By Dottie Taylor
Word Count 980
Zoe didn't know where she was. What was happening to her, why? She'd woke in the middle of the canopy darkened forest. Green shadows moved around her, but no one answered her calls. She tried calling out again, she could sense the presence, but couldn't see it.
“Is anyone there? Please help me, I'm trapped!” When she had awoken, her body had been encased in forest debris, and she couldn't break free, and the more she struggle, the tighter the forest's hold became. She'd been out on an overnight camping trip with friends, suddenly they were gone.
Around her, the forest nymphs were her only witnesses, and they weren't freeing the monster, no matter how much she blubbered. The forest held her in it's embrace for a reason. They had to live here, the last thing they needed was the forest angry with them.
Still, one stood apart, different from the others, watching the human writhing on the forest floor. Nerling had been waiting a long time for the forest to claim it's own.
He watched for as long as he could before creeping closer, kneeling on the forest floor, finally whispering into her ear. “Hello human. Have you come to fulfill the prophecy?”
Zoe's head whipped around trying to see where the voice came from, who it belonged to. “I don't know anything about a prophecy!” She twisted, “Can you cut these branches?” She looked around bewildered, fear showed in her eyes.
“Better not,” he looked up at the canopy. “I could never... the trees, the pain, but you wouldn't know.” He smiled indulgently, and looked down at the girl. “What's your name human?” His baritone resonated throughout her body.
“I'll only tell you if you let me free.” Zoe twisted as far as the branches allowed, but still couldn't see the body that belonged to the voice.
Nerling looked up again, and the trees shifted, glowering. He'd stay out of their business. “Don't you know why you're here?” He longed to stroke her bark colored tresses spilling around her, mesmerized by the smooth pale flesh calling to him. Instead, he stood to leave her, to let her become. “I'd better go.”
“No! Please stay! My name is Zoe, and I have no idea why I'm here. I was camping, and woke up here.” She sobbed red tears, and the branches squeezed her closer in their hug.
“The trees... he started, but stopped. Here,” he crept closer, opening his hand, “take this. It will help you see.”
For the first time, Zoe saw her would be savior. He had slightly pointed ears, skin the color of a fall leaf with dark hair that fell in waves across his shoulders. His clothes, made almost entirely of fallen leaves, covered his well-muscled limbs. The rich timber of his octaves called to her, but she still didn't understand what was happening.
Before he turned away, she asked, “What's your name?”
As he made to leave, he glanced back, one last time, unable to resist the temptation of letting her rich tresses fall through his fingers. “Nerling.” Then he strode away, vanishing into the trees.
Gingerly, Zoe moved her hand until her palm faced her. In her palm lay the gift bestowed by Nerling, a small bottle of amber liquid. When she saw the liquid, she sensed it growing with life. She wanted to release and at the same time, embrace it. She moved her hand to bring the bottle to her parched lips, and the trees above her sighed with approval. She could move her hands with less restrictions, making it easier to remove the cork, to release the amber fluid. Whatever was happening, this seemed to appease her need and the canopy's above.
As the lip of the bottle rested against her chafed lips, she tipped it up, and the fluid flowed between her lips, quenching her parched desires.
Almost instantly the forest released it's grip, and she was free to move once more. But, where she had struggled for release, now she felt the need to stay, to become something greater than herself.
It was then she heard the whispering, or had it been there the whole time?
“Welcome, Zoe of the Tree Clan, come and meet your family.” She moved through and within the trees, branches caressing her flesh, leaves brushed up and down the smooth skin of her arms. Where the branches touched, her flesh tingled. Where the leaves traced, her skin became washed with their pulpy flesh. Though she spent her entire life amongst the human race; this was her true home, she could see it now.
From between the pebbled trunks, Nerling watched as Zoe grew to become part of the Tree Clan. One who could walk alongside man, but within the trees, her body willingly molded to them, giving and taking. It was beautiful, he decided as his eyes appraised her. She was wondrous and strong. She would make an excellent protector.
When she was surrounded by the trees, hair flowing like the leaves from the branches carried with the breeze, he spoke once more. “Zoe TreClan, welcome to your home.”
She gazed with wide eyes glowing with knowledge, “Nerling Greenman, thank you for your kindness.”
Prior to disappearing completely, he looked back with a grin. “It's my job.” He was much taller than she originally thought, his eyes a dark hunter green. “I'll be seeing you Zoe TreClan.” For a moment, he came closer, and he reached out. His long fingers brushed her lips. They were rough, but not unpleasant.
Before she could question him further, he vanished as if never there. Zoe lifted a fleeting hand, amazed by everything that was happening to her. How or why, she didn't know, but this was her true family and home. It was her job, to make her way within mankind, to work to save her new family. Zoe TreClan was a warrior.
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