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Protectors of the Forest

by Audrey Yu 5 months ago in literature
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After a devastating wildfire, an earth nymph takes her human form at night to begin the healing.

As the moonlight brightened, Daphne could feel the energy in the branches begin to change. Her deep roots and vibrant petals began their extraordinary shift from that of a clinging rose vine around an ageless oak tree to her human form of an Earth nymph. One of many daughters of the great Goddess Gaea, Daphne was a guardian of her land. Her roots twisting into the soil became her toes buried instead, and the budding flowers across her vines soon morphed to create her true form.

She stretched her aching body, happy to finally move freely again. A cool breeze brushed against her skin and yet, she did not feel the cold. The forest was alive, but unless one knew where to look, there would be nothing to see. Predators stalk their prey, eager animals breaking their silence in an effort to attract a mate. She drew in a slow and steady breath as she finally opened her eyes.

The forest that she belonged to was in New Zealand, deep in the wilderness where humans didn't venture often. Occasionally some would pass through, but they all seemed to have a true appreciation and respect for this forest. They always were taking pictures and playing the same musical songs when they came through. They were always talking about rings as they did so, it always made Daphne chuckle.

Daphne’s home was a small open grove of oak trees with a running river to the side. The water source attracted a fair amount of wildlife and allowed for both aquatic and nonaquatic flora to prosper without much trouble. She moved slowly to the river, allowing its gentle stream to touch her feet. Thankfully, the fire hadn’t managed to jump the riverbed, thus keeping her home safe.

The soft rustling behind her perked her ears. She turned to see the barn owl that lived in the oak tree that she rested on poking her head out. Daphne smiled at the sight, she’d become a mother this last season, so her hunts were more frequent now.

The mother owl hooted out to her, welcoming her back to her true form. Daphne reached out her arm, allowing the beautiful bird to fly out and perch onto her. The owl was also her guardian, as she’d always nip at and defend the oak tree and Daphne’s own vines when predators or humans came too close. Although the two could not communicate, they shared a deep trust in each other. “It’s nice to see you, old friend.”

The owl hooted again as if to say, “Yes it is.”

Daphne lifted her arm up higher, “The fires have finally stopped. Go, hunt freely.”

With that, the owl left her perch and disappeared into the darkening forest. Normally, Daphne would wake with every rising moon to maintain the health of her grove and part of the forest as well as heal anything that was wrongfully damaged, but with the wildfires that had spread across the lands, she was forced to remain on her oak tree, clinging to its bark and listening to her home struggle to survive.

Daphne stepped into the water of the river, instantly feeling its familiar pull of the stream. A normal human would never have crossed it due to the risk of being swept up by the river and drowned, but she wasn’t human. Gifted with the strength to withstand nature’s elements, she could hardly feel the river’s pull at all. She waded through the water, its level quickly rising to her chest and then falling once more as she crossed.

Across the river was a path that led away from the water, the further down she went, the blacker the forest became. She wandered along the path in the forest, tears stinging her eyes as she gazed at the aftermath of a terrible forest fire that had reached far too close to her that had ignited from miles away. Although she craved to heal the charred shrubs, flowers, snd trees, she could not without arousing suspicion from the public eye. She wiped a tear from her eye as she crouched down to touch some of the mostly burned plants, as she did so, the smoldering fire ceased and the smoke trailed up and above her. She couldn’t heal the damage, but she could put healthy minerals back into the soil so that they could produce fresh and healthy plants in the next season.

Moving to sit on her legs, she laid both of her hands out on the soil, spreading her fingers out into the ashen dirt. Slowly, energy began to spread out from her, reaching away from her through the roots of the forest throughout. The remaining fires were extinguished and the smoke began to clear. There would be no more fire here, all there was left to do was heal and become reborn in the days to come.

Daphne stood slowly, breathing in the air. It was thick with smoke, unclean. It might have burned her lungs if she were human, and for that reason, she was thankful. Perhaps the dense air would keep humans out of the forest for a time so that it had ample time to heal. A snapped twig pulled her attention to find another nymph doing his part to heal the forest too. His name was Bryn, and he was another guardian of the forest. Sensing her presence, his eyes met hers and there was a sense of peace between them. Daphne and Bryn had been planted together as two rose vines, originally meant to be surrounding the same oak tree, but their mother had decided that a nymph to guard each riverbank would be safer. Consequently, the pair had always been drawn to each other and were very protective.

“You're trespassing,” Bryn commented.

Daphne chuckled as she rolled her eyes, “The fire didn't jump the river, so my grove was undamaged.”

He nodded, “Good, but in truth, there's not much we can do on the surface.”

“I know, I've already blessed the soil with additional nutrients for the next spring.”

“As did I, have you already touched your home?”

She shook her head, “No, I assumed that my healing was needed elsewhere.”

“Thank you, and it's appreciated, but you've done all that you can. Go and look after your own home, the moonlight won't last forever,” he said, taking her hand in his.

She smiled sweetly, placing her free hand over his, “Stay safe, Bryn.”

He mirrored her smile, “You too.”

Daphne turned to make her way back to her grove, nymphs may be magical creatures, but there was one catch, they could only walk the Earth when there was no sunlight. There wasn't much time left before she’d need to return to her oak tree. When she finally did cross the river, she moved to the center of her grove. A gentle wind swept the white ash into the rolling waters and with every step she took, the grasses and mosses grew greener and the flowers and trees stronger. If she couldn’t heal the damage, she could at least make sure that her home was healthy.

She sat next to the stream, allowing herself to listen to the sounds of nature at night. It was truly impressive, humans almost never spend their time at night, and thus there are things that they almost never experience or see. Nature is always incredible, but hidden nature is even more compelling. The mother barn owl swooped down, perching on a branch beside her, her dinner in her mouth. Daphne smiled as she brushed her feathers, “Well done! Go. Feed your young,” she said, glancing back at her nest.

The barn owl stared at her for a moment, as if the two hadn't seen each other ever before. After some slow blinks, the owl took off once again to tend to her young. They were resting now, but it wouldn't take much to rouse them with the promise of food. Some rustling beneath the brush surrendered a small stoat’s presence, but the small creature was no threat to her. Actually, because Daphne symbolized growth and rebirth, animals often were drawn to her with the hopes of finding a mate. The little thing poked his head out of the brush to sniff her hand, his nose wiggling. She opened her palm for him, inviting him to crawl onto her. The stoat climbed into her hand, moving quickly up her arm and onto her shoulder. She giggled as his little whiskers tickled her cheek, “What do you need?” she asked.

The stout simply stared at her, as if to ask where his mate was. Before she could answer, there was some more rustling in the underbrush outside of the grove, a female stoat’s little squeaks could be heard. Daphne cocked an eyebrow at the little stoat, “Go, what are you waiting for?”

Without hesitation, the male scurried off her arm and off into the brush, seeking out his mate. Daphne smiled softly, if there was so little that she could do for her forest tonight, at least she could help her animals find a mate. Daphne closed her eyes to listen to the forest, no matter how many times she heard it, it was a truly serene sound. There were few other sounds in the world that brought her this sense of peace. The breeze through the branches, making the leaves dance and whisper. The sound of the rushing river, gliding over every rock and cascading down every valley. The feeling of the cool Earth beneath her, made her feel more alive and safe with every breath. It was sometimes a lonely existence to be a nymph, a child and protector of Earth and Gaea, but being able to feel and experience the world in this form provided a sense of companionship and responsibility. This little piece of the world was hers.

A hoot from the barn owl pulled her attention to the oak tree where the owl was perched. Daphne didn't need words to know what the bird was alerting her for, the sky was already starting to slowly brighten. Daybreak would happen soon. She stood swiftly, walking back over to the oak tree. She smiled as she stroked the owl’s delicate feathers, an action that she leaned into gently. She took one more deep breath as she buried her toes in the Earth, beginning the process of transformation. Her toes slowly became roots that dug themselves deep into the soil, her legs and torso shifting into the stalk of the rose plant while her hands morphed into twisting vines and leaves, wrapping themselves around the oak tree’s trunk. The barn owl nipped at her hair, moving in the breeze before her lovely face transformed into a stunning rosebud, soon to open with the first light of day.

As the sun rose above the horizon, and the forest brightened, it came to life all over again. Birds began to sing their morning songs, animals on the ground and in the river began their hunts, and the breeze brought a sense of warmth to the forest once again. It made Daphne happy to know that there was a whole other world that no one else knew about but the nymphs and nature itself. It felt as if the whole universe had a great big secret.

literature

About the author

Audrey Yu

Once upon a time, I was a creative writing major in college. Plagued with writer's block and the fear of not having a guaranteed steady income, I now study forensic psychology for criminal analytics and write in my limited spare time!

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