Elias glances up again at the middle aged man walking a hundred yards in front of him on the forest path. It's been hours since he's seen another traveler on this road. He is slowly catching up to the older man. The strap of his messenger bag digs into his shoulder and he adjusts it. He rolls his shoulder to try to relieve some of the soreness. Still another eight miles until he reaches Flintwood. Elias is a week early and hopes his uncle Colton and aunt Millie won't be too unprepared for his early arrival. Elias managed to finish his training a week ahead of schedule. His training officer called Elias his most promising student and that he is ready to train officially for the royal guard. Flintwood is only a mile outside the castle walls where his training will take place. His mother's brother and his wife just so happen to live in Flintwood and have a spare room available.
A loud rustling ahead makes Elias stop short. Trees bend and branches snap like twigs. Something large moves, but he can't make out what it is.
Until a scream makes his blood curdle.
"GIANT!!!" The middle aged man who was ahead of Elias runs straight toward him. He didn't expect a man of his age to be able to run at such a clip. His face is ash white and he runs past Elias, not slowing for a second.
Elias considers following the man, but everything stills. The trees sway, then settle. He looks for a trail, some direction of bending trees where the massive being goes, but there's nothing.
Behind him, the older man is gone, fled from the scene in his panic. Ahead, there's no shadow, no trembling under his feet. No sign of anyone of any stature, let alone a giant.
It isn't courage that tempts Elias to step toward the splintered trees, but curiosity. How could he just take the stranger's word and turn away. He has never seen a giant, but he doubts a sixty foot person could just vanish. He cranes his neck up at a splintered branch leaning against a tree. Maybe he is a fool for wanting to corroborate the man's claim. Anyone else who would hear the word "giant" spoken in such terror would probably have run faster than the older man.
Except, apparently, for her!
In the middle of the clearing of bent trees and broken branches, stands a young woman with jet black wavy hair that cascades down to her lower back. She stares up at the splintered wood above her.
"Did you see anything?"
The woman spins around and expertly pulls out a dagger from her hip. She watches him warily with large, dark eyes. Her skin is as pale as cream and her face is sweet and innocent looking. Despite the dagger, of course.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to frighten you. I heard the man scream and thought I'd investigate. Did you see it?" Elias steps toward her, his hands raised submissively.
Her eyes flutter and she sheaths her dagger.
"No, I didn't see it."
Elias stops ten feet from her out of respect for her apparent nervousness. "Any notions as to how it disappeared?" He stares up and around the clearing.
The woman shakes her head.
"Where are you headed?"
She looks away off to the side as if she were afraid of him.
"I'm looking for an inn to bed for the night." She mumbles.
"Well, I'm headed to Flintwood, would you like to join me?"
She squints her eyes at him suspiciously.
He raises his hands again. "Just to escort you to town. Nothing else, I swear."
She nods and forces a polite smile.
He steps closer to her and offers his hand. "I'm Elias."
She shakes his hand, still unable to look at him. "Nova."
Elias is about to compliment her unusual name, but his eyes catch something on her wrist. Forgetting propriety, he tightens his grip on her hand and pulls her sleeve up.
A tattoo. The black ink depicts three triangles overlayed and off center. He meets her gaze. Her dark eyes widen, realizing her secret is revealed.
Now he knows where the giant went. Only giants have tattoos. It's their unifying mark, their identity scrawled into their skin. No human would dare mark their skin. To show any kind of loyalty to the giant race would be swift suicide.
The woman's eyes flicker and she looks down. His grasp had loosened from the shock and she easily pulls her hand away.
"H-how?" He whispers.
Nova glances up at him through her dark lashes. She hates the way humans look at her like she's a monster, lumped together with other giants. Now she is a monster to poor young man. She steps away from him, closes her eyes, and sighs deeply. Wind rushes down on her as she shoots up. All she has to do is relax to return to her normal size.
Elias falls back as the woman swiftly grows and expands before his eyes. He cranes his head up and his mouth falls open. That's only sixty feet?! It seems like she goes on forever. Her gaze falls to him and he is reminded of his sudden danger. He scrambles back and stumbles to his feet. He is determined to out race the older man.
Nova watches him, pain piercing her heart. Now she is the monster. She kneels down and extends her arm toward him, reaching him easily. Her fingers stop him in his tracks and she pulls him into a loose fist. He fights and pounds her hand with his fist, but she lifts him up and turns him so she can see his face. The strands of dirty blonde hair that hang over his brow plaster to his sweat-dampened skin.
"I'm sorry." She breathes.
Elias frowns when he realizes that she really is sorry. Her eyes fill with tears and she looks down.
"Then let me go!" He yells.
"I wish I could but-" She wills herself to look at him, "I can't let word spread about me. Humans can't know what I can do."
He looks at her sincerely, "I won't tell anyone, Nova, I swear."
Her eyes flash with distrust and anger. "Of course you would! I would condemn you for not warning your people about someone like me. A giant that can disguise themselves as a human. You would tell them because it is the right thing to do."
He can't argue with that. Especially if he became a royal guard. It would be his duty. Treachery to keep that kind of information secret.
She stands to her full height, making Elias gasp and his ears pop. The tops of trees surround him. He can see the mountains of the Frout range far off. His hands cling to her finger instinctively until his knuckles turn white.
"I promise you this-" She pauses.
"Elias." He provides.
"Right," She bites her lip then continues, "I promise, Elias, I won't harm you in any way."
He narrows his eyes at her, reminding himself of the stories he's heard of giants. More than that- the threat he poses to her.
"I must take you with me, however." She says.
"Why not just kill me?" He shrugs. It would be the wise thing for her to do. A prisoner takes constant watching and her secret released the first chance of escape.
"Because I'm not a monster." Her eyes almost plead with him. "I know it appears otherwise right now, but I hope in time you'll see that I am being truthful."
"Alright, giants keeping human pets isn't unheard of. Would you like me to call you Master?"
Nova looks away and swallows the lump in her throat. She hates herself in this moment. She had promised herself that she would never warrant such fear from a human. No matter her reasons, she hates the look of fear that cloud his green eyes. Though he masks it well. She can also feel the death grip he has on her finger. Even his racing heartbeat gives him away. He's terrified of her because she is acting like the monsters told around campfires and warnings given to children. Their warnings are justified, apparently even where she is concerned.
"It's just Nova." She whispers and turns and walks toward the East. She's going home to the rest of the monsters.