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Night Of The Trolls
(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)

Page 1

From 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 electricity.

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 wish?

[ Continue to page 2 ]

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Genre:Science Fiction
Type:Short story
Rating:5.94 / 10
Rated By:24 users
Comments: 2 users
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