“Take my horse with you as well. I doubt it will fare well in the mountains.” Atlat says as Mato turns to go. Mato nods, and he and the other hunter climb back onto their horses, looping a leather rope around the third, riderless equine, and urge their horses to a canter, heading back through the trees in the direction of the village. Atlat and Kaga watch as they go, and then turn to face each other.
“So your name is Atlat. And mine is Kaga. Have you met with monsters before in your hunts?”
“I have only heard tales of them, and now have seen the destruction they make. Have you seen the thing in the mountains?”
“I have not, though this is not my first encounter with these wretched creatures. Each one seems to be more foul than the last. And yet again, you all had not heard of their propagation throughout the lands. One man is not fast enough to warn everyone.” He sighs, closing his eyes. Opening them, he continues. “No matter. Do you know what lives in the mountains, Atlat?”
“I didn’t think anything lived in them, though birds may roost on the peaks.”
“I thought you said you’d heard stories of monsters before? Well let me tell you myself, mountains are the dwelling place of two kinds: ogres and giants. The giants aren’t so bad, I’m friends with a few in other areas – you look like you have some of their blood in you, has anyone told you that before?” Atlat scowls at this remark. “Eh, looks like they have, haha! In any case, the ogres are what you need to look out for. They like to lie in waiting and when you get near the edge of a cliff, BAM!” Kaga kicks one leg, “They kick you right off, and the last thing you hear is their scratchy cackling as you smash into the rocks below.”
“Do they also control the wind?” Kaga ceases his gesticulations and looks at Atlat.
“Well, no. That’s a bit beyond them, or at least I’ve never heard of it being something they can do. So basically, we’re going into this blind, with a high likelihood of having to deal with two other formidable foes.”
Atlat gulps, and breathes in deep.
“Let’s go.” And with that, Atlat runs through the woods towards the brown and orange peaks in the distance, Kaga sprinting to catch up.
Crumbling rock greets them at the base of the cluster of mountains, the gaps in between the immense round rocks empty and expansive. Wind howls between them, and Kaga and Atlat look all around them as they walk, hunched over and bodies tense. They walk on tiptoe, rolling their feet on the unstable terrain, barely causing the rocks to move as they pass over them. The slope is not very steep, and levels out after a while, shadows cast over it from the taller mountains that surround it, a canyon of cold brown-orange striped stone. The rough stone curves and curls, forming a labyrinthine trail through which the two men pass. The further they go, the quieter it gets, the hollow wind dies down and is overcome by the quiet scratch of rock upon their moccasins. Several times Atlat opens his mouth to speak, but Kaga shakes his head and continues forward. The only other thing moving is the shadows from clouds drifting above them. Each curve in the path presents more of the same, rock formations rising up around them. An occasional bush sprouts from between the cracks, light green leaves near devoid of moisture.
Then, up ahead a stone comes rolling down from the top of one of the slopes, crashing into the other side of the ravine. Both Kaga and Atlat jump, and there is the sound of laughing, a screeching cackle ending in a gurgling noise. Doubling over, they dash to the left. By the time the boulder has hit the other side and stopped rolling they are pressed up against stone, hiding in the shadows and peering up ahead. Too long shadows fall across the ravine floor, cast by two giants, each around thirty feet tall. They are lanky and lean, light grey skin that sags just a little, white eyes and big mouths grinning beneath bald heads. They are naked but for patchwork animal skins tied around their waists. One has a spear, granite spike atop a tree trunk, and the other holds a sword made of single piece of slate, blade jagged and grip worn smooth. Aside from their weapons and a slight variation of scars and wrinkles, the two could be twins. They do not have any visible hair. As Kaga and Atlat watch, the two hang over the edge, climbing down the side a ways and then dropping off. The one with the spear throws it as he falls and rolls, limbs flailing. The giant shows no signs of pain; its joints do not seem to follow the same range as humans, legs and forearms bending backward and forward as it tumbles. The other giant runs the rest of the way down, laughing at his fellow, the same gurgle that the two hiding men heard before. Kaga steps away from the wall, and Atlat reaches out to pull him back, but is not quick enough. The giants talk to each other as the old man approaches. Their voices are somewhat high-pitched, but clear in speech.
“Might be a new record, that kick. Must’ve been a mile it rolled before falling in here!”
“I would hope that this bruise on my toe was worth something. Come on, let’s toss it out of here and take it back again. Craterhead is no doubt getting impatient about having his turn, though I’d not want to be him right now!” They both laugh, and then come to an abrupt stop when they notice Kaga walking up to them.
“Thrit, is that a human?” Says the one with the spear.
“Aye, indeed. A human in these parts, it’s been a while.” They stare at him and then crouch down, the one resting his spear over his shoulder, and the other holding its sword across its legs. Kaga stands up straight, arms down at his sides.
“How do you do, friend giants! My name is Kaga. My companion and I are searching for a monster that blows ravaging winds upon the plains. Have either of you seen anything of the like around here?” The two giants look at each other, craggy brows raised.
“He must be talking about that blowhard ogre,” Thrit says. The other giant nods at this and looks back at Kaga.
“The ogres around here are usually pretty easy to kick around, but this bigmouth seems to have inhaled the entire northern wind. Every time we try to get close enough to whack him, he opens up and sends us flying.”
“This scar here is from that cutting wind.” Thrit points at a blue and purple line cutting across and over his right shoulder. “We decided to leave the cursed thing alone after that. All it does is sit on top of the peak and blow down on the plains, so what do we care? Stupid little qumli. And you said you have a companion? Must be even smaller than you.” The other giant laughs and pats Thrit’s shoulder.
“Atlat! Come out from there, these guys are okay.” Atlat steps out from behind the boulder, eyes wide and spear held in both hands. He walks about half the distance between himself and Kaga and then stops. Kaga looks back and frowns.
“Come on, don’t start being timid now.” He comes closer but still stops short of where Kaga is standing. The two giants raise their heads a little, and their foreheads wrinkle. Thrit is the first to speak.
“Well, he certainly isn’t smaller.”
“Might have a little giant in his lineage.” Thrit nods at this suggestion.
Atlat steps forward, spear held diagonally across his body.
“Giants! Where can we find this ogre? For the safety of us all, it must be killed.” Both wide mouths open and they laugh, jagged teeth showing.
“Spreag, did you hear that? This one thinks it can kill that ogre when our entire troupe couldn’t even get near it!” They continue to laugh as Atlat looks up at them.
“If I cannot kill it, then I will at least learn its weaknesses! Perhaps if our tribes band together–” Thrit waves his hand at Atlat.
“No, no, like I said. It may be annoying that that thing can sit up there all day and night but we want nothing more to do with it. Better left alone.”
“Too much of a hassle.” Spreag chimes in, still chuckling.
“If you really must see this singular ogre, just keep following this trail, keeping to the left wall. Once you start hearing a constant howling you’ll know you’re close. Good luck to you two, though. You humans are crazy.” Atlat looks as though he has something more to say, but Kaga speaks before he can.
“Thank you both for your help.” The giants nod and turn to leave, heading towards their boulder. Looking at them, Atlat opens his mouth and calls after them.
“Wait… what is that?” He points at the blade of slate.
“What is this? This is my sword,” the giant says, hefting the giant grey shard of stone. “I made it by smashing my opponent into the side of a mountain – this shard fell off and I picked it up. Incidentally, he was its first victim as well.”
“A sword… huh.” Atlat folds his arms and looks at the ground. The giant looks at him, then at its sword, and in a flash swings it through the air at the boulder ball, the sound of stone upon stone echoing all around. Even Spreag jumps this time, and Kaga almost falls over. Shards break fly off the edge of the sword and patter upon the stony ground. The blade is now even more jagged than before.
“Take a piece, see how it treats you.” And with that they go, bare grey feet kicking behind them and pushing the boulder in front of them. They round a corner up ahead and are gone. Kaga and Atlat watch until they are gone and once they are, Atlat holds his spear out to Kaga, who takes it. He walks over to the scattered fragments and sifts through them until he finds one in particular that is long and sharp. He takes off the horse whip attached to his wrist and unravels it, wrapping the leather around one end of the slate sword, the prongs of the whip hanging from the bottom. Once he is done, the blade of the weapon is around five feet long. He makes several cuts through the air, the first somewhat slow and the second faster, and smiles.
The sky is orange as they continue through the canyons, the sun sinking behind the cover of the cliffs. As the giants directed, they follow along the path, clinging close to the left side, vigilant eyes looking all around for signs of activity. There are faint crashing sounds in the distance, but no howling can be heard. They continue on like this for another hour or so until they reach a dead end, the wall a steep slope of smooth and porous brown and orange striped stone.
“Climb?” Atlat mouths at Kaga, pointing at the slope. Kaga nods back at him and they start to ascend, leaning forward and going on hands and feet. Their moccasins scratch against the dusty stone and the sword and spear knock against the ground as they climb with them in hand, the noises of the weapons echoing behind them. They both look back, but only lengthening shadows can be seen below. They reach the top without incident and scan the horizon. The labyrinthine pattern of system of canyons stretches out around them, the taller mountains rising up above like robed sentinels. As Kaga turns his head to the left, he grabs Atlat’s arm and points. A mile or so away, a group of beings is running towards them across the natural parapets, a small dust cloud rising up behind them. From behind them a howling rings out, and they speed up, their appearances becoming clearer as they approach.
“Ogres!” Kaga hisses.
The ogres are strange-shaped creatures, large round bodies with short arms and longer, muscular legs. They are several different colors, some dark blue, some dark green, and some maroon. All have horns that curl out from their foreheads and back over their pointed ears. Shaggy, curly black or grey hair trails from their heads and down their backs. White eyes glare past wrinkled, pointed noses. Sharp teeth, two of which protrude from below over their upper lips, can be seen as they run, panting and grunting. There is nowhere to hide upon the clifftops, so Kaga and Atlat ready their weapons against the crowd, of which there at least twenty.
“Well, Atlat, it looks like we may not find the source of the wind after all.”
( ©2015 Sean Dorsey )