Sunday, June 2, 2013

Crawling Giants

There are giants in the earth.  And worms, too.
They are not from this world.  They traveled here long ago by following lights in the ground.  Subterranean will-o-the-wisps that glowed with the baritone frequencies of longwave light.  Even through thousands of feet of lithosphere, the dancing lights burned like torches in the tellurium retinas of the giants.  They still see them  sometimes, moving deep in the earth.  But the lights are elusive, and cannot be captured or approached.
So now the giants live here, although they do not belong here.  A fact that is as apparent to us as it is to them.  They are the vagabonds of the underworld.  They are the dispossessed.

I: The Ruddy Giant

You may come upon one sleeping.  Although it glides through the earth, it still needs air to breathe.  And so the giant will sleep with just the top half of his head above the ground.  His skin will be red and wet, like clay.  If it is a cold night, you will see steam rising from the top of surface of his bald head.  His ears will have involutions completely unlike human ears, and the lobes will be pendulous and spherical.  Flying insects will die by the hundreds during his inhalations, and his exhalations will flatten the grass beneath his nose.  His eyes will be closed and thickly-lidded.  And no other part of the giant will be visible above the ground.
You may wake the giant.  The traditional way is to pour water on him.  And if you do, his eyes will flick open.  In the strange half-seconds before he is fully awake, his eyes will form within their sockets, like an activated CRT monitor that must laboriously conjure up an electric image.  The pupils will be tangled skeins of ice.  And although nearly all of his body is buried beneath the ground, his eyes will be the same level as yours.  He is a giant, after all.
That is one giant.  Here is another.

II: The Melancholy Giant

This giant is an unhappy one.  He travels the lonely miles between the coasts, muttering curses as he slides through the earth.  When he finds a span of wildflowers, he entombs them, leaving a field of mud.  When he encounters cattle, he will pull one or two of them underground to eat later.  When he finds homesteads, he swims beneath their house and puts his ear up to the basement floor.  If the people seem as miserable as him, he smirks and leaves.  If the people seem happy and loving, he rolls his eyes and collapses the foundation of their house.  These sort of things don't make the giant any happier, but they need to be done.
He sometimes leaves corpses in the ground, hoping that the mangle worms will visit him.  But they can smell his desperation, and they stay away.
The melancholy giant is easily angered.  When all the cows escape him, or when men attempt to fight back against him, he will grow wrathful.  Traveling through the ground is slow, slow.  A snake could slither faster above the ground than he does below it.  So he will go above the ground, where his fists can pulp slow farmers and cows can be cornered in their pens.
Because the crawling giants cannot stand up.
Their bones are not strong enough for their frame.  Standing upright causes them terrific pain in their legs and joints.  When they walk, they walk upon knives.  And so they crawl.  
They push their ponderous heads through the tree lines.  They leave troughs instead of footprints.  They stand rarely, and then only to get better view of distant things.  When they must travel a long ways quickly, they will wait for the sun to set before emerging on the surface, where they will begin crawling, noisily and heavily.  They spend time on the surface, resting, foraging, sitting, surveying, and drinking from rivers.  And when they thrust out their nose and eyes to refill their lungs, sometimes they linger, blinking at the blinding moon and watching the clouds crawl across the sky.

III: The Wise Giant

Because the crawling giants are not subterranean creatures, not really, no.  They have been driven underground by our gravity, which hangs upon them like a leaden blanket, and by our hot sun, which dries the moist skin of their tender heads.  
They are not evil, though they are melancholy.  Hardship drives any creature towards moral apathy.  And they are not dumb, though they are brutes.  They have lived long, traveled far, and seen much.  Some of them even function as sages.
The third giant we must visit is a wise giant, who lives in a cave in a hill.  If he is brought gifts, he can be persuaded to share his knowledge with you.  He appreciates hot wine, cold food, and interesting bits of news.  However, his appetite for these things is tremendous.  A pool of wine, a wagon of food, or several days of chatting would satisfy him.
His cave is a mess.  He cannot make a home out of objects made for creatures a tenth of his size.  He crawls through his home like a man crawls through an air duct.

IV: The Mangle Worm

Lastly, we must mention the mangle worms, which hail from the same home world and frequently haunt the same hills.  
They are called mangle worms even though their form is unknown, since they flee from the sight of men.  They do not breathe air, or if they do, they do it through subtler methods than the giants.  When asked what the worms look like, or even if they are worms at all, the giants grow uneasy and evasive.  Sometimes they describe them as hairy.  Or they may even describe them as dogs with sharp tongues.  It is very possible that the giants themselves do not know what the mangle worms look like.  "Hairy dogs with sharp tongues?"  That's the level of impression you might get of an animal that has nuzzled you under the bedsheets on a couple of nights.
The mangle worms, whatever they are, are both the companions and the predators of the crawling giants.  When they are companions, they are untamed companions, for the crawling giants have no walls beneath the earth.  The mangle worms visit and depart as they please, often following the ebb and flow of food.  And when the mangle worms are predators, they are savage ones.  If you ever come across a bloodied giant sitting on a section of stone in the center of a field of churned mud, you will know what has transpired.  And you had best join him swiftly, for there are mangle worms about, and they are hungry. 
Men have their wolves, giants have their worms.
Mangle worms prey on men, too.  In some locations, where a pack of mangle worms has settled, this predation can be viciously successful.
This is how a mangle worm kills a man:
It pulls him underground.  If the man has companions or is strong of body, the worm will not be able to pull him fully beneath the earth.  This is not a problem for the worm.  The mangle worms have the same power over soil as the giants do. For the unfortunate man, it is like sinking in water but struggling up through dirt.  Unless he can exhume his legs quickly, the worm will begin eating him.
This is how a mangle worm eats a man:
It will split open the legs and suck out the bones.  It can remove all of a man's legbones and hips in less than a minute.  What's left over is a shredded mess of torn flesh.  Most of the pieces will remain buried unless dug for.  Those that survive often lose a foot. Survivors can attest that whatever the worms are, they most certainly have teeth.
Most people agree that the mangle worms eat the bones.  It seems a reasonable assumption.
The worms will try to prey on sleeping men, as well.  But they are loud when they move beneath the earth, and it is not hard to hear them coming on a quiet night, if one knows what to listen for.  For this reason, most of their successful attacks occur when they can position themselves in front of a traveler, and ambush him as he walks overhead.
They are not fast.  You can outrun them.  Loud noises and stomping are more likely to drive them off than attract them.  They've already heard you anyway.  They're a bit like wolves in that regard.
In areas where they are common, the dead are buried in stone coffins or, more commonly, sealed in tombs or public catacombs.  The dead must also be cleared from battlefields quickly.  If they are not driven away by the noise, greedy mangleworms will bury every single body to be eaten at their leisure.  There are many fields with a fortune in armor and weapons buried about six feet beneath the grass.  Although the field can be excavated at great expense, the cheaper alternative is simply to hire a crawling giant to retrieve the sunken gear.  Slightly cheaper, anyway.  Three cartloads of cold potato casserole isn't free.

V: Explanations

Crawling giants are unlike other giants.  They are alien; don't compare them to other giants.  Their physiology is different.  Their internal organs are different.  They are usually slightly more than 100 feet tall and weigh about 350 tons.  ]
They are wanderers on this world, but not others.  If they have had any special method of traversing the dimensions, it has been forgotten.  Their home world has produced the crawling giants, the mangle worms, and nothing else (that is known).  Dirt has a watery consistency within a couple of inches of their skin, and so the giants kick their legs to move through the underground, like swimmers in slow motion.  They dirt that they leave behind has a tangled consistency, like knotted bedhseets made from sandstone.  Pieces of it are called crawlstone, and are it is sometimes dug up and sold as art.
The giants are perfectly happy subsisting on grains and grasses.  When they want meat (because meat is tasty) they park themselves near watering holes and deer paths and grab whatever comes nearby.  People have a hard time fighting back against the crawling giants because (1) it's hard to hurt things that are underground, and (2) they will collapse your houses if you piss them off.