The Poplar Grove

A man and woman, dressed in solemn black, stood in a grove of young poplar trees. Eyes scanning the pool at its center, they watched for movement, watched for life. Its depths remained obscured by the sky's reflected blue.

Wind howled through the clearing, teasing their senses with the trees' sap, its malted scent and sick sweetness. Chilling them even despite the woolen fabric draped over their shoulders. They shuddered, and only partly from the cold.

Sigils marked the bark of each tree, arcane symbols etched in green atop the ridges on white-brown bark. The trees ringed the pond bearing wards of protection, seals of consignment. The duo tingled with the electricity this magic threw into the air. The power binding this pool was strong, but without their presence, without their combined will on this day of days, it would not be enough.

They dared not speak, not at the hour when the world was its weakest. Not when from within the pool might rise… the unspeakable. The only noise was the wind, ruffling their hair, rippling the waters. Wavelets undulated across the surface, ricocheting against the shore, causing the pool to appear to simmer like it was slowly cooked by hell beneath.

Hands clasped tight to keep from trembling, they stood as the sun descended beneath the mountain range yonder that stuck out in the distance, jagged blades resting against the sky. The world fell into night. As the grove receded in the dark, a spell of quiet fell upon the place. The wind ceased. The pool stopped its soft roiling.

They made ready to leave, wiping painted symbols from the poplars, speaking the requisite incantations.

The waters shuddered once more, then stilled. The waters stilled until the next opening came to claim the world.

They embraced, wiping the tears from each other's eyes with gentle hands. As they left, the two chanced one look back at the pool in the grove. Silence. For a moment a dark shape loomed in the waters, perhaps it was a trick of the night, and was not there at all, but perhaps for a moment, some… thing glared at them from the deep. Regardless, they would return next year.

...and so, perhaps, would she.