Dark Wood: Legends of the Guardians

BOOK: Dark Wood: Legends of the Guardians
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This
literary work is legally owned in full by author Jacquelynn Gagne

and
therefor protected by public law.

No
part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording, or otherwise, without written permissions of the author.

ISBN-13:
978-1523322459

ISBN-10:
1523322454

Published
by Unhindered Arts

Written
by Jacquelynn Gagne

Edited
& formatted by Jacquelynn Gagne

Some
stock art provided by Obsidian Dawn & Barefoot Liam

All
other illustrations, artwork, and cover layout and design created by Jacquelynn
Gagne

Photography
&Artistic Illustrations by Jacquelynn Gagne of Unhindered Arts

First
edition material

©
2016 Jacquelynn Gagne

All
rights reserved.

 

 

PUBLISHER’S
NOTE

This
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the
product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any
resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales, and business
establishments are entirely coincidental and protected by fair use act and are
integral to the story.

 

The
scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any
other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable
by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not
participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your
support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

 

O
nce
upon a time, in a world the humans now think is their own, two sisters were
born. The last of this bloodline would see the destruction of the world’s
greatest warriors, the Guardians. One girl, a quite broken soul, will become
the essence of strength and salvation for all the creatures of the world, if it
doesn’t destroy her first.

 

 

“I
will not bow to you, or your false Church, Regent!” One hand held her dark wet
hair tightly wrapped around his fist to the base of her skull. The other held
to her pale white throat which struggled to voice her vow.

“Bow
or do not bow, witch. This day you die for your heresy!” Jerking hard on her
hair, he thrust her forward, forcing her into the animal’s water trough. She
thrashed wildly, desperately clawing behind her for his hands.

After
a few seconds he allowed her burning lungs blessed air, yanking her back up by
the scalp for the fourth time. “Hold them tighter, bailiff! They must know the
punishment they face if they’re ever to choose their mother’s path.”

The
two children struggled against the giant of a man which held them fast. Wailing
as tears fell down their filthy cheeks they reached for each other and their
dying mother.

“Watch
closely, Annalee. Look into your children’s eyes before you die! Show them your
penance!”

As
he held Annalee in his grasp she did look upon her two beautiful girls. The
light of her life. Her very essence. His words fell on deaf ears, for as he
cursed her to hell for the sin he found falsely, she spoke to her daughters
silently.
‘Do not be afraid. I will always be with you for as long as you
hold love in your hearts. When you shed tears, know they are my tears. When you
smile, know it is my smile. When the wind kisses your cheeks, know it is my
kiss. You are blessed, my children, by the Guardians themselves.’
She
smiled upon them as they succumbed to silent sobs.

Annalee
had been found guilty of witchcraft by the ruling Church’s Magistrate, made
Regent. A dark man, possessed by greed, and hate.

The
gift she bestowed upon her children with her last breath would follow them for
always, and for always they would be their mother’s daughters both in life and
death alike…

The
Magistrate sneered as he looked from Annalee to her two girls, too young to understand.
Too young to be held accountable by the chiefdom’s law. His hatred was all that
he knew, and for this, he would walk a path of darkness for all of his days and
into eternity. Bringing death and suffering to all of those who opposed him
would become his one true purpose.

The
girls clung tightly to one another as the bailiff held them in his firm grasp.
They watched as their mother smiled upon them until her face sunk back into the
water for the final time. She did not struggle this time as the Magistrate
thrust her body down into the water. She let death come to her as she gave her
life to the Guardians, not the Church who’d found her guilty.

Minutes
went by as the Magistrate held Annalee’s lifeless body under the water’s
depths. After all, he had to be sure. When he knew it not possible for even a
witch to survive the waters for so long, he pushed her in completely, letting
her corpse float and bob in the trough for all to see. Annalee’s body would
remain displayed for the entire three days of the Blood moon, rope around her
neck tied to a brick.

Her
daughters would not be permitted to mourn her publicly before any member of the
Church. Their lives had been spared only for the laws of the land. Surely no
child so young as they could be corrupted by the sin of another.

They
would live on as wards of the Church for many years.

 

 

Clinching
her eyes shut for a brief moment, Aryaunna’s inhalation of breath was heavy
from the cold, and apprehension of the words to come. Quickly moistening her
chapped lips, her gaze darted to be sure once again they were alone. The words
were a whisper that echoed around them off the stone walls of the frigid wood
cellar, “I prayed last night.”

Elizabeth
came to an absolute stand still, the broom in her hands nearly falling from the
start. The pause was so long Aryaunna became certain she’d chosen to ignore
her. After a time Aryaunna went back to stacking the wood in its orderly
fashion by the iron furnace. “And?” Elizabeth’s voice was as faint as
Aryaunna’s own, though brisk and eager for more.

A
smile tugged at Aryaunna’s lips that she could not resist. “The Guardians
came.” Cautious and quiet as the smoke, Elizabeth propped the broom on the wall
and came to her young sister’s side. “I felt them, I swear to you I did!”
Aryaunna’s hands floundered about a log to keep it from rolling off the great
stack to the floor before helplessly tucking them around her chest.

Elizabeth’s
gaze was judgmental and questioning as Aryaunna expected it to be; though a
light hid in her eyes. It was a light that shone for hope. “Tell me what you
prayed for.” She flinched at her own whisper which echoed off of the
surrounding stone.

“I
pleaded with the Guardians to take my scars, and my pain.”

Trembling
fingers rose over Elizabeth’s mouth as her eyes widened with fear. “What did
you offer them?” Her fright was justified. Prayer to the Guardians was
forbidden. To speak of them was heresy, punishable by a great many unpleasant
things. Aryaunna felt she shouldn’t have told her, but to keep it to herself
was even more impossible.

“My
loyalty, my trust… My servitude.” With unease, Aryaunna’s mouth grew painfully
dry. A quick challenging glance to Elizabeth, she walked to the old scarred oak
table, lifting a ladle of water to her lips from the urn.

Elizabeth
was left standing speechless. So afraid of what may come from this she paled at
the thought. To give her time to recover, Aryaunna returned to her chores.

“Oh,
Ary…” As if the news was some terrible burden she slumped onto the wooden
stool, leaning to the thick work table for support. “Do you not know what the
Magistrate will do to you if they learn of this?” With fear comes doubt.

Aryaunna’s
arms reached behind her, deftly releasing the hard buttons of her work dress
from her neck to shoulder blades until the bodice beneath was bared. The skin
revealed was impeccable, flawless, smooth ivory cream flesh. Just yesterday her
back had been gnarled by burn scars, and slices from the whips, punishments for
her so called unruly ways. The only acknowledgement she needed was Elizabeth’s
quick intake of breath and quiet gasp. “There is no pain, Elizabeth… only the
memory. And that memory now feeds my strength, no longer my fears.”

The
soft steps of Elizabeth’s leather bound shoes covered the wake between them.
Her fingers took place of Aryaunna’s as she re-buttoned the dress back to the
nape. “Tell me everything,” with her voice light as a breath in Aryaunna’s ear
they turned to each other.

Taking
Elizabeth’s hands up in her own, she held them close to her chest, letting the
hope in her eyes plead for her sister’s understanding and trust. “I’ve never
told you this, but the stones from mother’s garden? I kept them. And last night
I took them, and bathed them in the moon’s light as I prayed to the Guardians
for their compassion, their love. I prayed for our salvation, and I vowed to
them my soul in turn. I asked as a symbol of their good will to take my pain,
and take my scars for my everlasting servitude.” Elizabeth’s crystalline blue
eyes glistened with tears that threatened to spill over her ashen cheeks from
her sister’s words.

“They
truly came, sister! I felt them! I felt them walk across my flesh. I could feel
them nestle against me. I could nearly see them as one laid across my belly,
eating away my pain. There were three of them. The Dragons are here, Elizabeth…
They’ve come to save us. And I intend to be their Emissary.”

Her
cold worn hands pulled from Aryaunna’s and placed to her cheeks as they gazed
upon one another. “You’re too much like our mother. It will get you killed, and
perhaps I as well, just as it did her.” Elizabeth’s gaze narrowed as she looked
deeper into her sister’s eyes, “You are stronger though. Perhaps you will
survive this yet. But I will not… No, I can see it now.”

Their
mother, Annalee, had been drowned as punishment for being tried, and found of
Guardian craft. A witch. Elizabeth looked nearly identical to her. Though she
held no gift for craft, Elizabeth was a Seer.

Their
mother died when they were too young to be spoiled by her heinous ways they
said, so they sent the sisters to be wards of the Magistrate’s Church.
Elizabeth was only six and Aryaunna three. They would have killed Elizabeth
with Annalee if not for Aryaunna. Aryaunna needed someone to see to her needs.
The Church found it fit for that to be Elizabeth’s doing.

They
were wrong though, time needn’t had passed for them to be blessed with their
gifts. Their mother had taught them well of the Guardians in their innocent
youth. Not that anyone knew that of course. Not that anyone could know.
Elizabeth, now nineteen, could see the fates clearly in her dreams. With a
single touch, she could tell a person’s past. By looking into their eyes she
could see their soul, and what would be come of it.

Her
young sister, however, she could not see. According to Elizabeth, Aryaunna was
the only exception. It was her belief that this was due to Aryaunna’s gifts
from the Guardians, and perhaps their mother’s doing as well.

Taught
with worry of her sister’s predictions, Aryaunna pulled from her grasp though
did not step away. Anger grew in her voice, fueled by fear, “Do not speak of
such things. I will protect you! The Guardians will see to it. Tonight I pray
for guidance. The Dragons will come again, and they will light the way. In
trade of my tasks they will see to our safety, and take us away from this stone
walled hell.”

In
that moment, the years they’d seen at the Church aged Elizabeth beyond her
time. So many things had come to pass that had hardened them both well beyond
their youthful years. Elizabeth’s eyes, though weary, seemed relieved her long
hardship would soon find its end. “Sometimes, Aryaunna, there must be
sacrifice.”

“And
there will be. But it will not be yours.” Aryaunna’s heart raced until her chest
burned, her heart as heavy as stone. It had been her experience that Elizabeth
was rarely wrong.

The
cellar door creaked loudly as it was forcefully pushed open. “Aryaunna! Hurry
to the southern chambers. The fires need to be tended before the dusk settles.”
The sisters of the Church were as respected as the priests, because they were
in many ways just as frightening.

“Yes,
Mistress. I'm coming now.” Elizabeth flinched as her sister brushed a kiss to
her cheek and hurriedly pulled away. Returning to the wood pile, Aryaunna laid
the linen out over the table to load the bundle. The burden over her shoulder
bid her to lean forward a good deal to compensate the load. With one hand on
the cold stone wall, guiding her up the old wooden stepladder, she made way
from the cellar.

The
southern chambers were the dormitory of the Clergy. The Clergy of the Regent
Magistrate.

It
was the Magistrate himself that declared Guardian worship a crime of the land.
The rule of the one true God would be the only religion in the lands hence.
Many wondered if it wasn’t the Magistrate declaring himself a God, though dared
not reveal it to the people. Others believed he had corrupt their God’s power,
forsaking His name and spread lies and corruption for power. Their reach had
surpassed the kingdom and spread over the country side, past the blue seas of
the north. Through the name of the Church, creatures and humans alike had been
turned into slaves, and criminals.

These
thoughts coursed through Aryaunna as she made her way from room to room
dutifully, tending to each fire, restocking the wood for the rest of the night.
Maidens would come in every hour to check upon the flames, and see to it their
Clergy remained warm in their winter beds. Warm and well fed while their
townsmen lay hungry, and half frozen in the streets.

Lingering
at a small window, she held the thick swath of fabric back just enough to see
the stars. Her breath came out in quiet soft puffs of steam. Her words were not
above a whisper as she clasped a hand to her bodice, which concealed a heavy
amethyst carved into a heart. It had been their mother’s and a great source of
strength for her, she’d said. It had been carved by their father, and given to
Annalee on the day Elizabeth had been born. He died before Aryaunna had been
born.

A
creak of the heavy oak door startled Aryaunna from thoughts. Stepping away from
the window she knelt to the floor by the fireplace to the open sheath used to
bundle the wood.

“Child,”
the Prior’s voice rasped. The winter had been a harsh one, in many aspects. The
bitter, frozen air wreaked havoc on everyone, even the rich. This Prior had
fared no better than the peasants who occupied his township.

“Sir,”
Aryaunna’s voice was but a whisper. To have not responded would have been
disrespectful, and therefor punishable.

With
every step his robes scraped the floor. The swooshing was familiar and somehow
daunting as he strode purposefully across the stones to stand before her. His
skin was white, pale from being hidden through his years by robes of silk. The
veins beneath fat, nearly swollen, as they bulged up through the thin flesh of
his hand that reached out for her.

With
his palm up, his other hand hovered above his waiting hand for Aryaunna’s.
Hesitantly, she reached for him. Her fingers trembled faintly as they touched
his clammy, moist skin. To her surprise, his grasp was far firmer than one
would imagine. “Does thou seek to confess?” his tone was an accusation more
than that of a question.
He cannot know, it’s impossible
, she thought
silently.

“Sir?”
His grip became harder. Foolishly, Aryaunna attempted to pull away. As his
hands tightened around her own, her knuckles popped from the sudden strain.
Looking up to the Prior, her eyes widened with fear. What would he do to her?
If he knew of her prayer to the Guardians then her life was forfeit, but not
before they would see her punished.

A
slow smile spread his thin lips. “Once this desire has conceived, it gives
birth to sin, and sin, when fully grown, gives birth to death,” he quoted his
Holy Book. His words, his eyes, his very smile twisted in such a manner to give
way to his meaning.

Hastily
he jerked her against him. One hand on hers crushed too tightly for her to pull
away. His other hand, spread wide, thrust hard against her abdomen. “The person
who sows for the benefit of his own flesh shall reap corruption and death from
the flesh,” his voice grew sinister as he forced her back into the wall.

Breath
quickening, Aryaunna swallowed her fearful scream. She could almost hear her
mother’s voice,
‘Do not show him your fear.’
Heat spread from her core
throughout her body, centered just beneath the amethyst.

Groping
what he could, he pulled at every piece of loose fabric he could grasp as if
his hand itself had been possessed by the evil within him. “I will taste your
sin and within that I will cleanse your soul. Now open for me, child.” His body
pressed hard against her. The only space between them filled by his probing hands,
now preoccupied in hastily lifting her skirts.

To
keep silent, she bit down hard on her lips until she tasted blood. She knew she
should be still, she should be silent, and to take herself away from the fear.
She should close her eyes. If she fought him then the gallows would be the last
of her worries.

A
chain upon the floor, baring a single shackle, was a fate worse than death.
Aryaunna and Elizabeth both had known its iron clasp before.

The
Bishop stood against her, grumbling nonsense to justify his crimes. Aryaunna
couldn’t hear him. She couldn’t look upon him. She looked down to the floor,
upon the shackle, lying open on the floor. It was all she could see. All she
could think about. The feel of its biting cold grasp as it closed around her
ankle. The scratch of its metal as it dug into her flesh when she moved. Her
naked body stripped of dignity and left exposed to the freezing cold. It
consumed her!

BOOK: Dark Wood: Legends of the Guardians
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