Jormund gripped the pommel of Haut’s saddle with his right hand, his sword arm angled low. The storm was intensifying, the fog limiting visibility to just a handful of yards. Six giants had fallen in the initial melee, but not before they had taken four of their riders with them.
The giants quickly closed ranks afterward but not before two more of their number fell. The pair had lagged too far behind their peers. The dire wolves were quick to go after their ankles allowing their riders to cut the tendons behind their knees before going for the throat. It was frighteningly efficient showing why Henrik remained so strong in the south against frost giant raids.
They operated like a pack. Catching stragglers, staying mobile while nipping at their enemy's heels. They attacked as one and moved as one. Haut was at the forefront of it all. Henrik had been very specific, he needed to be seen. Jormund marveled at how the Alpha wolf seemed to understand his intent. It was as if they shared a connection.
The giants were sure the order, but thanks to the fog and the winds, they were going to have a difficult time guessing exactly where. The weather proved to be both a boon and a curse. Without it, they could use their bows to pick the giant’s off.
Should Issfang fail to defeat their dragons, however, they would be that the giant’s mercy. It would be up to the wolves’ keen senses, now. Faith in their ability to detect the enemy once they were close.
The frost giants were making enough noise, calling out to each other in their native tongue. It gave away their positions easily enough. Their leader was loudest. Though the wind roared in his ears, Jormund could hear him well enough.
The only other thing louder was the sound of the battle raging between the dragons above them. Issfang had led them away. The fight sounded fierce. Agonizing roars resonated through the clouds. It was hard to say if it was Eadra’s dragon, or the giant’s.
“Haut, show me where they are.”
Haut let a soft growl escape his throat, his powerful legs quickening their pace. Seven riders following behind, while another seven broke off to divert attention. The remaining riders continued circling, their wolves baying and howling to mask the attack.
The giant’s calls grew louder; the fog began to thining the closer they got. Four of them were grouped together, two held large skeggox, while the others, sword and shield. Behind them, a few more yards away, Jormund heard the main group. The fools had drifted too far from their comrades.
Jormund leaned to his left, flattening himself against Haut. His iron grip on the saddle’s pommel the only thing keeping him mounted. The seven riders who had broken off began announcing their presence.
The quartet, turned, their shield users taking point, the heavy skeggox wielders flanking them. The diversionary force drew close drawing the skeggox wielders out. Their shielded giants shouted to them and the pair halted their advance.
Jormund tugged the saddle, Haut shifted direction just by a hair. The other riders followed suit, positioning to come at the giant’s backs. The attack would need to be precise, the riders with him had spears and would need to plant them behind knees of their targets to hobble them.
Haut suddenly growled, his hackles rising. A shout came from Jormun’s left, followed by a giant spear. Huat jumped at the last moment, Jormund felt his fingers give on the pommel. His heart raced as he frantically moved to regain his hold.
Barely managing to heft himself up, noting his left hand felt lighter. He cursed. His sword was gone. Seven giants burst into view from the from their left, three were carrying spears while another drew his sword. The four they were targeting turned, the heavy skeggox wielders charging.
Scriving giants! They’re using their own to bait us.
“Fall back!” he shouted. Urging Haut, the alpha wolf turned sharply and bounded away. The other riders obediently followed, but not before a pair of agonizing cries reached Jormund’s ears.
He looked over his shoulder. The riders had fallen to the spear wielders. The brutes had thrown them, knocking them from their mounts, and pinning them to the ground. The rider’s wolves stood close, guarding their bodies, attention focused on their enemy.
Eager for the kill, one of the giants rushed ahead of the rest. The dire wolves charged to meet him. He clumsily or rather foolishly swung his axe in a wide arc hoping to cleave them in half but missed completely. The wolves were quick to punish. As the giant swung his axe back around, one of the wolves leaped for the opening around his throat, while the other attacked his right ankle.
He dropped the large Skeggox, toppling like some great tree, gurgled screams escaping his throat while he thrashed about. The other giants closed, in weapons bared. One of them had recovered the spear he had thrown before the retreat.
Their chieftain continued barking orders over the wind. He sounded furious. The giants quickly stopped and shrank back.
Jormund urged Haut to a stop. The seven who had broken off rejoined them.
He scanned the fog. The main group of giants was obscured within it. The ones who had pursued them, though partially concealed, appeared alone. They stood in a tight circle, cautiously making their way toward their camp. They were still focused on the two wolves guarding their rider’s corpses.
Jormund reached for the bow resting in the cradle of Haut’s saddle. He turned to the other riders, their bows were already in hand, arrows drawn. They were simply waiting.
Henrik, your men frighten me. The irony of the thought wasn’t long on him. They weren’t Henrik’s men anymore.
“Reposition with the wind and loose!”
It was a gamble. The wind would likely interfere with the arrows, preventing them from finding their mark. If they were lucky, however, and enough of them hit, the giants might panic.
As ordered, thirteen arrows were loosed. Only four landed. One miraculously finding its way to the eye socket of a giant carrying a shield. The remainder only gazing their enemies.
It was enough, though. The giant’s had quickened their pace. In their hurry, the circle became disjointed.
We only have a small window. Haut began to move, the other riders following. Jormund cracked a smile. Haut. Henrik and I are going to have a long chat after this.
The wind shifted, the gusts pushing to the left, the snowfall thickening. The giants picked up the pace, it was clear they saw what was coming. The wolf riders loosed their arrows.
The spear user was hit first, the arrow finding its mark in his shoulder. He shouted, muttering something in his native tongue, and dropped his weapon. With the gap closed, his comrade's injuries were more severe.
One had taken an arrow to the knee, stumbling onto the snow. He roared angrily dropping his sword and shield, placing his hands around the wound. One of the wolf riders took the opportunity to fire another arrow to end him, but a sudden gust diverted it, causing the arrow to glance off the giant’s helm.
Another was hit in the throat. He choked, falling to his knees breaking the circle before he died. Three more took arrows to the side and shoulder, but despite their wounds, the giants stood their ground.
It’s attrition, we just have to whittle them down.
Jormund knew the battle about stamina. The weather was getting colder, which gave the giants an advantage. The furs and warm clothing he and his riders wore over their armor would help for so long. The wolves would eventually tire, making them more vulnerable and slower to react.
Haut suddenly stopped, Jormund grabbed the saddle, almost falling off. The other riders broke rank and circled around. some manging to fire off a few more arrows, but none managed to find their mark.
The Alpha crouched low, hackles raised, ears flat. Jormund leaned forward placing his hand on top of Haut’s head between the dire wolf’s ears.
“What do you sense?” A loud warcry rang in his ears and he froze. Curse this fog! They’re too close!
In response to the warcry, the giants turned. There was no going back now.
Jormund curled his lip. “Full Advance!”
Haut let out a long haunting howl and like chorus, the rest of the pack responded. Jormund reached for the longknife sheathed in his boot. It felt so useless to have, but it was better than nothing.
Immortals help us, it’s about to get bloody.
The dragons were struggling against their riders, each was fighting against the other. The divide between giant and dragon apparent. There was no trust between them. It plain as the lack of experience navigating such a storm as this. They would exhaust themselves before long and either be forced to land or plummet to their deaths.
Issfang sneered, bile rising in his throat. How far my race has fallen.
You couldn’t fight the storm. Feeling the currents, knowing when the wind would shift and gliding along the updrafts to stay aloft. The goal was to conserve stamina. Still, the young dragons displayed their determination as they fought, though, it was aggravating they had lasted this long.
The wind continued buffeting the trio in their pursuit. One of the dragons turned, following its rider’s urgings after being spurred, only to have the frost giant flung from the saddle after they were rocked by a sudden updraft. The straps keeping him tethered snapped and he quickly plummeted to his death.
His dragon roared angrily, as it plummeted out of control, but with no rider, instinct set in. It wrapped its wings around itself like cloak and began rolling with the wind, before straitening out and opening them to stabilize and ascend. The young dragon’s control was shaky, but understanding flashed on its face.
Regardless of the three, it was the female that was of greatest concern. She had vanished, having yet to reveal herself. Instinct screamed there was danger. It was reminiscent of when the giants had first found his family. Of when they were being hunted.
Where are you hiding?
Issfang put distance between himself and the trio, shifting his attention to the battle below. After so much boasting, it was infuriating that Jormund would be handling the giants. There was no other way thought, the dragons were his responsibility.
Jormund appeared to be baiting the giants. Encircling them with his main force around their camp, while harassing the interior. Should anyone wander too far out they would be picked off and drug away. What he couldn’t see, however, was their chieftain was also attempting to do the same.
The giants had made an ‘X’ formation, but its ends were stubbed. A few of them drifted purposely from the main group, from the arms of the ‘X’. They were obvious bait and when attacked, the ends of the would swing around to catch their enemy.
Jormund had the speed, numbers and, combat prowess, but the giants had durability and strength. The experience of both leaders showed and under different circumstances, be intriguing to observe. Each understood that A full confrontation would end bloody. The Thran would lose many riders before the battle was won. Only the frost giant chieftain was deluded enough into thinking he could win.
Issfang turned, shifting with the wind, an angry roar drawing his attention. One of the dragon riders had caught an updraft, using it to steady himself, and his mount. His dragon folded its wings, flattening them against itself and began its descent.
The pair barrelled toward him, cutting through the wind like a knife, the dragon using its tail as a rudder. Another followed, mimicking the first, drafting behind him and gaining speed.
Issfang frowned inwardly. They had probably observed what the riderless dragon had done earlier.
You’re adapting quickly.
A bellowing roar sounded to his right. It was much too close. Issfang turned his head, eyes wide when he saw that the riderless dragon was nearly on top of him. It had come in at a lower angle while he had been distracted.
Wretched upstart! He folded his wings falling into the wind.
The young dragon adjusted, his course unchanging.
Issfang curled his lip and used his tail to shift his decent. There was no time to think of anything else. “Mispria.”
His body split, creating two copies of himself. The duplicates veered off, the magic allowing them to take on a will of their own. The two dragons above broke off, each pursuing a copy.
You always applauded me for this illusion grandmother. At least when I wasn’t using it to trick Snaerskal.”
Moments later, he and the riderless dragon collided.
It was time, the horn had sounded. Rinza cast a glance at the barrels, a gleeful smile on his face. He juggled the spark stones in his hands, visions of a roaring inferno blazing in his head. The king would be pleased.
The air was thick with the smell of the Liquid Fire the Tinkers had made. Some of it was soaked in rope and wound around the support beams of the brewery. The rope led to a pool of the Liquid Fire and in the pool, were two humans who had dared to venture where they ought not.
Rinza regarded their corpses. “Poor pale skins, not you fault. You warrior, so you understand.”
He knelt down, placing the spark stones together. “Time for burning.” With practiced precision he struck the stones together, sparks illuminating the dimly lit area around him. At first there was nothing, but then, like a wave, the Liquid Fire erupted from the pool, consuming the human’s corpses.
The rope was next, the flames spread following the past laid out for them until reaching the support pillars. Rinza smiled wide, clapping the spark stones together as the fire began taking on a life of its own. The barrels he had soaked began groan as if under pressure. The flames were climbing up their sides.
Rinza coughed, the air was thick with smoke, it burned his eyes and filled his lungs. Regardless, he knew he had to remain vigilant. The king’s orders were clear: Make sure it all burns.
“For king!” he reminded himself. The barrels groaned louder as the heat increased. Rinza moved toward the stairs. It was easier to breathe there, the heat not nearly as bad.
The groaning continued, until one after another, they burst into a huge ball of flame. The explosion rocking the brewery as the fire raged out of control. Rinza smiled wider, his heart racing as the fireball surged toward him. “It beautiful, my king…so beautiful.”
Then, he was gone.