Lyrrel holds the blue crystal in his hands, holding them out to Meah. “Do you remember how to do this?”
Nodding her head, she places her hands on top, covering the crystal. Both close their eyes and concentrate. Warmth emanates from the crystal into their hands and up their arms. It fills their bodies and the sounds of the city below them fade into nothing. It’s replaced by the sound of grunts and wheels.
Opening her eyes, Meah finds herself in the body of one of the men from the caravan. However, she’s only an onlooker with no control over the man she inhabits.
The caravan is only one day out from Kellahn, still crossing the rough, dry land on the borders of Kellahn and Raspil. The sun is setting in front of the caravan, stretching the shadows of men, beast, and wagons into tall, disfigured forms of the owners.
One of the beasts pulling the wagon pulls roughly at its reins, its large eyes rolling wildly in its head. The other beast picks up on its companion’s movements and soon starts reacting the same.
“The groduns are spooked,” one of the men says.
“Probably saw a shadow from something scurrying on the ground. Nothing to worry about,” another man says.
The man Meah inhabits turns his head towards the spooked beasts and she hears his thoughts. Something else spooked them. Something larger.
The man lifts his head and scans the immediate areas around the caravan. The setting sun creates strange shadows on the landscape, providing many possible hiding places for an ambush.
“What’s the matter, Jeera?” a man asks, moving next to Meah.
“I think someone’s watching us,” Jeera says, placing his hand on the weapon on his side.
The man looks around, his hand moving to his own weapon. “I think you’re right. The air feels wrong.”
Even though she can’t control Jeera, Meah still senses what the men are feeling. She recognizes the strange air. Magic.
A sudden scream from behind halts the caravan and the men unsheathe their weapons and turn, but freeze when they see the cause.
“Help me!” one of the men cries as a terrifying giant lifts him in the air.
Its limbs are long and thin, connecting to a similarly thin-framed body. Flesh hangs from the bone, cracks bleeding dark blood. The head is large, hanging from a skeletal neck. The eyes are black holes, sucking in light from the setting sun. The mouth hangs open showing broken teeth and a long black tongue.
The fingers squeezing the man’s leg tighten, breaking bones and causing the man to cry out in pain. The low hanging head swivels to look at the crying man, the mouth opening wider. In one movement the man disappears into the gaping mouth and the broken teeth dig into his body. Pulling roughly, the man is torn in two. Blood falls to the ground and from the giant’s mouth. It swallows and the men see the lump representing their comrade make the thin neck bulge, sickeningly.
Jeera runs towards the giant, raising his blade. But a second giant, appearing from nothing, stops him. It grabs him, its longs fingers circling his torso like snakes, and lifts him from the ground. This giant’s head is too heavy for the neck and hangs upside down, connected to the body only by muscle and skin. Bones protrude from its side and arms where the skin is too thin.
The rest of the caravan comes to life. Two men grab the groduns and attempt to lead them away from the danger with the precious wagon of trade, while the rest run at the giants.
Jeera stabs his sword into the giant hand holding him. Black blood leaks from the wound, but the giant doesn’t appear to feel pain. Pulling the blade free, Jeera changes tactics, slicing his blade along the fingers. He’s able to cut away two fingers before the giant’s second hand grabs his arm and pulls. A loud pop precedes his arm being torn from him and Jeera screams.
The giant throws the separated arm to the ground and swipes at the men now cutting into its feet. The first giant slams its foot on one man, while trying to grab a second.
Two more giants appear in front of the caravan, stopping the escaping groduns and men. Jeera’s eyes go in and out of focus as the blood drains from his body. The giant lowers him to its hanging head. He stares into the dark holes where its eyes should’ve been before staring at the gaping mouth. The last thing he sees is the black tongue reaching for him as he’s placed into the dark hole.
As Jeera is eaten, Meah feels herself pulled from his body. She stares down at the sight in shock. The men are killed and their bodies eaten by the deformed giants. The groduns soon follow, their cries the last sounds heard. Once the caravan is completely consumed, the giants begin cleaning. The long black tongues lick up blood left on the ground and the giants disappear one by one.
One remains behind, grabbing the wagon with its long fingers. It turns its large head upwards, as though it can sense Meah above. She stares into its eyeholes and feels her blood turn to ice.
Then, as with the others, it disappears with the wagon.
Nothing is left behind. The caravan is gone.
* * *
Meah and Lyrrel return to the present and stare at each other. Lyrrel quickly places the blue crystal back into his pocket, sweat rolling down the sides of his face.
“Who did this?” Meah asks. Her hands shake and she holds them tightly together to stop them.
“I don’t know. The mage who cast it was too far to sense properly. But I do know bandits didn’t cause it.” Lyrrel stands, his expression filled with concern. “We have to tell the council immediately.”
Meah agrees and stands quickly, but a rush of blood to her head makes her vision black out. She reaches for Lyrrel and when her hand touches him, her vision explodes into light.
She stands at the top of a tall rock. The sky is dark, clouds appearing like fire cutting across the blackness. The tree from Meah’s courtyard stands tall above her, but the leaves are an ominous blue, bright against the surrounding darkness. The sun shines, but can’t break the blackness of the sky.
Turning, Meah sees the branches of the tree open wide to show a dark figure standing among the leaves. It carries a bloody sword and a head in its hands. Behind the figure a white shadow holds its arms out. Strings connect it to the figure and loud laughter rises. The white shadow moves an arm and the black figure leaps from the tree to stand before Meah. It towers over her, filling her vision.
The bloody sword rises above its head and the figure raises the head towards Meah. Seeing the face of the disembodied head, Meah screams as the bloody blade is brought down on her.
A bright blue light cuts into the world and Lyrrel’s hand pulls Meah from the vision. The strange landscape is gone and Meah returns to the top of the tower in Kellahn. She realizes her hand is still clutching Lyrrel’s arm, her nails digging into his skin. She quickly releases him, only to have him grab both of her arms.
“What did you see?” Lyrrel’s panicked voice draws Meah’s attention.
“I have to find Ari,” Meah whispers.
“What did you see?” Lyrrel asks again.
Meeting his eyes, Meah swallows the lump now in her throat. “Death.”
Meah hesitates. “I have to find Ari.”