Previous: Chapter 8, “Sleep Mode”
A face emerged from the concrete, hideous and craggy. The rest of the troll’s body, gnarled with masses of muscle and flesh, emerged after. It stepped onto the path, blocking Sand and Val’s way.
“Dinner!” it said in a voice like rocks breaking.
“You have a lot of trolls in this area?” Sand asked.
“Not usually. These bridges don’t often attract them,” Val replied tersely.
“Less talk. More eat.” The troll licked its chops and ripped a club from the carcass of a convenient fallen tree.
Val stepped in front of Sand. With a fluid gesture, he drew a massive sword of light out of a stray sunbeam. The sword shimmered like the aurora and Val held it with a deadly ease that spake of long practice.
“We’d give you indigestion,” Val said to the troll. “Best wait for food that’ll be a bit easier on your system.”
The troll sniffed loudly. Its face contorted in puzzlement.
“Little man smells like giant and valkyrie. Why little man smell like frost and pretty lady?”
“Why troll no step aside?” Val ignored the troll’s question and took a step forward.
Sand watched the confrontation silently, his fingers flexing slightly each time the troll shifted.
“Lady-man smell tasty.” The troll’s face took on a cunning look. “But not so tasty as that one.” The troll pointed to Sand. “Lady-man can go free if pay troll with that.”
“The tasty one is not valid currency,” Sand said.
“That not what shining lord say.” The troll’s eyes narrowed slyly. “Shining lord say this good place to get good eats. Shining lord right.”
“Shining lord did, did he?” Sand scowled. “Val, be careful. The troll’s going to have some sort of trick up his sleeve. The Dreamlords are testing me—us—before granting audience.”
“Heroic trial sort of thing?” Val nodded. “I’m familiar.”
“This is a bit of an unusual choice for them, but it looks like they were expecting I’d have help.”
“No help for you now,” the troll grunted. “Know smell. Smell good. Taste better.”
The troll raised its club and slammed it too the ground.
“Pay troll now!” it roared. “Or both lady-man and tasty-one dinner!”
“I think not,” Val replied and lunged at the troll, his blade dancing lightly before him.
The troll smashed the sword out of the way easily.
Sand made a curious grasping gesture toward the troll’s head and pulled his arm back.
Sand swore. The Dreamlord had given the troll some modicum of protection. He’d have to get creative.
Val ducked and wove, narrowly evading the crushing blows from the troll’s club. The big creature was fast, uncannily so.
“Trolls aren’t this fast!” Val protested to Sand.
“I told you there’d be some sort of unwelcome surprise!” Sand yelled back.