“Remember, not to look at it. Don’t make eye contact, don’t cough weird or snort,” Bow said.
“Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s still far ahead of us,” Vrendel said.
More cold air seeped in from the Black Ends dark and spiked extensions. They billowed against the air, craning over the two hunters like a buzzard’s neck in some white wasteland. The two hunters continued along the narrow path, breaking the frost with each careful step. The dead giant hunting them was blind, but that was all they really knew about her.
“You know where it is? You see it?” Vrendel said.
His brown eyes wandered to the edge of the crooked hood to sneak a look into the woods, but the tremors from the giant’s movements stopped him from completely glancing upwards. She was moving. She had to be coming towards them.
“No, I can’t get a beacon on her shape. Plus, she’s dead, and the sky’s overcast, so no goddamn shadows,” Bow said.
“We can’t wait much longer. If she attacks, I’ll need to use my shield to block her. I need to brace for her attack. She might be dead, but she’s still a giant,” Vrendel said.
Bow kneeled to the ground and tried to angle the hood away from her eyes slightly. She knew they needed to separate while dealing with the giant, even if it was a ghost. You had to bait it in. It’d been at least a year since they fought a giant. They’d never skirmished with a dead one before, especially one with bones hanging out of its chest like gut-fossilized jewels.
“If she’s undead she’ll have a charm. I need to hit the charm. I’ve got a shot ready Vren, but if she moves I’ll need to use a knife. I’m not sure how much time you’ll have,” Bow said. She felt her side beneath the fur cloak. She felt the handle, which was heavy like an extra body part. There was a crackling sound as the Black Ends parted to the giant’s hovering shape. Something was chattering slightly, like a bunch of rotting teeth banging together. Bow could only think it was her rib bones clanking where organs use to sit.
“It’s coming on to the path Vren, stay still. For the love of the gods, don’t move off the path,” Bow said. She turned her body sideways and pointed her sharp left shoulder so her hood would give her a tiny peek of sight.
“If you get off the path and into the Ends, you’ll have nowhere to go. They’re too dense,” she said.
Vren stopped and lightly put his forearm over his waist. His wooden shield gleamed like a little child wanting to be picked up. He still couldn’t figure out where the giant was, and when he should brace his feet and armor.
“Whose woods are these?” Vrendel said. He trembled on the end of his words slightly. Bow blushed with embarrassment twenty yards behind him. He wasn’t the stern personality out of the two of them. He was smart though. Giants were vain, just like humans, so sometimes you could buy some extra time between them and you with a few extra questions.
There was a throaty, bubbling sound followed by a steamy gasp. Bow looked out the sides of her hood at the Black Ends. They were closing in like sharp waves, like they wanted to suffocate the two of them.
“Me, me, I, you’re speaking with me, human?” A voice said. It echoed everywhere like one of those dead winds. Something rattled beneath the ground as she spoke. Like the empty huskiness of her voice was trying to raise the dead. Vrendel had a hard time finding his courage, but he eventually replied. He could feel the air change on his left, and the aura of an ominous shape push his body back into his armor with fear.
“Yes, I’m speaking to you dead giant. Who gave you life to come back and own these woods?” Vren said. He slowly reached for his shield. He had only a few sentences of vanity to burn through.
“I don’t know the maker human. It’ll come to me eventually. Now stop moving. You cannot go to Frigga,” the voice wheezed. Vren stopped and flexed his legs beneath his armor.
“You know the name of the city, giant? What do you care about Frigga and its namesake?” Vrendel said.
The attack would be coming any moment.
“They said to keep everyone out. To eat their flesh and drink their blood. I was called Ugaba the Blind, now I’m just the woods,” the voice wheezed.
“Ugaba, you remember your given name?” Vrendel said. He pulled the shield up to his chest.
“Have you always been blind?” Vrendel said.
A silence pulled over the sky, and the white path stretched out like a paper tongue in front of him. He could see the outline of Ugaba’s shape. No more talking. No more buying time for a clear shot for Bow. Vrendel looked up at the shape, exposing his brown eyes to her particular hunger. She had found them completely by sound, but now she could see him.
Vrendel didn’t really know what to think.
He’d seen many a giant before, which looked like oversized humans. Occasionally, and especially in the face, giants had bubbled up skin, extra limbs, teeth, and eyes. They usually wore rags, or strips of armor. A giant’s skin was thicker than a human. It could bounce spear tips off it in casual pings.
Vrendel wished Ugaba had these features left on her walking corpse. Instead, she was surrounded by a long dark cloak. The cloth was thin and raspy, which matched the texture of her hanging skin, which was gelled together like freshly brewed dough. Her large, pointed face was half missing, a white skull marking the point where her flesh used to be. She had no hair, legs, fingers, but just black fabric. She had three arms, with one hanging out of her chest like a tentacle. They were bright pink with confused muscle, and pointed with ivory-long claws. Her chest had sunken into itself, exposing ribs with nothing behind them. She had no eyes in her half-caked skull. She stood twice as tall as Vrendel, and three times as long. Vrendel felt like a little white cloud stumbling in front of a storm on a narrow stretch of sky. Something emerald glittered among the tangled ribs below her face.
“The Ribs!” Vrendel said. Ugaba swung her third arm into him, smashing his shield like a dinner plate, and sending him into the teaming walled-nest of the Black Ends. The crack of meat on weapon was loud enough to shake the sky. Ugaba’s hand continued into the ground, which wrenched free a chunk of earth capable of making a well. Bow quickly pulled her crossbow out from her cloak, and let her blue eyes cut a target through the path. Blood Thunder gleamed like a moving ruby as it swung in her shoulder. She fired a steel arrow in a casual thump. Ugaba moved too quickly though, and swirled her uneven body to the side towards Vrendel.
“Hit it, hit it!” Vrendel said, trying to pull the mace free from his back. The claws of the Blake Ends were too thick though, and he couldn’t move his body in the slightest. Ugaba towered over him like he was a netted fish and swung down at him with another hand. Vrendel dived forward, smashing into her chest, and dodging the wrecking-ball swing of her paw. Ugaba threw her weight into him, knocking him into the air like a cork, and making him spit up blood in-between breathes.
Another arrow flew by, missing Ugaba and hitting a few confused trees down the path. Vrendel tried to stand, but his lungs were too at odds with one another to cooperate. He threw a hidden knife at her, which he kept stocked in the plated armor of his right forearm. Ugaba’s cloth-hard arm casually knocked it away like a gnat. Something silver split the air above Vrendel’s coughing head. It whistled past Ugaba’s flailing arms and into the cage of floating bone beneath her face. There was a popping sound, and a hiss. She fell to the ground like a tangled clothesline. Air around her began to twist and contort like a reality-laced windmill. Her body pulled into itself like a reeling smoke. Suddenly, the forest looked like it was caught in a drain and everything was getting pulled into her chest. Then, as if the air had enough complexity occurring, it suddenly went still, and Ugaba’s body dropped to the ground in a steaming red heap.
“See, I told you a throwing knife would have to do it,” Bow said. She jogged up the path towards the jeweled pile of steaming meat. Ugaba was now truly dead.
“Common Vren, get to your feet, let some air in there,” Bow said. She helped lift him up. He staggered at first, but finally balanced, breathing blood into the bleached air.
“That charm, it’s something from not around here. It’s not a simple witch’s spell,” Vrendel said.
Bow walked over to the muscly muck of Ugaba’s rapidly disappearing form. She fished in the sinew with the tip of a knife, and pulled out a gold necklace with a glittering emerald sword at its center.
“Someone gave her that, someone wanted her outside these woods,” Vrendel said. He gasped again, and went to one knee. Bow helped him up again.
“Someone doesn’t want us to reach Frigga,” Vrendel said.
Bow scanned the Black Ends behind them. The air looked calmer without Ugaba’s hunting.
“Well, we’re almost there, so they failed,” she said, watching the cold.