By Natasha Weber
The Roc had forsaken the many species of Dru. It had been hundreds upon hundreds of years since the people of Dru had laid eyes upon him. From Elves, to Goblins, to Trolls, to humans, to Fairies.
The Roc was still worshipped on Dru, but only by a very select few. Most individuals now worshipped a Goddess who answered their prayers—something the Roc no longer did. The Goddess was a thousand-legged ant—a gigantic thing larger than a house.
Under the new Goddess’ rule, the Land of Dru had become a dark place—day or night, but especially during the night. There were shadows cast all over Dru, there was famine, and most species hid themselves away in their quaint houses.
The new Goddess had summoned dark creatures who hunted anyone who happened to be out in the absolute darkness of night in Dru. She had revealed herself to be a false Goddess; she was empowered by greed and the darkness in man’s heart. She brought about that greed by offering them anything they wanted—so long as they offered meaningful sacrifices in return. These sacrifices included both animals and people alike.
Despite the troubles the creatures of Dru faced, the Roc still had closed his heart to the creatures of Dru. He had tucked himself inside his egg for one-thousand years, and had let the world rot away without his graces. The Wicked Goddess seized this opportunity with the Roc’s absence and made herself known and loved to the creatures of Dru. Legend had it that she crawled out of the depths of the dark ocean and had begun slowly endearing herself to the peoples of Dru. Offering them riches and blessings for free at first, like the Roc had once done.
But there was a group of soldiers who were sick of the shadows cast on the Land of Dru—who wanted the dark days to end. This group had heard legends of the Roc, who had once blessed the Land of Dru with sunny days, crops, and a unifying friendship between the species of Dru. Their goal was to find the Roc and convince him to fight the Wicked Goddess.
The rumors and old legends suggested the Roc lived atop a fifty-foot mountain that was made out of thorns. There seemed to be only one mountain like that in the world—it had taken hours of digging and reading on the group’s part to find any information on it—and it lay on the edge of the grassy Land of Yab, next to the ocean. It only appeared on Wednesday nights every two weeks. But climbing it would be incredibly difficult with the thorns covering nearly every surface of the mountain. To make things worse, the sky, which used to be impossibly sunny and blue was now stormy and dark around the mountain.
The group of soldiers nonetheless took the task of venturing out to the outskirts of Yab and attempting to climb the mountain.
The leader of the group was a tall female troll with yellow, messy hair. She had green skin like all trolls did, and kept any citizens of Yab—where she hailed from—who had the misfortune of being out at night safe from the dark creatures summoned by the Wicked God. Her name was Clarice. Her friends who joined her were friends she made when gathering information on the Roc. They were soldiers who guarded different countries. They took interest in her quest so much that they joined her.
The rest of her group consisted of a human male by the name of Jonathan, a female Kraat (a bird species of Dru who were proficient in war and fighting) by the name of Nana and a human female by the name of Asha.
They arrived at the foot of the thorny mountain at night. Clarice looked about the mountain for any section of the mountain that did not have thorns. It was not a steep mountain; one could climb up easily if it were it not covered in thorns. But with the thorns strangling the mountain, their hands and feet would get hurt.
These were not ordinary thorns after all; these were mighty, sharp, gigantic thorns that pierced through clothes. Word had it they were also poisonous.
Clarice had her sword in hand. “Let’s clear the thorns…”
She sliced a portion of the thorns away and stepped up on the mountain. Her friends did the same.
They had to be extremely methodical and careful as they moved up the mountain. They were all sweating with fear; one wrong placement of a hand or foot and they could be stabbed and poisoned and die within the hour—according to myth.
It was an extremely slow process, but they slowly made their way up, and stopped a third of the way up the mountain on a safe ledge big enough for all of them to rest upon.
“Whew! It was a rough day!” Said the human girl, Asha, as they set up a fire on the mountainside. It was freezing and thundering. They were all afraid to be struck by lightning and none of them were in a good mood. But Asha was always a chipper and perky girl who liked to lighten the mood.
Clarice started a fire with sticks kept in her pack and threw some thorns on the pile they had cut previously to keep the fire blazing.
They all started to warm up. Asha sat next to the human male, Jonathan, and leaned her head on his shoulder. They didn’t know each other that well, but they looked alike, and that brought them together.
Jonathan was a very quiet male—nearly forty-years-old—and had never stopped worshipping the Roc. He was the most hopeful of all the people in the group that the Roc would rescue them. He held Asha close and Clarice made an uncomfortable face at how affectionate they seemed. They hardly knew one another.
“Just imagine! One wrong step and one of us may have died! Thank goodness we’re all safe and warm now. It was getting pretty thorny there for awhile.”
Jonathan laughed a little at her joke, but the Kraat bird, Nana, snapped her beak in disgust. “This is no time for jokes, Asha. can’t you take something seriously for once?”
Nana was a quick-to-anger and no nonsense bird. She did not get along with Asha. Conflicting personalities. Asha would often poke fun at Nana’s serious side and Nana would say nothing in reply, but would clearly be angry at Asha for hours at a time.
Clarice for the most part kept to herself. She was a sweet, kind, and feminine troll who tried to keep the group together and would tell Asha to leave Nana alone when she took her jokes too far, or would likewise tell Nana to lighten up when she took jokes too seriously. She got on with Jonathan the best and often had long, interesting conversations with him when he was in a talkative mood. They were both the oldest people in the group with Jonathan in his forties and Clarice in her fifties.
“Oh, shut up, birdbrain! I’m just trying to lighten the mood. We could use some humor, right, Jonathan?” She said, batting her eyes at him and holding him close.
Jonathan shrugged, wanting to stay out of the fight.
Clarice interrupted, “come on, everyone… It’s been a long day. Let’s just be civil.”
Asha grinned and clasped her hands excitedly. “Aren’t you excited though? You’ve had a crush on the Roc for like ever!”
Clarice made a face and Nana retorted for her; “Asha, don’t make stupid comments. Clarice never said she was in love with him. You’re bringing your own trampishness into this.”
Asha frowned. “I am not a tramp! You are the meanest girl I’ve ever met, Nana!”
Clarice rolled her eyes. Their bickering would often drive her up the wall. She held up a hand, “please, no arguing. Nana, Asha is not a tramp. That was very rude of you to say that.”
Nana crossed her arms. “Sorry, Asha.”
Asha was going to retort, but thought better of it and accepted the apology.
Clarice sighed. “Let’s just get some sleep.”
While sleeping, a night beast grabbed Clarice’s right arm as it usually did and dragged her into a nightmarish dream world. A dream world in which the world was swarmed over with the hideous night creatures conjured by the Wicked Goddess, and all the creatures of Dru were dwindling. They were being dragged into the darkness with Clarice by the night beasts.
The one savior was atop a thorny, thundering mountain—asleep in his egg. He had closed his heart off to the creatures of Dru, preferring to let them suffer.
Clarice was, indeed, in love with him, however much she might deny it. She had only read stories about him and seen ancient paintings of him in both his human and Roc form; no one of modern times had seen or met him. Most doubted his existence. But the paintings of him depicted a beautiful ivory, gigantic bird, and an unbelievably handsome ivory human when he went among mortals. None knew why he decided to present himself in human form; word had it that he simply found the form the most pleasing.
He was immeasurably kind and seemed almost innocent from what she had read about him. In most stories, it was said he was shy among humans and often had a look on his face of confusion or being in awe of everything around him. He loved the mortals of Dru: He blessed them with warm days and good crops—he gave the citizens gold and jewels when they asked him and he granted any wishes for anyone who went to visit him atop his mountain.
One story appealed to Clarice the most: The story of a house slowly sinking into the mud. It was a very old family house. The people inside refused to move. They would rather die and sink into the mud.
At the time, people were begging for the Roc’s help—they wished his aid in skirmishes happening at the edge of their countries, but the Roc would not help them.
The Roc ignored any violent wishes; he chose to go and rescue the house from the mud instead. He moved it somewhere where it would be safe, and he blessed it so that it would never rot away or break.
Clarice had grown up under a bridge like many trolls do. She had no high standing, no gold, and hardly any friends. Her parents died of infections when she was fourteen, and she had joined up with the Yab army when she was eighteen. There had not been a war for years, so she had mostly just been a guard patrolling the city streets of Yab at night. She protected any and all unfortunate to get caught by the Goddess’ night beasts.
While she was being trained to be a knight, she read many books in the Yab Library. She picked up an old religious book about the Roc one day and she fell in love with the legends depicted therein.
She dug up any information she could find on the Roc. She often took extended trips to different lands within Dru to find such information.
“Come on! Let’s go, Clarice!” Asha shook Clarice’s shoulder. Clarice sat up and stretched.
Jonathan was speaking with Nana for a second. “I’m worried about Asha; she keeps getting worse in the night…”
Asha’s human ears were not as good as Clarice’s large, pointed, troll ears. She did not hear what Nana and Jonathan were talking about. Clarice looked down, trying to forget Asha’s predicament. She had her own reasons for wanting to see the Roc. Asha was dying. The healers did not know of what. She hoped the Roc could save her.
Asha was fine most of the time, but would sometimes get sick in the night and throughout the morning. This was one of those times.
Clarice said to Asha, “if you feel sick, make sure you tell us so we can take a break.”
Asha made a pouty face. “I’m fine! Don’t worry about me!”
Clarice worried about her human friend, but they could not turn back at this point.
Luckily, the mountain that seemed to only appear every other week on a Wednesday night did not disappear beneath their feet a day later. That was something that had been in the back of Clarice’s mind.
Unluckily, it was a painful climb. They climbed it slowly, and their muscles began to ache. They thought they might reach the top by the end of the night.
As night fell, Clarice heard the night beasts rushing towards them.
Clarice, who was hanging onto a ledge of the mountainside precariously, looked to the east. She saw hundreds of them heading her way.
She climbed atop the ledge and unsheathed her blade. The creatures were fast. Enormously fast. They bounded across the grassy plains and were upon the mountain in the next minute.
Asha was lagging behind a bit. Nana was already at Clarice’s side with her own sword unsheathed. Jonathan held out a hand to Asha and helped her up. Asha hauled herself to her feet and readied her own sword.
The beasts swarmed over the mountain quickly; they were black shades. They walked on all fours and had glowing red eyes. The thorns beneath their clawed feet did not hurt them as they scrambled towards the group of soldiers.
The creatures was upon them.
Clarice was acknowledged among the group as the mightiest fighter. She kicked one of the beasts off the mountainside and it disappeared in a puff of smoke. She dispatched another by stabbing it as it jumped at her while a second later she saved Asha’s life by tossing her sword at a beast who had the human girl pinned down.
Jonathan helped Asha up and the human girl coughed a little bit. Jonathan pushed her behind him and took on the beasts in her stead.
Asha rested behind him for a minute or two before jumping back into the fray with full force—eliminating three with one swing of her blade.
Nana, the second best fighter in the group, fought with ravenous vigor. She kicked with her sharp talons and took out a second sword: She was strong, and being a Kraat, she loved being in battle. Fighting at Clarice’s side, they made an unstoppable team. Clarice watched the bird’s back, and Nana watched hers.
But, after many minutes, they were simply getting overwhelmed. They were sweating and their muscles ached. They had to retreat, but there was nowhere to retreat to. They were doomed.
Or so they thought.
Clarice saw, out of the corner of her eye, what looked like an ethereal troll disappear into the mountainside. She sliced a beast in half who was at her feet and then dashed towards the troll she saw. “This way!”
Her three friends followed her as Clarice dashed to the spot where the troll disappeared. But there was no opening in the mountain. Clarice angrily slammed her fists on the mountainside. She didn’t want it to end here. Not before she could save the Land of Dru from the dark shroud hanging in the sky. Not before she could meet the Roc.
The beasts followed them. There were so many that they would have overtaken the small group in moments now. But, a miracle happened.
The mountainside opened and Clarice and her friends rushed inside. They were panting like crazy. The rocky mountainside closed behind them just before the beasts could swarm in after them.
Asha fearfully held onto Jonathan. Nana was looking about at their surroundings—always focused on the task at hand—Clarice took a moment to pant and get her bearings.
It was bright due to silvery rocks embedded in the cave walls surrounded them glinting in their eyes and keeping the cave within the mountain bright. The cave they were in was spacious, but became narrower as the path stretched out ahead in front of them and out of sight as it twisted right.
The troll Clarice saw before appeared around the corner of the winding path and she jumped in surprise. “Who are you four? Are you here to hurt me?”
She was a young troll by the looks of it. Much younger than the fifty-year-old Clarice, but still an adult. She had red hair with a blue bow in it and was wearing a tattered dress stained with dirt.
“We’re here to see the Roc. Where is he?” Nana demanded gruffly. The young troll cowered a little at her threatening tone. “Tell us now!”
“Stop it Nana!” Clarice interrupted as the young troll backed away from them and covered her face in fear. Clarice approached the young troll slowly and said to her, “what’s your name?”
The young troll uncovered her eyes nervously. “Annabelle. What’s yours?”
“Clarice, It’s very nice to meet you! What are you doing here?” Clarice asked.
“I don’t remember…” Annabelle said sadly. “You mentioned a Roc? That sounds familiar. If you want, I can take you to the top of the mountain—if that’s where you were going….”
“Well, we can’t go outside with those beasts swarming on the mountain…” Clarice said.
“That’s okay! There’s a way up through the inside of the mountain! Follow me!” Annabelle ran ahead cheerily.
“She better be leading us the right way! I’m sick of all of this! I’m worried about my family!” Nana growled angrily.
“What choice do we have, Nana?” Clarice said with a shrug. “I know all your brothers and sisters are depending on you; I promise we’ll get out of this alive and you’ll go home to them.”
Nana sighed. “I don’t need you to make me empty promises, Clarice. I’m not a child.”
Clarice realized that Nana was not Asha. She didn’t like to be comforted in the same ways Asha did. Clarice found the words to say to her gruff friend, “at least we’ll give it our all for the people of Dru, unlike most folks.”
Nana smiled at that. “You’re right…”
Clarice heard Jonathan say to Asha, “Asha, you don’t have to pretend like you’re not sick. You should stay in this cave with Annabelle while we check the top of the mountain…”
Asha looked wounded. “I came all this way to help! I want to be a hero like you guys! I have nothing else in my life but my prowess with a blade… Let me prove it to the world!”
“You’ve done enough Asha. We’ll ask the Roc to fix you…” Jonathan replied worriedly.
Asha nudged him angrily. “I’m coming and that’s final! I just want to see the Roc… Clarice made him sound wonderful…” She calmed down with tears in her eyes as she ended the sentence.
Clarice, who was listening, felt guilty. She had hyped and inspired Asha so much by the Roc that not seeing the Roc was not an option for her—regardless of any damages to her health.
Nana groaned. “She’s so naive. It’s highly likely the Roc doesn’t even exist.”
“He’s our only hope, Nana. We must have faith.”
They walked along together for what felt like an hour, following the young troll girl. The path seemed to twist and turn unnaturally and even impossibly within the mountain. They were definitely heading upwards, but Annabelle got confused at a point where the path branched. “Now which way was it… It’s been a long time since I even got close to the top…”
Annabelle tapped a heeled foot and thought for a moment. She turned back and looked at her new acquaintances. “Um, I forget… One leads down to my thinking cave, and the other lead to the top. I haven’t been to either in a long time.”
Clarice sighed. “Just do your best to remember. We can always come back.”
Annabelle scratched her chin. She ended up heading down the left fork. Clarice and her friends followed.
As they went along a little the narrow path, Asha began coughing. At first, it was just a mild cough, and then she started coughing uncontrollably and violently.
Jonathan placed a hand on her back with concern as she coughed so hard that Clarice thought she might keel over right there.
Jonathan said worriedly, “we have to stop and rest!”
Asha held up a hand and tried to say through tears caused by coughing, “no, I’m fine! let’s keep going!”
Clarice shook her head. “We’re stopping.”
They sat in silence and leaned against the walls of the narrow rocky way. It wasn’t comfortable. There were muffled sounds of beasts outside crawling all over the mountain.
Asha was sleeping on Jonathan’s shoulder, Nana was sharpening her blade on a whetting stone, and Clarice was crossing her arms and looking up at the ceiling. Annabelle was humming a little song and leaning against the wall.
“What’s that you’re humming, Annabelle?” Clarice asked her curiously.
“Oh this…? I don’t remember.” She claimed cheerily.
“Just where are you from, Annabelle? What are you doing here?” Jonathan chimed in.
Annabelle smoothed her dress down. “I don’t know! I’ve been here as long as I can remember though! The last thing I remember is being in my thinking cave and something terrible happening, and then I never went back down to my thinking cave again. Now I live in these rocky halls!”
Nana said sarcastically, “what do you eat? Rocks?”
“I don’t eat.” Annabelle shrugged.
The four friends who were sitting exchanged incredulous looks. This girl sounded crazier by the second.
“Everyone eats, Annabelle. What do you drink?” Clarice prompted.
“I don’t drink.” Annabelle stated flatly. At everyone’s looks she said, “what? I know it sounds crazy but I just don’t get hungry or thirsty.”
“Come on, Annabelle, you must eat and drink some things…” Jonathan said gently.
Annabelle looked miserable, biting back tears. “I wish I did. There was a time when I loved food…”
Asha woke up then and interrupted the conversation. “I feel much better. We can keep going now!”
Annabelle skipped along the narrow corridor cheerily. Clarice wondered how one girl could be so happy living alone in a cave with nothing to eat or drink. Ignorance was bliss, she supposed. She wondered if this young girl knew about the beasts crawling outside on the mountain. She wondered how long this girl was actually living in this cave, and what the girl was, in general, to be able to find this internal rocky structure and live in it peacefully.
Eventually, the corridor led into a larger circular area. It was almost like someone had made a little home in this area. There was a bed, there was a desk, there was a journal, and there was a little bracelet next to the journal on the desk.
Annabelle just stood there before what was definitely her thinking cave and not the top of the mountain with glassy eyes. “This place makes me sad. Let’s leave.”
Clarice was intrigued, however. “Hang on, do you mind if we look around?”
Annabelle, with tears in her eyes, said bitterly, “do what you want! I’ll be waiting in the corridor!”
Clarice felt sorry for her, but was too curious about the girl to pass up an opportunity to learn more about her.
“Clarice, it’s rude to pry when she asked us not to…” Asha was offended. She kept a diary of her own and would be horrified if other people read it.
“I know. But she may know something about the Roc. Any information we can get on him is useful.” Clarice stated, looking around the silvery, bright cave curiously.
Clarice sat on the bed and grabbed the journal, crossing her legs and hunching over thoughtfully.
She began reading the journal, and the information inside was fascinating. It had the most insights into the Roc she had ever found, and much needed information on the girl as well—although none that explained how she ended up in this cave and managed to live in it.
Clarice read on, enthralled, enchanted, and disgusted by what she read. The journal was about thirty pages long, and detailed the girl’s very personal relationship with the Roc.
Her friends asked her, when she was about a page in, “you may as well read it aloud…”
Clarice, a warrior troll, and her group of friends must lift the eternal darkness cast by the Wicked Ant Goddess. In order to do so, they must awaken the old God who used to watch over all the creatures of Dru. The Roc God, a gigantic bird with beautiful ivory feathers. However, rumor had it that the Roc had long ago closed his heart to the creatures of Dru and locked himself away back into his glass egg atop a mountain made of thorns.