Akabeko slipped under the surface of the water, holding her breath and looking around at the waving plants on the lake floor. Her armor lay at the base of a tree on the bank, carefully lashed together. She let herself sink, holding her breath instead of shapeshifting as she normally did. The water was cold but still bearable. Snow would not come to the plains of Mulgore for a few moons yet.
Something is wrong. She felt different, strange. Not necessarily less powerful; she could still feel the Earthmother and still sense her spells. She cast one experimentally, feeling it curl around her like a comforting embrace. Still potent, still effective.
Expelling the last of her breath, Akabeko kicked to the surface. Now floating on her back, she stared unseeing at the clear sky and began to cycle through her spells. Lifebloom, rejuvenation, regrowth, swiftmend, wild growth, nourish, healing touch, tranquility. The air crackled with energy while the water was lit from within and above by the spells.
Then she tried to shift, as she always did, effortlessly into tree form. It didn`t work. Her heart stopped cold. The power, that indescribable ability that let her change her physical form as easily as breathing, was blocked. Shifting forms hadn`t been a conscious task for her for many seasons, but now she concentrated, focused as she had when still learning. The residual effects of her spells surrounded her and twinkled out.
The knowledge was there. Buried deep, but accessible. Akabeko struggled towards it, trying to remember the path to her bark, her leaves, her roots. The seashell necklace she wore, originally a token used to connect her to her tree form, lay lifeless and heavy on her chest. It was like swimming through thick honey or forcing a too-large button through a tiny hole. She pushed and swam, mentally cramming herself through the buttonhole, taking great powerful strokes through the honey.
And then she changed. There it was: her body, her bark and leaves and roots. And with it, power. Energy. Almost uncontrollably she began to cast, the spells exploding out with such force that she was rocked by both exhilaration and terror. Staring into the infinity of the sky, suspended weightless in her horizontal world, Akabeko cast spells so powerful that the water sloshed and churned, the air snapped, smelling of ozone, and her branches quivered in exultation.
As soon as it had begun, it stopped. She returned unceremoniously to her tauren body, to her normal abilities. The power she had gained evaporated like mist, and she felt too exhausted to seek it out again.
Tears pricked at the corners of her eyes. Have I lost my body? she thought, unaware that she had also whispered it mournfully aloud. She could still feel her spells, knew she was still as strong a healer as before. But... Am I no longer a druid? Is the Earthmother punishing me? A profound sense of loneliness welled up within her, and she shut her eyes against the sky. Who would accept a druid who could not change her shape? She rolled over suddenly, shifting into a seal and surging towards the bank. On the bank she flowed into a cheetah and sped off across the plains, vainly fleeing the emptiness where her body had been.