Cressela - Twisted

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【 Chapter Twelve 】

Whisperer’s Woods seemed to be a fitting name for the second level, as the whole place was hushed and mystic, unusual-looking fog that was tainted a purple-blue shade rolling in from the atmosphere and blurring the distance. It was a forest like the Winter Wonderland, but had a different aura completely - no longer cold and uncertain, but calm and waiting, expectant. The feeling or something, or someone, watching with untold advantages in the shadows. Amber was sure that if she held her breath for long enough, she could hear whispers of delicate nothings in the air. She was also sure that the feeling was right.

Butterflies came drifting in from several directions, flapping their vibrant wings daintily atop the girls’ heads, beautiful colours in complicated designs adorning them. Then their motions paused, and they suddenly fluttered off in another direction in one group, like a colourful floating stream in the air. Amber stood up as she watched them go, glancing at Cressela.

“Do we follow them?”

“They’ll lead us to the first Whisperer here,” Cressela confirmed, as they carefully followed the kaleidoscope of butterflies weaving gracefully past trees and bushes dotted about them.

“Will they be happy to see you?”

Cressela shook her head with a shrug, uncertain. “Mixed reactions, like I said.”

After a few minutes, the butterflies stopped at a large tree, its trunk a slightly lighter shade than the rest, with a gaping hole fashioned as a kind of entrance in its centre. The butterflies flew in immediately, leaving Amber and Cressela watching from just outside, Amber trying to catch a glimpse of what was inside the tree. But the entrance didn’t reveal much, the only sign of life inside being the occasional flicker of bright light from a far corner. Lightning. Of course.

Amber sighed lightly, before stepping inside the hole and crouching momentarily to fit, then straightening again in the large area, the thick wood walls encircling them a lot further out than she expected. Cressela followed closely, silver-grey eyes flicking up to look at a beautiful sight that made Amber’s breath catch in her throat when she did likewise. A group of at least fifty butterflies all flew high above them, gathered near the top of the treehouse, some resting on the wood caving inwards ever so slightly, others hanging freely, wings beating lightly and creating a soft hum.

The serenity was cut short suddenly, as Amber was yanked back and slammed against the wall roughly, revealing a young woman standing before her with deep purple hair, blue streaks at the front sides, lavender-blue eyes glaring at her, dark swirls and complicated patterns at the sides of her face and on her pale torso, a few butterflies in her hair and perched on her shoulders. For all she looked amazing and dreamlike, her expression was cold and impatient, and her hand quickly moved up to grab Amber’s throat, a whisper she couldn’t make out escaping her blood-red lips as the butterflies began to swarm down at her command.

“Valerie!”

Then she stopped, eyes widening as she whipped around to see Cressela, looking between them in worry. Valerie slowly looked back to Amber, before reluctantly letting go of her throat and whispering something else to the butterflies, before they returned to the top of the trunk. Amber let out a silent sigh of relief, adrenaline rushing from the action as she leaned back on the rough surface.

“Cressela?” she questioned, almost breathless herself. “Is that really you?”

Cressela nodded silently, and Valerie’s surprised gaze shifted back to its perceptive, unreadable stare, focusing on Amber.

“And you are?”

“Amber,” she said warily, staying pressed against the trunk. “Amber Obscura.”

“She’s here to help,” Cressela clarified. “I told you I’d come back.”

“Not with a human,” Valerie said in annoyance, rolling her eyes. “Insanis will have a great day with you two.”

“We want to help you,” Amber agreed. “You’re all trapped here against your will. You don’t belong here. It must drive you mad.”

Valerie sighed, then sat in midair, Amber’s eyes widening a fraction as she watched curious turn curiouser. “It does. It would be bearable with my girls and Brennan, but here I am. Just me and my butterflies.”

“He separated you from them?” Cressela asked in horror. Valerie nodded.

“He expected you to come back, in a way. But he didn’t want us pleased about it. And, since we all risked ourselves to get you all out, we were punished in ways that hurt the most. Ash and Cherri were separated. Angelita doesn’t get what she wants - not that she did anyway. Me, my girls and Brennan were split up. Raelynn’s stuck in a forest again. Rubie’s fire was douted by water, Whitney’s separated from family back where we were taken from. Natalia’s wings were damaged, Juniper and Pheobe are in cages next to a Delusional - which is Olivia, by the way.”

“No,” Cressela whispered, a hand covering her mouth in shock, and she looked down to the ground resentfully. “It’s my fault. Our fault we left.”

Valerie dithered, before shaking her head. “No. You were our last hope. It would have gotten worse if you had stayed anyway. But her?” Valerie added, glancing at Amber doubtfully. “Why?”

“She saved me,” Cressela informed her. “I was... I was Delusional, Val. My mum and Zanya didn’t make it.”

“What?” Valerie was taken aback, and she pressed her eyes shut for a second in disbelief. “Oh... oh, Cressela, I’m sorry. I... I didn’t know.”

“Not your fault,” Cressela said dismissively. “But Amber found me, somehow, at the right time. And she managed to turn me back. No one can do that, Valerie. You know that.”

Valerie turned to Amber then, looking her up and down in contemplation. “You turned Cressela?”

Amber nodded slowly, and Valerie’s eyes narrowed slightly.

“How?”

“I don’t really know,” Amber admitted. “It just happened. And it... felt like it should have.”

“Even though it did?”

Amber shrugged, shaking her head. “It’s hard to explain.”

Valerie smiled slightly then. “Or maybe you’re just bad at explaining things.”

Amber nodded, smiling too. “Maybe.”

“Point is, we need your help,” Cressela continued. “No one else will come after us. No one knows we’re here. We’re alone from them, but together with us.”

Valerie nodded slowly. “If you go, you’ll bring me back my family. Yes?”

“Of course.”

“You have daughters?” Amber asked, and Valerie nodded again.

“Mia, Tia and Lia. Triplets. And they’re on a level by themselves. My partner’s guarding Insanis' entrance at the last level now too. Kill the bastard who did this, Cressela,” Valerie added, bitterness in her tone. “Do it for me. For all of us.”

The girls nodded, and Valerie huffed, waving at the entrance.

“Then go. And look out for the ravens.”

So they left the tree, Valerie watching after them silently as the butterflies fluttered about her head and made a kind of wavering, colourful halo.

“She looks young for a mother,” Amber commented, as the two of them wandered back through the forest, in the opposite direction of Valerie’s treehouse. “But then I guess age and time work differently for you.”

“We don’t age past the fifth stage,” Cressela confirmed, her silver gaze darting about in awareness as they entered the misty part of Whisperer’s Woods, soft grey fog lying at their feet and twirling around the trees in their midst. “Be careful this time.”

“Why? Who’s next?”

A shrill, cawing alarm call sounded harshly from above them, and Amber jumped as a raven swooped down past their heads, disappearing into the fog before returning with several other birds with midnight wings and sharp beaks, eyes locked on the new prey.

“Ravens! Just get down!”

Amber yelped as one flew right past her face, feathers brushing quickly against her cheek as she dropped to the floor with Cressela, the ravens’ eyes fixed on the girls’ throats.

“Okay, this isn’t good...”

“Find Raelynn!” Cressela told her, raising her voice over the loud beating of wings and grating calls of the jet black birds.

“Raelynn?”

“Go!”

So Amber broke out in a run, advancing forwards hastily as Cressela ignited her lightning and threw them into the air, the bolts exploding like mini fireworks in the air, causing the ravens to flap backwards in distress, hurriedly attempting to dodge the energised warning bullets. Amber kept on running until she noticed the trees’ formation spreading out in a large, shaky circle, and dozens of ravens in the branches and floating about in the distance and sky - and in particular, around a great log, more like a short, fallen tree trunk, where a figure sat on it peacefully, the ravens surrounding it and perched on its lap and shoulders, cooing in simultaneous ease. Amber sighed in part relief and part apprehension, before taking steady steps towards them.

The mist relaxed, and as Amber stepped through it, the figure became more clear. It was a girl, a girl of around nineteen with straight, feathery locks similar to the ravens around her, peeking out from under the thin, navy hood of her dress. Her skin was snowy-white and her eyes were closed, a slender chain around her neck with a large green pendant that glowed at her chest, the shape of a raven at the centre in silver. Her hooded dress was hemmed with small patterns of roses and leaves.

“Um, sorry, excuse me, but there’s a bunch of ravens attacking me and my frie-”

“Conspiracy,” the girl corrected, eyes still closed, voice soft and smooth has the ravens eyed her curiously.

“A... what?”

“Conspiracy,” the girl repeated, taking a deep breath in through her nose and then out again slowly. “A group of ravens... they’re called a conspiracy.”

Amber nodded slowly, looking between her and the ravens. “Right-”

“But apparently, the humans in this world call them an unkindness,” she added with a gentle scoff. “A treachery, even. Unbelievable- I’ll have them all know that ravens are the most beautiful bird nature gifted us with.”

“I’m sure they are...”

“You don’t sound so sure,” the girl responded with a small smile, finally opening her eyes, deep blue gaze drifting to Amber and looking her up and down in interest. “Oh... look, everyone, it’s an outsider.”

“Yeah - I can tell you everything in just a second, but right now, can you please help stop the other ravens from attacking us?”

“Self-defence, purely,” the girl said, getting up off her seat as several ravens did likewise. “Absolutely nothing to do with the fact Insanis told me to make them slice any outsider’s throats with their beaks if they came this way...”

And she went the way Amber had come without another word, leaving Amber watching with wide eyes before snapping out of her questioning thoughts and following.

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