She flees through the forest on bare feet, a carpet of pine needles silencing her footsteps. Somewhere behind, unseen in the darkness, The Warrior stalks her. Her heart thumps, the frantic rat-a-tat of a woodpecker on a hollow log, as she races between the trees.
A barrier of thicket rises before her, but she doesn’t slow. She trails long fingers amid the thorns, and the briars part before her. On the other side, she pauses and raises her willowy arms. The opening knits together; the brambles grow thicker, more menacing. A feral grin crosses her face, sharp teeth glint white, as she imagines the tendrils wrapping around The Warrior’s ankles, the wicked barbs tangling in his silky black hair.
Cursing the darkness that lends him strength, she sprints deeper into the wood. Her trap won’t hold him long, not with his arcane gift of shadow walking. The night is his domain, but the forest is hers. They make perfect, complimentary adversaries. Breathing deep, she tastes his scent in the air––resin and hoarfrost––and her stomach flips. He draws closer.
Deerlike, she leaps around a circle of toadstools. Another dangerous obstacle, but she doubts he’ll fall prey, too smart to be lured in by the temptations of a fairy ring. Instead, she begs aid of her tiny cousins.
Dance and dazzle, lead astray,
Make The Warrior lose his way.
Pinpricks of light giggle and circle around her head before the will-o-wisps zip off, intent on their prey. Gooseflesh pebbles her arms, for she knows her tricks will only slow, not stop him. She hopes it will gain her enough time to make the change. Lengthening her stride, she bursts into a wooded glade.
Moonlight dapples the clearing, quicksilver streaming through the broad canopies of ancient oaks. She drinks it in, chest heaving as she gulps air and wills her heart to slow. Tucking mossy green tresses behind a pointed ear, she listens. A vole rustles through the underbrush, the petals of a moonflower unfurl. No snapping twig, no muffled footstep brings dischord, yet she expects none from a man who travels through the umbra.
He comes, daughter. Change now!
She adheres to the command. Smooth, acorn brown skin, roughens to bark. Toes elongate, rooting into the soil like burrowing serpents. Arms stretch above her head, fingers branching and sprouting leaves. In the space between breaths, the daughter of the forest becomes part of the wood itself.
Sing with us.
The oaks lift silent voices, not in true song, but in cosmic harmony. It’s the melodic whisper of wind amongst the foliage, the kiss of starlight. The percussion of a thousand prickly caterpillar feet on bark, and the rhythmic turning of the seasons. It tugs at her soul, but she dares not join in. To sing means to be rooted eternal.
In tree-form, she senses rather than sees The Warrior untangle his essence from a shadow and slide into the glade with catlike grace. A thrill runs through her, limbs shivering. Will he notice the anomaly – a single sapling amid these gnarled methuselahs?
Why do you bother with his kind?
She ignores her elders and concentrates on the bewitching darkness of The Warrior’s aura as he searches the glade. His frustration is sharp, a tang that cuts through leaf mould and the perfume of night blossoms. She laughs, celebrating her victory, knowing he only hears a breeze chattering through the canopy.
The Warrior’s spirit thins as he prepares to shadow walk. He inches toward her, and panic freezes her sap. A narrow band of black stretches across the forest floor, where her trunk blocks the moonlight. When he steps into it, he pauses, half here, half in the dark beyond.
Calloused fingers reach out and caress her bark, close tight around a branch.
“Tirim.” His whisper is rough with perilous desire.
Uncanny energy ripples through her as she changes from oak to elfenkind. His hand remains, clasped around her arm, pinning them together. Hard, black eyes fasten on green with exquisite intensity. A cloud of butterflies take flight in her stomach.
“Of all the shadows in the forest, you had to choose mine to try and walk through?”
She flashes him a rueful grin and leans closer, offering him his prize. Black eyes soften as he pulls her close. When their lips touch, the oaks once again begin to sing – a lament for their lost daughter.