He hit the titan’s shoulder and the old instincts came back. A lifetime spent in the mountains served to prepare the Trumpeter for a fall down a cliff, the fact that this cliff moved simply added an element of challenge.
The pain jarred his bones and knocked the wind out of him. He managed to latch his bony fingers onto a stony fissure, from which he swung frantically in the air, inertia from the thing’s movements jerking him this way and that. A morning sun danced in his confused vision of clear sky, white ice fields and grey mountains.
The giant was only roughly human-shaped. Perhaps when the world was warm and Zerimot met Glym for their deciding confrontation he had been more human looking, but the years had passed and the giant was changed.
Just as he was changed within, perhaps the lumbering monster was transformed without by the natural action of the eons. Zerimot now stood some hundred meters into the air. It was difficult to describe a head apart from the body, which was elongated and strangely muscled with stone cut by ice and time. It stooped at an angle, the weighty fortress on its back tilting a bit. Several limb-like appendages had unfolded from repose, these uneven manipulators spread out, providing balance and support. With each step the distant mountains trembled, perhaps Summer had reason to fear.
Considering this, trying to climb back up towards the alabaster fortress perched on the creature’s shoulders, the Trumpeter only managed a controlled fall further down the arm. About the elbow he clung, limbs shaking with fright, as the giant progressed across the ice. Something chimed nearby, light glinting off the face of the monster. The thing’s inhuman construction afforded no clear view of its front, which, for the Trumpeter, demanded curiosity.
Finding the proper moment amongst the jostling tons of living stone he ran out along the forearm. He pressed for speed but kept looking over at the monster where more and more of the strangely lit face showed as he neared the wrist. Then the titan wobbled and tipped towards the Trumpeter, who froze.
With so much mass Zerimot couldn’t help to find trouble on the uneven bedrock of Winter. It leaned onto one of its arms for support, which happened to be there one which bore the Trumpeter.
The little man tumbled free, followed closely by the weighty arm crashed which into the icy land. He only just scrambled clear of death. In panic the Trumpeter ran ahead of the giant and turned to face Zerimot.
He beheld the clock, which beamed platinum and burnished white in reflection of the morning sun. The great time-telling disc seemed a single eye set into the monolith face, while the great chains and hanging weights splayed from an imagined mouth to become a veil, or perhaps tentacles. Down the front of the creature the brass fittings, many still spouting steam from the tapped veins and life channels which had once given the device function, protruded like exposed organs. The giant noticed the man before it with a jangling turn of its head.
The Trumpeter began running moment he felt its great eye upon him. While he moved with a coward’s quickness, he always felt within reach of the great arms. Glancing back he saw the painfully slow strike arc and descend silently on the air, then to crash loud as an earthquake on the crust of Winter.
Atop the fortress Icle smiled in her closed-eyed meditations.
“Now is the moment we have been waiting for,” said Vael evenly as he drew his sword. “Take us to Summer.”
The moment the Trumpeter fell out of sight into presumed death, the Fencer and the turncoat guard Thir redoubled their attack on Vael’s summit of power.
Though reinforcements streamed up from the giant’s back the Fencer’s new found will was prevailing, with the help of Dhala’s atom edge.
He stepped over the steaming remains of the last man to challenge him as a trio of guards leapt from a cubic tower onto the swordsman. Swinging his blade in an upward arc, he ripped one to pieces and stepped clear of the other two. A clatter behind told him he was being surrounded, a favored trick by this company.
Not willing to play their game he lashed out with Dhala, not towards the guards but through the alabaster wall of the tower. Timed with a sideways lean in the giant’s step the huge block fell against the two men, providing a ramp which the Fencer used in a scramble towards the top.
The wandering swordsman was on the uneven crown of the keep now, as described by the square tops of many towers, ramps and stairways. Here he leapt from tower-top to roof, meeting Vael’s men with his blade, and leaving them quickly, rarely killing, sometimes maiming, often disarming them with a clean cut from his sword as he sought the focus of his clime, the despot himself.
Of Thir was no sign, though with his uniform it would be difficult to notice the rebel guard amongst his former comrades. The thought that he might’ve rejoined his old faction was a distant buzz in the back of the Fencer’s mind. He had too much bottled up to take much note; he fought with the fevered passion for clarity concerning all that had transpired since he had first decided to foil Yogo’s coup on the road to Nock.
Closer now, Vael gestured to his archers, who ceased their volleys, though a few missiles had struck home. The Fencer’s only reaction was to cut the shafts clear with a whisk of his weapon and ignore the blood steaming around the edges. Then, to the swordsman’s surprise the ruler hopped across a few cubic garrets and took the fight to the Fencer himself.
“It is a funny thing for you to try to cause all this trouble for me,” smiled Vael. “It’s almost as if you’ve become an agent of Summer yourself, doing your best to keep the two worlds apart.” The Fencer didn’t respond, though the words were troubling.
Like a machine, like a windstorm, the long, silver blade of Nock’s ruler met the Fencer’s strange mixture of desperation and skill. Like Wolgloss, this man knew not to allow his weapon to meet Dhala’s murderous edge, but unlike that bewitched duelist Vael had no space-bending powers to aid him, only the skill of many years growing up on the unforgiving face of Winter. This turned out to be an advantage.
The Fencer stumbled back under a flurry of feints, his opponent’s weapon sparking in the morning light. Vael used the Fencer’s heightened senses against him, making the swordsman jump at a flick of the wrist or a shuffle of feet. He was merciless in pressing this advantage.
The Fencer was backed off one tower and onto the broad flat roof of another a meter or so down. He rolled out of the way as Vael dived to finish him. The keep rocked back and forth with the uneasy stride of the giant beneath them, both men looking to use this motion to their advantage. Down below, the mountain reshaped the land.
Zerimot’s one remaining head was feeling quite odd. It considered the situation, the cold, the ice, the dry, morning air. In the distance mountains stood like frost-speckled lost relatives. They seemed so distant. The giant’s thoughts weren’t its own; there was a strangeness inside and a weight on its shoulders.
A vast, rocky arm reached out over the broken area its stride just shattered and the land rose up. A plateau was born. Ice broke with the upsurging of rock. With its power of stone and gravity the giant began building a monument reaching to the heavens, a grand stair, and would’ve continued sculpting except for the presence of a survivor.
The Trumpeter scrambled down from the jagged pinnacle of stone he had clung to when the giant’s fist battered the world moments ago. An odd sensation, like having the world shift ever so slightly under one’s feet, came to the mountain man. Pondering this, the high-up clouds changing, growing slightly closer, he managed to let a living mountain sneak up on him.
Zerimot’s old distaste for the small, living things of the world had changed over the ages of geologic meditation. Now it hated these men reminiscent of Glym, that magician with cold eyes who had imprisoned the giant so long ago. Theirs was to live and die quickly, to behold the grandeur of things such as Zerimot and be afraid. At the same time he struggled with another need, an errant imperative, to continue the formation of the plateau, which was now only a few hundred meters in height. No, he must strike dead the little thing, and on this matter the secondary thoughts concurred.
Coat flapping in a biting wind the Trumpeter only just noticed the silence of the giant as it once more raise a massive arm in an arc of violence. He ran, but quickly reached the edge of the plateau. Looking out over the steaming remains of Nock, twitching a smile, he braced himself for the onslaught.
Things were going badly for the Fencer above. Vael’s experienced swordsmanship was winning the dawn, having nicked and cut the Fencer enough that the gnarled man from the bottom of the world was showing his fatigue with red. It was only the swordsman’s magicked blade which drew out the confrontation, forcing his opponent to play safe, avoiding all contact with the nightmare thing. As the anger in his veins seeped through his numerous wounds the Fencer’s reason returned to him and his thoughts reflected upon a new gambit.
“Don’t mistake me for a creature of the floating world above,” he said. “We are after the same thing; I’m just more reasonable about my methods.”
With a savage swing the Fencer forced Vael back and then took this opportunity to flee. He turned and leapt upon the cubic roof of a narrow tower, and then jumped down to a lower, broader structure several meters below. Pain greeted his landing but he was happy enough when the self-made lord followed.
Just as the armored man alighted on the first tall, thin structure of alabaster stone the Fencer cleaved the tower through the middle, at an angle, causing the edifice to slide and tip over due to its own weight, bringing Lord Vael down with it.
The better swordsman managed to avoid the crush of masonry but landed next to the Fencer, off-balance and lacking the surety which had been the theme of the duel so far. Vael managed to parry the first few swings of the black icicle but even his masterfully forged blade could not withstand such punishment. Dhala sang through the weapon, shearing it into a glint of silver.
Now the Fencer held the advantage, but felt strangely uneasy about pushing it. He advanced on the armored man, who defended himself well with the half blade which remained, backing up the stairs behind him without looking, ascending to the very top of the keep once more.
A sense of proportion, that was what kept the Fencer from going for the kill. He knew that it was at the moment of greatest momentum that the situation invariably changes, reversing the play of power, making everything go topsy-turvy. He felt justified when one of the onlooking guards tossed his lord a fresh blade. This was the sign he was looking for.
Then, to the Fencer’s absolute astonishment, Vael just looked at the man’s sword and tossed it down the stairs, keeping his broken weapon as his sole means of defense. The lord was sensitive to the same dramatic tension as the Fencer. A few of the despot’s men chortled knowingly as the creature lurched and bobbed beneath them.
Along a long balcony the Fencer pursued Vael, who now showed a different strategy. It was a frustrating thing to feel each step towards victory transmuted into a fall towards defeat. The young lord played a dangerous game, allowing his adversary’s weapon through his guard, ducking and weaving about to avoid being maimed or decapitated. At the same time he still managed to attack, only mere slashes, which the Fencer readily avoided, but this still meant that the duel was far from decided. He noticed they were making their way towards the topmost tower among the square architecture of the fortress, to where Icle sat in meditative perfection, smiling into her mysteries.
Down on the new plateau the Trumpeter had no means of escape and decided to engage in a bit of desperation. He imagined that the veiled face of the giant was smiling as he flourished the instrument.
With all his might the mad musician breathed out a great blast of noise and mayhem from his sterling trumpet. The monstrous peal of sound echoed off the encircling mountains.
Though unharmed by the noise the giant did hesitate in mid swing, a strike which would’ve certainly pulverized the little man and his noise maker. Zerimot’s crystalline mind resonated with the quality of the music. Deep in his memories there was a hint of familiarity. Still, being an uncultured sort, the giant redoubled its brutal attack.
While the Trumpeter fled around the artificial platform which the giant had raised up to strike at floating Summer the Fencer engaged in a sprawling melee with the despot of the now petrified city of Nock. Both of them, the Trumpeter and the Fencer, were feeling the press of destiny, or some other such agency, on their bones. The Trumpeter sensed that it was only a matter of time before the giant squashed him and the Fencer’s heart sank as reason made it clear that despite all his advantages the canny duelist he faced would emerge victorious.
Then a cry went up in the clear cold air. Icle showed red from a sword blade protruding from her chest. Thir’s victory shout silenced even the Trumpet for a moment and the giant hesitated in the middle of delivering another earth-shattering blow to the musician who cowered under the approaching doom. Vael stopped his sword scant centimeters from the Fencer’s throat as he turned to see his most valuable ally topple, still smiling. In all the chaos, slipping in between the moments, the turncoat guard had snuck past all his fellows to strike at the heart of his displeasure.
“That witch was using you my lord!” shouted the young guardsman. “Now you are free!”
“You idiot,” began Vael with signature cool and calm. “You have no idea what you’ve just done, but I expect we’re about to find out.”
Before the Fencer could press this sudden distraction on the part of his enemy the world tipped and went mad. Men and swords and dusting snows were cast about like toys and sand as the giant was wracked by massive convulsions. Dead Icle tumbled back in a show of red and white, Thir screamed as he lost his footing and fell down the side of the living monument. Vael slid out of the Fencer’s reach, out of sight in the play of masonry which was coming apart, toppling, and the Fencer himself soon lost his grip on the balcony.
The Trumpeter, now saved from becoming pulp, was no less terrified for his life as the mountainous creature thrashed and clawed at the fortress on its shoulders. Flailing figures spilled out from the crowning fortress on the thing’s shoulders. The shouts of men falling to their death struck through the chill wind.
Now free from the ancient network of sorceries began by Glym and utilized by Icle, Zerimot’s will was his own and he set about with a volcanic rage to destroy all those who had dared control a giant. He could feel the slight and inconsequential masses of the little men upon him, infesting the ruins of his second head. At the same time he weighed these creatures’ more sublime qualities, the weights and forces which described their souls. Though he felt some had potency this only increased the pleasure of turning these forces to orbit his own weighty purpose.
Reaching out a diorite hand, Zerimot pulled gravity tightly around him and all the little things danced to these strings. The giant was foremost interested in bringing to a finish the song which the man with the trumpet had started.