The Call of the Giant
“Home is north.”
Ketil froze as the words materialized in his mind. They were hushed, easy to miss, but they had been coming regularly enough now that he had learned to pick them out. For months, he had been enduring these whispers and the pull they exerted on him. He could feel it: a draw, a kind of primal longing, no doubt from whatever was the source of the words.
“We are incomplete.”
“Who are you?” Ketil yelled into the air. No reply. There never was. He knew he had to follow the pull, if he wanted answers.
Ketil shivered as he took another step into the deep snow of the Northlands. He had traveled far in the last few months, leaving his home village in the rainy grasslands to the south and coming to the distant mountains. He still wasn’t completely comfortable with the cold, but he had received a lot of help and supplies from the locals.
And he was almost there. He could somehow feel it.
He continued pushing through the snow, creeping along the edge of a mountain. The tall peak rose to his right, obscuring most of his view, and his left fell away to a sheer cliffside. Clumps of snow drifted in the cold, clear wind, gusting around him.
This journey wasn’t very strange for someone of his profession. Ketil was a scholar—or, perhaps it’d be more accurate to call him a historian—and those in his field would frequently make this pilgrimage to the Northlands.
For the Giants.
Or, what was left of them.
Giants—godlike beings that inhabited the land alongside humanity. People like Ketil spent their entire lives studying them. The Giants were known as the Thaumir, or the Endless Ones, and many viewed them to be the personifications of nature itself. They had existed since ancient times, granting many gifts to the people of the land, and having virtually no needs of their own. Revered as the guardians of the earth, they had been adored by all and had become central to the people’s culture.
Until they disappeared.
It had been about a hundred years ago now. Over a single fateful night, the Giants were gone, leaving no trace of themselves or of what transpired. Nobody truly had a recollection of what happened to them, and the stories of those that claimed to were inconsistent and illogical, fabricated. The Giants were simply all gone.
All, that is, but for one.
Ketil’s thoughts were interrupted by a loose chunk of ice that gave way under his weight. He twisted, landing to the side as the patch he was standing on broke off and fell down the side of the mountain. He breathed out, then shook his head to calm down and began crawling to a safer position on the mountainside.
“Visibility is worsening,” he muttered to himself. “I need to reorient.”
Along with their disappearance, the Thaumir took something else from this world. Something that was hard to explain, but easy to see: snowstorms becoming more frequent, the oceans becoming more violent, the land itself beginning to wither away. It was subtle and slow, but undeniable. And none of the wise ones of the past or books of prophecy had predicted it.
“You are close.”
Ketil felt a mental tug, but quickly regained control. Survival came first.
He identified a small outcropping near the mountain face which would shelter him from the wind. Even if it didn’t, it would be more stable than the icy ridge he was currently on.
He carefully made his way over, then removed his pack and gingerly placed it on the ground. He removed the base, cloth, and rods—components for a simple tent—and began working. It wasn’t going to be much of a shelter, but it would be better than nothing. He completed it quickly, just as the wind and snowfall gained strength.
After crawling into the makeshift refuge, Ketil organized the rest of his supplies, then pulled out a short, small glass bottle full of oily, deep-blue liquid. He sat cross-legged, placing the bottle to his right, then carefully, almost ceremonially, pulled back his left sleeve to his elbow. He took out a small, thin metallic rod—a Thorn—and gripped it like a pen.
Ketil breathed out, dipping the Thorn into the liquid. He first drew a large circle on his left palm, then connected it to a line going up his arm. He dipped again and, moving the Thorn back over the line, began writing.
Reid. Dag. Othila. Geb. Naud.
With a final motion, he connected the five runes together. The blue lines of ink glowed, the runes evaporating and flowing up in an arc in front of him, coalescing on his palm. Ketil remained still, waiting as the material collected, forming a clear arrow that intersected the circle. The glow faded, and Ketil made a mental note of the direction the arrow pointed.
Runic invocations like this were one of the gifts from the Thaumir. The simpler expressions were well known even by common folk, although scholars like himself were obviously more skilled with it.
This particular invocation was one of the most basic. It was called “Homeward Gift,” and it was a travel aid. The invocation normally pointed toward whatever the user considered their “home”—usually their birthplace, or current residence.
But for Ketil, for the past few months, it had pointed at the heart of the Northlands.
He smiled, folding his fingers over the arrow on his palm. The runic invocations were special to Ketil. They were one of the things that reminded him of his Teacher. It still felt like she was with him, protecting him. The same way she had all those years ago, as she watched him grow, taught him everything he knew, praised him, and laughed with him.
He missed her.
She had done more than anyone else to uncover what the Giants had left behind. She had found runes that no one had seen before, had studied the meaning behind the invocations, and of course had made the same journey that Ketil was making now—all to learn more about those gods of the past and about humanity’s fate now that they were gone. Still, not even she could have predicted what he was experiencing.
Ketil frowned at the thought, then sighed. The wise thing would be to wait out the storm. He hadn’t come this far just to fail.
He laid down, and closed his eyes.
Ketil pulled on the straps of his pack, tightening them as he walked. The snowstorm had cleared a few hours ago, and he had started the last leg of his journey. Whatever was calling him, he would soon find it.
He stepped carefully over an icy patch, moving toward a ledge of compacted snow that obscured the view in front of him. He tossed his pack up first, then jumped, clinging onto the edge and lifting himself to the bank. And then he saw it, right where the runes had pointed to.
The remains of Aurgel, the last Giant.
He lay motionless on a mountain ridge, dominating the view, with an equally gigantic sword impaled in his chest. Aurgel had been dead since the night that the other Thaumir disappeared. Killed by who, or what, not even the greatest of scholars knew.
He had been the Giant of the Earth, the guardian of the Northlands.
But now, after all these years, he was reduced to a rotting carcass, little more than a skeleton. Looking at the massive thing, thinking about all the greatness that was lost, Ketil couldn’t help but feel pity.
The Giant’s fate was… sad.
“Will this be our fate, too?” he whispered.
“Home is close.”
Ketil stumbled to one knee as the words pulled at him. He breathed heavily, frowning. “What do you want from me?!” he yelled toward the sky.
But he knew there would be no answer. Not here.
He picked up his pack and walked forward. There was a path that circled the valley between the mountains, and he was able to quickly reach the skeleton’s torso.
To his surprise, there was no stench, even though it was obviously decomposing. He approached the side of the massive remains, easily walking in between two ribs. He crawled carefully upward, approaching his destination.
It rose tall, jutting out from what remained of the Giant’s heart, its blade dented and chipped. It was enormous, but beyond that had no notable characteristics.
What kind of weapon could kill a Giant? And what could wield such a thing? As had all scholars before him, Ketil hoped the sword would offer some answers, some hope for the future. He hoped the voice would finally guide him.
Ketil placed his hand on the blade, brushing the cold metal. He looked up the length of the sword, as if he were waiting for some kind of response.
And then he gasped quietly.
Large runes had begun glowing along its edge, rapidly consuming the entire surface. Ketil jumped backwards, but wobbled as the ground began to shake. An earthquake? Now? he thought. No, that’s not it…
The Giant was moving.
A lump formed in his throat. He dropped his pack and turned, sprinting forward and jumping out the side of the Giant as its torso began to lift off the ground. Without looking back, he continued running, breathing heavily, his heart straining.
Something big crashed around him, and his senses momentarily failed. He struggled, shaking himself into focus, and realized that he was no longer on the ground.
The Giant had picked him up. Its bony grasp tightened around him. Ketil pushed and clawed at the massive hand, struggling vainly as panic gripped him. He looked up and saw the Giant’s enormous head looming close, its empty eye sockets aglow with a faint, pale blue light.
It held him in the air, unmoving, locked in its gaze. Ketil held his breath. And then, he heard the voice.
Ketil’s eyes went wide. He lowered his head, arms going limp. His mind raced as he tried to comprehend what he was seeing, what he had heard.
The Giant opened its jaws and emitted a piercing scream, seemingly shaking the very air. Ketil tried to close his ears, but the cry was overwhelming. There was a flash of light, his vision blurred, and his mind went blank.
Ketil saw light. Parts of it broke off, streaming into a rainbow of hazy colors, each taking its place in his field of view. His vision began to sharpen as his mind recovered. The sky had darkened, with low, ominous storm clouds moving rapidly above him. He could see the Giant’s arms in front of him, on either side of the sword.
They seemed to be regenerating.
Its hands were glowing, with blue runes appearing and disappearing in midair, leaving material, muscle, and sinew in their place. The runes continued spreading down the arms, then up onto the Giant’s torso, crawling toward the sword.
Ketil felt a stabbing pain as the Giant’s heart began to beat. He tried to clutch at his chest, but only saw the Giant’s hands clutch at its own. He shuddered in horror as it dawned on him. He tried to look at his palms, but saw the Giant’s palms instead.
The pain throbbed. Ketil grabbed the blade in his chest, clenching his teeth, and ripped it free in a single motion. He twisted in agony, crashing into the nearby ridge, but felt relief as he began drawing breath again.
Ketil looked at the Giant’s hands—his hands—and trembled. They had almost completely regenerated, the blue runes solidifying into intricate markings on his skin.
What is this? he thought at the voice. What have you done?! Answer me!
A thunderous boom interrupted his thoughts. He spun, slowly standing upright and moving forward, each one of his steps shaking the earth. A distance in front of him, on the other side of the valley, the air appeared to be shimmering, obscuring something.
The air shuddered, as if it were hit, sending out another boom. Ketil briefly saw a colossal silhouette behind the shimmering veil.
He didn’t think twice. Ketil stepped forward, reaching down slowly and grasping the blade’s hilt. He pulled it off the ground and held it to his side. It felt lighter than he had expected.
He fixed his gaze back at the shimmering air. The silhouette was easily visible now. It seemed to lunge forward, colliding against an invisible wall, sending out another shock. Ketil tightened his grip on the sword.
The figure lunged again, and this time the air gave way. It burst through, landing with a crash as the air seemed to shatter like glass. It slowly lifted itself upright, staring at him with radiant, piercing green eyes. Its body was covered in black, rock-like armor, and Ketil could see small arcs of green lightning emitting around it.
“You should not have come back,” it suddenly said, its thunderous voice resonating around him. “I will not allow the world to end by your hand, Aurgel!”
Its voice was authoritative, oppressive. Ketil felt a pang of fear and clenched his teeth, breathing in short bursts.
Then the voice appeared again in his head. This time, though, it wasn’t distant, it didn’t whisper. It was at the front of his mind.
Ketil felt a surge of energy. He breathed out as his body completed healing, and gripped the sword with both hands. That’s right, he thought. They abandoned me.
“TRAITOR!” he roared, shaking the earth itself, and lunged at his enemy as his mind went white.