The following was originally written about five years ago for the “Wake-up Muse” blog that my wife, and I were running at the time. This short piece was meant as a lead-in to an urban fantasy novel I wanted to write. I’ve never taken it beyond these few pages. But I’ve never forgotten about it, either.
What do you all think? Should I work on the full novel as time permits? Or is this not worth the effort? Let me know!
Troll stench polluted the air around the bridge. It was a marked contrast to the clear blue sky and bright sunshine.
Zaria’s nose wrinkled involuntarily and her hand crept toward the handle of the hunting knife on her belt. Vladislava’s grip on her wrist stopped her.
“Vee?” Zaria asked.
“They’re here,” her sister whispered, their native Russian accent heavy in her words. The telltale sign gave away Vladislava’s trepidation.
Zaria nodded. “I know they’re here; I can smell them. Let me draw my blade.”
“No. We can’t risk being seen.”
Pointing at the rickety, decades-old train trestle, Zaria said, “We’re the only humans around for miles, but we’re right on top of a den. Trolls are dumb, but they’re strong and can move quickly; especially the young ones.”
Vladislava replied in a semi-mocking tone. “I know these things, sister. Like you, I have been dealing with them all of my life—first training; later hunting and killing them.”
Zaria inclined her head fractionally, awarding her sister the point. “We were sent here to America by Father to eliminate this band.”
“Because of tight security brought on by fear of terrorism, it is harder to get firearms in this country now. They have hidden cameras everywhere to monitor everything, also. A knife is not the ideal weapon to use on a troll, sister, but it is what we have. Keep the blades hidden for as long as we can in case we are being monitored, though.”
Vladislava began picking her way down the side of the steep, overgrown ravine which the trestle spanned. Zaria sighed and moved with her, mindful of where she placed the soles of her hardy boots. One misstep could send her tumbling to the bottom of the gorge.
On top of the basic need for personal safety, there was the den to consider. Every step took them closer to the hidden place. Each moment, the putrid, rotten stench grew stronger. Despite twenty years’ worth of training and indoctrination into their family’s centuries-old profession of troll-hunting, neither of them grew accustomed to the smell.
They finally reached the floor of the ravine. Zaria watched her sister tighten her long, glossy, dark ponytail. Vladislava motioned to her and Zaria did the same. When they were attacked—repeated similar situations in the past had taught her that it would be “when” and not “if”—having her hair in her face would be a serious detriment. She gave her sister a thumbs-up and moved her hand to her knife once again.
Zaria moved to stand back-to-back with her sister. She saw that Vladislava now had a hand on her own weapon. Together, they scanned the landscape around them. Zaria sniffed the air and heard Vladislava doing the same behind her. They turned in unison, moving in a slow, tight circle.
The heightened smell struck Zaria’s sinuses a physical blow. She winced and lifted her free hand to try and block the stench. “Got it,” she whispered to Vladislava.
She felt her sister look over her shoulder. “Where?”
Keeping silent, Zaria reluctantly moved her hand from her nose. She pointed. Vladislava nodded and looked around again.
Zaria focused on the direction of the strongest odor. The den had to be in that direction somewhere—probably very close.
“Let’s go,” Vladislava quietly instructed her after several moments.
Attempting to walk without rustling the dry scrub-brush that cluttered the ground was futile. They settled for shuffling their feet slowly, pausing every few steps to try and spot the den or any sign of ambush.
Zaria almost missed the expertly camouflaged entrance. Ground scrub had been uprooted and placed at the base of the narrow entrance. The weeds were carefully placed upright so as not to appear pulled up. Loose shale and gravel lay around the area, further concealing the bare roots and rendering the soil less likely to accept a footprint. A small tree leaned to one side, toward the opening, and its leafy branches all but covered what the scrub did not. She took a slightly deeper breath and gagged.
Vladislava pointed to the den entrance. Zaria nodded and slipped her knife free of its sheath. She took great care not to make a sound. At her side, Vladislava did likewise. Naked blades gripped with expert casualness, they eased their way into the den.
Darkness met them, broken only by the thread of natural illumination allowed in through the partially-cleared entrance. Zaria motioned for Vladislava to wait. Both removed small LED flashlights and goggles from their pockets. When activated, the flashlights washed the way ahead with infrared light, which the goggles detected. Zaria peered around the cave, shaded tones of red in her eyewear.
“We’re safe here,” she whispered to her sister. “They won’t risk getting so close to the entrance—and the sunlight—during the day.”
Vladislava indicated a sharp turn in the narrow cavern ahead. “Once we round that bend,” she answered, voice low, “they’ll come at us.”
Zaria nodded and led the way.
The instant she stepped around the turn, the troll rushed her. It came up waist-height to her, squat and lean. Its long body hair and warty, bulbous features were defined in shades and highlights of red. Zaria set her jaw and met the enemy as she had been taught.
When the troll leapt at her, she stepped into the airborne attack, reaching for her opponent. Suppressing the urge to gag, she grabbed the troll in both arms and slid her blade along the creature’s side. It loosed a warbling shriek as she turned, tossing it around the bend and following it.
Vladislava stepped aside, allowing Zaria to stay with her nemesis.
Zaria kicked the wounded troll, sending it rolling toward the den entrance—directly into the streamers of sunlight that found their way through the camouflage that had been disturbed when the sisters entered.
The troll’s cries turned to high-pitched wailing that mingled mortal terror and agonizing pain. It tried to scramble clear of the killing rays, but moved slower by the millisecond. Its coarse, matted hair and dark, lumpy flesh steamed and lightened, hardening. Within moments, the troll became a calcified stone replica of itself.
Zaria exchanged a quick look and a nod with her sister before they proceeded around turn once more. Each held her blade ready to parry the next attack.
They made their way unimpeded to another bend. After another shared nod, Zaria slipped around it. She cursed at the sight before her.
Suspended upright, in midair a couple of inches above the ground, was a disc of blazing light. The color struck Zaria as odd, no matter how many times she saw it. It was silver in its depths, but appeared to be covered by a purple translucence. The backsides of two more trolls vanished into the light and were gone.
“We got one of them,” Vladislava commented in a normal speaking voice.
“One of how many?” Zaria shot back.
“We’ll never know.”
Zaria removed a metal-sheathed electronics pack the size of a card deck from her hip pocket. Flipping open a little rectangular hatch, she pushed the power switch. A rising whine sounded from the device. She gave it a toss into the coruscating disc into which the trolls had used to arrive—and escape.
She and Vladislava half-turned from the portal and lifted an arm each to shield their eyes. One second later a brilliant flash of golden luminescence overwhelmed the cramped cavern. It blinked out almost as soon as it appeared, taking the energy portal with it.
“Next one is mine,” Vladislava declared. She nudged Zaria playfully in the ribs.
Zaria glowered around the cavern, knife in hand.
“They’re gone,” Vladislava told her, growing serious again. “You killed one. The others started to flee, I’m sure, the instant they heard that one dying.”
“As soon as we’re out of here,” Zaria said, still scanning the cave with her infrared light, “we need to call Father.”
“Yes, we have success to report.”
Zaria turned to stare at her. “Success? Out of an entire band—we don’t even know how many there were—we dispatched one. The rest got away!”
“We closed the gateway. That’s something.”
“Too little,” Zaria muttered, disgusted. She stormed off, back toward the entrance.
Vladislava followed, saying, “Father will understand.”
Reaching the dead troll, Zaria used the sole of her boot to shove it outside. Going out after it as she removed her goggles, she said, “He trained us better. As far as I’m concerned, we failed today.”
She found a stone the size of a large brick and pocketed her flashlight and goggles. Kneeling, she hefted the rock and stood. She lifted the heavy weight as high as she could and then dropped it on the dead troll.
Its petrified body blew apart in a cloud of fragments and dust. Zaria picked up the rock again and systematically pulverized anything that still held a recognizable shape. It was what they had been trained to do. The last thing they wanted was for someone to find some definable piece, and begin asking questions.
Casting her gaze over the unrecognizable remains, Zaria said, “We will call Father. We will tell him of our failure here today. We will inform him that an unknown number of trolls escaped back to their world and they know a pair of hunters was here.”
Vladislava gaped at her. “You do not want to return home?”
Zaria put her hands on her slim hips, angry. “How can we? There is a sizeable city near here. When the trolls return, they will threaten that township.”
Vladislava whispered, “You are right; we must stay.”
They retraced their steps to the point where they descended into the ravine.
“When we reach the car, I will call Father,” Zaria said. “Afterward, we will go to the city and begin exploring our new home.”
“We will need some kind of cover—jobs or something.”
“I already have an idea about that. Come; I’ll tell you on the way to town.”