Where the Giants Came to Die
The climb over the hill was rough, and at first, the Hunter couldn’t see much of note beyond the cliff. It took him a good few minutes to see the structure in the distance, stood on an otherwise featureless islet across the strait.
A thick fog lay over the islet, as a blanket set upon this unholy place by the Mother Goddess Herself, covering it from the careless eyes of mortals. The Hunter checked his map against his surroundings, ensuring this was indeed the place. A needless measure, as the villagers along the road and their endless warnings of awful monstrosities to come as the Hunter progressed North had been more than enough confirmation so far.
The Hunter began the slow descent along the cliff, the rope fastened to his waist grinding dangerously against the jagged rock with every step down he took. More so than this, however, there was a stillness in the air, a complete absence of wind and sound which deeply troubled the warrior. At his waist, the small white stone within his Totem hummed quietly, its glow almost imperceptible in the North Anglian sunset.
Reaching the base of the cliff, the Hunter could see the shore of the islet. The fog had cleared somewhat, enough that he could begin to see the infamous ruins of this place. Pillars sunken into the Earth, several meters tall, decorated in runes and engravings lost to erosion - despite the lack of any wind. Looking about him, the Hunter noticed a small raft docked to a small pole nearby. Oddly convenient, he thought, since the islet was supposed to be off limits to all of the locals. No, this must've been someone else, maybe an explorer not superstitious enough to believe the legends of this place, or even - much to the contrary - an Arcanist seeking some sort of power here.
The Hunter rowed across the strait, a sudden sense of dread growing as he approached the shore. With some effort, he pulled the boat onto the sand, ensuring nothing short of a high tide could drag it back to water. The energy the ruins gave off was intense, something ancient and foreboding - he was in the right place. There had been rumours of massive phantasms in the nearby settlements, tales of ghosts dozens of feet tall roaming in the distance, bringing with them intense storms and dreadful winds, leaving in their trail only misery. The Order had caught wind of these rumours early on, though few dared seek them out. Though believed to be long extinct in Anglia, the mention of the legendary Giants struck fear in the hearts of most Knights still.
The Archivists of the Order had been studying these creatures - or rather their legacy - for long, since the early days of the Order itself. Still, not much was known about them, what little information the Archivists had collected and deciphered coming from their ruins scattered across the Anglian Isles. The Hunter examined the columns around him, looking for specific symbols and glyphs within the faded carvings. The obelisks seemed to fit the pattern of the others - massive monolithic spikes of stone, rectangular in shape, covered in what could only be the language of the Giants. The symbols were each a few inches wide, seemingly carved onto the stone with a utensil, showing early signs of intelligence in the creatures. This islet must've meant something to the Giants, as its surface was covered in these pillars, their peaks dotting the horizon, even from the shore.
The Hunter's Totem still hummed, a cautionary sign to the warrior. This place didn't feel right, and there must've been more to it than ruins. He placed his hand on the hilt of his sword, ready to draw at a moment's notice, and made for the centre of the islet.
Other than the columns, there didn't seem to be much on the surface here. The islet was flat, with no sign of there ever being trees or hills there. The only notable features were bits of rock jutting out from the earth, some loger and thinner than others. The sight reminded the Hunter of the Highlands around the Grand Cathedral. There were no signs of recent activity, either, only adding to the mystery of the rowboat. Coming further inland, the Hunter noticed the columns had begun to close in on themselves now, in a pattern which placed them no farther than a couple dozen feet or so from each other. The Sun, mostly set now, was at an angle such that the shadows of these columns were cast onto each other, showing them to be perfectly aligned within a grid. Some sort of timekeeping mechanism, perhaps, a massive network doubling as a solar clock - he made a note and a sketch in his leatherbound notebook, intent on reporting this to the Archivists.
Between the columns, the Hunter could now see what was perhaps the only natural formation in the islet. A great hill rose from the ground, its peak reaching over the columns, with what seemed to be the entry to a cavern carved onto one side. His Totem became brighter as he entered, still too faint to double as a source of light but bright enough to alert the Hunter. He stood but for a moment at the mouth of the cave, before lighting a torch from his satchel and taking a step inside.
The cavern was wide, and as the Hunter noticed, stretched beyond the edge of the hill. The floor was sloped, whether naturally or artifically he could not tell, and went on for what seemed like miles. He brought the torch to the walls, noticing they had been carved onto. Symbols he recognized from the tongue of the Giants littered the walls, forming entire sentences which he carefully transcribed onto his notebook. He could not be certain, but this might have been one of few such concentrations of glyphs ever to be found.
The Hunter pressed on, towards the bottom of the caverns, noticing the walls around him morph to become a hallway. The Giants' words followed with him, now too many to be transcribed in full, though these too seemed to have been breathed upon by the same winds that eroded the pillars on the surface. The Hunter felt no wind, and his torch stood as still as the air around it. It was then that the Hunter noticed the whispers, coming from deep within the cave, echoing all around him as if the walls themselves were speaking to him in a tongue long dead.
The Totem reacted to this, but not in its usual manner. It was glowing bright now, brighter than the torch, reacting to the supernatural energy carrying the voices, but it did not rattle in its cage. Even without the Totem, the Hunter’s own intuition, guided by his experience, would've told him that these whispers had no ill intent. He could not understand them, though the syllables were clear in his mind. A strange, unfelt breeze ran across the letters on the wall, like fingers guiding the voices as they read the words aloud to the Hunter.
The Hunter followed them instinctively, going against his own common sense. The entire place made him feel uneasy, but somehow also at peace. The voices led him to a large, wide hallway, terminating in a large gate made of stone. The doors were at least twenty feet tall - the Hunter hadn't even realized he'd made his way to this depth - and each was wide enough to fit a horse-drawn cart through.
The Hunter came to a halt a few feet away from the gate, fsr enough to take it all in. His torch was barely enough to illuminate the bottom of the stone slabs. The Hunter leaned in, admiring the engravings decorating the doors. Along the edges were phrases of unknown meaning, eroded like the walls of the cave, and within them, two figures - one on each door, symmetrical to each other - depicting the Giants themselves. Such images were a rarity, only two other examples having been encountered until then, and served as the only insight the Order had into the Giants’ appearance. Here, they were kneeling towards each other - or maybe towards the crevice between the doors - with their heads bowed down. A solemn gesture, indicating this to be a place of particular importance. From their heads flowed long, thick fur, depicted in the carving as draping over their faces. Their hands held onto their helmets, set upon their frontmost knees, and their bodies were dressed in a ceremonial garb composed of pelts and stone plates, not unlike the armour a Knight of the Order would wear.
The voices grew louder in the Hunter’s head as he approached the door, whispers turning to a hustle of harsh, loud, heavy sounds. They all spoke of different things, at first, until they all whispered the same word.
The Hunter spoke the word aloud, and the gate opened.
In the chamber within, darkness covered all. Even the light of the Hunter’s torch seemed to be swallowed by the merciless void. The only light that could stand was that of the Totem, proving to the Hunter that this darkness was not natural; and yet, he felt no evil within it. He closed his eyes softly and grabbed onto his Totem, bringing it to his lips and whispering into it a small prayer to the Mother Goddess, a mantra he'd learned as a Seminarist.
“Grant me your eyes, Blind Mother, that I may see that which is unseen.”
A rush coursed through his body, drowning the whispers in silence. In the darkness, he reached with his mind for something to hold onto, an anchor to focus on and clear away the darkness. There was a flurry of energies in the void, but the strongest was the sorrow of death. He knew not if any creature had died in here, but he could tell many lay dead in these caves. This was a mausoleum, and in that moment, the Hunter felt he knew what he was about to find.
He opened his eyes to a brightly lit chamber. All around him were shapes hard to recognize at first, similar to the rocks in the surface above. Within seconds, however, it dawned on him - the slender rocks were limbs, the thicker ones heads and thoraxes, buried in the ground - or surfacing from within. Down here, he saw the bodies in their entirety, and he understood it all. The spectres, the whispers, the ruins.
The Hunter sat by the rowboat, holding a piece of parchment. To see him there, pensive, one could have easily thought him to be frozen in time. Finally, finding the words he sought, the Hunter put his quill to the letter.
“I have documented what I could”, he wrote, “but this is an undertaking much bigger than myself. I have come chasing superstitions and lies, but I have found an amazing truth regarding the Giants. I have found the place where they've come to die.”
Where the Giants Came to Die