Troll Curse Sample Chapters

Chapter001

Jasyn edged around the sides of the tent. Despite the chill that seeped in where the tent's outer coating of mud had worn off the furs, he didn’t venture near the warmth of the fire in the centre. Better to stay far away from the roughly built centre table where the best warriors sat.

Only a dozen of them, clad in leather armour, had the honour of sitting there.

The firelight glinted off their green skin and made the red ridges on their ears glow. Raising their dented mugs, the warriors crashed them together, the last of the ale slopping out.

“Those humans aren’t going to know what hit them,” one of them grunted.

In the centre of the feast sat Mugos. The champion’s arms bulged with dark green muscles. As a badge of honour, he wore the plaited hair of the last champion tucked behind his pointy, red rimmed ear. Jasyn turned away as Mugos’s girlfriend, Kriss, leaned over and half kissed, half bit, the champion’s ear.

Jasyn should have stayed away tonight. Every night he felt the need to come and see, to reassure himself that she hadn’t fully committed to Mugos. To his relief the strength of her magic, and that of the champion, remained unchanged.

Unbonded.

It made sense. Mugos wouldn’t send her into battle knowing that if she died, so would he. The magical bond was why so many warriors married late, after their fighting days were done.

The warriors’ laughter rang in Jasyn’s ears as he scanned the edges of the gathering. Almost all of the camp was here tonight, nearly a hundred trolls crowded into the tent, all hoping to share in the last of the food available.

His sister, Yass, waved to him from a table in the back corner. With one last look at the warriors, he skirted around the tables, avoiding eye contact with any of the other trolls, to join his sister. His brother-in-law, Uma, moved over to make room for him.

“Here. We managed to grab this before the others arrived.” Uma held out some stale bread.

Jasyn’s stomach growled as he looked at the bread, but he shook his head. “I'm not really hungry, I ate before I came. Yass can have it.”

Uma and Yass looked at him in disbelief, but he shook his head again. “I'm not hungry,” he insisted.

Yass looked exhausted, her cheekbones sunken, her arms and legs skinny. Her huge pregnant belly, stretching the leather bindings of the fur coat she wore, was the only part of her that didn’t look like it would disappear behind a tree trunk.

She needed food far more than he did.

He glanced back at the centre table, where Mugos gnawed on a scrawny rabbit leg, the sound of his teeth grating on the bone sending a shiver down Jasyn’s spine.

Sitting on the champion’s knee, Kriss grabbed his arm and pulled it towards her, baring her teeth to chew on the rabbit bone. Everyone around them laughed, but Jasyn saw the flash of anger on Mugos’s face.

His movement a blur, Mugos flung Kriss onto the ground and stood over her, his sword at her throat. “No one steals my food.”

The room fell silent. Everyone held their breath. For once, Kriss didn't fight back. There was nothing she could do.

Mugos’s laugh broke the silence. He re-sheathed his sword and held out his hand to Kriss. “Got to keep you on your toes and ready for the battle tonight. You can't afford to become complacent. Complacent trolls are dead trolls.” He handed her the bone, not really a generous move since there was no meat left on it. “Eat up.”

Kriss bared her teeth in a half snarl, half laugh. But she accepted the bone and everyone went back to laughing and drinking.

Jasyn didn't take his eyes off her, and moments later was rewarded by the sight of the glare she shot at the back of Mugos’s head.

Why did she put up with Mugos? She obviously didn't love him.

Still holding the bone in one hand, Kriss picked up the last few tiny potatoes off a cracked plate and stuffed them into her mouth, charred skin and all.

His stomach growled loudly. “It's not fair,” he grumbled.

“Don't even think it,” Yass said quickly. “Besides,” she looked at the centre table, “There isn't enough there to be worth it.”

Jasyn sighed. It was true. Even the centre table had almost no food left. The hard, frozen ground outside would grow nothing, and it would still be several months before animals woke from hibernation and hunting would be worthwhile. There was no food to be found on this side of the ridge.

After tonight’s raid on the other side though, there would be enough to feed everyone for months.

Those who returned, anyway.

Jasyn’s stomach turned at the memories that flashed through his mind. He had seen the pain in their eyes and the wounds on their bodies after the last raid. Many had died even after making it back to the troll camp. Jasyn tried not to think of how many could have been saved if they had accepted the mage circle’s magical healing.

Tonight, Kriss would be one of them. Every nerve in Jasyn’s body was wound tight. He had no right to worry about her or to care if she came back or not. She never paid any attention to him, even after the day when he’d first noticed that she was different.

But he did care. And the thought of her dying or coming back with horrific injuries scared him more than anything else. Jasyn had worried about her each time she’d gone over the ridge, but thus far she had always managed to return unscathed.

But such luck couldn’t last.

“There has to be a better way,” he said, banging his fist on the table.

There had to be.

“Have you found anything?” Yass asked sympathetically.

“Nothing. Our history only goes back a few hundred years and most of it is vague. There’s no indication how long these raids have been going on, or what started this war. If only we could ask them…”

He’d never seen the humans, of course. Any of them that made it over the ridge didn’t live long enough to reach the encampment. Everything Jasyn heard and read indicated that humans were sentient, thinking, feeling beings, like the trolls. Killing in self-defence was one thing, but this glorification of violence turned his stomach.

If only he knew why magic didn’t work in the human village. If he had magic, then he could walk right into the village and try to talk to them. Maybe they knew something about the history that the trolls didn’t.

Either way, there had to be a better solution than killing them all.

A cheer went up from the centre of the tent. Jasyn glanced back and saw Kriss standing on the table, demonstrating a thrust with her sword. “I’m going to spear two of them at once,” she boasted.

Jasyn felt sick. How could she stand there and talk about killing another creature so callously? She wasn't really like that. Under all that tough exterior, she had a heart. He was sure of it.

“They don’t deserve to die,” he blurted out.

Suddenly, the whole room was silent. All eyes turned in his direction and he wished he could sink into the ground.

“What did you say?” Mugos demanded.

Yass reached for his hand, but Uma pulled her back.

The urge to deny having said anything was strong. But Jasyn was tired of accepting the way things were. Even if Kriss came back safe and sound again, it was still wrong. And he didn’t want to sit by and say nothing any longer.

He straightened his back. “Why do we need to kill them?”

Mugos stared at him, then started to laugh. He waved to his friends and pointed to Jasyn. “This mage doesn’t understand. Tell him, Kriss.”

Kriss glanced at Mugos, then turned to Jasyn. This time, her eyes didn’t pass over him as though he weren’t there. The wicked smile she gave him caused his heart to flip-flop. She stalked slowly towards him and Jasyn held his breath. “Because, mage, they have all the food. Do you think they’re going to share it with us if we ask nicely?”

It almost looked like the red ridges on her ears were pulsing. Her plaited hair swung around her face and her eyes bored into him. Jasyn could barely breathe.

“Well? What’s wrong? Human got your tongue?”

Jasyn swallowed. “Have you…” His voice squeaked and his lips were dry. He licked them, then tried again, “Have you tried?”

She stopped dead and stared at him. “What?”

“I said, have you tried to speak to them? To ask them for food instead of taking it? They care for their young like we do, surely they have some compassion.” The damage was done now. If they were going to kill him for his radical ideas, he might as well take this chance to express them. “We spend so much time preparing and training for battle, and each time we lose valuable warriors. What if there was a better way? A peaceful way?”

A deafening silence greeted his words. Then someone on the other side of the tent snickered. Someone else laughed out loud, and before he knew it, the whole tent was laughing and jeering at him.

Jasyn’s gaze slipped to the floor and he kicked at the dirt with his feet. His ears burned. How stupid was he, to think that the other trolls might long for peace as much as he did? Or that Kriss might.

An indrawn breath caught his attention and he jerked his head up. Kriss stared at him, her fierce expression wavering.

A look he’d seen before.

The memory of that afternoon was burned into his brain. He’d been out fishing that day, and was taking the few small fish he’d caught in the half frozen stream home to his mother and little sister. He hadn’t expected to run into two bigger trolls, Hasp and Orlis, Kriss’s brothers. He’d tried to hide the fish, but they’d snatched them away, jeering that he was so scrawny that no amount of extra food would ever help him. They needed to grow big and strong, because they were going to be warriors, and beat the champion and lead the trolls to their greatest victory ever.

Next thing he knew, he was using all his wits to protect his stomach and face from their blows.

A high pitched battle cry was all the warning they’d had, then Kriss had come out from nowhere and launched herself on top of Hasp, pulling his hair and clawing at his eyes. Hasp’s attention had been immediately diverted from beating Jasyn to trying to pull his sister off his back. But she’d clung on tight, kicking out at Orlis as he tried to pull her off Hasp’s back.

Jasyn had stood there, wanting to help her, but not knowing how. He’d tried to swing at Orlis, but had tripped on a tree branch instead. By the time Jasyn pulled himself to his feet, Orlis was lying on his back and Kriss’s punches to Hasp’s face were drawing blood.

Both brothers had run off as soon as they got the chance, leaving Jasyn’s fish lying in the dirt.

Kriss had looked at him, then down at the fish. She’d turned up her nose, and said, “They aren’t even worth my effort. Get out of here.”

He’d run all the way home.

But he’d never forgotten the look in her eyes and he had always been sure that she’d left the fish out of compassion, not disgust.

The same look had flashed in her eyes now. Hope lifted his heart. She understood. That was worth all the risks he’d taken. And if she took his side, surely Mugos would listen?

But before the hope could take hold, her eyes hardened and his stomach fell. She turned back to Mugos. “Do you want me take care of this nuisance for you, Mug, before these crazy ideas of his confuse trolls?”

More laughs rang out. Jasyn could barely breathe. This was it. He’d given it his best shot and he’d failed. It was over.

Kriss reached for her sword. Panic welled up in Jasyn. Even if she didn’t remember him, surely she wouldn’t…

She couldn’t…

Could she?

Mugos raised his hand and the room went silent.

The champion sprawled in his chair, pulling at his beard and staring at Jasyn.

This man held Jasyn’s life in his hands. Jasyn didn’t hold much hope. Mugos was well known for his contempt of people who studied magic instead of weapons training.

“No,” he drawled. “I have a better idea. Why don’t you take him with you? You can show him, and any other troll who gets the same idea, just how friendly the humans are.”

This time, Jasyn was sure his heart stopped. Go with them on a raid? Was Mugos crazy? That was no better proposition than dying here and now. At least that would be quick.

Maybe that was his plan? To make Jasyn suffer?

“What?” Kriss demanded. Her attention shifted from Jasyn back to Mugos and she turned on her heel and strode towards him. “If you want this idiot gone, I’ll get rid of him for you, but I won’t take him with us. He will jeopardise the raid and get my warriors killed.”

Her words stung, but Jasyn couldn’t argue their truth.

“Are you so ill prepared that you can’t protect one little troll? He doesn’t need to fight. But surely he’s capable of finding and carrying food. And he can have a go at talking to the humans for you. Who knows, maybe they’ll stop and apologise for killing so many trolls and for not sharing their food all these years.” Sarcasm coloured his voice.

Kriss and Mugos stared at each other, neither backing down.

Jasyn held his breath. Was Kriss thinking of challenging Mugos? The idea wasn't so far from possibility. Rumours that she would one day challenge the champion were rampant. But so far, she never had.

Far from it.

Memories of their public kisses flashed through his mind.

Now would be a stupid time to try, with the raid planned for tonight. No matter who won, the troll warriors would be weakened and less likely to have a successful raid. Kriss would never risk that.

Especially not over him. Would she?

Before Jasyn could figure out how he felt about that, she backed down.

Giving a deliberately careless shrug, she said, “Sure, if that's what you want. But if he becomes a liability, I'll kill him myself.”

“I expect nothing less,” Mugos said in amusement. He gave Jasyn a disdainful look. “You'd better give him armour and a sword, otherwise he’ll make you look weak.”

Then he turned away to demand more ale.

“Come on, we'd better get you kitted up,” Kriss said gruffly.

Not knowing what else to do, Jasyn followed her out of the tent.

Snow fell lightly outside, the moonlight glinting off the white flakes. Jasyn began to shiver so violently he could barely walk. What was he doing? Mugos might be saying he could go talk, but why would the humans listen in the middle of a raid? A raid wasn’t about talking. It was clearly about fighting. And when he couldn't use his magic, he had no way of stopping them killing him for long enough to make them listen.

“Psst!”

Uma hid behind a tent, beckoning to him. Jasyn stared at Kriss, but she strode ahead, not listening, so he paused near his friend.

“Are you all right?” Uma whispered.

“What am I going to do, Uma? I can’t go on a raid.” Jasyn’s shoulders slumped. He glanced up at Kriss, but she didn’t seem to have even noticed that he wasn’t following her.

“Who said you had to fight them? Go and talk to them. This could be your best chance.”

“But this is a raid. Do you really think the other trolls are just going to wait around while I try to talk to the humans? They’re going to be too busy fighting. And…” he hesitated, but the truth couldn’t be ignored. “What if one of them attacks me?”

Uma was silent. He didn’t have an answer either.

Jasyn heaved a sigh and Uma echoed it.

Then Uma straightened his shoulders. “Look, no one ever said this was going to be easy. But this is what you’ve always wanted. It’s the best chance you’re going to get to see if there is another way. Could you really live with yourself if you didn’t take it?”

“Well, it’s not like I have another option anyway. If I refuse to go, Mugos will kill me.”

Uma hesitated, then said quietly, “Not if you run. Just say the word, and we’ll come with you.”

Jasyn stared at him. “You couldn’t do that. We’d all die.”

Uma shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. You’ve said yourself that if we put more time and effort into magic, then we could find a way to grow food, even here in the snow. If there were enough of us, and I’m pretty sure there would be, we’d find a way.”

It was a huge offer from his friend. Jasyn’s heart warmed at the thought that they cared enough about him and his beliefs to even consider it.

But he couldn’t let them. “No, that’s not fair on you or Yass. But thank you for offering.” He squared his shoulders. “You’re right. I have to go. Even if just to see what’s on the other side of the ridge for myself.”

“Are you going to stand around in the cold chatting all night?”

Jasyn turned to look at Kriss, her hands on her hips, glaring at him.

“Just a minute.” Now that his decision was made, some of the fear had left him.

Uma clapped him on the shoulder. “Take care, friend.”

It hit him. This could be the last time Jasyn saw his friend. He was heading off to battle.

Adrenalin surged through him, strengthening him enough that he could push away the fear that rose at the thought. He didn’t know how he was going to do this, but he had to try. “Take care of Yass. And if I die, whatever you do, don’t let her name the baby after me.”

Uma gave a short laugh. “Good luck. You know she doesn’t listen to a word I say. So your best bet is to stay alive.”

“I’ll do my best,” Jasyn promised.

He didn’t know how to say goodbye. His throat choked up at the thought, so he clapped Uma on the shoulder, and turned away before his friend could see the tears in his eyes. He forced his feet to walk towards Kriss.

Before he caught up to her, she turned and strode towards the armoury. By the time he pushed his way through the flap, the cold had frozen the tears on his cheeks. He swiped them away, and stared at Kriss, who stared back, her arms folded.

“What was that all about? You’re not planning on running, are you?”

How much had she overheard? Not that it mattered.

“No, even though the thought is tempting.”

“What, more scared of me coming after you than you are of the puny humans? You should be.”

For some reason, Jasyn felt like smiling. At least some things were still predictable. “Well, you’re pretty scary.”

She scowled at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Never mind. Aren’t we supposed to be finding me some armour?”

Her scowl deepened, then she shrugged and turned to the armour stand. “I doubt we have anything that will fit your scrawny frame.” Despite her comment, she pulled out a large leather chest plate and tossed it at him. “Here, try that.”

The full weight of the chest plate hit Jasyn in the stomach and he barely managed to stay on his feet. He fiddled with the heavy leather, trying to figure out which way was up.

Kriss watched him impassively for a few moments, before sighing heavily. “Here.” She took the armour and twisted it. Suddenly, it looked like a chest plate again. She lifted it over Jasyn’s head and settled it into place.

It was like trying to stand with a log on his shoulders. The heavy weight pushed all the air out of his lungs, and his knees threatened to collapse. How did warriors manage to run and fight in this stuff?

Oh, that’s right. They had muscles. Something he lacked.

“I can’t do it,” he said helplessly. “I can’t even walk in this.”

Kriss stared at him, her arms crossed. “Well, this was a stupid idea, wasn’t it?”

“It wasn’t my idea!”

“It was your idea to stand up in the middle of the tent and announce that we should try talking to the humans. What kind of nonsense was that? What did you think would happen?”

“I…”

“You didn’t think, did you? That’s why you’re not a warrior. A warrior would think through the consequences before acting. And you’d better start doing that, or you’re not going to get out of this alive.” She paused. “Of course, the sooner you die, the less time I have to spend hauling your butt around.”

“Well, don’t worry, I’ll probably die pretty quickly.”

He’d meant his comment to come out as a joke, but somehow, it sounded mournful. He should have kept his mouth shut.

Kriss turned away. He couldn’t blame her for giving up on him. He was a lost cause.

“Here, try this.” She held out a smaller breast plate.

Jasyn lifted off the huge one and swapped it with the one she held. At least this one he managed to put on without any help, even if there were gaps at the sides. He flexed his arms. He could move more easily, too. “This is better. Why didn’t you give me this one before?”

“It’s the one we give to kids when they’re training,” she said dryly. “It’s not designed to stop anything more than a wooden sword.”

“Do the humans have wooden swords?” Silly question, of course not. How could they kill trolls with wooden swords? “I guess you want to see me get killed even quicker,” he joked.

“You won’t die if you stay out of their way. Don’t try to be a hero. Let us do the killing. You just grab any food you see and stay low.”

He couldn’t follow her. One minute, she seemed like the considerate and fair troll he’d met in the forest, and the next she was the cutthroat warrior again. Did he dare to hope she’d thought about him since then, too? Jasyn stared at her. “It’s almost like you don’t want to see me die?”

“I don’t want to see any of my warriors die trying to save you.”

Jasyn swallowed. “No, of course not. I’ll stay out of the way.”

“And do exactly what I, or any other warriors, tell you.”

Jasyn nodded solemnly. What was he getting into?

“Here.” Kriss held out a sword.

Jasyn stared at it. “I… I can't.”

“Trust me, it comes naturally when a human is running at you, screaming bloody murder. I know you have no training, but they're puny and small and not that hard to kill. Even you should be able to take a single human out.”

That didn't make him feel any better. He shook his head. “I can't kill someone.”

Kriss raised an eyebrow. “Not even if they're trying to kill you?”

Images flashed through his mind. Humans running at him, swords swinging wildly, followed by dying screams and blood. Jasyn’s stomach clenched. He shook his head again. “I can't.”

Kriss stared at him in disbelief for a moment, then shrugged and put the sword back. “It's your funeral.”

Chapter002

Kriss’s breathing slowed as she rounded the corner. She knew she would only have a split second to assess the human warriors guarding the pass. Her eyes swept across them. Two adults and a youth, as usual. Relief hit her. Even though they had picked the perfect vantage point, she had to run directly at them with no cover, the feeble humans were no match for her warriors.

With a blood curdling battle cry, she charged at them, and in that time the littlest one had taken off at a run. Pulling out a throwing knife as she ran, Kriss threw it at his head, but it bounced off the rocks as he ducked around a corner and out of sight.

Oh well. Even with a warning, the humans were no match for the dozen warriors she had brought with her. Two of them speedily dispatched the humans who had remained behind. Kriss stepped over the bodies, not sparing them a glance.

Not so Jasyn, who turned an even darker shade of green and tried desperately not to step in the blood pooling on the stone.

The gentle troll wasn't cut out for this. Damn Mugos for insisting she bring him. She should let him die, the sooner the better. That would be the most sensible thing to do. Protecting him would cost her.

But she couldn't bring herself to give up on him.

Jasyn was different. He was clearly a weakling and a coward. She’d known that for years. The fact that he'd refused to even carry a sword to protect himself confirmed it. And yet, something had made him stand up to Mugos and spout those crazy ideas.

What was it? She somehow couldn't believe it was simple stupidity.

There was no time to think about that. The pass ended up ahead and Kriss and her warriors ran out onto fresh, green grass. Ahead of them, at least twenty small, shadowy humans raced out of the village. Somewhere behind them, a child cried.

Kriss shut the sound out. If she stopped to think about it, she couldn't do what had to be done. She wouldn't feel pity for these humans, who lived in nice wooden houses and had plenty of food to fill their bellies. She needed to think of the troll children back home who were going to bed hungry, but with promises of a feast in the morning.

A feast that was her responsibility to produce.

She gave a roar, the sound helping speed the adrenalin through her veins, and launched herself at the human running towards her. He barely came up to her chest. Her sword cut through him like a knife through a chicken leg. Three humans replaced him in moments, but Kriss wasn't afraid. They were pitiful warriors.

She swung at the nearest human, but he sidestepped her sword, ducking under her arm to slash at her back. She didn't even feel it through her armour, leaving her free to behead the one in front of her. The female human next to him began to back away, her eyes wide. That was better.

The one thing the humans had on their side though, was numbers. It didn’t seem to matter how many of them she killed, more kept coming.

Beside her, a troll dropped to the ground with five humans overpowering him. The humans cheered and the sound infuriated Kriss. She fell on them with a shout, keeping careful control of her anger to make sure each strike did the maximum amount of damage.

Once they lay in a pile at her feet, she looked around. Two trolls had made it to the grassy area in the middle of the village, where food sat uneaten on tables, and benches had been knocked over in haste. Some sort of celebration had obviously been interrupted. Good, that meant there was plenty of supplies in easy reach. Three more trolls still fought on the outskirts of the village. She judged carefully, deciding who needed her help most, then joined in the fray again.

It was only after she had killed several more humans and paused to look around, breathing heavily, that she realised Jasyn was nowhere to be seen. She glanced quickly at the two troll bodies lying in the grass, but they both wore full armour. Not Jasyn.

Concern flooded her. Was there no end to his stupidity? Why had he refused to take a weapon? Anyone with a sword was a danger to him. She should have pushed him more. She should have insisted.

Her eyes searched the buildings. Where had he gone? Was he still alive? She saw a shadow move near a house some distance away. Jasyn! He bent over something lying on the ground, not even noticing the human woman who stalked towards him, sword held out.

Kriss was too far away to get to him in time.

She glanced around frantically. Relief flooded through her when she saw Telos, one of her best warriors, only a few steps away. She gave a whistle and pointed and he rushed to take on the feeble human.

*****

Everywhere Jasyn looked there was more blood, more people and trolls yelling and rushing at each other, swords drawn. He stepped out from behind the warriors and when a human rushed at him, he held out his empty hands and said, “Please. I don’t want to hurt you.”

He wasn’t sure if she even heard the words. She just yelled and swung her sword at him.

Instinct kicked in and Jasyn jumped back, the blade only just missing his belly. His heart pounded in his chest and now he regretted not giving in to Kriss’s demands that he bring a sword. He could have used it to block, if nothing else.

He had been right. There was no chance to talk to the humans. No one would hear him over the din.

He’d never seen a human up close before, and any thoughts that they were gentle and kind swiftly fled. Every single human he saw held a sword, and every one had rage written across their faces. They came at any troll they saw, as intent on killing as the trolls were. And they didn’t seem to care that he didn’t have a sword and wasn’t fighting. They just saw a troll and wanted to kill him.

They may look weaker, but underneath it all, they were no different from the trolls.

He didn’t have time to ponder that right now though, because the human was still coming at him.

Before he could react, a troll stepped between them and thrust his sword straight through the human, pulled it out, and kept moving. Jasyn stared at the human, her eyes blank and blood trickling out of her mouth.

What was the point? If life was all violence and fighting, was it really worth living?

Stumbling away from the fighting, Jasyn didn’t even look where he was going. He didn't care anymore. He needed to get away from it all.

But there was no getting away from it. Even once he escaped the immediate battle and thought he was safe, he tripped over a body and fell face down on the bloodstained grass. Jasyn scrambled up against a wall and stared out hopelessly.

No wonder warriors were so hard. He could see why Kriss bragged about how many humans she was going to kill. No one who hadn’t hardened themselves could do this and not be broken. No one could remain the same when faced with this horror. He felt a moment’s sadness for the Kriss he had barely known, before she started going on raids with the others. Was there anything left of that troll?

He stared at the body in front of him, the brown cloak hiding its shape almost completely. How ironic, that the only human who hadn’t tried to kill him was a dead one.

Was it a woman or a man? Old or young? Curiosity ate at Jasyn and he climbed to his feet and bent over the body, rolling it over. Cold, lifeless eyes stared back up at him, surrounded by a grey beard and hair. An old, unarmed man.

The only thing the stiff, dead hands clutched was a book. The mismatch cut through the indifference Jasyn felt. Not all of the humans were aggressive. The ones who fought were the warriors, like the trolls who came here. But there had to be people like him among the humans—people who believed in peace, not war.

There had to be.

He bent over to pick up the book, curious to know what it was that the old man was protecting. Was it a story, a history book, or perhaps a book of recipes?

Before he could find out, a war cry startled him and he looked up quickly. A human woman ran towards him, her sword raised.

Fear froze Jasyn to the spot. And as the woman ran towards him, he realised that he desperately wanted to live. There were things he wanted to know, and maybe to do. He held out the book, as though it could somehow protect him, but it only seemed to make the human angrier. Her lips pulled back from her teeth in a snarl.

A warrior roar startled both of them. The human swung around just as one of Kriss’s warriors descended on her. Jasyn watched, his knees weak. There was no way the human woman could defend herself in time. The troll was too big and he was coming too fast.

Even though he wanted to live, he didn’t want it to be at her expense. She was only defending her people.

The troll grimaced and he twisted in the air, dropping his sword and scrambling to reach behind him. He fell to the ground, three arrows sprouting from his back.

Jasyn stared at him, stunned. Was he dead?

Even if he wasn't, he soon would be. The human jumped onto him, plunging her sword into his back.

Jasyn felt sick. The troll had given up his life in vain, since the human would kill Jasyn next.

“Get a move on!”

Kriss grabbed his wrist and pulled him away, into the shadow of the house. “We’re retreating. Head for the ridge.”

Jasyn stared around, trying to make out the shadow of the ridge over the houses, but it was impossible in the darkness. Kriss gave him a shove and he blindly floundered in that direction, breaking into a run. Once he was away from the houses and lights, he could see the black outline of the ridge.

He kept his eyes on it, not looking down to see what he stumbled over.

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