Bellis’ skin bristled, the electricity in the air danced over the hairs of her arms and sent shivers through her body. Her fingernails beamed with golden power, eyes alight with iridescent flame. Golden light rippled across the foliage like oil on water, layers flaked away from each leaf, disintegrating into fine tendrils of swirling mist, a pulse of renewed growth bursting forth with each discarded layer. She threw open her arms, embracing the vortex, allowing the power to twist around her arms like coiled serpents. Exhilaration erupted in her heart, she felt the sensation of needles brushing across her skin as she reached out to the growing tide of energy, aligning her energies and drawing the power into her own.

The air around her rose in warm columns, raising wisps of her mousy blond hair into the air and dropping it back around her shoulders. The tiny leaves that adorned her hair shrivelled to nothing, her green eyes clouded over, the pupils shrinking to a pinprick in the centre of her distant gaze. She was lifted onto her toes and rose delicately into the air. The euphoric feeling of triumph circled at the edges of her mind, tingles ran across her skin as the outer layers flaked and burned away, dirt and oils on the surface vapourised in seconds. Her hair writhed and crackled, falling away in clumps. Bellis convulsed and a golden pulse rippled across her body. Branches twisted towards the glowing life source, bursting into flame at the crackling energies. Discomfort registered in her chest, a frown crept onto her brow. Panic followed as another convulsion wracked her body. She twisted in the air looking for footing but treading only air. Her fingernail split and peeled away, The currents holding her aloft shifted with her and threatened to spin her head over heels. She flailed her outstretched arms in a futile attempt to retain balance but a fresh jolt of pain seized her chest and she accepted the new spinning perspective. She curled into a ball and looked inward for the source of growing discomfort. The swirling energies pulsed without, growing bolder and more unruly. Her chest burned, with a conscious effort she gasped for breath, reminding herself to breathe. Her empty lungs burst with pain as the hot air flooded her throat and singed her lungs. The swirling vortex lashed at the forest, gouging deep into the trunks of anything in reach.

She twisted in the air until she saw the sky, threw her arms open and with terrible effort pulled the building energies to her chest. She plummeted to the ground with a curdling scream, landing on her back with a heavy thud. Light spiralled through the canopy, cutting a smouldering circle in the foliage overhead. Bellis lay motionless on the ground. The scorch marks faded from her cheeks and arms as the golden ripple in her skin began to dim, a wave of new hair unfurled across her bare scalp, fresh nails sprouted from her fingers, immaculately smooth, a deep pink in colour. Her chest heaved and she bolted upright and buried her fingers in her hair, releasing a deep sigh, “missed a spot” she said, stroking a patch of rough stubble like fuzz on the side of her head. She winced as she withdrew her hand and her fingers caught on something, raising her hand she noticed the fingernails were missing from the two smallest fingers on her hands.

“Well that’s just grand,” she said, separating the strands of hair from the sticky seepage on the tips of her fingers. She collected her boots from the edge of the clearing and laced them while studying the aftermath of her ritual. Glowing embers lined deep gashes in the trunks of many trees, charred leaves fell from the sky where a new window in the canopy now lived. Bellis sighed as she laced the last eyelet, keeping her two smallest fingers outstretched. She ran her hand over one of the scarred trunks, the glowing embers sizzled and died, the freshly exposed wood dulled and hardened to a solid skin of bark, though the hollow wound remained. She moved to the next tree.

The final trunk groaned in protest as the deep wound closed over, the branches shuddering overhead. “Don’t whine, I’m sorry okay, I got distracted,” Through clenched teeth and a sweat-soaked brow she closed over the last wound with a gasp, “and I’m a mess again,” she sighed. Wiping her brow on the sleeve of her blouse. She patted the gnarled trunk and the canopy shivered in the wind. A bundle fell from the tree and landed with a delicate thump, two bloodied feathers spiralled down. Bellis caught the first and cast her eyes down at the broken heap of feathers, gazing up to the second she saw a nest perched on a badly charred branch, teetering in the wind.

She turned to the gnarled old oak, “Oh shut up Alan, nobody asked you”

Chapter 2: Reprimand