“I am more than a little disappointed in the lot of you.” Professor Kirkpatrick frowns at your entire class. “You came to this school to learn how to slay monsters, and while I realize that we have not yet covered Trolls in our formal lectures, you are all in possession of a very useful textbook, and I would have thought perhaps one of you might have bothered to read it!”
You haven’t seen him this frustrated since you came to the school, but you’ve heard stories from some of the upperclassmen. So you know you have no one but yourself to blame when you allow him to make eye contact with you.
“Perkins!” he barks. “Come here.”
You leap forward, your heart in your throat, and come to stand beside him. He gestures at your sword belt. “I told you we are hunting trolls today. What weapon did you think to bring?”
You draw out your uncle’s sword. He gave it to you on the day you were accepted into Adventurers Academy. It’s not as good as the one he uses, of course, but it’s served you well against giant spiders and zombies. There’s even just a little bit of magic in it.
“Useless!’ Professor Kirkpatrick replies mercilessly. “You’ll be hacking away at troll for the better part of an afternoon with that thing. A sword is not the weapon to defeat a troll.”
He shakes his head and opens the case to the side of him. He pulls out a butterfly net. “THIS is the weapon we want!”
The entire class stares glassy-eyed at you and the professor.
“No one? Not a moment of recognition in anyone’s eyes?” He sighs. “Well, on your own heads be it. I remind you that the services of our healers are part of your tuition, however, should you find yourself seriously maimed, the faculty reserves the right to expel you from the school for your own protection.”
You try very hard not to blush. You know the healers very well from that incident with the swamp rats. On the plus side, you were very efficient with getting rid of them. Sadly, you weren’t able to get rid of the fleas (each the size of a jelly bean) nearly so easily.
“As a gesture of my benevolence, you may all take a butterfly net with you. Now, to the flying carpets.”
It’s the fastest way to get class to the forest. You follow closely at Professor Kirkpatrick’s heels. “Sir, how are we supposed to use a butterfly net to . . .” The words die on your lips as he turns to you.
“It is not my fault that you have not studied, Perkins. You’ve had ample time to read your textbooks, but you chose not to. Now deal with your choice.”
You sit in silence as the carpets fly onward to the forest. “Now, there are twenty two of you, and 11 trolls within these grounds. Choose a partner, and good luck to you. Too bad that luck is apparently something you need.”
Who will you pick for a partner?
Chosen: You want to team up with Bruce Oxblood he’s really big and not terribly bright but did I mention he’s big?
You stare out at the group of students. Your best friend Marcos waves at you, and you smile back, but in almost the same instant, he’s approached by Violet Burnsward. Since he’s been hoping to ask her out for weeks, you nod your understanding.
Looking a little further, your eye stops on Bruce Oxblood. Considering he’s probably almost as big as a troll, you figure even if you can’t defeat it the textbook way, maybe the two of you could just wrestle one to the ground.
“Got a partner, Bruce?”
He looks at you, relieved. “Naw. I got in a bunch of people’s way last time. Didn’t think anyone would want to partner with me today.”
You smile up at him. “That was pixies, and we all got in each other’s way. No worries.”
He grins and you notice the one missing tooth from the time he tried to bite the manticore. He’s not very bright, but he’s stubborn and built like a castle wall. “So how do we get a troll with one of these?”
The butterfly net looks particularly fragile in Bruce’s big hand.
“No idea.” You try to sound confident, like ignorance is no big deal. “But let’s concentrate on finding a troll first. Once we get a look at one, we can figure out a plan.”
Bruce nods agreeably. “All right. So where do we look?”
And that’s when you remember that you have no idea where trolls can be found.
Chosen: You have butterfly nets. Maybe go look for bushes with butterflies. AND Stay right where you are. Make noise, bang rocks together. The trolls will look for you.
The other students seem to evaporate, each group heading in a different direction. Bruce looks down at you.
“All right,” you say, after a moment’s hesitation. “We have to have been given these nets for a reason.” You point to a clump of bushes and, as if on cue, a butterfly flutters from one leaf to another.
Bruce looks at you skeptically. “You want to catch butterflies?”
You shrug, but smile encouragingly. Making sure no one else is watching, Bruce finally follows you into the bushes.
As trained adventurers and hunters it takes you all of ten minutes before you’ve caught as many butterflies as your nets can reasonably hold. You lay them down on the ground so none escape.
“So . . .” Bruce doesn’t actually say “Now what?”, but he’s clearly looking to you for direction. You’re temporarily out of brilliant ideas, so you look around until your eyes fall on the big boulder.
“Grab a rock. If we make enough noise, they’ll think it’s a challenge.”
“Are you sure?”
You ignore the question and grab a rock. Bruce shrugs as hitting things with other things is something he likes to do anyway. Soon, the valley is ringing with the sounds of rocks colliding.
“Perkins?” Professor Kirkpatrick looks down at the two of you. “What in the name of creation are you doing?”
“Trying to challenge the trolls!” Bruce looks up with a big grin on his face.
Kirkpatrick breathes in and out a few times before replying. “That actually stands a reasonable chance of succeeding. There is, however, a problem.” He points to the bushes and after a moment of disbelief, you realize that some of them are moving toward you!
“It appears you’ve attracted the attention of some juvenile dryads.” He looks down at you condescendingly. “I don’t suppose you read a few chapters ahead to know how to deal with dryads?”
“Well then, what exactly do you propose to do?”
Chosen: Release the butterflies, put down the nets and back away slowly.
The spindly dryads are skittering toward you like unusually tall insects. Your first instinct is your sword, but then you notice it. They’re not exactly skittering towardyou.
“They want the butterflies!”
Bruce, for as big as he is, looks kind of creeped out by the dryads, so he immediately helps you release the butterflies. There’s and explosion of color as the dryads gleefully throw themselves into the wave of the insects. You and Bruce put the nets back down and back slowly toward Professor Kirkpatrick.
“That was very effective, Perkins. They appear to be pollinating — which is rather disgusting as I think on it. Full marks for dealing with the dryads.”
You don’t smile. You know Professor Kirkpatrick only says “full marks” when he’s about to say “however.” And sure enough. . .
“However, you have traded one problem for another.” He points, and you get your first look at a troll.
It looks like a gorilla and a bear had a baby, and then that baby had a baby with a boulder. It moves slowly and doesn’t appear to see very well, but its arms are thicker than your whole body.
Professor Kirkpatrick smiles calmly at you. “And here you are with neither butterfly nor net. Whatever will you and Master Oxblood do?”
Chosen: Sing! Sing like you did in the Academy’s play. Maybe trolls love musicals.
Your mind goes blank as you stare at the troll. It isn’t fear, exactly. As big as it is, the troll doesn’t look all that hostile. It doesn’t look nearly as dangerous as the three headed hydra you tangled with at the beginning of the term.
The trick here is that you’re not exactly supposed to kill the troll, or at least you weren’t told that you should. You have been training for a frontal assault, but how do you deal with something that’s more interested in butterflies?
Then your mind seizes on a plan. Well, okay, “plan” might be an exceedingly kind way to put it, but it will have to do, because you have no idea what else to do.
You very carefully do not look at Bruce, and you sing!
My armor it is bright and shines,
Like sunlight on the sea.
My shield is like a tower strong,
And keeps all harm from me.
I fear no spear, no stone, no claw.
No dragon in his cave.
But can I tell my love, “I love you”?
Nay, I’m not so brave!
It was the song you sang in the academy’s play, and the audience seemed to enjoy it, both then and now. The troll’s mouth opens into what might be a grin, and it howls a surprisingly on-pitch harmony.
As you finish the song, the troll lowers itself and sits on the ground. It pounds the ground with delight, keeping the beat going.
“I had no idea that you were interested in becoming a battle bard, Perkins.” Professor Kirkpatrick is at his very drollest. “That was a fascinating strategy for dealing with the troll, but it does tell me for certain that you didn’t read your textbook. Had you done so, you surely would have known that trolls do love singing, but only before mealtime.”
As you look over at the troll, it is starting to look less happy. It looks hungry, an it’s expecting you to provide the entree.
You can hear the troll’s stomach growl from ten feet away. It looks at you on the border between plaintive and annoyed. You need to feed this troll something and you need to do it now.
“Good thing you came prepared, Bruce!”
Bruce looks at you blankly. You go immediately to him and tug on his satchel. He looks heartsick, but the troll’s stomach growls even louder, and he nods with urgency.
“What exactly is this, Perkins? Prepared for what?” Professor Kirkpatrick’s eyes nearly burst from his sockets. “Are those snacks, Master Oxblood?!”
Bruce opens his mouth, but you interrupt him. Bringing food on a class adventure is strictly forbidden ever since a second year student brought a pack of meat rolls on a griffin hunt. The healers did manage to re-grow his leg, but he still limps to this day. But Bruce has a pretty good reason to bring snacks along. You still remember when his stomach’s growling spooked a pack of goblins.
“Not snacks, sir, supplies. Bruce told me he figured trolls must be hungry all the time since they’re so big. So he grabbed these before we left.” So saying you grab the gooey mixture of peanuts and chewy caramel Bruce’s mother sends him every week or so. You toss one to the troll, and it greedily snatches it up. In two minutes, it’s downed all four of the treats that were in Bruce’s backpack.
Bruce smiles. “Nobody can resist Mom’s cooking!” The troll, as if in agreement, throws its head back and howls joyously.
“And you’re expecting me to believe this was all part of a plan?”
You walk over to the troll, still happily howling. You gesture to it’s lopsided smile and say to your teacher, “You can’t argue with results, Professor.”
“I can argue with quite a lot, Perkins. However, in this case I . . . LOOK OUT!”
By the time you register what your Professor said, the troll has sprung to its feet with a roar which doesn’t sound nearly as happy. It’s practically on top of you!
Chosen: It enjoyed your singing. Perhaps it wants to dance. Just go with it.
Your first instinct is to flee, or to fight, but as you take a step back, the troll matches your step perfectly. After a heartbeat, you lift your arms into position, and the troll immediately takes one arm placing, the other on your waist and begins to dance a respectable polka to a beat only it can hear.
“Ah the post meal dance ritual!” Professor Kirkpatrick smiles cruelly at you. “Well, that should keep you occupied while I go check on the other students. Mind how you stop the dance, Perkins. You might offend the creature.”
* * * * * * * * * *
It seems like hours later that Professor Kirkpatrick returns. Your legs are wooden, and you’ve been out of breath forever. Bruce tried to show you some mercy and cut in, but the troll appears to prefer you as a partner.
“Are you still wasting your time cutting a rug, Perkins?”
Through your dry mouth, you reply, “You said I’d offend it if I stopped dancing.”
“I said you might. Then again you might not, and had you read the book, you’d know trolls are very hard to offend.” He snaps his fingers, and the troll stops dragging you about. “Now come along.”
Bruce and, oddly, the troll help you return to the clearing where the class began. You see your classmates looking much the worse for wear, but most of them have managed to capture a troll, though some might have been captured by one instead. Some of the trolls are bound in rope, some are simply being held by the arms, and a few have butterfly nets over their heads. They appear to think it’s a joke.
“For the record,” says Professor Kirkpatrick, “the textbook solution is to feed a troll a butterfly, which will put it into a highly suggestible state and you can simply ask it to submit to you. Based on the bruises you’re all displaying now, I would imagine next time you’ll simply read the book. Thankfully, today’s lesson dealt with a relatively docile species like trolls and not with something dangerous like . . .”
“Kirrrkpaaaaatriiiick!!” The call comes from above, and in the blink of an eye a dark blur has collided with your professor. He grunts once and falls to the ground, clutching at his chest before going limp.
The thing is all leathery wings, scales, and talons. It’s a glistening shade of dark grey and instead of eyes, there are simply indentations in what passes for its head. You know it’s not a dragon, because they’re supposed to be beautiful. This is one of the most hideous creatures you can imagine.
“You destroyed my brother, and now you and your little whelps are mine!!” Its voice is like fingernails on ice, only colder and less pleasant. It swivels its head, taking in the fear and confusion like a heady drink. You know you need to act, but what do you do?
Chosen: Your sword is humming slightly. Perhaps now is the time to see what it can do.
As the echoes of the creature’s voice ring out over the clearing, you’re suddenly aware of another sound. Your uncle’s sword is vibrating against your hip, and it’s getting stronger.
You draw the sword instinctively, and the slight ring of the metal which always comes from pulling it from its sheath intensifies the humming. The creature turns its head to you, and if it had eyes, you’re pretty sure they’d be popping out of its skull.
“What?!!” It’s scream echoes off your sword, strengthening the vibration even more, yet the sword is not harder to hold than it usually is. The vibrations seem so natural in your hands, it’s like the sword was made to do this. Your free hand goes to your buckler, and you strike that against the sword, bringing the vibrations to a swell.
Rings of force stream out of your weapon. They distort the air like heat from a fire, so you can easily trace them as they target and lash into the creature. The force of the sound does not seem to hurt the creature, but it’s powerless to move.
And it just so happens to be surrounded by eager young students, all of whom are very, very well armed.
Within thirty seconds, the creature is peppered with crossbow bolts and arrows. Bruce chucks a rock the size of your head at the creature. Some of the braver warriors approach with melee weapons and, finding themselves unaffected by the rings of force, they cleanly and efficiently put an end to the beast.
Your sword stops vibrating with the creature’s last heartbeat. All of the students give a cheer, and you feel a half dozen hands patting your back.
It takes a few minutes, but you manage to revive Professor Kirkpatrick. He seems a little dazed, but when the class explains what happened, he looks at the creature, looks at your sword and says, “Ah, a Defender Blade. Your uncle loves you very much, Perkins.” He evidently thinks he’s explained himself, as he makes no further comments about it. You have no clue what a Defender Blade is, but you know it’s something you’ll be looking for in the library as soon as you get back.
Finally getting to his feet, Professor Kirkpatrick signals the flying carpets to return. As the class takes their positions to return to the academy, he looks at all of you and says through his obvious exhaustion:
“You all pass with perfect scores. Perkins, you’ve just earned more extra credit than I have ever given any student ever. Congratulations.”