Night Of The Trolls
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
the corner where it joins what was once called Grand Street, the road takes a
sharp turn and heads straight uphill, the slope getting steeper and steeper
until it flattens out at the crest where St Peter’s Cathedral used to stand
until the great earthquake of three years ago. On both sides, what were once
smart shops and offices present blank black windows to the night.
On a night like this, the street isn’t a street so much as a
raging torrent. The rain smashes down like a hammer, pressing the air flat
against the ground, and ripping it apart in a thousand shreds, as it strikes so
hard it bounces up again to form a mist along the ground. High above, jagged
forks of lightning cut the sky, break the darkness in fragments, and
occasionally come slashing down to strike at buildings below with streams of
It is the sort of night when nobody in their senses should
be about, when ancient evil has awakened and stalks the storm-slashed darkness.
There are times, though, when one has to go out on such a
night, knowing full well that one is unlikely to be able to return, because one
has no choice in the matter.
Such is the Night of the Trolls.
I come up from Grand Street, leaning back to guide the tyrannosaur with hard pulls on
the reins. Lightning flashes continuously, forks of it stabbing down at me and
ripping aside the curtain of darkness. The rain strikes at me with a force so
savage that it’s with some difficulty that I keep my seat. Even the ‘saur is
disturbed; fractious and uneasy, it tries again and again to turn aside, and I
have to keep goading it to climb against the flow.
Far ahead, a white glow pulses against the sky, a pearly
white that shines clear despite the rain and the lightning, throbbing like the
beating of a mighty heart. Squinting my eyes against the rain, I try to make
out how far the glow is, to decide from where it’s coming. It’s my goal, the
reason why I’m out on a night like this.
Between my legs, the ‘saur suddenly swings its head hard to
the right, as a greenish-yellow flickering glow begins to play along its head
and jaw. It’s St Elmo’s Fire, not dangerous, but the ‘saur is startled and
scared. I pull as hard as I can on the reins, and reach for the goad, but the
huge beast keeps turning. I raise the goad high and hit down on the broad
skull, hard, once, twice, and at last it turns back on track. I’m an
experienced ‘saur rider, so the animal wouldn’t have been able to get at my
leg, but it’s still a nasty experience. Not that I can really blame it. On a
night like this, even a bull tyrannosaurus like this is entitled to be rattled.
A tyrannosaur, of course, isn’t the best of mounts.
Irritable and aggressive at the best of times, it tends to become a really
dangerous beast even to its own rider when it’s disturbed. Besides which it’s
difficult to train and expensive to maintain, fed as it is on a diet of
slaveflesh. Normally, I try and avoid tyrannosaurs – but there is no other
mount that will brave a meeting with the trolls.
Something moves suddenly, in the periphery of my vision,
something that is not rain or our shadows on the wall of some long defunct
shop. I haul back on the reins, pulling the ‘saur to a stop, and reach for the
long sword slung over my back. But whatever it is, it’s not a troll.
In the flickering light of the St Elmo’s Fire I see the
movement again, behind one of the blank broken windows of one of the shops;
something round as a ball comes bobbling up, a head, balanced on a neck like a
pencil. Lightning flashes, bright and near, and even as the crack of thunder
makes the ‘saur skitter nervously I see the flat eyes and the tiny mouth, and
the long-fingered hand, waving.
It must be a mutant, I realise, left over from the Collapse,
driven in from the countryside by hunger or disease or from whatever strange
impulse moves mutants. Hive law insists that mutants must be slaughtered on
sight – yet I am not in the Hive now, and I make my own rules. That is one
reason why I have lived so long.
I slap the ‘saur with the flat side of the goad, and it
stands still, trembling. Green driblets of liquid fire seem to race up and down
its head and jaws. Still pulling on the reins, I turn, looking down at the
mutant. Slowly, spasmodically, it climbs out of the window and tumbles on to
the pavement, staggering in the torrent of water. It stands beside us, looking
up at the immense bulk of the ‘saur and at me, atop it. Has the mutant a death
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