“Murkmuck Heights was beautiful, it was,” Brutus explained. “Bogwater to the edge of each yard gave us all ample fishing spaces, and the crops we grew…” The Bridge Troll’s eyes focused on a distant place not of the world but instead in a place of memory.
“I was but a young lad when Murkmuck was that way, before these thieving, thoughtless fools showed up,” Brutus continued, his gaze now fixed on the people of Ankheim who cowered just within the city’s gates, visible but clearly ready to flee to safety.
The old man stepped forward and straightened up, his expression sour. “That’s not how I recall it, and I was nearly an old man when you were the young troll you say you were back then,” he snapped.
Aranza produced a throwing knife in each hand, prepared to strike. “Give me a reason,” she hissed. “Just one.”
Monty raised a hand. “What’s your name, elder?” he added. “Let’s start with that, and be cautious to not provoke my travel companion as she has something of a temper. Her aim’s truer than any you’ve ever met.”
The old man hesitated, his eyes flicking between Aranza and Monty. “Graham Lockhaven. The current mayor. The last one fled, screaming, across the bridge into the night and was never seen again. Likely eaten by that foul creature!”
Aranza sighed. “You were doing so well.” She raised a dagger, but stopped short of throwing it.
“Thank you,” Monty said.
“Yes, I would prefer to not have to detain you,” Temperance added.
Aranza glared at her travel companions. “I didn’t do it for either of you,” she snapped. “Those aren’t the eyes of a murderer or a thief. A sad old man, maybe. I see a lot of regret in those eyes.”
Graham winced, looking away. “We didn’t come by this land the most honest way, but the damn trolls certainly didn’t make us feel welcome.”
Aranza returned the blades to their sheaths with a sigh. “Fine. What did the Trolls do? And why is there only one?”
“My family’s legacy was here! We were all driven away, and I vowed to reclaim what was ours!” Brutus sneered.
Graham shook his head. “We came here after we were chased from our homes in Northern Verdanthia, back when the drakes still roamed freely,” he said. “Back before the Guild helped bring peace. We begged and gave everything, and the trolls agreed to give us space…So we built together. Only when the Trolls demanded we offer up more…”
“Your ilk drained the bogs! Our precious fishing grounds, all but gone and replaced with this!” Brutus snarled in response.
Aranza looked around as she listened. Monty kept a watchful eye on her, and when he saw a familiar expression cross her face he stepped aside as she walked back across the bridge. Temperance began to step into her path, but was stopped.
“Best leave her to whatever she’s up to,” Monty said as Temperanced walked to the opposite shore, then along the cliffs and out of sight.
“Oy! I didn’t say you could go!” Brutus shouted. “Definitely a Guild type, that one. No manners to speak of! Where was I, now?”
Temperance shook her head. “You were bickering back and forth regarding who was more at fault, I believe,” she replied. “I lost it somewhere along the way when my head began to hurt.”
Monty chuckled. “You’ve got some jokes, I see,” he replied.
Temperance raised an eyebrow, shifting. “I…I suppose I do,” she replied.
A bright flash of light illuminated Ankheim, its rays rushing along the valley and giving the river far below an ethereal glow. The deafening explosion followed immediately behind, the sound and shockwave enough to knock trees over. Brutus braced against it with ease, while Monty and Temperance struggled and Graham was knocked to his side.
Graham struggled to stand back up. A hand was held out, and he gasped as he saw Brutus towering over him.
“Steady does it, old man,” Brutus said. “No toll for this one. What do you reckon caused that noise?”
Graham’s eyes grew wide. “Oh Gods no,” he muttered. “Everyone inside! The damn dam’s been downed!”
Temperance and Monty followed Graham’s gaze with their own, and saw something unsettling in the distance. A towering wall of water capped by roiling foam roared onward along the valley, its height great enough to threaten the bridge.
“Lovely time to visit Ankheim, don’t you think?” Monty said, grabbing Temperance’s hand. He broke into a sprint, Temperance easily outpacing and then dragging him along. She scooped up Graham with her free arm and made it past the gathering of people.
Brutus ran after, but the gate began to shut.
“No, damn it, let him in!” Graham shouted.
The doors shut just as the tempestuous wall of water crashed down.