When all of us had set foot into the widening of the cave’s mouth at the eminence of the lake, the ground shook. At first, the creature hid behind one of the stone columns skirting a natural bridge that would have been our path. We all stood still and tried to find the cause of the tremor, but he eluded the torchlight for several moments.
And then, in another moment, he chose to show himself, stepping into view. His skin was a sallow blueish tint, if it could even be considered skin. Much like that of misted breath, there was a foggy-white aura exuded by his whole being. His beard looked as though it were made of icicles hanging down past his stout neck, and two spiraled ivory horns grew prominently from his bald forehead. He carried a massive battle axe and wore a white fur tunic over his hulking frame; he must have stood twelve feet tall. He was so enormous, in fact, that he would not have been able to stand up straight through the passage had he pursued us any further. By allowing us to come to him, he had set the stage upon an iced-over lake, a wide and hazardous arena.
We all froze in silence and awe at the strange being before us. And then, he opened his mouth to speak.
His voice was reminiscent of the booms and cracks one hears when plates of ice break over watery surfaces: very low, very ominous. “Hand the girl over to me, and no blood will be shed this day. Your king demands it, thieves.” This was it. This was what my heart had been fearing.
Keon and I, of course, were the only ones able to understand the beast’s request. Orlo looked over to Keon, expectant of a translation, no doubt, but Keon instead spoke directly at the monster. “Her safety is our charge, creature. And the Alfar are a loyal sort of folk. If you want her, you’ll have to fight us for her.” Try as I might, I couldn’t understand how his voice was so unshaken.
The giant paused a moment before his calculated reply. “Very well. The wrath of the frost giant be upon you.”
“ARASGRIFF!” Keon cried at the top of his lungs, alerting his companions to the coming attack before turmoil broke loose.
It began with another roar, this one much more deafening, bursting from the giant’s gaping jaw. I could see a pale blue light glowing from his throat when he cried, just before he blew a frosted smoke that, however impossibly, made the cave even colder. In the next moment, however, the chill became the least of our concerns. When the thick cloud ascended to the cave ceiling, it transmogrified into icicles like swords-- directly above many of our heads.
The giant stomped his heaping feet until the ice came crashing down. Some of the bandits, unable to dodge the blades of ice, perished beneath them. I began to lose any semblance of mental composition still within me, and only the instinct to preserve my life kept me from breaking down altogether. I turned back toward the passageway by which we'd entered the frozen stage only to find it iced over completely. With a terror-stricken glance, I determined that all other exits had been blocked off in similar fashion, and we were all trapped. Fia had disappeared from my sight entirely, and many of the torches had been extinguished with the lives of their bearers.
“Keon!” I cried, unaware of whether he had suffered a piercing fate.
“Oliana! I’m coming over to you now. Just stay quiet. You’re the one he wants, dear, and I won’t let him have you.”
I crouched in the darkness, frustratedly unable to help as I watched the giant take his axe to another elf. His paralyzing roar beat against the walls of the cave. Surely this would be the end of us.
“I’m right here, dear,” I heard a soft whisper that made me jerk. “I brought you something,” Keon continued, his voice squeaking a bit in panic. I reached out my hand, which shuddered uncontrollably, to grasp a crossbow.
Through gasps of frigid fear, I managed to whisper, “I’m no good with this, Keon. I can’t. I can’t do anything.”
“That’s bloody nonsense, dear. You can't be thinking like that. If this is it-- if we die today-- don’t you at least want to go down fighting?”
A faint yelp was all I could manage in reply, but I rose to my feet. He was right. How could I be a heroine if I cowered when my trials came?
I regarded the giant once more. He must’ve had about five arrows lodged in his body, but he still fought like a demon. In the thin glimmer of what torchlight remained, I saw him backhand Orlo, knocking his spine right into the ice. I looked at his body lying there, how it wasn’t rising again. Then Keon tugged at my arm. “Follow me.”
There were several rocky structures in the cave which afforded many of the remaining bandits coverage and a safe place to hide. Keon and I maneuvered as quietly as we could from one structure to the other, drawing nearer to the giant. I slipped on the ice several times, rallying all of my strength to keep silent. Before we got too close, Keon gestured for me to stop and spoke to me.
“Did you see that?” Keon asked. My eyes widened in dismay. What could he mean? All I had seen was the chaotic fray before me. “Come on now, dear. You’ve got to think clearly at times like this. What do you notice about the giant?”
I tried to think straight. “H-his throat lights up blue when he roars and blows.”
“Precisely. So we use that to our advantage. We put out what remaining light there is--”
“--so that he sticks out. So that he’s an easy target, and nobody else is,” I finished his thought.
“Now you’ve got it. Stamp out that torch by you, dear. We’ll circle around the giant and get all the lights put out, and quickly. We can be taking shots at him along the way,” he gestured with his own longbow. “And then we’ll move in for the kill.”
The idea of making the cavern pitch dark terrified and comforted me all at once. Perhaps Keon’s plan was sound. Perhaps we could use the shade of obscurity for our deliverance, but it seemed strange that in darkness lay our final hope.