179: Trolls & Traps

on March 17, 2008 in 07: Pitched Battles

In Which Mackenzie Goes To The Dogs

“Didn’t really change your mind,” the troll said, looming over me. I was on my back with my head pointing down the slight slope of the bridge’s span, which made the angle kind of surreal. “Wasn’t really gonna kill me in the first place.”

“Well, now I just might kill you,” I said, groping around for the pitchfork. “Good enough?”

“Gonna have to prove it.”

“I don’t want to kill you,” I said, feeling the wooden shaft with the tips of my fingers.

“Well,” it said, lifting up a tree-like leg to smash me. “There you go.”

I relinquished the tentative contact with my only weapon and rolled to the side. The troll’s foot pounded the bridge, which caused the stone structure to shudder sickeningly. I pushed myself up and started running again, stumbling down the bridge before I was even properly on my feet. The troll’s foot caught me in the back and sent me sprawling again, though fortunately it also propelled me a good deal closer to the other end of the chasm. I scrambled to my feet, racing for solid ground.

The bridge shook as the troll chased after me. I didn’t look back. If the troll was some kind of ensorcelled guardian—which it would pretty much have to be, to have spent however long standing there guarding it—then it probably couldn’t leave the bridge.

I hoped.

I felt a whoosh of a near-miss as I crossed the threshold and my foot touched down on land. The pounding footsteps stopped. It had come to a halt at the end of the bridge. It couldn’t come any further. I kept running, of course. The thing had a hellacious reach even without its massive stone club, and the land sloped away from the chasm mouth for some distance before the labyrinth walls.

Behind me I heard the troll make some kind of grunt which I assumed was of frustration, and I grinned… for all of a second, and then I was eating dirt, an explosion fading inside my skull.

The damned thing had thrown its club at me like a javelin.

It was chortling obscenely as I got shakily to my feet.

“Oh, you think that’s funny?” I said. “You think that’s clever?” I put my foot on the stone weapon, which had been slowly sliding away down the hill. “Well, this is mine now. I’m keeping it.”

“Give it back!” the troll said.

“No.”

“What good is it to you?”

“I need a weapon, anyway,” I said.

“Too big for you,” the troll said.

“Maybe I’ll just break it into smaller pieces, then,” I said.

“No!” the troll said. “That’s my only club. Can’t get another one.”

“Well, you should have thought of that before you threw it at me,” I said. “You might as well have thrown it off the side of the bridge.”

I lifted it up by the narrow end and started dragging it up towards the gap in the wall which led back into the labyrinth proper. I couldn’t actually do anything with the huge length of stone… it wasn’t that heavy, but it was far too big and unwieldy for me to use as a weapon… but I wanted the troll to watch me taking it away. He’d creamed me twice with it, after all.

Payback was a bitch, and so was I.

“No! Come back!” the troll howled, its voice full of anguish. “Please!”

I sighed. I wasn’t that much of a bitch, after all.

“Okay,” I said, stopping and turning. “I’ll trade you for my pitchfork. You can even call it a change of weapons, if that’ll help assuage your sense of responsibility for me getting away. Deal?”

“Deal.”

I started to drag the club back down the hill, though I stopped well short of what I judged to be the extent of the troll’s reach, bending and stretching. Hopefully it wouldn’t think of something clever, like shapeshifting into something with tentacles or longer limbs. Cleverness didn’t seem to be its forte, though. After all, it had thrown away the club it was now so desperate to get back.

“Give me the pitchfork,” I said.

“Throw me the club and I’ll throw you the pitchfork,” it countered.

“You don’t want me to throw this,” I said. “There’s a better chance I’d hit the far wall than I’d get it anywhere near you.”

“Come here and give it to me, then.”

“I’m not coming any closer here until the pitchfork’s on this side of the chasm, out of your reach,” I said.

“You’ll take it and leave.”

“Which one of us hit the other one from behind, twice?” I asked. “You go pick up the pitchfork and toss it gently sort of near me, and I will nudge the club towards you.”

The troll turned it over, then nodded. He went and picked up the pitchfork. It looked oddly dainty in his big meaty hand, the haft clasped between his great stubby fingers. He lobbed it underhanded, and it landed up the slope from me a bit.

“Okay,” I said.

I turned the pillar-like club lengthwise and began extending it down the hill towards the eager grasp of the troll, the wider end first. I figured that was safer than letting him get a grip on the handle while I was still somewhat close. He lunged for the weapon as soon as it was within reach and yanked, taking me by surprise and pulling me off my feet, but I think he was just impatient to get his weapon back. He took no immediate further action against me, anyway.

Not taking any chances, I scampered backwards on my hands and knees, then got up and retrieved my own makeshift weapon. I hurried up and out into the maze before the dumb thing forgot its lesson and threw the club again. My head and neck felt like they’d been through a wringer.

I wondered what time it was. There was every chance that Lynette would think I’d simply been sent back to Harlowe when I vanished. Unless Professor Proust had realized what was wrong and thought to tell anybody else, nobody would know I was missing until eight or so, when my friends would hopefully show up at the healing center to see me, thinking I hadn’t yet been discharged.

Would the healing center staff listen when they said I had never showed up in Harlowe? Would they figure out what it meant?

I could hope, but I couldn’t count on it. My friends might raise a ruckus on my account, but they didn’t personally have the resources to sort out the errant spell and track me down.

I seemed to have passed some sort of halfway point, because the tunnels were becoming more regular. I actually found a dead end and successfully backtracked to my previous marks. My guess was the farm encounter had been at or near the center of the maze. Of course, that meant I’d been dropped in pretty close to the center to begin with, which made it impossible to gauge how far I had to go to get to the edge.

Also, it was frustrating to find my progress blocked by walls. Before, it hadn’t mattered which way I went, I’d always be able to keep going forward.

The third dead end I found contained the first trap. I’d only just spotted the long thin slot in the wall at about chest height when it disgorged a line of darts with a coughing sound.

“Ow, shit!” I said as the barbed points hit my skin and fell away. Well, at least they weren’t magical. I noticed it wasn’t finished a moment too late, and my attempt to duck underneath the missiles only let me catch one in the eye.

I crawled away and back around the corner. It didn’t unleash any more volleys. Either the sensor was at the same height as the launcher, or it only did two rounds.

After getting stabbed in both sides at the same time from spears hidden in the wall, I started waving the pitchfork through the air in front of me and prodding the ground as I walked. It slowed me down, but after triggering some kind of lightning discharge I decided it was worth it. The first sets of traps had been mundane, but there were things in the labyrinth that could kill me.

I passed into the next open area, a mock graveyard with crumbling stone monuments and marble vaults and weeping angels everywhere. The sky changed colors as I stepped into it, the light dimming as if the sun were setting with each step I took. There didn’t seem to be any intact holy symbols among the stones, and the ground wasn’t sanctified, but somehow I still felt uncomfortable. I kept expecting ghosts or zombies to jump out and attack me.

Zombies I could do. I’d dealt with ghouls and skeletons. Incorporeal spirits were another matter altogether.

A blood-red full moon hung in the sky, and wind stirred the bare branches of dead trees on the low hills which dotted the bleak landscape… but that was all that stirred. It was very cold, but that seemed to be the worst of it.

I made it to the center of the graveyard without incident, and then approached the gate on the other side. I expected to find it barred with some clue that would send me into one of the crypts and possibly into some sort of elaborate underground catacomb where the real fun would begin.

But no… it stood open and unlocked. Try to imagine my disappointment.

The sun returned as I stepped back into the maze, bringing some warmth with it. I kept up my trap-checking routine, and was rewarded periodically with arrows, blades, or magical outbursts. The first real problem came when I hit a trapdoor the width of the passageway, which split open to reveal a pit with some poisonous-looking bubbling green liquid at the bottom, maybe ten feet down. I didn’t know what it was or if it would hurt me, but the walls of the pit were smooth and sheer. If I fell in, I’d be finished.

Fuck. It was too broad for me to step over. If I didn’t want to backtrack—and there was no guarantee I wouldn’t hit another pit sooner or later—then I’d have to jump. My legs were pretty strong, but on the other hand, I wasn’t exactly made out of coordination.

After a wild moment where I pictured myself pole-vaulting with it, I tossed the pitchfork over. The trapdoor began to close. I waved my hand over it to trigger it again so I could see where I’d have to jump, then backed up and started running.

My timing was off by the tiniest of spaces, and I stumbled at the edge, my foot coming down more on the hinge of the trapdoor than on the solid ground. I gave a very dignified yelp and flung myself forwards, kicking off with as much force as I could get with that tenuous contact.

I just made it to the other side. My knee banged the side of the pit and I scrambled up. I’d been groped by plants, grabbed by skeletons, clubbed by trolls, poked, stabbed, and prodded in the time since I’d entered the maze, and now I’d banged my knee. Maybe it was just because it was the freshest insult, but it was also the most irritating. My eyes were watering from the pain.

Okay, I was crying from the pain, but I’d hit it at one of those angles where it just hurts like fuck, you know? I had to lean on the pitchfork to help me stand, which was not at all conducive to the checking of traps. I made my way to the wall and leaned on that instead, limping and hobbling along while checking the stretch of maze in front of me as best as I could.

The annoying numb-tingly-pain feeling had started to subside a bit by the time I hit the next encounter zone. This one was lush and green and landscaped, with decorative plants and beautiful marble columns and armless statues. The ground sloped down like a bowl towards a pretty reflecting pool in the center, with stone benches.

I knew as soon as I saw such a relaxing, scenic spot that I pretty much had to be fucked. Sure enough, a rustle of movement from behind some distant shrubs was the only warning I had before first one pair and then two more large angry dogs burst out, barking and growling.

No, not two pairs of dogs… two big black dogs with two heads each. Two horned heads. With no offense to the girls who roomed next to me, I thought that the addition of extra heads and horns to most creatures rarely signified a gentle and docile temperament. My grip tightened on the pitchfork and I began to stumble backwards, only to stop and freeze on the spot when my eyes took in the other anomalous aspect of the hounds’ appearance.

Fletched shafts protruded from a flank of one and a neck or shoulder of the other. Arrows. The dogs were wounded with arrows.

Either they had gone exploring in the maze and stumbled into a trap, or I wasn’t alone.


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7 Responses to “179: Trolls & Traps”

  1. pedestrian says:

    hellfire and damnation Mackenzie, you need to take ballet lessons just to develop some coordination and endurance. That’s why they send American footballers. Many years ago, my wife was an assistant instructor for a ballet school and she had to work with several players.

    Let me rephrase that. She would of killed any of the other instructors for the opportunity. After a few weeks though, the Head Instructor thought that Alberta was too distracting. Yeah the tall, blonde viking girl has always had that effect on men. Sure did on me.

    The team coach was upset that there had been several fights in the locker-room, between the players, over who gets “personal” instruction from my hottie.

    One fight occured at the school. Alberta watched, amused as always about the childish behavior of men. It was the Head Dance Instructor who broke it up.

    That skinny little russian doll waded into the melee swinging her hickory wood cane as expertly as a riot policeman and put them all down. Damn, I would of paid to have seen that.

    Current score: 0
    • capybroa says:

      Several people in Mack’s circle of acquaintances would have paid to see it, too.

      Current score: 0
  2. Maesenko says:

    When I read “weeping angels” in that graveyard area, I had to remind myself not to blink.

    And I don’t even watch Doctor Who. Well done.

    Current score: 9
    • MackSffrs says:

      Weeping angels, scariest freaking… no, Mack doesn’t need to know.

      Current score: 5
      • capybroa says:

        NO. NO WEEPING ANGELS.

        I’m a grown-ass man and those things gave me nightmares. Mack does NOT need these things in her life.

        Current score: 7
  3. Ryzndmon says:

    Heh. At least there are no fraggling CLOWNS in the maze.

    Just saying.

    Current score: 0