Excerpt from chapter 2

Collum: The Fabric of Life

A few days later he trudged through the rocky hills on foot. At the base of the hills, he had let Mist and the other horses go. He hoped that, should he ever return, he could perhaps find the herd again.

He had been half climbing, half trudging, for two days, up over false peaks and through small canyons. He thought it strange that these were considered hills at all. In comparison to the greater Kraymoors there was no doubt these were hills, but he couldn’t help but think that there should be another name for hills this barren and rocky. More than once he had to backtrack and climb out of a canyon that turned him back west.

After two days of this, he finally climbed over the top of the last major hill (he hoped) and could see the lush spring green of the Forest Between below him. Collum guessed about another day in these hills, perhaps, but he was at least in view of his destination, if one could call it such. The annals had said very little about the East, just the name of the forest, and that people there lived in an “old way.”

He climbed down into another small canyon and began the long descent. It wound generally east and was about twelve to fifteen feet up on each side. There were a number of spots where he could have climbed out if he had to, and, as he had learned in the last two days, he marked them in case he hit a dead end.

Down and around a tight curve the path widened slightly, and standing before him were three immense humanoid things. Giants were said to walk these hills, and there they stood: three hairy, tusked, and clawed giants. His senses had failed him. He could tell that had they been standing fully erect, any of the three would be close to twice his height. They slouched, however, mainly because of their disproportionately long and hairy arms. Their knuckles hung almost to their calves, and the arms themselves were as thick around as their column like legs. That, combined with the awkward tusks that stuck up or down out of their mouths, made them look both ridiculous and terrifying.

He did not move.

They gazed back at Collum, looking almost as surprised by his presence as he was by theirs. The path ran slightly north-east, and Collum thought they were lined up like they were heading due west, up the hill; from the look of their arms, they needed no path to scale these canyons. It was bad timing, travelers crossing paths, and it felt like his great journey into the unknown would come to a bloody end after only three days.

They looked human enough standing there; however, in and around the face and eyes especially, there wasn’t much Collum could identify as a hint of intelligence. Maybe there would be no fight, Collum hoped. They had not, after all, rushed in for the easy kill. Collum slowly raised his palm up away from his sword hilt, fingers spread.

Then the one nearest Collum turned towards him fully, shook its massive arms like a dog would shake water from itself, and bellowed. It was an amazing sound, and even at the ten or so pace distance, Collum could feel it in his chest. He neither flinched nor reacted; he just looked into the giant’s eyes and waited. He calculated; those arms would pound him into the ground before he could even get his sword near them. And there were three. He could only wait.

After a moment of silence, the front giant snorted, grunted, and reaching with both arms all the way behind its head, grabbed the wall to the west. The giant lifted its entire girth up the wall. Its feet, heel first, walked up the walls, and it was gone. Its arms were jointed both ways somehow, which Collum thought a fine thing to have in these hills. He understood also how dangerous it made these things, as they would be practically impossible to flank.

The second giant shook its arms in the same way, threw its head back, huffed, and followed the first over the side of the canyon.

The third giant did not move. It just stared at Collum for a few tense moments. Collum sighed.

It lifted its arms a little higher than the others had, shook them, snarled, and stomped its foot. It waited, then repeated those motions in the exact same order, raising its arms a little higher each time. Collum got it: it was a ritual of sorts, a combat ritual, and an advantage. At the outset of the third repetition, Collum sprang forward, slightly left of its leg. The sudden movement had the effect Collum was hoping for: the break in the ritual caused the giant to react a moment too late, and it brought its massive arms down just past Collum, who was skidding on the gravel and rocks on one knee, sword already drawn. The giant’s arms hit the ground just as Collum slashed down and behind him, striking above the back of its ankle. The giant’s tendon snapped like a whip, tearing through flesh as it ripped halfway up the giant’s leg. The creature bellowed in pain and fell to one knee. It also swung with its powerful, strangely jointed arm straight back like a swinging door, but Collum had anticipated this maneuver. He shuffled close to the giant’s body and crouched low. The massive arm missed so closely that Collum felt the hair on his head lift as it passed. Then he leapt up and away from its body, the giant dropping to its other knee, and at the zenith of his leap Collum pulled his legs up into a crouch. The giants arm came swinging back, low that time, missing under him. Collum then slashed through the side of its neck with the tip of his sword. Blood spurted out, hitting Collum full in the face, partially blinding him as he landed on the ground. Not in time to dodge it, he saw the arm coming back around for a final blow. He brought his sword down in a powerful two-handed arc. The blade cut through the massive arm cleanly, but the upper arm itself was still swinging, and it smashed into Collum’s left shoulder. The impact was tremendous. The force of the blow blew the wind from his lungs and sent him spinning, and the angle knocked him to his knees. He slammed head first into the side of the canyon.

Collum rolled, disoriented, gasping for breath, clutching his bleeding head with his one good arm. His shoulder was broken, and his left arm and side stung up and down, throbbing. The simple traveling tunic he wore was torn halfway from his body, the entire front covered in his own and the giant’s blood. Using his good arm, he ripped what was left of his tunic from himself, and wrapped the dry side around his head, cringing at the pain. He got to his knees and looked at the giant. It had finally fallen by the eastern wall of the canyon, face down. It twitched a little, its breathing slowed, and then stopped. Only then did he let himself look to his sword, which was stuck at least a foot in the rock. With care and in pain, he slid the pack off his back gently. Reaching inside, he found another tunic and pulled it out. Using the stuck sword, he cut the tunic into two pieces, one for his head and one larger for a sling. He would have nothing to cover his chest, but he needed clean bandages, so he would worry about that when he needed to.

Collum struggled to wrap his arm in the sling. Taking his time pulling the very bloody head wrapping off and replacing it, he eventually succeeded. Then Collum walked to his sword, gripped the handle, and smoothly slid it from the rock. As meticulously as possible he cleaned the blade and slid it in its sheath.

Collum cleared a bit of the ground near the western wall with his foot; there might be more danger, but he couldn’t continue without dealing with his wounds. He circled the spot that offered some protection, got to his knees, closed his eyes, and began to heal.

He drifted off in his meditation. He began to see his body in colors. He could feel the pull and push of his heart beat and the systolic flow of his blood. He was no longer a solid mass of flesh but rather a colorful series of interlocking webs and channels, all of them spreading out into the air and sky and earth. Breathing in and out, Collum opened his body, a conduit for that which makes up the whole, flowing further out, a part of the earth and sky. And in this mass of complex interweaving strands of life, near the compact fibrous strands that were the collection of bone and tissue that made up his shoulder, he saw clearly the break in the flowing structure. The chaos of interruption spread from one localized point, and interwove with the rest, including the lesser chaos spreading from the dizzying intricacy of his head wound. He focused there first, pulling the webbing together, shifting and sliding the strands of himself back into place. Then he could begin on his shoulder. It would be some time before he was fully whole.

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