“The damned wood comes closer every day, Lukas. Soon, our cottage will be completely overgrown. I don’t know what we’ll do then.” She shot a couple of blue lightning bolts into the wood, but the leaves were too fresh. They did not ignite. Lysande turned away to go back to the house, but at the first step, a black cloud of despair swallowed her and sucked her into a vision.
“Luuuukaaaas!” Her cry faded away unheard.
Again, the black shadow was there, and with it deep cold. This time, the shadow did not walk between worlds; he had taken possession of one. Grains of sand swirled around it, birds screeched, the smell of salt lay in the air, and the iciness froze Lysande to the marrow. Spontaneously, she fired blue lightning.
Without noticing, she hit the crown of the old, dry cherry tree above her. Charred leaves crumbled to the earth; the cherry creaked and moaned. The trees of the nearby wood trembled. Slowly, they retreated several inches. The rustle of their leaves sounded angry.
Lysande did not notice. She fought against the cold, sending one lightning bolt after the other into the tortured wood of the cherry. Finally, her vision ended as abruptly as it had started.
Lysande’s auburn hair stuck to her forhead, and she was bathed in sweat. “Lukas! The black shadow is here.” Breathing hard, Lysande struggled to get up.
The raven croaked questioningly.
“How do I know? I heard the roc colony at the Distant Sea.”
The raven nestled his head against the witch’s neck and cooed.
“You are right. If we can’t stop him, we must at least slow him down, and I know what will help against his coldness.” Lysande breathed deeply. She extended her arms to the sky and sang softly. The sun shone more brightly and became hotter and hotter. The raven opened his beak and panted. He fluffed his white feathers and ducked into the shadow of Lysande’s head. With a gesture of power, the witch pointed into the distance. Suddenly, the air around them cooled down again.
Frightened, the raven fluttered off her shoulder and hid between the dry branches of the cherry. When he ventured out again, Lysande had fetched her crystal ball and sat on the bench under the crippled cherry. With wide open eyes, she stared into the crystal ball.
“It’s a girl, Lukas. I can’t believe it. A young girl, less than twenty summers!”
The raven croaked, and Lysande nodded. “You are right. Better to be on the safe side. Let’s see what we can find in the area.” She picked up a thick, black book that lay on the bank beside her and leafed through it. “Look at this. Apart from the roc colony, there are a couple of manticore and giant spiders. Awesome.”
Lysande rolled up the sleeves of her green dress and sketched a complicated pattern into the dust at her feet. She then spoke a few words that sounded like cracks from a whiplash. The raven winced, and the cherry moaned. The pattern disappeared as if it had never been.
Lysande mopped the sweat off her forehead. “That’s it. If she survives the sun, she will be torn to pieces by the next beast of prey that crosses her track.”
Far away, Melissa stumbled through endless grassland. She licked her lips, and the air still tasted of salt. She looked back to the rocks that looked like a narrow brown ribbon between the yellowish green of the grass and the cloudless sky.
It is surprising that it can be so hot so close to the sea. She wiped sweat off her forehead and walked on beside the narrow foothill of the rocks. Occasionally, she found a little shade.
Her mouth was as dry as the grass at her feet. Her throat was sore, her tongue stuck to the palate, and her lips felt like sandpaper. The cut in the sole of her foot send pain up her leg with every step, and the scratches on her arms and legs itched. The long, dry stalks of the grass whipped her legs. She fought for every step forward.
The air glimmered and distorted distances. Sometimes the mountains seemed close, and then they were infinitely far away. Melissa’s thoughts were dominated by her need for water. She put a small stone into her mouth because she had read somewhere that desert residents did that to quench their thirst. It helped a little.