Welcome to this week’s adventure. Readers expressed a desire for the next phase in the Chalice adventure, so this is it =)
If you’re unfamiliar with the Chalice adventure, you can read it here. Or, just know that you ventured into a cave to find the cure for your sister’s albino skin. Inside, you not only found the cure, but a cave system full of drakes holding a dragon captive. In helping the dragon, she rewarded you with a story about a stone that might cure your sister’s red eyes.
So here we go…
Valley walls rise on your right and left. When you entered the valley, plant life drooped all around with with mostly grand fir boughs and old man’s moss. Now, it’s thinned and the lower trunks of the trees are scrapped bare by wind and salt.
Ahead, the valley opens and you can hear the roar of ocean waves funneled by the valley’s walls. Your chest tightens as you spot the thing that tells you you’re in the right place.
“She didn’t lie,” you sister says beside you. Her breath heaves through her throat but not once has she complained on your travels.
Not more than a month before her skin was a translucent white and she hid in the house because others feared her. Now, she boasts healthy skin but the cure that helped her skin did not touch her eyes. She stares at you from bright red, wide eyes.
“The dragon didn’t lie,” you agree.
You ventured into the caves that held the chalice to cure your sister’s skin and found it full of drakes, and one magnificent dragon. In helping the dragon free herself of the drakes, you earned her trust, and the tale of a stone that might heal your sister’s eyes.
You and your sister turn to stare at the ocean beating at the shore.
“The stone’s kept by the western trolls. They live at the mouth of the Emerald Valley, on the obsidian beaches of Adversity Bay.”
The sand on the beach rolls with the press of the waves, a black and shimmery mass beneath the sun.
“It’s beautiful,” you sister says. Her breathing is now under control but as soon as you start moving again, she’ll be huffing. She’s hidden for so long inside that any exercise taxes her.
“Beautiful and dangerous,” you remind her.
“Are trolls as mean as they say?”
She’s asked this before and you’ve assured her that, yes, trolls are ugly, vicious beasts, but she somehow doesn’t seem to believe you. Even with the way people tend to treat her, she always sees the good in others. You wonder if she’ll find good in trolls too.
“They eat people,” you say. Best to keep it simple and straight to the point now that you’re faced with the troll’s home.
“Oh,” she says. Her eyes still shine with awe, though, at the obsidian beach. “For such mean creatures, they sure pick a pretty place to live.”
You just shake your head and start forward again. Her heavy breathe follows behind. As you step onto the sand, it squishes up around your sandals. You sister giggles.
“The dragon said to look for the steeple. See anything that resembles a steeple?” you ask. Your perspective, now that you’re on the beach, has changed. You can see the vast expanse of black sand and the cliffs lining the beach. The cliffs are pocked with darker holes. Caves for the trolls to live in.
You sister looks right and left too in search of a steeple.
“That kind of looks like a tower,” she points to the north. “Maybe that’s the steeple.”
The cliffs rise into several tall spires far on the horizon.
“Good a place as any to look,” you say. “But we’ll have to hurry.”
You both look to the sky. Trolls hate sunlight, which gives you maybe another hour and a half before they appear on the beach after sunset.
“All right,” your sister says and heads off up the beach, leaving small footprints in the sand. Moments later, the waves wash those prints away.
“She said the stone’s black too?” she asks over her shoulder.
“Yeah,” you answer and hurry to catch up.
“Think they’ll make my eyes black?”
She stops and you almost collide with her.
You listen and pick up a high-pitched keening coming from a cave farther up the beach.
“Should we investigate?” your sister’s eyes gleam with excitement. This whole trip has been like that. Every new experience lights her eyes up like a child’s.
You’ve got to be out of sight before dusk.
So, do you…
Head to the towers?
Considering the position of the sun on the horizon, making it to the towers could be tight before sunset. The keening sound, however, is definitely close enough for you to get to before dusk arrives.
“Let’s see what the sound is,” you say.
“Awesome!” Your sister takes off toward the cliffs at a run.
You follow at a walk and catch up with her once she keels over, out of breath.
“Little excited?” you tease.
She grunts and sticks her tongue out at you. Then she points to a smaller cave just ahead. “Think the sound’s coming from there.”
“Let’s explore cautiously,” you encourage.
She sticks her tongue out again but follows behind when you approach the cave.
The sound, now that you’re closer, howls with a deep, hollow bellow that makes your ears ring.
You peek inside but it’s dark enough that you can’t make out more than five feet beyond the entrance. It seems empty. You give your sister a shushing gesture to encourage soft steps and then move inside, staying to the wall with your back.
Sand continues to squish up around your sandals as you walk and the cool wall of the cave seeps moisture through your clothes but by now you can see nothing. Your sister slips her hand into yours and follows behind.
The keening grows louder.
The wall behind you drops away and a quick search shows you that you’ve entered a cavern. The keening echoes and you’re sure, after a moment, that you’re in the room it’s originating from.
You stand still until your eyes adjust a bit and you make out three shapes standing in the middle of the cavern.
They’re not big enough to be full grown trolls. In fact, they’re no taller than you but they’re bulkier in the shoulders.
From the ceiling, wind howls down an open shaft. It’s this shaft that gives just enough light for you to make out the figures in the cavern.
As the wind grows in intensity, one of the figures throws its head back and lets out a deep, throaty keening that matches the wind.
A second figure joins the first, but in a lower timbre.
Then the third joins them in a lilting, howling melody above their keening. It’s haunting. Shivers make you shudder and your sister huddles against your side.
“Are they singing?” she whispers.
The three figures stop, leaving the wind alone with its howl. They move at once, without speaking or looking over at you. Next thing you know, you’re surrounded and they’re breathing heavy, fishy breath into your hair.
Light flares as one sparks a flint onto a torch.
They’re bald headed, green skinned and yellow eyed. And they’re kids.
“Oh, look, a snack!” one says and pokes at your shoulder.
“Only if you brush your teeth first,” your sister says back.
“Whoa, look at her eyes.”
They all crouch close to see your sister’s red eyes. She stares back at them without a hint of fear.
“Teeth,” she says, “I’m serious. You’ve got something stuck in between your two front teeth and from my point of view, it’s molding. GO. BRUSH. YOUR. TEETH!”
They jump and say, “Yes, Ma’am,” all at the same time.
A slight smile pulls at your sister’s lips. “Then show us to the steeple.”
They all pause.
“To the top of it or bottom of it?” one asks.
Your sister, for the first time, looks uncertainly at you.
“Top,” you say, “show us to the top of the steeple.”
“You sure,” one child troll asks, “it’s really high up there!”
Your sister gulps but then nods. “Yes, we’re sure.”
“Okay,” they say in unison.
Moments later, teeth brushed and grinning with pride, the three child trolls lead you farther into the cave system. At the end of a narrow hall that made the group walk single file, the trolls open a door to a steep, winding staircase lit by small lanterns hung at even intervals along the wall.
Your sister gulps again but when the green children look back, she smiles in encouragement. You see the apprehension in her eyes but it’s only because of how well you know her.
If these overgrown children decide you’re a better snack then entertainment, they could easily overwhelm you in the narrow space. That’s where your own apprehension resides. Your sister’s however, is more due to her lack of endurance.
Stairs like this could be more than she can handle and passing out, a clear show of weakness, could also change the child trolls’ minds in how helpful they’re being.
The staircase goes up and up and up without any sort of break in the close walls. A faint, cool breeze wafts down the corridor. Without that sign, you might yourself hyperventilate but the fresh air tells you the staircase opens somewhere, so you keep going.
One of the trolls giggles.
“Shhhh,” the one behind you says.
“I can’t help it,” the giggly one says.
“What’s funny?” your sister stops on the stairs, using the excuse to catch her breath. She leans her back against the wall as she gasps.
“We’re being bad,” the third troll says in a conspiratorial voice, not apparently noticing your sister’s distress.
“You’re not supposed to be in here?” you guess.
“Nope,” all three say.
“The bells will addle our brains,” the giggly troll says. “Never go up the steeple, those bells will turn you to mush.” This last part is said in a deeper voice like the troll’s echoing a parent’s caution.
Your sister looks at you with concern. Leave it to her to care whether the child trolls hurt themselves while helping you.
“When do the bells toll?” you ask.
“What?” your sister exclaims. “That’s moments away.”
“It is?” the children ask, clearly unaware of the time of day.
“We’ve got to help them,” she says.
You hold in a groan but then, looking at three sets of terrified, yellow eyes, you can’t help but share your sister’s concern.
“Here,” you tear your sleeves from your shirt and motion for your sister to do the same. The troll’s shirts don’t have sleeves, so they just stare at you in confusion.
“Stuff this in your ears,” you tell the one behind you.
The troll gives an “Oh, how cool” and shoves the fabric deep into his, or her, you can’t really tell, ears.
You sister shares her sleeves with the giggly troll but the one in front looks at you with scared eyes, realizing there are no sleeves for him.
“Carry me,” your sister tells the troll, “on your back. I’ll cover your ears for you.”
“Fun!” the troll grasps your sister’s waist in large hands and throws her, none too gently, over his shoulder. She gives a surprised ‘eek’ but then scrambles around to sit on the troll’s shoulders.
Then, without hesitation despite the troll’s hairy ears, she stuffs her hands into his ear canals.
You keep from shuddering, just barely, but then the hall fills with a deep, ringing bell toll. It vibrates the walls and you cover your ears as well as the sound reverberates against your ear drums. Your sister hunches her shoulders but doesn’t pull her hands from the troll to cover her own ears.
The ringing continues in varied tones for some time and you all hunch down to simply endure.
When it finally fades, you find yourself covered in a fine sheen of sweat and your hands shake from the prolonged tension.
“Everyone okay?” you ask.
The three trolls take stock and then grin. It’s rather eerie.
The troll with your sister swings her around and hugs her. Then he swings her back up on his shoulders and starts up the stairs again. The young trolls chatter in excitement the rest of the way up the stairs, thrilled by their survival of the bells.
At the top of the stairs, they swing a door open and there the giant bells hang.
“Wow,” they say in unison.
“Wow indeed,” says a new, raspy voice.
You all spin to find an old, hunched troll leaning against the wall. Chains on his ankles, wrists and throat hold the troll within a few feet of the stone.
Just beyond him stands a man of medium build. He’s in the process of winding up the length of a long whip.
“You should not be up here,” the man says and lets the whip fall loose again.
“No,” the child trolls place themselves between you and the man, protecting you.
The old, gnarled troll snorts.
The man hesitates. “You protect the humans?”
The child trolls stand a bit taller as way of answer.
“You vouch for these trolls?” the man asks your sister, who still sits on the troll’s shoulders. “Keep in mind, you’ll bear their fate if you throw in with them.”
She glances at you but you, just like her, have no idea what ‘fate’ the man speaks of.
Troll fates are never good in stories and you hesitate to condemn your sister to something horrible. At the same time, these young trolls have been perfect hosts and you’re the one who got them into this situation. You could tell them all to run and hope they’re faster than the man with the whip.
Perhaps it’s the thought that kindness toward the three trolls might make a difference in their lives, or perhaps you just can’t ignore their big, yellow eyes staring hopefully at you.
Whatever the reason, you look the man square in the eye and tell him, “Yes, we’re with the trolls.” They’re the oddest words you’ve ever said but the child trolls grin huge, toothy smiles and you don’t doubt your words.
The old troll chained to the wall snorts and snot flies from his nose to splatter against one of the bells.
There’s a blur and, before you can react, the man stands between you and the door. He pushes the door closed with his heel and snaps his whip against the floor. He’s so fast, you wonder if he’s human.
The trolls jump and your sister slides off the shoulder to the floor. She sidles between the green legs of the trolls to stand beside you but the man doesn’t go after her.
He focuses on the child trolls. Another snap of the whip forces them back a step.
“Hey,” you shout as the next snap catches one of the troll’s legs. The poor victim cries out and stumbles backward even farther.
The steeple’s not large and these few steps place him next to the wall, beside the older creature.
Chains, of their own accord, flash out of the wall and catch the troll’s arms and legs. He gives a screech and his two companions rush to help him.
It’s a mistake. As soon as they’re close enough to the wall, more chains capture them and suck them close to the stone.
“Stay clear of the wall,” you whisper to your sister.
The man turns his attention to you now. The speed with which he evened the numbers disturbs you and to give yourself a moment to think, you start talking.
“Kind of cruel,” you observe, indicating the welt swelling on one troll’s leg.
The man shrugs. “Monsters get what they deserve.”
“What are you going to do with them?” you sister asks.
A grin, far too big to be human, splits the man’s face. Goblin maybe? You’re not sure.
“They get to sit here until the bell tolls again. In one swift move, I’ll eliminate the youngest generation of troll!”
One of the children sniffles and huge tears slick his green cheeks.
For the first time, the older troll seems disturbed. He stands and puffs out his chest.
“You go too far,” he rumbles and steps to the end of his chains. This places him in the middle of the steeple, directly beside the bells.
“GET BACK!” the whip cracks and, for the moment, the man completely forgets about you.
You kneel beside the nearest youngster and, with a loose stone of the steeple, you hit the chain holding his hands. It snaps with a brittle ‘pop’.
The youngster jumps to his feet and lunges onto the man’s back, wrestling him away from the whip.
While they stumble around the narrow space, you hand your sister the stone.
“Break the others free,” you say and guard her back while she works.
There’s a screech and the young troll lifts the man above his head, and then throws him through the one window in the steeple. The youngster jumps up and down in glee until your sister’s soft voice asks, “Did you kill him?”
The old troll snorts before anyone can answer. “Not likely,” he grumbles, “I’ve thrown him from that window countless times. He always comes back.”
Your sister moves to free the old troll but he pushes her away, admittedly very gently for his size. “Didn’t you hear me? He’ll come back. If I’m not here, he’ll find somebody else. I won’t have it. Not on my watch. When I figure out how to kill him, then I’ll be free.”
Your sister drops the stone, her eyes sad.
“—but thank you.” Only your sister could get gratitude from a troll.
Wishing to make good on that gratitude you ask, “Do you know anything about the Black Stone?”
The gnarled troll glares and slumps back into his sitting position against the wall. He says no more, even when the young trolls ask, he refuses to answer.
“Sorry,” one of the youngsters says. “Wish we could help.”
You thank them and follow them back down the stairs of the steeple. Before you get more than two steps down, the old troll calls, “No showing the humans more of the caves. You hear?”
All three youngsters hang their shoulders in dismay but they answer, in unison, “Yes, Sir.”
No amount of pleading with them gets them to disobey that command. You thank them for their help, glad for their new friendship, and then you head out alone with your sister to keep looking for the Black Stone to cure her eyes.
Well, it’s not quite success but you’re not dead, so hope’s not lost. Good luck next time =)