Reins of Darkness

Excerpt from Chapter 8 of "Ulfen: An Oral History"

… thus we descended into the massive cube, which the giant kept referring to as a ‘ship:’ I, mounted upon Smash, in the lead with Ruel close behind and Shard in the rear, muttering nonsense about something or other – clocks or dressers or the futility of attempting to break the darkness through the use of force.

Despite the fact that we were in the frozen wastes of the far north – farther north than I had ever traveled in my life – it grew noticibly colder inside the vessel than out. Thankfully, I had my Elven Cloak to ward off the cold; the others seemed to have been bolstered by the Kraken stew our giant friend pushed (chock full of that horrid spice they’re constantly trying get me hooked on), though a bit … troubled in the lower regions. I can only assume it was handling their insides the way the Kraken had handled the giant’s ship.

Ice coated every surface – walls, floors, ropes and tackle … and giants and orcs. But these giants were different. They dressed the same, sure enough, as did the orcs frozen in subservience to them. It was an odd sight to behold, and even now, after all these years, I’m still not sure exactly where I come down on it. I’ve never been a friend of purebred orcs (a contradiction if ever there was one) who always seem to be serving one dark master or another, but seeing with my own eyes the proof that they were created for servitude … well, how am I supposed to feel about that? What does make me?

Anyway, sorry, back on topic.

Giants – some of which were far larger than any we’d ever seen – and orcs, both perfectly preserved; no decay, no evidence of the mysterious curse that seemed to affect the giants we had been traveling with when they left their boat. Clearly there was magic at work here. Just then, a heavy scrape drew our attention to a curtain of ice, behind which the shadow of a monstrous figure lurched into view. Having taken not only the shape (for the most part) of a camel, but the sense of one as well, Smash yelled at it.

Now, I’m not one to speak ill of a brother-in-arms, and I’d never willingly betray a comrade … but I would have brained that fool then and there if we didn’t need his brute strength to take down the single largest giant I’ve ever seen – larger even than the ones we had passed on our way to this point – dragging a sword, tall as a tavern. How it had escaped the ice and what it was doing, we had no way of knowing, only that it now crashing through the ice towards us. 

I leapt from my perch and drew my bow as Smash charged our towering foe … only to slip on the ice, swing wide and manage to release two more of the brutes from their frozen prison. I guess I should have brained him after all.

As we fought, the giants began to rapidly succumb to the curse of their people – their ancient ship offering no refuge from the twisting, writhing mass of flesh to which the Chi Julud reduced them. The two smaller ones we dispatched without too much trouble, their own tortured forms as much their foe as were we. But the big one, he just would not go down. We hacked and shot and hammered and – through dark magic or sheer force of will, I could not tell – still he stood.

Eventually, Shard used his shadow magics to repeat the trick he performed so admirably on – or in, rather – the Kraken … only I had not given him any more flasks of acid. A few tense seconds passed as the dark cloud melted into the giant’s torso. Suddenly, the giant siezed up, took a lurching step forward and dropped his massive sword. Grabbing his gut, the beast sank to its knees as a foul black ichor literally gushed from every orifice and fell dead at our feet. Shard emerged a second later, looking not so much content as … relaxed. As if a great burden had been lifted.

Suspecting the mysterious fluid might have some value to my growing interests in all things poison, I collected some in one of the numerous empty bottles I had begun keeping on my person for just such an occasion. It looked for all the world like ink, but I distinctly remember the smell of human feces.

Suffice it to say, I try not to think too hard about what occured in that giant’s belly.

Moving on, I used my skills as a tracker to retrace the giant’s steps through the structure. Arriving in a large room that Ruel (using Erithon’s enchanted armor) determined was the source of significant magical emanations.

 

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