The raft immediately swept away, and Lefty landed with a splash. He reached for the raft.
“You little bastard!” Lefty screamed, and there was uncharacteristic desperation in his voice. Pietro had never heard Lefty desperate.
All night, Pietro clung onto the raft, occasionally getting saltwater up his nostrils. But he clung as fast to it as he could. The raft rolled and dipped underwater, and the waves swelled to enormous size, crashing down upon Pietro at random. Thunder boomed across the sea and the purple clouds lit up with lightning. He struggled to keep the raft upright as he was swept erratically but inevitably out into the ocean.
He awoke on a beach. The sun was shining in a bright blue sky. The air was warm, and Pietro’s clothes were torn and soaked. He reached around, checking his pockets, and realized that he had lost his dagger. He stood up, felt the warm sun, looked around, and saw a creature before him: Giant, with leathery gray skin, humanoid in most ways except for a pair of horns that jutted from his forehead. In all, he was probably ten feet tall and weighed a ton. His eyes were a solid yellow, lifeless, soulless.
Pietro backed away. “Please! Sorry for intruding! Don’t hurt me, I’m really sorry.”
“No need to be sorry, Pietro!” the giant said. “I may be an ettin, but I do not act like one.”
“Get away! Get away, please!”
“I may be a sorcerer, and know the twilit secrets of the wise, but I do not use my powers for ill.”
Pietro’s breath became erratic; his heart sped up and pounded hard in his chest. “What do you want from me?”
“The storm was of my making. I used my sorcery, though it stems from evil, for good,” said the ettin. “I am Hex. I brought you here, away from the black-hearted Lord Vexor, whose evil is unmatched in the world and in the whole of the universe; and not even hell can match the darkness of his heart. Gods save us.”
“What do you want from me?”
“I am Hex, son of Jinxor, who is brother of Vexor. I want to tell you what you must do. If you do what you must do, I will spirit you away back to the city of your birth and you will see your kin. My sorcery may be evil, but I use it for good. I may be an ettin, but I do not act like one.”
“What must I do?”
“When my race came to these shores, we did not understand why they did not try to fight our ships. We saw they were here, and we killed them all and ate them. Their god, Jhub-El, was in the flesh. We killed him too. We did not understand them; we ate them, and we killed their god and cut him into a hundred pieces.
“We didn’t understand the people of Molkoro. They did not fight us. They offered us food. We thought they were stupid because they offered food and did not fight us, so we killed them: We killed them and ate them, and cut their god into a hundred pieces.”
“Now Lord Vexor reigns from his citadel in the great town called Ettin Town. What he does not want you to know is that we cut up Jhub-El into a hundred pieces – and ate his people – but his power still remains. His power blocks our sorcery, even my sorcery. But although my sorcery is evil, I use it for good. Gods save us.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Out of the souls of the ten hundred thousand people of Molkoro which we killed – we killed them and ate them, gods save us – I have forged a cloak with my sorcery. My sorcery is evil, but I use it for good; gods save us. The cloak makes the wearer invisible. Off you must go, boy, to Ettin Town. And where the stairs run down, there you must go, and ascend the great stair to the palace of Lord Vexor.
“For you see, you are pure of heart. You have never killed, though people have told you to, and it was a personal choice; and we ettins think you are stupid because you do not kill. You must reawaken Jhub-El’s power, and kill Vexor. Kill Vexor and the rest of my kind, and all of ettins’ seed, and I will spirit you back to your home city with my sorcery. My sorcery is evil, but I use it for good. Gods save us, gods help us.”
“I couldn’t kill all those ettins.”
“How do I get there?”
“I will spirit you there. My sorcery is—”
“I know!” Pietro howled. “It’s evil, but you use it for good. You’ve said that so many times!”
The huge creature proffered the invisible cloak, looking like a mime. Pietro grabbed the cloak and fitted it over himself. He would go and face his fears, because Hex would spirit him back to his city.
“I am the only good ettin,” said Hex, “and I will destroy my race because there is only one of us who is good. Go, pure one, you will not be a sacrifice for black-hearted Lord Vexor; you will be his end. I will spirit you away.
“My sorcery is evil, but I use it for good.”
There was blood on the cobbled streets of Ettin Town, Pietro noticed as he walked through the massive gate.
Yet it was the ettins themselves that unnerved Pietro the most and sent his heart racing. Unlike Hex, their evil was something you could almost feel. They were not the fair giants who lived in the northeastern mountains of the Empire. Their heads were small, sometimes too small for their bodies; and some ettins had two heads. Even though Pietro was safe within the folds of the ten-hundred-thousand-soul cloak, he had to fight the urge to flee. But he steeled himself, remembering the ten-hundred-thousand who had died and been eaten, all because of the ettins-from-beyond-the-sea.