Five days later and Caelum hadn’t seen one sign that the strange forest wasn’t only in his head. He had yet to wake up back in the peaceful realm of trees that he’d found himself in day before. There were no sounds of birds or disappearing campers and had it not been for the fact that he had dirt on his shoes and his backpack on his back, Caelum would have written the odd experience off as just a strange dream.
Yet he had woken up with his backpack secured to his back and his shoes smelled strongly of freshly fallen leaves and spring when the weather outside and the leaves on the ground indicated to Caelum that it was mid-fall. So Caelum was left with the uncomfortable question of where exactly he had gone and how he had managed to get back without noticing. Magical forests didn’t just appear out of nowhere and there had to be some explanation for one both appearing and disappearing without leaving a trace.
Library book and internet research had gotten him absolutely nowhere and though Caelum hadn’t really expected to find much the fact that he didn’t find anything at all was suspicious. Random forests popping up in the middle of nowhere didn’t just appear one day, it had to have happened before and yet there weren’t any records of anything like this happening before. ‘I hate mysteries,’ he thought to himself grouchily. Mysteries usually ended badly for him and this mystery seemed like something that could end very dangerously.
Which meant that there was only one thing that he could do now that it was becoming more and more obvious that he wasn’t going to find the answer on his own. The internet clearly wasn’t going to help him any and none of the folklore books (as well as the few ‘how to hunt the supernatural’ books that all libraries seemed to have) had anything that sounded even remotely like where he had ended up. Sure, there were forests all throughout mythology and folklore; the forests and woods were featured in nearly all stories that had some sort of ‘fantasy’ creature in them.
There was no mention of a peaceful forest where birds chirped and the sun shined through brightly that appeared out of nowhere and that was what had him on edge.
Caelum knew that he hadn’t imagined it. Human senses could be fooled and so could those of a wolf but there was no way to fool both to the extent that he was. He could smell the dirt, he could feel the trees underneath his palm. Sure, it could have been a construct.
Constructs didn’t come back with you in the form of tree leaves on clothing, however, and he had quite of few of those stuck to his back with the same unfamiliar smell that clung to the back of his jacket. Somehow, in some unknown way, Caelum had ended up in a forest that was likely thousands of miles from where he was in less than a night only to end up back where he’d started in seconds. Even for a Wiccan, that wasn’t normal.
He didn’t want to make that phone call, though. It had been months since he’d dialed that number and he had sworn not to contact him again unless there was no other choice. He probably would have left it alone and continued to try and figure out what was going on without any outside help. Caelum most likely would have succeeded to, if he hadn’t stepped out of the library into the middle of a dark, dreary forest even though he was in the middle of New York.
Spinning around, Caelum saw that the library he had just left was gone, replaced by a glowing river that was shining under the moonlight. Wherever he was, the timezone was obviously the exact opposite of the one he’d been in as it had only been noon five seconds ago. His head gave a painful throb and Caelum was just glad that he’d thought to bring his backpack with him to the library instead of renting a motel room for the night to leave it in. It was the first time that he was grateful for his lack of money otherwise he really would have.
Looking around, Caelum was surprised to realize that while he was in the same forest he’d ended up in before, confirmed by his enhanced sense of smell, it wasn’t the same part of the forest that he’d been in. This part of the forest seemed to have little to no light to speak of filtering through it’s trees, even though the moon was bright and the river behind him was nearly glowing as it reflected the moon’s light to the surrounding shore banks. “Oh great,” he groaned to himself, rubbing his temples. “Just what I needed! Appearing in random, unknown forests will surely answer all my questions!”
He had no doubt that the timing of this had been planned. Whoever or whatever was pulling here had obviously known that he was looking for information on it and had either pulled him here to frighten him off or in a poor attempt at answering said questions. Worse yet, he could feel the back of his neck prickling as if he was being watched even though all of his other senses told him that there was absolutely nothing around him.
Having nothing around should have been reassuring. Caelum should have relaxed in the absence of any danger. He should have began immediately searching for a way back to where he had been or at least for any clues on where he was. Instead, his whole body was tensed and ready to fight or run at any given moment with every sense he had on red alert even though he was registering no danger in a five mile radius. Everything was screaming at him to stay still, to not move a muscle and Caelum obeyed.
Something snapped behind him, causing the wiccan teenager to jump, whirling around to see what it was that had made that noise.
Only to find himself facing a very familiar library, surrounded by hustling people that were all in a hurry to get somewhere. The standard New York crowd, one that had disappeared only moments before.
‘Kidnapped by a forest,’ Caelum thought blankly as he looked around at the laughing crowd. ‘I bet that’s a new one.’
And people wondered why he was so strange.
The phone call was always going to be awkward. There was no way that it wouldn’t be after the last time he had spoken to the bastard. Really, Caelum was almost surprised that he picked up the phone at all, never mind that he seemed willing to hear him out.
“What do you want urchin?” a silky voice nearly spit into the other end of the phone line.
“Nice to hear from you too, Sebastian! How am I? I’m doing wonderful! Thanks for asking!” He snarked back, already irritated. For being a nearly certifiable genius, Sebastian Higgs had the personality of a snarling cougar that was just kicked in the face. Sometimes Caelum had a hard time remembering that he was talking to someone that was actually younger than he was. Sebastian, despite the tone of his voice and his young appearance, always gave off the impression that he was older than he really was. Sebastian, of course, used this to his advantage in most situations.
“What do you want, Fervens?” It seemed that his social skills were also still lacking. Oh, joy.
“Information,” Caelum sighed. He really hated doing this. Sebastian was the last person that Caelum wanted to ask for help from but he was also that only one that would have access to more resources than the rest of Caelum’s contacts. The other teen would also likely kill him if Caelum took this to someone else and he found out. That was a headache he really didn’t want to deal with at the moment. “Know anything about a magical forest that kidnaps people?”
Sebastian was silent and Caelum had to wonder if the other male understood the questions. “A forest,” Sebastian tested out, his disbelief evident even over the phone. “That kidnaps people.”
“That’s what I said,” Caelum grumbled back, forcing down the reply on the tip of his tongue that probably would have the rat bastard hanging up on him.
“Just where do you come across these things, Fervens?” Wonderful, the insults were about to start already. Caelum wondered what Sebastian’s parents must be like to have produced such a snarky bastard of a child. “Do you have a giant neon sign hanging above your head advertise ‘Here I am! Come kidnap me!’?”
“I never said that I was the one being kidnapped!” Caelum snapped back, irritated that Sebastian was, as usual, correct. This did have a rather bad habit of happening to him, though this was the first time that a forest had done it. Frankly, it was one of those many kidnapping incidents that had introduced him to Sebastian in the first place. Caelum still didn’t know how the other teen had gotten involved in that particular incident, now that he thought about it…
“As if you would have called me if were anything else,” the silky voice snorted. “Knowing you as well as I do, you probably already checked all available online sources for information as well as the closest library and found nothing matching what you were looking for. This place obviously isn’t that well known or is a part of an obscure legend that isn’t all that well known which would require resources that you don’t have at your disposal. It definitely isn’t in that little book of yours or you certainly wouldn’t have even considered calling.” There was a long pause. “Plus you know that I would string you up by your toes in the basement of our house if you dared go to someone else with something as interesting as this.”
Damn it, he was right. Especially about that last bit, violent fifteen year-old that he was. Sebastian had the personality that made most people give him a wide berth but he also could spend about thirty minutes with a person before he could nearly tell you their entire life story. Caelum suspected it was part of being an empath but Sebastian insisted that it was natural talent, something that had nothing to do with his ‘extra’ abilities, as he called them. Caelum would have called bullshit on it if he thought Sebastian wouldn’t have shown just how much he didn’t want to hear Caelum’s opinions on his gifts and just why the Wiccan should keep his mouth shut. (It was that showing that had proven to Caelum that any and all threats made by intelligent, snarky, fifteen year old Empaths should always be headed less he actually end up hanging by his toes).
Caelum really was a nice person. He could get nearly anyone to like him given time. Sebastian, however, had a talent for bringing out the worst of him and reveled in having Caelum’s carefully restrained anger poked and prodded until he snapped. “I can practically feel your contempt through the phone,” Sebastian informed him, rather smugly. Bastard. “Now, why don’t you tell me more about this mysterious forest that has kidnapped you and I’ll see if I can’t find anything on it.”
Caelum grinned. It wasn’t a nice grin. Trust Sebastian to be more interested in looking up information on a seemingly sentient forest than the fact that it was kidnapping him. Really, he was just so flattered at the level of concern his...whatever Sebastian was, was showing him. “You’re thinking too loud,” the bastard told him. “Get on with it already.”
So he told him everything he knew about it. It wasn’t much seeing as he’d only been there twice so far (in less than a week, he might add) but it was enough to have a general idea about what he was dealing with here. “It definitely is located in two different time zones,” Caelum to him seriously. “I don’t know how and I don’t know why but both times I’ve been there it was daylight where I was yet the most recent time, it was night in the forest even though it had also been daylight during my first visit. I haven’t changed time zones which means that the forest must have.”
That was what had prompted him to make this call. He’d been on the fence about whether or not it was a good idea and had actually taken the rest of the day before he had decided that his best course of action was to find out what this forest was a quickly as possible. “Two different time zones,” Sebastian repeated. “Any idea just how big this place is? That could narrow down a lot of candidates.”
“No clue. Warm climate, though and nearly now wildlife there other than birds from what I could hear. It was unnaturally still and even though there wasn’t anything living within five miles of where I was, every sense I have was on red alert and the feeling of being watched was intense.” Caelum shuddered at the memory. He’d nearly attack the first person to walk from the library doors as he stood dumbfounded on its steps. “I also barely moved from where my original location was, even though I walked at least a good five miles.”
He could picture the pale teenager leaning over his desk in his study (and what fifteen year old had his very own desk, not to mention a study?) writing down the information he was getting as well as scowling at the little to no sense that it made. Forests, especially magical ones, didn’t appear out of nowhere with no wildlife and start kidnapping Wiccans for the hell of it. The fact that he was being watched in a nearly empty forest alluded to the fact that it was sentient as well so it had deliberately targeted him for some reason.
“I don’t know anything that fits that description,” Sebastian nearly snarled with frustration. “The Black Forest in Germany definitely isn’t sentient and it has more than enough wildlife. I doubt that you wouldn’t have recognized it right away either. A warm climate narrows down the list as well but it’s the lack of animals that concerns me. Forests don’t become uninhabited for no reason.”
“That concerned me as well,” Caelum admitted. “I cross referenced every fairytale that I could think of that took place in a forest but most took place in the Black Forest, which we’ve already ruled out. There’s also a time zone difference in the US, but nothing more drastic than a two hour difference so that rules out everything within the North American borders.”
“You do seem to stumble across the most interesting of mysteries, don’t you?” Sebastian said sarcastically before sighing. “Give me a few days and I’ll see if I can’t find anything. You owe me one, Fervens.”
That was why Caelum had called the grumpy empathic teen. Sebastian was a bastard. A genius rich bastard, don’t get him wrong, and when something caught his attention, the guy couldn’t just let a mystery remain unsolved. That’s what he said at least. Caelum (and most others that knew the bastard) knew that the mystery solving intrigued him, yes, but even if there was no mystery to be heard of, Sebastian wasn’t cold enough to leave someone he even somewhat liked to a potentially dangerous situation. Bastard he was, it couldn’t be denied yet Sebastian still managed to be a good person.
Even if Caelum couldn’t stand him ninety percent of the time and would have preferred to keep the other teen out of it. At only fifteen, Sebastian had more information at his disposal that a normal human teenager should and Caelum needed that at the moment. Sebastian was the only one of his contacts, adult included, that had the right resources for this. “Start a tab,” Caelum advised easily. “If I don’t hear from you in two days, I’m heading your way.”
“Noted.” Sebastian hung up without anything else being said. Caelum sighed and flipped his battered phone closed. He really needed a new one, he thought to himself as he studied the chipping cover and the worn words that had, once upon a time, been clear and bold white. He’d had this one since he was twelve and it had seen much better days than it currently was. Phones were expensive, however, and he knew that it would take an unnecessarily long time to move everything he had on this phone to a new one if he did get around to buying one.
“Best start heading out,” he sighed wearily. He had told Sebastian that he’d be there in two days if he hadn’t heard from him but they both knew he was going to be heading that way as soon as the call ended. That was the hazard of calling someone who lived in Wisconsin from New York. There was no way he was going to get there in two days on foot so he might as well start that way now. Sometimes he really hated not having a car or a license.
He managed to luck out.
One day out into his rather long journey to Wisconsin found Caelum once again surrounded by trees, although he seemed to be back in the first part of the forest he had appeared in nearly a week ago. “Oh this is just perfect,” he sighed as he looked around to see only trees where there had just been a street. “Why is this happening now?”
That was another thing that was bothering him. Magical forests didn’t just randomly decide to begin kidnapping people. Magic may be beyond the understanding of most but there was still logic to it, rules that it followed, however strange they might seem to some. Sentient things like the forest followed a set of rules that they literally couldn’t ignore. This forest was no different yet Caelum couldn’t find anything on it, suggesting that for whatever reason, the forest hadn’t appeared before. This could mean a million different things; could have a million explanations for its actions and that was one of the reasons that he had gotten Sebastian involved. Caelum didn’t have the resources to completely rule out this being a set rule for the forest and he knew that Sebastian did have the resources. With the rather unpleasant teens’ help, Caelum could know for sure if this had precedent or not.
If it did have precedent, than Caelum would be able to find out what the sentient trees wanted for him. That would make his life easier and he might be able to stop this from continuing with ease. If it didn’t…well, he’d figure something out. Hopefully.
The normally (crap, this was already becoming normal to him) silent trees and lifeless aura that surrounded the forest was disrupted by the loud crack of a breaking stick. Caelum jerked from his position amongst the trees and stopped dead as he came face to face with…himself?!
The image of him, walking through the woods as if it was an everyday thing didn’t pause as it came into view, continuing its -his?- course onwards deeper into the woods. Caelum stared at the figure of himself, baffled by what he saw before taking off after the apparition. Caelum wasn’t sure why he was following the figure (he refused to consider that he was following himself). His instincts, honed after years of escaping dangerous situations and surviving in a world that would love to see him dead, screamed that he not let it out of his sights and Caelum knew from experience that his instincts were rarely wrong.
He hoped now wasn’t one of the few cases where he would regret listening to them. He didn’t think it was though he knew better than to dismiss its possibility altogether.
The image of himself paused and Caelum froze in his silent stalking, wary of what would happen next. The image suddenly whipped around to look at him, smirking as it did.
Caelum stared at the face, his heart in his throat and his blood racing as he looked at the apparition he’d followed. Before he could do anything else, before he could even utter the shocked question that was one the tip of his tongue, he found himself in a large, luxurious house surround by books.
“Fervens?!” the surprised yelp of one Sebastian Pierce came from behind him but Caelum was too shocked to answer the other teen.
Because the face that had stared back at him from the apparition that he thought had been of himself was that of a man at least thirty years older than him.