“I was budded a simple Troll, no different from any other of my unhappy race,” said Tug. “All I understood was violence and hate. It is no way to live a life.”
Garfan nodded out of politeness.
“I fought and killed, hoping to fill the bottomless hole in my heart. However, this hole had no bottom, unlike a physical hole, which must fundamentally have a point at which it stops.”
Hubert looked at Garfan, who nodded as he stared at the massive and articulate creature.
“This was all I knew. That day when the Fell Wizard who called himself Wrathwar the Wrathful engaged me to kill you, it was a turning point though I didn’t understand it then. Such is the nature of the river of time; you only see such things in retrospect.“
“Yeah…” commented the Chosen One.
“You burned my old body,” said Tug. It was not a question.
“That was wise, it would’ve grown a new head and pursued you, as I did. Vengeance would’ve been all it understood. You spared it a hollow and painful existence.”
Garfan said nothing but made a little shrug.
“However you did not extend the same courtesy to me. My head fell to the bottom of the cliff. You left me to the tender mercies of the wilds. While the dirt was delicious, I was likely to die slowly; a Troll cannot live on dirt alone. I have done many terrible things, including trying to kill you. Many might say that I deserved that fate and they would not be wrong. All I can say in my defense is I was true to my nature, savage and cruel as it was. However I was saved, by a simple creature one devoid of judgment.”
Tug went on in this way for quite a while. Then there were stories. So many, many stories. And while the content of them were objectively thrilling and should tingle the spine, the excruciatingly detailed manner of their telling robbed them of all joy. With even a fraction of this material, any bard in the Land could make his or her name and never open their purse in any tavern, except perhaps to fill it with more coin.
As a result, the saga of how he was grew on the back of and around a tortoise, the simple joys of grass tickling his feet, the treachery of Dwarves, a life in the circus, the forbidden love between frog people and lizard people, and a seeming endless series of battles in the Devil’s Quilt put all of them in a daze. No one actually slept but there was much glazing of eyes. Then finally he spoke of a journey through the Vale of Veils.
“Beg pardon?” said Hubert shaken out of the torpor that this tale had inspired. He feared the Vale more than almost anything and what he feared could fill a book, and did. It was his third most disappointing birthday present.
“I did not misspeak Hubert, son of Balor-Nar,” intoned Tug, “I did tread that forbidden path.”
Everyone perked up, while this Troll Tortoise hybrid might rob a tale of high adventure of its entertainment value, the story of how he walked into madness itself would surely be a legend that would outlive all but the most health conscious Elves. With a basso profondo rumble, Tug began.
“The stones beneath my callused feet were smooth with patches of what I first thought was sand. Sand so far from the sea? How odd I thought. Was it brought here by lost gulls?”
It seemed that even the seeing mysteries unknown any mortal had made this pale blue monstrosity a deep and thoughtful being but had regrettably not instilled a gift for narrative. They now knew what the number seven tasted like (it started bright and sharp and slowly mellowed with notes of peat and soft cheese), how many Angels could dance on the head of a pin (five, but one would always feel left out), and what came first, chicken or egg (surprisingly, neither.) These and many mysteries were revealed but faded as they went on and on and on…
Finally, Tug stopped speaking and looked at Garfan. The expression on the Tortoistaur’s face was expectant. Garfan felt as thought he was supposed to say something but he honestly was unsure of what it should be. He had been replaying the battle with this Troll, over and over in his head and had not really been giving the story his full attention.
“Well,” rumbled Tug, “what is your answer?”
“Ummm…” mused Garfan.
“The question was a simple one,” said the transformed Troll.
“Yeah, of course, it was,” replied the Chosen One who casually turned towards his companions.
“Don’t look at them!” shouted Tug, causing a rock slide to the right of the platform they stood on.
“I wasn’t!” shouted Garfan more from the ringing in his ears than from a desire to be ardent.
“I had an epiphany such as few have ever had!”
“I mean, look at me! I am transformed,” said the former Troll.
“Totally,” observed Garfan.
“I could appear in any form I choose!” and with that he became a variety of beasts, monsters, and people before returning to his half-Troll half-tortoise form.
“Were you even listening?” asked Tug.
“Of course I was,” responded Garfan.
Tug narrowed his eyes. “Must I tell you of my journey again?”
NO was the overwhelming opinion of those who were not Tug.
“Very well, Chosen One, what is your response, yes or no?”
Garfan traced an oval on the armor on his left thigh five times and his right twice, then once more on the left. It had never failed him before and it was all he had left.
Taking a deep breath, he said, “Yes.”
There was a pause as Tug regarded them. As pauses went, this was a mix of awkward and pregnant, in the way you are expecting the birth of some unknown monster. Suddenly, Tug quickly leaned down and said, “I thank you.”
Garfan, whose hand had, flown to Alacritas’ hilt, replied, “Uhh, you’re welcome.”
“I am now free to explore all the worlds,” said the enormous creature.
“Yeah, that sounds… good,” said Garfan.
“It will be indescribable,” said Tug.
“I’ll bet,” said Garfan.
Tug pushed against the fog and it opened like a door. The bright yellow sky was offset by the deep purple clouds and the bone white sea. Before he stepped though, Garfan shouted, “Wait!”
Tug stopped and leaned over the Chosen One.
“Yes,” said giant creature.
“How did you do it? How did you break it?”
Tug regarded the Chosen One said this, “You slew me truly and I was reborn. You are as you were before.”
“What does that mean?” asked Garfan.
“It means what it means. Farewell, for now,” said the Tortoistaur and he walked into a different world.
Looking at the rest of his companions, Garfan asked, “Did anyone hear what he asked?”
Everyone, except Lockford replied in the negative. Master and servant regarded each other for a moment.
“Well?” asked Garfan.
“It was the proper answer,” responded Lockford, “As evidenced by our continued existence.”
“Okay, lets get a move on while this place is still a mess,” said the Chosen One.
“I think not,” replied Balor-Nar.