“Please don’t be scared of me. I’m not dangerous, I’m just big.”
Big and small, we’ll see it all
Zower’s fist collided hard with what he was sure was a jaw. He ducked the next boy’s punch and, with a quick jab, nailed him in the gut. The boy’s air was thrown from his lungs, and he crumpled. Good thing he aimed high…
He felt someone grab around his waist and attempt to lift him up. Fool. The older teen used his weight in his favor and threw his head back, sending him and the boy who attempted to grapple him to the ground. Because the boy wasn’t ready for it, he was disoriented, and his head collided harshly with the ground. He groaned in pain as Zower grabbed the front of his shirt and lifted him just enough to be a few inches off of the ground.
“Stay down!” he growled. His attention turned to the other brawling boys, eyes focused on his friend and the reason for this midday spat – Birrant Spennek.
Birrant, in the meantime, focused all of his energy on the one boy who was about his size. They each had gripped the other’s shirt and were throwing one another around, trying to throw them off balance. The boy snarled and forced his hand up, clocking Birrant in the cheek. Birrant was sure he was going down when the eyes of the boy he was fighting widened. He let go and took several steps back in retreat as did the other boys who were nearby.
The one Zower nailed earlier forced himself to his feet and spat.
“This isn’t over Speck,” he said as he and his thug friends. Zower glared, his dark brown eyes practically boring holes into the boys’ backs.
“See you next time then, Fayne,” Zower growled.
He made sure the other boys were far down the road before turning to his friend, eyes softening slightly.
“I’d like to think you didn’t provoke them, but I swear you’ve made it a habit to run into those rats every chance you get,” stated Zower with a hint of sarcasm.
“You know I didn’t,” retorted Birrant as he reached up with his thumb and attempted to stanch the blood sluggishly leaking from his split lip. He looked up, practically craning his neck, to see Zower flash a sarcastic grin.
“Mmhmm,” hummed Zower suspiciously. He looked down at his knuckles and checked to make sure he wasn’t bleeding too bad before reaching into his side pouch and holding out a wad of herbs he collected earlier that day to his friend.
“Thanks,” muttered Birrant. “I swear I’ll hit my growth spurt one of these days. Let’s see them pick on me then.” Zower chuckled and grabbed his friend playfully around the neck, forcefully ruffling Birrant’s platinum blonde hair which had been smudged with mud and blood.
“Like that’ll happen,” teased the older teen.
“Hey!” Birrant struggled futilely. “Not fair! You’re basically an adult! You’re older and stronger.”
“Not really, and it doesn’t matter. You should be able to fight back at this point. I go for the same moves every time,” stated Zower as if he were bored. He released his friend after a few seconds and, for his actions, Zower received a comparatively weak punch to the side from his teenage friend.
“Manners,” muttered Birrant. It was something his mother always said when he was misbehaving and, naturally, he mirrored the behavior.
The two teens walked off to a nearby well with a running stream to tidy up.
This had been their pattern now for many moon cycles.
Birrant would get picked on and a fight would break out, Zower would come running out of nowhere, they’d fight off the thugs together, and then the two teens would go off and talk or hang out until Zower started feeling unwell and had to go rest back at his home. Birrant offered for Zower to come and rest at his home, but it was always turned down politely with some explanation or another and would depart, promising his friend he would return the next day and fight at his side. Even though the fights were becoming a less frequent occurrence, they still happened from time to time.
Though this wasn’t always how things were.
Birrant Spennek never really considered himself someone notable or special in any sense of the word. He didn’t understand why he was the center of torment for the older, bigger boys of his home in Wohl. Then again, it wasn’t like Birrant ever questioned their motives. He was slight of stature, the youngest boy in his age group, and had a memory like a steel trap.
Needless to say, he was singled out early on and dealt with torment for years from the same group of five boys.
It was because of the fights and the older boys picking on Birrant that the two boys became friends in the first place.
Birrant still remembered that day. He had just left the schoolhouse and knew immediately the boys were going to give chase. They did that often. They would wait in the alleys and shadows like they were hunting him before chasing him through their town streets and cornering him and beating him bloody.
He tried to outrun them and outwit them, but the odds were never in his favor with five against one. This particular day, Birrant had a plan to climb barrels to the safety of a roof, relying on his thin and dextrous muscles, but no such luck happened. The barrels were knocked out from under him and he crashed down to the ground, sure he was about to receive another beating when something – someone – stepped in.
Zower had been in their town of Wohl for about a week at the time. He was skilled in herbs and wanted to live a solitary life after his family and possessions were taken and destroyed by the monsters and creatures in the mountains where he used to live. He barely escaped with his life and asked the town elders if he could simply live off in the woods with permission to enter the town to trade the supplies he harvested from the first.
Zower saw Birrant being surrounded and simply sprang into action, charging in and fighting off the other teens. If Birrant closed his eyes, he could still hear Zower’s battle cry as he came sprinting at his tormentors. The younger teen regretted not springing into action and helping his newfound friend the first fight they were in together, but he made every effort to participate and defend himself after.
When Birrant asked Zower why he stepped in, Zower had a direct and very simple response.
“Answer should be obvious. I hate bullies.”
It was all history from that point on. The two boys became fast friends. Despite the relative age gap of about three years, the two of them had a lot in common.
They had a love of things that grew like plants and herbs, woodland investigation, and wanted to travel and see the world. They both had a fascination for potions and for the arcane and magic in the world. They talked endlessly about how they would discover the secrets of the universes that swirled around them. The best place to do that was The Lyceum, a school for knowledge seekers across the world.
Though Birrant was the only one who could read between the two of them, Zower’s curiosity was insatiable. More often than not, their talk consisted of traveling to The Lyceum and learn everything they could before taking the world by storm.
Their talk was always just that though – talk.
Birrant was more than ready to take up stakes and travel, seeing the world with his friend, but Zower was a bit more hesitant. Birrant wasn’t one to pry, but he did ask once why Zower was reluctant to leave a town he hadn’t known all his life when Birrant was champing at the bit, ready to leave at the drop of a hat. Zower’s response still chilled Birrant.
“You don’t know what they’re like…”
Birrant knew exactly what – who – Zower was referring to.
In this land of the arcane blessed and potions and monstrous creatures that lurked in the shadows of the forest, there were other dangers – and not all of them were human. Though the town they lived in, Wohl, was just an average town that was nestled in the forest beyond the mountains, it was protected from many outside dangers.
One of those dangers were the giants – the Mendo.
The Mendo, for the most part, left towns and villages alone. Still, it didn’t stop the occasional rampage and slaughter of a roaming tribe.
Birrant didn’t need to ask Zower to put together that it was probably the giants that destroyed his family and his possessions, leaving him to live alone in the woods. So, when the subject of travel came up, Birrant was always left feeling slightly hollow. He wanted to travel with his friend, but he instead settled for the stories Zower told of his own travels before everything was taken from him.
So, as they tidied themselves up at the stream by the well, Birrant asked his friend about his travels. Zower had the best stories about all of the places he had been to. Nyfee. Enhuryn. The Pol Islands. Everywhere, something interesting happened which only fueled Birrant’s drive to travel far away even more.
“You are blessed by the Souls. Handpicked by them to live an exciting life,” moaned Birrant as he pulled up another bucket of well water to help clean out his wounds. Zower chuckled and reached up awkwardly to scratch his messy black hair which was now long enough to hang in his eyes.
“Hardly,” muttered Zower. “My family traded security for adventure.”
“But to see the dunes and smell the brine of the sea? That sounds so much better than scraping mud thumpers off of tree roots,” countered Birrant. “I mean, haven’t you ever wanted to go back and see all of these places?”
“Sometimes,” replied Zower as he folded his arms against his chest. “But I like it here. Of all the places I’ve gone to, I have probably liked this one the most.”
“Really? You can’t be serious,” said Birrant disbelievingly. “This place?”
“It’s quiet here. You don’t have to worry about a lot of things here. There’s plenty of hunting, fertile ground, and there is nothing like the forest at night.”
“You know where else is quiet? The Lyceum. We could travel across to the Ibry-ne, stop off by Caprice, and then we would be there!” said Birrant excitedly. Zower chuckled and shook his head.
“You know that is a four-moon ride by itself, right?”
“So? We’ll get horses and go.”
“And your parents?” prompted Zower. Birrant shot his friend a dirty look.
“I’d… come back… eventually…” he said quietly, knowing that his case was already at its end. Sometimes he could tease the conversation into a couple hour long debate, but today wasn’t one of those days.
“And leave them on their own?” asked Zower, his dark brown eyes proading Birrant into relative submission. Birrant sighed and shook his head as he finished cleaning the split in his lip.
“Well, if you ever want to go back out there, you let me know. Oh! That reminds me. Are we still going hunting for Peekem root?” asked Birrant, surrendering his argument in exchange for a new subject.
“Yeah, I think… ggaahh…” Zower suddenly doubled over, letting out a gasp of pain. His arms, which were casually folded across his chest, jolted and wrapped around his middle. His teeth were gritted to the point where Birrant could hear them grinding against one another.
He had never seen his friend like this and, instantly, his heart tripled in pace and adrenaline coursed through his body. He rushed forward and grabbed Zower’s shoulders, panicking as he realized that if Zower fell forward there was no way he could catch his falling friend.
“Zower? Zower! You okay? What’s wrong?” Beads of sweat were forming on Zower’s temple. His breath shuddered in his chest. His entire body was shaking. The color in his cheeks drained as his body raged like an inferno. After nearly thirty seconds, Zower’s breathing regulated. His pulse started to slow, but he was still shaking.
“I’m okay. I’m just… not feeling well. I’m sorry. I just… need to go home. Here. I’ll walk you back,” said Zower.
“You kidding? I’m making sure you get back,” insisted Birrant, which made Zower reach out and grip his friend’s shoulders. “Come on.”
“Birrant, maybe it’s better if you… hngg… just… stay here. I swear, I’m fine. Get home safe and I’ll see you tonight,” insisted Zower. Before Birrant could argue, Zower stood at his full height, making him tilt his head back to catch the worried expression on Zower’s face, and took off running, sprinting, toward the edge of town by the forest.
Birrant had every mind to go after his friend, but there was no way he could catch him.
What in the name of the Souls just happened? Zower had never acted like that before. What was going on? Was he actually hurt? Maybe the fight took more out of him than he let on.
Birrant decided to question his friend later and, for now, go home and gather his supplies to hunt Peekem root the next day.
But his friend didn’t arrive as usual that night.
In fact, Zower didn’t return the next day.
Or the day after.
That second night, Birrant was beyond convinced that something terrible had happened to his friend. So, the next morning, before the first sun’s light, he packed up his satchel with water, food, herbs, and a small blade his father gave him and set out for the edge of the woods.
Yes, there was the challenge of finding his friend since he didn’t know where Zower lived. All he knew was that his friend lived in the woods beyond the edge of town. It was dangerous, but he knew he had to take a chance after everything Zower had done for him.
They were friends after all.
The fair-haired teen set out down the road of the town, spotting the few shops and carts laying out their wares for the day, until he reached the boarder. He vaulted over the four-board fence separating the town from the fields and darted across the field to the tree line.
He scanned the dense forest around him. It wasn’t the first time Birrant had been in the woods. He and Zower had been many times hunting for different herbs and roots that grew nestled in the roots of the mossy shade of the towering trees.
Birrant remembered Zower mentioning making a home by the stream and decided to follow that trail first. Knowing his friend, he most likely made his home upstream. It was as good of a place as any to begin.
He set out, stepping over the first few roots reaching out from the ground to snare unsuspecting travelers.
The forest was a dangerous place if someone didn’t know what to look out for. The roots twisted and turned in loops and knots. The trees
There were mushroom shelves the size of an arm that would release spores that would disorient the inhaler when disturbed. The list of natural dangers went on and on, and that wasn’t even including the creatures that lurked and played in the shadows.
Thankfully, this was part of the trail that the teen was familiar with. The route he took wasn’t too different than the one he took to hunt for Peekem root with Zower, and he knew that one very well.
He ducked under the shelves of mushrooms, carefully traversed over the roots like he was balancing on the edge of the fence post and used some of the vines to swing over the murky, stagnant water. All the while, he couldn’t help but think about his friend. What was going on with him? Was he extremely sick? Perhaps he should have consulted with the Curer of the town.
Nearly two hours of traversing the terrain and worrying passed when familiar sound broke through the natural creaks and snaps of the forest.
The sound of trickling water was near. The brook was close. He grabbed the next vine and leapt across the last gulley, feet perching on the next set of tree roots and balancing precariously on the edge as he stared at the fresh creek water below.
Small stones smoothed by the water flow lined each side of the creek. Birrant scanned the edges of the bank but saw no footprints. He raised his hands to his mouth and shouted as loud as he could, “Zower! Zower? Can you hear me? It’s Birrant! Zower!”
When he received no response, he nodded slowly, sighed, and continued with his plan to follow the stream up until he reached the main body of water, hoping and praying to the Souls that his friend was by this body of water. He followed along the banks, picking up rocks and roots as he went. The second sun would be rising in the sky soon. It would be too warm in a few hours to travel, even in the refreshing shadows of the tree canopy above him.
Birrant needed to find his friend soon, but he would be useless if he didn’t look after himself first. Deciding to save his canteen of water, he knelt by the stream and took some of the water in his hands. It was cool and refreshing, but he noticed something else that he wouldn’t have seen before.
The stream looked like it was pulsing, as if something were causing a disruption of the water further upstream like making waves in a pool.
Was something keeping the water from flowing? And why in a rhythmic pattern?
Birrant cautiously sipped the water but could taste nothing out of the ordinary. Curiosity got the better of him, and he continued to cautiously follow the running water upstream. He followed the twists and turns of the stream until he could see the tree obscured scene of a clean lake.
It looked like it hooked around into a much larger fresh spring lake, and the ripples were now the size of small lapping waves which could cover his feet easily.
He stepped up to the edge, instantly spotting the ripples in the water, and began to follow the rippling lines with his eyes when his blood chilled as though a winter gust knocked the wind out from his lungs.
The ripples that he thought might have been created by a herd of wisent drinking in the cool, clean water of the water was actually being – a giant. The way it was crouched, its head could easily brush against the canopy the trees offered as protection. Dark hair and long, menacing digits made this the most terrifying thing Birrant could possibly face.
Instantly shaking in his boots, he tried willing his body to move, but he couldn’t. He could only stand there absolutely stock still and hope the Mendo didn’t notice.
Sadly, this was short lived.
Birrant thought he might be in the clear when the immense being dipped its hands into the water and splashed its face with water. He started to back away and that subtle movement was just enough for the Mendo’s eyes to catch sight of him. Every nerve in his body shrieked and leapt into action, running back into the cover of the woods.
He didn’t want to see this thing again. He didn’t need to see it. Perhaps it would wander off if it couldn’t find him. The sound of heavy crashing and the splash of water behind him only sped up his movement.
Perhaps he could get away. Maybe if he lost the giant’s line of sight it would lose interest. His hands shook as he fumbled his way up a slight embankment and pried one of the vines off of the nearby trees. Trees snapped and cracked under the weight of this thing.
No time to waist.
He leapt and swung down the gulley, feet skimming the top of the water, before he leapt down and ran back along the most clear path he could see.
“Where’d you go?” mumbled the giant. Birrant gulped back a scream and, instead, tried his best to fill his lungs with air. He was used to running away from his enemies, but this was literally a run for his life.
What was a giant even doing around these parts anyway? They usually stayed away from the mountains and the forests, didn’t they?
Birrant’s racing heart was having a hard time keeping up, skipping every few beats as he leapt from root wad to root wad.
Up ahead, Birrant saw a hole in the roots. It was going to be a tight fit, but what other choice did he have? He dove headfirst into the dirt filled hole, skidding to a halt as he scraped against the roots and wiggled his way into a partial protective barrier.
He could have reached out to touch the barefooted giant in that instant.
“Quit running,” muttered the giant, obviously annoyed. The voice somehow sounded familiar. It also wasn’t as loud as Birrant thought a giant’s voice should sound. The crashing started to subside and Birrant breathed a partial sigh of relief when a thought occurred to him.
What if Zower came across this thing? What if that thing was why he wasn’t back? Maybe he was holding up by the water’s edge waiting for someone to notice and come to rescue him? What if that thing… no… he wasn’t… he couldn’t be…
Birrant had to know.
He carefully shimmied out of his hiding spot, elbows burning from the scrapes he received from raking himself against the gnarled roots of the trees, and started making his way back to the stream when he heard a bone chilling sound behind him.
Birrant whipped around only to be entirely encased in the hand of the giant being. Only his feet were free while everything else was pinned and confined in between the giant’s fingers and palm. He tried screaming and thrashing, but to no avail. He was hoisted into the air, making his insides flip and drop, when he felt a pressure under his feet.
What were his feet touching? Was this the end?
“Hold still. I don’t want to drop you,” said the giant, voice unnervingly calm and even. Birrant felt himself drop and, instantly, he looked down to see he was placed in the giant’s palm. This only gave him a partial sigh of relief. At least it wasn’t the giant’s mouth.
The hand that had him pinned opened slowly, leaving only a small hole at the top for Birrant to look up and see his assailant. His entire body was shaking and if he had taken a drink from his canteen or eaten any of his rations earlier, it would have made a reappearance. All he could see was a single dark eye looking down at him.
“Please don’t be scared of me. I’m not dangerous, I’m just big,” said the giant softly. “Now, I’m going to open my hand. Don’t do anything crazy like try to jump. Okay?”
Just as the giant said, his fingers uncurled and retracted, exposing Birrant completely in the giant’s hand. Weak in the knees, Birrant let himself collapse as he attempted to breathe in quick, short bursts. Shock kept him from sobbing, a single saving grace, and it kept him from babbling pleas of mercy.
“There we go. Isn’t that better?” asked the giant, who Birrant could now see was crouched by the roots of the tree. “Look, I’m sorry for grabbing you like that. You’re the first person I’ve ever seen come out this far and kind of… panicked… oh my… Birrant?”
Birrant stared into the giant’s features curiously, wondering how he knew his name until it struck him like a bolt of lightning. How did he not recognize the features sooner? The tone of voice?
“Zower? You’re… a…” stammered Birrant, now feeling a mixture of nauseous and curiosity. Lightheaded, he shook his head and looked again.
“A Mendo – a giant. Yeah, I know,” replied Zower, awkwardly reaching up and scratching the back of his neck and looking away from his friend.
Sure enough, the giant was his friend.
“But… how?” asked Birrant. “I… don’t understand.”
“I…” Zower, knowing he was found out, nodded his head slowly and carefully maneuvered himself to sit down while holding his friend safely aloft. “Long story short, I left my herd. I don’t have arcane abilities, but I know herbs, roots, and spices which can be brewed into potions. I created a formula, admittedly through trial and error, to make myself small like all of you using herbs and plants like Peeken root. It was meant only for emergencies, but something about your town felt like the right fit. The ingredients can be difficult to find depending on the season, and it takes a while to brew. That’s why I wanted to go to The Lyceum – to find alternatives to the herbs I’m using. I… didn’t realize I was out, which is why I haven’t been back. I didn’t mean to hurt you with my lies, and it’s not like it matters now anyway. You’ll go back and tell everyone, so I’ll need to move again.”
Birrant watched his friend’s face shift to a neutral distraught, seemingly disappointed in himself and hurt that it was a friend who discovered him. He looked reluctant to leave, and if Birrant were being honest, he didn’t want his friend to leave.
“Zower I… I won’t tell anyone,” said Birrant, suddenly piecing everything together quickly. Zower had lost everything because he left his herd, friends and family alike, which technically wasn’t a lie. His world travels suddenly made more sense. Roaming herds could surpass any horse bound travel by nearly three times over.
“I’m not threatening you, Birrant,” sighed Zower, looking dejected and disheartened. “You don’t have to worry about keeping any promises or anything. I won’t hold it against you.”
“I’m… no… I wouldn’t tell anyone,” Birrant insisted. Zower gave him an unsure glance. “You’re my friend. You fought with me and have been protecting me. It’s about time I had a chance to protect you. Granted, not in the exact same way, but you get the point.”
Zower chuckled, making his hand tremble and bounce his handheld companion.
“Not the response I was expecting,” chuckled Zower. Birrant chuckled with him.
“You’ve got that right,” said Birrant, now finding himself slightly curious. “Zower, you said you left your herd. Why?” Zower’s eyes flashed with a hundred memories in a moment, ending with him giving a sigh and a sincere but somber look to his friend.
“Let’s just say you’re not the only one who was the smallest in town,” said Zower. “Probably one of the reasons why we became friends so quickly. We understand what it’s like….”
“You mean you… the others picked on you?” asked Birrant. Zower looked away bashfully from his friend again but nodded.
“I was hoping to find easier ways to brew the potion that helps my resizing and a way to give it to them so they stop hurting others, like a punishment or negative reinforcer or something, but I’m, as some might say, literature challenged,” mumbled Zower.
Birrant looked up into his friend’s face, hating how much pain he saw, when his long, untouched idea resurfaced.
“Zower, what if… we go together? To The Lyceum I mean,” suggested Birrant. “I was serious about going, and it sounds like you are too. If you were worried about your… um… size… or reading skills, then I can help you. What do you think?”
The giant gazed into his friend’s eyes for several agonizingly long seconds before a smile curled onto lips.
“I think… you and I have some places to see.”Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in