The Tamer (part 3)

A few moments later, inside Damien’s wagon, the foul beast happened to be clutching his ornate blue box, speaking in some sort of hissing language.  He felt the wagon come to a halt and heard voices.  A young woman was asking the driver for help.  He tried peering out the side hatch, but it was important for no one to see his face.  Now, the driver was climbing down from the wagon!  This is unacceptable.  He needed to be at an important meeting to discuss an allegiance with a very important giant.  He leaned out of the window a few inches and saw the driver laid down on the ground.  Then, the door to the cabin flew open, so he turned to see what was happening and he felt a hard blow to his back.  The contact was so hard and forceful; it propelled him right out of the cabin door to the ground.  Someone stepped over him inside the wagon and it took off.  He looked up to see his transportation driving right out of town.  Luckily, he had kept his box with him.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

BOOM! BOOM! BO- a loud crash is heard behind a worn but sturdy mahogany door.  There’s a small slit with a pullback plate that suddenly slides open.  Two cautious eyes peak out.

“Tauster, let us in. My friends need help!” Gramis asks of the mysterious man.

“Who are you?” he asks.

“Tauster, it’s me, Gramis.  From BucksBale.  Do you not remember?”

“Maybe I do.  What do you want?”

“Well, a large serpent just happened to attack my friend.  I believe he is poisoned.”  Gramis was almost pleading with him now.

“I don’t remember letting out any serpents.  Anyways, this isn’t a hospital.  That’s the next town.” Then the plate slid shut.

Gert pushed Gramis out of the way and used the back end of his axe to hit the door.

CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!

The plate slides open again.

“Who are you?  Where are you?”  The eyes looked down and see the grizzled dwarf looking up at him with a scowl.

“Let us in or get a new door.  Our friend is sick.”

“Were you supposed to come here, Gramis?  My mind is slipping these days.”

“Well, I need help finding my kingdom.  I told you about the vision I had.”

“Okay, quickly, enter.”

The plate slid shut and the door opened a hair’s width, but Gert barged in trying to help Croc walk through.  Gramis quickly entered and Tauster shut the door.  He waved his hand and six different locks latched and shut the door tightly.  As they were inside, they started observing their surrounding area.  From the outside, this was a dingy one story shack.  On the inside, there was a vaulted ceiling that rose at least thirty feet in the air.  There was a staircase behind them that led to an elongated balcony with three doors on it.  The walls and the floors were lined and stacked with books.  There were tables with vials and beakers full of different colored potions.  There was a basket in the corner full of staffs and a rack filled with different pieces of wardrobe.  Many varied types of mail, some chain-linked, some ringed, and even one that seemed to be cherries tied together at the stem.  There was dust on most of them, but the cherry vest seemed to be ripe fruit.  There were all sorts of drawings and pictures covering the walls and hanging from the huge ceiling, an enormous pair of black wings were swinging from a chain.  There were many chairs and desks scattered about the large room and candles, some lit and some burnt to the bottom, placed everywhere.  Still yet more books, parchments, ink and quills covered every inch of the surface of these.  In another corner was a tall hourglass filled with red sand.  It was near emptying when it flipped itself over and started spilling down to the other end.  In yet the closest corner to the staircase was rows of shelves nailed to the wall, all containing jars with all sorts of items inside.  They could see feathers, flowers, wax, liquids, small insects, snakes, mud and other assorted powders and mixtures.  Two of the jars were glowing a faint blue, and looking closer, you could see tiny winged women inside.

“Well, I’ll be fairy blessed!” said Gert with his jaws agape at all he saw before him.

“Bring the victim here!” he exclaimed.

Tauster himself was not a sight to behold.  He was wearing a dark skin cap with tussles of frizzy grey hair poking out beneath it.  He was wearing a bed robe and a pair of leather sandals.  He was thick around the midsection but seemingly unhealthy everywhere else.  He picked up a jar from his shelves and pulled out some leaves.  He then poured some hot water on them in a cup and stared to stir.

“Anyone care for some tea?” he asked.

“I thought that was the antidote?” Gramis asked.

Tauster gave a confused look.

“Oh, right, the poison!”

At this point, Croc was looking quite green.  He had kept silent for fear he may regurgitate.  His stomach ached tremendously and he did all he could not to pass out.

Tauster now pulled a miniscule twig from his basket of staves and flicked it at Croc, saying “Good wood the forest should!”

Croc began to stand up and stretch his limbs.

“Oh, thank you, good wizard.  I am feeling back to myself again.”  Croc unsheathed his sword and swung it playfully in front of him.

+Tauster jumped and shrieked, “Please stop!  Don’t swing that in here!”

Croc sheathed his mighty weapon as Gert was pouring some of Tauster’s water into his mug.

“Now, Gramis, can I help you so I can get on with my sleep?”

“Yes.  Last time we spoke you said you had an item in your possession that could lead me to my kingdom.  So, you said all’s I would owe you would be a favor and I could borrow it.”

“I did?  I don’t recall what that could be!”  He looked down at a random book and seemed to stare off into space.  Gramis looked at Gert and Croc as they shrugged their shoulders.

“Tauster!” he screamed.

Tauster jumped, as if startled.  “What?  Why are you screaming?”

“We were talking and then you started reading a book! Can you help me or not?”  Gramis seemed to be getting agitated.

“Jillineath!  Jillineath, please come to the front hall!”

Again, the group looked at each other puzzled.  They heard footsteps running, high into the air, and they got closer and closer as they got louder and louder.  Then, through one of the three doors on the balcony, a young girl maybe sixteen or seventeen, in a white gown came bursting through.

“What in the nine levels of hell could you want, Grampa?”

She looked around and saw a dwarf, a tall man, and another wizard all looking at her.

“Hello, my name’s Jillineath.  And you gentlemen are?”  She asked politely.

Tauster interrupted them. “Do you know where my globe of seeing is?  I need it quite urgently.”

She let out a gasp of air, and then ran to the door next to her, and again they heard footsteps growing more and more distant, then a loud thump and the footsteps coming back down.  The door flew open and she presented a black sack to her grandpa.

“Here.  Now, can I go to bed?”  She stomped the wooden floor as she asked.

“Yes, dear.  G’night.”  She kissed his forehead, then stomped back up towards the heavens again.

“Yes, here we are,” Tauster said opening the sack and revealing a clear sphere that set into a black quartz base.

“Gramis, the favor I need is something of a bother to ask of you,” he plainly stated.

“As long as you have the answer to my future, I will help you.”

“Yes, yes, I knew you would.  There’s a rare beetle living in the White North.  I need a piece of his shell for a very potent spell.  But, I fear there is a great danger coming to the North.”

The men listened closely as Gramis asked, “What danger are you speaking of?”

“Do you know the story of this land?  Well, many thousand years ago, the whole nation was under rule by one king, King Rulon.  He had a huge kingdom that worshipped him.  As many rulers of the past, he held grand entertainment in a great coliseum for his subjects.  His soldiers would scour the lands for creatures to use in these tournaments.  Well, one of the creatures they found was a Pegasus, the mystical flying unicorn.  Being a creature of such beauty and compassion, the queen would not allow it to take part in the games.  Instead, she kept it caged so she could look at it anytime she wanted.  The Pegasus was appropriately named Grace of Heart.  Now, you cannot bond a Pegasus to the soil, it saps her power and life, but the queen did now know this.  She only cared for her own selfish reasons.  So, after many years, she grew tired of the weakening creature and gave it to the king to use in the games.  Angry that she had lost all her beauty, the queen asked Rulon to pit her against the most dominant creature ever in the games; a great wolf by the name of Mako.  He was so ferocious, they say he slayed an eight-headed hydra.  It was also said that he was a lycanthrope, a wolf that could transform into a human.  And that the taste of blood strengthened the wolf so he could not be hurt.  When the time came for the two to fight, the wolf bit the bonds on Grace’s wings so she could fly away.  Rulon’s men subdued both creatures, but not before Mako killed twenty of the king’s finest men.  The king sentenced them to death by drowning.  At that time, the Ageless Sea was a diseased mire and no one, human or animal, dared to venture into it.  Mako and Grace were thrown into the mucky death, but did not drown.  A giant arm pulled them both through the water and set them upon the shore.  Grace flew so high in the sky no one could see her and she turned the clouds dark and great storms began cursing the land.  The mysterious kraken drifted through the seas, curing the water of all sickness and Mako lead a great pack of wolves back to King Rulon’s kingdom.  They ruthlessly slaughtered every member of his court, including the queen and the king himself.  The only person left was the king’s magician, who made his final breath a curse to the three creatures that they must live forever, judging the world of all good and evil, and whoever could control the king’s crown could control them.  So, they were made to rule these lands, and rule they did for hundreds of years until the people become resentful that animals were leading them.  So, they started digging out places for them to hide and eventually disappear altogether.  They also hid the crown from all sight and knowledge, only tales of its location have lasted through these ages.  Now they only reappear every thousand years to judge us.  These ancient beings roam the land, water, and sky, correcting evil and keeping the world alive.  This happens to be the year of the ancients.  What I hear is somehow, Titan…”

Croc and Gert both jump up and perk their ears.

“..has gained knowledge of the crown’s whereabouts and is headed on a massive exodus to the White North.  If all these legends are true, and Titan does get the Great Tamer, it could mean eternal damnation for us all.”

“Titan is in for a big surprise because we are headed right for his headquarters in Giant City,” Croc exclaimed.

“That’s certain death!  There must be five thousand giants living there and all hail Titan.  You’ll be squashed the moment you start trouble!” Tauster said, energetically.

“Don’t worry about that.  And if Gramis will come with us on our journey, we will go with him to the North to stop whatever plan Titan has and get your beetle shell.”

Croc stood flexing, completely satisfied with his announcement.

“Great, now I’m going to have to bail you out on this little excursion,” Gert said, nestled in a chair now.

“And please, Gramis, Croc, if you would, take my granddaughter with you to the North, but not Titan’s.  She is as sharp as a spear and knows some magic.  She won’t get in the way, but she longs to see the world, and I am much too old and have seen enough of it.”

Croc seemed to ponder it, but Gramis spoke up immediately.

“Of course.  I can teach her all kinds of things,” he said excitedly.

“Master Gramis, you forget I travel with three defenseless priests and a young boy.  I think we have enough baggage.”

Gramis looked at both men and said, “She’ll be my responsibility.  She’ll be no trouble or consequence to us.”

“Oh, thank you, Gramis.  I shall be happy to help you locate your kingdom upon your return.  Now, let me get some sleep and tomorrow, we will have a great feast here before you leave.”

The woods were still fresh with morning dew as the sun showed the afternoon its bright glow.  The tree tops were swaying with a moderate breeze, enough to let loosely hanging leaves flutter to the ground like a scene in a beautiful painting.  The ground, soft and moist, the mud sinking slightly around you as you walked.  Yet, there were two individuals moving through the area barely making an imprint in the ground.  One was an inch high, rested comfortably on the back of a wooly rat.  The other, barely covered, with a carved spear strapped to his back was moving swiftly through the brush and foliage.  They were headed back north inside the woods near Rainbow Falls.  Days before had they passed through the Silver Wood after leaving the Ageless Sea.  They had encountered Abizlodia, the ancient leviathan of the sea.  Now, they were on their way to find the great wolf Mako and his pack as they should be traveling towards the ore mines of the dwarves through these very woods.  Sashrala, born of the Earth Mother, and his silent native friend had been traveling non-stop since they left the Sea and desperately needed to rest to regain their strength.  They were still a day and a half east of the Falls, but it was not their intention to sightsee.  Although, soon they would see a sight that would detour them a bit.  Now, going up a wooded stair in the side of a hill, when they reached the top, they could look down to see a huge camp set up.  One large tent and a dozen huge racks of animal skins were set up all over the camp.  There were many busy bodies at work below them, skinning animals, boiling their carcasses and cooking and eating their meat. It was a disgusting sight for such two men as these who are at one with nature and its essence.  These activities had to be stopped immediately.  They moved closer down the hill and hid in some covering brush.  They saw a tan man with a huge moustache and tanned hide parts, sharpening a knife sitting on a tree-stump.  An older gentleman with a similar garb and moustache came out of the tent.

“Roddett!  Mr. Roddett, sir! Should we get going? We are losing light, sir!”  He proclaimed, pulling up his falling knickers.

“Come now, Bloom, don’t get your shorts in a bunch!  We have the wretched beast.  I can do what I want at my leisure with it,” he said, still sharpening a large blade with a bone handle.

“Yes, sir.  I’ll gather some canteens for the walk,” the pudgy man walked back into the tent.

Roddett stood up and sheathed the blade on his side and walked into the tent for a brief moment, and then both men left it and took a path northeast of the tent.  Hawk and Sash followed closely, as if hunters themselves.  They traveled for four and a half miles, then past some high ferns, where they saw a huge net covering a massive, moving shape.  It appeared to be a large cat, just full of fur with enormous fangs in the front with a great mane. Roddett began circling the beast while caressing his weapon like a baby’s head.  The beast was crouched back on its hind legs, and let out a thunderous roar.  It didn’t faze Roddett or his stone gaze on his captured prey.  Hawkeye then stood up out of the brush and let out a similar roar and hurled his spear.  It cut directly through the rope that was pulled taught holding the net over the animal.  Roddett turned around and drew his blade as Hawkeye leaped down towards him.  He dodged a stabbing attempt by Roddett and threw his arm against a tree, making him drop the knife.  Hawk put his forearm to the hunter’s throat and dropped him to the ground, choking him.  He barely squeezed out a command.

“Bloom, blow the whistle!”

A loud shrill sounded out in the jungle and seconds later, a swarm of small, pale four foot men were covering the area.  Hawkeye grabbed the sweaty hunter by his jacket lapels and hurled him a few feet away from where he had held him against his will.  He then stood at a ready position, waiting for some sort of attack.  A number of them had grabbed Sashrala in the bushes and dragged him out to Roddett’s feet.  Hawkeye was watching their movements as they danced around him, then the net was thrown over his head.  It was weighted at the ends with rocks.  The net was like a collection of vines entangling him.  Now, the little pygmies were rounding up the cat again as it tried to cut through the wave of little men, with a good amount of success.  Even more of them seemed to come as Hawkeye struggled to free himself.  The pygmies started throwing stones at him and poke him through the net with sharpened sticks.  He had bruises and cuts forming all over his body.  He went down to his knees and clutched a decorative necklace that hung around his neck.  It was a charm that held his spirit guide’s essence within it.  He had used it before.  His pain was being equaled by his rage and he let it all out in one piercing word from his mouth: “SHARDIC!”

            Some of the pygmies backed up and looked at each other and their captive as he set himself on his hands and legs and suddenly, his arms started getting bigger and hairier.  His back started arching and widening and then growing fur.  His face elongated into the shape of a great bear and he had transformed himself into Shardic.  He stood on his back legs and stood at twelve feet high.  He gnashed on the rope and broke free.  Letting out a grizzled growl, he started slashing pygmies left and right.  They were still throwing and stabbing (the ones that hadn’t ran away), but nothing effected the mighty warrior.  He picked one up in his paws and bit him in half, leaving the rest laying, blood on his white teeth and matted in his fur.  Pygmies were scurrying away all around him, and now had let Sashrala go.  Shardic kept chase after all he could, and defended his friend with an unmatched ferocity that Sash had ever witnessed.  The sight was amazing, so amazing Roddett and Bloom could hardly pull themselves away to run from him.  Shardic chased the hunters back into the woods as Bloom kept blowing the whistle, but no one was coming.  The great bear managed to pounce on Bloom, but chose not to kill him, but leave him by the way side.  Roddett proved to be in much better shape as he kept a good eight feet distance between himself and the bear.  He could hear water cascading in front of him, and after breaking through some greenery revealed a large pool with an enormous waterfall spilling into it.  A rainbow sailed from the base of the falls into the air our of Roddett’s sight.  The bear neared him, but it was a rocky terrain to get down into the pool, so he gathered the courage to dive into the clear, blue water below.  He hit with a loud splash, as Shardic burst through the greens himself and fell, without the luxury of deciding where to go next.  He fell hard, barreling down on some rocks, twisting and shearing his body, until he hit a hard stone cliff and bounced into the water, limp.  Roddett moments later, emerged from the water, brandishing his sharpened blade.  He waded to the spot where Shardic had plunged into and waited, as drips of water fell back to their origins from his prominent beak.  He waited with a hunter’s patience, knowing the exact moment when the prey is weak enough to strike it down, yet it was waiting on him.  Behind him loomed a twelve foot death machine, also knowing the right moment to strike.  A hard bear breath blew on the hunter’s neck and he turned suddenly with knife ready, but was met by a light slash from the bear’s dark talons.  Roddett splashed through the water, bleeding and cursing, holding a scar that would remain on his face until the end of his days.

The waterfall continued spraying down the smooth wall of weather-shaped stone that divided the solid and liquid surfaces of this area.  The great bear now sat on all fours in the refreshing pool, taking in his surroundings.  Sashrala came upon the steep cliff and looked at his transformed friend.  The sun then seemed to heighten its glow as his eyes became useless.  He was blind to the vision over his head.  The great bear could see it, though.  A walkway of vibrant colors poured into the water and curved up and high into the whiteness above him.  An intensely bright figure stood at the precipice of this mystical sight, moving its head about.  Shardic looked very intently, but as hard as he tried, could not make out what stood on the sky as if a platform to speak in front of the gods.  But, a voice spoke to him, very clearly:

“Great warrior, I am Grace of Heart.  I have begun my traveling of this world, and I found you first of all.  Your heart lies in the creatures of this world, and their well-being.  Your love of the earth is true and you have done a great deed on this day.  I have returned the men of this wood back to their rightful place and state of men.  Clear the camp of all the skins and carcasses and I will bless this land.  I will watch you on your journey, for it will be a long and trying one.  Good luck to you, and thank you.”

The voice went away and so did the bright light, but the rainbow remained.  Hours later, the man known to Sash as Eyes of the Hawk returned to his normal state, but needed much rest and sanctity.  But, first, they did as the voice told him and buried all the skins and flesh and hides in a respectful and proper way.  They camped in Roddett’s abandoned grounds for the night, but early in the morning, made off to the north again.  They would move on the outskirts of the great city, Kings gate, and make their way to the mountains of the dwarves and beyond.  Moments after leaving, a figure dressed in dark satin clothes watched from high in a tree as the men departed on their journey.  He would follow them quite a ways, hidden in shadows and stealth, watching their every move.  Miles ahead of Kings gate, he would travel east and meet a strong, dark stallion in a patch of oaks.  The mighty steed would take him to the edge of the Dunan where a great meeting of the giants would take p

The rain was pouring down to the ground with a relentless assault as the wooden wagon wheels rolled to a stop on the sparsely arranged cobble stone.  They were ten feet away from the enormously tall gates to the Giant City, Gorgaroth.  The massive gates had two large clubs carved into the center of them.  In the back of the wagon, Gauge and Cuttice laced up their hoods on their cloaks and then spoke to Permion.

“Okay, park the wagon out of sight while we’re inside.  If you’re seen, we’ll be in trouble for bringing an outsider into a Guild meeting and we’ll all be thrown in jail.  I’ll find out all the information they know of about Elizabeth.  Give me the locket.”

Perm took the pendant out from under his robes and placed it in the palm of Gauge’s outstretched hand.

“We’ll return as soon as we’re able.”

And with that, the former lovers quickly departed the wagon.  Permion watched as they went to the gate and seemingly spoke to it.  Seconds later, they stepped back and allowed the fortress doors to open up.  The doors were creaking and grinding, creating a nearly unbearable noise, as if the hinges desperately needed grease.  This was done as a safety measure for the city because giants have notoriously bad hearing since they stand so tall.  After they were inside, Perm took the wagon off to a clump of trees on the pathway to the gates.  He sat there for a while, just thinking, looking at his surroundings, but in the distance could hear a noise, like something sliding along the grass in the woods.  Perm, out of fear of being seen, pulled out an old, minute tiger’s eye gem from his pocket.  He said aloud, “From all who would spy, hide thee from thy naked eye.”

He watched with a small sliver of sight out of the damaged hole in the wagon, waiting for whatever was coming out of the woods.  The sound was getting louder, yet he saw nothing.  A movement on the ground caught his eye and he saw a long, fat serpent quickly slinking through the grass.  Oddly enough, on it’s back sat a person, clinging to the beast as it moved along.  He had never seen that before.  It moved speedily and with purpose up to the stone walls surrounding the city and without stopping for a second, it slipped underneath a crack or hole in the rock at the bottom.  A secret way in!  He kept watching to see if anything else was happening.  A few minutes later, a man in muddy armor came stumbling from the same area as the snake.  He was waving a sword around, trying to get someone’s attention.

“Halt there foul beast.  You have killed a man, and I, Darius the Brave, must take you to my constable.”  He stuttered and fell over a tree root in the ground.  Permion released his spell, and moved outside the wagon door slowly.

“Good, sir, come here!  Quickly,” he said as quietly as possible, while waving him over.  The famished man obliged him and stumbled over the wagon.

“Oh, my good man, thank you so much.  Do you have some food and water?” he said, entering the back of the wagon.

“Yes, yes, eat up.  Now, what was that snake doing?  You said it killed a man,” he asked as Darius ate on some dried meat.

“Yes, I saw it with my own eyes.  I was traveling the woods, on my way to Gorgaroth, when I happened upon an undersized creature screaming at a human man.  Then, he commanded that giant thing to swallow him.  I kept very still and watched as they went along and I followed their path here.  I must apprehend them.  Did you see which way they went?”  he asked.

Perm looked up and thought to himself about how much trouble they were about to get into.

 Demagauge and Cuttice made their way into Gorgaroth and were greeted by a sign hanging in the front square that read: “If you’re not a giant and you’re visiting, watch our step! Ha, ha, ha!”

“Very warm greeting,” Cuttice responded.

All the buildings were extremely tall, but built in poor masonry.  Not all walls were mortared firmly and all the finishing looked sloppy.  The dwarves were known the world over for their great craftsmanship and that was one of the reasons giants hated them so much.  Gorgaroth was built and made for giants.  Titan had seen to that when he went to the Council of Dunan and requested that the growing giant population be accommodated.  He was a rousing speaker and had motivated his people to take a more active role in the land.  In the first attempt to build the Giant City, only two buildings were built, of wood, but some angry people living in Luskan and Rybold set fire to them.  Some infant giants were left behind in the buildings and Titan single-handedly saved them from death.  This had martyred him in the eyes of the giants, enough to where they would follow him into the nine levels of Hell, if he commanded.  A giant statue was built of him in front of the Giant Community Hall, and worshippers all across the plains had build shrines to him, which he collected all the gold from.

Inside the hall, giants huddled about stopping inside different rooms.  The inside was all stone, with carved out doorways that held the offices of different daily giant matters and business.  At the very end of the hall sat a large oak door with black metal hinges and an iron ring as a handle.  They waited outside of it until a giant needed to open it himself.  They scurried inside and followed a winding stone hallway down into a lower chamber.  It was lit by massive torches held in iron sconces along the wall.  At the bottom was a huge, hollowed out cave with a tall wall and a dais cut out for meetings.  A wooden stand was placed on the dais along with a two long tables filled with food and drink.  The hall was packed full of giants, probably numbering near two hundred.  They ranged in size, as most do, anywhere from eight feet to twelve.  Only the gods made extremely tall giants as believed by them to be true.  Titan was seventeen and a half feet tall, therefore, by custom alone, was destined as a leader.  Most of them lived in the city, wearing trousers and wool vests, but some had on tree branches and leaves, from the woods, and some were the odd grey skinned giants of the mountains.  These were of the dumbest of the species.  Most of them were carrying clubs or a pouch of rocks, boulders to regular humans.  Some, specially trained giants got to carry swords, which looked like boot daggers to them.

Gauge and Cuttice moved, as carefully as they could up towards the front where their guild was meeting.  He didn’t see Ruffy included in them, which was odd since he had wanted to impress Titan so much.  Gauge looked forward to his speech because he was always good with crowds, but believed the giant leader to be very egotistical and greedy.  The hall was filled with all sorts of followers of Titan and mercenaries.  The expedition was going to be quite a large one.  From behind a curtain, a hefty hammer thudded a large bong and let out a resounding THUDDDD signaling the attention of all who would be here.  Gauge watched intensely as an old, nicely dressed giant came to the podium.

“Introducing, our fearless and tactful leader, King of the Giants, the mighty Titan!”

A loud applause broke out and people were stomping the hard rock beneath their feet in support of their self appointed leader.  From behind the curtain a tall pair of patent brown leather boots stepped out on stage.  Green, decorated trousers, brown leather belt with golden club buckle, and dark green vest adorned the seventeen and a half foot leader of the giants.  He also wore golden gauntlets and had golden earrings.  His auburn hair was combed and his orange moustache groomed.  As far as giants go, he was a stud.  He shook the old giant’s hand and stepped to his podium.  The applause stopped quickly in anticipation of his words.

“Hello, all my friends.  This is a glorious day to be a giant!”  Again, a large applause roared from the monstrous hands of the spectators.  It again died when Titan opened his mouth to speak again.

“Many thousands of years ago, a foolish king left a gift to the world of men and elves: An ancient crown, The Tamer of Althuith, a blessing for any who would find it.  In it is the power to control the ancient beings of our land, the most powerful creatures in existence.  And I vow that not one man or elf will find it.  A giant will!  That giant will be me!  And I will use it for all of you!”  He said, pointing with his finger at all of his constituents.  Applause and feet stomping was shaking the whole room.  The crowd was whipped into a frenzy.

“Right now, over all parts of the Dunan, three creatures are wandering the earth, sky and sea, judging what we’ve done with our world.  They alone decide whether our crops provide a feast or famine for us.  If our water strengthens us to do a hard day’s work or not.  To judge whether we deserve the air we breathe, whether we live or die!  Well, I’m tired of being judged!  We’ve been judged our whole lives.  I remember.  Do you?  Do you remember who spoke out against our council to save those two giant boys who took pigs from Bremes merely to feed his family?  Do you remember who bought this land from the old, crooked council?  Who fought back when our city was burnt to the ground?  Who never lost sight of the vision and rebuilt Gorgaroth with his bare hands?  It was me, Titan!  Your leader!  The only person who has ever cared for the well-beings of your families.  The person who was tired of living in caves, away from the rest of society!  Now, the chance to rule this whole land lay at our feet, and I ask you now, will you kick it aside or lift it with both hands proudly?”

A thunderous cheer began to let out and the cave felt as if the top of it would crack and be carried into the clouds on sound waves.

“Now, my brothers of Gorgaroth look around you.  Many of our kind have joined us here today.  Those of you from the hills and forests of this land, you are welcome here.  Let the elves hold their noses up at others.  Those from the Ore-Rock, we are happy you are here, for you have suffered enough with those rude, unkempt dwarves.  We are also joined by our merchant’s guild and some special friends of ours from the Northern Lands will join us in the White North.  But, before we adjourn here, we have some troubling news.”

Titan looks off to the side curtain as the old giant brings out a covered box or cage of some sort.  Gauge quickly catches a glance from behind the curtain of a familiar pair of beady eyes.  It is Ruffy, up to something.  Titan holds up the cage and pulls the slip off of it.  It’s a small brass cage containing a tiny black crow.  Gauge recognizes his friend Jinx immediately.  Titan reaches in and removes the bird.

“This small bird was found crossing the Dunan by one of our allies.  Attached to the fowl’s leg was a small message.  It reads: “Princess, Titan will leave in six days.  Meet him at the Caves.  Bring 500.”

Titan paused to let this message sink in to his adoring crowd, and then let his voice boom.

“One among us is a traitor!  He or she has notified the elves of our plan.  They want the crown for themselves, but the elves hold too much power already.  I say it is the time for the giants.  We will leave in one day now.  Everyone make the proper arrangements.  This will be our finest hour.  And everyone keep their eyes open and ears perked for hearings of this snitch.  He will be found and will pay dearly.  Good day, all of you and get some rest.”

And with that, off the stage he walked.  When Titan walked behind the curtain, it moved only slightly, but slightly enough for Gauge to see the patchwork blue cloak of the person whose wagon Gauge took.  He grabbed Cuttice by the hand and started to leave when one of his fellow Guild members tapped him on the shoulder.

“Titan wants to see us all privately.”

“Great.  What’s this about?” Cuttice whispered.

They followed the man back behind the curtain and into another stone meeting room with a table and chairs.  Titan was not seated, and the patchwork cloak guy was standing to his side clutching an old box with runes carved into it.  The Guild filed around the table as Titan turned around with Jinx still in his hand.  He looked over the men and women and just squeezed his hand until blood and ooze poured from its body.  Gauge didn’t move a muscle, but was mourning him on the inside.  Cuttice winced at the sight, as did many others.  Gauge noticed that Ruffy was not in the room.

“This bird is a thief’s trick.  I know one of you is the leak to the elves.  I am watching all of you.”

He stared into Gauge’s green eyes intently.

“What of this native?” he asked generally.  No one responded.

“Well, did any one of you find the ‘Eyes of the Hawk’?  I want him here, if he’s going to be the best tracker in the world,” He slammed the remains of the bird on the table.  He was seething, looking around the room.

“One of you had better answer,” he walked up to a young man in the Guild, probably eighteen or so and grabbed him by the shoulders.  Gauge spoke up.

“I found his camp, yet he was not there.  I waited until nightfall, but he did not show up.”

Titan seemed to calm down a little.  He released his grip from the young man, then seemingly, hit by a rush of rage, grabbed his shoulders again and twisted them around to his back.  The boy slumped to the ground, bleeding from his mouth.  Cuttice hid her head, as Titan approached Gauge.

“Demagauge, I know of your past.  If you’re lying to me, I’ll do the same to you and her,” he said, peering at Cuttice with eyes that were colder than the winter.

“I assure you, good giant, I am not.  I have guided you since the beginning of this mission, and I plan to be with you when the find the Tamer.  You have paid us all very well,” he spoke very calmly to him.

Suddenly, a voice entering the room busted up the moment.

“Excuse me, Lord, but I have found something, or someone you should see,” exclaimed Ruffy, as he quickly walked in, quiet as a mouse.  Behind him, two giants were holding a man in muddy armor, looking drunk.  It was the knight from the Rusty Bucket.

“Who in the devil is he?” asked Titan.

“Darius the Brave.  He is here to arrest Damien Nefaria, famed sorcerer of Bane.  He believes he is here, riding a giant serpent.”

The Guild members started laughing at these notions, as the knight struggled to stand himself up in the giant’s hands.

“That’s him.  In the cloak.  He killed a man, or at least his great beast did.”  He was leering at the man with the decorated box.  Nefaria seemed to cower, as if hiding his face.

“Throw him in the cells.  He can tell ghost stories to the other prisoners.” And the giants ushered him away.

“Now, all of you get ready.  We leave first thing in the morning.  You’ll find your horses in the stables.”

Gauge and Cuttice exited quickly, filing out of the hall with the rest of the Guild.  Gauge suddenly noticed something, perhaps a slight movement in the corner.

“Hey, will you grab us an ale at the bar?” he asked Cuttice.

“When did you start drinking?” she asked, surprised.

“As soon as you leave.  I’ll be there soon after,” he winked at her to let her know he meant it.  She moved on as Gauge went back to the corridor in which the movement passed.  It was back into Titan’s private meeting room.  He heard loud voices coming from inside.  As he walked near the entrance, he bumped into something.  It made a groan of pain and then became Permion!

“What are you doing here?  I told you to watch the wagon,” he said quietly.

“Believe me, it’s hidden.  I was following snake charmer in there,” they neared the door and listened.

“I know it’s that good for nothing Demagauge!  He’s trying to get the crown for himself!” boomed Titan.

“Don’t worry; I have both eyes on him.” Said Ruffy.

“Good.  The second you suspect he’s going to double-cross me, report back to me and Nefaria’s pet will have a little snack.”

Then, he laughed a hearty bellow.  Gauge suddenly felt a sharp point to the back of his neck.  He turned his eyes, only slightly, and saw a black flash of gas and smoke, quickly dispersing.  He touched the back of his neck and revealed a drop of blood, coming from a small cut that appeared.

“Let’s escape, Perm,” he said.

“What about Darius?” he asked.

“He’s useless.  They’ll forget about him after tomorrow.  We are going on a mission to find your missing Elizabeth.  You stay behind and free him if it pleases you!”

“I want to go on the mission!  I should go!  You can stay behind,” he fumed.

“Come, we must leave here.  We’ll discuss it at the bar.”

Very soon, inside the town bar, they were all finishing their drinks; Gauge’s a water.

“Cuttice, I need to ask you a huge favor.  I need to leave tonight across the river.  Please, cover for me if I don’t make it back,” he begged.

“I knew it was you!  You’re going to get killed doing this.  Are you out of your mind?” she frantically asked.

“Please.  Do me this one favor.  I’ll owe you one,” he frankly said.  She gave him a reluctant look.

“Perm, can you send messages through the wind like most wizards?” he asked.

“Yes, I certainly can.  I can even send pictures.  I don’t think you’ve seen my artwork yet.  I’m really quite good.  I do this sunset that is just” Gauge put up his hand to stop him from going on.

“Okay, I get it.  We’ll ride out tonight on a very important leg of the search.  Be ready at sundown.”

The moon began its slow climb up into the air.  Gauge left his room to meet Permion at the stairs.  When he shut his door and turned to leave, Cuttice stood in front of him, holding a small candle.

“Gauge, the air is thick with fog.  Ride quickly, and come back to me,” she said.

“I won’t promise you.  I can’t.  But, there are so many things I want to tell you, and ask,”

“None of that matters.  Tomorrow, we start a dangerous journey that might lead to the ending of our world.  You’re the only person I have in this world.”

She kissed him and entered his room to wait for his return.  Gauge headed down to the stables.  Perm was already waiting.

“This message may save our lives down the road, and maybe help us find Elizabeth.  The elves are wondrous people and have much mercy,” he said.

“Wow, I’ve never met an elf before!” Perm said, enthusiastically.

Gauge looked at him and pulled back his hood to reveal pointed ears on the side of his head.

“Yes, you have, my friend.  Now, let’s ride swiftly.”

They mounted up and bolted out of Gorgaroth onto hard, dark land.  The trip to the Dunan was only five miles, but about halfway, Gauge heard a noise behind him.  Loud and fast.  He looked back and saw a man on a horse, wearing all black cloth.  He was riding skillfully and fast.  Gauge had to really buck his steed to get him going.  He pushed the horse harder and harder until he did not see the other rider.  Permion was obviously skilled on a horse as well because he kept pace with Gauge the entire time.  They made it to the river bank quicker than they thought they would, and dismounted.  Perm came to the edge and started swirling two fans in the air.  He was chanting as he was waving the parch fans in a singular motion.  Then, they heard the gallop of the horse again and the rider was bearing towards them from back down the way.  The wind then picked up and started swirling and whipping ferociously around them.

“Quickly, speak your message!” Perm said, trying to stand still in the gusts.  Gauge looked back to see the rider only a few feet from them.

“Come to the North immediately!  Titan leaves today!”

As soon as he finished, the rider was right in front of them, but to their surprise, the horse leaped high into the air.  Perm sent the message off in the powerful winds, and so does the rider.  He and the horse are in the air; letting the wind current carry them like a leaf in the fall.  It was an amazing sight.

“Thank you, my friend.  You will be repaid when your blushing lady is in your arms.”

“Gauge, who in the world was riding that horse?” Perm asked.

“I haven’t a clue, but we must forget him for now.”

So, they mounted up and rode back into town.

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