Less than an hour passes and the group is ready to leave. Meeting back at the pen where Ime and Jaxon fought, final goodbyes to those who are staying behind are given. Once everyone has finished their goodbyes, those remaining behind head back to the tower to hide from the approaching army.
Among the twelve men Wynsil has given the group, Lyrrel takes the lead. He isn’t wearing his Seer robes. Instead he wears brown and green clothes, mimicking those of the other men from Eraunel. Across their backs are bows and quivers of arrows. Hoods cover their heads and create shadows across their faces.
They leave the city and stop at the bases of the tall white trees providing a natural wall around the city. A tunnel is carved into one of the tall trees, but Lyrrel leads the group away from it.
“Meridon,” he says, looking to an older man.
Meridon turns his face upwards and makes a bird call with his voice. After a few seconds, an answering birdcall is heard and several ladders are lowered as well as a slow moving platform.
“Those who can climb, use the ladders. If your supplies impede your climbing place them on the platform. We only have time for two rides up so only those who can’t climb use it,” Lyrrel explains.
Anxious faces look to one another before several walk forward to place bags on the platform. Lyrrel waits to see who will ride the platform up, but none step onto the wood.
Half of the men from Eraunel climb first and are soon followed by the rest of the group. Tanith whines at Daniil, but he eventually convinces her to ride the platform. Once she’s on, Meridon sends a different birdcall upwards. The platform shakes to life and slowly ascends.
Meah follows Jaxon up, not surprised when he places a large gap between them. Ime climbs behind her. He doesn’t rush, giving her less pressure to climb.
It’s a long climb before they reach a platform built into the side of the trees. They are almost as high as the tower and Eraunel stretches before them. The platforms cutting through the trees are another city unto itself. Cots are placed inside carved out trunks and torches line the walkways. There are bridges connecting platforms attached to trees leading deep into the forest.
The last of the group climbs onto the platform and the men of Eraunel pull the ladders up. The smaller platform bearing Tanith and the supplies is locked into place before the group is allowed to gather their belongings. Once everyone is situated and Tanith is back at Daniil’s side, Lyrrel takes them across multiple bridges, distancing them from Eraunel.
The bridges are well made and hold the group easily. The many branching pathways give the platforms in the trees a maze-like quality and the group is thankful for their guides. Meridon takes over leading the group once they reach a platform forking into two paths.
As the group follows the new guide down the left path, Meah stops and turns to look back at the now hidden city. The vision is still fresh in her mind and the fear that had been gnawing at her since is too great to ignore.
Noticing her missing from his side, Ime stops and faces her. “Meah, we have to keep moving. Teron could reach the city at any moment and if we aren’t far from it they’ll catch us.”
“I can’t leave them like this. There has to be something we can do, someway to help,” Meah says.
Jaxon has stopped and glares at the two. “We have to keep moving!”
Hearing Jaxon’s yell, the group stops and glances back at Meah. She shakes her head. “We can’t leave them to Klaeon’s men. They’ll kill them. If anything, I can heal those who are hurt. Please, there must be—”
Screams echo through the forest. They’re faint, but unmistakable. The screams of those dying fill Meah’s ears. Black smoke rises from the forest behind and small explosions ring out, overpowering the screams for a moment.
Without a word, Meah drops her bag and runs back the way they came, crossing the bridges and guessing at the correct paths.
Ime bolts after, managing to eventually catch up to her and grab her arm. He stops her and pulls her close. “You can’t go back! They’ll only kill you, too.”
She jerks from his hold. His words “kill you, too” sends a shock through her body, confirming what she already feared. “We can’t abandon them.”
Appearing next to Ime, his cheek flush from running, Lyrrel meets Meah’s eyes with a nervous look. “Life Healer, please, we must continue on. If we stay too long they may find us.”
“But your home.”
Lyrrel sighs and looks to Ime. He motions him to return to the group. Ime hesitates, eyeing him suspiciously. But he acknowledges the young man’s request and walks back across the bridges.
Waiting until Ime is out of sight, Lyrrel holds his hands up on either side of Meah’s head. “Life Healer, may I?”
Biting his lip and bouncing on the balls of his feet, Lyrrel’s eyes dart behind Meah in the direction of Eraunel before locking onto her face. “May I use my magic on you?”
A pause brings the sound of more screams and Meah quickly nods her head. Lyrrel steps closer to her and places his hands on either side of her head. His violet eyes stare deep into Meah’s green eyes. “You have to trust me. Don’t fight me.”
Meah nods her head, having a little trouble with the hands on her head. “I trust you.”
“Close your eyes.”
She does. Lyrrel places his forehead against hers and does the same. Meah feels pressure surround her body. But this pressure is gentler than the one the Spirit of the Forest used on her. Her mind fills with white light.
Suddenly she’s moving fast through the trees. So fast, she can feel the branches of the trees hitting her as she strays too close. A hand grabs hers and she knows Lyrrel is next to her. But she can’t see him.
“Don’t release me hand, Life Healer,” Lyrrel’s voice says as though he’s standing directly in front of her.
The forest flashes by and Eraunel appears before them. They fly past the buildings and appear at the entrance of the city. The bridge the group crossed when they first arrived now carries several dozen heavily armored men to the city. Teron leads, wearing his red sash and handing his helmet to a man next to him.
Wynsil meets them with several cloaked Seers. But unlike when he met Meah and the others, those of Eraunel are nowhere to be seen. The people of the city are hiding in their homes, watching the strange men from small openings in their curtained windows or cracks in their partially opened doors.
The small army stops before Wynsil and his Seers. Teron’s eyes move from each person with a look of disgust on his face. Wynsil watches him calmly, waiting for the stranger to speak first.
“We’re looking for a group of escaped prisoners. We’ve been told they entered this forest several days ago and were heading in the direction of this city. Under order of Blood King Klaeon, ruler of the lands bordering your city, you are to bring them forward.”
A kind smile forms on Wynsil’s face. “We don’t receive many visitors here in our city of Eraunel. Your escaped prisoners included.”
Teron’s eyes narrow and look past Wynsil to those hiding in their nearby homes. “You deny seeing or housing them?”
“Yes. You and your men are the only ones we’ve seen.”
Gripping the hilt of his sword, Teron shouts an order to the men behind him. Two men walk forward, a third hanging limp between them. The smile disappears from Wynsil’s lips as his eyes take in the sight of the still body.
“Your scout told us there was a group who passed through your city not that long ago,” Teron says, watching Wynsil’s reaction. “In fact, he told us quite a bit about the group.”
The two men holding the Eraunel scout throw him to the ground before them. Blood splatters on the white stone.
Teron continues, “It took some coercing, but eventually he told us about the magic users who use ice and fire, twin brothers I believe he said. There was also mention of a woman claimed to be a Life Healer.”
Two of the cloaked Seers start to move forward, but Wynsil stops them with his hand. They stare helplessly at the bleeding scout.
“My favorite bit of information he told us, though, would have to be that the group is, in fact, staying here in your beautiful city. Clever though they were, the distractions you had your magic users use to keep us from finding this place were easy to see through. That’s how we found your very talkative scout.”
Teron walked forward and placed his armored foot on the unconscious scout’s head. “Would you like to rescind your statement from earlier? Or will you claim your scout to be a liar?”
The Seers behind Wynsil grow anxious. Wynsil’s expression remains neutral, but his hands clench tightly at his robes.
A weak groan rises from the unconscious man’s lips. Teron leans down slightly as though listening. “Seems your man is coming round. Should we wait to hear the words from his own mouth? Or…” Teron shifts his weight, placing pressure on the scout’s head.
Terror filled gasps echo behind Wynsil, but he continues to remain silent.
Staring at the Seers gathered behind Wynsil, Teron smiles, showing teeth. “Burn the buildings to the ground.”
Teron’s men run forward, knocking Wynsil to the side and several of the Seers to the ground. The soldiers attack the closest homes, grabbing torches and setting the buildings aflame, some causing explosions. Screams fill the air and any who try to fight back are killed with blades. Houses are blocked, trapping those inside as the fires rage and smoke chokes them. The men laugh and mock the dying.
Wynsil and his Seers watch with wide, horror-filled eyes as the lower level of the city burns. “You’re killing innocents. Stop this now,” Wynsil demands, turning back to Teron.
Sneering at him, Teron places more pressure on the scout’s head. “Bring me the prisoners and we shall stop.”
“There are no prisoners here.”
“Shame.” Teron places all of his weight on the scout.
Meah screams and turns away from the sight. “No! Stop him!”
“We can do nothing. These are visions of things that have already come to pass,” Lyrrel says, sadly.
A white light flashes, blinding Meah. When her vision clears she sees the tower looming above them. She turns and recognizes the training grounds. Black smoke rises from the city and the people of Eraunel move solemnly. Buildings destroyed by fires can be seen in the distance and a parade of people carrying bodies wrapped in cloth move closer.
The arena where Jaxon and Ime sparred now has a growing pile of bodies placed at the center. Men, women, and children are placed in the pile.
Standing next to the pile is Wynsil. He stares at the body in front of him. The head is misshapen and blood has stained most of the white cloth. Wynsil’s robes are dirtied with soot and blood and his face is tired, making him appear far older than he is.
One of those from the group who remained behind carries a body to the pile and places it down. He touches the covered face and weeps. Meah recognizes him, but she never learned his name. She stares at the body he weeps over. Tears swell in her eyes as she looks at the growing pile.
“Don’t weep for us, Life Healer.” Wynsil’s raspy voice scares Meah and she stares at him. A Seer stands next to Wynsil with his hand resting on his leader’s shoulder. His eyes are blue with magic.
Meah releases shaky breaths, trying to control the sobs so she can speak clearly. “I’m sorry. I wish I could help. I wish I could repay you for what you’ve done.”
“We must all play our parts, Life Healer. We foresaw this many days ago. Though, the pain is much more as it happens. Go. You must continue on. Don’t let our sorrow stop you. We shall rise from this. All I ask is that you treat our people well and promise to send them home when your journey is complete.”
The white light flashes and Meah opens her eyes. Lyrrel blinks his eyes open and releases her head. They’re back in the trees. The screams of the city are still echoing through the trees.
“We must go, Meah,” Lyrrel says, grabbing her hand.
Meah stares back at the burning city. “But the bodies. The attack was over.”
“Wynsil’s words are from the near future. It took a little more of my power to allow you to see it, but trust me. We must go, now.”
Hesitating, Meah nods and soon they rush to catch up to the group. Once together, Ime comforts Meah. The group moves on without any more interruptions.