The Last Troll
By: Tevish Szat
Thrun inhaled slowly, focusing on the pain and the terror, his fears for the future and regrets of the past, then exhaled, focusing on letting that go and emptying his mind. He had repeated the process perhaps a hundred times since the Green Sun appeared on the horizon, and still there were worries left to purge himself of.
The war, as he knew it, was lost. It was only a matter of time before his tiny home came under assault once more. Inhale, seeing the bodies scattered about the abode, the broken forms of traitorous Sylvok just trying to survive in a new, accursed world, remembering how he had killed them, who they were. Exhale, trying to forget. They were the first, but Thrun knew that they would not be the last to come to him.
Booming footsteps told Thrun that something very large approached, larger and heavier even than Thrun himself was. It was not the size, but the tingling along his spine, that told him that this was likely to be his doom. It did not matter, though: his task was as complete as it would ever be.
A deep, wet voice, at once booming and gurgling and sibilant, spoke to his back.
“You should be honored, troll.” It said, “You’ve made me leave your old home and come to the new one.”
Thrun did not answer. The body of one of the slain humans behind him was tossed into his field of view like a rag.
“Impressive work.” The voice continued, “Without your sentient stubbornness you would make a fine predator, I think.”
Thrun remained silent, steeling himself. He knew that this new arrival must have been the Voice of Hunger, the abominable Phyrexian master of which the fallen men and elves had spoken of.
“I will know one thing from you before I remake your mind into a fitter shape.” Vorinclex declared. “Where is the girl?”
SIXTEEN YEARS EARLIER
Thrun knew every sound of the tangle, from the scuttling of myr across the verdigris to dew rolling off a ripe gelfruit. One sound, today, was out of place: a soft whimpering, hidden away nearby.
Thrun recognized the sound as that of a small child, probably Sylvok… but he was at least half a day’s walk through the tangle from the nearest Sylvok encampment. At first he thought his ears must be deceiving him, but the more he listened and followed the noise, the more sure he was that it was, indeed, an infant human.
Finally, he found it’s source. A knothole in one of the Tangle’s massive trees hid a small package, wrapped in hide and threatened by the copper thorns that pointed at it. It seemed to have been left in that place for the resemblance of the knothole to a toothy maw.
He had seen such places before, usually slices of gelfruit or broken tools or weapons left as an offering to nature, but as he carefully extracted the bundle from its thorny cage, it proved to be as he suspected: a girl child, abandoned to the Tangle. Why?
That answer became clear as the old troll’s hands softly held the perhaps month or two old babe, for upon her body there was not the least sheen of metal. She looked up at Thrun in wonder, and he understood.
This child was his to care for, it seemed, as no one else would take her. This he understood, but as he looked into her eyes, wide with wonder and unafraid of him, Thrun thought he saw a glint of a greater destiny yet.
“Your life will not be easy, young one.” Thrun muttered softly, realizing he had no idea what her parents had called her. “Though perhaps it would be a little easier on both of us if you had a name.”
The ancient ascetic thought, pondering a task in which he had never before been engaged.
“Melira suits you, I think.” He said. “Do you like it?”
The baby smiled and made a pleased cooing noise, as Thrun had often known human babies to do.
“Well then, Melira you shall be. I am called Thrun. I will look after you.”
Thrun held the girl now named Melira close, and began the long walk back to his abode.
“I might ask you the same question.” Thrun replied, not looking at the creature looming behind him.
“You speak in riddles?” Vorinclex growled. “To me?”
“You wish to know of my foundling.” Thrun replied. “I would know, if you can answer, of yours. The elf called Glissa now directs this war. Where is the woman she was before? Where is her nobility, her innocence to your crime? A traitor walks the Tangle, so tell me, what did you do with the Sunseeker?”
“They are the same, Troll.” Vorinclex replied. “Etch that into your skin if you feel so compelled, and tell me where you have hidden the fleshling!”
“Hidden?” Thrun asked, slowly standing, “I have hidden nothing.”
He turned to face the great beast. Vorinclex was every bit as imposing as a creature could be, large in every dimension, his face possessing a gaping maw and sunken eyes guarded by a mask of bone, his back protected by a mane of fur. Though his limbs looked in some aspects like their bones beneath, splitting in the middle, there was no doubt as to their strength, and the ability of those massive claws to rend flesh and metal alike.
“I have set her free.”
ELEVEN YEARS EARLIER
“Thrun?” Melira asked, questioning him as a person instead of as ‘Master Thrun’, the teacher.
“Yes?” he replied, as soft and kind as he ever was when dealing with the girl with no metal upon her. He knew she needed to be strong but she was still so fragile!
“Where are my parents?”
It was a question Thrun had long dreaded the day of, and, as such, the hour was prepared for.
“I do not know.” He said. “I suspect they live elsewhere within the Tangle, but I have never seen them.”
“Why what, child?”
“Why aren’t they here?” she asked, “You said that everything has parents, and that parents care. Why aren’t mine here?”
Thrun sighed. “Melira… you are very special. I have told you before, shown you how everything upon this world is at least somewhat of metal, when you are not. Your parents, I think, were no different than any others. They… they could not understand why you were different than they were, and people are often afraid of what they cannot understand, do you see?”
“I… think so. But you could teach them, right? So they wouldn’t be scared of me?”
“In time, I suspect it will be your place to teach the world of yourself. There will come such a day, Melira… but not today. Today you are a student of letters and numbers.”
“Yes, Master Thrun.” She replied, “I will be a good student, too, so I can be a good teacher some day.”
Thrun smiled. “I am sure you will be.”
Vorinclex struck Thrun in the chest, the force of the blow sending the troll careening backwards. He landed hard, and almost immediately Vorinclex was upon him again, grabbing him and using him as a hammer to smash through the walls of his home.
Thrun felt his bones break, and then begin to knit again. Such blows would have killed another, one in whom life did not flow as strongly as it did for a troll. But fortunate or unfortunate, it seemed that he could take more punishment than the Sylvok and the Viridian elves, and that the Voice of Hunger knew it.
Vorinclex threw Thrun, and the troll felt a great copper thorn pierce him through. As he fell and staggered to his feet, the wound closed, but not before he felt the slick warmth of his own blood upon his back.
Vorinclex approached slowly and deliberately.
“I am compleat.” He growled, “You cannot defeat me and you cannot evade me. Be clear with your words, and I will grant you the glories of compleation yourself. You can return to Tel-Jilad as one of its new masters.”
“If you think that would tempt me.” Thrun said, “Then you know nothing of me or of any Mirran.”
SEVEN YEARS EARLIER
Idly, Melira picked up the stylus. She ran its tip lightly across her arm. It scratched a little, but didn’t hurt. With a glance at Thrun’s turned back, she dipped it lightly in the inkwell and began to write.
“Melira!” Thrun shouted in startled worry, having turned back to her, “What are you doing?”
She dropped the stylus with a guilty look. “Writing on my arm?” She ventured
Thrun noticed the running ink, and that her skin was unbroken underneath, and breathed a sigh of relief. He picked up the stylus and set it down carefully in its place.
“This is very sharp.” He said, “You could have hurt yourself. I am sorry I yelled, but it worried me to see. Why were you writing upon yourself?”
“To be like you, Master Thrun.” She said, looking up at him with wide eyes. “You have writing all over your skin, like the writing you said was on Tel-Jilad.”
“Yes, yes I do.” Thrun replied, “But that is a very special story, the very last that should have been recorded on the great tree, but could not be because of the Vanishing.”
“Can you tell me the story?” she asked.
Thrun thought long and hard. Outside, the world was changing in untoward ways. There was no doubt in the old troll’s mind that his ward had to know one day about all the secret histories of Mirrodin, but he was not sure that she was ready for that burden, and even less sure when she looked at him with those wide, innocent eyes unclouded by the pain and hate and fear that filled the air around the other populations.
She had to be ready, Thrun told himself, for this was not a world for the soft and the innocent.
“It concerns the Fifth Dawn, and the Vanishing.” Thrun said, “And an elf named Glissa Sunseeker.”
“Then perhaps a clean death would suit you better!” Vorinclex roared. “Where is the fleshling?”
“If that rage is all you have, Voice of Hunger, then she is mercifully beyond your reach.”
Vorinclex resumed his assault, but this time Thrun was more ready, dodging and weaving as for the first time in his life he proved the more agile of two fighters. The mighty Praetor, though, had the clear advantage, his raw strength too much to overcome and the length of his stride large enough that Thrun had no hope of escaping by simply running from him.
“I will not stand idle,” Vorniclex yelled, “And let you continue to mock the most powerful Phyrexian in the universe!”
“I am sure you will not.” Thrun replied, “But you will never gain my aid to find Melira.”
TWO YEARS EARLIER
“Even the mightiest tree starts as something small and helpless, Melira.” Thrun said. “In their case, we call it a seedling. It is very small and easily broken, but it grows, straining upwards and reaching for the light.”
“I’ve never seen such a thing.” Melira replied, “Not on all our journeys through the Tangle.”
“No one living on Mirrodin has.” Thrun replied, “But the Tangle was not always there. Even something as grand as that began as tiny seedlings.”
“So,” Melira asked, “Is that today’s lesson? That big things start small?”
“Yes and no.” Thrun said, “Melira, I have not spared you the knowledge that there is darkness in this world, and as I have tried to unravel its nature, I have tried to prepare you for the possibilities. I think I may now understand.”
“What do you understand?” Melira asked, worried.
Thrun knelt down, and in the verdigris drew a single glyph, a circle with a line slashed through it.
“That is the sign of our enemy.” Thrun said, “And I hear from all corners of the Tangle, all corners of Mirrodin, that the sign is spreading, appearing in new places every day.” He effaced the mark. “I am… blessed… with the knowledge of my forbearers who lived within Tel-Jilad, and in hearing sometimes from the outside world. The man who was by the other day, for instance.”
“I’m sorry I hid from him.”
“That is no matter. My point is, just as the highest tree in the Tangle grew from a seedling, just as you have grown from the helpless babe I found into a young woman who should not have to retreat from the sight of visitors and will, I am sure, grow to be greater yet, so did the darkness in this world come from a seed. If what I understand is correct, the enemy that spreads that mark I drew is called Phyrexia, and even the most powerful of all Phyrexians began as a single drop of oil.”
Melira nodded gravely. Thrun knew that if he told this to the rest of the world, even his visitor from Oxidda, they would shun and call him a madman as they had in years past. But he saw the etchings, the blank base of the Tree of Tales glowing with new runes for the moment of the Green Sun’s zenith. He had only had the time to understand a few tracks of the histories and prophecies that had been revealed before they faded again. The next time the Zenith came, he would be ready to record more of those dire words
In the mean time, he needed to pass what little he already knew onto Melira. Her destiny and that of Phyrexia were intertwined now. There was no more time for blissful ignorance.
Vorinclex’s assault was relentless, and Thrun felt even his body beginning to surrender to the repeated and titanic damages he sustained. Scarcely would he find his feet after one set of blows than another would come, breaking his body just before it had finished repairing itself from the last.
Thrun pulled himself to his feet, using one of the trees around him to substitute support for his broken and slowly mending legs.
“You can end this.” Vorinclex said, “Or I can beat your body into submission and return you to Tel-Jilad for compleation. Then, you will tell me everything. Tell me where the fleshling is, and then beg me for death and I will grant it as a mercy.”
Thrun struggled, and stood on his own. “Phyrexia will never possess her. And you are a fool if you think it will possess me either.”
“I am offering you your petty end one last time.”
“And one last time, then, I refuse.”
SEVEN DAYS EARLIER
“Are you prepared to leave?” Thrun asked.
“I am.” Melira said, pack over her shoulder, spear in one hand. “But… Thrun, you don’t look like you’re ready to go.”
“That is because I am not leaving, dear one.”
“What?” Melira demanded in shock. “But… but you have to go! The entire Tangle is falling, if we don’t leave now the Phyrexians will-“
“Kill us?” Thrun asked, “Melira, death is certain. It is only its hour and its means that are hidden from us. I do not fear death anymore.”
Thrun smiled. “Because of you. Look at yourself, how far you’ve come! I did not understand at first, why I was left behind upon Mirrodin as its last troll, alone entrusted with the lore of Tel-Jilad and the truth behind the Fifth Dawn. But, now I do. I remained here because fate is merciful, and even in this dark hour it smiles upon all Mirrans. Fate sent us you, whom the poisons of Phyrexia cannot harm. I remained, I think, because of you… because the seedling of Mirrodin’s hope needed something to nurture it into a fine, strong tree. You are ready now, and so am I.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to die!” Melira protested, “Nothing about that does! Please Thrun… please come with me.”
“Melira, my dear child… my place is here in the Tangle. Yours is wherever Mirrodin needs you. There are questions in this old mind that still need answering, and the answers will come to me.”
“I… I’m not ready.” She said, dropping her spear, eyes filling with tears.
“You must be.” Thrun replied. He laid a hand on her shoulder, and she threw her arms around him, sobbing into the troll’s story-carved chest.
“Shh.” Thrun said softly, patting her on the back, “Dry your eyes. You and I will meet again someday, though if it will be upon this world or in the next I do not know. If it is the latter, I hope I shall have a glorious long time to wait.”
“Then this isn’t goodbye.” She said. “I won’t say it because I’ll see you again.”
“But… it will have to be later. Please, Melira. Now is your time to go, and teach the world. It’s today.”
“I will.” Melira said, stepping back and wiping her eyes, then picking up the spear. “I’ll be seeing you, okay?”
“Until next we meet, my dear little girl.” Thrun said, feeling his own tears for the first time in untold ages.
Melira turned, and hurried out of the abode.
Blows rained down upon Thrun, each one shattering his bones and driving him deeper into a new crater in the floor of the Tangle. Vorinclex surged with bestial rage, screaming and heaping curses upon the last of the trolls and his stubbornness.
If his body would have allowed it, Thrun would have smiled. He knew the limits of his strength and his regeneration, while it seemed that the raging Praetor did not.
Inhale. Focus on life, and all its joys and sorrows, all the unanswered questions and unfinished tasks.
Vorinclex paused. He realized what was happening
“No!” He bellowed. “You are mine! The fleshling is mine! You will not rob me of this!”
Thrun’s vision was darkening already, his mangled form too far gone.
“In the next world,” he whispered, “Dear little Melira… I’ll see you there.”
Exhale. Let it all out. Let it pass. Thrun’s hopes and fears left him, and his soul flew with them.