Anya and the Secrets of Cupola

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The Troll

Anya spent all evening agonizingly forcing herself not to say anything to anyone about her father or Clay. While Gevin agreed to come to the meeting, she didn’t want to get his hopes up like hers, just in case. And she certainly couldn’t say anything to her mom or Terrence.

The next day proved to be even harder. A nervous wreck, she cleaned the house, went for a walk, paced in circles, and finally succumbed to laying in her bed and staring at the ceiling, unable to stop herself from guessing what Taika’s plans were. Maybe she would tell them to leave it be, that it was out of their hands. No. Even if she didn’t believe her father was being held captive, Taika wouldn’t let Avaline take over Cupola and turn it into a giant puppy palace. Maybe she knew where they could learn magic and fight her. No. They didn’t have any way of doing that. No spell books, no wands, and Anya was pretty sure you had to have magical power to use it. She was also pretty sure she didn’t have any, no matter what Methuselah said. No, all they had were Taika and her potions of healing. To fight a 200 year old evil witch. Piece of cake, right?

Cake. Cake sounds good. She’d like some cake. Knock, knock, knock. Gevin poked his head in.

“You ready?” he asked.

“YES!”

She flew out the door, grabbed his wrist, and dragged him all the way down the street, across the courtyard, and to Taika’s tower. Gevin tried not to fall while simultaneously apologizing for bumping into people and attempting not to step on small children. She left him clutching the doorway at the bottom of the library steps, bent over and gasping for breath. Oblivious to his condition, she called from the top of the steps, “Are you coming?”

Gevin pulled himself up the stairs, still heaving humongous gulps of air. “Taika … needs to find … a way … to make … her library … lower,” he panted. “This is ridiculous.”

Anya opened the door for him.

“Whoa!” Gevin’s eyes bulged at the sight of the library. It looked twice its normal size. New shelves hung from the walls, the tables shined spotless, and the open windows allowed for light to reflect off the different colored liquids held within the flasks of the alchemy set. Taika had definitely been busy.

She called out from behind some shelves, “I’ve been working on a diversion plan.”

“Do tell.” Gevin remained agape.

Anya walked around slowly, taking it all in. She saw Otis’s chair was empty. “Please tell me you didn’t poison Otis again.”

Taika came into view, carrying a book wider than she was. “What? No. Of course not. He’s left for home already.”

Gevin and Anya exchanged looks. Taika thumped her giant book onto a table next to the wizards’ journal and the Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures.

Anya saw them and asked, “You don’t keep those out when he’s here, do you?”

Taika turned through the pages. “He doesn’t pay much attention to what I do, so he’s hardly a threat to my work. But if it makes you feel any better, I never have those particular books out unless I’m alone.”

“Have you learned anything new from them?”

“Oh yes, quite a lot. Although I’ve only grazed the journal. I’ve mostly been studying the encyclopedia.”

“Cool!” Gevin had seen the babbling alchemy set. He reached a finger out to touch it. “What’s in this?”

Taika tried to stop him. “Don’t touch it!” Too late. The flask sputtering the most boiled over and exploded. Anya ducked, dodging the mess, but Gevin didn’t make it in time. He could only turn enough to keep it from hitting him square in the face. This resulted in brilliant purple goop all over his back and hair.

Taika froze. She tentatively asked, “Gevin?”

He slowly started to stand. Anya couldn’t see what the big deal was. He may be a mess, but a good bath would take care of that. Why was Taika acting so scared all of a sudden?

Taika put her palms forward and gingerly addressed him, “Gevin? I’m going to go to the table and get you the antidote, OK?”

Gevin turned around. Anya could see him now. And now she was scared too. His teeth and fists were clinched. His shoulders hunched over. His body seethed with every angry, heavy breath. Red rage consumed his eyes. “RRRAAAAAHHH!”

Gevin lunged towards Taika who immediately jumped out of the way. “Quick! Anya! Divert him!”

Anya spun around, looking for an idea. “What did you do to him!?”

Gevin started throwing things. Taika tried to explain while being attacked, “That potion was full of hate.” Crash. Taika shielded her head with her arms and ducked under the shattering glass. “It’s made him angry.” Ka-thump! She righted a shelf before it fell from the thrown book. “I have to stop this. Get him so I can get the antidote!” She landed behind Otis’s empty chair and pushed it between Gevin and herself.

“AAAAGGG!!” Gevin flexed his arms while screaming with rage.

Anya searched for a shield. Grabbing a fallen shutter, she held it to her side and shouted, “Hey Gevin! Your brother looks better than you!”

Taika screamed, “Is that the best you can come up with?”

“AAAAHHHHHHH!” Gevin turned and aimed for Anya.

“I’m not exactly used to insulting people!”

Fingers spread and menacing, Gevin opened his arms and lunged on her.

She raised the shutter up and thrust it outward, hitting Gevin’s tense body. Pushing with all her might, her feet still started to slide backward towards the door. “Hurry Taika! I can’t hold him back!”

She managed to keep his head forced back. But his arms reached around the wooden shield. She thrust her arms out in front of her as far as they would go, shrinking her body away from his hands. He continued to bear down until he had managed to drive her all the way through the door. Her feet neared the top of the steps.

“TAIKA!!!”

GOOSH!

Anya felt the release of his weight against her and almost fell forward on top of him. She caught her balance and slowly lowered her shutter, peeking over the top of it. “Gevin?” she asked in a timid voice.

Gevin had calmed significantly. In fact, he looked a little drowsy.

“Gevin?” She let her shield down completely and then dropped it just in time to catch him as he fell over. She lowered him to the floor where he lay asleep, and very, very happy.

She stood up and demanded from Taika, “What did you do?”

“I threw the antidote on him.”

“I mean what happened? Why did he go mad?”

“I was brewing a potion that helps me when I get angry.”

Anya gawked at her. “You what?”

Taika explained, “Whenever I would get frustrated, I would open the flask and yell inside of it until I felt better. It traps my anger in the potion, disallowing its release until it’s let out on purpose. Unfortunately, if someone other than the maker goes near it, it explodes.”

“Explodes?! Isn’t that a bit dangerous to have around?”

“I’m really, really sorry. I made sure to make the antidote before I made the anger removal potion just in case. In fact”—She grabbed another bottle with a light yellow liquid and held it up—“the antidote doubles as a sleeping draught, which is why I wanted you up here in the first place, to show you my idea for defeating the witch.”

They were interrupted by Gevin’s snores. Anya said, “Let’s put Gevin someplace more comfortable.”

They each grabbed under an arm and dragged him out of the way. Anya shut the door for privacy. Taika went to get a rag and wiped off as much potion as she could from him while wearing protective gloves. By the time she had most of it cleaned off and threw the infected materials into the fire, he started coming to.

“Wha?” Snort! “What happened?”

“You were attacked by Taika’s angry potion.” Anya smiled down at him. His yellow and purple hair was spiked up on one side by the gelatinous goop of the potions; and the other side of his face was covered in drool, with red indentations from the floorboards.

Taika stared down at him and bit her lip. “I’m sorry, Gevin. I got too excited and didn’t think to put it away before I had visitors.”

He smiled stupidly and mumbled, “’Sokay. I feel,” Thud! He fell back dead asleep on the floor again.

Anya sighed. “I guess we better let him sleep it off.”

“ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!”

“Why were you getting so angry that you needed an angry potion anyway?”

“I didn’t honestly need it. But the angry potion just happens to be one of the ones I’m able to make without magical ingredients. So I made it.”

“Ah. Of course.” Anya made a face at her as if to say Who wouldn’t make an angry exploding potion for the heck of it? “So, how do we get the sleeping potion into the witch? Or … onto … by the looks of things.”

“Ah! I plan to make a duplicating potion!”

“A duplicating potion? I thought the only recipes you had access to were healer potions?”

“They are! But, the healers had a regrowth potion that basically duplicated whatever part of the body they were trying to regrow. For example, if someone lost a limb, they would try to salvage part of said limb in order to grow a new one. When that wasn’t possible, they would use the opposite limb instead. You can’t regrow one leg without at least part of the other one. Unfortunately, it often resulted in two left legs or two right arms for the victims, which was quite problematic I assure you.

“This potion won’t work here. We’ll have to use it outside of the Field of course, but I think I can modify it to duplicate us. Twins’ blood should be easy enough to come by. I’ll just ask Ciqala and Mingan. They’re always looking for an excuse to bleed anyway. I already have an extra mirror, and pieces of what we want duplicated: us. The only thing we need is the magical ingredient, and I’m afraid we can’t substitute on this one.”

“What is it?”

“Troll toe hairs.”

“Troll toe hairs!?”

“Apparently troll hairs don’t actually grow, they duplicate themselves, especially between the toes.”

“That is truly disgusting.”

“Yes, yes it is. But aside from that, how do we go about getting them?”

“I thought you had a plan already.”

“Well, partially.” Taika picked up a book from a shelf and opened it up to a map. “I’ve looked through my records here and discovered a rocky area northwest of the castle that’s known as a troll subdivision.” She pointed to it on the map in the book. “It shouldn’t take more than a few hours to get there, so we can get there and back in one day. But that’s as far as my plan goes. I don’t have a potion for extracting troll toe hairs once we’ve found one. We’ll need help for that part.”

Anya gazed at nothing, still in a bit of disbelief, when an idea dawned across her face. “Terrence!”

“Anya, I know you think your brother can be a bit of a…”

“No! Terrence wants to be a slayer! This is the perfect opportunity for him to actually become one.”

“ZZZZZ…. Slayer? ’errence?” Thud!


“You want me to what?” Terrence stood on the dirt path outside their house, staring down at Anya.

“We need some troll toe hairs.”

“Why in Cupola do you need troll anything!?”

“Shhhh!!” Anya fluttered her hands, trying to hush her brother.

“Look. It doesn’t matter what you want them for, I don’t know where any stinking trolls are anyways!” He turned to go back in their house.

“I do!” she whispered loudly.

He stopped and turned. “You know where a troll is?”

Anya crossed her arms and took a deep breath. “Taika found some ancient research on magical animals, including trolls.”

Terrence gaped at his sister.

“She’s been using some of the scrolls in the library to make … magical potions.” She muttered the last words.

“Magical potions?” he shouted a whisper between his teeth.

“We need the troll hairs to make a potion. Besides, did you or did you not tell me, and I quote, ‘Bradley’s got a sword and has been training us to be his assistants so we can find a troll and take its hoard.’?”

Terrence looked like he was a having a personal battle within himself. “Fine! I’ll do it. But you have to let me in on this potion making business.”

“I’ll see what I can do. We leave in two days.”

“Two days!? What do I do about work?”

“That’s your problem, but we can’t wait any longer.” They may not have known how much time remained before Avaline could reach Cupola, but they knew it couldn’t be much. Even after procuring their precious potion particle, Taika still needed time to make the mixture. And besides, Anya wanted to free her father, or at least see if he was there to free.

Terrence’s bony face wiggled in consternation over Anya’s time limit. Finally he said, “Fine. We’ll meet you in two days.”

As usual, Taika didn’t have any trouble at all getting off work. Gevin, on the other hand, had to promise Matthew triple payback this time. But as he said to Anya, “A troll? A real life troll? Of course I’m going! There’s no way I’d miss that!”

Terrence told his slayer buddies about Anya’s proposition. All except for the potion part. He wasn’t quite ready to explain that little detail just yet. Fergus was unsure at first, but eventually got permission from his father, the blacksmith, to leave work that day. Bradley, on the other hand, jumped at the chance without the slightest hint of hesitation. All six of them met up at the northwest area outside the castle walls.

Prepared as always, Taika brought a rather large leather backpack filled with potions, scrolls, and books. She pointed to the white peak past the woods ahead of them. “According to the map, we head that way. It’s not far, so we should be back before nightfall. Any questions?”

Bradley, the tallest of the group, stood out in front. His long, black hair was pulled back into a low pony tail. Normally a woodcutter, his arms had grown strong and tan from swinging an ax and carrying logs all day. The broad sword strapped to his back glistened in the sunlight. He stood with his arms crossed and gazed down at Taika. His deep voice was intimidating but not unkind. “What are we doing again?”

Anya answered, “Taika is making a healing potion and needs troll toe hairs to do it.” It was a healing potion, technically, but Anya knew if Taika explained it, she’d say a lot more than Anya wanted to deal with right now.

“So what’s in it for us?”

She shrugged. “We show you the troll. You slay him. We get toe hairs, and you keep the hoard.”

“It’s a win-win,” Gevin chimed in.

Taika smiled and nodded in agreement.

Bradley looked at her curiously, but didn’t say anything else.

Behind him stood pale Fergus. He had a bow and quiver strapped to his curly red hair coated back, and a small dagger on his leg. He simply shrugged and said, “Sounds good ta me.”

Terrence didn’t have the experience, or the funds of the other two, and carried his pitted and marred baselard in his hand. He was clearly the lowest ranking member of the three, and even though he provided the slay, they did not seek his opinion.

“Ok then. Shall we get started?” With Taika in the lead, they set off for the cave she had found in her research. As promised, it only took a couple of hours to clear the woodland. The summer sun blinded them as they exited the canopy and saw the glow of the white stones at the foot of the mountain. A small black spot halfway up the peak caught their attention. After their eyes adjusted, they stood together at the bottom and squinted upward to the cave’s entrance.

Fergus held his hand as a visor over his brow. His voice sounded sing-song to Anya, and his r’s rolled beautifully. “Dis explains why your Gramps hasn’t had any kills in a while, Bradley.”

Bradley grunted his response. Terrence and Gevin tried to look cool about it all.

Anya muttered to Terrence, “Mr. Derelict is Bradley’s grandfather?”

He shrugged.

The sun turned blistering as the afternoon wore on. The rocks radiated even more warmth when they neared them.

“You sure this is the right cave?” asked Terrence.

Anya snapped, “Of course it’s the right one. Taika doesn’t make mistakes.”

Taika smiled her appreciation. Bradley seemed like he didn’t believe her, so Anya looked to Gevin for support. He focused on the ground, overly interested in a pebble he was moving with his shoe. All boys together, I see.

Anya impatiently continued, “Well come on then! The troll isn’t going to just drop the toe hairs down the slope for us. We do have to go get them ourselves you know.” She gingerly touched the hot rocks until they no longer burned her hands and then climbed her way up. The others joined her, some more skeptical than others.

Terrence’s unsheathed weapon made climbing the mountainside difficult. Several yards up, he slipped on a rock and cut his leg. “Ouch!”

Everyone stopped to see what had happened. Embarrassed, he continued climbing. “I’m OK. Nothing major.”

“No you’re not. You’re bleeding profusely.” Taika let herself back down to his position. “Here.” She reached into her pack and retrieved a small canister. She smeared a small amount of the paste from it onto his cut.

The pain left instantly and it immediately started to heal. Terrence stared at his wound, astonished. “Wow! What is that?”

Taika examined the medicine, bewildered. “It’s just a normal skin paste.”

“Normal skin paste doesn’t do that.”

“Oh.” Taika raised her eyes to the cave. Recognition dawned on her face. “Ohhhhh.”

By now Anya had joined them. “What?”

“We’re out of the Field. Magic can work now.”

Terrence looked at the two of them while still holding his leg. “Field? What Field?”

“So all this time…” Anya paused in understanding.

Taika smiled until Anya could see her back teeth. “The healers’ potions have been magical all along. They just haven’t been able to do their full potential because of the dampening Field set by the ancient wizards.”

Terrence started to panic. “Would someone please tell me what’s going on?”

Bradley shouted from above, “Would you three quit your blabbing? We’re here.” The others had reached the top of their climb.

Terrence grabbed Anya before she could leave. “What is happening?”

“You remember that ‘magical potion business’ you wanted in on?”

“Yeah.”

“This is it.”

He pointed at his now completely healed leg. “You mean… That was a magic potion?”

“All she did was remake the healers’ medicines.”

Bradley shouted again, “You coming or not?”

Anya said, “Can we go now? I’ll explain later.”

Terrence let her go and then looked down at his leg once more before following her up the mountainside. A plateau jutted out where the cave was set. The rest of the group were waiting on them when they arrived.

Anya apologized, “Sorry, guys. Thanks for waiting.”

Taika asked, “Are we ready?”

A few nodded their commitment. They walked towards the entrance, Crunch.

“What was that?” asked Gevin.

“Oh, oh, oooh, that is nasty!” Anya saw what it was. Bradley had stepped on the bones of what could have only been described as a very large butterfly. Anya then noticed that hundreds of bones littered the ‘yard’ of the cave. A rail tie styled fence made of long bones with various skulls on the posts enclosed the area surrounding the cave’s opening. Tiki torches made from boars’ heads stood in the corners, and a stone trimmed worm garden filled with moist, dark dirt and giant wriggly worms lay next to the door. Above it hung what could only be a troll’s doorbell.

Gevin’s jaw dropped. “You have got to be kidding me.” A man’s skull hung from a rope. Another rope with a clapper made from a giant metatarsal dangled inside it, presumably for announcing your intentions.

Fergus walked over to the “doorbell” and asked, “Do we just ring tha bell?”

“Although trolls demand the highest etiquette amongst themselves, they will eat any human that dares to enter their land no matter how mannerly they are.” Taika read from her book. Gevin slinked back towards the ledge.

“What’s she going on about?” Bradley asked Terrence.

Anya said, “Taika brought a book on trolls. I suggest you use it.” Actually The Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures, Anya hoped he didn’t notice the difference. She and Taika climbed back down and peered over the rock ledge.

Gevin stood around misplaced until Terrence took pity on him. “Hey Gev. Why don’t you sit this one out since you don’t have a weapon.”

Gevin bowed his head.

“I mean, this is way too dangerous for you to do without a weapon, man.”

Gevin nodded and joined the girls on the other side of the rocks. The three slayers drew their weapons and stood at the ready. “Alright, men,” Bradley took the lead for battle. “This is what we’ve been training for. We split the booty, agreed?”

“Agreed.”

“Agreed.”

A sickening ring went out when he swung the rope with the clapper in the skull.

“Who’s there?” A whiny high pitched voice called out.

Taika ran to Bradley and thrust the open book at him. “What?”

She jabbed the encyclopedia with her finger. “Here. Here. Where is says, ‘troll manners’,” she whispered.

He scowled at the book took it. He then watched Taika retreat, leaving him with it.

Anya asked Taika when she got back to their shelter, “He can read, right?”

“Let’s hope so.”

After Bradley hesitated a moment, Terrence found the correct spot and pointed it out to him. Bradley grimaced at him, jerked the book away, and read with a slow and sporadic voice, “It is a human by the name of Bradley of Cupola here to beg your grace and favor.”

“A human?” Out came a massive, curvy troll with a giant pink bow on her head and a lime green apron. She was drying a dish the size of a chariot’s wheel with a dish towel the size of a sheet. “From Cupola? We had heard you were all extinct. We haven’t seen any Cupolians in over a century. What in the name of Zatmania’s woolly boogers are you doing here?”

“We come to beg your charity, for we are in need of a gift only one so … glorious as yourself could bestow upon us,” Bradley continued to read from the book as best he could, pausing before words every now and then.

“Oh, aren’t you quaint! You even speak like you’re from the past.” Her enormous smile displayed three rows of extremely sharp teeth amidst her brownish green face.

Terrence and Fergus flinched. Bradley asked, “Excuse me?”

“Trolls don’t speak like that anymore.”

“You don’t?”

“Of course not!”

“So, do you still eat humans, then?”

“That depends. Why don’t you come in and tell me why you are all here?”

The three slayers implored each other for assurance before hesitantly following her into the dark cave. Anya, Gevin, and Taika climbed over the ledge and peered in from the cave’s frame. Giant furniture made out of rocks were covered with feathers that appeared to have been glued on.

“Have a seat, boys. My name’s Veruca.” She set her plate down on the smooth stone counter next to the stone sink and looked at them expectantly.

“Oh! Erm…” Although Veruca had said they didn’t need to use the rules in the reference book, Bradley felt the need, especially since her appetite for humans “depends.” “We are honored to be seen in a home as barren and drafty as this. Your adornments to your house, however, do not do justice to the warts on your face.”

Veruca blushed and turned her head, hiding her grotesquely warted face with her hand.

At this point, Fergus suddenly jumped up and began swatting at his bottom. “Ug!”

Terrence and Bradley kept their wide, fear-filled eyes focused on Veruca as they each grabbed the back of Fergus’s shirt and jerked him back down on the couch.

He whispered to them, “They aren’t feathers, lads. They’re squished birds!”

Terrence elbowed him. “Shut up!”

Thankfully, Veruca’s hand prevented her from seeing this, and her girlish giggle from hearing it.

Bradley continued, having to ad lib most of the rest as there wasn’t exactly a “toe hair” section in the encyclopedia. “We ask for some of your adornments. We are in need of some of your most precious beauties, troll toe hairs. Surely a troll as warty as yourself could part with a few toe hairs.”

“Toe hairs! TOE HAIRS!” Her whole body changed from green to purple as she reached back to grab a plate. She hurled dishes at the boys, hitting the wall and couch where they sat. Plates, mugs, and bowls shattered on impact. The would-be slayers jumped and ducked out of the way. “I’ll have you know I have my hairs removed at Trollz-N-Bowz on a weekly basis! I was just there this morning, and I do NOT have hairs—between—my—toes!” She threw an extra dish with each of her last words.

Bradley threw the book behind him and readied his sword.

She backed them further into the cave. “The last time a hooMAN came here and insulted me, I had a cookout for all the neighbors. I was the queen of the mountain that day!” She smiled disturbingly at the memory, and eyed the slayers as though they were chocolate chip cookies and she had just come off her diet.

Terrence glanced up and saw a stuffed man’s head mounted on the cave wall. He gasped and pointed his sword at her, ready to fight.

Anya saw it too. “Ter…!”

Gevin covered her mouth with his hand and tried to pull her away from the cave, but it was too late.

Veruca whipped around and laid her sights on them. “ROAAAAAHH!!” She took a step towards the door. “You hide from me! ROAAAHHH! Never”—She took another step towards the door as Gevin dropped his hand—“hide”—The three children’s eyes and mouths widened as she came closer—“from”—She clinched her fists—“a”—She puffed out her chest—“TROOOLLLL!!” She held her last word and charged towards them.

Anya, Taika, and Gevin ducked out of the way and sprinted around the side of the mountain. Terrence, Bradley, and Fergus caught up with Veruca and got between her and the other three. They stood with their weapons poised and determined faces. She swung with her right hand. Terrence stepped forward and sliced up with his sword to block it from the inside, cutting into her forearm. Fergus unsheathed his dagger and drove it into her thigh. He quickly stepped back and readied his bow, aiming for the throat. Bradley pushed his sword up to spear her other arm just as it came down to smash him. As she howled, Fergus took the opportunity to shoot an arrow into her jugular.

She reached her right hand up to her throat, and fell to her knees, then onto her face, forcing Bradley over a boulder, Terrence up against the mountainside, and Fergus peeking over the ledge. She was dead.

Gevin’s jaw went slack. Anya ran for her brother. “Terrence? Are you OK?”

“Anya, wait!” Taika ran to stop her. “Make sure she’s dead.”

Bradley looked down at the growing pool of green blood and asked, “How?”

Just then, a very loud cloud of green gas escaped from under Veruca’s skirt.

“RUN!!”

The gang ran away from the troll and into her cave, holding their breath with their hands over their noses and mouths. They got inside and gasped for air. Their eyes turned red, and tears streamed down their faces.

“Are you OK?” Anya choked out as she finally got to be near her brother.

“Yeah, sis. I’m fine.” He wiped the tears from his face and smiled. “Thanks.” He gave her a hug. “Do we need to worry about Mr. Troll coming home? It’s starting to get late.”

“Take a look at the other wall.” Anya pointed to over the dead bird upholstered couch. As their eyes cleared, they noticed a troll’s head mounted across from the man’s.

Taika reached behind the couch to grab the book from where Bradley had dropped it earlier. “According to this, if a female troll is unsatisfied by her mate, or he fails to produce her children, she can carve him up and mount his head in retribution.”

Gevin’s said, “Seriously? She eats him?!” He made a terribly revolted face, turned to face the corner of the cave, and gasped for breath.

As soon as the smoke had cleared, Taika went back outside to pluck the toe hairs and place them into a vial she had brought with her. “I don’t know what she was paying, but she was getting ripped off. There are more hairs between her toes than on her head.”

“That’s not saying much, since she’s bald.” Anya helped her, grabbing each hair with her hands and pulling hard. “Can’t we just cut them off?”

“No. The roots are necessary for the potion to work correctly.”

Terrence asked Taika, “Where do trolls keep their hoards?” The slayer boys were trying to find their winnings for today’s battle.

“Try the worm garden.”

Terrence went back and yelled, “Oi! The worm garden!” They dug into the garden with their hands.

Bradley said, “This better be worth it.”

Gevin joined them, his nausea apparently subsided. Once Taika and Anya had finished their task, they also went to help find the slayers’ payment. After a much longer time than desired, Fergus began rubbing wet dirt off of something smooth underneath. “Is this it?” he asked.

All six of them tried to clear it off as best they could. Anya found a troll sized shovel and brought it over. Bradley and Terrence got on each side of it and pushed it down into the soft dirt. Gevin and Fergus pressed on the handle, grunting, until it pried up the box.

The three slayer boys stood there for a moment longer and then smiled and cheered, “We did it!”

“We got the troll’s hoard!”

Well, Bradley didn’t so much as cheer as nod and smile a lot. Then he reached down and lifted the lid. Inside were old ribbons, wooden nickels, and a small box with “fuRzT TuTH” and “fuRzT WaRT” written on it. The box contained a rotten, black tooth with holes in it, and a big, green, hairy, wrinkled wart.

“Ooooo!” Taika gasped, and her eyes swelled at the sight of them. “May I have those? They’ll make excellent potion ingredients!”

With a look of, well, that someone just asked him for a troll’s old wart, Bradley handed them to her and said, “It’s all yours. Here, please, take it.”

They also found a nice long sword, rusted plate armor, and a small pouch of silver. “These must be from the man she ate on the wall.” Bradley held the pouch with reverence.

The slayers went inside her cave one more time to pay tribute to the victim on the wall. Fergus crossed his chest with his fist. “Ya fought bravely, man.”

Bradley raised his sword high. “The honor be yours.”

Terrence held up his sword, mimicking Bradley. “We will treasure your possessions and use them to continue the fight.”

After a brief moment of silence where: Anya tilted her head in disbelieving confusion, Taika fluttered her eyes and studied her book some more, and Gevin stood stoically, they all began their descent back down the mountain.

This time, no one got hurt, and the air was filled with the triumphant conversation of the day’s adventure. Upon entering the woods, Terrence fell back with Anya. “The potion making business?”

Anya grimaced. She really didn’t want to have this conversation. She kept her voice low. “Cupola is surrounded by a magical dampening Field. It prevents magic from happening inside of it.”

Terrence looked at her funny, and had he not seen real magic for himself today, she imagined he would have reacted differently. “So … what I saw … with my leg … was magic?”

“Yes.”

“Why haven’t I seen this before?”

“Like I said, the Field.”

He scrunched up his face in confusion. “So … we traveled outside of the Field.”

“Yes.”

He took a deep breath, looked like he was trying to swallow an entire egg at once, and then nodded. “OK.”

Anya waited to see if he would have any more reactions. Finally she said, “I wouldn’t tell your friends about it if I were you.”

His face still looked like he was trying to get that egg down. “Don’t plan on it.” And away he went, back up front with Bradley.

Anya smiled.

After another mile or two, Bradley spoke up, “Fergus can stake his claim first. He delivered the death blow.”

Fergus grunted. “I’ll take tha armor then.”

Bradley continued, “Terrence, you showed great bravery. This was your first slay and yet, you delivered the first blow. You may choose next. Do you want the sword, or a double portion of the silver?”

Terrence thought for a moment. He looked over his shoulder at Anya and her friends chatting away happily. Bradley asked again, “Terrence?

“I’ll take the silver.”
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