She woke choking, her throat dry and lips cracked. It was getting worse… each morning she opened her eyes slower, took longer to pull herself to her feet. Her head felt fuzzy like the soft moss that grew at the bottoms of the trees. She gave it a shake, letting the honey coloured tendrils of her hair fly around her like a gossamer halo. A maple seed was flung free and spun quickly to the earth below the branch on which she had slept.
Elowen reached her hands high above her head and then down to touch her toes, enjoying the feel of her muscles stretching and her body limbering up. Glancing below her, she leapt from the branch and landed softly onto the grassy ground. Finally, she sighed and placed her hands firmly on the trunk of the tree.
Her eyes closed, her consciousness slipped into the tree and through it, to the rest of the forest. She smiled as she felt it sense her, but it slipped when she felt just how sick it was becoming. She still hadn’t been able to figure out how to fix it. Something - some foreign magic that tasted metallic in her mouth and seemed to curl purple fingers of strength through the deep, strong roots of her forest - was strangling them. It was siphoning the life force straight from the network as a whole. She shuddered and withdrew, opening her eyes and reclimbing the tree. She was faster in the treetops than on the ground, the reaching arms of each maple, oak and poplar twisting fingers together with each other to form a road all her own. Well, she supposed, she shared it with the squirrels and birds.
Soon she reached the pool. An old oak stretched one long limb out across its surface, one twig bowing low enough to drench its leaves when the wind blew in the right direction. Elowen creeped across it until she could dunk a hand in, bringing the clear, earthy water to her lips.
“Blech!” She spat the water from her mouth and gasped, staring down at the pool. “No…” she whispered it through dripping lips and soon tears were falling from her vivid, green eyes. The pool had been contaminated. Elowen wiped her mouth with her hand, eager to be rid of the metallic taste and then wrapped her arms around the branch.
It was breaking her heart. The forest was slowly dying, each day left with less and less energy to reach leaves skyward to drink in the sunshine, to draw the rain into its capillaries, to borrow nutrients from the soil. Soon it would be too weak to do any of it and then it would only be a matter of time. Elowen was working hard to save it but each day she too felt the drain. She was just as much a part of the forest as any tree and it wouldn’t be long until she was also too weak to continue.
Elowen had always been in the forest. She’d been birthed from the first seed, alongside the oldest and tallest tree, deep in the center of the woods. She’d nurtured and protected it, keeping bugs and birds away as it grew, shielding it from wayward deer hooves and teeth. As she grew, so did the forest and soon she was surrounded by trees, plants and animals that were a part of her just as she was a part of them.
So when the vines she’d coaxed across the path that had led through the forest - protecting it and keeping any additional dangers from threatening it - were severed, she felt it. Elowen jumped quickly down from the branch across the pool and then up a nearby spruce to head towards the mouth of the forest.