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Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc.
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Vaprak gave a pointy, sharp toothed smile as he scratched his bulbous green belly, bulging from under his linked chain tunic. It had to be two inches bigger than last month. At least an inch. When he got back home he'd have to wear his old gatorskin vest, that barely fit last year. Krezell wouldn't be able to resist him then. Not that he needed to chase her anymore; they swore to each other over six months ago, but it was still nice to see her smile when she looked at him. The way he smiled when he looked at her, back home. Home. Three weeks on patrol and he missed the buzz of the swamps, the satisfying squelch of thick mud between your toes, lizards and snakes to snack on anywhere you went.

He looked around the barren landscape of his current location and shook his head ruefully. Nothing like this place at all, with nothing but ash and dust and rocks, only broken by the occasional fountain of lava bursting from the ground, or pools of the stuff. And all of it dominated by the mountain, piercing the sky and sending fiery streams of red molten rock into the air, to ooze down its face.

Worse yet, food was tough to come by in this water-forsaken land, and tougher to kill if you did find any, with it doing its best to make you the meal. Though he must admit, that lava lizard thing was delicious when he finally subdued it, and worth the chunk it took out of his arm. That was healing up just fine; he was a troll, after all. After he'd seasoned the meat with his own blend of spices, which he carried on all these trips, -a mix of redspice, machica powder and salt- the thing was as good as a grulloc from back home; firm and meaty. Maybe better. On his way back he'd have to kill another to bring to Krezell, if he could find one. And he'd have to turn back soon; his skins were getting low on water already, and he was sure he'd be finding none to refill them till he took the pass back to the Drygrass Plains.

He gave another look around, his dark green lip curling in a snarl, and shook his head, making his long, pointed ears wobble. What was he doing here? Certainly the elders couldn't think the humans would be planning some kind of raid from here. They'd lose half their force just getting through. He was only on the outskirts, the plains leading to his home swamps only a mile or so behind him, and he'd already had to fight for his life once, and weave his way through pools of lava, some massive, others little more than puddles, all fed by the mountain. Trolls didn't die easy, but a thousand ton of molten rock would do the trick. And from what he could see, it only got worse the deeper in you got. You'd have to be crazy to try and bring an army through that. Especially the soft humans, or elves. Even those rock-headed dwarves had more sense.

With a sigh he re-shouldered his pack, checked that the straps holding his great double edged sword were secure to his back, and set off a trot. May as well get it over with. Circling around another bubbling pool of molten rock, he scanned the horizon again, and found it just as empty, though he could only see maybe a hundred yards because of a haze of dust and shimmering heat. He paused, and turned his head as a blast of hot air, almost steam, hit him in the face. The dry, dead scent of the place made his long nose curl at the end. Shaking his head, he was ready to give up on this search, when his green, wart studded nose caught another scent. Is that elf? Couldn't be, but his nose didn't lie. He looked around again, yellow, black pupiled eyes narrowing.

He began again, a slower trot this time, eyes watchful. There was hardly anywhere to hide in this barren landscape, but elves excelled at not being seen. Eyes watchful, the great troll warrior continued hunting for several more minutes, while doing his best to appear to be simply avoiding lava and rocks, but could find no other trace of the elf. He was just beginning to think that he may have been mistaken when he saw it: a faint, small footprint in the ash. Too small for a human; the imprint too light. In another moment it blew away in a gust of hot steam as the swirling winds picked up again. He, or she, was close. The temptation was to draw his sword, but no. Waiting was better. He didn't want to scare it away.

The seven-foot-plus troll slowed to a walk, angling away from another large pool of lava, listening to it gurgle and hiss, when he gave a startled yelp and leaped to the side. The fireball he had barely heard in time caught his shoulder as it whooshed past with an airy roar, and he rolled and drew his massive sword with surprising agility for one so large. With the wide blade was able to slap away some of the thorns that flew at him now; some of them, anyway. The rest got through, and stung like hell, and his lip curled in a snarl, showing his rows of sharp, yellowed teeth. Two spells of that power, so quickly cast. This was no scout. An elder of its tribe, perhaps. It was impossible to tell ages with elves. What was it doing in this ash-ridden land? The same thing he was, probably.

“You should have stayed hidden, wood-head,” he said through his snarl, letting his dark, nearly black tongue flicker out past his lips. He didn't know elvish, but spoke the human tongue fairly well. “I wouldn't have gone too far out of my way to hunt you.” That much was true. He was sick of this place before it had elves trying to burn him alive. He plucked a thorn from his shoulder; it still stung. He sniffed it, hoping they didn't have some kind of poison on them.

“I am sworn to slay the murderers of my people,” the elf replied in its strange, slurring voice. He still couldn't tell if it was male or female; they all looked alike. “Letting you live would be condemning one of my people to your cookpot.”

The troll snorted and shook his head, circling slowly to his left, forcing the elf back towards the lava pool. He'd heard all this before. “We kill for food, elfling. You kill for sport.”

“We only kill vile creatures, such as yourself, troll!” the elf replied, reaching into its belt pouch, undoubtedly preparing another spell. It was time to move.

“And you get to decide who is vile and who isn't, that it? Phhah!” Vaprak snarled again and charged, his great sword whirling. He angled right, trying to pin the elf against the lava, but it darted too quickly, escaping the reach of his blade and tossing some kind of powder into his face. He dodged, missing most of it, but wherever it touched his skin it burned, like flecks of powdered acid eating his flesh. While he roared in rage and pain, the elf prepared another spell, and now lightning flashed from its hands. The troll was ready this time, however, and had his counter spell prepared. As the lightning took him in the belly, he launched his own magics, a blood red bar of power between the two combatants. It linked the two, drawing the elf's life energy, while at the same time making it feel everything he felt, which at the moment was lighting ripping through him. With grim satisfaction he heard the elf shriek in pain and terror, jerking to end its lightning spell and falling back, its body smoldering. Vaprak's body smoldered some as well, but the damage was far less than it would have been, being shared between the two, and at the same time healing from the elf's own life energy.

Still, it took a toll on the troll as well, and he fell to a knee and paused there a moment, then looked up to see the elf trying to crawl towards its tan, fringed leather pack, several yards away where if flew from its grasp as the lightning was reversed onto it. Pushing himself up, he picked up his sword he hadn't realized he dropped and staggered over to the elf, just in time to kick the pack away from its outstretched hand. Undoubtedly it had some kind of healing in it, or something needed for such.

He looked down on his foe, tendrils of smoke still drifting up off burned patches of skin, and looking back up at him with burning hatred. No fear, just hatred. He thought it was a male. Probably.

“I'll give you a clean death if you tell me why you come so far to hunt trolls, elf. Scouting an attack, maybe?” He didn't really expect the elf to answer, but had to try. His foe only stared at him a moment, then with the quickness they are known for, it had a dagger out and hurled towards his throat before Vaprak could blink. In its haste, however, it missed the mark, but the dagger still buried into his shoulder, making the troll throw his head back and howl. This gave the elf the opportunity to scramble to its feet, pull some kind of vial from its belt and drink it down, and half-run with renewed strength, though it still hobbled badly. Vaprak pulled the dagger from his shoulder and threw it to the ground. The black blood pouring from his green flesh would stop shortly, and the wound close soon after that. No, trolls did not die easy.

He took off in a run after the elf, and even with his own stride slowed as bad as the blonde headed elfling's was, he made up ground quickly with his longer, thickly muscled legs. Still, the elf managed to dart too and fro despite its injury, tumbling left only to spring right, avoiding the sharp, glinting steel of his blade as it whirled past its head, close enough to send a blonde lock drifting into the nearby lava. But the troll was patient. Magic takes a lot out of the caster, and that elf was tossing around powerful spells; he knew it would tire soon. His own strength was only returning, despite the chase.

Vaprak was almost upon him again, with the elf leaping from one larger rock to another, the massive troll right behind. Then the rock crumbled beneath his green foot, claws tearing through it as he stumbled, giving his opponent the opportunity to turn and hurl another spell at him. This one caused vines to immediately sprout up out of the ground, even as barren and lifeless as this ground was, to wrap around his foot, swirling to climb up his leg with small green leaves sprouting and growing from it. Looking down with a snarl he tore his leg free, the vine falling away in pieces, but before he could take another step a new one was grasping for his other leg. He ripped that leg free, then again, and again, vine and rock and ash crumbling as he tore through, till finally the spell played out, but it had done its job; the elf had a considerable lead on him, and was now circling back to retrieve its pack, still hobbling noticeably with a charred right leg.

With another snarl Vaprak charged again as the elf picked up its leather sack and quickly reached inside for something. Whatever it was going for, the troll was sure he wasn't going to like it, and he prepared another spell as he ran. He was no shaman, but he still had a few tricks up his sleeve. Just as the elf pulled another smaller leather pouch from its pack and deftly unfastened the narrow, dark cord tying it closed with the slender, nimble fingers of one hand, the troll closed the last steps to be in range for his own spell, a power word shout that would stun it, and hopefully disrupt whatever nasty trick it was pulling out of its bag of treats this time. But even as the elf's eyes widened with the shock of the stun, the dust sprinkled down in front of it, caught on the breeze to blow right into its own face, and vanished.

Quickly the troll closed the distance and sliced his sword through the air where the elf last stood, but there was nothing there; his stun only lasted a moment. A weaker foe would still be paralyzed, but not this one. He then searched the ground, but though there was dusty, blowing ash and jet black pebbles of dried lava all around, nothing was disturbed. He didn't know if it was the spell concealing even its tracks, or if the elf was just that good, but it mattered little. A sniff of the breeze offered little more than a nose full of hot air and dust, making him snort in disgust. After giving his greatsword a few whirls in front and behind him -let the elf get greedy and try to sneak up behind him!- he sat down with a sigh and a grumble on a larger nearby rock. That last spell had taken a good bit out of him. He laid his sword across his knees and checked the wound in his shoulder. It was already closed, and in another few moments his strength would be back, assuming the elf didn't try to skewer him again before he could rest.

He knew the elf needed a few moments to gather strength as well, so he was content to sit and scan the desolate landscape again, searching for tracks, sniffing the air. With a quick twist and whirl of his blade he whipped quickly behind him. Nothing. Best not to be too easy a target, in any case. There was a good chance the elf had given up anyway, having spent much of its strength in the duel already, but he wasn't about to bet his life on it.

With a pained groan he got up again, again scanning the desolate landscape, when suddenly a tough, thorny vine was whipping around his ankles and quickly up his legs. The massive troll tried to tear free, but only managed to fall onto his face while the vine continued to truss him up like a clawbeak on feastday, wrapping around his arms, his greatsword falling with a clank at his side, and ending at his neck, with what seemed a particularly large thorn digging right into his throat. With a howl his dark green arms, blotted with black blood, bulged with muscles straining as he tried to tear free, but though the vine stretched it did not break, and the more he stretched, the tighter the trap cinched into him, causing the thorns to dig even deeper.

Vaprak managed to turn his head and roll to his side to see the elf approaching with its right leg dragging horribly now; indeed it looked like the entire right side of its body was limp, from the lame leg to the drooping right side of its face. But in its left hand it held another dagger, this one glowing faintly with etchings along its blade he could almost make out, if he could read the flowing scribbles they used for a language. It stopped standing over him, looking down, panting.

“Well troll, you put up a worthy fight. Very worthy indeed,” it said, its slurring speech sounding even more slurred than before, and the last sentence little more than a panting wheeze. “Do not struggle; it only makes the elethian vines wrap tighter.” Vaprak scowled and tried to break free again, straining mightily, causing the vines to wrap tighter just as the elf had said, and the thorns to dig even deeper into his legs, his arms, the one in his throat making his gasping breaths rasp and whistle, black blood pouring out now and soaking his green frame. The elf only shook its head -indeed it had a look of pity!- and spoke again, each word more of a struggle, the sentences interrupted to allow it to catch its breath. It held the dagger over the bound troll firmly, but unsteadily, the gleaming blade wavering. “I do not like... using elethian vines... they are cruel.. even to one such as yourself. I'll give you... a clean death... if you give me information. Plans. When is the next... raid...?”

Vaprak snorted and chuckled, despite his current troubling situation. “The next raid, elf? I'll tell you when our next raid will be: right after the next time you plan on encroaching our lands and hunting our game. Again.” The elf only gave him that sad look once more, and the accompanying shake of its head. He squirmed and struggled again, and could feel the.. whatever the hell it said... vines digging deeper, pulling tighter, stretching themselves around his massive frame even as he felt the thorns scraping off his bones. But it gave him an idea; he needed to keep the elf talking.

“All right -ugh!- elf... what do you want to know?” He pulled tighter, feeling the vines straining as they dug into his flesh. A thorn hit a new vein in his leg and blood spurted like a fountain. The elf looked aghast.

“Please.... stop struggling... you're only making it worse...” He felt near passing out; the pain was excruciating. Just a little farther... it was his only chance... pulling tighter and tighter...

The elf apparently couldn't watch any longer and dropped to a knee, bringing the dagger up to his throat while muttering about a clean death. Last chance. The massive troll strained with all his might just as he felt the tip of the soft glowing dagger dig into his throat, and then success. He felt his left arm snap even as the vine did, forced to pull itself too tight by his struggling. The crack of his bone was loud, and the snap of the vine breaking just as much. The vine whip lashed back as it blissfully loosened around him, and caught the elf along its face and upper body, tearing its skin and tunic. Vaprak could barely see, most of the thorns still stuck in him (a vague thought of one stuck in an organ went through his mind) even as he gaped at the elf, sprawled back with fresh red blood streaming from it, tunic torn open. It had breasts, if small ones. It was a she after all.

She had dropped her dagger as she fell back, blood covering half her face and partially blinding her. She reached for her fallen weapon, still glittering brightly on the broken land, but saw he was tearing free of the remaining thorns and moved to escape; really little more than a shuffling crawl. He moved to follow, and grunted and toppled over in pain. One of those thorns did find something important inside him, and he likely tore it worse pulling it free. On top of that his arm was uselessly limp; it would be a good hour before that was in fighting shape again as well.

He looked up to watch the elf crawling away, coughing up black blood while he did so. Bah. Let her run. He was tired of fighting today. This pit of ash and steam would probably kill her before she made it out anyway. But with a rueful grin he didn't believe that. Not that one.

With a heavy sigh he lay back and closed his eyes. He could feel the blood pouring from his many wounds slowing, feel his insides rumbling as his troll healing put things back in order. Only a moment to relax, then struggling back to his feet to fetch his sword, and take another look after the elf. She was gone, again. He hoped for a long time this time. With a sigh he started off, back towards the pass to the plains, eyes still wary. Even if the elf had given up, there was still plenty of danger, and he was in no shape, or mood, to tackle any of it.

The thought of telling the elders, much less Krezell, that he was nearly done in by a girl elf made him grin; rows of sharp, pointed fangs revealed under thin black lips. He'd never live it down, no matter that she was the toughest thing he'd faced in seasons. He'd tell them it was two elves. No, four. That was better. Rest up just on the border with the Drygrass plains, come back and get one of those fire lizards for Krezell, then back home. Only three weeks gone and he missed the cool mud and water of his swamps dearly, missed seeing Krezell's warty, smiling face. Must be getting old.


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2010-02-03 06:56:45
It's a nice piece, but felt more like a vignette as opposed to a story.




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