The scream leapt out of Elira’s throat like an arrow from a taut bowstring. It was impossible for the giant, Gorian, to hear her. The cries of the other prisoners and the chortles of the other two giants would crush her shrill voice like a tidal wave would crush an anthill.
Still, as she gripped the iron bars of her prison, watching with wide-eyed horror as Gorian dangled Kit above his gaping maw, Elira knew she had to try again. Kit? What’s he doing here? How did they capture him? More importantly, how were they going to escape?
Elira gave herself a stern mental shake. “Never mind that now.”
Sucking in all the breath that her lungs could hold, Elira threw her head back and yelled:
“STOP YOU MORON! You can’t eat him. He’s an Old Blood!”
She wasn’t sure what exactly got the giant’s attention. Maybe it was her insult. Perhaps it was her sheer, unexpected volume. Maybe it was the fact that she had told them Kit was from another world. Whatever it was, the entire camp instantly became as still as death. Even the pop, pop of the campfires seemed to stop.
Gorian, for his part, had frozen, tongue curled out halfway out of his mouth as he stared at his dinner with bulging eyes.
Then reality struck.
The giant whirled around and, in one huge stride, reached Elira’s cage. Flicking back the pin that secured the door, Gorian reached inside and grabbed her, hefting her skyward.
“You! Pesky human ant.” The giant gripped her tighter and Elira struggled to breath. “What did you say?” He glowered first at Elira then Kit then back again.
Gorian loosened his hold slightly and Elira pulled in a lungful of air before answering.
“This boy,” she jerked her head toward Kit, “isn’t like any of us. He’s not from Britannia. He’s from the Old World.”
“Liar!” One of the other giants lumbered forward. “There are no Old Bloods left in Illyria. Gorian, this is just a trick. Let’s get on with supper.”
Gorian glared at Kit. “Is this true?” His voice was the growl of a stalking bear.
Elira saw a sheen of sweat on Kit’s forehead and she doubted it was because of the fire. C’mon Kit. Tell him!
“Answer me, boy!”
“Y-yes. I’m not from this world.”
Kit craned his neck to see Elira. Their eyes met and, in that moment, she understood his fear. Saying he wasn’t from this place singled Kit out. It made him different, different in a way no one else could understand. Being an Old Blood made him the target for every evil force that lurked in Britannia. It wasn’t just the scientists of Ru’ahal. Now the giants would hate him. As would the hordes of humans who had taken the scientists’ mark. Kit probably didn’t know all this but he did know that telling everyone of his bloodline would make him stand out, that much was clear.
But the time had come for Britannia to know that this boy, who had as much muscle as a beanpole, had come to save them all. That was also clear. Even the giants knew of the prophecy. And, like the Three mad scientists, they feared it.
“You’re a liar!” The veins in Gorian’s neck bulged out.
“Just kill the little bug and be done with it,” another giant rumbled. “Old Blood, ha! We’re too smart to fall for that one.”
Elira wriggled her arms free and pounded her fists on Gorian’s massive paw. “No. Let him prove it!”
“Prove it? How?” Gorian’s upper lip curled back in a snarl.
“A fight to the death.” The words were out of her lips before she could stop them.
“What?” The question—more of a screech than a question, really—came from Kit. “Are you crazy?”
She shot him a furious glare. “I’m trying to save your life!”
“By making me fight a giant? Tell me Elira, did you lose your marbles when you went into that birdcage or when you came out of it?”
“Shut up!” Her face reddened as she hissed the words between clenched teeth. This was not the time to quibble about details. She was trying to buy them both some time while she worked out a plan.
Gorian’s laughter boomed around the camp, laughter that was echoed by his two companions. “Do I look like a dog or a flea that you think this boy can defeat me?”
“No.” Elira jutted her chin. “But I think you’re afraid to take on the challenge.”
“Afraid?” Gorian’s voice turned to ice. “I’ll show you whose afraid.” Stooping, he opened his palms, and dropped them about three feet to the ground. Quickly, they scrambled upright. The cold fingers of fear wrapped themselves around Elira’s heart as the giant drew himself to his full height and stood with fists firmly planted on his hips.
“I, Gorian, challenge you to the best duel of all.” He thrust a finger at Kit. “A duel… of the mind.”
“What?” Elira and Kit both shouted at once.
Gorian’s laugh cut through the air like a whip. “If you are an Old Blood, as the shrew claims, you’ll be able to defeat me. Ask me a question. Any question and see if I can’t answer you.”
“And if I win?” To his credit, Kit’s voice was steady.
“You won’t win!”
“But what if I do? I want my friends and I to be set free.”
“Don’t do it Gorian.” One of the giants laid a hand on Gorian’s shoulder. “What if—”
“What?” The giant wrenched himself free. “You think a puny brat is smarter than I? The great Gorian? Bah! His brain’s as big as my fingernail.” He spat on the ground then whirled back to Kit. “Done. I defy you and,” he glared at Elira, “your wretched Illyrian god. I say again, boy, ask me any question known to man. Then…” He finished his threat by drawing a finger across his throat.
Firelight flickered across the small camp, illuminating the awe-stricken faces of the prisoners, the angry, twisted faces of the giants and Kit’s small frame as he stared up at the giant who had reversed Elira’s challenge.
For a moment, Elira questioned the wisdom of what she had done. Gorian’s boast was not an empty one. The giants knew the histories of the land before the Great Destruction like no one else. They were as skilled in astronomy, language, mathmatics and medicine as their friends in Rua’hal. What question could possibly keep Kit out of Gorian’s stomach?
“Elyon,” she whispered, “help him.” She certainly hoped Elyon was listening. For Kit was going to need all the help he could get.
Kit wanted to do nothing more than to run. His mind screamed for him to do exactly that. Get out of here! Go while you’ve got the chance, you numpty! Mentally he reviewed his predicament. For the first time in a day, he was out of the birdcage. He was on the ground and he had a clear path to the trees. He glanced upward to a cliff that ran along the edge of the giant’s camp. A large pile of boulders loomed up at the top of the cliff. If I can make it up there without anyone seeing me, I might be able to hide until morning.
But then he glanced at Elira and saw the light of hope that shone from her eyes. She believed in him. Elira’s faith had been obvious the moment she had told the world that he came from a time before this one. Somehow, she thought he had some special power. Kit scoffed.
He edged closer to her and began to mumble under his breath. “Right, well, this is a fine kettle of fish.”
“Is that a thank you for saving your life?” Elira arched an eyebrow.
Kit threw his head back and gestured toward Gorian who huddled with his cronies. “Saving my life? Things are as bad now as they ever did.” He shook his head. “No, things are worse. Definitely, much worse. Now, instead of Gorian using my eyeballs for lollies, he’ll probably make me eat them myself!”
Elira stared at him. “Do you think this is the time to concoct childish stories?” She softened her tone. “I know there’s greatness inside of you, Kit. There’s something, some power, that I can’t quite put my finger on. All I can say is that Elyon sent you to us for a purpose. It’s now or never. Either you save us or we all die.”
Kit rubbed the back of his neck. This was the second time Elira had mentioned this… Elyon fellow. He could only assume she meant God. But since when had God been a part of his life?” He looked up slowly. He didn’t have much faith, but he did have a brain.
“Elira.” Kit spoke quickly now as a plan started to take shape in his mind. “Do you think you can pick a lock?”
She grinned at him. “I’m an Illyrian. I was born picking locks.”
“For some reason,” Kit frowned at her, “I find the thought of babies picking locks in their prams rather disturbing.”
She started to object but Kit cut her off with an upraised palm. “No time to debate now, just listen. Here’s what I want you to do.”
“Are you ready to die, cockroach?”
Kit forced a smile onto his face despite the wild thumping in his chest. “Are you, Gorian the Gorilla?”
“Oh, you think you’re smart, don’t you?” The giant shook a fist. “You think your Elyon is going to save you? Get over here and I’ll show you what smart is.”
Kit didn’t bother explaining that he didn’t even know who Elyon was. Instead he took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders. Courage doesn’t mean we don’t get scared. He took a few steps forward. Courage means doing what needs to be done, even though we’re scared.
Gorian leered down at him, his massive fists now planted on both his hips. “Come on, little cockroach. I’m waiting.”
Cockroach? Nick Jaggers had called him “guttersnipe” just before slamming his fist into Kit’s stomach. Now Gorian called him a cockroach.
Fear began to melt into a hot, steady anger that pulsed within Kit’s thin body. Gorian. Nick Jaggers. They were all the same. Thugs bent on making the lives of others miserable so their own cowardice wouldn’t show them up.
Kit clenched his fists. Nick would never risk a battle of the minds but Gorian had. And that was where Kit’s advantage lay. For while he was short on muscle, he wasn’t short on intelligence.
“I’m ready!” His thin, reedy voice cut through the air between them. Gorian’s two friends lumbered around and sat on either side of Kit, ready to prevent any chance of escape if things went badly. Kit was about to protest but then he realized that, if the eyes of all three giants were on him, they probably wouldn’t notice what Elira was doing. “Are you ready to lose, Gorian?”
The giant’s mocking laughter was his only reply.
“Alright.” Kit marched into the light, only a few feet now from the largest of the campfires, trying to project a confidence that he didn’t feel.
“Ask your question.” Gorian folded his arms across his stomach as a loud rumbling noise filled the air. “Get on with it; I’m hungry.”
Kit licked his lips. This was it. His next few words would determine whether he lived… or died. What do I ask? Thoughts swirled about in his brain like a bunch of leaves tossed by a hurricane. One of them stood out. Gorian expected something complicated but what if…
His eyes fell on a small purple wildflower. That’s it! “God, if there is a god, please let this work.”
Kit bent and scooped it up. Holding it high, he shouted, “Tell me Gorian, where does this flower come from?”
The giant stared at him a moment, jaw slack and, for the first time in weeks, a grin tugged at the corners of Kit’s lips. The giant’s intelligence wouldn’t allow him to admit the only possibility. And Kit was counting on that.
“F-from the ground.” Gorian found his voice at last.
“That’s not an answer and you know it.” Smiling now, Kit held the flower higher. “What? Need a closer look? Or don’t you know the answer?”
The giant growled. “From a seed, cockroach. The flower came from a seed.”
“Stop avoiding the question.” A surge of confidence shot through him. “From the ground, from a seed, from an atom or an electron—a flower’s beginning is unknown. You see, no matter how far back you take it there has to be something, or someone, that made the first flower.” Kit’s voice took on a mocking edge. “And I know you three are all too smart to believe in something as primitive as God.”
The giants behind him sucked in a sharp breath. Kit whirled around, clinging to the little wildflower as though it were life itself. Indeed, for him, it was. “Can you answer me?” He challenged them both, thrusting the flower forward. “Either of you?”
“That’s not a fair question!” Gorian stomped his foot. The ground quaked sending Kit sprawling to one side.
He rolled quickly to his feet. “It is! You said to ask anything. Well, I’ve done so and it seems that you, mighty Gorian, have been outwitted.” Kit grinned. “You were outsmarted by—what was it you called me?— a cockroach.” Tossing the flower to aside, “Unless you admit that there’s a god somewhere that made this flower, my question remains unanswered. Now, we have an agreement. Be a good loser and let me go.”
Gorian’s rage exploded in a thunderous roar that shook the leaves off the nearby trees. “Arrghh!” He jumped up and down, slamming his fists against his chest and gnashing his teeth. “Arrghh!”
Kit glanced about, desperate now to find a place to hide.
But there was none.
“Kill the cockroach!” Gorian slammed his night vision goggles over his eyes as did his two friends. “Kill him!” He forward, hands outstretched, as did his two friends.
“Elira!” Kit dashed to one side, fear giving him the speed of a rabbit. “Elira, now!” He threw himself to the left, just as a pair of massive hands swooped past his body.
The night exploded in a conflagration of light and fire. While the attention had been on Kit, Elira had quietly gone from prison to prison and set the captives free. Now, with shouts of pent-up rage they streamed forward, hurling blazing sticks from the campfire onto the giants’ tents.
“Ah! My eyes!” One giant crashed to the earth, writhing in agony as he pressed the heels of his palms against his eye sockets. “The light’s blinded my eyes!”
Kit winced as he darted into the crowd of escapees. He could only imagine how bright the explosion would have been when seen through the night goggles.
“My bum!” Gorian’s remaining giant-friend careened off into the trees screaming and frantically at that fire that blazed from the seat of his pants. “They’ve set fire to my bum!”
Gorian staggered around trying to find him in the melee. “I’ll kill you, cockroach!” He stomped hard, squishing several prisoners under his hobnail sandals.
Kit pointed to the pile of stone that rose along the cliff’s edge. Beyond it, the forest loomed wide and large. If they could gain the cliff, they stood a chance of escaping.
“Everyone, to the cliff!” Kit waved his arms wildly. “Elira, everyone, get to the cliff.”
They scattered at his command, dozens of screaming fugitives fleeing for safety. The entire clearing was ablaze now, with flames licking at the edges of the forest itself.
“Kit, let’s get out of here.” Elira dashed forward, grabbing his arm. Drake who glanced around with wild eyes. Kit spun and, pulling her along, lunged for the rocky crags.
“Stand still, lunchmeat!”
Thunder sounded behind him and he knew that Gorian had seen them. They were the last of the prisoners to gain the cliff. Easy targets.
Turning, Kit helped Elira up the first layer of the rocks and let Drake scurry up behind her. Squinting, he gauged the distance between them and the giant. About two hundred feet. Kit swallowed. Gorian would eat that distance up in about a dozen footsteps.
He glanced up, realizing that Elira and Drake had reached the top of the cliff and were at the forest’s edge. He scrambled upward madly, trying to ignore Gorian’s howls and the thunder that crashed in his chest. Ten more feet… His chest burned and sharp rocks cut into his fingers as he pulled himself up.
A line of escapees ringed the cliff, urging him on. But what was the point? Even if he got to the top of the cliff before Gorian grabbed him from behind, the giant would have an easy time following them up the hill. He’d pick them off in the forest as easy as picking apples off a tree!
Kit grabbed Elira’s outstretched hand and pulled himself to the top of the ridge. He glanced behind and wished he hadn’t. Gorian was only a few feet behind him, a vicious confident grin on his face.
“What do we do, Kit?” Drake shrank backward as did the others.
Kit whirled around. They all stared at him as though he was supposed to have the answer. “I-I—”
Then it hit him.
Pivoting back on his heel, Kit rushed to the pile of boulders that marked the edge of the forest trail. “Elira, quick, get me a branch!”
Gorian was climbing now. Within two minutes, he’d reach the top.
Panic had settled in among the fugitives. Some dashed into the woods while others just stood and stared at the giant who had risen from the flames below like some demon from hell itself.
“Kit. Catch!” Elira appeared on the fringe of the forest. She hurled a thick branch toward him as though she were throwing a spear.
Time slowed to a crawl in Kit’s mind. He watched the thick branch leap up in the air as it left Elira’s arm, climb up in a high arc, then begin its descent. Without conscious thought, he found himself running, then leaping to meet it.
His arm stretched out.
His fingers flew open.
It landed in his palm with solid force and Kit twisted as he came back to earth, landing hard with one knee and one fist planted firmly on the ground. In a split second, he was back at the pile of boulders. Jamming one end of the spear into the base of the mound, he pressed all his weight down on the other end.
“Give!” Bunching all the muscle in his skinny frame, Kit stepped back and threw himself on the loose end again. “Come on… give!”
Then he heard it.
First a crack, then a rumble then a massive roar as the weight of the heavy stones yielded to gravity’s power. Gorian’s screech reached the top of the cliff and Kit peered over its edge just in time to see an immense boulder slam into the giant’s forehead. Gorian flipped over backward, tumbling over and over until he crashed into the firestorm below. He lay still as other rocks crashed into the ground around him, sending a cloud of smoke and dust heavenward.
“Turnips and tomatoes!” Kit recoiled from the edge of the cliff, unable to believe what his eyes swore were true. What had just happened?
“Kit.” Elira stepped forward, hesitated, then laid a hand on his shoulder. “You’ve done it. Y-you’ve killed a giant!”
Silence, broken only by the crackling flames, stretched out for several moments. Then one voice from the forest’s edge a whoop rang out. “Three cheers for the Irlander!”
Cheers erupted from those who had watched from the forest. “Kit the Irlander! Hurrah!!”
“Irlander?” Kit threw a puzzled glance at Elira. “What does that mean?”
Awe blazed from Elira’s face as she stepped back. “In our language it means… the Giant Killer.” She was about to say more but then the crowd came between them. Hefting Kit onto their shoulders, the former prisoners made their way into the forest chanting and cheering. “Irlander! Irlander!”
Kit wanted to protest this unexpected hero’s treatment. He was no hero. He was just Kit Benedict, an orphan from the worst school in England. But then he glanced over his shoulder to the pit in which flames engulfed the giant he had destroyed.
“You are the one!” Elira shouted, cupping her hands to her mouth in order to be heard. “You saved us, just like you’ll save all of Britannia.”
Kit clung to the shoulders of the men who lifted him high. He wasn’t a savior, no matter what Elira thought. But tonight he had done the unthinkable.
He had fought.
He had won.
And nothing would ever be the same again.
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