Morne and Chelsey were nowhere to be seen. One minute they were running into the bushes, and then.
Ainsley frantically looked around trying to catch a glimpse of her friends. She came to an awkward, stumbling stop, placing her hands on her knees as she gasped for air. A surge of panic gripped her as she looked behind her to see if the police were still giving chase.
Once she caught her breath, she took stock of the clearing she seemingly apparated into. Her surroundings were similar to before she crossed the threshold of the gate but the colours appeared more intense. Light shone through the leaves above glimmering softly along the outline of the grass and flowers along the path with a soft glow.
Her escape briefly forgotten Ainsley marveled at the iridescence surrounding the flora of the forest. Pausing, Ainsley held her breath as she noticed a song, ethereal and mourning, just at the edge of her hearing. She continued to look around but couldn’t place the source.
“You who carry the scent of those in between life. What is your purpose here?” Voices emanated from above her. Some of them whispered, others were loud, all came from the trees and grass of the clearing. She searched the forest line for the voices but immediately stopped when she noticed Pale legs by the dozens hanging about her, disappearing into the canopy of the trees.
The sounds of snapping roots and churning earth surrounded Ainsley as earth bulged in front of her. Fleshless limbs, torsos and bones attached by spindly vinelike tendons erupted from the earth building upon themselves as they pushed from the ground.
“Oh, shit!” Ainsley stood, frozen in fear, as the bones formed themselves into an eight-foot-tall totem. Skeletal arms skittered around the totem attaching themselves to the side facing Ainsley. A mouth formed from interconnected knuckles, ulnas and radii. The smell of fresh earth and moss wafted over Ainsley as the totem addressed her.
“Worry not conduit, we cannot harm you. We are only here so that none may enter without first beings touched by his splendor.” Its voice sounded like hundreds of small whispers. “What is it that you came here for?”
“Who are you?” Ainsley asked in shock.
“We first asked you a question. It would be wise to answer it.”
“I’m here to blow the horn.”
“Your answer is accepted. You will pass unmolested. This one will not touch you”
“Wait, what about my” Ainsley stammered.
Ignoring Ainsley, the monolith undulated once before peeling itself apart to create a path of skeletal limbs leading further into the forest. It left her question unheeded and gave no response to Ainsley when the pieces finished moving.
Arms sprouted from the earth, unfurling their fingers into flowerlike patterns. When Ainsley finally steeled herself enough to follow the totems instruction, the hands began to fold into pointed fingers showing her the way. With apprehension, she followed the otherworldly magical construct.
The path led Ainsley through the forest but did not allow her to deviate from the path it had set. As she walked, she noticed the fingers would sway softly mimicking flowers in a breeze. However, if she approached the hands, they would form into flat palms barring her way, while others would point in the direction where they wished her to go. Ainsley felt no menace from the bones, but she also didn’t want to find out what they would do if she didn’t follow their direction.
Ainsley passed many oddities barely visible through the trees. Amorphous white shadows lurked in the distance, changing shapes fluidly from one animal shape to another. Humanoid skeletons worked to maintain the forest around them, many having specialized appendages for their job. Ainsley caught sight of some who appeared to be tilling soil, others digging and planting. None of them took notice of Ainsley’s presence.
She had been walking for awhile lost in in fascination before she realized that the bone totem had disappeared from view. “Where the hell did that thing go?” Ainsley whispered to herself.
She took another few steps forward before brushing up against an invisible air pressure barrier. It didn’t seem to offer much resistance but there was enough that she knew it was there. She sensed no danger so she gathered her will and pushed pushed through the barrier. It felt like walking through water, some mild resistance that enveloped her as she pushed forward, then the air felt normal again, warm even.
She left the bewildering sensation only to be met by yet another marvel. A colossal stone tower rose towards the sky in front of her. The foundational brick was built from slate-coloured stones that were easily twice her height. Four massive skeletal arms rose from the ground to grasp the tower as if to keep it from collapsing. Motifs of skeletal angels adorned the outer walls rising towards the top of the tower, arms open wide in supplication. Two more skeletal hands intertwined their fingers in front of the towering entrance doors.
The path of skeletal hands slid away into the ground to before reappearing to form a semi-circle behind her. The bone totem reformed itself in front of Ainsley.
“This is where we part conduit.” The totem whispered. “You must now continue to the horn. Give us power. Give us peace.”
The pair of the giant hands holding the doors closed released each other and curled two fingers sticking them into steel grooves set into the doors face. The rusty shriek of doors long left unused reverberated through the clearing as the doors began to open. Ainsley clapped her hands over her ears as she watched large flakes of old, rusted, metal and pebbles from crumbling stone rain down around the entrance.
Ainsley uncovered her ears when the shrieking stopped and watched the cloud of dust settle at the base of the door.
From behind her the totem she had mentally named “Bone Mouth” had moved again to bar her escape.
“Climb the tower, blow the horn. Give us power, give us peace” It restated simply.
Bone mouth hovered behind Ainsley as if waiting for her to enter. Not giving her a choice.
Ainsley looked up at the tower one more time before gathering her courage and entered through the massive doors.