When Wiremu rose, there was no mistaking the size of the Titan and Branch felt everything inside of him go limp and slack. He had faced off against a Giant before and he had even seen a dragon and felt like a pebble next to it, but this was something completely different. The dragon had been larger and it had been more impressive, but this was something terrifying, something primordial.
As the earth shook and the world began to melt around the side of the northern mountain, as if it had turned liquid and decided to slither down into the rocks below. The dust roiled and billowed all around and the monstrosity was hidden from sight in the consuming haze. Branch had never seen a Titan and knew next to nothing about it, but all he could think about was the fact that Katsu had claimed two things that seemed completely untrue to Branch right now as he watched it rise, a silhouette of immense proportions and staggering might unlike anything that he had ever encountered before.
The first thing that was completely untrue was that there were no trees on this island and it wasn’t recently that the trees had been cut down and rendered into whatever use the Vark had for them. The second thing that was wildly untrue was that this thing could ever be hidden behind a mass of trees. Why Katsu had thought the need to lie about these things was beyond Branch, but as the Titan rose, he couldn’t help but feel like he had been ill-equipped and completely delusional about killing this thing.
Its hand was larger than the ship that Katsu and his people had sailed on, easily. While it was coming out of the heart of the island, rising up between the two peaks, Branch though that it was sickly looking, starved almost. It was covered in rock and stone, taking form as Branch took a step back and looked over to Katsu. At the bow of the ship with the three iron cylinders were being prepared for whatever they could do. Branch hoped that it was a lot, because the Titan was shaking off the last of the rock and dust from its body and Branch couldn’t help but feel like this was the worst idea he’d ever had.
The Titan was something primordial, something ancient in the way that caves scared children or thunder drove people indoors. The way it moved and the way its body looked, gaunt and horrifying, but massive in its dimensions. Branch tried to understand what he was seeing, to comprehend how something like it could exist as it dripped the black ichor that would turn men into monsters, its horrid face turning to look at them, its eyes searching, full of fury and hatred, madness and scorn, looking to devour as slithering appendages writhed and wriggled before it’s jaws and mandibles stretched wide and unleashed a roar that they could have heard all the way back in Illythia.
“Oh shit,” Branch took another step back. “Tamati, make sure she gets out of here! If that stone thing works, you better make it happen quick.”
For a flashing second, Branch threw away his skepticism and his jaded logic that he saw the world with and he hoped that the girl might be right. He hoped that killing this thing would be as simple as placing a magical rock in the right place. The armor plates of the Tiitan’s skin shifted and moved and the multitude of appendages and claws made Branch truly hope it was that easy, because killing it was not going to be easy.
Tamati and Kaia were bolting down the black, sandy beach, heading for where the rock and the waters met, avoiding the gaze of the horrid abomination that had risen out of the earth. Branch let out a sigh, hoping that they would get to safety, that they would escape the gaze of the creatures’ many eyes as it turned and approached Branch, moving its hulking form that shattered great mounds of jagged rock formed by the belching magma from the sea. Where its legs moved, dust burst into the air and filled the sky, shrouding its lower body with a cloud that made Branch worried about what else might be lurking inside of that veil, besides the feet of a behemoth.
In the depths of Branch’s mind he could hear something, like the roaring of the sea as he stared at the enormous figure that moved closer and closer, diminishing the island’s size with mere footsteps. In the depths of the roar, the symphony of horrors that began to fill his mind, Branch could hear words, ancient when Humans first trekked across this world, words that were waiting for them when the first eyes beheld Illythia, before gods or men, these words had existed and Branch felt his soul shiver at the uttering of them in the depths of his mind.
“Bring it close!” Katsu shouted over the thunderous words that Branch did not know, that the Wind itself could not translate for him. “Bring it closer!”
Branch wasn’t sure how he was going to do that. How was he going to get something that massive to place its face right in front of Katsu? How was he going to be able to even communicate with a Titan? Clearly, it was attempting to reach out to him, but he didn’t have the capacity to understand it. So, he was running out of options.
“Branch,” a voice, forgotten and ancient shouted through the veil as the Titan ceased to move. Branch knew that it wasn’t possible, that it was beyond reason to expect that voice to be familiar. Was it desperation or hope that fueled the familiarity of Branch’s memory as he heard his name coming from the swirling cloud of dust and debris, calling across the void as if an old friend calling to a lost friend.
The silhouette in the gray took form, hardening from the blur that approached Branch, crossing the beach and taking form of a Vark, but one that was dressed in familiar armor. The plates clanked over rusted mail which covered pale white skin, the skin that was different from the rest of the Vark. Time had not turned it from white to gray then from purple to inky black. This one was white, no matter how much time had passed, a revenant of a being long forgotten. His beard was gone and his black hair had fallen from his scarred scalp. His nose was missing and his lips were gnawed into oblivion, revealing fanged, yellow teeth and eyes that were wide and framed in pools of purple flesh, hidden in the shade of his winged helmet, tarnished around the edges and in the creases with rust.
“I thought you’d never leave that island,” Berrus’ shade twitched as the Varguine tried its hardest to remain human before his ancient brother-in-arms. “I thought the witch had done you in once and for all.”
“Me too,” Branch said. “Never even knew I’d been bested.”
“A foolish move,” Berrus said, turning to look up at the Titan that had halted while its herald spoke to the challenger. “Even had you come, we were no match for the Titan. It was here when the world formed, before the seas brimmed with life and before the forests took root. Its kindred were waiting, protecting this world from invaders, brigands, and plunderers. We never stood a chance, Branch.”
“So I see,” Branch pointed to Berrus. “You’ve got a new look. Still can recognize you in there Berrus. You think Tettie will be able to recognize you?”
“Tettie’s bones are dust,” Berrus twitched at the name of his long dead wife. “I honor her with my service for the greater good. I ask you this once, Branch. Leave this island or be destroyed. I know what you are and so does the Titan. I do not wish to see you perish.”
“This thing has to die, Berrus,” Branch said. “Tell that big bastard to bring its face down here so I can get a good look at it. I want to look my foe in the eyes before I kill him.”
Berrus took a step forward, his hand gripping an ancient, rusty sword as he glared at Branch with fiery, yellow eyes, the madness filling him tried to break free of this moment of fragile lucidity amidst the sea of insanity that roiled within his brain. Branch wasn’t sure it would work, but seeing Berrus didn’t unnerve him. It only made him feel more confident in the fact that the Titan had to die. He didn’t know how he was going to kill it or how long it would take for him to kill the thing, but he was going to do it. He was going to avenge Berrus and all of the others.
“He will meet with you,” Berrus said, turning to look at the Titan whose primordial words filled Branch’s mind with loud, horrid noises. “But you will die.”
The Titan began to move, the haze of the dust clouding its features, but he could see the monstrous head peering down at him, its eyes hidden but its gaze was oppressive, like a scorching sun bearing down amidst a drought. Branch stared back up at the Titan and met its stare, certain that this was how he was going to die. It was a good way to die. He had fought many enemies and he had faced impossible odds a number of times, but this was going to do it for him. There was no surviving this one. He reached down and pulled two of the thin, curved blades from his bark, holding them in one hand. Slinging Tamati’s weapon over his back, vines sprouting to embrace it across his back, Branch took the two swords and readied himself. Berrus raised his sword, even in his hellish state, his immense training and knowledge didn’t leave him. He held it as he had for hundreds of years before being turned into the enemy he hated.
“Is Mirella on the island, like you?” Branch asked him as the Titan’s massive clawed hand slammed into the beach to his right, bracing the ancient terror as it lowered its massive force. “Or did she die in the battle?”
Berrus’ destroyed lips twisted into a grotesque attempt of a smile and his cruel eyes narrowed. “The coward bitch abandoned us. She ran away when we were overrun. I hope the sea claimed her.”
Branch frowned as the other hand slammed into the beach and Branch closed his eyes, gripping the swords as the face of the horror slammed down over him, plunging him into darkness and a world of teeth, black ichor, and vicious stench. Branch opened his eyes, barely seeing anything, but he moved face, sinking his swords into the tongues that wriggled and slammed against him, trying to wrap around him like sentient tentacles, but he wouldn’t give into them. He stabbed and climbed, moving deeper and deeper into the Titan’s mouth, pushing for the back of the throat.
Beyond the fleshy, armored head of the Titan, something burst like thunder and Branch could feel the sharp crack and the meaty impact of something rippling through the creature as a pained, guttural groan of agony crawled out of the throat that Branch was climbing towards, tearing and sinking his blades, pulling and pushing against the tongues as he forced his way back. The Titan was recoiling and another muffled crack reverberated through the bones and flesh of the gigantic maw and the same meaty explosion rippled, but this time it was deeper, as if it had hit the neck of the monstrosity. It was pained and distracted and Branch used it to his advantage, working his swords like picks to climb a mountainside, forcing his way back to the depth of the creature’s mouth and gazing down the humid darkness of its throat.
Deep in the creature’s neck, Branch could see light, opening and closing like an eye of sunlight as the creature moved and Branch situated himself to climb down the creature’s throat toward the light, sinking his blades into the back of the creature’s throat and slowly sliding downward, slicing open the creature’s throat as he made his descent. The creature screamed in agony, barking viciously as the creature’s body swayed back and forth. There was another booming crack and the creature screamed in agony as Branch’s whole world began to slant and shift.
The Titan’s throat was enormous, easily large enough for a man to slip down into oblivion, but Branch summoned the energy he had and let his roots and vines anchor him to the inside of the creature’s throat. There was no killing this thing from the outside. Even with Katsu’s weapons, it was too armored, too immense to withstand anything that they could throw at them. He had to kill it form the inside. The eye of light opened and closed slightly, black ichor spilling out around the rip in the creature’s throat. Branch stabbed the two swords into the back of the creature’s throat, summoning more of the agonizing barks from deep inside the creature as hot wind rushed past Branch.
Pulling Tamati’s weapon free, Branch closed his eyes and prayed a little prayer, hoping that this would work. He didn’t have any other plans up his sleeve at this time, no more tricks, no more skills. It was this or be digested by a massive monster for only the gods knew how long. Kissing the wooden side of the saw-bladed club, Branch forced the edge of the weapon into the eye of light, twisting and pushing, tearing and hacking as he made his way through the creature’s meaty neck and began to saw. The creature screamed in agony and roared as Branch screamed against the hot hurricane that rushed up against him, trying to force him from the creature’s throat, but Branch’s roots and vines pushed into the creature’s flesh, sinking deep and holding him strong.
The Titan’s throat began to twitch and constrict, the slick, viscous walls closing in on him and trying to force him upward. Branch held strong and continued to saw, continued working his arms back and forth, ripping the creature’s neck open, fighting to exploit the opening that Katsu had given him. Branch was certain that Katsu was dead at this point, overrun by whatever Vark were left or crushed by the Titan which kept swaying and churning. Branch couldn’t even tell what was up and down at this point. Branch only knew one thing: keep sawing.
The black glass shards retained their edge and Branch felt the hours passing by as he ripped open the creature. It stopped flailing and it stopped roaring aft Branch ripped open a third of the chamber that he was stuck in and what he was sawing through now was thicker and meatier, more sinew and muscle as Branch felt the exhaustion overcome him, but he kept sawing,
When the Titan plummeted onto the beach, it was still alive, groaning in agony and writhing slowly, but Branch gave it no respite, no mercy. He continued sawing until he felt bone and then started on the other side. Sunlight faded into twilight and Branch continued sawing as his world flooded with the burning black ichor of the beast. When he was done, the Titan had stopped groaning and moaning for hours now, but when Branch met the bone from the other side, he continued sawing around the vertebrae until the creature’s head ripped free and Branch emerged from the corpse of the dead Titan where the crabs and seabirds had already started exploring.
Climbing over the armored plates of the Titan’s skin, Branch stepped out into the cold air of the night and lifted his arms and the club, roaring at the top of his lungs at the heavens, letting the gods of old see what he had done. He shook his club and kept roaring, challenging any remaining Vark to come for him, to come and test him again.
But no one came. No challenger emerged from the island and the only sound that Branch could hear was the splashing of Katsu coming down from the shattered ruins of the ship that he had been standing on. The Titan had slammed one of its great, clawed fist down on the bow and destroyed it, but that was where Katsu had stood his ground, slicing through the Vark who would wade through the water to face him. He was wounded and limping, but he was still alive.
Branch jumped down off of the Titan’s back into the water and stepped back as he watched the water of the ocean turn black from the ichor coming out of the severed head and neck of the dead Titan. Branch sloshed through the water, his roots and vines retracting and falling off as he dipped into the salt water and tried to clean himself off the best he could in the black water. He waded as far as he could to get to clear water and watched as Katsu made it to the beach, staring in awe and horror at the dead Titan. Branch dunked himself in the water again and again, washing off the burning blood of the Titan until he surfaced and made his way back to the beach.
“You made it,” Branch clapped the Shinobi on the shoulder.
“You killed it,” Katsu shook his head. “I was certain that I would die. I was certain that I would only find peace in death. How did you know that would work?”
“I didn’t,” Branch shook his head.
Katsu grinned at that and shook his head in dazed confusion that he was part of this. Branch was feeling pretty incredible as well. This was going to be one of those stories that Branch wouldn’t be able to tell anyone, because no one was going to believe him. No one was going to believe that he had cut a monster the size of a mountain’s head off from the inside, sawing for hours and hours until he decapitated the bastard. Besides, there were only a handful of people in Illythia that even knew Titans were a thing. So for now, Branch placed his hands on his knees as he leaned over and laughed hysterically with Katsu, staring at the many eyes with half closed eyelids, lifeless and gazing into the Ether. Slowly, the muscle and the flesh of the Titan began to melt, letting the black ichor seep into the heart of the world.
It was then that they heard the pained bleating of the goat as it stumbled out of the brittle grass, bleeding and pierced with three arrows. Branch turned his head and looked at it as the creature collapsed.
“Shit,” he said, standing up straight.