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The Dryad's Revenge
The wind howled through the trees, carrying with it a scent that Theodora had never smelled before. After all, never before had fear been so tangible in the valley.
The small tree spirit lifted herself out of her Arbordornum Tree and glided above the dark, moonlit leaves, her ghost-like spirit drifting with the breeze. Soaring over the forest, Theodora ignored the whispers of the other trees in the valley. She knew what they were saying, she knew what they were planning to do.
Around her tall, dark oaks reached their massive limbs towards the sky, as if plucking down the stars. Icy water falls rumbled through the valley, reflected by the moon, and soft-footed creatures scurried through the underbrush. But the beauty seemed short-lived, liking a brief paradise that must soon end. And Theodora could feel the sense of dread already creeping through her roots.
“It’s not fair,” she thought bitterly, alighting on a rock overlooking a crystalline pond. “It’s not fair that we can’t just be left in peace.”
A small silver fish leapt out of the water and then quickly sank to the bottom, as if confirming her bitterness, and she let out a small sigh. She’d heard the thousands of stories that had been told about how centuries ago her people had been hunted by the barbaric humans. But it wasn’t fair that all the stories had to repeat themselves.
Deep in her thoughts, Theodora hardly noticed at first the small tug in her stomach, as her arbordornum called her back. It became more persistent until, quick as a fox, she leapt off the water coated rock and into the sky and soared towards the small, rough-barked oak tree that was calling her. Her abordornum was waiting. If the tree could have sighed, it would have.
“The Council picked us.” The arbordornum said, its voice as hard and as grave as stone. “The decision was unanimous.”
“Us?” Theodora asked, though not shocked. “But why us? We haven’t done anything.” Her voice sounded hurt, reproachful, and maybe even scared, though she tried not to show it. She hadn’t been listening to the connection for the past hour, and she could already think of so many irksome things the tree spirits may have said about her.
“It’s not a matter of whether we’ve done anything,” the arbordornum replied hastily. “They’ve heard our thoughts, they’ve read into our spirit. They know we’re the youngest ones here. They think we’re the one for the job.”
Cold fear seemed to run through Theodora’s branches, and she shuddered, as if trying to withdraw from The Connection.
“But no one’s ever returned before,” she said, her ghostly spirit wavering. “It would be a miracle if I returned again.”
“Miracle, no.” The arbordornum replied gently. “You will have been the first one to do this because of the council’s orders. The rest wanted to leave, where as you, most obviously, do not. I know you’ll be back before the lunar cycle is completed.”
Theodora felt her leaves quake and she tried to block the fear that was filling her roots. What was this world coming to? Since when did dryads hire assassins to get rid of the threats?
“But we’re not even sure that there is a threat from this…. DiCaprio. I mean, Hitler was a threat too, but we didn’t go send an assassin to get rid of him, did we?”
“Hitler didn’t have a hybrid… a hybrid dryad to lead him to us, now did he?” The arbordornum replied forcefully. “If we don’t get rid of this hybrid, we’ll find out DiCaprio has walked in to our valley with axes and saws without us even knowing it.”
Theodora could already imagine it; the smell of her family’s wood being sliced to pieces, the smoke of bonfires, the snap of The Connection, and the howl of dying spirits. Her leaves shuddered and cold dread seemed to seep into her sap. She would have to do this if she wanted the valley to continue to live on forever. They all depended on her.
“Will it hurt? Will it hurt to be split?” She asked, letting her sight wander through the green valley, trying to distract herself.
“Theodora, no one’s ever returned that’s done it before,” her arbordornum replied gently. “There’s no way I have of knowing.”
“But do you think it will? Do you think I’ll even be able to connect with you anymore?” She persisted.
There was a long pause, as if her arbordornum was considering this, before it finally continued, “I don’t know… legends say that when you split from your arbordornum, you won’t be able to communicate until you reconnect.”
Theodora didn’t reply. She’d been dreading this news for weeks now, as she’d watched with the other tree spirits through the connection as DiCaprio had become steadily stronger and stronger. It wasn’t right what she was being forced to do. It was like breaking the Oath of Withdrawal. It wasn’t something she should be allowed to do.
“So, all I have to do is find DiCaprio’s hybrid and kill him, right? Then I come back here?” She asked, as if it was so simple. “Then I won’t ever have to be sent on a mission again?”
“That’s right,” the arbordornum replied hesitantly. Then after a long pause, “You’ll stay safe, won’t you?”
It was like a private joke between the two of them, although heard by the whole connection. They both knew the consequences if either of them were harmed. They would both be defaced identically.
“Of course,” Theodora replied, trying to sound more confident than she felt, enjoying the last warm rays of sunlight across her leaves. “I won’t have a scratch.”
A long pause followed as both minds wove through the connection, watching the darkness completely envelop the quiet valley. Theodora tried to wrap her mind around what she was going to have to do. To split her soul from her arbordornum seemed unthinkable. Like cutting herself in half. And just thinking about becoming a physical body made her bark crawl. She imagined not having the firm bark wrapped around her soul, the reassuring Connection, the soft voices through the leaves, and the simple being that made up her life. It was only as the first stars began to reveal themselves over the valley’s two peaks that her abordornum spoke again.
“When do you want to do it?”
“When?” Theodora hadn’t considered having a choice in the matter, and the idea seemed slightly daunting. She brought her mind back to her arbordornum in an effort to recollect her thoughts.
“W-when?” She repeated, trying to keep her fear under control. “As soon as possible.”
She winced, as if she could already feel a cold blade separating her spirit from her arbordornum, and separating her from the valley she loved. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like outside the valley, which she had only seen glimpses of through the connection. Was it as chaotic as it looked? Were there really people as cruel as DiCaprio in the world?
“Right now, then.” Her arbordornum replied, its voice as steady as an oak. “We’ll make it as painless as possible.”
“Good,” Theodora replied, although it was exactly the opposite of what she felt. She could already feel her sap running cold with nervousness.
“Remember, through the connection, I will always be with you,” the Arbordornum said. “The animals and trees will watch over you.”
Theodora remained silent, not reassured.
“Are you ready?” The Arbordornum asked, its voice quavering too, its steady trunk suddenly seeming ungraspable.
“Yes.” She squeeked.
“Then let's do it together,” It replied. “One…. two… three…”
The whole world cracked in two.
Awakening in the human world didn’t go as planned. It was almost dawn when I arose, my eyes opening for the first time, and pain seemed to shoot through me like a knife. Pain, something I had never felt, was a foreign human feeling, not one a dryad should be feeling.
I lay in the reeds, my newfound eyes taking in the new atmosphere around me. A mist hung around the trees, freezing tiny dew drops on the leaves. Strange animals chirped in the trees, and shuffled in the grasses around me, but I could only focus on one thing. My arbordornum was gone. Sliced from me like a knife. The comforting voice, sewn with hundreds of years of wisdom, had left along with my sturdy bark shell, throwing me out of the valley into the world beyond, leaving me to fend for myself in a new physical body.
A tiny furry creature, a squirrel I think it was called, chattered at me from above, pulling me away from my self pity. My senses could hardly take in the creature’s actions fast enough. Its harsh croaking assaulted my ears, and its quick movements exhausted my eyes. How did humans ever control so many different movements?
I watched as it scampered back and forth along the branch, cocking its head at me. Despite my human form, I had the feeling something about me startled him. Perhaps it was my skin, which was an unnatural shade of pale green, or maybe it was my hair, which floated from my scalp like clumps of white willow. Whatever the reason, the squirrel seemed transfixed by my appearance, caught between alarm and curiosity. I tried to send it a comforting message through my mind, but realized that that power was gone along with the connection. Instead, I possessed only the bare minimum of the powers that I had used to possess as a full dryad. I settled on a reassuring smile instead. Having a physical body was foreign to me- with so many different parts that needed to be controlled simultaneously, and contorting my mouth in such a strange shape seemed unnatural. It must not have worked, because instead the squirrel gave me a puzzled look and ran up a few branches higher.
I sighed, another new experience, and moved my fingers, the skin flexing strangely. Then, I bent my legs and sat up, my mind momentarily dizzy.
Looking down at the rest of my new body I was surprised to find that I was young- for a human, that is. As a dryad I had been a youngling, only two hundred years old, but I had expected that in my new form I would be at least an adult. Instead, though, I was a juvenile. Probably, no more than fifteen years old, and equally vulnerable.
Flexing my legs uncertainly, I decided to take my first necessary action… to walk. My hand reached for the sturdy form of a nearby tree, and I felt a momentary zap of power, as my consciousness brushed past the connection and then left again. But instead of dwelling on it, I used its solid form to prop me up on my feet. My feet were bare, and pine needles had littered the forest floor with sharp objects. I winced, as I stood, my legs trembling like a young child’s, and then stared around triumphantly. I, Theodora, had done it. I was balancing on two feet!
I imagined my arbordornum proudly relating the fact to the other dryads in the valley, and took comfort in the thought that it was watching me right now, through the eyes of the other trees in the connection. At this rate, I would be done with my mission by the next morning. Bring it on, DiCaprio. I could defeat your hybrid any day.
But the thought of my mission suddenly made my heart sink with dread. I wasn’t used to the strange fluctuations in mood that came with having a physical body. I still had to kill DiCaprio’s hybrid… and who knew where it would be. I didn’t even know where I was myself. I didn’t even know how to kill someone. The idea revolted me.
I took a step, my legs trembling, my hand gripping the side of the tree for support. My senses were already being assaulted from all directions. The colors of the human world were so varied, not at all like the green world I had come from. And the oxygen here carried so many tastes and scents. Already I could smell the sweet sap of a pine tree melded with a smoky scent of a campfire.
My legs shook, as I suddenly realized what that meant. If I could smell a campfire, that meant there was a human around. An actual, human being. A tree-killing, murderous, barbaric human, who was burning my people to keep itself warm and cook its food. Revulsion and nausea filled me as I took another step. I had to get away from here. I had to get away fast. My legs were wobbling like a small child’s, but there were enough trees around to support me. I only slipped a few times, my hands losing their grip on the sturdy branches, and causing me to go crashing to the ground. Each time this happened, I was shocked as pain went shooting through my hands, causing a burning sensation. At the same time, my mouth would open, letting out a small gasp almost automatically. My mouth was one of the strangest parts to me yet, as I had not figured out how to control it.
I was amazed at how humans could possibly live their whole lives this way. Constantly being bombarded with feelings, smells, tastes, sights, and sounds. Back in the valley, the other trees had assured me that I would eventually get used to it, but I wasn’t so certain. What I would give just to be able to go back to the peaceful life in the valley, where everything was so simple and safe. Instead, I was facing the dark land of the humans, on an assassination mission, which had to be completed before the next full moon.
As I was walking, crashing, and getting up again, I noticed a strange movement out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t pay much attention to it at first, since there were so many other senses that demanded my attention, but since it didn’t disappear, I began to worry. I picked up my pace slightly, my feet now releasing a strange, red liquid and hurting painfully, but the thing that was following me didn’t go away. I ducked behind a nearby tree and held my breath, peering out. My new human eyes were weak compared to the all-seeing vision I’d had through all the trees of my past Connection. The shadows were foreign compared to the dazzling green light of the valley that I had come from. All I could make out was a brown form… a human form. That wasn’t good.
Filled with a sudden, strange, primeval instinct through my wobbly legs, I bolted. My senses seemed to scream “danger!”, as I scrambled, clawing my way through the reeds—but too late. The human form moved; there was a loud “thwack!” followed by a burst of pain. I slumped forward. It was over. Pain.
Chapter 2: Silas
Silas’s gloves were coated with blood and frusteration as he entered the office of President DiCaprio. His sunglasses pulled over his eyes despite the dim light, he strode purposefully across the room where the president’s red armchair had its back turned to him, and knelt by his armchair, holding out a piece of chocolate. He purposefully ignored the tall, dark-haired woman standing in the corner.
“It’s useless, sir,” he drawled angrily, as the pale man in the armchair delicately popped the chocolate in his mouth. “The stupid boy knows nothing.”
As usual it took a moment for President DiCaprio to understand what Silas was saying, but when he did, his silver eyes turned icy.
“Nothing? Nothing at all?” He croaked, his hands shaking as he reached for another piece of chocolate, his eyes still fixed on the large digital screen on the wall in front of him. “Impossible!”
“No, I’ve tried everything,” Silas hissed. “Certainly, he knows the basics- that his mother was different, that she occasionally spoke of strange people who lived in trees. But he has absolutely no idea where it is she came from.”
President DiCaprio’s pale hands clenched on the arms of his chair and he turned his eyes slowly from the digital screen to look at Silas. Nothing but cold fury was reflected in his eyes, and Silas flinched, turning guiltily to look at the red velvet carpet and the dark walls. For the first time since Silas had arrived the dark-haired woman walked slowly over to President DiCaprio, draping her hand over the president’s other arm.
“Is it possible,” she asked in her characteristically high-but-hoarse tone, “that you’ve broken the hybrid to the point of madness?”
Silas glared at her fiercely, his bald head flushing with anger, as he stood to his full height, towering over her.
“Do you question my craft, Cornelia?”
Cornelia let out a tiny squeeking hiccup, and brushed her dark locks from her eyes. “Yes.”
At that moment President DiCaprio raised both of his palid hands and gestured for them to kneel, which they both did instantly. He stroked the intricate embossment on the arm rests, and then pressed a small joystick, maneuvering himself over to a nearby bookshelf. Among the books, Wood Elves and Dryads, The Unicornis Manuscripts, The History of our Stolen Power, and Silver Bloods: A History was a simple wooden box. He pulled on a plastic glove and delicately opened the lid to extract a small, simple necklace between his two forefingers.
“You see this?” He growled, lifting it up to eye-level. “This, was given to us, the humans, before 1000 A.D. as a gift from the creatures that stole our powers from us. It’s called the The Necklace of the Lady of the Lake, given to Sir Lancelot himself by a simple-minded water nymph, and is capable of causing anyone who touches it to fall instantly in love with the person nearest them.”
He held it up threateningly and Silas inconspicuously took a step back. The glittering red jewels on the simple gold chain shimmered menacingly, and Silas thought he could detect Cornelia give a little sigh.
“Unfortunately,” he continued, “it is no mythical object. It led to many disasters. Men falling in love with donkeys, princes proposing to their servant maids, the list goes on. Humans were ridiculed by the silver blooded creatures for centuries.” He dropped the necklace delicately into its wooden box and closed the lid. “But the point is, as shown by this fine example, although there are many objects that possess a few powers, none of them allow us to harness all the elements the Earth possesses. I spent decades of my life searching out useless objects- the Holy Grail, the Gungnir sword, and the chain of Gleipner. But I was wasting my time. The magic is in the blood. That is why, surely, this hybrid is the one that Father Felix spoke of,” he croaked in a reverent tone. “This is the boy we’ve been waiting for. He will lead us to the place where the silver bloods are hidden, and he will bring us the magic that is in the blood. When we find out where the dryads and the other silver bloods are hidden, they will fall around us. The time has come.”
Silas would have rolled his eyes, so many times had he heard this quote, were he not so terrified of how President DiCaprio might react. Instead he replied,
“But this hybrid… boy… is only 50% silver blooded. Surely, Felix…”
“Father Felix!” President DiCaprio yelled madly, his voice almost turning nasal. Silas quickly slipped him another piece of chocolate.
“Surely, Father Felix,” Silas drawled, “could have been referring to another creature- one that is 100% silver blooded?”
President DiCaprio turned to glare at Silas.
“No,” he croaked. “This hybrid is the one, I know it. Somehow, he will spill his secrets, and reveal to me the secret to where the magical powers are hidden. He will lead us to victory, he will give me the stolen powers of magic, he will….” He choked, then continued, “…he will give me the power to the world.”
Silas thought back to the scrawny, sandy-haired boy screaming in agony, completely ignorant, but could not picture him being capable of such magnificence.
“It’s just,” Silas amended, “that this boy, seems perfectly ignorant of any powers he may possess, or any ancestry that he has. I’ve tried everything, everything, and he claims not to know a thing.”
“Then continue to search for more silver bloods, if you must,” President DiCaprio replied submissively, turning his attention back to the digital screen, on which a large map was projected. “Re-test the children, send out more patrols, redistribute the propaganda. Tell the people the danger that hybrids pose to our society. In the meantime,” he said, pulling a gold locket from his pocket and prying it open with his fat fingers. “I have faith that you will find me the power that I desire.”
He let out deep, chilling rumble of laughter, and soon Cornelia had joined in too, her voice shrill. “After all,” he croaked, fishing out another piece of chocolate, the locket’s chain swinging mesmerizingly back and forth. “You have no choice.”
Silas felt his heart sink and a cold fear grip his heart as he stared at the locket and the two faces pictured in it. “Yes, sir,” he replied. “It will be done.”
Fearing still gripping his heart, the face of the little girl with bright blue eyes seemed ingrained in his mind as he rose from his knee, left the room, and walked back to the cells. His interrogation of the boy would recomense immediately. All day if he had to.
Chapter 3: Theodora: Things Not Planned: Twenty Six Days Left
The moment I opened my eyes I knew I was in trouble.
In the dimly lit room a loud racking sob echoed from the walls, there was yelling too- so much that my newfound ears could not distinguish the sounds, and an underscoring fear that I could feel as if it were my own arbordornum’s. A throbbing pain filled my shoulder and I closed my eyes, unused to so many vivid colors. Where was I?
“You’re gonna get us all killed!” I heard a voice yell.
“Can’t we help her?” Cried another.
In the midst of it I heard sobbing- a mournful, human attribute that caused my ears to ache with all the sounds at once.
I realized with revulsion that I was in a human’s den. A chaotic human’s den. My stomach twisted as I opened my eyes, my ears ringing with the yelling. Sunlight was streaming through the tall windows and spilling across the bare floorboards, silhouettes of snowflakes fluttering down, causing my eyes to ache. An arrow, coated in blood sat on the dresser next to me. And my skin felt strange, unused to the texture of the sheets that were draped over me. But neither my newfound eyes or my skin felt as much as the pain in my shoulder. It was nearly overwhelming. Was this a normal feeling for a physical entity? Was pain a common feeling?
Before I could control it my mouth had emitted a loud groan, a foreign, self-pitying sound that I had never made before. Where was I? What was this pain? The humans whipped around, their eyes filling with obvious terror as they stared at me. Never before had I seen a human eye-to-eye before, and it filled me with trepidation.
“It’s awake!” The sobbing human gasped, her watery green eyes meeting mine as she hiccupped loudly.
The yelling stopped and everyone in the small room fell silent. It took me a minute to realize, with disgust, that she was referring to me. What would my arbordornum think? I had to get away, before the human could hurt me, cut me down like his people had done to other tree, other dryads. But before I could move, four humans had surrounded me from the bed that I was lying on.
A short, thin female with tightly curled gray hair glared at me with venom.
“What were you doin’ in the forest? Seducing my brother-in-law to shoot you?”
My eyes clouded with confusion.
“Yah, that’s right- that you’d be gettin’ a nice home and warm food din’t ya? Well then you’re in for a surprise, hybrid.”
I stared at the woman, not understanding what she was saying. My ears could hardly keep up with the conversation anyways, so absorbed was I in the pain in my shoulder. Why wasn’t I in the forest anymore?
“I know yew can hear me, so don’t pretend you can’t,” the female hissed. “You’re wanted by the authorities- all yer type are, and I’m gonna turn you in before you get our whole family in trouble…” She pointed a bony finger in my face.
“No!” I cried, my mouth contorting with the effort to speak.
All the humans took a step back, as I tried to speak again, but failed as my mouth moved but didn’t respond. I knew the human beings were frightened of me- I must not look anything like them- but they had to understand there’d been a mistake. I had to leave immediately, and get back to the forest. My mission was of utmost importance to the world.
Finally the young sobbing female from before stepped forward.
“Shhh…. It’ll be okay,” she said soothingly, pressing a damp cloth on my forehead. “Don’t believe what Auntie Ezerla says. We won’t hurt you.”
I realized she was talking to me like a young child, a human child. Though I’d rarely had the patience to observe the human race through the connection, I could figure that out well enough. Oddly, it did not anger me though. My vision had gone blurry, another dilemma with my physical body, as pain threatened to overwhelm me. I turned my head and saw with horror that my whole shoulder was stained with the red liquid that had spilled from my feet earlier. I’d been shot with a human’s weapon. I needed to find my arbordornum immediately and cure myself.
I struggled against the sheets that held me back, but another helpless wave of pain washed over me. Never before had I felt so weak, so inhibited my physical barriers. The other three humans had stepped back, staring at me, while the younger female dabbed at my wound sending stinging through my shoulder. They were just humans- they were too simple to be able to understand my mission. There was an older man, who stood taller than the others, with a grizzly brown beard and a leather coat. Next to him stood the bony old woman, and a younger boy with curly red hair and a finger in his nose. Meanwhile, a girl probably about one human year younger than me, continued to work on my wound. She had bushy red hair and horn-rimmed glasses, over a simple green jacket and blue denim. I wanted to thank her for her kindness, but did not yet trust my voice. Right now, my mission was of most importance, I had to get out of here if I wanted to leave before… I could not finish that thought.
I decided there was no point struggling, with no point of escape, and instead lay serenely in the bed, marveling the texture of the pillow against my head, the sheet against my skin, and the pain in my shoulder. So this was what it was like to be human. Constantly barraged with a whirwind of emotions, textures, smells, sights… it seemed impossible to handle.
My eyes closed and I heard the footsteps as one-by-one the humans left my side and headed down the stairs to a lower level. My shoulder had been wrapped tightly in a bright white cloth. I could still hear them arguing, like small children, about whether to turn me in to the authorities or not. I could have laughed at the thought. No, they wouldn’t have to worry, I would be gone… gone by night fall. Only the girl stayed by my side- I could feel her eyes staring at my face. I wondered what it was she was thinking- was she jealous of my immaculate face, my pale green skin, my willowy white hair? I wasn’t sure. Had my beauty been too much for the human to handle, when he shot me? Had he risked his whole family to take me back to his house, hoping for my survival? And it wasn’t long before I had drifted into complete sleep.
When I awoke the light outside the window had faded. A chill had crept through the air, causing me to shiver. But when I looked down at my shoulder I smiled- already the skin had covered it leaving a small scab. How fortunate I was to have the powers of a dryad. If only I had a place where I could connect with my arbordornum, I could make even that wound disappear in a second.
Theodora pulled back the covers of her bed and silently slipped across the loft to the stairs. The whole house was dark. In the bed adjacent to hers slept the old woman and the man, and downstairs by a dying fireplace slept the boy and the girl, curled up together for warmth. Theodora sent them a silent goodbye as she opened the door and stepped out into the frigid street.
Snow swirled around Theodora, causing her to shiver. Wearing a simple white nightgown, she hadn’t been prepared for the intensity of the chill, but she didn’t stop, as she walked unsteadily, like a small child, down the darkened street. Her feet burned as they touched the snow-covered cobblestones with her feet and her eyes strained in the low light. The burning street lamps on the streets hardly were too dim for her to see well, but she could tell there were no trees anywhere that could lend her their strength and warmth.
My breath came out in wispy clouds of smoke, and with each step my feet seemed to rip away from the cobblestone, burning. I found myself picturing my arbordornum, like a beacon, to keep me going as I struggled through the small neighborhood.
Nobody else was in the streets to stop me, but I suddenly felt foolish. What was my plan exactly? To go back to the forest and follow the stars from there? My mission was to kill the hybrid that President DiCaprio possessed, but in reality, the fastest way there would be to stay in this barbaric neighborhood and move on from there. But it was too late to go back.
In the whirling snowstorm I saw fluttering flyers on the walls. Grotesque sketches were printed on them saying “NOT HUMAN, NOT LEGAL. REWARDS”, and “SILVER BLOODS: KILLING US ALL.” My stomach twisted in revulsion, though I was too preoccupied with my stiff fingers to pay much attention to them. I’d seen horrible things through the tree connection that DiCaprio had done to hybrids. In fact, killing the dryad hybrid would probably be a kindness.
Suddenly, I slipped on a sharp cobblestone and let out a gasp, as blood poured from my wound, staining the snow. My toes were purple and numb, their ache far exceeding the pain in my shoulder. The icy air seemed to grip at my lungs, making it hard to breathe, and I felt tears welling at my eyes. So this was the human weakness. I’d never been prepared for this sort of responsibility with a physical body.
My thoughts seemed jumbled and the image of my arbordornum seemed hazy, like a dream. Then, before I could control it, my body crumpled to the ground and all I could see was the tops of the human dens, some boarded-up, others with tendrils of smoke weaving from their chimneys from fires feeding off murdered trees.
“So this is how it will end,” I thought miserably. “I’ll die before I’ve even been here a day.”
I felt icy tears coming to my eyes. The Council of Sapientes had been right- I was too young, I didn’t pay enough attention to the connection, I was not the right one for the job. Now, because of me, they all faced certain death.
My fingers were purple, the frigid air cut my lungs, and I let my eyes still. If only I could communicate with my arbordornum, everything would be all right. The last I saw before closing my eyes was a small, furry red squirrel hopping through the snow, and the slow, loud crunch of footsteps coming closer, and closer.
My eyes open again when I feel the warmth of the fire. My feet and fingers burn, like a tree on fire, and ice melts off my eyelashes, running down my face. Already I know where I am. Sprawled infront of the fireplace on the hard, bare dead-tree floor I can see the concerned faces of the young female and male looking at me.
“I think you have frostbite!” The female whispered, her hair still covered in snow. “God, what do I do?”
“Should we wake up Ezerla?” The boy hissed.
“No!” The one word I can speak, and this time my mouth moves easily, adjusting to the movement. “No!” I repeat again.
I stare at my fingers, which are a strange, dark purple, and then at my feet, which are the same. The fire does nothing to warm me, and I am shivering uncontrollably, my body beyond my control, soaked from head to toe.
“Then what do we do?!” The girl whispers louder this time, her voice on the verge of panic.
I know I have little time, but I can’t allow her to wake Ezerla, the vicious woman, again. So instead, I move my numb fingers over the elm floor made of corpses, my fingers caressing the grooves and let my mind reach for the dead corpse of its connection, still lying in its roots.
The elm’s corpse has little power to give but I feel already a twinge of warmth running through my veins, I crawl madly to the next floor plank, my hands and mind reaching, and let the strength pour into me. Soon, I scrambling madly across the floor, touching one plank after another, both humans watching me with mouths agape as my shivering ceases, my hands return to their normal color, and my wound slowly closes more fully.
“She’s a witch,” the boy whispers.
“A hybrid,” the girl corrects.
Both of their eyes are locked on me, as if I’ve just come from another planet, which, in a way, I have. I crawl silently back to the fire, my strength restored, and stare into the burning flames, feeding off more tree corpses. My mind restored, I turn to look back at the girl, a question burning in my mind. My mouth opens and shuts like a fish as I try to shape the thought into words. When I speak my voice has a wispy quality, different from any human’s, that resonates like the leaves of a tree rustling against each other.
“How?” I ask.
She stares at me confused, her green eyes revealing her emotions before struggling to answer. Once again I marvel at how strange human nature is.
“You mean how did I find you? I… Well…”
The boy cuts in impatiently, “There was a squirrel, at the window, scratching. It wouldn’t go away, so we opened the door… and it wouldn’t leave us alone until Carrie,” he indicated the red-haired girl next to him, “followed it outside and found you.”
“I was afraid a soldier would catch me and that I wouldn’t be able to carry you back,” Carrie cut in, “but you weighed less than a hollow log, I was able to drag you back easily.”
She stared at me questioningly and I almost smirked at the comparison- but I stopped myself. Human characteristics were a bad sign. Instead, I thought of the squirrel, my mind wondering through the possibilities. Had my arbordornum sent it? Or was it a demon of some sort, wishing me ill?
“Why did you leave?” Carrie whispered, staring at my green skin again.
I didn’t even look up, but let my eyes wander from the fire to the snowflakes falling in the dark street outside. Revealing my thoughts to a simple human would be detrimental. Already my mind is busy calculating my next step to accomplish my mission. Next time I will be more prepared, more knowledgeable, as to properly attire my body. Then I will find the hybrid, find him, and kill him.
Carrie continued to stare at me and then spoke, her arm around her brother, who now has his eyes closed.
“I know what you must be thinking,” she said.
I looked up in surprise, my fingers absently feeling the soft fabric of my nightgown.
“You think we’re going to turn you in- because you’re a hybrid.” She paused, looked around, and took a breath, her red hair dripping down her jacket. “But that’s not true. I won’t let Auntie Ezerla. You’re not like the other hybrids- the ones at school that got taken away. You’re different than them- everything about you. Your skin, your hair, your…” she broke off, looking uncomfortable. “None of the other hybrids look any different than us. But you do. All I’m saying is I think you’ve come here for a purpose. I think you’re gonna save us, get rid of President DiCaprio, help us so that we don’t die in this poverty-ridden stinkhole. You’re not like other hybrids, and I think somebody’s sent you to save us.”
I almost forget to breathe, as my mind struggles to keep up with the fast pace of her words. A deep guilt consumes me. I think of Carrie, who saved me in the snow, and her little brother, who is thin and hungry all the time. The only thing is- I wasn’t meant to save the humans. I was meant to save the dryads. We dryads swore in the Oath of Withdrawal centuries ago, not to meddle in human affairs. That’s why I am supposed to kill DiCaprio’s hybrid. By killing the hybrid I will be saving the dryads from being discovered- from being found and killed by DiCaprio’s men. Then, I am to return to my valley and my arbordornum, and leave DiCaprio to dictate and dispose of the humans as he likes. In other words, I’m leaving the humans, like Carrie and her brother, to die.
Carrie seems to read the concern in my eyes and she touches my hand hesitantly.
“It’s okay,” she says softly. “Your secret is safe with me.”
If only she knew the truth.