Chapter Six: The Harness Maker
Othovir stood outside his shop bent over a particularly difficult piece of leather with a needle and thread. He had poked his finger several times trying to push through the stubborn hide, grumbling about the particularities of certain folk and their high-browed custom orders. He couldn’t complain too much, however. Raiment’s as specialized as this paid good gold and it was worth the bandages after.
Othovir had worked first as an apprentice for old man Wilver back when he lived with his parents and older brother in Yartar. He learned a lot in his time spent there and found that he had a talent for the fine work. He dedicated himself to it until the summer of his sixteenth year when his brother Gustaf left to join a group of mercenaries who called themselves the Redbrands. He said it was a good way to make a living, and invited Othovir to come along, but he declined. Othovir was never much of a fighter, not like Gustaf. He wanted a simpler life. He wanted to settle down, find a wife, and pass his talents on to a flock of boys with his dark hair. It wasn’t until a few years after his brother left that his parents received the letter of Gustaf’s death, along with a small package of the man’s belongings. In the scraps of saved letters and a small rusted dagger, there was a necklace with an emerald cut into a square and pressed on a silver emblem. There was a short note written by the Redbrands to their family: He fought and died bravely. Othovir wore the necklace all the time.
When he turned of age he started noticing strange powers emanating from him. Once, he accidentally set the barn on fire with his hands. He acted quickly enough that he could put it out before the whole thing went down in a blaze. Another time, he accidentally changed the colour of his hair to a brilliant green that matched his brother’s necklace. That one had been harder to explain. He tested the powers and came to realize they could only be used when he wore the necklace. As soon as he removed it, they vanished, and he felt drained and weak without them.
Othovir practiced with these gifts, growing more and more confident as he moved out of his parent’s home and met the love of his life: Baila. He planned to take her to the city of Neverwinter and set up a shop, and maybe even find the Redbrands and learn more about this strange necklace and his powers.
But, as will any sad tale involving magic, this one ended quite poorly for Othovir. On the eve of his marriage to Baila, something went terribly wrong. She was kissing him, then they were in her room in her father’s house, all the lights out. They were on her bed, and he was barely twenty, and suddenly there was an explosion. His hands threw out incredible bolts of black energy that struck Baila through the heart and left her naked and unmoving on the floor, a steady pool of blood flowering out of her opened chest. He tried to pull off the necklace, but the silver chain tightened around his neck. Fire burned in his eyes and the curtains were the first to light. Before he knew it, the entire room was burning. Consuming. There were screams upstairs, and he ran. He smashed through the glass pane window. He ran to the next town, and he never turned back. He never saw his parents again or faced Baila’s family. He lived as a beggar for a while, then again as an apprentice in a blacksmith’s shop. Finally, he set up shop in a nearby town called Triboar. Othovir’s Harnesses and Leatherworkings. He tore off the necklace and stuffed it beneath a loose floorboard under his shop and swore to never use it again. The powers ceased, and Othovir went on living and running his shop for fifteen years without interruption. He never forgot about the necklace, of course, nor the feeling of incredible powers at his fingertips. But, it came at a price, and he was forever haunted with the terrible memories of Baila’s death
It wasn’t until a few days ago when the rumours started back up about the fire giants that Othovir felt a sudden pull to the magic he’d once felt. And killed with. He dug out the necklace once more to check that it was still there, the silver untarnished and the square-cut emerald pulsing like a beating heart. He didn’t put it on, but he placed it in his pocket. Just in case, he thought, though he knew it was more than that. The necklace sensed something.
Satisfied that the harness was finally finished, Othovir held it up in the waning light of the warm day and appraised its gold threading and polished buckles. It was as fine a harness as any, made for a champion horse. He stood and began packing up his tools when, all of a sudden, there was a thundering boom in the distance, quickly followed by another and another. There were screams.
“What the—?” Othovir jumped to his feet, dropping his tools and running to the road.
Othovir’s Harnesses and Leatherworkings exploded into a thousand splinters as a massive boulder slammed into it. He spun and saw his entire life’s workings were gone in an instant, crushed beneath a—how on earth did a boulder—? He looked up and around frantically, heart pounding, and saw across the road into farmer Matton’s field. There stood the hulking figure of a bare-chested giant with fiery red hair and grayish skin. Around the giant’s feet swarmed smaller, but still daunting, molten creatures with hunched backs crawling four-legged and spewing bits of lava in their wake, igniting the dry field. The giant bent to pick up another boulder, and Othovir turned and fled as the massive projectile soared over his head and slammed into another building.
He stopped, hands on his knees and gasping for breath once he could no longer see the giant or its minions. Then, with shaking hands, he wriggled a hand into his pocket and drew out the necklace. Its pulse was as frantic as his. Baila’s face flashed before him, and he put the necklace on.
The mysterious power filled his bones, and Othovir held out his hand, a flame instantly appearing over it, hovering and green. He closed his fist and ran to the armourer’s shop, which was only a few buildings from where he stood. People were running through the streets screaming in terror. Othovir ducked into the shop and grabbed the first weapon he could find, a short sword, then ran for the town square, where the screaming was most prominent. These bastards won’t get away with this, he thought as he ran.
Ghelryn looked up when he heard the sounds of things falling out of the air. He already had his greataxe off the wall by the time the screams came. His wife looked up at him, a crease furrowing her brow. She held a fresh loaf of bread, which she had been bringing to the table.
“Honey, I’m afraid I’m going to be late for dinner,” the dwarf said, giving his wife a rough kiss on the forehead.
“Be careful!” She called as he burst out of their home toward the lava belching creatures down the road.
She was used to Ghelryn running headlong into a battle, but that didn’t make it any easier as she watched him sprint away.
Triboar was on fire, which did not help the aesthetics of the dilapidated town. Othovir stumbled into the centre of town, gasping for air and gazing around at a chaotic scene. There were orog bodies scattered everywhere, large orc-like creatures with purplish skin and thick armour. A few of the fighters he recognized from the town: the lord protector of Triboar, the campground caretaker, even the owner of the Lionshare general shop, but there were even more he didn’t know. A tall, formidable looking man with dark hair streaked with gray was waving his hands in the air and shooting balls of crackling lightning at a still-standing orog. A tiny gnome boy was dancing between the orogs, his twin following his every move and making rude gestures at the orogs as they swung to attack. Their weapons passed right through him without effect. A short woman with stark white hair rolled under the attack of an orog and severed its spine with two well-placed blades, one of them aflame. Her forearms bled from fine cuts along them. Othovir paused when he spotted the lithe figure of a bronze-skinned elf with flowing black hair shooting arrow after arrow at the orogs. Her eyes were hauntingly piercing as she slaughtered her foes. Some of the orogs were mounted on massive birdlike creatures that squawked and pecked at the fighters, but they didn’t stand a chance against the charging—was that seriously a—a rhinoceros? It bowled through the invaders, horns piercing armour and feather alike as the orogs were thrown from their mounts. Othovir took this all in within a few seconds, but his entire body trembled, and he didn’t know which way to turn. Fighting was never what he was good at.
“Othovir!” Urgola shouted, waving a distracted hand. The dark-skinned woman stumbled back as she fended off another blow from one of the two orog’s attacking her with glimmering longswords.
Othovir raised a hand and felt the familiar pulsing at his chest as he shot a bolt of fire at one of the orogs, which stumbled back, screeching. He was surprised by his own control. It was as if everything in his vision had become sharper. He would have to explain to his fellow townsfolk later, but for now, Urgola gave him a confused but grateful look as she raised her Morningstar and leapt into another attack.
Thump, thump, thump, the thundering footsteps were growing nearer. A small dwarf, whom Othovir instantly recognized as the gruff Ghelryn himself, came sliding around the corner, nearly bowling him over. “Giant coming!” He shouted between breaths, spinning and planting his feet, raising his axe in both hands. “Get ready! It has lava monsters!”
“Did he say lava monsters?” Darathra, the Lord Protector, said over to Othovir as she wiped gore from the edge of her blade.
The tiny three-foot gnome blinked from sight and the rhino stamped a foot into the dirt and turned in expectation of the new attack. The man who seemed to command a storm took out the last of the orogs, then turned to join the rest of them where they stood.
Thump, thump, thump.
A moment later, the quick red and black shapes bounded into sight. The lava monsters.
“Careful,” Ghelryn said to the group, “these bastards explode when you hit them.”
The elf with the dark hair raised her hands and one of the five monsters instantly keeled over and began snoring. “Damnit,” she said, “I thought that would get more of them.”
Despite Ghelryn’s warnings, Darathra raised her greatsword and charged toward one of the creatures, the small white-haired girl following not far behind. Ghelryn cursed and followed them into the battle. The rhinoceros charged. Othovir took a steadying breath, feeling the emerald at his chest, and shot a writhing black mass at one of the monsters. It was the familiar darkness that had killed his beloved, but he couldn’t stop it now. The emerald had taken hold.
The giant appeared a few moments later, sending the last of the lava monsters running back, where the gnome, who now had three other images of himself bouncing around and making him look blurry, managed to blast one out of existence with a well-aimed arrow. “THIS. TOWN. OURS.” The giant said stupidly, running bow legged into the town square and swinging his massive sword at Ghelryn, who rolled out of the way just in time as the heavy hit landed in the dirt. A single strike from this giant could kill any man, or dwarf.
Ghelryn used his momentum to curve his axe in two massive swings, cutting an impressive chunk out of the giant’s calf. The giant roared. When the dust cleared, Othovir saw the white-haired girl was laying on the ground, unconscious. The elf and sorcerer started shooting bolts of white hot lightning at the giant, and the thing screamed and reeled back, then turned and looked down at the elf woman with recognition.
“HA. HA. HA.” The giant grinned toothily, pointing at the elf. “NEVER THOUGHT I’D SEE YOU AGAIN. HA. HA.”
The elf woman straightened and shouted something in giantish. The giant reached back and pulled out a chain with something dangling from the end of it. It was a head.
“You bastard!” She screamed and shot another bolt of lightning from her upraised hands, face streaked with angry tears.
Othovir started and shot another bolt of blackness, following her lead. The rest, who had paused to see this, jumped back into the fight. Ghelryn continued to chop at the giant’s legs, then dodge as the sword came swinging down at him. “ILDMANE!” The giant shouted, and angrily stomped his foot, sending Ghelryn off his feet, then kicked the dwarf in the side and sent him sprawling and unconscious. The gnome with his blurry after images quickly ran in to heal the dwarf, but Othovir was too busy concentrating on maintaining his spell to see if the dwarf was alive. Did he care if the dwarf lived? Ghelryn. The dwarf is Ghelryn. He has a wife, Othovir had to remind himself. They bought two harnesses from you last year. The emerald was just so powerful, it made it easy to forget Othovir the harness maker.
Othovir shot a bolt of fire, but the giant absorbed it, seemingly unharmed. “Fire giants,” he had to curse himself for his stupidity. “Obviously fire doesn’t bother them.”
Then, out of nowhere, Darz, the campground caretaker who lived on the outskirts of Triboar, suddenly shot his sling and the stone sunk into the giant’s eye. The giant, who had taken a thorough beating from the knees under, collapsed. The rhinoceros had to scramble out of the way to keep from being squashed. “Well done, Darz!” Darathra said praisingly. “Where did you learn to shoot like that? And with a sling, no less?”
The man shrugged awkwardly, and it made Othovir wonder exactly what the man had done before he’d come to Triboar. It seemed this was the town for people needing second chances. It was certainly that for Othovir.
The elf woman ran to the fallen giant and triumphantly pulled the severed head from the debris and wrapped the chain around her belt so the head swung there. It was a rather sickening sight, but she seemed pleased.
“Who are you people?” Urgola asked, wiping sweat from her brow.
Before any of the strangers could answer, the Lord Protector said, “they’re mercenaries from out of town. They came to warn us about the giants.”
“They also came to tell my wife her ex-husband was dead,” Narth said, folding his arms and looking thoroughly unimpressed.
The gnome bowed awkwardly, and his three shimmering images followed suit.
“Ah, yes,” the storm sorcerer said in a foreign accent, “we’re very sorry about that.”
“There’s no time for chatting just yet,” Ghelryn grumbled in his characteristically dwarven attitude. “There’s another giant, and I have no doubt its on its way here right n—”
As if on cue, there was a thundering roar. They all spun around and saw the ugliest female giant (presumably. Othovir hadn’t much association with giants, but this one was beardless) they had ever seen. She crushed half a building as she pushed into the space, howling at the fallen body of her mate across the way. The rhino started to charge, and the female giant grabbed it and pounded into the ground, hard. The image of the rhino shimmered and transformed into a much smaller, humanoid body, and lay there, still.
“Opal!” the elf woman screamed, unleashing a handful of glowing missiles at the giant as she started forward.
The gnome quickly turned and ran, dodging the swinging arm of the giant, until he knelt over the fallen figure of the once-rhino. The sorcerer began shooting lightning from his hands.
“This isn’t over!” Darathra managed to say, taking up her greatsword and charging. “For Triboar!” the Lord Protector shouted, and Ghelryn followed a few steps after her alongside the white-haired girl and Narth.
Darz exchanged a look with Othovir and added another stone to his sling. “You just killed a giant,” Othovir said in disbelief. “With a rock.”
“Let’s hope we can kill one more,” Darz said seriously, and shot the stone.
Othovir cursed as more lava monsters appeared around the buildings and began shooting molten flames from their mouths. The fallen rhinoceros-person stood, now healed, and cast a spell that spilled darkness from her fingertips and made the sky turn gray. A massive typhoon began to swirl and grow darker, spraying sleet across the ground and obscuring everything. The typhoon moved and swallowed the giant.
They made quick work of the lava monsters, which exploded upon impact. It was difficult to see what was happening within the typhoon. Everyone slowly gathered back together.
“What do we do now?” the elf woman asked the person who’d once been a rhino. Opal, she’d called her. The woman had shining, multicoloured hair and large brown eyes. Othovir wasn’t sure what she was.
“The giant is still in there,” she answered in a happy, sing-song voice, “and it’s very much alive.”
“How do we kill it?” the sorcerer asked, the storm reflected in his eyes.
“I guess we try to hit it from within the storm,” the white-haired girl said quietly, immediately drawing her small rapiers against the inside of her arms and igniting them in dripping flames.
“Woah,” Narth said, backing up as the flames flared up.
Then, the girl shot a green blast into the storm and there was a howl from within.
“See,” she said with a small, awkward smile.
Everyone moved apart and either withdrew ranged weapons or began shooting spells into the swirling typhoon. Othovir couldn’t see anything in the storm, and he began shooting wildly, hoping to hit.
Suddenly, the giant reached and stumbled out of the storm. With three massive steps forward, she raised her sword and slashed down at Darz before the caretaker could move out of the way or even drop his sling.
The man was cut cleanly in half, the top part of his body flying in a splatter of gore and intestines.
They all stopped for a horrified moment, then the white-haired girl with the flaming swords actually ran toward the giant and began slashing at its hairy feet, dodging as it tried to stomp on her.
Othovir was frozen in place. Watching Darz being cut in half as if it were nothing—they had just been talking, and now—he couldn’t help but see flashes of Baila as her chest exploded and blood seeped into the wooden floorboards. The emerald necklace pulsed, pushing him to the brink of madness, of darkness.
Narth was running after the girl with the burning swords, and the little gnome was casting spells that seemed to have no effect. Ghelryn charged with his axe and began hacking at the giant’s legs. The sorcerer was sending thunderous spells at it, trying to avoid his fellow warriors. The strange looking woman with the colourful hair and big eyes made the ground explode, dirt and rocks flying in every direction as she tried to make the giant lose its footing. It didn’t work, and the giant leaped fifteen feet in the air to land near Othovir, causing his knees to buckle from the impact to the ground.
The giant roared. “YOU DIE, PUNY ONES!”
Othovir tried to back up. The giant was running straight toward him, each step an insurmountable distance. The emerald pulsed and weighed him down. He couldn’t move. Trembling, he tried to shoot something, anything magical at the giant. Not even a puff of smoke flew from his inexperienced fingertips.
The giant’s hands curled around him and raised him into the air.
The last thought Othovir ever had was, why didn’t I practice more?
Roon watched in horror as the giant lifted the small man by the middle and crushed every bone in his body in an instant, then threw the broken corpse to the ground. It landed with a solid thud. A second later, the giant backhanded the dwarf with one hand, then twisted and stabbed him through the gut with her colossal sword, severing his spine instantly.
That’s three townspeople dead, Roon thought in panic, trying again to cast a command spell over the giant, to force it to stop moving. I didn’t even learn their names. He glanced over to make sure Kilian was okay, and the sorcerer was readying another ball of chaotic energy to throw. We can’t fight giants. What are we doing?
Opal’s storm swirled and rumbled and made the sky dark. Evelyn sent an incorporeal hand after the giant, an icy cloud surrounding it, but the giant roared again and backed away into the storm.
“She might be running!” Roon cried out to his companions.
“Opal, can you stop the storm?” Kilian shouted over the winds.
Opal nodded and closed her eyes, and after a moment the storm dissipated.
The giant was gone, and Evelyn immediately began running after her, swords ablaze. Opal and the rest dashed forward, but Evelyn was already far ahead of them. Narth, the man Roon recognized from the Lionshare, the one married to Alestra, pounded after Evelyn, nearly on her heels. Knowing his gnomish legs couldn’t keep up, and seeing the giant already two hundred feet ahead as she fled, Roon slowed to a stop, panting. Kilian stopped next to him, holding his arm, which was bleeding.
“We’ll never catch up,” the sailor said, exhausted.
Roon drew his shortbow and took a moment to aim, releasing the arrow. It clipped the giant in the ear, but she kept running. “Evelyn!” Roon shouted at the girl, who was falling behind, “leave it! We can’t catch up!”
Evelyn slowed, but Narth kept running.
“Narth!” Roon yelled his name.
The giant slowed for a moment to pick something up, then twisted and rolled a huge boulder behind her. The boulder bounced across the ground with incredible speed. Narth tried to dodge, but it was too big. It hit the shopkeeper, crushing his body into the ground.
Evelyn managed to roll out of the way, and they all ran toward Narth once the boulder had ground to a halt, leaving a deep crevice in the dirt.
“He’s gone,” Roon said immediately. No spell could bring the man back from this.
“Giants,” Thia cursed, a hand at her belt where the chained and severed head of her loved one hanged.
Darathra, Lord Protector of Triboar, walked up to them in the middle of the road looking worn. “A lot of good people just died,” she said quietly.
“We won’t let them get away with this,” Kilian finally said, placing a hand on her shoulder.
“What are you going to do about it?” the other woman who’d been fighting with them asked doubtfully. She had dark skin and short-cropped hair.
“What’s your name?” Opal asked softly.
“Urgola,” she said, raising her chin. Urgola and Darathra were the only ones who’d survived alongside them.
“This never should have been your fight,” Thia shook her head angrily. “We’ll stop them, don’t you worry.”
“It’s our destiny,” Evelyn nodded, sheathing her blades.