Chapter I: What Comes With Darkness
Ever since I was a child, I’ve been told stories about evil Trolls lurking in the mountains and forests come nightfall. The scariest above all is that these stories are true and reflect our history.
The Trolls have always brought much destruction to the outlying villages. It is why most choose to live in the inner cities- safety.
These things are large in height, sinewy in muscle, and scary with jutting teeth. They have been known to eat us, humans, if we are out during the 24 hours of night.
The fatter, the better, everyone in the village says, so I better watch out and not linger outside so close to sundown. Because it is said, Trolls have a preference for young girls like me, tender and not lacking any meat on the bone.
The villagers were for once right in that aspect- I can’t deny it any longer, I used to lie to myself about my size and tell myself that I was ‘normal’ or just ’big-boned′ all the while trying to hide my belly by wearing tight corsets- that was until the corsets all broke a few years back.
Since I was a little girl, I’ve been bigger than the other children due to my love of food. Even now, I’m bigger than most of the adults. It is sad, and it is probably the only reason why I haven’t found a husband yet or why most men are deterred from loving me.
That or perhaps I’m just ugly. Maybe both.
I stare at myself in the reflection of the pond water, and I pull at my braids- annoyed with my appearance and wanting more and more every day to look like a ‘normal’ woman, like Everly or Anna.
I want to be desired and held by a man at least once. It has always been a secret wish of mine. I want to be like all my friends who are now wives or barring children or both. None of the village men would accept me even if I was the last woman left alive. They’re nearly frightened of me as if I’m some sort of Night Dweller.
I sigh heavily, and in the distance, I hear the village bells ring. It means night is fast approaching, and it is time to get inside. Darkness is encroaching all around. It is already night in the forest. Daytime is almost gone. The late afternoon skies are getting dimmer by the second.
I think I almost hear a screech as well.
I best hurry, the village is still far. I start to move faster as I pull the cart behind me, something which would have normally been Grandfather’s job, but these days, he was getting too ill to even move out of bed.
I hate to think this, but once he is gone, I will have no one to talk to. I will really be lonely. Every morning, every night, every meal we share together, they will all too soon be memories.
He is all I have.
I didn’t know my mother and father. All I knew is from what little Grandfather told me. He said they were good people and good parents. And that they were killed and eaten by Trolls as their belongings were found scattered throughout the Northeast Gorge but not their bodies. My parents’ graves are empty.
It makes me sad and angry at these things which I have never thankfully encountered. They took away my family. If it wasn’t for them, I would still have my father and mother. I would have grown up normally, and I wouldn’t have been picked on by the other village children for not having parents.
What Troll tribe was responsible, is questionable. There are many tribes scattered throughout the forest and mountains called the Troll Valley, but if I knew which tribe, I would gladly attempt to hunt every single one of them down- that’s if I could.
It is suspected it was either the Snowfire tribe, which could be found on the peaks of Lasher mountain, or the Vonkill tribe found at the base of that mountain.
Regardless, neither tribe is to be messed with. They are highly territorial, meaning they are very dangerous. They did not take kindly to trespassers. Rumors from those brave enough to go out at night despite every villages’ warnings say the Trolls even killed each other...
These brave and dumb people always have a chance of ending up like my parents. Maybe my parents themselves were dumb, and that is why they were killed in the first place. I won’t ever know. Grandfather wanted to keep it a secret. He will probably bring it to his grave.
It is a bittersweet reminder of what Trolls can do, and it makes me move faster along the beaten-down path. Sweat glistens my forehead and makes strands of hair that have long since fallen from my braids stick to my skin. I am filthy, and I wipe at my forehead. I probably stink too.
I couldn’t wait to go home, eat a warm meal, bathe, and get some rest. It sounds like a dream to someone who has been out all day in this horrible summer heat. I am not exactly used to the exercise either, and I feel much more terribly tired than usual. I hope I am not coming down with something, but it might be the extra weight I put on.
Then I hear it again but louder. It is a recurring squeak on the back right wheel, and it grows worse with every bump. I try my best to ignore it, hoping it would go away on its own as I move forward, but one large bump in the road causes the wheel to loosen just enough for it to fall off.
The stuff in the cart lurches to one side, and the corner the wheel is missing from collides harshly on the ground. A loud crack then resonates in the still air. The runaway wheel spins and tumbles down a steep hill. It gains more and more speed as it rolls out of control. I let go of my cart, my eyes widening until the wheel finally disappears from my view.
I look back to my cart and see the crack in the old wooden body. It is just a small crack and would not affect the goods it carried. However, looking at the axel, I knew I would be unable to pull the cart back to the village without it.
I pinch my lips tightly as I think of solutions to the problem, but none of them are good.
I couldn’t abandon all of my grandfather’s goods here. I need that wheel in order to continue further… but it would be dark soon. I didn’t want to encounter any Trolls and have the possibility of getting killed or, much worse, eaten.
“Shit,” I curse out loud as I lean my hand on the rough bark of the tree, peering down at where the wheel has disappeared to.
If I’m fast enough at retrieving the wheel and getting it back on the cart, I can save both myself and all of Grandfather’s goods.
I can do this. I think words of encouragement as I lift my skirt and apron and carefully make my way down the hill. Each tree I find I hold on for dear life, getting scared I would fall and much like the wheel I would end up somewhere at the bottom hurt.
I don’t have anyone to save me either if things got bad. Grandfather would notice me gone if I didn’t return, but he is too frail, and he would not be able to rouse a search party until daybreak. It is almost dark, and I’m all by myself... a bad combination.
I should really lose some weight and find a husband, so I would always have a backup if things were to go badly...but wishes are wishes. I’m not changing anytime soon.
Bark crumbles away under my grip, making me almost fall forward. I suck in my breath, and I grasp the tree in one single quick motion before I can fall.
When my balance is stabilized, I sigh deeply.
I really should be holding the tree instead of its bark…
I continue forward, being more than halfway there until eventually, I find it too hard to stand on the slope, the incline too sharp. I decide it will be easier to slide down carefully. I dig my nails into the soft earth, and very slowly, I nudge closer and closer to the bottom of the hill.
I use the roots sticking out to keep myself from sliding forward. The dirt I sink my fingers in will not catch me. It crumbles easily. I must be careful. One bad move, and I will twist my ankle or worse. I continuously search for the wheel, praying it snagged on bushes or roots or anything at all.
Though it must have rolled all the way to the bottom. I do not see it, but it is dark here. It must be hiding in the bushes at the bottom.
Almost there…. come on.
A couple more scoots down, and I finally reach the bottom of the hill. The first thing I do is search the bushes frantically. I finally find it, and I grab the end of the wheel, pulling it out of the bushes. I feel relieved to finally have it back in my grasp.
I guess it was just loose, judging from how it isn’t broken or anything. That is an extremely good thing. I would have had no other choice but to leave Grandfather’s goods behind. I might have been able to save a couple things by using my skirt as a sling, but still, it would have been a major loss.
He would have most definitely been upset with me if not angry if I told him I abandoned most of the goods from his shop because of a broken wheel that I couldn’t figure out to repair.
Good, now the trouble is over with. I just need to find my way back up.
That I believe will be more difficult than getting down.
I begin by using the tree roots, and I pull myself further and further up, my eyes now focusing on the next foothold. I must focus. Nothing else matters right now.
I pant heavily, and I wet my lips. I just need to think that each step forward on the hill is a step towards going home. It is my only motivation.
When I reach the top, and I am drenched in sweat, I find it is much darker. The sun is almost gone from my view. I have spent more time than I thought retrieving the wheel. I still have to retrieve it too. I grasp at the long grass, and I start to pull myself to stable ground, but my foot slips after the root breaks I had all my weight on. I begin to fall backward.
I still hold on tightly to the wheel, and I try my best to grab onto anything that might stop my fall. I latch onto a root, but the force of my fall rips it from the earth. It becomes a rope and swings me to the left. I can’t hold on, and it slips from my fingers. There is nothing I can do. The trees and their branches are too far away.
My heart clenches, expecting pain from the brutal fall. I roll back, and much like the wheel the first time, I begin tumbling down the hill, gaining more and more speed until I don’t even know where I am or how far I am gone from my cart.
Everything is spinning, and with every root or bump on the hill, it hurts, and my grip loosens on the wheel until eventually that too is lost.
But when a large rock hits my head sharply on my way down to the bottom, it is then I find everything flashes between light and black, and the blurring of colors, before finally, I succumb to complete and utter darkness.
Darkness, no matter what, is never good, never... especially with what comes with darkness.