Hypnotic Bark   2499.05.15*  
Written By: Ellen Million
Trees had always been familiar friends, but this one, from her first glimpse of it at moonrise, had distracted her from her task.
Posted: 01/07/14      [11 Comments]

The low drone of evening insects, the sticky smell of sap, the little summer breeze that teased her hair... Evervale closed her eyes, leaned her forehead against the bark of the tree she'd just climbed and let it all wash over her. The plants she'd been gathering — each leaf a curious little shock as she plucked them - lay forgotten in her lap.

The old tree, with its twisting limbs and rough bark, had called to her that night. Trees had always been familiar friends, but this one, from her first glimpse of it at moonrise, had distracted her from her task. She must have seen it a hundred times, exploring near the Holt, but she had never seen it like this. She folded her collected herbs in her skirt, tucking the end of it into her belt, and shimmied up its textured skin, every touch on the bark like the caress of a loved one. She had to be closer to it, cradled in its arms, and she couldn't stop stroking the bark once she'd found the perfect branch to curl up on. Like a midday dream, everything seemed brighter than usual; the feel of the bark beneath her fingers was hypnotic.

Finally, Evervale sighed and forced her fingers to still. Cloudfern was waiting for these herbs, and they would be no use if she let them wilt while she climbed trees and petted them like some scatterbrained cub. She'd leave such flakiness to Crackle, and force herself back to work. Even the idea of letting go of the tree filled her with disappointment, and she clung to it a long, dreamy moment before she convinced herself to climb down — to find that she could not let go when she tried.

At first, she thought it was only her own reluctance to let the beautiful moment end, but a determined pull from the trunk of the tree made Evervale say aloud, "Oh!" and stare at her hand in astonishment. Her fingers were gone. No, not gone, but buried, covered in scales of bark.

The pleasant haze vanished in alarm, and she tugged determinedly at her hand with no success. She was trapped in the tree as surely as an animal in a snare. For a panicked moment, she struggled against it, nearly straining her wrist out of its socket in her efforts. The smell of the crushed herbs from her skirt finally brought her, panting, back to her senses.

She had shaped the tree. There was no other explanation.

A new fear came with that realization, and something uncoiled within her as she hesitantly faced the idea. There was power there. She was suddenly certain that she could move the tree, that she could raise its branches to touch the moons, or spread its roots as far as the river, or raise it up and make it walk back to the holt itself, crashing through the forest like a monster from one of Crackle's stories. She could fold the very forest back from her, like grass before a strong wind; she had the strength to make it part before her. She could feel the web of life running underground, root to root, and it whispered to her, from the ocean to Sky Mirror Lake, hers to command, if she dared...

She didn't dare. The idea terrified her. She stared at her half-hidden hand and gave a choking laugh. She couldn't even free her own hand, she reminded herself, and she tried to calm herself, to still her breathing and think logically again.

The mother moon had traveled halfway across the sky, child moon trailing it, by the time she gave up. She could sense the magic, feel it tickling somewhere deep within her, but every time she tried to control it, it flared up so that she could only cower before it.

**Evervale?** Cloudfern's sending felt mundane after Evervale's surreal hours in the tree, strangely unconcerned, only curious as to what was keeping her from returning sooner with the herbs she'd gone to gather.

Evervale leaned her head against the trunk of the tree and let a few tears of hysterical relief slip out of her eyes. **I need your help,** she answered finally.

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