The Revenge of GorgGorg the Troll stared at the writing on the ragged bit of wood alongside the road, his lips moving more than his brain. "Moss-ter-nest-een cit-ee". He sounded it out a few times, studied it a bit more, then his stony face split into a smile. A few chips fell off, and he repeated, "Mosternestine City!" He considered the arrow next to the letters. Gorg was pretty sure it was meant to direct travelers to the city, but he wasn't sure which end of the arrow to follow.
After a few minutes thought, indulged at the risk of becoming a rock once again, he turned toward the pointy end of the arrow and stomped off down the road. Gorg never noticed the small stone carving of a mounted knight now embedded in his heavy leather boot sole.
Two miles away Snella Swordsinger led her limping mount toward the same intersection. She cursed the smith who'd shod the horse three days back, in a town so backwards that the iron shoe had no magic in it whatsoever. The brittle metal had snapped while they were crossing the Plain of Exquisite Distress, and for the last several hours they had been slowed to a crawl. Meanwhile, the trail grew cold.
Snella sought a sorcerer, revenge burning in her heart. But the cursed man knew she was coming, and left a taunting trail of chess pieces, each with just enough magic to lead her to the next. And behind him he left a world sapped clean, for the time being, of all magic. Which was no doubt why the horseshoe was broken and her mount limping.
An hour after Gorg, Snella and her unhappy equine reached the crossroads. Unlike Gorg, she had no difficulty reading the sign. Unfortunately, also unlike Gorg, she didn't know where she needed to go. There should have been a chessman there, marking the junction and drawing her on. Instead, there was nothing but a bare stone road surrounded by bare stone ground, and the tiny trace of magic Snella possessed wasn't enough to tell her which way to go.
The sorcerer would go to the city, would he not? Mergle liked bright lights, or at least some kind of lights, and he liked a tavern at night with a drink and a bed. But of course that was the way he'd expect her to think. And she liked a drink and a bed, too. All the more reason he'd probably gone the other way, off into the desert, just to spite her. Snella looked from her mount to the stoney ground, and sighed. She would have to do it. But not with her horse in this condition.
Two hours later, Snella put out the last of her fire. The shoe her horse now wore was far from perfect, but it would protect the beast from the desert. And she could ride again. Swinging into the saddle, the swordswoman pointed her mount toward the empty lands.
Gorg stomped his way happily toward Mosternestine City, singing a bit of a troll song as he went. Most hearers would have thought it was the noise of a rockslide or a bison with gas, but Gorg was pleased. He reached the city just at dusk, and without knowing why, followed assorted twists and alleys to a street where, by its look, any deed could pass unnoticed, and often did.
Pausing, he looked up at a sign over a door. The tavern was called the Corpse and Coffin. That would put off most people, but Gorg was no human, and, sniffing the succulent odors of stale beer and slightly spoiled meat, he pushed open the door and entered.
The room was nearly dark, its windows being unwashed since the reign of King Celery the Halfwit--the first of that name, not the current version. So Gorg didn't see the man sitting at the table in the corner, and didn't see his start of surprise. Gorg was not who he had expected.
"You!" The sorcerer sounded slightly strangled. "How did you get the chessman?"
Gorg scratched his head, raising a small cloud of rock dust. "Chessman?"
"You must have it. I can feel its presence, and it would have led you here."
Gorg thought about this a bit longer. While thinking, he lifted a massive foot to examine it the irritating lump it had developed. Thoughtfully--for a troll--he picked the scarred bit of carved stone from the boot sole and examined it. "This?"
"Yes, that! You idiot of a lump of rock!" Mergle was nearly screaming now, and with this change in his voice, Gorg suddenly recognized the magician who had returned three of his relations to the stone from which all Trolls are born. He clenched his fist and the scuffed knight crumbled to dust.
Then he did the same thing to Mergle, before sitting down to a cup of the best stale beer he'd drunk in a long time, with the satisfaction of a job well done.
Three months later, crossing the desert south of the city, Gorg came across two piles of bones. The smaller was human, and a sword lay among the bones. Gorg gave it scarcely a glance. Turning to the larger, he picked up the skull of the unfortunate horse.
"Poor old thing," he said. "I told you to come with me."