All the Difference
(( Blizzard has given the entrants to their Creative Writing Contest permission to post their entries, as long as we don’t profit from the posting. Since I really did fall in love with these characters, and am legally prohibited from writing them again, I want to share what I can of them. ))
If it had been a cave, there would be dripping.
The constant sound of dripping water, somewhere nearby but yet not close enough to provide refreshment, would pervade the darkness and instill a sense of hopeless desolation. The air would be cool, just only barely fresh, and every once in a while the scuttling sound of a scurrying creature would echo through the cave.
A cave would indeed have been a far more fitting setting. Bryste, however, was being kept in a hut, a far cry from the cave that seemed to better suit his situation. Echoing sounds in a damp cave would give him a peace of mind that he was somewhat alone, perhaps with some hope of escape. Instead, he was able to hear the constant sounds of everyday life for the troll village that held him captive – the grunting of the working males, the bickering of the fussing women, and the sound of the fire pit crackling far too close to his hut.
While Bryste never did have the best internal sense of time, his best guess put his time spent in the hut at somewhere within a week of his capture. Nights had passed, he was sure, and food had been offered him, despite being disgusting and nowhere near enough to keep him well-fed. The meals at least reassured him that he wasn’t being fattened up as a pale-skinned cattle.
His wrists were numb from the rough bindings he’d been unceremoniously forced into. The ropes had bitten deeply into his skin, drawing blood as he twisted in vain attempts to escape. A chain firmly staked in the center of the hut held his ankle tightly, and he hadn’t the courage – or desperation – necessary to injure his own body beyond repair just to escape his confines. Not yet.
It had only been a week. There was still hope.
The crowds of Silvermoon City, usually a boon to merchants and even to weary travelers eager see civilization, were now an incredible annoyance to the elf weaving through the gilded streets. Bryste pushed and shoved his way through the masses, pressing to reach his house before the news did.
He knew it was futile – the word always traveled swiftest when he wished it to do otherwise. Still, he had to try.
In a miraculous moment of serendipity, the crowds parted and Bryste wasted no time in slipping through the opening and darting towards the front door of his home. The door opened and shut quietly under his well-trained hand as he entered.
The house was quiet. Letting his steps fall lightly, he walked his way to the parlor, where he knew the scene that was waiting for him. The news always arrived before he did.
Sunlight filtered by sheer drapery fell softly upon the woman’s features as she sat motionless on the chaise lounge. Her green eyes shone dimly in the light as she stared blankly at the windowsill, her vision failing to focus on any one thing. Though her skin held a smooth, golden sheen trademark to the sin’dorei race, it had dulled to barely a pale glow. She hardly even breathed as she sat, unmoving, staring into nothing.
Bryste bottled up the sigh he felt bellowing from his lungs. Aalie already knew. He knew from experience what would follow – months of his beloved wife’s quiet melancholy, something he strove hard to prevent, but failed at time after time.
On the night his family took Aalie under their wing, Bryste had sworn to himself and any deity listening that he would protect her at all costs. It was a foolish promise, but one he fully intended to keep, even now as he watched her stubbornly suffer the memories that haunted her. He’d always been protective of her, letting the fault of his impulsiveness shield her from any harm. As he stood, watching her, thinking of words he could possibly say, he felt that bullheadedness rise to the surface once more.
“…I’ll make them pay, beloved. I’ll go there and slay them myself. Blood for blood.” The words were strong coming from his mouth, and he liked the feel of them as they tumbled forth. “For you, and so that no elf ever need suffer the same as you again. I promise.”
The words were bright and bold, but at that moment, nothing in Bryste’s world could outshine the slight smile that appeared on Aalie’s lips.
Days had passed since the last drop of water had crossed his lips. It might have even been a week. The last bit of water had been inside a broken clay jug, tossed in through a window and landing neatly next to his foot. The moisture had quickly seeped out from rather large crack in the bottom of the crockery, and Bryste had been forced to lick the outside of the jug in order to get something resembling a drink of water. At that point, he had been sure it could not become any worse.
Like so much else in his life lately, he had been wrong.
The trolls seemed to be playing with him. They had laughed as they slid in trays of seasoned bread, sure to be filling but parching his throat. The heat of the summer combined with the stale air of the hut cracked his lips like packed sand; the bitter sweetness of salt seemed to be everpresent on his tongue.
His perception of time had deteriorated even further. It might have been a month since his capture, or perhaps two. He spent the days drifting in and out of consciousness, never quite sure when he awoke how many days or nights might have passed. The trolls continued to live their lives contentedly outside the crude plank walls of his prison, and Bryste occupied himself with thoughts of slaughter.
In his imagination, he suddenly snapped the ropes from his wrists, which had finally weakened over time to the point of frailty. Then, with a rallying roar, he would break down the door to the hut – no, the entire front wall. It would explode forward with a shower of splintered wood that would instantly pierce the hearts of at least two trolls, killing them instantly. Nearby, conveniently, there would be a set of spears, and he’d deftly throw each into vital areas of his captor’s bodies. Some of the remaining Amani would turn tail and run from the fearsome beast that had just demolished half the tribe. The rest would attempt to fight, only to be struck down by the axe that he’d stolen from the troll he’d killed with his bare hands.
A commotion came from outside the hut, followed by what could only have been an elf’s dying wail. Reality never liked to approach softly.
The day had been sunny, bright and clear. So it came as a double surprise when not only did the Amani rush into the small elven village and begin rending it apart, but the sky itself split open to dump a constant deluge of rain upon the forest.
There had been few sounds that preluded the attack. A bit of rustling in the bushes, a few deep voices whispering, and then three dozen hulking Amani trolls that clamored into the village from all sides. Spears brandished and tusks lowered, they tore apart any elf unfortunate enough to be in their way. Amid the screaming and fleeing elves, a timid Bryste searched for his best friend.
The young elf struggled his way through the crowd, fighting off hysterical refugees and would-be saviors alike, keeping his shining eyes peeled for a glimpse of Aalie’s flaxen hair. A passing elbow clipped him on the corner of his left eye and he fell, spinning, to the ground. Feet thundered by him, sometimes on him, and he felt it all as he tried to regain his orientation and find a way back to his feet.
A cry came from the crowd as he regained his footing, and he instinctively turned his head towards the sound. The world was still a bit bright and fuzzy from the blow he’d just received, but he was able to make out the figure of a troll spearing two elves on the end of his pike. A smaller elf, far enough to be safe but close enough to be involved, was screaming frantically.
A smaller elf, with flaxen hair.
Still dizzy, Bryste shoved his way through the blurry crowd toward his best friend. “Aalie!” he yelled, his voice hoarse as it carried across the air. “Aalie!” He felt another elf stumble ahead of him and under his feet, but the thought of pausing to assist never crossed his mind. His legs propelled him towards his goal, and soon he’d swept the screaming girl into his arms.
She continued to cry hysterically, at once clinging to him and struggling against him to rush the trolls in a futile attempt at vengeance. Bryste, however, remained the stronger of the two and hefted her into his arms before bolting back into the crowd. Her wails carried only as far as his own ears as he worked their way to where he had left his family among the chaos.
“Why, Bryste, whatever are you doing in a place like this?” The voice was haughty, authoritative, and wholly welcome to the captive’s ears. If he squinted, he was sure he could make out a shock of silky red locks bobbing on the other side of a gap in the wall.
Bryste acted quickly to stifle his joy at a potentiaal rescue. Instead, he scoffed. “Well, you know how it is, sir. One year the prime vacation location is somewhere gorgeous, the next it’s a grimy mudpit in the middle of a troll encampment.” He smirked as he delivered his line, one of his best, he was sure.
Laughter filled the area within small hut, followed by a short span of uncomfortable silence.
The silence was too long. “Well, nevermind that, sir. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to lend me a hand out of here? I’m afraid my hawkstrider was misplaced and with it, my ride home.”
The familiar voice took far too long to respond for his taste. “Bryste, old chap, I am rather ashamed to tell you that I can’t possibly assist you in your escape from this dingy, smelly cage you’ve found yourself in.”
Exasperated, Bryste flung his head backwards onto the dirt to stare up at the ceiling, which gave the space its light through tiny pinpricks through the thatched roof. “Why not!” he demanded, his voice fluctuating between manic laughter and hysterical crying.
“Because,” his conversant answered with dead calm, “you’re only talking with yourself.”
Bryste’s laughter once again filled the hut, giving pause to the pair of Amani that toiled outside the hut. Their hesitation passed quickly, and they happily resumed building the base for the upcoming sacrificial fire.
The wooden shield had creaked as it sat on his back, a sound that Bryste ultimately found comforting. It was almost as if the device that would protect him could actually speak with him, reassure him that it was still in one piece and be ready and waiting to deflect any attack aimed at him. Considering he had dug it from a decaying trunk from his grandfather’s possessions, this thought was rather soothing.
The sword in the scabbard at his waist was significantly less talkative, but far more obvious in its presence as it banged steadily against the back of his knee. Perhaps it would have been a good idea to research how to attach a scabbard to a belt, but was much too anxious to start his journey to sit down and open a book on the subject. So the sword and scabbard swung together with every step of his stride towards…well, east of Silvermoon. That was all he really knew, but Bryste was convinced it was all he needed to know.
Fate had chosen an fairly odd backdrop for a day fraught with imminent bloodshed and probable peril. The birds in Eversong twittered and sang as if it were the first day of spring, and even the grass itself seemed to be making itself greener as the day wore on. Bryste had estimated his journey to take maybe a day at most, and was still debating between waiting until the cover of darkness to attack or charging into the camp and slaughtering the trolls in full daylight. The first option was obviously the wiser of the two, but the second carried such dramatic potential that he found it difficult to decide.
When at last he came upon the Amani village, dusk was just beginning to settle on the forest. Content with his ordained situation, he rested for an hour, gobbling up half of the bread and cheese he’d brought along to sustain him for the journey. Then, as darkness finally fell upon the camp, he hefted the shield to his arm and the sword in his hand and slowly approached the nearest hut.
His heart, pounding in his chest, drummed out a near-tribal rhythm to which he unconsciously paced his actions. Pressing his body flat against the outside wall, Bryste slid his way to the door, then craned his neck around to peek into the hut. All it contained was darkness, and he let a sigh escape as he began to realize exactly what he was trying to do. Thoughts of flight entered his mind, then the darkness of the hut exploded into a bright white light as a hammer connected soundly with his ribs.
Bryste fell to the ground involuntarily, unable to do anything else but cough as he gasped for breath. The overwhelming shining at the center of his vision crept slowly to the corners, and he willed his arms to turn himself over to see what had hit him.
The hammer slammed into his shoulder as he turned, sending him spinning once more across the dirt. Thoughts of flight left at that point, as well as thoughts of survival and thoughts of vengeance. All Bryste could think of was the excruciating pain as the troll wailed on him with a single hammer, until the blindingly bright world went dark.
Shouts and yells had been ringing throughout the village all morning, the sound only barely finding its way to the battered elf’s ears. The part of him that prayed they were screams of terror had long since departed, leaving behind the stray bits that only struggled for coherence. Hours had passed in which he laid on the dirt, motionless, wondering if that day would be the day he would be eaten in what was most likely a horribly gruesome ritual.
When the world grew silent, Bryste knew in his gut that his time had come. Crouching as far out of sight from the door as the chain would allow, he readied his body to ram the troll that came to collect him for the feast. Footsteps padded up outside the door, the faint sound of jingling armor peppering the otherwise silent atmosphere. The door swung open, and Bryste shoved himself forward with all the might he could muster.
Blinding flashes of searing fire arced through his skull as it hit the troll standing there, sending a metallic clang ringing through the hut. The elf, weaker of the two in the first place, collapsed to the floor from the pain, mentally cursing his weakness and utter foolishness. He only barely managed to notice the corpses outside the door as he once again faded from consciousness.
Jingle, jangle, jingle.
Jingle, jangle, jingle.
The steady clinking of metal and rings slowly pulled Bryste’s eyes open. A solid sheet of chainmaille shifted steadliy in front of him, tinkling out the rhythmic cadence. Confusion settled over him briefly before his memory returned, hinting that perhaps he should be a little more concerned as to his current situation.
His arms, for starters, were incredibly sore. They were tied in front of him, a stark difference from the uncomfortable position they had been in for the past several months. The shackle that had rubbed his ankle until he bled was missing from his leg, replaced by what felt like soft cloth binding his feet together.
It was also apparent that he was unceremoniously – albeit carefully – slung over someone’s shoulder.
Bryste opened his mouth to yell in terrified indignation, but all that filtered out were rough scratches that pitched into a squeak. His vocal chords, abused and underused, were rebelling by resting. Desperate, he wailed upon the back of his vehicle with his tied fists, clinking the chainmaille and eliciting a hearty chuckle from the creature underneath him.
“’Ey dere mon! Dat tickles!” The throaty voice boomed, and Bryste became suddenly aware of a ringing in his ears. “But joo be watchin’ dere, mon. No good ta punch down da troll dat saved joo!”
The blood in his veins, enjoying its freedom, froze into an icy chill. Bryste craned his neck slowly, seeing for the first time the curve of his savior’s spine, and the color of his skin.
He was being carried by a troll.
“Murderer!” he forced his hoarse voice to crackle, ordering his throat to work without giving it time to prepare. “Villain! Barbarian!” His fists flailed against the troll’s back while he bucked his legs against its face. The attacks were ineffectual, save for the jarring pain that seared through his ankle as he impaled it upon the troll’s tusk. He cried out at the tusk’s bite, still struggling against his supposed captor.
The tusk released Bryste’s ankle with a sickening sucking sound as the troll grabbed him by his feet and dangled him at arm’s length. The elf thrashed briefly as he attempted to escape, and the troll jostled him in reply. “’Ey now! Joo is not good wit’ dis bein’ rescued tin’, yah? Ah din’t hafta take joo from dere, Ah coulda left joo.” The troll narrowed his eyes at Bryste, squinting to read his face in reply. “Joo’d like ta go back dere?”
Memories of weeks spent chained in the dirty hut finally came rushing back to Bryste in a tidal wave of fear. He found himself shaking his head hastily before he’d even realized a question had been asked.
Satisfied, the troll smiled and grunted. “Good. Den we’s gonna get joo ‘ome. Alley-woop!” Bryste went flying again, this time landing fairly gently back over the burly troll’s shoulder. The armor began jingling once again as the troll easily slid back into his steady, even strides through the forest.
“So, where we be goin’, elf? Where’s joo ”ome at?”
Blinking at the question, Bryste coaxed his voice into responding at what he hoped was an audible level. “Silvermoon,” he croaked. “Apartment…my wife…home.” He swore he could feel the troll’s skin moving to smile.
“Joo got joo a woman…good job dere, elf!” He chuckled appreciatively, his shoulders jostling Bryste’s perch slightly. “Ah got no woman, Ah be too young ta be tied down like dat, yah?” He carefully rearranged the elf’s position and chuckled again to himself. “Ah be Kol’je Tuskripper. Joo?”
“Bryste,” the elf replied slowly. “Bryste Silversong.”
Kol’je let out another hearty laugh. “Joo elves got joo some fancy names! Ah be bettin’ dey don’ mean nuttin’, yah? Jes’ pretteh names.” He snorted, and Bryste could feel his head starting to swim as the ground began to spin lightly around the both of them. “Mah name? Dey be givin’ it to me, dey did. See dese tusks?” The troll moved Bryste’s feet to tap his long tusks slightly, ignoring as the elf flinched from recent memories of impaling. “Dey be sharp, sharpest in da village. An’ Ah said Ah was gonna go make friends wit’ de elves, and dey all laugh, but Ah’m gonna show dem.”
A dull but lightweight clinking came from the opposite side of the troll, and Bryste craned his neck to make out the source. Past the hazy armor was a blurry bag attached to a fuzzy belt, and the bag was being deliberately jostled about. “Ah ripped dese tusks from dose Amani. Dey won’ bother de elves no more, yah?”
The world spun faster around Bryste as he processed the conversation. This troll had set out to kill the Amani, done so, rescued him, and was taking him back home. His brain desperately tried to make sense of the situation, but decided to take a rest as the few contents of his stomach emptied themselves, and the elf slipped back into sleep.
Darkness, blurs, patchy light, movement.
“What business do you have with – wait, who is that?”
“Dis here be Bryste Silversong, he not doin’ too good.”
“Silversong! Men, fetch a stretcher and a healer, get this man to the healer’s house at once!”
“Troll! What did you do to him? Answer me!”
“Ah do nuttin’! Ah find ‘im, Ah brin’ ‘im back ‘ere. Joo take care, Eluna bless or what.”
“Silversong! Silversong, can you hear me? …he’s alive, good. We’ll have him fixed up in no time.”
“Sir, who’s going to tell him about-”
“We worry about that when he’s awake. For now, let’s make sure he does wake up.”
Movement, patchy light, blurs, darkness.
The sun glimmered brightly in the city of Silvermoon, reflecting off the various precious metal decorations and onto the residents below. It was a busy day, like any other, and the elves went about their daily tasks as if nothing were out of the ordinary. In fact, nothing was out of the ordinary.
Kol’je strolled comfortably through the city, ignoring the sanctimonious stares that followed him as he went. He was beginning to become used to the attitude that the elves unconsciously showed him, and was perfectly happy to ignore it until the day that it changed for the better. And as the growing coin in his purse illustrated, he was certainly making headway towards that day’s arrival.
Still, there was little work for him inside the city, so it was time for him to leave once again to earn his keep, as bloody as it may be. His feet took him to the Walk of Elders as he prepared to exit the city. The reflected sun warmed his skin as he approached the Shepherd’s Gate, then found his feet stopping automatically as he noticed the elf standing there.
He was healthier, stronger, and perhaps even a little taller than before, if such a thing were possible. Yet there was no mistaking it – Bryste Silversong himself stood at the gate, and he had noticed the troll’s approach, and he was smiling.
The troll urged his feet into moving forward towards the gate, not eager to show any sort of hesitation. “Elf! Joo be better now, yah?” It had been maybe three weeks since he had brought the elf back to the city, perhaps even a month. Kol’je had kept his ear to the best places he could to keep up on the elf’s recovery, but hadn’t heard much beyond his discharge from the medical ward. In fact, there seemed to be something amiss that people hadn’t wanted to speak of at all.
Bryste smiled, a beaming grin that took Kol’je off guard. “Much better! All thanks to you, friend. I wanted to thank you, in fact.” The elf stood in front of him now, holding out a hand in a proposed handshake. Kol’je obliged, taking care not to crush the smaller man’s hand in his own.
“Not a problem, mon. Right tin’ ta do, yah? Glad it worked out.”
The smile on the elf’s face faltered briefly, then strengthened itself with a look of determination. He gestured with his other hand towards a large pack sitting by his feet. “Kol’je, I’ll be brief. Let me come with you.”
Dire wounds barely caused Kol’je to flinch, but those words took the warrior troll off guard. “Wit’ me? What for? Joo’s got it good ‘ere, mon, joo don’ wanna go out dere. Specially not wit’ me.” The resolved glint in Bryste’s eyes, however, seemed to answer for him. “Joo’s got a wife, mon. Don’ leave ‘er fer dis kinda life.”
The smile faded even more, and Bryste’s face took on the look of a man resigned to fate. “…she left me, Kol’je. I took too long, and she left me. So I have to do this. Not just for her, but for me.”
Kol’je blinked, vaguely confused. “She left joo? Den chase ‘er back! Don’ go runnin’ from it all.”
Bryste shook his head sadly. “She went somewhere I can’t follow, Kol’je.” The words hung in the brightening air as the elf tried to convey their meaning. “It wasn’t her time yet, and it’s not mine either.”
The troll’s eyes met Bryste’s, and the message suddenly became clear. Sighing, Kol’je took a look at the pack at the elf’s feet. “…joo all packed den, mon? Migh’ be a lon’ time till we’s be back ‘ere.”
“Everything I could think to take, friend.” Bryste hoisted the pack onto his shoulder, making sure it was settled in place before turning back to Kol’je. The troll stood, tall and strong with his hands resting reliably on his weapons, and Bryste suddenly caught a glimpse of what his future was about to be like. The image firmly in his mind, he smiled and looked towards the gate ahead. “With room for what’s to come.”