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Tale Four: Faith

Summary

In the small village of Seu, where giants only existed in the old songs and in the ancient tales. Helis' world was turned on its' head when one day he came face to face with a giant. His experience was learned of by his niece, Pacha. Who then became intrigued by the giants and the secrets they held. Henceforth came an adventure and an experience. As well as a change in many peoples' perceptions of the world.

One ~ Bertrum

Heli crossed a high pass before he descended down an old worn path that wound its way down the mountain. He came to a high mountain lake and he quietly took his arrows off his back and took the bow off his chest. As night drew near he collected some small pieces of wood that were lying on the ground and made up a small fire. The fire got going and it began to glow with a dim orange light, it was by this light that Heli saw, what would be his dinner, drinking by the lake. The chamois was blissfully unaware of Helis’ presence as Heli took an arrow, set it on his bow and drew it back. Just as he slowed his breath ready to make the kill a sharp noise behind him caused him to turn and release the readied arrow from its position.

 

It flew a few meters through the air before it lodged itself solidly into a large lump of flesh. A leg to be exact. This leg was indeed attached to a 24ft giant who stood upright above him, as Heli looked up in astonishment at this creature it fell towards him. Before Heli could react he was engulfed in darkness, not dead but instead very much alive and unharmed, above him he heard muffled shrieks and cries that echoed in the sky. These voices he knew well, as the voices of dragons. The flight of dragons moved overhead and Heli listened in awe, he had never known more than 2 dragons to move together yet a flight making this much noise could easily include up to 15 dragons or more.

 

The giant’s hand that Heli was underneath lifted revealing the sky. Heli immediately looked towards the northern horizon and saw in the distance a faint outline of the dragons, they were a densely packed flight containing around 20 dragons. Coming back to his senses and realising what had just happened Heli turned and fixed his attention to the giant who was now sitting on the grass. It removed the arrow from his leg before it looked at Heli and held the arrow out towards him.

I believe this is yours.” It said in the language that Heli could understand. Its voice was a low grumble that filled the air when it spoke. Heli moved slowly towards the giant and took the arrow from its hand. Once Heli had picked up the arrow from the giant’s hand it stood up and walked away from him. Heli paused looking at the arrow then turned to his now crushed fire that was sending a winding spiral of smoke into the sky.

Wait!” Heli shouted quickly gathering up his bow and arrows, “Please, wait! Who are you? Where are you going?” The giant kept walking despite hearing Helis’ cries. “Where were the dragons going?” Heli begged, curiosity getting the better of him. He stopped running and watched the giant continue its course. “Please, I want answers.” Heli said not knowing if the giant could hear him. In the distance he watched as the giant sat again and appeared to be washing its leg. After a moment the giant stood then called in a voice that shook the earth,

Come.”

Heli heard the giants’ call and ran across the land, meanwhile the giant found a cave and began to set a fire. When Heli entered the cave he saw the giant warming its hands over a small fire under the shelter of the cave’s roof. Heli came slowly into the cave, he calmed his breathing so that he stopped panting before he sat by the fire facing the giant.

Where were they going? The dragons.” Heli asked after a moment.

North.” Came the giants response, “Where snow is on the mountains all year round.”

Why?” Heli continued.

Because giants don’t roam there, up there dragons are the dominating predator, nothing attacks them there.” The giant replied forcefully.

I thought giants roamed far and wide across the Rhern mountains and ate dragons?” Heli questioned.

We do indeed eat dragons.” The giant continued in a calmer tone, “We do roam all across the mountains, or we did. Many of my kind lived in the lands where the dragons now roam freely. Many of my ancestors.”

What happened? Why did your ancestors leave?”

Men from the north.” The giant became serious while speaking, “They came in ships, landing on the coast and entering the mountains unnoticed. They hid from the dragons, from us and from our gaze but little did we know we were the focus of theirs.” Heli sat quietly listening. “They attacked us with bullets and nets, taking us as slaves on their ships to the northern territories. We don’t know to this day what happened to them after the men’s ships left our shores. But no giant has ever returned from those lands. Not even my father.” The giant finished in a sombre tone and looked down at the fire.

So you fled.” Heli said slowly after a moment.

Me, my mother and any others that remained. We fled south and east warning all those who we met along the way about of the dangers in the north. Lost children were taken in by older giants and our group slowly decreased in number until only 4 of us ended up in the south Jordfald region. It was there I grew up, far away from the place of my fathers capture and as I have learned, my fathers almost certain death.”

I’m sorry.” Heli said, laying down his bow and arrows and speaking too in a softer tone. He moved closer to the fire and put his hands out over it. He then looked into giant’s eyes, “It wasn’t us. Please understand that. The men of the north are rotten, corrupted and foul as deemed so by all in Ilios. Those who venture there, go into great peril and are not expected to return.”

You sound like you know loss.” The giant said.

Not personally.” Heli replied “But I know many tales. I know many families who have sought refuge in our village to escape such sorrows of losing a loved one to death or worse, their loved one leaving to pursue great evil and to join it.”

I am known by all who know me as Bertrum.” The giants voice echoed.

And I am known as Heli.”

A good honest name of the mountains. A climber.”

Indeed, I know the rock well and the heat of the fire. Yet I have never been in the presence of a giant.”

Nor have I been in the company of a human. It is a historic day for both of us.”

That it is, and it is also one for the people in my village, as not one of us has ever met a giant so it is an absolute pleasure to meet you Bertrum.” Heli stood and bowed low.

I accept your greeting and return it” Bertrum replied bowing his head in respect, “However I shall not bow in full as I am considerably larger than you are and much stronger. I fear that if I shall bow fully I would bring down the walls of this cave.” At Bertrums’ comment Heli laughed, watching him Bertrum smiled then laughed himself. Bertrums’ laugh shook the rock around him and a low grumble echoed through the stone.

I do apologise about the arrow earlier.” Heli said as the laughter subsided.

I have been shot by things far worse than arrows my lad, though the fire you made was proper with a red hot core.”

Why did you cover me?”

Dragons are deadly indeed, they make fierce predators with razor sharp teeth, precise vision and dangerously sharp claws. This is also what makes them hard to catch and indeed eat at times.”

I can handle myself.” Heli said with overconfidence, “I have grown up in the mountains and I know how to avoid them.”

By making an open air fire?” Bertrum questioned him, “Against one dragon you may have stood a chance but against a flight of 20 dragons? I doubt it. These dragons would have flown miles and never underestimate the intelligence of dragons. They are cunning creatures.” Bertrum looked up and saw Heli staring at him intently. “You believe dragons hunt at night and hide away during the day.” Heli nodded sure of the statement, “No.” Bertrum asserted simply. “They hunt in the day and move around at night. Dragons never stay too long in one place. We hunt them as they hunt other prey.”

But if they hunt during the day...” Heli began.

Yes.” Bertrum said answering his line of thought. “You are in much more danger than you know but despite the dragons best efforts you are cleverer than them, you are cautious hunters even in the day. You hunt on rock and dragons can’t catch you when you are on the cliffs.”

So you watch us then?”

Yes. We do.”

Won’t you ever reveal yourselves?”
“There is no mutual benefit for doing that and although we know you are not the men of the north we keep our distance. Not causing you any trouble in the hope that none is returned.”

But the dragons, you must know they eat us?”

We do, of course, but you forget. We hunt them as they hunt you. You rarely see dragons in the day because we get to them before you even know we or them are there. Dragons are cunning and sneaky so we must be even more so.”

This is far beyond anything I could have comprehended myself.”

You do not come looking for us, and we give you no reason to try. Our kind would very much like it to stay that way” Bertrum lay down on the cave floor.

Thank you.” Heli said softly, “I will not reveal the truth in this to my people, for both our species.”

You are wise and may sleep in safety here tonight.” Bertrum closed his eyes and Heli stayed awake a little longer looking into the fire still taking on board what had happened.

 

Morning brought light into the cave and Heli opened his eyes, he heard bird song and the soft crackle of the fires’ ashes. As he looked around the cave the fire had burned down to a small pile of ashes and Bertrum was gone. Heli got up and left the cave before being briefly blinded by the sunlight. Once he got use to the light he saw Bertrum, the giant was standing looking at the northern horizon, his hand wet from washing his face.

You’re heading north to the great fields of dragons.” Heli called, certain he knew the answer already.

Yes. Like many of my kind I head north, as I suspect the men have been pushed away in fear from the shores due to the dragons. So we head north to feast and draw them south again. Then once that is done we shall return south ourselves before the men land on those shores and more of our kind is taken into the northern territories.”

Do you not worry about being there too long, about getting caught?”

We have no choice. Dragons are leaving the south and east lands in their masses meaning our food supply is diminishing.”

How long will it take you to get there? To the dragons?”

Around 5 days to where I need to get to, but I am weary.”

When was the last time you ate?”

2 days ago. So therefore I must continue my journey and find food before I become too weary and lose all my strength.”

There is a dragon near our village. I last saw it crawl into a cave the night before last, it should still be in the area. And with the new information you told me yesterday it shouldn't be too hard to find.”

Bertrum paused for a moment before he made up his mind. “I shall come” He answered, “I have only seen your village once and that was from afar. Show me the way and I shall follow. Then I hunt this dragon.”

It would be my honour,” Heli replied. Bertrum lifted Heli and placed him carefully on his shoulder. They sent off west towards Seu and on the way Heli told Bertrum of their village and the mountains that looked upon it. He told Bertrum of his family and about the marvellous wonders of human technology he had witnessed.

 

 

They came to the valley where Seu was and Bertrum let Heli down onto the ground.

Your village is truly beautiful, I can see the lake shimmering in the sunlight and your wooden houses balanced over the water on stilts. You are such curious creatures,” Bertrum smiled and turned to Heli after speaking. “Here I will leave you to do what you will, as I will go to hunt this dragon that you speak of.”

I will hunt as I usually do in the mountains, and from the cliff walls I will watch your movements,” replied Heli. “But come before we hunt let us talk briefly of the northern land. This is a rare opportunity and together we could do something to stop the evil which lies there.

The land of the north is strong and what exactly could we do?” Bertrum questioned him. “We are but two, and I doubt that our strength matches that of an entire army.

We do not need an army, nor am I talking about going to fight the men of the north. Here and now we could continue to build this relationship. This needs not be the last time we set eyes on each other. One day men and giants could walk side by side into battle. We could be the ones to start the long road towards that day. Let us continue this relationship while I communicate to my people and you to yours.

I commend your foresight and planning Heli. This day will not come soon and let us hope that it is not needed at all. However you have my agreement and my word that we shall speak again and that every giant I meet will hear of you.”

Thank you Bertrum. I look forward to the day when we will speak once more; however for now it will be an honour to watch how a giant hunts his prey.”

As you will Heli. Until we shall next speak.Bertrum said bowing to him then turning, beginning the hunt.

 

Heli walked to a cliff’s base and placed a fair amount of arrows in his sack. He put the bow up and over his head he braced himself to climb the granite cliff. With bare hands and solid boots he started to climb, like a monkey he scaled the cliff with ease. The high friction granite was a haven for his hands, allowing him to use the flat rock as holds and climb otherwise impossible routes.

 

Heli hung from the mountain and looked out over the meadow and the mountains beyond, in hope of spotting Bertrum but he could see nothing. Then seeing a movement only inches below him he looked down and held himself close to the cliff, focusing on the rock that had just moved. He saw the cold air move and he froze. He realised the rock that he was looking at was in fact a dragon with its scales a beautiful grey colour that disguised it amongst the cliffs edges. The dragon was vertical on the rock staring straight downwards. Looking down Heli saw a figure in the meadow, a figure that was standing still only a moment ago but was now running and the dragon in a split second was diving in on its prey.

Two ~ Pacha Eliaz

Humming to herself Pacha was walking up into the mountains following the path that many of the men in her village walked as they went into the mountains to hunt. She was going up into the mountains to unblock the pipe which allowed clean water to run down to Seu. Pacha had grown up helping her mother maintain the many mechanical systems that she had built over her lifetime. Pacha would work with her mother to resolve any issues and repair them before she would go with her father, Micha, to help with some of the manual work. Six years ago her mother, Freida, injured her leg badly in an accident during a trip back from Kaynan resulting in her ability to walk being greatly reduced. Since her mothers accident when Pacha was 15 years old she took a much bigger role in maintaining and repairing any damage to the systems. Like her mother Pacha had a slim nose, gentle brown eyes and a soft smile. From her father’s side she got her delicate, thin eyebrows, tall yet strong build and long dark chestnut coloured hair which she wore half up in a Dutch braid.

 

Pacha reached the meadow where she lay in the grass and stared up at the mountains above her. The sheer cliffs on either side of the valley had waterfalls crashing down them. Trees lined the bases of the mountains and the sun beated down on Pacha’s face as she hummed quietly to herself. All was calm, a soft breeze drifted gently through the air and the odd animal could be heard rustling in the bushes. But then an uneasy feeling fell upon Pacha and the atmosphere started to change. The rustling in the bushes had stopped and the breeze had eerily died down. Pacha felt a pair of eyes upon her and sat up in the meadow. Calmly she stood up and did not look to where the eyes were watching her. She had been warned about the dragons in these mountains, and how they liked very much to feast on humans. Very subtly Pacha looked to her left, fixing her sight on the wooden hut that sat alone in the valley.

 

She could feel the hairs on the back of her neck rising, she only had one chance. Her heartbeat increased, adrenaline pumped through her veins and she ran for the hut. In a moment the dragons’ wings had lifted it into the air and it dived. Fixed on Pacha it only took a second for the dragon to calculate its trajectory to a point where it could unfurl its claws and snatch her up. Heading for the hut’s entrance Pacha felt the dragon approaching, she dropped to the floor just as the dragon swooped in, missed her and flew upwards twisting and roaring. Pacha lifted her head, scrambled to her feet and ran this time passing the hut and heading into the forest. Cleverly Pacha had seized the dragon’s momentary failure to catch her to change her course, praying it would give her time as the dragon turned back around at a great height before coming in again but this time for the kill.

 

She indeed reached the forest as the dragon descended from the clouds diving towards the hut not having seen Pacha change course. In the cover of the trees Pacha fell and crawled into the bracken. From here she heard the mountain beast turn in the air and smash down the side of the hut with the huge spikes on its’ tail. She then heard it roar at the absence of its prey. Tucked between the bracken plants and with her back against a rock she stayed silently still. She struggled to control her breathing as she heard the crunch of trees as the dragon came into the forest. From between the bracken stems she saw first its feet, then its body. The scales were fine, sitting in many layers with each layer adding more protection between the world and the dragon’s dark, tough skin. She watched as its feet broke the bracken, leaving whole patches dead for the sun to expose the raw ground beneath. The dragon raised its head and inhaled, a growl followed and Pacha didn’t move.

 

A shadow fell on the ground, so large it blocked out the sun and it was increasing in size. The dragon was lifted high out of the trees and silence followed. Still Pacha didn’t move.

Three ~ Everything Changed

Through the bracken Pacha saw someone approach, they reached towards her and lifted her up. It was Heli, her uncle. Pacha was frozen still, unsure at what had just happened. Heli had her tight in his grip as he look her straight in the eyes.

Pacha?” He called, “Pacha. Are you ok?” Pacha surveyed Heli’s worried face before she nodded slowly,

Yeah.” The words left her mouth without her own input. “I’m ok. What was that?”

A giant.”

A giant?!” Pacha exclaimed, snapping back into the real world.

Yes. A giant.” Heli said leading her out of the bracken.

What is it doing here?”

Getting food. Look forget about this and don’t tell the village,” Heli said sternly, as he still held Pacha firmly by each arm.

Why not? This is a historic day, a giant. You’ve met a giant!” Pacha exclaimed.

Keep your voice down.” Heli said firmly even though there was no-one around.

Heli?” Pacha asked confused.

His name is Bertrum and he is heading north,” Heli told her.

But if the giants go north then dragons will head to us,” Pacha replied.

Yes. But you must not tell anyone, this news will only cause panic. When the dragons return south the giants will also return.”

How can you be so sure?”

The giants dare not stay in the north.”

Why?” Pacha asked. Even more intrigued, “What do you know? How can know that so fast?”

That’s enough Pacha, go home now,” Heli commanded her.

No. You’ve met a giant for the first time in our whole history and now you want to hide what you have learned?” Pacha said filled with anger and confusion. Heli was silent for a moment. “We have to stop these giants, you know we won’t survive a dragon’s attack.”

It’s our fault they have to travel north in the first place!” Heli shouted at her. Calming himself he continued, “Home, now Pacha.” Heli turned and walked in silence with Pacha back towards Seu, He looked back at the last moment to see Bertrum walking into the distance.

 

During the night Pacha lay awake, the thought of meeting a giant, why they were going north and how to reason with them was all that filled her mind. Enthralled about meeting giants just as Heli had done, Pacha headed up into the mountains early the next morning. She wore a thick dress which didn’t touch the floor yet covered her legs and provided her with enough warmth. Around her neck she put her warmest scarf as an extra layer and so her arms didn’t get cold. Finally she took a rucksack filled with food and things needed for the mountain environments. She had already reached the mountain meadow just as the sun rose, she then continued up scree slopes and climbing cliffs just as Heli had taught her, hauling her rucksack up behind her. It wasn’t long until she came to a gap in the rock. Through the gap she could see mountains and valleys stretching out towards the horizon. Looking back she could see Seu, so small in comparison to the landscape around it. She made her decision, stepping into the gap she focused on the wilderness that lay ahead of her.

 

In Seu Heli knocked on Freida’s door strongly.

Heli?” Freida mumbled stepping out of her house with sleepy eyes. “What are you doing here?”

Freida I am sorry to wake you up this early but is Pacha here?”

I don’t know, I think I heard her leave earlier. I thought maybe she was going with you?”

Going where?”

I don’t know Heli, to the mountains most likely. She was mumbling about giants in her sleep.”

Thank you Freida, I am so sorry but I need to go.”

What’s wrong, is Pacha alright?”

I don’t know but I have a feeling that she’s in terrible danger. I’ll bring her back safely I promise.”

 

Pacha knew what she was doing was wrong but there was nothing anyone could do to stop her. After all, in the day she wasn’t in any danger and she knew of a few places to hide when the sun set. She stayed the night in a cave high in the mountains and in first light of the next day she set off down into the valley. She walked through the heat of the day, through the valley’s floor before climbing up to a plateau. The afternoon grew cold and rain soon fell at which point Pacha found a cave to shelter in. She stayed there warm and dry taking a while to notice the sound of a waterfall deeper down the cave’s passageway. Pacha watched the rain, it was getting heavier and so she decided to investigate the sound of the water. Leaving her rucksack at the entrance she headed down the passage. The sound of the water grew louder and daylight could be seen filtering in. A few minutes later she found herself stepping out of the cave and onto a ledge beside a 30ft high waterfall. The valley below her was wide and flat, being barren in terms of trees yet full of diverse grasses and plants. While she tried not to focus on the 25ft drop below her a strange sound filled the air. This new sound soon caught Pacha’s attention, it was voices on the wind. The waterfall made it hard to distinguish the voices from one another but they were loud and booming. The voices grew louder and Pacha could hear their conversation.

...they have long beaks and red and white tales. You know...” Came the first voice in the language Pacha could understand. It was faint yet it was clearly a male voice.

A Vesk.” Another male voice answered.

Yeah, yeah. I got attacked by a flock of them heading north like 2 weeks ago.” The first one replied. The voice was jokeful yet had a serious tone to it.

North? But it's summer, surely they would be heading south?” A third voice chipped in, this one was very deep.

No the Vesk fly north, they like the cold and they catch fish there.” This one was one of the voices Pacha had heard before and she now could identify the weird accent.

Hence the longs beaks” Came the serious voice again. The voices were growing louder as the unknown creatures came towards Pacha.

Yeah, yeah exactly.” The accent was exotic yet familiar with each word having a different tone than the last. You and I would recognise this accent as being Norwegian.

Ahhh that's cold!” A new, female voice exclaimed as Pacha saw something pass underneath the waterfall. Three more figures could be seen just past the waterfall, they turned to see what the exclamation was. Pacha realised what, or rather who, she was looking at. In front of her stood four giants, three male and one female. Giant which were now taking great interest in the waterfall, next to which and hidden in the darkness was Pacha watching silently.

I could do with a shower,” the giant with the deep voice joked before he walked into the waterfall. “Oh that's bloody freezing!” He exclaimed laughing. “Come on you have to try this.” Pacha watched another giant run into the water beside the first giant. She couldn't see much as the platform she was standing on was almost the height of the giants so she could only really see the top of their heads.

Oh yeah!” The giant who had just run into the waterfall called out. “Icy! You have to try this!” At the giants’ exclamation, the third giant came over so that he was fully under the waterfall. Unlike the two last giants whose hair was brown, this giant’s hair was blond.

Cor blimey chaps, it's just like home!” He announced joyfully in his Norwegian accent. Many shouts of joy and exclamations followed as Pacha listened and watched. “All I need now is something to smoke and I will be home,” the giant added.

What do you smoke?” The female giant asked.

Bata,” he replied.

What's that?” Came the deep voice.

It’s the leaves of the Bwayta tree,” came the reply.

Aren't they poisonous?” The third giant said in his serious tone.

No that's the Bwayto tree. If you even touch that tree with your bare hands you could die.” The blonde giant continued.

You can die from smoking, it's really bad for you,” came the deep voice.

It's not that bad,” the giant argued.

No, no. Because you inhale it into your lungs...” said the serious giant before going into depth about the implications of smoking. Pacha listened intently to the giants’ conversation as they finished washing, set a fire and sat around it. During this time Pacha was unaware that she had moved from her hiding position and into plain sight in order to get a good view of the giants. They had their fire blazing now and were sat round happily chatting and laughing together. They weren't eating anything but were reaching for pouches and drinking the contents, which Pacha concluded must have been water. After a while the giant with blonde hair got up and walked towards the waterfall to refill his water pouch it seemed. This giant was a good foot above the platform Pacha was standing on. Then he looked up and his eyes met Pacha's.

Four ~ Giants

Fear struck Pacha like a wall, she wanted to run but the fear was so overwhelming that she froze, unable to move. The giant raised his arm and picked her up by her feet, her head just missing the stone floor as she was lifted into the air. He inspected her before speaking in his voice that shook Pacha's bones.

It's a human,” he said. He inspected her and glanced at the other giants before turning his attention back to Pacha. “I have seen your kind before from afar. You're not much bigger up close are you?” The giant paused but Pacha didn't reply. He brought her to his waist level where she hung upside with her head hanging roughly half way between his right hip and knee. In this position she heard the giants talking but she couldn't hear what they were saying.

Put her down,” Pacha heard the female giant say as she neared the giants camp. The giant who was holding Pacha listened to her and put Pacha gently down on the floor. Pacha scrabbled to her feet unsure what else to do and stared up at the circle of giants around her. She was about a quarter of their size making them around 24ft tall. All the giants had their eyes fixed on her and a feeling of sick came to her throat. She was so small, nothing compared to these creatures.

What's your name?” The female giant asked as she shifted position so that now she was kneeling.

Pacha.” Pacha announced loudly after a momentary pause. The awe of the giants had dissipated and now Pacha was just nervous and scared. One of the male giants laughed,

No need to shout,” he said jokefully. His voice was very deep, so much so that it was hard to make out what he was saying.

Calm yourself. There's nothing to be afraid of,” the second brown haired giant said reaching out a hand towards Pacha. Pacha's heart was in her mouth and she couldn't stand it any longer, she turned and ran. Adrenaline pumped through her veins, aware of the giant's gaze. She hid behind a cliff just wanting to disappear. Focusing on calming her breathing she failed to notice the female giant who came over and slowly appeared around the edge of the cliff. Pacha gasped when she saw the giant and her heart beat raised.

Shhhh. Hey it's alright,” the giant reassured her making eye contact. “We have never met any humans either. We won't hurt you, you have my word.” The giant smiled at Pacha and Pacha smiled back.

My name is Pacha. It's lovely to meet you.” Pacha said to the giant holding out her hand as she struggled to swallow her fear.

I'm Asil. It's lovely to meet you Pacha.” Asil reach out her hand and they wrapped their hands round each others wrists. It was in this moment that Pacha felt her heart begin to relax and her anxiety levels lower. This giant, Asil, clearly didn't mean any harm and so Pacha walked slowly back towards the camp with her. The other giants were sat quietly together talking about the mountains around the Orvik fortress. Pacha gathered that the blonde giant with the Norwegian accent, who the others were referring to as Torbjørn, came from that area while the other two came from the southern most mountains of Jordfald and from the east in Swodame. She listened quietly as they talked about the differences between their homelands and of the struggles they were all facing there. The lack of food driven from the dragons heading north was effecting all of them thus prompting their travels northwards. The giants who came from the main Rhern mountains Pacha learned were Asil, Torbjørn and Twulai. Whereas Ilioc came from the southern-most mountains in Jordfald, making him different to the other giants yet he fitted in easily with them. A mutual struggle must bring creatures like these together in more ways than I first imagined, Pacha though to herself.

 

As it grew dark Pacha walked out to where the fire was not as hot and lay down to sleep as she was still wary of the giants even though she felt an odd sense of security around them. After perhaps an hour as Pacha began to drift off to sleep and night had truly fallen, a giant gently shook her awake.

You can’t sleep out here.” Torbjørn said softly. “If you do the dragons will have you.” Much as Pacha didn’t want to listen to Torbjørn she knew he spoke the truth so she followed him back to where the other giants had lain down to sleep. She slept close to them but far enough away so that she was able to actually fall asleep. However, needless to say, Pacha didn’t sleep very well that night.

 

Morning came around and Pacha awoke as the giants were getting ready to leave.

We’re going to head north” Asil called to her, “Are you going to come with us? It would be nice to get to know you, however the road may be dangerous.” Pacha thought about this. Unsure she glanced back towards the direction of Seu, Not all the way, she promised herself.

I’ll come” Pacha said abruptly. “I’ll come,” she repeated in a calmer tone. She set off with the giants, still wary of her decision.

Pacha is an unusual name,” Torbjørn said after a while, “where does it come from?”

I don't know,” Pacha replied. “My mother liked it. It means small or humble, or so I am told. What about Torbjørn?”

My name?” Torbjørn asked before giving an answer. “It means thunder or bear. It's a variation of Thor.”

I know someone else called Tor, skinny little thing. Must have been the runt of the family.” Twulai chipped in before laughing at his words.

You’re a bit lacking in muscle then Torbjørn the bear?” Ilioc added before he flexed his muscles to demonstrate his point and caused Pacha to laugh.

Are you making fun of me?” Torbjørn asked Pacha in an abrupt tone.

Come on lads don't be mean,” Asil said. “Come Pacha, tell us about where you come from.” Pacha paused before she answered,

I come from a small village between the mountains called Seu. My grandparents moved there from Sioan, a city surrounded by marshland. Seu is up the valley from a river and it rests on stilts above a lake.”

That's amazing!” Asil proclaimed, amazed at the idea of a village on stilts.

That does sound spectacular,” Twulai added.

But what of giants and your homelands?” Pacha asked. As now she felt more relaxed and intrigued.

What is there to tell?” Torbjørn began. “I would think that we live much as you do except on a larger scale.”

I doubt that Pacha catches dragons to eat,” Ilioc pointed out.

Very true,” Torbjørn agreed. “Much like you Pacha, our lifestyle changes on where we live. In my home, which is north of here, we live in carved out cliffs whereas down south they build huts and proper structures.”

Where the mountains meet the hills in Jordfald. Which is where I live,” Ilioc began. “The huts we live in have many of the same structures as those of men however they have to be adapted for us and they have to be camouflaged in order to survive in mountain weather and to deter predators.”

What hunts giants?” Pacha asked.

Nothing specifically,” Ilioc replied, “but dragons in large numbers, flights, do attack and can overwhelm a giant.”

Is it quite dangerous to hunt dragons in the night for you then?” Pacha continued.

It can be but each situation is different,” Asil answered. “And we don't hunt them in the night, we hunt them in the day.”

The day? But dragons are asleep in the day.” Pacha asked, confused.

No, dragons hunt during the day and move around at night. We hunt them as they hunt their prey.” “Oh...” Pacha said unsure how to answer, “we always thought differently.” She said before she paused. The giants also paused as though they were waiting for Pacha to continue. Come to think of it, Pacha was waiting for herself to continue as well. “So you capture dragons before they eat us?”

Yeah, essentially.” Ilioc replied.

So how do you capture and eat dragons?”

Well,” Ilioc began, “dragons are about 18ft high, which happens to be the perfect height for fighting them. We tend to wait until they're grounded before we attack them.”

So you just take them down with your bare hands?” Pacha asked, not believing Ilioc.

Yeah, we try to cripple them so they can't fly away. Then we kill them quickly. You don't drag it out, their claws and teeth can be deadly,” Ilioc answered.

Lovely.” Pacha replied.

Dragon meat is really good, especially if you get a young, male one,” Torbjørn added.

I prefer female meat personally,” Twulai disagreed, “but they are two very distinct flavours.”

Dragon hides though guys, I think we know who is right here.” Ilioc said. The male giants had a quiet argument about who had the better hide while Asil explained to Pacha what they were on about,

Before we eat the dragons, we skin them to get their hides and use them to make the clothes we wear.”

Ah.” Pacha replied taking notice, for the first time, of what Asil was wearing. Around her torso was a brown looking material, which was covered in fine scales and hung like a toga down to her waist. Below that she was wearing what appeared to be a skirt, it was rigid yet wide enough to allow good movement. The noise the male giants were making drew Pacha's attention and she saw what they were wearing. A mixture of grey, dark green and deep red colours met her gaze, all being worn in a similar fashion to the way Asil wore it. Scales on them were of different sizes and shapes, and attached onto the back of Twulai's torso hide was a large horn, a trophy of one of his kills.

 

Night drew in after hours of walking, the conversation had lasted much of the way however Pacha had missed some of it when Asil had lifted Pacha onto her shoulder, where Pacha had fallen asleep. Around the fire that night the male giants were still bickering about the dragon skins and Asil had joined in as well.

This skin was able to withstand the Grucu, one of which I had to take down,” Ilioc exclaimed loudly. “Those things are brutal. They don't just speak the language of the land, they fight as if they are the land itself.”

The Grucu and Kakgra came from within the land. From where no air could reach them, they are from the depths themselves,” Torbjørn told them from his extensive knowledge of Ilios’ history. “Enough of this for today I'm going to bed,” Twulai announced and they all soon followed, including Pacha.

 

In the next day they crossed the border into Regad and around half way through the day they were able to clearly make out the large city of Koas in the far distance.

Torbjørn. The Grucu and Kakgra, what are they?” Pacha asked him. She had heard those names in stories but they were vague stories with no details of the specifics.

They're creatures,” Torbjørn replied. “The Grucu are a race of women, very secretive and very suspicious. They are said to have the power to control dragons, and some even say that they are related to dragons.”

“The warrior women with horns,

Who come from those who are now her pawns.

Powerful creatures in more ways than one,

Creatures yet to bear a son.” Pacha recited slowly.

The Grucu,” Torbjørn concluded nodding. “They are powerful indeed, some think that they are aliens with abilities not of this world. I don't however, as there are many wondrous creatures like them in the world.”

And the Kakgra? What of them?” Pacha asked, intrigued by what the answer might entail.

Have you heard the story: The man, the myth and the mystery?” Torbjørn asked.

No,” Pacha replied.

It's a story originally told to children in and around Thana but it has worked its way around Maia and beyond. Many believe it has a deeper, scarier reality to it which is relevant for us today,” Torbjørn answered.

Well?” Pacha asked excited, keen for Torbjørn to continue. “It is about a man who travels outside the walls of Thana. A place, which at that time warned their people of the horrific amounts of death which lay beyond its walls. The man left Thana despite this and on the beaches he came across the Kakgra. They rose up out of the sand, giant scorpion like things with a stinger the size of Unar's pillar.” Torbjørn paused and looked slightly confused.

Well? What happens next?” Pacha asked.

I can't remember,” Torbjørn told her bluntly. “I'm sorry.”

No, that was really interesting. I should look up this story.”
“Do, it is very interesting and from what I can remember, there is more to it than meets the eye.”
Torbjørn finished.
“You can see land to our right now. In the north-west,” Twulai announced, pointing out to sea beyond which distant land could be seen.
“The northern territories,” Asil said, “Daer, Haeul and”
“The Ettolrahc,”
Ilioc finished, “The sacred land where no man walks in or near it.”
“I thought the Etselec was the sacred land,” Pacha replied to Ilioc's words.
“The Etselec is one of the sacred places.” Asil said. “The Ettolrahc is it's sister, a land of peace and tranquillity. It’s where the souls of our ancestors reside and it’s rumoured to be a place of enlightenment. A place where Lilaveld herself appears to those who are pilgrims, those who are marked for death, those who have endured much suffering and all those who are so broken they care no longer for the pains of a mortal life. The Ettolrahc is where the great sky serpent, Psoas, is rumoured to have fallen. Lilaveld Katin is connected spiritually to the sky serpent, so as well as the Etselec being sacred for the place where Lilaveld fell to. The Ettolrahc is also held in the same stead.”

How do you know that?” Twulai asked Asil.
“Alec Woll. He is a Fiwe giant and those giants are known to be highly superstitious and in some circumstances he is right to be so. In others he is not so right. They know a lot about the history of Ilios, especially about the Wakanda. However that is a different story entirely.”

 

Evening came around again, and once more the day had gone by too fast. They were still a day and half to two days walk, at the giant's pace, from their intended destination at the tip of the Maia part of the Rhern mountain range.

 

Another day dawned and they continued on their journey. The environment around them grew colder and they descended down into the trees to avoid the high mountain passes that were filled with snow. The giant redwoods, according to Torbjørn were the strongest and most beautiful trees in Ilios as they were able to grow anywhere and would thrive in that environment. The calm air and gentle surroundings filled Pacha with a peaceful feeling which she only found in and around the mountains. The gentle crunching of snow beneath the giant's feet created the perfect soundtrack to the setting.

Five ~ The North

All of a sudden and without any warning Torbjørn collapsed to the ground.

Torbjørn?” Twulai said with worry as he walked towards him but before he could reach him Ilioc collapsed behind them. Then Twulai and Asil in turn fell to the ground unconscious. Pacha fell and looked up as a man approached. He was tall and slim with a rounded face and gentle facial features that made him look like a child, but his powerful posture, rigid movements and the long curved sword which he held in his right hand reflected his true brutality. Whilst the man’s harsh face filled Pacha with fear, she knew that look, it was the look Heli gave as he would skin and prepare the dead animals that he had hunted. The eyes of a ruthless killer. Not even a mere thought of mercy crossed this man as he walked up to Asil and crouched to her unconscious body looking her up and down. His gaze moved and fixed on each of the giants, one at a time.

Venor! Varun! Get them onto the boats,” The man shouted in a harsh deep voice, which was as raw and rough as his beaten body. He stood and looked back at the boats while he let his sword hang so its tip touched the grounds surface. From the shore came two men, each with a face that struck terror into Pacha. Their faces were dark, stern and fixed on the man by Asil. Between them they were holding a large, dense object with a wire trailing out the back of it. As they came towards Asil Pacha could make out what they were holding: it was a net, made from metal and at least 10ft wide and 30ft long. She watched as they threw it down on Asil. Two of the men worked until it had engulfed her whole body. In the meantime one man ran back to the boats where he left Pacha’s sight.

Venor! Bring her in!” The man with the curved sword yelled. Within only a matter of seconds Asil’s body jolted and the wire that the net was attached to started to move. It dragged Asil towards the shoreline. Pacha watched in horror. Pacha knew Asil was being taken to the northern territories. She turned and ran to Ilioc while these hunters looked away.

Ilioc. Ilioc, wake up. Look at me.” Pacha whispered with urgency, “Ilioc!” Her whisper quickly subsided as she heard the hunters move to Twulai. Once again the net was brought, Twulai was wrapped in it and then violently pulled towards the shore. They must be loading them onto boats, Pacha thought. She desperately tried to wake Ilioc while kneeling by his head but nothing worked. She looked over at Torbjørn lying on the grass. There was nothing she could do.

At this moment, from behind her one of the men swung the butt end of his sword and knocked her out with one clean blow leaving her to collapse onto the ground, unconscious.

 

The first thing Pacha felt was the hard wooden deck on which she lay. Next she became aware of the rocking. Water had soaked into her skin and she was cold, very cold. Her clothes were damp but her scarf was still firmly wrapped around her dress that covered her body. As she opened her eyes she saw the ship on which she lay. It was a mixture of metal and wood which had seemingly been chaotically thrown together yet the way it moved suggested it had been created by a great craftsman. By its prow stood a figure with the recognisable long sword resting on his back. His arms were folded at his chest and his stature was tall and proud. It was at this moment that Pacha felt the heavy chains. Shackles were tightly attached to her wrists and ankles, with each being around an inch in width and half an inch in depth. Attached to these were chains which in turn were fixed onto metal plates in the ship’s deck.

 

On hearing the metal chains rattling, as Pacha continued to gain consciousness, the man turned his head slightly and said,

We usually strip the women we find.” The rattling of the chains stopped at this and he continued, “We have spared you this as you will make a fair price as you are. You may also wish to say goodbye to your friends, you won’t be with them much longer.”

 

Looking around the ship Pacha saw Twulai unconscious and lying on top of Asil. The dragon hide from both of the giants’ torsos had been removed and had been dumped in a pile. The dragon hide which covered the giants from the waist down had been left on. The giants’ were also wrapped in 5 metal chains that would hinder any attempt at movement. Pacha took in the scene with tears in her eyes before she looked to the side and saw another ship on which lay Ilioc and Torbjørn in a similar circumstance.

What have you done to them?!” Pacha screamed out in anger at the man on her ship.

Nothing of much concern. We shot them with a bullet coated with poison from the poison dart frogs in Taka. Your friends are unconscious and paralysed but nothing more, they’ll be awake soon, however they’ll be much weaker than they were.”

Pacha turned and touched Asil’s face, “Asil?” She whispered.

Pacha?” came a weak voice in reply. Pacha looked up and saw Twulai desperately trying to open his eyes.

Shhh, you’re ok.” Pacha reassured him.

I can’t move,” Twulai said quietly. Pacha nodded slowly to herself and sat with Twulai comforting him.

 

Alvar! We’re coming up to Cirrom. Three ships coming our way.” Pacha heard one of the men on the other ship call out. Pacha looked out to the sea in front of her. In the distance she could see a city that was cloaked in a thin layer of mist. Before her lay a channel between two large icebergs. She saw the ships sailing towards them that were identical to theirs laden with chains, weapons, crew and nets. As one passed she saw the men aboard it. They were large, beefy and had a savage appearance that made Pacha cower from their vicious gazes. She caught a glimpse in this moment of what the metal net was attached to. The wire was curled over a cylinder where to the side of it were metal cogs, some of which were the size of Pacha’s head, and at the end of them lay a solid handle.

Venor, Alvar! A good catch I see and a pretty woman!” One man sneered from the boat and at this the whole crew burst into shrieking laughter. “I would love to get my hands on that tonight!”

The boat passed them and Alvar stood deadly still on the boat’s prow. Pacha didn’t know what fate awaited her but she knew that it wasn’t going to be good.

Six ~ Cirrom

As they neared the dock the smell of faeces, dirt and creatures that hadn’t washed for at least a year reached the boat first. The dock itself was bustling with life and noise, albeit a rancid sort of life. The people there had not yet had the pleasure of death. Pacha watched silently as ships in front of her unloaded their cargo. Wolves came off a ship with men holding chains which were tied around their necks. One of the wolves got out of control and a man stabbed a metal tube into the wolves fur. The animal howled out in pain and collapsed on the ground, only for the man to kick it, forcing it to stand and to continue its course. Pacha watched as many more animals, humans and creatures of all kinds were forced from the ships and were taken though the overcrowded dock, before they vanished into the unknown.

 

Docking!” Someone yelled. Their ship jolted to a halt while a man in ragged clothes ran over and tied the ship to the dock. Alvar strode towards Pacha and with one haul he lifted the base to which Pacha’s chains were tied and walked off the ship. Pacha had no choice but to follow him and as she did so she looked back desperately at Asil and Twulai.

Twulai! Asil!” She screamed towards them but Twulai was so weak that he could only match her look of desperation. Asil was still unconscious. Pacha stumbled and fell as she left the ship. Quickly she scrambled to her feet to see Alvar glancing back at her before he yanked on her chains.

Alvar walked with a purpose through the crowds as people parted before him. Meanwhile Pacha was heckled by men of many different statuses. Some felt her legs and others reached for her breasts but each time Pacha would be pulled forwards, away from them, by the chains. They passed an alleyway and Pacha looked in to see a woman only a few years older than her in a torn red dress. A man came up to her and pulled this woman’s hands up from her chest and even from this distance it was clear to see that she was missing her left ring finger. The man reached for some money and stuffed it in the women’s cleavage. Then Pacha lost sight of the alleyway.

 

Passing two men close by Pacha made out a conversation.

Orkan’s youngest son hasn’t been seen since last night. Word is that Teiran Avery was the last person to be seen with him,” One man said.
“He won’t be coming back any-time soon then.” The other man replied. The men laughed as Pacha was diverted and walked down a small street before it opened out to a courtyard. Here the noise was much louder. There were more men but they were dressed in better clothes and these men looked Pacha up and down rather than grabbing for her. She disliked them more than the men in the streets, as these men weren’t street urchins selling flesh, organs and anything they found but rather they were men who were sizing her up and measuring her usefulness as you would with your property. Alvar led Pacha to a space in the large crowd. They stood before a fenced area with a man standing in the front centre taking bids. Before Pacha stood people in chains. An aged man with a long beard and aged body stood nearest Pacha, giving her a solemn look. Behind him a child stood with no emotion on his face.

Sold!” Cried the man in the front centre. Pacha watched as the old man was pulled away by the man who had just bought him for no more than a few pittance. Alvar brought Pacha to that fenced area where another man noted down a few details silently before Pacha was placed directly behind the small child and in plain view of the crowd. It wasn’t long before the boy was sold and Pacha stood in her chains staring out at the sea of men in dark suits as they jeered at her.

381. Any bids?” came the auctioneers voice. Pacha listened to the crowds as she looked at the floor. She didn’t wish to see their foul faces.

50 reteps!” Came a voice from the side of the crowd. The voice sounded crooked and twisted, as if something wasn’t right.

100 reteps!” The next voice was sharp and clear.

600 reteps!”

1,500 reteps!”

2,300 reteps!”

4,000 reteps!”

4,500 reteps!”

6,900 reteps!” Voices began to call out continuously, like shots firing ruthlessly after one another. The voices began to merge and Pacha didn’t want to listen. She didn’t want to know how much these men thought she was worth.

7,800 reteps!”

10,000 reteps!” After that bid the voices became muffled, some turning to whispers. The twisted voice spoke up once more,

30,000 reteps!” The crowd went silent and Pacha held her breath. She felt eyes on her, looking her up and down. In her gut she wished to disappear, not wanting to know what fate awaited her.

50,000 reteps!” A sharp, clear voice called out and the crowd went silent.

For that you can have her.” The twisted voice spoke, the words were broken as if the vocal chords themselves had been shattered into a thousand pieces.

Sold!” At the bang of the auctioneers hammer Pacha’s heart sank. Still she looked at the floor as she felt a rough hand on her shoulder. She was harshly pulled away from where she stood and was dragged through the crowds. She was hauled up onto a wagon, her metal chains came clashing down with a loud clatter as they landed on the wagon as well. After a moment she managed to sit up where she noticed the 4 other slaves in the wagon alongside her. She looked over at the auction and witnessed the man who had bought her, a figure walking back to the front of the auction waving his hand with ferocity. An elderly man was hauled away next and thrown into the wagon next to Pacha. She looked back a moment later and saw that the man had vanished from the crowd. The wagon jolted and started to move.

Seven ~ Durkan

Alvar returned to his two ships, but before docking he raised his hand and made a subtle movement following which a boy in scruffy clothes came running over. His hands fumbled over the large ropes that held the ships close to the dock while Alvar strolled onto the ship. He went up onto the deck where he met Varun and Venor, who were waiting for him.

There was a big fight down here last night Alvar,” Venor said as Alvar came closer. “Word is that your mistress broke it up and took down most of the fighters while she was at it.”

Did she now?” Alvar said not sounding surprised.

A few men were injured, one or two ended up dead and Orkan’s youngest son is missing,” Venor added.

I’m sure she’ll return him in the morning. He’ll be battered and brushed but perfectly safe. However returning to more important matters. We are 50,000 reteps better off.Alvar asserted proudly, “I told you the girl was a fine catch. Now to Durkan to see who wins the bidding war for these beauties,” Alvar said as he made a gesture towards the giants, who were all unconscious.

Get these ropes off! Now!” Varun shouted to the slave from the ship’s deck while Venor stepped across onto the other ship. The ships moved out to sea and Varun squatted, inspecting Torbjørn and Ilioc as they lay unconscious on the deck.

I wonder what Teiran would have made of these two,” Varun said loudly so that Alvar, who was standing at the prow of the ship, heard him.

She would have put on a quite a show with them,” Alvar replied glancing over his shoulder to look at the giants.

How is your wife?” Varun asked as he stood and walked towards Alvar.

Still installing terror into the people of eastern cities. She’s working more in Cirrom and Dasa now, I think Ojas is creating distance between himself and Teiran.” Alvar replied.

He respects you,” Varun told Alvar who listened in more closely. “You earned your title, and people know the power you hold Alvar. Ojas is rotten and not even his army of agents will protect him forever.”

They will if they’re like Teiran,” Alvar stated and Varun nodded in agreement. “My wife may have taken my family name of Avery now but she was Teiran Ojas for a time and she still works for Ojas. A different name will never change that.”

And what of her family? The Isa’s? Rumours circled around of Teiran’s parents stealing from a wealthy man and none knew any more. They vanished.”

Gerard Isa, Teiran’s father, ended up in the arena,” Venor called out to them from the other ship. “We served in the same regiment, until he was shot. The first screams you hear growing up, you never forget. The same screams I heard from a twisted creature in the Mieczyslaw arena. That’s where I firmly believe Gerard ended up. Those screams were his and none else’s.”

It’s a vicious place that arena,” Alvar called back to Venor. “I cannot imagine growing up in that place,” He continued more slowly and. “It hardened Teiran to fight harder and faster than a man ever would.”

She fought hard enough to be picked out of the arena, one of the chosen few. To become an assassin no less, with a bit of law keeping on the side,” Varun added.

She learnt how to tame a man with her tongue and how to control one with her body. What a ruthless woman she is,” Alvar added. To which Varun had no reply.

Alvar!” Venor called once more. “Do you think these giants’ will fetch a good price?”

Ey, I rather think they will,” Alvar answered him.

 

When Twulai awoke once more the environment around him had dramatically changed. Unlike the previous docks these ones were clean, the walkways were exceedingly larger, paved and had stone buildings rising above them. Columns stood by the entrance of numerous buildings and for somewhere this pristine and well-built it was eerily quiet. The twilight hung down on them, the sky shone brightly above them yet at ground level it was dim and dark as though they were caught in the moment before a lightning strike. The atmosphere was calm yet something within Twulai told him that this was misleading. Twulai then noticed the absence of the wind, something so simple yet unnerving. He turned his attention back to the dock, where there were lines of large wagons being guarded by several men who were all waiting to load up their wagons. Three spaces stood out waiting for something to fill them. Twulai’s senses were limited from the drug however he could make out soft murmurs along the shoreline as the men stood with their arms crossed staring at the giants.

 

The ships drew in and docked, and almost immediately unfamiliar and foul faces came onto the boat to take a good look at Twulai. They traced out his muscles with their hands while others looked deep into his eyes. They did the same to Asil before moving over to the other ship and doing the same to Ilioc and Torbjørn. Men of all statures were inspecting them, they felt their muscles and their structure. On the other ship one man was bitten on the hand and wrist by Torbjørn who continued to growl at the man he had bitten long after he had recoiled.

 

In the corner of Twulai's vision he watched as a few men came to talk to Alvar.

Fine muscles on these and strength too. 8,500 reteps for them both.” One man said. Alvar then directed his gaze to the other man while not speaking a word.

40,000 reteps for the other two on your second ship.” Came the second man's offer. Alvar considered the offers for a moment, switching his gaze between each of the men in turn. He held it there for a moment before nodding to Varun on the other ship.

I accept. They won’t let you down, they are stronger than they seem.” Alvar asserted.

We’ll see!” Came the reply, while the man hit Alvar on the back. “A month on the ice fields shall soon strengthen them up.” The men before them laughed in a deep husky tone.

Money was exchanged between the men and Alvar before they split and more men made their way onto the ship. They pulled Twulai forwards using the chains that were tied around him. His hefty body made a loud bang as his skin met the ships deck. The chains dug into his skin before a man’s face came into view.

You will stand,” he commanded the giant. Twulai followed his orders and stood with difficulty. Once he was on his feet the chains that were wrapped around his legs were removed so that he was able to walk.

Get her to stand,” the man called to men behind Twulai and a few moments later, chains fell onto the deck. Twulai and Asil were then led off the ship, onto the dock and put into a wagon. Across from them Ilioc and Torbjørn were being loaded up into a wagon as well.

 

As Twulai got into the wagon he sat with his head bowed as Asil sat opposite him. Both were lacking in energy due to the toxins from Alvar’s bullets still flowing round their bloodstream.

Asil? Are you ok?” Twulai asked Asil in a rough voice.

Yeah, I’m alright,” she replied. That was all she could manage before they heard the crack of a whip. Howling erupted following the whip’s sound and so did a crackling sound which reverberated in the air around them. The wagon which they were seated on jolted and started to move. They passed stone buildings around them with growing speed as the sound of many legs hitting the stone road below them echoed around the street.

Twulai managed to raise his head and look back towards the docks where he could see Ilioc and Torbjørn in a wagon identical to theirs. A man at the front of the wagon used a whip to wake around 20 wolves that lay asleep at the front of the wagon. As soon as the whip touched their skin they awoke and let out a painful howl before racing off down a street. Twulai then lost sight of Ilioc and Torbjørn.

 

As Twulai turned back around he caught the faces of men, women and children staring at him from windows. Asil managed to look up, and her face turned to horror as in every window was a face glaring at her. People were looking at her as though she was a monster which scared but also fascinated them. The wagon raced past street after street, passing through tight alleyways and as well as large squares. Some had taverns surrounding them while others had platforms placed in the centre for some kind of public viewing. Soon they came to the edge of the city and moved onto smooth ground where the plains in front of them were lit up in bright sunlight and stretched out far beyond the horizon.

Eight ~ The Mine

The wagon Pacha was sat in drew up to a desolate place where a metal building sat half buried in ice and a few meters away stood a fenced area with a large metal gate. The man in the front of the wagon got down and unlocked the gate, opening it using a thick, heavy glove. He was of an average height but much more stocky than he should be. He had bristle around his chin but nothing more, and his face showed a lack of maturity. His stern gaze was that of someone who had seen many a treacherous thing.

Get inside,” the man’s rough voice commanded them.

Hold on a moment, Khavand,” a second man said as he came around from the back of the wagon. Unlike the man by the fence, this man was older, taller and well built, as well as stocky. It was clear that he was Khavand’s father. His short beard was dark and well kept, yet it gave him the look of a bandit. The clothes he wore were well maintained and his strength was noticeable as he easily lifted two sets of the slaves’ chains. He led the slaves two by two through the gate where they stood next to a lift that hung like a bucket over a well that fell away into darkness. After he had brought all the slaves through the gate and into the fenced area he stepped away from them allowing his son to shut and lock the gate leaving just the slaves inside. The man walked away from them towards the metal shed while Khavand got into the wagon and moved it away.

In the quiet with the wind whistling around them, the small group of slaves stood in a circle on the snow. Below them they heard a faint yet sharp sound of digging, of metal hitting against rock. Around them the land was flat, in the far distance a mountain range could be seen and a few large shapes moved across the white horizon. The land was coated with snow, which was not a welcome addition to their situation as they were all were wearing thin clothes with bare feet and arms. The chains around their wrists and ankles rattled as they shivered and their breathing increased as they started to become more anxious, wondering what was going to happen to them. Within the circle stood 6 slaves, Pacha wasn't the youngest amongst them but certainly the most healthy. The old man was bent forwards slightly and had an intermittent cough, but his limbs were rugged. It was clear that he was used to manual labour and that the years had not worn his working ability. Beside him was a boy, around 10 years of age who kept looking at those around him for an answer to what was happening. Standing close to his side was a middle aged woman with a dark skin tone, she had long tightly curled hair and a composed stature as she looked down at the floor. It was clear that she was not the boy’s mother, but it was also clear that the cold was worsening her malnourished state.

Next was a man of around 19 years old. He stood out as the tallest of them and he was only shivering slightly despite being the least covered up. Lastly standing next to Pacha was a woman of around 25 years old, with skin like the older woman's but with beautiful brown eyes with specks of gold in them.

 

After 10 minutes the older man came back from the metal hut carrying a bag over his shoulder. His son came with him, who again opened the gate using the glove just as he had done before. It was now that Pacha noticed that neither of them had touched the metal gate with their bare hands.

The older man came into the compound and without saying a word he put down the bag. Took hold of the middle aged woman’s chains, and hauled her up to the fence. His son, who had shut the door behind his father, locked it before turning away. Pressing the thick metal plates on the woman's wrists against a section of the fence. Pacha watched as an intense heat burned through the metal creating sparks as it cut the metal in two. The sizzling of the metal was a sharp noise against the wind. While as the metal heated up, it burned with a bright white light. A moment later the chunk of metal fell from the woman's wrist, but the man held her wrist there a moment longer allowing the woman's scream to he heard in absolute clarity as it burned her skin. To Pacha's relief the man let the woman recoil her wrist a split second later. She sat holding her wrist to her chest while the man repeated the procedure on her other wrist then her ankles, only he didn't burn her skin on any other part than her right wrist.

Free of her chains the woman stepped backwards allowing the man to repeat this on all of the slaves, including Pacha.

 

After this was done they all stood in silence. Standing in a broken line with the small boy hugging the middle aged woman's leg tightly.

Now.” The man announced. “I am Vallabhadev, and you belong to me now. You have experienced the harsh cold of this land and you know the burn of this metal. Down that shaft lies your work, your home, and the rest of your life.” He turned and opened up the bag. He handed them each their own pickaxe and candle before giving them a box of matches to share between them. “You will dig day and night, putting what you mine onto the lift to be taken up. Sleep only to rest but nothing more. There must always be digging or you will all be sold to the city. Do you understand?” The slaves nodded and so did Pacha, although she did not know what being sold to the city meant.

 

It was at this time that something within Vallabhadev changed.

Into the shaft, move it!” he shouted. His voice had changed into a much harder and more unforgiving tone. In a hurry they bundled into the small, rickety lift that swung uneasily from side to side under their combined weight. Vallabhadev closed the lift's gate behind them and offered a few last words of wisdom, “Once you're down, find some stone and start digging.” As he said his final word he turned a key in a lock then pulled a lever which started the move the lift downwards. Daylight faded away above the slaves and into darkness they descended. Shortly after, the lift entered the narrow shaft that stopped it rocking. The air became warmer and water could be heard dripping from the rock around them. The environment was stable yet had a high humidity that filled Pacha with an unrested feeling. The young woman in their group managed to strike a match then softly said,

Hold out your candles.” In the dim light she slowly lit each candle that was held out to her until all 6 candles were now lit and the party could see each other. “There. That's better.” she said while smiling slightly. There was something about her voice and her smile that eased Pacha. In the darkness, this gentle and untouchable moment calmed her.

 

The lift started to slow and once again started to rock from side to side as the shaft widened. The sound of sharp pickaxes smashing against rock immediately filled their ears. Looking into the mine around 50 slaves could be seen working down here. The new group moved cautiously out of the lift and into the main mine. They walked deeper into it slowly, each waiting for a miner to swing their pickaxe or to stop mining in order to let them pass. By the looks of it some of them had been down here for decades, their faces withered by the damp, cool air. A few faces they passed were obviously only a few weeks, or months in. Even so they looked tired, weak and afraid. Soon the amount of people started to thin out and each new slave took a place upon the rock where they would mine.

Pacha chose a place around a meter or two from a younger slave.

 

They remained in silence for a few minutes as complete strangers before Pacha broke the ice,

Who are you?” Pacha asked the woman beside her.

208,” came the answer. Then the woman glanced around and in an even softer tone she said, “Elizabeth.”

I’m Pacha,” Pacha replied before turning back to the rock and continuing mining. Here she thought for a moment and realised that she hadn’t taken note of any of the woman’s appearance.

What does he mean, sold to the city?” Pacha asked turning back to her. The woman she looked at was the same age as herself and a similar height, if a bit shorter than Pacha. She had shoulder length hair, which had turned grey due to the mine dust. She wasn’t very muscular but she was mining with reasonable force.

Being sold to the city is to be bought by one of the prostitute slave owners. They strip you of everything except your body and the vicious men who use you take away what’s left. The slaves of the city are nothing more than empty husks and it’s not long before they become tied to the city forever.” Elizabeth’s words shocked Pacha into silence and she thought of the woman she had seen in the alleyway, in her red dress and of the man who stood over her. This image haunted Pacha as she worked. A little while later something caught Pacha’s attention, a lump of rock fell from where Elizabeth had been mining and landed with a heavy thud just by her feet.

Bernal!” Elizabeth called. A large man came down the mine towards them. He was hulky and very muscular with tattoos all the way down his right arm and left side. He lifted the large lump of rock with ease and carried it to the lift shaft picking up other piles of stone mined by other workers on his way.

 

Around 5 minutes later the old man who had travelled to the mine with Pacha took his place beside her, on the side closest to the lift. After a moment Elizabeth stopped mining and sat down on the floor.

I’ve been mining for about 12 hours now,” she sighed as she wiped her eyes with her hand. Then she looked up slightly, “Move a little to your left Pacha and aim your pickaxe slightly downwards. You will find more ore there.” Pacha followed Elizabeth’s advice while Elizabeth lay onto her back, closed her eyes and fell asleep almost immediately. Hours passed while Pacha mined until she wasn’t sure whether it was day or night any more. On the ground around her lay people sleeping, some were tucked in small corners or crevices while others lay in the centre of the passage, but all were as still as though death had taken them. In the moments that Pacha rested, she heard Elizabeth’s soft breath behind her as she slept. Time went on and the old man next to her started to tire, as his swing weakened he looked at Pacha and caught her gaze.

Sleep. You need rest.” Pacha instructed him. At Pacha’s words the man didn’t argue, he found a dark corner and lay down on his left hand side, falling asleep with ease. Not soon after Elizabeth awoke, she saw Pacha weary from many hours’ work. She went over and put her hand onto Pacha’s pickaxe.

Next time you should wake me. This doesn’t get any easier, you’re only causing yourself more pain.” Elizabeth's voice was calm and controlled as her hand lay softly on Pacha’s back.

Can we access water down here?” Pacha asked, as she now became aware that she was dehydrated. Elizabeth turned and pointed to a small size passage.

Down that small passage by only a few feet, water drips from the rock and into a small pool below. It is consistent, I think the ice above it is melting,” Elizabeth answered Pacha.

Thank you,” Pacha replied as she dropped her pickaxe and, following Elizabeth’s instruction, she drank from the dark pool water. Heading back into the main passage she turned to Elizabeth once more. “What do we do about food?” she asked.

Around every two weeks, food and supplies are sent down in the lift. However you have to be quick as it gets pulled up within an hour.,” Elizabeth replied. Pacha nodded, smiling, then she laid down and fell asleep.

 

Throughout the next few days Pacha stayed on her rotation with Elizabeth and the elderly man whose name she had learned was George Marks. She had tried to get a regular sleeping pattern but that turned out to be impossible in this darkness. After a fair amount of time had passed Pacha remembered a conversation she had had with Elizabeth,

He doesn't seem too bad,” she had said about the slave owner.

He seems nice compared to his bastard son. But a few weeks in the mine and you'll know what cruelty is.”

She now understood the truth of that statement.

 

Pacha didn’t know how long she’d been down here but she knew it had to be more than a month as twice now the lift shaft had moved and crates had come down on it. Each time she had walked to it in turn with everyone else, bringing back food for herself and her compatriots, along with a stock of new matches and candles. One day she had perhaps over eaten as she worked longer than she ever had before yet did not tire. In turn both Elizabeth and the elderly man slept twice during her long stint and she was happy to let them oversleep. The elderly man woke up for a third shift by Pacha’s timing and before he reached the wall he turned to her.

Rest now,” he said, knowing how long she had been working for. “You have done more than enough for me and Elizabeth.” Pacha lay down to sleep and looked over to see Elizabeth, she had been sleeping for a while now. Gently Pacha shook her awake. “Elizabeth.” Pacha began as she watched Elizabeth open her eyes, “How do you survive a year and a half in a place like this?” Elizabeth went from drowsy to solemn before she began to speak.

Because I know there are worse places to be.” Then she smiled, “And because I have faith.”

Faith in what?” Pacha asked frowning.

Faith that one day life will change for the better. That my actions will lead to joy, for Lilaveld makes life hard so we can grow to be strong.”

Even here you have faith in Lilaveld?”

She who created the world also created those who repress us. She is everywhere.”

How can you fight hate?”

With love,” Elizabeth replied after a moment.

What happens if you die down here?” Pacha asked in all seriousness.

Then my work here is done and Lilaveld will continue to work in others and will bring about miracles.”

How can death become miracles?”

That is a question that I cannot answer, as I fear that it is one of these things which must be lived through in order to discover the answer.” Elizabeth concluded. Pacha lay down to sleep thinking about Lilaveld and how faith survived in such desperate places.

Nine ~ The Ice Fields

Not soon after they set off the environment around Twulai and Asil changed from the city of Durkan to the icy wilderness. The wind started to whistle around the giants’ ears before distant shapes appeared on the horizon. They drew closer to the mysterious shapes with growing haste and after enough time had passed they could now make out clearly their destination. Within a high fenced area lay a maze of buildings. Men walked freely within its walls, as though they had nothing to fear.

To the west of the fenced compound large figures moved. They were clearly doing some kind of manual work. The wagon pulled up by the large metal gate at what must have been now the early hours of the morning. A man opened the door with large heavy gloves then led the still weak giants inside.

Here you may sleep,” came the man. His voice was foreign and deep so that when he spoke it was as if his words had to pass through a deep fog before they left his mouth. Asil’s attention turned to where the man was talking about. Around them lay snow covered land, yet with their backs to the fence Asil felt a strange sense of warmth around her. The man left them and Asil lay down on the snow, Twulai came and lay alongside Asil while three other giants were already asleep only a few meters away from them.

It was here that Asil and Twulai fell into an uneasy sleep. Wind battered them while they slept, and both giants awoke in the night due to this. At around 5 am both giants were awake, they had moved towards each other in an effort to feel comfort in each other’s warmth but the cold had already set into their bones and had chilled them to uncomfortable temperatures. While shivering Asil became aware of the warm sensation on her back once more. She turned to see where it could be coming from and saw only the metal fence. As she thought about this her mind started to wonder and it stumbled upon a memory. She remembered the hot rush she had experienced when entering the compound. Curious, she moved closer to the metal fence. She discovered then that the heat was radiating off the metal. She moved so that she was touching the fence however she instantly let out a scream. Twulai was at her side in a heartbeat and attempting to calm her down. Asil had gained a large yet superficial burn on her back from the hot metal.

With nothing that either of them could do they lay back down, although neither of them could get to sleep.

 

The only way that Asil and Twulai knew it was morning was by the man waking them. His boot awoke Asil first from the only short slumber that she had managed to get, before he woke Twulai the same way. The man continued to inspect Asil’s back while Twulai watched him carefully as the man nodded his head.

His eyes then moved to Twulai as he held up a knife to Asil’s throat. Without hesitation Twulai launched himself at the man knocking the knife out of his hands. Twulai lay over this man as a child does to an ant. The man quickly withdrew a device from his clothing before he put it against Twulais’ skin and pressed a trigger that caused it to make a loud crackling sound. Twulai fell onto his back on the ground and his muscles went rigid. A second man came over to them while this was happening, hauling a bag filled with unknown items behind him. Asil was frozen in fear of both the men and of Twulais’ current predicament so she did not resist when this man hauled out of his bag a large metal shackle and attached it firmly, but not painfully, to Asil’s left ankle. He continue to pull out another shackle and attached it to her right ankle. Chains ran from the shackles around Asil’s ankles out on the ground for a meter or so before ending in a large carabiner, which Asil had seen attached to rock faces on mountains.

 

Twulai was still now, awake but shaking. Shackles and chains were attached to his ankles with no resistance from the giant before one man took hold of both their chains while the other man went over to the three other giants who also now had chains and shackles on their ankles.

Stand and walk to the gate,” the man ordered. Asil and Twulai obeyed his commands, they could walk easily even with the shackles on their ankles. Once they had reached the fence it was opened and they stood in silence on the other side. The area around them was nothing but a wasteland with no plants and an environment which was unforgiving. The three other Giants joined them. One was slightly shorter than Asil while the others were both tall, all of them had large muscles on their arms and legs. Their dark hair was scruffy and windblown while their clothes, made of leather, were perfectly fitted and made for the job.

 

All of their chains were attached onto a wagon, three at the front and two at the back. Once in position one of the men gave an order and they started to walk. The two men sat in the wagon between the convoy of giants. Between them on the floor of the wagon lay a handle, pulling which would create an electric current that would travel straight through the chains and administer an electric shock to the giants, should any of them step out of line. In one of the men's hands lay a watch, bought originally from Sioan in one of the back street markets. By starting this device moving when the giants started walking they were timing how long the journey took. In the rest of the wagon lay swords, supplies and rather odd looking spheres, as well as some fur clothes and knives suitable for skinning an animal with. Most of the wagon lay empty where the giants once sat, lying vacant for other uses.

 

Almost an hour later they arrived at the ice field. This large area lay at a valley’s end on the edge of a range of mountains which was unnamed. It was populated by giants, also in chains, who worked under the eagle eyes of men. The layer of ice beneath them with thick and slippery, while the sound of it cracking as giants swung axes into it unnerved Asil and Twulai. The men who were watching the giants were clothed in thick furs, one around their torso and one around their waist. Some wore extra furs around their shoulders like a cloak whereas some did not. Below the furs they were wearing cotton shirts and trousers.

 

The giants were wearing furs as well only they appeared to have more layers than the men and without the cotton under layer. The strangest thing was that although they all were clothed in the same fashion, across all of them they did not all had the same amount, as some were missing a few or quite a lot of layers.

Was it to do with rank? Asil wondered to herself.

 

The giants were taken to separate spots where their chains were now attached to what can only be described as the main network of chains, which in turn snaked into a metal hut. Each of them was given an axe.

Dig into the ice and stack it up. You work until we come for you,” the man who had brought then ordered before leaving to patrol the wider workforce. Twulai began to swing his axe breaking the ice below him. Once he got the hang of it he started to take in the world around him. There were close to two hundred giants here yet only, at most, one hundred men. The ice field ran up the mountains’ edges, where sharp bare rock cliffs lay facing Twulai. Giants were there too, lined up along the cliffs mining deep into it bringing rocks crashing off the face. Aside from the giants who were mining, there were some giants walking around. They were hauling the ice and rock stacks into large metal nets and then loading them onto wagons, always collecting more and never stopping.

 

Hours passed and Twulai became weary. Beside him Asil’s swing became less powerful, each time causing less ice to break off. Not soon after the men who had brought them there that morning came. They first inspected how much they had dug up before calling a giant over to haul their stacks into metal nets. Once the ice have been loaded into two metal nets, the men chained Asil and Twulai to the front of the wagon once more. The bags of ice were lifted up onto their shoulders before they started to walk back to the compound.

 

Just over an hour later they arrived back at the compound. The giants dropped the nets on the ground and the men ushered them inside. Twulai and Asil nestled down as much as they could before falling asleep much faster than the night before. Around 3 and a half hours later the three giants who went with Asil and Twulai returned and collapsed to sleep. The men came to Asil who was sleeping soundly and looked at her back, where the burn from the previous night had completely healed over.

These two are strong, fast and instinctive. They’ll survive in the plains. I’ll put them to work travelling to Dakra tomorrow.” The man then stood and drew his attention away from Asil and towards other giants. “These dig an impressive amount. Put them to work in field four, they should be able to mine the hard ice there,” he told his colleague.

 

Time passed quickly and Twulai and Asil soon found themselves back at the ice fields. They were disconnected from the wagon but rather than being given axes they were led to another wagon where a new set of chains were attached to their ankles and the old ones were removed. The wagon they had been on moved off and the three giants who had come with them disappeared past the mountainous edges. The wagon they were now attached to was by the cliff’s edge and was being loaded up with rocks. Beside them, and also tied to the wagon, was a giant who was sleeping.

Rest. Soon we travel,” the man at the front of the wagon said softly to them. His appearance was as brutal as those around him but his tone was calm and soothed them. So Twulai and Asil sat together and looked into the mountains.

What's going to happen to us?” Asil asked Twulai, not expecting an answer.

I don't know,” Twulai replied.

Where do you think Torbjørn and Ilioc are?” Asil asked again.

I hope it’s somewhere better than here,” Twulai came again in a sombre voice. Silence passed between them as the wind whirled around above them. Then Twulai remembered Pacha on the boat just moments before she had been dragged away. “Pacha?” He whispered. Asil looked at him confused, then she remembered Pacha.

Where is she?” Asil asked Twulai. So much had happened so had not spared a thought for her.

She was taken off the boat before you awoke. The man at the prow, who I believe is called Alvar, dragged her off by her chains. That’s all I saw,” Twulai answered. They sat in silence letting the cold air clear their heads.

 

A giant hauled up the last load onto the wagon before letting out a loud grunt which drew Twulai, Asil’s and the driver’s attention. The giant banged the back of the wagon signalling to the driver that it was full before turning away from it. Asil and Twulai stood up as they could see that they were about to set off, meanwhile the driver started to move and get ready which acted as a signal to the giant next to them. She awoke and rubbed her eyes getting ready to leave. Three more giants came towards them hauling behind them stones in large metal nets, these giants were bulky with more muscle than bone yet they were visibly struggling with these loads. They got to the giants who were waiting for them and handed them the end of the chain before helping them haul it up over their shoulders. Then Twulai discovered that these nets were indeed indescribably heavy.

 

Their journey began and although it was slow, it was constant and the pace quickly got to them. The third giant in their party had a strong build, like Twulai, and matched his height. She had long, sweeping blonde hair which had plaits mixed in-between the wind-swept mess. She had a long fur coat and boots, which was unusual for a giant, and her determined mannerisms showed that she was not one to mess with.

 

Hours passed as they travelled through the plains, valleys and mountains. In the silence between the group a gentle atmosphere lay upon them. Over time their pace slowed and Asil and Twulai's legs weakened yet the giant beside them, whose name they did not know, showed no sign of exhaustion. They continued until sundown where their teammate lay down and fell into a deep sleep within moments. Asil and Twulai slept too, exhaustion took them quickly to sleep yet they were still semi-aware of everything going on around them. Something about their situation felt false, like something was missing, something muting the brutality of the wagon driver. Something that they should be afraid of.

 

During the next day Asil picked up on how alert the third giant was, constantly scanning their bare, white surroundings which stretched on for miles while she kept her stride purposeful. The metal nets made metallic clinking sounds, rather like gear rattling around on a climbers harness, as the giants dragged the nets behind them.

 

It wasn't long until Asil picked up on why the other giant was being so alert. She had noticed it too, the overwhelming feeling of something else being out here, which was watching them. She started to scan the land around them in order to try and see what it was, but she could see nothing. To her left lay great plains stretching out from miles, and the horizon seemed never ending as she wasn't quite sure where the land and sky met. To her right large, bare hills rose up which were covered in snow and ice with a deep valley running down the middle of them. In this environment there was no sign of life aside from themselves. She continued with this uneasy feeling for about half an hour or so until suddenly she spotted movement up in the hills a distance away, but still too close for comfort. The other giant noticed it too and started to quicken her pace. The driver noticed the change in pace and whipped the wolves pulling the wagon to run faster. Asil quickened her pace as well to match the other giants, while the hairs on the back of her neck started to rise. It was clear that something was coming for them. Glancing to her right it was clear now there were four or five shapes moving quickly down the hillside.

 

These creatures drew closer, closing the gap between them and the giants. Howls erupted from the wolves pulling the wagon. Behind them the creatures were running on all fours creating a small snowdrift behind them as they ran. Both groups started to race. It became clear that these creatures were wolves but much bigger and more vicious than those pulling the wagon. The man in the wagon abandoned his post and began to gather up the spheres laden on the floor. The wolves were right on top of them now, all the giants were running and the weight of the nets became negligible as adrenaline took over their senses. The wolves were huge with deep red eyes and a white fur coat which camouflaged them in the snow covered land. They came mid-way up Asil’s thigh, making them easily 9ft tall. These wolves had rough fur like they had already been in a fight and a few had small pieces of fur stuck in their teeth, suggesting that they had been fighting with each other. The pack split and one raced towards Twulai. Thinking fast Twulai swung his net round and caught the beast mid body sending it flying across the ground leaving a trail of blood behind it. In the net remained one of the wolves’ claws which was as large as one of Twulai's fingers.

 

At the same time another wolf attacked the third giant, it leaped up and grabbed onto her shoulders. Unable to get a good grip, the wolf left claw wounds down her shoulder, side and hip as it fell back to the ground. As it lept up for the giant once more, the man in the wagon got hold of a sphere and threw it as hard as he could. The sphere landed deep in the wolve’s fur and caused it to collapse on the ground, growling and whimpering as it tried to get it off its body. Fear gripped Asil as she ran amongst the fight, quickly avoiding the wolf that had just been brought down. Another one of the beasts came into her vision, it was alongside her and heading for the wagon. In this position she could see its razor sharp teeth.

It probably hasn't eaten in days, she thought to herself. This wolf turned to Asil suddenly, which took her aback, and she swerved to avoid it. She understood now why these chains had extra length to them than the ones before. It attempted to bite her legs, managing to get its teeth into her skin several times and draw blood. In the wagon the man drew another sphere and threw it at the wolf where it was thrown back and slammed against the metal net. A fourth wolf went for Twulai, jumping at him and scratching down his back and side.

Throw him!” The third giant yelled to Twulai. It hadn’t even crossed Twulai's mind as to whether he could lift, let alone throw this large wolf. He reached down and grabbed it, lifting the wolf by its torso and throwing it over Asil and towards the third giant. Both giant and wolf went crashing to the ground. Asil and Twulai continued to run while the fight continued behind them. From below the wagon, a pulley was allowing the giants ankle chains to increase in length and therefore allowed them to fight. The third giant managed to hold the beast still enough to grip it and break its neck with a solid crack. The last wolf leaped up onto the wagon where it was clearly one and a half times bigger than the man. He threw one last sphere straight into its neck and it crashed off the wagon and onto the snow.

 

After this the man signalled to Twulai and Asil to stop and they did so as the wagon slowed and the wolves calmed at the front of the wagon. The giants sat down with blood dripping from their wounds and their bodies shaking with adrenaline. The man jumped off the wagon and picked up one of the beasts. He lay its hind legs over his shoulder but it was big that its front legs scraped along the ground as he carried it back to the wagon. A small distance away their comrade walked back to them, covered in scars. She collected the wolves as she came, dumping four bloodied beasts’ bodies in the wagon. The land behind them had both giants’ and wolves’ blood stained onto it. The fifth beast that had attacked them was nowhere to be seen. A few minutes later they started off again and everything was silent for the rest of their journey. A shadow of doubt crossed Twulai and Asil’s minds mixed with confusion and terror about what just happened and the way that their two associates had coped with it. Despite the fighting it had been organised and without chaos, almost as if this was a day-to-day struggle and not out of the ordinary. This worried Twulai and Asil immensely. They came to a stop earlier than the previous day and the man got down from the wagon. He said nothing to the giants about the attack, how he had dealt with the beasts or what creature exactly it was that they faced. The man unloaded the huge wolves from the back of the wagon and gave one to each of the giants along with a skinning knife. They sat skinning the beasts they had killed in a small circle, Asil and Twulai watched how the third giant did it, while the man had put down his beast and was lighting a fire a little way away from the giants. The fire glowed a the edges of the giants’ vision. They could make out a metal pot balanced above the flames in which was snow. Next to sat the man skinning one of beasts. The wolves by the wagon were asleep on the ground, leaving the three giants to themselves.

I’ve never known a wolve’s fur to be this thick, no matter what their size” Twulai said while cutting the beast’s coat away.

That’s because they’re not wolves,” the other giant said simply. “They’re known as Mawon. They are relatives of wolves but they are very different animals. They live out here and prey on polar bears mostly. Packs have been known to take down dragons as well, but that’s a very rare occurrence.”

Are there many of them?” Asil questioned as she remembered the lack of shock and surprise on this giant’s face after the attack.

I would estimate that there are about twenty thousand out here, but none quite knows their numbers for sure. They are common in these parts but don’t worry you’ll learn how to cope with them.” The giant said before she looked up to see their horrified faces. Taken aback by this, Asil was still for a moment. She found herself staring into this giant’s deep brown eyes. Asils’ eyes moved to the furs which the giant was wearing, all now an offset white colour with patches of dirt and blood splattered upon them. These were the same furs that she had seen over and over again, on the giants working in the ice fields, on the wagon drivers and the slave commanders in charge of the giants. Asil looked down at the Mawon she was skinning and finally made the connection. Everyone’s clothes in the north were made from Mawon fur.

The more Mawon you killed the warmer you became. She thought to herself.

 

Twulai finished skinning the animal and removed it from the beast. “We don’t even know your name,” he said to the third giant.

Achala,” came her reply. “And I can say the same of you,” she stated while cutting the belly of her beast.

Twulai.”

Asil.” They replied, and silence passed between them once more. They removed the fur coat from the wolves leaving the beasts’ body coated in a thin epidermis layer.

Now that the introductions are over, let us eat,” Achala said. They then ate the beasts they had killed. Eating all the way to their bones before the man came over with a large metal container, containing water and placed it at their feet. He then returned silently to his fire.

Food feels soo good.” Achala rejoiced once she had finished and fell back onto the snow. For the first time since their capture Twulai and Asil watched Achala smile. They paused there for a moment and Twulai gestured towards the man by the fire,

Who is he?”

His name is Bryce,” Achala replied. “He’s a tradesmen of the ice fields, in charge of taking raw materials to settlements and cities around Daer. He’s been in charge of me since I was small child.” Achala looked across at Bryce who was still cooking the Mawon meat for him to eat.

“Do you two have a relationship?” Twulai asked. Achala gave him a puzzled look. “Not in love but for someone who is charge of you, he doesn’t appear like he is doing a bad job.” Achala relaxed at Twulai statement.

“No. I think he likes the wilderness. He’s one of the few men who understands the role of giants in the wider world,” Achala finished.

 

Days passed as they walked through the wilderness. More Mawon attacks happened, each time eating that which they caught and adding layers to their clothing. Many days and nights passed, each day they travelled 14 miles or more. Asil couldn't tell how long they’d been travelling for but with the sun now rising above the horizon for only a few hours at a time, it became easier to sleep. This allowed the three giants to rest well and regain strength without the distraction of daylight. They also took shifts to look out for Mawon attacks at night.

 

The white wasteland seemed never ending with the hills and mountains rising and falling to their right. Water was as sparse as food and they often got it from icicles. They turned south not too long after the end of the hills and started to travel downhill. They passed through boulder fields, making their progress slow which in turn became a deep frozen canyon. The canyon was easily 40ft in height with water running off the top of it, down one wall and to a stream at the canyons’ floor. Here they all drank then washed in the water which was, as they discovered, freezing cold as it was run off from a glacier.

 

They continued down the canyon. It was darker here, like heavy clouds were sitting above them in the sky, even though the sky was clear and bright blue. In cracks and shaded places close to the canyon’s edge lay animals. All hungry, of varying species and sizes, and all hidden away. Each one was wounded and dared not attack the three giants, wolves and the wagon. In silence the group travelled dragging each of their loads behind them, aware of all the eyes which were watching them. They felt trapped and alert in the canyon as they knew they were being watched yet they knew that there was less danger here than out in the open.

 

The whole day they travelled before settling in a widened section of the canyon to rest. Uneasiness gripped them and they took turns watching, keeping their eyes fixed on the darkened places. Another day passed as they travelled through the canyon, keeping their eyes low and away from the bright, misleading sky. As they descended down the gentle slope the ice began to give way to rock unveiling a limestone cliff landscape.

 

Unknown to the giants, as they had passed a rocky ledge which stuck out over the canyon, a creature had been stirred from its slumber. They had not seen the claws hanging over the edge, nor heard its breath as it stirred looking up to see them walking slowly before it. The dragon had been injured when men had attempted to catch it. Its leg was broken, its wing was partially torn and in its eyes lay a look of madness. It snarled at the giants, crawled to the edge of the ledge and jumped off gliding silently, and as steadily as it could, down into the canyon towards the group. The giants felt air move behind them and turned a moment before the dragon roared, coming upon them. Achala moved aside causing the dragon to hit the rocks then the metal net side on, sending it crashing to the ground. It swung back round immediately and lashed out at Twulai trying to bite at him but Twulai firmly pressed on its eyes while Asil swung her arm downwards landing her elbow into the dragon’s spine. The dragon whimpered collapsing onto the ground and without hesitation Twulai broke its neck with tremendous force.

We mustn’t stop here,” Bryce called from the wagon once the commotion was over, “further down the canyon opens up, and there is a stream. There we rest, not here.”

He’s right,” Achala confirmed, looking at Bryce then across to Twulai, “It’s not that far.”

 

Twulai swung the dragon up onto his shoulder and they continued on their course. As Bryce had said, they soon came to a stream and the canyon opened up. Here they came to a halt and relaxed. There was less danger here and the thick, musky atmosphere had lifted allowing them to breathe the clean air and to clear their minds. The air was still and the restless feeling they had all had subsided, which was a welcome sensation for all. Twulai lay down the dragon and Bryce first twisted its horns in order to free them, before he gestured to the giants. The giants happily tucked into their meal, not leaving anything to waste. Bryce had previously expressed his extreme dislike of dragon meat and was more than happy to go hungry than eat it unless he was in desperate circumstances. As they settled down that evening they were calm and unless Twulai and Asil were mistaken they were content, presently happy with their circumstances. The sun drew low and reflected off the water which lay in the canyon before them. They admired its beauty before looking beyond. There they saw buildings, tall and packed together on the horizon. It seemed hundreds of miles away as they sat in the quietness.

 

Twulai and Asil reflected on their situation. It wasn’t as bad as they had first feared. The harsh environment may have hardened men’s hearts into cruelty but in the wilderness, where their dependence on the giants became clear, and somehow the cruelty had become kindness. Twulai wondered about the man who was supposedly in charge of them, never once he had been cruel for no reason towards them. In fact he had been respectful, he had seen their nature in its true form and chosen them over men. Achala respected Bryce, and Twulai and Asil could see why.

 

Achala meanwhile lay ready to sleep and ready to gain rest for what lay ahead, but she didn’t want to lose this moment of peace and tranquillity where all of them were just raw and living as nature had intended. Living to survive amongst the world and find your place.

 

For men in the city didn’t live to survive amongst the world, they were in control of it.

Ten ~ The Mieczyslaw Arena

The wagon containing Torbjørn and Ilioc raced down street after street with all the buildings around them looking the same. This part of Durkan was obviously an industrial port built for factory movement of large items. Houses and work places were crammed together so no time would be wasted in production waiting for more workers. Soon the streets widened and the buildings around them became lower. They passed a few which were clearly institutions being high fenced and with training equipment, but the men inside were not that of any army nor any kind of hunter. These were children, training for the day that they would be able to take down any threat on their own. To the giants’ left rose a high wall. The wagon slowed and posters could be seen attached to the wall advertising fighting events.

 

They came to the end of the wall and a circular shaped building came into view. At its frontage was a set of large gates at the sides of which lay two dim lanterns (at least dim in the bright sunlight) and around the side was a metal gate. It was pulled open for the wagon and it jolted as it entered the enclosed space before it turned a long sweeping corner which seemed to skirt around the whole building. The road they were on also descended down a gentle slope and soon the road became darker as the number of lanterns on each wall became less and less. The wagon slowed to a complete stop and another gate was opened for them, this one was clearly a lot heavier than the previous one. Several men came round to the back of the wagon where they ordered Ilioc and Torbjørn to step off the wagon and go through the gate. Still weak from the poison flowing round their bloodstream, they did as they were told. They became aware a buzzing sound around them, unlike that of any bug, yet it was loud and vivid. Torbjørn glanced at the men and caught sight of something they were holding. It was a long rod that extended downwards and from which blue streaks of electricity jumped between it and the ground. They passed through the gate and electricity seemed to be buzzing around the gate as well, a loud sharp hum which both scared and enticed Torbjørn towards it.

 

The tunnel they found themselves in was dark and almost pitch black. The horrific smell of dirt, sweat and blood all mingled together hit them like a wall. The air itself was heavy and humid as though something was lying upon the ceiling creating a seal between them and the world above. As their eyes adjusted to the darkness, the cells around them became clear. Row upon row stretching far beyond their line of sight and in each one dark shapes lingered. Each different, each agitated and each one was hungry. Low growls and high pitched wails could be heard in the darkness as Torbjørn and Ilioc were led to what they concluded would be their cell.

 

The giants were placed in a cell close to a wide area which was lain with sawdust and a large table in the centre of it. Upon entering the cell the most prominent feature was a single beam of sunlight which shone in and was filled with dust dancing in its light. Outside out the window, sand could be seen and the hum of electricity could be heard, but nothing more could be gained beyond that.

 

They heard movement of cell doors, then of a piston moving and the grinding of stone. Outside their small window came a roar of a crowd mixed with cheers and groans. This continued for several minutes before the noise calmed and from outside they heard a scream that came from no living creature. It was twisted and broken, and emerged into the air as through it had ripped though the skin of the terror that had produced it. Much chaos followed, but all Ilioc and Torbjørn could do was listen and imagine what monstrosity had made that horrific sound.

 

Suddenly a loud shudder came from above them, it made both the giants skin crawl and shook them to their core. The shudder had clearly been a shot of electricity. From outside the window this creature screamed once more before the atmosphere went quiet, but not quite silent. The sound of shuffling could be heard and soon something was coming back into the tunnels. Peering out as much as he could Ilioc saw a young boy, possibly around 19 years of age. He was brought to the large area filled with sawdust. The boy’s skin was burnt and covered in wounds, he lay on the table which he had been placed upon and screamed out in pain. Men around the boy tried to tend to his wounds yet, if anything, they seemed only to make the boy worse. The water cleaned his wounds but worsened his pain, and he tried to move around but the men held him still. Soon the boy was pulled up off the table and led back to his cell. As he passed in front of Ilioc and Torbjørn, Ilioc saw the tears in his eyes and the weakness of his body. The smell of burnt hair and skin lingered outside the giants’ cell for a good period of time.

 

A little while later the giants’ cell door opened and several men stood outside, a few came in and ushered them out forcefully. The weapons they were holding were disconcerting, being long rods which hummed with electricity. They were forced into the main passageway before being led away a fair distance and into an old cell without a door. The men commanded them to stand in the centre of the cell, and they did so without question. In the corner of his eye Torbjørn saw a man quickly activate some hidden switch, although he did not accurately see what it was he had pressed. The floor below them hissed, and following the sound Torbjørn and Ilioc were sent flying upwards.

 

The platform that the giants had been standing on raised them upwards as the roof opened up above them. It was only a matter of seconds before they had left the cells and were engulfed in their new environment. Standing in the centre of this arena, a large wall and fence was all that separated them from the hoards of people staring at them with beady eyes and muttering between themselves. The giants’ feet lay upon hot sand which ran to the edges of the arena, while a faint buzzing sound could be heard all around them with no apparent source. A short sharp whistle caused the giants to turn, where above them people moved uneasily and without care away from a short man who stood alone between the crowds. Eyes then moved from the pale, balding and shrimp of a man to another figure who now came into sight.

Well, well, well.” This new man bellowed from his hefty chest as he walked with purpose into the giants direct line of sight. “I see the hunters have caught us some fresh meat.” The man smiled at his words, which to all but himself looked more like a grimace. His short yet ragged beard hid most of his black and rotting teeth yet nothing could hide the distasteful pleasure he had with this. The crowd around this man laughed at this comment only to be cut short by a quick gesture. “Come now, let us not laugh at these poorly built giants,” the man continued, “let’s give them a chance. Throw them a net and nunchuks and we’ll see if they can fight as well as they can fish!” The man’s words became a snarl as a large net and nunchuks were thrown down at the giants’ feet. It was true that in a man’s eyes the giants did have the same physique as a fisherman. However to the man whose body was similar to that of a tree trunk and who was staring down with disgust at the giants, it was understandable as to why he had wildly misjudged their strength.

 

The man’s comments had certainly riled up the crowd, but before he could agitate the giants more a gate opened at the far side of the arena. Ilioc and Torbjørn picked the weapons up off the ground and prepared for what was to come. Armed to the teeth and without a single trace of fear two men entered into the arena. Cheering from the crowd echoed around the stone walls in favour of the two men, meanwhile in the arena the mens’ focus was on the giants and the whistling sound of the weapons as the giants spun them in their hands. The first move was fast, the nunchuks just skimming the top of one of the men’s heads as he ducked. The man for Ilioc, who was now without a weapon, fired a net which wrapped itself around Ilioc’s ankles sending him crashing to the floor. The whistling of the net grew louder now as Torbjørn spun it above his head. A loud crackling sound followed as a thick whip hit against the sand. Torbjørn launched the net a little too high and it hit the metal fence. Ilioc turned and reached for the nunchuks just as the man pulled out a dagger, Ilioc managed to grab the weapon and hurled it towards the man. It hit him directly in the chest and sending him flying. Torbjørn seized the moment and ran for the net, having to leap to avoid the whip. Torbjørn made it to within arm reach of the net before the whip found his leg and he was pulled to the floor. Luckily he was able to grab a piece of the net, drag it to the floor and on-top of the man. Ilioc ran towards the man and took hold of the nunchuks. Meanwhile the man had thrown the dagger and as a result Ilioc had a wound to his upper thigh. The man lay panting on the floor while Ilioc beat the nunchuks’ on the sand. Both lying on the floor now, the man and Torbjørn caught each others’ gaze. Torbjørn unwrapped the whip from his leg while the man wriggled out of the net. Now Torbjørn, without a weapon, faced the men with the whip, which ran from his hand down and along the sand. He hurled it forcefully at Torbjørn who avoided the attack, then the next one and the next before grabbing the whip in mid-air. He forced it out of the man’s hands and walked over to the man. He pressed him to the floor with his foot.

 

Ilioc went to strike the man but he had become more alert and moved at Ilioc’s strike. Twisting and turning the man managed to avoid Ilioc’s attack before he knocked the nunchuks out of the giants hands. The man then wound up a spherical shaped object and fired it at Ilioc which caused him to fall flat onto his back, as electricity coursed through his body. The man then strode up to Ilioc, knelt down and held a knife to his throat. Meanwhile Torbjørn knelt down and pressed the body of the whip against the other man’s throat.

 

A deep laugh erupted that halted any movement within the arena.

Isn’t that something?” came the booming voice once more, “”Good show, good show.” The man congratulated them, clapping slowly. Torbjørn watched as the man withdrew the knife from Ilioc’s throat and so Torbjørn allowed the man he was pinning down to wriggle free. Just as they had entered the arena both men left with complete composure aside from a little more haste. The crowd grew loud once more in their thirst for bloodshed, and once again a simple gesture calmed them down.

You will get your nourishment,” the man bellowed as the gate shut at the far side of the arena. Torbjørn gave Ilioc a hand up comforted that, for now, they were safe as they could be. “I have big plans for these giants.” The man’s smile was uneasy as he said this and etched itself into the giants memory. Following this a heavy metallic sound filled the arena and all around the arena spikes moved towards the centre of it. The giants were forced into a small space before the floor moved down, moving the giants out of sight and back into the cell without a door.

 

The giants’ own cell door shut with them inside, where they awaited their next escapades to the arena with no knowledge of what would be awaiting them. To begin, both giants’ first fights were without death or much bloodshed as they were against boys and coming of age men from the fighting institution in order to develop and test their skills. Torbjørn in time proved too powerful for them so he was pitted against animals as part of the evening entertainment. Ilioc however was the perfect subject for them and despite a few deaths he became a favourite of the institution, especially for coming of age ceremonies. Torbjørns’ skill with dual weapons and nets, along with his cunning mind proved a welcome and exciting change to ordinary animal fights. Meanwhile Ilioc’s hand with close combat weapons made him a worthy opponent to all that fought him.

 

The days started to race by in the arena, the sun now hidden behind the horizon and refusing to rise beyond its minimal sunrise and sunset level. The giants grew stronger, as did their opponents and as their level of experience grew they were placed into more challenging battles. Nevertheless they had not come across anything that had had the same mutilated scream they had heard from within their cell.

A few days after Ilioc had been moved to fighting animals. A hype in the arena had started. There was a big fight coming and the crowd was buzzing. Thinking nothing of it Ilioc sat in the cell as Torbjørn was taken for another fight. That was only a moment before he heard the scream he dreaded. To make matters worse, Torbjørn was in the arena. Ilioc listened as carefully as he could, he heard the sounds of fighting, the excitement of the crowd in the stands and the fury of Torbjørn and the creature. After a while all went silent. The crowd. The fight. Even the very air fell still, as if the world itself was holding its breath. As though they were waiting for something. Soon the sounds of mechanisms working filled the silence, their cell door opened and Torbjørn stumbled in.

What was it?” Ilioc asked curiously.

En skygge.” Torbjørn answered slowly. “A shadow. As dark as the night itself, without a body, made of mist that twisted and changed as it stood there. A nameless demon.”

Eleven ~ Vallabhadev

Pacha thought more and more about whether there was a way to escape as time went on. She hadn’t seen the slave owner since she had entered the mine, but she had not forgotten about the burning which the metal fence around the mine entrance had caused her. She confronted Elizabeth about it; someone must have tried to escape.

Why doesn’t anyone try to escape?” She had asked.

They have.” Elizabeth had replied and Pacha had listened intently. “When the lift is pulled up to the surface to collect the stone we’ve mined, people have gone up on it. But each time the lift has come back down with their corpses on it, and we have to keep filling it up with stones crushing what remains of them. Once, a strong women armed with a pickaxe had climbed into the shaft with the supply boxes as it had gone back up to the surface. The next thing we knew, there were screams and the shaft was coming back down. Vallabhadev appeared holding a gas light, which blinded us because it was so bright. A moment later someone attacked him with a pickaxe, but in the blink of an eye Vallabhadev had broken the weapon as well as the man’s arm. He took the slave up out of the mine with him and we never saw those slaves again.”

The slave who tried attacking Vallabhadev in the mine. What was he like?” Pacha had inquired.

Strong. He was well built, the kind of man who would brag about his muscles in a tavern. He was not weak nor one to shy away from an opportunity but he was also loyal and kind. We could have gotten out of here that day but Vallabhadev is too strong.”

 

The next time Pacha had slept she had thought about this incident and it was starting to dawn on her that she was stuck here. Forever.

Twelve ~ Dakra

The first thing Asil noticed about the city of Dakra was the absence of giants, or any foreign slaves for that matter. All around them furnaces fuelled by hot fires burned, heating the air around them until it was hot and stuffy, like in a sauna. Sounds of hammers on anvils surrounded them, and it was clear that this was a city of craftsmen.

 

They travelled through its outer edges where men were hard at work, until they came alongside a large grey wall. It’s top was above the giants’ heads but it was clear that there was something on the other side of it. The wagon came to a stop and a man came to greet Bryce. They shook hands before they came to the giants. This man inspected their bags then turned back to Bryce.

5,000 reteps.” He said simply and Bryce nodded indicating that he accepted this offer. Bryce then made a gesture to the giants which left Asil and Twulai confused but Achala picked up her net and flug it top down over the wall so that all of the rocks fell out of it with several loud banging sounds. Asil and Twulai followed her lead and did the same with their loads. Once the bags were empty they then threw over the rocks which lined the back of the wagon. Shortly after the last rock had been thrown over, the banging stopped and the metal humming faded smoothly. Bryce was handed a wedge of money then the door which the other man had come out of closed once more.

 

Free of their loads the giants were then led through the narrow streets and deep into the city. It became busier with the streets becoming packed with people. The people passed the giants as though they had not even noticed them. Sea birds flew overhead and fishermen could be seen hauling their catches up through gaps in the busy crowds. Not long after they came to a place with lots of hustle and bustle, where it was loud with many different aromas in the air. Turning a street corner they saw the market in full, a long, wide street with stalls on each side. Some of the stalls had slightly rotting food and fish on display, whereas others were packed with mechanical pieces and state of the art technology. The giants waited on the edge while Bryce went into the market. People swarmed by the giants feet so much that they couldn’t move, so instead they turned their attention to the buildings above them were made of stone yet leaned uneasily over the streets. Stone bridges connected some of the buildings’ third floors, however all buildings looked the same with no decorations to help determine what each was used for. The giants decided, without saying a word, to stay put as getting out of this place would prove very difficult, and Bryce knew this.

 

Bryce joined the crowd of people in the market as he walked strategically to the stall he wanted, after pushing past people and ignoring the heckling of stall owners, as they all demanded his attention and money, until he came to the one he wanted. It was a quiet stall, one that’s rarely visited by most people. On its display lay a range of ivory items, from decorative pieces to daggers and highly detailed ceremonial gifts. At the stall sat an elderly woman, a headscarf lay wrapped around her head, and she kept her eyes low to the ground. She had once been a major figure in the north’s shipping trades, spending most of her days reporting to the highest order in Dasa. She had seen many treasures brought across from other lands, and knew how to get hold of them. So as time took hold of her, she had left the sea and sought out a new way to connect with exotic items.

Bryce took out from his bag the two dragon horns he had removed from the dragon only the day before and handed them to the elderly woman. She took hold of the pair with her sea worn hands and inspected them for a fair few seconds before looking up at Bryce.

1,500 reteps for both of them.” She said simply, while holding onto them. Bryce said nothing, he had sold dragon horns to her before for up to 4,000 reteps yet he knew that she was the most experienced and knowledgeable buyer of them. She saw the look in his eyes and explained, “These are the horns of a worn beast. It was powerful in its prime yet in time it has been withered and become sick. See.” The elderly woman ran her finger along the side of the bone while speaking softly, “It has not flown for a long time and the wind has started to chip away at the bone.” She said as she tapped it softly, “hollow. Yet in time it will fetch a good price.” The elderly woman looked straight into Bryce’s eyes now. “1,500 reteps.” she repeated not willing to change her offer.

Bryce accepted the offer and took the bag of coins off the woman before heading over to another stall. This one was overflowing with brass items, items made for a purpose. From here Bryce acquired several large boxes of round spheres. It cost him a fair penny but without them he, and all the other men, would be unable to survive in the wilderness and the ice fields.

 

Bryce rejoined the giants and they left the market, heading off down the main street before turning down a series of small alleyways until they came to a building. It was tall, thin and above the entrance hung a sign that read, ‘The Ship and Steel’. Bryce took the giants’ chains, pulled a length out forcefully and hung them over a hook on the outside wall of the tavern. He handed Achala something subtly before heading inside, leaving the giants sat in the alleyway.

 

Bryce!” A man shouted from a bar stool raising his glass as Bryce entered. Foam from his beer splattered all over the floor and onto men around him. He stood from his stool which shook as he lifted his hefty body off it. “Good to be back from the wilderness once more! Come fill your belly with beer!” The large man pushed Bryce towards the bar with such force that he flew forwards just managing to catch himself on the bar’s edge. He hauled himself up before saying to the man behind him in a heavy Scottish accent,

The harsh climate may rattle my bones but you would break them with a swing of your hand!” Bryce then turned to address the barman, “A pint of ale my dear friend to ease the searing pain in my chest.” At his words the barkeeper smiled before Bryce handed him a large bag of reteps and continued, “She’s parked out front.” The barkeeper gladly took it from him and nodded while pouring out his drink. He handed Bryce the pint of beer before the barkeeper disappeared into the back room where he handed the money to his brother who immediately left through the back door. Meanwhile Bryce downed his drink in one go and slammed it back on the bar to the sound of the men cheering around him.

 

From outside the tavern, the shouting, cheering and banging seemed distant to the giants who were sat in the cold. The buildings stretched high above them and the alleyway where they sat was cramped, with very little space. Asil sat curled up in a ball as two men approached them. They came close to them and one spat against Achala’s knees, Asil moved towards them in anger at this but the chains held her close to the wall and the men simply stepped out of her arms’ reach.

You think you’re strong? Giant?” Sneered the man who had spat on Achala, “You are nothing.”

He picked up some stones from the alleyway and threw them at their heads, “Look who has power here!” He shouted. The second man bellowed loudly with laughter at them and putting an arm around his friend they went into the tavern.

Don’t let them get to you,” Achala advised Asil and Twulai as she looked towards them, her head still in her knees, “or else you might start to believe their words.” She said turning back into her child like position. Over the course of the night many men passed them, most drunk and in a group but all sneered, spat and cursed at them. They demonstrated their dominance over the giants, be it by throwing pint glasses at them or mocking them, but as each moment passed they wished more and more just to be back in the wilderness and away from the cruelty of men. At least out there they weren’t powerless.

Another hour or two passed before a single man came towards them. The giants, who were all now huddled against the wall just awaiting the next bout of vicious men to come upon them, barely registered this man’s presence. He was holding a gas lantern and walking slowly, with no influence of alcohol upon his person, before he stopped by the wagon. Achala looked at him as this man caught her gaze. He paused. Then continued. He emptied a bag he was carrying into the wagon, it mainly consisted of supplies, food and water followed by two swords.

 

Asil and Twulai seemed to stir at this like they were waking up, not from sleep but rather from a chill which had frozen them. They watched this man finish emptying his bag onto the wagon before he stepped back and left in a hurry keeping his distance from Achala. Asil watched him leave, and noticed his look which made him seem fearful of Achala. She also noticed that he had a limp on his right hand side. Meanwhile Twulai examined the contents of the wagon.

It seems very limited. I assume that Bryce paid him to get supplies, or else he would have been stealing from the wagon not adding to it. However why did he not pay for more?” Twulai stated, confused as he knew how long the journey was.

He paid that man all that he had left. Everything comes at a high price from the men of the north.” Achala answered him. “That man kept half the money he was given for himself and brought here the rest worth of supplies, but no matter. You won’t find any man more honest as corruption is rife in this city, you will find no better deal here.”

Why trust other men at all then?”

In a world of deceit, it is by these means you must also gain friends. The knowledge of the dishonesty makes it more bearable. Yet it doesn’t make it any less harsh or unforgivable.”

That man was scared of you,” Asil muttered to Achala after a moment. “Why does he have a limp?” She asked, certain that Achala knew the answer. Achala paused before she answered,

We always come here. After the drop off and the market, I was here with fellow giants on one of my first trips. That man came out and began filling up the wagon with supplies. Five items he took out of his bag. Three pieces of rotten fruit and two small fish. He threw down the bag and mocked us, he raved about how Bryce was as pissed as a Nojian on Kapoor waters. Bryce wouldn’t know, he wouldn’t remember, this man told us. The other giants became angry and tried to get to him but he evaded them. He saw no danger in me however and got a bit too close. From that day onwards he always delivers that which is expected of him. It still does not make him an honest man. But it does make him a trustworthy man, and one who does not want another broken leg.” Twulai and Asil just stared at Achala. Achala sat back aware of their eyes watching her and she was as still as the night around her as she breathed softly. Twulai and Asil felt cold, Achala felt too joyful and it wasn’t easy to imagine her harming others without a valid reason. Especially to leave one so mangled as the man who had just left them.

Is that why Bryce gave you that?” Asil asked. Achala opened her palm to reveal one of the spheres.

This contains enough electrical energy to kill a Mawon, and thus it is sure enough to scare any ordinary man into some level of honesty,” Achala said simply. “Since the day that man abused Bryce’s money and trust, Bryce makes sure that I have a sphere in case he ever tries it again.” Achala finished as she closed her hand back around the sphere and placed it down by her side.

What happened to the other giants? The ones who were with you?” Twulai asked.

The last time I travelled with those giants was over twenty years ago,” Achala answered. “I was young when I travelled with them and over time they got replaced. One of them became too old to keep up the pace and she was transferred to work in the ice fields. Another died after a vicious Mawon attack, we tried to save him but he was too badly injured. The final giant I travelled with for a long time, he became ill easily and year upon year this work became harder for him. Over many years he managed to convince Bryce to transfer him to the ice fields, and every so often I can see him working in the distance.”

I guess we’re two of many then,” Twulai commented, prompting Achala to continue. Achala sat back not wanting to list every giant she had ever had any contact with and she let silence fall gently into the conversation.

 

The night passed slowly and the giants finally slept. Achala was awake the longest, she hated the city. She always felt so trapped and powerless amidst the small human men whenever she came here. It felt so wrong and backwards. After midnight it started to rain, a thunderstorm was out at sea and the dark clouds had spread out for miles from it. The buildings above the giants sheltered them from most of the rain but the rain drops were still cold and brisk on their bodies. The buildings also provided an additional layer of darkness which was a comfortable change from the endless sunlight out on the plains.

 

Just as the sun rose above the horizon a hungover Bryce appeared to wake them. The giants awoke. They were dazed and exhausted after sleeping where they sat and resting on each other. Bryce unhooked their chains from the wall and attached them back up to the wagon. Only a few minutes went by before they set off. All of them were tired yet pleased to be travelling away from the city. They travelled back into the wilderness, entering the canyon the same way that they had left it.

 

They left the canyon a few days later to realise that the plains were much darker than in the days before. A week and a bit had passed since they had last been here and it was clear that the sun was definitely setting lower than before, signalling the start of the northern winter when all the world would be plunged into darkness.

 

Many months passed and the days grew darker until day and night became indistinguishable. During that time the group of Bryce and the three giants went back and forth between the ice fields and multiple cities. Their main load was rock broken off from the cliffs which they took to Dakra and Durkan to be used for weapon making and as building materials, including being used for ship building. They also took water in metal containers to sparse tiny villages dotted around the wilderness, populated by lone hunters who would live there in the hunting season before returning to the cities for the rest of the year. The other most common item they took to Durkan and Dakra were gemstones and precious substances which were filtered out from the mined ice then crafted into special items for the wealthy who lived in the cities. What those people then used them for, the giants did not know. On a few rare occasions they took bags full of ice capsules, which were ice wrapped up tightly in Mawon hide, to Rakad. These strange objects were kept in cold storage places under the ground to keep the ice from melting before being used for medical purposes. Rakad was by far the warmest of all the cities based on the western edge of the gulf of Oeth and sheltered from the ocean by the Staig islands. It was filled with migrants from other lands therefore its culture as a city was mixed and confused with pieces thrown together from all around Ilios. When the giants visited there they returned to the ice fields with many wondrous items, many were decorated and made from foreign materials and exotic treasures, which Bryce would sell to the giant owners and overseers.

 

The days were long, exhausting and never ending. Even though Asil and Twulai both admitted to themselves that there were worse places to be, the knowledge that they were in slavery and would be doing this for the rest of their lives, never left their minds. In time they longed for home and they kept thinking about ways to escape but the land was too harsh around them to survive by themselves. They also didn’t know the geography of the land around them so they would be lost if they escaped, and there was no way to cross the ocean they came over, without being caught by a slave ship. Still this did not stop them thinking about how they would escape. They thought back to a lighting strike which happened some time ago when a thunder storm had been overhead. Lighting had hit their metal chains and Achala had shouted to them,

Heels Together!” Following her orders the lighting had grounded whilst not continuing into the giants’ bodies but just passing through their ankle shackles. This gave Asil an idea which she discussed with Twulai before presenting it to Achala. The three giants agreed on the plan and would implement it when they had enough supplies and the right opportunity.

Thirteen ~ Warren

Days merged into nights, time became impossible to track and the growing darkness only enticed the crowds which came to fights now lit by candle light. Both Ilioc and Torbjørn lived only by getting through the next fight and in time they came to wonder if the animals were inside the arena or were in fact those watching them. On one occasion they had heard yelling and thrashing outside their cell and a little while later someone was thrown into the cell with them. The man who had accompanied them in the cell was of around 50 years of age. He was withered and if he was put into the arena with any kind of animal he would be, what could most accurately describe it as, ‘dead meat’. Due to this Ilioc and Torbjørn were calm and saw no threat with this man, they had watched him as he sat up and leaned against the cells’ door with great effort.

Who are you?” Torbjørn had asked him with a threatening tone. The man spat and looked up at the giants.

I was the keeper of these cells. Warren,” Warren said. “Before I tried to help that weak and weary boy. A crime that now I will pay for by my death watched by those who appointed me in order for them to feel that they are in absolute power over everything.” The giants stayed quiet allowing him to continue and Warren changed his tone, “The people in the stands are those watching for surety of themselves or for the continuation of their bloodline.”

They’re looking for heirs?” Ilioc asked, confused at Warren’s comment.

That boy I was trying to help. He will spend a lifetime in here, unless he is picked by a twisted hand and chosen to become a powerful leader. Years ago there was another, a woman by the name of Teiran, she grew up here and it turned her cold. Her father was brought here, for being a traitor, ever he would call out for her and it shook me to my core. I think she knew he was here, but it wasn’t long before he began to change and we had to take him away. Teiran continued to grow, fighting animals and shadows. Yes, I trust you have met a shadow.”

You speak of meeting a shadow but those things are nothing but darkness,” Torbjørn said.

They are now, yes.” The man agreed, “As you discovered when you killed one.” At this both Ilioc and Torbjørn went quiet. “That fight was spectacular and congratulations on your victory” Torbjørn said nothing in response to Warren’s words, but Warren continued anyway, “But those things were once men stuck in this arena fighting day after day. After years of this life the men change and become twisted. It begins with their eyes turning completely black, becoming sharp and venomous. At this point we take them to a different block around the other side of the arena. After this point their physical body changes to a dark mist, like an evil spirit has become trapped inside the walls of their body. Wings erupt from their backs and their screams soon also become mutilated and unrecognisable as ever once being human.”

And this woman you described fought them?” Ilioc asked.

Aie. She fought them with such brutality that she managed to be picked out from the crowd and taken out of the arena. You can now see her commanding the streets of Durkan, Cirrom and Dasa. She became an agent of Ojas, who is one of the most powerful men in the North.”

What will become of us?” Ilioc asked.

That is not for me to say,” Warren replied, sombrely. “Only men have become shadows, giants just seem to die, given enough time.”

That’s comforting,” Ilioc mumbled loudly.

You either die in the arena defeated or you become a shadow. For there is no glorious death here. The prisoners say that the grim reaper itself is a shadow. No matter what end you take, you will always face...”

En skygge.” Torbjørn finished. At this Warren's eyes lit up and he lent in towards the giants, he reached into his pocket and glanced towards the door in one swift movement. Quickly he handed a small bottle to Torbjørn and motioned him to hide it. Torbjørn did so not on his person but tucked away under some hay in a dark corner of the cell. They understood now that they were not alone and were being closely guarded.

They let you eat the dragons you go up against however I doubt that tiger or Mawon meat tastes that good.” Warren continued in a calm, normal tone.

What are tigers doing this far north and what are Mawon?” Torbjørn asked.

They capture tigers in the lands of Taka and Noji in the East, before they transport them here for sport and also for their hides. As for Mawon, they are giant wolves approximately 9ft in height with white fur and they are incredibly vicious,” Warren replied. “The first time I saw a Mawon,” he continued, “Ute av syne, ute av sinn.” Warren said speaking straight to Torbjørn who understood him yet wasn’t entirely sure of why he was saying it. He knew however that it was to do with the bottle Warren had just handed him and after these words they all went quiet.

 

Outside, beside the cell door a man stepped out and fixed eyes with Warren, drawing all their attention, “I know what silence means you rats, sleep or you will all spend a night bare, beaten and tied up in chains in the arena.” The man snarled at them, wise to prisoners’ ploys. They all knew how cold the arena got at night and knew now what they needed to do, so they followed this man’s instruction.

 

The next day came around slowly and sure enough men came for Warren, just as he said they would, but to the surprise of all three of them the men also ordered Ilioc to come as well. Upon entering into the arena Warren was tied to a post and large metal weights were placed only a meter or so away from him. Then the men disappeared back into the tunnels and a gate opened across the arena and from within came a large wolf. Approximately the height of 1 and a half men, with white fur and claws as long as Ilioc’s fingers, Ilioc concluded that this was a Mawon. Watching from a distance Ilioc locked his eyes with the Mawon as it made a low growl and walked slowly towards Warren glancing across at Ilioc as it did so. It was very wary of the giant yet not fearful enough to leave its course. Ilioc now faced a dilemma. Over the past few months he had been forced to fight men however now even though he knew Warren was going to die, Ilioc could defend him and give him a chance to live and gain respect once more or he could stand back and be the giant that all the foul men around him wanted him to be.

 

He made his choice.

 

Ilioc started to run towards Warren just as the Mawon began to sprint. Warren closed his eyes, his heart pounding in his chest. Ilioc hit the Mawon side on, crushing it against the metal weights. It shrieked, whimpered and turned away from Ilioc, regaining its strength. Ilioc took hold of one of the weights, and picked it up off the ground. Its diameter was easily 4ft and it took all of Ilioc’s strength to lift it. Glancing over to Warren Ilioc’s heart sank as blood poured from a wound to his upper chest from the Mawon’s attack. Ilioc turned back so the Mawon was in his sights and getting a bit of speed up he swung the weight towards the Mawon. Unable to dodge it, the Mawon went flying as it was hit in its thorax. It landed 2 meters in front of the fence as the weight travelled another meter and hit the fence causing electricity to jump to it. At this sound the Mawon went into a frenzy and headed back towards Warren. Ilioc jumped into action and headed straight for another weight, preparing for another attack. He found his target to aim for. Launching the weight, it flew swiftly through the air and hit the target head on, sending both the Mawon and Warren flying causing them to crash into the fence.

Ilioc stood in silence taking in the two bodies that lay on the ground before him. Both covered in blood after being crushed by the weight and against each other. It was safe to say that they were dead, especially after being electrocuted.

 

Torbjørn meanwhile had been sat in the cell listening to the sounds of the fight and the roaring of the crowd with only one thing on his mind. There was no doubt they had to escape and this change in keeper was the best opportunity they had.

 

Ilioc re-entered the cell shaken by what had happened, where he was met with Torbjørn's discovery. He had been studying the bottle, tiny in his hands with a few drops of almost invisible liquid inside. It had a label that read: Bwayto Bwen Anoya, which translated from Kapan as Bwayto Tree Sap.

It's poison, Torbjørn communicated to Ilioc via sign language so as to not raise the alarm.

Poison? Ilioc replied in sign language.

Yeah, I have an idea, Torbjørn replied. With that Torbjørn presented his idea to Ilioc being careful with his communication so that from outside the cell none could see what was going on. The information Warren had given Torbjørn translated as: out of sight, out of mind, which Torbjørn now knew Warren had meant as, none had suspected Warren had this. Therefore as long as the giants kept it hidden they would not be in any danger of being found out.

Fourteen ~ The Collapse Into The Unknown

As Pacha slept the sound of the roof cracking above them was drowned out by the sound of metal hitting against rock. Without warning and in but a moment the roof caved in and collapsed into the main mine passage. The whole mine shook and a moment passed. Then as the rubble cleared, Elizabeth blinked. She opened her eyes and coughed, dust lay upon her as thick as it lay in the air. She had been pushed away from the rock by the motion and had hit her head badly. There was a sharp ringing in her ears and a minute went by while she tried to figure out what had happened. In-front of her lay her pickaxe where she had dropped it, to her right lay the stones that had fallen from the roof above. The broken rocks filled the passageway right from top to bottom and it sealed this section off from the rest of the group and the lift shaft.

 

Elizabeth started to hear cries from within the rubble. Her mind began to clear just as she became aware that other slaves were gathered around her and one was helping her to stand upright. She slowly realised something: Pacha had been asleep where the rubble now lay. She stumbled towards it and moved as much as she could out of the way with help from others. She found Pacha, who luckily had been sleeping to the left of the main roof collapse and had just been superficially covered by the debris. Due to this she was mostly unharmed however it was clear that her right shoulder had been badly dislocated even though it was still half encased in rubble. Despite the pain Pacha was greatly relieved at the sight of Elizabeth. They held each other tight and stayed in the cold together as their adrenaline calmed.

 

From the surface Vallabhadev and Khavand had heard the crash, and Vallabhadev started lowering himself down into the mine and moved with force to the site where the roof had caved in blocking off the main section of the mine.

Clear this route,” he commanded to his slaves, “Put all the rubble in the lift.” Then he added, with no remorse or sense of annoyance, “also send up any bodies.” Then he left and within a few hours rubble started making its way up the shaft.

 

At great disappointment the slaves, including Elizabeth, couldn't free the rubble off the right side of Pacha's body, and after a few hours of trying they began to hear sound of rock being cleared from the other side. A small hole appeared and they saw the other slaves clearing the passage. A moment passed then a woman cried out and held a hand to her mouth as an old man's broken body was lifted from the rubble and carried into the dimly lit lift where he was gently placed down onto rocks that had been moved previously out of the way.

What's going on?” whispered Pacha, still wincing at the pain from her shoulder.

They've cleared George’s body and put it onto the lift.” At Elizabeth's words Pacha went quiet.

He was a kind man,” Pacha spoke softly and a moment of silence passed between them before Pacha's eyes lit up. “We can get out of here,” She exclaimed quietly and Elizabeth turned to her knowing what she was about to say,

That's a bad idea,” she replied sternly to Pacha.

He won't know. How many people have been killed in mine collapses?” Pacha objected.

A lot of us, around 12 since I first arrived,” came Elizabeth’s reply.

We can get out of here. Those clearing the rubble on the other side don't know how many have been killed.” Pacha’s words still failed to convince Elizabeth. “Come on, this could be our way out of here,” Pacha encouraged her. “Remember what you said. You told me that you have faith, and that one day life will change for the better. That is this day, so be strong Elizabeth. This is the time to be brave and trust in Lilaveld.” Elizabeth was quiet for a moment letting Pacha’s words sink in.

Yes. Alright. I will lie here and help cover me in rubble.” She lay down by the rubble and put her arm through a gap, then she placed her head down and nodded at Pacha. Pacha signalled to the half a dozen slaves to cover Elizabeth with rubble. Then they did the same with Pacha being careful not to injure either one of them more.

 

The sound of mining was faint as the slaves worked to move the passageway. It wasn’t long until they pulled out Elizabeth. She stayed calm, letting her body become a dead weight as she was carried to the lift and placed gently down on the stones. A few minutes went by as bangs could be heard from within the mine. Then Elizabeth felt a body being gently lowered on top of her until it was resting on her. The lift started to move and once a few seconds had passed Elizabeth opened her eyes. She tilted her head back and caught sight of the mine just before they entered the lift shaft, slaves were gathered around the lift’s bottom and it looked as though only a few bits of debris remained from the mine collapse. She turned her head upwards to see Pacha lying on top of her.

Pacha. Pacha. Pacha?” She called, slowly becoming more concerned when her friend didn’t answer. Calmly she felt Pacha’s pulse and was relieved when she felt a normal, regular heartbeat. She also checked Pacha’s breathing which was very faint but soft. Pacha was alright, she concluded. Resting her head back down, her mind turned to the light above her which was growing ever brighter. Who knew what horrors were waiting for them once they reached the top?

Try as she could, she failed to slow her breathing and with Pacha’s weight on top of her it became increasingly difficult. The light was almost all around them but Elizabeth started to drift, the sound of the lift became faint and just as it started to rock Elizabeth lost consciousness.

 

For a moment Elizabeth couldn't decide whether she was awake or not, the darkness now was a direct contrast to the blinding white light she had last seen. Lying on her back with her head hanging downwards she could just about make out the fenced area around the top of the mine shaft. She was looking at it from outside the fenced area. The lift was moving again and a figure came out from the metal shed, he opened the gate and stood waiting for the lift to rise up. As the chain pulling the lift up started to slow the lift came into view and along with it, a slave from the mine ready and waiting with pickaxe in hand. The slave swung his pickaxe as soon as he saw the dark figure waiting by the lift. In the second that Elizabeth blinked she heard the clattering of metal and a loud crack as she caught a glimpse of the figure breaking this slave’s neck before the pickaxe even hit the floor. Elizabeth dared not move while the slave’s body was loaded into the wagon along with the last stones from the mine collapse.

 

Cold air whipped around Elizabeth’s head and as they travelled the terrain turned from snow to bare stone. This land was bare with hardly any vegetation growing in it. It was travelling over this bumpy ground that Elizabeth knew that her and Pacha had a chance at escape. She turned and shook Pacha as much as she could. Within a few minutes Pacha awoke, only to seize up as she gripped her shoulder when they went over a large boulder.

Shhhhhh.” Elizabeth whispered, indicating to Pacha that she needed to be quiet. “We need to get out of this wagon.” Elizabeth continued. Pacha nodded in agreement and took in their situation. Pacha was free and able to move around whereas Elizabeth was covered by a body whose neck had been violently twisted. Feeling another jolt and looking round Pacha saw Khavand driving the wagon and what appeared to be a dormant volcano just ahead. Pacha immediately knew she didn’t want to find out what exactly what it was so she hauled the body up off Elizabeth so that Elizabeth could move her legs out from underneath him. Then Elizabeth waited for the wagon to jolt before jumping off simultaneously with the movement. Pacha followed at the next opportunity before they reconvened, both now crouched down in a dip created by an old lava flow.

Now what?” Pacha whispered to Elizabeth while she held her right arm with her left.

Well, we can’t stay here.” Elizabeth whispered back.

Can you help me?” Pacha said quietly and Elizabeth turned to see her grimace. Her right arm was stuck at a 90 degree angle with it slightly away from her chest. Elizabeth took in the situation before she said, or did anything.

This may hurt,” Elizabeth said slowly, preparing herself before she slowly rotated Pacha’s arm. She continued to do this for a few minutes and Pacha made very little noise, until Pacha’s shoulder popped back into the socket as Pacha let out a muffled cry. “There. Are you ok?” Elizabeth asked.

Yes. Thank you.” Pacha replied in a tender voice with tears in her eyes. “We need to get out of here.”

Let’s,” Elizabeth agreed. “I think we should head towards that mountain, we can’t risk getting caught if we go back towards the mines. Khavand broke that man’s neck, I think the wilderness will be safer.”

I agree. Keep low,” Pacha responded. They travelled low alongside the now solid lava. They passed Khavand who was only around 100 meters from where they were crawling. They also heard obscure noises as they held their course staying deadly silent so as not to be found. Eventually they heard the wagon move off and Pacha raised her head above the rocks. Her eyes had adjusted to the moonlight and she saw Khavand driving away from a crack in the ground. She could not tell how deep the crack was but the heat coming from it was intense. The hot air was deflected by the lava trail that they were hidden behind, so where Pacha and Elizabeth lay was nice and cool. They continued to crawl low and out of sight for fear of being caught in this treacherous land. Neither one had been here before and did not know what lay ahead. They followed this dip for miles, between mountains and boulder fields. The land in front of them slowly began to flatten out and the dip created by the lava flow ended and began to curve back on itself. Pacha and Elizabeth were forced out of their hiding place and uneasily walked in the wilderness looking for a place to hide while they mapped out their next moves. Two hours into the vigilant walk Pacha spotted a cave which descended downwards between the rough grasses. They settled in there and Elizabeth was the first to sleep while Pacha stayed guard.

 

There they waited, sleeping in turn. Both thought about and discussed what to do next but morale was low and hope seemed distant.

Fifteen ~ Achala & Bryce

On a particular trip Asil, Twulai, Achala and Bryce were heading east, to the city of Dasa. The fourth ice field was finally being dug up and was by far the one with the rarest gems, which would be sold to the overlords in Dasa in order to please their clients and to women of high stature. Therefore the giants had their nets full of ice once more and headed eastwards towards Dasa.

 

It wasn't long until they saw a familiar sight. A Mawon pack was coming towards them. As they drew nearer it became clear that this was a large pack of twelve Mawon. Bryce got a good number of spheres ready while the giants, with their loads behind them, prepared to fight. The pack was fast and was upon them within moments. Unlike many other packs they had encountered, these Mawon were organised. Splitting off into three smaller groups of four they then came at each giant in teams after realising that Bryce was too hard to get at without confronting a giant. With four Mawon to one giant the fight was fierce. Blood ran both down the giants’ bodies and deep in the Mawons’ fur. One by one the giants took down the Mawon, with help from Bryce although he very much kept his distance. Adrenaline pumped through their veins and so did the blood that poured out of them.

 

Since joining Bryce and his wagon Asil and Twulai had grown strong, in both strength and stamina. Over time they managed to kill or fatally wound all of the Mawon which attacked them. Achala however was tiring as the remaining Mawon swarmed around her. In the time that Bryce had drawn his attention to the Mawon attacking Asil and Twulai, sure that Achala could handle herself, she had become the weaker target and the Mawon had caught onto this. As the tenth beast went down so did Achala, she fell onto the ice and began being battered by the two remaining Mawon. Twulai and Asil instantly came to help and took a Mawon each, beating the bloodthirsty beasts until death took them. Bryce then halted the wagon and ran without a second thought towards the giants. The last two Mawon were now dead and Achala lay curled in a ball, blood stained on her skin as well as on the snow around her. Carefully and filled with worry, Asil and Twulai knelt down next to her on either side. Bryce joined them also kneeling, trying to catch a glimpse of Achala's face.

Achala?” Asil called softly.

Are you ok?” Twulai called as well, with a hand rested on Achala’s back.

Achala.” Bryce's voice was gentle and worrisome, which was an achievement considering his thick Scottish accent. Achala made no reply as she started to shake and she curled herself up tighter. “Put her on the back of the wagon,” Bryce said without hesitation. “You'll carry her load and that which is already on the wagon. Split it out between yourselves.” Twulai and Asil had no quabble with this and did as he ordered. Gently and with care they managed to turn Achala onto her back, where her eyes were closed and her skin pale. Tears moved slowly down her face as they carried her to the wagon before laying her down onto it. Her wounds were many, and with blood still pouring out of them it was clear that she needed something more than the cold air to help her heal.

They continued on their journey wanting to travel with haste to Dasa but Achala’s size weighed down the wagon, thus wearing out the wolves that drove it. Twulai and Asil were struggling too, the extra weight began not too bad on their back and shoulders but over time it weakened them and all they focused on was putting one foot in front of the other. After days of travelling Achala had become very weak. More Mawon had attacked them and their skins were placed over Achala in order to warm her, yet her shivering never seemed to end. It was a miracle that she was still alive, as most travelling men would have left a giant in that state to die. Furthermore Bryce had a connection to Achala for he had bought her himself when she had been very young and she had protected him many times. It was now his turn to return the favour.

 

After a week of travelling, sleeping and tending to Achala, they finally arrived in Dasa. It was a rich city, mostly filled with wealthy retired mine owners and craftsmen of only the finest equipment. Much like Durkan the buildings were made of stone, only these were much more ornate with patterns running up the walls. The streets were wide and clean unlike the rest of the north. Nevertheless, malice and fury still ran between the streets and filled the air, but here the children ran with some real feeling of innocence. Once they had given the nets of ice to a rather wealthy, short and chubby man, they clumsily found somewhere to rest before Bryce went off holding a number of Mawon furs in excellent condition to exchange for things at a market. After he had left, Twulai and Asil caught sight of a young boy, only 6 years of age.

Hey,” Twulai called out to him. The boy turned to face the giant who was hiding in the shadows. The boy couldn’t see Twulai, but knew that he was there. “Go and fetch me these. Bring me as many as you can carry,” Twulai commanded him before he threw the boy a sphere. The boy caught the object then ran off with it.

What are you doing?” Asil asked him in anger.

Do you have a better idea?” He answered, Asil just looked at him in confusion. “Your plan,” Twulai stated before continuing, “Yesterday evening on the horizon, did you not see the storm clouds? They were a long way off yet but the storm should hit us in around six days’ time and if we can get lighting to strike a large pile of these spheres. I would imagine that would provide enough energy for a rather large explosion.” Asil’s eyes finally lit up at this and she understood Twulai’s vision.

But a boy? And what are we going to give him in return?”

In return?” Twulai said. “The thing I have learned about this cold, dark land is that you get half back for what you give, and that’s if you’re really lucky. The boy will get in return what he brings to us.”

 

A little while later the boy returned and with as many spheres as he could fit into a large wooden basket which, with being bigger than he was, almost caused him to topple over. The ignorant boy stood there as Twulai took the basket from his hands and placed it below the covers which were draped over Achala. The boy stood there waiting for something, meanwhile Twulai simply took a sphere and started to wind it up. The boy heard the noise and ran down the alleyway as fast as his legs could carry him. Twulai threw the sphere so it landed close to, but not on, the boy just to make sure that he kept running. There they settled and waited for Bryce’s return.

 

A few hours later Twulai awoke and looked lazily over to Achala. Bryce had returned and was tending to Achala’s wounds even though it was clear that he was exhausted and was struggling to stay awake. Gently Twulai came over and took the medicine, which consisted of a bowl with a strong smelling smooth paste in it and another bowl filled with a mixture of oil and herbs. Bryce hardly noticed Twulai take the bowls from him before he collapsed to one side and fell into a deep sleep on the wagon. Twulai continued to treat Achala’s wounds with great medical skill before he too fell back asleep.

 

They left Dasa the next day and on the way back to the ice fields Achala had been slowly starting to heal, their pace had slowed because of her injuries but she was doing well. A thunderstorm was gathering over the mountains on the eastern horizon and the giants knew that it was almost time to implement their plan. Thirty-six hours passed and, in the dead of night, the storm was now raging above them, rain was pounding at their bodies as it fell from the sky and thunder roared around the dark clouds. Bright flashes filled the sky as lightning struck nearby. The atmosphere was tense and a childish fear gripped the giants yet they knew that this was their only chance. They moved the sleeping Bryce so that he was far from the wagon as they did not see any benefit in killing him. They let the wolves free by unhooking them from the wagon and allowed them to run into the wilderness. Then all of the three giants worked together to gather up all of the spheres into a pile, before lying their chains across it. Time passed, a little too much time, just enough for the giants to lose their fear of the anticipated attack. Then within a split second lightning struck the chains and a huge electric current travelled into the pile of spheres. Momentarily there was a massive humming noise of electricity as a huge voltage passed through all the spheres. Then they exploded and a huge burst of heat, noise and flames erupted from the wagon.

 

A loud ringing took over Achala’s head as she regained consciousness. Slowly she looked up, the world still spinning, and saw the devastation which was laid out before her. Metal and wood were all in flames as the fire burned, the wagon was in the centre of it and the end of their chains were visible although now they were red hot. Achala looked down and smiled to see her chains burnt off, then without thinking she punched a hole in the ice and plunged her feet down into it. She yelled out in pain but after a few seconds had passed she brought her feet up to see the half broken chains and shackles. She pulled them off easily and moved her ankles, enthralled at the new freedom that she had. She looked around and saw Asil and Twulai, who had also been blown away from the blast, starting to come around. Asil used heat to burn her chains and shackles off while Twulai pulled them apart because they had grown weak. Achala stood up with difficulty, the sound of the fire crackling in her ears. She stumbled around the wreckage taking in what they had done, and after an unknown amount of time Asil and Twulai joined her. Then all three of them stood there just watching it burn, in awe and disbelief at what they had done.

 

Twulai pulled the two female giants away from the flames and they went over to Bryce, who was still lying on the snow with his back to the fire. Twulai turned him over, a gasp came from the other giants while Twulai just lowered his head. Bryce’s right side was burnt and blistered, while his head was red, raw and stained in blood, for half buried in his temple lay a sphere. The left side of his face was untouched, with his left eye closed and looked as if he was asleep. From this, it was fair to say that Bryce was dead. Achala felt some guilt at this, he had done nothing wrong to them and yet they were the cause of his death. She wondered if he had felt anything when he had died, and grief creeped into her head: despite the lack of attachment Achala had towards Bryce.

 

The giants then turned and left the devastation behind them, going east towards the distant mountains where at least there they had a hope of finding a way out of the wilderness. In the mountains their skills were at their peak and they knew how to survive within them, and so their chance of survival and escape was higher than in the bleak wilderness. They reached the mountains sooner than they had anticipated where the ice gave way to a rocky ground and soon after rough grasses started to appear. They travelled south following the mountains edge, hoping it would lead them to the sea. But how they would cross it would be a difficulty they had yet to face.

Sixteen ~ Bwayto Bwen Anoya

Torbjørn and Ilioc's cell door opened and armed men motioned for Torbjørn to exit. Torbjørn got up and headed out calmly into the tunnel. The new gate keeper was outside, standing with his arms crossed and a merciless gaze. Here he first watched Torbjørn exit the cell before he turned to Ilioc and studied the giant who had attempted to save a dying man in the arena. Torbjørn took up this moment and threw the broken bottle of Bwayto Bwen Anoya at the gate keeper, who caught it in his hand. The bottle had been broken in half and its sharp edges were pointing away from the keepers palm.

You sly rat,” he spat at Torbjørn turning his attention to him. “You...” his words were cut short and he gasped loudly in pain. The second half of the bottle had landed firmly in his side yet it had only caused a small amount of blood to run down his clothes. The gate keeper turned back to Ilioc who sat smug in the cell, pleased with his aiming. “Get him!” The keeper commanded his men, but while some men shuffled following these commands most stood in shock as the keeper began to froth at the mouth. He collapsed to the floor and began to seize up, his men standing still as they watched in horror as the poison took effect. The giants seized the moment: Ilioc burst out of the cell taking out men as he went while Torbjørn spun around taking out idle men with his pure strength. The guards near them were now dead or unconscious, and Ilioc turned to see the men who had been waiting for Torbjørn at the abandoned cell now running towards them.

Torbjørn reached for the keys on the gate keeper’s belt but they were firmly attached, sown onto his clothes by many layers of leather. Without any hesitation Torbjørn took hold of the keys and used the thick binding they were attached to: to lift the seizing keeper into the air, spin him around and hurl him towards the oncoming men. As the gate keeper went flying through the air, the keys ripped off his clothing. The gate keeper landed hard against the men, knocking them to the floor. The dead keeper’s eyes panicked the men and they skittered, unsure what to do. Torbjørn threw the keys to Ilioc and they both ran for the door at the far end of the tunnel. The heavy thumping of their feet echoed loudly along the walls. Prisoners shouted in encouragement, confusion and anger. While others cried out for help as the giants ran past them. Getting closer to the first door, they could see the swarm of guards around it. Ilioc fumbled the keys having no idea which of these tiny objects opened it. As the distance between the giants and the men shrank, Torbjørn let out a deep, rumbling roar. The sound reverberated around the tunnel and shook cell doors with its amplitude. Men around the doors bent and curled over from the sound, allowing Ilioc precious moments to find the key that fitted the door. Sliding it open with great effort Ilioc quickly withdrew the key from the lock and they ran through into the long, sloping corridor which circumnavigated the arena and led to the final door. Torbjørn’s roar could now be heard above ground and it caused the walls of nearby buildings to shake.

They reached the final door as Torbjørn was visibly growing weary from belting out the roar. Fumbling for the final key Ilioc managed to get it open and they ran out into the streets of Durkan. Torbjørn’s roar faded and he fell forwards with exhaustion. Ilioc managed to catch him and hauled Torbjørn up over his shoulders. Not stopping, Ilioc ran through the streets and out into the open snow covered plains.

 

After many hours of running Ilioc came to a large fire burning brightly. Stopping in a darker place yet with the warmth of the fire he lay Torbjørn down, who was fast asleep, before settling down himself. When Ilioc awoke he had a feeling that someone or something wasn't far behind them so he awoke Torbjørn and they continued to run in the other direction.

Seventeen ~ Alvar

Alvar was in Durkan looping up his ropes and tending to his ship while he listened to the latest topics of conversation around the dock.

A big explosion south of the ice fields, the flames still burn like the sun itself is burning up. The men are afraid to go anywhere near it, they believe what caused it could be attracting Mawon to it,” came one man who was buying imported goods.

There’s been another shaft collapse at the mine owned by Vallabhadev and his son. That place is a death trap I tell you, he’s going to be spending a lot of time in Cirrom buying more slaves in the future. Just you watch,” a woman gossiped loudly. Alvar dismissed these as normal occurrences in a land raged by harsh climates and unforgiving work. However something did seem odd, especially about the explosion and the flames. Alvar couldn’t pinpoint it but something in his gut told him that something wasn’t right. In the night which he spent awake in a rented tavern room he knew something was about to happen, and sure enough half an hour later the tavern building began to shake and a roaring could be heard echoing around the buildings. The noise was faint and distant yet it was powerful. Alvar rushed outside just as it faded away and looked in the direction he had heard it. The street around him filled with chaos, crowded by all manner of people woken by the noise. Alvar started to make his way through the crowds to find the source of the noise, but he was stopped by a man who took hold of his upper arm,

Alvar Avery, come with me.” The tone which the man used was not threatening but instead it was a mixture of urgency and worry. He led Alvar down an alleyway off to the side which made its way between the buildings. After twisting and turning through the darkness they were met by a hefty figure. His beard hid most of his face in the dim light.

Mr Avery,” The man stated, “I trust you are the experienced giant capturer that people say you are.”

That is one of my titles and yes I have much experience,” Alvar replied. Why am I here?” He asked.

Two giants.” The man replied simply. It was clear to Alvar that this was a serious matter as he stood facing the master and owner of The Mieczyslaw Arena. “They escaped from the cells, as you have heard. I need you to find them. Bring them to me alive or bring me their heads. It’s up to you. Take my men and when you return you shall be richly rewarded. I trust that we understand each other?” The owner asked him.

Entirely,” came Alvar’s reply. “You trust wisely. Which way did they head?”

East towards the ice fields,” an armed man spoke from behind the owner of the arena.

My men will await you by the eastern armoury,” the owner added. Alvar simply nodded before he turned and left them, heading back to the tavern.

 

When Alvar came to the armoury, outside sixty men were indeed awaiting him with five large wagons and enough weaponry to take out an army.

We head eastwards!” Alvar commanded them and the men moved to the wagons. The selection of twenty men whom Alvar had brought with him, which included Varun and Venor, also headed for the wagons. With all five wagons filled with around fifteen men each and with Alvar in the front wagon they headed towards the eastern horizon.

Eighteen ~ The Eastern Mountains

Twulai walked through the mountains with Achala behind him and Asil at the back. Achala was chatty, wanting to know more about where the giants came from and what it was like there. Twulai kept his head down, watching for danger but for a long while the world was still around them.

 

When something did move Twulai saw it first. A day and a half into their journey to the shoreline they saw two figures walking towards them from the west. As they grew closer it became clear that they were two giants walking steadily and unafraid. Despite their scars and healing wounds Twulai quickly recognized them.

Ilioc! Torbjørn!” He shouted out before running towards them and hugging Ilioc.

Torbjørn! Ilioc!” Asil also shouted out and ran to Torbjørn giving him a hug.

What happened to you?” Twulai asked.

An arena happened,” Ilioc told them. “We were forced to fight to live. But we managed to fight our way out of there. What about you?” He asked.

We exploded the very chains which were holding us prisoner,” Asil replied.

What do you mean?” Torbjørn asked, “You were in chains the whole time?”

We were chained to a wagon, transporting goods throughout the north.” Twulai explained. “We also picked up a little something on the way as well,” Twulai said, turning to Achala.

Hello. My name is Achala. It’s lovely to meet you Ilioc and Torbjørn,” Achala greeted them.

What a fine friend you have found,” Torbjørn replied cheerfully. “Shall we continue and talk on the way? Let us start getting closer to home,” Torbjørn said to nodding agreement from the other giants.

 

They traveled south for another two days, while talking about their last few months’ experiences and, most importantly, how they had escaped. They learned about Achala’s background and her lack of knowledge of what freedom was like.

 

Elizabeth was on watch, her mood was solemn yet peaceful when in the distance she saw shapes moving. Five large creatures were coming towards her. Elizabeth became fearful and scared as she retreated back into the cave. Pacha was stirred by this movement and turned to Elizabeth.

What’s the problem?” Pacha asked.

Large shapes, coming right for us,” Elizabeth replied fearfully but Pacha’s eyes lit up at this.

Could it be? She thought to herself. Pacha crawled to the top of the cave, careful not to reveal herself.

Pacha! Pacha!” Elizabeth whispered with urgency.

Shh,” Pacha replied quickly. She stuck her head out of the cave to see the four giants she recognized and a new one. Instantly she came out of the cave shouting for them, “Asil! Torbjørn! Twulai! Ilioc!”

Pacha?” Asil said as she looked around for her. Asil’s eyes drifted to Pacha, who was a small figure on the ground. “Pacha!” Asil knelt down and did her best to hug Pacha, although it was a little difficult. “It’s so good to see you! I can’t believe that you’re out here!” Asil said with joy.

Come here Pacha,” Twulai said as he also knelt down to her level and hugged her. From within the cave Elizabeth heard this commotion and stuck her head out to see what was going on. She was intrigued at the relationship between Pacha and these giants. Ilioc spotted Elizabeth,

Hey.” He called in a friendly tone and Elizabeth vanished out of sight. Pacha heard this and turned to see Ilioc walking towards the cave in which Elizabeth was hidden within.

Elizabeth!” Pacha called. “It’s alright. They’re friends.” A moment after Pacha said this a reluctant Elizabeth appeared. A least her head did. But the rest of her soon followed and she walked timidly towards Pacha, wary of the giants.

Hello,” Asil greeted Elizabeth. “I’m Asil, it’s nice to meet you.” Elizabeth paused, taking in the scene around her. She stretched out her hand,

Elizabeth. It’s an experience to meet you.” She replied. Twulai laughed at her comment as she shook hands with Asil.

I’m Twulai,” He announced shaking Elizabeth’s hand.

Torbjørn,”

Ilioc,”

Achala,” The final giants announced in sequence, each shaking Elizabeth’s hand.

 

Overwhelmed Elizabeth still couldn't take in what was in front of her.

Five giants, all with manners better than my own. She thought to herself.

Come on, let’s get out of here,” Achala said and Pacha encouraged Elizabeth as the party set off.

Nineteen ~ Into The Fire

After a fairly short amount of time of travelling in the darkness Alvar and his men arrived at the burnt site of the explosion. The flames had now died but the ash which remained was still red hot. They walked around the site, where Alvar came across a burnt and rotting body. He inspected it and the area around it before he concluded that the two giants weren’t the only things that they would be hunting for. Varun then made his way over to Alvar.

Do you see the tracks? And the marks on the body?” Alvar whispered to Varun.

Giants,” Varun replied and Alvar nodded.

Three of them. And I don’t think these are the giants that escaped the arena,” Alvar spoke with certainty and seriousness. “This body is not fresh and this fire was caused by an explosion. Prepare yourself Varun. We’re hunting five intelligent giants.” Alvar said in a whisper before he left Varun and went back to the wagons where he ordered them to move onwards. At this time they turned south aiming to meet the giants at the shoreline around the mountains end, as if indeed they were attempting to escape they would have to cross the Sea of Notwen. Alvar would bet that they were travelling close to, if not in the mountains themselves for protection. Whatever the case Alvar knew that he had to be well prepared for this fight.

Twenty ~ Deep In The Mountains

The path the giants were following first led them close to the mountains, following their bases before the path began to slope upwards, going round shoulders where above them huge rock cliffs jutted out. Trees grew near the mountain edges, some bore fruit which they ate while fresh water streams allowed the giants, Pacha and Elizabeth to have a healthy supply of water. Numerous animals scuttled between the trees and rocks, some of which were large enough to provide the giants with a sizeable meal yet they longed for a dragon to feast on. The path made its way upwards, heading in and out of gullies and over a few mountain passes. Rain began to fall on one day as they were traversing a loose rocky slope, known as a scree slope, before they quickly re-joined the well-trodden path as thunder boomed overhead. They sheltered under a few trees growing on the cliff, not daring to go into a cave with the thunderstorm overhead for fear of being struck by lightning that is known to jump across caves. The thunderstorm passed over them and headed south, allowing them to shelter in a large cave cut into the cliff. A passage at the back continued deep into the cave and as the rain continued to fall they drifted off to sleep.

 

Twulai was awake, watching for any signs of danger as the others slept. He couldn't tell whether it was night or day any-more only that it was dark and they were tired. The pitter patter of the rain was hypnotic and relaxing yet the distant thunder kept Twulai alert. It was in this alert yet subdued state in which Twulai failed to notice the faint sound of carefully placed feet in the back of the cave, within the passage. Creatures drew near from the dark, watching Twulai's outline in the front of the cave. They came quietly, scuttling and hungry. The hoard was quiet and they got into the large cave entrance before Twulai felt the hair on the back of his neck begin to rise. He turned to see the creatures that awaited him. A swarm of figures all short, stumped and crawling on all fours were racing towards him, the other giants and the humans like a tidal wave. Twulai could not even begin to count numbers as more poured out of the passageway, swarming across the floor, walls and the roof of the cave.

Wake up!” Twulai screamed, so much that he almost roared. The others awoke immediately crying out in horror at the sight with awaited them. They scrambled to their feet but the creatures were on them too fast. Pacha and Elizabeth screamed as they were instantly engulfed by the creatures causing them to disappear into the horde.

Pacha!” Torbjørn and Achala cried out.

Elizabeth!” Ilioc shouted.

The creatures began to titter and shriek, the giants tried to fight them off as they retreated out of the cave. The creatures began to crawl up the giants’ bodies like ants, the endless stream of them began to overrun the giants pushing them nearer to the cliffs’ edge. Asil screamed as she was pulled down and into the horde, inundated by the creatures.

No!” Twulai cried out weakly as the creatures caused him to choke on his own words.

Asil!” Achala yelled as she struggled to hold back the creatures, which were overwhelming her. The screeching and whooping of the creatures couldn't be held back as they pushed the four giants off the edge of the cliff. However their deafening shrieks were cut short by an intense clap of thunder close by. Their joy became fear and they fled back into the cave passage as quickly as they had come from it. The giants they would come back for, as they had a feast already awaiting them.

 

The passageway twisted and turned heading deep into the mountain, shouts could be heard from Pacha, Elizabeth and Asil coming from deep within the mass. The swarm persisted down the tunnel at an alarming rate before entering a massive chamber. The mass of the creatures parted leaving Pacha, Elizabeth and Asil laying bare on the rocky floor. They hastened to their feet looking around at their surroundings. They were in a cavern, almost 100ft high and easily a kilometre in width and lining the walls and ceiling lay hundreds of lizards. The reptiles luminesced with a bright blue colour, lighting up the cavern. Asil could make out yellow bands on the lizards and she knew immediately that they were venomous. In the dim blue light Asil made out the creatures which had brought them here. Just smaller than Pacha and Elizabeth, their lumpy skin was as repulsive as the noise which came from their diseased vocal chords. All of them were disfigured in some way and had bent hands, fingers and toes on the end of which lay claws rather than fingernails. The most horrifying part of the army of goblins which Asil now faced was not their hideous looks or their nature but their numbers. There were easily thousands of them here, if not more. They stood staring at them a few paces away yet Asil didn’t want to experience the power of their sheer numbers once more. Therefore she, like Pacha and Elizabeth stayed put. The goblins were skittish, like they were awaiting something.

 

Soon enough a rumbling came from within the cavern and something came towards the visitors. The ground shook like the very stone around them was moving, and a being as large as Asil as well as being taller and wider than the thickest tree trunks, lumbered into view. Its exact shape was hard to make out as its stone body meant it blended in perfectly with the cave around it. Only by its movements could she make out its body.

Rum ma ne ra du ca say.” The sound was loud, deep and it echoed around the cavern walls. “Ra redu. Bu ruf, wama ca sa.” The sound was indeed coming from the creature that stood before them, leaning down and inspecting them as it spoke. Pacha previously thought that the smoke rising up around the creature was fire or gas, however as it drew near to her she could see that the plumes of vapour were rising from the places where its mouth and eyes should be. “Ri ca so, ba bum re mai?” It was clearly a voice which the creature spoke with and it moved as any other living creature would, despite being entirely made of stone. The goblins, which had been silent while this creature had been speaking, began to snigger as if they understood what it was saying. Asil, Pacha and Elizabeth knew not what to do and thus stayed silent.

Ric a ma ru!” The creature bellowed, the sound loudly reverberating off the cavern walls and caused Pacha and Elizabeth to cover their ears. “Gruca rimorti, ca ka per ou.” As though it was a command, the goblins swarmed towards Asil and the humans once more. They called out at the sudden movement but were unable to control to sea of hands which now lifted all three of them up. The goblins themselves were laughing and muttering,

Ki Quitay.” They all repeated, thousands of them drawn to the same two words. They threw their catches high into the air, ripping their clothing with their claws each time they got hold of them. The stone creature watched them and laughed in a deep tone.

Bri bra um,” the stone creature said after a while, once its amusement had faded. The goblins placed Asil and the humans surprisingly gently down onto the floor where they stood weakened by the goblins’ games. They watched the stone creature reach over to one of the walls, where it took hold of one of the lizards and brought it close to them. Pacha and Asil stared at the creature, fascinated at how it luminesced. Elizabeth was more wary. The stone creature threw the lizard at Pacha and Asil’s feet before reaching down and picking Elizabeth up. The creature’s motion distracted Pacha and Asil’s attention, and they called out for Elizabeth. “Bum ma pu ic quqa,” the voice bellowed, holding Elizabeth close to what should have been its face. Then with surety and great force it began to crush Elizabeth in its hand. Elizabeth gasped for air, unable to do anything else.

Elizabeth!” Pacha cried out as she watched and she began to run towards her friend. Quickly the goblins jumped into action, they stopped her movement and held her still, leaving her to watch Elizabeth.

 

Shrieking erupted behind them amongst the crowd of goblins and turned to see what the sudden outcry was about. A massive boulder flew over their heads, which Asil had to duck for, and hit the stone creature directly in the chest. Elizabeth fell from the creatures grip and Asil managed to catch her before she hit the floor. Asil turned back to see where the boulder had come from, and the figures of their friends were able to be made out clearly in the dim blue light. As more boulders flew around the cavern crashing into the goblins, the giants were swarmed by the goblins however they had prepared for this and without any hesitation they threw their bodies against the stone walls, killing most of the goblins that clinged to them. Quickly, Asil quickly picked up Pacha and Elizabeth, commanding them to hold on tight to her shoulder straps. She then picked up a nearby boulder and launched it straight at the goblins that were racing towards her. All the giants sprinted towards the passageway while Ilioc and Torbjørn covered their backs repeatedly lifting and hurling boulders at the oncoming multitude of goblins. Their days in the arena had provided Ilioc and Torbjørn with enough stamina, strength and endurance to deal with a situation such as this. Darting to the exit as fast as they could, adrenaline forced them on. Drawn out minutes into the chase the giants emerged out of the cave and back into the thunderstorm, which had returned overhead.

 

Most of the goblins stopped at the cavern edge, strongly fearful of the storm, but a few moved onwards; driven out of the cave by their hunger which overcame their instinctive fear of the storm. They neared the group squealing and drooling as they went. One of the goblins sprinted forwards in a burst of energy and leaped up high into the air heading straight for Pacha’s neck who was situated upon Asil’s shoulder. Elizabeth turned round just a moment before the goblin’s long claws found Pacha’s neck, and without a second thought she leaped and intercepted the goblin’s attack in mid-air. What happened next took only a matter of seconds, but to Pacha it lasted a lifetime. As soon as Elizabeth and the goblin made contact they plummeted like rocks straight over the edge of the cliff.

 

The giants ran onwards knowing that there was nothing they could do. Pacha’s world stood still. She wanted to go back in order to see if Elizabeth was alive and if she could save her, but in her heart she knew that Elizabeth was dead and there was nothing she could do. The giants kept running down the mountain path knocking rocks down the cliffs below them, but not stopping to look back. Thunder still rumbled above them and lightning lit up the sky as it struck nearby. They took the first path down and towards the wasteland which now had lakes dotted around its landscape. As they came to rest Asil placed Pacha down slowly before joining the other giants. Pacha sat down where she had been placed, still in shock and with her brain reeling away from what had just happened. The giants gathered in a circle, weary and unsure of what to make of Pacha and the loss of Elizabeth. They decided to leave Pacha alone for a while, as they feared that giants would not be much use in this situation.

You’re still alive then?” Asil said in a surprised tone to the other giants.

Yes,” Achala replied. “It turns out that the cliffs have good friction and we’re all competent climbers.”

What was that thing in inside the cave?” Twulai asked.

I don’t know,” Asil answered. “But it seemed to be controlling the goblins. Ki Quitay. That’s what the goblins were chanting.”

A Quitay?” Torbjørn asked with surprise and intrigue.

A what?” Twulai questioned in return.

It is a legend that is hundreds, if not thousands of years old. They are said to be the aftermath of the curse lain up on the mountains by the Dwius.Torbjørn explained from his wide knowledge of the world. The other giants just listened, intrigued by the story. “Those who crossed the mountains during the conflict between the Dwius and the men of the north instantly became stone. Then once the conflict was ended and the Dwius had fled, those who had become stone were buried deep in the mountains. However the fumes coming up from the ground mixed with the Dwius magic, and meant that these stone men and women came alive once more. They became twisted by their death and resurrection and made their dwellings deep in the mountains with other evil beings.”

As interesting as the old tales are,” Asil interrupted. “where did you two learn to fight like that?” She directed her question towards Ilioc and Torbjørn.

The arena,” Ilioc answered Asil simply. “As soon as we began to attack the goblins, my muscle memory kicked in and I fought like I had done in the arena. I don’t think I’ll forget the moves I learnt from there.

Could you be able to teach us some of those moves?” Twulai asked them.

Of course.” Ilioc replied. Ilioc and Torbjørn then demonstrated the techniques they had picked up in the arena to the other giants before Achala, Twulai and Asil attempted to replicate the moves.

Twenty One ~ Cold Skies

The shock slowly faded for Pacha and soon she began to weep softly. Asil noticed this while she was practising the fighting moves and she removed herself from the giants and went over to Pacha quietly. She sat down and let Pacha become fully aware of her presence before she spoke.

What can I do?” Asil asked and Pacha shook her head in response.

She’s not dead,” Pacha said softly, “She’s not dead.”

Pacha,” Asil replied gently.

She fell but she’s not dead. She could be injured, lying there at the bottom of the cliff.”

Pacha,” Asil repeated but more firmly this time.

She could be trapped underneath the goblin. Badly wounded even.”

Pacha!” Asil said loudly and firmly, snapping Pacha out of her spiralling thought pattern. “She was smashed against the cliff and her head was cracked open. I saw it with my own eyes and I know that you saw it too.” Asil spoke harshly but with no intent to harm. Pacha just stared at Asil with tears in her eyes, not wanting to accept that which she had witnessed. Asil took Pacha in her arms and brought her close to her chest. There they sat with the wind whistling around their heads, the giants behind them still learning from Ilioc and Torbjørn about fighting skills.

 

Soon night came and although the light had not even dimmed, all the party went to sleep. Ilioc however took time to settle, as he remembered when he had had the feeling that someone or something was not far behind them, yet although they had travelled miles this feeling still lingered on, and Ilioc was unsure as to why.

 

When the next day came around they continued on their journey towards the shore. Pacha walked in front, far from the giants, truly feeling the separation between their species for the first time. What she needed was someone human. She didn't need giants, with all their knowledge, incredible personalities and overpowering words. Her heart called out for Elizabeth but her head forced upon her the horrible truth. All she wanted was to be human, and at home with her family.

 

After a while of walking, Achala made her way slowly towards Pacha by increasing her pace,

Stay back,” she told the other giants quietly. She knew what Pacha needed and although she, nor the others, could provide it. Achala knew personal loss. She had cared more for Bryce than she had admitted to both herself and to those around her. Achala came until she was side by side with Pacha and they walked for a while in silence.

I would ask how you are feeling but that is pretty obvious,” Achala said softly. Pacha didn't reply. “I am someone who grew up in the north. All the time under the watchful eye of the tradesmen of the ice fields,” Achala continued aware that she had gained Pacha's attention. “There was one man whom I was under the command of for most of my life. His name was Bryce. He was a man who was not like most. He preferred the company of giants and the wilderness to that of men,” Achala recalled before pausing.

What happened?” Pacha asked after the moment of silence.

He died. In the explosion we set off. A sphere ended up buried deep in his head. I hope at least that it was a quick death,” Achala answered her. Silence took them both, Pacha not stopping to think about what a sphere was.

Elizabeth talked a lot about Lilaveld, the goddess of the world.” Pacha said, "She believed with her whole heart that one day her life would change for the better. She believed Lilaveld was with her, even in the worst of times.”

In many ways her life did change for the better,” Achala added as she tried to be encouraging. Pacha smiled and glanced towards Achala with tears in her eyes.

Elizabeth said that if she was to die in the mine, Lilaveld would continue to work within others and would bring about miracles.” Pacha paused at this before speaking so quietly that Achala almost couldn't hear her. “How can something this devastating lead to something so indescribably good?” Pacha began to cry uncontrollably. Achala stopped and simply wrapped her arms around Pacha holding her tight.

 

Hours passed and Pacha was still walking ahead of the giants. She was wrapped in her own cloak made from hare fur, which she and Elizabeth had caught in order to stay alive whilst sheltering in the cave. Pacha passed geothermal cracks in the ground and she watched the flames flicker as the natural heat soaked into her yet did nothing to warm her heart. A part of Pacha had died with Elizabeth, a part she never knew she had yet as she walked through the southern most tip of the Ettolrahc, she came to a slow yet transforming realisation. She had felt a real connection to Lilaveld through Elizabeth during her time with her although she had not realised it. Pacha felt then someone beside her, only there was no giant, no human nor any danger. Beside her walked a ghost she could not see but feel, her heart knew it was there even though her head disagreed.

I met her,” Pacha spoke to the air, “I have met Lilaveld through Elizabeth and even now I can feel her beside me. She walks as an angel intertwined with Lilaveld herself, I can feel them both now as one. I can see her clearly and I open up my heart to her,” Pacha was speaking with clarity while tears began to run down her face, “All I wish is that my connection with Lilaveld hadn't cost Elizabeth her life,” Pacha finished.

 

They began to head back towards the mountains in order to stay covered for as long as possible before they risked the dangerous journey to the shoreline.

Twenty Two ~ The Choice

Commander Avery, sir,” a man said to Alvar as he slowed his run to a stop. “The giants. They're here just over the ridge in a dip, they have one on guard and the rest are sleeping,” the man continued in a rushed voice. Alvar nodded understanding this man's observations, “There are five giants sir, five. And a human as well.”

Thank you,” Alvar interrupted him. “I am aware of the numbers. Go to your station and prepare your men for battle,” Alvar told him and the man marched back to his station with haste. Meanwhile Alvar went to Varun and Venor who were sleeping on the ground nearby. Alvar kicked them lightly, they awoke and stood to command immediately. “Venor, take your archers to the upper pass, the giants lie just beyond it. Watch yourself, there will be one giant on guard. Varun send up your youngest and most agile men behind Venor’s men. We will draw the giants from the mountains to these plains, but be cautious as the giants are able to overpower you by strength and don't underestimate their fighting skill.”

 

Asil was awoken by Ilioc as it was now her watch, but instead of going to sleep Ilioc took her by the arm and whispered in her ear,

There was a scout on the pass but I can't be sure if he saw me or not. Keep watch and I'll help you gather boulders.” Asil listened very carefully to Ilioc's words before following his instructions. They gathered a fair number of boulders which were of numerous different sizes. Unaware to them as they awoke the others, Venor’s men lined up on the upper pass which lay just above the giants camp. Quietly they drew their bows and arrows lining up their shots before Venor silently signalled them to fire. Sure enough the arrows met their marks and the giants turned immediately to them just before they fired again. Pacha was behind the giants thankfully and the arrows missed her as she was too small a target. On the second wave of arrows the giants were more prepared, dodging most of the attacks but not all, while they readied boulders to strike back. By the third wave the giants had thrown their boulders with several hitting archers square on and taking them out.

Retreat!” Venor yelled to his archers and they pulled back just as a large boulder thrown by Twulai took a dozen of them out as they turned and headed back down the slope to their camp. The giants picked up as many boulders as they could carry and headed up to the pass. They headed over the top and threw the boulders at the running archers managing to take out most of them. Meanwhile Varun’s young men came out from their hiding places and struck at the giants. This enraged the giants more and they charged at the men as the men led them down the slope. At the back Pacha picked up a sword dropped by one of the men and followed the giants. As they ran they were unable to see the army that awaited them at the bottom of the slope.

 

They neared the edge of the solid slope and the ground beneath them moved with each of their steps. The scree slope they found themselves on was easy to run down, due to the amount of loose rock overlying the solid layer. From below men fired charged spheres at the giants, they were hard to dodge due to the geological features of the scree slope. Many hit the giants and they came crashing down the slope, taking out many Varun’s men as they did so. Pacha got down close to the slope and slid down it, keeping her eyes fixed on the falling giants. She took out some of Varun’s men as she passed before she landed at the bottom where Twulai, Ilioc and Torbjørn lay shaking due to the effect of the spheres. Ahead of her Achala and Asil stood up and launched at the men, taking out many of them with ease as they ran deep into the thick of the crowd. Pacha followed them slashing at men who ran at her, knocking them down. The giants behind her struggled to their feet before they picked up stones from the scree slope and threw them at men as they too ran into the battle. After a while the men thinned out and Pacha realised that they were in the centre of five wagons spread far apart. In a blaze of white light and loud explosions which quickly turned to white noise Pacha and the giants were thrown in many different directions.

 

Through the thick mist which now lay upon the plain, men emerged. They hauled great nets up and over the giants. Pacha found herself out of the way and covered in dust watching from afar. She looked back and saw someone who was making their way through the crowd with a weapon in hand. She quickly got to her feet and took hold of a sword which was near her before running for this person. She recognised with clarity the weapon he was holding. It was a gun which contained the bullets which the giants had been shot with in order from them to have been transported to the north. Getting close she knocked him to the ground before he could fire and she forced the weapon from his hand. A swarmed of men pulled Pacha away from the man, who she now recognised as the one who had captured her and the giants many months ago. Pacha was then knocked out.

 

Pacha awoke feeling the intense heat from nearby fires. A rock whistled over her head, then another, and another. She became aware of the heavy metal net which was wrapped around her as the blazing fireballs landed near her. She scrabbled and scratched at the metal trying to find a way out, pausing when one of the wagons engulfed by flames swung over her body and crashed nearby. Achala came into view and unwrapped her from the net, blood had run down the side of the giant’s face yet Pacha had no time to ask her if she was alright. Men came at them from all directions. Achala turned and fought off those nearest to her while Pacha swung the sword in the hope of hitting the other men whilst simultaneously dodging attacks. Torbjørn then appeared from behind Pacha, swinging several nets above his head as he did so and firing them at the men.

 

Soon the plains were a mess of flames, blood and bodies. Ilioc and Torbjørn were taking out most of the men while Asil and Twulai were taking down stragglers. Pacha kept close to Achala as they took down those foolish enough who tried to take them on. Most of the remaining men, which were very few in number, began to turn and run into the wilderness. The giants let them go, the chances were that they wouldn’t get very far. The flames from the burning wagons, which had been exploded as a means to injure the giants so that they could capture them easily, lit up the sky. Men lay on the ground injured, some were close to death and some were able to walk. The giants walked between them as they surveyed the ruins of would have been their demise. By the sea, which wasn’t far away now, Pacha could make out a ship. Whether it had been part of the assault or passing traders who had stopped to lend the men a hand, Pacha did not know. She just knew now that it would be their escape.

 

The giants, satisfied that there was no more danger here, made their way towards the abandoned ship. Pacha followed them, walking at a fair pace while to her right men scuttled away from her, retreating back towards the direction where they had come from. Something moved without warning and Pacha turned with her sword. She found herself facing the man who had captured her. Hatred filled her mind and she tightened her grip on the sword. The man was kneeling, looking up at her while his hand was firmly pressing on an injury. It was clear that he did not remember Pacha. Wrath and fury raged within Pacha and she wanted to kill him where he knelt, but something was holding her back. Killing in order to flee in a pre-empted attack is one thing but murdering someone in cold blood, even someone whose actions had led to such devastation, pain and suffering. Pacha couldn’t do it. She couldn't kill him. She couldn’t kill this unnamed man who had no hint of remorse for his actions.

 

Within Pacha her anger became sadness which then became fear.

You,” she whispered, holding the sword stiffly against the man’s throat, making sure that he could not move. Tears threatened to surface but Pacha held them back. “I don’t care who you are,” she stated, her voice becoming stronger as she grew in confidence. “You have caused the suffering of many. Of these giants, of the men who now flee and of me.” Like before Pacha felt a presence beside her, one of which she could not identify. It wasn’t Elizabeth but rather one which was much more powerful. “In this death and this pain,” Pacha turned the sword so that it dug into the mans skin, yet still his expression did not change while he listened. “I could kill you, cut off your head so that you will never cause this much pain again.” The man to whom Pacha spoke to seemed ready for death and had no quarrel with the idea. But Pacha paused and spoke again,

However I will spare your life.” She said slowly, “I do not wish to know who you are or how many horrific things you have done. Take your life away from here, leave us in peace to sail away on this ship and if anyone comes after us I will personally ensure that they do not come back alive.” Pacha spoke with surety and confidence, and in her heart she knew that her words were true. She drew the sword away from the man however he did not move. “Tell the men who await you that we attacked you, but we were overcome, and we burned in the flames. Let us suffer now the pain we both feel in peace. For you are forgiven.” Pacha dropped the sword by his feet and stepped away from him. She remained there for a moment before she turned and ran for the ship which the giants had now boarded and was beginning to leave the shore. She ran for it reaching out her hand. Torbjørn leaned out from the boat and lifted Pacha up. He supported her waist as he lifted her up and onto the boat.

 

On the land Alvar slowly and painfully stood up releasing the pressure from his knees. He picked up the sword which Pacha had left behind and just stood watching the boat leave. He had not recognised Pacha but he had felt something new. Something powerful, which was here as well. He turned back to the devastation which was lain out behind him. The wagons they had brought with them were all broken and were still lit up, burning in immense flames. Bodies lay strewn throughout the landscape, some men had been burnt to ashes while others had been burnt beyond recognition. Alvar knew that among them Venor and Varun lay dead on the land. Venor had been killed by one of his own men as they had run wildly from the oncoming giants. Varun had been injured then had become trapped underneath a burning wagon.

 

Pacha’s words had struck something deep inside of him. They were something that he would not soon forget.

Twenty Three ~ Heading Home

On the ship, the giants and Pacha sailed through the sea of Notwen. The rocking of the ship was rhythmic and calming, yet all on board were troubled. Pacha felt drawn to Lilaveld like never before, she felt a new connection with the Goddess and in her heart her belief grew. Achala wondered what her new life would bring, where she would go and who would await her. She began to miss Bryce, the familiarity he brought and the peace which came with being in the wilderness with him. She had a feeling that she would stick with Asil or Twulai for a short while until she found her feet, their friendship had grown over the challenging times and she didn’t want to lose them. Twulai thought of home, something he had long missed. He thought of the Eoida mountain range, and he thought of the most exquisite of the Fiwe giants whom he observed from afar He wished he knew her name. Asil too thought of home, of her siblings and the rivers she fished in with her parents. Ilioc missed the hustle and bustle, not of mountains, oceans and wild environments but of busy people and the workings of the lower plains. Torbjørn had not felt far from home in the gales and the snow, but it was the warmth of his family which he silently longed for as he made sure the ship was secure in the waters.

Dragons,” Asil said in the silence.

What?” Ilioc asked.

Dragons,” Asil said again. “It’s what we came here for. We still need to drive them south or else we won’t stay at home for very long.”

That’s a good point,” Twulai added.

What are we going to do though? We can’t drive them out ourselves. Even with our numbers, we will be easily overwhelmed,” Achala added. The giants thought about this before Pacha spoke up,

Fire,” She said. The giants turned to her. “We set this ship on fire. It hasn’t rained for days so the forest will be as dry as a bone. The ocean is rough so another storm may be on it’s way but one fire would set the whole of the northern forest ablaze. The dragons will flee the forests which line mountains in Regad and they’ll head south to Jordfald. It even may be enough to scare the dragons from the high mountains as well.” The giants looked at her after this statement before muttering in agreement.

They’ll be something on this ship which we can use to start a fire,” Ilioc acknowledged. They gathered materials as the ship neared the northern shore. By the time that they reached the shore they had what they needed. Pacha used a piece of flint to light the wood on the ship. As intended, it was engulfed by fire in moments. Quickly the giants and Pacha moved away from the ship as fast as they could, sticking close to the shoreline where the trees were sparse and soon diverted away from them. Soon the forest was ablaze and dragons rose to the skies, flying south like a swarm of insects. The giants grinned at this as they watched their food supply, in their thousands, began a journey back towards their homeland.

Yeah!” Ilioc called out.

Woo!” Came Torbjørn’s exclamation.

Yeah!” Asil joined. Twulai whooped and the sounds of ecstatic excitement from the giants could not be described, but it filled Pacha with immense joy. They passed between burnt plants and softly crackling trees as they left the north and headed home. Silence spoke volumes as they walked, all of them happy to be away from the foul lands of the north. They walked for days, underneath the stars and every so often the giants captured dragons and had a feast. They offered Pacha some raw dragon but she refused and instead munched on the berries that she knew were safe. She would catch the odd rabbit which she roasted over fires that she and the giants would sit around. They enjoyed the feeling of the moment, like they had made it out of a raging thunderstorm and everything was now calm.

 

After a while the party split, where Twulai and Asil would leave them heading further east while the rest of them would head south.

My friends,Asil began, You mean so much to me. I would hope that we shall all see home again soon as gentle and calm as we left it.Asil hugged each of them in turn. “Pacha.” She said softly kneeling to her height. “The world shall be better for both us and yourself now. I have learned so much from you and if I ever pass by Seu I shall look for you.” They took each others wrists and stayed there in a gentle moment as Twulai bided farewell behind them.

I doubt I shall stray far from home but if I ever do, I’ll come to see you,Twulai said to them.

Until next time,” Achala replied to Twulai as Asil and Pacha unwrapped their hands.

Twulai.” Pacha said simply to Twulai.

Farewell Pacha. Until I see you again,” Twulai replied to her.

Let us keep these friendships. The north has shown us cruelty beyond that which I have ever seen. Let us agree that we are here if ever one of us is in need.Ilioc said and all the other giants nodded in agreement.

Let us form a strong bond between both giants of all mountains ranges and between humans indeed.” Achala finished and the giants murmured before parting ways.

 

Two days passed before the remaining giants came near enough to Seu that Pacha felt safe enough to head home by herself.

I’m going to miss you,” Pacha said as she turned to the giants who remained. They smiled back at her.

You are a most exquisite human Pacha and I would give my life for you,” Torbjørn said as he knelt down and hugged her tightly.

I’m going to miss you Pacha,” Ilioc said with sincerity as he too leant down and gave her a hug.

Achala,” Pacha said as she turned to the giant.

Pacha,” Achala replied.

I hope you find a home,” Pacha said with sincerity.

I will, don’t you worry,” Achala replied. “I will always be in your heart Pacha, as I know Elizabeth is as well.” Achala too hugged Pacha before she smiled at her, and Pacha smiled back. A bond made with giants is truly a strong one, never forget that.”

So long my friends,” Pacha called.

We will see you again Pacha. I’m sure,” Ilioc replied just before they turned southwards. Pacha watched them for a short while before she too turned and headed for home.

 

She walked through the meadows with ease, still in the comfort of the giants as she knew they were not far away. As Seu became clear on the horizon Pacha felt tears come to her eyes. She had not seen home for so long. As soon as she neared her village she heard a voice behind her,

Pacha!” She turned and saw Heli running towards her with his bow in one hand and three animals resting on his shoulder. “Where have you been?” Helis’ voice was stern and worried.

I’m sorry” Pacha began, unsure how to explain herself. “I never intended to be away that long.” She waited for Heli to answer but he simply embraced her before he walked her back to Seu.

I knew you had gone to find the giants,” Heli said not waiting for Pacha to reply. “I figured you have found more than you intended to?” He asked her.

Yes. I did indeed. So much more than I had intended.”

 

They walked through Seu where many people looked to see Pacha and Heli, murmuring between themselves at the sight. Pacha kept her eyes lowered ashamed of herself. Soon they neared Pacha’s home.

Here she is,” Heli called out.

Freida opened the door and stepped outside in disbelief before she came running to her daughter.

Thank you, thank you,” She called to Heli. “Pacha are you alright? My darling you’ve been gone for months!” Freida said almost weeping as she held her daughter tight in her arms.

I’m ok,” Pacha replied. Pacha waited until Freida released her and took her mothers’ hands. “I never intended to be gone that long,” she reassured Freida before hugging her again. Behind Freida Micha came with a stern face,

Have you been safe my daughter?” Micha asked Pacha taking her arm.

As safe as I could have been father. Five giants made sure of that,” Pacha replied.

Giants?!” Her father’s voice became shocked yet calmer and more friendly. “No wonder the search parties couldn’t find you, I bet they had you neatly tucked away somewhere,” Micha said to Pacha before embracing her.

 

Despite all that had gone on, a lot of which Pacha wasn’t sure if she was going to tell her family about, Pacha had returned home in one piece. Her world had changed. The adventure she had gone on had not been conventional, nor easy, nor one in pursuit of a direct goal. But it had been one of many extraordinary encounters where she had discovered more about giants, other people and herself more than she ever thought she would have. But now she was home, back where she belonged and still very much alive. Pacha had gained not gold, but a sense of belonging and a change in how she saw the world, thanks to Lilaveld Katin, the goddess of the Ilios. A figure who would now play a much larger role in her life and in the lives of others because of events, both caused by the actions of people and through devastating moments, resulting in many others who began to believe in Lilaveld Katin. A new community of Katians’ was growing.

Twenty Four ~ Ripples in time

When Alvar returned to Cirrom and told of the giants’ death at his hands, he was praised. Over the following months he kept thinking about Pacha’s words to him and there was a feeling of a missing link in his life. Something inside him was unsettled. One night he awoke and he remembered words which he had heard in his sleep.

 

You must send the dragons back to them.

 

These words kept coming to him, night after night and they lingered there, only he didn’t know their meaning. During many more of his slave captures he started to feel sorrow and pity for those he caught. Still he did these evil deeds but he knew he was meant for something more than this. He found himself staying longer at the slave auction, looking more carefully at those who were chained. One day he found himself intrigued by that day’s selection. One women caught his eye, she was a striking resemblance to Teiran, his wife, with long dark hair and gentle facial features, only this slave had a kindness that sat comfortably behind her eyes. Covering her bare chest with her arms and looking at Alvar, it was in that moment that he decided to buy her. He brought her to his home where she was instructed to keep her head lowered at all times, not to look at Alvar or his wife in the eyes and to keep the house in order.

 

Once Alvar had figured out his line of action he went down to the cellar where upon opening the door light streamed into the blackened room. The woman on the bed awoke and sat up keeping her eyes fixed to the floor, clearly listening intently.

I will leave this door open,” Alvar said to the woman, “If you do not escape I will make you my wife. I will treat you with honour as well as those like you. And we will do good by Lilaveld Katin in this evil land.” The woman sat silently still and Alvar, knowing she had heard him, turned and left through the open door. It lay open behind him, light shine in. The woman got up and fixed her eyes on the door expectantly, as she wondered what to do.

 

In the morning Alvar went down to the cellar and his shadow fell on the bed in the centre of the room. On the bed lay a figure, a woman tucked below the covers sleeping softly. He left and went upstairs. There he beat his wife until she was weak, bleeding and unrecognisable. He gagged her, cut her hair and threw her into a wagon. They went to Cirrom where he cut off her left ring finger and took the ring back from the finger before he dropped the dismembered finger onto the ground. He went into the rotten streets dragging Teiran behind him. Meanwhile Teirans’ cries of outrage went ignored by all those around her. Soon Alvar came to a dishonourable looking man. He threw Teiran at his feet and gestured at her,

This wretch disobeys all my orders and is useless in all trades except one. I have done the deed and I give her to you for free.” Alvar nodded and the man nodded back in agreement where he yanked the woman up by her wrist,

I’ll make something great of you,” he snarled, dragging her away, Alvar watched for a moment before he left.

 

Alvar shook the woman awake in his cellar. “Hey,” he said gently and as she awoke he knelt down taking her hands in his. “What’s your name?” he asked. The woman slowly lifted her head so that she could almost see Alvar’s face.

Kaisa.” She replied. Alvar tilted Kaisa’s head upwards so that she was looking at him in full, Alvar simply smiled.

It’s ok Kaisa. Teiran is gone and this is now your home.” He got up to his feet and so did Kaisa and Alvar let go of her hands, “Be calm, you need not be afraid in this place.”

 

Following the moment that Kaisa stepped out of the cellar it was clear that a great power was at work for within the house a great shift was happening. Kaisa grew to know Alvar Avery, who was now only a part time slave hunter in order to keep his position in society thus protecting Kaisa from suspicion. As an almost full time trade, Alvar became a tradesman around the north. He travelled from one city to the next bringing across weapons, furs and beautiful gifts. He was still highly known as a skilled slave and giant hunter in the north and therefore in a position of great power. Due to this he also became one of the key judges and executioners of traitors. These traitors were accused of setting fires in northern Rhern mountains of Regad which caused the dragons to travel back southwards thus reducing the number of giants captured.

 

You must send the dragons back to them. These words had become a command to Alvar. He knew not where they had come from, nor who was instructing him but he was drawn to obey the words without disagreement. Therefore when Alvar was instructed to execute the traitors, he did so with great guilt. He knew that these people were innocent as it was himself who was setting the fires. The guilt however was nothing in comparison to the fear Alvar felt of having Kaisa found out as a former slave and also having his change in belief found out. Both of these facts would warrant him and Kaisa an immediate, and very likely a gruesome and humiliating execution.

 

Kaisa however took up Teiran’s position in order to protect her identity. She began work down at the docks of numerous cities, working as security. She stopped escaped slaves and animals from getting further than the dock’s edge, as well as holding back men from premature violent actions. She would patrol the cities at night for violent eruptions of behaviour. She and Alvar would travel around together working in each city they came to. Kaisa would get to know each city individually, however everywhere she went the cruelty of the north was present. Kaisa would witness executions, both ones Alvar had a part in but also those that were secret and usually unseen.

 

Over the weeks that they travelled they discussed how they were going to bring light to this dark land. Using Kaisa’s skills and Alvar’s stature and cunning they started to save prostitutes from the streets. Kaisa would pick them in the night and put them in Alvar’s wagon where they would bring them back to their home. Kaisa would also pick up materials to repair the prostitutes’ missing finger, from people in dark places with light hearts. At their home they would make a prosthetic finger which they would attach to the person’s skin via a piece of metal with a ring to cover their wound. Alvar would restore their strength and give them a small amount of money to go out into the world with. Some he would send out over the water. Those who were too ill to recover, he nursed and comforted them in their last moments.

 

All of Alvar’s actions came from his new found belief in Lilaveld Katin. Many months after Pacha had spared his life he had come to know Lilaveld, just as Pacha had done through Elizabeth. Alvar had changed, turned his back on evil and as he grew as a Katian his influence spread. Around him he saw more and more Katians’ living in secret and he vowed to help this community grow. In time Kaisa came to fall deeply in love with Alvar and in the privacy of their own home, they got married officially.

 

One day while working with a prostitute Kaisa turned to Alvar.

Will you ever save her?” Kaisa asked Alvar referring to his former wife.

In time I will both save and forgive her,” Alvar replied simply. “But only when she has paid for her crimes. I have loved her unconditionally before and I shall do so again but for now she is in Lilaveld’s hands. When she is ready I will save both her spirit and her body.”

 

Decades passed during which Kaisa and Alvar had three children, who in turn brought their parents many grandchildren. Some fell into the north’s cruelty, leaving home never to return. Others followed Alvar’s lead and worked to bring light to the darkness. All did horrific deeds however for not one of the Avery household was innocent.

 

One day while Alvar and Kaisa were home along with their children and grandchildren. Alvar was in bed staring at the ceiling alongside Kaisa, when after a period of silence he spoke.

I’m going to die soon,” Alvar said with absolute certainty.

What makes you say that?” Kaisa asked him, scared by his tone of voice.

I don’t know. But I know it’s the truth,” Alvar replied.

You’re going to Cirrom aren’t you?” Kaisa said decisively.

Yes,” Alvar said as he turned to his wife. “It is time.” They paused for a moment before Alvar continued, “I’m not scared, even though I know that my death is coming soon. Yourself and the children do amazing things and don’t let my death hinder you from that.” He took her hand, “If anything, let it inspire you.” Kaisa touched his face and leaned towards him.

I will,” she whispered before kissing him. They stayed there a moment longer with their heads touching. “Goodnight my darling,” Kaisa whispered before she turned in their bed and went to sleep.

 

When the time came Alvar went back to Cirrom where he found a shrunken, withered and tired old woman. He purchased her back for only a handful of coins as her usefulness had worn thin. He tended to her as he did with every other prostitute he had saved. He clothed her, fed her and restored her dignity, showing kindness and understanding, never once thinking about her previous deeds. Teiran did however and her patience with Alvar soon wore thin, as malice still raged within her as it had once done so in Alvar. Once Teiran was strong once more, she took up a knife from within Alvar’s home and slit his throat as she fled.

 

Alvar lay dying in the snow as Kaisa and his eldest son, Harhas, ran to his side. Both knelt beside him. Kaisa brushed her hand through his hair and looked him straight in the eyes while Harhas looked at his wound, then turned towards the distant fleeing woman.

Don’t.” Alvar managed to say, grabbing Harhas’ arm as he saw the look in his eyes. “Please. Enough damage has been done.” Harhas faltered at this and paused for a moment before looking back at Alvar with tears in his eyes. “Harhas,” Alvar said, starting to struggle as his heart rate slowed and he tried to catch his breath. “These tears. Will make you stronger than all the rage. And hatred you will ever experience.” Alvar’s words faded on his lips as his heart slowed. He touched his son’s face and smiled, a smile which soon turned to confusion and panic. “Kaisa? Kaisa!” He called unable to see her.

I’m here. My darling I’m here,” Kaisa soothed him the best she could as she ran her hands along his face and over his chest. Alvar looked over at her with difficulty, where he immediately calmed down now able to see his wife.

Hitomi? Adwr?” Alvar gasped as he spoke.

Shhhh now my darling. Shhhh,” Kaisa assured him. Alvar’s gaze faltered and his body became too weak to make any conscious movement. Kaisa and Harhas looked up at each other, before Harhas looked back at Alvar. Alvar’s head was now on its side and his eyes had become distant.

Alvar?” He called quietly with a hand rested on Alvar’s chest. He could hear faint struggled breathing from Alvar yet in his heart he knew there was nothing that he could do. They stayed with him until his heart stopped beating and the last of the blood dripped from his wound. As per tradition they buried Alvar under the ice and placed stones above his grave.

 

The Avery household sat around the table that night with a candle burning down slowly in the centre of it. The family held hands with bowed heads and thought of Alvar’s life. What happened next in Ilios was a chain of events started by Elizabeth, Pacha and Alvar. A chain of events that would affect the world forever.

 

But that is another story...