“Shit,” I squeaked. Then I shrieked in mounting terror at the man sprawled on the trail, “Get up!”
He stirred. His eyes flickered, urgency warring with grogginess in his bearded features as he clued in that he was now up the proverbial creek, unequipped with paddle. But he couldn’t seem to make himself get out of the troll’s way, even when its next strike with the staff missed his skull by scant inches and pounded a hole into the grass instead.
Since he couldn’t move, I did.
Attacking a pissed-off troll with a Swiss Army knife was probably not the wisest thing I could have done. No, scratch that, it was definitely not the wisest thing I could have done. But wisdom wasn’t high on the agenda right then. What I saw before me was a guy getting the crap beaten out of him because he’d answered my scream for help—which made said beating my fault. And that bothered the hell out of me. I couldn’t leave someone to get his head split open like a piñata on my account without at least trying to do something to assist.
So I flicked open the knife and threw myself in a headlong rush at the creature. I’d like to say that a flash of brilliant inspiration gave me the best possible place to hit the troll with my laughably miniscule blade, and how to tackle it to knock it off of my downed rescuer. But I can’t. I can’t even say that I knew what to call the monster, much less how to fight it. My charge had all the finesse of an intoxicated farm boy trying to tip an armed and all too dangerous cow. I almost knocked myself out when I barreled low into my target, catching the staff between it and me before it could take another whack at the stranger.
Blindly I stabbed out with my little knife. I couldn’t tell where I connected; I could barely tell that I’d connected at all, thanks to almost gagging on the troll’s stench and trying not to faint as I got my other arm around it and held on for dear life. But the tip of my blade caught somewhere along its hide—caught and sank in and stayed there.
With another gurgling howl the troll let go of the staff, nearly choking me in the process as the carved wood jammed up against my throat, and started pawing frenetically at the place where I’d struck. It writhed violently, knocking me sideways, away from the tall figure spilled along the trail. And as it writhed, it began to change.
Color leeched out of its form, turning greenish-brown skin, black tufts of hair, and tusks the stained yellow of old ivory to an overall rocky gray. Flailing arms and paws began to slow, their motions increasingly sluggish, till the troll fell over onto me with one fist still reaching for the knife and the other jabbing clumsily against the ground beside my head. One great foul blast of breath from its maw nearly made me retch before that maw, too, began to freeze up and change color inside as well as out. Its screeches of pain dwindled down to a few burbling gasps, then cut off with an unmistakable finality. Before I grasped what was happening, the weight pinning me to the earth had transformed from monster to monster statue.
The troll had turned to stone.