The last Guardian has been killed.
The forest is dying.
The Tree of Life will prosper no longer.
This is the beginning of the end of the world.

Or so they thought...

**This is my entry for the Unexpected Adventure competition! Hope you like it!**


5. Chapter Four

"We've got to keep moving," Theros says after Cassidy has had a few minutes to recover. "We don't have much time."

"Of course," Cassidy replies, but the courage she displays is all a show.

She is in pain. I feel it, stronger than I've ever felt anything before. Once I heal someone, I am connected to them; tethered to them forever.

Ari steals a glance at me. I am sure I look helpless, powerless to do anything but shake my head and silently accept.

"No," he rumbles.

Theros glares at him. "And who gave you authority to speak?"

"No," Ari repeats. "Cassidy is not ready."

Cassidy sends him a grateful look, but Theros looks at him furiously and stomps off, the other Messenger in tow.

I glide over to Ari, avoiding where Cassidy has sat down on a log, and go stand next to him.

"Theros isn't usually like this," he whispers to me out of the corner of his mouth.

I don't reply, allowing Ari to continue.

"He's just afraid," Ari asserts.

"Afraid of what?"

Ari turns to face me. "Afraid," he says, speaking softly, "of dying."

He holds my gaze, trying to see if I follow him. "That's why this is so important," he says. "Cassidy is the only one who can save the forest."

I have heard this before, but not from someone who knows the outcome too well.

"Her father died protecting the Tree. The outsiders were trying to poison it, get it by the roots and kill it. Much more effective. But he got in the way. The outsiders settled for that, of course. The Tree would die anyway. But they hadn't counted on Cassidy."

Ari takes a deep breath. "They're the ones who sent the Throes and the Aswangs. News travels fast in an enchanted forest," he says, smirking slightly. "Good news faster than bad."

I have a question that I am afraid to ask. "So," I breathe, "if the whole forest dies, does everything in it?"

Ari nods. "Yes. Not Cassidy, but a part of her will die. She will never be different again."

Cassidy wasn't who I meant, and he senses that.

"I will, too. Same with Theros and the other Messenger."

"Are you...afraid?"

"Not like Theros. Theros doesn't know how to die. He doesn't understand what death is like. I know what death is like." He steals a glance at me, confirming what I had feared.

"Who are you talking to?" Cassidy comes forward, looking frail as ever.

Ari glances at me. "An old friend," he replies.

"Where?" Cassidy asks. I glance down at my hands, solid to me but no one else. 

"Want to meet her?" Ari looks at me, asking permission.

"What's her name?" 

I look myself up and down. It is not a hard thing to do, making yourself seen, but I've never tried it before.

"Please?" Cassidy tries again, looking at me, but not seeing me. She's just following Ari's gaze.

It's only fair, to show her. I've witnessed all Cassidy's been through in the past three years. On impulse, I grab Ari's hand. He looks surprised, then happy, but I need all the strength I can get.

"My name," I say, materializing in front of Cassidy, "is Gaia."

She gasps and glances at my feet. "You're--"

"Yes," I answer calmly. "Cassidy, I'm dead."






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