Teppac-Karn gazed solemnly at the stonework before him. Rivulets of magma flowed slowly through canals embedded in the rock, bathing the reception chamber in warm red light. He could feel the eyes of the guards on him, and his hands twisted nervously, clasped behind his back in a military posture.
“Teppac-Karn! You may enter the presence of King Agamemnon.”
The booming voice cut through Teppac’s reverie. He strode forward with all the confidence he could muster, past the guards with their burning eyes, and into the expansive throne room. Agamemnon sat slently, the massive, ever-burning fireball behind his throne casting dark shadows across the king’s features.
Garnon-Hast, of course, was already there.
His eyes glimmering with contempt, the other Giant barked a laugh. “So the traitor finally shows his face! Ha!”
Before Teppac-Karn could respond, Agamemnon waved one ponderous arm, and the court fell into silence. The many guards lined against the platform’s edges snapped to attention, and the Fire Nymphs ceased their frolicking in the pools of lava that surrounded the throne.
“Teppac-Karn,” his thunderous voice echoed through the chasm, “Garnon-Hast.”
The two Fire Giants dropped to one knee with a sudden clang of metal.
“The time has come for us to reclaim this land.”
A murmur ran through the Nymphs at that, cut off by a sharp wave of Agamemnon’s gauntlet.
“A path has opened to the Open Spaces. Teppac-Karn, on the basis of your past failings, you shall be the one to scout the world outside, and determine whether the Nemesis still rules.”
Teppac-Karn could not see his companion’s face, but he knew that Garnon-Hast was grinning.
“Garnon-Hast, you shall accompany him.”
There was a sharp retort of metal on stone as Garnon’s hand slammed to the ground in surprise.
“My Lord, you cannot mean to-”
Agamemnon’s fiery beard flared with sudden fury.
“My word is final, Garnon-Hast. Do not think that your petty bickering has gone unnoticed. Consider this a chance to avoid my fury.”
Garnon’s figure sagged in resignation.
“Yes, my lord.”
“Your mission is to attack a Human settlement. Kill as many as you are able. See if you draw the Nemesis’ ire. If you do not return, then we shall know that our time has not yet come.” the corners of the Flame King’s mouth twitched into a small smile, “You leave immediately.”
“Yes, my lord!” the two Fire Giants barked in unison.
The sun shone down upon Teppac-Karn, a single dot of fire in an otherwise disturbingly open sky. Their passage was accompanied by a constant clanking, as the Ettins they had captured rattled and beat at their chains. Brutal, stupid beasts. Power, but no control. Was this what Giantkind had come to in the Open Spaces?
“So, how far d’you think before we run into some Humans?” Teppac asked, glancing over at his silent companion. They had been following this road for days now, and Garnon-Hast’s mood had not improved.
“You will not speak to me, traitor,” the other Giant spat back, “It’s because of you I’m in this mess.”
Teppac-Karn raised his hands in placation, “Whoa, whoa. I didn’t mean no harm. So you don’t want to talk. Got it. Got it.”
They walked in silence for several minutes before Teppac spoke again.
“What do you think about this whole ‘sky’ thi-”
“Teppac-Karn!” the other shouted, “You test my patience. Another word from you, and, regulations be damned, I will cut out your tongue.”
Teppac opened his mouth again, thought better of it, and shut it. The two trudged onward in silence, followed by the shambling Ettins.
As they crested the next hill, the lowlands stretching below them, Teppac-Karn spied a group of smaller figures traveling along the road in the opposite direction and rapidly approaching. He raised a gauntleted fist and pointed.
“I see them, Teppac-Karn,” Garnon-Hast said through gritted teeth, “You talk to them, find out where a nearby settlement is. This isn’t worth my time.”
Teppac shrugged and started onward again, and soon the two groups were standing across from each other, each eying the others warily. They seemed to be all humans, as far as Teppac-Karn could tell. One of them looked like a tree, but trees don’t walk around or carry weapons, so that must be a Human too.
After a brief discussion in a language neither of the Giants understood, one of them stepped forward. A shorter Human, wearing blue cloth and with skin baked to a deep ground. Or maybe made of dirt. If Humans could be trees, why not dirt?
Garnon-Hast nudged him, and Teppac-Karn snapped out of his reverie. He waved his arms expansively, in as dramatic a gesture as he could muster, and boomed:
“Bow, Humans, before the heralds of King Agamemnon the Hewer!”
This failed to have the desired effect. The dark-skinned Human merely watched him curiously, then spoke to his companion, a muscular man with radiant skin and golden hair. Teppac-Karn held the pose awkwardly, waiting for them to finish.
The dark-skinned man turned back to him, addressing Teppac in accented Giant.
“Who is King Agamemnon?”
“King of the Fire Giants! Trapped within his molten palace for centuries, he now sends us, his advance guard, to reclaim the lands that were once ours!” Teppac-Karn thought he could hear Garnon-Hast sigh wearily next to him, as he finished with another expansive gesture.
“Ahurm! Can you all hear me all right?”
Teppac looked around with a start. The voice had seemingly sounded from within his own skull. It was a rough, jovial voice, and reminded him somehow of his father. He prepared a response, but was interrupted again by the person talking in his head.
“Well, seems ta me like only Kham here speaks Giant, so I’ll do some translating. Just act like I wasn’t here, eh?”
“Reclaim your lands? These lands belong to Freystadt and its people.” This was from Kham’s muscular companion, who spoke with a low, melodic voice. Teppac-Karn winced as the more boisterous voice translated the words inside his head.
“People? Hah! You consider Humans people?” Garnon-Hast spat the words, the first he had spoken since encountering the others.
“Hahah! Humans! People! As if!” Teppac-Karn chuckled and nudged his fellow in the ribs, but Garnon was obviously not amused.
There was some more discussion from the other group, which the invisible voice chose not to translate, then Kham turned back to them.
“I think we’re going to defeat you now,” he said, casually.
Garnon smiled humorlessly and hefted his axe, as Teppac-Karn broke the chains binding the Ettins. He couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable at the murder in his companion’s eyes. Just as Teppac readied his own axe, however, Kham lifted a hand.
“One more question,” he said, calmly.
Teppac hesitated. “Okay,” he replied, “Last one.”
“Weren’t all the true Giants wiped out by Nemesis?”
Teppac nodded, “All those on the surface, indeed. We have spent ages below ground, building our strength to defeat Nemesis!”
“Nemesis has been dead for thousands of years.”
Teppac paused. Could it be true? It was hard to keep the relief from his face. He turned to Garnon-Hast, just as the other roared a battle challenge and charged.
No sooner had Garnon initiated combat, than Kham waved his hands and muttered an incantation. Suddenly, a piercing rain of frozen hail erupted around them. The finger-sized shards of jagged ice stung and steamed as they ripped at his flesh. A rushing, slashing sound echoed from his left, and Teppac-Karn was vaguely aware of Garnon falling to the ground with a mighty thud, unmoving.
Teppac flailed with his axe, only to have it torn from his grasp as a smaller, dark-haired Human maneuvered a thin sword through his grasp. He turned, hail tearing at his face and shoulders, to face Kham’s companion, the golden-haired man stepping forward, raising his greatsword for a mighty swing.
“Parlay!” Teppac-Karn shouted, throwing his hands up, “Parlay!”
The blonde man faltered, overbalancing himself in an attempt to stop his swing. With a wave of his hand, the hail vanished, and Kham stepped through.
“Don’t make any more moves against us,” he said.
“Okay! Okay!” Teppac hesitated, as the clanking of chains and sounds of heavy breathing carried past him, “I, uh. I can’t stop the Ettins.”