When the Court King told her she’d have to slay a giant to save her mother’s life, Lara knew it would be difficult, but staring into its bulbous eyes, she felt her resolve trickle down her leg and pool around her feet.
The giant sat on the ground before her, leaning on its elbows to get a better look at the child. Its face was three times as tall as her whole body, and every one of its breaths was like a wind. She adjusted her grip on her kitchen knife—it was iron, the only thing that could harm any of the Good Folk, but also the only sharp utensil she owned. She’d slipped it out of the house that morning—though why the secrecy, she couldn’t say; it’s not as if her mother would have suddenly found the strength to get out of bed and make sure she hadn’t done anything stupid. Like pay a visit to the Court King himself and make a bargain for her mother’s life.
Well, try to threaten him into healing her. That was what the knife had been for.
“Sweet, vicious child,” he’d giggled as he wiped away tears, “I admire your brazenness. And because I find you so endearing, Lara, I will grant you a boon. If you go to the giant in the east, carve out the Face that Sees a Thousand Paths from his crown and bring it to me, I shall save your mother’s life.”
She’d hoped he’d meant a literal crown.
Lara clenched the knife between her teeth and began to climb up the giant’s body. It hardly seemed to notice her; she was like a flea. She reached its hairline, and from there she could easily reach the gleaming, silvery face buried in its fleshy forehead.
It can’t be harder than skinning a goat, and with that thought she began to cut away the scar tissue. It came off easily, in long strips that sizzled from the touch of iron, but the face was buried deeper than that.
She’d have to cut into the meat.
With the first slice, the giant’s blood gushed out in a steaming burst, slicking her arms and making it impossible to see where the silver face was. The giant howled and threw its head forward into its hands, nearly sending her flying. Desperately holding onto the slippery knife, she hacked wildly, trying to finish the job quickly. She’d hoped she could do it without actually having to kill the giant, but it was bleeding so heavily that already it was too late. The giant thrashed its head from side to side, bellowing worse than an injured horse, and she had to move quickly back into its thick, long hair to avoid being squashed by one of its enormous hands.
Now its huge, fat fingers were pressed hard against its wound. She took a deep, steadying breath, and stabbed them as deeply as she could. Screeching, the giant took its hand away, and she rushed to pry the Face that Sees a Thousand Paths out of its bleeding flesh. She wiggled the knife in until it was buried up to the hilt and began to slice beneath the face until it was half falling off. She didn’t actually have to do much—the giant was flailing around so hard that it was doing all the work for her. As long as she kept one hand on a lock of its hair, and the other on the knife, its jerks would make all the cuts for her.
The silver face fell to the ground with a dull plunk. A mess of pink fluids spouted from the giant’s forehead as it crashed to the earth. The force of it was enough to throw Lara off, and, screaming, she landed with a splash.
After a time, she got up from the shallow pond of blood and cranial fluid to find the face she’d killed for. She found it some ways off, staring at her pointedly, floating just enough to keep its nose up. Strangely enough, it was still gleaming silver, clean as the first moment she’d seen it.
She picked it up by its ear.
“You twice-damned thing.” She wished she knew more powerful curses than that. “You see the future, don’t you? And you didn’t warn your giant. If you had, I wouldn’t be a killer now. I hate you.”
The Face looked her in the eye and said nothing. She fought the urge to be sick. Much as she loved her mother, much as she wanted her to be cured, she wondered if, now that she’d paid it, the price had been too steep.