It was done. I was alone.
I fell to my knees, coughing. The magic of the forest was too much for me all at once. Its power was seeping into me, but so too was its rage. I felt its anguish, its disbelief at being so suddenly ended. And the voice was unhelpful.
"This is why," it said, through what I imagined were tightly clenched teeth, "when I tell you to kill someone, you kill them, then and there. You do not wait for his strength to grow, and you certainly don't do anything so abysmally stupid as this."
"I'm sorry," I gasped. I was panting, fighting for air. Who was I talking to? What was I sorry for? The killing? The waiting? Ever being born?
"Do you feel this pain? This is what happens when you disobey me. Learn what you can from it. Mark it well."
"I feel it!" I shouted back. "I feel it! Make it stop!"
The voice continued to rage, but it knew nothing. The pain was nothing. It was a horrible sensation, true, but nothing compared to the guilt. The loneliness. I was acutely aware that I had just killed every living creature in a ten-mile radius. The sadness of that death - the sorrow of every insect as it passed away forever - was mine now, and always would be.
It was some time before I was able to think clearly.
I had thought the forest quiet before, when the winter snows had frozen it into slumber. I knew now what real silence was. The groaning of the growing trees, the faint skittering of insects working deep under the soil, the lightest brush of a bird's wing as it settled into its nest - all these were gone now, felled in a single touch.
At that moment, I swore I would never use my powers again, not even if my life depended on them. The consequences were too great, the price too dear to pay.
I brushed my hand against the tree, the one I had foolishly chosen to test myself with. I was shocked to see how raw my skin had become. Could I call it skin if it no longer covered my flesh? Then, too, was it truly flesh on my bones any longer? One thing was certain - whatever I might be, I was not mortal. No mortal could have attained such hideousness as I had, and live.
"You were beautiful at first," the voice whispered. "Then pride showed its face. Look at yourself now. That's pride."
"Mine or yours?" I whispered back, and laughed when it had no answer.