Return to Your Roots: Full Version
Hers was a long and lonely mission, but one that suited her well. Mirania the mage, companion of the great hero Zael, had been abandoned as a baby, before she could develop any memory of her biological parents, left behind in one of the continent’s great forests. The Forest Guardian had taken her in, caring for her and raising her until it died due to the Outsider’s influence. She had resolved to restore the forest that had cared for her, and all the other forests of the land, though that mission would prove to be beyond her skills…
The trouble started with her stomach, as usual. She had been making her way through a forest on the West end of the continent before her eyes had been drawn by a ripe, pink-red fruit dangling temptingly midway up a tall tree. Mirania, daughter of the forest, climbed up the tree until she reached the branch from which the fruit hung, and then she was caught.
They sprouted from the limb as if they themselves were fruit; three of them, comely young women around Mirania’s age, with skin as pale as the young mage’s. One was blonde, one black-haired, one brunette, and all three were scantily clad in living foliage. Mirania could tell at a glance that they were as she was: Forest Children, orphans raised by one of the Guardians just as she herself had been. It seemed that their Guardian had raised them to be dryads; nymphs of the trees.
“Oh, hello,” Mirania said, unfazed by the mysterious women’s sudden appearance. “Would you like some of this fruit too?”
Instead the three women bowed reverently. “Welcome. We are so grateful that you have finally arrived.”
“You’ve been expecting me?”
“It was foretold that you would come, by the former Guardian of this forest.”
“So this forest’s Guardian has passed on as well…” Mirania said sadly.
“Yes, but now we can rejoice! The Guardian’s successor has come at last!”
“Yes. Before he passed, the old Forest Guardian told us that you would come to care for this place in his stead, forever and ever.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t stay here forever,” Mirania said. “My mission is to aid all the forests that were depleted by the Outsider, not just this one.”
“But… it’s your destiny…” the brown-haired dryad said, as if a negative response was completely outside her sphere of comprehension.
“I really am sorry,” Mirania said airily. “But I was never told about any prophecy. I could help you find another person, if you’d like.”
The three dryads glanced at each other, bewildered. They had heard that each Forest Guardian raised orphans differently (if they chose to at all), but this woman was surpassingly strange.
“It’s your destiny,” the three repeated in unison. The blonde dryad twirled her fingers, and a green vine sprouted forth from the branch, twining itself firmly around Mirania’s body.
“Oh, that’s a neat trick,” she said, before the vine went taut and bound her to the branch’s rough surface.
“You’re going to become our Guardian,” the blonde dryad said with certainty. The blonde placed her hands above Mirania’s face and they began to glow with a mystic, green light. The light pulsed and swirled in varying shades of its singular color. It touched upon something deep in Mirania’s memories, a feeling that she had not felt since she had left the Guardian. No, even earlier than that, it was a sensation that she had not experienced since she had been very little indeed…
The blonde dryad began to move her hands slowly back and forth in front of Mirania’s face, while the other two began gently massaging her, their caresses as precise as if the mage were wearing no clothes at all. Mirania sighed contentedly, feeling comfortable in spite of her situation. She was so content that she did not notice that the surface of the tree branch seemed to be getting softer, for that only increased her comfort. But it was indeed growing softer, and her body was beginning to sink into it. The dryads’ caresses began to grow more forceful, ever so subtly, as they began to push Mirania down into the permeable branch.
Mirania’s eyes followed the light from the blonde’s hands, and she yawned softly, her memory slowly beginning to recall the source of the sensation. The dryads aided her memory when the other two began singing. They sang a soft, soothing melody in a tongue she only half-understood, a dialect unique to this forest. What words she did catch fit the theme, a song to silence fears and worries, to embrace peace and sleep in safety; it was a lullaby.
The memory clicked. This was exactly how the Forest Guardian had lulled her to sleep when she had been very little, gently cradling her into the bosom of the living forest as it soothed her with mystic green light and sang to her in its own arcane language. She yawned again, squirming a little as her body slowly sank into the branch’s surface. “So… sleepy…” she sighed.
“That’s right,” the blonde dryad whispered as her sisters continued to sing and push their prey further into the tree. “Go to sleep. Dream of the forest, and be reborn as our Guardian.”
“Mmm…” Mirania sighed. Her eyes fluttered, and then shut, as she submitted to the feeling and slipped into sleep.
The dryads looked at each other with expressions of gleeful anticipation written on their faces. The three of them pressed Mirania’s body all the way into the tree branch until it disappeared beneath the surface, and then the three of them melted into the branch as well.
The dryads emerged first, morphing out of a carpet of moss. The moss covered a shelf that sat next to a pristine pool which was fed by an aquifer and which sat at the base of the forest’s largest tree; the beating heart of life in this forest.
Mirania emerged next, emerging from the moss carpet fully nude, as the forest had purged anything unnatural from her form. She stood up and stretched, revealing the full beauty of her body; her black hair that was done up in a bun, her pale skin, trim figure, and pert, firm breasts.
“Mmm… that was lovely,” she said, then she opened her eyes. “Oh, where did my clothes go? Were we going to take a bath?”
The dryads cast bewildered glances at each other. They had entranced her, and had made her one with the living forest, and yet she had emerged with her individuality intact. How was it possible?
“You… you’re supposed to be our Guardian…” the black-haired dryad said.
“I told you that I’m not,” Mirania said kindly. “Although I did love your lullaby, and I do want to help your forest to recover.”
“Do you really still want to help us?” the brown-haired one asked meekly.
“Of course,” Mirania replied. “I would love to help you.”
Another inscrutable glance passed between the three dryads. “Well, we truly wish we could change your mind,” the blonde said. “But if we cannot, then we will accept what aid you’ll give.”
“That sounds great,” Mirania said. “Could you show me which parts of the forest need attention?”
“Right this way,” the black-haired dryad said, motioning towards the aquifer-fed pool. The three dryads led the naked woman over to the pool, each forest child kneeling around the pool and gazing into its placid, crystal-clear depths.
“Now, we can show you exactly why this forest needs you.” The dryads dipped their fingers into the water, swirling it around until the surface began to undulate bewitchingly.
“Great,” Mirania said, as she gazed into the pool’s depths, watching as images began to appear.
Images fired in rapid succession, pictures of the forest as it was, as it had been. It was still a beautifully verdant place, but it was obvious from the visions shown to Mirania that it had once been greater still, that it, and the other great forests of the continent, had been veritable Edens, back when the Earth had been brimming with positive life energy and the old Forest Guardians had protected their domains. But then the Outsider had come, and the land had gradually been drained of vitality.
Mirania was shown how the Forest Guardian had worked hard in that time, resisting the dearth introduced by the Outsider, and its efforts succeeded, for much of the forest was still fairly healthy, though not as it had once been, while many other ecosystems around the continent had been absolutely devastated. The Forest Guardian had achieved this by sacrificing its own vitality, giving back the life-force that the forests had used to spawn them, and in turn leading to its slow demise.
She saw it die through the memories of the dryads, cast upon the scrye water. Mirania cried as she saw it, feeling their sadness become one with her own remembered sadness, recalling the way her own foster parent had almost slowly, inexorably laid down its life, leaving her all alone in the world.
She saw how death and disease began to creep into the forests, though slowly, after the departure of the Guardian, and Mirania’s sadness subsided a bit as she grew more focused on her mission, though the visions were still poignant.
She saw from the perspective of all the living things of the forest. She saw the desperation of the small animals when the plants they called home perished, and the quieter sadness of the dryads, who watched as the home they had grown up in diminished, slowly but surely, the sadness of one who loses treasured childhood memories. Again, their sadness mirrored what she recalled from her own youth, of the death of her foster parent, though she had not remained long enough to truly witness the slow decay of the forest.
Mirania’s gaze never drifted from the pool, her attention bound tight by the tales of woe, feeling the sadness of the living forest and of all its inhabitants, great and small. The dryads were content to look with her for a time, guiding her deeper and deeper into the visions of the pool, removing Mirania’s mind from herself and into sync with the greater forest. The dryads poured their hopes and fears, their joys and worries into the pool as well, making Mirania feel as though she knew the forest women as well as she knew herself; her true sisters.
Mirania’s focus was so far inside the visions of the pool that she did not notice when the dryads stood up from their positions around the scrye and set to work. The blonde and black-haired ones began to cast magic over the moss, causing strange ivy to spring forth. The dryads culled the ivy, laying it over Mirania’s bare back as the woman continued to stare deep into the pool, such that she did not notice the plants being draped over her body. Meanwhile, the brown-haired dryad stepped over to the little brook that sprang from the pool and gathered some of the water in her hands.
The brown-haired dryad went back over to Mirania, then poured the water over her back. The instant it made contact with the ivy fronds, the plants sprang to life, twining themselves around the woman’s body, until they had formed themselves into clothing. It was an outfit similar to the nymphs’ brush-wear, but more elegant, the ivy leaves interlocking as if they were links of chain mail. It was still revealing enough, pushing up Mirania’s cleavage in a delightful way above and forming an elegant loin cloth below, but it made apparent the fact that Mirania was a person of greater importance than the other forest girls.
“Thank you for the clothes,” Mirania said, looking at herself. The water had snapped her out of her trance, bringing her back to reality.
“It is the least we can do for one such as you,” the brown-haired dryad said with a touch of reverence in her voice.
“I would like to get started now,” Mirania declared.
“What would you have us do?” the black-haired dryad asked.
“Nothing,” Mirania smiled kindly. “I am here to help, not be helped. Come,” she added, motioning towards the great tree. She then melted into the ground, and the three dryads followed her.
They appeared at the crux of the great tree, a smooth, flat area, spacious enough to be the court of a nobleman. Mirania emerged first, and the dryads soon after.
“Wait, when did I get that power?” she asked.
“It’s a natural power for one such as you,” the blonde said reassuringly.
“Don’t worry about it,” black-hair soothed. “Go ahead,” she added, motioning ahead. Her sisters were before them, casting green magic which caused a throne of soft moss to spring forth from the tree.
“Thanks,” Mirania said, sounding less like she meant it. Suspicion buzzed in the back of her mind, trying and failing to articulate the inherent wrongness of the situation. She could not piece it together; she was helping this forest just as she desired, and what could be wrong about that?
She stepped over to the throne, feeling not just its coolness and softness as she sat, but a creeping feeling of subtle, yet great power flowing through her. The living moss beneath her seemed to open her directly to this forest. She felt lightheaded for a moment, her senses temporarily overloaded by a feeling of oneness with all of that life.
The strangeness of the sensation rapidly began to subside, and a feeling of rightness to take its place. There was nothing wrong with being as one with the forest, a part of it and yet greater than it. Indeed, this was the best way for her to achieve her mission, the best way for her to save this forest.
The dryads began to sing again, slipping in at the edges of Mirania’s perception which was otherwise dominated by her connection to the forest at large. This time, theirs was a song of need, the need of the small and the helpless to be protected, to be nurtured, by someone greater than they. Theirs was the need of orphans, who desired nothing more or less than a new caretaker, someone who would ward them from the misfortunes of the world.
The theme of their song wormed its way quietly into Mirania’s heart, making her freshly aware of just how desperately this forest needed her. Through her connection, she reached out with her essence, her healing magic power pouring into the great tree and from there reaching out all over the woodland. It was not enough, of course. She might have been reckoned strong amongst leaf-mages, but she had not the power of a forest guardian. The dryads seemed to know this as well, the tone of their song reaching a more keening level, like the mewling of kittens or the cries of baby birds, the cries of great need urging on the one who would be as mother to them all.
Mirania felt this desire, but could not act upon it, keenly aware of the limitations of her power. Straining with the effort of pouring her power into the tree, Mirania felt herself wishing for that power, the only power that could save the forest.
And the forest responded. Knowing that her need was ultimately subservient to its need, the forest sent power back through the connection, cumulative life-magic much greater than her own. The forest remnant gave her strength so that she would be able to provide its needed protection long into the future.
The power flowed into her, filled her, changing her spiritually and physically as green light surged around her body. Her hair fell out of its bun and grew longer and her breasts grew as well, straining against her clothing. Mirania was not aware of these changes, however, as her consciousness drained through the connection, flowing into the forest at large and leaving her body behind. Mirania’s mind flew off into the depths of the living forest as she was thrust into her new role.
She regained consciousness slowly, first aware of a gentle stimulation at both of her breasts. She opened her eyes, finding herself still seated in the throne of moss. Her engorged breasts had broken free of the woven ivy leaves, and the blonde and black-haired dryads were suckling gently from her nipples, while the brunette snuggled against her sisters, eager for an opportunity to feed.
“What are you doing?” Mirania asked slowly. She rather enjoyed the feeling of breast-feeding, but even she knew that this was getting too weird.
“Do you not want us to feed, mother guardian?” the brown-haired dryad asked sadly. The others also looked up from their feeding with soulful eyes.
“I told you,” Mirania said, a little harshness coming into her voice, “I’m not your…” she trailed off, thinking about it for a time. She had a special connection to this particular forest now, she felt the life-force coursing through the great tree beneath her, the pulse of this entire forest, the forest that had given her its power so that she would protect it forever. Whether she had wanted to be or not, she was now the guardian of this forest. She had obviously been tricked, and yet she could not bring herself to be mad about it. For just as certainly as she was now the guardian of this forest, she also knew that she was made for this role.
“Mother guardian?” the brunette asked.
“Oh, nothing,” Mirania said, smiling lovingly. She patted the brunette dryad’s head and then placed her hands behind the others’ heads, hugging them to her as they resumed feeding. “You just go ahead and keep feeding.”
A gentle glow came over the forest as the dryads continued their suckling, as the forest brimmed with new life and new joy. Mirania was home, back where she belonged.
Piercing cries rent the tranquility of the forest; unnatural cries that were not a part of the forest’s normal rhythm. A little girl, no more than three years old and dressed only in rags, bawled as she sat on a rock, just inside the bounds of the forest.
Her cries abated, cowed by a greater fear, as she heard a series of muted thumps approaching. Then her cries resumed all the louder as the source of the noise appeared, a huge creature, something between a rabbit and a doe, but much larger than either, a creature that looked at once gentle and fearsome, which approached the helpless waif.
There was a swirl of light, then the strange creature was replaced by a woman, full-bosomed with long black hair, clothed in living green raiment. “Don’t cry,” the woman said kindly, and the child listened, her cries abating anew and the fear on her face replaced by a look of awe.
“That’s right, you won’t have to cry anymore,” the forest guardian said, picking up the little girl and hugging her. “You’re home now.”