My body still shook with fatigue as we all sat round the fire late in the evening. My hands trembled as I warmed them against the fire.
'Someone seems to be a little off their guard this evening.'
The voice of the shadow whispered in the back of my head. Ever since my foray in the forest, he had been talking to me, lamenting all the animals I must have killed as I felled the greatest trees of the forest.
"Do you have any veggie sausages left?" I determinedly ignored the shadow's sneering voice.
"Of course." Quilitia gave me a warm smile as she used the tongs to pick a sausage out the fire for me, and slid it onto my plate. Her familiar expression of understanding calmed me, and the shadow's voice faded. But he wouldn't be pushed out of my mind so easily.
'You can take all the comfort you want from the family you think you have, but don't ever forget you don't belong with them.'
The shadow's voice was back in full force, and his words brought a feeling of isolation. The shadow chuckled, I could feel his gloating glory for planting doubts in my mind so quickly.
"Excuse me," I stood, "Need a drink of water," and left my companions, heading for the river.
'Running away? I should have known, you're familiar with the concept of running.'
I made it to the river and fell on my knees, splashing water into my face. I tried to think positively about how many people I'd helped, and how much I loved spending my life with the other elements. But all I could think about was how many noble trees I'd felled today, and the beautiful forest I'd had to ruin - and how my fierce love of the earth that gave me life had led to see many deaths.
Then I was back there, alone, timid, orphaned, years ago, sheltering from the rain in a small crevice made by the strong arch of a trees root. I could even feel the warm tears that spilled down my face along with the drip, drip of the rain. I felt the stabbing loneliness that had been my companion for so long gripping at my heart as I spent another night homless in a forest - mothered and given my only roof by nature.
That night had been so cold, the wind blew and chilled my dampened skin. At first I didn't notice the crash of the felling of trees amongst the tremendous thunder. It was only when my sanctuary for the night was ripped from over my head and thrown carelessly to the floor, that I, startled, jumped to my feet.
I struggled out, tangled in the roots, quickly soaked from the rain that wept with me. As I fought to free myself it was then that I saw him, his body built like the trees he was murdering, tall and broad, contorted with strong veins.
He had taken my home that night, and all I could register was that he was needlessly rampaging through the one place that would give me shelter. I kicked myself free, a new passion fueling my movments. Without a thought for myself I launched myself up into the air onto the giant's back. I clung fiercly round his neck, begging him to stop. His fingers snaked round me and clung on like an iron vice, crushing my small child's waist and throwing me to the floor at his feet.
"Stop it! What are you doing?" I loooked up into his weathered face and it was then that I saw the glint in his eyes, a glint that told me whatever he was, it wasn't human.
I scrabbled to my feet and ran, terrified that he would plunge his hand into my chest and pull out my pulsating heart as I watched him in horror. The look in his eyes was so animal nothing would have surprised me.
I could feel his heavy footfalls shake the ground as he ran after me, yelling at me to come back so he could teach me some respect.
I hurtled out of the forest, into the pouring rain. The sea air broke over me and filled my lungs as I gasped for breath, he was so close now I could feel his fingers scrabbling at the back of my hair as he reached out to grab me.
Then I felt the ground shift beneath me. I jumped and threw myself off the collapsing ground, falling to the ground. Covered from head to foot in mud I turned to see my pursuer, not quick enough to jump, sliding unstoppably off the edge of the cliff, towards the water below.
His mouth opened in a scream that was mute to me as it was drowned by the cracking of the thunder.
I lay stunned, the torrential rain washing the mud from my innocent skin.
I stood, numbed by the shock. Had I just killed someone? Had he found his death on the abyssal rocks below? I found myself looking for a way down the face of the cliff. It took me an hour to find my way down its steep face. I walked along the bottom of the cliff, blinded by the veil of night and the waterfall of rain, deafened by the crashing waves.
"Take it!" a scream escaped my throat as I felt a vice-like grip close around my ankle, pulling me to the floor back into the sand.
"Let go of me!" I thrashed, kicking out at him, but his hand held firmly to my ankle, pulling me towards him. I could hear him shouting words foreign to me, punctuated by thunder and carried away on the wind.
A feeling of warmth crept through me, but I flailed more, thinking he had trapped me. I tried to push away the feeling of power that swept through me and tingled on my fingertips.
"No! What is this!? What are you doing!?" but the man's grip was already slack, his fingers lifeless around me.
My eyes snapped open, I was still my orphan self, only many years on. Part of an unusual band, of what must be a family.
'Do families lie? Like you've lied? You never told them you killed their old kin, you do know sooner or later, they will find out you have this power by accident, that it wasn't meant for you. They won't consider you one of them then, they will hate you.'
'Leave me alone,' even the voice inside my head was timid as the shadow spoke to me, writing the tale of hatred that I feared, and that I knew was inevitable.
"Ryn," Alexa appeared from the darkness of the forest, "You've been a long time. Are you still angry at Tobias?"
"Sorry, I just drifted off in my thoughts. I'll come back now."
She laid a hand on my shoulde. "Are you going to apologise to Tobias? I think his eye's coming up black."
"He needs to learn to be more responsible with his powers."
"But it wasn't his fault."
"Can ignorance be an excuse for burning our forest?"
"Try to be more forgiving."
I knitted my eyebrows together in a frown, resenting Tobias inside for his carlessness.
We walked back to the camp in silence.