Lyncon entered the village with his sword drawn, baring the blue-grey blade. The village was deathly quiet, not a creature stirred while even the wind seemed absent, instead the air feeling heavy with foreboding. Lyncon moved cautiously forward, treading lightly while his eye flitted from one spot to the next. Beside him, Vanhelm sensed it too and sniffed the air, his tail stilled.
Scanning his surroundings Lyncon noted obvious signs of recent destruction. One of the small houses had part of its thatched roof caved in leaving a yawning hole open to the heavens. On the road before him, a cart lay on its side, half smashed with a wheel missing and surrounded by broken planks now little more than kindling. Further along a wall had been toppled, the stones now strewn haphazardly amongst a blooming flower bed.
Venturing deeper into the village, the werewarg stopped and squatted at a set of footprints in the mud. The prints were large and rounded, driven deep by the weight of the owner. Though humanoid, with four distinct toes at the front of an almost circular foot, they could never have been made by people. Following the trail with his eyes, the prints meandered through the village from one patch of devastation to the next before disappearing from view behind one of the buildings. He traced one of the prints gently with his finger, feeling the wet mud against his skin. The tracks were fresh, recent. He rose slowly before clearing his throat and addressing the empty village.
“It’s safe. You can come out now.” For emphasis, he sheathed his sword.
For a while nothing happened, the stillness remained undisturbed, but then a door swung open and two men cautiously stepped out from one of the larger huts. Both were armed and eyed Lyncon with open hostility. They approached slowly before stopping several paces away, at a distance they thought safe. In reality, Lyncon could have covered that distance in little more than a second but he remained still, respecting their caution.
“That yer beast?” The elder of the two asked. He nodded to Vanhelm, the big dog sitting patiently at Lyncon’s heel.
“Careful who you call beast, elder. This is Vanhelm, my friend, and he will not hurt you unless you give him reason to.” Lyncon immediately regretted his words as both men tightened their grips on the rusted swords they held. Both men were clearly terrified and he did not wish to fuel that further. He raised his hands for peace. “Please, we mean you no harm. In fact I think we can help you.” He gestured to the ruin around them. “It seems that you have a troll problem.”
Both men’s eyes widened in shock and the older one's sword dropped almost to the floor. “How did ya know that?” he stammered.
“The tracks, I’ve seen their type before. Troll footprints are easily distinguishable.”
The old man nodded slowly. “Is true, the beast did all ye see here.” Tears suddenly began to well at the corner of his eyes. “T’was terrible. It came down from the mountainside and attacked our homes. It took our chil...”
“Enough pa!” the younger man snapped abruptly. His face was still cold, eyes watchful and guarded. “That is enough.” He laid his hand on his father’s shoulder, gently squeezing it. “Who are you stranger, who knows so much about trolls?”
He smiled reassuringly. “My name is Lyncon.”
The man did not look convinced. “Lyncon who? Round these parts family name is important. It carries weight.”
“Of course. I was once told my family name was Baneswood but I doubt that is right. In truth, I have no family name or family to bear one.”
“No family? Then where are you from, Lyncon?”
“Nowhere. I travel.” He shrugged. “It is all part of being a militios.”
At this the old man’s mouth fell open and he began to speak but his son once again cut him off. “A mercenary?”
He nodded. “I prefer the old term but yes. I travel and lend my help and my blade to any that need it.”
“And that pay you?”
“Of course. Nothing in this world is free. I also happen to specialise in killing monsters” He looked to the old man. “You said the troll took something from you? What was it?”
The man was about to reply when he caught sight of his son’s glare and immediately stopped, instead staring down at his feet.
The son stepped closer; his face was blank but his eyes watchful. “Forgive me, sir, but this seems most fortuitous. A troll attacks our village and then, as if conjured by magic, a monster killing militios appears to save the day. No doubt you will ask a heavy price for your services. It seems awfully fortunate for you.”
Lyncon smiled at the man’s suspicions. He was not the first to question Lyncon’s timely appearance at an hour of need and he would surely not be the last. The truth of it was that most people didn’t realise just how many monsters there were in the world and that, by simply travelling around in areas they were often found, Lyncon would usually stumble across work without much effort. No need for magic when experience would do just fine.
“It seems to me like it is you who is fortunate. I was merely passing, on my way south from the Choker after dealing with a rogue pack of Rockjaws that were terrorising a village not too dissimilar to this one.”
Both men froze and he saw a glint of admiration spark in their hard, grey eyes. News clearly travelled fast in the mountains.
“That was you?” asked the son. “You killed the Rockjaws attacking High Cleft?” When Lyncon nodded the villager paused before slowly sheathing his sword. Behind him, his father followed suit.
The son stepped closer and offered a hand. “Apologies, friend, I believe I misjudged you. My name is Brant Rollo and the old crock behind me is my father, Claude. We heard news of what you did with the Rockjaws, helped a lot of people. I hope you can do the same for us.”
Lyncon gave the man’s hand a firm shake and smiled. “As do I, Brant.”
“Please come inside. We can talk there.” He turned to his father. “Tell the others it is safe to come out but don’t mention Lyncon here. No point in getting their hopes up of a saviour without first agreeing a deal with the man.” The old man nodded and waddled away.
Brant led Lyncon and Vanhelm inside the hut he had originally emerged from. The building was made of logs, roughly hewn and stacked together, topped with a thick thatched roof that looked like it had seen one too many winters. The inside was gloomy and cramped. What little furniture was present was plain but functional. Brant took a seat at the small wooden table and gestured for Lyncon to do the same. Vanhelm trotted over too and the villager eyed him anxiously.
“He won’t bite.” assured the werewarg as he sat.
Slowly, the villager lowered a hand and allowed the big dog to sniff and then lick his fingers. Grinning, he scratched the dog behind the ear and Vanhelm’s tail immediately began to thump rhythmically against the stone floor.
“The troll; how long has it been attacking?”
“Never before. This is the first time I have even seen one.” He shook his head in disbelief. “There have always been trolls, living higher up in the mountains. Occasionally you might hear ‘em roaring at each other or throwing boulders in fits of rage. Rarely do they venture this far down the slopes and when they do they stay away but this one...It came out o nowhere, full of rage, thrashing and bellowing in a noise loud as thunder. We ran inside, hid in our houses and bolted the doors but it was no good. You saw what the beast did, tore the roof clean off and just took what it wanted. Then it was gone.”
“What exactly did it want?” When his question was met with silence, Lyncon pressed on. “I can’t help you unless you tell me everything. Leaving out details will only slow me down or get someone hurt.”
With a sigh the villager relented. “It took the children.” He lowered his head, still absentmindedly scratching at Vanhelm’s ear.
“Three. Mrs Crenshaw’s young’uns, two brothers and a girl. Isabelle, she...she was only five.” His voice was thick and he quickly wiped at his face, turning away. His shoulders had slumped to the look of a man already resigned to the worst. Lyncon sat in silence, giving the man time.
When Brant finally looked up his cheeks were damp but his eyes had a fierce gleam to them. “That monster snatched them clean out of their own home, just plucked ‘em out and strode away while the rest of us watched, too scared to do anything, too scared to save them.” He slammed his fist down on the table so hard Vanhelm jumped and backed away growling softly. Brant seemed not to notice. “Tell me true, militios. Can you save them?”
He did not reply immediately and when he did his words were carefully chosen. He returned the villagers fiery stare with a cool one of his own. “I can’t promise anything. They were taken recently and if we are fast we may catch up with the beast before it harms them but there is no guarantee. The only promise I can make is to kill the troll, prevent this happening again.”
Brant nodded slowly. “I understand and appreciate your honesty. On behalf of the village of Stoneperch, I would like to hire you. What is your fee?”
“Hard to say, I need to know more about what I’m dealing with. How many trolls and why they are suddenly attacking villages. Too many variables to name a fair price.”
“We don’t have much here, most people work in the mines or manage goat herds but I think we could scrape together thirty silver sickles. Would that do?”
Lyncon thought for a moment, remembering the hole in the roof and the destroyed wall. “I’ll take ten sickles on completion of the job. I’ll need food too, provisions for my travels, and perhaps a bed for a night or two, if you can spare it.”
Brant smiled. “Of course. We can manage that.” He extended a hand and Lyncon shook it. “Thank you.”
“It is best I leave immediately, start tracking the troll. I’ll need you to show me where it left the village, I can follow its trail from there.” He rose, readjusting his armour and the sword at his hip. Vanhelm rose too and padded obediently to the werewarg’s heel.
“It went east, past the chapel. I will show you” After fetching a cloak from a peg, he opened the door for his guests and turned awkwardly back to them. “In fact...I would like to join you. I can fight as well as any man and know the mountains around here well enough. I can help.”
“I work alone. This is dangerous business and I won’t be responsible for your safety.”
“Please Lyncon. I need to do this. When that beast took the children I could have helped, lured it away or distracted it. Instead I stayed where I was, huddled under the table, listening to their screams. I did nothing and I will have to live with that for the rest of my days but please, please, let me come with you.”
Looking into the man’s eyes Lyncon saw deep veins of sorrow and regret, guilt burned like wildfire and he knew that, if not quenched, it would consume Brant and everything he ever was. Only righting the wrong would stop it and allow the man to prove to himself that he was still what he had always believed himself to be. Lyncon did not like company but it looked like this time he had little choice.
“Alright, but you will do exactly as I say.”
The villager beamed at him and bowed his head. “Of course. Thank you, militios.” Stepping out, he slammed the door behind him and strode away, leaving Lyncon and Vanhelm to follow.
“Fuck!” Lyncon cried as the gravel beneath him gave way and he slid a good ten feet down the slope, sending a miniature avalanche of stones tumbling below him.
Above, Brant laughed. “Come on, militios. Don’t tell me you have never scaled a scree slope before.”
“Not for a while” he growled back as he slowly picked his way back up the slope. A flash of movement sped past him as Vanhelm sprung up the incline, moving nimbly up the climb with ease. “You can stop showing off too!” The dog stopped and gave a short bark before continuing his journey up. “What do you mean heavy? It’s my armour, not me!” Lyncon swore and shook his head in frustration.
“What?” called Brant. He had moved further up and was now nearing the ledge that marked the top.
“Nothing. I was talking to him.” Lyncon nodded towards the dog, now lazing in the sun at the top of the slope, watching them with disinterest.
After several more minutes of puffing and panting the two men reached the ledge and lay sprawled on familiar, firmer ground. Vanhelm, who looked utterly bored, gave a series of barks.
Lyncon rolled his eyes. “Slow? Well not all of us have four legs.”
Brant suddenly sat up, eyes flashing from man to beast. “Wait. You can understand him?”
“Unfortunately.” Lyncon moaned as he too sat up, rolling his aching shoulders. He stood and wiped the dust from his armour as best he could. “Vanhelm is not an ordinary dog. He is....different. We share a bond and so understand one another. He understands most of what you say too though that’s not quite the same.”
Brant was dumbstruck. “But...how?”
“My blood, it gives us a connection. Like calls to like I suppose.” He watched with a smile full of fondness as the dog leapt from a boulder and disappeared amongst some bushes.
Brant was still not convinced. “What do you mean by your blood? How does that help?”
Lyncon sighed. “There is something I have not told you. I am not like other militios. I am a....” He stopped as he caught a faint but familiar sound from the trees; the sound of a bow string being drawn back, the wood creaking against the strain. In one sharp movement he grabbed Brant by the shoulder and spun him to one side, the arrow sailing past and missing them by mere inches.
“Vanhelm!” he cried as he drew his sword. To Brant he added. “Stay behind me!”
From the undergrowth came the sound of rustling and the snapping of jaws. A brief scream rose only to be abruptly cut short. Brant shuddered as Vanhelm leapt from the bushes, blood on his fur.
Three men stepped out onto the ledge, all with swords drawn. Despite the death of their archer they approached with swagger and menacing grins on their faces, though they eyed Vanhelm warily. With the slope at their backs, Lyncon and Brant were trapped. The villager looked terrified but he stood his ground, gripping his sword with a grim determination that Lyncon could not help but admire.
The werewarg stepped forward and spoke calmly, sword lowered so as to not appear a threat. “We mean you no harm, sirs. We are not here for you.”
The men stepped closer. “That’s kind but we can’t risk you leaving anyway.” The man in the centre spoke with a sneer.
Lyncon sighed. “Very well. Vanhelm take the right side.” With that he charged.
Startled by the sudden attack the men were slow to react. Too slow. Lyncon reached the man in the centre before he could even raise his weapon to parry and cut effortlessly through his throat. Blood spurted out immediately and the man fell back, eyes wide, clutching the wound. The werewarg instantly turned left and faced his second opponent. Behind him, Vanhelm had leapt at the third man and locked his jaws around his sword arm, sending them both toppling backwards onto the grass. The attacker screamed in agony as the big dog drove his fangs through the man’s flesh.
Lyncon’s next opponent was more cautious; he looked terrified, and took up a defensive stance with shaking hands. The militios swiped upwards but the man parried well, pushing the blade away. Next, Lyncon stabbed at the man’s chest. The attacker once again parried the move, pushing the sword away to the side. Lyncon went with it, letting the momentum carry him as he stepped forwards and spun to his left, lifting his blade and then bringing it crashing down into the man’s skull, splitting his head nearly in two. The body crumpled immediately and his weapon gave a sickening squelch as he pulled it free, dripping blood and grey matter.
After cleaning his sword on the grass, Lyncon sheathed his weapon and turned to the last man, still wrestling with Vanhelm. “Vanhelm, here!”
The dog instantly obeyed, releasing his prey and padding to his master’s heel. The man continued to squirm on the ground as he clutched the mangled ruins of his arm. Brant stood over him and drove his sword into his throat. Instantly the man stilled.
“Do people usually live this high up the mountain?” he asked Brant.
“No, no. This is troll territory, nobody lives up here.”
“Well, apparently they do now.” He squatted down next to the man and tapped his breastplate. His dead friends were wearing similar pieces. “I recognise the design, military if I’m not mistaken. I think they are deserters. That’s why they were up here; hiding from the rest of their comrades.”
“Why? Why hide here?”
“It’s remote, as you said no one lives here. Penalty for desertion is death so I suppose they decided taking their chances with trolls was better than risk getting caught.” He straightened up, looking around. “I doubt this is all of them, probably a hunting party.” He moved off into the bushes, the others following behind.
A few paces into the undergrowth they found the archer. His throat was missing and he lay in a pool of his own blood, staring up at them with frightened eyes. Brant looked at Vanhelm then quickly turned away. Lyncon barely glanced at the body, instead looking past it. He paced further on and then stopped and examined the ground.
“There are tracks but they are faint. Hasn’t been rain here in a while and the ground is dry. We’ll have to follow Vanhelm.” He looked at the dog. “Can you follow their scent?”
The dog barked and immediately bounded away. “Why are we after their trail? Do you think they’ll lead us to the troll that attacked the village?” Brant said, still not looking at the archer as he carefully stepped around.
“No but I think they might explain the reason for the attack instead.”
The cave was not hard to find, its yawning mouth looming from a small cliff that rose abruptly from the forest. Vanhelm had tracked the scent easily and it had taken them less than an hour to reach the trail's end, though it was already growing dark when they arrived. The flickering of firelight was visible from inside the cavern as Lyncon and Brant crouched at the edge of the trees.
“Is that them?” asked Brant, glancing around nervously, eyes darting from side to side.
“Yes, they are inside. At least six from the voices but I think more are sleeping.”
“Wh...what are we going to do? Will this really help us find the troll?”
“Not directly.” He gestured to the ground around them. “Look at the ground near the cave mouth, those scrapes in the rock and the way the tree stumps have been ripped up, that was no humans doing.”
Brant’s eyes widened. “You think this was the trolls lair! That the soldiers forced it out.”
Lyncon gave a warm smile. “Exactly. Most likely they arrived in the day, settling in while the troll was out. Then, when it returned, they attacked, drove it off. Having all these men up here, hunting the troll’s prey, is most likely what drove it to attack the village.”
“We need to get rid of these men.” The villager’s eyes had hardened now as a chorus of laughter rose from inside the gloom. Both men drew their blades and advanced slowly to the edge of the cave. They moved quietly but really there was no need, the men inside were clearly oblivious to anything but their own revelry. The smell of roast goat drifted out to the three of them and Lyncon gestured for Vanhelm to stay close as the dog sniffed greedily at the air.
Halting the others, Lyncon crept forward and peered down the small slope into the caves main chamber. He saw five men gathered around the fire, tending to the goat, while at least another three lay further away, near the cave walls, seemingly sleeping.
He returned to Brant and whispered softly. “We go in hard and fast, catch them off guard. I’ll hit the ones at the fire, you two should take the ones near the cave walls.” Brant nodded while Vanhelm listened intently. “If we get overrun we retreat to here and hold them at the cave mouth, we’ll have the height advantage,” He looked over at Brant and was surprised at how calm he seemed, his breathing even and his hands steady. Once again he was impressed at the man’s steel. “Are you ready?” After a moment, the man nodded. “Then let’s go.” With that he turned and charged into the cave. Startled, the others followed.
The surprise attack caught the soldiers off guard. The first man Lyncon came to barely had time to stand before he was cut down, the werewarg opening his chest from shoulder to hip in a single slash. The man stared at him with confused eyes, piss soiling his breeches. Lyncon left him to his fate and pressed on, seeking his next foe.
The second soldier was on his feet but had no weapon. In desperation he threw his empty mug at Lyncon but it bounced off his armour harmlessly. A quick swipe opened the man’s throat and he collapsed backwards into the fire, sparks and ash flying up as he thrashed and bled out the last of his life. The nearest soldier had witnessed his comrade’s deaths and, turning, tried to flee further into the cave. As he did he knocked into another man and both went flying to the ground in blind panic. Seizing his chance, Lyncon leapt forward on light feet and stabbed at both, silencing them for good.
Glancing around, Lyncon saw Brant had cut down one man and was now tussling with another by the cave wall. Vanhelm was tearing at a man’s leg as the deserter desperately tried to beat him off with a rusted pan. Only two other men remained, standing together against the back wall, swords raised and ready. When Lyncon approached he noticed no fear in their eyes, only a determination to live. He tightened his grip on his sword.
Lyncon approached slowly, sword extended with the tip pointing down. His eyes never left the two men as he carefully stepped over a corpse and then a bedroll. Behind him he was aware of a scream as Brant killed the man he had been duelling. Vanhelm had already finished his prey with a bite to the throat. Lyncon focused on the two men, calming himself by steadying his breathing. Then he waited, poised and ready to strike.
The man to his left broke first, suddenly launching a wild cut aimed at Lyncon’s throat, no doubt hoping to catch him off guard. He failed. Instantly, the militios leapt forwards, inside the range of the cut and grabbed the man’s wrist. At the same time he drove the point of his sword into the second man’s crotch. Without pause, he pulled his head back and slammed it down hard onto the first man’s nose causing it to explode blood as it gave a horrific crack. Stepping back, he released the dazed man’s wrist, pulled back his arm and stabbed him in the heart. Another stab silenced the injured man, who had been clutching at his bleeding manhood, and his limp corpse slid down the cave wall to join the first.
Lyncon turned to his companions; both were panting and bloodied but unhurt. “Good work. Now let’s go hunt a troll.”
It was dark by the time they found the troll’s trail again. Both men carried torches they had looted from the soldiers and the flickering flames caused dancing shadows to follow their progress up the mountain like a pack of hungry wolves. The going was easier than before, the slope gentler and made of firmer rock. Even so, it was tiring and neither man spoke much as they climbed, instead focusing on placing their feet and what might await them at the end of the trail.
After another hour or so the land around them began to flatten out. The trees had stopped and Lyncon could see a boulder strewn plateau dotted with the occasional hardy thorn bush, clinging to the rock. The wind had picked up a little, biting at their faces with its frozen fangs, and with it came the first scent of the troll, a faint stench of dirt and blood and sweat.
He halted Brant with a raised hand. “We’re close. I can smell the beast. Put out the torches, I will lead us from here. I can see something up ahead.”
The villager did as he was told though with a puzzled look on his face. After smothering the torches, Brant hurried to catch up. When he did he whispered quietly “You’re not human, are you?”
Lyncon smiled to himself in the gloom but didn’t stop. “Why do you say that?” Up ahead a vague outline of something rising from the plateau was just becoming visible to him. He softened his step.
“No ordinary man could see so well in this dark or claim to smell a troll from such a distance. Then there is Vanhelm. When you said you understood him I thought you were mocking me but now I know it to be true.” He paused as he picked his way around a boulder he had almost collided with. “You mentioned your blood earlier so I presume that means that you are not human.”
“For the son of a goat herd, you’re a smart man Brant.”
“Thank you. My father always said you had to truly know your people in order to lead them.”
“Wise words.” Lyncon could make out ruins ahead and soon what seemed to be an old watchtower began to take shape from the gloom. It was mostly rubble but the foundation and a section of curved wall still stood, defiant against all the mountain could throw at it. “There are ruins up ahead, they look like a tower. Do you know anything about it?”
Brant thought for a moment. “Ah must be an old dwarven watchtower, left over from the war. There are a few others around here, mostly ruined, some are little more than a few piles of stone.” He paused. “Is that firelight?”
“Yes. The troll must have lit it.”
“Can they do that?” he sounded shocked.
“Of course. Trolls are not as mindless as you might think. They can use tools and cook over fires; they even talk to each other. I once met a man who claimed to have learnt their language; he was convinced he could talk to them. He was badly mistaken.”
“They use fire for cooking? Is...is that why it took the c...children?” His voice wavered with every syllable.
“Most likely, yes. Easiest targets to capture and won’t offer much of a fight when being carried away.”
The ruins were getting closer now; the wall loomed up above them. Lyncon could hear the crackle of the fire along with the low murmur and ragged, heavy breathes of the troll. The smell of smoke thickened in his nostrils, drowning out all else. Brant was about to ask something when Lyncon raised a hand for silence.
“I can hear the children.”
Brant gripped his sword tighter. “We have to help them,” he whispered urgently, trying to push past Lyncon to see for himself. Lyncon held him back. Silently, he shook his head and then began to creep forward again. Brant followed with Vanhelm covering the rear.
The trio climbed a small bank and stopped at the top of a low wall that was now little more than a mound of rubble and collapsed stones. Cautiously, they peered over the crumbling structure. The foundations of the tower were a perfect circle made of flat, uniform slabs of a dark grey stone Lyncon didn’t recognise. Though worn with age the stones were still level, a testament to the dwarven craftsmanship of centuries past. In the middle of the ring a fire crackled and spat, fenced in by its own ring of boulders. The troll was hunched over it, its back to the intruders. In the firelight, Lyncon could tell that the beast was roasting something on a spit and he did not need enhanced senses to know what it was. Beside him, Brant spotted it too and visibly tensed, his breath catching in his throat. The militios placed a gentle hand on the man’s shoulder as much to soothe him as to prevent him from charging to his death.
Scanning the rest of the area, Lyncon finally spotted what he was looking for. In a crude cage made of thick branches woven together with rope sat the two surviving children. Both boys were huddled together in one shaking mass, neither daring to glance at the troll as it feasted on their sister. Taking a hold of the villager’s arm, he dragged him back down behind the wall.
“I saw the children, in a cage against the opposite wall.” When the villager remained mute, he shook him slightly. “Brant! Did you hear me?”
The man’s eyes were glossed over, his mind clearly swirling in the horror of what they had just seen. Lyncon was used to it but still felt a pang of pity for the man. To be exposed to the brutality of life in such a harsh image was hard for anyone, the shattering of the fairytales children were told where everything ends happily ever after. In reality, life was rarely that kind and you had to learn to make the most of what you were given.
“Brant you need to focus. Look at me!” He forced the haunted eyes to lock with his own. “I know it’s hard but forget what you saw. You need to focus. We have to save the others. They need you now.”
Slowly, the eyes became clearer, the clouds of death departing, and the man nodded. “Y...yes, of course. You’re right. They need me.” He shook his head as if to shake off the evil thoughts.
Lyncon smiled. This humble villager really did keep surprising him. He had seen fully trained soldiers crack from things less gruesome than what Brant had witnessed yet here he was, determination back in his eyes. He placed a reassuring hand on the man’s shoulder before telling him the plan.
“I want you to sneak around the outside of these ruins and get to the cage. Break it open and get the children out and back to the village.” He gestured to his dog. “Vanhelm will go with you. Keep you safe and guide you home.” The dog licked his hand in agreement before nuzzling against Brant’s leg.
“What about you?” asked Brant.
“I’m going to kill the troll. That is, after all, what you are paying me for.”
“On your own? Don’t you need our help?”
“I told you, I work alone and beside, I’ve done it before. The fight isn’t going to be as one sided as you think.” He gave the villager a confident wink. “I’m not human, remember.”
“Then what are you?” The man looked both confused and concerned.
“I’m a werewarg.” With that he leapt over the wall, drew his sword and began to march towards the hulking beast before him. “Hey ugly! Want to play?”
Surprised, the troll reared up suddenly, dropping its meal.. It turned to eye the intruder with contempt, grease and blood still dribbling from its lips, and loomed above him, standing at near nine feet tall. Lyncon was unfazed and instead focused himself, examining the beast to find its weak spots.
Mountain trolls had long ago adapted to the harsh environments they call home. Instead of the brown or green skin of their lowland cousins, this troll was covered in a thick, coarse grey fur that hung loosely in matted chunks from its body and limbs. The coat was thick and strong, perfect for keeping warm but also useful against the strike of a sword, absorbing much of the impact before the blade even touched flesh. This made these creatures far more dangerous opponents as conventional weapons often failed to hurt them. There were, however, always weaknesses.
Lyncon noted that this troll's fur had not grown evenly and was thinner in some patches than others. These spots would be his targets and he made note of the two largest areas, one high on the troll’s shoulder while the other was low on its stomach. These were where he would strike.
Angered by the intrusion the troll let loose a mighty roar, spittle and grease spraying in all directions as it raised its head skywards. “Mo ust lorr rak!” it boomed in its foreign tongue, eyes trained on the militios.
Lyncon made no response, in fact he barely heard. He was too busy focusing inwards, summoning the heat of his wolf blood as it flowed through his veins. He called to it, channelling its power, and it gladly answered. His limbs began to tingle as the blood in them boiled to a frenzy, rising to fever pitch. Then it washed over him like a wave, drenching every single cell in his body. The cage was open. The wolf was free.
At once his body began to shake violently as the flesh twisted and warped. Fur sprouted all over him like a rash and his face began to contort into a long snout. He gave a low groan of agony as his jaw cracked and shifted, his teeth now replaced by fangs. His limbs began to change, growing longer and thicker, the muscles moving beneath his skin like serpents trapped below the surface. As his chest expanded with new bulk his armour grew too, the outward pressure activating hidden clasps that released the overlapping segments and allowed the armour to fit. His boots were not so lucky as his feet ripped free of them. Lastly, came the claws, the inch long talons that burst from the end of each digit in place of his nails. Lyncon growled, a low guttural sound, primal and raw. The whole transformation had taken less than thirty seconds.
The troll had stood still, watching in stunned silence as the man before it changed so dramatically. Slowly, it reached for the crude knife at its belt and drew it, the blade as long as Lyncon’s arm. Lyncon readied his own sword, his claws tapping gently against the metal of the hilt. For a second all was still, both sides poised and ready, watching and waiting. Then the troll charged forwards, roaring as it went.
Lyncon stood his ground as the beast lumbered towards him, its footsteps thunderously loud against the quiet of the night. At the last second he leapt effortlessly to one side. The troll, carried forward by its own momentum, sailed past, unable to stop, and crashed through part of the wall section that still stood. Paying no heed to the destruction around it, the troll spun and swung its knife in a blind slash which Lyncon easily parried. The blades colliding gave a dull ring and the force of the impact drove up Lyncon’s arm, making his shoulder and elbow ache. He pushed the troll’s blade away and ducked under it, slashing across the troll’s leg as he passed. The beast howled but more from fury than pain, its fur had softened most of the sword's sting and only a small cut was left behind.
The troll turned again, following its quicker opponent as best it could. It slashed down at him but Lyncon leapt backwards and away to safety. Behind him he was aware of the crackle of the fire, the smoke and scent of burning child enveloping him. Trying to ignore it, he nimbly stepped forward and stabbed at the troll’s shoulder, aiming for the lighter patch of fur he had seen there. The point of his blade ran true and found its mark, slicing through the thin fur and driving almost two inches deep into the troll’s flesh. The beast roared again, this time in pain, and lashed out, jerking its right shoulder away as it swung its left arm around, fist balled. Overbalance as his sword was dragged upwards, the fist caught Lyncon a glancing blow to the side of the head and he stumbled backwards, dazed.
Immediately, the huge creature saw its moment to strike. It swung the knife at Lyncon’s head with such force that it surely would have removed it from his shoulder had the werewarg not blocked the strike. Undeterred, the troll surged forward and grabbed Lyncon with its free hand, clamping hard around his neck as he lifted him clear off the ground and hurled him across the stones to land heavily next to the fire. The werewarg’s sword flew from his grip as he landed and clattered as it slid across the floor. Winded, Lyncon rose as quickly as he could but that was still too slowly. The troll was on him again, this time simply ramming him with its shoulder as it charged across the ring. The force sent Lyncon spinning backwards and he collided with the remains of the watchtower wall, banging the back of his head against the loose rock. Swinging its huge fist the troll struck Lyncon hard in the gut, driving him backwards against the wall which crumbled with the force of the blow and buried him in rubble.
Raising its head to the stars, the troll gave a victorious roar. “Blak vulgr lp!” It stamped its feet in triumph as it waved the knife back and forth.
Slowly, Lyncon rose from the rubble. He rolled his bruised shoulders and shook his head to clear it then fixed the troll with a cold stare. The beast stopped its victory dance at once and froze, knife still raised to the sky in jubilation. The werewarg growled, an inhuman sound that came from deep in his throat, and bared his fangs in a snarl.
Gripping with his claws and bunching his muscles, he shot forwards like an arrow, a blur of fur and metal. The troll swung the knife down but Lyncon caught it, digging his claws into the flesh of the beast’s wrist. He turned and bit down hard onto the troll’s arm, sinking fangs deep into flesh. The troll roared in pain and tried desperately to shake him off. Releasing its knife it flailed at Lyncon with both hands to try to pry him away. It beat down onto his back with wild blows that did nothing against his elven armour.
The troll changed tack and started spinning, wheeling wildly in an attempt to dislodge its attacker but still Lyncon held on. The fur in his mouth was matted and tasted like dirt but he kept his strong jaws clamped in an iron grip. Blood spilled from around his fangs, dripping down onto his tongue. It was hot and sweet.
Suddenly, the troll grasped at Lyncon’s leg, wrapping its thick fingers around his thigh, and began to pull, heaving him clean off the ground. The beast’s strength was incredible and Lyncon could feel his fangs slipping through the troll’s flesh as it pulled him away. He fought but it was no use and he had to release his bite for fear of losing his teeth entirely. As he dangled upside down in the troll’s grasp, he reached upwards and slashed at the creature’s face, claws raking across the exposed skin. A claw caught the troll’s eye and he felt it give, spurting warm blood down his arm as it popped. Instantly the troll released him and he crashed to the floor while the beast reeled away, clutching at its face in agony. Blindly, it stumbled into the fire and howled as it burnt its foot in the flames.
Picking himself up, Lyncon pressed his advantage. With his claws scraping against the smooth stones, he ran to his left, around the troll, and retrieved his sword. Then he launched himself up and onto the beast’s back, driving his sword deep into its shoulder while clinging to the fur with his claws. Baring his fangs once more he bit down hard, aiming for the troll’s throat.
His foe was in a panic now. It stumbled and flailed blindly as blood poured down its face from its ruined eye. It thrashed madly at the werewarg, attempting to reach back and tear its attacker off. It caught Lyncon in the head and for a moment his grip loosen slightly, his mind swimming as bright lights flashed before his eyes, but then it had passed and he renewed his attack with greater fury, releasing the troll’s neck and instead snapping at its hand. He caught it on the third go and severed three fingers in a single bite. The troll wailed and immediately withdrew its arm. Lyncon spat the severed digits onto the ground, blood pouring over his lips and colouring his spittle, then bit down again, this time taking off the troll’s ear. More blood poured, covering his fur in its thick scarlet soup while the rich scent filled the air, fuelling his frenzy. The troll only moaned and teetered further, its strength fading.
Neither beast saw the cliff until it was too late. The troll stumbled, unwittingly, and then they were both falling.
In his shock, Lyncon released his grip on the troll and began to flail his arms in desperation. Air rushed past him in a blur and his breath was whipped away. When he felt branches scraping past him he reached for them. One caught him hard on the shoulder whilst another struck his thigh. Soon they were striking him everywhere as the two monsters fell through the canopy. Finally they hit the floor. Lyncon bounced twice, rolled a little and then was still.
When he came too it was almost dawn. Birds had begun to sing and chirp as they danced between the trees lit by the first rays of sunlight that warmed the morning breeze. Around him the branches shook as if mocking him, sniggering at the foolishness of the beast they had saved. He could hear nothing of the troll.
Though he hurt all over, he slowly sat up. He was a man again, the frenzy and heat of his wolf blood extinguished for now. His hands and face were his own, skin and not fur. His mouth still tasted of blood, the rich metallic tinge it left behind, and he spat in a vain attempt to clear it. He took a deep breath and immediately winced, the familiar pain of broken ribs burning all along his left side. Gently probing, he counted at least three. Slowly, he tried to stand. His right thigh was badly bruised and his knee gave a sharp, piercing pain whenever he put weight on it. He grimaced and gritted his teeth but managed to get upright and then eventually begin limping forwards. Despite his pain he was surprised how lucky he had been, a fall that height could have easily killed him. Instead, after two or three days rest, he would be completely uninjured, as if it never happened. He had a feeling the troll had not been so lucky.
He was right.
He found the troll, after much panting and cursing, ten minutes later. Its body was impaled on a tree stump that looked to have been cleaved in half by lightning sometime in the past. The corpse lay face down, the bloodied stump protruding abruptly from its back like a giant arrow. The troll’s face was twisted into a final expression of terror and pain. Lyncon sighed, glad it was over.
His sword was where he had left it, buried almost up to the hilt in the beast’s shoulder. He got it free on the third pull but had to lean against a nearby tree afterwards as his vision became suddenly blurry, his mind reeling from the pain. Eventually he recovered and, after cleaning and sheathing the blade, he began to make his way back to the village, barefoot and bleeding, hoping for a warm welcome followed by an even warmer bed.
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