold on your forehead, Elina…” Athena looked at Seraphim’s and Jezebel’s foreheads. “You guys have one, too, but they’re all different…” She began to bend and manipulate the bladed grass as best she could; she did Elina’s first, then Jezebel’s followed by Seraphim’s. Elina recognized them immediately, and Seraphim snapped his fingers.

“These are sigils! You were just telling me about these last night, Eli!” he exclaimed, pointing at the symbols in the grass. Elina nodded.

“Yes, these are sigils, Seraphim darling. Jezebel’s is Fate; mine is Mind; yours appears to be Spirit; and Athena’s…” She reached up to Athena’s forehead and moved the bangs out of the way. “Athena’s is Matter.” She sat back on her heels, thinking. The other three talked amongst themselves, curious.

“What do you think it means?” asked Athena.

Jezebel sighed. “I don’t know. Elina is normally the one we ask in these types of situations, and right now, even she looks stumped…”

“Really? I go to Eli for information, too, but she’s also teaching me,” said Seraphim, beaming proudly.

Jezebel laughed a little. “Yes, we know that, Seraphim. You said she was teaching you about these sigils, right? The ones on our foreheads?”

Seraphim nodded. “Yes, but there are more than these. There are about six more: Prime, Death, Forces, Time, Space, and Life. And they each have different stages, too. The ones on our foreheads look like the base stages of the sigils…”

“The first three stages that each sigil undergoes are Compelling, Knowing, and Unveiling; that’s all in the Initiate phase,” Elina jumped in. “As Seraphim said, our sigils still seem to be in their base stages, so there’s no immediate–”

All around them, the eerie accordion sound began to play. The group scrambled to their feet, craning their necks to try and locate its source.

Athena drew her hands to her chest, looking around. “There it is again, you guys.”

Jezebel tried to see through the thick canopy above their heads. “We know, Athena.” A flash of color caught her eye. “Oh, hello!” The others followed her stare, finding nothing but a dark and empty trail leading into the woods.

Jezebel saw little rainbow wheels of color leading towards a trail into the dark woods that lined the circular clearing in which they stood. “Do you guys see that?” She asked, pointing to the hovering rainbow wheels. Her companions shook their heads.

“I don’t see anything, Jezz. Nothing but those dark woods and the bladed green grass of this clearing,” said Elina. She looked over at Seraphim, who shrugged and shook his head in response.

Athena took a step towards Jezebel. “What do you see, Jezebel?”

“It looks like a trail of little rainbow color wheels, leading down that path right over there. And that damn accordion is still playing…” Jezebel told them, frowning.

Seraphim cupped his right hand to his ear. “No it’s not; it’s starting to fade away.” Athena and Elina nodded in unison.

“I agree. It’s not even playing anymore now…” Elina added aloud.

Jezebel had subconsciously began moving towards the color wheels, but froze to look back at Elina. “What are you talking about? It’s playing loud and clear!”

Her companions all shook their heads once more. “No…it’s not…” Athena said slowly. Jezebel had already continued following the colorful trail that beckoned to her, showing her a path that only she could see. Elina cursed and motioned to Athena and Seraphim, watching the shadows thicken around them.

“Look around. See how the shadows move?” They nodded. “We need to stay together in this place…let’s catch up to Jezebel.” They hurried after the shorter blue-haired young woman, falling into a line behind her: Jezebel, Elina, Seraphim, and then Athena.

Gnarled branches tangoed above their heads and twisted tree trunks lined the narrow trail on either side, the darkness seething around them. Every so often they would see a pair of eyes or gleaming white teeth beaming back at them.

“You guys seriously don’t hear the accordion anymore OR see the colors?” Skeptical disbelief encoded Jezebel’s tone.

“Not a single thing but the shadows and the trees,” Elina sighed.

“Weird,” Jezebel mumbled.

A little ways up ahead, the trail split into two directions. To Jezebel, the rainbow wheels veered to the left.

“Jezebel, do you see anything up there? It’s too dark for us to see anyone but the person in front of us…” asked Seraphim, sandwiched between Elina and Athena.

Just then, a small miasmatic fox-like creature poked its head from the end of the rainbow-wheeled path, surprising the blue-haired woman. She stopped, causing the others to collide into her. “There’s something at the end of the path where it splits. Some…creature,” she whispered. There was still some lengthy distance between her and the end of the singular trail. The creature flicked its mint turquoise tail and disappeared down the left path; as if pulled by some invisible string, Jezebel tore after the creature down the left path, ignoring the calls of her companions as the darkness shrouded her from their view.

Elina started running, Seraphim and Athena following closely behind her. She couldn’t see but a few feet in front of her, and nearly tripped over a root of the tree which marked the fork in the trail.

“Well, this sucks,” panted Athena, leaning over to catch her breath. They all stood where the path split into two, clueless as to which way Jezebel had ran.

Seraphim looked down the right-hand path, then the left. “Which one do you think she took?” He looked back and forth between Elina and Athena.

Athena shrugged. “I’m not sure.” They both looked to Elina, who was staring down the right-hand path.

Very faintly, she could hear the accordion begin to play again. She motioned for them to be silent while, at the same time, she began to follow the right-hand path. “I can hear the accordion again…but it’s faint…,” Elina whispered, keeping her eyes wide and alert as they went down the path. Seraphim and Athena hurried after her in the same order as before; once again, they could only see the person in front of them.

A slight rustle made them stop. They looked around before pushing on, walking a little faster. After a while she began to hear something resembling a low growl. Up ahead, she could make out a figure, accompanied by a scent she couldn’t place. Elina squinted to try and make out what she saw, gasping. “That thing has horns….And, that smell…Can you two smell that?” She glanced over her shoulder at Seraphim, who shook his head no.

“I don’t see or smell anything, Eli,” He said.

“Same here,” said Athena.

Elina slowed her steps when she saw the horned figure move, now making out a pair glowing red eyes. “Maybe,” she began to whisper back to her companions, “Maybe it pertains to each one of us differently. We couldn’t see what Jezebel saw or heard. You can’t see what I’m looking at, or what I’m smelling, or hearing, for that matter.” A smaller, lower pair of red eyes stared at her from farther behind the taller horned figure, causing Elina’s eyebrows to raise in curiosity. “What is that?”

She sniffed the air, taking a step forward before stopping; Seraphim and Athena walked into her as before, but her eyes were on the horned figure steadily making its way towards her, its gait languid and sensual. She moved her foot back and the horned figure stopped. She moved it forward, and it continued making its way towards her. Behind it, she could see the smaller pair of eyes now belonged to something resembling a foxlike shadow creature, with an Aries sigil on its back, in red. Elina whispered back to her companions: “I see a little creature thing…behind the bigger horned thing… Start backing up!”

Just when Athena had begun to back up, the horned creature was a few feet away, and Elina could see him a little better, despite the shadows. It looked to be a mix of a werewolf and a mountain goat, with the goat parts the horns and hooved feet. She could see the outlines of his chest, the curves and ridges of his horns, the glinting of sharp teeth inside a furred muzzle. Part of her wanted to turn and run, but another part of her was captivated. He moved silently towards, clawed hands swinging casually by his side. She felt power rolling off of the creature, and she was drawn to it.

Elina took a few more steps forward, her pulse pounding loudly in her eyes as she shortened the distance between herself and the creatures. When they were arm’s length apart, she took another look, her chin raised high. The creature peered down at her, standing up straight and cocking his head to the side. The smaller creature stared up at her, its large eyes unblinking. Then, the horned creature began to raise a clawed hand to her face.

Elina found herself leaning into it, and when he touched her, she felt heat spread through her body and gasped. She kept her eyes locked on the horned creature’s, feeling the heat within her, stirring up with it passionate emotions. She took another step forward and saw the smirk on his muzzle as it shifted into the face of a man. Elina could feel both pairs of eyes on her.

Yards behind her, Seraphim and Athena had stopped backing up and were now trying to make their way back to Elina.

“Eli!” Seraphim called as loud as he dared.

“Elina!” Athena called out in the same manner.

Seraphim stopped Athena behind him when he heard Elina’s gasp, squinting ahead into the shadows. They followed the direction it came from, stopping when they were a few feet away from Elina. Darker shadows rolled in all around her.

The horned man and the little fox creature backed away, Elina being carried in the man’s arms as the three faded into the shadows. Seraphim had yelled as Elina disappeared, but now it was just him and Athena.

“Where is she, Sera?” Athena asked him. Seraphim shook his head.

“She’s gone. Just like Jezebel.” He sighed. “Come on. Let’s keep walking, try to find a way out of this place.”

They hadn’t gone far until they came to another fork. Seraphim immediately went down the left-hand path, Athena close behind him. And, it was long until he, too, began to hear the accordion play again, softly. He looked back at Athena, who was watching the shadows on either side of them.

“Do you hear that, Athena?” He asked quietly. He could feel her shake her head in response. “I’m hearing it now, the accordion.” Further down the path, a little light shown, as if on a lit staff or torch. “Do you see that light?” Again, her felt her shake her head no. Curious, he followed the light of the torch, still hearing the haunting tune of the accordion.

They seemed to follow the light for what seemed a long while when at the farthest light, he saw a black foxlike creature, with red eyes, red neck fur, and red patches on its hind legs. Seraphim could see it clearly and did not bother to ask Athena if she could see it; he knew that she would say no, just as before. He moved a little faster, wanting to catch the little creature.

“Seraphim, wait! If you move too fast, I won’t be able to see you anymore!” Athena warned when she felt him move out of her reach and sight. And, no sooner had he done that, than the shadows that had been lurking around them closed up behind him. Athena was alone.

Athena stood where she was, rubbing her arms and feeling the shadows grow restless around her. She felt afraid and alone and lost; she didn’t know whether she wanted to move forward or go back. She wanted to move, but she didn’t want to risk being taken by something as the others had been. Then she heard the accordion again, just as the others had heard it.

She looked around, watching for anything to come from behind or in front of her. However, from off to her right side, a gap opened up in the brush, and another little foxlike creature padded beside her and stared up at her, its colors and features metallic and wiry. Athena stared down back at it, her eyes widening. Just as silently as the hole had opened, a deathly pale woman in a light cream dress stood in its entrance, a tattered book floating in front of her, and a bow and quiver of arrows hanging from a strap across her back. A snakelike armband hugged her right bicep and a silver circlet adorned her forehead. She watched Athena quietly until Athena herself could feel her stare. The little creature came to stand behind Athena.

The woman held out a pale hand to Athena, nodding slowly for her to take it. Athena stared at the woman for a long time. “Where will you take me?” she asked the woman.

The woman’s lips quivered into a small smile, her hand still waiting. “You already know, deep down inside.”

Athena’s hand was in midair when the woman reached for her hand. A cold feeling shot through Athena’s hand from the woman’s touch, but as soon as she registered the cold, the feeling was gone. And the woman was leading her through that hidden hole, followed by the little wiry fox creature, the entrance and shadows closing behind them.

DarkWood. Prologue – All

Jezebel had just finished dying her hair from its original strawberry blonde color to three different shades of blue when she heard a sound. The sound of someone playing an accordion. She fluffed her hair and straightened her back. “Hello?” she called out. The sound came again, surrounding her. She turned slowly on her heel, listening with the intent of following, but it had fell silent. Jezebel waited, anticipating the accordion sound, hoping it would play again.

Her Chihuahua Paco had been awfully quiet upon the first playing of the sound; this little detail made her anxious, just as the accordion sounded for a third time. “Aha!” she cried. But before she took a step in the accordion’s direction, a shadow twisted around from behind her and engulfed her.

-±‌±-

“Did you write down what I told you, Seraphim?” Elina asked into the phone. She was giving him another lesson in magick over the phone and playing Solitaire on her laptop at the same time. Behind her, the sound of an accordion began to play. She froze.

“Well, I wrote it down, but I don’t—“

“Do you hear that?” She interrupted, but her room was quiet again.

“Huh?”

“Shh!” She listened and heard the accordion begin again, softly. “You don’t hear that, Seraphim?” Panicking, she scanned her room, every nook and cranny visible to her eye, checking every shadow; everything seemed fine.

“Are you hearing things again, Eli? You know that’s dangerous. Do you have any protection?” Seraphim asked, worry coating his words.

Elina relaxed a smidgen. “It might’ve just been—” She spoke too soon, hearing the accordion play for a third time. Out of habit, she checked the corners of the room one more time—just as a shadow sprung out and consumed her whole.

-±±-

“Eli?” No answer. “Eli!” Seraphim hollered into the phone. Worry settled in like a fog. Sighing, he ran his hand through his hair and began pacing, only to slow and come to a stop when the accordion began to play. “What the fuck…?”

He looked around for the source, finding nothing in his dimly lit room but his laptop and his notebook on his desk. Seraphim frowned and the accordion sounded again, irking him. “Where is the sound coming from?”

He stopped in front of his desk, shuffling papers around as the accordion played a third time. Then, as if someone had come into the room, he whipped around and inhaled sharply as a shadow crashed down and swallowed him.

-±±-

Athena was deeply immersed in her artwork when she first heard the accordion. Not stopping her work, she said, “All right, you guys, I know you’re there,” thinking it to be one of her Guardians. The sound stopped. When no one came forward to reveal themselves, she looked up and studied her room. “Strange,” she mumbled, her body starting to tense up. The accordion played again to its end; Athena stayed where she was. Cautiously, she set down the pencil in her hand and slowly rose to her feet as the accordion played a third time. Something flickered in her left peripheral and her head swiveled with her sight to where a shadow was coiled and poised on the ceiling. Her breath caught and the shadow took her before she could even blink.

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