They continued down the passageway and followed the bends and curves of the tunnel. After several turns, the passage opened into another cave with a high ceiling. Evan expected some sort of trap.
“Sense any trouble ahead?” he asked Brashani.
“No, nothing,” replied the wizard.
Nonetheless, the Michaeline priest signaled a halt and stood listening. In the distance, he heard water dripping and felt a presence of some sort.
The ground shook. “That wasn’t the volcano,” observed Evan. “Something caused the cave to shake. Iriel, do you hear anything?”
“I do,” replied Iriel. “I hear someone breathing. Over there.” She pointed to the right.
“All right. Scout that section of the cave and stay hidden.”
Iriel disappeared for a few minutes among the rocks and stone debris in the cave and then returned.
“There’s a large child chewing on some bones on the other side of the cave.”
“Describe him,” said Evan.
“He’s tall, like an ogre, big and muscular, but his skin looks like bronze, and his hair looks like fire.”
“That sounds more like a fire giant,” commented James.
“Yes,” agreed Evan. “And fire giants have children.”
Everyone looked at him. “But if that’s the child of the fire giant,” Brashani began, “what’s he doing here?”
“Good question,” replied Evan. “I’d also like to know where the child’s mother is. If she’s anywhere nearby, she might come after us if she thinks we are threatening her youngling.”
“And if he’s lost?” asked Iriel.
“Then there’s not much we can do about it. None of us can tolerate the heat of the volcano to lead him back to his home.”
Iriel frowned. “But we can’t leave him here.”
“Well, we can’t take him with us, can we?”
The ground shook again and the sound of something sniffing the air could be heard. The child giant stood and Evan saw him just as Iriel had described him. Three times Evan’s height, the child’s eyes were scarlet; his teeth were yellow and crooked, and his face looked round and soft like that of a babe. He wore trousers made from animal hides and no shirt.
“Who’s there?” the giant asked, looking about.
Evan put a finger to his lips and motioned the others to hide behind some nearby boulders.
The giant sniffed the air again. “I smell an elf, and a human boy, and a man.” Another sniff. “And a magic-man, and …” Sniff. “Something else.” He raised a large club and struck the ground. The entire cave shook. “Where are you?”
Evan crouched behind an outcrop of rocks with Brashani beside him.
“He’s looking for you,” whispered the mage.
“I know, but I doubt showing myself will help. If it would, I’d do it. On the other hand, I could create a diversion so the rest of you could get away.”
“Don’t be silly,” said Brashani. “The giant is as likely to eat you as look at you, and if we run into necromancers up ahead, we’re going to need you.”
“True,” Evan agreed. “But we aren’t going anywhere with this giant looking for me, and we really can’t afford this delay. Plus, if we don’t stop him from shaking the cave, his mother is likely to come running. Then we’ll have two giants to deal with instead of one.”
“Maybe we can sneak away.”
“It’s worth a try,” said Evan.
Gesturing to James and the others to be quiet, Evan motioned the direction for them to go. The group moved as quietly as they could. They crept along for a few steps before Evan’s foot kicked some pebbles that went skittering across the cave floor. The Michaeline priest froze, hoping the giant had not heard the noise. But even as Evan wished for the best, he heard the giant say, “There you are.”
Evan looked up and saw a huge hand coming toward him. He swung his sword but the giant caught it and grabbed the priest around his chest. Lifting Evan off the ground, the giant sniffed his catch.
“You are what I’ve been smelling.” Sniff. “What are you?” asked the giant.
“I’m a man,” replied Evan.
“You don’t smell like a man.”
“What do I smell like?”
The giant sniffed Evan again. “I don’t know.” He paused. “Medicine. I don’t like medicine. It tastes bad and screws up your face. Maybe I should crush you.” The giant began to tighten his fist and Evan found it hard to breathe.
“But I look like a man, don’t I?”
“I s’pose, but you could be trying to trick me.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Maybe you are mean.”
“But I’m not. I’m a priest. I help others.”
Evan did not seem to be getting anywhere. He had hoped that reasoning with the child would resolve the potential conflict, but the giant was having none of it. He appeared to have taken a dislike to Evan for some reason; the priest would have to try a different approach.
On the ground, Iriel shot arrows at the giant. They lodged in his shin and after a few minutes the giant brushed them away with a sweep of his free hand.
James cracked his whip and lashed the giant’s foot. The giant responded by using his other foot to rub the spot struck by the whip.
Daniel studied the giant for several minutes and then sighed. “He’s too big,” he said softly. “Qua’ril requires the combatants to be about the same size so that leverage can be applied and the opponent’s momentum can be turned against him.”
“Do the best you can, lad,” urged Brashani, holding out his right hand where a small ball of fire was growing.
The giant squeezed Evan again when a voice from the right side of the cave called out.
“Snorri! Snorri Flametongue. Where are you?”
The child said nothing.
“Snorri, answer me this minute or so help me, I’ll whip your hide when I get my hands on you.”
The child sighed and looked for a place to put Evan, but the animal-hide trousers the giant wore had no pockets.
“Snorri! There you are.”
Snorri turned around to face his mother, instinctively hiding Evan behind his back. Evan only got a quick look at the giantess; she was slightly taller than her son but had the same eyes, hair, and skin coloring. She wore a one-piece dress made from animal hides. Her eyes narrowed and her mouth was twisted in a snarl as she regarded Snorri. She marched right up to him.
Snorri forgot about Evan momentarily and the giant’s grasp eased enough for the demon hunter to get one hand free. He waved to his companions and gestured for a rope.
“What are you doing out here?” demanded Snorri’s mother. Then she saw the cracked bones he had been chewing on. “Snacking between meals? What am I going to do with you? Wait ’til I tell your father. He’ll blow the roof right off this mountain.”
Snorri said nothing, but cast mournful glances at the stone floor.
James, meanwhile, tossed Evan a rope. Evan caught it and tied it around one of Snorri’s fingers. Then he threw his sword to Iriel, who caught it with one hand. Slowly Evan wiggled out of Snorri’s grip and started climbing down the rope.
Snorri’s mother shook her head. “Why do you insist on making trouble for yourself?” No answer. Then she noticed he was hiding something behind his back.
“And what have you got in your hands?”
Snorri looked up. “Nuffin’.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I swear. I got nuffin’ in my hands.”
“Then show me. Put your hands where I can see them.”
Snorri hesitated, for which Evan was grateful. He had climbed down almost the entire length of rope, but now hearing this exchange, he decided to jump the rest of the way.
“Snorri! Show me your hands now!”
Snorri complied just as Evan jumped. The Michaeline priest rolled as he landed to minimize the impact.
Snorri showed his mother his hands.
“What’s that piece of string on your finger for?”
Snorri looked at it and scratched his head.
“Well?” prodded Snorri’s mother.
He shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“You tied a string on your finger for no reason?”
“No, I d’int.”
“Then who did? A cave fairy?”
Snorri didn’t answer immediately, but his eyes grew round and he looked at his mother.
“There’s elfs and humans here,” he whispered. “I caught one, but he is tricketty and escaped.”
His mother looked around at the floor then back at Snorri.
“Even if there are elves and humans in the cave, you can’t go snatching them up.”
“Well, for one thing, you know how your father and I feel about pets. You’re not old enough to have one.”
“I don’t want ’em as pets. Just to eat.”
His mother shook her head. “Not worth the trouble, dear. They are mostly bone unless you find a really fat one. That’s why your father hunts ogres, rocs, and hippogriffs. Much more meat there. Now come along and untie that string.”
Snorri untied the rope and let it fall. Then, with his head hanging low, he marched off to the right side of the cave, his mother close behind.