The three scouts approached the wizard standing just outside the pool of light cast by the glow sticks. Pale blue energy swirled and crackled about him as if encasing him in a miniature tornado. Cobe had seen ley energy in many forms throughout his travels. These shaman or ley walkers, wizards, as they were commonly called, tapped this ancient energy from unknown sources within the earth to wield it in wondrous and sometimes deadly ways. He, at least they assumed he was male by his size, was dressed for travel with heavy black boots, denim pants and woolen shirt. A faded green canvas jacked studded with oversized pockets added another layer of protection from the cold. He wore a heavy woolen cowl over his head and a cloak of some animal fur was wrapped around his shoulders. A number of trinkets and fetishes hung from his belt or the silver linked chain about his neck. A metal tipped wooden club hanging at his side was his only obvious weapon but they could only imagine what else might be concealed in the many layers of clothing.
“There is no need for your weapons.” He turned towards them as they neared. His voice sounded hollow and faint. Much too faint to be heard over the pop and hiss of the dying fire, Kate thought. But she could hear it clear as day. “I do not mean to harm you.” She could just make out his face hidden deep within the darkness of his hood, barely illuminated by the pale blue energy that swirled about him.
They paused a few yards away, Kate nervously fingering her rifle.
“What is your business then?” asked Cobe.
“I come to see the giant,” he replied turning again towards the creature just beginning to emerge from its icy tomb. “I have felt a new presence in this place for the past several days as well as …an awakening.”
“How do we know you are not here to stop us?” asked Jethro.
“You do not,” he replied, “but I have no wish to prevent you from achieving whatever your intentions are in this place. But maybe that is where I do you the most harm.”
“What does that mean ?”
“There are powers in the room that have been trapped for generations, maybe since before the ending.” He turned once again to the scouts. The halo of blue energy surrounding him had noticeably dimmed. He shivered as if just noticing the frigid temperature. “They are powerful forces and you would do well to understand them better, if at all, before trespassing in their domain.”
“Then maybe you should help us understand a little better” Kate could see that Cobe had relaxed his guard. His pistol remained holstered at his side.
“Perhaps. I can only speak what I know. Understanding will be up to you.”
“Do you have a name wizard?” asked Cobe.
“I am called Anomander,” he replied. Kate thought for an instant she could see the man smile within the shadow of his hood.
The next morning dawned busy. Not only had the uninvited guest caused a stir among the science team, but over the night the heat from the fire had melted away enough of the ice that the giant had begun to emerge wholly from the ice. Cobe could not help but stare up at the creature as the ice dripped off the tip of its chin and ran down its neck and granite grey arms to drip hissing into the fire from its dirt encrusted fingertips. Cobe noted how the giant’s chin tilted slightly upward, one eye barely visible over the rise of its cheekbone, as if preparing to go onstage for a dramatic performance. It’s skin was cold and solid, the texture of thick hide.
Steam drifted up from his ice melt soaked clothing as it dried in the heat of the fire. Cobe could once again smell the hot wet earth he had noticed the day before. But this morning the scent drifted out over the entire stage. Another armload of wood was dumped into the fire amid a shower of ash and embers.
Anomander sat away from the camp eating a few shreds of dried meat he carried in one of his many pouches. Kate sat nearby and they seemed deep in conversation. “Won’t you join us for breakfast?” asked Cobe as he approached them. Anomander had removed his hood from the night before and Cobe was surprised to see that his skin was black as midnight. He had a hard face with close cropped hair and black stubble flecked with grey along his jaw and chin. He had wide full lips and when he turned toward Cobe he was even more startled by the wizard’s deep set unnaturally blue eyes.
“My thanks Commander, but Kate has already tried to feed me some of that gruel you call food.” Cobe noticed a half eaten bowl of oatmeal at his feet. “I will content myself to a few pieces of dried pork and a cup full of water.”
“Suit yourself.” Cobe motioned toward the table where the last of the meal was being packed away. “There won’t be much left after tonight’s meal. I can’t promise the same offer tomorrow morning.” Jethro and Reynolds had once again left early to see what they could trap. He hoped they would return with enough to get them through another day in this place.
“I will suffer then,” replied the wizard.
“Last night you mentioned that you felt us here…and the giant. What did you mean?” asked Kate.
“I have known about this giant for many years --”
“This giant,” she interrupted. “Do you mean there are more of them?”
“Oh yes. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of giants throughout this world. Maybe more. I doubt if anyone knows for sure. The last giant I saw was far to the north, many years ago, in the great frozen woodlands of what was once known as Canada. He was bigger even than that one.” He motioned towards the rapidly melting block of ice.
“Why do we not know about them?” she continued.
“We do know about them. Since the beginning of civilization, maybe since the beginning of time giants have roamed the earth. Evidence can be found in legends and stories passed through time about these creatures. The human race has long had a history of disregarding the elements of life they found difficult to explain.”
“Like yourself,” added Cobe.
“Exactly. The ability to wield the earth’s energy stretches back to the most ancient of civilizations,” Rake explained. “It is only now that the boundaries between what is normal and what is considered strange…or unnatural have been blurred that practitioners of magic, as you say, have made themselves known.”
“What of this giant? How did he get here, like this?” Kate asked again. Behind them the science team was busy preparing their equipment. The tiny generator they had packed in with them chugged, finally settling on a low hum as it charged the multiple consoles arrayed before the giant’s tomb. Cobe watched as a scientist cut away a section of the giant’s pant leg just below the knee exposing its granite colored skin.
“I do not know how this creature came to be here. I only know it has been here for many years. There was a time long ago when a tribe inhabited these buildings. They are long gone now, but I think they saw the giant as a sort of deity. I have fading memories of rituals and possibly even sacrifice.” He paused a moment in thought. “They were a primitive people.”
Cobe looked up from his thoughts as Anomander turned to face Rake who approached from behind. “Welcome wizard,” chirped the scientist. “I see our studies have attracted learned men.”
“That they have,” replied the wizard. “What do you hope to accomplish here?”
“Why, to understand the mystery of this great creature you see before you.”
“What is the mystery you seek?”
The question seemed to catch Rake off guard. His features twisted into a grimace as he pondered the answer. “We want to know how such a remarkable being came to be.”
“Do you plan on waking it and asking, ‘giant, why are you here ?’”
The scientist continued despite the wizard’s jab. “Since the dawn of civilization science has been charged with the exploration and understanding of our world. This is a rare opportunity to examine something unique to our environment.” Cobe and Kate remained silent as the two men sparred back and forth.
“Why then, does science always feel the need to destroy what it seeks to understand? I think you might be surprised by the ultimate results of your work, doctor.”
“Why do you say that?” asked Rake.
“There are mysteries that can be dissected and explained, and there are mysteries that beg the only explanation is that they remain a mystery.”
“You speak in riddles wizard.” Rake was beginning to get noticeably agitated. “There are NO mysteries that can not be understood given the proper resources.” With that, he turned and stalked back to his scientists preparing to explain the mystery of the giant’s existence. Cobe wondered what type of mystery it was.
“Commander, Kate, there is something I must show you. It is not far. If you would come with me.” The wizard rose glaring at the busy scientists.
“Where to?” asked Kate.
“As I said. It is not far.” Anomander shrugged the heavy wool cowl over his head as he stood.
“I need to let Rake know he will be on his own for awhile.”
Cobe approached the towering giant as a scientist went to work on the section of pants leg he had previously cut away. The woman, not much older than Kate, held a syringe in her hand. Stepping up to the giant’s leg she attempted to insert the needle into its flesh only to have it snap off without breaking the surface. She tried another, larger needle with similar effect. Stalking back to the supply kit she motioned for Rake. The two scientists conferred briefly and she returned with a third larger needle. To Cobe it looked large enough to serve as an effective weapon in an emergency.
Once again she struggled to drive the needle through the giant’s thick hide. She pressed and twisted as the needle gradually sunk into flesh. For the next few minutes she worked to drive the needle deeper into its leg, finally rewarded by a slow release of thick brown blood into the syringe. With a triumphant grunt she removed the needle with a jerk and returned back to the waiting scientists.
Cobe watched as a slow trickle of heavy blood continued to drip from the wound like sap from a punctured tree.
Cobe caught up with Kate and Anomander at the entrance to the auditorium. He looked back at the stage, a smoky haze drifting over the empty auditorium like a grey fog. “Where are we going?” he asked.
“Just follow me Commander and trust that what I am about to show you is worth the mystery,” responded the wizard. The trio exited the auditorium and turned up the hallway that they had originally entered from. Scattered logs and scraps of kindling marked the path that the scientists had been using to transport wood to Rake’s eternal flame. In a particularly dark part of the passage, Anomander paused and then proceeded down a side hallway almost invisible in the shadows. Kate clicked on her torch filling the hallway before them with a burst of white light. Debris lay scattered in piles and broken glass crunched under their feet as the walked.
“There is no need for that,” Anomander said calmly, placing his hand on the torch. It flickered once and then shut off completely. Kate gasped. Instead of the pitch black she had expected, the passage was dimly lit with a quietly throbbing pale blue light. And then she realized that the light was the same she had seen on the first night she had seen him, pulsing from somewhere inside the wizard.
“That is quite a trick, Wizard.” called the commander. “Ill bet it does amaze the children.”
“Among other things. Now stay close to me, I would prefer to attract a little less attention than your torches. The light was faint but they could easily see around the obstacles. Anomander took the lead followed by Cobe and Kate. She could hear the many bags and bottles tied to his belt clack and jingle against the totems and fetishes also strapped there. “What are those/” asked Kate.
“Little things, bits of stuff, pieces of animals, plants, human bones and always a small pouch of sand.” He patted a marrow colored pouch at his belt that could not have carried more then a handful of sand. “They are the ingredients I use to cook my spells. For example,” He removed a pinch of sand from the bag at his belt and sprinkled it into his hand. As he rubbed one hand against the other the blue aura began to noticeably dim and finally vanished as he kept rubbing, once again leaving them in darkness.
“I should light my torch again,” said Kate.
“Patience dear Kate.” They could hear him rummaging through his pockets and coats until he found what he wanted. It was a simple silver flip top cigarette lighter. With a flick of his had it sparked a warm yellow glow that barely spread beyond the group.
“Is that all you have?” asked Cobe
“It is all we need. We are very close. Follow.”
They continued down the hallway, Anomander in front with his flickering yellow beacon. Occasionally, he paused to stare at a door leading from the passage. They rounded another turn and stopped. “This is it,” he said. The door looked heavy. It had once been painted red and the filthy mesh embedded window didn’t give them any clue what lay on the other side.
Anomander stepped aside. “Commander…” Cobe looked at the wizard. “The door.”
“Right, the door.” He tested the handle. Metal grated against metal but it turned. “More giants behind this door?”
“It is hard to say. It looks like it has been many years since anyone has been through here.” The flame flickered, a spiral of light and dark danced across the wizard’s face.
Cobe turned the handle and shoved against the door. It resisted. Years of grime and grit cemented the door to the frame. He shoved again and it shuddered, bits of grit falling to the floor. Cobe pressed his shoulder to the door for a final effort and with a shriek it burst open, nearly tumbling the scout into the darkened hallway beyond.
“Thank you Commander,” said Anomander as he entered the hallway. Dust billowed up from their passage soon obscuring all but a few feet in front of them. Anomander led the way, a hazy figure in a halo of yellow light. “Steps,” he called out.
They climbed a short flight of stairs and turned left at a landing. A few more paces and they stopped at a second door. More a gateway than a door. Nearly as wide as two doors and taller than any of them, it was made of metal. Bits of blue paint still clung to the pitted and rusted surface betraying its original color. A wide beam of the same rusting metal surrounded it like a frame. A padlock bigger than any Cobe had ever seen secured the door to an iron ring welded into the frame. The lock looked near ancient and despite the patina of rust Cobe had no doubt it would hinder all but the most well equipped intruders.
“Well need the explosives from the camp to get through that.”
“Not with this.” Anomander grinned knowingly handing the flickering lighter to Cobe. Rummaging among the many cords and chains that hung around his neck he removed a metal lanyard of tiny beads like the kind Cobe had seen worn among some of the military groups for ID tags. Instead of identification, the one around the wizard’s neck held a shiny key.
“Where did you get that?” asked Kate.
“I have had it for many years.” Anomander answered examining it in the glow of the lighter’s flame. It shimmered as if golden. “It was given to me long ago by another of my kind.”
The wizard fitted the key into the padlock and turned. The padlock snapped open with an audible click. Anomander returned the key to one of the pockets in his coat. With little effort he slid the door open. It moved silently and smoothly as if on newly greased tracks. The room beyond appeared as if behind a wind blown veil of gauze as bright sunlight from high horizontal windows illuminated a swirl of dust motes disturbed by the door’s passage.
As the dust settled and their eyes became adjusted to the brightness of the room after being in the darkened hallway, they realized they were in a makeshift library. The room was not big, and oddly shaped with a fifth wall opposite the door. Overhead windows let in plenty of light as if positioned perfectly to catch the suns rays. “Mirrors,” Anomander explained when he caught Kate staring up into the light. Even with the ragged cut above her eye she looked angelic in the dust softened light.
“There are mirrors positioned above this room and in strategic places along the rooftop to catch the maximum amount of light and funnel it to this room.” The wizard stepped into the room causing a second much smaller swirl of dust.
Kate looked disappointed. “I was hoping it was more magic.”
Bookshelves and metal multi-purpose racks lined the walls floor to ceiling except where they would cover the windows. Thousands, or tens of thousands guessed Cobe, of books were stacked on the shelves. Sometimes three rows deep and stacked on top of each other, the books seemed to have been haphazardly placed without thought to access or appearance. It was more books than Cobe had even seen in one place, more than he had imagined existed in all of the libraries he had even been in.
A heavy wooden desk, covered in a thick layer of dust and more stacks of books occupied the center of the room. Other then a few sturdy looking chairs there were no other furnishings in the room. They entered the hazy library amazed at the knowledge that must be contained within. “There must be thousands of books here,” said Kate and she looked through a nearby stack.
“There might even be a hundred thousand by now,” replied Anomander. “The count has long since been lost but we have been collecting them for the past hundred years, since the first days of the collapse.”
“We,” Cobe turned to face the wizard who had sat in one of the seats facing the entrance.
“Others, like myself, interested in the preservation of knowledge. Some day there will be a need for all of this.” He gestured with both hands to the wall to wall stacks of books, his bone and shell bracelets rattling as he did.
“Other wizards?” Cobe asked again.
“Not just. There are others who know about this place. Since the first days of the collapse men horded what could be saved from this institute and locked it safely in this room through the initial chaos and dark years that followed. Since then, there have been collectors, teachers even traders that have contributed.”
“Why don’t you share this with the outside world?” asked Kate.
“The outside world is not ready for this yet. With men like Rake? Do you think he is interested in knowledge for its own sake? He is merely a grown child with rich parents pulling the wings off of butterflies. I could find him a book somewhere in this room that would tell him all that mankind knows about the giants and other supposedly magical creatures, as well. Do you think he would give up trying to wake that creature out there?”
“Will it, the giant, come back to life?” asked Kate. She turned from inspecting the treasure trove of books, caught up in the wizard’s sudden zeal.
“It has never been dead, Kate. Just in a sort of hibernation.”
“I have seen its blood flow,” added Cobe, “where one of the scientists punctured its skin. Slow, but moving.”
“Well, will it wake up then? Once thawed?”
“It is hard to say,” replied the wizard “But as the ice melts and the heat thaws its flesh, I would say there is as likely a chance as any.”
“What will it do after being asleep so long?”
“ I would need a big steak and a gallon of hot beer,” mused Cobe. Anomander’s smile was reassuring.
“This giant is not an intelligent creature. It has no cites, no language. It does not read and write. You would be better thinking of it as a great beast waking from its slumber. I think it will be confused and frightened. Does Rake think he is going to put a leash on it and lead it back to the settlements like a new found pet? I think he is going to be sorely disappointed.”
“Can you stop it?” asked Cobe
“I can try. I am a long way from a strong nexus of lines but I have been conserving my energy just for that reason.” The earth’s energy, ley energy, that the wizards derived their power from ran in paths across the surface of the planet like a web. Where these lines came together were called nexus and depending on the size or number of intersecting paths, could provide the wizards with greater powers. “Giants are creatures of the earth, some say, shaped from the rocks of the ground as man was shaped from the dust by his maker. My power comes from the earth as well, so the giant will have a natural resistance to it.”
The wizard seemed to stop and ponder for a moment. His face twisted in an anguished grimace. “Why couldn’t Rake just leave well enough alone…” he burst out striking the table with the heel of his balled fist.
Kate, startled, turned from the book she had been examining. “He wants to learn from it.”
“He wants to control it,” the wizard fumed, blue energy crackled in the air.
“He is a scientist,” replied Kate.
“He is not a scientist, he is a butcher. I could see it in his eyes when we met at breakfast. He would relish the chance to cut me open to see if I have an extra heart or a larger brain. Something that allows me to channel this energy.” Fire flickered from his outstretched fingers in a cold blue nimbus. He turned from the two scouts and seemed to decompress. The energy in the room dissipated with the faint hint of scorched ozone.
The scouts continued to watch silently as the wizard regained his composure. Cobe’s hand drifted instinctively to his sidearm.
“I must apologize,” he said after a few moments. “I feel strongly about men like your Lead Scientist Rake. I wonder how many more men like him it will take for humans to destroy themselves once again. Maybe this time for good.”
Cobe could not help but feel a little culpable under the wizard’s scrutiny. The fees they had already collected as well as what they would receive once they returned seemed much less important than it did the day before.
“How do you…” asked Kate, breaking both men’s contemplation.
“Do what,” asked the wizard.
“Channel your powers.”
He thought for a moment. “I do not know. I do not want to know. I have to believe that there are mysteries in this world that even man’s most brilliant minds will never uncover.
The light from the overhead windows dimmed as the sun passed its zenith and dropped toward the western horizon. They had spent the rest of the afternoon looking through the wealth of books and information contained in the vault. Everything from the basics, reading, writing to advanced texts that any of them could never hope to understand lay waiting for just the right time or maybe just the right people to unlock their secrets.
“We had best get back to the team,” announced Cobe as the afternoon drifted to evening.
“Anomander, might I take one of these with me?” she held a slim volume. Its cover faded and in tatters. “Its poetry,” she said to Cobe knowing he wanted to ask.
“You can take whatever you need my dear. This treasure is meant to be shared with those that are ready for it.” He turned to the commander, nodding to the oversized tome that he was returning to the shelf.
“No thank you. It would be awful heavy to lug back to the settlements.”
Anomander slid the heavy door back in place and snapped the padlock closed. Instead of replacing the key around his neck he held it out to the commander. “For when you are ready to, as you say, to lug this burden.”
Cobe hesitated for several seconds in the dim light of the torch before accepting the key. “What about you?”
“I’m sure I have another somewhere. If not, I have other means of opening that lock if needed.”
Cobe placed the key around his neck as the wizard had worn it and tucked the key down into his shirt. The metal was cold against his skin.
They arrived back at the auditorium to the smell of wood smoke and cooked meat. The two remaining scouts sat around a makeshift fire pit made from a section of a metal drum. The remains of what might have been more rabbit, or some other small game steamed on a spit over the fire. The scientists worked busily on stage like ants tending to a giant queen. The lower half of the giant, bathed in the glow of the pulsing fire and the smoke shrouded glow sticks seemed to be connected to all manner of apparatus. Wires and tubes attached to its arms and circling around its legs stretched to the long table full of clicking monitors as if the giant, and not the humming generator was powering the equipment.
Cobe looked up at the giant disappearing into the smoke and haze. It continued to stare out at the audience but while its gaze held the back of the room that morning, Cobe could not help but feel that its gaze had sunk to the busy men and women scrambling around below it. Maybe it was the different perspective or a trick of the light but he shivered despite the heat from the cook fire.
“We have a problem.” It was Jethro. The Scout was sipping at a steaming cup of coffee. Probably the last of their supply.
“What’s that Jet?” asked the commander.
“Hardly any game out there today. Even less than the past few days. And there is a storm coming.”
“Looks like a good one,” added Reynolds, busy cleaning his assault rifle.
“How soon?” asked Kate.
“Tomorrow, maybe sooner judging by the winds,” answered Jethro. “Commander, we don’t have the supplies to sit out a big one. We are down to a few days’ rations and there wont be any hunting till this storm passes.”
“How far back to our last shelter?”
“A day, maybe less now that we know the way.” Reynolds had stopped cleaning his weapon and began assembling it in the dim firelight.
“I have experienced storms in these wastes that have lasted for days.” added Anomander. “I am afraid I do not have the power to aid you in your return from this place. As I said, my powers are limited this far from a nexus.”
Rake was busy checking the monitors that clicked out a continuous tape of data and biometric feedback when Cobe approached. “So what do you know about it?” asked the scout.
“It is fascinating, truly a natural wonder,” Rake murmured, eyes red and glassy from the constant smoke and heat. “It bleeds near human blood, much thicker, nearly gelatinous in fact but so close to human it is barely distinguishable.” Rake paused a moment from his data to look up at the scout. Grime had caked his face in layers except where he had wiped at the constant streak of sweat under his eyes. Rivulets of sweat ran from his eyes like black tears. “Its tissue is amazing. Skin, yes, but sturdy. “He held up a long strip of what appeared to be flesh. “As if made of wood.”
“Or stone. Yes, yes…precisely” the scientist cackled madly.
“We are leaving tomorrow at first light.”
“No commander,” Rake replied. “ You promised five days.”
“And tomorrow is the fifth day. There is a storm on the way and we do not have the supplies to wait it out here. If we can get back to the warehouse we stayed at, we will only be a few days out from the edge of these ruins. Another day to a trading camp and fresh supplies.” He wondered why he was explaining all of this to the scientist. He could see by the man’s glassy stare that he had comprehended little if any of the plan.
“There is still so much we need to know,” pleaded the scientist.
“You will have to come back then.”
“I must work all night,” he said more to himself than anyone.
“You work as long as you want but at first light my people and I are getting out before this storm with or without you and your team.” Some of the scientists began to gather nearby. Cobe could see the relief on their faces. He was sure they was eager to get out of the ruins and back to whatever passed for civilization where they had come from. “I would suggest, if you want to take this equipment with you in the morning to start getting it packed up and ready to go.”
The scientist moved towards to table as if to begin disassembling the equipment. “No one touches anything,” Rake roared. “Until I say so.”
The cracking and crash seemed to nag at Cobe as if he knew what the sounds meant but couldn’t quite put his mind around them. Even Rake looked momentarily startled. Not till the hissing started and the wave of hot wet moisture moved over the group did he finally connect with what had happened.
As if in a dream they all turned to where the last of the ice entombing the giant had fallen away leaving it standing as if some great statue not ten yards away from them. Pieces of the falling ice had landed in the ever smoldering fire creating a hot wet cloud of thick smoke as steam and ash mixed. Through the veil of grey, Cobe watched as the giants head, as if on a swivel, for the rest of its body remained motionless, tilted towards Rake, himself and the small knot of scientists. It looked almost peaceful, or maybe confused as if awakening from some long dream. The scientists on the stage scattered with panicked shrieks. Some bolted from the stage, or dropped into the pit in front of the stage while others stared transfixed as the beast returned to life. Like a child discovering itself, it turned its hand over and flexed its stubby fingers as if for the first time.
“Scouts,” Cobe hissed loud enough to be heard over the steaming ice. He waved the hand signal for them to form up but they were already moving toward the stage completely aware of what was happening. Cobe moved a few steps back to where he had left his weapon not far from the entrance to the tent.
“What a beautiful thing.” Rake moved toward the creature. “Almost childlike.” Cobe heard him echoing his same thoughts.
“Rake. Stay back.” He commanded.
“He won’t hurt me. I have given him his life back.” Rake approached within a few feet of the giant, staring up through the thinning smoke. On the other side of the tent Jethro and Reynolds had both taken up a position to the side of the equipment table. Both trained their weapons on the creature waiting for the order to fire. Kate and Anomander had drifted towards the back of the stage partially hidden in the fading light of the glow sticks.
Cobe raised his own weapon taking a bead on the giant’s head.
“Rake, get back here,” he called a little more calmly. “You do not know a thing about it.”
“Indeed I do Commander. I know that we are nearly the same beings. Brothers.” He approached the giant, hands outstretched as if expecting an embrace from a long forgotten loved one. It was moving more, at the shoulders and the neck. It turned slightly at the waist as if noticing the puny figure before it for the first time. “That’s right, my friend,” crooned Rake. “We are as one. I will stay here and be your companion.” His voice was fluid and soothing. With a low rumbling grunt the giant seemed to smile. Its lips twisted into a sideways sneer revealing brown and broken teeth as big as a man’s fist.
“You will never be alone again.”
Anomander stepped into the light. “Rake, you do not know what…..”
Cobe was stunned by the beast’s quickness. A treelike arm whipped forward snatching up the scientist in its right hand. The giant lifted the man up to his face and peered at the scientist as if some strange insect. Its eyes narrowed and Cobe could see the creature’s hot breath push against Rake’s dirty matted hair.
The beast let out a terrible roar and Cobe knew that it was over. He could hear the popping and cracking of Rake’s bones as the giant squeezed the life out of the scientist. With one last groan, Rake went limp in the giant’s grip.
The giant bellowed a wordless growl and hurled the scientist’s lifeless body into the equipment table. The table split under the impact and the stacked monitors and diagnostic sensors crashed in a heap. Orange sparks crackled from the broken connections and the monitors went silent. The beast bellowed and stepped forward. With a mighty kick it sent the remains of the liberating fire shooting outward. A wave of hot coals burst over the stage area causing the scouts to shield themselves from the rain of fire. Where the embers landed on the tent they immediately burst into flame and within seconds their shelter, and the last of their supplies, was a raging bonfire.
Cobe gasped in horror as a scientist who was hiding in the tent emerged from the inferno. His nylon protective gear had burned as quickly and efficiently as the tent itself. The man howled as he shambled about the stage encased in a sheet of flame. Bits of melted nylon dripped to the floor in burning puddles.
The man would be dead in the next few minutes. A single shot from Jethro’s rifle ended what would be the scientists last horrifying minutes on the planet.
“Commander.” Reynolds shouted, recovering from the shower of embers.
Cobe raised his rifle, sighting on the beast that has paused to survey the chaos it had created.
“No Commander,” cried Anomander from across the stage. He had stepped further into the light. He approached the now quiet beast waving his arms in wide circles in front of him. At first it seemed like he was trying to get the giant’s attention which he did. The beast turned to face the wizard as the circles he inscribed before him began to glow the now familiar blue of the wizards energy. He continued to work the energy before him till he had two globes of energy between him and the giant. With a push he launched the energy in twin cones which struck the beast like a wave. It staggered for a moment but then righted itself against the pulsing blue energy being channeled by the wizard.
As if locked in a battle with a titanic force the giant pushed forward against the energy that rippled around it. Sheets of blue fire recoiled from the giant and twisted into the air disappearing with a hiss. Cobe could see the strain on the wizards face as he drew forth everything he could against the monster. But ever so slowly the giant inched closer to the caster. Anomander’s power began to flicker and fade as the beast drew nearer.
The wizard struck again, redoubling his efforts . Cobe seemed to think the man himself was beginning to fade as he became one with the power channeling through him. The second attack checked the gian’st advance but like a wave crashing against a rocky outcrop it ran its course freeing the giant from its temporary stasis. It stumbled forward a few paces and reached for the wizard but in a momentary flicker and crackle of blue light he was gone. The beast’s hand closed around empty air as if the wizard had never been there.
No, I cannot stop it. Good luck my friend…. The wizard’s voice was ghostly and faint in the back of Cobe’s mind.
Cobe’s rifle cracked followed by the rest of the scouts. The sharp staccato of Reynold’s assault rifle cut through the rest of the clatter. The giant swatted at the swarm of lead that punched into it from all sides. Cobe could see the flecks of red where the slugs pierced its thick skin. It roared a terrible cry of rage as it batted uselessly at the rain of slugs. He half expected to see flames burst from the giant’s mouth. Reynolds paused to replace the magazine in his weapon. Over the sights of his rifle Cobe saw a slug tear off a chunk of the giant’s ear and another shatter a tooth.
Reynolds moved closer to the giant, around the remains of the tent and the smoking body of the dead scientist but the giant moved faster. It made a half turn away from the side of the room where Kate was firing from the shadows, toward the approaching scout. The giant lunged forward and lashed out with a kick that hit Reynolds like a falling tree. With a grunt he seemed to wrap limply about the giants outstretched leg, his weapon dropping to the stage floor and then he was airborne.
Jethro was trying desperately to move out of the way as Reynolds crashed into him. In a tangled heap they tumbled for a few feet and then dropped into the pit at the edge of the stage.
The stage was eerily quiet for a few seconds as the two remaining scouts watched their comrades disappear. The anguished cry of a surviving scientist coming from the auditorium brought them back to the danger facing them. Kate raised her rifle and began firing into the giant’s exposed back. It turned to face her, the muzzle flash of her rifle flashing bright in the darkened corner of the room. It took a tentative step toward her.
“No you do not.” growled Cobe emerging from the edge of the stage. Raising his weapon he pulled the trigger to no effect. A cartridge had jammed sideways in the receiver. He dropped the useless rifle and drew his sidearm. Both he and the giant moved toward Kate’s position. “Behind you,” he screamed at the lumbering beast. “I’m down here.” He emptied a clip from his pistol point blank into the giant’s leg just below the left knee.
The giant roared and turned abruptly toward the Commander. He quickly slid another clip into his gun and continued firing. The giant made a grab for the scout but he deftly dodged to the right. But the giant’s left hand, nearly the size of a truck tire struck the commander squarely in the chest propelling him into the corner of the room opposite from Kate’s position.
She could hear him land with a crunch amid the debris they had piled in that corner of the room. The giant turned back toward her. In the flickering light she could see it was covered with holes that had just begun to drip black in the dimness. A growl erupted from deep within it.
She let her weapon fall to the floor, empty of ammo. In a rage she picked up a broken piece of lumber from the wreckage littered floor. “You bastard,” she screamed swinging the makeshift club wildly. “We freed you,” she howled. “Why didn’t we leave you trapped in the God forsaken ice.”
The giant growled again and moved away from the raging woman.
With another step and a short leap it landed in the auditorium with a crash. As if in a rage of its own the giant moved quickly to the front of the room and with little effort smashed through the flimsy wall. Kate could not see the beast but from the sounds of its grunts and the crashing of masonry it had only a little tougher time with the exterior wall. Frigid air filled the auditorium and stage like water rushing through a broken levy.
She could hear someone sobbing in the auditorium.
Kate rushed to wear Cobe lay. One of his legs bent backwards in an impossible angle and she could see the blood on his lips. His head rolled lazily on his shoulders. “Commander,” she nearly wept taking the broken man in her arms.
“Did we do it?” he groaned. His bloodstained lips barely moving.
“We did sir. The giant is gone…into the ruins”
“Good.” He seemed to relax a little. His eyes dimmed. He struggled with one good arm for her hand. She reached over and clasped his hand in hers. He pressed something cold and hard into her palm. “Get home,” he whispered as his final breath left him.
Tears streamed down her face as she opened his hand. In it was the key that the wizard had given to the commander. She closed her fist around it tightly.
Outside the snow spun and swirled, dancing in the howling winds. The storm had arrived sooner than expected.